The Amber Arrow – Snippet 25
Chapter Twenty-Two: The Lovers
“Tradition is very important to us,” Ahorn continued. “I even agree with it, most of the time.”
“There’s got to be someone else Syrinks can marry.”
“I have only sisters. My cousin has only brothers. I could take you through all of it. She and I are the only cousins who can mate.”
“And if you were to marry her–”
“Her parents are rich. She has a large dowry,” Ahorn said. “Cassis and Flaum have gotten wealthy running the Apfelwein. They’ll settle a hundred thousand thalers on her. He told me that this afternoon. Upping the price because of my stubbornness, he calls it.”
“So you’d be rich.”
“Yes, and it would help the Krisselwissers in Barangath.”
“Krisselwisser is my surname. We don’t use them much, but everyone knows them. We Krisselwissers are gentry. Ancient nobility going back to the first migration. That’s how I have my title. But I’m earl of nothing much, let me tell you. Over the years, the family fortune has gone downhill, especially in my grandfather and his father’s time. And we have more and more mouths to feed.”
“But no eligible cousins to marry Syrinks.”
“Except for me.”
“So the fact that you are actually in love with Puidenlehdet really messes with everyone’s plans.”
“They don’t understand it. They think I’m trying to deliberately sabotage the family.”
“Of course you wouldn’t. But love is love.”
“Try telling that to my cousin. He practically challenged me to a duel today. He is offended for his daughter. For the family name–part of the reason he moved to Tjark and worked so hard to build this grand inn is to be able to give it back to the family. Restore our fortune. By not marrying his daughter, he says I’m spitting on his dreams.”
“Wow. Those are fighting words.”
“I am a one-hundred-and-seven-year-old centaur. I know my own heart. I will spit on more than his dreams if he says one more word about Puidenlehdet rooming with me tonight,” Ahorn said, grinding his tobacco ash deeper into the floor board.
“But how is it going to work with you two? Puidenlehdet already has sons, right? I’ve met Dirty Coat.”
“She’s a widow,” Ahorn said. “Her husband Metsanhoitaja was one of the few buffalo people who ever came to the university. Metsan, we called him. He was a good friend to me and to Albrec Tolas when we were students there. The three of us were very close. I was best man at Metsan and Puidenlehdet’s wedding. She was so lovely that day. I was jealous, even then.”
Wulf had given up trying to understand the attraction between the centaur and the buffalo woman. But that it was strong and mutual, he had no doubt.
“She was apprenticed to be a wise woman, and she became one–and a great one. She is sought by people from all over.”
“She saved my father.”
“Yes. So you see why Metsan was attracted. She understood the ways of nature, the body. Metsan was interested in living things. His family members are mostly foresters. They tend the land, clear ground when more grazing pasture or fodder fields are needed. They barter the wood to river traders for the clan. Metsan’s specialty was the diseases of trees.”
“I didn’t even know they could get diseases.”
“Oh yes. They do,” said Abendar. “Mold, mildew, root wilt, heart-rot, canker, leaf plague. Not to mention the different sorts of bore bug infestation. And the tree people get all the same illnesses as trees themselves. So he was a physician to them.”
“After Metsan died, Puidenlehdet was left in a terrible way. Five sons to raise, and people needing her skills constantly. So I came to help.”
“Wait,” put in Wulf. “You skipped something. When did Metsan die?”
“About twenty years ago,” Ahorn said.
“And how did he die?”
“A tree fell on him. A regular tree.”
“At first I was only there to help her. It was hard for a centaur to make a living as a loremaster among the buffalo people, which was what I was trained for. So I collected crystals from the Dragonbacks. I sold them to traders in Barangath to earn my keep. My people prize crystals of all kinds for soothsaying, healing, stargazing. Lots of other things. I unearthed some really good ones, too. Cassis has a couple of my finds on display over by the entrance, if you get a chance to look.”
“How long did you stay?”
“Five years I lived with her. Like I said, at first there was only friendship between us, and our shared love for Metsan’s memory. But it became something deeper.”
“So why didn’t you get married then?”
“We would have. But my father died, and I had to go home. I was the heir, after all. And like I said, the Krisselwissers are poor. Poor but proud gentry, that’s us. It was true that they needed me. I’ve managed to make us a little better off in the past few years, to pay off some of our debts. Not much, but a little. I eventually became Master of Lore at the Barangath Library. The position comes with an annuity.” He shook his head sadly “But ‘Earl Ahorn Krisselwisser.’ Every time I hear that title, it makes me depressed.”
“Puidenlehdet stayed with her people?”
“She had her sons to look after, and many sick people to help. She still does. But the time is coming when we can finally be together permanently. I feel it. We’ll find a way.”
“I truly hope so, Friend Ahorn,” Abendar said.
“Me, too,” said Wulf. “Do you want me to talk to the innkeeper? Tell him I need you at court or something so you can’t take on the inn? I do. You and Tolas–you’re two of the wisest people I know.”
“Thank you, Lord Wulf. But it wouldn’t do any good. After all, he’ll say I could just as well marry Syrinks and take her to court with me but spend her money building up House Krisselwisser in Barangath.”
“All right, I give up for now,” Wulf said. “I hope you work it out. And no dueling. That’s an order.” Wulf got up from the rocker. “I really am going to look in on Saeunn now.”
Abendar also rose. “There is a lovely half-moon, and it is a clear night,” he said. “I think I will take a walk in the moonlight. Would you like join me, Friend Ahorn?”
“Rather than stew in my own juices and scratch up Cassis’s floor? Yes. Yes, I’ll come along with you, Abendar.”
“Well, goodnight, gentlemen,” Wulf said, bowing tightly, his back still stiff from the day of riding.
“Goodnight, m’lord,” said Ahorn.
Abendar bowed more deeply. “Lord Wulf,” he said.
The centaur and elf headed for the entrance. Wulf realized he had confused which hallway held Saeunn’s room. He must have looked as if he were wandering aimlessly, because Syrinks the centaur came up to him and asked if she could help.
Up close she was even more lovely. And her naked breasts also tended to rivet his attention.
There are human and centaur pairings mentioned in the sagas of Heilin’s and Brotinn’s, Wulf thought. Then he aimed his eyes upward and shook the idea from his head.
“I’m looking for the room where Lady Saeunn Amberstone rests,” he said.
“I will show you there, m’lord,” Syrinks said. She bowed slightly to Wulf, then clopped past him and he followed after. He watched her swaying horse’s hips and swishing tail.
Yep. Pretty in a disturbing way.