PART 6 OF A TALE OF LOG HORIZON-THE GUNSLINGER, A DUKE, AND A PRINCESS

I had a little extra time to finish up the next installment in my Log Horizon fan fiction project. This is starting to take me a little more time. There are things in the light novels and manga that were not in the anime, so I am trying to represent things as accurately as possible. There is not a lot written or represented on Plant Hwyaden or its members in Minami. This means a lot more research and a little speculation on my part. In any case, the adventures of Gideon Hawkmoon continues on his first mission in Yamato. Here’s Part Six of A Tale of Log Horizon—The Gunslinger, a Duke and a Princess.

* * *

Part Five Recap: In the world of Elder Tales, more than 70,000 Japanese players found themselves trapped inside the world of their favorite MMORPG. In the adventurer’s town of Akiba, the Round Table Conference maintains the peace amongst the guilds calling this city home. After a year-long journey across the ocean and four continents, Gideon Hawkmoon, the sorcerer gunslinger from America, reunited with his wife, Henrietta of the Crescent Moon Alliance. Plant Hwyaden took advantage of the Round Table’s absence to once again attempt to kidnap high-level adventurers for Jered Gan’s experiment. Luckily, Gideon stepped in to stop them with the help of his sister, Celeste, and the Eagle Mountain Guild from North America. Using a new invention called a Fairy Ring Chronometer, they navigated the teleportation circles to arrive in Yamato. Now, as a new alliance was forged between the Round Table and Eagle Mountain, Plant Hwyaden decided to negotiate for peace while continuing their dark schemes behind the scenes. Gideon was given his first mission to see if this conference between Westlande and Eastal was possible.

* * *

Gideon and Henrietta flew through the air on the wings of the giant golden eagle. It took them an hour to reach the Palace of Eternal Ice at Maihama. They continued to discuss the mission ahead of their arrival during the flight.

“So, what kind of resistance can we expect from the nobles, darlin’?”

“Well, Lord Cowen has always been straightforward and honest in our negotiations,” Henrietta explained, raising her voice over the howling wind. “Some of the other nobles have a higher degree of self-interest, so they will only act if it’s to their benefit.”

“I see, yellow-bellied cowards worried about their own pocketbooks, am I right?” Henrietta sighed at his lack of manners when it came to nobility.

“Gideon, dear, please refrain from calling the nobility names like that while we’re negotiating with them. To quote your sister, ‘you attract more bees with honey than vinegar’ or something like that.”

“Yeah, that sounds like Celeste. Alright, Henrietta, I get what you’re laying down. I’ll behave like a tamed pony while we’re here. Besides, I wouldn’t want to start a tussle on our honeymoon.”

“Honeymoon? What makes you think this is our honeymoon?” Henrietta asked, shocked by his absurd assumption. “If you’re going to take me on a honeymoon, it’ll be something more romantic, not a near-death experience.”

“Well, darlin’, I think this is romantic,” Gideon explained. “I can’t think of anything more like a paperback romance novel than being with the one you love, fighting side by side for the benefit of our family and friends. I’ll be spending tonight in the Palace of Eternal Ice with my wife. You can’t get any better than that!”

Henrietta couldn’t fault his logic, as misguided as it was. She held on tight and leaned her head against him, comforted that they were together and that was all that mattered. “I guess you’re right.” She cooed. “But still, I would prefer a honeymoon somewhere private and out of the way.”

“Oh, you mean like that weekend we spent at the spa resort on Yakushima Island. That was a helluva weekend, honeybell. I never realized how flexible you can be.”

Henrietta blushed bright red before smacking Gideon for his comment. “Just when I think you’ve grown up, you slip back into your old self. No wonder you and Naotsugu are friends.”

“Now, Henrietta, I am nowhere near the level of repressed panty perversion that is Naotsugu. I merely affirmed my appreciation for your many mental and physical talents,” he teased, earning him another smack from Henrietta. They both suddenly broke out in laughter. It was silly little moments like this that brought them closer together.

Soon, the duo arrived at the Maihama and the Palace of Eternal Ice. It was an enormous castle built by the ancient Alvs on a lakebed of magical ice that never melted. It glittered like a jewel in the sunlight as the massive structure was surrounded by mystical ice pillars.

Gideon couldn’t believe it when he saw the palace. It was different seeing this in person than it was in the game. He circled around the castle, causing a bit of a stir at the sight of a giant eagle circling overhead. Soon, he spotted Isaac waiting on a small platform near the main entrance.

The guildmaster of the Black Sword Knights was a regular in Maihama, assigned to protect Prince Itherus, the next heir of the Cowen family. After a failed assassination attempt, the Black Sword Knights relocated to Maihama to safeguard Itherus and train the Knights of Maihama.

Gideon landed his giant eagle on the open area with a furious downdraft. While other knights braced from the gust of wind, Isaac stood there unfazed. He walked over as Gideon helped Henrietta down from the saddle.

“So, this is the famous giant eagle you get from the Treasure of the Sierra Madre raid. Damn, that’s one helluva prize you got there, Gideon. I would love to take on that raid with the Black Sword Knights.”

“Well, you can always take a raiding party over to the North American server, Isaac, whenever the fairy rings are aligned. I’m sure my sister would be honored to host you for that event.”

“Yeah, maybe when the kid is older. I can’t take any chances with Prince Itherus right now,” the guildmaster explained. “Anyway, let’s get you two settled in before I take you to see the old man.”

Gideon removed the saddle and sent his golden eagle off before the group headed into the palace. The sheer size and opulence of the castle intimidated the American cowboy. There was nothing like it on the North American server that could compare. Yet, despite all the pomp and circumstances surrounding their arrival, Gideon hated the clothes most.

He wore the traditional uniform of the Round Table Conference, a long blue coat with an ascot emblazoned with the symbol of the Round Table—a crossed sword and a wrench over a circle. It was pretty fancy and tight around the collar for someone like Gideon, but he put up with it for Henrietta’s sake.

As they walked through the palace to their meeting with Lord Cowen, Gideon fussed with his collar to no end, tugging at it to give him some breathing room. “Dang nabbit, this thing is tighter than a girdle before church on Sunday,” he remarked before Henrietta smacked his hand.

“Quit fidgeting, Gideon. There’s no need to be nervous. Lord Cowen isn’t going to roast you alive. He’s just going to ask you some questions. So, be polite and be yourself . . . Well, not completely yourself, but a more dignified version.”

“Thanks, darlin’, that makes me feel much better,” Gideon sassed. “How do you do this, Isaac? Meeting with the Duke of Maihama all the time?”

 “I drink a lot. That’s what gets me through these little sessions,” Isaac remarked. “I don’t let it bother me.” Henrietta stepped in before Gideon could reply, wagging her finger in his face.

“No, you will not be drinking anything except tea during these negotiations,” she warned. “All I need is a little alcohol loosening your tongue and watching as you open upon an unsuspecting audience.”

Gideon laughed when he realized how right she was. That’s one of the reasons he loved her so much . . . They knew each other inside and out, so much so that they kept one another in check. He hated these backroom politics, but he always did what he set out to do, so there was no backing down.

Isaac knocked on the door and opened it, stepping aside to let Henrietta and Gideon go in first. He stood there like a towering monument to freedom. His white hair and beard showed age but did not diminish his strength. He wore regal robes with adornments and a crown signifying his station as the Duke of Maihama and Lord of the Freedom Cities of Eastal—High Lord Sergiad Cowen. Surprisingly, waiting with him was his eldest daughter, Lady Saraliya Tsuleu-Arte Cowen, Lenessia’s mother and a regular advisor to her father. She appeared just like her daughter to Gideon but older and more refined like a vintage wine. Her beauty and intelligence were unmatched amongst the nobles of Maihama, who knew better than to cross swords or wit with her.

However, her presence in this meeting did concern Henrietta. Well, this just got complicated, she thought. If Lady Saraliya is here, we’re in for some serious negotiations. I hope Gideon is up for this.

After introductions and a flurry of opening questions, Gideon regaled the two about life on the North American server. He spoke at length about the essential guilds, the People of the Land, how the regions are governed, and what royalty existed. The sorcerer gunslinger followed Henrietta’s instructions to the letter. He was clear, concise, and used very little of his western vocabulary. Gideon even gave them a slight overview of life in Russia, China, and Korean servers from his travels.

Lord Cowen listened intently while Lady Saraliya seemed only mildly interested as she drank her tea. Henrietta didn’t know what to make of her ignorance. It was totally out of character for the woman she heard so much about from Lenessia. Gideon, however, saw right through her act. He knew a “snake in the grass” when he saw one. She was just waiting for her chance to strike.

“So, if I understand you correctly, this Fairy Ring Chronometer of yours has its limits. Your sister’s guild can’t be here at a moment’s notice if Westlande decided to invade,” Lady Saraliya queried.

“Yes, ma’am, your right, but the chronometer was only a temporary solution. Einstein is already working on a more permanent method of transportation,” Gideon said. His response caught everyone off-guard, but none more than Isaac and Henrietta.

“And what is that?” Saraliya asked, fixing her gaze at Gideon.

“While they were in Akiba, Einstein conferred with the bigwigs in Roderick’s Merchant and the other crafting guilds. They discussed the possibility that a fairy ring could be used as the basis for a permanent gate between servers, like our intercity transport gates across Yamato. It’s just a theory right now, but they are working toward a practical application.”

“So, it seems the issue still remains. The Freedom Cities of Eastal cannot rely on this alliance between the Round Table Conference and Eagle Mountain for security concerns, can we? Without those assurances, why would we even consider entering a peace accord that can’t be supported by our allies from Akiba?”

“With all due respect, Lady Saraliya, that’s about as crazy as a rattlesnake at a square dance,” Gideon replied, causing Isaac to spit out his drink. Henrietta started to apologize for Gideon’s remark. However, the cowboy held up his hand to stop her as he continued to speak. “You’ll never gonna have that perfect scenario where Westlande doesn’t get an opportunity to backstab the Freedom Cities. Those tin hustlers are as crooked as a dog’s hind legs.”

“I understand what you’re trying to convey, even with your own unique way of saying it, but that doesn’t convince me to support this conference.”

“And no one here is saying you should,” Gideon interrupted. “Hell, I wouldn’t trust them either. They’re about as reliable as a freight train on a dirt road. But . . . I have to wonder why they’re asking for this little hoedown? Neither me nor Eagle Mountain alone didn’t get their panties in a bunch . . .” He paused before realizing his improper way of communicating his point. “Pardon my French, Lady Saraliya . . . I meant to say it caused them to swallow their pride and sue for peace. There’s some ulterior motive behind this, and the only way to find out is to play along.”

“You mean to accept the invitation and use it to get more information and see where it leads us,” Lord Cowen interjected, nodding his head to the idea. “That’s a promising concept, but I doubt the nobles would support letting adventurers negotiate for them.”

“The Round Table Conference would leave the negotiations up to the representatives of the Freedom Cities of Eastal,” Henrietta finally spoke up. “We would only take part in areas where adventurers are concerned.”

“We’ve already established a mutual security and trade partnership,” Isaac said. “All we’re trying to do is prevent future attempts on Itherus’ life or attacks on cities like Saphir from happening again.”

“Besides, what will you do if they perfect this deep sleep drug?” Gideon concluded. “If they can take out adventurers that easily, then you’ll have to rely on your own forces to battle both Westlande’s army and the adventurers of Plant Hwyaden. Are you willing to take that chance?”

Lady Saraliya nodded her head in approval, agreeing with the uncharacteristic logic coming from the western cowboy. “I must say, Master Gideon, even with your peculiar backward way of speaking, you are quite capable of giving a compelling argument.”

“Well, thank you, ma’am. My mama says I can be slow as molasses in winter at times, but I always tell the truth, straight from the heart. We need to make this little conference happen if only to find out what shenanigans those rascals are planning.”

Lady Saraliya finished her tea before she stood up to leave. All the men rose to their feet politely to see her out. “Hang onto your husband tightly, Henrietta; marry him again if you have to. He’s definitely one of the good ones,” she said. Henrietta smiled and nodded in agreement. “I’ll let you explain things to the nobles, father, but you can tell them that I approve of this plan. We need to find out exactly what Westlande is planning, and this conference may be the best way to do that.”

After Lady Saraliya left, Lord Cowen personally thanked everyone before the party broke up. “It may take a day or two to get the consensus of the nobles,” he began. “In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy your time in Maihama.”

“Thank you kindly, Lord Cowen, sir. I genuinely appreciate the hospitality,” Gideon said. “It’s my first time at the Palace of Eternal Ice, so I intend to make the most of it.”

Lord Cowen gave a silent nod before leaving the room. He was not one for many words. While some may see it as rude, it was simply his way. On the other hand, Isaac just took the opportunity to pour himself another drink.

“Well, that went as well as expected,” Isaac said before gulping down the liquid. “I thought your little sass of Lady Saraliya put a kibosh on the whole thing.”

“Yes, so did I,” Henrietta interjected. “You pulled out of that quite masterfully, Gideon.”

“Well, shucks, darlin’, it was easier than tracking an elephant in the snow,” he laughed it off. “Sometimes, you need to show people what will happen if they don’t act rather than if they do act. Attending these negotiations is no skin off their backs, but ignoring them could cost a lot of intel. They just needed to see that.”

“Yes, but now it’s up to Lord Cowen to get the nobles on board. All we can do is sit and wait,” Henrietta fumed. “I’ll contact Master Shiroe and tell him how things went.”

“If you got time, Gideon, I’d like you to come down to the training field and teach the Knights of Maihama about combat against sorcerers,” Isaac asked. “My Black Sword Knights have been focusing on their fighting skills, so a little training with a magic caster like you would help.”

“Sure, Isaac, I’d be happy to show them a few tricks to look out for,” Gideon happily exclaimed. He was itching for a chance to get out of these fancy Round Table clothes and into his leathers.

“Just don’t overdo it too much, Gideon. We still have a lot more ‘honeymoon’ left . . .” Henrietta left with a sly grin on her face. Gideon laughed at her little joke, but it confused Isaac.

* * *

Henrietta woke up from her slumber, reaching across the bed to curl up next to her husband to take away the chill of the night air, but he wasn’t there. His absence startled her awake as she sat up and looked around for him. She spied him across the room, sitting on the windowsill as he stared out across Maihama. The moonlight illuminated his muscular frame, deep in thought, sitting there in simple pajama pants. She got out of bed and pulled on her robe before saying anything.

“Gideon, are you alright?”

“Yeah, darlin’, sorry if I woke you,” he replied as he stared out the window.

“It’s fine, can’t you sleep? What time is it?”

“Oh, about two in the morning. Naw, I’m fine, just a lot on my mind.”

Henrietta sat down across from him, curious about what he was looking at. The palace and all of Maihama glowed in the moonlight. The eternal ice scattered around the castle, and the warm lights from the various buildings added to the sparkle. You could hear sounds of song and drink as the taverns were still active with customers.

“I know you’re worried about heading out to Minami, confronting Plant Hwyaden, but we’ll be alright. Even Westlande has to abide by the honors and courtesies concerning messengers.”

“Aw, that crazy bunch of wahoos doesn’t bother me, Henrietta,” Gideon answered, brushing off her concern. “To be honest, something happened today to make me see this world differently.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I was working with Isaac in training the knights of Maihama, I couldn’t believe how dedicated and driven those greenhorns were. This was just a game to us, and we were having fun, living it out; but for the People of the Land, it’s life or death. They aspire to be what we are, but to be honest, I would love to live the simple life that they do.

“Then I look out at this Palace of Eternal Ice,” he continued. “I’ve seen some amazing things since the Apocalypse . . . The Cathedral of Czar Romanov in Russia, The Gates of the Golden Dragons in Korea, and the Steps of Heaven’s Blessing in China. This world is so beautiful, seeing it here rather than through a computer monitor. I don’t think we realize how lucky we are to be here.”

His eloquent heartfelt words impressed Henrietta. She rarely heard Gideon speak this way. He was indeed coming into his own. The men of both worlds—the two she fell in love with—merged into one.

“Henrietta, let’s get married!” Gideon announced. His question surprised her as both peculiar and unnecessary.

“Gideon, darling, we are married, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“No, I mean to get married in this world. I never gave you the big wedding I promised you, and I think it would show everyone our commitment to each other and our life together in this world. I love you, darlin’, and I want to give you everything you deserve. Besides, it would be a first in Akiba.”

Henrietta considered everything he was saying. It would be nice to have the big wedding she’s always wanted, but it was also a lot of work and money, limiting things. Gideon could see her trepidations on the subject, so he appealed to her other side.

“Let me put it to you this way, darlin’. . . A big outdoor wedding under the White Tree. Now, picture Akatsuki and all the other cuties in Akiba lined up wearing bridesmaid’s dresses of your choosing!” That’s all he had to say, and Henrietta went crazy, thinking about all the adorable girls in ruffled dresses. In all the excitement, she nearly passed out. She hugged and kissed Gideon repeatedly, agreeing to his wedding proposal.

“Absolutely, yes, I will marry you! Anything to see my adorable little Akatsuki, Serara, and Minori in cute bridesmaid’s dresses. Oh, and Marielle as my maid of honor, will absolutely be thrilled. You could make Naotsugu your best man, oh, Marielle would love that too, and . . .”

“Whoa, hold your horses, darlin’. . . Let’s postpone planning things until we get back to Akiba,” Gideon said, bringing her back to her senses. “We can surprise everyone with our announcement once we return. For now, let’s focus on our mission.”

Henrietta saw the truth in his words and calmed down. She caressed his face as if she was falling in love with him again. “And here I thought you were just a prairie dog from Texas,” she joked. “You have such a kind heart, husband of mine. I am so glad you came back to me.”

She kissed him, a tender, loving kiss that flowed with the passion they shared for life, love, and each other. Gideon pulled her close and held onto her tightly, laying her head against his chest. “So am I, darlin’. . . so am I!”

* * *

It didn’t take long for the nobles to agree to the peace conference with Westlande. Knowing that Lady Saraliya was behind this meeting convinced them to support the proposal to hopefully hash out the differences between the two feuding territories within Yamato. Gideon and Henrietta took off on his giant eagle with the signed agreement in hand. They headed south, past the Titan Arsenal and around Mountain Kurama, to the adventurer’s city of Minami. Gideon landed far enough outside the city to not announce their arrival too soon. Plus, he didn’t want to give Indix and others in Plant Hwyaden a chance to prepare.

They walked a couple of miles until they reached the north gate into Minami. Both adventurers from Plant Hwyaden and Westlande knights manned the checkpoint, keeping tight security on both adventurers and People of the Land entering and leaving the city. Gideon looked around and didn’t see KR waiting for them like Shiroe said he would.

“Well, ain’t this is some bad juju,” Gideon remarked. “That rustler KR is nowhere to be seen. This could get a little dicey, Henrietta darlin’.”

“Well, let’s try simple diplomacy first,” she advised. “If that doesn’t work, we can always use the ‘call to home’ spell to take us back to Maihama.”

“Yeah, but that would extend our trip even longer. We could use the inter-city transport gate to enter Minami, but . . .”

“But they could be waiting for us there too,” Henrietta replied. “Like you say, Gideon, ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t.'”

“Hell’s Bells, darlin’, it’s unlike you to swear like a sailor on liberty,” Gideon joked.

“Well, that just shows you how serious this is,” Henrietta said. “Now, let me do the talking, okay?”

“I always do, honeybell. Remember to whistle up those bard incantations once we enter the city, just like I showed you.”

“You don’t need to repeat your instructions with me, Gideon, darling. You should know that I’m always one step ahead of you.”

Gideon tipped his hat, acknowledging her superior intuition, as they moved toward the checkpoint. The adventurers around the gate consisted of a guardian, assassin, a druid, and a summoner, overall level 60 or higher. The guardian, a wolf-fang in heavy plate armor smoking a cigar, held up his hand to stop them as they approached.

“And just who the hell are you people? I’ve never seen you here before,” he growled.

“We’re representatives of the Round Table Conference from Akiba with a message from the Freedom Cities of Eastal for Princess Nureha. If you please, we would like to . . .”

“Look, sweet cheeks, I don’t care who you are, but you don’t just waltz up here and demand to see Princess Nureha,” he interrupted, blowing smoke. “Now, why don’t you and your little cowboy get outa my face before I. . .”

Before he could say another word, the guardian was impaled with icicles on his feet, causing him to fall backward, grasping his bleeding extremities in pain. Gideon used his silent casting oral art to fire off his Icicle Impale spell before bringing his foot on the armored guardian’s chest and drawing one of his six-shooters. He made sure the wolf-fang saw the threat before he spoke.

“First off, hoss, you need to learn some manners. So, I expect you to apologize to my wife for blowing your nasty cigar smoke in her face and insulting her like you did,” Gideon began. “If you don’t, I will send your fat ass to the cathedral seven ways from Sunday and twice on Tuesday, understand?”

Henrietta shook her head in her hand. She appreciated her husband standing up for her, but not at the cost of this mission. The other adventurers at the gate got ready to fight until one of them finally recognized who they were dealing with. “Holy cow, that’s Gideon Hawkmoon, the sorcerer gunslinger from America! He’s here in Minami?”

Upon hearing his name, the other adventurers quaked with fear, but the wolf-fang guardian laughed at it. “I’d put away that peashooter, cowboy, unless you think you can take all of Plant Hwyaden yourself?” Gideon didn’t say a word. He just cocked the hammer on his gun and stuck it right between the eyes of the knight. His sly grin quickly disappeared.

“Do I look like I’m afraid of you? I ain’t afraid of a bunch of lily-livered cowards, especially with a bard as talented and beautiful as my wife by my side. On my way to Yamato, I took on 200 gnolls crossing the Mountain of the Monkey King on the China server with only a guardian and a healer in my party.”

Henrietta perked up when she heard Gideon say that, but she felt more relieved when she saw KR walking toward them. “If I were you, I wouldn’t even think about attacking Gideon,” KR said, interrupting the fiasco. “He has an itchy trigger finger and an oral art that can’t be beaten.”

“Well, looky here . . . If it ain’t my number five favorite summoner,” Gideon remarked, holstering his weapon and stepping off the massive guardian. “How you doin’, KR?”

“Much better than you, it seems. Not very smart attacking our gate guards as soon as you arrive in Minami,” KR replied. “And when did I drop to number five? I thought I was a solid number two?”

“You were, but I haven’t seen you since our Tea Party days, so things change,” Gideon explained. “And I didn’t start this little bunkhouse brawl. Your gate guards insulted Henrietta and weren’t expecting our arrival.”

KR glared at the wolf-fang guardian when he heard that revelation, but it was his dragon companion, Ga-Tan, who reacted. She looked like a little girl with flowing red hair, and dragon-fin ears, wearing a simple white dress. However, she was an ancient Garnet Dragon who liked to lash out at humans.

“Didn’t you idiots get the warning to be on the lookout for messengers from Akiba?” she screamed, kicking the wolf-fang guardian in the shin. It nearly broke his leg as he hopped around on one foot in pain. The other gate guards cowered behind him, afraid of KR’s tiny companion.

“We’re sorry! Please don’t hurt us!” they all shouted in unison, bowing their heads while begging for forgiveness.

“Now apologize!” Ga-Tan shouted, threatening to kick out his good leg.

“Sorry! I’m sorry, please forgive me!” the wolf-fang guardian said, hoping to avoid another assault from the little dragon girl.

“Sorry about that. Things can get jumbled in situations like this,” KR apologized. “It’s good to see you again, Gideon, although I must be losing my touch on information gathering. I had no idea you were married.” KR politely bowed to Henrietta.

“Well, we kept that out of the game until the Apocalypse happened. Henrietta, this is KR, one of my friends from the Debauchery Tea Party days. And you must be Ga-Tan. Nice to meet you, little lady!”

Ga-Tan smiled at Gideon as KR held out his hand to Henrietta, but she completely ignored him. She was instantly enamored with Ga-Tan as her cute and cuddly quirk quickly kicked in.

“Oh my God, you are the most adorable little dragon girl I have ever seen!” she screamed. Unlike some of the girls in Akiba, Ga-Tan smiled brightly. She appreciated and reveled in the adulation being heaped upon her. “What is this rag you’re wearing? It’s absolutely unbecoming for someone like you to be wearing a plain white dress!”

“That’s what I keep telling ‘Mr. Cheapskate’ over here, but he won’t get me anything else to wear!” Ga-Tan said, pointing to KR.

“You’re a dragon. What more do you need?” he countered before Henrietta pulled out an assortment of frilly, ruffled dresses from her magic bag. She always carried a few with her, just for emergencies like this.

“Oh, that will not do! Here, try one of these on for size. They will look absolutely stunning on you!” Ga-Tan loved the dresses as Henrietta helped her try them on. KR looked befuddled at Gideon over what was transpiring with his dragon companion.

“Gideon, what’s going on? What is your wife doing to Ga-Tan?”

“I wouldn’t fret over it if I were you, KR. It’s times like this that I just let Henrietta do her thing. You know the old saying . . . ‘Happy wife, happy life!'”

Ga-Tan finished changing, and Henrietta showed her off, now wearing a pink princess-style dress with white ruffles, complete with a big bow in her hair. The other adventurers gathered about “oohed and ahhed” at the new and improved Ga-Tan. KR just hung his head in shame, embarrassed by his frilly dragon companion. Gideon chuckled under his breath before patting his friend on the shoulder.

“Why don’t we head in now, KR, before this gets worse,” Gideon said sarcastically. KR simply nodded his head before leading them inside the city walls. As the group made their way through the city, they definitely turned some heads—both Gideon in all his western regalia and Ga-Tan in her poofy pink dress. KR could only groan in embarrassment at the comments about his dragon companion looking like a miniature pageant queen. Gideon could see his friend suffering, and he enjoyed it a little bit, but the sights around Minami disturbed him even more.

It seemed like a military state rather than an adventurer’s city to Gideon. The fun and laughter that filled Akiba were not present here as if the joy of life had been removed for order and discipline. It was not what Gideon expected of people like KR and Kazuhiko to be involved with this place.

“I can’t believe you’re wrapped up in these shenanigans, KR. It’s not like you to go over to the dark side,” Gideon remarked.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” KR responded. “We maintain order and ask for a little obedience and cooperation. Is that bad?”

“It is when you sacrifice freedom for security. Look, partner, I’m from the place where freedom is a guaranteed right, endowed by our creator, for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it.”

“Then why are you here, agreeing to these peace negotiations?” KR asked with a sly grin. He was trying to get under Gideon’s skin and doing an excellent job. Still, the sorcerer gunslinger was having none of it.

“I declare, KR, you wouldn’t have enough power to blow your nose if your brains were dynamite,” Gideon lashed out. “To quote the great John Lennon, I’m here to ‘give peace a chance, but if I find out your little Ten Seat Council is up to no good . . .”

He drew one of his guns and cocked it. “Well then, to quote the legendary John Wayne, ‘a gun that’s unloaded and cocked ain’t good for nothing.'” He lowered the hammer before twirling the gun and slung it back into his holster. KR swallowed hard once he realized why Shiroe sent Gideon on this mission. In many respects, he was a lot like Shiroe—bright, looked at the big picture, and not easily manipulated—but Gideon had the firepower to back that up.

“Unless you want the Royal Guard sending your sorry ass to the cathedral, I suggest you keep your weapons holstered, cowboy,” Kazuhiko said. He slowly approached Gideon with two other members of the Wolves of Mibu.

“Well, look who’s got a bee in his bonnet, airin’ his lungs like a flannel mouth hazin’ a tenderfoot,” Gideon insulted. He walked over and got right in Kazuhiko’s face. The assassin stared at him in the eye, not intimidated by the sorcerer gunslinger. Everyone held their breath at this confrontation on the streets of Minami.

“I hope you didn’t come here empty-handed,” Kazuhiko warned. “That would be seriously detrimental to your well-being.”

“Come on, Kazuhiko, you know I am never empty-handed,” Gideon replied before he pulled out a bottle of whiskey from his saddlebag. Kazuhiko looked at the bottle carefully.

“Kentucky Bourbon?”

“Is there any better?” Gideon handed the bottle to Kazuhiko before the assassin took his hand in friendship and smiled. “It’s good to see you, Kazuhiko!”

“You too, Gideon, you too . . .” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the two friends started laughing and exchanging pleasantries, especially Henrietta, who feared the worst. Kazuhiko looked over at her and gave a polite bow. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Henrietta. Gideon’s told me a lot about you, and you are definitely everything I expected and more.”

Henrietta smiled at the courteous respect coming from the elite assassin of Plant Hwyaden. “Thank you, Master Kazuhiko,” she replied, bowing politely. “Unfortunately, Gideon has told me very little about you or your friendship.”

“There’s not much to tell, darlin’. . . It involves an appreciation for fine whiskey and baseball,” Gideon replied with a pat on the back. “Last time Kazuhiko and I ran into each other was when the Texas Rangers were playing the Hanshin Tigers in an exhibition game.”

“And if I remember correctly, the Tigers beat them handily 6-to-3,” Kazuhiko reminded Gideon.

“You know as well as I do that exhibition games are stage follies for the fans,” Gideon snapped back. Gideon seemed closer to Kazuhiko than he was toward Naotsugu. As the two argued semantics, Henrietta could see why these two men were such good friends.

“I hate to break up the reunion, but we’re expected upstairs,” KR reminded them. The two finished their squabble to move back toward their destination, but not before Kazuhiko noticed Ga-Tan in a frilly new dress. He wanted to laugh but was reserved.

“Nice dress, Ga-Tan. KR must be going all out to keep you happy.” Kazuhiko’s comments made the little dragon girl smile as she twirled about in her new dress. On the other hand, KR hung his head in shame at the continued humiliation.

* * *

The members of the Ten Seat Council waited patiently for the arrival of their guests from Akiba, but their patience grew thin. They gathered in the council chamber as soon as KR informed them the messengers had arrived thirty minutes ago. They even sent Kazuhiko to find out what was delaying them, but he had yet to return.

Indix impatiently looked at the tiny watch that hung from a chain around her neck. She wanted to get this over as quickly as possible, but their lack of punctuality earned them her ire. Indix would make sure they understood that before they left Minami.

It also irked her that KR didn’t tell them who these messengers were. Was it Shiroe or someone else from the Round Table Conference? The lack of information was troublesome for the second seat on the Ten Seat Council.

“What is taking them so long?” Mizufa Trude complained. The red-haired warlord strummed her fingers impatiently across the arm of her chair. She was itching for a fight, and these messengers would soon face her wrath if they kept her waiting any longer. “I don’t give a damn about these negotiations. It’s a waste of time.”

“Calm down, Mizufa. The princess and the senate agreed to broach these negotiations with Eastal. We will follow her orders,” Roreil Dawn said in his soft-spoken voice. The cleric was the Captain of the Royal Guard in Minami and one of the few nobles from the People of the Land in Plant Hwyadenn. He was loyal as the day was long, but solely to Princess Nureha.

“I agree with Mizufa on this. It does seem like a waste of our time,” Nakarunado exclaimed. The large wolf-fang guardian and former guildmaster of Howling commanded Plant Hwyaden’s army. In contrast, Mizufa Trude commanded the Army of Westlande. Both of them preferred fighting over talking. “Let’s fight it out and let the battle decide the ruler of Yamato.”

“It’s not that simple, Nakarunado,” Indix interjected. “There are too many variables for a simple fight. We must apply caution for the time being. These ‘talks’ will allow us to gain further insight into the relationship between the Round Table Alliance and Eastal. I doubt it runs as deep as the bond between Westlande and Plant Hwyaden.”

“You can be sure of that,” Zeldys proclaimed. The Ritian cleric was fond of strategy and saw the upcoming conference as a bold move by Princess Nureha. “Still, one has to wonder what, if these representatives of the Round Table will be up to our standards in Plant Hwyaden.”

“I assure you, Zeldys, that these low-life adventurers from Akiba are no match for anyone on the Ten Seat Council or Plant Hwyaden,” Indix replied.

“Oh, I beg to differ, Indix. From where I’m standin’, you’re just a mudsill dragging a yellowbelly into the daylight,” Gideon interrupted as he stepped into the room. The council chamber went quiet except for the click of spurs on the floor as the sorcerer gunslinger walked in with Henrietta. His presence quickly enraged Indix, his southern twang like nails on a chalkboard to the usually reserved second seat of the Ten Seat Council.

Indix rushed Gideon, drawing one of her silver knives as she aimed for his throat. Her advance halted when Henrietta stepped in front of her husband with an arrow nocked in her compound bow. Indix stopped in her tracks as she stared down the length of the shaft as a perturbed Henrietta glared back at her.

“Now, Indix, is that any way to greet an old friend?” Gideon joked, which angered her even more. Henrietta, on the other hand, was more diplomatic about the situation.

“Is this how the Ten Seat Council treats royal messengers, or would you rather we go over your heads directly to the Westlande Senate?” Henrietta questioned, keeping the draw tight on her bowstring. Indix snarled, realizing she had no choice but to back off. As she stepped away, Henrietta lowered her bow. Gideon stood there and smiled through the entire exchange.

“Hiding behind women will not enhance your already deplorable reputation, Gideon,” Indix remarked. Gideon scoffed at the insinuation.

“First off, Indix, my reputation is as clean as a Baptist preacher at revival,” he began. “Second, I am not hiding behind anyone. Henrietta is just a little overprotective of me. Wives are funny that way.”

“Wife? Really?” Indix replied, shocked like some of the others in the chamber. “I’m surprised that you found someone to put up with your outrageous behavior. Still, I guess even cheaters need love.”

“Gideon is not a cheater!” Henrietta insisted. “He understood the system and used it to his advantage as a player, nothing more.”

“Exactly, a cheater . . .”

“See, there you go again with your rambling balderdash about me cheating,” Gideon retorted. “Why don’t you ask Quon there about it. He officiated many of those disputes you refer to as ‘cheatin’ in my favor when he was a gamemaster. Ain’t that right, Quon?”

Quon slowly stirred from his peaceful rest to the stares of the entire room bearing down on him. “Look, don’t drag me into this. That was long ago, and my bosses approved all my decisions.”

“Look, I’m not here to be a hellion in the stew. Indix has had a burr up her girdle about me since our Tea Party days . . .” Gideon began until Indix abruptly interrupted him.

“You were never part of the Debauchery Tea Party!” she shouted.

“No, I was not an ‘official’ member,” Gideon replied using air quotes. “But I remember someone needing my help on the Island of Sleeping Times.”

“Kanami asked you to join in that raid when Yuko couldn’t make it, not me,” Indix interjected.

“Do you really want to keep rehashing the past, Indix?” Kazuhiko inquired. “Gideon is here for a reason, so let’s get on with it.”

“I actually have a couple of questions for Gideon Hawkmoon,” Princess Nureha said as she finally entered the chamber. She sauntered up to Gideon, swaying seductively as she stepped into him. Henrietta didn’t appreciate how close and intimate Nureha was to her husband. Still, she tolerated it for the sake of this mission. Indix gruffed at the situation but relented, just to Gideon out of Minami as quickly as possible.

“First, why did Shiroe choose you to deliver this message? Intimidation, perhaps?”

“Not really. I doubt anyone here would find themselves intimidated by little ole me,” Gideon confessed. “It was more of a mutual understanding to clear any doubts about the true intent of this conference.”

“So, you have your doubts, or does Shiroe?” Nureha queried as she continued to circle Gideon.

“Well, you see, princess, my pappy always told me to keep skunks, lawyers, and bankers at a distance,” Gideon said, confusing and insulting some of those in the room. “But honestly, I wanted to see things for myself . . . what’s going on in Minami. I mean, ya’ll be actin’ like someone stole your rudder. I’m curious as to whether that’s intentional or plain reckless.”

“I see . . . And have you reached a conclusion?”

“Not yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, you can keep your little paradise to yourselves. This place is creepier than a buzzard on a hearse,” Gideon extolled. “I’m a firm believer in freedom, which people in Minami seem to have very little of.”

“People are free to do whatever they want, as long as it benefits the rest of Plant Hwyaden,” Nureha added. “Perhaps I can change your mind with a little wager.”

“Oh, what do you have in mind, princess?”

“You’re the number one PvP in all of Elder Tales, so let’s see if you live up to your reputation,” Nureha said. “I want to see you fight one of the Ten Seat Council. If you win the match, I’ll accept these negotiations without any reservations or conditions.”

“And if your person beats me?”

Nureha laughed as she leaned into Gideon, dragging her delicate fingers across his lips. “Then you will agree to join Plant Hwyaden,” she said. Her proposal shocked everyone, especially Indix and Henrietta, who both shouted simultaneously.

“Absolutely not!”

It was Gideon’s turn to laugh under his breath at the leader of Plant Hwyaden. “I’ve got to say, Nureha, you’re a pistol-packin’ petticoat, ain’tcha?”

“How dare you speak to the princess that way!” Roreil Dawn angrily shouted as he leaped to his feet to defend his guildmaster.

“Cool your jets, hoss. That was a compliment to the princess,” Gideon explained. “She’s not the pampered priss I thought her to be. You’ve got fire water running through your veins, Your Highness.”

“So, do you accept my challenge?” Gideon thought about it for a moment. He knew it was a ploy to trap him into joining Plant Hwyaden, and Shiroe would have his head if he lost. So, Gideon knew he couldn’t lose.

“Alright, Princess Nureha, I accept. So, who will it be? Indix? Kazuhiko?”

“No,” Mizufa Trude said confidently as she stood up. “That task is mine, adventurer!” Gideon sized her up, remembering what Chief Nyanta told him about his fight with the warlord general during Operation Red Night. For one of the People of the Land, she was a formidable fighter, capable of holding her own against any adventurer. Gideon smiled at the challenge.

“Okay, Red, I accept!”

* * *

Stay tuned for the next chapter in the Log Horizon fan fiction, The Gunslinger vs. The Warlord, to see the Gideon Hawkmoon’s fate in Yamato. And you can catch up on the entire story on my Fan Fiction page.

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