Serpent Daughter – Snippet 10

~Are you listening?~ he asked.

~Yes,~ Wilkes said. ~Is this Montreal?~

They descended toward a pond, in the center of which stood an island with three buildings.

~Yes,~ Nathaniel told him. ~Things look different in this place.~

~Hold still, so I don’t have to listen over the drumbeats.~

Nathaniel paused, stroking the neck of his horse, smelling sweat and leather. He’d been raised among the people of Johnsland, who were riders, so the transition to this world of riding across infinite grass was not unpleasant. 

Jacob Hop had not been a member of the Conventicle. He had been a deaf-mute turnkey, and Simon Sword had inhabited his body for a few weeks. When the Heron King had left Hop, the Dutchman had found himself possessed of an astonishing capacity to learn and a fierce loyalty to Sarah Elytharias Penn. He had helped rescue Nathaniel from the grasp of the emperor’s servant Ezekiel Penn, and then been killed by another Imperial servant, Temple Franklin.

Nathaniel suspected that Wilkes stayed with him in order to continue to carry out his mission, and Hop stayed with him to help Sarah.

~How do you feel?~ Hop whispered to Nathaniel.

He asked because he knew that Nathaniel’s ability to travel in this place, and do all he could do here, had been given to in order to be a healer. When Nathaniel attempted to do other things with his gifts, he was ill.

Nathaniel nodded.

~Over there!~ Wilkes pointed at the far side of the pond, where the land rose slightly and was capped with sheets of ice.

Over the rise, they found a trio surrounding a small fire. Nathaniel saw the largest first, and immediately turned his horse aside, pulling back from an encounter.

The man was a giant.

Nathaniel had never seen one in real life, but he had heard stories about them, in Acadia or in Algonk lands. The man was half again Nathaniel’s height and had red hair; he leaned on a long spear, as if it were a walking staff. Of the three, he was the only one standing, and he looked away from the flames, turning his head left and right and watching.

The other two were a man and a woman, both huddled around the flames and wrapped in wool blankets. He wore a badger-pelt hat, making him look as if he had an animal lying over his forehead; she had a dog’s tail.

~That’s her!~ Wilkes said.

~The beastwife?~ Nathaniel asked.

Isaiah Wilkes chuckled. ~She’s not beastkind. Whatever mark of animal you are seeing on her is her tongue. She had had her tongue removed, but I needed her to witness to Brother Onas . . . to Thomas Penn . . . so I arranged for a hexenmeistres to give her a new one.~

~From a dog?~ Hop asked.

~Should I have cut out a man’s tongue to use instead?~

~Are you afraid of dying, Dockery?~ the woman asked.

Badger Hat shook his head. ~I’ll keep my oath. Even if it means that Thomas Penn kills my son, when I could have rescued him.~

Were they the giant’s prisoners? Nathaniel couldn’t tell.

~This is far.~ Nathaniel looked at the ice sheets and shook his head.

~We have to help them,~ Wilkes said. ~I left them alone, and they’ve lost their way.~

~They’re far,~ Nathaniel said. ~And there’s something else I must do, something much closer to hand. Can you do anything to help them without me?~

Wilkes shook his head, defeated.

Nathaniel considered. ~Then we will have to involve someone else. I believe I know the right person.~

#

Maltres Korinn was meeting the general in the Hall of Onandagos when the earthquake struck. The building shook and he heard cries of surprise, but Maltres’s ancestors had built well, and the hall didn’t fall.

The hall was a sacred building, but Cahokia knew gradations of sacredness. The Hall of Onandagos was less sacred than any of the precincts of the Temple of the Sun, less sacred than the city’s Basilica, perhaps less sacred than its graveyards. The hall was where the city’s kings and queens met in council, received foreign dignitaries, and hosted state occasions.

Since Her Majesty Queen Sarah Elytharias Penn did not leave the Great Mound, the Hall of Onandagos was the domain of her Vizier, Maltres Korinn. Maltres was the Duke of Na’avu by inheritance, and had been invited to be Regent-Minister of the Serpent Throne during its vacancy by the great and good of the city, and then appointed Vizier by Sarah as she had come to power. By preference, Maltres would be at home in the north, on the border of the German Duchies, tending to his farms.

Instead, he was discussing sources of silver with the Cavalier, Sir William Johnston Lee. Lee was a former Imperial officer who had been instrumental in saving Hannah Penn’s children from her brother Thomas, and was now general of Cahokia’s armies, which were steadily taking shape under his hand. Lee was a big man, solidly built. His hair and mustache were going white, but still streaked with gray, and his eyes were a piercing green.

They sat in Maltres’s office, which was furnished with three chairs, a large but simple desk, and abundant shelves. The earthquake shook the hall, casting papers from the shelves onto the floors, and nearly knocking Maltres from his seat. Repositioning himself, he levered his weight by gripping his staff of office, which lay against the desk beside him.

The tall black staff, capped with an iron horse’s head, was known as the Earthshaker’s Rod. Maltres wrinkled the corner of his mouth at the irony.

“I would like to have considerably more silver than we at present have access to, suh,” Lee said.

“Our iron coins are readily accepted by every partner with whom we trade, General,” Maltres said. “From Chicago to New Orleans. Is there some market you believe we are not accessing, for our lack of silver?”

“Heaven’s chamber pot, no.” The general grunted, adjusting himself in the wooden seat on the other side of Maltres’s desk. “I know nothing of trade, and would like to know less. What worries me, Korinn, is the return of the Imperials. They will come in larger numbers next time, and I fear what black sorcery Cromwell and his allies have yet to throw at us. I want silver bullets, and, if possible, silver cannonballs.”

“For that quantity of silver, we’d need to be trading with the Lord of Potos√≠,” Maltres said. “Or the silver miners of Georgia. Or, of course, Thomas Penn.”

“Quite.” Sir William shifted again in his chair.

“Your legs hurt,” Maltres said. That winter, William Lee had been injured several times in succession in his thighs.

Sir William nodded. “So long as my queen needs me, I am choosing not to dull the pain.”

During the siege, the Cavalier had several times seemed distracted or lethargic. “Your wedding approaches,” Maltres reminded the other man. “That, too, should keep you from wishing to blunt your sensations.”

Sir William smiled and was opening his mouth to say something when the door was thrown wide.

“The Great Mound!” a boy in a gray and gold messenger’s tunic yelped. Wet hair was plastered to his head, and water streamed down his face. “The queen is ill!”

Maltres sprang to his feet, and was astonished to see that the general did the same. Maltres leaned on the Earthshaker’s Rod, Lee gripped the heads of two sturdy walking sticks.

“Tell the priestesses.” Maltres rushed through the door. Lee followed, the messenger now hurrying to keep up.

“They know!” The boy’s face was distraught and his voice strained; Maltres stopped for a moment to pat the young man on his shoulder.

“Perhaps Cathy may attend the queen,” Lee suggested. “She is a healer, and now a member of the queen’s order, so she can treat the queen in her . . . abode.”