The Spark – Snippet 17

CHAPTER 7: Home, Sweet Home

I was deep into the artifact I’d decided to fix. I’d added in silica to extend the existing structure; now I was trying to form the other bits.

I was assuming that the portion beyond the break was identical to the piece that I had. There wasn’t any evidence supporting that; but if it wasn’t, I had nothing at all to go on.

I’d been working on the piece all morning, coming out of my trance only to change to a different selection of raw materials and to take a swig of water from the bucket by the door. When mom was alive she’d have had a piece of bread and some fruit set out beside me, whatever was in season. I could have done that for myself, but I never seemed to get around to it.

Buck was mostly curled up in the sunshine of the barn’s open doorway, but occasionally he’d wander over and take a look at what I was doing. He didn’t exactly get in my way inside the work piece, but it always confused him and that was likely to put me off my stride.

I hadn’t gotten my stride yet on this and I wasn’t sure I was going to, so his nosing me mattered even less than usual. Still, when Buck began to tug my trousers with his teeth, I decided I’d been come out.

I came back into the present, lying on the floor of the barn with a straw-filled bolster under my head and the pewter tray holding the workpiece and my raw materials beside me. I said, “What’s the matter, boy? Hungry?”

From the short shadow outside the door it was just past noon. Buck shouldn’t need to be fed….

Somebody–my eyes focused: Guntram–sat on the upturned wheelbarrow just outside the door. He nodded and said, “Good morning, Pal. I wasn’t going to disturb you, but I’m afraid I disturbed your dog.”

“I’m glad he woke me up, sir,” I said. I wasn’t completely back in the present yet; I’d been real deep in a structure I didn’t even half understand. “And I’m very glad to see you. Will you stay with me? It’s not fancy, but you’ll have a bed and food.”

There wasn’t any place on Beune that was fancy, which I guess Guntram knew already. From the night I’d spent with him, he wasn’t a man who cared any more about fine fabrics and rich food than I did–or a shepherd.

“If it wouldn’t put you out,” Guntram said, rising when I did. “Your neighbors found me a basket for my hedgehog, and the little boy and girl brought him a handful of worms for him. Also some bread and ale for me, though I didn’t really need it.”

“Gervaise has been a good friend,” I said. “He’s my landlord, I suppose, though it isn’t anything so formal. He’s letting me use the buildings that used to by my mom’s, and he gives me food for helping around the farm. We’ll have to figure out something more formal soon, I guess, but I’m still finding my feet since I came back.”

I felt my mouth twist when I said that. Me using the house and barn was nothing to Gervaise, but I really hadn’t done enough to justify my keep. Food wasn’t short this year, and I’d make up for it when it was time to bring the crops in.

I cocked my head. “Your hedgehog, you said, sir?” I said.

“I use a hedgehog to guide me along the Road,” Guntram said, smiling. “They’re not fast, but neither am I. Nor do I intend to fight.”

I walked out into the sunlight. “Ah, sir?” I said. “Did you have guards, then? Because there can be trouble on the Road out here.”

If Guntram had come with an escort, I was going to have to make some arrangements. There aren’t any inns on Beune. I suppose a squad of troops could sleep in my barn, but feeding them was going to be a problem; we’re not set up for that on Beune, either.

“There’s just me,” said Guntram. “I don’t care for company at most times. And I seem to make other people nervous.”

He nodded to the house across the barnyard and said, “Do you have a table inside, Pal? I can show you things more easily on a table.”

“Sure,” I said and led him in. Buck came with us for curiosity, but he padded back onto the stoop when he saw we were just standing by the table.

That was a makeshift I’d knocked together by fitting stake legs onto a length of pine log I’d adzed flat. It was narrow but there was only one of me. Though I hadn’t bothered planing or sanding the surface, I’d done a pretty good job with the adze.

Mom’s table was a wonder that could pull out to take eight people along the sides. It had come from her family and it was way too big for our house–she never stretched it out. I think she’d have sold her right leg before she did that table.

Gervaise bought the table along with the rest of what I had, and he’d rightly taken it to his own big house. His wife Phoebe was as proud of it as mom had been. I didn’t think of asking for it back, and Gervaise would’ve turned me down if I had. At least he’d have turned me down if he had good sense.

Guntram set down his leather scrip and opened it. The first thing I noticed is that it was full. It wasn’t huge, but even with its broad strap it would’ve been a good load for an old man to haul all the way from Dun Add.

There wasn’t room for food, either. Guntram had money or I suppose he did, but having a full purse wasn’t safe for an old man at most inns or on the Road generally.

“This,” said Guntram, touching a silvery half-dome with a strap attached, “is why I didn’t need guards. On the Road, I can’t be seen while I wear it on my head. It doesn’t work Here, and it doesn’t work in the Waste–but it doesn’t have to because I didn’t go into the Waste.”

“I wonder if it would work in Not-Here?” I said, just because I was curious. There’d be no way any human could test that, but if Guntram understood the mechanism he might know the answer.

“The device came to me almost complete,” said Guntram. “Which is good, because I don’t think I could have repaired any major damage.”

He shook his head, smiling ruefully. “As it was,” he said, “I was lucky that there was cadmium in the sample of zinc that I added as my last try, and the cadmium atoms filled the gap where lead had not. I wasn’t deep enough into the piece to get any idea of the mechanism, but it seems to interact with the structure of the Road itself.”

I felt my lips purse. “I’ve never been able to find a structure in the Road,” I said.

“Nor have I,” said Guntram. He smiled wider and handed the cap to me. I probed it lightly, marveling at the delicacy of its structure, but I didn’t spend any real time in it.

Even a peek showed me that Guntram had downplayed his accomplishment by a lot. His repairs were lacework, almost indistinguishable from the original, and I was pretty sure he’d suspected that cadmium or another of the traces in powdered galena might be the needed extra in a chain of lead with occasional zinc crystals.

“Sir,” I said. I set the cap on the table. There was nothing I could say to do justice to the work. “It’s an honor to know you.”

“I’ve had a long time to practice,” Guntram said. His smile was slight, but I’m pretty sure he understood the praise and liked it. “I wonder, Pal…? Would you take me to some of the places you find objects? I’m particularly interested in pieces from Not-Here, a whim–but I understand completely if you want to keep your sites private.”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t understand hiding them from you, sir,” I said. “I think giving a Maker like you all the help I can is the best thing I can do for Mankind.”

It still hurt, what’d happened to me in Dun Add, but I don’t argue with the way things are. I said, “About all I can do for Mankind, I guess, but I’ll sure do it. You want to go out right now?”

“Not right at the moment,” Guntram said. “I’d sooner not walk anywhere for a while. I wonder–in Dun Add you said you had a variety of pieces that you hadn’t been able figure out the use of. Could I see some of them? A fresh pair of eyes, you know. And in the morning, we can go prospecting.”