The Spark – Snippet 26
After we’d gone over a section, we came out of our trances and looked at what we needed for the repairs. I’d already asked the neighbors about what they had in the way of materials that we might need, and I sent a local lad–Faney, about my age but not quite right in the head–up to a storekeeper in the far north to see how much salt and other things there was. I didn’t want to leave Beune unless I had to, though I’d do that needs must.
The boat… well, you couldn’t say it was happy, really, the boat was just a thing like an axe or the roof of the shed. But it was learning to throw up information the way we wanted it, and sometimes it made suggestions. I wouldn’t have thought of using iron pyrites to get sulphur, but the boat strung various sources under each element. The gravel in central Beune has pyrites in it, so we bought a bunch of the cheap necklaces that girls from the district wore.
I say ‘we bought’ but at first it was Guntram. Frances had money and she never got tired of telling us so–only it wasn’t in a fashion we could spend here. The little wonders that Guntram made out of my bits and pieces were just what was called for.
The work went faster than I’d dreamed because after we fixed the part Guntram began on, the boat started to help. We’d come back after as much as we took of a night’s sleep and find that what we’d been working on was a lot farther along.
I realized that if the boat hadn’t been self-repairing, it wouldn’t have survived more or less complete. Everything else from the time of the Ancients was in scraps, much of it beyond even Guntram’s abilities to rebuild.
I really liked what we were doing. I’d been in pretty bad shape when I first got back to Beune. In my mind, I mean, though my shoulder where Easton hit me still ached when I got up in the morning.
To me, being a Maker was sort of like being tall: just a part of who I was. It wasn’t something I much cared about, and it sure hadn’t been what I dreamed about being. Now that I saw the difference we were making in the boat, I’d started to think that being a Champion wasn’t the only thing that was worth doing.
And sure, I say “we” were making a difference when it was mostly Guntram, but if I had the chance to do it again by myself, well, I’d learned a lot. The biggest thing was knowing where the repair circuits were and starting there.
Guntram and I quit work on the third day and trudged back to the house for supper. When we got there we found a ham roasting, potatoes cooking in their jackets, and a pot of greens hanging from the hook in the fireplace that hadn’t been used since mom died. I didn’t recognize the woman who was doing the cooking, but she curtseyed and said, “Master Pal, I’m Aggie, I’m Gammer Kleinze’s niece. Lady Frances has hired me.”
“Ah…,” I said. “Ah, the food smells really good, but….”
“You’re wondering how I’m paying for this,” Frances said, as she gathered up the accounts she’d been going over on the table.
In fact I hadn’t. I figured Guntram was paying for it; though my credit might run to a spread like this. I wouldn’t have put it past Frances to tell my neighbors to charge it to me.
“The money I brought can’t be spent here,” said Frances, putting the loose sheets of paper into a folder which in turn she transferred to a flat case. “However, I went to Marielles with a wardrobe suitable for a palace wedding. I’ve offered some for barter through Mistress Kleinze, thinking that they might be of interest to people here for the fabrics, but I gather they’re mostly being bought to be kept as-is–or at least modified to fit the purchaser.”
I was as tired as I’ve ever been in my life, and what part of my mind still worked stayed deep in the job Guntram and I were doing. When I heard that, though, I started to laugh. I was thinking of Borglum’s wife Mavis getting into an outfit made for Frances.
Maybe Mavis’ right leg would fit. The women of other farms that were doing well enough to afford fancy clothes weren’t a lot different from Mavis. A few of the younger daughters, maybe. But our taste on Beune doesn’t run to women built like sticks, or to men either. My neighbors all thought that mom ought to fatten me up so I looked healthy.
Frances didn’t look best pleased when I laughed. I suppose she didn’t know why, and I’m not sure she’d have been any happier if she had understood.
“I’m used to paying my own way,” she said, sounding peevish. “And I told you that I’ve managed the estate’s accounts for years. I assure you that I understand trade.”
“Thank you for your initiative, Lady Frances,” said Guntram. “This looks like a fine meal, far better than what I would normally eat at home.”
That’s what I should’ve said, I guess. Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but I should’ve tried. Mom had tried to teach me company manners, but we didn’t have enough company for me to practice on.
“There’s a table coming,” Frances said, “but it won’t arrive until tomorrow. For now we’ve borrowed this from Phoebe.”
For a moment I couldn’t place the table that had replaced my puncheon; then I realized that it was Gervaise’ old one that he’d moved to his chicken coop after he bought my house and furniture. He and the boys must’ve spent hours sanding it clean before they brought it up here.
“This looks fine to me,” I said, smiling at Frances. I was hoping to make up for having laughed.
“I’m sure it does,” Frances said. “To you. There will be a walnut table tomorrow, and this–” she tapped it “–can go back to your neighbor.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said and backed out of the way as Aggie put out the place settings. That was about the smartest thing I’d managed since I stepped through the door.
It was the best meal I’d had in Beune since dinner at Phoebe’s the night Guntram arrived.
Guntram and I had the repairs near completed by noon of the fifth day we’d been working. We came back to the house together.
“Would you like me to ask her?” Guntram said.
I surely would like him to do it, but it was my job. “Sir, you’ve done most of the work when it was me who took the job on. This is something I can do, so I’m going to.”
Guntram nodded. “As you please,” he said.
I didn’t now how he felt about it. Probably he didn’t have an opinion one way or another. It didn’t matter anyway, because I’d already decided what was right.
Frances rose from the chair she’d set on the stoop. She’d moved into the house after spending the first night on Beune in the boat. Guntram and I slept on shake-downs in the shed. Baga had been with us at first, but moved into the widow Herisa’s house a few days ago. He’d been eating with her too and I guess helping around the farm. Everybody was happy with the situation, anyway.
“Have you completed the task?” Frances said. “Can I get on to Dun Add now?”
“Almost,” I said. I swallowed and went on, “Lady Frances, there’s one more thing we need to make it all right; that’s manganese.”
I nodded to Guntram. “Now, Guntram brought some of the hardest elements to find along with him,” I said. “That’s why we got as much done as we did. But he didn’t bring manganese and it’s not something that shows up here concentrated enough for us to use.”
“Will the boat work without it?” Frances said, frowning. “Surely it will, because it got this far with so much more lacking?”
“Ma’am,” I said, “it’ll work, but it won’t be content.” I’d almost said “won’t be happy,” but it was a boat, not a person or even a dog. “Ma’am, that necklace you wore when you first came here, the purple stone?”
“Yes, the jade I wore with the violet dress,” she said, frowning harder. “What of it?”
“The boat says the stone has enough manganese in it,” I said. “Just one bead ought to do if it’s one of the really purple ones. Can I have a bead to grind up and finish the job?”
“You want part of the necklace my grandmother gave me on my twelfth birthday,” Frances said. There wasn’t a hint of what was going on in her mind. “So that you can make a boat happy?”
“Ma’am, I didn’t say that,” I said. That was almost a lie, because I’d sure thought it.
“I’ll get the necklace,” Frances said. “I put it away when I sold that dress.”
I powdered the bead by hammering it in a linen bag that Aggie had whip-stitched from a scrap she’d found in mom’s rag bag. I could’ve had Phoebe do the same thing, but I don’t know that I’d have thought of that. Likely I’d just have folded the cloth over the bead.
Guntram was in a trance with me, but he had me do all the work. It wasn’t difficult, not after what we’d done already. There was even manganese left after the boat told me that the job was complete, so when I came out of my trance I transferred it from the ready-use tray to a storage hopper.