Claire knew it. She could feel it, in her throbbing heart. The time had come.
After years of struggling to survive an uneven fight, it was time to rise up and fight back. To gain control and demand the rights every human being deserved.
They wanted a chance to live. And this time they wouldn’t ask for it kindly.
It had been almost ten years since Claire decided to help and heal the people who were treated like animals by the aristocrats. During this time, she had faced poverty, famine, devaluation of life and loss of hope. Destined to heal, all her work could be diminished in a moment, just because an arrogant aristocrat believed that lives of commoners were of no value. Because he thought they didn’t matter – not as he did. Claire had seen people die, more and more people as the years went by, but none of these deaths made sense to her.
Each death had left more angry and frustrated than she had been before.
While the aristocracy was bathing in luxuries, common people were dying from cold and hunger. While the ones committing the crimes were free, strolling around in silken clothes, innocents were rotting in prisons. People were dying just because they had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cause of dead: bad luck, your Honour.
Claire had seen with her own eyes five-year-old Nicolas dying under the weight of a Monseigneur’s carriage, just because he was standing at the wrong spot of the alley. “He got in the way!” the driver had stated as if it was explanation enough. The lord inside the carriage hadn’t even bothered to move the little curtain and see what had happened.
The rich never paid for their crimes. None of them felt the pain he caused, neither he cared to. The world was theirs and they behaved accordingly.
That was an injustice too heavy for Claire to bear. But bear it she would.
It was during the last five years that she noticed the change in people’s manner. The way they whispered, their meaningful glances. It felt like a drop of hope in a desert of despair and Claire could do nothing but navigate towards it. She needed it to survive, desperate as a thirsty man dreaming of a glass of water. The moment she recognized hope, she reached for it to forget her empty stomach and even emptier heart.
Claire had been tending to little Marie who had developed a fever when she took the risk and asked the girl’s mother, Louise, about the talk she had heard. She knew Louise as an honest and kind woman. She was one of the few people Claire trusted to enlighten her about the stirrings in the Parisian alleys and the increasing number of men calling each other ‘Jacques’ and then murmuring imperceptibly. That was when Claire first heard of the upcoming revolution. They were biding their time, Louise had said, waiting for the right moment.
Claire decided to become a part of the upcoming rebellion without a second thought. She had realized soon enough that justice would be won through blood and there was no other way around it. So she joined the rebels, giving to their purpose all the force of her existence. She participated in a women’s political club, distributed pamphlets and swore oaths of loyalty on her patriotic allegiance and responsibilities of citizenship. Being English-born didn’t help her being trusted at first, but she was determined and managed anyway.
And on the morning of the 14th of July in 1789, Claire was there. Her heart was screaming: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The world wouldn’t be ‘theirs’ anymore. Everyone would have a piece of sky for themselves after the revolution. And a piece of bread to feed their children.
The city of Paris was in a state of alarm. The rebels had invaded the Hôtel des Invalides and without facing great opposition had gathered a significant amount of muskets. The gunpowder, however, was stored in the Bastille and the decision had been taken immediately. They were going to storm in the Bastille, which at the moment stood with its standard garrison of 82 veteran soldiers, reinforced a week ago by 32 grenadiers. Nothing was going to stop them.
It was a matter of minutes. Weapons were distributed immediately; from pikes and knives to bayonets and muskets. And powder. All the powder they had. Every person left weaponless grabbed any object that would prove useful in a fight and fortified themselves with pure force. When ready, they headed towards the Bastille, forming a huge wave of bodies that left the streets empty behind.
Claire ran to her room and collected her own weapon, her medicine box, already prepared from the night before. She then became one with the mass, hearing the drums playing from somewhere amidst the crowd, their beating in the tone of her heart. She turned her head around she smiled to Henri, Louise’s husband, who spotted her and smiled back.
They were all in this fight together and that thought filled Claire with excitement and determination. The small fragments of fear that hid occasionally inside her heart had now disappeared, and the only thing she felt was purpose. She might die, yes. But her death would have meaning because she was part of something bigger than herself. She had risen together with others against tyranny, and for that, she felt proud and courageous.
Claire noticed that the solemn faces in the crowd became fewer and fewer the closer they got to the Bastille. It seemed like everyone was going mad with revenge, indifferent for human life. Holding her box tightly, she tried to remain composed and resolved that she would save as many people as she could.
It didn’t take them long to reach the Bastille. When they did, they gathered outside the fortress and demanded its surrender. Two representatives were accepted inside to negotiate, but the negotiations lasted way too long. In the early afternoon, the crowd invaded the undefended courtyard and broke the chains of the drawbridge. The moment Claire got in the courtyard she heard the soldiers of the garrison shouting something unintelligible in her ears. There were too much noise and confusion around her and she panicked, wondering how they would know what to do. Then, the men in the front decided to enter the prison.
It was at that moment that Claire heard the gunfire. The guns pointing from the castle towers towards the crowd had fired, indicating that no one was allowed to move inside. In merely a second, everything around her changed. Everybody changed. Every man and woman seemed to lose sanity like it had vaporized under July’s sun. Their inner beasts were free.
“They trapped us!” men were shouting.
“Kill them all!”
“We are going into the Bastille one way or another! Go!” cried a woman who stood behind Claire with a ferocious flash in her eyes.
Individuality was lost, and Claire could only see savage faces forming a mob around her. The picture scared her alright. But maybe that was the right thing to do. She didn’t know. They were supposed to fight to win. And the fighting had begun.
Holding her medical box, Claire tried to get herself to a relatively safe place where she would treat the wounded. She stood close to the stone wall and searched the mass for injuries. With the bloodshed that was unravelling in front of her eyes, she didn’t stay on that spot for long.
It was more than an hour later when two cannons and more men arrived to reinforce the attack, but Claire had lost track of the time. It could be mere minutes since the firing had started. She kept rushing to the fallen men and women, trying to remedy their injuries as best as she could. They were many, too many, far more wounded than she’d imagined.
Almost two hours later the firing stopped and Claire took her first deep breath in as many hours. Governor de Launay finally realized that his men wouldn’t last much more defending the prison without any supplies inside. He offered his terms with a letter, and even though his demands were refused from the attackers, the prison gates were opened.
In half an hour the fortress was theirs. Everyone was ecstatic. People were laughing and singing and shouting while dragging De Launay towards the Hôtel de Ville. Claire looked at them, and then looked around with a bittersweet feeling nestling inside her. She was elated about the outcome of the battle, of course she was. They had made it! This was the beginning of a great transformation for France! But looking at all those dead bodies and the wounded, she couldn’t but feel gloomy as well. How many more would they need to die, to gain the victory? She had been used to the sight of illness and blood and her eyes had seen much violence, but it wasn’t in her heart to consent with cruelty. She was certain that the ending of De Launay would be a vicious one, so instead of following the crowd, she stayed back in the courtyard of the Bastille and tried to help the wounded.
Claire was checking at the medical supplies left in her box when a Scottish burr started sounding louder than her thoughts.
“Come here, lad. Ye need help.”
Surprised, she rose, turned, and saw a gruff man with black hair and a beard that covered most of his face, leading a huge red-headed man towards her. She noticed the older man’s sad eyes and smiled to encourage him while moving towards the wounded one. It was when she reached him that he raised his head and looked at her. Their eyes locked for a moment too long and Claire lost herself into those deep blue eyes, forgetting where she was.
“I told ye, I’m fine,” the red-haired man replied without taking his eyes from her. His lips curled just a bit on their way to a smile.
Claire felt herself smiling back and lowered her head. This move allowed her to see the wound on his shoulder and she suddenly remembered the reason she was standing in front of him. ‘Get yourself together Beauchamp! Where is your mind?’ she silently chastised herself.
“Let me see your wound,” she heard herself saying and felt glad that her voice was louder than the whisper she thought it would be.
“Aye,” the man said smiling a bit more this time, although Claire was sure he must be in pain.
She looked around to find a place for him to sit and with the older man’s help, she moved him towards an empty barrel fallen nearby. He was tall, with broad shoulders and he seemed like a strong young man, but his face was pale and she needed to be fast in assessing the damage on his shoulder. With tender hands, she removed the outer layers of his sooted garments and reached to remove the cloth above the wound, finding that it was still oozing blood.
“Jesus Bloody Christ! You’re still bleeding!” she said, biting her lips.
“Seems so. Dinna fash lass, ‘tis no but a scratch.”
“Huh! A scratch he says! Well, it is much more than this, I can assure you my lad. You need to be still for me to stop the bleeding and dress the wound,” Claire said, belatedly realising the informality of her words. He nodded, with a little lopsided smile lingering on his face.
“Unfortunately I can’t cleanse it right now because I’ve run out of supplies. Would you mind coming with me to my place, where I have a stock kept? I could work much more properly there,” Claire asked, and it was when she felt her question hanging between them that she considered what these two strangers think of her.
Really, Beauchamp? Inviting them to your place?
She looked into the lad’s eyes again and saw concern, and something more, something she had a hard time defining. Challenge, perhaps?
“I don’t live far from here,” she added, looking towards the older man. She was a healer, after all, and she was trying to help. Nothing wrong with that.
Claire continued with the dressing of the wound (with the occasional cursing when the cloths slipped from her hands, not all of them being the right size) and when she finished, she looked into the kind blue eyes again, raising an eyebrow in question.
“So, what do you say, Jacques?”
He looked the other man who responded with a plain, “Mmphm,” that was the exact opposite of the Gallic sounds Claire was used to. It could really mean anything.
“We’ll come with ye, Sassenach,” the redhead said, looking at her again. He stood up with a tiny wince of pain and held Claire’s hand so very lightly. “And it’s not Jacques, even though in France I suppose it is. It’s actually Jamie,” he added with a grin on his face and mischief in his eyes.
“Jamie it is, then. I’m Claire,” she returned, her fingers pressing against his for a moment before she left his hand to move a bit further away and gain a few precious moments to force her heart to remain inside her rib case.
“This way,” she said, collecting her box from the ground and nodding towards the street she had walked that same morning, or in a previous lifetime; she wasn't sure.
Turning her head to see if they followed, two blue eyes smiled at her whisky ones.