Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 10

“Differences such as . . . ?” Cathy pressed.

“The goddess,” Sarah said. “Or really, the throne. It’s one thing to read the Bible in a private way and tell each other that Wisdom or the Spirit or the Serpent refer to your goddess. It’s something else to have a golden serpent in a temple.”

Sarah had done much thinking about that throne.

Cathy nodded.

“It is indeed . . . something else.” Alzbieta’s face was grave and her voice quiet. “These would-be reformers thought we would be seen like Odin-worshippers of Chicago and Waukegan, pagans and unbelievers. They felt shame, perhaps. Fear. Lack of confidence.”

The kneeling figure had covered a third of the ground from the trenches to the gate. Soon, Sarah would have to make a decision.

Were those streaks of blood behind him in the snow?

She looked to the barbican tower over the gate and saw the men within it gazing back at her, waiting for a signal.

“But the Serpent Throne still stands,” Sarah said. “No one tore it down. No one burned down the temple.”

“Not for want of trying. This was before my day, of course, but I heard the stories. Men with torches and pry bars assaulted the temple. Its groves were uprooted and burned to ash, the ashes trampled underfoot. Cahokia’s two great priesthoods–the one serving Father and Son, and the one serving the Virgin–split as they had never split before. Blood was shed. Women of great honor were humiliated and enslaved.”

“The veil,” Sarah said.

“The great veil was torn down,” Alzbieta agreed. “Your father later hung a new one in its place. For whatever reason, he never closed it. Presumably, the goddess told him not to.”

“Why would She do that?” Sarah asked.

“Perhaps we are not yet ready for Her presence.” Alzbieta shook her head. “Perhaps this is what you can accomplish here, Beloved.”

“But the . . . rebels,” Sarah continued. “They couldn’t deny the goddess, surely? Where do they think they come from?”

“Most men don’t experience their gods as you have been privileged to do, Beloved.” Alzbieta spoke slowly, and her use of the title Beloved underscored the fact that Sarah too was a priestess of Alzbieta’s goddess, a goddess they both had seen.

A priesthood about which Sarah knew practically nothing. But something about Sarah’s priesthood, her status as the goddess’s Beloved, or her vision of Eden, had changed her.

Sarah’s stomach turned at the mere thought of meat, and she could not bring herself to touch it. And, no matter how tired she became, she could only sleep atop the Great Mound.

What had happened to her?

“Then . . . the stories you told me of the great migration west, the building of the temple and the church side by side?”

“The rebels tell another story, about a flight west plagued by a demonic serpent. About a race of men descended from the serpent, who bear its mark on their very souls to this day, and whose blood boils because of the serpent’s corruption still flowing within them. About a king who slew the serpent, and sat upon her to crown himself not as a sign of solidarity and kinship, but as a mark of conquest and redemption from his corrupted birth. About a line of kings whose great triumph is to keep serpents at bay. About a people who had outgrown the serpent throne, and all their former private, sacred things.”

“That makes the rebels sound heroic,” Sarah said. “A little like Moses, breaking up the golden calf and forcing the sinners to drink it.”

“But Moses raised the serpent,” Alzbieta pointed out.

“Maybe a little like the New Light,” Cathy added, her voice softening.

Alzbieta shrugged. “The Campbells and Barton Stone may have taken some inspiration from the rebels against the goddess of Cahokia. I don’t know. But the children of Adam have never had a shortage of men who wish to tear down all that prior generations have built, in the name of freedom, or virtue, or progress, or conscience. And in that tearing down, Peter Plowshare was pushed away and the truths we knew about him were forgotten. Our children were taught the language of William Penn, rather than the language of Onandagos. And many important things were lost.”

Sarah pointed down at the crawling figure. “And that man? Is he a man of conscience?”

Alzbieta was slow to answer. “He’s not a hypocrite,” she finally said. “And many love him.”

“And what’s the difficult journey he undertook?”

“The Onandagos Road. It’s a sunwise path that crosses all seven Sister Kingdoms, beginning at the far edge of the Talega lands in the north and east, and touching at points where important events are believed to have taken place in the life of the great prophet. It finally enters Cahokia through the eastern gate–the Ohio Gate, though before your grandfather’s time, it was more commonly called the Onandagos Gate. The true final length of the Onandagos Road travels from the Onandagos Gate to the Temple of the Sun, though I think he will not finish his pilgrimage that way.”

“No?” Sarah asked.

Alzbieta shook her head. “He will go to the Basilica. The comfortably pious make that journey on horseback. The path is not straight, and travels some eight hundred miles, weaving north and south as it pushes continually westward. Only the truly religious do it on foot.”

“And am I to understand that this man traveled the Onandagos Road on his knees?” Sarah asked.

“He’s not a liar,” Alzbieta said.

Sarah watched the crawling man crossing the last thirty yards to the Ohio–or Onandagos–Gate.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

“Zadok Tarami,” Alzbieta said. “Father Tarami. He’s the Metropolitan of Cahokia. The Basilica is his church. Tradition would have him your confessor. He would have been your father’s confessor, only your father insisted on his Cetean friend, in defiance of his father.”

“Zadok doesn’t sound like a Firstborn name.”

“It’s a Hebrew name. The name is that of David’s priest in the Old Testament. He took the name on his ordination to the priesthood. Many of his party take old Hebrew names, names of priests and prophets: Josiah, Jehu, Hezekiah, Elijah are all popular.”

“The breakers of idols,” Cathy murmured.

“It is how they see themselves.”

“He’s not old enough to have been tearing down veils in my grandfather’s time,” Sarah said.

“He’s of the generation that came after. More compassionate, maybe. No less principled or dogmatic.”

“The generation my father fought against?”

“Yes. Your grandfather was chosen as the Beloved as a child, but later the goddess abandoned him. It was a shocking thing, unheard of.”

Sarah’s heart hurt even imagining such a loss. “She abandoned him during the rebellion?”

Because of the rebellion, some said. Others convinced themselves that there had never been such a thing as the Beloved, that it was only a silly old idea they had all believed in because their fathers told it to them.”

“And the subsequent Beloved must have been a woman,” Sarah said. “She alternates in Her choice, does She not?”

Alzbieta nodded. “Your grandfather was followed by a cousin of yours. She was a learned and kind Handmaid of the goddess, who after becoming the Beloved lived out her life in fear and seclusion. All Cahokia–all Cahokia that still believed–knew she was the Beloved, and it availed her nothing. She lived in darkness and died a failure. She never wore the crown.”

Alzbieta’s voice was wounded.

“Did you know her?” Cathy asked.

Alzbieta hesitated. “She was my mother. From a young age, I never left her side and we never left the temple. When she died, she was mad. Some whispered of poison, but I think that seclusion would have been enough.”

Sarah blinked back sudden tears in the corners of her eyes. “And then the goddess chose my father. Unexpectedly.”

“He was young and reckless. Some regarded him as a fool and an adventurer, a dashing younger son who might make a good career as a soldier but could never be a statesman. Some expected the goddess’s choice to fall on an older brother. Others expected that there would be no more Beloveds. But Kyres proved them all wrong. He became Beloved and king.”

“He didn’t drive out the rebels against his goddess.”

“He drove them from Her temple. And his virtue and prowess silenced them. Who would raise his hand against such a king, a dealer of justice and a hero in war, a man who could ride to far Philadelphia and marry an empress? And then he was gone.”

Questions piled into Sarah’s mind, but most of them would have to wait. “And Tarami. Why did he travel the Onandagos Road?” she asked.