The Amber Arrow – Snippet 09

Chapter Eight: The Couronne de Huit Tours

Magister Rossofore managed to suppress a wild laugh, but he couldn’t help chuckling in delight.

“Who . . . what have you turned into?” Valentine whispered.

“Something more than human, Marchioness. A man-drake,” Rossofore said. “I am destruction personified. Let me show you.”

Then he picked out a rooftop toward the city’s great wall. He’d been bothered by that rooftop since he’d taken up these chambers in the Pierre du Corbeau Castle.

Green tiles.

All the other roofs were red.

The green offended him.

It was wrong.

The houses and shops of Montserrat should be the same.

Who did they think they were, these people under the green roof? Special?

Probably blasphemers. Most colonials were.

He concentrated on the house, then slowly reached toward it with an open palm.

He clenched the palm into a fist.

The roof, and the house under it, imploded in a puff of dust. The green tiles collapsed–then shattered in a thousand pieces. Along with the house and everything in it, they disintegrated when they hit the ground. A large cloud of dust rose from the spot, roiling outward into the streets and alleyways.

Rossofore heard distant shouts of alarm and horror.

Beside him the marchioness cried out again. Bloody tears rolled down her face. “What have you done? You’ve killed my people. Innocent people.”

Rossofore felt a twinge of regret.

“The faith doesn’t kill for killing’s sake,” he said. “But this was sadly necessary.”

Necessary? Why, in the name of the Bishops and all that’s holy?”

“Can’t you see?” Rossofore said. “Now the roofs are the same.”

Valentine was trembling. Her voice shook as she spoke. “You’re a monster.”

“Yes,” Rossofore replied. He smiled. “A man-drake.”

There was so much more to do. He needed more amber, lots of it, if he were to accomplish the great things he was meant to do. Most of the Roman Empire had been picked over for every scrap of dragon amber. Aegypt and the Afrique had no more to give. The mines of Roman territories on the continents of Meridianus and Austrinalis were worked out. The Freiland Roman colonies had some, but it was not near the surface. So far very little had been produced, almost none of it for export. Beyond Rome, Sarmatia and the Eastern empires of the great continent had been mined bare.

Rome’s control was based on the Talaia faith, and the faith’s power came from celestis, the holy herb of Talaia. Celestis was grown on dragon amber, consuming it in the process.

“Rome needs–”

He turned to the marchioness, but she had stepped back from the window. She was sitting in a chair on the other side of room. She dabbed her tears with a handkerchief already stained blood red.

He walked over, looked down upon her.

“Marchioness Valentine, you see the power of amber now. It is not meant to be worn as pretty baubles. Dragon amber is pure power. It must be used.”

Valentine didn’t answer or look up at him. He could only see her coiled black hair held in place by pure silver clips. Her black and red dress left her tawny shoulders exposed. They quivered in her distress.

“Where is amber to be found? In the colonies, yes. But the Kaltelands and Wild Kingdoms of Freiland–they have amber, and lots of it.”

The heathens didn’t even mine it. They left it be while they worshipped their false gods and cringed in awe of the dragon parasites feeding beneath the land.

“They leave their amber in the ground!” Rossofore found himself shouting. He tried to control his voice, but his agitation was too strong. “Rome needs that amber. I need it! Don’t you understand, Marchioness? I could be the conquistador Rome needs. We could finally take the north lands. Avenge your humiliating defeat. Make the heathen suffer for what they’ve done.”

Rossofore opened the hand with which he’d crushed the house with the green roof. Five more beads of the Golden Rose of Lerocher still lay within it. Their tawny glow was spellbinding.

“You saw what a few beads can do in the hands of a true priest of the faith,” he said. “I need more. If I’m going to conquer the north for Rome, I have to have more, much more. And at the moment, there is only one place I can get that much.”

Rossofore could see that Valentine understood immediately what he was saying. She looked up at him. Red streaks ran down her face, but her gaze was fierce, defiant.

“You cannot have the Couronne de Huit Tours to aid you in this craziness!” she said. “The royal crown is the symbol of my kingdom.”

“It is made of pure dragon amber.”

“I know that. It’s the crown because it’s made of amber.”

Rossofore nodded. “You believe you cannot give it to me. But I have to tell you, the deficiencies I noticed in Count Lerocher, I have perhaps seen in your home. Could it be that heathen ways have infected your household, as well? After all, your daughter, the heir to your crown, has been given to the barbarians to raise.”

“For peace. The Little War ravaged both our lands. We were . . . defeated. Shenandoah was exhausted, nearly ruined.”

“There are no excuses before the Emptiness. What is true is true. What is right is right. So say the bishops.”

“You wouldn’t dare accuse me of heresy.”

“No one is above the Inquisition, Marchioness,” Rossofore said darkly. “Not even you.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t have the crown.”

“But I will have it. And you will hand it over to me. For the glory of Rome.”

A sly smile began to spread over the marchioness’s face. Rossofore did not like this one bit.

“You cannot have it,” Valentine said, “because it isn’t here anymore.”

It was Rossofore’s turn to feel shock and dismay. “What have you done with the crown, woman?”

“Do you think I didn’t notice what you did to Lerocher? I even knew why you did it. Do you think I’m ignorant and powerless in my own castle? In my own kingdom? I am the queen of this land, and my people have not forgotten this.”

Rossofore gripped both arms of the chair Valentine was sitting in. He leaned close and loomed over her. She turned her face up and met his gaze with a defiant stare.

“Where is the crown?”

“Far away.”

“If you do not tell me, I promise you that I will wring the truth from you in the most brutal way imaginable. Then I will burn your bones until they crumble to dust.”

Valentine laughed.

She laughs at me!

Rossofore backhanded her across the face. Her head twisted. He hit her again. Blood flowed from her nose and lips.

“Drag her back to her chambers!” he bellowed at the guards. “Lock her in. I’ll decide what to do with her later.”

His men obeyed instantly.

Rossofore stood for a long time, shaking with rage.

Dragon-rage, he thought. Righteous fire within. Dasein flowing through him. Pure power.

Something in his palm?

Ah yes. The remaining beads from the Golden Rose of Lerocher.

I could save them for later, Rossofore thought. But why?

I need one now.

I will use it to look far and wide. I will use it to locate the thief in the night who has stolen the Couronne de Huit Tours.

The crown was pure dragon amber. It contained the dasein he would need to fully transform into the dragon he knew was inside him.

It held the amber he would need to consume for the triumph of the faith in the north.

My crown.

In Rossofore’s wildest dreams he dared to hope he might become one of those heads of the faith, those bishops sitting so serenely in the Basilica of St. Judas on their huge block of amber, pronouncing the fate of Rome. They were the rulers of the world.

He was young yet. That would be later. For now, his task was to bring Shenandoah under Roman control.

And once I devour the crown . . .

Rossofore imagined all the dragon amber that was waiting in the Kaltelands.

A feast.

But I need power to get at it. More dasein.