It was only morning and already Agnes's skin was baking underneath the hot sun. Her nose and forehead had a ruddy hue and her hair was made heavier by perspiration. But there was a decent sized crowd and so she moved to a convenient spot where she could be seen as well as stay out of the crowd's general traffic. Agnes began to perform. Her dancing was still middling, but her movements were so animated that no one noticed. Her bare toes kicked up clouds of dust while she twirled, pranced and capered, her tambourine jingling to her own improvised tune. She was vaguely aware that as her tambourine bells chimed, so did the cathedral bells. The routine ended when Agnes collapsed into a somewhat graceful heap on the ground. She collected her earnings after that, satisfied with the results.
Agnes noticed Clopin sitting in his newly acquired, brightly painted cart. Hungover from yesterday's wedding celebration, the gypsy king winced each time the giant bells clanged.
"Hell's bells," he grouched. "Instruments of Lucifer, that's what they are! Wretched things! It hurts my head." Clopin sighed with a remorseful shake of the head. "I don't mean that. I love the bells, honest I do! So help me, I'm never drinking again." He covered his face with his hands. "I don't mean that either. Blast! What is it now?" A chattering cluster of youngsters had gathered around the wagon. "Not now, children, not now! Clopin just needs to rest his eyes." He peered at Agnes through his fingers. "Entertain them until this damnable headache goes away and- What, what, what are you pointing to? The puppets?" Agnes shook her head and pointed vehemently to the brass rings. "Fine!" Clopin pushed aside his collection of puppets and grabbed the rings. He grouchily shoved them into Agnes's hands, and Agnes, in return, made a cheeky humph sound. Inwardly she was pleased with her foster father's good-natured grumpiness. That was almost how it used to be.
Agnes took the rings and briskly clapped her hands to get the children's attention. She began to juggle. The rings gleamed underneath the bright sun and soon became a golden blur as Agnes juggled faster and faster. She then caught the rings and made a deep bow. The children applauded politely, but glanced eagerly back at Clopin because- and Agnes had to agree- stories and puppet shows were much more entertaining than juggling. But Clopin's was still muttering to himself as he massaged his temples; it was clear that there would be no more amusement that day.
Agnes then saw Quasimodo approaching the wagon. So did Clopin.
"Ahha!" Clopin barked and he flinched at the loudness of his own voice. "Here comes my tormenter!"
Quasimodo either did not hear the gypsy king's remark or just decided it was best to ignore it. He nodded courteously at Agnes. She knew why he was there. It was better, she decided, to just get it over and done with. Agnes locked eyes with the bell-ringer and nodded affirmably. She then retreated to the back of the wagon, nervous and fearful that Clopin would reject her suitor.
"I don't know the correct way to do this," the bell-ringer began. "But I'm going to regard your customs, even though your ways are unfamiliar to me." It was good that he spoke in a tone that was mollifying. "I gather that it is appropriate to discuss matters with the girl's father."
"Ah." Agnes could tell that Clopin was pleased by the bell ringer's courteous manner. She envisioned her foster father running a hand along his goateed chin. "Come in, come in. The door is in the back." She could hear him bustling inside the wagon. The hinges creaked as Clopin opened the small door. He set out a small stepstool. "I imagine that you're not surprised by this?" the gypsy king wryly asked Agnes.
"No," Quasimodo answered for her, "because I had proposed to her last night. And she said yes." There was now a small hint of defiance in his tone. The bell-ringer stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Agnes sat on the stool.
"So," she heard Clopin say. "You and my daughter." There was a long pause.
"I know I don't deserve her."
"That may be," Clopin said somberly. "After all, she's a lady of the Court- the Court of Miracles, that is- as well as a king's daughter." Clopin's tone turned gracious. "But I am pleased by how you hold her in such high esteem. Not many would. That's a good sign- It shows that you intend to cherish my little lamb. And she likes you. My Agnes isn't the kind of girl who walks around in a lovesick daze, but I've noticed a particular gleam shining in her eyes. Her mother was like that."
There was a certain degree of sorrow hidden in those last few words. Agnes heard it and Quasimodo must have detected it as well because he said, "Tell me about her."
"What? Bernice? Oh, she was spirited girl. Charming… Mischievous… Looked a lot like Agnes, but fairer skinned, and a bit shorter and plumper. Flaxen haired."
"Brown eyes," Clopin corrected. "And she died young, much too young."
"I don't want your pity." Clopin was stern again, having quickly regained his composure. It was as if showing signs of sentiment made him feel vulnerable. "You didn't come here to listen to me reminiscing, You came here because you want to wed my daughter. You're a good man who will treat my Agnes well. But there are certain things that I must know before I grant permission. Tell me, Quasimodo, just how do you plan on supporting my daughter?"
"The archdeacon promised me wages for bell ringing, as well as chores. And if that's not enough, I can peddle small toys."
Clopin hastened to the next question. "And where do you plan on living? Surely, not the cathedral towers! If you think that I want my grandchildren running around up there-"
"I have discussed this with Phoebus and Esmeralda. They have agreed that Agnes and I can have the upstairs while they have the downstairs. Esmeralda said that after years of living in cramped quarters, a house like Phoebus's would seem far too spacious."
Quasimodo then said, "Agnes once explained to me about bride prices-"
"There is no bride price," Clopin resolutely declared.
"I don't understand."
"Then let me explain. You saved Esmeralda from a horrible death. Not only that, but you saved my Agnes as well. You… don't know what she was like after Frollo got his hands on her. Oh, physically she recovered. But emotionally, she was dying. Then she met you and life returned. So you see, Quasimodo, I may be a charlatan, but I'm an honorable charlatan. If you want to wed a king's daughter, so be it. And besides, there is something that you are forgetting."
"And what's that?"
"That you yourself were once a king."
Author's note: Okay! This story is almost done! Just one more chapter followed by an epilogue.