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The Amber Arrow: Chapter Fifteen

       Last updated: Saturday, August 12, 2017 08:46 EDT



The Star-stone

    “Don’t tell me what to do,” Ravenelle Archambeault said.

    “All right, sister,” Saeunn whispered. “Don’t be mad at me.”

    She struggled to sit up, but couldn’t. A wisp of blonde hair fell across her eyes. Ravenelle reached down and brushed it away.

    “I’m not,” Ravenelle said. “I’m mad because I can’t help you.”

    “You’re a great help,” Saeunn replied with sigh. “Will you read some more of your romance to me?”

    “We finished it,” Ravenelle said.

    “Oh.” Saeunn blinked. “I guess I drifted off.”

    “The prince finally tells Julia Silves he loves her and hands her a rose. But she pricks her finger on a thorn on the stem and–well, you know she has that noble bleeding sickness where it won’t stop?”

    “Yes. I think so.”

    “She’s sure she’s going to bleed to death, and it’s going to be long and drawn out and painful, so she asks the prince to plunge his dagger into her heart. He won’t do it, so she does it for him. She dies in his arms. But at least they get to kiss.”

    “Gruesome,” Saeunn said. “But pretty.” She smiled wanly up at Ravenelle. “It makes you shudder.”

    “That’s kind of the point,” Ravenelle replied.

    Saeunn nodded. She tried to shift and sit up, but the strength went out of her and her head fell back on the pillow. Suddenly her eyes grew bright and hard, like little blue flints. Her smile turned to an expression of sadness. “The elfling loses more of her soul-roots,” she said–to no one in particular.

    “Brennan?” There were allegedly two beings within Saeunn. One was Saeunn. The other was the elf whose star fell from the sky. It was Brennan Temeldar whose star-stone meteorite Saeunn wore on a chain around her neck.

    “Yes, dark girl.”

    Ravenelle hoped Brennan was only talking about the color of her hair and skin, which came from her Afrique and Aegyptian ancestors. But sometimes she was afraid that Brennan was seeing some other kind of darkness inside her.

    Brennan Temeldar was an elf woman who allegedly shared Saeunn’s body now. She was supposed to be beyond ancient. Ravenelle didn’t know the sagas like Wulf–learning Kalte sagas had absolutely not been the part of her education she paid much attention to–but she did know that Brennan was in the oldest sagas. The sagas said she had done something terrible to herself–what that was, the saga was a bit vague on–and given up her soul. That was when her star had fallen from the sky. But a small part of her lived on in some way in the star-stone necklace. At least that was what everybody around Saeunn believed.

    Ravenelle figured it was all some barbarian myth. But it was clear that Saeunn believed that part of her was Brennan Temeldar, and that had somehow helped her recover from what she’d done against the draugar. She had made him vulnerable to weapons. If it was good for Saeunn to believe in Brennan Temeldar, then Ravenelle would play along.

    “What are soul-roots?” she asked.

    “The places where the mind and body are together so closely you can hardly tell them apart,” Saeunn/Brennan answered. “She and I, we are . . . separating.”

    “What can we do?”

    “I do not know. So little remains of me. Just this ash, this cinder.” She fingered the star-stone at her breast. She let it go and sighed. “I’ve forgotten so much.”

    “What I can see is that Saeunn has a fever and chills, and gets as weak as a baby. Then she recovers for a while. Today she seemed almost back to her old self.”

    “No,” Brennan said. “She will never be back to her old self. The star that she was is gone. Fallen.”

    “I don’t believe that. She can still laugh and cry like always. She still makes little Anya giggle when she plays with her.” Anya was Wulf’s youngest sister. She adored Saeunn and Saeunn returned the adoration. “She’s even kissed Wulf. A lot.”

    “She burns brightly before night falls.”

    “You are really depressing me, Brennan Temeldar,” Ravenelle replied. “Saeunn would never do that.”

    “And are you angry, Ravenelle Archambeault?”

    “I’m worried,” she answered truthfully. “There’s still no message from my mother. Nothing for over a year.”

    “Then you must go and find out what has happened. You are of age now. Childhood is fast fading, and it is time to become a woman.”

    Ravenelle looked down at her breasts. When she was twelve they had started growing. And growing. Even though she’d willed them over and over again to stop. She envied Saeunn her small, perfect breasts.

    “I think I’ve been becoming a woman for a while,” she said dryly. “Listen, Brennan, please, please do something to help my sister.”

    Saeunn/Brennan looked at her and shook her head in wonder. “You are so young,” she said. “You think you can stomp your feet and make the world obey.”

    “I’ve gotten over thinking that.”

    “You will always be young to me,” Brennan said. Her voice seemed to be fading. Saeunn/Brennan closed her eyes. “I will do what I can for now.”

    Saeunn was sixty-three and a half years old–which meant she was an elf teenager. She would live on and on. Elves did not die of old age. Humans did. Even Roman nobles.

    But elves could die of other causes, Ravenelle thought. It’ll be so wrong if Saeunn dies before me.

    It wasn’t fair. Saeunn should always stay her wonderful older sister. Kind, quirky, laughing with you and not at you like so many others did. She also tended to fall into rhapsodies when standing in moonlight–then let you make fun of her about them when she came out of her trance. Ravenelle had teased her a lot about that when they were young. Looking back, she realized her younger self must’ve been quite a trial sometimes, even for Saeunn, who hardly ever got ruffled.

    She loved her sister. She would do anything for her. Even stay in the Kaltelands for as long as she was needed, even though she had spent years thinking about finally being set free to go home.

    “Your hair is a mess,” said Saeunn. “You’d better let Jakka fix it.”

    “You’re back,” Ravenelle said.

    “Was I gone?” Saeunn asked.

    “Brennan Temeldar was here,” said Ravenelle.


    Ravenelle reached up and put a hand to her crazy, curly hair. No matter how she pinned it, it seemed to spring free. It was never long before it was as tangled as a bramble bush again.

    “I feel much better, actually,” Saeunn finally said.

    “I think Brennan did something to help.”

    Saeunn reached for the star-stone and wrapped her fingers around it. “It’s cold,” she said.

    Ravenelle bent over and touched the stone. It wasn’t just cold. It was freezing. A thin white layer of ice was on its surface.

    Saeunn tucked the stone back under her nightdress. She sat up.

    “I think I’ll get dressed,” she said. “I’m hungry.”

    Ravenelle nodded. “If you’re feeling that well, I’m going to get some sleep. I#8217;ll send Jakka to look after you for a while.” Saeunn had never wanted a lady’s maid during her years in Raukenrose castle, but now she nodded.

    “That would probably be a good idea,” she said. “We don’t know how long this will last. Where are Wulf and Rainer?”

    As if in answer, there was a soft knock on the door.

    Ravenelle glanced outside through the eyes of Alvis.

    It was Wulf, of course.

    “Come,” said Ravenelle. She stood.

    The door opened and Wulf stepped in. When he saw Saeunn sitting, his eyes lit up. “You’re better!” he said.

    “For now,” Saeunn replied.

    He went to her side and, before he could settle in, Saeunn pulled him down. She kissed him passionately for a long moment.

    When she let him go, Wulf looked stunned. And very happy.

    “Oh Wulf, it’s good to have now,” Saeunn said.

    Wulf sat down in Ravenelle’s chair. He took Saeunn’s hand and kissed it. Tears were in his eyes.

    And that cursed von Dunstig determination.

    He’ll never give up, Ravenelle thought. And if he loses her, he’ll love her till the end of his days.

    It would be nice to be loved so completely, she thought.

    And then she realized that she probably was.

    Don’t go there, Ravenelle thought. You are not a barbarian. Act like a Roman. Think like a Roman.

    Ravenelle quietly left the room. In the hallway, she put a hand to her hair. Saeunn had been right. It was a continuing explosion of a briar patch. She would finally take the half-watch the task required, and have Jakka brush it out, wash it, and pin it back up properly.

    Then she would check back in on Saeunn.

    If she’s still strong, Ravenelle thought. If I think she’s better . . .

    Then Rainer and I will head for Montserrat.



    From the trees charged–

    Not wolves.

    Too little.


    Yipping, screaming, sounding like a cross between a barn owl and a squeaky door hinge. Coyotes in a pack, headed for her. As if their lives depended on reaching her.

    Looking over their surging backs, Ursel saw that this was true.

    They were being chased by wolves.

    “Don’t shoot the little ones!” Ursel called out. She turned to Wannas. “Tell your men in Algonquin. Don’t shoot the coyotes.” She took aim over the coyote shoulders. “Do shoot the wolves.”

    Wannas translated what she said in a commanding voice.

    Ursel let fly her arrow. It sank into the chest of the closest wolf, and the animal collapsed, rolling around and whimpering in pain.

    She didn’t wait to see if it died. She nocked an arrow, took aim at another. This one didn’t give her an easy shot at its vitals. So instead she shot it through the eye. It collapsed as if it had run into an invisible tree trunk.

    The other Skraelings were letting their first arrows go. Most found their mark and at least distracted a wolf. Ottaniak’s tomahawk neatly split one through the skull. Ursel had her third arrow nocked. But the wolves were turning to retreat. They scampered for the forest. She almost released a shot after them, but she didn’t want to waste arrows. They were going.

    The coyotes collapsed on the ground nearby panting. There were ten of then. One was bleeding from a mauled rear leg. It tried to lick the blood away, but the flow was too fast. Ursel saw that it was a male. He was a little more muscular than the others.

    Maybe he was injured so badly because he had stayed behind to fight and drive away the wolves, Ursel thought.

    “Let’s make sure those wolves are dead,” she said. She nodded toward the carcasses of the downed wolves which they could see through the saplings. She took a step toward the bodies. When she did the coyotes all got up and moved with her. Even the one with the badly hurt leg. She turned back to look at them.

    They were all arranged in a semicircle behind her. She spun around and took a few more steps. The coyotes matched her pace staying just behind her. She turned again.

    “I’m just going to make sure we are safe from the wolves,” she said to them. But the coyote pack kept following her. She stopped. They stopped. She moved, they moved.

    Ursel sighed. “All right. I don’t want you going over there. I’ll just stay here.” She turned to Wannas who was a few paces away. “Can you see to the wolves while I try to figure out what is going on here?”

    Wannas nodded. There was a curious smile on his face as he looked at Ursel. “They seem to think you’re their mother,” he said.

    “Well I’m not,” Ursel replied. She turned her gaze to the coyotes. “I’m not!” she said again, this time to the coyotes.

    When they saw that she was not going to move anymore, they lay down again. Ursel went to tend to the coyote with the bleeding leg. There wasn’t much to do except to wrap it in a strip of muslin cloth with enough pressure to stop the blood flow. The little coyote limped, but it was able to stand up on its four feet after being bandaged.

    Ursel looked over the pack. Their panting was dying down, and they didn’t seem to be whimpering and whining as much. Then the muscular leader started to growl. He hunched up and backed away. For a moment Ursel thought he was about to attack her. But then she realized he was gazing at something over her shoulder.

    She didn’t think. Didn’t look, just reacted.

    Ursel swung her bow around with two hands. It was good that she didn’t wait a moment longer. The wood of the bow connected with the skull of a wolf lunging toward her throat. Its teeth were bared and she could actually see the saliva strands in the wolf’s mouth, a hand away from her neck. She’d swung hard, and the bow knocked the wolf to the side. It already had an arrow in its side. When it hit the ground, it tried to get up, but the arrow stopped it from being able to roll over.

    Then the coyotes were on the wolf.

    They attacked with fierceness. And they were led by Bandage-leg. The wolf was already wounded to the point of death. It couldn’t withstand ten coyotes pouncing on it. Biting. Tearing

    Ripping fur. Skin. Meat.

    The coyotes took the wolf apart. Then, almost as if they’d gotten a signal, they went back to sit near Ursel. They stared up at her.

    She looked into Bandage-leg’s eyes.

    And she understood.

    Around the pupil was a shining purple iris. Even in the daylight, the iris seemed to spark slightly. It was an eye color that no true coyote ever possessed, nor a coyote man. Ursel had no doubt that at night, the edge of the irises would glow.

    This was called a “dasein ring.”

    It was a sign that Tier and humans had mated across species.

    These were were-coyotes.


    “All right,” Ursel said to them. “Why don’t you transform? Then we can talk about what you are doing on my land.”

    Wannas had come to stand beside her.

    “What are you talking about?” he asked her.

    Before she could answer, the coyotes started to whine. Several of them fell over and rolled around, yipping. All of them contorted in some way. Then they writhed about.

    Then they contorted again, in ways no animal could.

    They seemed almost to be turning themselves inside out.

    Hair disappeared. Claws retracted. Snouts shortened.

    When it was all done, they were not ten coyotes.

    They were ten humans.

    Small, naked humans.

    Boys and girls.


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