The Spark – Snippet 02
You don’t need an animal to walk the Road, you can wear polarized filters. I’ve seen good ones of mica, though a Maker of any skill can build better ones out of raw sand. Seeing through an animal’s eyes works a lot better, though, and most people can manage the trick even if they don’t know the animal real well.
Carole had a fluffy white cat. Cats are supposed to be great, slipping along instead of ramming through rough patches the way dogs do, but they’re no good in a fight. You can’t control what they’re going to do, and if you’ve got to fight your beast as well as your opponent, you’re probably going to get the blazes knocked out of you.
Heyman, one of two merchants on the way to Dun Add, had a sleek gazehound that his pair of bearers used also. Heyman traded in textiles. He didn’t talk much, not with the likes of me anyway, but his bearers said that some of his fabric had been woven in Not Here.
Rilk, the other merchant, carried a pack heavier than I’d have wanted to heft on a long trek. It was pottery that he’d turned and fired himself. Nothing fancy, just undecorated earthenware, but I liked the shape of some of his mugs. If we’d been back on Beune, I’d have bought a couple.
Rilk had a mongrel named Sachem. There wasn’t a lot to choose between him and Buck, though Sachem was a good few years older.
I never saw the point of fancy breeds, but maybe that was sour grapes. You weren’t going to get hounds like Heyman’s on Beune; and if you had, I wouldn’t have been able to afford one. I’d sold the farm to a neighbor to get enough money to buy food for me and Buck on the way to Dun Add.
“Oh Pal…?” Mercy called, walking over close to me. “Is it true that we’re getting close to Dun Add, the way Carole says?”
“She ought to know, Mike,” I said, nodding toward Dame Carole. She glared back like she wanted to slip a dagger in me, though she must see that I wasn’t doing anything to encourage Mercy. “Duncan here tells me the same.”
Mercy looked like she wanted to come closer yet, but I clicked my tongue to Buck and we stepped out a little quicker. Seeing through Buck’s eyes, the Road was a stretch of poles laid edge to edge on the ground; in grays and browns, of course. We’d been pacing along comfortably; speeding up was clumsy and more tiring, so I backed off after I’d put the girl a step or two behind us.
“Pal, I wonder if we’ll see each other in the city?” Mercy called. “You know, it’s all new to me and I’d like to see it with a friend.”
“I guess you and your dad can hire a guide, Mike,” I said. “For myself, I don’t know anything about the place. I’m going to be real busy besides.”
Duncan stayed quiet until Mercy had taken her disappointment back to her father. Then he chuckled and said, “She thinks she’s old enough, lad.”
“That’s between her and God,” I said. I grimaced because I sounded like a right little god-bothering prig, which I’m not. But you shouldn’t be trifling with fourteen-year-old girls unless, I suppose, you’re fourteen yourself and you’re inclined that way. I hadn’t been inclined, and now I was twenty.
“Your choice, lad,” Duncan said, shrugging. “Carole settles as soon as we step onto the landing place, and I’ll pay you back right off.”
He grimaced much the way I just had. “I have to do it then,” he muttered, “because like as not I won’t have it in a couple days. I used’a tell myself it’d be different this time, but by now I don’t guess it will be.”
Duncan wasn’t a bad fellow. He’d helped me a lot when we stopped at way stations.
It was my first time any distance on the Road. Before I met Duncan–and the rest of Dame Carole’s crew–I’d been sleeping rough. I knew the innkeepers weren’t giving me fair quotes, but I didn’t know what was fair, so I couldn’t beat them down. Duncan got me in at better rates than any lone traveler was going to get, because he made it sound like I was another of Carole’s guards.
The lie bothered me a bit, but Duncan said that if we were attacked he bloody well expected I’d fight too–which I surely would. I guess it was all right.
Duncan had gotten an advance on his wages before they set off, but by the time I fell in with Dame Carole he was stony broke. I loaned him money for ale or whatever the waystations had; but not too much. He’d say things when I cut him off, but I think in his heart he was just as glad I was doing it. Like I say, Duncan wasn’t a bad fellow.
A couple more branches of the Road had joined ours since Duncan said we were getting close, but nobody was on them. I wondered where they went… and wondered if I’d be sent along those ways after I’d joined the Company of Champions.
Two of Dame Carole’s attendants had gone a bit ahead. The younger one turned and waved his hands. “We’re here, milady!” he called. “We’ve arrived!”
“I forget how many times I’ve come back this way,” Duncan said with a sigh. “It stopped being exciting a long time ago.”
“It’s exciting to me,” I said. “I guess I’m afraid too. A little afraid.”
It was more than a little and Duncan probably knew it; but I’d come to Dun Add because it was the only place where I could become part of making the universe safe for human beings. Making it the way things had been thousands of years ago, before the great collapse. Jon and his Champions were doing that, putting down bandits and monsters from their capital in Dun Add.
People talked about Jon’s dream even as far off as Beune. The more I thought about it, the surer I was that until it had been done, it was the only real job for a man.
There was nothing holding me on Beune after mom died; dad had been dead these past ten years. I sold the steading to Gervaise, my neighbor to the south, and spent three months preparing. When I decided I’d done everything I could to get ready, Buck and I set off for Dun Add.
And here I was. I took a deep breath and walked from the Road onto Dun Add, the capital of the human universe–
If there was going to be a human universe again.
The first thing I did on the other side of the foggy curtain was sneeze. Bright light does that to me, and it was cloudless noon on the meadow outside the landing place of Dun Add where the Road entered.
Buck always likes to come back to Here, though he never balks when I tell him it’s time to get onto the Road again. Now he started wagging at the new sights, and there were surely plenty of them.
The first thing I saw was the castle up the hill straight ahead. It took me a moment to realize that it was a building, not just a higher part of the hill. I’d seen pictures, sure, but I hadn’t really appreciated what it would be like to be close to something that big, something human beings had made.
“God save me,” I muttered. I suppose I looked like a hick from the back of beyond as I stood gaping at the castle, but in all truth that’s what I was.
“I was in the Commonwealth army for a couple years,” Duncan said. “Even though I’ve lived here, it hits me still every time I see it. There’d been a small fort on the hill for I dunno how long, but Jon built it to what you see now. It’s because so many branches of the Road come together here. The hinterland’s more than big enough to support the court too.”