Friday, July 27, 2012

Day Two-Sixty: Separation Anxiety

Men has come. Men, big helmet, scary. Is the diamond-eyesies. Both green. Like match thinger. Not light green, but scary green. Frightened, is diary. I huddle, stay still, men won't find.

Hope.

I record.

"Dragomir the Guard? Don't shoot. We come with a message. Dragomir the Guard?"

"What the FUCK do ya want?!"

"Not you, woman. Your husband. Where is he? Our lord wishes to speak with him."

"You can TELL that FUCK JEFFREY -"

"Not Jeffrey. Our lord. There is a huge difference. Dragomir? Dragomir the Guard?"

"GET THE FUCK -"

"Libby. Calm down. You're scarin' the nobles. Ow, don't hit me!"

"DON'T GRAB ME IN THE DARK, THEN! Gods! Edmund, take the fuckin' ballista, wouldya?"

"Thy will be done, / o vicious wifely one."

"Shut yer trap. What do you want with my goddamned husband?"

"I told you. My lord wishes to speak with him."

"Fuck! What the hell's goin' on! Why didn't you shoot the bastards?!"

"Calm down, Cedric. Back off."

"Don't tell ME to back off, you twerp, I outrank you!"

"Yeah! What he said!"

"Let 'em leave."

"What?"

"Them. All of 'em. Let them leave. 'n I'll come with you."

"Will you, now?"

"The FUCK he WILL! Dragomir, SHUT the HELL UP!"

"No. Listen. They want me, they can have me. You all get out. Okay? Okay. Sounds grand. Let's do it."

"NO it's NOT GRAND! WHY THE HELL SHOULD I LET YOU DO THAT?! WE'RE DYING TOGETHER, YOU FUCKING PRICK! YOU CAN'T JUST -"

(Whomp. Ow. Big, big hairy man, he… he knocks out Libbers. Ow ow ow. Is okay, though - she fine. And little lad in belly, he is fine, too!)

"Sorry 'bout that, Dragomir. I think it's a good deal."

"Uh… thanks… I think."

"Yeah. With one o' them caveats: I'm comin' too."

"What?! No, hell with that. Just me, or -"

"You and me or nuthin', you lazy fuck. I'm still your captain. And AS captain, I'm sayin' YOU, BERNARD, are comin' too!"

"WHAT!? ARE YOU CRAZY? I'M NOT GOING WITH YOU! YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW IF THEY'LL LET THE RESTA THESE PEOPLE GO!"

"We will."

"WHAT?!"

"That was the plan when we came here. Our lord has no interest in anyone but Dragomir. The rest of you are free to leave on the dragon."

"WHAT dra- oh holy shit there's a dragon floatin' beside me, holy, oh holy, shiiiiiiit -"

"Cut your whinin', Ber. Lookit that, it's the king's ride. Apocalyptor, right?"

"His name's Barrel, actually."

"Huh?"

"Long… LONG story. You'll let him take these people outta here?"

"Of course. We had hoped to use them for food, but you're all proving too tenacious to bother. The time is very close, and our lord wants you below to witness the grand opening."

"… food…?"

"Fine. Whatever. Ed? C'mere, Ed. Take this - "

(Drags? DRAGS?! WHO IS THIS? DRAGSSSSSSS)

" - and take Libby, 'n all these nobles, and get outta here. You sure you don't wanna go with 'em, Cedric?"

"Nope. I've got a king 'n a prince to worry about. You sure YOU don't wanna beat feet, twerp? If that dragon c'n grow, like I'm suspectin'…"

"They'll cave in the hole. If I try to escape. Won't you?"

"Not quite. We'll cave in the walkways. On top of the dragon. It will never make it to the top."

"That's fuckin' crazy! You'd all be stuck down 'ere!"

"You assume that we need walkways to get out."

"…"

"I DON'T WANNA GOOOOOOOOO, I'M GONNA DIE LIKE ALL MY SISTERS AND BROTHERS!"

"You're goin' and you'll like it. C'mon, you bastards, let's get this over with."

"Ed! One more thing. There's a guy in the castle library. He's refusin' to leave. Make sure he does. Grab him and take him with you."

"Ah, a librarian, indeed! A curious lot. / I can force the vacation of a familiar spot."

"Eh… sure. Cool. Harold, you know the library, right?"

"Um… y… yeah…"

"Guide him. Don't leave Robert behind."

"Okay."

"Y'done?"

"One more thing."

(DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGS, STOP KISSING HER AND HOLD MEEEEEE)

"Bye, Libby. Love you."

(DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGS)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Nine: Long Overdue


DRAGS

WHY IS YOU THE NOT WRITE IN ME

I AM HERE AND THERE IS A PEN THING

WRITES

YOU LOUT

Grah! Never been so long, not since visit to ratty land, that somebody no write in my! Drags has lulled, I, diary, this I know, but two days and NO PERSONS?! Inconceivable.

So I spy. Yes. I is be all recordy-type. Drags, he writes what he say in me, so I do too. Don't tell no no one, though, diary - secret. Don't want Drags be mad.

Ah! Big hairy man and Drags, they talk. Perfect opp-or-tu-ni-ty. Listen in secrets, diary, listen!

"… fuck, I'm starving. This shit they left down here ain't fit to feed to goats, let alone people."

"Mmm."

"Haven't seen the bastards from below in, fuck, three hours now. They tried to rush us while you were sleepin'. Held 'em off with just a wave of that stupid ballista… dunno if that'll keep 'em off us forever, but…"

"Mmm."

"'Mmm'? That all you got to say, you gods-damned layabout? No other comment about our little-fuckin'-predicament?"

"…"

"…"

"Mmm."

"Ah, fuck you. Oughta rip your face off 'n toss it down to those bastards as a sacrifice. Maybe they'd let the rest 'o us go."

"Maybe you should write a poem about your feelings and toss it down. They'll feel sorry for us. Offer you a therapy session."

"…what did you just say?"

"Did I fuckin' stutter? You HEARD what I said."

(Oooo, Drags is maaaaaad. Hairy man usually don't get this language, no sirma'am.)

"Gonna beat me up over it? Huh, Cedric? Fuck the captain crap. Don't need it. We're equally screwed, way down 'ere. C'mon, bring out those goddamned fists 'o yours. Let's have it out. You've beat me up so many other times. What's different now? Huh? Be brave, big fucking man."

"…"

"What? Nuthin' to say? You piece of shit. After all the names y'called me over the years, you've got nuthin' to say?"

"…"

"SAY SOMETHING!"

"What'd you think of them?"

"What?"

"The poems. I know you stole one. I ain't stupid. What… what'd you think?"

"…"

"Well?"

"You gotta be joking me."

"I'm not! Ain't like I'm gonna find a better critic at this point, is it?! Tell me what you thought! Haven't shown those to anybody before, 'n I'd like an honest opinion!"

"Uhhh…"

"…"

"They were…"

"…?"

"Nice."

"… nice."

"Yeah. Nice."

"You want me to beat your face in?"

"What! What! That's my opinion, cap'n! Nice!"

"Fuck off! That's just some titchy little shit word meant t'placate my feelings! If you thought they were shit, c'mon out with it!"

"I said they were NICE!"

"TRUTH!"

"NICE!"

"TRUTH!"

"FINE! BACK OFF, YA SMELLY ARSE! I THOUGHT THE LANGUAGE WAS GOOD BUT THE MESSAGE WAS TIRED AND DULL! LOVE POEMS?! REEEEEEEEAL FUCKIN' ORIGINAL, CAPTAIN FANCYPANTS!"

"Hey, what're you guys yellin' 'bout up there? Can I join in? I'm bored."

"FUCK OFF, BERNARD, WE'RE BUSY."

"Fine, cripes, sister almighty…"

(Lotsa heavy breathing. Maybe, says I, they run a marathon. Marathon of words. Sounded like it happens.)

"…"

"…"

"Thanks."

"Thanks?"

"Yeah. Thanks. Honest opinion. Thanks. Never asked anybody before."

"… you're welcome?"

"T… thanks."

"…"

"What d'you think I could work on?"

"Huh?"

"Y'know, if we get outta this. Any… any pointers? Y'know… from one writer t'another."

"…"

"…?"

"Cedric?"

"Yeah?"

"You're a good guy."

(They talk boring things now. Don't care, is me. I writes entry in dark; is good. Night, diary!)

Sinceres,

Diary

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Eight: Diary Shenanigans


What? Drags no more write in me? Saaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

FINE. He no write, then I, diary, which is me and I, will do it. Instead. You thinks you are only one is writing, Drags? Har ho! IIIIIIII no let pages be unfilled. No!

'cept those onesies ratty blanked out. Poor ratty. He got kicked outta here. No talkin' to poor diary no more. Other ratties, they say, MY ratty be dead! Keeled dead.

Poor ratty. Showed me, fighting catties is fun. Will miss him.

SO dark, diary, which is I. SO dark. Drags has stick, has green glow, but he won't use. Why? Don't know. Used to write in me before, I guess, and now? No write. So no stick. So no light.

Is fine. Eyes, they don't mind dark. Thank you, ratty skin! Still. Like light. Reminds me of cupboardhome. Cupboardhome missable.

I go for little walk. One of men, BIG guy, stupid hair. He point, he say, "Diary! You don't move! Why you move?!" And I, diary, say "Ho! I move. Look at me move." And I wiggles my toesies.

Man, he jumps. He jumps right off wooden thinger. Splat. Crack. Whoops. I don't move no more. He can be fix, yeah? Like me, broken spine. Can fix. Yeah.

Poor Drags. So lonely. Cuddle with wifey? I like wifey. Not so much no as Drags, but she writes nice. Go cuddle with Libbers, Drags. You always try do it other places. Why no now?

Cuddle. Mmm. They cuddle very loud. But then, I say, hairy things are coming. Hairy things, they smell bad. And I have no nose! That how bad, is they smell. So maybe no cuddling.

Also! Also also! Drags come visit! Not little Drags, MY Drags, but BIG Drags. Is swoop down and look at us. He not so big then, look kinda bugsy. But I know. Is scaly Drags. I know 'cause he is looking at me right now, with, like, a billijillion eyes. Buzzzzzzzz.

Bye, big-small Drags. See you soon? Yah. Is fun visit with big-small Drags. Kinda like ratty, only less with the squeaks.

Sigh. Bored. Come, Drags, put downs your sandmiches! Write in me!

Sinceres,

Diary

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Seven: Despair in the Dark


The guards tried to advance on us again, today. From above. One of the nobles, manning the furthest ballistae up the ramps, got panicked and fired. A big chunk of the walkways caved in. They can't get at us from above, now… but we also can't get out. Not without risking our lives.

Lives. Ha. Cheap things, lives. I'm seein' that now.

I only slept for a few hours last night. Couldn't keep my eyes closed. Kept watch with Edmund on one of the ballistae instead. We chatted quietly for a while, trying to maintain our calm, but… it didn't work. He managed to work his doom-and-gloom mood into his poetics. Bet he wishes he'd turned down that head bard job now.

Or, maybe, just maybe, he wishes that he'd put a sword through the penguin's head a long time ago. Edmund warned me about Kierkegaard. I should've known he was behind all this. Who else could it be? That fucker is running the kingdom, thanks to his jester position with King Jeffrey. He has the connections; he has the will, obviously; and, somewhere, deep in his birdy brain, he has a motivation for it all. I know it.

Fuck. The moment he wanted to start hunting rats, I knew he was bad news.

What's down there? What's in that chamber? What's behind that door? What does Kierkegaard want in such an ungodly place? Is there a treasure? Some dark magic? An invincible army? A weapon he'll use to kill all of us?

Or… is there somebody… something… that wants to thank me? And if that's the case… what did I do to earn thanks?

Is this all my fault?

That grates at me. That thought. The idea that, somehow, I'm responsible for all of this. I've gone through my share of weird shit… so… I guess it's possible… that I did something wrong? That somehow, despite my good intentions, I ruined this kingdom? Is Dragomir to blame for it all?

And… if that's the case… am I also responsible… for Eve being involved? IS she involved? Or does she care so little about all this that she's just watching until the next battle comes along? Will she DESTROY whatever's behind that door… or will she let it go free?

Fuck.

Eve. Darling daughter.

You… you aren't actually… evil, are you?

This… is my last entry, diary. You help me cling to hope, and I think doin' that is just a case of me foolin' myself. It's time I let go.

Bye, diary. It was fun. I'll keep you with me 'til the end.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Six: Flight


We ran, diary.

We ran like hell.

Now we're huddled in the dark, sheltering together like… rats. Hoping that the weird connection between us all is enough to stay alive. It's a very small hope.

The inevitable happened. The royal guards… they turned on us. When we reached the bottom of the hole, what seemed like an eternity away from the beginning, we found… a room.

A coffin.

A door.

We only had a few seconds to process that information before the guards came at us. King Jeffrey went down first, hit from behind and knocked onto the dirt and rock floor. Two of the guards seized him and dragged him further into the chamber.

The other guards attacked. One struck a nobleman on the temple with a mace. Judging by the loud crack, I doubt the man ever saw anything again. One went for Libby, but she ducked under the swipe of his spear and rammed him into the wall. Cedric and Bernard, quick on the uptake (and probably expecting this all along), did the same to three more guards. Thank the gods for Cedric's bulk.

I was too panicked, too weak and worried and frightened, to do anything but soil myself. That, and… look into the chamber. Stunned. Confused. Not surprised, but bewildered as shit. And what did I see…?

The coffin.

The door.

Logan. Kneeling at the base of the door. Doing… something.

A penguin, skittering towards the door, waving for the guards to drag King Jeffrey to him. Screaming "He's not done yet? He's not done yet?! FUCK!"

And Eve. My Eve. Watching. Not caring. Arms folded, three guards standing behind her. As casual as a spring day. She didn't help us, she didn't hinder us. She simply watched.

Libby dragged me out of my stupor. I ran with everyone else. Ignoring fatigue we darted up the rickety wooden ramps, two at a time. It didn't matter how long it took, we would reach the top of that fucking hole. Time moved in a void, and I, running past torch after torch, ignored the seconds.

Until we hit another squad of royal guards, heading down. Blocking us off.

It was Bernard, surprisingly, who saved us. As our group of ragged commoners and nobles hunched back defensively, Bernard spotted a ballista mounted on one of the railings. He grabbed the handles, swivelled it towards the encroaching guards, and fired. They jumped back as a heavy metal spear launched out of the gun and shredded part of the walkway, not enough to bring it down and trap us, but enough to force the Omega Corpsers out of sight.

We stopped and caught our collective breaths. Cedric, genuinely impressed, thanked Bernard for his initiative. They had a moment. But that moment ended, and we're still stuck here.

There are royal guards below us. Royal guards above us. We have some food, from one of the caches I spotted on the way down, and enough water to last… a few days. Maybe a week. There's a surprising amount of supplies, but we can't stay here forever. That's plain. Eventually one of us will be too weak to man the ballistae along the rails, or too tired, or simply tired of life, and that will be the end.

The door.

Gods help me, the door.

It was supposed to stay in my dreams, where all truly bad things belong.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Five: The Long Dark


Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.

We're walking, diary. We're walking down. Way down. I'm writing as I walk, by matchlight, because I'm fucking nervous and I don't know what else to do. Fuck, fuck, FUCK.

Okay. Calm. Let it out, Dragomir.

I woke up today, hoping I'd been stuck in a bad dream about a wedding for the last… nine months, only to discover that, no. My little girl was still married to the prince of the realm. Libby 'n me were in a swanky apartment, abandoned by some noble douche, and it was the day of the reception.

Harold came to us again in the morning. He told us that the king wanted to see us in his throne room, post-haste. He wanted to get the reception underway, to see our reaction when he presented his present to the bride and groom. We got dressed in our usual duds (I wasn’t wearing that stupid frock again) and wandered through the near-empty halls of the castle to the throne room.

The king was there. Still dressed in his outfit from the previous night. Still looking cross. Yet, at the same time, jubilant. Happy-skippy-really-weirdy. He kept looking around the room, as though restlessly paranoid, and whenever he said something he checked with Kierkegaard (who was as shrill and assholish as ever) to make sure it was okay.

"Dragofuck!" the king shrieked as we entered the hall. He waved us to a small group of nobles, standing in the middle of the carpet, surrounded by royal guards. "Come, come! You're the last ones! You too, castellan boy, you too. It's a shame your daddy left on you! Yes, big shame. Daddies should protect their children, right, Dragofuck? Yes, all about protecting children."

We nervously agreed, all huddling close together. For once, nobles and commoners (and Edmund, yes, he's with us too) were one.

"Excellent!" Jeffrey clapped his hands and jumped off his throne. "Alright! It's time for the tour! The tour of the wedding hall! Time to get this ceremony underway AGAIN!"

None of us dared ask what that meant. The king had legitimately lost it. Another wedding? The hell was he on about? The wedding had been the night befofjcel

FUCK. Sorry. Tripped on a rock. Ow, that hurt. Thank the gods Robert's match relights itself whenever you want.

King Jeffrey took the lead, ushering us out of his hall, surrounded on all sides by marching royal guards. They boxed us in, towering over our flanks, more menacing than ever before. They're still doing that now…

As we marched into the corridors, Kierkegaard offered a quick explanation… and he did it in an incredible imitation of Eve's monotone voice. Apparently HE had said yes to the wedding proposal the night before, taking Eve's place in the wedding vows. Consequently, the marriage hadn't been real. It was all a show… so the king could hold the REAL marriage in a much more secluded locale the next day. Where Logan's ungrateful mother couldn't reach them.

Or stop them.

The king, skipping madly, guided us away from the throne room. Down the massive main corridor. And… turning… turning left… he led us into the east wing of the castle. Bernard and Cedric were waiting for us, standing on either side of the entrance into the wing, both looking very nervous, both obviously on explicit orders.

They became wedding prisoners as well. The royal guards drove us all. They drove us towards the hole.

The hole looked much the same as it had the last time I came here. I still couldn't see the bottom, and… now… now that the royal guards have forced us down the ramps, down, down, into the depths… it's black. It's all black, all the way down, as if the dozens of torches lighting the way mean nothing to whatever's at the bottom.

We felt no compulsion to dig. Why would we? It's obvious. The hole's done. Whatever it needed to reach, it has reached.

The king rambled. He told us everything I already know. He'd used people to dig his hole. It had been brilliant! They hadn't even known they were digging! And now, thanks to Jeffrey's piercing insight, they'd discovered something far grander than precious metals. Something that would make all other martial concerns utterly superfluous.

The tone in his voice has everyone frightened. We all want to leave. Even Cedric, who's tougher than any amount of precious metal, looks worried. I think he regrets his fealty to his king. None of us dares try to turn back, though, because the royal guards are there… and they won't LET us leave. No amount of pleading will change their minds, and lemme tell you, some of the nobles sure have tried. Excuses mean shit to these guys.

I can't even see their faces anymore, this far into the earth. They're shadows with horns and spears. That's nightmare material.

We're walking, diary, and I'm writing. I sense, I sense, oh gods, I sense that we're closing in on the bottom. We're so far down that I spotted a food cache a few minutes ago, a sizable one, probably used by workers who had to come this deep to dig. How many of us have been this far down? How many… how many of us came this close to the centre of the darkness without even realizing it?

Gods… the walkways… they're… they're lined with ballistae… similar to the cannons we used to keep Driscol out… why are they here… gods, Driscol, I'm sorry we stopped you, I'm so sorry we tried to keep you out, you wanted what was good, even if you were an asshole, and we, gods, we just

No. No. I see light. Light at the bottom. There's something down there… the path ends… and… there's dirt, and rock and





It's a chamber, diary, a circular chamber, and there's… oh, fuck, there's a COFFIN down here, I can… I








no









the door

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Four, Part Two: Post-Wedding Blahs


(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Heed the title! There is a part one! Go back if you missed it!)

As predicted, that was THE SHITIEST WEDDING I've ever attended. And I've only attended one other. It wasn't very good either.

Yeah. You guessed. It was my own. We held it in an apple orchard. There were, like, five people present. Libby was wearing overalls. It was STILL better.

The mercs strolled into the castle near dinnertime. Half of them were already sauced, having imbibed a ton of booze while they travelled. The rest demanded payment upfront for their services. King Jeffrey's timid officials, who looked as scared of their royal guard escorts as they were of the mercs, agreed on the spot.

The original plan, I think, had been to hold the wedding on the grounds outside the castle, overlooking the Grand Chasm. King Jeffrey must've poo-pooed that idea, though, 'cause an hour after the mercs arrived they were stealing tables and chairs from empty houses and setting them up in the main thoroughfare. Such a hodgepodge of furniture you have never seen.

Harold, our little noble buddy, came to get Libby and I 'round five in the evening. He told us that the ceremony would take place overnight, under the stars, and we needed to get dressed well in advance. I lugged Libby out of bed (lords but she's heavy) and dragged her to the keep, where, after waking her up with a splash of ale to the face, we got dressed.

Also, she punched me. Totally awake, back to normal. Party time.

We hadn't gotten the hang of dressing ourselves properly during our training, so Harold helped me get into my wedding frock while one of the maids 'assisted' (more like offered pointers at a distance to) Libby. Took me an hour to get dressed, and an hour and a half for Libby. Amazing how you can muck up such simple clothes.

We had time to kill after that, so Libby wandered off to help with the wedding prep (and stained her dress in the process) while I went looking for Eve. I hadn't seen her in weeks outside occasional glances of her eating dead animals, and though it might be bad luck for the father to see the daughter, I didn't care. I wanted to catch her before she got married.

(Yeah, maybe that's not bad luck. Might be something else. Don't care. MEH, diary, MEH.)

I found Eve on the ramparts, still in full armour, without much searching. She was watching the wedding prep underway, perhaps analyzing the combat skills of the wedding planners from afar. Most of 'em still had their blades on 'em, and looked ready for a scrap. What a dreamy wedding.

"Eve?" I said, calling from a distance so I didn't spook her. "Eve, can I talk to you?"

She glanced at me, disinterested, then looked back at the shabby crowds below. She pulled her sword from its scabbard and bent it into a boomerang shape, clearly far too interested in the slaughter of everyone in the main thoroughfare.

I took it as a 'yes'. You take what you can get with Eve.

I walked up beside her and watched the people below with her. Father and daughter, under the fading sky, only hours away from a wedding that would change both their lives.

"Eve, you don't have to do this, y'know. You can back out if you want."

"A grim, omitting tender," she replied.

"Sure, there's… there's that, but… do you understand, Eve? You don't have to get married. Really! You can… can call it off, and… just come with us!"

She rolled her eyes. Don't see that too often. "A grim, omitting tender! Trim trot a deeming gin!"

I shook my head. If she was trying to say something, it wasn't coming through properly. As usual. "Okay… well… just remember, if you… uh, change your… mind… you have the power to walk away. Boy do you have the power to walk away. Okay?"

Eve whipped her boomersword into the air. It arced high, disappearing from sight, then zipped back into her hand. Hefting it, she looked at me and said, "Huh. Visit a dab negligee, yow lot kimono."

I blinked. She spat, slid the boomersword into her belt, and jumped off the roof. I didn't see her again until the wedding procession, three hours later.

I went looking for Libby. She was knee-deep in an argument with one of the mercs over a banner. Libby's fond of structural aesthetics, being a carpenter, and she insisted that the banner (a crudely-drawn picture of Eve and Logan holding hands) be strung along the upper lip of the Matriarch's shell, as it wouldn't stretch from one side of the thoroughfare to the other. The merc was surprisingly impassioned about his point of view, possibly because he was drunk, and royal guards had to part the two.

"Meh, fuckin' lame wedding anyway," Libby grunted. "Where's the food?"

It came shortly, and with it came people. Nobles. The remaining nobles of Castle WeddingBells, surprisingly few in number. I guess a lot of them fled secretly in the night, along with many of their assistants. A couple dozen remained behind, though, and they perused long tables covered in what was left of the kitchens. Every piece of food had been THOROUGHLY butchered by the mercs, and Libby and I went without. Better an empty stomach than the runs.

We waited. For a long, long time. We attempted to mingle with the nobles out of sheer boredom, but gave up whenever they lifted their noses. Queen Daena became our sole source of entertainment, as her grand vehicle, set in the middle of the thoroughfare, would soon serve as the mount of union for Logan and Eve. She looked happy, though we could both tell Daena was absolutely miserable.

Princess Celine, hiding in her mother's tree, remained oddly non-committal. I suspect she keeps all of her opinions to herself, which may make her wiser than anyone else I know.

The ceremony began half an hour before midnight. The mercs erected huge, blazing logs to light the path to the Matriarch, and the… three… bards who'd stuck around (yes, including poor Edmund) began to play the wedding march the king had specially ordered for the occasion.

It was, of course, his fucking theme song. He'd altered a few of the lyrics to be LOGAN'S name instead of his own, but you could tell. You could bloody well tell.

Logan, pale-faced and arm-in-arm with his father, came wandering down the aisle first. Both were dressed in regal purples and whites, not too different from their usual finery, but different enough. Jeffrey was holding his son up, forcing Logan to walk. Father looked thoroughly annoyed; son was about to pass out. Not sure if he knew where he was.

Eve came next, STILL in her armour. No dress for my daughter. She was arm-in-arm with… that… bloody… penguin. Kierkegaard. FUCK. I mean, I know I'd NEVER been offered the opportunity to walk Eve down the aisle, and I respected that, but the JESTER?! WHY HIM?! THE LITTLE FUCK EVEN STOPPED TO STICK HIS TONGUE OUT AT ME

Sorry. Sorry. Overly-dramatic, I know. I'll live.

Everybody gathered atop the Matriarch. They were joined by a Weekendist, an ordained monk, who asked for everybody in the audience to be seated (no one had stood up in the first place) and began the ceremony.

"All ye gathered here today," he droned into the bullhorn set up on the grassy mound, "we have come to witness the joyous union of this man -"

- he pointed at Logan, whose head was wobbling about -

" - and this, er, woman."

- he pointed at Eve, who glared back as though she might bite off his arm.

The monk continued. "The gods above us, whomever they might be and wherever they may dwell, look down upon this union… we assume… with great love and respect. We think. And though we know not the nature of the gods of the weekend, nor how we might honour them properly, nor even how to contact them that we might ask these important questions, a union of this calibre must, by all the unknown tomes of our great overseers, be held in high regard."

Everybody let out a faint 'Huzzah!'. I swear, the five people at MY wedding were louder.

The monk turned to Logan. "Do you, Logan, prince of this… great… realm… take this Eve to be your lawfully wedded wife? To hold her, and honour her, in the sight of the gods whom we cannot see nor hear nor feel nor comprehend, so long as you both dwell upon this grand celestial orb?"

Jeffrey, who was still supporting his son at the crest of the mound, tilted Logan's head forward into a nod. He tried to keep it secret, but we all saw.

"That… will do." The monk turned to Eve, who was still arm-in-arm with Kierkegaard. "Do you, Eve, Lord Knight of this… STUPENDOUS… realm, take this Logan to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

"Dump 'im, baby, 'n take me!" one of the drunken mercs hooted from the sidelines. "He ain't man 'nough!"

King Jeffrey mimed a slicing motion to his royal guards. Two of them dragged the merc away. We never saw him again. Then Jeffrey motioned impatiently for the monk to continue.

"To… er, to hold him, and honour him, in the… sight of… the gods whom we cannot see nor hear nor feel nor comprehend, so long as you both dwell upon this… grand… celestial… orb?"

I hoped, diary. I hoped and prayed and dreamed that Eve would not utter those three letters, that she would instead say something horrific, about the apocalypse or the coming doom or blood from the skies, or maybe some long-winded, garbled shit that NOBODY would understand, not even the best code-crackers in the world. I hoped, prayed, DREAMED that Eve would, at this critical juncture, be herself.

"Yes."

The crowd jumped. Libby jumped. I jumped. Nobody in their right minds had EVER suspected my little girl would respond to a question in a straightforward, understandable manner.

But she did. And that sealed the deal.

"Then I now pronounce you man and wife!" the monk proclaimed, throwing his hands to the skies. "You may kiss the bride, Prince Logan."

I blacked out at that part. I have since been assured by Libby that, yes, they actually kissed.

I woke up a few hours and a few TERRIBLE dreams later in some super-swanky apartment in the nobles' wing. Libby was there, chatting with Harold (I guess they're getting on alright now), and when they saw me rousing they filled in the blanks.

The wedding's over. Eve and Logan are married. They've disappeared into the castle, SOMEWHERE into the castle, to… legitimize their marriage. I'm… I'm not quite sure what that means, but it frightens me, diary, it frightens me something fierce.

The reception was cut short. Indeed, it never happened. Once the ceremony ended, the nobles in attendance fled into the keep. A few royal guards remained outside with Queen Daena and Princess Celine, to watch over 'em in case the mercs felt like engaging in shenanigans, but most disappeared with the king and the newlyweds.

We've been invited to remain in this room for the night. Tomorrow we'll be escorted to an impromptu reception, INSIDE the castle, where we've been promised a glimpse of the bride and groom.

And after that… I guess… we're… leaving. Forever.

That was my daughter's wedding. Didn't need a single lesson to get through it without raising a fuss. Woo for me.

Woo… woo for me.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Semi-But-Not-Really-Royal

Day Two-Fifty-Four, Part One: Pre-Wedding Jitters


No workers.

No cooks.

A bunch of nobles, with their few remaining attendants.

Three guards, one of them part of the ceremony.

And a small legion of stony-faced Omega Corpsers. They come closer to the 'corpse' part of that name by the day.

Yep, that's Castle WeddingBells.

The streets are vacant. The vast, VAST majority of commoners are long gone, having either left in the mass exodus yesterday or sneaked out during the night. Libby and I are the only people in our row of houses, now. It's a lonely walk to work.

The castle won't be lonely for long, though. I heard from Bernard - yes, I've been reduced to talking to BERNARD, of all people - that the king has hired a band of mercenaries. They're going to… 'assemble' the wedding. Make the food, bake the big cake, set up all the decorations… you name it.

Mercenaries. Probably some of the same guys who tried to INVADE us last month. Creating a wedding. Lords above, King Jeffrey really is desperate to get his son married.

Which, I must admit, comments on his tenacity. He's obsessed with making this wedding work. Cedric, Bernard and I all went to a meeting with Jeffrey (alongside the Omega Corps, damn their souls, not a SINGLE ONE has deserted), and the whole time he went ON and ON about the wedding. It has to be 'perfect'. If it ain't perfect, it ain't his son's wedding. His hopes better not be too high, 'cause swordsmen and women don't make the best caterers.

The ceremony is tonight. I have to spend the day getting ready. Have to force Libby into it, too. She's been in bed all week, and a lot more than usual in the past month. I mean, I know she LIKES to sleep, but… should I be worried? When she's awake she seems fine…

I'll get back to you, diary. You're comin' with me tonight, slipped under my stupid dress frock. Whatever it is. I don't wanna leave you alone in this house.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Father of the Bride

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Three: One Robert Down


The strike's over.

Everyone's leaving.

In a sense, Robert capitulated. He gave in to King Jeffrey's freakish demands, screamed at the crowd from the king's tower. The deal, I've heard, was this:

"EITHER YOU GET BACK TO WORK OR YOU GET THE HELL OUT! THOSE ARE YOUR TWO OPTIONS!"

Jeffrey underestimated the drawing power of the second option, because it took only a few minutes of debate for every rowdy protestor in the main thoroughfare to decide, yeah, that's not such a bad idea. Half an hour later, most people were tromping out of the secret entrance to the castle, watched over by a tearful Queen Daena.

Who, I should mention, is also leaving. Celine dropped by the house this morning and told Libby and I that Daena's decided to divorce King Jeffrey. He's gone too far for her to bear. (Don't know if you CAN divorce a king, but I'm positive that not a single lawyer in the country will argue with a giant, rolling death machine.) Once Logan and Eve are married - Daena thinks it's a HORRIBLE matchup, speaking of which, though she kept quiet before - the queen's taking the Matriarch out of this crappy castle.

And… so are we.

Libby's refusing to leave Daena without a capable mechanic, and, secretly, I'm sure she wants to stick with her friend. They've stuck together through quite a bit, 'n I can't see that changing any time soon. I can't bear to leave Eve behind in this crumbling mausoleum of a kingdom, but… she doesn't need me… and Libby does.

Well. Not really. She needs me more than Eve, at least, and that counts for something. Right? Sure. Hell, Daena eventually wants to get Logan BACK, so… maybe I'll see my little girl again…?

That revelation wasn't even the heaviest one of the day. All that stuff is happening the future. This next one? Already happened. Done and gone and finished.

Because all of the workers are leaving, Robert, too, is taking off. Not the librarian, of course - he's stayin' here for good or for ill - but my bro. The kingdom's premiere chef, and former caterer for Logan's wedding. He stopped by the house to say goodbye to Libby and I, surrounded by a mob of supporters. (Including his kitchen staff, of course.)

"Heya, bro." He leaned on the doorjamb and gave me his usual, sarcastic grin. "'m headin' out. You gonna come with?"

I shook my head. Libby and I had already made our decision. "We're stickin' around for the wedding. After that… who knows."

"Yeah. Who knows." He took of his chef's cap, stowed it in his pocket, and came forward for a hug. "This ain't the chef in your house, now. This is plain 'ol Robert, and plain 'ol Robert wants to give you a bit of advice. If you don't mind."

I accepted the hug. We don't normally have fraternal moments, but this seemed appropriate. "Sure, go nuts."

He pulled me in close, nice and tight, and whispered in my ear. "Don't stay for the wedding. Get the hell outta here, Drago. Right now. With us. I've got a nose for lousy deals, 'n this one reeks of ill favour."

"Don't I know it." I pushed him away with a light punch to the chest. "We'll be fine. Our little girl's a fighter, remember? She won't let us get all buggered up."

Robert frowned, obviously unconvinced. He's always had a little soft spot for Eve, but… she's Eve, y'know?

"Don't suppose you have some crazy scheme for getting' us all outta this mess, do ya?" I smirked and drew an imaginary line across my neck. Poor Philip.

Robert bellowed laughter. "Ha! Oh, oh, that poor bastard. Heh… heh. Cripes, almost forgot about that. Thanks for makin' me feel guilty, y'bastard."

"Any time, y'bastard." We hugged again.

Robert reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of wood. He handed it to me. "'ere. I got this a while back. S'a magic match, or something. Remember? I used it to spook you durin' the first strike. I want you to have it."

I remembered. I took the match and ran a hand over the head. It sparked to life and glowed faintly in the sunlight. "Yeah. Thanks, but… why? Cook like you must run through a dozen matches in a day."

"Sure." He shrugged. "'n it's saved me a couple copper, here 'n there. I can't help ya, though, so… figure you should have it. Probably come in handy, somewhere down the line. Just… be careful how ya take it outta your pocket."

I set it on the table near the door, thanked him, and waved Robert goodbye. He told me he'd be back in our hometown, setting up his own restaurant, if I ever wanted to look him up. Not sure if I wanna see my dad any time soon, but I'll keep it in mind.

Libby stayed in bed all day, rebuffin' any attempts to get her up, so I wandered up to the ramparts and watched everyone leave. The royal guards only tried to stop Robert, and he had so many people surrounding him that they had no choice but to yield and let him through.

It normally would've been a poetic hour, watching them all go as the sun faded in the west behind a bank of puffy clouds. I might have actually enjoyed the artful transition…

…were it not for King Jeffrey, screaming his guts out from his tower, cursing everybody through his bullhorn as they abandoned his kingdom forever. Most of his rants were just that… rants… but one comment, repeated several times, stuck hard in my head:

"IT'S TOO LATE! YOU BASTARDS! I'VE GOT ALL I NEEDED OUTTA YOU ANYWAY! IT'S ALREADY DUG! YOU HEAR ME!? I FOUND WHAT I WANTED, AND THE NEXT TIME I SEE YOU, YOU'LL BE AT THE WRONG END OF A SWORD!"

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-Two: Gettin' depressing


Strike. Whaaaaaaaaaat a surprise.

I woke up this morning and found Robert, good ol' brother Robert, standing in my living room. He waved cheerfully, tossed a bundle of yak tarts on the bed (Libby grabbed one in her sleep - does she do ANYTHING but sleep these days?), and invited me to come chat with him.

I did. Got dressed, donned my armour, and followed Robert into the streets. What I found was controlled mayhem.

The main thoroughfare is blocked off. No traffic in or out of the castle. Workers are screaming at all hours behind a barricade, facing off against Queen Daena's Matriarch. I think she's the only reason they haven't stormed the keep: they have neither the guts, nor the inclination, to try to get around her. They all still love her.

Not so much Jeffrey. His decree this morning set everybody ablaze, and would have done so literally if anybody dared to follow it. He ordered everyone, without exception, to set fire to one another's clothes as a form of greeting. Disobedience punishable by death.

Nobody's on fire. Not unless you count bales of hay, stacked up near the entrance of the keep. I don't think the royal guards are even attempting to enforce this decree, as the odds against them are preeeeeeeetty stacked…

… what with the guards and the soldiers now disobeying the king.

I've never seen it before. Guards, soldiers and protestors, all standing together, united in a common hatred of King Jeffrey. His royal ass-iness TRIED to order his men to set the workers back to work, but it didn't… y'know, work. Everybody subtly declined. And when the royal guards tried to move in to restore some order, the guards fought 'em off! Held them at bay with those fancy new arms we've been given. Good on them, I say.

Robert told me about all the things I'd missed. Then he asked me a crucial question, one he'd asked me before, back in more civil times: "You gonna join us, Dragomir?"

I thought, long and hard, 'bout that. For years, now, I've felt myself bound to king and country by the oath I took. First day of guarding, right out of the gate, I took an oath. 'Defend or die.' I may have skimped a bit at places…

At numerous times…

More times than I can count…

And VERY willingly…

But my heart was always in the right place. Defend the castle. Defend the king. Defend the monarchy.

('cept maybe the other day, when I contemplated pushing King Jeffrey out of the king's tower. That was a LITTLE treasonous. Doesn't count if you don't act on it, though.)

That's where my heart stayed. Defend the castle. Defend the king. Defend the monarchy. I told Robert 'no'.

He scoffed at me. "You gonna join your Captain Cedric, then? 'n his dunce Bernard? Try and hold us all off with those flobbin' Omega Corpsers?"

"Oh, hell no," I replied, waving the suggestion away. "NOPE. What could I do? I can't swing a weapon, you know that. But I'm not gonna help you."

Robert grunted. "Fair enough. See you on the other side, bro." He walked away, off to support his blue-collar troops.

True to my word, I didn't help the Omega Corps. I slipped right past the bastards, using a secret entrance I found while searchin' for Driscol to get inside the keep. I've still got that map Logan drew for me, and I've been usin' it to get around quite a bit. At this point, I only had one destination: the library.

The library's been a nice little sanctuary for me, this last year. (Cripes, it's almost been that long, hasn't it, diary? Time flies.) Despite our 'professional' disagreements when I worked here, Robert the Librarian's always been a friend to me. He listens to everything I have to say with a kind word and a kinder smile. He's the type of father I WOULD have liked to have.

Y'know, if I hadn't been cursed with that bear of a man from whose loins I sprang forth.

(Metaphorically speaking. I didn't ACTUALLY come from his loins. I don't know anything about babies, but I'm CERTAIN they have nothing to do with THINGERS. I'll find out more, some day…)

Robert greeted me as cordially as ever, asked about Libby - she hasn't visited him in a while, too busy - and invited me to sit down with him and share a book. Not many people have been in his library, of late, and I think he's lonely.

So, by the gods, we shared a book. The Plight of the Slothians, it was called. Kind of a dumb thing, but Robert obviously loved it to death, so I let him keep reading. Wish he hadn't stopped every five sentences to analyze the text, but there you go.

As we got to the end, I decided to ask Robert a question that'd been on my mind all morning. "Are you gonna leave the castle?"

"And the great bear said unto the Slothian, 'Be not… eh?" He stopped in mid-sentence and stared at me, blinking. Confused. "Say again, Dragomir?"

"Leave." I fidgeted. "Are you gonna leave the castle? What with the riots and wars and all, I mean."

"I'm… not certain I understand the question, Dragomir." He frowned, glancing down at the book. "What do you mean, 'leave'?"

I pointed at a nearby window. "You know, go 'out there'. Escape. Vamoose. LEAVE. You've read enough books, Robert, you oughta know what 'leaving' means."

Robert shuddered. "Oh. Oh. No, no, that won't be necessary. I'll remain in the library. Why would I leave? That's rather a silly thing to say, Dragomir."

"But…" I went slack-jawed for a moment. It's tough to argue against silliness. "But the castle's, like, fucked! Pardon my language! Everybody knows it! All the workers HATE the king - "

"Dragomir!" Robert gasped. "That's lunacy!"

"Oh, shush, it is not. They HATE him." I sighed and stared right into Robert's tiny eyes, gently clasping his enormous head with both hands. "Everybody's leaving, Rob. Something bad's happening, and… I owe you too much to see you stranded -"

"DRAGOMIR!"

I flinched away. The authority in Robert's voice knocked me for a loop.

Robert gripped his cane and muttered to himself. Then, cross, he turned away. "This… this is my home, Dragomir. This is… all… I have. Everything! There is no other place for me! I can't leave, and I won't, even if the whole world comes crashing down!"

"But -"

"FINAL!" Robert slammed his stick against the ground. "So long as a single piece of this library remains, I will remain with it! Now get out! OUT! Don't you dare come back!"

I've never seen Robert so mad. Even when I was buggering up his book collection, he didn't get THIS upset. I gathered up my things and retreated, oddly confident that I would never set foot in the library again.

I may have gone home and cried.

Libby slept. What a douche.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Monday, July 16, 2012

Day Two-Fifty-One: Cresting the apex


This is it, diary. This is the week of the wedding. Come Thursday night, my little Eve is going to be wed to the prince of Castle WeddingBells. And the castle couldn't be more fucked up.

I'm not sure what King Jeffrey envisioned when he set the wedding date. Most likely he pictured a castle FESTOONED with colour: banners everywhere, entertainers performing on every corner of every street, music playing twenty-four five, happy, beaming people enjoying it all… yeah. I bet that's what he pictured.

That isn't what he got. Castle WeddingBells is a shithole, pardon my language. Half the castle is lying in disrepair, thanks to Driscol's attempted invasion, and the workers are openly refusing to fix what's broken. Work ground to a halt almost two weeks ago. The entertainers are lying low, so there's no music or merriment, and the king's decrees have everyone on edge.

Today's decree? Bugs for breakfast. Royal order. Eat up, y'all. And I'm not talking about the yummy ants they serve in the Beefiary, either - you have to eat actual bugs off the ground. Wriggle wriggle wriggle, crunch crunch crunch. Mmmm, how… disgusting. I'm sure people would completely ignore Jeffrey's decrees, were it not for the Omega Corps on the prowl. I swear there are more of the bastards than ever, these days.

Oh, and did I mention the workers are threatening to strike again? Like, yelling it in the streets? That's the replacement for the music. Screaming protestors. Happy, happy times.

Hell, it's even worse than that, I'd say. Robert's openly leading his union troops in protest, and from what I've heard they're actively disrupting services at the castle. Everything's ground to a standstill. Food's not being made, water isn't being drawn out of the wells, the hunters are refusing to leave the castle, even the wedding preparations are on hold. As if they'd gotten far in the first place. It's pandemonium.

All I did today was wander about the castle. Captain Cedric is so busy trying to handle impending riots that he didn't have time to order me around. That's nice, in its own way, but without his demands goofing off isn't half as fun. I might even call it boring. I woulda spent the day with a friend, instead, but Libby's refusing to get out of bed, and Edmund's cloistered with King Jeffrey in his tower.

I really hope, if he gets the chance, that Edmund runs. Let him get the hell outta this kingdom. It's going down fast, and I'd rather he not get hurt in the process. Same goes for Libby, of course, but she can take care of herself. I'm not worried.

After about an hour of watching protestors argue with Captain Cedric (I was hiding in the keep, so I most definitely wasn't involved in the fracas), I wandered to the first bright and shining spot I could think of: the cockroach cupboard. The place where I found out Driscol, and helped The Baron bring an end to his stupid coup.

Only…

I wonder if it might not have been such a bad idea after all…

There are no cockroaches, now, regardless of the number of times I tried to activate the trap door. They've all been burnt and cleaned out. That was one of The Baron's last official acts: get rid of the roaches. He secretly told me he did it to make sure Driscol wouldn't have any secrets up his sleeve. Secrets that would… maybe… y'know.

Y'know. Stop this castle from sinking.

Maybe Driscol will come back and save us all, now. Save us from Jeffrey's idiocy. Save him from his penguin overseer, who, it appears, is now running the whole damned kingdom. Never would have thought there'd be someone worse than Jeffrey who could determine castle policy, and now there is.

Gah. Fucking penguin.

Yet…

I keep thinking about what Prince Logan said…

Somebody wants to thank me… and I don't think it's the penguin… he coulda done it by now… if so, who's really pulling the strings around here…?

And…

Maybe…

Are they waiting for me at the bottom of the hole…?

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Guard

Friday, July 13, 2012

Day Two-Fifty: What happened to the lighthearted hijinks?

Wow. WOW. I am REEEEEEALLY EFFING LUCKY, diary. Really really really. Yet… at the same time… now I'm feeling rather ominous. If that makes sense.

It will in a couple minutes. Just wait.

I woke up this morning expecting Harold to fetch me. Today was our last day of training, assuming he didn't extend the training period to NEXT week, and I was kinda anxious to see it done. I'm tired of pretending to be a noble, tired of wandering into opulent spaces where I obviously don't belong. Not a noble now, not a noble ever.

Harold wasn't waitin' for me at my door. Instead, I found two royal guards. I had a sudden flashback to their attack last week, and before I knew it my body had thrown itself back into the house. Y'know, lest they drag me out into the streets again.

They didn't move, didn't try to storm in and haul me away. Instead, one of 'em called in through the door: "The king wishes to see you now."

After a few seconds of flinching, I pulled myself out of the heap of stinky clothes I'd used for cover and stared out at the guards. "Say what?"

"The king. You and your wife are to be presented." He chuckled. "It doesn't appear that you're quite ready, yet."

I'm not sure if it was the same bastards who attacked me last time or not. Brock aside, the royal guards all look alike to me. Buncha static stone statues, all with the same personality, shady agenda, and cruel sense of humour. Either way, I wanted to punch the guy in the face.

Didn't. Woulda broken my hand on that dumb visor they wear. But wanted.

Libby hauled herself out of bed and glared at the guards. "The hell you talkin' 'bout? Presentation?"

"Yes." The left guard sneered. I could see it even through those thin slits in their helmets. "Weren't you told? King Jeffrey wants to see the results of your… training. BOTH of you."

Libby paled. "But I don't even -"

"BOTH of you. Ma'am."

That was one of the biggest 'oh shit' moments in my life. Judging by Libby's facial expression, she felt the same way. By the time we were dressed in the best clothes we owned… which were our NORMAL clothes… we looked as though we'd been consigned to a death sentence, our faces thin, gaunt, and terrified.

The guards led us to the keep, up the main hallway and into the throne room. It was fairly sparse - maybe half the usual nobles - but the king was there. So, too, was his jester, the haughty penguin, slouched merrily against his majesty's throne.

King Jeffrey regarded us lazily. "Ah, the guard. And his wife. What were their names again…?"

Nobody answered, and the king's expression twitched. Eventually he knocked Kierkegaard on the hat, and the surly jester grunted an answer. "Dragofuck, your denseness. And… Libido. Heh."

Libby started forward to punch the penguin. I held her back. Barely.

Jeffrey frowned and searched his memory. "Dra… Dragofuck? That… doesn't quite sound right… nor does Libido."

"It's LIBBY, your majesty." My precious Libertine wasted no time setting the record straight. (Woulda been even worse if she'd known what 'libido' meant.)

"Ah, yes!" Jeffrey clapped his hands. "Dragofuck and Libby. That sounds better. You are Eve's parents, yes? You've been trained in the noble arts over the past week, yes? I believe that's right, isn't it, Baron?"

"He's deeeeeeead," Kierkegaard reminded the king. The mood of the entire room fell.

Jeffrey bit his lip. "Oh. Um. Yes, of… of course. Died right down there, didn't he? Damn… damn shame, that… anyway… you're here to demonstrate your prowess in being all nobley. So you don't humiliate us at the upcoming party. That's correct, right? B… Kierkegaard?"

"Yeeeeeeeep." Kierkegaard took off his hat, rubbed his forehead, and made two little circles over his eyes with his chubby fingers. "Just call me Baron Mark II, y'all."

The court laughed politely. I wanted to strangle him.

"Heh… yes…" Jeffrey motioned for us to approach. "Let's start with etiquette. Somebody bring us a damned table, already! You should have anticipated our needs!"

Two servants disappeared. Moments later they came back with a table and two chairs, probably filched from someone's quarters. They quickly laid out silverware and backed away.

"Very good." The king pointed at us. "You two! Sit as though you're refined. Give us some brass, would you, trumpeters?"

Horns blew to announce our, um, 'arrival', and Libby and I glanced at each other. Swallowed. Pulled back our seats, inched towards the wooden bottoms, and sat.

Then I remembered that I had to pull Libby's chair out FOR her. I promptly got up, circled behind her, and tugged her chair away from the table. She protested, momentarily forgot where we were, and punched me in the arm. I swore and punched her back, earning a second, more painful punch on the same arm.

I froze. Libby froze. The court gasped and froze. The king looked at Kierkegaard; the penguin laughed. The king also laughed. Then, predictably, the court also ALSO laughed.

Jeffrey clapped. "Ha ha! Good, that's it, show some vigour. We like that in a couple. We certainly don't want another boring and stuffy party, do we? No! There will be cannons and rudeness everywhere! Now, show us what you will do with your forks. Pretend that it's Wednesday, and there's a full moon in the sky. Surely you know the protocol for such days."

Libby looked at me, completely lost. I shrugged. There are so many stupid etiquette rules in this castle that it's impossible to remember even a handful of 'em. So, as if on cue, we picked up our forks… and tossed them over our shoulders.

Jeffrey applauded, again waiting for Kierkegaard's go-ahead on the action. The entire room joined in. Not a single noble face looked TRULY impressed, but they were good enough fakers to blend into the background.

"Dispense with the table!" the king announced. Servants appeared and snatched our table away from under us, practically dumping us on the floor as they stole our chairs. "Very good. Now, elocution next, we think? Let's hear your pronunciation. Say 'I hope this will be a very merry party indeed.' Go on, alpha male, you first."

I was getting the gist of Jeffrey's tastes by now, so I boldly declared "Fuck me, this'll be a grand soiree, or me mum's a dead tulip!" in the most mangled accent I could conjure. Jeffrey howled with laugher, alongside his protégé.

Libby followed suit. She curled an invisible moustache and got all stuffy, puffing out her belly and strutting. "I better ain't not eat much at this party, lord, or I'll get e'en fatter than I am! A bulbous fuck am I! Ooooooooohohohoho!"

Hysterics. Jeffrey fell off his chair, nearly squashing Kierkegaard. The penguin punched his liege in the head, and they both laughed even harder.

You can probably guess how the dancing went. By the time Libby and I were done disentangling ourselves from each other, Jeffrey had dubbed us 'The Second Coming of Funk'. Not a CLUE what that means, but it sent him into a fit of choking. We ended our tiny, miserable dance with jazz hands, earning enthusiastic (but sarcastic) applause from the nobles in the room.

Jeffrey was elated. He told us that he'd feared for our presence, as he fully expected his stupid castellan to drum all the bad manners out of us. To see that the man had SPECTACULARLY failed, and somehow transformed us into a weird variety act, lifted Jeffrey's spirits -

- to the point that he invited me up to see his pet dragon. ME. He wanted to speak to me personally, father to father, 'bout his expectations regarding the marriage. ME!

You know my opinion of King Jeffrey, diary. I haaaaaaaaate hiiiiiiis guuuuuuuuts. That doesn't mean I can't still respect his position, however, or feel jubilant when he praises me. That's how I felt as we left Libby behind to be escorted back home: totally and utterly jubilant.

Flanked by his royal guards and Kierkegaard, all of whom laid off the sinister sarcasm in the king's presence, Jeffrey and I wandered side-by-side through the castle. He told me a great deal of his history, and how he hoped to hand it all over to Logan, some day. (Not too soon.) He also confessed that he knew I was a writer, and he wanted to know my opinion of the AWESOME THEME SONG he'd written for himself.

You remember the theme song, don't'cha, diary? Here's a quick reminder:

Oh Jeffrey!
Slick King Jeffrey!
With fists made of gold
And a spine made of brass
With a brown mane so bold
Yet more hair on your

Ahem. Okay. I may have written that myself. Stopped short of going the full monty, as it were. Pretty good, innit? Innit? Certainly better than Jeffrey's slop, his didn't even rhyme.

So yeeeeeah. I, uh, lied. Lied hugely. I told him it was the best damned thing I've ever heard. And that I visit the library almost every day, and read ALL KINDS OF BOOKS (another lie, I've read MAYBE three), so I'm, like, an authority on good writing. That put Jeffrey in even higher spirits, and he was so happy that he accidentally began referring to himself in the first person again! Go figure.

Our conversation led us up the tower, to Jeffrey's chambers, where he ushered everyone in. Guards, Kierkegaard, me… I found that strange, to be honest, as a king wouldn't NORMALLY hold the door for other people…

… but then it hit me. I knew what he was doing. Mainly 'cause he grabbed my arm and yanked me back out the door. He slammed an ornamental spear over the handles and stuck his tongue out, yelling "Ha ha! Foooooooled you! Try 'n get outta THAT, ya bloody penguin! C'mon, Dragofuck, let's hide."

I discovered later that King Jeffrey and Kierkegaard have an ongoing, friendly feud. Whenever they get the chance, they lock each other in any container they can find: cabinets, closets, wardrobes, anything that can keep the other penned in for as long as possible. Harold, of all people, told me that Kierkegaard almost always comes out on top in these little confrontations, as he's much more slippery than his lord.

Not this time, though. This time, Jeffrey gleefully grabbed my arm and pulled me up the stairs to the top of the tower, towards Barrel's cell. There was nobody sitting outside the door when we arrived, so I assume the royal guards have given up on watching over 'Apocalyptor', the king's mighty dragon.

As we ascended the steps, my surprise quickly turned to dread. I mulled over the reasons WHY Jeffrey might be doing this, beyond his usual idiotic antics. One reason, and one reason alone, offered itself up as a feasible conclusion:

"He… he wants you here, Dragomir. He… he… wants… he wants to thank you. You can't… stop… him… so you should go…"

Remember those? They're some of the last words I heard from Logan's mouth before the royal guards dragged him away. The final, possibly prophetic thing he managed to utter before King Jeffrey put him under house arrest.

Unfortunately, by the time I came to the conclusion that the king might be wanting to 'thank me', and that he might have had more of a hand in The Baron's death than I suspected, we'd burst into Barrel's giant attic chambers. The big dragon looked more than a little surprise to see the king, and ESPECIALLY surprised that I was with him.

(And, uh, I was kinda surprised to see Barrel. He's usually teensy when he comes visiting, y'know… forgot how big he can get…)

King Jeffrey laughed and let me go, striding over to his pet for an inspection. "Ahhhh, that'll teach the worm! Always impersonating me, telling me I'm worthless and stupid and such… ha ha, jester or not, that'll teach him! What was this thing's name again?"

"A… Apocalyptor, your majesty." I plastered myself against the far wall. I was, amazingly, far more afraid of this tiny, fragile lunatic than I was of the giant fucking dragon he was patting down.

"Right, right." The king snapped his fingers. "I remember! You rode him for Jeffmas, right? That was the best present! The way you swooped in, waaaaaay over the castle… swoosh! Weeee! I've… I've never gotten him to do that, myself. Shame."

I grinned nervously and inched closer to Barrel. My dragon buddy offered no protection, though I'm sure he would have happily knocked Jeffrey out the giant crack in the wall without a second thought. (Not even sure why Barrel sticks around in his dingy prison, for that matter.)

"Yes… yes… too bad." Jeffrey patted Barrel's left leg a few times, then slid past and up to the hole. He swept some sweat from his brow, set his crown aside, and looked out over his castle. "Too… too bad."


It could've been a painting. Jeffrey, standing tall over his kingdom, fully decked out in his robe and mantle, the light of the morning sun silhouetting man and crown alike. The slight hunch in Jeffrey's shoulders, growing by the second, gave him a defeated look that was miraculously foreign to the man. I didn't know what to say, didn't know how to rationalize this weird moment of weakness with the tyrant who'd driven his castle to the brink of ruin.

The brink. I thought about that word as I watched Jeffrey. Brink… very close to edge. As in, the edge of a building. Like… the edge Jeffrey was standing on at that very moment. That very… very… very, close, edge.

Very.

The king's castle stands about a hundred feet above the main keep. It dominates the landscape. To fall from that height… would be to die. No normal human could survive a crushing drop onto solid rock parapets.

With one… teensy… tiny… little push… I could have ended all the misery in Castle AlmostTime. I could have brought an end to so many bad things in this world, with just a push. Nobody would ever have known it wasn't an accident.

Except me.

The temptation passed. I went back to being a decent guy. As much as I HATE King Jeffrey, I don't think I could ever do that to him.

… shit. Now I REALLY have to make sure nobody reads this diary. Thank the gods Logan isn't getting at it, what with his house arrest and all.

King Jeffrey stared at the landscape for a while. Then, turning back to me, he frowned. Deeply. Sadly. It reminded me of that strange moment with Captain Cedric, and his beaming, drunken smile. Some expressions just aren't meant for some faces.

"Dragomir," Jeffrey said, his bottom lip trembling, "don't make me go back there. Don't make me go back. Please?"

The door burst open. Kierkegaard charged inside. Within seconds everything was back to normal: the king and his jester were wrestling on the ground, watched over by twin guards, and the king proclaimed victory when he managed to kick Kierkegaard into a wall. The penguin sped out of sight, and the king followed, laughing and vowing a quick death for his nemesis.

The guards looked at me, pinned against the wall. They turned and left, following their liege. The door clanged shut, and, cruelly, locked.

I looked at Barrel. He looked at me. We were utterly flabbergasted. I tried to reason my way through what had happened, but Barrel's not so good at conversation, so we didn't get anywhere. Eventually he flew me home, and Libby beat me up for abandoning her.

I went about my day. Guarded the Beefiary, now that I was off noble duty. Came home, played Libby's board game, went to sleep. Dreamed dreams I don't want to discuss here.

Throughout it all, one thing really stuck out, more than what had happened, more than everything sinister that I've learned in the last few weeks, more even than the king's feeble plea: He didn't call me Dragofuck. He called me Dragomir.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Day Two-Forty-Nine: Dance Dance Devolution


I spoke with Libby last night, shortly before we went to bed, regarding my last-minute worries over the wedding. I told her, as I have MANY times in the past, that I don't want it to happen - but it will anyway. I can't stop it. Hence, I wanna make sure I'm at least THERE for my little girl. Hence, we should at least TRY to do these lessons correctly. HENCE, maybe she shouldn't wear the moustache anymore.

'specially since it tickled my face when I tried to kiss her. The feeling's weirdly off-puttin'.

Libby shrugged. She didn't give a crap. She told ME, as she rolled over and tried to sleep, that she was tired of the castle's nonsense. Once the wedding is over - and she would indeed let me stay here to see it through - she plans to move. She wants nothing to do with Eve, and thinks we can do much better in a SANE kingdom, far from King Jeffrey's idiocy.

I wish I coulda argued that. We have a house here, now. It's home. But… it's losing its charm, and fast. I gave up and went to sleep.

This morning, when Harold came to get us, I told him Libby wouldn't be participating. I said that she might not be coming to the wedding at all, and that we might be better off for it. Because let's face it, diary, Libby doesn't wanna go to this thing. She'd sooner see it ruined than act like a noble. I can't blame her, and I won't, but I need to see it through, all proper like.

Harold was fine with that. Libby's been buggin' him all week, and besides that, she wasn't REALLY needed for today's lesson: dancing.

Dancing is big with nobles. They LOVE to dance. Commoners don't mind it so much, either, but we're less… structured. Our dancing usually looks a lot like drowning, 'cept out of the water. And with a lot less of the death. Death doesn't go so well with dancing. Nobles aren't big on the death, so we've got that in common, but they also like formal, organized dances, from what I've seen and heard.

Who better to teach a country bumpkin wearin' a wig and a silly outfit, then, than the best dancer in the whole kingdom?

"Hello, Mud." Celine greeted me on the spacious dance floor of the nobles' wing with a courteous bow. "Come to dance with me?"

"I s'ppose so, your grace." I dipped as regally as I could. My wig fell off. I scrambled to pick it back up.

Celine laughed. "So glad I don't have to wear one of those things. Shall we, Mud?" She extended her hand.

I'm not sure why I got a little girl for a dance partner, good at it or otherwise. Celine's just barely half my height. The equivalent of a midget in a dress (rather mean-spirited, but that's the mental image I got thinkin' about it) ain't exactly conducive for learning the ropes. And, predictably, it ended… not so hotly for me. CELINE was fine, but… me… no.

Allow me to explain. There's only ONE REASON I need to learn how to dance, and that's for traipsing about with Eve in the reception's father-daughter dance. For the sum total of three minutes, I need to gallivant about in front of dozens of nobles and look like I know what I'm doing. I saw Eve eating a moat monster earlier today, so PRESUMABLY she's not embarked on similar training. Makes my part in the dance all the more importance.

'course, she… might just hurl me over her shoulder and call it a night when I try to dance with her. But I will chance it! It's a risk I'm willing to take for my lovely daughter!

Assuming…

Assuming I ever LEARN properly.

I TRIED, diary. Honest to the gods, cross my heart and swear to spit, I tried SO HARD to dance. Harold yelled us instructions from the sidelines, I listened intently to EVERYTHING Celine had to say, and… I stepped. And stepped. And stepped. Edmund stood on the sidelines, providing some nice violin music, and I did my best to keep to the rhythm. Everything's rhythm with Celine.

Didn't work. Every time I put my foot down, it was in the wrong place. I stumbled dang near everywhere trying to keep on an even level with my dance partner. Probably looked like a big, hairless ape gropin' for a banana on the ground. My first attempt at dancing ended when my feet gave out and I slammed into one of the walls.

Quite a feat, that, when you take into consideration the side of the room. Musta been four or five meters away when I started.

It got worse, not better. Despite my best efforts my meagre dancing skills faded and disappeared. I became a rag doll on jiggling legs, unable to keep to the tune or even HOPE to look poised. Second attempt, crash. Third attempt, crash. Fourth attempt, crash into Edmund, then Harold, then ALMOST Celine.

'cept she, uh, tripped me when I got close.

The princess LOVED dancing with me, if you could call it that. She giggled throughout the entire session, slipping between my awkward feet and dodging every flailing limb or heavy swoop. By the end I think she considered it less a lesson 'n more fun time for her. We're on opposite ends of the dancing spectrum, and I doubt that's gonna change any time soon.

Four hours of practice and a bloody nose later, Harold sent me home. I could tell by his expression that he despaired for the morrow, and I didn't have the heart to ask him what's coming next on the socialite agenda. Conversations? Public speaking? Fancy wine sipping? BAH!

I give. I'll just have to hope that the wedding is so chaotic that nobody even notices my boobery. I betcha that'll come true.

Disenchanted,

Dragomir the Guard

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Day Two-Forty-Eight: Alas, poor Harold


Ahhh, elocution lessons. You rued the day you met up with Libby 'n me.

I get the feeling that Kierkegaard is well aware of these lessons and has a personal interest in mucking us up, 'cause today's kingly decree was aimed directly at speech. To be more specific, Jeffrey decreed that everyone had to adopt a single, silly accent, and run with it for the entire day.

(People continue to take the decrees seriously, too. The Omega Corps are watching over us from every angle. At LEAST twenty people were jailed yesterday 'cause they refused to wear turnips on their heads during the twilight hours. These are harsh times, diary of mine.)

Harold came to get us a half hour after breakfast. His accent was not as silly as ours, merely lowering his voice into a husky whisper. Mine was closer to the shrill screech of a wealthy debutante whose toe has just been snipped by a rowdy lobster. Very specific, but I like specifics.

Libby's was the best by far. I think she's decided to have some fun with this noble training crap, so she made a little moustache out of straw, stuck it to her lip with a bit of honey, and strutted about with a puffy, exaggerated, fat man's voice all day. At the end of just about every sentence she laughed and tipped an invisible hat to whomever she was talking. She even did it when hitting me! I'm proud of her sense of humour.

Anyway. Elocution lessons! I suspect that a full-blown curriculum would take months to complete, so Harold opted to run us through a few basic phrases that we'd be expected to pronounce properly. Nobody will want to address us anyway, so these phrases'll only come in handy when absolutely HAVE to speak. Here's what he wanted us to learn:

- "We're seated on the bride's side"
- "Yes, we are those people you've been told about"
- "Excuse me"
- "Huzzah for the bride and groom"
- "May Prince Logan forever remain a prince, as King Jeffrey is surely immortal"
- "Which way is it to the reception"
- "I would like whatever food you think best"
- "I will politely decline to give a speech, but I am overjoyed for the blissful union of the prince and the Lord Knight of the realm"
- "We are very happy to be here"
- "We have been told not to speak"
- "Goodnight"

All of these things we were meekly instructed to pronounce with proper posture and intonation. No slouching, no slurring, no swearing. Harold tried his best to hammer the three S's into us, and I, personally, think I did quite well, despite my screechy accent. Might've gone a bit high whenever I reached a vowel, but that's to be expected, right? Right. Darn tootin'.

'course, I… didn't do so well at MEMORIZING the lines. My versions were a little different from the originals, like so:

- "We're sittin' over there's"
- "I think you know what we know about ourselves"
- "Hey, now, watch it"
- "Huzzah for my little girl, SHE'S NOT EVEN ONE, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE"
- "May Prince Logan soon become King Logan 'cause King Jeffrey is a poo head" (I only said that one once before Harold told me to SHUT THE HELL UP)
- "Where be food"
- "I'll decide what kinda food I have, thanks"
- "If I give a speech in front of this many people I might pee myself, so thanks, but gotta go"
- "Huzzah"
- "They told me to shut up on the way in"
- "Bedtimeeeee"

Not QUITE on the mark. It's remarkable how I managed to remember the originals AFTER the fact, yet I butchered 'em so badly on the spot. Meh, my versions are better anyway.

And Libby? Her response for every line was either "My, but I am a fat man! M'belly will crack the floor! Fetch me some poutine! Ooooooohohohohoho" or "Go fuck yourself, y'pimply brat! Oooooohohohoho." Then she'd twirl her moustache. Classy.

Harold gave up after an hour and a half and sent us home. Therefore? Elocution: done. Are we any closer to being prepared? Not bloody likely! Eve won't care how we act, so why should I? Not a big deal. Just jump through some hoops and keep quiet when the time comes. Hopefully Libby will do the same. If we shut up, there will be no problem.



Unless not doing the quiet polite stuff gets us kicked out of the wedding.

Hadn't… hadn't thought of that.

Hrm,

Dragomir the Guard

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day Two-Forty-Seven: Omming with style


Not off to a good start on this nobleman thing, diary. I might've predicted that Libby and I would suck at table manners, and, hey. There's no disappointing my expectations when they're set so low. That's exactly what we were learning today, to boot: table manners!

Libby wasn't the slightest bit happy to learn that we'd be snobbing it up like a couple of nobles. (Libby's never happy about anything, in case you hadn't noticed.) She has the same opinion of the aristocracy as me: they're jerks. She's not QUITE as negative, 'cause they tip her more often than they tip me, but she'd still rate the average noble at about two out of ten on the shitty-to-awesome metre.

Did she come along? Of course she did. Libby's my wife. My main squeeze. She'd do anything for her little Draggy-Waggy. 'specially when he hints that the family might get a pay increase. She grumbled, but she went along with it.

Our messenger dude from yesterday showed up again, and when he's NOT confronted with a horribly-bleeding and over-acting guard, he's rather a nice chap. His name's Harold, and he's the son of the castellan. Could use a few more meals to beef up his skinny body, but emaciation doesn't stop him from being shyly kind. Didn't judge us for bein' commoners or nuthin'.

Unless, of course, he was given extra money NOT to be a prig.

Hrm.

Now I wonder if he's actually a jerk. This insight of mine, it is a curse, diary.

Harold led us to a pair of changing rooms on the second floor of the keep, in the thick of the nobles' wing. I could tell from a single glance that Libby had made most of the furniture in both of 'em, though all her intricate designs were covered in gaudy orange draperies and giant crests bearing the king's head. A maid ushered Libby into her changing room, and Harold led me into mine.

Man, diary, aristocratic clothing SUCKS. Everything is tight as hell! My bits were pokin' out everywhere! I have skinny thighs, and you could see the bones right through the fabric! Harold also made me put on this STUPID cravat, tucked into a silly-looking jacket, and to complete the horrid image he brushed my hair! AND washed my face! What is WRONG with nobles?

I was fairly patient with the process. I grumbled, but I let Harold do his job. Libby wasn't quite so accepting: about three minutes into the changing she started cursing at the maid for 'rubbing her hands all over my bosom' (her words, not mine), and when Harold 'n me peeked outside for a look we found the maid on the floor outside the room. Crying. She had a black eye.

(Really, though, she shoulda known better. You don't touch Libby's bosom. There are murders if you touch Libby's bosom.)

Libby stomped out of the changing room a few minutes later, her dress haphazardly shoved onto her overalls. She refused to make any alterations, and she refused to apologize when she saw the maid on the floor. I don't suspect the poor girl will be helping us again.

Harold sheepishly led us to a private dining room overlooking a small garden. Inside we met the castellan, who greeted us cordially (but refused to shake our hands) and invited us to sit down. We did.

"Wrong!" the man bellowed, his many chins wobbling. (Watching his face made me crave a bowl of pudding.) He waved his hands towards the ceiling. "Up! Up! Do it again!"

When I asked HOW we might change our seating method, he ordered us to do it 'more airily'. So I took a deep breath when sitting down. Libby laughed; the castellan was not amused.

"No, no, no." He pushed back the chair at the head of the table, and, wiggling his hips, he delicately sat. His paunch made the action look anything but airy. "You see? Just like that. Refined. You try, m'lady."

Libby plopped down in her chair and draped one leg over the arm. Then, to complete the 'airy' requirement, she aimed three elbow farts at the castellan. It was my turn to laugh.

"See here!" The castellan pounded his fist on the dinner table. "I've been ordered to whip you two into shape! The king knows full well that you could embarrass him at his son's wedding - "

"It's my daughter's wedding, too," I cut in.

"She's a bit of a bitch," Libby added.

"She is not!" I cried.

"- AND I INTEND TO TURN YOU INTO RESPECTABLE HUMAN BEINGS," the castellan finished. "By the end of this week you will seamlessly blend in with the rest of the nobles in attendance. If you fail to do that, then the king will disown you both!"

"Can he disown the parents of his soon-to-be step daughter? I kinda doubt it, but that's just me." Libby picked up one of the forks at the table, a weird, corkscrewed hunk of cutlery, and attempted to scratch a design into her chair.

"WILL YOU STOP THAT!" The castellan grabbed the fork and hurled it across the room. "How DARE you besmirch one of our chairs!"

"Hey, she carved it in the first place," I pointed out. "It's, like, half hers."

"Yeah, what he said. Can I take off this piece of crap dress? It's crushing my lungs."

"NO YOU MAY NOT! AND NO IT IS NOT! AND NO I WILL NOT!"

"You won't what? Make sense, man. I thought nobles're smart, or somethin'." Libby rolled her eyes. "Education ain't worth a dime, says me."

"Here here," I chimed in, raising my empty glass to toast my wife.

Five minutes of shouting later, after a lengthy argument about the merits of his education, the castellan stormed from the room. He left Harold in charge of teaching us, adding as he swept out the door that he hoped we would NOT attend the wedding.

The rest of the day didn't go much better. Neither Libby nor I understood the importance of the hundreds of different pieces of silverware. Why switch forks with every bite when you can eat with one? And, really, who needs a spoon? Just pick up your bowl and guzzle! Libby's totally with me on that one! Even Harold seemed t'second guess all the stuff he's been taught over the years!

Once we'd established that we would gab with or without food in our mouths, Harold gave up. He acknowledged that the king's not necessarily the neatest eater in the world, and, thus, probably won't care what we do with our cutlery. He let us go in the early afternoon, promising that he would arrange a separate table for us at the wedding festivities. Guess we dodged an arrow there, 'cause I wouldn't wanna eat with any prissy nobles.

Libby and I spent the rest of the day sitting at our dining table, making fun of the stuff Harold had tried so valiantly to pound into our brains. It was so similar to the stuff The Baron and Driscol had tried to teach Logan a few months back that you'd think I woulda had an easier time acceptin' the reality of noble table manners. BUT, no, I still think all that nonsense is a bunch of just that.

Danged nobles. I might want a spot more money, but I never wanna turn into one of them.

Mmmmm, eating food with your fingers,

Dragomir the Guard