Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 18

Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 18

At a tiny knoll just outside the company camp, Hooke poured out the remainder of the ashes. There he finally took the two large timbers from the wagon and used them to build one final upside-down cross. This was in shape and proportion identical to the others, but was significantly larger, jutting straight up from the earth perhaps nine feet, with a six-foot cross-beam.

Dadgayadoh cared nothing for either Christians or Wodenists and their respective piety, but the Sorcerer Robert Hooke had put an enormous amount of work into this arrangement of upside-down crosses. Whatever purpose he tried to imagine the crosses might serve, Dadgayadoh felt unsettled.

He resolved to tell Director Schmidt. She would see the large cross anyway, but at least she would know that there was more than that most obvious portion of the arrangement.

Also, she would know how diligent Dadgayadoh had been. A hard worker, a self-starter, a real company man.

#

Sarah awoke to the smell of incense. It was a cinnamon-like smell, not the citrus and evergreen scent of Eden. She also smelled thyme and something that wasn’t very familiar, but might be basil or oregano.

Oil lamps burned very faintly within niches sunk into plain stone walls. She lay on a flat bed, firm almost to the point of being hard, under a sheet that felt like cotton to her fingertips.

Her Eye of Eve was unbound, and through it her surroundings all glowed a faint blue. The scene had the sort of aura that suggested it was located within the flow of a ley line.

Her mortal eye would not have noticed for the gloom, but her Eye of Eve clearly saw two women sitting on stools beside the room’s single entrance: Alzbieta Torias and Cathy Filmer. Cathy’s aura shone with the bright white of the children of Eve–in this setting, she was the striking thing, the thing that stood out.

“Am I inside the Temple of the Sun?” Sarah asked.

“If you’re thinking this is a crypt, be at ease,” Cathy said. “You’re alive and well. Alzbieta neglected to tell you that there are sleeping chambers underneath the temple.”

“But Alzbieta did tell me that my father’s people bury their dead in jars.” Sarah pivoted to the edge of the bed and dropped her feet to the floor. The stone was cool to the touch, despite the warm air. “With live snakes.”

“The serpent is a creature that can travel between worlds,” Alzbieta said. “As you have cause to know. Also, it’s a creature that is perpetually reborn, and it belongs to our goddess.”

“I ain’t sayin’ it ain’t an interestin’ practice,” Sarah cracked. “I’m jest sayin’ iffen you buried me alive by mistake, I’d expect to wake up curled into a ball, with a snake ticklin’ my bum.” She pondered for a moment her father’s burial, but before she could fully articulate any idea, Cathy interrupted her thoughts.

“Does Zadok Tarami approve of jar burials?”

“We call such an interment a burial to life,” Alzbieta said. “And no, I think he must not. Sarah’s grandfather, at the direction of the Basilica priests in his day, dug up all the kings of Cahokia from the field of life and buried them again, in box-shaped coffins and in a different place.”
         And without the snakes, presumably,” Sarah said. “In a better world, I’d add that to my list of wrongs I should correct. In this world, that’s just such a tiny problem, it doesn’t rate. The fact of there being two warring priesthoods who don’t even believe the same set of facts about God might not even be worth my attention. I have a siege to break, a people to rescue, and land rights to reclaim. And hell, the only reason I came here was to rescue my siblings, one of whom is still lost.”

“But one is found,” Cathy said.

“I ain’t sayin’ I’m a total gump.”

“Thank you.” Sarah smiled.

“Speaking of warring priesthoods,” Alzbieta continued. “There’s a petitioner to see you.”

Sarah stood. Her legs quivered, but held. She felt parched. “Tell me it’s not the Metropolitan.”

“He is locked up in the Hall of Onandagos,” Cathy said.

“Same place I was locked up?”

“Same place.” Alzbieta nodded.

Sarah sighed. “That can’t possibly be a good idea.”

The other women said nothing.

“Well, tell me about this petitioner, but get me something to drink, too. Water will do in a pinch, but if possible, I’d love to have something with a kick to it. Coffee, fruit juice, small beer. How long have I been asleep?”

Cathy slipped from the room.

“Not long,” Alzbieta said. “The remainder of the day and most of the night. It’s not yet dawn now. And you’re in one of the chambers beneath the Temple of the Sun. There are living quarters for one sept of priestesses at a time, and for the monarch. Ordinarily, only priestesses are allowed here.”

“I appreciate you making an exception for me and Cathy.”

You are not an exception. You’re the Beloved of the goddess. And Cathy . . . at the moment, the Temple is unconsecrated. Defiled. It is no trespass against the sacred for anyone to be in these chambers now, though it is a breach of tradition.”

Cathy returned, a cup in her hands. Sarah smelled coffee, and thought with a pang of her lost friend and mentor, Thalanes.

“You two still at war?” she asked them.

Neither said anything. She sighed. Cathy handed her the cup and she drank.

“Alright, then. The petitioner, who is it?”

“You’ve met her. She’s the Lady Alena, and she’s a priestess of the order.”

“Vow of silence.” Sarah remembered. “Talked through a eunuch, a real mouthy sack of toads.”

“She broke her vow of silence the night of the solstice,” Alzbieta said. “She comes asking you to renew it.”

“She certainly has my permission to shut up,” Sarah said. “Her eunuch has my permission to shut up, too. In fact, I’d kind of like to command him to close his mouth. I don’t see that it concerns me at all.”

“You are the Beloved,” Alzbieta Torias said. “You are the footprint of the goddess upon the earth. You are the seal upon every binding vow, your word binds the goddess on earth as in heaven, you–“

“Stop!” Sarah abruptly felt very old, and very small. She finished the coffee, sipping it slowly and blowing on it to avoid burning her tongue, and then handed the cup back to Cathy. “Where are my things?”

Cathy pointed. Sarah’s vision had adjusted to the low light enough that even her natural eye now saw a high-backed chair beside her bed, and hanging from the back, her shoulder bag.

She stretched to limber up her arms and legs, then took the bag and slung it over her shoulder. She wished she were wearing something more elaborate than a shift, but the women had seen fit to undress her before tucking her into bed.

So be it. She’d just have to be priestly in other ways.

Sarah straightened her back and nodded.

“Where shall we see her?” she asked. “Is there a traditional place? A reception room?”

Alzbieta shook her head. “In the Hall of Onandagos there is. And maybe in the Basilica.”

“Lady Alena waits in an anteroom just down the hall,” Cathy said.

“We’ll do this here. Bring her in.”

Should she wear the Sevenfold Crown? That didn’t feel quite right, in that she wasn’t queen . . . not fully . . . yet. Sarah took the Orb of Etyles from the bag and held it in her right hand.

The tall, white-haired Alena entered slowly, with hands clutched together before her and head bowed. The wide-hipped man with serpents painted on his face followed in the same posture. They both wore plain white tunics and kilts, which made them look like supplicants.

She was glad they hadn’t crawled in on their knees.

Sarah groped for an opening line. Good morning didn’t feel quite right. “Welcome, Lady Alena,” she finally said.

“I apologize and I beg forgiveness,” Alena said, not looking up. “I didn’t know–“

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