The Amber Arrow – Snippet 05
The buffalo woman’s name was Puidenlehdet. She had a human body, over which she wore a coarse wool cloak, but possessed the head of a normal she-buffalo.
She was a wise woman, gifted in healing. Responding to Wulf’s inquiring look, the dark-skinned woman, Ravenelle, shook her head sadly.
Wulf went to the other side of the pallet and kneeled beside the elf woman.
Her name was Saeunn Eberethen, or Saeunn Amberstone in Kaltish, Wulf’s language. She wore a white linen dressing gown, but was covered from the breasts down by a buffalo skin robe. She was blonde, with long hair draping over the pillow on which her head lay.
Wulf had been in love with her for as long as he could remember.
Saeunn was awake. She raised her head with difficulty, and looked toward Wulf. Her blue eyes were glazed with tears from the pain he knew she was going through. Sitting up caused her blonde tresses to fall away, revealing her pointed ears.
“Something happened. I heard,” Saeunn said. “Are you all right?”
“Roman soldiers. Real Imperials,” Wulf replied. “Cavalry scouts, I think.”
“This far northwest?”
“Yes. Jager’s company took care of them. Don’t worry about it.”
She lay her head back down and sighed.
“I’ve put everyone in danger,” she said.
“No,” Wulf said. “The mark would have had to deal with them one way or another. They are in our territory.”
Saeunn lay her head back down on the pillow. She shuddered as a chill ran through her body. This was the way it had been for the past week, alternating high fevers and chills.
“But not you personally,” she said. “And we’ll be over the border soon.”
“You’re sick. We’re going to get help.”
A wave of pain appeared to wash over Saeunn. She squeezed her eyes tight.
“It’s not too late to turn back,” she whispered.
“I won’t,” Wulf said.
“All right,” Saeunn whispered even more faintly.
Wulf’s eyes were tearing. He wiped them with a wrist still caked with dirt and sweat from his run.
“Get out of here, von Dunstig,” Ravenelle said to him firmly, but with sympathy in her voice. “We have to let her rest. The lady is completely drained from this quite grueling quest that you’ve seen fit to embark on with her. Not only that, she has to be ready to travel to the inn tomorrow, and that is not an easy ride.”
“We’re really going, aren’t we? To real beds?”
“So Ahorn tells me.”
“You’d better not be lying, von Dunstig,” Ravenelle said, “Once we cross into my kingdom you’ll have a very cross princess on your hands. One who holds a grudge for a very long time.” She smiled to let Wulf know she was joking.
Mostly joking, he thought.
He was too tired and worried to say anything funny back to her. “We’ll find out tomorrow, Ravenelle.”
He stood, turned to leave, but looked back a final time.
Saeunn was an elf. She was supposed to be immortal.
But Saeunn Amberstone was dying.
The Skraeling man that Ursel Keiler had stuck with her arrow reached under his deerskin shirt while Ursel kept careful watch. He brought out a cloth bag.
Now that she got a better look at him, she saw that her first impression was correct. He was haughty in the way he stuck out his chest and drew in his shoulders.
He was also handsome. He wore buckskin pants and the deerskin shirt covered with beads. Around his waist was a wampum belt. His hair was cropped short, but three eagle feathers dangled from its rear. In one ear hung a bone earring. Very thin and delicate looking. Bird bone, probably.
The man opened the packet and from inside took a scroll with a wax seal on it. Then he pulled out another scroll bag and held it up also. “This is the letter of introduction,” he called out. “The other, the unread scroll, is for the earl.”
“All right. Bring them.”
“Where are you? Who are you?”
“Just follow my voice,” Ursel said. When he reached the other side of the rock, she told him to throw the scrolls over to her. He did what she asked.
Ursel quickly picked up the open scroll. There was a broken wax seal on the outside that had the impression of the mark on it. On the inside was a wax badge embedded with trailing ribbons that announced that the bearer of this certificate had permission to travel within the mark to carry out his task. The script under the interior wax seal named the holder of the document.
WANNAS KITTAMAQUAND, SPECIAL ENVOY OF THE REPUBLIC OF POTOMAK, HIS RETAINERS, BANNER-MEN, AND ASSORTED RETINUE
“So you’re this Wannas Kitta . . . Kitta-something of Potomak?”
“Kittamaquand is my clan,” the man said. “My given name is Wannas. And you?”
Ursel stepped out of her hiding place. She had lowered her bow, but still had an arrow nocked.
As she drew closer, the Skraeling captain gazed at her as if he were a stunned deer.
I know I’ve been out in the woods for a few days, she thought, but do I look that scary?
“Welcome to Shwartzwald Forest,” Ursel said. “I’m pleased not to have killed you.”
The Skraeling bowed his head slightly. “And I’m glad not to have died,” he said. He looked down at his groin. “Or had something worse happen.” He turned his gaze back to her, more serious now. “We do come on urgent business, m’lady–”
“Like you said, I am not a lady. Just a kind of clerk. A secretary. Very common.”
“It’s important I speak with the earl.”
The Skraeling stomped a booted foot in obvious impatience and frustration. “Listen, woman, you don’t understand! None of you do!” He pursed his lips huffed in exasperation, then calmed himself enough to speak again. “My city is under siege–by Sandhaven and Romans. Shenandoah must come to our aid. We need humans, bear men, buffalo people, anyone. I’ve even heard your gnomes are warriors. You have to help us. The Sandhaveners will be at your gates soon if you don’t!”
“We beat them before. We can do it again.”
“I heard you lost your duke’s castle in the process.”
“And got it back.”
Ursel remembered the battle for Raukenrose. It had been a very close thing. If not for the gnomes getting there in the nick of time, the capital would still be in the possession of Sandhaven and that evil thing that led them. The draugar, they called it.
“This is different. Sandhaven is backed up by a legion from Rome. And they have a new way of fighting. Some new and powerful version of that communion wafer the Romans eat with blood. Their generals control the minds of their troops.”
“We faced that.”
“Did you face a Roman legion of nearly ten thousand Imperials? Because you will if you don’t help us.”
Ursel nodded. “Okay. You have a point,” she said. “But tell me: what did Lady Ulla say when you made demands on her like this?”
Wannas looked embarrassed. “She threw us out. At first.”
“Then what? You must have gotten that marquee of travel somehow.”
“I came back and . . . apologized for sounding . . . arrogant.”
“Right,” said Ursel. “Then what?”
“She said I had to ask her brother. He’s the heir. He has a direct connection to the land-dragon, whatever that means. She won’t send a full levee of troops without asking him.”
“So why are you here?”
“Lord Wulf is gone. Traipsing off into the wilderness.”
“Yes, I heard. With a hundred men at arms and a herd of cattle to feed them.”
“Lady Ulla said maybe the earl would know where to find him.”
Ursel shook her head. “No,” she said. “He would not.”
Wannas looked dejected–and angry. “Then I’ve come all this way for nothing,” he replied.
“The earl wouldn’t. But I might,” Ursel continued. “I have a little skill at tracking. But first let me take a look at the letter from the duchess regent and see what her instructions are.”