Chapter Forty-Five: All that Remains
MADELLAINE walked slowly and surely through the graveyard, trying, and feeling like she was failing to ignore the chill in her bones that had nothing to do with the bitter Parisian breeze wafting through the air.
In truth, she wasn't sure why she had come, though she hoped that Quasi would have come with her, though the man possessed a stubborn streak and staunchly refused.
She let out a tiny sigh of disappointment and carded her fingers through her thick tuft of short blonde hair, thinking one of the nuns or maybe Esmeralda would cut it for her prior to her wedding to Quasi in another few weeks.
In a fortnight, she would be married, free to go about her journey through life unimpeded, with a man she wholly cherished. The very idea made her break out in a giddy smile, though her smile quickly faltered as another chill crept up and down its spine as she swore she sensed someone following her as she walked slowly and surely through the graveyard, hoping to find it after all this time of searching, praying that tonight would be it.
Though the ominous sound of something scraping against the ground behind her raised the fine hairs on the back of her neck. Madellaine slid her slender fingers underneath the strap of her satchel, fully prepared to use it as a means to defend herself and pelt whomever it was with it in the event someone followed her, as she paused to peek cautiously over her shoulder.
The sun had dropped behind the horizon about fifteen minutes ago, and it had been a long walk to get here, to the same graveyard where the old Court of Miracles was. She scanned the pathway in front of her.
A few female silhouettes haunted the corner, laughing and talking too loudly, somewhere, a dog barked, though nothing that felt out of the ordinary.
Madellaine forced herself to breathe again and kept on walking, pushing through the gates of Saints-Innocent, trying to ignore the cold feeling of dread that caused a coil in her stomach to churn and lurch, not sure at all where this feeling was coming from, then.
Dirt sifted underneath her brown leather boots as she strolled through the massive rows of tombs, some inscribed, the ones who were wealthy enough to afford such a luxury, most, however, the only marking at the site of their tomb was flowers brought by loved ones.
And tonight, Madellaine thought, was no different. She let out a tiny sigh as she glanced down at the pristine white lily cradled tenderly in the palm of her hand that she fully intended to place by Frollo's grave, assuming she could find it. Though Esmeralda had told her in confidence that she had an idea of where the fanatical judge had been buried and told her where.
She thought she finally spotted it. A great stone mausoleum atop a small hill at the edge of the graveyard. Strangely and dangerously close to the Court of Miracle's entrance. The horrible irony of that was almost laughable to the young blonde, though laughing was admittedly the last thing Madellaine felt like doing.
The façade as she gingerly approached it was decorated with columns. No inscription bore his name. And yet, there was almost a regal, distinguished air about it. She was sure that Esmeralda was right, that this had to be the one.
Though she froze in her tracks as she caught sight of a silhouetted cloaked figure on his knees, the hood of the garment drawn up over his head to conceal his features from Madellaine's line of sight.
She felt herself recoil, not sure she trusted herself to approach such an individual, not at all liking the creeping sickening feeling that started in her chest and crept its way up into her throat in the form of acidic bile. She was starting to wish she'd made Quasi come.
At least then, she would be safe. She should have…she should have thought to come here earlier before the sun set. Awful things happened to women caught out alone on the streets after dark, and not everyone in Paris was sure to react favorably to her, once they learned to whom she was engaged to soon.
She was about to turn on the heels of her boots to go, not wanting to disturb the figure, thinking she could come back another time, when the faint sound of a muffled, half-choked, watery sob reached her eardrums, causing her ears to perk up at the faint noise.
Was he…was he crying? Slowly shifting at the waist, Madellaine turned back around, her thin eyebrows raised in alarm as she strained her eyes, trying to get a better look in the fading light of the evening.
Yes, whoever the poor man was, he was definitely crying, she was sure of it.
She wanted to comfort the poor fellow but neither did she want to risk startling him. Either way, Madellaine knew she could not linger forever here behind him in this manner. Awkwardly taking a cautious step forward, she cleared her throat to announce her presence. When that inspired no response, she knew she was going to have to reach out and physically touch him, as much as she did not want to. There was no telling how he'd react at all.
"E—excuse me," she mumbled politely as she gingerly outstretched her arm and placed what she hoped was a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. "F—forgive me, I—I don't mean to interrupt, but are you all right, monsieur? I—I heard you crying, sir…"
"No," the figure, whose voice she immediately knew to belong to a man, judging by the deep baritone of his voice, spat out, his voice trembling, and though she couldn't see it, her overactive imagination could almost see the black, putrid bile escaping from his lips.
Madellaine paused, contemplating her words as she saw his hand wave towards the great mausoleum.
"Did you know him, monsieur?" she asked cautiously, her tone sounding guarded as she dared to take another step closer and kneeling into a crouch by the unmarked tomb, gingerly placing the delicate lily in front of the marker and patting the ground, cursing herself inwardly for stepping over her boundaries, having just met the man who was essentially a stranger.
The young blonde woman's tones sent a shiver down the man's spine as he cautiously looked at the delicate flower of a French-Rose that knelt beside him.
She really was quite pretty, the man had to admit. "I—I learned that the only family I had left in this world died, milady, in the cruelest way possible."
Madellaine blinked, the man's words not at all registering as he gestured yet again to the great stone mausoleum and rose to his feet, brushing the palms of his hands on the material of his thick woolen cloak.
"You're a…a Frollo," she breathed in disbelief, her eyes widening in shock. "Are you not, monsieur?"
"My name is of no consequence anymore, none of that matters anymore what I am or am not," the man spat in a cold listless voice that yet again, made the young blonde shiver with fear as she gritted her teeth.
"Were the two of you close?" she asked, keeping her gaze fixated on the single white lily she had placed at his grave, hoping that even in death, wherever Claude was, that the man found some semblance of peace, however minuscule, even if Quasi believed the man was a monster and did not deserve it, she did.
"Not especially," he growled. "Though he was still my…family, mademoiselle. They say his adopted ward is responsible. Is there any truth to his rumors?"
Madellaine furrowed her brow and pursed her lips at the cloaked figure who towered well over her by a good head or two, at least. She wished he would lower his hood and reveal himself, but he did not.
"No," she muttered in a soft tone. "Claude's death was…an accident. Quasimodo, his…son, was not to blame for what happened. Most here in the city say the man deserved it. He was a heretic. A lot of people haven't yet recovered from the… from the fires, sir. Like it or not, your...family member, was a man who lost his mind."
His profile was still turned to the side, his hood still raised, rendering it almost impossible for her to make out any details of his face, and, sensing the man, who sounded like he was in his early to mid-forties, needed time alone, she turned on her heels to go, though not before she paused and peeked back over her shoulder, casting one last glance at the lily at his grave.
"I hope that some small measure of peace and comfort have come to you, Claude, wherever you find yourself," she whispered in a hushed voice and turned away before the man could say another word. Madellaine didn't look back at all, vesting herself to remain composed and in one piece as she turned her back on the cloaked figure and walked away from the graveyard, aware of the man's eyes on her.
If poor Quasi thought Madellaine could never detect the secret wanting's of other men here in Paris to her every move, her beloved was wrong in that regard. The stranger's cold, dark eyes were too palpable for her to notice.
It was just seconds that passed when her thoughts drifted on her fiancé, and it was when visions of his mostly handsome face flitted through the front of her mind that Quasi himself chose to appear, waiting for her near the entrance to the old graveyard.
Quasimodo paused, his face looking like he was preoccupied in a daze, thinking about something, lost in hesitance whether he should walk past her then or run.
Her heart heaved and gave a painful lurch at the way Quasi was looking at her, his gaze suspiciously narrowing as he caught a glimpse of the cloaked man still shrouded under the shadows of night, watching her.
His red hair was unruly and wild, the soles of his brown leather boots muddied, dirtying the cobblestone path he stood on, his lips pursed into a thin, rigid line.
Madellaine swallowed, trying to brave his scalding, slightly jealous stare. "Who was that? Did he hurt you, love?" he questioned, the edges of his voice hardened.
"No." Madellaine heard Quasi sniff as he scratched at the stubble near his jawline, leaving a smudge of blood on his cheek, making her stomach coil. Was he…was he injured? Was he sick?
But there was another sight that caught her eye as Notre Dame's bell ringer moved his other hand from behind him and handed over a mussed posy of spring roses and wildflowers, clamped together in his gloved fist.
She stared at the unruly means the stems had been cut with his carving knife. Half the petals were crushed ungraciously in his strong grip, and his hands were bleeding, though its scent was so strong and distinct, it took Madellaine back to times spent when she was a little girl in the meadows of Saint Paul de Vence.
Her lips parted slightly agape in shock and disbelief. No man had ever given her flowers before.
Even messy as it was, a mess of blossom and weed leaves and roots as Quasi tried to pluck them off awkwardly, leaving them on the ground near his feet.
Again, he handed them towards her, going almost as far as practically shoving them against her chest, though Madellaine at the moment was too dumbstruck to even lift a finger and take them from her betrothed.
Quasi noticed her staring at the blood splatters that speckled along his knuckles, annoying him, though she couldn't be sure if her gaping staring was bothering him, or more so the fact that a suspicious-looking man had more or less cornered his bride and was talking to her. He hoped he hadn't lost her heart. "The thorns."
"Oh." Madellaine almost smiled at the cringeworthy way he had to explain away the mess.
Quasimodo heaved in frustration, pulling the flowers back with an irate little grumble under his breath. "This—this was a mistake. I shouldn't have."
"Oh, no, no, darling, don't say that! I—I'll have them!" Madellaine quickly protested, jutting out her fingers to take from his outstretched hands the bouquet.
Quasi's blue eyes widened, softening a little bit, and looked away for a moment as he released it at last.
A faint blush stung along her cheeks as her fingers trembled as she cradled the flowers close to her heart.
"Thank you, Quasi," she whispered in a faint, hushed voice. "They're beautiful. Just like you, love."
Quasi wet his lips and awkwardly cleared his throat, nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other, still once in a while casting a suspicious glance back towards the cloaked figure, who remained standing unstirred and still as a lifeless marble statue.
Madellaine caught a glimpse of her love, the uneasiness making the blue sapphires of his eyes sparkle.
Even with his unshaven face and the blood smeared on his cheek, she thought Notre Dame's bell ringer handsome, though he was still a man hardened by the grim shadow of his dark past and recovering fully.
She watched as he stepped backward, taking her hand in his, wordless, not needing to say another word, quickly striding, causing the taps of his boots along the cobblestone streets to reverberate throughout the otherwise silent street as the pair walked back to the church.
My home, she thought affectionately, stealing a little glance at her soon-to-be-husband out of the corner of her eye. Madellaine felt herself smile as she looked.
As the pair of them walked back to the cathedral, saying nothing, she found even then it felt natural to her. She wanted nothing else out of her life, for she already had it, and what she had, was standing right beside her as the pair walked, almost in sync with each other, his fingers curled around her arm in a vice grip.
The moment he paused, and he shifted at the waist, shooting her a gentle smile, cradling her head in his hands, and lowering his face until their lips met, she knew. She knew the truth, for how could she not?
As his thumb caressed her cheek as he slanted her head slightly the side, deepening their kiss, crushing the flowers he'd brought for her against Madellaine's chest as his arm wound tightly around her waist, pulling her closer, unable to stand the gap of space between them for too long, she knew the truth.
That she'd only wanted him. Just him. And now that she had him, she would never let this man go if she could help it…
She was home.