I awoke near a pile of misshapen, cracked, useless stones, and my first thought was a question: "How had I ever thought I would be able to turn those into a wall? The Weekendists are as dumb as I am for collectin' these."
That thought then turned into another question: "Why didn't I freeze to death last night? The snow shoulda claimed me hours ago." This one had a simpler answer - there was no more snow.
Winter was gone. Spring had arrived. A little earlier than usual, but here it was, washing away the smelly sweat on my body with a subtle bath of dew. It was light, and when I looked up I noticed people hard at work in the fields, already preparing to seed new crops.
Spring. We made it through the bad weather. Against more bad luck than we could have imagined, we made it through.
Sitting up, I looked at Pubton for the first time. I really looked. Sure, I'd seen it lots before, but it'd always been covered in snow. Now, unearthed from its cold blanket, everything was… bigger. More real. An actual town. It'd always been a town, but now it was a TOWN, a bustling community full of people and houses and workshops and stables and haylofts and, hell, the beginnings of a mill. Libby was already out there, helping her assistants get the water wheel into place so they could test it on the unfrozen Potos River.
Libby. I looked away as quickly as I could. I was too embarrassed, or mad, or… something… to stare at her. My face flushed, so something was definitely there.
I got up, squeezed out my clothes, sneezed a couple times - apparently I was still rather chilled from a night oudoors - and walked to the pub. People greeted me cordially enough, inquiring after my health, though conversations didn't last much longer than that. Everyone was busy, and everyone was wary of me, Dragomir, the crazy man with the crazy plan.
Yeah. I know. It was crazy. I'm not stupid. I couldn't build a library in one week, on my own, with no previous building skill. Truth be told, I'm sure anything I COULD have constructed would not be as good for Robert as June's weird fantasy library. He probably is better off in there until we get something substantial set up. That wasn't the point of my frenzy anyway, 'cause I wasn't really thinking about Robert last night. I was thinking about myself.
Unfortunately, so was everyone else. In more ways than I'd imagined.
Chilled and in need of fresh clothes, I made my way to the Beefiary. I could tell from the windows that no one was inside, not even Bora, who had probably gone off to buy supplies from a travelling merchant for the week's meals. I opened the door, yawned, cracked my neck, stepped inside -
- and stopped. A brilliant, patchwork banner, repurposed from Allofusmas and hanging from the ceiling, caught my eye. There were no candles lit so the room was empty, but from the light siphoning in the windows I could read what it said, plain as day:
"Hapy Burthday Mistar Mayour!"
That was it. Spelling mistakes and all.
I looked around. The tables were littered with little decorations, haphazard party hats, bits of uneaten winterweed cake, empty and unwashed ale mugs, cloth streamers, stupid party games… hell, there was even a chair set up with wooden shackles attached, which I assume was made so Evangelina could join in, even if nobody trusted her.
The chair had been made by Libby. I know it had. No one else in Pubton can craft something weird like that.
"There used to be presents, but they took them away."
I looked up the stairs. Grayson was descending, his youthful swagger unmistakable.
"They waited for you," he said, sitting on the bottom step and smiling at me. "They waited for you for hours. Nobody wanted to ruin the surprise, so they kept going out with excuses to bring you back. And you ignored all of them."
My mouth went dry. I swept the room again, carving each festive visual into my mind.
"Mom waited even longer," he continued. "When everyone else gave up, she sat in here. Hoping you would come. You never did."
I hiccupped. Strange reaction.
"How does that make you feel, dad?" Grayson grinned, forcing an obnoxious stress on the word 'feel'. "Does it make you feel bad? Upset? Angry? Tell me how it makes you feel."
My fingers tightened into fists.
"Angry, I bet. Very angry. Perhaps as angry as that time I took control of your precious dragon friend."
I took two steps towards the stairs.
"Mmm, yes, that's right. Very angry indeed. Like that time I stranded you in the woods. Just before, you know, the precious dragon thing. I bet that made you angry, too. Maybe I should have said it first? Oh, but I like going chronologically backwards, it's so elegant."
"Which means -"
I suddenly recalled something June had said.
She'd said "He wants to get y'mad, of course."
"I should talk about -"
I refused to listen anymore, perhaps anticipating some horrible truth, or some horrible lie, that might set my hands burning again, because, oh, they tingled now, they tingled and I could smell burning fabric, oh, burning fabric, and I turned and I rushed out of the pub and I slammed the door and I didn't hear what Grayson said next.
But I heard him laughing.