A/N: For Abby, who wanted to see a story involving the catacombs of Paris.
On Apples and Scrying
The summer had not been kind to the Place d'Enfer; the elegant gateway in the shadows now appeared only to be twisted, rusty metal half-hidden by overgrown tendrils of ivy. 'All the better for hiding mischief going in and out,' Eponine Thenardier thought as she looked up and down the quiet street, all the while keeping a tight grip on a small cloth-wrapped package. Her free hand pulled her tattered shawl around her shoulders against the rising autumn breeze. 'It's cold enough out here, what more down below?' she thought, gritting her teeth as she strode past the dilapidated gate, towards the stone steps leading to a yawning tunnel.
She bit her lip as she came across the walls lined with vaults piled high with skulls. 'Montparnasse wouldn't last a moment before these,' she noted with a smirk as she sidestepped a puddle. The fear of human remains was one of the reasons, albeit a trivial one, for Patron-Minette and its associates to steer clear of the catacombs on this side of Paris. It was also a matter of respect, for this area had long been given over to other subterranean dwellers who had their reasons to steer clear of trouble. At least it had been that way until yesterday's unfortunate encounter on the riverbank. 'Those bloodstains won't go away even with the rain,' she thought as she got to a fork in the tunnel. If not for the fact that there had, and there still was hell to pay, she would have fled this ossuary immediately.
For several moments Eponine stood at the junction, listening for any sound other than the relentless dripping of water and the occasional squeak of rats. For a moment she fancied than something, perhaps a bone, had shifted in the dark, but she pinched herself to banish this illusion. All of a sudden a soft scuffing sound came from the right. "There is a cat here," a gravelly voice growled.
"No, just the fee," Eponine called. "The elder of the tapissier."
"Just say 'daughter of the innkeeper' and be done with it," the voice retorted. A tall man with a limp emerged from the gloom, holding up a lantern which he waved in Eponine's face. "Bah, what a fright! The chiefs will have nothing to do with you."
"I'm here with the gift," Eponine replied with all the pride that her sixteen years could muster. 'Though of course Babet told me to be prepared for that other sort of doing as well,' she thought, already feeling her gut grow sour. Nevertheless she held out the purse she'd carried into the shadows, all the while doing her best not to wrinkle her nose at the reek of tobacco. "It's mainly by introduction, and I could bring more for a proper apology."
The man surveyed her carefully as he pocketed the package. "It will do. Follow me, girl."
Eponine nodded as she raised the hem of her skirt before it could drag in the mire. "It is true, they are not gypsies, but perfectly Parisian!" she whispered. She knew that half-accent when she heard it; she had it herself in some part, having been born outside of the city but brought to it when she was young enough to affect its manners. Yet tonight there was nothing comforting about it; such was the way things were on All Hallows Eve.
She followed her nameless guide towards the flickering glow of lamps and the reek of tallow, and soon enough to the harsh sound of raucous laughter amid several lean-tos hastily erected among the vaults. "Who is your new friend, Silvain?" an old woman called to the man.
"No friend, a messenger from across the river, Mother," Silvain replied with disgust as he gestured to Eponine. He walked up to the crone and kissed her hand. "She has gifts."
"Is she to speak to your father?" the woman asked, pushing Silvain away.
"I will," Silvain replied, looking from his mother to a whole crowd of people who'd stolen up to this scene. "You stay here. I will call for you," he said curtly to Eponine.
Eponine willed herself to nod even as she felt her hands ball up into fists. Her dark eyes darted about in search of a means of escape until she saw the crone nod to her. "Come sit with us. It's All Hallows Eve," the woman said kindly.
"Eve or not doesn't make a difference to me," Eponine replied. "I'd be in trouble all the same."
The crone laughed and shook her head. "Oh it does, to one such as you!" she said, gesturing to where some youngsters were gathered around a basket of apples.
The sight of fruit made Eponine's mouth water, and before she knew it she was reaching for one of the large round fruits. As soon as she sank her teeth into the apple, she heard a dismayed groan from one of the other girls. "That is not the way you go about it!"
"Is there any other?" Eponine asked as she wiped some juice that had dribbled down her chin. She saw a boy hold up an apple peel and toss it over his shoulder. "What for?"
"Look at the shape-there's a 'q' there, who could that be?" another boy laughed as he pointed to the peel. "Is it-"
"Not her, not her," the first boy muttered, pelting an apple core at his friend.
Eponine rolled her eyes, understanding now what the letter was supposed to mean. 'What an odd way to find out the name of someone's sweetheart,' she thought till she noticed Silvain's mother watching her intently. "I don't s'pose I should get another apple," she said.
"Perhaps not," the woman said, perusing the now empty basket. "A girl like you ought to take a look though, and I know just the thing."
Eponine glanced around to see if Silvain was in the vicinity before she got to her feet and followed the crone to a lean-to. She half-expected the woman to bring out a pack of tarot cards; she had seen La Magnon once consult a seer of this sort, but to her surprise the crone put a mirror on the floor. "Right here?" she asked. "I don't have a coin-"
"It is brave of you to come down here. I am surprised my son was a gentleman with you," the woman said, motioning for Eponine to take a seat on a stone. "Has anyone ever looked into your future, child?"
"My hands," Eponine said, holding out her dirty palms. Even under the grime she could still discern the short and crooked lines crisscrossing her hands. 'The man who took a look said it was all muddled for me and I wouldn't live long,' she thought a little despondently. "It is a bit of a mess. Too difficult."
"Those are only little accidents," the crone said before clucking her tongue. "You don't see properly with that; a mirror will set it all straight."
"You see it unfolding instead of guessing what a line might mean. It is so much the clearer."
Eponine bit her lip, seeing the sense in this method. 'Just a little peek,' she told herself. She could feel the hair rise at the back of her neck as she watched the woman whisper incantations while passing her hands over the glass. She could have sworn that for a moment the mirror's surface rippled and shimmered, but when she blinked again all she saw was cool, perfect black glass.
The crone hummed as she leaned forward to peer into the glass. "A tangle indeed. You have many choices before you, child. You'd best look about wisely, or it could be the end of you."
'Like every day is,' Eponine couldn't help thinking. "Like what sorts of choices?"
"I'd watch the company you're with, if I were you," the crone said with a sad sort of smile. "You'll lose sight of home soon enough, but not forever."
Eponine shook her head and rubbed her arms against the chill. As it was, she was not sure what she would come back to once she emerged from the catacombs. "Is there anything good in that mirror?"
"A good many things. You keep your head about you, and you'll have quite the grand destiny, worthy of a song on its own," the old woman said.
"What then? I s'pose you'll tell me next that I'll be something grand like the next Queen of France," Eponine muttered.
"Not that, but a high and powerful lady indeed!"
"Shall I have a fine house?"
"You will live in the city."
"Am I to have any children?"
"You've already met them."
Eponine scoffed at this absurdity. "Oh if you're going to talk like that, Madame, then tell me at least who I shall love and marry. Some lord perhaps?'
"What use would you have for a lord" the woman chided. She peered more intently into the glass. "He'll be a fine warrior of a man."
'So am I to be a soldier's wife like Maman wanted to be?' Eponine wondered. "Will he be handsome?" she finally asked.
"Tall, with fine eyes. Very classical," the woman said with a grin.
"He is kind, I s'pose?"
"He can be. And terribletoo."
Eponine bit her lip, wondering what to make of this. "At the very least, how shall I find him?"
The crone looked up at her. "Wait for a rainy day."
"How mad it sounds!"
"That is what I saw, young lady."
"I wish I had eyes as good as yours," Eponine said petulantly. All she'd seen was black glass, but then again it was dark and she'd always been told that her eyes were never particularly good. Before she could ask more, she saw Silvain hurry up to the lean-to. "It's only nothing, Monsieur," she blurted out.
"You may go. The message is enough," Silvain said brusquely to her. He nodded to his mother. "So should we. Pack our things."
"What, moving again!" the woman groaned. "What is it this time?"
"The police are headed this way-some fool students have been using these tunnels," Silvain muttered.
The woman let out a long suffering sigh before mumbling something about unpaving hell even as she began throwing things in a basket. Eponine moved to help her but she held out a hand to push her away. "This is not how it goes, child."
"But the police-" Eponine protested.
"Are not here for you. Go," Silvain said, pulling her to her feet and shoving her out of the lean-to. "Do not expect the same mercy next time-warn your comrades about that."
Eponine nodded quickly. "I shall." She pulled her shawl around her shoulders again before running away from the encampment. She could hear voices and footsteps from seemingly far off, but she deliberately set her feet further and further away from them till at last she caught sight of the vines rustling in the breeze at the exit to the Place d'Enfer. She could hear shouts behind her now, so she gathered up her skirt and darted up the slippery stairway till at last she was out in the safety of the street. She hurried towards the streetlamps of the nearby park, and looked back in time to see other people exiting the catacombs either singly or in pairs. 'Fools indeed,' she thought; these were too richly dressed to be workingmen and too odd to be serious students.
As she straightened out her clothes, her hand came across the half-eaten apple she'd managed to bring away. 'Is there enough of it left?' she wondered as she held up the apple, seeing that one side of it was still untouched. She stuck a fingernail in it to begin pulling away the peel and frowned at the sticky juice that stained her skin. "Not this way," she muttered before wiping her hand and then taking a bite of the apple. What did names matter after all on a night of illusions?