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They entered the outskirts of Boone just before sunset and Mortimer led them to the inn.

“The stores stay open fairly late in winter, so we should have no trouble getting what we need tonight or early tomorrow morning. We shouldn’t be too late in returning tomorrow; we left a bit later than I’d expected today.” He didn’t bring up the reason behind the delay.

The inn was well lit and a feeling of warmth seemed to emanate from it. The livery was just to the right of the inn and had more than enough stalls available.

“They tack on a small fee to the bill for using the stables, and with so many visitors it adds up and goes back to Jim and Macey for the upkeep of the stables.” Jim and Macey were the older couple who managed the livery and stables.

“Mortimer! Good to see you, my good sir. I was worried you wouldn’t be making it down from your cabin this winter.” Jim greeted them with a wide grin and shook their hands. He couldn’t have been much older than Mortimer, but he showed all the signs of having had a hard life. His hands were well weathered and cracked. His face was tanned dark and bore heavy wrinkles.

“This is James Sharp. I met him out West a while back and he stopped in to visit a while.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Sharp. You need anything at all, just let me or Macey know. Phillip and Ruth over at the inn too. Hell, just let anyone in town know and we’ll be glad to help you. It’s good to see a new face in these parts.” James was taken aback at Jim’s friendliness. He was so used to the townsfolk out West being suspicious of any new face that he’d forgotten that people could be friendly to strangers and not automatically assume the worst in someone.

Macey, a stout lady clearly used to a life working with her hands, came toward them out of a stable and greeted them with the same friendly attitude as her husband.

“It’s a relief knowing Douglas isn’t up in the cabin all by himself in winter like this. I don’t care how capable someone is, it doesn’t do any good being alone all the time.” She hovered over Mortimer and fussed at how thin he was. Mortimer gave the impression of humoring her, but James could tell he was somewhat pleased to be fussed over like that, and he didn’t seem to mind her using ‘Douglas’ instead of ‘Henry’.

“Well, let’s get your lass in a stable with some good hay. She’s a sturdy old girl, isn’t she?” Jim ran an expert eye over Willow. “I’ll check her shoes and give her a look over while y’all are here. I do the same with Reginald.” Not exactly the name James was expecting Mortimer to call his stallion, but eyeing the large, black horse, the name suited him admirably.

“What’s her name? Helps calm them if I can talk to them and use their names.”

“Willow. She’s pretty easy going. She’s never made a fuss about her hooves being seen to or anything like that.”

“Thanks for letting me know. Some people don’t let us know if their horse is a nervous Nellie or prone to kicking out or is just difficult to manage. Good to know your girl is the relaxed sort.” Jim patted her neck gently as he led her to a stall. Macey led Reginald to the one right beside Willow’s.

“We’ll go to the main general store first and get what we need. Mainly blankets, some proper winter clothes and boots for you, and I need a new pair myself. There’s also tools and other supplies.” Mortimer headed across the road to the large, again well lit, store. Despite the time, there were still customers coming and going.

“What’ll it be today, Mr. Mortimer?” A tall, burly man with a thick beard called out from behind the long counter to their right as they entered the store. The store was filled with supplies, from barrels all around the floor filled with everything from sweets to pickaxes to walls lined with yet more tools and a wide assortment of clothes.

“Stocking up on the usual essentials, Mark. This is James Sharp, a friend from out West, and he’ll be staying here a while. He needs some decent clothes for the winter, and we’ll need more blankets and possibly some tools.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Sharp. Mark Bailey at your service. You let me know if you need anything at all. I’ve most of everything y’all might need. If I don’t have it, Matthew over at the other store should. We try to make sure we don’t all carry the same stock, that way we each can get some business; especially with how winters get ’round these parts.” Mark turned his attention back to the inventory list in his hand as James and Mortimer turned theirs to the many barrels.

“Mark has nearly everything we need, but we’ll see Matthew for anything else.”

“Alright. What do we need?”

We need another shovel, more burlap sacks, nails, blankets, and, now that we have even more spending money, anything else that catches our eye. Mark’s sweet collection is unrivaled. You need proper boots, numerous warm socks, decently warm underwear, including long underwear to go under your trousers, gloves, a woolen hat, a scarf, and likely some other garments that I’ll think of. I don’t know how you managed not to freeze to death or lose some fingers or toes out West in winter. Or did you just head South every winter?” Mortimer laughed as he perused an assortment of shovels.

Uncharacteristically, James felt himself flush red. He did in fact, head South every winter. Thanks to his adventures with Tuco and Angel Eyes, he didn’t much like the blistering heat either, but he was at least used to it compared to the cold.

“I’ve never really much cared for the cold. Wasn’t ever really a problem to head where it was warmer for a while.”

“Not to worry, my boy. Even living around here for so long, I can’t say I enjoy the cold months either, but you get used to them. I prefer to use winter as an excuse to catch up on my reading and all the other things I don’t have as much time for the rest of the year. There’s little to do except for staying warm inside and waiting it out anyway.” Having selected his shovel, Mortimer made his way to the blankets layered in a corner of the store. Here he hefted a thick, gray wool blanket before tossing it over to James.

“We need another three just as thick if not more so. If you’d handle that, I’ll get the sacks and nails.” With that Mortimer headed off toward the front of the store and left James to select their blankets. He was surprised at the variety of color and pattern choices, and for whatever reason he decided not to go with three more plain gray blankets and so he found himself holding up various blankets for inspection and feeling rather foolish. They’re just blankets and there he was comparing them like some woman comparing curtains. He had to shake his head at the thought. Putting the thought aside, James selected dark green, rich blue, and dark red blankets to go with the gray one Mortimer had picked out.

In the time it had taken James to gather the blankets, Mortimer had already acquired a number of burlap sacks and was making steady progress through a wide variety of nails. James didn’t understand why Mortimer was being so particular about nails. Nails were nails, right?

Wrong. Mortimer said as such when James asked.

“Not at all. See these long ones here? You want those for nailing together beams and the like. Smaller, thinner ones do nicely for floorboards. The cabin is solid, but it doesn’t hurt to have more nails. I also need to mend the fence in a few spots.”

James took Mortimer at his word, and headed up the stairs where signs lead him to racks and stacks of clothes, boots, coats, and other items. He decided to wait to see what Mortimer would advise for boots and began examining scarves, hats, gloves, and socks. James was carrying two scarves, two pairs of gloves, and five pairs of socks when Mortimer joined him.

“That’s not a bad start.” He held out a basket for James to dump them in. “You need another five or so pairs of socks. I’ll take a look at what he has by way of boots while you get those and a good, warm coat.” Mortimer said over his shoulder as he walked away.

James grabbed more socks and added them to the growing pile in the basket. He then eyed the selection of coats hanging at the other end of the floor. If he was honest, James wasn’t too sure what was most suitable, but he figured he wouldn’t be too far off the mark if he stuck to wool. He wasn’t short on options for warm coats and after some perusal he selected a brown wool one that fell to just past his knees, and it didn’t even need any tailoring for it to fit him properly.

“That’ll do nicely.” James turned as Mortimer walked up beside him carrying two pairs of boots. Thrusting the brown pair at him, Mortimer continued, “See if these fit.” James obediently made for a bench to try on the boots. Bulkier than his current pair, he noted that these were lined with soft fur and the sturdy soles seemed ideal for the rocky terrain and winter weather. The fit was perfect.

“Excellent. That about does it here for us. Matthew across the street will have all the undergarments we need, as well as trousers and shirts.” James took the new pair off and put back on his well worn ones; he noticed that Mortimer’s new boots were identical to his own but in his usual black. Since he’d arrived, James didn’t think he’d seen Mortimer wear anything that wasn’t black and white.

As they made their way back downstairs, James’ eye was finally caught by the many barrels of sweets and candy. The was also a selection of bottled soft drinks; well, Mortimer had said Mark’s selection was unrivaled in the town. Looking over the barrels, James found himself befuddled by all the options; he’d never even seen most of them.

“Too many options?” Mortimer grinned at him across the barrels.

“A bit. I, uh, I don’t have much experience when it comes to sweets.”

Mortimer watched James for a moment, taking in his friend’s apparent embarrassment.

“In that case, we’ll get a little of each and get you acquainted with them all. Mark,” Mortimer called over to the counter, “we want to get some of each sweet, if you will.”

“Of course. About a half pound of each good?” Mark carried out a stack of paper sacks meant for the sweets.

“A pound each of the hoarhound and birch. Two pounds each of the lavender and licorice, and a half pound each of the rest.” Mark went to each barrel weighing out the assorted sweets and, James noted, adding more than Mortimer had asked for.

“Now now, you’re a good friend and customer, Douglas, and I can more than spare a little extra sweets for you both.” Mark would hear none of the older man’s protests, and quickly rang up their purchases. Mortimer in turn refuse to accept any change back from him. They had more than enough and he wanted to do right by Mark and pay the proper price for everything. James found himself smiling as he watched the two men bicker about the money. He could get used to this.