Lionheart

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Summary

1793: she’s audacious and cheeky, a mezzo-soprano who always gets the breeches roles. He’s the lion of the revolution, calculating and unsociable. Her heated personality and his cold temperament aren’t suited for each other, yet her fiery company is the only company he wants to keep, and she’s intrigued by this somber Frenchman, even though he could easily send her to her death.

Genre:
Romance / Drama
Author:
mForthe
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1


“Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; —the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!” —Charles Dickens


“Catch him! Don’t let the bastard escape!”

Hoofbeats clattered loudly on cobblestones, and voices echoed in the dark and empty air.

“He went that way!”

“No! He went down the alley!”

“Over here!”

Gabriel Allard caught a glimpse of a shadow in the faint light from a streetlamp, the flutter of a cape, and then darkness.

“He’s that way!” he shouted, urging his horse into a quick trot.

The streets in this part of Paris were narrow and difficult to navigate even during the day; in the pitch black of night, Gabriel was beginning to think it was impossible. He considered dismounting and following the fugitive on foot, but that could prove disastrous should he lose his footing and break something.

He chased the figure through the labyrinth of winding streets and side alleys, only to find himself completely lost and separated from the others. He’d lived in the city for twelve years and it still confounded him. He’d heard what they called him, what they said behind his back. A provincial man at heart. The cowards were too afraid to say it to his face, denying him even the satisfaction of a confrontation.

He couldn’t help but wonder with a hint of dread in his gut, If he escapes and the Comité catches wind of it—

No. They wouldn’t. He would find the elusive devil and send him to the guillotine.

We’ll see how easy it is for him to help traitors without a head.

Gabriel’s breath misted in front of his face. Apollo, a middle-aged gelding and a gift from Gabriel’s father, now deceased, shook his mane and snorted uneasily. He patted the gelding’s neck.

“I know, my friend. We’ll catch him, you’ll see.”

He’d been hunting the man for several days. For whatever reason, Josquin Arcement, a guard in the Conciergerie, had helped a handful of the condemned escape across the English Channel, where they remained regrettably out of reach from the justice they deserved.

Gabriel tugged on the reins, stopping his horse in the middle of a narrow, curving street. Everything was dark. The wet black cobblestones blended into the greasy black walls, which blended into the foggy blackness of the night sky. His men’s voices had long since faded into the distance. He could only hear his own steady breathing, the soft clink of the bit in Apollo’s mouth, and the creak of the leather saddle beneath him as he shifted.

“Where have you gone, Josquin?” he inquired, more to himself than to the man he was pursuing.

As expected, he received no answer.

Gabriel swallowed the rancid taste of his own incompetence. He never lost a suspect. Never. His ferocious thirst for the hunt had earned him his nickname. Whatever they whispered about him in the dark, by daylight he was le lion, fierce and unforgiving. And when he’d learned that Josquin had not fled to England, that he was still in Paris—

Well, now Josquin was here somewhere, and he’d led Gabriel on a merry hunt deep into the bowels of the city on that gloomy autumn night. Gabriel shivered, despite himself, and scanned his bleak surroundings. An unpleasant thought suddenly gripped his racing mind.

He led me here.

Just as realization dawned on him, a deafening shot tore through the silence. Apollo, usually a gentle soul, screamed and reared in terror. Gabriel tumbled from the saddle, landing heavily on the hard cobbles while the horse bolted. Apollo’s hoofbeats swiftly grew fainter, ending abruptly with a frightful scream.

Gabriel groaned and stood, his left elbow and hip protesting sharply.

“Come out, you loathsome little coward!” he bellowed into the darkness, pulling his flintlock from his belt and cocking it. He had one shot waiting to lodge itself in the bastard’s skull. “If you’ve hurt that horse, I swear by God I’ll—”

“Gabriel Allard,” laughed a voice from somewhere nearby. It echoed off the walls, eluding Gabriel’s attempts to pinpoint it. “The lion himself emerges from his den to hunt poor little me.”

His head cocked, listening, Gabriel took a few cautious steps forward, the pale orange glow of a lamp flickering across his face. The shadows seemed to whisper around him as he moved, his footsteps unnaturally loud in the silence.

“You can come quietly if you like,” he called out, hoping to elicit another response. “Although frankly, I’d prefer to kill you now.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you,” replied the disembodied voice.

It was coming from above. Gabriel looked up, scanning the rooftops. “You think you deserve life after what you’ve done?” His eyes traced the shapes of the houses, watching for any hint of movement.

“What I’ve done?” the man echoed. “Selling passage to England to some very desperate people? I’d say I was doing France a favor. You should be thanking me.”

“They were traitors of the Republic and deserved justice. As do you, Josquin.”

“Do you really think Robespierre cares about you and me? Marat? Danton? We’re nothing to those white-wigged windbags. Now you have a chance to save your life. Tell the Comité I’m already in London and I’ll make sure you never hear from me again.”

Gabriel’s eyes darted towards the sound of the voice.

There. A movement of black upon black. He saw the shadow creep closer, illuminated in the flicker of the streetlamp.

He raised his pistol and fired, the muzzle flash briefly illuminating him. His target flinched at the sound but didn’t fall.

Damn. A misfire.

Josquin dropped from the rooftop. Gabriel heard the hiss of a blade being unsheathed, footsteps rapidly charging him. He tossed his pistol aside, threw open his coat, and reached for his sword. Josquin lunged.

Gabriel parried, throwing Josquin back and barreling into him before he could catch his footing. They crashed into a wall, each straining for the upper hand. Josquin was no casual militia man; he’d spent long years as a decorated soldier, earning him his coveted position at the Conciergerie. He threw Gabriel from him, nicking him in the shoulder with the point of his saber. Gabriel returned the favor with a swift jab, feeling his blade penetrate the man’s thigh.

Josquin groaned and pulled back.

Both men watched each other, their panting, and the grit of their shoes on the pavement impossibly loud in the silence.

“You know your way around a sword, I’ll give you that,” said Josquin.

“As do you,” Gabriel replied graciously. This was his element, a fierce battle in the dark, matched against a keen opponent, the thrill of a challenging fight numbing the stinging wound on his shoulder. Blood ran down his arm, hot and metallic.

“You’ll have to do better than that if you want to catch me, Inspecteur.”

“I don’t need to catch you.” Gabriel pulled a second pistol from his belt and fired.

The ball caught Josquin squarely in the chest, knocking him back. He slowly fell to his knees, gaping up at Gabriel.

“You cheat,” he muttered in bewilderment.

Gabriel smiled coldly. “You made the mistake of believing a lion is honorable.” He pierced the man’s heart with his blade. “It’s really just another bloodthirsty animal.”

Josquin crumbled like a pile of limp clothing. Gabriel rolled him over with a kick of his foot to make certain the wound was mortal. The man’s eyes stared into emptiness, already glazing over, his mouth hanging slack.

Gabriel sighed and looked up at the night sky, watching the mist swirl and contort above his head as he tucked his pistol away and absently wiped his blade clean. Sheathing it, he thought absently of the report he would write when he returned. He searched for his other flintlock and found in the gutter after kicking through a pile of old leaves and debris. Tucking it through his belt, he began the hunt for his horse.

Apollo had not gone as far as Gabriel thought. He saw the horse’s dark form lying prostrate on the road, struggling to rise in vain. Apollo snorted nervously as Gabriel approached.

“No, no, no, my dear friend,” he murmured, examining the horse as best as he could in the dark. “What did he do to you?”

He found no blood, but Apollo’s foreleg was clearly broken; the horse flinched and groaned when Gabriel touched it. He’d felt a few loose cobblestones as he’d walked and nearly stepped in a hole himself. It seemed the poor creature had stumbled into one such cavity and twisted his leg.

Apollo snorted again, his tail flicking anxiously.

“Damn it,” Gabriel cursed quietly. He stroked Apollo’s broad, silky neck and whispered to the gelding in a soothing voice. “You did well, my friend. You did very well.”

Inspecteur Allard!” One of his men stumbled onto the road, nearly tripping over Josquin’s corpse.

“Here!” Gabriel shouted gruffly.

Inspecteur!” The young man ran toward him, hand at his hip to keep his sword from banging against his leg. “Was that—?” He gestured at the body several paces behind them.

“Your pistol, Sergent.”

“Pardon?”

“Your pistol!” Gabriel didn’t tear his eyes away from Apollo.

The sergeant quietly pressed his flintlock into Gabriel’s outstretched hand.

“Goodbye, dear friend.” Gabriel stroked Apollo one last time, tenderly brushing his mane back, and pressed the pistol beneath the horse’s trembling ear. He pulled the trigger.

The sergeant flinched behind him, reluctantly accepting the pistol when Gabriel handed it back to him.

Gabriel stood slowly, all too aware of his aching body as the night’s excitement faded. Blood soaked his sleeve.

“Are you all right, Inspecteur?”

“Find the others. Clean this up. Go home.”

“Shall I find you another horse?”

“No,” said Gabriel. “I’ll walk.”

Home was farther than his office, but Gabriel passed the palais and kept walking. He needed to bind up his shoulder, have a drink, and sleep. He could write his report tomorrow.

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