They stood against the wall in the ballroom, watching the madness swirling before them.
In all likelihood it was not that different from the events Lucienne had attended as a young girl. In her youth, however, she had always been sleepy and gone to play with the other children as the night wore on. Now, as the large clock at one end of the bathroom ticked on toward midnight, Lucie knew that what she was witnessing was what the adults had been doing while she and the other children nodded sleepily in a quiet room with their bellies full of feast and pie.
Everyone was drunk. With no children to attend to, and no elderly guardians in the crowd, no one needed to be responsible. They had drunk more than was seemly, and were taking full advantage of being unchaperoned. They did not dance in any measured way, but seemed to jump and writhe and spin with the ever-quickening tempo.
It made Lucienne feel a little sick.
Of course, she had not eaten since the meager stew for dinner, but that was hours ago. Since then, she had only had champagne and some water.
"Who shall we choose?" Olivier asked. Lucienne knew, without looking at him, that he was grinning again.
How had this come to pass?
"I do not see Nicholas or Justine," Lucie said, rubbing her eye.
"They can wait. We would like to time our time with them."
Now Lucie looked Olivier in disbelief. Had he really just said that? Did he plan to torture them before killing them? Slowly, she turned her head to look at the dancing crowd again. She could not judge him for that, not really, not when she had envisioned horrible deaths upon three people who had died. Jeanne-Baptiste, in particular, must have endured terrible pain before she died, and then humiliation on top of that.
"How about Monsieur Sauvage," Olivier said.
"I recognize that name," Lucie said, but it wasn't until Olivier pointed out the gentleman without a suitcoat, who carried a papier-mâché head with him. That wide, red smile with the straightest, cleanest teeth Lucie had ever seen – she knew him.
Pierre Sauvage. He was distantly related to Lucie. Some cousin of her mother's, twice removed, not that she or Pierre had ever bothered to call upon Lucie and Annette after their mother had been killed. Lucie felt her face turn sour. He had carried around a decapitated head as if none of them had ever seen one. As he ran by, she caught a glimpse of the word written on the papier-mâché head's forehead in black paint: Robespierre.
She tried to swallow, but the spit lodged in her throat, and she ended up coughing. It hardly made sense to kill Pierre. He, like all the others, had rejoiced at Robespierre's death. Lucie had been one of the few who mourned, but she mourned the fact that no more of her father's enemies would fall to the blade and earn the punishment they had deserved. She had not told Olivier this little detail. That she had gone to nearly every execution during the Terror, feverishly wishing to see familiar faces. She had yearned to see Nicholas or Justine, though it was unlikely. She had rejoiced, too, when the lower classes had been killed, for they were the cause of all this.
Fine, she thought. I will imagine his death.
"Tell me," Olivier's breath brushed hot against her ear. "Tell me how you want him to die."
Lucie did not feel the same surge of rage and hatred toward Pierre as she had toward the others. Those deaths had come to mind so easily.
"Perhaps he will trip and fall as he dances," she said. "And he will fall in such a way that he smashes into a table edge and breaks his neck."
It did not sound very plausible at all. She glanced up at Olivier, who had a doubtful expression on his lips.
"Are you imagining this all in your head, like the others?" he asked finally.
Lucie sighed. "I do not know how it worked with the others. For all I know, these were all mere coincidences."
"Would an interaction with Monsieur Sauvage help?" Olivier asked, and before Lucie could deter him, he put his hand up and called out, "Pierre!"
"No, don't!" Lucie hissed.
Pierre was not far away, and had turned a few moments after hearing his name. It became clear that he was inebriated in the manner with which he looked around for the voice that had called to him. Oliver called again, and Pierre's eyes fixed on him. Then on her.
"Cousin!" he called.
"Cousin?" Olivier said to Lucie as Pierre barreled his way through the spinning crowd.
Lucie gave him a tired look.
"I suppose I didn't ask," Olivier said.
Pierre immediately hugged Lucie and slobbered kisses on both her cheeks. "Cousin Lucie, I am shocked to see you here! Not that you should not be here. You should! My parents told me some terrible things about your father. Shocking, really. About how he was not of noble blood, but a traitor, and that your mother lowered herself to marry him in the end. Look!" He held up his papier-mâché head. "Robespierre," he said, as if they could not read. "If I'd had my way, I would have killed him myself."
"Are both of your parents...?" Lucie asked.
Pierre raised his eyebrows waiting for the rest of her question, then understood what she was trying to ask. "Oh, yes, both still quite alive. Yes. I know, we are meant to have lost a relative to be invited. I rather thought I was invited because of your mother. Or because of my father's half-brother. I'm not sure. Either way, this has been a grand time. One would have thought there would be no more parties in Paris, as there used to be."
"You think Lucie's father lied about his nobility papers," Olivier said, in a clear attempt to fuel Lucie's rage again.
"I am sorry, my dear cousin. Of course, your mother was a noble, so that does not make you a peasant or anything."
Olivier nudged Lucie's hand, not that Pierre was looking at her. He was looking anywhere but.
"Oh! Garçon, hello!" He waved over one of the servants. "I need more wine. Wine, not champagne." The servant looked annoyed to have been bothered. Lucie looked at the tall man, with his balding head and thin mustache, and wondered what it must be like to be a servant at a party such as this, where the rich celebrated still being rich, while for a servant such as this, the revolution had changed little for the better.
"It is difficult to find good help these days," Pierre went on. "Half of our servants left when they stormed the Bastille. Lord knows what became of them. Probably died. The rest Father threatened with a sound thrashing. He made them do the work of those who left. These people won't learn unless you beat it into them, you know."
The servant had returned, so quickly Lucienne wondered how much of that he had heard.
Lucie had a moment as she watched her "cousin" Pierre drain the goblet of wine and wished he would choke on it. She didn't want him to die, only to gag and spit up red liquid all over his ridiculous costume.
Pierre did not choke or even sputter. He drained the wine, then handed the empty glass to Lucie. "Set this down someplace, would you?" he said just before belching.
Lucie grimaced and turned away.
When she turned back, Pierre was staggering off to rejoin the dance, and Olivier was fuming.
"Surely you wanted to kill him after that," he said.
"He's my cousin," she said.
"Yes, and you might have mentioned that before I called him over. You might have mentioned that as a reason not to kill him, although frankly, I do not see how you are so calm!"
"He is ignorant, that is all." Lucie swayed on her feet. "I think... I need some air."
"We could go out into the gardens and continue our experiment there."
Lucie felt so tired. But she threaded her arm through Olivier's and allowed him to escort her outside. As they left the ballroom, the music halted and the echoing chimes of midnight silenced everything.
YOU ARE READING
The Victim's BallHistorical Fiction
HER REIGN OF TERROR HAS JUST BEGUN... When Lucienne Reneault receives an invitation to a Victim's Ball in honor of those aristocrats who have been guillotined, she believes it must have been a mistake. Of two things she is certain, however: she wil...