CHILD OF THE LIVING DEAD [THE EVILS OF MASON THURLOW, BOOK I] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Adrian Scott
eBook Category: Dark Fantasy/Horror
eBook Description: In 19th century New Orleans, Mason Thurlow, a mysterious man with strange powers and an enormous capacity for evil, hatches a sinister plot to overthrow the goverment of Hati. Weilding black magic and the power of his almost unlimited wealth, Thurlow sets off a slave uprising that will eventually leave 60,000 dead. But the true story begins long before - when Mason, age seven, is killed for the first time and raised from the dead. It's the beginning of an epic series of novels written from the point of view of one of dark fantasy's darkest villians. Here is a novel of Satanism, seduction, death, and dark forces. 'Because I have no soul/I come to rule this world of Man./Heaven cannot stop me;/And Hell but look on in admiration.' -Mason Thurlow.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2011
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The Mansion d'Arville, Saint-Domingue, August 12, 1783: The Comtesse d'Arville lay back, exhausted and pale, and gazed at the small child in her arms. Then she lifted her eyes to those of her husband Alain, and smiled.
"He has your nose; and you chin, my love," she said softly so as not to wake the sleeping babe.
"I hope he does not have my nose. The d'Arville nose has been likened, quite unkindly, of that of King Louis!" he laughed, running a hand over the long dark locks that hung down either side of the pretty face; "I would sooner our son and heir have his mother's nose."
"Whether he has your nose, or mine, or that of the old cart-horse, we shall love him," she returned, and sighed.
The Comte reached a tender hand and wiped her sweating brow with a large handkerchief taken from his sleeve.
"I will call the nurse to take him now he is sleeping -- and I shall leave you to rest. It has been a long, tiring night for you." He stooped and kissed her forehead. As he straightened, a young nurse stepped forward from the foot of the bed, took the baby from the Comtesse's arms, and turned toward the door leading from the upstairs main bedroom. The smaller room next door to it had been decorated and furnished as a nursery, with the live-in nurse's room on the further side of that, so she might attend the child's needs during the night rather than wake the Comte or his wife.
Following close behind the nurse, Alain d'Arville flashed a last smile at his young wife, closed the door quietly, and made his way down the long, winding staircase to the lower level. Behind him, Elizabetta remembered the night he had been conceived, and smiled.
Alain walked through to the wide French doors opening on to the ground-floor patio, and stood gazing out over the fields of trees that carried the source of the d'Arville wealth and power -- the coffee bean, known for centuries in these islands as a refreshing drink, and so valued recently in the restaurants and coffee-houses of Europe. In the past month alone, demand for the principal produce of Saint-Domingue had risen some seventy percent in France alone, and the Comte was considering an offer to purchase a further two hundred and thirty acres -- the adjoining property -- to add to his present seventeen hundred under cultivation or already producing. The purchase would give him almost two thousand acres and, together with his majority share in the great clipper shipping-line that carried his produce, would increase his wealth twofold.
Alain, Comte d'Arville was not a greedy man. But he was careful, and did not rely on the present status quo in the islands to continue without incident or fault of nature indefinitely. He grew as much as he dared in the good times, buying into companies with a solid financial basis and holding thousands of sacks of coffee-beans in storage (which drove up the prices in Europe through a man-made shortage of supply) in good times, so that when the bad times came, they did not have so great an effect upon his family's wealth as might have occurred to other, less thrifty or foresighted, landowners.
He had inherited the family property and mansion from his father, and he from his. Under Alain, the value of the d'Arville holdings had doubled in ten years, making him one of the two wealthiest landowners in Saint-Domingue and giving him a voice that was heard clearly, and heeded, throughout the island. It had even been rumoured that the Comte might, some twenty years or so into the future, occupy a principal government office in Paris; but at present, politics and pandering to Louis XVI and Marie Antionette did not interest him where it had no perceivable effect on his own business affairs.
His marriage to the daughter of the Duc de Chansaize had tied his fortunes to that of the wealthiest family in Saint-Domingue, and in effect made the Comte d'Arville potentially the most powerful figure in the island.
And now, with the birth of his son and heir, and their first child, he had everything he could wish for in this world, and the future of the Companie d'Arville seemed assured well into the future. His son, when he eventually inherited the title and properties of the present Comte would be a most powerful man indeed, not only in Saint-Domingue, but in faraway France and, by extension, Europe herself.
The Comte and his young wife sat on the upstairs balcony, gazing at the starlit sky above, the lights shining from Cap Francais far in the distance below the plantation. The baby rested in his mother's arms, eyes closed in sleep.
"Are you happy, my love?" The Comtesse turned smiling eyes to her husband.
The Comte smiled, kissed his wife, and ran a gentle hand over the child's sparse covering of blonde hair.
"Happy? That is hardly the right word. Overjoyed does not even seem to fit, Elizabetta, I could not have wished for more than a son -- except for maybe twins, or triplets."
He laughed as Elizabetta's hand flicked against his bicep and her lips curled into a grimace of distaste.
"Do you think I am a baby factory?"
"I have sent a message to His Eminence, the Cardinal. He will be here, in our chapel, to christen Charles at eleven on Sunday morning. I think the slaves should be permitted to attend, if they wish. Then they shall have the remainder of the day to do as they please. They shall also receive an additional pannikin of rum at supper."
Elizabetta's parents had been known for their stern governance of their slaves. A day off for the slaves had never been declared on the Chansaize holding in her living memory, and an extra pannikin of rum was an unheard-of luxury.
"You are too easy upon the slaves, Alain. My father was much firmer, much more unyielding. And he gained absolute obedience from them all."
Alain shook his head, sending long blonde wavy hair cascading over his face. As he brushed at the fallen locks, he replied: "Non, I do not agree. Father always said that, regardless of their status as slaves, one should always remember that they can reason -- to a certain extent. Therefore, a little kindness here and there, is a good investment. And you must admit: they are the hardest working slaves in all the island, from Port-au-Prince northward."
The Contessa sighed: "Perhaps you are right, Alain. It is just that I am so used to my father's ways. I find it hard to comprehend a man who regards his slaves as...almost human."
Raising the brandy-snifter to his lips, Alain took a long drink, allowed the liquid to roll around in his mouth before swallowing it, and remarked: "Speaking of the slaves -- I allowed them an extra pannikin of rum this evening, as I just told you. But, listen...there is hardly any noise from their quarters."
Elizabetta listened. All she could hear from the compound in which the slaves' huts were sited was the muted rising and falling of voices, with the rise of one often-heard voice in particular over all others. That voice seemed to be speaking in long, detailed sentences, each of which evoked a loud response of one kind or another.
The Comte drained his glass and pulled the bell-rope that hung to his right. Instantly Samuel, who had been waiting in the shadows, stepped forward and took the empty snifter.
"Bring the bottle, if you please, Samuel," Alain commanded; "and...who is that voice I hear so often from the slaves' quarters? It seems it is a voice unknown to me."
Samuel hesitated. As Alain turned to look up at the old man, he finally replied: "I do not know his name, master. He arrived an hour ago, went straight to the slaves' quarters, and has been there ever since. I -- imagine -- he is a preacher, for he seems to be addressing the slaves as a group."
The Comte thought for a moment.
"A preacher. And you do not attend, Samuel?"
"My place is here, master, until you dismiss me. That is my duty."
Slaves who were members of the household staff received much better treatment than those working the fields, and often showed a loyalty to their masters unlike the bitterness and resentment shown by the plantation slaves.
The Comte nodded, and turned his ear once more to the single voice coming in muffled tones from the quarters.
Moments later, the aged butler returned, placed a freshly-opened bottle of Cognac on the table with two clean glasses, and straightened.
"You may retire for now, Samuel," the Comte told him without looking up; "and...take a stroll down to the quarters, and listen to this speaker, whoever he may be. Perhaps we should know what it is that he is preaching about."
"Yes, master." Samuel withdrew from the balcony and disappeared into the darkness beyond.
Just at that moment, the din from the slave quarters increased. The Comte listened, and it seemed that the noise took the form of a chant, or perhaps a name, repeated over and over.
A moment later, and the aged butler reappeared on the balcony. He had been running, and was out of breath.
"Sit, Samuel! Sit, before you drop!" Alain ordered, and the slave gratefully slumped into a vacant chair, leaned forward, and allowed his breathing to return to normal.
"The preacher is a man named Boukman, master," he said at length; "he claims to be a houngan, and to have the voodoo gods with him. He is trying to cause the field slaves to rise up against you."
Alain thought for a moment, then picked up a small notepad from the table, took up a quill, dipped it in the ink container, and began writing. When he had finished, he blew on the note to dry the ink, then folded it in two, and handed it to Samuel.
"Have Mark ride into Cap Francais and deliver this to the garrison commandant," he instructed; "tell him this -- Boukman -- is present, on this plantation, and if he is quick enough, the commandant may take him into custody and bring an end to this business...before it becomes something we cannot control. Go quickly now!" And Samuel took the note and hurried away.
Moments later, the sound of swift hoof-beats could be heard from the gravel drive below.
But the Comte's warning was not heeded. The Commandant, more interested in his latest 'conquest' among the young females of Cap Francais, sent the messenger away with a stern warning not to interfere during the night-hours, unless it were a matter of extreme urgency.
Over the next seven years, the giant Negro known only as Boukman went from plantation to plantation, venting his rage against slavery and the whites who held the dark people captive to their will, rousing anger which often exploded into attacks upon the smaller plantations and farms in outlying areas where the forces of the Commandant from Cap Francais, or the Senior Commandant from Port-au-Prince could not so easily reach them.
Flames rose above the fields and out-buildings. Lone white travellers died, and still the army did nothing.
Even in faraway France, the government took little notice of a 'petty matter,' as it was once referred to by the Minister for External Affairs himself.
So the raids continued, and white planters and farmers in settings far removed from the crowded streets and alleyways of Paris died, and with each death, Boukman's power over his followers increased until, in 1784, the fuse was lit that would bring disaster and the sound of voices raised in mourning to the doorstep of every white in Saint-Domingue.
* * * *
Saint-Domingue (Haiti), August 14th; 1784: the jungle closed in on all sides around the clearing, shielding the light from two hundred burning torches and absorbing the sounds of breathing, shuffling feet, and restless movement.
Naked bodies surrounded the lone figure in the centre of the open space, her hair hanging in dread-locks around her face, her eyes turned towards the low-burning fire on the ground before her. Not a figure stirred as she slowly, caressingly, placed one arm around a black pig, and took up a long-bladed knife. Behind her, the dreaded apparition known as Baron Cemetiere, the Master of the Unquiet Dead, loomed over the clearing, its eyes glowing with an unearthly flickering red flame that came from within.
Every eye in the congregation rose to meet the visage, its skull-head fixed in a wide, deathly grin as it raised its skeletal arms over the gathering. From nowhere, a shrieking wind arose. Some swore it was the voice of Baron Cemetiere himself...
In one swift movement, the houngan drew the knife across the neck of the pig, allowing the blood to run down her forearm and flow onto the flames before her crouching body.
The flames sputtered and roared into flaring life, and she recoiled from the heat. As if on a given signal, every hand-held torch around the clearing flared and roared up into the night sky, momentarily lighting the scene.
Tossing the still-twitching body of the pig to one side, she raised the knife high over her head, lowered her face to the flames, and began a low, soft chanting.
The chanting became a drawn-out 'mmmmm' of sound, then changed to a 'Bbbboooouuu...", whilst every eye in the crowd remained fixed on her crouching form.
Her head bent lower, and slowly she gave voice to the name: "Booouuukkkkmmmaaannn! Boukman!"
A sudden cry from two hundred throats arose as all took up the name, and one tall, bald-headed man, his skull shining in the firelight, strode out into the centre of the clearing.
"Boukman! Boukman!" The chanting went on, endlessly, as he raised his arms outwards from his body, and slowly brought them up over his head, fists clenched.
The sorceress had named the leader -- Boukman! Boukman the houngan, the one with whom the voodoo gods walked. He lowered his arms to shoulder-height, and the chanting fell away to silence, replaced by a voice that rumbled from deep within his chest:
"We strike! Tonight!"
Two hours later, a dozen dark-skinned figures crept silently up the staircase of a plantation building that abutted onto the jungle. Each hand carried a machete, short stabbing spear, or hand-made stone-headed axe.
Half of the group entered the first bedroom, and found the white owner and his wife asleep in their bed. The throat of the woman was sliced from ear to ear, and before her last choking cry had died away, her husband had been hacked to pieces.
In a bedroom just down the hall, a two-year old child died, the back of its skull crushed.
Torches were held to curtains, furniture, anything that would burn, then the group made its way back down to the ground floor. Again flames rose from lounge and wooden chair.
Seconds later, the entire group melted back into the jungle, leaving the buildings behind them aflame from end to end.
The uprising had begun.
The rebellion, led by Boukman, saw the northern plains of Saint-Domingue in flames. White plantation owners and shopkeepers in Cap Francais itself had been murdered, and the slaves from the villages deep within the jungles had gone on a blood-thirsty rampage, killing any white they came across, and marching from outpost to outpost carrying the body of a white child impaled on a long wooden shaft at their head.
Three island Commissioners, appointed by the General Assembly in Paris in an attempt to put down the rebellion that was gathering pace, and to reinforce the rule of France over Saint-Domingue, believed that the uprising, such as it was, had been entirely unsuccessful. Prior to their departure for Saint-Domingue, they had been guaranteed a force of 18,000 troops with which to quell the unrest; they had arrived with six thousand poorly-trained infantrymen and barely enough supplies to last more than two months.
Although the leader of the slaves was, as yet, unknown to the authorities, he was believed to be a man capable of rousing the blood in his followers and organising successful raids on the more distant and remote outposts of Saint-Domingue. But it was widely believed that the Army would soon put this uprising to an end, and peace would once again be restored to the island. The leadership of the slaves, and their resolve, had been poorly underestimated.
The Comte and his wife, and new son, belonged to a total population of some 20,000 whites living on the island; the rest of the population -- some 880,000 persons in all -- were made up of slaves, freed coloured folk, mulattos, and whites regarded as lower or middle class: the shopkeepers, artisans, and teachers. This last group was more fiercely loyal to France, which governed the island through the Paris-based Metropolitan, the governmental wing of the throne, but still believed in the slave system common to Saint-Domingue. More than half of the total population of the island were slaves, so it was obvious to all that, should a slave uprising take place, it would be difficult to bring to an end, and many lives would be lost unless France sent troops to put down such a rebellion. But with the unrest in France gathering pace with every passing day, this was unlikely.
The island would eventually be left to fend for itself.
The slaves, led by runaways living in scattered villages deep in the jungles, represented a very real threat to the security of the island, and the Comte's class -- the wealthy landowners -- were clearly in the minority. An uprising would see them quickly over-run and killed, their properties destroyed. The 500,000 blacks on the island outnumbered free white plantation owners by a margin of ten to one.
The Comte d'Arville finished the thin cigar he had been smoking, ground out its butt, and headed back into the comparative coolness of the library to begin work on the day's orders and inventories.
He noted, with pleasure, that the price of coffee had risen once again in Paris, and was following suite in Rome and London, although this did not mean increased profits for the family business, because France had tied the island's import and export trade to an 'exclusif', meaning Saint-Domingue could trade directly with France only -- with prices fixed to favour France at great cost to the island.
But the greater proportion of export and import trade took place illegally with the newly-formed United States. And with the growing power of the new nation's naval forces in the West Indies, there was very little France could do to stop it.
No matter how high the price of the dark brown beans went, their popularity would continue to rise, driven on by the various houses of royalty throughout Europe; it was even said that the Tsar of Russia himself was partial to a cup of Saint-Domingue coffee in preference to the 'slush' they normally received from other countries, such as Cuba and South America.
Saint-Domingue, with its business firmly rooted in sugar, coffee, coco, tobacco, cotton, and sisal, was regarded as the richest of the West Indian 'nations'; but its real wealth would rise tenfold if only the trade 'exclusif' to which Paris had it tied could be broken.
Wearily, the Comte sighed, and returned to his work.
Mansion d'Arville, Saint-Domingue; August 21st; 1791: Twenty-seven children and fourteen adults were gathered at Charles d'Arville's seventh birthday party.
To the Comte, it seemed every child in Cap Francais, the city on the ocean shore below, had been called to attend: little feet ran hither and yon, tripping servants and stepping on the toes of highly-polished boots, screaming, yelling, and making enough noise to rouse the dead from their graves.
From the day of Charles' birth, the Comte had doted on the child, spending every free moment he could find taking the boy by horseback to all corners of the plantation, by carriage into Cap Francais to look at the shops and market-places, and spending money on all manner of gifts. Charles and his father had formed an unbreakable bond, and the child's mother could only look on and wonder at the strength of the bond between the two.
The Comte had already begun instructing the boy in the management of a large plantation such as the one to which he was the heir, and the boy had already shown an aptitude for the schooling of his father. But there was an apparent cruel streak in the child that revealed itself at odd times, when the boy was under stress or in a mood to cause what others would regard as mischief. And this worried the Comte.
Slaves hurried from the house to the spacious gardens at the rear, seaward-facing side of the grounds, carrying trays of cool lemonade, plates of pastries and sweets, all manner of good things to eat -- from a child's perspective, that is.
Elizabetta, the Comtesse, lay back on a chaise-longue brought from the sitting room, a fan gently wafting before her face, trying to concentrate on the voice of Madame de Siernay, who was babbling another of her interminable tales of the doings of Jacques, her grandson.
As the words bubbled over her head, Elizabetta looked across the wide gardens, to where her husband stood in earnest conversation with a group of four men. One of them was a stranger to her, but the others she knew well, for they had often dined at the Mansion d'Arville: the first was Pierre Montaine, owner of the storage warehouses down on the docks, and part-owner of one of the largest plantations in the island; the second was Dr Phillipe Morriat, the island's unofficial Secretary of Defence, appointed by the plantation owners, and a most powerful man, in addition to being the island's only medical doctor; the third was Chief Prefect Pierre d'Erson, head of police and all security forces; and the fourth -- the stranger--was one of the three island Commissioners, sent from Paris to enforce the island's allegiance to governance from Paris.
The odd man out, if one could be said to be such, was Pierre Montaine: he was the product of a white father and negro mother, known as a mulatto. The mulatto population, while small, was in the curious position of mostly being wealthier than many of the white plantation owners due to their white blood, and were mainly loyal to the monarchy, the only exception being Montaine, who longed for a republic, which would allow free trade and import throughout the world.
"Did not this...Boukman cochon...appear at your slave quarters once before, Alain?" the grey-haired Montaine asked, his dark eyes fixed on the Comte's.
"Yes," the Comte replied; "and I sent a slave to fetch the garrison and have him arrested. But it seems they were more interested in a game of cards than in doing their duty!" His eyes glared directly at the garrison commandant, who turned a bright shade of red and lowered his face.
"We cannot answer every call to arrest persons in the middle of the night -- just for speaking to the slaves!" he protested; "by the time we arrived, anyway, he would no doubt have vanished into the jungle, and we would have lost him."
Montaine spat on the ground.
"And so you allowed him to go on his merry way, inciting the slaves, calling them to rise up against their masters, and now we have this situation -- and the slaves are accepting him as their leader because a voodoo woman says she has been told that he is the one to lead them to freedom!" he spat upon the ground again, directly in front of the highly-polished toecaps of the Commandant's boots; "honestly, I cannot see why France sent an incompetent such as you to-"
"Incompetent! Now see here, Montaine-"
As the Commandant was about to remonstrate further, the Chief Prefect cut in: "you must forgive Montaine for his outburst, Commandant. But his barn has been fired, and his crops destroyed in the lower field. Aaaah..." he sighed; "it shall be 1759 all over again, with plantation owners being poisoned by the concoctions of some voodoo houngan, but this time it shall not be Mackandal we have to catch and break on the rack, but a trouble-maker named Boukman."
The Chief Prefect was referring to the major uprising of forty years previously, when food and water supplies had been poisoned and many had died. Eventually the name of the leader -- Mackandal -- had been extracted from a slave under torture, and that had led to the capture and death of the houngan and the end of the uprising.
"Tell me, M'sieu le Comte..." he turned to Alain; "have you lost any slaves to this...Boukman yet?"
The Comte shook his head.
"Non. It seems to be the runaways who live in villages in the jungles that have joined up with him so far, together with a handful of slaves from the plantations. I do not think much will come of it. He has not the power of the houngan, although he claims to, nor the belief in voodoo to support his efforts. We will catch him, and he will go the way of Mackandal."
"Houngans...voodoo...witchcraft!" Montaine spat upon the ground and clenched his fists at his sides; "this is all superstition, used to capture and hold the minds of the weak! Nothing more!"
"And therein lies the power of voodoo," the Chief Prefect's finger came up before Montaine's face; "it has the power to enslave and hold the minds of the weak. And that is something we have never achieved, in all France's history in these islands. Remember, Montaine: Mackandal used voodoo to tie his followers to his -- cause -- and he almost succeeded in driving us from these shores." He turned, paced away, then turned and made his way back to the group. "Voodoo...in fact, any form of religion or belief...does not actually have to work. It only has to be seen to work, whether you accomplish that by trickery, the complicity of others...or by sorcery. As long as the slaves believe in its power, any leader can use it to bind his followers to his cause. That, and the promise of improved conditions, are all it takes. Nothing more."
At eight pm on the night of September 21st; 1791, a cloud of dust appeared on the rise leading into the plantation. As the Comte and Comtesse watched it draw nearer, it revealed a rider bent low over the pommel of his saddle, a flintlock pistol in one hand.
A hundred yards behind, several figures -- some mounted, some on foot -- appeared through the dust, and shots could be heard. The Comte rose to his feet as the rider skidded to a halt beneath the balcony and disappeared inside the mansion. Seconds later, heavy hurried footsteps echoed up the staircase, and one of the household slaves from the Montaine plantation stumbled, gasping and out of breath, onto the balcony.
"Genare!" the Comte recognised the dark face, the greying hair, and reached a hand to steady the man; "come...sit! What is happening?"
"My master...bids me..." he gasped, then his head fell forward as a blossom of red appeared on the right shoulder of his shirt.
"You have been shot! Samuel! Fetch water, bandages! Hurry!"
As Samuel hurried off into the darkened interior of the dining hall, Genare gasped: "Paris...the general Assembly...has granted French citizenship to...all free people...all free people, white and..." then he slumped forward, unconscious.
Elizabetta rose to her feet, a white handkerchief clutched to her mouth.
"Alaine, what...what does this all..."
Alain turned to her, a grim smile on his face.
"What does it mean? It means that we no longer govern the colony! It means the Republic has recognised coloured people as our equals -- and -- Dear God! What have they done?"
Samuel reappeared, carrying a pan of water, bandages, and a bottle of iodine, and began tearing away the cloth covering Genare's chest. He had taken a ball in the right shoulder, but it had passed cleanly through, missing the bone. As Samuel worked over the unconscious slave, he glanced quickly down towards the main gate, where a large crowd of figures had gathered. Rifle barrels and cane knives could clearly be seen through the gathering twilight, and the sounds of shouting rose into the quiet of the evening.
Alain came to his feet, seized two flintlock pistols from the cabinet in the dining room, and hurried below. His commanding voice could be heard from above as he organised the large team of plantation overseers and house slaves to defend the main gates. As the armed men rushed to the defences, the battle was joined.
Elizabetta rose, fear written plainly on her pretty features. The plantation had been attacked many times in the past several months; but this time, the force laying siege to the gates was much larger, and appeared better armed.
One man's voice could be heard clearly above all others; that voice belonged to Boukman, the self-proclaimed houngan, a powerfully-built slave who had escaped from a plantation and become leader of the rebels. By himself, Boukman was a man to be feared. With a powerful force at his back, he represented a far greater danger to every white on the island.
"Bring the logs!" he could be heard shouting through the explosions of muskets and flintlock pistols; "ram the gates down! Ram them down!"
A sleepy Charles cradled in her arms, Elizabetta stood in the doorway to the main dining room and stared out over the balcony at the fire-lit scene below. Torches blazed in the night, the flash of gunfire could be seen, and men on both sides fell to the ground, some screaming in agony, others lying still, motionless.
Alain, his white shirt making him a clear target, stood upon an upturned barrel to one side of the gates, firing shot after shot into the milling mob. At his feet, Samuel knelt, loading powder and ball into flintlocks and passing them up to his master as fast as his fingers could work.
Suddenly, Alain seemed to stagger. The flintlock dropped from his hand, and he clutched at his side where a darker patch against the pure white of his shirt had blossomed.
Elizabetta watched, horrified, as he slumped forward. Samuel reached up, took the Comte by the waist, and lifted him down from the barrel. Clutching one hand to his left side, the Comte, leaning on Samuel for support, began a slow walk back to the mansion.
Behind the two, the battle raged on into the night.
* * * *