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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 14: Slade 96
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Previous chapter: Chapter 13: Brown 102
The quarters were by no means Spartan; modern beds, climate control, carpeted floors, and other ordinary amenities made the place more comfortable than any medieval room could be. Even the mattress, practical as it was, gave no cause for complaint. Slade settled in easily as Shella began setting up the room to her liking.
"Don't get too comfortable," he said. "We're scheduled to leave in the morning. I wonder when dinner is--I'm hungry." His wife ignored him, continuing to set out a few knick-knacks to pretty up the chest of drawers, hang her robes in the closet, and toss a knit comforter over the utilitarian blanket on the bed.
"It may be overnight," she said, "but for the moment, it's home, and we should make it as nice as we can."
Before Slade could decide whether to debate the point, there was a knock on the door. "Come in," he called, and Joe entered, talking as soon as he closed the door.
"Have you thought at all about what we do tomorrow?" he asked. Slade shook his head.
"No, I figure I'll see what happens tomorrow. It's too soon really to know one side from the other around here, and I'd like to look around a bit, but that's really as far as I got." He could tell that Joe had been thinking about it, though. "What are your thoughts?"
"I have some luggage that didn't land here; it's probably quite a few miles away. I'd like to pick it up, if only for safekeeping. However--" he broke off.
"Go on," Slade prompted.
"Yes, m'lord, please tell us your thoughts," Shella said.
"Well, it looks like this war is about blacks against whites, and we're about the most unlikely group here. I'm not at all certain whether it would be better for us to split up or stay together."
"Because," Slade suggested, "if we split up, you'll be safe among the blacks and we'll be safe among the whites, but we'd all be killed in a moment if we found ourselves in the wrong place."
"But if we stayed together," Joe finished, "we would be in some danger everywhere, but would have some hope of explaining our selves."
Slade looked at Shella. "Well," he said, "we both travel pretty light, and our stuff is all here. I don't have any particular ideas about where to go or what to do next, and I don't see any reason to split up at this point. Odin has us here together, so I expect we're going to fight together. We don't know which side, or whether we're even supposed to be on a side, but once we figure it out I figure we can make a difference."
"I'd have thought it was obvious," Joe said, but Slade's look must have told him he didn't understand. "I mean, given your assumption that Odin sent us to fight, he seems to have placed us on this side. I'm sure the blacks are defending their freedom.
Slade stared at him. "I don't know," he said, "whether we know any of that. Odin might have dropped us behind enemy lines. We don't know anything about what this war is about. For all we know, it could be the other way around. Could be nobody's defending anything, or everybody's defending something, or some grand misunderstanding popped up that has people fighting over something stupid. I'm ready to fight; I just want to know that I'm on the right side."
Joe was silent for a moment, and then shrugged. "It's moot anyway," he said. "It's nonsense to think that some ancient god made up by a people who used their religion to justify conquest and slavery had anything to do with our being here."
"Oh." Slade could feel himself getting angry. "Made up by people who used religion as an excuse for slavery and conquest? You mean, like the Egyptians?"
"I only meant," said Joe, his voice faltering.
"I'm sorry. I know you think it's all ridiculous; it just irks me a bit when you say so." Slade drew out his dagger and looked at his reflection in the blade, then polished it on the comforter while he continued. "Look, we're the only friends we've got around here, the only people we can trust. If we're going into this war--"
"Stop that," Shella interrupted. Slade looked at her uncertainly. "Stop polishing your weapons on our good comforter. Find something else to use as a rag."
"Oh, sorry," Slade said, dropping the comforter and sheathing the dagger.
"Anyway," and suddenly Shella dropped her edge, and returned to her rather subdued self; "anyway, my lords, did either of you consider the possibility that you might be here to bring peace?"
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #218: Versers Resume. 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: