One Year Later
She didn't know which was worse. Her rolling nerves in her stomach or the fact that she had never seen the nave as packed and crowded as it was right now, on the most important day of her life. Her wedding day. Madellaine had never seen the nave this crowded before. And they were all here for her. That thought alone was enough to make her sick. She was nervous enough as it was. She hated crowds. Madellaine over the course of the last six months had violently protested a lavish affair, but once the word got around thanks to Sisters' Rosemary and Maria's wagging tongues of what Quasi had done, how he had ridden Paris of Frollo following the man's further descent into insanity and tyranny, King Louis the Prudent himself had insisted upon paying his respects to them.
Madellaine hadn't quite known just how crucial her future husband was to the church until she saw the massive wave of people come to pay their respects to Notre Dame's bell ringer, and to catch a glimpse of the rumored distinguished beauty that had stolen the lonely bell ringer's heart. Unable to stomach it any further, she fled back up the stairwell. These days, it seemed like the Rose Window balcony was the only other place besides Quasi's tower where she could get any semblance of peace. Though I suppose after this evening, it's our tower, she thought affectionately, catching a glimpse of her reflection in a nearby mirror.
Madellaine hardly recognized herself. Her face was pale, and her stomach gave another lurch at the very thought of going down there.
Her wedding dress that King Louis had gifted the young blonde was a brilliant sky blue color the color of a robin's egg, or the sky after a fresh summer rainfall, and brought attention to her kind blue eyes and set off the yellow tones in her blonde pixie cut. The dress had a wide skirt and sleeves, the garment itself made of natural cotton with sleeves made of thin blue batiste.
A pair of white slippers adorned her feet, and white flowers had been adorned sporadically throughout her short hair, which Sister Maria had taken great care to trim this morning at the crack of dawn, before Quasi was even up to ring for the Lauds, ensuring not a stray strand or wisp was out of place, neat and even as she liked it. Maria and Rosemary had taken care to make sure she was bathed, dabbing scented oils of lavender onto her skin around the column of her throat to calm her nerves, and Rosemary had dabbed a light natural salve on her luscious, full pink lips, ensuring they were well moisturized. She looked like a queen. Madellaine didn't recognize herself.
No longer willing to look at how pale and ashen her face was at the thought of facing the crowd below, she turned away sharply from the mirror and closed her eyes, a muscle in her jaw tensing and twitching. "Oh, God," she whispered, collapsing onto a nearby wooden stool. She buried her face in her hands and lovingly fingered the simple yellow gold engraved wedding band she was to place on Quasi's finger in a short moment. "I—I don't know if I can do this. Too many people. I-I can't."
"Yes, you can," a trio of voices, familiar ones, chorused behind her.
Guiltily, she flinched and turned around. Had she really been that obvious? But then, something hit her. She did not recognize those voices.
Furrowing her brow into a frown, she scowled and tapped her chin thoughtfully. These were not the voices of Quasi, Maria, or Paul, so…
Then that means that…I'm not alone up here, she thought wildly.
Madellaine blinked owlishly, hardly daring to believe her ears. Slowly, she shifted in her spot on the stool and found herself face-to-face with three stone gargoyles, all of whom were very much alive and breathing.
"Wha…how?" she breathed, her blue eyes going wide and round with shock as she shirked back in her stool as far as she possibly could. "I-I don't believe it," she gasped, a hand over her mouth in utter shock.
"We can't believe it either," chortled the shortest of the three and the fattest. Noticing Madellaine's confused stare, his mischievous grin widened. "Don't ask us how we came to life, it's been so long ago, we can't remember. Whether it's by God's Hand, or some other magic, we don't know, but we're Hugo, Victor, and Laverne," he introduced, pointing to the others, and hopping over to where Madellaine sat, rooted, unable to move or speak. "We've been friends with Quasi for years."
"Over a decade of comradery," spoke up the tallest, whose tone was rather regal and educated, the one the fat one had named Victor. "We merely wished to congratulate you personally before the commencement of the ceremony. Laverne here had a feeling you would be up here now."
"You don't seem to like crowds, so we figured we'd find you up here before the ceremony starts, and I was right," the middle one and the only female in the group warbled, her voice soft and quiet. "Nothing wrong with that, of course, just look at our boy. He's spent his whole life here."
"Why shouldn't he?" Madellaine asked, her expression softening as her shock wore off that she was actually talking to living breathing sentient statues. "It's beautiful up here," she complimented, glancing around his simple bell tower loft in awe as a soft summer breeze wafted through the tower's loft, breathing rejuvenated life into her bloodstream.
She stifled a giggle as the stoic one developed quite literally a stony expression and his beady eyes narrowing in a warning that for the moment gave him a truly monstrous appearance. "But don't think that just because you're about to marry our son doesn't mean that we won't take him back," he growled in an attempt to sound firm, and failing.
"Don't worry," Madellaine giggled, shooting all three gargoyles a furtive little wink as she lovingly shifted Quasi's future ring in her palm. "I'm going to take good care of your bell ringer. I promise. What I feel for him is…difficult to explain. Falling in love with Quasi was like…entering a house a-and finally realizing that I'm home. When he smiles at me, I know I'm safe. Having him in my life makes me feel like I can conquer anything, like anything in this world is possible for us both. I don't regret meeting Quasi and I know I might be his first, and he mine, but what I really wish for in this life, is for us to be each other's last."
Her blue eyes wandered the length of his bell tower, when she noticed a piece that hadn't been there last night. Drawing in a sharp breath that sent another jolt of pain down her spine, though thankfully, the intensity of these moments were less in frequency, which was a good thing, it wasn't as bad, as she crept towards his carving table for a look.
A choked sob escaped her throat as she gingerly picked up his latest carving. A figurine of her, crafted in such exquisite detail, she almost felt unworthy even just touching it like this, alongside a letter he had written.
Given that Quasi's friends were hovering at her ankles, eager to know what he had said to her, she decided to read his heartfelt letter out loud.
Today is the day that I take you, Madellaine Renee Barreau, to be my wife and my companion, forever. With you by my side, I will never be alone. Though the world sees a strong independent woman, I've never known someone with such gentle grace and more pure heart. When I've been lost in the dark, you're the only light in my life I need to bring me back, so on this day, I pledge the rest of my life to you. You've always believed in me, and I believe in you. When you believe in someone, it's not just for a second, or a minute, or a day, a month, a year. It's forever.
She coughed once to quell the lump forming in her throat and reached up a hand and flicked back her tears with a practiced flick of her finger. A loud snorting sound seemed to fill the otherwise deserted tower loft and Madellaine knitted her brows together, a look of utter confusion on her beautiful face. And then she realized what was happening and she quickly shoved her knuckles into her mouth to keep from laughing.
The fat one, Hugo, she thinks his name is if she remembers correctly, had burst into tears, and the other two were looking quite flabbergasted, giving him gentle pats on his stone shoulders. "Lighten up!" he groaned, in a grating tone of voice that sounded like he was about to break down. "T-take your heart for granite, why don't you! You'll take care of him?"
She nodded mutely, a wry little smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "I promise," she grinned, fingering his ring, the sounds of the stone gargoyles loud but happy sobs filling the tower loft. Making a mental note to ask Quasi about them later, she took a deep breath, steeling her nerves.
Clopin was waiting to walk her down the aisle of the nave where Quasi was waiting for her, looking effortlessly handsome in a vibrant red tunic and black pants, his black hair pulled back into a low, neat ponytail.
"Cherie," he breathed, sinking into a low bow with a little flourish, and standing up straighter, shooting Madellaine the briefest of winks. "You are beautiful, milady. Truly. Your bell ringer is a lucky man."
"It is I who am the lucky one, Monsieur Trouillefou," Madellaine whispered, clutching onto the gypsy man's arm in a tight vice grip. "Don't drop me," she begged, shooting the older man a pleading glance.
"Never," he promised. He nodded, a soft smile forming, as he offered her his arm. Madellaine stared apprehensively at Clopin for a moment before linking her arm with his and allowed him to escort her down the tower steps to the nave where her future husband stood by the altar next to a dozen lit candelabras. She had eyes only for him. He was wearing a simple black tunic with short sleeves and black hose, his black boots shining and gleaming in the light. She'd never seen him look so refined.
It's perfect for you, she thought lovingly. I've never seen you look more handsome than you do right now, beloved. The warm embers from the candlelight cast a warm glow that lit his red hair on fire, shimmering in the light. Not once did she notice his deformities.
He glowed as he looked at her. His blue eyes met hers and were full of so much love for her, she wasn't sure she'd be able to stop herself from shedding a tear or two. Madellaine future husband looked as though she was the only one in the room and nothing else mattered but her. He seemed to sense her pounding heart and looked at her ashen face, for he gripped her arm tightly and took her graciously from Paul, who kissed Madellaine's cheek gently and stepped aside for Archdeacon Mathias.
"You're perfect," he whispered, his voice low so only she could hear him. He grinned, melting Madellaine's heart.
"Get on with it, Mathias!" Maria called out jokingly. "Where's the wine? I could go for a drink, this is a celebration, isn't it?"
"Amen," laughed Rosemary, earning a chuckle from Sophia, who under Paul's stern glare, assumed the expression appropriate of someone at a sick friend's bed.
The bell ringer laughed. "Your Grace," Quasi spoke up quietly, gripping Madellaine's arm tightly. "I would like to take this woman as my wife if you please."
Archdeacon Mathias glanced over at Madellaine and smiled, his brilliant green eyes twinkling playfully as he looked at the petite blonde in her wedding dress. She'd always been drawn to the old man's eyes. His were the green that brought the earth back to life after an unforgiving cold. The green that, even in the darkest of times, would show you the way home. And at this moment, Madellaine knew she'd already found her home. For then, she had figured it out. Home was wherever you could find it, and for her, her home was right here in the cathedral, with the people that she loved. Paul, Maria, and Rosemary, and of course, her future husband. The Archdeacon grinned. "Finally, it's about time," he laughed, breathing a sigh of relief and chuckling. He clutched his rosary tightly in his palm for a moment before setting it aside. "Too long have you been alone, my son. I was starting to think you'd never find someone, and then this cute little blonde lass comes along and surprises all of us, I must say. I must confess, though, I never knew you liked blondes. I seem to recall you having quite a thing for the brunettes," he teased, noticing Quasi's stupefied expression. "Well, shall we get on with it?"
"For the love of God!" bellowed Rosemary irritably. "Where's the wine when I need some? Jesus, you go any slower, Mathias, we'll all be dead and naught but bones by the time these two are married! Do we at least get a break to eat? Marry these two already so they can kiss and get to the best part of their wedding night. To making us grandparents!" she laughed wickedly.
"Rosemary! Enough! Quiet!" roared Paul, losing his patience. "He's trying time conduct a wedding!"
"Sorry," they both said in unison, to which that remark earned a quiet giggle from Esmeralda and a muffled cough from Captain Phoebus that poorly disguised his laughter at the two nuns' antics surrounding the ceremony. That was another development Madellaine was grateful had been resolved. She was glad the two men were friends again.
"Don't be sorry, be quiet!" Paul snapped irately.
Madellaine let out a tiny laugh and turned away, immediately faking a cover to disguise it. "I—I'm sorry, Your Grace," she managed weakly, brushing away a single tear. "There's a um, a—a tickle in my throat. My apologies."
"Your Grace, carry on with it, if you please," Paul called out cordially, although there was no mistaking the look of annoyance on his face. Sophia smirked and laid a gentle hand over top his and shook her head, amused.
The Archdeacon chuckled kindly and turned his attention to Madellaine and Quasi. "Let's. It is my great honor to officiate this wonderful evening so very long in the making. If you would like to begin your vows," he replied gratefully, clasping his hands together and waiting for their bell ringer to go first.
As he spoke, she knew he was speaking only to her, and that no one else mattered but her. Quasi took a deep breath and held her hands in his, not wanting to let her go. "When I met you, I wasn't just unloved and unloving. I was…I was a monster, Madellaine. Love had only brought me pain and transformed my heart into a heart of stone, hardened and not capable of love. Or so I thought. But then you, you brought light and hope into my life, something I thought I'd never have again, not in my lifetime. How you can see the man behind the monster, behind my looks, I'll never know. I'd already lost my entire world. How can you hang onto something so incomprehensible? How can you keep pouring love into an abyss? But then there you were. There was something in your blue eyes that was so beautiful to me, so safe and warm. In just one look, I was 'home.' I reached out and made the connection, and like God himself had arranged it, you fell for me just as hard. That first day we talked, just the two of us, I still recall our conversation in the bell tower and the feeling you left me with. You didn't know it, but that day, you saved me. We came inseparable. You and I, Madellaine, we're soul mates. I love you with all my heart. Until the world ends, and even after that. I will always love you. To me, this means I would defend you with my life even if the odds were insurmountable. It means I will comfort you in the difficult and painful times. It means I will rejoice with you when times are good. It means I will never betray you. I will never give up on you—on us. It means finding my fire, when you, my loved one, are threatened, yet never waging war—only doing what is necessary for a noble defense. Love says I forgive you when you make a mistake. Love says though life may test me, I am yours into eternity and I will never abandon you or hurt you. It means I will never put you in any danger, no matter how noble the cause may be."
Madellaine choked back her tears and swallowed hard. She took a deep breath and willed her nerves to calm down. Get it together. Don't cry. You can do this. "Love, you are my sky and the clouds. You are the gentle river and the birds that sing. I feel you in the air, I long for your touch. You are my medicine, the only medicine I will ever need. You are my light, laughter, and my hope. I gave you my heart some time ago, and with you, it will stay safe and protected. Falling in love with you was not planned. But our stars aligned, and a great force pulled us together. I will never forget the way your face rested on my hands, the night we told each other we loved each other for the first time. In your embrace, I have a sense that I finally belong somewhere, that I was loved. I will be patient with you. I will never grow angry with you. I will respect you, and I will listen to you. I will never forsake you. I understand that you're not perfect, and I still want to be there for you as your wife, your support system. You are so important to me. As your wife, I will provide for you. I will protect you. I will never give up on us and will always be there for you. I love you."
He grinned as they exchanged rings. He smiled and lowered his face to hers and their lips met, their first kiss as husband and wife.
The moment both had dreamed of for so long, now real. When he kissed her, the world fell away despite their new family erupting into cheers. His hand rested below her ear, his thumb caressing her cheek. She ran her fingers down his spine, pulling him closer until there was no space left between them and she could feel the beating of his heart against her chest. Such bliss. They broke apart and were immediately enveloped in hugs and congratulations by their family. Quasi leaned in to whisper into Madellaine's ear. "You owe me a dance, my love, we're long overdue," he teased, holding out his hand, waiting for her to take it. "I never got to dance with you," he joked. "Shall we?" he asked. "Tradition dictates that I dance with my wife on our wedding day, after all. Come, love. You owe me a dance, sweetheart. I did save your life, multiple times, love."
Madellaine looked surprised and blinked owlishly at her husband, but only for a moment and broke into a wide grin. "Well…I thought you'd never ask me, my love. What took you so long? I've been waiting to dance with you, and you make me wait until our wedding day, love?" she grinned, accepting his hand, and loving how her skirts flowed as he twirled her once before pulling her close, closing off the gap of space between them. She smiled as he rested his forehead against. "Now you're just showing off," she teased, keeping her voice low enough so that only she heard, breathing an audible sigh of relief as the people filed out.
Some, including the king, offered their congratulations, but the two barely paid the onlookers any mind. They had eyes only for each other.
Madellaine hung back after their dance, her hand interlocked with Quasi's, content to just watch the people who they considered their friends—family—mingle and chat. She craned her neck up to look at him, and after a moment, ever the intuitive man that he was, he could sense that his wife was looking affectionately up at him, and he turned. His grip on her hand tightened as he pulled her even closer.
"What is it, love?" he asked, his blue eyes sparking with a newfound tenderness she'd not seen in him before, as he reached up and pressed her knuckles to his lips for a gentle kiss. "You're looking…troubled…"
"Hmm?" Her brows knitted together in confusion, and then she blushed, realizing he had caught her staring at him. "O-oh, no, I was just…you've showed me that the world is full of miracles, Quasi."
He couldn't help but smile and roll his eyes a little bit at that as he closed off the gap of space between the two of them, resting his forehead against hers, enjoying the warmth that his new wife gave off, basking in it. "Just…ordinary miracles, Madellaine. They happen every single day."
She smiled, flashing him a brilliant white smile. "Like ours." He returned her smile and he kissed her, and the world fell away. It was slow and soft, comforting in ways that words would never be. His hand rested below her ear, his thumb caressing her cheek as their breaths mingled. She ran her fingers down his spine, pulling him closer until there was no space left between them and she could feel the beating of his heart against her chest. Madellaine loved that Quasi was so much taller than she was, that she had to reach up and let her arms hang softly about his neck, resting on his strong shoulders. She saw the tilt of his head as he drew her in for another kiss and her own tilted upward. After that was a heady bliss, feeling his emotions in his tender kiss that was so full of love.
There was something unique in all the world about their kiss, and it was that the two of them loved one another right down to their cores—their souls, that sacred bridge between their two minds and bodies.
Some called a love like theirs bewitched, magic, but Madellaine preferred to call it by its natural name: true love. For there was an emptiness in the freedom of being alone and a liberty in being caught in that divine spell. And so, as she looked into Quasi's blue eyes and when she saw there the feelings of her own heart, they truly became one. And if that wasn't magic, Madellaine didn't know what was. As she looked at him and captured his lips for another gentle kiss, the young blonde knew that her new husband was her own ordinary miracle, and she could not have been happier. She had not expected that she would fall in love, ever.
And now that she had what she had always wanted, a loving husband, well… Madellaine wanted nothing else out of life, for she already had it.
Finally, she was home.