Monday, November 9, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Four: Strange Non-Bedfellows

The trip home was easily one of the most awkward times of Dragomir’s life.

He wished he’d been allowed to make the journey alone. Eve was his daughter, after all, and his alone, to the point that she wasn’t even really Libby’s daughter. The two had no true connection, never would have a true connection, never even could have a true connection. For that reason, Dragomir suspected, just as Logan had suspected, that Libby would die if she went anywhere near Eve in her current state. If Eve’s own mother wasn’t safe, no one could be. 

But Dragomir couldn’t travel on his own. Despite Libby’s technical prowess, she didn’t have the resources to make a functioning replacement arm for her husband. Not cooped up in jail, anyway. The leg had already been a stretch, and that, too, kept Dragomir from going it alone. He needed someone to come with him, and the only person qualified, the only person who might make a difference in stopping Eve, was The Baron. The man who’d controlled her in the first place.

So here they were. Travelling. Seldom saying anything, beyond casual niceties and occasional comments about the landscape. And, oh boy, was it awkward.

Dragomir couldn’t even say exactly why it was awkward. He’d known The Baron for a long time, now, virtually his entire lifespan (assuming Dragomir was only five or six years old, despite how he looked and felt). The man was, in a subtle way, Dragomir’s father. He was most definitely the reason Dragomir existed, which made him a fatherly figure of sorts. Dragomir had never enjoyed the company of a proper, caring father, and The Baron was certainly nicer than Oswald the Farmer. But still… the awkwardness… it didn’t feel to Dragomir like the kind of awkwardness a son and a father might share.

No. It was something else. Something weirder. Something Dragomir didn’t even want to consider. So he brushed it aside, and held his tongue, and read his diary, and remained awkward. The Baron reciprocated, deepening the awkwardness.

Their trip, Dragomir discovered, was initially much easier than the journey he’d made into the lands that would later become property of Pubton. Before they’d been forced to ford through open fields and thickly-treed forests, compressing their wagons into tight spaces that should never have permitted entry to a caravan of settlers. Now, though, the trees had been cleared in many places, and hints of worn dirt peeked through the grass, the ghosts of trade routes carved by the earliest of Pubton’s pioneers. They hadn’t been used in a while, not since the Non had moved into the Imperium, but the tracks made travel swifter.

Without really thinking about it, Dragomir flipped back to those days in his diary, shuffling through the entries immediately after his return to life. He shut the book with a sharp snap, however, when he reached the day of Grayson’s birth, and the diary gave him a reproachful stare as he shoved it back into his bag. It was still grumpy that he’d refused to write in it for over a year, and he supposed he couldn’t blame it on that score. He wasn’t in a writing mood anymore.

“Unhappy reminiscing?” The Baron murmured at Dragomir’s side, eyes travelling to the bag. The diary was worming its way upright, trying to get out and largely failing.

“You could say that,” Dragomir admitted. He reached into the wagon’s darkened innards and retrieved a canteen. It was a trick to get it open with one hand, but he’d gotten the hang of it, and he took a deep swig of water. “There was a lot to be unhappy about.”

“Ah, yes, I suppose so.” The Baron clenched the reins of the wagon, eyes on the backs of the two giant toads leading them along. They glistened orange in the setting sun. “I’ve always wanted to peek into that book. It seems everyone you know has read it but me.”

“You’re not missing much.” Dragomir took another swig of water, spitting half of it onto the grass beside the cart. Splotches of red marred the foamy spit. “A lot of bitching about nonsense. Real waste of time, that diary.”

“Surely it doesn’t think so,” The Baron protested. He gently pried the top of the bag loose, and the diary glared up at him. “Though it does seem to be upset about something. Perhaps, ah, you… aren’t… feeding it properly…?”

Dragomir snorted. The diary snapped its two-dimensional, silent teeth at The Baron, and he closed the bag again.

They stopped for the night an hour later, just as the sun completed its tired trek below the horizon, and The Baron began to set up his small tent while Dragomir prepped his sleeping bag. They’d established separate bedding on the first night, almost without prior comment, and the arrangement suited Dragomir just fine. The wagon got a little drafty, even with the coverings closed, but he liked having the space to himself. He also reasoned that The Baron could better defend himself if something nasty appeared in the night and tried to drag him out of the tent - Dragomir would just make a sizeable, fairly helpless meal.

“Good night,” The Baron called, lifting a hand. He lit a lantern with the other and popped open the front of the tent. “Do, um, do you need anything before I go…?”

Dragomir waved him away. “No. I’m good. See you tomorrow.”

The Baron crawled into his tent, but the lantern remained on, and Dragomir listened to the rustling of the old man’s rucksack as he searched for a book to read. Dragomir sighed and struggled to close the coverings of the wagon, not feeling particularly tired, but not wanting to travel at night either. Their little campsite at the side of the road would do well enough for now.

Laying down on the floor of the wagon’s interior, surrounded by bags brimming with supplies and listening to the sleepy croaks of the giant toads outside, Dragomir stared at the ceiling. He imagined the wagon’s ribbed bonnet as the night sky, picturing each darkened imperfection in the fabric as another shining star. He tried to form constellations out of those stars, but he knew so little of the universe beyond his own world that they were nothing more than senseless pinpricks, no more important to his life than the flicker of a candle.

Dragomir coughed. His head spun. Eventually, he fell asleep.

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