The Spark – Snippet 27

I stretched and smiled at Guntram. “You know?” I said. “We wound up using a lot of that sand Baga loaded. We needed the crystal, but the boat couldn’t use it without the trace atoms to fill in the structure.”

“Yes,” said Guntram. “This was the first time in a very long while that the boat has been in design condition.”

We started back to the house. I said, “I guess we ought to send somebody to find Baga. The boat’s ready to go any time.”

Then I said, “I, you know…. I mean, it’s a boat, it’s not somebody. But it made me feel good when it thanked us just now.”

“The boat thanked you,” Guntram said, with just a touch of extra weight on the last word. “I did much of the work, of course, but the boat was aware that you were responsible for the extent of repairs. Pal, I don’t think that you should discount the degree of awareness in machines of that complexity.”

Frances watched us from the stoop. Her arms were crossed before her with the fingers stiffly interlaced. Her face didn’t show any expression, but there was a quiver in her voice as she said, “Is it finished, then?”

“The boat’s in fine shape,” I said. “Ma’am, thank you again for giving me the purple bead.”

“Lady Frances,” Guntram said. He gestured toward the door. “I’d like to discuss your further plans inside where we can sit down, if you please.”

I could see Frances get her back up a little; the tone and words were as polite as you please, but Guntram wasn’t really asking a question. She gave a little nod, kind of a peck with her chin, and led us inside. Aggie was cooking on the summer oven in back, so I didn’t have to wonder whether I ought to send her out.

Guntram eased onto the chair he sat in at dinner. He looked at the lady across the table from him and said, “We haven’t discussed the matter formally, but I gather your intention is to approach my foster son in Dun Add and request his assistance. Is that correct?”

“Your foster son?” Frances said. This time her frown was more startled than angry. “I’m going to see Jon, the Leader!”

“Jon is my fosterling,” Guntram said calmly. “What sort of assistance are you going to request, please?”

“Well, to get my sister back!” Frances said. “To force Philip to produce her!”

Guntram nodded. “On your evidence,” he said, “you put Lady Eloise on a boat in Holheim. When you reached Marielles some time later, you were told that Lady Eloise had not arrived there. Do you have any evidence that she did arrive?”

Frances stood up. “This isn’t right!” she said. “Are you telling me that I ought to shrug my shoulders and just forget about my sister? Eloise may have been a fool, but she was my sister!”

“No, Lady Frances,” Guntram said. “I’m telling you that Marielles is a very long way from Dun Add, and that all you can tell Jon is that your sister left Holheim and disappeared. Jon will not order one of his Champions to travel to Marielles on that relation.”

His lips quirked into a kind of smile. “If your sister is as attractive as you say,” he added, “and if you had one of the Ancient mirrors holding her image as you describe, there are a number of Champions who might very well come on their own, though I doubt any of them would be helpful in Marielles.”

“They could take Philip by the neck and shake the truth out of him, couldn’t they?” Frances shouted.

She was so mad she could’ve burst into flame, I swear. Guntram didn’t do anything, just looked at her. After a moment, she sat back in her chair again.

“I haven’t asked your advice yet, Master Guntram,” Frances said. “What do you recommend that I do?”

“I recommend that you arrange for Pal to escort you back to Marielles,” Guntram said.

I straightened up at that. I’d been real interested in what Frances and Guntram were saying, but it didn’t really matter to me. It’d been like watching two people batting a ball back and forth.

Now I was the ball.

“Guntram?” I said, talking louder that I usually did–or wanted to. “Let’s go outside and talk this over, please. Ma’am?” I turned to Frances. “Excuse us for a bit if you will.”

“I will not,” Frances said, sharp as a branch cracking in a windstorm. “Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of me! I’m the one it matters to, after all.”

Well, it matters to me too, I thought, but I didn’t think it’d help matters for me to say so. I looked at Guntram and he said, “Go ahead, Pal. The lady does have a right to hear us.”

I swallowed. “Guntram,” I said, “I’m a farmer from Beune. I can’t go off to a place I’d never heard of before and do anybody any good.”

“That’s what a Champion does, Pal,” Guntram said. “Go anywhere to right wrongs. You went to Dun Add to become a Champion.”

“Right, and you know how that worked out!” I said. “I sure haven’t forgotten it, though I wish to God that I could!”

“A woman needs help,” Guntram said. He didn’t raise his voice the way I had mine, but he sounded like he expected me to hear him. “Are you unwilling to help her, Pal?”

“I’m not unwilling,” I said, turning to look down at the floor. “I just don’t see that I can.”

“You have a weapon that’s as good as what all but maybe a dozen of those in the Hall of Champions carry,” Guntram said, his words grinding down on me like rocks. “You’ve practiced with it this past month, and I can assure you that you understand its use as well or better than almost any of them.”

“But the machine isn’t a fair test!” I said. “Buck predicts the movement better than a human could and I just slant the stroke away.”

“What you’re doing with the practice machine,” Guntram said, “will be equally effective with a human opponent. Maybe it’s because you’re a Maker too, Pal, but I’ve never talked to another warrior who does what you’re doing. Consciously, I mean. I suspect Lord Clain and a few other of the top warriors are doing the same thing, but they’re not aware of it the way you are.”

I opened my mouth to say that Easton had taken me apart, then shut my mouth. A month practicing with Guntram’s training machine had made a difference. I thought back to that first fight and saw how I could’ve handled Easton even with the hardware I’d had then. Maybe not put him down, but keep him from hammering me. He was soft and plump. I could’ve outlasted him if I’d used my weapon without my shield.

“Sir,” I said. “I’m not going to shake Philip till he blurts something. I’m sorry, I’m not. If that’s what being a Champion’s about, then I was never meant for the job. And besides, on Frances’ own telling–”

I nodded to her.

“–Philip didn’t make away with her sister anyway. And I’m sure not going to start choking a woman because she might know something.”

From the look on Frances’ face, she sure wouldn’t have any problem choking Lady Hellea–or me, if it came to that. She was still pretty angry. She didn’t say anything, though.

“I didn’t suppose you would,” said Guntram. “What you could do, however, is enter the log of Lord Camm’s boat and learn the route it took on the way back to Marielles.”

“Well, if I could find that boat, sure,” I said, but I wasn’t arguing any more. Guntram wouldn’t have said that if he didn’t have an idea. “Do you know where it is?”

“Baga’s boat linked with Camm’s boat on Holheim when it came for Lady Eloise,” Guntram said, “and again on Marielles when Lady Frances went there. I expect you will find Camm’s boat still on Marielles.”

“Philip lied to me!” Frances said. “He claimed the boat hadn’t returned!”

“He lied, or someone lied to him,” Guntram said calmly. “You and your escort will probably be able to determine that on Marielles, though that is secondary to finding and if possible rescuing your sister.”

He looked at me again.

“I didn’t think of checking the log,” I said. “Sorry, sir.”

“You had no reason to do so until you needed to help Lady Frances,” Guntram said. “Well, Pal?”

I was afraid. Not of being beaten or thrown in prison or anything like that: I was afraid of making a complete fool of myself, like I had in Dun Add.

I grinned. That didn’t kill me, did it?

“What are you laughing about?” Frances said. I guess she sounded shrill even when she was in her best mood, but that wasn’t today. “Do you think this is funny?”

I looked at her and grinned wider. “Ma’am,” I said, “I’m thinking that the experience I got in Dun Add has prepared me for what I’m likely to find in Marielles.”

I moved my chair back carefully so I didn’t knock it over and stood. I was so nervous I didn’t trust my control.

“If you think it’s the best choice, Guntram,” I said. “I’ll try. And if you agree, ma’am?”

“It sounds as though I don’t have much choice,” said Frances. I couldn’t see any expression in her face or her voice. “Yes, I accept your help, Master Pal.”