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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 92: Slade 79
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In case there was any doubt, word was sent to Slade and Shella that it was hoped they would accept his majesty's hospitality to have dinner at his table. Slade thought he must be a remarkable man if he thinks he can not discuss the case at this point; but then, perhaps it had already been decided.
It turned out that the king was not at dinner. The word was that he was meeting with several scribes and scholars who were pouring over the offending document, and sent his apologies to his guests that he had very pressing matters to attend. However, his son, Prince Ruard, was there. As Slade and Shella took their seats, the prince spoke to Slade.
"You knew, didn't you?"
Slade looked at him. "I knew," he said.
"You sat at my table and ate with me, and did not have the decency to tell me what had happened to my sister."
"Now, wait a minute," Slade said, his anger rising. Shella interrupted.
"Your highness, you must realize that we were in a very delicate position. We had seen the book, but did not have it. We couldn't be certain we would ever see it again. For us to tell you that this book existed could only have made the situation worse for everyone. What would you have done had we told you of this book?"
"I would have gone immediately to that Lieutenant Simms and demanded to see it."
"Exactly. And he would have told you he did not know of what you spoke, or that he had seen a book but didn't have it, and did not think it said what we claimed, or that he had confiscated a book from our confederate which he judged a forgery and destroyed. You could not reasonably search his possessions; even if you did, there was no certainty that he had the book, or that you would find it. At that point, it would appear that we might have invented this story about a book in order to curry favor with your highness or his majesty, or to raise your ire against Prince Acquivar, so as to influence the decision in our own case. Our telling you that your suspicions about your sister were true would hardly count as proof that they were. For us to speak of it without proof would be to make a tense situation explosive."
Slade was calming down. "Thank you, Shella. You explained that so well."
The prince ate in silence for a minute before he spoke again.
"I do see what you mean," he said. "I forgive you."
Shella put her hand on Slade's arm to stay his reaction, and responded. "Thank you, highness. That is most gracious of you." Slade did not think it at all gracious to forgive when you should apologize, but he realized it was better not to say so. The son did not seem to have the same sense of justice as his father.
The king was also not at breakfast, and someone said he had stayed up all night, although scribes and scholars had been dismissed at intervals during the time. Slade and Shella lingered over the meal, not having anywhere to go or anything to do but spend the time together and enjoy each other's company. They wandered out, and found themselves in the throne room, where they paused to admire. Thus they were present when his majesty appeared mid morning and began giving orders.
"No one is to speak of this matter outside these walls without specific instructions," he said. "Before noon I want a rider sent to Sir Matthias. He is our ambassador there. The instructions are that he should pack and return with his family and his entire staff, as we wish to consult with our diplomatic corps and will probably be reassigning people. The courier is not to know anything about the situation. Let him think that all our ambassadors are being recalled. In any event, Sir Matthias is to return as swiftly as possible, but leave nothing behind of value."
By this time the king was seated. "While that is being organized, we also need to send couriers to all of our neighbors, advising them of the wrong we have suffered, and the proof we have received, and of our intention to exact justice from the wrongdoer."
Sir Rapheus was present. "Are you requesting that they assist, your Majesty?"
"Not at this time. I will not reject any offered assistance, certainly. My concern is rather that they not promise any aid to Acquivar. We are going to be an invading force, and he may petition them with a claim that he is wrongfully besieged. Let them know the facts, that they not align themselves against us out of misunderstanding.
"Recall our armies from whatever patrols they ride. We will want our troops at full strength. Also, contact the reeves, and inform them that we will need conscripts–but do it quietly, and make it seem as if we are only asking a few of them to get men for us, not that we are raising an army just yet.
"We will give the couriers a few days to reach their destinations. After that, we will have Lieutenant Simms carry our declaration of war to his master, if he wishes to do so. Our armies will be close on his heels.
"Someone find Sir Robert Slade for me, please."
"I'm here, your Majesty," Slade called from the far end of the room, and approached. "What can I do for you?"
"Sir Robert," King Morgan said, "I believe I should advise you first that in the matter of the claims of Prince Acquivar against you, I believe that he has grounds to accuse you of criminal trespass and possibly espionage. However, he will not receive you from my hand. This nation thanks you for what you have done on our behalf, although we did not know of it until after the fact. You and your wife are free to go."
"Thank you, Majesty. And the cleric Phasius?"
"He also is free; he will be informed today. It is clear in my mind that in demanding an explanation for a murder, he committed no crime, and I will not allow Acquivar to claim him from my territory."
"That's good to hear. It's nice to know our effort wasn't wasted." Slade smiled. "Will there be anything else?"
The king looked at him, as if trying to decide whether to say something. Then he spoke. "Yesterday you hinted that you were willing to assist us further. You owe me nothing; in fact, I owe you much. But if you are willing to stand with us at this time, I would be most grateful."
"I would certainly be quite pleased to fight with your Majesty. I am, after all, one of Odin's chosen warriors, and can always use the practice. When do we start?"
"As you heard, we wait here for a few days. I must insist that you remain with us during that time, as I do not wish Acquivar to prepare for our assault too much in advance."
"I understand, your majesty. I'm sure my wife and I can withstand a few more nights in that luxurious bed and the sumptuous meals the days bring. Just don't start without us."
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 #198: Verser Trials. 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: