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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 31: Slade 54
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"There's a complication I didn't expect."
Slade had reined his horse as the capital of Acquivar's realm came into view. It was a walled city.
"I had been thinking about getting Phasius out of the dungeon, and then out of the castle; but I'd then figured we would take the horses and ride by night back to Charton. This complicates things."
His companions had stopped their mounts a few steps beyond, and now eyed the city with him.
"I see what you mean," Filp said. "If the horses are inside the city, we can't easily get them out at night; and if they're outside the city, we have to get the three of us, and the priest, to them, and probably through closed and guarded gates."
"Or else we have to do it by daylight," Shella suggested. "Even so, the guards are going to be watching for Phasius, and strangers from another country are going to be particularly watched once they know he has escaped."
The three stood in silence; the horses seemed restless. Filp spoke next.
"We could try to get four of us over the wall, at some out-of-the-way spot."
"But we couldn't get the horses out that way," Slade said; "we would have to leave them out here and hope they aren't found, or leave them in the city and escape on foot."
"We could leave with the horses," Shella said, "if we left before the gates closed for the night."
"True," Slade replied;" but if we spring him at night, it's likely they'll be looking for him by daylight."
Still they stared at the city.
"Well, we'll have to think of something," Slade said. "But for the moment, we should get in and meet this guy, what's his name?"
"Arnot Lord Cammelmyre," Shella recalled.
"Right. Get ourselves situated, check out the lay of the land, see what we know. Then we can figure out how to do all this."
Within the hour they reached the gates. There were two guards, but they seemed mostly for show; people were coming and going rather freely, and the threesome passed into the city without so much as a greeting. It was a bit more effort locating the Cammelmyre manor, but the sun was just settling on the edge of the horizon as they were leaving their horses with stablehands and heading to meet his lordship.
Lord Cammelmyre did not look the part. Slade was accustomed to noblemen who were knights, or at least soldiers, but for those whose talents were in wizardry. He'd have guessed Arnot to be the household manager, a small man whose manner combined efficiency with timidity and for whom formalities were more an awkward inconvenience. Without introduction, the man leapt right to the point.
"You have me at a disadvantage. They tell me my cousin sent you to me?"
"That's right, your lordship," Filp said. "He told us--"
"He told us we could find hospitality here on our pilgrimage," Slade interrupted. "They are his horses, but we will return them to him on our return journey."
"Pilgrimage? Where are you going?"
"We can speak privately of our private affairs; is there a place we might talk undisturbed?"
The suggestion that there was something secret seemed to strike a chord in the little man. "Of course," he said. "Follow me." He led them through several passages, pausing only to tell a servant to inform the staff to lay on three additional settings for dinner. Soon they were in a study with high windows. Slade surveyed the room, seeing no lit lamps or fires, before proceeding.
"We have come," he said, "at the bidding of an important nobleman, to see the priest named Phasius. Our friend has heard that the man was imprisoned, and has received a request for aid. We have come to free him."
As Slade spoke, the man's face turned somber.
"I cannot be involved in this," he said.
"Who said you were involved?" He turned to his companions. "Did anyone hear anything about Arnot being involved? I don't think Arnot knows anything about it. Three nobles from another country sought lodging with him, claiming to have come from his cousin's place in the country, and he put them up for a couple nights. They vanished without trace or explanation. He doesn't know where they went. What? Phasius? What does he have to do with them? Escaped? Are you sure?"
Slade smiled at Lord Cammelmyre. "We could certainly use help; but all we need is a place to stay while we figure out how we're going to do this. Now, if you'd rather send us to someone else, we'll go there; but it's a bit late in the day for that now, so probably we should wait until morning before we go wandering around the city."
These two lords stared at each other, one clearly never a fighter, probably an administrator whose ancestors would be ashamed of him, the other an auto mechanic out of time who fought in the name of the god Odin in dungeons and on starships, perhaps groping for some ground of commonality, some way of understanding each other and allowing to happen what must happen. Slade felt his fate, his place in the armies of Ragnorak, surging through him now. His smile broadened.
"Lord Robert Elvis Slade, Serpent Slayer," he said, "of Slade Manor. My good friend Lord Filp of Filp Manor and Omigger Tower, and his cousin, Lady Shella, daughter of Baron Torelle of Corlander and sister to my designated heir. Thank you for your hospitality, my lord."
Arnot Lord Cammelmyre held Slade's gaze only a moment longer; he then broke away abruptly, as if turning his attention to important papers as he lifted a blank sheet. "Welcome to Cammelmyre Manor," he said. "My servants will escort you to rooms and show you where to wash up. Please do me the honor of joining me for dinner."
He rang a bell on the desk, and in a moment a well-dressed manservant appeared. "Yes, m'lord?"
"Our guests will be staying, probably two nights. Please see to their needs."
"Very good, m'lord. If you will all please follow me." He led them from the room.
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 #170: Versers Explore. 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: