Google+ Writing Circle Project
Genre: Blackpowder Fantasy
~ The Pacification of the Ohio Continues ~
Cahokia. Good men and true in the service of HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY, THE EMPEROR THOMAS PENN, are murdered! Honest men have died with their throats cut in their sleep!! their bodies torn as if by Animals!! Insurgents ~ such as the Much Despised Ophidian Knights ~ claim that the crimes are the acts of feral Beast-Kind, who have recently been very Agitated, but loyal citizens are not fooled, & HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY is said to be sending further troops from Free Imperial Youngstown & from Pittsburgh to Reinforce the Forces of order & good administration.
Obadiah frowned, puzzled. Why was this at stake? He thought they pursued Sarah because she was some relative of Thomas Penn, and maybe intended to make a play for the throne. That was what the Blues whispered around the campfire, anyway, and it made sense of the journey so far.
Was she an Ophidian?
And what did that say about the Emperor if she was?
Obadiah’s horse clopped onto the Pike. The next Toll Gate was miles away (the Emperor’s men would be waved through, but others would be charged a toll for any traffic other than those traveling strictly on foot, and Imperial Foresters patrolling the woods and hills to either side would make evading the tolls more costly than paying them), so Obadiah had time to think.
He thought about Sarah all the time. He missed her. He thought constantly of his night on Calhoun Mountain, when he had kidnapped her and then fallen in love. He knew he had been hexed, of course, but the effects of the hex were long gone, had dissipated when Father Angleton had pressed a silver coin into his forehead that same night.
What remained, what haunted his journey along the Jackson Pike and kept him awake at night, was love. It had to be love. Obadiah’s heart was cold and rusty in love’s ways, but he knew how he had felt with her. He knew that he wanted that feeling back. He cringed inside, thinking that she must hate him, but he dared to dream that he could persuade her of his worth. And even if he couldn’t (and probably he couldn’t), now his life had meaning. For the first time in years, Obadiah cared about something beyond his simple appetites.
For the first time, really, since Peg had broken his heart.
He drank less now, limiting himself mostly to water. He ate less, too, though that was mostly a matter of his being distracted by thoughts of Sarah constantly, and not feeling able to eat. Still, he was becoming thinner. He wanted some other method of self-improvement and found he had none to hand, so he turned to his Bible.
It was an old book, and not much read. Obadiah’s father had been a Christian, one of the dwindling and secretive minority in England under the Spencers, and he had wordlessly given Obadiah the book as a gift, the day Obadiah had gone off to Woolwich. Obadiah hadn’t read it at the Academy, and hadn’t read it since, carrying it around in his personal belongings like a memento rather than a book. But Obadiah furtively read his father’s Bible now, though he found he had to separate some pages with his knife. He read in the morning, while the Blues struck camp, and in the evenings, while he stirred the pot in the cooking duty that inevitably fell to him. He tried to be discreet about his reading, but in a camp this small, others were bound to notice and talk, and they did.
Even Father Angleton had noticed, he now knew.
Obadiah read the Psalms and the Gospels, because he knew Father Angleton quoted from them a lot. He tried to read the Old Testament, too, which was much harder. Genesis was interesting, with lots of women in tents, and Obadiah lay in his own small tent, when he wasn’t in some flea-bitten ordinary’s cot, and shivered at the thoughts that came to him. Exodus was full of storm and drama, with its plagues and God appearing in the mountains, but then there were long hard stretches that Obadiah couldn’t bring himself to look at.
The part Obadiah found with astonishment and then kept coming back to was the Canticles. Her eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, he read, washed with milk, and fitly set, and he thought of Sarah.
Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me, he read, and he remembered her standing by the Charlotte Pike Gate in Nashville in her purple shawl with gold suns, looking at him with her blessed eye, challenging him to open his heart.
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?