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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 80: Slade 75
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Previous chapter: Chapter 79: Hastings 119
The journey may have seemed longer to Slade and Shella than it was, given that they were newlyweds whose already rushed honeymoon was suffering this interruption. Reaching the capital took most of three days, during which they were given every courtesy but no privacy. The first day was the worst, as they had already been up all night after a short sleep the previous day. Sir Rapheus was reluctant to allow them both out of his sight, whatever trust he put in Slade's word as a nobleman, so they slept on the floor together in the common rooms of two inns amidst the officers of the guard rather than be separated from each other. Slade said that Shella should take the generously offered private room and get some proper rest, but she said that she would rather share the floor with him, if it wasn't an order, and he saw no point in giving such an order. He rested better with her there than he thought he would on the hard mat alone, or at least believed he did, and he knew that whatever happened they were going to be out of this eventually.
Late on the third day they arrived at the palace, where they were escorted to rooms under guard and told that the King would hear their case at his earliest convenience. Finally they were alone together; but they were also concerned about Phasius, who had been separated from them and was being held elsewhere in the castle. Shella suggested scrying to check on him, but Slade said the guards would at least be uncomfortable with them using magic while prisoners, so it might complicate their situation significantly. In response to his questions, the guards said Phasius was being held in a manner fit and proper to his station as a priest of Odin, and Slade shouldn't worry.
For the next day, meals were brought to them in their room. The wine that was served with it was quite good, although the food was cold by the time it reached them. The bed was comfortable, and although the room was not luxuriously appointed, the bed was all they really needed, and they spent most of their time in it. They were also given water and towels with which to wash, and asked if they needed anything else for their comfort. Slade thought that there were many comforts they wouldn't understand let alone have, and couldn't think of anything he'd like that they would have, so he said they were fine.
After their second night, they were told to dress for breakfast, and escorted to the dining room. Here they shared the table with the Crown Prince Ruard and his family, amidst apologies for the poorer hospitality of the previous day. It seems the King and the Prince had been away, and when word reached them of the arrest the prince hurried back to see to the needs of their guests while the King finished his business properly. It was to be hoped that the matter might already have been settled yesterday, in which case the King would be home tomorrow to hear this case, but meanwhile no nobleman would be treated below his station in King Morgan's court. Slade thanked him for his kindness, and assured him that the only inconveniences he'd had since arrival were his concern for his companion Phasius and the lack of a hot meal or hot wash water. Breakfast was making up for one of those points admirably.
"Would it be improper for me to inquire as to the nature of your business?" the Prince asked.
Slade smiled. "I don't suppose improper would be the right word. It's not so much a delicate matter as a difficult one. A friend of ours, a nobleman of great repute in his own land and far beyond, asked us to help a friend of his who was in some difficulties. We investigated the matter to our satisfaction, and provided the assistance we thought appropriate. Prince Acquivar objected to our action."
Prince Ruard seemed to bristle at the mention of Acquivar; his wife also did not look so happy. "Did I offend?" Slade asked.
"You'll have to forgive me," Ruard said. "His Majesty reminds me that one should never make judgments without evidence, and I know in fact that this is right; but I believe his highness Prince Acquivar--" the name was spoken with some venom "--may have murdered my sister."
"I see," Slade said. "I am sorry to have put you in so delicate a position; I didn't know. I gather your sister was the Princess Taneia? Bringing Phasius here after he was arrested for demanding an explanation for her death has put you in a bad place."
"Father will not think so. He will judge the matter on the evidence. I fear that Phasius may suffer for that, as it does appear he was disturbing the peace of the domain, and the prince has the right to maintain order. Without something to support his claims, he is in the end a rabble rouser and a jail breaker, and will be returned to Acquivar's justice."
"But--" Shella started, but Slade interrupted her.
"But," he said, "it will be up to the King to decide the matter, and he is known for his fairness in all such things." Then sharply changing the subject, he continued, "Would there be any chance to get a bit of fencing in today? I always enjoy pitting my skill against the many interesting styles used in other places. I rarely fail to learn something from such opportunities. Is that a possibility? Who would I see?"
The prince seemed to brighten at this suggestion. "I would dearly love an opportunity to match swords with someone. Can we make it this afternoon? I have some matters to attend this morning."
Slade wasn't quite certain how to respond to this. "Your highness," he said, "I understand that in some places it is considered disrespectful to--" No, he couldn’t say that, he couldn't say it was disrespectful to defeat the Crown Prince in games, as that would be presumptuous. He had to say it another way. "What I mean is, in some lands, noblemen are expected to pull their punches, as it were, so that the Prince would always win. I am sure your highness can handle a sword admirably." He hoped that didn't sound patronizing; but he'd said it now. "I would be pleased to have you demonstrate your skill. I don't want there to be any misunderstanding as to whether I am allowed to fully demonstrate mine."
The prince laughed. "You are very straightforward in your speech, good lord. I look forward to seeing if you are so with your blade. Ours is a kingdom known for fairness. I should be pleased to lose graciously to a superior opponent--although it does not often happen."
"Then this afternoon would be fine," Slade said.
As they left the dining room, Shella spoke. "My lord, what about--"
Again he interrupted her. "Not here, Shella. Castle walls have ears. If we have any hope of getting out of this, we're going to have to keep our secrets secret and await the right time. A very wise comedian once said that everything in life is timing and delivery. Unless you've got a good idea for how to produce what we don't have, don't mention anything. Now, how good do you think this Prince Ruard is with a sword? I don't know whether I've actually fenced anyone with real skill since your brother."
She stared at him. "You're not going to try to beat him, are you?"
"Why not? Noblemen are supposed to be skilled swordsmen. I am a skilled swordsman, a warrior of Odin, chosen to stand at Ragnorak in defense of all that is good and right. If I happen to be better than the local monarch, I don't see why I should pretend otherwise."
"It's not good," Shella paused, as if looking for a word, "good form. It is courteous to lose."
"It's courteous to be gracious when you lose, and it's certainly rude to cheat in order to win. But why should it be less courteous to play the game as well as you can and so give the best challenge you can offer to your opponent than to pretend you are not so good and so give him an easy win?"
Shella could not answer that.
"So, do you think I can take him?" Slade asked.
"My lord, I don't think there is a man alive who can match you with the sword."
"Is that why you love me?"
"No." The answer came quick, and with a bit of blush rising in her cheeks; but it was followed by more. "That is, I love many things about you; I love everything I know about you. I do love that you are a great warrior. But if someone had asked me, 'Why do you love him?' I would not have said, 'I love him because he is the greatest swordsman in the world.' It's not very high on the list."
"So, why do you love me?"
She put her arm around his waist as they walked. "We have the whole morning," she said. "Let's go back to our room and talk about that."
Slade was not going to argue with that.
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 #191: Versers Travel. 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: