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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 123: Hastings 134
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 122: Slade 89
Sielle was willing to host their group for the night. Lauren had introduced Merlin and the others, and the wolves extended their own brand of courtesy, including food and the remarkable shelter of the obedient trees. Lauren understood now why so many of the wolves stayed in the wild rather than come to the cities as Raal and Annuda had done. Wild answers to wild, she thought, and these people are still attuned to the world in a way that man has not been since the garden. The children of Lilith had their own curse, but they did not suffer the curse that was placed on the children of Eve.
As they settled in, Slade spoke to Merlin.
"So, maybe now you can explain it all? I'm mystified."
"All? Oh, yes, of course. Well, it's a strange story, and after all these centuries I'm still putting it together myself. You're right, of course. I was--indeed, I suppose perhaps I still am--Omigger, cousin of Baron Torelle of Corlander, Friend and Ally of the Caliph of the West Wind, Lord of--well, the titles are so far in the past, I forget them myself sometimes. How many hours did I study you, Slade, trying to figure out what kept you young? The joke is that I found the answer, but didn't understand it. There was something in your aura that was different from anything I'd ever seen; and I was able to extract part of that and build it into my aura. What I didn't understand for some time was that I was drawing scriff from you and infecting myself with it--that's the phrase you use, yes? So I had the scriff in me. I then spent years trying to figure out why, if our auras were matched, I was aging and you were not. Finally I realized what you had never told us: you had died. Death was necessary to activate the scriff, so that aging would stop. But if I died, and I was wrong, it would be, well, a fatal error. Even if I was right, it would mean I had left everything behind for another world, as you clearly had done. Yet each year I got older. What would happen were I to die of old age, before I stopped aging? I needed a way to make the scriff work. I decided I would cheat.
"I put together a spell that would make me seem dead, completely dead to any test I knew. I thought to fool death and fool the scriff, and so make it work. Incidentally, my notes on that became the basis for Bethany's toy, that die you carry in the pouch with you. She did very well with it. It did not work out so well for me. I created my own apparent death so well my household staff thought I was dead. They notified my kin, and had me in the ground before I revived. That put me in quite a pickle, as there really wasn't any way to get out. So I died for real--rather gruesomely and with great discomfort, despite what little I could do for myself.
"I wound up in this world. That was a very long time ago, a long time even before Camelot, which is now so long ago no one believes it ever was. I quickly realized I would be unable to speak the language of these people; and there was a sort of barbarism abroad in the land then that suggested foreigners would be killed first and questioned later. Yet they clearly had great respect for their raptors, the birds of prey that they kept to help them in their hunting. I had studied morphing magic, and so I turned myself into such a beast, a great bird. This allowed me to get a better look at the land from above, and to seek someone from whom I could learn. I found such a person, an old wizard who had extended his years beyond count but was nearing the end of them all the same. I became his pet, and studied his words, trying to learn his language so that I would be able to speak to others. He found me an exceptionally bright bird, as I could often make out what he intended even without knowing the words. I stayed with him for a few centuries, and took the opportunity to learn what he knew. He never knew I was a man or a wizard, but he taught me a great deal nonetheless.
"It was he who called me Merlin. He used the word all the time when speaking to me, so I took it as a name. In one of those confusions, because he always used the word to refer to me, to me it always meant me. I did not realize until some years after he died that this was his word for hawk, and by then I had already established something of a reputation under that name that I did not wish to lose. Besides, Omigger had died, a long time ago in another universe. That name would mean nothing to anyone. I left it behind.
"It was many centuries and many students in this world before you came to me, Laurelyn Spellsbreath. You gave me many of the pieces of the puzzle that I had not understood. You see, you spoke about Bob Slade, and the more you said about him the more obvious it was that this was the same Lord Slade of Slade Manor from whom I had discovered this strange immortality. You taught me what you knew about scriff, about the multiverse, about how worlds are biased and how versers move between them. It was a remarkable lesson. I have often wondered whether it was an incredible coincidence or the hand of providence. After all, the divine plan would be one in which all of the problems and solutions fit together in a perfect puzzle, so that any one event was the answer to a hundred prayers, each in a different way. The things you and I did, Spellsbreath, even to putting the sword in the stone and making Arthur King of All England, were insignificant in that light."
He shifted in his seat, feeling his pockets as if for a pipe. "Does anyone have any pipe weed?" he asked.
"I don't smoke," Lauren said.
"I quit, longer ago now than I can remember," Slade said.
"Don't look at me," Derek said. "I still get carded when I try to buy bubble gum."
Merlin nodded. "It's a nasty habit, I suppose. It was easy to get started, long ago, but hard to quit. Still, after all this time on the other side, you'd think I wouldn't want it."
"You'll get use to it," Slade said. "Sometimes you'll get that craving, like when you're upset or nervous. But it's not so bad."
Merlin nodded again, and settled back into his chair. "Well, the rest I think you know. Nimue trapped me in the world of the spirits. Bethany did manage to track down her tree before it died, and drew that point of contact into the acorn. She gave it to you, Spellsbreath, because it had been your idea to try to free me."
"Yes, why didn't you tell me Merlin was in there?" Lauren asked.
Bethany blushed. "Well, for one thing, I wasn't entirely certain I'd succeeded, and I didn't want to get your hopes up if I'd failed. Then, too, I thought you must have known."
"So," Merlin continued, "I got to see several worlds, in a strange partly removed sort of way, and watched events unfold, and now I'm here.
"Now the question is, where do we go tomorrow?"
"Philadelphia," Lauren said.
"Philadelphia?" Derek answered.
"Yes. They won't expect it, and I think I've got a plan that will lose them for a while."
"Philadelphia it is, then, Spellsbreath. What's the plan?"
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 #209: Versers Victorious. 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: