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Excerpt: 'Where the Light Falls' - a novel of the French Revolution

Allison Pataki

The French Revolution began, in many ways, much like our own American Revolution of just a few years earlier. Among its original aims were calls to remove a man believed by many to be an arbitrarily empowered tyrant, to expand human rights, suffrage, and opportunity, and to do away with the noblesse oblige, or aristocratic superiority. Many French citizens, in the beginning, took arms in order to fight against the longtime suffering of the most impoverished and downtrodden. Thomas Jefferson lauded these early efforts, as did the French hero of our own revolution, the Marquis de La Fayette. As Americans aware of our own revolutionary origins, can’t we relate to such ideals and beliefs?

And yet, for obvious reasons, the French Revolution should certainly serve as a cautionary tale. Questioning authority and challenging the status quo are the duties of an engaged citizen, but the French struggle is one that turned to fanaticism and violence. Consider the following quote from its leader Maximilien Robespierre: “Revolutionary government owes to all good citizens the fullest protection the state can afford; to the enemies of the people it owes nothing but death.”

One of the questions we should ask regarding this philosophy is this: When a government entrusted with extraordinary revolutionary power is concentrated in the hands of a small group of like-minded men, can they be trusted to honestly distinguish these “enemies of the people” from citizens who happen to disagree with their ruling party? What right does a self-appointed committee have to distinguish “enemies” from virtuous citizens? If death is the penalty for all “enemies,” what exists to stop any opposition from being branded enemies and being summarily erased?

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can take away from examining history and the French Revolution is that no matter who holds the reins of government, we should always be wary of power and be willing to question those who wield it. Preserving a Republic or any form of Democratic government is a never-ending effort to maintain harmony and balance between a multitude of competing interests – be they political, social, religious, or otherwise. 

There is no doubt that our challenges today are every bit as great as they were then. The question we must answer, then, is whether we will resort to fear, violence, and extremism, or choose instead to learn from the lessons of this history and chart a productive course toward a more perfect union.

The following is excerpted from WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS by Allison Pataki and Owen Pataki.  Copyright © 2017 by Allison Pataki and Owen Pataki. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of  Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Paris

Summer 1794

André had hoped to arrive early, but the courtroom he walked into was filled beyond capacity. He gave his name to the nearest bailiff. The man, considering André’s military uniform and declaration that he was to serve as a witness, directed him to a bench one row behind where the defense would sit. One other person already sat there.

“Madame Kellermann.” André tucked his chin and nodded toward the elegant woman he had met at the Christmas ball. He was about to reintroduce himself when she spoke.

“Captain Valière, how good to see you.” Christianne Kellermann, to André’s surprise, recognized him. She extended a gloved hand. “Thank goodness you’ve come.” Her hair was laced with quite a few more strands of gray than the last time they’d met, and her features bore the drawn, pinched quality of sleepless nights and perpetual anxiety, but she offered him an attempt at a smile. “Please, won’t you sit beside me?”

“It would be my honor, madame.” André took the seat and surveyed the room, every inch of it buzzing with bodies, whispers, and roving eyes. The crowds were especially thick in the gallery above, where row after row spilled with curious spectators who vied and jockeyed for seats. It was a swarm of dirty faces, red caps, and tricolor cockades. Many of the women sat knitting while the men exchanged the latest news, and the children pulled one another’s hair, avoiding their mothers’ slaps and giggling as they leaned over the balcony. Also mixed in with this lot were soldiers. André recognized some of the enlisted men, their bodies packed tight in the rafters. He saw the round face of Leroux and several of his companions. It filled André with a small measure of pride: these men were here, like he was, to support the general who had led them to victory at Valmy.

Also in the crowded gallery appeared several chalky white faces: a cluster of men from the various legislative committees, André guessed. These men, like Lazare, had skillfully ridden the wave of growing dissatisfaction from ruling party to ruling party, surviving while so many of their colleagues had been condemned to the guillotine. Now they sat in silence in the gallery of this crowded courtroom, their postures tilting away from the hordes, though there was not sufficient room on the benches for them to distance themselves much. In contrast to those surrounding them, these stern men did not exchange gossip or even speak to one another.

On the lower level, several soldiers and uniformed officers sat on Kellermann’s side. A few rows back André spotted LaSalle, and beside him Remy. André nodded at them. Another group of National Guard soldiers stood toward the front, holding muskets with their backs to the wall, casting unpleasant glares at the men on Kellermann’s side of the aisle. Though they had fought under the same flag, one could not help but feel the mutual hatred that cast a chill over the chamber. One of the soldiers standing toward the front lowered his musket, leered in Remy’s direction, and cast a wad of brown spit onto the wooden floor. LaSalle threw an arm across Remy’s chest and shook his head as Remy muttered a stifled curse.

At the back of the court hung a massive flag, the new republic’s tricolor. Along the wall a large white banner brandished the words “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” scrawled in blood-red paint. The main aisle cut through the middle of the courtroom, not unlike a church or cathedral. Indeed, for many, these courts had taken on a solemn, even religious function in the new Republic.

Sophie sat across the aisle on the prosecution’s side; André had made her promise that she would do so, when she had insisted on attending the morning’s proceedings. Seeing André enter, her eyes rested on him for just a moment, a flicker of acknowledgment and support, before she returned her gaze to the front of the room. All around her sat the supporters of Lazare and Murat: surviving Jacobin lawyers, a half dozen members of the Committee, ambitious advocates hoping to make a name for themselves in the new government. A man in an unnaturally orange wig sat right behind the table where the barristers would take their seats.

At the front of the hall rested a long table draped in red cloth, its surface bare save for a cluster of papers, a quill and inkwell, and a haphazard arrangement of dripping white candles. Five judges sat at this table, facing the room and the prosecution and defense. They wore the traditional black robes, two of them with red caps atop their heads. The judge in the center, appearing senior in both age and authority, wore a large black hat with a red plume jutting out. But, in reality, there was only one true authority in this proceeding; the people would serve as the arbiters, swaying the judges to choose either life or death.

A door at the side of the room opened and in walked Jean-Luc St. Clair, his eyes cast directly in front and his arms full of papers. A loud murmur arose from the hall as he made his entrance. The central judge, who had been writing with his quill, barely looked up to acknowledge the appearance of the defendant’s attorney. The other judges leaned back in their chairs, their eyes tracking the path of the young lawyer.

A few moments later, the whispers of the crowd buzzed louder as the prosecution—-Guillaume Lazare and his chief witness, Nicolai Murat—-entered from the other side. André’s heart lurched in his chest. He noted that Lazare had two disciples with him, trailing behind the old lawyer into the courtroom. Murat, with his general’s uniform starched and immaculate, took his seat with a loud exhale, casting a glance across the room at the defense’s table. André clenched his fists and couldn’t help but cast a sideways glance toward Sophie, who offered a barely perceptible nod by way of answer.

Several minutes later, the door on the defense’s side of the room opened and General Kellermann appeared, escorted by two thick guards in army uniforms. He looked thinner than the last time André had seen him, but his overall bearing remained strong and commanding. He, too, was dressed in uniform. As Kellermann strode into the courtroom, the whispers and murmurs grew to full-fledged cheers and jeers as the crowds, buzzing with an anticipatory hum a minute earlier, surrendered any final shreds of composure. All five judges looked up at the gallery where the soldiers were on their feet, pounding their fists and cheering. Beside the soldiers, the crowd of red-capped revolutionaries jeered even louder, hissing with narrowed eyes as several children began to cry. Only the Committee members sat quietly, their features pale and unmoving.

“Order! Order, I say!” the central judge barked as guards in the gallery separated a half dozen soldiers and civilians who seemed poised to brawl.

André fidgeted in his seat, turning back to the front of the room to see Kellermann settling into his chair. Beside André, Kellermann’s wife clutched her handkerchief in her hands, twisting it between clenched fingers. André offered her a sideways glance, an encouraging nod, but her eyes were fixed forward on the broad, uniformed back of her husband.

Kellermann, for his part, appeared unmoved by the commotion, even calm. As he turned to glance over his shoulder, André saw on the general’s features a hint of defiance. His eyes lingered for several minutes on his wife’s face before turning briefly to André and then to the rest of the men and women who sat on his side. André gritted his teeth, heartened by Kellermann’s show of composure—-whether it was genuine or not. This should not come as a surprise, André realized. A man with General Kellermann’s experience, who had spent his years fighting on the bloody battlefields of Europe, would surely not be cowed by this rabble of red-faced revolutionaries and their shouted threats.

The central judge rang his bell ever louder and continued to call the crowd to order. The guards escorted several of the more vociferous audience members out of the gallery and, after a prolonged attempt, the judge managed to wrangle the packed hall into a manageable quiet.

“This Tribunal Court is convened in the month of Thermidor, in the Year Two of the Republic of France.”André calculated the date in his head: July of the year 1794. He had still not adjusted to this new and, to his mind, strange way of tracking the months and years.

“On trial is Christophe de Kellermann, known alternatively as le Comte de Kellermann or General Kellermann.” A mixture of cheers and jeers greeted these titles, and the judge cast an ornery glance upward at the gallery before continuing.

“The defense is accused of royalist sympathies and acts taken to undermine the Army of France in their operations on the Rhine. The charges are brought forward by General Nicolai Murat.” Cheers sounded at the pronunciation of this name. The old judge paused to clear his throat, emotionless as he read through these facts, no more than administrative details to a man who had grown accustomed to condemning men and women—-even children—-to death.

“I call the attorney for the defense, Jean-Luc St. Clair, to rise and answer these charges.”

Some in the gallery above hissed as Jean-Luc stood, straightening his vest to smooth it of wrinkles. The audience seemed to lean forward and crane their necks in one motion, the benches creaking under their combined weight. André took in a silent breath, as curious as every other soul in the room as to how the young lawyer would respond to the charges. The prolonged silence filled the already rapt room with a palpable tension.

When Jean-Luc spoke, it was with a clear, confident voice. “I thank you, Your Honors.” Jean-Luc nodded at the five robed men before him. “Citizens and citizenesses of Paris.” The lawyer turned, his gaze and his hands sweeping upward to the gallery. That was where the contest would be lost or won, André knew. That was the crowd that must be swayed, for their voices would ring loudest, telling the justices how to vote.

“My client, the hero of the Battle of Valmy, General Christophe Kellermann, has been accused of sympathizing with the deposed and decapitated tyrant, Citizen Capet. And of undermining the efforts of the French army in the campaigns on the Rhine. Charges that we, this very day, shall hold up before the infallible lights of evidence, reason, and justice. Charges that you, the good and honest people of the Republic of France, will examine and scrutinize yourselves. And charges that you, the good and honest people of the Republic of France, shall find as preposterous as they are untrue, before this court is adjourned.”

Listening to this calm, cogent opening argument, André felt his taut muscles soften slightly; the young attorney was perfectly confident, his words unequivocally competent. More than competent, even. Good. His mannerisms were sure and forceful without surrendering any graciousness. His language was clear and direct. He did not stumble over a single word as he rolled out his client’s case.

It was a story of a young man who, given everything by his noble birth, eschewed the privilege that those of his own social order told him was his right. A young man who, after disavowing the leisure and riches that might have been his birthright, instead sought a career in the army, rejecting a life of inactivity and profligacy. A young man who served with valor and duty and, as a result, climbed upward through the ranks, becoming a trusted officer and seasoned general. A leader of men who had aligned with and even aided the people when they had risen up against a system of tyranny and undue privilege. And a champion who had rushed to the defense of the nascent Republic when a foreign enemy crossed the borders of France, ready to invade and stamp out the new Revolution.

“These two men.” Jean-Luc was striding before the front of the courtroom, his two arms now spread between Murat and Kellermann. “Both heroes. Both generals. These two men who have been friends for longer than some of us in this room have been alive—-these two men have fought alongside each other for France. You must ask yourself: would a man such as Nicolai Murat, who has put his very life in this man’s hands, and vice versa—-would he have done so had he not trusted General Kellermann? Had he not thought him an honest, worthy, and patriotic citizen?” Jean-Luc paused, and André sensed it was more for effect than necessity. The young lawyer forced himself to break momentarily, André saw, even as he was ready to glide forward on the building swell of his argument. He took a sip of water and continued.

“Let’s think of this time not two years ago.” Jean-Luc’s tone was calm yet authoritative, the tone of a schoolmaster laying out a series of complicated facts for a room full of pupils. “This entire city, this entire nation, was hoisting this man, General Kellermann, the hero of Valmy, atop its shoulders. This man had risked his life in order to preserve the promise of our free nation. His words, his rallying cry of ‘Vive la nation,’ had driven our brave soldiers to repel the Prussian invasion at Valmy.

“Now the calls for General Kellermann’s head are just as loud and ubiquitous as were those earlier cries of praise. Why is that? What has changed?” Jean-Luc shrugged his shoulders as he allowed his eyes to move over the faces of the gallery.

“Is it perhaps”—-he lifted a finger, cocking his head—-“that we have changed? Have we become so inflamed by our good and righteous desire to steer this Revolution forward, so overburdened by the arduous task of rooting out our true and real enemies, that we have become temporarily overzealous to condemn?”

Jean-Luc did not look at Murat but kept his gaze on the people in the gallery.

“Paris, trust your better instincts, your true instincts. You know this man, General Christophe Kellermann. You know him as a defender of the people. He has not changed.” Now Jean-Luc’s voice rose gradually in volume as he lifted his arms, as if beckoning the people in the gallery forward to him. “Do not allow yourself to be moved by the barbs that come from a quarrel, personal in nature. Old friends who have reached such heights that, when they are at odds, one of them has the power to bring the entire government against the other.”

The crowds in the gallery were beginning to murmur, sounds of tenuous agreement and assent. Jean-Luc allowed this side noise to occur before he spoke again, his voice calm.

“The past two years have seen many guilty men earn their tumbril rides to the guillotine. Some here now say that General Kellermann deserves such a fate. What is their proof? What is his crime? If uniting the soldiers and people of France, and leading them bravely against our real enemies, is a crime, then yes, General Kellermann is guilty. If beating back the foreign hosts, driving them back to their own borders, is a crime, then yes, he is guilty.

“But I must ask you: do these sound like the actions of a man who sympathizes with a dead and deposed tyrant?”

The crowd was now muttering audibly, their responses clearly in the young lawyer’s favor. Someone in the gallery, a red-capped revolutionary who had arrived this morning eager to condemn the accused general, now shouted out: “Vive Kellermann! Long live Kellermann!” and the entire gallery erupted in applause.

Down below, André glanced at Sophie, and he couldn’t help but smile. The soldiers around him, too, were shifting in their seats, bolstered by the sympathy that the defense’s attorney had managed to carve out among the crowd.

Across the aisle from André, Lazare exchanged a meaningful look with Murat. What was his expression—-annoyance? Acknowledgment of defeat? André felt a flicker of hope in his chest, and he guessed that, beside him, Madame Kellermann felt the same.

Jean-Luc raised his arms and the volume of his voice, driving his argument forward on the wave of the crowd’s enthusiasm. “My friends, you know Christophe Kellermann. You are the very patriots who hoisted him atop your shoulders! Who declared him, rightly so, to be the Savior of our Revolution! And so I say to you: if and only if fighting and shedding blood in defense of the Republic is a crime, then my client is guilty!”

The crowd now broke out into applause. At this Murat stood up, thundering: “Pretty words from a young lawyer fresh out of the schoolhouse. How much blood have you shed for France?”

Hearing this insult, the crowd erupted in laughter, momentarily distracted from the stirring rhetoric of the defense. André looked to the judges, fearing that all the momentum built up thus far might be lost if order wasn’t restored quickly.

“Out of order!” The central judge clanged his bell while the crowds continued to laugh and carry on their side conversations. “This court will come to order now, or be dismissed.” The room fell quiet.

“All right.” The elderly judge glared at the room, his plumed hat off--center and his face red. “I think we’ve heard enough from the defense. Have you anything more to add?”

“That is all, Your Honor.” Jean-Luc bowed his head.

“Good.” The justice puffed out his cheeks, exhaling. “The defense rests.”

Turning on his heels, Jean-Luc marched toward the table and took a seat beside his client.

“Right, then, let’s hear from the prosecution. Citizen Lazare?”

Lazare stood up, slowly, clearing his throat. His pale hair, almost as colorless as his powdered face, was pulled back in a tight ponytail, and he wore the tricolor cockade on his lapel. “Your Honor, stating our case will be one of my legal deputies, the attorney Guy Mouchetard.”

“Very well. Citizen Mouchetard?”

With that, one of Lazare’s disciples, a man with a protruding chin and beady eyes, pushed back from the table and rose to his feet. Another good sign, André thought; surely Lazare himself would be speaking if the case was worthwhile or truly significant to him. The defense stood a much better chance against this surrogate, and surely Lazare knew that—-and yet he had allowed it.

The man, about the same age as Jean-Luc but several inches shorter, walked slowly to the center of the room, his heels clicking on the wooden floor. Pausing, he turned and looked out over the crowd. He took a pair of spectacles from a front pocket and slid them up his nose, pausing a moment before the waiting audience. When he spoke, his voice was loud, yet also quite shrill compared to Jean-Luc’s.

“At the outset of this new and noble Republic, we arrested a tyrant and his lascivious wife. The tyrant was brought to justice by this same court, the same people. The people of Paris. The people of France.” The lawyer’s mannerisms were jerky, his cadence irregular.

“Centuries marked by crimes, debt, terror, and usurpation were exposed. When the ermine robe was removed from Capet’s royal person, we saw him for what he was: a spoiled and incompetent brat, exploiting the French people. Growing fat off the misery of those he professed to love.”

The crowd hissed, agitated by this memory of their former king. The lawyer continued, his voice growing louder.

That was the moment that united us as a people. That heroic stand of the French citizens against the tyranny of the monarchy and their aristocratic lapdogs. When we, the new Republic, put a tyrant on trial and demanded an end to the lies and abuse! It took extraordinary courage and bloody sacrifice on the part of this city to do that which had never before been done in history.” The lawyer seemed to be gaining confidence, and he slid the spectacles farther up his nose, nodding at Lazare before continuing.

“When we demanded justice, and we sent those two necks to the guillotine, it was the moment of glory for our Revolution!” Now the crowd was whipped up into a frenzy, reminded and proud once more of its regicide. André watched, alarmed, as he sensed the momentum shifting back to the opposing side.

“Today we are looking at a man who, no doubt, has served this country. No one would question the Comte de Kellermann’s skill as a warrior. Many even called him a savior.” Mouchetard did not glance at the man about whom he spoke, but instead kept his eyes fixed on the gallery as he crossed his arms.

“Most of us are but common people. We have little use for the lofty rhetoric and high-flung ideas so often summoned in the defense’s legal statements. We have even less use for those who preach to us as if we were attending a sermon.” An emphatic laugh came out from the balcony. “Like many of you, I’m a humble man; some years ago, I began as a pruner of fruit trees. And as such, if there is one thing I do know quite well, it is the proper tending of a garden. Might I share with you one of the basic principles of this occupation? It is this: when a weed grows too tall, at the expense of every other life around it, it must be thrashed and cut before it threatens the well-being of those that languish under its shadow.” He made a cutting gesture with his arm and, as he did so, the crowd erupted in roars and fist thumpings.

“Objection!” Jean-Luc rose up. “Why must we hear this lesson in horticulture? Of what relevance is this analogy?”

The judge interceded, ringing his bell irritably. “Out of order—-await your turn, defense!”

“Your Honor, I’m not sure what the lesson in gardening has to do with the prosecution of General Kellermann,” Jean-Luc said, his jaw twitching as he kept his tone composed. “For my part, I’ve heard that most gardens grow fertile with water, rather than blood.”

“Order! Defense, you have had your say. The prosecution holds the floor.” The judge turned toward the prosecution’s table. Mouchetard stammered, momentarily thrown off his argument. The crowd, sensing the hesitation, began to buzz.

“Well?” The judge arched an eyebrow at the speaker.

“Well, I was making the point that . . . ​er—-” he sputtered, fumbling for words but having lost his thread. Those in the balcony began to murmur, sensing the prosecutor’s weakness, losing interest in his aborted analogy. André felt the faint embers of hope stirring once more. If only Jean-Luc could recapture the energy of the crowd.

And then Guillaume Lazare stood up. Lifting a hand, he asked: “May I, Your Honor?”

The judge nodded, and the room went quiet. As the younger lawyer retreated to his seat, the older lawyer glided across the front of the courtroom. Tracing a hand around his mouth, he cast a look at the defense, the hint of a smile appearing on his face. Finally, after what felt like several minutes, he turned and faced the crowd. When he did at last begin, Lazare spoke very quietly, so that everyone in the gallery was obliged to lean forward to hear him.

“I ask Citizen St. Clair, and all the citizens present in this assembly one question: how were the ancient monarchs empowered to rule this land, if not through violence and force, even bloodshed?”

Thoughtful silence stretched across the hall until Lazare continued. “How did the princes and lords of past years come into their noble seats of power? Or better yet, how was King George III, England’s tyrant, expelled from the colonies in the New World? How do a people throw off the mantle of tyranny, if not through righteous force?” Lazare paused, knitting his thin fingers together in front of his narrow waist.

“Would you have had them wait patiently? Pray? Philosophize?” Lazare smirked. “Hope that the despot would one day wake up and decide to trade in his scepter for a constitution? Will patience mean anything against a tyrant’s henchmen and cold steel bayonets? When the king’s minister told our people to eat grass, should they have obliged his scornful remark?”

The crowd began to jeer, answering Guillaume Lazare’s questions with their approval. André wished Jean-Luc would stand up and cry out his objection again; how did this history lesson in any way relate to Kellermann? But the defense’s lawyer simply sat in his seat, listening politely. The central judge looked on at Lazare, his gaze attentive as the old lawyer continued.

“History shows us a great many tyrants who have slaughtered others to gain their power, but very few who have willingly handed away that same power. When has it ever benefited a ruler to yield to a usurper? Will a tyrant not fight his people, even butcher his people, to maintain his authority?”

Jean-Luc now ran a hand through his hair, wanting an opening, but the crowd listened with rapt attention to Lazare’s soliloquy.

“That is the threat we face, every day, to our new Revolution,” Lazare said. Then he turned toward Jean-Luc. “A young, well--meaning idealist cannot be wholly faulted for his optimism.” The word was laced with condescension. “But, my friends, naïveté will not protect us! At this very hour, foreign tyrants are poised at our borders, seeking a way to invade and crush our young Republic. Our new freedom is fragile—-more fragile than we’d even like to believe. All it takes is one man, one of our very own, to betray us and open the floodgates for these foreign mercenaries. One man who’s decided that his aims no longer align with ours, and just like that!” Lazare’s fingers spread around him, mimicking the piercing of a bubble. “The Revolution is over. The tyranny of a king, reimposed. All of us—-all of our liberties—-dissolved.”

At this point, Jean-Luc stood up. “Your Honor, I’d like to beg your permission that these vague and theoretical soliloquies be put to rest so that the court may proceed to the business at hand, which is to establish the truth through the means of facts and testimony.”

“Granted,” the judge answered. “Citizen Lazare, please be seated.”

The old lawyer bowed low, his lips curling upward in an obliging smile.

“Citizen St. Clair?” the judge continued.

“Your Honor, the defense would like to call its first witness.”

“All right,” the judge agreed.

“Your Honor, I call Captain André Valière.”

André heard his name and rose, feeling the sudden focus of hundreds of eyes on his person. He walked forward, taking the seat offered to him before the judge’s table. His eyes fell for a moment on Kellermann, and he thought: how odd that the general nods at me, giving me a fortifying glance, when it is I who should be bolstering his spirits.

Jean-Luc let André settle into his seat before he approached. “Citizen, please state your full name and rank.”

“André Martin-Laurent Valière, captain in the Army of the French Republic.”

“And how is it that you are acquainted with the defense?”

“I served under General Kellermann at the Battle of Valmy and the campaign of the Rhine in the summer and autumn of 1792. Er, I mean the first year of our Republic.”

With André’s help, Jean-Luc laid out the facts and circumstances of the Battle of Valmy, entirely for the crowd’s benefit. The threat of the Prussians, the clear route for the Habsburg alliance into Paris. General Kellermann’s decision to turn and give battle on that field at Valmy when the outcome of the campaign, and the nation’s very survival, still hung in the balance.

Asking André to deliver his own account of that day, Jean-Luc listened, as did the crowd. The hundreds sat quietly as André reached the climax of his tale, the moment when a barrel-chested Prussian stood over him, wrestling to lodge a bayonet tip in his skull. And Kellermann appearing suddenly to cut down the man who, seconds later, would have taken André’s life.

When André had concluded, Jean-Luc sighed. An audible sigh. An exhale intended to be heard, and felt, by the crowds in the gallery.

“And so, Captain Valière, you would say, unequivocally, that General Kellermann saved your life that day?”

“I would.”

“And you would say that General Kellermann rallied the army that day, leading the decisive charge that finally broke the enemy’s lines and won France her victory?”

“I would.”

“And has he ever, in the time you’ve known him, spoken a false word against the Republic?”

“He has not.”

Murat fidgeted in his chair, whispering something in Lazare’s ear. Lazare nodded.

“And you recognize that, in coming here today to speak on behalf of an accused man, you put your own life at risk, Captain Valière? And yet, you come of your own accord, because your honor as a soldier and a citizen compels you to tell the people of France the truth?”

André noticed for the first time now, as he tried to swallow, just how dry his mouth was. He opened his lips and, in a loud voice, answered: “I understand that, and I willingly accept the consequences. General Kellermann would do the same for any other loyal Frenchman.”

Now members of the crowd were nodding. One man in the gallery whistled his support for the defense’s witness.

“Thank you, Captain Valière.” Jean-Luc offered his witness a barely perceptible wink. Turning to the judge, Jean-Luc said: “Your Honor, the defense has no further questions for the witness.”

Lazare raised a finger, and the judge, seeing it, nodded. “Citizen Lazare?”

“May I approach the witness, Your Honor?”

“You may,” the judge replied, and Lazare rose. André felt his entire body go rigid as the image of his father on trial burst across his mind. He blinked, forcing himself to maintain mastery of his surging emotions as Lazare walked slowly toward him.

“Captain Valière, is it?”

André nodded, using all his strength to keep his voice quiet as he answered. “Yes.”

Lazare flashed a quizzical expression, tapping his chin with his thumb. “What have you done with the antecedent of nobility—-the ‘de’ that preceded your name at birth?”

The crowd began to whisper and André fidgeted in his chair, feeling it creak beneath his movements. “I denounced the noble title and lands years ago. I swore an oath to the Republic.”

Lazare nodded, pacing the floor before the witness but not looking directly at him. “And your father before you, did he, too, denounce the title?”

André felt the overpowering urge to rise and lunge at his father’s assailant, but he clutched the sides of his chair, holding himself in place. “My father . . . ​he . . . ​well . . .”

Lazare waited, his face now holding André’s with his eyes, his features placid.

“My father no longer lives,” André said eventually, his mouth dry as the words came out. His heart hammered his chest.

“Pity.” Lazare cocked his head. “How, if you don’t mind my asking, did your father perish?”

“He was killed.”

“The guillotine, I believe?”

André nodded.

“Guillotined? Please answer ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ Captain de Valière. We must record these facts for the court,” Lazare said, crossing his arms.

“That is correct,” André answered, resisting the urge to look toward Sophie.

“On what charge was the late Marquis de Valière convicted?”

“Royalist sympathies.”

Lazare touched a spindly finger to his ear. “I can’t hear you. Mind speaking up, Captain de Valière?”

“Royalist sympathies,” André repeated, louder this time. Even as the blood thrummed in his skull, André heard the buzzing once more from the gallery, and he knew that Lazare was succeeding in his aim, which was to discredit him as a witness.

Lazare nodded, recommencing his pacing. “Captain, you have served bravely. We all thank you for your service to this Republic.”

André swallowed but did not reply to the compliment, certain that there was a blow to follow.

“Captain de Valière, have you ever heard the Comte de Kellermann defend the deceased tyrant known as Citizen Capet?”

“Never.”

Lazare nodded. “You served at Valmy under the Comte de Kellermann. Have you seen him since the day of that battle?”

“Of course I have seen General Kellermann since then,” André answered.

“And was it ever in an informal setting? A time when you were not under direct orders of his command?”

André thought about this. “I do not believe I have ever associated with him as a private citizen, no.”

“Never?” Lazare asked. “Not even once, right here in Paris?”

André paused; it seemed as if Lazare had some hidden angle. And then he remembered one occasion. “I suppose there was one time.”

“Ah, yes, you suppose there was one time.” Lazare looked up at the gallery, ensuring that they’d recorded this witness’s changing testimony. “And what were the circumstances of this one time?”

André paused for a moment and took a deep breath, willing himself not to grow flustered, even if the interrogation seemed to be spiraling out of control. “It was here in Paris. There was a ball given by the Jacobins shortly after Valmy. It was wintertime, just after Christmas.”

“Christmas?” Lazare repeated, and André grimaced as he realized his error—surely the result of his nerves.

“New year . . . I meant to say the new year. Shortly before the new year,” André hurried to correct himself.

Lazare nodded, allowing Andre’s mistake to linger in the quiet courtroom a moment before he continued. “Captain de Valière, would you please describe for us the circumstances of that evening? Who else was there? What was discussed?”

André turned his gaze, his eyes resting for the first time on the seawater gray of Murat’s. “General Murat was there with us, as was Madame . . . ​Citizeness Kellermann.”

Lazare nodded. “And this was the night that the people decided on the execution of Citizen Capet, was it not?”

André thought about that evening. Most vivid in his memory was meeting Sophie. Standing with her outside of the Panthéon in the cold. The desire he had felt, even then, to see her again. But yes, that had also been the night they’d voted to kill the king, which was why Murat had whisked Sophie away so suddenly. “Yes, I believe it was that same night.”

“You believe it was.” Lazare nodded, still pacing, as he rested his chin on his thumb. “And on that night, did you three—-General Murat and the Comte de Kellermann and yourself—-not discuss that significant piece of news?”

“It may have come up, briefly.”

“You are under oath, Captain, so think before you speak next.” The lawyer’s voice was cold, devoid of emotion. “I would hate for you to lie to the French people and, in so doing, forfeit your own liberty.”

André fidgeted in his seat, uncrossing his legs.

Lazare pulled a paper from his pocket, which he now held at arm’s length, as if it served more as a prop than a necessity. He cleared his throat, making a grand show of reading. “The Comte de Kellermann has been accused, by General Nicolai Murat, of making the following statement when discussing the appropriate punishment for Citizen Capet: ‘I’m not certain that I agree with any of the executions carried out in the name of our Republic.’ ”

The crowd erupted in shock and outrage as Lazare’s eyes slid upward, holding fast to André’s. André turned to Jean-Luc as a feeling of dread gripped him; he did remember Kellermann saying that.

“Captain, do you remember the Comte de Kellermann speaking thusly?” Lazare asked, loud enough to be heard over the crowd. But before André could answer, the attorney turned back to the paper in his hands. “And one more statement, Captain de Valière. On the topic of that Austrian adulteress, the Habsburg princess whom we have sent to the grave, General Murat recalls the Comte de Kellermann saying this: ‘I think that the journals have drummed up and printed many accusations that are false. . . . I believe Marie--Antoinette wielded far less influence at court than many would have us believe. And surely she was a devoted wife. Just look how many children she has given the king.’ ”

Now the crowd above was in a full-fledged riot. Words of support for Louis were damning enough, but a word spoken in support of the late queen, Marie-Antoinette—-nothing was more likely to earn one a ride on a tumbril.

The judge rang the bell ferociously, attempting to silence the crowd. “Order! Order, I say! I will have order!” Guards dispersed throughout the gallery, their muskets raised aloft. After the hissing and jeers had quieted, once the women had resumed their knitting and the little children had been pulled back off the balustrade, Lazare resumed his pacing.

“Captain, now that I have refreshed your memory, perhaps you will allow me to repeat my original question: have you ever heard the Comte de Kellermann speak in favor of Citizen Capet?” He held André in his steely gaze, his eyes cold with the certainty that he would have the answer he wanted.

“It was a long time ago. I don’t remember the precise words. I simply remember Generals Kellermann and Murat discussing the Revolution and its consequences—-”

The crowd burst into fresh jeers and insults but André, stung by this assault on his integrity, spoke over them. “If you speak of the night of the Jacobin ball, I do recall that General Kellermann said that the monarchy should be disbanded and the king put in jail. But while I’m remembering, I also recall that General Murat said that many of the common people were fools, not yet ready to take over the reins of government.”

Now the crowd was silenced, but only for a moment. And then, not sure with whom to be angry, they began to yell. A fight broke out, prompting another furious round of bell ringing at the judge’s table.

Lazare waited for the rabble--rousers to be ushered out and for order to be restored before he spoke. He was done with André and turned now to face the gallery. “Citizens and citizenesses of France. There’s no doubt that both of these generals have performed great deeds in the service of this land. Like any true soldier, Kellermann was not afraid to shed his own blood. But we are not here today to put his bravery on trial. We are here to determine his guilt as it pertains to loyalty and our Revolution, and whether or not he has sympathies for our dead tyrant—-sympathies that would run counter to the progress of our Revolution. You hear now the very statements he has made. Statements which General Murat has sworn to, and which André, son of the Marquis de Valière, has confirmed. You know, now, what must be done.”

With that, he turned to Jean-Luc and offered a curt bow, then took his seat. The court would adjourn for a thirty-minute recess.

Allison Pataki is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Traitor’s Wife, The Accidental Empress”, “Sisi: Empress on Her Own” and her latest novel “Where the Light Falls”. Allison’s novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages.