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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 98: Slade 81
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Previous chapter: Chapter 97: Hastings 125
The giant war caterpillar crawled across the land for three more days. As it passed Charton, Slade thought of Cornel; but he checked the urge to stop to see him. After all, just because he believed that Phasius should not have been in prison didn't mean he wasn't loyal to Acquivar, and that was a discussion Slade did not wish to have.
As the beast came to a halt in mid morning, no one asked why. On the open plain ahead were arrayed knights and warriors in force. They had reached the first real battlefield of this war, and it was time to fight.
Again a lone rider came forward to speak. It was much the same message as before. This time, however, the man at the head of the army was clearly arrayed as royalty. Acquivar at least had the courage to take the field with his men.
King Morgan replied, stating that he had come into possession of very convincing evidence that Acquivar had murdered Taneia, and that Morgan's forces would withdraw if Acquivar came in custody to stand trial on such charges. Acquivar of course denied the charges, suggesting that any proof Morgan might have was forgery, and refusing to submit to arrest. It was rather predictable, but it took time to do, as each monarch spoke through a crier and had to tell the crier what to say line by line through the dialogue.
Finally battle was joined. Slade didn't have a head for troop movements and mass field combat. He did recognize that each side was sending infantry forward first, and using archery to support it. Cavalry would wait until the fight was thick. That might be a while.
By late afternoon the cavalry was still not engaged. Slade didn't like the look of the fight anyway. He could walk into it and kill a lot of men, but ultimately it was becoming a sea of bodies which would surge around the strong warrior and overwhelm him. That was not Slade's idea of a good time. Besides, he was beginning to have a better idea. As the afternoon wore into evening, he requested audience with King Morgan. It was granted. Now he had to figure out how to explain what he wanted.
"Your majesty," he began. "Give me ten good men in light armor on fast horses, and I think I can deliver Acquivar's castle to you."
The king laughed. "Ten men, Sir Robert? Take a hundred. Take five hundred. I don't see how you expect to get ten men through that army before us."
"That's just it, majesty. I can get a dozen of us into that castle, and, I expect, it will be undermanned and easily taken. I couldn't get fifty there. Maybe I can't do it with ten; but too many works against me, and if we can take the castle on such a small risk of troops, we can win this war faster and with fewer lives on both sides."
Morgan looked at him. "What do you propose?"
"I propose to ride from here in darkness and reach the city while we still have it. Then we will abandon the horses, quietly scale the walls, and find the secret exit from the castle through which Phasius and I escaped. Once we're inside, even though it will by then be dawn, we can overcome the guards on duty and capture the stronghold. I would wager that Acquivar didn't leave many men back there, and none of his good ones. It's not a cake walk, certainly, but I got Phasius out, and I think I can get us back in again."
Morgan nodded. "Once you've taken the castle, what do you do?"
"I send one of Acquivar's men to tell him. I'll try to get a message to you, too, although that's a bit more tricky, as I won't have men to spare."
Morgan stared at him another moment, clearly thinking about the idea, before he spoke. "Sir Rapheus?" he called in a louder voice, and the knight appeared. "Sir Robert will be taking ten men, light cavalry, along with his wife and his self. They leave within the hour, and if all goes well will deliver us a significant victory by this time tomorrow."
"Yes, your majesty." The knight clearly wouldn't question his liege's decision. "I'll see to it immediately."
Slade had convinced the King. Now he had to explain it to his wife. Shella listened to his idea, and shook her head.
"You're crazy," she said. "You know that."
Slade smiled. "I think it comes with the territory."
"You're going to get yourself killed."
"Yeah, it might come to that. Then again, I didnít expect to live as long as this in this world, so maybe I haven't been taking enough risks. Besides, if the worst they can do is kill me, I'm sure I'll find something to do wherever we go next."
She wrinkled her face into something of a confused frown.
"I guess it will take me some getting used to," she said. "I haven't died yet, so I don't get it."
"Well, death can't do us part, and anyway we promised for life, not death, and life, it seems, keeps going. So, are you in?"
"In?" she asked.
"Are you going with me on this?"
"Oh. I didn't know that was ever a question. Of course I'm going with you. I'm your wife; where else would I be? I think it's crazy, and you're going to get both of us killed, but I don't see that as any reason not to be with you when it happens."
Slade smiled. "I love you," he said.
"I know," she said. "Get ready. It's still a bit of a ride, and it's getting dark."
Shortly after the sun set, Slade, with Shella by his side, led ten men out of camp across the open country to find their way around Acquivar's forces toward his capital city. In the morning, thousands of men would clash with each other on the open field; but hopefully by then this dozen would be inside the enemy castle putting an end to the war.
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: