Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day Four-Forty-Seven: Everything falls apart

No farts today. Today was serious business.

After a long, tense journey that took most of the night – Doc’s shambling assistants are danged slow, and a bit ripe of their own accord – we reached the mountain dig site Libby’s been chewing away at for the past few months.

Despite having visited a few times, I’ve not really looked the place over since my first trip with my dad and Pagan. Libby’s crew has made remarkable progress: there are a few semi-permanent wood- and-stone structures, the tents are more for supplies than bodies, and the workshops for processing ore are well-established. Libby’s gone to a lot of work to get this place up and running. It even has a name, now, on a massive sign over the main road into the camp: ‘Pubtwon.’ I think it’s a play on Pubton. And the number two. And the fact that it’s… the second… Pubton.

Yeah. Not very clever. Accurate, though. Like the Pubton of old, the only thing really still standing is the sign. Everything else is falling apart.

The signs of distress were obvious the moment we set foot in camp. Most of the buildings I mentioned earlier are partially collapsed or outright demolished, the tents are shredded, and there’s evidence of cave-ins. Like, a lot of cave-ins. The mouth of the primary mine is taller than the Matriarch in working condition because the rock face that forms it keeps collapsing.

And the workers. Lords, the workers. These poor people are ragged beyond belief, their clothes torn and dirty, their bodies covered in shallow scars from hundreds of small accidents. A report from Grylock, now Libby’s second-in-command, told me all I needed to know: their luck has been horrible. They managed to clean up when visiting Pubton the week before last, but every little act in Pubtwon has been marred by misfortune. I blame Grayson, because I blame most everything on Grayson.

I’m also wondering if I can blame the rat symbol that brought me out here on the damned kid. Turns out that he, Libby, and June have all gone missing. June’s been largely a no-show the last two months, Grylock will admit, but Libby and Grayson… worrisome.

“It was the light,” Grylock admitted as we stood in front of the main mine shift, peering into a tunnel less than fifty feet long. I’m sure it would have been much longer if there hadn’t been so many cave-ins. “As soon as that damned thing appeared o’er the peak, your wife ‘n ‘er brat went missing. Everybody figures they’re dead or trapped under rubble or worse.”

I bit my lip, peering into the cave and imagining a brown work glove sticking out of the rubble. “What do you think?”

“Me? I dunno. They’ve only been gone a day. I ain’t picturing my boss’s legs twitching away under a thousand pounds of rock just yet.”

I grimaced. “You’re great for cheering people up, Grylock.”

He bared a row of small, wicked teeth. “I’m an optimist, Mr. Mayor.”

Most everyone in Pubtwon is too freaked to head up the mountain to search for Libby and Grayson. Hell, most believe they’re either dead or gone. Why bother looking? They all wanna abandon the dig anyway. Hasn’t been what they’ve expected, and I’m sure more than a few of them blame Libby for that. Her speeches about Pubton’s inevitable prosperity probably gave ‘em more hope than they shoulda harboured.

My band isn’t among the disenchanted, thank the gods, so they’ve split up into teams of three and begun searching the mountainside for signs of Libby, Grayson, or, hell, even June, assuming she’s still here. (I bet she is.) Doc seems particularly keen on tracking down Grayson, for some reason, though why is beyond me. He was also unusually adamant that I remain in Pubtwon, claiming it was ‘for my safety, yesss, mayors must be safe’. Or something like that. I managed to bargain him down to having his right-heavy mute companion follow me around. A bit creepy, but better than Doc himself.

He reminds me too much of the smell.

Not much to say on today’s search. It’s a big mountain, and we’ve turned up nothing. I’ll write more when I’ve something to report.


Dragomir the Mayor

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day Four-Forty-Six: You asked for it

Flashback. You may recall, whomever it concerns, that last week ended with an enormous, glowing rat symbol floating in the sky. Above the mountains. Where my wife plies her trade. Because, you know, it couldn’t possibly appear somewhere else, like over a distant lake populated by slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tails. No, that would be entirely too kind to me.

I’d intended to power down the forest path leading to Libby’s drill site with my entourage in tow all Friday and make it there in the evening, before we all passed out. No dice, I’m afraid: the carriage bearing much of the gear we’d brought along broke down about an hour into the journey, we wasted three hours trying to get it fixed, and by the time we decided on walking the giant symbol had disappeared. That destroyed the sense of immediacy, and though everyone agreed to hoof it the rest of the way they all adopted a leisurely pace. Not a chance in hell we’d reach the mountain by evening.

And we didn’t! And we still haven’t! Lords almighty, we’ve barely just breached the forest. I don’t remember it being so big, but apparently it is. Amazing how much a group of a dozen-odd followers will slow you down.

Also amazing how nervous I was every time we were delayed. Amazing how many possibilities popped to mind, possibilities tinged with nightmare suggestions. Libby, caught by demons. Libby, a pawn of rats. Libby, turned to a wicked queen after being tainted by a foul power. Libby, caught in a cave-in. Libby, crushed under her stupid Hypermole, struggling to move while her horrid son watched and laughed.

Libby. Wife. The woman to whom I’ve become estranged. Gods, seriously, gods, how did things get so bad? I want to blame it all on Grayson, but… that seems too easy…

We cleared the edge of the forest half an hour after breakfast. The sun blasted over the shoulders of the mountains ahead, blinding my troupe of brave adventurers, most of whose names I don’t know. Amazing how I can identify the population of Pubton by sight and job, yet not recall simple details like Tom, Dick, Harry, Steve, Jane or Orgmar. I doubt we have anybody in Pubton named Orgmar, but I won’t discount the possibility.

We trudged, anonymous and determined, each with our own goals. Some, I knew, had family at the mountain. Friends. Business partners. Some had a vested interest in seeing Libby’s operation succeed, some wanted a brawl, some simply wished to help. I guess I was a mixture of the lot. Divided in reason, united in purpose.

And so, too, were we united when the smell hit us. Revulsion was the glue.

It steamrolled our party as a nauseous wave, not gradual or mounting, but a sudden, jarring sensation that lit the brain on fire, shrivelled the eyeball and demanded the nasal cavities bow down and weep. It was a smell so overpoweringly repulsive that my own body odour suddenly seemed a mere pretender by comparison. It was a king among sensations, overbearing and terrible.

I couldn’t help it. I wet myself. (And here I thought my bladder had improved substantially. Haven’t wet myself for months. I think.)

My group staggered as one, collapsing to the grass, dropping our packs and gagging our disgust. It was only by virtue of good hearing that I caught a new voice on that noxious breeze, trampling the gasps of pain and horror.

“Greetings, greetings, oh, greetings, dear mayor! Dear Mr. Mayor Dragomir Sir! It has been too long!”

Covering my darkened crotch with one sleeve, I peered over my shoulder, dazzled by the glare of the sun across the plain. Behind us, loping away from the forest, was a familiar group of swaddled desert-dwellers, their tiny leader waving gaily to me from atop his elephant’s shoulder.

(Still don’t get how a bloody elephant can walk on two feet, hot ground or no hot ground.)

“D… Doc!” I rasped, covering my nose with my other sleeve. “What the hell is that? That… that… gah!”

“That what?” Doc tittered, twirling on Titan Blue’s sloping shoulder. “That mound in the distance? It is a mountain, dear sir, a mountain! The product of nature’s self-loathing as it crushes bone against bone! Yes, yessss, the result of –“

“THE SMELL!” One of the hunters shouted, shoving her hunting fox under her cloak. The poor thing had passed out. “WHAT THE HOLY HELL IS THAT SMELL?!”

“Oh!” Doc laughed and waved his spindly fingers in front of his face. “That? That, that, that. It is known as indigestion, my dear, simple indigestion at work. A most natural process, which, er, em, sometimes produces unnatural results.”

My group slowly staggered to their feet, the lot intent on retreating away from Doc as his party approached. I couldn’t blame them; I was trying to get away too. “Speak English, dammit!”

“A fart!” Doc ran over Titan Blue’s enormous head and stood on her opposite shoulder. “A fart, a fart! You all do it, yes, yes you do, and so too must elephants! Especially sand elephants! Her constitution is not accustomed to, ah, the hay that I’ve been feeding her, this common, domestic stock –“

“You said she was called a desert elephant!” I shoved my head into my hat, speaking around the brim. “Gods, why are you followin’ us anyway? Get outta here!”

“Ohhhhhhhh no!” Doc jeered. “Semantics to the first and necessity to the second! I still require consent to investigate your daughter, dear mayor, and I am law-abiding! Law-abiding indeed! And since I suspect that you do not trust me, dear sir, dear mayor, I believe that I must earn your confidence by helping you tend to the matter ahead! Above! Beyond! You worry, you fret, you believe all is not well, and I will help you ensure that yes, all IS! A doctor’s touch, a doctor’s touch!”

I stopped, hat still cupped over my nose. I narrowed my eyes at the group of five anonymous rag-wearers before me, three wavering and silent, one enormous and grumbling, the last a jabbering fool. It had not escaped my mind that I’d wanted to dispel Doc from Pubton the previous week, not for a second. This offer of help, if that’s what it was, only made me more suspicious.

“Go away,” I muttered. “This’s Pubton business. You’re just visiting.”

“No, no, no!” Doc leaped off of Titan Blue, landing nimbly on the ground. Pretty impressive – he had a long way to fall. “We are going! Doctors, we go where we are needed, and when something so grand as a glowing sign appears in the sky so far above, we answer! All of us!”

We waved to his band, then waved back to me. A fresh dose of repulsive odour managed to bypass my hat. It was a mixture of expired eggs, the butt of a dead orc after a decade of festering, and one of Libby’s fresh-cooked pies. I nearly threw up.

“Make him go away, Dragomir!” One of the hunters begged, clutching to his bow for support. “Please! We will all die! I have a family!”

I pointed at the man. “See? See?! Go away! P… oh gods, urp… please! Doc, just…”

Doc grinned under his rags. I could tell, even if his face was covered. “Why, no, sir, no! That won’t do! That simply won’t do! We must go! All or none, and as a doctor I’m obliged, damn damn DAMN OBLIGED, to ensure that the sick and weak and potentially infirm are cared for! We shall go, yes, we shall go indeed!”


My ears pricked up. I was ready for any counter-proposal that might get rid of the smell. “Although?”

“I might be convinced to send poor, gassy Titan Blue back to Pubton –“

“Not if it smells like that you won’t!” I cried. “I’ll see you hanged with Jeffrey, see if I don’t!”

“Very well!” He danced merrily in the grass. “I am nothing if not a man ready to compromise! If you agree to let us travel with you, I will send Titan Blue to forage in the forest! The poor beast could surely use some new food to clear up her indigestion! Isn’t that true, Titan?”

The elephant, casting an enormous shadow over the field behind it, grumbled a few sounds of consent. I swear it was a death threat, but I may have been hallucinating at that point.

“Fine, fine! You can come! Just… away! Go away, elephant thing!” I waved weakly at Titan Blue, half hoping she would understand my words, somehow take offense, and squash me flat. Dead people don’t worry about smell. I think. (Philip surely never complained about my funk.)

Without another word, Doc whirled on one leg, pointed at Titan Blue, and motioned to the forest. Murmuring in an elephant’s tongue, the giant turned to the trees. Doc spun back to me, bowed, and waved for everyone to continue.

The smell disappeared immediately. Fart it may have been, but an unnatural fart. And not just from a nasal perspective. This fart… I fear it may have been a mystical fart. But I was too afraid of its return to use this knowledge as leverage against Doc. The fart… it was evil.

We’re on the way to the mountain. Doc’s band of silent walkers, minus one gaseous elephant, have joined us. And while I can admit that facing the unknown with a doctor on hand is probably a good idea, I would have taken any other doctor in the world over this guy.


Dragomir the Mayor

Friday, April 26, 2013

Day Four-Forty-Five: Ire in the Sky



At least I didn't miss it this time.

The symbol's floating in the sky over the mountain. It's fading, now, and I hear that it's nowhere near as bright or massive as the last one, but it's there. Everyone in Pubton can see it. The damned thing woke me up this morning, like a torch jabbed into my eyelids. Minus the blistering, scaulding pain, I guess.

It's near Libby's dig site. It has to be. Because that wall was there, that wall with the gods' damned rat symbol. They're back to haunt me again.


I left Eve with Bora. I'm headed to the campsite with a cadre of hunters and warriors. Anyone willing to come. I need to make sure my wife is okay.

Sorry. I don't know what else to say. This shit need to be sorted, is all. I'm tired of anything rat-related screwing up my life. And if those blasted rodents are behind this… if they're responsible, somehow… maybe I can get back at them. Not with words, but action.


Maybe the burning in my hands can help.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

Day Four-Forty-Four: Misdirection

Whoa. WHOA. I didn't expect this to happen, no sir. No sir indeed. That slippery jerk.

I set out this morning with the intention of seeing Doc ejected from town. He's creepy, he's distrusted by the populace, he's constantly pawing at my little girl's hair, he may be breaking into my house when I'm not home. Also, he might be spying on me. Definitely has to go - and it's because he's probably spying that he won't be leaving today. Little bastard led a revolt against me.

I was halfway from his tent when a mob, a MOB, descended on me. At that time of day I'm used to the streets being largely empty as everyone's at work, so to see all of Pubton (no slaves, no newcomers, only the people who used to live in the castle, minus those at Libby's camp) marching towards me was… disconcerting? Yeah, that's a solid word.

At their head, pushed along by gentle but insistent hands, was the delegation I'd sent out to find jurors. Namely, Edmund and a few nobles. Ed grimaced and shrugged. Not hurt, clearly, but not going anywhere either.

Lonnie the Noble planted his hands against his hips as the mob pulled to a halt in front of me, his face stormy yet triumphant. "Thought you could slip this by us, did you, Mr. Mayor?"

I gawked. "Wh… what the hell are you talking about? What is all this?"

Half of the mob laughed. The other half raged.

"You know damn well!" Lonnie yelled, jabbing a finger into the ruff covering Ed's left shoulder. "We are not foolish, Dragomir! You wanted to bring in a jury of outsiders to determine King Jeffrey's fate!"

"It's just Jeffrey, these days," I mumbled.

"EXACTLY!" Lonnie yelled, turning to face the mob. "And we plan on KEEPING it that way! Do we not, my friends?!"

The nobles, and a fair chunk of the peasants, shouted their approval. A few others questioned Lonnie's authority, and one of them even added "Didn't you try 'n kill yourself a few months ago?"

Lonnie ignored this last jab. "Come forth, all of you! Tell our illustrious mayor, who was so eager to retake his spot, what Jeffrey has done to us! Tell him so he'll understand and agree!"

And they did. Forming a massive circle around me so I couldn't escape, the mob took turns coming up to me and sharing their Jeffrey-related woes. As if I didn't already know he was a dick of a king. I heard plenty of things from the peasants that I'd shared in myself while working as a guard, all the asinine decrees and violent pronouncements and horrible insults he'd heaped upon the populace. What I didn't know is that the nobles had endured just as much pain from their former liege, including but not limited to the following:

- Theft of personal property under the guise of 'official kingdom stuff'
- The destruction of a commissioned and meticulous statue of the king, worth a pretty penny, because Jeffrey claimed it had 'looked at him funny'
- A dining invitation that resulted in an evening of drunken insults, including the insinuation that the guest was a 'jackal-born pygmy goat with fiendish red eyes and a penis made of pythons' (lord help me if anybody ever tries to paint or sketch such a hideous beast)
- A public flogging, because Jeffrey thought the noble had stolen his favourite teddy bear (it was, in fact, under Jeffrey's pillow)
- Temporary expulsion from the castle, and the noble was only let back in after he professed his undying love to a chipmunk… and then tracked one down and smooched it while Jeffrey watched and laughed (this dude's always been a bit funny in the head, so I question whether or not he just really likes chipmunks)
-  And, from Lonnie himself, 'sexual deviance and hints of desired fornication' (another questionable one, but it really got the crowd riled up - Jeffrey doesn't strike me as the unfaithful type, not that these people would ever believe something positive about their old leader)

I listened to the arguments and recriminations for at least three hours, and only managed to get out when I allowed for a concession to the trial: the jury will include six of the townsfolk and six outsiders of proper bearing. Only then were Edmund and company allowed to leave town again, and only then was I granted leave by my constituents to go home and say 'fuck it' to the rest of the day.

You… if I'm still speaking to a diary, which seems questionable these days… are probably wondering where Doc fits into all this. I didn't realize it, either, until I was allowed to leave.

Disbelieving and exhausted from such an intense and emotional dialogue with the people of the town, I paused several times on the way back home to stare at the mob. They were still chattering away, many of them arguing, some exchanging high fives, though never between social classes. Nobles and peasant still don't get along. Sigh.

At any rate, I noticed something while I watched, something I hadn't noticed while being bombarded with stories. There was, every now and then, a small blur of beige among the feet of the people, a barely-imperceptible but definitely-there little figure that seemed to move from group to group to group, hiding in the shadows of irate townsfolk. I couldn't tell what it was doing, but its presence was enough to arouse my curiosity.

With Barrel gone I've lost my spy, but I've learned a thing or two about overhearing what I'm not supposed to overhear in a crowd. Wandering back home, I swaddled myself in clothes left behind by the house's previous occupants. Everyone knows I wear the same stuff all the time, and I figured I wouldn't be noticed if I headed into the crowd looking like one of the common folk.

I was right. The crowd was slow to disperse, most of them still immersed in conversation and arguing over the fate of Jeffrey. I mingled with them, pausing beside groups to listen and nod my head without joining in on the talk. Eventually, after a good fifteen minutes, I managed to isolate a single, jeering voice that also moved from conversation to conversation, one that added venom to dangerous ideas and got people bitching at each other. If a noble claimed the following, for example:

'Jeffrey should be imprisoned for the rest of his days!'

The voice would chime in with:

'But what if we killed him instead? Hmm? Isn't that fitting? Only an idiot would think he should get tossed in prison.'

Which would usually spark agreement and disagreement from multiple parties as the original noble searched for the person who insulted him. Eventually the debate would return to the voice suggesting that prison was the best fate for someone as vile as Jeffrey, reigniting all of the arguments and sending the lot of them into a tizzy.

I recognized the voice. It was Doc's. He made a poor attempt to disguise himself, but I know it was him, because eventually he noticed me - and he pointed me out to everyone.

"Hey, look! It's the mayor! Mmm, spying on us, are you, Mr. Mayor? Answer some questions, more questions! Are you planning to let Jeffrey go?"

More angry debates. More stories. And, thanks to my disguise, questions about my motives. Now people are dogging me whenever I leave my house, which keeps me from visiting Doc's tent and kicking him out of town.

He must have known. Must have read this diary last night and figured the only way he could keep me busy would be to get everyone riled up about the trial. Hell, maybe he's been doing it since he got here. But why? Isn't he just some goofy doctor? Or is he that hell-bent on staying in Pubton? I don't have an answer… but I do have suspicions.

Gods. He gets the boot tomorrow. I don't care if I have to drag a dozen peeved petitioners into his tent with me, I'm getting rid of the little bastard when the sun comes up.


Dragomir the Mayor

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day Four-Forty-Three: All's fair in love and trials


I have a judge. Now I need jurors.

This is tough. I've known, more or less from the start, that I need impartial jurors. That means people from outside the town. Not necessarily because I wanted the trial to be fair, mind, but because that's what's expected. I read a book once, and it said jurors have to be unbiased towards the case. So, like, that's a requirement.

Then I learned why they have to be unbiased, which brings us back to fairness. The truth. All that nonsense. For the briefest second that idea didn't appeal to me, and I contemplated getting people who hate Jeffrey's guts so he'd be prosecuted for sure, but… the thought of Daena angrily putting her foot through my face for stacking the odds… not good. Not good at all. Especially now that I know Pagan will put Jeffrey to death if he's guilty.

(I wonder if Pagan would do it himself. He might. He's bloodthirsty, in an always-calm-but-ready-to-go-to-war-if-you-look-at-me-funny kinda way. He DID lop off my dad's arm, y'know.)

So yeah. Fairness. I need fairness. Which means I need jurors who don't give two hoots either way about what happens. To that end I sent a small delegation of travellers out to nearby towns to find people who might be interested in sitting on a jury for thirty gold. Preferably intelligent people. Edmund's leading a little group of nobles I quietly hand-picked; I hope they bring back some good candidates, and not just brain-dead louts who are eager for money.

I never had to think about complicated stuff like this in the old days. I slept in a fish barrel some nights, for gods' sake. I was a simple man, with a simple barrel. And… perhaps a complex smell. Libby says I smelled quite ripe.

Oh, Libby. I kissed a woman who wasn't you. And she tasted like the underside of a barge. I assume. I've never licked a barge before. What scum I be.

Speaking of family, Doc is getting increasingly insistent that I bring Eve in for an examination. The little bugger shows up on my doorstep at least once a day with his cronies in tow, flat-out begging that I hand over a strand of her hair. I keep finding the door unlocked, as well, so I suspect he might be trying to sneak in and steal her hair off her pillow or something. Little does he know that her hair never seems to drop off her head.

Which is… really weird. Now that I think of it. Huh.

Anyway. Alongside all this judging nonsense, I'm thinking of telling Doc to leave town. I don't mind the rest of the swaddled-up desert-dwellers, but he's a bloody nuisance. And nobody trusts him. I fear he might be a quack, and a prosperous town like Pubton has no room for quacks.

Yeah. Maybe I'll give him the boot tomorrow. That sounds like a plan. It'll give me something to do while I wait for news on jurors. I'm really impatient to get this trial moving, gotta say. Before something else happens.

Things are coming. My dreams keep telling me so.


Dragomir the Mayor

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day Four-Forty-Two: The Judgening


I'd been gearing up for a long, hard chat. Such simple agreement was difficult to swallow. "Certainly?"

"Certainly. Were you gearing up for a long, hard chat?"

"I was gearing up for a long, hard chat, yes."

"S'only gonna get longer 'n harder if ya keep fucking around like this. Hoi, brownie! 'nother drink for the big man, please?"

In retrospect, I should not have chosen to meet Pagan in the Beefiary. He'd been suffering from the backlash of eating one of Libby's pies until this morning, though, and my dad insisted on taking him out for a drink as soon as he recovered from the shock. Sigh. Still, the agreement was a plus.

Bora dropped off another drink for my father with her usual indulgent smile, batting away one of his spindly wooden hands as it tried to grope her rear end. Why even bother? I'm sure hers looks nice, but butts are dirty. Ew. I'll never get thinger things, even if I, you know, get them. You know.

Anyway. Enough about Bora. We're not talking about Bora here. She's… like… gross. Ew. Gross.

Still looks after Eve, though. When I'm busy. Gotta thank her for that. Though I bet my mom would be willing to


"Why're you so keen to be judge, Pagan? I'd figure most people wouldn't wanna do it."

The old knight shrugged and hoisted his tea. "Why not? I've never judged anyone before. Not in a courtroom. Sounds like it could be fun. I can also appreciate the value of the man's life. I doubt anybody else in Pubton will be so impartial towards Jeffrey."

"I could," Oswald said, struggling to lift his mug to his face. His silly little arms just aren't long enough to reach up his massive body. I don't think they'd even be able to swing a gavel probably.

"You would challenge him to a headbutting contest, you grimy thug," Pagan commented.

"Damn right I would! S'the only way to settle disputes!"

Mug and teacup clinked. I shook my head. I'll never understand their relationship.

"Well. I'm glad that was so easy. Thanks for your time, Pagan. Glad you're feelin' better 'n all that." I stood to leave, my mind already turning to an inspection of the outer walls, one I'd been promising to conduct for a long time.

"Hold on," Pagan said, ushering me back down into my seat. "I'll do it. But I have a condition. A condition and a promise."

I sat. "Okay. Shoot."

"First the condition. This trial doesn't distract from the defence of this town. I haven't forgotten our battle with those… things… in my manor. Nor their attack during the winter. Construction of the walls continues, and if possible I'd like your workers to look into turning that… Matriarch… thing… into a proper fortress. Reinforced, with working cannons. We need to be ready when those creatures come back, and I think some people in this town are slowly forgetting the precipice upon which this world sits. Agreed?"

I nodded. An hour doesn't go by when I don't think of crumbling kingdoms or beady green eyes in the dark. "Agreed. What's the promise?"

Pagan sat forward, his eyes slitted and stern beneath his helmet. Almost a hundred years of hard warfare marched in his pupils. "I don't believe in going halfway on justice. Justice is absolute, and criminals need to be punished. Swiftly and harshly. If King Jeffrey is found guilty of whatever charges you throw at him, he will be executed. That is my promise."

My mouth fell slack. I'd obviously considered the idea that Jeffrey might be killed. I'd also considered the idea that he might rot in jail, or be sentenced to community service, or lose his mind in the middle of the trial and start clucking like a chicken, or eat a poisoned piece of bread and miss the whole trial thing completely. Anything was possible. To suddenly have a lot of those possibilities closed… it was bewildering.

Pagan didn't back down. "You still agree? Or are you rethinking your choice, Mr. Mayor?"

I did. For a brief second, I rethought my choice. But every other potential candidate was nowhere near as good as Pagan.

"Done." I reached across the table and shook his hand. "If he's guilty, he… dies. Welcome aboard."

We watched each other in silence a moment, Pagan drinking his tea, I blinking and chewing my bottom lip, wondering if I'd just made a deal with the devil. That last part may have been confirmed when my father slapped me on the back and told me there was hope for me yet.



Dragomir the Mayor

Monday, April 22, 2013

Day Four-Forty-One: Stealthin'

I woke up this morning with a blonde beauty in my bed. She was still sleeping, and she remained as such when I slipped my arm out from around her shoulders and dropped her softly against the pillows. No amount of drool staining her face could dispel the aura of incredible cuteness.

Eve. My lovely daughter. Now that's a way to wake up.

There was another young face waiting at my door when I left the house, this one much more alert and discerning. Also older. Celine.

I skittered back about three feet, freaked. "Gah! What the hell!"

She bowed and smiled. "I offer no regrets. I enjoyed doing that. You dance as well as you did before my brother's wedding, by the way."

"I don't know if I'd call what I just did a dance," I grunted. I'm sure it looked more like the frightened reaction to opening a cupboard and finding a koala spider nestled on the dishes. "Were you waiting out here all morning? 'cause that's, like, weird."

"Oh, no." Celine pointed to a nearby tree. A hand slid out, waved briefly, and vanished. "I keep you under constant surveillance. My ninjas need to hone their skills or risk losing them. I told her to alert me when you were heading out the door."

I glared at the tree, knowing the dirty expression wouldn't dissuade further subterfuge. Ninjas go where they please, I guess. "Great. Whaddya want, your lowness?"

"Ah, a play on my height. You're amusing, Mud." Celine pulled a note from her pocket and handed it to me. "I have a letter for you. From my brother. He asked me to deliver it. In all the excitement of seeing my father locked up I forgot it was still in my things."

"Oh." I thought back to the first time I'd met Logan, on the walls of the castle. Little brat. I couldn't help but smile. "What's it say?"

She pointed at the letter without a word. I shrugged and opened it up to read.

'Dear Dragomir,

I know not if this will ever reach you, and if it does I hope it finds you well. I find myself pressed to part ways with my family for reasons best left to the imagination; suffice it to say that my father plays a role in my departure. I regret the pain he has inflicted upon you over the years.

I wanted to thank you for your kindness. Since we first met you have helped temper my rambunctious ways, and your assistance in staving off the influence of The Baron, unsuccessful though it ultimately was, has cemented you as a true friend in my heart. You are the brother I've never had, and I hope we will meet again. May we both pray that I am not engaged to your daughter when we do.

It is for the sake of this friendship that I hope you do not judge my father too harshly. He has made many mistakes in the past, and many of the most egregious amongst them were not of his doing. Please, should you ever meet Jeffrey again in this lifetime, try to forgive, if not forget.

Sincerely, your comrade,


I shut the note and rolled my eyes. "I'm not stupid. Logan didn't write this. Who did? Your mom?"

Celine didn't miss a beat, nor was she flustered. "I wrote it. How did you know?"

Cracking open my diary I flicked to some of the earlier entries, the ones left by Logan. Not only was the penmanship completely different, Celine wrote not a single LOL or WTF or BBQ in her message. I know Logan is capable of writing normally, but… no. No no no.

Celine bit her lip and shrugged. "Drat. Oh well. I should have done better reconnaissance, obviously. It didn't occur to me to look in your diary. I'll remember that for next time."

I closed my diary and started to walk. "Please don't tell me you're gonna try something like this again. Your father's goin' to trial, Celine. S'all there is to it."

She kept pace. "I know. This was merely an attempt to stay in practice. I too am a ninja, after all. That's my current name: Celine the Ninja. I rather like it."

"Sure. It's peachy. You got a message from your mom, or something? Or are you just bored…?"

"My mother has many things she'd like to say to you. I'm only interested in one question, myself."

"Oh? What's that?"

"Who will comprise the judge and jury?"

I stopped. I'd wondered when somebody would ask. A lot of people are antsy about the trial, but most of them talk about the verdict, not the people responsible for handing down that verdict. Hell, I think a lot of 'em are nervous about potentially sending a man to his death, even if he constantly did them wrong in their old home.

"That," I said, "is an easy and impossible question right now. If you take it as two parts, that is."

"You do not have a judge and jury?"

"Jury, no. That's gonna take some doing. Probably gonna bring in five or six out-of-towners. Y'know, impartial stuff."

"I do. You have a judge, then?"

"Uhh… kinda. I still need to ask him."


Raising my hand, I pointed. Past the knot of slaves and labourers chatting down the street, past the busy front of the Beefiary, past the grove of the golden tree, past a long row of houses, past it all to a promontory, a raised platform of dirt and grass with a massive manor upon it, a manor I also hoped would serve as a courthouse. A manor belonging to a crotchety old knight.

"Oh," said Celine. "Yes, he seems a good choice."


Dragomir the Mayor

Friday, April 19, 2013

Day Four-Hundred-Forty: Let's talk

I have to admit that maybe I've been a bit harsh on Jeffrey. Certainly harsher than I was when we had Evangelina under lock and key.

My memories of the aftermath are a little vague, now, but after I rammed in Jeffrey's face with my fists I recall ordering someone, anyone, to put him in chains. Given his frail, dishevelled form I think that may have been overkill, and when I visited him this morning I knew at once that'd I'd made a mistake.

Jeffrey, once an king and now a criminal, was dressed from head to toe in hard-binding steel. I don't know who did the deed (possibly Horace the Blacksmith - he showed up in town a few weeks ago, did I mention that?), but they'd managed to construct a complex amalgam of chains, bars and handcuffs to keep Jeffrey locked in a rigid, upright position, pinned against the left wall of his prison. He couldn't sit, he couldn't lay down, he couldn't move his hands to get at the plate of food that had been haphazardly thrown at his feet.

I cringed at the smell of the room. Apparently he also couldn't relieve himself anywhere other than his pants. Grabbing a key off of the wall beyond the bars, I opened the door and set Jeffrey free, undoing the many clasps that kept Jeffrey in place. He tumbled onto the floor in a heap, shuddering and grasping for an upturned cup that still had a tiny pool of water inside.

I was disgusted. Shutting the door again, I went downstairs, into the Beefiary, and got Jeffrey a proper meal. Nothing fancy, just a cut of beef, some bread, a heap of mashed potatoes, and a big cup of water. Bora passed the food to me without comment - we've been real weird around each other lately.





So, Jeffrey.

He was still licking at the cup's insides when I came back in. He hadn't been given any water the whole time he'd been locked up. Hell, apparently barely anyone even bothered to look in on him. Guess I underestimated the hate for the man in Pubton.

"Thank… you…" he rasped, accepting the cup and shakily lifting the water to his lips. Forgetting my anger in a fit of humanity, I helped him. "Agh. Ah. That's… that's much better. Dr… Dragomir, was it…?"

Leaving the plate of food on the floor, I closed the cell door and sat outside. "Yeah. Finally remembered my name, huh?"

He nodded, slowly lifting himself onto the bed and the plate onto his lap. "Yes… you were one of the guards. Everything from back then… a bit hazy… but I remember that. You… you did that thing… with my dragon…"

The flight. I remembered. "Yeah. Barrel. Or, uh, what was that dumbass name you gave him? Apocalyptor? Very classy."

Jeffrey winced. He chewed on his piece of meat in silence, legs together, shoulders hunched, head down, eyes on the plate. He seemed incapable of looking me in the face, suggesting to me that he remembered more than he let on.

"There's going to be a trial." I paused a few moments, gathering my thoughts. "You did a lot of bad things."

Jeffrey's mouth opened, twisted, uttered a few nonsense syllables, closed again. He kept chewing.

"There will be a judge. And a jury. And a sentence. S'more than you ever gave anyone else, but that's what you'll get. You understand that?"

He nodded.

"You can… get a lawyer. Or something. I guess your wife can do that." I cleared my throat. "In case you're wondering, she's not on trial or nuthin'."

"I figured. I'm glad."

I thought back to the life-sized doll of Daena I'd seen more than a year prior. I believed him. "Yeah. So… um… all this is up to me, you know. It's kinda my call. If I don't want there to be a trial… well, people will be mad, but… there won't be one."

"But you want a trial."

"… yeah. But… I'm willing… to give you a chance. To… to see if you have a good excuse."

He looked up, but he still wouldn't look at me. His gaze rested on the wall behind my head. "An excuse?"

"Yeah. Like… did The Baron make you do everything…. everything you did?" A dim sense of building heat tickled the back of my neck. "The executions? The tortures? The stupid decrees, like that shit about standing in one place all day? Or wearing weird socks? Or… or… or the hole? Was that all his fault? Did he make you do everything?"

His knees shook, and he bit his lip. I swear I heard him mutter 'the penguin, the penguin' under his breath.

"Who was it? Did they make you do anything? Or did you do it all yourself? If you don't give me an answer you'll go to trial, and even though I really want that I also really don't want that, so gods dammit give me an answer, please, just… please! Did you do all of that yourself?"

His body quaked. He looked like he was on the verge of a complete breakdown.

I didn't care. I couldn't take it. I leaped out of my chair and grabbed the bars, aware of the heat, of the slight burn on Jeffrey's cheek, of my hotter-than-usual hands, wondering why, why the hell did that keep happening? What the hell was, what the hell is, wrong with my gods-be-damned fingers? "TELL ME! DID YOU DO ALL OF IT? IS EVERYTHING YOUR FAULT? DID YOU TORTURE US BECAUSE YA FOUND IT FUN? OR FUNNY? YOU SICK FUCK, TELL ME WHY YOU TREATED YOUR SUBJECTS LIKE GARBAGE!"

Jeffrey yelped and fell back on the bed, clutching for the covers. I raged against the bars of the enclosure, sorely tempted to grab the key off of the wall again and give him another gap in his teeth. To make him burn.

The rage only subsided when he began to cry and whimper, his stinky rear end waving pitifully in the air as he shoved his head under the blankets. He is a beaten and broken man, more than I thought, and I suspect - based on what he said - that Jeffrey's been fragmented ever since he established his castle.

"It was the voice!" he cried, forming a knot of old wool and cotton around his head. "The voice! Always… always saying… do this, do that… make them… hop on one foot… today… run and dance… the next… arrest if they don't, arrest if they do… policies, policies, I just… draw a tiger… drawing… there, the voice, ever since that day… from the pit, the chasm… the day my wife got stuck…"

"What?" A current of shock shot through my brain and dulled the anger. "Wife… got stuck? What do you mean?"

"The voice!" Jeffrey howled again. "The voice! The voice! First just in my head, then… then the penguin… gods, oh, gods, the penguin, he told me… he made me play… always playing, always testing… the thing in the dark, the thing with the bleached skull and the green eyes… promised, he, they, it… promised… the hole… it would make the voice go away, make me a real king… but… now… not a king… voice is gone, but… king… no… everything… everything, chasm, chasm…"

He collapsed into the bed. I listened a while longer, trying to ask questions, not understanding the non-answers he offered in reply. Eventually, disgusted and confused, I left. I learned later that he ranted for almost three hours before falling asleep. Maybe under normal living conditions he'll be more lucid, and I ordered him regularly fed, watered and clothed to make sure that happens.

The trial goes forward. Jeffrey is disturbed, but he needs to be judged. And I know just the person to ask.


Dragomir the Mayor

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day Four-Thirty-Nine: Colour!

While Eve played with the slaves and Pagan slept off indigestion - he's been sick since yesterday's feast, having foolishly eaten a piece of pie made by Libby - Harold, Evangelina and I discussed the trial.

"It's happening," I said, slamming my fist down on the squishy arm of a rhino leather chair. We were sitting in Pagan's study, a spacious room filled with family portraits and memorabilia from various military campaigns, as I couldn't think of a more official place in Pubton to have this discussion. "The trial is happening. You can't change that. I dunno why you'd even argue it."

Harold shrugged, tugging at his cloak. "I… I don't think we should be making a spectacle of the man, that's all. You can have a trial, if you want, but I think it should be private. Away from outside eyes. Not… not the circus you're proposing."

In retrospect, I suppose I'd gone a little far. I'd suggested holding each day of the trial by the golden tree, open to all, with food and drink stands set up and bards hired to serenade the listeners. "Mosta these people suffered under Jeffrey. S'only fair he have to suffer in front of them. Even if we do it indoors, the trial should still be open to anyone who wants to listen."

"But bringing in peasants - especially the people who live here, they're a bunch of goofballs - will throw out any chance of impartiality!" Harold shook his head. "My father used to tell me that the quickest path to injustice is to get the public involved. Granted, he was speaking in support of the Omega Corps at the time, but it's still a fair point…"

I sniffed. I didn't want to be reminded of the Omega Corps. Stupid tin-plated hell-spawned gits. "Not sure I get what you mean, Harold."

"It's all about attitude." Evangelina, lounging on a couch opposite us, stretched and yawned. She's so happy to be out of her cell and in fresh clothes. "A trial implies that the decision has not been made. A show, which is what you're proposing, has a scripted end. That's what the people will expect, and with enough pressure on the jurors and the judge that's exactly what they'll get. I believe that's what Harold's saying. Yes?"

Harold nodded and blushed, keeping his eyes on the far wall. Guy has real trouble talking to girls, but I swear he lusts after every one of 'em.

"If you want a fair trial, Dragomir, you need to keep all of the participants sequestered. Away from outside influence. That way they can make a fair, unbiased decision regarding Jeffrey's fate. Anything else makes a mockery of the laws you claim to be upholding… whatever the hell those might be. Who knows, the Indy Plains have always been wonderfully vague on their regulations."

"Which is why guys like Jeffrey exist," I pointed out. "He can do whatever he wants with a bit of power. Why not give 'im a taste of his own medicine?"

Harold cringed, plainly disapproving. I could smell his desire to get out of the room and return to organizing next week's work schedule. Anybody who would willingly forsake normal company for a meeting with my father must be very uncomfortable indeed.

Evangelina, on the other hand, simply shrugged. "It's your town. You can do what you want. I'd speak up more strongly, but I was part of a rebellion against this very man. I wouldn't mind seeing him strung up by his testicles and left to the tender mercies of a pack of zombies."

I winced. "Painful talk for a diplomat. Didn't I hire you to advise me? 'Do what you want' isn't great advice."

She smiled and took a sip of grape wine she'd stolen from Pagan's private stocks. "Ultimately, Drag, it's your decision. We know that, the townspeople know that, Daena and Celine know that, and I'm sure Jeffrey knows that. I gave you advice; I also acknowledged that you have the final say in this town. Obviously you do, otherwise I'd be sharing a jail cell with Jeffrey."

"But," and she sat up at this, "if you really want advice, I'd suggest talking to everyone's favourite ex-king. You've avoided his jail cell since you beat his face in. A leader needs all the facts to make an informed decision, and he can give you some tidbits you might otherwise be missing from the puzzle. Who knows, maybe he can convince you that he was under the influence of a monster or an alien or whatnot and earn his own freedom. As a witch, I can confidently say that these things are possible."

I flinched. "Talk to him. Ugh. I was afraid you'd say that."

She took another sip of her wine. "If you don't, the job falls to one of us. I don't know about you, but I've had enough of that dinky little room for one lifetime. More wine, Harold? I'm running out."

And so did he. To get the wine, that is. I sense a weird relationship in the making.


Dragomir the Mayor

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Day Four-Thirty-Eight: That tree is a different colour every time I draw it

Pubton is suddenly very, very busy. Once again, the Matriarch is to blame.

Word of the big machine's arrival in our fair town - I'm almost tempted to call it a city, but we're not quite that big just yet - spread quickly beyond our borders. It probably doesn't interest folks in other towns so much, as the fall of nearby kingdoms is far more worrying, but anybody who lived in poor Castle Whatever knows that wherever the Matriarch goes, beloved Queen Daena goes.

Consequently, Libby's entire work force, looked ragged and dirty from weeks of labour, showed up this morning to welcome their former monarch to the neighbourhood.

Libby and I are barely on speaking terms, but I'm not so dumb as to alienate everyone who chose to go with her. As soon as I heard about the arrival of the workers, I ordered a giant luncheon feast. Tables were set up on and around the fallen Matriarch, food was brought out in massive amounts, and a general invitation went out to everybody in Pubton. Free chow and a queenly meet-and-greet, courtesy of the mayor. (People get free food from the Beefiary anyway, but actually using the word 'free' seems to light up eyes and fire up bellies. Go figure.)

It's amazing how a good personality will instantly engender goodwill and encourage loyalty. The line-up to see Daena was massive. People who knew her from the old days queued up first, and newcomers from other districts got in line just to see what all the hubbub was about. I'm sure many came to see the amazing woman stuck in a tree, and just as many walked away with a good opinion of her charms, stately bearing, and pleasant manners. Peasant or noble, Queen Daena likes 'em all the same.

Libby proved the biggest time-waster of the lot. Not only did she refuse to remain in line - uppity woman burst right through to her friend without waiting - but she took up a solid half hour of Daena's time. They chatted and laughed and swapped stories, and at one point I overheard Libby slyly suggesting they introduce Grayson and Celine. Once again, a less-than-one-year-old is being offered up as a marital prospect. Ugh.

It took some insistent prodding, but I managed to drag Libby away from Daena and off to one side of the Matriarch. She scowled deeply and looked ready to slug me one, but Daena's presence seemed to temper her… uh… temper. Yeah.

"Whaddya want?" she huffed, peeking over my shoulder at Daena. "I ain't interested in chattin' with you."

I didn't really want to talk to her either. Given the lack of a sidekick, however, I couldn't resist. "Uh, yeah. Hi to you too. I was wondering where, y'know, Grayson was. Is. May be."

Libby paused. Her eyes narrowed. "What do you care? You hate 'im. I know you do. Shitty parenting, I'd call that."

I bit my lip, thinking of Eve. "Last I checked, you got started on the shitty parenting way before I did. Seriously, where is he? You two're usually joined at the hip."

She crossed her arms and looked skyward. "Hmph. He's back at the dig site. Said he wanted to stay with his Auntie June. Better 'n leaving him with some white-haired whore, I'd say."

A cringe-worthy comment, that, and the faintest stirrings of vomit burbled in my stomach. I willed them away. "Ain't nothing to talk about there. You sure you should be leaving him alone? He… he could get in trouble."

"My boy's a saint," she countered, jabbing a finger against my breastplate so hard that the impact stung on the other side. "You can't see that 'cause you've got your head buried up your ass. Or in that witch's tits. They're both so ugly I have trouble tellin' 'em apart."

I wanted so badly to tell Libby just how freakish her son had become, but I knew it would be far better for her to catch him in the act and realize the extent of his demonic nature for herself. Besides, I wasn't in the mood to help her out, no more than she was in the mood to be civil. I threw up my hands and stalked away, leaving the festivities to get some lunch for Eve.

The celebration carried into the night. Few people worked, most people drank. Pubton lived up to its name as Bora drew pitcher after pitcher of ale for the celebrants. She was a close second in popularity to Daena, as I think most of the guys have realized that we're not so… you know… tight. Anymore. Nobody bothers to ask why.

Ugh. That kiss.

Anyway. Eve and I spent the night in Pagan's manor, reading books with Robert. Eve has expanded her vocabulary to 'daddy', 'Dragomir', 'Robert' and 'pancakes'. I'm so proud of her, and I'm sure she'll learn even more when we come back tomorrow. Because tomorrow, Pagan, Harold, Evangelina and I have to discuss the dark undercurrent that spread like silent wildfire through today's festivities, the topic that came up in hushed, excited tones as often as praise of Daena: Jeffrey's trial.


Dragomir the Mayor