The Amber Arrow – Snippet 17
Chapter Fifteen: The Star-stone
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Ravenelle Archambeault said.
“All right, sister,” Saeunn whispered. “Don’t be mad at me.”
She struggled to sit up, but couldn’t. A wisp of blonde hair fell across her eyes. Ravenelle reached down and brushed it away.
“I’m not,” Ravenelle said. “I’m mad because I can’t help you.”
“You’re a great help,” Saeunn replied with sigh. “Will you read some more of your romance to me?”
“We finished it,” Ravenelle said.
“Oh.” Saeunn blinked. “I guess I drifted off.”
“The prince finally tells Julia Silves he loves her and hands her a rose. But she pricks her finger on a thorn on the stem and–well, you know she has that noble bleeding sickness where it won’t stop?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“She’s sure she’s going to bleed to death, and it’s going to be long and drawn out and painful, so she asks the prince to plunge his dagger into her heart. He won’t do it, so she does it for him. She dies in his arms. But at least they get to kiss.”
“Gruesome,” Saeunn said. “But pretty.” She smiled wanly up at Ravenelle. “It makes you shudder.”
“That’s kind of the point,” Ravenelle replied.
Saeunn nodded. She tried to shift and sit up, but the strength went out of her and her head fell back on the pillow. Suddenly her eyes grew bright and hard, like little blue flints. Her smile turned to an expression of sadness. “The elfling loses more of her soul-roots,” she said–to no one in particular.
“Brennan?” There were allegedly two beings within Saeunn. One was Saeunn. The other was the elf whose star fell from the sky. It was Brennan Temeldar whose star-stone meteorite Saeunn wore on a chain around her neck.
“Yes, dark girl.”
Ravenelle hoped Brennan was only talking about the color of her hair and skin, which came from her Afrique and Aegyptian ancestors. But sometimes she was afraid that Brennan was seeing some other kind of darkness inside her.
Brennan Temeldar was an elf woman who allegedly shared Saeunn’s body now. She was supposed to be beyond ancient. Ravenelle didn’t know the sagas like Wulf–learning Kalte sagas had absolutely not been the part of her education she paid much attention to–but she did know that Brennan was in the oldest sagas. The sagas said she had done something terrible to herself–what that was, the saga was a bit vague on–and given up her soul. That was when her star had fallen from the sky. But a small part of her lived on in some way in the star-stone necklace. At least that was what everybody around Saeunn believed.
Ravenelle figured it was all some barbarian myth. But it was clear that Saeunn believed that part of her was Brennan Temeldar, and that had somehow helped her recover from what she’d done against the draugar. She had made him vulnerable to weapons. If it was good for Saeunn to believe in Brennan Temeldar, then Ravenelle would play along.
“What are soul-roots?” she asked.
“The places where the mind and body are together so closely you can hardly tell them apart,” Saeunn/Brennan answered. “She and I, we are . . . separating.”
“What can we do?”
“I do not know. So little remains of me. Just this ash, this cinder.” She fingered the star-stone at her breast. She let it go and sighed. “I’ve forgotten so much.”
“What I can see is that Saeunn has a fever and chills, and gets as weak as a baby. Then she recovers for a while. Today she seemed almost back to her old self.”
“No,” Brennan said. “She will never be back to her old self. The star that she was is gone. Fallen.”
“I don’t believe that. She can still laugh and cry like always. She still makes little Anya giggle when she plays with her.” Anya was Wulf’s youngest sister. She adored Saeunn and Saeunn returned the adoration. “She’s even kissed Wulf. A lot.”
“She burns brightly before night falls.”
“You are really depressing me, Brennan Temeldar,” Ravenelle replied. “Saeunn would never do that.”
“And are you angry, Ravenelle Archambeault?”
“I’m worried,” she answered truthfully. “There’s still no message from my mother. Nothing for over a year.”
“Then you must go and find out what has happened. You are of age now. Childhood is fast fading, and it is time to become a woman.”
Ravenelle looked down at her breasts. When she was twelve they had started growing. And growing. Even though she’d willed them over and over again to stop. She envied Saeunn her small, perfect breasts.
“I think I’ve been becoming a woman for a while,” she said dryly. “Listen, Brennan, please, please do something to help my sister.”
Saeunn/Brennan looked at her and shook her head in wonder. “You are so young,” she said. “You think you can stomp your feet and make the world obey.”
“I’ve gotten over thinking that.”
“You will always be young to me,” Brennan said. Her voice seemed to be fading. Saeunn/Brennan closed her eyes. “I will do what I can for now.”
Saeunn was sixty-three and a half years old–which meant she was an elf teenager. She would live on and on. Elves did not die of old age. Humans did. Even Roman nobles.
But elves could die of other causes, Ravenelle thought. It’ll be so wrong if Saeunn dies before me.
It wasn’t fair. Saeunn should always stay her wonderful older sister. Kind, quirky, laughing with you and not at you like so many others did. She also tended to fall into rhapsodies when standing in moonlight–then let you make fun of her about them when she came out of her trance. Ravenelle had teased her a lot about that when they were young. Looking back, she realized her younger self must’ve been quite a trial sometimes, even for Saeunn, who hardly ever got ruffled.
She loved her sister. She would do anything for her. Even stay in the Kaltelands for as long as she was needed, even though she had spent years thinking about finally being set free to go home.
“Your hair is a mess,” said Saeunn. “You’d better let Jakka fix it.”
“You’re back,” Ravenelle said.
“Was I gone?” Saeunn asked.
“Brennan Temeldar was here,” said Ravenelle.
Ravenelle reached up and put a hand to her crazy, curly hair. No matter how she pinned it, it seemed to spring free. It was never long before it was as tangled as a bramble bush again.
“I feel much better, actually,” Saeunn finally said.
“I think Brennan did something to help.”
Saeunn reached for the star-stone and wrapped her fingers around it. “It’s cold,” she said.
Ravenelle bent over and touched the stone. It wasn’t just cold. It was freezing. A thin white layer of ice was on its surface.
Saeunn tucked the stone back under her nightdress. She sat up.
“I think I’ll get dressed,” she said. “I’m hungry.”
Ravenelle nodded. “If you’re feeling that well, I’m going to get some sleep. I’ll send Jakka to look after you for a while.” Saeunn had never wanted a lady’s maid during her years in Raukenrose castle, but now she nodded.
“That would probably be a good idea,” she said. “We don’t know how long this will last. Where are Wulf and Rainer?”
As if in answer, there was a soft knock on the door.
Ravenelle glanced outside through the eyes of Alvis.
It was Wulf, of course.
“Come,” said Ravenelle. She stood.
The door opened and Wulf stepped in. When he saw Saeunn sitting, his eyes lit up. “You’re better!” he said.
“For now,” Saeunn replied.
He went to her side and, before he could settle in, Saeunn pulled him down. She kissed him passionately for a long moment.
When she let him go, Wulf looked stunned. And very happy.
“Oh Wulf, it’s good to have now,” Saeunn said.
Wulf sat down in Ravenelle’s chair. He took Saeunn’s hand and kissed it. Tears were in his eyes.
And that cursed von Dunstig determination.
He’ll never give up, Ravenelle thought. And if he loses her, he’ll love her till the end of his days.
It would be nice to be loved so completely, she thought.
And then she realized that she probably was.
Don’t go there, Ravenelle thought. You are not a barbarian. Act like a Roman. Think like a Roman.
Ravenelle quietly left the room. In the hallway, she put a hand to her hair. Saeunn had been right. It was a continuing explosion of a briar patch. She would finally take the half-watch the task required, and have Jakka brush it out, wash it, and pin it back up properly.
Then she would check back in on Saeunn.
If she’s still strong, Ravenelle thought. If I think she’s better . . .
Then Rainer and I will head for Montserrat.