The Amber Arrow – Snippet 18
Chapter Sixteen: The Hunt
Ursel was brooding on the dream again. She’d had the same, or nearly the same, dream for the past three nights. She’d been sleeping on her wool ground cloth as usual. In the dream she even knew where she was. Asleep on the forest floor.
But the sky above felt like it was reaching down to her.
Calling to her.
She’d never felt anything like this before. So real. The realness took her over completely.
Maybe this was the way Wulf felt when the dragon-call came to him.
At first the dream was confusing. She was gazing up into the sky and the stars were growing brighter and brighter. What was strange and wrong and terrible was the fact that she was lying in a pool of her own blood in the dream.
In the dream she had been shot through and through.
Pierced by an arrow.
She had bled out.
She was dead.
Not dying, not near death.
This was the part that set her heart racing during the dream. And the part that set her mind in turmoil after she woke up.
She was dead.
It seemed so real.
And the sky was calling her.
What could it mean? She wanted to know before she let go and slipped away.
Ursel had always been faithful to the divine beings. She had a special devotion to Regen, the divine mother of water, both snow and rain. She hadn’t been particularly religious, but she had expected to end up in Valhalla at the end of things. She was a warrior at heart, after all–even if only with the bow. But this vision was not of Valhalla. Not of the afterlife.
What was going on? What was she supposed to do?
Then she heard a song. Something lovely beyond any beautiful music she had ever heard before. It took her moment to realize that it was a lullaby. It was a song the stars were singing to the dragons.
The dragons slept, and the song was in their dreams. It calmed them and nurtured them.
This was what the stars were for.
But the song . . . she felt a lack in the sky. There was a star missing. There was a special note that was not sounding, that was meant to be part of the song and was not there.
Was it her? Was she somehow going to join the stars? Was that what dying really was?
If so, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
But she didn’t think that was it.
No. Something else.
The dragons did not know that a star was missing. They didn’t know anything. They felt.
And they felt that the song was not as comforting as it should be. Or could be.
That star needed to return. The note should sound. The sky-song was not right without it.
Ursel lay gazing up at the stars and felt this longing and lack. She felt that she would do anything to be able to restore peace to the dragons. To her dragon, the child dragon that lay under Shenandoah and needed to be cared for.
If only I could make a star, Ursel thought.
But it must take incomprehensible magic to do that. Beyond any she had at her command.
Then she understood the note that was missing in the lullaby. She felt the shape of its absence. In the dream-logic, that shape became a word.
An understandable word.
It was part of the last name of an elf that she knew.
Saeunn’s last name, Amberstone.
That was when she woke up. Each night. Three times now. It was infuriating. Now she was obsessing about saving Saeunn Amberstone.
I don’t even know if I want to save her, Ursel thought. Although maybe she would if it came down to it.
It wouldn’t come down to it.
And what is the other stuff.
About me being dead. I don’t like that one bit.
Am I seeing the future? Some vision?
Or just a lot of mixed-up nonsense bubbling up from my mixed-up heart?
There was a crackling in the brush to the northwest.
“Do you hear that?” the Powhatan named Manteos said.
Ursel put her finger to her lips motioning him silent. She held up her other hand to signal the group to stop moving. It took a moment for everyone to obey. They were strung out in staggered fashion in the woods.
She’d heard the sound of the woods rustling several moments before even while she’d been brooding on her dream. She hadn’t said anything because it could have just been an animal. But the leaf crackling got louder and closer. It wasn’t just one animal. What it sounded like was a traveling wolf pack. She’d run across wolves several times in the forest. They were one of the most dangerous of all predators. When they were nearby, she hid carefully. Usually she did this by climbing a tree after masking her scent as best she could.
At the moment they were walking through a little grove of saplings that was growing where a huge old tree had fallen down and left a small clearing. There wasn’t anything to climb here. But it was a much different thing to face a wolf pack with eight people than one person. Because humans were the most dangerous predator when they hunted in packs.
Then there was a scream from the forest in the direction the rustling had come from. It sounded almost as if some child were being torn apart. There were more whines and screams, a big chorus of them after that. The saplings began to shake on the other side of the clearing.
She had already fitted an arrow into her bow. She gazed around and saw that the others had too, except for big Ottaniak, who was deadly with his tomahawk. He had it ready.