Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 37
“What do you see?” he asked. “What am I?”
“You’re a Dutchman,” Nathaniel said. “You look very much as you appear in the world of flesh and blood.”
That news didn’t seem to relax Jacob. “Sarah has said a similar thing, more than once. That she could see the Heron King when he was within me, and that she would know if he returned.”
“You don’t look like a heron,” Nathaniel said. “Or a king.”
“Then why do I feel that I am him?” Jacob asked. “Why do I have so many of his memories?”
Nathaniel looked at his companion and tried to find something to do. There was no second self out of place, no obvious injures; the Dutchman looked whole. “I’m sorry. Maybe I’m not the healer I thought I was.”
“Maybe Ambroos will be able to help.” Jacob laughed, and cheered up visibly. “Maybe there is no help.”
Nathaniel listened for the Sorcerer Robert Hooke. He heard the leaf-crackle laughter of the dead man, but it sounded ever so far away and Nathaniel relaxed. Slightly.
Then he listened for Ambroos, heard him nearby, and led Jacob Hop the short distance to his cousin. They found a castle that shimmered like gold as they approached. The knights standing guard the front door ignored Nathaniel and Jake, and when the travelers climbed the steps inside a circular tower toward Ambroos’s voice, speaking from the roof, Nathaniel realized the construction was of something else entirely: paper.
The castle was made of paper, covered over entirely with ink. Nathaniel leaned in to examine the letters. He couldn’t read them, but from close up the ink looked black. It was reflecting starlight on the long, looping lines of the characters that made the whole building shine and sparkle.
At the top of the circular stair they reached a clearing. Nathaniel saw thirteen men, including Ambroos, standing in a line on one side of a clearing; facing them and opposite, stood the man Franklin. Behind Ambroos’s line stood a knot of women surrounding a single man, who lifted their skirts and crouched to hide behind them. Nathaniel and Jake witnessed the meeting Ambroos attended; Ambroos was the only one Nathaniel recognized, though he knew the name Franklin and he gathered from the conversation that this Franklin was a grandson of the Lightning Bishop.
~Franklin,~ Jake murmured, over and over.
Something felt wrong to Nathaniel, but it was neither the location nor the gathering.
Something was wrong with him.
When Franklin finished his offer by saying, ~perhaps you know her, Mr. Chairman,~ the clearing fell silent.
The person Franklin had been talking to, a florid and corpulent man named Stuyvesant, split abruptly into two. One Stuyvesant stepped forward and began to stammer out half-sentences. ~Well, I don’t . . . Well, she really . . . We couldn’t . . . There must be . . .~ The second Stuyvesant sprang backward as if he had been bitten by a snake and screamed.
Eleven of his companions leaped upon both versions of him and dragged him away. Their words fell on Nathaniel like a storm, threatening to shatter his ears.
~We must discuss!~
~Such an interesting offer!~
~How would you feel about another young woman in her place?~
~How would you feel about my wife?~
~It must be Julia Stuyvesant, or I cannot accept the deal.~ Franklin seemed taller. ~And the dowry must be paid in cash.~
Nathaniel and Jacob Hop followed the directors a few steps away. The man hiding behind women’s skirts dropped to his belly and wriggled through the grass until he was close enough to listen, too. The twelve men huddled behind a short wall and began yelling at Stuyvesant.
~Don’t tell me you’re going to be this selfish, Adriaan!~
~My own marriage was arranged! How would an arranged marriage with the Emperor Thomas Penn be a shameful or disappointing thing?~
~She’ll live a wonderful life, you understand that?~
~But she’s betrothed already!~ Stuyvesant yelled back. ~Do you really want me to break my daughter’s heart?~
~This will save the company!~
~Half a million crowns?~ Stuyvesant pulled at his own face in astonishment. ~I don’t have that money!~
~We’ll lend it to you!~ several shouted together.
~You’ll make back the money in three years. Think of the litigation costs saved! Think of the costs avoided by sharing markets with the Imperials! Think of the new buyers and additional revenue!~
~Think of the monopoly!~
~You aren’t saving just the company. You’re saving the Republic! If the company fails, the Republic’s tax base withers, and then who will re-pave Wall Street?~
~You’re saving the Empire! You were the one who told us about the Assembly, and how the Empire needs cash to send soldiers to fight the beastkind!~
~Don’t be selfish!~
A cunning expression came over Stuyvesant’s face. ~If I am asked to sacrifice my daughter for the Republic and the Empire, surely you can do better than lend me money for the dowry.~
The man lying on the grass yelled. ~No! Adriaan, no!~
~Shut up!~ Stuyvesant yelled back.
The other men didn’t notice the exchange. They looked back and forth at each other in surprise.
~It would be a good interest rate, though,~ one said.
~The best,~ a second added.
~Don’t be selfish.~ Stuyvesant wagged his finger at the other directors. ~If I’m to give up my daughter, you must be willing to pay the money.~
~I’m still willing to give up my wife,~ one director said glumly. ~Better my wife than my wealth.~
~Stop trying to sell your wife, Rijkert,~ his neighbor said. ~Franklin already turned her down.~
Ambroos stepped forward. ~Nobody is being asked to sell a daughter–or a wife–or to lose a daughter. The Emperor proposes a very honorable marriage, and if I understand you correctly, a marriage that will strengthen the company and the Republic financially.~
~That is correct,~ Stuyvesant said to Ambroos. To the other directors, he said: ~do we have a deal?~
~No!~ yelled the man on the ground.
~Who is that?~ Jake whispered to Nathaniel.
~Wait,~ Ambroos said. ~Even an arranged marriage requires the consent of both groom and bride. We’re not Appalachee here, you know, we don’t kidnap our women. And you want me to tell the shareholders and the public that everything here was done above board, don’t you?~
The directors agreed, grumbling.
Adriaan Stuyvesant licked his lips. ~If you agree that you will pay the half million–pay, not lend–and I mean you eight who have any money, I’m not going to hang this around the preachers’ necks–then I will go ask my daughter to break off her engagement and marry Thomas instead. She’s a good girl, I think she’ll do it.~
~And the young man?~ Ambroos asked.
~I will handle him,~ Stuyvesant said.
All around, the thirteen men nodded. They looked like chickens, clucking and bobbing their heads up and down, and then like chickens they waddled back around the low wall to meet with Franklin again.
The man lying on the ground stood up and crept away.
~Alright,~ Adriaan Stuyvesant said. ~Let me speak with my daughter.~
Franklin smiled. ~I’ll look forward to your answer tomorrow.~
Jacob Hop pointed at the man creeping away. ~Can we follow him?~
Nathaniel wanted to say no. He felt ragged and exhausted, but he nodded.
Kinta Jane was knocked out of sleep by the slamming of a door. She had always been a good sleeper–able to fall asleep quickly, able to wake easily. It was a necessary skill for a working woman in the Faubourg Marigny, and it had served her well in the Ohio. On this day, it had allowed her to take an efficient nap beside the fire while Isaiah Wilkes attended the meeting with Adriaan Stuyvesant.
It was Wilkes who came through the door. He was still dressed as a woman, but before Kinta Jane’s eyes he stepped up and out of his assumed woman’s walk and into a longer, taller stride. Plucking the false nose from his face, he tossed it into the flames.
“You look angry,” Kinta Jane said.
“I am . . . agitated. We leave, immediately.”
The Conventicle’s Franklin certainly sounded enraged. “Where’s Dockery?” she asked him.
“We leave without him. We’ll take a different road.”
A knock came at the door.
“Go away, Adriaan!” Wilkes yelled.
“It’s my apartment, dammit!” Stuyvesant yelled back.
“Then open the door if you like!” Isaiah Wilkes tore the remainder of his disguise from his body and climbed back into his own clothing.
Stuyvesant came in. “I was being polite.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, also I thought you might shoot me.”
“I still might.”
Kinta Jane’s things were already collected in a single shoulder bag. She pulled on her winter walking boots and stood near the door, ready to move.