Monday, October 27, 2014

Day Seven-Seventy-Four: Kings (Or Somebody Like Kings)

“Ye know, I think ye’ve gotten a mite bit bigger, lad. Your arms don’t look half so scrawny as they did before.”

Jeffrey rolled his eyes, though the motion didn’t feel half so much as dramatic as the churning of his stomach. He was sitting in the half-finished lounge of the Sky Bitch, a small, ten-person eatery that seemed more like a dispensary than a proper restaurant. A few spartan decorations aside - an empty tankard clumsily affixed to the wall, a picture of a duck, a basket filled with rocks that liked to empty itself on the floor - the lounge looked like an oversized wooden box. The only food on order at the moment was beef jerky in a variety of different forms, none of them terribly appetizing, and anyone set on remaining in the lounge was forced to sit at one of four narrow tables. Jeffrey was at one such table, and across from him…

“‘course,” Gok continued, picking a near-invisible something out of his sharp teeth, “you always were hidin’ under those hefty clothes, weren’t ye? Even when we played tennis ye kept yer damned robes on. Never the wise one, Jeff-o, never the wise.”

“You’re not one to talk about wise, Gok,” Jeffrey admonished. “Try to take over the only town that managed to repel the Non? Stupid move.”

“I didna try, lad, I succeeded.” Gok shrugged. “S’not my fault someone came back ’n took it away from me. Still a successful campaign, all told - I was just complacent in the aftermath. Maybe with my advisor on my side, I’d have done a wee bit better.”

Jeffrey flinched. Someone - Jeffrey didn’t know who, but someone - had tipped Gok off to Grylock’s death earlier in the day. Since then the goblin had been insufferable, as though someone had borrowed his favourite book and not brought it back on time. Jeffrey seemed to be getting the worst of Gok’s jabs, though there was no way the king could know that Jeffrey was, at least partially, responsible for Grylock’s death.

Not you, Jeffrey insisted, and far from the first time. Not you. He was dying already. He made a choice. Don’t forget that, idiot, don’t forget.

“You had an advisor,” Jeffrey pointed out curtly. “She appears to have disliked you. Just a little.”

“Aye, sad day, that,” Gok admitted, curling one half of his drooping moustache. “Still. We had fun. Care te hear about it?”

Jeffrey bristled. “Absolutely not. You always were disgusting, Gok.”

“Yet you were always, somehow, worse,” Gok replied lightly, sipping a canteen. “Amazing, that, no?”

Jeffrey scowled. He and Gok had been trading barely-civilized barbs for twenty minutes, now, waiting to be called into a meeting in Libby’s cabin. She’d dubbed herself captain, having spent more than enough time at the helm of war machines over the years, and she kept insisting that they spend as much time as possible on the Sky Bitch. They would, after all, soon have to depart to build an army, and Libby figured it would be best for everyone to familiarize themselves with travel by air.

By air. Jeffrey gulped. For some reason he couldn’t get used to wafting about on the breeze in a giant wooden tub of a ship. The Sky Bitch seemed a worthy vessel, of course, and Libby knew her engineering, but every time he went up on the main deck… every time he looked at the clouds, caught a glimpse of the land, or so much as dared to approach the railing…

“Ye look grey, Jeffrey,” Gok commented. He didn’t appear to give two figs about the Sky Bitch’s location. “No great love of actin’ like a bird?”

“Hush,” Jeffrey insisted, gripping his stomach. “Just hush up. Why they kept you out of jail I’ll never know.”

“It’s the face,” Grylock insisted. “The captain o’ this tub can’t resist a pretty mug, I figure.”

Jeffrey wanted to argue the point some more, but his stomach got the best of him, and in mid-sentence he lurched to his feet and staggered towards the nearest privy. Gok’s cackling laughter followed him all the way to the bucket, and when Jeffrey returned, the jerky he’d eaten speckling the landscape far below, Gok was still mocking him. He was not, however, alone, and the man who’d joined him did not much improve Jeffrey’s ill mood.

“Former king,” Pagan said, inclining his head. His mail clinked with the shifting of the Sky Bitch. “I see you’re not enjoying yourself. Didn’t you ride back to Pubton on dragons?”

“Dragons… are… steady…” Jeffrey wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow, seating himself again. “This thing bucks around… a lot…”

“Hmph. I can’t see there’d be a huge difference. But, then, I haven’t flown on a dragon before. Oh, no, wait, I suppose I did…” The old knight tapped his chin thoughtfully, then shrugged. “At any rate. Dragomir’s ready to see you both now. He’s waiting in the captain’s cabin.”

“Is the captain with him?” Gok asked, eyebrows wiggling. “I’d like te see that one again. Mmmm, nice hips.”

“You never learn,” Pagan grunted, shaking his head. “You know, I’d thought to use a girl to get at you, Gok, back when I was a rebel. Get her to stick you in the guts with a shiv. Robert persuaded me that a king would never be so lecherous as to fall for such a ruse; clearly he had his head up his rear.”

“That’s me,” Gok agreed, amiably enough. “Though if I’d found out her head would’ve been sent back to ye in a jar. Shall we?”

A thin set of stairs led from the guts of the Sky Bitch - a cacophonous collection of gears, pulleys, and steam vents - to the main deck, a bubble of glass reminiscent of the command deck of the Dauphine. Emerging from the stairs, Jeffrey peered up at the massive balloon over his head, inflated by heat and gas and held in place by three massive brackets. Staggered by the movement of the ship, he nevertheless wondered how in the hell the thing remained as still as it did, considering the shudder of its propellors and the clunking of the gears below deck.

Pagan led the two former kings to a pair of double doors, set into the rear of the main deck, beside a series of work stations manned by pilots and engineers. Inside the doors they found a long table affixed to the floor, surrounded by static chairs and headed, as expected, by Dragomir. He was speaking to the captain of the ship in hushed tones, and when the trio entered, led by Pagan, Libby addressed them first - with a salute. She was dressed in light leather armour, and a no-nonsense captain’s hat rode proudly on her head.

“Hey hey hey!” Gok cried, shooting her a randy salute of his own. “Long time, no see! I like the hair! A bit shaggier ’n last time, but it goes well with the cap. Mmm, women in uniform, I can get behind that.”

Surprising Jeffrey, Libby didn’t say anything. Instead, she looked askance at Dragomir. He motioned with one hand, and a rat appeared on his shoulder. This shut Gok right up, and when Libby walked by them to attend to her ship, Gok didn’t say a word.

“Have a seat,” Dragomir offered, pointing to the chairs. “We’ve got some work to do, and not a lot of time to do it.”

“What’s… up, Dragomir?” Jeffrey asked, dropping gingerly down into the nearest seat. He hoped it would have something to do with his wife, though he knew the chances of that were practically nil. “What can… urp… we do to help?”

“Hold your lunch down, for starters,” Dragomir said, half smiling. “Then pull out your address books. I need to form some alliances right pronto, and I figure a lord and a couple of ousted kings can help me with that.”

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