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Stories from the Verse
Garden of Versers
Chapter 92: Slade 150
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Previous chapter: Chapter 91: Hastings 161
Slade broke the silence as he entered the room looking for Shella. “So, I’m not sure I heard all of that, but what we’ve got is that it is almost certain this one girl, Sch’hery, was part of the plot. We aren’t sure why. So, what do we think we should do?”
“Well,” Derek suggested tentatively, “first we should see whether Bilhah confirms her story.”
“Right,” Joe said. “If Bilhah doesn’t say that she told Scheherazade about the scarf, our case is a lot more solid.”
“But then,” Derek continued, “shouldn’t we take what we know to the Caliph?”
“I don’t know whether that will get you the outcome you want, my lords,” Shella said.
“Oh?” Slade said, and waited for her to continue.
“Her actions could easily be seen as treason,” Shella explained. “At that point, the Caliph would be well within his rights to have her executed. That, though, eliminates our best source of information, and might get the Princess killed.”
“I see,” Joe said. “It creates a stand-off. If we assume that Scheherazade’s father has Rathi, when the Caliph arrests Scheherazade the captors threaten to kill the Princess if any harm comes to her. Right now they are hoping that they won’t be discovered, because this is conspiracy to commit treason, and they have to avoid being identified or turn it into something else.”
Zeke asked, “How would they turn it into something else?”
They stared at each other for a moment.
“If I were doing it,” Derek suggested, “I would take advantage of the fact that the princess is--was--effectively a prisoner. She never leaves the palace except with a security contingent protecting her, and she never leaves the city at all, that we’ve seen, and she’s never actually alone with anyone. If she could be persuaded to say that she was trying to get out to see her boyfriend or something, her captors become her helpers, and there might be minor charges but the treason charge evaporates.”
Slade nodded. “But,” he said, “Sch’hery’s father is already married, and even if polygamy is permitted here, I don’t think that anyone would think it sensible for the princess to be his second wife.”
“I don’t think it is,” Joe said. “Polygamy, I mean. At least, I’ve seen no evidence of it. The Caliph didn’t even remarry after his wife died.”
“And Sch’hery’s mother isn’t likely to die this week, from what we’ve heard, and they can’t really hope to hold the Princess prisoner until she does.”
“I don’t see how it makes sense,” Zeke said. “The Princess is, how old, sixteen? If the Caliph dies before she marries, his cousin becomes Caliph; he doesn’t improve that position by marrying her.”
“No,” Slade said, “but he does help it stay that way by preventing her from marrying someone else. This cousin--does anyone know his name?”
No one answered. “Well, anyway, sixteen is old enough that the Caliph is probably looking for a husband for her, and the cousin had a close call just recently when Derek became part of her group--even he didn’t know that he wasn’t actually courting the Princess, at least at first, and he didn’t tell anyone when he had figured it out. So maybe this is just a way to stall any matchmaking efforts.”
“What about her brother?” Shella said.
“Her brother?” Zeke answered. “She has a brother?”
“Yes,” Derek said, “but he’s, like, five years old?”
“That’s probably old enough,” Joe said. “Shella’s right. As it stands now, the Caliph probably outlives his cousin, and upon the death of the cousin the boy becomes the heir apparent. At five years old, he’s a bit vulnerable, and would probably rule under regents until he’s at least fourteen or so, if no one assassinates him. If the Princess marries, though, her husband becomes the Caliph’s son-in-law and heir apparent, with the full protection of the palace. However, if the Princess marries the cousin’s son--her second cousin?--the cousin cuts himself out of succession, giving up the unlikely possibility that he might become Caliph, but secures the throne for his own son, and gets him protected, even if he himself doesn’t live long enough to see the boy ascend to the throne.”
“Well, we’ve got our motive,” Zeke said.
“Looks like,” Slade said. “We still can’t arrest Sch’hery, because we create the stand-off, and at that point their best move is to kill the princess and dump her body in the river, hope they get away with it, and they’re not in the place they hoped but they’re still in a better place, because there won’t be a son-in-law to succeed the Caliph.”
“So what do we do, m’lord?” Shella asked, and again the room went quiet.
“I’ll tell you what we do,” Derek said. “We get Sch’hery to tell us where they’re holding the princess, and we rescue her. That takes their bargaining chip off the table, and lets us deal with them directly.”
“And how do we get her to talk?” Slade asked. “As noted, we can’t arrest her without creating a standoff.”
“N-n-no,” Joe began; “but we can arrest them all, that is, put all the girls under house arrest. At this point, all that is known publicly is that a member of the entourage has been taken; the people who know it’s the Princess are, well, us, the entourage itself, and fewer members of the Caliph’s staff than you can count on your fingers. Secure them. No visitors, no visits, none leave the palace, all parcels in and out to be inspected. Announce it publicly as protecting the rest of the entourage including the Princess. Maids and other servants that belong to the individual girls are either also arrested or banned from the building. Once we have secured them so that they can’t communicate with the outside, we inform Scheherazade--and maybe we tell them all--that we know what she did and why she did it, and that we’re going to attempt to resolve it without her execution, but we need to know where they’re holding the Princess.”
“Then we organize a raid,” Slade said. “How do we know that Sch’hery is cooperating?”
“My lord, we can confirm what she says by scrying. If they have defenses against scrying, and neither Derek nor I can penetrate them, it is likely that they are hiding her in the place protected.”
“And once we get close enough,” Joe said, “I’ve got the surveillance gear, and might be able to confirm her presence that way.”
“All right,” Slade said. “Derek, you find a way to talk to the maid. I’ll go ask the Caliph to order house arrest for the entourage. We’ll meet back here when we’re ready?”
Everyone was agreed, and the impromptu meeting began to break up.
“Shella,” Derek said, “could I talk to you a moment?”
“Certainly, Derek,” she answered. “M’lord, you go ahead; I’ll only be a moment, I expect, and you don’t need me with you to see the Caliph.”
“Right,” he said, and exited.
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 #306: Versers Refocused. 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: