Sunday, January 15, 2017
January Workshop Revision 1 -- Farkas
Young Adult Historical Fantasy
a gentleman's daughter, presumed dead October 1793
I move as though I walk on glass.
My slippers grasp for purchase on the straw-covered cobblestones as we push forward through the crowd. Hurrying through the Champs-Élysées, Aurélie slipped and sprained her wrist, but if we fell now, we might never get up again. With every step, the ground beneath us seems to crack, and I fear that soon it will shatter completely.
“Do you see him?” hisses Aurélie, gripping her gloved wrist. We are the same age, but my stepsister is a head shorter than me, and the crowd is so tightly packed that it smothers her.
I shake my head. I can just make out the wheel of the tumbril, but the scaffold blocks the rest.
On my other side, my stepmother stares straight ahead, her eyes vacant. A man with a flask jostles her, spilling a dark liquid on her satin gown, but she doesn’t even blink.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the timepiece my father gave me three days earlier. Just before the garde nacionale led him from our house, he 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 calms me. One minute more is another minute in which my father could be pardoned. The Committee will realize there has been a mistake. God—somebody—will interfere. Please.
Then I see him, mounting the stairs to the scaffold.
They have stripped him of his coat, waistcoat, even his shoes, so that he wears only a white shirt and culottes, and his hair has been chopped to the nape of his neck. Beside me, my stepmother whimpers and presses her handkerchief to her lips.
A guard says something to him and he laughs. Laughs.
I tighten my grip on the timepiece. It is tick, tick, tick-ing stoically. He could be pardoned still. Lefévre will step forward. If anyone can help, it is my father’s best friend, whose influence extends beyond wealth and class and political party. He will stop it. He has to.
My father doesn’t resist as the executioner ties him to the board. Lowers it.
No. This isn’t real. It is an illusion, a nightmare. I will wake up to find that I have dozed off in front of the fireplace again. My father will be sitting in his favorite chair, his expression amused as he glances up from his notebook to tell me that I have 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 11:58.
The precise moment the blade fell.
a housemaid, disappeared November 1794
Somewhere a clock strikes midnight just 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. When he died, Madame discarded most of his things—his clothes, his notebooks, his stacks of letters piled high in his study. The timepiece is all I have left.
I stop just in front of the entrance to the Tuileries Gardens. I don’t know why we have to meet here of all places, but Jean-Paul insisted, and I am not in a position to argue. Every few seconds, I glance back at the public square, where the guillotine winks in the moonlight. It seems to get closer each 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. I don’t know if it is real or illusion, but I can taste blood in the air, and if I listen intently, I can hear the whistle of the blade, my stepmother’s stifled sob, my own desperate scream.
You’ll come back? I asked my father when they took him.
He smiled and patted my hand, as though I were seven instead of seventeen. I always do.
I catch a whiff of musk and 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.”
He shrugs. “Something came up.”
I see now that his coat and culottes are 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 questions. His source, whom he says is a journalist, 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?”
“Eager, are we?” he says. His tone rattles me. Not too long ago, he wouldn’t have dared talk to me that way, but back then I was someone else. Camille Delacroix. Not nobility, but a name that meant something.
Not even my own family calls me Camille anymore.
Jean-Paul 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.
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 poison—whether he pays with the assignats he pilfers from his victims or just steals it outright. I’ve never asked.
He dangles the vial above my open palm. “Will you do it this time?”
Growing up, I learned that a lady doesn’t snatch, but I’m tempted. As far as Jean-Paul knows, I’m merely a housemaid. “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.
“I can’t do this forever, Salomé,” he says. “I’m willing to help you, but you have to go through with it. Look.” He takes my shoulders and turns me around so that I’m facing the square, his touch making my skin crawl. I don’t want to look; I want to turn back to the Tuileries Gardens, where Aurélie and I used to take afternoon promenades in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the dauphin. Now the dauphin is dead, and in a way, so are my stepsister and I, and it all has to do with that thing in the middle of the square. “Look, Salomé. Look at how your father was murdered.”
Murdered. The word lingers in the air. My father was innocent. My stepmother had lived at court in her youth, but my father was just a lawyer. He didn’t belong on that scaffold.
I know now why Jean-Paul insisted we meet here.
He leans in, his breath hot on my neck. “If you want justice for your father, you need to take it yourself.”
“Perhaps,” he says, releasing me. I turn away from the scaffold. “You would prefer this.”
He 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. I have my own reasons for wanting the poison, but Jean-Paul is the type of man who feeds on bloodlust, and he won’t give it to me if he knows the truth. I don’t need the dagger; a kitchen knife will serve just as well.
Jean-Paul flips the dagger over so the blade catches the moonlight. He isn’t much older than me, and with his pronounced widow’s peak and clear eyes, he is striking in a way that leaves me unsettled. He is too sharp—all edges and no softness. Was he always this way? Or did the violence change him the way it changed me? “You ought to take it, Salomé. It will make your revenge 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. “Can you guess what it’s made from?”
He cocks his head in the direction of the guillotine.