I'd been away from Paris and the Court of Miracles for round about ten years
when I returned and decided to stay awhile.
Things had changed somewhat in that time. Prejudice against my people ran
rampant throughout the streets of Paris, as strong and thick as ever, but
within the Court, the romany were happier, more content and more comfortable.
Entering the Court I was far more than a little astonished at how grounded it
had become.
The catacombs which led into the huge natural cave beneath the city of Paris
had first been used by the gypsies,long long before I was born, as simply a
means of escape. A place to hide when being pursued. As time went by, it
became a place where the gypsies could stay for longer periods of time,during
the harsh winter months, or as solitude and protection.Then it was an
underground road,where messages could be passed and spies travel through.
Further and further time went by, and gypsies began to move in.Camps were set
up,entire tribes would stop. Despite the constant flow of coming and going
romany, it had become like a town.Some of the previously nomad gypsies
settled down permanently, raising their children and working there. It became
known as the Gypsy Capital of Europe - all romani was welcome to stop and
stay for as long as they liked. All who resided there offered assistance and
help to one another. But the Court was still unstable - gypsies are by their
very nature wandering folk,and things could get easily out of control. A
leader needed to be appointed. They chose Geraud Trouillefou, a man whose
romany ancestry traced back to our roots in India, or so it was said,and who
was leader of one of the largest and happiest tribes in all of Europe. And it
has been his family who have been the gypsy royalty ever since.
Now the Court had expanded. Places of business had been set up, a stage,
stalls. The tents fanned out like streets, and the majority of those who
resided there did so on a permanent basis. It was the same as I remembered
it, and yet - completely different as well.

Nonetheless, it was still a place to call home for a while,and enabled me to
meet up with friends from times and adventures gone by. The center of the
Court, as we called it,was just off the rough-hewn steps leading down from
the Graveyard Entrance. It was here that the romany would meet up during the
day or of an evening, to drink or trade and gossip. And it was here I went
once I had sent up tent in the available space near the back of the cave,
that evening I arrived.The gallows towered over the wide open space where we
gathered, but they seemed to not notice it's shadow. Buxom,boisterous mothers
and wives met at the stream to wash and gossip, the swarthy dark-skinned men
built up a fire to roast a couple of fat pigs on, drawing tankards of beer
from the nearby barrels.
That was where I went, towards the men, and could feel the corners of my
mouth pull up in a grin as I recognised some of my old comrades - Christophe
and Augustus,Luciano and Antonio, each of them fully mature romani men, black
bearded and dark eyes,brightly garbed and full of humour and temper. Men much
like myself.
Christophe caught sight of me as I approached and gave a shout of welcome.
"Hie there! By Shaitan himself, my eyes are failing me! It looks like Jean!
Jean is that you?"
"Aye" I smiled back at him. "It is Jean, Christophe.Your eyes are not failing
you, although it appears your gullet may be!" I motioned to the potbelly that
had not been there ten years previous. He threw back his head and laughed the
old rowdy laughter I remembered, then held out an arm I clasped and shook. I
greeted my old friends as we measured each other up noticing the changes not
first apparant,comparing ourselves to the younger men of before. I was
somewhat surprised to learn Christophe had taken up permanent residence in
the Court, as provider of all meat and poultry, and Luciano too had decided
to stay,selling or trading the romany for his pottery wares.

"But what, by all that is Holy, should bring so hardened a traveller as
yourself back to the Court?" Christophe demanded of me as we drank out beer.
I shrugged in response.
"I just had the desire to revisit and see how things were going here. I'm of
romany blood, like any of you. The affairs of our people interest me."
"You know how long you'll be staying?" Luciano inquired.
"I've not yet decided - perhaps only a few days, perhaps a few weeks. We'll
see how Paris interests me, and if it interests me."
"You should go and speak to Clopin later on. He'll be best able to advise you
on how things are hereabouts."
Clopin - Clopin of course would be Clopin Trouillefou, the latest King of the
Court of Miracles. I remembered the boy very well indeed. He's the sort
that's hard to forget.
"So Clopin is King, eh? I wonder how he handles it."
"Oh he does very well at it. None of the attempted laws and methods of his
grandfather,and none of the extreme relaxedness of his father.I think he's
around twenty-eight now, and he's been boss since he was twenty-one. Very
entertaining fellow."
"He always was, if I recall. Large mouth on that boy, and plenty came out of
it. I suppose he makes quite a spectacle of himself."
The others laughed at that and Augustus replied. "Oh yes, he and his wife are
quite infamous - "
I cut him off by choking on my mouthful of beer. I coughed and then said "His
wife, did you say?"
"Oh yes, he's been married for five years now, surely you knew?"
"Well, clearly I did not! His wife!! Clopin Trouillefou, married?" The idea
was quite ridiculous to me and I laughed heartily. The others chuckled softly
too. I'd known Clopin as a young boy of eighteen,and he'd been popular with
the ladies for many years previous. Most of the girls his age held a torch
for him, and several of those both younger and older too. He could charm the
pantaloons off the most spoiled, conceited, gypsy hating princess anywhere in
Europe, and there were few romany girls in his age-group who did not become a
woman at his hands.That's not to say he was a callous bastard of a womanizer,
he had true affection for all his ladies, which is more than can be said for
many men of his type,and greatly respected and loved the female species, but
he could not settle for just one. So long as a girl realised that, she should
deal with it alright, but inevitably they fell head over heels. The very idea
that Clopin had willingly consented to be married was an oddity worthy of a
freak-show. I thought, with a small grimace of sympathy for his wife, that
she was most likely some sweet, madly in love, naieve little thing who'd
unfortunately fallen pregnant to him, and whom he'd married out of sympathy,
as he would be likely to do.He probably fooled around on her at every
oppurtunity, though he meant no harm with it. I'm no man of that honorable
stamina myself, so perhaps I should not cast the stone, but I know I would
never marry if I couldn't confine myself to my wife. It was doubtful Clopin
had met the kind of woman his match enough to hold his interest.
I finished my laugh and shook my head. "Ah, I can only hope that his wife
holds no lasting affection for him and cuckolds him as he undoubtedly
deserves."
The others exchanged glances. "Now why would you say that,Jean?" Christophe
asked me. "True, Clopin was a perfect rascal before, but even the most
rascally man can be reformed!"
I grinned. "Clopin Trouillefou is not the kind of man who could be tamed by
anyone, least of all a woman.Just as his energy is boundless cartwheeling and
singing and shouting witticisms onstage, so is his energy boundless as he
leaps from one woman to another."
The others all grinned at me. "Alright then Jean" Christophe said, raising
his tankard. "You've been away ten years, so you can be excused for thinking
so. But if anything should be revealed to you during the duration of your
stay, that should make your jaw drop with astonishment, then you owe me three
sous!"
I pondered the wager, stroking my beard.Three sous was not too great an
amount of money, although extremely useful.It occured to me that Christophe
would not be placing this wager were he not certain of winning, but I've been
rarely able to refuse a bet, and had been on the road for thirty years and
longer. There was not much that could astonish me anymore, and besides - I
was certain that in the ways of women, at least, Clopin had not changed.
"Done" I agreed.And we shook hands and clinked glasses.
"Well, well, gentleman, and what are wagering today?" A curiously soft and
accented voice asked from behind me. Christophe looked up with a grin in his
eye.
"Hie there, Herlikin. Jean here is an old visitor to the Court. We're
wagering things have changed enough to make him gape in disbelief."
The female laughed, and I turned around to see who had joined us. She was
small, and thinner than many of the Court's women.I first noticed, with some
interest, the paleness of her skin, very unusual amongst our kind, although
her attitude and dress signalled her as romany in nature at least.She was
gloriously decked out in red and gold, her bare shoulders slightly
sunburnt,her full skirts reaching only to her shin,showing off a lovely lot
of ankle and delicate dancer's feet.Her hair was a beautiful red and wavy,
very thick and long - and her large almond shaped eyes were oddly colored.
One blue and one green. She was not very beautiful, but she had a charm of
her own, marked by her large clear eyes, and pouting, determined mouth. Her
figure was exsquisite, though she was so thin, and she held herself with a
straight back and a keening, almost sardonic, expression. She was young -
certainly not much older than twenty.I noticed quickly the large gold hoop
that dangled from her left ear and greeted her accordingly.
"Madame" I smiled at her with a nod of my head. "Jean LeBeau."
She gave a little sniff and tossed her red hair over her shoulder in a
charming gesture. "Call me Herlikin.God knows, everyone else does." a brief
smile flashed across her face, showing me she didn't mind that everyone else
did,and I returned it. She stepped neatly over the benches we sat on and took
up a tankard of her own to fill with beer from the barrel. I noted it with
interest, for she apparantly had no inclination to sit with the women of the
Court, instead she took her place among us on the benches, hitching up her
skirts and gulping back her drink with satisfaction. She greeted the others
with a friendly nod, and Christophe with a slight stroke over the shoulders.
"So, tell me for I am dying to know, what exactly could have happened here
that is amazing enough for a seasoned nomad to be astonished by it?" She said
dryly, stroking the gold lining on her dress.
Christophe chuckled. "Oh, there's not so many, but there's a few, my friend.
For example,Jean here simply cannot believe Clopin Trouillefou can be
faithful to his wife."
Her head came up then and she looked at me with a wicked interest glowing in
her oriental eyes.
"Oh ho, really? Well now, I rather think I should get in on this wager.It's
of no small interest to me."
Her gaze continued to hold me steadily and I wondered how she saw me. I am a
handsome man, in a middle-aged romany way. Tall, and retaining much of my
strength and good figure from travelling the countryside, my skin is very
dark. My hair is long and straight and black, and I have long black
moustaches and beard.My eyes are blue, and so quite stunning within my head,
and my smile is open and charming.No grey as yet streaks my hair,and the
lines on my face are minimal. As she stared at me, I saw her gaze soften and
she cocked her head in a slightly flirtatious fashion.I used my smile on her
and she observed it for a minute before returning with one of her own. Not
the brief movement of lip I saw before, but a real smile. Her face was quite
transformed by it.Her mouth was wide and her teeth were white and well
shaped. Her eyes sparkled, and she looked more beautiful than she really was.
I was momentarily entranced by it, and she well knew it,I saw clearly from
the little spark of humor in her eyes.It would seem Herlikin could be quite a
dangerous woman if she chose. Finally the smile faded and vanished, and I was
able to resume conversation. I saw Christophe wink and grin at me, as the
others continued to drink.
"So,Herlikin, the affairs of Clopin are of interest to you?"
Her lips curved in a thoughtful smile, and she looked at me from under
lowered lashes."Very much so. I take a great deal of interest in the
going-ons of Clopin Trouillefou."
I gave a soft chuckle. It would seem that this woman was probably one of his
enamoured followers,showing his power over even married women, though the
impression she gave me was not one of a woman who would be subserviant to any
man.I said as much to her and she laughed softly.
"In that you're right, Jean. But I have my own reasons for taking so great an
interest in him.I fear dividing too much attention between women would
distract him from dazzling Paris with his inexhaustible talent! Though it
would certainly save me from being bored by tales of how he dazzles them."
We laughed at that and she flicked her unruly hair over her bare shoulders
again and looked at me in amusement. The look was at once seductive and
disinterested, and I found it intriguing.Yes, she could be a very dangerous
woman indeed.
We continued to talk more in our group, and I learned that our female
companion hailed from India, hence her strange accent.She did seem to speak
of that barbaric country, for her movements were graceful and bestial,her
eyes always alert, and the scent of her skin was strongly of flowers and
heat. She was at once friendly and distant, humorous and thoughtful and she
spoke up against any man there. She was bold and fierce in what she thought,
and I could see the makings of a fine temper in her, and a great deal of
pride. I realised I had been erroneous in thinking she could be enamoured of
Clopin - they were too alike and too different.A woman like her could not
tolerate someone of so forceful and ostentaious personality like Clopin,(and
although I had been away ten years I was quite sure that had not changed in
the young King) and Clopin would find her too fierce and not admiring enough
to make a lover of her. Trouillefou had, as yet not joined us,although the
group had grown in size as the day grew later, and we had been joined by
several of those luscious romany women also. Christophe, Luciano and the
others took up pipe and lute and drum to sing and play, and as the group's
voice rose in the soft romany ballads around the spitting fire, I could
almost believe we were out under the night sky.
Herlikin finished her drink and leaned over to Christophe
"I'll speak with you later Christophe.If you'll excuse me, I have to prepare
supper for my husband and children."
She nodded to me and the others who farewelled her cheerfully and waved, then
stood up and prepared to go. As she stepped over the bench, however, a great
roar came from over the way, and she whipped around with a slight look of
irritated anticipation. A blur of color darted through the square and pounced
on her, whipping into an embrace, lifting her clear off the ground and
swinging her around. The colorful blur finally stopped to reveal a tall, slim
young man, brilliantly garbed in parti-colored tunic and hose.A large and
weather beaten blue hat sat atop his head, bedecked with a straggly yellow
feather. I recognised the hat, although it was not so new as it was ten years
previous, but it was the man's brilliant black eyes, large nose and grinning
mouth which led me to realise exactly who he was.Clopin. He held Herlikin in
his arms, grinning up at her cheerfully.She, for her part, was unmoved and
looked humorlessly at him, with narrowed eye and straight mouth, her hands
pushed against his chest.
"Put me down, brute." She said stiffly.The others watched with amusement, and
I had to chuckle to myself. It seemed I had been right.
But Clopin, typically, would not be put off.
"Not until you give me my promised kiss." He said,with affection it seemed.
Her hands slid up over his shoulders and around his neck.
"Your promised kiss?" she said sweetly.
"That's right" he grinned.
"You'll not put me down until you get it?"
"That's right!"
She raised her eyebrows and smiled smugly at him.
"Very well then, but remember you asked for it!"
At this she bent her head to his and captured his mouth in what was quite
clearly a very passionate kiss.Clopin's arms visibly slackened around her as
she continued to kiss him, and he responded with no less enthusiasm. Finally,
she broke the kiss and they opened their eyes, she with a smile of
satisfaction, and he with one of pleasure. She slid down out of his arms and
stood upon the ground,smiling up at him. He grinned down at her and wrapped a
possessive arm about her shoulder. The others had since lost interest and
turned back to their own affairs. But I, unfamiliar with current going-ons,
continued to watch,somewhat surprised I had been wrong in my judgement.
Clopin turned to the group with that familiar old smile, and waved to a few
of his friends. They returned the greeting and then he caught sight of me. A
surprised smile of recognition crossed his features and he held up a hand to
wave. I smiled back at him and he made a gesture to signal we would talk
later. I nodded and Herlikin waved good bye to me. Then, with arms around
each other, they turned and walked off in the direction of the tents.
I turned back to the group to find Christophe grinning at me.
"What did you think of that then, eh?"
I was somewhat surprised by his question.
"Well, clearly she's one of his ladies. I wonder what her husband thinks of
it."
Christophe threw back his head and roared with laughter. Why it took me so
long to figure out I don't know, but it struck me then and I struggled to
hide my astonishment.
"You can't mean - those two are husband and wife?" I asked incredulously.
"But of course!!" Christophe exclaimed. "Can you imagine a more well-suited
couple?"
"Actually - I was just thinking before I couldn't imagine a more worse-suited
couple!!"I replied. He looked at me with a grin and I knew what he was
thinking. I pointed at him.
"Ah-ha, my jaw did not drop, as you said it would."
"Alright then" he laughed, tossing me three sous. "But let's have another,
and let's make it more interesting.Let's make the terms more definite also.
We'll say - for each new thing, each new thing you didn't expect about those
you once knew, that is revealed to you. If you cannot contain your
astonishment, I win. If you hide it well, you win."
"Very well.And let's make this a real wager" I felt I had faced the most
amazing change in the Court, and I was still convinced that although married
Clopin may be, he couldn't confine his interests to one woman only. I felt
confident enough to say "Ten sous."
Christophe laughed again. "Ten sous, eh? Let's hope your arrogance pays off.
Alright, ten sous it is."

Clopin was good to his word and called upon me the next day before leaving
for the city of Paris.
He grinned his amiable grin and clasped my hands.
"Jean, you rascal, but it is good to see you again!"
"It's good to see you, my boy. Although you are a boy no longer, of course!A
man, and King besides."
He laughed. "Oh yes, some King.I do so much!! Ah well, it sounds good
flitting about the streets of Paris, and certainly the ladies like it"
I knew it! I could not stop a smile of triumph crossing my face.
"Ha-ha, so you haven't changed, you lecherous coot!!"'
He shook his head and shrugged in the way women found so charming. "On the
contrary, I've changed quite a bit. But I can't deny I don't mind the ladies
to swoon.What man doesn't?"
It was my turn to laugh. "What man,indeed? By the way, that wife of yours is
quite a creature."
His casual demeanour changed. His chest puffed up with pride as we strolled
along the streets of the Court. "She is, isn't she? Five years we've been
married now, and not a dull day amongst them. We have two children, a son and
a daughter.They're four."
"Twins? You must be pleased."
"Absolutely. And she is a good wife. We allow each other our freedom, and can
depend on each other."
As I pondered the meaning of that comment,we arrived in the Court Center.
Clopin smiled at several of the nearby women who happily returned it, as they
sat in their colorful group, their dark hair and skin, and large soulful eyes
sweet to look at.They fiddled with their patched and multicolored skirts, and
brushed hair out of their eyes. I rather thought I might join up with them
later in the day. My latest lover roamed the countryside still and it might
be many more months before we met up again.
Clopin smiled at me and clapped me on the shoulder.
"I need not leave for any hour or so. I go to join the lovely ladies. You'd
like to come with me, no?"
I returned his smile. "But of course."
They welcomed us with soft-blinking eyes and inviting smiles. Clopin kissed
each of their hands and introduced us.
"My lovelies, this is Jean LeBeau, an old friend in the Court. Jean, this is
the lovely Henriette, and the equally lovely Lucille,Rosa and Isabeau."
The hour that followed was exceedingly pleasant, and excellent incentive to
stay within the Court. Clopin's charm and receptiveness to their flirtations
only seemed to confirm my belief he could never be faithful to his
wife.Henriette and Lucille cuddled up on either side of him as he told them
tales, and urged me to share my own expeditions.
The hour was almost up and Clopin was preparing to leave, and go about his
business. I thought that I would also make my move - I had things to do and
people to see, as it were.
The conversation lulled slightly and I looked over to Clopin. I saw with
surprise that he now stared straight ahead, a strange affectionate smile on
his face,his eyes lit with a gentle glow.I turned to see what had so caught
his attention, and saw Herlikin over in the far corner,curvy and fresh in red
and white, talking animatedly with fat old Tante Marie.(who hadn't changed in
the slightest it seemed!). Turning back to Trouillefou, I was almost baffled
to see he no longer paid attention to the women by his sides, and they too
had withdrawn their hands from his, and sat back with sighs and knowing
smiles exchanged with each other. Clopin's smile grew broader and he leapt to
his feet.
"Excuse me, ladies" he said with a swift bow. "It's been splendid, as always"
He gripped my shoulder briefly. "Jean." then darted out of our circle and
headed towards Herlikin who did not appear to notice him.
The five of us turned to watch his pursuit. He paused only once to kiss
Bethan, the Court's laundry woman, and steal a rose from the bunch she
carried, before heading on. Once he reached his wife, he whipped his hat off
and bowed low, in a very stately fashion, the rose clutched behind his back.
Herlikin made no move, just stared expressionlessly at him, until he
straightened up and offered her the rose. A smile broke from her lips as
thought she could not contain it anymore, and she accepted it. She raised it
to her face as though to smell it, but to my astonishment she opened her
mouth and tore the head of the rose off, chewing it enthusiastically.
When she'd finished eating it in this way, the couple exchanged a loving
kiss, before clasping hands to go about their business.

Next Chapter!

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