Friday, November 30, 2012

Day Three-Hundred-Forty: The long dark


(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Today's another multi-part instalment, folks. One this morning, one in the early afternoon, and the last 'round dinnertime. Enjoy!)

Barrel is my safety net. He is my assurance that, physically, everything will be okay. Nobody can beat Barrel, nobody. He's a fucking dragon.

I was wrong. Something beat Barrel. Something beat Barrel badly. So badly that Pagan and I nearly died as Barrel dropped out of the sky.

It came upon us as I was writing, in case you hadn't guessed. One second we were looking at a gentle landscape, tinged with the first hints of the sun; the next there was a massive black shape, easily as big as our dragon, bearing down on us from the east. It swooped at Barrel, silent and vicious, claws poised -

- and then it had Barrel, and they struggled, and Pagan and I fell past their beating wings, dropped and falling to an inevitable death -

- ripping, shredding, clawing, roaring, fire -

- and we hit the ground. Pagan in one of Barrel's claws, I wrapped up in his tail. He took the brunt of the impact, carving a deep crater in the landscape, knocking down trees and disrupting the flow of a stream. Animals scattered in all directions as the boom of Barrel's impact awoke every sleeping critter within a thousand miles.

We groaned, rolling out of Barrel's slack grip. My pants soiled in so many ways, I brushed myself off and looked to the sky, praying that the black shape would not come in for the kill. It didn't, instead sweeping off into the fog, heading towards Pagan's estate.

Pagan, now standing beside me, took a deep breath. "Son of a bitch. Look what you idiots have done. Now all of my people are at risk of losing their homes. Are you happy?"

I watched Barrel, curled, crumpled, groaning Barrel, shrink to the size of a dog. Licking at his wounds and moving slowly, he disappeared into the scattered underbrush. I haven't seen him since.

"No," I said. "Not fuckin' happy at all, m'lord."

We're walking. We've been walking for hours, now, trying to get to Pagan's manor. We came a fair distance, but Pagan twisted his leg pretty badly on the landing, and the going's slow. Probably would've been faster to take a stupid horse, Pagan's original option.

It's early morning Friday right now. We rested for a few hours before continuing our painful trek. Pagan tells me we'll be at his manor in a couple hours. What we can do when we get there I have no clue, but… we'll see.


Three Hours Hence


Pagan and I talked. Sporadically. He's grumpy, I'm grumpy, we're grumpy. Our conversations have stopped short of bickering, mainly 'cause I don't think Pagan is the bickering type, but we're not terribly friendly with each other.

"It's your fault," he said sometime 'round midnight. "Your fault this is happening."

"Oh, fuck yourself, old man. We didn't do this."

"Of course you did. I haven't had any problems in years. Then along comes your ragtag band, supposedly from King Jeffrey's ruined kingdom, and what happens? My manor's under attack, my slaves are being killed - "

"You shouldn't have slaves in the first place!"

"They're perfectly happy the way they are. Don't try and judge me, boy. My point is, there's a correlation between this mess and your presence."

"Oh yeah? Prove it."

Pagan hesitated. "I can't. Yet. And it hardly matters now. The damage is done, the world is changed. I will adapt to live in what remains."

Silence. Hard to counter that, when he effectively shut down the argument.

"You said you knew something. I assume that's true, if you came along. What was that thing? In the sky?"

I shook my head. "I don't know. Not really. But a bunch of 'em killed me, once, and they ruined my old home."

Pagan hesitated when I said 'killed', but only for a second. "You've died before?"

"You don't sound surprised."

He chuckled. "You don't get as old and grizzled as me without biting the dust a few times, young man. I assume you've touched the blue flames in dark places?"

"Yeah. Just one. Guess that was enough."

"It is, if you want to endure multiple lifetimes of pain." Pagan winced, rubbing his ribs through his armour. "Do you have any advice on killing these creatures?"

I laughed. "Do you really think I'd know anything about killin' 'em if I've died myself?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"How battle-hardened you are." He looked me up and down. "I suppose you haven't done much killing at all in your lifetime."

"Bingo, grandpa."

He chuckled. "Many times over."

"Huh?"

"Focus on the road, mayor. These woods are treacherous in poor light."


Five Hours Hence


We're standing on the edge of Pagan's manor. It's a mess. The fields are burning, most of the wooden structures are either ablaze or smashed to bits, and the manor… well, it stands, but… things are there. I can see them moving in the dark.

Green. Evil green. Familiar green.

I'm sorry, diary. I shouldn't have brought you along. This was a terrible idea, and I don't even know what I'd hoped to achieve. Other than… some kind of… confrontation, I guess? I'm hoping that HE'LL be here? And maybe, just maybe, he'll give me back my daughter?

Yeah. I guess that's it.

I'm leaving you here, diary, hidden in an old groundhog's den where you can't get in trouble. Hopefully somebody will find you.





















Thursday, November 29, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Nine: Come fly with me



SHIT. WE HAVE A SOLUTION. WE CAN STAY MAYBE. BUT AT A TERRIBLE COST. (My gods that sounded epic.)

After yesterday's apocalyptic battle between my old man and Pagan, all of Pubton came out to celebrate. Robert cooked up a goat, Bora served beer, Edmund played his lute, people danced and sang and laughed, mocking Pagan's gloomy row of tents in the distance as they enjoyed the warmth of a dozen fire pits. The festivities carried on the whole day, my father sitting cross-legged and proud at the centre of it all. He's a gods-be-damned legend in Pubton now, the town hero.

Ugh. Hero. NOT a word that should be applied to my dad.

Yet… it's true. He saved us. He kept us together. I have no doubt that Pubton as a concept would've crumbled had we been forced to leave. People would have departed for other, more stable towns, probably leaving Libby, Grayson 'n me to start a new life somewhere. Because my dad stood up for Pubton, the community has a stronger sense of purpose than ever.

And now, because dad managed to stall Pagan for a day, the old man has a reason to keep us around. I think.

Despite the cold weather everyone slept outside overnight, revelling in their drunkenness and the general feeling of goodwill. I'm sure those flop piles kept them all nice 'n warm, 'cause few of them stirred when Hoban, squirrely little Hoban, came charging up to us out of the early morning fog.

"You!" He yelled into my ear, shaking my shoulder and shrinking back when I turned over to glare at him from my swaddle of cloth. "You, you! Mayor Asshole! My master wants to talk to you! Hurry up!"

Libby, growling, swiped at him. Hoban flinched back and disappeared into the fog. Putting on my armour and floppy hat, never feeling less deserving of my mayorly clothes than in that moment, I followed.

Pagan was waiting for me in front of his war tent. He was seated in a folding chair, his helmet off, clutching an ice pack to the side of his head. Bruises turned his normally pallid face into a patchwork of greens and purples. I'm sure the rest of his body is no better off. At his side was another slave, this one garbed in travelling clothes and fidgeting.

"You," Pagan growled, ushering me over with a swipe of his gauntlet. "You've lucked out. I need your help."

Excitement, or possibly gastric acid from eating too much goat, welled into my throat. "Help? Help? What help? We can help. What kind of help?"

Pagan pointed at the slave at his side. "One of my messengers. He came dashing up a moment ago to tell me my manor's under attack. Something burned the fields last night, and the few slaves I left to tend to the grounds are dead. Only Derrick, here, managed to get away. I need to return in a hurry."

He pointed into the mist, towards a long, thickening black shape that vanished into the fog. It twitched, its owner fast asleep. "I've seen you ride that dragon. Will you take me back to my manor so I can counter this threat to my estate? If I go by foot or horse I will surely arrive too late to do anything."

I forced my face not to stretch into a smile. I now had that most precious of commodities some men dare call leverage. "If I agree -"

"- you can stay, yes, yes." Pagan winced, moving the ice pack to the back of his neck. "Given the nature of the attackers, I suspect my fears at letting you live here have come to pass. There's no point sending you away now."

I paused. "Your… fears? What… what attacked your estate…?"

Pagan motioned to the messenger. He looked pale, even in the poor light of the torches around Pagan's tent, and needed a moment to collect himself before speaking.

"Black giants," he mumbled, looking back at the forest as though it might swallow him for betraying a vital secret. "Black giants with glowing green eyes. Enormous… they were enormous… and their, their skin, it writhed…"

I was sprinting towards Barrel without a second thought. 

Barrel did not awaken willingly, and when I grabbed his tail and shook it like I was playing tug-of-war he sounded ready to eat me. I was not to be dissuaded, as any mention of the shadow creatures seems to energize me. I brazenly glared at him as his head poked out of the forest to watch me, groggy and annoyed.

"C'mon, buddy, c'mon, those things are here. The things that destroyed the castle. We need your wings."

Barrel grunted, flicked me away with a swish of his tail, and retreated into the forest.

I jumped on the retreating tail and held on, yelling "NO! NO! WE HAVE TO GO! PLEASE, BARREL! THIS IS REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT! I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU'RE MAD AT ME, BUT I WON'T ASK YOU TO DO ANOTHER THING FOR ME IF YOU'LL JUST TAKE US TO PAGAN'S MANOR!"

Barrel stopped. He breathed hard, thoughtfully, his limbs popping and stretching somewhere within the forest. Then, sighing a deep, draconic sigh, he knocked me off his tail again and rumbled out of the trees, yawning. 

I tried to hug one of his legs. He pushed me away. That made me sad, but I thanked him anyway and ran off to tell Pagan the good news. After stopping to grab you, diary, we were on Barrel's back, seated in his weird transforming back seats, and soaring towards Pagan's manor.

Who went, you might ask? Me. And Pagan. And no one else. I forced myself on the trip, telling Pagan the half-fib that Barrel wouldn't take him without my company. It's a half-fib because I don't know if it's true. Everyone else stayed behind, though I'm sure many of them would have come along. 

I didn't want them along. This is dangerous. Too dangerous for dad's or Libby's muscles, Edmund's singing, Robert's cooking, Grylock's assassination fascination and bad attitude, or even the assembled might of everyone in Pubton. Which ain't considerable. Too dangerous.

So why am I going?

Because I have questions that need answered, and I suspect whomever's behind this attack can fill me in. Even if going puts my life in danger again.

Why am I a pansy when it comes to everyday threats, but I can face down hell beasts from the dark corners of the universe without even thinking about it?

We're on Barrel's back now. The manor's only an hour's flight away, I think, and I needed to pass some time, 'cause Pagan's not talkative. Hopefully by daybreak I'll have






OH SHIT WHAT THE HELL IS THAT

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Eight: Showdown at Dawn


They came at dawn, as promised. They had their spears ready, their armour donned, their limbs shaking with fear and cold. Yet they came anyway, steely Pagan leading the way, and my father met them in the fields of Pubton.

Yes. Pubton. Our town lives.

Determined to announce our departure and formally apologize to Pagan for our intrusion, I was up before the sun rose and sitting on my parents' front porch. My mom was with me, and Libby, both surprisingly civil in the face of Pagan's impending attack.

"This is the only place that's okay," I said to the silence. 

They both looked at me. "Whaddya mean, kiddo?" Mom asked.

"This house." I rapped my white knuckles on the railing. "You never had any problems with this house. Did you?"

"'side from those beavers? Nope." Mom laughed. "That's 'cause it belongs to your father, though. Anybody crosses him deserves to get flayed."

"Yeah." I sighed. "That's the point. If… if dad was in charge… maybe this all wouldn't have turned out the way it did."

Libby promptly smacked me on the back of the head. I expected my mom to yell at her for manhandling her son - and was surprised when she, too, whacked me on the neck. "Ow! Ow! What the hell!"

"If that idiot - " began Libby, temper rising.

"He's still my husband, thank you!" Mom cut in, sneering at her daughter-in-law. "If that idiot, yes, IDIOT, had been in charge of this town, we'd all probably be dead by now. He's a good enforcer, but Oswald is terrible at negotiations. You kept us alive this long, Dragomir, 'n you'll let us walk away from it. That's better'n your father could ever do."

I pointed at the hulking form of Oswald the Farmer in the distance, his huge back visible from a hundred meters away. "Lookit him, though. He's ready to defend us, 'n die if that’s what's gotta happen. Shouldn't… shouldn't I be willing to do the same?"

"No," Libby responded flatly, cuffing me again. "You died once, stupid. You don't die again. Even think of trying it and I'll kick your ass so hard you'll wish you were dead. But you won't be, 'cause you're not allowed. Bloody nitwit, that ain't in your job description."

I laughed a little. "Yeah. I guess so. But… Pubton…"

Libby grabbed me by the shoulders and yanked me around so I was staring into her eyes. "I'd rather watch Pubton burn down a thousand times than let you get hurt again, dumbass. Now SHUT UP and get your dad 'n his group outta that field. The sun's almost up."

Libby kicked me to my feet. I looked back at her, humiliated and appreciative, and caught my mom's expression at the same time. She was watching Libby with wry respect, and I was certain in that moment that she'd never call my wife a whore again.

I ran, slipping a dozen times on the grass, calling for people to wake up, listening as Libby and my mom did the same. I heard the stir of movement, watched as people crawled out of half-fallen shelters, knowing they'd barely slept the night before, knowing most of them were probably packed and ready to go, just waiting for me to give the go-ahead.

I sprinted. I called to my father, telling him it was over, that we surrender, that we had to leave. He didn't turn to look at me, only grunted, and in that moment the sun peeked up over the tree line, casting its first feeble rays of light on what remained of Pubton.

Pagan's army stirred. The slave soldiers began to march, their grey master taking lead, unhindered by his cane or stooped back. I screamed at them, saying that we surrendered, offering to leave, begging for mercy -

- and then my father walloped me in the face.

I have been punched by my dad many times, both growing up and as an adult. I was always aware of his fully strength… or at least I thought I was. This time, though, he REALLY used his full strength, laying into my nose with a brutal force that sent me careening into the grass, knocking me out cold.

Darkness. Pain, even as I slept. But I only slept for a few moments, because the pain lifted me, forcing me back to life, and when I awoke Robert was stooping over me, forcing me up into a sitting position, watching as Pagan and my father circled one another, quietly observed by dozens of slaves and townspeople.

My father is the largest man I've ever seen, larger even than Cedric by a little bit. He is a bear, perhaps even more than a bear. Yet for all that Pagan seemed utterly undaunted, slowly pacing in a determined circle, still clutching his cane. I tried to sputter words at them, but each syllable came out a garbled mess. Robert motioned for me to be silent. I was spattering blood on his apron.

My father moved first. Roaring - he's not much for subtlety - he charged at Pagan, raising his arm for an overhead smash that would easily have killed the older man had Pagan not ducked out of the way. Despite his armour, age and limp Pagan rolled and came up easily a few feet away, stooping on his cane. Not quite as quick as Logan or Eve, but definitely a warrior.

My dad flew at Pagan again, fist swinging, as coordinated as you'd expect from a farmer with little duelling experience. Pagan weaved between each blow, expression frozen in cold disinterest, toying with the giant man. My father, angered, bellowed several obscenities and drove in for a killing sweep -


- and his arm flew the wrong direction. Blood stained the grass, and my father fell to his knees, his shouts of pain and anger both titanic and pitiable.

Pagan slid the thin, hidden sword with the crane's head for a pommel back into its sheath, leaning back on the restored cane. He stood over my dad, not gloating, not even smiling, only watching as Oswald flailed and cursed.

"Shut up," Pagan said, voice lordly and imperial. "These are my lands. I do what I wish with trespassers. Your arm is now mine, giant, and your life will be, too, if you do not leave as your fool mayor bids. Had he not tarried so long, you might be more than a wailing stump of a man."

I shuddered, mirroring the shudder of my father, watching as the lifeblood ran out of his body. I felt more profoundly sorry for dad in that moment than I ever have in my life, more apologetic for fucking up than I ever thought possible. I have killed him, I thought, I have killed my own father with my stubborn indecision.

And then the impossible happened. Dad beat Pagan in the most lopsided fight of all time.

I knew something had changed when the pain leaked out of dad's voice, replaced by maniacal laugher. His mighty legs pushed him forward, launching Oswald the Farmer like a burly torpedo at his nemesis. With perfect aim dad's skull struck Pagan square in the face, knocking the old man off his feet and onto the grass.


Struggling his way to his legs despite the lack of arms, watched by dozens of stunned spectators, dad assaulted Pagan with heavy kicks. The knight tried to roll away from Oswald's boots, but the burly farmer trapped him in one spot, knocking the sword cane away and stomping at the gaps in Pagan's armour. Something cracked loudly, and Pagan grunted. With one mighty final kick dad sent Pagan sprawling into a group of slaves, a tangled mess of bloody armour. 

Dad spit, kicked at his arm on the ground, and grinned. "How 'bout that, ya old fuck? Even with me disarmed, eheh, ya can't win. Come back tomorrow 'n try that shit again, I dare ya - I still got two good legs to pound your ass!"

The cheer from the townsfolk, after a few moments of awed silence, completely covered the frightened shuffle of slaves retreating to their tents, their broken lord draped in their arms.

Pubton lives. So too does my father, who, despite now having no arms as all, seems quite healthy. A little grey in the face, perhaps, but I suspect he'll recover in time. He has never been more beloved by anyone.

I owe him. We all do.

Is it selfish of me to hate that debt?

Pagan's forces have not moved. I suspect they'll be back tomorrow. I… guess… we'll be ready for them…

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Seven: They'll finish this stupid town some day



Right… picking up from yesterday…

Shortly after my visit to Pagan, I woke everyone I could find up and called a town meeting by the golden tree. Same old routine, vastly different circumstances - and when my dad caught wind of what was happening, he flipped. Kept screaming challenges to Pagan, and a few times he looked ready to charge off and face the old man one-on-one. Only the fact that he would have done so alone kept him from moving. Dad's strong, but he can't take on an army by himself.

Shame Eve ain't here. This wouldn't be a problem. Bah, poor Eve… how are you doing, my baby…?

We discussed the options. Most people were not in favour of leaving, though they would if we couldn't concoct a better alternative. Nobody wants to die, and fighting is probably tantamount to dying. A few people suggested asking Barrel to intercede, but that danged dragon remains sullen, and refused to budge from his shelter. (The tents are built well away from him, speaking of which. You'd think his presence alone would be deterrent enough, but nooo.) Grylock capped off the meeting by offering to assassinate Pagan… which is a good idea…

… but I turned him down. Like it or not, Pagan has a legal claim to these lands, handed down to 'im by… somebody. I dunno. His documents looked real authentic, though, and I've had no reason to doubt his story. We can't murder a guy for protecting his own lands.

So… I guess… we… have to leave…?

That's the real pisser here. Fine, we have to move. I can live with that. I don't want people getting hurt. But I've gotten used to Pubton where it is. Weird though she was about the trip, June found us a real nice spot. Good view of the mountains, nice proximity to a river, pleasant forest… I don't wanna leave, diary. This is home.

Home. I don't wanna leave home.

AND SPEAKING OF JUNE! Where the hell is she in all this? She wants us to stay here yet she can't be fucked to come help?! She could be planning something in the brush, sure, but she could at least alert us that she'll help us out. Between her 'n the rats, who are STILL useless about this whole thing, well, lemme just say that I don't have much faith in magic today. Or yesterday. Or any day. Magic hasn't done me much of a lick of good in my life. Wish I still didn't believe in it.

Shame it brought me back to life. Things like that kinda force ya to sit up 'n take notice. Was so much simpler when magic was a rumour, y'know?

Today's been a high-tension standoff. At some point last night my dad and a bunch of his followers - yeeeeeah, he's got followers - set up their own perimeter to face off with Pagan. They've got their own ramshackle weapons at the ready, along with some cobbled-together tents, and both sides are glaring at each other. Dad will fight at the slightest provocation from Pagan's bunch, and he keeps calling me names for not helping out.

"Dragomir," he said before hunkering down to watch with his comrades-in-arms, "you don't get it. A man has to fuckin' defend his home with his life. This is where we live now, 'n we need ta be willin' to die for what's ours. You hear me, you useless brat? YOU HAVE TO DIE FOR WHAT'S YOURS. If you can't be bothered pickin' up a spear -"

"I CAN'T pick one up, dad!" I whined, demonstrating with a saw somebody had left on the ground. "See? See? No weapon! No pick up! Can't fight!"

"FUCK YOU, THEN, YA USELESS WORM!" He cuffed me in the side of the head and sent me sprawling. "The hell happened to you, shitbrains? Ya go away 'n you become a completely diff'rent person! No more muscles, no more weapons, no more fuckin' GUTS! You're not my goddamned son, you're a fuckin' FAILURE!"

I fled. His words were too painfully true - 'cept for the part about the weapons. I swear I've never picked up a weapon in my life, not even before that thing with the bandit. I fled, bitter and angry and ashamed, back to my wife… who, being of my dad's general opinion, didn't offer much consolation.

I've made a decision.

We leave tomorrow. We leave, and we don't look back. 'cause I can't let these people die.

Goodbye, Pubton. I will miss you. I'm sorry I failed you.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Beaten

Monday, November 26, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Six: Time for a good 'ol siege



We could use some of those tents, diary. We really could. I'm tired of sleeping under a shamble of wood.

Libby prodded me out of bed (really just a pile of sheets) this morning and pointed at the edges of the forest. After blinking the sleep and crust out of my eyes, I focused my gaze to the borders of Pubton, wondering what the hell she was on about.

I saw tents. Rows and rows of tents. And where there weren't tents, there were tiny people setting up tents. I won't lie, diary, my first memory was of my old castle, and the many petty sieges we suffered from attacking armies.

I bolted out of the covers, apologized to Grayson for waking him up, dressed and stormed out of the enclosure, mindless of my lack of shoes and the dew chilling my legs. I was one of only three people actively investigating the tent city, as most of the town was still huddled in wrecked buildings and trying to sleep.

I approached my mom, who was standing on the porch of her house, and gestured crazily to the tents. "Wh… what the hell is that, ma?!"

She sipped a mug of hot chocolate and shrugged. "Don't know. Aren't you going to greet your mother properly, kiddo?"

I growled, but kissed her cheek. "Hi, ma."

She beamed. "Hi, Dragomir. How's your whore wife?"

"FORGET THE WHORE!" I screamed, waving my arms. "I MEAN FORGET LIBBY! SHE'S NOT A WHORE! YOU'RE NOT EVEN TRYING TO BE SUBTLE ANYMORE!"

Mom smiled and sipped again. "Sorry. You're right. She's not a whore. Not compared to that Bora, anyway… gods, the racket from her and Robert most nights… would you like some breakfast?"

My eyes bulged. I waved at the tents, silently demanding an explanation.

"Oh, right." She shrugged again. "I don't know. They've been settin' up for at least an hour. I think I saw that Pagan fella you keep mentionin'… old guy, has a long, white beard? Wears armour?"

I slumped on the railing of the porch. "FUCK. Yeah, that's him. Must be aimin' to drive us out. Did you see any weapons…?"

"On them, or 'round here?"

"On them, ma."

"Oh, sure." She scanned the tents, then pointed at one. "See? That man there has a spear. Think it's a spear, anyway. Could be a big stick. 'n you know, a big stick's as good as a spear in the right hands. When he was younger, your dad - "

I didn't care about dad. I jumped off the porch and ran, full-tilt, towards the line of tents. My mother's departing yell of 'You know we don't have any weapons, right?' faded in the distance. Yes, mom, I know that all too well - we have barely any way to defend ourselves.

A group of Pagan's slaves, outfitted in soft leather armour, came at me as I charged the tents. I recognized some of them from my stay in Pagan's manor, and that probably saved me from being speared on the spot. They formed a circle around me, and I held up my hands, desperate to talk to Pagan but not wanting to fight.

The old knight came out of his enclosure, a large, scarlet war tent you'd normally find occupied by a chieftain or a general. "Ah. The venerable Mayor Dragomir. Come to apologize and agree to a migration order?"

I shook my head. "No! What the hell is this? You trying to kill us or something?!"

"Not if I can help it. You wouldn't listen to my messenger, you failed to leave when I sabotaged your shitty town, and you had the gall to flout the law by ignoring my commands. This little war band is one final warning before I unleash my blade on your sorry behinds."

I looked up and down the tents, watching as slaves peered out. There were a lot more of them than I'd seen at Pagan's estate, probably enough to match the population of Pubton. None of them looked ready for a sustained scrap, but their weapons and armour made them more than a match for my nobles and workmen.

"You have until Wednesday." Pagan ordered his slaves to step aside, giving me room to leave. "If you aren't gone by first light on Wednesday, we will charge your ramshackle village and slit your throats, one-by-one. Consider yourselves warned."

"But…!" I flailed. "Can't we at least have until Friday?! Everything important -"

"WEDNESDAY."

Pagan went back into his tent, armour creaking. My limbs numb I turned to Pubton, painfully aware of the eyes and spears at my back.

I'll talk about what happened after that tomorrow. I'm… I'm still too stunned to write much more than this.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Doomed

Friday, November 23, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Five: Call to Arms


The pub collapsed again today, this time bringing the second floor down with the first. Most of the other buildings have been ruined in one way or another. The hunters and watchers I set up during the night to catch the animals in the act have proven useless. Animals are on the loose, happy to roam free when not guided by the rats. I've heard some complains that Philip is tormenting people with his ghostly antics, levitating debris and scratching obscene images into the ground.

Pubton is falling apart. King Gok was right. Gods damn everything, King Gok was right. And I hate to say it, but my dad has the best solution for the problem.

"I SAY WE CONQUER THE STUBBORN FUCK!" he bellowed, eclipsing every voice at today's emergency meeting 'round the golden tree. "We take his fucking manor and MAKE IT OUR OWN! THAT'LL TEACH THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS SNOB!"

Many hands rose in a loud cheer. A few others, mostly belonging to nobles with a healthy understanding and fear of the law, rose instead in protest. They were shushed and drowned out.

"NO!" I shouted from my makeshift podium, a pile of wood from the pub. "We can't go 'round beating people up, dad! This's a democracy, and we gotta be civil!"

Oswald laughed. "Civil? Since fuckin' when? Grow some balls like your old man. Ya TAKE what ya want in this world, 'n to hell with the consequences! How do ya expect to live WITHOUT takin' the old fuck out, eh? Your diplomacy didn't work for shit! FOR SHIT, DRAGOMIR!"

Arguments. Some agreed with my dad, others told him to lay off me but still agreed, yet others disagreed. Pandemonium. The meeting was eventually broken up by Barrel, stomping out of the forest and demanding silence with a terrible roar. Guess we woke him from a nap. I was relieved, to be honest…

… though disconcerted to see people milling around my father, and the lot of them walking off to discuss something. Robert included. Damned daddy's boy. How much you wanna bet they're plotting to invade Pagan's manor in his sleep? I wish I could stop 'em, but today's fraught with continuing problems, and I'm too busy trying to solve them to step in. As if I could prevent my father from attacking Pagan anyway.

And why should I? Two things could happen if dad goes after the knight:

- He succeeds, and Pagan isn't an issue anymore
- He fails, and Pagan offs my dad - not as bad as it sounds, even though Oswald's services as a reeve are quite useful

That also doesn't take into account the possibility that a successful farmer assault might end in a rebellion against me. I really, REALLY don't want this job anymore, so that'd be peachy, but my dad's not the guy to lead these people. Not at all.

… is he?

I dunno. Don't want to think about it right now, bunked under a half-ruined shed with Libby and Grayson. It's cold, I'm tired, and there's something else I wanna discuss first: a new letter from my pen pal. Bora gave it to me while I was tending to some fences.

'Dear Dragomir,

I want to start by thanking your for your advice. I don't know if a picnic will thaw the heart of my problem girl, but kindness as an overarching guide to my efforts may be the key. Amazing how politics eliminates simple human caring as an option to resolve problems…

I received your letter from Tuesday before writing this, and I am astounded by your problem. Animals are ruining your town at the behest of this knight? What an odd phenomenon. We admittedly live in a strange world, but… still…

Nevertheless, my advice remains steady. Offer the man something of value. If he wants nothing of material goods, you may have to provide him with a service - and there is no service more needed in this world than protection from malevolent forces. Aid him in a time of need and you may find the knight more receptive to your request for land.

I pray for a timely resolution of your problem. Thank you again for your assistance! And please, the next time you write, pepper your correspondence with happier details. Perhaps tell me about your baby boy? You've mentioned him, but I know nothing save his name.

Until next time!

Lord B.T.'

What a nice guy. Wish I knew more about him.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Four: But porn was such a good idea

I feared this might happen. Pagan has rebuffed all of our offerings. There is no negotiation. He wants us off his land.

Barrel winged me to his manor after lunch, having refused to take me anywhere before he got a bite to eat. The flight was largely quiet, as Barrel made it abundantly clear that he did not want me, or my fellow passenger, making much noise. We acceded to his wishes, 'cause he's a freaking dragon, and we were hundreds of feet off the ground. 

Ever-lovely Hoban escorted me into the main hall of Pagan's manor, and the old man was waiting by the stairs, still wearing his armour, still looking as wisely sour behind his cascading beard as ever. I greeted him; he narrowed his eyes.

"So!" I began, pulling my list out of my pocket. "I, ah, yeah! Dragomir! You remember me, right? Met the other day? You're, like, tormenting my village or something?"

Pagan smiled. Confirmed.

"Yep. Soooooo, we figured… since we're not going to move -"

"We'll see about that," he hissed, resting his chin on the top of his cane.

" - we'd better offer you some kinda, um, uh, offering. For staying. Like rent. Only better. Don't suppose you'd accept rent, wouldya? Couple bucks a month kinda thing?"

"No."

"No, of course not. Because you, you're a practical dude - but you, ah, appreciate the finer things in life. You appreciate beauty, 'n shit. Which is why…"

I unslung my backpack and pulled my wingman free, holding him dramatically in the air before Pagan.

"… the beaming smile of a child will move you!"


Grayson squirmed a little in my grip, but he promptly directed all of his happy energy at Pagan. His smile could have melted butter, could have ended wars, could have turned a villain into a hero and a hero into a saint. The force of Grayson's glee can transform any heart into the purest gold.

… except Pagan's, I guess, because he only lifted his eyebrow and pointed at Grayson's crotch. "Your child appears to have soiled itself."

I looked up. Grayson's pyjamas were stained, and a foul odour I hadn't noticed wafted into my nose. I cursed, promised to change him once we left, and put him back in the backpack. As if thinking it might improve the situation, Grayson pointed at a vase on a table twenty feet away, and it tipped over and smashed across the floor.

"Agh!" I cried. "Sorry, sorry! Didn't mean to!"

Pagan looked to the vase, nodding for one of his servants to clean it up. "I don't see how you could have done that. Unless you ARE somehow at fault…?"

I bit my lip. Shit. "Oh. Uhhhhh, yeah, guess I… didn't. Nevermind. Sorry, wanna… wanna make a good impression…"

Pagan snorted. "You won't do that with babies. Go on, read your list so you can be rebuffed."

I did. I covered every practical idea from the meeting yesterday, even throwing in a few of the outlandish ones to lighten Pagan's humour. He chuckled at an offering of 'endless fertilizer', and seemed vaguely interested when I mentioned Bora ("What does she look like?"), but the end result was a resounding 

"No. No, no, just no. I told you and that idiot bard the other day, I want you away from my lands. You fools attract too much attention with your trading and construction. An ill wind blows, and your presence would see it directed at my home. No amount of bribes will change my mind."

I growled, impatient and put out. "Why is it so important we leave? We aren't doing anything wrong! Nobody'll know you live out here! You're almost a day's walk away from Pubton!"

Pagan shook his head. "I told you last week, these are dark times. Don't you get any news in that hovel of yours?"

"'course we do! We get notices in that PUB you almost KNOCKED OVER! How the hell do you do that, anyway?! With the animals?"

The old knight ignored this, pacing a few steps up the staircase to the second floor. "A kingdom to the southeast of here fell last Tuesday. It was overrun, by… things. Nobody knows what, because anybody who tries to go near the kingdom - I believe its name was Placefiller? - doesn't come back. It's not the first patriarchy to fall, either… the tyrant of the Indy Plains, King Jeffrey, went under earlier in the year… that wasn't a surprise, he was a daft idiot, but two independent kingdoms in one year, for no explicable reason…"

The mention of Jeffrey's name sent a shiver up my spine.

"I don't have long to live." Pagan sighed, curling his beard with one armoured finger and wincing as it got caught in the metal. "I'm old. I want a conclusion in pleasant obscurity, not fending off otherworldly nightmares. My manor is self-sustaining, my slaves content with working the land, and I aim to keep it that way. That's why your crappy town can't stay where it is."

I scratched my head, a half-idea forming as Pagan spoke. "What… what if I could TELL you 'bout the things that're doing this? 'least I figure it's what I think it is…"

Pagan's eyes narrowed. Quite a feat for a man whose eyes seem to be naturally narrowed. "You know what brought Placefiller low? And Jeffrey?"

I nodded, tentatively. "Y… yeah. Kinda. All of us, most of us, we came from Castle… hell, I don't remember what it was called last. Jeffrey's stupid castle. I saw firsthand what happened, 'n I know who's responsible."

Pagan waited for more details.

I did not deliver. "I'll tell you everything you wanna know, everything you'd need to prep yourself for the worst, if you'll let us stay."

He didn't miss a beat. "Then I will remain blissfully uninformed. Get out." He turned to walk up the stairs, motioning for Hoban to direct me out of his hall.

"If we go, you die."

Pagan stopped. My heart leaped into my throat. The voice didn't belong to me, or Pagan, or Hoban, or any of the other servants in the hall. It was clear, high, innocent, joyful, spoken as though delivering a hymnal to a crowd of religious converts.

I turned, staring at my son. Grayson smiled at me, head swaying in that delightfully baby way of his, drool rolling down his chin.

Gods, I thought. Dear gods. The second coming of Eve.

"I will take my chances, child." Pagan's gruff tones broke, tinged with surprise, though he did not turn around. He left me to escort my son off of his property.

Another thing not to tell Libby. I didn't think parenthood was this trying.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Frightened

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Three: Everything is falling apart



By the gods, a town meeting was productive for once! People got along! Kinda! Ain't nothing like a little urban catastrophe to bring the social classes together, I always say.

Well. Okay. I've never said that before. But I have now, and I'm sure I'll say it again while I'm mayor.

I called everyone to order 'round the golden tree after the morning chores… and repairs… had been completed. I started by asking what had gone wrong overnight, anticipating troubles, and I was not disappointed:

- The pub was filled with twigs - don't know how it was managed, considering many of us were SLEEPING INSIDE THE PUB
- The cows were scared into the woods, and Morris spent the morning trying to corral them back into a crude replacement enclosure
- Another wagon was rendered useless, its wheels having been cracked and strung up in a tree
- The seeds in one of the winterweed fields had all been removed from the ground and left in a big pile at the edge of the field - and all of their holes were filled in
- And, in a spectacularly bad move, a band of bold beavers had tried to gnaw away at the legs on my parents' bed while they slept - my dad woke up and caught 'em, and the town enjoyed cooked beaver for breakfast this morning

The yummy beaver aside, people were in a bad mood when I asked what we should offer Pagan to receive permission to stay on the land. A lot of people were PISSED to hear that we'd illegally settled on somebody else's property, but all agreed that we weren't moving now, and he'd best make the most of our presence.

"Give him some winterweed!" Lonnie the Noble yelled, offering what was to be the most sensible suggestion of the day. "We will have plenty! He can sell it on the market and make a fortune!"

My father glared at Lonnie, though he didn't attack. He's eased up on his bullying considerably. "Y'idiot, we can't sell that damned weed. We need it to survive the winter. Give 'im your useless ass, Dragomir! Sacrifice yourself or somethin'! For the good of the town!"

An annoyingly large portion of Pubton agreed with that. I poo-pooed the motion and called for more suggestions.

"A delicious soup!" cried Robert. "I can make it! Get me some swan meat and I'll turn that bugger into your best friend, Drago!"

"I'll fix his stupid house!" offered Libby. "You say he's got slaves? Bet they're shit at maintenance!"

"Bora! Offer him Bora!" one of the noblewomen yelled. "No… no particular reason!"

"No! No! Send him that useless skank! I serve the beer!" Bora hurled back, though she was laughing. The men hotly agreed with Bora.

"We could tend t'his fields!" said Morris. "Or feed his livestock! Or menial stuff like that!"

"Tell him we'll put on a play for him! Once a week!"

"War tournaments in his honour!"

"Jousting matches!"

"Candy!"

"A child's beaming face!"

"The promise of an eternal tomorrow!"

"Porn!"

"This thimble!"

I wrote down all of the suggestions, from the practical to the outlandish, laughing whenever somebody tossed out a new, even weirder suggestion. The crowd carried on for a good half hour with stupid ideas, and I let 'em. Work has been sluggish and hard of late, and tempers are high in Pubton. We needed a chance to be silly.

So, uh, yeah. I have a list of things I can offer Pagan when I visit his manor tomorrow. Barrel has agreed to fly me over in the morning. Was a long bargain, and Barrel seemed dangerously twitchy during the conversation (he's become rather territorial, taking over a patch of trees in the woods), but it will be done. Bah, dammit, forgot to ask the rats 'bout his weird mood swings… I'll make a note of it…

Anyway. Yeah. Tomorrow I make haste to Pagan's manor, perhaps to put an end to his animal shenanigans. If nothing else I hope I can find out how in the hell he's doing all this. Didn't seem like much of an animal person to me when we met…

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-Two: And your little dog too



That message was carved into the side of the pub this morning. Carved, we think, by the giant chunk of wood sitting astride the pub's wall, ripped straight out of one of the wagons. The poor wagon is now pretty much useless.

Pagan. That asshole is doing this somehow. He wants us off his land badly enough that he's siccing animals on Pubton. Short of keeping watchers up all night to scare away the vandals, I'm not sure what we can do to stop him.

I spent the night in one of the cleared areas of the pub, dreaming of a band of flying beavers that moved from house to house, gnawing apart the supports and cackling gleefully. When I woke up I discovered that the truth may not have been far from that, as two more houses had collapsed, as well as several animal pens. None of our domesticated stock was harmed, though the chickens and cows were spooked enough that they wouldn't give eggs or milk or whatever. Blargh.

Also: poo. SO MUCH POO. Pagan must figure shit will force us to leave. He may be right in that, 'cause Pubton smells like week-old casserole. Y'know, after it's been pooed out. Unbearable.

After setting a watch of peasants and nobles, as well as sending hunters into the woods to search for the animals that did all this, I stalked to the edge of town, hunted through the tall grass to find the hole leading to the rat warrens, and slipped inside.

Philip was waiting for me. RIGHT at the entrance. I very nearly contributed to the town's collection of poo.

"HOLY GODS!" I cried, falling back onto the dirt. "Philip, cripes, don't DO that, man! You are still a bloody ghost, y'know!"

Philip stared moodily at me, his indistinct eyes rippling to one side as he shrugged. His wavering form vanished, and the dirt at my feet parted in a thin line that slid into the darkness. His way of leading me on. Creepy, CREEPY bastard.

I followed the line to the base of the golden tree, its roots and glaringly bright as ever, and found the rats waiting for me in a small group. I'm still surprised by how grey and white their coats look now, and they seem perpetually exhausted. Considering how bright the damned tree is, they probably don't get much sleep. Guess that's the rodent equivalent of bags under your eyes.

I'd brought you along, diary, and I set you down and opened you to a blank page. "Hey, uh, guys. You happen to know what the HELL is going on in Pubton?"

The rats nodded.

I swallowed. "Okay. Um, care to… explain? Maybe tell me how to handle the situation?"

The rats looked at each other for a few seconds, communing through small chitters I couldn't understand. I've never seen them talk like that. Very weird. Eventually one stepped forward, set its paws on the edge of your open page, diary, and said…

… nothing. Not in rat language, not by writing in you, not even writing in the dirt. All it did was shrug.

I glowered. "Oh, don't give me that shit again. You were all mysterious 'n stuff before 'cause The Baron was fucking with you, right? Well he ain't here anymore, and you can't use that excuse. WHAT the HELL is GOING ON?"

Another tiny shrug. The rat scurried back to its group as the whole lot dispersed, vanishing into the underbelly of the tree.

"YEARGH!" I screamed, or something close to that. "YOU BASTARDS ARE STILL NO HELP!"

So that didn't work.

Pubton is falling apart, and though we can repair it faster than these mystery animals can do their damage, I'm not sure it's worth the trouble. Might actually be easier if we left.

But…

I don't wanna…

I like it here…

If Pagan really is behind this shit, we'll have to appease him somehow. I'll hold a town meeting tomorrow to discuss our options. I'm sure we can produce SOMETHING that'll catch Pagan's fancy… stupid frikkin' knight…

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Monday, November 19, 2012

Day Three-Thirty-One: Sabotage'd



I think the whole thing with Pagan was bad luck for me, diary, because things are suddenly and EXPLOSIVELY GOING WRONG

I was awoken from a dream about Libby crushing a city (she appeared to be a giant reptile for some reason) by a hard, wrenching CRACK somewhere in the pub. I wasn't sure what had happened at first, but Libby was on her feet in an instant, flinging the covers aside and glaring at the walls.

"The hell?" I mumbled, slipping onto the floor and groping for my floppy hat. "Whazzat?"

"Da hewl?" Grayson mimed as he woke up in his crib, smiling. He's been doing that a lot. Smiling AND miming. "Whaaazzaaat?"

Libby held up a finger to still us, as well as everyone else who'd heard the noise. She scanned the roof… eyes to the support beams… watched, waited, listened…

Crack.

"FUCK!" she yelled, sweeping up Grayson. "EVERYBODY OUT! MOVE IT MOVE IT MOVE IT!"

We moved. Barrelled out the door and right past my half-drunk father, who was stumbling towards the pub to call for the beginning of the day's work. Robert and Bora had just barely enough time to get out the front door before there was another crack, the shudder of wood, and, inevitably, the collapse of the roof. I watched through the doorway as several hundred pounds of wood and nails demolished roughly three-quarters of the ground floor, trapping or crushing cots and personal items aplenty. 

We gawked. Everybody was too quiet, too confused and half-asleep, for words. Then there was another crack, and Libby's head whipped up, and she barked for her carpenters. Her little group dashed around the side of the pub, their leader hell bent on saving the smaller second floor before it, too, collapsed.

One of the assistants came rushing back with Grayson and handed him off to me. Good call, Libby.

Because Libby and her crew are miracle workers, they managed to not only save the second floor, but they plan to have the pub repaired by Wednesday. Until then people will have to sleep in one of the handful of other buildings that are now built. More bitching from the nobles about this, but that's par for the course.

The collapse of the pub was not the only thing that went wrong today, however. No, a great deal more transpired to turn this into one of Pubton's darkest days ever.

With the carpenters hard at work on the house, my father called for the beginning of the day's work. No point moping when there are fields to be tilled, seeds to be sown and boards to be nailed. Everyone set about their tasks with gloomy expressions on their faces -

- and those expressions only deepened as they discovered evidence of sabotage throughout Pubton. Ruined fences. Upended dirt. Rough roads full of potholes. Wheels missing from the remaining wagons. Food pilfered. Feces EVERYWHERE. Seriously, I have not seen so much animal poop decorating the walls of a town EVER. Complaints came fast and copious, and I spent much of my day running from one end of Pubton to the other, trying to help people set their property to rights. Doubt I did much good, but I have to do what I can as mayor, y'know? 

And the culprits behind this catastrophe? Nowhere to be seen. There's plenty of evidence pointing at their identity, though, and the hunters of Pubton are plenty confused by said evidence, because most of it consists of… animal tracks… and Libby confirmed that the supports on the pub were gnawed by very sharp teeth… what in the hell…?

I don't know. I'll ask the rats about it tomorrow, 'cause they seem to have an 'in' when it comes to animals. Not much else we can do now but get to repairs.

Bugger. First Pagan, now this. Maybe King Gok was right.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor

Friday, November 16, 2012

Day Three-Hundred-Thirty: Winding down


Back home today. Arrived at, oh, lunchtime? A little after? Most people looked dazed as they went about their chores, their stomachs full of Robert's fried goat meat sandwiches. I used their lax attention spans to protect myself against questions. 

Questions. Oh, questions. They will come, I know it. Because I, Dragomir, have officially failed in my first real attempt at diplomacy. In retrospect, I failed even more than I realized at the time of the negotiations. If you can call 'em negotiations. Pretty piss-poor effort overall, from Edmund and myself.

Yes! Yes, diary! I blame Edmund! It's hardly all his fault, more my fault than his, but he buggered up! The giant explosion at the end was HIS DOING! Why'd he have to piss off our host by calling him a spy? Granted, the evidence was somewhat compelling, considering how sheepish Pagan had looked when accused of the role, but you don't go around calling people spies in the middle of negotiations. Even I know that. You'd figure a dude who makes his money from getting in the good books of his crowd would UNDERSTAND that.

Nope. Edmund seems quite content that he caught Pagan on a snag. I tried to explain that he ruined any chance of us settling this land issue peacefully, but Ed kept insisting that it was doomed from the start. What a bloody pessimist.

I will accept my share of the blame. If I'd done my job properly, Edmund wouldn't have felt compelled to step in, 'cept maybe to sing my praises as I hammered out a deal with Pagan. I barely even tried to convince him that we could make our stay on his lands lucrative! Damned idiot, I shoulda OPENED with that, not mumbled on and on about names and slaves and stuff! I'm a dunce, and I need a proper diplomat for this kinda shit.

Not Grylock, though. He'd be even worse than me. Don't care if he has years of practice, he's a rude little asshole. So… who? Who could negotiate in my stead whenever this crap crops up?

Bah. I guess I'll think about it later. We're not moving, either way, so the next time I meet with Pagan it won't be a diplomatic function. He's a warrior, he'll be out for blood. Hope we're prepped for that eventuality… maybe I should talk to someone about building a wall…

I'm in bed at the moment, scribbling away while Libby chats with a neighbour. Grayson is propped up on her knee and babbling away in his nonsense baby talk. It sounds less like nonsense every day! I'm so proud. If he'd just stop toppling furniture when no one's around I'd be the happiest daddy in the world.

This also assumes that I have my daughter at my side. Which I don't. She's… still… I don't know what she is. I bet she's safe, somewhere, having murdered her way out of The Baron's clutches, but… I have no way of knowing.

Sigh. I dunno. This Friday seems weirdly anticlimactic. Isn't stuff supposed to happen on these days? The most I can remark on happening today is Barrel's continued petulance… we found him sleeping in a tree yesterday, when we were headed home, and he's been snotty and testy ever since we woke him up… had this weird, unpleasant glint in his eye, as though his stomach was tied up with a severe bout of indigestion… bah. I'll try asking the rats, they seem to know stuff about him.

Hrm. So anti-climactic. But… what else can I add, diary…? 



OH

I DID GET ANOTHER LETTER

THAT'S SOMETHING

Up 'til now I've used my letters to bitch about my current state of affairs. I've been so rude, not really asking my pen pal about his own circumstances. Fortunately, he decided to fill me in with some of his own woes! Here, I'll write it all down so you can enjoy the letter like I did, diary.

'Dear Dragomir,

I pray all is well with the lord of your lands. I have yet to receive a letter back - doubtless because you're so busy handling the situation - but I couldn't wait any longer. I need to share a problem of my own, with the hopes that you might have some return advice. Mind the boundless presumption!

When I laid the foundations for my community, I did so with the assumed assistance of a young woman. I had high hopes for her. I believed, with some nurturing and guidance, that she would grow into a productive leader. She's so talented, so good at what she does! A prodigy! If anybody could guide my settlement to prosperity and strength, it was her… with a little help from myself while she grew into the role, of course.

But I've been stymied. Not only have I realized since the establishment of our community that she does not care for the wellbeing of her people, I've discovered concrete proof that she is a threat to us. In her adolescent rage she has, erm, let us say 'inconvenienced', no less than four of my people! Four valued, friendly, hard-working souls who did not deserve such treatment! My confidence in this project has been greatly shaken as a consequence, and I've heard vague whispers of mutiny. Small, almost inconsequential, but great things spring from the lowest of places. I'm sure you understand, former guardsman!

I remain confident that, with time, patience and nurturing, this young woman will see the error of her ways and contribute to our burgeoning society. I rather count on it, as we badly need her assistance in the days to come. I know my vagueness must be annoying, but allow me to stress this point: we need her.

I know you have children. Your daughter Eve is renowned for her prowess with a blade, and from what I've heard of Grayson - say hello to him for me! - you sound like a good parent, a good role model. If this were your daughter - pretend that she is Lord Knight Eve, for the sake of visualization - how would you handle the situation? This old man merely wants to steer a troubled youth back onto the right path.

I eagerly await your reply, even if it's one of sympathy and naught else. Until next the quill meets the page!

Lord B.T.'

Poor guy. Sounds like he's in quite a fix. Not sure if I agree with FORCING this anonymous lady to help out if she doesn't wanna, but I'll send him some advice on Monday. I wasn't a spectacular daddy to Eve, but given how she saved my ass, I must have made some kinda impression.

Lights off. I'm tired from walking, and my brain hurts from deciphering Edmund's rhymes for days on end. 'til next week, diary.

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Mayor


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day Three-Twenty-Nine: Beard equals grouch



MAN, Pagan is a DICK

We met the old man after breakfast this morning. Hoban, snarkily asking us if our accommodations were sufficient ("We SLAVES don't make people sleep in the cold, after all"), led us to the main hall of the manor after we'd finished our salted bread and presented Pagan in all his splendour, standing at the top of the staircase to the manor's second level.

Pagan reminds me a lot of King Gok, at least physically. He's an old man, his white beard cascading out of his helmet and down his long face. He has shrewd, narrow eyes perched atop high cheekbones like hawks, and he stands with a slight hunch, always leaning on an ornate metal cane shaped like a crane. He wears light armour, and I get the feeling he never takes it off, 'cause it doesn't seem to impede him at all. (Though it might explain the hunch…)

He waved us over, smiling through his beard, though the smile didn't carry up to his eyes. Those remained suspicious and scrutinizing. "Greetings, humble masters. I am Pagan, lord of this manor. Hoban, here, says that you want to speak with me? I trust it is about the message I sent with him? He was several days late in returning."

I nodded, mouth dry. That was partly my fault - but only partly. Dude should learn to speak up. "Yeeeeeah. Um. Hi. Dragomir, here. Dragomir the Mayor. This is Edmund? My bard? Our bard, rather, I don't really own him or anything, like you and your -"

"Cease thy long babbling tongue, / It makes thee sound over young," Edmund whispered, digging an elbow into my arm.

I straightened. "Ah! Yeah. Um. Hi. Again. Uh, I wanted to ask you about us leaving your land, because, well, we've already -"

Pagan tutted and stepped down into the main hall, tapping his cane on each step as he descended. "I'm sorry, young man, but that is not possible. My land is off-limits to foreigners. You will have to leave, unless you get special dispensation - "

"Yeah? Yeah?" I stood on my toes, anticipating the solution to my problem.

" - from me," he finished, smile twisting in apology. "And I do not grant it. I want no villages on my lands. And from what Hoban tells me, your settlement will not remain a village for long. I wish to remain inconspicuous, and a bustling community on my doorstep does not engender anonymity."

I slumped. Edmund took the floor.

"Pardon mine intrusion, fair knight Pagan, /
But question you I mostly must; /
Why canst we not lift tankard and flagon /
And leave thine presence in the dust?"

Pagan stared at Edmund a moment. "Pagan? Flagon? Never heard that combination before. And I've known a lot of bards. Regardless, I'm not sure I know what you mean, Master Edmund."

Edmund tried again. His second attempt didn't make much more sense. Having lived with him long enough, I translated. "Can't we just act like you don't live here? You're far enough away that visitors to Pubton would never notice your manor, and we can… I dunno… pay taxes, or something…"

Pagan thought about that, then tapped his cane. "No. These are tumultuous times, and I'd rather not be caught up in them overly much. My many ears in the surrounding lands have told me of dark armies and strange creatures on the prowl. I would not have them bothering my estate until after my time is past. I have endured enough warfare for a dozen men, and I prefer to avoid more as my armour rusts and my skills wane."

I commiserated. I wouldn't want a bald bureaucrat and his evil army of nightmare beasts knocking on my door either. "Fair, sir, but my people need -"

Pagan sneered. His civility teetered and slipped. "I don't care about your people. I care about my people. We're vulnerable, here, and can't survive a force of any size. Take your village and leave."

My arms flailed without prompting. "Now, now, hold on a sec, let's be reasonable -"

Pagan shook his head and turned to Edmund. "Master Edmund. You have seen my house. You know the extent of my hardships. Do you not agree that I have earned a quiet retirement, my lands free of vagrants? Have not my heroic actions in the Battle of Two Forks, or my role as general in the Third War of the Grand Knife, or my bold assault on the Fortress of the Spoons, not granted me some degree of control over lands which I legally own?"

Edmund bit his lip. He has massive respect for heroes, and I could tell he'd recognized all of those battle names. He wouldn't argue Pagan's rights to privacy. So, instead, he took a different tack, nailing something I hadn't noticed.

"Good sir Pagan, I grant you now /
Your vast stipend of renown and fame; /
Yet I must humbly ask thee how /
You know this poor little bard's full name?"

The room went quiet. While it lasted I thought back, wondering if I'd ever called Edmund anything other than Ed during my trip. I had - the previous evening, when we'd sat up alone in our room, trying to puzzle out a rhyme for 'Edmund'. (Only one that sounded plausible was 'Redmond', and I don't know what that is.)

Pagan coughed into his gauntlet. "Er. Hoban… Hoban told me your name was, er, uh… what was it, again, Hoban…?"

Hoban's eyes flitted to the paintings on the walls. "Oh, um, Ed, my lord. Yes, you, you, you asked what their names were, and I reported what I heard, and in your supreme, um, like, omniscience -"

"That will do." Pagan tapped his cane. "Yes, I heard the name 'Ed', and KNEW it must belong to 'Edmund'. There is no other appellation suitable for a, uh, majestic songster like yourself."

"There could be, / there would be, / there should be," Edmund insisted, stepping forward like a hunter on the trail. "Edgar, Edward, Eddard, these be all goodly titles / For a man of my poor constitution and vitals."

'Vitals?' I mouthed quietly. Edmund shrugged.

Pagan's eye twitched. "I believe we're getting off track, here. The answer -"

"Edlam, Edman, Edgoor -"

" - is still - "

"Edrom, Eddlefast, Eddie -"

" - a resounding - "

"Edquest, EdEd, Edpoor - "

" - and ANGERED - "

"But Edmund? Spy I name thee!"

"NO! STOP FUCKING RHYMING! NO NO NO NO NO! WHAT THE HELL KIND OF NAME IS EDED?!"

Pagan stomped his feet, slamming his left foot down so hard on the final 'no' that it left a deep mark in the wooden floor. He continued to rant, all pretence of patience or good hospitality clearly gone.

"GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!" he howled, pointing his cane towards the big double doors at the front of the manor. "YOU CAN'T HAVE YOUR FUCKING PUBTON, OR WHATEVER IT'S CALLED, ON MY LANDS! IF YOU LINGER ANY LONGER I'LL HIRE MERCENARIES AND DRIVE YOUR BEGGARING PEASANTS INTO THE FUCKING IMPERIUM AT THE POINTS OF HUNDREDS OF SWORDS! DON'T SEE IF I WON'T!"

When he stopped ranting, breathing hard, my mouth responded with the stupidest thing it could concoct on short notice. "Does… does that mean we SHOULD see if you DO? 'cause that's a double negative, and Robert always says, or in this case never doesn't say -"

We were on our way home minutes later, driven by slaves carrying spears. They apologized, because they'd come to rather like us in the last day-and-a-half.

Looking at the manor from a distance, sighing, I turned to my pal and shrugged. "Diplomacy. I knew I'd suck at it."

He patted my shoulder. "You tried, 'tis the most you could do. / Truth be told, our chances were few."

"I guess. Hey, what'd ya mean when you called him a spy? I don't get it."

Edmund cocked an eyebrow. "Did… didst thou not see his many works of art? / All pieces of which eyes were a prom'nent part?"

"Yeah, 'course I did. They were everywhere. Hey, hey, that reminds me, I had a great idea the other day. Wouldn't it be awesome to cut out the eyes on those paintings and peek through them from the other side? You could totally watch people."

Edmund pursed his lips, spread his hands, and waited for something.

"What?"

He shook his head and started walking.

I don't get it.

Took us half a day to find our testy dragon,

Dragomir the Mayor

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Day Three-Twenty-Eight: Peek



Pagan the Knight is still too busy to meet with Edmund 'n me. Hoban tells us that he's entertaining another guest, somebody of great importance. He wouldn't tell me who, though - just said it was a person "more important than a bunch of land-hugging bums". That sounds dirty, and highlights just how little I like Hoban.

On the plus side, he DID let us outta that stone room this morning, 'cause we were deemed 'harmless' by the lord. Dunno how he KNOWS we're harmless… I mean, I could be hiding great power in these fists of mine. Who's he to judge? If he's as small as the sculptures of himself all over his property, then he should know BETTER than to assume somebody's weak. True, he probably ISN'T the size of a goblin, but I'm not going to JUDGE before I meet him. See what I did there? Avoided his terrible logic trap.

Uh. Where was I? Oh, yeah, he let us out. That was it. 

The manor is pretty cool. There's not much to do, not in the parts we're allowed to visit (mainly the grounds), but there's a lot to see. We wandered around the fields for a couple hours, taking notes and asking the labourers how best to set up fields 'n till 'n prep for winter 'n that sorta thing. Once they warmed up to us they had some good tips.

One thing I should go back on, though. They're not labourers. They're slaves. Pagan the Knight is a slave owner. 

Don't get me wrong! I am, again, not judging. I will never be accused of being a judge. If a man wants to live his life owning slaves, then he can live his life owning slaves. They're a ragged, scrawny lot, but they all seem to like Pagan well enough, and they insist they're well-fed and get proper clothing when the weather is chill. Their little cabins also look decent, considering they're used to house slaves.

Still. Slavery. Didn't think any humans bothered with it anymore. Ain't illegal - lords make their own laws out here, y'know - but it's frowned upon. Unenlightened 'n all that. Only goblins still bother with slaves. Guess Pagan's an old soul in more ways than one. They're not abused, though, and I have no stake in 'em, so I can't say a thing 'bout the slaves. I wanna make Pagan a friend, not piss him off by insulting his lifestyle. 

What we saw of the manor itself, primarily the main hall and our little room, is… decorative. There are paintings hanging everywhere. And all of them have eyes! Eyes everywhere! It's danged unsettling, 'cause you have the constant impression that somebody's watching you. Same goes for all the little statues on the outside of the manor. Not everything is an image of Pagan, but way too many of them are.

I think the man has a compulsive need to be seen. That's unhealthy. Edmund just seems to believe that it lends him a heroic air. Not from where I'm sitting, dude.

Anyway. When we weren't touring and asking questions that USUALLY weren't answered (Pagan's slaves are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to details of their master), we were in a little serving area, partaking of simple foods and singing songs with the slaves. Edmund knows how to put on a show regardless of the crowd, and the slaves are really warming up to him. See, I KNEW it was a good idea to bring a bard along!

Tonight doesn't look like it's gonna be much different from today. Lotsa waiting. I have little else to add to this entry, so I'm signing off. All I'll add before I close shop is one final question to chew on…

… where the hell is Barrel? Did he leave AGAIN? There aren't MORE rats to shuttle to Pubton, are there? Or is he just being a jerk and doing his own thing while we sit around with our thumbs up our butts? 

Sincerely,

Dragomir the Tourist