I turned back to the group of girls who shook their heads and shrugged their
shoulders with good-natured smiles.
"Ever since they were married we none of us have stood a chance." The throaty
voiced Isabeau told me. "We hated her to begin with, but she is alright now."
My brow creased as I frowned slightly. "I would never have thought
Trouillefou could - but he seemed so - friendly - "
Lucille laughed. "Oh that is just Clopin. We've all learnt by now he sees
none but her."
I shook my head. "Well! Will wonders never cease?"
They laughed again and smiled at me. I had already decided that I liked
Isabeau best, she with the throaty voice and massive bosom, but as I said
before I had things to do. L'amour would have to wait.
I stood up and made my goodbyes and wondered away from the group. Christophe
stood nearby Bethan's tent, who was complaining loudly the stench of the meat
would filter into her clothes, but Christophe paid her no mind, plucking the
feathers from a bunch of chickens.
"Bonjour, Christophe" I said cheerily, and he looked up with a grin.
"Oh Bonjour Jean! How are you this morning."
"Ah,I'm very well."
"I'm sure you are! I saw you and Clopin talking with the young ladies a
moment ago!"
I chuckled."Oh yes, and then Clopin made haste to his wife's side"
"Yes I saw that also."
"Did you see anything on my face?"
"Well, curiosity. You shouldn't spend so much time with the women, they're
rubbing off on you."
I pushed that aside "You saw nothing else?"
He paused and looked carefuly at me."Hmmm...no."
"Well, I learnt I was absolutely wrong - Trouillefou does love his wife and
is entirely devoted to her. That was certainly something I didn't expect, and
was rather surprised to discover!"
Christophe stopped plucking his chickens and leaned goodnaturedly on the
table.
"I don't suppose we can change the wager to just feeling shock as opposed to
showing it?"
I laughed. "Not a chance, my friend!"
He grimaced. "Alright, you villain,I owe you ten sous.But I'll catch you out
yet!!"
I laughed. "I doubt it very much!!!"
"Arrogance!! You haven't changed, my friend! But let's see if you can handle
a real wager!!!! Twenty sous!"
How could I resist? "Agreed!" and we shook hands.

It was Herlikin who approached me later on in the day as I polished my
horses's leather, looking strange and out of place in a black dress lined
with red lace. None of the other women would wear black out of mourning. She
mayn't be the prettiest face around, but she surely stood out.
"So Jean," she said cheerily "How did you profit from your wager on the
stability of my relationship?"
I looked up at her with a grin. "Admirably, thankyou. Although to be perfectly
honest it wasn't completely about you and Clopin."
She gave a slow nod. "Yes I know. But it is always the way how the people we
know change that gives us the greatest astonishment. Would knowing that we
had five revolutions in one year make you gape? Or that the Court flooded
once? No, far more likely to hear of Tante Marie being married, or perhaps
that Bethan has become slovenly in her habits, that would make an old
aquaintance show us what he ate for breakfast"
I leaned back to look at her. "Or that Clopin Trouillefou has settled down
with one woman."
She smiled at me. "Or that Clopin Trouillefou has settled down with one
woman" she agreed.Then she pouted. "It's rather unfair. True,I have not been
here ten years, but I do not believe that any have changed so very much,
apart from Clopin. Would you be surprised to learn that the slut Isabelle was
hung for being a traitor?"
I raised an eyebrow, as much at the unladylike way she referred to that
temptress Isabelle, as to what had happened to her. "No I would not Madame.
It was either going to be here, or out in Paris."
She smiled again, with narrowed eyes. "It was here.Everyone cheered."
I cocked my head a litle to the side. Herlikin was quite cold about it. More
than likely Isabelle had caused trouble for her, it wouldn't surprise me.
She drew my attention directly to her with a click of her fingers, and then
gave me that dazzling smile, mouth wide and pretty teeth gleaming.
"Jean, seeing as how Clopin and I are bascially the enablers of your recent
good fortune, I rather think we should divide your winnings!" The gleam in
her eye was mischevious, and her eyes sparkled brightly. I laughed.
"Did Clopin put you up to that?" I asked. She laughed in a sneering way.
"Clopin needn't know!" she giggled. I paused. I did not know Herlikin very
well, and she behaved cryptically. But she was also one with whom a direct
approach worked best and so I asked her outright.
"Are you seriously suggesting this, Herlikin?"
She raised an eyebrow. "I am and I'm not. If you agree, I'll gladly accept
the money. If you refuse - well, I can accept that also."
But cryptic she was still, and I couldn't be sure a refusal would please her.
I rather thought she was given her own way alot.On the other hand, it was my
money after all, and I had no obligation to give her any of it.
"Then I'll trust you mean that, Madame, and refuse."
She accepted it graciously with a little nod and a careless wave of her hand,
as though if she really wanted it she would get it anyway.She turned
gracefully and strolled over to where my horse,Angus, stood. Angus was a
brute of a beast,large and black, bad tempered and hard to manage. He
wouldn't be able to resist bullying a little thing like Herlikin.
"Carefully,Herlikin" I warned her, standing up from the bench I had been
sitting on, folding the reins I had just finished cleaning. "That brute is
very fond of taking chunks out of - " But here I stopped. For Angus was
nuzzling Herlikin's hand lovingly, standing meekly and calm. Normally he
skittered and snorted, rolling his eyes back and frightening anyone who came
too near. But Herlikin rubbed his neck with long,graceful strokes and
whispered softly in his ear, as he whinied quietly to her. I looked at the
two curiously for a few moments, not really believeing what I was seeing. She
finished her little conversation and turned back to me smiling.
"What a gentlemen you have here,Jean." she said. "If only I knew more
gentlemen like him!"
I was almost too astonished to answer at first. "If only I knew he was such a
gentleman" I finally managed to say. In five years I had been the only one
Angus allowed near without trying to kick or buck or bite. It was
unbelievable!
But a sudden shout behind us distracted me.I turned around to see young
Clopin turning cartwheels rapidly into the center of the Court Square. He
finished them off with a neat somersault and an ostentatious bow, his hat
clasped in one hand,arms flung wide. A self-satisfied grin was on his face
as, despite themselves, romany drew near to watch whatever show he was about
to put on.
"Oh For the love of The Horned God!" I heard Herlikin say with disgust. I
looked at her with a grin. She was watching Clopin with disdain, her arms
folded. Angus had his head over her shoulder, and seemed perfectly content to
stay there.I shook my head at the sight once more, and thought Angus had had
me well fooled these last few years, and then turned back to watch Clopin.
He was juggling knives. Long, wickedly sharp ones.He did this for only a
short while, until he was certain he had everyone's attention, before
rounding them neatly off into a circle on the wooden wall of a nearby
caravan. He bowed once more and began to tell one of his famous stories. Despite
the fact he had no puppets handy, he had everyone enthralled. I could
well remember the way he would bewitch us years ago when he first began his
storytelling, the moody atmospheres and scenes he could create just with a
nuance of his tone.Herlikin had walked forward till she stood inline with me,
and despite the slight frown of dissaproval, she was just as involved as
anyone. When Clopin finished the story with a song in that golden voice of
his, the hard expression on her face was finally replaced by a soft one,
clearly enjoying what she was hearing. The story was finished, Clopin was
not. Now there began a series of tricks. Candles were lit from thin air,and
then turned into raging fires Clopin swallowed and blew out again. Hats and
shoes were taken from dirty children, only to dissapear without a trace and
be replaced with an old tomato.He leapt, spun, sang, danced and brought back
the missing objects in a burst of smoke.And throughout it all, he was the
quintessential entertainer, exchanging witticisms and clever observations,
keeping his audience thoroughly amused. His desire for attention was
satiated, finally, and he completed his performance with a low sweeping bow,
and the audience, myself included, applauded enthusiastically. He was still a
devil, that much had not changed. Herlikin beside me shook her head once
more, the old frown back again, and then as though making a sudden decision,
she leapt forward.
"Come, Angus!" she cried, and my horse obediently followed.
"How did you know his name - " I began to ask in amazement, but she was
beyond my hearing. She hoisted herself easily up onto Angus's bare back, and
he let her!In that black dress she became a part of him against his glossy
black fur, only the red lace betraying their seperate persons,and with a
little click, and entwining her fingers in his mane, she urged him into a
gallop to the center of the Court. He went into it easily, his great strength
carrying him in a leap over the surrounding benches, and a gasp went up from
both the crowd and Clopin himself, as Angus' hooves clattered down, inches
from his toes. A murmur of excitement went up from them as they realised who
it was that rode this giant of a horse, and she smiled smugly down at her
husband as it was now his turn to shake his head and look dissaproving. At
another little command, Angus began a canter around the Square, as she,
balancing herself on her two hands, lifted her legs easily, straight out from
the horse's body. From there, she slowly lifted them higher and higher until
finally she was standing on her hands *on* the horse's back! Everyone watched
enthralled, as I staggered forward, gaping and amazed at not only this
performance, but the effortless taming of my incorrigible horse. She flipped
onto her feet, and balanced herself, now standing, as Angus continued to
canter. She waved happily to the audience and they laughed and waved back.All
eyes were on her, and she was thoroughly happy with herself,obviously.
Another click, and Angus slowed down, and she flipped neatly off his back to
land once more beside her husband, who couldn't quite contain the fact he was
impressed, even as he tried to look disinterested.She leaned forward as
though to kiss him, her arms slipping around his waist, and when he lowered
his head down, she bit his nose gently, whilst whipping something off his
belt and ducking neatly out of the way as he raised his hand to slap her.
She held up what she had stolen and there was a great roar of approval as we
realised it was Clopin's money purse, the coins clanking against one another
in that seductive sound, as she waggled it mockingly towards her husband,her
expression mischevious and sly. Clopin, for his part, was less than pleased
at being tricked and made to look a fool in front of his previously adoring
audience, and moved toward her menacingly, over a foot taller and quite a bit
stronger. But Angus, who had stopped just behind her when she'd landed gave a
fierce whinney and pawed the stone floor aggresivey. Clopin's attention was
destracted,and Herlikin took the oppurtunity to dart behind him so when he
turned back, she was no longer there. Angry now, Clopin rounded on her as she
blew him a kiss in the most aggravating way and as he moved forward she
tossed him his purse back. He attached it back to his belt with a grim
expression and turned back to his wife who had started to dance her way into
the crowd. Clopin stopped and folded his arms,watching her carefully. I
guessed he was considering possibilities, reluctant to move too fast and have
her make him look stupid. Herlikin slunk up to one of the gentlemen in the
audience and began to dance close by him, lifting her arms above her head and
swinging her hips.Feeling she was perhaps going a little too far, I stole a
look at her husband who watched the goings on with a bored expression,
although the dull brick red color his face was turning belied this. Before he
did or said anything however, she shoved the man back and flipped back to the
square, looking saucily at her husband whose face had returned to it's usual
color and who now shook his head at her with a laugh.Despite the fact she had
stolen the limelight and had gotten one up on him, he was determined to keep
his temper and treat the matter lightly.He waved his hand at her dismissively
and turned to join his friends who were chuckling at the scene. A sudden
jingling from Herlikin's skirts caught his attention again, and anyone elses
who'd turned away at the apparant finish of the little scene. Herlikin was
standing with a smug smile on her face, her skirts clutched in one hand,
making a sound that was very much like coins jingling together.
Clopin frowned again and wrested his purse from his belt. Pulling it open, he
leant down to examine the contents and at that instant a huge spray of
multicolored dust exploded from the bag, directly into his face!
There was a moment of silence as the crowd took in what they had just seen,
and then the laughter began, quiet at first, but growing steadily louder and
more delighted as Clopin wiped the dust from his eyes and Herlikin twitched
her skins flirtily. Clopin threw back his head and laughed goodnaturedly, but
the second she took a step closer to him he ran for her. She turned and
bolted at full speed out of the square and in amongst the tents, Clopin hot
on her heels.The show was most definetely over,and the others went back to
their business,seeming to instantly forget the scene as though it happened
often. I in the meantime could only stand, dumbfounded by all I had seen. The
Great Clopin Trouillefou had been outshone on the stage, however momentarily,
and had not been able to do a thing about it. She'd got the better of him,
fooled him at his own game! It had been impossible in the past,and plenty had
tried.And the man was not only married to this woman, but he loved her also!
What else could I do? I gaped as I pondered it.And as I stood there with my
incredulous expression, I felt a hand on my shoulder.Turning around I was met
with Christophe's grinning and triumphant face and groaned as I realised my
folly.
"Oh no! You blackguard!" I exclaimed as he broke into jovial laughter.
"Come on now, you rascal!!! We had a deal!" he chuckled.
"Alright alright" I grumbled, feeling intensely done over."You won!" I
reached onto my belt, and then groped around, confused.My purse wasn't there!
"What by Shaitan - " I began to mutter as I looked through pockets to find my
absent purse.
Christophe watched me curiously, knowing me well enough to know that I would
not try to get out of the deal.
"What is it, Jean?" he asked.
"My damned purse, it's gone!" I exclaimed. "I must've dropped it!!Damn it!!"
But even as I said it I remembered the exchange between myself and Herlikin
before she staged her astonishing performance - and then how quickly she had
swapped Clopin's money for her pixie dust.And at that moment a great roar
drifted over to us from further in the Court.
"Herlikin you shameless little thief! Where did you get all of this??"

Fin!

First Chapter!

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Harley would like to mention she thinks this story is terrible, and she's not sure why she keeps it up!

Harley Quinn, 1999
(harley_quinn@cheerful.com)
May not be reproduced without permission.