The Amber Arrow – Snippet 01
The Amber Arrow
Ursel Keiler was thinking about him again.
Lord Wulfgang von Dunstig.
Third son of Duke Otto and Duchess Malwin.
Her . . . what? Friend? Maybe not even that.
She hoped not. What she felt was real.
Ursel prided herself on being the sensible sort, the kind of person who didn’t give in to impossible dreams. She’d known when she was young that she would never have the muscles to shoot an arrow three field-lengths. So she’d concentrated on accuracy.
Then just before she’d turned seventeen last year, she’d found she did have the strength. And, because of all her hard work, she also had the skill to hit a moving target at that distance.
But persistence could only take you so far in love.
It was either there or it wasn’t.
On Wulf von Dunstig’s side, it definitely wasn’t.
Meanwhile, here she was out in the middle of the Shwartzwald Forest–a forest that was going to belong to her one day. She was on a task important to her father, the earl. Important to the entire Mark of Shenandoah if what she suspected was true.
But what was she doing?
Feeling like a lovesick idiot.
Picturing his blue eyes. Intense. That cowlick that wouldn’t let his hair fall over them.
His arms. His torso. She’d seen him naked–at least from the waist up. He looked like a guy that had been forced to exercise a quarter-day every day since he was six-years-old was going to look. Wiry. Muscled.
And what was even more attractive, Wulf didn’t even care what he looked like. The fact was that he really was more of a scholar than a warrior. He quoted the skalds from memory. He had carried her scarf into battle because the heroes from the sagas did things like that.
He was . . . exactly what she wanted.
One kiss. That was all they had shared. Or would.
He’d made it clear Ursel wasn’t going to be his choice.
Her foolish heart was the last thing she needed to be worrying about at the moment. But she couldn’t help it. She’d felt this way for months. It was like she was carrying around a knife in the pit of her stomach. For a while the knife would float there. Then it would twist and stab her with another painful flash.
The pain was one third intense desire.
One third gloom.
One third stupid pointlessness.
I have to get over him, she told herself.
But doing it wasn’t as easy as saying it. She hadn’t seen Wulf for two months, curse it to cold hell. Hadn’t seen him since her last visit to Raukenrose. And her feelings had gotten stronger, and everything had gotten worse.
It wasn’t so bad when she was with him. Then she could see him with her, the beautiful immortal one. Saeunn. In those times, Ursel actually felt more at peace.
How could she compete with Lady Saeunn Amberstone, after all?
The yearning died down, and she felt silly for even having this . . . silly lovesickness–or whatever it was.
It was when she was apart from him that the knife plunged back in. It twisted inside her at the weirdest moments. Like now, when she might be about to kill a man.
The knife cutting into her soul.
I’m not going to let that happen. You make your own destiny, Ursel thought. Like these idiots who are stalking me are making theirs.
Ursel had told everyone she was going hunting, and that’s what she was doing–in a way. Strange and dangerous creatures had been reported from the far west woods. She was tracking them. Normally the earl, her foster-father, would have dispatched his trappers to take care of a problem with wolves attacking livestock or a bobcat threatening children in a forest village.
Ursel had decided to act on the reports herself. She suspected that the strange creatures were not animals at all. She didn’t want them killed, even though they had been feeding on farmers’ livestock and making a nuisance of themselves.
They were dangerous. They had to be dealt with. But not destroyed.
So she had decided to find the creatures herself.
She’d been very close.
Then the creatures had caught wind of men. Ursel’s pursuers. They scattered and fled.
Her plan was spoiled.
These men following her, whoever they were, had spoiled it. And now she had to deal with whoever had decided following her trail was a good idea.
She was in a very bad mood.
Ursel reached for an arrow to nock to her bowstring. She didn’t take her eyes from her man-quarry, but trusted her sense of touch to choose the right arrowhead. Her fingertips brushed the goose-feather fletching of an arrow in her quiver. One of the feather vanes had a small notch cut in it. Her fingers instantly reacted to this. The arrowhead was a bodkin.
Punches through metal. Didn’t stick, though.
Not what she wanted here.
She moved to the next arrow. It had smooth fletching.
Swallowtail arrowhead. All-around messenger of death.
Her fingers chose this one. It was in between the bow guides in an eyeblink, nocked in another blink.
Her target was a man. She knew he was with a group of six or seven. They were quiet. Probably thought they were completely silent, but she’d spent her life listening to this forest. She knew when something didn’t sound right.
They believed they were still following her. They were mistaken. She’d doubled back and crossed her own path, while they passed her by and kept going. They were following sign she’d left early in the day–before she’d realized there was someone in the deep forest tracking her.
Now she was stalking them.
Him, the leader.
She was sure the others were following one person. It was what the sign on the ground and bushes told her. A broken twig here, a footprint scuff there. These told her that somebody was taking point position, and the others were following his lead.
They were walking along a game path she often used. She knew they’d stay on it if they could, since it was easier going. She’d trailed them for a watch or so, then taken a shortcut over a ridge and moved ahead of them to a spot where she knew the game trail would lead.
She’d waited for them to come to a clearing beneath a flinty outcrop. There she had both a totally unblocked line of sight on them, and cover for herself. The man moved into the clearing. Then a few eyeblinks later, his companions came from the forest. They were spaced about ten paces apart on either side of him.
Yes, six of them–which made seven including the lead man, her target.
The man was copper skinned, with a broad face and sharp features.
Young. Handsome, if she’d thought about it.
High cheekbones that made him look overly proud.
He was the leader, or at least the person walking in front as they made their way through the forest.
And he was a Skraeling. His ancestors were the first men in Freiland. Some said they’d been there even longer than the elves.