January 20th, 1793
Cléry jumped slightly as his master rose suddenly from his chair to repeat his pilgrimage to the door of his rooms. The valet, deeply affected by the distress of his doomed master, looked to the clock on the mantelpiece. It had not yet been a quarter of an hour since the comissioner had been sent, yet he had surely walked the path between the door and his cabinet at least thrice. Each time he was increasingly discouraged, increasingly anxious, his broad shoulders slumped, and he would lower himself into his chair again and, with his elbows on his knees, place his head in his hands. He had not seen him so upset since the day his son had been taken from him.
Around half-past eight, the door finally opened, ending his agony. The king jumped from his chair, nearly knocking it over, as he hastened to the sitting room. The queen entered first, very nearly at a run, abandoning the hand of her son to throw herself into the arms of her husband. The embrace soon came to encompass the entire family as son and daughter found a part of their father to cling to and his youngest sister envelopped them all with outstretched arms.
There was silence for several minutes, marred only by the sobs of the grieving family. Finally his wife withdrew and with an imploring look and a small movement of her head, implored him to withdraw to his room with her. Louis's gaze lowered and he swallowed, before shaking his head. "No, let us go into the dining room. I may only see you there," he uttered quietly, still bearing the weight of his failure as a king. He knew if he broke with the strict rules handed out by the Convention that ruled this meeting with his family, it would only make matters worse for everyone involved.
As he shepherded them into the dining room, he withdrew a handkerchief from his coat pocket to wipe his tears and then squared his shoulders, drawing on his last ounces of inner strength.
He spent the next two hours relating the outcome of his trial, confirming their worst fears. He spoke mostly to the queen, pausing intermittently to allow the sobs of his daughter and sister to die down. Only the queen, the daughter of the formidable Maria Theresa, held herself together. The king never released her hand, holding it firmly in the hand that bore his wedding ring.
Finally, when he felt his strength nearly given out, he rose and slowly began to lead them out. "Until tomorrow, at eight o'clock," he said, painfully aware of his family clutching to nearly his every extremity. It was an unsettling reminder of everyone that needed him so desperately. He felt guilty for his fate, though he could not control it; guilty that he should have ever been king to begin with, though he had not wanted it.
"You promise?" his daughter and sister implored simultaneously.
"Yes, I promise," he replied, not without clear effort. Finally he uttered the word that terrified him the most, the word that had been heavy on his mind since the moment his condemnation had been announced, "Adieu."
His daughter fainted, clutching his feet, and Louis motioned for the aid of his valet in lifting her. Restored to conciousness, he pressed a kiss to his daughter's high forehead, overwhelmed with the sudden distinct memory of his wife's surprise when he'd been so happy over her birth. "But she is not a son. Aren't you displeased?" "Whyever would I be? She is our daughter, is she not?" He had loved his daughter dearly from the day of her birth and the knowledge he would never see what became of her when she was fully grown (he did not allow himself to entertain possibilities that she and his son would not survive this terror) nearly denied the wretches who had condemned him the satisfaction of watching him perish like a common criminal.
He gave them all a final, tender embrace, and then tore himself from their arms, refusing to say anything more than "Adieu" as he bid his family goodbye a final time. Cléry rushed to aid in carrying Marie-Thérèse back to her rooms and Louis watched as his loyal sister Élisabeth took the hand of his son and began to lead him away from his father.
He suffered to watch his family walk away, but when his wife turned to leave, he reached for her hand, catching instead her lower arm, just above her wrist. The mere thought of losing her was infinitely painful to him. "Marie," he entreated quietly, and she instantly lost her determination, turning back to him instantly and giving him the hand he had originally sought. He brought it to his lips with the most melancholy of smiles, before lowering it, his thumb running over one of the few pieces of jewelry she had not been divested of: her wedding ring.
At the sound of a gut-wrenching sob from their daughter, he looked suddenly up the stairwell, where she had disappeared from view. With a heavy sigh, he looked back to his wife with a grave expression, "I am so sorry." He was agrieved, but not for his own death; he feared so much for his family. He had lost almost every ounce of his power, and yet he knew that at least as long as he was living he had some small amount of influence, small though it may be. He had once been the people's beloved young king, had he not?
Marie shook her head, unsure what to say and thus remaining silent. Instead she just pressed his hand.
Louis could bear it no longer. He lost his reserve and released her hand, reaching to pull all of her into his arms. She came willingly, burrowing her face in his neck. She did not cry, for she seemed to know he could not endure it, and he loved her for it.
He tried then to memorize everything about the feel of her in his arms, conscious it would be the last time he would hold her that way. "I would almost wish I'd never been born to be king, were it not for the fact I would never have had you otherwise," he whispered, the thought heavy on his mind.
"Oh, Louis…" she breathed, pulling back enough to kiss him. He loosened his firm hold to kiss her, his embrace becoming more tender and less desperate. He clutched instead to forming a permanent memory of the way she kissed him.
Eventually, she managed to pull herself away, looking into the blue-grey of his eyes, giving a very slight melancholy smile. "I'd like to think," she told him quietly, "That whatever we'd been born to, we would have found each other, somehow." He dipped his head slightly, indulging her with a vague smile of his own; his wife had always possessed a certain level of whimsy he lacked.
Finally, with a heavy sigh, he reduced his hold to just her hands once more, slowly ripping himself away. He could imagine no more painful separation.
"You'll come tomorrow morning, won't you?" She was nearly pleading.
"Yes, I'll come." He had never in his life lied to his wife and now at the end of it, he found it necessary. He knew she would never part from him if he did not promise continually that he would see her again.
"Come at seven, instead of eight?" she implored him. She had every intention of being selfish and not telling anyone she'd asked him to come earlier.
"Well, then, yes, at seven o'clock," he replied, disliking sinking deeper in deceit. He grimly reminded himself that his priest would take his final confession in the morning.
She seemed satisfied and nodded, giving him a gentle kiss on the cheek and squeezing his hands. "I love you," she murmured after a moment.
He had thought himself ready to let her go until she had said that. They were words that even though they had become so deeply in love with each other over the years, they had scarcely used. Something in his expression must have made her lose her resolve as well, and he reached for her, then, as much as she reached for him. He clenched her to him, having to temper the strength of his hold. Her delicate hands fisted around the silk of his waistcoat. "I love you, too," he said quietly back, his face pressed against the side of her head, "I could not have dreamed of a better wife," he whispered, a few hot tears escaping down his cheeks, though he'd promised himself he would shed no more tears that night.
Their relationship, from its initiation, had been difficult at best. He had never anticipated loving her and, indeed, every effort had been made by his family to ensure it was an impossible match, filling his mind with reasons to detest her. Unlike she, he lacked natural ease in communication and found forming connections difficult. Their young ages had certainly not helped. Yet somehow he'd been drawn to her, ultimately finding her irresistible, and after spending years in her presence he'd realized he loved her and that was that. Despite their differences, they had found a certain sort of common ground and she had returned his loyalty with her own unbreakable devotion. Even in the most recent years when melancholy had taken him over and he knew he had not been the best of husbands, she was loyal, refusing to leave him to battle this crisis alone. She had been a source of strength without whom he did not think he would have survived this long. Perhaps more than anything, he feared dying because he would no longer be there to protect her. At least he had once been loved; she had forever been reviled. He had prayed more in recent hours for her strength than for his own.
Finally he let her go, and she seemed to understand, as she had learned his ways well over the years, that he needed rest and time for prayer. "Until tomorrow," she said quietly, almost questioningly, gently releasing his hand at the last possible moment.
He nodded, instilling false confidence in her once again and hating himself for it. "Yes," he told her quietly, "Adieu."