I've known Libby since we were married. If you're not keeping track, diary, that's… um… a few years. I dunno, I didn't really note the passage of time 'til I started writing in you. I've seen her happy, sad, upset, mad, vengeful, chirpy, peeved, irritated, bored, grim, pissed, and a whole lot of other emotions I can't currently think of. Throughout our marriage, however, I've never seen one fundamentally-human emotion plastered across her chiselled features: bald-faced fear. She's been a little scared, maybe tentative, but never terrified.
I see terror now. As she grips our psychotic little boy in one arm and stares at the window, she looks afraid. She's helpless, and on a strong-armed bear like Libby that's so unusual that it almost makes me forget the sloth roaming beyond the walls of this pub.
Almost. But then I remember WHY she looks so afraid, and, hell, the situation becomes all the worse. We're so screwed, diary, so utterly and completely screwed.
I've mentioned sloths many times, usually as a dire omen that I'd rather not discuss. There's a reason for that. Sloths are well known for their barbaric tempers, unworldly strength and apathy towards other life. They are voracious killers, unwilling and unable to be sated when somebody pisses them off. Most cities near jungles have strict laws against entering said jungles for fear of enraging a sloth.
There are no jungles here. Therefore, there should be no sloth idling outside Morris' farm, staring blankly at his fence. Yet there is.
Because everyone's too afraid to go outside, we take turns quietly watching for the sloth through the Beefiary's windows. It's not difficult to find recruits for sitting watch for long hours when their lives are in dire peril… though everyone wants to take the windows on the top floor rather than the bottom. I guess they forget that sloths can climb. Climbing is, like, their thing. Their thing they do.
There are only four rooms upstairs from which to watch, and one of them is still occupied by Evangelina. (Yes, we still haven't built her a proper jail, shut up. There are more important matters at the moment.) Nobody's willing to enter the jail cell with her, despite her obvious helplessness, so whenever I take a watch I do the honour and sit on her bed. Somebody (often Libby, she seems quite suspicious of my lack of fear) usually stands watch outside the door to make sure Evangelina doesn't, I dunno, throttle me or something.
She hasn't. And she won't. I'm not her favourite person in the world, I'm sure, but she's friendly enough after all the crap with her brother that she's willing to talk to me. I remember saying, ages ago, that she's not as crappy as the rest of the nobles - and that still stands. There's an odd, quiet resilience about her: she doesn't complain, doesn't fuss, doesn't make demands, yet manages to command respect every time she opens her mouth, despite her ragged clothes and shaggy demeanour.
Now that we both know the full story behind the fall of the castle… or as much as we're likely to know… we've swapped tales of what happened behind-the-scenes. Turns out that Driscol and Evangelina had a contact in Bottomless, land of endless merchants with unusually deep pockets, who funded their entire private army. Not so strange, that, until I learned who it was:
"A little girl selling ice cream cones."
I gaped as I whispered back. "Wh… what? Ice cream cones?"
Evangelina smirked and nodded. "Yep. Ice cream cones. You visited Bottomless with me, you know what the place is like. They have infinite amounts of money. Willing to buy anything you bring to them while not selling nearly enough to justify their purchases. It's a strange land…"
"Okay, yeah, I get that. But a little girl? Selling ice cream?"
She shrugged. "It doesn't matter what you sell, so long as you're a registered merchant of Bottomless. She was. We tapped her, and she handed over as much gold as we needed to hire mercenaries. That's what I was doing when we visited, paying the merc captains."
"And trying to kill my daughter."
Evangelina bit her lip. "I knew it wouldn't work. So did Driscol. We just wanted her out of the way during the siege. If I had managed to kill her, well… all the better for keeping the castle in the aftermath?"
"I should probably be mad, but… I never have feared for her life… 'cept maybe now…" Shaking my head, I swerved back to the original subject. "How'd you convince a little girl to fund a damned siege? Did ya sell her a bunch of rocks or something?"
Evangelina paused. Her cool expression, normally controlled and sly, broke a little. "I… uh… agreed to be her pen pal. In exchange for the money."
"Pen pal?" I thought of Lord B.T., from whom I've not heard in almost a month. "That's all it took to earn you a fortune?"
"She was an orphan," Evangelina snapped, looking away. "She had nobody. Just her business. She wanted company, I gave it to her. I sent a letter or two a day to keep her happy, and she handed over as much gold as I wanted whenever I visited."
"Oh." I mulled that over. "An orphan owns a business? An orphan child?"
"I never said she was a poor orphan. Just an orphan. She has her own mansion."
"Of course she does. Do ya, um, still correspond, or whatever…?"
Evangelina looked around the room, focusing long and hard on the wooden bars. Then she turned back to me and rolled her eyes. "Does it look like I have writing materials in here?"
"Ah. Good point."
We've had some interesting moments. Serious, funny, sombre, even touching. She told me a lot about Driscol that I never would have known: he plays the piano, for example, and watches birds in his spare time. He loves birds. Catalogues them in a book and everything. Evangelina doesn't know where the book is, now, but she hopes to find it some day.
Yet for all I've learned, Evangelina refuses to discuss her past. She won't talk about how she came to the castle, how she and Driscol lived before that, or the details of her apprenticeship with June. Every time I make even the slightest reference to June Evangelina gets a pinched look and changes the subject. There's some bad blood there, I have no doubt, and maybe I'll find out about it some day.
You know, if we survive the sloth.
The last time somebody sighted it, the beast was sitting on the roof of Morris' farm. I fear for anyone trapped in there, and I know there are a few souls in the buildings around the Beefiary. May they keep quiet until the sloth leaves.
I have peed myself in fear at least seven times since this started,
Dragomir the Mayor