Witchy Winter – Snippet 18

Kinta Jane Embry shot Pete in the chest.

He dropped, and for good measure she stepped closer and shot him in the head as well. Then she took her knife and stabbed it repeatedly into his neck, face, and belly.

When she finished, he was a disfigured wreck and she was sobbing.

Whom had she really wanted to stab to death? Joss? Elbows Pritchard?

The weird-eyed beastwitch who had invaded her room in the Faubourg and taken her dignity?

René’s murderer?

Kinta Jane took a deep breath. She could bury the bodies, but there seemed to be little point. Anyone who found them would think they’d been killed in the raid. Or maybe they’d killed each other in the fight over raping priority of some Ophidian captive, given that two of them had their trousers down.

That was just fine with Kinta Jane.

She turned to find she was observed.

Six men stood in the road. They were shorter than the company irregulars, and in the firelight Kinta Jane could see that their foreheads were pale, their hair long and dark. Their mouths were hidden by neckerchiefs, like outlaws might wear. Over their shoulders they wore Ohioan cloaks, and in their hands they held long, straight swords.

Firstborn. Eldritch, resisting the Ohio Company.

She nodded slowly, pointed at Pete’s corpse. She wished she could speak, but the Firstborn seemed to understand. They nodded back, turned, and disappeared into the night.

Kinta threw the two pistols deep into the woods, then retraced her steps. As the adrenalin in her blood subsided, she realized that her clavicle and her ribs on one side hurt acutely, especially when she breathed.

Before she left, she took Joss’s rings. To get all of them, she had to cut off two of his fingers.

She never found the mule.


In the Walnut Street Theater lobby, just as he stepped onto the bottom of the marble staircase that would take him up to his private box, Thomas Penn got the message.

He entered last, so that the six dragoons accompanying him to act as his bodyguard could cross the red-carpeted lobby without forcing their way through a crowd. This was his deliberate habit, as was the fact that, though he attended the theater often, he only did so on evenings when the sky favored him. Nights when Jupiter was strong, or Mars if he knew his men were fighting in the field.

Also, he wore his Town Coat, an elegant blue and gold coat that had been much worried over in the weaving and the stitching by a pair of Philadelphia gramarists. The Town Coat protected Thomas at all times, including against threats he couldn’t even see.

“Pardon me, Your Imperial Majesty.” The messenger was the theater manager, a balding man in a threadbare black frock coat that had once been elegant but now looked like a costume worn in one production too many. Thomas made it a point to attend the theater regularly, though not because he was a lover of drama. It was a thing one did, when one was gentle. Also, it allowed him to meet Temple and gather information from him, in a place that was highly visible and therefore ironically more discreet than if Temple had crept to the back stairs of Horse Hall at midnight with a dark lantern. Thomas recognized the manager, though he couldn’t recall the name. Throckmorton? Brockington? “I regret to inform you the Imperial Players are unable to perform tonight.”

“I’ve come rather a long way to not see a play,” Thomas complained. “And I suppose you have other theatergoers, as well. Members of the ticket-buying public, not to mention the meneers and the Cavaliers in the balconies? What do you plan to do, send us all home? Could you at least get a singer onto the stage?”

If he couldn’t meet Temple in his theater box, the old debauchee would want to take him to less savory places.

Throckmorton, or whatever his name was, bowed deeply. “At significant additional expense, we have procured the services of another premier troupe of players.”

“Oh, yes?” Thomas asked.

“Franklin’s Players, Your Imperial Majesty.”

Thomas frowned. “Shouldn’t they be riding about in wagons, posing as Herod and throwing candies to children?”

“Yes, sir.” The manager bowed again. “If it were Easter. But it isn’t Easter, and Franklin’s Players also do Shakespeare and Marlowe and other conventional works. They are, as I said, quite renowned.”

Thomas snorted. Perhaps Temple would find the change amusing, or at least ironic. “Very well. I shall see this play, and, Throckmorton . . . .”

The manager seemed puzzled by the name. “Yes?”

“I’ll pay the additional expense. Have a bill sent up to the box, I’ll sign it. And please don’t make a public affair of it.”

“Sir.” Not-Throckmorton bowed one more time, the deepest bow yet. “Lord Thomas, you should be aware that Franklin’s Players will be performing a different drama than what we had scheduled.”

Thomas laughed and started up the stairs. “I have no idea what the other fellows were going to perform, anyway. I’m here, sir. That’s the thing.”

“The Imperial Players were to have performed Henry the Fifth, sir.”

Thomas stopped. “Ah. Yes, well, that is a good one.” His favorite Shakespeare, though he wouldn’t have admitted it to Brockington. The plays featuring the younger Henry were also quite good. “And Franklin’s Players?”

“I understand they’ll be putting on a piece called The Walking Purchase.”

“I don’t know that one,” Thomas said. “I assume from the title it is a history of my ancestors, in some fashion? A glorification of the vision and wise planning of William Penn?”

Brockington bowed almost to the floor. “I believe so. And I understand that it’s a . . . mathematical . . . drama, sir.”

“Love and conquest by the triplicities, eh?” Thomas resumed his climb. “Then these players have chosen their piece of a purpose. Perhaps they hope the Imperial coffers shall undertake to fund a second troupe.”

“Your Imperial Majesty is known for his open hand.”

Thomas had purchased a box at Walnut Street with a large cash contribution to the building’s construction, shortly after Hannah’s immurement. At the same time, he’d made a number of other civic contributions, as Emperor, as the Penn Landholder, and as Lord Thomas Penn. He’d funded a fire company the old Lightning Bishop had created, built a library for the Pennsland Philosophical Society, and put on an apron to become a Freemason — the last against his principles, since at least in theory it required him to swear binding oaths to other men. He already had to swear such oaths to the damned Electors, which was bad enough, but the Freemasons were a gaggle of Philadelphia merchants and doctors with scarcely a drop of good blood among them, so the oath galled.

But he did it.

His funding of the theater had bought him the box of his choice. The projectors had offered him a large box, directly facing the stage, and Thomas had declined in favor of a small one, high and in front. It meant that his view of the stage was oblique and Olympian, looking straight down onto the tops of the actors’ heads — though he liked this latter fact, since it made him feel he was the reigning Thomas Jupiter of his portrait in Horse Hall. It also meant that he had a box that seated two comfortably, or four if the company was willing to squeeze in shoulder to shoulder.

But it also visibly demonstrated Thomas’s generosity. He had paid for half the theater, and anyone in the audience could see his box was modest to the point of being monastic.

Modest, and highly visible.

And Thomas made it a point to go to the theater, and be seen.

Thomas’s guards stayed at the foot of the staircase that led, with no other destination, to Thomas’s balcony.

Temple Franklin was already in the box when Thomas arrived, parting the thick velvet curtain that served the box for a door and passing through. Franklin was older than Thomas, and heavy, like his episcopal grandfather. Temple was originally his surname, a bastard waif’s name, given by the orphanage where he’d languished before his grandfather had found and acknowledged him, the bastard son of his own bastard. The man in between, William Franklin, had emigrated to England and wound up a sheep-slaughtering godi somewhere.

For all his saintliness and cunning, old Ben Franklin had been a man who recklessly generated reckless progeny.