The Amber Arrow – Snippet 24
Chapter Twenty-One: The Cousin Trap
The fire in the Apfelwein common room had burned down to coals. Wulf had thought about going to bed, but the rockers were so comfortable. And the company was good. Besides, they had been talking about Saeunn.
“I have never heard of an elf living long who has lost her star,” Abendar said. “Death is usually quick. Instant. But the lady lives on.”
He gazed upward, and Wulf suspected he was in communion with his own star. As Saeunn and the sagas had always told him, “Elves are stars and stars are elves.” Each elf had a star for a soul. When the elf died, the star went out.
“She has the star-stone.”
“A fragment of Brennan Temeldar,” Abendar said, shaking his head in wonder. “It’s a tale that’s old even to elves.” He turned his gaze back to the fire. “But for Saeunn Eberethen to have given her star so that Wuten of the Draug could be killed–well, she helped put to rights one of the greatest troubles my people ever let loose on the world.” He bowed to Wulf again. “And so did you, Lord Wulf. And Mr. Stope, also.”
“We had to. No choice. The draugar was going to kill us. Rainer and I had to fight him. And we couldn’t have gotten rid of him without Ravenelle either. Or, really, all of Shenandoah.”
“It’s a very good thing you’ve done and my folk will never forget it,” said Abendar. “I’ll never forget it.”
Wulf didn’t want to like Abendar. Abendar had as much as admitted he’d considered courting Saeunn once she was old enough. Which was now. But the elf was hard not to respect.
“I appreciate that,” Wulf replied. “I ought to go see her, I think.”
He started to get up from the rocker.
“You’ve looked in on her twice already. She should settle in and rest, m’lord,” said Ahorn. He put a soft hand on Wulf’s shoulder. “The princess is with her. And so is Puidenlehdet.”
“I guess you’re right,” Wulf replied. “But I’m going to check on her later.”
Ahorn nodded. “Yes, you should. And spell my dear wise woman. Puidenlehdet has to sleep, even if she does think she’s indestructible.”
“I’ll make sure that she gets some rest,” Wulf said. “We’re going to need her more than ever.”
Ahorn didn’t seem to be listening to Wulf’s reply. He shook his head and stamped a forefoot down hard. It resounded against the floor, causing several people to glance in their direction.
“And that cursed cousin of mine had the gall to tell me she couldn’t have a pallet in my stable,” Ahorn said. He gave a dismissive snort. “He doesn’t approve of our relationship.”
“Lots of people don’t approve of a centaur and a buffalo person match. You know that. People say that’s where were-beasts come from.”
“It is where were-beasts come from,” Ahorn said. “If the child is unloved and treated like an outcast. Which we would never do.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t, my friend,” Wulf said with a smile. “But you two aren’t married yet. Are you?”
“No,” the centaur said. “That’s not the point, m’lord. You don’t understand the family politics that can go on with my kind. And hers.”
“There aren’t a lot of centaurs in Raukenrose,” Wulf admitted.
“Tawdry, sordid stuff,” Ahorn replied. “Stupid stuff.”
“Okay, now you have to explain,” Wulf said. He nodded toward Abendar, peacefully smoking. “He wants to know, too.”
“It’s always amusing to find that somebody else’s family is as peculiar as your own,” Abendar said with a chuckle. “But, Lord Ahorn–your people listen to the stars and use crystal vibrations to sense the movement of the dragons. Are you telling me that you don’t spend all your time stargazing and talking about deep philosophical things?”
Ahorn huffed a dry laugh. “I wish.” He took his pipe from his mouth and knocked the tobacco onto the floor. There were a few bits of burning weed left. These he stamped out with his foot. He held the pipe in one hand, using it like a baton to emphasize his points. “Cassis, the innkeeper, is the son of my mother’s sister, Cyrene. So, he is not my cousin, but my brother.”
“But that makes him exactly your cousin,” Wulf said. “Doesn’t it?”
“In the human way of reckoning, yes. In our way, no,” Ahorn went on. “The brother or sister of a parent is not always an aunt or an uncle. In fact, they are only half the time.”
“The sister of our mother, we also call ‘mother.’ But her brother we call ‘uncle.’ The brother of a father we also call ‘father,’ but his sister we call ‘aunt.'”
“That is . . . incredibly confusing.”
“Not to us, m’lord. The rule is simple,” Ahorn said. “The same-sex sibling of a parent is a blood relative. The different-sex sibling is considered a more distant relative. The same with the children. The children of my father’s brother, I call ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ The children of my mother’s sister, I also call ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’ But the children of my father’s sister or my mother’s brother I call ‘cousin.'”
“I know some about centaur ways, but I’ve never understood this,” Abendar put in. “Frankly, it seems . . . pointless.”
“It has to do with how our bloodlines work and how traits are passed down. We are insular, so we have to keep these things mixed.”
“If you say so.”
“Here’s the thing: you can marry your cousin. But you can’t marry a sister or a brother.”
“A sister or brother who is really a cousin,” Wulf said.
“Right, m’lord,” said Ahorn, gesturing at Wulf with his pipe as if he was an apt student who had answered correctly. “Or they might be your actual brother and sister, in which case you can’t marry them either.”
“I hope not.”
“But cousins–now cousins you want to marry. That is the tradition.”
“Why, for Sturmer’s sake?”
“Because they are distant enough relatives to keep the bloodline sturdy, but close enough to keep the family wealth together.”
“So Cassis is your brother? That is, your cousin?”
“Yes,” Ahorn says. “But he is married to Flaum, my mother’s brother’s daughter.”
“So she’s an actual cousin, the way I would think of it,” Wulf said.
“Cross-cousin, yes. Cassis and Flaum have a daughter. Her name is Syrinks. That’s her over there.” Ahorn nodded toward a young centaur woman holding a serving tray. She was delivering mugs of mead and wine to the diners.
“She’s pretty,” Wulf said.
The centaur woman noticed them looking at her. Particularly, Wulf guessed, Ahorn. She shook her long brown hair and threw back her head slightly.
As usual, centaurs only wore functional clothing, such as satchels for carrying items. The centaur woman’s human-looking upper half was bare naked, including her breasts.
“She seems like she’s got a lot of personality, too,” Wulf added lamely.
As swiftly as she’d reacted to the male glances, Syrinks turned up her nose and looked away. She went back to waiting on the guests.
“Yes, she does,” Ahorn replied with a doleful look. “I like her. I just do not want to marry her. I don’t really think she wants to marry me, either.”
“Why should you?”
“Because I don’t have any other cousins to marry. And neither does Syrinks.”
“I don’t get it . . . you mean centaurs have to marry their cousins?”
“When you think about it, m’lord,” Ahorn said with a smile, “it does make a lot of horse sense.”