Saturday, January 7, 2017
1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Farkas
Young Adult Historical Fantasy
I moved as though I walked on glass.
Don't look down. This far back, the cobblestones were covered only in caked mud and bits of straw. My slippers grasped for purchase all the same. Hurrying here, Aurélie had slipped and sprained her wrist, but that was nothing compared to what could happen now. With every step, the ground beneath me seemed to crack, and I feared that soon it would shatter completely.
"Can you see?" hissed Aurélie, gripping her wrist. We were the same age, but my stepsister was a head shorter than me, and the crowd was so tightly packed that it smothered her.
I nodded. I had a clear view of the scaffold.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the timepiece my father had given me three days earlier. Just before the National Guard led him from our house, he had placed it in my palm. "All we have is time, Camille," he said, folding my fingers around the silver. "Don't waste it."
The ticking calmed me. I needed this. One minute more was another minute in which my father could be pardoned. The Committee would realize there had been a mistake. God--somebody--would interfere. Please.
I saw him then, mounting the stairs to the scaffold.
They had stripped him of his coat, waistcoat, even his shoes, so that he wore only a white shirt and culottes, and his hair had been chopped to the nape of his neck. Beside me, Madame whimpered and pressed her handkerchief to her lips.
A guard said something to him and he laughed. Laughed.
I tightened my grip on the timepiece. It was still tick, tick, tick-ing. He could be pardoned still. Lefévre would step forward. If anyone could help, it was my father's best friend, whose influence extended beyond wealth and class. He would stop it. He had to.
My father didn't resist as the executioner tied him to the board. Lowered it.
No. This wasn't real. It was an illusion, a nightmare. I would wake up to find that I had dozed off in front of the fireplace again. My father would be sitting in his favorite chair, his expression amused as he glanced up from his notebook to tell me I had soot on my face.
It isn't real. It isn't real. It isn't--
Later, I would find that the timepiece had stopped at.
The precise moment the blade fell.
Somewhere a clock strikesjust as I reach the Place de la Revolution. Instinctively, I reach for my father's timepiece. It stopped working over a year ago; still I take comfort in the familiar notches and grooves. Very few people who might recognize me are left, but even so, I keep my head bowed and quicken my pace. I don't know why we had to meet here of all places, but Jean-Paul insisted, and I am not in a position to argue.
I stop just before the bridge that extends toward the Palais Bourbon. Every few seconds, I glance back at the public square, where the guillotine winks in the moonlight. It seems to get closer every time I look. It has been weeks since the last public execution--months since Robespierre and Saint-Just's demise--but this remains a heavy, haunted place, and every breath strangles me.
Tap. Tap. I turn to see Jean-Paul approaching with his walking stick, which he calls a constitution and I call a bludgeon. In the four months I've known him, I have never seen him without it. "You're late."
"Something came up."
I see now that his coat and culottes and streaked with blood. "Who?"
He takes a moment to answer, which makes me wonder if even he knows. From what I've gathered, Jean-Paul Grenier doesn't ask question. His source, whomever that may be, gives him names and he listens. "Informant. Admitted to spying on the Comtesse du Moreau."
Before or after you beat him? I nearly ask, but the truth is I don't care. I'm not here to talk about Jean-Paul's vengeance. I'm here to talk about mine. "Do you have it?"
He retrieves a small vial from his pocket. It's filled with a clear liquid--mort par rêves, a cousin to belladonna. A single drop will create a powerful sleeping tonic; more, and you have a poison that kills swiftly, silently, painlessly. Incredibly expensive and nearly impossible to procure.
"Thank you." I pass him a few assignats. It's not much--not half of what this is worth--but it's all I can spare at the moment. I don't know how Jean-Paul acquires the mort par rêves--whether he pays with the assignats he pilfers from his victims or just steals it outright. I've never asked.
He leans forward on his constitution. "Will you do it this time?"
"I don't know what you mean." I know exactly what he means. His lips twist into a vicious smirk. This is the third time he has brought me mort par rêves, something that--when used properly--need only be used once.
"Maybe you would prefer this," he says, and pulls out a dagger.
I stare at it. I have thought long and hard about how I am going to do it; the truth is I never intended to use the poison.
Thibault Lefévre will die by blade. Just like my father.
Still, I don't reach for the dagger. It isn't showy by any means, but it feels like a weapon for royalty--a baroness, at least. I am just a servant girl; I want Lefévre to know that. I want him to look at me and see the knots in my hair, the dirt under my nails, the smudges on my face. When the time comes, I imagine I will make like Charlotte Corday, who murdered Marat with a kitchen knife.
Noting my hesitation, Jean-Paul flips the dagger over so the blade catches the moonlight. With his pronounced widow's peak and clear eyes, he is striking in a way that unsettles me. He is too sharp; he has no softness to him. Was he always like this? Or did the violence chisel away at him until he was all jagged edges? "You ought to take it, Salomé. It will make your vengeance so much sweeter."
"I don't need it."
"You do." He holds it out to me. Even in the shadows, the dagger shines so bright that i can see my reflection distorted in the steel. "Do you know what it's made of? Go on, take a guess."
When I don't answer, he cocks his head in the direction of the square.
I turn and look at the guillotine.