Serpent Daughter – Snippet 30
Temple Franklin rode west atop the foremost of the thirteen wagons that left the Walnut Street Prison. Thirteen wagons, one for each of his grandfather’s virtues, though Temple could remember what the virtues were only with difficulty. His postilion hat turned out to be extremely fitting, as he sat on a wide bench beside a pimple-faced, unshaven turnkey with lank hair and one milky eye, who drove the wagon. At stops, the turnkey and his other colleagues — two per wagon — fed the prisoners gruel and bread so cheap it had twigs in it.
Some of the men in the wagons knew who Franklin was, or perhaps they guessed, because of his resemblance to his grandfather. Before the first day was over, they begged him for release whenever he was in sight.
He reassured them that of course they were being transferred. He told some of them in confidence that they were being sent to an experimental prison, one without walls and with great personal luxury. He told others in confidence they were being freed to join the Imperial Ohio Company Militia and participate in the Pacification. He told others still, and always in great confidence, that they were being freed, so that the Walnut Street Prison could be converted into an army barracks, but the condition of their freedom was exile, so he was escorting them to the western bounds of the empire.
These were all lies. He scarcely dared think what was actually going to happen to the men, and he certainly had no intention of saying it out loud.
He rode with one of the surviving Parlett boys, eyes always open, head shaved, dressed in an unmarked uniform of Imperial blue. The other was in the camp of Notwithstanding Schmidt, whither he was bound. A third Parlett survived, if only technically; the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell inhabited the third brother’s body. The link that bound all the Parletts together now included Cromwell, so when Temple spoke with Thomas through the Parletts, he heard Thomas’s responses in an imitation of Cromwell’s voice, whereas Schmidt’s communication was passed on in an imitation of the Imperial Ohio Company’s Sole Director.
Could Cromwell see through the other Parletts, or hear what they heard? Did Temple in fact ride west with a spy constantly transmitting all events to Cromwell, as they happened?
Temple assumed that that was the case, and behaved accordingly.
Originally, there had been five of the psychically joined boys. The other two Parletts had died at March’s failed Siege of Cahokia.
Imperial soldiers, veterans, rode to accompany and protect the wagons. Though Temple had heard through his network that the Swords of Wisdom were active in the Ohio, he did not expect trouble; the prisoners carried in the wagon were children of Eve, and should not excite the sympathy of the Firstborn militia.
The third person who traveled with Temple was the emperor’s body servant, Gottlieb. The square-faced man who kept his perruque impeccably powdered, his stock tie neat, and his frock coat free of dirt, was there to take care of the Parlett boy and keep an eye on him, but he also made himself useful to Temple, shifting his trunk in and out of the stations they stayed at along the road, cooking meals, and procuring acceptable wine at the small towns of Pennsland. Gottlieb made himself useful enough that Temple forgave the man his jaundiced eyes and his sly expressions, as if he were the upstart servant in some cheap opera, looking for his own advantage in every situation. Gottlieb still limped from having his leg impaled by the Masonic actor and prophet, Wilkes.
Gottlieb did make rather more small talk than his station in life should have permitted. Temple Franklin did not have democratic feelings, but after three days of rattling his tailbone against an oak plank that was not at all disguised by the presence of a cushion so thin it might as well have been a handkerchief, taking snuff to try to cloak the growing fetor of the human sacrifices crowding the movable hold beneath him, Temple began to talk back.
“It’s certainly not a problem to travel indefinitely,” Gottlieb was saying. “I have spent weeks at a time traveling with His Imperial Majesty. It’s simply a matter of knowing how to procure the services of a laundrywoman or a fuller at the right intervals and for a reasonable price. In the emperor’s company, that turns out to be effortless — it might surprise you what lengths people are willing to go to in order to impress the emperor. Gifts of horses, sometimes. Cloaks, room and board, wine. But even without his additional, shall we say, ability to command, it’s basically just a matter of reading a map.”
“A map?” Temple asked, curious.
Gottlieb looked surprised to be answered, and it took him a moment to gather his thoughts. “Yes! Well, and knowing the contents of your trunk.”
“How much clothing I’m carrying,” Temple said.
“Correct. And ideally, you would tell me what you planned to wear and when, if there were, for instance, dinners of state or meetings with Electors you had planned, so I could make certain I had the right clothes cleaned. Planning is everything, you see. And then I would look at the map, or ideally, a gazetteer of some kind, such as Morse’s.”
“Morse’s Gazetteer does not identify the presence of laundrywomen.”
“Ah ha!” Gottlieb laughed. “No, but a map, you see, just indicates the presence of a town. The Gazetteer tells you how big the towns are, and from that you can guess where the best places are to find a laundrywoman.”
“You’re offering to do my laundry,” Temple said.
“Well, no. That is, I’m just thinking out loud, I wasn’t trying to offer my services. But if you need to have laundry done, I can certainly undertake the task.”
Temple considered. “I believe my first meeting of any significance will be in the western Ohio, and specifically, at the camp of the Imperial Ohio Company, with the Company’s Sole Director, Notwithstanding Schmidt. Until then, I do not give a fig, nay, not half a fig, for whether my stockings are white or my nails are clean.”
“Of course.” Gottlieb bobbed his head. “As you wish, and at your service. This boy is easy to mind — he’s old enough to feed himself, all I need to do is draw him a bath every few days and pick the rocks out of his bread.”
“When we get closer,” Temple said, “I’ll ask you — I’ll pay you — to clean my clothing.”
“No need to pay, happy to do it, His Imperial Majesty pays me more than enough, and in addition, I am recompensed by the thought of my glorious station. I am but a little planet, but I have the honor of orbiting closely to a radiant sun.”
“Surely, Thomas doesn’t approve of your use of astronomical figures.”
Gottlieb hung his head. “I have poor luck with the emperor and astrology.”
“As do I.” Temple took a pinch of snuff off the back of his hand. “I continue to try because my effort lets him know I am interested. And frankly, it’s well for me that I do not exceed his lore. Let us both remember Signor Mocenigo.”
Gottlieb crossed himself.
Temple found himself liking the little man with the square head. “Perhaps I could do with more fastidiousness. We’ll reach Youngstown soon enough — do you believe you could find an appropriately skilled and devoted fuller there?”
“Without a doubt.”
“Then I look forward to wearing clean clothing after that. And I shall pay you, Mister . . .”
“Gottlieb, Mister Franklin. I’m a body servant, and we are called by our first names.”
“I shall pay you, Gottlieb. I shall certainly pay the laundryman’s fee, and a gratuity on top of that. I only ask — no, I instruct — that you not clean this coat that I am wearing.”
“Understood. Lucky coat?”
The Parlett boy said nothing, but watched with large eyes.
Eventually, Notwithstanding Schmidt would have to throw the might of the Company against Cahokia again. She prepared herself, swelling her ranks with militia recruits and pressing men from local jails wherever her forces moved, as authorized and instructed by the emperor.
The forces of the Heron King prowled the western shores of the Mississippi, not only hemming Cahokia in but also eroding her defenses and other resources. Refugees from the west ate her food. Cahokia was swollen to bursting with people. More came, and she turned none away.
In the wake of the failed siege, when the emperor’s greatest guns, the Twelve Apostles, had been hoisted into the air by miraculous trees sprouting directly beneath them, allies had come to reinforce Cahokia. They served in motley companies under the city’s Cavalier general, some from Johnsland, others from Appalachee, Germans from the north, and more — but not in large numbers. The tension within the empire, over the course of the Pacification, over the response to be made to the rampaging of the beastkind on the lower Mississippi, and over the attempt by certain Electors — encouraged and sustained by the brat Queen of Cahokia — to impeach Lord Thomas and remove him from office, meant that none of the powers of the empire could spare anything like its full force.