For my beautiful nephew Jean-Michel. My apologies, I know upon reading this, you will still have unanswered questions and no one to whom you might turn to ask. I have done my best to keep a history of our unusual family for you and those born like you. I have pieced these pages together from your father’s journals, which to our good fortune, he so diligently kept. It was he who taught me, through our many correspondences, how to write with the little eloquence I manage. Admittedly, I try to mimic him, for that is our way, to adapt and amend. It is how all beings evolve.
I should note that your father would be cross with me for displaying his unfinished artwork. None of these sketches you will see were ever intended to be shown. Still, I imagine he might be able to put his pride aside in order to grant his only son the opportunity to better know him.
I know that you were scarcely granted the chance to know him before being taken from us, but he was a true friend not only to me, but in the end, to our people. I realise much of it may be difficult for you to read, but know that your father was never one to be held hostage by conventions.
Indeed, it is hard for me to believe that the Marco in these pages was in fact my own self, not yet the curmudgeonly misanthrope I now am. In a way it saddens me to realise such a font of hope has now been quelled, but as I said, we all must adapt to survive. I hope, in your own way, you will one day come to find such contentment with your nature.
It is my wish that you view these stories through his eyes, he who was unaffected by the sewage in our bloodline. In this way, I hope that you will understand both the mental processes of the mundane upon meeting those of our ilk, and the magnanimity of your father for overcoming it.
- Marco A. Shatter
Chapter 1: The Emperor, autumn 1897
“Don’t flatter yourself monsieur.” She spat the words in my face while grinding the cold steel muzzle of her derringer into my forehead.
“I’d be all too happy to pull the trigger.” She spoke the words with a wounding sort of smile. It was hard to believe that this was the same woman, whom moments ago I had been sharing drink with.
“Giselle, I apologize for any offense…” I began, and promptly received a curt blow upon my skull from the butt of her dainty pistol.
“I told you,” She said, backing her way down the dormitory hallway, pistol trained on me all the while. “I belong to Napoléon.”
Yes, Napoléon. I was first made aware of him that fateful night, when I had brought the young lady back to my quarters. I had managed until that point to wash my hands of the man I once was, shedding the pain and fury of old scars for the peace of anonymity. The fact that I remained an Englishman in Paris was impossible to ignore. However, as I found myself in this city for the purpose of studying art, I managed decent success with the fairer sex by promising to immortalize them in oil on canvas. That and the air of the exotic I effused, by merit of my Punjabi father, had always proven enough to sufficiently entice women.
After sharing a few dolefully expensive glasses of one wine or another with my current conquest, a porcelain-skinned brunette by the name of Giselle, the evening had begun to take an amorous turn. I had buried my face in the cleave of her bosom, inhaling the sweetness of her delicate, lavender perfume when suddenly and quite forcefully she pushed me away.
“I can’t!” she protested, tears streaming from her eyes.
“Oh, ma chérie, I understand. We hardly know each other. For tonight, let’s just…”
“No, I can never be with you. NEVER!” she paused, gathering herself between great heaving sobs. Finally, she looked at me, her green eyes glistening “I am in love with Napoléon.”
I had to laugh at this and credited the wine as being more potent than I had at first realised. Understandably, the French have carved a special place in their hearts for the dear defeated emperor. I supposed this odd display of patriotism somehow stemmed from my being an Englishman.
“Well, my dear, I don’t think old Boney will mind. After all, he’s been dead for some time now and…”
She exploded into tears and delivered a curt slap to my cheek, stilling my tongue.
“How dare you say such a thing!” she shrieked, and with a rustle of petticoats, ran from the room, weeping as bitterly as if I had slain her mother before her.
Guided more by my hungering libido than my senses, I ran down the hallway in pursuit, hoping to make whatever reparations necessary to get her back into my bed. Hearing my footfall behind her, she whipped around, deftly drawing a derringer from her handbag.
At first, the gesture inspired laughter in me, the preposterousness of it all. I found myself in quite a different humour when I saw how nimbly she pulled the hammer back, trigger finger sliding happily in place as if embracing an old, familiar friend. I had scarce time to think before the weapon was thrust into my face, muzzle digging into my furrowed brow.
“Get away from me.” She snarled her warning.
“Giselle, honestly, we were having such a lovely evening, you can at least admit that…”
“Don’t flatter yourself monsieur.” She stomped on my words, bringing me back to where I first began.
It was not until I later mentioned the incident to a classman of mine, Henri, that I was made to understand.
“I don’t doubt she would have shot me,” I relayed to him. “Said she belonged to Napoléon, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
“Ah, another victim of the emperor!” he tutted, without so much as lifting his eyes from his current sketch.
“You Frogs can’t really still be so hung up on the man!” I chaffed. “You do know he lost.”
Having been prodded by insult, Henri set his pencil down and graced me with a smirk.
“Napoléon Dûheme. He’s a Québécois. The colonials have an absurd fascination with the Corsican,” he added with a sneer, “Probably something to do with their colony being pawned off to you Brits.”
“Ah, he’s a snow-frog then?” I chided.
Henri groaned, pushing a lock of sable hair away from his eyes and resuming his sketch.
“He’s a first year, like you. You can’t miss him, always has a parade of women…oh, speak of the Devil.” Henri said with a grin. He pointed across the courtyard to a throng of skirts and hair, moving in unison as if part of one monstrous and snake-like chimera, which slithered behind a rather unimpressive boy.
By no stretch of the imagination could one assign the term man to this Napoléon. Unlike his namesake, he was *fairly tall, a breath shy of my own height of six feet two inches and I towered over my class men. His body however was composed of the lank, underdeveloped muscle that most leave behind in pre-pubescence.
Indeed, even his face retained a fragile, childlike quality. His bow-like mouth and underdeveloped chin would have been more at home on the countenance of a twelve- year-old boy than that of a scholar. His skin looked wan against a crop of onyx-black hair, which fell nearly to his collar, making him look far too feminine to ever be truly attractive I decided. His regrettable pallor, no doubt a product of growing up in that frozen wasteland from which he hailed, made him quite dreadful to look at. He was well dressed, but not in so ostentatious a way as to hint at tremendous wealth. What then made this boy so appealing to the gaggle of women he kept in tow?
I had become so completely absorbed in my attempt to deconstruct Napoléon that I failed to realise, I had been staring at him until he approached me. There I stood, mouth agape, with the look of profound bewilderment, oft favoured by village idiots.
Napoléon, obviously accustomed to such reactions, simply winked at me. His eyes, I observed, were perhaps his one redeeming feature. They were doe-like, round and black as a starless night, framed with long, feathery lashes. What a shame I thought. On another’s face, such eyes would have been truly striking. On Napoléon, they only further helped to create the illusion of the eternal juvenile.
As the last of his epicene procession passed me by, I remarked imperviously, “I fail to see what’s so interesting about him.”
“Yes, we all hate him,” Henri commiserated.
In the next few months, I became increasingly aware of Napoléon. Whenever I saw him, I was sure to greet the preposterous boy with a roll of my eyes and an audible snort of laughter. Napoléon would simply smile, and shrug this off, clearly too stupid to comprehend derision in such actions.
I realised that he was in several of my art classes. I wondered at how I had failed to notice him before. He was invariably buried in a huddle of ladies, a curiosity in the classroom to be sure, as women, for obvious reasons, were not admitted as students.
I found it maddening that no one had spoken out about the matter. The shameless child would sit back, taking notes, while the much envied girls behind him would fight each other for the privilege of rubbing his shoulders or stroking his ridiculous hair.
When his hand grew weary from wielding his pencil, he’d offer it to the lady closest to him on the right, and she’d massage and kiss his poor fingers. Another girl would snatch up his pencil and continue scrawling notes until at last Napoléon could again be troubled to do so himself.
He was constantly awash in the errant hands of women. I had been told by class men of mine that “The Emperor” as we called him, had been dismissed from one of his classes for receiving “felatio” from a member of his pretty brood. Stories likewise circulated that figure models, both male and female it was told, had become so taken with him that they had attempted to make love to him right where he sat.
Napoléon, it was said, had, of course, been forbidden from attending such classes and indeed, I had never seen him in any of my life drawing courses. His attendance was somewhat irregular, not that I had made note of such a thing. I judged these stories must have some kernel of truth to them, more because it amused me than because they seemed plausible proceedings.
Not surprisingly, he was also exceedingly arrogant, a trait which only made it all the easier to despise him. This was exemplified by the events of one November morning, where in I found myself once again sharing a classroom with this repugnant cad.
The professor understandably weary of Napoléon’s very public liaisons announced, “Monsieur Dûheme! You do know that you’ve spelled your last name incorrectly, do you not? The circumflex should be over the first E rather than the U, as you’ve written it here! At least that’s how your father signs his name on the checks for your tuition.”
Malicious snickers seethed through the studio. Yet, rather than admit he’d been careless and made such a laughably simple mistake, he looked over his paper and shook his head.
“No, that’s how it’s meant to be spelled,” he contested childishly.
“It most certainly is not!” the professor asserted in a voice that barred on shrieking as he was galvanised to standing. Even then, the old man failed to meet the lanky boys gaze and cawed wickedly at Napoléon’s kiss sullied collar.
“Your name is derived from Du Heme or of Hem! Spelling it this way,” he rattled the offending paper in disgust “employs the past participle form of the verb to have, had Hem, which is a nonsense phrase that I couldn’t even forgive had it been written by the lousy Brit’s hand,” the curmudgeon trilled, pointing a gnarled arthritic finger towards me.
I revolted inwardly while strewning a smile across my face to match those of my peers.
“Or are the Québécois really as backwards as they say?” the pompous old maestro insinuated.
Napoléon, too proud to stand down, smiled and gently shook his head.
“Well, it isn’t French you see,” he explained.
“Clearly!” the old man chuffed. “And what do you purport it to be?”
“It’s Italian,” the boy insisted. “I’m one third Italian.”
The illogic of this statement threw the class into hysterics. Not to be without an audience for his mockery, the professor waited for the laughter to thin before inquiring.
“And exactly how many parents do you in fact have?” He sneered, crossing his arms across bony chest and sinking back into his chair with a look of smug satisfaction.
“At the moment,” Napoléon said nonplussed, lifting the paper gently from the professor’s grizzled talon, “one too many.”
This outburst gave motion to our tongues for many days to follow. I would have gone on spreading the contagion of gossip across campus had it not been for the rather bizarre events of one auspicious day. I sat studying in my quarters when my door was suddenly thrown open. I turned to see Napoléon, standing naked, nervous fingers fumbling with the lock. He finally turned, bracing his back against the door. Catching my eye, he drew a finger to his lips and urged my silence.
I listened, hearing a scramble of naked footsteps scurrying down the hall. In the distance, the shot of a rifle echoed out and a cacophony of female voices could be heard shrieking and bawling. I heard the scuff of several doors in the hallway being wrenched open and my neighbours chuckling or bellowing out cat calls. I was left to only imagine the scene, taking place behind my guarded door.
Perhaps, I thought with a smirk, his dear Giselle had decided to stake her claim to him once and for all. However, the resounding blasts of gunfire, were clearly born from a brawnier weapon than the one she kept tucked neatly in her handbag.
Napoléon slid slowly to the floor, staring vacantly through me. A few more shots rang out and Napoléon flinched, though it was evident to us both that the gunman was moving farther away from the dormitory.
I approached the boy slumped against my door, looking him over in a state of earnest bafflement. Napoléon, aware of my eyes upon him, suddenly grinned up at me.
“It’s smaller than average actually, but it’s enchanted!” he said in a half whisper, splaying his legs out to either side so I might examine “it” unhindered.
“Oh, I wasn’t looking at …that…,” I choked, though in all honesty, I may have given his manhood a cursory glance. Considering his popularity with the Parisian ladies, my curiosity had been piqued.
I had found it quite unseemly that a man of his age should have a body devoid of hair. He was smooth as a new-born babe. I chalked this up to some revolting new Parisian fashion, which required a man to shear himself in such a way.
“Weren’t looking! Ha. ‘Course you were,” he snapped, pressing his ear to the door.
Deciding the danger had passed, Napoléon jumped to his feet, brushing his buttocks off with a cautious hand.
“Everyone’s always trying to figure it out. Why Napoléon? What makes him so special? Oh, I’m Napoléon,” he exclaimed, extending a hand that just moments ago had been tending to his backside.
“I know,” I nodded, cordially declining the hand. “So, you say it’s because your… arbour vitae… is enchanted?” I asked dubiously.
“Or cursed,” Napoléon laughed boisterously.
He had a delightfully clear, if a touch maniacal, laugh, which rang out against walls unaccustomed to such jauntiness. I tried to stifle a smile. I had made up my mind to hate this unscrupulous boy. Here before me stood the disgusting letch, who had stagnated not only mine, but the entire male campus’s romantic endeavours, yet I found myself almost charmed.
“Now tell me,” he demanded, clapping his hands down on either of my shoulders, “Where do you keep your trousers old chap?” He gilded the last words with a faux English accent. Obviously delighted with himself, he began babbling in this same voice.
“Pip pip, cheerio, I say good show, jolly good!”
I stared at him, marvelled by his cheek. Perhaps such escapades were commonplace in Napoléon’s day-to-day life, but the shock of a naked boy storming my room to the accompaniment of gunshots and suddenly asking that I clothe him was more than I could wrap my mind around.
“Unless you prefer me this way,” Napoléon smiled, stepping back so I might admire his emaciated figure, the skin of which was drawn tight, so as to reveal every muscle of his sinewy frame.
“NO, no!” I declared with revulsion, turning my head. “I’ll find you something to wear,” I stuttered.
“Lovely! Jolly good!” Napoléon trilled in his mock British, throwing his naked self upon my couch and stretching out to his full length.
I was surprised to find that Napoléon fit almost perfectly into my clothing. I had imagined my pants and suit jacket hanging off of him, like a child dressed in his father’s Sunday clothes. I could see that I was a scant few inches taller than him, but perhaps I had deluded myself into imagining him built like a bony prepubescent. Then again, I had to admit that I’d dropped some weight since starting school.
Napoléon pulled the lapels of my jacket over his nose and sniffed unabashedly.
“Nice! Very nice!” he remarked in approval, “And now old chap…”
“It’s Michael, actually. Michael Chilcott.”
“Michael,” he replied, again mimicking my accent. “In thanks for your harbouring me, I should like to treat you to dinner!”
“You buy me?” I asked incredulously.
“Ouais,” he casually confirmed.
“I shouldn’t ask, but…”
“Where exactly were you hiding your wallet Napoléon?”
“Oh, please, I never pay for anything!” he said with that cheeky grin which would come to define his personality.
Beyond a doubt, I have never eaten so well as the time I spent with Napoléon in Paris. As it turned out, his words were true. Napoléon never paid for his meals. I had originally suspected this was because he bartered with sexual favours; however, never in my audience had this been the case.
Over the course of the semester, we were graciously welcomed into the kitchens of every restaurant, café and hotel in the city. Tables were promptly set for us, away from the patrons. It was surreal to me, this view behind the curtain. Napoléon, it seemed, was on a first name basis with every chef in the Paris. He would often assist in the preparation of our meals, while the kitchen staff, almost invariably constituted of men, fawned over him.
On the rare occasion that a female denizen did find her way into the kitchen, and predictably into Napoléon’s arms, he would simply say, only mildly perturbed, “Do what you must, but leave me the use of my hands.”
This was a source of great amusement for the staff, which would look on with contumacious delight at their comrade and the limber innovations of his admirer. These infractions, however, in no way impeded Napoléon. Though made a hostage, he’d simply call out for ingredients here and there, which inextricably found their way to his hand.
I began to understand. These culinary liaisons were the reason Napoléon was so seldom in class. Here was a place where his curse was made irrelevant. It was here, and here alone he could indulge in his true artistry, for the most part unhindered by the licentious advances of his constant entourage. The ease at which he won their unrequited devotion had left Napoléon jaded with regard to romance.
Among other men, who saw sensuality in food that most men could only glimpse in the hollow between a woman’s thighs, Napoléon was at home. He had a lust for wines and cheese, in particular chèvre, which bordered on a bad caricature of the Franco people.
“You’re quite the chef!” I remarked one evening, upon sampling a soufflé he’d prepared, employing his favoured ingredient.
It was an understatement to be sure, but I felt justified in downplaying my sentiments as he was so accustomed to being worshipped. Napoléon bowed his head, trying to hide the smile that had cut its way across his face. It was strange to see this usually boastful rake playing with the modesty that manners demanded from the common man.
“You came to Paris to study paintings and sculpture?” he asked me, his tongue well lubricated with drink.
“Yes, well, painting mostly,” I corrected him.
“For me, that’s just a façade. This is my school. This is why I came to Paris!” He gestured with a sweeping arm to the kitchen around us, and then promptly burst into an embarrassed laugh at his own melodramatics.
He held up his glass, which swirled with the strange golden wine he’d insisted upon for the meal, “vin jaune” he’d called it. I realised this was simply French for yellow wine, and reminded myself to ask its proper name when he was sober.
“I like this wine,” he purred in the dreamy tones that bridle intoxication, “Yellow. Like your eyes.”
I was taken aback by the comment. Had I not known better, such words might have almost sounded flirtatious. My mother had always remarked about the unusual shade of my eyes, barley blonde she had called them, reminiscing about how her hair had once been such a colour before age had cast its frost. Yet, coming from Napoléon, the comment was baffling. Before I could fight through my fluster to remark, he returned to his more oft treaded realm, the inane.
“Lovely eyes, like a goat,” he trilled. “Well, except for the pupils. Goats have rectangular ones. Did you know that?”
“I didn’t know that, no,” I confessed. “Unlike you, I’m not in the habit of staring longingly into the eyes of goats.”
Napoléon exploded into a wild tantrum of laughter at this, finally thrusting his glass towards my face.
“I propose a toast,” he declared.
“To what?” I entreated, awaiting the birth of whatever strange and perverse concoction that would no doubt been born from his inebriation.
“To goats! Beautiful, wonderful goats!”
The words bubbled from him like water reaching a boil.
“Goats?” I asked with some misgiving, wondering if this line of conversation was heading towards matters bestial.
“Yes, the goats who gave their milk for this meal!” he cheered. It was a strange toast to be sure, but by now I was used to Napoléon and his odd tangents.
“To goats,” I agreed as I clinked my glass against his.
* Napoléon Bonaparte was 5’7” by the English measurement system (170 cm), average for the day. The myth of him being short arose from his height being recorded as 5’2” in the French system. The base increment of this system, the pouce, was slightly longer than the English inch.
 Ouais: An informal affirmation (comparable to yeah in English)
 Chèvre: A cheese made from goat’s milk.