30,000: The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Night, 1572
Night’s shadow had fallen. I could hear Father and my brother Jacques breathing. I could hear the waiting in them.
The order had come from King Charles IX. But I know it was from his mother, the Italian princess Catherine de Medici. The King didn’t give orders, especially not involving murder.
A dog whined somewhere. My hand tightened on my knife.
“Remember,” Father’s whispered. “Only the marked houses. Kill everyone inside.”
My mind was racing. I was a Catholic. They were Protestants. They deserved to die; it was my duty to kill them.
Didn’t God hate those who didn’t follow the Pope? Weren’t they wrong— a disfigurement of France?
Still, I would not go into the house three doors down from mine, even if it was marked.
Outside, shouting followed a volley of gunshots.
“Kill everyone.” Father said and pushed out into the street.
I hesitated on the threshold. My thoughts flashed to Mother and the baby upstairs. They would be all right, we were Catholics; our house wasn’t marked.
Then I ran out into the night.
I rounded the corner and shoved at the door I had chosen yesterday. I chose it because it was marked and I knew nothing about the family that lived inside.
The door gave. I could not see the man’s face as I charged him, knife in front of me. It was only after he was on the ground, his blood soaking the floor under him, that I realized he was an old man.
Something hit my cheek and I stumbled sideways. I ducked another swing to my head. There was a fire in the hearth, but all I could see were shadowy figures and that the person swinging at me was wearing a dress.
I sidestepped and grabbed the girl by the collar. She choked as I dragged her towards me. I held the knife up to strike just as her face came into the light. I dropped the knife, which clattered as it hit the floor.
The girl was Marie.
Marie, whose house stood three doors down from mine and bore the mark of the Protestants.
Why was she here?
I cursed myself.
How could you have been stupid enough to fall in love with a Protestant?
And how could you have forgotten the fact that Marie’s mother was a midwife?
“I’m sorry.” I whispered.
“Philippe.” Her lips formed my name.
The door banged hard against the wall.
A French soldier stood there, his face curled into a mask of hatred.
It was only when he raised his gun that I realized I was holding Marie’s hand, a known Protestant.
I felt the fire, warm on my face. I felt the softness of Marie’s hand. I saw the soldier pull the trigger of his gun.
Every thing that followed—the sound, the light, the pain in my chest—only lasted a matter of seconds.
Then the world caved in on itself.
Soldiers don’t miss a target from two strides.