Friday, November 6, 2015

Day Nine-Thirty-Three: And they lived happily ever something

Dragomir discovered that he’d lost control of his transformative abilities when he tried to dress himself.

For the last year, ever since learning that he was at least part Non, Dragomir had enjoyed the ability to shift his clothes to look however he liked. It was convenient, because he no longer needed anyone to clean said clothes for him, nor did he have to do so himself. He could be the general of an army one minute and a pyjama man the next. But when he tried to shift into his guardsman’s uniform he found himself in agony so exquisite that his skin crawled, and the fake leg fitted to his stump promptly snapped free of its moorings. He struggled uselessly on the ground for ten minutes before Libby found him.

“You’re a fuckin’ mess,” she said, helping Dragomir change into travelling clothes. She plopped his helmet onto his head so hard that it bent his ears.

You have no idea, darlin’, he thought. Don’t think a ‘save point’, or whatever those things are, is gonna save me this time.

The barracks were empty when Dragomir and Libby left their unlocked cell. Logan had assured them that he would tie up the guards in other matters, and a convenient holiday for the nobles working in the offices left the place bereft of life. Even the few prisoners of Pubton’s small prison had been somehow removed, off serving time as menial labourers. Dragomir decided not to ask any questions as he plodded his way to the receiving area, supported by Libby.

“The people hate you now, man,” Logan had said. “It doesn’t matter what you did for ‘em. Not enough people living in Pubton now remember how you set this place up. There are too many refugees from places destroyed by the Non. We can’t let the most publicly-known Non of all time stay here.”

“There can’t be that many people who know,” Dragomir said. 

Logan responded by handing Dragomir a public petition, signed by well over a thousand people. The petition was for Dragomir’s head, separated from his body in a public forum. He got the message.

Logan was waiting for them in the receiving area, standing next to a cart. He was dressed in his old clothes, so reminiscent of Dragomir’s guardsman uniform, but the white gloves on his hands reminded Dragomir of Logan’s official position at once. He wondered, not for the first time, how the hell Logan had managed to wrangle control of a city for himself in such a short time, and, again, decided it wasn’t worth the effort to consider.

Logan was not alone.

“Oh, you two,” Daena cried. She rushed forward to hug Libby, then did the same for Dragomir, careful not to squish his left side too vigorously. “Oh, gods, I’m so sorry for all of this. You have no idea how much.”

“Ain’t your fault,” Libby said, hugging Daena again. She cast a glare at Daena’s son, who matched Libby’s gaze evenly. “You better come out and visit us, okay? I’m gonna need more company than just these two idiots, y’know.”

“Of course, of course.” Daena brushed a tear from her face. “Once Logan is all set up here, you may get some new neighbours. I would love to live in the countryside.”

Jeffrey, looking so muscular that his blue uniform didn’t seem to fit very well, stepped forward. He offered Dragomir his left hand, then awkwardly pulled it back and extended his right. “Oh. Um. Sorry.”

Dragomir shook his hand. “Don’t worry. I’m still gettin’ used to having one arm too. It’s a raw deal.”

“I bet.” Jeffrey sniffed. “I… listen. Thanks. You pulled me out of some terrible situations. I owe you a lot, and I’m still planning to repay you. Neighbours sounds like a good idea.”

Dragomir smiled. Yet again, someone who didn’t know better. That made sense, though - Dragomir hadn’t even told his wife what was happening to his body. “Yeah. Neighbours. Sounds great, Jeff. Take care of your kid ’til then, yeah? He needs help.”

Jeffrey fiddled with the bright, bronzed badge on his tunic. “Don’t worry. I’ll advise him as well as I can. I won’t let the power go to his head, like… some people I’ve known.”

Dragomir started to laugh, but he was cut off when his mother, unable to restrain herself any longer, rushed forward to embrace him. This surprised him - not only had he not seen her, he never thought she would show up. She didn’t know the whole story, but she must surely have concluded that, as a Non, he couldn’t possibly be her son. Knowing that and still being embraced made Dragomir want to cry.

“Oh, honey,” she said, weeping openly. “This… all of this… you’ve done too much for these ungrateful people. I’ve tried to yell at them for you, but… nobody will listen… I’m proud of you, at any rate, and I always will be, you hear? You send me letters whenever you can. You’d better, or I’ll find your new house and swat you on the bum.”

“Y… yes, ma.” Dragomir brushed away a grateful tear, and was momentarily panicked when he noticed that there were tiny swirls of greenish blood in the tear. “Is… is dad here…?”

Dragomir’s mother rolled her eyes. “No, he said he was busy. Too busy to see his son off. More like he’s too embarrassed to look sad. I suspect he’s at a bar, tromping around in that big wooden suit Libby built him, getting plastered. That’ll have to be his way of saying goodbye, dear. I hope you’re not mad?”

Dragomir shook his head. That sounded like his father, all right. It was the best goodbye he could’ve hoped for, their history considered. He hoped both of his parents would enjoy life with their actual son, whether they knew he was or not.

Hobbling to the rear of the cart, Dragomir peered inside. Its occupants stared back. There was little else to be said.

The cart set out from Pubton an hour later, just as dusk was settling in, with Fynn guiding a pair of stately giant toads from the front seat. As Logan’s former-second-in-command Fynn had no trouble getting through Pubton’s front gates, and the men on guard wished Fynn a good journey and a speedy return. Fynn swallowed and said little, for which Dragomir, hunched in the back, was grateful - he knew his son was not a good liar. The less said, the better.

Dragomir watched Pubton recede in the distance with a mixture of sadness and apathy. He would never see the city he’d started again. Yet this Pubton, tripled in size and filled with strangers, was not his Pubton, and he suspected its coming days would never be quite so bright and cheerful as its beginnings.

They met another cart two hours out from Pubton. Logan sat at the reins. Dragomir was surprised to see the king of Pubton was allowed to go off on his own - yet even with half a leg missing, Logan could clearly do just about anything he liked, including dodge his own guards. Dragomir didn’t envy them the task of trying to protect a king capable of leaping entire buildings whenever he damn well pleased.

Stepping down from the cart, Logan offered Libby the reins, and she took them with a fierce tug. He shrugged, turned away from her as she stepped up onto her cart, and walked towards Dragomir. Fynn passed him as he got into his mother’s cart, and the pair hugged briefly before separating. Dragomir wondered how difficult it had been for Fynn to leave Logan’s side, as they’d grown close over the last few months, ever since the debacle with the werewolves.

Logan offered Dragomir his hand. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”

Dragomir took the hand. For a second, in the setting sun, he saw Logan as a little boy again, the prominent, stately, black curl back on his forehead. “Yeah. Yeah, it has.”

Hesitating for a moment, Logan pulled Dragomir into a hug. His voice shuddered as he spoke into Dragomir’s ear. “I haven’t trusted you for a long time, man. A really long time. And I hate that. It tears me up inside, ‘cause you’re as much my dad as that idiot back in Pubton. I’m only king now because I don’t think I can trust anyone else doing the job, and that includes you, much as you’d probably be okay at it. I don’t want to not trust you anymore. So can I offer you some advice? You made me head of intelligence, and I sucked at that, but I can tell you something small, at least. You okay with that? You okay with some advice?”

“Sure,” Dragomir replied.

“Don’t die,” Logan said flatly. “I’m only askin’ you to do this ‘cause I know you’d do it anyway. But I can tack something extra on as well. Whether you find Eve alive or dead, whether you save her or bury her, just… don’t die.”

“Okay,” Dragomir lied. He patted Logan on the back.

Logan disappeared into the darkness, striding away without saying a word to the first cart’s other occupant. Dragomir heard a small sigh float out of the cart, and despite himself he felt bad for the man.

Libby left in the second cart without a word, but the look in her eyes told Dragomir everything he needed to know: she wanted him to come find her once it was all over. He knew where to go. He knew what lay ahead of them. It would be a happy life, so long as he came back. He lied to her, too, and unlike Logan, he suspected that she saw through his tiny, silent nod. No one could fool her. She left anyway, and Fynn waved to his father from the rear of the cart. Dragomir hoped he would see them again, but he doubted it would ever happen.

Dragomir climbed into the front of the cart. He struggled with the reins temporarily, trying to right himself, wishing he’d asked Libby to come along after all. But he was too afraid that Eve might try to kill her mother, or her brother, and he couldn’t allow that. He couldn’t.

A pair of gloved hands offered to take the reins instead, and a bulky, robed body climbed onto the front seat alongside Dragomir. Sighing, Dragomir handed the reins over, and moments later they were on the road, propelled by a pair of hopping toads. It was a smooth drive, and a nice night for a trip, under a blanket of stars.

“So,” The Baron said, clearing his throat awkwardly, “what should we talk about?”

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