Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 42

Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 42

A hard, rapid knock came at a door. What door was that? Nathaniel thought it was in the inn. “Wie schreeuwt daar?” yelled a voice on the other side of that door. “Is alles goed?”

Another door opened. Did the room in the Benedito de Espinosa have two doors? No, this was a door in the cellar of the white farmhouse. It opened, and through it charged the three card-playing men. One Ear rushed in first and tried to grab Margaret.

She rose swinging a fist. Her punch connected, her fist sinking deep into One Ear’s gut. He made a sound like a bellows squeezing out all its air in a single forced push and sank to the ground, blood pouring from his lips.

The other two men shouted incoherently. Margaret calmly picked up One Ear by the belt and tossed him. He whirled end over end, striking both the ceiling and the floor as he went, and plowed through both other men, knocking them down.

~The amulet!~ Jake shouted.

A fog began to creep over Nathaniel’s vision, obscuring all three spaces at the same time.

When the two conscious smugglers stood, they were armed. Burn Hands had a truncheon and Droop Nose a knife, and they came at Margaret swinging.

But she had armed herself, too. She held the wizard by both ankles and she swung him around overhead like a lariat. The mage’s skull and Droop Nose’s connected with a loud crack and she dropped the wizard.

Nathaniel’s vision was almost totally fogged over.

He heard the thudding sounds of someone trying to break into the bedroom at the inn.

Burn Hands swung his truncheon downward at Margaret’s head–

she caught it with one hand.

“Kanker!” Burn Hand shouted.

With her other hand. Margaret casually punched him in the nose, knocking him unconscious.

~The amulet!~ Jake shouted again.

~The amulet!~ spirit Margaret also shouted.

Flesh and blood Margaret gripped the amulet around her neck with one hand and ripped it from her body. Smashing the lump on the floor, she stamped it under her heel and ground it flat.

The amulet in Nathaniel’s grip disappeared, the fog lifted in an instant, and he could move.

The cellar and the inn room were beginning to fade.

~Where do I find you?~ spirit Margaret asked, stepping backward toward her flesh and blood self.

~Get out of the house!~ Jake shouted. ~There’s a barn by the west fields. Hide there, we’ll come within the hour!~

Spirit Margaret and flesh and blood Margaret fused, and flesh and blood Margaret raced out through the cellar door just as the cellar and the inn both faded from view.

~We’re about to have visitors,~ Jake said.

Nathaniel pulled the Dutchman up onto his horse and turned to race back the way they’d come. In quick bounds, his drum-horse covered the long grass of the curling valley and descended the seven steps into the Benedito de Espinosa. Jake fell into his cross-legged body, Nathaniel melded into the shadowy form of his bear-self Makwa, and the horse became the drum across Nathaniel’s lap.

The door caved in. A heavy Dutchman in a greasy apron charged through, caught his balance, and then began yelling at Jake.

Jake yelled back, all in Dutch.

Nathaniel considered jumping out the window. Instead he stood, slung his drum carefully over his shoulder, and walked out the door.

So much for secrecy and spycraft.

He heard the metallic jingle of coins behind him, and then Jake caught up.

They exited the common room into the streets of Haarlem. “Well, people are going to talk about this. You’re going to be so famous in Haarlem, you’ll become a folktale.”

“The innkeeper thought we were trying to steal from him?”

“Yes, he charges by the person, not by the room. Also, he thought we were lovers.”

“What?”

“Apparently, we were screaming. And he said he doesn’t mind that kind of thing, but we ought to keep it quiet and if there are two of us, we both have to pay.”

“That sounds like he really does mind.”

“Or he was happy to have found opportunity to make a little more money.”

“I heard coins,” Nathaniel said. “Did you pay him? Even though we’re leaving?”

Jake shrugged. “I thought it was better to pay him than risk having a jager sent after us.”

“What’s a jager?”

“A hunter. You know, someone who tracks down fugitives for money?”

“A bounty hunter.” Nathaniel stopped in the middle of the frozen street and pointed at an orange light north of the village. “What’s that?”

Jake looked, and then laughed. “We’d better hurry up and get there before anyone else does. Your sister lit the farmhouse on fire.”

Chapter Ten

“I shall not visit thee in hell, Ophidian.”

Ezekiel Angleton, that was his name.

He had to remind himself from time to time, when the winter’s chill drove the name from his head.

Winter didn’t trouble his body at all. His new body, he reminded himself. His resurrected body. Like Elijah of old, Ezekiel had been taken into heaven and transformed without the necessity of death first.

His nails had grown black. His pale complexion, easily burned by the sun, had turned an impervious gray. His breath had grown sweet with the flesh of men.

This is my body which is given for you, the Lord had said.

Not Ezekiel’s Lord, but his predecessor.

He had eaten men first, because men had attacked him. But he had learned that women and children were sweeter.

I am the resurrection, and the life.

Winter didn’t trouble his reborn flesh, but it dulled his mind. It caused him to forget his name sometimes, and much worse, to forget Lucy.

Lucy. He must share this gift with her.

This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

After being repulsed by the Earl of Johnsland, with his ferocious fire and his mounted men, Ezekiel had taken refuge in the hills. He had grieved his failure for several days in a crack in the earth, until hunger had finally driven him to move.

He had eaten, taking a child from outside a chapel. The boy was peeping in through a frost-glazed window during service, obviously disobeying his parents. Naughty child. Ezekiel had enjoyed the sense of being the instrument of justice that came when he broke the boy’s neck, dragged him behind the hill, and devoured his flesh.

Men with torches had pursued him deeper into the hills, but Ezekiel didn’t sleep and didn’t tire, and in the face of a north wind-riding blizzard, the posse comitatus had given up.

Ezekiel had turned into the teeth of the storm. Sometimes, he thought he was going home to Lucy. He knew where she was buried. He knew he could raise her from her grave, he believed his Lord would give her a perfected body like his own.

He had followed his coat to Johnsland, but there the coat had been destroyed.

Robert Hooke had once worn the coat, but Ezekiel realized that it must have had an earlier owner. The coat pulled him in the direction of the children of Kyres Elytharias, which must mean that it had once belonged to the Lion of Missouri. Had he lost it to enemies in the Spanish War? Had it been taken from the scene of his murder by Daniel Berkeley or Bayard Prideux, his murderers?

Somehow, in any case, it had come into the possession of the Lord Protector, who had given it to his servant Robert Hooke.

And then to his servant Ezekiel Angleton.

But now it was gone.

Ezekiel turned to old magic. The skills he had learned at Harvard seemed dry and dusty to him, but they worked. He stole a small glass bottle from a farmhouse window and filled it with spring water. He had once carried quicksilver on his person, but that had disappeared somewhere along the way. Carefully, he had scraped the packed grime from beneath three long nails of one of his hands.

That grime contained the flesh and blood of Nathaniel Elytharias, and he had formed it into a ball, compacting it with his gray fingers and his tongue and forcing it with his mind into a tight, solid object, the size and shape of a pea, but black, and with the sweet odor of decay.

He dropped the ball into the bottle, then spoke a short incantation over it: ani mechapes yeled. He stoppered the bottle and held it up to examine: the ball inside swam steadily to one end of the container, pointing north.

He was his Lord’s servant. He would be his Lord’s best servant, the one who killed the Elytharias children and ended the menace they represented.

There had been another. He had served another.

Thomas, that was the name. Thomas Penn.

He still served Thomas Penn, but Penn also served the Lord Protector. And he would be the Lord Protector’s greatest servant.

Ezekiel. Ezekiel Angleton, that was his name.

His tongue fell out. He found he didn’t miss it.

He’d wrapped his face in a long scarf and pulled the brim of his tall hat down to cross the Hudson River on a ferry loaded with Pennsland coal. He’d stalked across the island of Manhattan with his eyes fixed north and east, imagining the country churchyard in the Covenant Tract where his dead love lay.

What was her name?

Lucy. And he was Ezekiel.

He would raise her to eternal life. But first, he must kill the Unsouled.

How would their flesh taste?

Approaching a village on the east side of the island after dark, the coat directed him to turn off the road. Ezekiel was stomping across snow-buried furrows when a house a few miles ahead of him burst into flame.

He hesitated, thinking of a burning tobacco barn in Johnsland where he’d failed to do his Lord’s bidding, where he’d been rebuffed by mounted Johnslanders, Sarah Elytharias’s Dutch servant, and an Indian wrestler.

He wouldn’t be rebuffed again.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.

He broke into a run.

#

Sarah gazed from the height of the Treewall at the ring of black fire. Had it advanced closer?

No, she could still see the crosses that gave it its shape. But neither had the fire retreated or faded, and her people would run out of food in two weeks’ time if she did nothing.

The riders were prepared, messengers to race north, south, and east, through the city’s Talligewi, Zomas, Mississippi, and Onandagos gates. Many of them were Alzbieta’s former servants, who had learned a little horsemanship under William Lee–they would ride to call on friendly powers to come to her aid. At the risk of humiliation to herself and her people, Sarah had insisted on not limiting herself to known and traditional allies. Messengers were ready for Chicago, for Calhoun Mountain, for Memphis, for the Igbo Cities, for Chicago, and for Johnsland–multiple messengers with multiple copies of the same message, in case some were struck down as they tried to escape.

Some would inevitably be struck down.

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