Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 11
“The Law of the Way says ‘Blessed is he that walketh the sunwise road of the king, for he shall be given the grip of peace.'”
“He wrecked himself like that . . . for scripture?” Sarah found the idea hard to believe.
Alzbieta shrugged. “Who can guess what’s in a man’s heart? A pilgrim making such a journey accrues fame and experience and may make interesting alliances on the road. Perhaps he hoped his pilgrimage would re-ignite the fires of rebellion, or at least inspire others to follow him. I can tell you that on his departure, he prayed publicly that God would lift the Pacification.”
“Don’t let him in,” Cathy Filmer said. “Men of too strict principle are dangerous.”
“I agree,” Alzbieta said. “Zadok Tarami is not your friend. With the Imperials camped around the city, you have every reason to bar his entry. For all you know, he could have been corrupted by your uncle Thomas. He could be a spy, or a traitor.”
As he reached the great eastern gate of the city, Zadok Tarami reached forward to touch the wood. Losing his balance, he fell on his face in the snow and the mud.
Sarah raised her arm and gestured to the men in the barbican. “Open the gate!”
New Amsterdam sprouted like a disordered hedge along the opposite shore of the Hudson River. Kinta Jane Embry shivered, huddling deep into the wool cloak around her shoulders. As the ferry bumped against the wood of the dock, the yapping beagle on its broad deck fell silent. It stared at Kinta Jane with wide eyes, wrinkled its nose as if smelling something offensive, and then bolted to the far side of the vessel.
“Are we in Pennsland still?” she asked Isaiah Wilkes in a whisper.
They both wore disguises, of a sort. Wilkes had stained the skin of his face and hands a reddish brown, and for days he had responded to all attempts to communicate with him by grunting and shaking his head. It worked; even real Indians took him for members of some tribe they didn’t know and left him alone after an attempt or two. Kinta Jane, meanwhile, wore a false beard made of horsehair the actor had given her, and pretended she was deaf and mute.
It was an easy charade.
They stood now on a boardwalk over the ice-choked Hudson, with the flow of traffic disembarking from the ferry out of earshot. Still, they looked out over the river so no one could see their mouths move and they spoke in low voices.
“Farther up, starting at the Tappan Zee, the Republic straddles both sides of the river. Here, you and I still stand on this land at the sufferance of Lord Thomas. It was not far north of here that William Penn, on a day dictated by the stars, began his miraculous walk that convinced the Lenni Lenape and others that the land grant to him was ordained of heaven, as well as by the ruler of England.”
“Lord Thomas.” Kinta Jane grunted. “Whom you called Brother Onas.”
Isaiah Wilkes turned slightly to her and smiled. “You’ve been patient.”
“Was it a test?” she asked. “If so, it was an easy one. You well know I was trained not to ask some questions.”
“You experienced Franklin’s Vision,” he said. “Do you remember much of it?”
“Mostly the sensations,” she admitted. “Chaos and doubt at the return of Simon Sword, fear of death, a world turned upside down and then destroyed before it can be reborn.”
Wilkes nodded. “Many remember less than that. Let me tell you the story of Brother Onas.”
Kinta Jane waited.
“Once there were three brothers,” Wilkes began. “They were neighbors as well as brothers, and they all lived on land that belonged to the same landlord.”
Kinta Jane frowned. “Not the Penns.”
Wilkes snorted. “Not the Penns. The landlord was a kind and benevolent ruler. When one of the brothers arrived from a distant land, he brought illness with him. The illness would have struck down the other two brothers, but the landlord was a magician of serious power, and he healed them.”
“What kind of brothers are these, if one comes from a distant land?” Kinta Jane asked.
Wilkes continued. “Their names were Onas, and Anak, and Odishkwa. They were brothers, though they shared no father and no mother. And one day, their landlord’s wife died, and in grief he went mad. He tore up the brothers’ paths and shattered the boundaries between their lands. He planted hatred between them and brought them to blows. He drove one brother into the swamps, and a second to the frozen lands of the far north, and a third deep into the woods to hide. The brothers and their families skulked separately, eating carrion and berries and hoping the landlord would die.
“But he didn’t die. Instead, he grew more and more terrifying. He took the brothers’ women. He ate their children, after sacrificing them on stone altars to himself, and he engulfed all his land in a perpetual storm.”
“Well, now he doesn’t sound like one of the Penns,” Kinta Jane said.
“Rivers ran uphill. Fire froze and water burned. The air was too heavy with smoke to breathe, and the ash was so thick on the ground nothing would grow. Finally, one of the brothers saw that the landlord would have to be confronted. He set out in the blighted world and after many obstacles he managed to gather his two brothers to his side again.”
“Which brother was it?” Kinta Jane asked.
Isaiah Wilkes chuckled. “The story is told three different ways, so maybe it is all the brothers. For our telling’s sake, let us say it was Brother Onas. And Brother Onas’s great insight was that the landlord could be calmed again if he were to remarry. Only the landlord was of noble birth and couldn’t marry just anyone; he had to marry a princess of the same lineage as his first wife.
“While two of the brothers fought the landlord to distract and delay him, the third brother–we shall say it was Brother Onas–crept into the halls of the landlord himself. There he found imprisoned a princess of the lineage to which the landlord was bound. Freeing her, he brought about the landlord’s marriage, and the landlord regained his sanity.”
“In a ruined world,” Kinta Jane pointed out.
“But you are forgetting what a great magician the landlord was,” Wilkes said. “By his art, the brothers’ wives rose from the dead, and their children sprang whole and unsacrificed from the altars. The land was healed and reborn. Some even say that such a death and rebirth is necessary for the land, just as a death and rebirth is necessary for the children of Adam.”
“Do you mean baptism?” Kinta Jane was surprised to hear religious talk from the Franklin.
“That’s one possibility,” Wilkes said. “And so the brothers, fearing the return of the landlord’s madness, swore an oath. The brother from a distant land–Brother Onas–was granted by the other two as much land as he could walk in a day, and fortified by the restored landlord, he walked a great distance. The brothers agreed would tell their sons the tale of the landlord’s loss, illness, and redemption, in such a manner that if the landlord went mad again–and some say it was inevitable that he would do so–there would always be a Brother Onas, and a Brother Anak, and a Brother Odishkwa with the lore and the will to restore the natural order.”
“Franklin’s Vision is the landlord’s madness,” Kinta Jane said.
“And Brother Onas has forgotten his lore and his will.”
“Are Brother Anak and Brother Odishkwa in New Amsterdam?”
“No, they are north and west of here.” The Franklin’s face softened into a smile. “There is a meeting place, at the edges of the Acadian city of Montreal. Beneath a column of rock shaped like a centaur is a hidden chimney, and through that chimney lies a cave where the three brothers meet. We are going to that cave, Kinta Jane, and we will signal Brothers Anak and Odishkwa that we wish to meet. But our way lies through the Hudson River Republic, and if we are fortunate, we may find allies to help us.”
“Why on earth do you need me?” she asked, feeling small in the face of these strange stories. “You know the lands and the tales and the peoples. You are a master of disguise. What can I possibly do to help?”
“For one thing,” Isaiah Wilkes said, “you speak French.”