Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 14

“Cold.” Tarami’s voice was a bass drone, a surprisingly deep sound to come from such a thin frame. “Our people starve. Not just in Cahokia, but all our people. They need leadership, too. They need righteous kings, Cahokia needs a righteous king, to guide it through the narrows. Thomas is misguided, he may even be wicked, but God will give a penitent king the wisdom and the power to bring peace.”

“Bring peace?” Sarah laughed, a shrill wedge that pierced the bass wall. “That’s what Thomas says he’s up to. Isn’t that right, Balaam?”

At the name, the wizard started. “My name isn’t Balaam . . . my lady.”

“You may call her Beloved,” Alzbieta said.

“Beloved,” the magician repeated. “Director Schmidt called me Balaam to mock me. My name is Luman Walters.”

She has a name, too,” Tarami said. “To call her Beloved is to give credence to her pagan nonsense, which I know you cannot believe.”

“To tell truth,” Sarah said, “I’m not all that comfortable with the title myself. For now, how about I call you Luman and you call me Sarah?”

Walters nodded acquiescence.

Sarah removed her eyepatch, fixing her witchy eye on the Imperial magician. “Tell me why you came here, Luman.”

Walters stepped back, looking surprised. “I came with Director Schmidt.”

“I know that. Tell me why you came here.”

“It was my job. I worked for the Imperial Ohio Company. But I’ve walked away, I’ve quit.”

“I know that too, Luman. This is your last chance, now, so I think you need to tell me the truth. All of it, the hard part, the truthiest truth you don’t want to tell me right now. Why did you come here?”

Luman Walters took a deep breath. “I came here to steal.”

Zadok Tarami put a hand on the wizard’s shoulder. “There are thieves in paradise, my son.”

“There’s the truth,” Sarah said. “But that leaves me with at least two riddles, Luman.”

Luman Walters shook his head, looking chagrined. “I’m pleased not to be entirely transparent, Sarah.”

“One,” Sarah said, “you’re a thief and you know it, but you have the most earnest soul a thief ever had. How is that?”

Walters shrugged and looked at his feet.

“And two, you’ve got a pocketful of angels. What on earth is that?”

Walters straightened up his back. “I’m a wizard, Sarah. I’m not some Philadelphia gramarist or a Polite scholar, I’m what you might call a hedge wizard. In a place like Youngstown or Knoxville I might make a decent living reading palms and hexing cattle for the murrain. Here . . . well, I will trade you. I will tell you all about my pocketful of angels in exchange for the knowledge you have.”

“I can see you want to be my apprentice, Luman.” Sarah’s voice was gentle. “Only I don’t know very much myself. And as I learn more things, I expect I’m not going to able to talk about most of them. That seems to be the way of things around here.”

“These are not the ways of God,” Zadok Tarami protested. “God is openness, and light.”

“The gods are light, alright. Is that why you went to Oranbega, Father? To follow the ways of God?” The way Sarah said the word Father made it sound almost like an insult.

“I walked the Onandagos Road on my knees,” Father Tarami said. “Not your allegorical Way of Adam, not your mystical nonsense and mumbo-jumbo allusions to a road that exists only in your head, but the real road, with roots and stones and all. I did it begging at every step that God would send salvation to my people, and He has done it. Here you are, a wizard, a seer even, of great power. God brought you here, and He gave everyone in the city to know of your arrival, as He informed me. You are the answer to my prayers, Sarah Elytharias, and the answer to the prayers of all our people. I will guide you, I will clarify for you your own experience. Yes, I went to Oranbega for the ways of God. For myself, and also for you.”

“I believe in God,” Sarah said. “But the one I saw was a goddess. I saw Her and Her realm in a vision of glory, and She chose me.”

Tarami shook his head. “I pray it isn’t so. She is an old deceiver, and this land is the land of those who have conquered Her.”

Alzbieta Torias stepped forward. “I entered Eden Unfallen, the eternal home of Wisdom. There I saw the goddess and heard Her voice, and She chose Sarah Elytharias Penn as Her true Beloved.”

“No,” Tarami groaned.

The Polite Sherem stepped forward, shoulder to shoulder with Alzbieta. “I too entered Eden, and I too am witness. The Mother of All Living chose Sarah.”

Maltres Korinn joined them. “I entered Eden. I saw the goddess and heard Her voice. Sarah is Her Beloved daughter.”

“You are deluded!” Tarami cried. “You share a madness, but it’s madness still. This is blasphemy! This isn’t a goddess, it’s a demon that has been bound in hell, and yet has never ceased to plague this land, this city, and the descendants of Onandagos. It seeks all our destruction as its revenge! Korinn, I expected better from you!”

As one, Alzbieta Torias’s eight slaves advanced a step.

Tarami threw his hands skyward. “What, you too? Am I to hear that a gang of chained laborers went to this impossible non-place, Unfallen Eden, and met the goddess!”

“We did not go Eden,” one of the ex-bearers said. “We stood at the foot of the Sunrise Mound in the snow on the morning of the solstice. We saw light in heaven. We heard the angel choir. And we heard the voice of the Mother of All Living, declaring that Sarah Elytharias was Her Beloved daughter.”

If Sarah had arranged these witnesses, Cathy had had no advance hint. Or had Cahokia’s goddess done this?

“But do you see what you are doing?” Tarami’s words were urgent, but he wasn’t yelling. He pleaded with Sarah. “You were not raised among us, and may not know all our books, but you must know Matthew. ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits,’ the evangelist wrote. ‘Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?’ Well, then? What does your pretended goddess give you thus far? The grapes and figs of prosperity and freedom, or the thorns and thistles of siege and starvation?”

“I accept.” Sarah’s words and her face were calm, but Father Tarami staggered back as if struck.

“You accept what?” he asked.

“The test,” she said simply. “Ye shall know them by their fruits. It is a fair test. It should be a test acceptable to you, since you quote it to me as scripture.”

“It is God’s test,” Tarami said.

Sarah reached into her satchel, the satchel that had once belonged to her mentor monk, Father Thalanes, and removed from it the Heronplow. Zadok Tarami and Luman Walters both gasped.

“What is that?” Walters asked.

Tarami seemed to recognize it, and feel fear.

Sarah set the Heronplow to the frozen ground and leaned heavily onto it. With all the weight of her small body, she pushed until the tooth of the plowshare bit just a little into the frozen soil of the mound top.

“It will take more than an act of magic to convince me,” Tarami told her.

“Fear not. I will show you than more than an act of magic.” Sarah held the dull iron Orb of Etyles cupped in her left palm and knelt, placing her right hand on the Heronplow. Taking a deep breath, she shouted an incantation: “maxima mater! Rogo ut hoc aratrum pelleas!

The Heronplow started forward.