Outside in the corridor, Rossignol was sulking to himself as he headed towards the marble staircase. Of course he would carry out the Vicomtesse's instructions, but that did not necessitate liking them. He scuffed his fine shoes irritably on the steps as he tripped down them and hoped the Minister would not be in the Palace. His mistress had said deliver them to his hands only, and if the Minister were not there, then he could not very well follow that instruction could he?
Or better still - if the Minister should grow angry at what the Vicomtesse had written him - if he cursed her name and swore never again to speak with her! Then he would be out of their lives for good and Rossignol need not ever feel the prick of jealousy behind his eyes again. The Minister had never liked him anyway, looking upon him with grey eyes that were set in an ill-shaped head high above Rossignol, as one of the statues ornamenting Notre Dame. The Minister had spoken coldly to Rossignol before, had told him to hold his tongue, had bade him leave the room, had requested him to fetch him wine, had even, oh horror, cuffed him upon occasion - and what had his beloved Mistress done in her loyal Rossignol's defence? Nothing. Perhaps a few fumbled words, silenced instantly at a glance from the Minister, but asides from that - nothing. Merely nodded at him and instructed him in harsh tones - not unlike those she used upon common servants! - to do as the Minister bid. Rossignol balled his hands up by his side and pounded the marble floor hard as he stormed beneath stairs, his cherb's face marred horribly by a dark scowl. The same actions that would result in immediate exile of a lover when performed by the Minister were met with something close to approval!
Rossignol felt sure he hated the Minister.
He demanded bread and cheese from one of the smudge-cheeked serving girls who bobbed him a hasty curtsy and fetched him both, and a glass of watered down wine besides. They servants treated him with same deference as the Vicomtesse - to do otherwise would meet with harsh repercussions at her hands. Then, a pout on his pretty pink lips, he went out through the kitchens and out of the stables.
Chewing hard with pearly teeth on the bread and cheese, he upturned his curly head to the grey heavens and scowled again. Perhaps the rain would not stop - ah but no. Already it had lightened to a mere sprinkle. He would have to go soon, or face the cold, hard stare of dissapointment from the Vicomtesse - the one that stole his sleep.
Erik, the second coachman, rode up then in a pony trap with, most astonishingly, the Vicomte by his side. Rossignol's scowl deepened, and he moved hastily back into the shadows of the stable, though still mindful of his slippers being soiled. He hated the Vicomte because the Vicomtesse did, in Rossignol's eyes he was the object of revulsion he was for the Vicomtesse, the same gross leech, sucking the very life out of her day by day. He was sure the Vicomte was no fonder of him, and mindful of his loyalty to the Vicomtesse, he quickly drew the letter from his pouch and tucked it inside his tunic securely.
With his slack lower lip, and watery eyes, the Vicomte nodded to Erik. "Yes, its well, its well - it will do for the journey." Only Henri Vincennes was a lord weak enough to be persuaded to enter the stables. Turning his back on Erik who tipped his cap and begun unfastening the horses to lead them away for grooming, the Vicomte made his way almost hesitantly to the stables, a stick in silk hose and gold brocade. Rossignol thought with a sneer of superiority that the Vicomte faced his own reflection with that same hesitation - as though the fool thought he might manipulate himself into something he did not want to do.
The rain stopped and Rossignol glared beyond at the glimmer of sun peeking out from behind one of the clouds. Stepping out from the shadows, and slipping quietely past the Vicomte, he threw the last of his bread and cheese at one of the horses, who snorted offensively when the crumbs hit his eye. The Vicomte turned, peering out into the soft grey light beyond the stable.
"Rossignol - is that you?"
Rossignol's shoulders sank and inwardly he groaned as he turned and made a polite bow to the Vicomte. "What are you doing out here, Rossignol - I would of thought my - humm - dear wife would have you close by her side, confined to the house as she is."
Rossignol bowed again,and said with as much humility as he could muster -
"The Vicomtesse wishes me to deliver a message to town for her, a message of some importance, and she bid me go this very afternoon."
The Vicomte's sallow face had creased into a tight-lipped smile, and he was drawing something out from the folds of his tunic and holding it out to the boy. Brows knit in curiosity, Rossignol stepped forward and took it. It was a letter, much the same as the Vicomtesse's, folded and sealed with the coat of arms. Rossignol stared at it mutely for a moment before becoming aware the Vicomte was addresssing him.
"How very fortunate!" Henri was saying. "I need this letter taken to town immediately as well. If you are going I need not bother one of the other servants who have more important things to do then learn greek faerytales and other such nonsense." It was all Rossignol could do to keep the sneer from his face. "You can do that for me, Rossignol?"
Still mute, the boy nodded, and with a jerk of the head the Vicomte turned and walked away. "Very good. It is going to the Mademoiselle Anne d'Arras, who is presently residing with her family in the Palace of Justice. Go now, and be swift."
Out of an overwhelming urge of rebelliousness Rossignol lingered a few minutes more, then set out quickly over the gravelly road which led the short way to Paris.
In Paris, out on the streets, minus diklo, cloak and shoes, Herlikin Trouillefou danced in the gutters of near-empty streets, smothering her ankles in red leaves, letting her body move to the wind as a cobra to the pipe of a fakir. Her dress was soaked through and her hair tangled around on itself like seaweed and she had the vague impression she was dancing underwater. The rains had set in again, heavier than before, and Herli was enjoying thoroughly the echoing emptiness of the streets, having snuck out for a moment of respite, leaving the children in the Court center to play with the others, leaving her husband, who could not work on such a day, in the warm security of the tavern. Herlikin loved rainy days - a love that had grown from hate. When she'd first arrived in Paris rain had kept her confined underground, trapped in the Court with naught but her own company for comfort. She had detested the icy, sleeting feel - so different from the warm gushes in India, and the sudden change of weather had made her susceptible to colds and fevers. Nowadays, she had a far different attitude.
"She's gone with the raggle-taggle gypsies oh!" Herli splashed up and down with each beat of the song in the puddles that filled the gaps between the uneven cobblstones, ignoring the numbness in her toes, examining the way the cold make her scar tissue stand out against her flesh. Wouldn't Clopin whip her hard for coming home with wet feet and runny nose? She grinned to herself and continued her dance.
After a while she slowed to a walk, shivering a little and clutching her hands tight across her bosom. She would have to go home soon. She could always stop by in the tavern and let Clopin scold her and then take her home to warm her up - Herli smiled against the strands of hair plastered to her face and the skip returned to her step. Then she could rub his back and put herbal dressings over the welts that had almost healed. Herli sighed and breathed warm air onto her numb fingers. They'd not mentioned the occurence to any of the rom within the Court. Such injustices often befell the gypsies, and Clopin had no need to be ashamed of it - but - somehow it seemed more vulgar, more of an offence that the King of Thunes could not stand up for himself against such outrageous assaults for fear of being hung. It was a blow to his ego, he who prided himself on always being in control, of being master of every situation. Herli had held her tongue. She'd not breathed a word of it, even to Colombine. She glared venomously out over the grey stones extending in front of her. What she wouldn't give to have that noble bitch alone in a dark alley without her coachman and his crop.
Notre Dame rose towering towards the heavens on her left, making her feel as a gnat in the prescence of a bird. She hurried her pace a little. Herli had been inside the great Cathedral once before, and had been relieved to find she had not burst into flames but the grandeur and air of solemnity about the imposing structure still struck a chord of wariness within her. Feeling both foolish and daring she turned quickly to the large double oak doors and crossed her eyes, sticking her tongue in her cheek. A flash of gold crouching near one of the statues carved into the walls caught her eye and she stopped in her tracks. Through the drizzle all she could make out was a strong, rich red interwoven with gold, but even that was enough for her to forget her susperstitions and walk quickly toward the Cathedral, it looming larger and larger above her. Mounting the steps she was somewhat taken aback to find a pretty young boy there, yellow curls spilling over his forhead like gold shavings, baby blue eyes set in round pink and white cheeks, squatting on the stones and bunching his rich velvet tunic up over his legs so it would not scrape on the ground. He was such a beautiful boy that Herli could not help but smile at him, while he looked at her with a curious expression of apprehensiveness and calculation.
Rossignol looked back at the strange, wet creature who had appeared suddenly before him and remained silent. The light olive color of her skin made it clear immediately she would be, at the most, a maidservant or a girl from one of the farms outside of Paris. At the least, a gypsy - and Rossignol's eyes wandered over her brightly colored and patterned garments, the bronze jewellery that littered her arms and fingers and his pulse rate sped up. Her smile, though friendly, did nothing to disarm him - her eyes were distant in her head, and furthermore, were fixed hungrily on the ruby signet ring he wore. He noted with a tremor their odd coloring and stories the Vicomtesse had told him of gypsy witches sprang suddenly into his head.
"What are you doing out in the rain, child?" the creature asked him, her accent soft and strange. He pursed his lips and did not answer, but rose to his feet. She was very small, this woman, in fact he was almost as tall than her. Her expression did not change when he stood, she continued to look at him with a queer, half smile on her face, her hands harmlessly by her sides. She repeated the question. "Didn't you hear me, boy? What are you doing out in the rain? Your pretty tunic will become ruined!" There was an edge of mockery on her last words. Clearly the woman had either no sense of propriety or she did not care. Rossignol's clothes and coloring clearly indicated him as above this creature in station, but she quite boldfacedly look him in the eye, her expression getting sharper, her smile more sly. Rossignol watched her examine his fine hose and the embroidery on his tunic, and to distract her he said suddenly -
"I'm delivering a message for my mistress to the Palace of Justice. I waited here by the Cathedral to protect me both from the rain and from harm."
Herli's eyes left the intricate pattern along the hem of the child's tunic and leapt back to his glass-blue ones. His voice was rounded as his cheeks, soft and pale like shimmery bells - with an odd hollowness beneath it. There was something canny about him that was quickly wearing off the angelic beauty of his face. He was just a small boy, and rather plump besides. She rather fancied she was stronger than him. And that ring would like so fine on her eldest son's beautiful, brown hand - ah! Herli wiped such thoughts from her mind with the trick Abigail had taught her "Would you want someone to rob from your boy, Harlan?". No of course not. Move away, Herli, let the child be. She moved to walk away and the boy's fair brows rose as his eyes darted round to watch her. She could not resist turning back to him with one last, coveting gaze slowly thrown over his form with the words -
"The Cathedral is a false security, boy. If one wants to rob you, they will rob you."
It was during that gaze that the buckle on his pouch caught her eye. A flash of recognition sparked in her bosom and Rossignol was stunned when she leapt forward to grab him harshly by the wrist, wrenching it away from his side. He let out an alarmed cry, then his soft lips were mashed beneath the cold metal of the rings on her fingers as she silenced him, examining the Vincennes coat of arms that adorned the buckle. Rossignol stood still only for a moment, then began to struggle, trying to wrench his wrist free from her grasp. With a sudden surprising surge of strength, the woman shoved him back with an ugly sneer, shaking him by the scruff of the neck.
"You work for the Vincennes? Speak to me, boy, speak to me!!" Rossignol cried out again, and began to kick out with his slippered feet, as the woman twisted to avoid them, still grasping him firmly. She threw herself against him again, knocking them both down, then reached for his pouch. "Delivering a message for your mistress? Your mistress is Ginevra de Vincennes?" Rossignol stubbornly refused to answer, but as she tore the pouch from his belt he suddenly ceased his struggles.
Herli got up off the boy with a triumphant grin, clasping the leather pouch in her hand. "What a rather splendid stroke of luck!" her voice had a spiteful bite to it, her eyes sparkled wickedly down on Rossignol who propped himself up on his elbows and gazed at her from rounded eyes, his lips firmly pursed shut. "As I said boy, the Cathedral is a false security."
Brazenly she turned on her heels and began to stride away, clutching Rossignol's pouch to her bosom like a baby, a spring in her step. As an afterthought she turned back. "Sorry for knocking you down, boy!" she said amiably, then ran lightly down the Cathedral steps and out onto the deserted streets.
Rossignol stayed still where he was on the cold stone for several moments more, watching the bright, small figure as it got further and further away, finally dissapearing out of the square altogether. Slowly, a smile spread on his rosy lips.
By the banks of the river nearest the outskirts of the city, Rossignol clambered his way slowly down, heedless now of getting wet, but taking care not to slip in the mud. Once he reached the angrily rushing water he put a hand inside his tunic and withdrew the Vicomtesse's letter from the place he'd secured it upon the Vicomte's appearance. With a smug smile he let the letter fall into the water, and watched it as it was swept furiously away, pulled below the surface.
As he clambered up the banks once more he no longer tried to stop himself from slipping. In fact, he slipped several times, and once upon a sharp rock, which tore a hole in his stocking and loosened the embroidery on his tunic. It was not hard to urge the tears after that, and at a hurried pace he headed quickly for the Chateau de Vincennes.
The door of the Bells & Motley slammed open with a whirl of wind and a cool spray, and Clopin was not the only one to turn to it with a scowl upon his face. Clopin's changed quickly to an expression of surprise; for it was his wife he beheld in the doorway, a triumphant grin all over her pointy little face, something that was probably not hers clutched close to her breast, and soaked to the bone. She shut the door quickly behind her and ignored the glares of the other patrons, skipping merrily over to her husband's side where he sat at the bar, staring at her stonily.
"What the hell are you doing, you foolish girl?" he demanded of her as she sniffled and shivered, still grinning.
"I'm here to see you!" she responded cheekily, the water from her person dripping steadily to the wooden panels beneath them, and he set his drink down with a sharp rap.
"Don't start getting clever! What do you mean, running around in the rain like that? You look like a drowned monkey! You'll have caught your death by now!"
She pouted a little and looked at him beseechingly. "I'm sorry, my soleil. It was ridiculously silly of me. Take me home?"
Clopin's eyebrows shot up sharply. Clearly she had some mischief afoot, the admission of her silliness was proof enough of that. "Herli," he said seriously "what have you done, and what are you holding?"
She widened her eyes innocently, one hand leaving the brown leather pouch she carried to rest itself lightly on his inner thigh, leaning forward to whisper in his ear - and if her cheek was cold, her breath was not - "I've not done anything except seek an excuse for you to warm me up, love. Don't make me go home by myself to sit at a distant, unfeeling fire."
Clopin sighed and grinned. She was lying, but as she leaned back again, still grinning and with straggly wet hair in her eyes, he could see she really did want him to take her home.
Another sharp raise of the eyebrows "At least I'm suitably consoled for bearing your lies, kitten. But I'm going to whip you hard." He made his goodbyes to his friends, drained his drink then stood to go, as Herli turned on her heel, glancing back flirtily over her shoulder.
"I was counting on it." she said wickedly, and let out a squeal and skipped away as he darted forward with a growl. The tavern at that time of day and weather held mostly rom who'd come up from the Court below, and those otherwise were involved enough in their own affairs to not notice the two slipping out to the back of the tavern to travel to the Court of Miracles by the exit concealed there. Herli was excessively cheerful as she cuddled the leather pouch close to her, and Clopin wondered curiously what it held. He paused as Herli skipped on ahead to exchange brief commentary with a few of the men who informed him there was a pig roasting on a spit in the Center, and plenty of beer besides, and then hurried back after Herli, who had dissapeared inside their warm and comfortable tent. As he reached the embroidered flap he noted how quiet it was within. That meant the children were likely to be playing somewhere in the Court. Well, that was as well. Herli wouldn't be happy if there were witnesses. Clopin grinned and pushed the flap open. A single candelabra was burning by the bed, and a soft, rose-scented incense drifted lightly through the air. The tent was aglow with a shimmering warmth as the candlight bounced off the rich, bright colors Herli and Clopin garnished their home with. Herli was there, perched on the edge of Clopin's high backed chair, towelling her hair dry and clad only in a brief cotton chemise that was as wet as the rest of her and clinging tightly to her skin. She glanced up to smile at her husband who secured the flap shut and took off his hat, followed quickly by his gloves, discarding them carelessly on the nearby worktable, littered with woodshavings and paints.
"What treasures did you come home with today, kitten?" he asked her mockingly as she turned away to continue combing her hair.
"You'll love it! I'll show you - later." she said meaningfully, with a quick glance at him. He leaned against the chair and ran a hand over her head. "Its not yours, is it?"
She tossed her hair back over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. "It is nothing of value - material at any rate. And its not as if any will recognise the 'drowned monkey' as me."
"Oh, so you were brazen about it then?"
Her eyes sparkled. "Quite brazen."
He leaned down lower, his breath tickling her ear lobe. "Foolish girl, outside getting soaked through, robbing parisians, cauasing your poor, put-upon husband to worry and bemoan you."
She blinked up at him with a mokcingly-contrite expression, wickedness glimmering in the depths of her eyes. He unmoulded himself elegantly from the chair, turning around swiftly to place a large hand on either one of the chair's arms, smiling down at his wife who smiled cat-like back at him and laid her brush to the side. "I imagine you're quite chilled through."
"We should see about getting you warmed up."
She looked back into his brilliant black eyes with half-kidded ones. "Indeed we should."
With a startlingly quick movement Clopin grasped her up by either wrist and hauled her out of the chair, pulling her towards him. Landing with a light thud on the bed, he pulled his wife face first across his lap and then whacked her soundly across the rear five times. Herlikin's face changed to one of outrage and shock, and she struggled against her husband's wiry, strong arms as he released her with a short laugh and she leapt off him, clenching her fists at her sides and sputtering angrily, her chemise fallen charmingly off one shoulder. His deep eyes sparkled at her merrily from his angular brown face and she stomped her foot, too outraged to speak. He shrugged.
"I said I would whip you, and I did! I have a strong suspicion you played the little idiot today, Herli. Besides, I don't like it when you make me worry. Now come here and I'll warm you properly."
Certain she had been wronged, and infuriated by his trickery she merely seethed and shook her head, finally managed to gasp out "You have played 'the idiot' more times than I!"
He tapped a long finger on a long chin thoughtfully. "It's true, I have." he admitted. "But uh - " and the smile returned once more. "I *am* a man and you *are* a woman,you know."
He quickly dodged the shoe she tore from the floor and flung at him, acrobat's body twisting effortlessly before retrieving his hat and gloves. She, meanwhile had tossed herself onto the bed, and sat with folded arms, pouting furiously. "Sulk, if you want to. But I would like it very much if you joined me in the center - they've got a big fat pig roasting there, and a few mugs of wine should warm you up." She remained silent. "Very well, then. I'm sure they're waiting for me to entertain them at any rate." He bowed to her before leaving. "You know very well you can't control me through the loins Herli, it's an insult to both of us you should even try." He pulled his hat in place and stepped out, before poking his head in one last time. "And rather nasty too."