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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 60: Slade 68
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Previous chapter: Chapter 59: Hastings 112
"Wake up, warrior of Odin, and prepare for battle."
Filp spoke the words with a touch of joviality that belied their apparent meeting; thus Slade awoke a bit confused.
"What battle?" he asked.
"That's what Phasius told me to say. You're getting married in a few minutes. It seems silly to me--I never thought of being married as part of the war. But apparently it has something to do with someone called Frigga and all the noble virtues of courage, a facing of the one person against whom you are most vulnerable, or some such claptrap."
Frigga, Slade recalled, was wife of Odin. He didn't know much about her, but that she always seemed a strong image behind the scenes.
"Anyway," Filp continued, "I've been appointed your best man. That seems to mean I do all the work. I'm to make sure you're ready for battle, then I'm to capture your bride and bring her to you."
Slade smiled. "Do you expect any difficulty in this, good knight?"
"Naw. They've had trouble convincing Shella to wait in her room for me to get there. But I understand she's dressed and ready, so we're all waiting for you."
Slade tossed back the covers, and rubbed his face with his hands. "I'd always imagined I'd take at least a couple of hours to dress for my wedding," he said. "But what we must do, we can do. What do I wear?"
"Your clothes are here; Lord Cornel had to have them altered in a hurry, as you're considerably taller than him, but you're wearing what he wore for his wedding. Apparently you're to dress as a warrior, and wear your sword."
Slade realized that his stomach was a bit unsettled. "Food?" was the simple way he asked.
"Wedding feast planned and prepared; the sooner you're married, the sooner we can all eat. So get a move on; I'm hungry."
"I'll be right there. Where am I going?"
"Battle will be joined in the main hall, next to the room where we had supper the night we arrived, if you remember where that was."
"I think I can find it. Fifteen minutes?"
"Make it ten. I'm not certain I can keep the bride waiting fifteen."
There was an added element of humor in all this talk of battle. Filp, of all people, was not a fighter; and Filp's marriage had never been a battle. He and Wen had fallen together into the kind of love of which most people only dreamed. Of course, Slade thought, it probably didn't hurt that he was fantastically wealthy and not at all certain what to do with his money, and she was both modest and efficient so didn't need to spend much of it--they never had money problems, even with their large family. Even so, it was good to have Filp involved in the wedding. Perhaps some of whatever it was that had made his marriage so good, to Slade so inspiring, would rub off.
The thief was about to leave. "Hey, Filp?" Slade called. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it. Somehow I think maybe this is the real reason I'm here. You could have rescued Phasius without me; but someone had to give away the bride."
Ten minutes later, Slade entered the main hall. It was perhaps not packed, but well attended by the household staff. As he crossed the threshold, everyone rose; the soldiers in the room saluted. He walked up the aisle to the front with every eye on him. Phasius stood smiling, and waved him to his left.
"She is ever to be at your right hand," he said. "Let this remind you."
At that moment, a sound behind caused him to turn. The entire assembly had gone down on one knee and bowed their heads. Shella, on Filp's arm, stood at the threshold. The dirt of their travels had been washed from her (and Slade realized that he'd done little more for himself in that regard than wash his face and brush his hair). She had borrowed a richly ornamented green dress, something between emerald and forest which spoke at once of splendor and nature. Over this were laid garlands of grape ivy, a leafy vestment promising a fruitful union. A chain of lustrous white stones encircled her forehead, supporting a thin green drape which flowed down her back, shredded, and then wove itself into her braids; here the theme of pure white stones was echoed like dew drops or tear drops of gems within her hair. A thin pink sash, not wider than a cord, crossed her breast, speaking of purity; on this, a blood red patch directly over her heart declared devotion. The dress ended just below her knees, below which boots of calves' leather told of her readiness to stand beside her lord in whatever battles lay ahead.
All this Slade took in at a glance; but its meaning was only dimly in his mind as yet. What he saw was the beauty he had watched emerge from infancy now coming toward him in maturity, ready to give and to receive.
Even in the uniform of a nobleman, girt with his sword and dagger, Slade felt inadequate. Yet as her eyes found his, she smiled with a radiance that announced the dawn of a new sun, a light that shone the brighter because each of them reflected the other. Courage was in this girl; his courage was in her, and hers in him. Whatever battles lay ahead, he had a new readiness to face them.
She floated down the aisle, Filp tromping beside her. As she reached the front, everyone rose. Phasius spoke.
"Lady Shella, daughter of Baron Torelle of Corlander, you have been brought here today by the gods and your will to become bride of Lord Robert Elvis Slade, to be his only, as long as Odin rules in Gladsheim; and to care for his needs and fight by his side until you fall at Ragnorak. Do you undertake this duty and this joy willingly and gladly?"
Slade had never heard a marriage vow put quite like that before; he doubted whether Shella had, either--it didn't sound like any wedding he had attended in her world. But he wasn't certain she was even listening to the words.
"I do, your grace."
"Robert Elvis Slade, Lord of Slade Manor, Friend and Ally of the Caliph of the West Wind, you have been brought here today by the gods and your will to become groom of Lady Shella, daughter of Baron Torelle of Corlander, to be hers only, as long as Odin rules in Gladsheim; and to care for her needs and fight by her side until you fall at Ragnorak. Do you undertake this duty and this joy willingly and gladly?"
There was really only one thing to say. "I do, your grace."
"Um--yeah." Filp had the uneasy air of someone trying to remember his lines in a Christmas pageant. "On behalf of the House of Corlander, I give you our treasure, our daughter, to be yours."
Slade suddenly realized that no one had given him the script; apparently Phasius thought he would know what to say. He had no idea what to say; but it was time to say something.
"I accept this gift, and promise to cherish it even as you have cherished it." That seemed to be the right thing to say; but then, it also seemed they were waiting for something else. He went over it in his mind swiftly. It caught his attention that everything she had promised, he had promised. That was what was expected. "On behalf of the House of Slade, I give you our treasure, myself, to be yours."
He wasn't sure of the words, but it was apparently close enough.
"I accept this gift, my lord," Shella said, "and promise to cherish it even as you have cherished it."
Phasius smiled broadly; apparently it was right enough. Addressing the crowd, he said, "I call upon you all to witness this declaration, that Shella daughter of Torelle and Robert Elvis Slade are for each other, and no others. I decree by Odin that they are man and woman, husband and wife, from this day to the end of time."
Slade wondered if it would last that long. After all, he never stayed dead anymore. If the same were now true of her, this would be a long marriage. However, he had every reason to expect it to be happy.
"May the courage and loyalty of Odin and Frigga be seen in your lives."
"Amen," Filp said. "Now do we eat?"
Phasius looked at him as if he'd asked the stupidest question in the world. "Yes," he said. "Now we eat."
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: