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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 74: Slade 73
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Previous chapter: Chapter 73: Hastings 117
The ascent went both better and worse than Slade had hoped. They maintained a good, brisk pace without stopping to rest; Phasius seemed to be recovering some lost strength or vigor now that he was out of the dungeon, and did not slow them more than Shella, who being considerably less burdened had little trouble with the pace. On the other hand, it was a long walk to the inn, and it was late in the day when they began, so dawn was already upon them as they approached their destination.
"We'll have to do this quietly," Slade said. "People will be up soon, and we don't want to disturb them. Steer clear of the front of the inn, and get around to the stable."
This they did, and soon saw a corral of horses watched by two nodding soldiers.
Slade was suddenly uncomfortable with his plan. He had no problem with killing men in battle; but killing them in their sleep was an entirely different matter. Yet if these two awoke, even for a moment, they could raise an alarm that would wake the house. The plan was supposed to be to spook most of the horses so the cavalry could not follow, and to escape on three of their choice. If the guards woke, there would be a fight; and the fight would force them to choose between a timely escape and the chasing of the horses. If they did not chase the horses, the cavalry would be in pursuit faster than Phasius, at least, could elude them. If they did chase the horses, they would fight those soldiers here in the corral, badly outnumbered and with no tactical advantages.
Somehow they had to make sure these soldiers did not alert the others; but Slade did not wish to kill them.
It was time to talk to the others.
"O.K., we seem to have two guards. They're not very alert, but that could change very quickly. I really want to silence them temporarily. I don't want to kill them in their sleep. I don't have any chloroform or anything like that, so I need some suggestions."
"What is chloroform?" Phasius asked.
"It's a drug that puts you to sleep very quickly if you breathe it. I don't know if it really works, but it always worked on television."
"What is television?"
"Not important right now. What is important is figuring out how to keep those guards from sounding the alarm." Phasius and Shella were looking at him as if they did not understand the problem. "Look, if Filp were with us, he'd slip down there quietly, drop his cord around the neck of one, and in a moment drop the man's body silently to the ground. Then he'd do the other. Neither of them would ever awaken or know what happened. But I've never used a weapon like that; and I'm not comfortable doing it. It seems to me that if we were taken before some international tribunal and asked about the men we killed back at the barn, we could say that they attacked us and we fought back in open combat, and everyone would agree that was fair. But if they ask what we did to these men at the stable, and we say we snuck up and killed them in their sleep so we could steal their horses, they'll hang us. Now, I don't expect to face that tribunal; but I do intend to honor Odin in how I handle this, as much as I can."
Phasius answered. "That is good. You are right; it would be better to find some way not to kill them."
Phasius did not offer any ideas on how to do that.
Shella came through.
"Well, why don't we go down there and explain it to them?"
"Pardon me?" Slade said; but Shella had already produced a dagger from somewhere inside her robe, and was headed toward the corral. Ten yards behind her, Slade scurried to catch up.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"It's almost daybreak, my lord; we don't have time to chat. Do what I do and let me talk."
It took a moment for the smile to find its way across Slade's face. "I love it when you know what you're doing," he said. He walked with her.
She slowed as she approached the guard, moving more cautiously and making less noise. She walked to the farther guard and raised her dagger, so Slade drew his. Together they placed their weapons against the throats of the guards, who startled to wakefulness.
"Gentlemen," Shella said, "we have a problem. You see, if you raise the alarm, we have to kill you; but we're not here to kill you, and would rather not have to go to all that trouble. So it seems best that you will be quiet while we bind and gag you, and then we'll be on our way and you'll still be alive. I think that works better for all of us."
"I agree," Slade said. "The alternative seems to be that one of you shouts, so we kill both of you, and then we have to kill all your companions who come rushing, too late, to your aid, and then we have to take your horses and leave anyway. That's just messy. Let's stick to the easy way. Don't you agree?"
One of them nodded, very carefully; the other seemed to assent.
"Good," Shella said, and glanced over to Phasius. "There will be plenty of rope in the stable; get what we need." The priest obliged, coming out a moment later with quite a few lengths that appeared to be leads. Without much trouble, Slade tied up the guards and covered their mouths with cloths that would make it difficult for them to call anyone.
"Now," he said, "the horses." He went into the stable; then he came back out to the corral. He puzzled; he counted; he puzzled again.
"There aren't enough horses here."
"Of course there are enough," Phasius said. "We only need three, and there must be twenty."
"Yeah. There are twenty. That's just the point. We saw forty on the road, but only twenty are here."
The other two looked at him. "Where do you suppose the other twenty are?"
"No doubt they are holding the pass against us," Slade said. "It's what I'd do."
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 #186: Worlds Change. 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: