Spotlight and Excerpt:The Mummy of Monte Cristo by J. Trevor Robinson

They thought their troubles died with Edmond. They were wrong on both counts — The Mummy of Monte Cristo by @JTrevorRobinson 3/26

The Mummy of Monte Cristo
by J. Trevor Robinson
Genre: Horror

Revenge takes time; fortunately Edmond Dantes doesn’t sleep. Or breathe.In a world of monsters and magic, Edmond Dantes has a pretty good life. He’s just been made captain of a ship, and he’s about to marry his sweetheart. But when jealousy, spite, and ambition conspire to frame him for treason, he loses everything. To make things right, he’ll need to give up the only thing he has left: his humanity.They thought their troubles died with Edmond. They were wrong on both counts.
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J. Trevor Robinson

Adapted from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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BOOK 1: The Death and Life of Edmond Dantes 3

Chapter 1 – Arrival in Marseille 4

Chapter 2 – The Assistant Prosecutor 10

Chapter 3 – The Examination 14

BOOK 1: The Death and Life of Edmond Dantes

Chapter 1 – Arrival in Marseille

As Edmond Dantes was mummified alive in the darkness beneath Monte Cristo, he reflected on the events which had brought him there.

The look-out at the Marseille docks spotted the Michaeleon pulling in from sea on the 24th of February, 1815. The big three-mast ship came from Tunisia with untold exotic goods nestled in the hold. Spectators gathered to watch the Michaeleon sail into the harbour, past the rocky islands in the bay and the imposing walls of the prison of the Chateau d’If. The locals took a sense of pride in seeing the Marseille-built Michaeleon return to port.

A massive grey appendage emerged from the water just outside of the harbour and interrupted the spectacle. The slithering tentacle covered in razor-sharp ringed cups rose twenty feet straight up into the air before slamming down onto the deck of the Michaeleon. The ship’s pilot sounded the warning bell; the bell of the old fort on shore answered it. The sailors sprang into action with pistols and swords to dislodge the tentacle before it could pull them under.

Another incoming ship, the Pharaon, increased their sails to pick up more speed. A young man next to the pilot directed the deckhands to man the ship’s harpoon guns. They fired the large metal hooks into the blubbery sides of the kraken surfacing next to the imperiled Michaeleon. The beast’s ivory beak breached the surface, surrounded by smaller tendrils. One of them wrapped around the leg of an unfortunate seaman, dragging him closer to the beak to be torn in half.

The Pharaon drew closer. As a defensive measure against just this sort of creature, it had an extendable steel spike beneath the water line. The young man ordered it deployed, and their course allowed them to ram the kraken at full speed. The wounded creature screeched and flailed, withdrawing from its attack on the Michaeleon to focus on removing itself from the spike as the crew brought four-pounder cannons to the deck. With the tentacle clear of the Michaeleon’s deck, the sailors on that vessel brought their own cannons to bear as well. Fired upon on both flanks, the kraken decided to submerge and flee in search of an easier meal.

Monsieur Pierre Morrel, owner of the shipping company Morrel & Son and of the Pharaon, stood on the dock with great agitation. The Michaeleon was not one of his ships, but a kraken attack was never an easy thing to witness, especially when lives were lost. He made a mental note to check in with the ship’s owner later and see if the dead man had any family.

Another concern for him stood aboard the Pharaon itself; or rather, not aboard it. The young man giving orders was certainly not Captain LeClere. Furthermore, the ship was several days late in returning to Marseille. 

Whoever the acting captain was, he had handled the kraken and now threw tow lines to the injured vessel. Morrel’s wooden leg beat an uneven rhythm against the dock as he rushed to a small skiff and paid the oarsman to bring him out to the Pharaon.

“Did you see that, monsieur?” the oarsman asked. “I’ve never seen a kraken so big in the harbour in all my days! Isn’t the coast guard supposed to keep them at bay?”

“Some ambassadors are returning from abroad and requested an escort, from what I hear,” Morrel said. “It seems that kept them busy.”

When Morrel came alongside, a rope ladder waited for him, and the young man stood at the top of it. A tall and slim young fellow of about eighteen or twenty, with hazel eyes and hair as black as a raven, and as pale as a hardy life under the Mediterranean sun allowed. His demeanour, even in the wake of battle, radiated a sort of calm peculiar to men who are equipped to deal with danger. Nevertheless, he looked worried.

“Edmond Dantes? Is that you, then?” Morrel asked as he climbed. “Where is Captain LeClere? Why did he leave you in command?”

“M. Morrel, I regret to tell you that Captain LeClere has died,” Edmond said as he helped to pull Morrel up onto the deck. “We lost him when we made port at Naples.”

“Lost him?” Morrel asked, devastated to hear such news about his best captain. Morrel’s wife and LeClere’s were bridge partners, and their children played together. “Was it pirates?”

“Just a moment, sir,” Edmond said. He gave new orders for a course correction to bring themselves and the Michaeleon into the docks. The pilot and eight other seamen sprang into action to respond. It impressed Morrel despite the terrible news.

“Ah, M. Morrel!” called another voice behind him. Morrel recognized the accent at once and was not surprised to see M. Danglars approaching.

Danglars was the ship’s supercargo, responsible for buying and selling as Morrel’s representative in foreign ports. His curly brown hair, receding already at twenty-five, resisted any attempt to tame it. It framed a round and rubbery face, with a large gap between the front teeth. Danglars pushed his way past the deckhands to reach Morrel without bothering to excuse himself, and his beady eyes kept tabs on Edmond as he did so.

“All of our transactions have been processed as directed, sir,” Danglars said when he reached Morrel. His voice was somehow both deep and nasal at the same time, a combination that Morrel found both unique and unpleasant. “I have a summary of the ledger here if you’d care to review it.”

“I’ll look at it shortly, Danglars,” Morrel said. Danglars was adept with figures, but his logs had a history of irregularities that worried Morrel. Every inconsistency had an explanation, and there had never been any trouble, but Morrel would not be surprised to learn Danglars was embezzling. Still, he had never been able to find any proof of it. “Tell me, what happened to Captain LeClere?”

“Ah, I see young Edmond has told you about our entirely avoidable misfortune,” Danglars said with a sniff. “We were ashore in Naples having supper, and LeClere heard a commotion in the street. A loup-garou was running loose in the street, and the captain put himself in harm’s way to draw the beast’s attention from some young women. It was elaborate suicide, really.”

“Werewolves! Foul creatures, the lot of them,” Morrel said. “Was the captain at least suitably equipped?”

“Not in the least,” Danglars said. “A jeweler arrived with silver bullets and put the wolf down, but it had already mauled the captain beyond hope of rescue. All we could do was bring him back to his cabin; he wanted to breathe his last aboard the Pharaon.”

Mon dieu,” Morrel said, making the sign of the cross. “It will be a small comfort to his widow that he died a hero, but small comfort is better than none. Did he have any last words?”

“Ask Edmond; he was alone with the captain when he died and took it upon himself to give the crew new orders immediately,” Danglars said, staring at Morrel with intent. He pressed his thin lips together and stretched his cheeks, an expression which Morrel had learned served as a smile on Danglars’ face. “While you’re at it, I would suggest asking him about the unscheduled stop which not only delayed us but also brings us into port under the Hunger Moon. It’s a bad omen, sir.”

“I doubt very much that the moon cares about your date of arrival, M. Danglars, and Edmond was, after all, the first mate,” Morrel said, frowning. Danglars’ superstitions could be tiresome, but if Edmond had ordered the delay he would need to learn why. “See to it that everything is ready for customs to come aboard. I will check in with you before I leave the ship.”

Morrel hobbled across the deck on his wooden leg, grateful that the harbour was calm. He had lost the leg twelve years earlier, during the darkest period of Europe’s history: the Dead Plague.

Beginning in late 1787 in Eastern Europe, a mysterious event set in motion a terrible perversion of nature. The source of it was a tightly-guarded secret, but something spread across the continent which turned men, women, and children into walking corpses, hungry for human flesh. People called the creatures many names: undead, revenants, ghouls, zombies. Whatever the label, the Plague spread like fire and raged for seventeen years. One bite from an undead transmitted the infection; if the victim could avoid being devoured completely, they were doomed to become a zombie themselves.

Morrel had just avoided that fate in 1803, when a zombie concealed itself in the shadows beneath his front porch. Cold hands had clamped onto his ankle, and the zombie’s teeth passed through his boot to tear off a chunk of the flesh and tendons beneath. Morrel had only just been able to put a bullet through the zombie’s head when he fell. The quick action of his neighbour, a doctor, resulted in his losing the leg beneath the knee soon enough to prevent total infection.

He found Edmond supervising the crew from the upper deck. The crew responded as well to him as they ever had to Captain LeClere, and he handled the responsibility well. Morrel had seen many young men in their first command position turn to arrogance, but Edmond gave his orders respectfully. LeClere seemed to have taught him well. Morrel beckoned for Edmond to follow him to the captain’s office and waited for Edmond to close the door. 

“M. Danglars tells me that there was an unscheduled stop,” Morrel said. “Can you explain it, please?”

“Of course, but it is a delicate matter,” Edmond said, standing at attention. “I wasn’t certain whether to log it before talking to you first. It has to do with Captain LeClere.”

“LeClere ordered the detour?” Morrel asked.

“In a way, sir. When he was dying on his bed, he sent everyone else away. His last request was that we deliver a letter to Marshal Bertrand at the island of Elba,” Edmond said. “The crew were allowed to come ashore as far as the beach, and I was taken to see the marshal alone.”

Morrel stroked his chin, surprised by the young man’s words. Omitting the visit from the logbook was prudent; Elba was the prison of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

When the Dead Plague reached France in the summer of 1788, King Louis XVI and his court showed little concern for the commoners and instead focused on protecting themselves. The people revolted against this indifference in 1789 and overthrew the monarchy in a grand Revolution. Napoleon, a Corsican commander in the French army, organized his troops to subdue the worst of the undead uprising within France and earned the country’s adoration. The revolutionary government made him first a general and later their highest rank of First Consul.

Seeing an opportunity to increase French power, Napoleon led the army across Europe. Wherever he went, he wiped out the undead and demanded that the countries he liberated become vassals of France. Weakened by the Plague, they submitted to French rule. Finally, in 1804, he found something in a region of Eastern Europe which would one day become Ukraine. Napoleon never publicized his actions there, but because of what he did, every zombie in the world was destroyed in the same instant. He returned to Paris and gave himself a new title: Emperor.

All was not well for Napoleon, however. Royalist aristocrats who had survived the Revolution remained in exile, working among the new vassal states to stir up resentment against Napoleon and reclaim their former positions. The end of the Dead Plague did not end Napoleon’s ambitions, and he continued to expand his empire; in 1812, he overextended himself with a disastrous attempt to invade Russia and gave the Royalists their opportunity. Humiliated by his Russian defeat, Napoleon returned to Paris to find a coalition of Royalist-backed rebel forces waiting for him. He was forced to abdicate his throne, and the monarchy was restored with King Louis XVIII. Napoleon was exiled to Elba with his marshal and six-hundred men in his personal guard, and allowed to rule the native population there as a king.

“Sir?” Edmond said, bringing Morrel’s thoughts back to the present. Morrel realized he hadn’t spoken for several minutes.

“You should be alright,” Morrel said carefully. “As you said, the landing was made at LeClere’s request; no judge in the country would convict you for a dying man’s last wishes. As for the letter, I would not expect trouble. The postal service already carries news to and from the island, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

“Thank goodness, sir,” Edmond said, relaxing his shoulders. “I had half-convinced myself of the same thing, but it’s good to hear you say it.”

“Yes yes, that’s often the way of things,” Morrel said with a smile. He checked for eavesdroppers at the cabin door, then returned to Edmond. “Did you see the emperor? How is he doing?”

“He entered the marshal’s apartment while I was there and seemed quite well. In fact, he spoke to me, sir,” Edmond said.

“And what did he say to you?” Morrel asked.

“He asked me questions about the Pharaon, our trip from Marseille, and what was our cargo. He seemed pleased to have someone new to talk to, if only for a few minutes,” Edmond said. “I told him that she belonged to you; he told me he knew the firm and that a Morrel had served in his regiment many years ago.”

“Imagine that, the emperor remembers the name Morrel! That was my uncle, Policar. He would love to hear that, but…” Morrel stopped his joyful exclamations and laid a hand on Edmond’s shoulder. “Edmond, you did well to follow Captain LeClere’s last wishes. Regardless, I think it would be best if you tell nobody else about your visit to Elba.”

Edmond nodded, and then they heard a clamour outside signaling that they had reached the docks. Men shouted to each other as they lowered the gangway for the customs officers and health inspectors to come aboard.

“Excuse me sir, but as acting captain I should be out there,” Edmond said.

“True enough, true enough. Go!” Morrel said, watching Edmond leave before following him out onto the deck.

The health inspectors came aboard first, wearing thick leather overcoats and masks of fine mesh to avoid any possible contagion. The uniforms made Morrel imagine Hell’s own fencing team. They verified the ship’s logbook and compared the entries to a list of recent known outbreaks. With everything in order, they presented their bill to Edmond and left to admit the customs officers.

The customs officers wore ordinary suits and cravats and were accompanied by several pairs of uniformed gendarmes. Each pair brought with them a drake on a leash, a four-legged reptilian creature the size of a wolf. The gendarmes and their drakes inspected the cargo hold for any smuggled contraband. Meanwhile, the customs officers went to the supercargo’s office with Danglars’ assistant to inspect the books and determine what taxes would be excised from Morrel’s profits.

“I take it that young Edmond has given a satisfactory explanation for the landing at Elba?” Danglars asked, unhappy to see Morrel smiling after meeting with Edmond.

“He did,” Morrel said.

“Ah, very good,” Danglars said with a frown. “Speaking of the late Captain LeClere, did Edmond give you his letter? I think the captain entrusted him with one.”

“You’re awfully knowledgeable about a private meeting between Edmond and the dying captain, M. Danglars,” Morrel said, his eyes narrowing.

“I may have passed the door of the captain’s cabin as they were talking,” Danglars said, blushing. “It must have slipped my mind.”

Edmond soon returned and Danglars took the opportunity to retreat, though he remained close enough to keep an ear on their conversation.

“The customs details are taken care of, sir,” Edmond reported, “and the Michaeleon is safely at dock as well. The voyage is over!”

“Expertly handled, Edmond,” Morrel said. “When you’re done, I insist you join me for lunch. We should talk about the late captain, the journey at large, and perhaps your career as well.”

“It would be my honour, M. Morrel,” Edmond said, not bothering to hide his brilliant grin. “But I’ve been away for three months and need to see my father. How has his health been? Have you seen him lately?”

Morrel chuckled and rapped his knuckles against his wooden leg. “Us old cripples need to stick together! Your father has been fine, although you know how he likes to keep to himself. I expect a certain someone else will be receiving a visit soon after? A certain girl in the Catalan village?”

“Well, sir, that reminds me of something,” Edmond said, a flush creeping up to his high cheekbones. “Mercedes, that is the Catalan girl, agreed to marry me once I returned; I’d like to request a few days leave, sir.”

“For your wedding? Of course, dear boy! Consider it done,” Morrel said.

“The wedding, yes, but also an important errand I need to conduct in Paris. I’ll be back as soon as possible,” Edmond said.

“Not to worry,” Morrel said. “Take the time you need. It will take six weeks to unload the cargo, and three months to prepare for the next voyage. Just be back by then; after all, the Pharaon cannot sail without her captain!”

“Sir? I told you, Captain LeClere has…” Edmond trailed off, his eyes growing wide as he realized what Morrel had said. “If this is a joke, it’s a cruel one. I’ve dreamt of being captain of this ship since I first saw her and learned every inch of every job on her to prepare for it.”

“No joke, Edmond,” Morrel said. “Mind you, I still need to confer with my business partner before it can be official. But it’s a formality; he leaves the staffing decisions largely in my hands.”

“M. Morrel, I swear that I won’t let you down,” Edmond said with tears in his eyes as he shook Morrel’s hand.

“You can thank me once it’s official. Now go see your father! Go see your blushing bride!” Morrel said.

Edmond saluted Morrel and sprinted down the gangway, dashing towards the famous street of La Canebiere. From dawn to midnight, people swarmed La Canebiere’s many markets and restaurants and social clubs; the saying went that if Paris had La Canebiere, Paris would be a second Marseille. Morrel felt a large measure of paternal pride. He had a son of his own, only eight years old, but he couldn’t help seeing Edmond as a de facto godson. 

Lurking by a mast, Danglars held a distinctly different attitude.

“Captain? At only nineteen?” he muttered with a scowl, too low for anyone to hear.

Chapter 2 – The Assistant Prosecutor

Late the following afternoon, a most unusual wedding ceremony began on the outskirts of Marseille. Though Marseillais weddings were often colourful, no common citizen of the town would recognize these rites as traditional. 

This wedding took place deep in a grotto by the coast. Instead of jubilant guests in their Sunday best, the solemn attendees wore dark cloaks and hoods. Instead of dancing, all but three stood in a circle at the very rear of the grotto where the afternoon sunlight did not reach, and the only light came from candles and large brazier. Instead of laughter and singing, a Latin chant and the crashing of waves on the rocks outside mingled with the muffled protests of a man gagged and bound to a stone chair in the middle of the circle.

Three cloaked figures remained apart in the center of the circle behind the stone chair. One of them stood, while the other two knelt on the stone floor.

“We uphold the ancient tradition of the divine right of kings,” the standing figure proclaimed in a deep baritone. A diamond pendant hung on a chain from his neck. “As we serve our monarch on earth, so do the merciless and inscrutable angels serve God in heaven. As the angels are brutal in persecuting the forces of hell, so must we be brutal in persecuting those forces as they exist on earth.”

“Amen,” the two kneeling figures said. The circle around them echoed this response.

“All of life flows to us from God through the crown,” the standing figure continued. “To trespass against the crown is to trespass against life itself.”

“Amen,” the kneeling figures repeated, followed again by the circle.

“Brothers and sisters, we gather here today to witness an ascension within our ranks. Our Stone Brother Gerard de Villefort rises to the rank of Silver Brother, with the responsibilities and hidden knowledge which accompany the position,” the standing figure said. “If he can demonstrate his dedication, then his ascension and marriage to Sister Renee will be complete. Brother Gerard, Sister Renee, lower your hoods.”

The kneeling figures looked at each other and nodded. Once lowered, the hoods revealed a man of about twenty-seven and a woman just turned eighteen. The young man had ice-blue eyes, tightly curled brown hair, and soft features to the point of being feminine. The young woman was a vision of Venus, with a heart-shaped face and delicate nose, and chestnut hair that gleamed red in the firelight. A stone pendant hung from the young man’s neck, and a square steel pendant hung from hers.

“Brother Gerard de Villefort, do you solemnly swear to use your life and influence to uphold the position and authority of the king, and to do whatever is necessary in service to the king’s embodiment of the greater good?” the standing figure asked.

“I do so swear, Diamond Brother,” the young man said.

“Sister Renee de Villefort, born Saint-Meran, do you solemnly swear to use your life and influence to uphold the position and authority of the king, and to do whatever is necessary in service to the king’s embodiment of the greater good?” Diamond Brother asked.

The young woman swallowed and glanced back at the stone chair behind her only for a moment. “I do so swear,” she said.

“The Revolution and the usurper forced those of us loyal to the crown to desperate measures,” Diamond Brother said. “In the light, we worked with the rulers of other lands to overthrow the usurper. In darkness, like today, we made offerings to the forces of heaven to restore our beloved monarchy. In keeping with that tradition, it is time to extract the tax.”

Diamond Brother beckoned to members of the circle. One stepped forward to hand Renee two silver chalices. A second figure handed Villefort a weathered, bloodstained axe; a headsman’s blade used in executions before the Revolution, when the guillotine had come into vogue and replaced it. 

The guillotine, capable of more rapid and reliable beheadings than an axe, had become popular during the Dead Plague as a quick method to dispatch bitten victims before their turning. Once decapitated, a body could not reanimate. During the Revolution, it took on a new primary purpose: the separation of aristocratic heads from their shoulders.

Villefort took a position next to the chair and hefted the axe. Once Renee knelt in front of the chair with the silver chalices ready, Diamond Brother’s hood bobbed in a nod. Villefort brought the blade down to sever the prisoner’s wrist in one stroke.

The victim screamed against the gag. Renee winced, but caught the falling hand in one of the chalices without looking away. She held the second beneath the stump, catching the spray of blood. Villefort handed the axe away and reached into the prisoner’s pocket. He retrieved a handful of coins and dropped them into the blood-filled chalice. Together he and Renee carried the chalices to the brazier.

“A tax of blood for the crown,” Villefort and Renee said together. Renee eased the blood onto the coals, producing a hiss of steam.

“A tax of gold for the crown,” they added. Renee upended her chalice and allowed the coins to fall into the flames.

“A tax of flesh and bone for the crown,” they finished, and Villefort dumped the hand into the fire. An aroma like roasting pork filled the cave, and the circle resumed their chanting until the prisoner in the chair stopped struggling. Diamond Brother raised his arms.

“Via the power granted to me by the monarchy, I now pronounce you man and wife, and members in good standing of the Silver tier of the Eternal Royalist League. Long live the king!” he declared and drew back his hood as the circle repeated the cheer.

Diamond Brother’s hood revealed Marquis Alphonse de Saint-Meran, Renee’s father and the Minister of Finance to King Louis XVIII. Driven into hiding by the Revolution, the Saint-Merans could only return to France after Napoleon had been dethroned. He shook his new son-in-law’s hand while two other members of the circle stepped forward to present Villefort and Renee with new silver pendants to replace those they already wore.

With the ritual complete, the other cloaked figures lowered their own hoods to talk amongst themselves as the circle dissolved into small groups. Servants removed the corpse from the chair, threw it into the sea, and worked to scrub away the fresh bloodstains.

“You both did very well,” Saint-Meran said with a smile.

“Father, you know I love the king with all my heart,” Renee said, her face pale. “But doesn’t it seem… extreme, to kill a man this way?”

“Renee my dear, you mustn’t think of him as a man. He was a criminal and worse, a Bonapartist,” Villefort said. “I verified everything myself.”

“How good it is to have an assistant prosecutor in the order!” Saint-Meran said with a chuckle. “Between your position and your dedication, you’ll soon reach the rank of Inquisitor.”

“It is nothing more than my duty, sir,” Villefort said in a deep bow. “All Bonapartists are traitors, and however distasteful it may be, exterminating them is the price we pay for a civilized society.”

Saint-Meran put his arm around Villefort’s shoulder. “I’m glad to hear you say that. I must admit, considering your father’s history, I was wary when you applied to become a member of the League.”

“My father is dead to me, sir. I haven’t spoken to him in years,” Villefort said with a scowl. “I don’t share his convictions, beliefs, or even his name; Villefort was my loyal mother’s maiden name.”

“Quite right,” Saint-Meran said. “I was going to say, once you paid the ascension fee to graduate from Wooden to Stone Brother and I learned of your record as a prosecutor, it soothed my doubts considerably. You’ll be a fine husband to my dear Renee.”

“Thank you, sir,” Villefort said.

A fat balding man, Minister of Health M. Chastain, approached them with a glass of wine in his hand and a deep flush in his jowls.

“Did someone mention young Villefort’s law career?” Chastain said. “Gerard, you must invite me to the trial of that Provencal man, the one accused of killing his father. My gut tells me it will be a show not to miss, especially after seeing you swing that axe, and you can imagine how loudly my gut can speak!” He chuckled and patted his expansive stomach.

Renee spoke up again. “You see, there is a case I can support! A man who would kill his own father obviously deserves no mercy at all.”

“Then you’re halfway to understanding why stamping out Bonapartism is so necessary,” Villefort said, laying a hand on Renee’s shoulder. “Think of it this way: the king is the father of the entire nation. Rebelling against him is like conspiring in millions of counts of patricide at once, and so they are guilty of a far worse offence than murdering one man. Do you see, my love?”

“I suppose so,” Renee replied, her brow furrowed. “I cannot help but think sometimes that I would rest easier if you had chosen a different profession, like medicine, rather than the role of avenging angel that you have taken on.”

Villefort smiled. “If I do my job well, you may consider me one of the moral physicians of our nation.”

“Indeed, let us hope so,” said the Count de Salvieux, a narrow man who had sidled up to the conversation. His gold pendant shone in the candlelight; rumours said that he had reached the rank of Gold Brother for his role in securing military support from England for the returning king. “You know, I visited the Tuileries just the other day to advise His Majesty. I spoke to his chief aide while waiting for my appointment, and the subject of this very marriage came about. News of the union of a Bonapartist’s son and a Minister’s daughter travels far, it would seem. The King himself overheard our conversation and gave his royal opinion on our young friend.”

“What did he say?” Villefort asked, spellbound.

Salvieux took a long inhalation from a slim cigarette, savouring the smoke before replying. “His Majesty’s view was that Villefort—notice that he used your new name—is a young man of great discretion and loyalty, and sure to become a great figure in the legal profession. Those were his very words.”

Villefort was so elated to hear this that his legs shook beneath him. Renee passed him a cup of wine, and the smooth warmth of it soon restored his strength to stand. 

“If only another of the usurper’s supporters were in front of me, so I could demonstrate loyalty worthy of this praise!” Villefort muttered. “I almost feel as if I could swim to Elba and execute the ogre himself!”

As if Villefort’s words had manifested into reality, a grotto servant approached to whisper in his ear. Villefort’s eyes widened, and he retreated with the servant to a quiet corner to confirm the details. When Villefort returned to Renee and the ministers, an exuberant joy illuminated his face.

“My dear, you were wishing that I was a doctor instead of a lawyer,” Villefort said. “Well, the two professions share one quality: my time is not my own, not even on the day of my wedding. I’ve been called away for a serious matter that may yet make work for the executioner.”

“How dreadful!” Renee exclaimed, once again turning pale. “What happened?”

“If my information is correct,” Villefort said, “a Bonapartist conspiracy has been uncovered. I’ve just been given the letter of accusation.” 

The letter had been addressed to Villefort’s direct superior, M. Desmarais, but a bout of illness had bedridden Desmarais for several days. In his absence, his secretary opened all incoming mail and determined which matters needed to be forwarded to Villefort.

“The letter is anonymous, but given the nature of the accusation I must take it seriously,” Villefort said.

“And the accused person,” M. Chastain asked, “are they in custody?”

“The gendarmes have brought him to my house, under close guard. Please excuse me, but duty calls,” Villefort said. “I must find out if this Edmond Dantes is truly a traitor to his country.”

“By all means, Brother Gerard, make haste!” Saint-Meran said. “You are the king’s servant, after all.”

As Villefort shed his cloak, Renee grabbed his arm. 

“My dear husband, please be merciful on our wedding day,” Renee said with her deep brown eyes wide.

“All I can promise is to be fair. If M. Dantes is innocent, I shall be as gentle as a dove and set him free,” Villefort said, smoothing her hair as he kissed her forehead. 

With that, he dashed up the cliffside path to a waiting coach. It wasn’t until he had set off that he noticed a spot of blood drying on the leather of his boot.

Chapter 3 – The Examination

On the way to his home, Villefort made great effort to assume the detached air that was vital for examinations. Though he could command his features like a seasoned actor, his joy risked overpowering the need to appear stern. Even the bitter reminder of his father in the grotto couldn’t spoil how everything in his life was aligning.

Not yet thirty, Villefort already held a high official position and the salary which came with it. As Saint-Meran had said, his influence would help him to rise within the Eternal Royalist League. He had also just married a young and charming woman, whose family possessed considerable political clout which could also further bolster his career. 

Renee’s mother had escaped the guillotine, only to be dragged from a carriage by the undead and devoured. When the Marquis died, Renee would inherit a fortune and increase Villefort’s own fortune even further. The fees paid to the League for his initial Wooden status and elevation to Stone would be recouped soon enough, and the world would be at his feet through the connections he would make in the League. 

Far from Villefort being heartless, he did enjoy Renee’s company in a reasonable sort of manner. He intended to be kind to her and keep her happy, and to help her if she needed it, but in a heart so full of love for the king little room remained to truly love anyone else.

Villefort arrived in front of his house, next door to the Marseille Palais de Justice. Magistrate Berger waited on the front step, which brought Villefort’s happy daydreams down to earth and reminded him of the solemn work to be done.

“Berger, good evening. I’ve seen the letter, good work arresting this man,” Villefort said with his features composed. “Have you discovered anything since then?”

“Nothing new, monsieur. The special order from M. Desmarais’ secretary said only to arrest him and await your directions,” Berger said. “All papers related to the suspect are sealed and on your desk. The prisoner is named Edmond Dantes, quite young, but the new captain of a ship belonging to Morrel & Son of Marseille.”

“M. de Villefort! Thank goodness.” Another man approached, hobbling at speed on a wooden leg. “Your men have committed a dreadful mistake and arrested one of my captains.”

“M. Morrel, I presume?” Villefort asked. “I am about to examine your M. Dantes.”

“Excellent, excellent,” said Morrel. “You do not know him, but I am sure that you will see straight away that he is one of the most trustworthy people you will ever meet. Your secretary told me the charge is treason; this must be a mistake!”

Villefort stood looking down on Morrel. He knew of Morrel by reputation, but not his well-earned reputation of being an honest businessman. Instead, Villefort knew of Morrel’s connection through family and business associates to known Bonapartists. Morrel’s professional reputation did him no favours in Villefort’s mind either; Villefort considered businessmen to be a vulgar class, interested more in their customers and ledgers than in the king’s good name or the smooth operation of the bureaucracy.

“You must be well aware, M. Morrel, that a man can seem quite trustworthy while still being the vilest sort of political criminal. Is that not true?” Villefort said. 

His tone chilled Morrel and made him remember Edmond’s account of Napoleon’s kind words regarding serving with a Morrel. 

“Monsieur,” Villefort added, “I will perform my duty as impartially as ever. If your man is innocent, he will be released. If he is guilty, leniency would set a dangerous example in the current climate.” 

Without waiting for another reply from Morrel, Villefort entered his house and shut the door. Police filled the antechamber, and chained drakes guarded the prisoner. Edmond stood steady against a wall, taking in his surroundings with interest. Villefort gave Edmond a sidelong glance as he passed to his office, where his secretary Mariane waited with a packet of documents. 

Villefort still found it odd to be working with a woman even after so many years. Necessity had driven adaptation after the Dead Plague ended. So many skilled and able-bodied men had died fighting the horde, either in the army abroad or defending the women and children in their communities at home, that many women faced no choice but to leave the home and find work. The alternative was to starve.

“Bring in the prisoner,” Villefort said as he entered his office. He compartmentalized his first impression of a courageous and bright young man, quite unlike the cowards and dullards who tended to get caught up in revolutionary activities.

The office was kept dark aside from a fire in the hearth and a candle on the desk when prisoners were brought in, as an intimidation tactic. Guards led Edmond to a chair which was positioned to keep his features illuminated while Villefort could remain in shadow. Edmond remained as calm as could be expected and took his seat with as much ease as he could manage. As soon as his wrists touched the arms of the chair, manacles sprang out from beneath and clamped shut, locking him in place.

“Monsieur, are these necessary?” Edmond asked, staring at the cuffs. “There must be some mistake; I need to get back to my wedding, right away.”

Edmond felt the first stirrings of panic as officers returned, wheeling a large contraption between them. The device consisted of an arched frame which fit on either side of the interrogation chair, and two pale dagger-sharp crystals of aquamarine as narrow as tapers.

“If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear,” Villefort said. 

The officers adjusted the pointed crystals on the frame to be level with Edmond’s temples without quite touching his flesh. A third crystal, colourless and the size of a man’s head, sat on a pedestal in front of Edmond connected to the frame with a thick cable. Their task complete, the officers returned to the hall.

“Before we begin,” Villefort said, “we must calibrate this device. Answer honestly: what colour are my eyes?”

“Your eyes?” Edmond asked, quite bewildered by the experience. “I would say a very pale blue.”

As Edmond spoke, the large crystal glowed with a soft white light. It reminded him of Mercedes, and he felt a pang in his heart at the thought of her anguish. The light dimmed after a few seconds.

“Good,” Villefort said. “Next, I need you to tell a lie. Large or small, as long as it’s untrue.” 

Edmond frowned in silence for a few moments. He turned his head the barest fraction but straightened again at the prick of the crystals.

“Your eyes are dark brown,” Edmond said. He had struggled to think of something appropriate to say; dishonesty was not in his nature.

The large crystal darkened to black, but still managed to emit a glow. Like before, it remained in this state for only a few seconds before returning to the colourless default.

“An uninspired lie, but good enough,” Villefort said, fighting not to smirk. He read aloud from his papers. “Edmond Dantes, nineteen years old, already captain of a merchant vessel. Accused of conspiracy against the crown.”

Villefort glanced at Edmond but Edmond said nothing, afraid of what the crystal device would do if he spoke out of turn.

“What were you doing at the time of your arrest?” Villefort asked.

“I was celebrating my wedding day, monsieur,” Edmond said. A crack in his voice was the only sign of his emotions as the crystal glowed white again. “I was about to marry the love of my life; in fact, we were just about to leave for the town hall to make it official.”

Despite his professional impassiveness, Villefort could not help but be moved. His own marriage was only an hour old, and Edmond had been perhaps that far away from marriage himself. Villefort had heard of the lively wedding celebrations of the lower class and imagined the contrast between that ceremony and Edmond’s present circumstances. Villefort allowed Edmond to wait as the light from the crystal dimmed again, already composing a speech about this juxtaposition to impress the Marquis de Saint-Meran with later. Finally, he returned to the task at hand. 

“Have you ever served under the usurper?” Villefort asked.

“No, monsieur,” Edmond said. The crystal cast its white glow upon his face.

“It is reported that you hold extremist views,” Villefort said. No such report existed, but he found that he could learn a great deal about a man from his reaction to a blatant lie.

“Sir, I hardly hold any views at all,” Edmond said. “I’m only nineteen, I have no experience of the world besides my journeys aboard the Pharaon, and certainly no worthwhile opinions on how it should be run. The only extreme feelings in my life are my gratitude and affection towards my father, Mercedes, and M. Morrel. The three of them have enabled me to create everything good that exists in my life.” 

As Edmond spoke, the crystal’s light remained steady. Villefort wasn’t pleased that Edmond neglected to give the king due credit in his fortunes but admitted that the omission could be due to ignorance. After all, Edmond was eight years younger than Villefort, and that was very little time to learn how the world worked.

More importantly, Villefort grew convinced that the accusation was false. He was not interviewing some radical plotting against the crown; he was interviewing the victim of a cruel prank. It was a blessing in disguise for Villefort; he could return to Renee and tell her that he had shown mercy to Edmond and obeyed her first request as his wife. It would be a simple way to make her happy and start their marriage on a good footing. Villefort summoned the guards, who took away the interrogation device and unfastened Edmond’s shackles. 

“M. Dantes,” Villefort said, stepping around his desk to sit on the edge of it, “do you have any enemies?”

“Enemies?” Edmond replied. He rubbed at his wrists, already red from their brief time in restraints. “None that I can imagine. The crew seem to like and respect me and were happy enough to see me made captain; I haven’t been in contact with anyone else for months.”

“Your career is moving quickly, and you’re about to be married; someone could have had their eye on your position, or your betrothed, or is simply jealous of you having them,” Villefort said. “Can you think of anyone like that?”

“I should hope not! I’m not sure I would want to know if such people were in my life, since I would be forced to hate them,” Edmond said.

For just a moment, a face came to his mind of a new acquaintance from the day before. He dismissed it just as quickly; he believed Mercedes when she said Fernand was happy for them and couldn’t imagine that anyone she called a friend could be capable of such a thing.

“Take my advice, Edmond: a man should always be aware of those who wish him harm,” Villefort said, convinced that Edmond lacked a malicious impulse in his entire being. “It’s clear to me that someone is attempting to ruin you. Here is the letter that was sent to me, do you recognize the writing?” 

Villefort presented the letter of accusation to Edmond. A cloud passed over Edmond’s brow as he read the note.

The crown prosecutor is informed by a friend of the throne, that one Edmond Dantes, first mate of the ship Pharaon, arrived this morning after stopping at the Island of Elba. There, he delivered a letter to the usurper and was given one to deliver to the Bonapartist faction in Paris. Proof of this crime will be found on arresting him, for the letter will be found upon him, or at his father’s room, or in his cabin on board the Pharaon.

“Sadly, I cannot guess who wrote this,” Edmond said, returning the letter.

“You seem like an honest fellow,” Villefort said. “So tell me, not as prisoner to prosecutor but man to man, is there any truth at all to this anonymous letter?”

“Well, yes, in the strictest sense,” Edmond admitted. “I was given a letter to be taken to Elba and given one there to take to Paris. But I only undertook the errand because it was the dying wish of my captain, Jean-Michel LeClere.” 

Edmond then told Villefort the entire story which he had already told to Morrel, of the loup-garou and LeClere’s death, meeting Marshal Bertrand and Napoleon, and the planned journey to Paris. 

“I swore to my captain that I would do as he asked, without knowing what it was, and here we are,” Edmond said.

Villefort considered the tale, no longer needing the crystal device to be assured of the other man’s honesty. 

“If you are guilty of anything, it is nothing worse than failing to ask questions before giving your word. Thankfully, imprudence is not a crime,” Villefort said. “I will need to fine you for landing on Elba without authorization, and also for carrying mail without a permit, but it’s clear that the charge of treason is baseless.”

“Oh, thank you monsieur!” Edmond said, laughing aloud with relief. “I knew this would turn out to be a misunderstanding. When I tell Mercedes, she’ll be so happy!”

“I’m sure she will,” Villefort said with a smile. “There’s no reason to keep you from her any longer. Just give me the letter from Elba, and your word that you will be available for further questions if needed.”

“Of course, the letter,” Edmond said. “I had it in my breast pocket for safekeeping, but the officers took it when they searched me. Is it among the papers on your desk already? It was a cream-coloured envelope, addressed to M. Noirtier.”

Only Villefort’s skill prevented him from showing his shock at hearing the name Noirtier. He shuffled through the stack of documents and soon found the envelope, addressed to M. Jules Noirtier at No. 13 Rue Coq-Heron in Paris. If a cockatrice had burst into the room at that very moment and turned Villefort to stone, he could not have been more stupefied.

“Do you know M. Noirtier? Have you ever met, or heard his name before?” Villefort asked, still staring at the envelope. “Who knows you were sent to deliver this to him?”

“I don’t know him, sir; I’ve heard wartime stories about Bonaparte’s senator Jules Noirtier, but it couldn’t be the same man, could it?” Edmond said, alarmed at the change in Villefort’s tone when freedom had seemed so close. “I haven’t told anybody about the letter, not even Mercedes. Marshal Bertrand gave it to me, obviously he knows, but I can’t say who else he may have told.”

“Three people know, and that’s already too many,” Villefort muttered through clenched teeth. He broke the envelope’s seal and read the contents twice. 

“Have you read this?” he asked aloud.

“No sir; you broke the seal yourself,” Edmond said.

“Letters can be re-sealed,” Villefort said absently, reading it a third time. He discarded all impressions of Edmond’s character in the face of the danger Villefort held in his hands. If Edmond was lying and knew the contents of the letter, it would be the end of Villefort’s career. Nobody could ignore the connection between the names Villefort and Noirtier if the existence of the letter came to light.

“M. Dantes,” Villefort said, surprising himself when his voice came out almost at the level of a yell. He regulated his volume before continuing. “Unfortunately, I spoke hastily before and cannot release you tonight. I need to speak to M. Desmarais, the crown prosecutor, and see what he thinks. It’s a formality, but an important one which must be observed.”

“I’ve dealt with enough customs officers to understand formalities,” Edmond said, relaxing by a fraction. “May I say, you’ve been more of a friend than a judge during this awful joke.”

“Yes, well,” Villefort said without anything in mind to finish the sentence. He walked in a circle around the desk, committing Noirtier’s letter to memory. “I will do what I can to keep you detained for as short a time as possible. Meanwhile, the only evidence supporting the accusations against you is this letter from Elba.” 

Villefort crumpled the paper into a ball and cast it into the fireplace. Neither man spoke, but both heaved a great sigh when the last of it crumbled to ash.

“Now, it is important that you understand what will happen next,” Villefort said. “You will be detained until the evening in the Palais de Justice next door. Keep this in mind: if anyone else comes to question you, tell them exactly what you told me except for any mention of this letter. Don’t tell anyone else that you were given anything when you stopped at Elba. Do you understand?”

“Yes, of course,” Edmond said.

Villefort summoned the guards once more and gave them instructions in a low voice, to which they nodded. 

“Follow them,” he said to Edmond. 

Edmond saluted Villefort and left. Villefort half-threw himself into a chair once the door closed behind them.

“By the king’s own grace!” he muttered. “If Desmarais had been at his desk and seen this, I would have been ruined. This cursed letter and my poisonous father would have destroyed all my prospects.” 

Life returned to his ashen features and a smile revived his thin lips. He realized that, while the letter could have ruined him, the near miss with disaster could catapult him to even greater fortune. With a plan in mind and Edmond safe in a holding cell, Villefort gave orders to his valet to prepare for an immediate trip to Paris.

“But first, I need to return to the Marquis!” he said.

The Mummy of Monte Cristo will be released on Amazon in October 2020. Related news, offers, and updates about future books will be sent to the J Trevor Robinson mailing list.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I look forward to seeing your review on Amazon or Goodreads after you have a chance to finish reading the rest!

When J TREVOR ROBINSON was young, he received a well-worn stack of mystery and horror novels from his older brother, and it instilled in him a lifelong desire to be an author. Heavily influenced by Stephen King’s scares, Jim Butcher’s action scenes, and the larger-than-life characters in Ayn Rand’s books, he blended those influences with classic literature and pulp horror to write his Immortal Works debut The Mummy of Monte Cristo.He has also self-published a young-adult horror novel The Good Fight, and was published in the Amazon #1 bestselling horror anthology Secret Stairs as the sole romance story in the collection.He lives in Toronto keeping the redhead gene alive with his wife and newborn daughter, born Friday the 13th.(He published his first works as Justin Robinson.)
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