Mairie de Clichy


Paris, December, 1943 

December in Brittany is bitterly cold and damp. The days get dark early, the sky is continually overcast, and the wind whips the sea into rough, choppy waves, bent on dashing the small fishing boats against the cliffs. Even those who are lucky enough to stay at home by the fire feel the chill of these winds, and anyone with the slightest tendency to arthritis gets aches in their joints.

Mlle. Hélène Merion misses it fiercely.

There are a lot of things she misses this December.

Food, for one thing. Rationing has been a fact of life for several years now, but it has become more stringent in recent months, and there is a constant gnawing feeling in Mlle. Merion’s stomach. The gnawing is an oddly welcome companion – it is a sign that her body still hopes to be satisfied someday.

Mlle. Merion is careful not to disregard any source of hope in these times.

Light is another thing she misses. The City of Light has been… well, not extinguished. Never that, Mlle. Merion trusts. But dimmed, certainly. Between the blackout laws that restrict street lighting, and the rationing of electrical power, Paris feels less like a beacon, illuminating all of France, and more like a candle, flickering and guttering in the moments before it goes out.

Friendship is another loss. Mlle. Merion is accustomed to missing her family, but she had made some good friends before the war. After the Occupation, though, her circle had largely dispersed – some to do war work or join the Resistance, some to leave France entirely. Those who remain shun Mlle. Merion’s company now. She has chosen to remain in her job at the Planning Office at Clichy, an office now run by the occupying government, and this is considered to be an unpatriotic choice.

Mlle. Merion feels much the same way.  She had initially planned to resign, but her mentor had advised her against doing so. A set of eyes and ears is useful in any government office, no matter how minor, he had told her.  Through him, she might pass information to members of the Resistance. And given Mlle. Merion’s particular skills, it it would be the height of wastefulness to leave a place where local laws are made and enforced.

She cannot tell her friends this, of course. Her job depends on her loyalty appearing absolute. But it makes for a lonely existence, especially now that her mentor is also gone.

Mlle. Merion is not certain whether her colleague at the Mairie du 4e shares her loyalties. She suspects that she does, and that she, too, is serving as a source of information, but she has been careful not to find out.  Mme. Pennac has likewise avoided asking too many questions. The companionship of another woman – and a fellow Bretonne at that – is too precious to discard unless it becomes absolutely necessary. They do not speak of the war, or of politics. They talk, instead, of commonplace things – of their homes in Brittany, of ways to conserve precious fuel, of recipes for swedish turnips or Jerusalem artichokes, of the inconveniences of power failures, and of the oddities that cross their respective desks.

This week, there are a lot of oddities.

“Sun symbols on the Boulevard de Strasbourg?” Mlle. Merion is so incredulous that she actually takes a proper sip of her chicory and barley ‘coffee’. She grimaces as she swallows it. Coffee is another thing to add to the list of thing she misses.

“Well, I wouldn’t call them sun symbols, exactly, but yes. On the corner of every street between the Tour St Jacques and the Gare de l’Est, to be precise. And a new radio antenna on top of the Tour St Jacques itself.”

Mlle. Merion wrinkles her nose. “Setting aside the question of taste – we both know that the Germans have none – why is that even going through your office? I can see the antenna, but painted symbols?”

“Not painted. Carved, or failing that, embossed, into the walls of the buildings on the corners. Which makes it a potential structural issue, you understand.”

Mlle. Merion is appalled. “But surely that won’t be permitted? All those lovely Hausmann apartments. It would be like… like giving approval to graffiti.”

Mme. Pennac shrugs. “I will certainly advise against it. But I understand it is coming from quite high up. Herr Himmler wishes to make his mark on Paris, I understand. If the carvings are disallowed, the symbols will go onto the roads themselves.”

“That would be slightly better, I suppose,” acknowledges Mlle. Merion.

“It would be ridiculous, frankly. Still, it would at least be easier to paint over should someone with more aesthetic sense eventually get put in charge. Frankly, I don’t understand why Himmler is involved in this. Surely he must have more important things to do than vandalise Paris.”

This is dangerously close to discussing the war. The two women exchange careful glances, and Mlle. Merion clears her throat.

“Speaking of better things to do, did you hear that they are planning to close the theatres on Tuesdays, now? I gather it is another attempt to conserve power.”

Mme. Pennac snorts. “Who goes to the theatre on a Tuesday anyway? Now, I had heard that they were going to start censoring the shows at the Moulin Rouge. That’s rather on your side of town, isn’t it? Have you heard anything about it?”

Mlle. Merion laughs. “Only as a story for those who sleep standing up! Have you not heard that the Germans are now saying that each of their soldiers should come to Paris once in their lives? Well, when they do, the Moulin Rouge is where they go. And I don’t think they go there for the quality of the singing, and certainly not for the coffee.”

There is not much to laugh about in Mme. Pennac’s news, however. Mlle. Merion frowns as she walks back to her apartment near the Boulevard de Clichy. It is a long walk, and the afternoon is cold, but the Métro is not as reliable as it once was, and one never knows which stations might be closed. Besides, walking is a good way to keep warm.

She has also had some strange requests crossing her desk this week, for decorations to apartments and businesses on the Boulevard de Clichy. When she had gone to reject them, her supervisor had returned them to her with a note that her job was not to obstruct progress, but rather to facilitate it, and that if she was unable to find a way to approve these amendments in line with local laws, he was certain that someone else would be able to do so. After her conversation with Mme. Pennac, Mlle. Merion cannot help but wonder whether Himmler has been taking an interest here, too, and if so, where else he might be involved.

Mlle. Merion sighs. She misses her mentor. He had been one of a number of hostages shot last May, in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the Resistance. He had told her a little about Himmler’s occult ideas before he was taken hostage, but there had been so little time, and other matters had taken priority. There was always something urgent that needed to be addressed. Mlle. Merion has a nasty feeling that Himmler’s penchant for the occult has just become one of these urgent matters. The decorations proposed to her, and those described by Mme. Pennac, are suspiciously runic in appearance.

It is possible, of course, that the decorations are merely a way for the Germans to mark their territory – distasteful, both on an aesthetic and a patriotic level, but otherwise harmless. But Mlle. Merion is inclined to suspect otherwise – and indeed, it would be foolish to assume a harmless motivation where there is the possibility that magic is being manipulated to affect the course of the war.

Mlle. Merion climbs the stairs to her apartment. Living on the fourth floor makes coming home a weary exercise after a long day, but it has its advantages. Coal is costly, and Mlle. Merion cannot afford a proper fire, but the people in the apartment below her are evidently both willing and able to waste fuel, and the heat rising from below, while not making her apartment precisely warm, is enough to take the edge off the chill, and makes her own store of coal go a little further.

She sets down her bag, but keeps her coat on. She will be heading out again this evening, and would prefer to save her fire for when she gets back. Crossing to her desk, she opens the third drawer, and unfolds a map of Paris, tracing her finger south along the Boulevard de Strasbourg to where it meets the park around the Tour Saint Jacques.

The most vigorous of Paris’s ley lines follows the lines of power that were created in the 16th and 17th centuries. It runs through the old Palais du Louvre and the Tuileries gardens, and on through the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, where it splits into six smaller lines radiating out from the Place d’Étoile.

Another ley line runs parallel to it, smaller, but still vibrant and bright, starting in the town of Clichy and running along the Boulevard de Clichy, through the Gare de l’Est and then off into Belleville and beyond. This line has been gaining strength since the 19th century, and Mlle. Merion has been monitoring it since she began her work at the Mairie.

But the most significant ley line in Paris and the strongest, is older than either of these. This is the ley line that runs along the Rue Saint Jaques in the south, angling northward after it crosses the Seine, through the Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques, and then following the Boulevard de Strasbourg northward. The Romans built their first road, the Via Superior, on this ley line, and it remained the chief artery of the city well into the Middle Ages.

It is along this route that Mme. Pennac has been asked to approve Himmler’s sun symbols.

Mlle. Merion studies the three ley lines in question. She does not know enough about the symbols involved to be certain what their impact will be, but it is clear that the goal is to change the ley lines in some way. It has not escaped her notice that the ley line on the Boulevard de Strasbourg meets the ley line on the Boulevard de Clichy at the Gare de l’Est, the station from which trains – including military transports – depart and arrive from Germany.

She shivers. It is time to get moving. Her briefcase already contains pencils and a copy of the building regulations and associated by-laws. Hopefully, these will be enough. She reaches for a candle and matches, and then hesitates. If she were on official business after dark, she would carry a torch, but a torch will make her more visible from a distance… Her hand hovers between torch and candle uncertainly, and then chooses the torch. It would be dangerous to be caught in any circumstance, but surely worse to be caught acting in a clandestine fashion. Her stomach growls at her, but dinner will have to wait until she gets home. Or perhaps she can find a bite to eat somewhere along the Boulevard de Clichy…

The Boulevard de Clichy is far too popular with German soldiers, and the ley line running along it is definitely stronger than it should be. Mlle. Merion stays long enough to note several runic symbols chalked onto a footpath (and to surreptitiously scrub two of them out), then ducks down into the Métro – miraculously functional this evening – just in time to catch the last train to Châtelet station.

She needs to know what is happening at the Tour Saint-Jacques.

It is said that when Philippe Auguste planned the Louvre palace, he intended to build it at the junction of the two great ley lines of Paris, the better to harness their power. Unfortunately for the King – but perhaps fortunately for everyone else – his advisors felt that he had far too much power already, and they bribed the man sent to dowse for ley lines to deceive him. As a result, the Louvre was built a full kilometer away from the actual junction, and the junction itself was eventually claimed by the Church.

Mlle. Merion silently blesses Philippe Auguste’s faithless advisors as she walks towards the Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques. She is already out past curfew, which is dangerous enough; if she were at the Louvre she would never escape undetected, but at this time of night, the park is dark and empty.

The old bell tower is built of pale sandstone, light enough to catch the moonlight. There was a church on the site once, but it was demolished in the late 18th century, and now only the bell tower remains, standing directly over the junction of the two great ley lines. Mlle. Merion walks slowly around its base, admiring the medieval stonework, and thinking about the revolutionaries who destroyed the church on this site. She wonders if they had attempted to destroy the bell tower, too, and found it impossible. It would, she thinks, be a difficult feat. Just standing in the park gives fills her with warmth and energy, and for the first time in months, she does not feel hungry.

Most of all, she feels relief. Whatever it is that Himmler has in mind, he has not achieved it yet. This place, at the heart of Paris, is still whole, its strength still a part of the structures keeping the city alive.

But even as she thinks this, Mlle. Merion feels a faint tugging, as though something is trying to pull the lines under the tower north. She steps cautiously away from the tower, following the pull. The tug increases as she leaves the park, and she begins to walk northward, along the Boulevard de Sebastopol. There is a strange symbol, like an arrow missing one of its spikes, chalked onto the road where it intersects with the Rue Berger, and and she stops to look at it, frowning. The sign points towards the Fontaine des Innocents. She scuffs it out with her foot.

Another symbol is chalked on the wall above her – a pointed sort of letter B. She takes a handkerchief from her pocket, and reaches up to rub it out.

“You are out late tonight, Mademoiselle.”

Mlle. Merion swallows a shriek, then turns, deliberately slowly.

The man standing before her is French, and around her own age, as far as she can judge in the poor light. He is slight of build, only a few inches taller than Mlle. Merion herself, with dark hair and a thin, rather attractive face.

He is wearing the dark blue coat of a member of the Franc-Garde, and Mlle. Merion’s heart begins to thump heavily in her chest. Perhaps not so attractive after all, then…

Mlle. Merion nods at him. She cannot make herself smile. “Good evening Monsieur. I was required to work late this evening. My papers are in order, I assure you.”

Her papers are very much in order. Mlle. Merion has a way with paperwork. Legal documents on which she has signed off have a tendency to be effective, and the by-laws that she drafts rarely require enforcement.

“I will see them, if you please,” says the man.

She hands them over and he peruses them. She watches him as he does. He is very thin, she notices. Most members of the Milice are better fed than that. While most have other motivations, the promise of slightly better rations certainly doesn’t hurt recruitment.

“Mademoiselle Hélène Merion of the Mairie de Clichy. What are you doing so far from Clichy, and after curfew?”

Mlle. Merion folds her hands primly in front of her to hide their shaking. “I have been asked to assist with a planning matter. I am afraid that I am not at liberty to discuss the details with you. There is a related project underway in this district, which I was directed to inspect and advise on. Since the matter is an urgent one, I thought to make some preliminary measurements this evening.”

She speaks calmly, meeting the man’s eyes as she finishes, the better to disguise the fact that she has just said quite a lot of nothing. Her identification papers should do the rest. They clearly state who she is and where she is from, and do not invite further questions. The man is still frowning at her, so she helps him along.

“May I have my papers back, please? I must be on my way, before I miss my train home.”

He hands her identification papers back to her, rather reluctantly, she thinks. “You have already missed your train, Mademoiselle. I should inform you, perhaps, that I have been following you for some time. Tell me, what part of your job requires you to erase what are clearly official markings?”

Apparently, he is going to ask further questions, even uninvited. Mlle. Merion draws in a breath, then lets it out slowly, forcing a smile. “Yes, their markings were official, but they were also incorrect,” she tells the man. She lets impatience slide into her voice. “They are using the wrong codes for the builders. I was erasing them in order to make sure their errors were not acted on. We cannot afford to waste materials or labour at a time like this, you know.”

His brows go up and he stares at her narrowly, but she holds his gaze steadily, trying to look harmless and innocent.  It is important not to panic. To seem like the quiet, diligent council worker that she actually is. He is suspicious, certainly, but he cannot possibly know what she is up to. Unless he has the same training that she does, of course… but no. If he did, he would have arrested her already.

She sighs a little, suddenly weary beyond measure. What she would give for someone with the same training that she has. But not in the uniform of the Franc-Garde.

The man is still studying her suspiciously, and Mlle. Merion is becoming uneasy. He ought to believe her paperwork – he ought to believe her! Well, if worst comes to worst, the torch is heavy enough to use as a bludgeon. There is only one of him, thank heavens. Then she would have to run, of course, and probably all the way home to Brittany, since he now knows her name and place of work, but still…

There is a sound of voices in the distance – loud voices, as if their speakers have nothing to fear. Germans, then, or Milice. Mlle. Merion goes still, listening, then forces herself to relax, as if unconcerned.

The man in front of her does the same. It’s only a momentary reaction – if she had not been watching him so closely, Mlle. Merion would not have noticed it – but she is, and she does. Her whole body seems to slump in relief, and she sways on her feet momentarily.

The man grasps her arm to steady her, and she looks up at him. Perhaps he is not so unattractive as she had thought.

“You are not Franc-Garde, I think,” she says quietly.

“And you are no mouche,” he replies, his voice equally soft.

Mlle. Merion nods slightly, her mind racing, considering possibilities. The voices are getting closer, and she would rather not be caught for a second time this evening, especially if her paperwork is ineffective.

The man standing before her laughs suddenly, his eyes dancing. The hand on her arm slips around her shoulders, drawing her into his embrace. She can feel the heat of him, even through his winter coat, and she stiffens in surprise and outrage. “Just another couple out for an evening stroll along the streets of Paris,” he murmurs in her ear. She controls a shiver at the feel of his breath against her ear. “Too lost in each other to keep track of time. Very romantic, and nothing at all for the Germans to be concerned about. My name is Georges LeBrun, by the way, but you had better call me Georg.”

Mlle. Merion allows herself to lean against him for a moment, to enjoy the illusion of affection and safety, then steps away from the shelter of his body. There is no room for such dangerous fancies now. M. LeBrun releases her at once, which is a point in his favour.

She casts him a stern gaze. “And you had better call me Mlle. Merion. I am not foolish enough to go for romantic walks after curfew, nor do I wish to cultivate the reputation of a woman who makes horizontal alliances. You will follow my lead, if you please.”

M. LeBrun grins at her, his teeth white in the moonlight, then nods seriously. “Very well, Mademoiselle. It shall be as you say.”

Mlle. Merion nods, and walks briskly in the direction of the Fontaine des Innocents. She draws out a pencil and notepad from her purse, making a quick diagram of the square and the fountain. She begins to sketch in the buildings on the western side of the square, noting their dimensions.

M. LeBrun silently picks up the torch she had been carrying earlier, and directs its light onto the paper. She finishes her diagram, then nods at him.

“The southern side now, I think,” she says, her voice assured, and loud enough to be heard by anyone approaching. “It is good of you to assist me, Monsieur. If you could direct the torch so that I can see the street numbers… ah, thank you.”

The voices are very close now, and they are certainly speaking German, but the only safe course is to act as though one has every right to be out after curfew. Mlle. Merion begins sketching again. Her sketch is not a particularly good one, but it will be sufficient to assist her story. M. LeBrun holds the torch steady, his entire manner asserting his right to be there, even while he plays the role of her assistant. She has never worked with a partner before, and she had not expected him to follow her lead so easily. M. LeBrun’s evident confidence in her plan – or perhaps in his own ability to salvage the situation if it goes awry – is unexpectedly heartening.

And here are the Germans, right on cue. Four youngish men in uniform, a lieutenant and three enlisted men, by the bars on their uniforms. Good.

“Arrêtez-vous, s’il vous plaît,” calls the lieutenant, as he approaches.

Mlle. Merion stops writing in her notebook, and looks up with a sigh. “Ah. You want my papers, I presume?” She shakes her head. “You Germans are certainly diligent. This is the third time I have been stopped this evening.”

“Madame, you are out after curfew.”

Mlle. Merion removes her identity papers from her purse and hands them to the young soldier. “Mademoiselle, if you please, and I am well aware of it. However, my supervisor told me that the matter was urgent. He even assigned this gentleman to me, to ensure that I would not be bothered while finishing my measurements.”

“It seems that we underestimated your dedication to the task,” adds M. LeBrun, presenting his papers to the second soldier.

“Georg Braun,” reads the latter. “But that is a German name. You are not German, surely?”

M. LeBrun smiles. “That depends on whom you ask. Alsace was German when I was born, but it has been French for most of my life.”

“And is now returned to the Reich,” concludes the soldier.

M. LeBrun inclines his head. “As you say.”

The lieutenant is still frowning at Mlle. Merion’s papers. “It says here that you work at the Mairie de Clichy. Why are you in the centre of Paris after curfew?”

Mlle. Merion sighs, sending up a silent prayer that her papers will work more effectively on the soldier than they did on M. LeBrun. “We have been asked to approve certain changes to a number of buildings between here and Clichy. The orders have come from Herr Himmler himself, and were marked as urgent, however there are certain measurements and observations that must be made first, in order to ensure that all buildings comply with the by-laws and safety restrictions. I was asked to begin the measurements this evening, and to work late this week if necessary, until they are complete.”

“I would like to see these orders, if you please, Mademoiselle.”

Mlle. Merion shakes her head. “So would I, Monsieur. I assure you, I do not enjoy being out after curfew in this weather. But I fear that you will have to apply to my supervisor at the Mairie de Clichy. His name is Pierre LeRoux, and he is the Head of Urban Planning. I am certain that he will be happy to show you Herr Himmler’s orders. And disappointed to learn that you were obstructing me in carrying them out.”

The soldiers look at each other, and Mlle. Merion hides a sigh. “Pierre LeRoux,” repeats the first.

“Yes. Would you like the names of my other colleagues as well, or will you let me continue with my work? The sooner I am finished here, the sooner I will be home and no longer breaking the curfew.” She winces inwardly. That had come out rather more sharply than she had intended.

“There is no need to be insolent, Mademoiselle.”

“I am sorry, Monsieur,” she replies, meekly. “It is only that this is the third time that my work has been interrupted this evening.”

“The security of Paris is our priority,” says the lieutenant sternly.

“Yes, Monsieur,” she says.

M. LeBrun steps forward. “A little calm, my friend. There’s no need to harrass the young lady. She’s only following orders, just like the rest of us. We all have our duty to do. You’ve done yours – now, let us continue with ours.”

The young lieutenant frowns at him, then studies Mlle. Merion’s papers again. His expression relaxes. “Very well, Mademoiselle. You may continue. But I advise you to finish as quickly as possible, and then make your way straight home. It is regrettable, but the Resistance are quite active at present, and I should not wish for you to come to harm.”

Mlle. Merion nods seriously. “Thank you, Monsieur. I will take your advice.”

The soldier hands back their papers, then salutes M. LeBrun. “Auf wiedersehen, Monsieur. Mademoiselle.”

M. LeBrun returns the salute, his expression neutral, and they watch in silence as the soldiers depart.

The echoes of their footsteps fade, and Mlle. Merion feels her legs shaking in reaction. She sits down rather abruptly on the edge of the fountain.

“That was almost unpleasant,” murmurs M. LeBrun, “Until it suddenly wasn’t. Rather strange, don’t you think? Incidentally, how much of that story was true?”

“Almost all of it. I could hardly give the man a false story to go with my true papers. Unlike you, I am precisely who I claim to be.”

M. LeBrun looks as though he would like to argue with that statement, but clearly thinks better of it.

“Are you saying that Himmler interests himself in Paris’s urban planning? That seems absurd.”

“Himmler interests himself in many things that are absurd, and urban planning is only one of them.”

M. LeBrun shakes his head in disbelief. “And what is your role in this?”

Mlle. Merion is silent. She has lies prepared to tell the Germans. She has not prepared a lie for her allies.

“I cannot tell you,” says said, finally.

“Can you not?”

She sighs. “You must know that the more people who know of a plan, the more risky that plan becomes.”

“True, but, if you will forgive me saying so, I don’t think you should be out here alone.”

How very disappointing. “Do you really think that I am unable do my own work without help?” she asks.

M. LeBrun shakes his head. “On the contrary. You are clearly extremely competent. But you don’t have eyes in the back of your head. I got the drop on you earlier. What if the next person who sees you doing something suspicious isn’t on your side?”

A valid point, certainly. “You are offering to guard my back, then?”

“Yes. My own project for this evening is… complete, shall we say. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t keep watch while you concentrate on whatever it is you are doing. Oh, and I can lend credence to your story if we meet any more officials, which I think you will agree is useful. You lie very convincingly, I’ll give you that, but your actual cover story is abysmal. I have no idea why the Germans believed what you told them.”

Mlle. Merion raises an eyebrow, but does not comment. One should set a good example, after all.

“Very well, then. You may come with me.”

“You’re welcome,” murmurs M. LeBrun, and she looks at him sharply, and then smiles. He has been rather helpful, after all, and he has so far refrained from patronising her. Such rare good behaviour should be encouraged.

“Thank you, Monsieur,” she says, so sweetly that he laughs.

“Don’t overdo it,” he advises her, and she grins.

She is actually having fun, she realises suddenly. She can’t remember when that last happened.

“I do think you should tell me what you are up to,” he says, and Mlle. Merion sobers abruptly.

She draws breath to argue and he holds up a hand to stop her. “Wait. Before you explain all the reasons why you absolutely cannot tell me what you are doing, let me tell you why you should. First, I already know something of what you are doing, even if I don’t know why. I saw you rubbing out those chalk marks along the Boulevard de Strasbourg. I can’t imagine what purpose they would serve, or why you would need to be rid of them, but I do know that that is what you were trying to do.

“Second, I saw one of the markings you missed. Which brings me to the point that two sets of eyes are better than one – if I know what we are looking for, I can help you find things, and perhaps see things that you do not.

“And third, when I saw those markings, I recognised them. You mentioned Himmler earlier, and I’m sure you are aware that he is given to mystical claptrap. Those markings look to me like runes, or perhaps pseudo-runes – I’m not sure if they are actually historic. In any case, I presume that they have something to do with his ‘project’, and that for whatever reason, you are trying to prevent it from coming to fruition. Though I’m not sure what you expect to achieve by rubbing them out, since they can easily be re-drawn.”

“The refus absurde,” murmurs Mlle. Merion.

“For which I have the greatest of respect, but I don’t imagine that you are risking your life for a philosophical principle. You strike me as a practical woman.”

Mlle. Merion smiles a little.

M. LeBrun returns her smile. “And since you are a practical woman, I think you will agree that I already know enough to be a risk to you. Why not tell me enough that I can help you?”

It is a reasonable point. Mlle. Merion sighs.

“Because I am a practical woman. And… I am currently engaging in ‘mystical claptrap’.”

M. LeBrun raises his brows, but does not say anything. Well, she already knew that he was intelligent. She waits, nonetheless.

“What kind of ‘mystical claptrap’ are you engaging in?” he asks, finally.

“None that I am willing to discuss in the middle of the street,” she tells him, firmly.

He grins. “Well, I’d invite you back to my apartment, but I’m fairly certain that you would slap me if I suggested it.”

“I would not slap you. I do not believe in violence where there is an alternative.”

“Well, in that case…”

“I would turn you into a frog.”

M. LeBrun studies her face. “I can’t tell whether you are joking, or whether you really believe that you can do that.”

“Then you had better behave yourself. Come. The Église Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles is not far from here. The priest keeps it open at night for those who want to come in to pray. We can speak there without being overheard.”

“As you wish.”

M. LeBrun is rising rapidly in Mlle. Merion’s estimation. He follows her to the church, and waits while she lights a candle for her former mentor. He listens to her explanation of what ley lines are as though this is information that he will need to memorise, sitting with his back to the candles, his eyes flicking between her face and the doors to the church and the vestry. He is taking his promise to guard her back seriously.

There is a brief silence after she is done. M. LeBrun looks thoughtful.

“So ley lines are lines of magical energy that run between places of power, is that right?”

“Essentially, yes.”

“Where does this energy come from?”

Mlle. Merion shrugged. “Nobody is quite certain. We believe that it comes from the life force of people and animals and plants as they go about their business, but that these life forces also feed back into the ley lines. It’s a cycle.”

“And that’s why the ones in Paris are on main streets?”

“Mmm… it’s probably the other way about, really. People build streets and houses where it feels like a good place to build a street or a house. And ley lines have a strong feeling of direction about them. They would feel like very good places to build roads, for anyone who was at all sensitive to that sort of thing.”

“And you think that Himmler is trying to do something with the ley lines of Paris.”

“I am very sure that he is trying to divert them in some way – to weaken the ones with the greatest connection to our history, and strengthen the ones with a connection to Germany.”

“And what would that do?”

“It’s hard to say. Sap our energy for resistance, certainly. And… well, I don’t know about this part for sure, but the Germans are already requiring us to send the best of our manpower and our food and our energy to Germany. It would be in keeping with that for them to start requisitioning our ley energy, too.”

M. LeBrun is silent for a long time. “That sounds quite absurd. You know that, don’t you?”

“I am not stupid, Monsieur.”

“I did not say you were.”

“I also do not have infinite time. If Himmler is trying to steal our ley line energy, we need to stop him before he can do so.”

“I understand.”

“But do you believe me?”

“I believe that you believe it. And Himmler is certainly known to interest himself in the occult, so I’ll believe that he believes it, too. And if what you are doing causes him discomfort, then I will support it with all the resources at my command.”

“But you don’t actually think that what he is doing would have any effect.”

M. LeBrun is silent again. “I do not underestimate the importance of morale, Mademoiselle. The story you have told me – I think most Frenchmen and women are too rational and practical to believe it by the light of day. If Himmler were to stand up and tell us that he now controls the energy of our city, the thing that makes it a town and not just a collection of houses, I think we would laugh at him, at first.

“But at night, when the lights are extinguished, when we are cold from lack of fuel, and hungry from rationing, when we are occupied and demoralised and afraid? I’m not so sure that we would laugh then. In our dreams, I don’t know that we would not come to accept it as the truth. And the effect of that would be very real.”

Mlle. Merion considers him for a moment, then nods. “That should suffice. Now, the first thing that we need to understand is what, precisely, Himmler is trying to do with the ley line near Clichy. Obviously, his overall goal is to strengthen the German hold on Paris, but I really can’t see how that ley line helps him. It’s fairly weak, when all is said and done. And despite the nightlife, Clichy isn’t that important, symbolically speaking.”

“And symbols matter?”

“Symbols are the basis of most magic.”

M. LeBrun nods. “In that case, I wonder if Himmler is trying to tap into the royal symbolism of Clichy? The Merovingian kings had their seat there, you know. And of course Himmler’s Sonnenrad is a Merovingian design…”

“The sun symbol that he wants to put on the buildings on the Boulevard de Strasbourg?” Mlle. Merion regards M. LeBrun with approval. “That actually makes a lot of sense. Are you a student of history, then?”

M. LeBrun shakes his head. “Only for pleasure. I was a civil engineer before the war, but now… well. It is useful to study the obsessions of one’s enemies, I think.”

Mlle. Merion considered the uses the Resistance might make of a man who specialised in building dams and bridges. Best not to enquire – and no doubt, he would be unable to answer her questions. She smiled at him instead. “Yes, indeed. Thank you.”

“It is nothing.”

It is something, though, and there is a note in his voice that makes Mlle. Merion feel as though she ought to be blushing, if she had time for such things. She feels as though she has caught hold of something important, but – no.


“Ah. Not so helpful after all, then?”

“Oh, it is. Well, it is and it isn’t. It does explain why Himmler has chosen this particular ley line to mess with – I agree that it must be about the royal seat – but it doesn’t tell me what, exactly, he is doing, or how to stop him. I can hardly change Clichy’s history.”

She bites her lip, thinking hard.

“What would you normally do?”

“There is no real normal. And unfortunately, I have not been doing this work for as long as I would like – perhaps three years, and my mentor was killed last summer. Usually, we train for seven years before being out on our own.”

“Ah – a field promotion, then.”

“Something like that. But even with training, the sort of situations we deal with are unique, so a big part of our training is simply learning to see what is not quite right. And then one has to learn one’s own particular way of accessing the magic, of course.”

“What is yours?”


M. LeBrun lets out a crack of laughter, and she presses a hand over his mouth. She feels his smile against her palm.

“Hush, Monsieur. You will have the Germans in here. And it is not a joke – laws are very strong symbols. Just think – they are words on paper, but they can change not only the behaviour of individuals but the character of an entire country.”

“Hence your work in the Planning Office.”

“Precisely so – but unfortunately, I can’t go through my usual channels on this occasion. I have been ordered to see that the changes are approved efficiently.”

M. LeBrun nods, then looks at her appraisingly. “By-laws and paperwork. Is that why you were able to get the Germans to believe your story?”

Mlle. Merion smiles approvingly. “Yes. My identity and work documents are legal documents, signed by me. Because their intended purpose is to identify me, they make me look very… very convincingly myself, for want of a better way to put it. My story may not make a lot of sense, but I myself am so very manifestly who I say I am that my story is believed.”

“But not by me.”

“No. I’m not certain why that would be.” Though she has her suspicions. It is always harder to use magic on someone who himself has magical potential.

M. LeBrun frowns, then lets it go. “Just how difficult is it to divert a ley line?”

“Difficult. Ley lines create… channels I suppose, where they run. It would be like shifting a river. You would need to create a new riverbed first.”

It occurs to her that a civil engineer would know the tools for that particular job, but M. LeBrun takes a different tack.

“Would Himmler have the resources to do that?”

Mlle. Merion shrugged. “Perhaps. I would imagine that his resources are considerable.” There were simply too many things about this situation that she did not know.

“Hmm. But would this be the best way for him to use them? Building a new channel for the ley lines would presumably be quite labour intensive. Why not just change the nature of the ones that already exist? Make one stronger, and the other weaker.”

“That does seem to be what he is trying to do,” agrees Mlle. Merion.

“The thing that bothers me is this junction – this node, I think you called it – under the Gare de l’Est. If he is strengthening that in some way, could he use the railway lines as a river system to divert all that ley energy out of Paris?”

“Ley lines are hardly the same thing as railway lines.”

“True, but you did say that magic relies heavily on symbolism. And the symbolism of a railway station that sends trains across to Germany – that is already used to send French workers and French resources to Germany…”

It is a horribly logical thought. “You have a point,” she agrees. “The great node of Paris is under the Tour Saint-Jacques, but if the ley line on the Champs Elysées is weakened too much, then the node under the Gare de l’Est would become our largest node. And yes, in the wrong hands, that could well feed energy into the hands of the Germans.”

“Has the ley line on the Champs Elysées been weakened?”

Mlle. Merion swallows, thinking of the daily parade of German troops down the Champs Elysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. Another powerful form of symbolism, and one that has had its effect on the Parisian psyche. She has witnessed it only once, with a feeling of shock and revulsion that is almost a physical pain. She has not been able to bring herself to witness it since.

“Oh, yes,” she says. Her hand unconsciously clenches into a fist.

M. LeBrun reaches out and takes it between both of his. His hands are warm, despite the chill of the evening.

“They won’t win,” he tells her. His voice is very certain. “You won’t let them. And I won’t let them. And we are not the only people in Paris fighting this war.”

He releases her hand, leaning back.

Mlle. Merion leans back, too, thinking. “Châtelet,” she says, at last.

M. LeBrun blinks. “What of it?”

“It’s the closest Métro station to the Tour St Jacques, and it is also a node, of sorts.”

M. LeBrun smiles in understanding. “But only for Paris, not for all of Europe.”

“Precisely. If Himmler can link the northern node to the Gare de l’Est and thence to Germany, surely it must be possible for us to link the node of St Jacques to the Métro system, and thus to all of Paris.”


“I don’t believe in wasting resources, Monsieur. You may not believe that any of this is real, but you understand the principles and are intelligent enough to apply them usefully. The rest will come with time. Consider yourself recruited.”

M. LeBrun’s brows go up, but he does not object. “Very well. What is our next step, ma Capitaine?”

The next step, inevitably, is by-laws. Unfortunately, by-laws, while an excellent tool for manipulating humans, are much harder to apply to inanimate objects.

Of course, one could argue that ley lines are not entirely inanimate, but even so, finding a law that applies to them is going to be difficult.

They do go back to M. LeBrun’s apartment. It is closer than Mlle. Merion’s, and the church, however useful a location for private conversation, is both cold and dark, and not an ideal place to spend the night reading one’s way through hundreds of pages of by-laws and ordinances about railways, rivers and sewers.

M. LeBrun’s apartment is small – just one room, with a tiny kitchenette off to the side – but this makes it easier to heat. Better still, the power is on, which is unexpected and helpful. Mademoiselle sits at the table, and Monsieur sits on the bed, and they sort the ordinances into two piles. The first pile is for laws that definitely won’t be useful. The second is for laws that have possibilities.

The second pile is distressingly small.

“What are you going to do when you find the right law?” asks M. LeBrun, after a while. Ever since they made the decision to go back to his apartment, he has been all business, with no hint of flirtation. Mlle. Merion appreciates this. It gives her one less thing to think about.

Mlle. Merion sighs and stands, stretching her hands above her head and lacing her fingers together to work out the tension in them. “Go to the Tour Saint-Jacques, probably,” she says. “If the ley lines are going to listen to me anywhere, it will be there. I shall read the laws to them, and explain how they must be applied. And then I shall have to find some way of inscribing them where they will not be seen and erased.”

“Could you simply write them on paper and hide them in the bell tower?”

“Perhaps. I wouldn’t like to trust those stairs, though.”

“All the better. If the stairs are untrustworthy, nobody else will want to climb them either.”

“That will be a great comfort to me when I break my neck,” retorts Mlle. Merion. She hasn’t found a single plausible law yet, and she is getting worried and more than slightly cranky. Also, she is hungry, and her stomach is making impolite noises. She sits down again, and pulls another stack of by-laws out of her briefcase.

M. LeBrun grins, unoffended. “I spent half my school holidays climbing in the Pyrenees. If it comes to that, I could probably climb the tower even if the stairs are missing. Your neck need not be at risk. And then you could write one of your by-laws telling people to keep out of the tower because it was unsafe.”

“It doesn’t quite work like that,” says Mlle. Merion, a little ungraciously, but actually, it’s not such a bad idea, and she could certainly suggest to Mme. Pennac that some sort of official signage should be put up to discourage climbers…

M. LeBrun raises an eyebrow, then stands up, and walks past her to open the bread box. He begins to slice baguette onto a plate, then opens the fridge and gets out a packet of thinly sliced ham.

He sets the bread and ham in front of Mlle. Merion, who stares at him.

“Eat something,” he says. “You’ll think better if you aren’t starving.”

He really is far too nice. Mlle. Merion feels ashamed. “I can’t take your rations,” she protests.

M. LeBrun winks. “That is what the black market is for,” he says. “Eat. Maybe if you have something to chew on, you won’t need to take chunks out of me.”

Mlle. Merion narrows her eyes at him, but takes a bit of the bread and ham. She never did get any dinner and her stomach is growling almost as much as she is.

She very much doubts that the ham is objectively good, but it tastes positively ambrosial. “Thank you,” she says, belatedly.

M. LeBrun smiles, opens his mouth to speak, and the lights go out.

Of course they do. Mlle. Merion fishes the torch out of her purse, but M. LeBrun is already lighting candles. He has, she sees, affixed candlesticks to the walls in preparation for such an eventuality.

“These power cuts,” he says, shaking his head.

“I thought they were keeping the power on at night, for now.”

“That’s certainly what the notices say, but they probably had a shortage. It’s two in the morning. There won’t be many people still up to notice.”

“On a Friday night?” Mlle. Merion is dubious. “Wait, the notices?”

“Did you not receive one?” M. LeBrun pulls the notice off his countertop and shows it to her.

“Avis à la population,” she reads:

Due to shortages in supply, power will be available to private houses between the hours of 1:30 pm and 2:00 pm, and between the hours of 6:00 pm and 6:00 am only. Power will be switched off at all other times. For your own safety, please ensure that any appliances are switched off during the hours of non-service.”

“How very efficient. The workers may have their warm dinners and breakfasts – assuming they have enough rations to make them – but if you are at home during the day, perhaps because you have children to care for, too bad.”

“And, evidently power cannot be guaranteed even within the hours promised,” adds M. LeBrun.

But Mlle. Merion has been struck by a thought. “Power will be switched off at all other times,” she reads aloud.

M. LeBrun blinks, then smiles. “Power… as in ley line power?”

Mlle. Merion grins back at him. “Precisely.” She jumps to her feet as another thought occurs to her. “And for the hours between 6pm and 6am, there are always the blackout laws.”

“When power can be used, but only in ways that are not visible to an enemy.”

“Thus driving the energy underground and into the Métro, where we want it.”

M. LeBrun laughs. “And thus using the enemy’s own rules against him.”

“Exactly! I had worried about teaching the ley lines to change in ways that we would need to then change a second time once Paris is free, but if what we do is connected to the Germans’ own regulations…”

“Then when the Germans are gone, their regulations will become inactive too, and the ley lines will return to normal without any intervention from you.” He grins. “It’s perfect. And that gives me an idea for how to deal with the ley line that runs to Clichy.”


“Rationing laws.” M. LeBrun looks pleased with himself, as well he might. “Starve the ley line of power, and it won’t matter what Himmler does to harvest it – he will never get any energy from it.”

Mlle. Merion laughs in delight. “Oh, that’s brilliant. I do like how you think.” Forgetting her reserve, she takes a step towards him, and finds herself swept off her feet and spun around in an exuberant embrace.

“M. LeBrun!”

He puts her down again and steps back, straight-faced, though his eyes are still laughing. “My apologies, Mademoiselle. I got carried away.”

“I think I was the one who got carried away just then,” she says, drily. She trusts that her cheeks are not as red as they feel. “Never mind. The important thing is that we know what to do now. We know how to get the ley line power out of reach of the Nazis and into the Métro.” She frowns in sudden thought. “I hope. You may have to help it with the second part.”

M. LeBrun’s eyes widen. “I? But I am no magician.”

Not yet, perhaps. But Mlle. Merion keeps this thought to herself. She regards M. LeBrun with some sternness.

“Certainly you. Consider: I work for the city, and my job is to write and enforce laws. I can tell the ley lines what they are legally required to do, and make it stick. But you – you are my opposite. You are part of the Resistance, I think – no, don’t tell me, it’s better if I don’t know – you carry false papers, you disguise yourself in the uniform of the enemy, you buy food from the black market, and I’m certain you put those engineering skills of yours to all sorts of uses that the Germans would not appreciate. In short, you subvert the laws that the Germans make for us.”

“And you want me to teach the ley lines to do the same.” M. LeBrun looks bemused.

“Precisely. I don’t actually want the ley lines to drain themselves of power. I want them to hide their power. To conserve it. To use it in ways that strengthen France and undermine the Germans.” She holds M. LeBrun’s gaze. “Just as you do.”

M. LeBrun looks uncertain. It is not an expression that Mlle. Merion has seen on his face before, and she is not sure that she likes it. She reaches out and takes his hand, drawing him towards the door.

“Come, Monsieur. We have work to do.”

In the end, it is simpler than Mlle. Merion had expected. The ley lines are irritable and disinclined to listen to her, but this only makes them more open to M. LeBrun’s suggestions about what they can do with the energy that they are no longer able to send freely through daylight Paris.

M. LeBrun follows her lead, speaking to the ley lines matter-of-factly, as though training new recruits. There is a vertical crease on his forehead between his eyes as he finishes, and he is silent and thoughtful as Mlle. Merion nails the new edicts to the door of the Tour Saint-Jacques. (Another advantage of their strategy is that there is no longer a need to hide the laws that they are using. The only surprise is that there were no copies of these particular edicts on the Tour Saint-Jacques already.)

He takes Mlle. Merion’s arm courteously enough as they leave the tower, and they walk slowly up the Boulevard de Strasbourg towards the other ley line. Mlle. Merion feels rather bad about what they will need to do to it, but she trusts that it will not be for long. Surely – surely this war must end soon, and it is unthinkable that France will lose.

There has been no further discussion of what they shall say if they are stopped, but Mlle. Merion is willing to admit to herself that M. LeBrun’s story of two lovers taking a romantic stroll has its advantages. Talking to the ley lines was draining, and Mlle. Merion is pleased to have a reason to walk slowly.

They are nearly at the Boulevard de Magenta when M. LeBrun breaks his silence. “Do you think it worked, what we just did? Do you think the ley lines heard us?”

Mlle. Merion casts him a quick glance, but he is looking determinedly ahead, not meeting her gaze. She keeps her voice gentle. “Yes. But I think you know that.”

M. LeBrun frowns into the darkness. “I… perhaps. I thought I heard… something.”

She squeezes his arm. It is enough.

They deal with the Clichy ley line, and then M. LeBrun insists on walking her home.

“It’s after four in the morning,” she protests.

“And if you think I’ll let you walk home at this hour when you are clearly exhausted, then you are greatly mistaken.”

Mlle. Merion rolls her eyes. “I am quite capable of taking care of myself, thank you.”

“I am certain you are. But there is no harm in letting me help.” He grins. “Besides, how am I going to invite you out to dinner if I don’t know where you live?”

Mlle. Merion frowns, but says nothing. They are walking along the path of the Clichy ley line now, and she does not entirely trust it. It is not happy about the rationing laws that she has imposed on it, and she rather suspects that she will need to reinforce her action regularly. Fortunately, there is no lack of restaurants on the Boulevard de Clichy, and thus no lack of people complaining about the lack of real food…

It is pleasant to walk on a man’s arm, she thinks. M. LeBrun seems to radiate heat, which is particularly welcome given the chill of the night.

He walks her to her doorstep, and watches her as she takes out her key and turns it in the lock. They look at each other in silence for a long moment.

“Thank you for your help this evening, Monsieur LeBrun,” she says at last.

“It was my pleasure,” he replies, politely. He reaches out to take her hand, and the look in his eyes makes her go still.

“May I take you to dinner sometime, Mademoiselle Merion?”

Mlle. Merion feels a blush growing on her cheeks, and he smiles a little.

She shakes her head firmly. “No. I am sorry. If things were different… but I cannot be seen with Georg Braun, and Georges LeBrun cannot be seen with me. Not while we still have work to do.”

M. LeBrun nods, accepting this. He does not let go of her hand. “When Paris is free, then.”

It is a promise, and not only to her.

“When Paris is free,” she agrees. She is still holding his hand, she realises. Still gazing into his eyes. She pulls back, her blush deepening, but his hand tightens around hers, and his eyes hold her gaze. Gently, he raises her hand to his lips and kisses it.

Au revoir, Mademoiselle Merion.”

À bientôt, Monsieur LeBrun.”

And with more hope in her heart than she has felt since before the war began, Mademoiselle Merion turns away, and climbs the steps to her apartment.

M. LeBrun watches until the light goes on in her apartment on the fourth floor.  Then he, too, turns, and walks away into the Parisian dawn.

Epilogue the First

January, 1944

Mlle. Merion sips her chicory and barley coffee and tries to calm her anxiety. The Métro has been closed again at République, and this is slowing everyone down, but it is not like Mme. Pennac to be late.

When she does arrive, Madame looks harried and a little sour. She orders her coffee at the counter, and then flings herself into the chair opposite Mlle. Merion, launching into her tirade without preamble.

“You will not believe what they did today!”

Mlle. Merion’s eyes widen, and she looks at Mme Pennac in concern. The other woman waves a hand in dismissal. “Oh, nothing like that. But remember those ugly sun signs they wanted embossed on every street corner?”

“All too well,” says Mlle. Merion drily.

“Well. I was told that these approvals must go through, and that they must somehow be grandfathered into the existing planning laws without amendment, and I worked day and night to ensure that the submission was perfect and everything was properly compliant,” she stopped, and drank a sip of her coffee, grimacing.


“And today they had the planning meeting, and they looked at my submission for one minute, and then dismissed it. Apparently, Herr Himmler no longer interests himself in this application, and they do not wish to deface one of Paris’s historic streets, if you please!”

“How very infuriating,” sympathises Mlle. Merion.

“Infuriating is an understatement! I spent my own time on this – was told my job was on the line if I did not, in fact – and hardly saw my own family over Christmas, and now these idiot bureaucrats have changed their minds!”

Mlle. Merion shakes her head sympathetically. “They could at least have figured out that they didn’t want it before they made you do all the work.”

“Exactly! And between that and this idiocy about trying to figure out who broke into the Tour Saint-Jacques last month – and really, whoever it was, they don’t seem to have actually done anything while they were there – but one of the higher ups has a bee in his bonnet about it, and you know how things get when that happens…”

Mlle. Merion nods her head understandingly, and prepares herself to listen sympathetically for the next hour or so.

Under the circumstances, it really is the least that she can do.

Epilogue the Second

May, 1944

M. LeBrun is at Châtelet station again. He has not left Paris since December. It was suggested, a month or two back, that he might head north to Normandy to be part of the group meeting the Allies, but he declined. There is plenty of work for a man of his skills in Paris, after all, particularly now that people are beginning to speak of its liberation from the occupying Germans. And… he feels as though he needs to stay.

He is still not quite sure what happened on that night when he walked with Mlle. Merion from the Tour Saint Jacques to the little town of Clichy, helping her coax the ley lines to do her bidding, but he knows that something changed. He is still not entirely sure that he believes in magic, but he is beginning to suspect that this does not matter, so long as the magic believes in him.

He finds himself drawn to Châtelet at least once a week, sneaking into the darkened station after curfew to chat to the ley lines about new ways to subvert Mlle. Merion’s laws.

There is, perhaps, an increasing emphasis on Mlle. Merion, and a lessening emphasis on teaching the ley lines how to be productive members of the French Resistance, but the ley lines don’t seem to mind.

Morale is important in wartime, after all. And everyone needs something to hope for.

Epilogue the Third

August, 1944

The man on Mlle. Merion’s doorstep is dark and slight, with a thin, intelligent face. Too thin, really, and he looks utterly exhausted, but then, so do most Parisians these days. Mlle. Merion’s mirror tells her that she is positively gaunt. She tries not to look at it more than she has to.

The man seems familiar, but it isn’t until he smiles at her that she recognises M. LeBrun. The smile lights up his face, wiping away the weariness and rendering him startlingly attractive. She had forgotten about that smile.

“Paris is free,” he tells her, and her heart leaps with the same joy it felt when she first heard the news on the radio. It seems that this is a joy that cannot be fully assimilated in one telling, or perhaps even in many.

“Paris is free,” she agrees. She cannot stop a smile from spreading across her face. The war is not over – she knows that, and certainly nobody could forget it – but her city is free, her country is throwing off the shackles of occupation, and the whole world seems made new.

She realises that she has stretched out her hands to M. LeBrun only when he takes them in his own. Their eyes meet, and Mlle. Merion feels suddenly breathless.

“Will you come to dinner with me, Hélène?” His eyes ask another question, one that it is too soon, perhaps, to ask.

She answers it anyway. When joy has been found again, it is wasteful to deny it, even to delay it, and Mlle. Merion has learned to abhor waste. She frees her left hand gently from his clasp, and reaches up to cup his cheek.

“Yes, Georges,” she says, “I will.”

And standing on her toes, she kisses him on the lips.

Epilogue the Fourth

November, 1945

The LeBruns do not travel far on their honeymoon. They have already visited her family in Matignon, and his in Marseilles, but they choose to spend their honeymoon exploring Paris like the tourists they never had been. War had broken out only a year after Mme. LeBrun first came to Paris, and as for M. LeBrun, he had only arrived in Paris for the first time when his Resistance cell sent him there to infiltrate the Milice during the war.

So they spend the summer of 1945 celebrating the end of war in Europe by doing all the things that tourists do – taking boat rides along the Seine or bicycle rides around the gardens of Versailles, exploring the tiny shops and cafés that are springing up or re-opening on the Île Saint Louis now that rationing is slowly being relaxed, and just simply enjoying the luxury of living in a beautiful city without having to be wary.

This afternoon, the LeBruns are sitting in a small café not far from the Jardins du Luxembourg. The café itself is not particularly notable, but the gardens themselves are a pleasant place to spend an afternoon, and the café owner has surprised them with the first real coffee that either has tasted since before the war.

M. LeBrun takes a long sip, and then frowns. “Odd. I thought I missed coffee, but I confess, it no longer tastes quite right without the chicory.”

Mme. LeBrun snorts. “I trust you are joking. It is clearly the toasted barley that is missing from the aroma.”

M. LeBrun laughs, and then sighs with pleasure. “All jokes aside, I can hardly believe I’m drinking real coffee again.”

Mme. LeBrun agrees. “It hardly needs sugar or milk. Rather a pity, really, that now that we can adulterate it, we no longer need to.”

“No amount of adulteration would have improved chicory coffee,” says M. LeBrun, darkly.

“Well, perhaps not…”

She reaches for his hand and squeezes it. He squeezes it back, then turns her hand palm up and kisses her wrist, smiling when she shivers.

“Mlle. Merion, I believe I must congratulate you.”

The interruption is unwelcome, and Madame’s voice is sharper than it might normally be. “Madame LeBrun, if you please. I am recently married.”

The man standing by their table bows slightly. “Then I believe I must congratulate you twice. Once for your marriage, and once for your excellent work over the last few years.”

Madame frowns. “It is indiscreet to discuss war work in a public place,” she says, sternly.

“Then perhaps we should go somewhere more private.” The man’s eyes meet hers, and he smiles rather sadly. “My name is LeNoir. I should perhaps mention that I was a friend of Monsieur Bernard.”

Her former mentor. M. LeBrun squeezes her hand comfortingly, and the stranger raises a brow enquiringly.

“I have no secrets from my husband, Monsieur,” she tells him, her gaze steady on his.

The stranger studies M. LeBrun closely, then smiles. “So I see. Well, I shall take that as more good news. Assuming Monsieur wishes to learn?”

M. LeBrun considers this. His work during the war was useful – he is very certain of this – but once the fighting was done, he had found that he had lost his taste for engineering. It seems that one can only destroy so many structures before one loses the urge to build them. He has apprenticed himself to a shoemaker, and has been pleased to discover in himself a talent for the craft.

It is peaceful enough, but there is something missing from the work. A sense of purpose, perhaps?

M. LeBrun looks at his wife, and remembers that long, strange night when they first met. He remembers the satisfaction of working with another person – his work with the Resistance was, perforce, solitary – the delight in discovering how the sharpness of her mind could hone his own thoughts, of sharing a goal and discovering a solution together. He remembers the absurdity of trying to find in council ordinances a human law that could protect the magical nature of Paris, and the exhilaration he felt when the absurd became entirely real and possible.

He remembers, too, the dark stillness of that night, and the peace and strangeness of their long walk, arm in arm, through the streets of Paris, as they taught the listening ley lines how to rescue themselves. Beneath him, the ancient ley line that runs along the Rue Saint Jacques remembers, too, and murmurs encouragement to him.

He looks up at M. Lenoir, and sees the future unrolling before him. It is a future in which he shares his wife’s task of protecting Paris from the unseen threats to its heart and soul. A future in which he walks with his wife through the streets of Paris, seeking together the places where something is not right. It is a future of evenings spent searching for solutions in unlikely places, of solving problems that most of the world will never know existed.

It is a shared future, and a shared quest, with their love for Paris and each other at its heart.

He is still holding his wife’s hand, he realises. It seems appropriate. She smiles at him, and is he returns her smile, holding her eyes as he answers M. Lenoir’s question.

“Yes,” he says, “I do.”



Mairie de Clichy is one of the newer stations in the Métro system, having opened in May 1980.  It is part of the northwestern branch of line 13, and is situated outside the Boulevard Periphérique, just northwest of the 17th arondissement, in the commune of Clichy.  It takes its name from the town hall (the mairie) of Clichy.

Clichy started its life as an estate in the 6th century, and later became a game preserve.  It was the capital of the Merovingians during the reign of Dagobert I, who was the first Frankish King to be buried at the Saint Denis Basilica, and also the last Merovingian King to wield significant power.

This story is a prequel to the main series of Madame and Monsieur LeBrun stories, which begin with Good Council, and are set in the current time.  If this is your first LeBrun story, you should probably know that the other stories are set in the current day, by which time the LeBruns are an elderly couple (far older than they appear, in fact), who are mostly retired, but still taking plenty of long walks around the outer suburbs of Paris and dealing with little magical problems using the power of by-laws.  (Also, if this is your first LeBrun story, I would be very curious to know what you think of it, because it’s very strange writing a story when you know where the protagonists will be in 70 years time, and it’s hard to tell, when you know characters very well, whether a story about them makes sense in isolation.)  A complete list of their adventures to date can be found here.

I don’t think World War II needs any introduction from me, but in case anyone was in any doubt, Paris really was occupied by the Germans from June 14 1940 until August 25, 1944, and the Germans really did parade regularly down the Champs Elysées.  (I couldn’t bring myself to use a photo of this – I felt awful just looking at it, and I’m not even French.)  The rationing was real, as were the frequent power failures (and corresponding closures of Métro stations and theatres), though it wasn’t until 1944 that the power started being cut for all but half an hour at lunchtime, plus overnight. The curfew laws were real, but were far more relaxed in Paris than they were elsewhere.  And the German government really did take a strong interest in city planning, though I am not aware of any attempts to add Sonnenrads to buildings.  Himmler’s interest in the occult, however, was very real.

I do feel a bit weird about using such an awful time as a setting for a story (and given some of the other station names, I fear that this will not be the last time I do so), but I have done my best to treat it with respect, and I hope very much that I have not offended anyone.

As for the ley lines of Paris, I made the mistake of Googling to see where people thought they were, and found a lot of arguments and also a rabbit hole of Princess Diana-related conspiracy theories.  This did not seem like something I wanted to engage with, so instead I created my own and put them in locations that seemed plausible given the general concept of lines of energy between places of power. It seemed logical that there would be a ley line along the oldest street in Paris, the Rue Saint-Jacque, and one that runs along the Champs Elysées.  And there is enough going on around the Boulevard de Clichy in terms of art and nightlife that it should be able to conceivably support another ley line, which is, of course, the one leading to the Gare de l’Est.


I have used only two images in this story, both of which are freely available on Wikimedia Commons.  The small cross with the double bar used throughout the story is the Croix de Lorraine, and was a symbol of the French Resistance throughout the war.  The poster at the top of the story is a poster from 1940 of Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech urging the people of France to continue fighting despite the Occupation. The copyright is held by Semnoz at the French Language Wikipedia, and the translation is as follows:

France has lost a battle!
But she has not lost the war!

Some that chance to be in governing positions may have capitulated, ceding to panic, forgetting honour, delivering the country into servitude. However, nothing is lost!
Nothing is lost, because this war is a world war. In the free universe, there are immense forces that have not yet joined the fray. One day, those forces will crush the enemy. That day, France must be present at the victory. Then, she will find again her liberty and her greatness. Such is my goal, my only goal!
This is why I invite all Frenchmen, wherever they may be, to join with me in action, in sacrifice, and in hope.  Our motherland is in lethal danger. Let us all fight to save her!
Long live France!



Porte de Clichy
fleur13left Mairie de Clichy
fleur13right Gabriel Péri

2 thoughts on “Mairie de Clichy

    1. Catherine Post author

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! I love the LeBruns very much – they are such a joy to write about.


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