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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 57: Slade 67
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Previous chapter: Chapter 56: Hastings 111
They were not out of the city a quarter of an hour before a lone horse and rider approached. The cloaked form was immediately familiar, and the voice more so, as the gap narrowed.
"I was starting to worry about you," Shella said.
"Starting?" Slade answered.
"Well, I'd been watching you most of the way; but after you rode out of the city, I lost the picture, and I wasn't certain whether you were going to find me."
Slade wasted a smile on the darkness.
"Phasius," he said, "this is Shella, cousin of Filp, sister of my heir, andů."
"Your wife," Phasius said. "I am pleased to meet you."
Whether Shella appeared embarrassed Slade could not say by starlight; he hoped that she could not tell he was.
"Um--No, I'm sorry. I was going to say she was ward in my household. We're not married; neither of us."
"Oh. Yes, I see. My apologies. I had thought--but perhaps I saw wrong. Yes, of course. You are not married yet. Foolish of me to have mentioned it."
There was a very embarrassed silence for what seemed an eternity. Filp broke it.
"I'm sure this is all quite romantic or something, but we've got to change horses, get the rest of our gear, and get on the road. We want to be to Charton before they know we're gone."
"Right," Slade said. "Where's that wagon parked?"
Without a word, Shella turned the horse and rode toward a stand of trees some distance off the road. The others followed.
She was as efficient as ever. The horses were saddled, with most of the gear packed and ready to go. It was just a matter of making sure they had everything and knew where it was. Once mounted, they let the horses of the guard go, and took to the road in a swift canter, to put as much distance behind them as quickly as they could without overly tiring the horses.
At this speed in the darkness, there was not much conversation. Slade was lost in his thoughts, memories of the infant girl who could have stolen his heart, of the teenager who came to study magic in his castle and helped him scheme a bride for her brother, of the capable lady she had become in his absence. She was a remarkable girl; perhaps he'd always known that.
Day broke over them as they hurried along the road. By horseback it was a day's journey; that they had started in darkness meant only that they had its cover for the early part of the trip. Now was the most dangerous time. Phasius was a known person, someone who would be recognized by many. He wasn't like a rock star or something. There weren't pictures of him on the glossy covers of magazines or appearances on late night talk shows or fan clubs mailing thousands of autographed photographs in response to inane letters of shallow praise. He had helped hundreds in this country, and been seen by thousands. It was certainly known that he had been jailed by the prince. With daylight upon them, there was every chance that someone would happen to see them, to notice Phasius. Whether they reported his flight to the authorities or merely mentioned their surprise at seeing him to friends at the local inn, it amounted to the same problem. They could not hope to keep his presence secret very long if they could not get him under cover.
Cover, however, remained distant, at the home of Cornel of Charton. They were taking a chance traveling now, but there was as much danger in stopping sooner and allowing news of the escape to pass them on the road. At least they were fairly certain no guards would be waiting at Charton in expectation of their arrival. It was only to be hoped that they could get their needed rest and supplies and continue on fresh horses before such news caught up with them. Even with the horses, it was another day to the secluded barn, and from there a day's walk up the mountain road (perhaps half that if they kept the horses, but Slade was not yet certain how to handle that). That meant they would sleep briefly this afternoon, ride tonight, spend the daylight in the barn, and take the road up the mountain tomorrow night. If Acquivar received any clues of their direction, they would not make that road before he pursued them.
They did reach Charton unmolested; mindful of the notoriety of their charge, Slade skirted the town to reach the villa. Immediately they were recognized and brought inside. Servants scurried all directions, horses were unloaded and walked to stables, refreshments were offered and brought, rooms readied, all in a blur of excitement in which all seemed confused.
As they passed through a hall, talking about a thousand different things at once, Slade suddenly grabbed Shella's sleeve, and turned her toward him.
"Shella, would you," he began, then continued, "would you marry me?"
Her deep eyes almost enveloped him as she stared into his. "Yes, my lord," she said; "I believe I would."
"Very good," Phasius suddenly said; Slade whirled to see him. He had not been aware of the priest's presence, but the priest seemed equally unaware of Slade's surprise, as he continued. "We'll have the ceremony this afternoon, after we've had some rest. It will be a bit rushed, of course, but I'm sure Cornel will be pleased to host it. You two have put this off entirely too long, I'd say. Yes, I'll go start the arrangements."
Slade thought to object. He had expected an engagement, time for getting ready for marriage. All he could think to say was, "Don't we need some sort of premarital counseling or something?"
Phasius laughed in response. "No, I'm sure the two of you will figure out what to do. You've made your decision; is there a point to waiting?"
Slade did not know what the point to waiting was. Certainly if you were planning to invite family and friends, you needed time to prepare a wedding; but Filp was her only family and his only friend in this world, and he was already here. You might delay getting married if you had to build up a nest egg or something, school or jobs or whatever you had to do so that you could support yourselves together; but none of that applied to them, either. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed like an engagement was nothing more than a chance to change your mind. Now that he'd made up his mind, he wasn't likely to change it.
He smiled, slowly but broadly. "Nope. No reason at all."
As Phasius left them in the hall, finally and perhaps for the first time since she waved goodbye to him in his own castle library alone together, he took her in his arms, and gazed into her face. She smiled back, perhaps a bit more shyly than she usually did.
"I'm afraid," he said, "that your wedding feast is going to be a sandwich on the run, and your wedding night may be spent in a barn. It's not what I'd have planned had I really thought the thing through."
"It is wonderfully impulsive and romantic," she said. "I will treasure every minute of it."
Somewhat hesitantly Slade drew her closer, and remembered how to do something he had not done in uncounted years. He kissed her. He was almost surprised at how easy it came, and how sweet it was.
They walked out of the hall with their arms around each other. Already word had gotten ahead of them, and people congratulated and cheered them as they found their way upstairs. She went to her room and he to his, realizing that he might never be alone again.
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 #183: Verser Transitions. 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: