Adnot shifted nervously in the saddle of his horse. Riding at Napoleon’s side, they made their way down the Fue de Sevres towards the Ecole Militaire. The horse’s hooves clacked on the cobblestone boulevard underneath their horses. Both Napoleon and he were dressed out in full military regalia. Napoleon wore a deep navy blue military jacket which was high wasted in the front with long tails trailing over the rump of his white mare. The jacket was trimmed in golden embroidery that circled the neck line, wrists and waist line. Two parallel rows of brass buttons ran down the front over his chest. Long golden epaulettes sat on each of his shoulders marking his rank within the military. He wore clean cream colored trousers that were tucked into his black leather riding boots which had been buffed to a mirror finish earlier that morning. Adnot wore a similar navy blue jacket except his was trimmed in blood red and his lacked the epaulettes. They both wore black bicorn hats with the points of the hat running parallel to their shoulders with white goose down feathers peeking out of the upper perimeter.
Visually, Paris had not changed since the last time he had been here. The brick buildings and cobblestone streets were still buried under mounds of trash and other refuse thrown from the windows by the people residing there. The streets still had mounds of horse manure trampled into the grooves between the bricks and they were still crowded with people selling, buying or begging their way through the day. All of the colors were muted by layers of dirt resulting in a kaleidoscope of slightly different shades of brown.
He surveyed the crowds of people pushing through the narrow streets, as his grey gelding nervously side stepped underneath him neighing. He leaned forward in the saddle and gently patted the horse trying to sooth away its nervousness. He glanced idly down a brick alley and saw a commotion within the shadows. He heard the yells and guttural growls before he saw the tangle of small human limbs and teeth. A feral dog was violently pulling on a young boy’s arm, while the boy was striking at the dog’s head with a rock with all of his might. Blood covered the dog’s head and the boy’s arm and it was impossible to tell exactly where one’s blood began and where the other’s ended.
Adnot broke rank beside his friend without thinking and rode into the narrow alley, pulling his rapier from its sheath. While up to this point the boy’s cries had been wails of pain through gritted teeth, they were beginning to take on an edge of terror as the feral creature refused to give up. Adnot leaned down and precisely plunged the point of his rapier into the neck of the dog. The dog went limp on top of the boy and Adnot smiled and waited for the inevitable gratitude. He only barely ducked the rock that was thrown at his head. As Adnot looked down in confusion, the small boy hissed at him and grabbed the dog’s carcass with his uninjured hand and ran down the alley and out of sight among the refuse and debris. Adnot thought for a moment about which one had really been the feral creature as he backed his horse back into the crowds of people and rejoined the military procession. He eyed the crowd and while the event in the alley had been in full view and loud enough to draw attention, no one seemed to notice. As his gelding rocked underneath him, Adnot thought that in this moment, in Paris, it was more probable that someone would notice a small diamond lost in a sea of sand rather than a truly violent crime.
Adnot’s unease grew at the thought as the Ecole Militaire came into view. There was a large plaza in the center of a U-shaped group of buildings that made up the prestigious military academy. The main building was a long symmetrical cream-colored two-story building with a Parthenon inspired front entrance. A slate blue dome rose from the center of the building behind the Parthenon entrance and a large clock resided on the forward face. At that moment, a large score of men were marching around the plaza practicing their formations. Napoleon had been trained at the school before the revolution and he wished to stay there while in Paris so that he could survey the cadets for prospective officers. Perusing the current cadets would have to wait for another day however. After settling into their rooms Napoleon was off to the Jacobin headquarters. Adnot would meet him there after checking in on Eve at the Salle de Soupe.
Adnot could hardly contain his excitement and he set his horse on a brisk trot towards the Seine River. If he could have galloped his horse to La Salle de Soupe without seriously injuring or killing someone he would have, but the streets were too crowded during the day to move through them that quickly. He no longer took notice of the antagonistic atmosphere of the people. He could only focus on seeing Eve again, and his heart leapt in his chest and thudded in his ears as he drew closer to the river.
Adnot could barely contain himself when he made the turn onto the street where he once lived. He unconsciously pushed his horse to a dangerous speed on the narrow cobbled streets only to pull the horse to an abrupt halt. The Salle de Soupe was bordered up and locked. He inched his horse forward slowly until he stood in front of the old building that had been his wedding gift to his new bride. He bit his lip and dismounted his horse not bothering to tie him up. He walked over to the low wooden door and pushed on it softly. After a moment’s hesitation he stepped back and kicked in the door with all of the force he could muster; which turned out to be too much. The door splintered underneath his boot and he fell forward into the unlit interior of the restaurant. It took a few moments for his eyes to acclimate to the darkness before he could survey the state of the room. Tables were laid about in a disarrayed state with chairs half hazardly thrown about. The only lamps left were broken upon the wooden floorboards and the black cauldron lay on its side in the fireplace with the moldy remnants of some forgotten soup in the bottom.
Adnot turned to run up the stairs when a voice stopped him. “She’s not here son.”
He turned to see a hunched elderly woman in the doorway. She wore a moth eaten grey and black shawl over a flagstone colored petticoat that at one point must have been a lilac color. Her skin wasn’t overly wrinkled but her eyes were sunken deep into her skull and her skin looked like parchment. Wisps of grey hair hung limply out of her bonnet which he assumed did more to hide the fact that she didn’t have much hair left. She leaned heavily on a cane. He moved towards the women and knelt before her.
“What happened here, where is she?”
She placed a single skeletal hand on his shoulder. The fingernails were black with dirt or rot, he could not tell which. She looked at him with sorrowful grey eyes and said, “I’m sorry son, about a week ago she was taken to the Conciergerie on suspicion of counter-revolutionary activities.”
It was hard for him to believe such a statement but the women’s eyes did not lie. “How can this be?”
“It was said that convicted counter-revolutionaries had been seen eating soup in this restaurant.”
His mouth hung open in disbelief for only a moment before his eyes narrowed. He ground his jaws together painfully making the muscles in his jaw and neck stand out from his face. Silently he pressed a gold Louie in her hand before running out of the door. He bounded up onto his horse in a single motion. He kicked the gelding hard and set off at a gallop. He knocked over more than one person as he made his way to the center of Paris.
The Conciergerie used to be a grand palace, home to the French kings of old, before the palace of Versailles had been built. It bordered the east bank of the Seine on the Ile de la Cite in the center of Paris. It was a large castle-like fortress with massive drum towers along the entire length of the building. After the kings of France had moved on to larger and more splendid castles, the Conciergerie was turned into a prison for prisoners of noble birth and a governmental building for judicial and bureaucratic proceedings. Since the Revolution began it had become the antechamber to the guillotine. Some of the rooms were very nice and if a prisoner had the means they could live out their few remaining days surrounded by splendor and comfort. The dungeons in the belly of the castle were an altogether different story. No matter what part of the castle you stayed in however, everyone came through the Hall of Guards for sentencing and most left that grim room to meet their deaths.
He rode hard until he was outside the gate to the Lady’s Yard. He looked through the iron bars at the small inner courtyard which was cast into shadows in the late afternoon sun. He gripped the bars with both hands and began yelling Eve’s name to the broken women crammed together on the other side of the bars. His voice seemed to be swallowed by the general cacophony of the women meandering lazily around the courtyard. The women incarcerated at the Conciergerie had cells that lined the Lady’s Yard in order to spare them from the more oppressive conditions in the interior of the prison. During the day the women would be free to walk around the courtyard that was the only source of sunlight and fresh air. Even then, the press of unwashed human bodies assaulted the senses. A singular well stood in the center of the yard and acted as both a washing area for bodies and clothes, and drinking water.
He continued to yell her name until one women approached him. She had a dirty simple cream cotton dress without a petticoat or corset. Her straight dirty blond hair hung limply around her. She was waifishly thin and frail looking like an old women but her face was young and if you looked close enough you could see freckles underneath the dirt smudged on her face.
“I know the women you’re looking for. I can get her for you for a franc.”
He didn’t hesitate and retrieved two francs from his pocket and put one into her outstretched hand. After giving it to her he grabbed her wrist forcefully and pulled her into the bars. She yelped in pain and tried to pull back from him, but he held her firmly and held the second franc in front of her eyes. “You may have this one when you bring back the correct women.” he hissed at her through the bars before letting her go.
She backed away rubbing her wrist and ran back into the crowd of women. He lost her immediately. He waited for what felt like an eternity before the women returned with Eve in tow. He gasped at the sight of her. Like many of the women in the prison she only wore a simple cotton dress. Unlike the other women though, hers was ripped around the hem and the skirt was spotted with dried blood stains. She wore no bonnet, and her hair hung over her shoulders and face in a mess of matted curls. Her face was incredibly dirty except for the area directly under her eyes where tears must have washed away the dirt. Her eyes looked puffy and blood shot but for the moment she looked more crazed then despondent. When she saw him she smiled with eyes that were too wide to be inviting. Instead she looked scary and unstable. She ran to bars taking his hands into hers and saying, “Oh Alonzo there you are. I’ve been so worried that you wouldn’t make it. You’re late you know… naughty.” She flourished a hand at him dramatically.
He answered her slowly completely confused by the woman in front of him. “Eve… my name is Adnot, your husband.”
“Oh yes of course, Adnot. Of course I remember you. I’ve just been a bit forgetful lately, that’s all. You’re early though, the show isn’t until tomorrow, unless you’re here to wish me luck?” She spoke wildly, her eyes looking everywhere but at him. One moment she would be gesturing wildly with her hands and the next she would place them on his hands that were still gripping the iron bars. He noticed that his knuckles were beginning to turn white because he was gripping them harder then he should. He relaxed his grip before answering her question with a question.
“Luck? Eve what are you talking about? What is going on tomorrow?”
“You didn’t know? I’m going to die tomorrow.” She said it so matter of factly that it took him a second to comprehend what she said. When he did his whole body tensed with fear.
“The court found you guilty?”
“Oh no, my trial is tomorrow” she took a moment to wink at him.
Relief flowed through him and he took a ragged breath. “Ok good. There is still time then. Eve, I’m here now. I’ll fix everything. I have powerful friends and I can make sure this goes away. You have to tell me everything. How did you end up here?”
Her expression shifted. She began to fidget her hands and she looked down with a lost, haunted expression. Her eyes defocused and her bottom lipped quivered as she mumbled, “What… happened?”
Her sudden shift shocked him. Something more than just being incarcerated must have happened to divide her from herself. He reached out his hand and caressed her cheek. At his touch she inhaled sharply and focused her eyes on him revealing the extent of the pain and grief that she had been suppressing. A single tear escaped her eye and ran down her cheek. Through quivering lips she whispered, “God punished me.” She swallowed and closed her eyes before continuing reliving the experience in the darkness of her own mind. “I stood by and let it happen. I did nothing for her. Her face haunted me for so long but in my prayers I said over and over that there was nothing I could do. I was unrepentant for my inaction and so god sent King Solomon’s men to punish me.” She nodded repeatedly during this speech and she began to rock back and forth slightly before reopening her eyes to look up at the deepening blue sky.
He was afraid to ask more but a burning need to know ignited in him. He knew he would regret the answer if he was able to puzzle it out from her disjointed responses. He slowly sunk to the ground and pulled her by the hands to sit with him, the iron bars separating them. His entire face tightened into an angry grimace and looking at her dirty fingers, he asked the question that in his heart he already knew the answer too. “King Solomon’s … men; Did they… violate you?”
She cocked her head to one side and looked at him without expression as if she might already be dead. Grief overwhelmed him at that point and he looked away shaking his head as his eyes filled with tears. She was wrong; god was punishing him as well. He should have listened to his gut. The need to return to her had been overwhelming at times, but he had stayed true to his duty believing that he was keeping her safe in doing so. He was battling the enemy keeping the war away from Paris. In truth he had left her defenseless in the home of the true enemy.
Trying to regain his senses he pushed the grief down and began to desperately cling to the hope that he could still fix this. He began to say out loud, more to himself than to her, “Don’t worry, I’m here now I can fix this. I promise you, I am going to get you out of here and I will never let anyone ever touch you again…”
Her eyes went wild and her face twisted into the snarl of some wild beast as she gripped his jacket and shook him, “No! There is no way for you to remedy this. I long to die!”
“How can you say that? I am here now Eve. Please come back to me!” he cried back at her desperately.
She relaxed and looked at him with pity in her eyes. She softly touched his face wiping away his tears as he looked at her with intense imploring eyes. “Mon amour, why do you insist on constantly fretting over me? It will be ok. I have figured out the mystery” At this she smiled and touched a finger to her nose. “We are cursed.” she whispered to him through the bars.
“We are cursed, but how is this a good thing?” he asked her becoming frustrated in his grief.
“Like Sisyphus we are burdened with a repetitive task. This trial has been disastrous, but perhaps next time it will not be so hard.” She gave him a smile that was meant to reassure him but all it did was make his heart sink deeper into despair. He hung his head trying to think of what he could do. If he did succeed in freeing her, she was now completely unhinged and from what he could tell suicidal. Taking her with him to the front lines seemed like a completely daunting task but when he weighed it against the alternative his stomach tightened. Letting her die as she wished was incomprehensible. Intellectually he knew that it was the option that she wanted and the easier path but he couldn’t.
As he was parsing through his bleak thoughts, she suddenly smiled and became excited, “Oh Adnot, I was hoping to see you. I’ve got flowers for you… ”
She pulled out a pile of fabric that ranged in color and had been strung together. From the pile she pulled out a circle of moss green fabric. Each piece had been cut into almond shapes and strung together. She smiled at him as she placed the circlet on his head.
“It’s a bay wreath for your victories, and here is Borage for courage,” She handed him a handful of blue star-shaped fabric flowers attached to sticks arranged around cotton balls.
“For myself, Rue for remembrance and star of Bethlehem for atonement.” She held a bouquet of small yellow and white five petaled fabric flowers. She brought them to her face and smelled them casually before getting up and leaving him in disbelief sitting outside the gates of the Lady’s Yard. He watched her blend back into the crowd and he leaned his head against the cold iron bars trying desperately not to drown in his grief as a singular dark thought pressed into his mind. ‘I wonder who the lucky finder of the diamond was.’ns 188.8.131.52da2