September 29, 1788
Aperture 1735, Place Saint-Michel
Je suis tombe par terre / C'est la faute a Rousseau
I have fallen down / It's the fault of Rousseau
The days passed like amber through a sieve—slow, inconsequential and uneventful. On the fifteenth day of their invariable lethargy, Jacques drew a pistol from the recesses of his overcoat and rammed it into the temple of a student.
The room rose in uproar; chairs were swept back, tables pulled aside. Men ran forward, ringing them, hemming them in, reluctant to pull them apart. The tension in the air crackled to a feverish pitch, and in minutes, the only audible sound in the room was that of Jacques' heavy, labored breathing. The student, Prouvaire, lay dazed and immobile upon the floor: his arms had come up to shield his face instinctually.
"Up! Don't be worthless, up!" Jacques screamed, upending a table in his fit of delirium. "If they catch you unawares, if they get you on your back—" he stooped and whispered, his face perilously close to the latter's. "They won't think twice, they won't show you mercy. They will end you, Prouvaire! You are but a lone tongue of flame in a veritable furnace. If they extinguish your light, it is no great loss, I can assure you. They will kill you! You fool! Like—" he cocked the pistol and released the lock, sliding his thumb over the catch.
He pressed the end of the steel barrel against Prouvaire's throat, "—So."
A hand gripped his wrist tightly and wrenched it away. "Be sensible, Jacques. We'll need all the help we can get; it wouldn't do to 'extinguish' any more hands outside the confines of systematic combat against our enemies. Don't start an insurgence before we actually get around to fulfilling our purpose." Frederic smiled apologetically at the figure lying prone at his feet, quivering in fear.
"Although in hindsight, you probably shouldn't have let him get you like that."
Jacques grimaced tersely. "My sincerest apologies; I just thought it wouldn't do to have so many of you so lax when we're just months away from bringing the Monarchy down. No one will contest me, however, when I say that by simulation standard, it was, perhaps, overtly exaggerated. I cry your pardon." He offered a hand and pulled Prouvaire to his feet.
"You inimitably pathetic, miserable excuse for a human!" Jacques stared with dubiety at the figure advancing towards him: a beret swept her fair hair up and tucked it away from sight. She was dressed in the loose cotton trousers and white blouse so particular to the men who studied law in the upper districts. She was indistinguishable; she was not, could not be—
"Noemi," he said, placating, holding up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "You idiot," she snarled, jabbing a finger in his chest. "Don't make sport out of this! Don't act up like this; you have no right to jeopardize everything we've worked so hard to achieve."
He had the decency to look properly ashamed of himself and took a step back from her, "I was only t—"
"I couldn't care less," she hissed. "Lafayette and Troubadour were nearly screaming their heads off about you to me, just now! I don't need this today, Jacques. Not today." She said, exasperated. His lips tightened into a hard line. "Don't do this again." He nodded.
She turned about and met the hardened gazes of the men around them, "Today, on the rue Saint-Severin, all of Paris will open their shutters, step out of their chaises, lean out of gutters, to listen to you. They need a reason to fight for everything they hold dear—help them remember it. Help them understand why their blood runs hot and heavy and thick in their veins when they see Versailles from their roofs. Help them see that they are not bound any longer; they are angry. Why is that?"
She swung herself onto the nearest table with determined fervor, "I will not rest until Versailles lies trampled underneath your feet, free for your taking."
"Freedom!" they shouted back at her, raising their pistols and sabers. "They will throw you in prisons, in cellars, and slit your throats on the guillotine—but even so! What is rightfully yours, you cannot be denied: fight for your right to hold all that is dear to you, though it be a red day, a sword day, ere the sun rises!"
"You were not born slaves. A king sits on the throne, but we don't need him. We don't need a tyrant on the forefront! A treacherous, vile snake—his wife is no different! People die everyday, fighting for what they believe in—the battle we wage is no different," she raised a long, red kerchief held tightly in her fist; a flame flickered in her eyes, bright and searing. "There will be a time to weep, and a time to rejoice; but today," she doffed her beret and swung it over her head, her fair hair flowing, fluttering, just above her shoulders. "Today is a revolution, a rebellion, an insurgence, a mutiny; and rightly so! There is no room for qualms, or fear, or misgiving. Today, you are born anew: Vive la France! Vive la Nation!"
The boulevard echoed with the cries of the revolution; the din of their defiance ringing loud and clear across the cobblestones.
Jeanneau pushed his way past the crowd, a letter clutched tightly in his bony fist. Frederic spotted him amidst the throng and hauled him onto the sidewalk. "I thank you," he gasped breathlessly. "I was nearly caught by emissaries. I dare say, however, that it was entirely worth it." Frederic chewed on his lip for a good long while, holding his gaze steadily.
"Have they seen this?" he asked quietly, gesturing at the envelope clutched tightly in the latter's fist. Jeanneau frowned, his brows creasing together. "To the extent of my knowledge: no. However, if they somehow already knew, I wouldn't be surprised." He chuckled darkly, "It's almost as if they have a correspondence—"
Frederic lunged forward and ripped the letter from his fist. "They are many things," he whispered, pale and tight-lipped. "But they are not traitors."
"What does it say?" Jeanneau asked, curious and fearful in equal measure. Frederic scanned the lines of text briefly before lowering the parchment; his face was inscrutable and devoid of emotion.
"They're burying her today, Jean. Today." He crumpled the letter tightly in his fist, ignoring Jeanneau's cry of protest. He leaned over the canal and peered into its murky depths before turning back, "They can't know. Not now, not today. There's too much at stake, and they can't afford to be distracted. Swear to me you'll hold your tongue until I ask you to loose it." He flung a hand out; something silver flashed in the air and struck Jeanneau squarely on the forehead.
"For your trouble, and your loyalty." He stooped and palmed a six-sous piece—Jeanneau nodded mutely: Frederic sighed, assuaged, and tossed the ball of parchment into the water; watching as it uncurled and sank, the ink bleeding through the paper.
A formidable crowd had swelled to epic proportions along the rue Saint-Severin, choking the sidewalks and curbs, curling about the cul-de-sac on the farther end of the boulevard. Shutters and curtains were flung aside from windows high above the street, curious eyes peering down at the Revolution. They had begun rallying hours ago, crying words of passionate, patriotic ardor. Before them stood the New Army; this much was clear, and they took pride in it.
Noemi stood atop a horse-less carriage in the middle of the street, the French flag tight in her grip. A fine drizzle of rain had begun and she swiped the back of her hand across her brow, along the smattering of moisture that had collected there.
She had swept her hair back into the confines of a beret; the sleeves of her white cotton blouse trailed freely from the elbows—she was tense, and it showed, clear as day. She fumbled with the drawstrings along her throat and blinked rainwater out of her eyes, "Tomorrow—" she faltered; not without reason.
She cleared her throat, and cried, louder, "Tomorrow, along the Seine; by the Canal Saint-Martin, your allegiance to the Monarchy fails—and you will pledge a new one, to the People of France!" The crowd responded with loud cries of assent; Noemi smiled, in spite of herself.
"'Paris is the natural and constituted centre of free France,' Danton once told me. 'Yes, it is the centre of light. When Paris shall perish there will no longer be a republic'—but we do not need a figurehead on the throne: we will have his head, then, and burn the throne for the entire world to see! And Versailles will fall, its ashes scattered beneath your willing feet."
The men cheered; a deep, growling, rumbling bass reverberating underneath the soles of her boots. She hefted the flag outward, towards them. She bent down quickly and swept a torch from Jacques and lit the end of the fabric in her hand. It flared quickly, despite its initial dampness—she stabbed it through a bayonet lying at her feet and raised it high.
"Vive la France! Vive la France! Vive la France!"
The people echoed her cry, each repetition louder than the last. Well pleased with herself, she grinned broadly, eyes scanning the veritable sea of faces before her.
She saw it, then.
A glitter of silver across the pavement—a bayonet; directed at—
She lunged forward, tearing headlong into the crowd: a single gunshot, loud and clear, and ringing. The masses flared up in confused panic. Jacques, with his longer strides and thicker arms, arrived faster. He tumbled into the hooded man, dressed in the black garb of the Enemies of the Revolution. They grappled on the ground, seeking supremacy. Not long after, Jacques managed to tear the bayonet from his grasp and with a resounding crack, brought it thundering down against the man's crown.
His movements ceased, his breath stilled.
Noemi swore under her breath and ran towards—he reached out for her, held out his arms so she could tumble into them—the figure lying prone on the pavement, a good ten feet away from him.
She was hunched over, a hand pressed tightly to her side, stemming the flow of blood. Noemi sank to her knees before her and gently touched her wrist. "Let me see it," she whispered softly, soothingly. She reached over and brushed back a sweep of hair from her face, where it clung obstinately to her wet skin. She looked up at her, then—and they froze, together, like that: Noemi, her blood pulsing hot and frantic underneath the skin at her throat; her fingers tangled in wet, mussed strands of dark hair contrasting heavily with her own; brilliantly golden eyes gazing at her raptly. It was those self-same eyes and the agony in them that brought her back, grounded her.
"Is there—anyone, at all—who knows—I can't—who are—?" she glanced around her, frantic.
"Get away from her!" A voice cried, somewhere to their far-off left. He bowled over Jacques in his haste to get to her; Noemi scrambled backward. His heavy, thickset brows knit together, in anger, and presumably, in confusion; they'd never seen him before.
Jacques swept a hand over the man lying dead at his feet. "Keep away from her," he growled, stooping down and gently lifting her into his arms, cradling her head against his chest.
"Keep away!" he nearly screamed at the crowd ringing them; they parted for him and he disappeared in their midst. Jacques placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Unavoidable casualties," he murmured. "Rest easy, the people are not so easily frightened off."
She nodded, but he had misinterpreted her silence.
Her thoughts were elsewhere.
A/N: Tomorrow is the beginning of my finals, and instead of revising, I am updating. Oh, the joy of living. But, it is so worth it because I honestly did not expect you, my dear readers, to respond quite so quickly and enthusiastically! So, give yourselves a hand for this inexplicably quick update. Hope you enjoyed this installment of Bastille—tell me how you felt about this one, yeah? ;)
CuriousBananas – Thank you! That's awfully sweet of you. :) Spot on guesswork, by the way!
Jaxicen – That's kind of you to say :) Rousseau will have to rear his head sometime later, though. I do hope I was able to provide you with satisfactory visuals in this one ;)
ImaginationIsMyEscape – Feed the withdrawal: I give you, the latest installment! ;)
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(Oh my God, my finals. Oh, well.)