Chapter 12

Tearing the Masks

Esmeralda, Djali at her side, shouldered her way into Notre Dame, throwing her weight against the heavy, massive doors. It was strange to suddenly find herself in the serene interior. The thick walls muffled the cries and shouts outdoors, and instead of blazing torches, now only a few dim candles flickered in a faraway aisle.

Esmeralda paused for a quick breath, and took a hurried glance around. Upon the floor there were spatters of blood and a candelabra lay sprawled in the pathway where it had been knocked down in the fight. The cathedral was strangely empty, all things considered, but as Esmeralda's eyes adjusted to the dimness she detected a kneeling figure at the altar beneath the rose window.

"The Archdeacon." The good man had not forgotten Quasimodo; at least he knew the truth. "But all the prayers in the world won't help unless someone helps God out," Esmeralda told herself as she pulled a candle from a half-lit candelabra. "I only hope I can."

With the candle tight in her grasp, Esmeralda rushed up the old stairway to the belltower three steps at a time, Djali struggling to keep up. "This is a crazy plan, but it has to work." She knew that, although they had been quick to listen to La Gudule's accusation against Quasi, the villagers were in such chaos that most of them would never hear the nun take back her words, even if they wanted to.

"That's why we have to get their attention."

Esmeralda at last reached the landing. Quasi's room, she saw, was disheveled; he had evidently been roused from his sleep when he went to bravely help La Gudule. His nightshirt even still lay across the floor, near a trio of gargoyles.

Esmeralda had been up here so often in the past months, but in her talks with Quasi she had failed to be particularly observant, and never had she been here when Quasi rang the bells. "I have to make sure he has the chance to ring them again," she told Djali. "Ugh, if only I'd paid attention!" She grit her teeth with frustration and scanned the room for a place to leave her candle. Then, carefully, she made her way over to the great bronze bells.

They loomed over her, larger than they had ever seemed before. Standing under the shadow of the gigantic Big Marie, Esmeralda happened to glance over the edge of the cathedral: from here, she could plainly see the view below, and in the distance, she thought she saw a small white dot hurrying to the Palace of Justice.

Phoebus and Achilles. Esmeralda could only hope Phoebus were able to get Quasi out before the hangman arrived at dawn. "Yet it will be of no use unless La Gudule takes back her accusations!"

And so she hurried onward, picking her way carefully in the dark, to little Anne-Marie. "When someone is in danger, for instance, I am ordered to ring Anne-Marie – the little one there – ten times." Esmeralda remembered that clearly and – well, down in the square, she had thought she could do it too. But now, she bit her lip. "Quasi made it seem so easy!" She wasn't even sure which rope was Anne-Marie's – there were half a dozen here, all thicker than Esmeralda's arm!

She couldn't help it. Her heart was starting to beat faster. She thought she had known fear – just months before, she was facing death herself! But the fear for someone else, someone totally helpless, was different – you couldn't talk yourself out of it or become resigned to it. It was a bolder fear, a fear that would not surrender, a fear that taunted.

But though this fear made Esmeralda cold, and her knees weak, it also made her angry. And if the fear tried to stop her, the anger pushed her on.

Esmeralda reached out and grabbed onto the nearest rope with both hands. It just barely gave even under all her force.

"Ugh, you stupid bell. Ring!" Esmeralda cried, and again, with both fists wound tightly around the bellrope, she pulled. Again, the bell scarcely moved.

Suddenly a shout erupted in the street. Esmeralda didn't care what it meant, yet it spurred her on.

"How does Quasi do it?" she panted, drawing a heavy breath from her exertion. Why, of course Quasi was a strong man now, but he had told her he had rung the bells since he was a child. She stared up at Anne-Marie, thinking of all the times Quasi set the tower singing, all bells ringing at once as he leapt merrily through the rafters, as if they were moving on their own –

"That's it! Of course!" Esmeralda cried, looking at Djali with triumph. She had said it herself. "Who says Anne-Marie is not alive? She sings, doesn't she? She dances, doesn't she? I've never seen such graceful swaying, at least." If she wanted Anne-Marie to sing, well, she'd have to get her "dancing."

Backing up a few steps, Esmeralda rushed forward, leapt into the air, and clasped on to the bellrope, holding on, dangling in the air herself, and casting her entire weight onto the cord. Anne-Marie dipped, and a low hum came from within the depths of the bell. Again, Esmeralda flung herself on the rope, and now Anne-Marie swayed back and forth. The great clapper struck once, softly, against the bell's side. "She's moving," Esmeralda gasped, and again, threw her weight down on the bell's rope. Anne-Marie moved even more, whipping the rope back and forth, and ringing now in earnest.

"One," Esmeralda whispered. She pulled the rope. Anne-Marie sang out. "Two."

"The bells are used to say things, as well. There's a sort of bellringer's code."

"Three."

"When someone is in danger, for instance, I am ordered to ring Anne-Marie ten times…"

"Four."

"So that means you have saved people, then, Quasimodo?"

"Five."

Down in the crowd, Gringoire could scarcely believe his ears. "You – you are Esmeralda's MOTHER?"

"She was like my child, and she helped me to see the truth.

"Well then, my good woman, come!"

"Six."

Down in the church, the Archdeacon knelt in the reflection of the rose window, and raised his head at the sound of the bells.

"Seven."

"The monks and priests can pray for salvation…. God saves them and the priests ask God."

"Eight."

" 'The voice of the Lord is in power;' that's what the bell means."

"Nine."

Down in the square, the townspeople were silent, save for quiet murmurings of "Danger?" "Who is in the belltower?" "But Quasimodo is imprisoned!"

Gringoire leapt up onto the podium of the gallows, and pulled La Gudule after him.

"Ten."

Anne-Marie was almost ringing herself now, and Esmeralda sat down in the bell's shadow, under her resonant clanging, to breathe. She had no idea how to stop the bell, but if Anne-Marie had something more to say, who was Esmeralda to stop her?

-X-

The first few clangs had silenced Jehan, du Moulin, and his soldiers, but they quickly recovered their military senses; if anything, the bells had reminded them of their job at hand. And so, in the pale mingling of moon and sunlight upon the horizon, they burst into Quasimodo's cell.

The found him at the window. Face to bars, Quasimodo had been listening, scarcely breathing, to the cries of Anne-Marie.

He had never before heard the bells from down below.

As if that weren't change enough, the question of 'who could it be?' flitted briefly across his mind, until he knew. "Esmeralda!" he had breathed, staring in astonishment at the cathedral in the distance. But how – oh, she was so intelligent and strong if she could ring Anne-Marie alone, and she must have truly listened to his explanation of the danger signal! She delivered it perfectly.

What a woman.

But why was she ringing them? He figured it must have been a part of Phoebus, Clopin, and Pierre's plan.

So when he heard the prison doors open, and saw a shaft of light appear in the dark corridors, he turned, expecting to see the face of a friend.

Instead, he saw the harsh and unkind face of a soldier he did not know, and the face of Frollo's brother.

Quasimodo's own face changed from relief to horror. Jehan noticed this, and laughed out loud – a sharp, easy laugh.

"I suppose you expect that other captain, eh, Quasimodo?"

"Jehan." Quasimodo glowered, and Jehan, frowning, took a step backwards. For, as you will recall, Jehan had never before seen Quasimodo angry (but then, Quasimodo had never before seen Jehan as he truly was). In fact, the look frightened him, as if he were facing a wild beast.

Fortunately, M. du Moulin's presence gave him a version of courage. Again the boy smiled, and again Quasi snarled.

"Y-you blame me!" Quasi cried.

"For what?"

"For hurting La Gudule! But we both know the truth. I know the truth about everything now, Jehan."

"I have no idea what you are talking about Quasimodo, but I think I'm finding out the truth now. I and the townspeople should have listened when my brother called you a monster. It's easy enough for you to be kind to the people you admire – like impressive military captains and beautiful gypsy girls – and yet when you want something, your mask of kindness is thrown off. I suppose you thought no one would suspect you for trying to kill La Gudule. After all, she always hated you and the gypsies."

Quasimodo winced as his hands were doubled back behind him, awkwardly bent across his hunchback. How could Jehan be so wicked? How could he even imagine such lies?

"Well hunchback," M. du Moulin hissed as he clasped the shackles round Quasi's wrists and ankles, "the truth will come out at your trial." The city's version of a trial consisted of proving the accursed innocent with a credible witness, a final joke at a reprieve before death. Yet Quasi knew no valid witness would stand – it was his word against La Gudule's, and La Gudule would always triumph, especially if Jehan supported her.

"Quite right, Quasi," Jehan grinned. "What was it my brother used to say?" he cocked his head, like a bird of prey, and looked right into Quasi's face. The hunchback snarled, an utterly loveless look, and despite his display, Jehan shuddered again.

"Your brother used to say, "The truth shall set you free."

Jehan said nothing more; he stepped back and allowed the soldiers to hand Quasimodo out the damaged doorway.

Quasimodo had intended to remain silent, to utter not a single word, lest he somehow satisfied Jehan on the way to the gallows. But the scene outside the prison filled him with despair.

"Phoebus!" he cried out at the sight of the strong captain, now bound in iron shackles as unforgiving as his own. Another look showed him Clopin and the gypsies equally restrained. (Clopin had been gagged in addition, as his witty retorts and very precise curses had ceased to be funny long ago.)

Phoebus looked miserable, but tried to put on a brave face for Quasi. "Don't stop fighting! There's still hope!" He gave Quasimodo a single look, full of meaning, but it was then that du Moulin struck Phoebus with the hilt of his sword, causing the captain to cry out in pain. At this cry, Jehan gave another laugh, and in his usual way, he strode over to Phoebus casually. "Du Moulin," he observed, "I think it would be beter if these criminals, in order to better understand the futility of rebelling against the King and the law, should be present at Quasimodo's execution."

"Quite right, Monsieur Frollo." He signaled to his men to fetch another cart for Phoebus and the gypsies, and a group of soldiers dispatched immediately.

Quasimodo felt tears spring to his eyes to look at his friends, and he did not remove his stare from Phoebus even as he was hauled roughly into the executioner's cart. All of this was my fault – all of it! Ah, Phoebus – now I know why Esmeralda trusted you.

But what did the captain mean with his words and look? "There's still hope!" Quasimodo could not understand. What hope was left?

-X-

Just as Phoebus and the gypsies had been hauled into the cart at the Palace of Justice, the bell in Notre Dame died down, and with it the voices of the Paris crowd. Now all their eyes were on the gallows, where, instead of the hunchback and the executioner, stood the crazy nun of Notre Dame, La Gudule, and a man in a purple cape whom many of them did not recognize, or recalled only as a vague memory from long ago.

Indeed, Gringoire stood on the podium, his lips dry. Many times had he performed upon a stage, but never to such an ambiguous crowd. The faces there were void of expression – would they cheer him, or tear him to shreds once they heard his words?

"But I'm not the one in danger of execution," he reminded himself. He remembered the unfairness of the gypsy trial he had faced just weeks before, and the fear and apprehension he had felt then, knowing this false trial would be so much the worse. That was enough to give him courage.

"Citizens of Paris!" he called out.

No one blinked. Gringoire fidgeted.

"Uh…lovely weather we are having tonight…"

He felt himself elbowed sharply by La Gudule.

"Right…citizens of Paris, lend me your ear. You have heard Notre Dame crying for its master and weeping for his return. And why shouldn't Our Lady of Paris weep? Because a great injustice has been done here this night." Gringoire paused as he caught sight of Esmeralda emerging from the cathedral. He then looked at the audience. Many of them remained impassive, and yet – was it his imagination running wild with him again, or did he detect a tinge of sympathy there?

"Quasimodo has done you no wrong, don't you see? A single woman, in a dark church, accused him in her fear – but is that any reason he should die? Who wakes you and guides you with the bells? Quasimodo! Who saved you from the merciless destruction of Judge Claude Frollo? Quasimodo! Who tends to your children with the sweetness of a saint, and to the very birds of the cathedral eaves? Quasimodo! You scream he is a devil, but I beg of you to stop and think for yourselves! You've heard enough of demons and of angels, so consider – which is Quasimodo?"

Well, this speech was certainly better than his impromptu demon possession an hour or so before; he was, after all, a poet, so if ever he hoped to command a crowd with his eloquence, now was the time! Gringoire took another opportunity to steal a glance at Esmeralda, and if he had looked but a few moments sooner, he would have seen her steadily staring back, her green eyes shining with hope and glinting with determination.

But now, her glance was far in the distance. Gringoire followed her eyes, and soon understood why she stood shocked and dismayed. For rolling into the square were two wooden carts; one bearing Captain Phoebus and the captured gypsies, the other Quasimodo and the executioner. Behind, riding horses, was Captain du Moulin, his soldiers, and Jehan Frollo.

The crowd gasped, unsure what to think. A few stragglers cheered, but most remained silent. Esmeralda cried out, "Phoebus!" and rushed towards the cart, but was knocked backward by a quick swipe of du Moulin's armored forearm.

Beside him, Gringoire heard La Gudule mutter a bitter curse. He still believed it a miracle she had been so quickly won to their side – he only hoped she would stay true to her word and speak before the guards.

Phoebus saw du Moulin knock Esmeralda back, and never before had he felt so utterly helpless, bound with ropes and irons in the back of the wooden cart. Worse still, he was forced to do nothing while Jehan Frollo looked on, smirking. And if he felt so powerless now, how would it feel to watch poor Quasimodo hang?

Quasimodo had heard Esmeralda cry, "Phoebus!" and even now, he felt a pang of jealousy, which he knew was wrong – Esmeralda was simply shocked to see Phoebus now imprisoned too. Yet when he saw that horrible soldier strike her – strike Esmeralda! – he turned with such a livid glare that even the executioner faltered, and Jehan Frollo went pale.

Still, du Moulin and his men surged forward and began to drag Quasi out of the cart and to lead him up on the podium. "Clear out!" he shouted. "What is the meaning of this? Get off the podium!"

Gringoire gulped, slung his purple cape over his arm, and turned to face du Moulin.

"Before the hunchback of Notre Dame is to be executed, he is allowed a witness to prove he is innocent," Gringoire announced.

"There are no witnesses!" du Moulin snorted. "Stand aside!"

"Nevertheless, if someone wishes to speak on the hunchback's behalf, they may. Don't try to contradict me, M. du Moulin – I studied the law under Claude Frollo, and you know it. I was once a devoted student of Frollo."

The audience gasped in recognition. This was Pierre Gringoire, come back!

M. du Moulin faltered. As one of Frollo's guards, he had trusted Frollo's judgment completely. If he was to take orders from Frollo's brother, he must listen to his student as well.

"IF anyone cares to speak on the hunchback's behalf, I urge you to do so!"

He stepped back, and allowed the crowd to look at Quasimodo. "Defend this murderer, then!"

As the crowd looked at the four people upon the podium, Jehan darted his head about in disbelief. Pierre Gringoire had returned? What sorcery was this? And how dare du Moulin stop the proceedings? Quasimodo must die, and Phoebus and his men stay in prison, so that he could do a proper job with La Gudule and claim his brother's fortune once and for all!

But even Jehan Frollo would have to wait now, for there was a murmuring in the crowd.

"I will speak on Quasimodo's behalf!" Esmeralda stepped out of the crowd. "It was not Quasimodo!"

Some in the crowd laughed (and Clopin, even through his gag, was clearly shouting his approval), but du Moulin snorted. "A gypsy girl? Why would we trust you?"

Quasimodo could scarcely breathe. She looked so beautiful and so proud. And yet no one will listen to her, he knew, with a heavy sadness. What he did not know, was why she seemed to be looking so attentively, and speaking with her eyes, at La Gudule, who stood frozen on the podium.

But he had no time to wonder, for within the crowd another voice, this time small and thin, piped up. "I will speak on Quasi's behalf! It was not Quasimodo!"

This time the crowd laughed in earnest, for this voice belonged to Mariette Garouche. Even little Mariette! Oh, she should have been asleep in her bed, not out in this danger! Quasimodo was ashamed for her to see him this way.

"Well, this is a bit better," du Moulin chuckled, "at least she's French. But if the law was left in the hands of children this would be a very backwards world."

"Of that I'm not so certain," Gringoire muttered.

"Then by God, I'll speak on his behalf!" Phoebus roared from the cart. "IT WAS NOT QUASIMODO!"

"Silence, prisoner!" du Moulin ordered, as Jehan picked his way delicately to the stage.

"Indeed," hissed Frollo's brother. "Even the Captain of the Guard cannot be trusted from a prisoner's cart. Well, du Moulin, it seems there is no one to speak on Quasimodo's behalf. I mean, just ask Sister Gudule! Only she and Quasi were there, so we may count on her word alone."

Esmeralda, Phoebus, and Gringoire looked closely as Jehan, a satisfied smile on his face, approached the nun.

"Well, La Gudule? Tell them what you know!"

La Gudule looked up into Jehan's face, and she saw the face of Frollo there. And then she looked into the face of Esmeralda. She never before thought in her life that the face of a gypsy girl would hold more kindness, and more truth, than the face of Frollo's brother.

"It was not Quasimodo."

There was a shriek from the crowd. The guards shouted. Jehan tottered a bit where he stood. "What do you mean? He tried to kill you!"

La Gudule replied, "Someone nearly killed me. It was not Quasimodo."

"Sister," du Moulin demanded, "do you mean to drop your accusation?"

"I do not, sir. I was…I was not attacked by the hunchback of Notre Dame."

Exasperated, du Moulin shouted, "By WHO, then?"

La Gudule drew in one breath, and leveled her crooked finger at the brother of Frollo. "By Jehan Frollo."

Jehan Frollo?

Quasimodo's head snapped up. H-how had La Gudule found out the truth? How could she have possibly chosen his side over Jehan Frollo's?

No one in the crowd spoke. Esmeralda looked at Phoebus, and their eyes locked. Clopin cheered something from behind his gag, and Gringoire pressed the hand of La Gudule with pride.

Jehan said and did nothing at all. Quasimodo knew this because he refused to take his eyes off the boy, and was observing him very closely.

It was therefore up to du Moulin to break the silence. "La Gudule, you make no sense. You very clearly accused Quasimodo – you fought with him! Look at the beast's bruises and scrapes! Look at yours!"

"It was not Quasimodo."

Du Moulin frowned. "You make a very serious accusation, La Gudule. Why would the brother of your benefactor, Claude Frollo, wish to do you harm? You clearly were an enemy to Quasimodo, and – "

"I – I had something which Jehan Frollo wanted, and I believe he intended to take it by dishonest means."

Now all eyes were on Jehan, who seemed to be struggling to keep a pleasant expression on his face, and succeeded only in a strange mixture of nonchalance and malevolence.

"La Gudule," he said, with a smile, as he stepped forward, "I don't think you understand what you are saying. Remember? You and I are very good friends. We live under the motto of helping one another. Why would I – "

"You wanted your brother's fortune and you wished to take it at my death!" La Gudule shrieked suddenly.

Now Jehan knew there would be no wheedling, no manipulation. His mask of kindness was now quite gone – if she wanted to do this the hard way, very well! So would he.

"The woman is mad!" he cried. "Do you hear her? She is so bold as to blame me when she has accused Quasimodo herself! You have seen her with the hunchback and the gypsies – she has shown them no love! So why now? I think she must want my brother's fortune! Accuse me, the brother of a judge!"

The crowd seemed to be doubting him! They hadn't known about Frollo's fortune, and that changed things. A few in the crowd echoed "It was not Quasimodo!" while others cried "The nun speaks the truth!" and "Release him!" Even du Moulin looked uneasy. "Sister Gudule, you must then have some proof of Jehan Frollo's crimes," he said. "We saw Quasimodo in the fight, yet Jehan was nowhere near. If you are in your good senses, we must have reason to believe you."

La Gudule looked around, confused. "I – " she looked at Esmeralda in the crowd. Was the word of a holy woman not enough? When she had accused the hunchback they believed her – was she now to be treated as a common liar?

Du Moulin looked at her fiercely. "Well, woman?"

"I…I have no proof."

The crowd burst out in a loud and angry cry, but a smile broke on Jehan's face, the kind of smile that looked as out of place there as it would have on Frollo's own face. "Well then? Quasimodo shall hang!" And then La Gudule shall pay.

"W – wait!"

Jehan spun, and du Moulin frowned at Quasimodo. "What?"

"I – I have proof." His voice trembled, but it was resolute.

Jehan sneered, and with a curled lip demanded, "What proof? I should like to see what proof you have got!"

"Excuse me, Captain, but will you look at my hands?"

Du Moulin strode over to the hunchback and yanked his hands forward, iron shackles clinking. "I see nothing."

"Exactly. Now, sir – will you look at Jehan's?"

Rolling his eyes, du Moulin took a step toward Jehan, but the young Frollo backed away instinctively. "What are you doing – "

"Just give me your hand so we can get this over with," du Moulin ordered. Dawn was beginning to break, turning the sky dove grey. Without another word Jehan reluctantly offered both hands. "The Captain sees nothing," he retorted.

Quasimodo quietly replied, "Oh, he doesn't? Well…what about the blood beneath your fingernails?"

"YOU DEVIL!" Jehan shrieked as du Moulin clenched both his hands and stared them down.

"The – the monster is right!" he cried in disbelief.

"True! How could Quasimodo avoid dirtying his hands if he had attacked La Gudule?" Gringoire grinned triumphantly. "And why else would young Frollo have blood on his? Look at her bruises and cuts!"

"Release me!" Jehan screamed as du Moulin ordered his soldiers to shackle his arms and legs. "CURSES UPON YOU ALL!"

"L-let the hunchback go free, then," du Moulin ordered raggedly. "The witness revoked her accusation, and in good faith. That is all that is required."

The soldiers stormed the podium to set Quasimodo free of his bonds. He heard the irons clatter to the ground behind him and, in delirium, stumbled forward off the podium, straight into Esmeralda's arms.

The soldiers bore a shrieking Jehan Frollo into the same cart that had carried Quasimodo, while still more hurried to cut free Captain Phoebus, Clopin, and the gypsies. After all, how could they be imprisoned for trying to free an innocent man?

Once in the back of the cart that would take him to the Palace of Justice, Jehan screamed curse after horrible curse as if that would somehow set him free. No longer was he the easygoing, privileged, handsome boy everyone had believed him to be. He was a criminal, like the brother he now so strongly resembled, and with every cruel word he uttered, he was sealing his own fate.

Over the cheers of the crowd, Quasimodo, secure in Esmeralda's grasp, could barely hear he whispering "You're safe now, okay? You're safe."

It was a sound more comforting to him even than the ringing of the bells that had saved him.

-X-

"You should have seen the look on your face!" Clopin roared with laughter. "You looked as if you would fall off the very belltower when we all jumped out!"

Quasimodo grinned, his face red and bashful. "Well you must remember, Clopin – I have never had a surprise party before."

Quasimodo looked around at his friends, who had gathered together and hidden themselves on the roof of Notre Dame. He thought Esmeralda had been acting mischievous for the past few days, asking if he liked visitors in his belltower (he didn't mind at all), what his favorite color was (it was green), and things like that.

"Well at any rate, I declare it a success," Clopin stated, adjusting his paper crown, as Clopinet reached for another piece of cake.

"Oh Clopin, shut up and stop stealing the show! It's Quasi's birthday! Here, Quasimodo, here's the last present." She handed Quasi a small parcel wrapped in brown paper.

"Hopefully it'll be better than yours," Phoebus chuckled. Esmeralda gave a rueful grin of her own. "Okay, so I'm not the best knitter in the world. Sue me."

"Oh no, you made a wonderful gift!" Quasimodo protested, touching the warm green scarf she had made him. "You're right – it does get chilly ringing the bells in winter."

Esmeralda gave him a smile warmer than the scarf. But Mariette, about to burst with impatience, blurted out "That's my present, Quasi!"

"Oh yes, of course!" Quasimodo began to peel off the paper from the parcel in his hands. Beneath the wrapping, placed against a piece of firewood, he found a little chalk drawing done on a scrap of muslin. "Mariette, did you draw this?"

Mariette bounded to his side and pointed over his shoulder. "Yes! It's a picture of you and me. That's you, and that's me." She pointed out the figures in explaination.

"It's a masterpiece, Mariette!" Quasi beamed. "I'll hang it on my wall so I can look at it always."

"Yay!" Mariette hugged him tight. "Oh Quasi, I'm so glad you're safe."

"We're all glad of that," Phoebus agreed heartily. "Who knew ther could be so much danger in a church?"

"You'd be surprised," Quasimodo replied wryly. "Thank goodness I have such kind friends."

Clopin was about to launch into a very clever oration on the topic, but was distracted by a sound in Quasimodo's chambers. "Who on earth could that be?" he demanded, not a little insulted.

"I think I have an idea," Esmeralda answered.

But Quasi wasn't sure either. Raising himself off the ground, he made his way, halting, into his room. He found Pierre Gringoire there, examining the little carved village. He jumped a bit when he realized Quasi had spotted him.

"Ah, hello Quasimodo! Happy birthday!" He gave a theatrical bow, his cape sweeping the ground.

"Hi, Pierre." Quasi smiled. "I'm glad to see you again." In fact, Quasimodo hadn't seen Gringoire at all in the three days ince his trial.

Gringoire smiled too. "And I as well." He turned toward the village again. "I have never before been in the belltower. Which is to say I have never seen this stunning handiwork. You are quite the artist, Quasimodo."

Quasi hobbled over to the table. As Frollo's student, Gringoire had always been steered far away from Quasimodo and his sanctuary. It seemed to make him a bit sad, now. "I – I never carved a figure of you. I hope you don't mind if I do someday."

"You never carved a Frollo, either…" Pierre said, almost more to himself than Quasi. "But of course! I should be honored! Don't forget my cape, though…"

"Oh, I won't!"

Pierre smiled, and looked up as the others drifted into the room.

"I wasn't sure you could make it," Esmeralda said, Phoebus' arm around her waist. "I'm glad you came!"

"Ah, well I would have been sooner if La Gudule hadn't chattered my ear off. She seems to be in a better mood lately…I can't imagine why."

Esmeralda smiled. "I enjoy visiting her. She is a very strong woman, and even though we are very different, I feel like we are both learning so much."

"After all these years, you were reunited! "Quasi exclaimed. "I still can't believe it – it's like a miracle!"

Clopin had gone far too long without talking and so he demanded of Gringoire, "Poet-scoundrel, have you decided upon an answer to my offer?"

"Well, have you?" Clopinet pressed.

"Ah, yes, that is part of why I came here. You see, Clopin, the gypsy life is a beautiful one, but I fear that, in the end, it is not the life for me after all. I am not a juggler or a dancer or a singer – I am a poet, a wanderer of the earth. I want to travel and to make the world my home."

"Traveling soon gets old, Gringoire," Phoebus informed him seriously. "Trust me."

Gringoire weighed this information. "Ah, maybe so. But I still long to know, is there such evil, and such good, everywhere in this earth? I have to find out for myself."

"Unfortunately," Esmeralda observed, "I suspect there is, as long as there are people to cause it."

"So do I," Quasimodo considered. But then he looked around his friends – brave, strong Phoebus; kind and just Esmeralda; clever Clopin, faithful Mariette, and the honest poet Gringoire – and he felt the need to add, "But there's more good, I think, and more love."

"A very good verdict!" Gringoire declared. "From a very good man. Happy birthday, Quasimodo!"

"Good bye, Gringoire!" Gringoire rushed to give everyone a friendly hug. "Don't you worry!" he cried. "I shall be back soon! Ugh! I'm going to get emotional – and I still have to tell Belznik and the others farewell! Good bye! I will write to you! And I'"

Quasimodo couldn't help but laugh a bit at Pierre's surge of emotion, and the poet nearly rushed from the room. But before he reached the stairwell, he whirled about in a moment of inspiration, cape flying.

"I've just had the most brilliant idea for a play! It's sure to be a success! I'll write about all of our adventures, and of you, Quasimodo. And I'll call it – " Gringoire spread his hands out against the sky, as if a vision had come to him, " The Hunchback of Notre Dame!"

His friends all considered this idea.

"It'll never catch on," stated Clopin, with a shrug. "Now let us eat cake."

- X -

And so, puppet, you have seen: people are not always what they seem. Whether through treachery, as in the case of Jehan Frollo – or shame, like that of Pierre Gringoire – or fear, the fear the crippled La Gudule – they may hide their true selves from the world beyond. But never forget, puppet, even in this masquerade, the light of kindness and truth can shine a light on their faces.

Just like the light in the heart of the hunchback of Notre Dame!