Serpent Daughter – Snippet 43
Dolindas smiled slightly. “This is not for me to say. It is a decision for the goddess, who will act through Sarah, once Sarah is awake. But until then, I must ask you to step down from your position, tending to the throne.”
An icicle stabbed Cathy in her heart. “Why?”
“Don’t worry,” Roland said, “we’ll take good care of her.”
“Because for this rite to work, those associated with it must be in an advanced state of purity,” Dolindas said. “Until the goddess absolves you, someone else must take your role.”
“I know a good woman,” Cathy said.
“The other Ladies of Tendance will choose who completes their quorum,” Ordres said.
“I’m sure this is temporary,” Roland added.
“But it will be . . . the Lady Alena will dictate.”
“The Ladies of Tendance will choose,” Ordres said again. “This is simply not something that you must worry about. There are more important problems.”
Cathy took a deep breath. The Lady Alena didn’t agree with Cathy, or with Sarah, on many things, but Sarah had seen fit to retain the woman, and had reinstituted her vow of silence when she had asked. Cathy nodded. “Perhaps I may be part of the embassy to Oranbega.”
Dolindas nodded. “I was thinking Zadok Tarami might be a good choice, too.”
“Best send the Podebradan along as well,” Roland suggested. “If she stands out there grieving any longer, she may turn into salt.”
The hotel had once been called the Sir Christopher Wren. At Thomas’s direction, before his fiancée Julia Stuyvesant arrived, it had changed its name to honor its celebrated occupants. Thomas had not commanded the name change, but he had invited it, and he had also offered to pay for the remodeling of the hotel’s lobby. He had never told the owner, an unctuous man named Skids who bobbed his head from side to side as he spoke, that the remodeling was dependent upon the name change.
He hadn’t had to.
Skids himself had proposed a list of five possible replacement names. Skids had favored the Pieter Post on the grounds that Pieter Post had been an architect like Christopher Wren, but Thomas had pointed out that it made the hotel sound like an office of the mails. Jacob de Wit seemed to be an effort to be comic; Abraham Blauvelt sounded Jewish, which did not bother Thomas but might annoy Julia; and, worst of all, Jan Steen, pronounced in the Republican manner, sounded like yon stain. That left the Huig de Groot, which Thomas found perfect, since de Groot had apparently been a lawyer, and his impending marriage was nothing if not a product of the law.
Thomas entered the Huig de Groot with a distinct lack of patience.
He knew the room number because Franklin had obtained it for him. Until his departure for the Ohio, Franklin’s creatures had been observing Julia’s movements and, through Franklin, giving Thomas daily reports. Thomas didn’t care where Julia shopped or what she ate, nor with whom she spoke or which theaters she attended. He wanted four things of her.
First, the riches that would come as her dowry, and those that would flow in afterward as a result of the combination of the two Dutch companies. Both events were contingent upon the actual performance of the marriage, or, not to put too fine a point on it, the consummation thereof. Julia was young and by all accounts pretty, but Thomas had little actual interest in making love to her for her beauty, any more than he was interested in conversing with her about current affairs and the governance of the empire. He would consummate the marriage for the money, and to produce heirs.
Heirs were the second thing he wanted, so it was good that Julia was young. Thomas had fought hard against the other Electors and his own family — was still fighting hard — and it would all be for naught if he left the Shackamaxon Throne vacant at his death.
The third thing that Thomas wanted from Julia was the easiest. She must be beautiful, and most especially, she must be beautiful on their wedding day. Her radiant beauty, made more radiant in the works of the cartoonists, balladeers, and news-paper-men, would redound to Thomas’s honor. He needed honor now; it would help him fight his pesky war against the Electors, and against the Firstborn.
But finally, and most importantly, what Thomas needed Julia to do was not to shame him. All the good she did in the form of cash receipts or sycophantic news-paper accounts of what dresses she wore to the balls would evaporate and be replaced by bloody, smoking wounds in Thomas’s side if she did anything to humiliate him.
This was why he had her watched.
This was also why he was going to see her now. She had rebuffed his every attempt to be seen in public with her, and Thomas had this week received two questions from news-paper-men as to why that might be the case. So this Friday, the Imperial Players would be performing, at Thomas’s direction, Henry V. From the Imperial box, Thomas had already informed the news-paper-men, would be watching the emperor and his betrothed, the Lady Julia Stuyvesant.
Thomas rapped on the door number 25, his kid-leather gloves slightly dampening the sound. He had chosen the room himself; 25 was Julia’s age, but it was also the date of their impending marriage, June 25, which was the date of the new moon. The best dates for marriage were the day of the new moon, or a day seven, fourteen, or twenty-one days following the new moon — no one needed an almanack to know that. Twenty-five was an altogether auspicious number for their wedding.
The peeping slot opened with the scrape of metal, revealing in an area two inches tall by six inches wide of the face of a mevrouw who had better not be Julia; she had crow’s-feet around her eyes, and skin the texture of an Italian whey cheese.
“Oh, Meneer Thomas,” the woman said through the door. “Je kan niet binnenkomen.”
“I wish to be polite,” Thomas said. “Please open the door.”
“Je kan niet binnenkomen,” the attendant said again.
“I can very well binnenkomen,” he snapped, “and you bloody well know it. I paid for this room, I pay for your food and drink, and I even paid for the bride!” He realized that his voice had grown into a shout, so he stopped and took a deep breath. “I am here to invite her to the theater.”
“Meneer,” the woman said, “Julia is indisposed.”
“Dispose her,” Thomas said coldly. “I enter in ten seconds, will you or nil you.”
He had counted down to three when the door opened.
Julia sat in a chaise longue beneath the window. A mound of fabric lay heaped upon her lap; she had a thimble on her left thumb and in her right hand she held a threaded needle. The thread ran through the pile of fabrics that nearly concealed her.
“My Lord.” She smiled, and she was beautiful. Her features were fine to the point of being elfin, with an upturned nose and rosy cheeks, and hair bright as gold bouncing off her shoulders. She smiled with full lips and milk-white teeth; her neck was long and slender. “Forgive me. I have been difficult to find.”
“You have been very easy to find,” Thomas said irascibly. “You have simply been unwilling to see me.”
The attendant, who was twenty years older than Julia but looked forty years older, scurried to one side and stood in a corner of the room.
“Do you not worry that it is bad luck to see the bride before the wedding?” Julia smiled.
“Some feel it is” — Thomas clasped his hands behind his back — “on the day of the wedding. We have weeks yet. And do not tell me that this is a Dutch superstition; I have known too many Dutchmen to believe such a thing.”
“To the contrary, I had heard that you worried about such considerations, My Lord.”
Thomas snorted. “Nonsense. And if you have heard that I have mathematical sensibilities, which is to say, that I am concerned for the motions of the planets, why that is another thing entirely. That is science, my lady.”
Julia looked down at her sewing. “You are right, My Lord. May I confess a foolish thing to you?”
Thomas furrowed his brow. “Of course.”
“I believe that I have simply been trying to prolong my maidenhood. To be married is a solemn thing, and to be married to the greatest man in all the land . . . to one of the great men of the world . . . is a heavy responsibility. I have been avoiding your company, and I believe it is merely that I have wished to continue being a girl for as long as I may.”
He nodded. “Allow me to reassure you that as a wealthy lady of Philadelphia, you will still have time to frolic. The museums and the cafes and the shops will be grateful, indeed, to have your patronage.”
“Thank you, My Lord.”
“But the time has come that you must begin to be seen with me. Fear not, I will not bore you with the trivia of government. Nor am I the sort of boor who insists upon outshining the woman in his company. You will find me pleasant, and we shall attend public entertainments that are exquisite.”