Assateague is a long length of island that spans the coasts of both Maryland and Virginia in my reality stream, and Agus and Gallia Occidentia in Nevy’s. It’s about a foot above sea level in most places, and it’s distinguished by a herd of wild ponies inhabiting it and neighboring Chincoteague Island, to its south. In my reality stream the ponies have been running around loose since the 1600s. I didn’t know when they’d been isolated in this stream.
Nannakussi’s longhouse was on the northern edge of the island, far enough in not to get flooded at high tide, close enough for convenient fishing, crabbing, and clamming. The traditional Lenape, as opposed to the assimilated farming Lenape, ate a lot of seafood during the summer. They spent the winter hunting on the mainland, which abounded in deer and lesser edible mammals.
We were met when we landed by the sachem. He and Nannakussi shared the same title; Nannakussi was the war chief, and Okanikkon was the Elder, the wise man. He was a little taller than Nevy, with a dark, strong featured face. He reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Jim Thorpe, only older. I was six or seven inches taller than he was, but I’d not have wanted to fight him. He wore his hair in a long scalp lock, after the manner of the Lenape, adorned by porcupine quills. He had a bunch of tattoos that I couldn’t decipher.
The sachem was distressed over the loss of most of the men in his village, which had had a population of about fifty, half of them kids. Nannakussi was a loss as well, since he was now my servus. His wife and daughter were mine as well. We’d be leaving the band with a population of about thirty five, which included eight widows who’d need cared for and I’m not sure how many kids, all of them theoretically also my slaves. I manumitted them on the spot, since I had no way to care for them. That could be done, since all were widows and orphans. I had Nevy and her mother explain that once we had met with Palégos and reasoned with him Nannakussi and his family were free to return. The sachem was a sensible man; he was more of the opinion that we’d all be dead. Okanikkon wasn’t sure if he was convinced that I was a demon, at least not a big league demon like Asmodeus. I had to agree with him; I’d never claimed to be.
Nannakussi’s wife was named Winke-lìntà-mëwakàn, which meant “Happiness.” She was a placid-looking young woman, maybe twenty one, maybe five-one, if that. Her dark hair was parted in the middle and worn in a single braid. She was already getting a little broad in the hips and belly, from a high carbohydrate diet of beans, corn, and squash, which was what the Lenape mostly lived on. I’m not real big on seven syllable names, so I called her Winky. Their little girl was named Chulëntët, which meant Little Bird. She had enormous black eyes and a mischievous baby-toothed smile, at least once she was convinced I wasn’t a demon. I called her Sweetheart, because that’s what she was.
Nevy told Winky we’d be traveling light. She and her Mom and Blæda helped her get ready to travel, which consisted of giving away most of her worldly possessions, mostly to the widows and orphans we’d created. Little Bird pitched in and helped like the champ she was, giving away such toys as she owned. Generosity is an honored trait among the Lenape.
We smoked, passing the pipe among the men. Afterward we had a ceremonial meal. The whole village ate together, and we were the guests of honor. Nannakussi served me, looking dignified as he did it, and Winky served both Nevianne and Leofgif; Nevy was my woman and it was nobody’s business whether it was consummated or not. Leofgif was her mother, which gave her an extra fifty points in a matriarchal culture. Nannakussi, his face solemn, told the story of what had happened at the crossroads in service of the Wizard Palégos. The next time I heard it, I barely recognized it. I’d grown claws a foot long and I snorted fire. I was also a foot taller. Nannakussi and I had wrestled for two suns and a moon before I’d managed to overcome him. There was blood everywhere. At least that part was true, The poor guy had bled like a pig. He was starting to think that his headache was terminal.
It would do no good to tell the villagers not to pass on our plans to Palégos, since the wizard Saw All and Knew All. Besides, I was a demon, so I should be able to take care of myself. On top of which, they had no idea where we were going, only that we were.
Neither did we know where we were going.
Okanikkon said a prayer to Nanapush, not to watch over us, which he wasn’t expected to do, but to touch base. Lenape gods would punish infractions, but no one had ever heard of them actually helping someone. Nanapush was in the Lenape gods’ hierarchy about where Asmodeus was in the demon hierarchy, so I guess it was appropriate to pay our respects. Then one of the remaining men and a really strong woman in her forties rowed us across to the marshy edge of the mainland in two big fishing canoes.
That left us the entire Eastern Shore of Maryland to tromp across. The Agus capital was across South River and a little south of where Annapolis was in my reality stream, a city stretching from Selby-on-the-Bay to Beverly Beach. It wasn’t as good a harbor as Annapolis would have been, but it was good enough after about a thousand years of work, except during a bad hurricane season.
We had about 125 or 130 miles to walk, unless we could come up with something to trade for horses. Or we could steal them. I thought about that seriously. Cavalry occasionally patrolled the roads to keep people honest. Banditry wasn’t much of a problem, nor was rebellion. This end of the Empire was pretty placid. The natives were mostly integrated – they’d long since been extended Roman citizenship. The current trouble and the best legions were on the other side of the world, in Central Asia, coincidentally, on the far side of Persia. The patrols on our end were there to keep things quiet. Troops tend to relax when everything’s routine garrison duty.
There was a main road running from Apollonia Minor, which was a fishing town located about where the Ocean City municipal airport would be in my reality stream, to the west. We spent most of the day hiking there. We’d head out on the road in the morning, probably making twenty or thirty miles a day on a good day, maybe a five day tramp. We didn’t have any money among us, and such weapons as we had weren’t much.
“Two days’ march from here there is a crossroads,” Nevy told me. “We can get a wagon and a horse there.”
“How?” I asked.
“There is a crossroads,” she told me, taking me by the hand and leading me away from the others. “We are witches.”
We had too many people for a comfortable trip. My Lord Asmodeus could have left my mother, Blæda, and Nannakussi’s home folks with the Lenape. Around Lord Asmodeus, Blæda had no more of the Wit than Chulëntët. The child was good and she was uncomplaining, but she had short legs. She needed two steps for every one of mine, three for every one of Asmodeus. Mother’s concern was for my virtue, not meeting Palégos in battle; the time for that was past, the “demon” had been summoned and I was already his, and glad of it. Winky was a good companion to us all, quiet and helpful and pleasant company, but companionship was a luxury for what we set out to do.
Had it been me in command, only the three of us – Asmodeus, Nannakussi, and I – would have been on the road to Flumen Martii, the capital. It would have been faster and taken fewer resources.
We made camp for the night in an open field by a little stream just outside Apollonia Minor. We were in little patch of farm country. Nannakussi had killed two wild chickens during the day, and Winky had plucked the birds as we walked. The two men gathered wood and Sweetheart – Asmodeus called Chulëntët the same thing he called me – gathered brush as fire starter. I taught her how to start the fire while the men gathered the wood. She had the talent her mother lacked, which made the mother proud. What harm? Winky had other talents.
“We need horses,” my lord grumbled as the chickens roasted.
“You need not worry,” I told him. “Tomorrow, if it please you, we will have horses and a cart at least.”
“The baby can’t walk all that way!” Asmodeus declared.
“I’m not a baby!” Chulëntët defended.
“Thou’rt a baby!” he responded, picking her up and throwing her into the air, eliciting a shriek and a flood of giggles. Winky looked worried, afraid he wouldn’t catch the child, while Nannakussi grinned, glad his lord liked his girl. Chulëntët had taken to the new man in her life like they had always been best friends. She was already fond of roughhousing with him, and they “argued” constantly.
“Not a baby,” he agreed, hugging her and setting her down by the fire. “A princess thou art, a very princess!” She beamed at the description, looking forward to ruling us all, which she already did.
“Maybe not a princess either,” her father corrected. “Merely our treasure.”
I had to translate part of that for Lord Asmodeus. I thought he might be inclined to disagree, but he held his tongue and laughed. Some there are who will ignore the opinions of a slave, but Asmodeus had told us that in his realm there were no longer any such, which seemed odd to all of us. Men had machines and machines did the work, which allowed time for frivolity and arguments over the fribbles. One man’s opinion was as valid as another’s. I wondered again if I had accidentally called up the Lord of Liars. If one man’s opinion is as valid as another’s, what is the worth of any?
We bathed in the stream and washed our clothes, laying them out to dry overnight. Nannkussi and his family bedded together on the grass, and my lord and I and my mother slept together a little apart, with Blædswith yet a little further. I think Mother would have slept between us if she could have, but she was still wary of my chosen man.
Asmodeus wished her good night, then put an arm around me and kissed me. “Thy beard tickles,” I told him.
“It itches me,” he responded.
“Thou wast shaven when thou arrived,” I pointed out. “Thy face ist smooth always?”
“Yes. But I hate shaving,” he grumbled. “The only thing I hate more than shaving is having a beard.”
“Had my magic not fled me, I would prepare thee a poultice to stop its growth.”
“If thy magic hadn’t fled,” he agreed dryly.
“I would,” I affirmed. It was funny to me: I had summoned him by magic, and he believed not.
It was true, my magic was gone when he was close. I missed being able to do the simplest things. Yet I missed not the Power. I had studied it and used it from the time I had been not much more than Chulëntët’s age. It had been replaced by something else, perhaps just as magical.
I was nine years old when my mother first determined that I had the Sight. It was my birthday, the Calend of Iunius. I had gone to my bed early, as soon as I had done my chores after dinner. I was feeling tired and a little woozy. I can remember it like it was yesterday. As soon as I was asleep, I dreamed. I was always skinny as a child, a very stick in fact, with a mop of almost white hair. In my dream I was a woman, with a woman’s body. I wore a woman’s dress, not the short skirts of a child, though as yet no cap, meaning I was still unwed. That was the first time I saw my lord Asmodeus, merely walking beside me, three days of beard on his face. There was a sheen of sweat on his forehead, for the day was warm. On the other side of me was my mother, but old to my nine-year-old eyes. To our right were green meadows sparsely spotted with sheep. To our left, a field of corn was just starting from the ground. Over our heads a flock of passenger pigeons darkened the sky. A plucked wild chicken hung from a string at my lord’s waist.
That was all. There was no context. I knew not where I was going, nor where I had been, nor his name. Still, I could remember all, even to the loose string on Mother’s collar, blue in color, looking like a little worm that had just stopped wiggling. I knew then also that he was my man, my lord.
I had told my mother the next morning. I had been of two minds, one wanting to keep the beautiful dream, the first I had ever had like that, to myself. The second was wanting to tell her all about it, in the way children have.
“Mama,” I said finally, making a face over my breakfast beer, which I never liked, “I had the most beautiful dream last night!”
“What kind of dream?” she asked absently.
“I was walking with my husband and thee. He had a chicken tied at his belt!”
“Thy husband? Don’t tell Papa! He’ll want to look him over! What was thy husband’s name?”
“I don’t know. He was very tall, with brown hair and gray eyes. He had a beard but he scratched it and he didn’t like it. He called me ‘you’ and not ‘thee.’”
It was the detail of my description that caught her attention. She questioned me more, and then more. That day she began training me as a witch, long before I was old enough to join the Outer Circle when I was thirteen and no longer a girl.
I thought about that first dream as I lay in Asmodeus’ arms that night. That day, trudging from the coast to Apollonia Minor, had been the dream. The chicken at his belt had been our dinner. The date was the first day of June, ten years to the day from my ninth birthday.