Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 20
“Enough to feed the city perpetually.”
“In which case, no siege can succeed.”
“THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT I FEAR.”
“Do we have any idea what caused this abominable multiplication of the persimmons?”
“Magic,” Temple Franklin said.
“Good Lord,” Thomas said, “but I am grateful to have such an insightful Machiavel in my employ. But for your insight, I might have guessed this was the work of Robin Goodfellow.”
“It is the sort of thing folk tales associate with Peter Plowshare,” Temple Franklin said. “Surprising fertility, impossible abundance.”
Thomas’s head throbbed. “If you tell me a folk tale, I shall kick you in the face, if I have to run at you horseback to do it.”
“I’ve summoned experts of the Imperial College. They’ll be here tomorrow to discuss.”
“Experts in what? Almonds? Peter Plowshare? Food magic, what would that be? I failed Greek at Harvard. Sitos? No, that’s wheat. Trophos-something? Trophomancy?”
“That would be the art of prophesying by food. Trophurgy would be the magical art of working in food, by analogy with thaumaturgy,” Temple Franklin said.
“It is an ugly neologism, and suits this ugly situation.” Thomas ground his teeth. When they get here, let’s reach out to Director Schmidt again. I’ll wager you all of Johnson City that it will be at least three weeks before the College can reach a combined opinion, much less agree on a course of action.”
“UNDERSTOOD.” The expression on the Parletts’ faces was solemn. “I HAVE MY BEST MEN WATCHING THE PARLETTS AT THIS END.”
“The Ohio Parletts,” Thomas said.
“THE OHIO PARLETTS. I’LL BE INFORMED IMMEDIATELY, ONCE YOU’RE READY.”
“Very good. In the meantime, if you find any way to introduce a plague of weevils into Cahokia, by all means do so.”
Luman was poring over one of the books in the Basilica’s library when Zadok Tarami appeared at his shoulder.
“Do you read our language?”
The priest hadn’t changed his clothing. He smelled like a pilgrim, sour with sweat and crusted with filth, and in his white robe torn to shreds below the thigh he looked like a beggar. His straight back and unassuming smile communicated power and confidence, though. He had a comfort in his own skin that Luman had seen in the best of the company’s leaders, including Notwithstanding Schmidt.
A comfort in his own skin that Luman himself had never felt.
Luman had discovered a small library of books at the back of the apse only in cleaning up the wreckage of the beastkind attack. They had been stored in a locked cabinet that was shattered in the incident. Once the Missourians saw they were only books, they lost interest. Mother Hylia and the secular priests didn’t object to Luman examining them.
Sadly, he wasn’t able to learn much.
“No,” Luman admitted, running his finger over golden swirl at the center of the page. “That’s why I picked the one with pictures.” The book was illuminated. Like other medieval manuscripts Luman had seen, the initial letters were larger and picked out with gold and scarlet paints; strange figures and miniature scenes filled the margins, and occasionally an entire half-page was dedicated to illustrating a story.
Unlike old Greek, Latin, and German texts he’d seen, the Eldritch book’s writing started at an apparently random point on each page and spiraled out in large swirls of looping and knotted lines, swarmed by dots, swoops, and dashes on either side. Some of the illustrations followed the spiraling text, and a single story seemed to circle up from the depths of the page.
“Many of our books have been translated into German. There is a story that the Winter Queen translated all of them into English at Heidelberg, but if she did so, most of that translation was lost in the Serpent Wars. Perhaps the translation was part of the cause of the wars, who can tell? A conspiracy is a terrible way to bring a book to light. Fragments of the so-called Heidelberg Bible turn up from time to time, but outside of universities, there is little interest. The Firstborn have never been much for proselytizing.”
“I have seen copies of The Law of the Way in the stock of traveling pedlars,” Luman said. “Many copies, actually. It’s an easy book to come by. I’ve seen none of the others, to my knowledge.”
Tarami smiled a knowing smile. “You bought a copy of the Law because you knew it was an Ophidian text and you hoped it would contain spells.”
Luman coughed, embarrassed. “Actually, I stole a copy.”
“I was poor at the time,” Luman said. “I tried to make it up later with extra kindness to other book pedlars.”
“I’m not sure that’s how it works.”
“I’m pretty sure it isn’t.”
“And what magic did you learn from The Law of the Way, then?”
Was the priest taunting him or testing him? “If there are spells in The Law, my eyes are not opened to see them.”
“Mother Hylia told me this about you.”
“That my eyes aren’t opened?”
“That you hope they will be.”
Luman closed the book carefully. “I think it’s wrong to covet riches. I think it’s wrong to covet power and seek to scratch the itches of the flesh and flaunt your wealth in clothing. I do not believe it is a sin to seek knowledge. I seek knowledge above all other things. And if The Law says it is a sin, I missed that passage.”
“You’re teasing me, wizard. We are commanded to seek knowledge, and you know it. Indeed, your words are nearly a paraphrase of the passage that commands it.”
“Nearly,” the priest said. “Here are the words of the prophet-king Onandagos, in his final testament, as recorded in the twenty-eighth through thirtieth chapters of The Law: ‘Seven things it is wrong to seek, and the seeking thereof shall lose a man his soul: power, unless it be to do justice; wealth, except that wealth must be sought to clothe the naked; the satisfaction of the flesh, except that it is commanded to enjoy the flesh for the expression of love and for the generation of life; the life of another, except that it is given to you to take life in defense of the life of your people; loud singing, only you must raise your voices in acknowledgment of your debts to God; fine clothing, except it be the fine clothing you must wear for the giving of glory to God; and knowledge, unless is be true knowledge of the way of God and His creation, which you must seek above all other things.'”
“That sounds like a prohibition.” Luman smiled. “You said we were commanded to seek knowledge.”
“But what is knowledge of the way of God and His creation, if not the knowledge of all things? And if the exception enjoins us to seek the knowledge of all things, then what is the prohibition?”
“You’re certainly doing very well on the clothing part of the commandments,” Luman said.
Zadok Tarami snorted, then laughed.
“Why is it so easy to come by copies of The Law in English?” Luman asked.
“We have made it easy.” Tarami was still chuckling. “The Law and its contents are the thing we most wanted John Penn and Ben Franklin and their Electors to know of us.”
“Was it Elizabeth who translated it?”
Tarami’s laughter ended in a sigh. “No, she didn’t possess it.”
“Because it was a new world document?”
“In part, perhaps. The Law of the Way was dictated by Onandagos at the end of his great career, other than a codicil at the end that simply notes who took dictation, and that Onandagos died and was buried. The book recounts his great journey west, including lists of his enemies and his allies. It tells his battle with the serpent of our people, and how he finally defeated it. It defines the bounds of the seven kingdoms of the Ohio, and the two places where four kingdoms meet. It gives final commands and prohibitions, and then a prophecy about the fate of The Law itself.”
“What is the fate of The Law?” Luman in fact had little interest in ideas about the end of the world, but if the priest was a member of an esoteric brotherhood, anything he said might contain clues, and so it was valuable to keep him talking about his sacred things.