We are in pre-revolution Paris, watching a wide alleyway, with a brightly lit café at one end, lined with dark shops filled with mysterious instruments and books. There are only a few people there, none of them paying attention to the others. Two men, dressed all in black, walk down the alleyway, pausing to look in shop windows, and talking to each other in low voices. At each doorway they pause, looking for some unknown symbol which will tell them where they are welcome. Like everyone, they fear the guillotine. Dark clothes will not save them for it, and nor will names, should they be discovered in such a place as this. They have found that for which they searched; a set of scales is carved into the knots of one of the many heavy, wooden doors that line the alleyway. They do not knock. Instead they open the door, soundless, and enter. Heavy footsteps ascend the stairs, and they find themselves in a candlelit upper room. A great table is at the centre of the room, with two men already seated. As the newcomers take their places, a scuffle breaks out in the street below. No-one sits at the head of a round table, because there are no leader, only equals before the cards. The first man draws. Nine red diamonds glisten in his eyes. He will not wait long before he acts. The scuffle grows larger. Now there is shouting, curses thrown, women screaming. Silently, the second man draws his card. Four clubs to signify the beating on the street. He is anxious, and unwilling to trust the future to chance. The Maréchaussée has arrived, and arrests are being made. The man in the street is threatening; he is of noble birth. They must not take him, he says. They will pay dearly if they do. The third man now. Blood red hearts bleed before him, one for each of the other men around the table. He trusts no-one. He has lost to betrayal too many times before. It is at his request that they do not know the names of their co-conspirators. The Maréchaussée have left now, taking their man with them. Vermin off the streets, they say, laughing. But none of them speak. Now, it is the final man’s turn to ply the cards. No-one speak. As he lays down an obsidian ace, they hear the sharp thud of the guillotine. The grave diggers will be busy tonight.

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