Witchy Winter – Snippet 04
Lightning across the sea flashed in the chevalier’s eyes. “But fortunately, you’re not a common criminal. You are Montserrat Ferrer i Quintana, captain of La Verge Caníbal.”
“Eh.” Montse shrugged.
“Once companion and friend of Hannah Penn.”
“That was a long time ago,” Montse said. “I didn’t very much improve the Empress’s reputation by hanging about in her company. And if you’re hoping I can win you some favor at the court in Philadelphia, then I think you misunderstand the relationship between Thomas and Hannah.”
The Spaniard on the floor cackled, but the chevalier was untroubled.
“No, I’ll send you to an entirely different court. I assume you know that Margarida, your niece, wasn’t an only child.”
“She’s a triplet, one of three children born living at the same time.”
The chevalier knew. What was this conspiracy whose agents he had unmasked?
And how much did he know?
“Tell me what you’d like me to do.”
“Margarida’s sister, who speaks with an Appalachee accent as thickly as Margarida does with her accent català, is currently making a bid to regain their father’s throne in Cahokia. You’ll be my ambassador to her court.”
Montse took a deep breath. “You have many servants already, My Lord Chevalier. Why not send one of them?”
The chevalier smiled faintly. “I think she’ll take the message more seriously if it comes from you.”
“And what missive am I to bear to this Appalachee Cahokian Penn?”
The Chevalier of New Orleans smiled. “A simple one. That you’re the embassy I promised to send her, and that my wedding gift to her will be her sister’s life.”
The turnout for the vigil the night before had been impressive, but the crowd that came to participate in the funeral liturgy of their beloved Bishop of New Orleans was staggering. It flowed out all the doors and halfway across the Place d’Armes. Armand had told Etienne an hour before he began the ceremony that the dueling ground behind the cathedral was also full. Etienne had quickly posted men at each cathedral door, choosing those he knew to have large lungs and voices that carried.
A man who could bellow across the crowded floor of the casino on Saturday night and make himself heard was a man who could pass on the words spoken, sung, and prayed inside the cathedral on Sunday morning.
These were not, by and large, the same people who had participated in the funeral procession Etienne had led earlier through the Vieux Carré and the Faubourg Marigny. These were churchgoers, the pious, and the citizenry of New Orleans too respectable to participate in a Vodun parade.
Etienne felt the power of the crowd in the air as he welcomed them from the pulpit. He felt it in his bones, like electricity, when he took his father’s aspergillum and used it to sprinkle holy water on the coffin containing nothing to do with his father, and instead an effigy of his father’s murderer. The aspergillum was a short rod with a perforated ball on its end, and he imagined it as a mace, crushing the chevalier’s skull as he repeatedly struck it. This mental act was no idle fantasy, but part of the magical assault he was building. Etienne spoke such words of love and welcome as “I am the resurrection, and the life” and “blessed are they that mourn,” and in his heart he gave free reign to hatred.
In his heart: vengeance is mine.
He felt the energy of the crowd during the Penitential Act, as they cried repeatedly for mercy. He had adjusted his houngan’s sash to fit over the bishop’s priestly vestments, wearing it now from right shoulder to left hip. The power that came to him through the crowd caught in the sash and spun around him, filling him, burning him, warding him, expanding him to gigantic stature.
The energy swelled nearly to the point of exploding when he led them in the Kyrie Eleison chant. The crowd must have felt it as well, and it distracted them from noticing that Etienne changed the words after the first iteration from kyrie eleison — Lord, have mercy — to kyrie kteinon — Lord, kill.
His gede loa had helped him with that; he was no Greek scholar, but apparently there were many Greek among the dead willing to help him in his quest for vengeance.
For the chant, Etienne held a wafer of the host, consecrated in a previous ceremony, in his mouth. It was an old houngan’s trick to channel stolen powers of heaven into your magical deed, and it was a good one. He also held his mother’s locket concealed in the palm of his left hand the entire time. Of that, neither his father nor even his judgment-prone brother Chigozie could disapprove.
He led the congregation in singing the ninety-fourth Psalm.
Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless
But the Lord is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge
And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity
And shall cut them off in their own wickedness
Yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off
It was not the entire psalm, but Etienne’s own selection of the psalm’s words. A hired quartet of Igbo musicians had written an appropriately dirge-like melody for the words, and the quartet’s singer and bandleader lead the congregation.
Etienne preached his sermon on Genesis thirty-four. He kept it short and focused on the need for active response to acts of great evil. If anyone noticed that he failed to condemn Simeon and Levi for murdering the Shechemites who had raped their sister, or for abusing the rite of circumcision by using it to render the Shechemites vulnerable, they kept it to themselves.
If any gods objected, they didn’t make their concerns known, either.
He shuddered with the power of the rite.
For the closing doxology, Etienne offered the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew six, again with a slight amendment of his own. “Forgive us our debts,” he cried, and then lowered his voice to mutter, “as we pursue our debtors.”
The crowd duly asked for forgiveness.
The energy that had been building for the entire rite in Etienne and his vestments flowed through him and was gone.
Into the coffin? Into the Chevalier of New Orleans?
Was it done? Was the man now dead, or would Etienne’s spell require time to play itself out?
Exhausted, Etienne leaned on the altar for support.
Throughout, Etienne’s men stationed in the doorways did their best, calling out what they could hear to the multitudes outside, or describing what they were witnessing. No one objected at any point; they were not pious enough to know the proper rite, or not focused enough to notice Etienne’s alterations. They were too grief-stricken still at the loss of their humble bishop to cavil if one of the funeral liturgy’s ushers reordered a few words here and there or identified the Kyrie as “Carry Me, Elation.”
And how did they feel about the bishop’s replacement?
At the very least, for a debut appearance as a Christian cleric, Etienne had brought in a large crowd.
“Now let us give the kiss of peace.” Etienne straightened up and steadied himself with a deep breath. His Brides, awoken and aroused by the rite and participating in it with all the concentrated venom of their will, wanted kisses. He kissed the deacons and old Père Tréville from the Faubourg Marigny, who had helped Etienne organize the funeral rite in innocent ignorance of Etienne’s true intent, but these did not satiate the Brides.
He descended through the rood screen to kiss parishioners.
Etienne did not intend to seek specifically female mass-goers, but the Brides drove him to them. Or perhaps the Brides drove the women to their houngan husband by the maryaj-loa, but Etienne found himself kissing one woman after another. They were Igbo, Bantu, Catalan, German, Spaniards, Cavaliers, Cherokee — all the many-colored races of New Orleans, but especially French.