"known only to the lowly"
Genre: Drama, Angst
Time Frame: Book/Musical verse
Characters: Ensemble Cast
Summary: Hope is the dream of a soul awake.
Notes: This year I am playing around with the 50 sentence challenge over at another site - which prompts one to write four stories a month based on a set of fifty prompts. The fifty prompts result in one sentence each, and then a whole story is formed from the snapshots provided in those sentences. Obviously, this challenge will slaughter grammar, and bring out the seldom seen fandom from the muse - but is a fun and curious thing that has already been incredibly interesting. If you wish to, you can track my progress in my profile.
For April, I knew that I wanted to do sentences for Les Misérables– and to do so, I used two of the tables, seeing as how the plot refused to be constrained to just one batch of sentences. That said, this first set deals with Books I and II, while the second set deals with Books III, IV, and V. Besides the random drabble or vignette, I have not yet dabbled much with this fandom (for even though the novel and the play have long been great favorites of mine, I frankly hesitated with botching the rich history that it encompasses.), so please forgive any newbie shortcomings.
And as always, thank-you for reading.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.
"Dear Cosette," the hand of Jean Valjean trembled restlessly as he penned the story of his life – the story of two men, (one who had spent a lifetime paying for the crime of poverty, and another who held nothing but black and white in his heart as if he were blind Justice herself), their tale told alongside that of those who saw the possibility of a world reborn, and gave their lives for it . . . and the story of a mother who would give anything for a daughter that he now cherished as his own.
Before prison, he had been poor in body - he left poor in spirit; before prison he had been tired and frail - he left enraged, but strong of limb; before prison he had been hungry, but he left starving – the light in his eyes was now that of a rabid dog, foaming at the mouth, and harsh with hate for the men who had held his leash in an iron grip.
"God's justice, not man's?" Valjean asked on a bitter chuckle, his eyes challenging as he met the gaze of the Bishop over the gleam of a silver spoon.
Her fingers trembled as she tied her daughter's bonnet for the last time, her heart tugging wretchedly within her chest as the large blue eyes of her child stared solemnly at her – holding all of the bright beauty that Fantine herself once possessed before the harsh realities of life and love shrouded her in mourning gray - a widow made by false love and heartache, if not by death's own hand.
Valjean wandered for who knew how long – the stolen, yet blessed, silver in his sack, and the weight of a promise and a pardon heavy on his back – turning his feet not in a direction that a compass could measure, but upon a path that only a soul could know, the future spilling from his steps until he adopted it as his own in repentance for his hate and his ignorance.
"And that, my friend, is why it is wise never to stick merely to one mistress - attachments are made," Blachevelle snickered as Félix burnt the letter (the last, the hard words within had sworn) in the candle's flame, his mouth down turned as he cut the last hope of a tie with the small family he had created from a summer's idle diversion.
"Valjean," Jeanne hissed wretchedly upon hearing of her brother's arrest, her tone an unnatural shade of despair that only came to a mother who had seen her children die for want of food - for while trying to put bread in the mouths of her young, he had instead damned them as certainly as if he had held a knife to their throats.
He had known hard work all his life, but the labor of Toulon (the sound of chains scraping, and the burn of the number scarred into his skin even worse than the merciless sun above) gave a new meaning to backbreaking that he could not completely erase from his mind, even all of these years later.
"Inspector Javert, Third Class," the man introduced himself, holding out his hand to the towering Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, his lupine eyes glinting a shade of silver rather than gray in the low light of the factory – still every bit as fearsome as Valjean remembered them being in Toulon, all of those years ago.
The foreman held her fate in her hands, but the woman's eyes were cold as she beheld before her a fallen of her kind - and passed judgment on her for her sins of old, lest she pass her sins on to the pure of her sisters.
"She's the on' who sold her hair, her teeth too - the poor girl is ugly as sin now – she has some brat she 'as to feed in some little town, and she sends every sou she can spare."
"Monsieur, any random man would lack the strength for this feat . . . and to be perfectly honest, I have only ever known one man with the strength to do what needs to be done here," Javert said in a low, rumble of a whisper, his eyes those of a wolf bidding a stag to come one step closer to expose himself as Madeleine looked helplessly between the Inspector, and the poor man caught under the sinking cart.
"What are you starin' at?" was the taunt from one of the painted ladies by the docks, falling upon Fantine's ears like prediction, "You ain't no better than us, dearie."
For Javert, it was his responsibility to the law and the people it served to expose the man who called himself Mayor – and yet, without proof, he could not do so; for to impose his instincts (surely, holding instinct higher than intelligence would be to make a beast out of a man) on the system of justice would be tantamount to destroying everything it stood for – and that was something he simply could not do.
"Pardieu – but it is too cold to be merely observing when one can just as easily join a lovely lady for the night," a young gendarme muttered to his partner, his eyes sullen as he glared across the square to where the good Inspector kept a careful eye on the comings and goings by the docks – of all the superiors he could have been stuck with, it had to be the one who would most certainly not condone his junior officers dabbling in what the darker side of society had to offer.
Fantine watched from across the street as the mayor knelt down to fashion ships and whistles for the children with his carving knife – the little souls completely unafraid of the hulking man as they climbed all over him – and yet, her heart was not warmed by the sight as she blamed the whole of her descent on the unknowing man's shoulders.
"Dear Lord, but you are ugly," the nameless man who had bought her time murmured under his breath, even as his greedy hands countered his words – and she could only agree in return within the confines of her mind, and hide her hate in her eyes, where he would never dare to look.
Miles away, a hungry man named Champmathieu took an apple off of a tree that was not his own, and like a butterfly snapping its paper wings, a hurricane started to brew – one whose winds would reach Montreuil-sur-Mer, and the twisted play of Fate playing out within.
There were two silver candlesticks that shone on the mantlepiece of the otherwise modest and simple room, the base of them worn of their gleam as if they had been rubbed by anxious fingers on many sleepless nights – the worries and the reasons they held a spoiled spot upon the otherwise immaculate brilliance of them.
The bourgeois' words struck a low chord in Fantine, and his taunts coupled with the helplessness of her situation and the hatred that she felt turned her aching hands to claws and her weak limbs to the wings of a hunting bird as she launched herself at the bâtard hautaine of a man who thought he could abuse her simply because she was worth no more than the dirt beneath his boots.
He had started at least a dozen letters to Paris asking that Javert be reassigned, but each and every time he could find nothing wrong with the man's conduct – as an officer he was exemplary, and Valjean found himself holding back nervous bile as his godly sense of justice within him forbade him from making that final stand to send the Inspector away.
Her cough was getting worse, she knew – (already it sounded from the deep parts of her, aggravated by the winter nights without a fire and spent out in the snow gleaning her work) – and that coupled with her dress that desperately needed to be washed and the oily cast of her shorn hair made for a truly pathetic picture indeed – but, self-esteem left with other emotions as well – amongst them both pride and hope.
"Please, Monsieur le Maire, if you would have a seat while I explain my proposal," Javert mockingly implored (for Valjean, mayor and gentleman though he now strove to be, sometimes forgot even the most basic of protocol in the presence of the other man), and at the subtle line of order in his voice, Valjean sat down, obeying the officer as if they were who they were twenty years ago, and the stretch of the law a harsh one between them.
Fantine bit her lip, ducking her eyes up to catch a glimpse at the hard man who held her fate in his hands – she did not expect a knight in shining armor from the like of Bamatabois, but for a moment an age old belief saw the law as deliverance, right before she remembered that such saviors no longer sheltered the likes of her.
"This is your fault," she hissed, her voice made low and unnatural in her throat by the demon that had taken her body hostage, and with her remaining strength, she spat at the mayor, standing as upright as she could between the guards so that Madeleine could see what had become of her.
"No, Monsieur le Maire, I don't think that you properly understand the resounding implications of your actions," Javert tried to keep his voice low – respectful– but within him, he felt fury burn as the unthinkable happened – that a convict should so easily disrupt the law, and in favor of a fallen prostitute, no less!
"The Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer is none other than Jean Valjean," Javert insisted in a low whisper to the prefecture of police, in Paris, breaking his silence only after Valjean had stood in the way of the law being carried out to its full accord, sure within the deepest parts of himself that what he was doing was noble and just.
"Having her child returned may help lift her spirits," the physician said carefully, and Valjean understood the unspoken with a sinking feeling – that while he could make the poor woman's last days more comfortable, he could not extend them as he would like to.
Fantine surprised herself by how starved she was for human kindness – and contact, for that matter – for while the Mayor seemed almost shy to be in the same room with her, he would hold her hand the whole of his visit (his hands were callused and huge, fairly swallowing her own), and every day before he left he would kiss her lightly on the forehead – she would shut her eyes in anticipation of the contact, and spend hours taking strength from it after he was gone.
"You won't believe it, my sweet, but our letter was answered and by more than we asked for – once again," Monsieur Thénardier grinned into the greasy light of the tavern, his beetle eyes finding the little girl sweeping in the shadows, seeing a new use for the child once more.
"You do not understand, Monsieur le Maire, my actions were not only a slight against you, but against the institution which governs us all – my dismissal is the only justresult for my actions," Javert insisted with all of the grace of a soldier waiting for the killing shot, and for a moment Valjean paused, trying to weigh the very real depth of reverence coming from the other man – as sincere as a priest before his cross was his devotion to his duty, and a small part of him found respect in that alone.
"Why are you crying, Lark?" came the sing song voice from the two pretty little girls – cruel as only children could be, trailing reeds behind them as they walked as if they were fine ladies with their parasols, and Cosette shrunk away from their laughter and their mean little eyes, drawing in on herself as only those who knew the value of small places could.
Helplessness was not word enough to describe what Valjean was feeling as he sat in the courtroom and watched as the noose wrapped tighter and tighter under Champmathieu's neck – a noose that was tied for the name of Jean Valjean, a name which he now had no choice but to take up once again.
Javert was used to giving his reports to exasperated, uninterested ears (after all, he was as slow in ascending the ranks as he was due to his penchant for exact standards – with his own duties, and those around and even posted above him) – and only Fate herself could understand the repelling sort of humor of the Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer being the first to take an active roll, and interest, in the town's goings on.
"He brings my daughter?" Fantine asked, her arms held out before her as if to take a phantom's embrace, her glassy eyes lost to her body's betrayal, even as her mind took flight under a delirious rush of hope.
Favourite held a hand over the young girl's stomach, something almost telling – almost pitying – behind her joyous and worldly eyes as she said, "There is no doubt of it then, you are with child."
Javert read the summation from Arras with a disbelieving eye, unaware that near the end of the missive his hands had started to shake - a trickle of pride and relief within him cascading into a fierce wave of vindication and absolution as he read the final word.
His moves were fluid and graceful – a countenance for the sheer size of the man, and even though he fought with an animal's moves (his skill taught by village tousles, and yard brawls by those newcomers trying to prove themselves in Toulon), there was still something beautiful to be found in the savagery.
"I swear it," he stammered out on a whisper, his heart clenching inside his chest as he held the dying woman's hand within his own, binding his fate to hers and that of her own with three words – three words that had suddenly became his world and the whole of his future.
"I always knew there was somethin' off wit' the Mayor – no one's thatgood, and only a sneaky sort would deny the title first time it was offered – I say good riddance, Lord only knows what sort of schemes he was up to 'hind all o' our backs."
The small child was freezing – trembling, with goosebumps on her thin dirty arms, as the winter wind blew through the holes in her threadbare dress, but when she looked up at him with those large blue eyes – unlike any colour he had seen before – he felt a shock travel through him as he saw Fantine's brilliant gaze in so miserable a little face.
"We should never have taken you in in the first place," Mother Thénardier muttered under her breath, looking in disgust at the bucket the girl had brought back with her – half of it sloshed out onto the frozen forest floor beyond, and the bread completely forgotten.
It was quite strange to Cosette to have such a beautiful figure such as the porcelain doll in her hands (a gift from the Traveler whom Cosette was now suspecting to be God himself, for not even an angel could be so kind), and the child did not even register Éponine and Azelma gazing enviously at her, so complete was the rotation of fate between them.
"Then fifteen hundred francs?" Valjean tried once again, and for the final time – everything harsh that had once been in him recognizing the greed and deep black avarice burning deep in Thénardiers' eyes – and playing so upon it.
For Javert, the law was his duty and life, and yet, while a case closed was a reward in of itself there was an unspoken thrill that came with a hunt through Paris' streets, (the spinning of a web and the final struggling of the fly; tracing that familiar line of nature as old as instinctthat bid a wolf bay at the moon) - a rapture to a holy man was what the chase of a criminal was to Javert, and he attacked his assignment with a gusto that never failed to leave his men unsettled.
"Father Madeleine?" Fauchelevent exclaimed, his gaze wide and rigid with amazement upon hearing the story, for now he was no longer the man helpless under the cart – his role was that of savior, just as the former Mayor had once been for him.
"Good Inspector - it was the heat' o' the moment and my overly r'mantic heart that made me say that the girl, Colette – Cosette- was stolen; in actuality, her grandfather came for her," Thénardier mumbled out his story as an owl afraid of too much light on his dealings, quick to recognize an absolute sort of law abiding man before him.
"You can call me 'father'," Valjean said to the little girl as they wandered through the woods north of Paris, and Cosette looked most seriously ahead as she processed this information – in her, there was an orphan seeking a parent as much as there was a widower in Valjean seeking a child, and both unknowingly slipped easily into the rolls that God saw fit to bless them with.
There were times when Fantine would dream while in her fever's thrall – of her and her daughter, living together, and M. Madeleine was always there as well – but then her dream would fade to nightmare as she slowly disappeared from the image, lost to her daughter until the remaining two were left alone – strangely, this nightmare always managed to assure her as much as it caused despair.
"Papa," the little girl said carefully, burrowing into him with sad, desperate little fingers as he walked, and a part of Valjean flared into life with the brilliant glow of a stoked ember, drawing a soft prayer from his heart and a vow from his soul – he would forfeit his life for her happiness, no matter what path God would push them down in the years to come.