The time has come for the trial. It will last a week.

The charges against Balthazar de Créon are many: murder, sodomy, holding black masses, practicing alchemy, and lèse-majesté—making defamatory remarks against the monarch.

The judges are savoring the fact that at last they can bring this man to his knees, the worst kind of man, a Gilles de Rais crossed with a Fouquet.

They will kill him, they will see him go up in smoke.

Judging the unnamable is a godsend to these people, it will be an imperishable memory, their claim to fame. It is not every day they get to judge a creature of the Devil.

Créon is of no century and of all time, but it is our century that will condemn him.

Will evil be reborn from his ashes?

Is Balthazar de Créon a phoenix?

We shall see.

The one thing certain is that God is in this room, invisible and omnipresent.

The judges are puffed up with pride, there are ten of them, not too many to sustain Créon’s gaze.

                 *                      *                     *

Some in the audience see a resemblance to one of those saints who met a martyr’s death. It is embarrassing to think this way, and they will clamor for his head with even more vehemence than their neighbors.

He has appeared to the crowd as they were hoping he would be, thinner, unsteady on his feet.

But there is no sadness or fear in his eyes, they are strikingly, unspeakably serene.

Some in the audience see a resemblance to one of those saints who met a martyr’s death. It is embarrassing to think this way, and they will clamor for his head with even more vehemence than their neighbors.

It is a show, a piece of theater.

And when you are at the theater, you do not ask yourself who you are. You clap and whistle.

When he came in, they all held their breath.

He is so thin, so unsteady on his feet, is he still breathing?

He came in and looked around, at the judges, at all those spectators, at some of his friends, Saint-Polgues and d’Esparres, his mother, his love. A poignant, luminous gaze. He is already in his death throes.

                 *                      *                     *
She only attended the trial for one day.

She did not recognize her son. She barely knew who she was herself. She had forgotten she was a princess, a woman, a mother.

Her young page, her dear messenger, begged her to sit down and she sat.

She had forgotten what it means to be a master or a slave.

To beg or to command, it was all the same to her.

She had forgotten what love is, what hate is, she was alive and she had ceased to be anything.

She complained: I feel hot.

Her page wiped her face with a handkerchief.

She said: All these people!

And her page pulled her by the sleeve and took her away from this cauldron where Balthazar de Créon was the center of attention.

She had forgotten what a farewell is.

                 *                      *                     *

Their bodies converse. They forget that very soon one of them will be burned alive on Place de Grève.

It is forbidden to stand when you feel like it.

It is forbidden to talk to your neighbor in a loud voice or shout at the condemned man.

It is forbidden to change seats.

It is forbidden to say to the accused: I love you, or anything else like that.

Sébastien Faure stammers out a song to his lover. And this song reaches Balthazar. They exchange glances.

Sébastien Faure stares at his lover with all his past and present life.

They look at each other, their eyes wed, they are together again, they embrace amid shadows and voices that are not of their world.

Their bodies converse. They forget that very soon one of them will be burned alive on Place de Grève.

Unless forgetting is an illusion.

But this illusion is their whole reality, it is palpable.

They are as close as two lovers can be.

They no longer even need to say: I love you.

                 *                      *                     *
The trial has already lasted five days.

There is a proliferation of witnesses.

The Prince makes no attempt to rebut the accusations against him.

The Prince is sometimes bored, that much is clear.

Six days now, and the Prince is yawning.

Vermin, someone yells.

Little children sodomized, then their throats cut.

That is what he is accused of.

The false witnesses have rushed to the stand.

Hired and paid, by whom? The king?


He refuses to answer.

Leave me alone, that is what his eyes say.

He yawns and they insult him.

Monstrous indifference.

Leave me alone.

When will he burn?

                 *                      *                     *
Sentence is about to be passed.

Créon sways, his hands find no support, he sighs.

I will paint, even without him, Sébastien tells himself. I will paint what he will never see again, what will happen in the future, he will be dead and I will paint.

I will paint our earth and some of its inhabitants, the sly, the cowardly, the envious.

I will paint the sky and I will paint the path that vanishes amid the undergrowth.

I will paint that woman in her fichu and her useless legs.

I will paint the sun and all the stars.

I will paint the night and the animals that come out at night.

I will paint yesterday and I will paint today.

I will paint injustice, violence, and hate.

I will paint fairness, peace, and love.

I will paint that boy with the narrow hips and flat stomach and pockmarked face, I will paint my desire for him.

I will paint the storm and a cloudless day.

I will paint the newly trampled grass and the moor.

Everything can be painted, my love.

And I will paint death, my love.

                 *                      *                     *
I was present at your death, I watched it all, and it is as if what I saw and heard has devoured everything within me.

You cried out and I was suddenly blind to the others, to the whole world.

The only things that existed for me were the stake and your cry.

The same cry, repeated over and over behind a curtain of flames. I heard you but could no longer see you.

And all was silence, the roar of the flames and the yells of the crowd.

And the cobblestones, and the houses surrounding the square, and the executioner, and the priest, silence, my love, nothing but silence.

And I realized all at once that I will not be able to paint all that.

I will paint only insignificant things.

It was as if I was formless, weightless, powerless. And I will be that way forever.

That cry he gave!

I heard it. What else could I hear? And for the first time in my life, I hated something of his.

That cry that some call inhuman.

Perhaps because it is the last cry a man can give. It emerges from the last frontier between what is and will no longer be. It is absolutely human, my love.

It is the only cry that you, like all of us, can utter, the only true cry. And it is that cry that I heard.

I will not paint again, my love.

Don’t abandon me.

                 *                      *                     *
You did not have to say: Don’t go, come back.

You did not abandon each other.

Apart from this love, its twists and turns, its clarity, everything is negligible. Unknown men no longer arouse your curiosity.

That is what provokes your suffering: although Balthazar is more than your shadow, although he is another you, you can no longer touch him, it is seeing him that you miss. This love, however great, will no longer evolve.

You have lost your future.

You no longer wonder how tomorrow will be. And that is why your contemporaries think you mad. Just like Anne de Créon. You have learned that her riches, her lands, everything has been confiscated. By order of the King, she has been confined to a convent for life. You do not care. She is more dead to you than Balthazar will ever be.

Tonight you tried to draw Balthazar’s cry. You could not do it.

I will not paint again, you told yourself. And you wept.

You will be able to paint nothing now but what is formless.

So you make a bundle of your brushes and pigments and a notebook on every page of which your beloved is radiant, as he was before the flames, and, without taking your leave of Saint-Polgues, good old Saint-Polgues, you flee Paris.

                 *                      *                     *
The capital is now far behind you.

There is this road, and that one. It makes no difference now, whether you choose to go right or left.

One month, two, three.

Six months.

A year.

He is still alive in you, but as the days pass you hear a new presence throbbing inside you, and this presence is your own, although you no longer recognize yourself, you have been stripped of everything, even your grief.

                 *                      *                     *
Why did he stop here rather than there? His exhaustion, of which he had ceased to be conscious days earlier, months earlier, suddenly overcame him, urgent, perhaps final.

Sébastien Faure was found looking through the gilded bars of a gate at an avenue, trees, a chateau. He muttered to the people who surrounded him, bent over him, that he was sick with exhaustion. That he couldn’t go on, that he was hungry and thirsty, that he was cold, that he was hot, that he could no longer feel his legs, that everything was confused in his head, he spoke in an uninterrupted flood of words.

Suddenly his knees sagged, and he collapsed to the ground, sobbing.

Exhaustion, but not imminent death.

What keeps him alive is a hidden energy, where it comes from, what sustains it, who can say, surely not him, surely not anyone. It sustains him, but for how long? For what purpose? Until what dawn? Until what night? Until the love and the presence that possess him have lost all their splendor, suddenly, and all their stillness, and they disintegrate and collapse, until they are nothing but a memory, the most beautiful and intense of memories, but a memory nonetheless, coming and going in his mind, appearing, disappearing, reappearing, less essential all at once than what dances and sparkles or sheds its flowers, fades and dies around him, the world and its landscapes and its inhabitants.

Come and rest.

A hand on his brow, a little water on his lips, arms that lift him up.

Take me.

Daniel Arsand

Daniel Arsand is the author of several novels including The Land of Darkness, winner of the Prix Remina for First Fiction, and In Silence, winner of the Jean Giono Second Novel Grand Prix. Born in Avignon in 1950, he lives in Paris and works as an editor for Éditions Phébus. This story is excerpted from his most recent novel, Lovers, which will be published in June.

One Comment on “Lovers

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *