Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 38
“Perhaps a marriage will put me in a position to influence the Emperor,” Stuyvesant said. “Perhaps I can . . . awaken Brother Onas.”
Wilkes shrugged into his coat. “Perhaps a marriage will put you in a position so that the Necromancer can corrupt you, as he has corrupted Thomas. Perhaps you will fall into the same sleep that plagues Brother Onas, and another wall of Franklin’s bastion will collapse.”
“I could never do that,” Stuyvesant protested.
“And this morning,” Wilkes said, picking up his shoulder bag. “What would you have said about Julia? Would you have said you were willing to break off her engagement?”
Stuyvesant said nothing.
“And yet now you propose to do it. For mere money, Adriaan. For money!”
The pink-faced Dutchman pounded one fist into the other hand’s palm. “Yes, dammit, for money!”
“And you admit it!”
Stuyvesant roared suddenly to life. “It is easy for you to condemn me for doing something for money, when you are a man alone in this world! You can eat earth and drink air and never sleep because of Franklin’s Vision that burns within you, but where are the children whose lives depend on you, Isaiah Wilkes? Where is your wife who did without a new dress for twenty years while you were making your fortune? Where are the employees who can only light their lamps and mend their roofs if you give them work to do? Where are the citizens of the Republic whose walls you are entrusted to defend, though you struggle to arm a single regiment or caulk the hull of a single warship, because of the rising cost of lead and tar! Do not talk to me of your disdain for money! It is cheap moralizing, coming from a man who has been so selfish as to live alone.”
Wilkes recoiled as if he had been struck. “I was not always alone,” he said slowly. “And I do not choose to be alone now.”
Both men stood in silence.
Kinta Jane was baffled. What had happened?
“I keep my obligations,” Stuyvesant said. “All of them, including my oath of office as Elector and my contracts with the Hudson River Republic Ohio Company. I can do this without corrupting myself, Isaiah. And I will give my daughter the choice.”
“And if she says no?” Wilkes asked.
“Then perhaps the company declares bankruptcy. Perhaps the Republic sells land to the Penns, or to Acadia.”
“And will she know what the risks are when you offer her the choice?”
Stuyvesant said nothing.
“I see. We’re leaving, Adrian. We need to find Brother Odishkwa.”
“Delay a few hours. I need you to help me.”
Wilkes shook his head slightly.
“What help do you need?”
“Take Dockery and the canoes. And take Julia’s fiancÃ© with you.”
“What? Why? This is a bad way to distract a man whose heart you’ve just broken!”
Adriaan sighed. “Gert Visser is a good man. His family are burghers, cloth merchants. But Gert is something of a hothead. And he’s something of a bigot, and deeply in love. If Julia ends their engagement in person, he’ll make trouble.”
“This is not my problem, Adriaan.”
“Imagine Gert Visser tracking down Temple Franklin and clobbering him with his big-knuckled fists. Or worse, imagine him and his friends tarring and feathering the Emperor’s envoy.”
“Still not my problem. And don’t tell me that I have to help you or the bastion of Franklin’s plan falls. Franklin’s plan never depended on the Hudson River Republicans being able to wear silk.”
“Gert Visser is a brother.”
Isaiah Wilkes took a deep breath. “Of the Conventicle?”
Adriaan nodded. “He was to marry my daughter. She and he had been . . . spending time together at the cliff house late one night, and he walked in on a meeting with me. I had to kill him or bring him in.”
“So he could indeed make trouble. If not in person, how will you ask Julia to end her engagement?”
“By letter. Which I will consign to you. And I will ask you to give it to him at Ticonderoga.”
“At which point, if he reacts as a hothead, I will have to deal with him.”
“At which point, if he reacts as a hothead, I ask that you kill him.”
“Who were those men?” Nathaniel asked. He felt ill and weak.
They had emerged from the star-strewn landscape into which Nathaniel had taken Jake and back into Ambroos’s attic. As he considered his answer, Jake packed his gear into his bag. “Isaiah Wilkes and Adriaan Stuyvesant, you mean. I don’t know. They might be friends.”
“They don’t seem even to be friends with each other.”
“No, but they’re brothers of some kind. I think they’re in Franklin’s Conventicle together.”
“I look forward to finding out that some horrible folktale or ridiculous bugaboo or improbable rumor I heard as a child isn’t true,” Nathaniel said. “So far, I seem to be living in a nursery story.”
“I’ll ask Ambroos to bring together his community and attempt an exorcism on the way back,” Jake said. “Right now, I want to get to your sister. As soon as possible.”
Nathaniel put on his backward hat shrugged into his coat. His drum was heavier than ever, but he managed to hoist it onto his shoulder. “What’s changed?”
They descended the stairs, Jake leading quickly and Nathaniel faltering behind. The house was empty, and snowflakes blew across the boardwalk as they checked the acorn, turned, and walked north again.
“Thomas is in motion,” Jake said. “Of course he is. He’s not sitting around waiting for Sarah to surrender to him, he’s trying to kill her. Kill us. And the Dutch are about to give him a large pile of money, and more influence in the Assembly. And none of that is really new, but it’s new information to me. And a good reminder not to sit around. And not to complain about a few headaches.”
At the word headaches, Nathaniel rubbed his temples. “Now that you mention it, I’ve developed a splitting one.”
“Too much time in . . . that place?”
“I don’t think so,” Nathaniel said. “I think . . . I think my gift is not meant for use in spying.”
Jake laughed. “You don’t usually hear a strong man say his arms weren’t meant for lifting or throwing, or a clever woman claim her intelligence wasn’t made for a puzzle. What makes you think your gift has a purpose?”
Nathaniel was quiet for a few minutes. They passed beyond the stone buildings and into fenced farmland, furrows hidden beneath a blanket of white snow and the steam of animals’ bodies rising from sheds and stables. “The manner of my getting it. Also, it felt wrong today. I felt wrong.”
“You mean you have to be honest?” Jake asked. “The same way you have to wear your hat backward?”
“No, I think I can lie. But I left my body to be healed, and I can leave it to heal. Leaving it to do something else today . . . hurt my head.”
“Too bad,” Jake said. “I was beginning to think you’d be a terrific spy.”
“I can do it, but it hurts. I wouldn’t want to do it long, or often.”
There was something in Nathaniel’s hesitation that told Jake he was leaving something unsaid. “What else is bothering you, friend Nathaniel?”
“I’m also nervous about Robert Hooke.”
Jake snorted. “Good. He should make you nervous. He makes me terrified.”
“But we’ll tell Sarah about those people. The Conventicle.”
“We’ll tell her.”
Nathaniel pulled the acorn from its box. To Jake’s surprise, it rolled in Nathaniel’s palm and pointed due east.
“She’s moved,” Nathaniel said. “Or we’re arriving.”
The next turn east was a broad lane that cut through more farms. Nathaniel kept the acorn in his palm and they watched it, only taking their eyes away to step out of the path of horses and the occasional sled.
The road took them to a village whose signpost identified it as HAARLEM, and the acorn led them northward through the village, to a sprawling Dutch-style house atop a low, rocky hill.
“I supposed I could enter the starlit plain again.” Nathaniel put on a cheerful smile, but it was forced.
“Your head still hurts?”
“I have a different idea,” Jake said. “You say you think you’re able to lie?”
“My name is Randolph,” Nathaniel said. “I’m from Georgia and I’m a horse trader. I come to New Amsterdam and Haarlem all the time, and I hate that fellow Jacob Hop.” He shrugged. “I feel fine.”
“Very good. Let’s put that to a harder test.”