“Belle, what’s wrong?”
Belle waited until after breakfast to tell her father what she had told her mother, about Frollo. Even though she kept reminding herself that he was her father and she didn’t need to be nervous about telling him anything, she felt nervous even so. It just felt awkward talking to her father about something so intimate.
“It has to be done,” she muttered to herself, before approaching him. He was standing over by the bow of the ship. “Papa, can we talk?”
Clayton smiled. “Of course, sweetie.” Then, he noticed the look on her face. “Belle, what’s wrong?”
Belle took a deep breath. “There’s something you need to know about Mr Frollo. He’s...not as nice a man as you think.”
Blushing with embarrassment and shame, Belle decided that it was best to just come right out and say it. “He...forced himself on me.”
Her father’s face darkened. “He did what?!”
“Just once,” Belle added, quickly. “After that I ran away.”
“The villain! I trusted that man to take care of you!”
“When I get my hands on him, I’ll tear him to pieces!”
Belle was about to tell him not to, but then thought better of it. “Yes, Papa.”
“Oh, come here,” Clayton said, pulling her into a hug. “Now you do know that none of this is your fault, don’t you?”
“He said it was,” Belle mumbled into his front.
“Well, it isn’t. That demon’s the one to blame. When I get my hands on him, I’ll-”
“Tear him to pieces?”
“Oh, that wouldn’t be enough. I’d have to kill him a thousand and one ways to make him pay, Belle.”
Belle hugged him, tightly. “Right now I’m more worried about what he might do to my friends.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Clayton replied, trying to reassure her.
“It’s just...Clopin and Esme and the others should be alright, but there are children too. I don’t think Frollo would be above hurting them either.” Belle looked over her father’s shoulder at the miles and miles of sea stretching ahead of them and willed land to appear at any second. “I hope we get there in time.”
“Belle, for all we know he might not have even found them.” Clayton followed her gaze out to see. “They could just as easily be sitting in their hideout waiting for you to return safe and sound.”
Belle smiled at him. “Clopin told me not to come back. He said he’d find me. But Papa, I can’t just abandon them, even if he did tell me to. I have to help them.”
“I know, Belle, and we’re going to.” Her father smiled at her. “How quickly you’ve become a young woman. I just wish we could have watched you grow up.”
Belle nodded. “I wish that too, Papa. But we’re going to have plenty of time to make up for all we’ve missed out on later, aren’t we?”
“Later,” Clayton agreed, patting her shoulder. “By the by, how exactly did you meet this Clopin fellow again, anyway?”
“At the Feast of Fools.”
“Ah! Of course! Gypsies often perform there.”
“And then, when I got into a scrap with a couple of men a few nights later, he helped me out and took me back to the Court of Miracles. That’s how I met everyone else.” It seemed like so long ago now. So much had happened since then. “When I ran away from Notre Dame, I found my way back there and they took me in. They’ve really taken care of me, Papa.”
Clayton nodded. “All the more reason for us helping them.”
“There’s something else I should tell you, Papa.”
Belle took a deep breath. “Clopin...that is...I...”
“You like him?” Clayton guessed.
“I love him, Papa.”
Clayton nodded. “I guessed as much. Does he love you?”
“And does he make you happy?”
“And he looks after you.”
Clayton smiled. “Then I readily give my permission for him to court you.”
“Thank you, Papa!” Belle exclaimed, hugging him tightly.
The journey back to France was long and tedious and Belle spent most of it either worrying with her parents or else pacing the ship with Iago.
“I’m sure it’ll all be fine,” Iago kept saying, though each time he said it, he sounded more uncertain than the last.
Belle kept nodding even though she was just as uncertain as he was.
Eventually, however, John Smith reported that land was in sight and Belle had never been so happy to see the outskirts of France in all her life. When they pulled up at the docks, they were surprised to see so many people gathered around, all panicking and trying to catch a ship.
“What’s going on?” Sarah cried to one passing family.
“Bad business, Madam,” the father replied. “Paris is burning! Everyone’s trying to get out as quickly as they can!”
“Paris?” Belle exclaimed.
“Aye! Judge Claude Frollo’s gone nuts, they’re saying! At war with a bunch of raggle taggle gypsies!”
“Gypsies?” Clayton turned and signalled a carriage. “To Paris as quick as you can!”
Heart racing, Belle prayed silently that it would be alright, that the man had to be joking about Paris burning. But when the carriage eventually pulled up on the outskirts of the city, she threw herself out and stared at the terrifying sight before her.
Fire was streaming from the windows of Notre Dame.
“No,” Belle whispered, and then, unable to stand it, she gave a cry of “No!” and began to run towards the cathedral.
“Belle, no!” Sarah cried.
“Belle!” Clayton shouted.
But Belle hurtled through the crowds of terrified citizens, dodging left and right as she became lost in a sea of people, searching along her route for her friends. “Clopin? Esme? Poca? Facilier? Anyone?”
“Hey, anybody seen a man in a colourful costume and a purple hat at all?” Iago called to the rushing citizens. “Hello? Anybody?”
Belle felt her stomach seize up in fear as she reached the steps of Notre Dame. In spite of knowing it was the place where Frollo had forced himself upon her, she couldn’t bear to let it burn. It was more a home to her than her own home had been. She hurried inside and ran to the font. Several people were already there putting out the fire, the Archdeacon among them.
“Belle! Good gracious, my girl! You find us at such a time!” he exclaimed, thrusting a pitcher of holy water into her hands.
Belle turned to extinguish a bench that was on fire and then faced him again. “There’s no one else here, is there? Trapped inside?”
“I don’t think so,” he said, “although I haven’t seen Frollo.”
Belle cursed herself then for having a good heart. Much as she knew that Frollo deserved to be punished, she also knew that leaving him to die in a burning building would make her no better a person than he was. Ignoring once again the cries of “Belle!” she turned and darted up the stairs, unaware that she was being observed...and followed.
Back outside in the square, Clayton and Sarah had completely lost track of where their daughter had gone. “Belle!” cried Sarah, looking around the milling masses of people. “Where is she? Belle?”
In the midst of the crowd, Esmeralda suddenly spun about at their cries. “Belle?” She grabbed Sarah’s sleeve. “Did you say Belle?”
“You know her?” Clayton asked.
“Yes, I’m her friend. My name’s Esmeralda.”
Iago, a little way off, had finally spotted what he was after. Clopin.
“Oi!” he exclaimed, swooping in front of him.
“Iago!” Clopin stared at him. “I thought I told you to stay with Belle!”
“I did, but now she’s lost somewhere amid this rabble!”
“What? I told her not to come back!” Iago shrugged. “Well, where did she go?”
“I think she went in the cathedral.”
Without another word, Clopin darted into Notre Dame.
Higher climbed Belle, higher up the steps until she reached the top corridor, calling out “Is anyone still up here? Hello?”
No one replied, and she was relieved to see that the flames hadn’t yet reached the higher parts of the cathedral just yet. For a second she felt a pang, remembering good times spent in this place; prayers with Frollo and the Archdeacon, reading books, walking along the balcony to admire the view of the sunset over Paris...all the little things that had made it a home.
“This is your fault.”
Belle froze, feeling the hairs on the back of her neck prickling at the sound of his voice as she slowly turned to face the man who had quickly gone from being trusted guardian to evil tormentor after one moment of mad lust.
Don’t be scared, she thought, desperately, as she looked into his cruel eyes once more.
“My fault?” she said, trying to sound brave, although her voice was shaking. “How is a fire in the cathedral my fault?”
“All Paris is burning because of you,” Frollo snarled, taking a step towards her. Belle quickly retreated to the back of the room. “You,” he continued, stepping up to her, “and your sinful ways, corrupting everything good and pure about this place.”
“The only one who’s committed any sin out of the two of us is you!” Belle exclaimed, all fear dying. “You had no right to do what you did to me! I did nothing to make you do it! I didn’t force myself upon you for no reason!”
“Your beauty corrupted me!”
“How is it my fault you’re not able to keep your wicked thoughts to yourself?”
Frollo ignored that comment as he advanced on her. Belle fumbled behind her for the door handle and stumbled out onto the balcony. “You consort with gypsies and vermin,” Frollo went on. His eyes were red and mad. All this searching Paris for her must have driven him truly insane, Belle realised.
“They aren’t vermin,” she insisted, boldly. “They’re just different, but that doesn’t make them sinful.”
“Of course it does, you wretched girl!”
“You can say what you like; it isn’t true! Once my parents get hold of you-”
Frollo blanched. “Impossible! They’re dead!”
“I thought so too!” Belle beamed smugly at him. “But they aren’t! They are very much alive and very interested to hear about all the terrible things you’ve been doing!”
“Terrible!” With a snarl, Frollo seized her. “Oh, I would have you Belle, if it weren’t for all your devilish corruption!”
Belle struggled in his grip. “Well, I wouldn’t have you if you were the last man on earth!”
“Because you love that gypsy criminal?”
“Don’t you dare speak about him like that!”
Frollo dragged her to the railing and Belle stared in horror down at the drop. A person falling from that height would NOT survive.
“If I can’t have you, then I’ll be damned if anyone else does, especially not gypsy scum! Make your choice; me or the gypsy!”
“I choose Clopin! And you have no right to do this!”
“I have every right!” Frollo was too far gone in madness to be thinking straight, and as she heard his next words, Belle was certain that she was about to die. “I am the law!”
“Is anyone still up here? Hello?”
"Make your choice; me or the gypsy!”