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Esprit de Corps

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As night fell over Paris, the bird in the mask gazed out over the sea of twinkling lights that covered the Île de la Cité, a cold look in his eyes as he paced atop the balustrades of Notre-Dame.

A perfect place to watch the city burn.

Séverin Cocorico had always considered himself a fair-minded fowl. After graduating from Paris Law School at the top of his class, he had dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice. Or at least that was what he had believed. From his first assignment as a prosecutor for the Cour d’Assises, an unyielding adherence to the letter of the law was his hallmark.

Perhaps that was why Jayjay Falcon had always been a source of fascination for him. Where his own style was detached and analytical, Falcon was all bluster and intuition. Many dismissed the big bird as just another mediocre counsel, but Séverin could sense that he was holding something back. And it would seem that on that fateful February day, in a trial beneath the streets of Paris, the falcon had shown his true colors.

Together they had brought a king to trial, allowing for Madame Beaumort to proceed with a successful and nearly bloodless revolution (Séverin could not bring himself to mourn the loss of the forked-tongued wolf). It brought the prosecutor a sense of pride that the two of them could accomplish great things together, and he had not hesitated to reach out to Falcon as soon as the dust had settled.

Relations between them had become indisputably friendly since February. They now often met to discuss cases over lunch or coffee and pain au chocolat at Séverin’s office, growing ever closer and developing something of an understanding between them. After what they had gone through, a bit of peace was exactly what they both needed.

Yet, despite the steady deepening of their relationship, Séverin could not help but feel a creeping sense of unease. From the faraway look in his eyes and the occasional long, incongruous lulls in their conversations, it was clear that something still haunted the aviary attorney.

He was taken aback one afternoon when visiting Falcon at his own practice, only to find him slumped in his desk chair, fast asleep, muttering something unintelligible. Séverin prodded him awake, taking a step backwards when Falcon woke with a start.

“Séverin? Séverin! You’re still alive. Dieu merci.” Séverin tilted his head quizzically as his friend fought to catch his breath.

“Falcon? Have you been having nightmares?” Jayjay brushed his questions off with carefully contrived annoyance, but ever since then, Séverin maintained a lingering sense of worry in the back of his mind.

Sparrowson had confided in him about it once, taking him aside at one of their meetings.

“He’s been having a lot of these…strange dreams,” his assistant confessed. It was clear that this was something he’d been keeping to himself for quite some time.

“Before I thought he was just being a bit of a layabout, but now it looks like there's really something wrong with him. Even in the daytime, he acts as if he’s been seeing, well, ghosts.” Sparrowson kept his voice even, as though afraid Séverin would scoff at him.

“Monsieur Grenwee, Baron Rorgueil, and especially you, Prosecutor. I’ve seen him wandering around the office talking to the air, asking for forgiveness from the people he thinks he’s failed.  It’s been like this since February.”

Sparrowson looked up at him meaningfully. “I think that the trial - your trial - was a tipping point.”

“Me? But I am very much alive, thanks entirely to his efforts, I might add.” In truth, Séverin had never anticipated making it out of those tunnels alive, and indeed, had Falcon not come prepared to save him, he would surely have met his end down there in the darkness. The fact that he still breathed was something that he would never take for granted. As far as he was concerned, he was indebted to Falcon for life.

“It’s probably best that we don’t leave him alone,” Sparrowson mused. Séverin had simply nodded his agreement, caught up as he was in his own reflections.

Perhaps he should not have been so surprised on that autumn day when Sparrowson came barging into his office.

“Falcon’s in trouble! Prosecutor, we-, er, I need your help.”

“What sort of trouble?” Séverin carefully closed the book he had been reading - Candide. Falcon’s assistant had always been excitable, but there was clear distress in his tone.

“Accused of murder to be precise.” The prosecutor stiffened but managed to keep his composure.

Oh Jayjay, what have you gotten yourself into?

Sparrowson tapped his feet, clearly eager to get going, a glint of urgency in his eye.

“I’d ask that you shake that you kindly shake that tailfeather, Monsieur. The trial is in four days. We’ve not got much time.”

Séverin took a deep breath, straightening his posture as he always did when a challenge was afoot.

“Very well. As Falcon would say: let’s make a move!”

October 23rd ~Monday~

Over the course of his career, Séverin had sent innumerable accused to la Conciergerie and many of them further on to the hanging dock at la Place d’Austerlitz. As the two of them entered the prison, a wave of feeling wash over him, not of guilt but resignation. To right the wrongs of the present not dwell on the regrets of the past - that was his aim.

Sparrowson whistled as they waited to be shown to Falcon’s cell.

“Ah, it’s like coming home!” The fledgling clearly hadn’t forgotten about that day he and Falcon had spent holed up in a cell here.

Inspector Volerti accosted them as they were waiting.

“Here to prosecute the murderer of Mademoiselle Demiaou, I presume?” the inspector asked, engaging Séverin with a colleague’s familiarity.

Demiaou? The wretched murderess?

Séverin answered without hesitation.

“Actually, I believe I will be acting as the defense in this case.”

Volerti blinked, clearly surprised.

“It’s because of those Second Republic ingrates, isn’t it? They must have you on their payroll now.” Séverin opened his beak to protest, but the inspector cut him off.

“Frankly, I’m shocked. I never took you for a spineless capon, Cocorico.” He stormed off, leaving an indignant Sparrowson to hurl insults at his back.

Falcon was doing nothing at all to help his case. When they finally reached his holding cell, the bird was clearly in a stupor – likely the result of too much Cabernet and not enough sleep. It was impossible to have him account for his whereabouts or even elicit a declaration of innocence. Séverin first bout as the defense was shaping up to be quite the uphill battle.

Sparrowson, for his part, tried to offer his consolations.

“It’s alright, we once solved a case with only two days’ preparation. Granted, we let a confessed killer go free and sent an innocent man to his death that day, but who’s keeping score?”

October 24th ~Tuesday~

There was little left to investigate at their next destination. Château Crinière had been burnt to the ground; ashes and debris appeared to be all that was left of the once grand structure.

Caterline Demiaou had just moved in to her new estate one the day the bomb went off. Her father had been able to purchase the property at a rate that was decidedly below market, given that the owner was sitting in prison, the future of his assets uncertain.

No body had been recovered, and the only piece of evidence was what appeared to be the remnants of Caterline’s charred flowered bonnet.

Falcon had a motive, of that Séverin was well-aware, having been informed of his history with the conniving cat. And with no alibi and no witnesses, it was enough to maintain a case again him, especially in these volatile times.

The Jayjay Falcon he knew was no killer. But could he prove it?

October 25th ~Wednesday~

The Bibliothèque Cachée had been one of Séverin’s favorite haunts since his university days. Neighthan the librarian had been instrumental in the trial of King Louis-Phlippe, and with his insight into the intellectual pursuits of the commoners and bourgeoisie alike, he hoped that the ass might have some sort of lead.

“Actually, the lawyer Falcon came by not too long ago, much more polite than last time. He checked out a book on thermodynamics of all things. He also had quite an interest in architecture, in particular he was looking for the blueprints for Château Crinière. Unfortunately, I informed him I was unable to provide those kind of records.” Sparrowson squawked at this revelation, and the librarian brayed at him to keep his voice down.

“He was also interested in in where he could obtain gunpowder in bulk...”

What on earth would Falcon need gunpowder for? Séverin was completely at a loss. And thermodynamics? Surely he couldn’t be making something that would require such knowkedge…?

“I told him, ‘I’m afraid I can’t help you with that. But if you’re looking for someone who knows about the violent side of things, I know where you might take a look...’ ”

October 26th ~Thursday~

The Palais-Royale had been occupied by the rebel leadership ever since the overthrow of the Citizen King, and it was there that you go in order to secure an audience with Léonie Beaumort.

His rare interactions with the lioness had been...awkward. How does one regard a person that had once called you a rotten connard before threatening to put a bullet in your head? Séverin opted for stiff cordiality.

A mass of fur brushed by him on his way to Madame Beaumort’s rooms, a puff of cigar smoke trailing behind him.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Madame. Was that Baron Rorgueil that just passed by?” Séverin asked as he stepped into the revolutionaries’ main office.

“Indeed,” answered Léonie from behind a desk piled high with paperwork. “He managed to bribe himself off of the executioner’s block, if you can believe it. The man has been homeless since Seigneur Demiaou bought Château Crinière out from under him, and he took it upon himself to ask for my assistance. The filthy opportunist thinks he can manipulate us like he did that buzzard Guizot. He actually had the nerve to suggest that he knew my father.” She casually extended her claws as she finished her tirade, and Séverin suddenly felt very grateful that, at least for today, he was not her enemy. “In any case, how can I help you?”

“It’s regarding Falcon. I understand he’s the one that helped you draft the Second Republic’s first constitution.” 

“What about him?”

Séverin cleared his throat as he readied his words. He had no reason to be coy.

“Did he ever ask you where to obtain certain incendiary materials? Gunpowder, explosives, things of that nature?”

She glared pointedly at him.

“As a matter of fact, he did. He’s been a trustworthy advisor, so I gave him the location of our supplier. Thought he had taken up with Francois’s gun obsession.”

Séverin was seized with a wave of unease. He knew all too what an experienced prosecutor would make of this chain of incidental inquiries. The outlook for Jayjay’s case was looking grimmer by the day.

Was this how it felt to be in the defendant’s corner, helpless as the mountain of evidence stacked itself against your client? Was this how it felt to walk in Falcon’s footsteps, grasping for evidence, flying by the seat of his pantalons?

“What do you make of the case, Prosecutor?” Sparrowson piped up from where he stood beside him.

“I think I need a vacation.”

October 27th ~Friday~

The day of the trial, Séverin entered the Palais de Justice feeling utterly unprepared for the very first time in his life.

He paced back and forth in the hallway, occasionally pausing to reread a note he had found in his pocket that morning:

Prosecutor Cocorico,

No point in sugarcoating it: merde is about to go down. I’m following up on a hunch, so apologies if I don’t make it to court on time.

I’m counting on you if things go south and they try to take Falcon away. That riding crop had better not be just for show.


Séverin folded the note neatly and tucked it away one last time as the doors to the courtroom opened. Long ago he had dedicated himself to finding the truth, and today would be no exception.

Judge Maxime seemed surprised to see him behind the defense’s bench but did not waste time to dwell on it.

The real shock came when the bailiff brought out the defendant.

“MON DIEU! Falcon, what have you put on your head?” The crown of an avian skull had replaced Jayjay’s usual chapeau, and wild-looking eyes blinked eerily at Séverin from beneath the mask.

Falcon’s voice was breathy and erratic, as though he were in a trance.

“This? I liberated it from the catacombs, a fine souvenir from the Sleeping City. Perhaps it belonged to my grandfather. Who know? Maybe now there will finally be some resemblance between us...heh...heh...”

Séverin stood back and crossed his wings as he did his best to think his way out of this. With such a display, only a blind jury would not be biased against the defense. The consequences of leaving Falcon locked up in la Conciergerie alone with his demons were proving to be disastrous. 

Just as he had feared, Neighthan and Léonie were called to the stand, and an exceptionally tearful Seigneur Demiaou served as the star witness for the prosecution. Séverin pressed their statements as best he could, citing the reliance on circumstantial evidence and especially the lack of feline remains on the premises, but the jury was having none of it.

Séverin was completely at a loss. But then, just as things seemed to be at their worst, Jayjay himself rushed to the stand.

“I have a confession!” he crowed, holding his bone-covered head high.

“Falcon, no!” Even if all hope was lost, Séverin would not allow Falcon to incriminate himself like this. Shouting so as to cover the cacophony of Jayjay’s ravings, he looked up at Judge Maxime and yelled, “Your Honor, I have an-,”

“OBJECTION!” Like a small feathered cannonball, Sparrowson burst into the courtroom. Dragging along behind him, yowling in protest, was a very familiar feline with snow white fur.

“Petit Sparrowson, how can you treat me like this?” whined Caterline as she was thrust into the bailiff’s waiting restraints.

He knew from speaking with Falcon that his assistant was gifted in unscrupulous methods, not the least of which included breaking and entering and surreptitiously emptying the contents of other animals’ pockets, but both of them had surely underestimated his talents at abducting runaway felines.

The entire audience in the gallery rose to their feet to get a better look at the spectacle as the Judge banged his gavel and called for order. Séverin fell back in his chair, an intense sigh of relief escaping him. Falcon’s assistant gave him a wink as he took his own seat at the bench.

“I started thinking when you mentioned the word ’vacation.’ Caught her in the luxury car of the last Demiaou Railway Express out of Paris!” 

“Sparrowson, as of today, consider all of your medical bills covered. Out of my own pocket.”

October 31 ~Tuesday~

Within a week, their lives had seemingly returned to normal. The Demiaous were swiftly brought to justice, and the citizens of Paris were happy to consider Jayjay Falcon an upstanding bird of the law once again.

“I am ashamed that you had to see me in such a state.” Falcon hung his head dejectedly, not daring to look Séverin in the eye as the two of them walked together along the Seine.

“On the contrary, I am the one who should feel ashamed.” Séverin stopped and looked over at his companion.

“I have been an egregiously inattentive friend, and for that I cannot forgive myself.”

“Séverin...” Falcon met his eyes at last. “Even after all these years, we know so little about one another.” His face took on a pained expression. “There’s so much I’d hoped you’d never see, about my weakness, the harm I can do...”

“You didn’t kill her, Jayjay.” Séverin reached out a wing to rest gently on Falcon’s shoulder.

“No, but perhaps I would have liked to.”

Séverin remained silent. He had always been completely dismissive of Inspector Volerti’s warnings about Falcon’s potential dark side. Now, after what he’s witnessed in the past week, he could finally see how those suspicions might have been the tiniest bit justified. But perhaps it would be better to turn the conversation in a more positive trajectory.

“Falcon, before I met you, I was an arrogant fils de pute. Purging the city of criminals was all that mattered to me. It wasn’t until I saw you lay yourself on the line that I realized there was another way. You saved me.” He edged a bit closer, narrowing the gap between them.

“We must live with our regrets. To this day, I haven’t stopped trying to recall the day when I prosecuted Madame Beaumort’s father.” 

“You’re not the only one with the blood of a lion on his feathers,” Falcon muttered. At that, Séverin recounted his run-in with Baron Rorgueil at Léonie’s office. Judging by the relieved look upon his features, it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.

“So that was why Demiaou tried to fake her own death. She knew Rorgueil would eventually seek out his revenge for pinning the murder on him.” Falcon then lowered his voice to a soft murmur. “But it was only my own incompetence that let them get away with it in the first place...”

“I meant what I said in my letter. You've always been a good friend, and you've proven yourself to be an excellent lawyer. But you feel things so very deeply, and it makes it that much harder for you.”

Compassion - that was the heart of the matter. It was both Falcon’s weakness and his greatest strength. Jayjay had a tendency to let his emotions carry him away, sometimes to dark places. He needed the support of his compatriots to keep the spectres of fear and self-doubt at bay.

He needed Séverin.

“I should like to visit the grave of Monsieur Grenwee,” said Falcon, breaking the silence after they had walked several streets further. They passed by the marketplace at Les Halles where the flower sellers had already laid out chrysanthemums for la Toussaint. Neither of them were churchgoing birds, but on this day it seemed only appropriate to honor the departed whose lives had touched their own.

“Ah, I had forgotten that November is already upon us. I’d be gratified if you allowed me to accompany you.” Séverin felt a lightness in his heart as Falcon readily agreed. The pair paid for their flowers and made their way towards the cemetery.

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth,” Falcon intoned solemnly.

“Ha! And I thought I was the only one that liked to quote Voltaire,” said Séverin, letting out a mirthful cluck.

“Well, I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading. I won't be outdone by you any longer.” Falcon chirruped contentedly, and the two of them walked on together through the bustling city streets, a companionable silence between them.

Paris had an uncertain future ahead of her, surely, but perhaps, if a harmonious accord could be reached by two such as they, an era of peace was not such an impossible notion after all.