A knock sounded at the door, and Charlotte paused, her brush stopped halfway down the length of her hair which was, thankfully, starting to straighten out.
“It’s me,” Rone said, muffled by the heavy oak door.
Rone swung open the door, poked in his head and looked around the room, then stepped all the way in. He tossed his leather knapsack at the foot of the bed, framed in old carved wood that had shed most of its varnish through the passing of countless guests. He was wearing an old, faded set of trousers and a loose shirt that was once white. After he shut and bared the door, Charlotte continued working the brush through her copper hair.
“We need to get you some more clothes,” Charlotte said.
Rone shrugged. “Never cared to buy cloth; cared even less when my daily attire was provided by the guard. Where’s my pistol?”
“Your pistol? How would I know?”
Rone walked up and leaned over her. She shrank back slightly as he fished under the small occasional table she sat beside. He dropped a heavy flintlock pistol, with a brass receiver and an octagonal iron barrel on the table. He stood back.
“I want you to be armed at all times. This is especially important when I’m not here. You also need to keep the door locked.” He took a deep breath. “I’m not trying to be unkind to you, and I’m sorry for chastising you earlier. I was not right expect you to understand how to act. You lack the necessary skills.”
“So kind of you to condescend to me,” Charlotte said. She looked out the window.
“We will need to teach you some basics,” Rone went on, ignoring Charlotte’s reaction. “Do you know how to check the prime on a flintlock?”
“Of course I do. I didn’t always live behind parapets.”
Charlotte picked up the pistol and carefully lifted the frizzen. She shook the pistol slightly to see the priming charge move around in the pan. “It’s primed. Are you satisfied?”
“What’s condition of the flint?”
“Plenty of life left.”
Rone nodded. “Keep that one on your person if you can.”
“Why did I hire you, exactly, if you expect me to do the shooting?”
“I expect trouble,” Rone said. “I plan for it. I presume you care about getting off this rock, or you wouldn’t have hired me, and so if it comes to trouble, I think you will give it your best to carry on to that purpose.”
“Very well,” Charlotte said. She held up the pistol and looked it over in the lamplight.
“Rone.” Charlotte whispered. She was leaning over the edge of the bed, the quilts wrapped around her. Her hair spilled out over the pillow. The window was still open, showing a waxing moon setting in the west, blurred by fog. “Are you awake?”
“I can’t sleep,” she said softly.
“Neither can I. I never thought I’d miss the hard earth, but these floorboards make me positively nostalgic for the road. What’s bothering you?”
“I don’t know. I keep thinking about… I keep thinking about going back. It makes me feel sick.”
“Anxiety, then. Not surprising.”
“You don’t worry? They’ll hang you, you know.”
“There are worse fates.”
“I know.” Charlotte turned back onto the bed and faced the ceiling.
“I don’t intend for us to get caught.”
“I know. I’m still afraid.”
“Where’s your pistol?”
“Under my pillow.”
“Check the prime.”
“I can’t see.”
“Just put your finger in the pan.”
Charlotte slowly tilted back the hammer and lifted the frizzen on the pistol’s lock. “It’s primed.”
“Anyone wants to take you, at least one of them will end up with a ball through skull. Feel safer?”
“A little, I suppose.”
“Anytime you’re anxious, feel for that pistol. It’s a good piece. Only had it misfire a few times, and I’ve used it plenty.”
“Thanks.” Charlotte leaned back to the side of the bed. “What do you do when you’re scared?”
“I’m not scared. Now get some sleep. I want to find us a ship out of here tomorrow. We’re going to have a bit of walking to do.”
“It’s a big bed, you know, if the floor is hard.”
“Go to sleep.”
“We slept next to each other plenty of times in the highlands.”
“We’re not in the highlands, and it’s not cold.”
Silently, Charlotte turned back away and stared at the empty, black ceiling.