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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 67: Beam 17
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Previous chapter: Chapter 66: Hastings 154
Beam stared at the stone floor.
He needed to find a way to open a magic portal, or they were stuck.
“Abre la puerta que puedo pasar.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Abre la puerta que puedo pasar.”
He stared at her for a moment, then it clicked.
“Those are the words?”
“Did you get that, Bron?”
“Yes, sir,” Bron replied, with a bit of a smile. “Abre la puerta que puedo pasar,” he repeated, while extending his arms in front of him and moving them outward toward his sides.
The floor parted to reveal a darkness below, and a glowing step appeared and began unfolding downward, lighting the world below.
“We’d better bring lights,” Beam said. “Everyone grab candles; Bron, can you manage that lamp?”
“Got it,” the blacksmith replied.
“Then let’s go. Dawn, take the rear, keep watch behind us. We don’t know what’s down there.” With that, he started down the stairs.
He was a bit winded by the time he reached the bottom. A ten story staircase was a bit much even going down, for a smoker of his age. He looked back at the stairs as the others joined him. “I don’t suppose we even know how to close it,” he said, “but since we might want to make a fast retreat we should probably leave it open anyway.”
By the time he had turned back, Bron was standing along the side of the road looking at the trees. “J. D.,” he said, “you might want to take a look at this.”
“The leaves on these trees? They’re silver. Rather pure by the look of it.”
“You don’t mean, silver colored, you mean solid silver?”
“Yeah. Heavy to carry, a pound is worth a pound.”
“Well, we expect to come back this way, so if we’re not running for our lives we’ll pick some on the way back. This way,” and he headed along the road.
Bob was still not fast on his feet, and it slowed the team, but Beam reminded himself that they didn’t want to be rushing into whatever was ahead anyway. It was thus an hour, but only a couple miles, before Bron spoke again.
“J. D.,” he said. “The leaves.”
“They’re gold. I’m no goldsmith, but I’d say they’re rather pure.”
“Gold leaves. Is that a pun?”
Bron smiled. “It might be, but it’s also a fact at the moment.”
“So silver and gold.”
“Gold is worth twice its weight in silver, roughly.”
“Well, then, we’ll have to remember to take the gold instead of the silver. But for now, we keep moving--we don’t want to slow ourselves with the extra weight.”
It was another half hour, perhaps another mile, before the forest changed again. The leaves were still gold, but they were sparse, scattered on what appeared to be fruit trees.
“So at least we won’t starve,” Beam said.
“We might,” Bron answered. “We can’t eat that fruit.”
“Why? Is it poisonous?”
“No, but I’m pretty sure we can’t chew it. It’s made of rock--diamond, emerald, sapphire, ruby, we’ve got gemstones.”
“So apparently my dad was wrong. Find the right place, and money does grow on trees.”
Bron smiled. “Let’s hope we have time to harvest some on our way back.”
“Let’s push on,” Beam said, and they did.
It wasn’t much farther when he raised a hand to stop them. Ahead off to one side of the road were two men arguing. Beam listened to the argument.
“I don’t see why you should get them. With a pair of flying shoes and an invisibility cloak, I could be pretty much unstoppable as a thief.”
“Yes, but why should you get to be an unstoppable thief, Abishaw? I did as much of the job as you did. I think the reward should be mine.”
“And I’m grateful for your help, Babbareth, but when it comes to it, I’m the guy who got the job, I’m the guy they hired, and I’m the guy they paid. So these are mine.”
“And what do I get?”
“They said we could help ourselves to as many of the gems as we could carry. You can’t ask better than that.”
“Well, I can. I can ask for shoes which will fly me anywhere, as long as I’m wearing them and say, ‘take me here’ and it’s a place you can fly to. I can ask for a cloak that will make me invisible when I wear it, so that I can walk around in a place without being seen at all, and take what I want. We were given those; I think I should have them.”
“And I think I should.”
“Gentlemen,” Beam suddenly called as he began walking toward them. “What seems to be the problem?”
He heard his team following behind him.
“Who are you?”
“Name’s Beam. James Beam. Just passing through your fair country here, and heard you discussing what seems to be a disagreement, and thought maybe a third party could help.”
“I don’t think so,” Abishaw said.
“Why not?,” Babbareth retorted. “After all, having an impartial judge could only help settle the matter.”
Abishaw glared at Babbareth, but Beam didn’t wait for him to object. “So, what seems to be the problem?”
Babbareth jumped in. “We did some work for some princes--”
“I got us the job,” Abishaw injected.
“We did this job, and the princes gave us these two items, a pair of flying shoes and an invisibility cloak.”
“That’s them on the ground there?”
“Let me see if I understand. If you put the shoes on your feet, and you say something like, ‘Take me to that island over there,’ the shoes will fly you to the island?”
“And the cloak--all you have to do is put it on, and you’re invisible?”
“What’s that to do with the problem?” Babbareth complained.
“Just trying to understand. So, continue.”
“They paid me,” Abishaw continued, “by saying I could take as many gems as we could carry, and gave me the cloak and the shoes. I’m saying the gems are the payment, and the cloak and shoes are my bonus.”
“And I’m saying that the cloak and shoes are worth more than the gems, and since he couldn’t have done it without me, I should get them.”
Beam attempted a knowing look, and nodded thoughtfully. “You pose a difficult problem, gentlemen,” he said, “but let me confer with my fellow judges for a moment, and see if we can find a workable solution.” He then turned toward his companions and walked through their midst, signaling them to follow.
“Well,” Bron said.
“Quietly,” warned Beam.
“Well,” Bron repeated more quietly, “the obvious answer is that one of them gets the cloak and the other gets the boots, and I think it’s probably fair for the one who got them the job to pick which one he wants.”
“Yes,” Beam answered, “but that’s so obviously the answer that the fact they haven’t recognized it means either their too stupid to realize it or too greedy to know how to share. And I think that means there’s a good chance we can walk away with the cloak and the boots ourselves, and have them thankful that we solved their problem for them. But I’m open to suggestions for how to do that.”
“Well, if we could distract them, we could just steal the things and escape.”
“Good but not great. We can’t run fast, and they’ll come after us. Wait, I’ve got it.” Rummaging through his pack, he pulled out two towels, handed one to Bron and the other to Dawn. “Go over there, not far but far enough that they’re not going to see what you’re doing, and in one of those towels gather as many diamonds as you can hold, and in the other gather as many rubies, and then bring them back here. Be quick, though.”
They hurried away, and he returned his attention to Abishaw and Babbareth.
“I think I may have a solution for you; I’ve sent my associates to get some things that might help. We’ll have to give them a moment.” He stared in the wrong direction, and the two men followed his gaze. Then after a couple minutes he turned in the right direction, and said, “Ah, here they come now.”
Bron and Dawn approached with the towels laden with gemstones.
“O.K., now, part of the problem, as I see it, is figuring out what this cloak and these shoes are worth. Let’s start with the shoes. Diamonds?”
Bron set down the towel filled with diamonds.
“Now, how many of these diamonds do you think the shoes are worth?”
“Oh, indeed--but probably not all of them. Let’s start counting, and see what we think is the value of the shoes.”
By the time he reached seventy diamonds, Abishaw and Babbareth were satisfied that he had matched the value of the shoes. He set the diamonds where the shoes were, and handed the shoes to Bron. “Put the rest of those away,” he said. “Now the rubies?”
Dawn unwrapped a pack of rubies very like the diamonds. “How many of these do we think the cloak is worth?” Again he started counting, and this time they got to ninety rubies before the two were satisfied, and he told Dawn to put the rest away as he swapped the rubies for the cloak and handed the cloak to Bron.
“O.K., so the shoes are worth those seventy diamonds, which would be thirty five for each of you, and the cloak is worth those ninety diamonds, forty-five for each of you, and now you don’t have to worry about who gets the shoes and the cloak, because you’ve both been paid for them. See?”
The two men nodded.
“I’m glad I could help solve your problem for you,” Beam said. “Well, we’ve got an appointment to keep. Maybe we’ll see you again later.”
With that he nonchalantly led his team back to the road and on toward the lake.
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 #293: Versers Relate. 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: