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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 83: Slade 149
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Previous chapter: Chapter 82: Hastings 158
Joe was the last to enter the room; he was accompanied by one of the guards. Slade looked around to see Derek and Zeke, the six girls who were usually with the princess, Shella, the Master at Arms, a few other ministers he had met but couldn’t place, and of course the Caliph. The Caliph began the meeting.
“I believe we are all here,” he said. “As you know, my daughter, the Princess Rathi, has been kidnapped. We are met to determine how this happened, but more importantly what steps we take to recover her. Lord Slade, I will begin by asking your thoughts; I gather you were at the scene.”
“Yes, your Potency, but not until after the kidnappers had departed. However, I’m interested in solving this myself, as there are several strange points.”
He turned his attention to Joe. “Doctor Kondor, perhaps I should start with the medical report.”
“Right,” Joe answered. “Of the four guards attending the princesses, one was dead at the scene. One has a punctured lung, which I am treating, but he should recover given time and rest. Another has a broken leg, again being treated and kept on bed rest for the present. The fourth suffered a blow to the head which rendered him unconscious. I am monitoring him for signs of concussion, but to this point I expect he will be ready to return to work in a day or two.
“The girls suffered minor injuries, mostly cuts and bruises, a couple of sprains. One of them took a blow that ought to have been fatal, but Derek was able to save her using his unusual abilities, and she appears fully recovered already.”
“There were several dead assailants at the scene, but the only one taken alive had been rendered unconscious by Derek near the beginning of the battle, and is now in Your Potency’s custody. I don’t know what he has said.”
The Caliph nodded, and Slade continued.
“What’s your view of what happened?”
“Well, I’ve spoken to the three guards, and briefly to five of the girls, but I’d like to hear Derek’s view. He was actually there.”
“Derek?” Slade suggested.
The boy stood, and seemed to be composing himself. “There were several peculiar points,” he began. “First, whoever they were, they ambushed us; they knew we were going to be there. I’m not sure how they knew, because I didn’t know we were going to be there. Second, there were between twenty and thirty of them, about twice as many as there were of us; they knew what to expect. Also, the ones who attacked the guards were armed, professional soldiers I would think, but the ones attacking the girls, while skilled fighters, fought weaponless. It suggests that they were being very careful not to risk killing any of the girls. They were well organized, striking at a moment when we were scattered, and recovering into an organized attack when their initial attempt was thwarted.”
Slade was impressed with this level of analysis; Derek apparently had learned quite a bit as a spy. Derek continued.
“It also appears that they knew which one was the Princess. I had no idea that the girl I called Princess Bronzy was the one; I had deduced that Chin Dimple and Button Nose were not, based on slips they had made in conversation, but as far as I knew any one of the other five could have been the princess. However, Bronzy was the first girl they grabbed, so she was clearly the target from the beginning. I feel like I should have realized that sooner.”
“So, who knew which girl was actually the Princess?” Joe asked. Derek shrugged.
“As I say, I didn’t know. I know that the girls all knew. I suspect that the guards probably knew, or at least some of them knew. The girls never told them, but you can work out a lot from watching their interactions and listening to their conversations. I don’t know if anyone else knew.”
“The Caliph once told me,” Slade offered, “that he himself would not be able to identify his daughter in that group at a distance.”
“It’s a matter of attention to detail,” Derek answered. “I was immersed in their group, spending time with them every day, and even though they never told me their names I had my own names for them, based on distinguishing features. Bronzy had a distinctive hair color, and while they all had brown hair, the red in hers made it stand out, if you knew to look for it.
“Anyway, they attacked, we fought back, they overwhelmed us by their numbers, mostly, and by the time they were dragging the Princess away we were pretty much all taken out one way or another.”
The room was silent for a moment, then Joe said, “Thank you. I’ve spoken with the three surviving guards. The one of them with a punctured lung knew which one was Rathi, and was stabbed trying to pursue the kidnapper. The one with the broken leg actually had concluded that a different one was the Princess, because she tended to be the boss in the group. The one knocked unconscious had no idea which one was the Princess.”
Slade nodded. “So, where does that put us?”
Joe replied, “As Derek says, there are some peculiar points in this. How did the attackers know to set up the ambush there, when the girls themselves did not seem to know where they were going when they left breakfast? How did they know which one was Rathi? What benefit do they hope to gain by kidnapping her, as opposed to killing her there in the marketplace? I think these are the critical questions, if we’re to unravel this. I wish I had the answers.”
The room went silent for what seemed several minutes. Slade broke it. “Well, your Potency, I think that’s where we are at the moment. We’ve got some investigating to do, but hopefully we can come up with some answers.”
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 #300: Versers Challenged. 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: