The Setting: 1982 movie-verse (I just find the Derek Jacobi version of Claude Frollo much easier to work with than the Disney Claude Frollo) The original characters belong to Victor Hugo and whoever wrote the scripts. Elizabeth and all other OC's from here on out are mine.
Esmeralda chooses the archdeacon over the gallows, much to everyone's surprise. Fleeing Paris was the easy part—now, they're stuck with each other for better or worse. It's amazing what a trip to Jehan's will change. Jehan/OC and CF/E
"I can still save you…even now…" he had whispered.
The rope seemed to tighten around her neck though no one had touched it in the last five seconds. With her hands bound behind her back and no hope for a future left, her head bowed. That was all it took. Claiming that there was hope for her salvation, Claude began to argue heatedly with the executioner and the soldiers. He demanded that a signed order be shown to him and that all the necessary preparations had not been made. Dumbstruck, they had to get Esmeralda down from the stool and untie her. She sagged onto the wood platform, dizziness rapidly overtaking her.
Then, he turned and saw what she had seen just seconds earlier. Phoebus, thinking he wouldn't be noticed, was watching through a window. Beside him, breasts almost uncovered by the blanket she held, was a young blonde woman. Rage boiled his insides. It should have been him…he couldn't believe that this womanizing rat had lived. Phoebus immediately realized his blunder and pulled back.
"There's your traitorous Captain Phoebus right there!" he snarled.
The others had spotted him. Guards surged towards the house, not willing to toy with the powerful archdeacon. In the chaos, he seized Esmeralda and dragged her back into the cathedral. Where no one could see, he pressed her into the wall to hold her upright. His own legs were shaking violently.
"Listen to me," he said firmly, "I need absolute obedience from here on! We have got until sundown to get out of Paris or you can still potentially be hanged for witchcraft even though the captain lives. Understood?"
"Yes," she choked out.
He grabbed her hand, grabbing a few meager supplies in his haste. Eventually, he knew, someone would discover the missing money, but he intended to be as far away from here as he could get.
There was no one in the stables, thankfully, and someone had conveniently left the black mare with the white stockings saddled. He had to help Esmeralda into the saddle first, then he swung up behind her. She shuddered when she realized that he would have to touch her for more than a few seconds. Her back was pressed firmly against her front and he would have to keep his arms around her to steer the horse.
Well, at least I won't get cold, she thought bitterly.
The horse bolted forward and the streets of Paris began to fly by. The horse was accustomed to Claude's robes, but they were now whipping out behind him in a way that had spooked her. Claude didn't object; they needed the animal to hurry.
They at last reached the city gates, but by the time anyone in the towers noticed, they were long gone. The road unfolded before them, a packed-hard dirt path with the grooves of wagon wheels and the pits of a thousand horse's hooves. Eventually, their tracks would be indistinguishable from all the others. It was hard going for the mare, but Claude would turn her off of the road once they'd gone a bigger distance. Esmeralda could hear him breathing hard against her as if he were the one doing the running. She wondered why he seemed to be exerting so much energy when he was only sitting still. She herself felt very drained.
The sun set behind them. There were towns ahead, but Claude refused to stop. After the third one they came to, Esmeralda was getting a little irritated. What did this man have against going to bed?
Then, she realized the possibility of what might happen if they did. She tried not to be ungrateful again, even in her thoughts.
Sometime long ago, he had slowed the mare into a trot, then she decided she only wanted to walk. The horse's fatigue was definitely getting noticeable. Claude didn't force her to go any faster for the time being. It seemed that his mind was somewhere else. Even the stars started to abandon them as clouds began to build up from the north. She wondered what would happen now if it started to storm.
Thankfully, the horse seemed to suddenly know where they were headed. Without the slightest movement on the reins, her pace quickened and she hurried down the hill towards a small house. Though it must be very late, there was still a lamp lit somewhere. Someone inside must have heard the horse, for the door flung open and the shadowy figure of a man raced outside.
"Claude! As I live and breathe! You do still exist! Them Bible-thumpers in that cathedral been keeping you busy, I suppose? And who's this pretty young thing? She can't be a nun!"
Rough, calloused hands pulled Esmeralda out of the saddle. She cringed away when the person kissed her on the cheek. Claude's expression was one of immediate displeasure. He slid down from the saddle quickly though it was clear he was stiff from sitting for so long.
"Esmeralda," Claude said, using her name for the first time, "this is my brother, Jehan."
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were ashamed of me," Jehan remarked, "you both look tired. Get yourselves into some trouble?"
"It's quite a long story," Claude muttered.
"Well, why don't you take her inside? You know where the extra room is. I'll get this horse put up for the night."
"Thank you," the priest replied gratefully. He gave Esmeralda a look and she knew it meant "follow me". Jehan seemed okay, but she did not want to stay in this house. She did not want to be left alone with Claude Frollo for a moment. Of course, she did not know his name was Claude—to her, he was still just "the archdeacon".
They went up a narrow, rickety staircase to a set of small rooms. They were clean enough, but quite shabby. The bedcovers must have been years old and the place had definitely seen better days. The room had a distinct air of being disused.
Esmeralda stood there wondering what she would sleep in. She didn't want to undress and it was too cold anyway. He really couldn't expect her to sleep in her corset and gown, could he?
Just then, someone appeared at the door. She was a heftier woman, solidly built with a heavy hip and bottom. She was balanced out well by her very well endowed top. Even her face and her hair had curves! A woman like this could have gotten plenty of offers to marry, thought Esmeralda. She had laughing brown eyes and a crafty smile.
"Ah, you must be Claude," she said, clapping her hands together, "…oh, I'm forgetting my manners, aren't I? Hmm…what was it? Oh! You're the archdeacon, aren't you? You'll have to forgive me, I'm not accustomed to priests visiting our home."
"Our home? You mean to say that Jehan has taken you for a wife?" Claude asked. Esmeralda wanted to laugh then at the astonished look on his face. The woman didn't even have the decency to put a robe on over her ill-fitting nightgown, so every bulge and curve in her voluptuous body was visible.
"No, sir," she said, unashamed, "we're on a different arrangement of sorts. Jehan takes care of me and I take care of him. Why, if we married, that would mean I'd have to do what he says! The very idea!"
Esmeralda couldn't help herself then. Claude's expression was so incredulous that she burst out laughing.
"Besides," the woman continued, "I'm not fond of screaming babes. I'll cook, I'll clean, I'll even muck stables, but I will NOT wash dirty diapers. I finally got Jehan all to myself and I prefer it to stay that way."
She turned to Esmeralda.
"Pardon me, miss," she excused herself for not including Esmeralda in the conversation, "may I ask what your name is?"
"Esmeralda," she responded, still amused by Claude's discomfort.
"Esmeralda. That's quite a nice name. It's so much more interesting than mine. I'm only Elizabeth."
Claude wanted to snort. An English woman? That explained it!
"If you'll come with me, I can get you some night clothes," she told Esmeralda, "they'll be awfully big for you, but I'm sure you can manage. Corsets are bad enough to wear during the day—you mustn't suffer at night as well. And, uh…sir, I'll be back with a gown for you as well. Thankfully, you and Jehan aren't much different in size."
Esmeralda decided she liked Elizabeth already.
"So, dear, tell me, what's brought you to our home? Are you expecting?"
Esmeralda laughed despite the bluntness of the question.
"No," she admitted, "we are nothing more than strangers to each other. He did save my life…"
Elizabeth grinned as she placed the folded nightgown into Esmeralda's hands.
"Ah…so he does stand a chance," she teased.
"No…the truth is that I really can't stand him," Esmeralda confessed in a low whisper, "he's been trying to get me for some time now, but I don't want him. He's forceful and has no respect for my wishes. And he…"
She didn't know why she was so quick to tell Elizabeth about what had transpired, but she trusted her. Elizabeth only nodded as Esmeralda whispered—she didn't want either of the men to hear.
"Goodness," Elizabeth muttered, "if I'd had that much power over a man, I'd have milked it for everything I could! Sure, he made a mess of it all, but he was willing to kill another man who, from the sound of it, was a right pig to you."
"Yes…but am I a terrible person for being angry with him? I've felt nothing but anger and hatred and disgust since I discovered his true intentions. I can't even be grateful for fear he'll try to force himself on me again."
"Give it time, dear. He's never loved before, at least according to Jehan. He doesn't know what he's doing and you must teach him. Like it or not, fate, or God, whatever you want to call it, has thrown you together. You're all each other has now. Think about what he's giving up for you—it's unlikely he'll be greeted with open arms if he returns to the cathedral. They'll never trust him again because he ran away. There will be more trouble for him than there can possibly be for you. You're lucky—you know how to survive on the streets. The archdeacon does not; his hands are pale and smooth, a sign he's never done hard labor a day in his life. It's going to be a road of Hell for him. For all we know, he could even give up on his God. If he does, you're the only one who can hold him together."
Esmeralda made a face. It was a lot to expect from someone who's life had been ruined.
"I'm not saying I condone his actions," Elizabeth said, "take it from me that the whole family has a tendency to over-dramatize everything. Every single one in the Frollo family exhibits histrionic tendencies. They're all absolute fools sometimes, but they start with good intentions. He didn't handle it well at all, but he could change with your help."
She leaned in closer.
"Besides…think of the fun of it," she teased, "a priest…forbidden fruit! He's completely untouched, which means you can show him what to do!"
Esmeralda turned about six shades of red.
"Don't have a stroke, girl, I was only joking," Elizabeth said, realizing she'd stepped much too far over the line, "I should probably give you a gown for him…here we've been talking and you both are probably exhausted."
She gave Esmeralda the other gown and Esmeralda retreated from the room quickly. When she returned to the room, Claude was not there. She could hear him talking to Jehan downstairs and breathed a sigh of relief. She wouldn't have to change in front of him. As quickly as she could, she took off her corset, then the dress underneath. She shimmied into the oversized gown and was grateful that none of her womanly curves were visible under the material. Elizabeth was easily twice her weight and breadth. Shivering, she slid beneath the covers.
When Claude finally escaped from Jehan and came upstairs, she pretended to be asleep. She watched him from one eye opened ever so slightly. She quickly closed it if he glanced in her direction.
She watched the robes slide away from his body. He laid them carefully over the back of the chair. The gloves came first, then the outer robe, then the inner robe. As the black and white materials with their elaborate trim were shed, she realized more and more that he was just a man. No matter his profession, he was still flesh and blood underneath his holy trappings. Somehow, knowing his true name made her understand even more that he was only a man.
At last, he stood only in his underclothes. The soft white material fit close to his body and he looked much thinner without the bulk of the robes. Without the black skullcap on, the tonsure at the back of his head was exposed. Somehow, he seemed vulnerable without the priests' trappings. In time, the shaved hair at the back of his head would grow back and no one would ever know where he had come from.
He slid the nightgown over his head and blew out the candle. The storm was holding off, though the air was unpleasantly still and damp. He knelt at the bedside and folded his hands. She listened to him whispering his prayers and she saw the crucifix pendant still clasped among his pale, thin fingers. A strange feeling came over her as if she were somehow violating him by listening in on his private moment with God. He assumed, of course, that she was fast asleep and would not hear.
"I don't know what to do," he admitted to God, if He was listening, "…I never expected it to go this far…I don't know where to go or how to provide for her…I hope it was your will and not mine…if it wasn't, please forgive me."
His voice was trembling now.
"I know you are there," he shivered, "but I am frightened just the same…I know no life outside the cathedral…I always thought I was safe from the world and its sins, but now I am dwelling right in the midst of it. Please, oh, God, help me, for I cannot do this on my own! I don't have the strength!"
Was he crying?
"Please…help me make it right in whatever ways I can…she does not love me and I was a fool to think that she would after all I've done…but let her try! I know I don't deserve it…I always have known…and if she never forgives me, it's a cross I'll bear, for I know I did not allow her to die for my sin! I'm so confused, God…so confused…"
He sniffed and Esmeralda knew then that they were real tears. She tried to block out the rest of the prayer, for the pity was growing despite all the hatred.
She was thankful when he finally stopped praying and regained his composure. When he lay down beside her, his fingertips only grazed her cheek for a fraction of a second. He stayed a respectable distance away and did not touch her the rest of the night. Eventually, she really did fall asleep.
And so was the first night on their journey….