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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 118: Slade 128
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“My lord, I think someone is following us.”
“Yes, I was thinking much the same. Shall we invite them to the party?”
Slade stopped and turned around, then spoke into the trees.
“You’ve been following us since we left General Wilson’s camp. Is there something you want? Or did he send you to keep an eye on us?”
The surrounding woods were silent.
“Look, I can just start shooting, if that’s how you want to play this. I’m giving you a chance to explain yourself, and get out of this alive.”
That produced a snicker somewhere slightly to the left. Slade turned that way, and drew the blaster, pointing it that direction.
“You think that’s funny?”
A voice from the trees said, “Well, sir, there’s one of you and five of us, and I’m fond of those odds.”
Slade smiled. “My wife will be glad to tell you how four of us, the other two an aging thief and an elderly clergyman, were ambushed by twenty soldiers before breakfast, and I think three of them may have escaped with their lives. Your odds might be a lot shorter than you think.”
“Well,” the voice answered, and Slade searched for the source deciding which tree was hiding this opponent, “from what we saw of that little box of treasures you’re carrying, it’s worth the risk. We’d never have to work again.”
“Of course, we’d have to be dead--casualty of war, no doubt, and no one’s going to worry about one more dead couple killed traveling through the war zone.”
“You would, certainly.” It was a different voice, off to his right. He recognized that it was possible they were surrounded, although five men with single-shot rifles would have to be very good for him not to kill at least three of them. “We might play with your wife for a bit before she joins you.”
A shot came, this one from somewhere behind him. Pain went through his left thigh. “Down!” he ordered as he whirled toward the sound. The smoke from the ignited powder provided enough of a target for him to shoot, and the cry of a new voice told him he had hit someone.
However, the hiss and pop of flintlocks now surrounded him. A ball flew past his head from his right, but another hit him in the back, in his right shoulder. Hearing the hiss of two more, he dropped to his left shoulder and rolled; the missiles missed.
He was thinking as fast as he could. If he was quick, the first man to fire might be almost ready to fire again; but then, that man was wounded, the only one Slade had hit so far, and it was unclear how badly hurt he might be. The cover of the trees was to their advantage; he was going to have to use it to his advantage as well, particularly as the bullet to his shoulder had limited the use of his right arm. He still held the blaster, but aiming and firing were painful and therefore slow. The sword would be the better weapon in close combat, but it was positioned for his right hand, so the dagger would be faster to get with his left.
Rolling to his feet, he drew the dagger and charged in the direction of the second shot; he was not certain of the direction of the other shooters, but the bullet whizzing past his head was a vector he could track. He quickly spotted the man trying to reload behind a not quite large enough tree, and before his target could think to set his bayonet the dagger had finished him.
Slade didn’t wait for the man to fall, but began a circle around the clearing where he had started, looking for signs of the other ambushers and beginning in the direction of Wilson’s camp to cut off their retreat. He soon spotted his next target, but this man was looking for him, and spun the bayonet his direction as he approached. It would be difficult to get past the reach of a bayonet with only his dagger, but he raised the blaster and took a wild shot. The shot hit a tree, which cracked under the impact with enough noise that the gunman turned to see it, and that was a fatal mistake as Slade rushed past the bayonet and drove the dagger into his gut. The stunned look on his face demonstrated that he would not be hitting back, so Slade left him to bleed in the mulch while he moved in search of another target.
One dead, one severely wounded, one whose injuries were unknown, left two uninjured opponents and one wild card. He himself had taken two wounds, and might survive another, maybe two, if they weren’t too serious. He was, however, fighting one-handed, and left-handed at that, and with the dagger, although he had made some use of the blaster. He might manage this.
As he reached the path, the two uninjured soldiers were waiting, bayonets at the ready. He fired the blaster in their direction, and it hit one of them, but barely--enough to give him a moment of surprise on his right, while he used the dagger to parry the bayonet on his left to attempt to step inside their reach. Finding himself between the long barrels of the two guns, he threw the dagger directly into the chest of the man on his left and in the same motion grabbed his rifle and pushed it toward him. The man went down hard, and Slade now had the gun--but did not know whether it was loaded or merely a polearm, a long stick with a knife blade attached like a glaive. He had never trained with polearms, and was stuck using it in his left hand, but it was a weapon.
While he was trying to spin it into position, the other opponent smashed his hand, and this time he dropped the blaster. He was taking a beating, but as usual he was giving more than he was getting. It was only a question of whether it was enough.
A shot rang out somewhere behind him, and the ball hit him solidly in the back. Falling forward, he saw the bayonet coming to meet him--but he managed to maneuver his own bayonet to drive it forward into the chest of his killer.
The world around him faded from view, and a different world began to take blurry shape. He caught himself before falling, looked around at open waves of sand, and began to laugh.
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 #265: Versers in Motion. 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: