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His brow sweats profusely, but his countenance remains unaltered. Amidst the rising cries of derision and contempt he stands tall, elevating his gaze to the heavens above, deigning not to look upon the masses of base humanity which seethe around him. His eyes hold unshed tears, tears his pride will not let him release. His lips tremble, but he bites them until the blood trickles down his chin, striving not to let them see any sign of weakness or fear, clutching hold of all he has left, his dignity, to the last.
Rotted fruit and rocks strike his clothes or land in the cart about him. Other prisoners strive to return the disparaging missiles and are struck down by their guards. He remains aloof to these events, his mind centered on how to retain his composure through the coming trial.
A bone strikes his jaw and knocks his head to the side. He wonders if it is merely an illusion of his imagination or whether he truly hears the triumphant jibe of the individual responsible. Slowly he lets a tooth fall from his mouth, dripping in saliva and blood.
Cries echo from the crowd at his failure to fall. Even now they acknowledge him, even now they fear his strength, even as he rides slowly to his death, the sweltering mass of broken society which has overthrown all he is fears him and cannot break him. He lets a surge of pride warm his heart and raise his spirits. He draws in a deep breath and lets the luxury reinvigorate his resolve to foil their attempts at abasement.
Smiling, he bares his blood stained teeth in defiance.
The cart rolls on, its occupants weeping or screaming in rage, shaking their fists at the bloodthirsty mob which cries for their destruction. He is oblivious to all, he takes no part in this last complaint, this cry against the injustice of the world, in which his fellow prisoners seek comfort.
All he sees is the mistress of his enemies, her teeth already covered in the crimson life-blood of his comrades. She stands upon the platform, her graceful, thin form regally rising far above the throngs of her worshippers that chant and rave at her feet. How they love her, how they adore her cruelty and how infatuated they are with her brutality. The coldness and efficiency of her actions enchant them with their simplicity and violence. They bask in the wealth that flows freely with the blood of those she destroys.
His eyes focus on their symbol of freedom, this elegantly proficient machine of redistribution. He looks to her gaping jaws, the most prominent feature of her construction, and sees the blood of thousands staining the mouth of The Maiden . . . La’ Guillotine.
The icy fingers of fear slowly creep into his heart. And he feels his soul recoil and retract at sight of this machination of death. He averts his eyes, not in fear, but disgust. And he locks his gaze with a girl of about eighteen just as she hurls a rock at him. His gaze remains locked, unmoved and unchanged in emotion, after the rock strikes him and leaves a gash in his shoulder. He watches her tremble at his gaze and then turn and flee into the crowd. Even the children and the women came to satiate their lust for blood at the feet of the Guillotine. Yet what hatred could motivate them to so ardently desire his death?
Fear? Hate? Anger? Justice?
Justice . . . this ideal had long since forsaken France. There was no justice in this act, no meaning in his death. He died at their hands; they cheered his death. They revel in the revenge they exerted upon those who had so long abused them. Yet, looking about him, he sees no other aristocracy. He sees rather outcasts and rejects, those unfortunate enough to cross an official or not cry loud enough for the execution of a nobleman.
Supporters of the revolution weeded out their own now, not for crime, but to fill the coffers of their war machine and to instill the fear of political instability. Through suppression of contrary ideas they now quenched the very flame for freedom they had so recently lit and replaced it with a flaming lust for blood and a fear of the unknown.
The cart jerks and swings as a wheel skips upon a loose stone. Falling, he clutches the rail of the cart, striking his forehead upon a bench. He could swear that he detects a rise in the vivacity of the crowd’s enthusiasm.
As he drags himself back to his feet with the hand which clutches the railing, blood runs freely from his brow; a foretaste of what he knows is to come. Still he maintains his composure and fortitude, not deigning to acknowledge the jeers of those who cause his suffering. And as at last the cart draws to halt before the stairs of the Guillotine’s stage, this open theatre whose central figure is a weapon of destruction, his courage does not falter.
Under a cloudy sky devoid of light, over a square of muddy filth covered in a pulsing mob of lower class humanity, he bids his defiance to the devil and his enemies. And he watches as one of the wretches who sit broken in the bottom of his cart is dragged up the stairs of the platform. As that wretch screams and struggles upon the stairs, pulled by his captors, tearing the flesh from his bare feet upon the rough boards, time freezes. Each agonized cry which tears forth from the throat of this wretched, dying creature falls upon the mob like music; it satiates their desire for entertainment and gratifies their sadism.
And he watches as the jaw of death descends and severs the head from its writhing victim. He sets his jaw, refusing to let himself be swayed. But as each of his fellow prisoners is dragged up the rotting stairs, as each one fights and pulls, struggling in futility for one more second of their pathetic lives, his survival instincts peak and struggl to overcome his resolve and self control.
Slowly the numbers of his fellow prisoners dwindle, and eventually he watches as one of his last two companions follows the others, imitating their every struggle, but irresistibly draws closer to the jaw of the Guillotine.
And as the crowd below cheers and raves at this latest death, he feels hands grip his shoulders. He goes willingly, mustering the control to walk erect with the grace and dignity befitting his birth. The cries about him die down to a dull roar as the frenzy of the crowd ceases to be fed with violence and struggle.
But as his body touches the plank of the guillotine, his senses reel. He clenches his tied hands. The board is lowered upon his neck, and he looks down into the demonic faces of the crowd below him. He hears the executioner grasp the lever, feels the last vestige of hope recede, sees death coming for him . . . and he screams. He lets loose the caged emotions that tear at his soul, expels all of his desires and hopes and dreams in an articulation of complete despair, and releases all of his treasured pride, all that has meaning in his death, all his defiance.
And as the blade descends, he dies broken, no different than the wretch who whimpers and snivels in the cart, still awaiting his turn. .