The Amber Arrow – Snippet 10
He plopped another amber bead into his mouth, took a sip of wine, and gulped it down. The flush of power was immediate, intense, and incredibly pleasurable.
A man might become a slave to sensations like this, Rossofore reflected. Might want more and more until the desire drove him crazy.
But not me.
I’m a master inquisitor, with training in self-abnegation to fall back on. With knowledge of what it takes to sacrifice for the greater good.
And besides, I do have more beads before I need to feast on the crown.
Which reminded him . . .
As soon as he had the crown in hand, Marchioness Valentine Archambeault, the so-called Queen of Vall l’Obac, must burn.
The fulgin didn’t know why it travelled north, only that it must. This drive wasn’t a compulsion exactly. More like a purpose. In the same way that water wasn’t compelled to be wet, it just existed to be wet.
So the fulgin existed to go north.
Seeking a girl.
A young woman.
It has taken an image from the Dark Angel Queen’s mind. In fact, it had been molded around that image, so that its every thought involved her. The girl.
The Dark Angel Princess.
She was darker of skin than the pale people of the north. Her hair was raven black. Her locks twisted into cascading curls. Her lips were full. Her features were fine boned.
The Queen Mother remembered.
Longed to shelter and get to know the daughter better.
The fulgin felt this. It had been formed in the queen’s mind, after all. But it couldn’t understand any of it.
The fulgin couldn’t love.
But it did know that the girl’s skin was as smooth and soft as a toadstool cap. That would help in identifying her.
The creature was naked except for a bag strung around its back. In the bag was the crown. The creature did not know beauty except for the crown. The beautiful crown. The amber crown. The Crown of the Eight Towers. Eight amber towers carved in one strong amber band. The Couronne de Huit Tours.
The crown was beauty.
It was every purpose the fulgin had.
The creature must protect it. Deliver it to the princess. For the most beautiful thing in the world would be the crown in the girl’s hands.
The crown on the girl’s head.
Then the creature could cease. Dissolve. It couldn’t die because it wasn’t really alive. But it would have finished its task. In complete happiness. Its purpose fulfilled.
There was a long way to go still.
The fulgin could feel the princess to the north, but she was not near. It must struggle on.
Travel by night.
Hide in shadows during the day.
No matter what, avoid pursuers.
For there were pursuers. Many of them.
Romans. The red-collared priest who burned people for fun. The priest that wanted to eat the crown.
Wanted to eat it almost as badly as the fulgin want to take the crown to the girl.
The fulgin could sense the priest’s greedy desire for the crown.
To be captured would be agony. All would be lost. And it could never die, but would live forever in the shadows, seeking a crown and a girl that were dead and gone.
It must not be captured. It must cross fields, forests, slink through villages. It must find the girl.
It must give her the crown.
Her mother, the Dark Angel Queen, had made the fulgin . . . made it not wise, but clever.
Good at hiding.
And very good at sneaking.
Chapter Nine: The Inn
Wulf’s company had spent a morning burying the Romans and their horses in the gully as best they could. It was enough to keep the ravens away for a day or so, which was the real purpose. Romans did not like pyres. And Wulf didn’t want to attract the attention a giant fire for bodies might draw, anyway.
Captain Max Jager had overseen the grisly task until midmorning. Then he’d called it done. They’d moved out.
Wulf would never forget the tangle of dead Roman cavalry and their horses. It wasn’t that he felt guilty. The Romans had invaded. They were spies. They had tried to kill him.
But he was beginning to realize that the more he fought, the bigger the toll it took on his memories. Those dead Romans were something you couldn’t forget
He was afraid that images like that might one day push a lot of the good memories that were more fragile from his mind.
By the late afternoon, Wulf’s band arrived in the village of Tjark. It was the southernmost outpost of the Mark of Shenandoah. Tjark was a crossroads for travelers, but Wulf wondered if the town were prepared for his company of one hundred soldiers to march in and want food and lodging.
And not just any one hundred, but one hundred soldiers wearing the insignia of the Mark of Shenandoah.
This badge was a red buffalo passant on a green field with a silver moon behind it.
The men-at-arms carried small shields–bucklers–that marked them as sworn to Wulf’s family. They were painted with a black-and-gold hammer on a red field. The hammer was the Dragon Hammer of Tjark, the symbol of the von Dunstigs, the rulers of the Mark of Shenandoah.
The soldiers rode the intelligent valley horse breed called kalters. There was also a small herd of cattle along with them. These were handled by buffalo people as cattle drovers, both male and female. Behind that was a train of mules carrying tents, food, and supplies. Of course, this was the mark, so many of the “men-at-arms” of the company weren’t humans, but a wide range of Tier. There were buffalo men, bear men, raccoon men, and centaurs. The mule drivers were mostly goat men, the fauns.
Near the middle of this band was Saeunn Amberstone. She rode bareback on a graceful white kalter mare named Kreide. Much of the time Saeunn was slumped over the neck of the horse, clinging to her mane. Even half-unconscious, Saeunn could stay on a horse. She had grown up riding on a huge ranch in the Amberstone Valley out in the Great West. Ravenelle kept a watch, but nobody was worried Saeunn would fall off.
Wulf knew this didn’t mean Saeunn was well. She wasn’t.
That was one reason he’d diverted southeast to the inn at Tjark, instead of crossing into the Wild Kingdoms many leagues to the west as he’d planned.
For the past week of traveling, Saeunn had been getting weaker each day. She was fading. Sleeping in tents and riding a horse were wearing her down even faster. She had to rest for a little while. In a real bed.
Wulf rode beside her. On his other side was Captain Jager. Jager was the leader of the armed company. Jager was a bobcat man. At first glance, he looked like a child on the horse he rode. Wulf knew from firsthand experience Jager’s courage, his grittiness, and his intelligence.
If an enemy underestimated Jager, they would wind up dead fast.
Wulf had seen it happen.
Ravenelle Archambeault rode on the other side of Saeunn. They were off the woodland path they’d been following for days and were on a wagon road called the Duke’s Highway.
Rainer rode to the side and a little behind Ravenelle. To the rear of this lead group were Ravenelle’s three servants. Then, on one of the massive draft horses the buffalo people rode–horses that dwarfed the kalters–rode the wise woman, Puidenlehdet.
Several other buffalo women were with her. Buffalo women traveled with their men on long journeys–and to war. There were experts at pitching tents and setting up camp quickly in any kind of weather. And, like Puidenlehdet, at treating wounds.
We won’t need tents tonight, Wulf thought, breathing a sigh of relief. We’re staying at the best inn in the land. Or so they say.
It was called the Apfelwein auf der Therme in Kaltish.
The Applewine at the Hot Spring.
They’d been on the trail for three and a half weeks. They’d made their way west from Raukenrose, the capital of the mark. The seat of Wulf’s family was at Raukenrose Castle. Then they’d turned south and wound through the ridges and valleys of the Greensmoke Mountains. Tjark was the largest settlement they’d seen in many days.