Serpent Daughter – Snippet 28

“Will his taste ever turn to the flesh of men?”

Chapter Six

“Tell me who you are,” Maltres Korinn said to the second Zoman.

He sat in his office, facing Gazelem Zomas across his desk. At Gazelem’s side sat another Zoman, blond and broad featured, and wearing lacquered wooden armor bearing the emblem of the Lost Sister: black cuckoo and crown on a red field.

The fourth person in the room was Cathy Filmer. Maltres included her because, in the process of becoming Queen of Cahokia, Sarah had taken Cathy as her special confidant. Elevating the woman to the priesthood suggested that Sarah intended to continue favoring Cathy, so Maltres included Cathy in his private councils.

Gazelem had asked for a meeting, and hadn’t balked at Cathy’s inclusion.

“I’m Captain Naares Stoach. I was an outrider of Zomas, while she stood.”

“I grieve for the loss.” Some Cahokians would have sneered at the fall of Zomas, but Maltres was sincere. In the best of circumstances, the news of the fall of a great city would at least mean the deaths of men. In the situation in which he found himself, he would have greatly preferred to have Zomas standing and an ally, or at least standing and an irritant in the Heron King’s flank.

Also, he had now spent many hours among the city’s Zoman refugees, personally negotiating accommodation and other living arrangements. He very much regretted the fall of the city that had shattered these people and thrust them into his care.

Gazelem looked at Cathy. “Is Her Majesty suffering because of the earthquakes?”

Cathy didn’t bat an eye. “It’s possible. She is intimately connected with this city. It would not surprise me if an injury to the city would also do harm to her.”

“What are you thinking?” Maltres asked Gazelem.

“I worry,” Gazelem said slowly, “that what the King of Tawa undertakes may avail us nothing. If he transforms Sarah into this . . . angel, but she remains connected to the city, then earthquakes might continue to wound her.”

“If they are wounding her now,” Cathy said. “I am only speculating.”

“Are you saying you have some means to stop the tremors?” Maltres asked.

“I believe I know what is causing them,” the Zoman princeling said. “And I believe it may be an attack upon us. And yes, perhaps, I know what we can do to defend ourselves . . . to defend Sarah . . . against the attacks.”

“Enough preliminaries,” Maltres said. “Tell me.”

Gazelem nodded at the Earthshaker’s Rod, leaning against the desk. “Tell me what you know about that staff you bear.”

“The queen gave it to me to function as a staff of office, but properly, the Earthshaker’s Rod belongs to the office of King or Queen of Cahokia. We have it from Onandagos, who led such a mighty exodus of peoples that he was called the Earthshaker in his time; the earth shook under his people’s feet. The wood is ancient, of a tree that we do not any longer grow and whose name we have forgotten. Onandagos brought the staff with him from the Old World.”

“And the horses?”

“They represent the sacrifices the king once made, from his own herds. Some dark stories say, rather than the sons that the kings of our most distant ancestors sacrificed.”

“Gods become gentler.” Gazelem frowned. “At least, some do. Let me tell you some things about that rod that you may not know.”

Maltres arched his eyebrows and waited. Cathy leaned forward in her seat.

“The head and the ferrule indeed come from the Old World,” Gazelem said. “They were brought by Onandagos along with the Orb of Etyles and the Sevenfold Crown, as the original regalia of his kingship. The staff upon which they used to fit had shattered in the magical contest that led to the sinking of our people’s ancient homeland, the Drowned Lands. As had the staff’s twin.”

“There were two?” Maltres asked.

“There are two.” Gazelem took a deep breath.

Naares Stoach ran fingers through his hair and sighed.

“Where does this wood come from, then?” Cathy asked.

“Before he could settle in the Ohio, Onandagos had to drive out its original inhabitants. In this he was opposed by his eldest son, Zomas, but Zomas was overruled, and did not at that time rebel against his father. So the Firstborn, and some of their allies, made war upon the Talligewi who lived here before them, and upon the allies of the Talligewi.”

“The Talligewi are the giants,” Cathy said. “The Anakim.”

Gazelem smiled. “You are from warm Virginia, so the giants of this land may be but a rumor to you. But my ancestors battled them, and drove them out, and they resettled in the north, on the Great Lakes.”

“The Eldritch Seas,” Cathy said. “I am aware of the giants. I understand they are never more than ten feet tall at the most.”

“Tall enough,” Maltres murmured.

“The last great leader of the Anakim was a warrior named Eru-Jay,” Gazelem said. “She fought with a staff in each hand, said to be thick and strong and deadly, of a wood now lost to our knowledge, but appearing as slender wands in her mighty hands. After defeating her, Onandagos placed the ferrules and horse heads of the Earthshaker’s Rods upon Eru-Jay’s staffs and simply claimed them for himself and his successors.”

“I knew it as an ancient part of the regalia, a part that predated the inclusion of the Heronblade, and perhaps had been replaced by the Heronblade. It was the only part of the regalia that remained in Cahokia after Kyres’s death, so I used it as Regent-Minister, with the consent of Notaries, to remind others of the obligations I had assumed.” Maltres looked at the Earthshaker’s Rod. “This is a war trophy.”

“And there is a second,” Cathy said. “That must be the principal point of this story.”

“There is a second,” Stoach the outrider agreed.

“You believe that the Earthshaker’s Rod can be used . . . to shake the earth,” Maltres said.

Earthshaker was a title of our monarchs before we left the Old World,” Gazelem said. “We fought the rivers and the seas, and our magic was so powerful, it shook the earth. And when my ancestor Zomas, eldest son of Onandagos, was denied his rightful inheritance — do not look at me with that reproachful eye, Korinn, I know that this is not how your people tell the story, but I am talking now.”

“And I am listening.”

“When Zomas left the other Firstborn, or was cast out, the one piece of the regalia he was able to take with him was one of the Earthshaker’s Rods.”

Maltres frowned, puzzled. “I was unaware Zomas had regalia.”

“The Earthshaker’s Rod is not used by the King of Zomas in public,” Gazelem said. “It is . . . it was . . . used privately, to prevent tremors from destroying the lands of Zomas, and in war. Onandagos and his successors in Cahokia did the same thing with their rod — the Ohio is a land of many tremors, only most are so faint that they are unnoticed, or are dampened by the rod.”

“If the rod requires conscious use, it has not had it,” Maltres said. “At least since the death of Kyres Elytharias, and likely longer. Why have we not been destroyed by earthquakes these last sixteen years?”

“Two reasons,” Gazelem said. “First, Zomas is not far away, and Turim Zomas the second, Lord of the White Towers, continued to use his Earthshaker’s Rod even as you did not. And second, Peter Plowshare, during his reign, performs many acts of benevolence. When Peter Plowshare is king, disease is suppressed, crops are bountiful, herd beasts are fecund . . . and the Ohio doesn’t suffer earthquakes.”

“So because Peter Plowshare is no longer protecting us,” Maltres said, “now we shall suffer tremors?”

“It’s worse than that,” Stoach said. “Simon Sword has the other Earthshaker’s Rod, and he’s using it against you.”

Maltres absorbed that suggestion in silence.

“I believe this is why Simon Sword attacked Zomas first,” Gazelem said. “Her Majesty empowered him by giving him the Heronblade, and he used it to level the White Towers and take the Earthshaker’s Rod.”

“So what do we do about it?” Cathy Filmer’s eyes were fixed on the rod. “If you’re right, then Simon Sword may be using the other rod deliberately to attack Sarah’s person.”

“We must learn to use the rod we have,” Maltres said.

Gazelem nodded. “And also, we must take away the other rod from the Heron King.”

Maltres sat stunned at the thought. “How do we do either of those things?”

“I do not believe that anyone alive has the necessary knowledge,” Gazelem said. “However, I believe that the ability to acquire that knowledge may reside within the Treewall. Specifically, I hope that it may be found among the Zoman refugees.”