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The Amber Arrow: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 20:49 EDT



The Necklace

    “Bring me Marchioness Valentine,” said a tall, somber man. He looked to be about thirty years old. He had a close-shaven face and wavy hair that fell to his shoulders. His hair was dark brown. So were his eyes. He had the olive skin color of a Tiberian. Here in the Roman colonies, he stood out. Most of the inhabitants of Vall l’Obac were much darker in complexion. They were of Afrique and Aegyptian ancestry.

    The young man wore the jet-black tunic of a Talaia priest. His red clerical collar showed his clerical order.

    The Talaia faith called this order the Fratelli di Sangue, the Brothers of the Blood.

    Two guards in Roman scale armor near the door to the room left to execute the command of the man in the black tunic.

    The man’s name was Quintos Rossofore. His official title was Continental Magister Praelatus of the Inquisition Suprema and Vice Abbot of the Fratelli di Sangue Order of Talaia.

    Although vice abbot of an order was a higher title, Rossofore liked people to address him as “Magister.”

    While he was waiting for the marchioness, Rossofore gazed down at the lovely necklace of amber beads in his hands. Yellow-golden beauty. He let it swing freely and shifted it this way and that to catch the afternoon light streaming through a citadel window.

    Dragon amber.

    So much concentrated dasein, he thought. Magic. That was what dragon amber was. Dasein that brought the world to life and sustained it.

    And now he held that power in his hand.



    If dasein was the essence of life, then the dragons were life’s greatest enemies. They fed on the dasein in the Earth. They took its magic for themselves, only allowing tiny amounts to escape their horrible appetites.

    So said the articles of the faith of Talaia.

    Rossofore knew the teachings of Talaia. Oh yes, he knew them well.

    He’d spent his younger days in a special orphanage in Rome having them beaten into him.

    No matter. That was years ago. Now he was a very powerful man.

    Because of amber. Because of dasein.

    If the free amber in the world could be collected . . . concentrated . . .

    He took the beaded necklace in both of his hands. Each golden amber droplet was the size of a robin’s egg.

    He was admiring it when his guards returned with Valentine Archambeault, Queen of the Colonial Kingdom of Vall l’Obac, and Marchioness of the Holy Roman Empire.

    “You wish to present yourself to me?” Valentine asked. Her voice was low for woman, a rich alto. Some might call it edged with iron, but Rossofore thought it ridiculously prideful coming from a colonial.

    “Yes, Marchioness,” Rossofore replied with a bow. “Thank you for coming.”

    Valentine hesitated. She was obviously miffed. All in Vall l’Obac called her “Your Majesty,” Rossofore knew. Even though it was officially correct, calling her marchioness was an insult. What Valentine didn’t know, and never needed to know, was that he called her by a lesser title for his own sake as well as hers.

    She reminded him of his mother.

    His imaginary mother.

    He had never known his true mother or his father. Instead there had only been old Brother Luigi who had drummed the books of wisdom and the Testament of the Covenant into all the children at the orphanage.

    Brother Luigi and his knotted whip.

    And when memorization didn’t work, the children were sold.

    Sold away. Gone.

    Rossofore later learned that these were sent to the mines or indentured as chimney sweeps and night-soil collectors. But when he was a small boy all he knew was that children who didn’t learn what Brother Luigi wanted . . . disappeared.

    He’d been constantly worried that it might be him next. He’d had to come up with something to keep himself from digging his nails into his palms and grinding his teeth every night.

    So he’d secretly imagined having parents.

    He thought they might be a rich couple, possibly noble, who had to hide him from jealous relatives who wanted to kill him for his inheritance.

    He was a smart boy. A boy of quality. Why shouldn’t he be of the nobility? After all, nobody knew where he’d come from. He’d just showed up in a dirty basket on Brother Luigi’s doorstep one night.

    He might’ve been brought from a manor house.

    Rossofore fantasized that his mother would one day show up. She would claim him from the orphanage.

    She would hug him, and tell him what a good boy he was.

    Then she would take him home to her big house and feed him everything he ever wanted to eat. She would have him sit next to her by the fire. She would stroke his hair.

    Rossofore hadn’t been touched often in the orphanage, and when he was it was usually by the back of Brother Luigi’s hand.

    His mother would never spank him. He would be a good boy. In his fantasy, he would get his own room, a really nice one. But sometimes when he had nightmares–which was all the time at the orphanage–she would let him crawl into bed between her and his father.

    He would fall asleep between them, warm and safe.

    He would know that nobody was going to send him to the mines.

    His parents would never allow that.

    Rossofore had grown older and learned that such daydreams were foolish. Idiotic, even.

    Many orphans had them. They couldn’t all be the secret sons and daughters of nobility could they?

    In fact, none of them were.

    Such fantasy was a weakness and had to be stamped out.

    Rossofore tried.

    But he never could quite stamp out the memory of his imaginary mother.

    Marchioness Valentine Archambeault reminded him very much of that daydream mother. She looked almost exactly as he’d pictured her. He’d been struck almost speechless when he’d first met her. Now whenever he was around her, he had to make extra sure that he didn’t give her any special privilege because of some childish delusion that he hadn’t succeeded in wiping out.

    She was not his mother.

    No one was his mother.

    Valentine Archambeault was a heretic. She deserved punishment. He knew it. He just had to prove it.

    And she never came for me! She just left me there for Brother Luigi to torment!

    Stop it. That was nonsense.

    The marchioness was merely of professional interest to him. After all, he was an inquisitor of the Holy Roman Empire, and she was a heretic. Most colonials were in one way or another.

    After a moment off balance, Valentine regained her proud bearing and nodded to Rossofore, acknowledging that he didn’t have to address her as he would a queen.

    Then she saw the necklace he was fingering, and let out an involuntary gasp.

    Rossofore raised his hands and let the sunlight from the open window of the tower hit the amber beads. His office in the castle had once belonged to the marchioness’s lord high counselor.

    That was before the same high counselor had been burned at the stake for heresy.

    On Rossofore’s orders.

    They were in a towering turret that was part of Pierre du Corbeau Castle, residence of the queen. The window looked out over the western regions of Montserrat, the capital city of Vall l’Obac.

    “Do you recognize the jewelry?” Rossofore asked.

    “Of course I do. It’s the Golden Rose of Lerocher. It belongs to the countess. I have no idea what you are doing with it.”

    “It was owned by the Lerochers,” Rossofore replied. “By the old count and his young countess. She’s twenty years younger than the count, you know.”

    Count Lerocher had disgusted Rossofore. He could still picture the wrinkled old man’s claw of a hand grasping the lovely, smooth hand of the countess.

    He’d brought the man and his young wife to Montserrat. He’d told them it was for a special duty to the Brothers of the Blood. And it was, in a way. He’d immediately seen the count’s seemingly devout nature was merely a cover for deep heresy.

    “In actual fact, the necklace was only in the possession of the countess. It belonged to the count. It has been in the Lerocher family for generations. When he confessed his heresy, naturally he forfeited his family’s earthly possessions. So now the Golden Rose belongs to the faith.”

    “You mean, to you, Magister Rossofore.”



    “As Rome’s highest representative in the kingdom at present, I am the Hand of the Bishops, so yes, I am in charge of its fate.”

    “Poor Count Lerocher,” the queen murmured.

    “Your sympathy is misguided. He was a heretic.”

    “You would know, Magister.”

    “Marchioness, the man confessed to sacrilege and crimes against the Colonial Dispensation. He allowed his bloodservants Roman surnames. He made midnight sacrifices to the Kalte gods to beg for good tobacco crops.”

    “And you got him to confess this after only a little prodding with red-hot pokers?” the marchioness said. “Amazing.”

    “The Resonance of the Faith demanded his confession, not me. But it is my task as a master inquisitor to bring the heretic into harmony.”

    “With the use of the whip and rack, I’m sure,” Valentine said. Rossofore detected the marchioness’s obvious sarcasm, but decided to ignore it. He had more important matters to attend to.

    “Sometimes the body must suffer so that the soul can be saved.”

    He’d thought the young Countess Lerocher a self-serving coquette. It had turned out that the young girl loved the old man after all. How disgusting and unnatural!

    She came to Rossofore and pled with him to keep her husband from burning at the stake. She offered him nearly everything, even–he thought with disgust–herself as a mistress.

    Then Rossofore had named the price he’d intended to demand all along.

    “The Golden Rose of Lerocher would be suitable atonement for what Count Lerocher has done,” Rossofore had said.

    The little countess’s hand had gone to her mouth in shock.

    “Please don’t ask that of us,” she pleaded. “It’s the foundation of the family fortune. If you take it, we’ll be ruined. My husband would rather burn than give it up.”

    “Do you care nothing for your husband’s soul, Countess? Would you rather he never resonated with the Emptiness?” Rossofore asked. “I remind you that the souls of the excommunicated are doomed to walk in the underworld forever.”

    “Yes, I know it.”

    “The Golden Rose stands between your husband and the Blessed Void. With its weight upon his conscience, he will never ascend from this world of suffering.”

    Even then, she had wavered. So he’d ordered the stakes erected and the wood piled high for burning. There were ten heretics currently held in the Montserrat dungeon.

    He sent a messenger to the countess saying that one of those stakes was for Lerocher.

    The messenger came back bearing the Golden Rose in a strongbox.

    “The count confessed,” Rossofore told Valentine. “And the faith was merciful. He did not burn.”

    “You had the old man hanged in his cell,” the marchioness replied dryly.

    “Yes, but we released the body to the widow to be buried in consecrated ground with a wafer of blessed celestis on his tongue. This is the foundation for passage to eternity, as you know, Marchioness.”

    Rossofore looked from Valentine down to the necklace again and smiled.


    There is nothing that this old woman can do about it, either.

    He took one of the amber beads in his hands and gave the metal that enclosed it a powerful twist.

    “No!” Valentine gasped.

    He gave it another twist. The bead popped from its casing and into Rossofore’s hand.

    “That is a priceless relic from the first days of the colony,” Valentine said, her voice trembling with dismay.

    Well I certainly wiped that arrogant smile from her face, Rossofore thought. Good.

    One by one, as the queen watched, horrified, he twisted the other amber stones out in the same way. He threw aside the rest of the necklace. It was gold, and worth a small fortune, but was useless to him. He held the amber beads before his eyes.

    Lovely. Perfect. Concentrated dasein. The power that had made the world, and that could unmake it.

    He stepped over to his writing desk near to the window where a wine pitcher and glasses sat.

    He smiled at Valentine. “Join me in glass of wine, Marchioness?”

    Rossofore poured himself a glass. He began to pour one for Valentine, but she shook her head and put a hand over the top of the glass.

    The obsidian Raven Ring of l’Ange Noir glinted on her right hand. The Montserrat rivulet topaz sparkled in a bracelet on her wrist. She wore a subtle and no doubt expensive perfume, a mixture of jasmine, vanilla, and musk. Rossofore felt for a moment that he was in the presence of a creature who maybe was a little more than merely human.

    A true queen.

    Mother of a kingdom.

    He quickly shook the feeling off, however. No time to be foolish.

    Rossofore raised the wine glass, then put one of the amber beads into his mouth. He rolled it around on his tongue.

    Valentine whimpered at the sight.

    “Don’t!” she gasped.

    The bead was warm. There was no taste to it. This always disappointed him. Pure power ought to have a taste.

    “Blood and marrow!” the marchioness exclaimed. “Are you crazy?”

    Rossofore smiled. He took a sip of wine.

    He swallowed.

    “No!” Valentine cried.

    She lunged at him, but the guards were nearby to hold her back. There was no need. She controlled herself at the last moment.

    At least she has some self-dignity and good breeding, Rossofore thought. For a colonial.

    One after another, he swallowed five more of the dragon amber beads. He washed each down with another sip of wine.

    Each swallow drew another whine of agony from the marchioness.

    It took only a moment for the power to blossom. He felt the warmth flow through his body. His skin began to shine, the dasein inside him producing its own light. His mind raced with a thousand thoughts and plans. If he gazed into a looking glass, which he’d done before when the amber flush was upon him, he knew he would see his eyes glowing like reddish-yellow orbs of fire.

    He stretched out his hands. They were crinkling. No, they were scaling, like a fish. A reptile.

    He was becoming a dragon.

    A man-dragon. A mandrake. A creature of pure dasein.

    “Dark Angel protect us!” the marchioness shouted. She backed across the room at the sight of Rossofore. She would have fled entirely, but the guards would not let her pass.

    He walked to the citadel window and looked out over the stronghold of Montserrat, his base in this cursed colonial land.

    “Come here!” he commanded Valentine. He saw her try to resist, but with the amber power behind it, his voice was compelling. It’s dasein was irresistible. She turned and stumbled toward him.

    “Stand beside me at the window,” he continued. Valentine did as he said. He smiled. “Watch this, Marchioness.”

    Rossofore raised his now-scaly hands and stuck them out the open window. He clapped them.

    A great peal of thunder boomed through the city.

    Lightning forked across the sky, then crashed somewhere near the horizon.

    The people looked like bugs from here in the tower.

    Roaches, Rossofore thought. Like those cursed colonial Palmetto bugs. Ugh.

    And like roaches, they scurried in all directions, startled and frightened, but not knowing which way to go.

    He clapped his hands again. This time the thunder was louder. It shook the ground. A blast of wind flowed through the town and the people below were blown from their feet.

    Then the wind stopped. The people slowly picked themselves back up. After a moment, they went back on their ways.

    “I did that,” Rossofore said. “Me!”

    “This is sacrilege,” Valentine whispered.

    Rossofore chuckled. “How can it be, Marchioness? I’m the one who decides what sacrilege is in these cursed colonies. That is my appointed task.”

    He reached over and pulled Valentine closer to himself.

    The old daydream returned.

    She did smell so good. Rich. From some other world.

    A beautiful world beyond the filthy orphanage and Brother Luigi’s leather straps and knotted rope whips.

    Rossofore shook his head to clear it.

    No, no, no. She isn’t my mother. She may not be anyone’s mother soon.

    But he would have to find out the name of whatever perfume she was using. He might recommend it to the true ladies of Rome.

    Later. There would be plenty of time.

    “What you are seeing is dasein,” he said. “Pure power. You colonials have had it for generations. But you’re ignorant. You didn’t know how to unlock it.”

    Rossofore took another bead, put it in his mouth. Swallowed.

    “But I do.”

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