The quill scratches hurriedly across the page, even as the pain explodes in a furnace of agony. He knows that he must publish his latest ideas quickly. Even under the pretense of a publicist, his newspaper still sells well. He wishes to tell the truth, without breaking the rules of a society that so values liberty and equality. But all those will go out the window if he and his fellow revolutionaries succumb to the pressures of the masses. They no longer want to listen. They have their own ideas.
She hurries from the meeting to meet the stagecoach. She turns slightly to glance at the town’s prominent church spire quickly fading into the dusty distance, then presses her ivory hand to her chest, as if attempting to gather strength from her heart. She thinks of her dear sister Alexis, killed by the revolutionaries in a madness of terror. She is the true reason for her venture into the city of the unknown and unfamiliar. And she wonders if she will ever return to her beloved ocean, and its unparalleled ability to soak her with joy through all her senses.
The Parisian man shouts at her from his position at the front of the coach. He has not stopped speaking since she first caught sight of him, in that odd accent with its soft v’s and flowing intonation. She knows he is looking down his aquiline nose; being a woman, let alone with no one else, is a curious sight indeed.
There is little strength left in his body, but his spirit is as strong as ever. They simply cannot afford to lose the momentum gained since the protracted autumn spent arguing over the King’s fate. Not only has a strange feeling of discomfort spread, the speed of reforms has slowed. It is as if everyone has been hit by a slate of sluggishness. So he picks up the quill again, finding satisfaction in knowing he is working for the good of his people. It assuages the infirmities of his skin.
She hurries through the city, peculiar amidst the bustle of men reading political newspapers at street corners, men leaving in a huff of revolutionary rage, men in uniforms of blue and white and red. The lexicon has changed to ‘tu’ and ‘les citoyens’ and ‘Assemblée nationale’. There’s a palpable pressure to be swept up in the frenzy of the upheaval following the King’s execution. She is appalled at the fervour, rancour and terror that overwhelms the land.
“I have information for you,” he hears the gentle voice of the woman. She hopes her voice doesn’t betray her.
He calls out, “Let the woman in.” and she breathes a sigh of relief, managing to hide it from the woman and the bread delivery man standing by the back door.
“There’s Joseph Sarkozy, Roland Lefévre, Gabriel Aldéric, Michel de Riffardeau. But of course, you must give me something for my time. I have left my family quite alone and I must return as quickly as I can.”
“Yes, yes,” he interrupts impatiently, “Just give me the names.”
He scribbles them down on some paper on his desk, which looks as if a storm has blown paper all over it.
“Good,” he continues, “In a few days I will have them all guillotined.”
The stench of decaying flesh and vinegar ointment betrays the devilish, diseased man. Red eyes blink at her, and his pale lips move to dismiss her. From the folds of her ruffled dress, she pulls out glittering steel. She advances quickly, plunging the knife into his chest with a single blow, assaulting skin, muscle and bone.
The blood spilt at her fingertips digs her own grave. She thinks of the letter left behind in Caen, the one that maintains her motive of bringing peace to the troubled la patrie. “Mes français amis…” it had begun.
The chief prosecutor, a starchy man and in her opinion too unreasonable, questions her. She remembers her horror at the unspeakable perversion, evil and immorality of the murdered. He had been on the path to ruining the Nation they had fought tooth and nail for. There could be no weakness, and certainly nothing to speak of emotion. Meeting violence with violence had been the only possibility left.
And so the guillotine, what had been her avenue to killing another, became her own doom. Concealed under that innocent name of Charlotte, petite, was the supposed martyr. But the angel of assassination was a fanatic, overcome by her own insecurity.