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The Spark: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Monday, October 30, 2017 19:21 EDT



Arriving in a Different Dun Add

    I told Baga to leave the boat closed up after we arrived on Dun Add. I spent a while looking about the landing place through the boat itself.

    I saw the Herald of the Gate waiting pompously for the hatch to open. That made me smile. Judging what’d happened when I came to Dun Add by the Road, that just meant that other travelers were going to get into the town with less pointless hassle than if the Herald was able to interfere with his clerk.

    There were three boats on the landing place before we arrived. I recognized one from my first visit. The Leader must have a boat of his own, though it didn’t have to be here on the landing place–Camm had kept his on a country estate which Hellea had owned.

    Baga said it was tricky to locate a place in the interior of a node when you were coming from the Waste, since you didn’t have the Road for a guide. It could be done, though.

    I came out of my trance and stretched. “Things seem about what they were before, Baga,” I said. “You can open her up and I’ll go look for Guntram.”

    “Are those the clothes you plan to wear, boss?” Baga said. He was standing by the hatch, but he wasn’t touching the lever that opened it.

    “Why shouldn’t I?” I said. I’d worn ordinary clothes on during the voyage from Marielles. I looked down at them, made a face, and ducked into my room.

    “You look really nice in the red,” Baga said. “But they’re all nice.”

    I put on the red suit. It was as bad as having Lady Frances along. Though she’d have ordered me which outfit to wear, not made a suggestion.

    I wondered how she was doing. If ever there’d been a woman who should’ve been born in a man’s body, it was her. I’d never heard her complain, though. She just worked around the things that came up.

    “Do you like me now?” I asked Baga. I transferred my shield and weapon into the pockets of this tunic. This hardware was so light that I didn’t need a harness to hold it as I’d had for the pieces I’d converted from other uses.

    “Every inch the lord, boss,” Baga said. He opened the hatch; Buck and I stepped into Dun Add.

    “Welcome, Champion of Beune!” called Guntram, standing beside the Herald. He must’ve arrived after I came out of my trance.

    “Guntram!” I said, surprised in a good way. I clasped arms with him while the Herald pursed his lips and sucked them in again. “I was wondering how I’d find you.”

    “I was observing on the jousting field and saw your boat arrive,” Guntram said. “Though I didn’t know it was yours until I’d gotten closer. I hope you’ll allow me to go over it after we’ve gotten you settled here.”

    “Sure!” I said. “We can do that right now if you want!”

    “No, first we need to take care of formalities, here and at the palace,” Guntram said. He reached down and rubbed Buck’s ears; Buck had recognized a friend and was nuzzling Guntram’s knee.

    The Herald cleared his throat. “I don’t mean to interrupt your lordships,” he said, “but need to jot a few things down. Did you say ‘Beune’, sir? I don’t believe I’ve heard of that place before?”

    “That’s of no consequence, fellow,” Guntram said. “Lord Pal is on Dun Add now. He will be entering the Hall of Champions shortly. If you need details, I’m sure that his boatman can satisfy you.”

    I knew there was absolutely no side on Guntram–he’d been right at home with my neighbors on Beune, eating the food they gave us and cleaning his plate like he liked it. Here with this fat fool, though, Guntram was the important Maker and a friend of the Leader. Mom had called that choosing your pattern to fit your cloth.

    “Of course, sir,” the Herald said, writing on his notebook. “Lord Pal of Beune, entering the Aspirants’ Chamber.”

    “Baga, you and Maggie are free to go off when you’ve satisfied this guy,” I called. “I’ll be back by evening, or anyway I’ll send word about where we’re to be.”

    We started up toward the palace by the straight, broad path. “Baga’s my boatman,” I explained to Guntram, not that he’d asked. “He volunteered to be my attendant if I stay in Dun Add. Though sir? I haven’t decided to try for the Champions again. I’m just thinking about it.”

    Guntram chuckled. “I’d say that on Beune there’d be very little employment for arms of such quality as yours,” he said. “Wouldn’t you?”

    “What I had before was good enough for Beune when I needed anything at all,” I said. “And sir? I thanked you for the shield when you gave it to me, but I’ve used it now. It’s a wonderful piece of work, very handy.”

    “There are sturdier shields,” Guntram said, “but none that I’ve seen which were as light in use. You’ve given your arms a fair test then, you believe?”

    I thought of Walters. “Yes,” I said. “It was a fair test.”

    I’d asked Lady Frances if she could do something for Walters; she’d had him made doorkeeper at Philip’s bungalow. Even with a peg leg, he could handle any trouble that was likely to happen there.

    “I’ll show you something of the court before you enroll,” Guntram said. “We’ll drop Buck off in the stables and I’ll take you there. And I won’t tell you–”

    He paused till I met his eyes.

    “–that you have a duty to Mankind not to waste your abilities, Pal. Because you already know that.”

    I swallowed. “Yessir,” I said.



    I don’t know what I expected the Leader’s Court to be like. Guntram took us up a wide staircase to the third floor. The stairs weren’t crowded but we met a couple dozen people on them. Some nodded to Guntram or spoke, but others just turned their eyes aside or even squeezed against the opposite railing.

    The attendant at the open door opposite the stairhead bowed to Guntram. We walked in at the top of a double-high room shaped like a half funnel. Curving ranks of seats sloped down to the floor from where we stood. There was room for at least two hundred people to sit there, but only fifty or so were taken. Some were warriors but the rest looked like clerks, a few of them women.

    Jon, the Leader, was seated on a dais facing the ranks of seats. I gasped and stepped back against the wall when I realized who I was looking down at.

    From this far away–and looking down, like we were–I didn’t have a good view of Jon’s face. His gold robe caught the light from the high windows around all four sides of the room; the ceiling must stick up above the roof of the rest of the building around it.

    “On the basis of the petition which has been reviewed by my counselors…,” Jon said, speaking to the young man facing him at the foot of the dais. There were four chairs to either side of the dais, five of the total occupied. “I order the following: in forty days time the petitioner and his brother Arne will present themselves before me for adjudication regarding the division of their father’s estate. Both parties may bring additional evidence to place before my counselors.”

    “Arne will never come just because I tell him to!” the man facing him said. He sounded whiny and frustrated.

    I could hear them both just as clear as if I was right across a table from them. I’d never been in such a big room where you could hear so clearly. I wondered if Guntram had found an Ancient machine that made it happen this way.

    “I will discuss the matter with my Champions and see if one volunteers to accompany you back to Austerlitz,” Jon said. “If not, I’ll assign one in a few days. Are there any volunteers in the hall now?”

    No one spoke up, though I saw several of those in the audience whispering to neighbors.

    “Well, report back tomorrow,” Jon said. “Next petitioner.”



    An attendant in black led the man from Austerlitz to the side; an elderly woman hobbled into his place on the arm of another attendant. Guntram motioned me to follow him back into the hall.

    When we got outside I said, “Sir, how do we hear things so clearly in there? Is this something you did?”

    “No, it was just the design,” Guntram said. “An architect from Bassai planned the room for Jon. She said very little herself, just bustled around making notes, but her six assistants all spoke of her as though she took dictation from God.”

    He smiled and added, “Judging from the hall’s acoustics, they may have been right.”

    “Sir,” I said. “Why does the Leader care about an estate on Austerlitz? Does he have property there himself?”

    “He doesn’t care in the least,” Guntram said. “The important thing to him is that people come to Dun Add to sort out their problems instead of going to war with one another. If a Champion isn’t sufficient to enforce the Leader’s decree, then there’s the army or a portion of it. But that’s only been necessary twice that I know of.”

    He led me down a much narrower staircase next to the outer wall rather than the courtyard by which we’d come up. I didn’t ask where we were going. Guntram was taking me to places that he thought I ought to see. He knew more about it than I did.

    “Who were the people on the benches, sir?” I said. A lot of them had been too old or frail to be warriors, or they were women.

    “Some are Champions, listening to judgments in case they find one that they’d like to get involved in,” Guntram said. “More of them send a clerk to take notes for them, for the same reason. And there are those who just like to watch the court.”

    We left the stairs at the second floor started down a hallway. A pair of servants saw us coming and lowered their heads as we brushed past one another in opposite directions.

    I hadn’t thought about how Jon’s government was organized. The stories told about people–in the stories they were pretty generally beautiful ladies–coming to Jon and him sending a Champion out to right her wrongs. The beautiful lady had always been injured by a villain, whom the Champion slew in a great battle.

    I knew from Beune that when neighbors or a couple fell out, it generally wasn’t easy to tell where the fault lay. Well, better, it generally seemed that they were both acting wrong. The priest would get together a neighbors’ council and the council’d make the best choice it could. Which generally left everybody angry at them, but also quieted things down between the parties. Nobody likes to know that his neighbors think he’s being a fool.

    We don’t have Trial by Combat on Beune, but sometimes the parties or healthy male relatives have it out. This may mean an eye gouged or a finger bitten off, but we don’t have weapons. I’ve never heard of anybody being killed.

    Guntram opened a door whose hinges squealed like it hadn’t been used in a year. From the way people in the workroom beyond turned their heads to look at us, it can’t ‘ve been common for folks to come by this way.

    There were cubicles on both sides of the room, six on one side and five on the other plus a door in the center with a broad aisle between them. Each cubicle had a couch and a built-in table. Four were occupied; three men gathered at a sideboard with food–cheese, meats, and fruit–and storage jars with narrow dippers hanging from the rims.

    The tables had Ancient artifacts on them, mostly weapons and shields. Nearby were trays and bins of the stuff you’d need to repair them. All the people here were Makers.

    “Master Guntram,” one of them said. He bowed and the others muttered, “Master,” and bowed or dipped their heads, except for the two who were in trances.

    “This is my friend Lord Pal,” Guntram said generally as he led me toward the door at the end of the room. There were nods and murmurs as we walked past. I smiled and nodded back, feeling out of place.

    The wide door–it was four feet across, easy–had been carved with a pair of dragons swallowing each other’s tails. I’d been impressed even before I got close enough to see that it was all one piece of wood.

    Instead of knocking, Guntram put his hand in the upper center of the panel, about opposite his face. When he touched the wood, it suddenly got a sheen like there was a plate of glass over it.

    The door opened inward. “Teacher!” said a small blond man with a pointy beard and a little moustache. “What brings you here today?”

    “Good morning, Louis,” Guntram said. “You’ll recall that shield I brought you, the one made from a rain repellant? This is the man who made it.”

    “Come in, come in!” Louis said, closing the door behind us. “That was a remarkable piece of work, sir! Guntram, I can certainly find a use for him.”

    This workroom was as neat as Phoebe’s parlor when she was expecting company. While Guntram had shelves and tables overflowing with bits and pieces, the walls of Louis’ room were covered with cabinets and drawers, all of them closed. The grain of the wood matched from one rank to the next so that they looked like paneling instead of storage.

    The artifact–it was a weapon–on the table beside the couch was the only evidence that this was a Maker’s workroom. Even so, the trays of repair materials had been put away since the work wasn’t in process at the moment.

    “Sir,” I said, “the shield didn’t work. I could barely move it when it was on full.”

    I’d just been offered the chance to work with the greatest Maker in the human universe. And I didn’t want the place. I felt sick at the thought of turning down such a wonderful offer.

    “And he’s not for you, Louis,” Guntram said. “Or for me either. Pal is on Dun Add to join the Company of Champions.”

    There hadn’t been proper introductions. Neither Maker paid much attention to the little social stuff, and I’d never been any good at it either.

    “Indeed?” Louis said, looking at Guntram and raising an eyebrow.

    “Indeed,” Guntram said. “Besides, I think you’d find Pal too whimsical to work out well with you, Louis. He would get bored turning out serviceable weapons for the troops day after day. Just as I would.”

    “Trying to make toys from Not-Here work is all well and good, Teacher,” Louis said, his voice suddenly hard. “I think baubles need to wait until Here has been returned to a state of law and order, though.”

    “I know what you believe, Louis,” Guntram said. “I wish you and Jon all good fortune in your work. But as you know, it’s not for me.”

    Louis lost his sudden harshness. He bowed and said, “You may be the wisest of the three of us, Teacher, but Jon and I aren’t going to give up our dreams.”

    He looked at me. “If you change your mind, Pal,” he said, “come and see me. The Maker who turned an umbrella into a shield could probably be useful for more things than arming common soldiers.”

    I bowed and said, “Thank you, sir.” I turned to follow Guntram out of the office.

    “And Pal?” Louis said. Guntram and I both looked back.

    “It seems to me that shield of yours could be quite serviceable if you could switch it on and off very quickly,” Louis said. “I can think of several ways to do that, if you’d like to come down and discuss it with me some time.”

    “Thank you, sir,” I said.

    Guntram and I returned to the general workroom. We went out by the door between two cubicles. It was bigger than the one we came in by, so I figured it was the main door.

    “You could learn a great deal from Louis,” Guntram said as we walked down the hall. I didn’t know where he was taking me now.



    “I noticed the cubicles,” I said. “They were all really neat. Not as neat as Louis’ own room, but neat.”

    “So they were,” said Guntram. “I’m sure it’s a very efficient working environment.”

    I shrugged. “It works for some, I guess,” I said. “I don’t figure it’d work for me. Anyway, I want to be a Champion.”

    “Yes,” Guntram said. “The shield I gave you is one that Louis built from scraps, some of which came from what I believe was a clock. I don’t think there’s ever been a Maker with more of a flair for arms. He and Jon are well-suited to their task of reuniting Here by force. Where that’s necessary.”

    I thought of Beune. I didn’t recall anybody there complaining that there wasn’t more unity. I didn’t say anything.

    The door head at the corner of the hall was seven feet tall with an arched top. Its brass mountings were for show, not strength, and they’d been polished recently, maybe just this morning.

    The two guards were probably for show too, but they had good arms and looked like they knew how to use them. They moved a little apart as we approached. The taller one said, “Good morning, Master Guntram. We don’t often see you in this end of the palace.”

    “I’m showing my friend Lord Pal around,” Guntram said. “I thought I’d introduce him to Lady Jolene.”

    “Any friend of yours, sir,” the guard said. He pulled the door open and with his fellow stood braced as Guntram led me inside.

    The man who’d just gotten up from a stool in the small anteroom was a servant with sharp features and a fringe of red hair which had gone mostly gray. He wore black tights and a tunic in two shades of blue, both muted.

    “Master Guntram!” he said. “How shall I announce your companion, please?”

    “I’m Pal of Beune,” I said quickly before Guntram could call me, “Lord Pal,” again. Lord of what? I didn’t even own the farm my parents had left me.

    Though I had a boat, come to think. I wondered what Camm had owned and how he’d become “Lord Camm.” Still, that was on his conscience, not mine.

    Had been on his conscience.

    “Master Guntram, and Pal of Beune,” the attendant called into the big room beyond. He didn’t speak loudly, but his voice carried in a liquid wave.

    “Lady Jolene,” Guntram said, “this is my colleague Pal. He’s enrolling in the Aspirant’s Chamber.”

    “We don’t see you often, Guntram,” said the lovely blond-haired woman on a central chair. “Would you like some refreshment? We have wine and also sherbert thanks to the marvelous cooler that you made for me.”

    There were three men, all Champions by the look of them, and seven or eight women. One of the women had been singing softly as she plucked a musical instrument with a long neck and a round sound box, but she stopped and looked at us when Jolene began speaking.

    Lady May was the singer.

    “No thank you, Lady,” Guntram said. “Pal has done me a number of services, both here and on the Marches. I was pleased that he took my advice to join the Leader’s Company. Now that he’s here I’m showing him the important things in Dun Add–”

    He paused and bowed. Guntram wasn’t without social niceties after all, though he only practiced them when he chose to.

    “–which of course includes you, your ladyship.”

    Jolene wore at least three and maybe more layers of blue gauze. There were fish embroidered on one layer or another; they seemed to swim when she made a flirting gesture with her hand toward the old Maker.

    “Guntram, you’ll turn my head,” Jolene said. She continued to smile as she turned to me.

    I stood straighter. It was like being stared at by a cat. A really big cat.

    “Where is Beune, Pal?” Jolene said. Her voice was as smooth and lovely as the rest of her, though I was beginning to see that she was older than I’d first thought. “I don’t believe I’d heard of it before.”

    “It’s on the Marches, ma’am,” I said. I’d been thinking about answering the question instead of remembering who I was answering. “That is, your ladyship, I mean.”

    She laughed like silver bells. “Just call me Jolene, dear,” she said. “Nobody needs to stand on ceremony in my chambers.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” I said. To change the subject I said, “Beune’s thirty-two days out from Dun Add by the Road, and that’s hard travelling. I came here by boat this time, though.”

    “You have boats on Beune?” a forties-ish man said. He didn’t speak loudly but his voice had authority. So did the man, obviously, from the way everybody in the room looked at him as he spoke. He was as tall as I was, but much more powerful.

    “Well, there was just mine,” I said. “And now that I’m here, not mine either. It’s real uncommon to see a boat on Beune.”

    “You own a boat?” one of the women said, leaning forward like a hot-pink flower. She had black hair, and her lip-rouge matched her dress color.

    “Ah, yes ma’am,” I said. I hadn’t expected to be doing any talking when we entered the room, and I’d sooner have been right about that. “I can’t guide it myself, though. I just own it.”

    I hadn’t really thought about ownership before. Nobody was going to argue my claim, that I was sure of.

    “Jolene, would you mind if I showed Pal the terrace?” May asked. “He and I know each other, you see. We met before.”

    “By all means, child,” the Consort said, gesturing toward the window with a movement that made her look even more like a cat.

    I heard giggles. One of the men nudged another–not the fellow who’d asked me about boats–and chortled.

    I stiffened. I thought May started to blush, but she said, “This way, Pal. The roses are still blooming nicely, though it’s been so dry that we have to water them every day.”

    She opened the casement and stepped out, then closed it after us. I’d noticed greenery through the glass but I hadn’t paid it much attention. Now I saw that there was a roof garden with small junipers in pots right outside. You couldn’t see through their branches any better than you could’ve a brick wall.

    We walked around the junipers, into a little plaza with wicker couches and potted rose bushes. May turned and faced me. “So, Pal…?” she said. “It was just a disguise, you pretending to be a poor rube who didn’t know anything about the big city?”

    “Ma’am, it surely was not!” I said. “I was just what I said I was–I still am, mostly. I’ve had some good luck, that’s all. And the biggest luck was all the things that Guntram’s done for me. He made it sound like I’d helped him, but that’s not so–not to mention, anyhow.”

    May smiled. God knows she was pretty!

    “So,” she said. She straightened the collar of my red suit. I was glad now that Baga or maybe Maggie had told me to change out of my regular clothes. “Guntram is responsible for your new taste in clothing?”

    “Oh, no, ma’am,” I said. “This suit’s from Marielles and I’ve got two more like it. A lady gave them to me because I’d helped her find her sister.”

    “A lady?” May said, cocking her head. The rosebush behind her was in full bloom. That made me remember the first time I saw May when she had a bunch of tulips in her arms. “Was she as pretty as me?”

    “Oh, goodness, no!” I said. “I don’t know anybody who’s as pretty as you, May!”

    “You’re a sweet boy,” she said. “And don’t worry, I won’t pry.”

    I started to tell her that there was nothing to pry about, but before I got the words out May had lifted up on tiptoes and kissed me on the lips. Not hard, but a real kiss.

    “Come along, now,” she said and led me back around the junipers to the window we’d come out by.

    I know my cheeks were red when we went back into Jolene’s chambers.

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