I. Marius Pontmercy


The first time Sabian Thénardier saw Marius Pontmercy, the latter had just taken up residence in the apartment above the cramped quarters the former shared with his bankrupt and destitute family. The first time Sabian Thénardier saw Marius Pontmercy, he saw the man's brass buttons and expensive boots and thought about the best way to con the fish-out-of-water rich boy out of a few francs. The first time Sabian Thénardier saw Marius Pontmercy, he fell immediately, irrevocably, deeply in love.

Sabian wasn't sure, even upon later reflection, what is was about that first sighting that had made him fall in love so. Perhaps it was the proud jut of Marius Pontmercy's chin, the burning intensity in his blue eyes. It might have been his lean, strong body or fashionable clothes. Perhaps it was the way he carried himself, the carefree gait only the rich could muster and only the young could sustain. For Sabian, the promise of money and a youth not yet wasted was intoxicating; Marius Pontmercy, simply, was the most beautiful person Sabian Thénardier had ever seen.

In contrast to the healthy, robust Marius, Sabian was skinny to the point of emaciated, his skin pale and his thick brown hair curled and tangled. A light dusting of hair on his upper lip signalled that he was almost a man, and though he was slight he was wiry and stronger than he looked. It was his voice, however, that kept him from talking to the beautiful student that lived above him. Marius had a booming, powerful voice that attracted and held the attention of everyone that listened to it: Sabian, on the other hand, was cursed with a husky, hoarse voice that was easily dismissed and quickly forgotten.

Not that he could have communicated the way Marius could anyway, lacking in anything like a formal education. His vocabulary consisted of Parisian street argot, which served him well in his parents' line of work; line of work, that is, if one can call petty thievery and running cons as a line or work.

Sabian, though not especially ashamed of his parents or his circumstance, did his best to hide this from Marius. It was not as if Marius would have noticed, of course, but Sabian, with what little ego he had, liked to pretend that he did notice, and that his notice was sufficient to provoke his interest in the family's affairs; Marius Pontmercy never seemed to be in one place for very long, though, dashing from one secret society to another, with books under his arm and a Voltaire quote on his lips.

On darker, lonelier nights, when Sabian was at home and his parents were still out fleecing some unsuspecting soul or another, he pressed his ear to the low ceiling of their apartment and listened to Marius practice orations with that beautiful voice of his. Once, back in the inn his family had owned when he was a little boy, Sabian had tasted chocolate; to Sabian, Marius' voice sounded the way that chocolate tasted, and he fell more in love with him with each syllable.

Still, Sabian never spoke to Marius until circumstances forced him to.

His parents' latest money-making scheme involved writing letters to various well-to-do people using different names and begging them for alms. They'd concoct a sad story, sign a made-up name and send it off, hoping to catch a few francs for their trouble.

Sabian and his sister, young Azelma, were keeping watch for his parents as they slipped the letters under the doors of houses in a well-to-do part of Paris one cool spring day when Azelma gave a shout.

Two gendarmes, dressed in brilliant blue finery that put the Thénardier's grimy and threadbare clothing to shame, turned into the leafy street. Sabian, carrying a package of letters addressed to a host of wealthy Parisians, some titled and some self-made, started and instantly turned to run.

His parents, he knew, would have abandoned him in an instant and he had no problem with leaving them behind. He flew down the street, leaving one of his shoes behind. He kicked the other off and ran barefeet on the cobblestones. The gendarmes saw him: one blew his whistle, the other gave chase. He glanced over his shoulder as he turned a corner just in time to see his parents and sister slip into an alleyway.

The gendarme, a stronger, taller man than Sabian, was beginning to catch up, his long strides carrying him closer with each step.

These streets were devoid of most of the activity of the city, a sheltered enclave of the rich and privileged from the hustle and bustle of Parisian life, so there wasn't much chance for Sabian to disappear into a crowd or take shelter in a busy shop. All he could do was run, and run he did.

The gendarme blew his whistle again and again, shouting for Sabian to stop. The boy may not have been educated, but he certainly wasn't that stupid. He barrelled through the streets until, quite incongruously, he discovered a large and rapidly swelling crowd milling outside a splendid city palace.

A carriage had pulled up in front of the house and a selection of young men had colonised it. They stood on its roof, on the driver's seat. One was carrying a red flag, another the tricolore and there, standing amidst them, was Marius Pontmercy. Sabian, despite the gendarme following him, immediately came to a halt. For a second, it felt as though his breath had been expelled from him by some mighty force.

Marius, tall, strong, blue-eyed Marius, was speaking animatedly to the crowd. Sabian couldn't make out the words, but he heard that voice as clearly as bells on a Sunday morning. For a moment, it was all he could hear. Then the gendarme's whistle sounded again and Sabian ran, barefoot, into the crowd. With deft fingers, he stole a red ribbon from the chest of a middle-aged man and pinned it to his own shirt. He got as close to the carriage as he could, close enough to see Marius in all of his beauty and close enough to hear his words.

"General Lamarque is the only man who cares a wit for the common people of France!" he called, pumping his fist in the air. The crowd cheered its agreement. "The one man we can count on to speak our truths to the king, away in his castle in the clouds! The one man we could rely on and believe in! But, my friends, as the light of his life dims, the light in our future continues to burn bright!"

Sabian glanced over his shoulder and noticed that the gendarme had disappeared. He wondered where the man had gone.

"We are not alone! Every day, our cause is being heard, throughout the city and throughout the country. We may have few allies in the upper echelons, but I say to you that we do not need them! That we, brave men and women of France, have freedom in our blood, know freedom in our souls, that I say to you, I promise you, I swear to you, that we will know freedom again!"

The cheers now were loud, overwhelming, and for a second Sabian was caught up in the high emotion. Not simply because Marius was the one speaking, but because of the words being spoken.

"In place of a corrupt and venal king, we shall have a republic!" he trumpeted, and the cheers rose ever higher as he went on. "A republic answerable only to us, the people of France, and the rule of law! No one shall be above the law, no one man shall direct its course! We shall be a civilisation of justice, a beacon to guide the world away from the shoals of tyranny and cruelty!"

Sabian remembered hearing Marius practice this speech, but even that exclusive performance could not match up to this: the pulsing, roaring crowd, Marius, his white cheeks flushed red with the excitement, clearly riding the waves of joy they emanated. A man wielding the tricolore, who wore a splendid red jacket and had a mane of golden curls, grinned at Marius and Sabian felt a pang of jealousy; envy at that man's closeness to Marius, at their obvious camaraderie and at the strength of his voice as he shouted his assent.

Before Marius could go on, however, a shrill chorus of whistles sounded from the other end of the street. Sabian whipped about and saw a line of gendarmes on horseback approach rapidly. He swallowed, for a moment convinced that they were after him. His hasty disguise, the ribbon pinned to his chest, wouldn't hide his barefeet and ragged clothes. Then, he realised, that the gendarmes didn't want anything to do with him. They were here to disperse the crowd, perhaps to frighten the rally's attendees. Certainly, they would arrest Marius and his friends if they could.

Marius had leapt from the carriage and passed so close to Sabian that the boy was convinced he had felt the brush of the revolutionary's jacket on the bare skin of his arm.

He began handing out pamphlets to the attendees, but they were thinning too quickly.

"Come on, Marius!" the man in the red jacket yelled, rushing to his friend's side. "We can't be the only ones left when the gendarmes arrive!"

"A minute, Enjolras," Marius said, waving him away. He turned to a woman, middle-aged, plump and with the hardened air of a factory labourer. "Please, come here again on Wednesday. The rally will be much larger, you'll see!"

"Marius!" Enjolras urged. "Quickly!"

Marius finally turned to Enjolras, and as he did his eyes wept right over where Sabian was standing. Once again, the boy felt like he had been struck. His breath left him and his senses followed. His fingers even seemed to grow weak and he dropped the bundle of letters to the cobblestones. Marius began to walk as though towards him; something awakened inside of him, and Sabian turned and began to run as fast as he possibly could away from the site of the rally, away from Marius and away from the pain that gripped his chest as he realised that the man hadn't even seen him stand there.

He didn't see Marius pluck the bundle of letters from the street, look at it briefly and tuck it under his arm as he joined his friends in their flight.