France, Paris, 1775.
In the darkened dormitory, Maximilien watched the droplets on the window pane race each other to the bottom. Thunder crashed overhead and made the lamps flicker slightly.
Across from him, Camille shivered, nose nearly pressed to his own book. He looked up at Max, and his mouth quirked slightly.
Max shrugged. “Oui.”
Camille mouthed the word back at him, shaking his head, before bending back over his book. Max looked down at his own, fingers gently tracing over the lines.
Men, be kind to your fellow-men; this is your first duty, kind to every age and station, kind to all that is not foreign to humanity. What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?
The rhythm of the sentences flowed through his mind, much like wind through the branches of the blossoming trees outside. Max mulled the phrases over, turning it and turning it, like a child with a toy.
But it wasn’t a toy. It was philosophe. It was the future.
Max frowned slightly. He didn’t know where that thought had come from.
He hadn’t meant to think that, had he? The priests here, they wouldn’t approve.
What does the third estate want? Everything! What does it deserve? Nothing!
Hadn’t this been well established in their teachings?
But, that wasn’t true, was it? Didn’t everyone, regardless of where they had been born, deserve an opportunity? A government based in the pure ideals, one where it was run with vertu, to provide it? Isn’t this what Rousseau, an enlightened man, thought? Hadn’t the ancients run their government in such a way? Wasn’t Rome an ideal to aspire to?
A hard poke to Max’s cheek woke him from his musings. Camille was frowning at him.
“I’m sorry Camille, did you say something?”
“I’ve been calling you for ages,” the younger teenager huffed. Max hid his smile. As always, when agitated or emotive, Camille lost his stutter.
“I was thinking.”
Camille rolled his eyes.
“A-as always,” he muttered. “Y-you disappoint the f-fathers. Th-they s-say you’ll become a philosopher, not a lawyer.”
Maximilien stiffened in his chair. “My father was a lawyer, and his father was a lawyer. I’ll be following their footsteps,” he said, tone cold. Camille ducked his head against the implied reproach.
Parental discussions were not a happy topic.
“A-anyway, M-maxime, is it t-true?” Camille asked, leaning forward in his chair, ready to catch anything his friend said. Max cocked his head, blinking from behind his glasses.
“It what true?”
“You’re g-giving the c-compliment?”
Max nodded. He’d been informed by Abbé Jean-Baptiste Poignard that very day.
Camille’s eyes widened. “A-all in Latin?”
Max nodded again, a sick feeling curling in his stomach. He didn’t want to think about it. The Abbé had made it clear that this was by the grace of his oratory abilities in the language.
They’d rather have Suleau, who would have already been familiar with the pomp and circumstance of the occasion and wouldn’t need monetary assistance in buying a new overcoat to look decent.
“M-merde,” Camille breathed, wide eyed. “What will you s-say?”
Max shrugged. “It is being written for me, I’m expected to say whatever they tell me to.”
Camille smirked, mouth twisting. “A-aren’t we all?”
“Rousseau isn’t,” Max said, absently, looking down at his book again. It was a borrowed copy; an older and more daring student had paid to be smuggled in by one of the washer women. The pages crinkled as he ran a finger across the words again.
When he looked up Camille was staring strangely at him.
The younger student shook his head. “J-Just when I think I h-have your m-measure, you s-say s-something like that.”
Maximilien colored, face flushing red under his freckles.
“I didn’t mean it,” he lied.
Camille smiled. “Y-you did. A-and it’s why I l-like you Maxime.”
France, Paris, 1789.
Maximilien was staring out into the street from the upper level of the Riding School. The dirty streets were congested by horses, carriages, carts and people. The People, those who Max had sworn his life to work for, to protect. A hot flash seemed to come over him as he thought of the previous months, rising from his belly and making his face flush.
Versailles had been dreamlike. He’d spent a month talking to likeminded men from all over France, others who’d come to realization that the gears of the system that kept the kingdom ticking were grinding the People between the teeth, slowly strangling the life from them.
Then July came and decimated the very thought that anything was going to be same ever again. Maximilien could still recall the feeling of signing his name to the oath and flexed his hand slightly.
Now, he stood and watched as the other Conventionalists entered the dark and stuffy building, hastily repurposed for their meetings.
He blinked and looked down at the Convention floor. Camille waved at him, grinning. Next to him was a well-dressed and imposing looking man. Maximilien waved back and joined them shortly on the floor, where he was continuously jostled by the other men who pushed into the building.
“M-Maximilien Robespierre, meet Georges D-danton,” Camille said grandly, grinning wildly. His dark hair seemed to be even more untamed than Max remembered, flowing around his face pagan-like.
The hand that embraced his was easily twice as long and wide as Max’s, and had the same ink spots and callous from writing as his own.
“It’s an honor to meet one of the most admired men of Versailles,” Danton said, smiling. A scar ran down from his eye to twist his lip up. Max blinked.
“I’m afraid Camille has oversold my reputation, and I’m sorry to say I don’t know you sir,” he said, apologetically. Danton released his hand.
“I didn’t make it to Versailles but I’ve been active here, at the Cordeliers.”
Maxmilien nodded, quietly folding that piece of information away for later.
“I’m pleased to meet you as well sir,” he said at last, smiling shyly. Danton clapped him on the shoulder.
“You will have to come to dinner. My Gabrielle will want to coo over you,” the man warned.
“Oui, M-Maxime, you have to come and meet Lucille.” Camille sighed after he said this, dark eyes going soft. Out of the corner of his eye, Max saw Danton roll his eyes up to the ceiling and give a tiny head shake. Max felt a sudden flood empathy for him.
He smiled at them both.
“Oui, I would love it,” he said solemnly.
‘‘Men, be kind to your fellow-men; this is your first duty, kind to every age and station, kind to all that is not foreign to humanity. What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”