"Why would Ginevra de Vincennes want to frame the Rom, Pierre?"
The poet, who'd celebrated newfound wealth through a commission from a besotted lad by getting quite literally blind drunk - the tables, burning stump of a candle, and several bottles of wine had all run together, their colors mixing and entwining as chalk in the rain, and for a moment, with a drooling lip, Pierre rued he was a poet and not an artist; he could begin quite a new style in this fashion - let out a loud and quite nervous groan that was intended to be inward, and used the newcomer as an excuse to let his scrappy dark head slump forward on the table, his forehead rebounding slightly with a thunk! on the wood. There was the violent scrape of a chair being pulled swiftly to his side, and the soft thump of a lean (and unfortunately strong) body seating itself, the throat of this body clearing itself pointedly, a pleasantly musky scent of spices and wood drifting by his nostrils. With another groan, Pierre, who was in no condition to do anything else, gently lifted his head and then repeatedly bumped it on the table top, the hand that yet clutched a bottle of wine clenching even tighter, his other contorted in a fist. His new companion said nothing more, but Pierre heard the strike of flint and a second later the pungent smell of tobacco joined that of the spices and wood. Pierre coughed miserably and tried to pull himself in an upright position, whilst his companion lifted his long, slim legs, crossing them over onto the table top.
"Well?" Clopin repeated pleasantly. "Have you any thoughts on the matter, my friend?"
Pierre had quite naturally been aware of the recent unfortunate hangings of the innocent romni, and from the rom population that frequented the Bells & Motley had observed the mounting tension and fear. Pierre found silent cold stares, turned heads and ominous mutterings his greetings now, in place of the jovial laughter, shameless encouragement and slaps on the back of days gone past. The rom were a suspicious lot, and all outside of their own were to be suspected in times such as these. Formerly the thickest clientele in the small tavern, all but a scant few had slunk away to whatever hiding place they had in the past few days, leaving the tavern mistress cursing the law for taking away her source of income. Pierre did not object; his part in the whole affair, though it was unkown, was sufficiently enough to make him exceedingly nervous - when passing both rom and guard alike. It was alright for Herlikin as far as the rom went - she was one of them and married to the king what's more, but Pierre - Pierre was an outsider. And Pierre was not altogether sure Herli would not abandon him, or claim he had manipulated her, if they were discovered. Clopin had gotten drunk with him inumerable times over the years and together they had light-heartedly abused and insulted the other - but he knew Clopin could be earnestly cruel when he wished to. Without Pierre, Herlikin's blackmail may not have been possible, an idle wish from an excitable woman - his literacy had cemented it. Or that would be how Clopin saw it. Without lifting his head from the table, Pierre announced into the wood -
"Clopin, I truly am sorry for your recent losses, but I'm afraid I do not know the answer to your query."
Next to him Clopin raised black brows and puffed on his pipe, leaning back a little further in his chair. Pierre was stone cold drunk, and Clopin did not think it would be difficult to persaude him that the route to self-preservation would be more easily pursued with the truth than with a lie. And he was quite sure Pierre was lying. His dear little wife had been spotted speaking urgently to the poet earlier that evening in the tavern, her slim little claw holding the already drunk man fast by the arm, her eyes flashing sparks. Milosh, who had brought the news back, had informed him without guile, a short laugh preceding his "looks like that Gringoire Fool has offended your wife again in a drunken stupor, Clopin!". Clopin himself had had his suspicions since the name "Ginevra de Vincennes" had been brought to his eager ears. But the clincher had come the day before, when Herlikin had broke down into tears upon news of Grofo's death. He'd comforted her without a word about what he suspected, but Clopin knew that when it came to those outside of blood, Herli Did Not Cry. She had a part in it, and that part was causing her guilt. There would be no way under Shaitan he could persuade her to tell him, although she probably knew he suspected. But Clopin must know for certain.
Narrowing his gaze on Gringoire, Clopin outstretched a lanky arm and wrested the poet's head up by the hair. "Come, come now, Pierre." he said chidingly. "Have I, or my fathers, survived this long by being fools? You will tell me what devious schemes my wife has been plotting behind my back."
Pierre groaned again and waved his hands about expressly, his bleary gaze fixed on the table top, avoiding Clopin's piercing black eyes. "There are no devious schemes, Clopin! I swear it to you!"
Clopin drummed his fingers impatiently on the table top. Pierre continued emphatically. "I swear it, on my poetic integrity, by the jems and jewels that flow through my fingertips, there are no devious schemes!"
Clopin stared at him silently for a moment. "Alright Pierre, you've established there are no devious schemes about, now perhaps you'd like to clarify what exactly is going on, in that case?"
Pierre threw his hands up dramatically to the Heavens and let his head fall down against the back of his chair, before his arms came crashing back down to his sides. Herlikin had cornered him earlier in the evening when he was sufficiently drunk enough to be defenceless.
"Now listen to me, Pierre, you're going to do exactly as I tell you before there is more bloodshed!"
"Herlikin - Madame Trouillefou - leave it alone - surrender the letter!" he'd slurred, covering his face with his hands to avoid her wrathful gaze. Clawing at those hands she'd tried to wrest them from his face.
"I will NOT surrender. I will never surrender to the likes of her!"
"Then tell Clopin about it! Tell somebody!" he'd tried to wrench free, but she succeeded finally in baring his face,gripping his wrists in her claws, glaring at him venomously, desperation in the depths of her eyes.
"I will not!! How can you suggest such a thing? They will despise me! HE might despise me - " she broke off suddenly and her lower lip trembled a little. "Pierre - " she shook his wrists urgently. "Help me!! Help!"
"It could be you and I on those gallows next!"
"No! No! If you do as I say this will all end - WE will be triumphant!"
"I can't, Herli! I haven't written my masterpiece yet! I don't want to die!"
"You pathetic worm, stop blubbering for the love of Kali! You're not going to die! No artist is appreciated until his death at any rate!"
"I have to give them something to appreciate first!" Pierre was desperately trying to avoid her eyes, squinting his shut.
"You'll have a chore of it!" she declared wryly and then leaned in close to his face so that her very breath danced over his eyelids. "Look at me, Pierre." she insisted, and hesitatingly he'd opened his bloodshot eyes to gaze into the odd colored, unnaturally bright ones she wore in her head. The alcohol he'd consumed caused his vision to dance, it seemed as though her very eyes burned with fire. "You will help me, Pierre. You've heard what the gadje say about my eyes, haven't you? In your heart you believe it. Dammnit, you will help me, or by the gods I will curse you so that your inkpot is permanently dry and your quill is forever limp, if you understand my meaning!" she hissed.
Pierre's mouth had gone dry and he'd remained silent as she explained what she wanted done.
"PIERRE!" Clopin's fist slamming on the table brought him out of his memory and back to the present, uncomfortable situation. "Pierre, let me tell you a story. " Clopin's voice dipped down low, and his brow furrowed darkly, his tone curiously intriguing. Despite himself, Pierre leaned forward in to listen. "It was not so long ago that this took place. A matter of months perhaps. It was found out that a friend to the rom had been given cause for much worry by the gajo authorities. So much cause for worry in fact, that it had loosed our rom friend's tongue, and not in our favor. Now we all rom know what the gajo can do to us once they have us within their grip. Our young friend had not been hurtled into the black pits of the dungeons, nor forced to face judgement in the Courtrooms of the Palace of Justice. But they had found the means by which to persuade him in pieces of gold and silver. We understood it was not the poor fellow's fault. We understood they had tempted a poor underdog in a language he could not resist. And so, in order that he might not do any more harm to himself, or his fellows, we relieved him of his tongue."
Pierre gulped wiped the perspiration from his brow and took another swig of wine. Much more and he would be copiously sick, he knew. Gypsies here and there threatening to disable him in various ways. Why hadn't he gone to law school like his father had wanted? Why had he been born a sensitive poet, forever skirting the brinks of respectable society? Why had he been seduced by the romanticism of befriending an outcast race who were, for the most part, highly unstable and unpredpictable? Clopin sat quietely back in his chair once more, raising his pipes to his mouth and fixing the young poet with still intensity, the flames from the fire to the side of them throwing pumpkin orange shadows over his thin, angled face. There was a steely look in his eyes Pierre had not seen before - and did not particularly like. He took a breath and prepared to give in.
"Here you are, Clopin!" both men jumped, startled as Herlikin appeared suddenly, descending upon them swiftly and reaching out a hand to stroke her husband's cheek.
"Ah, Herli!" Clopin quickly recovered his composure, smiling charmingly up at his wife who ignored Pierre pointedly and wrapped an arm about Clopin's shoulder. "Where were you, hiding under the table?"
"Hmm, don't you wish!" she said playfully, and running a finger down his long, pointed nose. Pierre paused, mouth open and cast a wozzy look at Clopin, who glared at him urgently from the corners of his eye, and shook his head with barely perceptible movement. "It's late, my one and only. Are you coming?"
Clopin shrugged and pushed his hat up. "Certainly. Pierre and I have finished our little conversation, eh Pierre?" he shot Gringoire a meaningful look while he wrapped an arm about Herli's waist, tugging her close. 'Don't forget' that look said 'what I have told you'. Pierre lifted his arms dazedly, and nodded, eyes wide.
"I think there's nothing left to discuss!"
"Then." Clopin got gracefully to his feet. "I'll leave you to yourself in that case." he tipped the brim of his hat slightly, and then turned, hustling Herli away - but not before she shot the poet a meaningful, savage glance of her own. 'Don't forget' that look said 'what you must do for me.'
The two had barely left before Pierre was groaning and banging his head upon the table again.
In the catacombs, the rom couple made their way to their home in silence. They walked with arms wrapped around each other, her head against his chest, not speaking and both very much wanting to speak. Clopin stared off to the side, forehead creased and chin out-ward jutting, lost in thought while Herlikin pouted and cast her eyes downward, squeezing her husband's waist hard in an effort to get closer to him. They were both glad when they reached the passageway that led down into the Court, countenances visibly lightening, smiling at each other once more. Clopin stepped back to allow his wife to go first, then suddenly darted an arm forward, arresting her by the elbow. She glanced back in surprise, alarm triggered in her eyes as he pulled her back to face him, taking her other arm in his grip.
"Herli - " he said gently, looking at her intensely. " - if there were something troubling you - you would tell me, wouldn't you?"
She hesitated only a moment before wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his chest. "Of course, darling, of course, dearest." she whispered hoarsely, rubbing her face on his tunic. He was silent again above her, one hand idly working it's way over her head, an ache thudding its way dully through his chest at what seemed to be a lie. "I will tell you, soon." She uttered the last words so softly it was pure accident he heard them at all. Releasing a sigh, and with a lighter heart, he turned her round again and together they walked into the Court.
The hanging was scheduled for the Wednesday, in three days time. It was only to be the accused three. The others were being held just until their savage heathen selves had calmed sufficiently enough so they would not be a danger to the Citizens of Paris. Of course, when Claude deigned that to be was anyone's guess.
Ginevra did not especially care. So long as the three whom she'd gestured to, each in their turn with one long, white, jaspar adorned finger, were led to the gallows and carried from them, she would insist upon nothing else. For now. After all, the Rom were constantly challenging the law, it would be only a matter of time before they once again gave cause to have themselves arrested.
Still. The Gypsy woman was being remarkably stubborn. Several of her fellows were dead, and she'd made not an effort to intervene at any point. A hardened witch, and what further proof did she need? Only one who partook in the black arts could be so heartless toward her own kith and kin. Nonetheless - it were not as though Claude would question any offences she brought to the Courts. She could keep this silly game up for as long as the wretched woman wanted to play.
Claude. She paced restlessly in her rooms, entrapped by walls hung with silks and velvet. They had kept their silence. Standing side by side in the Courts, a foot wide gap between them, speaking to the air before them and relying on it to catch hold of the words and carry them to each other. Her detestation of him grew like a cyst, lodging itself on her heart and devouring her, feeding itself so that it could finger its way through her body, spreading relentlessly until her every pore felt contaminated by it. She would not give in to him. No matter the costs, she would never be the one to relent. If he ever desired the company of her bed again - and she was sure he did - he would have to seek it out himself. He would have to be humbled.
She relished the thought.
The rain once again sleeted down in the courtyard beyond, pumelling to the stones and grasses in a relentless drove, making transport impossible. Trapping her inside. She stopped her pacing and whirled to the windows, gazing out at the impossible grey which stretched on endlessly it seemed, cloaking even the thick greens of the forest behind the chateau. Trapped, that's what she was. Her brow creased slightly, maring the smooth perfection of her face. That cursed weather! She spun around once more, her heel slipping a little on the soft plush of the carpet and she wobbled slightly before regaining her balance. The walls of the room did not stop moving, but continued to sway sickeningly, shrinking inwards as she gaped at them in disbelief. Nausea flooded her, constricting her throat, and she stumbled backwards, feeling behind her until she found the window seat and sunk down upon it. Shutting her eyes she forced herself to breathe deeply, fighting the choking sensation until it ceased and she could open her eyes once more.
The walls were still. Her rooms were large and spacious and still. Anger rushed through her to overwhelm the confusion, setting her blood tingling and flushing her from head to toe. She determined to have the fool cook replaced immediately.
The new maid - whose name she still did not know - knocked hesitantly at the open door then.
"What?!" Ginevra bit the word out, snapping her head savagely sideways. The maid leapt back a little nervously, then sidled forward, gazing at her curiously. The Vicomtesse's brow glistened with a fine sweat and her eyes were shadowed, looking almost sunken in her head. The girl realised for the first time her mistress was not so young a woman as she would seem. "Either give a reason for your prescence here, or leave." The command was tinged in venom and the girl tembled slight as she held out a hand clasping a crude sheet of paper, folded twice.
"Please, Victomesse. This message was delivered for you."
Narrowing her eyes suspiciously, Ginevra snatched it to her and dismissed the maid who gratefully dropped a curtsy and darted out. She recognised the crude handwriting immediately.Belladonna,
I require another meeting with you. Meet me tomorrow at twelve midnight on the Pont des Pêcheurs. Come alone.
With an incredulous sneer, Ginevra balled the paper up and strode over to toss it into the fireplace. It crumbled instantly within the flames, glowing a hellish yellow before flaking into ash and falling amongst the kindling. The witch had had her chance to bargain with the Vicomtesse and she would not get another. Ginevra would not be holding any appointments on the morrow.