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The Amber Arrow: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Friday, July 28, 2017 19:35 EDT



The Servant Girl

    The fulgin paused on the outskirts of a large plantation. This farm grew a mixture of cotton and tobacco, with some wheat and corn mixed in to feed the bloodservants. The creature didn’t know anything about this. It only understood that here, at this place, were others here who had a master, just as it did. A master who answered to the Dark Angel Queen.

    And it could sense that the master of this place did not belong to the red-collared priest and the soldiers who were chasing it. Who wanted to steal the crown from it.

    Here the master’s master was the creature’s own mistress. The fulgin could smell it in the air. Here it could hide away from the Romans for a little while.



    Marguerite was six years old. People told her she had far too much imagination for a servant girl.

    For instance, right now she could see something in the shadows that none of the other adults could. It looked like a shadow in some ways, but this thing was darker.

    It’s the kind of shadow a shadow would make, Madeleine thought.

    She had spent the morning at chores around the bloodservant quarters while most of the adults were away in the fields. She fed the chickens. She spent time grinding corn for the pone that all the bloodservants would eat come supper. Everybody had to take a turn at that.

    In the afternoon she went to the mansion to get the waste food and table scraps that she would use to slop the hogs. Of course she would also pick the good pieces out, especially the meat. Then she gave the rest to the hogs.

    She was very proud that whatever she could find in the slop would be extra for everyone to eat, and how good she was at picking it out. After supper, if she had found something special, Mamma and Papa, or one of the uncles or aunts, would pat her on the head and tell her she was a good girl and that she done a very good job.

    They would also be sure to remind her that she was never to mention to the master’s family, or the servants in the house, that she picked through the slop and kept things from the pigs. She was also to keep it out of her mind as much as possible. But that was easy, because the master and his family seldom got into the mind of a six-year-old bloodservant even though they could. They could get into everybody’s minds if they concentrated hard enough.

    It was during her chores that she noticed the shadow thing lurking about. It didn’t seem particularly dangerous to her. It seemed more afraid then anything. So now and again she would throw it a scrap, or a handful of chicken feed. She would walk away and when she came back the food was gone. On the first day, she had tried to tell Papa about it, but he had looked at her like she was crazy and told her never to mention this again.

    It was well known that sometimes children who weren’t right in the head were sold away to work in the amber mines. She had to fit in and never give anyone a suspicion that she was different–or she might end up at the bottom of a pit and never see the sun again.

    This was enough to scare Marguerite into staying quiet about the shadow thing. But she knew what her eyes were seeing. It wasn’t made up, it wasn’t like an imaginary friend to talk or sing a song to.

    The shadow thing was real.

    Then something bad happened. On the second day after seeing the shadow thing, she leaned over a little too far while slopping the hogs and fell into the hog pen. Mamma had told her to be careful and she knew better, but the rails were so rickety and the hogs so hungry.

    This was very bad.

    Hogs could kill you, especially if you were little. A man could kick them away, but even a man couldn’t kick a dozen pigs away if they thought he had some kind of food. You could get trampled, then eaten yourself.

    Hogs would eat anything.

    Hogs would most certainly eat little girls.

    As soon as she fell in, some of the meanest of the boars came right for her. She tried to scramble up the split-rail fence. She almost made it, too, but then she gave in to temptation and looked back at all those hungry hogs. Her hands trembled so much that she couldn’t make herself climb anymore. She wasn’t going to get out in time. Those hogs were going to bite her and pull her back into the pen.

    Then the shadow thing appeared.

    It just showed up right where she had been standing in the dirt of the pen. The hogs couldn’t see it. No more than the adults could, she reckoned. But then the shadow thing started twisting. It started turning around and around like it was dancing or happy and twirling. And there was proof that it was real right here, because the dirt of the pen started kicking up. It started swirling up in a dust devil that the shadow thing was making by all of its twirling and whirling.

    The hogs didn’t like this at all.

    The dust scared them.

    Where had that wind come from? What did it mean?

    Pigs were pretty smart but they weren’t smart enough to figure that out. The big boar who scared Marguerite so much started squealing in fright. He ran away. The other hogs followed. She finally felt the strength come back into her hands, and she could climb out of the pen.

    Before she jumped down on the other side she turned around and looked straight at the shadow thing.

    “Thank you,” she said to it. “I don’t know what you are, but I know now that you are good.”

    She was about to get back to her chores, when she heard a small voice coming from the shadow thing. It sounded almost like a little bone flute, like the ones Grandpa made from chicken legs.

    “Can I please have something more to eat?” the shadow thing asked.

    “Why sure,” Marguerite replied. “I’m going to set the rest of the slop bucket down right here. Why don’t you eat everything that’s in there, okay?”

    She put the bucket on the ground and then backed away. The shadow thing seemed to melt through an opening in the split-rail fence. It approached the bucket. It didn’t have a head or a mouth, really. Instead, it put something like a funnel or a beak like a hummingbird had down into the slop and started sucking the slop up. It made sounds like “Hmm hmm hmm” and “yum yum” that made Marguerite giggle.

    When it was done, the beak went back into the shadow thing’s form. Even though it didn’t have a head, the shadow thing did seem to have legs and arms.



    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.

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