Friday, June 28, 2013

Day Four-Hundred-Ninety: And the verdict is...?

The courtroom was busier than any of the previous days. Word had gotten out that Jeffrey's trial was ending today, and the mob that had largely abandoned the proceedings came back again, loitering on Pagan's front steps. I feel for them - the storm hit last night, and though there was no rain the hot winds ever since have been distinctly unpleasant.

Once the spectators settled and everyone was in their seats, Pagan called the trial to order with a few loud bangs of the gavel.

"Before we proceed," he began, clearing his throat, "I have something I'd like to say. Ever since I was asked to rule over this court, I suspected that the trial of Jeffrey would turn out to be an unmitigated disaster. A mess of laws, a mess of contradictions, and a mess of clamouring voices. In short, injustice."

"But I have been surprised." Pagan smiled one of his rare sincere smiles. "While I doubt that the process or testimony provided would satisfy practiced judges and lawyers in, say, the Imperium, we have done exceedingly well for the Indy Plains. Most kingdoms or townships would use the same snap judgements of which you accuse King Jeffrey to bring their criminals low, justly or otherwise. For this, Pubton, I congratulate you."

He clapped. A little confused, but nevertheless proud, most people in the court joined him.

Pagan tapped his gavel when he'd had enough. "We will now proceed. Before we read the verdict, I think it fitting that Jeffrey be allowed a few words. Would you care to speak, Jeffrey?"

Jeffrey, clamped into his chair, looked at the empty seat beside him. "Is… is that advisable, now that my lawyer has fled?"

"I don't think it much matters." Pagan shrugged. "I hope he was not promised much by your wife. He did very little of substance to defend you. At any rate, you may speak - or not, as you see fit."

Jeffrey mulled it over. "Could you turn me around so I'm facing the benches?"

Pagan motioned to his slave bailiffs. They picked up Jeffrey's chair and placed him in the no-man's-land in front of Pagan's desk, looking out over the ex-king's former subjects.

He took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry." Jeffrey's chin dropped, but he refused to look away from the assembled, silent crowd. "All of you, I'm sorry. I… well, I… no. That's stupid. No excuses. I'm just sorry."

Silence. Everyone watching, no one talking.

"Is that all?" Pagan asked.

Jeffrey nodded. The bailiffs put him back in his place, facing the judge.

"Well. A little anti-climactic, but poignant enough." Pagan looked to the jury. "You have a verdict on the charges assembled against this man?"

I gripped Eve's hand a little too tightly at the word 'verdict'. She took the pain without comment, or even a flinch, but I apologized anyway.

"We do, your honour." I expected the Weekendist to do the deed, but it was Celine who stood up, a roll of paper in her hands. She looked no more perturbed than if she'd been asked to read the day's specials at a restaurant.

"In the case of King Jeffrey, we, the jury…"



The watchers, the judge, the prosecutor, me, my daughter, the hall itself, all of us stretched forward to hear Celine's words.

"We find…"

I recognized at once that it wasn't nervousness, or not a nervousness I could ever identify. Celine was frozen in place, stock-still, her head tipped back and one of her ears in the air. She looked... confused.

One of the other jurors, the ragged bard, stood to take the paper from her. "Here, here, I got it, don't worry -"

Celine brushed him away. "No, no. Can't you hear it?"

Pagan grunted. "This is highly inappropriate, Ms. the Ninja. Please read the sentence, or let someone else do it."

Celine shushed Pagan and waved him away. As his face turned bright red, she cupped a hand to her ear.

"I think it's uh-oh time," she said, pursing her lips.

That's when the sound floated through one of the windows for the rest of us to hear, carried on a stormy breeze.

I mentioned, maybe a week ago, that we've set up a perimeter defence around Pubton. We've used it before, to great effect: a long network of bells, run through the forests. They're meant to alert us when something is coming. We should not be able to hear the bells in the forest from the court.

What we can hear is a much larger bell. There are several of them, spread around town. The guards ring them when something is wrong and the whole town needs to know about it. They were installed maybe three weeks ago, and aside from periodic tests, we haven't had to use them.

I rose out of my seat on the second floor. Eve and Edmund rose with me. So, too, did most of the courtroom, as the sound of the brass bell… the brass bells… got louder, and louder, and louder.

"Son of a bitch." Pagan slammed the gavel against his desk so hard that the head flew off the handle. He threw his wig away. "Of course it would happen now. TO ARMS, YOU SLUGS! WE HAVE GUESTS!"

And so we do. Pubton is under attack.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Nine: Doomed indeed

"I call Dragomir the Mayor to the stand!"


I'd seriously considered not making another appearance at Jeffrey's trial. Yesterday's debacle left me weak in the knees, and when I'd gotten home I'd promptly wet myself. It's pretty novel of me to wait until I'm out of a public forum before I fill my breaches, and that, I suppose, was something. I prided myself on getting through a tough spot.

"Yes, again, Dragomir." Pagan waved me down from his throne. "C'mon, get down here."

"Isn't it illegal to call a witness twice?" I huddled behind the balcony banister. "I bet it is! Look in your books! C'mon, go on! We can wait, right?"

The courtroom rumbled with laughter. Pagan, again, was not amused. "Get down here. We don't have time to waste on this."

More true than I liked to think about. I've been focusing on the trial this week, but we've received some disturbing reports of nearby communities… well… going dark. Which is to say, we've heard NOTHING from them. That's an ill omen indeed, for even though Pubton is a fair distance from other villages and towns, we almost always get news coming through the merchant grapevine.

Attempting to preserve my dignity at least a little bit, I shambled down to the witness box without the aid of slave bailiffs. Rolo was waiting for me.

"Hello, Mr. Mayor."

"Hi." I tugged on my tunic.

"I would like to ask you a question. Just one question. Then you can go."

"Um… okay."

Rolo puffed out his chest and fanned his hood, turning to the rest of the court. "Can you give me a reason why my client should not be found guilty?"

I blinked. So, too, did everyone in the room. What a weird question. "W… what did you say?"

Rolo raised his voice. "I think you heard me. Can you give me - or should I say, the court - a reason why Jeffrey should not be found guilty?"

"Objection!" yelled the prosecutor.

"On what grounds?" Pagan murmured.

"It's a damn strange query, that's why!"

Tugging on his beard thoughtfully, Pagan shrugged. "I'll allow it. I'm interested in the answer. Go ahead, Dragomir."

I looked around. Everybody was watching me, boring holes of intense curiosity into my face. Even Jeffrey, who usually focuses on his knees, was watching me. His usual fits of shaking had abated in the oddity of the moment.

I rubbed my chin, thinking hard. "Well… um… reasons he should not he found guilty, you said?"

Rolo nodded.


That's an incredibly tough question. I can think of so many reasons why Jeffrey deserves to die. He's a bully, a coward, a fiend, a fraud, a murderer. I used to fear for my life every time he entered the same room, because I could never tell who would be the next person to feel his silly wrath. Hell, he was angry with me after I'd spent several months on the road, trying to save his kingdom. He nearly had me executed!

But then I think of the conversation in the tower.

The frown.

The loneliness.

The pain.

Enough to make me not push him to his death, despite knowing what tragedies I would be averting.



"He's one of us."

Rolo raised a scaly brow. "Beg pardon, Mr. Mayor?"

"He's… one of us?"

Murmurs from every corner. What does he mean? I was asking myself the same question by that point.

"Perhaps you'd… like to clarify that." Rolo slithered forward, raising his puppet hands indulgently.

I inhaled. Here goes. "Jeffrey's… been with us since the start. He's part of our family. 'n I don't mean, like, Libby 'n mine's family. Everybody's family. He's one of us. It… it just doesn't…"

I looked at Jeffrey. He looked back, head cocked, puzzled. The old Jeffrey might have smacked me over the head with his sceptre for daring to gaze upon his divine countenance without permission.

I pointed across the court. "This guy. He's one of us. The old Jeffrey… I think he's dead already. This one won't hurt anybody. That's what I mean."

"And… what makes you say that?" Rolo moved in uncomfortably close.

I shook my head. "Just a feeling. I guess. Can I go now?"

Pagan nodded from above me. "Yes, I think this is a relatively fruitless line of inquiry. Unless you have a more concrete question, defence?"

Rolo sagged a little, his tail thumping against the floor. "No, I think we're pretty much doomed. Defence rests."

"How… professional of you." After asking the prosecutor if he had any questions for me, or anyone, Pagan tapped his gavel. "That's it, then. The jury will be sequestered for one more night, and barring any unforeseen disturbances we should have a verdict by tomorrow. Is that satisfactory?"

One of the jurors, the head Weekendist of Pubton, rose and nodded. "That will suffice, your honour."

"Very well. The trial shall recommence at 12 pm tomorrow. Court adjourned." Gavel tap.

The bailiffs led Jeffrey away into a side chamber. I was released from the witness box. The jurors wandered up the stairs into their joint chambers, the platypus watching me with each step. The court emptied, and I was eventually left alone with Eve, Pagan, and a handful of slaves on cleaning duty.

Pagan thumped a gauntlet down on my shoulder. "'He's one of us'. That was a flaccid response, boy."

"I know." I patted Eve on the head. "Everything else I thought up was lame."

Pagan steered me to one of the small windows facing out over Pubton. We watched the observers of the court wander down the path, back to town, back to their lives. Black clouds lingered on the horizon, and I could tell from the heat in the air that we would be getting a storm overnight.

"The defences are ready?"

"Ready as they'll ever be."

"The people are ready?"

"Nobody's talkin' about it, but, yeah. They all know what's comin'."

"Are you ready?"

I peered down at Eve. She was looking at a pill bug, wandering across the window ledge. I half wondered if she was going to pick it up and eat it, but she didn't. Well-behaved, that's my girl.

"Naw." I hugged my daughter. "I'm never ready for shit like this."


Dragomir the Co-Mayor

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Eight: Get up there, you

Dad killed a grizzly bear that set off the bells this afternoon. Headbutted the thing so hard it fell over dead. A real shame, that - grizzly bears are so damned nice when you get to know them.

Tension. High tension. High-octane tension. I don't know what an octane is, but I overheard it in a conversation. I like the word. Octane. Octane. Rhymes with… mock…tane.

If they can make up words, so can I.



I may have taken the stand today.

And maybe I'm stalling so I won't have to talk about it.

"I call Dragomir the Mayor to the stand!"

This came from the dough-faced prosecutor, standing far below me, when today's trial commenced. He pointed up to me as if he'd known where I was hiding all along. Which I guess he did.

I ducked behind the balcony and stared, wide-eyed, at Ed. "C… can he DO that?"

"Any man / of any land / and any band / may take the stand." He shrugged.

"Dah! You're no help!" I turned to Eve. She doesn't leave my side anymore. "Help daddy. Daddy doesn't wanna go do any witnessing"

"Dragomir the Mayor! I know you're up there! Would the bailiffs please escort the mayor to the witness box?"

Eve patted me on the head. "Go, daddy. Say hi to the platypus for me."

Confused, still frightened, I cocked my head. "The what?"

"DRAGOMIR, GET DOWN HERE!" Pagan's old man bellow rumbled up to wage war on my eardrums. "BE A FUCKING MAN!"

Still whining, but eventually relenting, I allowed two slave bailiffs to lead me to the witness box. I spent the long descent down the manor's main staircase staring at the jury box, having completely forgotten that, yeah, there's a platypus in their ranks.

It was staring back. Wide… beaked. As if it'd just caught me with my pants down and my thinger hanging out. What a weirdo.

I'd feared that I might be called to testify. I feared, but with each passing day it seemed less and less a possibility. I figured, y'know, that they would get all the IMPORTANT people out of the way - and since I'm the mayor, I'm, like, important. If they weren't going to call me on the first or second day, they weren't going to call me at all. Colour me a dunce for that logic.

The prosecutor paced in front of me. "Hello, Mr. Mayor."

"H… hi." I looked to the ceiling. Anything to ignore Jeffrey. (Or the gawking platypus.)

"You were a guard in Jeffrey's castle. Correct?"

"… y… yeeeeep."

He motioned to a glass of water at my side in the witness box. "Go on. Take a drink. Calm down. This must be nerve-wracking. I'm sorry I didn't warn you in advance, but I wanted honest testimony. Politicians are known for playing tricks, you know!"

The court tittered politely at the prosecutor's lame joke. Far more nervous than amused, I laughed so hard that I nearly drowned while drinking the water. It took five minutes to restore order.

"Aaaaanyway…" The prosecutor waited patiently for the bailiffs to finish cleaning the snot off of my cheeks. "You were a guard. And as a guard, you saw… things."

I nodded. "… yeah, lotsa… things… like, like, this one time, I saw Cedric, like, picking his nose, and I was all 'Oh man, the cap'n? Hunting for goobers? Maybe I can use this to get a promotion -"

The court genuinely laughed this time. Pagan did not, and he knocked my floppy hat off with his gavel. "Take this seriously or I'll have him treat you as a hostile witness."

I cringed. "What does that mean?"

Pagan smiled cruelly. "It means he can torture you. With candles. And spikes. And whips. And your own entrails."

My eyes turned to twin moons. "… r… r… really…?"

"As far as you know, yes." Pagan sat back and motioned to the prosecutor to continue.

The prosecutor cleared his throat. "You were once party to a New Years' plot masterminded by Jeffrey, were you not?"

I thought back. "… no?"

"Perhaps you've forgotten." The prosecutor smiled indulgently. "Perhaps the name 'Grylock' will jog your memory?"

Twin moons. Yes, the name did the trick. Immediately. "OH! Oh. Oh. Yeah, I… I guess I did something along those lines."

"Would you please tell the court what Jeffrey had you do to Grylock, whom, I would remind everyone, was the ambassador of the goblins at the time."

I did. Slowly, stutteringly, I described how Jeffrey had used me as a chauffer of sorts for Grylock. How I'd unwittingly taken him from one bad situation to another, culminating in a cold, bare-bottomed vigil at the top of the king's tower. Locked in a stockade, no less. Yes, I remembered that quite well - though I failed to mention Grylock's act of revenge.

Thanking me for telling the story, the prosecutor smiled. "Jeffrey did not tell you what he had planned."


"He made no indication that he would humiliate Grylock, ambassador of the goblins."

"… no."

"So you were, as you mentioned before, innocent of personal wrongdoing. Because Jeffrey used you."

"… I… I guess he did…"

"He did!" The prosecutor waved his hands in the air. "He did. The king knowingly and scornfully used his own man to commit a sick practical joke. No less, he committed it upon the representative of a foreign power! A dangerous foreign power! I'm sure most of us here remember the goblin siege late last year!"

Murmurs of agreement from the crowd. Most people remembered it, alright.

"We had just made peace with the goblins, and Jeffrey was foolish enough, EVIL enough, to try and spark another war."

I held up a hand. "Well, uh, in fairness, didn't Jeffrey and King Gok set up that war to, uh, 'test' our castle? 'n its defences?"

"Perhaps they did!" The prosecutor grinned coldly. "And what was the result of that? Loss of life! Damage to the castle! Thousands of gold in repair costs! Surely his lordship could have chosen a less dangerous way to prove his realm's worthiness!"

Still doing my best to stare at the ceiling, I looked at Jeffrey. His head was low - but he had a tiny smile on his sad face. The face of a man whose horrible plan is working.

"This 'king' is a monster." The prosecutor jabbed at Jeffrey. "And he knows he's a monster. Monsters must be put down, before they can spread their sickness to good, honest people. No further questions, your honour."

The trial continued. Jeffrey's lawyer wasn't interested in talking to me. Edmund went up next, and he told his own tales of Kierkegaard's apparent influence over Jeffrey - but for Rolo, and his client, it's far too little and far too late.

Poor Jeffrey.


Dragomir the Co-Mayor

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Seven: How to lose at law

The next day of the trial was originally planned for Friday. It was moved to today. There will also be trial dates every day this week. Harold, Evangelina and I all agree that we have to get people focused on the defence of the town only. That or leaving.

We revealed what we know of the impending Non attack in a town meeting before the trial, explaining that we didn't want to alert anyone until we had concrete proof of the danger (namely, the letter from Lord B.T.). We expected a lot of the citizenry to take off. To my great surprise and relief, only people who were already out-of-towners left. The loyal sons and daughters remain to defend their home. They were even forgiving of us keeping a secret of this magnitude. I love this town, I gotta tell ya.

Only one out-of-towner stayed behind. I suspect it's because he craves his fee from Queen Daena more than he values his life.

"I object!" Jeffrey's lawyer, Rolo, hissed loudly. "I asked for more time! It is my right to formulate a superior defence!"

"Normally, I would agree with you." Pagan looked to me. I was standing on one of the balconies. "But we're pressed for time. I'm sure your pay will be ample despite alterations to the schedule. Proceed with your examination."

Still miffed, Rolo nodded. "Very well. I call King Jeffrey to the stand!"

The assembled crowd - which has grown steadily larger each day, somehow - oohed, aahed, and murmured to one another. Jeffrey has barely said a word since the trial began.

Jeffrey tried to rise, straining timidly against the restraints binding him to his seat. "Um. We're… sorry, sorry, I'm… stuck."

Pagan shook his head. "He's already at the front of the room. Talk to him from there, defence."

The snake bowed and turned to his client. "Hello, Mr. the King."

Jeffrey stared into his lap. "I'm not a king anymore."

"But you were. And a lawfully-instated king, too, if I'm not mistaken."

Jeffrey shrugged. "Well… nobody owned the land, so…"

"Nobody owned the land!" Rolo whirled, his tiny wooden arms flailing. "Nobody owned the land. Very good. And so you set out to build a kingdom."

"… yes."

"And you had a queen."

"Yes." Jeffrey sighed and smiled. He looked dopily sincere, even from a distance.

"And a prince. And a princess. Son and daughter."

"Yes." Jeffrey waved as best he could to Celine, a constant fixture in the jury. "Hi, sweetie."

Celine waved back. "I'm sorry if you die, daddy. Nothing personal."

Jeffrey flinched. "I'll keep that in mind. Are you keeping up with your dancing lessons? I'd love to -"

Pagan gently tapped the gavel against his desk. Jeffrey shut his mouth.

"How touching." Rolo tested the air with his tongue as he grinned. "You see? He cares for family. Admirable. To return to my point, however: you were the head of a kingdom. You established said kingdom. Consequently, you established a hierarchy of laws. That is what a king does, is it not?"

"Objection," yelled the prosecutor from across the court. He's a doughy-faced old man who's unfathomably boring to talk to. I can't even remember his name. "Leading the witness."

"Sustained," Pagan muttered. He hates the obstructive legalese. "Rephrase the question. Whatever it was."

The lawyer pouted. "In your opinion, KING Jeffrey, is it the right of a king to establish the laws of his own kingdom?"


"Aha!" The lawyer whipped around to face the court. "You see? From the words of a legitimate monarch, one who would know best. Whether they are morally in the right or not, kings are allowed to set out their own laws and decrees. Consequently, anybody who bends the knee to such a man -"

Pagan coughed. Loudly.

Rolo stopped ranting. "That's a nasty sound, your honour."

"Indeed it is." Pagan's eyes glittered under his helmet. "I don't think you heard your client properly. He said 'no'."

Rolo twitched so violently his glasses nearly spun off of his snout. He turned to Jeffrey. "Did you say 'no'?"


Rolo moved in close. I suspect he was beginning to sweat. If snakes CAN sweat. "Was that a 'yes' to my first question or a 'yes' to my second?"

Jeffrey shrugged. "The second."

Rolo's eye twitched again. For a long moment he was quiet. Then he peered at Pagan. "Permission for a short recess?"

"Denied!" Pagan banged his gavel merrily against his desk. "In fact, I'd like to hear the defendant's opinion of monarchical rights. Would you indulge the court, Jeffrey?"

Jeffrey blinked, looking around the flared hood of his attorney. "Would it hurt my case?"

"Yes," hissed Rolo.

"Oh. Well, in that case…"

The opinion Jeffrey presented was two-fold. The first half was his old belief - essentially, that the king can do whatever the hell he wants, when he wants, to whomever he wants… so long as they're living in his domain. The second half, his current opinion - which he claims is similar to the way he thought before he was in charge - is that kings should, ultimately, bend to the will of their people. The king may make the laws, but he makes the laws to protect his subjects. That includes protecting them from the monarchy.

The court was silent as Jeffrey spoke. Though his voice was coarse and raw from speaking too little over the last… two months, I think… his arguments resonated sensibly to most everyone present. That includes me.

Rolo got Jeffrey off the witness stand as quickly as he could, but not quickly enough. Jeffrey successfully sabotaged his own case, and as everyone left the courtroom at the end of the day, lobbying opinions back and forth, they both supported and decried Jeffrey.

Two opinions. Two different people.

I'm not sure what happened to the moronic King Jeffrey I used to know, but I think he's dead. And this new Jeffrey… is setting himself up for a hanging.

I wonder if he thinks he deserves it.

Pubton is on high alert. There are guards posted at all times, and we have a huge string of perimeter bells set up around the town, attached to several larger bells closer to town centre. If anything large trips them… well… we'll deal with it.

Tension. High tension. The waiting is killing me.


Dragomir the Co-Mayor

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Six: True colours

Gods. A veritable shitstorm, today. I barely even had time to wake up before it started.


To begin the entry…

A sentence.

"They are coming. Right now. You have to leave."

No introduction. No 'hello'. No 'How are you, Dragomir? I am doing fine.' Just… that.

It's been a while since I last received a letter from Lord B.T., and there was one waiting for me when I arrived home early this morning. (There was also a greatly-relieved little girl. Eve isn't much for talking yet, but actions like hugging do just fine.)

I was hungry. Thirsty. Tired. Heat-beaten. Nevertheless, reading the letter over, closely and carefully, was my first concern. It confirmed something I've suspected for a little while, something which I should have figured out from the beginning. All the interest in Eve, all the talk of troubles in his kingdom, all of it… all.

I should have known.


My pen pal…


Lord B.T…. is an ally of the Non. Probably one of The Baron's lackies, spying on me through correspondence. Gods, it makes so much sense.

Here's the rest of the letter.

"You weren't supposed to still be in Pubton. I wanted you out. I prayed you would be gone by now, that the team I sent would be successful in retrieving you. But they weren't. It appears that they've failed, not once, but twice.

I am sorry for that. You would not leave your town of your own volition. Not with the threat of violence hanging over your head. You are too good a man for that. I tried to press the issue… but I failed. I am so sorry I failed.

There's nothing I can do, now. My influence has eroded too much. My people no longer want a diplomat. They want a warrior. So many of them, too many of them, want revenge. They're stomping on my plans, expanding them far beyond what I'd hoped, and I… my support base… I can't tear it out of his hands…

They are coming for the mountain, and for Pubton. Pray they do not find a way to fast track an entire army in the next week, or you shall have no time to prepare.

Not that you should prepare.

You must take your people and run. Or leave them behind. Either way, you must go. NOW. Leave Pubton behind to die. I would lose my mind if you suffered the same fate twice.


When you flee…



That's all. The rest of the letter was torn. I don't know what B.T. wanted me to 'leave', and I don't care. I'm not going anywhere. Pubton's more my home than anywhere I've ever lived before. If it's going to burn, I'll burn with it.

But that doesn't mean I wasn't interested in Lord B.T.'s letter. Or, for once, the guy delivering it.

I haven't seen him often, but the local postman who ALWAYS brings in B.T.'s letters is a guy named Tobo. I've mentioned him once or twice before, and when he's in town he always hangs out in Bora's Beefiary for an hour before disappearing again. Nobody knows anything about him.

I just prayed that I would be able to catch him before he fled this time.

The letter still in hand I dashed out into the morning air, a pleasant combination of coolness and the smell of Pubton's bakery firing to life. I ran down the street, past a few tired and bewildered citizens, all of them asking where I'd been. I yelled 'ARGHBAJDBN' and kept going.

The Beefiary was almost empty. It was still early; workers wouldn't be filtering in for breakfast until 7. Aside from a few dozy guards, still not accustomed to late shifts, the only people inside were Bora… hunched over the bar… and a man in a bulky merchant's outfit. He had a wide-brimmed, straw hat on his head.

A wide-brimmed straw hat.

I've had dreams about that hat. Extremely vague dreams.

Hoisting the letter into the air, I charged across the Beefiary, nearly tripping over a stool. "TOBO! YOU'RE TOBO, RIGHT? HEY, HEY!"

The figure whipped around, a single, slitted eye glaring at me through a break in the hat's brim. Tobo lurched off of his stool and backed away, and I was only kept from him when Bora leaped over the bar and stood in my way.

"By god, Dragomir!" She pushed me back. "It's not even breakfast yet! Keep it down, people're trying to sleep!"

I tried to get around her. "No! No! This letter! You, Tobo, you, you're Tobo, right? Answer me!"

Tobo didn't respond. He took a few steps backward, towards the end of the bar.

"Who are you working for?" I reached around Bora, brandishing the letter like a weapon. It slipped from my fingers the moment I considered hitting Tobo over the head with it. "Oh, for the god's sake! Bora, MOVE!"

"No! You calm down! No roughhousing in here! We had enough o' that when you kicked out the slob!"

"Bora, I swear, if you don't move -"

"I'm not going to move -"

"You -"

"Don't make me -!"

"I -"

Then the unthinkable. Bora grabbed me by the ears, pulled me forward, and kissed me. The taste, as bad as before, possibly worse, stopped me cold and sent me to my knees in front of her, shivering. I spat and swore, clutching my throat.

Bora whirled. I don't know what she did, but by the time I got to my feet, Tobo was out of sight. One of the catcalling guards yelled that Tobo had escaped into the kitchen. Shooting Bora an evil glare, I followed… and she didn't stop me.

Of course she didn't. Because by the time I got there, Tobo was gone. All that remained was the straw hat… and, weirdly, a huge pile of matches. Not set into matchbooks, just a big ol' pile of loose matches.

I searched the kitchen for a way out, largely in vain. I knew Tobo wouldn't be there, and I knew there was no other way out of the Beefiary. Not through the kitchen. The windows are too small.

Bora was waiting for me at the door of the kitchen. She was staring at her feet, looking guilty.

"Why the hell did you stop me?" I growled, kicking at the matches.

Bora flinched, as if I'd kicked her instead. "I… I made a promise. Can't go back on promises."

I wanted to know what she meant. I wanted to ask her a thousand other questions.  I wanted to ask her the question, the one I don't think I want answered, because if she answers the way I think she will…

"You've done a lot for me. For my baby. Thanks for that." I jammed an accusatory finger so forcefully into Bora's face that it nearly went up her nose. "But if you do anything to endanger Eve, or this town, I'll see ya strung up beside Jeffrey. You'll go ta hell together. Do you get me?"

Shrinking so much she looked like a chastised little girl, Bora nodded. She stepped out of the way so I could storm past. She's not going to be taking care of Eve anymore, I'll tell you that much.

Bora. I thought she was loyal to us. This hurts me… hurts me so much, that… gods… it's not happening again, is it…?

Tonight I visit Pagan. Tomorrow we have a trial, whether the fucking defence lawyer is ready or not.

Also, I may have kept the hat. It looks good on Eve.


Dragomir the Co-Mayor

Friday, June 21, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Five: Fine, come in

I woke up in June's cave.

At first I thought it was a mirage. A trick of the light. Hell, a trick of my sun-drenched dementia. I was pretty lucid while writing yesterday's entry, but I spent the night babbling. I have no idea when I fell asleep -

- but when I woke up, I was in the cave. Surrounded by slaves. Lying before June.

Still as physically young as before and floating in her magic circle, June shook her head when she noticed I was awake. "You are a bloody pain, Mr. Mayor. Right bloody pain. I've known three-year-olds who were less stubborn."

I sat up, grunting and rubbing my neck. The sunburn was gone. "Yeah, I bet Driscol was a pain in the ass to raise. Evangelina, too. Funny, I don't picture you a mother."

June cackled. "Oh, oh, oh! Did one of 'em finally tell you? Not that the secret matters much, now, but I thought it more polite to the brats to let 'em pretend they were noble born. You wouldn't BELIEVE how ashamed they are of me, Mr. Mayor, wouldn't believe."

"I would be, too, if I were them." I sneered. "You don't make a good case for yourself."

June stretched, caressing her legs. "With a body this good you don't need a good case. You need gullible males. No shortage of those, lemme tell ya."

She straightened. "Enough banter. It's pretty clear to me that you won't leave without an explanation, 'n if you don't leave you'll either die from exposure or I'll have to imprison you. Neither is preferable. So we'll see if a good reason will work."

I stood, eying the slaves warily. All of them were staring at the walls of the cave, particularly the giant white emblem on the back wall. It's still faded, though no more so than during my last visit. "Talk, then. Tell me where my wife is."

June rolled her head, exasperated. "I can't TELL you that, ya idiot. I still need her. But I can at least tell ya WHY I need her."

"This should be good." I crossed my arms and waited.

June mimicked the gesture, sticking out her tongue. "Simple enough. It's so that fuckin' brat of yours will stay outta my way."


"No, Eve. The one who's not bothering me at all." June rolled her eyes. "Of course Grayson. The kid adores his mother more than anything else. Take her out of the equation… especially now, when he's physically 'n mentally unstable… and he'll lose it. Go berserk. Cause trouble for me. It's the last one I care 'bout."

My sneer deepened. "So you're using Libby… a woman who considered you her friend… a woman whose child you helped deliver…"

"Blah, blah, blah." June dismissed the sentimentalism with a wave of her hand. "I've befriended 'n backstabbed a lotta people over the years. Shed tears the first few times. Won't bother here. I have things to do. Mother 'n child were helpful at first, but Grayson's become too powerful to trifle with, 'n he's only going to get stronger. If I can keep him out of the picture for at least another month, I'll be golden. I'm just glad he made as big a mistake as he did."

"Oh? What's that?"

June licked her lips in grotesque satisfaction. "He went into my hut. Now he's mine."

I wanted to say more, to do more, to at least chastise the witch for her actions. But she kept talking, and the power of her voice, as well as her words, entranced me into silence.

"You don't know what that boy is." June turned to look at the rat symbol at her back. "You should have been able to guess by now. You've had enough experience with his kind. But ya haven't, because you're too wilfully blind to the possibilities. Not because ya love Grayson - you gave up on that a while ago - but because you love your little girl."

"He's their general." June jabbed a wavering finger at the rat symbol. "He's their weapon. And he's beyond their control. You let 'im loose from my trap… you do that, and you'll have something worse than all the shadows the sun c'n cast."

The slaves escorted me out of June's cave. She wouldn't say anything else beyond warning me that if I tried to come to her again, she would break my arms and legs and ship me back to Pubton in a crate. I got the message.

Libby… Libby's beyond me. I don't have the power to get her right now. And as much as I now hate June, and what she's done, and what she's trying to do… I can see what she's saying. Grayson is a weapon. Of course he's a weapon. And he needs to be contained. Even if he could help save Pubton from the Non.

Even if containing him breaks my heart.

I'm headed back to Pubton. I've been supplied with a new horse and carriage. The horse's eyes are… well… y'know. I doubt we'll be making any side trips.


Dragomir the Co-Mayor

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Four: Why do you not understand 'No Admittance'

Aaaaand the direct approach didn't work. I'm out of ideas.

Ever since I got here I've been trying to figure out a way to get past Antonia and up to June's cave. The witch doesn't want a visitor, obviously, and I'll be damned if I won't forcefully change her mind on the subject. My all-consuming purpose has been to dream up a hare-brained scheme for bypassing the fucking werewolf.

After so many failed attempts, and after my brain became addled by an excess of heat, I decided I had little choice. I would have to blast my way past June's defences.

I've been trying to figure out a way past Antonia, yes, and a big part of that consists of studying the werewolf. At first I thought that she simply sat in place and waited for me to make a move, day and night. I figured that June's energies somehow sustained her.

Not so, apparently. Antonia's still a living creature. She has needs. She just doesn't express them when she thinks I'm looking.

I went to bed early last night. My sunburn was hurting my brain, and I was cranky. I couldn't sleep well, though, and the sunburn forced me to remain in one comfortable position, wedged into the wagon. I wasn't asleep… but I must have looked like I was asleep.

I turned over after almost an hour of fitful still, wincing against the pain in my neck. And when I turned over, pointing my head towards Antonia's resting place… she wasn't there.

Cautious, now fully awake, I looked around, peeking my head out of the wagon. Antonia wasn't around. A check of the other side revealed she wasn't there, either. My horses looked notably less spooked (they've been on edge constantly with Antonia around - it's a credit to Morris' training that they haven't bolted), so I concluded that she'd gone somewhere else.

Because I was asleep. Because I wouldn't break through June's little checkpoint while I was asleep. Because sleeping people are harmless. Or are they?

I could have bolted then and there, but I decided that was a poor idea. I had no idea where Antonia was. Instead, I settled down and waited for her to return… and she did, eventually, return. Her muzzle was bloody. I have no idea what she ate while she was away.

Making a show of rising, I fed the horses, adjusted the wagon a little, made a few half-hearted attempts to get by Antonia, and got back in the wagon. I pretended to sleep, hoping it was obvious enough that I was suffering from sunstroke. (Which is, I gotta admit, quite true. I'm still pretty frazzled.)

By noon, Antonia left again. Peeking out from under my sheet, noting the air of calm that came over the horses, I watched the werewolf slink away to the east. I waited until she was a speck, and then nothing, before I made my move.

I don't know if June is omnipresent or not. I'm guessing she can only see insofar as her slaves can see. Nevertheless, I knew that it was then or never, and with Antonia gone I'd not have a better chance. Bolting into the wagon's seat, I whipped the surprised horses into action and spurred them towards the mountain at breakneck speed. I didn't care about their safety, or mine, or the wagon's, or that of the people who were soon in pursuit, either on foot or on the backs of pack animals.

Libby. Libby. Libby.

I am sad to say that the chase did not last long. Had I been thinking more rationally, I might have realized that the side of a mountain, even if it is fairly gradual, is not a good place for a wagon. I couldn't have gotten more than halfway to June's cave before the whole damned thing tipped, upending the horses, spilling my possessions all over the mountainside, and essentially destroying the wagon.

Antonia and June's possessed workers fell on me in short order. The workers ripped what remained of the wagon apart while Antonia killed the horses. (She's not much for punching anymore, I guess.) Once that was done and I'd been dragged to my feet, they forcefully escorted me away from the mountain. The only thing I was allowed to bring was, well, y'know. How else could I be writing?

I'm stuffed under an outcropping of rocks, writing as the sun sets. I haven't moved much all day. One of June's slaves, a portly fellow who has apparently lost a lot of weight doing work for her, quietly brought me a meal of corn and water and left again. June doesn't want to see me, but she also doesn't want me dead. I wonder how long it will take before somebody tries to carry me back to Pubton.

This isn't working.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Three: I said 'No Admittance'

Blast. This is frustrating. Nothing I try seems to work.

I spent all of last night dreaming up a way past June's ever-present guards. Antonia's eyes unnerved me every second I was awake, but by the time I dropped down into a snooze I thought I had a solid list of ways to get at June. Turns out most of them were stupid ideas, which, in retrospect, is usually true of the things I plan. I'm not good at this schemin' stuff.

My first thought was pure sneakiness. I made my way towards the next mountain in the mountain range, and after a while Antonia stopped following me. (I assume that June's powers of control have a limited range.) I figured I might be able to sneak up on June's cave from the rear…

… but, no. As soon as I got to the foothills of June's mountain, Antonia found me. She sat, and watched, and blocked my every attempt to get past.

Second try: talking. Antonia hasn't shown any signs of June's personality, and I wondered if I might be able to get through to her true mind. Which is to say, her orcish mind. Not, you know, the werewolf mind. (That's a lot of layers for one person.)

Did it work? 'course not. I might as well have been talking to a wall. Antonia didn't respond to a thing I said, save to snap at me and chase me away from her after a solid half hour of endless jabbering. I was singing off-key by the end, so I guess I annoyed her too much?

The third idea, conjured up in a moment of heat-induced irritation, was digging. I figured I might be able to burrow under Antonia and get to the mountain Hypermole-style. Antonia didn't even bother to try and stop me.

I regained my senses after a while, namely when I'd torn off a fingernail trying to dislodge a rock, and from that sprang my fourth idea: faking an injury. I swooned, raised my bloody hand high for Antonia to see, and collapsed. I figured she might drag me into Pubtwon, and from there I could sneak to June's cave.

Antonia threw a rock at me. Dinged me right in the head. I swore at her. That ended the charade.

My fifth attempt, and final for the day, was miserable begging. I pleaded with June to listen to me and let me in. All I needed was five minutes of her time, dammit! Just five minutes! Alas, it was not to be, for Antonia offered no sympathy, nor did any of June's other slaves. In fact, one of the labourers had the cheek to come out and moon me! Bare-assed!

So that's that. My second day of infiltration is a failure. I'm huddled in the wagon right now, by a candle, cursing the sunburns on my neck. I don't know how much longer I can stand this weather, as the wagon isn't the best shelter in the world. Gotta feel sorry for Antonia, since she's still watching me. The sun's gotta be baking her.

Blargh. Every minute I have to fuck around with this witch is another minute where Libby might be in danger. Grayson can't hold off lycanthropy forever…

Fuck. FUCK.


Dragomir the Co-Mayor

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day Four-Eighty-Two: No Admittance

Julius warned me that going to Pubtwon was futile. He begged me not to bother, because if June wants me in Pubton, if she hasn't outright enslaved me, it's probably for a good reason. I didn't listen, because, well, wife. June HAS to know where her damned hut is, and where there is hut, there is Libby.

And Grayson. Werewolf Grayson. All the more reason to get Libby out of there pronto.

But June, as I anticipated, is not accepting visitors. Our attempts to enter Pubtwon were immediately rebuffed. Or, uh, mine were.

"You ain't welcome here, Mr. Mayor," said Grylock, the head of a large group of orange-eyed labourers who wandered out to meet my cart at the edge of Pubtwon. He said this in a distinctly female voice. "Thanks for delivering my familiar. Much obliged. Off you go, now."

I stood my ground by remaining seated. "No. I have to talk to Jun… er, you. June. I have to talk to you. I need to know where Libby is."

GryJune smiled. I hate it when Grylock smiles; all the worse when a witch is behind the motion. "You know where she is. She's in my hut. I sensed ya enter it, and I sensed ya get thrown out. Poor daddy, manhandled by his kid."

"Stop playing games!" I pointed over my shoulder, back in the direction I'd come from. "We're in deep shit, and we need Libby's expertise! The Non are comin', you know that!"

"Surely do," June agreed. "I surely do. 'n that's why you're gonna return to Pubton, and stay there. 'less you wanna get kidnapped again, ya dunce. You coulda been snagged a dozen times on your way here. And after all the work Julius did to get you back."

Too true. I ignored the implication. "Why won’t you tell me? What the hell do you stand ta lose by helping me find her? I'll stay in Pubton for the rest of my fucking LIFE if you'll just -"

GryJune shook his/her head and laughed. "Nope! Nope nope nope. I need Libby right where she is. She's providing a valuable service to me. When I'm done with her, I'll send her back to ya. Her and her precious lil' baby."

I tried to protest, but it was no good. June's bewitched blockade remained in place, and even though I could have run right over the lot, I didn't want to hurt a bunch of innocent people.

And Grylock.

Pretty sure he's damned far from innocent.

But anyway.

June ordered Julius back into her service, apparently content that he'd done his job. He crawled off of my arm and onto GryJune's, acting as mopey as a tarantula can get. The poor guy had no choice, so I don't blame him for returning to his master. He clearly didn't like doing it.

I've parked my wagon on the borders of Pubtwon. The gang that blocked me has gone back to work on the mine, tirelessly using the Hypermole to carve through the rock, though one scout remains to keep an eye on my position. I guess June's influence only stretches so far.

I just wish the scout wasn't Antonia. She frightens the boogers right out of me with that stare of hers. Werewolves are unpleasant.

I haven't given up. I'm going to find a way past June's cronies and make the trek to her cave. She can't deny me an audience if I give her no choice.


Dragomir the Co-Mayor