A Mistress Flees

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1789

Mobs have looted and rioted in Paris for the past two weeks. A messenger arrives with news, "Prince de Conde has fled Versailles for Koblenz, Madame."

For months I pray for the safety of my lover, not our fat and spoiled king. I surrender to nights without sleep. Gossips predict another peasant uprising.

I watch the dawn battle columns of mist. All day I kneel. Sleet lashes the chapel windows.

The messenger returns. "Women have attacked the palace and marched the Royal family back to Paris."

I run out into the storm, through the courtyard and stare up at our winged lady-a powerful sentry-but she cannot guard us against this horror. Although her lips are stone, winds deliver her counsel:

Command the servants to pack the porcelain and silver in wine casks. Sink the barrels in the moat. Send your carriage to the Palais-Royal; tell the coachman to abandon it there and flee. Wear the waistcoat and trousers of the groomsman; sew your jewels in the seams. Dress the prince's daughter as a peasant.

I urge the servants to take the steeds. Mares pull our wooden cart, a layer of my lover's leather-bound books beneath his daughter's bed of hay. With baskets of cabbages, turnips, and leeks we will barter our way to Germany.

Just as they took the Bastille, I know the mobs will destroy what I have known as my home. The fist of tyranny squeezes my heart. Is it horses' hooves or thunder? I stop, turn, listen. 

A crescent of sunlight breaks through the clouds and illuminates the chateau for one last glorious moment-the beauty of it soothes the burning in my chest.

We will cross the Rhine where our prince awaits. I snap the reins. "Allez!"

Copyright Debra Borchert, 2013

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A Mistress Flees

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