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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 29: Slade 140
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Previous chapter: Chapter 28: Hastings 144
Although he could not be certain, after the revelation of Derek’s magical nature Slade felt as if the Caliph was more attentive to and respectful of them. They had always had seats on the dais for meals, but now it seemed one of them was always seated fairly close to the Caliph himself, and was drawn into dinner conversation, usually eliciting tales of their previous adventures, sometimes regaling them with histories of the Twin River Valley. They did not talk much about other worlds, and apparently this world was still vast and disconnected enough that the Caliph had no trouble believing that the places they described might exist somewhere else.
The bevy of teenaged girls surrounding the princess also sometimes sat on the dais, but usually, apparently by their own choice, formed their own group adjacent to it. Several burly guards always stood near them. They were usually a noisy giggly group which caught Slade’s attention more than once. Thus on one occasion after an outburst of laughter had turned many heads toward the females at the end of the dais, Slade ventured to ask, “Your Potency, forgive me if this is a breach of protocol or security or something, but I can’t help wondering, which one is your daughter?”
The Caliph smiled. “That is the beauty of it. From this distance, even I could not tell you which one is she. The girls know among themselves, and I am fairly certain that they tell the guards, but if someone were to attempt to kidnap or kill my daughter, they would not find it simple to choose the right girl. Sometimes she wears the jewel, and sometimes one of the other girls wears it for the day. If one of them were to come to speak to me, I would be able to tell whether it was my daughter or one of her friends posing as her for the day, but only when she is close to me.”
Slade nodded thoughtfully. “That’s a pretty clever idea. I think maybe I saw that in a movie once, but it was a long time ago.”
“What is a movie?”
Slade hesitated. “Well, it’s difficult to explain, really. I suppose the best way to describe it is that it’s something like a painting that moves and speaks, acting out a story. But it isn’t really one painting, but hundreds of paintings each a little different from the one before it, so that when they are changed quickly from one to the next it looks like the same picture moving.”
It was obvious that the Caliph didn’t grasp this at all, so Slade decided it would be better to drop it. “I’m not sure I fully understand how they do it myself. It’s a bit like those jester’s tricks. You can watch them and be entertained, but you don’t really think about how they do it, because it’s less enjoyable if you know.”
The Caliph nodded. “Yes, I can see that. I listen to the pipes; I don’t wonder how the music is made.”
“Tell me again about your meeting with the Caliph of the West Wind.”
It seemed to be the Caliph’s favorite story, and Slade did not tire of telling it. He even made the point of bringing the bottle down to dinner one afternoon, to be examined by His Potency and a few other members of the Court, and they were suitably impressed. He had told them other stories, and they were fascinated by many of the concepts--flying among the stars, fighting birdmen, killing vampires--but the fact that he had once come to the aid of a djinni was the one they found most remarkable. The djinn were feared and respected demigods, and their lords the more so. That Slade seemed to have an almost casual friendship with such a being made him the most remarkable member of their band, whatever powers or stories his companions might have had. His brief visit to the Caliph’s cloud castle awed them further, and the fact that the Caliph had selected him for a mission to rescue another ally as well.
“So then,” His Potency asked, “why are you here now?”
Slade smiled. “Your Potency, wherever I am, as a chosen warrior of Odin, I am there to improve my skills in preparation for Ragnorak, the great battle at the end of time. Now, exactly how I am to do that here, I don’t know yet--but if I were you, I would have my eyes open for an approaching war of some sort, because I’m probably here to fight in it.”
More seriously, the Caliph nodded his head and was silent for the remainder of the meal.
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 #280: Versers Reveal. 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: