Disclaimer: I do not own Aladdin or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Such rights belong to Mr. Walt Disney.
A/N: I know it's been a minute since I've updated this story. I'm not sure if all of you are still following this project, but I want to thank those of you who have favorited this piece and commented. Rest assured that your comments requesting updates have been heard, and they prompted enough guilt for me to bring this chapter to life. I've been re-inspired by this story and, because I have a solid three weeks before my second year of graduate school begins, I'm hoping to bring a few more to you before too long. Enjoy this next chapter; I know many of you have been waiting a long time for it. (Sorry I suck!)
While Razoul and his guards prepared to hunt down Esmeralda, the gypsy woman wandered Agrabah, lost in her thoughts. She found herself in a much different section of Agrabah than what she had grown accustomed to over the past few days. Long forgotten by the city's commoners, the crumbling district lay nearly in ruins. What used to be modest clay dwellings were now collapsed—exhausted and worn from years of torment by the talons of the harsh desert sun. Sand surrounded each forsaken home, wrapping tightly around the faded clay like a heavy blanket.
While the people of Agrabah had forgotten this section of the city long ago, it was not deserted. It had become home of the city's vermin. In the sand-coated ruins, orphaned children pressed tightly together to seek shelter from the unrelenting watch of the scorching sun. Women in torn clothing moved about the desolate area, lost in restless thought, and afraid of the men who always returned when the unforgiving sun let the desert fall into darkness.
The city's debris was home to the blind and disfigured men—the ones who fought for Agrabah when raiders and thieves threatened its livelihood, and tended those who became infected with the Sickness. However, instead of being received with glory and gratitude for their actions, these men were ostracized. They became tenants of the crumbling ruins that lingered at the border of Agrabah and the barren wasteland of the desert.
In another time, things could have been different. These men could have returned to their jobs—their families. But everything changed after Queen Kalila was taken by the Sickness. During that dark period, High Chancellor Jafar used his influence over the heartbroken Sultan to change the way Agrabah operated. The tenants of Agrabah's forgotten district were only one of the side-effects created by Jafar's poisoning influence.
Esmeralda was unaware of the history that bled through the crumbling ruins she stumbled upon. To her, the forgotten district reminded her of the Court of Miracles. It reminded her of home. The Court of Miracles was home to the same type of despondent people: The men who had lost ligaments, the women who made a living by the evening's candlelight, and the unwanted bastard children who were forced into a life of thievery just to survive childhood. Although the old section of Agrabah was a world away from her Court of Miracles, it was a place she could relate to—a place she could call home until she decided upon the best plan for moving forward.
As she moved around the city's debris in search of an empty shelter, Esmeralda watched a group of people circle around a dried-out well. Together, they began the ritual of prayer. The gypsy woman stared, almost-happy for a moment to realize that these desolate people still felt a sense of hope. She wasn't sure whom or what they had hope in, but still—it was there. Esmeralda watched for a long time before offering her own prayer to the Virgin Mother. Grant me guidance. This path is too dark to travel alone.
Although her prayer did not particularly help to lighten the burden of a broken heart, Esmeralda knew what she needed to do next. She turned away from the ruined clay homes, and made the fifteen minute walk to Aladdin's modest dwelling. The gypsy woman had left a small bag of belongings there the night she spotted Jasmine in the marketplace. It was time to gather her things and move on.
Esmeralda was thankful that Aladdin was not in his open apartment when she arrived. She was not sure if she could bear to look at him, considering the lie he fabricated to steal Jasmine away from her. Just the thought of the conversation that took place the night before between Jasmine and Aladdin made the gypsy want to cry. It made her want to break every fragile thing in Aladdin's apartment, just as he had crushed her heart when he whisked Jasmine away during the princess's fragile state of mind. But Esmeralda knew better. She knew to collect her things and move on—only remaining behind in Agrabah through a fleeting memory.
It took less than one minute for Esmeralda to gather her small satchel and vacate Aladdin's dwelling. She left unceremoniously, intentionally not glancing around the barren walls before making her way back into the dark night. The gypsy wanted to be out of Agrabah as soon as possible. There are too many memories here. Her desire to flee the pain that surrounded Agrabah made her feet quick in the sand, as she retraced her steps back to the city ruins bordering the Great Desert.
I'll stay here tonight. Tomorrow, I move on. Esmeralda gathered enough wood to start a small fire—not for warmth, but rather, comfort. Fire had become a great symbol for her during her last few weeks in Paris. It reminded her of her people—of her place in the world. And although it seemed odd, considering how devastatingly painful the fire seemed to burn in her past, flames reminded her of the lingering kindness of others. With a heavy heart, Esmeralda turned her eyes toward the flames before her, remembering a different blaze.
Weeks before the gypsy woman left Paris, Frollo led an attack on her people. He had been searching for Esmeralda—who had recently escaped his imprisonment and claimed sanctuary in the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Knowing that the Church would not stop Frollo from his evil intentions, she fled once more. Frollo burned his way through the French countryside, burning the homes of every family that did not provide him information regarding her location.
Many French cottages burned.
After a fortnight of trying to throw Frollo off her trail, Esmeralda returned to the Court of Miracles for one last night. She had realized that the only refuge she would find from her crazed captor would be far away from the place she had come to call home. The gypsy woman had resolved to say her final goodbyes before heading southeast toward the original nomadic regions of her people.
However, when she returned just before sunset, Esmeralda watched massive billows of black smoke rise from the countryside just outside of the city. She heard whispers in the street—hushed voices offering sympathy for the families who helped Esmeralda—the woman who had earned both Frollo's scorn and wrath. With this news, Esmeralda committed to memory the faces of those whom had offered her shelter or food in her attempt to flee Frollo's army, and his most certain cruelty. These were the faces she saw each and every time she looked into a flickering flame—the faces of those who had blessed her with kindness and loyalty. Though Esmeralda cursed herself for allowing those people to become victims to her shadowed past, she took comfort in the flames before her, and the accompanying memories of kindness.
The small fire she had built crackled before her, which jostled Esmeralda from her thoughts. It seems so long ago. How could everything have changed this much in only a few short months? With a heavy sigh, the gypsy woman let her head fall into her open palms. She was unsure of so many things. She did not know where to go. She did not know how to walk away from the enchanting world of Agrabah, which was home to the one woman who had breathed new life into the gypsy's tired soul. She needed to move on—more forward—but didn't know how to begin that painful journey. I need guidance.
Remembering a small leather satchel she had brought with her from the Court of Miracles, Esmeralda reached hopefully for her bag of belongings. She rummaged methodically through her things before her fingers grazed the soft leather she was looking for at the bottom of her bag. Unfolding the satchel's closed flap of material, the gypsy inhaled the potent scent that was tucked safely within. Pinon Resin. Let your magic heal me. After taking one last sniff of the herb, Esmeralda pinched some of the dried powder into her fingers and watched billows of purple smoke rise as she sprinkled it into her fire.
The gypsy had traded a few coins for the Pinon Resin before she left the Court of Miracles. The herb was sacred for its spiritual and healing properties. All of her people knew that it helped balance one's senses, and revive tired souls. Unsure of what her journey might hold, Esmeralda thought the trade wise at the time, as she might need her soul lightened along her rocky path. I guess I was right, though I'm not sure the Pinon Resin is powerful enough to strengthen my broken heart and spirit. There was only one person who had that kind of power, but Esmeralda shook her head, not wanting to remember the beautiful princess who would always hold her heart.
Hours passed as Esmeralda watched her small fire dance in the desert's dark night. Although each flame was accompanied by haunting memories—of both her time in Paris and Agrabah—the gypsy felt herself become less restless. She felt her body relaxing into her makeshift bed of torn cloth and sand. Though she was unsure if her newfound comfort was due to the Pinon Resin or pure exhaustion, Esmeralda couldn't bring herself to care enough. She welcomed the approaching unconsciousness with its promises of forgetfulness.
Esmeralda slept. Not deeply and not well, due to the dark thoughts lingering just out of reach of her unconsciousness, but she managed to rest. Some hours into her restless sanctuary, Esmeralda started from her sleep, frozen with a panic that seized every muscle in her body. Not far from her makeshift hearth, which now glowed only with dim embers, Esmeralda heard the distinct sound of someone approaching behind her. Their footsteps were soft, but intent. The sound of their breathing hung in the open desert air.
Hyper aware of her surroundings, Esmeralda remained frozen, her eyes closed in feigned sleep. She held her breath, listening for her intruder's next move-trying at once to anticipate a million different scenarios. After a few tense seconds, the scenarios stopped their rotation-settling on the day's earlier image of Arabian women in torn tunics, clearly disheveled from coarse violations courtesy of their male assailants.
Esmeralda tensed as a tremor of fear rushed down her spine. Memories of her past flashed behind her closed eyes. She'd been in their position before and mentally shook away thoughts of her imprisonment and the assaults she suffered more times than she cared to remember. Yet, she did remember. She remembered the one hundred eighty-seven times she had been touched by that man. Sometimes with groping hands, sometimes with a wet and invasive mouth, and other times with a restraining rope, sharpened and flaming wood, or even worse, his lustful body. Although Esmeralda had always tried to suppress the memories of these violations, she always counted. It was her way of staying focused-of encouraging herself to continue the meticulous development of escape plans, even when her resistance resulted in even more bruises, cuts, and physical violence.
In that moment, Esmeralda remembered one of the items still tucked in her small satchel of belongings. Wrapped in a simple cloth was a small knife that Clopin, one of her dearest friends from France, had pressed into her hands just before she fled the Court of Miracles. "Be safe," he had whispered before giving her a quick hug-drawing her thoughts away from the billows of smoke suffocating the surrounding countryside. "I'll send word when it's safe for you to return."
Thank you, Ava Maria.
Because she had sifted through the bag hours before for the Pinon Resin, Esmeralda knew exactly where the knife was-directly at the top of the satchel, which was mere inches away from her. The gypsy strained to listen once again. Footsteps still drew nearer, but there couldn't be more than one person-a man, as the intruder's steps were not as soft as a woman's. She waited, listening as the man crept closer. He can't be more than five feet away. Esmeralda slowly inched her fingers toward her satchel, searching blindly for the knife's handle. Ah. There it is. The gypsy drew the knife from its cloth protection. Wait for it…
When the man was only a couple feet from her, Esmeralda jumped to her feet, shoving her arm violently in front of her. "Get back!" she yelled, waving the knife in front of her to form a protective radius around her body. Though her fire from earlier in the night was dim and nearly burnt-out, the knife's small blade reflected the dull embers' glow as she moved protectively and instinctively.
"Esmeralda, wait!" her intruder whispered urgently, taking a step back and holding up his hands apologetically.
Esmeralda immediately recognized the man's voice, but still, she held the knife in front of her. She wasn't sure who she had expected to see before her: A ghost of him from her past? Guards from the palace? Some traveler with malicious intent? Aladdin? Regardless, she had not expected to see the man who stood a few steps away, pleading silently with urgent eyes.
Esmeralda squinted in the darkness. "Clopin?" she asked quietly, still holding her knife tightly. The man smiled and nodded, stepping forward and closer to the dying fire's burning embers. Esmeralda took in his attire. He had abandoned his usual brightly colored tunic, trimmed with purples and golds that embodied his gypsy spirit. Yet, despite his change in clothing, the man before her was still Clopin-the man who had been in her life for as long as she could remember. Esmeralda's eyes flickered down to the knife in her hand-the knife that he had given her before she left Paris. "Is that really you?"
"Oui, mon enfant," he answered with a full grin. Clopin's eye lines crinkled with his smile, and he opened his arms, offering the sanctuary of a familiar hug.
Esmeralda smiled, all tension rushing from her body as she dropped the knife by her side and ran the few steps into her old friend's arms. She didn't know how or why he was there, but in that moment-after the draining day she had just experienced-she was simply thankful.
Esmeralda laughed as Clopin scooped her into a warm hug, picking her clear off her feet and swinging her quickly from side to side. When he sat her down moments later, Esmeralda gripped his arms, making certain that he really was there. "I was waiting for you to send word through the caravans. What are you doing here? How did you find me!?" she questioned frantically.
The corners of Clopin's lips pulled into a knowing smile, but instead of answering, he motioned toward the fire-a silent invitation to settle near the open desert hearth. Esmeralda sat near the fire, reaching for the extra wood she had collected earlier in the evening. Momentarily, she wondered what time it was, but after a quick glance toward the star-filled sky, she decided all that mattered was that it was time to reconnect with the closest person she had to family.
"Clopin, tell me. How did you find me? I've come a long way from France." Clopin smiled, nodding toward the purple smoke of the fire, with its remnants of Pinon Resin. "I don't understand."
Clopin smiled and stretched before finally offering Esmeralda the explanation she sought. "You know that I promised your mother, many years ago, to look after you." Esmeralda nodded. Each time Esmeralda created mischief as a young girl, Clopin would joke about regretting the promise he'd made when her mother got sick. "Well," he continued, "that promise didn't end just because you left the Court of Miracles. I needed to make sure you were safe.
"Frollo's guards were everywhere. Just after you left, his men even tried to attack the Court of Miracles demanding that our people tell Frollo where you were, but of course," Clopin winked, "you were already gone." Esmeralda's mouth dropped opened with horror, imagining the cruelties that Frollo and his men would make her people suffer through. She knew those horrors far too well. Seeing Esmeralda's features drop, Clopin offered a warm smile. "Il n'y pas lieu de s'inquiéter, mon enfant." There's no need to worry, my child.
"I don't understand. Is everyone safe? How did you get away? How did you find me? Are you okay?" As Esmeralda posed her questions, she felt the control over her emotions slip away, her voice involuntarily rising frantically.
Clopin patted the gypsy woman's arm comfortingly. "Sois patient. The Court of Miracles is safe. Our people are safe." He chucked, "As you might recall, we have a rather effective strategy for keeping outsiders out of the Court. Esmeralda watched Clopin intently as shadows from the fire danced across his face. She wasn't sure, but she could have sworn that a dark smile played at the corners of his mouth. "We intercepted the small brigade of soldiers in the tunnels leading to the Court. They commanded that you be turned over to Frollo, but..." Clopin's smile widened, "as they say: The dead don't talk, so they won't be around to reveal what they've found."
Esmeralda released the breath she had been holding, comforted by the fact that her people were safe. She still had many questions, and though she sat silently, her eyes begged Clopin to continue. He did.
"As far as I know, no other soldiers have breached the Court of Miracles. But, I can't say I waited long enough to find out. If Frollo's soldiers were able to wander into the Catacombs, I couldn't risk that they would track down your trail. I knew you could take care of yourself. You're smart. Brave." Clopin watched the gypsy woman, taking particular note of the shadowed sorrow that rested behind her emerald eyes. "Oui, trѐs courageux," he continued, letting his words fade into the darkness around them.
"I knew you would be okay, but I needed to know. I needed to see. So I left the same night we intercepted Frollo's men, heading southeast, as you had mentioned connecting with our Roma people. Eventually, I caught up with you during your travels, but I followed at a distance. Maybe it was the promise to your mother all those years ago, or maybe it was my own conscious, but I needed to see you settled. Safe. I'm not sure Paris will ever be safe-not for our people.
"While you were staying in the apartment in town-in Agrabah-I took shelter here. It's interesting how easily gypsies band together, isn't it? They don't ask questions… they just see someone else who has been rejected by society, and they embrace them as brother-regardless of race or culture or physical limitations." Esmeralda watched Clopin's eyes glaze over, as if he had somehow transported himself to another world through his story. She rested her hand over his knuckles, not sure how to comfort him in this other world, which felt dark and broken and very real. This action must had brought him back, because Clopin gave his dark hair a quick shake before continuing his story.
"I checked in every few days, wandering to the outskirts of the marketplace to make sure you were doing okay. One evening, I watched on from the shadows as you rescued a young woman from one of the local vendors. Wanting to ensure that he did not pursue and attack both of you, I followed-slipping in and out of abandoned buildings and darkened shadows. When you finally stopped outside the palace walls. I watched the two of you talking. I watched you smile and follow her inside, and you seemed… happy."
Esmeralda's throat tightened. Yes, she was shocked to learn that Clopin had been near her the entire time she was in Agrabah. But that was not what kept air from her lungs and forced moisture to well at the corners of her eyes. What affected her was his recount of that night-the night she officially met Jasmine, the woman who breathed new life into the gypsy's heart and soul. The woman who she'd just hurt beyond repair, and who forsaked her for Aladdin, of all people.
"Seeing you happy and safe, I started making plans to return to Paris," Clopin explained, drawing Esmeralda away from her thoughts. "I spent the last few days gathering supplies, and I left late yesterday afternoon. I had walked for several hours, but then I glanced back toward the city. That's when I saw the purple smoke rising. I immediately recognized it as smoke with the presence of Pinon Resin. And, because I know of no other Roma gypsies in Agrabah, and I knew the smoke wouldn't be coming from inside the palace-where I had last seen you-I knew something must have changed. Worried that you were in danger, I came back. And here we are," Clopin finished, motioning to the two of them around the fire.
Esmeralda listened quietly, still partially distracted by her thoughts of Jasmine and her last memories of the palace. Clopin watched the gypsy woman, noticing that she no longer possessed the happiness she did on the night she walked through its gates. "Esmeralda?" he hedged. The gypsy woman raised a dark eyebrow in question. "What brought you out here? Why are you no longer in the palace?"
Esmeralda gave a half-hearted shrug. "Things changed. I don't belong there… I never did."
Clopin clicked his tongue. "Mon enfant, we belong where we decide we belong, where our hearts are at peace. Our people have always been nomads. We are renewed by the wind that guides our steps and the flames that fuel our souls. We are free to go where we wish and be whomever we desire. Just like you hold the key to the Court of Miracles when you hold your woven pendant, you-you, Esmeralda-hold the key to the life you want to live. You simply need to trust your heart."
Esmeralda could no longer keep her tears from falling. She had heard similar insights from Clopin her entire life. He had helped to teach her about many of the world's truths, both beautiful and cruel. And she was thankful for his heartfelt guidance. I did pray for guidance. But, his words did not feel comforting this time.
"Clopin, you don't understand," the gypsy woman cried. "I hold no key. Not to my life, and not to the Court. Not anymore."
Her dearest friend raised a raven eyebrow in question. "What do you mean? Where is your pendant?"
Esmeralda let his question hang in the air as she replayed her last memory of the pendant she had given to Princess Jasmine.
"What is this necklace thing?"
"This silly thing? She gave it to me, which is why I'm giving it to you—to prove that she means nothing to me now. Do with it what you will; I don't care what happens to it."
"Come, Aladdin, we must get some rest tonight. We'll tell Father in the morning, and we'll start planning the wedding."
"I… I lost it."
Clopin frowned, not at Esmeralda's disclosure, but at her despondent countenance. "Everything lost can be found. You just need to know where to look."
"Not this time, Clopin. I won't look where I'm not wanted."
"You think you are not wanted in Agrabah?" Clopin asked.
Esmeralda huffed, annoyed to still be having this conversation. "Yes."
Clopin let silence hover in the air. For all of Esmeralda's strengths and redeeming qualities, she was strong-willed and stubborn. Just like her mother, he thought. "And what about what you want?"
"Huh?" Esmeralda asked, not expecting that question. It doesn't matter what I want. Jasmine made her choice; she has the right to make her own decisions. If I love her, I need to respect that. Maybe Aladdin can make her happy… Esmeralda huffed, frustrated by her attempts to rationalize her decision to leave. But… what about me? I do deserve the opportunity to be happy, and though I'm not sure what the future could hold for Jasmine and I, I know that she makes me happy-that I love her. And I think I could make her happy. "All I want to do is make her happy," the gypsy woman whispered, half to herself, and half to the morning dawning around her. As the words left her mouth, Esmeralda knew they embodied the most important and purposeful truth of her life.
Observing Esmeralda's personal revelation, Clopin smiled his toothy grin. "Then find a way to make it happen, mon enfant. I'll stay here as long as you need me."
Esmeralda offered a weary smile. "I guess this means it's time for me to return to Agrabah."
A/N: As always, I welcome your comments. Thank you again for your continued support and encouragement. I love all of you beautiful people!