The Amber Arrow – Snippet 13

Not so scary.

Its legs kind of came to a point and didn’t have feet, but it could still walk.

“Thank you,” it bone-whistled. “That was good.”

“What are you doing here?” Marguerite asked. “Where’d you come from? What kind of thing are you?”

The shadow seemed to look around and check to make sure no one else was listening except Marguerite.

“The Magnificent Dark Angel Queen made me,” it said. “I’m a special messenger. I’ve got her crown in a sack, and I’m taking it to her daughter, the Dark Angel Princess.”

“You mean Queen Valentine?” Marguerite knew that the queen made special devotion to the Dark Angel. All of the kingdom did. “She has a daughter that lives up in the Kalte lands.”

Marguerite knew about this because sometimes Mamma put her to sleep with stories about what it was like to be lovely Princess Ravenelle among the barbarians. Barbarians were rough folks who didn’t properly appreciate the princess and were always scratching themselves because they had fleas and lice. Sometimes Marguerite imagined herself being the special bloodservant to the princess. She would get to eat all the treats at Montserrat Castle. One day when the princess returned, that’s where she would live.

“Yes,” said the shadow thing. “Bad ones come after me. Have to hide. That’s why I’m here.”

“Are they chasing you? Are they after the crown?”

“Yes,” said the shadow thing. “Had to hide the crown in a nest in the chicken coop. You get eggs there. Please leave it where I put it.”

“I will,” said Marguerite. “I’ll try to get you some more to eat tonight after supper or maybe in the morning.”

“Thank you, little daughter,” said the shadow thing.

“My name is Marguerite,” the girl answered. “I belong to Master and Mistress Robecheau.”

“This one does not have a name,” the shadow thing said. “Do you want to name me?”

“Okay,” Marguerite said. “But I’ll have to think about it.”

“Goodbye, Marguerite,” the shadow thing said. It walked to a nearby cabin on its pointy legs. Then it melted into the shadows under the porch crawlspace and was gone.

Marguerite spent all night trying to think of a name for the shadow thing. The next morning after everyone else had gone to the fields of tobacco and cotton to work for the master, she set out some food scraps and chicken feed for it. When it came, she told it that she had thought of a name.

The shadow thing waited expectantly. It seemed eager to learn its new name.

“Windy,” she finally said after drawing out the suspense a little. “Because you made that whirlwind that got the pigs to go away.”

“Windy,” it said. “Good.” Then it gobbled up the food she had set out and disappeared again.

The next day, the Romans came.

This was scary. The soldiers from across the sea marched right up to the master’s house and banged on the door. When he came to greet them, one of the soldiers grabbed him and dragged him out to the mansion’s big front yard.

Marguerite drew closer so she could hear. Nobody noticed her. The Roman soldiers said that something precious had been stolen from the queen, and that they were there to find it and bring it back. They said that they absolutely knew it was somewhere on this plantation.

The master didn’t know anything, of course, so he couldn’t tell them where the precious thing was.

Marguerite guessed that they were talking about the crown. She was probably the only person on the whole plantation who actually did know where it was. Even though she didn’t know exactly which chicken nest it was under.

When the master didn’t answer the way the Romans liked, they waited. Soon, a tall man in a black robe rode up. He got off his horse, which was a big black horse, too. Then he told the soldiers to tie the master to the sycamore tree in front of the plantation house.

Once they did this, he asked the same questions of the master that the soldiers had, only every time he asked a question and the master didn’t answer the way he wanted, he whipped him across the back with a cat-o’-nine-tails.

The master’s son had once hit Marguerite with a whip, and it had hurt really, really bad. That cat-o’-nine-tails looked like it had metal in the leather, too.

When they cut the master down he looked like he had a puddle of gooey red mud and flesh on his back. A puddle all chuffed up by cows walking through it.

Then the man in the black robe and red collar held up his hand. He sniffed. Was there something in the air?

Oh, no, Marguerite thought. He might smell Windy! Or even the crown!

The man in the black robe walked toward the bloodservant quarters, sniffing, sniffing. The soldiers followed him. He looked confused, like he couldn’t believe that whatever he was looking for could be in this rundown place.

Marguerite hid a smile. Windy had been right to hide it here. It was the last place people would look for treasure.

The man in the red collar stood in the middle of the servant quarters and gazed around. Finally his eyes alighted on Marguerite. He motioned for her to come over to him. He knelt and spoke to her face to face when she got there.

“Do you know anything about this precious thing that we seek?” he asked her. “Do you know what an orange is?”

“I saw my master eat one once,” Marguerite mumbled.

“This thing I seek. It is a smoky orange color. Have you seen it anywhere, girl? If anybody here is hiding it, I would have to hurt them very badly. That is, unless you tell me. You saw what I did to your master didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Marguerite. “But I don’t know where any jewels or crowns are.”

The black-robed man stood there for a long moment staring at Marguerite. He looked as if he sensed something was not right in her answer. For an eyeblink, Marguerite felt him in her mind, the way the master could get in your mind and dominate your will. But she was not linked to this man, and he hadn’t bothered to dominate Master Robecheau, just beat him.

The black-robed man was not her master.

He might get into the edges of her thoughts, but she would not let him into the deep parts. She got to work. She made it so whenever she thought about chickens and nesting, she thought about an egg. And whenever she thought about the crown, she thought about an egg.

She thought really hard about eggs.

Finally the man turned his head and faced away.

“It’s not here,” he said. “We’ll have to search the road to the Whitmore plantation. Two more leagues today. Let’s go.”

Marguerite sighed with relief. And somewhere in a nearby shadow, so did something else.