Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 26
“Your father gave powerful gifts.”
Thomas carried the dead child in his own arms.
Temple had brought him into see the boy shortly after dawn. The other Parlett quintuplet was alive, though unconscious and whimpering through some sort of nightmare. Gottlieb, whose duty it had been to watch the children through the night for any incoming messages, lay senseless on the floor, bleeding through his nostrils.
Thomas took the Parlett boy to Shackamaxon Hall. He wasn’t traumatized by the child’s death, any more than he was shaken by the deaths of any of his dragoons or company factors or spies. People died for empire, men, women, and children. Thomas could not begin to hold himself responsible for each of them.
If the Parlett boys had come to him from their families rather than from the Imperial College, he might have sent their parents money, perhaps even arranged an annuity. And he might very well put all five Parletts on the honors list, once their work was done.
But he wouldn’t shed a tear.
Once the other Parlett was conscious, Thomas would inquire whether Director Schmidt had any explanation. First, he would see what he could learn from his guiding ancestral genius.
The hall was cold. Since Thomas was the only person who used the hall, and that only infrequently, there was no point heating it. The vents that would have brought coal-heated air into the large room were shut, and the stones felt like slabs of ice under his knees.
He laid the boy on the floor.
“Grandfather,” he said. “What happened?”
There was no answer.
“Grandfather,” Thomas tried again. “This boy died under my roof tonight. He died for his empire and there’s no shame in that, but there is something of a mystery. His brother lives, but raves, and the name that falls from his lips over and over again is Oliver Cromwell.”
“The Lord Protector could not be allied with the Cahokian witch.” Thomas pressed his forehead to the stone. “Please. I am trying to understand.”
The Presence filled the hall.
Thomas’s heart beat faster.
“My son,” the apparition said in his voice of cutting wire and shattered glass. “You are troubled by death.”
“The boy is nothing,” Thomas said. “There are four others to replace him. But he died in my hall. Was it an attack? Did the boy take a blow that was aimed at me? Why does he repeat the Lord Protector’s name, over and over?”
“Are you troubled by the name of Cromwell?”
Thomas considered. Was he? “No. The Lord Protector deeded Pennsland to my family. I owe him my wealth. And if perhaps he went astray later in his life, he did it for his land. He took power to benefit the people of his England.”
The Presence took two steps forward, plate armor gleaming dully in the morning light. Thomas’s heart beat faster; his grandfather was walking toward him. “He took power to benefit all the children of Eve, my son.”
“But is it the Lord Protector who now attacks me?”
“The Lord Protector has no desire to bring down the House of Penn. On the contrary, together we shall work a mighty work. The Eternal Commonwealth that fell in England under the hammer of John Churchill may rise in Pennsland, protected by the sword of Thomas Penn.”
Visions of an eternal Philadelphia filled Thomas’s mind, a Philadelphia in which every building glowed with the warmth and light of permanent power, and not just the Lightning Cathedral. A Philadelphia in which Thomas had no need of the protection of his Town Coat, in which he didn’t need to cadge shillings to fund the grinding pseudo-war of the Pacification, and in which the most noble and wealthy princesses of Europe came to seek his affection.
He shook his head. “Grandfather, strengthen my faith. You speak of glorious things, and I find that I am a bricklayer whose task it is to capture the continent’s overflow of liquid feces.”
Moments of terrible and majestic silence passed.
“I give you a sign, my son. Rise.”
Thomas lifted his eyes, surprised that the Presence would command him to stand.
Then he realized that the order wasn’t directed at him.
Lying naked on his back, the Parlett boy opened his eyes. A split second later, he gasped, sucking air into his narrow chest with a high-pitched whistle.
“God be praised,” Thomas murmured.
“Life,” the Presence said. “So fragile in the individual. So indomitable in its collective flow. Nowhere to be found when needed, and impossible to eradicate when it is not desired.”
Parlett sat up. The pallor fled from his cheeks and he shivered.
“The gift of God poured out uselessly on the undisciplined poor, and grudgingly withheld from the mighty.”
The Parlett child climbed to his feet, swaying unsteadily.
“Even John Churchill doubted at the end,” the Presence said. “Even the Hammer of Woden wondered whether he had sided with the powers of death, to the detriment of his beloved land.”
Odd to hear his grandfather talk of Lucky John so, though of course they had been contemporaries. “I would bless my land.”
“I know you would, my son. And yet you have no children to follow you. If you die today, who rules Pennsland? Whom do the Electors choose for the throne?”
Thomas sighed. “I know I fail you in this, grandfather. I am trying. I do not wish Hannah’s rebel get to spoil what you built. What I have built. And I have years yet to take a bride.”
Parlett tottered toward the door. Thomas turned his neck slightly to keep an eye on the boy.
“You may have more years than you think,” the Presence said. “I preserve you with my power, my son. You will be vigorous and strong into an unusually old age, as you are faithful.”
“I am faithful,” Thomas said.
“And yet, I cannot extend your life forever,” the Presence said. “My power is limited as of yet.”
Parlett abruptly fell. As if he were a marionette and his puppeteer had cut the strings, the boy collapsed in a tangle of bare knees and elbows and lay still.
Should he rush to the youth’s aid? But if his grandfather’s power, sufficient to raise the boy earlier, could do nothing now, then surely Thomas was ineffective.
“What would you have me do?” he asked.
The Presence strode closer. His armored feet made no sound on the stone, and he cast no shadow. “When the Lord Protector granted the forests of the new world to William Penn, he installed Penn not merely as landowner, but as king.”
“Yes.” This felt right, this was what Thomas had always known in his heart.
“The ceremony took place on board Penn’s ship The Fox. Penn eschewed a literal crown, but he knelt in a box of soil brought from the banks of the Susquehanna River and the Lord Protector anointed and blessed him.”
Thomas shivered. His own accessions to power had been more prosaic: a legal document, drawn up after the fact, sequestering Hannah for madness; a deed transferring the family lands and properties; a grudging consent from the Electors to his regency, and another to his taking the throne. He had come to power with the blessing of lawyers, and he envied his grandfather’s more beautiful ascent.
“Yes,” he said.
“This is no secret.” The Presence gestured at the painting of the Fox Anointing on the wall. “It is as public as the history of the Walking Purchase, your grandfather’s alliance with the peoples of the forest. But here are aspects of that history that are less well known.”
“Yes.” Curious that his grandfather spoke of himself so consistently in the third person.
“I will tell them to you now.”
Thomas found he was holding his breath. He forced himself to exhale steadily and nod.
“In the anointing, Oliver Cromwell passed more to William Penn than just land. He placed himself into the landowner, and traveled to the new world in Penn’s breast.”
“Do you mean a copy?” Thomas was confused. He had listened to lectures on the theory of gramarye at Harvard, but Ezekiel Angleton had sat all those exams for him. “A doppelganger, or a simulacrum?”