51. The Emporium Of Needs And Desires

We had asked a few people about the best place to buy stuff and they’d all suggested the same place: Madame Robidoo’s Emporium. Apparently it was the place to get kitted out.

With map in one hand and terrible sense of direction in the other, we navigated the spaghetti-like streets of Fengarad like 18th century explorers fumbling their way through the jungles of Africa.

Other than my debilitating stiffness—fortunately it eased off after a bit of walking—I felt pretty relaxed and was more than happy to be doing something as mundane as going shopping. We had enough money to buy what we needed, and maybe enough to get some cool stuff on top. What we would do after that was still undecided, but to be honest, none of us wanted to think about it until absolutely necessary. A new pair of underpants was far more important.

We got lost a number of times, and certain members of our party got distracted by a shoe shop where we were forced to wait while they inspected a vast range of inappropriate footwear, but eventually we found our way to the Emporium. It was a massive department store on two levels, with every sort of garment, from armour to ballgowns. A section at the back had weapons. Upstairs, there were tools, utensils, and household goods like cups and plates. And spoons, lots of spoons. Never again would I have to eat stew with a twig.

“Okay,” I said, “we should get some clothes first. Make sure it’s functional. Pockets are more important than sequins.”

“That’s incredibly sexist,” said Claire. “We aren’t idiots.”

I grabbed Flossie’s wrist and pulled her hand out from behind her. In her fist was a red spangly skirt. I prised it from her grip—which took some effort—and threw it back into a basket of equally brightly coloured fashion items.

“And nothing too colourful. We don’t want to stand out.”

We split up and began to rummage our way through the Emporium’s inventory. It took several hours for us to find everything we needed, but we were in no hurry. We probably should have haggled over the prices, but it was all well within our budget so we just piled everything up and paid what they asked.

There was no point carrying it all back to the inn, so we changed into our new gear and threw away our rags. Maurice held on to his Batman onesie, though. One day the Dark Knight would return, no doubt. No, that isn’t racist.

After some further convincing, the girls had settled on basic trousers and jackets, and sensible boots. The guys had obviously needed no coercing, and we had all gone for combat trousers with multiple pockets, and leather jackets with even more pockets.

I had considered the heavier armoured garments but they were so stiff and bulky, I didn’t think their extra protection would be worth the lack of mobility. It would probably be better to buy second-hand gear that had been broken in already.

We still looked quite scruffy—none of the guys could grow a beard that didn’t look like patchy underarm hair, and we hadn’t shaved in over a week—but the upgrade in outfits had elevated us from murder-hobo chic to rugged homeless bums. We all bought shaving kits, including the girls. I assumed for their legs, but I didn’t ask.

We bought decent bags, basic eating utensils, some hats—more arguing with the girls about what a hat was for and why pink flowers didn’t count as camouflage—and three tents.

Next up were weapons. First thing we did was get everyone a decent knife. They weren’t really for fighting—although that would probably be required at some point—more for everyday use. We also bought a couple of small axes and a mallet. Swords were a bit more expensive and none of us knew a good one from a bad one, so we bought the cheapest ones for now. I already had one, so didn’t need another, and Maurice was happy with his spear, so we bought three.

At the rear of the store, there were racks of bows of all sizes. From teeny ones suitable for a child, to giant ones that would dwarf even the tallest person. Other than the man behind the counter, the area was deserted.

“Can we try these out somewhere?” I asked the man.

“What do you mean?” He was tall and bald, with a very neat beard and a depressed look on his face.

“I want to buy a bow,” I explained, “but I don’t know which would suit me best. So, can I try them out?” It seemed fairly self-explanatory.

“Try them out how?” said the man.

“Is there somewhere I can fire off a few arrows?”

“No.” He didn’t seem to be taking me very seriously. “That would be dangerous.”

“Look, the five of us all want to buy a bow. That’s five bows, plus a ton of arrows. But we have to be able to test them first. Otherwise we’ll go somewhere else. Now, is there an alleyway or something where we can safely shoot some arrows? We’ll pay for the arrows.”

He’d remained so impassive as I spoke, I thought maybe he hadn’t heard any of what I’d said, but he suddenly walked out from behind the counter and over to a door. He held it open and nodded.

I stepped through the door to find a narrow alley, bricked up at one end and leading to the street at the other. Apart from some trash, it was empty. I went back inside.

“That’s fine. Now we just need a target.” I looked at him. Nothing. “How about a bale of hay? Is there a stable nearby we could borrow one from.” Still nothing. “Or buy. I’ll pay.”

He let out a shrill whistle and a boy, maybe ten years old, came running across the store. The man told him we needed a bale of hay and the kid ran out of the door into the alley. While we waited, we selected a bunch of bows and paid for a quiver of twenty arrows.

The kid returned in about five minutes, balancing a huge bale of hay on his back. He was told to put it down at the far end of the alley.

We all stood in the alley and I aimed an arrow at the bale. It was hard to even draw the string back, and when I did finally let it go, it missed the bale by a good margin and smashed into the back wall. The arrow broke, obviously. I could tell this would waste a lot of arrows.

“How much does a bale of hay cost?” I asked the man.

“One chob.”

That was nothing to a bunch of money-bags like us. I looked at the far wall and measured roughly how many bales it would take to entirely cover it. “Please send for eleven more bales.”

This got me a single raised eyebrow, but he whistled again and sent the boy off. He returned with a bunch of little friends, and they piled up the bales until there was a wall of hay at one end of the alley.

I tried one of the other bows—this one was smaller and a lot easier to draw. My aim was still terrible, but it did land in the hay. I walked down and pulled the arrow out. It wasn’t broken.

After that, we all tried different bows until we each found one that suited us. There were a few more breakages as arrows hit the wall or went straight into the ground, but mostly they found their target.

Everyone apart for Dudley chose one of the smaller, more compact bows. They were easiest to use, and to carry. Dudley preferred a larger, more powerful bow that was quite tricky to use, but had a bigger range. He had some natural talent and his arrows were neatly grouped together.

The salesman almost smiled as we paid for our bows and arrows. I asked him to leave the bales where they were so I could come and practice. I arranged to pay him a small fee for this, which seemed to both confuse and delight him. The idea of a firing range to hone your skills was apparently not something anyone had suggested to him. I planned to come here for the next several days and get good. Or at least, less terrible.

Having finally got everything we needed, I turned to the girls and said, “Right, that should do us for now. You can use the money you have left to buy whatever useless crap you want.”

Both girls looked shocked. It didn’t take long for them to recover, though. They dropped everything they were carrying and ran off making strange squealing sounds.

They came back with their arms full of hopelessly impractical stuff. Lace dresses, weird hats, silk scarves and all sorts of nasty cheap jewellry. They were panting, their faces were red and their mouths were fixed in huge grins. For the first time ever, I’d managed to make two women orgasm at the same time.

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