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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 1: Slade 43
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The birds returned in the spring, and built their nests in the meadow around the lake.
Robert Elvis Slade smiled at the difference between the image that conjured in his mind, and the reality that had presented itself before his eyes. In this world, the birds were about four feet tall, with bright downy feathers and no wings, who returned by walking upstream along the banks of the swollen river. The nests they built looked more like wigwams, six-foot round covered homes of sticks and straw. This was a far cry from the world in which he had been born, several universes ago. Becoming a verser--a person who when killed dissolved into the scriff between the universes and came back into existence exactly as he was in another world--had certainly introduced him to new ideas and experiences. It beat joining the navy; the world was, by comparison, a very small place to see.
The return of the birds had marked the beginning of a quiet time in Slade's life. Slade was a man who found quite times disquieting. He envisioned himself a chosen warrior in Odin's army, honing his craft in preparation for Ragnorak (even if he knew far less about all that than some people who didn't believe it), and a time of peace--well, rest was important, but it was supposed to be between the battles, not perpetual. It was not made easier by the admiration the parakeet people had for him. In the fall, he had rescued one of them. He and his two friends, Lauren Hastings and Joe Kondor, had gone up into the mountains when the young hen Speckles had been birdnapped. Lauren had leapt from a cliff to fight a giant flying reptile; Joe had held back a small army. It had been Slade alone who reached the girl, killed her captors (and the monster to which she was being sacrificed), and returned her home, so in their bird brains, he got all the credit. It was a bit difficult for him. He certainly wanted to brag about his part, slaying a wizard and a giant serpent, but he did not want to detract from the credit due his friends. Although when he told the story now, as he did more frequently as he better grasped their musical language, he emphasized the parts played by others, they seemed overly awed by him. He wanted to brag; but he wanted to brag to others who had done great deeds themselves, and appreciated him as an equal, not, as it seemed, a god. Thus he had something of an itch to get into trouble.
The best place he knew to get into trouble was the mountains. He had taken to exploring these more, partly as a distraction, partly in the hope that he would find an opponent worthy of his skill. On the latter, he was sorely disappointed. Even the sparrow people, who had been last fall's enemies, fled at the sight of his six foot two inch lanky body, long golden blond hair, and twenty-two year old well-muscled physique. No wonder the birds thought him a god, he thought. He was starting to look like Thor.
This particular day's explorations brought him to a familiar log bridge. It was here, many months ago, that he had stood in the wind and reminded the spirits behind it that he was Robert Elvis Slade, friend and ally of the Caliph of the West Wind. He had once released a djinni, a lord of the djinn, from a bottle, and one of his wishes had conferred this status of friend in perpetuity upon him. It had allowed them to cross this bridge which, he was convinced, had been magicked against them.
Today he was just crossing it to explore the other side of the chasm.
Today he lost his footing, and fell.
As he plummeted toward the ground untold fathoms below, he wondered if he had anything in his pack or tool chest that might help him in this situation. A parachute would be nice. No, he didn't have anything like that. He'd learned a bit of magic, but nothing came to mind for this. Then he wondered whether he should face his doom with his eyes open. That seemed the courageous thing to do. On the other hand, it seemed the foolish thing. What was so brave about watching the ground hurtle upward toward your face with increasing velocity until it smashed into you? Slade could not think of any virtue in that. It occurred to him that he might have thought some virtue in it if he were sitting around talking about what he would do in a situation like this, perhaps with Lauren; but really, only he would know whether his eyes were open or closed when he hit the ground--and why would he, or anyone else, care?
Thus satisfied that it was not a cowardly thing to do, he closed his eyes.
In a moment, he hit the ground--but it did not hurt, terribly. He had the wind knocked out of him, and his pack crunched down on him a bit, but this was not the end he had anticipated. In fact, the ground felt wrong. It was smooth and cool, flat and level--not at all either the craggy rocks or the loose dirt and debris he had alternately imagined at the bottom of the cleft. This was unexpected. He opened his eyes and sat up.
He was sitting on the beautifully carved and inlaid marble steps of a castle whose walls and pillars were overlaid with silver and gold, surrounded by billowing clouds which seemed to support it.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #157: Versers Restart. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: