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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 45: Slade 161
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Previous chapter: Chapter 44: Beam 51
So now he had another worry.
Wait--should he worry about this? So now he was worrying about whether to worry. Worrying about worrying? That was ridiculous. Either you were worried about a thing, or you weren’t. If you’re worrying about worrying, that only means you’re worrying ineffectively, and you need to focus your worries.
So, Slade decided, let’s do some serious worrying.
Lauren had informed him in her early evening report that there was a late afternoon arrival. Reportedly some kind of representative from the Eastern Mountains Amirate had come to the Southern River Bend Amirate. She expected that she would meet him tomorrow, if not at breakfast then probably at dinner.
So, why was he there?
They said he was paying respects on behalf of the Eastern Mountains Amir for the death of the Amira and her husband. That was certainly plausible, and it made a good cover to get inside the castle. So why would the Amir, that is, the Eastern Mountains Amir, want to get someone inside the castle of the Southern River Bend Amirate?
He could be planting a bomb.
No, that’s ridiculous. They don’t have bombs. At least, Slade thought they didn’t have bombs. He wondered whether it was possible to make a magic bomb, some magic spell that would cause an explosion some time in the future, triggered by passage of time or by completion of some ritual. He bet that it was. However, he also bet that people didn’t do it--he couldn’t think of a good reason why not, but he had never once heard a story about someone using magic to create a bomb. So, not impossible, but put it down as unlikely. Very unlikely.
A man inside the castle for even a few days could learn a great deal about its defenses, if he were attentive to them: guard watches and positions, patrolled and unpatrolled corridors, floor plans, critical locations such as alarm gongs, security offices, royal residences. If you were planning to invade, such knowledge would be very valuable. He’d had to work that stuff out for himself when he invaded a castle some time back. It would have been at least a bit easier if he’d had it before he went in. So maybe the representative is gathering information about the defense of the castle in anticipation of an invasion.
It would be a terrible abuse of hospitality, but then, somehow Slade thought that someone contemplating an assault on a neighboring Amirate would not be too concerned with abuse of hospitality.
He could be here to forge an alliance, negotiate a peace or other agreement.
Wait--why did that bother him?
There was a rumor that recently Scheraz, Sheherad--whatever her name is--entertained a visitor from the Amir of the Eastern Mountains. There were no details of that meeting, and no reason to think that Sch’hery was in any way unreliable. After all, she aided in the rescue of the Calipha she had helped her father kidnap, and when the plot was foiled she was not only granted her life, she was given her deceased father’s lands and titles in anticipation of a marriage to a groom both she and the Caliph found suitable, and her little brother was betrothed to the Calipha and named heir of the Caliph, so she had a lot of good. On the other hand, Zeke had killed her father and gotten a medal for doing so, so it’s possible she’s hiding a grudge there.
Quite apart from that, Sch’hery likes to run things, and if the Amir of the Eastern Mountains proposed a marriage, that would make her Amira of two Amirates. He would of course be Amir, but she was a manipulative and perhaps dominating girl who probably could get what she wanted from most men. And if the Amir of the Eastern Mountains had managed to arrange such a marriage to the Amira of the Northeast River Valley, and it had not yet been mentioned, and he was now forming an alliance with the Amir of the Southern River Bend, the Caliph would be surrounded on three sides.
Well, three of maybe seven or eight sides, as there was the Western River Valley north of them, and another Amirate between the two, and another to the north west and another to the southwest, but pretty much the entire eastern side would be vulnerable.
Was this unreasonable?
It really hinged on whether Schehera--Sch’hery--was entertaining an alliance with that eastern Amir. He wondered whether there was a way to learn that. Probably Derek and Vashti could have gotten the information easily enough. He could send Lauren, but he wasn’t certain she could get to the north readily or that Sch’hery would welcome her.
He confided some of this to Shella. She listened as if it were important, which encouraged him, but then she usually did, and it usually encouraged him. Finally he asked, “So, how do I find out whether the Amira Sch’hery is thinking of marrying that Amir?”
“That’s easy,” Shella answered. “Have the Calipha invite her to the palace for a visit, and have as many of the other Amiras here at the same time as you can. Girls always talk about their love interests to their girlfriends, and she spent years gabbing with these girls, so she’ll probably tell them about it without even thinking about it.”
Slade nodded. Tomorrow he would get an audience with the Calipha and get the ball rolling.
“I’m glad I married you,” he said.
“Me, too,” she answered. “Now, stop worrying and get some sleep.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Do you think I’m that blind?”
“Point taken. Call Lauren in the morning and tell her that I want the three of them to keep a close eye on the guy from the east, because I don’t trust him and want to know why he’s really there. Good night.”
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 #338: Verser Missteps. 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: