The Spark – Snippet 38
CHAPTER 16: Arriving in a Different Dun Add
I told Baga to leave the boat closed up after we arrived on Dun Add. I spent a while looking about the landing place through the boat itself.
I saw the Herald of the Gate waiting pompously for the hatch to open. That made me smile. Judging what’d happened when I came to Dun Add by the Road, that just meant that other travelers were going to get into the town with less pointless hassle than if the Herald was able to interfere with his clerk.
There were three boats on the landing place before we arrived. I recognized one from my first visit. The Leader must have a boat of his own, though it didn’t have to be here on the landing place–Camm had kept his on a country estate which Hellea had owned.
Baga said it was tricky to locate a place in the interior of a node when you were coming from the Waste, since you didn’t have the Road for a guide. It could be done, though.
I came out of my trance and stretched. “Things seem about what they were before, Baga,” I said. “You can open her up and I’ll go look for Guntram.”
“Are those the clothes you plan to wear, boss?” Baga said. He was standing by the hatch, but he wasn’t touching the lever that opened it.
“Why shouldn’t I?” I said. I’d worn ordinary clothes on during the voyage from Marielles. I looked down at them, made a face, and ducked into my room.
“You look really nice in the red,” Baga said. “But they’re all nice.”
I put on the red suit. It was as bad as having Lady Frances along. Though she’d have ordered me which outfit to wear, not made a suggestion.
I wondered how she was doing. If ever there’d been a woman who should’ve been born in a man’s body, it was her. I’d never heard her complain, though. She just worked around the things that came up.
“Do you like me now?” I asked Baga. I transferred my shield and weapon into the pockets of this tunic. This hardware was so light that I didn’t need a harness to hold it as I’d had for the pieces I’d converted from other uses.
“Every inch the lord, boss,” Baga said. He opened the hatch; Buck and I stepped into Dun Add.
“Welcome, Champion of Beune!” called Guntram, standing beside the Herald. He must’ve arrived after I came out of my trance.
“Guntram!” I said, surprised in a good way. I clasped arms with him while the Herald pursed his lips and sucked them in again. “I was wondering how I’d find you.”
“I was observing on the jousting field and saw your boat arrive,” Guntram said. “Though I didn’t know it was yours until I’d gotten closer. I hope you’ll allow me to go over it after we’ve gotten you settled here.”
“Sure!” I said. “We can do that right now if you want!”
“No, first we need to take care of formalities, here and at the palace,” Guntram said. He reached down and rubbed Buck’s ears; Buck had recognized a friend and was nuzzling Guntram’s knee.
The Herald cleared his throat. “I don’t mean to interrupt your lordships,” he said, “but need to jot a few things down. Did you say ‘Beune’, sir? I don’t believe I’ve heard of that place before?”
“That’s of no consequence, fellow,” Guntram said. “Lord Pal is on Dun Add now. He will be entering the Hall of Champions shortly. If you need details, I’m sure that his boatman can satisfy you.”
I knew there was absolutely no side on Guntram–he’d been right at home with my neighbors on Beune, eating the food they gave us and cleaning his plate like he liked it. Here with this fat fool, though, Guntram was the important Maker and a friend of the Leader. Mom had called that choosing your pattern to fit your cloth.
“Of course, sir,” the Herald said, writing on his notebook. “Lord Pal of Beune, entering the Aspirants’ Chamber.”
“Baga, you and Maggie are free to go off when you’ve satisfied this guy,” I called. “I’ll be back by evening, or anyway I’ll send word about where we’re to be.”
We started up toward the palace by the straight, broad path. “Baga’s my boatman,” I explained to Guntram, not that he’d asked. “He volunteered to be my attendant if I stay in Dun Add. Though sir? I haven’t decided to try for the Champions again. I’m just thinking about it.”
Guntram chuckled. “I’d say that on Beune there’d be very little employment for arms of such quality as yours,” he said. “Wouldn’t you?”
“What I had before was good enough for Beune when I needed anything at all,” I said. “And sir? I thanked you for the shield when you gave it to me, but I’ve used it now. It’s a wonderful piece of work, very handy.”
“There are sturdier shields,” Guntram said, “but none that I’ve seen which were as light in use. You’ve given your arms a fair test then, you believe?”
I thought of Walters. “Yes,” I said. “It was a fair test.”
I’d asked Lady Frances if she could do something for Walters; she’d had him made doorkeeper at Philip’s bungalow. Even with a peg leg, he could handle any trouble that was likely to happen there.
“I’ll show you something of the court before you enroll,” Guntram said. “We’ll drop Buck off in the stables and I’ll take you there. And I won’t tell you–”
He paused till I met his eyes.
“–that you have a duty to Mankind not to waste your abilities, Pal. Because you already know that.”
I swallowed. “Yessir,” I said.
I don’t know what I expected the Leader’s Court to be like. Guntram took us up a wide staircase to the third floor. The stairs weren’t crowded but we met a couple dozen people on them. Some nodded to Guntram or spoke, but others just turned their eyes aside or even squeezed against the opposite railing.
The attendant at the open door opposite the stairhead bowed to Guntram. We walked in at the top of a double-high room shaped like a half funnel. Curving ranks of seats sloped down to the floor from where we stood. There was room for at least two hundred people to sit there, but only fifty or so were taken. Some were warriors but the rest looked like clerks, a few of them women.
Jon, the Leader, was seated on a dais facing the ranks of seats. I gasped and stepped back against the wall when I realized who I was looking down at.
From this far away–and looking down, like we were–I didn’t have a good view of Jon’s face. His gold robe caught the light from the high windows around all four sides of the room; the ceiling must stick up above the roof of the rest of the building around it.
“On the basis of the petition which has been reviewed by my counselors…,” Jon said, speaking to the young man facing him at the foot of the dais. There were four chairs to either side of the dais, five of the total occupied. “I order the following: in forty days time the petitioner and his brother Arne will present themselves before me for adjudication regarding the division of their father’s estate. Both parties may bring additional evidence to place before my counselors.”
“Arne will never come just because I tell him to!” the man facing him said. He sounded whiny and frustrated.
I could hear them both just as clear as if I was right across a table from them. I’d never been in such a big room where you could hear so clearly. I wondered if Guntram had found an Ancient machine that made it happen this way.
“I will discuss the matter with my Champions and see if one volunteers to accompany you back to Austerlitz,” Jon said. “If not, I’ll assign one in a few days. Are there any volunteers in the hall now?”
No one spoke up, though I saw several of those in the audience whispering to neighbors.
“Well, report back tomorrow,” Jon said. “Next petitioner.”