Serpent Daughter – Snippet 17
One of Eggbert Bailey’s great keys to what success he had achieved so far in life was that he needed very little sleep.
A man who could sleep three hours a night and feel fully rested could drive his men to work hard when they had slept only five. A man who was awake until after midnight and up again well before dawn could easily handle the necessary administrative tasks, answering logistical questions, solving disciplinary riddles, and dashing off required correspondence, without cutting into the time he needed to drill his men, command, and strategize. And a man who was alert for over twenty hours a day, every single day, had time to explore his commandeered headquarters while most of his men slept.
Technically, the commandeered Palais that had belonged to the Chevalier of New Orleans was shared between Eggbert Bailey, commanding New Orleans’s gendarmes, and Bishop Etienne Ukwu, its . . . complicated . . . spiritual head. Ukwu, the son of a saintly Christian cleric, was not only an ordained Christian priest, but also a houngan asogwe of the Société de Mars Vengeur — Eggbert knew this last, because he himself had seen the bishop invoking Papa Legba before a congregation of swaying worshippers.
Some of the Igbo of the city, including the bishop’s bodyguard Achebe Chibundu, seemed to regard Ukwu as something more than a priest. His ally, the Igbo hôtelière Onyinye Diokpo, if anything, encouraged the whispers.
It was easy to share power with the bishop, because his desires and Eggbert’s seemed aligned. Ukwu remained hell-bent on destroying the chevalier, who was now camped with the armies of New Spain on the other side of the river. Ukwu expressed gratitude for the protective wall of the Mississippi River, but also frustration that the same river — and the hissing, hovering hedge of basilisks that infested its lower reaches, the worst infestation of the creatures in decades — stopped Bailey from sending raiding parties.
Or assassins, which is what Ukwu really wanted.
So the bishop helped the city’s teeming hordes find various forms of spiritual comfort, and pushed Bailey to find ways across the river, and worked his arcane rituals in secret.
What Eggbert Bailey wanted was mysterious even to Eggbert himself. He had joined the bishop’s revolt against the chevalier, secretly organizing dissatisfied, underpaid, overdisciplined gendarmes into a hard-fighting corps at the center of a larger army of raw recruits and men who simply worked for salary. That army had, so far, held the river against the Spanish in the west, and the northern walls against a pack of violence-maddened beastkind that had crashed against New Orleans the same night that its chevalier had betrayed his trust and marched against it with a foreign army.
Before he’d become a gendarme keeping the peace for the chevalier, Eggbert had been a sergeant in an army that had invaded, briefly taken, and then lost the city. He’d turned his coat in the retreat, after Jackson’s execution, to survive, but until that moment he’d been a believer in Andrew Jackson — Old King Andy, as the ballads called him now. He had marched on his birth city of New Orleans expecting to take it and live under the King of the Mississippi, who would distribute the wealth of the city’s banks and traders to his soldiers, as well as to the poor.
But now . . . he felt incomplete. Eggbert Bailey had turned his coat back around and driven out the chevalier who had killed his former commander. Did that recover his honor? And even if so, to what end?
Should he make himself King Eggbert Bailey? That didn’t feel right.
What would Andrew Jackson have done? He wasn’t sure, and as he stalked the Palais and the streets of New Orleans at night, in his surplus hours, he asked himself the question over and over.
Late one night, on the second floor of the Palais, he found the bishop’s Creole accountant, Monsieur Bondí, sitting at a desk and reading correspondence ledgers.
The Creole sweated at any temperature, and the stains made the sleeves of his shirt look yellow in the lamplight. He was a short man, chubby, with skin the color of cinnamon and wavy hair that seemed to sweat right along with his skin.
Eggbert threw himself into a wooden chair before the desk. Eggbert’s appearance was in stark contrast with the accountant’s — he was tall, broad shouldered, and muscular, with a head and mane like a lion, as well as sharply chiseled facial features several shades darker than the Creole’s. He wore a blue uniform coat, though without insignia of rank — his men knew him by his height and hair and rolling bass voice. But the Creole, looking up, showed no sign of intimidation in the warrior’s presence.
“Have you had enough of drills and mess?” Bondí asked in French. “I could use an assistant, if you are bored. Or are you looking for firewood? I can spare the desk, but none of the papers.”
Eggbert laughed. “You work long hours.”
Bondí shrugged. “I work.”
“Looking for money the chevalier might have hidden away?”
“We already knew the chevalier was low on cash. I’m auditing his assets, preparing formal accounts and tracking where . . . some of the money came from. And I’m also looking for anything I can sell.”
“I believe the Spanish have cash,” Eggbert suggested. “They might be willing to send us this year’s treasure fleet, if we gave them the city. Call in the Lafittes and their navy, spike the guns in the river forts, and the Spanish will come calling promptly.”
“His Grace already offered them the city,” Monsieur Bondí said, “though I believe it was in exchange for the head of Gaspard Le Moyne.”
“They said no?”
The Creole nodded. “But they thought about it. Next time we offer . . . perhaps they’ll think about it longer.”
Eggbert looked around the room. The walls were lined with shelves, groaning under the weight of ledger books. “What is this room? The chevalier’s archive?”
“I believe it belonged to his intendant,” the accountant said. “Or his seneschal, is what I believe you Jamaicans would have called him.”
“René du Plessis,” Eggbert said. “A man with his fingers in many pies.”
The Creole gestured expansively at the shelves.
“And Jackson?” Eggbert said impulsively.
The Creole’s casual, welcoming smile didn’t change, but his eyes tightened slightly. “Are you looking for your own service records?”
“If my name were on a list of Jackson’s soldiers in the chevalier’s possession, I never would have survived five years in the chevalier’s employ. I’m looking . . . I don’t know what I’m looking for.”
“You’re right, I haven’t found anything like muster lists or payroll.” The Creole pointed to a bookcase in the corner. “There are a few half-empty ledgers over there, with correspondence from the Jackson days. No treasure maps or manifestos, I’m afraid, and definitely no paternal blessing directed at you.”
Eggbert looked at the shelves and steepled his fingers, trying not to look too anxious. “Have you read them?”
“I read them first, actually.” Bondí ran his fingers through his hair. “For the short time he ruled the city, I thought Jackson might have found himself in exactly the same situation we’re in, looking for cash.”
Eggbert nodded. “Anything interesting?”
“Jackson wanted silver. If the correspondence in those books is a complete record, then he was obsessed with it. I knew he hated banks — and accountants — but I never realized how much. The man sent letters to Potosí, to the Viceroy of New Spain, to the Georgia Jews, and even to the Old World, all asking for silver, and offering to trade cotton and tobacco and even land at a huge premium.”
“You need cash to pay men.” Eggbert thought of the whippings, pillories, and beatings that had kept the gendarmes more or less in line for the payless month before the revolt.
The Creole shrugged. “You can pay soldiers in any medium of exchange that whores, taverns, and greengrocers will accept. Paper money usually works just fine, and gold is always sufficient.”
Eggbert Bailey frowned. “You’re saying that Jackson wanted silver. Not cash, not money, but specifically the metal silver.”
The Creole nodded. “He preferred it in bullion form, if possible. When you stamp silver into a useable coin, it goes up in value — it costs more. Jackson wanted as much silver as he could get, as cheaply as he could get it.”
“I thought you knew,” Bondí said.
“As a younger man,” Eggbert said, “I was mostly a doer of deeds. Only recently am I beginning to become a man who has to understand things.”
“He even reached out to the Emperor Thomas,” Bondí added. “Jackson discovered certain secret payments the emperor had been making to Le Moyne, and wrote to suggest that they should be continued. I believe that letter is likely what caused the Imperial troops in the region to be sent down here and turned against Jackson.”
Eggbert Bailey stood slowly. Across the hall from the room where Bondí worked was a window, and through it he could look across the city, over the western walls of New Orleans the Mississippi River, and see the spangle of yellow sparks that made up the campfires of the armies of New Spain.
What would Jackson have wanted with silver?