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A Parliament of Counts

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The January cold in Poland has always and probably will always be unforgiving. It was a harsh time to be an exile, and none knew it more than the unlikely pair of Feodor Orloff and Ivan Russakoff. Once they had sat at the tables of the Czar himself, feasting on a wide array of hors d'oeuvres and gateaus, and now they were without a thin coin to their names. In their cramped and leaky apartment, far, far from Orloff's gubernatorial mansion in Warsaw, Russakoff was subjected often to Orloff's ravings.

“I thought I would be setting myself free by faking my death—and it was so easy!” the former Count would often say. “The crowd surged at me—I took my bag of artificial blood—and in the tussle I threw it on myself and played dead. They took my body away, and I fled when no one was watching me. I was to escape being the Czar's puppet! He would never have promoted beyond this miserable town, and I knew he would never take Czernova—those filthy rotten peasants!”

At first, Russakoff had been sympathetic. He, too, had disguised his survival, and encountered the Count by accident; in essence, they'd stumbled into the same gutter. It was truly inappropriate to call Orloff a Count now. Since he was dead, he was naturally without title. He had issue, it was true, but there was no telling if the Princess Barbara of Czernova would send assassins to the families of her enemies. She'd displayed a certain ruthlessness which he had totally underestimated. And she wanted to make an Empire of Czernova! Empires meant colonies and colonial rivals, and that meant war. War against the Czar—against the world, perhaps. To Russakoff, it was all the same, over and over again...tyrants, “nobles,” abusing their rank and title.

Orloff had a son, it was true, but Russakoff was childless. He had some names picked out, that he hoped at least a descendant of his would use at some point. For a girl, he liked Olga; for a boy, Nikolas. Orloff spoke proudly of his son. “Dionysus is a wise boy,” he would say, in calmer moods. “Very intelligent. I sent him all my books when I realized I was going to get out before that wench truly killed me. All the books detailing the experiments I dreamed of carrying out…shipped out to that dusty old house built in London by Rinaldo Sabata, owned by my father's brother Orlofsky.”

When he first said this, Russakoff had been disinterested at best, but Orloff began to speak more loudly. “Dionysus will beget a line of fine men carrying my name. My seed is of a superior race...I am a cousin of Joseph Balsamo. I am a Count by right as well as name, unlike many of the nobles of this continent. And though Dionysus is merely a half-breed—I fathered him on a peasant girl of the most impure blood with the family name Droila—he will raise a great legacy indeed.” And he paused. “You are not of noble blood, Russakoff. I am ashamed of the fact that I must share a home with a dirt-blood.”

And Russakoff kept his mouth shut. After all, it was the remainder of the former Count's money that kept them in this miserable place—a place which was nonetheless better than the Warsaw streets or sewers. But months went by, and when it became clear that they were deeply behind on rent, the ranting became less and less bearable.

And yet the dejected spy had no one else to turn to, and he did not want to be alone when it came time for them to be forced out into the cold.

January of 1848 was a hellish winter, and the only mercy the pair had in their minds was that they were not in Siberia instead. In time, Warsaw was behind them, and they were sure they could find a village or suburb to take refuge in as they wandered west.

It had been Russakoff's idea. He wanted to head to France, but didn't express this to Orloff at first. He felt it was his right to keep a secret. And his right to ask about one of Orloff's own.

“What did you think you would achieve?” Russakoff asked him one night, when they made camp in a cave.

“Hm?”

“When you faked your death. You sent your books to your son, but you didn't save any of your money. Why?”

“I-I don't know. It's not important.”

Russakoff looked him over, noticing for the first time how different he was without the gaudy colors of a state uniform. In the dark rags they wore, he looked to be simply a confused old man. Sometimes he adopted the style of the time and wore a monocle, but the eye he once covered with such adornment was now turning a pale blue with cataracts. The jowly face was worn by many decades of professionalism, and, recently, humiliation. But he really was just a confused old man.

“I don't know why I'm following you.”
“Because it is your place. I am a Count—I am of the royal blood of the Emperor. You will obey me, as all those without title must.”

Russakoff rolled his eyes, but at once the old man lunged out and seized his collar.

"You will pay attention to me when I ask for it,” he hissed.

“You can burn in Hell, sir. I am going to France. You may join me if you swear on the saints to part company with me as soon as we cross the French border.” The bastard wouldn't live without him, and he was a spy—not a wanton slayer of innocents. He would make sure he found a nice hôpital to leave him at and then he would retire to a cottage somewhere. From there he was on his own.

“I will not flee to France. France is full of undesirables. Some of my other cousins lived there under the name 'Ogroff,' their tongues so twisted by inbreeding as to slur the pronunciation. They may still have 'Orloff' written on their birth certificates for all I know. Last I had heard of them, one of the more simple-minded of their number got himself captured and tortured during service to Napoleon, under Gerard—he was taken by either the English, maybe Hornblower's men, or else the Prussians. They gouged out one of his eyes, and trepanned him, and nailed a mask of some kind to his face. They say he went mad and butchered people with an axe in the woods of Orleans, poor simpleton!”

This was the most animate he'd been in days, but Russakoff did not find it a welcome change. He was at once reconsidering his strategy and wondered if there was enough meat on Orloff for him to lure off wolves if it came down to it. As soon as that thought crossed his mind, however, he began to hear the telltale sound—the distant song of those very beasts. Orloff didn't seem to hear it, but he was probably nearly deaf by now. Under the bright full moon, Russakoff rose slowly.

“Get up,” he barked.

“What?” Orloff asked, offended by the spy's attempt at giving him an order more than anything else.

“There are wolves coming. We need to find better shelter soon.”

“There won't be another village for miles.”
“We have to try, old man. It's either that or we're the beasts' supper.”
Orloff seemed to see reason for the first time in a long while, and he joined his companion in running through the snow.

There was a blizzard that had risen over them—they were safe in the cave, with the fire, but the fire would draw the wolves. They had no weapons, and they were starving. Russakoff knew this was how he would end, and he fumbled in the pocket of his worn, disheveled trousers. He had kept his rosary a secret from Orloff, as the old man would almost certain try to sell it. Not like the thought hadn't crossed his mind. He wanted to make a prayer to Mother Mary that he may be carried to Heaven, because there no way that his survival was in God's plan—

But ahead, even though the ever-closer howls through the dark, thick woods, there was a glimmer of something. Russakoff needed sharp eyes for his work, so he of course saw them before Orloff did.

“Is that a light?”

“What?”
“Is that a light, Orloff?”

“I-I don't know. It's orange, against the black and blue of the storm...”
“We have to try it. Or the wolves will get us.”

Orloff nearly fell, then, and against all sanity Russakoff fell to help him. Almost at once, however, he turned to leave him, but by then it was too late.

A shadow stood tall over the spy, and for a moment, it looked the silhouette of an enormous wolf. His life flashed before his eyes. He remembered missions from years back, liaisons with foreign agents like Verloc and Bartholomew. He thought of the children he wanted to have. At once, however, a hand seized his, and the shape towering over him was a man.

“Run!” The accent seemed to be that of a Spaniard, particularly one who had gone to settle in the New World. Russakoff paid no heed to that. Taking Orloff with him he followed the stranger, and the stranger led them to the orange lights.

“Inside! Inside the carriage!”
There was a carriage before them, and hands inside drew the flaps open. They crawled inside, their clothing soaked, still hearing the ravenous sounds of the hounds pursuing them. They could hear their loud breath, and their snarls seemed to be nearly outside the cabin. Absentmindedly, his heart thudding in his ears, Russakoff realized the stranger who helped them was still outside. But the carriage pulled forward all the same. The spy sat up, but as he did so he saw that the stranger got inside at the last second.

“A miracle you lived, your grace!” came a voice with a Romanian lilt to it. “Bravo! Bravo!”

“Thank you, thank you,” Orloff moaned weakly, unaware that the inhabitants of the carriage seemed to be addressing the stranger rather than he.

Russakoff looked around, nearly disturbed at how spacious the inside of the carriage turned out to be. But it wasn't a carriage, was it...? It was...a wagon train of sorts. Like those which drove carnival caravans...

There were six other passengers in this car alone. Fitting eight into an ordinary carriage was a feat of Heaven.

They got a good look at their savior. He had an aristocratic face that was notably handsomer than Orloff's. He was middle-aged, his slicked hair streaked with gray. He had eyes that looked as if they could become wild in an instant.

“Good evening,” he said, again in that accent that appeared to be from Spain or Mexico. “I am Count Duval.”

At those words, it was like Orloff had a fresh new life. “Count...?” he whispered.

“Yes,” the man called Duval said. “I am originally from Hungary but I have spent many years in Central America. It is a lively place to live.”

“I-I am a Count. A Count of the Great Russias, of the Great White Czar Nicholas. I am Count Orloff, of the House of Grigory Orloff.”

 At once the assembled men went silent, but there appeared to be a jovial atmosphere.

 “Then if you are a Count,” Duval said, pointing at Russakoff, “there are eight Counts on this car of the train.”

 There was great laughter amid the seven men.

“Train?” Orloff asked politely.

“My train, yes. I am Count Metterhaus, and these vehicles are mine. My coachman, Malatesta, is steering the train of carriages through Graustark. We are very nearly the Ruritanian-Kanpallian border.” The speaker was a younger-looking man, with a loose white shirt that was split down the middle. In a garish way, it revealed much of his hairless chest—his hair was a sphere of brown locks, like a dandelion-tuft. Around his neck he wore a gold band of some kind. “Ordinarily I run a circus of sorts, but sometimes I use my train to take friends of mine on pleasure trips through the heart of Europe.”

“Fascinating, fascinating,” Orloff said. “I have heard of the Metterhaus family. They sometimes go by the name of Klebb, don't they?”

“Not the branch I'm from.”
 “I see...”

As the two conversed, the guests' eyes swept over the crowd. Besides Metterhaus and Duval, there was a man with a pointed hairline, whose eyes were cruel and looked like they sparkled in the moonlight; one who looked Russakoff up and down over and over again, his smile widening each time; and a gentleman whose face was streaked with tears. Finally, there was a man in the corner who presented a dilemma—they couldn't take their eyes off him, and yet they wanted nothing more than to look away. He looked to be a lonely old man, pale enough to be mistaken for an albino—he had a styled beard and mustache, and lonely soft eyes. He refused to look at the two newcomers.

 “These assembled nobles are Counts Tesla, Vardalek, and Dolingen—ignore Dolingen. He is grieving his wife,” Metterhaus explained. “Six Counts, now made seven.”

 “Who is that last gentleman?” Russakoff asked boldly.

“He is the Count,” Duval explained, suddenly but gently. “The Count of Counts. Do not expect his attention, your grace.” And his eyes flashed then, and he seemed to lean towards Russakoff. “You are a 'Count,' aren't you, your grace?”

Russakoff became aware that he was sweating. “Of course. I am—” and he gulped “—Count Dantes, of Monte-Cristo.”

Duval leaned back, grinning contentedly. “Well, if we are all Counts, then perhaps we can drop facades and return to jargon befitting our status. Tell me, Count Orloff. Did you see anyone out in the woods?”

“I did not,” Orloff said, clearly unaware of what they meant by “jargon” and yet intending to keep up face. “Unfortunately.”

“That is unfortunate, yes,” Count Tesla said suddenly. “We do not wish for the Count to grow weary. These conditions do not treat him well and he may not return to our gatherings if he is not suitably entertained.”

“Certainly...we can provide conversation?” Orloff said, with a smidgen of his old smugness back.

“Conversation? We thought you were Counts.”

“...do Counts not engage in conversation?”

Russakoff had been observing quietly, and he saw that though Duval had leaned back to a restful position, the others seemed to be intent on drawing closer to the old man. Against his better judgment, a small part of his mind desired to see if the “Count of Counts” joined in on this behavior, but when he glanced at the Count he found the elderly figure's eyes locked upon him, wide and unblinking with an intensity that seemed to be that of a hungry beast...rather than something human. His eyes glowed in the orange light of the lanterns.

Russakoff clutched his rosary close, but Feodor Orloff beat him to the question. “What in God's name are you?” He meant to ask generally, but the Count of Counts in particular seemed to latch onto the question.

“I am your father's forefather, Count Orloff,” he said, with a voice that resonated like the hum of bees. “You, too, are a Son of the Dragon, for you are of the blood of Dracula.”

Russakoff felt all color flush from his face, as the name echoed from his lips. At once, he knew he would have to make Orloff his wolf-bait. Seizing the elderly Count, he threw him into the center of the carriage, before diving past Duval for the exit. Duval at first was preoccupied, as all the others were, with descending upon the shrieking, kicking Orloff. All of them, even weeping Dolingen, gazed down at him like vultures, their mouths split open to reveal canines and incisors that were long, too long, and pointed. But suddenly the Mexican turned towards him, and with a lunge that rocked the carriage, he took Russakoff by the throat, and began to move his head to where his hand pinned him to the seat.

Thinking quickly Russakoff pulled the rosary from his pocket. He remembered the old stories of these abominations, and his faith was never stronger as when he waved the cross at the end of the loop of beads at the monster. Duval hissed and pitched backward, and Russakoff delivered a booted kick to his head to make assurance of his escape.

So it was then that the spy took his chances in the Graustark snows. It was better than being in a den of wolves, and their taking of human “conversation.”

He knew they'd be willing to chase them, since they now knew that there was no one else around to sate their cravings. So he ran and ran, still the blizzard stopped and another started, until the sun rose and nearly set again. In a small town he regained his strength, but nonetheless kept running. And even when he reached Paris, he still kept running—never staying out long after dark, and watchful of people with long teeth. Though they never learned his name, he changed it, so that there was no chance. Compressing it down, he began to live under the name of Rokoff.

He was good at his life, being a spy, and he always made sure to do good. For he had been a killer, as well as a spy, and that would not pass the judgment of the Good Lord whose rosary ensured that he lived.

Years went on. Things faded away, as they always do. Czernova, and the wicked Princess Barbara, were sanded down to things half-remembered in dreams and nightmares. Even long after those memories passed on, he still feared long-toothed people, but he met a woman with short teeth who was good to him. He had a son, and through him, two beautiful grandchildren.

 

Chapter Text

The story is a sequel to John R. Carling's romantic thriller The Shadow of the Czar (1902). Count Feodor Orloff, Ivan Russakoff, Czernova, and Princess Barbara are all references to the characters and events of that book; Orloff and Russakoff are the agents of the Czar who seeks to conquer Czernova against the wishes of Princess Barbara. Count Orloff and Russakoff's deaths in the book are revealed here to have been faked.

 

Orloff's son, Dionysus Orloff, is the titular character of Jesus Franco's film The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962). His name, Dionysus, is a reference to the name given to the titular killer of Franco's Jack the Ripper (1976); in some dubs, the Ripper is given the name Dennis. Dr. Orloff is a murderer who kills women to take their skin to transplant onto his grievously-injured daughter Melissa. Orloff, played by a variety of actors, has appeared in many European horror films made by Franco and others.

 

Joseph Balsamo was a real person, the scandalous occulist known as Cagliostro; this version is meant to recall the fictionalized portrayal of Balsamo from the Arsene Lupin stories by Maurice Leblanc. Orloff's relationship to Joseph Balsamo is based on the fact that in Jess Franco's films The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1973) and The Gluttons (1973) (the latter part of the Maciste film series), Cagliostro was played by Howard Vernon. Howard Vernon also played Dr. Orloff in many of the Orloff films, including the original.

 

The architect Orloff mentions, Rinaldo Sabata, is from the horror film The Ghost of Rashmon Hall (1947); Sabata is both an architect and a necromancer. The Orlofsky house will later be the home of the granddaughter of Count Dracula, and a member of the infamous Talbot family, in Andy Milligan's film Blood (1970).

 

Dr. Orloff's mother, whose surname is Droila, is a relative of the evil Dr. Droila from the film The Hanging Woman (1973). The unfortunate Ogroff is an ancestor of the similarly-fated figure of Norbert Moutier's film Ogroff (1983), who was trepanned and tortured in World War II. “Gerard” is Brigadier Gerard, from a series of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle; “Hornblower” is Horatio Hornblower from the stories written by C.S. Forester. Both men are officers in the Napoleonic Wars.

 

The spies, Verloc and Bartholomew, are ancestors of the spies of the same names from Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (1907) and William K. Hennigar's film Thigh Spy (1967). “Grigory Orloff” is a reference to Grigory Orlov (1734-1783), a real-life Russian noble of the wealthy Orlov family who fathered Aleksey Bobrinsky, the illegitimate son of Catherine the Great. Feodor Orloff may be a son of Bobrinsky.

 

Malatesta is the leader of the sinister traveling show from the film Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973), which is not a sequel to but may be related to the film Carnival of Blood (1970). Graustark is from a series of books by George Barr McCutcheon; Ruritania is from The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony Hope and its sequel; Kanpallia is from my own fiction. All of them are Eastern European monarchies. “Dantes of Monte Cristo” is a reference to Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (1844). The name Russakoff takes at the end of the story, Rokoff, is a reference to Nikolas and Olga Rokoff from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels.

 

The identities of the Counts are as follows:

 

  • Count Duval is from the Mexican horror film The Vampire (1957).

  • Count Metterhaus is the ringleader of the eponymous organization from the film Vampire Circus (1972). His using the name “Klebb” is a reference to Rosa Klebb, from Ian Fleming's James Bond novel From Russia with Love (1956), who uses the alias of “Countess Metterstein”; I meant to imply that Metterstein was a corruption of an old family name, Metterhaus, and that Klebb was a descendant of Metterhaus' non-vampiric relatives.

  • Count Tesla is Armand Tesla, from the film The Return of the Vampire (1943).

  • Count Vardalek is the vampire from Count Eric Stenbock's “The True Story of the Vampire” (1894).

  • Count Dolingen is the husband of the “dead” Countess Dolingen from Bram Stoker's “Dracula's Guest” (1914).

  • And Dracula is, of course, the titular figure of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). How he is related to Count Orloff will be revealed in the future.