The Winding Road

2001 Patrick Gill

In The Beginning

        Starting all over was the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life. Ever since the Great Famine struck the land, life had been hard for everyone in the barony. Crops withered, herds fell in droves, and people fell sick from illnesses not even the wisest sorcerers had seen. William had endured through most of the chaos, but after his wife and son fell victim to the black lung disease, he lost his purpose in life, his ka. He soon fell into despair, never leaving his house except for food and outhouse breaks. It was so until after that summer, just before the first of the fall rains started, when a gunslinger entered the small town, bringing with him salvation and hope.

        Everyone knew that gunslingers were the closest most people could get to order and reason in these distraught times. They served the barony where they lived, they served the Affiliation, and they championed the downtrodden everywhere, all while following rigorous codes of honor and behavior. Of course, there was also the fact that they could haul iron faster than even the most battle-hardened harrier and bandit, and few lived to tell of their stupidity in fighting a gunslinger. Legends of their sandalwood-gripped revolvers have rang out since the beginning of the Affiliation, and would for ages after its fall.

        William was perhaps the first to see the imposing figure of the gunslinger riding through the town on his world-weary horse, his head topped by the traditional flat-crowned hat that was quite popular in Gilead, capitol barony of the Affiliation. His black duster fluttered out behind him in the wind, showing the pistols tied low on his waist. His medium length red hair was tied back with a black ribbon into a small knob, and it was quite clear he hadn't shaved for days (of course, the same could be said for William...). As his horse's hooves clattered down the worn macadam of the street, more and more people's heads bobbed through windows and doorways, eyes staring in disbelief. The gunslinger's ears could pick out the occasional "From Gilead, by the gods," or "Ka, I swear it! A gunslinger!" from the ragtag remnants of the dying village. He liked playing to an audience, and he suspected it wouldn't be that difficult to do so here.

        William was running through his dilapidated Quonset hut, looking for his best church-going clothes that had gone unworn since he buried his wife and child. Thoughts of bygone glory ran through his head, bringing a slight tear to his eye. It had been ages since he rode with Henry Deschain, Lord of the Affiliation, and now that he was experiencing once again the awe that came with being a gunslinger, he could no longer resist the urge. With thoughts of his loved ones lying in the church's graveyard, he let loose one last heaving sob and reached for the key hanging from his mantle. A quivering hand reached out and grasped the rough leather cord, yanking with a quick tug. The cord snapped, leaving William with a handful of key. Tears were absolutely flowing from his eyes at this point, but soon they would pass. They always did.

        William shuffled from his fireplace and moved to his bedroom. The bed that he and his wife shared for the past fifteen years lay blanketed in a thin coat of dust and grit from the encroaching sand hills. However painful it was for him to be back in this room, he knew it was something he had to do. He bent down, and pulled out a moderately sized strongbox. The key fit into the small clasp, and William turned. The lid gave a quaint, rusted "creak" as he lifted, revealing his birthright. Two sandalwood grips poked out from the worn leather holsters in the bottom of the box, lying on top of his old traveling gear. He dug around and found his duster and hat amid the clutter of various odds and ends, not to mention the three or four score of bullets saved from his past. Within the space of five minutes, William had transformed from the simple farmer he was into the noble but humble gunslinger of fifteen years ago. He did a quick tip of his hat into the streaked mirror across the room, and put on his sprung black boots.

        By this time, the wandering gunslinger had stopped by the saloon and tipped one of the few remaining street urchins to care for his horse. The gelding whinnied at the treatment, but otherwise let it be led to the livery, which lay a few yards to the south. The gunslinger, of course, was more interested in the saloon itself and clomped up the worn steps. He pushed open the batwing doors and stepped inside the building.

        He didn't expect to see things as they were inside, and was quickly disheartened. There were only a few patrons inside during what should have been the dinner hour, and a young man was left in charge of the bar. The piano in the corner of the squat room lay silent, but was clean enough to suggest that it did get played at least once a day. Taking this all in, he made his way up to the bar and sat down.

        The boy, turning around in time to catch a glimpse of the stranger's guns before they were hidden below the counter, stood in utter disbelief. Eventually, he remembered his manners and greeted the gunslinger. He tapped the first three fingers of his right hand to his chest three times and stumbled over the correct greeting in the High Speech. "Hail and well met, gunslinger," the boy struggled. The gunslinger, amused at the sincerity of the boy's voice, returned the greeting in the Low Speech with a slight smile. He did not want to embarrass the boy any more than what he was. "Boy, what can I call you?" the gunslinger asked. He took his hat off and sat in on the bar next to him, brushing some sand off of the brim.
        "Peter, sai gunslinger."
        "That is well. My name is Dieter Parson. Do you know where I come from?"
        "Aye, milord. Gilead, right?"
        "Right, Peter. Now, how about some hamburger and some graf?"
        "Sure, sai Parson," the boy said as he turned to the back of the bar and through a door. It obviously led into whatever resembled a kitchen in these parts, which is to say it wasn't much. Soon, the sound of cooking meat could be heard through the paper-thin walls, and the smell immediately set the gunslinger to drooling. It had been awhile since he had a decent meal, and he would surely savor this. be continued

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