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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 110: Slade 85
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Slade was becoming acutely aware of the drawbacks in his plan. He held the palace; but he didn't hold the city. The gates of the city could not be held long against Morgan's forces with the men currently defending them; but then, it was likely that Acquivar would reach them first, and so be able to reinforce them. Then Slade would be defending the palace with ten men, some of whom had to attend to their prisoners, against at least a significant part of Acquivar's troops (he couldn't get his infantry inside the walls without admitting Morgan's cavalry, as far as Slade could see), while Morgan was locked outside, unable to aid him.
He did have the princess; whether he could use that to leverage a victory was difficult to say. Meanwhile, he had to combine detailed watchfulness and defense of the fortress with assuring that the small force he had remained well rested and battle ready.
By the end of the day, Shella reported that both armies were in full movement toward the city. Apparently Acquivar knew something had happened, and Morgan was dogging him all the way home. By the next morning Slade was rousting his men and preparing to defend the palace against the troops who were now entering the city through the main gate.
It was time to play his hand.
Acquivar led his forces to the front gate of the palace. How much he knew Slade could not be certain. The fires might have told him something, but it was difficult to live long in this place without fires. Still, the prince would not have any clear idea what he faced, and Slade was not about to tell him. He left four men on the gate and brought two with him to the top of the wall. Between them they brought Odette.
Both commanders stood in the open, Acquivar in front of his troops, Slade atop the battlements. Either could have been killed by a bow shot. That's not how these things are done, Slade reminded himself, but he scanned the opposing ranks for readied arrows and crossbows all the same. Acquivar spoke.
"I demand that you surrender my palace to me immediately, or I shall bring you down."
Slade signaled his men to bring the princess into view, and replied.
"Prince Acquivar: we hold what is precious to you. We have your palace. We also have your princess. We demand that you surrender to the justice of King Morgan the Just, to be tried for the crime of murdering his daughter, your wife, the Princess Taneia, or we will kill the Princess Odette and throw her from the walls at your feet."
There was a moment of silence; the armies of Acquivar were hushed. Then the prince cut through the stillness with his laughter.
"Throw her down, then. You do me a favor. I was tired of her anyway."
He's not a fool, Slade thought. He's called my bluff. Whether Odette means anything to him, he has to pretend she doesn't, so I can't blackmail him. Oh, well, I guess that's the end.
It was not the end. His thoughts were interrupted by an explosion of language so foul it shocked him, and the more so as it came from the mouth of the Princess Odette, hurled down upon the prince. Once the initial barrage passed, she continued.
"I should have known what you were. You deceived me, you seduced me, you made me believe that you loved me. You let me think I was so important to you that you would kill your wife so we could be together. You killed her, my best friend, and I was such a fool to let you do it and believe that you cared."
"Silence her," the prince said to his soldiers; but no one moved. The hush had become a stunned silence. This bombshell had burst the confidence of his nobles. "I said, silence her! Doesn't anyone have an arrow for that woman?" Still no one drew a weapon.
"Take her back inside," Slade said to his men, "and keep her safe. I think she'll want to talk to King Morgan when he arrives." He had the initiative now; he was going to use it.
"Noblemen! You have been deceived by your prince. He would have you give your lives in battle to protect him from justice, to allow him to lie to you. Left unchecked, he will eventually have your daughters, and no doubt put them to death; and he will send your sons to die in battle to protect his lies. King Morgan has no quarrel with you, or with this city or this land. He only wants justice for his daughter, to hear the evidence which now overwhelmingly says that Taneia, whom you all loved and respected, was murdered by the man who had sworn to protect her, and to bring that man to justice before he destroys the rest of you. Open the gates! Hand this criminal to the king, and let him answer for his crimes. Don't die for the lie."
One of the most important things to know about making a speech, Slade reminded himself, was knowing when to stop making it. He turned from the battlements and found his way down into the palace. There would be no war today.
It was a couple hours later when King Morgan rode through the gate into the palace. Robert Elvis Slade was pleased to cede the place to him.
"We would be most honored, Sir Robert," the King said, "if you would be our regent in this place."
"The honor is certainly mine," Slade said; "but I did that once, and I really wasn't terribly good at it. I'm a warrior of Odin. My calling is to fight, not to sit somewhere making laws and rendering judgments. I can think of a dozen people better able to do this than me. Cornel of Charton is a good man. Sir Rapheus Maxell would probably do an excellent job. But perhaps the best choice is the obvious one: let your son Prince Ruard get some practice ruling a princedom while there's still time for him to learn from you, before he's called to take over the kingdom. For my part, I think I'll enjoy the comforts of the palace for a day or two, and then I'll head out to find the next place where my sword will be of use. I trust you understand."
The king smiled. "You are indeed a remarkable man, Sir Robert. Again, we are in your debt."
"Just doing my job, majesty."
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 #202: Verser Confrontations. 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: