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This Burning Desire
Author's note: Frollo is such a deep character... he is one of my favorite literary characters ever.
This fire in my skin…
This burning desire is turning me to sin…
He didn’t know what led him there in the first place. Down, deep into the reaches of the Palace, where the foul odor of cess and vomit permeated the air. Frollo grasped the hem of his robe and lifted it above his ankles, so as not to step into anything unsavory that might spoil the expensive cloth. The jailer beckoned him further down the hall and was moving with insulting leisure. Briefly, he considered having the man whipped for his insolence, but reluctantly discarded the idea when he realized it wasn’t worth it.
The jailer finally led him to wooden cell door and pulled out a ring of a dozen or so keys. In no particular hurry, the jailer sorted through them, one by one, and finally landed on the desired key, which he plunged into the lock of the cell and twisted sharply. Painstakingly slowly, there was the sound of a bolt shooting from a lock, and the door opened, revealing utter darkness.
“Anything else, sir?” the jailer yawned.
“Yes,” Frollo replied, pulling a candle from the sleeve of his robe with his free hand. “I require your immediate removal from my sight. I have business to attend to.”
The jailer snorted, but one dark look from the judge sent his massive bulk flying down the hall without a glance back. Satisfied that he could proceed undisturbed, Frollo lit the candle and placed the palm of his hand against the wooden door. He paused, listening for the sounds of any movement behind the door. There was nothing, no rustling of chains, no breathing, no movement. Yet he knew she was there – the gypsy witch – Esmeralda… the very thought of her all alone in the darkness of the cell was like a knife twisting sharply in his chest. The very thought of her chained, helpless, the fire in her eyes dimmed in captivity made him weak in the knees.
“Make me strong,” he breathed a quick prayer, and pushed the door all the way open. Dim light from the hall torches spilled in, and he could just make out her outline. She lie stretched out on the floor not facing him. Her wrists and ankles had been chained to the wall, with barely enough excess for her to stand. Her questionably modest ensemble had been burned, earlier, and had been replaced by a simple white dress that still managed to cling to her voluptuous figure. Yet, even in the dungeons of the Palace of Justice, a degree of modesty was required.
Her dark thick hair, black as a raven’s wing, now tumbled over her shoulders and down her back, as it no longer had any restraints. Frollo’s fingers ached to run through that hair, to grasp it, to wrap it around his fingers, to hold it up and breathe the scent of sun and life – which clung to her like perfume. A witch’s craft all on its own, that.
His head reeling, Frollo battled with himself for composure, which finally he regained. Bracing himself, he cleared his throat and lifted his chin, gazing at her down his aquiline nose.
“Esmeralda,” her name rolled so easily off his tongue! “I am here to gather your confession. As the dark hour of your life’s end draws near…” he would have continued, but he was interrupted.
She rolled over on her side, then, turning at last to face him. Blue green eyes that sparkled like twin faceted gems glared at him with a blazing anger that he was certain could rival the wrath of God Himself. He took a hesitant step back, unsure of what she might do, but she simply remained there, making no further movement but to prop herself up on her elbow.
“You are wasting your time,” she hissed at him, her voice was dry and hoarse. “Your soldiers have already tried everything to extract a confession from me. I have nothing to confess, therefore, leave me in peace!”
Frollo’s thin lips drew back in a grimace, and the disdain was once more rising in his chest, extinguishing easily the climbing desire. “Peace? There will be no peace for you after this night, gypsy. If I leave you here, then it is not the flames of tomorrow’s pyre that you should fear.”
“I can talk to God on my own,” Esmeralda snarled, her eyes bright with tears that she fought to hold back. “He and I have had a nice long discussion or two, and he never mentioned you, so as far as I’m concerned…”
She was silenced by the back of his hand connecting soundly with her jaw. Whimpering, she lowered her head back to the ground, not having the strength for anymore retorts.
“You may burn with or without your tongue,” Frollo hissed, flexing his bony fingers as if the blow had not pained him at all. “It is up to you, really, it makes no difference to me.”
“You can’t save me,” she muttered darkly, spitting out blood onto the stones. His ring had ripped open her chapped bottom lip. “If my immortal soul is in your hands, no offense, your honor, but I’d rather burn in hell.”
“Suit yourself,” Frollo said disgustedly. “You have until tomorrow to make your final decision.” He picked up his robes again and turned to go, angrily, he considered again why he had decided to come do this. God had compelled him, naturally. To what? Save a poor lost soul from the damning flames of justice? There was no redemption for her kind! What had he been thinking?
Before he could get very far, he felt a tug at the hem of his robe, nearly tripping him. Furiously, he whirled around, the tip of his chaperon coming dangerously close to falling over his eyes.
He was about to brush her away, like a troublesome dog in the street. Yet he stopped suddenly, by some unseen force, something that compelled him to notice the delicate, slender dark hand the clutched at his robes. The arm that followed, not weak, but still soft. In fact, it was something he had never bothered to notice about her, even in the Notre Dame Cathedral that eve on the Feast of Fools. He had felt it, then, but disregarded it completely when he got caught up in his threats. Her raven locks, her sun kissed skin, her pale plump lips and her wide blue green eyes. She was still soft, underneath that exterior. A heathen gypsy, yes, but still a woman nonetheless.
And he felt something in him that he had never felt before, a burning in between his legs that left his thoughts muddled beyond comprehension.
“Don’t leave,” She pleaded, her voice barely a whisper. “Don’t leave me just yet.”
The candle fell to the ground.
Its meager light was immediately extinguished, and cast them both into darkness once more. The only light came from the hall, and even then, it was still barely enough to make out what was in front of him.
“I don’t like the dark,” she confessed. “I never have. Don’t ask me why I mentioned it, I don’t know.”
“One would think it would be better suited for your purposes,” he snapped, reaching down for the fallen candle. Unable to find it, he muttered something under his breath and reached up to straighten his hat.
“I am not a witch!” she sounded exasperated. “For the last time, I have no interest in that area and I never will. It’s all just ridiculous to me.” She reached forward; he could hear the strain of her chains, and grasped the candle off the floor, holding it up. “Is this what you’re looking for?”
“Yes,” he spoke through clenched teeth. He reached forward to take it from her and she snatched her hand back. Her other hand shot forward and grasped him by the wrist, pulling him roughly forward. He stumbled, and fell forward on his knees. She caught him, pressing against his chest so that he was on his back against the floor, and ground her elbow roughly into his throat.
“Release me,” she was so close to him that he could feel her breath against his skin. “Or give me the satisfaction of killing you before my own time comes.”
How dare her! Frollo was enraged. Mostly at himself for allowing such a thing to happen, to allow himself to be lured in by her witch’s spell! To make him feel drawn to her, just so she could get close enough…
His thoughts halted right there. She was quite effectively cutting off his air supply, and from the corners of his eyes, he could see dizzying black flecks appearing. Not a good sign, from what he could tell.
Summoning up all his strength, he braced his hands against her stomach, and used both arms and legs to shove her off. He kept a hold of her arm and twisted it behind her, reminiscently of the night at Notre Dame, and pinned her to the ground, discarding momentarily priestly dignity for the sake of survival.
“Such a clever witch,” he growled. She struggled beneath his weight, but it was about as effective as if she hadn’t been moving at all. “What do you think this would gain you? They would not respond well to my death, you would suffer greatly for it.”
“Something worse than burning at the stake, you mean?” she asked dryly. Frollo’s lips thinned and he slipped his hand against the back of her neck. He grasped her dark soft hair, tangling his fingers through it and yanking it hard enough to bring her head brutally back.
“Perhaps we can come to an alternate arrangement,” his voice had reached dangerous lows. A gleam appeared in his eyes as it always did when he was thinking. Esmeralda’s eyes widened at the tone, but didn’t comment. She was surprised when he then stood, brushing off his robes. He reached down and picked up his hat, dusting it off, as well, and placing it firmly back on his head. Esmeralda slowly rose back to her sitting position, and glared holes into the back of his head.
“I hate you,” she spat. “And I hope you burn with me when you finally make it to hell.”
“I’ve no intention of making it there,” he informed her coldly, tossing a glare over his shoulder. “But mark my words, gypsy, you have until tomorrow to make your choice. I shall only ask you once more.”
“My answer will be the same,” she said. “I want nothing to do with you, or your salvation.”
He considered just leaving. That was perhaps the best thing to do – no more of this – he was tired, he would need his rest, a nice fire and a glass of tea before his head hit the pillow would be just the thing he needed. But she … this blaspheming witch, this wretched heathen, would go to the flames defiantly, would waltz through the gates of hell and not regret a thing, would not even think twice!
It was his duty to ensure that his message came across as very clear. She didn’t get it, not entirely. She didn’t understand that tomorrow there would be no pompous idiot knight prancing around in gold armor to come to her rescue. Phoebus lie in the cell just down the hall, manacled as securely as she, and there would be no redemption for him, either. No one to pull him from hell’s ever-reaching flames.
He reached out; his hand touched the rough wood of the door. If anyone was going to teach this gypsy, it would have to be him. God would grant him the strength to do so.
He shut the door.
Esmeralda’s eyes widened a touch further, and then narrowed again dangerously as she tried to figure out exactly what he was doing. He pulled his chaperon from his head, turned it around in his fingers once, and then dropped it to the ground.
“What are you doing?” she asked, curiosity overcoming her.
He did not reply, he simply dropped his mantel to the ground, and then turned to face her. There was a new expression on his fine aristocratic features. Something she hadn’t seen before, but now scared her. With the lightning movements of a serpent, he grasped her neck and drew her to her feet before throwing her against the wall. His fingers bracing her head kept it from slamming into the stone, but that didn’t cease the numbing effect that the impact had on her legs.
Frollo couldn’t control his movements any longer. He struggled, but he was too caught up in what he was doing to realize what had happened. He had given in to the temptation, had become entangled in the very trap the devil had set up for him.
But he was going to go through with it, he had to, now. God forgive him for it, but he had to go through with it!
His heart leapt guiltily as he kissed her lips and drank heartily from the goblet of sin.
Dawn was fast approaching. Streaks of bloody red and dull orange shot across the sky as if the flames of Hell were already on their way to consume her. With a resigned sigh, Esmeralda leaned her head back against the wooden stake and closed her eyes. Briefly, she wondered what it would be like to burn. She had only witnessed a public burning once, many years ago, when she was still young. Her mother, Natalia, lashed to a stake much like the one that was currently driving splinters into her own back. Natalia had said nothing whilst the judge rattled off the list of her crimes from the scroll that was pinched between his fingers. But when torch was applied to the brush, it immediately went up in flame, and Esmeralda remembered running away then. Leaving the scene far, far behind her, but her mother’s agonized screams still rang in her ears and the stench of charred flesh was still thick in the air.
The sound of beating drums snapped her back into reality. Esmeralda’s eyes opened and she lowered her head just in time to see him ascending to the platform. Bile rose to her throat at the very sight of him. The man who had ruined her, had dared to touch her! She hated him; she should have killed him while she had the chance. Burning would have been made so much more pleasant, then.
Judge Claude Frollo certainly looked refreshed. He had bathed before deigning to grace the scene with his presence, which was probably why they were off to such a late start. She watched as he moved closer to her, hating every movement he made. From the prissy way he kept the hem of his robe off the ground to the haughty way he lifted the torch from the executioner’s hand. As he approached her, the firelight glinted off his dark eyes, and something inside of her recoiled. She knew what he was about to do. Oh my God, she groaned inwardly. He is going to drag this out.
“The time has come, gypsy.” His dark voice rolled over her, sending literal shivers down her spine. “You stand upon the brink of the abyss. Yet even now, it is not too late.” He stopped just inches away from her, and leaned forward so close their noses were touching. “I can save you from the flames of this world, and the next.”
Esmeralda closed her eyes, her breathing coming too quickly, her heart pounding so loudly in her chest that she was certain everyone could hear it. Instinct told her to refuse, to let him burn her, anything was better than whatever it was he had in mind.
The flames of this world …
Her head was reeling. The heat of the torch’s flames was scorching against her skin. Suddenly, she remembered it all. The smell of the black smoke as it billowed in the air, her mother’s agonized screams as the greedy flames licked the flesh away from her bones. The smell of burning flesh, those screams… those screams…
She couldn’t do it! She couldn’t face it – her mother may have been brave – and Esmeralda certainly had her own share of bravado – but she couldn’t take it to that height. She had done nothing wrong, there was no reason for her to burn. No reason…
And there, his voice was so low it was nearly a growl. It tightened places that had been violated already by him the night before. “Choose me,” he said. “Or the fire.”
She couldn’t do it, she couldn’t say it. She glanced up again at the sky, not wanting to look at him, not wanting to see the expectant faces of her people who were all about to face the same fate. She was first, she was going to be the first sacrifice for their kind. She had to accept it with dignity; she was all the hope they had to look up to.
She had failed them once, to fail them again would be unbearable.
And Phoebus, she knew Phoebus would be in the crowd. She knew he would be disappointed in her. She felt the tears begin to rise again, unbidden. She had failed, not only the gypsies, but herself.
She drew in a deep breath and looked at Frollo, who stood waiting patiently, an unbearable smirk twisted his thin lips and marred completely his sanctimonious expression.
Galled, she lowered her head, her eyes fixed on the ground as she spoke. She just couldn’t bear to look at him.
“I can’t face it,” she whispered, amazed that the words could even find their way out. “Save me.”
He seemed slightly taken aback, as if it weren’t quite the turn of events he had been expecting. The smirk grew darker, and his eyes gleamed, making her squirm. “All you have to do,” he allowed his voice to climb, she visibly flinched. “Is claim sanctuary, and proclaim to all that you recant your wicked ways.”
“I recant,” the words came out more like a sob. Frollo grasped her chin and lifted it up sharply, so that their eyes meant.
“Louder,” he hissed. “They must be able to hear you, my dear.”
“I can’t!” she shook her head. “I’ve said it! Isn’t that enough for you…?”
His fingers clamped down harder than iron over her jaw, and the tears streamed down her cheeks.
“I RECANT!” she screamed.
Frollo released her chin. Her mother’s screams were fading from her memory now, much to her relief.
“The prisoner Esmeralda has recanted,” his voice just radiated self-satisfaction. “She has repented of her wicked ways and has turned from the darkness and the lures of The Enemy.” He stroked her cheek, almost fondly, in a manner. “God has forgiven her, and so, dear people, must we. From henceforth she shall be a reformed woman, wise and pure in the ways of our world. Child, pick yourself up. You are a redeemed woman!”
In that moment, she hated him so much that it was a physical ache in the pit of her stomach. She would have lunged at his thin neck, if she weren’t still bound to the stake. He had won her, this time, but she knew for certain that before her last breath rose from her chest, he would be dead.
He had won. Frollo saw the look of resignation in her emerald green eyes and knew from that moment that he had won the game. The gypsy witch was his.
Yet, why did he feel no triumph? Perhaps it was the absence of the blaze in her eyes that made his heart turn leaden and sink. Perhaps it was the venom dripping from her tongue, or the hatred that contorted her beautiful features. Perhaps it was the knowledge buried in his subconscious that though he had won the battle, the war had just begun. She would not give in to him completely, and he would not be satisfied until that unbridled spirit of her was broken.
But what to do with her? Turn her loose into the streets? No, that was entirely out of the question. He had not come so far only to have her escape from his grasp once more. But a gypsy woman living in the palace of justice with the Minister, oh yes, the gossips could chew on that for months. Tongues would wag and while Frollo personally considered himself above petty gossip, that to even acknowledge it was sinful, the thought of his clean reputation tarnished in any manner was a revolting idea.
The wheels turned in his head as he climbed into his carriage and shut the door, twisting the long red ribbon of his chaperon around his index finger. He could hide her away from the public view. Like Quasimodo in his bell tower, she would not be allowed to participate in any of the common people’s activities. Yea, even enter the city at all. He could teach her, as he taught Quasimodo, and perhaps she and the hunchback could even keep each other company.
And, with time, people would forget. And after they had forgotten, perhaps…
Frollo took a deep breath and clenched his hand around the crucifix that dangled from his neck. One thing at a time.
But of course, before anything else could be done, there was something that he had to take care of.
“Where to, Minister?” the driver asked, once they had pulled away from the execution scene.
“Nowhere,” Frollo was already tired, and it was not even past seven o’ clock. He hadn’t received an entire hour of sleep the night before. Once he returned from the dungeon, he had collapsed on his bed, only to be awaken by the church bells fifteen minutes later. “Just wait here.” Once again climbing out of his carriage, he muttered, “The hunchback and I have some unfinished business to attend to.”
The staircase that led all the way to the top of the bell tower where Frollo’s misshapen ward was currently housed seemed to get longer with each visit. Frollo refused to allow his age to catch up with him, convinced that his mind was the only thing that limited him. If he was convinced that he was getting too old to be climbing nearly three flights of stairs, then his body would respond to that sort of thinking. Therefore, he must not allow himself to believe that he was any less physically able than he had been nearly twenty years ago.
Finally, he approached the door that led him into Quasimodo’s chamber. Pausing to catch his breath and straighten his robes, he lifted one graceful hand and knocked once, twice, three times on the door before lifting the latch and gliding in.
Quasimodo sat on the railing of the balcony, looking out towards the scene of the execution that never too place. He was not facing his master, but Frollo could tell from the set of his ward’s posture that this was going to be a longer visit than he first anticipated.
“Quasimodo,” Frollo took a step forward, and shut the door gently behind him. His ward did not reply. “Ignoring me will do you no good. I intend to stay here until we have spoken.”
With a long, shaky sigh, Quasimodo threw a look over his shoulder. His face was wet with tears, and his nose was red, from where he had been wiping it on his sleeve.
“Master,” The hunchback hung his head. “Forgive me, master, for ever doubting you.”
Perhaps not so long a conversation as Frollo dreaded. His confidence reaching new heights, Frollo clenched his fist and brought it up to his chest as he glided towards his ward, who remained motionless on his perch, waiting. One by one, Frollo’s long fingers uncurled and he lifted his hand, just inches away from his ward’s face. Quasimodo shrank back, as if expecting a blow, and flinched again when he felt the cold, gentle touch of his master’s hand on his cheek.
“My dear, dear Quasimodo.” Frollo shook his head slowly, stroking the boy’s face. “Dear boy, of course I forgive you.”
“I was so wrong…” Quasimodo choked, and sniffed. He glanced out back at the sunrise that was slowly giving way to blue skies. “Esmeralda, is she…?”
“Alive and well,” Frollo purred reassuringly. “The flames of Hell came to confront her and, like all things either good or wicked, she recoiled. She recanted, then, and now her immortal soul as well as her mortal flesh are both spared.” Mortal flesh, he couldn’t help but think. How very mortal, how very soft, how vulnerable she was…
“How could I ever have thought you would be so evil?” Quasimodo wept in despair, the hot tears spilling over his cheeks even faster, now. “Master, you really are good.”
Frollo lifted his chin, and a humorless smile spread across his lips. “Now do you see, dear boy, why I had to do all that I have done? If I had not, the gypsy would have remained on her wicked path, and surely would have died in sin.”
“But how could I-“
“A young mind is The Enemy’s favorite tool. It is soft, like new clay, and can be twisted and warped if not guarded properly. Thankfully,” he rested a hand atop Quasimodo’s ginger hair. “You have me, who will guard and protect you against the evils of this world. God has forgiven you and so have I. Let it rest in the past.”
He wasn’t quite certain if the boy had comprehended all he had just spoken, he thought disdainfully. But his point was still across. The boy was properly chagrined and repentant, and Frollo had his hold on him once more, perhaps as tightly as ever before.
“What will happen to her?” Quasimodo asked. “Are you going to let her go?”
“No, dear boy, that would not be very wise of me. She is a traitor to her people now; they will not listen to her testimony and will kill her before she can get much further than the palace.”
“Oh,” Quasimodo sighed, disheartened.
“She must be educated. I will teach her, as I have taught you. She might even come up to visit you time and again. Would you like that?”
“Oh, yes!” Quasimodo replied, enthused. “I would like that very much!”
“Good,” Frollo brought the conversation to a halt with an affectionate pat on his ward’s cheek. “We shall see what happens then, shall we?” he began his path towards the door. “Oh, and Quasimodo.”
“Yes, master?” Quasimodo looked up.
“I’m going to talk to Luc about having these removed,” he tapped the top of the fat gargoyle’s head with a fingernail. “So do not be surprised if he comes up here.”
Quasimodo’s mouth fell open, and he began to stammer a protest, but his master was already out the door.
Clopin stormed furiously around the perimeter of the small room, fists clenched behind his back just to keep him from victimizing the nearest inanimate object. Of course, once Esmeralda had been released, once she had betrayed all that Clopin had ever taught her to stand for – he had been able to use a fancy bit of lockwork to free himself and as many of his fellows as he could. He left Phoebus there to rot, as far as he was concerned, the former captain of the guard was all part of the web that had eventually brought Esmeralda down.
The betrayal still stung him, like a poisoned barb in his soul, he just couldn't accept it. He would have rather burned atop her ashes than to see her knuckle under like that. It was the Minister's doing, of course. He had tortured her, beaten her, probably – and who knows what else – and finally weakened her mind into believing that he was her only salvation. With a pang of sorrow, Clopin remembered the look on Esmeralda's face when she had screamed her recantation. That woman resembled in no way the beautiful child who had been like a daughter to him for nearly thirteen years, since he had found her wandering the streets at the age of seven.
It only made the betrayal all the more bitter. And worse was to come, he realized with a grimace. With Esmeralda neatly ensnared in the enemy's trap, she could prove to be a well of useful information. If they could get her to betray her clan in one way, why not in another? Who knew what Frollo would ask of her? In time, would she even tell the location of the Court of Miracles?
He couldn't have it. She was now, as far as he was concerned, an outcast. She would no longer be welcome in the place that she had once called home.
As far as he was concerned, she was an aid to the enemy, now, and must be disposed of.
"What do you think, Francis?" he asked, tugging the ends of his pointed black beard and turning to face the rather garishly clad figure in the chair across from him. Jean-Francis Troillefou leaned back in the chair, placing his polished back boots up on the table in front of him. His cornflower blue eyes peered out from beneath the shade that his wide-brimmed plumed hat had to offer, and despite his pleasant, boyish features, his mouth was set into a grim serious line. Jean-Francis was the city's most accomplished thief, and consequentially Clopin's youngest cousin.
"I think it can be taken care of," the hard, cold tone did not match the angelic face. "If I can manage to infiltrate the Palace of Justice, it's all cake from there."
"They are going to need a replacement Captain of the Guard," Clopin tapped his chin pointedly. "I can trust in your acting skills to make sure you fill out the requirements for the position?"
"Considering their past record with captains, they should find me a God-send."
"You must get to Esmeralda before Frollo does," Clopin pressed. "If she gives away any vital information about our hideaway, or even about some of the shelters we have spread around the city…"
Jean-Francis held up a gloved hand to silence his cousin. Clopin would not tolerate such a gesture from any of his flock, but from his cousin, it was acceptable.
"From what you've told me of Esmeralda, she doesn't sound like the kind who would betray you purposefully."
"So I thought, too." Clopin moaned. "But now I just don't know anymore. She's betrayed us already, and I'm not willing to take a risk. All I can say is – thank God I have you, this is one job I just couldn't perform myself."
"The one, and only time you will ever admit you need me." Flashing his cousin a brilliant smile, Jean-Francis stood, sliding his boots away from the table and sweeping his cape to the side. "Don't worry over it any longer, cousin. Your orders are given, the deed shall be done, you just need to relax."
"Relax!" Clopin muttered.
"Go play with your puppets," pressing gently on Clopin's shoulder-blades, Jean-Francis ushered the smaller man from the room. "They always cheer you up."
"Don't patronize me!" Clopin quipped, but didn't resist when Jean-Francis thrust a hand puppet in his arm and directed him towards a group of children.
"They've had a lot of excitement," Jean-Francis continued. "They'll be happy to be distracted."
"Yes," Clopin admitted with a small sigh, slipping the puppet over his hand. "They will be."
The children flocked around him immediately as soon as they noticed he was walking their way. They all glanced up with expectant faces, and the fear behind their wide, pleading eyes tugged on his heartstrings.
As if it were second nature to him, Clopin began to do what he loved to do the most. When he stole a moment to glance over his shoulder, he noticed that Jean-Francis was gone.
Chapter Five: The Palace of Justice
Jean-Francis tugged nervously at the collar of his white linen shirt as he approached the entrance to the Palace of Justice. The cool parchment of his application rested against his chest, and he was certain his heart was thudding a little louder than necessary. It annoyed him to no end, but nonetheless, he was determined to see this through. He was Jean-Francis Troillefou, and he never backed out on a job. Today, though he would be facing the Minister of Justice himself, he would go in confident, and do whatever it took to get that job. Failure was not an option, especially not to Clopin, who had had to deal with enough for one lifetime.
That determined, he took the remaining steps two at a time until he had reached the top, where he turned to address the nearest guard.
"I'm here to apply for the position of-" he barely managed to finish his sentence before the guard jerked a thumb over his shoulder, and the doors to the palace were opened. Jean-Francis was slightly startled, but didn't let it show. Nodding his thanks, he strode through the doors. His heart was pounding harder, it almost hurt.
He put everything into the character he knew he must play. Stance, manner… even slight lisp was all planned out in his head. He went up yet another flight of stairs and found himself running almost on top of the Minister of Justice.
"Oh, Your Honor!" Jean-Francis performed a hasty bow right there on the staircase.
"Out of my way," Frollo commanded with a sweeping gesture of his hand. "I have business to attend to."
"Indeed, sir!" Jean-Francis replied, pulling the application out and unfolding it carefully before handing it over to the minister. "I happen to have business with you, as well, how fortunate that we should run into each other!"
Frollo's glare would have caused any lesser mortal to melt into a puddle and slither into a crack in the floor. "Indeed?"
"Yes! I am here, Your Honor, to apply for the position of Captain of the Guard."
"…Indeed." Frollo said again, sweeping his judgmental gaze over the garishly clad man. From his enormous plumed hat and the red velvet and gold brocade caplet that was thrown over one shoulder to the crème breeches that buckled at the knee and the knee-high black boots. "And what is your name?"
"Sebastian Montagiu, Your Honor. Sir Sebastian Montagiu."
"Titles mean nothing to me, I warn you now. If you wish to make my guard, you must prove yourself worthy of the position."
"Yes, Your Honor," Jean-Francis replied, taking a step backwards for every step Frollo took forward. Frollo grit his teeth and fought the urge to strike the man, anything to get him out of the way. Couldn't he see that the judge clearly had somewhere to be? "When do I begin?"
"My guards will inform you," Frollo said, his patience growing visibly thin. "If you ask them, they will show you to your quarters."
"Of course, Your Honor." Jean-Francis continued to back down, whilst removing his hat and performing an elaborate bow. Quite a trick, considering the haste in which he was backing down the shallow steps. "Thank you very much, I shall strive to be worthy of your trust."
"Hmm," Frollo offered no further comment on the matter. With a lift of his hem and a grand sweeping flourish, he vanished around the corner and was gone. Jean-Francis let out a long sigh and collapsed against the stone wall, running a hand through his mass of golden curls. "Well," he said to himself. "That was properly terrifying. Is he always like that, I wonder, or am I merely special." He paused to muse over this idea for a moment before fluffing the plume of his hat and plopping it back down onto his head. One mission was accomplished, at least. If only for a little while, he was in. He didn't even need to linger long enough to fill the position of captain, if only he could locate Esmeralda in between then and now. And if anyone became suspicious, he could merely explain that he was lost, or he was just taking a look around and killing time before appointed to his new position.
Best to begin now, he reasoned, running a hand over the brim of his hat. The Minister of Justice, he had recognized, had quite the taste in chapeaus. Jean-Francis always liked to connect with a fellow soul. "Pity," he began, shoving his hands in his pockets as he trotted down the stairs. "How can one with such good taste be so positively wicked?" with a chuckle, he answered himself. "Well, dear boy, take a good look in the mirror, you may get your answer!"
Once the idiot was out of his sight, Frollo's head began to clear, and he began to wonder what exactly it was he had just done. True, the fop clearly was colorblind, but he seemed a good few brain cells ahead of his last Captain of Guard whom he would not bring himself to speak the name of. Frustrated, Frollo wondered why every captain ended up being such a great disappointment.
"Minister Frollo," the guard at the door saluted him. "The gypsy girl is here, as you requested."
"Excellent," Frollo replied. "Send her in."
The guard saluted again and vanished. When he reappeared, he held the arm of Esmeralda who had, since being pardoned, taken a bath, and her thick raven's hair was combed out, falling in even glossier waves around her face. Her white prison gown had been replaced with a long-sleeved black acolyte's robe.
"Why do I have to wear this damn thing?" she asked, scratching her arms. "It itches!"
Pressing his lips together, Frollo smacked her across the face, loud enough that it echoed off the palace walls. "There will be no profanity here," he warned her, his voice dropping to dangerous lows.
"This is not the Cathedral." She hissed.
"God is everywhere," Frollo withdrew his hand, and twisted the jeweled rings around his fingers. "And you will not utter such obscenities in His presence – or mine – again."
"It still itches," she sighed. "And it's hot."
"It's necessary. We are about to walk through the streets of Paris and you cannot be seen."
"I'm going to die! You can't expect me to-"
"I trust I don't expect too much of you. Your cooperation is a small price to pay for your immortal soul."
Seething, Esmeralda lowered her arms to her sides, fists clenched.
"Better," Frollo smirked and gestured languidly with his hand. "Shall we?"
Esmeralda nodded, and pulled the cowl of her robe low over her face so that the tip nearly touched her chin. Frollo turned and exited the palace, the wind catching hold of his robes and his hat so that he had to grab hold of both to keep them in check before diving into his carriage. Esmeralda followed, struggling to keep the hem of her robe down by her ankles to keep the wind from catching the skirt. She dove headfirst into the carriage, and the wind slammed the door shut behind her, nearly taking off a bit of her heel. She landed nearly face-first in Frollo's lap, one arm and one leg dangling over the side of the seat, and the other bent at an awkward angle, making sitting up a chore.
"Sorry," she muttered, lifting herself up. Frollo remained stiff until she had removed himself from his personal space completely, and then he smoothed out the length of his robe.
"Fine," he muttered, tapping the side of the carriage as a signal for the driver to move on. The carriage jerked into motion, and they were off.
Esmeralda slid off her seat and moved to the one across from him, pulling the cowl away from her head to smooth out her hair.
"Don't," Frollo snapped. "Not until we arrive."
Esmeralda scowled at him, but pulled it back down anyhow.
"He's coming!" Hugo waved his arms in panic at the sight of Frollo's carriage. "And he's brought someone with him … MON DIEU!" he turned to face Quasimodo in horror. "He's going to have us removed already!"
"Calm down!" Quasimodo made desperate silencing movements with his hands. "He's not replacing anyone, not yet…"
"YET! It's only a matter of time!"
"Quiet!" Quasi pleaded. "He's coming up the stairs!"
"Shut up, you." Laverne snarled at the by far larger yet not very intelligent gargoyle. "Or he'll be shipping all of us to the quarry before you can blink and Quasi will be singing a farewell!"
Quasimodo rushed to tidy things away, including moving the gargoyles to the side, less out of the way of his master's path. He was convinced that if Frollo didn't see the gargoyles, then he would conveniently forget all about his threat to have them removed. Isolated all his life, Quasimodo had few enough friends as it was. He didn't want those nearest and dearest to him to be shipped away.
Frollo stepped wordlessly into his room, catching Quasimodo by complete surprise. The hunchback whirled around to face his master and bit his thick lip so hard that a bead of blood appeared. "Master!"
"I've brought you some company, Quasimodo." Frollo replied, gesturing behind him. A tall figure in a black acolyte's robe stepped forward from the shadows of the doorway, and pulled back the cowl from its face. Esmeralda's lovely, gentle face – whole and unharmed – stood before him, and it was all Quasimodo could do not to break down into tears.
"Esmeralda!" he cried. "You're alive!"
"I am," she replied softly, smiling and bending down to hug him. She buried her face in his shoulder and for a moment, remembered why life was worth fighting for. There was no Phoebus any longer, but there was Quasimodo, a friend who loved her and cared for her almost as much as the soldier had. She valued that, now, more than anything.
"Yes, dear boy." Frollo replied, looking away from the touching scene and running a hand over Quasimodo's model table. "She will be staying with you for the next few weeks. Attending lessons with you, eating meals with you, and in time, we will find a task suitable for her. Idle hands lead to sin."
Esmeralda glanced at Quasimodo and rolled his eyes. He blushed but didn't return the look. Reluctant, after all that they had been through, to even express exasperation at his master's constant preaching.
"After some time has passed, you can be let out." Frollo now turned to address Esmeralda. "A few weeks and you can wander Notre Dame all you like. You may never, however, leave the sanctuary of the church unless accompanied by either me, or one of my men."
"And when can I get out to see the city?" she asked, afraid of the answer.
"Never," he replied, glancing down at them from his nose. "You are never to associate with the common people again. I fear they have too great an influence over you, and in your tender condition…"
"I couldn't care less about my immortal soul, at this point!" she was very close to tears, and her chin was thrust defiantly in his direction. "Just give me sunlight!"
"There will be plenty of sunlight," Frollo reassured her, purposefully missing the point entirely.
"I need sunlight, fresh air, and people! I need my freedom! You said it yourself," she said dryly. "Gypsies don't do well behind stone walls."
"You are a gypsy no longer," Frollo reminded her. "You are a reformed Christian woman. And by my soul, you will learn to live like one. You will eat off plates, you will learn to read and speak Latin, and you will learn to dwell for long periods of time within four walls. When you can act, speak, dress, think like a decent civilized being, then there may be talk of seeing the city once more."
"If you don't let me out," she threatened. "I shall find a way to get out on my own!"
"That wouldn't be advised," he replied, fighting to keep his own temper in check. "There are guards on every corner of this city. They will be looking for you and, should they catch sight of you, there will be no redemption for you again."
Quasimodo watched the entire exchange with wide eyes. Esmeralda and Frollo locked gazes, and neither were going to back down. After a moment, Quasimodo reached out and took Esmeralda's hand. Her tiny, delicate hand was swallowed entirely by his own; all the more sufficient to pull her gently to the side, and exchange a pleading glance with his master. Frollo returned it with a cold glare.
"Well, this is splendid." Quasimodo spoke in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere. "Good company, and splendid food." He glanced at the covered basket Frollo had brought up with him. "I say we eat lunch, it's nearly noon."
"You eat," Frollo replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I have more business to attend to. And as much as I wish I could, dear boy, I cannot spend the entirety of my afternoon up here."
"Thank you," Quasimodo replied, and never before had Esmeralda been witness to such desperate, such gratitude in one human being's voice. "For everything you have done, master."
Frollo smiled, a vicious smile that reminded Esmeralda of a large cat getting ready to pounce on its prey. Her eyes followed the judge as he made his exit, as if wanting to be entirely sure that he was gone.
She let out a sigh when he had gone. With a twinge of annoyance, she noticed her hands were shaking.
"I don't see how you can do it," she shook her head, and clenched her hands in between her knees to get them to cease their trembling.
"Do what?" Quasimodo asked absently as he pulled two cups and two plates down from the makeshift wooden cupboard.
"Live with him, see him every day… speak, dine!" she sighed. "I could go on."
"He's very good to me," Quasimodo replied whilst setting the dishes out onto the table. "And I've been very ungrateful."
"Who told you that?" Esmeralda asked curiously.
"I did," Quasimodo said, and began to pull a wheel of cheese and a loaf of white bread from the basket.
"And he has said nothing to correct you?"
"No," Quasimodo began a hunt for a knife. He pulled open a drawer and began rifling through it. "But he is right in it, of course. I was afraid he was going to punish me, but not only did he not do that, he brought you up here to be safe… aha!" triumphantly, he brandished a bread knife over his head and slammed the drawer shut.
"Why should he punish you?" Esmeralda demanded. "You've done nothing wrong!"
"Oh, but I have!" Quasimodo began to slice the bread, placing an especially thick portion on her plate. "Do we have butter in here, somewhere?" he began to root through the basket. "Jam? No…"
"Quasi!" she broke in.
"Don't worry, I found it." He popped back up, holding the tiny container in his hand.
"It's not the butter I'm talking about," she glared, frustrated, at her plate. "I'm not hungry, anyway."
"You should eat," he prompted, placing a thin layer of butter over her bread and watching it melt. "It will keep up your strength."
Reluctantly, Esmeralda nodded and reached forward. Grasping the bread by the crusts, she placed it to her mouth and bit into it. It was still warm, directly from the oven to the basket. The golden crust was crisp and buttery, and the white bread was soft and flaky, a delight to the tongue. Unable to contain herself, not having realized how hungry she was, Esmeralda ate the entire thing in nearly three bites.
Quasimodo laughed light-heartedly, and placed another slice on her plate before filling her glass up with water from a nearby pitcher. It was the first decent meal she had had in a long time, a far cry from watery gray porridge of questionable content.
"Do you suppose they miss you, at the Court of Miracles?" he asked, setting his elbows up on the table and resting his chin in his hands.
"No," Esmeralda shook her head bitterly. "I betrayed them all. They won't welcome me back … I doubt they've even thought about me since they heard about my capture."
"I'm sure that's not true," Quasimodo said comfortingly. "Surely, Clopin…"
"Clopin least of all," she interjected, and offered no further explanation. Accepting this, Quasimodo proceeded to tuck into his own food, and neither of them exchanged further words for the duration of the meal.
Jean-Francis utterly despised going through the entrance to the Court of Miracles. It absolutely reeked of decay and raw sewage, and how anyone could tolerate living down there for even an instant was beyond his reasoning. Making a face and pinching his nose between his fingers, he began the long descent.
The steps were coated in muck, no doubt designed to trip up more unwary intruders and cause them to slip. Jean-Francis wouldn't have noticed it, himself, if he weren't so dead-set on keeping his new boots as clean as humanly possible. He knew that the task would be nearly impossible once he actually reached the bottom of the stairs and into the sewer, but hope springs eternal.
"Francis!" Clopin greeted his cousin with a fond arm around the neck and a good-hearted punch on the shoulder. "You had all of us worried!"
Jean-Francis glanced at his cousin suspiciously, and Clopin's wide smile faded when he saw the dark glare. "What?"
"You owe me a pair of new boots," Jean-Francis replied, lifting his boot to display to his cousin. "I don't even want to touch these to pull them off, yet I feel dirty just wearing them!"
"Get over it," Clopin snorted. "A little wipe with a damp cloth and they'll be good as new."
"It will take more than a damp cloth to wash away this," Jean-Francis grimaced, and sighed, setting his foot firmly back down on the ground. "But that's not what I came for – have you been drinking?"
"No," Clopin replied quickly. "Why do you ask?"
"I can smell it on your breath, from here."
"Well," the gypsy king shrugged. "A little brandy to warm the soul never harmed anyone."
"I suppose not," Jean-Francis sighed. "And I apologize, to have kept you waiting. I was looking around for Esmeralda, but I could not find her."
"So you got the position?" Clopin had to have been at least a little off, considering he didn't even flinch at the mention of the woman's name.
"I am, at present, the new Captain of the Guard."
"I knew you could do it!" Clopin laughed, rocking back on his heels. "Now I had something to tell you. Hm." He frowned, scratching his head. "What was it?"
"Perhaps you should lie down," Jean-Francis suggested.
"No, no, I had something to tell you. It was important… oh! My spy network reported back to me a few hours ago. Esmeralda has been taken to Notre Dame Cathedral. An odd place for an interrogation, oui?"
"I don't think they intend to pump her for information just yet," Jean-Francis suggested.
"We don't know when they will, which is why you're here," Clopin leaned forward and prodded his cousin in the chest a little more forcefully than necessary. "And I've got something else for you, too. It's on that desk. Go get it, I haven't the strength to stand up."
Jean-Francis resisted the urge to point out to the gypsy king that he was already standing, because he saw that it would do no good. Resigned, he walked over to Clopin's desk and picked up a tiny crystal vial, filled to the brim with deep red liquid.
"What's this?" Jean-Francis asked, turning it around in his fingers and observing it closely.
"Poison," Clopin replied, moving to lean against the wall, missing by a mile, and toppling to the floor. "Should they catch you, drink it."
Jean-Francis didn't question, he just glanced at the vial once more before sliding it into the breast pocket of his linen shirt. "I'm probably back up once more, to assume my new duties. Is there anything you require of me, before my departure?"
"Nope," Clopin replied, curling up and placing his hands under his head. "I'm going to sleep. G'night."
"Good night," Jean-Francis shook his head and strode out of the room. The poison could prove useful, although he had no intention of using it on himself. Poison was the coward's way out. Should they ever capture him, the soldiers would find themselves with a handful to deal with. Jean-Francis did not give in to torture, or to death, without putting up a fight.
Frollo sank into the plush red armchair, wishing for the world that he could just disappear. It had been such an incredibly long day; there was not a single muscle that had not been stretched to its limit. All he wanted now was to get into his nightshift and crawl into his bed where a mercilessly dreamless sleep would proceed to overtake him. But even as he contemplated such marvelous thoughts, Frollo knew that if he went to bed now, he could never get to sleep. His mind was far too awake plotting and scheming on what his next move should be towards the gypsy Esmeralda.
"Esmeralda," he whispered, longing to hear the name spoke aloud, as if that alone could conjure her from thin air and deliver her to his sitting room. He just loved the way it sounded. Exotic, and full of promise.
On the table next to his chair was a thick leather-bound book of Latin verse. He had been working on it nearly all his life, since he had been not much more than an apprentice himself. Every time he heard or saw something he wished to remember, he would write it down in the book. And though most of the now yellowed pages had been filled, he still kept it as close to him as he did his Bible. It was his moral code, the rules he lived by. Slowly, he picked up the book, feeling the familiar worn cover beneath his hands. Running a hand through his iron gray hair, he set the book down on his lap and it fell open automatically to his favorite page. He didn't remember when he had written it down, but he remembered reading it over and over, night after night. That one verse that would forever be in his mind. Matrimonium est honourable in totus , quod cubile undefiled : tamen whoremongers quod adulterers Deus mos sentio.
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
Sucking in a deep breath through clenched teeth, Frollo snapped the book shut. He knew now what he had to do. After all, he had a reputation to uphold, and dignity to keep in tact. But he was still human. He reached up and clutched the crucifix that hung around his neck, clenching it so hard that the edges cut into his flesh and drew blood. He had to see her, alone. A few minutes, a mere hour … it was all he needed, but he must see her, must speak to her!
He stood so abruptly that the book fell from his lap and landed spine-up on the floor. He paid it no heed. He had made his decision. He was going to have to be careful, but in the end, he knew it would be worth it.
"Where are you going?" Quasimodo stirred on his pallet and glanced at Esmeralda. Cursing under her breath, for she had thought him asleep, Esmeralda rotated slowly to face him.
"Nowhere," she said, smiling gently. "Just go back to sleep, it's not morning yet."
"Mm," Quasimodo rolled back over on his side and closed his eyes again. After a few moments, he was back to snoring.
Pausing only a few more seconds to make sure he really was asleep, Esmeralda tiptoed quickly across the room and towards the door. Her bare feet made no sound as she threw open the door and began her flight down the staircase. God knew, she loved Quasimodo. He was as dear a friend to her as she had ever had … but she needed some breathing space without him hanging over her shoulder every minute of the day.
Just a little walk around the sanctuary… that was all she wanted, and then she would be back up to the tower before anyone knew she had gone. Neither Frollo nor his men would ever have to know she had broken the rules, already, after barely 24 hours.
The sanctuary was completely empty, considering it was in the middle of the night. Biting her lip, Esmeralda began to wander through the corridors, remembering with no particular fondness her last visit to the cathedral. How ironic, she thought, that the very man who she had once sought sanctuary from was now offering sanctuary to her.
Safe, yes, but not happy. With a sigh, she ran a hand over the thick stone column and pressed her cheek against it. Now, of course, she was happy for the long-sleeved robe. It was damned cold in the sanctuary.
A loud clanging sound came from behind her. Jumping about ten feet, Esmeralda whirled around, cursing Frollo's guards for having taken her knife along with all her other possessions. At first, all she saw was a tangle of red and gold, but upon closer observation she made it out to be a rather tall man struggling to keep his red and gold caplet over his shoulder as he bent down to pick up a fallen candelabrum.
"Fichu, fichu, fichu!" he sputtered, pulling it upright. Once it was up on all four legs, he straightened his hat and his cape, brushing himself off and lifting his hat briefly to smooth his curly blonde hair away from his face. Esmeralda took a cautious step back as the man finished fussing over himself and turned to face her direction.
For a brief second, he looked just as shocked as she to see that anyone else was in the Cathedral.
"What are you doing here?" Esmeralda hissed.
"I assume I have just as much right to be here as you," he narrowed his eyes. "The Cathedral is open to anyone, after all. At all times of the night."
"Yes, but it's nearly midnight." She folded her arms under her breasts and glanced at him with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.
"Don't look at me like that." He said, taking a step closer. She took another step back, and he glanced at her, one blonde eyebrow raised. "I'm not going to hurt you,"
"How do I know that?" she challenged. "You're a brightly dressed clumsy maniac who wanders through cathedrals at midnight and knocks things over."
"That wasn't my fault," he replied indignantly. "It jumped into my path."
"Else, you weren't watching where you were going."
"Actually, I was checking to make sure the guards weren't following me."
Esmeralda stiffened. "You're running from the guards? What did you do?"
"They're all still loyal to their old captain, they don't quite trust me yet." He shrugged. "They-"
"Wait," she held up a hand. "Are you their captain?"
"Oh!" he smacked his forehead. "Did I not introduce myself already? Votre rémission, svp. I am Sir Sebastian Montagiu, the most recent Captain of the Guard." He reached out and grasped her hand, brushing his lips across her fingers. She pulled away almost immediately.
"And may I have the honor of your name?" he asked, smiling.
"Esmeralda," she replied. His expression did not change, but a glimmer appeared in his eyes that had not been there before.
"Esmeralda?" he repeated. "Such a beautiful name, but it hardly does your own beauty justice, mademoiselle, if I may say as much."
Esmeralda blushed, and ran a hand through her dark hair. "You're wasting your flattery one me," she admonished him.
"It is honest truth, my dear. If you knew me at all, you'd know that I do not waste my breath with anything less than truth."
"But I don't know you," she reminded him. "You're a random stranger who just happened to walk into the cathedral at the same time I did."
"A dashing stranger, nonetheless." He took a step closer. She took another step back, and her heel bumped into the base of the stone column. With momentary panic, she realized she was trapped between him and the column.
"You still think I'm going to hurt you?" he asked teasingly.
"No," she said, glancing up at him and meeting his blue gaze. "Just cautious, after all. It is you who should be worried about getting hurt. I'm not above kicking."
"Thank God for armor, then."
Esmeralda opened her mouth to make a disdainful reply, but before she could say anything, she felt his gloved hand on the back of her neck, and his lips met up with hers, his tongue sliding into her open mouth. Jean-Francis's free hand closed over the hilt of the knife. Just a moment more, and his task would be complete. A piece of cake.
To his surprise, Esmeralda didn't pull away and smack him soundly across the face, as he was expecting. Rather, she submitted quite readily to the kiss, her body relaxing beneath his and turning animal instinct on high. His grip on the knife relaxed, and finally fell away altogether. Too easy, far too easy. He hated a simple job, and it would be so much more interesting if the stakes were upped a notch.
"I can't stay here very long," he informed her, when he pulled away.
"It doesn't take long," she murmured, her eyes only half open. Jean-Francis chuckled, and stepped away.
"I'm afraid I haven't even the time for that," he said regretfully. "However, tomorrow night, I shall be here again to make my evening prayers. I trust you will be free?"
"I've nothing better to do," she replied, her haughty air returning once again.
"Then tomorrow it is," he brought her hand to his lips once again before his departure. "May the angels be with you until my return."
"You have the words of a poet, for someone who is only a soldier."
Jean-Francis laughed again. "I have many facets," he promised her. "Not all of which you will ever come to know."
"Just you wait," she shot him a vicious smile. "You've no idea what I'm capable of uncovering. I'm of gypsy blood, after all."
"Then it would appear we have more than just beauty in common." He bowed to her. "Good night, mademoseille." And with those words, he was gone, so quickly and so silently that it was if he had never been there.
Esmeralda was still, shocked by the implications of his parting words. More than just beauty in common. Was he implying that he, too, was of gypsy blood?
Impossible, she dismissed the motion with a shake of her head. The man was obviously full of airs, and wasn't expected to make any sense.
But he does have a nice face; she smiled with the memory, and brushed her fingers against her cheek. Her step was considerably lighter as she made her way back to the bell tower. Perhaps there was going to be an upside to her imprisonment.
Neither of them had heard him enter, they were both entirely too occupied with each other's company to notice much of anything else, Frollo realized bitterly. A knot tightened in his throat as he turned away and made his way back to the cathedral doors. He had seen her, seen the way she reacted once the idiot had departed. The dream-like smile that touched her swollen red lips, the way she had brushed her delicate fingers against her smooth cheek… it was enough to drive him mad. How dare the captain, indeed.
Frollo had come to talk to her, to confess his love for her, and now … this. It was worse than betrayal, it wasn't even technically betrayal. She wasn't his, he had to remind himself. She is not yours.
But she will be, he clenched his teeth. God as my witness, she will be mine!
He left, but he had every intention of returning. He would not let her be stolen away from him – no – not again!
"Why didn't you kill her?" Jean-Francis berated himself. He should have done so while he had the chance, but clearly, he had not been thinking. Like most men, Jean-Francis had the bad habit of thinking with organs other than his brain, under certain situations. And for all he knew, she would turn right around and tell Frollo all of what had occurred. And when he returned the next night, he could very well be walking into an ambush.
He had to bear in mind who he was dealing with. She had betrayed her own people; she was capable of most any treachery. And if she turned him in … even if he managed to escape the grasp of the guards, then he didn't know how he was going to get back into the cathedral to see her again. And what if she gave away the location to the Court of Miracles before he could manage to silence her? Clopin would kill anyone who betrayed him, his own cousin not excluded. Death at the hands of his beloved cousin would be a fate not even Jean-Francis was willing to face.
"You're a fool," he sighed. "A handsome one, at that, but a fool nonetheless."
Well, there was nothing to be done about it now. He could only hope for the best, and pray that Clopin was still too drunk to berate him.
He rounded a corner which opened up into possibly his favorite street in all of Paris. He and Clopin had frequented this place many times, whenever Jean-Francis had happened to be in town. Of course, there had been times when Clopin had been otherwise occupied and Jean-Francis came on his own. He held the eyes and ears of Paris at his fingertips, and he used them to his full advantage. They relayed useful information that they had gleaned from their client's drunken stupors and he had even used them once or twice to spy on his cousin. He remained unashamed of this fact. Information was information, it wasn't in how you acquired it, it was all in what you did with it.
Thus, he turned straight into the elegant, ancient building that was, coincidentally named, Les péchés de la chair. Or, "The Sins of the Flesh".
As soon as he walked through the door, his nose was assaulted with the smells of heavy perfume and warm spiced wine. A buxom young blonde accosted him before he could even take everything in, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him fiercely.
"Jean!" she exclaimed happily, running her hand through his hair and knocking off his hat. "I didn't expect you would be back! You haven't written to me in so long." She pulled her rosebud lips into a pout.
"Ah, but I have missed you, cherie!" he laughed, kissing her again. "You must forgive me, but I simply haven't had the time!"
"Adventures?" her eyes shown.
"Many," he nodded.
"Oh!" she sighed. "Will you tell me all about them, Jean?" she twisted a short springy curl around her index finger, rubbing against him and running her ankle over the back of his calf.
"Everything," he promised. "But I must see Jolie first. Do you know where she is?"
"She's in the back, with a client." The blonde twisted the curl even tighter. "Besides, I'm more suited for warming that cold skin of yours."
"You are everything a man could ever desire, Marie." He assured her. "But it is Jolie I need to speak with, at present."
"Oh, fiiiiine." She sighed. "I'll go get her, she shouldn't be much longer, anyhow."
"You're an angel, ma cherie."
"I know," she beamed at him, kissing him again and bouncing off.
Jean-Francis settled down into a nearby chair to wait, and was immediately drowning in a sea of young women. Some he recognized, some were new, but all were welcome company. A slender brunette plopped into his lap and graced his lips with yet another kiss.
"Where have you been?" she demanded. "I've missed you! I cried for days and days but you didn't come back, Madame was about to throw me out if I didn't 'shut my trap and suck it up'…!"
"Indeed," Jean-Francis replied, properly chagrined. "I should not have left you to such a fate. I should be whipped!"
"I'll whip you," she volunteered, all too cheerfully, tracing a finger down his nose.
"As splendid a punishment as I deserve," he laughed.
The curtain of beads that sectioned the main room off from a series of smaller rooms parted right down the middle, and a woman stepped into the room, wearing absolutely nothing. She was about as tall as Jean-Francis, with jet black hair that cascaded down to her waist and large azure eyes. Her skin was as white as whalebone, and her figure well-rounded with a generous bosom that Jean-Francis was having a very hard time tearing his eyes away from.
"Jolie," he spoke, his eyes finally climbing back up to her face. "It's good to see you again."
"Indeed, my lord." She beckoned him with one hand, and held the beaded curtain open enough for him to enter. He removed his hat and handed it to the brunette for safekeeping, whispering something into her ear before giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. She giggled, and he ducked through the entrance. Allowing the beads to slide back into place, Jolie followed him.
"Well, my lord." She addressed him once they were out of ear-shot. "What is it you wish of me, now that you have deigned to grace me with your presence once more? Is it business or pleasure tonight?"
"Business," he winced. "Jolie, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have left you here so long on your own…"
She cut him off with a gesture.
"Business," she reminded him. "You can apologize later. What is it you need?"
He fidgeted, unsure of how to ask. "It's a bit different this time, it's not information I need."
One dark eyebrow shot up, and she willed him to go on.
"I need you to distract Clopin,"
"Why?" she prompted.
"He's been miserable these past few days, he needs something to cheer him up. Also, he's been drinking far too much as a result of Esmeralda's betrayal. I'm sure you heard."
"Oui," she nodded. "It's common knowledge down this way."
"And you know how he deals with his problems. He sent me out to make short work of her, which I fully intend to do, but I made an unforgiveable blunder tonight that could prove fatal. If it does, then I don't need him a raving drunk to make any… rash decisions."
"Ah," she tossed her head, jet black locks rippling over her pale skin. Jean-Francis swallowed hard and fought to keep his gaze from wandering. "So it's not his happiness you're concerned over, it's your own neck."
"As always, it is a top priority."
She sighed. "What is it you've done now?"
Briefly, he filled her in. When he had finished, she laughed at him.
"Oh, my! Is this what has becoming of the famous Jean-Francis since we last spoke?"
"I admit, I'm a bit rusty on the whole business." He admitted. "I have been away for ten years, after all."
"Either that," she teased. "Or you are getting old."
"Decrepit," he insisted. "But I still have it in me."
"I'm throwing you out of my brothel, now." She teased. "Don't drop any limbs on your way out."
"Ah, madame!" he clenched a fist over his heart. "You wouldn't do such a thing to a poor, wretched soul, would you?"
"Gladly. You abandoned me for a decade, it is only fair."
"And you don't look a day over the seventeen you were when I left you…"
"You are a liar," she replied, clucking her tongue chidingly.
"A shameless one, at that." He agreed.
"I don't know what to do with you!" she cried in exasperation.
"Love me?" he suggested. "After all, you know how I adore you."
"You think me still a young slip of a girl, barely seventeen and still madly in love with you."
"Have you moved on, then?" he cocked his head to the side, curiously.
"I have, if you must know." She said imperiously. "Oh, I clung to your memory for as long as I was able, but then, I realized what animbecile I was being. How dare I should think that you would come back for me! I had nothing to offer you, after all."
"Not true," he broke in. "I would have come back earlier, but I got … caught up."
"With another woman, no doubt." She glared.
"Nothing of the kind. In fact, that only thing I had to look forward to up until recently was getting my neck stretched." To add proof to his claim, he unfastened his sleeves and rolled them up to his elbow. He presented to her his wrists, which were scarred as if they had been chained for a great period of time. "They're on my ankles, too. And my back is even worse."
There was silence for a moment. Jolie reached forward and took his hands, rubbing the wide pale scar with her thumb. "Oh, my poor Jean." She murmured under her breath, bringing both his hands to her lips and kissing them, again and again. "My poor, poor Jean – how could they have done this to you?"
"I asked for it, I suppose. After all, not everyone likes to hear how lousy their security is. I would have been able to slip out as easily as I slipped in, but he had an enormous dog. Thus, I have been out of practice for some time."
"Forgive me," she whispered. "For ever doubting you."
He shook his head vigorously. "Forgive me, for ever leaving."
A smile tugged at the corner of her lips, and she pulled him gently towards one of the rooms that had an open door.
"And just what are we doing?" he asked, amused.
"Making up," she replied coyly, slipping into the room. "You said you had more scars, I want to see them all."
"That would require the removal of my shirt," he pointed out.
"That is the general idea, off." She slipped her hands under his tunic, and off it came, dragging the caplet down with it. A wide smile split across his face and he shut the door with his foot. Anyone with good sense would not disturb them for the next few hours.
Steaming hot flesh writhed beneath his touch. Sweat beaded his brow as Frollo rose in and out of the gypsy girl almost in time with the rapid rise and fall of her chest. He leaned forward and tasted her moist lips, sucking on them, as her hot tongue slipped into his mouth and made his throat burn. He watched as her fingers grasped the white sheets of the bed, which were white no longer, stained with bright virginal blood like the great dark stain that was slowly beginning to overshadow his own immortal soul…
"My lord," she whispered into his ear. He didn't hear her, his mind was caught up in a haze. "My lord," she repeated, a bit louder. He plunged straight down into her, and his mouth closed over her neck. "MY LORD!" she screamed.
Frollo bolted upright, his breathing erratic, drenched in what he could only assume was his own perspiration. The dream had been … far too real, for his tastes. Yet it was just another in a long stream of not altogether unpleasant nightmares that he had been having for a number of weeks now. He mopped his brow with the sleeve of his linen shirt and glanced towards the doorway, where a servant stood, rigid and waiting.
"What is it?" Frollo asked, after a moment to gather his composure.
"Forgive me for waking you, my lord." The servant replied, no trace of emotion in his voice. "But you have a guest waiting for you downstairs."
"What does he want?" Frollo hated to snap, but he had no patience for idiots who just flounced in expecting an audience with the Minister of Justice. He was, after all, a busy man.
"Well, my lord, he claims that he's your brother."
Frollo collapsed against the multitude of pillows, rolling his eyes towards the Heavens in a silent plea to the Madonna. It had been a while since he and Jehan had last spoken, and he supposed that it was only too good to last. "I suppose there's no getting rid of him, then. What time is it?"
"It's nearly noon, my lord."
What? How could he have slept that long? How could they have let him sleep that long?
"You would not arouse, my lord. You slept as soundly as a dead man, in fact we would have thought of you as such, if you hadn't been breathing so hard, and sweating. We were truly worried about you, my lord."
"Well, I am glad to know that my life is in caring hands." Frollo's words were laced with sarcasm. Were he to have a seizure, the morons would have watched him die.
The sarcasm was lost on the servant, who merely bowed. Thoroughly exasperated, Frollo slid his legs over the side of the bed and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Well, if you are just going to stand there, make use of yourself and get me my robe. I'll need a bath, of course, before I go down."
"Very good, Minister." The servant bowed again. "And what shall I tell the young Master?"
"Tell him I shall be down soon, and not to touch anything, if he can help it."
Jehan wandered idly about the small and decidedly dull room as he waited on his brother to receive him. The servant said that Claude would be down there 'momentarily' which of course, translated into one to two hours, if you were lucky. Unfortunately, as was clearly stated by Jehan's most recent visit, his luck had been running something of thin lately.
Pursing his lips, he reached out and ran his finger over the wide mouth of a vase. It came back dusty, he clucked his tongue. The maids were getting lazy, it would appear.
"Don't touch anything," Frollo's cold voice clipped from the doorway.
"Brother!" Jehan whirled around, narrowly avoiding knocking the vase from its precarious perch. "How lovely to see you, as always of course, it's been far too long."
His words withered and died in the presence of Frollo's frown.
"Jehan, I'm a very busy man." He said stiffly. "What is it you've come for?"
"Now really, Claude, such unpleasant matters we must discuss. Don't you think a little food is in order for us beforehand?"
"No, I do not. I think you should explain yourself, and then we shall see about lunch." Never mind that his own stomach was growling. Frollo sat down in a chair, and motioned for Jehan to do the same.
"Thanks, I've been sitting all day." Jehan sighed. "The truth is, Claude, I'm here because I'm in a need of a little funding."
"That comes as no great surprise to me. How much do you need?"
Jehan hesitated, then replied, "Five hundred."
"Five hundred?" Frollo's eyes burned. "And what did you do to rack up such a sum?"
"That's not important, is it?"
"It is quite," Frollo's voice became very dark. "Because if you do not tell me I fear, brother, that I will be unable to help you."
Jehan groaned. "It's a complicated story. Long, involved…I'm certain that it would bore you."
"I managed to get tangled up in a bet with a couple of camarades, and you know me, brother, how competitive I can be!" he flinched at Frollo's expression at the mention of the word 'bet'. He knew very well his brother's feelings on gambling.
"Do I need to remind you of Ecclesiastes?" Frollo's rubbed the tips of his fingers together, and his frown deepened.
"I don't see why," Jehan replied wearily. "You've repeated it to me often enough."
"'He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver'-" Frollo began.
"'Nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity'." Jehan finished, his impatience growing.
"Precisely. You would do well to live by that, you might find yourself on my doorstep less often."
"Claude…" Jehan wheedled. "Come now, would you deny your brother, your only sibling who has loved you and been loyal to you all these years… the satisfaction of a full and happy life?"
"I would not, If I remember correctly, that's why I sent you to school."
"Without a broken neck?" Jehan badgered. "They will kill me if I don't return the money! Snap my neck and leave me in a ditch. And then you'd have to pay for the funeral. Now which is the less of two evils, I ask you?"
"The greatest evil, I am sure, is aiding a gambler in his addiction."
"Please, Claude!" Jehan begged. "I'm far too young to die a gruesome death!"
Frollo let out a long, exasperated sigh. "Give me time to reflect on the proper course of action. How long do you have?"
"The end of the week…"
Frollo rubbed his forehead. "Very well, give me until tonight, when I have had time to think and get things done."
"I knew you couldn't stand to watch me die," Jehan grinned broadly. "Now, about lunch…"
He didn't know why he had to wait out in the damnable heat, anyhow. Jehan muttered several colorful curses under his breath as he leaned against the wall of the abandoned building, wondering why he had to be on time, but the person he was meeting could be over an hour late and get by with it.
Because, he reminded himself. He doesn't owe you money.
Stirring the dirt with the toe of his boot, he lapsed into thought. Damn gypsies, he could almost sympathize with Claude and his brother's intense hatred of their entire breed. If he had known that the dashing well-dressed challenger had been of their ilk, he would never have accepted the bet. And then he wouldn't have had to come home, and grovel like a beggar on the side of the street to his brother.
He hated when Claude 'thought over' things. Usually, it was a twenty-four hour process that had on more than one occasion landed Jehan into a heap of trouble. His brother liked to mull things over, observe them form every possible angle, and then pray over it just to make sure he was making the wisest choice. It was an infuriating process that he had no time for this round.
Then there was the sound of approaching boots. Jehan straightened, grasping the hilt of his dagger just in case it was someone unwelcome to discover his business. He saw the tall dashing rogue grinning cattishly at him from underneath the brim of a wide hat, and didn't know whether or not he was relieved.
"You have it, then?" straight to business, of course.
"Not yet," Jehan replied. He noticed the gypsy's smile fade, and quickly added, "But I will! I've just entreated my brother over the matter, and you will have your money, I guarantee it."
"By the end of the week," the gypsy reminded him. "Or else, I'm afraid I'm going to have to take my payment in blood." A long, slender dagger suddenly appeared from seemingly nowhere and the gleaming tip found its way to Jehan's throat. "I'd hate to have to do that, it would be terribly inconvenient."
"For me, more so than you, I'm sure." Jehan swallowed, and he felt the tip wander up, and press against the soft spot beneath his chin.
"It does get quite messy," the gypsy lowered his chin, and the blue eyes sparkled with mischievous delight. Inwardly, Jehan fumed. The bastard was enjoying this far too much.
"Once I have the money," he asked, in a sudden attempt to divert the subject away from its current topic. "Where do I find you?"
"Oh, it shouldn't be too hard. I'm up and around Paris, more so than you think." For some reason, his words were hardly comforting. "For convenience's sake, you can meet me again right here."
"And… what time will you expect me?"
"Noon," the gypsy replied, after a second of thought. "And if you are not here by sundown, then I'll come after you."
And kill me, a bead of sweat appeared on Jehan's brow. He was not liking the way this was going at all. Frollo just had to give him that money!
After what seemed entirely too long to Jehan, the gypsy pulled the knife away from his neck, and it vanished once again. "Midday, end of the week. I shall see you then."
"Right," Jehan replied, rubbing his neck where the dagger had been. He watched as the gypsy turned and vanished into the street. He would stay out as long as humanly possible. If he had to linger in the Palace of Justice and wait on his brother to come up with a decision, he would go absolutely mad.
He waited a few minutes, to make sure the gypsy was far away, and then he stepped out into the street. Blinded, temporarily, by the glowering sunlight.
"Claude, Claude," he muttered under his breath. "Don't let this happen to me, now!"
"Oh my," Esmeralda said with a delighted smile as she picked up the small wooden carving from the table. It was, she readily admitted, her exact likeness. "You made one of me!"
"It's the second model," Quasimodo replied, blushing, enchanted by her delight. "My master burned the first one … but it gave me a chance to make some modifications. I like this one better."
"It's perfect, I love it!" she sighed, and set it down in the middle of the replica of the city. If she couldn't be there in person, she wouldn't deny her likeness the pleasure.
"Where were you, last night?" Quasimodo inquired. "I mean, I woke up at one point and you were standing up… I woke up again a little while later and you weren't there at all."
"I don't know what you mean," Esmeralda replied, feeling a tiny pang of guilt for lying to her friend. "I was here all night. You must have dreamt it."
"Must have," Quasimodo ruffled his ginger hair. "After all, I couldn't sleep very well, and had a number of odd dreams."
Esmeralda opened her mouth to reply, but they both froze at the sound of footsteps ascending the staircase. Quasimodo mouthed, "Frollo" to her, and she nodded in reply, standing up and smoothing out the skirt of her robe. She glanced at the doorway, just as Frollo appeared, holding a covered basket and looked like he had had one hell of a night.
"Good morning Quasimodo, Esmeralda." He greeted wearily. Esmeralda had never seen him look so wretched. He swept in, and set the basket down on the table. "Before we break fast, Quasimodo, I'm sure you have some duties to attend to."
"Oh, no, master." Quasimodo assured him. "I finished my morning chores before you got here so I could-" he faltered as Frollo shot him a pointed look. "On second thought, there was one other thing I had to do. Excuse me." He bounded off, and vanished into the rafters.
Esmeralda turned slowly to face Frollo, her pulse quickening upon meeting his gaze.
"Well?" she demanded vehemently. "What is it you want?"
"A moment of your time," he implored. "Nothing more."
"You didn't have to send him away for that." She scoffed.
"It is a private matter that I wish to discuss with you." He lifted one hand and rubbed his temples. "Esmeralda…"
"Let me clear this for you, first. I want nothing to do with you; I don't care if you can save my immortal soul. I don't think it's worth it. I would rather burn for a thousand lifetimes in Hell than endure an hour longer in your presence. You despise me, and my people, and that is not a quality in your favor. So if I were you, I would just take up that ridiculous hat and leave, because your breath is wasted here."
"…I love you," he whispered, about the same time as her last few words fell from her lips.
She blinked, and her mouth fell slightly open, only to be accompanied by an enraged "What?"
"I love you," he repeated, stepping closer to her, hands spread. "Ever since I first saw you dance at the feast, I knew that one day you would be mine. You are beautiful to me, and though my soul may burn eternally for the dreams that have consumed me every night since laying eyes on you, I would not give them up! Esmeralda…" he reached out, and grasped the cloth of her sleeve. She pulled away, disgust written on her features, and he leaned on the table for support, as if he were about to collapse. Never before had she seen such a sight, she had never seen a man so tortured.
"Don't turn away from me," he pleaded with her. "I would rather die than have you turn your gaze away from me. Please, I beseech you, pity a wretched man! Have mercy on me, for God surely can no longer."
"Get out," she whispered, still gazing in horror at his display. "Please, go away, and leave me alone!" her head sank into her hands. No, this wasn't what she expected at all … did he truly expect for her to reply kindly?
"You are all I dream of!" he bit back his thin bottom lip. "My sleep is tortured by visions of you, such beautiful eyes… they haunt me, day and night, and will grant me no respite. It is not love for which I beg, not in the least! My love for you is enough. I only ask that you let me be near you, that you let me bask in the glow of your presence, that you tolerate an old man's affections. Pity me, my Esmeralda, oh, pity me!" he put a hand to his head, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was saying. She couldn't quite believe it, herself. He resisted the urge to drop to his knees and grasp her skirt in a most degrading manner. He had begged with her enough, and it was with overwhelming despair that he realized his words were not having their desired affect.
"I cannot look at you," she said slowly. "With anything less than hatred. You have done all manner of things to me, Dom Claude Frollo, which I cannot forgive you for. You have mercilessly persecuted my people who have done nothing but have had the misfortune to be born with a poor pedigree. Those of us who are thieves and robbers steal bread so that our families can live, because you have denied us all rights to earn an honest living."
"I cannot help the past," he replied weakly.
"But you will do it again," she told him. "And you won't stop, even for me. It is in your nature, and your religion. You hate us; you will stop at nothing until we cease to exist. It's only a matter of time, I imagine, before you have me dangling from the end of a noose."
"No, not you." He shook his head. "Never you."
"You're a hypocrite, among other things. Look it up in the Bible, and I'm sure you can find something against that. Now, please, just go, and leave me alone!"
Frollo drew in a shaky breath. He would not express his despair, not in front of her. He would retreat to the privacy of his chambers before doing so. Gathering his dignity, and suddenly straightening himself, Frollo dashed the one annoying tear that had managed to escape quickly away. He swallowed, and said, "Very well. I have offered my life to you, gypsy, and I have received only your hatred. You detest me, and I do not blame you. But know this – I love you – and," a bit of his former venom came creeping back into his words. "I will have you, one way, or another."
Esmeralda's eyes widened at the sudden change. The man was volatile as hell, his transition from mood to mood were as irksome as they were frightening.
"I will not change my mind," she warned him.
"You don't have to," he said, quite matter-of-factly. "When mine is already made up."
"NO?" Jehan practically screamed in despair.
"No," Frollo confirmed, and went back to his paperwork.
"How can you?" Jehan's covered his face with his hands, and the knot in his stomach was tighter than ever.
"This is the perfect lesson to take you off gambling," the judge dipped the tip of his quill pen into the inkwell. "You must come up with the money yourself, and that is that. I refuse to help you."
"Claude, Claude!" Jehan sank to his knees, all dignity cast to the side. "Please, I beg of you! I cannot come up with such a sum by the end of the week! Lend me the money, please, and I will pay you back in full! I swear it!"
Frollo shot his younger brother a disapproving look. "Jehan, what have I told you about –"
"You got yourself into this, and I've pulled you from enough scrapes. It is time you became a man, and reap what you have sowed."
"I hate you," threatened Jehan.
"So be it then," Frollo replied, nonchalantly.
"Please!" he was back to pleading. "If there is any mercy in you!"
"You are being ridiculous," Frollo admonished. "Get off the floor."
"I refuse to do so," Jehan replied, moaning. "If you can't give me the money, Claude, then I will take my own life!"
"You will do no such foolish thing," Frollo replied, darkly. "You'll burn in Hell for such a deed."
"Better than having your throat stabbed by a gypsy knife, I'm sure!"
"Gypsy?" Frollo's head snapped up, and instantly Jehan regretted his words. He had said the wrong thing. "Jehan, my dear brother, have you been associating with those vile heathens?"
"Perhaps," Jehan swallowed, shrinking back. "Maybe? Only once!"
"Jehan," Frollo stood, shoving his chair back so harshly that it fell over. He reached out and grasped his brother by the collar, dragging him forward and winding the cloth of his brother's collar tightly around his hand – choking his brother efficiently. "You will tell me everything you know about this gypsy. You will tell me everything that occurred in this interaction. And you will tell me within the next five minutes."
"I can't do that!" Jehan gasped. "He will KILL me!"
"I will kill you!" Frollo growled. "If you do not tell me!"
Jehan whimpered, and clutched at his brother's hands. "Release me, I can't breathe…"
Frollo's glare intensified. He loosened his grip, but not much, and Jehan held no doubt that his brother would carry out his claim.
"It was just a bet! I saw no harm in it at the time! But he tricked me, the filthy bastard tricked me, and I lost, ended up owing him a large sum of money. And if I don't pay him back, he's going to take it from my blood!"
"What is his name?" Frollo demanded.
"I don't know," Jehan insisted. "Honest to God, Claude, I have no idea of the man's name! He must have told be, but I was too drunk to remember!"
Disgusted, Frollo released his brother and gave him a shove towards the ground. He stood and rubbed his fingers together in deep thought, his frown thunderous and his eyes burning with rage.
"You are a disgrace," he snarled. "I hope you realize that."
"What are you going to do?" Jehan asked, fearful of the answer.
"Me, brother? I am going to do nothing. You, on the other hand, are going to find out this gypsy's name, and then you are going to lead me straight to him."
"Please don't tell me you're still obsessed over that Court of Miracles idea," Jehan sighed.
"I am in an ill mood, Jehan." Frollo warned. "You are going to go to this heathen and discover his name. I advise you to do as soon as possible."
"I shall," Jehan replied, recovering from the shock of witnessing his brother's temper. "I'll go now."
"Report back to me," Frollo instantly regained his composure, and returned to his desk. "I expect to hear from you within the hour."
Jehan emerged from his brother's study, slamming the door on his way out. Fear and fury were both written clearly on his face. Of course, fury that his brother refused to aid him in any way, and fear, because he knew that the gypsy would not be very pleased with his failure to acquire the promised payment.
He made his way towards the front doors of the Palace of Justice, wondering just exactly how he was supposed to even find the gypsy in the first place…
Mid-thought, out of nowhere a gloved hand appeared and clamped tightly around his mouth, shoving him against the Palace wall. The cold steel edge of a blade found its way to his throat, and before he knew it, the shaded face of his captor loomed over him. It was the gypsy.
"'Tis a pity," the gypsy spoke in hushed tones. "That you won't be able to repay your debt. I did give you fair chance; however, you should have gone to your brother sooner. Of course, now, I can't exactly let you go back to him at all, can I? We can't have you spilling my identity to him."
Jehan's eyes widened. How did the bastard even know that?
The gypsy's smile widened, as if reading Jehan's thoughts.
"I told you, I am all over Paris." He said. "However, I'm afraid that now it is time to bid you au revoir."
"Wait!" Jehan cried desperately, shoving the gypsy's hand away from his mouth seconds before the blade struck home.
"Last words?" the gypsy held back only for a moment.
"You don't have to kill me! You can still get your money back!"
Sighing, the gypsy waited patiently for his prisoner to continue.
"My brother can pay ransom…" Jehan suggested, squirming, eyeing the gypsy in hopes the man was buying it.
"That he can," the gypsy agreed. "And you can prove a most useful bargaining chip. I'm afraid, however, that that requires a little kidnapping on my end."
"Better than death," Jehan gasped.
"I'm glad you're going to be reasonable about it," the gypsy replied, right before reversing his hold on the dagger, and clubbing Jehan over the head with the hilt. Jehan went limp in his arms, and Jean-Francis sighed, lifting the unconscious man up and slinging him over his shoulder. Jehan had been right on one thing, he would prove a useful bargaining chip against the judge. He was wrong in assuming that Jean-Francis was going to go after money ransom. No, he would horde his prisoner for a more dire situation. Should his life be on the line, he would strike a simple bargain with the judge. The life of a lowly gypsy for the release of his beloved brother. It made perfect sense.
Assuming, of course, that the minister had any family loyalties whatsoever. If he did not, and Jean-Francis ended up dead anyway… well, then Clopin would kill the boy, and the world would be rid of one less spoilt brat.
"And who is this?" Jolie asked, moving away from the bed as Jean-Francis dropped his prisoner unceremoniously onto the floor.
"He's unconscious," he replied, moving away to give Jolie room to inspect. "His name is Jehan Frollo."
Jolie's head snapped up. "You mean-"
"Oui, younger brother to our one and only Minister of Justice."
"I can't believe what you have done," she moaned, standing and straightening the skimpy garment she wore. "Did all that time in prison teach you nothing? Should they discover you, you'll hang for this, and I with you!"
"But they won't discover him," Jean-Francis replied, managing to sound entirely sure of himself. "This is a brothel, the last place the good Minister would deign to look. They will scour the city for gypsy hideaways, and that includes the Court of Miracles. If we hide him anywhere else, he's bound to get found out, sooner or later."
"I think you're mad," Clopin replied from his corner of the room. "What do you intend to do with him, then?"
"Ransom," Jean-Francis said. "Well, in a way. Tonight I am going to make my move against Esmeralda. Whether or not I succeed will determine the next step. If I succeed, then I slip out before anyone discovers the body, and leave Paris as soon as I am able until things are safe for me to return. It's as simple as that. If I fail…"
"If you fail, and you are carted off to the dungeon, then you are going to use him," Clopin gestured grandly to the unconscious lump on the floor. "As a bargaining chip. I applaud your reasoning."
Jolie seemed a bit more upset over the chances that he might succeed. "You're leaving?" she asked, obviously not in favor of the idea.
"Only for a while," He promised, grasping her hands.
"Take me with you,"
"I can't," he shook his head. "It's far too dangerous, you've no idea what can happen to a woman wandering unprotected on the road."
"You'd protect me," she insisted.
"Should anything happen to you, I would never forgive myself…"
"Leave me, and I'll never forgive you!" she exclaimed, her eyes bright with tears that threatened to spill over and down her cheeks. "I swear by all I hold dear, Jean-Francis, if you leave me now, then I will never speak to you again!"
"Ouch," Clopin winced. "I have to agree with her, Francis. After all, from what you tell me on your last endeavor, your leaving will be just as risky as your staying."
"I'll just avoid Auvergne," Jean-Francis said. "Simple as that."
"And go where?" Clopin lifted an eyebrow.
"I don't know," Jean-Francis said, exasperated. "I have no other options."
"Lie low," Jolie insisted. "Stay here with me, if you must. Alternate every few weeks with myself and Clopin. As soon as it all blows over, you can resume your former career."
"It's not as easy as all that! They'll be turning over every rock and peering in every crack in the road to see if they can catch even a hint of gypsy whereabouts. You'll be persecuted no matter where you go."
"We're persecuted anyway," Clopin pointed out. "This makes not much of a difference."
"Please stay," Jolie took his hand and kissed it tenderly, rubbing it against her cheek and staring at him with large, woeful eyes. His resolve obviously weakening, Jean-Francis collapsed onto the bed and threw an arm over his eyes, groaning.
"Woman," he said under his breath. "You'll be the death of me."
"I'm glad that settled," Clopin said merrily. "Now, the question begs, what do we do with him?" he pointed at Jehan.
"The closet?" Jolie suggested.
"Until he wakes up? He needs to be somewhere where he won't disturb your clients with his whining."
"Hmm," she furrowed her brow. "I'll have to think about that one. How long do we have before he wakes up?"
"I'm not sure, I hit him pretty hard."
"We'll figure something out," Jolie crossed her legs and shot a triumphant smile over her shoulder at Clopin. "I told you I'd get him to stay!"
"Were you two betting on whether or not Jolie could convince me to stay?" Jean-Francis sat up and demanded, slightly miffed.
"I told her if she couldn't convince you, there wasn't a soul alive who could." Clopin confirmed without a hint of remorse. "And she convinced you, so now I owe her a kiss."
"A copper piece," she giggled. "But a kiss will be a nice start."
Clopin leaned forward, and gave her a playful peck on the lips. Jean-Francis was completely unaware of the scowl on his features until Jolie turned to him, a playful look on her face.
"Oh, don't be so dour. You get one too." She said, placing a hand on the back of his neck and pulling him forward into a heated, passionate kiss.
Neither of them said anything further on the subject of arrests and assassinations, even though they were both well aware of the very real possibility that this could be their last day together.
Esmeralda was getting worried. It was nearly five minutes past midnight, and her dashing suitor had not yet managed to show up. She thought she had heard something, several seconds earlier, but it turned out to be apparently nothing more than her imagination. As each passing minute dragged by, she began to get more and more suspicious that he intended to make a fool out of her.
Just when she was about to give up and head back towards the bell tower, she felt a hand touch her arm. Forcing herself to be calm, she glanced over shoulder, and found herself face to face with the handsome suitor of the night before.
"Sir Sebastian," she said, keeping tone on icy calm. "I was beginning to think you weren't going to show."
"Begging your pardon for my tardiness, of course." He kissed her hand apologetically. "I got caught up in some business. But now I am here and, I can assure you, entirely yours for the evening."
"Well," she replied with a smile, as she folded into his arms. "I suppose, then, that I can forgive you."
"My heart leaps with joy," he replied, before pulling her into a passionate kiss.
From the shadows nearby, Frollo clutched the cross around his neck. God forbid they act upon instinct then and there … he intended to arrest this fop before the evening was over, and definitely before they could begin! The sight of beautiful Esmeralda's face, so lit up and … adoring… was more than he could bear. Yet, he could not tear his eyes away from the scene.
She will be yours, he reminded himself. Just be patient.
Jean-Francis and Esmeralda continued to kiss for a long moment. When she finally pulled away, she said quietly, "We're in the middle of a church."
"So?" Jean-Francis smiled. "You were more than eager last night. And we were closer to the door, then."
"Yes, but if we're seen…"
"We shall not be, never fear." Silently, he was berating himself. Don't drag this out more than you must, idiot! Just kill the girl already! "Although, before we get any further, I must admit I have not been … entirely honest with you."
"Oh?" she asked, pulling slightly away. "What haven't you told me?"
"It's more of what I have told you," he said.
"You're not Captain of the Guard?"
"Oh no, I am." He replied. "That at least is true … for the moment. I have a feeling that after tonight the position will no longer be open to me."
"Why?" she pressed. "What are you going to do?"
"I lied about my name," He continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "It's not really Sebastian Montagiu."
"Then what is it?"
"It's Jean-Francis Troillefou," his voice became very grim as he let the words sink in. Realization dawned on her face, and she tried to break away from his hold entirely, but it was too late. His arms were locked in an iron grip around her waist, and she was trapped.
"Clopin…" she began, and trailed off.
"His cousin," he returned. "I have been sent by him to bring this message." He cleared his throat, pausing for dramatic effect. "For the act of betrayal most vile to those who once she held so dear, I hereby sentence you, La Esmeralda, to death." His hand traveled up to her neck, his one arm still locked around her waist, and his fingers slipped around her slender throat. "I am sorry, my dear. I wish I had known you before you turned traitor." With that, his thumb pressed down into her windpipe. Esmeralda choked, and she began to struggle, but it was to no avail. Frollo's grip on his cross grew even tighter, and he motioned to the handful of men at his side. Sanctuary be damned. This man was trying to kill Esmeralda, and Frollo had no intention of standing by and allowing it to happen.
The edges of her vision were beginning to darken, and Esmeralda knew that that wasn't a good sign. Soon she would pass out from lack of air altogether, and then her assassin would make short work of her. She stared into her assassin's face and took in everything. The angelic face, the tight gold curls, the bright blue eyes … perhaps … perhaps for a short time she had pretended that he was Phoebus. Her beloved Phoebus, whom she had only known for a short time, but it felt as if she had known him forever. Phoebus who she knew now lay cold in the grave that should be hers. If she hadn't been concentrating so hard on breathing, she might have been crying, but tears were second priority at the moment.
She was giving in to unconsciousness, to the black oblivion that was beckoning so welcomingly to her. As she slipped towards the darkness, her last thought would be on Phoebus. After all, she imagined, his last thought must have been her.
Before she could give in, Jean-Francis suddenly released his hold on both her throat and her waist. Collapsing to the ground, Esmeralda gasped for breath, clutching at her throat and using her free hand to prop herself up. Jean-Francis staggered back, blood blossomed on his white linen shirt, which now sported an angry gash.
"Mon dieu!" he sounded quite exasperated. He placed his fingers to the wound, and they came back bloody. "You've ruined my best shirt."
The sudden coldness of steel against hot skin was startling as the tip of a dagger touched the back of his neck.
"I urge you not to run," Frollo hissed. "There are guards at every door and no means of escape."
"You missed your chance, Minister." Jean-Francis replied, freezing in place. "You could have killed me by now."
"I've no wish to kill you, yet." After an agonizing minute that seemed to last an age, the dagger was removed, and with a sharp gesture, the handful of guards grabbed Jean-Francis by either of his arms, twisting them around his back and binding his hands with a coarse rope. Frollo slid the dagger back into his sleeve and turned to Esmeralda, who was still lying on the floor, the shock of what had just happened had passed within moments, and she was trembling like a frightened bird.
"Are you hurt?" Frollo spoke as if asking her what she thought about the weather.
"I'm fine," she spoke, her voice slightly hoarse. He extended one pale hand, and without hesitation, she grasped it in her own. The contact sent a shiver running up and down his spine, and he pulled her to her feet. The anger burned in him anew as he turned to face Jean-Francis.
"Take him to the Palace of Justice," he commanded guards, who obeyed immediately and without question. Jean-Francis twisted his head to glance over his shoulder, and shot Frollo a dark look.
"You wait, Minister." He tried to sound flippant, but there was obvious pain in his voice. "I am going to make you an offer that I doubt you can refuse. But only if you're interested." He laughed, and one of the guards smacked him on the head with a gauntleted hand before dragging him out of the cathedral.
"Did he hurt you badly?" Frollo asked, turning back to Esmeralda.
"Not too badly," she managed a smile. "I can still breathe, that in as of itself is a blessing."
"God is merciful,"
"Indeed," she muttered.
There was a long moment of awkward silence, shattered when Frollo cleared his throat and adjusted his hat.
"Well, if you're not hurt-"
"I'm fine," she insisted.
"-I have some business to attend to."
"I'm sure," she wrapped her arms around herself. "I, um, suppose I'll speak to you tomorrow."
He nodded, and picked up the hem of his robe, turning to walk away.
He froze, his heart leaping in his chest. Did she just address him by his name? Slowly, he turned his head to look at her. She bit back her bottom lip, as if unsure of what to say next. "I never thought I'd say this, but I think I owe it to you for rescuing me. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you, please forgive me."
Triumph! It gripped his insides and he resisted the urge to smile. Instead, he merely dipped his chin and extended his arms in something of a half-bow. "Always."
Clopin nearly toppled off his stool at the force with which his name was thrown across the room. He gripped the side to keep himself from falling off, and using the hand that clutched the puppet to catch the wall before his head did, he managed to do a minor balancing act before setting all three legs safely back down on the ground.
"What is it?" he asked, slightly muffled from the needle clenched between his teeth. "Can't you see I'm busy?"
"It's Jean-Francis," Jolie said, the distress in her voice not comforting in the least. She stepped into the room, wringing her hands with worry. "He failed, they captured him, and he's being taken to The Palace of Justice!"
"WHAT?" Clopin leapt up, miraculously untangling his legs from the stool. The puppet went flying from his hand and landed square in the middle of Jolie's pillow.
"Don't be angry with him," she entreated. "He tried…"
"I'm not angry with him, you silly girl, I am worried. If there is anyone I'm furious at, it's that… that … merde, the Minister of Justice!" angrily, he punched the air. If the situation hadn't been so dire, the angry little man might have been something of comical.
"What do we do?" Jolie ran a hand through her jet black hair. "What can we do? My poor Jean!"
"Kill Frollo?" Clopin suggested.
"Clopin! Think reasonably, will you please?"
"If you insist, but it's against all my principles." Clopin sighed. "Think about it, cherie, Jean-Francis left us with everything we need to aid him, should he wind up in this exact situation."
Jolie's eyes widened. "Of course, Jehan!"
"I will be so glad to be rid of him!" she exclaimed. "He's been driving me mad, you've no idea! I've been tempted to kill him myself, once or twice."
"We simply make Frollo an offer he can't refuse," Clopin said, tugging at his beard. "His brother's life in exchange for Francis's, seems to me like a fair exchange."
"But how do we approach him? We can't just appear at the Palace of Justice, we'll be arrested on the spot and in no better a position to make demands than Jean."
"We take him by surprise," Clopin answered. "It's our greatest ally, at the moment."
"So, you have a plan?" Jolie sounded relieved.
"I always have a plan," Clopin started towards the door. "But sitting around here isn't going to get us anywhere. Onward, I say!"
Jolie grabbed her cloak from off the bed and threw it over her shoulders. "Clopin? One more question."
"What's that?" Clopin halted mid-stride.
"What if it doesn't work?"
"Shush," he waved his hand airily. "I haven't gotten there yet."
Dawn was fast on his heels. Determined to beat it to Frollo, Clopin raced down the street, Jolie not far behind. He had explained a fraction of his plan to her on the way before he had picked up speed, but he hadn't explained to her the fact that, should they not succeed, there would be no second chance. They would be as doomed as Jean-Francis.
She didn't need to know that at the moment. For the love of the Madonna, he had to give her something to hope for.
It had been yet another sleepless night for Frollo. He couldn't wait for this entire business to be over, just so he could get a proper night's rest. He glanced at his robes, which had been folded neatly atop his dresser, with his mantel and his hat resting next to the pile. His dagger was sheathed underneath his pillow, and his boots were resting by the door. Polished, and ready to go. How terribly routine his day seemed to be lately. The days seemed to growing shorter and shorter the older he became. He hadn't kept track of time as much as sunrises and sunsets, trials, executions, and tortures. Quiet time was a privilege in which he had little enough time to indulge in. Whatever didn't demand his physical presence demanded his attention in the forms of a sea of paperwork.
When would it ever end? Would it ever end? He wasn't looking forward to retirement. Dom Claude Frollo was the kind of man who needed something productive to do with his hands, not to mention his mind. Besides, his work was too important. Paris needed him, he would continue to serve God and the people until his dying day.
Still… a change would be nice. Something new to look at when he rolled over in the morning, or just something to look forward to when he came home in the evening. The archdeacon had heard many of such laments from Frollo before, and insisted that it was born of a subconscious desire for a wife and a family. Frollo could admit to having often entertained the idea, but he had never acted upon it. Either he had never gotten around to it, or he could never find a woman he had cared to marry. Both were distinct possibilities.
He wasn't young anymore. It was too late for him to take the archdeacon seriously. A family was out of the question for the Minister of Justice, however, a wife…
There was only one woman in the world who he would even consider asking. And her blazing eyes tormented his dreams every night.
Sliding out of bed, Frollo made a beeline for the bathtub. Today was going to be a long day, given a kick start by the torture and interrogation of the man who had tried to murder Esmeralda.
Frollo didn't intend on showing any mercy. If the man had acted on his own, so be it. If he had not … then Frollo would hunt anyone who had a hand in the situation down, personally, until they were all dead.
When he was bathed and dressed, Frollo emerged into the bloody dawn. His carriage was already waiting for him outside, and the driver was at the ready. That was the kind of punctuality Frollo enjoyed.
"God be with you, my lord." The servant bowed, handing Frollo his cape.
"God be with you," Frollo replied, almost absentmindedly. "Have you heard from Jehan?"
"Not yet today, my lord."
Coward. Frollo's lips thinned in obvious displeasure. "If he appears, hold him here for me. I wish to have a word or several with him."
"As you wish, my lord." The servant bowed again.
Frollo stepped into his carriage, and the servant shut the door for him. He tapped on the side of the carriage, and it launched smoothly into motion. There was no need to tell the driver where he was headed. That, too, was terribly routine.
Frollo tilted his head back and closed his eyes, steepling his fingers in front of him. He had suffered entirely too little sleep last night. Even the carriage's occasional bump and jerk as it ran over rocks and other obstacles in its path proved to be lulling.
Before he knew it, he opened his eyes again, and realized somewhere in the back of his mind that the carriage had come to a complete halt. He waited just long enough to blink the sleep away from his eyes. He had to be completely awake before dealing with the situation at hand. Moments later, he opened the carriage door.
He was taken greatly aback at the sight of his surroundings. This was not the Palace of Justice.
"Where am I?" he demanded furiously.
"Does it matter?" the driver hopped down from his perch and discarded his dark cloak. Clopin stood there in full colorful regalia, complete with the feathered cap. Frollo's hands clenched at his sides and he considered very seriously pulling his dagger from his sleeve and running the impertinent heathen through.
"Where am I, and why have you brought me here?" he quickly tried to assess the situation. If there were more than one of the gypsies, they could easily overtake them. Whether or not they had brought him here to kill him was yet to be determined. He could have kicked himself for allowing sleep to interfere with such a thing as common sense.
Exactly the reason why he had taught himself to never trust anyone.
"As tempting as it is," the gypsy smirked. "I haven't come here to strip you down, humiliate you, and then make you beg for your life before finally killing you. That will be reserved for another day."
"Your generosity is quite comforting. Now why am I here?"
"We've come to make you an offer," another gypsy stepped from the shadows nearby, cloaked entirely in faded black, with the hood pulled back to reveal a fair face, with long black hair that tumbled down her back and pooled into the hood. "Regarding the life of Jean-Francis Troillefou."
"Who?" Frollo's impatience with these gypsy vermin was already reaching its end, and it hadn't been five minutes.
"The gypsy you arrested yesterday in the cathedral," the woman spoke quietly. She didn't quite meet Frollo's eyes, and whatever it was, respect or fear, it merely gave Frollo confidence. They may have taken him who knows where, around the corner, or into the countryside, for all he knew. But they were still afraid of him, and that was worth something.
It also meant that they couldn't be as far from home as he thought.
"And what about him?" the anger evaporated from his features, replaced by something entirely unreadable.
"We've come to make an offer—" her eyes shifted towards Clopin, who picked up where she left off.
"Heard from your brother lately, mon cher juge?" Clopin asked, innocently.
Frollo stiffened. "What have you done with Jehan."
"Nothing…much," Clopin was enjoying himself far too much. "It could be a lot worse. But Jean-Francis begged us to keep him in one piece. After all, his reasoning was quite sound. We could hardly ransom a captive in pieces."
Despite everything Jehan had done, Frollo did still hold a soft spot for his younger sibling. Of course, it wasn't as if the gypsies needed to know that. He kept a face of stone, and folded his arms.
"And you proposal is…?"
"We want Jean-Francis back, you want your brother back. One no-account gypsy in exchange for a beloved family member. Makes sense, doesn't it?" Clopin tugged at his beard nervously, scanning the judge for any sign of emotion, and found none.
"Do you have any idea of the sentence for kidnapping?" Frollo asked smoothly, stroking the cross around his neck. "Much less kidnapping the Minister of Justice?"
"We shall have to rely on your mercy," Jolie said, before Clopin could answer with something heated.
"-But if you summon your guards, we shall know and then your brother will be dismembered piecemeal before we flee the country." Clopin folded his arms.
There was a long silence as Frollo thought it over, stroking the cross, rolling it around in his fingers, and rubbing the elegantly curved edges with his thumb. Finally, he said at last, "Very well. With an offer like that, I can't possibly refuse. I will bring your friend back to this spot at noon, and you will bring Jehan, completely unharmed, to me. We will make the exchange then."
"Very good, Minister." Clopin clapped Frollo on the back, and narrowly avoided getting a dagger shoved through his neck. He bounded back over to the carriage, and opened the door. "We shall take you back now, forgive the detour. The Palace of Justice, as ordered-"
"No, thank you." Frollo replied, gathering his robe up in his hands. "I shall walk."
"But-" Jolie protested. "How do you plan to find your way back?"
"Oh, I've a rough guess of where I am. If I'm wrong, I'll eventually find my way. Of course I don't trust you, you understand."
"Suit yourself," Clopin shrugged. "Makes no difference to me."
"I will have someone come fetch my carriage, so don't bother with it." Frollo stepped around the corner, and ah, there it was, The Palace of Justice not a brisk jog away. Not that he intended to jog, but the estimate of distance wasn't too far. "Might I remind you that I have chased more than one gypsy up and down these streets. I've been around far longer than either of you, and I know this city inside out." He glanced back at that, and neither the gleam in his eyes or the twisted smile on his lips was very reassuring.
"I wish to God that I could tell what he was up to," Clopin shivered once the judge had disappeared. "Did you see that look on his face?"
"Not comforting in the least," Jolie observed. "Do you think we chose the wisest course of action?"
"We chose the only one, if that is what you mean." Clopin replied. "Whether or not it works is still up in the air."
"My poor Jean," she sighed. "I worry about him in there… it can't be comfortable for him."
"I worry, too." He squeezed her shoulder comfortingly. "But let's not waste our time with it. Let's go back and fetch the idiot, we want this encounter to be over as soon as possible."
"Do you think he'll follow through?"
"At one point today, I would have said he'll have to. That was when I honestly thought he cared for his brother. But now… I don't know."
"We can hope,"
Clopin nodded in agreement. "Right now, my dear, hope is all we have."
Jean-Francis didn't know why he bothered to leave Auvergne. He had simply exchanged one prison for another, and frankly, the other prison offended his sensibilities a good deal less. At least the guards in Auvergne had appreciated his sense of humor, not to mention his gentlemanly manners, enough at least to slip him a little of their own beer on the occasion. Who he wouldn't kill for a good brew right now. Not to mention the daily fare of moldy bread and rancid cheese left something to be desired.
He could only hope that Clopin and Jolie had carried through with the plan. If not … he didn't even want to think of the fate that awaited him. They had taken his weapons and his hat – the bastards – but they had somehow managed to skip over the poison altogether. That was still an option, should the bottom fall out from their plan. Yet Jean-Francis valued life far too much, and suicide was being shoved towards last resort.
There was the sound of an bolt shooting out of a lock, and Jean-Francis directed his attention towards the door where a guard appeared, holding a torch.
"It's time," the guard said grimly.
"Finally, I should say." Jean-Francis stood, trying his best to keep up a candid attitude. "Oh come now, don't act as if you're leading me to my execution. It's only torture. How bad could it be?"
The guard didn't appreciate his light tone or his blatant sarcasm. Instead, he just turned around and led the way down the, all but dragging Jean-Francis by the arm.
"Lack of a personality won't send your career soaring to grand heights," he informed the guard, indignant at being dragged along like a chastised child. "Just because it worked for Frollo doesn't mean-"
The guard cuffed him over the ear, and Jean-Francis slipped into a brooding silence.
The chamber that they led – or dragged – him to was a claustrophobe's nightmare. It was tightly packed with two guards against either wall, two more by the door, and of course the one leading him in. A long, wide wooden rack was the main piece of furniture, and on the table set up next to it was an array of interesting sharp instruments.
The Minister of Justice stood to one side, his hands folded in front of him as he patiently awaited the prisoner's arrival. Childishly, Jean-Francis wondered by the Minister got to wear his hat.
Beside the Minister stood a man that Jean-Francis had only had the pleasure of meeting once. Jacques Charmolue, the dullest person he had ever met, and yet he possessed he most talent for inflicting pain.
"Shall we proceed?" Jacques turned to address Frollo, and Jean-Francis couldn't help but making the mental comparison to a dog sitting up and begging his master for a treat. In response, Claude Frollo gave a wave of his hand, extending the two fingers in the air and making a swoop before bringing it back to his chest. Jean-Francis couldn't help but notice and absorb this tiny detail, which irrationally annoyed him.
"Excellent," Jacques clasped his hands together, and the sound echoed ominously off the walls. "Put him on the rack," he turned to address the guards. "I think that's a nice place to start."
"Oh, my favorite part." Jean-Francis spoke dryly as they stretched him out on the flat panel of wood and fastened his hands above him with leather straps.
Either they didn't hear him, or they were ignoring him. The latter was more probable. They had stripped him down to the waist, and now he was beginning to feel exactly how cold the prison actually was.
More disturbed by lack of conversation than he was the idea of torture, Jean-Francis spoke again. "Exactly what is it I'm supposed to be confessing to?"
"A number of things," it was Frollo who spoke this time, his voice expressing nothing less than hatred. "We have all the time in the world, and will be here as long as it takes to get you to tell us whether or not you acted alone, if not then who was behind the act, and also what the motivation was."
"You were right behind me," Jean-Francis pointed out. "Did you not hear anything I told her?"
Frollo shot the executioner a look, and before Jean-Francis could steel himself against it, the leather straps pulled on his wrists, and pain shot up his arms.
"Ah! Yes, I do believe I recall that I happened to be mumbling," Jean-Francis was a man of many talents, but he had no stomach for pain. "I'm sure I remember what I said, though."
"Shall we jog your memory?" Jacques made another gesture, and the pain came against the leather straps pulled tighter. Sweat beaded Jean-Francis's brow.
"No," the gypsy insisted. "Not necessary, most respectable messieurs, I remember." He did his best to draw in a deep breath. "The woman – Esmeralda – betrayed her people. It is an unforgiveable act for which she had to be punished. Assassination seemed the most sensible course of action."
"For some reason, I can't see you as the noble type who would take this duty upon himself." Jacques replied.
"I'm just full of surprises,"
"I've no doubt. Who put you up to it?"
"No one!" Jean-Francis strained to put emphasis on the words. "Alone! I acted entirely alone!"
Jacques and Frollo exchanged glances. Frollo was fingering his cross again, which meant he was thinking about something.
"I think he's lying," Jacques said.
"Not necessarily lying, but not giving us the entire truth, either." Frollo replied.
"As I said," Jacques shrugged. "We have all day."
The straps tugged at his wrists yet again, and more pain shot up through his arms to his chest, causing his lungs to burn. Any tighter, and he was sure his arms would pop out of his sockets.
Without thinking, Jean-Francis cried out, both in panic and in pain. "Messieurs, be reasonable, I beseech you. We are all decent men-"
Frollo made an odd noise in his throat. Obviously, he did not agree.
"-Perhaps we can talk about this over a slightly more agreeable setting?"
"Let's try it this way," Jacques leaned forward. "What is your full name?"
That he could do. "Jean-Francis Troillefou!"
"Troillefou?" Jacques eyebrows shot up. "Where do I know that name?"
"Clopin Troillefou," Frollo replied. Jacques shot him a questioning look, obviously the name wasn't ringing any bells. "The ridiculous colorblind puppeteer who runs the Feast of Fools."
"Ah! I do know him." Jacques nodded.
"So Clopin is behind this," the wheels were spinning now in Frollo's head.
"No one," Jean-Francis ground his teeth together. "No one on my life!" They had to believe him! If they didn't, he didn't even want to think about what they were going to do to him until they were satisfied.
"What say you, my lord?" Jacques look towards Frollo was a disgusting display of reverence.
"Can we get more out of him? Certainly, I think so." Frollo clutched the cross in his hand. "I want you to stay here, Jacques, and see what other information you can acquire. As for myself, I have some pressing business that requires attending to."
"Yes, my lord." Jacques replied with a respectful bow. "Any further wishes, my lord?"
"Yes, use whatever means you find necessary." With those words, the judge swept austerely from the room, leaving Jean-Francis to the mercy of his tormentor.
"Shut him up!" Clopin snapped, sick already of Jehan's continuous whining.
"Don't make me regret removing this gag." Jolie threatened, waving the cloth in front of Jehan's eyes.
"Just you wait," the young man spat vehemently. "My brother will have you arrested and killed fro this! The both of you!" with that, he struggled with his bonds that unfortunately for him, Jolie knew how to tie.
"That does it!" Clopin snarled. He stalked over to Jehan, picking the young man up by the collar and whipping out his dagger, which he placed just under Jehan's chin. "One more word, and I will personally hand you over to your brother … without your tongue!"
Jehan swallowed hard, and clamped his mouth shut.
Satisfied his point was made, Clopin went back to pacing.
"What's taking him so long?" he ranted. "He holds punctuality almost as high as his morals, and yet…"
"Shh," Jolie motioned for him to be silent. "I hear someone coming."
"About damn time too, I should say." Clopin ceased his raving long enough to pause and listen for himself. The sounds of many sets of feet were coming their way, not just one. Another sound, one he was far too accustomed to hearing – the clanking of armor. Since when did Frollo wear armor?
"Soldiers!" he whispered as loudly as he could. "Run!"
"What do I do with …?"
Far too late, the soldiers were upon them.
There was not a part of him that didn't ache by the time Jean-Francis had been thrown back into his cell. He didn't even try to sit up properly, merely lay in the exact position he had collapsed in. He was certain that if he tried to move a single muscle, the pain would erupt like fire throughout his back and his shoulders again. His legs were an entirely different story. From the knees down, he couldn't feel them. Not even pain. That was definitely not a good sign.
Lifting his arm just enough to pull down the front of his shirt, which they at least had the decency to give back to him, and winced with the pain the simple movement brought. Working with his fingers, the tiny vial of red liquid tumbled out from his shirt pocket and he managed to catch it with his other hand before it hit the ground. Unfortunately, this sent him toppling sideways and landing on his shoulder, sending yet another burst of fiery pain throughout his entire upper body.
Gritting his teeth, he contemplated with real motivation the vial in his hands. He tried to recall all of what he had told them, but sometime after Frollo had left his memories began to all melt into one red haze of pain. His throat going raw with his screams, bones breaking and ligaments tearing … that was all he could remember. He could have told them anything, and for all he knew, they were on their way to the Court of Miracles right now to destroy it and everything that dwelled there.
And if they hadn't gotten the information out of him already, it was only a matter of time before they succeeded. And Jean-Francis couldn't live with himself, knowing that he had betrayed his people and failed his most beloved family member. Thinking of Esmeralda in the Notre Dame Cathedral only made him angrier. Some people could live with it, but he could not.
So thinking, he brought the vial up to his mouth, wrenching out the cork with his teeth, and then took another moment to smell the contents. Odorless, tasteless… it would go down like water, and he wouldn't feel the pain.
Licking his dry cracked lips, he opened his mouth wide, and dumped the contents into his mouth. It wasn't much, barely a swallow, but it burned all the way down his throat, and his belly erupted in pain with protest. Groaning, he dropped the vial to the ground and curled up into as tight of a ball as his ruined body allowed. "Not long now," he breathed, his voice shaking. "Not long at all."
The door swung open, and Clopin stumbled in, propelled by a helpful little shove between the shoulderblades. Jolie came next, managing to stagger in with a bit more dignity, but not much. Both of them had been stripped over their weapons, even the ones that Clopin kept hidden in the most private reaches of his person, thanks to the help of a smug Jehan. Had Clopin's hands not been bound, he would have clocked the younger man in the nose. As it was, his only satisfaction was replaying the imaginary scene over and over in his head.
"How did we not foresee that?" he demanded.
"It was your idea," Jolie reminded him. "I think that…" she trailed off, her words ending in something like a sob. Clopin looked up from inspecting his person to see what had happened, and his breath caught in his throat.
There lie Jean-Francis, his most beloved cousin, curled up on the floor. His legs had both been broken beyond all repair just below the knee, but that seemed to be, thankfully, the worst of it. He was covered in a number of many minor cuts and bruises that could be easily cared for.
"Francis!" he exclaimed in relief. When his cousin didn't reply, he glanced at Jolie for answer. She merely shook her head, indicating she didn't know, and kneeled beside her beloved, pulling his head into her lap and stroking the sides of his face.
"Jean, Jean," she muttered, bending down and kissing his forehead lovingly. "What have they done to you, my love, my poor Jean?"
Jean-Francis's eyes fluttered open, and for one horrid moment, they were completely unfocused. He squinted, as if peering through a haze, and asked, "Jolie?"
"Yes," she tried hard to keep the tears from falling. "My beloved Jean, what have they done to you?"
"Nothing that couldn't be fixed," his voice was faint and rasping. Clopin tried to swallow, but his throat was too constricted. He knelt down on the other side of his cousin, and his knee banged on something small and hard. He glanced down. He wouldn't have been able to see if it the dim torchlight from the hallway hadn't reflected off the surface. A tiny clear glass vial, just big enough for him to hold in his palm.
"What have you done?" the gypsy king demanded, fearful of what his foolish cousin had attempted in his absence. "Francis! What is this?"
"Poison," Jean-Francis muttered, as if his tongue were too thick for his mouth. "You gave it to me not …" he drew in a deep breath, as if that alone were costing him all his effort. "…Too long ago. Told me to… take it… should they capture me."
It was like he had taken a blow to the stomach. Clopin stared in horror at his dying cousin, his head spinning. What have I done? He thought. What had he done?
"For future reference, never listen to me!" Clopin screamed. "Especially not when I'm drunk off my ass!"
"Didn't…think of that." Jean-Francis managed a small smile.
"You'll be fine," Clopin clenched the tiny vial in his hands. "You'll be just fine, we'll call for help … how long has it been in your system?"
Jean-Francis attempted to shake his head, but that was too difficult. "No," he said. "Too late." He closed his eyes, too much effort to keep them open anymore. "F-Forgive me Clopin, p-please."
"I don't know what you mean," Clopin sat back on his heels, his voice thick with sorrow.
"I … I betrayed you. I t-think I did. I couldn't help it! They hurt me, and…"
"Stop right there," Clopin snapped, dashing tears away with the back of his hand before Jolie could see them. Thankfully, she was too absorbed in tears of her own. "You are not a traitor, never have been, never will be! Damn it, Francis, cling to life with that mule-headed stubbornness that we both have!"
Jean-Francis opened his eyes again, and rolled them upwards to look at Jolie. "You must forgive me, too." His voice was barely louder than a whisper now. "That we could not be… all t-that I wanted us to be."
"Oh, my Jean." She kissed him, and for a long moment, their lips remained locked in one final, passionate kiss. When she pulled away, reluctantly, she whispered against his lips, "I love you."
"I love you," he replied. He rolled his eyes over to look at Clopin. "May the path n-never stray for you, my f-friend." He managed one last weak smile. "Cousin." He closed his eyes, and his lips parted for his final rattling breath to escape.
And then Jean-Francis Troillefou was no more.
The tears were coming freely now, and neither of them were going to try and deny it. Jolie burst into tears, pressed her forehead against Jean-Francis's and muttered something incomprehensible for her body-wracking sobs. Clopin, for his part, leapt to his feet, the tears streaming down his cheeks, and threw the vial across the room watching with only mild satisfaction as it smashed into a thousand tiny pieces. With a strangled cry wrenched from the deepest reaches of his throat, he beat his fists against the wall, cursing verbally every god he had ever heard of, cursing Frollo, cursing his damned, damned stupidity!
"How could I…" he couldn't even finish, he was so angry. Angry at himself, angry at God for letting it happen. Angry at Frollo for making it happen.
"It's not your fault," Jolie sniffed, making a feeble attempt to wipe away her tears.
"Yes, it is."
She shook her head. "We should alert someone, so they can bury him."
"NO!" the rage in his voice frightened her, and she recoiled. "They will NOT take him away, I refuse to let those bastards touch him!" he kicked the wall, and instantly regretted it when the pain shot up through his foot. "I swear by God," he growled, holding his injured foot. "That Frollo will pay for this. If it's the last thing I ever do, I shall make him pay!"
The servants didn't possess the power that God had granted their master of seeing right through Jehan's pathetic ruses. Especially not Margery, the cook, who absolutely adored the boy and doted on him with every opportunity. As soon as the soldiers had brought Jehan home, he had been put in front of a fire, wrapped up in a blanket, and a bowl of soup with hearty chunks of meat and potato had been shoved into his hands. Now he was thoroughly enjoying himself by giving a detailed account on all the torments the horrible heathen gypsies had forced him to endure. The servant's children gathered around him and listened with wide, terrified eyes. One even jumped up and ran to his mother to cling to her skirts.
All too soon, it seemed, Margery appeared once again. She was a rather plump good-hearted woman with fiery red hair to match her equally fiery personality. Yet buried underneath it all she held a real soft spot for Jehan and treated him as if he were her own son.
"Mon petit chou," she said, brushing the hair away from his face as she inflicted him with the pet name. "The master has returned, he has sent for you and says you are to see him at once."
"Already?" Jehan grumbled, dropping the blanket from his shoulders. "But I haven't finished my soup."
"You can finish it later, petit chou." She ruffled his hair affectionately. "I'll have someone warm it up for you if it gets cold in your absence.
"Thanks, Margery." He shot her a boyish smile before taking off, non too hurriedly, in the direction of his brother's bedchamber. He knew that was where Claude would be, he didn't need to stoop to the indignity of a guide. Besides, he had intruded upon his brother's privacy enough that it had long ago ceased to be embarrassing. On Jehan's end, at least.
"Claude?" he called, tapping on his brother's door. "I'm home! I don't care what you're doing in there, I'm coming in…" without further ado, he grasped the handle of the door and swung it open, managing to walk in on a rather annoyed and impatient yet unembarrassed Claude Frollo.
"Shut the door," Frollo said, and his tone was not one to be argued with. Obediently, Jehan shut the door.
Jehan sighed, and crossed the room to where a pale blue chair was arranged just across from his brother's. He sank into it, relishing the plush velvet as it pressed into every sore place of his body, offering maximum comfort. "Are we going to continue like this? I don't bark on command."
"You may think yourself witty, but I can assure you that I am far from amused." Frollo cast him a darkly reprimanding look. "Every time I received a letter from one of your schoolmasters, which was almost every day – I chided you over it, but eventually all was forgiven. I have done my best to raise you, to make sure that you are provided for, in a way that would have made our parents proud."
Jehan fidgeted. He did not like where this was going.
"Yet everything I gave you, you squandered. Whether it was on gambling, on drinking, or on lustful sins, I do not know and I do not wish to know. You are the unrepentant prodigal son who upon returning to his father's house receives judgment, as opposed to a fatted calf."
Jehan outright squirmed in his seat. He really did not like what he was going. Trying his best to shrug off his brother's dire tone, he managed a smile that was more along the lines of bitter than anything. "Really, Claude? Judgment? What manner of judgment is it that wish you to bestow upon me?"
"Do not take this lightly!" Frollo was angry in a way that Jehan had never seen. It cowed the younger man completely, and he shrank as far as he could into his chair, waiting on his brother to continue.
"You are a disgrace to this family," Frollo said, fighting to regain his composure. "A disgrace to God, and a disgrace to me. I will have no more of it in my household. From this point on, Jehan, I have disowned you."
"No!" Jehan stood up so quickly that he nearly fell into his brother's lap. "Claude, please! Don't do this!"
"I already have," Frollo said with steely resolve.
Jehan shook his head, slowly, as if he couldn't quite believe it. "Why?" he moaned. He sank to his knees, grabbing his brother's robe desperately. "Claude, listen… I beg you! I have no money at all, I haven't a job, and no idea of how to get one. I can't support myself, I don't know how!"
"If you had paid attention to your lessons, you might have some idea yet."
"Please," he wanted to weep, but wouldn't give his brother the satisfaction of seeing tears. "Within a week I will be groveling for bread in the gutter, within a month I shall be dead! Have pity on me, brother, I throw myself upon your mercy!"
"Of which I have none for you, any longer." Frollo grasped his brother's wrists and roughly shoved him away in disgust. "Now get out of my sight, you repulse me."
Damn it all! Jehan began to cry. "Claude … brother! Please!"
"OUT!" There was finality in the words. Any more stalling, and Jehan was likely to have his head taken off. Still weeping, he stood and made his way to the door, stumbling, bumping into things, knocking books from their shelves and pulling up carpets before he threw himself against the door and leaned against it so heavily that when it opened he fell to the ground.
"I hope you die alone!" it was his last possible retort as he picked himself up and ran down the hall.
Discarding the words as nothing more than his idiot brother's childishness, Frollo rubbed his face with his hand. A minor setback, after a rather satisfying day. And, he thought with a twisted smile. It is not over yet.
Esmeralda had been brought to the Palace of Justice only twice in her life. Once, when her mother had been arrested and promptly executed, twice, when she herself had been arrested not too long ago. Needless to say that when the guard had arrived at the cathedral and explained to the archdeacon that she was to be brought to Frollo at once, she was less than thrilled and more than a little frightened.
She berated herself for being at all surprised. During the short carriage ride there, she reflected that she knew this would happen, sooner or later. Perhaps she had angered Frollo one too many times, perhaps she had been a touch … unwise… when it came to her judgment concerning the matter. But Esmeralda wasn't one to think things through; she lived for the thrill of the moment. Thus, this style of living was applied to everything, including important decisions.
The Palace of Justice loomed like a great black shadow against an angry dark sky. She could smell the impending downpour in the air and wondered why it always rained just when things seemed to getting worse.
Frollo was waiting for her in what was a passably comfortable room, of course only the barest of essentials were supplied. Secretly, she wondered what it was that most religious men had against comfort.
"You wanted to see me?" she tried to keep her voice from cracking and hoped he could not see how tightly her hands were clenching her arms.
"I did," he was in a good mood, she could tell. That scared her more than anything.
"I'm not in shackles yet," she said by way of idle conversation, glancing around the room as if she expected guards to appear out of the dusty corners.
"Nor shall you be," he bade her sit, and then stood in front of her by the tiny archer's slit of a window, his hands folded behind his back. "I have a question for you. One simple question, so don't lie to me, I will know if you are."
She swallowed, but nodded.
"What is your relationship with this self-proclaimed gypsy 'king' Clopin Troillefou?"
At the mention of the name, her insides went very cold. He was simply gazing at her, waiting, and for a split second she had no doubt that he could indeed see into her soul and tell if she was lying.
"I knew him, of course," she stammered, not knowing how to explain. "But he was our king…"
"So that was the extent of your relationship?" he lifted an eyebrow.
"No," she sighed, and shook her head. "When I was seven, he found me, and took me in as his own. That right after…" she faltered, unsure as to exactly why she was sharing with him her personal history. "Right after my mother died."
"So, in essence, he has been your only parent for quite some time."
"Like a father to me, for nearly thirteen years." She sighed, knowing that it was because of that iron bond that she and Clopin had forged that he had sought to have her assassinated in the first place.
"I see," he released his hands and began to toy with the cross around his neck. "In that case, I have some news that I think you will find rather discouraging."
"And what is that?" Esmeralda asked quietly, fearing the worst.
"Clopin Troillefou was arrested earlier today for attempting and partially succeeding to kidnap and blackmail me."
Esmeralda didn't realize for the first few moments that her mouth was hanging open. She gazed at Frollo with a mixture of realization and horror.
"You will execute him?" she inquired, her throat suddenly dry.
"It is my duty, the punishment for one – much less both – offense is death by torture."
"No, please!" panic seized her by the throat, and she felt as if she couldn't breathe. "You can't!" as degrading as it would be to grovel before the judge, she would do it. For Clopin… she would do it.
"And here, I didn't think you would care." His voice held no emotion whatsoever. "After all, he showed you no such loyalty after your display on the pyre."
"I deserved no such loyalty," Esmeralda insisted. "But Clopin deserves it and more…" the panic in her chest was rising by the second. She wanted him to show at least something on his face, a trace of emotion, anything. "My lord, Your Honor…" she didn't know which was more appropriate, she just ran a hand through her hair and moved on. "Please, I beg you. Spare him..." she licked her lips. "And I'll do whatever you want."
There they were! The words Frollo had longed so desperately to hear! Now, how he longed to fold his arms around her, to claim those lips as his own, that body as his own…
Whatever I want, the temptation was so great. He could claim her, she would be his …
"Marry me, and I'll set him free."
"What?" her eyes grew round as coins.
"Marry me," he repeated, reaching out, and taking her hand. "Think on it, it's not so terrible a fate, the wife of the Minister of Justice."
She fought the instinct to shrink back from his touch and instead looked him in the eyes. Terrified at what lurked behind them.
"If I marry you," she said slowly, as if to be sure she had heard correctly. "You'll release Clopin?"
"And cease hunting my people?"
"I make no promises."
It was the best she was going to get from him, and she could tell, too. Steeling herself for what was probably going to be the greatest mistake of her life, she squeezed his hand and pulled it close to her chest, hanging her head and refusing to look up to him, lest he see the traitorous tears. "Very well," she whispered. "I will marry you."
Clopin spent the remainder of the night and half the next day curled up in a miserable ball in the corner of the cell. He hadn't said much in the past twelve hours, and really, neither had Jolie. Both were sitting in their own haze, while the body of Jean-Francis already began to process of decomposition after rigor mortis had come and gone. As much as Clopin hated to admit it, he was going to have to summon the guards to take the body away sooner or later, because he couldn't tolerate the smell for very long. No matter how close they had been in life.
"Well?" she asked, breaking the ice after a good four hours of silence. "Do you think we ought to summon the guard?"
"Doesn't sound like we'll need to," Clopin replied grimly, rising to his feet and stretching out the ache in his muscles. "The guard is headed this way."
Nodding, Jolie stood as well, casting one last tearful look at her dead love who lay decomposing on the floor. Soon, he would be nothing but minerals in the dirt, and she'd have to get on with her life. If they were indeed scheduled to live past the next twenty-four hours.
The guard came to the door, moments later, a ring of iron keys in his hand. "All right," he snorted, dragging the door open. "You," he pointed at Clopin. "Can go. By order of the Minister of Justice, in God's great and divine mercy, you have been spared."
"Wonderful," Clopin rolled his eyes. "And Jolie?"
"Her?" the guard jerked a thumb in Jolie's direction. Clopin nodded a confirmation. "She'll have to stay here until further orders are given. The Minister hasn't said anything about her to me."
Clopin turned to Jolie, surprised to see her face one of perfect serenity. "Will you be ok?" he asked, noticing that the guard had yet to realize that the third body on the floor was no longer breathing.
"I'll be fine," She slid her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. She murmured, "If I don't make it out…"
"What?" he urged her to continue, stroking her hair.
"Remember me," she pulled back and kissed his cheek. "Remember me and remember Jean. And picture how it might have been if we had lived. Promise me you will, at least once a day."
"Every chance I get," he vowed.
She smiled at him, then, and he felt as if his heart were being torn from his chest. He couldn't imagine life without Jean-Francis, or Esmeralda, or even Jolie … and now all three had been taken from him, in the cruelest manner imaginable. And that was the exact reason that Claude Frollo would one day answer for the transgressions of the past, and then pay with his life.
"Take me away," Clopin said, spinning dramatically to face the guard. The guard, who had all the personality of a wooden door, merely beckoned and started off down the hall. With one last look behind him, Clopin was on his way to freedom – and revenge.
Jolie didn't have to wait long before a second guard came to her cell. This one had about twenty percent less personality than the first, so he didn't happen to notice the body lying on the ground, either.
"It is time," was all he said. Three little words that rang so ominously in her ears. The dour way he spoke them was enough to make her realize exactly what was about to happen.
"What is the charge?" she asked.
"Prostitution, kidnapping, and blackmail." He grinned nastily and jerked her arms behind her, binding her hands tightly with a rope.
"And how am I to die?" she didn't even wince with the contact. She wasn't afraid of it, whatever it was. Not now. She had nothing left to live for.
"You are to be hung in the town square," he replied, turning her around and shoving her out the door. "Orders of the Minister." He slammed the door shut, though the security was superfluous. Dead bodies don't just get up and walk out of their cells.
Jolie glanced up to the heavens. No tears, this time, just the shadow of a smile that still hung about her lips.
"I love you, Jean." She whispered. "I'll be up there to join you soon."
It wasn't physical illness, it was beyond that. It was something greater by far that would not go away. Revulsion would be a gross understatement, but if she were even going to begin to explain, that would be the word she would use.
"What have you become?" she asked herself, running her hand over the balcony railing. First, she betrayed her people by shying away at whatever price from the flames of the pyre. And now it was as if she were about to betray them all over again, by taking the greatest enemy of their kind into her bed.
And how she despised him! There was no word for the depths her hatred for him ran. It ran deeper than her veins, deep into her soul … where it would be engraved for all eternity. She hated him.
And to be married to him … to wake up to him every morning, to have him claim her as his own, to have his hands forever and always running over whatever part of her they fancied to touch. Caressing her skin, running through her hair … the very idea sent shivers down her spine. She could not commit an act of the flesh with the man; she would rather die a gruesome, terrible death.
She glanced down at the street below, fully expecting vomit to rise to her mouth at any minute. How welcome death seemed now, how much more welcome than it had seemed that day when faced with the flames that were there to take her life. So many things had transpired since then and none of them good. She couldn't see what would have been different if she had accepted her fate that day. Clopin wouldn't be alive, was that why God was doing this to her?
It all seemed so irrelevant, so pointless. Why bother with any of it? And marriage …! How perfectly galling of him to approach her on the matter, to dupe her into it in such a manner. It was devious, it was cruelty, and she knew he didn't care. Or perhaps he just refused to face the truth about himself, all the while knowing what the truth really was. He was no man of God, he was a hypocrite, a rapist, a liar… and so many other things.
How easy it would be for her to die, to sink into the black oblivion of death where the sights and sounds of the world would be shut off. Where she could just drift through emptiness for eternity, and eventually wander towards either Heaven or Hell, wherever fate decided to land her. She knew she wasn't good enough for Heaven yet, it didn't seem like she had done anything to deserve being sent to Hell. Perhaps she wouldn't go to either; perhaps she would just have to wander the world like the lost souls of children's stories. Who had done nothing spectacular with their lives to deserve either Purgatory or Paradise. Just ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, trying to make their way in a world that didn't want them in it.
Her mother had spoken to her about death, once. When she was still young, far too young to remember most things. "Death is going to happen to all of us eventually, and there is nothing we can do to prevent it." She had said, stroking her young daughter's hair. "We must accept it, and the people we leave behind must also accept it. And they must move on with their lives, until it is their own time to die."
Esmeralda closed her eyes, remembering the question she had asked next. "But mother, why must we die?"
"Because every time one person dies, another is given life." Her mother replied. "Such is the circle of life. And we are all a part of it."
Perhaps Frollo wouldn't approve, but she didn't really care. The theory was good enough for her; it had been good enough for her mother. Esmeralda's time to die had already come, and she had run from it. Now, there would be no running. She couldn't avoid fate any longer … it had caught up with her.
The cool night breeze kissed her cheek, as if encouraging her, and she knew what she had to do. In Notre Dame Cathedral, high, high up in the bell tower, Quasimodo rung the morning mass. Quasimodo who was a mystery and a monster to most, a dog to his most beloved master, and the dearest friend Esmeralda had ever possessed. She wished she could say goodbye to him, but she knew he wouldn't understand, and his tears might persuade her else wise. No, she had to seize the moment, or it would never happen.
She didn't even spare Frollo a thought as she climbed up onto the balcony railing. But she thought of Clopin, and wished him well. Her last thought was of Phoebus, and a mental image of her arms entwined around his neck, a gentle kiss being shared. Him picking her up in his arms to carry her off to bed. She was so tired, so very tired…
It was her last thought as her body impacted with the waiting road below. Then, it was all darkness and sweet, sweet oblivion.
Woe to the servant who had to bring Judge Dom Claude Frollo bad news.
The poor man was trembling as it was as he made his way across the hallway, seeking out his master and half hoping that he wouldn't find him.
Frollo was waiting in his chamber, as always, getting ready for the day. The servant knocked before he entered, praying that his master was in the bath, at least…
"Enter," the dark voice bade. The servant swallowed nervously, and stepped in.
"M-My lord," he said, bowing. "I have some … dreadful news."
"What is it?" Frollo snapped, adjusting his hat on his head.
"The gypsy Esmeralda, my lord … she is dead."
He expected a burst of outrage. He expected to be beaten to a pulp, or thrown out the window himself. But for one who had just heard his wife to be was lying dead on a road, he was surprisingly serene.
"How," he asked calmly. "And where."
"J-Just a few minutes ago, my lord, ten or fifteen by now. She fell off the balcony and landed on the street. Her neck was broken; there was nothing to be done."
Without a word, Frollo shoved past the unfortunate servant who ended up rammed into a wall. The judge fairly flew down the stairs, making amazing speed from what one would expect of someone his age, and was out the doors and in the middle of the street in half a minute, looking around wildly for the source of the servant's claims.
There. There she laid, Esmeralda … his beautiful Esmeralda, on the street. Her raven hair soaked with blood, her neck twisted at an awkward angle, and her blue green eyes staring straight up at the sky, the blaze in them gone forever.
It was a moment that wasn't quite real. Like a terrible, terrible nightmare that he could not wake up from. Of course it would be that way… the very day he managed to get her in his grasp, to convince her to be his, to hold happiness and a future in his very hands… that very day she would die. Of course. That was the way it worked. Why was God punishing him this way?
"God," he hissed under his breath, clenching the cross at his neck. "Why her? Why not me? If I am the one with the sin, punish me!" But he was being punished, in the most cruel yet effective way possible.
He walked quickly towards the body, the crowd of spectators parting for him like Moses at the Red Sea as he drew nearer. He knelt down by her side, and placed his hands on her side, lifting her up and placing her upper body in his lap. Blood soaked through his robe, but he didn't care.
"Esmeralda," he muttered, stroking her cheek. "La Esmeralda, did I do this to you? Forgive me, my dear, I never meant to cause you such pain."
But it was all useless now, wasn't it? How he wished he had been there for those last moments, to beg her, to promise her anything if she would just rethink such a rash decision. She was so young, so full of life and promise. She could have done anything, been anything… with him…
He stroked her ankles, tiny ankles, that would never dance again. She was already growing stiff in his arms, and he couldn't bear it. He had held dying men before and none of it, not even the most gruesome of deaths, even held a candle to this.
This was it, divine punishment for his sins. Every lustful thought, every damned dream that left him writhing at night, every innocent life taken for her sake had now been paid for. Somewhere during this mad nightmare, he had strayed from his path of righteousness. He worshipped Esmeralda, not God. And now, this was God's way of removing temptation from his life and putting him back on the right path. He had been redeemed, again. That only happened once, maybe twice in a man's life. He should not waste it.
"Au revoir, mon bel errant." he whispered to her, before standing up and letting the body slide away from his lap. Her dark blood was soaked through the sleeve of his robe, and part of his skirt, but it did not repulse him. It was redeeming blood.
Squaring his shoulders and straightening his hat, Frollo cupped the crucifix in both his hands and brought it to his lips. Then he let it fall, and it thumped against his chest. A strangely comforting feeling.
And without another word, he began his walk towards the Palace of Justice.