The Spark – Snippet 03

He’d stayed beside me, probably figuring how Dun Add was going to strike me. I’d been luckier than I knew to have met Duncan on the Road.

“You were one of Jon’s Champions?” I said.

Right away I was sorry that I’d sounded so disbelieving, but I really was. It was like Duncan had told me that he could flap his arms and fly like a bird.

He gave me a wry smile and said, “A Champion? No, lad, that’s not for the likes of you and me. But Jon needs regular men at arms too, and I was one of those. There’s only a hundred and fifty Champions all told, and that’s if the Company was at full strength–which I don’t know that it ever has been.”

I cleared my throat and said, “Ah, Duncan? You say the Champions aren’t for you and me. Why is that, exactly? Back where I come from, Beune, I’d heard that the Leader takes warriors from all over to fill his Company.”

“Oh, Jon takes warriors from anywhere, you bet,” Duncan said with a snort. “What he doesn’t take is any body. You have to have great equipment even to try. My stuff is good enough to see off a couple bandits on the Road.”

He waggled his weapon and shield, a modular unit. It didn’t impress me, but I hadn’t seen it in use. And I hadn’t been into it in a Maker’s trance, either, which I thought might show me more.

“For the Companions, though,” Duncan continued, “you need the best there is and that costs money. If you’re the lord of a big place like Mar or maybe the son of the top merchant on Castorman, you can afford it. I couldn’t, and I don’t guess Beune runs to that kind of money either.”

He frowned, staring at my equipment. “Now that I come to it,” he said, “where did you come up with this hardware, lad? I’ve never in my life seen anything looking like that.”

“Well…,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I knew it looked rough. “I made it myself, on Beune. I’ve used it, and it works.”

That was true, but I’d have to admit that neither trial had been much of a test. A half a dozen bullies had arrived from Kleruch, that’s the node with the most people in our neighborhood. They tried to shake down Gammer Kleinze, who keeps what passes for a shop and tavern on Beune. I ran them off, but none of them had a shield and only two had real weapons. I kept my weapon at 20% power so I didn’t have to recharge.

The other time was when something from Not-Here landed in a patch of scrubland near the boundary with the Waste in the north side. Jimsey, who had the nearest farm to it, called me over.

The thing, whatever it was, didn’t have a real shape but it was the size of a barn. I jabbed it a couple times, then hit it full power. That punched a hole clear through and into the Waste beyond, but I had my heart in my mouth when I did it. If the thing had come for me, it’d have been all over. My weapon takes about five minutes to recharge because I’d rebuilt it from a miner’s rock drill.

The thing turned and oozed back into the Waste. None the worse for wear, as best I could tell, but it must not’ve liked the jolt I gave it. I’m not sure it ever knew I was there; if it had eyes or anything like that, I didn’t see them. Where it’d been browsing, not only the plants were gone but all the soil too, and a layer of the limestone bedrock had crumbled to a calcium dust.

“What do you mean you made it, hey?” Duncan said, a little sharper than I’d heard him speak before. “Are you saying you’re a Maker, then? Or are you just playing silly buggers with old Duncan, hey?”

I spread my boots a little farther apart and straightened my back. “Sir!” I said. “I’m a Maker, yes. I’m pretty much self-taught, but out on Beune we learn to make do. My neighbors have been bloody glad to have me around, and I’ve made stuff that peddlers have taken away to sell on too.”

“Well I’ll be,” Duncan said, relaxing again. Our dogs relaxed too. They’d picked up the smell of trouble when Duncan thought I was mocking him. They were both ready to mix it if that was the next thing that happened. “Sorry, lad. I’d taken you for a warrior.”

“I am a warrior,” I said, “or anyway that’s what I’ve come to Dun Add to be. There’s no law against being both, you know.”

“Maybe not,” said Duncan, “but I never heard of it happening.”

“Well, I don’t know that I have either,” I said. Duncan was the closest thing to a friend I had nearer than Beune. Even if I never saw him again, I didn’t want us to have parted on bad terms. “It’s two different ways of looking at the things that the Ancients left. Not everybody’s a warrior, and I guess there’s fewer still that’re Makers.”

I coughed and added, “I don’t claim to be any great shakes. But I’m good for Beune.”

“Just remember you’re not on Beune now, Pal,” Duncan said. “You’re a good lad, but Dun Add is a big place.”

He sighed and said, “I’ll get your money, now, and be right back with it. Bless you for your kindness to an old man who hasn’t always been a good friend to himself.”

Duncan walked over to Dame Carole. There was a line of people waiting from before we arrived, being checked in by a clerk. I guess a place like Dun Add has to have a notion of who’s come in, though it’s not something that you think about in Beune. Nobody much does come to Beune, of course.

It seemed to me that the clerk was doing just fine, but he had an overseer with a plush hat, puffed sleeves, and a pair of bright red galluses holding up his tights. The overseer waited till the clerk had gotten the particulars into a notebook, then snarled at both the clerk and the traveler and snatched the notebook away. The overseer made more marks, then slapped the notebook back into the clerk’s hands.

There was no chance I was going to forget that I wasn’t on Beune anymore. Every moment I stood looking at Dun Add, I more and more regretted leaving home. Buck whined like he was wondering why we’d left too. I rubbed him behind the ears.

The landing place was grassy, though it’d been tramped pretty bare except around the edges between the kiosks. I thought those might be something to do with the government like the clerk and his boss, but when I looked closer they were all selling something or trying to.

Some hawked clothing–“Town clothes! Don’t look like a rube on the streets of Dun Add!” and some were jewelry booths–“Show her that you care, bucko, and she’ll show you that she cares!”

But the most of them, twenty or more, were dram shops. Some fancier than others, but at a glance I wouldn’t expect anything better to drink than the cheap-jack clothes and the trashy baubles from the neighboring hawkers.

I didn’t mind being taken for a rube. I was one, right enough. I wasn’t a bloody fool as to spend my money on the shoddy I saw here, though.

A river, bigger than I’d ever imagined, lay to the left. More of Dun Add stretched along the shore than was down here by the landing place, though that may have been because of rules. The first hundred yards from here toward the castle was by paths through the woods.