Damn, what a time for Iggy to show up! No sign of him or Phoebus. Maybe this time, Iggy will stay out of trouble...Paris is a big town. And what Fern must be going through! She sounded mighty upset that this fool took her car then ended up 500 years in the past.... I don't blame her if she does what she says she'll do. "When I find Iggy, I'll knock him in the middle of the next century!" Uh Fern? Which century? 16th or 21st?
I sat in the quiet of the Palais courtyard, book in hand, and anxiously awaited for news on that
priceless object that Claude had safely locked away. He was understandably distraught,
especially since Fern's brother accidentally transported himself to the 15th Century.
Claude knew of Iggy because Fern told him. No, I'm not saying that Claude practically accused Iggy of theft, but with that crazy fool here in medieval Paris, dear Claude wanted to take no chances.
Of all the people who would have the nerve to take that box...But if I told Claude, he'd laugh it off and say I was being paranoid...But still...
Time out. Let me back up...
A few months ago, during the autumn following my brush with death and the near-breakup of a unique and very special relationship, I had paid Claude a surprise visit. It was during that visit that he showed me the most beautiful item I''d ever seen.
It was a little box of the finest gold. The box was encrusted with flawless rubies, sapphires, lapis
lazuli, pearls, and . In the center of the lid was a cameo carved from a single piece of fine jade. It
Claude explained to me that the box had historic significance. "It is rumored to have belonged to Empress Theodora. It was given to her by a former Roman slave. You see, Nisha, this man had bought his freedom and his former master, as a special token of his appreciation, gave this servant this priceless box."
He continued, "This man, now free, traveled to Constantinople where he soon fell in love with one of Theodora's ladies-in-waiting. Of course, this young man had been well-educated and the Empress was quite taken with this young man. Soon thereafter, he and his ladylove were married and, to pay homage not only to Theodora, but also to Emperor Justinian, he gave the box to them."
My mind did flip-flops while Claude recounted this tale of love, priceless objects, and the generosity of an unknown man. Wow! These events occurred over nine hundred years ago! In my time, in the 20th Century...My goodness! This box is over...Oy vey! Fourteen hundred years old!
I examined this remarkable piece of early medieval artistry. The intricate and lacy gold filigree ,
the flawlessness of the gemstones, the inside of the box lined in heavy gold.
"Sugar, this must be worth quite a fortune. Goodness! Can you imagine the price this thing could fetch in the 1990's? I can assure that it would be up in the millions!" Then I added, after I realized not only the expert workmanship and the precious materials, but the box's historical significance, "Honey, in the 1990's, this item would be priceless!"
Imagine...this little box was touched by the great Empress Theodora...Rumored to have been the "real" power behind Justinian's throne. I wonder what she kept in it. But how did Claude get hold of it? How did this gorgeous thing find its way from Theodora's hands to Claude Frollo's?
Claude kissed me, then began to answer my unasked question. "My dear, thank Étienne de Noialles for this. He happened upon this little treasure during one of his many trips to Italy."
I looked at him quizzically. "Claude, why does that name sound familiar?" He smiled. "Nisha,
Étienne de Noialles is Solange Marchand's maternal uncle. My meeting with him and André
d'Arcy was during that same week that you and I nearly..."
His voice broke off when he realized that this meeting occurred that same week that he and I had that horrible blow-up and nearly wrecked the good thing we had. I place my hand upon his shoulder, saying in a comforting voice, "That was the meeting you had with Andre d'Arcy and Solange's uncle, after you had met my father. Later, I had to come storming in, say those terrible things..."
His lips covered mine; I felt his tongue gently and tenderly probe the inside of my mouth. Mmm...this feels so wonderful...He sure knows how to put my mind at ease.
"Umm, Claude, " I said, finally pulling from this oral embrace, "Honey, how did this box end up with Étienne, then with you? And what's to become of it?"
He laughed picked up the box, flipped it open, and showed me the inscription inside the lid. Now my knowledge of Latin is even more limited than that of my French but even I knew these words: "Semper Fidelis" -- Always Faithful
"Claude, that's motto of the United States Marine Corps!"
He laughed again, telling me "the noble American Marines borrowed" that expression. Claude
smiled as he explained, "Theodora had an inkling that this box probably belonged to a Roman
nobleman; perhaps it once belonged to one of the great emperors. But she accepted the box and
treasured it until the day she died.'
I then asked, "And what happened to the box after Theodora's death?" Claude's long graceful finger gently caressed the pearl-trimmed latch, "The box mysteriously vanished after the Empress's death; no one knows exactly what happened. Somehow, this treasure found its way to Palestine."
Claude went on to explain that it was never clear how the box ended up in Palestine, but he did tell me that a soldier, on his tour of duty during the First Crusade, bought the box from a Jerusalem junk dealer. I couldn't believe this!
"Say it ain't so, Claude! You mean, this priceless work ended up on someone's junk pile?"
Claude Frollo laughed again, saying that this soldier took the box home to Padua where it remained in his possession until his death. The box, along with all his other possessions, were scattered throughout Italy. No one knew the box's true value, nor its historical significance. Anyway, enter Étienne de Noialles and André d'Arcy. M. de Noialles found the box during one of his trips to Venice; he espied the box in a secondhand shop, languishing amongst a pile of rusting lamps and broken vases. Etienne brought the box back to France and that was when he and Andre did some digging. And all that tireless research paid off handsomely when they finally relayed all this wonderful news to Claude Frollo.
Claude then told me that the box was to be presented to the King at a reception to be hosted
Etienne de Noialles and Claude Frollo. Andre d'Arcy hoped to be in attendance as well, but since
he and his family would be vacationing in Genoa, he wrote up a lengthy piece detailing the legend
behind Theodora's box.
"It will be an informal gathering with a few friends. This affair will not be until next fall -- September to be precise, well after your high school reunion."
I smiled, knowing that Claude Frollo had promised to escort me to my reunion. Then I asked him about the box's security. "After all, baby, this is a priceless object. Surely you'll keep this in a safe place."
To this, Claude replied. "My dear Danisha, that is why Etienne entrusted me with this treasure. I assure you that I have taken great pains to see that Theodora's box is safely hidden away."
That said, he began to return the box to its double-locked, iron-reinforced chest. At that moment, I had an idea! Pulling one of those throwaway cameras from my purse, I said, "Wait, sugarbritches. Would you mind if I get a snapshot of this box? I mean, I'm sure my mother would love to see this beauty, even if it's only a photograph."
Claude was kind enough to oblige my request -- Little did I know that something as innocent as a photograph would be Claude Frollo's salvation. But more on that later...
After I took several snapshots, Claude locked the golden, bejeweled box in its ironclad safe. Then he had two soldiers carry it down to a remote area within the dungeons. Claude Frollo himself oversaw this priceless treasure carefully and securely locked away. Only he and those soldiers knew of the box's precise location, and Claude had the only key to this special hiding place. And that key was hidden somewhere within the Palace of Justice, in a spot only known to Claude.
If he had the only key, then why was he so paranoid that someone could have stolen the box? It doesn't make sense...Iggy couldn't have done such a thing because he arrived in the 15th only last night...All I can do is pray that the box is safe and sound...Poor Claude...
These and many other thoughts swirled around in my head. My heart went out to Claude, the man
I loved, who at this moment was filled with profound dread that someone may have lifted that
box. Then I thought of Fern -- poor Fern!
Her wacked-out brother had stolen the '59 Chevy, the car equipped with the time traveler, and blasted himself to the 15th Century. Fern had received an odd message from Jehan informing her of Iggy's arrival. Then Jehan split for Florence, palming Iggy off on Phoebus -- PHOEBUS! -- that numbskull ex-soldier who, many years ago, had fallen for a certain gypsy dancer and nearly ruined his life because her.
You know, I hate to admit it, but I'd always thought of Phoebus as lovable, in a big dumb jock way. But the thought of him palling around with Iggy McMullen...No telling what sort of mischief Iggy and that goofy, overgrown medieval Bubba could get into.
"Maybe they'll stay out of Claude's way, because ever since Fern told him all about Iggy, I know Claude will not be too pleased to meet this forty-five year old hippie," I muttered to myself as I took a healthy gulp of Tennessee whiskey I kept in a silver flask, then flipped back to the page I was reading. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. Claude?
"I hope I'm not disturbing you, but Minister Frollo sent me up with a message for you." I lifted
my eyes from the book to this young man's sweet face; I recognized him right away.
He was an adorable youth of nineteen years, with neatly trimmed dark hair and sparkling greenish-gray eyes. This young man was dressed in the most stylish outfit: a dark green velvet doublet, dark brown tights and matching shoes. No, he wasn't as stylish as Claude (no one can be as 'with it' as Claude) but this young man had an air of confidence that was so refreshing. But...
He was a little guy -- about five-foot-five inches tall -- one inch taller than me. And he was rather stocky, a condition that wasn't helped by the beginnings of a beer gut. And that's too bad, to let oneself go at such an early age...
"Mlle. Nisha - do you mind if I call you 'Nisha'? It's such a pretty name." I nodded and the young man continued, "Anyway, His Grace is happy to report that all is well and he would like you to join him upon the colonnade."
I smiled at this chunky little guy -- somehow he helped put my earlier apprehensions at ease for I knew right away that this kid will go far. After all, with a little coaching from Claude, this boy just may very well become the next under-Minister of Justice.
"Thank you, Francois, that is welcomed news." Francois Patou returned the smile adding, "I think you and Minister Frollo make an interesting couple. I'm glad you're his friend; seeing you is one bright spot of my apprenticeship here at the Palais. Well, I better be off and finish my lessons. His Grace had offered to help me with my Latin."
Again, my mouth broadened into a smile as I got up and headed inside. "Francois, you're a bright, personable young man, but don't forget to have some fun now and then. That was the only way I was able to get through school: You have to 'let it loose' sometime, but make sure you have your priorities in order."
Francois replied with a broad smile of marked gratitude, "Thank you, Mlle. Nisha."
When I reached the colonnade, Claude was already there and intently watching a street performance. I thought nothing of it but later, when I took a good look...
"My love," he began as he kissed my lips, "I was worried for nothing. Theodora's box is safe and sound right where I left it."
With a sigh of relief I returned the kiss saying, "Baby, I know that's a load off your mind, and off mine!" We laughed briefly then I mentioned Francois Patou. "He's such a special young man, but I don't know much about him. Who is he and where is he from?"
Claude promised he'd fill me in on Francois over dinner, but for now, he wanted me to turn my
attention to what was going on in the street.
"Nisha, you've seen our many street musicians, but tell me, have you ever seen anything quite like that? I know I haven't."
My eyes scanned the town square that faced the Palais. My ears followed the unusual sounds
emanating from the street directly below us. I peered at the pair of performers partially
surrounded by a gathering crowd, which seemed intrigued by this exhibition. As I studied the two
men, my eyes grew wide because I recognized those guys at once!
I clung to Claude's arm and frantically pointed to the performers. "Sugarbritches, did you get a good look at those guys? I mean, look closely, and listen carefully..."
Claude Frollo also scrutinized these two, his eyes never wavering from their comical antics. Then
his facial expression hardened; his voice grew harsh with disbelief as he immediately exclaimed,
"Isn't that Phoebus?! My former Captain?! And who is his friend? Oh no, please don't tell me..."
I nodded, and endeavored to keep my toes from tapping to the lively beat of the music, or from laughing from the hysterical lyrics. Bu there they were: One tall, bulky blond guy dressed like a 15th Century Everyman, and the other, much shorter, barefooted fellow dressed in a pair of patched jeans, an old tie-dyed shirt, and a red bandana wrapped around his shoulder-length grey-blond hair. He played a guitar, which I recognized right away -- It belonged to Fern. The song they sang...
You can get anything you want At Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want At Alice's Restaurant...
Now I really tried not to laugh out loud because poor Claude was decidedly perturbed that not
only Iggy had arrived, but he got his ex-Captain riding shotgun.
All I could do was to put my hand in Claude's, kissed his now-bewildered face, and sweetly say, "Sugarbritches, that man is Daniel Ignatius McMullen, otherwise known as 'Iggy' to those near and dear to him. And it looks as though he's made a friend already." I paused, then asked, "But where's Fern? I know she arrived this morning, but..."
Claude pointed a long slender finger at the large woman storming up the cross street. His mouth then curved into a wide wicked grin as he replied, "Now, my love, I'd very much like to witness how Madame Fern handles her wayward brother."
Yeah, she'll handle him all right, but it will be of no use. Iggy will just bumble on...and stumble upon another potential friend...
That 'potential friend' would be added to Claude's long list of worries. For unbeknownst to the Minister of Justice, Iggy McMullen will have a certain bell-ringer caught up in "Back in the Day". Then Claude's lady would get herself all wrapped up in the merriment as well, much to Claude Frollo's discontent.
Well...we got to talking about our good old days, then Iggy, Quasi, and I started using that old 60s and 70s slang. Poor Phoebus didn't get it...And neither did Claude...
Then Iggy talked Quasi into... Then he got Phoebus to...I was too through when I walked into the belltower and...That was SO funny!
Then things started to go haywire...Then the REAL fun began...
To Part 4!
©Copyright FrolloFreak FSM #14, 1998.