What if Claude Frollo had stepped in and admitted that he tried to kill Phoebus? A one-shot for now, but could become more if reviewers respond favorably. I purposely did not pick a specific version of Claude Frollo so that each person could imagine their favorite one.
The whole courtroom suddenly stood silent. The idea of sending Esmeralda to the torturer was too much for his conscience. Not wanting to hear her cries of pain on top of everything, Archdeacon Claude Frollo had cried out in protest and stepped forward.
"Dom Claude Frollo? You have an alibi for this woman who has spoken blasphemy against you?"
The shocked judge stared at him as he ran to Esmeralda's side.
"It's true," he whispered.
Esmeralda stared at him, stunned.
"She did not stab the Captain," Claude choked out, "I did it. I didn't kill him, but I meant to. He was going to take her innocence and he's a married man!"
"You…" Esmeralda hissed, voice laden with anger and disgust.
"I beg of you, release her! She has done nothing wrong! Nothing!"
Claude's voice was high-pitched and desperate.
"Very well…" the judge said, "then we shall hang her for witchcraft."
"There was none involved," he said, growing bolder, "I did it out of my own free will…jealousy perhaps, but I was perfectly aware of my actions. I'm only sorry I didn't miss."
"Oh, my God…" someone in the background muttered.
The others huddled together, whispering.
"We can't hang the archdeacon, can we?"
"No…the wrath of the Lord would be upon us…"
While they debated, Claude turned back to Esmeralda. Conflicting emotions flooded her face. He knelt at her feet, drawing back his hood. Such petty disguises and pretenses were unneeded.
"I could not see you hang," he pleaded, "please forgive me of the trouble I've caused…I only want you to know how much I love you…I could not bear to see you harmed at someone else's hands."
Esmeralda stared down at him. His fate hung in the balance of the judge's hands now.
"Is this what you call love? This murdering, raping monstrosity that has possessed you? You know nothing of love, archdeacon. Of that, I am certain!"
He clung to her skirts like a frightened child.
"If you cannot love me and you cannot forgive me, at least try," he begged, "one day…please try and find it in your heart…whatever becomes of me then, I will gladly bear that cross. I don't deserve you and I know that now."
Her expression softened just the slightest bit.
"Let the girl go," the judge ordered, and Esmeralda fled from the chair. Claude remained prostrate on the floor.
"Dom Claude Frollo, stand!" the judge ordered. Trembling, Claude obeyed.
"You are found guilty of attempted murder. I sentence you to be publicly whipped and exiled from the cathedral for three months. If, by some miracle, you can straighten yourself up, you may go before the bishop and plead your case. Be warned that you may never return. Are you still willing to take the blame?"
Claude bowed his head.
"Yes, your Honor."
"Bailiff, take him away! See that he gets the full forty!"
"Yes, sir," the bailiff said. The guards dragged the archdeacon from the room. When his eyes locked with Esmeralda's, they were filled with tears.
It was terrible. It was worse than terrible. Esmeralda wanted to be anywhere in the world but this place. But try as she might, she could not make herself run away and was drawn into the crowd instead. She found herself pushed to the very front. Beside her stood Pierre, the poet, and Clopin, the gypsy king. Both of them felt that the archdeacon should have been hanged and they shouted obscenities at him. Esmeralda could only stare in horror as his scarlet red robes were ripped off of him and tossed aside. He was stripped until his upper half was exposed and his hands were tied to the whipping post.
The lash struck his back and a dark red line of blood appeared. Esmeralda swallowed against the bitterness that rose up in her throat. The sound of impact was sickening. More and more lines appeared and the droplets of blood began to stain the gray stone. His breath became ragged as the pain really sank in and the tears flowed freely. He was shaking so hard that he could hardly stay standing. Even when his legs buckled beneath him, the bindings on his wrists held him in place. Esmeralda had lost count of the strikes.
She saw the other cleric at the front of the crowd, the one that didn't like her or Quasimodo. His mouth was open in shock as he stared at Claude. A searing look of hatred came from his dark eyes when he turned his gaze on her. It was childish, she knew, but she stuck her tongue out at him. He had caused at least half of this mess! If he hadn't arrested her again, most of the trouble might have been avoided. The man doing the whipping wiped the sweat from his brow and continued.
"See the way he looks at you…even now?" the gypsy king said coyly. Sure enough, Claude was craning his neck to look at Esmeralda. The look was the most pathetic one she'd ever seen. The rope was chafing his wrists in addition to the damage done to his back. Through the red haze of pain, however, she was the only thing he cared watch. The other faces of the crowd were ugly and cruel, but hers…was that a small amount of pity seeping through?
Someone cut the bindings and Claude dropped like a sack of stones to the ground. Someone kicked him in the side and the crowd laughed and jeered. He felt things being thrown from all directions. The best he could do was curl into a ball and wait for it all to pass.
Despite the awful pain that came in waves, he was actually relieved. The pain cleansed him, healed him. He had paid for the blood he shed by shedding some of his own. He had spared Esmeralda from physical harm, though he knew there had been psychological torment as well. Those things, he could not take away.
He felt, rather than heard, the crowd disperse. The show was over. They were bored. Dark was approaching and the chilly air did not make his wounds feel any better. He shuddered violently…there was no where to go. There was no way to get himself patched up.
He was an outsider, just like the gypsies.
Footsteps approached him. He knew that awkward gate anywhere.
"Quasimodo, what are you doing out here?"
Claude's voice sounded pathetic and broken from weeping. He felt Quasimodo trying to get him to sit up; the hunchback could not understand him unless he could read Claude's lips.
"What are you doing out here?" Claude repeated more slowly.
"You are hurt. I came to help you."
He hoisted Claude over his shoulder despite Claude's protests. He hauled him away from the public square and to the small dock by the water. Claude felt dizzy and sick to his stomach. When Quasimodo finally set him down, Claude actually did retch a couple of times. Quasimodo was careful not to touch his back and instead patted his shoulder for comfort. With a resigned sigh, Claude just lay flat on the cool wood. He was too exhausted, too sick, and in too much pain to go on.
He became aware of Quasimodo spreading a blanket over his back.
"Stay there, Master. I will be right back."
Claude closed his eyes. The sound of the water lapping past comforted him somewhat. Regardless of how badly he felt, he knew that Esmeralda was safe. That was all that mattered.
"Over here," Quasimodo said, dragging someone else by the sleeve. Claude's eyelids fluttered open for a fraction of a second, then closed again. The blanket was removed and a hiss of sympathy came from seeing the lash-marks. A cold rag touched the wounds and he flinched violently.
"Master, hold still," Quasimodo said, pinning his shoulders down.
The wounds all burned like Hellfire and Claude groaned in pain. Then, a second substance was being put on. It was thicker and soothed the inflamed flesh. Feeling Claude relax, Quasimodo released him.
"It's going to leave a lot of scars, but I don't think these will get infected now," a familiar voice said.
Claude turned his head and forced his eyes to open. Though the image that swam before him was blurry, he could just make out the poet's face.
"What are you doing here?" he croaked.
"I'm here as a favor," Pierre answered, "I asked you to save Esmeralda and you did. You must really care about her."
"I do," Claude said through clenched teeth—he was still quite sore.
Just then, a handkerchief blotted out his vision for a moment. The cold cloth felt good on his hot, sticky face where sweat and tears had mingled. The rest of the world seemed quite far away, strange and dreamlike, but one voice pierced the darkening haze in his mind. It was a voice he'd longed to hear with words he'd longed to hear.
His violently shaking hand closed around hers and a contented sigh escaped his throat.