Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 40

Jake swung another kick at Nathaniel and missed, maybe on purpose. Nathaniel nodded and backed away, making moaning and grunting noises in the back of his throat. The man at the door leered, said something in harsh syllables, and laughed; Jake joined in the laughter and then followed Nathaniel off the porch.

It occurred to Nathaniel that with his backward hat and inside-out coat, he looked like someone who was not only deaf and mute, but an idiot. A deaf, mute, idiot drummer boy.

“No wonder they told us to sleep in the barn,” he grumbled as they crossed the field. “I look like a madman.”

“No, that’s a good thing, hey?” Jake said. “The barn is ordinary hospitality for strangers around here, it’s what I asked for.”

“Did you see the girl?”

“I only saw the doorman.”

Had he imagined her? Or heard her, with his astral ear, and interpreted the information as visual cues? But no, she had been quite solid.

“I saw my sister,” he told the Dutchman. “She didn’t react at all to seeing me.”

“Maybe she didn’t see you. Or maybe she was distracted by your sense of fashion. Was she a prisoner? A guest?”

“She wore the same colors as the doorman. She looked like a servant.”

Jake looked over his shoulder and waved back at the house in the last light of the setting sun. “Let’s get behind a closed door and discuss plans.”

The barn was neatly ordered, with bales of hay filling half the high-roofed structure, and farm implements the other. Jake shut the large barn door behind them.

“We can’t stay here,” Nathaniel said.

“It’s a pretty warm barn.”

“There’s something wrong with my sister. Something . . . something is wrong with her spirit.”

“Is she mad?”

Nathaniel considered. “No, I’ve known a madman, and he was nothing like this. And I don’t think she’s an idiot, either. But something is taken from her, or hidden. Her identity, her memory.”

“That could be madness.”

“Or it could be a kind of prison. It could be gramarye.”

Jake wore a very innocent look on his face. “Do you think she needs . . . healing?”

Nathaniel flinched. “Maybe.”

“Then you might be the right person to help her.”

Nathaniel nodded, trembling only slightly at the sudden thought of Robert Hooke’s vortex of grasping hands.

“In any case, your point is that if she’s a prisoner, the people in the house are the ones holding her captive. They are not to be trusted.”

“And if the doorman noticed how much I look like her . . .”

“We should leave immediately.” Jake made a beeline for the much smaller barn door in the back corner and Nathaniel followed.

They walked directly away from the farmhouse, keeping the barn between them and the building to screen them from view. It was easy–they just made sure the barn blocked the light coming from the house’s windows.

Then they got onto a different lane from the one they’d traveled before, and followed it again into Haarlem.

“No one will think twice about you,” Nathaniel said. “You’re Dutch, this is the Republic. But I’m a Cavalier . . . well, I sound like one . . . anyway, I’m not Dutch. Do you know that the Ojibwe have this great word, Zhaaganaashi, and it means people who speak English as their native tongue? Also, because of the way I wear my clothes.”

“We could make a word like that. Engelsspreker. English-speaker. That kind of thing works for the Germans, anyway. I’ll call myself Thijs,” Jake said. “I’ll get a room on the ground floor and let you in by the window.”

They chose an inn called the Benedito de Espinosa and Nathaniel sneaked into the yard behind the inn to wait. In the shadow of a chicken coop, he counted three of the inn’s guests who made it to the privy in the corner of the hard-packed dirt yard, two who never found the outhouse and made use of the back fence instead, and one who staggered in circles singing the same verse of a song Nathaniel didn’t know, over and over until he finally gave up and wandered back into the common room again. Nathaniel watched the back windows of the inn, waiting for one to open, and was beginning to grow impatient when he heard a hissing noise from above.

He looked up and saw Jake, leaning out a window on the second story and waving his arms. “Psst! Psst!”

Jake threw down a rope made of a knotted sheet and Nathaniel tied his pack to it. Jake hoisted the pack in through the window, then lowered the rope again. Nathaniel climbed awkwardly, levering his feet against a lead drain pipe and against the frame of a window on the first floor, but when he was close enough, Jake grabbed him and dragged him in through the window.

“We said ground floor,” Nathaniel gasped, lying the floor.

“Those windows don’t open,” Jake said. “I think it’s to force the burglars to work for their living. I had to go back and lie to the innkeeper and tell him I had said second story when we both knew very well I’d said first. Then I had to make this rope.”

“We could have picked another inn.”

“Or you could have worn your coat right side out and no one would look at you twice. But we didn’t do either of those things, and now you’re inside.”

Had they wasted their time with elaborate precautions? He decided not. “We’ll be happy if those people follow us into the village and go around asking for the odd foreigner in the turned-out coat.”

“And think of the excellent practice you’re getting, in case you decide you do want to become a spy.” Jacob Hop was shuffling his Tarocks. “Let’s do a casting.”

“Why? We found my sister, and now I want to go heal her.”

“Does that mean you’re not nervous about Robert Hooke anymore? Your headache is gone?”

“Do the casting.”

“Here’s the question I have: what are the omens for Nathaniel Penn’s journey to rescue his sister?” After the shuffling, Jake laid down three cards. “The omens are good.”

“I don’t know how you’d know,” Nathaniel said. “Though at least the Tarocks have pretty pictures. Astrologers cover a page with simple dots and tell you it predicts the future. You’ve dealt all . . . what do you call them?”

“Major Arcana,” Jake said. “Yes, the Highway, the Virgin and the Serpent. And I take these as good omens. The starlit plain is the Highway you wish to travel, and the Virgin is the sister you’ll rescue. The Tarocks acknowledge your plan. Your sister Sarah is the Serpent, or your father is, or your goddess. Or you. It’s a good sign for your family. A negative sign would the Revenant or the Sorcerer, which I might take to indicate Hooke himself, or Oliver Cromwell. Or Simon Sword.”

“That seems unlikely, that all three cards would be from the Major Arcana. There are twenty of those, and how many cards total?”

“Seventy-six. On a random draw, twenty chances out of seventy-six–call it one in four, to make the math easier–you get one of the Major Arcana.”

Nathaniel struggled. His mathematical training had been rudimentary, and mostly expressed in terms of the number of pheasants on a string, or miles to Richmond. “If you add one in four to one in four, you get–half?”

“No.” Jake shook his head. “If I draw one card, there is one chance in four it’s one of the Major Arcana. If I draw a second card, the chances that both are from the Major Arcana is one in four multiplied by one in four. And the odds of three cards all being from the Major Arcana are one in four times one in four times one in four.”

“I don’t know what that makes,” Nathaniel admitted.

“One in sixty-four.”

Nathaniel whistled.

“You think that’s impressive, hey? Watch this.” Jacob Hop shuffled the cards thoroughly, putting the Serpent, the Highway, and the Virgin back into the deck, and drew three cards again.

The Drunkard, the Virgin, and the Hanged Man.

Nathaniel stared.

“Six cards in a row is one chance in four thousand ninety-six. But here’s the thing–I’ve been turning cards for about two and a half months, and they’re always from the Major Arcana. As long as I hold the cards in my hands, I can shuffle through them and see them all, Minor Arcana as well as Major. The minute I start laying cards down, only the Major Arcana come up. That’s thousands of cards in a row, and I long since stopped calculating what odds that made. There are no odds here, this is fixed. Something is dictating what cards turn up.”

“Is it just that deck?”

“I borrowed a deck in Johnsland, the same thing happened. The man whose cards I borrowed couldn’t believe it either, and when I handed it back to him, his deck worked normally again.”

“Well, that answers my next question. And now I suppose I know why you haven’t stopped fidgeting with those cards since I met you.”

“There are other reasons,” Jake said.

“Does it only affect you?” Nathaniel asked.

“It didn’t affect that fellow in Johnsland.”

“Let me try.” Nathaniel held out his hand.

Reluctantly, Jake passed over the deck. Nathaniel shuffled them thoroughly and then dealt three cards: the River, the Virgin, the Revenant.

And again: the Horsemen, the Drunkard, the Highway.

He shuffled and dealt five more times, each time getting only Major Arcana. Each time, he felt more troubled and haunted, but to his surprise, Jake’s expression looked like relief.

“It isn’t only me!” Jake burst out at Nathaniel’s final casting.

“Then what explains it?” Nathaniel asked.

“I worried it was me. That maybe my . . . connection . . . with Simon Sword made the cards not work.”

“I don’t have a connection with Simon Sword,” Nathaniel objected.

“I think you do,” Jake said. “Not the same connection I have–I hope–but your family is tied to the Heron King. And now that Simon Sword is in motion, for those of us who are connected to him, the New World Tarocks show only Major Arcana.”

“You think this is some magic of Simon Sword’s?”

“Maybe.” Jake shrugged. “Maybe it’s not something he intends, it’s just something that happens. Or maybe it’s some magic of Benjamin Franklin and John Penn. Maybe it’s a warning system. Maybe when Peter Plowshare dies and Simon Sword ascends the Heron King’s throne, the Tarocks go mad as a way to let people know.”

“But they don’t go mad for everyone.”

Jake shrugged. “For people who have crossed Simon Sword’s path? Or who will cross his path? This is magic we are talking about, after all, and not hydraulics.”

“Well, I am grateful for the omens.” In truth, Nathaniel did feel slightly better. He didn’t especially trust the Tarocks to tell his future–he trusted them less, thinking that Simon Sword or Benjamin Franklin or someone else was manipulating what cards came up–but it heartened him to see images he thought of as positive: the Serpent, the Virgin.