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rough mind, gentle heart

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Once upon a time, in lands not very far away but long buried by forests that devoured words and histories, there lived a girl. In the manner of girls of such tales, she was beautiful. The most beautiful in all of the lands, in fact, save for one other.

That other was her mother. She was a poor serving girl of the palace, but she had dowry in the silk-white of her skin, the gold of her hair, and the pearls between her lips.

Her name was Fantine. She would be Queen if the King had been an honourable man, and her little girl – the girl of our story – a Princess. Instead, the little girl is a servant by Fate’s whim. Fate, dear readers, and the cruel, capricious choices of a man called King – such things were synonyms, in that long-ago time.

The King was named Felix, after his mother’s beloved housecat. He had smooth, pale hands. They were the most attractive parts of him: he was bald before thirty, with an eye that constantly watered and cleft lips that were permanently turned downwards into a frown that feigned sorrow. All these things were forgivable, but he was uglier in mind, and ugliest in soul.

But he was King. So he had a Queen, a gentle well-born woman. One summer, she died in her attempt to give him a son, and he was left bereft. Such a man could not do without a prop by his side for long: so he began to look for another wife, his watering eye roving far and wide.

Why did he not take Fantine as wife, you ask, dear reader. Why not, for Fantine loved him, and she had already borne him a daughter. Why, Fantine was dead by then: her heart had bled out from her silver tears, and her soul drained from her with every prick of the needle-knives at her once-beautiful fingers. By the time her eyes closed, never to open ever more, her silk was stained, her skin darkened by suffering; her gold was gone, her hair shorn for food for her daughter; her pearls were stained with blood, her teeth torn out at the roots and sold for cloth for her daughter.

So Cosette – for that is our Princess’s name – was left the most beautiful creature in the Kingdom. And Felix, he who should have been King of cats instead of men, saw her and declared she would be his wife; her, and no other. She was beautiful; that was all that mattered to him, no matter that she shared his blood.

Cosette knew her heritage. Cosette was afraid. But she was a fortunate girl, and, like all other girls of tales such as these, she had a guardian. Not an old tree, not a faerie, but a man. A gardener of the palace who took her mother under his wing when Fantine was first cast aside by the King.

We know little of this gardener. No one knew from whence he came – he had coarse hands, labourers’ hands, and few cared for labourers in those days that these tales were made of, no matter what such labourers are capable of.

We do know, however, that his name was Jean Valjean, and he had a rough mind and a gentle heart. As Cosette trembled in fear after the King’s visit, he drew her close, draping his arms over her small form, and said:

“My girl, the kingdom’s customs allow you to name your bridal gifts. Ask him for the impossible, and you can refuse him.”

Cosette took the gardener’s advice. When the King came once more for his visit, she asked for a coat made of sunlight, brighter than the gold of her mother’s hair.

The King raged. The King pled. But Cosette remained firm, meeting his eyes, so he fled back into his palace. He hid within his room, pacing and pacing, but he could not find a solution. He could not give up Cosette either, so he called for his advisors, and they put their heads together.

It was a man named Bamatabois who came up with the solution: in the King’s own Treasury, he said in a tone eager to please, there was a silver spider. The spider was large, the span of its body greater than a man’s hand, but the most remarkable thing about her was that it could weave threads out of sunlight if they sat it by the window.

The King praised Bamatabois, and urged him to take the spider from its confinement in the Treasury. He made it spin. He did not look at the sheer beauty of the threads it spun, instead pulling the best tailors of the kingdom from their posts and made them labour for three nights straight. A coat was made: large enough to cover a man and a girl both, shimmering in the sunlight and glowing brighter than the moon itself.

He took it to Cosette. When he left, Cosette wept, for though the coat was beautiful, it was dirtied by the thought of marrying her own father.

The gardener drew her into his arms again. “The King had a spider who could spin sunlight,” he said. “So ask him now for a coat made of the moonlight itself, for surely that is far harder to capture.”

Cosette took the gardener’s advice. When the King came once more for his visit, smug with triumph, she asked for a coat made of moonlight, paler than her mother’s skin.

The King raged. The King threatened. But Cosette remained firm, meeting his eyes, so he fled back into his palace. He hid within his room, pacing and pacing, but he could not find a solution. He could not give up Cosette either, so he called for his advisors, and they put their heads together again.

Bamatabois suggested the spider again, for surely there was little difference between sun and moon. But he was told by another advisor that the spider was dead, and had been for days. It died the very night the sunlight-threads were taken from it, and all that was left was a small, hairy, black corpse, common as any other spider, and so was thrown away.

This time, it was an advisor named Montparnasse who said: “I have heard that there is a horse belonging to a wealthy merchant in the kingdom. It has a black mane and tail that turns silver under the full moon. Surely that is the moonlight you seek, my Lord?”

The King praised Montparnasse, and sent the man out to the lands to ask the merchant for the horse. The merchant gave it readily – how could he not, when he was threatened with the theft of his daughters if he did not obey? Montparnasse waited for the full moon, and walked the horse out into the gardens of the palace, and watched as the thick, curling mane and tail turned to silver.

So the King took the tailors from their posts once more, and set them to work for five nights without end. Another coat was made: large enough to cover a man and a girl, dull in the sunlight but glowing faintly in the night with the light of the moon hidden behind clouds.

He took it to Cosette. When he left, Cosette wept, for though the coat was beautiful, it was dirtied by the thought of marrying her own father.

The gardener drew her once more into his arms. “The King had a spider who could spin sunlight, and he took a horse who could take the moon itself,” he said, voice edging with desperation. “So ask him now for a coat made of the stars in the skies, for surely his hands cannot reach so far.”

Cosette took the gardener’s advice. When the King came once more for his visit, giddy with the triumph of marrying the most beautiful girl in the Kingdom, she asked for a coat made of starlight, more brilliant than even her mother’s teeth.

The King raged. The King snarled. But Cosette remained firm, meeting his eyes, so he fled back into his palace. He hid within his room, pacing and pacing, but he could not find a solution. He could not give up Cosette either, so he called for his advisors, and they put their heads together one more time.

Montparnasse suggested the horse again, for surely the moon and the stars went together. But he was told by another advisor, the same as before, that the horse was dead, and had been for days. It died the night that its mane and tail were cut, and all that was left was a thin, dirty creature with even the black leeched out of its remaining hairs, and so was thrown away.

This time, it was the advisor who had told about the deaths of the animals who spoke. His name was Myriel, and he was a bishop.

He said: “In the forest, there is a wolf. He howls every night, whether the moon appears or not. He howls at the sight of every waking star, and the star’s light sets itself into its teeth. I do not know how we can draw the stars’ light out from those teeth, but surely that is a problem for others less grand than you. Is that not true, my Lord?”

The King praised Myriel. He sent out his hunters to bring in the wolf, and set it howling in the palace grounds, caged. It was a mangy thing with a ragged coat with pieces torn out of it, revealing scars and scabbed skin. At dawn, his hunters held down the wolf and tore out its teeth. The King then called for his apothecaries, and they worked for two nights to draw out the stars from the broken fangs.

When he was told by Myriel that the wolf was dead, having died the night after his teeth was taken and leaving behind a corpse that resembled more a stray dog than a magnificent wolf, he dismissed the news. What did a wolf matter to him? It mattered as little as a spider and a horse, for no matter what wonders they could wield, he had little use for them after his purpose was fulfilled.

So the King called for his tired tailors again, and set them this time to work for seven nights without end. A third coat was made: large enough to cover a man and a girl, blue-dark as a cloudless light, and glimmering with stars that showed even in the sun.

He took it to Cosette. When he left, Cosette wept, for though the coat was beautiful, it was dirtied by the thought of marrying her own father.

The gardener drew her once more into his arms. His gentle heart despaired, for now his rough mind could come up with nothing else to ask: the sun, moon, and stars had all been captured, and what could a mere man and girl do against a King whose greedy grasp could reach to the edges of the skies itself?

“We must run away now,” he told the girl who should be Princess. “We must run away.”

That night after the King’s visit, they left the kingdom together: the guardian with coarse hands and his sweet-hearted charge; the spider who spun sunlight, the horse who captured moonlight in his mane, and the howling wolf with stars for fangs.

For the creatures were not dead. A King’s cruelty could kill them, but they were stolen away in the dead of the night by the gardener; he with his labourers’ hands that were also a thief’s hands.

They went into the forest. Cosette was afraid, but the spider sat herself on her shoulder and provided comfort. The forest was deep, the road long, but the horse nudged her with his snout and urged her up to his back. The gardener did not know the way, but the wolf growled and snapped at him, pull-dragging him and the girl in the right direction, towards the next kingdom.

Cosette slept with two coats on her back, the sun and the moon dimming themselves for the sake of her rest. Jean Valjean walked with the coat of stars on his back, the light glimmering faintly, cowed by the constant snarls of the wolf beside him.

For nights upon nights they walked through the forest, led by the wolf. At times, they hear the thundering voices and hoofbeats of the Kings’ guards, chasing them. But the wolf howled, the horse neighed loudly, and the horses of the guards’ were overcome with fear, and ran away from the hiding spot the spider had found for all of them.

They walked. They drank from springs the horse found for them, the waters shimmering silver like the mane and tail that had grown back, and had turned permanently silver. They ate fruits fallen to the ground, for the spider’s sunlight-threads gave life back to the half-rotting flesh. They warmed themselves by fire, wood found through the light of the stars from the wolf’s fangs.

It was long weeks before they reached the borders of the next Kingdom.

Dear readers, forgive me, for now I must digress. This Kingdom is not a Kingdom at all. It was a place quite unlike any other that tales such as these had ever been told, for it called itself not a Kingdom, but a country.

A Republic.

The name of the republic was France. It was ruled by a man with golden curls named Enjolras, who had overthrown the last King who was a tyrant not unlike Felix, and set up a Council with men chosen by the people. He shed the title of Kingship as easily as he had swept away the Barons and the Lords in the lands.

There were no Princes, no Princesses, a nation that had faded into the histories of the world simply because the tales told of the time were always of Princes and Princesses, and bards thought none would ever wanted tales of Presidents and Ministers. The words themselves were dull, as dull as the clothes they wore.

For Enjolras, the President of this rather remarkable nation, did not wear the gold-gilded buttons and silver buckles of Kings. He wore a red vest, the colour of blood and freedom, threaded with yellow. It was the sunlight itself that shone upon him that turned those threads to gold. He kept no gold for himself, giving it all to his people.

His people loved him: they had chosen him, after all. Though the country was still turbulent, with many battles still waged, the labourers and the farmers and the craftsmen were all joyful and at ease, for their ruler cared for their wellbeing far more than any of those who were better born.

This was the nation that Jean Valjean, Cosette, and their companions reached. A nation without many song of tales told of it, but plenty sung on the streets. They arrived from the forest into the fair, and they met a man.

The man’s name was Grantaire, and he was a drunkard. He was also one of the Council of men chosen by the people to rule the country with Enjolras, for though he drank too much, he was brave, and he was clever, and his people saw that more than they smelled the stench of drink upon his skin and clothes.

Such was the nature of France.

Grantaire saw them, and noted immediately the exhaustion in their eyes. “Come with me,” he said, and held out his hand. He refused Jean Valjean’s halting offer of gold – his savings from his work as a gardener – and brought them towards the President’s residence itself.

“I offer my rooms to you,” he said. His smile brightened his eyes: they were green, brighter than emeralds. “For you have a tale to tell, and I love such tales. For you have suffering etched in your hands and your eyes, and it has been weeks since I saw Enjolras burn with passion.”

They washed, cleaning away the dirt of weeks walking through the forest. Cosette became beautiful again, her dark eyes gleaming with the light of the sun caught within them, and her pale cheeks shining like the moon. The coats, cast off and hidden from the moment they left the forest, could not help but be dimmed beside her.

Grantaire merely smiled. She was beautiful, true, but his heart was taken long ago. When Jean Valjean saw that smile, his heart eased.

But that ease did not last long, for Enjolras called for his Councilmen to dinner with their new guests. There was a young man with dark curls and bright blue eyes seated on the table. Jean Valjean’s heart twisted when he looked upon him, for this young man, who introduced himself as Marius, looked at Cosette as if she was a star fallen from the skies into his hands, and she looked upon him the same way.

Enjolras gave them sanctuary, and Jean Valjean could do little but nod though he wanted little more than to take Cosette away.

That night, he went towards the large windows of the President’s residence. It faced the forest, and he looked upon those dark, heavy shadows. There, within the dangers of that place, Cosette was Jean Valjean’s, and Jean Valjean’s alone. The spider, the horse, and the wolf were all there, of course, but they were silent, and they could not steal Cosette’s heart from him. Not like the young man with the black curls could.

There was little else left for him but the young girl left in his care after her mother’s death.

He was a gardener and a labourer; both things that were accepted, and even prized, in this new land. But Jean Valjean was a thief as well, the honest living he had etched throughout these years granted to him by the generosity of one of the few good men of King Felix’s lands. But the stain of theft still lingered upon him: how could it not when he had stolen the very creatures who had brought them here?

Jean Valjean thought through the evening, and came to a decision.

He waited until all was asleep. Even now, in the dead of the night, he could hear the voice of one of the Councilmen – Combeferre was his name – as he looked and marvelled over the spider and the horse. Those two had sat silent and obedient to his inspections, for Combeferre was a man of science, and there was little that surprised him more than the evidence of magic so stark and clear.

Jean Valjean waited, a knife in his heart twisting and twisting, and listened to the quiet murmurs of Cosette and Marius’s voices until even the two young, newfound lovers departed to their rooms for sleep. He waited until even the tiny murmurs of Enjolras going through his papers and the sounds of Grantaire’s brush upon canvas had faded, and the President and the Councilman who loved him most had gone to bed.

Love, Jean Valjean thought as he listened, was a garden for the young.

Then he wrote a note with his coarse hands, leaving it where it could be found in the morning. He wrote about Cosette’s heritage, that she was a Princess and therefore worthy of Marius. He wrote that they had come because King Felix of the neighbouring Kingdom wished to take his daughter as his wife. He wrote, and lied, that the animals and the coats were all bridal gifts.

Setting his pen down, he headed out of the window and climbed out of it. Years ago, during his time in the prison far away from the palace where Felix lived, he had been known to have hands and feet like a cat’s. The very stains upon his being would be what allowed him to not taint Cosette’s future now.

He climbed over the gate. He ran into the forest, running deeper and deeper into it. He had no idea where he would go. He knew that he might be caught by the soldiers under Felix’s command, and he cared little for that now.

It took only the approaching dawn before he heard voices and hoofbeats once more. Jean Valjean pressed against a tree, hiding until he was sure that they could see him.

Yet when he made to step outside, he felt a pull on his sleeve. He started violently, eyes widening, and turned backwards.

The wolf had followed him. The creature had been refused entrance into the main building, for though he was smaller than the horse, he did not stop snarling and growling at all who approached him. They had left him at the grounds, locking the gate securely.

How had he followed Jean Valjean? The man himself did not know. He could only stare at the wolf, at the fangs glimmering with starlight. The wolf growled, pulling again, trying to tug him away from the soldiers.

Jean Valjean caught his own sleeve. He pulled hard, using his full strength. The cloth tore, and he stepped out from behind the tree.

At the moment, the wolf howled. The sound ripped through the air, disturbing the leaves. Birds flew from their nests and perches. The soldiers’ horses whinnied, rearing, and the soldiers panicked. They saw Jean Valjean, recognised him at once by his white hair, and they raised their guns. They fired.

Jean Valjean closed his eyes. He waited for pain and death. This was not the end he had planned, but he was glad for it, nonetheless: at least, like this, he would no longer risk bringing pain and shame to Cosette.

But there was nothing. There was only another sharp howl. The soldiers cried out, yelling words that were too inconsequential to have been recorded, and the sound of fading hoofbeats. Jean Valjean opened his eyes.

The wolf stood in front of him. He was snarling at the retreating soldiers. Jean Valjean gaped, and he reached out. His hand brushed across the wolf’s flank, and came away wet and red. He gasped with horror, scrambling to his knees, reaching out for the wolf to check the wound, but the stubborn creature avoided his grasp.

“Please,” he said, pleading for reasons he did not know or fully understood. “Please let me look.”

The dark, furred head rose. For the first time since Jean Valjean stole the unconscious creature from the palace grounds, he met the wolf’s eyes. He had not looked into them until now, because the stars caught within the fangs drew the gaze too easily, and the wolf had never once looked straight at him.

Pale blue were those eyes. Jean Valjean gasped again, because he had seen that shade once, and only once, before.

Art by the lovely and wonderful TheLifeOfEmm.

Forgive me once more, dear readers, for we must digress again.

Long ago, decades before this story’s beginning, there had been a thief. He stole a loaf of bread, and was caught and sent to prison. In that prison, there had been a guard – a tall, thin man with a sharp face. The thief no longer remembered the guard’s name, but he remembered his eyes: pale blue, the shade of the ocean under a cloudless morning sky, so terribly incongruous to the tanned skin of his face. He remembered those eyes because they had always been terrible: fair, punishing all other convicts in the prison the same way, but with a cold chill to every movement that was worse than the viciousness of the others combined.

The guard had remained in the prison when the thief was freed, and the thief had never thought he would see those eyes again.

We know now that the thief’s name was Jean Valjean, and he was now scrambling to remember the guard’s name.

The wolf huffed. He hobbled away from Jean Valjean’s touch before reaching closer, tugging on his one remaining sleeve. Jean Valjean looked into those pale eyes again, but the wolf jerked his head away. So he looked instead at the red wetness on his hands, and knew then what he should do.

He could not bring shame to Cosette. But he could not leave the wolf to die, and that was the greater sin.

Reaching out, he tried to pull the wolf into his arms to carry it. But the wolf would not obey, avoiding his grasp even as he stumbled with every other step. Jean Valjean was becoming surer and surer now that this wolf was the same guard he had once known – the pride was the same – so he sighed, standing up instead.

They walked back to the strange nation that was told in no other tale. The wolf left a trail of blood with every step, nearly slipping often on the growing puddles, but he would not allow himself to be carried. Jean Valjean worried, but the wolf’s condition did not seem to worsen no matter how much blood he lost either, so he could only continue walking.

At the gate of President Enjolras’s residence, they were met by Cosette. She flew into her father’s arms immediately, holding him close. Combeferre saw the blood on the wolf, and he, a doctor, immediately tried to remedy it. Jean Valjean allowed him to do so, his hand unconsciously stroking between the wolf’s ears, trying to reassure the creature that the man meant him no harm, and that it was no affront to his pride to be cared for in such a way.

Cosette brought him back to the rooms they were given just the day before. The President was waiting, Jean Valjean’s note held in his hand. So the once-gardener and once-thief told the story, the true one, quiet and halting. Not merely his own, for he was no good storyteller of his own tales, but that of Fantine as well.

Enjolras listened with the nib of his quill leaving streaks of ink on his hands. When Jean Valjean finished, he nodded.

“You have stolen all four times for the sake of saving a life,” he said. “I see no crime with that. You are allowed to stay.”

With that, he swept out of the room to attend to the other matters of the state, leaving Jean Valjean gaping after him.

“Papa,” Cosette said, using the name for him she had chosen ever since he took her under his care after her mother’s care.

Her small, pale hands cupped his face, and he could not help but look at her now. “Papa, I know you stole the animals,” she said, and her smile was sorrowful and wry. “No one in the palace could have given them to you willingly, and I… I know where the coats come from.”

Jean Valjean’s eyes welled up with tears. Surely this forgiveness, this understanding, was naught but a dream. But Cosette drew him into her arms, and he buried his face into her sweet-smelling hair.

“Do not leave me again, Papa,” she begged. “I cannot stand it.”

He promised he would not, and they held each other for what seemed like an age. Jean Valjean cursed his selfish heart, for every moment with him was surely stolen from those she could spend with her newfound love, and yet he could not help but be glad for it.

Yet Cosette did not begrudge him her time. Not that day, nor any of the other days that passed. She spent time with him, and Jean Valjean found himself casting off the coats of the gardener and the thief both, and taking only the mantle of ‘father’.

The only dark spot in his happiness was the wolf: he still could not remember the guard’s name, and the creature had not stopped bleeding. The blood dripped constantly, so much that Combeferre declared that it should long be dead, yet the wolf continued to walk even as its body grew emaciated, ribs showing stark through thinning fur. Yet the wolf still refused to stop growling and snarling under any hands but Jean Valjean’s and sometimes Cosette’s, until Enjolras had no choice but to banish him back to the grounds again.

So the summer passed thus, and autumn approached. The wolf continued to roam the grounds, leaving trails of blood that soaked into the grass. He did not heal, and he still refused to meet Jean Valjean’s gaze whenever the man tried.

When autumn finally came, the blooming reds of the leaves were accompanied by an announcement: King Felix declared that he would go to war against Enjolras’s France if he did not return Cosette to him to be his wife. Marius refused immediately, and the rest of the Council agreed with him to a man.

They prepared for war.

Now, dear readers, you must be surprised. In tales such as these, war rarely approaches: why should it, after all, when you have war on your doorsteps in your own lives, and the bards and minstrels know better than to allow that heavy shadow to dog your steps during the tales you read in order to escape?

Have patience with your humble tale-teller, dear reader, for this war was unlike any you had ever known. This war was not one that was fought with guns and blades, though such things were commonplace enough even in this time long ago – men, after all, found weapons of war far more often than they found those of warmth. But fire and blades were only one thing at the disposal of rulers of the time, for there were spells as well: curses and enchantments.

France was a country that liked science more than it did magic, no less due to the influence of the Councilman Combeferre. But it was a nation freed from tyranny, and in the times long past, the lands were much cleverer and much more alive than they are now. The land itself had tied itself to Enjolras, to its people’s chosen leader, and though Enjolras found himself perturbed by the threads of magicks that had wound itself around him, there was very little he would not learn, or do, for the sake of France.

So the borders of the nation itself were soaked with enchantments. Traps were laid for the soldiers of King Felix. Though Enjolras and his Councilmen wished for those traps to be deadly, Jean Valjean had pleaded their case: they had done him wrong, true, but these were soldiers with little choice and little knowledge of rebellion. They were merely doing their duty, and did not deserve to die for it.

The traps were thus adjusted to render soldiers unconscious instead. Such was the passion for mercy in Jean Valjean’s gentle heart.

The soldiers came, and they fell into the traps, their horses and themselves collapsing into an enchanted sleep. The forest was soon filled with sleeping soldiers. The wolf, the horse, and the spider stepped out from the borders, each one of them putting forth their best effort to ensure that the creatures of the forest knew better than to harm the soldiers who could not protect themselves.

As autumn turned into winter then into spring, Felix’s kingdom was left bereft of soldiers, and the King and his advisors themselves had to head outwards for the sake of winning the war.

Not only for the sake of the war itself, or even for Cosette – for Felix had realised by now even the most beautiful girl in the world was not worth such effort – but for the sake of their pride. The people were on the edge of rebellion, for so many of their sons were gone with no news heard back from them, and they cried out against the leaders who sat on their golden thrones without lifting a hand to win the very war they themselves had wrought.

So it was then that King Felix and President Enjolras met for the first time in the forest that bordered their lands. Cosette rode beside Marius on the horse with the silver mane, dressed in the coat of moonlight that made her a beacon. The spider sat upon Grantaire’s shoulder, barely broad enough for her long legs. Jean Valjean walked beside the procession, his hand sunk deep into the wolf’s fur, their path marked by the blood still seeping from the wolf’s open wound.

The battle was not much of one.

When the first cry for war began, Cosette drew out the coat made of sunlight. The spider jumped from Grantaire’s shoulders to hers, spindly legs touching the cloth wrought from its own threads. The coat shone bright, brighter than the sun, and blinded all that was not part of France. Bamatabois cried out the loudest, the light sinking deep into his brain, and he toppled off of his horse, his gun falling from his hands.

At that same moment, Marius jumped from his horse and held out a hand. He helped Cosette off of the horse with the silver mane, and the creature immediately leaped forward. The moon caught within its tail steeled the hairs, turning it into a whip sharper than anything else. The horse leapt onto Montparnasse, knocking the man down onto the ground. Its hairs sliced at the man who had stolen them, scarring his beautiful face.

Jean Valjean had been trying to keep out of the battle, for he was a labourer and a thief, not a warrior. But the wolf beside him was not the same. He howled, the sound echoing in the space of the clearing where the battle took place, and as King Felix shivered from it, he leapt.

King Felix yelled, all dignity gone as he flailed his arms. The wolf snarled, star-bright teeth gripping onto one of those soft, smooth hands. The skin tore, and Felix screamed in pain as he fell onto the ground.

The wolf stood over him, snout flaring wide, growling. Felix reached out, trying to push it away. Jean Valjean moved immediately, for he saw: Felix’s crafty eyes had seen the wound by the wolf’s side, and his fingers dug into it.

Pain rang out. It was not the wolf’s. It was Felix’s. Jean Valjean stopped, startled, his eyes widening as he stared at the terrible burns on Felix’s fingers. The wolf’s blood ran down the pale arm, and Felix screamed again, for each drop seemed like fire itself, leaving blisters and deep burns on their wake.

His eyes rolled back into his head. He fell unconscious. The wolf threw his head back and howled.

There was only one man left in Felix’s camp who still remained on his horse. Yes, my astute reader: that was Myriel.

He did not attack. He only looked upon the spider on Cosette’s shoulder, the horse beside Montparnasse’s prone form, and the wolf still standing over King Felix. Then he smiled, the curve of his lips bringing out the deep-etched lines on the sides of his eyes and mouth, and brought out a book.

It was old and worn, the leather cover peeling. Enjolras gripped tightly on his reins, and Marius curled his arm tighter around Cosette. But it was Jean Valjean who held up his hand, sending a pleading glance backwards, asking for patience.

Myriel opened the book, laying it flat upon one hand. With the other, he flipped it to a certain page with the patient languidness of an old man. When he found a page, he pressed his hand flat against it.

The book glowed. A single sun-bright hair spilled out of it, reaching towards the spider. Then a ghost of a hand, moonlight-pale, curling around the horse’s neck. Then two teeth, roots still stained with blood with stars caught within the red, rising in to the air before driving into the wolf’s wound.

“Fantine,” Jean Valjean breathes.

The spider twitched. She tipped to her side, falling off her perch, and only Cosette’s reflexes caught it. The horse threw its head back, a high-pitch scream exploding from its throat, and Marius stumbled forward, holding onto it. The wolf fell on his side, silent.

“Madame Victurnien, who caught a poor-used woman in a trap, forcing her to reveal her terrible fate, and forced her out of the doors,” Myriel said. “Hers is a crime of self-righteousness, and she has been punished for the harm she caused.”

The single strand of golden hair twined around the spider. Her legs broke. A bright, golden glow surrounded her. When it dissipated, the spider was gone, replaced by a grey-haired woman dressed in the black of mourning, with her hair tied in a tight bun. She began to weep, silently.

“Pére Fauchelevent, once law clerk, once cart owner, who spread rumours about a helpless serving girl, resulting in her losing her trade right before the birth of her child,” Myriel said. “His is a crime of malice, greater than that of self-righteousness. His punishment has too ended.”

The pale hand closed around the horse’s neck. He choked. A softer, silver glow surrounded him. When it dissipated, the horse was gone, replaced by a white-haired man in rags. He fell on his hands and knees, gasping, his head bowed.

“Inspector Javert, once prison guard, once police officer, who attempted to arrest Fantine for a crime that was not her fault, and, when she told him of her plight, persecuted her still,” Myriel said. “His is the crime of fanaticism, the greatest of all. His punishment has not yet ended.”

The teeth dug harder into the wolf’s side. He made no sound. Shadows surrounded him, dotted with stars. When they dissipated, the wolf was gone, replaced by a tall, thin man with dark hair, dressed in the dark blue of the uniform of the police in Felix’s kingdom. He sat up slowly on his knees, and stared at his large, tanned hands.

Myriel swung off of his horse. But instead of approaching Enjolras, or any of France, he walked towards Felix. He rested the book upon the bald head.

“Felix, of the Ruling House of Tholomyés. Selfish, greedy, uncaring: a man who abused his power and took care of none of the responsibilities that came with it.”

With every word of the proclamation, blood dripped from the book, falling on Felix’s face. The liquid spread outwards, covering him. When it retreated, there was nothing left of him but an unconscious frog.

“Montparnasse: a criminal, needlessly cruel. Bamatabois: a sinner, treating all those below him as playthings,” he continued.

Blood rose from the soil, enclosing around the two men. When it faded, there were only two frogs left as well.

“Lord Myriel,” Jean Valjean breathed.

Myriel turned towards him. He smiled, and said nothing. His eyes turned towards Cosette.

“The Kingdom is yours, my lady,” he inclined his head. “I will not stay in it longer now that my duty is done.”

He swung up to his horse, and rode away to the still-stunned silence of all around him.

Jean Valjean fell immediately beside the man who had been a wolf. Javert, he thought. His name is Javert.

Javert flinched away from his touch. He hissed, a hand pressing against his side. Blood seeped from between his fingers.

“So I have more to make up for,” he murmured to himself. His shoulders shook, and those pale eyes darkened. When he threw his head back, the laugh he gave sounded like a wolf’s howling.

Jean Valjean felt his heart twist. That was a wound Javert had received for his sake, and it was still bleeding. Surely there could be no more reparations that needed to be made.

He bit his lip. Standing up, he rested a hand on Javert’s shoulder. When the man turned to look at him, he reached out his hand.

“Reparations are difficult to make,” he said quietly. “I have been trying to do so for years, and I still do not know I have succeeded.”

Keeping his eyes on Javert, he took a deep breath.

“We can, at least, walk the rest of the road together,” he offered. “If you… if you are willing.”

Javert looked at him. His pale eyes were still darkened. He made a sound, a harsh bark.

“I have become a creature by doing my duty, and now I have become a man by overthrowing a King,” he murmured, still to himself. “So why not walk beside an ex-convict?”

Looking at Jean Valjean, he smiled. There was a self-deprecating wryness to the twist of his lips.

“Why not indeed?”

He took Jean Valjean’s hand, and pulled himself to his feet.

The wound at his side began to close.