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A Friendship Forged by Flames

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Have you ever been hunted, searched for, like an animal? Have you ever been turned against, hated, by millions of people? I have.

They came with burning torches, knives, and pitchforks. The perfect image of an angry mob. And, worst of all, it was after us. It was us who they were referring to, as they chanted bloody songs, talked of stabbing and murder, stealing and raiding. It was us who they screamed about: “Aristos! Filthy, gross aristos!”
And they came. They attacked, took everything, chased us through the house – a wall was on fire, it crashed down as we ran, flames and sparks leapt, I screamed, fell over a rock. They didn’t see me, I was covered by the dark. But I was there.
The children. I had played with them in the village once. Now, they played around our furniture, which their parents had dragged out onto to the lawn. One of them (a boy: Pierre), was hiding behind the chair that my mother had sat in after dinner in the evenings. Another woman sat in it now. A woman of hollow cheeks, dirty clothing, laughing, drinking my father’s wine and cheering as another wall collapsed. I was even further away now. Almost gone. My family’s home was a distant, burning flame on the horizon.

Have you ever been downtrodden, squashed like a bug, and treated like even less? Have you ever had nothing to eat but grass? No bread, no meat, no cheese, not a crumb? What would you do if you had to watch your brother die, not being able to do a thing about it? Would you have thought that maybe it was good for him to die now, instead of having to suffer later? I did.
It was time for a new era, a new day. It was time for freedom. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. It was time, we knew it. It was time for us to have a go: equal rights. The aristos had taken everything from us. Everything we ever had, and we were sick of it. So sick. So tired.
We ran, the whole village, up the hill, on fire, fuelled by the happenings in Paris, excited. The Bastille had fallen. The time for the people, it was now, we were in it, we were ready. They would die today, we knew. They would die, the reign would end. It would be a new day. I couldn’t wait, we charged into it.
Through the house, we ran. We chased the family, ate their food. My first bread for a month at least. My first meat for three. There were some foods I had never eaten in my life. And there was so much of it! Someone had lit a fire, and they were dragging furniture out to watch the house go down. They said the aristocrats had escaped. Well. May they die on their journey.
I followed them outside, and took a seat on a chez lange armchair, helped myself to a little wine, and watched the show.
I may have felt a pang of remorse at some point. This family – their children had been my friend. But the fire of revolution was burning in my veins, and it burned the remorse to the ground.

So I sat and watched the grand old house combust, burning to the ground, and I thought … I thought of the future, I thought of the past. I even let the present cross my mind a few times. But mostly it was the future: tomorrow, next year, ten years’ time … could the world really change? Would the world really change? I sure hoped so. It had once seemed impossible. Now it was within our grasp. So who knew where it would end up later?
A shout – loud, harsh and rough – interrupted my thoughts. I sat up, looking for the source of the noise, which was now being followed by a woman’s excited scream.
Not too far behind me, several men and a woman were standing on an antique coffee table, positioned harshly in the grass. Firelight glinted off of the polished wood, reflecting on a collection of half-empty wineglasses that stood there, by the feet of the people. “Hey!” one of them grunted. “Who’s that?!” He was pointing into the distance, where I saw the face that I had seen earlier. It ducked over the top of the hill.
“I think it’s a little aristo,” said the woman. Her voice was unpleasant, too high pitched, like a baby bird screeching for its mother. “Let’s get her!”
She leaped off the table and began running through the grass and down towards the pastures. The men followed suit, and some of the other villagers joined the chase too. They ran through the fields, darting between sunflowers and corn, faster and faster, the night sky watching from above, the moon lighting their path.
Without thinking, I joined the chase too, but this time, without any intention of hurting the girl. I just wanted to … to see what had happened. That’s what I told myself.
We rounded over the top of the hill (I was almost out of breath), and I saw her, the girl who we were chasing, hiding behind a tree not far from where I was standing.
They saw her too. They ran. She tried to run. They caught her. She stood still, stock still, not moving an inch.
They had her surrounded, a proper gang of thugs. What would they do to her? They were discussing it. I heard them. “Hang her!”
“Shoot her!”
“Flay her!”
“Chop off her head! Off with her head!”

Each phrase, each sentence, seemed to weaken her more and more, until I could see that it was only the peasants’ arms holding her up. Her skin was pallid and pale. Her eyes were sharp with shock.
I knew everything I was thinking was wrong, but … but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. I mean, I hated her. Or at least, her family. I certainly hated them. But this girl, about the same age of me … she, herself, had not done one thing wrong.
Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself pushing through the group, right to the centre, where I shoved myself in front of her.
“Oi!” I did my best to sound strong and sure of myself, but my voice quivered a little bit. “What’re you doing to my cousin?! She’s no aristo! What’d she ever do to you?!”
“She’s wearing aristo clothing! Why’s she doing that?!”
“Same reason you’re drinking their wine! She’s no more counter-revolutionary than you or I!” I wasn’t sure that said much anymore, seeing as just right now I was saving and aristocrat’s life!
But, to my utter surprise, they nodded. Murmured swear words. Began to walk away. Slowly. Slowly but surely, they left, leaving just me and the aristocrat girl standing in a cornfield by a tree.
I turned around to face her, and saw that her eyes were still wide with fear.
I took her by the shoulders, and stared into her eyes. “Be glad that I saved your life,” I said, “and make it count. Your blood is still inside you; your life is still here. What I did back then shouldn’t have been done. I hope you appreciate it. Move to England, start a new life. This country doesn’t need you anymore. I’m sorry. Farewell, my friend.”
With that, I let go of her shoulders, and watched her walk away.
I wondered if she would listen to my warning.
I hoped I had done the right thing.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how I had called her my friend.
In a strange sort of way, she really was.



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