And to top it off, when Aubert heard, via Lysbette and Jacques, that his good friend Dreu had been arrested last night, he went ballistic. "What is WRONG with Frollo? Has the man lost his mind?! How dare he arrest Cardin! The man has done nothing wrong, at least not in my eyes. In fact, there are WORST criminals running loose in Paris now, and they wear the armor of the Ministry of Justice. And their 'leader' is the worst of the lot!"
It took much effort to calm Aubert, what with Lysbette, Faure, and Jacques reasoning with him that once he confronts Frollo then His Grace would (could?) provide all answers in due time. But Aubert was not swayed. He wanted to go to the Palace of Justice posthaste, perhaps delay Esmeralda's execution. His Lordship even entertained a scheme to free the Gypsy dancer, have Jacques and Faure create a diversion to buy enough time to make good her escape.
"But this is nonsense, good cousin," reasoned Faure, who was not accustomed to be rousted from bed before the dawn. "What's done is done. I'm afraid none of us can do anything now. Poor girl, to die by fire..."
He stopped himself when he caught Jacques' eye. No, the young man has enough on his mind, the death of his sister at Frollo's hand...So do not bring up "death by fire"...But how can we avoid it when an innocent girl is within moments of suffering the same fate...
"Faure," said Aubert, "I want to go to the square, to la Place de Notre-Dame without delay. I want to look into Claude Frollo's eyes, see the man for the monster he is as that poor girl..."
He said no more, and already his recent tirades had worn him out completely. But his mind was made up: He was to go the square for Esmeralda's execution if Faure and Jacques had to hand carry him.
"Beg pardon, m'lord," said a still drowsy Jacques, "but I think your cousin is right. Perhaps wait until after the execution then see Frollo. My father went there...must have been nearly an hour ago...and he should be returning soon. If I know Frollo, he won't waste time talking to Father; His Grace is anxious – too anxious for my taste – to put this girl to death. If it is any comfort, I met Esmeralda last night. She is a kind, generous soul who is, I'm afraid, a pawn in Frollo's cruel game. I don't know what may transpire if she suddenly, at the last minute, relents and allows herself to be Frollo's 'pet'."
"Which is why," retorted Aubert, "I want to give Claude Frollo a good ear-thumping! No offense, young man, but I sometimes wish your sister did marry him. It might've done him some good."
Turning to Faure he said, "Good cousin, I say we're going to la Place de Notre-Dame – NOW!"
There was no arguing with the imperious old man. Honestly, Faure d'Aubec thought with some disgust, Aubert has become even more cantankerous in his old age. He was never like this before...
Margot glanced out the window, noting the many citizens hurrying to the square. Why, she wondered, would they even want to watch that lovely girl burn to death? Frollo has, as His Lordship says, lost all reason. Shaking her head, Margot turned to her master, saying, "M'lord, if you're going to the square, you'll need to leave soon. There is a fair crowd heading there now, and it would take some time getting..."
Aubert was quite perturbed at all this fussying over him. He may be twelve years older, a bit slower, more frail, but his mind and spirit were as sharp as ever. Adamantly, he demanded his hat and cloak, then ordered Margot to, "Come with us, for I want you to see what happens when you trust the wrong people." By 'wrong people' he meant, by no doubt, Claude Frollo.
Within moments, Aubert d'Urboise, accompanied by Jacques, Faure, and Margot was walking, with some assistance from the men, towards la Place de Notre-Dame. Only Lysbette remained at home, preferring to wait for Denis' return. If only she had come along, for she would have learned the impending fate awaiting her husband.
Dawn broke out all over Paris. In the rosy glow of the eastern sun peeping over the horizon, it was anything but rosy for the lady who called herself La Esmeralda. And she had so many people on her side. Already the square reverberated with soldiers' steady drumbeats mixed with cries of outrage.
"No! No!," shouted many a citizen. "She's done nothing wrong!," cried another old woman. It seemed all of Paris was here. And just imagine that yesterday, everyone gathered for a gala day of fun and festivity. However, in the place of the elaborately and wildy colorful stage was a wooden platform. Upon that platform was a raised stake to which Esmeralda was tied. She was not in her usual brilliant purple and green costume, but clad in a roughened, ragged dress of burlap. Devoid of her famous gold jewelry, Esmeralda stood helplessly as guards secured her to the stake; more of Frollo's henchmen heaped timber at her feet. Reality sank in for Parisians. He's going to burn this poor girl, he's going to burn her for sassing him yesterday. Is that all there is? Was it worth the destruction of their city? To come to this?
Like wildfire, whispers of Judge Frollo's "true" intent passed through the crowd, driving citizens to protest that much more. But it was of no use. Brutal and non-caring soldiers roughly pushed back the crowd of onlookers then formed a cordon around the perimeter, preventing anyone who might decide to play hero.
Surrounding Esmeralda's pyre, and at close range (by Frollo's orders), were dozens of prison carts. In those carts were Gypsies captured in last night's raid on the Court of Miracles. But there were a few prisoners who the citizens didn't quite expect to be including in Frollo's gathering of "the usual suspects". One was Phoebus, the former Captain of the Guard, a jovial, fearless decorated war hero who's sole crime was defying Frollo. Another was a wealthy textile merchant from Orlèans whose claim to Frollo's "most wanted list" was merely giving Gypsies surplus fabrics for their clothes. Of course, the merchant also owned a house in Paris which served as temporary residence for another fugitive who Frollo quickly dispatched in last night's "purge by fire". And the other prisoner? An elderly gentleman who only wanted to confer with Claude Frollo concerning the fiery death of the aforementioned fugitive – his daugher Ameline. His crime almost mirrored that of Esmeralda's: He told the Minister of Justice a few truths, truths that Frollo could not, would not, take lightly. The old man raised his voice; he uttered the same assertions as Ameline, something about a child Frollo supposedly fathered. And Denis Bellot dared to strike the Minister of Justice. Such a crime demands instant death. So why waste time with a trial when the wretched old man can be executed along with the rest of Paris' parasites.
So the stage was set. Anyone who dared to interfere were immediately quelled. Even the Archdeacon, who ventured out of the cathedral, perhaps to chastise Frollo's latest atrocity, found himself barricaded within the walls of his own church. Not this time, Frollo thought, no, no way will YOU interfere...
"The prisoner Esmeralda has been found guilty of the crime of witchcraft. The sentence – DEATH!"
Literally spitting the words from his mouth, Claude Frollo stood upon the platform, and in his booming fear-inducing baritone, read the charges from his parchment scroll. Before him stood Esmeralda, tied to the stake. Another black-masked executioner stood by, lit torch in hand. It was over – no chance of escape. His voice carried over the din of the outraged crowd. Phoebus, trapped in his cage, stood by and watched helplessly as the woman to whom he pledged his love stared Death in the face. In vain he wished for a miracle, anything that would save him and the countless other innocents from Frollo's madness.
In that crowd of people, in that sea of faces, stood three men who could not believe what they were seeing. All three, at a much earlier time, often praised Claude Frollo for his meticulous, no-fail approach to crime and punishment. They lauded him with awe and wonderment. Wasn't it just yesterday that Jacques Bellot saved the Minister of Justice from death by poison? Somehow, Jacques wished he could turn back the clock, allow himself to become distracted long enough NOT to catch Ameline slipping a potent toxin into Frollo's wine cup. And wasn't it just twelve years ago that Claude Frollo was a frequent, welcome guest in Aubert d'Urboise's home? The two men shared a love of literature and poetry, of discussing politics and the future of mercantilism in France and beyond. Wasn't it Frollo who so graciously and professionally aided Aubert in updating that will? Wasn't it he, this time in 1470, who sat in the Palace of Justice and playfully teased Frollo into "pursuing that lovely Ameline girl"? They got along famously, both professionally and personally. Now Aubert didn't know what to believe anymore. Nothing about Claude Frollo now remotely made sense. Here stood not the extremely efficient Minister of Justice, but a madman driven by lust and hate.
And Faure couldn't believe it. He had written Frollo months ago, alerting the judge of a fugitive once believed dead. If Frollo had forgotten all about Esmeralda and paid attention to the Bellot case, then none of this would be happening now. Faure thought the same way as Aubert – the Claude Frollo standing on the platform was a complete stranger.
"Jacques! Jacques!" The familar sound of a friend's voice cut the din of crowd, causing Jacques to turn around to see Émile and Ide Poulin pushing their way towards his party. "Oh thank the Blessed Virgin we found you! We tried to call on you, but the innkeeper said you were...By all that is holy! M'Lord?!"
Émile stopped in mid-sentence as soon as he came face to face with a very much alive Aubert d'Urboise, the Baron de Clellaux. His Lordship was quite amused with the young man's shocked reaction, even in this present dark moment.
"Yes, Émile, I am alive and well. All will be explained once I get hold of Frollo." Then turning to Ide, he said, "Your master is stark raving crazy. Looney as lark flying backwards! Why, if I could, I'd give him a good thrashing, and let him try and arrest me..."
"M'lord," said a breathless, teary-eyed Ide, "something awful has happened. I just heard of it this morning, when I was bringing His Grace's breakfast." Turning to Jacques, she said with heavy heart, "It was from one of the clerks I heard it...Minister Frollo has...Oh, my boy, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Frollo's arrested your father."
Jacques Bellot's eyes shot fire, his face flushing with instant rage. "What? Frollo? Arrested my father? For what unearthly reason?"
Ide Poulin, now sobbing uncontrollably, tried to explain but the her endless tears would not let her. "I...I thought...he was a good man...Never said a cross word to me...Never, not in more than twenty years..."
It was Émile who relayed what happened. "Jacques, the clerks said your father and Frollo had words. His Grace alleged M. Bellot tried to strike him, but the clerks said that was nothing of the sort. If your father did try to strike Frollo, it was because Frollo egged it on. Your father, according to the clerks, conducted himself quite calmly, that is until Frollo damned Ameline and your mother, called M. Bellot a liar. Now he's here, locked with Captain Phoebus and Dreu Cardin. Frollo will execute them all once Esmeralda is dead. I pray something happens, like a miracle, but with Frollo firmly in at the helm, nothing will stop this madness."
Jacques understandably was shocked beyond all reason. There was no telling which cart contained his father. No way of getting to Denis, telling him how much he was loved, or, if there was a chance, of freeing him. How could Frollo turn on him like this?, Jacques seethed. Wasn't it just yesterday he and Frollo conferred on the whereabouts of Ameline? Didn't Frollo regard him with admiration and respect, almost as an equal? It was just as Faure said, Claude Frollo had become a complete stranger – a man gone insane with power and unrequited lust – in the eyes of many Parisians.
He could do nothing but stand and watch Claude Frollo, torch in hand, approach Esmeralda. His Grace said something to the Gypsy dancer, something that sounded like, from where Jacques was standing, an ultimatum.
"Choose me, or the fire!"
And what did Esmeralda do? She spat in Frollo's face, staring at him with utter contempt and disgust. Within seconds, Frollo's booming voice reverberated throughout the square. "The Gyspy Esmeralda has refused to recant. This evil witch has put the soul of every citizen in mortal danger."
Evil witch? Esmeralda is nothing of the sort! If anyone has put every citizen in mortal danger it is Claude Frollo. Jacques Bellot started to leave this mad scene, not wanting to witness Esmeralda's fiery demise, not wanting to hear her screams of searing pain as the flames devour her flesh. He did not want to relive Ameline's agonizing final moments...
But something forced him to remain rooted to his spot. Jacques blocked out most of Frollo's tirade and glanced up at Notre Dame's belltower, wondering what has become of Quasimodo. Surely the bell ringer has not been forced to watch the only person who had ever shown him a kindness burn to death. Then, just as he whispered a prayer of mercy for his sister, for Esmeralda, for his father, Frollo's voice sent shockwaves through his very being.
"For justice, for Paris, and for her own salvation, it is my sacred duty to send th is unholy demon back where she belongs!"
The pyre was lit. There was no turning back. The crowd cried in anguish a resounding, "NOOOO!" Still looking up at the bell tower, Jacques swore he heard a voice within shout the same. Soon there was a faint rumbling followed by the creaking and breaking of chains, the bells shuddering and bellowing as if God Himself set loose avenging angels to swoop down upon the square.
A "miracle" in La Place de Notre-Dame...Reunions and introductions...A surprise...
Go to Chapter 32
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