The Spark – Snippet 11
The woman had brought everybody’s attention to me. One lounger got up and walked out through the door to the courtyard, and the pairs that had been chattering now watched silently.
“I want to apply to the Company of Champions,” I said. My voice was firm and clear; I’d been afraid that I was going to squeak.
She looked at me. She was probably about fifty, but she could’ve been anywhere from thirty to sixty; not pretty, never pretty, but with a calm assurance that I found comforting. It reminded me of my mother’s.
“Master Guntram?” she called past me. “Are you his sponsor?”
“No he’s not!” I said. “My name’s Pal, I’m from Beune and I’m here on my own.”
“All right,” said the woman. “Lay your equipment on the counter.”
I put my shield before her, then found I had to use both hands with the weapon: my right hand alone didn’t quite lift it off the belt hook. That was good, because otherwise it would’ve fallen to the floor. I hoped my right arm would be all right in the morning, but it sure wasn’t now.
“Are you sick?” the woman said, her hands on the shield.
“Just banged up a little,” I said. “Nothing a night’s sleep won’t cure.”
It’d take more than a night, but nothing was broken. The woman reminded me of mom again; she’d have asked with just that tone. I put the weapon beside the shield and said, “I built them myself. I’m going to work more on them before the next time I go out in the field, I hope.”
The woman turned to the blank wall to her left–and switched on the weapon, moving it from minimum to its sparkling, spitting maximum. She shut down and laid it on the counter where the discharge point burned another scar on the wood.
She picked up the shield, again using her right hand. I was amazed. I’d heard there were women who could operate weapons, but I’d never seen it done before. Well, most people hadn’t seen a Maker who could handle weapons either.
She switched on the shield and brought it up gradually to full power. Her face, impassive when she tried the weapon, lost its stern lines for a moment.
Then she tried to swing the shield around to face me. For an instant she looked incredulous; then she shut down and put the shield back on the counter.
“That’s the problem I have to work on,” I said to her stony silence. “The inertia. Well, the main problem.”
“Be that as it mayâ€¦,” the woman said. “Your application is rejected.”
“Ma’am!” I said. I didn’t know how I was going to go on, so I stopped.
“There’s no appeal from my decisions,” the woman said. “If you want to go two doors west–” she pointed to her right “–there’s an enlistment office for the army, though the barracks aren’t here in the castle. I don’t give you much chance there either, to be honest, but that’s none of my business.”
“I don’t want the bloody army!” I said, hanging my equipment back on my belt. The weapon wasn’t hot enough to really burn me, though the point against my thigh reminded me that it’d been run at maximum recently.
“Since you’re a Maker…,” she said, not quite so harshly this time. “The Commonwealth has much work for your skills. I can direct you, or perhaps Master Guntram would introduce you to Louis himself?”
I felt my lips work and wished that I’d turned away. “Ma’am,” I said, “I came to Dun Add to be a Champion. If I can’t be a Champion, then I’ll go back to Beune. I can be a Maker there, just like I have been these twenty years–”
More like ten that I’d really been a Maker.
“–and I can live with folks I like and who like me. But thank you for your time.”
I turned and started out. At least the gush of anger had swathed my aches and pains. They’d be back with a vengeance after I cooled down, but at least it’d get me out of the building and heading with Buck down to the landing place.
“Pal?” said a voice beside me, and I remembered that Guntram was holding my pack. I’d been blind with my thoughts and the hint of tears behind them.
“Sorry, sir,” I said, standing straight and meeting the old man’s eyes. I reached for the pack.
He swung it aside. “I told you my quarters are above this hall,” he said. “I’d be pleased to have your company overnight. I have a device which might help your bruises as well.”
I was going to refuse and go on out the door, but another wave of dizziness hit me. I closed my eyes, then opened them fast. I was going to topple onto the stone floor if I wasn’t careful. My sense of balance was fouled up; just for a day or two, I hoped.
“That’s very good of you,” I said. I wondered if it was the old man’s kindness that had brought on the dizzy spell. I hadn’t earned it, that I knew.” I guess it’d be best if I didn’t go back on the Road today like I’d figured to do. And if you can do something about the bruises, that would be really good.”
“This way,” Guntram said and led me through a side door that turned out to be a staircase.
I worried a bit about Buck, but he wasn’t a pampered lapdog. He’d been hard places before–if that thing from Not-Here had come for me instead of flowing back into the Waste, Buck would’ve joined me and the sixty square yards of Jimsey’s brush in the creature’s gut.
Right now, my biggest problem was climbing three flights of stairs. Which I managed, thank God.
“I’m sorry it’s such a climb,” Guntram said, “but I wanted to be out of the way. Sometimes I make noises or lights that would disturb people.”
“Nobody lives very close on Beune,” I said, trying not to gasp as I spoke. “Except family, you know. I didn’t start really working with things till after dad had died. As a Maker, I mean. Mom and I never talked about it. I think she was sort of proud, but she walked away whenever she found me in a trance.”
Once I’d come out of working with a piece I never did get to do anything and found a pasty and a mug of ale on the floor beside where I was lying. From the slant of the sunlight, I’d been three or four hours at it. Mom must’ve tip-toed in and left the food for whenever I was ready to eat it.
I smiled at the memory. Guntram was looking back at me from the top of the stairs. He’d stopped at a door.
“You’re feeling better?” he said as he pulled the latch and pushed the door open.
“I am,” I said. Just chatting with somebody about being a Maker was a wonderful thing, the first time in my life that I’d done it. “But what I was thinking about was a piece that I’m sure is something but I could never get it to do anything. I added every element I could think of–it took a lot of carbon and some silica, but not even a whiff of iron. It never even hinted at coming live. If it had, I could maybe have figured out what was missing.”
“Do you still have it?” Guntram said, leading me in. He moved his left hand; panels of light bloomed in the walls, just like downstairs in the lobby. Here I was looking out over a huge forest with the top of a stone building rising through the green like an upturned thumb. Our viewpoint might be from a building like that one or just a very high tree.
“It’s somewhere back at the house in Beune,” I said. “In the barn, I guess. Unless Gervaise’s done something with it, but I don’t figure he would.”
I’d be living there again shortly, working for Gervaise, I guess. He’d let me live there anyhow–he didn’t need the house, it just came with the land. Besides, he and his family were friends.
“Ah, sir?” I said. “I wonderâ€¦?”
“Call me Guntram,” he said firmly. “Yes, what do you wonder about?”