He smiled reproachfully. "On the contrary, Herli, have you never heard
the expression "the tears of a clown"? It's true, I've had a good life
and I've much reason to be joyful, it's in my disposition. But I've had
occasion to be unhappy. And even this body gets weary sometimes."
I nodded and waited. He continued.
"For example - after both my parents died -" he stopped and sighed.
I hadn't seen him so hesitant before, nor had he ever spoken so quietly.
I listened intently. "After my parents died," he went on, "I came here
often. I'm the King. I need always to be seen as in control. I maintain
that control with fun and laughter - and here is where I can be quiet.
Where I can give my laughing lungs a rest, so to speak." He looked at me
intensely. "I thought you could use it for a similar purpose."
I looked away. He put a hand beneath my chin and turned my face to
him again. "Do you miss them very much?" he asked me softly. I nodded,
finding my emotions sneaking up on me again. I gulped hard and tried to
force them back down.
"Please tell me how you feel, Herli," he said gently. "I want to know.
I want to understand you better."
I bit back my tears and fought yet another minor battle within myself.
Why confide in Clopin?What purpose would it serve? Why does he ask me anyway?
I hadn't even told Colombine how much I missed my parents, I saw no reason
to tell a man, even if he was my husband and my friend. But it seemed the
power of the Court was stronger than me for within a few seconds I was
confiding in him.I told him about how sometimes I thought I would go mad,
knowing I could never see them again. I told him Chester was miserable,
and it hurt me deeply. I told him I regretted the kind of life I had led
in India, for most people there would be glad I was gone. He nodded and
listened quietly, stroking my hair, which was his equivalent of Colombine's
holding hands trick.
"I know it doesn't quite match your pain," I finished huskily. "At
least both my parents are still alive somewhere." Nonetheless I cried a
"Nonsense, ma petite," he shushed me, pulling me closer to him.
"It's the same thing. Chances are, you won't see them until the next life.
I know how you feel." He held me for a few moments - but I held him also.
I could feel he was feeling sadness at that moment, though he hid it well.He
sat up and looked at me, smiling.
"And you were in love there, weren't you?" I raised my eyebrows in
surprise. "I know you were, love. What other reason is going to explain
your constant fear of intimacy?"
I shrugged. "I was, once. No longer."
"Well, it's clearly had some kind of long lasting effect. I'll have
to use my wicked charms to cure you!" He started making funny symbols with
his hands aorund my face. "Mmmm.....hhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.........whuuuuuuhhhhhhhhh!"
he intoned seriously.
"Stop it!" I laughed, batting his hands away. We sat in a comfortable
silence for several minutes more, peeking out over the Court. With so many
staying in, it was difficult to tell what time of day it was, but Clopin
was obviously accustomed to its rhythms and ways, for he told me it was
time to go back.
We passed Colombine's tent to make sure she'd got back safely - and
saw her snoring quietly, sprawled out on a pile of cushions.
Clopin chuckled. "She'll have quite a headache in the morning!"
Meanwhile the two of us had sobered up. That night we slept comfortably
in each other's arms, and I was glad for the sound of his heartbeat against
In the morning I awoke early with discomfort in my belly, and lept out
of bed.I lifted my nightdress to look, and sure enough there was blood
on my thighs. I sighed and checked to make sure the bed had not been stained.
Clopin woke up and saw it too, and ashamed, I let my nightdress drop.
"Don't blush, Herli, I've seen it all before," he yawned, rubbing his
eyes. "And from what I understand it's the worst of being a woman."
I nodded my assent and sighed. My last time had been on the ship coming
over and I thought with misery of the many uncomfortable hours I had spent
doubled over, with nothing to soothe my pain.
Clopin jumped out of bed, wrapped a blanket around me and scooped me
up. "Come on, we'll get you all nice and clean!" And he carried me out
of the tent.
The other early risers smiled at the sight as Clopin took me over to
the tent where the baths were. I was still groggy from sleep and rubbed
the grit from my eyes as he put water on to boil.
"Tante Marie will have something for any discomfort you feel, cherie,"
he told me. "I'd stay and help you, but I have to check what the weather's
like. I'm rapidly running out of coin."
I knew that probably wasn't true, we having had no occasion to spend
any, but Clopin was sick and tired of not being able to enthrall his audiences,
and I knew he was chomping at the bit to tell stories again.
He bowed out, and I filled the tub with hot water. I let my nightdress
drop,and climbed in, savoring the heat, as I washed my body vigourously.
Tante entered then, carrying clean linen and a small vial, a look of disappointment
on her face.I guessed Clopin had sent her and smiled at the thought.
"Hey there, child, your husband tells me you have the curse?"
I nodded. She sighed. "I guess that means no baby yet."
It was my turn to sigh. "The babies will come, Tante. It's only been
a couple of weeks. You know as well as I the baby will come when the powers
that be decide it is the right time."
She nodded at that. "Aye, that's true, I suppose. Still, it's a bit
of a disappointment."
"I don't mind so much," I said. "It gives me and Clopin time to become
better acquainted, before all of my time is taken with looking after a
She helped me wash her hair and gave me the little vial. "Drink a little
of what's in that, honey. It will help with the pain. Don't drink it all,
keep some for later on."
I took a little sip and it was very sweet-tasting. I leant back in
the bath and relaxed.
"Come on now, no time for fooling around!" she said, and I groaned
and reluctantly pulled myself to my feet. I dried myself with linen and
pulled a thick piece of it between my legs and tied it around my waist.
Like a loincloth, I thought with a grin, and did a little monkey
"Stop it!" Tante scolded, though she smiled a little. "We don't need
anyone to walk in and see you with a bit of cloth around your waist and
nothing else, bouncing up and down!"
"I don't know! They might like it!" I laughed, but I obediently tied
other strips of cloth around me, foolishly having forgotten to bring a
dress to get changed into.
I ran back lightly to my tent and got dressed in a loose and comfortable
dress. The linen between my legs was soft, and I mercifully had been fortunate
enough to have a very light flow, lasting only a couple of days. The little
potion I had taken was having its effect, massaging away the pain and my
mood improved with every minute.
Clopin burst through the doorway then, full of life, and gleefully
went over to his trunk and began throwing things around.
"The sun is out and the snow is not falling!" he told me joyfully.
"Paris is active again, and I'm going out to thrill them."
I couldn't help but smile at his enthusiasm and plucked his performance
dress from the hook on which it hung. I threw it over to him and he looked
up in astonishment.
"Ah, there it is!" he exclaimed, leaving his scattered possessions
on the floor as he stripped quickly and got into it.
"Could I come too?" I asked hopefully but he shook his head.
"Not now, cherie," he said. "You have to stay indoors until
your time is over."
"Grrrr!" I grouched. "By the time it is it will probably be freezing
once more, and I'll again be thwarted!!"
He laughed good-naturedly. "Don't be so sulky. Winter is almost over.
Spring will be here soon, I could smell it in the air!"
"I wanted to see what snow looked like in the sun!" I said, petulant
still. He shrugged.
"I'm sorry, love. But you will have other opportunities, it's not the
end of the world." But I stayed grouchy, pouting.
"Aw, now don't be like that!" Puppet's little voice implored me as
he appeared on Clopin's hand."If you're very very good I may have a surprise
for you!" he continued in a sing-song voice.
"A new husband?" I joked. Puppet laughed but Clopin looked unimpressed.
"Very funny, cherie," he said in a monotone. "If you don't behave
I'll have to separate you two."
"Just try it!" Puppet shrilled. "We'll organise a mass revolution!!
P.A.B.B.F - Puppets Against Bossy Bearded Fools!!"
"Oh yes, and the only flaw being Herli is not a puppet!" Clopin told
"Oh! Er - uh," Puppet began, but Clopin dropped his hat over him. "No,
wait - "
I laughed. "Poor, repressed Puppet!" I said, sadly shaking my head.
Clopin sniffed. "Repressed indeed! Right! I must go! I must go now!!"
He fitted his mask over his face, both Puppet and the hat having disappeared
(and I couldn't for the life of me pinpoint the moment it had happened),
and blew me a kiss before pulling his hat out of nowhere and putting it
back on. Then with a wink he was gone.
I spent the first part of the morning giving Chester a massage. I'd
learned that it could help animals feeling particularly stressed or uncomfortable,
and it did help him this day. He looked much more settled when I finished.
I wanted then to work on some embroidery, but I felt sick and weary from
my blood loss. I took another sip from Tante Marie's vial and lay down
to sleep it off.
I wasn't sure how long I had been asleep when Clopin returned, but
I guessed it was lunchtime.
"Feeling any better?" he asked me with a grin. I wrinkled my nose at
him and sat up. He had a little box in his hand which he gave me.
"Here, Puppet insisted I give you this."
I took the little box with some surprise. It was very light.
"What, an empty box?" I asked wryly, and shook it.
"Don't do that, you'll ruin what's inside!" Clopin cried.
I opened the box and laughed at what I saw. He'd filled it with snow
"I thought you'd like that" he said, smiling, as he picked at the leftover
breakfast I'd felt too ill to eat.
I did like it,and ran my fingers through it. It was lovely and cold
still and filled me with a sudden rush of happiness.
"Give Puppet a lovely kiss for me to thank him!" I told Clopin. He
pulled a face.
"Certainly not. I'll get a splintered mouth. Besides which - I brought
it back for you, don't I deserve a kiss?"
I sniffed, and then threw some snow at him.
"Yikes!" he cried when it hit the front of his tunic. "Here, don't
throw that at me!"
I laughed and threw more, and he leapt up, trying to avoid the assault.
He lunged for me but I rolled over, grasping my belly.
"Oh the pain and discomfort!!" I cried. I was only faking, but it convinced
Clopin. I knew how uncomfortable men were about a woman's pain at this
time every month, and sure enough he could only stand there looking stupid
and apprehensive. I kept up the act a little more, groaning and clutching
my stomach, and he tried helplessly to comfort me, patting me lightly on
the shoulders, looking exceedingly unsure of himself. I began to giggle
at him and he gasped in indignation when he realised my trick.
"Oh, you insult me madame!" he said. "I'm very hurt! Taking advantage
of my kindness like that!!" But I couldn't stop laughing, and finally he
just shook his head.
"Right, I have to go back up. I only came down to see how you were,
but I find that you're very well enough!" he grumbled. "Oh, and just in
case you were wondering - they were all delighted to see me, and cheered
at my approach so there!" and he poked his tongue out, batting his eyes,
in a mimic of me.
"Here, give this to Puppet for me" I said, and kissed him full on the
Sure enough within a couple of days the curse had left me, and the weather
had returned to being too bad for me to go out. Predictable, I thought,
and was very annoyed. I was now longing quite whole-heartedly for spring,
when I could come and go as I pleased.
My thoughts had even wandered down the path of performing again and
I wondered what I could do. I discussed it with Colombine as we tried on
dresses in my tent one day.
"What were you accustomed to doing back in India?" she asked me, weaving
a blue scarf through her hair.
"Working with animals and masks," I told her. "Similar to Pantomime."
"Hmmm...I don't think the animal thing would work here. I don't know
that Chester would be well accepted up there."
I teamed a red dress and a green bodice, and although it looked well
I didn't like it much. "No, I thought that myself. I don't have any masks,
but I could make them easily. I can dance too, and I was very good at acrobatics."
She looked thoughtful, chewing her lip and pulling on a dark blue skirt.
"There's a gypsy dancer on every street corner. Were you any good?"
"I thought so."
She grinned "I bet. How long has it been since you danced?"
I pulled a face. "A year. Same with my acrobats, but I could pick them
up again easily enough."
She put on a red bodice. "I'm sure you could. Don't dance, Parisians
are bored with dancers. And there's no place for acrobats except at festivals.
Maybe, if you're very keen to perform, you should try the mask thing. Of
course, you'll have to check with Clopin."
I frowned. "Why?" I swapped the green bodice for a black one and she
shook her head at me.
"Don't you ever get bored with the same colors?"
"No! Why would I have to check with Clopin?"
"Because he might not want you doing anything."
"Oooh!! Well, it'll be his own tough luck. I can perform if I damn
well want to!"
She raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure he wouldn't stop you if you really
wanted to. He's not like that, but some of the men don't like their women
to work - you know gypsies only get married if they find their soulmate,
and the men like to provide for their wives."
I turned to her. "You know ours was an arranged marriage!! Besides,
I want my own money. I want to be able to buy pretty things if I feel like
it. Apart from anything else, I want to perform again! I want an audience!"
She laughed. "All right, all right. Explain it to Clopin like that,
he's bound to understand about wanting an audience!! But performing doesn't
always provide you with much money. If it's pretty things you want, you
can always get them the way I do," and she grinned wickedly at me.
"Steal?" I asked, my interest piqued.
"Mmmm-hmm. I could show you. Teach you some tricks."
"I don't know, would Clopin approve?" I laughed. She joined in.
"Never mind that, he used to do it himself!! But he's above that now.
What is it he says - cutthroat yes, cutpurse no!"
I chuckled. "Maybe I should ask Clopin to teach me some tricks in that
"He probably would, if you asked him. I think he only ever tried to
disencourage stealing in the Court once or twice, and only because he was
trying to look after us. But there aren't always honest ways of earning
things, not for us. So as long as we don't steal from each other, we're
alright, and he strongly recommends that if we have to steal, it be practical
things, like bread or clothes. They don't need much excuse to attack us
up there - the fewer reasons we give them to justify it, the better. But
- well - sometimes I can't help it!" and she grinned.
I tried on my "crown" and flounced around for Colombine to admire me.
"Stunning!" she said, laughing.
"Thanks, I thought so too!" I told her. "So Clopin is a good King,
"Yes. He is. Even I can admit that. He takes care of us well. There's
not much we need from a King, except brains, a lot of laughs, and a strong
stomach. And Clopin never flinches from wringing necks when he has to.
He's full of fun and energy, and can always work out a way to help a gypsy
in need. He's also relaxed enough to otherwise not give a damn what we
do, and they all love that. They can go to him if they're in trouble, but
he won't stop them from getting into it."
"Sounds like a good King to me!" I said happily, sitting down to watch
her fiddle with her clothes.
"We'll have to get into lots of trouble, just for the fun of Clopin
getting us out," she told me. "He's wonderful about that. He treats it
all as if it were a great play. He organises spies, and revolts, he'll
give some stirring speech and whip up the people's outrage. He loves dressing
up and acting out various roles. He hardly ever stops performing when there's
something going on, even if it's serious. Even if we've got gypsies waiting
to be hung, he'll have to act out his little drama for a couple of days.
I think it's partly punishment too - let them sweat for being so foolish
as to get caught and put in the dungeons. And if he has to hang someone,
he'll make a performance out of that too - people are too busy laughing
and they forget the severity of what he's doing."
"Clever boy!" I said dryly.
"It *is* clever, Herli," she said, swapping the blue scarf in her hair
for a red one. "He always knows exactly what he's doing in such situations.
Even at the festivals every action is premeditated. He's careful and cunning.
I love watching him in action."
"Oh, I find it easy to resist his charms," I said, mimicking her. "I've
never been infatuated with our King, it makes me sick to see the women
She threw a voluminous dress over me, covering my head.
"Shut up!!" she cried."It's true!"
"I know, I know," I said, struggling to fight my way out of the dress.
"But you talk like he's some great hero or genius. Like your greatest inspiration."
She stooped and helped me find my way out. "Well, we've known each
other a while and we are very close friends, Herli," she told me.
I felt a pang of jealousy then, but I didn't know of whom.
"How long have you known him?"
She sat up and frowned, thinking. "About four years" she said. "He
helped me escape from a hideous tyrannical beast of a husband!! We spent
quite a time travelling around together, so we know each other pretty well."
It didn't seem fair that my two best friends should be so close together,
closer than I was to either of them, and it put me right out. I didn't
say anything, though, just sat there and pouted.
"What's wrong?" she asked me curiously. I shook my head.
"Nothing. I'm just lost in thought."
"Alright then." She paused a minute and then said, "I should go, Herli.
I have to meet Frederick in the tavern tonight. I need to make myself beautiful!!"
"Oooh, who's Frederick?" I asked, very interested. I'd not heard her
mention him before.
"A man who runs a store with the most divine black-and-white garments
I have ever seen. I must know him better!!"
I laughed. "And you pick on me for my love of red!" I shook my head.
"Very well. I'll see you later on then. Have fun and be careful!"
I could hear her laughing as she walked back to her tent. I folded
and put away my clothes and jewellery, mulling over her long past with
"You're silly to let it bother you," I told myself, and tried to concentrate
instead on what I could do when I began performing again. I imagined joining
in with the Festivals, and becoming reacquainted with all my old tricks.
It was a cheering thought, but nonetheless I very soon found myself returning
to Clopin and Colombine, sharing adventures and travelling France and Italy
together. Then I came along, landing right in-between the two of them.
I thought on this until I realised I'd stopped what I was doing and had
been consumed by it, grimacing, and halfway between putting a dress in
my trunk. I shook my head, trying to clear it.
"Ridiculous" I muttered, and moved away to fix supper.
The next day the cold was so intense that no-one at all left the Court.
They went about their daily activity and the place was more alive than
I'd ever seen it at that time of day. Clopin was restless at being unable
to go out and make a spectacle of himself, so he joined up with his fellow
gentlemen over in the Court Center and kept them amused with his tales
and jokes - suitably modified for an older audience.
I, in the meantime, completed a task I'd been using to keep me entertained
when I'd nothing better to do. I modified one of the least pretty of my
red dresses into something resembling the type of clothes I wore back in
India. That is, a dress divided into two parts, leaving a wide expanse
of stomach bare, and a great deal of arm. I'd taken it one step further,
and showed off a lot of leg as well. The whole thing was edged in gold-embroidered
black silk and I thought it very lovely. I tried it on, and admired as
much as I could see of myself in my small glass.
"What do you think, my handsome tiger man?" I asked Chester, who was
still knawing on his breakfast. He looked up lazily, sniffed approval and
fell to his food again.
"You may be the best of men, Chester, but I'm afraid you don't know
how to admire a human lady," I said with a toss of my hair. "I need one
of those brutes on legs outside to have a look."
I felt very daring in my new outfit, and after cautiously looking around
outside, I stepped out. I hesitated, as I wasn't sure where to go. Who
did I want to see me exactly? I took a few faltering steps to the left,
and then gasped as a steely grip grabbed my arm and pulled me into a tent.
I almost screamed then realised I was back in my own tent, and my attacker
was none other than my husband, evidently returned from his merry-making.
"What in my name are you doing??" he hissed. "Leaving the tent half-dressed!!
What are you, mad?"
"I'm not half-dressed!" I retorted. "I wore things very similar back
"You're not in India now, Madame!" he said crossly. "Not only do we
not have the hot tropical weather, you've managed to create an outfit that
makes you look like a whore to every class of person, including your own!"
I was too overcome with indignation to answer. He made sure the tent
flap was secure and then strode back, tossing his hat to the ground and
shaking his head. I found my voice.
"Begging your pardon, oh wonderful King, but I'm absolutely not a whore
"Don't I know that better than any!" he said grimly.
" - AND this is considered quite normal in India - "
"We're not in India!" He exclaimed. "You can't go around dressed like
that here! If you wore that on the streets you'd be taken for a whore,
and there are only two consequences to that - you'd either be arrested
"I should be able to wear it anywhere I liked." I said stubbornly.
He sighed and collapsed into a chair.
"Well - you're not. And you better accept it. Not even the other gypsies
would find it acceptable for you to dress like that."
I sulked. He rubbed his face with one of his large hands. "In fact,
I forbid you to wear it," he said.
"Oh no! You can't forbid me to wear this!!" I said, outraged.
"Oh yes I can. And I do. You can't! Not outside this tent anyway. Absolutely
not. If I ever see you so much as put a toe outside of this tent with that
piece of fabric on, I'll burn it!"
"You wouldn't dare!" I raged.
"Oh wouldn't I? I'd take great pleasure in it too- " he'd taken his
hands away from his face and was gazing at me then. I put my hands on my
hips and glared at him.
"Well???" I demanded. He shook his head quickly and continued.
"I'd burn it with much regret, but I would do it," he finished, and
resumed looking at me, up and down. Although my original intention had
been male approval I blushed a little under the intensity of his look.
It stopped about half way when he noticed my pierced navel.
"What's that?" he asked, pointing to it.
"It's a piece of gold," I told him as though addressing a small child.
He looked at me witheringly.
"I know that little one, I meant what's it doing *there*?"
"Many women in India have them," I said, looking down at it. I had
always liked the way it looked on my flat belly. They were a common sight
back home, but I realised that no-one here had probably ever seen them.
Clopin stood up and moved closer, looking at it hard.
"It's pierced right through the flesh?" he asked.
"Yes, just like in our ears.Didn't you know I had it?"
"How would I?" he said dryly. He reached out a finger to touch it.
I let him, although I tensed. It was just a plain small circle of gold,
but it held his attention very closely.
"You don't like it?" I asked, although I could see he did.
"I like it," he said seriously, not hearing the humor in my voice.
He stepped back then and looked me over more carefully. I hadn't been able
to see what the dress looked like properly, but I was sure it must look
good. The top half laced at the back, and had a low neckline, while the
bottom half fastened at the front with the black sash, and hung low on
my waist. In India I had been proud of my slightness, but after comparing
myself to the curvy women here I had begun to feel too thin. I don't think
Clopin noticed it right then, however. He lifted a hand and pushed my hair
back over my shoulders, letting his fingers run through it.
"I was going to wear it into the Center just now," I told him. He broke
out of his thoughts.
"Absolutely not!" He said, moving past me. "Take it off. Put something
else on. NOW!" He finished his speech violently, and I grudgingly went
to do so.
I changed away from him, watching him carefully to make sure he didn't
turn around, and then I strode up to him.
"Much better," he muttered. "For outdoors, anyway."
"I might just remind you, you are not my lord and master," I seethed
at him. "Don't ever shout at me like that again, I'm not a slave!"
"No, but you are a foolish little girl!" he snapped back.
I shook my head, too enraged to open my mouth, and went and sat next
to Chester, sulking.
Chester, for his part, had raised his head and was staring very intently
at Clopin. The raised voices had aroused him, and in his view, Clopin had
been attacking me. Clopin didn't look at me at all,just smoked his pipe,
thinking his own thoughts and leaving me to mine.
"I thought you were going to the Center?" he said after a while, startling
me out of my sulk.
"I'm not in the mood anymore," I said crankily. "I don't feel like
He shrugged. "It's up to you."
"I *know* that!!"
"Remember what I said, Herlikin - if you ever wear it outside of this
I broke in. "But I can wear it in here?"
He glanced at me. "In here is fine, so long as it never leaves here."
I smiled, somewhat placated. "Good. It reminds me of home."
"This is your home now," he said softly.
I stood up. "Excuse me," I said stiffly. "I think I feel like a walk
© Harley Quinn 1999
May not be reproduced without permission