This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.
Serpent Daughter – Snippet 44
“Yes, My Lord.” Julia bowed her head.
“Beginning Friday,” Thomas said. “I have a box — that is, we have a box at the Walnut Street Theater. Friday evening, the Imperial Players will perform Henry V. It is well known to be my favorite play, and they shall dedicate it to you as their muse. We shall watch the play from the box, and afterward shall dine at the home of one of Philadelphia’s wealthiest families, where you shall be the guest of honor.”
Julia’s eyes grew wide for a moment. Anticipation? Anxiety?
Could her expression possibly be fear?
“My Lord, I may not be ready by Friday.”
“You may return to frolicking on Saturday morning.”
“And yet . . .” Julia shook her head.
“How are you unready?” Thomas asked. “You have a mouth that speaks; I assume it must eat as well, no? I see feet beneath that mound of silk, I assume there must be legs connecting them to your torso.”
“Such crude words!” The attendant rushed forward to interpose herself. “My lady is unwell.”
“You said indisposed before,” Thomas grunted. “It was a lie then. What is it now?”
“There is sewing to do,” the attendant blurted.
“Sewing?” Thomas looked at the work in Julia’s lap. “What are you making? A dress? Not your wedding dress, with those colors.”
“Yes, a dress,” Julia said. “I am making a dress for Lieke here.” Her hands, Thomas realized, hadn’t moved the entire time they had been talking, but had hung poised over the work.
“It is excellent that you sew,” Thomas said. “I respect the work, and the creation. And when you are empress, it would be strange for you to sew dresses for your servants, but wondrous if you were to make clothing for the poor of Philadelphia. My people so soon forget the gifts of cash, but they remember images. They will remember the sight of my wife, stitching clothing at a poorhouse.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“But there is nothing, let me be clear, nothing in this world, not one damned thing, the sewing of which is so urgent that you are unable to attend entertainments with me this Friday night.”
“No, My Lord.” Julia’s face looked stricken.
“Have patience with us, My Lord,” Lieke said.
Julia’s hands continued to sit still.
“Let me see you sew,” Thomas said.
Julia laughed, but the sound was hollow. “Oh, My Lord, I am so fatigued of sewing now. I shall put it aside, and Lieke and I shall consider what dress I may wear on Friday. Perhaps I should pick out two dresses, one for the play and the second for the dinner.”
“One will be sufficient,” Thomas said. “I am no parer of cheese, but a reasonable frugality is a virtue, even in an emperor. Sew.”
“Oh, My Lord, I have not the will for it now. It offends you so, indeed, I may give it up entirely.”
“It offends me that you do not sew,” Thomas said slowly. “Make a stitch. Now.”
Julia nodded and pushed the needle through the fabric, pulling the needle out the other side. Even at three paces, Thomas could see that her stitch was larger and clumsier than the stitches that were already in the garment, and not in the same straight line.
“You have lost your gift for the needle,” he said.
She exhaled sharply, setting down the thimble and needle upon the cloth. “Indeed, My Lord, I am all out of sorts from speaking with you. I can only hope I shall be recovered by Friday.”
Thomas nodded. “Stand.”
“She is unwell!” the attendant cried.
“If you wish to live, Lieke,” Thomas said slowly, “then I solemnly charge you to shut your mouth.” To Julia Stuyvesant, he said, “Stand.”
She smiled, but her nostrils flared and her breath came quicker. Julia swiveled on the chaise longue, set the fabric and sewing tools down on the raised part of the seat, and stood.
She was thick around the waist.
Thomas gazed upon his fiancée and counted slowly to five in his mind. “Does your father know?” he asked.
“Know what, My Lord?”
“That you are great with child.”
Julia touched her belly and forced a laugh. “My Lord, this is due to the delicious creamed cheese that you make in Philadelphia. So difficult to cut a thin slice when the cheese is a pudding!”
“Do not mock me,” Thomas said. “You are slender in the neck and in the fingers and in the ankles. I may admire a pregnant woman and a plump woman equally, but I certainly recognize the difference when I see it. Now I will ask one more time, and, listen to me, you must be done with the lies. Your life is in the balance.”
Julia swallowed and nodded.
“Does your father know?”
He believed her, and that was a relief. If Adriaan Stuyvesant had connived to humiliate Thomas, that would have undermined their deal, and all Thomas’s plans. If Julia had simply connived to humiliate her father, and Adriaan didn’t know about it . . . that was a problem Thomas could fix.
He removed the glove from his right hand.
“Tell me who the father is,” he said.
“No one of importance,” she said. “One of my father’s men. Certainly, someone I’ll never see again.”
If the father was one of Adriaan’s men, it was certain that she would see him again. Thomas nodded. “Tell me his name.”
Thomas looked to Lieke, who shuddered in the corner. “Does anyone else know?”
“No, My Lord,” Lieke said.
Julia shook her head.
“What was your plan?” Thomas asked. “What were you thinking? Were you hoping the nuptials would be delayed? That I would not notice, and would accept a lie that a child born four months after my wedding was my son? That I would be humiliated into cooperating with the lie?”
“You are harsh, My Lord,” Lieke said.
“But not unjust.” Tears flowed down Julia’s cheeks. “My Lord, I hoped for a time that my father would cancel the wedding.”
“That is honest,” Thomas said. “Let me say an honest thing in turn to you. Your father cares more for his money than for his daughter.”
Julia hesitated. “My father has many responsibilities, and cannot always accommodate me as he would wish.”
“So you have had a taste of how power works. And are you still hoping today that your father will withdraw from our agreement?”
Julia looked down. “I know that he will not.”
“So you have no plan.”
“I took an herb that Lieke procured. It had no effect.”
“I see.” Thomas felt a thrill run along his spine. “I will solve this problem for you.”
Julia sucked in a breath and stepped back, bumping against the chaise.
“I think this will hurt,” Thomas said. “But I believe you will live. Hold still.”
He knelt before Julia.
“My Lord,” she whimpered. “Please.”
“Do not pretend to me that you are some bashful maiden,” he growled. “And do not speak again until I have finished.”
He reached under her skirt, but not to please her or himself. He raised his ungloved hand beneath the fabric until he could lay it on her belly, skin to skin. He was not certain he could do this without killing Julia as well, in which case he would certainly have to kill Lieke, and would have to offer Adrian some sort of reparation. But he thought he could control his power.
He visualized the child in Julia’s womb. Small, concealed, hidden, an interloper. A thief of his dreams, an assassin sent against his authority and his honor. He felt with his fingers, knowing that it was far too soon for him to find a cranium or a foot through the mother’s belly, but imagining that he could wrap his fingers around such a cranium.
Or around a throat.
“Sleep, little creature,” he murmured. “Sleep and dream no more.”
He heard a soft, wet slap, and smelled blood.
Thomas removed his hand and stood up. The veins in his wrist and in the back of his right hand were black, rather than blue; he flexed his fingers and stared.
Julia cried out and then sat down. A stain spread from the middle of her skirt; where Thomas might have expected a dark red mark, the stain was black. A lump of black tissue lay on the floor at her feet, trembling like an aspic struck with a fork.
Thomas raised his hand, showing it to the servant. “My spies watch you at all times, Lieke. If I ever have reason to think that you have spoken of what you have seen today, to anyone at all, or if you tell anyone at all that the Lady Julia Stuyvesant ever carried a child that wasn’t mine . . . I shall wrap my fingers around your neck and laugh while you die screaming.”
Lieke covered her mouth and wept, nodding.
Thomas replaced his glove. “The play begins at seven o’clock,” he said. “I shall pick you up at six. And from now on, you will be available to attend any and all public entertainments I choose. Is that understood?”
He left without waiting for an answer.