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OF SINS AND BARGAINS

The rain slapped harshly against his skin as he tread through the cobblestoned path to his chateaux. 

Gushes of winds sailed past him, making him shudder and lower his face under his high-collared cloak, while the sky bellowed in angst and parted its red clouds, as if stained from the very blood trickling down the streets of France, to reveal a bolt of lightning flashing before his eyes. 

Entering his chateaux, he handed his cloak to the butler and kept his wet coat on, letting its coldness remind him of the late numbness that had crept inside his heart. 

“Monsieur, a visitor awaits you in the parlor,” said his butler. He nodded and proceeded to the parlor, wondering what matter must have been exigent enough to bring this enigmatic visitor to his dwelling at so late an hour, on so tempestuous a night. 

Seated on a chair, next to the fire that burned low and gave no comfort to the wet and cold guest, he descried-- by the characteristic long, carob hair dangling loosely on the young man’s broad shoulders, covered by a navy-blue coat with a collar high enough to shield his face from the view-- the visitor to be the President of The National Convention, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, and found himself most surprised, being unable to fathom the possible reason behind his visit. 

            “Good evening, Citoyen Saint-Just. Forgive me for my discourtesy; however, registering the hour and state of your visit, I understand that the matter must have been inexorable and of utmost importance, and so I ask directly-- what brings you here?” 

As Saint-Just rose from his seat and turned to face him, he could discern, even in the light of the low flames, that everything about him, from his appearance to his manner, had changed drastically. The ice that once lay frozen inside his blue, glacial eyes, rendering them cold and devoid of emotion, had melted away as tears that now rolled down his red cheeks, and an expression of insufferable agony and torment marred Saint-Just’s ever-glazed countenance. 

“Kind and admirable Citoyen Baudelaire, I express my solemn grief at the loss of your brother to the cold-blooded and brutal death he faced at the hands of a killer. A killer I know so well and yet so little, but love with a love so much more ardent than I knew my ice-cold heart possible of.” His voice sounded fragile and teary, having lost its dominance and authority, and was softened at the touch of the seeming love soon to be lost.  

Claude Baudelaire started, and his eyes opened wide in shock. He had known Saint-Just and Dante to be friends but had no reason to suspect anything different. 

            “I understand you are surprised, and you are right to be, for I have gone to lengths to conceal this love that once drenched me in embarrassment. Dante Chevelle had rekindled the heap of ashes that I was, and set ablaze a fervent fire in my remorseless being, and I am ashamed to admit that despite my torment at the knowledge of his unforgivable and inhumane sins, not an ounce of my love for him has faltered.”

Moved by Saint-Just’s disclosure and sudden change in demeanor, Claude recounted the change that his brother’s murder had brought upon him and tears filled his eyes. Saint-Just moved forward and enclosed Claude’s hands in his own, their skins damp and numbed by their tears, the night and the times. The fire burned lower and lower, further darkening the somber and mournful night.

            “And so, I come to ask you of a greatest favor, a doing which can only ever be yours-- pray, I beg you-- to save my Dearest’s life, in exchange for anything, absolutely anything, that you want in the world.” 

            Claude jerked his hands away from Saint-Just’s hold and said with the appearance of anger and scorn, “Since you promise me absolutely anything in the world, tell me then-- can you return my Dearest, my little Clemente, to me? Can you turn back the iron-wrought, rusted 

and unforgiving hands of time? If you can, then I promise that I will forgive Dante for all the other innocent lives he has taken and save him for the sake of your passionate and exemplary love.” 

The tempest roared louder into the night, shrieking and howling, as if it harbored its own share of grief. The rain beat against his window panes like monsters waiting to devour him, as the fire died out. Saint-Just fell to the ground, breaking into a sob and laying his head at Claude’s feet, with his beautiful, carob hair, covering Claude’s mud-soaked boots.  

      “Then I ask you to lay the laden weight of Dante’s sins on my shoulders and denominate me guilty instead. Yes, I will accept it all and merrily lay my life, for my great nation and my greater love, below the sharp blade of the guillotine. If I can save my Dearest and pay for his sins, then my life is too small a sacrifice, and I will most happily gaze at the spires of the cathedrals in my beloved country, and at the eyes of my guilty and yet beloved Dante, through the round window of the guillotine, until it renders me so that I can gaze at them never again.”

A low, agonized moan escaped Claude’s lips as he stepped back and tears flowed unstoppably through his eyes. Seeing Saint-Just’s mane scattered across the floor with his broad build lying defeated before him, for a moment, he considered forgiving Dante and retracting his complaint. The image of Clemente’s dead body, naked from the torso and clothed from the waist, posed such that a crucifix was impaled across his body with its vertical plank spiked at his abdomen and protruding through his mouth, and its horizontal plank jutting out of both his shoulders, flashed before his eyes. He recalled the sun shining down on his golden hair, rustling with the morning wind about his neck, and bringing to notice his once angelically beautiful face, now turned cadaverous against the crucifix. 

A stone so unbreakable surfaced his heart that would allow nothing to penetrate beneath it. 

            “Forgive me, Citoyen Saint-Just, but I cannot accept this. Dante Chevelle must pay for his sins with his own head. Nothing else will rest my devastated heart and Clemente’s wronged soul. I understand that your undying love for Dante has rendered you blind to the understanding of virtue and morality; however, I only wish that you could see past your love, at your duties as the President of the National Convention, and your loyalty to the Nation.”

Saint-Just lifted his head to look at Claude, surprised at the sudden austerity. 

“Must tomorrow’s sun find my lover’s head below the guillotine? What design is this of God?” He pleaded and wailed. 

            “Perhaps it is God’s grand design that you pay for the countless innocent men you have led yourself to the guillotine, by offering it your own lover’s head. Perhaps it is all planned such that the only fire to have burnt in your cold heart must be extinguished by the terror you helped unleash.” 

As the tempest roared louder and hurled its might outside the window, Saint-Just fell to the floor again and bawled in anguish, seeing his last hope sundered before him, just as the last ray of daylight had been purloined before Dante’s eyes behind the dark and mildewy walls of the Conciergerie. The roars of the thunder sounded to Saint-Just as the sound of tumbrils rolling on their way to Place de la Revolution, and he shut his ears to the moans of mother France. 

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