Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 43
Sarah looked one last time at a copy of the message she had laboriously written, mostly rejecting but in a few cases accommodating suggestions from Maltres and Zadok.
~ A CALL TO ALL LOVERS OF FREEDOM ~
The usurper Thomas Penn has for years oppressed the honest folk of the Ohio, robbing their wealth, tearing down their walls, choking their highways, and restricting their public meetings, on the pretext of quashing a rebellion that did not exist. He has done this to innocent Cahokia and her six Sister Kingdoms–which Elector’s lands will be next?
On the pretext of madness that never existed, Thomas sequestered and then murdered his sister, Hannah Penn. Earlier, he treacherously slew her husband, Kyres Elytharias, King of Cahokia. Now, he has laid siege to Elytharias’s city Cahokia in an effort to kill the only daughter and heir of Hannah Penn and the Lion of Missouri, Sarah Elytharias Penn.
Defend your rights as Electors! Protect the integrity of the Philadelphia Compact and the legacy of John Penn! Steady the ark of Christendom! Resist the usurper Thomas! Cahokia calls you–send aid!
The message had its faults. It contained at least one lie–that she was her parents’ only child. It also left rather ambiguous Sarah’s own status, which was at least honest, since Sarah’s claims were only partially realized and her status was unclear. Alzbieta urged Sarah to include the indication that she was the Beloved of Wisdom, arguing that that was at least as important and as valid as claiming a bishopric, but Maltres reinforced Sarah’s better instincts, and she pulled back from making that revelation.
If this didn’t work, Sarah knew she could try to send flying messengers over the heads of her besiegers. She also knew what a toll that would take on her physically and how much it would dry up her resources, so she was loath to do it unless necessary, and she feared Hooke would have a means to trap any such highly-visible heralds.
Could I make contact with someone outside the black fire by gramarye?
But with whom? And how?
And what would the fire do to me when I tried to cross it?
Somehow, messages must go out, and Maltres’s earlier attempts had failed. Without aid, Cahokia would fall.
The riders massed within the gates on the last of the city’s horses. More than one resident watched the animals with a hungry look, and Sarah herself, though she could not longer stomach the thought of eating meat, was uncomfortable to see the last of the good edible flesh exit the city.
She folded the sheet of paper and tucked it into her satchel. From the shoulderbag she removed the Heronplow and the Orb of Etyles, and held one in each hand. They were heavy, and the time she’d be able to hold both of them without tiring would be measured in minutes, not hours.
She should only need minutes.
In her Eye of Eve, the wall of fire looked much like it did with her natural eye: a negative light, a brilliance that was also black. She found the filthy aura of Robert Hooke, stalking the perimeter of reversed crosses. His shuffling dead stayed low in the trenches during the daytime, and Sarah had deliberately chosen the hour of noon, for that reason.
She also saw the aura of something or someone like Robert Hooke. From this distance, it seemed to be a short, naked person, but his or her aura had the same black and filthy appearance that Hooke’s did. To Sarah’s annoyance, this person–likely another sorcerer–stayed close to Hooke’s largest cross.
This might be a problem for her.
“There is a second sorcerer,” she told her fellow magicians on the wall. “He lurks near the cross.”
Hooke’s presence alone made her nervous; she had struggled enough to defeat him the last time, and had done so by ambushing him. The presence of a second sorcerer like Hooke ratcheted that nervousness into pure fear.
The wall was their target. Sarah believed that if she punched a hole–or at least, a big enough hole–in the wall of fire, the whole thing would collapse. She also hoped that the attack would shake her besiegers loose enough to allow some messengers through.
It had been a hard decision, whether to launch the attack at night–when the Imperial militia would have a harder time shooting at messengers–or by day–when the walking dead seemed generally to stay in their ditches. Sarah had chosen the latter.
No one had gainsaid her.
Sarah’s cannons were prepared to fire to give support to the messengers. Sir William also had escorts of beastkind warriors ready to race ahead of the messengers. He suggested the beastkind for the mission because they were faster on foot than any of the children of Adam in the city, which made tactical sense to Sarah.
She didn’t ask whether he regarded them as more expendable, or in some sense desirable to take as casualties early on, before their oath to Sarah could really be tested.
They had to make the attempt today. The Imperial forces were larger each successive dawn.
“Please, Maltres,” she said. “For the last time, I beg you. If you stand here, you may be hurt.”
“Beloved, I will refuse you very few things in this life.” Maltres Korinn smiled, the unexpected curve to the lips breaking the harsh, pitted look of his face. “Today I do not leave your side.”
“Nor I,” Yedera said, standing to her other side. The Podebradan had become a more constant presence in Sarah’s life as Sarah had spent more and more time with Alzbieta Torias, until one day she found that when Alzbieta left, Yedera stayed with Sarah.
“Very well, then,” she said, and she nodded down the line at her magical corps. “Begin.”
Sherem had gathered every magician in the city he’d mentioned to Sarah and discovered a few more, to boot. He stood at the end of the line to Sarah’s right, still unable to cast a spell, but unwilling to leave, as was Alzbieta Torias, who stood at the left of the line.
All three of her witnesses, then. So be it.
Sherem had also agreed to act as Sarah’s eye. Sarah had taken a tiny amount of consecrated lamp oil from the temple’s stores–the oil that illuminated the lamps in the complex beneath the temple, and that would, with additional sanctification, be used in the right circumstances to light the lamps on the Serpent Throne–and anointed both their eyes.
Her vision was a complex overlay of three plates. She had grown accustomed to seeing through her natural eye and her Eye of Eve simultaneously, but now a third layer was what she saw out of Sherem’s eye, which was slightly different from the view through her natural eye, being placed a hundred feet to the side.
Sherem leaned on a musket, and a horn of powder hung at his side.
Stretching to either side of Sarah were the wizards: priests and priestesses, retainers of wealthy families, and scholars. Every wizard Sarah could find in Cahokia except Luman Walters.
The Imperial magician had volunteered, and she had turned him down. He looked honest, but she didn’t know whether he was dependable. And moreover, he’d called himself a hedge wizard. What would he really contribute to her plan?
The plan was three-part. Too many parts, Sir William warned her, would doom a plan to failure, but these three seemed necessary.
Her part came first. To risk a chess metaphor, she must tempt her opponent by exposing her queen.
Which was to say, herself.
Exposing, and not sacrificing.
“Robert Hooke!” she cried. “I have had enough of your wall! Come out and do battle!” She willed a little energy into her voice and amplified it, shouting audibly across the entire Imperial camp.
Curiously, she felt energy flow into her from her right and left.
From her witnesses, it seemed. So perhaps their presence would be useful, after all.
Another Beloved, centuries earlier, had challenged the Philistines’ best man to single combat. David had won, but God had been with him, or at least that’s the way Samuel told it. And if not God, then serious luck.
Was God with Sarah? Or the goddess?
The Imperials heard her. She saw faces turning in her direction, eyes rising to stare.
“Come on, Hooke!” she shouted. “Arrogant bastard like you, you must be sore after I caught you out for a gump and shipped you off downriver! Let’s settle this! Come on out, and I’ll stuff you down your own lizard hole with that ugly hat pulled down around your uglier face!”
She could see him clearly by his aura, watching her from behind the flap of a large tent. After a moment’s hesitation he stalked forward, crossing through the black flame to stand on bare snowy ground, just behind the Imperial trenches.
I hear thy mewling hiccup, serpentspawn! Hooke roared into her mind. And then the full weight of his amber sea of death fell upon her.
“Fire!” Jaleta Zorales shouted.
Cannons all along the wall went off. They had been modestly reinforced by the big guns from the west side of the Treewall, which had been dragged around under cover of darkness. Maltres forced out of his mind the possibility that the beastkind prowling the Mississippi might seize this opportunity to attack, or might simply be provoked to frenzy by the violence of the guns. It was a calculated risk.
The guns all lay aimed at the thickest knots of besiegers, nearest the roads. Korinn watched cannonballs plow into the dirt, bounce, and slam into the Imperial ranks. He saw a squad of militiamen behind a wooden barricade torn apart as two balls flew through their ranks. The men themselves exploded, and bits of bone and shattered rifle flew in all directions, inflicting further damage.
He didn’t feel the slightest compassion for the dead men. They had brought this on themselves with their unlawful marauding and their wickedness.
This was not to be a sustained cannonade. Cahokia didn’t have the powder and shot for that, and needed to conserve resources against the possibility of further battles. Three shots, that was the plan.
Behind the Imperial lines, Notwithstanding Schmidt rode back and forth, shouting commands. Perhaps Jaleta should have laid at least one gun pointing at the director’s tent?
Crisply following Zorales’s shouted commands, echoed by subordinates directing the fire on the south and north walls, the former Pitchers–now the Cahokia Cannon Corps–reloaded.
Maltres signaled to his two servants below. He’d explained the plan to the Podebradan, and they now locked eyes.
Thirty feet below, Maltres’s men–a valet and a butler, two thirds of the total household staff he lived with here in the city, since most of his people were at home in Na’avu, where he would rather be as well–brought forward a net. It was the same net he’d used to arrest Uris, Alzbieta’s counselor who planned her political position and managed her household while she thought of priestly matters.