And The Gargoyles Wept

His once formidable strength was ebbing fast. He was dying in the same manner he had lived...shunned, detested and alone. Earlier that day, they had hauled his abominable carcass outside to the market square. It had taken six of the most muscular to accomplish the task, for his bulk was massive and unwieldy, but they had been determined to succeed.

There, he had been abandoned for hours to the harsh elements of a severe winter and the mercy of a jeering crowd. Long ago, for a brief moment of glory in an otherwise wretched existence, the ruthless mob had applauded and cheered his display of courage but, on this day, that act had been forgotten and they showed him no pity.

Rotting fruit pelted his distorted face and deformed body, which was in a state of decay even though his compassionate heart still palpitated lethargically in his misshapen chest. Soured juice ran into his slack mouth and trickled down his throat, forcing him to gag and choke on his own bile. The laughter of the horde was cruel and malicious. He was, after all, nothing but a monstrosity who should have been suffocated at birth.

Deaf to the sounds of their hilarity, he was indifferent to the mockery and humiliation. He had never known anything else...except for that singular, isolated incident many years before. He clung to the memory as a drowning man clutches at a straw. She had been beautiful and he had loved her unconditionally, knowing all the while that she would be unable to return even an ounce of his miserable affection. But, she had been kind and, to one who had never before been touched by kindess, her charity had far exceeded and surpassed his hopes and expectations.

When the throng dispersed, tired of the game, returning home where warm fires and hot suppers were waiting, they lugged him back to his belfry. Curled in a fetal position against the damp mattress of filthy ticking, he licked his cracked lips. He would not ask again for water. The result of his pleas brought nothing but a wooden cup of malt vinegar.

They flayed his contorted back and twisted shoulders with leather whips, those pious men who had been suckled on mother's milk devoid of human compassion, and he suffered the punishment in silence, too weak to utter even one agonized syllable of protest. He closed his inflamed eyes and prayed he might never open them again. When he did, his tormenters had gone and she was there.

At first, he thought himself in the company of an angel, his tortured mind refusing to believe that she might be flesh and blood. She was as lovely as he remembered...not one strand of silver in her raven hair, not one hint of a wrinkle upon the supple, smooth skin of her face. He turned quickly toward the wall. He had always been unsightly, but how repulsive he must seem to her now, ravaged by the proximity of death. Nothing as exquisite and unsullied as she should be obliged to look upon something as abhorrent as he surely must be.

She tenderly cradled his chin in her delicate hand and dribbled cool water across his swollen tongue into his parched mouth, just as she had when he had been manacled and placed in the stocks. There was the vaguest trace of repulsion in her eyes. There always had been, but she veiled it well with humanity and a deep gratitude...had he not saved her life? Revealed also was a true fondness for the gentle and cultured spirit held captive in a hideous outer shell.

For a moment, he doubted she was really there, instinctively knowing it was merely an illusion brought upon by high fever and a fervent desire to gaze at her for one last time. He rested his grotesque head in her lap, not caring that it might only be a clump of mangled hay within the mattress. Soon, by the grace of Almighty God, he would be set free and she would be the who would carry him to he had once carried her.

From the ramparts of the cathedral, the granite monuments maintained a stony-faced vigil over their beloved Paris. Forked lightning brought into relief the gaunt cheeks as hailstones, large as pigeon eggs, skipped across their thick-veined wings. Undaunted, they kept watch from their lofty vantage point.

The sheeting rain, heavy and biting, coated them with a misty layer of silver beneath the moonlight. It ran in streaming rivulets down the hollows of their etched faces as the gargoyles of Notre Dame wept for one of their own.

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