He stepped into the night throwing the boatman’s cloak around himself, pulling the oversized collar up around his ears, then ramming the tricorn down hard atop his head. The matched pair of flinted pistols were thrust between belt and breech behind him. His sabre gently rattled in its scabbard, as did the bayonet aft of it. The first musket was tied to the pommel of the saddle of his roan war horse, the second slipped and lashed into the bucket running beneath his nearside leg.
The night was devoid of moon, clouds skated to the east in rapid succession, allowing for the flit and flicker of an ice chip star far, far above. An unseasonal biting June wind tore through his cloak with an unexpected ferocity, causing man and beast unyielding discomfort. The staccato tympani of hoofs breaking silence and ground as he crashed past. The beast had its head, the touch of his whip, and the feel of his spurs. A juggernaut driven without mercy.
Miles dropped off in rapid succession, as did the horses being changed throughout the night. Louis XVI rode as though Hades’ hounds were vengefully put upon him.
“And that’s all for tonight’s reading of ‘Citoyen Capet’ here on France Culture 93.5FM. We will continue tomorrow night again at 1215……………….”
“Mini” was just “Mini”. No one remembered his real name, and that suited him well. He was another nameless face. THE nameless face really. Medium height. Medium weight. No obvious identifying features. No real colouring other than is considered “common” amongst those bearing the stock of a 100% Frankish heritage, that, according to his mother, he apparently possessed. As such Mini was bestowed with mouse brown/blonde hair, an almost Roman nose, a chin apparent, yet not quite apparent enough to be deemed “strong” or particularly masculine. He shaved regularly and didn’t bite his nails. His hair style was short yet neat. He cut it himself routinely at 5pm on the last Sunday of every month. He was clean and tidy, and lived alone. Mini was 32 years of age, yet, by appearance at least, was a thirtyish – fortyish – twentyish looking lad. He was an introverts’ introvert, choosing to work the hours best suited to those detesting the contact of other people. In his case it was the 2000 to 0600 shift with the local shire council, picking up rubbish along the roadside of the major motorways of Paris. This involved a hand powered mechanical claw on the end of an aluminium rod; a seemingly endless supply of large industrial plastic rubbish bags; a white hard hat with reflective striping; white overalls, with a fluorescent yellow vest, and reflective striping, over the top; gloves; leather laced steel capped boots for fair weather, and white rubber boots with reflective striping for those days inclement.
Most importantly, Mini lived in his own head. That was the place he derived his greatest joys, and lived within his dreams. There was no other place, that he knew of at least, that interested him more. As far as he was concerned, his work picking up those things people discarded was greater than any trip to anywhere as far as he was concerned. He had spent his lifetime living and working in Paris. When once asked why by a family member (Mini had no friends of course to ask the same) why he hadn’t travelled, or at least done something with his life, he shrugged saying “I do daily.” When those around scoffed at this remark, it landed within his mind with an almost earthly “thud” just how shallow and small minded people around are.
He lived solely in his head with one exception. That exception was the evening reading of novels, poetry, recounting of events, and so on that he listened to with something akin to religious fanaticism. Always beginning at a quarter past midnight on 93.5FM, and he tuned in on his iPod which he had specifically bought for this purpose.
He revelled in the dulcet tones of narrators of both sexes. His absolute attention was theirs for the 22 minutes of every morning of every working day. On the occasion that his shifts fell over a night when they were not broadcast, he would arrive at work half an hour early and download podcasts via his managers laptop, and the Radio France website, clicking through until he reached “France Culture” with its pink icon.
Mini loved these readings more than any other interest outside of his own head.
Mini once considered getting a dog. Something small and not particularly yappy that would greet him each morning with imagined affection. He decided against the idea some nights later when the consideration that dogs are alleged to need “walking”, or at least some form of exercise. This did not appeal to him when counted off against metaphorical digits that –
- a) – walking during daylight hours exponentially increased the chances of having to be amongst people;
- b) – he walked all night every night, and decided that to have to walk after walking somehow was against nature, or God, or something at least;
- c) – walking during daylight hours exponentially increased the chances of having to be amongst people, & there was no daytime broadcast of his nocturnal love affair.
John-Pierre de Batz, the Baron de Batz as he was otherwise known, was the Kings man. He was a Royalist of the truest nature. A Royalist bordering upon the “passionate eccentric”.
John-Pierre de Batz was about to make the ultimate sacrifice, trading his life for another.
The early morning light of the 21st of June, 1791, tainted the sky behind him. The temperature dropped a further degree, and ice began forming on his brow. He pushed the grey as hard now as what he did when he first sat this mount. Blood coated it from flank to shoulder from the whip and spur. Sparks flying from the cobbles as at last King Louis XVI of France, and Navarre, entered the fortress of Montmedy.
When challenged on his arrival by the guard manning the outer gate, he replied “Sardine Noir”. The pre warned protector of the gate immediately opened it to him without Louis XVI’s horse breaking stride.
Within five minutes of his admittance to Montmedy, the King of France and Navarre silently wept at the news the Commander of the fortress gave him.
The Royal Family had been captured fleeing Paris, enroute Montmedy, to meet with Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre, his sympathisers, and Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre
For the first time in his life, Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre, was truly alone.
“Merde!” said Mini, spitting in disgust on the ground just in front of him.
He was thoroughly enjoying this particular reading. Moreso was the fact that he enjoyed this reading as the document “Monsieur Capet” was drawn from had only recently been let public by those of power within the Notre Dame. Further spice was added when it was made public that it was unknown if “Monsieur Capet” was a work of fiction, OR, the last account of Louis XVI, and the fact that, should this be so, history will turn France into a rather different place. Yes it had been poured over by scholars and apparent experts within the fields of authenticity and history. As was to be expected, no one came to any conclusion that was agreed upon by anyone else. Mini relished this conjecture. And so, the book which had been meticulously reproduced, reprinted then republished was being trickle feed to the public through such mediums such as Mini delighted within, specifically to water down any public outcry.
The final tantalising tit-bit in the ongoing saga as to the legitimacy of the story was this. Apparent nom de plume was John-Pierre de Batz. The Royalist. However, when existing signatures were compared, an anomaly was found. Roughly half of the signatures used comparatively were a perfect match. The slightly greater half, whilst they did not match that of the signature within the original manuscript were all identical. Once more, more conjecture, more theories, more experts, more historians. And, once more, no one was able to confirm or deny which signature was true to the identity of the Baron de Batz.
Mini loved it. France hated it. The plot doth thicken. Mini considered buying a cat.
With a fresh horse beneath him, Louis XVI fled Montmedy at the gallop. His destination was to the south west, a town known to maps as Varennes, yet a town far more significant to the King of France and Navarre as Louis XVI and his family and retinue had just been captured there after the Gendarmes had been tipped off in a small village nearby by the Postmaster of Sainte-Menehould, one “Monsieur John-Baptiste Drouet”.
Ready to drop with the exhaustion of a man run to his absolute limit, Louis XVI entered Varennes and immediately sought the few sympathisers known to him. The tale they wound was that which he had heard in Montmedy. There was no discrepancy between them adding to his horror and ascending level of terror that now possessed him completely.
Upon capture the King, his family, and entourage had been sent back once more to Paris, and John-Pierre de Batz, Royalist changeling for the King, was now guaranteed to die, no matter what lengths and efforts the King and every one of the Royalists from every corner of France could do. Judgement was final, and death lay before him, as did everyone of those near and dear to the King/himself.
Louis XVI rode onto Paris at a more sedate pace, knowing that the need to rush had passed, and the more pressing need of thought of a tactical nature was required, and therefore had now begun.
John-Pierre de Batz had traded places with Louis XVI the day the Royal family moved from the Palace of Versailles to Palais de Tuileries on the 6th of October, 1789.
It was an easy trade, the King stepped into the Royal carriage through the left door, and stepped out of the carriage dressed in the clothes of the man within the carriage, now reduced in rank and position to that of a Baron. He exited the coach via the right door whilst slowing through the lesser gates of Palais de Versailles, being dragged bodily into the guardhouse by a sympathetic soldier.
That would be the last time he would be with his Queen, Queen Marie Antoinette.
‘France Culture’ ran the occasional thinking man’s competition every now and again. Mini, as a general rule would never entertain the notion of entering things of such folly, specifically because he didn’t like people, and any entry for any competition would amount to the necessity of having to talk to those that ran said competition in the case that you actually won. Not Minis cup of tea.
93.5FM one evening announced that ‘Citoyen Capet’ had secured the rights to the unnamed partner and confidant of King Louis XVI. To date the midnight narrations had not yet reached far enough into the story to unearth this “partner” to the King. However, the seed was planted, securing ratings for the future of the tale. In addition to that minor detail, France Culture went on to announce that they were auctioning off the right to name the unknown accomplice to the highest bidder. There were the obvious legal aspects to it, and a few specific clauses regarding the names themselves. Brand names, religious fervour, etc. were off the table. Mini regarded this with vague interest.
Mini thought of buying a goldfish. And a rock. Ha ha.
Mind seething and heart breaking, King Louis XVI, now Baron de Batz, rode hard throughout France shifting fortunes; ensconced within secret meetings with the royalty and nobility of Europe, Britain, and these new “America’s”. And yet, unable to get close to his own family. Unable to relieve his changeling of his post.
That very day, he and a mere handful of faithfuls fought soldiers in an attempt to reach the King, or at least Baron de Batz. Three of his men lost their lives in the failed attempt, and the only option for him from that point on was flight. Getting as far away from Paris as possible.
‘twas the night of the 21st of January 1793, and the King was dead. Madame Guillotine working at her grizzly best. A country revelled in the streets. One man wept, and wept, and wept.
The weeping man was propped at the bar of yet another weigh side Inn. He had been drinking the rough red wine of the region since his arrival. All occupants had given this man with the filthy boatman’s cloak, tricorn hat, sword, pistols, muskets and saddlebags an extremely wide berth.
He ceased weeping as though a fresh and urgent realisation had crept to the fore of his mind unnoticed and he began to rummage within the depths of a saddle bag with a sense of great urgency from which he finally produced an oval disk. A hand painted image filled this object of his urges. The image that looked back at him was that of a twenty something year old, exceptionally attractive, young lady. You may describe her as stately, regal even.
This tiny painting was placed a’top the bar, and the stranger pulled his cloak around himself, dragged down the remnant of his hat, leant against the wall and the bar, and proceeded to snore.
The scream not only silenced the Inn, indoors and out. Not only did it cause the sleeping stranger with the boatman’s cloak and tricorn to move from a position of slumber to that of an extremely fluid and well balanced adversary with sword drawn, and pistol filling the other hand. It was however most remarked upon that a youngish gent, with presumed light fingers, had found out that it is best to leave the possessions of others as exactly that. The ferret that made its home of one of the saddlebags owned by the now very much awake, and mildly agitated stranger, had locked his jaws firmly between the webbing of the thief’s forefinger and thumb. It held even harder the more the lad shook his hand and swore. The man with the boatman’s cloak and tricorn ran the screaming thief through the right shoulder, front to back, through and through, the sabre he grasped as though a prosthesis to the arm with which he held it.
The ex-King Louis XVI, France, and Navarre; and more recently, the ex King of the French, yet now Barron John-Pierre Batz collected his friend, confidant, and head of security from the floor. He spun, collected his things and left without a second glance.
Mini, as with introverts everywhere, are generally quite well off financially. He didn’t earn a lot, but what he did earn, outside of living expenses, wasn’t spent, and accumulated in some low interest paying account held within some large non-personal financial institution. In Mini’s case this was La Banque Postale. Within this institution Mini had amassed the sum of €52,103. An amount Mini did not give a second thought over, just as long as he had the €250 required for entry into yet another aspect into a world Mini held in revulsion and terror. Yet it was the revulsion and terror that was being weighed against something so mouth wateringly delicious, so positively irresistible, so delectably divine that Mini found himself wreathed in the folds of a full body tingle causing head to toe tremors and a fine sheen of sweat coating his being in entirety.
Mini was paying €250 to enter the competition.
It was simple enough. With a book of such importance, €250 to enter to be in the running to name the unnamed partner and confidant of King Louis XVI was less than a pittance. Certainly a sum so minute to attain a prize of such importance was beyond words. Well to those that looked at it that way. To Mini it was an Ark. Not as potent as the Ark once pursued by Indiana Jones, or the Ark that floated for so many days and nights with a motley collection of biting, scratching, beasties. An Ark however that may have carried notes between Apostles. This was his Ark, his passion morphing into fanaticism. €250?! Paaaah!! €2500? He didn’t care. Words could not, did not, convey the might of his feelings on this.
Mini loved it. Historians in France, and the world over, found such a cheapening of what may well be a direct link to the last of Frances royalty, and hated the notion to the core.
There were front pages nationwide screaming scandal, abuse, offense to such a notion. Television, radio, internet news had it in prime headline position for almost a week.
Ratings trebled on France Culture 93.5FM. Various international and national bodies offered to buy the book outright with less than little success.
Amid the hype and carry on, metaphorically speaking, only a handful of people, ordinary people, not the big business, commercial people, but the everyday people. Working the late night, everyday, jobs were the ones that found, more often scratched to amass, the €250 to enter, and did.
Mini stopped working to listen to the upcoming result in the competition “Citoyen Capet”. His reflective working attire flashing on and off like a broken neon sign as a result of the headlights of the passing cars.
Only one entrant was to be drawn. No runners up, or a prize for trying, one winner only.
Breathless, Mini stood completely upright, stepping backward off the verge as he did so. Stepping back into the path of the white Volvo truck, with 120 kilometres per hour registered on its dash.
Mini won the ferret, and unfortunately died whilst doing so.
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