The Grand Duchess was a new steam powered mage boat. It was one hundred paces long and eighty wide. It carried people and cargo to cities along the four thousand league journey of the Grand river. There was only one level below the main deck and four above. The boat had a salamander that heated water to steam which turned the huge paddles at the rear.
I shouldered my bag and picked up my revolving rifle before heading towards the gangplank. The deck below was for the water tanks and mage engine as well as crew quarters. Animals went across on another wider gangplank and were held on the main deck. The second deck was for cargo and the top two were for passengers.
I climbed the stairs to the fourth level and headed towards the bridge at the front. I stepped in and looked around and walked to the officer in the back, "sir?"
He turned and looked me over, "Kelso Silver?"
I nodded and he gestured, "store your gear below deck in one of the forward cabins."
I nodded, "after?"
He glanced at another man on the other side of the bridge, "get with the bosun."
I left and headed back down and under the main deck and then forward in the dimly lit halls. I checked cabins until I found one unlocked. I stepped in and looked around, there was a single wide fold down bed. There was also a seaman's chest and a desk against the opposite wall and one chair under the desk.
I set my bag down and grabbed one of the two large bronze keys off a peg. I kept my rifle and headed back up to find the bosun. He put me to work watching men loading pallets and bringing them up to the second deck. I was not watching the pallets but the men doing the loading. It was several hours before they were done.
Passengers and baggage had been coming aboard the whole time. The whistle blew and a few people hurried to leave. The bosun touched my shoulder as the boat left the dock and headed out into the river, "you have the grave shift."
I nodded and went below to put the rifle away but kept the two Wolfe pistols. They were in underarm holsters with extra rounds on the back of my belt. Like the rifle and most of the modern pistols they were ten millimeter by three centimeters. I went up to the fourth deck to look in the lounge and eating area.
I was able to get a sandwich before wandering through the almost empty room. In one corner were three men playing poker. I grinned as I gestured to an empty chair, "may I join you?"
They all nodded and I sat and we started playing. It was not for very high stakes but before a couple of hours were up I had won several dozen silver merchants. There are four types of money standards. Copper pence, silver merchants, gold nobles and gold royals. It was simple, ten pence made a merchant, ten merchants made a noble and five nobles made a royal.
The other players changed to new ones and by dinner I was up three nobles and we were playing for gold. That was when I suddenly came to my feet and pulled a pistol. I bent over the table as everyone froze and grabbed the hand of a new player. I yanked it up and took the cards before spreading all five out on the table.
His face was white as the others players growled. I gestured, "if I see you gambling while you are on the boat I will toss you over the side."
He started to reach for the stack of nobles and merchants and I snarled, "leave it!"
He stiffened but stood and turned to walk away. I sat and put the pistol away as one of the men that had been sitting next to him chuckled and divided his money. He pushed it to each of us as I waved to a steward and bought a new deck of cards. By the time I stopped and went to get a couple of hours of sleep I was up twenty five royals.
I washed my face when one of the watch knocked and then grabbed my rifle. The watch leader sent me to deck two on the starboard side. There were four men on watch, starboard aft and port bow on deck two and starboard bow and port aft on the roof deck. It was a couple of hours before I saw the dark sails behind us.
I touched the watch amulet at my throat, "dark sails coming up behind the boat on the starboard side."
I knew that would bring the others and someone would wake the other guards that were asleep. Another sail appeared but I could not see any men and cursed as I lowered the rifle. I turned and ran for the rear stairs down, "I am going to the main deck!"
I took the stairs three at a time before running back towards the rear. I stopped short as I saw the other boat sliding up to ours. I knelt next to a boat storage chest and aimed while cocking the hammer of my rifle. The rush came and I shot the first man to leap to our boat. Two took his place as I cocked the rifle again and fired.
Three more men leaped aboard as I continued to fire. They started to fire at me as I emptied the six bullets in the rifle and let it fall on the single sling over my shoulder. I pulled my two pistols and cocked them as I brought them up. The men rushed me and I began to fire and cock the pistols to do it again.
It was a few moments before suddenly two shoguns fired at my shoulder and the boarders all went down. I came to my feet and moved forward with the other two guards. A few of the river pirates were moaning or screaming on the deck. There were shots from the other side of the boat and I turned but one of the other guards gestured, "stay here and dump them over the side."
They spun and ran toward the back of the boat to go around while I looked at the dead men around me. I reloaded my pistols and then the rifle before I stripped the men still alive and pulled them to the side and dumped them into the river. I spun at the hint of sound and pulled a pistol. I was in the shadows of one of the outer pillars.
The man I had caught cheating was sneaking closer to the bodies with a pistol in his hand. I waited until he was beside me before I cocked my pistol. He spun and lifted his pistol and I shot him in the throat. He went back and down as he choked and struggled and I moved towards him. I knelt to take the new looking Smithe pistol and holster and then his leather wallet.
I pulled him to the edge of the boat, "you should have left it alone."
I rolled him into the river and returned to the other bodies. One by one I searched them and dumped them into the river and then went to check the boat. The grapple hook they had used was tied off on a cleat. Besides a few mage lanterns there was nothing worth money on the sailboat.
Of all the weapons I took there was a new revolving cartridge shotgun and a cut down over and under shotgun. The grips were cut down and so were the barrels. All the pistols were older and worth little. A few of the other guards came back and went through the weapons while I secured the sailboat.
The rest of the night was quiet as we returned to our watch stations. Attacks like that were common outside the lower cities on the river which was why the mage boats had guards. When I was relieved the sun was rising. I went to grab a bowl of warm cereal before going to bed. I woke at noon and went to wash and then cleaned all of my weapons.
I went up to the lounge and grabbed a sandwich before moving to a gaming table. In the gambler's wallet had been ten, twenty royal notes so I had a lot more to work with. I set my money on the table and sipped coffee and played solitaire until a wealthy man joined me. A couple of hours and the table was full and slowly the stakes grew.
It was almost dinner time and the pot had grown to over three hundred royals. A narrow faced man I had disliked the moment I saw him looked around at all of us. I had discarded two and the new cards had given me a royal flush. He was out of money and should have just called.
Instead he pulled out ownership papers, "I have two of Emperor Dominic's daughters as breeders. They are worth two thousand royals apiece..."
I leaned forward, "the table rules are not to raise more than any single player has."
He sneered, "than the pot is mine."
I snorted, "no it means I shoot your dumb ass. Now either call or raise fifty royals but that is the limit."
He looked at the other men and they grinned and one gestured, "you heard the man and were told the table rules when you asked to play."
Fifty royals was all I had left and he tossed the ownership papers into the pot, "fine I raise fifty royals."
I guess the others thought he was trying to buy the pot and added their money. I sighed and pushed mine in. They went around the table displaying a pair or three of a kind but the asshole grinned as he displayed a full house, "I think this takes it."
I snorted as I turned my hand over, "not today."
He gasped as the others chuckled and then he glared, "you cheated."
Everyone went silent as I stared at him and then stood. Like the last time my sleeves were rolled up. I leaned on the table, "I will give you one minute to apologize before I kill you."
He swallowed, "it is not possible to..."
I straightened and pulled a pistol and set it on the table, "you bought a new deck of cards and dealt the hand. I never lifted my cards off the table."
He looked at the others before shoving his chair back, "okay you did not cheat."
He reached for the ownership papers in my pot and I growled, "touch it and I will shoot you."
He looked around, "the breeders are worth..."
I bent and picked up the papers, "you should have called before you threw them in, now they belong to me."
He spun and walked away and the others chuckled as I sat. I pulled the pot to me and stacked it before I took the cards and shuffled, "soo..."
.... There is more of this story ...