This is what came to my mind after I finished reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the third time and being - yet again - completely devastated by the way it ends. So I decided to write my approach on what if Victor Hugo hadn't killed off all of our favourite characters or turned them into selfish bastards that run off with goats *ahem Gringoire*. What if La Esmeralda had been willing to let Claude Frollo save her because she deserved better than being hanged.
Just for orientation, the beginning of the story takes place around the chapter The Little Shoe.
I hope I can do the book and its characters justice and most of all, hope that you enjoy reading this. Also, I'd greatly appreciate comments and reviews!
'I knew well that it was he again! The assassin, the one who killed my Phoebus. Oh Phoebus!'
The priest mustered all his strength not to break the poor girl's wrist, which had been in his grasp since they arrived at the Grève.
'The girl knoweth not what a soldier's name dost to me,' the priest reminded himself.
'I warn you gypsy-girl, thou art never to speak of that name again, for it is his name that brings death upon thee.'
The young girl seemed as if in a trance of fear and shock, for she continued to cry for her lover: 'Phoebus, my Phoebus! Help!'
'You foolish child! to think that a captain will come to save a gypsy. Dost thou not know that he is to be wed with another? that thou art mad to believe that his kindness towards thee was out of his love for thee. Thy captain looked at thee like a wolf upon its prey, hungry to tear its flesh to pieces. Child, thou'rt blinded by thy love! Where is he now when thou art condemned to die? Where is he now to save thee!' The priest's scornful words had been too much for the gypsy-girl to understand and she felt near fainting.
'Phoebus… married! Was not it he who called marriage a too grand affair to be bothered. Alas! what wicked scheme! 'Tis not true, it cannot be. Priest, thou hast heard what my captain said that night, for he had never loved any but me.' A shudder ran down the gypsy's spine as she remembered the moments at Falourdel's.
The priest looked at her with bold eyes.
'My child, I would not lie to thee as God is watching us.'
With those words the gypsy sank to the ground and remained motionless except for the sounds of sobbing.
'Then I shall die,' said she in a low voice, maintaining her position on the cold floor.
'Die? Child, thou knowest not what thou'rt saying.' The archdeacon clasped her shoulders with both of his hands in an attempt to waken the girl from her miserable reverie.
'Dost thou not know of the night thy vagabonds came climbing the walls of Notre-Dame to save thee? Dost thou not remember how the fool Quasimodo came descending from the same walls to save thee? So thou seest, for thee to wish death upon thyself is as if spitting in their faces to ridicule them. 'Tis as if putting a dagger through my heart, for 'tis I who will save thee, yet thou keepest calling that soldier's name. Oh, for thou to give all up for one man! Madness! thou art mad, gypsy-girl, mad!'
The priest faltered with anger and dragged the poor girl to her knees. She followed him helplessly as if all strength had left her small body.
'There! 'Tis the gibbet! Look, as it is what thou wishest for. I assure thee, it bringeth thou certain death.'
The girl's glassy eyes were filled with tears as she looked at the black cross in the middle of the place. In the dark of the night, with only the moonlight in the sky that shone upon them, the gibbet seemed to gape terribly at the frightened girl. She became motionless, frozen in her fear, as death appeared closer than it had before.
After receiving only silence from the gypsy, the priest grew impatient upon her hesitation, for he remembered the sergeants approaching them with running and shouting.
'Gypsy, if 'tis death that thou wishest, then it shall not be the gibbet which claims thy neck. Thy sorcery hath made me mad and it shall be thy death that releases me to sanity. If thou must die, thou shalt meet the grave by mine own two hands.'
The priest's eyes sparkled with anger as his raging fingers pressed and clenched around the unfortunate girl's neck. Esmeralda struggled and writhed under the furious grip in a desperate attempt to free herself, but it was useless. She wanted to fly, to loosen his hands, for the terror of death was consuming her senses. With every effort to hold him back, the priest's hands wound tighter, grasping the girl's neck with superhuman strength. All at once, she felt the need to breathe grow insufferably strong and shut her eyes, afraid that the last face she was to see was that of the man she despised. Her mind was split between consciousness and unconsciousness, her thoughts getting caught in senseless fragments of memories from the past. Hallucinations of Phoebus' handsome stature struck upon her eyes and her mind recollected the moments of their attempted night together. Blinded by her love for the captain, she had told him that gypsy-girls like her needed nothing more but air and love. If the poor girl weren't so close to facing the grave, she would have laughed at the irony of her situation.
First, her lover had left her to wed another and in the hands of that monstrous priest. Then, when love had betrayed her and she had only air left to survive by, that was taken from the unfortunate creature as well. It had been by the very hands of that priest who claimed to love her, who then brutally choked each breath of life from her body. With all the effort still left, she mustered her remaining strength to cry out in a voice like that of a wounded animal calling for its mother.
'Save me.' It was the broken sound that escaped her lips.
Claude Frollo froze in his motions. He had imagined the gypsy-girl saying those words to him countless times, for in that moment he pondered whether the scene before him was reality or another act of sorcery. It was when he had given up most hope that the girl was to be his, for she had been acting like a wild beast unable to be tamed; then she had called upon him to have pity. Suddenly, the fire within him ceased at the gypsy's words and the priest felt – for the first time since he had laid eyes on the dancer – the venom in his veins diluting. Casting a glance at the girl lying below him, he shrank back in fear, for his fingers were still wrapped around her delicate neck.
Her skin had become paler than the dress she was wearing and her lips had turned a peculiar shade of blue. The archdeacon removed his hands as if one touching red-hot iron.
'My child! Oh, what have I done! Forgive me, forgive me. I shall be thy slave, I shall do what thou wishest; but open thine eyes once more!' Desperate, without knowing what to do, the priest crouched down to embrace the girl's unconscious form and placed a hundred kisses on her face, her shoulders, her arms; until his lips tasted every part of skin exposed to his eyes.
'I was a fool to think of thy death as my salvation. Damnation! that thou bringest, in life and in death.'
The unhappy priest's eyes were moistened with tears, and though he believed the girl to be dead, he lifted her from the ground with both his arms, held her close to his rapidly beating heart, and carried her away from that tragic place. He was surprised to find her body lighter than he'd expected, for the girl was no more than a child from the streets.
As the soldiers' uproar drew nearer and nearer, the priest remembered that he was in a haste to escape the Grève. His fear gradually dispersed, for he found the place to be embedded in darkness so grave that no soldier's torch would be fiery enough to turn the shadows to light. Engaged in the comforts of the night, the priest directed his steps towards the University, onto the Rue de la Cité. It was where his dear brother Jehan had been residing at times when he wasn't lost and idling in one of Paris' many taverns.
In the archdeacon's arms rested the young girl, remaining utterly motionless, but his eyes were grimly fixed upon the way ahead of them. His feet moved violently against the pavement, each step bringing him closer to a run, though he seemed to have forgotten what from. It was a long time since he had last visited his brother, and it was then – alone, in the dead of night – that he wished to see Jehan's face again. Nevertheless, the priest wound his way through deserted passages and alleyways until he found himself facing the door of his brother's chambers.
With a creak it opened to a room, which was so poorly lit that the priest stumbled upon his first steps inside. This caused him great panic, as he feared to drop the girl in his arms, and thus his toe had to endure a rather forceful encounter with the wooden table, making him grit his teeth in pain. A string of curses escaped his lips, but they had been muttered and hissed too lowly for anyone to understand. Once he regained clearness and control of his thoughts, he made a motion to lay the girl down on what appeared to him to be a bed, and rushed to close the door.
It was then, when Claude Frollo realized what he had been running from; it wasn't the soldiers, for the girl was dead and hence could not be hanged, but it was the whole city of Paris with its glaring eyes and judging frowns upon the treacherous sins he committed. A bitter laugh grumbled in his throat as he remembered calling the poor girl a fool for believing that a gypsy could be with a captain but, in fact, he – the archdeacon, a man of God – wished nothing more than to be with the Egyptian himself. The sorceress must have driven him mad; though the moment she had given in to him, he felt as if the happiest man in the world.