The rope chafes into her skin, rough and painful. Wood digs into her back.
The flames come, searingly hot; they creep closer and closer, and she stares at it defiantly before her eyes water from the smoke and she has to close them.
Her eyes hurt, her throat hurts, she can barely breathe; the flames lick at her, yellow and orange and red, a glorious medley of destruction, and she gasps in pain and tries to pull away but can barely move. She gasps for breath but inhales soot and smoke; she chokes and coughs, the searing heat burning her throat and lungs. She can't see anything but the fire, it swirls around her, she can only watch as the fire comes to devour her alive-
The dream changes.
She is wandering somewhere dark and unfamiliar, lost and alone. She hears a child crying somewhere up ahead, a little girl, and she calls out "Where are you? Don't worry! I'm coming!"
But the little girl keeps crying. She can see her, in the distance, up ahead, no more than two or three years old, although she can't quite tell what she looks like. She calls out and runs toward her, but she isn't gaining any ground; she tries and tries and the little girl remains just out of reach.
And then the fire comes again, devouring the little girl in moments until nothing is left of her but ash, as she cries out in horror. Then the fire comes for her again-
Esmeralda woke up disoriented, her heart racing, breathing fast. She looked around wildly, for a moment not knowing where she was.
Walls. Ceiling. Blanket. Right. Her bedroom.
Her throat hurt, like she'd been breathing smoke. She clutched the blanket to herself like a child.
There was a hesitant knocking on the door. "Mama?" Zephyr's voice asked nervously.
Esmeralda took a deep breath, wiped her cheeks with her blanket, and called "Come in," in what she hoped was a steady voice.
The door creaked open, and Zephyr peeked in. The ten-year-old was in his favorite green pajamas, and his blond hair, so like his father's, was sticking up in a way that looked adorable. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"I-of course," Esmeralda said. "Why?"
Zephyr toed the ground nervously. "You were screaming," he whispered.
Esmeralda flinched. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Come here."
Zephyr padded to her bed, and Esmeralda wrapped her arms around him. "I just had a bad dream," she told him. "It's all right."
"When I have a bad dream, I don't scream out loud," Zephyr noted.
"You have bad dreams?" Esmeralda asked, half in concern, half hoping to distract him from her own dream. "What about?"
He shrugged. "You know," he said into her shoulder. "Stuff."
Was this about Sarousch? When Phoebus returned she would ask him to talk to Zephyr. He'd do a better job at it than she would. It wasn't like her son could learn about getting over trauma from her.
She hadn't had a dream this vivid since before Zephyr was born, but she'd had plenty of smaller nightmares, and she was still terrified of fire. She refused to go near a fireplace, even one with a grate, preferring instead to put on as many layers as possible, and she couldn't cook over a stove unless she wore heavy mitts and had two full jugs of water within reach.
But she knew why had dreamed of fire now, why it had been more vivid, more realistic than her nightmares had been in years, and why she had dreamed something she had never dreamed before, of a lost little girl in danger.
The name rose up in her mind unbidden.
Three weeks ago, they had received news of the inhabitants of the Isle of the Lost. Several of the villains had had children. Right now, little was known about them, but in a few years when they were old enough for school (School! There were enough children living with villains to form a school!) there would be more information.
Quasimodo and Madellaine had knocked on their door; Quasimodo had looked pale, shaken.
They had told them of news received from Auradon City, about a list of children born to villains, and about a single name on the list: Claudine Frollo.
Frollo had had a daughter.
According to the date on the list, she was two and a half, but that was all the information they had about her.
What kind of life would this child have?
Even now, more than ten years after realizing what kind of man his foster father was really like and finally escaping from under his thumb, the aftereffects of Quasimodo's twenty years under Frollo were still apparent.
He and Madellaine had been married for less than a year, although they'd known each other since Zephyr was six; it had taken Quasimodo years to get the courage to ask her to marry him, the notion that he was unworthy of ever having a friend, let alone a wife, having been drilled into him since infancy.
And that was only the least of it. He grew nervous whenever he was with more than a half-dozen people at once; he tended to jump at loud noises-except bells, he was used to those-and he made self-deprecating comments all the time and really meant them, although Madellaine was working with him on that.
Phoebus had traveled to Auradon City to petition Roi Bête to have Claudine Frollo removed from the Isle and placed into his and Esmeralda's care, on the grounds that Claude Frollo had been proven multiple times to be unfit to raise a child. Not to mention that he was a murderer.
Esmeralda, Phoebus, and Zephyr had been the only guests at Quasimodo and Madellaine's wedding. Quasimodo couldn't handle many more people than that, and both of them were orphans anyway. In Quasimodo's case, thanks to Frollo.
For all Quasimodo knew, he had an entire extended family out there of uncles and aunts and cousins and grandparents, but he would never know who they were, since even his parents' names were unknown to him.
Esmeralda could only hope and pray that Phoebus would succeed. Otherwise, this poor girl, with a father like hers...
Esmeralda thought of the pyre again, and shuddered.
And so she clutched her son to her, and dared not go to sleep, lest she dream of fire again.