In the days when the French Revolution had descended into the systematic bloodbath of the Terror, Madame Guillotine was always hungry, and there were always plenty of ci-devant aristos and their sympathizers to feed her. It had become daily entertainment for the crowds who gathered in Paris and other cities across France. And, oh, what crowds they were, embodying just as much spectacle and horror as that which they gathered to witness. Humanity packed in tight against each other without regard for the sanctity of their fellows. The air above was clouded thick with flying daemons in the forms of all manner of birds, insects, and a few bats, all milling around in tight circles, figure eights, and other holding patterns to keep away from the worst of it without straying painfully far from those they were bound to.
Meanwhile, the crowd members with earthbound daemons had to make do as best as they could. The smallest non-flying daemons stayed in what little protection could be offered by hiding in hair and clothing. Slightly larger ones perched on heads or shoulders or rode wrapped around necks like scarves. The ones who were larger yet were carried like infants. The largest and unluckiest had to walk down in the sea of legs, with all the dangers that implied. Accidental daemon touchings happened so often that it was not even remarked upon and merely served to whip those people into even greater mania regarding those who were already the subjects of their ire.
And then, through all of this, the tumbrils rolled toward their final destination with torturous slowness, partly because the press of bodies all around would not allow them to go any faster even if the drivers had wanted to, and partly to show off their contents like a farmer showing off their prized livestock before the auction and slaughter. And what livestock it was! In the name of equality, men, women, and children were all sentenced to this fate, so the variety of people forced to climb the scaffold was almost as great as the variety of daemons who accompanied them. Some daemons meekly climbed the steps under their own power. Others were carried clutched tightly against the bodies of those whose souls they represented. And others yet fought their fate and were forced into cages, snapping and snarling all the way.
This last variety was the crowd favorite, because it was always entertaining to the bloodthirsty crowd to see a once proud aristo brought even lower than their fellows by the results of their continued defiance. It was all very theatrical and dramatic in the heat of the moment. Even the most fearsome daemon could be herded into a cage by way of pitchforks and bayonets. Once the fighting daemon had been contained, the human prisoner would be forced up the stairs of the scaffold, sometimes at the end of those same pitchforks and bayonets, while the cage remained below.
Then the show really began, as the cage was paraded out through the crowd, with everyone it passed reaching out rough hands to shake and jostle the cage as much as possible (but did not reach out to touch the occupant, at least not on purpose; even in these times of casual horror and depravity, there were some lines which few would willingly cross), until the unfortunate wretch atop the scaffold was brought to their knees by the rough treatment and the growing distance from their soul. Then the cage would be steered back to the scaffold and carried up the steps for a brief moment of reunion before human and daemon were once again parted in a much more permeant fashion as the human lost their head, causing the daemon to vanish in a swirl of golden Dust.
To any sane being not subsumed into the destructive hunger of the mob, it would be like hell on earth.
To a rare dangerous few, it was like heaven, and it was only thoughts of such spectacle which allowed Citizen Armand Chauvelin, special representative of the government of the glorious new Republic of France and envoy to England, to maintain his façade of outward calm in the presence of his most pernicious of sworn enemies, Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart. Once again forced to attend an opulent English high society party which represented everything he hated, Chauvelin made small talk with those whose his interests required him to make the appearance of trying to woo, but all the while both he and his badger daemon surreptitiously tracked the meanderings of Sir Percy through the room and imagined what joy it would be to finally see that golden head fall under a blade and that equally golden miniature horse disintegrate to vanish on the wind, never again to obnoxiously whinny at the same moment as her counterpart gave his all too familiar inane laugh.
"—and then, after all that fuss and bluster, everyone spent so long, first at procuring the necessary number of turkeys, then at transporting them to the park, then at setting everything into readiness, and then at placing bets on which of the birds would win," drawled the man in question, speaking with the infuriating slowness of one who knew he was in no risk of losing his audience's attention by taking too long and could therefore unspool his tale at his leisure, "that it started getting dark!"
"And then what happened, Blakeney?" called some other man nearby.
"What happened next was the most confounded thing! The cages were opened to begin the race," Blakeney continued, "but instead of running, the turkeys all flew up into the branches of the surrounding trees, tucked their heads under their heads under their wings, and went to sleep!" Blakeney's inane laugh and his daemon's equally inane whinny pierced through the ballroom to punctuate the statement. "Nothing in the world could entice the demmed things to come down again. His Highness was most disappointed, as were we all, except for Tarleton and Hanger, the two blighters who organized the whole event. I and several others have been after those two to try the race again, earlier in the day this time, but for some reason the fellows don't seem keen to do it, Lud knows why." Man and horse laughed again, as did the gaggle of appreciative listeners, all of whom inexplicably seemed to find this conclusion (or lack thereof) to the tale to be the height of wit.
No, Chauvelin thought as that laughter stoked the fires of his hatred for his quarry, the day of the Scarlet Pimpernel's execution could not come soon enough, and he redoubled his mental efforts to speed it along. Little good it did him, though. Sometime later that evening, Chauvelin's keen eyes were able to spot Blakeney and several of his cohorts slipping away from the party in quick succession, but it happened just after the Frenchman had been reluctantly drawn into conversation with an ambassador and several other high ranking individuals who Chauvelin was certain would never be swayed to the cause of the Republic but he was under orders from Paris to try anyway.
Once that distasteful duty was out of the way and Chauvelin was able to make his own excuses to depart, he was informed that his carriage's driver and footman had apparently drunk so much (or, knowing Blakeney's tricks, more likely drunk such a potent sleeping draught) that they could not be roused, and there was also the small matter that no one currently present and conscious could say with any certainty where exactly the horses for his carriage had gotten to. By the time alternate transportation could be arranged, it was hours later, and Blakeney's lead was such that Chauvelin knew he was going to have the devil's own time catching up to him again.
It should have been a simple matter of ordering all guards at the various gates and checkpoints around Paris and its surrounding towns to be on the lookout for a man with a miniature horse for a daemon. Such an alert could easily be spread without Chauvelin needing to sacrifice his desire to be the man to step forward and officially identify Blakeney as being the one and only Scarlet Pimpernel once the man was securely subdued in chains. However, such an alert would also be useless, because no confirmed witnesses to the Scarlet Pimpernel's activities had ever mentioned catching so much as a glimpse of a miniature horse daemon.
There were many rumors about the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel and the even more mysterious nature of his daemon. Some said that the Scarlet Pimpernel was an anomaly of a man whose daemon never settled and thus could take any shape it desired, like the daemon of a child. Some said that the Scarlet Pimpernel was a Witch from the North and thus could separate from his daemon as far as he liked without pain or consequence. Some said that the Scarlet Pimpernel was a fiend who had no daemon at all.
Chauvelin had spent enough time watching Blakeney and that miniature horse (he called her Mirasol and always bedecked her mane and tail with silk ribbons and strings of jewels matching his current outfit) to give credence to that third rumor. She followed close at his heels wherever he went in London society, and she whinnied along with him whenever he laughed. Neither Chauvelin nor any of his spies or informants had ever caught the horse speaking like any normal daemon did, but that proved little. Any man capable of spending his entire adult life convincing everyone who knew him that he was a halfwit while in truth being a tactical mastermind surely had a daemon with equal levels of self-control and dedication to the ruse. And Chauvelin could certainly see how a miniature horse could represent the soul of a man like Blakeney. After they both seemed to be creatures bred for idle decorativeness who, lacking anything useful to do with their time, wandered off where they did not belong and caused trouble for their own entertainment.
Chauvelin wondered if Blakeney realized how fitting Chauvelin's own daemon was, if he realized that badgers kept digging until they caught their prey, however deeply that prey went to ground. If not, he would find out. Chauvelin would make sure of that.
* * *
"I suppose I should be flattered that you think so highly of me as to expend this much effort on my behalf, M. Chambertin," Blakeney drawled from his place on the other side of the cell bars, as if reading Chauvelin's thoughts, the habitual refusal to get his captor's name right dripping off of his tongue with a lightness belying his current state of incarceration and impending execution. The small terrier-ish mutt of a dog sitting in the cell next to Blakeney's feet gave an amused sounding huffing snort and wagged its tail, just like it had done immediately following anything Blakeney had said since his capture earlier that night. Without taking his superciliously lazy gaze away from Chauvelin, Blakeney casually reached down to run his long and too delicate looking fingers through the fur on the dog's head in a gesture that spoke of long habit.
Despite stalking and spying on his prey for more than a year, Chauvelin had never seen this dog before in his life. There was no way that the dog was a miniature horse in disguise, just as there was also no way that the miniature horse had been a dog in disguise, and there was nowhere that Blakeney's beloved Mirasol could have been hiding nearby.
"So the rumors were true after all," Chauvelin said with disgusted fascination. Men whose daemons never settled were supposedly nothing more than fairy stories like Bisclavret or Reynard the Fox, and yet here Blakeney stood before him with a dog daemon instead of the ridiculous little horse he usually went about in public with.
"Rumors, M. Chambertin?" Blakeney said. "What kind of rumors?" He had been lounging against the bars of the cell the same way that he probably longed against a tall fence while watching a servant exercise one of his favorite racing steeds in the yard beyond, but now he leaned forward with a merry grin lighting his face. "Please, do tell. I'm sure it must be the most entertaining story imaginable if even a usually taciturn fellow such as yourself can't resist the urge to gossip about it!" At Blakeney's feet, the dog gave another of its huffing snorts, clearly laughing at Chauvelin's expense, once again making it obvious that even in defeat neither Blakeney nor his unnatural daemon could admit when someone had bettered him.
Something in Chauvelin snapped. His rage boiled over, maddening him more than ever before. He did not even hear his own daemon's quiet protest of, "But Armand…," as, without thinking, he closed the distance between himself and Blakeney, reached through the bars of the cell, grabbed Blakeney's daemon, and dragged the dog away with him before the other man had a chance to react. He did not fully return to his senses until his back hit the far wall, at which point he realized that he had both hands engaged in the surprisingly difficult task of trying to maintain a hold on a struggling, snarling dog by the scruff of the neck while it kicked frantically at the air and tried to twist around inside of its own skin in an attempt to somehow turn around and bite the enemy behind it.
"Well now you've gone and put yourself in quite the predicament," Blakeney drawled from his place at the bars, for all appearances completely unconcerned that his enemy had just committed and was continuing to commit one of the worst possible violations one human being could do to another. "Unless you can keep hold of her until she has tired herself out, she is going to make you very sorry for your rough treatment of her. Even the most obedient dog can only be pushed so far before she rebels against her training, and you, my dear M. Chambertin, have gone and done that in spades. At least that black outfit of yours won't show the blood much once she gets her teeth into you."
At Blakeney's words, Chauvelin's slow-dawning horror at himself for having deliberately lain hands on another person's daemon with intent to harm it was eclipsed by the much more rapidly dawning horror that what he was holding was not a daemon at all but rather just some ordinary animal trained to act like one. Later, Chauvelin would have time to realize that such a ruse would explain why Blakeney's supposed daemon never talked, but in the moment he was too distracted by the fact that he was currently alone in a room with a man who did not have a daemon with him. And he was also still holding a small dog that seemed like it wanted nothing more in the world than to kill him, and the muscles of his arms were already beginning to feel the strain of it.
"So you really are a Witch then," Chauvelin said. It came out as equal parts statement and question, which ordinarily would have annoyed him as an example of a lack of self-control, but he had more immediate matters to worry about. His only consolation was that he finally managed to get some kind of a reaction out of Blakeney, even if that reaction was only a look of mild offence.
"You may believe of me whatever you wish," Blakeney said, "but I advise you to return dear Buttercup to me before either of you do each other harm. She's a good little cur, and I would hate to have to put her down just because she had gotten a taste for blood from you and decided she wanted more." He stepped back from the bars and spread his hands in what might have been meant to be a welcoming gesture but was negated when Blakeney added, "Unless you want to find out how much of her nature she inherited from her dam who was a champion ratter or from her sire who was as fierce a badger hound as ever emptied a set."
"What would you have me do?" Chauvelin asked through gritted teeth.
Blakeney took another half step back from the bars and spread his hands once again, saying, "Just bring her over here, and I believe I should be able to calm her."
Chauvelin did as instructed, and Buttercup's struggles eased as he brought her closer to her master. He passed the dog through the bars, and Blakeney wrapped his hands around her middle to reclaim her from her abductor. However, before Chauvelin could fully relinquish the dog, one of Blakeney's hands shot out lightning fast, grabbed Chauvelin by the forearm, and yanked him forward to strike his head against the metal bars between them.
Everything went black as consciousness fled from the impact.
Later, Chauvelin would not even remember hitting the floor. He would not remember Blakeney keeping his word and calming the dog with a quiet word and gentle touch. He also would not remember Blakeney's true daemon, a tiny jewel-colored hummingbird slipping from her hiding place in Blakeney's hair to pick the cell lock with her beak before hiding herself away again as man and dog made their escape. He would, however, remember the fragment of doggerel poetry on a piece of paper which, when he awoke, he found had been slipped into his hand. That part was easy to remember, because Chauvelin had read that same poem oh so many times before.
“We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel?”