Historical fiction novel, by Dimitris Apergis. Exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS in 36 weekly episodes, in English and Greek languages.
Synopsis: London, 1824. The boss of London's Crime Syndicate, Wilbur Barnaby, assigns two men to travel to the -rebelling against the Turks- country of Greece and locate the poet Lord Byron in order to obtain a gambling debt of his to the underworld. One of the two men is Welsh Bugs Hamhaduke, the so-called "neckwringer." The other is the enigmatic Lord Greywood. The two men will embark on an adventurous journey to the Greek city of Missolonghi via Paris. None of those involved, however, is aware of Lord Greywood's terrible secret: That he actually belongs to the Order of Strigoi Morti, the oldest and most dangerous generation of vampires.
ISBN : 978-618-00-1549-2
PRELUDE : Guilá Naquitz (1 chapter)
PART ONE : London (4 chapters)
PART TWO : Paris (10 chapters)
PART THREE : Vampires (10 chapters)
PART FOUR : Missolonghi (10 chapters)
EPILOGUE : Los Angeles (1 chapter)
[ep. 17 of 36]
There came the time when the hours of the day had passed and the sun was setting, ceding the sky to the dark of night. As they woke up, the two men spent several hours at the Montmartre Abbey, silent, each with his own occupation. The Lord had procured La Gazette 's newspaper and leafed through it under the light of the oil lamp. Hamhaduke, on the other hand, had focused his eyes on the flame of the lamp and observed its trembling movements that resembled the swaying of a flexible woman. As the dark forces of the vampire were still affecting his body by mutating those cells that remained insusceptible to their fermentations, Hamhaduke was plagued by such illusions that tended to enervate him to a critical degree.
"Bugs, can you do me a favour and take your eyes off the damn flame of the lamp?"
"Why Lord? Am I bothering anyone?"
"Well, you are not bothering anyone directly. It's just that your eyes are so goggled that they are ready to come off your head and fall onto the floor. Besides, this stupor is not good for you and I want your mind clear for tonight."
Hearing the Lord's advice, Hamhaduke acted accordingly and turned his gaze away from the lamp. But it was impossible for him to abate his curiosity about the illusions produced by the flame, and for this reason his eyes did not cease to look askance at the spellbinding swaying. This, of course, did not escape the Lord's attention, but he did not bother to make a new exhortation to Hamhaduke. He anyway had more interesting issues to deal with, and in particular that article in La Gazette's front page which he had skipped over due to hastiness of the newspaper's first reading. The article was titled DEATH TO THE SIX STUDENT HOOLIGANS.
The six arrested students of the University of Paris School of Letters have been found guilty by the Palais de la Cité Court of Justice of creating a subversive organisation and inciting a revolutionary movement against the King. The six students-disturbers were arrested last Friday by the National Guard for illegally occupying an abandoned building on Rue de Penthievre in which they printed incitive manifestos for the King's overthrow. During the preceding clash, a National Guard soldier was severely wounded on the head by a brick that was thrown by one of the students. The Court, after rejecting all of the defendants' mitigating circumstances, sentenced the six students to death by beheading. Their execution will be carried out tomorrow, Monday, at 12.30 pm. at the Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine has already been installed. The Minister of the Interior, Comte de Corbière, was pleased with the ruling of the Court of Justice, stressing that such anarchic actions against the legitimate administration of France will be stricken in the future in the strictest way. The Minister also stressed that any protests by the student community against the ruling of the Court will be ruthlessly abolished in the name of the King. The convicted students will be transferred tonight from the Château de Dourdan prison where they are held to the Conciergerie prison in Paris where they will remain until their sentence is served. The transfer will be carried out under the escort of ten men of the National Guard.
Reading the article, Lord recalled the arrest of the six young students of which he himself was an eyewitness. And of course, given the Lord's sensitivity to issues related to youthful impulsivity (which in turn was related to the recklessness of youth's hormones), it would be ridiculous for anyone to speculate that the Lord would let the matter proceed in this way without his own intervention. The Lord regarded the death sentence of the court as an inelegant and spasmodic reaction of the nobility against the masses of common people and he certainly did not intend to allow the six students to be executed. But for the venture he had now drafted offhand in his mind, he was planning to enlist the help of Hamhaduke. And for this reason, he had to present him with some inducement in order to raise his enthusiasm.
"Bugs, have you ever heard of Spring-heeled Jack?"
"But of course I know about Spring-heeled Jack! Everybody knows about Spring-heeled Jack!"
The urban legend of Spring-heeled Jack was born in the early 19th century in the London territory. Testimonies of people claiming to have seen Spring-heeled Jack in person described a man dressed in a black oilskin outfit, with a black helmet on his head and a long black cape. This man - according to the testimonies - was tall, with a devilish physique, had eyes that resembled red fireballs and could make impressive leaps from rooftop to rooftop (usually sounding a sharp, high pitched giggle). Others also claimed that Spring-heeled Jack was breathing blue and white flames from his mouth and that he was wearing crooked metal claws on his fingertips.
Aware of the legend of Spring-heeled Jack, Lord Greywood initially assumed that it might have been some warm-blooded vampire who wanted to revel in terrorising the world and posing himself as a version of a masked avenger. But upon analysing the antics of this legendary figure - which consisted only of minor house burglaries and insignificant sexual attacks on young girls - Lord Greywood concluded that Spring-heeled Jack was probably some silly person whose feats gained gigantic proportions due to the seething imagination of London's public opinion.
"Bugs, what would you say if I asked you to imagine yourself as a Spring-heeled Jack for tonight? As a masked vigilante fighting for justice. A hero with supernatural qualities who defends the weak, who ruthlessly combats injustice and who always keeps his identity secret."
"Hmm, sounds interesting ... And what exactly do I have to do, Lord?"
"You're going to save six young students from being executed on the guillotine. Tonight they will be transported by paddy wagon through the Boulogne Forest to the Conciergerie prison accompanied by ten men of the National Guard. So what you will do - assisted by me who'll act as your sidekick - is to seize the possession of the wagon and free them. How do you like this idea?"
"Hmm, I don't know Lord. The truth is, I always wanted to see a man being executed on a guillotine. I have never seen a man's beheading before, and since I was of a very young age I was curious to watch such an execution. You know, they say that after the beheading, the head goes on living on its own for a few minutes. So I wanted to find out if this is true."
"Bugs, could you lock your morbid roots into a time-closet and throw the key away? Do you find it so difficult to look at things all around you with a bit of romance and imagination? I offer you the opportunity to get out of yourself tonight and become someone else - a legend! Can't you see the sweet adventure in such an excursion? Don't forget that you might -and I say might- have the chance to taste human blood in this occasion."
"Human blood? Did you just say human blood?"
"Yes, human blood. Provided, of course, that the men of the National Guard will vigorously resist our purpose and refuse to voluntarily give us the possession of the wagon."
"All right, Lord. You finally convinced me. Your proposal sounds very exciting. But there are some things that puzzle me in this case and which I can't understand. And I would like you to solve these queries for me."
"Speak freely, Bugs. What are the things you do not understand?"
"First of all, I don't understand why you want to save these six students. I am well aware that your motive in this case is not human blood, I am smart enough to realise this. So tell me, Lord. Why do you want to save these students from the guillotine?"
"Because they are young and have not yet lived life to its fullest. The guillotine is much too unjust a punishment in their case. In addition, I suspect that if these students were of the aristocratic class, they would not have received a conviction of this sort."
"And what of it? You want to save them because they are poor? You're bothered by the rich? Have you taken on crusader duties against plutocracy?"
"No, Bugs. There is no class nuance in this move of mine. I just want to save them because they are young."
"Yes, but why? Do you know these six students?"
"No, I don't know them personally, if that's what you're asking me."
"Then why save them, Lord? What are the benefits of doing this? Do you just want to do good?"
"I am simply bound by the necessary, universal and unempirical law of free will. And since benevolence always marks one of the highest assets of free will, I always strive to do something which I consider moral in order to obtain the greatest pleasures of my freedom. I enjoy nothing more than the enjoyment of observing the beautiful autonomy of a good deed that's being done solely to be done. The moral act is good in itself. Have you ever heard of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant?"
"No, I haven't heard of him."
"According to Immanuel Kant, the only independent good is good will, regardless of its end results. Even if it should happen that, owing to special disfavour of fortune, or the niggardly provision of a step-motherly nature, this will should wholly lack power to accomplish its purpose, if with its greatest efforts it should yet achieve nothing, and there should remain only the good will... then, like a jewel, it would still shine by its own light, as a thing which has its whole value in itself. I've been in this world for six centuries, Bugs. And I inform you - in case you don't already know - that the desire to do good was the last thought I had in mind when I became a vampire. Goodwill is the flower that sprouts up in the dung of dead-end reflections and conflicting conclusions. And as that blossom once opens its petals and proves its beauty all over creation, no reflection and no conclusion is of particular importance before its sight. I follow the dictates of my good will - that which derives from my unequivocal duty towards morality - to make my time in the world as pleasant as possible. Beyond that, I am much too lacking in spirit to offer a more reasoned explanation."
“Morality, eh? And why should you have the privilege of judging what is moral and what is not, Lord? Why should I follow your own moral judgement and not the moral judgement of the court that sentenced the six students?"
"That's a truly excellent question, Bugs. My congratulations. When a case - like that of the six students - comes across in my mind as morally inadequate to a glaring degree, I resort to the codes of common sense in order to trace exactly what is that which is disturbing my aesthetics. By common sense, of course, I mean my own understanding of common sense since common sense becomes the property of everyone, and therefore it ends up being anything but common. Common sense is not so common as Voltaire would put it. Therefore once I resort to common sense and identify the cause of the disturbance of my aesthetics, I allow my instinct to manifest itself accordingly and gallop unbridled to the fulfilment of a sweet deal with that malignant cause. This does not necessarily mean that I shall assume action at all costs. It is quite possible that I may remain inert if I adjudge that this serves the situation better. However, whatever the case may be - I assure you - I always maintain a fair attitude in the situations arising. Did I answer your question?"
"Hmm, not exactly Lord. But - to be honest - I didn't expect to get a reply that would satisfy me completely."
"You might be a little prejudiced against me, Bugs. This may be the reason why you'll probably never find any of my answers perfectly satisfactory. Maybe that is also the reason why you have already stopped calling me master and instead you address me as Lord like before."
"But ... Lord ... I ... that is ... not ..."
"Never mind, Bugs. I'm not holding any grudges against you. I was absolutely convinced that you would partially dispute me at some point during our course together. I understand your nature, Bugs, and your nature is governed by the intrinsic characteristic of questioning the authority. This is not necessarily bad, we can exploit this appropriately in order to reap its benefits. Just be careful not to be misled and become too a malignant cause of disturbance to my aesthetics, Bugs. Because in such a case I'm not going to respond with philosophical quotes about morality and good will."
"I'll keep that in mind, Lord."
"That you should do. Is there anything else that concerns you?"
"Yes. Where shall we find masks for our faces?"
"Oh don't worry, Bugs. I have thought ahead of this. You just make sure you get into your role. Would it help if I called you Spring-heeled Jack for tonight? Or do you just prefer Jack?"
It wasn't long before the two men found themselves in the Paris Odéon that operated as a theatre except for Sunday nights - such as tonight - where it hosted the famous masked balls of the period. Arriving at Odéon, the two men walked through the imposing ivory ten-columned portico and then entered the semicircular lintel. There they were taken over by the moustached host with the blue coat of the long tail and the beige collar around the ten-centimetre lapels. The host provided the two men with black masks that only covered their eyes and which bore a thin cord that was to be put around their heads to stand on their faces.
As soon as they wore the masks and paid the entrance fee, the two men entered the large hall where the masquerade dance was taking place. The orchestra of the cellos stood on the elevated stage, and from the ceiling hung the gilded chandelier that glowed in its entirety from its two hundred lit spermacetis. The walls of the hall were adorned with three-candled sconces and the floor was lined with a burgundy carpet that absorbed the sound of footsteps. Oblong urns with deep-green ferns were placed on the floor, here and there.
The hall was packed by the wealthy class of French, so to speak, given the cost of the entrance fee and the quality of their clothes, tailcoated men in black masks that covered solely their eyes, women in revealing evening gowns and gold-decorated Venetian masks of Commedia dell ' arte. Among them buzzed the voluptuous waitresses, disguised as pierrots, offering sparkling champagne to the public.
As expected, that characteristic of the hall that first impressed the two men was the variety of fragrances that dominated the atmosphere and which struck the nostrils with the intoxicating odours of lavender, myrtle, jasmine, rose, orange blossom, and wild mimosa. That was undoubtedly the "perfume era" in Paris, the time when perfumers from Grasse in southern France - the world's capital of perfume - were experiencing a flourishing of their craft since the Parisians had incorporated the use of cologne into their daily routine as a compulsory and inextricable habit.
The two men stayed in the Odéon for about an hour. They would probably have stayed less had the Lord not struck up his conversation about art with that French aristocrat. It all started when, amidst the orchestral music and the occasional waltzes and the unfettered giggles, the Lord discerned the aforementioned aristocrat talking to three very attractive ladies. As the subject of their discussion concerned the art movement of Romanticism, and given the persistent (and sufficiently irritating) refusal of that aristocrat to accept Romanticism as a valid way of artistic expression, the Lord intervened in the discussion of the masked company in order to offer his own (defensive) view.
"May God protect us in the future from such artistic movements which are mere temporary deviations from the rules of classical form. Don't be fooled, my dears. Romanticism is merely the shameless pretence of a few maladjusted who disclaim every achievement of the Industrial Revolution and of technological progress in general. So, we finally conclude with the well-known and so discussed principle of l'art pour l'art ... Art for Art's sake." said the aristocrat to the three ladies.
"So? What's wrong with that?” the Lord entered the debate.
"Oh nothing, my dear fellow. I just happen to belong to those who adhere to the doctrine of l 'art pour le génie. Art for the sake of intellect. Isn't that the ultimate goal of a work of art? Isn't a work of art supposed to touch the utter intellect completely free of the artist's human imperfections?” replied the aristocrat.
"Yes, perhaps. I cannot see however where you base your dismissive stance on in regards to Romanticism." said Lord Greywood.
"But it is obvious that we are dealing with a regressive artistic movement that expresses nothing but the existential anguish of man in a world that is constantly changing as the laws of evolution dictate. Meaning, it is the glorification of the usual depressive ebullitions of the so-called true artists, those who find solace in the traditional myths of the past and who are happy to be solitary in nature, far from the acculturation of the big cities. In other words, the artist is not an artist unless he is permanently melancholic. I would not be surprised if Romanticism in the future hatched another unworthy art movement that would completely renounce the standards of Classicism and have as its sole purpose the expressing of dissatisfaction on behalf of the artist towards everything representative of modern times. On this theoretical basis, I can already imagine a future painting depicting a rudimentary face before some obscure background. I can also imagine the face having its mouth wide open as if to form a scream of horror. Oh wait, I can even imagine the title of the painting. The Scream! ... Oh mon Dieu! How does that sound to you? I'm asking because to me it sounds like the epitome of banal!" said the aristocrat.
"Allow me to point out, monsieur - taking into account what you've said so far - that your point of disagreement with Romanticism does not concern its range of subject matters which you very epigrammatically appended with traditional myths and nature worship. It does not even concern its basic principle, that is, the principle that defines the expression of the most intense and pure emotions without the determinism of a rationalist structure. The element of Romanticism which you accuse with such animosity relates mainly to the aesthetic it embodies. If in this company of ours was the deceased Immanuel Kant - and please do not be offended by the quip - he would be overwhelmed by your animosity against the melancholic romanticism and would place you in the category of people with a choleric predisposition in their psyche. Your animosity hereto is not only confined to your absolute refusal to accept any subjective perception of beauty or grandeur in Romanticism, but it also extends to your inability to convince your milieu to take up the arms and pursue any artist declaring himself a romantic."said Lord Greywood.
"Allow me then to point out, monsieur, that if Immanuel Kant was in our company tonight, he would probably applaud the enormity of my stubbornness with a warm kiss on my hand and he'd whisper in my ear his favourite Latin motto Sapere aude ! (= dare to be wise!) endorsing my courage to use my own critical thought against the commanding designations of my time. In regards to my animosity now, I must inform you that I am not the only one exercising harsh criticism on Romanticism since the Académie Française itself recently issued a decree condemning Romanticism in literature. I doubt, of course, whether this decree will be taken seriously, but it is indicative that no respected academic or genuine expert of letters would ever recognise in Romanticism the prestige attributed to it by the representatives of subculture." said the aristocrat.
"I am astonished, monsieur, by the arrogant way in which you ask me to so easily dismiss Chateaubriand's prose or the poetry of Wordsworth and Byron simply because a handful of scholars refuse to include their works in the fields of literature. Given your self-evident engagement with the arts, I would expect at least some undebatable argument on your part" said Lord Greywood.
"O monsieur, what is the point of arguments in a debate whose stake is the difference of aesthetic taste? Alas, they are far superior to us those powers that determine in our mind what is elegant and what is not. As William Wordsworth, whom you've just mentioned, would say, “Nor less I deem that there are Powers / Which of themselves our minds impress; / That we can feed this mind of ours / In a wise passiveness.Therefore, our debate hereto - in spite of its eloquent flow - is doomed to arrive at the same disagreement from which it began. But please monsieur, give me a name which I can address you with because with so many monsieurs our conversation tends to touch now the boundaries of parody." said the aristocrat.
"It would be a bit of an oxymoron to reveal my identity whilst wearing a mask on my face," said Lord Greywood, making the three ladies of the group laugh at the comment. "For the sake of our discussion, however, you may call me Julius."
"Since you introduce yourself as Julius, let me introduce myself as Augustus. I could never talk about the arts with a Caesar whilst holding a lower office myself." said the aristocrat, and the three ladies laughed once again.
Hearing this peculiar debate between the two men for so long, Hamhaduke concluded that he had no place between them since he was not in the least interested in the topic of their discussion. Catching with his eye that juicy waitress who was moving salaciously all around him in order to attract his attention, Hamhaduke let Julius and Augustus cross their swords about art and proceeded to flirt with her in fluent french. Lord Greywood made a mental note of the event before focusing again on his discussion with the aristocrat. Behind his interlocutor's black mask, the Lord noticed an erudite and restless mind that was nevertheless tragically imprisoned in its well-established prejudices.
"Dear Augustus, I suppose your derogatory judgement about Romanticism also applies to painting? I imagine that paintings like Delacroix's The Barque of Dante or The Raft of the Medusa by Géricault didn't cause any excitement in you?”
"Dear Julius, you've just made an unfortunate reference to two paintings that stand out as the most blatant proofs of Romantic hypocrisy. Highly pretentious works, that invest shamelessly in the value of facile sensationalism, and have as sole reason of their existence the causing of dissension in public opinion so that they'll avoid their self-explanatory classification to the class of mediocrity."
"Have you been fortunate enough to study these paintings closely?"
"I studied them by as close as you are to me now."
"And didn't you notice the stormy temperament in their style? Not even a hint of passion?"
"But of course I could see the passion! I perceived the artist's passion to reflect this passion unaltered on the canvas without the slightest dose of moderation or self-criticism. I saw the painter's narcissistic desire to glorify himself in the most flamboyant way, a narcissistic desire so frosty in its texture that one would instantly think that stalactites are ready to form on the frame's extent."
"And what about the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Friedrich? Don't tell me you didn't feel some awe upon watching this painting."
"It is a tragically anachronistic attempt of pictorial introspection by a man who apparently has no disposition to look deeply into himself and therefore chooses to gaze everything from high above. It is a painting that unquestionably stimulates the eye at first sight, but lays down its arms unconditionally upon a second reading since it lacks solid content. The fog as a thematic motif, dear Julius, has always been since art's beginnings the most convenient method of concealing concepts related to human psyche and which necessitate thorough research on behalf of the artist."
“Dear Augustus, you assign to the motif of fog an interpretation so one-dimensional that it appears as an unequivocal hubris. Not even the artists of the Enlightenment - whom you obviously worship - would dare make such a caustic comment."
"I accept your censure. Whatever the case, in a painting that is fraught with vagueness like that of Friedrich's, I can only decipher fog as an unintended self-deprecation."
"Is self-deprecation bad?"
"When it's unintended, yes."
"Let us talk about Romantic music, dear Augustus."
"Indeed, let us talk about Romantic music, dear Julius."
"I happen to love music, Augustus."
"I happen to love music too, Julius."
"You shall have to put a superhuman effort to convincing me that Romanticism did not bring about a wholly necessary subversion in established principles formed into the structure of Classical Composition. You ought to admit that in an art form like music - an art that relates directly to the realm of the most esoteric emotions - Romanticism has introduced innovations that only as saving grace they can be regarded."
"Innovations? Excuse me, did you say innovations? Do you by any chance mean the broader spectrum of tonal sharpness with the pompous fortississimo and the cachectic pianississimo that indicate mental hysteria? Or do you mean those long-drawn melodies that contrast the inspired monotony against the discrete elegance of Classical composition and which constitute a joyless return to the baroque excesses of the past? Or do you mean those forced arabesques and the morose notturnos which are now in vogue amongst the uneducated youth?"
"Dear Augustus, I am no longer able to comprehend this argumentativeness of yours unless it is due to some obstinacy. Do you deprive the composer of the freedom to make a more extensive use of the notes of musical scale if this is dictated by the intensity of his emotions or by the dynamics of acoustic harmony? Do you really mean to claim that pieces like Paganini 's Twenty-Four Caprices or Schubert's String Quartet No 11 would sound more melodic if they were disciplined to classical norms?"
"Dear Julius, music as an art form has proven throughout its history that it is incompatible with experiments that undermine the power of melodic simplicity. This is also reflected by the unfading timelessness of the great classical artists. Unless you wish to audaciously compare Paganini and Schubert with the geniuses of Mozart and Bach. Do you equate the aesthetes of artificial evocativeness with the genuine creators who strive for perfection? Since when can noise substitute for melodic cohesion?"
"Oh Augustus, how can a mind that has so deeply studied the arts oppose with such a rivalry the unrestrained expression of emotions and the very progress of art itself in general ...! Forgive me this momentary crisis of discomfort. The discussion about music makes me slightly sensitive as music is the art with which I let my mind travel passionate to places I would otherwise consider inaccessible. It's the art that brings me closer to people, perhaps more so than any other art."
“Julius, in the flow of your speech you have committed a verbal mistake, and I wish to believe that this was not done intentionally. I am not opposed to the progress of art in general. I am only opposed to Romanticism, very specifically. Devoid of a rational framework, what is art, after all, but an incoherent manifestation of inarticulate cries and farcical outbursts? Should I subject my mind - which you so warmly praised - to the demands of any artist who feels the need to express his deep melancholy, a melancholy unhewn and unwrought, a melancholy displayed without the moulding and catharsis of a logical mediation?"
"Do you rule out the possibility that there is that kind of melancholy whose depths are so abyssal that it makes logic pale before it? Doesn't that melancholy have the right to be depicted on the canvas or to be defined on the musical scale being intact and pristine?"
“Julius, you admittedly possess revolutionary - if not weird - ideas in regards to what art is. What would you say if I'd blown indiscreetly my nose into this silk handkerchief? Would this move of mine constitute art?"
"I guess not. You may be right about the abstract definition I give to art. Maybe my flow of consciousness was somewhat carried away by your intensely acrimonious talk in regards to the artist's melancholy."
"Oh, indicate to me, I beg you, that artist who possesses that justified pride or the inexorable wisdom of years or the overwhelming experience of life in order to argue here before me that his own melancholy is more burdensome or more important than mine! Who can really utter such a blasphemy ...!"
"On the basis of your last allusion, I'm therefore inclined to assume that you completely forbid the artist the privilege of being more melancholic than you."
"In this heart of mine nests all the melancholy of this arriviste world, dear Julius. I get so sad in my special moments that - alas! - the Creation entire stands unable to cure me."
"So you are a gentleman of many talents, Augustus. Your erudition does not apply solely to the arts but extends equally specialised to people as well."
"What the erudition of the arts has taught me is that art remains too intransigent to accommodate inconsistency. As far as people are concerned, I'm mature enough to be able to say that I have learned them more or less, Julius. After all, what is man but a wingless animal with two feet and flat nails according to Plato's definition?"
"Do you know humans so well that you can group them so concisely in a few words by Plato? This is really impressive."
“I know the middle class, Julius. And Romanticism came about as a result of the rise and expansion of the middle class. It is the result of a social phenomenon, a symptom of our times, whose only destination is its inglorious extinction."
"I'm impressed ... Indeed, impressed ... And now I'm going to ask you to forgive me once again. Unfortunately I have some social obligation to attend to for tonight and time presses me. Let us hope that we continue this delightful dispute another night in the future. Good night to you."
“Good night, dear Julius. Very pleased to meet you."
Lord Greywood left the company of Augustus and the three ladies and proceeded to search for Hamhaduke in the hall. As Hamhaduke was nowhere to be seen, the Lord headed for Odéon 's canteen. There, he found Hamhaduke canoodling with the waitress and whispering words of affection in French and sometimes kissing her lips and bust. The open bottle of champagne standing on the bench next to them testified that they were both under the influence of intoxication. They obviously wanted to eliminate any inhibition of the preliminary stages.
"Bugs, it's time to leave," said the Lord imperatively.
"Ah! But yes, of course. Oh putain! I almost forgot it." said Hamhaduke startled, and then turned to the waitress: "My dear, we shall continue this discussion in the near future. Inevitably, I dare say."
"Inevitably it is then, I do wish it. Good night my dear monsieur." said the waitress and pulled away from Hamhaduke giving him a warm kiss on the lips.
Coming out of the canteen, Lord Greywood gently grabbed Hamhaduke by the elbow and led him to a secluded corner. He felt the need to make a formal interrogation in this instance.
"Bugs, what were exactly your intentions with that woman?"
"What kind of question is this, Lord? I happen to be a man, as you can see. Unless Ι'm not good enough for you to notice."
"Bugs, do you know what can happen if a vampire - still in his early stages like you - reaches an orgasm with a woman?"
"Hmm, I don't know. He ejaculates, I guess."
"Of course he ejaculates. The issue hereto, however, is that, during ejaculation, the vampire will feel that overwhelming urge for human blood and most likely - if not absolutely certain - he will bloodsuck his mate right on the spot without the slightest self-restraint. Did you know that?"
"No. The truth is I didn't know that."
"Well? What would you do, Bugs, if you reached an orgasm with that woman and were suddenly overwhelmed by the fervid thirst for blood?"
"Hmm, I don't know. I would probably wear my pants in haste and come and find you and talk to you about it. That's what I would probably do. I think."
"Are you sure, Bugs?"
"Yes. I think."
"Hmmm, I need to suspend all sorts of disbelief within me to buy this. Be that as it may, this would be the prudent move to make. So be aware from now on that the orgasm for a novice vampire like you is a little risky and can have undesirable effects. And as you've certainly understood, by saying undesirable effects I don't mean pregnancy."
"Now that you've told me, I shall keep it in mind, Lord."
"Fine. Let's go."
The two men crossed the masquerade hall and left. Arriving at the foyer, they happened upon the moustached receptionist who offered to collect the masks they were wearing on their faces. With a nod of his hand, the Lord let him know that the two men did not wish to part with their masks. The receptionist was taken aback but made no comment. As they came out in the ten-columned portico, Hamhaduke wanted to refer to that aristocrat with whom the Lord had been discussing Romanticism.
"You had a very brainy conversation with that chap, Lord. I mean the one going by the name of Augustus or whatever the hell his name was. So, what happened? Did you agree in the end?"
"No, Bugs. Unfortunately, no."
'He seemed quite smart, Lord. And very knowledgeable."
"Yes, he was ... If my conduct were not so dictated by the codes of strict morality, I would very happily sink my fangs into his throat and drink up his pertinacious blood right down to its last drop."
"All morality and no play makes Jack a dull boy, Lord."
"You know, Bugs, if I were following his own way of thinking - the rational way of thinking that puts passionate emotion into a secondary hierarchy - I would never anoint a man like you as a vampire. That would be a completely unthinkable move for my ethics. Now, what do you have to say about that?"
"Long live Romanticism!"
Outside Odéon stood the four-wheeled coaches hired by Odéon's plutocracy. Their coach drivers were absent as they had all gathered in a distant alley and shared a demijohn of wine between them until the evening ball was over, a fact that served the two masked vampires perfectly. This was because they had the opportunity to approach a coach unbothered and to unharness two black horses from its towbar. And as they did so, they mounted them and left for the Boulogne Forest.
Arriving at the Boulogne Forest, the two vampires rode their horses on a passage characterised by tall firs and tufted almond trees on its sides while the ground was strewn entire by the yellowish dead leaves of the trees and by the wild moss. This passage was one of the few places in the forest that had such a lively flora in their scenery as at that time the Boulogne Forest was largely an empty landscape with gloomy meadows and truncated tree trunks and unremarkable small lakes in its expanse.
The reason for this was, of course, the fact that in the year 1814, following Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat in the Sixth Coalition War, some forty thousand gunmen of the British and Russian occupation armies had camped in the place and looted the forest cutting trees for the use of firewood but also for the construction of shelters. The soldiers eventually withdrew after the Treaty of Paris that same year, but the Boulogne Forest remained where it was, posing now as a dreary remnant of human brutality, no reminiscent anymore of the glorious periods of the past where it served as a royal area for hunting and festivities. Years later, in 1852 during the reign of Napoleon III, the Boulogne Forest was to be radically rebuilt - with forests and hills and streams - and to be inaugurated as a public park, having its famous appearance that lasts to this day.
Going through the passage, the two black horses broke into occasional grunts of discomfort as they were not yet familiar with their riders. That didn't really bother the two vampires however. On the contrary, Lord Greywood was absorbed in his silent recollections regarding the glorious past of the Boulogne Forest while Hamhaduke was humming his favourite Welsh song Ar Lan y Môr and scrutinising the crescent moon of the dark sky which persecuted persistent their route through the dense foliage and the hanging vines of the tree branches' arch along the passage.
Ar lan y môr mae rhosys cochion
Ar lan y môr mae lilis gwynion
Ar lan y môr mae 'nghariad inne
Yn cysgu'r nos a chodi'r bore.
From within the silvery hoarfrost of the night, the squadron of the National Guard along with the wheeled cage appeared deep in the passage. The galloping of horses of the Guard and the cage became so intense in the senses that one would think the ground would recede under their rhythmic pace. As the squadron captain saw the two masked vampires coming from the opposite direction, he ordered his ten soldiers to stop with a loud "Halt!" The Lord and Hamhaduke approached with their horses the squadron until they stood at a distance of fifteen meters from them.
"Dear sirs, I have the honor to declare that my name is Henri Sauvage, of capitaine rank, commander of the National Guard's 4th Cavalry Regiment. In the name of the King, I bid you to state your names as well as your purpose.” spoke the captain in a stentorian voice. As his facial hair was blond and sparse, the moustache posing on the top of his upper lip seemed rather deplorable, like a desperate attempt by the man to participate in the fashion of the time that wanted moustaches overabundant and preferably with twirly ends. The cap of the folded brims on his head was slightly larger than it should have been.
"Dear capitaine Sauvage, I have the honour to declare that the man standing to my right is the famous Spring-heeled Jack and I am his sidekick going by the name of Julius. Our purpose is to seize the cage that is under your platoon's escort and release the six students held inside it." replied Lord Greywood, and Hamhaduke next to him strutted all over by this laudatory presentation which regarded his new identity.
An uncomfortable silence prevailed for a few seconds. A silence that was not interrupted but by the hoot of an owl standing on a tree branch. Before turning again to the two vampires, the captain gave a furtive glance at his soldiers who stood upright on their horses in their dark blue uniforms.
"Dear sirs, are you drunk?" he asked out loud.
"My dear capitaine, the truth is we had a couple of glasses of champagne each of us earlier. Permit me however to contend that this hardly constitutes drunkenness in our case." replied Lord Greywood.
"Dear sirs, are you carrying any kind of weapons on you?" asked the captain loudly.
"My dear capitaine, we both carry a pistol each. And, I assure you, we would have already made use of these weapons against you if we had not at our disposal better methods of eliminating you." replied Lord Greywood.
"Dear sirs, I will ask you once again and please give me an absolutely honest answer to my exact question. Are you drunk?” asked the captain.
"Dear capitaine, my answer to your question is a categorical no. We are absolutely sober.” said Lord Greywood.
"Dear sirs, I bid you to notify me immediately whether other persons are involved in your synergy, and - if so - to indicate where exactly they are at the moment," said the captain.
"Dear capitaine, I give you my gentleman's word of honour that our synergy consists exclusively of the two of us and that no one else assists our mission or contributes to it in any way. You shall find, however, in the course of our negotiations that Spring-heeled Jack and I are overly sufficient for the occasion." replied Lord Greywood.
The captain bit his upper lip slightly and then focused his gaze on the Lord and Hamhaduke. The fact that the two men were standing unperturbed before him on horseback started to provoke him with a progressive feeling of discomfort, and for this reason he reconstructed his posture and adopted in his voice a compelling tone to impose himself on the situation.
"Gentlemen! In the name of the law and of the King of France, you are both arrested! Throw before you the weapons you have in your possession, dismount your horses and surrender yourselves with your hands above your heads!” he shouted.
"I'm afraid that at the moment this is impossible, capitaine. We shall have to insist on our purpose. And I repeat in a clear tone that our purpose is to seize the cage that is under your squadron's escort and to release the six students held inside it." replied Lord Greywood.
"Good God ...! I'll be decorated tonight ...!" whispered the captain to himself in a moment of sweet bliss, and then he addressed the two vampires with a cynical poise: "Very well, gentlemen! I propose we bypass all those tedious formalities that will inevitably involve us in the cogs of time-consuming bureaucracy and that will also cause inconvenience to you in the dampness of some confining prison cell. I propose we resolve this issue by the utmost swiftness without delay. I intend to order my soldiers to open fire at you. Would you have any objection to this move of mine?"
"Absolutely no objection, capitaine. Although I find this procedure completely unnecessary on the occasion. But you are free to act as you think is best.” said Lord Greywood.
" Merci, moncieur." replied the captain and then turned to the squadron's soldiers: "Men! Arm!"
"Hey Lord. Are you sure the bullets can't hurt us?” said Hamhaduke quietly to Lord Greywood while the soldiers were filling their carbines with gunpowder and bullets.
"I'm absolutely certain, Bugs. You're a vampire now. Try to get used to the idea." replied Lord Greywood.
"Men! Aim!" the captain commanded the soldiers, and they lined up on their horses and turned all the barrels of the carbines at the Lord and Hamhaduke.
"There is however another problem ..." said Lord Greywood with bitterness.
"What problem !?" asked Hamhaduke in panic.
"Men! Fire!” shouted the captain, and the National Guard's carbines opened fire with loud bangs at the Lord and Hamhaduke.
Some frightened horse neighs, here and there. The smoke coming out of the gunpowder's firing turned the place into a misty landscape. And as the smoke diminished into the atmosphere, the squadron's soldiers remained stunned at the sight of the two masked men sitting on their horses safe and sound. Hamhaduke was over-excited having confirmed that he was indeed invulnerable to the bullets, but Lord Greywood was not so happy with this development.
"The bullets damage the fabric ..." said the Lord in response to Hamhaduke's previous query and looking devastated at the smoky holes that were caused by the bullets on his (last) Saville Row reserve tailcoat.
The smell of burnt cashmere emerged from the tailcoat striking the nostrils of Lord Greywood. The Lord's thought was now with the tailor of Saville Row, who had meticulously achieved the perfect fit of the tailcoat on the body. These were thoughts that angered the Lord, but he ought to display composure in this instance and he therefore turned again to the captain in order to distract himself from the irreparable damage on the clothes.
"Well, my dear capitaine, I think that both sides have deposed their credentials on the issue arisen," said the Lord. "Let me deduce that I and Spring-heeled Jack possess undoubtedly a supremacy of power on the occasion, a deduction which I would like you to share unreservedly. So I propose to resolve our dispute as quickly as possible without further friction. You will surrender the possession of the cage to us and you shall depart nice and quiet from here, and I give you my word of honour that there shall be no retaliation on our part if you do as you are told. If you do not, I would like to inform you that my partner and I shall be forced to deal with the issue applying different methods of persuasion. That would certainly be an outcome I would not wish for at all."
The captain studied swamped the situation unfolding before him. The evidence in this case defied any trace of rational explanation. He reviewed the events for a few seconds, seconds that seemed like centuries-old, before turning again to his squadron soldiers and issuing a new command.
"Men! Arm!” he cried out loud, and the soldiers in their confusion began to fill their carbines with bullets and gunpowder.
"In the name of logic, man! I appeal to your military conscience!” gasped Lord Greywood at the captain.
"Men! Aim!” ordered the captain, and the soldiers aimed their carbine barrels at Lord and Hamhaduke.
"My dear capitaine, do you really want to see your men meet with a horrible and unjust death just for the sake of a caprice?" said the Lord frustrated at the prospect of seeing once more the cashmere of Saville Row destroyed by the bullets.
"Men! Fire!” screamed the captain, and the squadron's carbines unleashed their bullets with smoke and thunder toward the two masked vampires.
Some frightened horse neighs, here and there. As it diminished once again into the atmosphere, the gunpowder smog revealed the two masked vampires, safe and sound on their horses as before. Hamhaduke was chuckling demonically and his mass was shaking all over from laughter. The same was certainly not the case with Lord Greywood, who had now become furious with the shameless manner in which his Saville Row's attire was once again profaned. The anger had overwhelmed his gaze, giving the irises of his eyes that characteristic flame-red tincture that signified its presence in moments of fervour. The buoyancy of courtesy had now dried up inside him.
"Well, Bugs, let's not waste any more of our time for no purpose. Wasn't human blood you wanted to quench your thirst? Here's the chance! You are free to do as you please. But do me a favour and start with our dear capitaine over there.” said Lord Greywood amidst the smoke coming out of his ruined tailcoat.
"With pleasure, Lord! Hahahaha!” exclaimed Hamhaduke, and with a leap he hurtled towards the captain and plunged his elongated fangs into his throat.
Amid the turmoil, the squadron soldiers tried to control their furious horses in order to escape from the spot. However, the bulimic mood of Hamhaduke was such that it did not give them much time since it made him fast in the movements and therefore the bloodsucking of the captain was accomplished in a matter of seconds. And after throwing the captain's corpse onto the ground, Hamhaduke attacked the squadron soldiers - those who had not yet been able to discipline their horses to escape - with huge jumps and plunged his fangs into theirs throats.
Flying around like a predatory eagle, Hamhaduke grasped successively four soldiers and bloodsucked them one by one while the other six in the squadron escaped galloping, terrified and unable to comprehend all that happened.While Hamhaduke was busy collecting human blood from the unfortunate soldiers of the National Guard, Lord Greywood was given the ease to dismount his horse undisturbed and move to the wheeled cage. The door of the cage was locked with an iron lock whose keys were presently nowhere to be found. Not that it mattered anyway. The Lord removed the lock from the door by hand, without much effort. The locks of this world were too deficient to resist the power of the Strigoi Morti.
As the door of the cage opened, the six students came out cautiously one after another. They were all atrophied and destroyed by rigours. But although they seemed too weak to form an expression on their sickly faces, the surprise they felt upon seeing the two masked vampires was such that it made them goggle their eyes wide open. How could they react any different? On one hand they had the masked Lord Greywood dressed in the tailcoat full of holes from the National Guard's bullets, and on the other hand they had to manage in their rationale the spectacle of Hamhaduke seated cross-legged on the ground and sucking the remaining blood of the captain and of four soldiers and also of two hapless horses that did not escape his bloodthirsty instincts.
“Gentlemen, you are free. Take the horses and leave here. I would advise you to leave Paris and stay away for some time until your case is forgotten." Lord Greywood told the students.
"We would like you to introduce yourself, monsieur, so that we know whom we owe our gratitude to," said one of the students.
"My name is of no importance. The thing you should bear in mind is that luck will not always be on your side as it did tonight. Therefore, your moves from now on must be more careful and governed by prudence. You shall need to put the passion of your age within some rational context. Only then will you achieve what you seek. Revolutions require time and strategy, not spasmodic and anarchic actions. Remember that you are still young and there are things in this world which you do not know, even if you attitudinise that you understand everything." replied Lord Greywood.
"We're just fighting for our ideals, monsieur. And in every struggle, as in ours, there are losses as well as there is knowledge to be gained. Whatever the case, we will not stop trying," said one of the students.
"And you do very well. Just don't let yourself get carried away by over-romanticism. Rationality is necessary, especially when you are aiming so high. That, anyway, is my opinion if it is of any importance. But now, go." said Lord Greywood.
"Whoever you are, we thank you deeply, monsieur" said the students, and then mounted the horses and left galloping from the place.
Don't let yourself get carried away by over-romanticism. Staring at the students riding away on their horses, Lord Greywood couldn't help but make the association with the long discussion he had with Augustus earlier. Augustus would undoubtly burst into laughter if he'd heard the Lord's exhortations to the young students and would possibly taunt the Lord for his contradictory beliefs. Maybe some agreement was finally reached on this cute dispute about art between the two gentlemen. The tragic case in this regard is of course that the agreement was reached while the conversation was already over.
Anything but vain was that night's exploit of the Lord and Hamhaduke. The six students they released that night were to form a powerful resistance group against King Charles I six years later, in 1830, and thus contribute significantly to the start of the July Revolution and the overthrow of the Bourbon Monarchy. Having said that, it is worth noting here that the July Revolution of 1830 brought about the transition of the monarchy from the House of Bourbons to its offshoot, the House of Orléans, with a new king, Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans. For eighteen precarious years, Louis-Philippe maintained his throne amidst revolts mainly from student youth to his eventual overthrow in the Revolution of 1848, a year that marked the beginning of the Second French Republic (which in turn lasted only four years, but let's not lose the flow of the narrative any further).
Lord Greywood approached Hamhaduke, who was still seated on the ground and sucked the blood of his preys, sounding sharp and long hisses. Having completely drained the capitaine and all four soldiers, his relentless thirst now turned to the two hapless horses lying on the ground and breaking into shocked neighs as the murderous fangs violently slammed into their lean bodies. This was a luxurious banquet for Hamhaduke, who was until recently uneducated in the delicious pleasures of human blood, but someone had to tidy up the mess created. And that someone, of course, would be none other than Hamhaduke himself.
"There was no need to harm the poor horses, Bugs."
"Mmmm? ... Sorry."
"Time to leave, Bugs. You certainly know that you have to clean up all this mess, don't you? You shall have to dispose of the corpses of soldiers and horses."
"What!? And how the hell am I gonna do that, Lord !?"
“There are several ways. But the way I would recommend is to carry the corpses and stuff them in the cage. And then we'll transport them with the cage to a Seine bank and sink them into the river."
"But how? How the hell am I going to stack all these corpses in the cage?"
"Oh come on now, Bugs. Do you forget the supernatural powers you now possess as a vampire? This is a chore that won't cost you more than five minutes."
"But why should I do that, Lord? Why do I have to dispose of the corpses? Why not let them here as they are? Who will punish us if we leave the place messy?"
"The Diet of Cluj, Bugs. Remember the Diet of Cluj? I've talked to you about it."
"Yes, I remember that lecture you gave me."
“Since you remember the lecture I gave you, you will know that the Diet of Cluj always sets the secrecy of the vampires' nature as an inviolable rule. And that is why you are obliged to tidy up the place, as you must never leave behind traces and elements that prove your undead status. This is unfortunately one of your imperative duties as a vampire, that is to say you shall always need to ensure that people continue to live in the delusion which defines vampires as figments of fiction and not as real entities. If you do not do so, the Diet of Cluj will take care that you get the appropriate retribution. And trust me, you don't want the attention of the Diet of Cluj focused on you. The Diet tends to exhaust all its strictness in regards to undisciplined vampires, this is a particularly adored tactic for them. So, see that you are consistent."
Hamhaduke made a bitter sigh. The last thing he wanted to do at that moment after such a debauchery was to clean up the place. But once he made the decision to overcome the unbearable boredom, he eventually carried the corpses to the cage. And when he did so, he led the cage with Lord Greywood in the night towards the Seine bank. And there they disposed of the corpses sinking them into the river. And then, the two of them headed to the Montmartre Abbey as the sun was coming to rise at any time now. Another night had come to an end.
[to be continued next Friday, 8 May 2020, exclusively at the blog of OKYPUS]
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A few words about the author
Dimitris Apergis was born in Larisa, Greece, in 1978. He graduated in BA (Hons) Film Studies in the UK. He lives in Greece.
His books are published in both English and Greek languages, by the OKYPUS PUBLISHING. https://en.okypus.com/okypus-publisher
Dimitris has received several awards for his literary work.
In 2018 he received the First Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his novel Gerard & the father. Additionally, in 2018 his novel Gerard & the father also received the First Literature Award at the 8th International Literature Contest held by E.P.O.C. (Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus) under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2017 his novel ‘At the Whiskey County’ received the First Literature Award at the 7th International Literature Contest held by the Hellenic Culture Association of Cyprus under the aegis of UNESCO.
In 2015 his novella ‘Jazz Room’ received the Second Literature Award from the Panhellenic Association of Writers.
In 2013 he received a Praise from the Panhellenic Association of Writers for his short story Labyrinth.
In 2012 he received the First Literature Award from the MONITOR Press for his short story Acid Rain.