Piro had just managed to buy most of their gear when they bumped into Mrs. Gong, the owner of the mansion and quite a bit of other property in the town. Bespectacled, the septuagenarian was still sharp despite her advanced years. She looked them up and down suspiciously, “I heard there was some damage to my property. I expect compensation. Where is your mistress?”
Piro stammered, “She sent us to town to buy some equipment and clothes. We plan on traveling, on business.”
“After all this time? Well, I’ll have to pay her a visit this afternoon,” Mrs. Gong remarked. “I haven’t been introduced to the young man?”
“He’s just a traveler, a guest, for the moment. His name is Abe,” she began.
“Abe? What type of foolish name is that? Where are you from, young man? I know everything that goes on in this town, and I haven’t heard of any recent travelers. I’ll have to have a word with the watchmen.”
He bowed, “I am known as Abraham of the Judes, it is a far tribe of wanderers who are not known well here.” Piro eyed him for a moment, as this was news to her as well.
“Of course,” the elder woman pretended to know. “Beyond the sea of sand, in the East, there are supposed to be nomadic tribes. You’ve come far, join us for tea at the house after your shopping.”
Once she had left, Abe whispered, “Old fart has no idea what I was talking about.”
“Who are the Judes? Why didn’t you-“
“I made it up. Though Abraham is correct,” he said.
“I thought you were King Oberon, and Abe was just a nickname?”
“Like I said, maybe someone made a big mistake.”
She seemed to accept that it wasn’t a good time to delve deeper into this. Besides, she preferred calling him Abe.
Abe hunched up the pack with their supplies. He had a new heavy overcoat that went to his knees as well as a fine pair of walking boots that was the most expensive item in his ensemble. Piro herself had acquired better foot ware and a decent coat, one with a fur-lined hood. Abe had bought a fur hat that she thought looked silly but it did the job. Despite the turning of the weather, the mountains would be freezing and a spring storm could still bring snows or icy rain.
Piro tried to push Abe to hurry, but he had one more stop.
She exclaimed, “We need to leave, before Mrs. Gong discovers that the mistress is dead. They’ll put us to the question if they get suspicious and the constables of this town do not ask nicely.”
He sighed, “Slavery, torture. How medieval. But we need some more things. A proper adventure requires proper outfitting.”
The place he pointed out was a weapon shop. There were the usual knives and blades on display, but the would be King stepped right up to the case with firearms.
“A man of discerning taste I see,” the proprietor exclaimed, jumping up from his book. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a good customer, and I can see I have one. I know because your eyes went straight to the best item in the shop.” He pulled out the set of revolvers from the display case.
“Sweet. I didn’t expect a place like this to carry good armament,” Abe said as he handled the weapons. He spun the chambers and checked the action. Expertly, he disassembled the parts so that he could examine the bore. “The tolerances are excellent. This has been made by a master craftsman with fine machinery.”
“Of course,” the proprietor rubbed his hands. “These are from the gun shops of Azure, the finest on the continent. We normally don’t get these here but a trader brought them a couple summers ago. They’re fine pieces but difficult to sell. The average trapper or farmhand does not need such things. Hard currency only, no paper, though base metals are acceptable if their purity is good. Are you interested in the pair?”
“I’ll take them, as much ammo as you got, and these items.” He pointed to a belt holster, a bandolier with pouches to hold ammunition and accessories, and a leather under arm holster. The owner threw in a cleaning kit for free.
Piro paled when she heard the price, “Do you really need those?”
“Look, who knows what we’ll face out there, a good set of guns will be more than useful. Besides, I’m not a fighter and swords do not suit me. These will be the signifier of my authority.”
“Well, if you insist,” she said. “Then I will take this blade for myself. I can’t serve if I can’t fight on my own."
The price of the items reduced a large amount of the weight from the pouch around Piro’s neck. Reluctantly, she handed over the amount in silver coins. The seller checked the currency, seeming pleased by what he found. He folded up a written receipt with the items, smiling, “My pleasure to serve. Please come again.”
Outfitted, the two stepped out with a fresh strut to their step. Even Piro, who had gone an age without a weapon, felt somewhat different now that she had a sword at her side once more. It wasn’t the type she was used to from her home, but it would work.
“We should eat, then head to the docks. There is a boat available for the trip south,” she said. They found an open air food stall and ordered some plates of food and ale. It was simple but hearty fare.
Between mouthfuls Piro said, “I can stitch a banner and sigil for us. I’ll use the two pistols.”
“Sounds perfect,” he grinned, downing his ale. “And we’re the two pistols of the new kingdom.”
“Have you given thought to a name, yet?” Piro asked him hopefully.
“Maybe we should make a name for ourselves first.” They made a toast to this goal.
Full of food and a bit buzzed, the two finally made it to the docks. However, the boat’s master shook his head, arms folded. He glared at them, “Sorry, no passengers today.”
“Why not?” Piro exclaimed. “I called ahead with a runner, paid a deposit for the trip.”
“Don’t know anything about that. I got a full load, no room for passengers. Take it up with your runner, maybe he grifted you.”
“But the boat’s not even full!” Piro almost shouted, pointing. Indeed, the wooden boat was barely loaded with any goods. Despite its small size, there was plenty of room for more people.
“I got a cart full of goods for the south coming up. I don’t like it when people doubt my word,” the man scowled, hand next to an iron cudgel strapped to his belt.
Abe shook his head, pulling Piro back, “It’s not worth it. Let’s find another way.”
The horse traders were not friendly either. In fact, no one would sell them a ride, not even a pack mule.
Abe rubbed his hairy chin, thinking, “All this happened after we met Mrs. Gong.”
“You’re right. She has eyes and ears everywhere. We’ll have to find the road south before they block it. It’s a good thing we got to the weapon shop before it was closed too.”
Trying to avoid the main streets, they furtively made it out of the town, hopefully avoiding the eyes of the watchmen but as soon as they neared the woods they could see men near the south road. Four men on horses galloped up, blocking their way to the forest. Although not drawn yet, two of them possessed long guns while the others had hand guns, crude ones capable of one or two rounds of ball shot.
“Mrs. Gong is expecting you for tea,” the leader said. He was a small man but his hand was on the handle of his pistol and his eyes indicated he sanctioned no grace for them. “She doesn’t like people to break their engagements, especially without paying her some respects.”
The other men looked stern, but Piro felt that they were not seasoned fighters. They might scare off with a show of force. Piro stepped forward, hand on the hilt of her own sword, “Let us be. We can pay you to let us go.”
He shook his head, “You’re just a servant, lass. We don’t make deals with servants, and in either case, Mrs. Gong would have our heads.”
“Then, you can deal with me,” Abe stepped up, pushing Piro behind him.
“Who are you?” the leader asked.
“King Abraham of No Land, “ he said, teeth showing. “Grant us passage and I will remember you when I establish my kingdom.”
“Quit stalling, or I’ll shoot your servant girl,” the leader barked, losing his patience. His hand moved to pull the gun from his belt. Before he could finish the motion, Abe had pulled his own gun from his holster. During the conversation, he’d let his coat open up so he could have freedom to grasp the weapon from his own belt holster.
Without hesitation, Abe fired six shots from the pistol in quick succession. One round appeared to be fatal as the leader immediately slumped and fell from the saddle as the horse bucked, running off. Another round either grazed or hurt the second man’s horse causing it to startle. The other two men panicked, turning tail to gain distance although the rest of Abe’s shots had gone wild. Piro drew her sword, slashing at the second man before he could gain control of his horse and pull his own pistol. Cursing, he managed to gallop away though he had a long gash on his arm from Piro’s sword. Thick clouds of burned powder filled the air with their smell.
“Into to the woods!” Abe shouted, putting his spent gun away and pulling out the other. They ran just in time, as the panicked men had regained some composure. They pulled their long guns from their saddle holsters and began firing, but their aim was poor. The wounded man pulled up next to them, shouting and waving his own hand gun, firing it pointlessly.
The two kept running until they were out of breath and could run no more. By that time they had tumbled recklessly into the deep woods. Snow was still on the ground, making it much harder. Exhausted, they found a fallen tree for partial cover in the underbrush.
“Can you hear anything?” Abe asked, he was already reloading his empty gun. He botched the first load, but with diligence he managed to successfully (or so he hoped) charge all the cylinders with fresh powder and lead bullets. He carefully placed the small primer caps so he wouldn't accidentally let one fall into the forest floor and become lost. “Not a bad showing, I’d say. Might need some embellishment for the songs and story books. Our first skirmish together. Wish I had a cigar and a poncho though.”
Piro couldn’t help but make an adrenaline spiked giggle, “If they’re coming after us, I can’t tell. Sush for a moment.” She stared at the dried blood on her weapon. The first time she’d swung one in anger since the bad days. She shook her head, trying not to remember.
The woods were silent except for some distant bird calls and the wind. When Abe clicked his gun’s cylinder shut, the sound was sharp in her ears.
“We can’t stay here long, but I don’t think they came after us,” she said. “Now, I wish I had a bow.”
“I can teach you to shoot,” Abe offered, his heart beat finally down to a reasonable level. He eyed his gun. “Though I’m going to have to check each round. They all fired but the quality of powder seems suspect.”
After catching their breath, they headed out in what Piro believed to be a southerly direction. Abe himself appeared to have no woodsman skills. As night fell, they found some shelter against a rock face that partially blocked the wind. They weren’t packed for a real camp out and their supplies would not be sufficient for more than a couple days.
“We should start a fire,” Piro said.
“Won’t it attract any searchers?” worried Abe.
“We can share the fur blanket I got then, but we’re at risk without a fire or shelter. We should start walking again as soon as there is light.”
“How do you feel, sleeping next to a murderer?” He said, half-jokingly. He hadn't stopped to confirm that Gong's man had actually expired but his survival seemed unlikely.
“You only did what was necessary. The man was drawing first. If he did pass, the great cycle will begin again, perhaps he will be more cautious in his next life.”
Abe didn’t express his puzzlement at Piro’s religious beliefs. He’d ask more about it some other day.
They huddled together under the blanket. Abe threw a muffler on to cover his face while Piro secured her hood. They shared some cooked sweet potatoes she had bought from a stall. Piro had intended for one them to keep watch but neither of them were able to stay awake at all times. They dozed as the chill settled in during the darkness. Piro curled up, shoving her arms under Abe’s coat to find his warmth. At one point, their faces ended up close together. Her nose was cold, pressed up against his cheek. He wanted to kiss her, but the timing didn’t seem quite right so he just watched her doze. His cheeks were red, and it wasn't just from the exposure.
Groaning, Abe got up as the sky grew lighter at last. Piro moaned but managed to wake as well.
“Well, that was a terrible night’s sleep,” he said, trying to warm himself up. “Come on, time for a morning stretch.”
Piro tried to rub life into her calves as Abe made running in place motions.
There was no sign of pursuit that morning or the rest of the day.
“Probably not worth it for them,” Piro suggested. “Mrs. Gong is wealthy but not the only authority in town. Her men probably will only go as far as her money and it doesn’t stretch much farther than the lake area.”
They walked downhill until the snow thinned and they soon found the south road. It was dirt and mud, rutted by wagon wheels, but it was better than the woods. They still planned on hiding if they met any travelers but the road was mostly empty.
They only had to scramble a couple times to allow the passage of wagons. So far, they were the only ones on foot. Most travelers would prefer the river as it was fairly easy to navigate with only a few rough spots unless a storm caused it to overflow.
On their occassional breaks, they would chat, with Piro trying to pry more information about him.
“How did you learn to shoot?”
“Something I picked up,” he said. “You seem trained with a blade. Did you do a lot of fighting?”
Each time she pressed, he would deflect, but she decided there was no rush. She answered, “It is tradition, in my home, to learn the ways of the warrior arts. I’m not an expert, but I can do the basics. I need that much if I am to be your bodyguard.”
“I thought you were my treasurer,” he laughed.
“Until we have more people, I have to take all the jobs. Including hunting, I assume. I will make a simple sling. The woods have small animals we can get for meat.”
“Ya, you got me. I can fish, if we can make a rod or buy one.”
“A spear or two would be more useful.”
“How much further to the city?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. There are more outposts and towns down river, so we can ask. On foot, I’d guess at least a few days, if not more. If we can find a ride, the journey would be much faster.”
“It’s kind of nice, just the two of us,” he winked. She blushed.
The second night, she had a chance to build fire. Not far from the road, they found a rambling shelter dug into the side of the hill that blocked much, but not all of the wind. It looked like it had been used often as a travelers waystation as there were old burnt stones that formed a good fire pit. She found a spot nearby for them to do their other business.
“This is nice,” he said, warming his hands around the fire. She showed him how to gather kindling from the surrounding brush and soon they had a decent supply, though not enough to go the entire night.
“I’ll go find more fuel, try whittling a spear or two. A snare or trap would be useful as well, but I guess you don’t know how to make those either,” she tossed some branches toward him. He used a knife to trim them as she’d taught. If necessary, he’d shoot a buck or something if he spotted one, but the animals were all small. Any large game hadn’t made an appearance, not that Abe would have any idea how to track one.
As the sun set, he became worried, but Piro returned with a stack of wood tied to her back, and a pair of some unnamed rodents on her belt. Looking pleased, she put the wood in their reserve pile and began preparing their dinner. Abe watched as she expertly skinned and gutted the prey, and used the sticks he’d prepared to spit them and put the meat over the fire.
“It’s was easier catching them without your big feet trampling about,” she said, salting the meat with some packets from their supplies. She’d worried she’d lost her old skills during the months of captivity and servitude, but she’d easily gone back to her ways.
Their second night together was much better than the first. With a fire and full bellies, they snuggled under the blanket once more. Once again, her nose was pressed up against his cheek. Abe couldn’t help himself. When his mouth met hers, she responded hungrily.
“I was wondering how long it would take you,” she said, as their tongues danced with each other.
He pulled away for a moment, asking, “Are you sure this is all right? Taking advantage of an underling is frowned upon where I come from…”
“It is my duty, to serve, and your duty to take,” she replied, pulling open his blouse and nibbling on his chest before he could object further.
“Well, if you put it that way, I guess I won’t argue the point.”
Quickly, they were undressed under the fur blanket. He stretched his large coat over it, but during their lovemaking it got tossed aside. They made enough heat together under the blanket as their loins were finally joined. If she noticed the smell from their unwashed bodies, she didn’t mention it. He certainly wasn’t going to complain.
He noticed her grimace at first, but there was less blood than he expected. If she was uncomfortable, she was more practical about it than he was.
At one point, he warned, “Hey, we don’t have any protection.”
“Don’t worry, I have my sword nearby, but it is a risk.”
“No, I mean from babies. Though that sounds wrong put like that,” he giggled.
“Ah, this time should be safe, though having a child of a king should be an honor,” she replied, her arms around his head as he suckled on her bosom. During the night, she put on his coat to replenish the fire. Between the time she took it off and returned to him, he admired the flash of her skin in the fire’s light. Her breasts were small but bounced cheerfully as she squirmed back under the covers with him. He pulled her on top of him and she let him slide into her once more.
“You are my first, and only, mistress of the new world,” he said, looking into her almond eyes. She looked at him, puzzled. He brushed her raven hair, longer now, though not as long as they would become, or had been long ago.
She said, “It would be selfish of me to keep a king all to myself, but I am glad to be first.”
“And I am glad I was yours. Shall I make you a queen?”
Piro dug her head into his chest, shaking her head, “Let’s not make titles just yet. For now, I am happy as things are, my liege.”
She, of course, never told him she was already a princess, and by rights a queen, in a far off land. It didn’t matter anymore, and it never did later.