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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 27: Slade 9
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 26, Kondor 9
Life returned to what passed for normal for medieval land owners. Slade practiced his sword fighting and also worked with his first weapon, the mace. He drilled his men, and worked with their captains on defenses in the unlikely event of an attack. Realizing that he would eventually run out of his stick matches despite making each last several weeks, and although he had them primarily so that he could have something in his mouth they were much more valuable as matches than as surrogate cigarettes, he began chewing on toothpicks instead. These he had specially made by the woodcutter who provided their firewood, splitting select logs down nearly to splinters for the purpose. He also finished reading that book Omigger had given him; and having read it, he realized that he had learned quite a bit, so he went back and read it again. He even learned to do a few "tricks", as he called them (Omigger, he knew, would not approve of that word; the wizard took magic much too seriously). Summer passed, then winter.
But his visits to his friends were much less than he'd expected, and had put him off travel for a while. He knew he should visit Filp, just for old time's sake, but he couldn't think of a good excuse to go. Torelle had taught him to fight, and even though the fighter didn't teach him more when he visited, he had welcomed him and suggested that he could learn from the soldiers. Omigger had been willing to show him a bit of magic, and when he visited there, the wizard encouraged him to learn more. But Filp kept his secrets secret. It would not do to ask for another lesson in what the thief had never been willing to teach. So the summer passed again with Slade at home, followed by another winter. It wasn't until the following spring that he decided to make the trip.
Again Torelle was on the way, so he stopped over for a few days. The baby he remembered was now three, and what Slade's mom would have called a "terror on wheels" as he charged around the house with the stick he used for a sword. There was now also a younger brother and a baby girl. Slade realized that he should learn their names; the oldest, Mica, was already talking, and Torrence could babble up a storm. As for Shella, she was a darling girl who could easily have stolen his heart.
Torelle asked why Slade had not yet married and started his own family. It wouldn't work, Slade tried to explain; but he realized that there was no way Torelle could understand. So he just said that he was a foreigner, and would always be a foreigner, and no one wanted to marry a foreigner.
Omigger was not on the way, and although the book had taught him much, Slade wasn't particularly interested in starting on another. So they went directly to Filp's home. Slade noticed that Torelle was very much in the middle of the group, that the best way to each of their homes was by way of his. He thought it probably was not an accident.
Arriving late in the day, he announced himself to the guard and requested admittance. The guard refused.
"I'm sorry, sir; I don't know you, and have no orders to admit you."
"Well, go find Filp--go find your liege, and ask him."
"I can't, sir. He's not here."
"Not here? Where is he? He didn't ride off to visit me, did he?"
"No, sir, at least not that I know. I believe he went into the village."
"Was there some problem he had to resolve that required his attention?"
"Not that I know, sir."
"Well, where I can find him?"
The guard hesitated, appearing uncertain as to whether it would be a breach of his duty to reveal such information. "I believe, sir," he finally said, "that you will find him at the Golden Bear."
The village was in sight from the castle, and Slade wheeled his horse and started off. "Thank you!" he called over his shoulder. 'Why didn't you just say so' was more what he felt.
The Golden Bear proved to be a tavern. Slade tossed the captain of his guard a few coins and told him to buy something for the men, and he walked in and looked around. Filp was sitting alone at the counter, his head hung over a large frothy mug.
"Affairs of state weighing heavy on your mind?" Slade asked as he stepped up behind him.
"That's not your concern," he started, as he turned around; but he broke the thought. "Slade! It is so good to see you. You have no idea."
"So, why are you down here drinking too much, and alone at that, instead of enjoying your home?"
"Oh, it's all so wrong. It's terrible. Like I once heard, it seems that having is not so pleasant as wanting."
"I don't know if that's entirely true. I remember one girl--," but Slade decided to lose that thought. He sat down at the bar, and signaled the barmaid for a pint. "Tell me about it."
"Well, the other landowners don't like me. They treat me like I'm some peasant trash crashing their parties, like I was a thief or something."
"Filp, you are a thief."
"Yes, but I wouldn't steal from people at parties. Anyway, I don't need to steal anything anymore. I just don't like being treated like dirt. But the peasants, they don't like me either. I think they don't know what I am--I'm like the nobleman who isn't noble, and the commoner who isn't common. The men try to be respectful and then get away; and they don't let their daughters come anywhere near me. The only girl who'll talk to me is Wen, the barmaid." He smiled at her, and she smiled back, a bit flirtatiously.
"I know it can be lonely; I try to get out once a year to go visiting, although I didn't last year. But you've got that beautiful home, and all the money you could ever want. Why don't you just make yourself comfortable up there?"
"Oh, the men don't respect me. They know I'm no fighter and I don't know what I'm talking about when I try to run things. I feel like they resent it when I ask them to do things. Can't even get someone to serve me a decent meal."
"The mess sergeant won't cook for you?"
"There's a mess sergeant?"
Slade looked at his old friend with bemused sympathy. "I'm beginning to understand your problem." He downed his drink. "Come, I learned a few things from Torelle. I think I can get things straightened out; just work with me."
They walked back to the castle, Slade leading his horse. He gave his captain a bit more money, and said they should get something to eat, and then join him there when they were finished. This time Slade was admitted immediately, with some apologies by the guard.
"No need to apologize. You were doing your job, and you did it very well. My retinue will be arriving shortly; please see to it that they are provided stables for their horses and a place to clean up."
The guard was surprised by the way Slade took charge of the situation, and could only respond, "Yes sir."
"Have the mess sergeant prepare a light lunch; we will eat in the dining room, as soon as I have cleaned up. Tell him we would like coffee. I'm certain there's some in the larder, but if he doesn't know how to make it, I can instruct him. Also, tell the castellan that his liege would like to see him there at his earliest convenience. We will be there shortly."
By the time Slade had found a room, washed up, and reached the dining room, the castellan and the mess sergeant were waiting, and food was on the table. The mess sergeant seemed a bit nervous, so Slade dealt with him first, explaining how to recognize, prepare, and serve coffee. The mess sergeant said it seemed a very odd and complicated approach to a beverage, but that he would work on it immediately. He asked if there would be anything else, but Slade said it all looked excellent, and they would be fine. He signaled Filp to sit and start eating, and turned to the castellan.
"I want to thank you for your excellent work during my friend's recent madness."
"That's very kind of you to act like you didn't know. He has been off his head for some time, but I think he's finally recovering. Anyway, we need to fix a few things around here.
"First, you and the men have done an excellent job. We would like you to give each of them an extra month's pay as a bonus for their good work through these difficult years." Filp almost choked on his food, but Slade kept going. "Also, we wish to increase your wage, but we'll talk about the amount later."
"Yes, sir." The castellan seemed a bit bewildered, but Slade knew he was getting it.
"Now, we need to hire some household staff. I know this should have been done years ago, but we're doing it now. We will need a chef and a kitchen crew--the mess sergeant is certainly an excellent cook, but it's unfair to expect him to care for his lordship and guests in addition to feeding the men every day. There should also be housekeepers, maids to clean the rooms. This is a big house, so we will need several. I suspect that a number of the village women and perhaps the girls can use the work. And a stableboy for the horses--more than one, I think; no need for your men to be mucking stables, as they have more important things to do. And I think that Master Filp will need a gentleman's gentleman--although I'll understand if you're more comfortable assigning one of your men to attend him. It might also be wise to employ a household manager to oversee the staff, so that it doesn't become your problem.
"You have done an excellent job to date, and we trust your judgment on this matter."
"Will that be all, sir?"
"No, not quite. During the recent problems the men have gotten a bit sloppy."
"It's not your fault; the situation must have been--what's the word?--demoralizing. But it must change. Over the next weeks, Master Filp and I will be conducting a few spot inspections and testing the alertness of the guard. In fact, I'd like to address them--all of them, including those who are on night duty. But I don't want to interrupt anyone's sleep--at least, not anyone who's not on duty." He smiled at his little joke, but the castellan was not laughing. "Let me know when would be good for that."
"Yes sir. I'll see to it." And he excused himself.
Slade sat down at the table, and pulled together some lunch.
"Now I've got a plan for a bit of fun. But first we've got to get you sober and sharp, and in top form. I'll tell you what we're doing later, when no one will interrupt or overhear."
The coffee came before they had finished. It was much too strong, very bitter, with grounds floating in it; and the honey made it taste very strange, and the milk was starting to turn. But Slade never enjoyed even a cup of cappuccino more.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #27: A Novel Continuation. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: