The Spark – Snippet 14

CHAPTER 5: And One More Thing

I wanted to slip out without disturbing Guntram, but he was already up. The real windows at the top of the room were bright, though they faced north so I couldn’t tell exactly where the sun was.

I’d overslept. Though nobody was expecting me anywhere, so I ought to say I’d slept later than I’d meant to. I guess I needed it.

“I had the servants make up a packet of bread and sausage for you,” Guntram said, gesturing toward a large bundle beside the door. “There’s also a skin of wine?”

The food would fill my pack exactly as full as it had been when I left Beune. Either that was a very fortunate chance or Guntram had a good eye.

I grinned. My bet was on Guntram.

“Sir, thank you,” I said. I took the waxed linen ground sheet out of my pack and put the food in, piece by piece. That way I was sure of just what I had. “I’ll pass on the wine, if you don’t mind. I like it, but it’s stronger than the ale I’m used to. I don’t think that’s a good choice for me on the Road.”

From the smell, the sausage was spiced pork. I realized how hungry I was, but it would delay me if I said that. I’d get out a ways from town before I had anything to eat. Guntram’s kindness embarrassed me, but most of what had happened in Dun Add embarrassed me. I was getting used to the feeling.

I checked my purse to make sure I still had the chit for Buck, then lifted the pack onto my shoulders. I remembered doing the same thing in Beune just a few weeks ago. About a dozen of my neighbors had come to see me off.

Folks back home thought I was weird, true enough, but I think they liked me pretty well. I hoped they’d be glad to see me back.

I clasped hands with Guntram. “Thank you, sir,” I said. “If you’re out toward Beune, I hope you’ll stop in and see me. And if I find a piece of window–”

I nodded toward the back wall.

“–I’ll bring it to you, I promise.”

“Good luck, Pal,” Guntram said. As I walked past him out the door he added, “I hope you find what you’re searching for.”

I thought that was a funny thing to say, since I wasn’t looking for anything; I just wanted to go home. But I went down the stairs–carefully, because I had thirty pounds on my back–without turning to ask about it. I didn’t want to talk, I wanted to go home.

Nobody said anything as I walked through the Aspirants’ Hall to get to the outside door. The woman at the counter gave me a nod and I nodded back, but none of the loungers even noticed me.

I wasn’t sure I’d remember which door was the stables, but the ventilation lattices in the upper wall marked it even without the barks and whining even before I got close. I fished my chit out and walked inside. There were several fellows ahead of me before I got to the ostler’s cage.

He looked at my chit and called, “Riki! Four thirteen!”

He gestured and added, “Stand aside and your dog’ll be right down.”

I moved out of the way. After a moment, I squatted to shrug off my pack. It was going to be a while before Riki, whoever he was, brought Buck to me. I felt bad all over again for leaving him alone all day. I knew I was just looking for another reason to kick myself because I was down.

Buck was all right. God knew that with the ways I’d really screwed up since I got here, I didn’t need to invent phony ones.

As I straightened, somebody behind me said, “Hello, Pal,” and I almost lost my balance. I tabbed a hand down and turned as I got up the rest of the way. May was smiling at me.

“Ah, hello, m–” I said. “May, that is. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

Or anywhere else, to tell the truth. She’d gone completely out of my mind.

“Morseth said that you’d gone off with Guntram,” May said. “When I asked Guntram, he said that if I was quick I might catch you here. You’re going back to Beune?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I suppose there’s other things I could do in Dun Add, but I think I’ve done all I could stand to do.”

She looked down. Morseth would’ve told her what a fool Easton had made of me on the jousting ground. She’d known what to expect from the beginning, of course. What she’d said trying to warn me proved that.

“I didn’t realize you knew Guntram,” she said, still looking away. “In fact….”

I don’t know what more she’d been thinking because she let her voice trail off. She’d probably’d figured that I’d lied to her about not knowing anybody in Dun Add. A girl as pretty as May would’ve had a lot of guys lying to her; it’s nature. But it wasn’t my nature, and it wasn’t what’d happened with me.

“I met Guntram at the jousting ground,” I said. “He’s a Maker, and he was interested in my equipment. After Easton whipped my ass, pardon the language, Guntram gave me a bed in his quarters.”

I heard the edge in my voice. I don’t like to be called a liar, even if May hadn’t used the words. Since my thoughts were in that direction anyway, I added, “Say? I guess you know a lot of the Champions? Tell them that the healing couch that Guntram built, it really works. They won’t take my word for it, but if you tell Morseth and Reaves that you saw me walking out of Dun Add this morning just as chipper as when I came in yesterday, they’ll believe that.”

Riki turned out to be a girl of about thirteen, wearing a leather apron like the rest of the stable staff. She held the leash loose in her left hand, but with her right she was rubbing the back of Buck’s neck lightly as they walked along. When he saw me, he started wagging his tail so hard that his butt twitched side to side.

I didn’t know what the custom was in Dun Add, but the way Riki was petting Buck made me decide without asking May for help. I opened my purse and brought out the brass coin from Castorman. According to Duncan it was worth a bed and a full meal at any of the inns we’d stopped at on the way here.

I palmed it and slipped it to Riki when I shook her hand. “Bloody hell, squire!” she said. “Say, you’re the man!”

She curtseyed to me, which was about as big a surprise as if she’d started singing a church hymn. “Say, take care of him, will you?” she called over her shoulder. “He’s a sweet dog, he is!”

“Over tipped, I’m afraid,” said May as her eyes followed Riki back behind the ostler’s cage.

“No ma’am,” I said, tousling Buck as he rubbed his big head against the side of my knee. “I paid for value received. I guess you probably don’t have a dog.”

I felt kind of bad about that; it was a nasty thing to say, but May shouldn’t have sniped at the girl. Women do that sort of thing, I know.

Anyway, she probably didn’t realize I’d been insulting. Somebody who didn’t own a dog probably wouldn’t take it that way.

I lifted my pack on again, then took the leash off Buck and walked outside with him. He was whining with pleasure to be out of the cage, but he seemed to be okay except for that.

May came with us. I wondered why she was here. I said, “Ma’am? May, did you want something?”

“I wanted to see how you were getting on,” she said. In a different voice she added, “Pal, what did you mean when you said I knew a lot of the Champions?”

“Huh?” I said. “May, you know everybody it seems to me. Guntram said he couldn’t get warriors to try the healing couch he’d made. I think it kinda bothers him. He’s proud of the couch, you see. I figured you could talk to people and maybe they’d start using it.”

I stuck my arms out straight and flexed the elbows both ways. “I’m getting on fine, you see?” I said. “If you tell what you just saw to the guys who watched the beating I took, they’ll understand.”

I cleared my throat. I said, “Guntram was good to me. I’d like to give him something back that he’d like.”

I owed Guntram more than I could ever give him back.

“Oh, that’s all?” May said. She laughed. It sounded like the trill of a happy cardinal. “I promise I’ll tell Morseth and Reaves. I’ll even order them to try the couch the next time they’re injured.”

I smiled as I started across the courtyard. I didn’t doubt she would, and I didn’t doubt they would do what she told them to. May was the sort of girl that got men to do things.

“Pal?” she said. She was walking along with me. “Do you know who Guntram is?”

I frowned. “He’s a Maker,” I said. She couldn’t have meant just that, we’d talked about that. “He said he taught Louis, if that’s what you mean. Even in Beune I’ve heard about Louis.”

There were even more people in the park than there had been yesterday when I arrived. It was a beautiful day. I wasn’t looking forward to weeks of the Road’s drab sameness, but that was the only way to get home.

“Guntram is the Leader’s foster father,” May said. “Jon’s.”

I’d been about to step into the passage through to the south side of the castle. I looked at May. “I didn’t know that,” I said. “I….”

I stopped because what I’d thought was that Guntram felt he was a joke, really, to all the younger people who were driving to unify mankind.