~* Paris In Spring *~

"As the mother teaches her children how to express themselves in their language, so one Gypsy musician teaches the other. They have never shown any need for notation." – Franz Liszt

There is no sight more beautiful that Paris in springtime, she thought to herself as she migrated through the narrow streets. Buildings loomed to dizzying heights above her, almost closing out the sky save for a narrow ribbon of clear, bright, cloudless blue that striped her vision. The cobblestones were still cool from the recent, famously brutal winter, but the breeze was warm and slightly damp from the thaw. Window boxes, filled with vividly colored flowers, hung from several windows, and she plucked one idly as she meandered down the streets. The thick, yeasty smell of new bread suddenly wafted in front of her nose, and she turned to see a baker putting out fresh loaves in his window. He waved cheerily, and she curtsied once, smiling. After the fantastically cold winter – which was somewhat unusual – everyone's spirits were rising to new heights at the arrival of spring, and with it, warm weather. She lifted her skirts a few inches to dodge a puddle, and did it with a great deal less elegance than she would have liked, for the water was cold and her shoes were now damp. But nothing, not even cold, wet shoes, could get down her spirits on such a day.

The cramped street broke open into a wide courtyard in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Here, the cobblestones were clean swept and there was a fountain in front, the bottom of it glittering with coins. Several small children were fishing them out, getting themselves soaked in the process, but having an enjoyable time while doing so. The Notre Dame Cathedral was majesty in itself – huge stained glass windows, reflecting light inside the church, shone subtly in the morning sun, and beautifully carved stone gargoyles sneered and growled from the eaves and the steps. The massive front doors were of sleek, dark wood, and they also shone, although with a good deal less brilliance than the stained-glass windows. Several carts, selling religious artifacts, trinkets, toys, and snacks, were positioned around the steps and the surrounding buildings. One such cart was intricately painted with purples and golds, dark splashes of color, like a meadow of flowers. A cluster of children were gathered near the painted cart, and she drew closer to see what was so interesting. And as she drew closer, she met the dark, quick eyes of a masked gypsy.

Gypsies had never sat well with her – her whole family knew of their deceit and treachery, their thieving fingers and witchcraft, palm readings and card tricks. But here, in Paris, the city of romance, it seemed impossible that any wrongdoers could be out on such a day. And the gypsy in front of her was looking at her with a grin on his face, his quick eyes meetings hers. He was rather handsome, with long dark hair that fell to his jawline, a brass earring, and a tall build. His mask was purple, trimmed with blue, so all she could see of his face was his dark, fast eyes and his pointed beard. His outfit was a patchwork of colors – reds, blues, greens, and purples, all sewn together and finished with a few odd bells here and there, so he jingled when he moved. Dark gloves rose up his arms, and she saw his hands were just as fast and restless as his eyes, never staying in one place for long. His grin was more of a smirk now, as she cocked her head and appraised him. The gypsy gave and exaggerated bow and gestured to her. "Ah, ma mie, it appears you have come to listen to my story? Generally my audience is children, but we will not mind if a young lady – and if I may say so, mademoiselle, quite a beautiful lady – joins us for one story, no?" His French was precise and rapid, and she smile in spite of herself at his jesting, flirtatious tone. The children around her laughed and tugged her over to the cart, closer to the gypsy.

As the children brought her closer still, he saw she was really quite beautiful. There could be a drop of gypsy blood in her – her hair was dark, thick, and pulled aside in a braid over her shoulder that left one side of her neck bare. Her skin was dark – although he doubted from any descent, more likely she had spent the better part of her life out of doors. Her eyes were blue, the exact color of the sky above them, and crinkled with her smile. She wore skirts of a simple, plain color, and a shawl was pinned over her blouse to stave off any stray winter chills. She seemed a little standoffish, most likely because of his gypsy appearance, but pleasant nonetheless. A satchel was over her shoulder, most likely filled with groceries, but she seemed content to stay and listen to a story or two. "Now, children, what story should I tell today, mm?" He asked his small audience. A boy with his thumb in his mouth withdrew it for a moment.

"Tell us the story of the hunchback, Clopin!" the boy pleaded. Clopin – for that was his name – raised his eyebrows.

"Are you sure? That is a dark and dangerous tale, not suited for small children as yourselves." He winked mischievously at the girl, who tried hard to suppress a titter. A chorus rose from the children.

"We can hear it!

"Clopin, please tell the story of the hunchback!"

"We won't be frightened!"

"Please, Clopin?"

"All right! How can I resist the faces of such lovely children?" Clopin inquired to no one in particular. "Now, if your mama's ask, you did not hear this tale from me. For it is a tale of darkness and deceit, of a man...and a monster."

An iron gray river, frigidly cold, snow lining the banks, dark clouds overhead...

A small boat, laden with dark, hooded figures, jewelry glinting in the darkness...

The cry of a baby...

"Dark was the night, when our tale is begun,

On the docks near Notre Dame,

Four frightened gypsies slid silently under

The docks near Notre Dame."

"Shut it up, will you?"

"We'll be spotted!"

A mother, stifling her baby's cry against her breast...

"Hush, little one!"

A rough scraping noise as the boat drew against the banks...

The calloused, irregular palm of the boatman thrust out, a crooked grin...

"Four guilders for safe passage into Paris!"

The twang of an arrow, embedding itself in the pole of the boatman...

"But a trap had been laid for the gypsies,

And they looked up with fear and alarm,

At a figure whose clutches were as iron as the bells,

The bells of Notre Dame."

A huge black horse, pawing the ground, a resolute figure astride it...

The horrified look of the male gypsy, standing protectively in front of his wife and child...

His son batting away the spear points that leveled at their necks...

"Judge Claude Frollo!"

"Judge Claude Frollo longed

To purge the world of vice and sin.

He saw corruption everywhere -

Except within."

A curl of his lip, a flick of his hand...

"Take these vermin to the Palace of Justice." Imperious, cold, deceitful...

The dry sob of a woman as she clutched her baby...

"What 'as she got there?"

"Stolen goods, no doubt. Take them from her."

"She ran!"

Breathless, terrified, running, bare feet slipping in the slush and sleet...

The terrible scream of the horse behind her as the dark master drove a whip into it's flanks...

Leaping a gray fence, darting through alleyways...

Hammering on the cathedral doors...

"Sanctuary! Please! We demand sanctuary!"

The horrible rearing of those iron-shod hooves coming down on her...

A gloved hand tearing the baby from her grasp...

One brilliant flash of pain as those hooves struck her small body, her head hitting the steps...

Motionless, dying, on the steps of Notre Dame...

Rough hands, tearing the swaddling from the squirming, crying child...

"A baby? Nay, a monster!"

A well, standing in the middle of the courtyard...


An archdeacon, standing on the steps, cradling the woman's head in his hands...

"See the innocent blood you have spilt,

On the steps of Notre Dame."

"I am guiltless. She ran, I pursued her."

"Now you would add this child's blood to your guilt,

On the steps of Notre Dame."

"My conscience is clear."

"You can lie to yourself and your minions,

You can claim that you haven't a qualm,

But you never can run, nor hide what you've done

From the eyes,

The very eyes, of Notre Dame."

"And for once in his life of power and control,

Judge Claude Frollo feared for his immortal soul."

"What must I do?"

"Care for the child, and raise it as your own."

A sneer.

"What? I'm to be saddled with this misshapen - Very well. Let him live with you, in your church."

"But where?"

"Anywhere. So long as it's kept out of sight. The bell tower perhaps. And who knows – our Lord works in mysterious ways. Perhaps this child may yet be of use to me."

"And Frollo gave the child a cruel name,

A name that means 'half-formed' – Quasimodo.

Now here is a riddle, to guess if you can,

Sing the bells of Notre Dame.

Who is the monster, and who is the man?

Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

Bells, bells, bells, bells, of Notre Dame!"

There was a spattering of applause for the gypsy, and he gave a theatrical bow. "Now, run along, little ones, before you mamas say I have kept you too long." He said. Reluctantly, the children departed, dispersing for distant corners of the marketplace, looking for the siblings or mothers. Clopin stepped from his wagon, ducking his head as he skipped down the two small steps to the ground. "And you, mademoiselle, what did you think of my tale? Not too frightening, I hope?"

She turned her head to one side, smiling a little. "Not frightening at all, monsieur. I found it very entertaining."

He gave an indefinite gesture. "Ah, merci, but call me Clopin. I am Clopin the Gypsy, weaver of tales, singer of songs, a bard from the beautiful city of Paris herself." He said, taking her hand and brushing a kiss to her knuckles. She blushed in spite of herself. "And may I beg the name of a lady such as yourself, mon cher?"

"Violetta." She said, lowering her blue eyes, fringed thickly by her dark bangs.

"A beautiful name for a beautiful girl," Clopin said. Artfully, he pulled a flower from his sleeve and tucked it behind her ear. "There, a violet for a Violetta," He said. He kissed her swiftly on the corner of her mouth. "I would like to spend more time with you, mon ange, but my cart can not go unattended long. Come to Notre Dame again, so I may see you!" And he was gone with a click of his boots.

She stood there, bemused and blushing like a child. It was several moments until she realized he had stolen a kiss, and perhaps her heart as well.

She would have to come to the Notre Dame more often.

A/N: Two of my children watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame last night, and Clopin stole my heart yet again. Tricky little blighter. Anyway, this one-shot is dedicated to Clopin, everyone's favorite Gypsy!