Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 34
He was heavy, but he fidgeted as if he had too much energy. Even in the light that came from the candlestick in her hand, together with light from a similar candlestick standing on the floor beside Stuyvesant, she could see that his skin was pink and young-looking, like a baby’s. He had the short-cropped gray hair of a man who ordinarily wore a perruque in public, and he was dressed in shirt tails and cotton breeks.
“Look–” Kinta Jane pointed at lines on the floor.
“Shh.” Isaiah Wilkes motioned her forward.
She stepped to the circle of chairs and sat down. As Wilkes followed her example, she examined the lines on the floor. They were painted, permanent lines, whorls, and stars she did not recognize. Some sort of warding.
“Can we speak here?” Wilkes asked.
“If Van den Berg is to be trusted.”
“Well, is he?”
“He’s a cunning bastard,” Stuyvesant said. “And ruthless. As you’d want in a wizard. And I believe he’s loyal. If this circle isn’t a safe place to speak, there’s no safe place in all the Republic. I take it Thomas didn’t respond as you’d hoped.”
This room had no window. It was also too far off the ground to be the window Dockery had gazed at. What had he been thinking?
Kinta Jane shook her head and concentrated on the conversation at hand.
“Hope is too grand a word,” Wilkes said, “for my flicker of willingness to believe there might be a possibility that the man who killed Hannah Penn would recognize and take up his ancestors’ fight.”
“There’s no audience to bow for here, Wilkes. Use fewer words. He told you to go to hell.”
“Tried to kill me, actually. Tried to kill us.”
Stuyvesant lifted his candlestick to get a good look at Kinta Jane. “You’re from the New Orleans cell, aren’t you? I’m sorry about the challenges you’ve had. I knew Jackson.”
“She didn’t,” Wilkes said.
“My brother was René du Plessis.”
“Ah.” Stuyvesant set down his candlestick again. “Poor bastard. Sorry to hear about him, too.”
Kinta Jane mumbled inarticulate thanks.
“You ride north, then?” Stuyvesant asked.
“Anak and Odishkwa may yet remember their obligations. Can you help us?”
“I’ll send Dockery with you. He’s a solid frontiersman, years with the Dutch Ohio. Take all the supplies you need, and I’ll send money as well.”
“How prospers the Dutch Ohio Company?” Wilkes asked.
“Poorly.” Stuyvesant harrumphed. “Elbows have always been sharp between us and the Imperial Ohio, but in the last decade the Imperials have gone from shoving us aside to stabbing us in the back. Slander, theft, destruction of our vessels, warehouses burned. The board and I claim compensation, but we are forever delayed in the simple battle to determine whether the case should be heard in Philadelphia or New Amsterdam–we never even get to the evidence, or the real legal arguments. The shareholders have been patient, but the truth is the Dutch Ohio Company is going out of business.”
“Is it bad enough that the company is tempted to join in with the Pacification?”
“The bigger profits are always on the smuggler’s side,” Stuyvesant said. “So are the bigger risks. And yes, more than one member of the board has expressed the view that we should be offering to cooperate with Thomas rather than compete with him. Indeed, some think that’s what his man Temple Franklin is coming to New Amsterdam to offer us this week.”
Wilkes sat up straight. “Franklin?”
“I assumed you knew, since you just came from there. Maybe you outran the news. The board has agreed to a meeting with Franklin the day after tomorrow. He’s specified that I’m to be there.”
“Do you think he knows you’re a brother?”
“To my knowledge, neither Franklin’s son nor his grandson ever lifted a finger to bear Franklin’s burden. I would be shocked if this has anything to do with the Conventicle.”
Adriaan Stuyvesant shrugged, a rolling gesture that shook his entire body. “The lawsuits were what the message referenced. But I assume the timing has to do with the Assembly’s passage of new imposts and authorizing a Levy of Force. Thomas makes war on the Firstborn, and it grows expensive. Settling the lawsuits and ending the fighting will mean more profit in his company as well as mine.”
“Will the board entertain offers to settle?”
Stuyvesant snorted. “They leaped for joy to hear Franklin was coming. I think if any sort of decent offer is made, I’ll be hard pressed to resist it, or even delay acceptance.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
Wilkes asked: “how can we get into that meeting?”
Sarah walked to the edge of the plaza atop the Great Mound, Sherem half a step behind her. The chill wind blowing over the city from the north warmed slightly around the Temple of the Sun, so with the step to the top of the slope, she felt the cold burn the skin of her face.
She looked eastward, over the massed Imperial forces. Were they growing? She huddled deeper into the Imperial dragoon’s coat she still wore. Alzbieta and Maltres had both repeatedly offered her Cahokian-style cloaks and tunics, as well as knee-high boots and leggings, and she had turned them down. She liked her moccasins–she could feel the earth through them. She liked the coat; it reminded her of her uncle’s threat to her, and her claims against him.
She had acquired it at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, at the grave of her father, and the coat reminded her of him.
“Tell me what the arcane resources of the city are,” she said. Hearing the harshness of her own voice, she added: “please.”
“There is no organization,” Sherem said. “There is a small group of Polites, strictly informal. There are individual priests of the Basilica and Temple priestesses with some ability, none especially great. Some of the great families have magician retainers, scattered here and there. The city has a few eccentric individuals who have pursued magic for their own reasons, for commerce or as a personal interest or a spiritual discipline. All together, they come to approximately thirty wizards. And there is Luman Walters, the Imperial hedge wizard. Or former Imperial, perhaps.
“And we have you.”
“Are any of them by chance really powerful?”
Sherem scratched his head. “I don’t know how to measure that. Six months ago, I would have told you I was one of the better wizards in the city. Maybe the best. And you snapped me like a twig, so that doesn’t bode well for us.”
“I caught you by surprise, Sherem. It was luck.”
“No, Beloved. There was no luck involved.”
Sarah sighed. The guilt didn’t dissipate.
“I don’t think we have the strength for a frontal assault,” she said. “But maybe we can use our magicians as heralds. Maltres tells me Chicago has traditionally been our ally. Surely the kings of the six sisters share our interest in rebuffing the Imperial fist.”
“The sisters share our interest, yes. They also share our poverty. In fact, our location on the far side of the Ohio from Thomas Penn may mean we’ve suffered the least from raiders and pillagers. Chicago may come, and he is closely allied with some of the Algonk peoples.”
“Might Memphis be willing to help us?” Sarah thought out loud. “Or the Cotton League? Or the Free Horse Peoples? They’re all within striking distance.”
“They are,” Sherem agreed. “I wonder how much they suffer at the hands of the Heron King’s beastkind.”
“There’s the Chevalier of New Orleans,” Sarah said.
“Beloved,” Sherem said. “There is a possibility for increasing our magical strength in battle.”
“Or what about Zomas?” Sarah asked. “I understand there’s bad blood, and believe me, in Appalachee we know about bad blood. Still, no matter how many horses the other family has stolen or how many of your cousins they’ve killed, sooner or later it comes time to bury the hatchet.”
“Do you know the story of Jock of Cripplegate?” Sherem asked.
Sarah shook her head, but then remembered. “Wait . . . he’s the one Cromwell experimented on. A thief, right?”
“A burglar. Cromwell killed him, and demonstrated that Firstborn souls could be exploited as magical energy.”
“I don’t like where this conversation is headed.”
“There’s a Basilica priest named Josiah Dazarin. He’s been preaching a devotion to St. Jock of Cripplegate.”
“Thinks we should all become second-story men, does he?” Sarah bit her tongue. “Flippancy comes easy to me, Sherem. I apologize.” She took a deep breath. “Does Dazarin suggest we should execute our criminals to fuel magical attacks?”
Sherem nodded. “Our criminals. Or our slaves. Or volunteers.”
“We ain’t there yet,” Sarah said. “I hope we never get there, but for sure we ain’t there yet.”
She wasn’t at all sure they wouldn’t get there eventually, and maybe soon. The city had food for a few weeks at best–Maltres was still counting and calculating exactly how long the stores would last–and the ring of black fire encircling the city suggested that Hooke’s sorcery was not finished yet.
The Imperial army was definitely getting larger. Larger, and more military-looking. The militiamen were being joined by regular soldiers, and behind the trenches, here and there, Sarah saw the noses of artillery pieces pointing at her walls.
“Chicago,” she said. “And the sisters. And I want to talk to Gazelem Zomas as soon as possible–please find him for me.”
She needed to talk with Montserrat Ferrer i Quintana, too. The pirate queen who had sneaked into the besieged city could help her to sneak out. Sarah didn’t want to flee, but she wanted to speak with her father.
She thought he might have keys to help her.
“And gather up all our gramarists. It’s time we made a decent counterattack.”