About the book
The last installment in The Great Tome Series brings you this collection of tales featuring historical and legendary magic users. Includes stories by Vonnie Winslow Crist, CB Droege, Bill Hiatt, ErlyAnne Toomey, J.M. Williams, Larry Lefkowitz, Mark Charke, and Julie Ann Dawson.
from the short story The Unworthy by Julie Ann Dawson
Lady Rae walked through Saint Louis Cemetery’s rows of damaged above-ground tombs and sighed. It didn’t matter how many times she made this pilgrimage. The site of so many graves, either willfully destroyed by vandals or incidentally destroyed by nature, always hurt her heart. She lifted her long, brightly-colored skirt to step across an overturned angel statue. Both wings were shattered and half the face crushed.
Just as the melancholy began to set in, she noticed a thick patch of red lichen growing on the angel’s broken back. “The spirits always provide,” she said as she put down the bottle of white rum she was carrying and pulled a small scrapper and vial from her reagent pouch. She knelt, careful to keep her skirt out of the dirt as much as she could, and harvested the lichen for future medicinal use.
The cemeteries of New Orleans were always ripe with useful fungi and moss, but that wasn’t the reason for her visit. She continued through the cemetery until she reached one of the few tombs left standing. Unlike some of the tombs that once filled the cemeteries, this one bore no statuary of angels or other ornamentation. The only markings visible on the narrow, white structure were several uneven series of X’s marked into the plaster and a battered bronze plaque that read:
This Greek Revival tomb is the reputed burial place of the notorious “Voodoo Queen”. A mystic cult, voodooism, of African origin, was brought to this city from Santo Domingo and flourished in 19th century. Marie Laveau was the most widely known of many practitioners of the cult.
That plaque always worked her one good nerve. She didn’t know what part of it bothered her more: that they referred to the Blessed Queen as “notorious” or the bad punctuation. Lady Rae considered herself a learned woman, and that period outside the quotation mark was as much an affront as calling her faith a cult.
But it was part of the original tomb, and no amount of rankled nerves would let her have it replaced.
Lady Rae placed the bottle of rum in front of the tomb, then folded her hands in front of her and bowed her head. Her bottle joined several others, as well as multiple bouquets of dried flowers, jars of candies, and a box of cigars. She knew the Queen had no need for such things and that by nightfall vagrants would gather up the offerings for their own use. But to her, that was the point. The faithful brought offerings, not for the Queen, but to share her bounty with the less fortunate. If the rum gave someone a moment of respite, then it served its purpose.
“My Queen, this is your faithful servant, come to show you the respect you deserve. And to thank you, on behalf of both the believer and the heathen, for your continued protection over this city. It is through your mercy our city survived Doomsday, and it is through your compassion and grace that we continue to rebuild. And though we are unworthy of your love, give us the strength of will and character to one day be so deserving.”
“My dear Lady Rae,” said Baron Samedi as he approached from behind her. “Well said.”
Lady Rae’s shoulder’s slumped. “What are you doing here, Herman?” She refused to insult the loas by calling him Samedi, and she knew how much it got under his skin to be reminded of his true name.
Samedi stepped beside her, removing his purple top hat with one leathery hand while holding up a box of cigars in the other. “Same as you, my dear woman. Same as you. Just wanting to show proper respects to the one that saved my city all those years ago.” His mummified featured curled into a toothy smile.
“The Zombi Court doesn’t own this city. The residents elected you to run it. Be mindful of the difference.”
“I only mean that I was born here, before the war. That do give me a certain symbolic claim most others don’t have. I still recall what this city was before Doomsday. And, I respect what it would have been had the Good Queen here not interceded when she did.” He placed the box of cigars next to the tomb. “At least, that is how the legend goes after all.”
“You come out here to be respectful or to get on my nerves again?”
“Don’t see why I can’t do both.” Samedi burst into laughter as he watched Lady Rae’s soft, round face harden. “I’m just teasing at you. You know I have nothing but affection for you and the Queen’s Circle. What’s a little harmless ribbing between friends?”
Lady Rae folded her arms in front of her and turned to face Samedi. “What are you doing out here, Herman? You didn’t just happen along as I was here. You know I don’t abide foolishness from you. You’re here for something.”
Samedi held his hat in both hands over his heart and offered a slight bow. “You wound me, Lady Rae. You carry on as if I was some sort of blasphemer.”
“That’s one word I would use for you. Fortunately for you, I’m a proper lady and won’t use some of the other words rolling through my head right now.”
Samedi put his hat back on and shook his head. “My dear, if we could only bottle the venom that drips off that pretty tongue, I could poison the whole of the RNT and put an end to their threat completely.”
“That’s why you came looking for me out here, isn’t it? This has something to do with the Republic?”
“Chevalier Armand has reason to believe we have a spy in the courthouse…and you may have one in the Circle.”
“If your boy is going to throw accusations—”
“Armand does not throw accusations wildly, and he didn’t even want me telling you until he had more information. But you are in a better position to root out spies in your own organization than he is, and if you heard wind of it through other channels you would accuse me of hiding things from you. Again.”
“Well, true that. So, what else should I know?”
“That one of his informants says that the RNT intends to hit some soft targets of value to myself and to you. I can only assume in an attempt to drive a wedge between us, seeing as how well we work together and all.”
“You think the Queen is the target?”
Samedi nodded. “This is the fiftieth anniversary of the miracle that saved this city from the bombs. If I was a soulless bastard like we know those fools in the RNT to be, it would be the obvious choice. What better way to fully turn the Circle against the Zombi Court than for something to happen to this most sacred of places?”
“I’ll call up the rest of the Circle and learn the truth of this spy if she exists.”
“Should you discover her identity, try to show some restraint. Leave enough of her for Armand to question. We need to find all of these cockroaches before they infest everything.”
“We can still question the dead. Don’t forget that.”
“The dead can be more stubborn than the living, though. Not all that much more you can do to someone after that.”
“I’ll try to show some restraint.”
Samedi nodded and turned to leave. “Oh, and Rae. Do try and be careful. The Queen can no doubt tend to her own business. Seeing, you know, how she did swat a bomb out of the sky from beyond the grave and all. But for all your talents, you are still mortal. And believe it or not, I don’t want no harm coming to you.”
Lady Rae’s face softened with a smile. “Thank you, Herman. I appreciate the warning.”
“Did that hurt?”
“Did what hurt?”
“Thanking me. Did it hurt?”
Lady Rae slapped Samedi on the arm. “Damn fool! That’s what I get for showing you a modicum of courtesy!”
“Lady Rae, don’t ever change. My world would become a much more boring place.”