The Spark – Snippet 35

CHAPTER 14: A Different View of Marielles

Baga brought the boat to rest in the landing place of Marielles, within arm’s length of where he’d landed when I came here before. I knew before he opened the hatch that things were just as quiet as they’d been the first time, but I still went out holding my shield and weapon ready.

That was what Frances had insisted on: for the look of it, she’d said. I think she’d have been happier if I had something flashier to wear than the loose trousers and jacket we wear on Beune in nice weather like this. The cloth was gray, but the jacket was faded in patches.

Frances came out on my heels. She found what she wanted and pointed. “There!” she said and set off briskly toward a clothing seller with a cart and a big white dog to pull it.

Buck had stretched and rolled like always when he got out of the boat, but he caught up with us in a moment. The white dog eyed us but didn’t get up. It had a lot of fur, but underneath it was still the biggest dog as I’d seen.

“Mistress,” Frances said. “I want to rent your cart and dog to transport an injured man to the palace. I don’t have any coin at the moment, but I’ll give you a dress like this for the use.”

She fluffed out the skirt of her outfit, silk with thin up and down stripes of cream and maroon. Her voice was hard even when she wasn’t trying to be; I could see she’d put the peddler’s back up already.

The peddler stared. “I don’t have any market for such,” she said. “Coin’s what I sell for. Have ye coin?”

Frances didn’t have any coins: Beune doesn’t get enough travelers for there to be much new money since I’d taken all there was to go off the Dun Add. I fished out the last of the silver pieces from Duncan and said, “Ma’am? Will you rent us your cart and dog for this? Our friend’s been badly wounded and we need to get him to Prince Philip.”

I was pretty sure the peddler would have sold the cart and wagon for that coin, but it was all I had except for a few small coppers. I wanted the cart, not to haggle all morning. Walters was slipping in and out of a fever; we needed to get him to Prince Philip while he could still talk.

The peddler stared at the coin. “What? Hurt is he?” she said.

She turned to her neighbor whose stall sold climbing monkeys and other wooden toys. “Mamie!” she called as she stood up. “Watch my stock, will ye? Gus’n me ‘ve got t’ haul a feller to the prince!”

I went back to the boat and with Baga got Walters into the cart. He could’ve walked with a crutch, but carrying him with his arms over our shoulders was simpler. Besides, we didn’t have a crutch.

Walters’ left foot was shriveling; just a dribble of blood was getting to it. It hadn’t started to turn black and stink yet, but that’d happen. There’d be a surgeon on Marielles who could take it off and poultice the stump; there wasn’t anything else for it, which Walters knew.

“C’mon, Gus!” the peddler called to her dog and we started for the palace. I got my weapon and shield out again, now that I didn’t need my hands for other things.

The two sisters were leading. I started out behind the cart with Baga, but Frances gestured me up with her. I thought it was just because I was supposed to look manly and dangerous, but she said to me, “You’ll be reimbursed for your expenditures, Master Pal. I know I’ll be able to draw on my credit with bankers here in Marielles.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said. I hadn’t doubted that she’d pay me back, but to be honest I hadn’t really thought about it. I’d done what was easiest, that was all.

Baga split off into the town to find the boatman he said he’d met here and to line up the stuff we’d need to fix Camm’s boat. My boat now, I suppose, though I couldn’t guide it.

The three guards in blue caps were in front of the building. I wondered who was in charge of them with Camm dead and Walters being hauled toward them in a cart.

I shouldn’t have wondered: when Lady Frances was around, she was always going to be in charge. She stepped up to the guards and snapped, “You two! Get Walters into the audience room. And you–”

She pointed at the third man. His eyes glazed and he stood up straight.

“–go make sure the bench against the wall is clear so that Walters can sit with his leg out.”

“Sir?” said one of the first pair, bending over Walters. “What happened, sir?”

“What does it look like, Red?” Walters said. His voice was weak but he sounded like he meant it. “I met a better man, didn’t I? Go do as the lady says, boys, or she’ll have your ears.”

“Lord Pal and I will lead the way,” Frances added, gesturing me forward with her. I’d have laughed to hear myself called “Lord,” but there wasn’t anything funny in the lady’s tone. Or the situation, if I thought about it.

The palace didn’t have any metal in the walls so I could’ve switched on my shield if I needed to. With the shield live, though, there wasn’t much I could do except fight. That wasn’t what Frances wanted. Mind, she wouldn’t back off if it came to that, and I’d said I’d stand with her.

The arched doorway into what Frances called the Audience Hall was wide enough for Buck and me to walk in alongside her. There weren’t near so many folks inside as before, only about a dozen; but Philip was standing behind the table, looking scared, and Lady Hellea was there looking like an angry snake. A really pretty snake, though.

“Come, darling,” Frances said, reaching an arm out behind her and drawing Eloise up alongside her. Fresh clothes–a red dress with thin swirls of gold–and primping with Frances’ help had made Eloise a beauty like you never see.

“Prince Philip!” Frances said. “My champion has rescued Lady Eloise from the place where Hellea’s minions marooned her. He has slain the monster which menaced her there–”

“That’s a lie!” Hellea said. Fright hadn’t done her voice any favors, but it was still nicer to hear than Frances’.

The lie was that the dragon was dead. Frances might really believe that, though.

“–and has defeated the minions when they returned to finish her off–and rob you of your pledged dowry, Philip!”

There was a bustle behind us. The folks who’d spread toward the walls when we entered were craning their necks to see past us. I heard the legs of the wooden bench scrape so I guessed the guards had put Walters down on it.

“Where is Lord Camm?” Hellea said, her voice rising. “Where is Camm?

“Dead and in Hell if God is just!” Frances said. “Walters–”

She half-turned and gestured back toward the bench. She never took her eyes off Philip, though.

“–will tell you what happened. Tell them, Walters!”

I kept looking across the table. I wasn’t worried about Phillip, but it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit to learn that Lady Frances wasn’t the only woman in the room to be carrying a sharp knife.

“Camm took me with him to get the girl, Lady Eloise there, on the node where he’d left her,” Walters said. His voice wasn’t strong, but it was still clear. The room had hushed. “He wanted to take Oliver besides, but I wouldn’t go without Ajax. Camm said his boat wouldn’t carry two people and a dog. He told me the girl had a guard, which was why he needed me.”

“You men,” Frances said, gesturing to the pair who’d carried Walters into the building. “Bring the bench closer. Now!”

I got out of the way while the guards slid Walters up toward the table. He was a good man, doing what he’d promised he’d do on the way to Marielles: tell the truth. I was sorry he was crippled, but I wasn’t a bit sorry for beating him.

“Camm said we were going to make sure the girl was safe,” Walters said, “but now I figure he was planning to kill her. Once we’d started there was nothing I could do; Camm was the boatman.”