I dunno where this came from! I've had a sudden obsession with the French Revolution recently and try to picture how it would work in a Zelda scenario. I'm quite pleased with the results but the ending's a bit limp, I reckon. This is by no means an accurate account, or an attempt at replicating the Revolution or the events therein. I do hope you enjoy reading it. The usual disclaimers apply.
Vive La Revolution!
Fear! Fear grips her even in the midst of her dreams. Her eyes jerk open and she panics for all she can see is terror all around her. With each night that passes it takes longer and longer to realise that the black walls surrounding her are the drapes that line her bed not the walls of a cell; that the acrid stench of burning is merely the smell of the dying embers of the fire in the grate. Panic abating, she lies back against the soft white pillows and with a sigh she closes her eyes. It is her vain hope that should sleep not evade her, her dreams will be peaceful.
She sits on her gilded throne and remembers a time not long ago they dubbed her the Rose Queen. Her praises were sung throughout the land. Fashions were dictated at her whim. The Queen's colours were all the rage. She was courted and petted and adored. She would ride through her kingdom in her golden carriage and people would throw petals at her feet as they cheered. She would smile and wave. How enjoyable life had been then - so full of gaiety and laughter. From the heavens so far away the gods showed their approval. The sun always seemed to be shining.
Now there is uncertainty and a rising dread. She sits alone in the vast throne room, though she is surrounded by people, and feels the tremors of change upon them all. She hears the whispers on the wings of the breeze that moves her hair as clearly as she can smell the bitter fires of discord. It is not wise to talk about such things. It is foolish to dwell upon the impossible. It cannot happen, they say. Yet as the months roll by and the murmurs grow louder, the frivolity that surrounds her becomes forced. The derisive snort of 'cannot' becomes a fearful prayer of 'will not'. These days the sky is always laden with rain clouds.
It is through her networks that she finally learns her opponent's name. She knew him once – recalls an image of his harshly lined face and recalls his harsh temper. He was once a friend of the court but has long since been banished, and wonders why people are now drawn to him. The whispers and hints give way to rumours and speculation. She watches as fear invades the very walls of her court and begins to tear it asunder. One by one her allies draw back, urgent business is calling them away suddenly, they say, and she smiles gently and grants them leave knowing all the while that they lie through their teeth. The same fear that grips them torments her dreams and she wonders how long it will be before her nightmares become truth.
As she lies in her bed at night, surrounded by darkness, too frightened to close her eyes for fear of what tomorrow may bring, she puzzles over her role in this change. What had she done to make the people hate her so much? She spends her nights ransacking her mind, searching for that elusive answer – one that would satisfy her, and it leaves her exhausted.
The truth is there is not an answer. She has done no wrong. She is a fair and kind ruler, perhaps too eager to please. She has brought in reforms in line with popular opinion, granting the populous greater power than they have ever had before. She treads the path her father followed. Her duty is to her country. Not once has she turned her back on them, so why do they now turn their backs on her?
Her eyes, once filled with laughter and light are drawn and tired. She listens to her council's thinly veiled threats and maintains her quiet dignity. She can only watch as her world unravels around her. There is growing unrest in the streets of the cities. She hears of mobs and uprisings, of those once loyal to the crown openly disowning her. She hears rumours, reads propaganda against her person. At night she begins to weep for the terror is drawing closer. She sees it in the eyes of those around her. She no longer knows who is a friend or a foe: they are beginning to look alike.
With unfailing patience and humility, she attempts to defend her honour before her accusers. Somehow she hopes that the people that once loved her will realise she is not opposing them, nor is she a monster. They will see that she has starved as they have starved. She has emptied the royal coffers to buy in grain for them all. She is innocent of the crimes they attribute to her name. The famine that ravishes her land – their land - it is not of her doing yet somehow it remains her fault. Perhaps her prayers were insufficient. Perhaps somewhere in her past she forgot her duty, was lax or did something to earn their displeasure. She does not know anymore.
She waits alone in her throne room with her memories of happier times whilst in the city men debate her future. The smell of blood and smoke pervades even the air of the castle. In her eyes it taints the beauty of her home with its dark shroud of hatred. For it is dark, ugly hatred that has arisen against her, and like a fire it is all consuming and there is a wind whipping it up into a greater frenzy. She knows that it is all his doing.
The debate goes on long into that winter night. She finds it hard to believe yet easy to imagine that inside that great hall, so far away in the city, her fate is being decided by men who do not know her. There is little hope in her heart for reprieve. Her kingdom of light and beauty has been dragged down into darkness and despair. Bloodlust and pandemonium are everywhere, filling hearts as easily as air fills the lungs.
Again and again she asks the gods how this all happened? What had she done? What grave error has she committed? A revolution, they call it, the revolution – her people revolt against her and she does not understand why. Lives built on a thousand years of tradition, systems, laws, governance – the revolutionaries seek to bring it all down. They would wash away the very fabric of her home – their home, and for what? Do they not understand that in her place another will rise? When he fails to meet their demands, will they dispose of him too?
The noise of running feet draws her attention from her bitter reverie. A young soldier bursts through the grand doors opposite her and her body rises from her seat impulsively. On any other day, she would have denounced the interloper's lack of decorum. One did not approach the queen in such a haphazard manner. Today was unlike any other day. It was a day laced with the fear of the unknown, so instead of displaying anger, her face shows alarm.
He does not bow, nor pause to admire her beauty, nor does he address her in formal terms, as would have been proper in any other circumstance. He skids to a halt before her and tells her that they must leave. The council have made a decision. The mobs have been stirred and only her blood will sate them.
She is betrayed by her heart; a low moan slips from her throat as tears sting her eyes. She attempts to regain her composure, for a queen must not show weakness before a servant, but she is paralysed by that very human fear. She is faced with her own mortality and she is very frightened.
He urges her to follow him. He wishes to aid her and as she turns her eyes to face him, she is confronted by his alarming lack of rank or maturity. Why! He is barely older than she and is clad in the simple garments of an ordinary soldier. But where is the rest of her guard? Where are her knights and her nobles? Men she presumed would fight for her to the bitter end? After all, she was facing the bitter end now. Surely, there was more than a boy to be spared to assure her safety? It is through the mouth of this boy, however, and not through her vast network of spies, or her noble friends, that she learns the truth. She has been abandoned by those she had trusted. She must leave.
As she follows the guard, she cannot help the anger rising in her veins, or is it disappointment she feels by their treachery. Yet, she cannot altogether blame them. Would she not do the same in their shoes? She is condemned by her own council; she has been branded as a traitor to the revolution. Any who now seek to help her would surely face her fate? Her friends and officials will distance themselves from her for their own sake. Self-preservation, they called it. She preferred the word betrayal.
The guard leads her down dark corridors, and more than once she is struck with uncertainty. Perhaps she ought not to trust him, but something in his steady gaze fills her with confidence in him and she does not voice her fears. Their pace is steady and their progress cautious. She only speaks once, to ask if he was leading her to the stables.
To her surprise, the young man shakes his head. It is too predictable. She realises the truth of this, even as he speaks the words. The stables will be monitored; rebel guards were likely as not waiting as she spoke. Then where were they heading? His eyes are apologetic as he explains just how he intends to escape from the mob.
She hears the cries and feels the anger of the attackers, even as the walls of the hidden passage she creeps down shakes under the blows of a battering ram. Her young rescuer explains that he barricaded the door to give them more time but they will enter soon enough. She can hear the jingle of armour as the guardsmen – her own guards, rush to sweep away the barricade, rapidly explaining that there is a traitor in their midst. More shouts and cries are heard, growing louder with each passing second as they rush the hall.
From some distance away, she hears the angered shout declaring her vanished. Battle cries and violent threats fill the air. Her hands tremble as she pushes them against the walls of the thin corridor. Ahead of her, the guard's lantern is dim and flickering, slowly drawing away from her as he carefully, steadily descends into the castle basement. If only they knew how close she was, she thinks, as she hurries to catch him up. All too clearly she can imagine their glee, their victory cries. She has always enjoyed hunting, but now she understands what it is to be hunted.
The din of the mob fades away and is replaced by the noise of rushing water as they reach their destination. A new smell assaults her. It catches in the back of her throat and seems to stick to her person and it makes her retch. It grows more pungent the deeper into the bowels of the castle they go. Her eyes begin to sting.
The guard apologises again as he carefully hands her over the threshold into this new, vile world. Even in the pathetic light of his lantern, she can see he looks repulsed. This is no place for any human, let alone a queen. He removes the cap from his head, revealing a shock of messy light-coloured hair, and offers it to her to shield her nose and mouth from the stench but she shakes her head. She always carries a handkerchief and delicately, she holds this against her face. It muffles, rather than conceals the vile odour. The guard smiles at her and encourages her with kind words, and advises her to avoid stepping in the water at all costs.
She nods and bites back the feeling of nausea that sweeps her continually. She has no intention of stepping into that foaming, gurgling river of detritus and is certain to be extremely careful to avoid it at all costs. He advises her to watch out for rats and bats and leads the way again.
She has lost track of all time and most of her senses by the time he has led her to the exit. The fresh air that suddenly hits her face smells so sweet and wonderful. Her body retches finally and she gives in to nature. The guard, she notes, has turned away slightly so as not to disgrace her, and is taking in great lungfuls of clean air. They are standing underneath a dark bridge on the western edge of the city. The river of filth flowing from the city is joined at this intersection by a fast moving river from the mountains and it sweeps away all the waste towards the southern lake.
She looks around and sees the tinge of grey in the east, signalling the advent of dawn. The world around them is eerily quiet. She is not safe yet. Cautiously, the guard checks the vicinity for signs of enemies and edges forward on to the great plain surrounding the city. He whispers that he knows of some caves nearby that they could hide in, and she marvels at his calmness. There is still danger all around her but now she has abandoned the city, she feels a strange kind of acceptance settle upon her and she no longer feels quite so afraid.
Nightmares no longer invaded her dreams. It has been many months since she awoke in the dead of night, her body damp with sweat, her heart pounding, tears stinging her eyes. Perhaps she is no longer afraid because she now understands. She understands why the people had to revolt. She understands how terrible a ruler she had been. She had been too trusting: she was young and foolish and trusted those under her to go about their duties with the same diligence and compassion as she showed. It was evident that her wishes had been ignored.
The earth was in a sorry state. Two years of dry summers had been followed by a summer of intolerable rain. It seemed all the goodness in the ground had been washed away. She knew now that the forces of nature were not her responsibility. Yet she had neglected her duties. She had graciously handed out alms in the city, whilst in the country her nobles had demanded the money to pay for them. Looking from the perspective of another, she could see now where she had gone wrong. She had granted freedoms and concessions to the middle classes yet it was the poorest among them that had truly needed her help. The poorest among them had been written off as worth less than a head of cattle, or a sheaf of grain, yet it was the poorest among them all that held the most power.
If they decided to revolt, then slowly and surely, just as water washes away a mountain over time, the entire political establishment would crumble. All it took was for somebody to realise this and teach the ones who believed themselves worthless their true potential. That one person now stood against her, the power of the mob backing him, taking position as king of her nation in all but title.
She heard little of her former life now she was safely ensconced in the countryside, far away from any breath of scandal. The whispers of intrigue did not carry on the breeze so far away from the capital. The guard, her rescuer, now cared for her. He was her jailor, her protector, her eyes and ears but above all, her trusted companion - her friend. He could not deny his humble roots any more than she could deny her nobility and she knew that she was a burden to him.
In all manner of 'feminine accomplishments' she was well trained. She could sing in tune, play the harp and the lute, sketch prettily and spoke three different languages but all of these skills, so worthwhile in the castle, so admired and smiled upon, were worthless to him. She found it odd that he never once mentioned this, or requested her assistance. He acted at all times like the servant he had been, looking after the house and animals, hunting for and cooking their meals. Never once did he object to this arrangement. Never once did he refer to her by name. Never once did he attempt to take advantage of their isolated situation. For this he won her admiration, although she could never admit it openly.
It was by necessary arrangement that whenever he was away from the tiny hovel that had become her home, she would remain indoors. She fancied herself much like a princess in a fairytale, but unlike the foolish princesses (that always failed in their given tasks) she made sure she honoured his one request. During daylight hours, she hid in the loft of the building. It was dark, warm, airless and full of spiders but dutifully, she would spend hour upon hour waiting silently for him to return. Her mind sometimes questioned whether she was more of a prisoner now she was free than she ever had been in the castle. She chastised herself for such thoughts, believing them to be ungrateful to the one who risked his life to save hers. She trusts him and his hopes of restoration. Somewhere in the vast nation of hers, she has allies and together, as queen and peasant, they shall find them.
She is hiding in the loft when he returns early one day. She listens to him opening the door and catches the sound of his quickened breath. She waits until she hears the soft thud of the door closing behind him before peering over the edge of the mezzanine floor she is lay on. He paces below her, one hand in his hair. He catches her movements from the corner of his eye and looks up. Through the reassuring smile, she can see trouble in his gaze. She has seen enough fear to recognise it even when it is expertly veiled as it is now. That something terrible enough has happened to frighten her stoic guard unsettles her more than she cares to admit.
His voice trembles against his will. There are guards in the town. They are not seeking her, for she is very well hidden. He is confident of this. No, they come to issue a proclamation – their country is now a Republic. This is not the news that burdens his heart so, for it is not an unexpected announcement. She can see the distaste and worry in his eyes as he recites the words of the guards – the terror she had so successfully dismissed from her mind these last two months comes flooding back. All nobles that have not surrendered their land to The People, or those suspected of supporting the missing queen are declared to be traitors to the Revolution. The age old penalty for treachery remains in force.
Her dreams are invaded once again. Fear grips her with a tighter and tighter hold, making her cry out at night in panic. Her protector, so loyal and bold cannot chase away the demons that haunt the dark hours for her. These she must face alone.
Days pass slowly. Her hiding place in the loft grows ever more stifled and small and she is beset by anxiety when he is away and in her heart, she knows it is only a matter of time. The acrid smell of the revolution is coming for her. The fires and anger of the mob which she imagined she had escaped are very real and very close.
It seems there are more and more traitors to the revolution in the land. Is it panic or mistrust that fuels these fires of hatred? There is talk of a new machine that makes the work of dealing with such ever so much faster. The Lady Axe, they call it. The very name of the monstrous machine sends a chill down her spine. Thousands have been sent to die at the Lady's hands, convicted on the basis of mere rumour and conjecture. Few had any real evidence presented against them. Though he does not tell her the worst of the stories that he hears, she knows even from the little he says, just how horrible a death it delivers.
She knows it is coming for her.
She sits at the table with him, her hands clasped together in her lap and a tallow candle flickering between them. The world beyond the small window is silent and peaceful – as if there was nothing to fear in her once-beautiful country; that there is no terror lurking in the shadows.
Reluctantly he obeys her request to tell her everything and she listens with resignation and some degree of guilt. The Terror, as the Revolution is now aptly named, has swept her land. Under the banished General's hand a new type of rule has been enforced – the rule of the mob. The people have a taste of power and they use it without restraint or fear of reprisal. Any who disagree with the mob are dragged before a tribunal and are convicted. There is no appealing a sentence once passed down. Execution follows swiftly afterwards. Untold numbers have died this way, peasants and noblemen, men, women and children alike.
He tells of the grand spectacle that these executions have become – how crowds gather to watch and he blanches at the thought. The queen notices on this night, as she has noticed before, that though her companion is not born of noble blood, he is the most noble man she has met. He expresses his outrage and sorrow with clumsy words, but she can see the sincerity of his heart burning through all. She does not express her guilt. The words eat at her too deeply, too painfully for her to even think them.
If she had been a stronger ruler, could she have prevented this? The thought echoes in her mind, just as the question of 'why' had disturbed her dreams all those months ago. And when she asks this of the guard, he replies, with simplicity, that the general himself, for all his strength, does not have the power to halt this rampage. The masses have learned they have power, and sooner or later, too much power corrupts even the most noble of citizens. They were charging forward with their demand, their need for change, and they would not stop until death took them all.
Late that night, she remembers his words and makes her choice.
In the morning, he finds her dressed in the silk gown she has not worn since fleeing the castle. She has donned her crown and jewels and is unmistakably the queen once again. There is a new found resolve burning in her eyes and she dismisses him from her service.
She is surprised when he refuses, quite firmly for one so keenly aware of his situation. She orders him again and he smiles and shakes his head. Deep down she becomes aware of a feeling of gratification, and some of this slips into her voice as she demands an explanation. The answer is simple – he made a vow.
A vow is not satisfactory for her. She craves a deeper understanding – clutching at something that may yet give her hope in this darkened world she lives in. Were she more romantically inclined, she would picture this simple peasant as her golden knight, but she is not so out of touch with reality to believe that. Rather, she accepts his friendship for all that is worth and refuses to indulge in pointless fancies, no matter how pleasant a distraction they could have been. There is no option for such fancies in her world these days.
And so the journey back to the capital begins. Wary of being captured by errant troops, they travel on foot via secret paths. The moon lights their way. When storm clouds approach one night, she is sure that the thunder is the roar of voices crying out against her. Like a storm, the change is rolling ever onwards, it cannot be stopped, its course cannot be changed – only a god could control it.
Perhaps it was inevitable what her end would be. Indeed, as she speaks with the fierce general, pleading for the madness to stop, she knows what the outcome will be. This revolution was built on foundations of blood and tears; it will take more than blood to stop its wild course. She knows even before he speaks the words of condemnation what his decision would be – after all, death has been haunting her dreams for many long months now. She wonders why, as he speaks, why is she no longer afraid?
Her faithful guard, so stoic and brave throughout her ordeal is now to share in her fate. Another death chalked to her name. For him she feels regret more than for any other, even herself. She does not see him again until the bright morning when they come to take her to her doom. But for his bright eyes and fearless smile she would not have recognised the waif that stood at her side, thrown into her tumbrel. Having not had a glimpse of herself for a good length of time either, she can only imagine that her appearance is similarly grotesque. The prison guards were hardly accommodating and rations were scarce.
The sun shines down upon her on this day and she feels that life is rather perverse – why are the goddesses not weeping for the one whom they chose to be their representative? There is no answer. Perhaps the goddesses are too far removed to notice what is happening in this land they once called their own. The stories where they showed their power to the believers have long passed into legend. Perhaps her name will be inscribed alongside those ancient heroes one day.
The tumbrel jerks forward as the horses are whipped into life. The Queen blinks back her tears, determined that she shall not show weakness. She is not afraid of what is to come but she is sad for her people. As they trundle through the narrow streets to the hill where the Lady Axe awaits, she sees the streets are no longer lined with gold but with blood and poverty is more rampant than ever before. Their journey is quiet for now. Turning to her companion she asks him the question that has plagued her. Why?
He smiles with eyes filled with regret. Has she not learned this lesson already? She has seen how the nobles abused their power. She recognised a nation pushed beyond the brink of endurance.
She silences him with a gentle 'hush'. 'I meant – why you? Why do you disagree with the mob?'
For a moment, she believes he will not answer. He turns away and contemplates the empty streets. Under the dirt of his tired skin, she can see a reddening in his cheeks. He is as silent as always but then suddenly, he turns to face her. 'I do not disagree, my lady.' He says, so softly that she has to lean forward to catch his words, 'I agree with all that they will accomplish though I despise their methods for obtaining reform. Besides as which, I am a Royalist.'
'I have been since I was a lad, My Lady. I saw a procession once, when my Father brought me to the City. I will always remember that day and what I saw for there changed me forever. I guess it made all my choices for me from that moment on.'
'I wonder: what did you see?'
He does not answer but instead offers her a fleeting smile and turns away to watch the growing crowd. People are appearing from doorways and from side streets and are following the tumbrel as it ambles up towards the hill. She dares not look towards her destination for she knows very well what awaits her there. She wishes her companion would speak more so as to distract her, but he is lost in his own prayers. She chastises herself for her selfish desires. Following his example, she stands taller to watch the growing crowd.
The stench of the gathering is almost unbearable on that hot summer day. Sweat and blood and the scent of decay all mingle in the airless streets, thick with people and her ears are beset by the roaring jeers of the people who once adored her.
Suddenly her guard turns and she feels the alien pressure of his hand on hers. Confused by such action, for she is the queen still, she turns although she knows she will not – cannot – reprimand him. They are two lonely, damned souls in amidst a sea of destruction. They only have each other to cling to now.
'My Lady, it was you.' He whispers, as his hand grips her ever tighter.
'It was you that I saw – the Queen of the Roses and I…I…wanted to serve you from that day forth.' He smiles sadly at her face, his eyes declaring his emotions to be far greater than his words would make believe. She allows one tear to fall from her eyes as she meets that steady blue gaze of his. 'I am sorry I failed you, Highness.'
'You did not fail.' she whispers, gripping his hands softly in reply, and though she wants to apologise and beg his forgiveness for the suffering she has inflicted on him, she does not. To do so would be an insult to him. In the time she has left in the mortal realm she knows she must speak only the truth.
She lifts her gaze to the machine waiting for them both on the top of the hill. Sunlight glints off its silver blade as it is hoisted high into the air. The sky is blue and overhead she can see doves gliding on their way. Yes, she thinks (a little wryly), life is certainly perverse. Her hand remains in his as they pass through the crowds, towards their inevitable demise. Their fingers entwined. She draws on his courage just as he draws upon her wisdom and they face their fate together.
When they are roughly dragged from the cart, she does not let go of him and in those last moments, she feels a strange peacefulness fall upon her. She glances at him only once and then fixes her gaze on the Lady Axe. As she passed, slowly, gracefully, the crowd fell back – perhaps scared by the serenity of her face.
She does not notice their actions for her mind is far, far away. She is reliving that day long, long ago when she was crowned Queen of the Roses. The crowd is not jeering her now, but rejoicing with her in the summer of her youth. They throw rose petals at her feet not putrid fruit and as she mounts the steps of the scaffold she can see her father in the distance – looking away but still waiting for her. Her mother was by his side. All around she can see the banners of gold that were designed just for her and on the breeze that moved them, she can almost smell the perfume of roses. In her head echoes only one thought – 'It was you I saw.'
The Lady Axe towered over her, lethal and wicked looking but she was not afraid. She turned to her companion and smiled at him, hoping that he would see her gratitude and affection in her looks rather than her words. Honesty could only do at this moment of the end. 'You did not fail. You gave me life.'
He smiles at her words and is still smiling even as they bind his hands. He refuses the blindfold they offer him and for a moment stands before the crowd, tall and erect, courageous to the end.
She does not watch the axe fall on him but she hears well enough.
History, having the benefit of hindsight, would go on to proclaim her wise beyond her years. Certainly the ideas for reform she penned at the commencement of her rule were proven to be remarkably liberal for so devout a monarch. If she had had the courage to bring the reforms in, perhaps all of those lives might not have been lost. She was but a child, fifteen years old when she was coroneted and only just eighteen when she walked onto that scaffold to face the guillotine. She had been too easily swayed by those around her.
Eye witness accounts say that the Queen was gracious to the last and on that bright summer morning when the axe fell down upon her, the mob's bloodlust was finally sated. She wore no bindings on her hands or over her eyes, and despite her purposefully humiliating apparel she had the dignity of a goddess on that day. Perhaps her serenity and well chosen final words wishing them peace and forgiveness chastised the wildness within them all. Although the cry of 'Vive La Revolution!' echoed long in to the night on that fateful day, victory was not as sweet as the mob had anticipated.
She sleeps in a quiet cemetery in the northern most part of the old city. The headstone is a much later addition and only marks the spot where it is believed she lies, for the true resting place is unknown. Her faithful guard is buried with her although the headstone makes no mention of him. History does not record his name. Perhaps that is fitting. Nobody but she knew how deeply she drew from his well of courage, or how heavily she relied on him. Perhaps she did not know herself until the very end. But he was her secret and so he remains to this day.
The tour group takes a few photographs of the grave and wanders away to look at the other graves. Their guide remains, one finger resting on the single rose that has blossomed on the vines that entwine that ancient white stone. Somewhere locked in a deep recess of his heart he can still hear her words and maybe he will not be at peace until he finds her again. Maybe he will never realise who he is, and who he was. Yet he can hear her remarkably well. 'You gave me life.'
The group is clamouring for his attention and reluctantly he steps away, a soft prayer on his lips. As he leads them onwards he glances over his shoulder. For an instant he swears he can see her standing there smiling at him. The world is in her eyes and his heart is in her hands.
'Vive La Revolution' whispers the wind as it sweeps the hair from his eyes, a trail of rose petals in its wake.