The Spark – Snippet 19
“Gervaise and Phoebe are about as nice as you could find,” I said. “On Beune or anywhere else. And I’m glad you thought ahead to what we were going to be doing for food, because I sure didn’t.”
I got up and offered Guntram a hand to help. My stomach growled.
“Let’s go take them up on the offer before it gets dark,” I said.
“Here they come!” three of Gervaise’ children shouted together as me and Guntram came into sight along the path. They were waiting by the oak that’d been the boundary between Gervaise’ tract and my own. Now it was all his, but he–or Phoebe–must’ve told the kids to stay clear of what’d been my house now that I’d come back. “They’re coming! They’re coming!”
“Do you get this whenever you go outside Dun Add?” I said quietly to Guntram.
“I rarely leave Dun Add,” said Guntram. “Indeed, most of my time is spent in my quarters there.”
He looked at me. “Besides, people don’t pay attention to an old man in a gray robe in most places,” he said. “Nor should they.”
Gervaise and his wife stood to either side of their door. The three boys were beside him, the two girls beside Phoebe, who was holding their infant.
We don’t get many visitors on Beune; Gervaise and Phoebe were making the most of Guntram. And of me, I suppose. I think of myself as just a farmer, but I’ve always been different from my neighbors. I was even different from dad and mom.
I grinned. Guntram’s visit might do nothing else, but it was going to convince my neighbors that I was different in a good way.
“Mistress Phoebe,” said Guntram, bowing slightly and holding out a package in both hands. He’d remembered the name of Gervaise’ wife. “Thank you for your hospitality. Please accept this token of appreciation from an old man.”
“Oh, what wonderful cloth,” said Phoebe. She handed the baby to her ten-year-old and unfolded the cloth wrapper carefully. “Do you want it back, sir?”
“It’s yours,” said Guntram. “Now, hold it firmly.”
The object was a colorless ball an inch in diameter, resting on a square base with one white side and three black. Guntram touched the white rectangle; the ball glowed, casting a clear light in all directions.
The girls screamed; Gervaise spread his arms and backed away, shoving the boys back also. “The Adversary!” he said.
Phoebe closed her hands over the object; light streamed through the loose net of her fingers. “Gervaise!” she shouted in a fury I’d never heard from her. “Don’t be a bigger fool than God made you! You know Pal would never bring any evil here!”
Gervaise’ face blanked. He lowered his arms but he didn’t speak further.
Phoebe curtseyed to Guntram. “Thank you, sir,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything so wonderful. Please forgive my husband’s surprise; he’s really not a bad man.”
Guntram looked uncomfortable. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “I should have warned you. I assure you it’s just a bauble, nothing to do with the Adversary.”
Guntram hadn’t told me what he planned to give her or I would’ve suggested he do it a little different. Come to think, I’d have suggested he let me handle it, probably after dinner when it was getting dark. Thanks to Phoebe, it’d worked out all right.
“It’s wonderful,” she said firmly, opening her fingers. “How long will it burn, sir?”
“Forever, if you want it to,” said Guntram. “Or you can turn it off by–”
He extended his finger, catching Phoebe’s eyes; she nodded. He touched the white portion of the base again and the light went out.
“–doing that. I thought it might be useful to you on short winter days.”
“It’s wonderful,” Phoebe repeated. “Now, let’s all go in and eat. Gervaise, you have something to say.”
Gervaise nodded, then bowed. “Master Guntram,” he said, “I hope you’ll honor me by sitting at my right hand. Pal, will you please face me at the foot of the table?”
The table was stretched full length, even though the eleven and ten year olds were serving it instead of eating. Gervaise carved the pork roast and loosened up considerably in the course of the evening. He even asked for the new light to be turned on at twilight; Phoebe did so with considerable ceremony, placing it on a wall shelf in place of the miniature portraits of her mother and father.
We talked while we ate. They all wanted to hear about Dun Add, what sort of crops the folk there grew and what the women wore. Guntram knew as little about the one as the other, it seemed to me, but he was polite and sometimes I could add a little from what I’d seen.
Then Phoebe said, “Master Guntram? Wouldn’t you say our Pal here is a fine young man?”
Guntram looked at me in surprise. “Why, certainly,” he said.
“Phoebe,” I said. “You shouldn’t–”
“Then why hasn’t he found a girl, do you suppose?” Phoebe plowed on. “Oh, not here I mean, but in Dun Add? There must be ever so many fine ladies in Dun Add, aren’t there?”
“This really isn’t something I know enough about to discuss,” Guntram said. I won’t say he was more embarrassed than I was–he couldn’t be–but he was sure embarrassed.
“Phoebe–” Gervaise said, a bit of roast lifted halfway to his mouth on knife point and his eyes bulging like a startled rabbit’s.
“I blame Ariel’s notions,” said Phoebe, paying no more attention to her husband than she had to me. “She taught the poor boy that women were as bad as poison snakes.”
“Mistress Phoebe,” I said, “stop that!”
I guess I’d raised my voice some, because everybody did stop. I said, “My mom was a good woman, and if she didn’t want me to grow up another Jacques the Peddler, well, that’s to the good, I think.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sure, Master Guntram,” Phoebe said, looking down at her plate.
“Ariel’s sister was a wild one,” Gervaise muttered. “It may be that Ariel got a bit carried away about wild women.”
He looked around and put on a big, false smile. “I’m thinking we could all do with a little more ale, right? I surely could!”
We stayed longer into the night than I’d hoped to, but politeness aside I wanted to make sure the whole family was comfortable with Guntram and me before we left. Gervaise embraced me when we left, saying how lucky they were to have me for a neighbor. He’d put down quite a lot of his own ale, more than I’d ever seen him drink before. That was between him and Phoebe, but I noticed she kept refilling his wooden cup every time it got low. I guess she was of the same mind as I was.
When we were well away from the house, Guntram said, “I apologize for not being more careful with the light, Pal.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, sir,” I said. “We’re just not used to the same things they are in Dun Add, is all.”
I cleared my throat and went on, “Guntram? You said the light was just a bauble. I didn’t see very many of them in the castle when I was there, though.”
“It’s not a big thing,” Guntram said. “But–no, they aren’t very common. Even in Dun Add. It just seemed something that would be particularly useful in, well, in Beune.”
In the sticks, he meant. Well, he didn’t have to apologize for thinking the truth.
“Ah, sir?” I said as we reached my house. “I suppose you’re tired and want to go to bed right away?”
“I don’t need to,” Guntram said. As we entered, he lighted the room with another lamp like the one he’d given to Phoebe. “Did you want to get to work on the weapon immediately?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “That is, I’d like to, but if you were tired…?”
“I think we can finish the work before I need sleep,” he said. He was smiling broadly.
We did finish it, with luck and the help of God, though I figured from the stars that it was within an hour of false dawn before we were done. I slept with a mind full of dancing hopes.
It was mid-morning before I awakened. Guntram was sitting on the stool, feeding worms to his hedgehog.
I got up and said, “I’m wrung out. You look chipper, though.” The gossamer golden web he’d woven to fill the tube was miles more difficult than the simple crystalline repair that I’d done.
The hedgehog, sitting on the table, wriggled his–her?–nose at me. Guntram lifted another earthworm from the basket of damp dirt which Gervaise’ boys had provided.