At the Carlton, Count Gaspar di Cassals and the Duchess de Bernal approach Paladin in the restaurant. The Count explains that he's from Montenegro. The Duchess is the Royal Secretary to Princess Alisna Serafina. The man swears Paladin to secrecy and the Duchess says that fate of Montenegro may rest in Paladin's hands. She explains that Serafina has been making a grand tour of the U.S. and has disappeared. They believe that she's been kidnapped by members of the opposition party, and a woman resembling Serafina was seen in the company of two men near the town of Plankton. No one can know that they're missing, so they didn't wire the authorities. Serafina is the heir apparent and there's no hope for their country without her. They agree to pay Paladin's normal fee and leave.
Soon, Paladin rides to Plankton and spots a camp up ahead. The men are cutting wood and a woman flounces over from the stream and goes into the tent. Paladin chuckles and rides over, and approaches one of the two men, gun drawn. The man, a guide, looks up and Paladin motions him over and tells him to call the second guide Carl over. Carl comes over and the two men say that they don't have much money. Paladin asks who paid them to kidnap Serafina, and the guides say that she paid them to guide her. The gunfighter gives them $200 to ride off and forget that they ever saw Serafina, and they soon agree, ignoring Serafina as she calls to them.
Serafina continues making camp and goes into the tent, and it soon collapses on her when she knocks a pole. Chuckling, Paladin brings his horse over and helps Serafina out. She says that her "bearers" have run off, and says that she'll pay Paladin to take her to Mexico where she's bound. Paladin explains that he's going to San Francisco and Serafina refuses to go there. He says that he'll leave word in the next town, and jokingly refers to the mountain lions and rattlesnakes. Serafina tells him that she will go to San Francisco and offers to pay him to guide her, and Paladin tells her that she should say "please"... and she does so.
Paladin unloads Serafina's horse and offers to make supper. She orders an elaborate meal and is surprised when Paladin is familiar with it. He then gives her a "political history" lesson and says that they should share responsibilities. When Paladin makes it clear that either they'll share the duties or each take care of their own things--and Serafina's luggage is heavy--she agrees to cook.
Serafina and Paladin eat, and Paladin compliments Serafina on her cooking. She talks about how she watched the servants and learned how to cook because she wasn't allowed to play with children but learned with a servant girl. When they found out that Serafina was playing with a servant girl, they sent the servant girl. Serafina complains about how her life was regulated and envies Paladin his freedom as a "noble savage". Paladin says that none of them are truly free and they have a duty to one's self. Serafina talks about her desire for happiness and snaps at Paladin points out that she has too much sugar in her coffee. She drinks it anyway and chokes.
Once the sun sets, Paladin sets up his bedroll near her. Serafina objects, pointing out that he's a stranger, and Paladin points out that he's a... free savage. Angry, Serafina walks off as a coyote howls in the distance.
The next day, Paladin and Serafina ride for San Francisco. They stop to make camp and Serafina has Paladin look away until she's finished making American flapjacks. They eat and Paladin says that they will reach San Francisco the next day. Serafina says that she would give up a kingdom and they sit by the fire. The princess suggests that they could leave and be free together, and they kiss. Paladin tells her that if there was no duty, he would wish away every kingdom but the one they're in and kisses Serafina again.
The couple arrive in San Francisco and they drink champagne in the Carlton restaurant. Serafina finally tells Paladin who she is, and Paladin says that he already knows. She's offended at first, accusing Paladin of being a gigolo, and he says that the romance was unintended and made things harder for him. Paladin says that he won't be paid until he delivers her and offers to take her anywhere that she wants to go as long as it's truly what she wants. Touched, Serafina agrees to go through with her marriage but says that for a moment, the two of them touched through the bars of their duties.
Serafina goes to her chair for the wedding, and tells Paladin to tell the ministers that she's ready. They come in and the Montenegro minister performs the wedding. Paladin goes to the doorway and smiles at Serafina, who smiles back.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 10, 2019