Serpent Daughter – Snippet 14
“What does this ritual entail?” Cathy asked. If there truly was some ritual that she, or the king, or the seven Ladies, could perform, then she was in favor.
“It is an ancient practice.” The king knit his fingers together and stared into them. “Not done in this century, or the last. But once, the goddess ruled on earth through a king or queen, and through the Angel of the Throne. The Angel Metathronos, in some ancient texts.”
Korinn looked as if he would fall over, and leaned more heavily on his staff. “Is the Angel of the Throne not a way to talk about the monarch as an anointed person, the monarch as agent for the gods?”
“Yes,” Tarami said quickly.
“Yes,” Dolindas agreed. “But not always.”
“‘Give heed to the Angel of the Throne, for he is as a god unto you,'” Tarami recited. “That’s in The Law of the Way, and it is Onandagos, instructing his people to obey their duly-appointed monarch.”
“It is,” Dolindas agreed. “But the exact same words appear in a poem called The Wisdom of the Dead, which is in the Onandagan Florilegium. In The Wisdom of the Dead, the words are spoken by a dying king to his daughter, who is to rule after him. If the queen is to hearken to the Angel of the Throne, then the queen cannot be the Angel.”
“Those texts are not in my breviary,” Tarami said. Was he resisting? Admitting defeat? Or simply acknowledging his own lack of expertise?
“I know,” Dolindas said. “But Saul was not condemned for seeking the advice of Samuel. And when Solomon sat upon a throne, he set his mother upon a throne beside him. And her name was Bath-Sheba, the Daughter of Seven.”
Tarami said nothing.
“There may be other options,” Walters said.
“Waste no time,” Dolindas urged. “If we are to raise Sarah to become the Angel of the Throne, we must convene all the Kings of the Ohio. It is the kings who will perform the anointing, along with Sarah herself. Oil and perfumes must be made according to recipes that have been safely guarded, but not used, for many years. Garments of light must be prepared, according to patterns that were given from the beginning, and kept secret by the queens and kings of the Firstborn.”
The Lady Alena shifted repeatedly in her seat. The Lady’s fidgeting made Cathy, if anything, more conscious of her own body, and she was careful to keep her poise. Was Alena distressed? Anxious? Enthusiastic?
Her eunuch said nothing.
“Is it merely luck that brings you to us now?” Bill asked the king.
Kodam Dolindas smiled. “In a time of crisis, the man who himself does not need help must become one who gives help. Perhaps it is bad luck that I have come as late as I have.”
“We will not delay.” Maltres Korinn tapped his staff on the floor. “I’ll send messengers to summon the other five kings.”
“The empire has begun to issue Trustworthiness Certificates and passports,” Bill growled, “which are aimed to restrict travel. We may find we are smuggling five kings, rather than summoning them.”
“Then we shall send smugglers to do the work,” Korinn said.
“I will add my messages to yours,” Dolindas offered.
“The Hansa,” Walters suggested. “If we could have their assistance with this, it might greatly forward the labor. Or perhaps Chicagoans, to ferry the kings across the Great Lakes, rather than bringing them overland.”
“The Swords of Wisdom,” Bill growled. “They are in all the Seven Sister Kingdoms.”
“I take my leave,” the king said. “To write to my fellow kings and also to my own people.”
He departed with a determined stride.
“Those bare feet must be uncomfortable in winter,” Bill murmured.
“A taboo that is easy is no taboo at all,” Cathy told her betrothed.
“Ladies,” Maltres Korinn said, looking at the Lady Alena, “please resume watching over Her Majesty. Let me know immediately of any change.” He shifted his gaze. “Mrs. Filmer, if you would please remain for a moment.”
The Lady Alena stared darts at Cathy before she left, the other Ladies and the eunuchs in her wake.
“You have said nothing, Gazelem,” Korinn said.
“I have nothing to say about the Angel of the Throne,” Gazelem Zomas said. “It is a new idea to me.”
“But you look deep in thought.”
“I am considering whether I know any other remedy for the queen,” Zomas said. “And I am also . . . thinking of another matter.”
Korinn didn’t even look curious about the unspecified other matter. “Luman,” he said, “what alternatives are you talking about?”
“Nathaniel Penn,” Walters said. “He is a healer of great power. I do not know his limitations, but he may be able to help.”
“How would you contact him?”
“The queen seemed to be able to do so with ease,” the former Imperial wizard said. “I shall attempt with what means I have. And I shall do so immediately.”
Korinn nodded, then was silent for a moment. “Do we have any other options?”
“Forgive this question,” Zadok Tarami said. “I know that, coming from me, of all people, it could be misunderstood, but I must nevertheless ask. If the queen dies . . . who succeeds? Will we be returned to the chaos we struggled through before her arrival?”
“If the queen dies,” Maltres Korinn said, “chaos will be the best we can hope for.”
Nathaniel was returning across the starlit plain with his two familiar spirits on the back of his horse when he heard a voice.
~Medicum quaeso,~ it called. ~Medicum Nathanielem quaeso.~
Nathaniel knew no Latin, but the call felt as if it were directed at him. He changed course, heading westward. They rode, hearing the voice calling still and feeling the thudding of the horse’s hooves like a drumbeat pattern on the horse’s back, until they arrived at Cahokia. Nathaniel had never seen his father’s city in the flesh, but he recognized it in this place easily.
On flat ground between two mounds, Luman Walters sat on a wooden chair beside a wooden table. On the table, two candles flickered; the man rubbed a plain brown stone between his fingers and stared into it.
~Medicum quaeso,~ he said again.
~I’m here,~ Nathaniel said.
~Medicum Nathanielem quaeso,~ Walters said again, staring into his egg-shaped stone.
~He’s saying ‘I seek the healer Nathaniel,’~ Jacob Hop said. ~I think he’s casting a spell.~
~Do you know Latin now?~ Nathaniel asked.
~When you’re not here, he studies languages,~ Wilkes explained.
A germ of an idea sprouted in the back of Nathaniel’s mind, and he tucked it away for consideration later. ~I’m here!~ he shouted.
Luman hesitated, cocking an ear.
Nathaniel reached out and fluttered the fingers of one hand through a candle flame, causing the flame to dance.
~Ah ha!~ Luman Walters leaped to his feet. ~Nathaniel, thank you! We have a catastrophe here!~ The wizard raised the brown stone to his eye as if to look through it, and turned his face toward Nathaniel. ~There you are!~
~What do you need, Luman?~
Luman smiled, a soft grin that was rueful and even a little sad. ~Sarah is ill. Can you heal her?~
~Sarah!~ Nathaniel called. ~Sarah!~
Luman Walters winced at the sudden cry, but there was no answer from Sarah.
~Where is she?~ Nathaniel asked.
~On the Great Mound,~ the wizard said. ~In the Temple of the Sun. In its sanctum sanctorum, if that matters.~
Nathaniel galloped to the only mound that could be the one Luman was referring to. It was the tallest mound in starlit Cahokia, and it had strange trees growing on its slopes. Trees with faces, trees that seemed to watch as Nathaniel and his two spirit companions raced up the slopes of the pyramid —
only to find no one at the top.
Atop the pyramid sat a small garden, neatly furrowed, planted with beans and squash and corn and tomatoes. But there was no sign of a gardener, and no sign of Sarah.
He turned to race back, and found Luman Walters standing right behind him, staring through the brown stone.
~Do you see her?~ Luman asked. ~Can you heal her?~
Nathaniel shook his head. ~Wherever she is, she’s beyond my reach. What’s wrong?~
~She’s dying,~ Luman said. ~Burned herself out with gramarye.~
~Doesn’t Cahokia have doctors?~
~Yes. They can do nothing for her. Only perhaps, there may be a Firstborn solution.~
~What does that mean?~
~It means we’re going to try to make Sarah into an angel,~ Luman said.
The Heron King’s child grew rapidly.
Within a week, it stood five feet tall. Within a month of its birth, it towered over Chigozie.
The child looked like the Heron King — well muscled, covered with fine white feathers that shone with iridescence when the light struck them just right, and possessing the large head, elongated neck and sharp beak of a river heron. His first meal was a mouthful of flesh torn out of his mother’s warm corpse, and thereafter Ferpa, who took special care of him, fed him fish from the Missouri river.
He refused grain and milk and roots and vegetables. He refused fish that had been cooked. Within a week, he refused fish that wasn’t brought to him live, and then he took to hunting on the river for his own meals.
In addition to fish, he learned that he could eat snake.