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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 77: Slade 74
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"Well, it doesn't look particularly good, but I've got an idea."
Slade had brought his companions to a halt as they entered the pass in the morning sunlight, and then scouted ahead through the woods on his own to see what they actually faced.
"I make it twenty, exactly. They're lined up across the pass in two interlocking ranks, ten behind ten, but ready with crossbows to use against us. It's going to be a tough fight, even if we use every trick we know, but I think we can do it."
The other two looked at him, seemingly in readiness. "So, what's the plan, my lord?" Shella said.
"I've reloaded my blaster; I can get twenty shots out of it before it's empty; I'm pretty fast, but it will take me more than a minute to do my part. I've thought about this quite a bit. I could shoot at twenty men, one at a time. I would wound some, maybe kill a couple, and miss some, and then I'd be out of ammo and they'd be coming. So that's not really a good plan."
"Then what?" Phasius asked.
"I don't like to do this; but it seems the only viable option."
"Do what, my lord?" Shella asked.
"I'm going to have to shoot at the horses." He paused, letting it sink in. "It strikes me as cruel, I suppose, because the horses are not our enemies. But if I shoot at the legs of twenty horses, I won't kill any of them. Some of them will be lame for life, and probably wind up killed by their masters. Some will be wounded but not so bad that they won't recover. But once I've shot at legs on twenty horses, the number of cavalry that would be able to follow us would be considerably reduced. We rush the line, break through the confusion, and get across the border some distance. Then we fight whoever pursues us that far."
The others slowly nodded, absorbing the plan.
"What's our part in this?" Shella asked.
"Well," Slade said, "I need time to shoot all twenty shots and switch to the sword. That means we need some way of stopping twenty crossbows from connecting. I've a lot of faith in Phasius for that; he kept thirty from killing us back at the barn, and if he can do so well again we'll be home free. But I'm not going to put all my eggs in one basket either way. What have you got that will help us here?"
She thought a moment. "Well, my lord, I do believe I could call upon the wind to blow from our backs and drive their quarrels away from us. But I could not guarantee it would not disrupt your missiles as well."
"That's not a problem," Slade said. "These missiles aren't affected by the wind. That works; do it. Phasius, stay behind us--once again, you're the one we need to defend."
It was a few minutes of riding the road before they reached the point at which they could see their adversaries. Just before they came into view, Slade told the others to be ready, and heard each begin incantations. He drew the blaster, and moved to point in front of the other two. Then he reined the horse to a halt, and stared at the opposing line. It seemed appropriate to say something, but Slade was not certain what.
"I am Robert Elvis Slade, lord of Slade Manor and friend and ally of the Caliph of the West Wind. I wish to pass this border and leave your country, with my companions."
One of the horsemen moved forward a few steps. This would be the officer, Slade decided.
"I am Lieutenant Simms. You are under arrest for acts of war against Prince Acquivar and his realm. If you will not surrender, I am authorized to use force."
At least the lines were clearly drawn. Slade thought it fair that the other side should know where he stood.
"A prince who murders his wife when she is inconvenient does not deserve the loyalty of his soldiers or his people; nor has he any right to call others criminal who oppose his actions. I do not yield."
Immediately he took aim on the first horse in line, and fired. The horse reared; it had been hit, and solidly. Slade did not wait to see the effects, but moved down the line from horse to horse as swiftly as he could. He felt the wind rise behind him; he saw the loosed crossbow bolts fight against it, veering off course or blowing back. Down the line he went, counting as he fired, eight, nine, a shot at the lieutenant, thirteen, fourteen, seventeen, eighteen, finally he had fired his last shot, one at each horse. He holstered the weapon and drew the sword.
In what his mind saw as a dramatic image, he raised the sword above his head and swung it forward, even as he urged the mount toward the enemy. The beast was well trained for this, one of their own war horses, and responded eagerly. Their line was in disarray, with several horses on the ground, riders scrambling to get out of the way of other panicked animals, and nothing to stop his charge. He leapt over a fallen beast, and galloped through the pass into the next kingdom. The sound of hooves told him that Shella and Phasius were with him.
Those were not the only sounds he heard, however. Behind them were more horses, and the voice of the lieutenant giving orders. They would be pursued; the only question was how many men could the lieutenant marshal before it was too late?
That wasn't the only question. The other question was at what point Slade should draw up his companions and prepare to face the attack. They could not run forever. They needed to run far enough that those who were without mounts could not reach them quickly enough to make a difference, but not so far that their own mounts were too tired to fight. At this speed, that would not be so very far; and that these were not horses Slade knew well meant he could not easily estimate their endurance. Still, it was not quite yet. They had passed their barn and were sloping down toward the other kingdom, the one they had seen when they arrived. Slade did not want to be on the downhill side of a steeper slope. It was something of a guessing game.
The road turned into the trees, and as Slade rounded the bend he knew he had found his place. Here they would take a stand, and would have the advantage of surprise over their enemies. He drew up the horse, and hoped his companions would recognize his action. He was well enough ahead of them that they did, slowing to join him.
"What now, lord?" Shella said.
"We get ready to fight whoever got this far," he replied. "I'm not so good on horseback, but it seems the superior position. I hope we can do this."
That was all he had time to say. Seven horsemen rode into view, and Slade charged forward at them, sword ready. He joined blades with one, a clash and a flash of steel on steel, and then shifted to put another off balance. He realized that this was a more difficult fight than he'd envisioned, and hoped that Shella was thinking of something that would help.
Suddenly there was another voice, from behind him. "Surrender immediately by the order of King Morgan."
The soldiers moved away from Slade; he found himself alone.
"Lay down your weapons now," the voice said, and Slade managed to turn around to see the source.
It was a new army, a force of perhaps fifty mounted, in a different uniform. Apparently the cavalry had come. Slade lowered his sword, and held it in front of him with the hilt extended.
"I am Robert Elvis Slade, Lord of Slade Manor and Friend and Ally of the Caliph of the West Wind. I yield to the authority of the King, and surrender my sword."
The commander of the king's troops considered for a moment. "You may keep your sword, my lord; your word is sufficient for me."
Acquivar's man spoke next. "I am Lieutenant Simms. This man is a wanted criminal in Acquivar's realm, and I demand that he be surrendered and returned for justice immediately."
"Justice is a funny word," Slade said to the lieutenant, "for a prince who would arrest those who demand an explanation for the death of his wife." Then he turned to the commander. "This is my wife, Lady Shella, daughter of Baron Torelle of Corlander; and with us we have Phasius, priest of Odin. We appeal to the decision of the king."
"Very wise," Phasius said, apparently to no one in particular.
"Indeed, to the king you shall go. Lieutenant, you are trespassing on the lands of King Morgan. You have leave to come, and to bring your men if you wish, to present your charges in the King's Court; otherwise I must ask you to withdraw. In any event, I expect you and your men to sheathe your weapons and keep them sheathed, and to surrender them if so ordered."
"Yes, lord." At his hand signal his men put their swords away. Slade did the same.
"I did not catch your name, lord," he said to the commander.
"I am Sir Rapheus Maxell, Commander of the Twelfth Army. King Morgan Justman told me that I would be needed here, although he did not say why."
"Your appearance is most welcome," Shella said. "We are in your debt, and that of your king."
"I am glad to have been of service to a distressed noblewoman," said Sir Rapheus; "and of course to another noble and a respected priest. If you will please ride with me, we have a long journey to reach the castle."
Slade wasn't sure of this idea of a long journey. Lieutenant Simms was already sending someone back to the border, presumably to report to the prince. He wasn't sure what he could tell King Morgan that the man didn't already know, but if there was a way out of this mess, it was to tell the king what had happened and hope the man was sympathetic. More significantly, perhaps, first he would have to get there.
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: