The Spark – Snippet 28

CHAPTER 10: Leaving Home

I hadn’t really thought of Beune as home while I was growing up here. When I took the Road to Dun Add, I was going to my future, not leaving my past. The last month had made a difference that I didn’t realize until I stood here by the boat and saw, well, hundreds of people.

Dozens of folks had come to see me off when I started for Dun Add. Nearly a hundred had come to see the boat when Lady Frances arrived. This was several times that many, lots of them people I barely knew by sight. They’d been shaking my hand and wishing me well. At least a dozen men had offered me jugs or even casks of their ale to take along, and women had cakes and pickles and sausages, whatever they thought their specialty was.

It was easier to take the food than refuse: the boat had plenty of room. Besides, even if it spoiled it’d do as well as the usual organic garbage that went into the ship’s hoppers and then through the converter.

I wouldn’t tell anybody that I’d converted their gifts when I came back to Beune, of course. People were really being nice.

Marcus, a farmer from the North flanked by his four grown sons, was telling me about the trip he’d made to Teufelstoss with his Da’, when he was but a youngling. I’d thought there might be a point to the story when he’d started but after five minutes I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be, so I was twice as glad when I saw Baga coming with the widow Herisa.

“Sirs, I see our boatman and there’s things I need to discuss with him,” I said, clasping right arms with Marcus and patting him on the back with my free hand.

I broke eye contract with him and called, “Baga, get over here if you will! We were getting worried about you!”

I’d sure been worried about him, anyway. I don’t know what Frances thought–she’d gone aboard the boat with the last of her stuff, so I hadn’t seen her for an hour.

“Sorry,” the boatman said. “It got complicated this morning.”

He looked haggard. Herisa wasn’t just clinging to his arm, she was bawling and seemed to be trying to drag Baga away.

“Mistress Herisa!” I said sharply. I stepped close and took her wrists in my hands, squeezing hard enough that she let go of Baga’s arms.

I had a bright idea. Gervaise had been standing close by all morning, sort of claiming the right as my nearest neighbor and I guess best friend. I swung Herisa into his arms and said, “Gervaise, can you and Phoebe help me? Herisa needs a chance to calm down with friends till she’s ready to go back home.”

“Sure, Pal,” Gervaise said loudly. “You know I’m always happy to do a favor for a friend!”

That was the truth–Gervaise was a good man and a good neighbor–but he was making sure now that all his–all our–neighbors knew he close he was to me and my important visitors. In trances I’ve been inside the structure of a lot of amazing tools of the Ancients. None of the structures was nearly as complicated or confused me more than people do, and I mean folks like Gervaise who I’ve known all my life.

“Bless you, fellow,” Baga muttered to me. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“I need to talk to Guntram before we leave,” I said. “You can go on into the boat, though. Buck and I’ll be along as soon as we can, and Lady Frances is already aboard.”

“Wait a minute!” Baga said. “I thought you was going instead of the lady. I told you when we got here, boy, she’ll only take me and one other. I don’t even trust taking the dog. Look, you can get a dog in Marielles if you need one.”

The only thing that stopped me from shouting at him was that I didn’t know if I was more surprised–well, angry–that the boatman hadn’t listened about the repairs we were doing or about what he’d said about dogs. Baga had been gone just about all the while Guntram and I were working, and when he came around he hadn’t been interested in what we were saying.

And Baga was a boatman who needn’t ever to have owned a dog. What he’d said about Buck still peeved me, though.

“Look, Baga,” I said with my hand on his shoulder and my lips close to his ear. “You go inside and get your end ready. The boat’ll fine with six adults aboard, just like when it was brand new. And I swear if you make silly trouble, I’ll take the boat to Marielles myself and you can stay with Herisa until I come back!”

“Look, I just don’t wanna die, that’s all,” Baga muttered, but he wasn’t really protesting. I pushed him gently toward the boat’s door and he went aboard.

When I turned I saw that Guntram had stepped over to me. A man and a woman–separate, not a couple and neither of them anybody I knew–had moved in my direction, but when they saw me with the old Maker they stopped and eased back.

“I’m not an ogre,” Guntram said in a quiet voice.

“Maybe they’re just being polite,” I said, though I didn’t believe that. “Say, have warriors started using your healing bed?”

“They have indeed,” Guntram said, cocking his head as he looked at me. “Did you arrange that, Master Pal? Jon has even talked about moving the couch down into a room of the Hall of Champions to make it more accessible.”

“It was just common sense,” I said, grinning. “Lady May said she’d talk to some people. I’m glad she did.”

There was no reason I should have, but I’d been thinking of May off and on ever since I left Dun Add. There was a lot I liked about being back on Beune, but there weren’t any girls here like May. Though I hadn’t seen any to match her in Dun Add either.

“I…,” Guntram said. Then he smiled and said, “Thank you, Pal. It shouldn’t matter, but I like to see things appreciated.”

He coughed into his hand and added, “If you’re really capable of guiding a boat, you’re an even more remarkable young man than I already realized.”

“I could flap my arms and fly to Marielles easier than I could get the boat to take me,” I said. We were both keeping our voices low and I watched the door, though I was pretty sure that Baga wasn’t going to try to listen in. “Baga was just being silly. He’ll be fine as soon as we start off.”

I took a deep breath. “Sir,” I said, “thank you for all you’ve done. I mean since you came to Beune, but in Dun Add too. I can’t repay you, but anything you ask I’ll do. And I’ll try to do you proud in Marielles. Sir.”

Guntram smiled. “First,” he said, “I’m taking the image projector which you offered me. I’ve got a quantity of your small fragments also–”

He glanced down at his pack. It was almost as full as it had been when he arrived on Beune, despite all the wonders he’d given to me and my neighbors.

“–but they’re of no real value to you. The image projector is another matter, though, and I’m sure you would be able to repair it yourself with a little more time.”

That was nonsense. I didn’t say that, but Guntram knew it was nonsense.

He took an Artifact from the pocket on the right breast of his robe. The hedgehog stuck its head out of the left pocket and wriggled its nose.

“I’m giving you this in exchange for the projector,” he said, handing it to me: a slender handgrip with a thumb lever on the upper curve. “It’s a shield, designed for that purpose. It’s not the best one I’ve ever seen, but it’s quite good. I think you’ll find it handier than what you’re using now.”

“Sir!” I said. “Sir.”

“Would you mind giving me the shield you’ve been using, Pal?” Guntram said. “What you did is really quite ingenious. I’d like to keep it to refer to, not so much for your solutions but for the way you looked for solutions.”

“Of course!” I said, slipping the shield into my pocket where it balanced the weapon on the other side. I didn’t need the harness any more, so it took it and the converted umbrella off and handed them together to Guntram.

“Thank you,” he said solemnly. I figured he’d feed the leather to his converter. That was the best use I could see for it, now that I didn’t need anything so heavy to carry my equipment. “And now I’m going to tell you what you can do to repay me.”

I stiffened. “Sir,” I said. I didn’t have a son to give him, but I’d have kept my word if I had. “Whatever you ask.”

“Then after you’ve corrected matters in Marielles, as I hope you will,” Guntram said, “I want you to come to Dun Add instead of returning to Beune.”

“Sir, I’ll do what you say, I promised I would!” I said. “But I wasn’t raised to butt in where I’m not wanted. Dun Add made it real clear that it didn’t want me!”

Guntram shrugged. “The universe doesn’t seem to want human beings,” he said. “If we’re going to continue to exist, we’ll have to fight for our place, which is what you came to Dun Add the first time to do. Not everyone can fight, friend Pal; but you can. I want you to join my foster son in fighting for mankind.”

I swallowed. “Yes sir,” I said. I clasped right arms with him. “I promised. I’ll hope to do that.”

Then I said, “Come on, Buck.” I boarded the boat with my dog, and Baga closed the door after us.