The spark, p.1

The Spark, page 1


The Spark

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The Spark

  Table of Contents









































  The Spark

  David Drake

  In the time of the Ancients the universe was united—but that was so far in the past that not even memory remains, only the broken artifacts that a few Makers can reshape into their original uses. What survives is shattered into enclaves—some tiny, some ruined, some wild.

  Into the gaps between settlements, and onto the Road that connects all human reality and the reality that is not human and may never have been human, have crept monsters. Some creatures are men, twisted into inhuman evil; some of them are alien to Mankind—

  And there are things which are hostile to all life, things which will raven and kill until they are stopped.

  A Leader has arisen, welding the scattered human settlements together in peace and safety and smashing the enemies of order with an iron fist. In his capital, Dun Add, the Leader provides law and justice. In the universe beyond, his Champions advance—and enforce—the return of civilization.

  Pal, a youth from the sticks, has come to Dun Add to become a Champion. Pal is a bit of a Maker, and in his rural home he's been able to think of himself as a warrior because he can wield the weapons of the Ancient civilization.

  Pal has no idea of what he's really getting into in Dun Add. On the other hand, the Leader and Dun Add have no real idea of what might be inside this hayseed with high hopes.

  THE SPARK: A story of hope and violence and courage. And especially, a story of determination.


  The RCN Series

  With the Lightnings • Lt. Leary, Commanding • The Far Side of the Stars • The Way to Glory • Some Golden Harbor • When the Tide Rises • In the Stormy Red Sky • What Distant Deeps • The Road of Danger • The Sea Without a Shore • Death’s Bright Day

  Hammer’s Slammers

  The Tank Lords • Caught in the Crossfire • The Sharp End • The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, Vols 1–3

  Independent Novels and Collections

  All the Way to the Gallows • Cross the Stars • Foreign Legions, edited by David Drake • Grimmer Than Hell • Loose Cannon • Night & Demons • Northworld Trilogy • Patriots • The Reaches Trilogy • Redliners • Seas of Venus • Starliner • Dinosaurs and a Dirigible • The Spark

  The Citizen Series with John Lambshead

  Into the Hinterlands • Into the Maelstrom

  The General Series

  Hope Reborn with S.M. Stirling (omnibus) • Hope Rearmed with S.M. Stirling (omnibus) • Hope Renewed with S.M. Stirling (omnibus) • Hope Reformed with S.M. Stirling and Eric Flint (omnibus) • The Heretic with Tony Daniel • The Savior with Tony Daniel

  The Belisarius Series with Eric Flint

  An Oblique Approach • In the Heart of Darkness • Belisarius I: Thunder Before Dawn (omnibus) • Destiny’s Shield • Fortune’s Stroke • Belisarius II: Storm at Noontide (omnibus) • The Tide of Victory • The Dance of Time • Belisarius III: The Flames of Sunset (omnibus)

  Edited by David Drake

  The World Turned Upside Down with Jim Baen & Eric Flint

  The Spark

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2017 by David Drake

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

  A Baen Books Original

  Baen Publishing Enterprises

  P.O. Box 1403

  Riverdale, NY 10471

  ISBN: 978-1-4814-8276-9

  eISBN: 978-1-62579-615-8

  Cover art by Todd Lockwood

  First printing, November 2017

  Distributed by Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Drake, David, 1945- author.

  Title: The spark / David Drake.

  Description: Riverdale, NY : Baen, [2017]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2017037363 | ISBN 9781481482769 (hardcover)

  Subjects: LCSH: Regression (Civilization)—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION /

  Science Fiction / Adventure. | FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Opera. |

  FICTION / Science Fiction / General. | GSAFD: Adventure fiction. | Science

  fiction. | Dystopias.

  Classification: LCC PS3554.R196 S68 2017 | DDC 813/.54—dc23 LC record available at

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Pages by Joy Freeman (

  Printed in the United States of America

  Electronic Version by Baen Books

  To Lynn Bessette

  A fellow Arthurian Enthusiast


  This one is different.

  In the late ’80s, on a whim, I turned themes from Norse mythology into Adventure Science Fiction. The result was Northworld. Normally I use Adventure SF as a synonym for Space Opera, but Northworld was something else again; like nothing else that I’d written or, to the best of my knowledge, that anybody else had written.

  The Spark is another whim, but a very different one.

  A twelfth-century French writer, Jean Bodel, referred to the three literary tropes, “matters,” that everyone (here meaning every writer, I believe) should know: the Matter of Rome, the Matter of France, and the Matter of Britain. These Matters are basically structures in which one can tell stories.

  The stories which fall into the Matter of Rome include various forms of the Alexander Romance, which is full of remarkable literary inventions (I definitely hope to do something with it, though probably as embellishment to other stories rather than using the plot directly), and the whole cycle of stories about Virgil the Magician, a character based on the poet Vergil but as surely a fantasy construct as Paul Bunyan. Avram Davidson did a series of stories about this Virgil, and I used some of the mythos in Monsters of the Earth.

  There are many other medieval tales in the Matter of Rome: those above are just two of my favorites. That’s the beauty of the Matters: they give a writer (now or a thousand years ago) any number of very different hooks on which to hang stories.

  The Matter of France covers Charlemagne and his Paladins. Again, this is a treasure-trove for a writer. One of the earliest Chansons de Geste, The Song of Roland, belongs to this Matter, as do the huge, discursive Orlando Inamorato and Orlando Furioso of the Italians Boiardo and Ariosto. Poul Anderson in Three Hearts and Three Lions, and Quinn Yarbro in Ariosto, have done extremely different modern takes on the Matter;
and one of these days I’m going to try something in that area also.

  The Matter of Britain involves King Arthur. From the eleventh century it has never ceased to be a major source and subject for writers. The Spark is one more example of that.

  The background of my plot comes from the Prose Lancelot, a large work by (probably) three French authors which appeared in the early thirteenth century. The tenor of The Spark, and some of the specific business, come instead from the slightly earlier Arthurian romances of Chretien de Troyes.

  The Lancelot is realistic in the sense of being non-fanciful. It may not make any historical sense, but there are no marvels to be found in it. Chretien is full of marvels and wonders, and that is the feel which I’m striving for.

  The tone of The Spark is partly that of Chretien (who was, after all, writing romances), but I also drew from The Idylls of the King. There are various kinds of ‘realism.’ The human sadness of, say, Merlin and Vivien, is every bit as true as the stark violence of The Dragon Lord, my first novel (which is also Arthurian).

  Finally, I adapted some of the business from English folktales. I think Chretien would have approved. (The writers of Lancelot would not have.)

  I said that The Spark used the same basic technique as Northworld, but to a different end. Northworld came from very harsh material, and when I wrote it I was just starting to climb up from the place I’d been since Viet Nam.

  I’m a much more cheerful person now than I was in 1988, and the Matter of Britain, even at its darkest, is much less bleak than the sleet, snow, and slaughter of Norse myths. The Spark isn’t set in an ideal world, but it’s a world striving to be ideal. That’s a world of difference.

  What really matters isn’t where a story comes from or what category it falls into but rather whether or not it’s a good story. I hope that you find The Spark to be a good story.

  Dave Drake

  But he by wild and way, for half the night,

  And over hard and soft, striking the sod

  From out the soft, the spark from off the hard,

  Rode . . .

  Pelleas and Ettarre

  Alfred, Lord Tennyson


  Arriving at Dun Add

  Neither my dog Buck nor me had ever been more than a day’s hike from Beune before, so I didn’t realize we were approaching Dun Add. There was a group of about a dozen of us by now, folks coming together on the Road as we got closer to the capital, and some of the others had been here before.

  Dame Carole lived in Dun Add, as a matter of fact. She was in her fifties and had been making a pilgrimage to religious sites with six people; six servants, I suppose, though one was a priest and Duncan was a man at arms. A rich woman might want protection anywhere on the Road, but from what Duncan had said to me they hadn’t gone far enough out from Dun Add that trouble was likely.

  Duncan pointed to the trees on the right side of the Road and said, “See how the Waste changes? It’s gotten reddish, you see? We’re near Dun Add.”

  “I see something,” I said. I didn’t see red—it was all sort of gray/green/brown. What to me had been medium-sized broadleafed trees for at least the past ten days, however, was now brush that mostly wasn’t as tall as I was. “I wouldn’t have known what it meant, though.”

  Folks didn’t see the Waste the same way, probably because there was nothing really there. Everything you see on the Road—and the Road itself, I guess—is in your mind. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t real, but everybody has a different reality.

  Buck whined. He was feeling something different too. It made him jumpy, or maybe he was feeling me be jumpy.

  I was going to Dun Add to join Jon’s Company of Champions. Beune is a nice place but it’s a long way from most everything—except for Not-Here, which in long past times spread over Beune too. Not-Here still wasn’t very far away.

  If you haven’t been anywhere but Beune, then you know you’re going to be over your head in any real town. I sure did, anyway. Going to Dun Add, the Leader’s capital, couldn’t make me any more lost than I’d have been in someplace smaller, and this is where I had to be to become a Champion.

  George was a farmer on a place called Wimberly. He must’ve been doing well because he was travelling to Dun Add just to see the place. He’d brought his daughter Mercy along, calling her Mike and dressing her in boy’s clothes. Mercy was fourteen and, well, well-grown. Despite the loose clothing.

  I guess George was afraid of what the men they met on the Road might do to his daughter, but the truth is that Mercy was way ready to be done to. I don’t figure it had been any different when she was back on Wimberly. For myself, I called her Mike in public, and after the first time, I saw to it that she never got me alone again.

  It seemed to me that Dame Carole knew that Mike was a girl too and that she was a lot more interested in Mercy than I was. I didn’t like to think about that—Carole was so old, for one thing!—but it was none of my business.

  On Beune we keep ourselves pretty much to ourselves. Besides being the way I’d been raised, it seemed like a good way to be.

  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, whic
h 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 landingplace, 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 traveller 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.

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