The fresh air did much to revitalize her. She had nearly forgotten that she had worn a cloak when arriving here, so many hours ago. It seemed ridiculous. Her skin felt on fire. Of course, she had worn her cape for modesty, but in the midst of so much skin, Lucienne had nearly forgotten how naked she had once felt.
She breathed in the overwhelming scent of roses and lavender and hyacinth. It reminded her of the Tuileries, that one sanctuary during long months away from society. In the garden she had been able to pretend that nothing had changed. She could still find beauty in nature while half the city burned. She had often clipped blooms from the Tuileries gardens before visiting her father in prison. With Maman, she'd not had time to do so, though Maman would have loved it. In their apartments at Versailles, the servants brought in fresh flowers nearly every day, unless it was the dead of winter. Even then Maman had some potted plants that made the air smell of the coming spring.
The gardens at the Hotel Thellusson had a large fountain at its center, and paths lined with tall hedges and bushes curving around. They were not alone – other couples, seeking peace and privacy, were walking the gardens and sitting together on benches.
"I do not know that I can make things happen with my mind, Olivier," Lucienne said as they strolled down what looked to be a quiet, dimly lit path. Small torches had been placed at intervals. "It seems ridiculous to even entertain the thought. My sister Annette is the one who feels things most strongly. She could not even go to visit our father in the prisons after the first time, for she became ill at the sight of the conditions there."
Lucie had nearly become ill as well, for the place stank of a sewer, and prisoners had been beaten and starved and many had open, festering wounds. Without toilets or much water, the prisoners could not bathe. Both girls had found themselves infested with lice after their return.
But Lucie had forced herself to visit, when even Maman had not been able to bring herself to do so. Her father had needed some show of support, some kindness.
"I suppose it does not matter who is doing the killing," Olivier said. "If those we consider our enemies are being killed, then it works in our favor."
"Do you not fear for your own life?" Lucie asked him, stopping in the path.
"I do not fear being killed. I have done no wrong," Olivier said.
The words chilled Lucie, and she shivered.
"You yourself said you had considered that you might not return home. If so, then why would you worry about being killed? Would death not be preferable to prison?"
"I suppose it would." Lucie did not know if the prisons were still as foul as they once were. There had been riots during the Terror. At least one prison had burned. She thought about when she had found each body, the fear that had gripped her. "I cannot help but fear that some evil force is hunting for me, and only somehow killed these others by mistake. I was the first to come upon their bodies. The murderer is only a few steps ahead of me. And perhaps, he anticipated my arrival, and killed these others instead."
Loud laughter erupted from across the garden, followed by loud squeals and shouts. "Stop that, Guillaume!" The sound of a slap, then running footsteps and giggles.
"I never thought I would wish for a chaperone," Lucie muttered.
"Turn it on them," Olivier said, his voice low. He grasped her shoulders. "Imagine their deaths!"
Lucie shook her head. "I have no ill will toward them."
The footsteps drew closer. Lucie knew, without a doubt, that they approached. And in disbelief, she saw a figure in a hooded cloak chasing none other than Justine Rouergue.
Olivier clutched her tightly and pulled her aside as the two ran by, Justine's gown trailing behind her, and Guillaume's cloak flapping wildly. "I will catch you, you tease!" Guillaume shouted, roughly slamming into Olivier. This pushed Lucie further into the hedge. Branches and stiff leaves poked at her through her dress.
Lucie glared at the pair of them as they continued to run about the perimeter of the garden. "Yes, fine, alright?"
"Why do you seem angry at me?" Olivier asked. "I only wish to help you."
"Because I want to have my revenge!" Lucie shouted. "I want her--" she flung a pointed finger toward Justine, "--to die! And I keep second-guessing myself, because others are dying. I wanted them to die, but it greatly disturbs me that someone else is taking my vengeance from me! Would you like me to imagine her death, Olivier? Is that what you want? Do you want me to imagine her..." She cast around, her eyes alighting on the enormous glass window that would look out over the gardens. "Falling to her death after crashing through that window? The splinters of glass slicing up that perfect face, the way she would see Death rush up to meet her, the meaty slap of her body hitting the ground?" Lucie ground her teeth and seethed. "Do you want some unseen force to steal that victory from me?"
"No." Olivier placed a hand on his chest, taking a step back after the several steps he had taken when she had begun yelling in a most unladylike way. She did not even care that she had unsettled him, or that her behavior defied everything she had been taught by her parents. Her chest heaved and her fists were clenched at her sides, and it felt good.
Oliver shook his head. "That was not my intention. I apologize, Lucienne. I see now your point of view. I had only thought to save us possible imprisonment, or discovery by the other party guests, or retaliation. Now I see. I see what you mean--"
The laughter had returned, and the footsteps, and Justine burst into view once more. This time, Lucie pushed herself out of the hedges and planted herself in the path.
She pulled out her dagger. "This time," she said, "vengeance will be mine."
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...