The Amber Arrow – Snippet 26
Chapter Twenty-Three: The Stall
After a stroll with Abendar, Ahorn retired to the stall he’d demanded of his cousin to find his lover waiting. The stall was four sided, but open to the half-moon shining above. Puidenlehdet was sitting calmly in a corner playing a flute made from a buffalo leg bone. It sent a soft and eerie melody up to the Moon.
She finished the tune, then looked up at Ahorn with her gorgeous brown eyes.
“Done all I could for the Lady Saeunn tonight,” she said.
“How is she?”
“The star-stone sparked up, maybe for the last time,” Puidenlehdet replied. “For the time being, she is much better. Won’t last long, I fear.”
Ahorn went to stand beside her. He gazed up at the stars. Something was . . . off . . . in the heavens. He couldn’t quite say what. The stars were in their usual positions, but the brightness and flickering were varying.
“My dear, the stars are unsettled tonight. I can feel . . . something,” Ahorn said.
Puidenlehdet put down her flute and took a curry comb from a leather packet she’d stowed nearby.
“Can you say what?”
“The dragons sleep fitfully,” Ahorn said. “The stars sing to calm them.”
“Sounds like centaur affectedness when you speak in such a manner, my lover,” Puidenlehdet replied. “Now kneel down and let me take a brush to those brambles in your tail.
He did. The buffalo woman pulled the curry brush down his tail hair.
“We have to get them out, you old fool,” Puidenlehdet said evenly. “Else your tail will cut stripes across your hindquarters every time you flick a fly.”
She pulled the curry brush further through the hair of Ahorn’s tail. After it had collected a handful of brambles, she took it out, cleaned the bristles, then started again at the top.
“Blood and bones! That hurts, woman!”
“For the best,” the buffalo wise woman said in a low voice, as calm as a slow river at night.
“You stick to your high centaur matters and let me deal with the real problems of life,” Puidenlehdet murmured.
“I’m happy to let you deal with anything you want to, my dear,” Ahorn said. He closed his eyes and a resigned look came over his face. “Go on. Finish it, woman.”
Puidenlehdet didn’t waste any time. She yanked the brush the rest of the way through Ahorn’s tail hair, collecting brambles and stickle balls along the way.
Ahorn clenched his teeth and held in another yelp.
Five more passes and Puidenlehdet was done.
“There you go, brave one,” she said. “You clean up nice.”
“So do you.”
“That hot bath did these old bones wonders,” Puidenlehdet said. “Would have been better if all your relatives weren’t standing around giving me the Evil Eye when I got out.”
“They’re jealous of you.”
“I’m sure they are.”
“You know why.”
“I’d rather strangle myself than try to figure out centaur family goings-on,” Puidenlehdet answered.
“None of it matters,” Ahorn said. “I’m yours.”
“Tell that to your cousins.”
“Oh, I have,” Ahorn said. “Repeatedly.”
“I say we forget about that tonight,” Puidenlehdet. “We both have worries enough as it is. My boys are holding the eastern passes. The Lady Saeunn is fading, and I don’t have the art to save her.”
“Nobody does,” Ahorn replied. “It’s a metaphysical problem.”
“Regen’s tears, that’s the most foolish thing I’ve heard come out of you,” Puidenlehdet said. “And I’ve heard some dillies.”
“Her blood is thinning out. It’s not feeding the muscles. Her lungs don’t work, her heart don’t pump right–though Regen knows what is the right beat for an elf heart. I’m just guessing at that. Still, the problem is exactly not metaphysical. She’s physically breaking down like an old wagon. Only she’s young and shouldn’t be.”
“She has the star-stone.”
“She’s about drained that thing of whatever glamor it had. It’s growing cold. I’m afraid of what that means.”
“Then we have to hurry and get her to Eounnbard.”
“No assurances there,” Puidenlehdet said darkly. “I’m frightened that the only thing we’ll find when we get there is an end to Lord Wulf’s hopes.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I learned a long time ago not to make pronouncements unless I’m sure as rain and night.”
“I’m sure about us.”
“As am I.”
“Do you want to . . . it’s been days since we’ve been alone.”
“You sure your relatives ain’t got looky holes punched in this stall?”
“Let them look,” Ahorn said.
“Why, Ahorn Krisselwisser,” Puidenlehdet said. “I never knowed you were an exhibitionist.”
“I am not. I do enjoy a dramatic gesture now and again, however.”
“That you do.”
“So, want to make some drama?”
“That ain’t all we’re going to make, lover,” Puidenlehdet replied. She pointed to the other side of the stall. “Let’s go over yonder to the fresh straw.”
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Spring
Come to the springhouse.
The dragon-call had hit him while he was walking toward Saeunn’s sick room.
Wulf had a room and bed ready to fall into. In fact, he had thought about it for days while sleeping on a blanket roll in the Greensmoke forest. He should go there, if not to Saeunn.
But now here he was in the middle of the night trembling and feeling feverish, with flashes of alternating hot and cold.
Come to the springhouse.
Many times before he’d tried to resist the call and gotten sick. Nauseous. Light headed. Completely out of it.
That was the thing about the dragon-call he’d felt recently back at Raukenrose. It hadn’t been urgent. Nauseating and disorienting.
He’d tried to explain this to Ulla, but she hadn’t really understood. After all, a dragon-call was a dragon-call. If you were a von Dunstig, you dropped everything. You answered.
But it hadn’t seemed like the dragon had wanted to communicate. Not then. It seemed more like it was having a trouble sleep, and this was spilling over.
So he had decided to ignore it and take Saeunn to Eounnbard.
But tonight was like old times. The dragon-call was intense. It surged through him. It would not, could not, be ignored.
Before, the call had grown stronger and stronger and at times he had found himself crawling through castle corpse doors and coal chutes to answer it. Of course he’d been trying to hide that he heard it back then.
With the dragon-call came the ability to commune with the huge beast curled below the Shenandoah Valley–the beast whose backbone made up one mountain chain, and its front leg another.
It had been an ability passed down in the von Dunstig family for six hundred years, since old Duke Tjark had joined with the good Tier to fight and defeat the dark coalition of were-creatures and marauding Wutenluty Skraelings and bring peace to the valley.
As third in line, Wulf was not supposed to have it, or to only have a touch of it. But even before his brothers had been killed, Wulf had felt the call.
Back then, there was no way to fight it, and in the end no way to deny it. It had prepared him to use the Dragon Hammer, an artifact from the depths of time that had finally unmade a terrible enemy that no other weapon could touch.
What was he supposed to do about the dragon-call now? He was going to get Saeunn to Eounnbard. He was going to find a way to save her. He was very near the border of his own land, and so near the edge of the dragon’s influence. Or at least that was the belief.
He’d taken a few trips partly down the Potomak River, and had seen the sea–or at least the Chesapeake Bay–on a visit to see Adelbert when his brother was studying sailing at Krehennest. So he had been out of the mark before. But that had been before the dragon-call had gotten so strong inside him. It had nearly taken over his life and blasted his sanity in Raukenrose last year.
He didn’t need to hide it now. He was the heir to the mark, whether he wanted to be or not. His sister Ulla was older, but she didn’t hear the dragon. He had tried his best to get her to take the role from him, but she’d refused.
He stood up, half thinking he might continue down the hall, go check on Saeunn before answering the call. That was foolish, of course.
Come to the spring.
The call was not really words so much as an image, and an overriding urge. But even if that hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t be hard to figure out which spring he was supposed to go to.
The Therme of the Apfelwein. It was why the inn was originally built here.
The spring was a pool about three paces across. It was covered by an open-air shelter with living wood for posts. These were planted and tended by the family of tree people who lived in the nearby woods. A huge muscadine vine grew up one post and its leaves, now browning in autumn, covered the upper timbers and roof of the shed.