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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 2: Beam 42
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 1: Hastings 173
As the quartet trudged across the wilderness, Turbirb’durpa floating in the air alongside and slightly above them, Sophia interrupted Beam’s thoughts.
“So, why is it that we know there are people like us to the west, but we’re headed east?”
The white-haired James Donald Beam had concluded that wives generally liked to fight with their husbands. His first wife did it all the time. O.K., so he was far from the perfect husband--drinking and philandering were certainly vices to which most wives objected, but that first wife also objected to smoking and role playing games, and he never should have married someone with such strict religious views about things. At the moment Sophia was being reasonable, and it wasn’t really an unreasonable question even though he had already answered it. He would try again.
“Take a look at us, Soph. You’re a witch, and it appears that in this world you’ve got quite a bit of magic to draw on, at least from what I’ve seen of your experiments. Bob,” the group’s nickname for Turbirb’durpa, “is a hideous-looking alien with significant mental abilities--he’s flying, because it’s easier for him than walking. Dawn, tiny and frail as she appears, is a killing machine bristling with heavy weapons. Bron might be a blacksmith, but carrying that hammer, not to mention the shotgun, he looks like the kind of fighter you would not want to meet in a dark alley. Forgetting that you actually know us, if you saw us coming, would you welcome us with open arms?”
She thought for a moment.
“I think I’d be very nervous about who you were and what you intended.”
“Absolutely. And we’ve been told and have good reason to believe that there are people ‘like us’--not merely people, but people like us--toward the west. Do we really want to take the chance of meeting people like us? After all, they might not be as reasonable as we are.”
“I don’t know that anyone would call you ‘reasonable’, dear. I don’t think I would necessarily call you ‘reasonable’.”
“Exactly my point.”
It must have penetrated, because she became silent for a good dozen yards. Beam knew that wives were rarely silent unless they were stymied.
"But,” she said, but was interrupted.
Soldiers come. Bob--Turbirb’durpa--did not speak well because he was able to rely on some kind of mental thought projection, most of the time. They had been in a world where it didn’t work, and had found other ways to communicate with him, but articulated speech was a last resort. Beam checked his steps, but Bob’s thoughts continued, not enemy.
“O.K.,” Beam said, “What, then?” He stared ahead and saw dust, which he decided matched images from movies in which cowboys were riding horses across the open range. “Just to be safe,” he said, “let’s get into some kind of defensive formation. Dawn, on my right; Bron, on my left; Sophia, in games we always put the wizards behind us so they could cast spells protected by the fighters. I think that makes sense, so unless there’s a reason otherwise, get behind us. Bob, I think you should probably land behind us, too--you’re undoubtedly a target up there.”
The group complied with his directions and stood watching as the dust cloud gradually became the background silhouetting a party of perhaps a dozen mounted men dressed not as cowboys but as Bedouins. At perhaps a hundred yards away the group slowed to a horse’s walk; then at perhaps a hundred feet away they stopped and dismounted, and reorganized as about half the men took hold of the horses and the other half approached slowly afoot. When they were about fifteen yards away they dropped to their knees and bent forward with their faces to the ground. The one on point then rose to an upright kneeling position and spoke to them in heavily-accented English.
“Oh honored James Donald Beam, friend of the efriit, the Amir of the Eastern Mountains welcomes you and looks forward to dining with you this afternoon. We bring horses to hurry your journey.”
The white-haired man looked askance at the horses. He had helped shoe them when Bron was teaching him blacksmithing, so he didn’t have the fear that some people had of them; but he’d never done more than ride them around the paddock at the smithy to confirm that the shoes were well-fitted. The notion of riding a horse any distance, and across rugged ground, did not sit well with him. On the other hand, the alternatives were to get Bob to carry him through the air (an uncomfortable feeling uncomfortably ensconced in uncomfortable memories), and walking, and he was not certain just how many balls Bob could juggle before dropping one, and he did not wish to be the one dropped.
“That’s most kind of the Amir. Folks, let’s take advantage of the hospitality of our soon-to-be host.”
He had seen Bron ride, so was not surprised that the burly blacksmith easily took to the saddle. Nor did it surprise him that Sophia mounted as if at home on horseback; it was one of the normal modes of transportation in the world in which she was born.
“Dawn?” he inquired, seeing her eyeing the beast suspiciously.
“I will run,” she answered.
Beam almost asked if she wouldn’t get tired trying to run alongside the horses, but the standard blank look on her face told him that no, she wouldn’t. She probably couldn’t outrun a galloping horse in a sprint, but a horse couldn’t maintain a gallop in this clime for very long, and it would not surprise him if Dawn could easily keep pace with a cantering horse.
Thus satisfied, he cautiously approached the animal intended for him--a large animal, but not so large, he realized, as those they had tended back at the smithy--and remembering the process inserted his foot in the stirrup and tossed his other leg over the back of the horse so he would land in the saddle. He did not land as comfortably as he might have liked, but with a bit of shifting he found his place, and then took the reins in hand, hoping he could keep his seat. His other foot found the other stirrup, and he nodded to the leader of the welcoming party.
“Lead on,” he said, and hoped that the horse would mostly keep pace with its companions so he wouldn’t have to reveal just how inept a horseman he actually was.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #319: Quiet Worlds. 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: