Sonnez Pour Moi
He lay under a thick feather blanket, surrounded by warmth. The breeze lifted his hair, causing it to lightly brush against his useless ears. The morning was truly lovely. Esmeralda's fourth child had been Christened, himself acting as witness to the affair. Quasimodo Frollo, a Godparent of four. Why him, of all people?
"I love you so much."
That was why. She loved him, and told him often. He'd never heard the words, and never would. Yet he saw them clearly. Quasimodo swore he could feel her arms wrapping around his chest, nearly squeezing the breath out of him. He didn't mind, he loved her as well. Esmeralda was like his sister, Phoebus like a brother.
"Should anything happen to Phoebus or I, I know you'll be there. You're always there." Esmeralda smiled at him. "The children, they love you so."
"I hadn't noticed." Quasimodo remembered laughing as Collette gripped his arm, hugging it. "I'd be honored."
The years had been kind to Esmeralda and Phoebus. Their family had grown and was bursting with love. He was "uncle Quasi" to each little one. He'd made them toys and watched as they grew into handsome youngsters. He'd teach them what their parents could not, reading, writing and painting. Marie had talent with paints, even at four. Colette wrote beautiful poetry. Pierre could recall the most lengthy verses and passages, and wrote them well. Esmeralda's family was, in a way, his own family. He'd have it no other way.
Colette and Pierre, the eldest children, would visit him each morning, bearing fruit, quills or whatever else his tower was lacking. Seeing the little ones charge up the stairs, only to accost him with hugs and kisses set his heart aglow. Should anything happen to either of his friends, he would be there. He would allow Marie and Colette to braid his hair and tie ribbons in it. He would take Pierre and Theodore to ride horses. Whatever they wanted, he could not deny it. Even when it hurt.
Often, it did hurt. Time had not been so gentle with him. While he could still ring the bells, his rising throughout the night to sound them had ended. No longer could he climb the facade of Notre Dame, or throw himself between the ropes of the swinging bells. Walking through Paris was nearly impossible without a cane. Now, he remained on the island. The bells remained his joy, and kept him within the bell-towers of Notre Dame.
Each morning, his knees ached. Each evening, his twisted spine throbbed. The hump on his back bent him over more than ever before. Despite an apprentice ringing the bells for him each night, he did not sleep. No comfort came from rest, his bed no longer providing escape from the constant aches that plagued him. Pillows and rolled blankets failed to provide relief. Esmeralda had resorted to arranging bottles of hot water into his bed, in an attempt to help him find rest. Those same years, and possible sleepless nights, had changed his hair from the bright red of sunrise, to that of a faded autumn leaf.
Dressed in white, he'd witnessed the Christening. He'd signed the parchments. Tiny hands grasped his hair, nearly pulling it out. He had Esmeralda's green eyes and black curls. The baby smiled at him, not yet old enough to understand the perfect ugliness of his Godparent.
Theodore. He was perfect. A gift from God himself.
After the ceremony, he had returned to the bell-tower to announce Theodore to the world. He smiled. Every citizen of Paris would have heard. Everyone would have known of the joyous occasion.
Quasimodo remained still, enjoying the soft breeze gently brushing his hair against his cheek. His cheek. He was laying with his face to the floor. In a panic, he pushed himself to his knees. He held his eyes closed, drawing a deep breath. How had he not lost consciousness, or worse?
He focused on his breathing. It was painless, unrestricted. He heard his breath leave his lips, startled at the sounds of gasping and choking.
Slowly, he pushed himself away from the floor. The blanket remained on his back, shrouding his shoulders as a cloak. He stood in the bell-tower. Sounds surrounded him, sounds he'd not heard in over a decade, flooding his ears. Chirping birds, squeaking and scurrying mice, flapping fabric and feathers filled the tower. Over it all, humming bells and the heavy padding of human footsteps echoed from all directions. Quasimodo drew his hands to his ears, in an attempt to block the onslaught of sounds intruding his thoughts. Looking around the familiar space, only bells, beams and shadows surrounded him. The footsteps faded away.
He moved a few steps away from where he'd lain, tripping over a pile of something on the floor. He stepped to the louvred windows where the tower looked over the gallery of chimeras. The sun was stronger here, the air fresher.
He hugged his own arms, grasping at the white tunic and sweater he'd worn to the Christening. Both fit him perfectly, and were thick. They now hung loose around his neck. He felt warm, as if draped in sunlight. The feather blanket drew close to his face, blocking his vision. He reached out with his right hand and swatted it away. It drew closer to his neck, touching his ear. It was smooth and rigid, the feathers laying flat. While holding the object in his grip, he felt himself pulling away from his own fingers. The feathers, they were part of him.
Reaching out, he touched the feathers. They were white, with red tips similar to the shade of his hair. The largest feathers were broad, larger than that of any goose or swan. Sharply, he tugged a small feather, causing him to step back in pain. Pulling it out, he felt an unpleasant popping, from his own skin. The feather, it was perfect. The vanes were white, brighter than any he'd ever seen, appearing to shimmer in the sunlight. The shaft was glossy and pearl-like. Blood soaked the quill tip, as if a grisly pen, from where he'd pulled it. The tips of the vanes indeed matched his natural hair colour.
He dropped the feather.
He looked at his own palms, callused and hard, yet youthful. Gone were the swollen joints and fingers, knobby from years of work. Moving his fingers freely, he felt a chill flow through him. His hands and shoulders continued to shake. No stiffness or pain moved through him. He placed his feet firmly on the floor and drew his shoulders back. He stood tall, on his twisted legs, as he could in his younger years.
Bringing his hands forward, he paused.
A small voice echoed in his ear. "When we die, we are all restored to health and beauty."
Slowly, he brought his fingertips to his face. His chin was warm, bearing only a hint of stubble. When his fingers touched his gapped teeth, he clenched his eyelids blocking out all light. With his tongue, he felt through his mouth and counted his teeth.
"No. Please, no."
He felt his nose and the familiar folds of skin. His eyelids began to tremble, fighting the tears.
When his fingers reached his left eye, and felt the lump over it, the tears began to flow. Briefly, he opened his eyes to see his fingertips brushing his skin, appearing as pink shadows. He opened his palms, his face falling into them. The face he'd been born with, the face he'd been cursed with for his entire life. It would remain his for eternity.
"God, why? Why would you do this to me?"
He heard his own words, the tremble in his youthful voice. He wanted to hide.
A fluttering and blast of wind surrounded him, enclosing him within a wall of shimmering white, red-tipped feathers. They moved as he breathed, subtly following each of his movements. The wings obeyed him, pulling close to his crooked body, hiding him from view. They covered him like no cloak, no shadow ever could.
He remained still, enclosed in his wings. It was quieter, it was warmer and no one could see him. Esmeralda had told him many times that his heart, his very soul, was his best feature. She has dismissed his natural ugliness as God-given and loved him anyhow. Had he not grown accustomed to it as well? Gently, he stroked the broad feathers. Every touch of every feather sent a chill through him, much like when his face or hump were touched.
Reaching forward, he parted the feathered wall. He grasped each wing, forcing it behind him. His back pinched, as if fighting his movements. Lifting his right hand, he followed the feathers to where they met his shoulder. His tunic and sweater were torn, allowing the feathers to brush against his bare skin. He followed each wing, from his shoulder to the feathered tips. His right wing was slightly shorter, slightly bent.
Quasimodo lowered his head, looking to his shorter wing. He released it, then folded it behind him. He felt his shoulders, touching the hump that remained where it has always been.
The air in the tower grew loud with flapping wings, the sound of birds fleeing. Dust fell over him, through him. He was alone, yet not for much longer.
He wiped the tears from his eyes. Looking to each shoulder, he spread his wings, the tips bending against the beams. Even within the confined space, he could feel each breeze and eddy press against him. He flexed his new muscles, as well as the old. He laughed to himself as he felt a strength he'd not felt in years. Dust swirled into columns as he gently moved his wings. He would leave before anyone could find him.
Footsteps now flooded the tower. The bell-tower was now filled with monks, priests and novices.
Quasimodo turned around, to see Esmeralda pushing through the others. He folded his wings behind him and opened his arms to her. Esmeralda raced forward, nearly falling onto a familiar shape clothed in white fabric.
"Quasimodo, no." She turned him over, his limp body resting on her lap. "Not now, not ever. Please. Get up. I love you too much to let you go."
Her voice was more beautiful than he ever could have imagined.
"Madame Chateaupers, he is gone." A man spoke. Quasimodo struggled to find the source of the sound. A monk stepped from his right, unaware of his presence.
"It can't be." Esmeralda drew her hands over her friends face, feeling his familiar features. The features she saw each day, yet had rarely touched. Tears flowed freely from her, soaking the white tunic. "He was so strong."
"If he'd fallen any other way..." The young priest laid his hand on Quasimodo's lifeless chest. "Brothers, help me lift him."
A small crowd of clergy gathered.
Esmeralda held onto his hand as the monks lifted him from the floor.
Quasimodo watched as Esmeralda clung to him, her fingers gripped onto his large hands. He watched as his own hideous body was carried away. He wanted to follow, he wanted to stay with Esmeralda. None saw him.
He walked behind Esmeralda and looked into the bell he'd tolled that same morning. He followed the rope from the yoke to the platform. A broken board was all that had changed, a railing that should have stopped him from falling a short distance. She paid him no mind, remaining on the floor kneeling toward the spot he'd died. He waved his right wing, creating an eddy. The loose feather drifted toward Esmeralda.
Esmeralda grasped the feather. She passed her finger over the tip, over a familiar shade of red. She closed her eyes.
"Quasi, are you still here?"
"I'm right here." He reached out to touch her hair. His hand passed through it. Instead, he lifted his left wing and lowered it over her shoulders.
"If you are here, and this is yours..." Esmeralda clasped the feather and frowned. "You wouldn't hear me anyhow."
A priest grasped Esmeralda's hand and pulled her away.
"Come, Madame Chateaupers. You can't stay here."
Esmeralda hesitantly stood and followed the priest. Quasimodo watched as she was led away. She held his feather firmly in her hand.
Her lips moved, not a sound escaped. Quasimodo understood, in the way he always had.
"You've always been my angel, Quasi."
Clergy gathered under the great bell, shouting and arguing. Their voices filled the tower, echoing from every bell and chamber. His apprentice argued and gestured, his voice carrying above all of the others. Quasimodo held his hands to his ears, attempting to block the overwhelming flood of sound. He climbed the steps and ladders to the top of the north tower, the only home he'd ever known. The wind called him.
He stretched out his wings, feeling the wind press against him.
With his feet, he could feel the tower shake. Big Marie was in motion.
"That is the wrong bell. It's the wrong time." He looked to the sun. He lowered his wings, resting them on the parapet.
"What are you doing?"
Big Marie rang three times, paused and sounded again. He counted the tolls. Three.
"Tenor!" Quasimodo stomped his foot onto the tower. "Tenor, not bass!"
He paused suddenly, realizing what those peals meant and who they were for. This was for him. Big Marie, his favourite, was ringing for him.
Quasimodo sighed, allowing himself to enjoy the sound and feel of his bells. They were no longer his bells. He looked to each wing. Three more peals sounded over Paris. "This is how it ends?"
Twenty-eight peals of Emmanuel followed, the proper bell, in perfect rhythm. Quasimodo nodded in approval after the final peal.
Extended his wings, he allowed the wind to lift him from the parapet.