Serpent Daughter – Snippet 35
“What else did the song say?” Cathy asked.
“Just about nothing. Alzbieta only knew one verse, and my father sang it in his delirium, so it might have been nonsense, anyway. Now that I think of it, it had another line about being anointed of seven.”
“I am hesitant to suggest that Your Majesty use her Eye of Eden –“
“My eye’s open,” Sarah said. “I don’t have to make any effort to use it, I can’t not use it, unless I shut my eye. Yeah, I’m looking at the rod, but it doesn’t have an aura, not like the Heronplow.”
She puffed, winced, and handed the staff back to Cathy.
“Maybe I should stick with what I know,” she said.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you do that once, Sarah.”
Sarah laughed once, then laughed again, and then couldn’t stop laughing until she gasped in pain. “Ain’t that the truth? I’ve been ducking and diving since the first day of creation, I reckon. But what I meant was, maybe I could do something with the Heronplow. It marks off space that is safer, more civilized. It calms beastkind — maybe it will calm the shaking earth, too.”
As her words ended, the earth shook, and Sarah cried out in pain.
“I think you had better conserve your mana for the anointing, Your Majesty,” Cathy suggested.
“Dammit,” Sarah said. “I hate to say it, but you’re right.”
Informed by a runner, Maltres Korinn stood at the Ohio Gate to receive two of the Sister Kings, or kings of the Sister Kingdoms: Talamatan and Talega. Standing without the Earthshaker’s Rod, he felt unprepared, unqualified for his office, and unsure what to do with his hands.
He settled on standing with his feet shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind his back. Rain soaked his hair and streamed down the shoulders of his black cloak.
Thunder rolled. Around Maltres stood soldiers in uniform and a few city officers. At his side stood Cathy Filmer. Uninvited by him, the Lady Alena and two other Ladies of Tendance stood on the far side of the avenue, together with their eunuchs and mouthpieces and acolytes; altogether, they numbered over twenty souls. Maltres was wary of mobs, but the priestesses stood with dignity and in silence.
“My Lord Duke,” a man said to Maltres’s side. Turning, he saw that the man stood with a second man and a woman. They were sunken cheeked and hollow eyed, and they wore simple match coats and leggings, frayed at the edges; Missourians? Zomans? The two men might have been brothers, long haired and tall; they held hats in their hands. The woman curtsied when Maltres looked at her, face nearly hidden within a thick bonnet.
“Put your hats on, it’s pouring.” Maltres took the men by the hand. “Do you have food?”
All three nodded. “The Metropolitan and his priests have been very prompt to get us corn,” the woman said. “We wanted to thank you.”
“I will thank Her Majesty,” Maltres said.
“Is she ill?” the woman’s face was creased by a sudden frown.
“She lives,” Maltres said. “The gods willing, she will continue to live.” Smiling, he ushered them away from the path just as the two kings approached.
They must have met on the road, or perhaps had agreed to come together, because the two kings drew near side by side. The King of Talega, whose kingdom was famously populated by as many Lenni Lenape as by Firstborn, looked as if he might be one of the people the Algonks called the “grandfathers” — he had dark hair, but his features were more square than most Eldritch, and his skin was dusky despite the rainy spring. He rode with his long purple cape hitched up and across his lap and he wore a garland of rain-crushed flowers on his head.
The King of Talamatan wore blue cort-du-roi breeches and a pale green shirt, decorated with paisleys and puffed in the sleeves, under a dark green coat. On his head, he wore a dark green Tyrolean hat with a neat yellow feather on one side. His mustache drooped like William Lee’s, but was longer. He might have been German, but a German with fine features, milk-white complexion, and dark eyes.
The kings rode side by side, and behind each man came a short column of retainers in single file. At the back came guardsmen, the sight of whom made Maltres almost as happy as the sight of the kings. He wanted every defensive gun and sword he could get.
He bowed to the two kings as they passed into Cahokia. “Gentlemen,” he said. “I am Maltres Korinn, Vizier of Cahokia.”
“The spirit of knowledge,” the King of Talega said in a warm bass.
“We are grateful for thy lore.” Maltres felt his face coloring slightly. Was he a participant in some ritual dialog of which he was ignorant? Had the process of preparing for Sarah’s anointing already begun? If there was a script, he wished someone had shown it to him in advance.
The King of Talega smiled.
“The spirit of the fear of the Lord,” the King of Talamatan said. His voice was stern and sharp, but his eyes were merry. “And we know thee well, Duke of Na’avu. Push the border of our kingdoms a few miles to the south, and thou wouldst be a member of my court. Though that corner of my land has more Germans than Firstborn.”
Maltres bowed again.
“Cathy Filmer.” Cathy curtseyed. “Handmaid to the Mother of All Living and Lady of Tendance.”
“And betrothed to General William Lee,” the King of Talega said. “We have heard of thee, too.”
The kings dismounted. At Maltres’s directions, soldiers took their reins. “We have prepared accommodations for you.”
“Perhaps our retinues might be sheltered from the storm,” the King of Talamatan said. “And the horses brushed and fed. I, for one, have been longing to meet this daughter of Kyres Elytharias.”
“I have heard she has Hannah’s recklessness,” the King of Talega said.
“Was Hannah reckless, or was she bold?” the King of Talamatan countered. “Oh, see, our chaplains are being welcomed by the Handmaids of the goddess.”
Maltres turned to see the Lady Alena’s eunuch bowing deeply and making elaborate gestures with his hands as he spoke to the priests in the kings’ companies. “Excellent,” he said. “I will allow the Handmaids to carry on the burden of hospitality, while Mrs. Filmer and I conduct you to our queen.”
Cathy said nothing, but the slightly rigid set of her jawline suggested to Maltres that she was unhappy about something.
Two bodyguards followed each king.
“Your hat is quite stylish, Your Majesty,” Maltres said as they began to climb the Great Mound.
“Call me Roland,” the King of Talamatan said. “Roland Gyanthes. My wife tells me it makes me look too much like a democrat. She would like me to wear a military uniform whenever I’m in public.”
Roland extended a friendly hand to Maltres, who took it and found himself joined in a masonic grip. He nodded deferentially.
“My wife would be very happy for me to dress as a democrat and never wear either a crown or a military uniform ever again,” the King of Talega said. “She sees the kingship as a burden.” He offered a more conventional handshake.
“She is not wrong,” Maltres said.
As they reached the top of the mound, he looked back past the following guards to see the disposition of the kings’ parties. His own officials and the kings’ retainers had disappeared, taking shelter from the weather; the Ladies of Tendance and the visiting chaplains moved south down one of Cahokia’s boulevards.
“Do you have any guesses where they’re going?” he asked Cathy.
The Cavalier priestess shook her head. “Perhaps a tour of the city’s sights. The Sunrise Mound lies in that quarter.” Her voice was hard, and Maltres was reminded that the Lady Alena’s eunuch had said that Cathy was ‘corruption.’
Had William reported that to Cathy, or was the eunuch’s statement a reflection of a larger conflict of which Cathy was well aware?
Yedera stood guard at her customary spot just within the doors. Her eyes flickered, barely showing recognition as the kings walked past. Oathbound Podebradans ignored all social distinctions and taboos other than their own vows. Podebradans walked freely on sacred ground, failed to salute, wore what they want, and ate without regards to mores.
They all stopped briefly while the priestess waiting with Yedera anointed Maltres and Cathy both. No one suggested that the kings required anointing.
“Will you be joining us within the veil?” Roland asked pleasantly as they walked down the long nave of the Temple of the Sun.
The question caught Maltres up short. Of course, he would not be.
“I will accompany you if you wish,” Cathy said, “though I must take a few minutes to prepare. Or you may simply enter; you will find Her Majesty Sarah Elytharias Penn fully capable of presenting herself and recounting her own tale.”
The two kings laughed as they passed through the veil and into the presence of the Serpent Throne.