In this scene, Monti takes Natalie out to the back streets of Paris to show her the toll that the common people are paying for living in a Royalist society.
It didn’t take long before the putrid stench of the streets made Natalie feel nauseated. She had nothing in her stomach to vomit, but she was sure that if she did have to do just that, something would have to come up — maybe her stomach itself.
Natalie didn’t expect to see dead, rotting bodies in the streets. She didn’t expect to see that not only were the houses dilapidated and crumbling, but multiple families were still somehow occupying them. The crying of hungry infants put an end to Natalie’s stomach growling. A selfish guilt settled over her, bowing her shoulders in towards her chest.
Monti was quick to notice her defeated body language. “You see? What people would choose to live in these conditions?”
Natalie didn’t know. She didn’t know things were this bad. When did she ever roam the back streets of Paris? She was used to the patrol of blue-coated guards with sabers worn on their wastes. Here, nothing was patrolled. She bet that crime was outstanding, given the squalor in which people lived. “For the record…I never said that.”
“But you did.” Monti continued on, rounding a corner and stepping into an alley that, even if she didn’t think it possible, smelled worse than the other streets. Rats scurried close to the damp sides of buildings. The base of the stones were eroding from piss and soiled water.
“Jeanette did.” Natalie stepped over a dead something that used to be an animal. “Where are you taking me?”
“Jeanette might have originally said it at some point, but you believed her. It is worse than speaking the words, really.” He stopped at a chipped red painted door nestled in the back of the alley. There was hardly enough room for two people to stand one in front of the other, so Natalie stood beside Monti. She was about a foot shorter than he was, and being this close to him reminded Natalie of their dance.
“What is this?” She asked, looking at the small window near the top of the door. It was boarded up with a crude block of wood and a couple of rusty nails. Behind the door, the sounds of children could be heard.
Monti turned to face Natalie, nearly pushing her back against the wall. She felt his breath on her face as he looked down at her, and her body reacted, the warmth between her legs intensifying. She wanted nothing more than for him to push her against the wall and put his hands on her. For him to just touch her. Anywhere. “This is our makeshift orphanage.”
All at once the warm feeling left her. “Why would you bring me here?”
“I want to show you the reason for our revolution. I want you to see with your own, pretty eyes what we fight for. I want you to see it, and I want it to seize your heart and squeeze it until it bursts with the guilt of being born in a higher place while these children grovel in a lower place.” Monti rapped his knuckles against the door, knocking off more paint chips. They crumbled on the ground by the bottom of the door, some of them crushed into a million tiny pieces.
Natalie was not sure about this. She bit on her lip as a small ogre-like woman opened the door, allowing the laughing and crying of children to flood out into the alleyway.
“Monsieur Monti, have you come with goodies for the children again?” The woman’s voice was pleasant and didn’t seem to match her rough exterior. Her weathered gaze moved to Natalie, who stood there in her hand-me-down clothes, hair not powdered or styled. To the old woman, she must have looked like a revolutionary, since she chose not to question her presence.
Monti pulled three apples out of a beaten leather satchel that he wore over his shoulder and against his hip. “I brought all I could fine, Madame. The rest of the apples had spots, and I would not want that for these wonderful children.” He handed the apples to the woman and playfully pinched her cheek. “You keep up the good work, oui?”
Looking beyond the old woman, Natalie could see the skinny, thin-boned children running and playing in their cloth diapers despite some of their ages. One or two wore a dirty tunic with plenty of holes in it, but the rest ran around mostly bare. It also smelled in the orphanage, which was much too small to hold the amount of children that Natalie could see. There were probably even more who were out of her view.
The older woman nodded her head and politely shut the door when the conversation was over. Natalie stood in her place, stunned, her heart broken. She looked back up at Monti, breathless, tears in her eyes.
Monti wiped a tear away with a thumb. It brushed just under her eye, smearing the droplet until it was gone. “This is the least of it, but it is the most of it. When your ransom is paid, I hope you remember this when you return back to your feather bed and pretty gowns.” For the first time, he sounded angry at Natalie and Natalie alone. Something else was bothering him.
But she couldn’t focus here. Not with the mice skittering across her leather shoes. “Can we go back now?”
Monti simply nodded his head and started to lead the way back to the tavern. He held tightly to Natalie’s hand and seemed to be on constant alert, more-so than before. His steps were hurried but quiet, and naturally Natalie followed his lead in everything. He was afraid of something, and sensing his fear caused her own fear to mount.
And then it happened. An explosion. The ground shook. A whole house came tumbling down into the alley, crushing screaming people beneath the bricks and stone. Some of the screaming suddenly cut off.
Natalie was not fortunate enough to avoid the falling debris. A grey-colored brick fell onto her foot and she heard it crack. The sound was sickening, but before she could scream, she was pushed down onto the ground by panicked, fleeing Parisian paupers. She lost Monti’s hand.
“Natalie!” His voice was high. Scared.
Had he ever called her by her name before? Natalie’s thoughts came and went, fading just as quickly as she had the chance to hold onto them. Her head was bleeding again, and it throbbed just above her left temple. This explosion was much bigger than the one set up to ambush Jeanette and Natalie’s cart. This one was meant to kill, not stun, and it took its toll on her, wounds more grievous than the last.
“Monti?” She stretched her hand out, hoping that he’d see her. Where was she? Someone else ran over her and she realized that she must have gotten caught in more fallen debris. She laid sprawled out on the dirty cobblestone street, covered in bricks and plaster. “Monti!” She felt a foot in her back and screamed.
Another explosion. Another building crumbled to the earth.
Then she heard it.
The sounds of dozens of horses’ hooves clacked on the ground as they ran through the streets cutting down whomever they could reach. Natalie had to get up or she’d be trampled for good. She called for Monti again, and thankfully, she felt his hand on hers.
“Stay still a moment.” Monti began to throw blocks off of her, revealing her piece-by-piece. The horses were getting closer. Finally, he hoisted Natalie into his arms and started to run, the army closing in behind them.
Natalie looked over his shoulder and saw a soldier raise his saber into the air. These men did not use their rifles, not on horseback. They were fighting as gentleman fought, but were cutting down Parisian citizens like monsters. There was no honor in this, and she wanted to scream that at him. She would if she didn’t feel so dizzy and disoriented.
Monti ducked into an alley at the last minute and started to run. The alley was long and eventually came to an end with only one way to go. Into the sewers. “Hang on.” He placed her down on the floor and knelt on the ground. Lifting a sewer’s cap would not be an easy feat for just one man, but Monti didn’t have a choice. If they were found, it was over for the both of them.