The Amber Arrow – Snippet 07
“Bring me Marchioness Valentine,” said a tall, somber man. He looked to be about thirty years old. He had a close-shaven face and wavy hair that fell to his shoulders. His hair was dark brown. So were his eyes. He had the olive skin color of a Tiberian. Here in the Roman colonies, he stood out. Most of the inhabitants of Vall l’Obac were much darker in complexion. They were of Afrique and Aegyptian ancestry.
The young man wore the jet-black tunic of a Talaia priest. His red clerical collar showed his clerical order.
The Talaia faith called this order the Fratelli di Sangue, the Brothers of the Blood.
Two guards in Roman scale armor near the door to the room left to execute the command of the man in the black tunic.
The man’s name was Quintos Rossofore. His official title was Continental Magister Praelatus of the Inquisition Suprema and Vice Abbot of the Fratelli di Sangue Order of Talaia.
Although vice abbot of an order was a higher title, Rossofore liked people to address him as “Magister.”
While he was waiting for the marchioness, Rossofore gazed down at the lovely necklace of amber beads in his hands. Yellow-golden beauty. He let it swing freely and shifted it this way and that to catch the afternoon light streaming through a citadel window.
So much concentrated dasein, he thought. Magic. That was what dragon amber was. Dasein that brought the world to life and sustained it.
And now he held that power in his hand.
If dasein was the essence of life, then the dragons were life’s greatest enemies. They fed on the dasein in the Earth. They took its magic for themselves, only allowing tiny amounts to escape their horrible appetites.
So said the articles of the faith of Talaia.
Rossofore knew the teachings of Talaia. Oh yes, he knew them well.
He’d spent his younger days in a special orphanage in Rome having them beaten into him.
No matter. That was years ago. Now he was a very powerful man.
Because of amber. Because of dasein.
If the free amber in the world could be collected . . . concentrated . . .
He took the beaded necklace in both of his hands. Each golden amber droplet was the size of a robin’s egg.
He was admiring it when his guards returned with Valentine Archambeault, Queen of the Colonial Kingdom of Vall l’Obac, and Marchioness of the Holy Roman Empire.
“You wish to present yourself to me?” Valentine asked. Her voice was low for woman, a rich alto. Some might call it edged with iron, but Rossofore thought it ridiculously prideful coming from a colonial.
“Yes, Marchioness,” Rossofore replied with a bow. “Thank you for coming.”
Valentine hesitated. She was obviously miffed. All in Vall l’Obac called her “Your Majesty,” Rossofore knew. Even though it was officially correct, calling her marchioness was an insult. What Valentine didn’t know, and never needed to know, was that he called her by a lesser title for his own sake as well as hers.
She reminded him of his mother.
His imaginary mother.
He had never known his true mother or his father. Instead there had only been old Brother Luigi who had drummed the books of wisdom and the Testament of the Covenant into all the children at the orphanage.
Brother Luigi and his knotted whip.
And when memorization didn’t work, the children were sold.
Sold away. Gone.
Rossofore later learned that these were sent to the mines or indentured as chimney sweeps and night-soil collectors. But when he was a small boy all he knew was that children who didn’t learn what Brother Luigi wanted . . . disappeared.
He’d been constantly worried that it might be him next. He’d had to come up with something to keep himself from digging his nails into his palms and grinding his teeth every night.
So he’d secretly imagined having parents.
He thought they might be a rich couple, possibly noble, who had to hide him from jealous relatives who wanted to kill him for his inheritance.
He was a smart boy. A boy of quality. Why shouldn’t he be of the nobility? After all, nobody knew where he’d come from. He’d just showed up in a dirty basket on Brother Luigi’s doorstep one night.
He might’ve been brought from a manor house.
Rossofore fantasized that his mother would one day show up. She would claim him from the orphanage.
She would hug him, and tell him what a good boy he was.
Then she would take him home to her big house and feed him everything he ever wanted to eat. She would have him sit next to her by the fire. She would stroke his hair.
Rossofore hadn’t been touched often in the orphanage, and when he was it was usually by the back of Brother Luigi’s hand.
His mother would never spank him. He would be a good boy. In his fantasy, he would get his own room, a really nice one. But sometimes when he had nightmares–which was all the time at the orphanage–she would let him crawl into bed between her and his father.
He would fall asleep between them, warm and safe.
He would know that nobody was going to send him to the mines.
His parents would never allow that.
Rossofore had grown older and learned that such daydreams were foolish. Idiotic, even.
Many orphans had them. They couldn’t all be the secret sons and daughters of nobility could they?
In fact, none of them were.
Such fantasy was a weakness and had to be stamped out.
But he never could quite stamp out the memory of his imaginary mother.
Marchioness Valentine Archambeault reminded him very much of that daydream mother. She looked almost exactly as he’d pictured her. He’d been struck almost speechless when he’d first met her. Now whenever he was around her, he had to make extra sure that he didn’t give her any special privilege because of some childish delusion that he hadn’t succeeded in wiping out.
She was not his mother.
No one was his mother.
Valentine Archambeault was a heretic. She deserved punishment. He knew it. He just had to prove it.
And she never came for me! She just left me there for Brother Luigi to torment!
Stop it. That was nonsense.
The marchioness was merely of professional interest to him. After all, he was an inquisitor of the Holy Roman Empire, and she was a heretic. Most colonials were in one way or another.
After a moment off balance, Valentine regained her proud bearing and nodded to Rossofore, acknowledging that he didn’t have to address her as he would a queen.
Then she saw the necklace he was fingering, and let out an involuntary gasp.
Rossofore raised his hands and let the sunlight from the open window of the tower hit the amber beads. His office in the castle had once belonged to the marchioness’s lord high counselor.
That was before the same high counselor had been burned at the stake for heresy.
On Rossofore’s orders.
They were in a towering turret that was part of Pierre du Corbeau Castle, residence of the queen. The window looked out over the western regions of Montserrat, the capital city of Vall l’Obac.
“Do you recognize the jewelry?” Rossofore asked.
“Of course I do. It’s the Golden Rose of Lerocher. It belongs to the countess. I have no idea what you are doing with it.”
“It was owned by the Lerochers,” Rossofore replied. “By the old count and his young countess. She’s twenty years younger than the count, you know.”
Count Lerocher had disgusted Rossofore. He could still picture the wrinkled old man’s claw of a hand grasping the lovely, smooth hand of the countess.
He’d brought the man and his young wife to Montserrat. He’d told them it was for a special duty to the Brothers of the Blood. And it was, in a way. He’d immediately seen the count’s seemingly devout nature was merely a cover for deep heresy.
“In actual fact, the necklace was only in the possession of the countess. It belonged to the count. It has been in the Lerocher family for generations. When he confessed his heresy, naturally he forfeited his family’s earthly possessions. So now the Golden Rose belongs to the faith.”
“You mean, to you, Magister Rossofore.”