July 23, 1831.
The smell of fear hung heavy on the air inside the tiny wooden cabin. A pungent, spicy odor. Sharp to the nostrils and metallic on the tongue, like the razored blade of a well honed knife. It scented the room, mixing in with the aromas of fragrant oils, herbs, sweat, and fresh blood.
Mansa Du Paul inhaled deeply, savoring the fragrances that were his gifts to the Petro Loas, the dark gods he served. They would be pleased with his offerings. In return they would answer his summons, coming to him with gifts of knowledge and spiritual power. Gifts that only a bokor, a voodoo sorcerer, such as himself, could use.
He lit a black candle and set it on the wooden table before him. Several other candles had already been lit. Along with the candles, the table was cluttered with numerous plates and bowls, filled with offerings of food and drink to the gods. On one of those plates lay the body of a black chicken whose neck he had just cut. The pewter bowl next to the plate held the chicken’s blood, which was still warm to the touch.
Fresh blood for the Loas, gods who demanded gifts of sacrifice from those who served them. Gifts of wine and food, and offerings of flesh and blood. Usually that of animal, or fowl, but sometimes the flesh and blood were human.
On the opposite side of the table from Mansa kneeled a half dozen men and women, their ebony skin reflecting the glow from the flickering candles. They were his servants, waiting to do whatever he would ask of them, fearful of making any mistake that might offend him. They knew of his power and feared it. Feared him.
Like the sorcerer they now served, the others in the room had also been slaves of the white man. But they too had escaped the plantations and chains, following Mansa to the humid forests of central Florida. Together, along with twenty other runaway slaves, they had built a small village along the banks of the tiny Wekiva River, naming the settlement Blackwater.
The village was Mansa’s, and these were his people. They had come to him for his help, seeking safety from the hounds and slavers that hunted them. In return for his help, they became his devoted subjects, doing anything and everything that he asked. They were loyal, without question, for to be otherwise would result in a punishment far more severe than any plantation owner could ever administer. After all, there were things in the world far worse than whips and chains: there were the unholy spirits that Mansa paid homage to, and then there was the sorcerer himself.
Mansa Du Paul had been born into slavery on a farm just south of Atlanta, Georgia, in the fall of 1801. When he was old enough to walk on his own, he had been put to work picking cotton alongside his mother. He didn’t remember much about his mother, other than she had been beautiful, her skin two shades lighter than his own. She had died when he was only ten, bitten by a rattlesnake while working in the field. The snake had bitten him too, but he had not sickened and died like his mother. Even then he had the power.
He might have had a hard time after his mother’s death, because there was no sympathy among the other slaves for the weak or orphaned. But Mansa was taken in by an old, one-eyed woman named Maggie. The other slaves were scared of Maggie, for she was a master of Voodoo, a priestess from the island of Haiti.
Maggie had seen the snake bite Mansa and his mother, and knew that Dramballah, the Supreme Mystery, was pointing the boy out to her. The Loa had taken Mansa’s mother, leaving the boy in the care of one who would teach him how to work powerful magic.
Even under the old woman’s protection, Mansa’s youth had not been a happy one. In the daytime there were fields to plow, and cotton to be picked, and by night he was pressed to remember ancient ceremonies and formulas, learning the ways and wants of each and every Loa. He was a quick learner, and soon he was assisting the old woman in her magical rituals, allowing the gods to enter his body in order to obtain power and knowledge.
But Mansa was not content with the limitations the old priestess put on him. He wanted to learn more of voodoo than what she was offering to teach. He thought it was foolish to learn how to heal the sick and help others. Instead, he wanted knowledge that would give him power over others, knowledge that would allow him to hurt or kill his enemies. So Mansa had embraced the darkness, promising to faithfully serve the Petro Loas in return for the power they could give him. He had learned all of Maggie’s secrets and then he had killed her, offering her blood to the dark gods in a ritual sacrifice.=
He shed the bonds of slavery shortly after taking the old woman’s life, fleeing to central Florida. Other escaped slaves followed him, seeking the protection of his voodoo powers. Together they built a tiny village of eight cabins deep in the forest. Mansa ruled over the people of his village with an iron fist, through fear and intimidation, and with the use of black magic. In addition to offering blood sacrifices in his evil ceremonies, the sorcerer was extremely fond of eating the flesh of small children.
Mansa smiled, his gaze traveling to the large, ornately carved wooden post in the center of the room. The post, decorated with carvings of circles, rainbows, and snakes, was sacred to Legba, guardian of the passage between this world and that of the spirits. It was Legba who would throw open the passageway, allowing the other Loas to come sliding down the post into the world of the living.
Tied to the post were two young children, a boy and a girl. Brother and sister. They were Indian children, taken the previous evening from a neighboring Seminole village. Mansa would have preferred white children, but there were no whites living in the area, and the flesh of an Indian child was almost as tasty. Almost.
Mansa smiled. “Soon, little ones. Soon it will be time for you to die. Yes-s-s...time to die.”
He picked up his asson from the table before him, a gourd rattle filled with pebbles, snake bones, earth from a cemetery, and magical powders. The rattle had once belonged to Maggie, but he had stolen it after taking the old woman’s life. There was powerful magic in the rattle; with it he could command the dead, and control the cemetery Loas.
Shaking the rattle with a slow, steady beat, he circled the wooden table and crossed the room. His servants moved out of the way to let him pass, making sure to avoid eye contact. They knew better than to look directly into the eyes of the voodoo sorcerer, for such a gesture would be considered a challenge that would invoke his wrath.
The children, however, though afraid, did not avert their eyes. They watched him as he approached, the boy straining at the knotted cords that held him fast to the ornate post.
“Yes-s-s, that’s it. Struggle little man. Struggle all you want. You shall not get away. Not from Mansa Du Paul. I will offer your life to the Loas, then I will set your blood outside for the witches that pass in the night.
“Have you ever seen the witches, little man? They pass through the night like fireflies. They are very found of blood, especially the blood of children. They will be pleased by my offering, very pleased
“The witches will have your blood, and the Loas will have your life, but your soul will be mine. I will steal your soul from the top of your head, and I will keep it in a clay jar upon the shelf. There.”
Mansa turned and pointed to the far end of the room, where a crude plank shelf ran the length of the wall. Upon the shelf were bottles, plates, wooden bowls, gourds, stones of various size, and several small clay jars. The jars were called “spirit jars”, and contained the souls of other victims he had sacrificed to the dark gods.”
“See. There. That is where I will keep you and your sister. That is where I will keep your souls. Your souls I will keep, your blood I will set outside in big bowls, and your flesh I will eat.”
The sorcerer licked his lips and turned back to look at the Indian boy. The boy was dressed in a long cloth shirt, which was gathered at the waist with a belt of woven yarn. His legs and feet were bare, and, unlike his sister, he wore no jewelry of any kind. The girl was dressed in a long cotton skirt, also gathered at the waist, and a short blouse that left her midriff exposed. Her feet were bare, but around her neck hung numerous necklaces of colored glass beads.
Even though they were young, both children were skilled in the ways of the forest. Had they not been tied to the post, they would have quickly escaped back to their village. But they were both firmly tied, so there would be no escape for them. Only pain, and death.
Mansa stopped in front of the children, shaking his rattle three times at each of them. Wetting a fingertip with his tongue, he slowly ran his finger down the left cheek of the girl. He again licked his fingertip, tasting the saltiness of her flesh.
He started to do the same thing to her brother, but the boy bared his teeth in a threatening gesture. Mansa smiled. The boy would, no doubt, bite the hand that touched him. Even though he was still young, he had already been learning the warrior ways of his people and would put up a fight to the very end. His blood would be salty. Spicy. A fitting offering to gods and witches. And his flesh would make a fine stew for the voodoo sorcerer.
Shaking the rattle, Mansa slowly circled the post to start the ceremony that would call upon the dark Loas. He had just circled behind the children, when, outside the cabin, a scream of pain split the night. Another scream sounded, followed by shouts of anger.
Alarmed, Mansa turned and started back across the room. He had only taken three steps, however, when the door to his cabin was kicked open and several painted warriors entered the room. The men were Seminoles. No doubt they were from the neighboring village, and had come to rescue the children. They were armed with bows and arrows, spears, knives, and even a rifle or two.
Mansa was unarmed, for he had never felt the need for common weapons. His magic had always protected him, but it took time to work spells of magic. And time was something he no longer had. The warriors had attacked the village by surprise, slipping past the guards who watched the outer edges of the settlement. There was no time for magic, and he had no real weapons, other than the ceremonial knife that lay upon the wooden table.
Grabbing the knife off the table, he turned to his servants that awaited his command. “Stop them,” he said, pointing at the Seminole warriors that were pouring into the room. There was a moment’s hesitation, and then the six men and women rushed forward to defend their leader.
But the Seminoles were determined, and they would not be stopped. They attacked the black men and women with a frenzy usually seen only in animals. Swinging knives and tomahawks, they cut through Mansa’s servants with ease, leaving their lifeless bodies to cool in spreading pools of blood.
Mansa tried to reach the children, determined to end their miserable little lives. He never made it. Tackled from behind, he was dragged forcibly from his cabin.
Outside chaos had descended upon the village of Blackwater. Most of the inhabitants had already been killed; the rest had fled, and were being hunted by the Seminole warriors. From the darkness of the surrounding forest came shouts and war cries, and the occasional scream of pain and death.
Someone had set fire to several of the cabins. Bright flames shot from thatched roofs, casting a flickering orange glow over the surrounding area. Thick black smoke rolled toward the night sky, blocking out the stars and the silvery glow of a full moon.
Mansa took in the surrounding images of carnage with but a single glance, for he cared nothing at all about the fate of those who served him, or the dwellings they lived in. He cared only for his own fate.
Still, Mansa Du Paul was not afraid to die. He knew that his spirit was too strong to be killed outright. He was a man of voodoo, gaining the protection of gods far more powerful than those served by the heathen Seminoles. Even as several warriors tied him to a cypress tree at the edge of the river, Mansa felt no fear.
“I am immortal,” he laughed, staring down the men who stood before him. “You cannot kill me. My spirit will live forever.”
His laugh turned into a cry of pain as a slender cane arrow struck his body, burying itself deep into his right thigh. His spirit might be immortal, but his body was mere flesh. They could not kill his spirit, but they could kill his body. And the death of the flesh could be extremely painful.
Lifting his gaze to the night sky, he whispered a prayer to the dark gods he had so faithfully served during his lifetime. It was a prayer for strength and courage, but mostly it was a prayer for revenge.
A second arrow struck him in the stomach, just above his left hip. A third arrow struck two inches higher than the second. More arrows buried their heads deep into his flesh, but none of them hit vital areas. The Seminoles were making a game of his death, punishing him for the two children he had stolen from their village the previous evening, and for the others he had taken in the past. Over the years he had taken eight children, being careful never to take more than two in any one year. Still, the Indians knew where their children had gone, and they wanted revenge for the lives lost.
The arrows flew like leaves in the wind. Tiny cane arrows specially made for a slow death. Mansa gritted his teeth as a fiery pain ebbed through him. He felt his blood flowing from his body in a dozen places, running wet and warm down his arms and legs. The blood dripped to the ground and ran in tiny rivulets to the black waters of the Wekiva River.
With the blood went Mansa’s spirit, soaking into the sandy soil and swirling away with the water. He felt himself becoming one with the land, and the river, but not dying. No. Not dying. For while the sorcerer’s body slumped lifeless against the cypress tree, his evil spirit continued to live on.
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Updated Monday, 13-Mar-2017 17:11:54 PDT