Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 35
“We’re not Appalachee here, you know,
we don’t kidnap our women.”
Jacob Hop found himself placing the cards around his plate. He’d managed to leave the Tarocks in his pocket through the hearty plate of stamppot–potatoes mashed in with cabbage and served alongside boiled sausages–but when the dried apples, raisins, and jonge kaas came out, and he no longer needed one hand for the knife and the other for the fork, he began dealing the cards out onto Lotte’s best tablecloth in four columns.
“You were possessed,” Ambroos insisted. They spoke English for the benefit of Nathaniel Penn, who seemed to be paying close attention despite occasionally breaking into short bursts of hummed music.
“Ja, that’s why I need your help.”
“Only you weren’t possessed by de duivel. You were possessed by a giant bird.”
Ambroos’s two daughters openly snickered, but Lotte looked troubled. Ambroos had three sons as well, but they were all serving their turn in the city watch this night.
Jake looked up at the blunderbuss Ambroos kept over his fireplace. The firearm was almost certainly loaded. Fortunately, it was out of Ambroos’s reach.
“You’ve heard of the Heron King,” Jake said. “I know you have.”
“Naturally, yes. He’s supposed to be some kind of creature who goes around the Ohio cursing people. But that’s just an old Haudenosaunee story, Jacob, or maybe an Algonk tale. There’s no such person.”
“I think I prefer that you call me Jake.”
“My aunt and uncle named their son Jacob.”
“But Jacob was a deaf-mute. I am not completely that person any longer.”
“So not only were you possessed by de duivel–you can stop right now this stront talk about the Heron King–“
“Ambroos!” Lotte flashed fierce eyes at her husband.
Ambroos paused, looked heavenward, then crossed himself while his daughters pretended not to be amused. “Not only were you in Satan’s grip, but you view that as some kind of baptism. Satan has made you a new person, and apparently one who can speak and hear.”
“You see why I need your help,” Jacob said quietly.
“I’m a healer.” Nathaniel Penn looked down at his plate.
Jake had completed his four columns, and looked at what appeared to be four stories, laid out completely in pictures. The suit of Swords showed a man in hunter’s garb, who traveled through the forest on a twisted path, crossed a stream, climbed a hill, stood in a ditch, and then embraced an unseen person. The suit of Lightning Bolts showed a man with the same face (and it looked a little like the face of Calvin Calhoun), or perhaps the same man, undertaking a different journey. This journey had him climbing a high mountain, and alternating with such trials as climbing a cliff, jumping a ravine, and taking eggs from an eagle’s nest, he reached the top of the mountain and sat upon a throne. The suits of Cups and Shields showed strikingly similar journeys, only the protagonist depicted in these images were women.
Jacob still held all the Major Arcana apart in one hand.
“You’re a healer?” Ambroos pressed Nathaniel. “But you look like an orphan drummer boy, and an hour ago you were telling me you and Jacob are looking for your sister.”
“I am an orphan,” Nathaniel said.
“Ambroos,” Jacob said. “Would you not consider an exorcism? At this moment, beyond this table and those sitting around it, what I see is a blood-soaked scene of sacrifice and pillaging.”
“I would want to bring together the community of faith.” That was what he called his congregation. The Dutch had a habit of fragmenting into small church groups and arguing vehemently over religion, and Ambroos, no sooner had he finished his studies, followed in that well-worn traditional groove. “If what you tell me is at all true, this is a serious matter and I should not attempt anything alone. I will begin my fast immediately.”
Ambroos pushed his plate of apple slices and kaas toward his daughters, who fell on it like jackals.
“I will fast as well.” Jacob pushed his last morsel of sweet white cheese to Nathaniel.
“It won’t be tomorrow,” Ambroos said.
“You have to gather the community?”
“Yes. And also, I have a board meeting.”
“A board meeting. You mean that your community of faith has a board meeting?”
“No, the Ohio Company has a board meeting. I’m a director.”
Jacob smiled, ignoring the black slivers he saw raining from the sky all around him. “A preacher and a trader, too. You must be busy. We’re lucky we caught you at home.”
“No, it’s part of Van Heusen’s reforms. All chartered companies above a certain size have to appoint independent directors. Clergymen and news-paper publishers are preferred, though why we should be lumped together with those schurken is a little beyond me. I’m one of the Hudson River Republic Ohio Company’s three independent directors. I get paid from the Republic’s coffers.”
“Three is not a majority, hey?”
“No. The expectation is not that we will be able to outvote the others, it’s that we will be able to report any secret wrongdoings.”
“You were chosen because you’re a professional loudmouth,” Jacob said. “Like a news-paper man.”
“Ja, dat klopt.” Ambroos smiled.
“What do you do at the meetings? Set the price of beaver pelts? Decide wages?”
“Sometimes,” Ambroos admitted. “And before you say anything, you’re right, I know very little of the subjects with which we deal.”
“But you know much of the heart, corruption, probity, and repentance.” The Major Arcana felt like a brick in Jacob’s hand. They wanted to be played on the four journeys, but Jacob didn’t know how.
“But tomorrow’s meeting is different. The Emperor Thomas has sent up a legate. We haven’t heard his proposal yet, but we think the Emperor wants to drop a lawsuit. And possibly also wants to stop the underhanded methods of his traders that caused the lawsuit at the same time. Both things would be good for the Republic.”
“I am certainly grateful that no Dutch trader ever engaged in underhanded methods.” Jacob leaned over to Nathaniel and spoke in an exaggerated whisper. “This way, we always have the upper hand in these conversations.”
“Don’t worry, Jake,” Ambroos said. “I’ll be there to make certain the board behaves honestly.”
The challenge of the disguise was that Temple Franklin had seen his face before. Perhaps that had been a mistake; perhaps he should have arranged matters so as to be invited into Horse Hall wearing a false visage.
But he hadn’t.
Isaiah Wilkes’s solution was to dress himself as a woman. Slight padding in the hips–too much would push the disguise into a grotesque parody and make him more visible, rather than less–and a more feminine walk comprised most of the disguise. He also thickened his eyelashes, made his complexion more Dutch, the color of spring cream, and shortened his height by adjusting his posture and walking with bent knees, hidden under a heavy skirt. And he wore scent, naturally, borrowed from Mevrouw Stuyvesant herself. It smelled like an apple liqueur.
He also uglified himself with a false nose. Surely, Temple Franklin would have more interesting things to look at than the serving-women, despite his notorious lechery.
At Isaiah’s request, Adriaan Stuyvesant promised that all the other servers would be nubile and lovely.
And tall. It wouldn’t do for Isaiah to hulk over all the other servers, after everything else.
These were the skills Isaiah had learned for the stage, first as a standing-ticket punter in between grueling shifts setting type or hanging printed sheets for his exacting first master, the future Lightning Bishop, and then treading the boards himself. But they were the skills of the stage applied by a master hand to a more exacting standard than any stage could require, and with higher stakes.
He was awake all night with the patient work.
He didn’t have the time or the need to do the same work on Kinta Jane. Instead, he hid her in an apartment not far from Wall Street in a hotel called De Zwaard van de Stathouder. The Stadtholder’s Sword–it seemed appropriate enough.
The apartment belonged to Adriaan Stuyvesant. It contained both a well-appointed office, with paper, pens, and ink in abundance, though no record books of any kind in evidence, and a luxe bedroom, with a downy feather mattress on the four-poster bed beside the broad fireplace.
Isaiah didn’t ask what Adriaan kept the apartment for, and Adriaan didn’t offer any explanation. “I know you will be discreet,” was all the Dutchman said.
Kinta Jane looked perfectly happy to take a nap.
And the staff of the Zwaard treated Isaiah Wilkes with the casual contempt that told him his disguise was effective.