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Stories from the Verse
Chapter 53: Brown 257
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With torches lit, and taking with Vashti a position near the rear of the column of mourners, Derek climbed the stone-laden path just east of the college. From what he understood of the Parakeet’s religious beliefs, this was the direction of dawn and renewal. The fact that he did not understand their most solemn beliefs bothered him a bit. But walking through the twilight with the flaming torch held before him held a somber grandeur that he liked. Of course, for him and for Vashti no such thing might ever happen.
As the last of the procession of fifty, he came to the top of the hill and joined a circle. Already laid there was the Dean of the University, and the one Bob called Agile, and two more of the swordbirds whom he did not know. The warfare professor led them in a long rising then falling screech. Human voices were not made for such.
The professor of antiquities then spoke.
“I have been chosen to lead this. Let any who would say a good word to the honored fallen or to the Flock now speak.”
A minute passed, and the torches swayed in the hilltop breeze as the sun kept getting lower. Then one parakeet spoke of how he and the Dean always use to argue about funding, and how the Dean hated to fight but always tried to do the right thing anyway.
Others spoke of Agile, praising him for his quick wit and humor, and grace with the sword. Time went on with others speaking, and then Joe spoke, which surprised Derek as the man was an atheist.
“I--knew them but little, but never did I see any of these heroes behave in a way that would have shamed them.” This comment was well received. Then after a few more minutes passed Slade spoke.
“Agile, Tag, and Dauntless were my students. They were the warfare professor’s students. They trained hard and they fought as they lived. I’m proud of them. When I kneeled by the Dean as he lay dying, his last words spoke of black feathered women with spears in the air, coming to welcome him. I asked the antiquities professor about this.”
He paused, and the professor spoke.
“He did. And I told him I had never heard of such a thing.”
“I know what they are,” Slade said. “My gods, the Norse gods, they admire bravery. Now some might remember the Dean as fearful. But that is what made him so brave. For Agile, especially for Dauntless, even Tag, for me, bravery comes easily. When the ship came over, I realized it was a distraction. So I looked around, and out behind my house, I saw the invaders rescuing their kin from the zoo. So I charged them, and ran right into an emitter blast from one of the ships which threw me through the door of my house,and took me and my door into the living room.”
There was surprise and respect on all faces, but Slade held up a hand.
“This is not a tale of my bravery. For me, to do that is easy. The Dean, he was brave in a way I shall never know because he was at times terrified, but he did the right thing anyway.”
He looked around him.
“And that, Flock, is what you face. Invaders have come to your world, and many of you might be scared. So was the Dean.” He paused. Derek admired the dramatic skill. “My gods, the Norse gods, admire bravery. And so when the Dean died, he saw as the Norse would see. The Valkyrie: flying women with spears coming to take him to Valhalla, a place set aside for the brave.”
And then with one smooth pull, he drew out his sword and shouted loudly.
“Hail the Honored Dead!”
This brought similar screeches, and with that the ceremony closed except for the bodies. Shella began to speak, and swirling magic lent strangeness to the night, and ruffled Parakeet feathers until there were four holes in the ground on the hill among the other earlier explorers who had passed the veil. The bodies were placed in with due solemnity, and then Shella cast her spell again, entombing them. The Parakeets all looked very wide eyed at her after this display.
“Let us sing,” the antiquities professor said, and a sad crooning song went on for several minutes. And then in reverse, Derek led the procession down the hill until he was nearer some light. There he quenched his and Vashti’s torches and handed them to the several Parakeets who had been assigned the duty of torch gatherers.
Derek found himself with Joe heading in Slade’s general direction, so when Slade spoke asking them what they thought, Derek had to pause.
“I don’t know. Perhaps there are other lesser gods than the King in this wide multiverse.”
“I don’t like it, but I see the necessity,” Joe said. “You encouraged the Parakeets greatly. But since I’m an immortal and I don’t believe they have lives beyond this one, I hope for us to take the brunt of the war.” Derek agreed, and was not surprised to hear Slade agree as well. The Pagan Hero, and the Servant of the King, and the Godless Man could all agree on that without qualm.
“How did you know to be in the air for the attack?” Joe asked.
“I had just finished decoding a message with our locale. No time to warn anyone so Vashti and I hopped.” They stood there with the other versers nearby for a bit, and then they parted with Derek and Vashti heading back to their house. Meanwhile, Derek knew the other two flying saucers were coming ever closer on the rails. Soon, the team would stop defending, and go on the offensive.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eleven other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #484: Characters Maneuver. 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: