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The Spark: Chapter Fourteen

       Last updated: Friday, October 20, 2017 19:53 EDT



A Different View of Marielles

    Baga brought the boat to rest in the landing place of Marielles, within arm’s length of where he’d landed when I came here before. I knew before he opened the hatch that things were just as quiet as they’d been the first time, but I still went out holding my shield and weapon ready.

    That was what Frances had insisted on: for the look of it, she’d said. I think she’d have been happier if I had something flashier to wear than the loose trousers and jacket we wear on Beune in nice weather like this. The cloth was gray, but the jacket was faded in patches.

    Frances came out on my heels. She found what she wanted and pointed. “There!” she said and set off briskly toward a clothing seller with a cart and a big white dog to pull it.

    Buck had stretched and rolled like always when he got out of the boat, but he caught up with us in a moment. The white dog eyed us but didn’t get up. It had a lot of fur, but underneath it was still the biggest dog as I’d seen.

    “Mistress,” Frances said. “I want to rent your cart and dog to transport an injured man to the palace. I don’t have any coin at the moment, but I’ll give you a dress like this for the use.”

    She fluffed out the skirt of her outfit, silk with thin up and down stripes of cream and maroon. Her voice was hard even when she wasn’t trying to be; I could see she’d put the peddler’s back up already.

    The peddler stared. “I don’t have any market for such,” she said. “Coin’s what I sell for. Have ye coin?”

    Frances didn’t have any coins: Beune doesn’t get enough travelers for there to be much new money since I’d taken all there was to go off the Dun Add. I fished out the last of the silver pieces from Duncan and said, “Ma’am? Will you rent us your cart and dog for this? Our friend’s been badly wounded and we need to get him to Prince Philip.”

    I was pretty sure the peddler would have sold the cart and wagon for that coin, but it was all I had except for a few small coppers. I wanted the cart, not to haggle all morning. Walters was slipping in and out of a fever; we needed to get him to Prince Philip while he could still talk.

    The peddler stared at the coin. “What? Hurt is he?” she said.

    She turned to her neighbor whose stall sold climbing monkeys and other wooden toys. “Mamie!” she called as she stood up. “Watch my stock, will ye? Gus’n me ‘ve got t’ haul a feller to the prince!”

    I went back to the boat and with Baga got Walters into the cart. He could’ve walked with a crutch, but carrying him with his arms over our shoulders was simpler. Besides, we didn’t have a crutch.

    Walters’ left foot was shriveling; just a dribble of blood was getting to it. It hadn’t started to turn black and stink yet, but that’d happen. There’d be a surgeon on Marielles who could take it off and poultice the stump; there wasn’t anything else for it, which Walters knew.

    “C’mon, Gus!” the peddler called to her dog and we started for the palace. I got my weapon and shield out again, now that I didn’t need my hands for other things.

    The two sisters were leading. I started out behind the cart with Baga, but Frances gestured me up with her. I thought it was just because I was supposed to look manly and dangerous, but she said to me, “You’ll be reimbursed for your expenditures, Master Pal. I know I’ll be able to draw on my credit with bankers here in Marielles.”

    “Thank you, ma’am,” I said. I hadn’t doubted that she’d pay me back, but to be honest I hadn’t really thought about it. I’d done what was easiest, that was all.

    Baga split off into the town to find the boatman he said he’d met here and to line up the stuff we’d need to fix Camm’s boat. My boat now, I suppose, though I couldn’t guide it.

    The three guards in blue caps were in front of the building. I wondered who was in charge of them with Camm dead and Walters being hauled toward them in a cart.

    I shouldn’t have wondered: when Lady Frances was around, she was always going to be in charge. She stepped up to the guards and snapped, “You two! Get Walters into the audience room. And you–”

    She pointed at the third man. His eyes glazed and he stood up straight.

    “–go make sure the bench against the wall is clear so that Walters can sit with his leg out.”

    “Sir?” said one of the first pair, bending over Walters. “What happened, sir?”

    “What does it look like, Red?” Walters said. His voice was weak but he sounded like he meant it. “I met a better man, didn’t I? Go do as the lady says, boys, or she’ll have your ears.”

    “Lord Pal and I will lead the way,” Frances added, gesturing me forward with her. I’d have laughed to hear myself called “Lord,” but there wasn’t anything funny in the lady’s tone. Or the situation, if I thought about it.

    The palace didn’t have any metal in the walls so I could’ve switched on my shield if I needed to. With the shield live, though, there wasn’t much I could do except fight. That wasn’t what Frances wanted. Mind, she wouldn’t back off if it came to that, and I’d said I’d stand with her.

    The arched doorway into what Frances called the Audience Hall was wide enough for Buck and me to walk in alongside her. There weren’t near so many folks inside as before, only about a dozen; but Philip was standing behind the table, looking scared, and Lady Hellea was there looking like an angry snake. A really pretty snake, though.

    “Come, darling,” Frances said, reaching an arm out behind her and drawing Eloise up alongside her. Fresh clothes–a red dress with thin swirls of gold–and primping with Frances’ help had made Eloise a beauty like you never see.

    “Prince Philip!” Frances said. “My champion has rescued Lady Eloise from the place where Hellea’s minions marooned her. He has slain the monster which menaced her there–”

    “That’s a lie!” Hellea said. Fright hadn’t done her voice any favors, but it was still nicer to hear than Frances’.

    The lie was that the dragon was dead. Frances might really believe that, though.

    “–and has defeated the minions when they returned to finish her off–and rob you of your pledged dowry, Philip!”

    There was a bustle behind us. The folks who’d spread toward the walls when we entered were craning their necks to see past us. I heard the legs of the wooden bench scrape so I guessed the guards had put Walters down on it.

    “Where is Lord Camm?” Hellea said, her voice rising. “Where is Camm?

    “Dead and in Hell if God is just!” Frances said. “Walters–”

    She half-turned and gestured back toward the bench. She never took her eyes off Philip, though.

    “–will tell you what happened. Tell them, Walters!”

    I kept looking across the table. I wasn’t worried about Phillip, but it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit to learn that Lady Frances wasn’t the only woman in the room to be carrying a sharp knife.

    “Camm took me with him to get the girl, Lady Eloise there, on the node where he’d left her,” Walters said. His voice wasn’t strong, but it was still clear. The room had hushed. “He wanted to take Oliver besides, but I wouldn’t go without Ajax. Camm said his boat wouldn’t carry two people and a dog. He told me the girl had a guard, which was why he needed me.”

    “You men,” Frances said, gesturing to the pair who’d carried Walters into the building. “Bring the bench closer. Now!”

    I got out of the way while the guards slid Walters up toward the table. He was a good man, doing what he’d promised he’d do on the way to Marielles: tell the truth. I was sorry he was crippled, but I wasn’t a bit sorry for beating him.

    “Camm said we were going to make sure the girl was safe,” Walters said, “but now I figure he was planning to kill her. Once we’d started there was nothing I could do; Camm was the boatman.”



    People were feeding into the hall, their feet shuffling. Even though they were trying to be quiet, they made a lot of noise. It was good that Frances had thought to move the bench up.

    “We got there and the guard wasn’t there, but Lord Pal was,” Walters said. Either he’d heard Frances call me “Lord” or he just thought I’d like it. Which I suppose I did, though I kinda blushed inside to hear it. “He and Lady Frances had already rescued the girl. He beat me fair, and that bloody fool Camm didn’t even give him a fight for all that expensive gear he bragged about. Good riddance, I say.”

    “My lord Prince, I had nothing to do with this,” Hellea said.

    “Liar!” Frances shouted. “I demand trial by combat! My champion will meet whoever the whore finds to defend her–or she stands dishonored and a proven liar, to pay the forfeit I set!”

    Everyone stared at Hellea, Philip included. Frances had gotten in a good one when she pointed out that Hellea’s scheme would’ve lost him the dowry.

    Hellea looked around the room without seeing much that pleased her. “I have forty days to find a champion!” she said.

    “I’ll tell you right now, lady,” Walters said. “You’re not going to find anybody on Marielles who’ll do you any good against Lord Pal.”

    He coughed; I guess it was supposed to be a laugh. “You know what’s funny?” he said. “Camm told me that you and him were going to be running Marielles soon and if I played my cards right, it could be really good for me. I was thinking about taking him up on the offer.”

    “That’s not true!” Hellea said. “I’m not responsible for any lies Camm might have told!”

    “Prince Philip,” Frances said, not shouting this time. “Let the whore have her forty days, but send her away now. If you don’t, Eloise and I will return to Holheim and there’ll be no marriage. Ever!”

    “Oh, Frances, no!” Eloise said, her face scrunching up in horror. “You promised I could marry the prince!”

    “We’ll never be safe here while Hellea remains,” Frances said. “I’m sorry, dear, but she goes or we do.”

    I believed that tone. So did Eloise, because she started crying on her sister’s shoulder.

    I guess Philip believed her too, because he said, “Mistress Hellea, you must leave Marielles within the hour, with the clothes you’re standing in and ten–no, one ounce of silver, but paid in copper coins. That’s more than you had when you arrived.”

    “Philip, you can’t do this to me!” Hellea said. She wasn’t crying–I wonder if she ever cried?–but she seemed to be shrinking; and she looked a lot older.

    “Guards, get her out of here,” Philip said. “Now, now! And if you come back before forty days are up, Hellea, I’ll have you executed, I swear I will!”

    “Red, you and your fellows come with me,” Frances said. “We’re taking Lady Hellea to her rooms and watching while she changes into something more suitable for the Road. Eloise, talk to your fiancé till I get back. You’re getting married after all, as soon as forty days is up.”

    The three guards and Hellea went out the door in the left side of the hall. Eloise trotted around the table and threw herself into Philip’s arms.

    As for me, I relaxed. For the first time in way too long.



    There was a good crowd around the boat the next day. Mostly they were just watching–news of the excitement in the palace had gotten around and brought folks to see if there’d be more of the same today. I sure hoped they’d be disappointed in that.

    There was a fair number of tradesmen, bringing the stuff Baga had ordered from the list I’d given him, the stuff we’d need to put Camm’s boat in shape. I let Baga and Stefan check that in.

    Stefan was the fellow Baga had met here, a boatman too. He and Baga had gone off in the boat for an hour, and Baga said he was good though he hadn’t had much practice. Stefan would bring Camm’s boat back when we finished repairing it.

    My boat. I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with a boat. I thought maybe I could give it to Guntram, though he couldn’t guide it either.

    Buck whined beside me. I looked back and saw Frances coming toward me from the town. The guard Red was walking a step behind her and carrying a small leather bag.

    “Ma’am?” I said.

    I needed to talk with her about money. Camm’s boat was in really bad shape; the things I’d need for repairs were going to cost a fair amount. Back home I could’ve gotten time or anyway worked things out from the sellers, though some of the stuff–some of the metals especially–probably couldn’t have been had on Beune.

    I figured Frances could arrange a loan for me from the bankers here. The boat was worth a lot more than what I’d have to pay to put it in shape, after all. And I figured Frances would be willing to trust me.

    “Good afternoon, Lord Pal,” she said as she came up to me. “We have business to transact.”

    “Ma’am, it’s all right,” I said. “You don’t have to call me ‘Lord’ any more. You’re in charge now, I guess, and you don’t have to put anything on to get the prince to take you for a lady.”

    Frances sniffed. “No, I certainly don’t,” she said. “But for the title–I’ve seen you at home and I judge you’re a squire on Beune if anyone is. You carry yourself as a gentleman should, and you have a nobleman’s equipment.”

    I grinned. “Ma’am, I’m a farmer,” I said. “Everybody on Beune is a farmer, pretty much.”

    “The equal of anyone on Beune, which is enough,” Frances said. She gave me the first smile I’d seen on her face. “I assure you that nobody here will argue with me. If you’re wise, you’ll carry that honor when you leave. You deserve it, and the way you handle your weapon will convince anyone you meet.”

    “Ma’am, I guess that’s true,” I said, “but it’s not somebody I want to be. Thank you, though.”

    She sniffed again. “It’s your business,” she said, “but you’re a fool. No matter.”

    She turned to the guard and said, “Give him the satchel, Red.”

    Red handed it to me and made a little bow before he stepped back. I guess he was chief guard now, though on Marielles that wasn’t much to say.

    The bag weighed five or six pounds, more than I’d expected. I wondered if I was supposed to open the tie closure.

    “This is a thousand Marielles crowns,” Frances said. “Each one weighs slightly more than a Dun Add dragon, though I don’t know how much they’ll be discounted as you move farther away from Marielles.”

    “Ma’am!” I said. “This is way more than I need to borrow. I figure ten–well, maybe twelve–would pay for all the goods I’m buying.”

    “What exactly do you plan to do?” Frances said. “If you don’t mind telling me.”

    “I don’t mind,” I said. Why would I? “Baga’s going to carry me back to the place we left the other boat. I’ll fix it up and Stefan will bring it back. Ah–I’ll be back before the challenge in forty days, don’t worry. Even if there’s a problem with fixing the other boat, Baga will bring me back for that.”

    “Hellea won’t find a champion,” Frances said with contempt. “If she were ten years younger I might worry, but not now. Still, best to have you ready.”

    Her lips pursed. “The node where we left the boat is named Dewbranch, by the way.”

    “It is?” I said. “Dewbranch, then. I didn’t figure it had a name.”

    “Lady Eloise named it,” Frances said. Her voice was dry as dust in summer. “She lived there longer than I imagine anyone else has, so I suppose she has a right.”

    She glanced over her shoulder, I guess to see that Red had backed well away. She took a deep breath and said, “That money isn’t a loan, Pal. It’s payment for what you did for me and for my sister.”

    “Ma’am!” I said. “I didn’t help you for money!”

    “No, you didn’t,” Frances said. “But it’s the only way I have to repay you.”

    I thought for a moment that she was going to say something more. Instead, she turned and walked back toward town. The guard followed her.

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