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Stories from the Verse
In Verse Proportion
Chapter 116: Slade 205
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Previous chapter: Kondor 213
“It’s my fault.”
Slade was wondering what he could do to help his friend. This wasn’t supposed to happen, he thought. The wives of versers don’t die; they verse out when the verser does, and live happily ever after, quite literally. That’s the way it was for him, with Shella. He assumed that’s what happened with Derek and Vashti. Joe got cheated.
He had risen from his bed and walked quietly to the doorway to the living room. His boots must have betrayed him on the hardwood floors, though. Joe hadn’t looked at him, hadn’t looked up from staring at the folded hands in his lap, but had started talking to him.
“If I hadn’t fired my rifle while on that horse, the horse wouldn’t have thrown me, and I would have been able to protect her.”
It struck Slade that he wouldn’t have known that a rifle report would spook a horse. After all, cowboys in movies always fired their rifles while riding their horses. The horses didn’t react. But he wasn’t certain that arguing would help at this point. Joe continued.
“If I hadn’t insisted on taking her on this trek, she would have been safely out of harm’s way back at her brother’s castle.”
Again Slade thought that was not something he would have considered. After all, he and Shella got married in the middle of a dangerous quest on which she had accompanied him, and indeed had she not accompanied him they almost certainly would not have gotten married. That was pretty normal, for versers to take wives with them. Well, Derek hadn’t done it when he got killed, but he had decided to do a reconnaissance flight, and Vashti couldn’t fly. So, O.K., it was normal for him to take his wife on his missions. Sure, you could argue that his wife was a pretty potent sorceress, and had saved his life more than once, but still, it seemed normal to him.
“If I hadn’t married her--”
“Now, wait a minute,” Slade said. This was too much. “If you hadn’t married her, you both would have missed out on one of the happiest times in your lives. To the rest of it, well, you made the best choices you could given the information you had, and it took a bad turn. A very bad turn, I’ll admit--but I’m sure that Leah is fine where she is, and so is Zeke, and this was not your fault, whatever the outcome.”
Joe looked up at him and stared somewhat blankly for a moment. Then, “Thanks,” he said. “I don’t know that I believe you, but it’s nice to hear.”
Slade walked over to his chair and sat across from his friend. “I know you don’t believe that our spirits live on after our deaths,” he said. “You think it’s something we invented to give us comfort when loved ones die and courage when we face death ourselves. I think you need to consider, though, whether it might be true, whether we believe it because it’s true, and it just happens that it gives us comfort and courage when we need it. The fact that our belief that there’s a life after death gives us this comfort and courage doesn’t mean it isn’t true, any more than the fact that we might believe there’s a hot meal and a warm bed waiting for us at the end of a rough day helps us get through it.”
“It wasn’t supposed to happen!”
Joe was getting upset again.
“Y’know, I thought the same thing a moment ago. We’re protected from death, and the ones closest to us are protected from death. It’s not absolute, of course. I attended Omigger’s funeral, and Filp died in my arms. O.K., so Omigger wasn’t actually dead--but I didn’t know that for a very long time after the funeral. The point is, we don’t know how it’s supposed to go. Even saying that something isn’t supposed to happen, well, that says there’s a plan, a divine plan, something that the gods intend for our lives. You don’t believe in the gods, therefore you can’t believe in a plan, and you can’t say that something wasn’t supposed to happen unless what you mean is it’s not what you wanted--and who are you, that what you want should control what happens? Now me, I believe in the gods, and in the plan, but I think it would be foolish and, what’s the word I want?”
Shella’s voice came from the hall behind him. “Arrogant.”
“Yeah, arrogant. It would be foolish and arrogant to presume that I know what’s supposed to happen. At least, not unless someone sends me a divine message. But the more so for you, when you don’t believe there’s a god or a plan. Something bad happened. Things did not go the way you wanted. I am sorry; I weep for you. But you can’t be blaming yourself, or anyone else, really. It happened.”
“Why did she have to die?” he cried.
Wow, what a question.
“I seem to recall,” Slade said, “that of all of us, you’re the one who most hates being a verser. I see it as preparation for Ragnorak and my place in Valhalla. Lauren sees it as God’s calling on her life, moving her where she is needed. Derek I think hasn’t actually decided, but he tends to think like Lauren, particularly after he saved the sprites. But you? You think this was an accident cursing you into this unending life of lives that always end in death. You want it to be over. You have always said you would not wish this on anyone. Yet, and rather selfishly I might observe, you are wishing that Leah had joined your eternal nightmare.”
“He’s right, you know,” Zeke suddenly said, emerging from the kitchen. “When we first arrived in the desert you very nearly apologized for saving my life. I’m kind of with Lauren on this. There’s a reason for it. I don’t know what it is, but there’s a reason. But the way you view it? She should be glad she doesn’t have to live like this.”
“But she’s dead! Don’t you get it? Living this life, for all its pain, is still living. She’s dead.”
“So you say,” Zeke said. “But then, it seems she tried to tell you otherwise, and you didn’t believe her. Look, you’ve suffered a terrible loss, and it was entirely unexpected. I’m really sorry for you. But you can’t be blaming yourself, or anyone else. You’ve got to pick up and move forward. Maybe you’ll meet someone else--”
“I don’t want someone else. I want Leah.”
“Yeah, well, sorry about that. But keep an open mind. I think you didn’t have a hallucination. I think she tried to tell you she was all right. Yeah, weep for her, for yourself. But you’re going to have to start moving forward pretty soon. These worlds don’t wait for us to catch up, you know. We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing here.”
Zeke glanced around the room. “I’m hungry,” he said. “How do I make myself a sandwich?”
“I’ve got you,” Shella said, pushing past Slade and through the living room. “Let me give you the tour of the kitchen and pantry.”
Slade stood watching Joe for another minute. The soldier had returned to staring at his hands. Well, it would take time. He didn’t know how he would feel if he actually lost Shella. Thank the gods that wasn’t going to happen. Still, he couldn’t really fully imagine how Joe felt.
He returned to the bedroom.
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 #452: Versers Ready. 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: