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Charon had been suffering from a headache for the past half hour and he was fairly sure that, unless he was left alone for the next half hour, he'd be stuck with it for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, the recently appointed Minister of Goblin Affairs seemed to have no intention of leaving yet.

"You're being unreasonable, Charon," said Cedric and it was probably no fault of his that he had a kind of voice that made everything he said sound like a whine, but it grated on Charon's nerves all the same. "Surely you can see that?"

Cedric was, Charon thought uncharitably, as worse as ten goblins put together. In a locked room. With a bottle of fruitjuice and only six cups.

"It's not that I don't see your point," he started, diplomatically. "It's simply that - "

" - that because they're goblins, they don't have the same rights as the rest of Avalon," finished Cedric for him. "Are you listening to yourself, Charon? How can you justify a position like that?"

"I don't need to justify a position like that," said Charon, "because I don't - "

"You blue-blooded faeries are all the same!" Cedric accused. "Sticking to traditions and convictions for no better reason than that you're terrified of changing anything! You think I don't see what's going on here? You think that just because I'm low-born, I'm a fool?"

Charon took a deep breath and wished he had the time to count to ten, slowly. Unfortunately, by the time he'd have done that, Cedric would already have gone off on another rambling trip to the land of his own imagination.

"Your family has produced three Ministers of Justice, several dozens of First Rank Secretaries and Heavenly Maidens, and at least two Prime Ministers. Meaning that you are not, in any sense of the word, low-born." And now, of course, Cedric would claim that Charon was bringing up his lineage in an attempt to distract him from his 'mission'.

"My great-great-grandmother was from a family of merchants," said Cedric. "And don't try to change the subject by suggesting your family's better than mine; it isn't. I mean, look at that sister of yours." Cedric grimaced and shook his head. "It doesn't take an idiot to see she'll never amount to anything."

"Kindly leave my sister out of this," said Charon, through clenched teeth, wishing someone, anyone, would come and save him, before he did anything drastic, like changing Cedric into a newt. Satisfying as it might be, it would only serve to add fuel to the fire of Cedric's conviction that Charon was having it in for him.

"You brought up my family first," Cedric pointed out. "But anyway, back to my proposal. It's modest enough, I feel, especially after all the centuries of hardships the rest of Avalon have put the nation of goblins through. We owe them something, Charon."

Charon wondered if Cedric had ever *met* a goblin, or negotiated with one. Possibly, he'd picked up his style of lobbying from them (nag at someone until they refer you to someone higher up just to be rid of you) although privately, Charon doubted it. Cedric didn't have that haunted look in his eyes whenever he said 'goblins' that normal people who'd dealt with them had.

"A good kick in the ass, is what we owe them, if you ask me."

Charon had thought Cedric'd looked sour before, but he saw now that he'd been wrong.

"Minister Camaxtli." If Cedric's tone had been burning with righteous indignation before, it had turned positively frosty now. "I suppose I could expect nothing else from a common barbarian like you. Why you were ever appointed as a Minister is something that will, no doubt, always remain a mystery."

"Oh, I simply bribed a bunch of people," said Max airily. "You know how it works, I'm sure."

"I resent the implication that I bought my position simply because I'm concerned with the well-being of a long-neglected minority among the population of Avalon." Cedric bristled. "However, I can see that the company of civilized persons is no longer welcome here, so I will take my leave now. I shall see you at tomorrow's meeting of the Ministers, Charon."

"Unfortunately, yes," murmured Charon, as soon as he was certain Cedric was out of earshot.

"He really is a perfect representative of the goblins, isn't he?" Max shook his head and shuddered. "The only good thing about their having become an official part of Avalon is that they're no longer under my jurisdiction. Let Cedric have them, if he wants them."

"That, he does," said Charon, his expression pensive. His headache had receded enough to enable him to think clearly again, but the idea that had just occured to him was enough to bring it back full force. "Is the Royal Inspector around?"

"Pain? He got back yesterday, so right now, he's probably making plans to kidnap you from your office for a night of ahem restful slumber. Lucky you, eh?" Max slapped Charon on the shoulder, his grin at least partly due to relief at not being Pain's target this time around.

"I believe I have a job for him," said Charon, not displaying any of the signs of slight alarm that Max had been hoping to inspire with his words.

"A job?" repeated Max.

Charon rubbed his temples, whispering the words of a minor healing spell under his breath as he did so. "Think about it, Max. Cedric's family may have fallen on hard times, but if they'd wanted to, they could still have gotten him pretty much any post below Prime Minister that took their fancy. So why the one Ministership nobody in his right mind would want? Why Goblin Affairs?"

"Because it was available?" Max guessed without much conviction.

"At the time, the peace-talks were still in progress, so they couldn't have known the position would actually come with any real power, unless ... " Charon frowned. "Unlikely, but not impossible. I need Pain. He's good at sorting out these kinds of messes."

"I'll tell him you said you needed him if I see him. It'll probably make his day," said Max.

"Good," said Charon, absently, "because I doubt if he's going to be happy when I tell him what I want him to do."

 

"You want me to do what?" Pain asked, three hours later, lounging on Charon's bed to allay the suspicions of anyone who might walk in on them - or so he'd said when Charon pointed out that there were more than enough pillows available to sit on.

"It's important that I know what's going on at present, and what went on during the time Cedric got his appointment," said Charon. "During the last Goblin Revolt, they were still considered a hostile, foreign nation and as such, we were able to nip it in the bud and keep the trouble from spreading beyond the border-areas. The Ministry of Defense regularly checked for any signs of trouble, and nobody grumbled if we spent an extra few thousand on border-patrols or scrying spells. All that's changed now."

"Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've had a decent date?"

"If there's another Goblin Revolt coming, nobody's going to see it coming soon enough to prevent any goblins from invading other parts of Avalon. The border-army has been disbanded or dispatched to the North, and Max has been forced to hand over any and all scrying spells that were still working to Cedric months ago. Which means that right now, the entire goblin-territory is a blind spot," Charon continued, ignoring the interruption.

"Except to Cedric," supplied Pain, sighing. "Yes, I'm getting the picture here, Charon."

"Of course, we can't assume Cedric, or any member of his family, to be involved in this," added Charon. "Not without hard evidence, at any rate, which we don't have."

"Yet." Pain gracelessly flopped down on the bed. "Gods of love! Why can't they just stick to minding their own business? Making an alliance with goblins? How dumb are they?"

"We have, as of yet, no proof of any of the noble families of Avalon having a hand in this," Charon reminded him. "In fact, we don't even have any proof of there being something going on with the goblins. As far as anyone knows, they're busy rebuilding their nation."

"I'm not going to sleep with a goblin," said Pain. "I don't care if that makes me a racist, I have my limits, and goblins is where I draw the line."

Charon opened his mouth to point out that he wasn't asking Pain to sleep with anyone, then changed his mind. "One of my Secretaries seems to have developed a bit of a crush on you," he said instead. "Would you like me to introduce him to you when you get back?"

"If," mumbled Pain. "If I get back, then sure."

Charon nodded and reflected ruefully that he'd have to sleep elsewhere tonight, as Pain seemed to have fallen asleep on his bed, and Charon didn't have the heart to wake him up or try to move him. It was, he decided, a small enough price to pay for Pain's assistance. If a night spent outside of his rooms was all the price he was going to have to pay, Charon would consider himself extremely lucky.

"Hey, Charon?"

"Yes?" Charon paused in the doorway, pajamas in one hand and his current sleep-inducing reading fodder in the other.

"Is he cute?"

Charon managed not to ask 'who?', remembering whom Pain had to be referring to at the last moment.

"Very," he said. "He's your type, I think."

"Charon," said Pain, with something in between a sigh and a yawn, "hasn't anyone told you yet that I don't have a type?"

There didn't seem to be a diplomatic reply to that, so Charon remained silent, waiting for Pain to say something else, or fall asleep again, whichever came first.