In Verse Proportion; Chapter 27, Kondor 181

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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 27:  Kondor 181
Table of Contents
Previous chapter:  Brown 203

The Amir Mohammed returned ten days later, arriving after dinner but before sunset and so being offered a light supper.  He came with a sizable entourage, and they were settled in a separate wing of the palace.  Kondor sent word that he would like to meet them in a private dinner for four, including Mohammed, Leah, Zeke, and himself, the next afternoon, and then had the household servants make the arrangements.

He did not fall asleep readily that night, as he was still uncertain what he would say or how he would say it, but eventually he drifted off.  He still woke in time for breakfast, where he saw his guests on the dais with their host but did not approach them.

Early that afternoon servants escorted him and Zeke to a private room not far from the dining room, with the sort of low table and cushions that were typical of dining in this part of the world.  Kondor mused that at home he would have made a point of pulling out the lady’s chair for her, but that he did not know if there were a similarly appropriate gesture here.  He suggested to Zeke that they not sit until their guests had done so, which didn’t exactly please Zeke but he admitted that this was probably the polite way to handle it.

Hearing the others arrive, Kondor turned toward the door and greeted them.  “Your excellency, lady, welcome.”

“Honored ones, we are honored to be here.”

“I think perhaps not so much as we are.  Please, sit,” he said, waving toward the table.  “I understand food will arrive momentarily.”

As they sat around the circular table, Kondor placed himself beside Leah and across from Mohammed, with Zeke to his left.

“How was your trip?” he asked, thinking that small talk was the easiest way to start.

“Not so grueling, I think, as the preparations for it,” Mohammed joked.

“I know what you mean.  Sometimes packing is the hardest part of traveling.”

“You, I gather, do a lot of traveling?”

“I would say so, but probably not the way you imagine.  In fact, that’s one of the things I need to explain, which you need to understand before you decide to give me your sister, and indeed before she decides whether she would really want to be my wife.”

Mohammed seemed to look surprised but bite his tongue when Kondor suggested that Leah had any say in the matter.

“After all, while I understand that no one truly knows what will happen in the future, I do know something about what I expect, and it would be unfair to ask someone to come with me without explaining it.  You see, Zeke and I, like Derek Brown and Robert Slade and Lauren Hastings, are what are called ‘versers’, people with a particular sort of problem that you should understand.  It is likely that if Leah marries me, she, too, will become a verser, and once that happens it can’t be cured, as far as I know.”

At that moment servants arrived with a large tray of assorted foods, several plates, cups, and beverages, plus a bowl of oranges.  This latter they set on the floor between Kondor and Leah.  Mohammed raised an eyebrow as if to ask the purpose of it, and Kondor obliged.

“I don’t drink the beer or the wine or the water here, if I can avoid it.  I don’t drink the water because water often carries diseases, and so I try not to drink it wherever I go; I don’t drink the beer or wine because although alcohol purifies them of those diseases, it is not good for the body or the brain, and I genuinely dislike the taste.  So the oranges are as it were my beverage of choice here.  I drink fruit juice most places that I travel.

“And speaking of traveling, that’s probably the big deal.  But I’m not sure how to explain it.”

“Let me try,” Zeke suggested.  “I’m new to this, but I’ve had the experience and talked with the others about it.  We have something in us we call ‘scriff’.  It doesn’t let us age, and although we can be killed we can’t stay dead.  Instead, when we die we come back to life in another world.  There are a lot of worlds out there, and they can be very different.  Just talking with the others, who now have all gone somewhere, I’ve learned that there are worlds in which people travel in ships between the stars, and worlds in which monsters hide in the dark corners of the cities, and worlds in which the people who live there aren’t really people at all but bird people, and lots of other things.  There are worlds with lots of magic, and worlds with no magic at all, worlds with machines that fly through the skies and worlds which are still struggling to make swords.  And we don’t get to pick where we go; we just wind up somewhere we’ve never been, and have to figure out what to do when we get there.  It’s happened to me once already, which is how I got here; it’s happened to Joe maybe a dozen times by now.  I expect that when he gets killed, he’ll go to another world, and I’ll go with him.”

“And the complication,” Joe said, “is that if Leah marries me, she will go too.”

He stopped, letting Mohammed absorb all of this.  After a moment, the nobleman spoke.

“So, if you die, she dies, at least as far as it would seem to me.”

“Well, yes, I suppose you could put it that way.  But she doesn’t really die, and she won’t leave her body behind.  It’s more like she dissolves into the air and reforms somewhere from which she can’t return.  But that’s only part of it.”

Kondor grabbed a bit of what he took to be roast chicken.  After all, this was supposed to be dinner, and he should eat something.  Once he had swallowed it, he continued.

“I don’t age.  Zeke doesn’t age.  But that only happens to us because we have been through this once.  If Leah marries me, she will continue to age; she might even die of old age.  Yet if I die, she will come with me and at that point she will stop aging, at whatever age she has reached.  How old are you, Leah--nineteen?”

Apparently surprised at having been addressed, it took her a moment to find her voice.

“Um--almost.  Eighteen.”

“So if you married me this week, and I died next week, you would be eighteen for eternity; but if you married me this week and I lived another twenty years before being killed, you would go with me and be thirty-eight forever, and people might think you were my mother.”

The girl giggled at that thought.

“But it is possible that you would die before I do, in which case your life, and your death, will be normal.  Does that make sense?”

She nodded, but her words were, “No, it sounds crazy, but I understand it and having heard what happened to Vashti I believe it.”

This time Kondor nodded.  He had another bite of dinner, and thought in the silence.

“One more thing I think you need to know to make an informed decision about this.”  Gee, that was such a medical thing to have said; well, he had said it, and he was a medical doctor, so fine.  “No verser has ever been known to have a child.  I don’t know why that is, but apparently the scriff prevents conception.”

“Do you mean you are a eunuch?”

Zeke almost choked on his food.

“You alright there, Lieutenant?”

“Um--yeah, yeah, I’ll manage.”

“No, I’m sure we’re capable of intercourse; we just don’t produce offspring.  I know that you were thinking that Leah being able to have children would matter to me, so I have to consider that me being unable to have them might matter to you.”

“Yes, I see.”  Mohammed tilted his head in thought.  “Well, I will have to consider that, but I’m not sure it matters to me.”

“What about you?” Kondor said to Leah.  “Would not being able to have children be a problem for you?”

“I would not want to disappoint my lord,” she said.

“It’s not a matter of disappointing me; I’m resolved to being childless.  The issue is whether it would disappoint you.  But you think about it.”  He turned back to Mohammed.  “Question:  why did you come to me?  There must be noblemen who would want to marry Leah, to be brother-in-law of an Amir.”

“It was actually her idea,” he said.

“Oh?”  Kondor raised an eyebrow; he thought Zeke raised both.  He turned to Leah.  “Why?”

Was that a shrug?  Anyway, he got an answer.

“There are a lot of nobles out there I have never met who, as you say, would marry me to be the brother-in-law of my brother.  There are many who would be a bad choice.  I had met you.  You seemed to be kind, or perhaps considerate is the better word.  You were intelligent and capable.  You are obviously brave and strong--a thrice-honored hero of the realms, there are not many of these, and few among the nobility.  I am going to have to marry someone, and I could do a lot worse.  And I have no guarantee that I could do better.  If I have to choose based on the little I know about everyone, I would pick you.”

Well, that might not be so flattering as one might expect from a girl madly in love, but there was something about it that appealed to Kondor.  It was, perhaps, that it was a well-reasoned approach to choosing a mate.  She wasn’t madly in love with him; she was choosing him as perhaps the best option she had.  He almost at that moment decided to marry her simply because it was the best way to help her out of a difficult predicament:  as she said, she was going to have to marry someone, and her brother was not going to give up on that until he had succeeded.  If she married him, it solved her problem.

Of course, it gave her an entirely new set of problems, but then, any marriage was going to do that.  And he could see that she was the kind of person he could love, and that she thought she could love him.

She really did have very pretty eyes.

Not sure what to say next, Kondor struck on something.  “So, what do I need to know?”

This confused Mohammed a moment, but he pulled himself together and said, “As I say, she is a strong and healthy maiden.  She is also, I am convinced, a virgin.”

“Mo!” she scolded, obviously offended that he would even raise the question.

“Well, that is important,” Mohammed said.  “As you observe, it would make you my brother-in-law, and if perhaps I die without issue you would be in line for the Amirate.  Indeed, if I have a son but die while he is still young, you would probably be appointed regent and guardian until he comes of age.  It is unfortunate that you cannot have children, but hopefully I will have my own, and then it won’t matter.”

Kondor nodded.  This was sounding less attractive to him; he could think of nothing he would want less than to become ruler of a fief, regardless of the fact that Slade had done it.  But then, Mohammed seemed healthy, there were no infectious diseases in the Caliphate, so he would probably live long and prosper, and that would include having children.  Indeed, even if he had no sons, the recent experience with the Caliph and Calipha suggested that the husband of his eldest daughter could succeed him.  The odds of him winding up in the high seat of the Amirate were fairly slim.  He could marry this girl.

What was he thinking?  Don’t be rash.  You don’t really need a bride, even if you would like to have one.  And wouldn’t it complicate his relationship with Zeke?

That reminded him.  If he didn’t marry Leah, would Mohammed approach Zeke?  Would that be more complicated?  He thought Zeke would say yes; the Lieutenant’s track record with dating women was not so good, and he thought having someone offer him a pretty young wife was a wonderful way to uncomplicate everything.  In a sense it was.  If he married Leah himself, it would be simple, he would have a wife, and he wouldn’t have to worry about courting.

This was getting ridiculous.  He was going to have to think about it.

“Well,” he said, “I guess we should both give some thought to this.  Shall we meet again tomorrow?”

“You are not saying yes?”

“I am not saying no.  Honestly, I did not think I would ever marry, but you have me considering it.  At the same time, I think you and Leah should talk about whether you still think it a good idea for her to marry me.  My life is not always comfortable guest beds and meals in palaces, and she should know that before she agrees to become my companion forever.”

Mohammed nodded.  “Tomorrow, then.  For dinner.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Kondor said, “I have a lot to consider.”  Grabbing a roll, he put together a sandwich and took it, along with several oranges, with him back to his room.

Next chapter:  Chapter 28:  Slade 177
Table of Contents

There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with twenty other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #437:  Characters 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:

Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel

Old Verses New

For Better or Verse

Spy Verses

Garden of Versers

Versers Versus Versers

Stories from the Verse Main Page

The Original Introduction to Stories from the Verse

Read the Stories

The Online Games

Books by the Author

Go to Other Links

M. J. Young Net

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