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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 71: Slade 72
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Previous chapter: Chapter 70: Hastings 116
"There goes the cavalry," Slade said. "Pity it's not on our side." The last of the mounted soldiers had vanished up the slope, and he felt he could speak again. He was not certain what he wanted to say. No one else seemed to have any ideas, either.
"Pack up," he said, "and rest a bit. We'll wait about twenty minutes before we start. For one thing, we're going to have to move fast and far--I want to reach the inn at the top of the pass before daylight, and it's a long day's walk--so I don't want anyone getting sick from walking right after eating. I don't think the infantry will follow. It's too far for them to reach the other inn before dark, so they won't start until tomorrow. But twenty minutes should be enough time to prove whether I'm right--I certainly don't want us sandwiched between the cavalry and the infantry."
"My lord," Shella began.
"Shella, I love it when you call me that; but you should probably call me something less formal. 'Bob' works, although most people call me 'Slade'."
"Bob?" Phasius asked. "What sort of name is that?"
"It's what we call a nickname. It's short for Robert, but I have no idea why."
"Slade," Shella said, then, "Bob." She repeated it, as if trying to get the feel of it in her mouth, and then smiled. Then, as if she remembered what she wanted to say, her face returned to its serious look. "The guards are almost certain to be waiting for us at the inn at the top of the pass. Is it really wise to go there?"
"I have no intention of stopping at the inn; and I'm counting on the cavalry being there. If we can get there before daylight, all but a few should be sleeping. With a bit of luck, we should be able to get horses, and from there it's only a couple of hours to the border--less on horseback. The pressure is on at this point. We neither eat nor sleep from this point until we are safely out of Acquivar's country. It took us two days to get this far--actually, closer to a day and a half--but we'll go all night and be out by mid morning if things go well."
"And if they go poorly?" Shella asked.
"Then you and I will be visiting another world, and Phasius will be meeting the Caliph. But they know where we were and have figured out where we're going, so speed is our best ally."
After these words, they sat in silence. Slade was working on contingency plans, what he would do if things were not as he expected when he reached the summit. He did not try to guess the thoughts of his companions.
He did try to guess the time. He never had a watch; he supposed that he should have picked up something of the sort when he was in space, but time didn't make that much sense when day and night were more a matter of whether you had the lights on than anything else. Waiting twenty minutes seemed such an artificial notion. What was a minute, anyway? He figured he could count. It took him a moment to decide that twenty minutes was the time it would take to count very slowly to twelve hundred; it took him less time to decide that was not how he was going to do it. There was no sense asking his companions; certainly neither of them had a watch. He should try to get one, sometime, somewhere. On the other hand, how much use was this to him, really? How many worlds had he visited? How many of them had twenty-four hour days, or even used hours? Twenty minutes was looking more and more artificial. Perhaps time wasn't real.
Having arrived at this notion, he realized that he was confusing time with, well, with time, because he didn't have two words for the two different things. It was very like confusing distance with distance, that is, confusing how far it was to the top of the pass with some numbers of miles or feet or kilometers. The measurement of the distance wasn't the distance; it was nothing more than a way of talking about the distance--and nothing less. So, too, twenty minutes was a way of talking about time; it wasn't time itself, but a name for a particular sized piece of time. It was the same amount of time whether you called it twenty minutes or three pretzels or half a tarp. It was easy to confuse the reality of time with the measurement of it; and Slade was easily confused sometimes.
"Bob?" Shella interrupted his thoughts; he turned toward her. "It's been twenty minutes. Should we go?"
He almost asked how she knew; but he was afraid she'd say she had counted slowly to twelve hundred, and he really didn't want to know that.
"Yes, thanks. Let's get moving." He stood and shouldered his pack. "We need to move swiftly, and stop infrequently, if we're going to get out of this alive." He glanced at the other two, saw that they were ready, and walked back to the road.
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 #186: Worlds Change. 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: