The Spark – Snippet 10

CHAPTER 4: Making Everything Official

I was hearing blurred voices; I’d been hearing them since it went dark. I was pretty sure that I could understand the words if I concentrated on them, but I didn’t have the energy to do that. I just wanted to lie where I was.

I wondered if Easton had destroyed my eyes. I didn’t remember being hit again after the one that got me in the back, but maybe I wouldn’t.

The blackness vanished. I was lying same as I had been when Easton first knocked me down. Boots were standing around me.

“Don’t move, kid,” Morseth said. He gripped my forehead with his left hand to keep me from jerking away when he probed my scalp with his right thumb and forefinger.

“If you want to know if it hurts,” I said, “I can tell you: it hurts.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t break the bone,” Morseth said, straightening. “You’ll be okay. At 20% there’s no burns.”

My hearing was coming back. My ears rang a bit, but I figured that’d go away. I hoped so, anyhow.

I put both palms on the ground and raised my torso very slowly. I was going to have bad bruises on both arms, but nothing was broken. I wasn’t as sure about my ribs after the jab they’d taken, but at least I wasn’t coughing blood.

“What happened?” I said, staring at the ground as I got myself ready to put my knees under me. “I mean, it seemed to me that everything went black.”

I didn’t want anybody to think I didn’t know what’d happened in the fight. Easton had well and truly whipped me.

“The fight was over,” said Guntram. The two Champions and their attendants were standing close around me, but the old Maker was a little farther back. “I called on Easton to stop, but he continued beating you. I therefore caused the light at the place you were fighting to be refracted. When Easton stumbled out of the zone, your seconds directed him away.”

“By all the saints,” muttered Rikard and turned his head. Morseth and Reaves had stiffened also. They were used to shields and weapons, but an Ancient device of unusual kind disturbed them.

There were people back home who thought that anything unfamiliar came from Not-Here and was made by the Adversary. I didn’t understand that, but I’d learned that it was a waste of time to argue with them.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you all.”

I eased myself back to where I was kneeling with my body upright. Easton and his crew were walking up the broad path toward the castle. I hadn’t touched him, hadn’t even had a chance to try. Other than bruises front and back, my torso seemed to have come through pretty well.

“I left you concealed until Easton had gone well away,” Guntram said apologetically. “I was afraid that if he saw you within reach, he would have hit you again.”

“He’d have wished he hadn’t,” Morseth growled.

Which was likely true, but I’d seen how Easton behaved when he was angry. Another whack on the wrong place might’ve been all she wrote for me.

Aloud I said, “I was glad just to lie there a little longer. Now, I’m going to try to stand up.”

I said that last thing because somebody might have to grab me suddenly if I’d misjudged how ready my left leg was to hold me. I felt sick to my stomach for a moment, but I didn’t bring up my pork and collards. After that first wash of dizzy sickness, I was all right.

“You going to be all right now?” Morseth said. “I can leave Rikard to help you get to your room if you think you might need a hand.”

I bent over and picked up first my weapon, then my shield. By holding my torso stiff I was able to do that without screaming, but I stood with my eyes shut for a moment after hooking them onto my belt.

“I’ll be all right,” I said, working at a smile. “I could use a guide to wherever I go to apply to join the Company of Champions, though.”

Morseth and Reaves went blank-faced. Rikard smiled, then got a horrified look and turned away again.

Very carefully, Morseth said, “You sure you want to do that right now, fellow?”

“I’m sure,” I said, a bit too loud. I heard what wasn’t in his words too. I probably wouldn’t have felt so angry if I didn’t pretty much agree with Morseth. “That’s what I came to Dun Add to do, the only reason I came here, and I’m going to do it.”

“He knows his own mind,” Reaves said. He was repeating the comment he’d made when he saw the equipment I was taking against Easton.

“Sure, Rikard’ll guide you,” Morseth said with a shrug.

“If you don’t mind, Morseth?” Guntram said. “My quarters are directly above the Aspirants’ Hall, so I can take Pal there on my way back.”

“Well, if you’re willing to do that, sir,” the Champion said. “Though I’m happy to loan Rikard out for an hour, too.”

“I have some things I’d like to discuss with Master Guntram,” I said. “I’d be pleased to have his company.”

“Well, the two of you have a good time, then,” said Reaves. The Champions with their servants set off briskly toward the castle.

“Everyone is very respectful to me,” Guntram said quietly as he watched their backs. “They don’t like to be reminded that I’m a Maker, though, and using the Sphere of Darkness did that.”

“I get along fine with my neighbors on Beune,” I said. “But they don’t like to walk in on me when I’m trying to fix something. I’ve seen them standing at the end of my lane, waiting till I come out of the house, rather than take the risk that I’ll be in a trance.”

Guntram laughed. “I tell them that it’s no different from fighting,” he said. “Both involve merging your mind with the structure of Ancient equipment. What we Makers do it more subtle, perhaps, but it isn’t different.”

He met my eyes. “Speaking of equipment,” he added, “would you mind if I carried yours?”

“Your help would be a godsend,” I said, unbuckling the belt and handing it over. My pack didn’t weigh anything by now, but the hardware did. Besides, the stroke I’d taken across the back was already burning from the strain of the belt pulling down on my torso.

We started up the paved path. Guntram let me set the pace, but I found that if I gritted my teeth I could do pretty well. It was probably good for me, not to let the bruised muscles stiffen up.

I didn’t talk much on the way up, though. Breathing was hard, and I kept feeling where Easton had jabbed me in the ribs. Maybe I’d been wrong about nothing being broken.

When we reached another of the doors on this side of the building, Guntram took off the belt and returned it to me. “Here’s where you go in,” he said, “I’ll hold your pack. And if you don’t mind, I’ll come in also.”

“I’d be honored, sir,” I said. I took a deep breath. I didn’t expect this was going to be a pleasant interview, given the rest of what had happened since I reached Dun Add, but it had to be done. I opened the door and entered a large room.

The light came through panels about six feet in each direction on the wall facing me. Windows, I thought, but they showed a sparse woodland instead of the courtyard and the part of the castle across from it. The light came from the panels, not through them.

A woman wearing a turban of bright magenta stood behind the counter to the right. The rest of the room was a narrow lobby reaching to the outside door in the far wall. There were sturdy wooden benches and doors in both sidewalls.

The half-dozen loungers didn’t notice us, but the woman got a look of amazement and dipped into a curtsey. “Yes, Master?” she said.

She was talking to Guntram, behind me. “I’m just passing through, thank you,” he said. This gentleman has business with you, however.”

I walked carefully to the counter. My left leg was going to throw me if I didn’t concentrate on what I was doing.