The Spark – Snippet 36
People were feeding into the hall, their feet shuffling. Even though they were trying to be quiet, they made a lot of noise. It was good that Frances had thought to move the bench up.
“We got there and the guard wasn’t there, but Lord Pal was,” Walters said. Either he’d heard Frances call me “Lord” or he just thought I’d like it. Which I suppose I did, though I kinda blushed inside to hear it. “He and Lady Frances had already rescued the girl. He beat me fair, and that bloody fool Camm didn’t even give him a fight for all that expensive gear he bragged about. Good riddance, I say.”
“My lord Prince, I had nothing to do with this,” Hellea said.
“Liar!” Frances shouted. “I demand trial by combat! My champion will meet whoever the whore finds to defend her–or she stands dishonored and a proven liar, to pay the forfeit I set!”
Everyone stared at Hellea, Philip included. Frances had gotten in a good one when she pointed out that Hellea’s scheme would’ve lost him the dowry.
Hellea looked around the room without seeing much that pleased her. “I have forty days to find a champion!” she said.
“I’ll tell you right now, lady,” Walters said. “You’re not going to find anybody on Marielles who’ll do you any good against Lord Pal.”
He coughed; I guess it was supposed to be a laugh. “You know what’s funny?” he said. “Camm told me that you and him were going to be running Marielles soon and if I played my cards right, it could be really good for me. I was thinking about taking him up on the offer.”
“That’s not true!” Hellea said. “I’m not responsible for any lies Camm might have told!”
“Prince Philip,” Frances said, not shouting this time. “Let the whore have her forty days, but send her away now. If you don’t, Eloise and I will return to Holheim and there’ll be no marriage. Ever!”
“Oh, Frances, no!” Eloise said, her face scrunching up in horror. “You promised I could marry the prince!”
“We’ll never be safe here while Hellea remains,” Frances said. “I’m sorry, dear, but she goes or we do.”
I believed that tone. So did Eloise, because she started crying on her sister’s shoulder.
I guess Philip believed her too, because he said, “Mistress Hellea, you must leave Marielles within the hour, with the clothes you’re standing in and ten–no, one ounce of silver, but paid in copper coins. That’s more than you had when you arrived.”
“Philip, you can’t do this to me!” Hellea said. She wasn’t crying–I wonder if she ever cried?–but she seemed to be shrinking; and she looked a lot older.
“Guards, get her out of here,” Philip said. “Now, now! And if you come back before forty days are up, Hellea, I’ll have you executed, I swear I will!”
“Red, you and your fellows come with me,” Frances said. “We’re taking Lady Hellea to her rooms and watching while she changes into something more suitable for the Road. Eloise, talk to your fiancé till I get back. You’re getting married after all, as soon as forty days is up.”
The three guards and Hellea went out the door in the left side of the hall. Eloise trotted around the table and threw herself into Philip’s arms.
As for me, I relaxed. For the first time in way too long.
There was a good crowd around the boat the next day. Mostly they were just watching–news of the excitement in the palace had gotten around and brought folks to see if there’d be more of the same today. I sure hoped they’d be disappointed in that.
There was a fair number of tradesmen, bringing the stuff Baga had ordered from the list I’d given him, the stuff we’d need to put Camm’s boat in shape. I let Baga and Stefan check that in.
Stefan was the fellow Baga had met here, a boatman too. He and Baga had gone off in the boat for an hour, and Baga said he was good though he hadn’t had much practice. Stefan would bring Camm’s boat back when we finished repairing it.
My boat. I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with a boat. I thought maybe I could give it to Guntram, though he couldn’t guide it either.
Buck whined beside me. I looked back and saw Frances coming toward me from the town. The guard Red was walking a step behind her and carrying a small leather bag.
“Ma’am?” I said.
I needed to talk with her about money. Camm’s boat was in really bad shape; the things I’d need for repairs were going to cost a fair amount. Back home I could’ve gotten time or anyway worked things out from the sellers, though some of the stuff–some of the metals especially–probably couldn’t have been had on Beune.
I figured Frances could arrange a loan for me from the bankers here. The boat was worth a lot more than what I’d have to pay to put it in shape, after all. And I figured Frances would be willing to trust me.
“Good afternoon, Lord Pal,” she said as she came up to me. “We have business to transact.”
“Ma’am, it’s all right,” I said. “You don’t have to call me ‘Lord’ any more. You’re in charge now, I guess, and you don’t have to put anything on to get the prince to take you for a lady.”
Frances sniffed. “No, I certainly don’t,” she said. “But for the title–I’ve seen you at home and I judge you’re a squire on Beune if anyone is. You carry yourself as a gentleman should, and you have a nobleman’s equipment.”
I grinned. “Ma’am, I’m a farmer,” I said. “Everybody on Beune is a farmer, pretty much.”
“The equal of anyone on Beune, which is enough,” Frances said. She gave me the first smile I’d seen on her face. “I assure you that nobody here will argue with me. If you’re wise, you’ll carry that honor when you leave. You deserve it, and the way you handle your weapon will convince anyone you meet.”
“Ma’am, I guess that’s true,” I said, “but it’s not somebody I want to be. Thank you, though.”
She sniffed again. “It’s your business,” she said, “but you’re a fool. No matter.”
She turned to the guard and said, “Give him the satchel, Red.”
Red handed it to me and made a little bow before he stepped back. I guess he was chief guard now, though on Marielles that wasn’t much to say.
The bag weighed five or six pounds, more than I’d expected. I wondered if I was supposed to open the tie closure.
“This is a thousand Marielles crowns,” Frances said. “Each one weighs slightly more than a Dun Add dragon, though I don’t know how much they’ll be discounted as you move farther away from Marielles.”
“Ma’am!” I said. “This is way more than I need to borrow. I figure ten–well, maybe twelve–would pay for all the goods I’m buying.”
“What exactly do you plan to do?” Frances said. “If you don’t mind telling me.”
“I don’t mind,” I said. Why would I? “Baga’s going to carry me back to the place we left the other boat. I’ll fix it up and Stefan will bring it back. Ah–I’ll be back before the challenge in forty days, don’t worry. Even if there’s a problem with fixing the other boat, Baga will bring me back for that.”
“Hellea won’t find a champion,” Frances said with contempt. “If she were ten years younger I might worry, but not now. Still, best to have you ready.”
Her lips pursed. “The node where we left the boat is named Dewbranch, by the way.”
“It is?” I said. “Dewbranch, then. I didn’t figure it had a name.”
“Lady Eloise named it,” Frances said. Her voice was dry as dust in summer. “She lived there longer than I imagine anyone else has, so I suppose she has a right.”
She glanced over her shoulder, I guess to see that Red had backed well away. She took a deep breath and said, “That money isn’t a loan, Pal. It’s payment for what you did for me and for my sister.”
“Ma’am!” I said. “I didn’t help you for money!”
“No, you didn’t,” Frances said. “But it’s the only way I have to repay you.”
I thought for a moment that she was going to say something more. Instead, she turned and walked back toward town. The guard followed her.