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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 13: Slade 47
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 12: Hastings 99
The clean air of rural countryside was not unfamiliar to Slade. He had been living the past year or so in an unspoiled world, and before that, divided by a stretch of months in the filtered air of a space ship, had lived a brief lifetime in Filp and Shella's world. The thicker atmosphere of the modern world in which he had been born was unfamiliar to his nose. This unsullied breeze was what he had known for more years than he could say.
Thus he wondered why it didn't smell as sweet as he remembered. For a moment he thought perhaps this was not so primitive a world as he had anticipated. Talk of castles, priests, and efriit had prepared his expectations for something medieval. There could be early industry, perhaps gunpowder weapons, in use here, fouling the air. No sight of such met his eyes; it was only the air, somehow thicker than it should be, which gave this impression.
"Of course," he said, as recognition dawned.
"Of course what?" Filp asked.
"I was wondering about the air. It seems somehow imperfect, and I couldn't think why."
"That one's easy," Shella said. "We've just spent a day and a night in the home of an elemental spirit of the air. Next to the air we were breathing there, anything would seem imperfect."
Slade looked at her. "Yeah," he said. "That's what I was thinking."
"So, which way is this castle?" Filp said. Having reviewed their equipment and talked of their abilities, they had stepped through the door and out into a new world. Looking back, there was the door of an abandoned barn behind them; there was no path back to that wonderful room from which they had come.
"Darned if I know," Slade said. "I suppose if Torrelle were here, he'd know which way to go."
"Yeah, or if he didn't he would pretend he did," Filp said. "That man would never admit that he was wrong about anything. It was maddening."
"He was your cousin," Slade said.
"And my father," Shella added, somewhat sternly.
Filp looked a bit embarrassed. "I--I meant no offense. He was a good man and a good leader. I think when you get old, you don't always stop to think about what you're saying. Not enough time to say everything you wish you'd said, so you just say things."
Slade smiled. "Well, I might not know where we're going, but I notice that there's a road right over there. Roads always go somewhere. Let me dare to guess that this one goes where we want to be, in one direction or the other. And perhaps if we take a good look at it, we may find some clue to tell us which direction is which." As he walked toward the road, he heard them following.
"Yeah, that sounds like something Torrelle would say," Filp said. "Follow the road; it has to go somewhere."
Slade had learned little from their discussion before they left; what he had learned didn't entirely make sense. Filp hadn't done much in the way of thieving practice for maybe forty years, since he and Slade had scaled the walls of his own castle to test the defenses. He had all his old gear, lock picks, crowbar, grapples, pitons, ropes, even the oversized crossbow with which he fired a grappling hook farther than anyone could easily throw it. He was not much of a fighter, but did have his garrote and a dagger with him. Shella had continued to study magic as her brother's guest in Slade's old library. She had learned quite a bit in the few years since he had left.
That was the part that didn't make any sense. For Filp, it had been almost four decades since Slade had died; for Shella, not much more than a couple of years. Time meant nothing in the multiverse, he knew, but this he had trouble reconciling.
Reaching the road, Slade realized they were very near the top of a mountain pass. The gap in the trees showed farmlands spreading below them. The caliph had said specifically that he would deliver them just beyond the boundaries of Acquivar's domain. Such boundaries were usually marked by clear geographical lines. The line of the mountains would be exactly that sort of boundary; it would almost certainly cross the pass at its highest point. They were looking down into the country which bordered Acquivar's; the land they wanted was on the other side of the pass.
It was not what Joe Kondor would have considered an airtight case, Slade supposed, but it was the best he could do. Turning up the hill to climb the last hundred yards to the summit, he said, "This way."
"Yeah, that's just like Torrelle," Filp said, but Slade took it as a compliment.
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 #164: Versers Proceed. 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: