keeps this site and its author alive.
Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 17: Slade 138
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 16: Hastings 141
His wife and his companions were all busily scouting the area. Should anything happen, Joe and Zeke would know the best ways out of the palace, and Derek the best ways out of the city. Slade did not anticipate that anything was going to happen. It seemed to be a kingdom at peace, prosperous in the unequal way that ancient kingdoms were, and well ordered, and they had been welcomed openly. Still, that did not mean they had been embraced as friends. The hint was in the air that someone had told the Caliph they were coming, and they were important. Now, it could just be that they had been sighted out on the desert coming this direction, and only traders and noblemen made such trips, they obviously not traders. Had they been sighted, they might have been seen using magic, which again marked them as educated nobles, probably wealthy. On the other hand, the Slades had both friends and enemies in the realms of elemental spirits. Djinn and efreet were both closely connected to the mythologies of Arabia, and it would be surprising if his claim to be friend and ally of the djinn and of the Caliph of the West Wind were meaningless here. So it might be that the djinn had made the Caliph of the Twin River Valley aware of their approach, but it might be that the efreet had done so. In the former case, the Caliph would be welcoming potential friends; in the latter, he would be keeping a close eye on potential enemies.
For the moment, Slade decided, the evidence favored the former; but how would he know if it were the latter?
A phrase came back to him, some politician from his childhood: trust, but verify. He would have to work from the assumption that they were embraced as friends, but watch their backs.
“So, what did you decide?” Shella suddenly asked.
“Decide? About what?”
“About whatever it was you were debating with yourself.”
“Oh.” He felt a bit embarrassed that he was that easy to read, but then, Shella was very good at reading him, and apparently she had decided not to read his mind, which was kind of her. “I was trying to decide how the Caliph knew we were coming, and I thought maybe there was a perfectly natural explanation, and maybe someone in the world of elemental spirits announced our approach. In the one case, we’re just being treated as visiting noblemen. In the other, well, if the Caliph is allied with the djinn we have been embraced as allies, but if he’s allied with the efreet we’re being watched as enemies.”
She nodded. “And?”
“I think it most likely that they think we’re their allies, but we should not be completely, what’s the word--”
“Yeah, that’s probably better than whatever I was going to say. Treat them as friends, but watch our backs for now.”
“I think you might be right. You should know, though, that in the watchtower between the windows they have several mirrors.”
“Mirrors in the watchtower?” He thought about this. “They could be used for signaling--reflecting sunlight in patterned flashes to distant observers.”
“Perhaps. I think, though, that the Caliph probably has some of his own wizards, and they might well use these for scrying.”
“So they might have been watching us cross the desert, and even seen one of our groups arrive.”
“I don’t think we can discount the possibility.”
“On the other hand, if they had been told we were coming they might have been watching for us, so the one doesn’t rule out the other.”
“No, my lord, that’s certainly true.”
He returned to musing on the question, despite the fact that he knew he had already answered it to his own satisfaction.
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 #277: Versers Resettle. 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: