Author's Note: This is what Frollo should have done instead of mass genocide as a way of getting Esmeralda, if he'd been smart about things and made certain connections sooner. It begins just around the time of the "hellfire" song.
Disclaimer: I am not making any money and do not own the characters.
The sky was darkening at last and soft evening stole upon Paris; only a few stars had yet lit the sky and the rays of the sun were sinking into a slow indigo death. Claude lit a candle from the fire, one pale hand careful to draw back a long, black velvet sleeve as he did so. He felt his face flush in the crackling heat and let his sleeve fall, bringing the hand to his face. The touch of his cold hand to his cheek was soothing and he stepped back, lifting the candle to illuminate the shelves of darkly-bound volumes, their golden titles glimmering as the candle wavered.
Claude's spindly fingers ran along the leathers, rubbing, pressing, seeking… he passed over great tomes of law, histories, philosophy, religion; anonymous in their matching covers, their pages well-turned and parchment yellowed, bought long ago. And now, yes… he drew out a small book: P. Ovidius Naso: Ars Amatoria. He had not opened it since his days as a student: quiet days spent bent over Latin verse. This Roman doggerel was not what he ought to read: it would not steady his resolve nor strengthen his soul – yet perhaps… perhaps it would lighten the leaden burden that caught in his chest.
He sank into a chair, all varnish and sharp angles, made comfortable only by the merest traces of upholstery, placing the book on the table and pinched the bridge of his nose, then moving to rub circles into his temples. Pouring himself a glass of wine, he drank deeply, staining his lips with its dark residue. The girl's green eyes swam in his vision – the garish scarves around her hips, her delicate feet bare and fleeting, the grace in her arms, the swinging of her hair… Her angry defiance…He took an almost painful breath and reached for the book, his fingers claw-like in their seizure. He opened it haphazardly, as if carelessness would somehow pardon him.
The poet entreated Claude to talk to Esmeralda at the theatre, write her letters, buy her trinkets… and Claude imaged the gypsy girl as a Roman Venus, drapery curving around her, her dark hair bound up but for fine ringlets that fell across the nape of her neck, which he could reach out and caress...
Claude woke, some hours later – the candle had become a blackened stub of wax, the fire a dark wealth of embers. He felt cold and shivery and wiped his lips, cracked and coated in dry saliva. Standing, he swayed, dizzy, his back sore – and resting a hand on the table to steady himself; he moved across the floor as through still dreaming, his footsteps echoing in the chill stone.
His bed waited for him and his night-shirt, neatly folded. Shivering, his discarded his robes and pulled the fine, white cotton over his head, buttoning it at his chin and wrists. In the pile of black and purple silk was the cheap gauzy scarf that she had coiled around his neck. Claude reached to pick it up but stopped as he caught himself turning in the Venetian mirror and gazed at himself – pale as a ghost. There were deep tracts around his eyes, almost bruised, taut, cruel lips, and sheer cheeks; his hair was grey but still fine and darker around his ears. There was no love in his face, no compassion, no mercy – only a brittle dignity and acrid purpose.
This was as it should be…! He sank back onto the covers, his emotions hopelessly embroiled, his hands curling into fists. Nothing was as it should be… topsy-turvy, indeed! He laughed, a harsh bark, and then startled at the sound, looking at the stark cross that hung opposite his bed. I am watching, it seemed to say, I know, even if others do not. You are a vile, unprincipled, lustful, sinful man. You are worse than the gypsy girl, for at least she does not secrete her wickedness; you add dissimulation to your sins.
Turning away, for he could bear it no more, he rested his head on the goose feather pillows and stared up at the ceiling. Why now? Why did this urge never capture him in youth when such things were easily had and pardonable? Why now with so much to loose and so little to gain but sinful coupling with a woman who was repulsed by him?
Claude was surprised by the tears that welled the cavities of his eyes, but squeezed them shut and dragged the palms of his hands roughly across his eyelids. No! I will think of her no more! She is damned and damnation and I shall not fall into her grasp! He glanced back up at the cross and this time had the courage to face it without flinching. He prayed and somewhere in those fervent entreaties, he slept.
The sun woke him early as it always did. But he felt too exhausted to move, too weary to bestir himself. Surely one day lying late abed would not matter? He had dreamt of her, of course, wound against him, trapped in his sheets, her full lips kissing him, their bodies moving together in sinful lust. But no man reigns over his dreams. I am not responsible for the caprice of my sleeping mind. He rolled over and pulled one of his pillows close, closing his eyes and picturing how entwined they had been. Glorious…! He gasped and threw the pillow, which hit the bed-hangings and fell to the floor. He glared at it, bitter resentment in his dark eyes. Gypsy witch! If he could not have her then –
- But you can have her… Claude startled at the thought. It would be easily done – a persuasive man such as yourself could easily have her…
No! He clutched his hands together. Filthy, lying gypsies… I'd go to Hell; I'd die of shame, I…!
Don't be silly, admonished the very reasonable voice inside his head. It's not as if a whore like her would be a virgin, now, is it? You're not married, she's not married…
But it would still be living in sin with a gypsy whore… Ah, but you could educate her; better her… that wouldn't be a sin. Indeed, there was never a more charitable deed. It was surely the voice of the Adversary – speaking to him, tempting him, but…?
And she's very pretty. So very pretty, and you're a man of means, of power, of learning… you could have her… you know it… Claude knew it was a sin, knew it was damnation – but oh, yes – he would have her!
And it was this purpose that found the Judge on the steps of Notre Dame in the morning sun. Esmeralda had gone, true, but perhaps Quasimodo had seen – had heard? The monstrous child did not miss much, despite his dim-wittedness. He climbed the many steps to his ward's sanctuary, humming softly to himself, not realising that it was the tune the gypsy girl had danced to yesterday. But as he heard Quasimodo's lumbering footfalls beyond the door, his visage grew stern as he remembered the boy's disobedience. Stupid, so stupid, to disregard the warnings of his Master…!
"Quasimodo? Good morning…" Claude announced, placing his basket on the table, irritated at his charge's absentmindedness, It's not as if he's simple, just woefully dreamy… The hunch-back had been talking to his stone "friends" again and although Claude had to concede that, yes, the boy was lonely, and that if talking to sculptures made him more content to stay here, then Claude would allow it (that is to say, he hadn't forbidden him to do so) – but it was the kind of mutton-headed thinking Claude just couldn't abide… but Quasimodo was his penance, and penance was not meant to be enjoyable.
"Hello Master… I… I'm sorry, I didn't think you–"
Claude waved a bejewelled hand dismissively. "We shall not discuss it. I have no wish to recall any of the events of that disgusting fete – nor do you, I imagine?" He ruffled the hunch-back's hair, as the boy stared back at him with wide grateful eyes. Sometimes Claude would even feel affection towards his misshapen creature. After all, many declare themselves to be fond of dogs… do they not?
"Yes, Master – I, I mean… No Master!"
"Did you think I lied when I told you how pitiless, how cruel, how rotten the common people are?" Claude thought of Esmeralda's lips near his, how she had smelt of cheap perfume and filth, yet that hot breath on his face…
Quasimodo hung his head, "You would never lie, Master," He said it with absolute certainty. Claude swallowed – the boy had absolute faith in his morals. After all, had he not raised him by Claude's own stern moral code? Only one lie hung between them – a completely necessary one: that of the fate of the monster's mother. And once every three days Claude would flagellate himself to atone for this deception. But now, now that he had decided to make Esmeralda his own, the hunch-back's faith made him feel ill.
"You are correct. But… do you not wonder what will be the fate of that gypsy witch?"
The boy blanched, eyes wide, mouth gaping like a particularly horrid fish. "N-n-no, Master, how do you think she escaped–?"
And that was when the newly carved figure of Esmeralda caught Claude's eye. He gently took his charge's face in his hands his thin, fingers pressing into Quasimodo's cheeks. "She… escaped?" he asked softly, appearing surprised, stroking the hunch-back's forehead. "And how would you know that she escaped, hmm? I think… you're hiding something…"
"Er – I… I… I um…?"
Claude sighed, "I am disappointed, Quasimodo: not only have you disobeyed me and broken the law, and now you are lying to me. I, who have cared for you since you were a child… It is unconscionable…" he had not raised his voice, but continued in that same soft tone, inviting, paternal, "you may be damned for this, my boy, despite my efforts to safeguard your immortal soul."
The hunch-back began to weep, his tears spilling down over Claude's hands. "She was kind to me – I couldn't let her… I – she's an angel…but it's true, I helped her escape, and she's gone to the Court of Miracles…"
Damned girl! Claude felt his hold tighten on Quasimodo's face and he let go, suppressing the overwhelming urge to punish his ward. He took a deep breath, and patted Quasimodo's hump affectionately – fortunately the boy could not see Claude's savage expression and the fury in his dark eyes – "Ah, so trusting – you do not know the wickedness of her kind – their evil ways… but, after all, what chance could a poor misshapen child like you have against her heathen treachery? Does not confession lighten your heart, Quasimodo? Now you must repent of your actions… ask for guidance, God will give it to you…" Wrath was curdling in his stomach, but he quelled the anger within and smiled.
"Thank you, master! I didn't expect you to –"
"You have been punished enough for your transgressions, I think. I did not help you yesterday because it is necessary that you learn that I do not forbid you anything lightly…" Claude opened the basket of food he'd brought and Quasimodo rushed for the plates and cups. He brought out a selection of fruit – temptation, curse Esmeralda! Eve's fatal choice weighed heavily on his heart.
He spent longer with the boy than usual, wishing to cement his hold on the lad and Quasimodo's belief in Claude's forgiveness. Walking through the cathedral, Claude considered his next move. At the Court of Miracles… but how can I find that…? Unless…? He could pardon her – oh, not really, of course, but to draw her out of hiding… and then, and then…
Then I can possess her! He shuddered at thinking such lustful thoughts in the sanctity of the cathedral. And once Esmeralda is mine, it will be an easy matter to find the Court of Miracles and destroy the gypsies. He laughed and was immediately caught in the gaze of the archdeacon. "What unholy mischief do you plan, Claude Frollo?" he asked sternly.
Claude shuddered under the man's eyes, as he had once before… "Forgive me," Claude bowed his head – though he still towered over the man – "I should not have expressed myself in such a way in a House of God. God bless you, father. Good day." Were it not for the fact that it would have been shameful to do so, Claude would have run from the priest. As it was, he walked slowly out, careful not to look back. And only when he was outside did he allow himself to breathe again.
That day he put his seal to the pardon of the gypsy Esmeralda, giving out that God had told him that it was wrong to condemn the girl for an act of mercy, especially on a holy day. He did not care what was said in the streets – the hoi polloi were of no concern to him.
And so the days passed as Paris forgot their King of Fools and the defiant gypsy – but Claude watched and waited – every day he waited, every night a torture – waited for the day when Esmeralda would emerge. It was a windy morning; the sky was overcast, when word of her presence came to him, dancing in a benighted alley. He imagined her bare feet whirling in the filthy street. What should I do? Winter was coming to Paris – it was a month since the autumn festival… many starve in the snows…
Azriel was impatient as Claude mounted him, the black stallion tossing his head. "Yes, yes, soon…" he stroked the beast's dark mane with a gloved hand – perhaps reassuring himself just as much as the horse. Such unbearable anticipation was building in his chest; yet, he must remain calm and preserve his self-control. He could feel the tension in Azriel – the horse longed to gallop – but Claude reined him in harshly.
And there she was, as beautiful as he remembered, and he recalled Plato's words on the chariot of the soul – each possessed a white horse and a black horse – Honour and Lust. And he rode a black horse alone and there was the object of his attentions, hips swaying, elegantly tapping her tambourine. Witch! But he had no white horse to pull him back, so he walked Azriel forward.
Green eyes snapped upward, dark brows arching angrily. Claude's breathing quickened, but he rode the horse right past the gypsy girl, who spat at Azriel's hooves, uncurling a hand to drop several gold pieces into her tattered hat and said nothing as he passed, though he knew it was almost a week's worth of food to the girl. The temptress, he was sure, had continued to glare at him, but he rode on.
Once out of her sight, he almost felt as if he would collapse. But he took Azriel to the outskirts of the city, across the river, and let the beast have the freedom to race savagely across the fields, not seeing where he was headed or how far he rode. Man and horse equalled each other in the desire to simply go – and Azriel delighted in Claude's sudden agreement with his wishes.
That evening, aching all over from the gallop, Claude attempted to write an illiterate girl an epistle. Out of some bizarre sense of the absurdity of doing so, he wrote the thing in Latin instead of French.
Thoughts of you consume me. I cannot think of anything else but you, you burn within me. Constant, though you are not, are the flames of your beauty burning my soul. Please, I beg you, relieve me of this torment. God has forsaken me and now I have only you to reach for, a suppliant at your feet. Save me, beautiful Esmeralda, for I fear what will happen to me if you do not.
He folded the parchment, but did not seal it, then sent it out into the evening, in the hand of some wretch to pass it to another, to give to her.
Clopin handed Esmeralda a piece of paper, folded – expensive. "What's this?" she asked, bewildered by the ornate Latin script and who would send her such a thing. "Who is Claudius?"
Her friend shrugged, "A boy gave it to me, said it was for you – though I don't know who'd be fool enough to send a note to a gypsy."
Esmeralda clutched the letter to her chest – it was the first letter she had ever received. "I'll find someone to read it to me." Quasimodo, she knew, had been taught by the judge to read Latin and it was to the hunch-back that she took her letter. "Esmeralda!" he gasped, blushing, "I feared my Master had driven you away."
She grinned at him, "Not a chance – there's no way I'd be cowed by a bastard like Frollo. I just…" and now her voice lost its strength, and she gulped, hating her ignorance, "wondered if you would read this to me." She held out the letter.
Quasimodo took it – immediately recognising his Master's beautiful Latin characters. He gasped and dropped the letter. "What does it say?!" Esmeralda asked, frightened by the fear and confusion on the hunch-back's face.
He picked it back up, "It's… it's… a love letter," he whispered.
"All this fuss for a love letter…? Come on, Quasimodo, read it to me, then."
He read it aloud, voice trembling. Claudius – Claude… shocking to read the Latin version of his Master's Christian name. He couldn't tell her, couldn't betray his Master's secret. So I am not the only one who loves her from afar. It would be too cruel to tell her. Esmeralda's eyes were shining with the emotions expressed in the letter. "That's beautiful - I wonder if Claudius is his real name?"
The hunch-back sighed, so much for heathen wickedness. But in a strange way it was reassuring to know that Frollo had the same weakness for the gypsy as others did. And it meant that Quasimodo would not have to endure any more longwinded lectures on the immorality of gypsies. "Who knows?"
"Does it mean anything, the name Claudius?"
"It… it…" Quasimodo almost laughed nervously, "It means crippled or lame. I suppose the author could mean that he's… c-crippled by his love for you."
Esmeralda gave him a hard stare, "It's not you, is it?"
"No! I couldn't write like that! Don't be silly."
"Then who is it? This isn't Phoebus' style at all and no one else I know apart from you knows Latin anyway. Oh…" She sighed. "Thank you, in any case. I'm sure my mysterious admirer will reveal himself. Can you read it to me again?"
Winter came early that year, with bitter North winds and snows. Esmeralda had wrapped her hands and feet in old rags, but the wet snow soaked through and froze her skin. There was no money to be had by dancing, she survived by reading the fortunes of passers by – telling them the winter would not kill off their sick loved ones and would soon relax its grip on the city. Djali and she kept each other warm in the snow.
A figure drew near her, shrouded by a sable cloak, stark against the white street. "Hey, hey, good sir!" Esmeralda cried, "A silver for your fortune!"
The man turned to her, the dark hood obscuring his face. "A silver, you say?" It was a deep, aristocratic voice – a voice with money to spend.
"Just show me your hand, sir, and I'll tell your fortune." The man wavered, but eventually he handed her the money and pulled off his right glove. Esmeralda took it in both of hers, examining it carefully. A thin, pale hand, soft from little work, warm from under his glove – blue veins and wrinkles – this was not a young man. She traced the lines of his palm and he trembled, perhaps from her cold touch. "You have a long life line…" His vertical ambition line was very deep… traces of cruelty there, yes, and suffering… denial. "You deny yourself pleasure, sir. You have suffered..." And others have suffered you... But they never wanted to hear that. "And you have many responsibilities... and you love... you love someone with great passion..."
The gentleman gave a strangled cry and pulled his hand back as though her touch burnt him. "I did not mean to cause offense, sir..." She said, pitying his obvious distress.
"Tell me," her gentleman took a quivering breath, "have you somewhere warm to go home to?"
She hadn't seen any sign of charity in his palm or his manner, but that didn't mean it wasn't there. On the other hand, he could be one of those men who tried to make a whore of her, in which case... but this was the first sign of coin in a very long time. Esmeralda would hope for the best, and it things turned out otherwise, she would run. After all, she wasn't an innocent and there was always the knife hidden in her bodice. "No, sir, I haven't."
He pulled his glove back on and once more extended a hand. "Come, then..." he said simply. She put her hand in his and he led her through the streets, her tall, cloaked benefactor occasionally looking back at her and she caught a flash of arched nose and pale cheek. They were headed toward the centre of the city and he led her up a small snow-choked alleyway to the back entrance of a grand house. He knocked loudly and a maid answered the door. "Oh, Your Honour, I didn't expect – come in!"
Esmeralda couldn't help but sigh with pleasure as they entered a warm kitchen, smelling well-cooked bird – oh, and was that fresh white loaf on the table? "Take care of her," her gentleman ordered, ascending the stairs and unclasping his cloak, so that she caught sight of black and purple robe as he left. Surely not...?
"What's your name, love?" asked the old woman who had opened the door.
"Marthe, dear, now how about you sit yourself down and I dish you up some dinner?"
"That – that would be lovely." Marthe gave Esmeralda (chicken, duck, pheasant?) soup with soft bread and after she had eaten, she unbound the gypsy's feet and set them in a pan of steaming water off the brazier.
Full of food and blissfully warm, Esmeralda finally nerved herself up to ask, "Who was that gentleman that brought me here?"
"Why, that was the lord of this house, dear girl, Judge Claude Frollo."
Perhaps he didn't remember her? Perhaps it was just charity? Or perhaps she was now a prisoner and there were guards at every door?"W-we're in the Palace of Justice?"
"You came in the servants' way. I must say it was very odd for his lordship to do so... maybe he didn't want to frighten you, love." She gave Esmeralda a curious look, "Is there something wrong?"
Claude, his name was Claude? What if…? But this was the man who despised gypsies, who hunted them like beasts – why would he…? But she remembered being held, his hands around her like a vice, that crooked nose buried in her hair… "I was just imagining a rope around that beautiful neck…" But then there was that day he had thrown her gold coins with no explanation, just a disdainful glance… and now? She remembered the lines of passion in his bony hand. Is he trying to… court me? She had no idea what to do with that thought. "No, I'm fine, thank you."
Claude paced, back and forth, in front of the fire. She was in his kitchen eating his food and he had no idea what to do next. Surely the servants would have told her where she was? Should he send for her? Go down himself and confess everything to her? Be calm, be rational... The door creaked. "What?" he snapped, angry at being disturbed when his mind was so clouded with emotion.
"It's Esmeralda," the slim figure stepped out from the doorway. She walked slowly toward him and he thought it might be another dream sent by the heat of the fire. "I – I guess I need to thank you. For the meal..." She looked nervous, but determined, her eyes like fierce emeralds in the firelight.
He turned, unable to bear the sight of her, clasping his hands tight together behind him so they would not shake. "It is nothing, do not thank me." The fire was host to his most vile desires, had witnessed how they unmanned him, and now she was here with the fire and himself, come unknowing to the scene of his delirium.
The gypsy came close and warmed her hands at his fire. She took a letter from the recess of her garment. "Did you write this?" she asked gently, sensing that one wrong move would shatter his enforced equilibrium.
"Yes…" he choked, not taking the proffered letter, but reaching a hand to the mantelpiece for support.
Her face was set, "You hate gypsies. You hang them even when they commit no crime! Yet you claim to love me – a girl you would have killed."
"Your race is a plague upon this earth. Wicked and vile - yet I have succumbed to your unholy magic; I cannot close my eyes without seeing your face, you have stolen my resolve, my virtue – I have the most appalling thoughts toward you…"
Esmeralda was unsure what to do. The torment in his face was terrible to behold. He's probably never had a woman… But his power did not scare her – it never had – she was afraid of his anguish, of what it might turn into. What a wretched creature. She had baited the judge at the festival because it had been amusing to toy with him, sitting there stewing in sanctimonious arrogance. She had not thought of consequences, no one did on festival days, yet that one day had engendered so many… She put a hand on his shoulder and he shuddered at her touch. This man tortures my people – yet perhaps I have been given a chance to redeem us in his eyes? She made her decision.
Claude was stunned when her hand wrapped across his shoulder, even more so when her other hand came around and drew him to her. It was but an embrace, almost virtuous, but for the heat in his body and the impurity of his thoughts. "Say that I'm a gypsy rat – a plague witch – you've said it before. Surely you can say it still? Say it and I'll leave."
His power to speak had deserted him. The words hung unsaid in his throat. Instead, his fingers closed around her waist, not daring to move up or down, but holding her close. "I cannot," he breathed, "Those words too you have stolen from me."
Moving to kiss her, his nose impeded him, bumping hers, she laughed. They kissed, the fire throwing their bodies into sillouette, their long shadows entwined.