The Spark – Snippet 37

CHAPTER 15: Pairs and Singletons

I’d as soon have been someplace else, but in truth it wasn’t hurting me to sit with my back to a tree trunk and my stomach full of good food

The big pavilion near the front of the park was where they’d held the wedding. The better sort danced there now to three violins and an oboe; I could hear snatches of the music when the breeze was right.

Closer to me at the back of the grounds was a stretch of mown grass where common folk–folk like me and my neighbors on Beune–were dancing to a bag-piper. In between was a brick house that Prince Philip called his rural bungalow.

I’d always thought of bungalows as being little places. This one in the royal park wasn’t little.

People had come from days away by the Road, not to mention all those from Marielles itself. The town had a big hinterland, maybe as big as the one that fed Dun Add. There was even a boat in the landing place, besides the two that came from Dewbranch: Baga’s and the one I’d repaired and now owned.

I’d been surprised at all the foofarah when we got back from Dewbranch just before Hellea’s forty days were up. Prince Philip had spread the word pretty wide, and forty days was enough time for people to make the trip from quite a ways away.

Frances had laid down the law: there wouldn’t be a wedding until Hellea was either dead or disgraced. She took it for granted that even if Hellea found somebody to stand for her, I’d beat him. I wouldn’t have gone that far, but I had really good equipment and Hellea’s story wasn’t likely to win over anybody in Jon’s Hall of Champions.

Hellea hadn’t showed, just like Frances figured. I was glad of that.

I didn’t particularly want to kill anybody. Easton and Camm don’t keep me from going to sleep, but sometimes I think about them in the dark before I get up in the morning.

I saw Baga and Stefan coming toward me from the tables of food and drink right behind the bungalow. I didn’t recognize the woman with them. She could’ve passed for any of the thirties-ish women I knew on Beune: healthy, stocky but not really fat. She had brown hair, though she might call it chestnut.

Stefan and the woman stopped twenty feet away while Baga came on the rest of the way. I stood up, sticking my free hand back against the tree trunk when I started to tip sideways; I’d been sitting too long, and the strong wine didn’t help. There were lots of vineyards on Marielles, and Philip hadn’t stinted on wine for his wedding.

“Lord Pal!” Baga said, loud enough for him to have stayed back with his friends. He looked surprised himself; I could see that he’d gotten deeper into the wine than I had.

“Sorry, boss,” he said in a normal voice. He burped into his hand, then said, “Look, you’re planning to hire Stefan to run your boat, right? Haven’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. I didn’t know where this was going, but it was sounding like Stefan was backing out and Baga was doing the talking for him. I wouldn’t have used my weapon on Stefan, but it’d cause me problems that I hadn’t expected.

“Well, Stefan and me was talking…,” Baga said. He burped into his hand again. His face screwed up and he said, “Look, boss, you and me get along okay, don’t we?”

“We have,” I said. Baga was quiet when he wasn’t running the boat, and silent when he was. He kept out of my way. I don’t need much in the way of company. There hadn’t been any problems with him running the boat that I knew about. I couldn’t judge that, of course, but we’d always gotten where I wanted to go.

“Well then, why not you hire me on this new boat instead of Stefan, hey?” Baga blurted. “He’ll run my boat on shares, and he’s by way of being my father in law, you see? That’s his sister Maggie there with him.”

Why was that so hard to get out? Aloud I said, “That’s fine with me if that’s what you want to do, Baga. I still want to leave tomorrow morning, though.”

“I knew that’s what you’d say!” Baga said. “I’ll tell Stefan and Maggie!”

He staggered off toward his friends. Stefan was carrying two wine bottles; Baga had handed one of them to the other boatman before trudging the rest of the way over to me.

We weren’t going to be leaving Marielles first thing in the morning, but I’d never thought that we would. That was okay. And to tell the truth, I was just as glad to have Baga for my boatman. I knew what to expect from him–and getting drunk pretty regularly in places that had something to drink wasn’t the worst fault that a boatman could have.

I looked up at the tree I stood against. It was shaped a funny way: two good-sized maples were leaning into each other–not braided, but the trunks had grown together about eight feet up from the ground. They branched out in opposite directions.

I wondered if I ought to go back to the boat where I’d left Buck. He’d be fine, but there was nothing holding me here.

“Good afternoon, Lord Pal,” said Frances from behind me. “Are you enjoying the party?”

I turned around so quick that my feet got tangled; I had to touch the trunk again. That made me blush, though I don’t suppose Frances could see it under my tan.

“It’s nice,” I said. “I’m not a big one for parties, though. And, ah, I’m used to ale.”

She nodded, though what that was supposed to mean I’m not sure. “The new suit looks very good on you,” she said. “Do the others fit as well?”

Frances had three outfits waiting for me when I arrived back on Marielles. This one was blue with red lapels; the other two were red with blue, and green with yellow.

“I suppose they do,” I said, surprised at the question. Frances had been so busy with the wedding business that I hadn’t had a chance to say anything about them. “Would you like me to leave them at the palace before I go off tomorrow? Now that the wedding’s over, I mean.”

“What on earth would I do with mens’ clothing?” Frances said. “I’m not a raving beauty like my sister, but I’m not a man.”

“No, ma’am,” I said. She was in brown, with a white sash and a white lace collar. It was a nice outfit and it didn’t call attention to her; which, with her looks, was probably what she intended.

“You’ll be more effective at whatever you do in those clothes,” Frances said. “Do in the wider world, I mean. I suppose you could plow perfectly well in your usual outfit.”

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “What do you intend to do now, Pal? I trust you realize that you don’t have to go back to Beune?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I figure I’ll go see Guntram at Dun Add like he asked me to. After that I don’t know, but I would like to show him the new boat that I fixed up after he showed me how.”

“I see,” Frances said. She cleared her throat again and said, “Have you considered returning to Marielles to stay?”

“Good God!” I said. “Why would I do that? I don’t even know anybody here.”

“I will be selling up the family properties on Holheim and moving to Marielles,” Frances in a voice as flat as a griddle-cake. “I have no reason to stay on Holheim. Hellea is gone and I don’t precisely doubt Prince Philip’s good will, but I think his behavior will be better if he knows that there’s someone watching him.”

“Ah,” I said, thinking about what that meant.

Frances gave me a funny smile and said, “Oh, don’t worry. I don’t expect Philip to be a saint; or any other man, if it comes to that. But he will not be unkind to my sister, or he’ll hear about it.”

I smiled. “I’d guess Marielles is going to have a better government from now on,” I said.

“That doesn’t change your opinion of settling here, though?” Frances said.

“Lord, no,” I said. “It’s good for the folks here but… Beune doesn’t have any government, really, and that suits me fine. We’re just a little place, though.”

“I see,” said Frances. “Well, I’m glad that you feel my presence will benefit Marielles. I’ll get back to my duties as the bride’s sister, I suppose.”

I was thinking about Dun Add. Aloud I said, “Ma’am? I don’t guess you’ll have any trouble with Philip or anybody, but if you need me just let me know. I’d expect to leave word with Guntram even if I’m not in Dun Add myself.”

I thought Frances was turning away, but instead she cleared her throat. “Pal?” she said. “Even if you wouldn’t want to stay on Marielles, you’ll always be welcome to visit if you happened to want to. You know that?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. I didn’t imagine I ever would.

I don’t guess Frances thought so either. She turned around and walked away, her back very straight.

I thought more about Dun Add. And I wondered if I’d see Lady May again.