He pocketed the shiny, red apple without a tremor of hesitation as he easily chatted with the merchant about the poor fool stuck in the stockade. The merchant had been watching him warily, knowing full well what he was, but any Parisian worth his salt enjoyed a good gossip. The shrill whistle of a soldier pierced the air. With a flourish, he removed his mask with a bow "It has been a pleasure, my dear friend." His words practically dripped with poisoned honey, but the merchant just grunted, turning back to his cart full of apples.
Clopin allowed himself a roguish grin, taking a bite into the apple once he was out of sight. Apples had always been his favorite, never the easiest to steal, but always the best. As he walked away to get a look at the poor sod in the stocks, he couldn't help but chuckle at the memory…
A much younger Clopin felt his heart beating rapidly in his chest. It was his tenth birthday. Today was the day. Looking back, he tried to gain reassurance from his father. However, the gypsy king was already eyeing his own prize, a pastry cart. Just when he thought he was truly alone on his mission, his father glanced back at him with a tiny wink. He took a deep breath, trying to will his nerves away. Gypsies weren't afraid. Gypsies didn't even worry about getting caught, especially not the son of a gypsy king.
But he was worrying as he crept closer and closer to the cart. How he would get the apple away was as good as a mystery for him. A guard was too close, so knocking the cart over wouldn't be worth his trouble. The merchant standing at the cart glanced over the crowd with constant scrutiny, so there would be no way to talk him out of the apple. Perhaps he should have chosen an easier target, like the peanut seller. It wouldn't have been hard to grab a handful and run. If he thought he was going to get caught, he could have taken a back alley and gotten away.
Here the price was much steeper. They were in the middle of the market with a guard within grabbing distance. At best, he'd get a firm lecture, maybe only a little time in the stocks if he was lucky. At worst, he could be spending the night in the Palace of Justice. With this man, Frollo, leading the crusade against his people, he'd probably be facing the worst should he be caught. But with his father quickly setting himself up for his mission, he knew his time had run out. Clopin tightened the sash around his baggy, green shirt. There wasn't another option. It would have to be a quick slight of the hand. The task filled him with such hesitation. He had never managed to secure the purse off the bell ridden dummy in the Court of Miracles without a shimmering of noise at his touch. But his skills would have to do for today.
Without another moment of hesitation, he strode confidently up to the cart. The merchant wasn't watching him, instead he was talking to a customer as he showed off all his different varieties of apples. It would take two seconds, he reminded himself quietly. His heart felt like it was going to burst from his chest as he was finally within reach of the apples. But all his resolve fled him just a quickly. There would be no way to avoid the merchant, just as there was no way to escape the guard.
His plan had been doomed from the start, he realized, and it was his pride that had dropped the final blow. Now, instead of getting something, anything, he would have to go back to his father empty handed. As he milled quietly near the apples, the child couldn't help but wonder if being caught would be better or worse than coming back with nothing. A quick glance up the row showed him that his father was done already, even though there were no signs on his person of the stolen goods. What made matters worse was that he was coming this way.
Before he had time to decide whether or not to carry out his mission, there was yelling slightly up the row. Everyone in earshot, including him, turned to see a stallion bucking and rearing against the man who held him. "Whoa! Whoa!" The man shouted, trying to calm the horse. The horse was not calmed, but instead seemed more enraged. With one shove, he was past his owner barreling through the narrow market. The young gypsy, like everyone else in the market quickly retreated from the street into the narrow spaces between stalls to avoid the thundering animal. The noise finally reached a crescendo as the man attempted to regain control of the stallion yet again.
It was at that moment he knew he could act. No one, not even his own father was watching the boy now. His hands grasped one, then two, apples as he shoved them down his loose shirt. The sash he had secured around his waist kept any of the apples from falling out, but the telltale bulges were still there. He didn't stop until he had five, realizing the scene was finishing as the man led the now calm stallion away. Before anyone, especially the merchant, could register his presence, he was gone.
He met his father at the agreed spot, two apples in hand waiting. The thrill from his success had not yet worn off. He grinned at his father, holding up an apple for his inspection. The older man took it with a gloved hand, turning it carefully. "You did very well for your first time, Son. But you made a very dangerous mistake." He said carefully. The child's smile immediately disappeared. He stared down at the ground, awaiting his chastisement.
His father knelt down to his level. "Your mistake is the same one everyone makes. You were greedy. Now imagine if that merchant had turned around a little earlier?" He placed a hand on his shoulder comfortingly. "Would you have gotten away in time?" He asked.
Clopin shook his head. "No father." He murmured, "I should have only taken one."
"You should have taken two, one for yourself, and one for your subject who hasn't been so lucky today." His father said, pulling from his pocket a sweet bun. Clopin accepted it gratefully, taking a bite into it before biting into one of his apples.
Thirty odd years later, apples, followed closely by sweet buns, were still his favorite. Clopin's grin grew larger as he dropped his second apple into the lap of one of his men begging in the street. Now, to see that poor fool in the stocks…