Serpent Daughter – Snippet 11
Lee touched upon an interesting question: What kind of healer could treat Sarah, if she never left her goddess’s holy of holies? And a related question was: What kind of healer could do any more for Sarah than she could do for herself, if she was ill? She was the most powerful magician in Cahokia.
“The queen isn’t in her abode,” the boy chirped. “She fell down outside, during the tremor.”
“Outside?” Maltres ran, and Lee ran with him.
The Hall of Onandagos was not far from the Great Mound; the greatest effort in running from one to the other lay not in the distance, but in the descent down the first mound and especially in climbing up the second, made worse by the fact that rain slashed across Maltres’s body and slicked the earth under his feet. Still, they were only minutes apart. The messenger must have come running immediately after the earthquake had ceased.
Even focused as he was on reaching the Temple of the Sun, Maltres saw that the tremors had caused more damage than he would have guessed. Climbing the mound, he saw several houses burning, despite the rain, and several more flattened. He would need to see to the relief of the occupants.
In the streets below the mounds, and again rushing up the Great Mound, Maltres dodged among trees. The city had always had trees within its walls, but they grew in neat rows to provide shade to avenues, or in small fruit-bearing groves. At the end of the Siege of Cahokia, trees had sprouted throughout the city.
They had sprouted wherever one of the Imperial draug had stood, or lain defeated, at the final moment when Sarah and the goddess had worked their great act of gramarye to drive the Imperials out.
Maltres barely beat Lee to the top of the mound, despite the other man’s greater age and his injuries. There he found a swarm of eunuchs and several priestesses laboring over Sarah, raising a stretcher upon which she lay. The Podebradan Yedera stood to one side, her scimitar in her hand. Her face held a fierce scowl, but if anything, she looked helpless. What did her oath, her sword, her armor, and all her martial skill, avail her, when her queen simply fell to the earth, broken?
Sarah was swathed in the white linen she had worn since entering the sanctum. Now she also had linen bandages over both her eyes. There was dark brown blood crusted around her nostrils and at the corners of her mouth, and seeping red blood soaked through the bandages.
“Her eyes,” William Lee groaned. “Great god of heaven, she’s bleeding from her eyes.”
Sarah moaned and stretched out a finger weakly. Lee reached to grasp it and was barely able to touch his queen’s fingertips before a tall priestess with an angular face thrust herself into his path and raised a warning finger.
“Lady Alena,” Lee gasped. “I’ve sent for Mrs. Filmer to come see to the queen.”
A second figure intruded upon the space between Lee and his queen. It was a man this time, broad hipped and shaved bald, and with snakes tattooed on his face, converging in blue spirals upon his open mouth. The man was a eunuch, and Lady Alena’s voice.
“Mrs. Filmer will not be allowed to see the queen!” the eunuch hissed. “Mrs. Filmer is corruption!”
“Easy, Bill,” Maltres said, using the familiar form of the general’s name to get his attention.
Sarah groaned and the eunuchs carried her within the temple and out of sight.
“You understand,” William Lee said slowly to the eunuch, “that I have killed more men than you have plucked hairs from your greased chest?”
The eunuch trembled, but stood his ground.
“I have killed men because it was my job, suh,” Lee said. “I have killed men for honor. I have killed men in anger, and with a calm heart. I have killed men of every nation I know, and I have killed men whose nations were a mystery to me. I have killed enemies, and I have killed men who had been my friends. I have killed by day and by night, at land and on sea, mounted and on foot, with sword and with gun and even with my bare hands.” He took a deep breath. “Now tell me again, slowly this time so that there is no mistake, what you just said about my betrothed.”
Lee’s hand rested easily on his belt, but his voice was iron.
“Bill,” Maltres said again, in a low murmur.
“The queen,” a new speaker said, “where is she?” The voice had an imperious tone to it, and an urgency that would not be denied.
Maltres, Bill, the Lady Alena, and her eunuch all turned to look at the new arrival.
The speaker was tall and thin. His eyebrows were white, though his long hair, high above the forehead and long upon the shoulder, was still an iron-gray. He wore a long Ohioan tunic, gathered by leather wristbands on each arm and a slender belt, but his feet were bare. On his head he wore a thin gold circlet, but no entourage followed him.
The Lady Alena bowed deeply and her eunuch knelt.
William Lee squinted. “I have seen you before, suh, but I am struggling to remember where and when.”
“You rode with the Lion.” The newcomer smiled, a taut and impatient expression.
“This is His Majesty Kodam Dolindas.” Maltres bowed. “The King of Tawa.”
“The spirit of understanding,” the King of Tawa said.
“Have you come to help my queen, suh?” Lee asked.
“I have. And I see that I come just in time to meet the storm.” The King of Tawa swept into the Temple of the Sun. Yedera marched in on his heels.
The eunuch rose to his feet and William Lee punched the man in the face. The eunuch dropped to the earth, bouncing and falling into one of the muddy furrows that covered the top of the Great Mound.
“Do not speak that way of Cathy Filmer again,” Lee growled. “In my hearing or out of it.”
Thou hast asked for a demonstration of my intent. Oliver Cromwell’s voice rang in Thomas’s ears like shattering glass, though Cromwell’s lips didn’t move.
Only it wasn’t just Oliver Cromwell. It was Cromwell, and it was also in some way William Penn, Thomas’s own ancestor. Cromwell has escaped final destruction at the hands of the zealot John Churchill by traveling to the new world in the breast of William Penn, to whom he had granted Pennsland.
Cromwell had anointed Penn king of the granted lands, and he had anointed Thomas in the same fashion, in a secret ceremony in Shackamaxon Hall. He had shared with Thomas his vision of an eternal commonwealth, with Thomas at its head as the man who had finally vanquished death.
Now Cromwell, in the child’s body he wore, and Thomas Penn, and Temple Franklin stood in a warehouse a short distance from the Port of Philadelphia. A fourth man sat tied in a chair against the wall. Tall windows in all the walls stretched toward a high ceiling, allowing in a flood of early summer light; beneath the windows stood worktables laden with carpentry tools, potter’s wheels, lumber, and raw clay. Thomas gazed on two man-shaped replicas.
One was a wooden puppet. It lay on a table, but if it were to stand it would be six feet tall, or perhaps slightly taller. Its body was planed smooth but was only approximately the shape of a man; its head had been finely carved and painted, and resembled Thomas Penn. A younger Thomas Penn, as he looked when he had ridden to war against the Spanish.
The second was made of clay. It sat on a wooden chair, head slumped forward almost to its chest; the features of this replica were very approximate, and it smelled of wet earth.