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Only a Man

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Two days ago, he had opened his eyes to the sound of angry voices and a cell door slamming closed, followed by silence. Another victim for the guillotine, no doubt. He sighed and sat up, wide awake, and wondered how much time he had left. How long it would be before he too was carted off for Madame Guillotine to claim his head. He kicked the hay he had slept on and tried to brush himself off, his once pristine black uniform rumpled, torn and grey with dust. No longer Citizen Chauvelin, charged with the safety of the revolution. Just Armand now. Stripped of his rank, his place in the world, his dignity. And all because of that damned Pimpernel. Percy. Percy bloody Blakeney, who’d have thought.

He sighed and sat on the cot in the corner of the cell, leaning his head against the wall. The worst irony of it all was that he understood now, understood the horror of what was happening. Had heard the screams and cries of young men and women, too young to understand what they had even done wrong as they were dragged off to meet their maker. He had heard, rather than seen, Danton and Desmoulins in their cells down the hall, speaking quietly to one another of friendship and forgiveness, until a few days ago when they and Desmoulins’ quiet wife had been taken away never to return. He had no idea how long he had been here exactly, keeping track was hard, but he figured it would his turn soon. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely undeserved either. Perhaps he had been wrong, giving in so happily to Robespierre’s new Reign of Terror. It had just been… so poetically just, so tempting, to make his oppressors suffer in the same way he had suffered…

In the cell beside him, muffled voices started whispering to one another through the bars. He couldn’t make out the words, but could tell it was a man and a woman, in some sort of fight, soon followed by tears. He hoped it would be quick for them, that they would not remain here for months and months on end, suffering. Like he had. He realised with a jolt that he would never see the stars again. His cell had no windows and when they brought him out it would surely be daytime. The sun would greet him one last time but the stars and the moon were lost to him forever. Just like Marguerite… his Marguerite, the girl he had once been sure he would marry. Swept off her feet by a dashing English noble, and now responsible for his demise. He remembered her face, as Percy had put the ring on his finger, remembered the disdain and anger he read there. Gone was the love he had once seen in her eyes, replaced by that fire he had loved so much, now scorching him. The smartest woman in all of Europe. He should have known better than to think she would honestly wed a fop. He should have known better about a lot of things.

~~~

Yesterday, the couple in the cell next to him had gone quiet, though he could still hear the occasional soft sob, and he remembers wondering what their story is. If they were disgraced revolutionaries too, or they had been nobility? Every day more people he had once called friend filled these cells as Robespierre slowly but surely went insane. He may not have spoken to the others; he heard the whispers going between the cells.

Towards the end of the day, the sound of heavy boots had resounded through the halls, and he heard a voice proclaiming that the woman in the cell next door, the one he had heard crying, was innocent. Marie-Anne. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but that didn’t have to mean much. He’s met so many people… An oddly familiar voice told her it’s alright, that this was a good thing, and a niggling thought in the back of his mind kept telling him this was important. He dismissed it. In this tedium of waiting for death everything seemed important. The man was taken not much later and silence reigned in his cell once more. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. No use torturing himself with thoughts of what might have been.

~~~

Today, he is free. Robespierre is dead and he has been exonerated. The revolution is over; a new era begins. His tattered clothes flutter around him in the wind as he climbs on deck of The Black Rose. England is only a week away…