Ambry Silverstrings and Walkin’ Pete
by Dana Beehr
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3 4, 5, 6
Ambry screwed her courage to the sticking place and nudged her boat closer to that mean old ring of cypress trees and those two dark things a-floating in the water; and once she drew nigh, and saw what they were, she like to bust a gut laughing.
“Why, those big, right scary river serpents weren’t nothin’ more than ‘preachers!’” she cried. “Preachers,” you understand, is the term for a certain type of river tree, a fallen log as gets caught in the current and bobs up and down. ’Twere called “preachers” on account of they’re always bowing, just like a preacher of Chira does before a holy icon.
Now, Ambry’s laugh were mostly for relief, for she had been that scared of the serpents. But at the same time she were mad too, because Ambry were a River folk through and through, and if’n you know River folk, you know why, there’s nothing in the world they hate more than being fooled. So when she got over her fright, she found her dander up just a bit.
“Well!” Ambry huffed. “She must be some Witch in the Bayou if’n she can pull a trick like that on me!” And here she began to get downright ornery.
A-huffing and a-puffing, Ambry took up her paddle, gave her boat a shove, and glided right on between the two “preachers” and into the cypress ring.
Inside, the ring was almost the size of a County Fairgrounds, all fenced in with the cypress trees and ghost-hair moss. The water were all murky, and Ambry saw all sorts of things in it — masses of riverweed, and the long dark shapes of river fish to start with, but as she looked closer, she saw weapons, swords, pieces of ships from ironclads — and maybe even gleaming bits of gold and jewels from the Empire of the Center and the Kingdom of the Grasslands.
Well, that there gold was mighty tempting to a girl who seldom had two coins to rub together, but she told herself, “Don’t you be touchin’ that, Ambry. Remember — there’s such a thing as fools’ gold, and Ambry Silverstrings ain’t no fool.” And indeed, in among the gleaming, there was the white of bone — all as was left of fools who’d tried for that gold in times past.
She pulled herself away from the gold and turned toward the center of the ring where was a rocky outcropping — an island, covered with small stunted trees. There didn’t seem to be anything else anywheres in that circle, and Ambry guessed it was the Witch’s home. She didn’t like the looks of that island none too much, but having promised Walkin’ Pete, she knew she had to give it a try.
She began to pole her boat forward, but just as she did, the water shook and rippled, and her boat began to buck like a bronco, tossing her back and forth as if she were being churned for butter. Ambry held onto the boat for dear life, crying out a prayer to Chira, but she didn’t get more’n a word out afore her voice just about died in her throat.
* * *
That there rock island began to rear up out of the water, higher and higher, for now it showed it weren’t really an island at all but a monster — a giant, and she had thought the giants were all dead long afore her time!
She would have stopped and goggled if she had the chance, but she had just about all she could do to stay in the boat; she were clinging onto the sides for dear life and praying fast as she could — “Dear Chira, if’n you get me through this, I swear I won’t go swearin’ no more nor flirtin’ with no more lads, nor drinkin’, nor dicin’ nor gamblin’.” Of course, she’d made such prayers many times afore and hadn’t kept none of them, but ’twas the thought that counted. She were swearing all sorts of meaningless swears to change her ways when, all on a sudden, the giant heaved herself up to her full height and swung toward Ambry.
The giant were huge: tall, and lumpy all over just like the rock island; the hair on her head were the things Ambry had taken to be stunted trees. Her eyes were skewed and misshapen, and her shoulders were bulgy and bony, just like boulders. She wore seaweed and river weeds, trimmed with drowned woman’s hair moss, and around her neck hung a necklace of bones: leg bones, arm bones, skulls and spines and ribs, all clicking and rattling as she moved.
She shook off the water so those bones clicked, and bellowed down at Ambry, “Who are you?” she roared. “And why are you here disturbin’ my rest?”
Ambry’s little craft rocked in the wash, but she held onto the sides and drew on her own courage. “My name’s Ambry Silverstrings,” she called up to the giant.
“Ambry Silverstrings?” the giant bellowed. “Ambry Silverstrings the River Fiddler?”
“Yes, ma’am, I am. And, in fact, I am the best fiddler all up and down the Great Serpent,” said Ambry with some pride. “Have you heard of me?”
“I have,” the giant bellowed back, “but why do you come disturbin’ my slumber? I need my beauty sleep!”
That’s for certain, Ambry thought, but were smart enough to hold her tongue this time. “Are you the Witch of the Blue Bayou?”
“And what if I am?” bellowed the giant.
“Well,” Ambry said, “I came in search o’ her, on account o’ I have a friend as needs a favor done for him, and you’re the only one who could do it, at least so he said.”
“A favor?” bellowed the witch. “Well, what if I don’t feel like doin’ no favors, ever think o’ that? I was havin’ a nice sleep along afore you came and woke me up, and if’n you hadn’t come along, I’d still be havin’ a nice sleep, and on account o’ that, I ain’t well inclined to be doin’ favors for anyone.”
And those askew yellow eyes glowered down at Ambry and made her shiver and shake. The giant roared down at her, “As it happens, when I’m woken up in the middle of my nap, I get hungry. Hungry for a snack — and a mite like you would be just right!” And oh, how she laughed and laughed, shaking the water for seemed like miles around, and she snarled and gnashed her huge teeth together, teeth the size of tombstones, least so Ambry said.
Yet somehow, when the giant said that, Ambry stopped being scared. She felt she knew what to do, and she held up her fiddle and said, “Afore you have your snack, how about you listen to me playin’ a little bit? After all, music is supposed to help digestion.” And she lifted her fiddle and set her bow to the string afore the Witch of Blue Bayou had time to say yes, no or maybe.
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Copyright © 2017 by Dana Beehr