Chapter 1: L'Invitation

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In the dying sunlight, the guillotine gleamed with a rusted beauty

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In the dying sunlight, the guillotine gleamed with a rusted beauty. Lucienne Renault eyed the blade as she passed the Place de Revolution and its imposing façade which faced the Seine and was bordered by the Tuileries Gardens, making for a mostly lovely walk. Only a few weeks ago, the cobblestones beneath her heeled shoes might have run red with blood. Oh, it was never a river as L'Ami du Peuple might claim. But the stones would have a red tint that would seep into the silk of her shoes and the bottom of her dresses and petticoats.

Truly amazing what a few weeks of stillness might do. The heat of August – no, there was a new calendar now, the month was called Thermidor – had pressed down on Paris and made her sluggish. Now the guillotine sat lifeless and empty in the square. It was a wonder that no one had come to put it away. Perhaps the new Committee, whoever they were, wanted to leave the reminder.

At least the prices of bread had lowered. Lucienne stopped her daydreaming and pushed her way through the evening crowds. There would be bread for supper, and no news of any beheadings. She might be able to read in peace.

The door to her apartments needed a new coat of paint – when that might happen, she didn't know. Pushing inside, she paused to light the lamps, then closed the door and looked down at the small pile of letters and other mail that had been pushed through the mail slot while she had been out.

Most often, these letters were bills. Sometimes there were solicitations from various revolutionary groups, but these had slowed lately. She set the stack of mail on a table and bent to light the fire. Upon hearing a creak above her head, she called out into the gloom. "Annette?"

She did not truly expect an answer. Having started the fire, and waiting on her knees for the flames to catch the wood, she listening as the creaks moved slowly to the left and then began a descent down the stairs. By this time, Lucie had stood and begun sorting through the mail.

A large cream-colored envelope caught her eye, as it was a different size than the thin envelopes that contained exorbitant charges from dressmakers and wigmakers and perfumeries. Unlike the others, this was addressed to her - Mademoiselle Lucienne Antoinette de Renealt – in swooping, curling script. There was no return address. She turned the envelope over in her hands. A wax seal, in blood red, bore a fleur-de-lis.

Lucienne did not recognize the handwriting nor the seal. A fleur-de-lis was the symbol of the new Republic, of course, but a family crest or the initials of the sender were more common. Most aristocrats, for this seemed the work of aristocrats, would not have bothered with conforming to the republic on the matter of a wax seal. They were too proud. Or, perhaps, this came from one who was still afraid, who wished there to be no chance of a report that they did not conform to the new regime. One who wished to save their own neck, quite literally.

The creaking drew closer, and Lucienne looked up to see Annette still in her dressing gown, her hair loose about her shoulders. Lucienne swept her sister's hair back from her burned face and smiled. "You look well today," she said. "I found bread for supper."

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