A terror of a different kind stalks the streets of revolutionary Paris.
“The new era began. The king was tried, doomed, and beheaded. The black flag waved night and day from the great towers of Notre Dame. Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world—the sharp female called La Guillotine.”
-Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”
Gevaudan, France, 1769:
Death came to Gevaudan.
Antoine Chastel tied a handkerchief around his face as a funeral procession passed him in the street; small protection, but what else could he do? Most had left the village already, but Antoine could not leave. There were some responsibilities that even the specter of plague would not overrule.
He came to the inn, shut up and dark. He drew water from the well and went inside. In the largest bedroom he found his father in bed with a single candle lit and his Bible open on his lap, sleeping feverishly. Antoine wet a cloth with and wiped the sweat from his father's brow. Jean Chastel's eyes opened. “Antoine?”
“I'm here, Father.”
Jean tried to speak between labored breaths. “I thought you had left.”
Antoine shook his head. “Not until you are well.”
“I will not be well again,” said Jean. “But it is no concern. The Lord will…” And he trailed off.
He slipped in and out of sleep all night. Antoine did what he could to comfort the older man. Some hours past midnight, Jean Chastel woke for the last time. His feeble hands groped for the Bible and, finding it, seemed to find some reservoir of strength. Signaling for water, he drank until his throat was not so dry that he couldn't speak and said, “Tell me again, Antoine. Tell me about the hunt.”
Antoine blanched. “No father, not tonight. Another night. Tonight you need your rest—”
“Don’t treat me like a fool,” said the older Chastel, half-rising out of bed in his fury before collapsing back. “There will be no other nights. Tell me now. Tell me about the hunt.”
Antoine shuddered, but he could not disobey. Closing his eyes, he spoke of that day two years ago, a day that had yet to end in his nightmares…
It was cold for July. Much too cold to be normal. Antoine's breath frosted the morning air. The metal of his musket was so chill it was painful to touch.
He and his father had become separated from the larger hunting party. Lost, Jean Chastel sat on a hill, reading his Bible and praying for guidance. Antoine stood guard. His knees would not stop shaking. If not for his father’s presence he would have run away. But he stayed. His knees shook and he was on the verge of tears, but he stayed.
They were hunting a monster. There had always been wolf attacks in the farmlands, but this was no ordinary wolf. It had killed more than a hundred people. So appalling was this carnage that, two years earlier, the king sent his own Lieutenant of the Hunt to Gevaudan to slay it. The royal hunters claimed success and returned to Versailles as heroes, but on Christmas of that year the monster wolf returned, seemingly from the dead, and had roamed unchecked ever since, killing at its whim. The villagers named it the Beast.
Now Antoine, Jean Chastel, and the other men of Gevaudan took matters into their own hands. Each man was armed and each man (except perhaps Antoine) was willing to give his life to destroy the Beast once and for all. Jean Chastel was even armed with specially blessed silver bullets, believing that only silver was pure enough to end the monster’s life.
But now they were lost, with no sign of their quarry or their partners. The elder Chastel called on God to deliver them: “Dear Father God Almighty, Three in One Who wert, art, and shall be blessed without end, I thank Thee that Thou hast kept me from nightfall to the hour of morning…”
Somewhere nearby, a branch snapped. Antoine whirled around, almost dropping his musket. Jean did not react.
“I pray Thee to grant, in Thy holy pit,y that this day I fall into no sin, so that at eventide I may again give thanks, praise and blessing unto Thee, my Lord and Savior…”
The trunks of the trees shook. Antoine's breathing came shorter and faster, the cold morning air seeming to cut his lungs. Something was coming; something big. “Father!” said Antoine, but Jean did not interrupt his prayer.
“Dear Lord God Almighty and Father Everlasting Who hast safely brought me to the beginning of this day by Thy holy power, grant that this day I fall into no sin, nor run into any danger…”
A small tree broke and fell, splintered in half. A shape crossed the fallen trunk and there, padding on four great paws, eyes blazing like coals and jaws stained from the kill, was the Beast.
It's not a wolf, Antoine thought. No wolf could grow to such a size, or have so much malice in its eyes. Its fur was red with the blood of a hundred innocents, and it body was pitted with scars from the bullets of the king's hunters. Antoine fell to his knees, fear rising up like bile in his throat. “Father!” he cried again, but Jean Chastel did not so much as pause or open his eyes:
“By Thy restraining care my thoughts be set to keep Thy holy laws and do Thy holy will…”
The words seemed to provoke the Beast. It threw back its head and howled, and Antoine covered his ears, screaming. He was nearly deaf by the time it finished; he could no longer hear his father's voice, nor even his own. The Beast charged right for them and Antoine raised his weapon, but his hands were shaking and his finger fell on the trigger too soon. The discharge knocked the gun out of his hand as the bullet buried itself in the ground. The monster’s great paws churned the earth. There was no time for another shot and no time to reload. He could never outrun it, but Antoine turned to flee anyway. He was startled to find his father standing, like a stone pillar, right behind him. Jean Chastel raised his musket and the Beast froze in its tracks.
For a moment the world stopped turning; man and Beast stood, face to face and eye to eye. Antoine cowered. Jean Chastel's face was a mask of poised determination; the Beast snarled, Hellish light filling its eyes. Every creature in the forest, great and small, stood witness to the confrontation. Then, all at once, the spell of the moment was broken; the monster wolf came at them again and Jean Chastel fired. The call of the musket was so loud that it sounded even in Antoine's deaf ears. The sacred silver bullet burned through the air and struck the Beast right above its heart, boring through flesh and bone, and the monster stalled in its tracks, whimpering, staggering, eyes rolling in its skull and fangs snapping at the air. It gave a last, half-hearted lunge, but it was no use. With one last hateful cry the Beast of Gevaudan slumped over, spilling its heart's blood on the ground, and died.
Antoine couldn’t believe it: They were alive! He tried to stand and almost fell again. Jean said nothing, keeping his eye on the fallen Beast to make sure it did not rise up again. It looked not so terrifying now; whatever power had given it the visage of the devil ended along with its life. Alerted by the commotion, other men of the hunting party appeared, just in time to see the Beast's death throes. Antoine looked at where his musket lay, and shame bowed him; he had tried to run. In the moment of truth he had tried to abandon his father to the jaws of the Beast. The Beast was dead and Jean Chastel was a hero, but Antoine was a coward. No one except his father would ever know it, but for Antoine that was enough.
Jean said nothing though. He simply handed his son's gun back to him and then went to inspect the body with the others. Already they heard sounds of wonder and horror from the assembled hunters. Pushing through the crowd, Antoine let out a cry of shock, for now instead of a great demon wolf he saw the body of a man lying on the ground. He pointed a shaking finger. “But that's, that's—?”
“It does not matter who it was,” said Jean, “he’s dead now.” He turned to the other hunters. “Did you all see the Beast die, and did you all see it return to the figure of a man after death?” The hunters nodded. “Then there is nothing else to be said. We will take the body back to the village and burn it. And that will be the end.”
And it was. For everyone but Antoine, that is. For two years, every time he saw his father, Jean asked him to recount the story of the hunt. Now, as he finished the tale for the last time, the older Chastel looked at him with eyes grown weak from the touch of the plague and said, “My son, do you know why I ask you to tell me about the hunt?”
Antoine's face burned. “Yes father,” he said. “To remind me of my shame.”
Jean's eyes widened. “No! No, no, no,” he said, and his voice gave out again. With great effort he summoned speech once more: “I do not want you to feel ashamed of your fear. But I never want you to forget it!” He grabbed Antoine's hand, his grip surprisingly strong. “You were afraid not because you are a coward but because the Beast was no ordinary creature; it was a servant of the devil. Never forget that fear, because that fear will remind you, always, of what you fight!”
Jean fell back in bed, staring at the ceiling. “When the Beast was slain I swore an oath to God that I would not rest until all of its kind were slain, too. There are others, you know. It was the most vicious of its brood, but far from the only one.
“But I will not live through the night,” said Jean. “My oath will go unfulfilled. That is why I give you these.” And he took something from under the mattress and put it into Antoine's hands. Antoine untied the bag and discovered…
“The silver bullets?”
“Yes,” said Jean. “Made from an icon of the Holy Virgin, and each of them blessed as a weapon against the enemies of God. You must take them, my son, and use them. Hunt the brothers and sisters of the Beast; hunt them, and destroy them!”
Antoine's jaw dropped. “Father, no! I cannot. I'm not like you. I am not brave—I am not a hunter!”
“You are,” said Jean. “You must be. I swore an oath on the honor of our family and it must be made good, for the sake of my eternal soul.”
Old Jean's breath rattled in his lungs. His head rolled to one side and he no longer had the strength to lift it again.
“Swear to me,” said Jean. “Swear on your father's deathbed that you will do this. Please, my son, please. I go to God now. Please let me go knowing that my honor is intact…”
Antoine swallowed the lump in his throat. He took his father by the hand. “I don't know if I can do what you ask. I don’t know if I have the strength. But I swear to you now, I will not rest until I have hunted these monsters to the last, or they me. You have my word.” Tears blurred his eyes. “You have my word.”
Just at dawn, with a sigh of relief, Jean Chastel quit the world.
Antoine slept in his father's house for the last time that morning. When he awoke a few hours later he took his father's best musket and his father's Bible and the blessed silver bullets, and he left the village behind. He rode to the farmhouse where his wife waited for him, and there his grief was mingled with joy, for he discovered that she had given birth, and that he had a son of his own. He wept as he told her what he would have to do. She begged him not to go, but he had no choice. After holding his son for the first and last time, Antoine set out for he knew not where, promising to return but secretly believing that he never would.
On nights when the air grew chill and the sky was bleak and dark, Antoine Chastel's wife would sometimes hear wolves howling in the distance. On nights like that, she would pray for him.
But all the prayers in the world could not save Antoine Chastel now.
Paris, April 5th, 1794 (on the Calendar of the Revolution, 16 Germinal, Year II):
Four soldiers questioned the old man, one of them a captain. It was late and they were growing impatient. The lesser soldiers (all sans-culotte volunteers, those sons of the revolution who had stepped up to fill the vacancies left by the royalist soldiers who had deserted or been killed) wanted to simply arrest him, but the captain (a true soldier of France who wore the blue coat of the National Guard) insisted they simply keep questioning him. “Tell us again,” said the captain. “Tell us from the beginning.”
“I have told you already, citizen” said the old man. “There will be nothing new this time. I do not know why you are asking me these things. The man you are looking for is dead, all of Paris knows that he is dead. Why would you try to arrest him now?”
The captain frowned; he did not like questioning this man in the middle of the night. This man, he knew, was a good man, a baker who always sold his bread for less to the poorest customers. Any amount of money was enough to buy something from this man. The captain did not enjoy having to interrogate him, but he had no choice. It was his duty. “Tell us again,” he said.
“I was sitting here before my shop two hours ago,” said the baker, indicating the chair. “A man came to me begging for food.”
“What kind of man?” interrupted one of the other soldiers. “Was he an old man, or a young one?”
“Neither young nor old,” said the baker.
“What did he look like?”
“Like a man,” said the baker. “Like a poor man. Most poor men look alike.”
“What did you do?” said the captain.
“I gave him bread,” said the baker. “He had money. It was not enough, but I told him it was. I always tell them it is enough.”
The lesser soldier shook his bayonet. “And did it not occur to you, citizen, that this man might be a fugitive?”
The baker did not flinch. “Any man might be a fugitive. Beggars and fugitives look much alike.”
“And then what happened?” said the captain, checking the other soldier with a look.
“We heard someone coming,” said the baker, “some soldiers. I turned to look at them, and when I turned back the beggar was running away, and he was joined by two others.”
“Tell us about the others?”
“I did not see them well. They wore cloaks that covered their heads. But I could tell they had been hiding. And I could tell that one of them wore a mask.”
“A mask?” said the captain.
“Yes, or perhaps more like a scarf that wrapped around his face, in the style of a Turk.”
“And this beggar and this masked man and this third man you saw not at all ran away from the soldiers once they had your bread?” asked the lesser soldier, his voice dripping with disdain.
“It was as you say,” said the baker, “and that is all I know.” He sat down now, to indicate that, in his mind at least, the interview was over. The soldiers adjourned to the street to deliberate.
“I do not believe one word of this ridiculous story,” said the younger soldier. “Captain, this man is a traitor to the Republic! I believe he is a royalist and a counter-revolutionary and no doubt he his hiding our fugitive in his shop right now! I say we arrest him and search the whole place and then drag them all off for a meeting with the Committee!” His voice became louder and his face grew red as he talked, and the other young soldiers agreed.
“I believe him,” said the captain, his voice measured. The sans-culottes looked stunned.
“Yes. I do not think that Fabre is here. Continue questioning the people who live on this street. Split up and go door to door, but do not arrest anyone without my approval.” The soldiers looked uneasy. The captain cocked an eyebrow. “Unless you would like for me to report your insubordination to the Committee?”
The soldiers blinked and stammered apologies, scattering. The captain returned to the baker's porch, nodding at him and taking off one glove to offer the old man his hand. “I am sorry to have troubled you so late, citizen.”
“No need,” said the old man, accepting the proffered handshake. The captain leaned in.
“I hope this does not sound like an accusation,” he said, “but I suspect there is something you are not telling us.”
The old man's face twitched a little. “In truth, I did leave out one thing. I was not sure if you would believe me, and I was afraid of being reported for spreading misinformation…”
“I would believe a great many things that other men do not.”
The baker sighed. “I said that I saw three men running away, but that was not true. What I saw was two men, and a wolf.”
“You're sure it was a wolf and not a dog?”
“I know a wolf when I see one.”
“Yes,” said the captain, his voice somber. “So do I.”
The captain turned to go. The old man stopped him. “What is your name?”
The captain pulled his glove back on. “Chastel,” he said. “Antoine Chastel. The younger.”
“I knew an Antoine Chastel once,” said the old man.
“He was a good man.”
Chastel gave a wan smile. “No,” he said, “he was not. But he did his duty.”
The old man nodded and said, “I still do not understand why you are here. The man you are hunting is dead. I saw him die today. Everyone saw him die.”
“Indeed,” said Chastel as he walked away. “And yet, hunt we must.”
17 Germinal, Year II:
The Conciergerie sat on one side, Sainte-Chapelle on the other. Sainte-Chapelle was no longer a church; the relics were all looted, scattered, destroyed. Now it was merely an office, where the people did the work of the Republic. And the Conciergerie was no longer a palace; now it was a prison. In Sainte-Chapelle they filed the death warrants, and in the Conciergerie they carried the prisoners out, and between the two Madame Guillotine enjoyed her daily feast and the people shouted and danced and sang the Carmagnole as those deemed enemies of the Republic, one by one, lost their heads.
Santerre watched out his office window as a cartload was dumped into the Seine, twenty open mouths and twenty pairs of sightless eyes bobbing up and down in the river like a chorus of gaping fish. It was the first such payload of the day, but the sun was barely up and it would be a busy morning here and at the Place de la Revolution, he knew. There were new prisoners to be processed every day, and that meant that every day new cells must be emptied, and those who languished in the Conciergerie could be “released” only one way. Terror was the order of the day.
Though he was general of the National Guard, Santerre's duties in Paris were little more than administrative. He did not complain: Half of the Republic's legislature had just had the other half guillotined. Now Robespierre and the Committee were the final and only power in France, and so Santerre kept his mouth shut and hoped that if he spent most of his time in this office that suspicious eyes would never fall on him. Complaining would only expedite the possibility of his own execution. He still remembered the look on the king's face that day a year ago when Santerre came to take him to the plaza…
“Hm?” He looked toward the voice. Leta appeared rather put-out.
“General Santerre,” she said again. “I do not see the point in my being here if you are not even going to pay me the slightest mind.”
“My apologies, citizeness,” Santerre said, turning away from the window. “You must forgive me if I am distracted by my duty to the Republic.”
“We all have our duty, General,” said Leta. “And we all do our part whether we like it or not.” She resumed stroking his stiff prick with her soft, lily-white hand.
“Quite right, citizeness,” said Santerre. “Your diligence is an inspiration to us all during these trying times.”
“Oh shut your fat mouth, you republic pig,” Leta said, and then, holding her nose and assuming a look of disdain that Santerre found completely charming, she swallowed his prick. Santerre leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, letting his trousers slip to his ankles.
For a well-born woman, Leta had remarkable talents. He wondered, not for the first time, exactly where she had acquired them. There was more than one courtesan, or for that matter, brothel girl, who could learn a thing or two from the way Leta's soft, pouting lips skillfully glided back and forth on him, or the way her tongue wriggled, sending scintillating waves up and down his member. She was fast, but not too fast, and she never languished but was always working, always going up and down and, when she tired of that, switching to a side to side motion, rolling his cock around and around the inside of her mouth in a way that made his bones ache with pleasure.
It was quite a spectacle; almost enough to make him forget the sound of the falling blade just outside…
Santerre ignored it. Instead he thought about Leta's lips sucking away, the warm wetness of her mouth, the swaying of the locks of her curling hair (cut curiously short for a woman), and, as always, the cold, bitter anger in her eyes as she went at it. That was the part that was most gratifying to Santerre, and he never let her forget it. He watched her generous breasts strain against her dress; it was a dress he had specifically saved for her after almost all of her other possessions were seized under the Law of National Goods. This one he'd kept as a gift to her because he liked how it accentuated her…well, her national goods.
Santerre gave them each a squeeze. Leta slapped his hands away, taking him out of her mouth long enough to say, “Keep your hands to yourself! Bad enough I have to soil my mouth with this,” she gestured to his organ.
Santerre shook a finger at her. “I think you're forgetting who is in charge here.'“ And to emphasize the point he unlaced her dress over her protests and fondled her naked breasts as they popped free, taking his time as he rolled her rubbery pink nipples between his fingers. “Remember, in the Republic you must learn to share some of your bounty with your fellow citizens. There are laws against hoarding of precious resources.”
She glared lightning at him.
“Now, I believe I was in the middle of sharing a particularly vibrant resource with you.” He gestured to his lap. “If you please?”
Gritting her teeth, Leta placed her bosom over his lap, letting him slide between her breasts and then, at his command, squeezing them together around him. His turgid cock pulsed. He took particular pleasure in watching her squirm. “And now?” he said. Wincing, she bent her head down as far as it would go and opened her mouth again, allowing him to push up and slide between her breasts and into her waiting lips. She swirled her tongue around his intruding head, tasting the drip.
More commotion came from outside, but Santerre was too far along now to care about that. Keeping Leta frozen in this contorted posture he began to thrust up and up and up against her, and in her, taking advantage of the tantalizing wetness of her mouth. If he could just relax, if he could just let everything go for only a minute…
“Ah,” he said, “I think that's it.”
“Wait!” said Leta, voice muffled.
“No, no waiting,” said Santerre, pushing all the way into her mouth to silence her. He ground his cock around and around inside her mouth, fighting past her gag, feeling himself contract, contract, contract, and then…
After a few seconds he stopped and let her go. Leta ran and stuck her head out the window, gagging and then spitting. She wiped her mouth.
“I asked you not to do that again,” she said.
“An oversight, my dear,” said Santerre, readjusting his belt.
“Pig,” said Leta. “In the days of my father's France I could have you arrested for even looking at me like that. You’d have been broken on the wheel for daring to touch me with your filthy—”
“But this is not your father's France, is it?” Santerre said. “This is the new France, and all of your titles and holdings and ancient ancestors won't buy you a whit except a date with the National Razor. We are all equals now, all just citizens, with our own separate duties.
“Although some of us are more equal than others: The Law of Suspects deems all former nobles enemies of the state unless they're judged to show significant patriotism to be afforded a Civic Certificate. Which you have not.”
Leta's face reddened. “I know this already.” She was trying to lace her dress back up.
“Do you? From your tone I'd thought you had forgotten. Do you think the price I charge to protect your identity is too high? Many are the women in Paris who, in the days of your father's France, were forced to trade in their bodies and delicate virtues just to live day to day. Perhaps now you understand something of how they felt? The currency I pay you in is not livres, but it is no less valuable to your pretty neck.”
He made a show of turning to the papers on his desk. Leta looked as if she were weighting the merits of scratching his eyes out but instead she marched out the door.
Santerre could not help but feel pleased. Perhaps Leta's example should remind him that the Republic, whatever its excesses, truly was a new Mecca for rational governance in Europe. So what if a few people lost their heads? Wasn't it always that way? Wasn't it amazing that he, once a mere brewer, could now be a man of power and influence, while a once-privileged woman like Leta was forced to wait on him? Weren't liberty, fraternity, and equality worth the price of a few —?
Santerre had not heard the door slam after Leta left, as expected. Looking up, he saw two people standing in the doorway, apparently waiting for him. The foremost of them was a very young man with a long face and dark curly hair that flowed freely, rather than being secured under a wig. He was a strange-looking man, but beautiful, beatific even, so much so that you might have taken him for an angel.
And so he was, in his way; for he was known throughout Paris as the Angel of Death.
Santerre's jumped to his feet. “Citizen Saint-Just!” he said.
“Good day, General,” said Saint-Just, entering. “It is a good day, is it not?”
“What? I mean, of course.” Santerre suddenly found it exceedingly hot in his office; he loosened his collar. Saint-Just seemed to be staring at something very intently. Santerre squirmed.
“General?” said Saint-Just. Santerre stammered.
“Yes, Citizen Saint-Just?”
“Why are you not wearing any pants?”
Santerre looked down. “Good God!” he cried.
Saint-Just sat down. He drew a nail file from his pocket and twirled it between his fingers as Santerre pulled his trousers up and tightened his belt. “Just because you are called sans-culottes, General, does not mean you must actually go bare-legged,” he said.
“Forgive me, Citizen Saint-Just! I was just…well, it is unseasonably hot today and I, not expecting your visit, took it to mind that I should, well, cool off a bit.”
“Yes, and I saw just what cooled you off on her way out,” said Saint-Just, filing his nails. “But I am surprised to hear you say that you did not expect me. Surely you knew I would want an update on the whereabouts of the fugitive Fabre?”
“Of course,” said Santerre, sitting. “We are attending to the matter with the utmost haste. My men searched the entire city last night and…I'm afraid he had eluded us so far. But surely he cannot continue so for long. Soon he'll be the most wanted man in France, and the citizens will harry him wherever he goes!”
“No; the citizens must not know that Fabre is still alive,” said Saint-Just. “Your men already mentioned his name much too freely last night.”
Santerre paled. “Ahem. Of course. The people…must not know.”
“The people believe that Fabre is already dead,” said Saint-Just. “We executed another in his place to cover up his escape. And do you know why?” Saint-Just was furiously filing his nails as he spoke, keeping his eyes on his cuticles.
“Um, why, Citizen Saint-Just?”
“Because what the ignorant call terror Citizen Robespierre calls justice: prompt, severe, and inflexible. Terror is the fount of all virtue. Our enemies must never cease to be afraid. If even one were known to have escaped his date with the National Razor—”
“Then all our works would be undone,” said a third voice. Santerre started; he had completely forgotten that there was another man to see him.
“Captain Chastel,” he said, “You see, Citizen Saint-Just, this is the very man whose report on the whereabouts of Fabre I was expecting.”
“We have already met,” said Saint-Just, his lip curling just a bit. Chastel entered and saluted in a somewhat lax manner. He did not spare Saint-Just a glance. “And I knew him already by reputation: the esteemed soldier and huntsman, Chastel, yes. I do not suppose you have Fabre in custody, captain?”
“No, citizen,” said Chastel.
“Hmm. What do you know of Fabre, captain?”
“Not much, for there is not much to know,” Chastel said. “A teacher turned poet and playwright. He was Danton's secretary before he won a seat in the Convention. He voted in favor of executing the former king. It was Fabre who developed our new calendar. Condemned as a counter-revolutionary conspirator, he was set to be executed yesterday morning alongside Danton and Danton's other associates.” He paused. “Except, he was not: Somehow he escaped from the Luxembourg with the help of unknown accomplices, and even now he is still at large.”
Saint-Just looked at Chastel. Chastel looked at Santerre. Santerre worked very hard to look at nothing at all, opting instead merely to sweat.
Saint-Just broke the silence: “And what did you think, captain, when you heard the news that Danton and the others were set to be executed?”
Chastel blinked and mimed a theatrical expression of puzzlement. “I was not aware that the Republic asks me to think, Citizen Saint-Just. Rather, it seems I am only called on to do. So I do.”
Santerre bit his lip. Saint-Just's expression could have frozen beer. Chastel looked, if anything, merely bored.
Finally, Saint-Just stood. “Your captain seems loyal enough, Santerre. For now.” He moved to the door. “I do not want to have to come back here. Find Fabre and kill him. The Committee will see its verdict carried out one way or the other.”
“Of course!” said Santerre. The door closed. Santerre sagged in his chair. He looked at Chastel. “Did you know that you were evidently born until an exceedingly lucky sign, captain?”
Chastel rubbed at the buttons on his coat. “I assure you that it was nothing of the sort.”
“I have seen Saint-Just give that look to many men, and every one of them lost his head by the end of the day.”
“I expect I may still,” said Chastel. “But until then I have my duty.” And he gave his report on the search for Fabre last night. Santerre listened without comment.
“So we've lost him?” he said when Chastel finished.
“Not quite,” said Chastel. “I believe he is still in the city. And I believe that I can catch him.”
“You do realize what is at stake here? The Committee does not accept appeals to ineptitude. If Fabre escapes we'll both be under suspicion of having collaborated with him. Suspicion is as good as conviction.”
“I think, General, that even this kind of talk would send us both to Madame Guillotine if Citizen Saint-Just were to hear it.”
Santerre clammed up. After glancing at the door with a nervous eye, he nodded. “You'll have as many men at your disposal as you wish.”
“In truth, General, I do not wish to have a single one. I will hunt for Fabre on my own.”
Santerre was startled. “Why?”
“Various and sundry reasons,” said Chastel. “But foremost among them is that my grandfather swore an oath.” Seeing Santerre's bewildered expression, Chastel merely saluted. “If you'll pardon me, the hunt is not going to join itself. Good day, General.”
Santerre watched him go. A queer fellow, he thought. But Santerre had never seen a finer soldier. It was almost enough to make him forget the sound of the weighted blade dropping beneath his window once again. The slow grind of wagon wheels bearing a very particular cargo punctuated the morning. Santerre rubbed his neck.
In truth, he had not been entirely honest with Chastel: They were both likely to be arrested as suspected counter-revolutionary traitors even if Fabre was found, merely because Saint-Just seemed not to like either of them. And Saint-Just's word was as good as law with the Committee, where Saint-Just was second only to Robespierre himself. Santerre's life was now in Antoine Chastel's hands, but both of their lives were in Saint-Just's.
Santerre looked out the window at the Seine. The Seine, with twenty new pairs of bobbing eyes, looked back.
There were no more palaces in Paris; only prisons. Chastel considered the Luxembourg: until recently it had been a museum. In a way, it still was, since those incarcerated here were soon to be things of the past. If he failed in his mission, Chastel himself might shortly join them, but he paid that no mind. As a Chastel, he had long since come to terms with the fact that he was not going to live forever, nor even any appreciable fraction thereof.
Chastel shouldered his musket as he walked; he always carried his musket. He was a hard-looking man, and sober. He was young, but at not quite 25 he was not the youngest man to hold his rank, for France was rapidly running out of old men.
Though a professional soldier he had the quality of a sans-culotte about him. He'd defended Paris against the Prussian invaders at Valmy, when a band of undisciplined freemen faced down the best commanders in Europe and scattered them with the cry “Vive la Nation!”, and he had followed Dumouriez to victory in the Austrian Netherlands, unflinching in the face of the Imperial Army's cannons. But after Dumoriez fled the country on treason charges all of his officers came under suspicion and Chastel was recalled to the capital, where he could be more closely observed.
He did not mind. He always knew his duty would bring him back to the capital sooner or later. Terror ruled Paris now, and Chastel had some experience confronting terror. It was his birthright, after all.
He considered his prey: Philippe François Nazaire Fabre d'Églantine; poet, dramatist, politician, spy, traitor, fugitive, and, if Chastel's suspicions were correct, something else as well.
So now Chastel went to the Luxembourg. It was here that Fabre staged his escape, but that was not why Chastel wanted to see it. He was more interested in a prisoner still there. The streets were full of people celebrating the day's executions. Some of them celebrated out of a true sense of patriotic jubilation while others celebrated for fear of being informed on if they did not appear patriotic enough. In both cases, they drank, and danced, and praised the Republic, and of course, they sang.
Chastel told the soldiers on guard why he was there. No one questioned him. They all knew who he was. He went to a particular block of cells and found a young, anxious-looking soldier on duty. Chastel indicated the cell he wished to visit and the soldier looked surprised, but knew better than to ask questions. Chastel eyed him as he shook out his key ring. “You were here last night, weren't you?” Chastel said. “The night of the escape?”
The young soldier hesitated; openly admitting knowledge of the escape was not conducive to a particularly long life at this point. But eventually he nodded. “Tell me what happened,” Chastel said. The soldier shrugged.
“It was as you've heard, captain,” he said.
“What happened just before?”
“His wife came.”
“Fabre had no wife.”
Before the soldier could answer, a woman's voice from the nearest cell interrupted them: “The hand of God is on your shoulder, good captain!”
“Ignore her,” said the guard. “She's a madwoman.”
“Who is she?”
“You've never heard of Catherine Theot? She thinks she has visions, talks to angels, that kind of thing. Says that Citizen Robespierre is some kind of prophet.”
“You've stared into the jaws of hell. Hell hunts you, even now,” said the old woman’s voice. “Your heart bleeds; let me hold it.”
“Are you sure she's mad?” said Chastel.
“Place your hand on my belly and feel the new Messiah growing within!”
“Pretty sure,” said the guard. “This next is the one you want.” He banged on the door of the next cell. “You have a visitor!” he said.
“Tell whoever it is to go drown himself in piss,” said a voice from inside. The soldier opened the door.
“After you,” he said.
The cell smelled of waste. A mattress of straw was the only furnishing. A man with an unwholesome pallor lay on it, covering his face with one hand for protection from the glaring sun coming through the bars on his window. He parted his fingers just wide enough to see who was there and then groaned.
“Oh do leave me alone, Chastel,” said the Marquis de Sade, rolling over. “I don't have the strength for whatever silly thing you want. I am suffering from a terrible inflammation of the rectum today.”
“Be careful, or he'll give you all the details,” said the young soldier. “All the details.” He shut the door and left them alone. Chastel nudged the Marquis with the toe of his boot.
“What in the name of the pope's holy erection do you want?” the Marquis said.
“Information,” said Chastel.
The Marquis made a rude gesture. “So you're hunting again, hmm? Still trying to live up to your grandfather's reputation? Do I take this to mean that in addition to the rapaciousness of the Committee that Paris is also suffering the depredations of one of your wehr-wolves?”
“Three men died trying to stop Fabre's escape,” said Chastel. “I saw their bodies, and the corpses moaned when I held wolfsbane over their mouths. A wehr-wolf killed those men. I want to know who it was. Fabre's cell was right across from yours. Tell me what you know about his escape.”
The Marquis dug at a chink in the wall with his fingernail. “What do you want me to say? I didn't see it. They don't let me out for a show, you know.”
Chastel's expression remained stony.
“Oh fine, so I did see a few things,” said the Marquis. “ And you're right, there was a wolf here. Why else would anyone bother to rescue a worm like Fabre? I hardly see how it matters. He'll have left the city by now.”
“He is still here.”
“How do you know?”
“Men with the means to flee don't have to beg for their bread. Now tell me about the escape.”
The Marquis gave him a strange, squinting look. “I knew your father, you know,” he said. “He died owing me a great deal of money.”
“The escape,” Chastel said again.
“He was a terrible gambler. And I've never seen a worse man for wine. And as for the whores—”
“The escape. Tell me. Now.”
The Marquis measured Chastel with his gaze. Then, with a curl of his lips, he said, “No.”
“You will not?”
“I will not.”
“Ah. Well then…” said Chastel. One of his calloused hands darted out and grabbed the Marquis by his collar and the other hand snatched a knife off his belt. The Marquis had half a second to scream before the blade was against his throat, at which point excessive vocalization became inadvisable. Sweat dappled his forehead.
“You can't,” he said, whispering so that his throat did not jump too much and render the point moot.
“I am soldier of the revolution and you are a condemned man with no friends and precious few resources. There will be no questions if I murder you now. I may even get a commendation for it.”
“If you kill me you'll never know what I saw!”
“If you've no intention of telling me then I've no reason not to kill you.”
The Marquis' face turned red. “Why are you doing this, Chastel? The monsters who give you your orders are worse than the monsters you hunt.”
“Perhaps someday I will hunt them, too.”
The Marquis hesitated for just a moment more, then said, “Fine.” Chastel released him. “I heard the guard call out to Fabre that his wife was here to see him.”
““Fabre had no wife,” Chastel added.
“I am aware,” said the Marquis. “That's why I went to the window to watch. Two men were admitted to Fabre's cell.”
“One I did not know. He was some sort of cripple, I think.”
“I mean that he was disfigured. He wore a scarf over his head. The guard made him take it off and regretted it immediately; he looked as if someone had thrown hot lead into his face.”
“Who was the other man?”
The Marquis took evident delight in what he said next: “Jean Pierre de Batz.”
Chastel scoffed. “The Baron de Batz?”
“Yes. I understand it was you who foiled his attempt to rescue the king last year? I suppose, as a Gascon, he could not resist the dramatic potential of staying in Paris as a wanted man.”
“What happened when they were admitted?”
“The Baron and the faceless man took Fabre from his cell, and all three of them went as if to make their escape. But they had the poor luck of running straight into new guards freshly rotated in. And then, well, that's when your wehr-wolf showed his true colors.”
“Which of them was it? Was it the Baron? The stranger?” Chastel grabbed him again. “Was it Fabre? Was it?”
“Yes! Get you clammy hands off me, damn it. Fabre is the wehr-wolf.”
Chastel nodded. He had suspected all along; Fabre was not important enough to warrant rescue otherwise. Still, he had to be sure. What did the Baron de Batz of all people want with a wehr-wolf, though? And who was this faceless man?
Chastel sheathed his knife and gave the Marquis a droll salute. As he stood to leave the Marquis made a clicking sound with his tongue. “I was rather closely acquainted with your mother as well as your father,” he said. “She came to me trying to find him. She had a particular taste for the lash, if I recall.”
Chastel ignored him.
“That's not all she had a taste for,” the Marquis continued. “I had a special nickname for her, actually: 'Liebling Nachttopf'. It's German. It means, 'My darling chamber pot'—”
Chastel kicked the Marquis in the face. The Marquis' head bounced against the wall and he slumped over, dazed, bleeding. Chastel straightened his uniform, picked up his musket, and gave the Marquis another salute.
“Good day, citizen. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Chastel left. It was time to hunt.
There was only an hour of daylight left by the time Chastel got back to the inn. The place was so new it still did not have a name, and the room he rented was only recently converted from a stable and still retained many of the qualities of its former function. He did not mind. It afforded him privacy.
Daciana was waiting for him. She did not say hello. There was no need. She did not ask him what had happened, since she knew he would share anything important in good time. Instead she watched him go to the hiding place and retrieve the bag with the blessed silver bullets; there were only two left. They would be difficult to replace when they were all gone, but he would worry about that when the day came.
“So you were right?” Daciana said. She sat on the worn straw mattress, watching him. She'd been sitting in the same spot when he left, and he would not have been surprised to find that she'd been there all day. “Fabre is one of them.”
“Yes,” said Chastel.
“So you must hunt,” she said.
“And you may die.”
“Ah,” was all she said.
He sat down next to her. She helped him undress and then shed her own clothes, silent all the while. There was, after all, nothing more to say. Her skin was very white, except for a place on her shoulder where the angry scar made by a bullet stood out. She winced a bit whenever she moved that arm. “Does it hurt?” said Chastel.
“It always hurts,” she said, dispassionate.
“I am sorry.”
“You've been sorry since you did it,” she said. “It's annoying.”
She stroked the side of his face, from temple to chin, and ran a finger over his jaw line. She kissed him hard, the same way she always kissed hi. There was never any variation with her, it was always a hard kiss. She clamored up onto his lap, wrapping her legs around him and locking her ankles, then burying her fingers in his back. Everything she did was hard. It did not occur to her to behave differently in light of the possibility of his pending death. This was Paris, the City of Terror, and either of them may die at any time, for any reason. There was nothing special about one death over another. Still, she kissed him and held him and pushed her body against him with manic, needy energy. They were alive right now. To Daciana, the present was the only reliable thing.
Her hands ran over the hardened muscles of his body and the furrows and pits of his war wounds with equal stress, not differentiating between one or the other. She put her arms around his neck and leaned away, as if trying to pull him down, but he was resolute; he never reacted to what she did, neither to encourage nor discouraged her or give any indication of his satisfaction or dissatisfaction. He was impassive. That he was there at all indicated that he consented to what she was doing. If he did not, he would have left. This was the only degree of communication necessary. When she sank her teeth into his shoulder, just above his collar bone, and then brushed her soft lips down his hard, tanned skin and across his naked chest, his only reaction was to emit a soft, “Ah,” something between an exclamation and a sigh.
His arms were tight around her, his hands rough. Her pale white skin stood out against his. He imagined they must look very beautiful together. She did not bother to imagine anything. He let her have as much agency as she wished, hanging off of him and having free range of his body, grinding herself against him and rubbing back and forth and growling deep in her throat as her lips explored his flesh and then, when it reached that ineffable point where it was enough he scooped her up, spun her around, threw her down on the bed and pushed her underneath him. She gasped and her entire body tensed up and for a moment it seemed like she may attack him in reprisal, but after a moment she relaxed and accepted him, pushing up into him and letting their bodies mold against one another. She did not kiss him again but instead laid her head back, closed her eyes, and began to count to the rhythm of his movements.
Chastel slid inside of her, stopping to measure the speed of her pulse and her breathing, the flush across her cheeks, neck, and breasts, and the heat of her skin, all of the myriad indicators that would tell him how and what she was feeling. He had never understood why so many people felt it was necessary to talk through such things. He guessed that those people must have no experience observing. Once satisfied, he pushed further in, grunting under his breath, feeling her yield to him just this once. He grabbed the rickety headboard of the cheap bed for leverage rocked back and forth, the bed frame creaking underneath them. He expected it would fall apart soon. She was hot to touch, hot on the inside, her breath washing hot on his skin. He watched her eyes for the far away look he knew so well by now, the one that meant it would soon be time.
Chastel was tired all of a sudden. Exhausted, even. He ever slept much at all, and less so lately. He knew his limits and his breaking point, but he could not stop this now, not even knowing that he would have to hunt later. In a way, it was like the example of his grandfather; when he had time to pray, he prayed. Chastel was no less devout in this pursuit, though he was not sure his grandfather would appreciate the nature of his observances. Still, he thought, as he rocked the headboard back and forth against the wall again, faith is a very personal thing…
Daciana was livid with pent-up energy. She inhaled in hisses and exhaled in moans. She felt something roll up inside of her, starting at the base of her tailbone and rising through her stomach and into the center of her chest, holding there while her heart hammered and her lungs filled so much they might burst. Her skin was burning and her muscles ached and spots flashed in front of her eyes and she held him as tight as she could, not letting go or slowing down, breath caught in her throat as a long silent gasp turned into a ragged moan and then a scream and finally she pulled his face down to hers for a long, slow, cathartic kiss as it all flowed out of her, the pressure rising and then vanishing and leaving her in a state of quiet, disaffected contentment.
She held his face in her hands and wondered, not for the first time, if she should run away, or perhaps just kill him now, when she was reasonably certain he would not expect it. Daciana was not afraid of very many things, but she was afraid of Chastel. She suspected he was afraid of her, too. He was if he was smart, anyway. But she did love him. It was a difficult thing. Sooner or later they would not be able to manage it anymore, and when that happened…well, again, the thought of escape or the quick kill came to mind.
But the moment passed and she kissed him again, and then she slipped out from underneath him and turned her back to him, going up on her knees to take hold of the headboard and inviting him to enter her again, from behind. His body fitted against hers once again, his arms lacing along hers, fingers folding over hers, his face nestled against her neck, kissing the sensitive skin there, his breath blowing a few stray strands of her hair over her throat. He pushed his way inside. Her body jumped.
It always felt particularly gratifying this way. It was the natural way, after all. She always thought it must be her animal instinct picking up whenever he slid in and out from behind, the backs of her calves pushed into the front of his, the hard angle of his hipbones bouncing off of her curved, rounded cheeks, the bowed line of her back flexing up and down against him. Yes, she thought, the animal instinct, although he would hate that term. Chastel liked to think he had no such thing about him, but she knew better. She'd seen him hunt and felt him fuck, and there was a quality of the beast in him on both occasions. Even now, as he pulled harder and harder on the headboard, the bed frame creaking and threatening to give way, the angles and joints of his lean, hard body working back and forth, she heard the ragged catch in his voice that told her that his all-important self control was, briefly, slipping. He was not aware that this was happening or that it was a thing that could, or did happen to him, but she knew. She said nothing. It was better to protect him from himself.
So when he finally released, sending a hot, hard, throbbing pressure down into her, accompanied by a feeling of hot, wet release, she merely threw her head back, thrashing, calling out alongside him, and then when he rolled off of her and she caught him, stroking his cheek again, telling him to rest. Telling him that he would need it.
Chastel slept for two hours, then dressed and armed himself. It was dark out now, and most of the people of Paris were huddled by their hearths, glad to have survived another day. Somewhere out there was the man who Chastel was honor-bound to kill. He looked at Daciana. “Will you come?”
“You know I must,” she said. She was not dressed. Chastel nodded and stepped outside. He always preferred not to watch this part, out of respect, so he guarded the door. There was some commotion inside, an awful straining and tearing sound and a vocalization unlike anything a human being might make. After a few seconds the noise stopped, and when he opened the door a sleek, beautiful gray wolf joined him on the street. “Are you ready?” said Chastel. Daciana thumped her tail on the paving stones, once. “Then we go,” said Chastel.
Paris was a great labyrinth of a hunting ground, its winding, unpaved streets and looming, terraced rowhouses confounding his senses. But there was no need to search the entire city; he already knew, or had a pretty good idea, where Fabre and his accomplices were hiding. None of the old baker's neighbors had seen any strange characters out last night, but Chastel doubted the fugitives would have stopped to beg if they had a long way to run, so doubtless their hideout was not far from that bakery. And he knew which houses they were not hiding in because he knew at which homes his subordinates in last night's search inquired.
Chastel also knew from the fugitives’ late-night begging that they lacked money or means (the Baron de Batz would never demean his aristocratic bearing by eating begged-for food unless the alternative was starvation), which meant they almost certainly had not the resources for an immediate escape. And since de Batz had gone to the Luxembourg himself in spite of the risk of being recognized that meant they had no more accomplices than the three of them. Perhaps if a woman were in their party they would have left her behind…but no, a woman would have made the ruse of Fabre's “wife” more convincing. It was just the three of them, then.
Paris was quiet of nights. To be out at night was to invite trouble from the sans-culottes on guard duty, who looked for any excuse to detain strays as suspected “brigands.” One or two of the vigilant patriots looked sideways at Chastel, but whether it was because they recognized him or because of they were wary of his aloof demeanor (and his most unusual hunting dog…), they did not disturb him. The streets were tiny and mostly unpaved, and though the revolution worked to scour the legacy of the church from the city, those streets that were named most often still bore the names of the religious orders who once called them home: The Street of the Unshod Carmelites, or the Street of the Girls of St. Thomas. The houses were very tall, and the upper windows were always lit, full as they were with entire families crowded into one small flat on top of another.
After some time they came to a place (not far from the old baker's shop) where Daciana stopped in her tracks and laid her ears back, snarling in the direction of one old rowhouse. One wehr-wolf could never mistake the scent of another. They were territorial creatures at heart. Fabre appraised the house: It was a good choice for a hiding place. A wall butted against it on one side, and the building right next to it had fallen in on itself (as they often did when grasping landlords elected to build new floors of rooms to let on top of structures not able to withstand the addition), ensuring some measure of privacy. It was at a three-way intersection, providing more than one escape route. The wall was even low enough that someone on the roof could jump over it if they had to.
Chastel and Daciana adjourned to the ruins of the collapsed house, where they concealed themselves and watched the neighboring home for an hour. No one came and no one went, but there was the barest flicker of light at the first floor window, as if someone had lit a candle and was just a second too slow in covering it. Chastel grunted; it was enough for him. Now it was a matter of how best to get in. Daciana assumed human shape (Chastel had had the forethought of bringing clothes for her, a peasant woman's dress, in his pack) and they discussed a plan. Then, Chastel had occasion to visit the old baker again, apologizing for waking him in the night once more and then securing in the name of the Republic two half-stale loaves of bread not yet thrown away, a bottle of wine, and a basket to put it all in. The old man did not complain or ask questions, merely wished Chastel luck as they went. Chastel wanted to go in himself, but Daciana objected, noting that de Batz would recognize him right away.
“Besides,” she said, “they will be more open to a woman in the night.”
“What will you do?”
“I will kill whoever answers the door.”
“What if there's more than one?”
“Then I will kill more than one,” she said, making an impatient gesture.
“What if one of them is Fabre? It is too dangerous even for you to try to fight a group when one of them is another wehr-wolf.”
She scowled. “Fine,” she said. She pointed to a dark second story window at the front of the house. “I will get him alone and I will lead him to that window, and you will get in a position to fire, and then even if one of us fails the other will surely kill him, whoever it is.”
Chastel looked at the window, then at the nearby houses, and he nodded. Daciana smoothed her skirts and tucked her hair under a simple starched cap. She shouldered the basket and went up to the dark house. She had to knock four times before someone answered, and then she was greeted by the barrel of a pistol pushed through a narrow crack in the door. “Who is it?” said a voice.
Daciana smiled. “A friend.”
“A friend to whom?”
She smiled again and sang, very lightly:
“Il pleut, il pleut, bergère,
rentre tes blancs moutons.”
It was Fabre's famous composition. The pistol retracted and the door opened a bit and there, looking tired and disheveled but somehow still regale, was the Baron de Batz. He looked Daciana up and down, then looked at the basket. He was plainly suspicious, but his stomach grumbled audibly and that settled the matter. He held the door open more. “Don’t just stand there where anyone can see you.”
The house was cold and dark and obviously meant to be abandoned. The Baron locked the door. There was no sign of Fabre or the third man. The Baron seemed about to demand an explanation but Daciana made a signal that they should go to the next floor. “Too many windows here,” she said, and evidently he agreed. Taking the food with them, they went to the upstairs bedroom. The Baron sat on the edge of an old bed and picked through the meager contents of the basket. The room was lit by a single candle covered with a perforated hood that smothered almost all the light, but she could still see that he was a handsome man of forty, and clearly a Gascon; he was, in fact, a descendent of d'Artagnan. Daciana did her best to look demure.
“How did you find us?” he said.
“Your pardon,” she said, curtsying like a good royalist. “You were spotted. Someone reported you to the Surveillance Society, and this house was mentioned at the Section meeting tonight. I came to warn you, and to give what help I can.”
The Baron rubbed his unshaven jaw. “Are they coming for us?”
“Not yet,” she said. “No one believed the spy who spotted you because he himself is under suspicion. But it is only a matter of time before someone else suspects.”
Daciana put her back to the wall so that her shoulders were square and her breasts pushed forward while at the same time pulling up the hem of the peasant dress just a fraction of an inch, revealing her naked ankles. “It does me good,” said the Baron, “to know that there are still those in Paris loyal to the natural order of things.”
“Many of us,” she said. She did not dare give a direct look to the window, but she measured the distance in her mind. She would have to bide her time to allow Chastel to get into position, and then she would have to get the Baron in front of it, somehow. She could just kill him now, of course, as he was alone and no particular threat to her, but that was not the plan they'd agreed on. She sensed his eyes roaming over her body; good. That would make this much easier. Feigning an outburst of emotion, she ran across the room and fell to her knees, grabbing the Baron's hand and kissing it.
“On behalf of all the loyal peoples of Paris, accept my apology for the indignities you suffer.” She let a few tears slide, hoping they would show up in the dim light. “We pray every night for the return of the crown. God punish these vile savages who murdered our king!” For emphasis, she spit. The Baron looked impressed. She met his eye and then looked away very quickly, making herself blush. She'd allowed her hair to spill out from under the cap, and she leaned away so that her bosom (heaving with the exertion of her exclamation) pressed forward. The Baron touched her cheek.
“Well said, my royal darling,” he said. “And I have news that will lift your spirits…but that can wait.” He picked her up and sat her on the bed next to him. She allowed herself to be moved. The Baron slid his arms around her and she buried herself in his chest. Mentally, she was calculating how long it would take for Chastel to find a decent vantage point. A few minutes more…
“I miss the days when we had such brave men fighting for us,” she said. “You are not alone here?”
“Oh no,” he said, “but don't worry about the others. They are indisposed for a while. Indeed, we have a scandalous amount of privacy, my sweet little…what did you say your name was?”
She smiled and batted her eyes. “I did not.”
“All the better,” said the Baron, and drew her in for a kiss. She threw herself on him. His hands were rough as they moved down the back of her dress. Such hard hands for an aristocrat, she thought. Perhaps he spent much time practicing his fencing? Well, let's see what else his hands are good for, she thought, leaning into his embrace.
Chastel, meanwhile, was busy. After rousing the residents of the house across the boulevard, his mention of Committee business was all it took to silence their protests, and some livres convinced them to let him have the run of the place for himself. One by one each floor of apartments emptied, entire families filing into the alley in their nightclothes with children hugging their mother's bare legs. Such was their zeal to seem true patriots in the eyes of the Committee. Chastel found the second floor window nearest the front of the house and gauged the distance between it and the window of the hideout. It was not a particularly long shot, but it was dark out. He trusted that Daciana would have the sense to light the window and provide him a silhouette to aim for.
If he was lucky, she would bring Fabre to the window, and Chastel could finish him right then and there, but chances were better that she would encounter the Baron de Batz instead. Chastel could not waste a precious silver bullet on the Baron, but if he fired his pistol there were small odds of hitting him from here. Besides, Chastel did not want to wake the whole neighborhood if he could avoid it. He looked around the house and found an antique crossbow hung up over the mantle on the first floor, along with two crossed bolts. It was obviously some kind of family heirloom, but the string was still strong and the bolts straight enough to fly. Chastel was not much of an archer, but he trusted his aim at this short range. He got into position and waited.
While Chastel readied his ambush, Daciana was in the midst of her own. The Baron sprawled on the bed under her and she ripped his expensive shirt open, running her hands down his bare chest and making little mewling sounds of pleasure. Her dress was thin and cheap, so when she rubbed against him he was allowed free access to all of her curves. Ah, these aristos, she thought, they make it so easy. Most men would at least be suspicious, but the Baron de Batz found nothing extraordinary in a strange woman showing up in the middle of the night to make love to him. In his mind, it was liable to be a daily occurrence.
She nibbled his earlobe, and when his fencer's hands circled around to squeeze her ass she moaned. He pushed her head aside and pressed his lips to her neck. His stubble tickled. She stripped off her dress and fling it aside, leaving her body gloriously, startlingly naked and white. The Baron appraised her with the usual crass, aristocratic sense of entitlement. All women were whores in the eyes of someone like de Batz; some just drove harder bargains than others. She kept him on him back, feigning playfulness but actually not wanting to give him a chance to restrain her, even briefly. She forced his wrists against the bed and sprawled on top of him, writhing and wiggling her ass around and around to emphasize the movement. Beneath her, de Batz stood firmly at attention.
Finally she allowed him a little leeway, scooping his head up in her arms and pushing his face against her naked breasts, sliding her sweaty flesh against his unshaven skin. His mouth found her nipples and began to nibble and suck. He was so rough he would have bruised a normal woman. She moaned like a whore, pushing her face down next to his ear so that her hot breath could wash against him. “Oh my God…oh yes…oh sir, oh God, oh monsieur…” He actually bit her, and she gave the yelp that she knew he was looking for. If she gauged him right, he'd be bending her over for a spanking any moment now, but she had other ideas. Jumping up, she backed away from the bed a few inches, making enticing gestures and mischievous smiles. The sight of her stark alabaster skin in the moonlight was more than enough for Batz, who stood and grabbed hold of her wrists, forcing one down the front of his breeches. Daciana widened her eyes and made appreciative noises. “Oh, yes!” she said. The Baron grinned.
“More iron there than in the entire Republican army, eh?”
She squeezed him some more, stroking him up and down and then wrapping her fingers around the tip, tugging and actually pulling him forward by it, bringing him to the window. She spied the candle on the table. Its hood teetered precariously. She rubbed the Baron's stiff prick as she edged closer and closer, murmuring to him: “Push me up against the wall and fuck me like a Rue Truse-Noinnan girl!”
The Baron was just about to say something, but Daciana didn't give him the chance; she lifted the lid from the candle, and lit up the room. The Baron did not notice anything wrong until she let go of him and threw herself onto the floor. Instantly realizing what was happening, he knocked the candle off the table, but by then Chastel had let his arrow fly.
It was a decent shot, all told, but the weapon had not seen use in a generation, and Chastel did not think to compensate for its weaknesses. The bolt buried itself in the windowsill. Chastel cursed and the Baron made a break for it. Chastel heard him scream as Daciana pounced, but then he heard a pistol fire and saw the whole room fill up with smoke. So much for keeping things quiet.
Throwing down the bow and shouldering his musket, Chastel tore down the stairs, out the front door, across the boulevard, and kicked the door of the hideout in with one blow. Just as he came in the half-dressed Baron sprinted down the stairs, knife in one hand and spent pistol in the other. There was blood on his clothes but he seemed to have no pains moving, so evidently it was not his own.
De Batz leapt the stair railing and threw the knife at Chastel. It was a useless gesture, as the weapon simply clattering against the wall, but it forced Chastel to duck and miss his chance for a shot. De Batz kicked over the nearby table (Chastel supposed that, as a Gascon, he could not resist the dramatic touch) and ran into the pantry. Chastel heard the scrabble of claws on the stairs and knew Daciana was in pursuit; no mortal weapon could seriously harm her, but de Batz must have gotten in a good enough shot to slow her down. Side by side they burst into the pantry, seeing the hidden door behind the wine rack still dangling open and hearing the commotion from the cellar as de Batz roused the others.
The fugitives were already gone by the time Chastel came into the cellar, out the door and up into the street. Daciana rushed the stairs and Chastel clamored up right behind her, his blood pounding in his ears. Daciana caught the other wehr-wolf's scent and took off after him down the alley. Chastel hesitated; the Baron would surely have gone the opposite direction, and Chastel hated to let him escape again. But his mission was Fabre, and besides, the Oath would not allow him to pursue a mortal while a wehr-wolf escaped. He shouted an alarm toward the street, hoping that there would be soldiers on their way to intercept de Batz, and then he was off.
He rounded the corner with musket raised and ready to fire, but Fabre was waiting for him. The body of the monster collided with his, knocking him over and driving the air from his lungs. Chastel’s head spun as it struck the ground and the moon and stars swirled in his view, and then everything was blocked out by the wehr-wolf's hateful face, jaws already streaked with blood as they slavered and snapped. Chastel grabbed the monster's snout and twisted its head aside, but of course it was too strong for him, and pinned down as he was by the weight of the creature's body he could not hope to reach any of his weapons…
Daciana collided with the other wehr-wolf a few seconds after it pounced on Chastel, and the both of them turned in a whirling, snarling, snapping mass along the stones of the courtyard. Her fur was streaked with her own blood and Chastel knew that the bite of the other wehr-wolf could hurt her sorely. Fabre seemed to be larger and faster than she; she could not hold her own against him for long. Chastel hauled himself back to his feet and readied his musket, but he could not shoot without risking hitting Daciana with the fatal holy bullet. Instead he drew his knife and skirted the edges of the brawl; when they separated next he would wound Fabre in the haunches, slowing him enough for Daciana to finish him. In so doing he would expose himself and it would take Fabre less than a second to kill him, but at least he'd die knowing he had taken the monster with him…
But it did not come to that. Fabre made a fatal mistake by releasing his hold on Daciana's shoulder so that he could make a bid for her throat. Daciana, who had feigned being more hurt than she was, pushed into him, and both went on their hind legs for a moment, teetering in a fatal dance before she seized his throat and tore it open in a gout of blood. A human-like scream escaped the wolf's jaws, and when it fell to the ground it once again became Fabre d'Eglantine, his poet's tongue now silenced forever. Daciana collapsed next to him and reflexively reverted to human form. Chastel ran to her side, propping her head up and looking her over. There might be time to save her if—
“Wait…” she whispered, through bloodstained lips. “He’s not alone…”
Chastel heard the pad of heavy paws on the paving stones. The air went limpid and chill. Chastel thought he heard thunder, but no, he realized that was the sound of the approaching beast’s growl. He looked up and there, on the other end of the courtyard, the tips of its fur painted silver in the moonlight, was the largest wehr-wolf Chastel had ever seen, a monster the likes of which had not been seen since the days of the old Beast of family legend. Its one eye was a ball of blazing red but the other socket was a hollow pit, and its face and muzzle were hairless and covered in scars.
“The faceless man,” said Chastel, reaching for his musket.
The wehr-wolf snarled; Chastel's heart seized up. The spell of the wehr-wolf's gaze, he knew, was the secret of the supernatural fear that it inspired, but he dared not look away from it. Summoning all his strength, he stood. He tried to lift his musket but he could not; his body betrayed him. His mind wanted to shoot but the rest of him wanted to run. As soon as his back was turned, he knew, the monster would pounce, and he'd be dead in an instant. Daciana was too weak to fight; she might even be dying. Only Chastel was left to face the beast.
Chastel remembered the story of how his grandfather stared down the Beast of Gevaudan. He tried to think of a prayer, but none came to mind. The monster loped toward him and the unnatural fear grew more potent and it was all Chastel could do to keep breath in his lungs. His musket felt like the weight of the world in his hand and he wanted to drop it but instead he closed his fingers on it as tight as he could, though he still could not raise it. He tried to think of a prayer, any prayer, any word of scripture, anything to break the spell and let him shoot, shoot to save his life, shoot slay the beast, shoot to honor his family's oath, but nothing came. The wolf laid its ears back, lips curled, the rank pestilence of its breath wafting over him. I have to shoot, he thought, I have to shoot, I have to shoot, I HAVE TO—
The monster leaped and its jaws opened to embrace him and drag him down into the same death as his father, the death that, in a way, he'd felt he was always destined for. But then he realized that the musket was in his hand, and that he was pointing it straight ahead, and his finger was on the trigger! The wehr-wolf's one good eye was like a burning red bullseye and Chastel then there was flash and a bang and a blast of black smoke as Chastel fired. Blinded, he heard the charging monster’s cry of pain and the heavy thud of its body on the paving stones. When the smoke cleared he saw the bloodied corpse of a man at his feet. His courage returned almost immediately; the fear curse of the wehr-wolf's gaze died with it.
Chastel looked the body over, but it was no good. As the Marquis had said, the man's face was nothing but a mass of scar tissue with barely any feature remaining. Most likely he was some street beggar, but how had he come to have the curse of the wehr-wolf and to fall in with Fabre and de Batz? Unless the sans-culottes had apprehended the Baron, which Chastel doubted, it would probably remain forever a mystery.
Soon the courtyard was swarming with armed men attracted by the sounds of violence. From all sides, residents of Paris peered from their windows, half-hiding behind the shutters for fear of being informed on as “counter-revolutionary spies” if they appeared to take too much interest in business not their own but still unable to resist watching the spectacle. One soldier prodded the body of the faceless man with his bayonet. “What's this codfish?”
“I am afraid we may never know,” said Chastel.
“What’s all this shooting of naked men in the streets? And a woman too?”
“I see the body of no woman,” said Chastel.
“She was right—” and the soldier turned to where Daciana had lain, but now she was gone, leaving only a few streaks of blood on the paving stones. “That's funny,” said the soldier, “I'd swear she was there. And where did you get that dog?”
Daciana growled as she trotted to Chastel's side. Her wounds were already half healed. Fabre, it seemed, had lacked the strength to do any lasting harm. Chastel put a hand on the back of her neck. “You'd do well to ask fewer questions,” he said. The soldier blinked.
Several sans-culottes were carrying away the body of the faceless man. Chastel joined them, and when they lifted the corpse he saw something: a mark on the dead man’s hand, a scar in the rough shape of a fleur-de-lis. He was not the only one who noticed; a young soldier standing next to him could not suppress a gasp at the sight. Chastel locked eyes with the soldier and for a moment they stared each other down. Then the soldier turned and ran, and Chastel, after a moment, gave chase.
The fleeing sans-culotte turned down a side street and stopped to catch his breath. No sooner were his feet still than Chastel was on him, pushing him further into the alley. “What's the meaning of this?” the fleeing man said.
“Pardon me, citizen,” said Chastel. Daciana trotted up to his side again. “I think you and I have matters to discuss. That man in the courtyard with the ruined face, you know who he was, don't you?”
The soldier froze. “I'll tell you nothing,” he said, “I'm no informer.”
“No?” said Chastel, and paused. “Then just what are you?” He reached out and plucked the hat off the soldier's head and then he indulged in another cold smile. “Lady Leta!” he said. “So this is where General Santerre is hiding you. Clever enough; I've known both women and nobles to disguise themselves as common soldiers, but this is the first time I've seen both.”
Leta quivered with rage. Chastel gave her hat back, and she shoved it on her head, taking a minute to tuck her curls underneath.
“Perhaps you'll be a bit more cooperative now.”
Leta spat at him. “I won't be threatened, you republic pig.”
“No threats; just reason” said Chastel. “If you don't tell me who that man was I'll have no choice but to direct the Committee to question you. But if you tell me then they'll already know everything they need to when I submit my report and there'll be no need to identify my informant. The choice is yours, citizeness, but I remind you that Santerre is not a Committee member, and his influence has limits.”
Leta considered this for a moment. Then, very quietly, she told Chastel what he wanted to know. And for the first time in many, many years, Chastel was truly surprised.
18 Germinal, Year II:
Santerre went to the window. In the courtyard, Robespierre himself was giving a speech about the new dawn of the revolution, or something lie that. Robespierre, the Incorruptible, stood on the scaffold before the guillotine, addressing the masses, and his voice rose up through the clear morning air:
“All the tyrants aligned against the French people will perish. All the factions who enforce their power by destroying your freedom will perish. You will not make peace, but you will give it to the world by taking it from the hands of criminals. Whoever is not master of himself is made to be the slave of others. To make war on injustice is the path to immortality; to favor it is the path to the scaffold.”
Santerre shut the window. He turned back to Chastel, who stood despite an available chair right next to him, cleaning the stock of his musket and paying Santerre little mind. The general coughed. “So that's your report, is it?” he said.
“Fabre is dead, and with him an even greater threat to the Republic,” said Chastel.
Santerre sighed. “You break my heart. I cannot bring this report to the Committee. They will believe even less of it than I do. I have no choice but turn you over for what I expect will be an immediate trip to the guillotine.”
“You must do your duty, like the rest of us,” said Chastel.
“Even if I believed for one moment this wehr-wolf business,” Santerre said, “this nonsense about your so-called faceless man—”
“Ah, but I do not call him that now,” said Chastel. “I call him by his true name, or rather, the name that—”
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. Santerre looked up and then visibly paled. There, in the doorway, flanked by four blue-coated members of the National Guard, was Louis Saint-Just. In one hand he held a warrant, and in the other, shackles. He nodded at Santerre. One of the guardsmen came forward. Santerre swallowed. “So it's time then, is it?”
Saint-Just nodded. Santerre wiped the sweat from his brow.
“What are the charges against me? No, don’t bother. It hardly matters. Let's go.” Halfway to the door he looked back at Chastel, whose face betrayed the most meager sliver of pity. “Do you know, it was I who took the former king to his execution? When I came to him he knew why I was there, but I did not know what to say to him. We just stood there, he and I, and it was he who finally spoke up. All he said was: 'Let's go.' I've thought about that often. Sometimes I think—”
But he stopped, and allowed himself to be taken without another word. Chastel watched him go. He expected them to take him into custody too, but they did not. Saint-Just did not even look at him. Once they were gone one other man remained, a thin man with a narrow face. The stranger went to the window and opened it, inhaling the morning air, then sat down at Santerre's desk. He folded his hands before him. “So,” he said, “you are Chastel?”
“I have heard of you. My name is Fouche. Now that Santerre has been relieved of his command, the security of Paris will be in my hands.”
“I see,” said Chastel. “Am I to be arrested as well?”
“Have you done anything to warrant it?”
“That's for the tribunal to decide. I understand we have you to thank for disposing of Fabre?”
Chastel nodded again.
“I apologize that I was not here soon enough to spare you the trouble of reporting twice, but if you please?”
So Chastel told his story again. Whereas Santerre had interrupted many times with questions and exclamations, Fouche said nothing until Chastel elaborated about the faceless man:
“Do you recall an incident, Citizen Fouche, when our former king was imprisoned in the Tuileries and an angry mob of citizens confronted him about his crimes against the people?”
“My informant, who was with the king that day, tells me that among the many tales of atrocity recounted was that of Robert-Francois Damien, a servant who was tortured to death in a public spectacle for the crime of, quite accidentally, wounding the old king, Louis XV, with a penknife.”
Fouche made an impatient gesture. “So what?”
“With the story of Damien in mind, the citizens asked Louis if, to make up for his grandfather's cruelty against that unfortunate servant, he would shed some small amount of his blood as a symbol of his fealty to the new Republic. And so, with a penknife, they carved a fleur-de-lis into the palm of his hand. The man I killed last night, the wehr-wolf who helped Fabre escape, also had a scar in the shape of the fleur-de-lis on his palm.”
Fouche raised a single eyebrow. “The k—that is, the former king?”
“He whose blood baptized our new Republic? He who died before all of Paris over a year ago? “
“Evidently, he did not. We know from the example of Fabre that they who make the trip to the guillotine are not always they who were sentenced to it. And we also know that the former king, for reason of his security, employed a double, a man who looked like him in every respect, to foil assassins. Louis must have escaped custody so that his bodyguard and double could die in his place.”
“And then disfigured himself so that he would never be recognized, I suppose. And do you think Louis was this ‘wehr-wolf' all along?”
“Perhaps. But more likely he made a bargain with powers unholy after his escape.”
“To what end?”
“Revenge on the people of Paris, whom he felt betrayed him. That is what I believe.”
Fouche seemed to wait for him to go on, but Chastel had nothing more to say. He took a pinch of snuff while Fouche stared at him. The clock ticked away the minutes.
“Captain Chastel,” Fouche said, “do you have a particularly pronounced desire to meet Madame Guillotine? Tell me why I should not report you as either a madman, a liar, and in either case most likely a counter-revolutionary royalist conspirator this very moment?”
Chastel shrugged. “I have heard that they call you 'The Executioner of Lyons.'“
“What of it?”
“Is it true that after Lyons fell you took the royalist rebels out into the fields and had them blasted to death with grapeshot? That you guillotined 1,800 prisoners in just one month? That you tied prisoner's hands, floated them out on rafts, and sank them?”
“They were enemies of liberty.”
“Perhaps. But it seems to me, Citizen Fouche, that even if you do not believe in wehr-wolves you are someone with experience in seeing men become monsters. And you know that in an age of monsters, no one is ever truly safe. So I ask you, Citizen Fouche: How safe will you be in a month? How safe do you think General Santerre felt when he was where you are now? And when you have considered the matter of your own safety, ask yourself whether you don't want someone around you who has experience fighting monsters.”
Fouche paused. He met Chastel's eye. Chastel did not blink. Fouche turned his chair toward the window.
“That will be all, captain,” he said.
And Chastel was free to go.
In June of 1794 (Messidor of Year II), Maximilien Robespierre was one of the most powerful men in Europe. Under him, 25,000 people were executed as enemies of the state, 2,500 of them in Paris alone. But by July (Thermidor) Robespierre was deposed, and he himself went to the guillotine a condemned man.
Louis Saint-Just, the Angel of Death, was arrested along with Robespierre, and preceded him to the scaffold. Observers made note of his stoicism.
Antoine Joseph Santerre survived the Reign of Terror, and like most surviving prisoners incarcerated under Robespierre he was eventually released. However, his political, military, and business careers were ruined, and he died in poverty.
Jean Pierre de Batz, also known as the Baron de Batz, escaped from revolutionary Paris with his head intact and continued to agitate for the downfall of the Republic. Arrested in Auvergne, he escaped and fled to Switzerland. He remained an ardent royalist his entire life.
The Marquis de Sade was also released after Robespierre's fall, but seven years later he was imprisoned once again, this time by Napoleon. Altogether, he spent thirty-two of his seventy-four years of life in some form of incarceration.
Catherine Theot was eventually acquitted of all charges, but had already died in prison anyway. Her followers and co-defendants were released. The doctor who examined her body found no evidence of pregnancy, Messianic or otherwise.
Joseph Fouche, despite his well-publicized zeal for the Reign of Terror, became one of Robespierre's loudest and most influential critics, rallying the legislature against him and the other Committee members. Fouche was made Minister of Police under Napoleon.
Daciana fled Paris shortly after the death of Fabre and the king, without Chastel. But their paths were destined to cross again.
As for Antoine Chastel the Younger, no one can say for certain what became of him. He avoided execution during the Reign of Terror and served France in conflicts foreign and domestic for many years. He expatriated to England in 1802 for reasons unknown, but returned to defend France in the War of the First Coalition the following year. He crossed the Danube under Napoleon’s command in 1809, and there is no record of him after that.
Gevaudan is now called Lozere, but people there still tell stories of the Beast. A statue stands on the spot where Jean Chastel killed it.