How long had the boys been travelling? Nearly three days, and for the most part, people had been very kind to them. Not at all what Andreu's mother warned of: that most gadje shun the Romany; that they harbor prejudiced attitudes; that they view all the Romany as thieves and swindlers.
However, that was not the case in the boys' seven-day sojourn on foot from Auberville to Paris. The horror stories of Gypsies being accosted and harrassed by the native French were totally unfounded. All right, so they did run into a few closed-minded folks who called them filthy names, cursing them with eternal damnation, but those incidents were to be expected. Old attitudes die hard, even in the six months following the infamous Minister Claude Frollo's death.
Andreu's mother, Anis, often told her son of Frollo's brutal twenty year tenure as Minister of Justice, and how he dogged the Romany. She recounted the endless persecution, the crueler than cruel tortures and executions, the very terror His Grace struck in the hearts and minds of the Romany. But the Gypsies were undaunted, even after witnessing one inhumane execution after another, after suffering for so long under Frollo. In the worst of storms, as Anis always says, there is the promise of sunshine.
Six months earlier, tales filtered back from Paris to Auberville of one Gypsy dancer's courage in the face of Frollo's regime. It was during the Feast of Fools – the one time Anis' band didn't attend due to Andreu's illness – and the dancer, the one called La Esmeralda, thoroughly enchanted Parisians with her graceful terpsichorean feats. Yet, while Esmeralda endeared herself to most citizens, she incurred the wrath of Judge Frollo. Why? Because she dared to come to the aid of Quasimodo, the mysterious bell ringer of Notre Dame, thus angering Frollo. Then she courageously stood up and called out Frollo for his years of cruelty to the least of Paris' citizenry.
"Of course, Frollo, outraged that a gypsy dared speak to him that way, ordered Esmeralda arrested. Chaos ensued, and she escaped, but not without a price."
That was what Andreu heard from his mother who heard the story from one of Clopin's spies. To make a long story short, she said, Esmeralda became the object of an intense manhunt. Frollo ransacked the city, even burned the homes of those he believed to harbor the fugitive. And to cap it all, His Honor tricked Quasimodo and Phoebus in leading him to the Court of Miracles.
"Mama told me," said Andreu to Baul, after took a swig from the wine bottle then passed it on, "that Frollo ambushed the Gypsies, arrested them all, then almost had Esmeralda burned at the stake."
"Say it ain't so!," exclaimed Baul.
"It's the truth," replied Andreu, "That's what she heard from Clopin. But the bell ringer managed to escape and save Esmeralda, and Frollo got killed trying to do in her and Quasimodo."
"Oh my!," said Marco, belching loudly after stuffing his face with cheese and bread. "Wonder what Paris is like now that Frollo's dead?"
Baul said, "Who knows? The new judge can't be any worse than Frollo."
"The new judge," said Andreu, "is ineffective, a sissy, so says Clopin's spies. Living in Paris will be a snap, not at all as it was during Frollo's reign." He smiled, adding, "My cousin Esmeralda–"
Marco almost choked on his bread, "Whoa! Your cousin is La Esmeralda? I didn't know that!"
"Sure she is. I thought you knew. Anyway, she's married to Captain Phoebus, the one who saved the miller's family after Frollo set fire to their home. He helped free Clopin and the rest of our people after Quasimodo saved Esmeralda's life."
The trio then conversed on several topics, one of which was what to do once they're in Paris. Marco suggested that they look up Clopin and Esmeralda, then settle in the Court of Miracles.
"We could," suggested Baul, "do our little routine. You know, treat the people to some of our comedy and songs."
"And," said Andreu, "we could finally meet the bell ringer. I've always wanted to thank him personally for all he did for my cousin."
But one thing they never discussed was what Andreu's mother warned: Beware of the average Parisian. While things might seem somewhat settled these six months following Frollo's demise, most folks do not change attitudes overnight. The boys could run into indifference, harassment on the streets, denied services in shops and taverns, even outright violence.
"Watch what you say," cautioned Anis before Andreu and his friends left their camp near Auberville, "and watch what you do. The gadje, despite no Frollo around to reinforce their prejudices, still view us with suspicion and contempt. Just promise me you won't get into any trouble you can't get out of."
Naturally, for Andreu, a fourteen year old bundle of energy with a talent for glib talk and sharp humor, Anis' warnings were taken with a grain of salt. What could possibly go wrong in Paris, a city that just wrested itself from Claude Frollo's iron grip? With Frollo out of the picture, and Philippe Ouimet in his place – a weak man to be sure – life in that teeming medieval urban landscape promised to be one adventure after another.
Andreu was a handsome boy, with his abundant and glossy jet black hair, dancing dark eyes, lanky figure, and winning smile. His love of all things funny won many friends. Sure, that talent made it possible for him to team up with his childhood pals Baul and Marco, two equally good-looking boys who also possessed the gift of making people laugh. The trio made their living as entertainers, a comedic troupe whose hilarious routines endeared them to both Gypsy and gadje. However, despite the easy rapport with their audience, the boys never earned the complete respect from the gadje. Always, the people would throw their coins but never would welcome the boys into their homes and businesses. Good enough to entertain but not good enough to treat with dignity and tolerance. But the boys never let the indifference faze them.
"Well," said Andreu, polishing off the last of their afternoon repast, "we can rest for awhile, but we must get back on the road within the hour. Paris is still a bit a ways, and if we want to get there by sunset, we really need to get moving."
He smiled again as he anticipated what could possibly await him and his friends.
"Just think of the money we'll make." And with that, the boys sat under the shade of the oaks making up new routines, and still talking about their great Parisian adventure.
In a sweet shop not far from la Place de Notre-Dame, Grazide Roche totaled the day's receipts. This was not the best of days.
Grazide and her husband Gilles built the business from the ground up, using land and money left to her by a maternal uncle. It wasn't easy at first, but the Roches made Maison Josèphine (named after Gilles' mother) a success; the shop was the premier purveyor of candies and rare treats in all Paris. Since 1460, the Roches served Paris' elite: nobles, wealthy merchants, the royal family, all those who could afford the very expensive sugar and spice creations. One of their best customers was the Minister of Justice himself. While Claude Frollo denied himself indulgence in sweet repasts, he did, as part of his official duties, lavish his dinner guests with the Roches' exquisitely handcrafted candies. Fine walnuts, almonds, and glacéed fruits wrapped in marzipan and kissed with just the right amount of cinnamon and nutmeg. Tender nougats and fondants fashioned into elaborate shapes – swans and crowns were Grazide's specialty. Flaky pastries filled with nuts and fruits then glazed with caramel. All those good things the average citizen could never taste because they were just too expensive. Sugar was a luxury in this slice of 15th Century Europe, and candymaking was an exacting art to be appreciated.
During Frollo's tenure as judge, the Roches were blessed with not only the man's business but his protection.
Since Maison Josèphine was located near la Place de Notre-Dame, that meant the immediate area was frequented by Gypsies, and Grazide adamantly refused any of "those filthy heathens" anywhere near. They might scare away all the paying customers with their raucous music and licentious dancing. So Frollo obliged the Roches by stationing soldiers within a five block radius. Regular patrols kept any Gypsy from setting foot on the very street where the shop stood.
Alas, it had to happen: Judge Frollo was no more, done in by that awfully disfigured bell ringer and insufferably insolent Gypsy dancer who caused so much chaos six months ago.
To Grazide's thinking, such people were better off either dead or shuttered away where they could not bother decent, law-abiding Parisians.
Now Frollo's gone, and the new Judge Ouimet, as pleasant as he is, was no Claude Frollo. Philippe Ouimet never came to the shop, never purchased as much as a delicate candied walnut tartlet. Some help he's been, thought Grazide bitterly. His Honor didn't even provide the regular patrols as Frollo did. And to cap it off, Gypsies by the scores roamed Paris streets almost unchecked. Within six months it seemed the entire city had degenerated into one big cesspool of frivolity and became a more "kind, gentle" place. Since this past spring, business began to fall off, at least to the Roches' believing. Oh, the usual customers still came but it would never be the same, and the Roches blamed the looser attitudes towards the Gypsies. Even the King himself declared the persecutions under Frollo stopped, and Judge Ouimet gladly obliged His Majesty!
"Gilles," said Grazide as she entered figures into the ledger, "this has got to stop. Why not close this place, move to a more friendly environment, if you know what I mean. Perhaps north to Burgundy. I hear the Gypsies have yet to settle up there, and the change would do us good. I can't stand by and watch those people ruin us."
Gilles replied, "My good wife, while I agree things have not gone in our favor since Frollo's death, we are hardly in danger of bankruptcy. It is summer after all, and people just don't indulge in sweets when the weather is too warm."
"But, Gilles," Grazide protested, "what if business falls off too much? I still say we close up and move away. Just barring them entry won't help at all. They'll loiter around the door everyday, playing their ungodly music, if one can call it music."
Gilles became a bit perturbed with his wife's petulance. "Now, now, Grazide. Don't upset yourself."
At that moment a little Romany girl entered the shop. The look on Grazide's face as the girl placed several gold coins on the counter then pointed to a plate of colorful marzipan fruits said it all. The child was quite polite as she asked, "May I have one of those?," indicating a sugar-encrusted confection in the shape of an apple. "It is so pretty. I have money. I earned it dancing with my friends."
Gilles was speechless, and Grazide was outraged. How dare this little heathen enter this shop, a place that served all of Parisian elite, and none of her kind. Dropping her quill, Grazide said with clenched teeth, trying hard to keep her anger in check, "I'm sorry. We do not serve Gypsies. Now begone with you!"
The child remained at the counter, still pointing to the candy, still insisting she can pay for it. "But I want a sweet. I want to surprise my mama. And I can pay for it."
Grazide, now thoroughly enraged, nearly forgot herself. She was about to lay into the child, give this impudent young minx a tongue lashing she'd never forget. Perhaps a few smacks across the face would drive the point home.
"Are you incapable of comprehending?," she said, her voice rising in anger with every word. "I said 'GET OUT'! WE DO NOT SERVE YOUR KIND!"
The child still stood there, saying, "But Judge Ouimet said all shops had to sell to us. That's what the King said."
It was Gilles who stepped in, saying, "Apparently, dear wife, it is now the law. Let the child have the candy, then she'll be out of our way. The last thing I want is to go against His Majesty's wishes. If the King and Minister of Justice says we have to honor the Gypsies' business, then we have no alternative."
Begrudgingly, Grazide wrapped the candy in paper and handed the treat the girl. Smiling, the child politely said, "Thank you, madame."
"No," said Gilles, "we thank you. Tell your friends that we sell the best sweets in Paris."
The child smiled again, thanking the Roches then merrily skipped out of the shop.
"What were you thinking, Gilles? No, what were His Majesty and Minister Ouimet thinking? Now we'll be swamped with those heathens. No self-respecting Parisian noble will ever set foot in here again. We'll be ruined all because–"
Gilles shook his head, saying, "No, Grazide. As long as they behave themselves, I see no harm in selling a single marzipan to their children. However, it is just one piece, and we still have so many large orders from those who pay handsomely for good quality sweetmeats. There is the Comte deVernay's wedding banquet coming up, and his lordship orders at least ten pounds for a small dinner party. This wedding order is five – no, six – times that much. You see, dear wife, those people – the royals, the nobles, and major merchants – are our bread and butter, not the Gypsies. Now, let us drop this; we have much work to do."
Grazide could only hope for so much. Oh well, as Gilles said, the Gypsy customers can come as long as they don't start trouble. And she hoped those visits would be extremely rare – like once a year.
To Be Continued...Go to Chapter 2
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