Chapter One

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have taken extreme artistic licence with historical accuracy and facts readers!!!! The story is severely romanticised, but as it all takes place in a more or less fictional world, I can't see how it really matters! Just enjoy the story for what it is; an account of my Gypsy character, and don't hassle me with history books!! 


I was the last born in a family of six, all sons. Well - apart for me that is. My father was a great dark man, an Indian with French ancestry, tall as a mountain and as strong as a tree. My mother was quite his complete opposite - very small and very slender. She was the undisputed ruler of the household. The strength, the rock and the foundation upon which we all grew - the one who dealt out the punishments to my brothers and I when we had misbehaved. Truly appearances are deceiving because her face held a naive sweetness, almost too lovely to look at. But she had a bold and violent temper, and while good and just and a loving mother, she would never tolerate so much as a soiled sari or dusty feet inside the tent.  
My father was a great bear of a man, full of laughter and roly polies. He indulged us all, played with us, showed us tricks and magik, taught us our trades. My mother had pleased him by giving him five strapping young boys, each as strong as an ox, in quick succession, so by the time I rolled out he had mellowed and longed for a clean little creature who wouldn't enflame my mother's anger with wrestling and muddy clothes. I was his special pet. My brothers, each one a young rapscallion in himself, treated me alternately like a precious toy and as an endless source of entertainment - on the one hand overly protective and indulgent, on the other, urging me to climb the elephant's back, swing in the trees with the monkeys and play in the mud pretending to be mud monsters.  
For my father, I could do no wrong - or at least very little. He indulged my every whim, and thank heavens for my brothers and mother keeping my head firmly out of the clouds, for I did not grow so spoilt as I might've become. Nevertheless, I had a very high opinion of myself, that could prove to be truly very frustrating for those around me.  
My father was King of the "Gypsies" in India. Except that we didn't call ourselves Gypsies. Nor we did call ourselves Romany, which was the name our people adopted when the left the golden shores of India for the murky ones of Europe. We called ourselves "sgzany" and that was a Romanian word, not Hindustani at all though we spoke both languages. 
It always amazed me that one moment my father would be crawling on the floor, making pig grunts and scratching, while I played the pigherd, then the next he'd be dignity personified, conducting his affairs with all the grace of a true king. I adored my papa whilst taking after him in nothing - I was undisciplined and somewhat inclined to isolated behaviour.
My looks, on the other hand, were definitely from my mother. She was not at all Indian, rather Turkish, hailing from a tribe of peoples who called themselves the Kurds. It was popular for the women of that place to hennae their hair, but my mother's was quite naturally red and orange, spilling over her shoulders like fire. No one in the family  had hailed such hair. Her papa had thrown her mama from their home and would've killed my own mama had not her aunties and uncles persuaded him otherwise. Her name had been Ece, until she had been wed to my papa - he had decided to call her a pretty name he'd heard along the coast - Elisabetta. She was a good wife and did not protest - though whenever she raised her voice, she would begin always: "I, Ece DuPre!" and so on. I had taken my mother's hair upon my head, it contrasting oddly with my olive brown skin, as it did on her. My eyes I borrowed from them each, for one was blue, the other green and capable of cursing any who looked deep enough into them. 
I was not an attractive child. Tiny, like my mother, but not bearing her great beauty - a fact I may thank the odd mix of Indian and Turkish, in addition to all the others, blood for. My nose was quite flat and my face round until it came to a point at the chin. My eyes, though large, were slitted and long and my upper lip was thin while my lower was as plump as a cushion. 
As a child I so adored my father I wished and wished that I would grow to look as he did, my skin to be as black as his, my hair as dark and curly and tight. I remember once covering myself from head to toe with mud and bringing the wrath of my mother down hard upon my backside. 
Perhaps I would not have noticed the difference so much if others had not made me aware of it.  
"That is your daugher, sahib?" the other sgzany would laugh. "I don't believe it! She's brown as a berry and burning on top!" 
That would be until, I raised my head and looked into their eyes. Then they would laugh again and say;  
"Aye, she's your daughter. There's not a lady for a hundred miles about who could look such a queen in such simple clothes." 
For I bore my father's easy complacency, his pride and dignity which I wore like a beautiful sari made just for me. 
As our successors in Europe were, we were a group of travelling performers, each of us carefully cultivating specific tricks or feats. We all knew a little magik - real magik that is, not just illusions - and we all worked a little with animals. Unlike our successors in Europe, however, we were not so shunned, nor so poor. We always had plenty to eat, and plenty to wear. No-one went unprovided for. Life was relatively easy for us, pleasurable and always interesting. We were welcomed wherever we went, and so we were very friendly and open both amongst ourselves and with outsiders. We, as travelling performers, were seen differently to the regular cut-throats and thieves, who couldn't make an honest living in art. 
And what art!! We were all masters in our areas of expertise and we could perform fit to dazzle the eye. By the time one of my brothers was five my father had taught him acrobatic feats that in Europe children mastered by the age of 12 at the earliest!! My father was a great performer, an illusionist and trickster - he worked with masks he crafted himself and was dazzling to behold - he taught me a little of his skill also, for it was my favourite, but I could never master it as he had done. For him, it was as simple as breathing.  My mother taught me how to dance, how to flirt with spins and hip shimmies, and the all important skills in a girl's life - how to cook, clean and sew. But I taught myself how to speak with the animals, and they were my greatest passion. There wasn't a creature alive I couldn't look at without knowing what they were feeling and thinking at that very moment. Most were the same about me, and I only ever met a few who weren't my friends. Like all sgzany, and like most everyone in India, we adored bright colors, rich fabrics, and elaborate dress. I especially was fond of pretty things, in particular jewellery, and amassed a huge collection of cheap junk. I dreamed one day it would all be real, not just the few precious odds and ends I'd inherited from my mother.  
In India my life was charmed. The country was beautiful and rich, the people divine and pleasurable to be with, my own family doting and protective. I loved being sgzany, forever travelling, living a performance. I loved the smells of herbs and incense on my mother, the way my brothers carried me on their shoulders when my little legs grew tired. The way we would all sing and tell faery tales to each other the whole night through. Especially the way my father would spin stories of magik, and show us a new thing with every passing day.  
But my story is not about India. I tell you all this simply so you may understand what kind of life I led, and what kind of person I was. My real story, the story I am going to tell you, takes place in Paris, France. The English consider it to be a sunny country in comparison with their own. I considered it a cold and dank place. You will note I speak in the past tense. That's because I'm going to tell you how I learnt to love Paris, and the man who brought me there - my husband. 


My sgzany tribe travelled to Paris when I was eight years old. I was sick for much of the journey, my mother holding vigilance by my side, so I do not remember much about it. To this day I associate ships with discomfort and displeasure. Had I been well I would probably have been too timid to go up on deck anyway, for fear of the sea monsters I just knew to be lurking beneath, waiting for the fresh plump blood of a little girl. 
At any rate, we docked safely in Paris, and with the fine silks, herbs and spices and pottery wares brought in for import, so were "more blasted gypsies" my papa overheard one man remark as we stepped off the ship.  With us were Parisian gypsies who'd gone to India on sabbatical following unpleasantness with those who upheld the law in this strange land. They were pleased to show my Kingly father (the only commoner ever called "sahib" by other commoners) to the legendary "Court of Miracles" as it's infamously known, so we might all meet our fellows, and settle in from the long journey.  
The short trip to the Court took much longer than it really does, as we had to take several precautions to ensure we were not followed. Foreign gypsies in strange clothing bearing strange instruments were bound to be noticed and suspected of all the foulest deeds. My health had visibly improved the moment we got off the ship, but I was still weak and uncomfortable, and although I had been determined to be strong for my father, I must confess I fussed a little. "How much further, blast it?" my father rumbled softly to our guide. 
"Now now, Sahib. We gots to be careful. No point in making silly moves so that the little Princess should hang before even getting a chance to be well." 
That silenced my father, and eventually we made it there. I did not see the entrance at that time, being carried by my eldest brother, Ahvel. But I was aware that one moment we were under blue gray skies, the next it was pitch black and foul-smelling. I bit my lip so I wouldn't cry in the dark, and clung tightly to Ahvel's neck. 
Then suddenly there was a wealth of light and I could've sworn we were back in India. The air was thick with scent, and orange, like the heat of day in India, and everywhere I could see brilliantly colored scarves and tents, the smells of roasting meat and spices, the happy babble of a thousand voices singing and joking without a care in the world. 
I sat up in my brother's arms and looked around, my heart leaping joyfully in my chest, only to plummet once more to the pits of my stomach and bring back my feelings of nausea and home-sickness. We were still in Paris, what's more, a nasty horrible underground cave! I couldn't see the sky, the clouds or the sun. I couldn't feel the wind or hear the birds or watch the flowers growing! This was the brilliant new place my father had promised to show me? I felt cheated, to be sure! 
But my sulky mood went unnoticed as the Parisian King of Sgzany, a man named Harlan Trouillefou, greeted my father with much real pleasure. His subjects came eagerly forward to help my mother and the others of our tribe find a place to put their things and wash the grime from our journey. Ahvel placed me on a soft pile of cushions tousling my hair with a "all right now, little devil, you be fine here" before walking off to assist my mother who fussed and shouted happily, already at ease with a hundred other buxom mothers, all eager to boss their young sons around and make themselves feel useful. 
So put out was I, the Little Princess, at being left on her own that I pouted and even squeezed out a few sorry tears in the hopes my misery would be noticed. I still was not altogether well, so my self-pity was somewhat understandable. But no brother pulled a silk scarf from his sleeve to amuse me, no father came grunting like a pig to make me laugh and no mother came with warm milk and gentle songs to comfort me. 
So I faced facts: The Sahib's daughter was on her own, perhaps she should act like Missy Sahib and not some spoilt child! I got unsteadily to my feet and wandered over to the huge tubs being filled with hot water for the new comers to wash in. I was glad for this. I feared the Parisian Gypsies would be dirty people, like the horror stories I'd heard about the English. The women all seemed to know who I was, and they touched my hair lightly, and smiled warmly down at me, clucking and pinching my little cheeks. I salaamed prettily, knowing they would find the gesture charming, and they did. They laughed, and said, "Well, little mam'zelle, fancy a lovely bath?" 
"Hai." I replied in romany and they seemed delighted that I had understood them. (For it is an odd quirk of the Romany that they are always surprised to find that strange Romany also know their language.) I was quickly stripped and dunked in the soapy water, scrubbed and soaped till I was giggling and feeling quite myself again. 
They left me to soak awhile, and by then I was feeling so much myself I splashed my brother Marcum, who was hammering in the pegs of our tent close by. Giggling I ducked under the water, holding my nose, waiting. But nothing came. I cautiously rose up from the tub and could see him, still with his back to me and a great wet splotch on his clothes too. So I had hit him, and he'd ignored me! How dare he! I splashed him again, a much greater one this time,and once more ducked under. Still nothing. Quite incensed now, I rocked backwards in the tub, and whirling my arms around caused an almighty tidal wave to leap out. Unfortunately at that moment, a young man chose to introduce himself to my brother, and he caught the full brunt of my wave. Mortified I again ducked under the water hoping he wouldn't realise it had come from me, hoping he was a nice gentleman, hoping my brother would defend me! 
Moments passed and nothing happened. I had to come up for air. And when I did - both my brother and the young man were standing above me, staring down at me with expressions grim and fierce. I gasped, and wiped the water from my eyes. 
"Tsk tsk tsk," Marcum said "You've done it now, Little Devil!!" 
"Indeed she has" the young man said grimly "this is an inexcusable felony." 
He couldn't be serious!!! Even with those two staring down at me so grimly I felt the overwhelming urge to laugh and had to thrust my head into my hands and muffle my giggles so they sounded like choked sobs. 
I felt the young man move towards me, and I sensed his gesture was compassionate, but Marcum stayed his hand. "Watch it sir. She's a tricky one this. Even now she'd be quicker to pull you under than cry tears over her crime." 
"Tricky indeed?" 
"Oh please shav baro," I lamented, like the beggars begging for alms I had seen in India. "It was an accident, I wanted only to wash the soap from my eyes, it stung so! In my pain I must've misjudged where I tossed the water!" 
He threw back his head and laughed then, this dark young gypsy! I was pleased my "crime" was momentarily forgotten, and even more pleased I had entertained him so. I smiled up at him whilst my brother grinned and shook his head. The young man stopped laughing and fixed his sparkling black eyes on me.  
"Well, if they don't learn to flirt fast in India! If I wasn't such a devil myself I might almost be seduced by her pretty words!" 
Whoops. My ploy had not worked as planned. 
"You, chey, spin a lovely story, and just for that I might almost be willing to let you off. However taking into consideration the importance of my rank in the Court of Miracles AND that you have soaked my freshly laundered tunic, I am afraid punishment must be administered." 
Full of my father's pride now I drew myself up "And what do you mean "your rank" sir!! Do you know to whom you speak??" 
"Do you know to whom YOU speak little devil?" Marcum asked. "This is Clopin Trouillefou. He is the eldest son of Harlan, Bulibasha of the European Rom." 
Like a true princess I did not let my facial expression change in the least. But the Trouillefou must've caught a flicker in my eyes because he leant forward menacingly and said "And you know, they say in Europe the Gypsies EAT little girls and boys!!" 
I was sure I paled. 
"Well come then sister, you've earned your fate, you must deal with it like a woman," Marcum said. 
"Step out from the water, chey!" the next King declared. 
At this remark I reddened and said haughtily "Most certainly not, I don't care who you are, King of The Land of Nothing! I am naked beneath this water!!" 
Clopin shot a look at my brother which clearly said "is she serious?" and my brother returned it with one which stated "you think she's bad now?" Clopin returned his gaze to me. 
"Now now, chey! You're nothing but a little runt of a girl! Your nakedness means nothing to a grown-up man like myself!" 
"I still refuse to wander the Court without my clothes! I wouldn't suffer a pig to such humiliation! Do you think me a pig, shav baro?" 
His eyes widened slightly. "Now now," he breathed "she is a tricky one!" 
"Pass me my sari and I shall be eaten with dignity," I said, lifting my pointy little chin and staring haughtily in his general direction. 
"But the taste of raw silk does not sit well on my palate, chey! It would ruin your flavor!" 
"Well then, I suppose you will not be eating me today! Too bad! In India I would be considered amongst the most delectable of meats!!" 
I could see he was amused I was playing along with his threat. He shrugged his shoulders. 
"Such a shame. And I'm so especially fond of red-heads too." He winked at me then. Of course, at eight years old, I was unaware of the potentially risque nature of our conversation, but the wink had an effect on me I didn't like. They both made as if to turn, but Marcum turned back. 
"Unless...." he said. 
"Unless....?" repeated Clopin. 
"We could burn logs under her bath, and cook her that way." 
"Now there's an idea sir!! But won't the soap be less than agreeable?" 
"The soap will be boiled away!" 
"Well now, let's begin immediately!" 
I was still uncertain if they meant it or not, but forgetting my supposed dignity I stood up in the bath and screamed "PAPA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Marcum is making me stand wet in the cold air!!" 
Yes, I was a little brat. My father burst out of nowhere, his arms full of warm, soft linen. He bundled me tenderly into them and I squealed in delight. He turned to my brother. "Now Marcum! Do you want your delicate little sister to catch cold?" 
"Delicate indeed!" Marcum said. "She's from the devil himself!" 
A heated disagreement might've broken out then had Clopin not stepped forward. "Sahib, I believe you are called," he said respectfully and gracefully. "Your honorable son meant no harm, your beautiful little girl simply misunderstood our intentions. We wanted her only to step from the bath before the water gave her a chill." 
My father was impressed by this speech, and by Clopin's honest and respectful air and let them both go. I will swear Clopin had true noble blood in his veins somewhere, for he protected himself and my brother without exposing me. A lesser man would not have done either. His easy gracefulness reminded me of my father's, and from that moment I took an interest in young Clopin Trouillefou. 


Much later on my mother carefully brushed the tangles from my hair, unwinding my hair so it gleamed like burnished gold. I was comfortably attired in warm cotton garments, which unfortunately were all white. This meant I would not be allowed to go exploring the Court, because if I returned with so much as a dirty hem my mother would spank my bottom scarlet. So I sat by the fire and pushed my restlessness into my fingers and toes, and they danced about in frustration, fiddling with all they came into contact with. My mother sighed. 
"Herlikin, stop fidgeting, by heaven!" My mother was the only one who ever called me by my full name. All the others referred to me as Herli. My father called me the Madam Sahib, and my brothers more often than not called me Little Devil. 
"Mama, I am bored." 
"You will sit here like a lady." 
"She's no lady, that one!" came a familiar voice. 
"I beg your pardon, sir?" my mother said, quite insulted! We both looked up, and who should be standing there but young Clopin Trouillefou. "Mistake me not, Madame, with your guidance she will be the best of all ladies one day. But right now she's a little girl, and I'm sure she wants simply to go and arrange all her pretty things in her tent, and lay out her lovely dolls to play with." 
Dolls! Please! I had stopped playing with dolls when I was seven! Not only were they childish, but I couldn't stand the teasing of my brothers. "Begging your pardon, sir," I began, but I stopped when he dropped me a long sly wink. I understood what he was doing then and turned beseechingly to my mother. "Yes mama, please may I go and make ladylike my toiletries?" 
My mother couldn't help but laugh at that, and besides, Trouillefou's words had charmed her. "Very well then, young brat" she said, kissing me warmly "But don't get dirty, mind." As an afterthought she added, "If you must go wrestling with your brothers, change, please do your poor mother that courtesy!" That was as good as permission from my mother, and I leaped joyfully to my feet to hunt down Marcum and Erik, the two youngest of my brothers. As I scurried away I looked back, expecting to see Clopin following me, but to my disappointment he was still paying respects to my mother. Put out by this, I stuck my haughty little nose in the air and followed it into my miniature tent, lovingly put together by my father and Ahvel. 
Tossing the subdued white garments onto my bedding, I pulled on a dark red cotton dress. Red was my absolute favourite color and I frequently went through phases where I would wear no other. Kicking off my little sandals (there had been no need for such silly constraints in India) I skipped out, holding my little beating stick in joyful anticipation of giving Marcum a good knock over the head for threatening to eat me. 
As I pushed back the embroidered flap I could see Clopin and my mother had been joined by my father, the European Bulibasha and his own wife. As leaders of their respective country-folk they were getting to know one another, becoming friends, exchanging pleasantries and anecdotes. Their wives would gossip and laugh, and Clopin and his brothers would get to know mine. There didn't seem to be much room anywhere in there for me. Little did I know then what being the odd one out would lead to. 
A few days later, once we were settled in and comfortable, our tribe was requested to perform for the gypsies, so that they could see what was suitable for the Paris audiences and for when. Ever the consummate professional, my brothers performed with their usual exceptional skill, their acrobatics routine. I could hear the Paris gypsies gasp in awe at the feats they accomplished, and even these jaded performers applauded us. Clopin watched dazzled: I did not know then he was an acrobat himself, and as fine as any of them. 
They took a rest then, while the women danced, my mother with them. Not the slow graceful seductive dancing of the Parisian gypsies, but the hot sensual frenzied dance of the sgzany! Great pulsating rumbles rose from the depths of their hips to vibrate the air about them, their arms moved with exceptional grace to enhance the beat. The dancing, for us szgany women, was not simply about the amusement of others, it was a means of paying homage to the earth and to the moon and to the Great Kali Ma, to work ourselves into the trance-like state required to understand all her mysteries, to ask of her help and blessing. We would dance the night away with each phase of the moon in order to divine when best to travel, what path best to take, how best to pay Her homage. And when we danced for others, we danced in order to share with them these beautiful mysteries, the shimmy of our hips, the undulation of our bellies reenacting the birth of the world.
I watched carefully and as always saw that bizarre look I didn't understand then fall over many of the faces of the men who watched. I stole a glance at Clopin and he too watched with great interest, though perhaps not so lasciviously as the others. 

© 1999 Elise Archer ( May not be reproduced without permission. 

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