Poor Unfortunate Souls
The Feast of Fools had
been, to Claude Frollo, exactly that: foolish. Foolish people,
foolish stunts, foolish food, foolish everything.
Frollo had thought that at least his adopted son was hidden safe away in the bell tower where no disasters could be started. This was untrue, but Quasimodo had the decency and intelligence to sneak out while the feast was distracted with itself and stayed where convenient alleys or other escape options were close.
Nothing actually happened during the festival and so, in essence, nothing happened. During the crowning of the King of Fools, Frollo managed to slip away without notice. If Clopin didn’t find any good candidates, he tried to crown Frollo. So far, the amount of body parts Frollo had broken immediately afterwards wasn’t swaying him in the least.
For a second he thought he saw someone that reminded him of Quasimodo, but screams and colors made him turn his head and when he turned back, the person was gone. It was either the stress or the alcohol fumes. More and more he was remembering why he hated this day.
He swore he’d be glad when the day was over.
No one had tried to pickpocket him this time, no drunks had found him to be a convenient spot to throw up on, and he’d managed to avoid women who wanted money for belching as they took their clothes off.
Half the day was gone and so far the Feast of Fools seemed tolerable. Finally, the sound of what the day was truly about was shouted across the street: ‘Stop thief!’
Claude Frollo was not near his horse, which he regretted as he took off in the direction of the shouting. He knocked away every person who was unfortunate not to get out of his way fast enough. The gypsies never admitted to anything that changed his job from anything more than a genocidal murderer; they would remember him crashing over two tables and not lose any speed, not that he was racing to the aid of a woman he’d been struck three times for not giving up her purse and expensive goods.
Frollo left the woman as she picked herself up. He could help her up after he’d gotten her things back. If he felt like it.
Chasing after the thief brought him to a cooper’s workshop. Wooden slats in various stages of being grouped up into circles were set aside. Hoops of metal leaned against the walls of the workshop.
Claude wandered inside cautiously, seeing no one. He pulled out his dagger and took two more tentative steps. He knew how this trick worked. It wasn’t a very smart trick, but one still had to know how to handle it.
The door to the workshop slammed shut and Claude spun around and aimed his dagger and slammed it down squarely at his foe. However, this version of the trick was new. He jumped back as he released the dagger, trying to avoid an attack towards his chest. The attack, however, wasn’t aimed at his chest as usual. It was aimed at his legs.
Thankfully he’d backed away or the blow would have torn his leg away. Still, the hammer strike against his knee smashed open his leg and sent his entire leg into a bloody searing hell of pain.
His attacker staggered, Claude’s blade buried deep in his shoulder, taking away most of the use of that arm.
Claude was on the ground, trying to tear his robes from his injured leg, but the blood was running thick and sticky. He gave up on trying to untangle himself as his attacker tried to hit him again with the odd-angled hammer. He shoved himself backwards on his hands and his good leg. The man pulled back for another swing. Claude grabbed one of the heavy hoops from a wall, sending the other hoops and several slats of wood falling toward his attacker. In consequence, the hammer swing was not thrown far enough and only managed to knock his hat off.
Claude took the hoop in both hands and swung it recklessly, letting loose as he began to lose his balance and fall backwards. The hoop smashed into his attacker’s face, the hammer drawn back for another blow and was nowhere to be used as defense.
Claude lay on the dirt floor and winced as he willed the pain in his knee to subside enough for him to know if he had hit his head too hard falling backwards. From behind his closed eyelids, he noticed the lighting in the workshop change.
His eyes flew open, fearing his attacker had survived and his attempt to defend himself had done nothing. Instead, Claude was blinking as the bright sunlight hurt his eyes and a dark silhouette started shoving something heavy and groaning away from the door in order to let himself and more bright sunlight in.
Claude shoved himself back to an upright position after figuring that his head was fine, just throbbing slightly. Pulling his good knee close, he shuffled the skirt of his robe into a ball and pressed it against his leg.
Hissing inwardly, he wasn’t sure if the pain increased or merely changed slightly and it was now the colder, stinging pain that he hated.
He bowed his head and braved a look at his ruined knee. The wound wasn’t deep, but it was gushing a large amount of blood. The bone of the kneecap had been shoved aside and though a few ligaments had been twisted, nothing had been separated.
Claude heard someone make a noise of disgust from the door. “Looks bad sir,” said the voice of his newly appointed captain.
Claude put the ball of his robe skirt back to the wound, pressing hard. “Well, don’t gawk, help me up and have that man arrested. And return what he stole to the woman.
“What are you doing?” Claude yelled as he was hefted up by arm around his torso, lifting him into the air. “I said help me up, not carry me!”
He was carried out into the sunlight, but thankfully not very far. Phoebus set the minister on his destrier and set the hat on the minister. Angrily, Frollo adjusted his hat, which Phoebus had put on him backwards, and adjusted his side-saddle position on the horse as Phoebus returned the stolen property to the woman.
“Oh, thank you!” the woman cried, hugging Phoebus hard, despite her bruises.
“Yes, it was nothing,” Claude said, flatly. He signaled for the horse to move and it trotted off towards the hospice.
The hospice was non-descript
and around the back of the cathedral. In a sense, the doctor was very
similar in a way. Non-descript, close to the church, but not really
there. Jacques, the doctor of that particular hospice, was an
unfortunate son of a rather famous midwife. By appearance, it was
hard to place his age at all, for he could be well-aged and old or
someone young who never got enough sleep for the last year. He looked
slightly small and very unimportant compared to most men, and like
furniture next to everyone else. His dark hair was flat and dull, his
face was just plain dull, and he looked so boring, no one thought
twice at seeing blood all over his long white tunic or wide, dark
shirt sleeves, even if they didn’t know his profession.
Jacques had the unfortunate social position as a doctor with no authority and taking care of patients not only panicking, but often stupid as well, the unfortunate look that ranged from far-less-expressive-than-people-will-listen-to to so-boring-people-think-he-just-wandered-in-despite-having-just-cut-your-leg-off-with-a-saw, and the fact that no one not already belonging to one of the groups never figured that the doctor’s most frequent visitors would be from the law or the clergy, most people tended to assume not only was the only way to communicate with him to scream, but to repeat the same sentence over and over. Because of this mixture of sad circumstances, Jacques kept a congenial manner around people until they proved—to his mind—that they were too stupid to dress themselves properly on the first try and then he treated them like a toddler one had to hold down with one’s foot just to wash their face and then insult them until they got the subtle hint that he wanted them to leave and never come back.
“Jacques?” Claude called out, using the wall of the hospice and his good leg to drag himself inside. The door had been left open and a thick blanket tacked over the doorway to keep the heat from escaping, but aid the fools in traffic this day. Frollo was one of the few people who not only thought Jacque’s hearing was not hindered by the fact that he easily blended into the background, but also respected the man, not just for being smarter than most soldiers, but as someone who could not only save his life, but also as someone skilled at many kinds of sharp objects.
“For the last time, it’s not my responsibility if you can’t pace yourselves or hold your liquor, now go throw up somewhere—Oh, Sweet Lord!” The doctor yelled, entering from the room where he cleaned his equipment and kept books.
Jacques was a lot more knowledgeable about dignity than Phoebus. He slid his hands under Claude’s shoulders for the injured man to lean on and led him to one of the beds. Claude centered himself on the bed and Jacques ran to get the proper supplies.
Jacques was the closest thing Claude had to a friend. Unlike most people in his job, Claude literally threw himself into every aspect of his job, and often it threw something back at him. Jacques swore that if a month went by and Claude didn’t show up—either for himself or dragging someone else in—he was probably dead.
Jacques had been a priest in the years Claude had served as a scholar and an officer. Jacques’ position, however, became threatened as he began to study anatomy books alongside his holy ones. The man eventually abandoned the church, exchanging his cassock for a beaked mask of a doctor. Claude soon became a regular patient, and thought the change in occupation was an honorable one, a good way to still serve God. The two exchanged stories of someone-somewhere’s incompetence to pass the time and ignore the pain or focus on stitching or wrapping.
Jacques returned with his hands full of supplies and immediately set to work. Claude winced as Jacques tore his expensive hose apart. Usually, Claude detested people touching him even through the fabric of his clothes, and would no doubt be made even more uncomfortable by someone with certain tastes like Jacques, but he didn’t care as Jacques tossed the skirt to thigh-level and started undoing his chausses while still cleaning the wound. There was something about being in the hands of a competent doctor that let Claude ignore something that would normally rip his dignity to shreds.
Only when the blanket was lifted again and Captain Phoebus strode into the hospice did Claude start feeling like he had a very unwelcome guest intruding on private matters.
“Captain Phoebus,” Claude groaned. His bare leg suddenly felt cold. “I do hope you know I don’t pay you to flirt.”
“I will,” Jacques said, casting a glance at the young man, winking, and then going back to cleaning the last bit of blood and dirt from Claude’s leg. Claude and Jacques had a severe clash about ethics in the eyes of the lord concerning what Jacques’ eyes liked to wander over and what they didn’t. Eventually they came to the resolution of what went on in Jacques’ head was between him and the lord and just so long as he never committed a lewd act with a man, Claude didn’t have to have him killed, and thus, for now, Jacque’s soul was saved. The man did believe that hell must have some nice people who were just like him to hook up with, but he wasn’t in a rush to get there.
“Er…” Phoebus managed, wondering if he should keep an eye on Jacques. “Sir, I was asking around on your behalf—“
“For future reference, never do anything on my behalf,” Claude said, his fingers twitching over the sides of the bed. The pain was excruciating and Claude wanted something to occupy his mind, or at least his hands that ached to rub at the wound.
This time Jacques didn’t say a smart comment, or even wink at Phoebus. Phoebus figured he either didn’t like people messing with Frollo, or he didn’t want anyone doing anything on his behalf either. The man just drew up a long length of thread and started it through a small needle.
“Sir, I just thought I should alert your closest kin so they could help out or—“
“I need to hire someone more articulate,” Claude groaned.
“That’s the least of your problems,” Jacques said. “The last thing any man needs is someone asking about his mother.”
“Phoebus, come here, I can’t move,” Claude said, gesturing with a finger for the man to come closer.
Phoebus stepped closer, deliberately stepping away from Jacques.
Claude reached up and pulled Phoebus down by his cloak, let go and smacked the back of the blonde’s head before he could get back up. “Thank you, I ‘m feeling a bit better now.”
“Sir, you really haven’t considered what you’d do in a situation like this?”
“Well, obviously I have, given that I got here by myself,” Claude snapped. “My plan is to go home, hope the whole city doesn’t fall apart thanks to you, and await anything that needs my immediate attention while I get better. I just hope I’ll be able to ride after this.” The last part was directed to Jacques, who was nearly finished with his tiny, precise stitches.
Suddenly Phoebus felt a lot more uncomfortable than he did before, and he already felt very unsafe being in a room with these two men. In the infirmary for the war, men were screaming, in tears, wailing in inhumanly loud voices, or numb to most everything due to the pain. Phoebus had gotten used to being called ‘Mama’ or by the name of someone’s girl or brother back home. Given Frollo’s lucidity, he wasn’t on any medicine to take the pain away, merely gritting his teeth as the needle went through his torn skin and flexing his hands like a pawing cat. Phoebus thought that if this man could sit still through such an injury and debate against any form of help short of the doctor’s, it wasn’t a good sign.
“Phoebus, I was hit in the knee, not my head,” Claude said. “I am not so incapacitated that I cannot care for myself anymore. I do not need my mother, I do not need a nurse, and I certainly do not need you trying to convince me otherwise.”
“You’re a pretty boy, but if you don’t stop talking, I’ll have to make you,” Jacques said. “I’m doing very delicate work here and I don’t need you trying to make either of us laugh or try to get up and strangle you.” Jacques finished off the stitches in Claude’s knee and started to soak the bandages in sweet-smelling water.
“Sir, that’s not really what I’ve been trying to talk to you about,” Phoebus tried to defend himself with.
“Captain, I’m starting to black out due to blood loss. Can we continue this mess of a conversation later?” Claude asked wearily. “And don’t say anything to coddle me.”
Phoebus looked at Jacques. “Well, at least he got here when you were in,” Phoebus said.
“Nonsense!” Jacques muttered, taking the bandages out. “I can’t be out there on a day like this. Besides, they bribe me with free cake to stay inside.”
That was the last coherent thing Claude heard for a while.
Darkness and flashes of color washed over him, along with different shades of terrible pain and eerie numbness, all in erratic patterns like tides fighting for dominance.
He heard mumbling, voices added and subtracted to a conversation he couldn’t make out. He heard a few words, but nothing made sense and he didn’t want them to. People shuffled around him and he hoped everyone was making preparations to just leave him alone for a while.
After a while, everything but the pain subsided. Claude blinked and cringed at a throbbing pain in his head.
Wiping sweat from his face, Claude took in his environment. Blankets had been tacked around his bed to keep people out. The blankets were donations, most of them made by women whose husbands had been saved by Jacques’ skills, even though most of the men were dead now from something that not even Jacques could help except by offering comfort from his experience as a priest. Claude wondered why all the charity given to Jacques wound up with silly pictures of baby animals all over them.
Beside Claude was a small stand, upon which sat a pitcher of water and a small portion of the free cake Jacques had received today. Between the stand and the bed, two crutches had been leaned against the wall. Claude pulled himself up to a sitting position on the bed and helped himself to some of the water. He and Jacques said that it was Jacques’ remedy for anything other than drowning. He’d never live it down if he ate the cake Jacques offered.
Claude’s movements were slow and difficult due to his leg, which had been bandaged and re-bandaged during his bout of unconsciousness. A wooden brace had been tied tightly around his knee.
Claude managed to maneuver the crutches from the wall and tested them. At first he was unsteady, but he soon won the battle with gravity and managed to learn how to take small steps with their help.
He realized there was a sound he’d gotten used to coming from beyond the blankets. Listening closely, he found it to be a quiet discussion between three people: Jacques, Phoebus, and the archdeacon. Not thinking this could ever amount to anything good for him, he leaned on one of the crutches; he shoved the ugly blankets aside to investigate
“Oh, you’re up,” the archdeacon said to Claude, ending whatever conversation the three were having, then and there.
“And you smell horrible,” Claude replied, trying to wave the smell of alcoholic vomit from his nose.
“I told him not to try to help the man,” Jacques said. A month into his profession, Jacques wouldn’t let any drunk in his hospice until after he was sure they’d emptied the contents of their stomachs. The archdeacon still had yet to learn that lesson.
“I’m afraid my newly appointed captain got himself some stupid idea and that he’s trying to convince you of it,” Claude said. “Let me guess: I’m too late.”
The archdeacon sighed. “You really are one to fight ideas before you’ve even heard them.”
“I am two years younger than him,” Claude yelled, leaning heavily on a crutch to point at Jacques, who had backed away from the conversation, but stood where he could happily keep an eye on Phoebus. “and I am seventeen years younger than you!” This time Claude pointed at the archdeacon. “I do not need someone to care for me!” Claude angrily adjusted his hat as the archdeacon squirmed, uncomfortable with anyone, especially someone he disliked, knowing how old he was.
“With all due respect sir,” Phoebus interjected. He ignored Jacques shaking his head at having opened his mouth. “That isn’t what I was suggesting in the first place.”
“Then what exactly were you babbling about?” Claude said, determined to run the suggestion into the ground faster than before.
“Sir, I was honestly wondering why you’ve never considered an apprentice before.”
At first, Claude was honestly taken aback. The archdeacon hoped that he could win over the minister this time; either human contact would soften the man’s mood somewhat or it would be a rather deserved prank.
“I don’t want one,” Claude answered curtly. “I’m not going to demean myself with taking care of a child. Before this goes any further, it is beneath my dignity and I absolutely refuse to—“
“Consider it a favor,” the archdeacon said.
Claude was silent as he raised an eyebrow at the older man.
Jacques buried his head in one hand.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I’m sure your mind can come up with something that will make me regret this whole thing. In the meantime, your captain and I will start looking for someone suitable.”
“Why am I involved?” Phoebus asked.
“Because you opened your mouth, Pretty Boy,” Jacques said, crossing his arms. He silently tried to plead with Claude to back out now, but Claude never looked at him. This was a challenge Claude wasn’t backing down from.
“I can’t teach the damn thing to think on it’s feet, to know what someone will do next, how to improvise weaponry, the best place to strike, or even to know just how to interrogate someone,” Claude complained, as if he were forced to raise a retarded puppy. “I need cunning, I need thirst for righteousness, I need some spark in that child’s eyes that separates someone like Phoebus from me.”
“Lack of people skills?” Phoebus mumbled. “ow!” Phoebus rubbed his head where Claude slapped him again. “Really hard fingers, too. I’ll keep an eye out.”
“And don’t you dare just pick up some street urchin. I want obedience and silence from the boy, as well as stamina. You bring me someone useless and I’m throwing them back out on the street. From my window.
“Now, I’m going home for some peace and quiet. You are still on duty, and I’d like to see some competence displayed this time.” Claude limped off angrily, making good speed on his new crutches.
Jacques wished that somewhere in his anatomy books there were some pages he’d missed that held a cure for stupidity that wasn’t fatal.