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The Spark: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Sunday, September 3, 2017 09:45 EDT



And One More Thing

    I wanted to slip out without disturbing Guntram, but he was already up. The real windows at the top of the room were bright, though they faced north so I couldn’t tell exactly where the sun was.

    I’d overslept. Though nobody was expecting me anywhere, so I ought to say I’d slept later than I’d meant to. I guess I needed it.

    “I had the servants make up a packet of bread and sausage for you,” Guntram said, gesturing toward a large bundle beside the door. “There’s also a skin of wine?”

    The food would fill my pack exactly as full as it had been when I left Beune. Either that was a very fortunate chance or Guntram had a good eye.

    I grinned. My bet was on Guntram.

    “Sir, thank you,” I said. I took the waxed linen ground sheet out of my pack and put the food in, piece by piece. That way I was sure of just what I had. “I’ll pass on the wine, if you don’t mind. I like it, but it’s stronger than the ale I’m used to. I don’t think that’s a good choice for me on the Road.”

    From the smell, the sausage was spiced pork. I realized how hungry I was, but it would delay me if I said that. I’d get out a ways from town before I had anything to eat. Guntram’s kindness embarrassed me, but most of what had happened in Dun Add embarrassed me. I was getting used to the feeling.

    I checked my purse to make sure I still had the chit for Buck, then lifted the pack onto my shoulders. I remembered doing the same thing in Beune just a few weeks ago. About a dozen of my neighbors had come to see me off.

    Folks back home thought I was weird, true enough, but I think they liked me pretty well. I hoped they’d be glad to see me back.

    I clasped hands with Guntram. “Thank you, sir,” I said. “If you’re out toward Beune, I hope you’ll stop in and see me. And if I find a piece of window–”

    I nodded toward the back wall.

    “–I’ll bring it to you, I promise.”

    “Good luck, Pal,” Guntram said. As I walked past him out the door he added, “I hope you find what you’re searching for.”

    I thought that was a funny thing to say, since I wasn’t looking for anything; I just wanted to go home. But I went down the stairs–carefully, because I had thirty pounds on my back–without turning to ask about it. I didn’t want to talk, I wanted to go home.

    Nobody said anything as I walked through the Aspirants’ Hall to get to the outside door. The woman at the counter gave me a nod and I nodded back, but none of the loungers even noticed me.

    I wasn’t sure I’d remember which door was the stables, but the ventilation lattices in the upper wall marked it even without the barks and whining even before I got close. I fished my chit out and walked inside. There were several fellows ahead of me before I got to the ostler’s cage.

    He looked at my chit and called, “Riki! Four thirteen!”

    He gestured and added, “Stand aside and your dog’ll be right down.”

    I moved out of the way. After a moment, I squatted to shrug off my pack. It was going to be a while before Riki, whoever he was, brought Buck to me. I felt bad all over again for leaving him alone all day. I knew I was just looking for another reason to kick myself because I was down.

    Buck was all right. God knew that with the ways I’d really screwed up since I got here, I didn’t need to invent phony ones.

    As I straightened, somebody behind me said, “Hello, Pal,” and I almost lost my balance. I tabbed a hand down and turned as I got up the rest of the way. May was smiling at me.

    “Ah, hello, m–” I said. “May, that is. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

    Or anywhere else, to tell the truth. She’d gone completely out of my mind.

    “Morseth said that you’d gone off with Guntram,” May said. “When I asked Guntram, he said that if I was quick I might catch you here. You’re going back to Beune?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I suppose there’s other things I could do in Dun Add, but I think I’ve done all I could stand to do.”

    She looked down. Morseth would’ve told her what a fool Easton had made of me on the jousting ground. She’d known what to expect from the beginning, of course. What she’d said trying to warn me proved that.

    “I didn’t realize you knew Guntram,” she said, still looking away. “In fact….”

    I don’t know what more she’d been thinking because she let her voice trail off. She’d probably’d figured that I’d lied to her about not knowing anybody in Dun Add. A girl as pretty as May would’ve had a lot of guys lying to her; it’s nature. But it wasn’t my nature, and it wasn’t what’d happened with me.

    “I met Guntram at the jousting ground,” I said. “He’s a Maker, and he was interested in my equipment. After Easton whipped my ass, pardon the language, Guntram gave me a bed in his quarters.”

    I heard the edge in my voice. I don’t like to be called a liar, even if May hadn’t used the words. Since my thoughts were in that direction anyway, I added, “Say? I guess you know a lot of the Champions? Tell them that the healing couch that Guntram built, it really works. They won’t take my word for it, but if you tell Morseth and Reaves that you saw me walking out of Dun Add this morning just as chipper as when I came in yesterday, they’ll believe that.”

    Riki turned out to be a girl of about thirteen, wearing a leather apron like the rest of the stable staff. She held the leash loose in her left hand, but with her right she was rubbing the back of Buck’s neck lightly as they walked along. When he saw me, he started wagging his tail so hard that his butt twitched side to side.

    I didn’t know what the custom was in Dun Add, but the way Riki was petting Buck made me decide without asking May for help. I opened my purse and brought out the brass coin from Castorman. According to Duncan it was worth a bed and a full meal at any of the inns we’d stopped at on the way here.

    I palmed it and slipped it to Riki when I shook her hand. “Bloody hell, squire!” she said. “Say, you’re the man!”

    She curtseyed to me, which was about as big a surprise as if she’d started singing a church hymn. “Say, take care of him, will you?” she called over her shoulder. “He’s a sweet dog, he is!”

    “Over tipped, I’m afraid,” said May as her eyes followed Riki back behind the ostler’s cage.

    “No ma’am,” I said, tousling Buck as he rubbed his big head against the side of my knee. “I paid for value received. I guess you probably don’t have a dog.”

    I felt kind of bad about that; it was a nasty thing to say, but May shouldn’t have sniped at the girl. Women do that sort of thing, I know.

    Anyway, she probably didn’t realize I’d been insulting. Somebody who didn’t own a dog probably wouldn’t take it that way.

    I lifted my pack on again, then took the leash off Buck and walked outside with him. He was whining with pleasure to be out of the cage, but he seemed to be okay except for that.

    May came with us. I wondered why she was here. I said, “Ma’am? May, did you want something?”

    “I wanted to see how you were getting on,” she said. In a different voice she added, “Pal, what did you mean when you said I knew a lot of the Champions?”

    “Huh?” I said. “May, you know everybody it seems to me. Guntram said he couldn’t get warriors to try the healing couch he’d made. I think it kinda bothers him. He’s proud of the couch, you see. I figured you could talk to people and maybe they’d start using it.”

    I stuck my arms out straight and flexed the elbows both ways. “I’m getting on fine, you see?” I said. “If you tell what you just saw to the guys who watched the beating I took, they’ll understand.”

    I cleared my throat. I said, “Guntram was good to me. I’d like to give him something back that he’d like.”

    I owed Guntram more than I could ever give him back.

    “Oh, that’s all?” May said. She laughed. It sounded like the trill of a happy cardinal. “I promise I’ll tell Morseth and Reaves. I’ll even order them to try the couch the next time they’re injured.”

    I smiled as I started across the courtyard. I didn’t doubt she would, and I didn’t doubt they would do what she told them to. May was the sort of girl that got men to do things.

    “Pal?” she said. She was walking along with me. “Do you know who Guntram is?”

    I frowned. “He’s a Maker,” I said. She couldn’t have meant just that, we’d talked about that. “He said he taught Louis, if that’s what you mean. Even in Beune I’ve heard about Louis.”

    There were even more people in the park than there had been yesterday when I arrived. It was a beautiful day. I wasn’t looking forward to weeks of the Road’s drab sameness, but that was the only way to get home.

    “Guntram is the Leader’s foster father,” May said. “Jon’s.”

    I’d been about to step into the passage through to the south side of the castle. I looked at May. “I didn̵#8217;t know that,” I said. “I….”

    I stopped because what I’d thought was that Guntram felt he was a joke, really, to all the younger people who were driving to unify mankind.



    “Guntram seemed to be sort of, well, outside things,” I said. “Not really close to Jon, I mean. Is he really important, then?”

    “Yes, he’s important,” May said. She led the way into the passage. Turning her head after a few steps, she said, “A lot of people are afraid of him. They think he deals with things from Not-Here. I’ve heard people say that he’s really from Not-Here.”

    I laughed at that. The echoes made it sound bitter, but it wasn’t.

    “Guntram isn’t from Not-Here,” I said.

    We were getting near the far end of the passage. I stopped talking for the moment, not because I wasn’t willing to talk about it but because May seemed to want to keep the subject private. She was the one who had to live here.

    She nodded to the attendant; he muttered, “Mum,” in reply. We passed out into the sunlight above the town.

    “I don’t think he trades with Not-Here either, not from what he said to me,” I resumed. “Maybe he did when he was younger, I don’t know. But I do. Trade with Not-Here, I mean.”

    May missed a step, the first time I’d seen her lose her air of friendly self-possession. She said, “I see.” Then she said, “But you said you came to Dun Add to fight for Mankind?”

    “For Mankind,” I said. “But that’s not the same as ‘against Not-Here and the things from Not-Here.'”

    “But they’re our enemies!” May said. “They want to kill us!”

    I shrugged. “Some do, I guess,” I said. “There’s plenty of stories about people getting slaughtered on the Road when they meet a Beast, and some of what comes in from the Waste may be out of Not-Here too. But there’s plenty of stories about people meeting a Beast and killing it, too. Maybe they were just lucky, and maybe they’re the reason Beasts are likely to go for the first punch when they meet people.”

    We’d gotten through the town by now. There’d been people who spoke to us and May had nodded back, but I hadn’t paid much attention. I’d dreamed of Dun Add for as long as I could remember, but now all I really cared about was getting home and forgetting about it.

    Forgetting about all my dreams, I guess. It seemed that I’d be better off that way.

    “Anyway,” I said, “I trade by leaving stuff out where they’ll find it and they leave stuff out for me. I don’t know what the things I put out is really worth, and I don’t guess they know any more about theirs. I’ve never been able to make anything from Not-Here work, so it’s not worth anything to me. But I think we’re both being honest. Both sides, I mean.”

    “I’d never heard of trading with the Beasts,” May said, not looking at me. She hadn’t drawn away–we were all through walking abreast on the path, with Buck in the middle–but I could tell I’d shocked her.

    “I don’t know who I’m trading with,” I said. “I’ve never seen them. But they’re from Not-Here, that I’m sure of. And neither of us gives the other any problems.”

    We were back to the landing place again. One of the nearer jewelry sellers waved a gewgaw and called, “Buy a pretty for your pretty, squire!”

    He either hadn’t taken a good look at May, or he rated me a lot higher than I did. I chuckled and said, “That’s twice this morning that somebody’s called me squire. I’d better get back home soon or I’ll be getting a big head.”

    There seemed to be about fifty people on the landing place this morning. A group of twenty-odd had come in under a guide with a couple attendants. They looked pretty prosperous, but they didn’t seem to be merchants. They weren’t travelling with the kind of baggage that merchants did, anyway.

    Across the way, a few warriors were sparring on the jousting ground. I saw the stewards shoo back a couple boys–ten or twelve years old, no more than that–who’d rushed over to see the sparring. I knew how they felt.

    “Will you be coming back, Pal?” May asked.

    “No, I don’t guess I will,” I said. “I’d thought I had something to offer Mankind, but Dun Add didn’t agree with me.”

    I settled my pack a little straighter. “Say,” I said. “Do I have to settle with the herald going in this direction too?”

    “No, you just go back on the Road,” May said. She looked at me and said, “I hope you have a safe trip, Pal, and that you have a better time at home than you seem to have had here.”

    That won’t be hard, I thought, but I didn’t say that because May had been nice to me. Actually, the only person I’d met here who hadn’t been nice was Easton, and there were bastards at home in Beune too.

    Like I’d called the Adversary and he popped up out of the ground, there was Easton. He was wearing blue and orange stripes this morning, and his glittering weapon/shield combination was in the middle of his chest. The control wands withdrew into the module between uses.

    One of the attendants who’d been with him when we’d sparred was here again. I remembered seeing the fellow in the castle courtyard when I’d walked across to the stables.

    I didn’t have anything to say to Easton, so I looked away. I was trying to figure out whether to speak to May or just to get back on the Road with a nod, when Easton walked up and said, “So, you’re heading back to South Bumfuck, are you, hobby? I guess you’re afraid that I’ll beat you bloody again, hey?”

    He didn’t have a dog with him, but he’d come here for a fight….

    I got cold. I’d felt a lot of things since I got to Dun Add, most of them bad, but right now I didn’t have any feelings at all. I just wanted to kill this bastard.

    “It’s Beune,” I said. I heard my voice trembling, but it wasn’t fear. “And I’m in a hurry to get back there, but I don’t guess I’ll ever be in too much hurry for a fight.”

    “Well, that’s a nice surprise!” Easton said. “You want to try it at 40% then? But maybe not, you don’t have Champions to hide behind today!”

    I dumped my pack on the ground behind me. “I don’t trust you,” I said, my voice ragged. “We’ll fight full power so you can’t cheat. All right!”

    “This is your last fight, hobby!” Easton shouted. “You all heard him! He challenged me at full power!”

    “Hey!” shouted someone, probably the herald, but all I could see right now was Easton facing me ten feet away. “You can’t fight here! Take it to the jousting ground!”

    “May, hold Buck,” I said. I could barely understand my own voice. Well, May was a smart girl, she’d probably figure out to give Buck to Riki. I couldn’t deal with that now.

    I switched my shield on, but just enough to give me a view of the planes we were fighting on. I strode toward Easton.

    He shifted right like he had the day before and sent a shimmering cut at my shoulder. There was a little sparkling where his weapon cut my shield but not much because I had the shield at such low power. If anything saved me it was that I was closer than he’d expected when he started his swing.

    The blow was like I’d jumped from the castle and landed on the point of my shoulder. Everything went white.

    I thrust at the center of mass.

    I guess Easton’s shield was pretty good; the Lord knew his weapon was. The module on his chest blew up, not from overload but from taking a stroke meant to drill five feet deep into granite.

    I flew backward and landed on the ground. I couldn’t hear anything; I don’t know if it was the explosion making me deaf or where Easton had hit me. I couldn’t feel anything on my left side.

    I couldn’t see Easton, but his attendant was still standing close by. His mouth was open in a scream I couldn’t hear and he was wiping at his face. He’d changed his clothes from stripes like his master wore to solid red.

    He was wearing his master’s torso. Easton’s legs and head lay on the ground beside the attendant.

    The pain was too bad to think, I could just go on with what I’d planned to do. I rolled to my left and stood up. The leg held me but I couldn’t move my left arm.

    I dropped the weapon to pick up my shield and hook it. I staggered to my pack and grabbed it. I couldn’t put it on so I dragged it back and picked the weapon up to hook it also. I had a thick leather pad over my right thigh, but I knew I’d have a blister even if the glowing tip didn’t char clear through the leather.

    “Come on, Buck,” I said, and he understood at least. I could lift the pack off the ground with my right arm though I didn’t know how long I’d be able to hold it up.

    I didn’t see people, just movement. They were running out of my way and I began to hear screams. I wasn’t deaf, then.

    People didn’t have any reason to be afraid. I didn’t want to hurt any body, I just wanted to go home. And anyway, my weapon wouldn’t recharge for minutes yet.

    Buck and I reached the Road. “We’re going home, boy,” I said but I don’t know if I really got the words out. Buck didn’t need to be told, though.

    I don’t know how far we got up the gray blur of Buck’s vision, but it can’t have been far before I knelt and threw up. I got up then and staggered a little farther, just because if I didn’t I’d lie where I was and die.

    We didn’t get far, though, certainly not up to the closest inn. I slept on the Road, and if anybody came past they left me alone.

    After I woke up, whenever that was, we went on.

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