Serpent Daughter – Snippet 27
“I want roots again,” Bill said. “I want them to be with you. And Sarah gave me . . . gave us this house. I shall have to build, but for you I will build, even if it means building a mound. For you, I will build a thousand mounds.”
Should she tell him about Landon Chapel?
Cathy looked at the ruined house and saw possibilities. She saw timbers raised and a thatched roof above them, or perhaps a flat roof for stargazing. She looked at the nearby houses and saw neighbors and shops. She saw children, flashing across a puddled street, and imagined that they were hers.
She should tell Bill.
But not yet.
“It is perfect, my love,” she said.
Achebe Chibundu asked for the Eze-Nri’s blessing before he left. He waited until they were alone, in the Palais.
The Eze-Nri, whose god within had demonstrated itself mightier than the god within the city’s old chevalier, immediately understood. “You wish to undertake something dangerous, Achebe?”
“I wish to avenge the death of your father.” Achebe knelt before Etienne Ukwu. “With your god and my god assisting me in a righteous cause, surely nothing can be dangerous. But first, I need to get past the serpents.”
Ukwu smiled solemnly. “My god has been working to find a means to avenge my father’s death.”
“My god and I accept.”
The Eze-Nri took a small powder horn from his belt and sifted grains of gunpowder into Achebe’s hair. Then he rested a hand on the wrestler’s brow. “Maitre Carrefour,” the Bishop of New Orleans said softly, “go with this man. Bring the Rainbow Serpent to ward him against the basilisks of the Mississippi and against all venomous things. Choose his paths for him so that he may find what he seeks and may find his way of return. Open every door before him, and shatter every manacle that binds. Make him truly Lucifer, the Adversary and the Morning Star, the venomous fang of justice.”
Achebe nodded his agreement and rose. “I do not do this to rob you of your vengeance. I do this to be your vengeance.”
The Eze-Nri nodded. “Go.”
Achebe carried nothing with him; he was going to an army, and would find what he needed when he arrived. He wore a loincloth and a short tunic. He walked, singing songs of revenge and justice.
He walked to Bishopsbridge, though he had no intention of using the bridge itself; that would only attract attention. Instead, once the Barbican rose into sight above the oaks above the river, Achebe turned right and walked ten more minutes. Then he dropped down the bank, onto the mud of the river.
A serpentine body slithered across his upper arm, and he felt feathery wings slap his face. “Serpent,” he said in his native tongue, “I am your brother. I shall fly like you, and move unseen as you move, and like you I shall kill with one bite.”
The basilisk left him alone.
Achebe’s heart beat faster. Another basilisk bumped into his thigh and a third struck him in the back, but he did not fear.
“Maitre Carrefour,” Achebe murmured. “Chukwu, and all other gods who may hear the Bishop of New Orleans, go with me now.”
He did not pray to his own god, his chi. Onye kwe, Chi ya ekwe, his father had told him many times — if a man agreed to a thing, his chi agreed to it as well, and a man’s destiny was in the care of his personal guardian god. The chi connected a man to Chukwu, the sun.
Achebe waded into the cold waters.
Other things slithered across his legs as his toes squelched mud between them, but he did not fear. Once he was waist-deep, he dove neatly forward into the water and swam.
He didn’t worry that the water might wash away the gunpowder anointing he had received; the power of the Eze-Nri was in Achebe now, not in the grains of powder. He could feel the power in his limbs as they swam, and in his lungs as they inhaled the warm, humid night air, and then blew it out underneath the water in great bursts of bubbles.
Without meaning to, he took the long parade steps of the first minutes of a wrestling match up the bank of the river. He inhaled deeply, watching starlight shimmer off the scales of the swarming basilisks, and flexed the muscles of his chest, arms, and shoulders. With those muscles, he had lifted horses off the ground and broken men’s legs.
He walked through the forest toward the Spanish camp.
The Spanish army was impossible to miss. Their fires and torches ran parallel to the river for several miles, but set back far enough so that their sentries wouldn’t be bitten by the basilisks, and the force was vast.
Lusipher stalked his prey silently through the woods. He looked for the silhouettes of men, listened for breathing, searched for the glint of starlight on a metal helmet. Finally, he smelled tobacco.
“Buenos días,” he said in a loud voice. “Buenos días. Etufuola m okporo uzo.” I have lost my way.
“Quien va allá?” A sentry loomed closer in the darkness, grabbing Achebe by the shoulder and shoving a pistol against his belly.
“Buenos días! Etufuola m okporo uzo!”
A second man detached himself from the shadow of an oak tree; this one held a musket, and sucked the stump of a cigarette. “No ves que es uno de los africanos?“
“Si, ahora lo veo.”
“No. Es casi nudo.” The first Spaniard shook Achebe. “Qué haces aquí? What you do here? Qu’est-ce que tu fais ici?“
“Buenos días! Etufuola m okporo uzo!” Achebe said again. “Agua! Agua!” If he gave any indication that he really understood Castilian, he’d only have to tell more complex lies.
“Dónde está su acampamento, los africanos?” Pistol asked Smoker.
“Están por allá.” Smoker waved an arm. “Distante, pero. Al lado de los japoneses.”
“Allá!” Pistol mimicked the gesture, waving his weapon. “Me oyes? Allá! Distante!“
Achebe bobbed his head up and down. “Buenos días!“he cried one last time, and then he walked in the direction indicated.
He had no interest in finding los africanos, of course. He preferred not to talk to anyone who could interrogate him. He stole a pair of trousers and a long white shirt from a laundry line at the periphery, and then walked into the camps.
His hopes for a place to hide were quickly dashed. If he had understood the rhythms of this army — why and when men were driven from their beds to stand watch or drill, and what the patterns of traffic were — then he might have been able to situate himself somewhere unseen, and with a strong vantage point. As it was, he feared that at any moment, if he stopped moving, someone would challenge him or try to assign him a task.
He passed a sleeping unit of Mexican warriors with stone flakes set into their clubs and a banner made of a jaguar pelt. He passed lancers sleeping very close to their horses, each man lying alongside his barbed lance. He passed pale-faced men he thought might be Germans, with large blond mustaches and short, wide-mouthed guns.
He was passing a quartermaster’s wagon, laden with dried meat and beans, when he noticed the messengers.
A steady trickle of men moved about among the units, dressed in white and wearing white caps. They carried papers, and Achebe slowed his pace to watch one deliver a paper to a man at the quartermaster’s wagon, and then stand and wait as a reply was written out.
When the man turned and jogged the other direction clutching his new message, Achebe followed.