Author's Notes: This chapter of "Accursed Wretch" reworks some chapters from the novel where Esmeralda had been the subject but not the POV character, and has now made her the POV character. It just feels like there is so much of her daily life that can add a new twist on a classic tale. I hope you guys enjoy this chapter, and please review :)
The festival was still going on but was starting to die down as the sun set in the sky and everything took on a gloomy hue. There were many torches and candles lit to keep the festivities going, which served to cast shadows all around the citizens as they danced, drank, ran, and ate. Esmeralda had just finished her final performance of the night by the Seine River, and a gypsy man from her new tribe was playing the final high notes on his fife to signal the climax of the show.
Everyone clapped and then tossed some coins for the performers. Esmeralda and her partner for the evening then went about splitting up the money as the Parisians left for other attractions. Djali was sitting on Esmeralda's rug, which was going to make it very difficult to fold it back up for the night.
"Gracious, Fito! What am I going to do with my spoiled little Djali?" Esmeralda giggled as her goat gazed lazily up at them.
"Well don't kick it. Goats tend to fight back," Fito replied as he counted the money, "It looks like we made a good haul tonight, though I feel you should probably get a bigger share this time. After all, I heard you went to the forbidden square to dance. Not a very smart move."
"I don't know why everyone is so afraid of that old woman," Esmeralda pouted, "If anything that priest is far scarier than her. At least she can't leave her cell. The priest...I don't know what it is about him, but those eyes...those eyes belonged to an evil I cannot comprehend."
"Ah, you mean Archdeacon Frollo," Fito nodded in understanding, "Yes, he is a severe and prejudice man, but his power only goes as far as the church and the courts. He could recommend a harsher sentence, but as long as you never get caught he cannot touch you."
"You sound very glib about all this. I'm telling you that priest is a specter, a fiend. I hope I never see him again."
"A priest is the least of your worries, dear Esmeralda. You nearly called down a demon on yourself tonight."
"What? La Sachette's monster?" Esmeralda scoffed, "Hah! I've heard of such rumors before, and they rarely turn out to be true."
"This one is true," Fito warned, "La Sachette keeps a creature of pure malevolence by her side, and the target of her hatred is any gypsy that comes near her lair. You were lucky to avoid being attacked by it. There have been those among us that have encountered it, including Clopin, the king himself. Clopin gives us our territories for a reason, and you were most unwise to disobey him."
"It cannot be that bad," Esmeralda protested, "It's a busy street with minimal interference from the royal archers. You see how much money we made today, for just one day's work! As long as the priest is not there, then I see no reason why I should not return. After all, the old woman cannot leap from her window to grab me or anything, right?"
Fito the fife player then sighed heavily at the young woman's stubbornness. Why was it always so hard with new members of their tribe? It didn't matter whether it was thieves, beggars, gypsies, Jews, or cutthroats, they never seemed to listen.
"I cannot stop you, La Esmeralda, but I can offer one piece of advice, and if you are wise you will listen carefully," Fito said sternly, "When La Sachette starts cursing at you, you back away from the rat hole and dance at a further distance away. If she yells out the word 'Quasimodo', you run and don't stop running until you have made it back to The Court of Miracles. Understand?"
"Quasimodo? Isn't that one of their holidays?" Esmeralda asked in confusion.
"Quasimodo is the name of the brute that lives in the rat hole," Fito explained.
"Why is he called by such an odd name?" Esmeralda asked.
"No one knows. It's not like La Sachette has friends to confide her secrets in," Fito snorted, "No, all of her secrets belong to herself and to that pet wolf she dares to call Quasimodo. In their language the name means 'approximation' or 'almost'. I do not know why a monster would be named something so innocuous. Just know that once that name is spoken you have mere moments to escape with your life. I would prefer if you simply stayed away from the rat hole, but if you are stubborn then at least be prepared."
"I will," Esmeralda promised, "I'll join you back at the court soon. I have to get Djali off my rug and leashed before I can leave."
Fito smiled and nodded before he handed her the money she earned. She placed it in her plain burlap bag, and as she did this Fito's eyes wandered to the green bag with a glass emerald hanging from around her neck.
"Do you keep something more valuable than money in that purse?" Fito asked as he pointed to the green bag, "It's very pretty."
"This bag was made by my mother before she passed away," Esmeralda explained, "She adopted me, but she told me that my real mother was alive and that someday I could see her again. The charm in this bag is my link to my birth mother, and as long as I remain pure I will one day be able to find her again."
"Ah, I see," Fito replied noncommittally, "Well, I hope you find everything you're looking for. It's good that you arrived to live in The Court of Miracles. Our people's numbers grow smaller with each passing season. It seems the bourgeois are determined to wipe us away from the face of the earth. We need to look out for each other, to keep each other strong. I must return now. Will you be alright going home alone?"
"I'm not alone. Djali is with me," Esmeralda said as she petted her goat and smiled, "Besides, I have been alone for five months now. I can handle myself. Thank you though. Be careful."
"You too, La Esmeralda," Fito said as he tipped his hat and bid her goodnight.
Esmeralda spent the next few minutes caressing Djali and watching the people as they passed her by. Truth be told Djali was well trained enough to get up off the rug at Esmeralda's command, but Esmeralda just wanted a few more moments to herself. Soon she would return to that tavern known colloquially as The Court of Miracles and be surrounded by strangers and noise in an enclosed space. She loved the open air and the life of the festival, and just wanted to soak in a little more before she returned to her new life as one of Clopin's subjects.
As Esmeralda looked out she saw a few faces she had seen earlier in the day. There was the poet that had authored the mystery. He was huddled by the bonfire across the street and trying not to freeze to death in his too-thin clothes and threadbare hat. Some idiot from a second story window then threw some water out the window and put out the fire, causing much grumbling and shouting from those gather round. She then turned toward the Place de Greve off in the distance and saw those same two drunken scholars that had panicked about the sacked nun's monster. They didn't look too panicked now as they hooted and hollered from their place sitting on the pillory. The pope of fools procession was parading down the square with some elderly wino sagging off the litter and dropping his fake wooden scepter.
Esmeralda sighed wistfully at all the merriment that would soon be gone. She snapped her fingers then and Djali stood up, allowing her mistress to fold up the rug and tie it to the goat's back. Fito was wrong, Djali wasn't a fighter but rather a loving sister to the lonely gypsy girl.
She walked down the streets until the area of the festival was nothing but a muted sound and dim light in the distance. Without even thinking she went down the street where the sacked nun lived, but once she realized where she was she stopped. The old woman wasn't yelling out her window now. There was only silence on the street as Esmeralda stood there staring at the narrow window.
With trepidation, Esmeralda found herself walking toward that awful window toward the home of that shrill old woman. She knew this could be dangerous, but the poor girl was still young enough to have an adventurous spirit and insatiable curiosity. She had to know if there was really a monster in La Sachette's cloister.
Ordering Djali to stay behind, Esmeralda's tiny feet were silent as she slowly made her way to the dark and lonely window. It was almost dark now, and Esmeralda at first couldn't see too clearly in the window. Part of her feared the sacked nun would jump out of the darkness and claw her eyes out. It wasn't too far fetched a thought. The nun was mad, after all.
Gulping silently, Esmeralda squinted to see what was inside the cell. As her eyes adjusted she saw a long thin shape on the floor that turned out to be La Sachette. She was sleeping. There were clothes strewn about the tiny room (which was surprising for someone who only wore sackcloth) and what looked to be a stone for a fire, but beyond that there was nothing. No monsters, no spirits, no wolves, nothing.
Smiling at her own foolishness for believing rumors, Esmeralda went back to her goat and together they started walking home.
The further away they got from town the darker the streets became. Soon the dark blue sky turned black, and many candles were blown out for the night by those who had stayed home and avoided the festival altogether. Esmeralda couldn't help but feel a sense of foreboding as she walked along winding and unfamiliar streets. Paris truly was like a maze to the uninitiated.
Suddenly Esmeralda heard soft footsteps behind her, and she quickened her pace. She knew it was silly to think whoever it was would be following her, but she had the distinct feeling she was being watched. Djali's hooves clattered as the goat kept up with her, and Esmeralda wondered if she should look back to see who it was. For some reason the first thought that came to her mind was that horrible priest, and the second thing that came up was someone could've seen how much money she made and wanted to steal from her.
Esmeralda turned a corner and ducked behind a building to see who could be following her. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest as she tried to remain calm and quiet. Her breath sounded too loud, but she didn't know how to make it quieter. As she peered around the corner she saw the tall and thin-to-the-point-of-starving figure of the poet who wrote the play. He was looking around in confusion, like he was lost, and his doublet had been torn to shreds since Esmeralda last saw him.
The poor girl sighed in relief. The poet was harmless. Everything was fine.
Esmeralda and Djali then started walking leisurely down the shadowy streets once again. Every now and then the shadow of a cat would move along the light of the few remaining candles on the street, but this was nothing to trouble one's self over. Esmeralda was sure that with the mystery of the 'mystery' poet solved she would be safe on her trip home.
She was almost home as the look of the pristine Parisian houses gave way to the dilapidation and degradation of the ghetto. The Court of Miracles was close now, and the evening was quiet now that the festival was nearly a mile behind them.
Esmeralda then stepped on something solid she hadn't seen before, and as she backed away to see what it was she realized it was a large foot in a leather shoe. Suddenly, out from behind the corner of a burned house, the owner of said foot stepped in front of her. It was a creature that looked somewhat like a gnome or a troll, and he leapt out and grabbed Esmeralda before she could figure out what happened!
The creature ran away with her, and Esmeralda screamed for help for all she was worth. The goat tried to ram the offender, but the man barely slowly down as his legs were assaulted by the gilded beast. Esmeralda feared for her life now, never having seen such a terrifying abomination before but hearing many rumors from her tribe about spirits that carry unsuspecting people away in the night.
Pierre Gringoire, who we will admit had been following Esmeralda up to this point, saw what was happening with the girl and the living grotesque. He knew that man. It was the same one from under the buffet table. Pierre mentally kicked himself for not having warned anyone about that fiend being on the loose. Now that beautiful fairy queen of a woman was going to pay the price for his shiftlessness.
For probably the first time in his cowardly life, Pierre charged toward the dangerous situation in an effort to fight off the monster and save the damsel. He got to the hunchback and tried to pull the panicking Esmeralda out of his grip. The hunchback looked at Gringoire in mild annoyance, and then backhanded him so hard that Gringoire fell backward and passed out cold in the mud!
"NO!" Esmeralda screamed at seeing her rescuer thwarted.
The hunchback then adjusted Esmeralda so that he was holding her to his chest, and then placed his burly hand over her nose and mouth. She felt panic swell stronger in her chest as she struggled in vain to breathe.
"Make one more sound," The hunchback roughly whispered in her ear, "And I'll snap your neck."
The hand cutting off her air supply was then released, and Esmeralda gasped for breath. The hunchback then adjusted her in a bridal carry style and continued to walk further away from the city. Esmeralda was terrified to say anything, or to so much as breathe too hard. His threat sounded serious. She didn't know what this monstrosity wanted with her, but her imagination conjured up worse and worse scenarios. He was probably going to kill her, or possibly torture her. If it truly was an evil spirit she might go to a nether world of eternal torment. She had to find a way to save herself from this ghastly predicament.
A few more minutes passed in tense silence. They had passed the turnoff for The Court of Miracles and were heading toward the city border. Was she being taken to where he would dispose of her body? Was she going to be raped? Was this thing conjured up by the demonic priest?
As they passed by an inn with a candle still lit, the light coming from the window showed the monster's face in harsh yet contrasting clarity. Esmeralda closed her eyes, afraid so much as looking at him would cause further misfortune.
Finally, Esmeralda could take no more, and ever so quietly she asked "Please...what are you going to do with me?"
"You're leaving Paris," Came the reply from a voice that sounded so much like the living embodiment of the grave.
"Leave? I can't!" Esmeralda protested, "Please, I must stay here. My tribe is here."
The statement was only half true. She had only recently joined Clopin's tribe, but it was still the closest thing to a community the poor wanderer had left.
"You will leave," The hunchback growled pitilessly, "Or you will die."
"Is there no other way?" Esmeralda whispered as tears flowed down her cheeks, "I have money from my performance today. Three crowns and ten farthings. They're yours if you just let me go, please!"
"Will I be forced to beat you, gypsy witch?" The hunchback asked harshly.
"I have done nothing to you," Esmeralda sobbed, "Take pity on me, for I have no family left except for my tribe. I don't know how long I can survive alone. Please don't hurt me!"
The hunchback stopped walking then, and looked down at the gypsy girl. Esmeralda shut her eyes tight to avoid making direct eye contact with the monster. This was surely the end. He was going to kill her now, on this lonely road where Parisians slept and no one would notice. No one would even miss her.
"You torment my mother," The hunchback said to her, "You make a mockery of her pain. If I let you stay in Paris, then I might as well not return home, for I would have failed her."
Esmeralda opened her eyes then, but she looked away from the hunchback's face. She was beginning to understand...
"You're La Sachette's..." Esmeralda caught herself before she said 'monster', but wasn't willing to utter the word 'son', "Is this because I danced on her street today?"
"You torment her," The hunchback repeated.
"I'm sorry!" Esmeralda quickly exclaimed, "I'll never dance there again! I will never again show myself to La Sachette. Please don't kill me. I'll do anything you want. Please!"
She felt the hunchback's, Quasimodo's, arms sag with the strain of holding her, and before she knew it he had helped her to her feet and turned away from her. She was stupefied as she stood on the unfamiliar street and tried not to directly look at the retreating form of the sacked nun's pawn.
"Gypsy," Quasimodo said without turning to face her, "Let this be your warning. You escaped with only your time lost, but if you ever darken our doorway again, then only God himself would be able to save you."
Esmeralda hugged herself against the chill of the wind blowing on the road, and waited until she couldn't see the hunchback anymore before she started walking back toward The Court of Miracles.
It took twenty minutes to make it back to her tribe's hideout, and fortunately for Esmeralda her beloved goat Djali had made it back ahead of her. Despite the terror of the evening Esmeralda was no worse for wear, and she was grateful to have made it back unscathed.
When Esmeralda tried to enter the tavern she noticed there was a large crowd already gathered there, and they were jeering and laughing at something near the center of the room. At first she had trouble getting through to see what was going on, but then when the others noticed she was there they greeted her and kindly made room for her. Despite being a new member many of the other thieves and beggars already considered her a sister or a daughter, an attitude for which Esmeralda was very grateful.
When Esmeralda got to the front of the room everything had gone silent. Apparently her presence had interrupted whatever had been going on before. She saw that there was a makeshift gallows in the center of the room and Clopin was standing on stage with a Parisian man. The Parisian man had a noose around his neck and a terrified expression on his face. Esmeralda immediately recognized him as the poet that had tried to save her from the hunchback.
"Are you going to hang this man?" Esmeralda asked Clopin apprehensively. She still didn't know Clopin Trouillefou well enough to completely trust him.
"I will unless you take him for your husband," Was Clopin's blunt reply.
Well, that was unexpected. Esmeralda vaguely remembered that this tribe of Romani practiced a form of barter marriage that allowed a prisoner to go free if they joined the vagabonds and/or married a member of the tribe. She looked around at the other women, but apparently no one wanted him. She looked up at the poet with such sympathy as she took in his tattered clothes, his starved looking face, his knocking knees and shivering arms, and most of all the terror etched on his face. His gaze practically begged her to save him.
"I will take him," Esmeralda declared.
Suddenly the room erupted with cheers for the new couple. Clopin found a jug that had some stale water left in it and gave it to Esmeralda. This marriage custom was practiced among her old tribe as well, so she knew exactly what to do. She drank from the earthenware jug and then handed it to Gringoire. He of course just stared at the jug like he had never seen one before.
"Drink from it," Esmeralda whispered to him.
Gringoire obliged, and then Clopin ordered him to throw it on the ground and break it.
Please don't shatter too much. Please don't shatter too much... Esmeralda thought anxiously, knowing each piece broken was a year of marital bondage to the hapless poet.
The jug broke, and Clopin said "Brother, she is your wife. Sister, he is your husband. For..." He looked down at the broken jug, "Four years. Go in peace."
Gringoire smiled from ear to ear, and the couple was led to Esmeralda's room by a procession of drunken gypsies and thieves. Esmeralda couldn't believe what she had just gotten herself into. She had to take him though. His life was on the line and he had been hurt trying to save her from certain doom earlier that night. There was no way she could allow him to perish. The problem remained though...now what?
When they made it to her room Esmeralda wasn't sure how the lanky man would act around her, but he seemed so dazed by his experience that he didn't say a word. He would look at her every now and then, and then look down at the holes in his doublet. He looked at his hands, and then at the ground.
The man was so quiet and unobtrusive that Esmeralda eventually forgot about him altogether. She played with and petted her Djali, and she rearranged the stool in her room so she would have more of a walkway. She found some bacon strips and cooked them over the hearth. She also gathered some wrinkled apples and black rye bread from a burlap sack, and then located a jug of beer. She sat at the table and started eating, every now and then giving Djali a handful of bread crumbs. It was just another peaceful evening after a long day of strange and frightening events.
The peace was interrupted however when her so-called husband immediately marched over to the table with all the authority of a soldier; a gait that seemed absolutely ridiculous for such a weak specimen.
"What do you want of me?" Esmeralda asked confrontationally; not liking the way he moved so quickly toward her.
"How can you ask me that, adorable Esmeralda?" The man asked, his tone husky and full of passion, "It is I, Pierre Gringoire, the man that you have laid claim to, and the man who has pledged his heart to you!"
"I don't know what you mean," Esmeralda replied coolly.
"What?" Gringoire asked awkwardly, "Am I not yours? Are we not married? Why else would I be here in this place of mystery and intrigue?"
"Should I have let them hang you?" Esmeralda asked rhetorically.
"Oh. So...you don't love me?" Gringoire simpered; embarrassed by the misunderstanding.
"No!" Esmeralda exclaimed in offense, "I don't even know you! I only wished to save your life, as you attempted to do for me earlier."
"So, I am not as triumphant in love as I thought," Gringoire sighed defeatedly, "Then what was the point of breaking the poor jug?"
"The real question is why were you following me tonight?" Esmeralda asked as she placed her hand on her hip.
"Oh. You noticed that," Gringoire laughed nervously, "Well, I, um...that is to say, I was hungry. And I thought maybe, just maybe, I could dine with you and your tribe."
"Well you'll be dining here from now on," Esmeralda pointed out, "Since you have henceforth become a vagabond just as we are."
"Indeed," Gringoire replied, a small smile gracing his features.
Gringoire then looked at the table full of old yet servicable food, and Esmeralda smiled and motioned for him to sit down. It seemed his passion had turned to appetite as he scarfed down as much as he could shovel into his mouth. A few moments later he realized Esmeralda was staring at him with a rather wry and sardonic air, and he gulped down his bite of food sheepishly.
"Oh! I should ask, my dear Esmeralda!" Gringoire suddenly exclaimed, "How did you ever escape that horrid hunchback?"
"He let me go," Esmeralda told him, "I still don't know why. He belongs to the sacked nun, and was trying to throw me out of the city."
"Yes, I've heard tale of that cyclops since returning to Paris," Gringoire replied, "It's all my fault. I knew he had escaped the rat hole, but I didn't say anything because I couldn't be bothered. I am so sorry this happened to you, mademoiselle. Do know that now that you are my wife I shall be twice as vigilant in both protecting you and providing for you. You shall see that I am not a bad match in marriage."
"This is not a real marriage," Esmeralda insisted, "I only agreed to this to keep you alive, but the truth is I do not intend to lose my virtue until I have at last met the mother I never knew."
"Um...I don't follow," Gringoire replied blankly.
"It is what my adopted mother told me," Esmeralda explained, "That as long as I remain a virgin, and keep this emerald green bag with me always, that I will one day find my birth mother. One day I shall have a family and a home, and only then will I be ready to search for a real husband."
"Oh," Gringoire replied, visibly deflating, "Well then, if you do not want a husband, then could we at least be friends? Do you know what friendship is?"
"Of course I do!" Esmeralda replied in offense, sick of townies that assumed gypsies were incapable of feeling, "Friendship is like brother and sister, like two fingers on the same hand. To mingle without touching."
"And do you know what love is?" Gringoire asked.
"Ah, love! It is to be two and yet one," Esmeralda sighed longingly, "Two humans transformed into one angel. it is heaven."
"Do you love someone?" Gringoire asked curiously.
"At the moment, no. But maybe someday," Esmeralda replied dreamily, "I am not against the notion of love. I merely wish to find the family that lost me before I set about creating a family of my own."
"Esmeralda? Where do I sleep tonight?" Gringoire asked abruptly, looking around the room at the one straw pallet and the zero anything else for him to sleep on.
"You can have the bed," Esmeralda offered, "I will sleep in the room of one of the women tonight."
"And tomorrow?" Gringoire asked.
"You are a thief now. Steal a place to slumber," Esmeralda replied teasingly.
Gringoire laughed at her gaiety, and Esmeralda found that he was a surprisingly easy person to talk to. Perhaps this sham marriage wasn't doomed to bitterness and her sleeping with a dagger under her pillow for protection. Perhaps Esmeralda had done the right thing by saving the life of Pierre Gringoire after all. Either way, it was a rather strange wedding night.