The Amber Arrow – Snippet 12

The Amber Arrow – Snippet 12

Chapter Ten: The Servant Girl

The fulgin paused on the outskirts of a large plantation. This farm grew a mixture of cotton and tobacco, with some wheat and corn mixed in to feed the bloodservants. The creature didn’t know anything about this. It only understood that here, at this place, were others here who had a master, just as it did. A master who answered to the Dark Angel Queen.

And it could sense that the master of this place did not belong to the red-collared priest and the soldiers who were chasing it. Who wanted to steal the crown from it.

Here the master’s master was the creature’s own mistress. The fulgin could smell it in the air. Here it could hide away from the Romans for a little while.

***

Marguerite was six years old. People told her she had far too much imagination for a servant girl.

For instance, right now she could see something in the shadows that none of the other adults could. It looked like a shadow in some ways, but this thing was darker.

It’s the kind of shadow a shadow would make, Madeleine thought.

She had spent the morning at chores around the bloodservant quarters while most of the adults were away in the fields. She fed the chickens. She spent time grinding corn for the pone that all the bloodservants would eat come supper. Everybody had to take a turn at that.

In the afternoon she went to the mansion to get the waste food and table scraps that she would use to slop the hogs. Of course she would also pick the good pieces out, especially the meat. Then she gave the rest to the hogs.

She was very proud that whatever she could find in the slop would be extra for everyone to eat, and how good she was at picking it out. After supper, if she had found something special, Mamma and Papa, or one of the uncles or aunts, would pat her on the head and tell her she was a good girl and that she done a very good job.

They would also be sure to remind her that she was never to mention to the master’s family, or the servants in the house, that she picked through the slop and kept things from the pigs. She was also to keep it out of her mind as much as possible. But that was easy, because the master and his family seldom got into the mind of a six-year-old bloodservant even though they could. They could get into everybody’s minds if they concentrated hard enough.

It was during her chores that she noticed the shadow thing lurking about. It didn’t seem particularly dangerous to her. It seemed more afraid then anything. So now and again she would throw it a scrap, or a handful of chicken feed. She would walk away and when she came back the food was gone. On the first day, she had tried to tell Papa about it, but he had looked at her like she was crazy and told her never to mention this again.

It was well known that sometimes children who weren’t right in the head were sold away to work in the amber mines. She had to fit in and never give anyone a suspicion that she was different–or she might end up at the bottom of a pit and never see the sun again.

This was enough to scare Marguerite into staying quiet about the shadow thing. But she knew what her eyes were seeing. It wasn’t made up, it wasn’t like an imaginary friend to talk or sing a song to.

The shadow thing was real.

Then something bad happened. On the second day after seeing the shadow thing, she leaned over a little too far while slopping the hogs and fell into the hog pen. Mamma had told her to be careful and she knew better, but the rails were so rickety and the hogs so hungry.

This was very bad.

Hogs could kill you, especially if you were little. A man could kick them away, but even a man couldn’t kick a dozen pigs away if they thought he had some kind of food. You could get trampled, then eaten yourself.

Hogs would eat anything.

Hogs would most certainly eat little girls.

As soon as she fell in, some of the meanest of the boars came right for her. She tried to scramble up the split-rail fence. She almost made it, too, but then she gave in to temptation and looked back at all those hungry hogs. Her hands trembled so much that she couldn’t make herself climb anymore. She wasn’t going to get out in time. Those hogs were going to bite her and pull her back into the pen.

Then the shadow thing appeared.

It just showed up right where she had been standing in the dirt of the pen. The hogs couldn’t see it. No more than the adults could, she reckoned. But then the shadow thing started twisting. It started turning around and around like it was dancing or happy and twirling. And there was proof that it was real right here, because the dirt of the pen started kicking up. It started swirling up in a dust devil that the shadow thing was making by all of its twirling and whirling.

The hogs didn’t like this at all.

The dust scared them.

Where had that wind come from? What did it mean?

Pigs were pretty smart but they weren’t smart enough to figure that out. The big boar who scared Marguerite so much started squealing in fright. He ran away. The other hogs followed. She finally felt the strength come back into her hands, and she could climb out of the pen.

Before she jumped down on the other side she turned around and looked straight at the shadow thing.

“Thank you,” she said to it. “I don’t know what you are, but I know now that you are good.”

She was about to get back to her chores, when she heard a small voice coming from the shadow thing. It sounded almost like a little bone flute, like the ones Grandpa made from chicken legs.

“Can I please have something more to eat?” the shadow thing asked.

“Why sure,” Marguerite replied. “I’m going to set the rest of the slop bucket down right here. Why don’t you eat everything that’s in there, okay?”

She put the bucket on the ground and then backed away. The shadow thing seemed to melt through an opening in the split-rail fence. It approached the bucket. It didn’t have a head or a mouth, really. Instead, it put something like a funnel or a beak like a hummingbird had down into the slop and started sucking the slop up. It made sounds like “Hmm hmm hmm” and “yum yum” that made Marguerite giggle.

When it was done, the beak went back into the shadow thing’s form. Even though it didn’t have a head, the shadow thing did seem to have legs and arms.

 

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