Serpent Daughter – Snippet 08
Margaret’s gift from their father was a brutal strength and a heroic capacity to shake off blows, both of which were only available to her when she was angry or afraid.
You think yourself a queen. You shall be a slave, chained to my throne.
“I’ve got one,” Sarah said. “Don’t require a second. Thanks, though.”
And her uncle Thomas?
Sarah found him quickly. She could not always see what he was doing, and she wasn’t sure why her mother’s brother sometimes disappeared from her vision. Was he shielded from view when in the presence of his dark lord, the Necromancer Oliver Cromwell? Sometimes he seemed to disappear when putting on certain articles of clothing, or entering certain places — Philadelphia’s College of Magic, for instance.
She saw him now, growling at a man who resembled Benjamin Franklin, the old Lightning Bishop. That would be Franklin’s grandson, Temple Franklin, who was the emperor’s counselor and errand boy. Nathaniel had crossed paths with Franklin, and the result had been the death of one of Sarah’s most prized servants, a Dutchman named Jacob Hop.
Franklin looked resolute, though not daunted, and Sarah followed the machiavel from the scene. The man left Horse Hall, the Imperial palace, and walked Philadelphia streets shaded by tall elms until he came to a hotel. Sarah watched, not hearing any sound at all, as Franklin pleaded with a burly Dutch woman in the lobby for half an hour before finally stomping away.
What errand had Thomas so furious, and his aide so thwarted?
Sarah and her people — but mostly Sarah’s goddess, the goddess, the Mother of All Living, who was Wisdom and the Serpent and Eve — had defeated Imperial artillery and a besieging force of Imperial Ohio Company men and Imperial militia on the spring equinox, a month earlier. That victory had earned them breathing room; the Imperials had retreated a short distance eastward, where they were rebuilding their forces.
Sarah looked for and found Calvin Calhoun in a brick building in Philadelphia, lodgings he shared with the Elector Charlie Donelsen and the Cahokian soldier Olanthes Kuta and a man who appeared to be a lawyer. After her siblings, the person Sarah most watched was Cal. They had been childhood playmates and Sarah was still in love with him, though her rejection had driven him away.
And she would never see him face to face again.
Cal and those with him met in smoky rooms, and huddled in the corners of restaurants, and in basement chambers accessible only via secret passages. At the instruction of his grandpa, Sarah’s foster father, the Elector Iron Andy Calhoun, Calvin was leading the charge to remove Thomas Penn as Elector and Emperor under the Philadelphia Compact of 1784.
Did Calvin ever think of her?
She hoped he succeeded, though she thought the odds were long. Under the compact, he needed a two-thirds vote, and many of the Electors were on Thomas’s side of the issue. Some resisted out of conservatism, and a desire not to be too hasty; others resisted Thomas’s removal because they were beholden to him, for land or cash or preferment or other favors; others still might in better circumstances have voted against Thomas, but needed his help now because they needed Thomas’s soldiers to defend their lands again the rampaging beastkind of Simon Sword, the vengeful face of the Heron King, god of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
So Calvin talked and collected testimony and presented motions, but Thomas was still emperor.
Cahokia itself had a right to send an Elector. Sarah was legally entitled to be Cahokia’s Elector, under the Compact, but Sarah hadn’t gone to Philadelphia and she hadn’t given anyone her proxy. She was afraid that if she sent anyone, Thomas would have the person hanged.
I will sacrifice you and I will drink your blood. Whatever threat you think you represent to me shall end when I swallow your heart, witch.
“My grandpa always told me that iffen a feller knew how to do somethin’,” Sarah grunted, “he ne’er had to waste his breath certifyin’ it to other folks. ‘A wind bag is an empty bag,’ he’d say.”
Sarah fell to the floor of the sanctum, pain shooting through her arms and legs where she struck the floor. She heard a thousand screams. Her body shook, like the spasm of a violent fever. Reflexively, she looked back at the door in the corner, but it remained dark.
She heard a long laugh, in the tones of Simon Sword.
The screaming had come from outside the Temple of the Sun. It had come from Cahokia, from her city. Sarah’s city was shuddering, buildings collapsing, fires springing up from the ruins. She felt it all. The sound of collapse and terror was enormous.
She didn’t stop to think about her fears that she couldn’t live beyond the veil, that she was being sustained only by the power of the goddess. The veil was heavy, but it parted for her, and she rushed down the steps into the temple nave.
Through her earthly eye, Sarah saw the long narrow hall rush past her, its mosaics of earthly paradise below, and astral imagery above, illuminated by the daylight flooding through the open doors. Through her Eye of Eden, she saw angel ministers and glowing salamanders and a passage as long as the entire world. At the same time, she knew that buildings were collapsing, trapping and killing her people inside, and homes were bursting into flame.
Just inside the temple’s doors, she rushed past the oathbound Podebradan, Yedera. Yedera had sworn herself to defend and advance the interests of all Firstborn generally, but in particular, the interests of Sarah’s family. She pivoted to follow Sarah.
Sarah burst from the doors to find the world shaking. Three priestesses knelt on the flat, cultivated top of the mound; they had been weeding the goddess’s furrows, but now they looked up in terror, eyes traveling westward.
Across the Mississippi River, storm clouds roiled.
And Sarah could see the earth rolling toward her, like a sheet shaken over a bed before being allowed to drift into place. Waves from the river slammed across Cahokia’s docks, already shattered by war, and swept trees from both banks. The living Treewall surrounding the city rippled and danced. Cahokia shuddered as the earth tossed beneath it.
Simon Sword. This came from him. What terrible new phase of the reign of Simon Sword did this herald?
Simon Sword’s power was her fault, and she must stop him.
“Terram confirmo!” she shouted, pushing her soul and her will down through her words into her feet and into the earth.
The Treewall stopped moving. The ground continued to shudder, but, as if a heavy blanket had been thrown across the entire city to weigh down the jumping of the earth, the ripples were subdued and slower.
Sarah’s breath left her and she fell.
Yedera tried to catch her, but missed. Sarah crashed to the ground and lay on cold, wet grass. Her face felt wet and warm. The ground trembled still, so she murmured again, “Terram confirmo,” wishing she had brought with her the Orb of Etyles, which would have channeled more power into her act of gramarye, even as the power she channeled threatened to burn her to ash.
The earth shook one final time and then stopped.
Sarah touched her lips, and when she looked at her fingers they were covered in blood. Her ears rang, and Sarah began to vomit.
Far away, she heard the priestesses screaming again.
And beyond that, she heard the laughter of Simon Sword.
“Butterfly, butterfly, show me where to go.” Ma’iingan opened his eyes.
His twin sons, Ayaabe and Miigiwewin, had both vanished. Ma’iingan saw their tracks plainly in the disturbed earth and leaves of the forest floor; when they were older, he would follow such marks directly to them, and teach them to hide the indications of their passage. But his sons were scarcely more than a year old, and today he would reward them for finding good hiding places and keeping silent.