A terror of a different kind stalks the streets of revolutionary Paris.
"The new era began; the king was tried, doomed, and beheaded; the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death, declared victory against the world; 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 figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine."
-Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
Gévaudan, France, 1769:
In the village, a man was dying.
Antoine Chastel drew water from the well and went inside. His father lay in the inn's largest room, a single candle lit, Bible open on his lap. He slept feverishly. Antoine wiped his brow with a wet cloth and Jean Chastel's eyes opened. He spoke between labored breaths. "I thought…you had left."
Antoine shook his head. "Not until you're well."
"I will not be well again," said Jean. "The Lord will…" And his voice trailed off. He slipped in and out of sleep. Antoine did what he could to comfort the older man. Some hours into the night, Jean Chastel woke for the last time. His feeble hands groped for the Bible. Signaling for water, he drank until he could speak and said, "Antoine? Tell me about the hunt."
Antoine flinched. "Not tonight. Another night. You need your rest--"
"There will be no other nights. Tell me now."
Antoine shuddered, but he could not disobey. Closing his eyes, he began to speak, as he did every time his father asked, of that day two years ago, a day that had yet to end in his nightmares...
It was a cold morning for July. Antoine's breath frosted. The metal of his musket was painful to touch. He and his father had become separated from the hunting party. Lost, Jean Chastel sat on a hill and prayed. Antoine stood guard. His knees would not stop shaking. If not for his father he would have run away. Instead he stood; his knees shook, but he stood.
For three years Gévaudan had been at the mercy of a monster. There had always been wolf attacks in the farmlands, but this was no ordinary wolf. This one they called the Beast. Most killer wolves claimed one or two victims before being hunted down. The Beast had killed over a hundred. Two years ago the king sent his own Lieutenant of the Hunt to Gévaudan to slay it, but on Christmas of that year the Beast returned from the dead and had roamed unchecked ever since. Now Antoine, Jean Chastel, and the other men of Gévaudan took matters into their own hands.
Day in and day out they hunted, each man armed, each man (except perhaps Antoine) willing to give his life to put the Beast down once and for all. Jean was even armed with specially blessed silver bullets, believing that only silver was pure enough to truly destroy such a monster. The elder Chastel sat in prayer still, calling 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 pity that this eventide I may again give thanks…"
The trees began to shake. "Father!" said Antoine, but Jean did not reply. Antoine's breathing came shorter and faster. The morning air seemed to cut his lungs. Something was coming, something big and incredibly fast…
"Thy holy power, grant that this day I fall into no sin, nor run into any danger…"
A small tree at the edge of the clearing broke and fell, its trunk splintered. And there, padding forward on four great paws, its eyes blazing like coals and its jaws slavering, was the Beast. It's not a wolf, thought Antoine. No wolf could grow to such a size. Its fur was red, stained by the blood of a hundred innocents, and it body was pitted with scars from the bullets of the king's hunters. Fear rose like bile in Antoine's throat. "Father!" he cried again. But Jean prayed on:
"By Thy restraining care my thoughts be set to keep Thy holy laws and do thy holy will…"
The words provoked the Beast; it howled so loud that Antoine had to cover 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. Then the Beast charged right for them. Antoine raised his gun but his hands were shaking and his finger fell on the trigger too soon. The discharge knocked it out of his grip and his bullet buried in the ground. The monster's great paws churned the earth as it bore down on him. There was no time for another shot and no time to reload. He could never outrun the Beast, but he turned to flee anyway. He was startled to find his father standing, like a stone pillar, right behind him. J
ean Chastel raised his musket and the Beast froze in its tracks. For a moment the world went still as man and Beast stood, face to face and eye to eye. Antoine cowered, helpless. The Beast snarled and tore at the earth, but Jean didn't blink. Every creature in the forest was quiet, transfixed by the confrontation. Am I dreaming, thought Antoine? Will I wake now?
Then the spell of the moment was broken. The monstrous wolf came at them again but Jean fired, the call of the musket sounding even in Antoine's deaf ears. The sacred silver bullet burned into the Beast's body and the monster stalled its charge, whimpering and staggering. The blood it spilled was so rank and foul that nothing would grow in that field for years. It a half-hearted attempt to flee, but it was no use. With one last hateful cry, the Beast of Gévaudan slumped over, and died.
Antoine cried in relief. Jean said nothing, keeping his eye on the fallen Beast. It looked not so terrifying now. Alerted by the commotion, other men appeared, in time to see the Beast's death throws. Antoine looked at where his musket lay and felt ashamed. In the moment of truth he had been willing to leave his father to face the Beast alone. 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 that was enough.
Jean said nothing though. He simply handed his son's gun back to him and then went to inspect the body. Already they heard sounds of wonder and horror from the assembled hunters. Pushing through the crowd, the Chastels came to where the Beast lay, and Antoine let out a cry of shock, for now, instead of a great demon wolf they saw the body of a man. Antoine pointed a shaking finger. "But that's--that's--?"
"It does not matter who it was," said Jean." He is dead now." He turned to the other hunters. "Did you all see the Beast dead, and did you all see it return to the figure of a man after death?" The hunters nodded and agreed. "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 years, every time he saw his father, his father asked him to recount the hunt. Now, as he finished the tale for the last time, the older Chastel looked at him with eyes weak. Antoine could not imagine what his father was thinking when he looked at him that way. "Do you know why I ask you to tell me about the hunt?" said Jean.
Antoine's face burned. "To remind me of my shame."
Jean's eyes widened. "No! No, no, no," he said, and then his voice was lost in a coughing fit. With great effort he summoned speech once more: "I do not want you to feel ashamed of your fear. But I want you to remember it!" He grabbed Antoine's hand, his grip unnaturally strong for his diminished state. "You were afraid not because you are a coward but because the Beast was no ordinary creature: It was a hound of hell. The memory of that fear will always remind you of what you fight."
Jean fell back in bed, staring at the ceiling. "When the Beast died I swore an oath before God that I would not rest until all of its kind were dead, too. There are others, you know. It was the most vicious of its brood, but far from the only one."
Cold fear stabbed Antoine's heart.
"But I will not live through the night," said Jean. "My oath will go unfulfilled. That is why I give you these." He took something from under the mattress and put it into Antoine's hands. Antoine untied the bag and discovered…
"The silver bullets?"
"Made from an icon of the Holy Virgin, blessed weapons against the enemies of God. You must take them, and use them. Hunt the brothers and sisters of the Beast, until none are left."
Antoine's jaw dropped. "Father, no! I cannot. I'm not like you. I am not brave enough."
"You are," said Jean. "You must be. I swore 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.
"Swear on your father's dead bad you'll do this," said Jean. "I go to God now. Let me go knowing that our family's honor will live after me."
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, I will not rest until I have hunted these monsters to the last, or they me. You have my word." Tears blurred his eyes.
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. He rode to the house where his wife waited for him, and there his grief was mingled with wonder and joy, for he discovered that she had given birth while hew as away, and now 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 knowing, in his heart, that he never would. On cold nights when the sky was bleak and dark, Antoine Chastel's wife would sometimes hear wolves howling. On nights like that, she prayed 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 who had stepped up to fill the vacancies left by the royalist soldiers who had deserted or been killed in the name of the revolution) wanted to simply arrest him, but the captain, a true soldier of France who wore the blue coat of the National Guard insisted they keep questioning him. "Tell us again," said the captain. "Tell us from the beginning."
"I've told you already, citizen" said the old man. "I don't know why you're 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 knew this man was a good man, a baker who always sold his bread for less to the poorest customers. The captain did not enjoy interrogating him, but he had no choice. It was his duty. "Tell us again," he said.
"I was sitting here in front of 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 wasn't enough, but I told him it was. I always tell them it's enough."
The lesser soldier shook his bayonet. "And did it not occur to you that this man might be a fugitive?"
The baker shrugged. "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."
"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."
"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, to indicate that, in his mind at least, the interview was over. The soldiers adjourned to the street to deliberate.
"Captain, I do not believe one word of it," said the younger soldier. "This man is a lair and most likely a traitor, a royalist, and a counter-revolutionary. He probably has the 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!" The other young soldiers agreed, but the captain shook his head
"I believe him," he said. The sans-culottes looked stunned.
"Fabre isn't here. Split up and go door to door and question everyone who lives on this street, but don't 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 myself?"
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.
"This is not an accusation," he said, "but I suspect there is something you're 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…"
"I would believe a great many things that other men do not."
The baker sighed. "I said that I saw three men running away. What I really saw was two men and a wolf."
"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."
"I still do not understand why you're here. The man you are hunting is dead. I saw him die. Everyone saw."
"Indeed," said Chastel, walking away. "And yet, hunt we must."
17 Germinal, Year II:
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, on the others side of the square, 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 in the space between 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 from 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 day.
There were new prisoners to be processed every day, and cells must be emptied, and those who languished in the Conciergerie could be "released" only one way. Terror was the order of the day, so Terror is what the people would have. 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 executed. Now Robespierre and the Committee for Public Safety were the final and only power in France, so Santerre kept his mouth shut, did his duty, and hoped if he spent most of his time in this office, suspicious eyes would never fall on him. Complaining would only expedite 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.”
“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 you an enemy of the state until you show significant patriotism to be afforded a Civic Certificate. Which you haven’t.”
Leta's face reddened. “I know this already.” She was trying to lace her dress back up.
“From your tone I thought you needed a reminder. 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. Perhaps now you know 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 Mecca for rational governance in Europe. So what if a few people lost their heads? That was nothing new. 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 realized he had not heard the door slam. Looking up, he saw two men 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; beautiful, 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?”
“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.”
“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. “My men searched the entire city last night and…I'm afraid he had eluded us so far. But 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!”
“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. “…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, keeping his eyes on his cuticles.
“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,” said Chastel.
“Hmm. What do you know of Fabre, captain?”
“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. 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?”
“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 may still,” said Chastel. “But until then I have my duty.” And he gave his report on the search for Fabre last night.
“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’s 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.”
“I don’t want a single one. I will hunt for Fabre on my own.”
Santerre was startled. “Why?”
“Various 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 air. 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 it could turn out that neither of their lives were worth very much after all. He 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 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. He 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 terror was Chastel’s birthright.
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. It was all the same to Chastel.
He 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 he couldn’t very well tell a superior officer he was wrong either. “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!” Chastel peered through the window in the cell door. A woman who might be a ghost stared back.
“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. “Your heart bleeds. I can make it whole.”
“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. “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’s 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. Now.”
“I’m not telling you a damn thing.”
“No? Well then…”
One of Chastel’s calloused hands 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 the Marquis’ 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.”
“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? The monsters who give you your orders are worse than the monsters you hunt.”
“Maybe someday I’ll hunt them, too.”
The Marquis hesitated for just a moment more and 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 said.
“I know,” said the Marquis. “That's why I went to the window to watch. Two people 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? The Baron? The stranger?” Chastel grabbed him again. “Was it Fabre? Was it?”
“Get you clammy hands off me, damn it. Yes, Fabre is a 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. His 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 he 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. 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.
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 when she moved that arm. “Does it hurt?” said Chastel.
“It always hurts,” she said, dispassionate.
“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. There was never any variation with her, it was always the hardest kiss she could give, never anything less. She clamored up onto his lap, wrapping her legs around him and locking her ankles, then burying her fingers in his back. This was also something she did always. It did not occur to her to behave differently tonight, 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. They were alive right now. To Daciana, the present was the only reliable thing.
Her hands ran over his wiry muscles and the furrows and pits of his war wounds. She put her arms around his neck and leaned away, as if trying to pull him down, but he didn’t fall. He never reacted to what she did, neither to encourage nor discourage 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.
Her pale white skin stood out against his. He imagined they must look very beautiful together. 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. Her entire body tensed up and for a moment it seemed like she may attack him in reprisal, but then she relaxed and accepted him, letting their bodies mold against one another. She 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 never 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 again.
But the moment passed and she kissed him instead, 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, his arms lacing along her own, 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. She jumped.
It always felt particularly gratifying this way. It was the natural way, after all, with 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. It appealed to the animal instinct, although Chastel liked to think he had no such thing about him. Daciana knew better. Even now, as he pulled harder and harder on the headboard, the bed frame creaking, 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.
When he finally released, sending a hot, hard, throbbing pressure into her, accompanied by a feeling of 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 three 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 will,” 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 and baffling 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. Chastel doubted the fugitives would have stopped to beg at the bakers 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, hiding out somewhere in the neighborhood.
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 country, those streets that were named most often still bore the titles 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. It was where he would hide out here, if he were the fugitive rather than the hunter.
Chastel and Daciana concealed themselves in ruins of the collapsed house and watched 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. It was enough. Now the question was how best to get in. Daciana assumed human shape (Chastel had the forethought of bringing clothes for her, a peasant woman's dress, in his pack) and they planned. Then, Chastel had occasion to visit the old baker again, apologizing for waking him 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 pointed out that de Batz would recognize him immediately.
“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 shoot, 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 and there, looking tired and disheveled but somehow still regal, was the Baron de Batz. He looked Daciana up and down. He was plainly suspicious, but his stomach grumbled audibly and that settled the matter. “Don’t just stand there where anyone can see you.”
The house was cold and dark and obviously meant to be abandoned. 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 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 reported on you because he himself is under suspicion. But it’s only a matter of time.”
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 danger 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 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 next to him. She allowed herself to be moved. The Baron slid his arms around her and she buried her face 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. A man like the Baron found nothing suspicious about 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 squeezed her ass she moaned. He pressed his lips to her neck. His stubble tickled. She stripped off her dress and flung 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…” 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 de 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, then threw herself onto the floor. Instantly realizing what was happening, de Batz knocked the candle off the table, but by then Chastel had let his arrow fly.
It was a decent shot, 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, and then a pistol fired and the room filled 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 and across the boulevard, kicking 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 got to the cellar, out the door and up into the street. Daciana rushed the stairs and Chastel clamored right behind her, his blood pounding in his ears. Daciana, catching the other wehr-wolf's scent, took off down the alley, but 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 Fabre and both of them turned in a whirling, snarling, snapping mass across 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 didn’t 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. 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. There might be time to save her if—
“He’s not alone…” she whispered, through bloodstained lips.
Chastel heard the pad of heavy paws on the paving stones. The air went limpid and chill. Chastel thought he heard thunder but realized that was the sound of the approaching beast’s growl. 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 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,” Chastel said, 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. If he let himself turn his back he’d be dead before he took a step. Daciana was too weak to fight; she might even be dying. Only Chastel was left to face this.
Hel 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 and he wanted to drop it, but instead he closed his fingers on it as tight as he could, though he still could not find the strength to raise it. He tried to think of a prayer, any prayer, any word of ure, anything to break the spell and let him shoot, shoot to save his life, 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 bring the death that he’d always known he was 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 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. It was over. He could move again.
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 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 a mystery.
Soon the courtyard was swarming with armed men. 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 bodies with his bayonet. “What’s all this shooting of naked men in the streets? And a woman too?”
“Woman? I see 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 a shape that somehow seemed familiar. 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, leaving the others blinking and astonished.
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. Long curly hair tumbled from underneath it. “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, standing on the scaffold before the guillotine, addressing the masses, his voice rising 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. 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. 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?”
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. “Did you know I was the one who took the former king to his execution? When I came, he knew exactly why I was there, but I did not know what to say to him. We just stood there 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 is in my hands.”
“Am I to be arrested as well?” said Chastel.
“Have you done anything to warrant it?”
“That's not for us 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, 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 and let his bodyguard and double 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?”
Chastel took a pinch of snuff while Fouche stared at him. The clock ticked away the minutes.
“Captain Chastel,” Fouche said, “why should I 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 into the river?”
“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. How safe will you be in a month? How safe do you think General Santerre felt when he was where you are now? Given all that, don’t you want someone around you who has experience fighting monsters?”
Fouche met Chastel's eye. Chastel did not blink. Fouche turned his chair toward the window.
“That will be all,” 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. But by July (Thermidor) Robespierre was deposed, and he himself went to the guillotine. 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 was eventually released. However, his political, military, and business careers were ruined, and he died in poverty.
Jean Pierre de Batz escaped from 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. 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, 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 with Napoleon 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.