Chapter Ten

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 little.
"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 my cheek.

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 child."
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 dance.
"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 him.
"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 for me.
"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 mouth.

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 case."
"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?"
"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 swoon!!"
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 Clopin.
"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 in India!"
"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 or raped."
"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 it."
He shrugged. "It's up to you."
"I *know* that!!"
"Remember what I said, Herlikin - if you ever wear it outside of this tent -"
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 after all."
 

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

BACKNEXT