I left the tent rapidly and walked towards the Center, my heart pounding,
and my cheeks flushed. A lot of the gypsies were there, talking and laughing
amongst themselves, several playing instruments together, sharing food
and the like. I crept past them carefully, and scurried to the back of
the stage. I slipped behind the drapes and climbed to the little alcove
Clopin had shown me a week ago. Once there, I threw myself down in the
darkness and sighed deeply.
I thought for a little while about the disagreement and I was truly
sorry it had taken place.I knew I should've thought more about what would
be considered acceptable dress here, but I had in part made it because
it was what I was used to, and felt most comfortable in. I thought about
India and the sun, and Chester and hoped he hadn't made things difficult
for Clopin after I left. Then I remembered Clopin and the things he'd told
me when we had sat here together. I wished then that I could go back and
apologise but I knew my pride wouldn't let me. And that felt suddenly lonely,
and I wanted desperately for someone to hold me. I fell asleep with an
image of Clopin stroking my hair.
I awoke several hours later with a deep feeling of anxiety, and hurriedly
I climbed down, pulling aside the drapes carelessly, and running back to
the tent. As I neared, I slowed down and calmed down too. I ran a hand
through my hair and straightened my dress, then walked casually back. I
saw that both Colombine and Clopin were sitting out in front of the tent,
and I walked up to them, a large smile for Colombine on my face.
She returned the smile and raised her eyebrows and waggled them. Clopin,
on the other hand, just looked at me disinterestedly.
"Enjoy your walk?" he asked with sarcasm. I didn't answer, just went
inside. I heard someone behind me, and expecting it to be him, whirled
around. It was Colombine. She came towards me, with her eyes gleaming.
"He was very worried about you, you know," she whispered. "That's why
I'm here. He came over to ask me if you knew where I was. He was practically
in a panic, I think he thought you'd run off somewhere. Then about five
minutes ago, he just calmed down and said he knew where you were after
all. Where were you?"
"He was truly worried about me?" I asked her in a hushed voice. She
"You'd better believe it. Though he'd rather die than admit it. Where
"It's a secret," I told her and she frowned.
"Oh come on, Herli!" she said.
"No, it's a secret place," I said stubbornly, and she shrugged. "Alright
then. I have one of those too. Meanwhile, better step out and make your
peace with your husband. Stop misbehaving." She gave me a playful slap
on the rear and pushed me outside.
He was still sitting there, displaying an outward calm, looking ahead
and appearing not to have noticed me. I sat down cautiously beside him.
"So what fascinating route did you take on this three hour walk?" he
asked me dryly.
"You and I both know I didn't go for a walk, Clopin." I grumbled. "Come
on now - we agreed we wouldn't fight, remember? And - " here I took a big
swallow " - if you're sorry then so am I."
He shot me a sidewards glance. "And if you're sorry then I'm sorry
too," he reiterated.
"Oh for goodness sakes!" exclaimed Colombine who had snuck out to stand
behind us. "Let's just say you're both sorry and have done with it! Lord!"
and she strode off to her tent.
We smiled at each other then, the ice broken finally.
"Puhleeeease speak to that beast of yours about me, Herli!" Clopin
said to me "He growled at me until I left, when you'd gone. Imagine! Booted
out of my own tent by an over-protective tiger!"
I laughed. "I'll try," I promised him. "How far away is the warm weather?"
"Johannes believes the snow will start to melt in a few days time,
despite what today's weather might suggest. As soon as it begins, you can
go out, but there will still be a chill in the air. Make sure you wrap
"I will." I said. "I've also been thinking of taking up performing
again," I finished in a rush. He looked at me.
"Oh?" he said. "What did you have in mind?"
"I don't know as yet," I admitted. "But there's plenty of things I
He pulled a face. "So long as it isn't dancing. And I don't advise
you to take your big white monster up there."
"I wasn't planning to. Though he will have to leave here at some stage,
before he goes mad."
"When the nights get warmer. You can sneak him up then. Not in the
day-time, though. If you want money, Herli, I can give you some."
"I don't want to take money from you!" I grumbled. He shrugged.
"Alright then, if you can come up with something you think is good
enough, you can perform. But make sure it's good, and different. Parisians
are a critical audience and busking gypsy women are a very common sight."
"I'm sure I can manage," I said huffily. And I was determined to do
so. Like Geraud had said that day I arrived - I would dazzle them all!
Sure enough, a few days later the snows began to melt. I couldn't express
my relief when Clopin told me. I was so eager to see the sky and the sun
and the trees and people again, I was ready to cry. He told me that he
would take a few days off to show me around, but after that I would have
to manage on my own. That was fine with me, and my restlessness increased
by the minute. Finally, on the third day of March, Clopin decided I could
"You know, my audience will be very disappointed I won't be there today,"
he scolded me.,br> "Hmmm, I'm sure," I said, tying a scarf around my head
and wrapping my cape around me. He raised his eyebrows delicately.
"What, you don't believe me? Alright then - you most certainly will
have to watch me perform."
"With much pleasure, sir," I said, making him a little curtsy. "In
fact, I can barely wait."
"No need for sarcasm, sweetness," he said, hustling me out of the tent.
"I was in total earnestness, darling, I swear," I said, widening my
I practically danced towards the exit. Clopin caught my cape to lead
me another way.
"Not through the tavern today, cherie. I don't need to get distracted."
I only grinned and let him lead me away. I watched the way we went
carefully, knowing Clopin would not be showing me again and again. We arrived
at a ladder set in the wall.
"Let me go up first, little one. I need to get the door open." He climbed
up quickly, and perched at the top of the ladder, working the door a little,
then pushing it open fast. I climbed up, and he helped me step through.
I was somewhat surprised to find ourselves in a very cold, dank stone cellar.
A huge iron door was set in one wall,but that was all I could see.
I opened my mouth to speak, but he held a finger to his lips, a look
of urgent warning in his eyes. He fastened the trap door quickly and quietly,
then stepped to the wall. He pushed on a stone that stuck out a little
way further than the others, and to my amazement a space in the stone wall
opened, making a soft grinding noise as it did so. Clopin grimaced and
looked through it cautiously, then we stepped through it. The door slid
back,and I saw we were in a small dark alleyway. He grasped my hand and
we ran down to the end of it, ducking into a doorway. He sighed once we
"That door is too noisy. I'll have to come up with a couple of the
men and fix it," he muttered.
"Why did we have to be so quiet?" I asked him. He grinned at me, his
"That's one of my favourite exits, simply for risk value," he told
me. "Do you know where we just were, cherie?" I shook my head, no. "We
were in an unused dungeon in the Palace of Justice!"
My eyes widened in surprise. I had heard plenty of stories from my
fellow gypsies about the infamous court and the terrible things that happened
there, under the judgement of the evil Claude Frollo. Clopin chuckled at
"Don't worry, love. I could've handled any guards who might've heard
us, but I try not to slit throats under such dangerous circumstances. Another
notch against the gypsies we *don't* need."
I nodded. "But how did it get there??" I asked him in a whisper.
He shrugged. "I don't know. We've always used it to help prisoners
escape, but now that cell isn't used anymore we use it to get in and out
if we're feeling particularly adventurous."
I whacked him.
"So you thought you'd bring me through there on my very first day out?"
"Relax. It's not your first day out, for a start, and the risk isn't
that high, so long as one is careful."
I glanced back down the way we came. I could see the wall we had exited
from extended up high in the sky, but I was unable to see much of the building
"Come on," Clopin said, taking my hand again and leading me out onto
the street. I noticed several guards milling around nearby as we walked
out from the alley, and I felt a slight thrill of apprehension, but I realised
in our cloaks we were covered,and would not be particularly noticed.
I glanced back to look at the Palace of Justice. A formidable piece
of Gothic Architecture, it was a dark blotch against the blue sky, ugly
and intimidating. I shivered and turned away again.
The snow hadn't completely melted away yet, and they were still piles
of it here and there, like cold clouds on the cobblestone streets. The
ground was wet from the melting water, and the chill in the air was fierce.
But I couldn't care much. Once we were away from the Palace, I was too
happy. The sky was a light blue, lighter than it ever was in India, and
speckled here and there with white and gray clouds. Dark gray ones hovered
low in the distance, a promise of rain to come. The sun was also paler
than in India, and the glow it gave was soft and warm.
I took deep breaths, savouring the air, and looked around me. The streets
were bustling with people going about their daily business. Women in their
bonnets and cloaks, carrying baskets as they shopped, gossiping in groups
or calling out to children to stay by their side. The men stood out in
front of the shops, discussing business or pleasure, or hurried off to
appointments. Shopkeepers busied themselves with their displays or wares,
calling out cheerful greetings to each other. Even though people appeared
so busy, noone seemed to be in a great rush. The atmosphere was relaxed
and comfortable. I was enjoying myself immensely.
For a while we simply wandered the streets, exchanging small talk,
Clopin pointing our various places of interest, or certain people with
a story behind them. I stored everything away very carefully in my mind.
I kept thinking to myself that Paris was going to be a splendid place to
live - and as pleasant as my present company was, I was looking forward
to exploring on my own.
I was so thankful to be out in the air again, I could barely contain
myself. I danced along the streets and sang under my breath, while Clopin
laughed at my eagerness.
"You like it, no?"
"Oh yes! It's wonderful!!"
"The good weather is here to stay. You can come up every day if you
I squeezed his hand tight as we moved into the Town Square. I glanced
up at Notre Dame, and again found myself awe-struck. I suddenly remembered
something, and punched Clopin in the arm.
"Ow! What have I done now!" he exclaimed.
"You have to tell me the truth of the Devil in the Bell Tower!" I said.
He grinned. "Ah, yes. I was wondering when you'd remember that. Well,
cherie, I hate to disappoint you, but the truth is not all that
exciting. It's true, Frollo keeps a poor deformed creature up there, but
it is just an unfortunate boy, sadly born with a hideous visage. And he
doesn't ring the bells. He's barely three years old! One of the priests
does that. But the hunchback - for he is that too, as well as being hideous
- lives in the belltower and none but Frollo ever sees him. I wouldn't
be surprised if he ends up ringing the bells. What else can they do with
I pulled a face. "You're right. The truth isn't as exciting as the
fiction. But it has its own thrill. How did Frollo obtain this boy?"
"Ahhh... No-one but Frollo and the Archdeacon know the real answer
to that. I believe Frollo is even under the impression no-one knows about
the boy. But Clopin, King of Thunes, knows everything that happens in this
city!!!!! Well - almost everything. As far as I have been able to find
out, Frollo inadvertently killed the boy's mother, and the Archdeacon ordered
he raise the boy as penance."
"Then why is he kept in the belltower?"
Clopin shrugged. "Because Claude Frollo is a cruel man and a hypocrite
besides. Anyway, that's the true story. I tell a much prettier fiction
to my audience."
I thought for a few moments.
"If you did it right, the true tale could be just as thrilling."
He glanced at me. "You think?"
"Why not? Talk in a deep and forboding voice, make the boy's mother
a poor gypsy, persecuted for her heritage - have Frollo prepare to kill
the boy before the spirits of Notre Dame stop him and sing a few songs.
The audience would lap it up! I know I would."
He stroked his goatee. "Hmmm...I'll think about it."
We reached the other end of the square, and I saw around Clopin's cart
a group of children were gathered.
"Ah, it's my devoted audience!" Clopin told me. "How sorry I am to
have to disappoint them today."
We drew closer and the children turned aorund. They recognised his
lanky form and dark face, even under the great cloak he wore, and they
ran up to us, jumping excitedly.
"It's Clopin!! It's Clopin!" I heard them cry as they danced around
him. "What story will you be telling us today?"
Clopin shook his head mournfully and smiled down at them. "I'm so sorry
my little friends, but Clopin has no stories for you today. I have many
things to do today. Perhaps tomorrow."
A little cry of disappointment came up from the audience. Clopin mimicked
them, pulling a terrible sad face and hunching his shoulders. They laughed
at him and he smiled back. I saw the affection he looked at them with,
and saw that other children, and several adults were beginning to make
their way over. I went up to Clopin and touched his shoulder.
"You know, you should perform for them, if they want it so badly."
He shook his head. "No. I need to get you acquainted with the city
as quickly as possible."
"I've seen enough of it today to know my way around! I wandered around
the jungles a lot in India and never once got lost! I can manage."
He hesitated. "A city is different to a jungle."
"Not so different. Besides - I would like to see you perform."
He smiled at me, pleased. "Very well. As you insist, I am never one
to disappoint a beautiful woman. And it looks as though there are many
beautiful women waiting for me today!" he said, looking behind me.
I glanced back and saw that the audience had grown greatly, and there
were many young and pretty women, some with gentlemen, some not. I gave
him a little shove and he chuckled.
"Go out and watch, " he said. "I'll do this one for you, ma petite."
He kissed my hand quickly, and pulled his cart out from its resting spot.
The audience applauded happily, glad they were going to have a show. He
swiftly unlocked the side door and dissapeared within, and I went to join
the audience, standing as close as I could.
Within a few seconds he appeared through his little door, in full costume
dress, and with Puppet merrily waving to the children. Then it began. First
there was a little argument with Puppet over who the audience was waiting
to see, and Clopin came out the victor, thanks to his little stick. Puppet
sulked, rubbing his head, and Clopin began his tale.
It was the tale of the Devil who rang the Bells in Notre Dame. Clopin's
voice was entrancing, with its rises and falls, the subtle nuances he put
into every phrase. Several small Puppets appeared, skilfully manipulated
as the tale unfolded - Frollo, the Devil, the Archdeacon. I was completely
caught up in the tale, unaware of who was around me. Everything he'd said
was true - he was a brilliant storyteller. But when he began to sing, my
heart sped up, and I felt a burning flush sweep over my skin. His voice
was magnificent, golden, passionate and perfectly beautiful. I couldn't
have left if I wanted to. I could only stand and listen, giving myself
up to that voice.
The song came slowly to an end, and there was a short pause before
the audience broke into delighted applause. The spell broken, I looked
around me - the audience had practically doubled in size. I was amazed.
Clopin, meanwhile, was the consummate performer. He bowed graciously, thanking
the audience smoothly. Children tugged on their mother's skirts and were
given coins to drop into the box Clopin has fastened below the window of
his cart. Several of the adult performers walked up, dropping handfuls
of coins in as well, particularly the young girls who blushed and giggled
and moved quickly away when he thanked them, his voice low and sincere,
his eyes seductive below his mask.
Finally the last of them moved away and I went up to the window where
Clopin leaned through, watching them with a satisfied smile as they all
walked slowly away, many looking behind to see if another show was going
to start, although Clopin had said this was the only one today.
He smiled down at me, his eyes knowing and triumphant.
"Well, cherie?" he asked, stroking the hand I placed on the
I shrugged, and tried to appear nonchalant, though I could barely keep
from smiling. "You were good, I'll admit it."
He leaned down so he was on eye level with me.
"The best you've ever seen, no?"
"No. Alright - yes. You were."
He straightened up and laughed triumphantly. "I knew I would be."
I grimaced. "Alright, don't spoil it. Get changed and come out of there.
You're even taller than usual. And I think your head is beginning to expand
with all that hot air. You'll be trapped unless you move quickly."
He laughed again and in a few minutes he rejoined me on the streets.
The next day I went out with Colombine, who told me excitedly that it
was market day, and that all the stalls would be open.
Upon arriving at the markets I felt very much at home. I suppose markets
are very possibly the same everywhere. Stall after stall of people selling
their wares from far and wide, all set up in the town square. We moved
in and out of the rows of shops selling fabrics, pottery and jewellery.
Much of it was cheap and poorly done - but there were some beautiful pieces
of true craftsmanship as well.
Some of the sellers were gypsy nomads, in town for the day before moving
on. Colombine knew several of them, and they greeted each other happily.
We both of us spent a lot of time at the various jewellery carts, and I
noticed Colombine's face was invariably smug each time we moved on. I guessed
she was picking up various items that took her fancy and I smothered a
laugh. She couldn't help herself. It didn't seem to matter - the stall
keepers were so busy bartering they hardly noticed us, and there wasn't
a guard in sight. I wondered curiously what things she had picked up and
whether they were very pretty.
We emerged from the thick of the stalls in order to sit down and drink
from a nearby pump. Moving amongst so many people, pushed so close together
had proved to be extremely stifling, and I was glad to relax and breathe
in the still cold air.
I looked over to my friend who was sitting in her black and white dress,
grinning like a maniac. I leant over to her and whispered, "I know you
took things Colombine, how did you do it?"
She looked a little dismayed, then whsipered back, "I couldn't help
it, Herli! They were so pretty! I'll show them you when we go back to the
Court. I got some pretty things you'll like too. But Lord, don't tell Clopin!
I nearly got caught the last time!"
"Don't worry about it. Clopin said we should only steal necessities.
Jewellery is a necessity, right?"
She laughed. "Right!!"
We were roused then by a commotion nearby. A couple of guards had arrived
and were making their way through the markets, investigating anyone who
looked even remotely Romany. A hobbling old man, covered from head to toe
in old cloak was grabbed by one. He pulled the hood off to reveal the "old
man" was in fact a young truant, furthermore when the soldier began shaking
him by the collar,a variety of wares fell out of his clothes - jewellery,
cloths, fruit and the like. At this stage more soldiers had arrived, and
spurred on by the discovery of this thief, were making a more vigorous
and aggressive search of any unfortunate in their path.
Colombine and I stood up, feeling slightly uneasy. The boy was being
pulled by the scrag of his neck, and the soldiers meanwhile were coming
closer to where we stood.
"Time to beat a hasty retreat, I think," Colombine muttered to me.
"Do you think we should try lending a hand?"
I shot her a glance. "Lend a hand, how? Neither of us is prepared for
something like that.What do you propose we do?"
She shrugged and grinned. "Improvise?"
I grabbed her hand. "Come on, let's go now, before they see us and
discover what you have on you."
That brought her to me. "Good idea. If anybody goes missing, we'll
hear about it later. Clopin will organise something."
We ducked silently down the first alley we came to, and then crisscrossed
our way to Paquette's tavern, to make sure no-one was following us. Unlikely,
When we got there we made our way quickly to the backroom,but before
opening the trapdoor we paused and looked at each other.
"Do you think we should have helped?" I asked, feeling a little guilty.
She shook her head. "It wouldn't have done any good. The two of us
may have been able to run circles around those nitwits in armour, but then
we'd just be on the wanted list. Which means you'd once again be confined
underground AND Clopin would be furious - with both of us. Anyway, that
boy really was a thief. If anything really terrible happens to any of the
others, the Court will do something. It happens all the time, you'll see."
So saying we quickly flung the trapdoor up and disappeared within.
The guards who assaulted the markets were evidently in a good mood,
for only a couple of the genuine thieves ended up being arressted and dragged
off to the Palace of Justice. But the soldiers had destroyed many of the
traders' wares - pottery had been smashed, cloths stained and stalls broken.
Working with the underground system I had yet to become aquainted with,
Clopin sent them invitations to hide and repair their wares in another
Gypsy stronghold - a ruined old chapel on the outskirts of the city. He
would not have allowed them in the Court, for they were strangers and not
Romanies. As for the boy whom Colombine and I had seen getting caught,
Clopin was very angry with him.
"That Gulliame will end up being hung, mark my words, Herli!" he told
me when Pierre, his number one gentleman spy, had brought him the news.
"This is the third time since coming to Paris he has been caught. The least
he could is practice, if he insists upon stealing for a living. You know
what to do," he said to Pierre, "and make sure it's very clear this is
the last time we will help him. The next time he gets caught he must get
himself out of it, or be hung."
Pierre nodded and left. Clopin had several spies working around the
city, all of them dark and unsociable creatures who came and went like
shadows. There was Pierre and Lucille, the two best, then Jenessa and Marc,
Paul and Odette. There were more, but I never saw nor heard from them.
Clopin liked for all his bases to be covered, so there was rarely a time
when he didn't know everything that was happening within the city.
But apart from that, the Court continued much as usual. During the day
it was even emptier than usual, for with the good weather more and more
gypsies left, and several even packed up their tents and left the court
altogther to travel during the spring and summer.
I, for my part, was hardly ever within the Court either. I left with
Clopin every day, and we would separate at the Square, he to perform, I
to amuse myself. I'd return in the afternoon with enough time to fix supper
for him, and we'd pass the evening pleasantly, talking over the day's events
on our own, in the center, or in the tavern.
Several times during the night I snuck Chester out, and he was overjoyed
to see the sky again. I knew he would be even happier if I could get him
onto some grasslands, but they were beyond the city and I didn't know my
way well enough yet to take him there. He greatfully plunged into the river,
for tigers love to swim, and we raced each other down the black streets.
Within a few days he was looking better and far more content than before.
Exposure to the elements darkened my skin somewhat, so I was not so
pale as before, and I was very pleased. The mix of good air and exercise
and good food helped me to put on a little weight, and I was very proud
of my now even curvier figure.
Colombine kept her word and taught me how to steal cleverly, pickpocketing
and snatching things off tables whilst pretending to look at something
else. She was delighted with me and told me I was the best student - and
now all that was required was pratice. She was rather less delighted when
I chose her tent to practice within, and when I heard a bellowed "HERLI!"
from across the way I knew she had missed whatever little nick-nack I'd
slipped into my pocket, or had counted the bangles on her wrist and found
one missing. Between us we gradually amassed an enormous collection of
cheap jewellery and pretty scraps of cloth, all of which we hid from Clopin,
not willing to find out how he'd react.
I soon grew very comfortable on the streets of Paris, learning how
to avoid the soldiers, which taverns allowed gypsy patronage, and where
the best places for shopping - and consequently performing - were. I still
wanted to perform, but was working over an act in my mind. After watching
Colombine (and she was an enchanting performer) I was more inspired than
ever, and spent many nights in bed, the only time I had for thinking, or
working on an act.
But for the time being I was content to simply learn my city. I realised
very quickly that a lone gypsy woman was an easy target for soldiers and
bullies, but I seemed unable to pass such people without antagonising them.
Consequently I got plenty of exercise in running and avoiding larger fights.
It seemed worse when I was with Colombine. The two of us together were
seemingly unable to avoid trouble, it was as though it came to find us.
Clopin compounded it as well.The three of us spent a lot of time together,
and combined we had a lot of adventures - but those are other stories I
may tell you another time.
My introduction to Paris had been the final breakdown of any barriers
I had built. I was now full of life and energy, and could barely sit still.
At one point I had some small concern I was not attending to my wifely
duties like I should, but that was ridiculous. The tent was perfect, and
meals were always cooked. The only thing that remained was my virginity.
But Clopin did not press me to do anything, although often at night we
would lie holding each other, and still we talked. Indeed, we grew closer
every day, and I realised quickly I held him dearer than even Colombine.
I could see he was as fond of me also, for it was my company he now preferred
to all others and I gradually shared all my past misdemanours with him,
and even told him a little of Raghu. In his turn he told me of his pain
over his parents' deaths, his initial apprehension of running the Court,
and even how he had tried to leave once before, as a means of avoiding
It made me laugh when he told me, but I quietened quickly.
"Do you wish you had escaped it now?" I asked him softly. We were sitting
on the riverbank under the bridge early one evening, watching the sunset.
I was sitting with my legs crossed and he was sprawled out on his stomach.
He rolled over to look up at me.
"No," he said with a smile. "You'll do." I smiled back at him and let
him take my hand. We sat in silence for a few moments and then he spoke
"Herlikin - what does that mean?"
"It's a name my papa made up. He took it from 'Hellechina'. It means
the same thing."
He grinned at me wickedly. "Little Devil?"
"Yes," I said and he laughed.
"Suits you. That's what your brothers called you, isn't it?"
I sighed and felt a little sad. "Yes, it is."
"I think, cherie, if it's alright with you, I'd like to call
you that sometimes."
I smiled down at him and tickled his face with my fingernail.
"I wouldn't mind."
"Splendid," he said, and leapt to his feet. "Come on, we'll go to the
tavern. Colombine said she'd be there this evening."
We hurried along as the streets grew darker, although I felt a little
put out that he was apparently so eager to see Colombine. But then we were
at the tavern, and the candles within threw out a cheery orange glow as
the sounds of people singing and talking grew louder.
© Harley Quinn 1999
May not be reproduced without permission