The beginning of a prolonged struggle.
The King's chief messenger, known only as Montjoy, hurried through the streets to reach the Ministry of Defense. Around him trash had not been picked up, streets were barricaded, and walls were covered in graffiti.
The country was directionless, not helped by the fate of the world hanging in the balance with the threats of nuclear war made by other, more powerful nations. It was a terrifying thought for many, especially since in France the man with his finger on the button was clinically insane. One wrong move there and France would obliterate someone (probably themselves).
The government was tearing itself apart in the King's "absence." With all the vicious jealousy of a medieval court, the National Assembly fought for power and what amounted to custody over the mad king-- whoever had his ear made policy. Ever vindictive and determined to control all, Burgundy had launched an investigation into anything that was detrimental to France. Communists, anarchists, homosexuals, and anyone in between that was merely suspicious or Burgundy particularly disliked. Burgundy knew that the country needed a strong leadership, which he would provide.
Votez Toujours, je ferai le reste.
As such, there had been multiple witch hunts in the French government and media. While the press itself was to be free, Burgundy managed to rid the media of many dissidents through tight control of television and radio transmissions, often informing them what bias to have.
Everyone in the government, including the royal family, was under scrutiny. Several former members of the Armagnac party now in the cabinet resigned from sheer exhaustion. This was all while the king was out of commission, unaware of the state of his kingdom or his own name.
But now Burgundy was dead, shot execution-style. The work, it was rumored, of someone employed by the Dauphin. It was coming to him, really, many said. His brains spattered on the pavement were in reprisal for the murder of the King's brother all those years ago as much as for his manipulation of the King.
The protests against the heavy-handed government, and all forms of authority, broke out as spring drew to a close, first lead by students from the university and then workers. It spread to the rest of the country, communicated through posters, graffiti, and other works or art-- well, they were a cultured people, after all. Soon millions of workers were on strike across the country and barricaded revolutionaries clashed with the police.
Il est interdit d'interdire.
The Minister of Defense, Charles d’Albret, was even more overworked as the month wore on and he tried to keep the country running in the king’s absence. He was a short, stocky, permanently grouchy and no-nonsense man who was dedicated, above all else, to France.
Les motions tuent l'émotion.
Now he sat on his desk listening to the herald's news. He tapped out a cigarette-- his fourth of the day-- and lit another. He was smoking more these days, trying to keep his nerves under his control. He’d always been a dispassionate man but this month was testing him. He was dedicated to France and had served it for years, starting in the Resistance in the Second World War and serving in Indochina after the War. He'd been there at Dien Bien Phu and returned to work behind a desk, where he became a much-respected servant of the Crown. Somehow he’d managed to avoid Burgundy’s investigations, despite formerly being a member of the Armagnac party and that he was currently shagging Charles d’Orleans, a young cabinet minister. He kept what little life he had to himself.
“Complete chaos,” d’Albret said, taking a drag. “They're calling for a communist government now, some of them.”
“What's the damage from this morning?” Montjoy asked. He’d stopped by d’Albret’s office at the Hôtel de Brienne and had been able to score an informal meeting thanks to being personal friends with the Minister.
“Several hundred arrests,” d’Albret replied, looking at a police report.
There had been a huge clash between protesters and the police on the Rive Gauche very early that morning. The national police had been called out to stop the crowd from getting across the river. The protesters did the French thing to do, building barricades, which the police promptly attacked thanks to a failure to communicate. This had all managed to happen by 2:15 am, May 10, 1968.
Montjoy wanted to ask if there could have been a better way of handling the situation, but he knew to keep his mouth shut. He had to keep his mouth shut at all times. Messengers, even chief ones, weren't supposed to have their own beliefs. Besides, d’Albret was stressed enough already.
“They're saying the police provoked it,” d’Albret continued, lighting another cigarette. “At least part of it. That they were throwing Molotov cocktails and assaulting the protesters.”
“How are we going to tell His Majesty?” Neither had wanted to say it but Montjoy finally did.
“Carefully,” d’Albret said.
No one was recognized here. Incredible that no one noticed one of the highest-ranking men in the country sitting at the bar, but that was the point. d'Albret wouldn't even be here himself were it not for the man playing guitar. No one knew the guitarist, a tall, awkward young man in a black turtleneck and blazer was a cabinet minister. He looked and sounded like a student and he came here on Sunday nights to express his displeasure at society, where no one would fire him for his subversion. It was his one chance at having a voice. He'd been bullied and disregarded all his life, even as a supposedly high-ranking official but he was free from that for now. He alternated between what was popular these days, some folk like Dylan, and his own French compositions. He'd go home that night with d’Albret, the man at the bar, who was his partner in more than one way.
“Sooner or later, one of us must know.”
Montjoy, sitting at the end of the bar wondered what it was he was supposed to know. He knew a lot of things. He knew why Burgundy was assassinated, he obviously knew where Charles d’Orléans went every Friday to embrace his folkie tendencies, that d’Albret was sleeping with him. Montjoy hoped they were happy together. He knew things about Rambures and Grandpré, but both of them were painfully boring. Montjoy would have made a good spy, but he had no reason to spy on his colleagues or anyone to report back to about them-- they were his friends.
Montjoy nodded at d’Albret when the minister looked his way. They didn't say anything, what was there to say? d'Albret was there for Charles, Montjoy was there to ruminate. Montjoy wished he could be among the students and strikers, he longed for the strength to speak his mind and join this fight. But he didn't have it. He was, as he always would be, a meek, hard-working communications director. He may have been at this bar with other people who thought the system was all wrong but he couldn't force himself to join them. But no, he was a weak, gutless pawn of the establishment. If only he had the courage to join the protests, scrawl graffiti, throw rocks, get arrested, add his voice.
"I sit by the fountain but I still thirst."
The street was on fire as Charles left his office to go home. Throngs of protesters blocked the streets off, shouting, carrying signs, fighting. The police were out in force, trying to keep it under control, but their involvement just made it worse. Fortunately for Charles no one so far had recognized him as the Assistant Interior Minister. He was sure he'd be a dead man. But unlike d’Albret and the other government officials he did not see the protesters entirely as the enemy. Things had to change and they would, one way or another.
Cela nous concerne tous.
Perhaps it was the only way to get the king and National Assembly to see it too.
The protesters and police had been battling in the streets for over a week and it looked like there could be a revolution, the people finally rising up against their rulers. Maybe Charles was thinking too far ahead and stressing over things that might not come to pass.
He tried to force his way through a part of the mob on the sidewalk, not even begging their pardon. He wanted to go home and this crowd scared him-- he grew more overwhelmed every day.
He was right to be afraid. Just as he thought he was free from the crowd carrying signs decrying capitalism and consumerism he saw some glistening thing fly past him. It was only when it hit the pavement that he knew what it was. As soon as the Molotov cocktail exploded he was running, running for his life.
He wasn't the only one. The people who had been near him scattered, stirring up more chaos. Charles broke free, running past protesters and the police descending on them. He just wanted to go home after a long day at work. He never slowed. Just three more blocks… soon he was out of the protest and able to slow to a walk. His side ached as he labored to catch his breath and his mind slowed down from the panic.
Finally Charles reached his flat, his hands shaking as he unlocked the door. Miraculously he was still clutching his briefcase. On entering he collapsed, leaning with his back to the door. What was happening to the world.
He weighed his options. It wasn't yet 7 o'clock and he could either tackle the mound of paperwork on his desk or avoid responsibility. Maybe he could brave the war zone outside to take refuge with the minister of war. No, as much as he wanted d’Albret by his side, he didn't have the strength to go back into that nightmare.
Charles spent the night lying on the floor listening to records and sobbing for what he thought was no reason.
"My year is a day."
It was with caution that d’Albret, Charles, and part of the rest of the cabinet discussed the present crisis with the king. Fortunately it was a good day and he seemed perfectly fine. God knew that didn't happen very often.
“There are protests and strikes in every major city,” Charles said, handing the king a file from the Interior office. “There’s a new one at the Renault plant in Boulogne-Billancourt, and there was that march yesterday." The previous day, May 13, had seen a million people in the streets of Paris in protest. The police, on d'Albret's orders, had largely stayed out of it. He had also ordered the release of the prisoners arrested at the Rive Gauche.
La barricade ferme la rue mais ouvre la voie.
“What are they striking for?” The King asked. He was seated on the throne at the head of the meeting table, situated in a luxuriously appointed chamber in the Hôtel Matignon. This was one of the last vestiges of a once powerful and majestic monarchy that had weathered war and usurpation but now was trapped in an era of modernity and insecurity, slowly rotting from the inside.
“They aren’t pleased with the government right now,” Grandpré said. “The workers want a pay raise, and a higher minimum wage.”
“How many strikers are there?”
“...Over two million now,” Charles said. “That’s…” he quickly scribbled some numbers on his notepad “about two-thirds of the workers in the country.”
“Well, maybe the strikers should be given what they want,” the King said. “They seem to have a good cause.”
“No, father,” the Dauphin, also in attendance, said. Everyone looked at him. d’Albret put his head in his hands. “You should not show them any lenience. It will only encourage more strikes and protests and more demands made to your Crown.”
d’Abret looked up. The Dauphin Charles sounded like he had a point, but he didn’t understand that cracking down on the protests hadn’t worked very well so far, even with the street fighting and arrests. But the Dauphin was far from stupid. He was a shrewd operator and already making out to be ruthless. It was something of an open secret now that he had gone behind everyone’s back and murdered Burgundy, though his father didn’t understand that. King Charles didn’t understand much these days.
“We’ve tried to shut them down,” d’Albret said. “It isn’t working. They just get bolder and people just sympathize with them even more.”
“And if we keep fighting back as we have, it could easily escalate into war,” Charles said. Civil strife was nothing new to France. Just a few years before, the conflict between the Armagnac and Burgundian parties had resulted in violence and had only ended when Armagnac was violently ousted and Burgundy had conducted his own crackdowns in the government.
L'émancipation de l'homme sera totale ou ne sera pas.
“What do you suggest we do?” The King asked, turning to d’Albret.
“We have to cut this off,” d’Albret replied. “I’ve currently got agents listening in on the revolutionaries. I’m also in the process of talking to them. My goal is to deal with this with the least amount of force possible. The events on the Rive Gauche were bad enough and we can’t afford another incident like this.”
“We can call for an election,” Charles said. As soon as the words left his mouth he regretted it.
“I second that,” said Berry, Minister of the Interior and Charles’ direct superior.
“We have to hold off on that,” d’Albret said. “But I agree.”
There was some nervous shifting from the cabinet members present. An election meant they and their allies could easily lose their power in the government.
The King fiddled with a pen. “Continue with your work, d’Albret,” he said. His voice was shaking, making everyone worried. They couldn’t handle another attack of madness now.
“Yes, your majesty.”
“We’ll hold off on elections until the situation is under control.” The King was well today, d’Albret was relieved to see. The cabinet agreed, with only the Dauphin, who had no real power, dissenting.
The King adjourned the meeting and the court emptied. The Dauphin, obviously angry at being overruled, pushed past d’Albret on the way out. Before the Dauphin could react, d’Albret slammed him into the wall, a heavy hand keeping him pinned. His height belied his strength.
“You listen to me,” d’Albret snarled. “You think you can order whatever you want because you’re the King’s son. I am trying to run a government and avoid a revolution. "
The Dauphin swallowed, trying to not let d’Albret see how afraid he was. His assailant’s grip tightened.
“And I do not need a sniveling, conniving brat like yourself fucking it up. Do you understand me?”
The Dauphin gulped again and nodded.
“Good.” d’Albret released him and stalked off, leaving the prince alone with the threat echoing in his ears.
“WHERE IS HE?”
Montjoy jumped as d’Albret stormed into his office. “Who?” He asked. He’d been minding his own business, writing a message to the English Prime Minister, Thomas Exeter.
“THE KING.” D’Albret had not stopped shouting.
“He should be at his estate in Colombey,” Montjoy replied. “Or he’s still at the Hôtel Matignon.”
“No, he’s not,” d’Albret said, returning to a normal volume but retaining the demanding tone. “I was just there. He wasn’t at court, or in his chambers, anywhere.”
“Are you sure he wasn’t put away?”
“They would have told me. I couldn’t contact the Queen either. The Prince didn’t say anything.” D’Albret dropped into a chair. “Mind if I smoke?” He’d already pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Montjoy nodded as the Minister lit one.
The King had made an announcement that he’d be going to his country home in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises. He’d canceled a meeting with his ministers, which was incredibly annoying but not out of character for him. He changed his mind often. Rumor had it that he was going to write a declaration of abdication while there-- neither Montjoy nor d’Albret believed it though.
Pas de replâtrage, la structure est pourrie.
The door flung open and Charles d’Orleans barged in, shouting. “Did you know the King--”
“We know,” d’Albret snapped. Charles looked taken aback, then straightened his posture and delivered another announcement.
“The rest of the offices are in a panic,” he said. “I just came from the Foreign office and you’d think a war just started. I saw one guy burning documents, others are panicking about how to get out of the country if the revolutionaries get a hold of the oil reserves, it’s insane.”
“We need to find the King, and fast,” Montjoy said as the phones on his desk began to ring.
The French government descended into madness at the King’s disappearance and the country soon followed. It was difficult to get money from the bank and no one was able to buy fuel. This was compounded with both officials and private citizens panicking in the face of the impending revolution and trying to find ways to escape the country if they had too.D’Albret was now effectively the head of the French government, being second only to the now-missing King. Fortunately he was the perfect man for the job, somehow managing to keep his head even if the country couldn't. Ramburres, an old friend of his, offered d'Albret a gun. d'Albret told him to go home.
Les motions tuent l'émotion.
After six hours of chaos and fear, d’Albret finally received a call.
“He's in Germany,” d’Albret said when he'd assembled as many cabinet ministers and other officials as he could. There was a collective sigh of relief. He didn't mention that the King, truly a gentle soul under the mental illness, was very discouraged. He wanted nothing but the good of his country but that now seemed far away and impossible to reach. It was only after a long call and prompting from d'Albret and reassurance from Charles and Montjoy, the best with words in the office, that the King was persuaded to return to France.
Soyez réalistes, demandez l'impossible.
D’Albret finally let himself rest, sitting down on his bed fifteen hours after the King had disappeared. He had briefly taken control of the government and directed the search for the King while trying to prevent the country from collapsing. He rubbed his face-- he needed a shave-- and loosened his tie. Every bone ached and the adrenaline still ran high as he reached for a cigarette, muttering his displeasure on finding the pack empty.
“You know, you're working yourself too hard.”
“What else can I do?” D’Albret replied. “I'm Minister of Defense.”
“You don't have to do it all yourself.” Charles had been at the desk hammering something out on his typewriter-- an official report, a new poem maybe, when d’Albret returned to his flat, shared with Charles on occasion.
“And leave something potentially important to those imbeciles?”
“Charles?” D’Albret said, glancing at the young man at the desk. Here, as at the bar, he looked different and bore himself in a manner unlike that of the assistant minister he was by day.
“Do you wish you were with them?” D’Albret asked. “The students and protesters, I mean.”
The typing ceased, leaving the room strangely empty. “I’m a cabinet minister,” he said. “I work for the King.”
“You’re a poet.”
La poésie est dans la rue.
Charles didn’t reply and d’Albret wasn’t sure how he’d have finished the conversation anyway.
D’Albret felt the mattress dip behind him. Charles pushed d’Albret’s braces off his shoulders, easing some of the tension. He reached around the old soldier and fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, resting his head on d’Albret’s shoulder.
“What did I do to deserve you?” d’Albret asked honestly as Charles kissed his prickly cheek.
Plus je fais l'amour, plus j'ai envie de faire la révolution.
“I can think of a few things.” Charles pulled d’Albret down to the bed.
“You made me braver, for one.” D’Albret's strength lay in his loyalty and refusal to back down, two things that had strengthened Charles, who had once been even more timid than he was now. Then Charles had managed the seemingly impossible-- to crack d'Albret's crusty exterior and love him and inspire love in return.
d’Albret, otherwise exhausted, had the energy to tangle his fingers in Charles’ hair and allow himself to be kissed.
Plus je fais la révolution, plus j'ai envie de faire l'amour.
The next day, May 30, saw as many as 500,000 protesters flood the streets of Paris, chanting “Adieu, Valois!” Good bye, Valois! No wonder many thought revolution was imminent, whether they wanted it or not. France would change, that was all that was certain. The communists called for a completely new government and were perhaps the greatest threat to the current state of stability. Were they to get their way, there would be revolution.
D’Albret, who was in effect in charge of the entire country spent half of the day trying to convince the King to dissolve the National Assembly and call for a new election. It took a great deal of prodding the already badly stressed King, and was granted in the afternoon after d’Albret threatened to resign. Soon after, King Charles took to the airwaves to announce he was not abdicating, and that there would be an election next month.
Montjoy breathed a sigh of relief as he stood in the control room of the Office Royal de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française as the King made his announcement. They had avoided revolution, but also had begun a process that would hopefully benefit France and stave off impending disaster a bit longer.
Cours, camarade, le vieux monde est derrière toi!
Montjoy walked through the streets to the Ministry of Defense to talk with his friend d’Albret, now not having to worry about being caught in a street fight. The city and the rest of the country was back in order. The fervor of May had died down by the beginning of June, with elections set for the 23rd. Workers who had not been fired by their employers or arrested by the police returned to work and the barricades disappeared. The King had outlawed several leftist organizations, which was met with less blacklash than expected.
Things were not over yet, however. They still had the election later that month and whatever that would bring. Little did Montjoy, or anyone for that matter, know that the past month was not just the beginning of a prolonged struggle for France, but part of those of the rest of the world.
The walls still bore the art and words inspired by the fight.
Sous les pavés, la plage!