Serpent Daughter – Snippet 01
The Witchy Queen Rides to Battle
by D. J. Butler
The Witchy War, #4
This book is for Alex Moore and Chris DeBoe.
It’s good to have friends.
What Has Gone Before
My name is Maltres Korinn. I am Duke of Na’avu, a swamp blessed with many berry brambles on the northern borders of the land of Cahokia. I have been Regent-Minister of the Serpent Throne and Cahokia’s Vizier. Now I am uncertain what titles, if any, I still hold.
By temperament, I would write only those things that I have seen. The events that I have seen include miracles sufficient to adorn the memoirs of any ten men. But the doings alone that I have witnessed will make little sense to any eventual reader of these words, so I must also write of events that have been told to me.
If this tale can be said to have a beginning, then it began in the Garden. There our first parents walked among the gods, and by some configuration of the Man, the Woman, the Serpent, and the Tree, contrived to end their blessed state split into two races of mankind: my race, the Firstborn or Children of Wisdom, mana-gifted and silver-cursed, possessed of an extra quantity of spirit, and the Children of Eve, always more numerous than us and always inclined to war.
In more recent memory, the Lion of Missouri, Kyres Elytharias, became King of Cahokia. He inherited a kingdom that had tried to reject its own goddess, the serpent Wisdom, and strove to return it to its former path. He died half a failure, at least, murdered by one of his own men at his goddess’s great sacred site, the Serpent Mound, at the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi. By his arcane arts, though, his wife, Hannah Penn, the Penn landholder and Empress, conceived three children.
Hannah’s brother Thomas, who had contrived Elytharias’s murder, immured Hannah, taking both the Penn family wealth and the Imperial throne. Hannah bore her three children in secret, and sent them away to be hidden in corners of the empire remote from Philadelphia.
Following the death of Kyres Elytharias, Cahokia had no king. Her good and great sought, by counsel and consensus, as well as by rite and oracle, to replace him, and never succeeded. Cahokia suffered from kinglessness as well as from the Pacification of the Ohio, in which the Emperor Thomas turned all the machinery of his state to grind the wealth and spirit out of Cahokia and the other six Sister Kingdoms. He did this at the bidding of his secret dark master, the Necromancer Oliver Cromwell.
I was summoned from my bog and bramble to administer the city and to order the search for a new ruler.
Fifteen years passed from the death of Elytharias. Having learned from one of her servants of the birth and sequestration of Hannah’s children, Thomas tortured his sister to death to unearth what he could of this threat to his wealth and power. Discovering from Hannah that one of the three had been hidden with the Elector and war hero Iron Andy Calhoun near Nashville, he sent his servants after the child.
Thus it was that Sarah Elytharias Penn, who knew herself only as Sarah Calhoun, came one day to the fair in Nashville town and was attacked by Imperial officers. The emperor’s dragoon bodyguards, the Philadelphia Blues, and his chaplain-wizard, Ezekiel Angleton, attempted several times to kidnap her. Sarah escaped by her native wit and magical talent, and with the help of her father’s confessor, a Cetean monk named Thalanes. Dodging Imperial pursuit, she and the monk and Calvin Calhoun, a grandson of Iron Andy, fled down the Natchez Trace to New Orleans. Their path was dogged not only by the Blues, but also by strange sorcerous creations of the Necromancer, and by his personal servants, the undead Lazars, led by the greatest of the Lazars, the Sorcerer Robert Hooke himself.
At this time, I received troubling embassies from the Heron King, informing me that Peter Plowshare was dead. I did not fully understand the message then, but I now know that the death of Peter Plowshare the father commences the reign of Simon Sword the son. Peter Plowshare blesses with abundance, peace, and stability, and Simon Sword brings judgment, destruction, and change. I rejected a call to submit to Simon Sword, and soon heard from Missouri and the Greenwood of the rampaging of the beastkind. Towns were leveled and fields destroyed. Refugees began to pour into the city, and we took them in. We took them all in.
In New Orleans, Sarah lost her companion Thalanes, but gained the service of William Johnston Lee, a Cavalier soldier who had been head of the Philadelphia Blues under Kyres Elytharias, and who had hidden Sarah’s brother at his birth, and Cathy Filmer, a Harvite healer and Lee’s love. Sarah also witnessed the murder of the righteous and beloved Bishop of New Orleans, Chinwe Ukwu, by the same Imperial officers who had been pursuing her.
Sarah left New Orleans. At the Serpent Mound itself, she recovered the regalia of Cahokia: the Sevenfold Crown, the Orb of Etyles, and the Heronblade, a golden sword her father had carried into battle. Besieged by the Imperials and Lazars, by the gendarmes of New Orleans, and by beastkind under the personal command of Simon Sword, Sarah bargained with the destroyer. She exchanged the Heronblade for something no one knew existed — the Heronplow — and for command of a troop of beastmen. With those beastmen, she defeated the other two armies confronting her, and came away with a new follower: a man named Jacob Hop, in whose body Simon Sword had been manifesting himself. Sarah soon sent Hop east to Johnsland, looking for her brother Nathaniel, following information provided by William Lee. One of William’s enemies, the wizard-priest Angleton, turned in the encounter on the Serpent Mound toward the personal service of the Necromancer, and also journeyed eastward.
After the death of Bishop Ukwu, his son Etienne, a crime lord and gambler, was ordained by the Synod to replace him as bishop. Following this strange turn of events, New Orleans has proceeded in ever more unexpected directions. The new bishop and the City Council fomented a tax revolt against the Chevalier of New Orleans that eventually led to the revolt of the city’s gendarmes. The chevalier himself fled the city, and is now camped about it with an army of Spanish soldiers.
The bishop’s other son, Chigozie Ukwu, a more conventional priest, exiled himself from New Orleans. Among the beastkind of Missouri, he became a prophet-like figure, the head of a congregation calling itself the Merciful. Compelled by enemies, the Merciful found themselves the custodian of a savage child of Simon Sword.
Sarah entered the city with her cousin, Alzbieta Torias. Sarah had bound the priestess Alzbieta by arcane means, forcing her to take an oath on the Sevenfold Crown. In the same encounter, she had outwitted Alzbieta’s counselor Uras and knocked her wizard Sherem into a comatose state. Alzbieta was one of seven candidates I was preparing to present to the goddess for Her consideration as possible kings or queens of Cahokia, and for a time, Sarah appeared in our councils at her side.
The Imperial forces of the Pacification within our city then came under the command of Notwithstanding Schmidt, one of the Directors of the Imperial Ohio Company. With her came the hedge wizard, Luman Walters, a dabbler in esoteric traditions, a seeker of arcane lore, and her magical aide.
Seeing that Sarah sought her own ascension to her father’s throne and would disrupt my labors, I foolishly raised my hand against her. The day before the winter solstice, when the seven candidates were due to appear before the goddess on Her Serpent Throne, I imprisoned Sarah and Calvin Calhoun to prevent them from interfering. I also allowed my wardens to be deployed alongside Company troops to pin Sarah’s allies in the city within the house where they were staying, so they couldn’t come to help her.
That same night, by no plan of mine, the beastkind of Simon Sword broke through the Treewall surrounding the city and fell upon my people.
But, by great fortune, Sarah was mightier than I, and perhaps she had already been chosen by the goddess. Despite hundreds of miles of separation, she came into contact with her brother. Nathaniel, plagued by voices and a falling sickness all his life, ascended into spirit realms with the assistance of an Anishinaabe guide named Ma’iingan.
This ascent gave Nathaniel healing powers. He raised Sherem, he turned the heart of Alzbieta toward serving Sarah out of love, and he showed Sarah a secret path to meeting with the goddess, away from the presentation ceremony I had arranged. This meeting was not to be at the Temple of the Sun atop the Great Mound, but at an older, nearly forgotten holy place, the Sunrise Mound.
I returned to the Temple of the Sun to gather up the regalia from where I had left them, on the seat of the throne. Calvin Calhoun came with me, and in the encounter, he was forced to fight and kill a man, one of the candidates, shedding blood on the Serpent Throne itself. For that blood-guilt, he was excluded from the vision of glory that followed: using the Heronplow, Sarah reconsecrated the Sunrise Mound, and within it found Unfallen Eden and the goddess Wisdom Herself, Unfallen Eve.
Alzbieta, Sherem, and I stood as three witnesses alongside an angelic host as the goddess declared Sarah to be Her Beloved.
Calvin fled, returning to Nashville.
With the Heronplow, Sarah healed the wounded Treewall of Cahokia. William Lee and Sarah’s beastkind retook the city, with my wardens at their side, and with the aid of some of the Imperials, who defected. Another defector to Sarah’s cause in this battle was the hedge wizard Walters, who single-handedly defended the city’s Basilica from a pack of beastkind.
Simultaneously with the battle at Cahokia, in distant Johnsland, Jacob Hop and the Anishinaabe Ma’iingan defended Nathaniel from an attack by Ezekiel Angleton, who had become one of the walking dead, a Lazar.
The Imperial Ohio Company, with militia and artillery and with hordes of shambling dead, quickly returned to surround and cut off Cahokia. Soon, they were joined by the Roundhead general Sayle and his famous apostolic cannons, and the walls of Cahokia shuddered.
Having been identified by the goddess as Her Beloved, Sarah was nevertheless not Queen of Cahokia. One obstacle in her way was the city’s Metropolitan Zadok Tarami, who returned from pilgrimage after the battle and was admitted by the besieging Imperials. Tarami was a partisan of the reformers in Sarah’s grandfather’s time, the men who sought to cast the goddess as a demon and the Serpent Throne as a monument to Her defeat. Though Tarami did not ally with the Imperials, he stood in Sarah’s way as she struggled to feed and unite the city. His entrenched reformers and the worshippers of the goddess struggled over burials and other rites notwithstanding Sarah’s inclusion of the Metropolitan in her councils, and her giving him a role in her anointing as queen in the Basilica. Despite being crowned as the political queen of the city, the Serpent Throne and its power remained inaccessible to Sarah, and the city’s defenses grew weaker. Sarah consecrated the Temple of the Sun and closed the veil over the Serpent Throne, but then found that she could not enter.
The smuggler and pirate Montserrat Ferrer i Quintana sneaked into the city, bearing a message from the Chevalier of New Orleans — that he had captured Margaret, the third child of Kyres Elytharias, and would trade her for Sarah’s hand in marriage. Trusting in her brother to rescue Margaret, Sarah took Ferrer i Quintana and the hedge wizard Walters to the Serpent Mound at the confluence of the rivers, where Sarah — aided by her brother, with his strange abilities to enter and travel in spirit realms — consulted with the shade of Kyres Elytharias.
We learned of the fall of Zomas, the eighth kingdom of the Firstborn in the New World, and the only one on the western shore of the Mississippi. We began to receive a trickle of Zoman refugees mixed in with the flood of Missourians.
Following the battle in Cahokia and Johnsland, Nathaniel and Hop had turned northward, finding Margaret imprisoned in the Hudson River Republic and on her way to being sold, perhaps to her uncle Thomas, though that is but one possibility. In rescuing Margaret from her bonds, they crossed paths with a man called Isaiah Wilkes, once apprenticed to Benjamin Franklin as a printer’s devil, then later a lieutenant to the Lightning Bishop in his secret Conventicle, then later still the bishop’s successor as the Conventicle’s head, its “Franklin.” Wilkes and one of his co-conspirators, a woman named Kinta Jane Embry, were traveling to Acadia in pursuit of allies to fulfill the Conventicle’s raison d’être, to stand against Simon Sword.
Sarah formed a council to guide her in an attempt to reconstruct a forgotten enthronement ritual and seat herself upon the Serpent Throne. Her advisors included Luman Walters, Isaiah Wilkes, and Jacob Hop: the latter two already dead men, Wilkes having drowned in a canoe accident and Hop having been murdered by Emperor Thomas’s machiavel, the grandson of the Lightning Bishop, Temple Franklin. Sarah and the three men were connected by Nathaniel and his abilities, but when the Imperials broke through the Treewall, Sarah lost patience and entered the Temple of the Sun.
At the same time, Oliver Cromwell and Robert Hooke transgressed the temple’s sanctity by crossing its threshold, as well.
Though Wilkes was dead, his colleague Kinta Jane Embry continued the Conventicle’s quest. In Acadia, she and her guide, a frontiersman named Timothy Dockery, were taken captive by one of the Anakim, Chu-Roto-Sha-Meshu, an exiled prince, who is called Mesh among the Children of Adam.
With the aid of her council, interpreting clues buried in Franklin’s New World Tarock, Sarah ascended the Serpent Throne. I do not know what she experienced, but I know that she encountered some energy of Simon Sword within, and I know that she and Luman Walters were buried in a grave by the Necromancer and his Lazar, who interrupted the rite at its climax. I know also that Sarah solved a riddle that overcame her undead foes, burning away their bodies with the power of life, and that she solved the riddle with the help of the young Bishop of New Orleans, the former crime lord, Etienne Ukwu. I have been told that at the last moment, she left Luman Walters behind and went on alone, and then . . .
And then, I do not know anymore.
Light and life burst from the Temple of the Sun. The shambling dead crumbled to the earth, and the Imperials fled.
But they were not gone. They regrouped in the Ohio, drawing reinforcements from the east and the south. And in the meantime, the beastkind continued to rage across the Mississippi; the reign of Simon Sword was not over.
Perhaps it had not even truly begun.
And Sarah had not emerged from behind the veil.