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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 47: Beam 12
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Previous chapter: Chapter 46: Slade 143
As the soldier stepped through the doorway into The Bloody Bucket, the white-haired man was standing behind the bar, having sent Jeeves into the kitchen. Turbirb’durpa stood next to him, with Dawn standing on the customer side and Bron seated on one of the barstools. The other seats at the bar were all empty, but the tables were all full despite Beam having suggested to the patrons that the situation might become dangerous. The soldier was holding some kind of leafy twig, which Beam guessed must be the equivalent of an olive branch or a white flag.
“Can I get you a drink?” Beam asked in a loud but hopefully friendly voice.
The man looked at him and cleared his throat before responding. “I am Centurion Thomas of Thomas, and am authorized to act as ambassador on behalf of His Majesty King Rex the Fifth in negotiating peaceful relations between His Majesty and the lord of this province.”
“In that case, it’s on the house,” Beam said. “Come, have a seat; we’ve reserved the bar for you.”
With some visible trepidation, the centurion walked toward the bar, wary of the room as he approached.
“What’ll you have?”
“Nothing, thank you. I’m just here to--”
“What, you’re going to reject my hospitality right from the start? That’s not a good beginning to our relationship. I don’t give free booze to just anyone, do I Bron?”
“No, that you don’t,” the blacksmith answered.
“So I can give you an ale or a mead on tap, or take one of the bottles off the top shelf for you. Or you can snub my offer and try your chances with Dawn there, who would love for me to tell her she can kill you. Don’t let her looks fool you. She’s very good at it, and would enjoy a bit of practice.”
“Mead will be fine,” the soldier said.
Beam filled a stein with the frothy beverage and placed it in front of the man, and then took another slug of his own drink. “So, why don’t you tell me your thoughts, and then I can tell you mine.” Noticing that the man was reluctant to pick up the mead, he added, “Go on, drink up. I haven’t poisoned anyone, you know.”
The centurion took a sip of the mead, set the drink down, then appeared to be composing his thoughts. It seemed that he had not expected to get so far as having the opportunity to speak, so he hadn’t considered what he would say. In a moment he began.
“It has come to the attention of His Majesty that a wizard of some power has moved into this area, and has rebelled against the authority of the King. The King is not willing to cede his royal authority or claim over the territory, but would rather settle the matter peaceably than resort to war--a war in which many would be killed.”
“Well, we can agree there. My chief soldier is fairly confident that she alone can dispatch a quarter of your troops out there; I have not attempted to estimate the damage that my wizards and I can do. I don’t believe you could win such a war, and certainly you couldn’t win at a price you’d be willing to pay.”
A smile crossed the ambassador’s face, as if he had heard a mildly funny joke. “I think,” he said, “you have an inflated estimation of the abilities of your people.”
“You can think that if you like,” Beam replied. “In fact, that’s a good idea. Let’s put it to the test. Where I come from, there’s a story about two people named David and Goliath, and two armies that faced each other in a stalemate until they agreed to let David and Goliath fight, and whoever lost, that side would surrender and withdraw. You pick your best fighter, and I’ll pick mine, and they’ll go toe-to-toe in the ring. Whichever one walks out alive, that side gets the territory. Save a lot of lives that way.”
“You can’t expect me to wager the king’s territory on a single combat between two fighters.”
“No? Well, I can see you might hesitate, given that you think you have superiority of numbers. Perhaps we should put two of your people in this fight, against one of mine.”
“Still don’t like your odds? How many of your men are you willing to send to their deaths before you think you’ve got a chance? Three? Five? Ten?”
Centurion Thomas stared, open-mouthed.
“I certainly understand your hesitation. Dawn is very good at what she does. Your army out there is about to become vulture meat. So why don’t you go back to the King and inform him that this is a war he can’t win, and he should just accept that I own this piece of ground, free and clear. We probably would both be happier if he regards me his neighbor rather than his enemy, and I’ll do the same. Or we can start watching people die, and you might find that you’re one of them.”
Thomas remained staring for a moment, then closed his mouth and rose. Noticing his barely touched stein, he said, “Thanks for the drink.”
“Don’t mention it,” Beam answered, and watched the back of the retreating centurion as it passed out the front door.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twelve other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #284: Versers React. 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: