The Spark – Snippet 31

Instead of a throne, there was a polished wooden table. The young fellow sitting behind it had wavy blond hair and a bushy moustache. He didn’t have a beard, though. A beard would’ve helped with his weak chin.

The woman was on the other chair behind the table. She was a stunner with dark hair and the whitest skin I’ve ever seen on a human being. She was beautiful, but I would call her pretty or even attractive except in the way a leopard is.

She seemed to me older than she was trying to look. She was sure older than the man.

“Well, Lady Frances,” the blond man said, “I didn’t expect to see you back in Marielles so soon. Have you brought my dowry?”

“I’m still looking for my sister, Philip,” Frances said in that fractured croak of hers. “Since the boat that took her off Holheim is here, I think this is the right place to start. Don’t you?”

“I told you on your previous visit that the boat hasn’t returned to Marielles,” Philip said. His voice started out high-pitched and got even squeakier as his face turned red. “Nothing has changed since then!”

“I now know that the boat is here!” Frances said. “That’s changed! What have you done with my sister?”

“I’ve been told–” Philip said.

“You’ve been lied to or you’re a liar!” said Frances. She was really something when she got started. “Where is my sister, Philip?”

Philip had gotten angry, but he was now slanting back in his chair as if he thought Frances was going to come across the table at him. I didn’t think that, but it might’ve crossed my mind if it’d been me she was shouting at.

“Lady Frances,” said the woman, “we’ve been polite to you thus far, but if you’re going to shout your nasty delusions–”

“Ma’am?” I said, loud enough to stop her. “It’s not a delusion. Our boat has talked to the boat that took Lady Eloise. It’s here, and I guess I could find it in a day or two. Less if y’all would give me a bit of a hand.”

The white-skinned woman stood up. I’d thought of a leopard when I first saw her, and she was a really angry leopard now. Her face didn’t look a bit pretty.

“Camm, get that commoner out of the room if he can’t keep his mouth shut while his betters are talking!” she said.

Camm turned and put a hand flat on my chest. I grabbed him by the wrist as he started to shove. He yelped and jumped back. I stopped twisting but I didn’t let go of him until I was sure he wasn’t going to push the matter.

“That’s rich, Hellea!” Frances said. “You calling someone common? You’re a common whore!”

Philip was standing also, but he didn’t seem to have much useful to say. I was keeping an eye on the guys in blue berets, especially the one who maybe knew what he was doing, but they were waiting till they knew better what was going on.

I didn’t put my hands in my pockets, but I was ready to do that in a hurry. It was more or less an accident that my shield and weapon were in the jacket I’d put on when we reached Marielles. I hadn’t been wearing it during the voyage, and they were still there from when I’d boarded.

“We don’t have much rank on Beune,” I said, not quite so loud as when I was breaking in on Hellea, “but I guess I qualify as gentry back home. Lord Camm, if you want to come out to your jousting ground, we can settle this like warriors.”

I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen after I spoke. I said it because it was true and it was what came to mind. If Camm was going to threaten me with his weapon, he needed to know that I was willing to dance to that tune.

The hair along Buck’s spine was up. I was the only fellow in the room with his dog present. The tall warrior at Camm’s side glanced at Buck and put his hand on Camm’s arm, pulling him back just a hair. He knew what’d happen if they started something with me now.

Hellea snarled something in Philip’s ear, keeping her eyes on me. In response, Philip squealed, “Lady Frances, you are no longer welcome in this court! Please take yourself and your companions off Marielles immediately!”

“I’m not going until–” Frances said, then gulped as I pulled her backward with my left hand.

“Ma’am,” I said, “we’re leaving now. Turn around and get out, and I’ll be out behind you. Now.”

She looked up at my face, then said, “I’m going,” in a softer voice than she usually used. I let go of her and started backing out.

The fellow holding Camm’s arm grinned at me. I thought of Duncan and wondered what this guy’s story was. Nobody came after us, but I didn’t relax till we got to the boat and I told Baga to close the door.


Even before the door closed, Lady Frances turned to me and said, “Master Pal, if you think I’m going to give up the search for my sister–”

“No ma’am, I don’t,” I said, “and–”

“–just because–”

“Ma’am, hush!” I said. “Talk to Baga or talk to Buck or talk to yourself! I’m going to find out from the boat where your sister is.”

I sank down onto the floor cross-legged. If I’d had to I’d have gone into my room and locked Frances out, but her face got quiet again and she nodded.

“All right,” she said. I was already slipping into my trance.

“Good afternoon, boat,” I said. “Can you retrace the route of Lord Camm’s boat between here and Holheim?”

Yes, Master,” the boat said. “That boat made seven stops en route.”

The projected schematic didn’t mean anything to me, but presumably it would to Baga. Or it did to the boat itself, which might be good enough.

It may be of interest to you that at this point…,” the boat said. A bead on the track gleamed brighter; it was the third one up from Holheim on the left end. “The boat dropped two of its life pods, as directed by the boatman.”

“What?” I said. “Life pod? You mean the rooms? Can the rooms come off the boat?”

Yes, Master,” the boat said. “It’s a safety feature. The pods will recycle wastes and support their occupants for the future indefinite. Depending on the pods’ condition, of course, but Camm’s boat indicates that both of the pods dropped were in 80% condition.”

“Thank you, boat,” I said. “I’m going to discuss what you’ve told me with Lady Frances. Ah, you can take us straight to the place the pods were left?”

Yes, Master,” the boat said. Then it said, “Master? The other boat is impressed with the repairs you have made to my structure. A machine cannot be envious or even wistful, of course; but that boat notes the contrast between my condition and the condition to which it has degraded.”

“I’ll…,” I said. I stopped to think through what I meant to say. “Look, boat. If we get through this all right and find Lady Eloise, I’ll come back for Lord Camm’s boat. If I can–if Camm lets me or however it works out–I’ll do what I can to bring the boat up to speed. But you know, there’s a lot of ifs and it’s just me, not Guntram. All right?”

If the boat had human emotions, Master,” the boat said, “it would thank you. So would I.”

I came out of my trance, but I kept my eyes closed for a moment so that nobody’d start talking to me before I was really awake. Buck must’ve noticed something, because he stuck his nose into the angle of my left knee and started burrowing.

I opened my eyes. “Ma’am,” I said, “it seems like your sister got put off the boat at a node off the Road. She’s in her room–”

I patted the one beside where I was sitting.

“–and the guard’s with her besides, so she ought to be all right. I figured we’d go find her right now.”

“Yes,” said Frances. “We’ll do that.”

And then she leaned over and hugged me, which was about as big a surprise to me as if Buck had started speaking.