Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 07

Witchy Kingdom – Snippet 07

“He’s not a hypocrite. And many love him.”

Chapter Two

Monsieur Bondí sang.

    L’évêque s’en va-t-en guerre

    Mironton, mironton, mirontaine
         L’évêque s’en va-t-en guerre
         Ne sait où dormira

    Ne sait où dormira

    Il dormira par terre

    Mironton, mironton, mirontaine
         Il dormira par terre

    Où dans la Pontchartrain

    Où dans la Pontchartrain

Etienne set down the hot pepper he was gnawing and laughed; to his own surprise, the song brought a lightness to his heart.

“Yes, that is the tune I heard. Poor John Churchill,” he said, “that a beggar such as I should steal his glory second hand.”

The two men sat in a dark room in the Onu Nke Ihunanya, a hotel within sight of Etienne’s casino. Only a few days earlier, the chevalier’s mamelukes had launched an attack on Etienne from this very room, with the assistance of a captive mambo.

The irony gave Etienne grim amusement, but it was the direction of the Brides that brought him here. Through slitted shutters, he and Bondí watched as those same mamelukes stood watch on the street outside the casino. They were hidden in shops and taverns, no longer dressed in their scarves and black pourpoints, but Etienne knew them by their beards and their lean, staring faces.

They watched for Etienne.

“You aren’t stealing it.” Bondí shook his head. “The people are giving it to you. And you know what they are calling the song?”

“It should be ‘L’évêque s’en va-t-en guerre,’ no?” Etienne suggested. “As the original is ‘Churchí s’en va-t-en guerre’?”

A third voice joined the conversation unexpectedly. “They call it ‘Le sou de l’évêque,'” Onyinye Diokpo said, her eyes twinkling like the eyes of a grandmother on Christmas morning. “The Bishop’s Penny. It is the penny you give them in lieu of the taxes the chevalier demands.”

“Say rather that my father gives it to them.” Suddenly, despite the fire the peppers stoke and the constant alluring susurrus of the Brides, Etienne felt exhausted. “They loved him.”

“But he is dead,” Diokpo said, “and you are fighting. He may be a saint, but only you can be a leader. Only you can wear the Big Crown–or be it.”

Etienne laughed out loud at the hotelier’s literal translation of his name. Etienne came from Greek stephanos, which was a crown; he knew no Greek, but his father, as former theology student, then as deacon, and finally as bishop, had repeatedly told him the name’s meaning, urging his son to seek Paul’s crown of rejoicing every day, and after death, Peter’s crown of glory.

It had been his mother, a mambo devotee of the loa Ezili Danto and Ezili Freda, and frequently their horse, who had never given up her faith, who had told him that the other name he had from his father, Ukwu, meant big. “Be big, Etienne,” she had whispered to him as he sat on her lap in services in which his father officiated as deacon, “be great.”

“Stephen Big.” He chuckled. “Don’t tell the Irishmen. They’ll never let me hear the end of it.”

“How long?” Onyinye asked. A member of New Orleans’s City Council, she had joined the revolt against the chevalier’s taxing authority; in response, the chevalier had ordered the council disbanded. Now Renan DuBois and Holahta Hopaii increasingly stayed away, avoiding New Orleans entirely, leaving Onyinye and Eoin Kennedie effectively as the City Council, working with Etienne clandestinely. “How long do you think the chevalier will allow the casino to continue to operate?”

Etienne shook his head. “He won’t shut it down. For the moment, he hopes to flush me from hiding. When he gives up on that, he’ll be too anxious for revenue to destroy the casino. He’ll try to take control of it instead.”

“Also,” Onyinye said by way of concurrence, “he won’t want to offend the casino’s clientele.”

Etienne ruminated on that thought.

“You’re not going to let him have that money, are you?” Bondí said.

“You could move the gaming activities into my hotels,” Diokpo suggested. “I do not fear the chevalier. My god is as great as his.”

“It is not a question of gods,” Etienne said. “The only thing that protects your wealth from the chevalier right now is that he can’t be sure which hotels belong to you. As it is, how many has he discovered and seized?”

“Too many.”

“Too many. Let us not attract attention to the others by setting up casino operations in their foyers.”

“Or, for that matter,” Onyinye said, “mass.”

“Tents and street corners will suffice for church services,” Etienne said. “But we control the rebuilding of the cathedral.”

Bondí grunted agreement. “We’ll want to make sure that whoever does the accounts of the casino reports to us.”

“A corrupt accountant,” Etienne said. “St. Bernardo de Pacioli forbid.”

Bondí chuckled. What neither of them said, because Onyinye Diokpo didn’t know it and didn’t need to know it, was that an underground passage connected the casino and the cathedral. If Etienne could control the accounting of the casino, he could easily smuggle cash out through the church.

“This is a savage game,” Onyinye said. “Who will starve to death first, the chevalier or the bishop?”

“Oh no,” Etienne corrected her, “it is considerably more savage than that. The chevalier and I each have a hand on the other’s throat and we are crushing each other’s windpipes. His hand is brutal force, exercised in the name of good order; my hand is corruption, fostered under the auspices of heaven. One of us will die of suffocation sooner or later.”

“If neither of you manages to stab the other in the belly first,” Onyinye concluded.

“And we definitely intend to stab the chevalier in the belly. I am, after all, houngan asogwe of the Société du Mars Vengeur. Vengeur, not Mars Danseur or Mars Frivole. But speaking of savage games, Onyinye . . . I have had a question about you in my mind for a few days now.”

Onyinye arched an eyebrow of acknowledgement. “Tell me.”

“Your man who died in this hotel,” Etienne said. “He had his throat slit, as if by ambush. And yet, the ambush was ours, perpetrated upon the mamelukes?”

“Are you asking whether I killed my own cousin?” Onyinye smiled.

“Yes.”

“In that case, I have a question for you, Stephen Big.”

Etienne nodded his consent.

“The Synod appointed you bishop very quickly upon your father’s death. And I have heard it said that they were doing your bidding.”

“Are you asking whether I was seeking the office while my father was still alive?” Etienne asked.

“Yes.”

Etienne smiled. He didn’t want to explain that his mother, his gede loa, had urged him to do it even while his father was alive. He didn’t want to reveal his connection with her, or with the Brides, unless necessary.

So instead, he laughed. Onyinye laughed with him.

“So we both have questions,” Etienne said. “How goes your work with the pawnbrokers, Monsieur Bondí?”

“It goes,” he said. “We must choose our candidates carefully.”

“But you have good prospects?” Etienne asked.

“I like a certain Frenchman. And I think there’s a Jamaican who might do. He certainly has the enthusiasm for the job. It’s still far too early to tell.”

Etienne nodded. “The pious, I think, are with me.” He felt the Brides stirring within him. “Ironically. They are for me because they were for my father. I should like to have more of the wealthy on my side.”

“Perhaps you should think about establishing another casino, then,” Bondí suggested. “We could keep it secret. Or we could put it in a tent, as well. Or outside the city, on a boat.”

“I think you had it right the first time,” Etienne said. “I think it’s time for me to think about who is sleeping in the Pontchartrain.”

#

“Party from Philadelphia for you,” Schäfer said. He was a good agent, a Youngstown German with a keen eye for quality in beaver pelts. Behind him in the open tent door stood Dadgayadoh, a Haudenosaunee tracker who wore a red blanket over his shoulders and a silk top hat on his head. Notwithstanding Schmidt trusted these men more than she trusted the militia under her command; they were Company men, and had been with her for years.

They’d been with her longer than Luman Walters, the magician she had briefly made her aide-de-magie, before the combination of his impatience and her desire for a stronger wizard had driven him away. She had got her stronger magician, in the form of the walking corpse Robert Hooke.

Whom she trusted least of all.

“Courier?” She set aside her quill pen and carefully placing her hands to either side of the book of accounts, so as not to smudge the ink.

Dadgayadoh shook his head. “Hotgö’.”

“Wizards,” Schäfer added, rather more helpfully.

“Earlier than I expected.” Schmidt stood and strode from her tent.

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