Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 06
Thomas wished her and her father good luck, concealing the white knuckles of his clenched fists behind his back.
He recognized the last young woman with a shock, though he could not remember her name; she was the oldest daughter of Kimoni Machogu, Prince of Shreveport. She had her father’s fierce stare and the curve of his lip that hinted at his piratical ancestry. Thomas listened to her genealogical recitation along with a surprisingly detailed inventory of facts about the cotton wealth of Shreveport and several songs. Finally, he wrapped both her hands in his and looked into her eyes.
“Please tell your mother and your father that I am trying very hard to marry a wealthy woman, so that I can bring as much help as I can to Shreveport, as quickly as possible. Are you going back home?”
The girl’s hands trembled as she shook her head. “No, I am staying here, with my sisters.”
“Good,” Thomas said. “For now, that’s wise.”
Temple Franklin found him a few minutes later, leaning his forehead against the cool trunk of a magnolia tree and sinking his nails slowly into its bark.
“I take it none of them was a match,” Temple said.
“You do so many things well,” Thomas said slowly. “It turns out that finding a suitable bride for me is not one of them. Did you try the Lord of PotosÃ?”
“He’s so wealthy, he’s not interested in you.”
“What about the silver miners in Georgia?”
“Ben Yehuda said he’d be willing to talk. How do you feel about wearing a little round cap and giving up pork?”
“I suppose I’d be willing to wear a cap.”
“I rather think it’s the other requirement that is non-negotiable.”
“Next, he’ll be wanting to discuss circumcision.” Thomas sighed. “Well then, Temple, I think our course of action is obvious.” He straightened, stretching the muscles of his back and looking up into the night sky for guidance. Obscured by winter clouds and the lights of Philadelphia, the stars gave him nothing. His burdens felt, if anything, heavier.
“I haven’t yet consulted with the Anakim,” Temple pointed out.
“The wealthiest of them will be the one with the largest pile of lake fish and otter’s bones,” Thomas said. “Not a help, however interesting it might be to make love to an eight-foot-tall red-headed woman with hands like coal scuttles and a bed perched atop a pole. No, our solution is rather nearer to hand, in New Amsterdam.”
“You have someone in mind?”
Thomas nodded. “It’s time to settle a lawsuit.”
The MarquÃ©s’s city house blazed with light, and Thomas couldn’t bring himself to go back inside. Crossing abruptly to the edge of the garden and ignoring sudden yelps from Temple Franklin, he climbed the tall iron fence and vaulted over into the alley beyond.
He stalked across Philadelphia alone, with his Town Coat and his dress saber to protect him.
Three streets from Horse Hall, he collided with a staggering drunk. The man vomited on Thomas’s shoes, then emitted an odor like that of a charnel house and something that might have been an apology, rolled into a single belch.
Thomas beat the man until he stopped moving.
He would marry, by damn. He would pay his bills. He would pacify the Ohio. He would hold the Empire together.
He would live up to the hopes of William Penn.
Ahmed Abd al-Wahid rose from prayer in the mamelukes’ simple chamber, adorned only with mats for sleeping and prayer. Omar and al-Muhasib rose with him.
In the hall, Ravi sat with his face in a book. When Abd al-Wahid emerged, the Jew stood.
“The poet says, ‘I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my soul.” Abd al-Wahid smiled. “What are you reading?”
Ravi showed him the cover, with the English title embossed in silver: POOR RICHARD’S SERMONS.
“Is that Christian, O son of Isaac?” Abd al-Wahid was surprised at the thought that after all these years of exposure to the true faith, his Jewish companion might become a follower of the man from Galilee.
“Yes, O son of Ishmael, these are famous sermons written by a famous Christian priest of Philadelphia. But fear not, I have no interest in his words.”
“What possible reason could you have for reading a book, if not the words contained therein?” Omar al-Talib asked. “When I read every book in al-Qayrawan, was it not for the sake of their words?”
“Your question about al-Qayrawan is fascinating,” al-Muhasib said. “Tell us more about that experience. Which book was your favorite?”
“Who can love one star more than another?” Al-Talib asked shrugged. “Who can truly say that one flower has a more delicate scent than another?”
“I like lilies,” al-Muhasib said.
“I read this book,” Ravi said, “not for its words, but for its language.” He switched suddenly to English. “Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults. Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
Omar, who knew no English, frowned.
Al-Muhasib clapped Ravi on the shoulder and spoke in English as well. “Very good, my friend! I like the way you talk!”
Abd al-Wahid returned the conversation to Arabic. “And there is even wisdom in the words you have chosen. Well done, Ravi.”
He turned and led them to the chevalier’s audience chamber. The other three followed.
Omar snorted. “If I did not read the words in one of the books of al-Qayrawan, then the words cannot contain wisdom worth learning.”
“The way to see by faith,” Ravi declared in English, “is to shut the eye of reason!”
“And the way to learn by hearing,” Abd al-Wahid told him, “is to shut the jabbering mouth.”
Ravi fell silent, but his smile was contented.
“How long do we remain here?” al-Muhasib asked. Al-Muhasib had two wives in Paris, and one of them was quite young.
“I’ve received a letter from the Caliph’s secretary,” Abd al-Wahid told him. “We are instructed to kill this Bishop Ukwu and then come home.”
It was no longer a matter of Ahmed’s own deal with the chevalier. Implied in the Caliph’s missive: do not come home until you have killed the bishop.
Abd al-Wahid had no feeling about the matter; he didn’t hate the young bishop. But he would do as he was ordered.
Only as he thought about the task, he realized that he did have feeling; he felt camaraderie. He had chosen the mameluke warriors to come with him for their skills and by reputation, but, to his surprise, he found he began to think of them as his friends.
“If you had told me this before we began our attempts on this man’s life, I would have pronounced it an easy task,” Omar said. “Now, I am not so certain.”
“A dagger between any man’s ribs will bring his days to an end. Probably, Ravi’s Richard the priest even says so in one of his sermons. It can only be a matter of bringing the dagger to the man.”
They entered the audience room of the Chevalier of New Orleans. The discovery of the Vodun curse doll–and whatever the mambo had done to counteract its efficacy–had restored color to the chevalier’s face and breath to his lungs. He looked up as the mamelukes entered from a folded letter with a large, official-looking seal.
He saw it only for a moment, but he thought the seal showed the eagle, rattlesnake, and cactus of New Spain.
“Thanks be to God,” Abd al-Wahid said. “You are looking well.”
“Thanks be to you,” the chevalier answered.
“The witch also should receive credit,” Abd al-Wahid said.
“I have been considering the challenge we face with our enemy, the bishop,” the chevalier said. “And trying not to repeat previous errors.”
“Today is yesterday’s pupil!” Ravi blurted out in English.
The chevalier squinted at the Jew. “Are you quoting Bishop Franklin to me?” he asked, in the same language.
“Yes.” Ravi grinned. “I am sorry.”
The chevalier laughed. “You have been here too long. We must end this now. The challenge, as I see it, is that in destroying the cathedral, we have driven the beast from its lair rather than kill it. Now it stalks free in the woods, and we do not know where to seek it.”
“We must make it come to us,” Abd al-Wahid said.
“Agreed,” the chevalier said. “And I believe I know just how to do that. In addition to you, my plan has two components. First, these men.” He raised his voice and called out, “come in!”
The door behind his desk opened and four men trooped in. They were unarmed, and they trooped slowly up to stand beside the mamelukes, one Frenchman with each mussulman warrior.
Abd al-Wahid saw it and laughed with immediate approval.
A few moments later, his comrades began to bob their heads up and down as they too began to understand the chevalier’s thinking.
“And what is the other component, O Chevalier?” Abd al-Wahid asked.
“We only need one other thing, which is the bait. The thing to which the beast must come, sooner or later.”
“And do you possess this bait?”
The chevalier laughed and rubbed his hands together. “Yes I do, my friend. Yes I do.”