That the Nazis had had the temerity to have burned the church at Orandeur-sur-Glane was unthinkable. Francoise de Rochefort’s heart nearly stopped in her chest as she saw her friend, Colonel Robert Grayson carrying the limp form of Amarante from his car to entrance of the chateau. The girl’s face, body and limbs were smudged with, blood, soot and ash. Her hair was matted with blood, her clothing in tatters, shoes were also now missing.
‘No, it couldn’t be like this! Not like this!’ the Comtesse wanted to scream, ‘Not her!’
The other servants had come into the hall, either they dropped what they were doing and stared or rushed forward toward the two figures in panic. Some, particularly the cook and some of the other matrons were wringing their hands, asking if there was something that they could do. Grayson ignored everyone’s expressions and queries except those of the lady of the chateau. His black, boots rapped sharply on the marble, followed by Francoise’s own footfalls. Up. up the stairs he carried Amarante to the Comtess’s own rooms. The Colonel had not needed to ask his Anam Cara where she wanted her protege’ to be placed. He knew.
When he had laid Amarante on the bed, he stepped back to get out of Francoise’ way. Pale and obviously shocked at the sight, immediately she began to evaluate the girl, tearing fabric away as she ordered one of the maids to draw a hot bath immediately.
“Who is responsible for this?” the Comtesse growled, “When I find them I shall kill them myself!” she shot a withering glance backward at her friend who gazed back at her evenly.
“There is no need, Francoise,” he said, not bothering to avert his eyes as Francoise continued to examine Amarante’s prone form, “They’re already dead.”
Francoise stopped, surprised. There was no need for Colonel Robert Grayson to confess any involvement. She knew he would have killed his own men for something like this. What was France coming to now, the Comtesse wondered. “I am sure that the SS will be quite interested to know why you shot men from your own ranks, Dieter Hag. Collaboration does not mean collusion with the French people.” Eyes stinging, Francoise turned back to Amarante. She was determined that she would not cry.
The bullet had gone through Amarante’s body cleanly, The entrance and exit had miraculously missed vital organs, and hopefully with diligence, Francoise thought, she would be able to stave off infection or any complications. Much of that would depend on what Colonel Grayson was able to do in keeping further SS involvement in the area.
After determining the depth of the wound, the Comtesse banished Grayson from the room. If the child were to awaken, however unlikely from the shock, she would be traumatised by the Colonel being in the same room while she was not dressed. There had always been an air of fascination tinged with fear that Amarante had in regard to Grayson. He had never been anything but kind to her, but it was the uniform of the Germans that she could never see past. That, Francoise thought, was not too different from the rest of the French who now lived under occupation. Now with the unspeakable horror of Orandeur-sur-Glane, that distrust and even loathing would surely deepen.
The child had been bathed, her wounds tended with the finest herbs and unguents that Francoise found in the Chateau de Rochefort’s apothecaries. Both had been ritually prepared, the myrrh and goldenseal from the Americas with Yarrow and lavender in beeswax and the finest olive oils. The bandages smelled sweet, relaxing and almost camphorous. Amarante, her honey-coloured hair now washed and barely damp but lovingly combed as the child slept in a clean white nightdress. Even in the low lamplight, the child’s rest was fitful, and far from restful. Nightmares would rise up, and Amarante would murmur softly as if speaking to someone in the room. One in particular, caught Francoise’s attention.
‘Non, non, Monsieur. The lady, she knew nothing! Qui? Non..non..”
The Comtesse regarded what she had written and once again lit the brazier within her magical chamber, deep within the crypt beneath the Chateau de Rochefort. Unbinding her hair she let it fall and invoked the words that would awaken her husband’s shade. He haunted these halls and even without the rite itself, he would not refuse her summons and come to her call. But for this, this time, she could leave nothing to chance. This rite was to protect not only she and Amarante, but also Sebastien. The Giovanni and the Rochefort had been allied as families since the Renaissance, and there were others, very powerful others, who wished ill to either side, or even to both. The Halfling Countess could not afford to be careless.
A spectral wisp snaked through the caverns and stone arches beneath the Chateau, past the wine caves that its human form had so carefully tended when he was alive. Slowly it weaved its way, beyond the stone sarcophagi of endless ancestors that stretched back even before Merovingian times to the room where the wife of its last incarnation stood. Slowly, swirling around her as if once again alive, seductively moving about the Comtesse de Rochefort as her husband might have done.
In two breathfalls, she caught the scent not only of the musky dark of a mouldering grave, but that sweetness of leather and finest oils from the East that had been his favourite. The Comtesse closed her eyes and smiled, letting out a long exhale that sounded almost like a purr.
“You need not have been so formal, lady wife,” the spectral voice spoke to her mind, “I would have come…”
The Comtesse nodded, savouring the feeling like a brush of air against her neck that trailed over her breast. The sensation fell far short of what they had known in life. In the dimly lit chamber she could see the shadow move to formation. She allowed herself a small smile that bordered on adoration. Remembering why she had been moved to the crypts on a second consecutive night, her lips turned downward. “I know, mon amour,” she whispered in archaic French that few living understood and even fewer ever spoke. “I need you to leave the chateau’s halls and go to Venice.”
“Why would I leave?” the voice chuckled and caressed.
She ignored his question. ” You must. And after this, the Giovannisi will be expecting you.”
The shadow that had been once man was silent for a long moment. Francoise set the letter she had penned in sorceror’s ink on the parchment alight and continued. “I light this smoke to mingle with thine own essence….” Her voice trailed off and immediately the smoke and the shade became infused as one upon the air. She could feel th spectral mood shift as the flames licked and consumed the parchment from adoration to one of anger. His ville had been trespassed upon and worse, those who would have been under his charge had he been alive had been attacked. The very temerity of the act sent up billows of heat that caused the Comtesse to step back from the last shred that was being swallowed up by flame, consuming her very words:
Wordlessly she touched the parchment to the flame. It sputtered and quickly across the newly-penned missive. Each word remained for a moment in a glow, then became as nothing but feathery, glowing curls of etched carefully tanned hide that cooled and almost immediately disintegrated into dust. With a zephyrous gust, the last ashes of the letter were put out and Faelyn heard her husband’s words hiss inside of her brain.
“You send me into a necromancer’s trap with the child as bait, Faelyn?”
“You know better,” she snarled back, “I am out of my league in this and I do not want to relive the hell that we did with Marie.”
Another long silence then a large gust swept through the crypts. There were no other words of adoration, no sense of anything but the same sort of focused resolve that the man who once made up the shade had within himself. It sucked the air out of the chamber and out of Faelyn’s lungs until it blew back through the crypts and into the night air with a thunderous rumble and the slam of doors rattling on their hinges. It was as if Sebastien had mounted upon his black stallion and spurred him through the very halls of the Chateau de Rochefort, sword drawn.
Faelyn crumpled to the floor gasping, swallowing in an attempt to regain her composure, but the crushing heat of anger from her husband’s shade remained.
Her message had been sent.
Special thanks to my fellow writers who pen and who have permitted me to use the characters of Col. Robert Grayson, and Ambrogino and Isabel Giovanni. A most heartfelt thanks must go to the hand behind M. le Comte de Rochefort. It is because of them and their muse that my obsession with their story has never waned.. The rest of the story can be read at