Chapter 30: Le Guillotine

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She wanted to shout for Olivier. She wanted to scream his name and find him and get the hell out of this nightmare place.

First came one laugh, a little giggle, then another laugh. Whispers, and more laughing. Soon the room was filled with laughter and cheers, a rippling roar.

What are you all laughing at? Lucie wanted to scream at them. She could not comprehend it. This wooden monster has bitten off the heads of everyone you loved!

Perhaps, she thought, they were going to burn it. Destroy the beast, take revenge upon the device that had ruined all of their lives. Lucie could cheer for that. She could not understand the unadulterated joy that seemed to surround her, until she thought about each person she had spoken to this night. With the exception of Olivier, who seemed to grieve the loss of his uncle, no one else had appeared to mourn.

She looked around at them now, all those open mouths and sharp teeth, then looked up at the guillotine, which had come to rest in the center of the ballroom floor. The two servants who had pushed the thing out backed away quickly and disappeared into the crowd. They did not want any part of it. Plenty of Parisians who were not aristocrats had been executed, too, although Lucie did not know of any servants who had gone under the blade. Mostly the working classes and the bourgeoisie. Still, why linger nearby when this crowd called for blood?

"Who here does not fear Madame Guillotine?" intoned a deep voice. The masked Reaper leapt up onto the device's pedestal so that his skull-like face loomed over the crowd.

The laughter and applause died down a bit.

"Come, come now. Madame Guillotine promises a fair death. She does not like the innocent! Come forth, now. Who believes she might let them go free?"

Shifting from side to side, those in the crowd eyed one another.

"Do we not have a volunteer? Perhaps we shall take..." The skull grinned flatly at the nervous crowd, "Nominations?"

The chatter rose up again. Lucie steeled herself for her name to be called, even as she looked for a way out. She was surrounded. Running away now would surely lead to someone recognizing her, someone calling out her name.

A smattering of giggles, and then one high voice rose up like a clear bell. "Henri Delacroix-Beaufort," the unknown lady said, the name followed by giggles.

Lucie recognized the name. She had very nearly danced with this fellow.

He emerged from the crowd, his chin held high, hand at his hip as though looking for his sword. Lucie could have sworn that he looked less than pleased about being called forth, and yet there was a certain compliment to it – the least guilty of sin.

"Ah, the war hero," crooned the Reaper. "Come."

With tight lips, Henri strode forward to where the Reaper indicated. One skeletal hand gestured to the flat bed. The Reaper did not need to explain to him how this was done. Everyone in the room had seen it, though the guillotine's victims had never done it of their own free will. Unlike the hangman's noose, where a person might step forward to hasten their own fate, victims of the guillotine were always brought out with their hands bound behind their backs, and several guards would lift each prisoner and strap them down to the wooden bed.

Henri looked down the bed, hesitating.

"Would you like a member of the clergy to perform the Last Rites?" the Reaper sneered.

Lucie knew she would like such a thing. There had been hard-working priests performing the ceremony dozens of times each day, for all who might be executed that day or who might die in prison before they might be tried.

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