Originally posted on Patreon in Nov 2019 and part of the Great Patreon Crossposting to WordPress.
This one was a blast that sort of ran away from me and yes, it’s sort of the beginning of a story, sorry, Kelkyag. 💙
Also a new universe, as far as I know.
It was supposed to be unwise. It was supposed to be dangerous, deadly.
But Lara always stopped for strangers on the side of the road — hitchhikers, people with broken-down cars, accidents, once someone who turned out to be suffering from dementia and more than a little lost.
Her mother had always done the same. Her mother had always done the same. Her father had done so in WWI and come back home with two boyfriends and a girlfriend. That had taken some careful paperwork and some fast talking, back then.
Lara had yet to come up with anything remotely that interesting, but she’d made some good friends, stopped a serial killer, and, once, gotten a reward.
So it wasn’t any surprise to her when she pulled over for the guy on the side of the road. He was walking uncertainly, looked like he was limping, and more than that, looked completely lost. And they were almost halfway between exits.
“Where’re you heading?” she asked, leaning out the passenger’s window. Lara and her family were more protected than most, but it didn’t hurt to be a little cautious. That serial killer hadn’t been that long ago, after all.
“I – don’t know.” He didn’t have any obvious head injuries, but he was wet – soaked, and it wasn’t raining – and he looked very confused.
“All right, I can work with that. Where are you coming from?”
“Home – Home.” He was youngish, not older than her, if appearances served, slender and a bit pointy, and not just the way his shoulder bones seemed to jut out of the wet shirt. “I was – no, I was leaving the, uh.” He looked around. “I wasn’t leaving home,” he added slowly.
She put down a towel on the seat and opened the door for him, handed him a second towel – when you picked up strays (sometimes they were actually dogs or cats), you got used to being prepared – and patted the seat. He took the hint and slid into the car.
“Thank you. I’m dreadfully sorry that I’m such a mess.” He ran his fingers through his hair, succeeding in spiking it up further rather than smoothing it.
“You’re not the first.” She leaned over him, closed the door, locked it, and then, when he made no move to buckle himself in, did that too. “I’m Lana, by the way.”
“Kyrillos. Ki- Kyrillos.” He half-bowed from his seat, looked down at the seatbelt stopping him, and made the gesture more with a hand-flourish than a chest-movement. “Thank you for picking me up. I’m afraid I was a bit lost.”
“Yeah, I was getting that impression.” She started the car back up. “So you were heading — home?”
“I think I was. To the north and west, in the direction of the great pines.”
She signaled, maneuvered onto the highway, and started driving – North and West, although with the clouds that were coming in fast, he might not be able to tell the difference. Helped that there was a hospital in that direction. With her free hand, she brushed across the luck tokens she kept under her dashboard. “Do you have any scalp or neck pain? Back pain?”
“Only where – ah. That’s lower neck. And I suppose wrists.” He shifted a sleeve until she could see, in the flashing glow of the streetlights, what looked like old scrapes and callouses all over his wrist. “Nothing more new. Nothing that would indicate memory loss from damage, if that’s your question.” He smiled at her, a little sidelong; Lana was a little surprised to find herself smiling back.
“Looks like some pretty rough sports there, though.” Should she head for the police station instead of the emergency room? Those weren’t handcuff marks, at least not that she recognized. And none of her danger-charms were going off.
“Rough sport indeed.” He chuckled ruefully. “I assure you, Miss- Mistress-”
“Miz? Miz indeed. Miz Lana, I know who I am. I know where I was going and where I was coming from-”
“Though there are things in that story you don’t want to tell me,” she filled in lightly.
“Though there are things in that story I don’t wish to tell you, yes.” His smile softened what could have been an insult.
“So what part don’t you remember?”
He cleared his throat. “What happened between where I left and where I actually ended up, to be specific. I was walking along a quiet road – well, running, truth be told, wishing to be anywhere but where I was, wishing for some aid, and then here I was, on this – this road, and you were stopping your vehicle.”
Lana did not slam on the brakes, but her foot did go off the gas pedal. She caught herself, pulled into the right-hand lane, and considered her options.
None of the danger indicators were glowing. She checked again.
“You wanted to be somewhere with aid. And then you saw me,” she repeated, just to be absolutely sure she was hearing him correctly.
Possibly, maybe, hoping she’d misheard.
They were very well-protected and very powerful, but that did mean that certain things happened to come their way.
Things, and beings, and –
And a handsome half-drowned man with blisters and scrapes on his wrists and neck. And ankles?
“Yes. This makes more sense to you than it does to me?”
“Ah.” Lana cleared her throat. “My great-grandfather’s great-grandmother was The Good Traveler. And thus, because of the way things go, I am – well, I’m one of – One of the Good Travelers.”
Kyrillos had been fussing with the cuffs of his shirt in front of the hot-air vent. He paused, looked at Lana, and his hands fell to his lap. “You’re the Good Traveler?”
“I am a Good Traveler.” She ran her hand over her luck tokens again. She hadn’t expected a reaction quite like this, even though she had been expecting he’d at least have heard of the concept – not because they were in any way famous, but because certain people, usually those who ended up in her path, had heard the legends. “It’s a family thing. We pick up people who, ah. Need a ride.”
She couldn’t go to the hospital; they’d institutionalize him if he slipped at all. All of the places that she knew where the world was thin enough to send him home were either a long way away, too strongly guarded for the two of them – even if he was stronger than he seemed – or time-based for a time that was not all that close to tonight.
Kyrillos muttered something; she thought it might be out of the frying pan. “Well then.” He cleared his throat. “I suppose it is unsurprising that Fate herself has a sense of humor.” He did his little flourish-bow again, but this time he stayed with his head down. “A long time ago, something happened between my predecessor’s predecessor and the – a Good Traveler. A debt is owed. And I am the Goblin King and you are the Good Traveler who are here, who are seeing each other for the first time since that debt.”
“Ki- King Kyrillos.” She’d heard of the debt. That had been when there were less of them, and all of the old stories passed down. “I am not in the habit of taking things from people I pick up. That’s not what the deal is.”
“What do you do with them?” He considered the door, his hand on the handle. She didn’t tell him that, charmed as it was, he couldn’t jump out if he wanted to, even if the car hadn’t been going 70 down the highway.
“Take them where they need to go. Get them help if they need it. Get them to a safe place if that’s all they need.”
“And then – then they are no longer people that you have just picked up?”
“That’s a loophole.” She narrowed her eyes at the Goblin King. He was pretty enough for it, or he might be if he wasn’t completely bedraggled. She’d give him that. “I don’t deal in loopholes.”
“Ah, but I do. After all, I am – well. You know what I am. Loopholes are, as they say, my stock in trade.” His smile was not very pleased.
“You sound like you’re trying to end up paying off a debt that your predecessor owed my ancestor.” Not home, then. Taking him home right now would be bad. Ditto not to cousin Aileen’s or any of the other nearby cousins.
Elanor’s hostel was going to have to do. Hopefully it would suit a king.
“Not exactly trying.” He tried drying his shirt in the vents again, but his gaze kept flitting to her. “It is a debt and I am a goblin. I have to repay it, one way or another – and should I harm you, it would only double.”
“And if I don’t allow you to? After all, the crime your predecessor did to my ancestor was pretty awful.”
“Then the dungeon in which I was recently imprisoned, cold iron chains and all, will seem like a blessing and a heaven. You picked me up. The safe place for me – the only safe place for me at the moment – is kneeling at your feet until the debt is paid.”
“Fuck. Fuck, shit, damnity fuck damn, damn.” Lana slapped both hands hard on the steering wheel. “And my geas? The task my family has taken up?”
“This is not a payment for your service. This is not something you have demanded or I have offered for the blessing of rescuing me from the side of the road – Yes. The geas is as well known as what my kin did to yours. Of course it is,” he added softly. “And so I say to you, drop me off at a place that is safe, and then walk back and pick me up. Your geas will be satisfied. My debt will begin to be paid. And you will have the king kneeling before you that your family has deserved for a very long time.”
Safe. He was wet, bedraggled, and too skinny. Alice’s Restaurant it was.
“All right.” A family debt… “But you are going to explain every single bit of this debt to me.”
“As you wish, Benign Voyager. As you wish.”
Good Samaritan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan
Lone Traveler: https://www.fanfiction.net/community/The-Lone-Traveler/116897/ and https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/TheLoneTraveler (warning: TV Tropes)