Post details: Chapter 92 - Dese Days Part Five: What the Angel Cowboy was up to.Flip the order!
Chapter 92 - Dese Days Part Five: What the Angel Cowboy was up to.
1. He took care to not smudge the King's drying signature as he handed the copy of the contract over to Will Smith, who still had a petulant expression on his face and his hands clasped over his ears in case the King started up again. As he watched Will Smith march back into the temporary office prefab, something caught his eye. He looked around and saw a little wolf cub staring at him from the White Roost's lawn. His CIA-trained extrasenses immediately told him that the wolf cub was special, that it had a name and it would almost certainly be important later on. When he looked harder he could even see the shimmer and spatter of a very powerful spell that surrounded the tiny thing. He winked at it and then ducked behind a pile of cement bags and timber. He rolled up his own copy of the contract the King had just signed into a spindle and tucked it into his coat pocket. There was a heckuva lot of work to do and time was of the essence. With an old slave song pushing through the smile on his lips, he saddled up his trusty llama, Jake, and rode like the woolly wind to the harbour.
2. He was seasick all the way to Europe and so was Jake. He'd never been at ease on the water and, for all his talents and experience points, had never before been on a long sea voyage. His discomfort was made all the worse by Shaman Sidewinder's presence on board their flagcanoe. Oh, the shaman was a straight-up, personable fella in conversation and had proven his mettle and integrity to him as much of any of Willy's Business Partners had, but it was the way that the shaman squeezed time around the front and back of their megacanoe fleet that twisted his guts.
“The Spirits are being exquisitely generous,” intoned Shaman Sidewinder at the end of their first week at sea. It was just about all he'd said up until then. He'd heard it being intoned at him from just over his shoulder while he'd been talking with one of the captains and the shock had rattled him so much that he hadn't gotten seasick for the whole rest of the day. Not many people could get the drop on him, but Shaman Sidewinder was a special kind of guy. “The Spirits are ecstatic, overjoyed that the dragon has been humbled and are speculating abundantly about their meeting with the gods of this new world.”
Startled as he was, he had time enough during the shaman's second intonation to regain his composure. “W- Well, I aim to have a sit-down with a few of them and help pave the way there, and I'm sure that the ladies and gentlemen below decks will say their prayers every night in their new homes, sure as sugar.” He tapped his foot against the deck to indicate the two thousand, five hundred slaves that were stacked up in tiny, effluence-soaked crevices in the darkness below. A shorter, chrono-squeezed journey would mean a lower mortality rate and that was something that everyone could enjoy.
To the casual observer (probably a sea-monster or a dugong in this instance,) the vast, two hundred and twenty five-strong fleet of megacanoes whizzed across the waves at a dizzying speed. Our observer would be further delighted by the dazzling chromatic spray that lashed across the wooden edges of the flagcanoe and bathed the whole fleet in light whenever a pocket of vomit would fall over the side and burn up in the tremendous temporal torque that fizzed around the wake.
3. The sickly, the weak and the just plain dead were rolled up into a pile and burned on one big slave-pyre as soon as they landed on European soil. It was pale, sandy soil that lay near the little town of Ostend, but it counted. The living slaves were divvied up into their prearranged parades, oiled up nice and shiny, chained together, made to carry foam beams between them that looked like really heavy wood at a distance, marched the forty miles or so to Brussels and then, in a genius masterstroke from Shaman Sidewinder, glamoured up with some magic-heavy blasts of smoke so that their pallid and starved bodies would appear powerful and healthy at the inspection that was planned. A state messenger boy was found and sent in to Laeken Palace and the meeting of The Big Important Council Of Europe that was taking place. After waiting a little longer than he liked, he was met by the queerest-looking monster-fella he'd seen in a goodly while. Birds had come to the United States at the same time they'd arrived everywhere else and folks there were still getting used to them. Converse to Europe, where everyone knew for damn certain that Terrorthaw had techno-magicked the birds in from one of the weirder hellmensions, in the United States the birds were just a pretty, chirrupy mystery, with no stigma attached to them. Personally, he'd always thought that the birds brightened the place up and he hadn't heard of anyone getting pecked who hadn't deserved it. So he greeted Commander Flightfeather as warmly and as graciously as he greeted anyone. There was no point in holding back the benefit of the doubt on account of a fellow looking like a bird. He led Flightfeather out to the gates and showed off the assembled slaves. He'd never seen a bird look so pleased. Soon he was sitting in one of the back rooms of the Politics Forum, hashing over the specifics of the trade agreement - and the End User Licence Agreement for the slaves – with Flightfeather and his two boorish lieutenants, Timothy Clashradish and Jacob Hillmounter.
“Impossible,” said Timothy.
“Can't be done,” said Jacob.
“There must be some trick.”
“Who are you, anyway?”
“How do we know that you've even met our beloved King?”
“We were the last to see him,”
“We spent quality time with the King.”
For the third time in the course of that meeting, he flicked his eyes over to the contract the King had signed, that now lay on the table before them all. They took up his gaze, but Timothy and Jacob didn't even bother to pretend to read it this time.
“The date is all wrong,” said Timothy.
“It could mean anything,” said Jacob. The date on the contract referred to the Vikinca calender, which was quite a bit different to the European calender they were familiar with.
“You could have met him -years- ago.”
“We were the last to see him,”
“Which makes us closer to him than anyone.”
He regarded the pair closely as he smacked his lips and made a noise that in a lesser man might have been called a grunt. He looked levelly at Commander Flightfeather and said, in a low, clear voice, “Apologies for interrupting the flow of this discussion, fellas, but it's been a long trip and well, right now I've got no choice but to ask one of you to direct me to the restroom.” Then, without pause, he added, “You'll show me where it is, won't you, Commander?”
Outside in the hallway, Commander Flightfeather obligingly tried to point out the way to the commode, but he brushed off the gesture and grasped the good Commander's shoulder, pulled him close and said, “Do those two goons in there ruffle your feathers as bad as mine? They strike a man as being the most … unneighbourly pair of bloatmouths under the sun – does that ring true with you, Commander or am I just sore on account of that long sea voyage I mentioned earlier?” Commander Flightfeather's face turned ashen as the memories of the previous week came flooding back – when Timothy had decided to replace all of the lightbulbs in the Palace with those new energy-saving bulbs. While clumsily removing all the regular bulbs - which had worked just fine, thank you – Timothy had torn the plastic fittings right from the socket so that you couldn't get another bulb in no matter how you tried and the Palace was all dark and they had to take all of the free-standing mood lights out of the Grand Hall and put them in the affected rooms and there were extension cables trailing everywhere and oh my god.
“Everybody likes them but me. Is that fair?” whispered Commander Flightfeather.
“Now, some fella named The King told me in writing that I was to deal with Commander Flightfeather – the appointed custodian of Europe, not the jackass brothers in there. I'm beginning to get a mite regretful that I didn't drop off my little 'gesture of goodwill,' standing outside there, on the Ire Lords' doorstep on the way over and saved us all a lot of inconvenient trouble. Now,” and here he put up his hand, closed his eyes and stuck his lip out, “That's not a threat, just an illustration of the kind of mood those two can put a man in.” He exhaled long and slow through his nostrils. Commander Flightfeather looked from side to side, decided to stick with what he knew and broke into a hug. He accepted the hug gladly and contributed many flat-palmed back-slaps. When the hug melted away, he produced the contract that bore the King's signature. Commander Flightfeather was sure that it had been left back on the table. “Sign here, make Europe richer than it's ever been, then walk back in there and tell them the way things work around here.” He handed it over and Commander Flightfeather signed it on his back. “Oh, and while you're at it, sign this too,” he added, producing the End User Licence Agreement from his coat. Commander Flightfeather was sure that it had been left back on the table.
4. The megacanoes were being filled with European trade goods as fast as they could unload the rest of the slaves. He watched as caravan after caravan of sheep, grain, wool, wine, tin, jewels from the realm of the Rock Kingdom, horses, cotton, dye and spice from Islamaland, magical trinkets from the Royal Vaults, sacred branches, action figures, dehydrated ice-cream, tulips, skins, furs, silver, matches, seeds, sports equipment and the most amusing Bibles of the day were all paraded in front of them on their way to the canoes. It would take days for it all to arrive and be catalogued, sorted and stowed, just about the right length of time it would take for Shaman Sidewinder to open up a doorway to the Europan Land Of The Spirits in his makeshift sweatlodge. He would go in and check on the shaman every few hours and usually all he saw in there was a lot of smoke. He didn't have a big part to play in the loading of the megacanoes so he killed time by pacing up and down and hiking through the honestly quite disappointing landscapes around Brussels until a check-up on the shaman revealed no smoke at all in the sweatlodge, but rather a dimensional portal to a molten cavern of brimstone, which was a fairly surprising thing to see.
“Didn't know it would be so quick,” he muttered.
“The Spirits of this place are effete and languid,” intoned the shaman without standing or opening his eyes. They show no diligence in keeping safe their secret recesses.”
“Is it safe for me to trespass there?” he asked.
“It is but a display,” sneered the shaman.
He bid farewell to the shaman and entered. He found the interior of the dimension to be quite balmy and humid, but not nearly as fierce as it looked. Almost immediately after he had taken survey of his surroundings was he beset by piles of the dead. They touched him and called out to him. They all wanted to know one thing:
“Do you know the King?”
“The King?” he said gingerly, pushing them back so they wouldn't crowd him so much. “About yay high, big scraggly beard, voice like the Mississippi River? Sure, I know him.”
“Tell us! Tell us everything!” screamed the crowd.
“Whoa now, keep it civil, keep it down, what business do you good departed folk have with hearing about him? I mean, he's a straight-up customer but -”
“You have to tell us!”
“We have to know everything!”
“We have to love him!”
“We want to love him!”
“If we love him we can leave!”
“That so?” he said. “Same apply to everyone here?”
“Yes!” screamed the crowd, in its way. He smiled. His smile warmed even the spectral hearts of the damned.
“Cut you a deal – You take me to the highest authority in this place, let me jaw with him a while, then -”
“Then?!” shrieked the crowd.
“Then I'll spill my guts to the lot of you.”
“I have to say,” he did say, leaning against the giant water cooler in the Devil's office, “This isn't what I was expecting.” The journey through Hell had taken over a week. He'd met all kinds of dead people and had heard more stories than he was sure his head could hold. He had a pretty solid of idea of what angle he'd be working on this pitch.
“What were you expecting?” asked the Devil.
“Sir, forgive my naivety, but I'm not from around here -”
“I know where you're from, United Statesian,” said the Devil.
“Well then surely you know what I'm talking about. Don't mind me asking, but where are all the other Spirits? By that, I mean gods.”
“This is Europe. It works very differently here. The Kings rule the Heavens and I am indentured to them, while the former gods serve as my demons. Some still roam Europe above, but they are diminished and usually of little concern. They add flavour and adventure to the world and when they become a nuisance they are dealt with.”
“By you? You seem like a capable guy in a tussle, am I right in saying that?”
“No, not by me,” said the Devil heavily. “My domain is the dead.”
“And I hear that you're looking to make yourself redundant.”
“It is the talk of every street corner and hang-out in Hell, yes.”
“How'd you like some assistance with that?” The Devil paused.
“We have teams of missionaries that tour the planes of Hell, spreading the news of the King and releasing souls wherever they meet them.”
“Yeah, I met those fellas. Good people, good people. Can spin a yarn better than most anyone, but I'm talking about tackling the problem at the surface level. I'm talking about making sure that not a soul gets here in the first place.” The Devil tilted back in the huge swivel chair while locking his hands together behind his horned head. The chair rolled backwards and collided gently with the drywall, causing the empty coffee cups of the windowsill to chink. “Do go on,” said the Devil.
He clambered gracefully up onto the chair opposite the Devil and scaled the desk. He stood there beside the Devil's calculator and looked him right in the eye. This was his favourite part.
“We've got a storyweaver or two on our team, yes we have. I know fellas back at home who could have a Thunderbird and a host of Wendigos bawling their eyes out on the floor with a simple knock-knock joke if the critters were around to hear it. All they'd need to captivate the folks above would be their voice, a fire playing 'cross their face and the right story – most important part. Now I would put good money on the notion that our mutual friend, the King, leaves enough of the right kinds of story in his wake to keep us all in the business of telling them from now till the hereafter.”
“And how will your storytellers be of any use to me? The people of the United States do not come and stay with me when their lives are over with.”
“Haven't you heard? The good people I'm representin' and the Kingdom of Europe have just entered into a lucrative and long-standing trade pact. The megacanoes are getting loaded up with fine European goods as we sit here yakkin'. Why, I can picture it now in my mind's eye – clear as day – megacanoes and sailboats, riding low over the emerald waves, heavy with precious cargo but still with more than enough room for a yarn-weaver or two to come and go as they please, once we've trained them up to satisfaction.” The Devil smiled once again then straightened up and said,
“And what would you ask in return for this arrangement?”
“What would I want for hastening the Devil's ascent to Heaven? Well, stands to reason that the price of such a thing would have to be high indeed, wouldn't it?” He reached into his overcoat and produced the contracts he'd prepared on the journey through Hell. “But I'm in a generous mood, sir. All I'm asking for is for this to be an exclusive contract 'tween just us, and for sweetheart rates on the hiring out of your demons on long or short-term contracts for security and labour. Also – and you're gonna love this,” he chuckled, “How about I take a few of them souls off your hands?”
When he emerged from the Devil's office, with freshly signed contracts in either hand, he was met by the throngs of the dead who had led him there. He found a little out-of-the-way ledge, sat them down and told him everything he knew about the King. When the glowing had stopped and he was left alone on the ledge, he found his own way out.
5. Half of the megacanoes were on their way back to the United States and the other half – empty, save for the heaps and heaps of Vikinca gold they'd brought with them and the skeleton crews they carried, set sail to the rendezvous point on the coast of Normandy under the guidance and protection of Shaman Sidewinder. He was on his own on this leg of the journey. At least he would be if Jake wasn't with him. But that was for the best. He had one more errand to run before the invasion and it needed to be done quietly.
Somewhere along the road to Normandy, his way became blocked by a soup of goats that had seemed to come out of nowhere and would simply not move from his path. The road was framed on both sides by steep ditches that looked like they would hurt Jake if he tried to get around them. The goats had picked on hell of a spot to be obtrusive. He sighed and looked around for the goatherd. Finding none, he scanned the herd itself, dismounted Jake, waded into the soup and tapped a likely goat on the shoulder.
“Excuse me friend, but you kindly move your little critters here off the road? I don't know what you'd call them, but I need them out of the way. The hurry I'm in is a fierce one.” The goat he'd tapped literally jumped right out of its skin and proceeded to stand there amongst the other goats, listening to his request while looking exactly like a shrivelled, highly embarrassed old man. The old man did not respond. “Oh don't get sore. I can spot a skinwalker at a hundred paces. Where'd you pick up a trick like that anyway? Was under the impression that it hadn't occurred to you Europeans.”
“I cannot let you pass. I have something to tell you.” muttered the old man, slipping back into his goatskin, but still retaining the shape of a man.
“And what would that be?” he said, helping the old man back into his goatskin coat.
“I must tell you about the consequences of your actions. They will be nothing less than the destruction of Europe! The blood!” he piped.
“Now now, I think you've got it all scrambled up there, grandpa. I'm aiming to save Europe, not the opposite. The way my intelligence puts it, your boys don't stand a 'coon's chance in a cougar factory against the forces coming for them. That is - “ at this point, he tapped a cigarette out of his case and lit it from a tinderbox, “-unless your friend and mine, the King, can pull off something tremendous in the very final hour.” He took a long, hard drag of Vitality. “And I don't doubt that he could. But I gave him my word that I'd help out, and that's more important to me than anything you could say to me.” He stood there and smoked a while in goat-filled silence. Presently, he looked up at the old man, who was tugging at his fingers. “Tell me, grandpa, have you met a King? Seems to me that he'd be the man to speak to on the matters of Europe and destruction and such.”
“Not directly,” said the old man after some finger-tugging. “But he is in my dreams every night. I try to warn his friends of what is going to happen. I told his General, I told the gypsy woman.”
“Did they listen?”
“No.” said the old man, blankly.
“And you can't talk to the King because you can't look at him,” he said carefully. “Because there's too much to look at. Too much destiny.”
“Are you a wizard?” said the old man.
“I guess so. I trained as a shaman – that's what he call a 'wizard' where I came from, though the terms aren't exactly interchangeable. I know the basics, but I ain't got the gift.” He finished his cigarette, spat, then got back on his llama. “Got plenty of friends who do, though. Fella I came here with – I don't expect to see power the likes of his in this world or the next. Just a little while back, he used a hide tent, some smoke and some weeds he found – punched a hole right through the world, took me to see that big composite Spirit you got looking after your dead folk.” You could almost hear the old man's eyes widening.
“That's the old boy. Me and him had quite a pow-wow, let me tell you. C'mon Jake.” He rode the llama on a few steps. The goats stepped aside without a fuss. Then he stopped and turned to look back at the old man. “Hey,” he said, “How'd you like them to believe you?”
“Who?” croaked the old man, lost among the goats.
“The King's friends. The King. Hell, everybody.”
“It would mean everything. It would save my beautiful Europe.” Jake trotted back to the old man.
“Seems to me that you're jumping the gun, so to speak, with all the doom and calamity and have you. Stands to reason no one's gonna listen to you if you come out swinging all like that.”
“But – that's what I see... chains of events that -”
“Yeah, yeah, I sympathise, I do. But there's a done way of building up to it. Here -” he handed a small box to the old man, who examined it carefully. “It's a Magic Telephone. I've got the other half of it. When it's on, I can use it to jaw at you no matter where I may be. Now I'm going to pass my half along to my powerful friends I mentioned – they might see some things, little things perhaps – that you might necessarily not see. Once you've passed on enough of the little things to the King's friends, they'll be ready for the big stuff.”
“The Traitor.” said the old man.
“Exactly,” he said, then made his goodbyes.
6. Deep below the cathedral of La Havre, he brought Jake before the Big Rocks of that region of the subterranean Rock Kingdom.
“Try it,” he said, offering his towards the oblivious llama. “You'll find it's just as good as a horse, if not better.” The Big Rock of La Havre rumbled off his mossy crag, heaved up its silicate strength and smacked Jake right in the skull. Jake fell to his knees and managed one faint bleat before another blow silenced the poor llama forever.
“Softer. More satisfying.” grated the Big Rock in his metamorphic voice, nodding to him approvingly. He looked away from Jake's still body. He'd seen much worse, but all the same he was glad it had been quick. He forced his face into Pitch Mode and drove the deal home.
“My people can provide twice as many llamas as the Europeans offer horses. And that's an ongoing deal – whenever they splash out some more, we'll double their figure, every time, for the same load of jewels and ore that you give to them. And, for the long term, we'll bring you enough maps and demonic diggers from Hell itself to pave the way for you to come by the United States, set up shop by us. I look forward to a long and fruitful friendship between our two peoples.” He winked a produced a contract from his coat. The Big Rock, with paws still bloody from the insides of Jake's head, plucked it from his hand and then scrawled that friendship into being.
7. He'd emerged from the Rock Kingdom a little later than he'd have liked, and that mistake was compounded by the fact that he longer had a mount to ride. He estimated that he didn't have the time to travel to the Abbaye-aux-Dames on foot, so he chartered a little sailboat and was sick all the way to mouth of the Orne. When he arrived, the fracas had already begun. He'd hoped to have been able to avoid as much bloodshed as possible but it looked like things had become very bloody indeed. He tried to ignore the terrible waste and steered his little sailboat around and met the Shaman Sidewinder and the gold-filled megacanoes at the rendezvous, an uncomfortably close distance from the battle on the shores. The megacanoes had been nibbled slightly be demonds, but the shaman had kept the falling Rock People at bay with his own mysterious methods and, thankfully, all of the gold and most of the crew remained safe. He'd only just made his hellos and how-are-you's to the typically unresponsive Sidewinder when they all heard the King's voice.
“It'll be over in one hour, my people! Till that promised time, waste not one more breath, spill not one more drop of sweat on these curs, rest instead within the walls of the Tower! We can totally relax there”
He smiled at the shaman, who had never once smiled in all his adult life and wasn't about to begin now, and said,”Reckon we should do what the man says.”
In just under forty-five minutes, the megacanoe crews had loaded as much gold as they could onto the Recruitment Barges and he himself had ducked through the chaos and confusion of the battle and made it to the front gate of the Tower of Super-Chastity. He jogged up the steps, where he was in full view of the incoming United Statesians, shook the King by the hand and after the King had told everyone to quiet down, he said his piece.
“Fine evening to you all, it's a pleasure to meet some fellow United Statesians out here on this here foreign beach. Tell me, Your Highness,” he said, turning to the King, “Can't you make it just a touch less cold?”
“I'm working on it,” said the King. The United Statesian warriors around the walls and the main gate paused nervously and then a laugh rippled through them. It died quickly, but there was encouragement there. He licked his lips and pressed on.
“Bet you are, Your Highness. Bet you are. Now folks, I know you came here looking for a fight and I respect that. I've been in a ruckus or two in my time and I know how invigoratin' they can be – sure has been a long time since you guys went out and really mixed it up, hasn't it?” There were some shouts of agreement from the crowd. “Yeah, I know. Sittin' around, waiting for the old dragon to start some beef with somebody sure can frustrating. I mean, the rumbling's where it's at, am I right? That's what you signed up for, to protect our great nation by bringing the fight, and this one is real overdue.” The crowd was cheering in parts. They were warming up, it was nearly time for the pitch. “Well, it just struck me that I have been the rudest of customers and have not yet introduced myself to you good folk – hope you'll find it in your hearts to forgive me, I was just taken aback by how well you fellas have been doing against these Europe boys that I must have forgotten the manners my mother taught me – I'm the Angel Cowboy, gentlemen, and I've come all this way – I nipped at your heels all across the ocean, yes I did – on behalf of the Smith Dynasty (Ah yes, you've heard of that outfit) to ask you a question. Now I know that sounds crazy, but this is a real important question to you and me both. -The- most question if you don't mind me saying so, but I think you'll agree. You sir,” he pointed to a blood-stained, bare-chested warrior in the front row of the crowd. “I'll ask the question to you, you speak for everyone. Now, here it is: How much do you get paid?”
“Three dollars twenty five a week.” the warrior said the warrior.
“Three dollars twenty five a week!” he shouted back emphatically. “You came all that way, you fought through who knows how many European boys and you made it right here to their central command tower for three dollars twenty five a week? I'm sorry son, it's not my intention to make fun, I apologise for my tone, but something aint right here. You know your average Senator gets paid five times that much, and to do what? Sit around all day and tell you fellas how you should be doing -your- job protecting -them?- Something aint right, I tell you.” He appeared to have a new thought. He turned back to the warrior he had addressed. “You get paid leave on top of that?”
“Leave is only half-pay,” he said, sneering at the comical levels of injustice that were active in that statement.
“Half pay? I knew you guys were brave but that's something else, that's what it is. It's a miracle you fellas aren't all half-starved out there – matter of fact, you all look beefier than a ton of bison, each one of you. Wish I could be carved like you guys!” He slapped his belly at this point and thousands of people laughed. “So I guess you get by, but I'll bet your families could do with a little more sent back home, am I right? I bet you'd like to treat them with one heck of a Soyal this year, right? Spend some time with em, tell em all the stories you've worked so hard to pile up? Can't do that so good on three dollars twenty five with half-pay leave, not when you're scraping to keep them fed on last year's Maize harvest.” The crowd was cheering with him now. He rose his hand to quiet them. “Say,” he said. “Ever thought about providing your time and the inestimable worth of your service to someone else – now, I know what you're thinking, there's a thought that jumped up in your minds then like you stepped on a rattlesnake – I'm not talking about treason here. I'm not suggesting that you good patriots defect to some foreign power and bow to someone like this fella here,” he pointed at the King, who looked like he wanted to say something but then decided not to. “I'm a Smith Dynasty man, a Texan man, about as United Statesian as smoking, Maize and wild syphilis, and I would not do one thing to hurt it. Not one thing. In fact, I want to help it – by giving her brave warriors who fight and win and defend her every day with every inch of their might and who will never falter, never fail and never lose – I'm going to offer all of you, every last one, the respect and pay and action that you deserve. Three dollars twenty five a week? How about thirty five dollars a week? How about fully paid leave? How about shorter tours of duty, more time with your family, the chance to serve your country better by being dropped right where the action is, all for ten times what you're getting now?” The crowd was wild. “That's what I'm offering, folks. Come work for the Smiths and we'll look after you while you look after your country. Fifty dollars – that's right, fifty dollars of gold, right in your hand, when you sign up. There's space for everyone, just mosey on down to the beach and the Recruitment Barges will – he said a few things more, but the sound of his voice was drowned out by the thrill of the crowd as it surged towards the beach and the waiting barges. Those who weren't convinced by his offer were soon left standing scattered at the walls and were soon killed by the Europeans. The Angel Cowboy took off his hat, mopped his sweat-drenched brow and looked over at the King. “One invasion averted, Your Highness, looks like your daughter's safe and sound.” The King nodded. He didn't know how the Angel Cowboy knew about Princess Princess but right then he wouldn't have been surprised if the United Statesian had brought his father back to life right there at the foot of the Tower and then hired him as a consultant.
“I must check up on her!” he said suddenly and then was gone.
8. He'd calmed the King down and he'd run up the stairs but he was nearly exhausted by the time he'd reached Princess Princess' room at the top of the Tower of Super-Chastity. He had not slept since he'd entered the Rock Kingdom and the glue that had bound the usual day's reserve of strength to his soul had dissolved when he'd watched thousands upon thousands of the United States' finest warriors line up to sign the contracts and get their fifty dollars. His assignment in Europe was over and some deep set, administrative part of him was adamant that it was time to sleep and then hopefully he'd wake up back at home. All that changed when he reached the top step and the open door and he saw the princess, curled up into a ball with her many skirts wrapped tight around her ample frame, crying her dear little eyes out. He moved softly towards her, crouched down and gently placed a hand on her shoulder, which she'd managed somehow to make damp. “Hey there, Princess,” he whispered. “I'll leave if I'm disturbing you. Your daddy sent me up to talk to you,” at that, Princess Princess yanked her face, all mud and aubergine, up to look a this stranger. It was the first man she'd seen apart from her father since she'd hit puberty.
“Where did daddy go?” she said, quite clearly. Then – surrounded in sobs - came the words, “Why did he run away from me?” Her head flopped down onto the floor again. He carefully brought his other hand to her other shoulder and slowly put her the right way up. She sniffled but cooperated.
“There. There, there you go. Now I can see you while we talk.”
“What did he say to you? Did he say why he went?” she mewled.
“Princess, hush now on this notion of him meaning to hurt you. The King's not like that – you know that better than I do. What he is... he's an emotional man and he's had a day today like no other. Seems to me that he was just surprised to see what a beautiful young woman you've become. You're growing up so fast, you'd be surprised yourself if you saw how much you've changed in the last little while.” She sniffed and nodded. He reached into his pocket and brought out a golden wheel no larger than his thumb. He pressed it into her hand. “Now here, try one of these. It'll make you feel a whole lot better.” She looked puzzled. “You can eat it. Take that there wrapper off and then -” he made a 'gobble' motion with his hands and mouth. She unwrapped the gold foil and gave the little brown button an experimental sniff. Her pupils dilated and her mouth flooded with saliva. She gobbled it up exactly as he'd shown her. She moved it all around her mouth and let it melt under her body heat. Her eyes rolled back in their sockets and her whole head likewise pivoted back on her neck while sounds reverberated from deep within her throat and her chest flushed to a most becoming shade of pink.
“You sure took to that. Doesn't surprise me, most folk do. It's called chocolate. My friends the Vikinc-” he was interrupted by a primal scream and a wild-eyed lunge from Princess Princess towards his personage. He swiftly brought his hat in between his chest and the red-faced girl then reversed backwards into a standing position. “No no, I'm sorry Princess, but I'm not altogether comfortable with where this situation is headed,” he said, bowing his head to avoid eye contact. Princess Princess flopped back onto her royal booty, panted heavily through her nose, rolled her tongue furiously around the inside of her mouth to absorb the last few particles of flavour to be found there, while glaring up at the Angel Cowboy disapprovingly. “I apologise – I don't mean for my actions to be a slight on fine looks or high breeding, Princess, let me assure you on that.” He swallowed, “I had a wife -” he paused for some time, thinking of the right words to say, then, said simply, “She passed away.” Princess Princess crawled over to him and threw herself at his legs and hugged them with animal strength. He put his hat back on. After a long time, a small, muffled plea rose up from his shins,
“Can I have another chocolate?”
“I'm all out,” he said, shrugging elaborately.
“All out!?” clucked the Princess. She was not used to the concept of exhaustible supplies.
“That was the last one,” he said. She dropped her head, straightened up and lay face-down on the floor with her legs kicking up and down in the air.
“No nono no no no!” she wailed. “You must get me more of them, you must!” The Angel Cowboy crouched down again and touched her hair.
“Aw hell, I'd love to, sweetheart, but all the other chocolates are far away over the ocean in the United States. That's the place I call home.”
“Bring them to me!” said the Princess in a voice like iron lightning.
“I'm sorry Princess, but I just can't -” he started, “Well, not unless you add a shipment of chocolate to the Formal Trade Agreement I signed with your daddy not long ago.” He produced a contract from his coat. “Here, sign this and I promise I'll bring you all the chocolate you could ever want.” He offered her a pen and she marked the pages he showed her with her signature and a smear or two of tear-diluted make-up. He hugged her goodbye, kissed her lightly on the hair and made his way down to the base of the Tower. The King was nowhere to be found. The view outside was an absolute mess. He started out towards the Recruitment Barges to see if he could make himself useful. He hated to stand still.
9. It was the first time he'd seen them all together since that day on the beach in Normandy. Oh sure, he'd seen a lot of them when he'd dropped by to check up on their training and he'd yakked it up with enough of them on the journey back to the United States and on the way to the Chillinous Plains, in the time he didn't spend vomiting, but it stirred him tremendously to see them all before him again, their numbers swelled by the demons he'd hand-picked from Hell's impressive rosters of labourers, craft-gods and tinkerers. He said a good many words to them, how he was proud of them that they'd made it this far, that they were the best chance their country had at keeping the world safe, that soon they'd be taking part in what would be the most important campaign in their lives and possibly the lives of everyone. Then he told them to stay put. He didn't want to spook the clients. He trudged forth through the frozen mud until he came to the ruins he'd hoped to find and two men in finery sitting in a ditch. He smiled and doffed his hat at the general and the engineer and said, “Hiya folks. Friends call me the Angel Cowboy. I was just passing on down the road – thought maybe you'd like a little helping hand with your construction project I see here.”
Mechanicus and General Majesty accepted his offer in no time at all.
End Of Chapter 92