The Spark – Snippet 01
By David Drake
to Lynn Bessette
A fellow Arthurian Enthusiast
But he by wild and way, for half the night,
And over hard and soft, striking the sod
From out the soft, the spark from off the hard,
Pelleas and Ettarre
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
A MAP OF THE TERRITORY
This one is different.
In the late ’80s, on a whim, I turned themes from Norse mythology into Adventure Science Fiction. The result was Northworld. Normally I use Adventure SF as a synonym for Space Opera, but Northworld was something else again; like nothing else that I’d written or, to the best of my knowledge, that anybody else had written.
The Spark is another whim, but a very different one.
A Twelfth-century French writer, Jean Bodel, referred to the three literary tropes,
‘Matters,’ that everyone (here meaning every writer, I believe) should know: the Matter of Rome, the Matter of France, and the Matter of Britain. These Matters are basically structures in which one can tell stories.
The stories which fall into the Matter of Rome include various forms of the Alexander Romance, which is full of remarkable literary inventions (I definitely hope to do something with it, though probably as embellishment to other stories rather than using the plot directly), and the whole cycle of stories about Virgil the Magician, a character based on the poet Vergil but as surely a fantasy construct as Paul Bunyan. Avram Davidson did a series of stories about this Virgil, and I used some of the mythos in Monsters of the Earth.
There are many other medieval tales in the Matter of Rome: those above are just two of my favorites. That’s the beauty of the Matters: they give a writer (now or a thousand years ago) any number of very different hooks on which to hang stories.
The Matter of France covers Charlemagne and his Paladins. Again, this is a treasure-trove for a writer. One of the earliest Chansons de Geste, The Song of Roland, belongs to this Matter, as do the huge, discursive Orlando Inamorato and Orlando Furioso of the Italians Boiardo and Ariosto. Poul Anderson in Three Hearts and Three Lions, and Quinn Yarbro in Ariosto, have done extremely different modern takes on the Matter; and one of these days I’m going to try something in that area also.
The Matter of Britain involves King Arthur. From the 11th century it has never ceased to be a major source and subject for writers. The Spark is one more example of that.
The background of my plot comes from the Prose Lancelot, a large work by (probably) three French authors which appeared in the early 13th century. The tenor of The Spark, and some of the specific business, come instead from the slightly earlier Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes.
The Lancelot is realistic in the sense of being non-fanciful. It may not make any historical sense, but there are no marvels to be found in it. Chretien is full of marvels and wonders, and that is the feel which I’m striving for.
The tone of The Spark is partly that of Chretien (who was, after all, writing romances), but I also drew from The Idylls of the King. There are various kinds of ‘realism’. The human sadness of, say, Merlin and Vivien, is every bit as true as the stark violence of The Dragon Lord, my first novel (which is also Arthurian).
Finally, I adapted some of the business from English folktales. I think Chretien would have approved. (The writers of Lancelot would not have.)
I said that The Spark used the same basic technique as Northworld, but to a different end. Northworld came from very harsh material, and when I wrote it I was just starting to climb up from the place I’d been since Viet Nam.
I’m a much more cheerful person now than I was in 1988, and the Matter of Britain, even at its darkest, is much less bleak than the sleet, snow, and slaughter of Norse myths. The Spark isn’t set in an ideal world, but it’s a world striving to be ideal. That’s a world of difference.
What really matters isn’t where a story comes from or what category it falls into but rather whether or not it’s a good story. I hope that you find The Spark to be a good story.
CHAPTER 1: Arriving at Dun Add
Neither my dog Buck nor me had ever been more than a day’s hike from Beune before, so I didn’t realize we were approaching Dun Add. There was a group of about a dozen of us by now, folks coming together on the Road as we got closer to the capital, and some of the others had been here before.
Dame Carole lived in Dun Add, as a matter of fact. She was in her fifties and had been making a pilgrimage to religious sites with six people; six servants, I suppose, though one was a priest and Duncan was a man at arms. A rich woman might want protection anywhere on the Road, but from what Duncan had said to me they hadn’t gone far enough out from Dun Add that trouble was likely.
Duncan pointed to the trees on the right side of the Road and said, “See how the Waste changes? It’s gotten reddish, you see? We’re near Dun Add.”
“I see something,” I said. I didn’t see red–it was all sort of gray/green/brown. What to me had been medium-sized broadleafed trees for at least the past ten days, however, was now brush that mostly wasn’t as tall as I was. “I wouldn’t have known what it meant, though.”
Folks didn’t see the Waste the same way, probably because there was nothing really there. Everything you see on the Road–and the Road itself, I guess–is in your mind. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t real, but everybody has a different reality.
Buck whined. He was feeling something different too. It made him jumpy, or maybe he was feeling me be jumpy.
I was going to Dun Add to join Jon’s Company of Champions. Beune is a nice place but it’s a long way from most everything–except for Not-Here, which in long past times spread over Beune too. Not-Here still wasn’t very far away.
If you haven’t been anywhere but Beune, then you know you’re going to be over your head in any real town. I sure did, anyway. Going to the Dun Add, the Leader’s capital, couldn’t make me any more lost than I’d have been in someplace smaller, and this where I had to be to become a Champion.
George was a farmer on a place called Wimberly. He must’ve been doing well because he was travelling to Dun Add just to see the place. He’d brought his daughter Mercy along, calling her Mike and dressing her in boy’s clothes. Mercy was fourteen and, well, well-grown. Despite the loose clothing.
I guess George was afraid of what the men they met on the Road might do to his daughter, but the truth is that Mercy was way ready to be done to. I don’t figure it had been any different when she was back on Wimberly. For myself, I called her Mike in public, and after the first time I saw to it that she never got me alone again.
It seemed to me that Dame Carole knew that Mike was a girl too and that she was a lot more interested in Mercy than I was. I didn’t like to think about that–Carole was so old, for one thing!–but it was none of my business.
On Beune we keep ourselves pretty much to ourselves. Besides being the way I’d been raised, it seemed like a good way to be.