It was the waiting. Waiting that felt like an eternity. Since early morning, he bided his time as the prisoners were being called up one by one. It will take some time to process all these unfortunate souls, many of which had been granted clemency just this morning. But why? Why would such a hard man as Minister Frollo, a man renown for dishing out unflinchingly harsh punishment and little mercy, simply allow some prisoners to go free? It didn't make sense.
The queue began to move again as one of Frollo's assistants, Philippe Ouimet, called forth prisoners individually. Apparently, thought this man, the process is going smoother than expected, as this Ouimet fellow is quite efficient in his job.
It was a shabby assortment of people assembled in that cramped, dingy
room. The dim light of a few torches provided feeble illumination yet enough
for one to see the condition of the prisoners. A bedraggled, filthy, foul-smelling
lot they were. Many had not seen the light of day for several years: the
sight of tattered, heavily soiled clothing and greasy, disheveled, matted
hair were evident enough. Some were young men when they committed their
crimes; now they were aged and feeble. Poor health abounded in the ranks,
not that Frollo or his minions seemed to care. As long as these criminals
served their time, who cares if they don't survive long enough to enjoy
their hard-won freedom.
And that was another matter that weighed on his mind. How we will survive the outside world? What will we expect when we finally venture out in the sunlight? What has changed? Who will be waiting for us on the outside? Will we have a home to go to? What, after all these years, has become of my family?
He hadn't seen the sun in twelve years. Twelve long years without regular visits from family members to help him through the nightmare of being incarcerated in Frollo's infamous dungeons. It wasn't all that bad. He did manage to keep his wits about him. After all, his father did visit a few times a year 末 every Easter, Christmas, and on his birthday to be exact 末 to bring books and writing materials so the imprisonment would be more bearable. Of all his surviving kinsmen, Denis Bellot was the only one who actually had the decency to see about his son's welfare. The others wouldn't -- couldn't -- dare come to the Palais dungeons, lest they risked confrontation with Minister Claude Frollo himself.
O Mother of God! Whatever diabolical hubris took hold of his mother
and sister? What made them do such evil, dastardly deeds that resulted
in heartache and ruin for so many? The indomitable Frollo himself was nearly
Yet it was out of love that he sacrificed twelve years of his life. Twelve years of imprisonment, years spent in abject isolation and deprivation. Was he bitter? Maybe, but once on the outside, he wanted finally to confront his wayward sister, perhaps get some answers as to why she turned to a life of fraud and deceit. One man was dead, and so many more ruined, because of her thirst for wealth and status. But where to look? It had, after all, been twelve years since he saw her last, and the outcome of that particular episode he didn't want to wish upon his worst enemy. Perhaps, if she was indeed still in Paris, she wouldn't want to see him. Too bad, he thought, she would simply have to make the concessions; he made the greatest of all sacrifices for her, and he would have to make her understand.
Philippe Ouimet, one of Claude Frollo's ablest assistants in the Ministry of Justice, called forth the next prisoner. Rumor had it that Ouimet could very well be the next Minister of Justice, that is if Frollo ever retired or died in office, and that seemed unlikely in the near future. He was exactly ten years younger than Frollo, of dour, ascetic expression, a shock of light brown hair, and somber steel gray eyes.
"Bellot!," called Ouimet again.
The prisoner, Jacques Bellot, made his way to the heavy ornate table where Ouimet sat. Several guards stood about, ready to act if any prisoner tried something stupid. Jacques peered about only to meet the eyes of one lieutenant, a fat, smirking brute who seemed to take delight in needling anyone who got in his way. Jacques looked at another mustachioed sergeant who had the same menacing sneer. It was said that this one held more than a slight grudge because he wanted to be Captain of the Guard yet was passed over for another, more illustrious candidate. That man, a celebrated soldier named Phoebus, had yet to report to duty. Ah, maybe I might get a look at the noble new Captain once on the outside, thought Jacques as Ouimet commenced the release process.
He took in much of his surroundings as Philippe Ouimet began the release
process. In his dry, colorless tenor, Ouimet began, "The prisoner Jacques
Bellot, having served half of his sentence for theft and fraud, and by
order of the Minister of Justice, is hear-by released this fifth day of
January in the year of Our Lord 1482."
Ouimet motioned for a one of his lackeys, a young boy, to bring forth the prisoner's belongings which were confiscated twelve years ago upon incarceration.
"What do we have?," continued Ouimet, not looking up from his papers. "One bag containing twenty-three francs...."
He continued to inventory what belongings Jacques had that cold February night in 1470. There was the black velvet money bag containing exactly twenty-three francs; a favorite ring given to him by his father; a dagger with an exquisite mother-of-pearl handle, also a gift from his father; a burgundy woolen mantle and chaperon to match.
As Ouimet cataloged each and every item, he motioned his lackey to hand over the items to Jacques. While this was going on, another of Ouimet's aides approached. This man carried what looked, to Jacques, like a letter.
O please, Jacques Bellot silently prayed, let it be from Tante Lutisse, or at least one of my friends from Calais. I haven't a place to stay once I'm back in the outside world. I have little money, no more family to speak of, no prospects of a gainful trade...
"Bellot," said Philippe Ouimet upon scanning the letter, "you will be escorted out of the Palais by this man. Apparently you do have some friends left in this world after all."
Without further ceremony, Ouimet completed the release process, motioned for Jacques to move on, then proceeded with the next prisoner.
With a shudder, Jacques Bellot began the long walk upstairs and out the Palais doors. Whoever is waiting for him on the outside? And what did Philippe Ouimet see in that letter that caused his eyebrow to raise just a tad?
ﾉmile Poulin stood within the shadow of the Palais, keeping a
bright lookout for a particular ex-prisoner. It had been many long years
since ﾉmile saw Jacques, and it pained him that he never maintained
a regular correspondence or, at least, visited Jacques more than once or
Perhaps it was either out of guilt or shame that ﾉmile seemed to avoid Jacques after that tragic night in 1470 when the latter willingly took the blame for a series of offenses. "Why did he do it?," thought ﾉmile as he wrapped his mantle tighter around him to ward off the morning chill.
Twelve years ago, when Jacques arrived in Paris in search of his mother and sister, ﾉmile was already a victim of the Bellot women's nefarious capers. Nevertheless, he and Jacques struck up a quick friendship; many times the pair would pass many an hour in a favorite Parisian tavern. They attended Mass together and spent time just reading and conversing on many subjects. They shared similar ambitions and interests.
However, ﾉmile's problems with the Bellot women 末 Jehanne and Ameline 末 had reached the ears of one Minister Frollo. That and a few suspicions raised by a Belgian couple who resided with one of Frollo's close friends at the time. And how did Frollo catch wind of ﾉmile's troubles with the Bellots? It was learned by Tante Lutisse that the informant was none other than, Ide Poulin, Minister Frollo's housekeeper, and ﾉmile's mother.
But ﾉmile didn't hold any animosity towards Jacques. He just felt that his friend was caught in the middle 末 caught between loyalty to his family and turning his mother and sister over to Frollo. That was what was supposed to happen that fateful winter night twelve years ago. Unfortunately, things went completely haywire, especially since one of Frollo's friends, and a titled gentleman at that, also fell into the Bellot ladies' trap.
It was happened too fast, what with Frollo within moments of getting the goods on Jacques kinswomen. And Ameline...
Who'd had thought that such a pretty, sweet face hid such a scheming, diabolical mind?
When Jacques Bellot finally emerged from the Palais, ﾉmile Poulin was taken aback somewhat. Surely, after twelve years of imprisonment in Frollo's dungeons, Jacques would have aged, perhaps his boyish good looks gone forever.
The man who greeted ﾉmile had matured into a wiser man of thirty-three Januarys. See, Jacques had the distinction of being released on his birthday.
Despite the years of grime and filth, the shaggy unkempt hair and beard, Jacques' features were instantly recognizable. The ex-prisoner carried a satchel of belongings; he still wore the very tattered, soiled tunic and hose that served as his clothing for the past years. His shoes were nearly worn to pieces. But there was something in his eyes 末 an inner fire that ﾉmile immediately detected.
"Jacques!," ﾉmile called out. "Over here, dear friend."
As soon as Jacques Bellot approached the two men stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Jacques wanted to embrace his friend on the spot but resisted, saying, "My friend, I'm in need of a bath, clean clothes, good food and wine, and a soft warm bed. In good time you must tell me what is in that letter that had Ouimet so perturbed."
"Say no more," replied ﾉmile with a broad smile. "I know of a nice place that will provide all your needs. And, later, over luncheon, I will reveal everything." Then with a slight wince of disgust, he added, "In case you are wondering, she lives. And not too far from our lodgings."
To Chapter 2!
Copyrightｩ2003 by PRP