Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 27

Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 27

“The copy stayed behind. John Churchill was rising, and the Lord Protector saw that his reign would be ended in England. He had to leave a shade, a mirror image of himself, to act and rule in England, and that cost him much of his power. But his true self traveled to the new world with William Penn.”

Thomas shook his head, not meaning to. Could this be true? “A sizar at Harvard reported such a rumor to me,” Thomas said. “I had to pay a pretty purse to the Yankee he served after I killed the fellow in a duel.”

“The rumors have at least a kernel of truth within them. Your family, my son, has prospered with the blessing of the Lord Protector. The blessing, and often the counsel as well.”

Counsel? “What do you mean?”

The Presence stepped forward again and reached down to graze Thomas’s shoulder with a mailed hand. “I am your ancestor William Penn. I am also Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, great benefactor of your family. The loss of my other half John Churchill was a crushing blow, and I have been regaining power slowly for decades. I guided you to the throne because it was imperative to keep the Firstborn from seizing its power. I will guide you now to take even greater power.”

Thomas swallowed. His throat was so dry, the action hurt. “My sister . . . what did she know?”

“Nothing,” the Presence said. “My power descends through the male line alone. She was the first landowner not to bear me in her breast, the first not to hear my wisdom in her ear.”

“And my father? Did he see you?”

The Presence squeezed Thomas’s shoulder, a sensation like a gentle breeze. “The men of the House of Penn have heard my voice in their hearts from William Penn through to you. They have taken me to be the Holy Ghost, or their own intuition, or the phantoms of dream.

“You are the first to see me.”

“You appeared to me here.” Thomas could never forget the moment he knew his grandfather had chosen him. His grandfather, who was also Oliver Cromwell. The shade had appeared to him in the empty field that would one day become the site of Horse Hall, the night before Hannah’s installation as Empress. Thomas had seen the Presence sitting in a ghostly image of the Shackamaxon Throne, surrounded by a phantasmagorical Shackamaxon Hall.

That first conversation had started Thomas on the path that had brought him here.

“You will be the greatest Penn ever to sit the Imperial throne, my son. My power is recovered. The pieces are moving into position. The time is right.”

“The stars favor us.”

“You will unite your lands. Not as a loose coterie of squabbling fiefdoms, but as the true and eternal Empire of Pennsylvania, as it was always intended to be.”

“Yes.”

“You will crush your rebel niece and all her allies, grinding them beneath your heel and adding their lives to your honor and the glory of your house.”

“I will.”

“You will open up the shell of the Moundbuilders, and you and I shall drink their life. You will live forever, and all mankind will know you as their benefactor and great leader. Your name will be whispered with the names Moses, David, Cromwell, and Christ.”

Thomas trembled.

“You will end death.”

Thomas fell forward onto the stone. He pressed himself flat to the slabs, arms extended before him.

“It is time I again took a body,” Cromwell said. “Or rather, bodies.”

Thomas turned his head slightly to watch. The Lord Protector–did Thomas think of Cromwell as the Necromancer, or was that the invidious slander of his enemies?–stepped slowly to the body of the Parlett boy.

“Turn him for me,” Cromwell said. “Lay him on his back.”

Thomas made slow, small, solemn motions. He rose to his knees, approached Parlett slowly, and then rolled the corpse onto its back. He arranged the arms by the boy’s sides, straightened out his legs, as if he were preparing the boy for burial.

Then he moved back and knelt.

Cromwell in turn descended to his knees. He then lay on the boy’s body, stretching himself out to full length and intoning heavy syllables Thomas didn’t understand.

Then Cromwell sank into the boy’s body and disappeared.

Thomas gasped, despite himself.

The boy opened his eyes again, but they had changed–they were entirely white, and as the boy stood, a dark gel began to form in the corner of his eyes.

The boy turned to Thomas. “This is not eternal life.” His voice was the grating sound of church bells being ground to pieces, the Lord Protector’s voice. He reached a hand forward to grip Thomas by the shoulder, and this time Thomas felt flesh and bone, if not warmth. “This is puppetry. But eternal life will come.”

“Yes.” Thomas was surprised at how eager he felt. “Tell me what to do.”

#

Calvin Calhoun’s ride down the Mississippi was troubling.

An Imperial Ohio Company canoe intercepted the keelboat early and exacted a toll. After that, two Memphite barges threatened, though the keelboat captain and all his crew waved, smiled, and promised not to dock at Memphis, and the Memphites let them pass. But the perils of the river were not what disturbed Cal.

The work didn’t bother him. He poled, he sang, he cooked grits and bacon to earn his keep, but Lord hates a man as don’t know how to work when it’s called for, and this was light going, by his standards.

The refugees carried by the boat were distressing. Cal heard tales of ravaged farms, of men impressed into the local militias or the military entourages of backwoods barons, leaving women and children defenseless when the beastkind attacked. A kingdom Cal had never heard of before, some kind of Firstborn land out beyond the Missouri, raided and stole from the farmers as well. It was as if something had driven all the beastkind mad, and their riot had knocked everything out of order, so everyone in the Missouri was fighting everyone else for land, food, and the joy of killing.

What had happened to start the frenzy of killing, Cal knew, was the death of Peter Plowshare and the coming to the throne of his son, or self, or alter ego, or shadow, or whatever–Simon Sword.

The refugees’ stories broke his heart, and Cal gave half his food at every meal to the Missourians huddled in their match coats, blankets, and furs. When not poling or sleeping, he threw a line into the river and tried to catch fish. His success was limited, but the occasional bass or catfish he managed to pull from the water was expertly dissected by his knife, cooked at the boat’s small stove, and then passed in chunks to wide-eyed, sooty-faced children.

The refugees didn’t trouble him. If anything, they gave him the opportunity to show what the New Light meant to him.

He needed that, after what he’d seen and heard in the Firstborn city, Cahokia.

What troubled Cal was thoughts of Sarah. Was she queen of Cahokia, now? Was she an angel? Was she some kind of Firstborn girl Jesus?

He didn’t know.

He hadn’t abandoned her, he’d been driven away. He would tell his grandpa, Iron Andy Calhoun, with a clean conscience, that he’d protected Sarah all along her road. He’d brought her to her throne, and there, to defend her rights, he’d killed a man.

And then she had rejected him.

Maybe she had to. Maybe the goddess had made her do it.

Maybe the necessary killing Cal had performed had left him unclean, and unfit for her company.

Still, it hurt.

If she’d come to the throne and the news had gone out, Cal was outracing it. He felt a pang of regret wishing he could meet his grandpa in the Elector’s Thinkin’ Shed and tell him proudly his foster daughter had become queen.

Still, he did have some astonishing things to report.

He also had something to show, something he’d been carrying close to his skin for weeks, and that was a letter. It was a confession, written by Bayard Prideux and confessing to the murder of Kyres Elytharias.

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