Serpent Daughter – Snippet 34

“Your Majesty?” Korinn called.

“What happened?” she asked. “And remember, I can tell when you’re lying.”

“Only if you can see me, Your Majesty.”

“Oh, if there’s anything I can do for sure, it’s see.”

Cathy heard Korinn and Walters share a sigh of relief.

Then slowly, one event at a time, the Vizier recounted what had happened: Sarah’s collapse, the arrival of the King of Tawa, the sending of messages to the other five kings of the Ohio, their meeting with Gazelem, the earthquakes that had continued to rattle the city. As he spoke, Sarah raised her arms and seemed to reach them toward the veil. She moved her fingers up and down, not touching the veil but reacting as if she were seeing something through her hands — something that was changing, because Sarah’s expressions changed in response. Cathy watched, fascinated.

“Your Majesty?”

Cathy realized that the Vizier had been silent for a minute or more.

“We’re here,” Cathy called. “Sarah is just . . . seeing.”

“I do not understand,” Korinn said.

“It’s the veil,” Sarah said. “I can see with it. And who’s that new fellow with Gazelem?”

“You’re watching Gazelem Zomas?” Korinn asked.

“No. But I can see him anyway, because he’s within the Treewall. We’re drowning, we’re soaked. Are people swimming house to house? But I’m looking eastward, at the roads.”

“For the Sister Kings?”

“Yes. I see two of them, almost here. But there are two who can’t leave. They’re trapped inside their cities. I guess that’d be Adena and Koweta.”

“Along the Ohio River,” Luman said.

“They’re trapped by Imperial forces,” Sarah continued. “Sweet Jesus, what are those things?”

“We do not see what you see, Sarah,” Cathy murmured.

“Wooden soldiers,” Sarah said. “And clay men, but I know what those are, they’re Mockers. In large numbers, walking through the woods. And also surrounding Koweta. At least I think so — does Koweta have a wall around it?”

“Koweta has a wall,” Korinn said.

“So the King of Tawa wants to turn me into an angel,” Sarah said. “I’m game, but it ain’t gonna happen iffen we don’t git those two kings here. And Oranbega, I guess. He ain’t imprisoned, but he ain’t goin’ anywhere, either.”

“I will see to it . . . Sarah,” Luman Walters said.

“You have a plan?”

“I have an idea, if the Vizier can lend me resources. I know that some of the Hansa that Director Schmidt corrupted have broken their pact with her, so they may be willing to help us smuggle two kings along the river.”

“I’ll get you whatever you need,” Korinn said.

“And take Yedera. She won’t admit it, but I’d bet a year of kisses she’s bored. I’ll keep an eye on you both,” Sarah said. “Mebbe help you as you go.”

“Perhaps you had better not,” Cathy suggested. “If gramarye is what is making you ill –“

“Then I guess the best thing I can use my gramarye for is to expedite the cure, wouldn’t you say?” Sarah snapped. “In any case, I’ll be the judge. I was a fool to step outside the veil, I just did it out of sheer surprise. The throne will sustain me. But what’s Gazelem looking for? He and that blond fellow are talking to folks huddled in the Basilica. Zadok is feeding them, good for him.”

“Feeding them your corn, Sarah,” Korinn said. “Good for you.”

“Good for us all, then.”

“He didn’t tell us exactly what he was looking for,” Korinn said. “Which makes me think he is looking for a Ghostmaster.”

“Enlighten me,” Sarah said.

“Zomas is . . . was . . . a haunted place. Zomans summon the spirits of the dead to seek information. It is not a common practice in Cahokia, and he may believe — rightly, I think — that some Cahokians would frown on it.”

“Do you frown on it, Maltres?” Sarah asked.

“It’s beyond my ken,” he said. “But I have been operating beyond my ken for a long time now. If a Zoman cunning woman can connect us with someone who can help us retrieve the Earthshaker’s Rod in Simon Sword’s possession, I would gladly pay her all my wealth.”

“Looks like a little corn might be enough,” Sarah murmured.

“Speaking of the Earthshaker’s Rod,” Walters said, “we should consider the other possibility coming out of Gazelem Zomas’s revelations.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Bring me the rod, and I’ll examine it.”

“I have it here,” Korinn said. “Should I pass it through, or . . . ?”

“Stay there.” Cathy stepped through the veil to take the staff offered by the Vizier. He was a man whose facial expression tended toward the grave, and he now wore such a look of relief that Cathy almost kissed him. Instead, she took the Earthshaker’s Rod and let the veil slide shut again.

Sarah made no move to take the staff, so Cathy held it.

“Only, Sarah,” Luman said, “whatever it is that you think needs to be done with the staff, please let me be the one who does it.”

“Champing at the bit, eh, Luman? Kind of fun to be a gramarist, ain’t it?”

Walters chuckled. “I admit, it is. But no, I wish to spare you the effort. You should conserve your mana, and save the strain for when you really need to act. I am not the accomplished magician that you are, but — “

“Shut up, Luman,” Sarah said. “I’ll let you try.”

“Your Majesty,” Korinn said.

“Uh-oh,” Sarah shot back. “We’re switchin’ to Your Majesty. Here come the kid gloves.”

“I had hoped to spare you all this administration of war. Perhaps we could do something less strenuous, something a little more enjoyable.”

“What do you have in mind, Korinn? A pull toy? A kitten?”

“We could finalize the honors list,” he said. “Medals and titles to be awarded for actions during the siege. Also land grants. Your Majesty’s holdings in the city doubled with the addition of the traitor Voldrich’s parcels, and we were paring down a list of people and institutions to whom you intended to grant land.”

“I remember,” Sarah said. “Only we got hung up on all that peppercorn-for-a-year nonsense, and I said we needed to get back to the idea of just owning land. What did you call it, that lawyer phrase you used?”

“Fee simple absolute,” Korinn said. “Yes, I have the statute drafted. I’ll bring it to you to review, and then I think we can easily find Notaries to sign.”

Sarah laughed out loud. “Look at me, getting drawn into the technicalities! You trickster, Maltres, distracting me. Fine, bring me your statute and your lists. Or give them to Cathy — she and I can edit them while you deal with the refugees and the beastkind and the Imperials.”

“Sir William keeps the Imperials at a healthy distance these days,” Luman said. “He trains our own troops to become something resembling an army, and in the meantime we are assisted by allies.”

Sarah sobered. “Yeah, well, in a few weeks those wooden men are going to be here, and three guesses what they’ll want. Time to shore up defenses, get all the soldiers in here we can, bring in the food, and be ready. Any refugees who can’t hold a spear or fire a rifle, it might be best if we can get them shipped upriver to Chicago. After Gazelem has had a crack at them, I suppose.”

“Understood,” Korinn said.

“Get Sir William in here so I can tell him what I see coming our way. Maybe we can get raiders out there to slow them down or stop them.”

“Yes,” Korinn said.

Sarah reached for the Earthshaker’s Rod and Cathy handed it to her. “Apparently, this thing can be put to offensive uses. Let me take a good look at it while you two go get organized.”

Cathy heard the footsteps of the men as they retreated along the nave, and murmured words shared with Yedera at the entrance.

Sarah gazed deeply at the staff in her hands. “With the orb, I got sort of a hint from Simon Sword himself. I don’t think he intended to tip me off, but he mentioned my magnet, and that helped me puzzle out what I was carrying. And from my conversations with Thalanes, I had a pretty good idea what the crown had to do, and I sussed out the plow from things Alzbieta had said about Eden. But damned if I can remember anyone telling me anything about this staff.”

“Your grandfather sent you on the road with a replica of it,” Cathy pointed out.

“He said it would be good against evil spirits. And it was, but I reckon that was the white ash wood. And there was that song Alzbieta said she heard my father singing. Breaker of horses, bane of the river. Is an earthquake the bane of the river? Maybe. I expect an earthquake that was big enough could shove a river to one side or the other, change its course. Keeper of the crown of two kingdoms sounds like it might have to do with this rod, if this is the only regalia Zomas ever had. Or rather, the song is about someone who holds the staff. My father, I guess. Me.”