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 Ottomans- 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. 21 of 36]
PART THREE : Vampires
Hamhaduke walked like lost on Rue de l'Égout, occasionally resting his body on walls and lampposts to appease the faint dizziness - outcomes of Mouton Blanc's unfortunate circumstance. That was until a black coach passed by and the driver stopped it abruptly, pulling the horses' bridles.
Hamhaduke turned his gaze to the coach driver. He was bald, not even a single hair on his bare skull, with a wrinkled physiognomy hidden behind the enormous collars of the gaberdine, and stared at Hamhaduke blankly with two eyes shimmering like dark rubies. Before Hamhaduke would launch some of his typical obscenities, the coach door opened and from the inside emerged the face of Lord Greywood under his top hat.
"Hello, Bugs," he said.
"Well, well, well! Hello yourself my old friend! It's been a long time since we've seen each other! How are you, Lord?” said Hamhaduke with a wide smile.
"I'm fine, Bugs. You don't look so good yourself.” replied Lord Greywood.
"I'm splendid" growled Hamhaduke.
"Ride with me," said Lord Greywood sharply.
"Why should I ride with you?" asked Hamhaduke.
"You've got yourself into trouble. Ride with me.” insisted Lord Greywood.
Hamhaduke approached him suspiciously. His eyes hardened as they examined the Lord's suspiciously calm expression. Something wasn't quite right.
"What are you cooking up, Lord?"
"Nothing. Ride with me."
"Ride with me. We'll have fun."
"We'll have fun? The two of us?"
"Yes. Trust me."
"Should I trust you?"
"All right then. Let's have fun."
Hamhaduke got into the coach's cubicle and sat beside the Lord. Observing the Lord's formal attire - the ash-coloured tailcoat made of glossy viscose - he immediately realised that the Lord was heading to a very special place. To some aristocratic event of the exclusive elite, no doubt. The driver struck the horses with his whip and the coach set forth.
"Needless to say, Lord, that if you are scheming anything, I shall smash your face so bad you'll never find the courage to wear a tailcoat again."
"Calm down, Bugs. Just enjoy the ride."
The horses were galloping with no pause. The coach's ride offered lavish scenery for the pleasure of the eyes, but Hamhaduke's attention was more focused on the dark velvet curtains hanging on the cubicle's windows. They were thick, dense, and had multiple metal fasteners to secure each other perfectly. There was no doubt that the purpose of these curtains was to prevent even the slightest ray of sun from invading the cubicle during daylight.
Throughout its long journey, the coach traversed wide roads defined by towering poplars on their sides. Then, gorges between silvery hillsides that reflected the night's moonlight, open plains scattered with huts of mudbrick and plumes of smoke emerging from the small chimneys, orange groves emitting the fragrance from the tender stalks of the trees, wild goat tracks beside streams singing their lyrical ripples.
"What are you up to, Lord? You're up to something, but what? ... Why don't you just admit it, you dirty rotten cretin?"
"Calm down, Bugs. You are oversuspicious with me. Calm down."
The coach finally reached the Auvers-sur-Oise area, outside Paris. The Auvers-sur-Oise area was densely forested and the Oise River passed through it. Entering the area, the coach headed to the Château des Papillons. That is, to the Mansion of Butterflies.
Passing through the barred main gate of the Château des Papillons, the coach made its way into the magnificent ten-acre gardens of the mansion. The gardens of the Château des Papillons were shaped in the style of the jardin à la française. Oval flower fields of multicoloured flora, cypresses arranged in straight order and sheared at the same height, small swan lakes, water channels that mirrored the constellations of the clear night, elaborate fountains of mythological figures, bushes trimmed in fantastical and geometrical shapes, daedal pathways that formed labyrinths.
No mind of increased intelligence was required in order to clarify the reason why the mansion was named Château des Papillons. All the way through the gardens of the villa, the coach constantly happened upon thousands of butterflies fluttering on flowers, butterflies of all kinds and families.
The tulips were frequented by the family of Nymphalidae with the wings of blue and red elliptical polka dots in black frames. The narcissuses were surrounded by the Papilionidae family with their caudate wings that had the colour of either the blue-green amethyst or the azure sapphire. On the petals of the cyclamens lay the family of the Pieridae with feathers adorned with mosaics of white, yellow and orange. The lilies had been colonised by the copper-coloured Riodinidae while the glossy cobalt Lycaenidae were frolicking on the hyacinth stamens. As for the tiny silver-grey Hesperiidae, they did not have a particular preference in the wide variety of blossoms, however most of their kind were attracted by the dewdrops on the water lilies of the ponds.
The coach stopped in front of the mansion's entrance. The Château des Papillons was a building that befitted an emperor. Its imposing facade - with the signature of renowned architect Jean Bullant - was marked by the colossal rhythm of the pilasters and the wide white steps leading to the door. Marble griffins - mythical lions with eagle wings - stood on the stone balustrades of the stairs but also on the sides of the heraldry above the lintel. Multiple elongated triangular-tinted windows posed over the towering walls whose length spread to over one hundred meters. Located in a secluded area and bearing a history of three centuries, the Château des Papillons was one of the few palaces of its kind that escaped total destruction during the French Revolution.
The Château des Papillons belonged to Baroness Hilde von Wasserbaum, the daughter of Bavarian physician Claus von Wasserbaum, and Marie d'Angevin, a distant cousin of Louis-Henri II, Prince de Conte. The forty-year-old Baroness von Wasserbaum was well-known in Auvers-sur-Oise both for her eccentric personality that wanted her distanced from the aristocratic circles of the region and for her obsessive tendency towards (the very few) social gatherings with people exclusively of Bavarian descent. Rumours of her personal life were raging, most notably that of her aborted marriage to an anonymous French gentleman, the cause of the abolition being a secret affair of the nobleman with a maid. Other rumours regarded an unfortunate pregnancy of the baroness that resulted in miscarriage. What was true and what was a lie remained a mystery, the rumours about the Baroness were so many that they now rendered her the status of a mysterious legend in the social circles' consciousness.
The driver stepped down from the coach and opened the cubicle's door for the Lord and Hamhaduke. And after doing so, the coach driver ascended the wide stairs with the two men and escorted them to the entrance. Entering the dazzling vestibule of the crystal chandeliers and the gold-encased Renaissance paintings, the driver took the gabardine off him revealing the butler's official tuxedo and received the two men's redingotes in order to hang them in the wardrobe.
Hamhaduke walked down the aisle awestruck by its excessive opulence. The size of the property of the owner of such a palace was constantly estimated. Money, lots of money, he was thinking whilst making quick calculations about the cost of any object his stare fell upon.
The escritoires standing on the left were made of brown mahogany and their embedded watches as well as the drawer handles were of pure gold. On the right stood arranged cabinets with porcelain vases of the Ming Dynasty decorated with representations of dragons and goldfish from cloisonné enamel and precious emeralds. The floor was of solid oak and shone with the expensive olive varnish.
Oh yes, inside the Château des Papillons there were also the lonely butterflies that fluttered carefree here and there. And there also were the damned marble busts at various points, like that of the harpsichordist Jean-Henri d'Anglebert that was posing next to the double door of the hall on a wooden base.
Upon detecting Hamhaduke scrutinising the vestibule's luxurious furniture, the bust of d'Anglebert with the wig of long curls (as per the dictates of 17th century fashion) turned its gaze straight towards his side observing him persistently as did all busts with the vampire. Hamhaduke, of course, perceived the marble d' Anglebert's stare, but before he could think of throwing a strong punch at him and break him into pieces, his ears were neared by that evocative sound that felt like a liturgical psalmody from wind instruments.
Bloody hell. Music. It was coming from the hall.
Hamhaduke entered the hall and was overwhelmed with awe as he saw the church organ with the columns of giant pipes that seemed as if they were reaching the heavens. The hall was specially designed to accommodate the huge instrument and for this reason the ceiling of the pompous angels and the golden ornaments had been upgraded three to four stories higher. In front of this beastly construction of the thousand metal pipes and heavy walnut wood panelling, sat the lilliputian presence of Baroness von Wasserbaum performing on the instrument's clavier Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor and the octaves were released with the air of the foot-pumped blower, grandiloquent, sullen, mournful.
Hamhaduke went about to make a comment to the butler, but he nodded with his finger on his lips to keep quiet while the baroness was playing music. Hamhaduke then turned to the Lord but before he could even articulate a sentence, the Lord also silenced him with a strict "sshht!". Grumpily, Hamhaduke sat on an embroidered armchair of soft silk and glanced around the hall area. It took him awhile to realise that he was sitting under a stuffed deer head with huge horns, fastened to a lacquered wooden plate on the wall.
The neotropical Chorinea- type butterflies with the translucent wings of azure shades and silver spots seemed to arrange their fluttering inside the hall according to the notes echoed by the church organ. Butterflies, lots of butterflies, thought Hamhaduke as he watched their kaleidoscope wandering about in the air.
The walls of the hall - from the floor to the ceiling - were lined with libraries, and on the shelves of these libraries stood innumerable hardcover volumes of all fields and sciences. Books, lots of books, thought Hamhaduke whilst his eye was dizzied from inspecting the immense libraries right up to their tops.
Then his gaze fell on the low table next to the armchair. On the table stood two statues, one depicting a couple of aristocrats with lacy outfits of the 18th century leafing together through a book and the other depicting a farmboy with straw hat eating a slice of watermelon. Between the two statues, a globe, large, glowing from the lacquer on its surface. He stretched out his obese hand over it and gave it a firm spinning. The globe began to rotate and then he stopped it with the tip of his forefinger and went about began to see where his finger had stood. It was on the point of Greece.
"Hmm." he whispered sharply.
Hamhaduke felt an admitted admiration for the Baroness's imperial palace, but such sensations (that is, those of awe and wonder) were not sensations that lasted for a long time. And this was because, being a Strigoi Morti vampire with supernatural powers, Hamhaduke had unlimited access to money if and when he wished so, and therefore wealth was no longer a concern of his. As a result, his appreciation for material goods gradually diminished, and his mind now idolised the authentic quintessence of things that made him truly happy. That of course was none else than the fresh human blood.
Baroness von Wasserbaum was a woman of aristocratic beauty with exuberant curves on her body and a hydrated skin that exuded a shameless hedonism. Her face was defined by perfect proportions: honey-gold-coloured eyes above the rosy cheekbones, delicate disdainful nose, fleshy lips, chin sufficiently protruding to indicate the superiority of the gene. She wore a gothic purple toilet made of frilled muslin, with upturned collars and a neckline forming a V, highlighting her voluminous bust. Her ginger hair was clasped on the back of her head in the shape of sphere with a black bow, and she had a discreet satin ribbon wrapped around her neck. A few platinum shades sprouted from her hair cluster, which was either due to age or to some underlying sorrow.
As she finished Toccata and Fugue on the organ, she lifted slightly from the low seat and turned her body toward the three men present. The butler and the Lord engaged in an enthusiastic applause. Hamhaduke, on the other hand, seemed more concentrated on the butterfly fluttering before him, configuring drunken eights in the air. He jerked his hand abruptly and grabbed it in his palm. He then brought it close to his face and studied the fancy colours of its wings: cobalt blue of serene oceans grafted with crimson dots and metallic tinges. Resting on Hamhaduke's palm, the butterfly raised its head and trembled its antennae as if in an attempt to communicate with him.
It was a very cute butterfly, indeed. It didn't matter. Hamhaduke swallowed it in one gulp. The butler and the Lord watched him flabbergasted as he munched away indifferently. The Baroness's eyes sparkled with rage.
"Bloody hell…! I 'd never imagined that butterflies could make for such a delicious appetiser." said Hamhaduke swallowing the bug.
"Who is this slime!?" asked the baroness in a harsh tone, pointing at Hamhaduke.
"The gentleman over here is Bugs Hamhaduke" replied Lord Greywood. "I've talked to you about him. And as you can see for yourself, my dear Hilde, though he has become a vampire, he maintains his brute ways unchanged."
Hamhaduke looked at the Lord and the butler mystified. Noting the angry expression of the Baroness, he realised his blunder.
"I'm sorry ... Did I do something wrong?" he asked surreptitiously.
"You've just murdered Eloise," said the baroness, her eyes still sparkling with rage. "Eloise was a shy and introverted character. She generally preferred her loneliness and would never establish a rapport with a stranger. The only reason she approached you was to help me socialise more comfortably."
"Forgive me. Had I known that you were giving names to butterflies, I might have been more restrained." replied Hamhaduke lowering his gaze humbly.
"Your apology is not going to bring Eloise back to life. Nor is it going to undo her brutal loss." retorted the Baroness.
"I am truly sorry. I have nothing else to say. If there is anything I can do to rectify my mistake, I am willing to hear it." said Hamhaduke said with an expression of pretentious remorse.
"I think this can be resolved, can't it?" said Lord Greywood to the Baroness. "I think we can find a way of atonement for Herr Hamhaduke. Don't you agree, Hilde?"
"Yes ... You're probably right, Jules," said the baroness, looking at Hamhaduke with eyes that calmed down with a sneaky gleam. "Maybe Herr Hamhaduke can prove useful to us after all."
Hamhaduke looked at the two with genuine wonder, failing to detect what they both had in mind. But he had no intention of asking them or even discussing with them about it. And that was because his stomach was purring from hunger. Eloise wasn't but a trifling snack.
The Lord made a nervous nod to Hamhaduke, urging him to introduce himself with civility to the Baroness. Hamhaduke listened to the Lord's advice in the hope that the hostess would treat him with something to eat. So he approached all coy the baroness with light footsteps.
"I'm thrilled to make your acquaintance, my dear Baroness madame" he said and, bowing, kissed her hand.
"Feelings unfortunately are not mutual at present, Herr Hamhaduke." replied the Baroness coldly. "Let us hope that you'll change my mind over dinner."
"Dinner!? Oh, great! Right on time, my dear Baroness! I could eat a horse” said Hamhaduke.
"Hmm, yes ... I've duly discovered this just now, Herr Hamhaduke." said the Baroness and turned to the butler. "Is dinner ready, Friedrich?"
"Dinner is ready, Baroness," replied the butler.
"All right then. Let us dine.” said the baroness and got up from the organ seat.
Hamhaduke followed the baroness to the dining room under the condemnatory eyes of the Lord's and the butler's. His acquaintance with the Baroness did not begin well.
[to be continued next Friday, 5 June 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.