The Amber Arrow – Snippet 08
“As Rome’s highest representative in the kingdom at present, I am the Hand of the Bishops, so yes, I am in charge of its fate.”
“Poor Count Lerocher,” the queen murmured.
“Your sympathy is misguided. He was a heretic.”
“You would know, Magister.”
“Marchioness, the man confessed to sacrilege and crimes against the Colonial Dispensation. He allowed his bloodservants Roman surnames. He made midnight sacrifices to the Kalte gods to beg for good tobacco crops.”
“And you got him to confess this after only a little prodding with red-hot pokers?” the marchioness said. “Amazing.”
“The Resonance of the Faith demanded his confession, not me. But it is my task as a master inquisitor to bring the heretic into harmony.”
“With the use of the whip and rack, I’m sure,” Valentine said. Rossofore detected the marchioness’s obvious sarcasm, but decided to ignore it. He had more important matters to attend to.
“Sometimes the body must suffer so that the soul can be saved.”
He’d thought the young Countess Lerocher a self-serving coquette. It had turned out that the young girl loved the old man after all. How disgusting and unnatural!
She came to Rossofore and pled with him to keep her husband from burning at the stake. She offered him nearly everything, even–he thought with disgust–herself as a mistress.
Then Rossofore had named the price he’d intended to demand all along.
“The Golden Rose of Lerocher would be suitable atonement for what Count Lerocher has done,” Rossofore had said.
The little countess’s hand had gone to her mouth in shock.
“Please don’t ask that of us,” she pleaded. “It’s the foundation of the family fortune. If you take it, we’ll be ruined. My husband would rather burn than give it up.”
“Do you care nothing for your husband’s soul, Countess? Would you rather he never resonated with the Emptiness?” Rossofore asked. “I remind you that the souls of the excommunicated are doomed to walk in the underworld forever.”
“Yes, I know it.”
“The Golden Rose stands between your husband and the Blessed Void. With its weight upon his conscience, he will never ascend from this world of suffering.”
Even then, she had wavered. So he’d ordered the stakes erected and the wood piled high for burning. There were ten heretics currently held in the Montserrat dungeon.
He sent a messenger to the countess saying that one of those stakes was for Lerocher.
The messenger came back bearing the Golden Rose in a strongbox.
“The count confessed,” Rossofore told Valentine. “And the faith was merciful. He did not burn.”
“You had the old man hanged in his cell,” the marchioness replied dryly.
“Yes, but we released the body to the widow to be buried in consecrated ground with a wafer of blessed celestis on his tongue. This is the foundation for passage to eternity, as you know, Marchioness.”
Rossofore looked from Valentine down to the necklace again and smiled.
There is nothing that this old woman can do about it, either.
He took one of the amber beads in his hands and gave the metal that enclosed it a powerful twist.
“No!” Valentine gasped.
He gave it another twist. The bead popped from its casing and into Rossofore’s hand.
“That is a priceless relic from the first days of the colony,” Valentine said, her voice trembling with dismay.
Well I certainly wiped that arrogant smile from her face, Rossofore thought. Good.
One by one, as the queen watched, horrified, he twisted the other amber stones out in the same way. He threw aside the rest of the necklace. It was gold, and worth a small fortune, but was useless to him. He held the amber beads before his eyes.
Lovely. Perfect. Concentrated dasein. The power that had made the world, and that could unmake it.
He stepped over to his writing desk near to the window where a wine pitcher and glasses sat.
He smiled at Valentine. “Join me in glass of wine, Marchioness?”
Rossofore poured himself a glass. He began to pour one for Valentine, but she shook her head and put a hand over the top of the glass.
The obsidian Raven Ring of l’Ange Noir glinted on her right hand. The Montserrat rivulet topaz sparkled in a bracelet on her wrist. She wore a subtle and no doubt expensive perfume, a mixture of jasmine, vanilla, and musk. Rossofore felt for a moment that he was in the presence of a creature who maybe was a little more than merely human.
A true queen.
Mother of a kingdom.
He quickly shook the feeling off, however. No time to be foolish.
Rossofore raised the wine glass, then put one of the amber beads into his mouth. He rolled it around on his tongue.
Valentine whimpered at the sight.
“Don’t!” she gasped.
The bead was warm. There was no taste to it. This always disappointed him. Pure power ought to have a taste.
“Blood and marrow!” the marchioness exclaimed. “Are you crazy?”
Rossofore smiled. He took a sip of wine.
“No!” Valentine cried.
She lunged at him, but the guards were nearby to hold her back. There was no need. She controlled herself at the last moment.
At least she has some self-dignity and good breeding, Rossofore thought. For a colonial.
One after another, he swallowed five more of the dragon amber beads. He washed each down with another sip of wine.
Each swallow drew another whine of agony from the marchioness.
It took only a moment for the power to blossom. He felt the warmth flow through his body. His skin began to shine, the dasein inside him producing its own light. His mind raced with a thousand thoughts and plans. If he gazed into a looking glass, which he’d done before when the amber flush was upon him, he knew he would see his eyes glowing like reddish-yellow orbs of fire.
He stretched out his hands. They were crinkling. No, they were scaling, like a fish. A reptile.
He was becoming a dragon.
A man-dragon. A mandrake. A creature of pure dasein.
“Dark Angel protect us!” the marchioness shouted. She backed across the room at the sight of Rossofore. She would have fled entirely, but the guards would not let her pass.
He walked to the citadel window and looked out over the stronghold of Montserrat, his base in this cursed colonial land.
“Come here!” he commanded Valentine. He saw her try to resist, but with the amber power behind it, his voice was compelling. It’s dasein was irresistible. She turned and stumbled toward him.
“Stand beside me at the window,” he continued. Valentine did as he said. He smiled. “Watch this, Marchioness.”
Rossofore raised his now-scaly hands and stuck them out the open window. He clapped them.
A great peal of thunder boomed through the city.
Lightning forked across the sky, then crashed somewhere near the horizon.
The people looked like bugs from here in the tower.
Roaches, Rossofore thought. Like those cursed colonial Palmetto bugs. Ugh.
And like roaches, they scurried in all directions, startled and frightened, but not knowing which way to go.
He clapped his hands again. This time the thunder was louder. It shook the ground. A blast of wind flowed through the town and the people below were blown from their feet.
Then the wind stopped. The people slowly picked themselves back up. After a moment, they went back on their ways.
“I did that,” Rossofore said. “Me!”
“This is sacrilege,” Valentine whispered.
Rossofore chuckled. “How can it be, Marchioness? I’m the one who decides what sacrilege is in these cursed colonies. That is my appointed task.”
He reached over and pulled Valentine closer to himself.
The old daydream returned.
She did smell so good. Rich. From some other world.
A beautiful world beyond the filthy orphanage and Brother Luigi’s leather straps and knotted rope whips.
Rossofore shook his head to clear it.
No, no, no. She isn’t my mother. She may not be anyone’s mother soon.
But he would have to find out the name of whatever perfume she was using. He might recommend it to the true ladies of Rome.
Later. There would be plenty of time.
“What you are seeing is dasein,” he said. “Pure power. You colonials have had it for generations. But you’re ignorant. You didn’t know how to unlock it.”
Rossofore took another bead, put it in his mouth. Swallowed.
“But I do.”