Serpent Daughter – Snippet 36

“Whole thing’s jest gone to stupid.”

Chapter Eight

Two men joined Sarah in the sanctum. One had long dark hair and mustache and wore a stylish German hat; the other was darker skinned, maybe an Indian, and wore a crown of flowers.

She held the Earthshaker’s Rod across her lap. She had given up trying to look into it with her Eye of Eden; however much she might try to put on a brave face for Cathy and her counsellors, she felt sick and exhausted. Her eyes ached, and the vision of her ordinary eye was dim. The effort of looking through the veil had left her with vertigo and nausea. Now she just squinted at the staff, running her fingers over the iron horse’s head and the iron ferrule and the dark wood in between, hoping that something would come to her.

“Your Majesty.” They bowed.

“Let’s skip past the thee and thou bit,” Sarah said. “Apparently, I’m dying, and I don’t want to waste my time. You walked in here, easy as pie, so I figure that makes you Ladies of Tendance, oathbound Podebradans, or Firstborn kings. I can see that you’re Eldritch, but if you’re Ladies of Tendance, the order’s requirements for physical loveliness are seriously slipping.”

“I’m Roland Gyanthes,” said the one with the German hat. “I’m your neighbor, the King of Talamatan. My friend here is Ordres Zondering, and he’s the King of Talega.”

“The German and the Lenni Lenape, according to the song,” Sarah said. “I’m Sarah, which you might have guessed. Are you mixed bloods, then, like I am?”

“I am,” Ordres said.

“I am not,” Roland said. “But I do like schnitzel.”

“I guess I met the King of Tawa already,” Sarah said. “I was unconscious at the time.”

Your friends will avail you nothing. A harsh scream punctuated the words of Simon Sword. I am not a power you can resist. I am the inevitable turning of the world.

Ordres gestured at the Earthshaker’s Rod. “I had heard you were an accomplished wizard. I hadn’t realized that the earthquakes were your doing. No wonder you’re exhausted. Why are you shaking the earth — is it part of your war against the Imperials?”

Sarah laughed out loud. “Hell, Ordres, I wish it was me. If I was making the earth shake, I could stop it, too. Every time Cahokia trembles, I feel it in my bones, and these tremors hurt.”

Roland looked at the Heronplow, the Orb of Etyles, and the Sevenfold Crown, all lying scattered across the twisting serpents that comprised the arms of the throne. “I assume these objects are all with you because you have nowhere else safe to place them.”

“No one you trust.” The half–Lenni Lenape king looked sad.

You are alone.

“No, I trust my people,” Sarah said. “Only these are working regalia, and I’m the only one who can use the plow and the orb and the crown. As for the staff, as far as I can tell, none of us knows how to use it, so I’m just sitting here, having a good, hard ponder on the matter.” She laughed again. “I’ve got my own Thinking Shed, now.”

“The staffs are used at the crosses of the earth,” Ordres said.

“Not exclusively,” Roland countered.

“I don’t know what a magician might do with them,” Ordres said. “Cause earthquakes, I imagine. But I’m thinking of that passage in the Reconciliations.”

“Yes.” Roland stroked his long mustaches. “‘And when the giants had departed, the land still shook with their footsteps. And in its shaking, the land shattered hill and ditch, palace and temple. And great fires and pollutions were across the land. And Onandagos raised the staffs of the giants upon the crosses of the earth and prayed to the Mother of All Living to still her unease. And one year and a day from the departure of the giants, the shaking of the land ceased.'”

“You think the staffs of the giants are the Earthshaker’s Rods?” Ordres asked.

“That’s how my mother explained it to me,” Roland said. “But since one of the rods is broken, I don’t know whether the other rod, all by itself, will work.”

“Broken?” Sarah asked.

“Or whether maybe the point of the story isn’t the rods at all, but the prayers to the goddess,” Ordres added.

“And then again,” Roland said, “the book doesn’t say that the rods stopped the earthquakes. It just says that they stopped. Maybe the giants cast a departing spell that lasted a year and a day.”

“Suspiciously neat time frame, that.” Ordres nodded. “Although perhaps we’re meant to understand that Onandagos raised the staffs a year and a day after the giants’ departure, and they worked immediately.”

“Wait,” Sarah said. “This anointing you want to give me . . . is it based on the same kind of guesswork, maybe this and maybe that, but what about the other thing?”

Ordres chuckled. “Don’t you find life is generally that way?”

“Shh.” Roland elbowed his fellow king. “You’re eroding her confidence. And nothing is more important than her faith in the anointing.”

“It will work,” Ordres said.

“What exactly are the crosses of the earth?” Sarah asked. Something rang a bell in her memory.

“There are two.” Roland folded his arms over his chest. “They are popularly thought to have been built by Onandagos, but as they are described in the Reconciliations, they simply appear in the narrative, with no account of anyone building them. This suggests to me that they predate Onandagos, and were merely used by him.”

“She doesn’t care who made them,” Ordres said.

“It seems relevant to me,” Roland shot back. “This might be craft of the Anakim, or Peter Plowshare we’re talking about. Properly speaking, it isn’t royal lore, and we should be careful not to pretend to understand too much. Anyway, there are two of them, and one of them is on the borders of your land and mine, Sarah. Where Cahokia, Talamatan, Koweta, and Tawa come together in a single point on the Kaskaskia River, the earth is thought to cross. Four kingdoms touch in a single point, and there is a monument that marks the spot.”

“Zadok!” Sarah snapped her fingers.

“Excuse me?” Roland furrowed his brow.

“Zadok Tarami. My Metropolitan. I heard him say something about lying quartered on the crosses of the earth.”

Ordres nodded. “He must have walked the Onandagos Road. The pilgrimage trail touches on both crosses. Pilgrims lie with one limb in each of the four kingdoms and say a prayer. It is believed to connect the pilgrim with the four corners of the earth, which is to say the entire cosmos, and Christ at the same time.”

“So the second cross of the earth is on the Onandagos Road, too,” Sarah said. “And it must be more east.” She closed her eyes and tried to remember the maps she had seen of the Seven Sister Kingdoms. “Talega must touch that one. Along with Oranbega, Adena, and . . . Koweta?”

Roland nodded. “It’s a source of great pride for Koweta that their lands touch both crosses of the earth.”

“Maybe they should hold the rods,” Sarah said.

Ordres shrugged. “And yet they never have. Cahokia was always Onandagos’s own kingdom, after all.”

“Cahokia is exceptional, even among the Seven Sisters.” Roland nodded. “For instance, my city has a sanctuary of the goddess as well, but in my sanctum there is no back door.”

Sarah’s breath caught. “You see it?”

Ordres nodded. “I see it, too.”

“Then it has something to do with the throne and kingship,” Sarah said. “It’s not because of my eye that I see it, it’s because I’m queen. But what is it?”

Both kings shrugged.

“As I said,” Roland told her, “Cahokia is exceptional.”

“And do you hear . . . a voice?” Sarah ventured.

“No,” the King of Talamatan said.

The King of Talega shook his head.

Sarah shook her own head to clear it. Why were answers to her questions always so partial, so full of guesswork? “I have heard a story, that one of the rods was taken to Zomas.”

“Did your father tell you that one?” Roland asked. “He was often in conflict with the men of Zomas, especially over their trade in slaves.”

“I heard this story from a Zoman prince,” Sarah said, “and he told it to me as a story of Zoman inheritance.”

Ordres shrugged. “Who can say what is true?”