Like hordes of swarming fireflies, the lights of torches were visible in the distance as they surrounded Notre Dame, the rioters chanting death to Esmeralda as the cathedral was ransacked. The girl in question was far away from their grasp, freed from the noise and violence surrounding the edifice in the nick of time. She was now safe in a small boat off the shore of the Seine, but it was not to be for long - ever closer drew the vessel to the crowd. The sobriety of it all was not lost on Gringoire, though all he could manage was scratching Djali behind the ears, silenced by the distant clamors.
Esmeralda leaned against him, whether due to the chill of the cold wind or the fear on the mind of all present in the boat, he didn't know. But here and now, he found her touch almost like fire, shifting away as if a hot iron had been pressed to his skin. All he could think, from the moment he stopped chattering to fill the empty air, was how he felt just as condemned as her.
Why, oh, why had he deserved this lot in life? He was always unlucky, of course, from the deaths of his family, to wandering the pavement and feeding on scraps until the skin of his feet broke and bled, saying nothing of when he was rendered deathly ill from a rotten crust. From there, the struggles, the desperation to claw his way out of the hole the executions of his parents had left him in - the only calling right for him was the writing, but then, oh, then, his fortune became worse before it became better. Parisians seemed to be convinced that nobody deserved the ability to write less, if how his rhymes and tomes were received by the public were any indication. There he continued to live in extreme poverty, just barely surviving on the proceeds on his performances - even after the union between him and Esmeralda, the opportunities he deserved to be given, ultimately he only became a slightly different brand of laughing stock to a slightly different brand of lowly neighborhood.
And here, after all he endured, he was to risk his life for the girl who barely gave him a moment's look? She was his friend, dearly, truly, as was Djali, and he would be a fool to deny the sanctity of their marriage (even when she did), but a selfish part of him was not ready to be sent to the gallows once more. He had suffered so much in his life already, who did he owe to suffer more - the girl who filled her head with dreams of the sun god who put her on the executioner's block to begin with?
Djali was rubbing its forehead against the crook of Gringoire's arms, and just like him, he mused, the poor thing had been caught within the crossfire of Esmeralda's literal witch hunt. It was to be hanged at dawn, if Gringoire hadn't interfered, and while the pitiful animal was the smartest Gringoire had ever seen, it was an animal nonetheless. In its simple, golden eyes, there was nothing more than confusion at why it had to be on a boat, after being held in a cell with its owner, treated like a prisoner rather than sleeping peacefully on a cot in the Court of Miracles like it belonged. This was no place for anyone - much less an innocent little doe! If nothing else, Esmeralda understood why she was being persecuted - her animal companion could not.
He knew it was wrong, under typical circumstances, to weigh the life of an animal and a human, but he was afraid this was no typical circumstance. The rowing down the Seine was a mere buffer for the inevitable, welcome a buffer as it was, and the fact was that he couldn't put his life on the line again. What shred of happiness that had been brought to him from his wife and her pet was blown out in a puff of smoke by the trouble that followed them. Twenty-six years he had lived, evading death only by luck, and he was not going to cut his life short before the twenty-seventh, amounting to nothing more than manic poetry and scorned plays.
Still, though, Gringoire was not a brave man. He could not resent Esmeralda for what she had done to his life, as tragedy followed her just as it followed him and Djali. He loved her, like any husband should love a wife - if not as a lover then as a partner, a sister, a friend, as whatever she pleased, and perhaps in another life they could live as the couple they were meant to be. Alas, though, time was short, and as the roar of the rabble throughout the city grew louder, he couldn't waste time to think of what could have been.
There was no fighting that crowd, and there was no fighting justice, no matter how wrongful. Gringoire thought so highly of his intellect, his writing, his plays, but undeniably, he was a coward. He could not save Esmeralda - it was not a question of if she would live or die, but if he would live or die alongside her. His eyes stung and became moist with tears, and he knew it wasn't the bite of the wind as he looked between Djali and his wife.
How hopeless Esmeralda looked, her hand outstretched towards his sleeve, her teeth chattering in the cold as her own eyes wet. Gringoire averted his eyes, turning them back to the goat in his arms. Neither of them deserved what was to come, never in one million years, but telling himself he was saving an innocent animal's life was easier than telling himself he was only saving his own. He would go to Hell for this, surely, but Hell was worth the opportunity to live a day more.
"But I cannot save you both!"