Author's Notes: Time for another neglected fic update! This time I went with "The Prince of Fools" just to mix things up, but this isn't my main story so I don't know when I'll update again. This particular chapter is a bit lighter than usual. Not really funny, but more adventurous and carefree. Hopefully you guys enjoy this chapter, and stay safe during this trying time with the virus :)
Water Under The Bridge
Agnes and her father were at a shop that sold fine fabric in the heart of town. One by one the man that owned the shop showed off his wares, hoping that a combination of colors and fabrics would suit Agnes for her wedding dress. She had not seen Phoebus again since that incident at Notre Dame, but soon she would be his wife. She tried to make the best of the situation and feign interest in the fabrics, but her heart simply wasn't in it.
"I think the lavender would look lovely on you, Agnes," Frollo said as he held up a light purple silk, "Of course it should be accented with something demure, such as white or pastel pink. Nothing that will make you look ungodly. Of course there's nothing wrong with a little accent of color. Perhaps a wreath around your head would pull off the look."
"Sounds lovely, Father," Agnes replied with what she hoped was a convincing smile.
"If you would like to see some dress designs that my wife can make for you, there are plenty in the back," The shopkeeper suggested.
"Alright," Agnes replied with resignation, "Are you coming, Father?"
"In a moment," Frollo replied, "How much would you take for this black velvet?"
Frollo and the shopkeeper then started to haggle over the price of the bolt of velvet, and Agnes giggled and shook her head as she went to the back to see the dresses. She only had to make this decision once, so might as well pick something nice.
She found herself in a room with a shuttered window and mannequins with dresses of every sort. Not all of them were wedding dresses, but many were. Agnes looked through them with apprehension as the entire room had a layer of dust. For a popular shop in town they certainly didn't keep it very clean. Agnes would never get away with allowing even a single room in their house to be so filthy.
As she examined a green and white brocade dress with a lace veil, she heard a commotion outside and opened the shutters to see what was going on. There were knights chasing down a gypsy boy who held a chicken in his arms. Agnes was just about to close the window again, when the boy saw it was open and suddenly dove inside! Agnes was flustered, but had enough sense to close the window before the knights noticed he was in there.
"Whoa! Sorry lady!" The boy shouted as he backed away with his chicken.
"What are you doing in here?" Agnes asked in shock.
"Uh...The knights were trying to steal my chicken!" The boy stammered, "Uh, uh, yeah! They were jealous because of how...fat my chicken is!"
"That is Mademoiselle Chantefleurie's chicken," Agnes replied with a wry smile, "She has several just like it."
"Nuh-uh! It's my chicken, I swear!" The boy defended himself (badly).
"Didn't your mother teach you not to swear?" Agnes lightly teased the gypsy boy.
"No! She swore all the time!" The boy declared with a sense of pride that felt wholly unjustified to Agnes, "She even swore at the priest who hanged her! So, this is my damnable chicken and by blood and thunder you better get out of my way, bourgeois Parisian swine!"
As much as Agnes wanted to be angry at the rude boy, her heart couldn't help but go out to a child that had lost his mother in such a cruel fashion. He looked to be no older than ten, though given how starved down he was he might have been a little older. She couldn't tell.
"Fine. I believe you. It's your chicken," Agnes conceded, though she knew he was lying.
The boy nodded harshly and harrumphed in smug triumph. He turned on his heel to go out of the window the way he came, when a familiar misshapen head suddenly poked it's way inside.
"Lorenzo!" Quasimodo whispered harshly, "Are you crazy? You almost got us caught!"
"Uh, uh, caught from what, good sir?" Lorenzo asked, accenting his words unnaturally so that Agnes could hear them, "We have done nothing wrong on this fine and lovely day! Look, I found Aunt Sabelle's chicken!"
Quasimodo knew what Lorenzo was doing, but one look in the window made him realize that the bad acting was unnecessary. Agnes Frollo, standing amidst the lace and garland, looked like a vision of pure loveliness. She turned her gaze his way, and he couldn't help but smile like a fool.
"Quasi, get out of the way," Lorenzo whispered, "I need to climb through the window!"
"Huh? Oh, right!" Quasimodo, awakened from his trace, replied awkwardly, "Um, Mademoiselle Frollo, this is my cousin Lorenzo. Lorenzo, you remember Agnes Frollo. Who saved me from the pillory."
"Oh yeah. You look different without your hood," Lorenzo commented, "Your ma must've been gorgeous, because you look nothing like that old vulture Frollo."
"Lorenzo, shh!" Quasimodo shushed him nervously, "You're going to get us in trouble!"
Agnes just chuckled and said "It's okay. I've heard it before. Perhaps not quite so bluntly however.
"Pardon the intrusion, mademoiselle," Quasimodo apologized, "We won't trouble you further."
"Trouble? Between talking to you and shopping for an uncomfortable dress I'm only going to wear once, I think you're the better option," Agnes replied with an impish smile.
"Really?" Quasimodo asked, taken completely off-guard, "I mean, thank you! So, um, what are you doing here?"
"Wedding fabric shopping," Agnes replied without enthusiasm, "I am to marry Captain Phoebus De Chateupers. A fine match, if Father is to be believed."
"Congratulations," Quasimodo replied, his voice subdued.
"Thank you," Agnes curtsied slightly, "He is probably the best suitor I've ever had. He is kind, good-natured, and honest. I just wish the wedding wasn't happening so quickly. I like Phoebus, but I haven't been given time to figure out if I love him. I know, that's a silly problem for a woman to have. He will take care of me, and our families will benefit each other. That should be all that matters, right?"
"Take care of you? So what, you're going to be his pet?" Lorenzo asked insensitively, and Quasimodo facepalmed, "What? I was just asking a question!"
"No, you were making fun of her," Quasimodo called him out, "Just because Agnes Frollo is a Parisian doesn't mean she deserves to be treated this way."
"But it's just a stupid nobility problem. We have real problems," Lorenzo griped.
"You mean like your chicken getting away?" Agnes asked as she pointed to the door leading to another sample room.
Lorenzo did a double take and sure enough, his chicken was flapping its way further inside the shop and away from him.
"Hey, get back here, you louse-riddled bird!" Lorenzo shouted as he ran after 'his' chicken.
Agnes and Quasimodo shared a laugh as they watched the scrawny boy run after that chicken with the fevered pace of a man being chased by a wolf. When he was out of sight however, Quasimodo realized that Lorenzo had insulted Agnes, and he felt a renewed sense of embarrassment.
"Forgive him. He's just a kid," Quasimodo said contritely.
"I understand," Agnes replied without malice, "I just wish...I wish I had gotten to explore more of the world before I become Phoebus's wife. I've never been outside Paris, and in fact have barely even seen my own city. The sun is my enemy, so I cannot go out the way I want to. It would have been nice though, to have made some memories outside the walls of my house."
Agnes then walked over to the window where Quasimodo was looking in, but rather than look at him she instead stared up at the sky. There were birds flying from the rooftops up to the clouds, and this sight of grace and freedom made Agnes sigh longingly.
"Do it," Quasimodo suddenly said.
"Do what?" Agnes asked in confusion.
"You have a couple days of freedom left, right? Well then, use one of them. Climb out this window, and let me show you what the city has to offer," Quasimodo suggested enticingly, "After today, you can go back to being a good little Parisian housewife to-be. For now though, be a bird. Be a gazelle. Be yourself."
"That's crazy," Agnes admonished, though not as forcefully as she had hoped, "I mean, my father is in the main room haggling over cloth. If he came in and didn't see me..."
"It's better to ask forgiveness than permission," Quasimodo said with a smirk, "Come on. At least let me show you the Seine."
"Well...that isn't too far away..." Agnes wavered, "...Hold on."
Agnes then rushed to the doorway to see where her father was. Sure enough, he was still carrying on conversation with the tailor and paying her no mind. She then turned back to see Quasimodo, a being that should have repulsed her yet offered a gift she had never before received: a choice. Her mind said this was crazy, but her heart said it was finally time to soar.
Her last bit of apprehension conquered, Agnes leapt out of the window and landed on the ground. Quasimodo smiled at her and offered his hand, which she hesitantly took. He then pulled her away toward the river, and Agnes wondered if she was making a huge mistake.
Meanwhile Lorenzo, who had caught the chicken again, went back into the fabric room to see everyone was gone.
"Hello? Quasi?" Lorenzo asked, and then pouted before he said, "I knew it! He left me behind again!"
Quasimodo led Agnes along several backalleys. The shadows would keep them from being spotted, which Agnes was grateful for for more reasons than one. She knew Quasimodo was trying to protect her reputation, but the darkness would also protect her skin from being tanned. She hated being so self-conscious about her looks. It made her feel terribly vain, but she knew that she would be shunned by Paris should her Romani heritage ever be revealed.
After a few minutes of speed walking through the streets of Paris, the duo made it to the river. Everything was less than grand, if Agnes were being honest with herself. There was some old woman washing her clothes, the decayed looking bridge stood nearby, and the water itself looked dull and muddy.
"Why did you want to show me this again?" Agnes asked Quasimodo.
"Well, I actually...didn't," Quasimodo replied sheepishly, "I wanted to show you something else."
Quasimodo then took her hand again and led her to the old bridge. It was yet another place of shadow, and Agnes was growing worried about the hunchback's true intentions.
"If this is an ambush I will be sure to scream at the top of my lungs," Agnes warned him.
"It's not an ambush, mademoiselle," Quasimodo assured her, "Just trust me."
Once they were under the old bridge, Quasimodo started rifling through his bag. Agnes wondered if this was going to be some sort of evil sorcery, and whether or not she should leave before he cursed her, but then she realized how silly that thought was. Quasimodo wouldn't harm her, and she was surprised by the sudden realization of how much she did trust him. She came this far with him, after all.
When Quasimodo found what he was looking for, he pulled out a carved wooden sailboat. It was a strange looking thing however, with sails made of embroidered red fabric that bent like square fans. The polished wooden boat and its embroidered sails were so beautiful that Agnes involuntarily gasped when she saw it.
"What kind of ship is that supposed to be?" Agnes inquired.
"This is a design a fellow in our caravan drew for me when I was 12," Quasimodo explained, "He said this is how boats look when they're built in China, but I don't know if that's true because I've never been to the Far East. I might make it there someday."
"Wow," Agnes breathed as she delicately touched one of the sails on the model boat, "You have such a talent, and so many places to go. I envy you, Quasimodo."
"You envy me? You're serious?" Quasimodo asked as he pointed to himself, "Ugliest face in all of Paris, remember?"
"Why should that matter?" Agnes asked, "Do you know how hard it is to be beautiful? To try to stay beautiful? It doesn't feel worth all the effort, and yet I have nothing else to offer anyone. If I could be as gifted and free as you are, I think my beauty would be a fair trade off."
"I would barter with you if I could," Quasimodo replied wistfully, " But sadly I cannot. I can only give you this moment. Now, to show you why I really brought you here."
Agnes turned to him, nervous at his conspiratorial tone. Quasimodo then bent down to the river and released his carved boat. It tottered for only a moment, and then slowly began to sail away across the water. Agnes couldn't take her eyes off the little craft as it sailed further and further away from them. Quasimodo likewise stood in reverent silence as he watched his creation float along the Seine. The sail shone, the threads sparkled, and the wood made the whole production look dignified and timeless.
"Quasimodo, how are you going to get that thing back?" Agnes asked, suddenly realizing that it was very far away.
"I'm not," Quasimodo replied nonchalantly, "Someday someone else will find and appreciate it. Maybe a child, or perhaps an old man watering his flock. Who knows? Why should I have to own it forever, keeping it locked away like a king's treasure? I have more wood, and I shall make more carvings."
Agnes didn't know what to say to that, so she simply turned her attention back to the little Chinese boat as it became smaller and smaller in the distance. She wanted to stay in this moment, but she realized with melancholy that she could not.
"I have to get back to the fabric shop," Agnes announced after several minutes of companionable silence, "Father will worry if he finds me missing."
"Farewell, Agnes Frollo," Quasimodo said with a sad smile, "Phoebus is a very lucky man."
Agnes smiled at him, but her smile was likewise wistful and lamenting. As she turned to climb the hill back to the main road however, Quasimodo suddenly grabbed her hand.
"Wait!" Quasimodo exclaimed.
"What is it?" Agnes asked in surprise; caught off guard by his sudden insistence.
"Agnes, I forgot to tell you..." Quasimodo struggled to form his words, but then finally with his head hung low he said, "My family and I...we're leaving in three days."
"What? But why?" Agnes asked; upset.
"My mama feels it is no longer safe for us here," Quasimodo explained, "So, we are packing up and soon our wagon will leave. A few others from the Court of Miracles are joining us, so we won't be alone for our journey. I'm sorry we don't have more time together, but I will never forget your kindness and generosity, Mademoiselle Frollo."
Agnes felt tears form in her eyes. She didn't want to say goodbye to her new friend so soon, even if he was a gypsy. Quasimodo was the first real friend Agnes had ever had, and she doubted anyone else would understand her the way he did. She knew that gypsies didn't handle limitations very well however, and she knew that sooner or later Quasimodo and his family would leave. She just wished it didn't have to be this soon.