The Spark – Snippet 12

I laughed. I half wished I hadn’t, then, because of the jab in my ribs, but talking to Guntram was relaxing me.

“Well, really a lot of things,” I said, gesturing with my left hand in a broad arc. “But what I was going to say was the windows.”

I pointed. “I thought they might be paintings, but then I saw a bird fly across.”

“They’re windows onto nodes where the sun is up when it’s night here,” Guntram said. “There are eleven of them in the castle, and I don’t know of any that exist elsewhere.”

He smiled. “I suspect that if there were more of them known, Jon would have brought them here. They show different locations at different times of day, but I’ve never heard anyone identify the image as something he saw in real life along the Road.”

“They’re bigger than any Ancient pieces in Beune,” I said. “A lot bigger.”

Guntram smiled. “That one,” he said, pointing to the window on the left, “was the size of my palm when it was brought to Dun Add. The other one–”

He pointed again.

“–was about half that size. I spent months in growing them, months. But a lot of that was in coming to understand the structure.”

“Sir!” I said. Then I said, “Guntram, can you teach me to do that?”

“Yes, I could,” he said. He wasn’t a boastful man, but I could tell it pleased him that I understood just how amazing the thing was that he’d told me. “But we’d have to find the seed piece first. If you find one, bring it here and we’ll explore it together.”

For a moment my mind was lost in thinking about the many bits and pieces of Ancient artifacts that I’d amassed over the years but hadn’t repaired. Mostly I’d decided they were too fragmentary to be worth the effort, but with a few I just hadn’t been able to figure out the purpose. Would I have been able to recognize a chip from a window like those above me?

Guntram was looking at me, waiting for me to speak. I blushed. “I’ll do that,” I said. “I surely will.”

To the right of the door was a piece that looked like a shiny blue mirror. It vanished, then reappeared, time after time. It seemed to cycle about every five seconds.

I stepped closer and entered it with my mind. It was slipping between Here and Not-Here. I couldn’t tell where it had been manufactured, and I didn’t have any notion what it was really meant to do.

I guess it was discourteous to slip into a trance that way, but come to think–that was what Guntram had done when we first met, checking out my shield. At any rate, he was still smiling when I looked up.

“You have a lot of things from Not-Here,” I said, looking at the egg-crate shelves on that wall. I was pretty sure that most of the artifacts there were partial, but it’s hard to be sure of that–especially when they’re from Not-Here–without actually going into them. Even if I’d been willing to do that, there were just too many things to get into in less than a week.

“You recognize them,” Guntram said. He sounded approving. “Do you find them in Beune?”

“In the neighborhood,” I said. “Not very much shows up in Beune itself, but there’s places not very far out in the Waste where I prospect for things. A couple places throw up mostly Not-Here artifacts. I usually can’t do anything with them, but I found a ball that I could make come back to my hand after I threw it.”

“Really?” said Guntram. “You didn’t chance to bring it with you, did you, Pal?”

“I’m sorry, Guntram, that was three years ago. I traded it to a peddler who had a bolt of blue cloth that I gave to mom for a dress. She made a really nice dress out of it.”

We’d buried her in that dress. I sucked my lips in, thinking how much I missed her.

Turning my head a little, I said, “Trade is what I do mostly with stuff from Not-Here. There’s a place not far up the Road toward Gunnison. I lay pieces out there and come back in a week or two. Sometimes they’ll be gone and there’s artifacts from Here instead. And once–”

I fished out the coin I wore around my neck on a thong and handed it to Guntram.

“–there were three of these where I’d left a plate that didn’t seem to do anything. They were gold and silver mixed. I kept the one for a lucky piece.”

Guntram handled it and looked up at me. “Do you have any idea what the markings are?” he said.

“No,” I said. “It seems to be a cross on one side and a star with a lot of points on the other, but it’s so worn that’s just a guess.”

Guntram carried the coin over to a littered table, then squatted to look for something on a shelf. He came up with a round, flat object and wiped the dust off on the sleeve of his robe.

When he set the coin on top of the flat thing, an image in bright green light appeared above the metal. It was not only bigger than the coin, the image was as sharp as if it had just been struck. It was a woman’s face, straight on. She was sticking her tongue out, and instead of hair she had snakes writhing from her head.

“I don’t recognize it either,” said Guntram. He looked up toward one of the windows he’d created, but it seemed to me he was thinking about things more distant than the rolling waves of treetops.

Guntram cleared his throat and said, “I offered to help with your injuries, Pal. If you’ll come here, please, and lie down?”

He walked to the end of the big room and moved a pile of fabric off what turned out to be a broad couch and set it on the floor. I’d thought the fabric was bedding, but it shimmered when it moved and I wasn’t sure that all of it was Here.

“Am I taking your bed?” I said. “Because I slept worse places on the Road than your floor here. I don’t mind doing it again.”

“No, no, you’re helping me test this,” Guntram said. “Just lie down and I’ll move the cover piece over you. I won’t put it over your head, though I think that would be all right.”

I leaned my pack against the side of the couch and lay down on my stomach. The surface had a little give, like a pile of fresh hides.

“Now just hold where you are…,” Guntram said and did something at the end of the couch. He brought a clear sheet out of the mechanism and drew it up till it covered my shoulders. I expected it to snap back when he let go, but it just lay over me. My skin felt a little warm, like I’d been in the sun too long.

“How does this feel?” he asked.

“Well, not bad,” I said. The muscles in my back stopped aching, and my forearms were relaxing too. I moved my arms slightly; the pain was a lot less.

“It’s good,” I said. “This really does help.”

“I assembled this couch from three partial units,” Guntram said. “Joining the parts took me as many hours as I spent on both those windows together, so I’m very pleased to have finally be able to test it. Thank you, Pal.”

I stretched my legs and feet out as straight as they’d go. That meant scooting up the couch a little or my toes would’ve pushed the cover sheet down.

“Guntram?” I said, wriggling my torso a little in pleasure at not being in pain. “Granted my shield didn’t work and I got banged up a lot worse than most warriors would, if they’re really sparring out there they’re going to get bruised. Even at 20%. Why didn’t you ask one of Jon’s warriors to test your bed?”

“I don’t know whether they don’t trust me…,” Guntram said. “Or if they don’t trust the Ancients. I offered the use of the couch as soon as I’d completed it, but nobody was willing to try. Eventually I almost forgot I had it.”