Olivier met her eyes and gave her a knowing smile as Henri commanded a few young men to bring Olivier to the front. "I can walk on my own, thank you very much," Olivier said to those who tried to take him by the arms. And so he did, coming to stand beside Henri and facing Lucie and Nicholas.
"I am bleeding to death while this summary trial goes on," Nicholas coughed. His face had gone as gray as his wig.
"Who is on trial here, exactly?" Olivier asked.
"Nicholas Lamoignon was found wearing the costume of the Reaper. Yet he claims that Lucienne here forced him to wear the costume, after this debacle with the guillotine. He says she had been torturing him in a red room upstairs and would only allow him to leave, and presumably, live, if he wore this." Henri held up the skull mask again.
Olivier laughed. "I do not see how that can be so. I have been with Lucienne nearly all evening."
"They are conspiring against me!" Nicholas said, bloody spittle flying all over. Olivier frowned and brushed at his clothes, then gave their audience a grin, because a little blood was not going to ruin his costume.
The tittering from the audience enraged Nicholas.
"They are both lying!" he croaked.
"I myself saw Lucienne and Olivier in this room while Helene died. They are not on trial for her death – you are," Henri reminded him. "And have you seen this red room upstairs?"
"I have," Olivier said, earning a gasp from the audience. "I was just there. It was empty."
"It cannot have been Lucienne," said one of the men holding Nicholas suddenly. "When we entered the room, she had a dagger on him, demanding to know his name."
"Hardly the behavior of someone who gave you this to wear," Henri said.
"It was all a trick!" Nicholas said. His voice could barely be heard above the crowd.
Henri strode before the crowd and pointed at Nicholas with his sword. "What say you? Is this man guilty of murder?"
So many voices called out their judgments that Lucie could not distinguish them all. Behind a staggering, "Yea!" she heard "Off with his head!" and "Kill him!"
"Let us commence, then," Henri said.
As the men dragged Nicholas up to the wooden bed and forced him down – he struggled, albeit weakly, and there was the small matter of having to shove Helene's headless body from the bed – a stream of servants entered the room, bearing platters of champagne flutes. "Is this part of your game, then, Lamoignon?" Henri demanded as Nicholas's head was pushed none-too-gently into the yoke.
"You have to strap him down first," called the man with a hand still upon Lucie. As if he had only just realized it, he released her. "Apologies, my lady. I'll straighten this mess out."
Lucie limped over to Olivier, who pulled her to his side.
"Have you given this order?" Henri continued to grill Nicholas as the latch was fixed and the men climbed down. "Do not drink the champagne!" he called out. "Our host here has likely poisoned it!" His words fell on deaf ears, as many had snatched up the glasses and drained them immediately. It had been a while since anyone had had a drink, and there had been far too much to deal with sober in that time.
The men quickly figured out how to raise the blade and secure it. They had all watched countless executions over the course of the past few years, and the mechanism was rather simple.
"Shall you do the honors, Captain?" one of the men asked Henri.
"Allow me to do it," Lucie said, before Henri could reply.
Lucienne stepped up to the lever and looked at Nicholas. Blood streamed from his lips into the receptacle. He seemed to have resigned himself somewhat. Lucie could see Helene's hair, and knew that Nicholas was literally staring down at his own fate.
"Now your name is shit," Lucienne whispered.
She pulled the lever.
A thunk, and a smaller thud, and it was all over. Lucie took a tiny step forward to peer down into the receptacle. Was it a trick of the light, or was Nicholas looking up at her?
She felt strangely empty.
Olivier applauded. He was the only one. Everyone else had gone strangely silent.
"Tell me," Henri was saying to one of the servants. "Tell me if your host," he pointed to the bin where Nicholas's head now rested, "poisoned this drink, for I should like to toast his death."
"That man is not our master," the servant said.
Henri looked confused.
"But is the drink poisoned?" asked one of the men. He had a glass in hand and was sniffing it.
"To that I cannot say," the servant answered. "It is your choice to drink."
The man looked around. "Everyone else seems fine. I cannot believe our host would want all of us dead."
"Poison takes time to work," his friend pointed out.
The man sipped. "Well, if everyone else shall die, then so shall I. Death comes for us all, remember."
"Remember, remember, the danse macabre!" sang a girl nearby. She threw her glass across the ballroom, where it dashed against the tiles with a merry tinkle. "Danse macabre!"
Others joined in, hurling their empty glasses and beginning to sway.
"How does it feel?" Olivier asked Lucie, taking her hands into his. "To have your vengeance?"
She did not meet his gaze. "It is over, I suppose. We may as well drink whatever poison is being served and die with the rest of them."
"No," Olivier whispered. "We shall not drink. We shall live!"
He pulled her forward and away. She kept a look out for broken glass, though she cared little now. Holding her close, Olivier began to sway in time to the music.
"You may be our new Reaper now," the girl said, flitting over to Lucienne. "Here." She held out the skull mask.
Lucienne slipped the mask over her face. In the large mirror on the wall she glimpsed her ghastly reflection. In this moment, her appearance matched the dead feeling inside of her chest.
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...