The Spark – Snippet 39

An attendant in black led the man from Austerlitz to the side; an elderly woman hobbled into his place on the arm of another attendant. Guntram motioned me to follow him back into the hall.

When we got outside I said, “Sir, how do we hear things so clearly in there? Is this something you did?”

“No, it was just the design,” Guntram said. “An architect from Bassai planned the room for Jon. She said very little herself, just bustled around making notes, but her six assistants all spoke of her as though she took dictation from God.”

He smiled and added, “Judging from the hall’s acoustics, they may have been right.”

“Sir,” I said. “Why does the Leader care about an estate on Austerlitz? Does he have property there himself?”

“He doesn’t care in the least,” Guntram said. “The important thing to him is that people come to Dun Add to sort out their problems instead of going to war with one another. If a Champion isn’t sufficient to enforce the Leader’s decree, then there’s the army or a portion of it. But that’s only been necessary twice that I know of.”

He led me down a much narrower staircase next to the outer wall rather than the courtyard by which we’d come up. I didn’t ask where we were going. Guntram was taking me to places that he thought I ought to see. He knew more about it than I did.

“Who were the people on the benches, sir?” I said. A lot of them had been too old or frail to be warriors, or they were women.

“Some are Champions, listening to judgments in case they find one that they’d like to get involved in,” Guntram said. “More of them send a clerk to take notes for them, for the same reason. And there are those who just like to watch the court.”

We left the stairs at the second floor started down a hallway. A pair of servants saw us coming and lowered their heads as we brushed past one another in opposite directions.

I hadn’t thought about how Jon’s government was organized. The stories told about people–in the stories they were pretty generally beautiful ladies–coming to Jon and him sending a Champion out to right her wrongs. The beautiful lady had always been injured by a villain, whom the Champion slew in a great battle.

I knew from Beune that when neighbors or a couple fell out, it generally wasn’t easy to tell where the fault lay. Well, better, it generally seemed that they were both acting wrong. The priest would get together a neighbors’ council and the council’d make the best choice it could. Which generally left everybody angry at them, but also quieted things down between the parties. Nobody likes to know that his neighbors think he’s being a fool.

We don’t have Trial by Combat on Beune, but sometimes the parties or healthy male relatives have it out. This may mean an eye gouged or a finger bitten off, but we don’t have weapons. I’ve never heard of anybody being killed.

Guntram opened a door whose hinges squealed like it hadn’t been used in a year. From the way people in the workroom beyond turned their heads to look at us, it can’t ‘ve been common for folks to come by this way.

There were cubicles on both sides of the room, six on one side and five on the other plus a door in the center with a broad aisle between them. Each cubicle had a couch and a built-in table. Four were occupied; three men gathered at a sideboard with food–cheese, meats, and fruit–and storage jars with narrow dippers hanging from the rims.

The tables had Ancient artifacts on them, mostly weapons and shields. Nearby were trays and bins of the stuff you’d need to repair them. All the people here were Makers.

“Master Guntram,” one of them said. He bowed and the others muttered, “Master,” and bowed or dipped their heads, except for the two who were in trances.

“This is my friend Lord Pal,” Guntram said generally as he led me toward the door at the end of the room. There were nods and murmurs as we walked past. I smiled and nodded back, feeling out of place.

The wide door–it was four feet across, easy–had been carved with a pair of dragons swallowing each other’s tails. I’d been impressed even before I got close enough to see that it was all one piece of wood.

Instead of knocking, Guntram put his hand in the upper center of the panel, about opposite his face. When he touched the wood, it suddenly got a sheen like there was a plate of glass over it.

The door opened inward. “Teacher!” said a small blond man with a pointy beard and a little moustache. “What brings you here today?”

“Good morning, Louis,” Guntram said. “You’ll recall that shield I brought you, the one made from a rain repellant? This is the man who made it.”

“Come in, come in!” Louis said, closing the door behind us. “That was a remarkable piece of work, sir! Guntram, I can certainly find a use for him.”

This workroom was as neat as Phoebe’s parlor when she was expecting company. While Guntram had shelves and tables overflowing with bits and pieces, the walls of Louis’ room were covered with cabinets and drawers, all of them closed. The grain of the wood matched from one rank to the next so that they looked like paneling instead of storage.

The artifact–it was a weapon–on the table beside the couch was the only evidence that this was a Maker’s workroom. Even so, the trays of repair materials had been put away since the work wasn’t in process at the moment.

“Sir,” I said, “the shield didn’t work. I could barely move it when it was on full.”

I’d just been offered the chance to work with the greatest Maker in the human universe. And I didn’t want the place. I felt sick at the thought of turning down such a wonderful offer.

“And he’s not for you, Louis,” Guntram said. “Or for me either. Pal is on Dun Add to join the Company of Champions.”

There hadn’t been proper introductions. Neither Maker paid much attention to the little social stuff, and I’d never been any good at it either.

“Indeed?” Louis said, looking at Guntram and raising an eyebrow.

“Indeed,” Guntram said. “Besides, I think you’d find Pal too whimsical to work out well with you, Louis. He would get bored turning out serviceable weapons for the troops day after day. Just as I would.”

“Trying to make toys from Not-Here work is all well and good, Teacher,” Louis said, his voice suddenly hard. “I think baubles need to wait until Here has been returned to a state of law and order, though.”

“I know what you believe, Louis,” Guntram said. “I wish you and Jon all good fortune in your work. But as you know, it’s not for me.”

Louis lost his sudden harshness. He bowed and said, “You may be the wisest of the three of us, Teacher, but Jon and I aren’t going to give up our dreams.”

He looked at me. “If you change your mind, Pal,” he said, “come and see me. The Maker who turned an umbrella into a shield could probably be useful for more things than arming common soldiers.”

I bowed and said, “Thank you, sir.” I turned to follow Guntram out of the office.

“And Pal?” Louis said. Guntram and I both looked back.

“It seems to me that shield of yours could be quite serviceable if you could switch it on and off very quickly,” Louis said. “I can think of several ways to do that, if you’d like to come down and discuss it with me some time.”

Thank you, sir,” I said.

Guntram and I returned to the general workroom. We went out by the door between two cubicles. It was bigger than the one we came in by, so I figured it was the main door.

“You could learn a great deal from Louis,” Guntram said as we walked down the hall. I didn’t know where he was taking me now.