Listen to author Douglas Arvidson as he sets the background for reading this excerpt from the book The Face in Amber:
With Dag-gar’s hand on her shoulder urging her away and her mind spinning with his words, Sonoria knelt and slipped between the heavy fence rails. Then she was alone in the darkness, making her way among the great herd.
Out of long years of habit when she was among horses, she began to sing in long, low tones. The song, a wordless humming barely more than a whisper, was normally used to calm the animals, but now she found that it soothed her own soul as well and carried to her some sense of the truth of her own existence in what had suddenly become an incomprehensible world.
She moved slowly toward the gate on the far side of the Great Corral, a distance of at least a hundred yards. The horses towered above her, their huge bodies dim silhouettes in the night. Calmed by the sound of her voice, they stood quietly as she walked among them.
When she approached the gate, she picked the great Spiritus out from among the rest. He alone was not sleeping and looked at her as she approached. Sonoria kept up her low humming. She knew Spiritus would not run away; he would either let her approach or he would kill her.
She watched his ears for some sign of his intentions. They remained pricked up and he raised his nose, gathering her scent. Oh, great Spiritus, she thought. Please remember me. I need you now. Take me out of this Valley. It is no longer my home, its people no longer my people, and I – I am no longer who I was.
Then they were standing face to face. He put his nose against her belly and sniffed at her. Sonoria slowly brought the hackamore around and slipped the loop over his nose and then moved under his thick neck and brought the reins up over his withers. Touching him with her hands and her body and keeping up her steady song, she eased herself along his side and then, with a smooth bounce, she jumped, laying her body across his back, and swung her leg over so that she was sitting astride him.
She felt a deep shiver pass though his body, but he held steady. Come then, my great friend, she thought, let’s go. She urged him forward with a gentle touch of her heels and he began walking toward the gate. With their approach, it slowly began to swing open, and as they passed through she looked behind her. In the darkness, she could not see the herd, but she could hear them and feel their huge energy. They were following her.
She took the road around towards the big, tree-lined boulevard. There was no sign of the Thrangs. As far as she could tell, she rode through the night without human companionship, she and Spiritus, leading a hundred horses across the Valley toward an unseen wall of mountains. Somewhere ahead of them was the towering, vertical escarpment, and beneath it the Forbidden Gate. Then, before there was the faintest pearling of the air to signal the coming of dawn, it began to snow. She felt the flakes on her face, small hard crystals that struck and tumbled past her as she and Spiritus, in pitch darkness, continued to follow the unseen road toward an unseen goal.
After what seemed like a very long time, there was the first breath of dawn. With its new layer of snow, the road began to emerge from the surrounding forest, reflecting this first light. Sonoria strained to see what lay ahead. Where were the mountains, where was the escarpment? Where were the Thrangs? Had they already left the Valley? No, they must be waiting for her. The guards would never allow her to pass through the Forbidden Gate alone.
Then she felt Spiritus tense under her. His back stiffened, his head came up, his great neck arched. She stopped singing in an effort to hear what he must be hearing. His gait changed. He began to dance lightly, to move with a springing step, and then he snorted and Sonoria heard the vast stream of horses behind them answer with quiet whinnies. Then she saw it, too, something in the road ahead of them.
In the scant light, she could make out a large object, dark, solid, unmoving. But then it did move. Spiritus halted, and his herd stopped behind him. Sonoria felt him gathering himself under her. If he exploded now, if he threw her and ran with the herd behind him, she would be killed, trampled into the snow. She rubbed his neck and sang her song and waited. Whatever it was moved toward them, and soon she could see that what looked like one object was actually three horsemen. When they were just twenty feet away, they too stopped. Sonoria heard Master Sluke’s voice. “It is against the Story for a Stratus to leave the Valley, Sonoria. It is not allowed.”
Spiritus’ body trembled. If Sonoria spoke now, he would bolt and throw her. There was a long moment of silence. She could hear the faintest sound of snow falling through the trees, and there was a whisper of wind against her cheek.
Then another of the riders spoke. It was Mandle. His new, man’s voice crackled with what Sonoria recognized was fear. “Sonoria, come back. We will have a good life together. They have promised to make me an Advisor. The Thrangs are barbarians. They have tricked you into believing their lies.”
So, she thought, Mandle has betrayed me. Still she said nothing, made no move.
Master Sluke spoke again, and now she could just see his face emerging from the darkness. “Sonoria. We can forgive you all these things of which you are guilty. With the knowledge you now possess, you will have an elevated place among the Stratus people”. But before he could finish, Mandle cried out, “Ride, Sonoria, ride! It’s a trick! The Old Woman is dead. You are blamed for her murder. We both know the Truth and will be given the Finality. We are going to die!”