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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 4: Slade 44
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 3: Hastings 96
While Slade was trying to come to grips with the idea of a castle in the clouds, he realized that someone was standing behind him. He had not been there a moment before, and so must have come from inside the palace–probably, he thought, to ask him to get off the steps. It briefly occurred to him to wonder whether getting off the steps meant falling through the clouds; but he looked up to see who, or what, it was.
Slade had not yet stood up; but the man behind him seemed inordinately tall. He also appeared well-muscled. A moment of stupidity kept him staring before he came to himself and his feet. The man was still inordinately tall, head and shoulders above the lanky Slade, with swarthy skin, black hair in a ponytail, and a finely kept pointed beard and mustache. Slade brushed himself off, straightening his leathers as well as he could.
"Yes?" he said, hoping the man understood English.
"The Caliph will see you now," a rich bass voice said, and the guard stepped aside, inviting him to enter the now open door of the fortress.
Welcome to my parlor, Slade thought; but what else was he going to do, walk off the steps into the clouds? It was time to find out what this was, so he walked through the door.
As the splendor of the interior assaulted his eyes, he wondered whether it was possible for the inside to be more wondrously and lavishly appointed than the outside. He had been a noblemen for two or three decades, with a room filled with treasures (of which he still carried a few in a small jeweled chest), but had never known the like of this. Whoever this was, their wealth and probably power was beyond any he had yet seen.
He thought it would be best if he could remember whatever courtly manners he once practiced. He realized almost as soon as he thought it that he had never been much on the practice of courtly manners. It would be far better for him to try to remember such courtly manners as his friend Torelle had practiced, as these at least were likely to be correct.
Approaching the throne, he lowered his head, and went down on one knee. Drawing his sword, he laid it on the floor before him. "Robert Elvis Slade at your service, your lordship," he said.
"Robert Elvis Slade, our good friend and ally, rise and be greeted."
Slade looked up, and saw someone familiar, yet so very different from what he remembered. He had met someone who seemed to be a breath made visible; this person was somehow more real than that, more real than anyone Slade had ever met. It was, he thought, like the difference between seeing a naked child and seeing that same person grown up and dressed for a wedding. Yet it was obviously the same person, the djinn lord whom he had once released from the bottle, the Caliph of the West Wind.
"Caliph?" he asked, more of shock than inquisition. "You look good."
"Thank you, friend. I am good; I am also well. How are you?"
"Things have been a bit quiet lately. It's good to see you, though."
A smile crossed the stern face for a moment.
"I asked you to come here today, in a manner of speaking," the djinn said, "to call upon you for assistance, in accordance with our alliance."
Slade's eyebrows rose involuntarily. "You can certainly rely on me," he said; "I can't imagine what I could do for you which you could not do for yourself, but whatever it is, I'm here."
The powerful djinn caliph rose from his throne. "Walk with me," he said, and moved away from the other djinn in the court through the pillars.
"You and I are both immortals; but we are of different worlds. I am a spirit, an elemental spirit of the air, and my home is in the realm of spirits, the realm which transcends all universes. Even this that you see, this is not my home; we are on the edge of my world, in a place I keep where I can maintain something those of the material realms can recognize. The castle in the clouds is an image, an idea; the very notions of castles and clouds are foreign in the deep supernatural. But this is a place where we can meet. You were born mortal, and are part of the material worlds, the universes of creation.
"There are laws which bind each of us. One of the laws which binds me is this: there are universes in which it is not lawful for spirits to appear or to directly act on their own behalves; I must only act through agents in such worlds. You are not so restricted. You may move through any material universe and do whatever you wish within it.
"In one such universe, one of my allies, a man of considerable importance to me, has been imprisoned by the friends of my enemies. He has called to me for aid; but alas, I cannot enter his world to save him.
"But you, my friend, can. And so I call upon that promise we made to each other, to be friends and allies forever, to ask that you enter this world and save this man."
"Your lordship," Slade began, "I would like nothing better than to go on such a mission on your behalf. My sword needs a bit of practice. But I don't have control over where I go, at least as far as which world I land in."
"No; but I can control this. I have also anticipated that you may need help, and so arranged for others to assist you. I only need your agreement to attempt this."
"Oh, that you've got, although I'm not sure about working with strangers. What do I have to do?"
"You must penetrate the dungeons of a nobleman named Acquivar, find an old priest imprisoned there who is called Phasius, and deliver him beyond the boundaries of the territory of his enemy. He knows me by the name Majdi, and will know I sent you if you use that name."
"I didn't know your name was Majdi."
"I have many names. I will deliver you to a place beyond Acquivar's territory; he is allied with my enemies, the efriit, and if I open a gate within his territory they will know it. I will be watching you, and will help as I am able; but I am very limited in what I may do."
"I understand." Slade repeated things to himself–Acquivar, Phasius, Majdi. "I guess I'm ready. What do I do now?"
"You go through that door to meet those who will go with you; when you are ready, the door through which you entered will lead you to the place you must go. Stay the night as my guest in that room; you will find it comfortably appointed. Do not attempt to come back to the palace, for the way will close behind you."
"I think I can manage that." Slade looked at his strange companion, trying to think of a good exit line. In the end, he smiled, walked to the door, and went through it.
He entered a fine chamber with several comfortable looking couches and a long table spread with fruit, meat, and cheese. The two people already in the room leapt to their feet, and in unison cried out, "Slade!"
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 #157: Versers Restart. 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: