Jojo talked some more. He was good at that. He was smooth. He delivered his, "the only way to win is not to play" pitch, and it made a certain amount of sense, from a certain point of view.
The gist of it was that Parson really ought to take a few weeks to set Gobwin Knob up on a stable military and diplomatic footing. Then he could extend the pact with Charlescomm to provide long-term protection to Stanley, and just bow out. Use the spell. Go home to Ohio. Have a normal life. Play a winnable game, instead of getting railroaded by Fate into a meaningless war with someone who didn't wish Parson any particular harm.
Which meant, of course, that this meeting hadn't been about Jojo's broken heart at all. It was just one more gambit from Charlie.
As soon as Parson understood that, a part of him had kind of wanted to pick Jojo up and throw him bodily out of the gazebo, the way he'd hurled Slately at the dwagon. But he didn't need to Hulk out, just tune out. Stop listening, stop asking questions, stop responding to prompts, stop playing along. At one point, he ignored one of Jojo's questions and asked Janis about her stew recipe.
"I just noticed it when I burped, but was there tarragon in there?"
The visit ground to a halt, after that.
Jojo took his leave, smiling that fakeass smile of his. For his part, Parson made the half-hearted, half-empty promise that he would consider using the spell as an exit strategy, once he was sure he could leave his post in good conscience.
Maggie never said another word to Jojo, but if looks could croak, then Parson and his contingent would have been watching over the Carnymancer's body and calling for Wanda. (Okay, looks could croak. There were several forms of Lookamancy that could do damage, with eyebeams and stuff like that. But whatever.) She watched him vanish into the woods before blinking hard twice, and saying, "Horrible man."
"He is what he is," said Janis. "The Carnies have it tough."
"As they'll be the first to tell you," sniffed Maggie. "That's a vital part of their act, to always be generating sympathy for themselves."
Janis smiled. "I can spare them some sympathy, Maggie. It doesn't cost anything."
"It can," insisted Maggie acidly. "They'll make you pay, one way or another, if you believe their line of patter. You don't, Lord. Do you?"
Parson put his hands on the concrete bench behind him and stretched his back. "It was interesting."
"It was hogwash. Lord."
Parson suppressed a grin. She was really furious with Jojo, wasn't she? Hard to resist baiting her, if she was going to lose her legendary cool over something as dumb as this.
"Interesting hogwash," he shrugged, and looked away.
"You cannot be considering casting the spell," said Maggie crisply. "You must know there are no conditions under which you could leave Gobwin Knob as safe without you as with you."
Parson said nothing. He just stared at the Foolamancy sculpture in the grass behind Janis. It was something like a fifteen foot high lava lamp, floating in midair. Very soothing to watch."Would you do that, Warlord?" asked Janis. "Do you want to go home?"
He turned his head slightly, and focused on Janis' face in the firelight. Was she worried, or only curious? He couldn't really tell.
"Hey it kinda surprised me when he said you'd want me to bring peace to Erfworld," he said. "I wasn't sure what to make of that."
Janis mouth formed a little flat line. "Well, I suppose I can't deny that dream." She said it like a confession. "I'm sure the Thinkamancers already told you I helped broker the creation of the spell that summoned you."
"Um, no? No, they didn't." He glanced at Maggie, who shook her head to indicate that this was news to her as well. "You what?"
"Oh, I…" Janis' hand went to her chest. "I'm not… well, I had a hand in it. The idea was that if there was a perfect warlord, then he would be able to… to make war obsolete." She tilted her head at him. "Can you do that? Do you think?"
Parson made a little gasp of exasperation and looked at the ground. He was about to say something sarcastic about the ridiculousness of the question, about the impossible scale of the problem she expected him to solve.
Except that if he was being completely honest with himself, this was already something he had spent a lot of time thinking about.
How do you sustain a side without battles? If it were possible to, for example, force every side in the world to sign a binding alliance, what would happen? He had gamed it out with Jack, a few times. He had spent hours with his bracer, doing off-the-wall calculations. It was like trying to come up with a perpetual motion machine. So far, he hadn't been able to come up with a sustainable scenario that didn't involve substantially depopulating the world.
But he couldn't pretend that Peace on Erf hadn't been on his mind, at least as a thought exercise. So he shut his mouth and stared at the sculpture for a while.
Maggie nodded, just once.
"Jojo… wants me to wage a War on Fate. Or failing that, to take my ball and go home. And you," he said, turning to Janis, "want me to wage a War on… War?"
She crinkled her eyebrows, pressed her lips together again, and nodded.
Parson sighed. "Which just takes us back to Jojo's question. What's my prize? What am I playing for? What do I want?"
He looked down at the ground between his feet again. It wasn't the first time he'd confronted the question, of course, and his answer to himself was always that he wanted to do the right thing, as lame as that might sound. Charlie was a bastard; he needed to be taken down. Fate, if it really existed, was something that could stand to have its grip on the world broken. And Erfworld was one gigantic logic puzzle. A solution to the state of constant war might actually exist. (He might also not be smart enough to find that solution.)
So what was the right thing? Which was the right war to fight? What did he want?"Is there any stew left?" he asked.