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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 16: Slade 48
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 15: Hastings 100
Slade wished the crest of the pass had confirmed his guess. It did nothing for him. The far side was heavily wooded, and dropped slowly, giving little vantage of anything ahead. "May the Norns guide my steps," he said, words which he thought had once brought him where he needed to be in another world.
"What's that?" Filp said. "The ears aren't so keen as they once were."
"I'll remember that," Slade said. "I was just praying, asking the gods to show me where we should be going."
"I didn't know you were a religious man," Filp said.
"Well, I didn't either. There's something about dying that makes you question all you know; and if you get the chance to think about it again, you usually come up with different answers. Maybe that's not true. Maybe it's just that I never had an answer about death until I died, and then I realized that maybe that was something I should have considered."
"So, when you died, you found out what life was all about? That seems a bit late in the game, doesn't it?"
"First, I don't guess I did find out what life was all about when I died. I guessed. I've known two other people who died and lived to talk about it; neither of them agrees with me or with each other. One says the world is created and run by one God, the other says there aren't any gods at all. I know he's wrong; he doesn't believe in magic or elemental spirits, either, and I think we're pretty clear that they exist. But she's got a lot going for her. I just have trouble with a couple of things she thinks, and I think it's more likely that there are a lot of gods than just one, so that's the way I pray.
"But as for it being a bit late in the game, I guess maybe it is. Probably I should have given some thought to what life was really all about long before I died. Maybe I got lucky, got a second chance to figure it out. I don't suppose most people do."
"So, Slade," Shella asked, "what is life all about?"
Slade realized he was, well, overextended was the best word he could find. "Actually, I'd have to say I don't know. That's too big a question."
"What do you mean, you don't know," Filp exclaimed. "Didn't you just say you found out when you died?"
"No, I said I made a guess. But even if I'm right, I don't know what life is about. I only know what my life is about. That's not the same thing. It might have nothing to do with the meaning of your life, or yours, or anyone else we ever meet. For me, I'm one of the chosen warriors of Odin, the All Father, preparing for the battle of Ragnorak at the end of all things. I fight, I die, I live again, all to hone my craft. I knew this before I met you, Filp, even though then I couldn't use a sword and had never even seen a blaster. But your world opened the door for me to learn how to fight; and the world I went to from there gave me opportunities to practice and new techniques. I'm a fighter. That's what my life is about.
"Now, what anyone else's life is about is a complete mystery to me. But then, I wouldn't really expect to know what anyone else's life is about. It's nothing to do with me."
"I'm not sure that's true," Shella said. "After all, it seems that Filp's life and my life have much to do with you, not to mention Torrence and Omigger."
Torrence was Shella's brother, whom Slade had designated as his heir before he had versed out of that world. Omigger, a closer cousin to Filp than Torrelle's family, was the wizard who had introduced magic to Slade, and through Slade to Shella.
"I don't mean that people don't matter to me. You all matter very much. But I'll be killed at some point, and then I'll go on preparing for the battle. What the gods expect of you they probably won't tell me. Maybe if I was a priest or a seer or something, but what business is it of a warrior to pry into what the gods have in store for his civilian friends?"
They walked in silence for a while. Slade wondered whether he was right, whether indeed the purpose for their lives was no business of his. Somehow there seemed something unsound about that. After all, if the ultimate questions in the lives of the people you most loved and who most loved you were no business of yours, in what sense did you really care for them?
"So where is this castle?" Filp's question broke Slade's musings.
"I don't see it yet," he said, "but I think it's probably this side of the pass."
"You think? Don't you know?"
"I could be wrong. We'll find out soon enough."
"How do you propose we do that?"
Slade had no idea.
"Look, we can't travel too far without coming to something or someone. People must use this road; they must stay somewhere along the way. I haven't seen any cars, and roads aren't used by flying carpets, so horses and feet are the likely means of travel. They require inns fairly close together. An innkeeper shouldn't find it too unusual for travelers to ask where they are relative to important things, like whose country this is and how far is the castle. Anyway, I'm making this up as I go along. It's the best I can think to do."
"Great," Filp said, the sarcasm apparent in his voice. "This is better than opening bottles at random hoping the djinni will come out before the effriit notice."
"Hey, that worked."
"Yeah, but you can't be lucky all the time."
"But maybe I can be lucky again this time."
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: