Marie went to bed on the thirteenth of July tired, anxious and hungry. Her aunt was sick, had been sick for years, they could not buy bread and pay the next week's rent so they had done without bread—what choice did they have?
Recently Marie had resorted to stealing bread where she could, but she hated doing that. Firstly, because the Gardes Francaises would kill her if they could, arrest her if they couldn't, with a more lingering death to follow. Second, because did not the priest tell her that it was wrong to steal? She had not dared to steal bread for days, afraid of the rioting and the troops.
As she lay on her pile of ragged blankets on the floor, in the room her family shared, she drifted off to sleep listening to the musket cracks in the street and Claudette crying weakly with hunger; afraid that the baby, Jacques, was dying; hoping only that the riots would end soon, that she would not be arrested; that she would be able to buy bread soon; the Government would take pity on them.
That night was like many other nights that July, as Paris simmered in the summer heat, riots more desperate, more and more troops, anger crackling in waves from the warehouses to the customs post, to Saint-Lazare.
The next morning she woke early and left the house to beg, borrow or steal what she could.
Claudette cried after her. "I'm hungry. Marie, I'm hungry!" Jacques simply lay on his rag, barely breathing. Her aunt tossed and turned feverishly, her hands trembling on the thin blanket.
"I'll try to get some food," said Marie. "I'll try…"
She clambered down the stair-case, stepping over the bodies of homeless, starving people who camped there, barely moving beneath their rags.
The streets were much as usual. Starving, desperate people drifted from shop to shuttered, looted shop. Gangs with scythes, pitch-forks and pinched, nervous faces lingered on the corners. And at every corner, on every street, glaring behind muskets, pistols, gleaming swords, were the troopers. A few were drunk. Most were silent. Those were the ones who scared her. Marie could feel their eyes on her. Look at that peasant. Look at her run. Filthy brat.
Tears pricked her eyes.
The crowds in the centre of Paris were greater than she had ever seen them before. Great. Competition for the limited bread available. The crowds in the centre of Paris were much greater than she had ever seen them before.
And they were purposeful. Not grabbing what they could and running before the troopers. Armed, confident, heading into town. Where could they possibly be going? To a rich man's house, to seize his grain store? To demonstrate about something? Marie went with them. The bigger the crowd, the better their chance against the troopers. The more likely she was to get bread.
But it seemed they were not going to get bread. The crowd, dozens, hundreds, clutching weapons ranging from kitchen knives to guns, gathered in the square before the Bastille.
"What are you doing?" Marie asked the gentleman in front of her, clearly a sans-coulotte, clutching a musket.
"Taking the Bastille."
Someone at the front of the crowd was saying something. Everyone swayed forward to listen, the sans-coulotte, a group of wine merchants, an elderly lady clutching a basket of eggs, which she told anyone who would listen she had stolen from a priest.
"Who cares if it's illegal?"
"More of us than there are of them."
"Yes." Marie looked at the huge, black fortress lowering above them, guns poking above the battlements. "I suppose there are."
She had no weapons. Some people had gone to the Hotel des Invalides to get hold of muskets, but she had nothing.
Nothing but two days' of hunger and the fact that there were more of Us than there were of Them.
Marie wanted very badly to go. Go before the troopers came, before she got into trouble, before she was killed. She so nearly went. But she didn't.
She sat through the negotiations, arguments, fights. No one seemed quite sure what they had come for, or who was supposed to be in charge. The official demand seemed to be for the surrender of the prison and the removal of cannon, but a group or people next to Marie were shouting "We want the vote!", a man with a wheelbarrow seemed more interested in selling his onions than taking the Bastille, there were a few people who still thought it was a bread riot and were shouting "Where's the bread, then?", a vision-seeing man who thought they were evangelising, someone trying to take a roll call and a few people who seemed to have come along for fun.
And on the battlements, soldiers with guns watched and prowled.
And it was hotter and hotter and Marie was getting hungrier and hungrier. Rumours flew through the crowd. They had broken down the wall. The Royal Army had arrived. They were all being massacred. They were not all being massacred. The surrender of the Bastille was imminent.
When the fighting did begin it was horribly sudden. Someone broke a door down and Marie felt herself pushed into the outer court-yard.
The people around her were screaming. In fear or pain or anger Marie could not tell. Someone climbed up onto the roof. The sans-coulotte, who was, she had now learned, called Antoine, shouted, "They're breaking in, they're breaking in!". A small group of people were climbing onto a roof, the people behind them were pushing. Screams grew louder, became words. "Down with the Bastille! Down with the Bastille!"
"What the Hell-" gasped Marie, fighting to breathe in the crush.
"They cut the draw-bridge down!" called a wine-merchant in front of her.
"The draw-bridge-" began Marie, but before she could continue, something whizzed through the air and crashed into the throat of the man behind her.
They were shooting. The troops in the Bastille were shooting.
Her heart lurched, her gut heaved. She stretched out her arms, helpless, to the people crumpling and falling around her, and for a moment was sure she would either faint or be sick.
But as she watched a young woman curl up on the ground, blood streaming from her stomach and mouth, a new feeling washed over her, hot, strange. Burning through her chest and stomach, strong, strange. Not fear but anger. Anger at the people who left babies in basements to starve, who killed who spat at the workers as they passed them in the street, who stood behind their walls and slaughtered those who came to demand freedom.
It spread through the crowd like a wave. She felt it. The sans-coulottes didn't turn and run, didn't scatter before the strong arm of the law. They turned towards the battlements, seized their weapons and attacked. And Marie was one of them. This time, today, now, the fortress would fall. No fortress is impregnable. And no tyrant is untouchable.
There was yet another draw-bridge. Marie charged it, again and again, clutching a knife someone had pressed into her hand, dodging the bullets which rained down on them. When they failed to take the bridge, she dragged burning carts of straw in front of it, to give them a smoke-screen.
A delegation from the Permanent Committee arrived to negotiate with the Governor. The Governor was more interested in killing sans-coulottes. Ethis de Corny arrived to negotiate the surrender of the prison. More wild rumours. Surrender was imminent. The Governor was dead…
Marie was dazed, exhausted, her hands and feet ran with blood, but she trembled with exhilaration, because she was here. Because she was fighting. Because even if she died today, she had shown the Governor what the poor united were capable of.
They had a cannon of their own, now, and were waving it around, occasionally getting a few shots in at the wall.
"Bring it to the draw-bridge!" Marie shouted over the rattle of muskets.
There was no way the gun-men would hear her. But Antoine heard her and shouted too. "Bring it to the draw-bridge!"
The crowd joined in. "To the draw-bridge! To the draw-bridge!"
They hauled the cannon over, trained it on the gate and Marie loaded it, burning her fingers on the hot barrels. Now the powder… And now the Governor surrendered.
"Disappointing much?" choked Marie through the smoke and dust.
Antoine grinned at her. "Well, at least we won."
But they had not quite won. The Governor, according to the note which Marie snatched from a woman's hands and glanced over before a boy snatched it from hers, which those who could read explained for the illiterate, said merely that the Governor would agree on a capitulation. Or he would blow up the Bastille.
"Never!" a woman shouted.
"Never!" More and more people joined in.
"Never!" Marie shouted along with them. "No capitulation! The tyrant surrenders or the tyrant dies!" For a moment she laughed at herself. What was she saying? Who would listen to her? The unbelievable arrogance of her, or all of them… But she could taste victory, she could taste it on her tongue.
They all shouted. "Death to the Governor! No capitulation!"
Marie seized her knife, held it so tight that it cut into her fingers and she noted dispassionately that they bled. Those who had muskets slapped bullets into the breech, the men with the cannon adjusted the aim.
And the Governor really did surrender. The draw-bridge came down. The sans-coulottes rushed into the Bastille.
Marie rushed with them. Hot, dusty, blood-stained, now, through the high of victory, she felt the pain, in her head, in her feet. The Governor was killed—not so fine as his blood couldn't mingle with the commoners' in the dirt. The smoke of fires, the commoners' fires, destroying the tyrants, mingled with the gun-smoke.
Marie closed her eyes, tipped her head back so the ash tickled it, felt the heat on her face. She ignored the burning ash in her lungs, the blood dripping from her face. She let the fire burn away the vestiges of slavery, poverty and misery. As the sun set in the Western sky, the flames leapt high in a new dawn. For this was no ordinary revolt. No, sire. This was a Revolution.