Chapter Thirteen

Having spoken these words with my nose in the air, I turned to make my way to the exit. But I seemed to have enraged her further, for she shoved herself in front of me and assaulted me.
"Don't lie to me! I know you! You're a dirty thieving gypsy! Your kind come in here all the time and rob me blind when my back is turned!!"
If she was angry, so was I.
"Get out of my way!" I snapped at her. "You've been watching me like a toad watches a fly since I came in. You know I've taken nothing. Now move!!"
I know my face becomes ugly when I am angry, and I guessed she must've thought I was about to attack her for she moved closer to the doorway and looked out anxiously. She waved suddenly with her arm.
"GUARD!" She shrieked. "Guard!!!"
Oh no, I thought as I realised what was about to happen. I tried quickly to gather my thoughts, concentrating on the various hidden objects Colombine had advised me to keep on my person at all times, in case of such emergencies. Before I could make a move, however, two burly soldiers had filled the doorway and were glaring at me ferociously.
"What's the trouble, madame?" one asked, trying to keep his gruff voice low in a lady's shop.
"That nasty dirty gypsy was about to steal from me," she sobbed, pointing her accusing white fingers at me.
"I take more offence at being called dirty than a thief!" I roared back. "I bathe every day, and more often that you, I'll warrant, you pasty-faced monkey!!"
She gave a cry of outrage and leaned in a faint, which apparently gave the soldiers their cue to move. They went to draw their swords and the lady gave a shriek.
"Mind my cloths!!"
They hesitated, and it was an opportunity I took. I grabbed a large roll of silk, which being heavier than I expected, I wielded very clumsily. I still managed to knock them over the head with it, distracting them momentarily as I ran to the back of the shop. Within a few seconds they followed me, and I kept them at bay by pelting bundle after bundle of silk, velvet and cotton at them. The shopkeeper screamed blue murder all the way as she followed them, waving her fist and pushing them forward. I fancy it was actually a rather entertaining sight. Finally the two overweight and heavily armoured soldiers slipped on the rich fabrics at their feet and stumbled over one another. The shopkeeper took this opportunity to climb over their prostrate and groaning bodies and clamber towards me, a look of fury on her face. I whipped a small dagger from under my skirts and wielded it in front of her face. She stopped, and all the color drained from her features as she stared at me, stricken.
"Come one step closer," I said menacingly, "and you'll feel the sharp end of this!"
She took a step back, her face contorted, and then fell into a genuine faint, landing on the soldiers behind her who were just beginning to climb to their feet, knocking them back down again.
I turned and ran. I had not felt real fear until that moment, but I did now. Both the woman and the soldiers had observed me waving the dagger around, and whether they heard my threat or not was irrelevant. With such widespread prejudice against gypsies, were they to capture and arrest me, my fate would be sealed. Pulling the dagger out had been foolish. Had I continued to run, I could've left the shop and got away free. But my escape had been delayed by my actions, and I was guilty of another folly as I neared the shop's exit, for in a hasty moment of spite, I snatched the bundle of red velvet which had been the cause of all this trouble, and shoved it up under my skirts, wedging it under my bodice. By this time the soldiers had gained their footing and were hot on my heels as I exited the shop and ran at top speed through the streets.
It seemed they were weighed down by their armour, for I managed to put quite a way between them and myself, as I darted down the streets, dodging carts and leaping over barrels, and I almost began to enjoy myself,certain of my victory, even glancing behind me to grin at my pursuers, but that was the biggest mistake of all.
I tripped on a loose cobblestone as I approached a corner, and down I fell, my ankle twisting savagely beneath me.
I bit my lip and cursed out loud, and felt a shooting pain travel up my leg. A shopkeeper who'd left his place of business to see what was happening gave the soldiers a shout.
"Hi, you there! The gypsy girl is here!"
I glared at him in anger and hauled myself to my feet. The pain in my foot was excrutiating, and I knew I'd never make it to the tavern on time to escape them. I instead ducked around the corner and through a lane, the town square my primary goal now. They were gaining on me with every step as I burst out into the square, running-limping for all I was worth. I could see Clopin's cart just over the way, and now I could hear their footsteps hammering on the stones behind me. My panic burst and I half-sobbed; half screamed in desperation:
"CLOPIN! Clopin!!"
I panted, the pain in my foot increasing and I again cried out, "Clopin!!" I saw him stop in the middle of his performance and look my way, his mouth open in surprise. The spectators had also turned and were gazing at me in some astonishment, and at the soldiers. Clopin spied them too and leapt into action.
He jumped out of the Puppet Cart and came forward to meet me as I sobbed in relief and fell into his arms.
"It's broken! It's ruined and crushed!!!" I cried out, stricken, and he looked at me in confusion, not knowing what I was talking about.
We both whipped our heads around as the soldiers approached, stopping in front of us, red-faced and panting from the physical exertion they were unused to.
"You there! Halt!"
"Halt?" Clopin repeated innocently. "Halt what?"
The soldier paused and then barked out, "Halt where you are!"
"It is? I thought it was halt where *you* are!!"
The soldier again paused, confused, and the other spoke up. "None of that lip, you ass! Hand over the gypsy thief!!"
Clopin made a face of panic and looked around him wildly. "Gypsy thief! Oh no, where, where???? There!! There he is!!" He pointed behind them. The soldiers and spectators turned to look. Alright, so did I. Clopin lifted me up quickly and threw me on top of his cart. He followed me nimbly, somersaulting up, to my amazement.
The soldiers were not pleased by his trick and they advanced on us and looked up in anger. Clopin again lifted me up and I threw my arms around his neck and looked, wide-eyed, down at the soldiers.
"Careful cherie," he whispered. "I have to time this just right."
"You up there!! Throw down the gypsy thief!!"
"What, you don't mean to suggest this lovely lady is a gypsy thief?" Clopin asked them incredulously.
"She is a thief! A thief!"
Clopin peered down at them. "Ah yes, so she is. She has stolen your moustache!!"
Neither of them had moustaches and the reply was so nonsensical that they sputtered with outrage.
"Throw her down or we will arrest you both!!"
"My apologies, messieurs, but we've become rather attached to each other!" he explained, motioning to my arms wound tight around his neck. "If you're that desperate for feminine companionship," - he raised an arm above his head - "I suggest you turn to each other!!" 
He brought his arm down and the small pellets contained within his hand hit the roof of the cart with a spark, exploding in a cloud of magenta smoke, masking us from the streets. We heard the audience gasp, and at that moment we fell through a trapdoor. We were inside the cart for a brief second and then we fell through another trapdoor, falling through a brief dark passage and landing on some straw.
I lay, stunned, in his arms for a few seconds, blinking and trying to work out what had happened. I looked above me and saw an open manhole above us, and above that some wooden slats. Clopin set me down and I leaned against the stone walls, as he reached up and shut the manhole quickly,leaving us in darkness. I noticed before he did that the lid opened inwards, and guessed that it, and Clopin's cart had been organised in these places in case of such an emergency.
There was a spark and then he held a torch before him, and I saw anger and disappointment on his face.
"Damnit, Herlikin. Didn't I tell you not to get caught? If they ruin my cart, I'll never forgive you."
I sobbed. "Clopin! I swear to you I never stole a thing!! It was just some hysterical Parisienne, you know what they're like!"
He still looked doubtful. I continued. "Clopin please! I swear it! She grew angry because I stopped too long in her shop! You must believe me."
His expression softened a little and he stepped forward. "You stole nothing?"
"Yes. Well - I did take one thing but only AFTER they attacked me."
"AFTER???"
"They didn't see it! Don't be angry at me! If they ruin anything I'll repair it myself, I swear!! Please - I couldn't bear you to be angry at me again!"
He sighed, but then he smiled. "Alright. This once I'll forgive you. I hope you realise I won't be able to perform for several months. You might get away with it, but my face is very well known up there. You'd better get your act together quickly if you expect us to survive. Come on now."
"I can't!" I told him helplessly. "My foot!"
He looked puzzled but then his expression lightened. "Oh, so that's what you were talking about. Very well then."
He handed me the torch and then scooped me up in his arms and we made our way through the catacombs back to the Court of Miracles.
I poked him in the shoulder as we went along. "Stolen your MOUSTACHES?!?!"
He shrugged me off and grinned. "Give me a break. It was the only thing I could think of on the spur of the moment."
Several of the gypsies stopped to look and laugh as we entered, I windswept from the chase and Clopin in his performance garb, carrying me like a baby. "I hurt my foot!" I exclaimed, as they teased me for not wanting to walk through the sewers."I did! Tell them, Clopin!"
"We have a very spoilt Queen," he said in my defence. I pouted.
"Traitor!" I told him. He shrugged.
Nonetheless when we got to our tent he made a big production of looking after me, and I enjoyed it. Since we'd been married I had been the one attending to his needs and I rather liked this reversal of roles. If all men spent some time coddling their wives, there'd be a lot less arsenic slipped into wine.
"Here's the little Queen's silken pillow," he said, lowering me onto the cushions tenderly, as Chester padded over, anxiously sniffing my hair. I threw my arms around his neck and kissed his beautiful velvet nose, and reclined, as Clopin ran around, fetching linen and putting some water on to boil. I reached up under my skirts and whipped out the red velvet triumphantly, and laughed. Clopin looked at it, bewildered.
"That's what you risked both our necks for, Herli?"
I could only keep grinning cheekily and nodded, then threw the velvet around Chester's back and rubbed it on his face, which he liked. Clopin frowned.
"And now you'll ruin that doubtlessly very expensive fabric by rubbing it on that tiger! Humph."
He knelt down before me and raised my skirt to look at my foot. "No higher than my ankle!" I shrieked in pretended modesty and he shook his head at me.
My foot was red and swollen, and even I shuddered at the sight of it. Clopin felt it gently, bending it different ways,and I slapped him and told him to stop torturing me.
"You're very lucky. It's not broken, only twisted," he concluded at last. "You'll have to try and stay off it for a few days. And that might just mean staying in the tent, for I won't be carrying you everywhere!" he finished.
I wrinkled my nose at him. "Do you have anything I can put on it?"
"There's some ointment over there next to my jewels box. In the purple jar."
He brought it over and wiped a little over the sore area of my foot, and then began to massage it in, very gently. I sighed happily and leaned further into the cushions. He watched me, smiling, before lifting my foot to his mouth and kissing my ankle. Then he pulled a face.
"Yeech!"
I swatted him with my precious fabric and moaned in disappointment when he finished the massage and went to wrap it up.
"Don't stop!" I begged, but he shook his head.
"Have you forgotten our appointment for the evening, cherie? With Abigail?"
I had forgotten all about it.
"Must we go?" I moaned, totally in the mood to simply lie around and be spoilt all night.
"Yes, we must! Firstly, she'll be expecting us, secondly, I said so and I'm the King!! Hahaha!!"
So I was again quite literally swept off my feet, and carried through the Court. I waggled my bandaged foot in the the general direction of all we passed, as proof I was injured. "Look!" I exclaimed, triumphantly. Clopin for his part was rather enjoying playing the hero. Or perhaps he simply enjoyed me being helpless. At any rate he smiled and shouted for all to clear the path we came down.
"I carry a porcelain princess!" he joked. "I can't risk her so much as brushing against a tent, she'll shatter!!"
Abigail was a well-respected and important member of the Court, and her tent was only a little way down from ours. As we got nearer I caught a familiar smell in the air. Abigail had a monkey. I sniffed harder and Clopin looked at me peculiarly.
"Try to hide your insanity while we're in public, love," he said sardonically.
"Oh shut up," I answered him. I continued sniffing and caught the scent of fur and scales.
"You didn't tell me she kept animals," I said excitedly as we reached the entrance.
"You never asked. She used to let me play with some of them when I was a boy. As I got older I told the younger children she made potions out of them." He smiled at his memories. The tent flap was open and I heard a surprisingly youthful voice say from within "You can come in, no need to wait at the door."
Clopin ducked his head and moved into the dim light of the tent. Everything within was touched with a soft glow. Whilst few of the gypsies knew her true age, Abigail had been nomad for many years before settling down in the Court for almost as long. Yet she had few possessions, except for what was absolutely essential - a trunk, a smaller chest, her bed, a chair, a small stove and various objects I recognised as being tools in the arts of magik. As Clopin placed me down, I leaned against him and looked with delight at the tiny monkey on her perch, the large glass case in which a snake coiled, a few parrots on another perch, a large fat cat, a tank of mice and another with frogs. Clopin, meanwhile, looked straight ahead, his hat respectfully in his hands, a gentle smile on his face. I'd never seen him so still nor in control, and I realised I was being rude and looked quickly at the tiny woman in front of us, who stroked a large gray hare on her lap, and smiled a toothless smile.
Abigail was clearly ancient. Her hair was extraordinarily long, pure white and plaited. Her face was wrinkled and criss-crossed in a hundred places, and her figure was tiny and almost painfully thin. But there was strength in those tiny hands, and her large black eyes gleamed with intelligence and humor. Abigail had outlived all her children - three girls, who'd each borne the same gifts she possessed, and it seemed as though she would live on for many more years. She seemed to glow from within, a kind of incandescence which told the story of all her years and experience.
"Bonsoir, Madame Abigail," Clopin said politely, in lowered tones. "I trust you're well this evening."
She gave a short laugh and again smiled her toothless, but strangely beautiful, smile. "Damnit, Clopin, I knowed you since you was - what're they saying these days - kneehigh to a grasshopper. Don't you be calling me Madame. Come here my boy!"
The spell was broken. Clopin's familiar toothy grin broke out, and he moved foward to sweep the tiny woman into his arms, and she gave him a great kiss on both cheeks, and forehead. She pinched his arms and stomach, and shook her head.
"You're still too thin, my boy. Gotta eat more, gotta be strong. I warrant that little one behind you has her hands full trying to fatten you up."
I had stayed behind, feeling a little shy, but why she turned her gaze towards me, I limped forward, smiling. Clopin held my hand and introduced me.
"I know you've heard about my wife Herlikin-Elise, Abigail. This is she."
"Hello, child," she said, solemenly shaking my hand.
"Hello Madame," I said softly. She looked me over and nodded.
"This one don't like being touched, not unless she invites it. Alright girl, you get you wish, but next we meet I expect a hug!"
I smiled, warmed. "Alright Madame."
She threw her hands up. "What's this with everyone calling me Madame? Just cause a woman gets old don't mean she wants everyone to tiptoe around her and do a lot of bowing. C'mon child, sit down. I can see you've hurt your foot. Trust this oaf, Clopin, not to think of that."
Clopin looked offended. "Abigail, I have to protest! I have been the very embodiment of husbandly consideration!"
"Shush! I don't need to speak with you now. Out you go boy, I wanna talk to your lady! Go on, out!"
Clopin left us, still looking miffed. She turned to me with a grin.
"Men - always thinkin' they're needed. I guess it is hard work, feeding him?"
I nodded. "He doesn't eat food, he inhales it. He consumes enough for all my five brothers, and then he backflips it off."
She chuckled into her chest.
"When he was a boy, I used to say he laughed it off."
I agreed. "Yes, he does that too!"
She startled me wih a sudden shout. "And stop listening!!"
I heard Clopin muttering as we walked away from the closed flap.
The little monkey leapt onto her shoulder, and entranced by this beast who spoke to me of India with every movement she made, I held out my hand, making soft, coaxing noises.The monkey was curious, as monkeys often are, and took hold of my finger with her tiny paw, examining my hand and turning it over, sniffing as she did so. I took the paw gently, and examined it as she did, sniffing it as well, and she was amused by my mimick and jumped onto my knee. I scratched her ears and smiled down at her.
Abigail smiled at me knowingly. "You like animals." It wasn't a question.
"Yes. I do. I always have. I know no fear of them, although I respect them all."
"And you've missed little ones like her since coming here."
"Yes I have. She's lovely. What do you call her?"
"Jezebel, for she is that. Always causing trouble. Speaking of trouble, you've come here because you're in some, or you believe you are. I'll spare you the embarrassment of details, for I know of the problem. I can tell you how to fix it, although it will be up to you to do so. I can't do that for you."
"I understand that."
"I'm glad of it. Come here."
I edged a little closer to her, and she held my hands, examining both them and my face. She lifted a strand of my hair and smelt it, and passed her hands several times over my face. After a while, she sat back and nodded.
"Alright child, let me tell you how I see you here. You've suffered from your folly in the past, and to boot you've been uprooted from your home and your family. So you're on your defences. I know you think you've done some big opening-up, and perhaps you have, but you haven't been fully truthful with yourself.
"You're not only closing off to him, you're closing off to yourself. You won't allow yourself the pleasure of expressing your feelings, you'll barely allow yourself the pleasure of having them. But when you and Clopin first entered my tent, with you in his arms, both of you with straight backs and high-held chins, I saw all I needed to. Many have told you so, and so will I. This time, I advise you to listen. Your marriage was arranged for a bigger reason than simply uniting two Romany tribes. It's fate. It's your destiny - for both of you. Not everyone has the joy of finding their soulmate, no matter how many times they visit this earth. But you and Clopin have been that lucky. You have been brought together, because you must be.
"Remember destiny is not always about doing something you'll be remembered throughout the ages for - though that might be in your future, who can say! - it's also about being given a gift. You've been given the gift of finding the one person you can love to your full capacity. Don't take that for granted. It has happened - it will always happen - because people refuse to *look*. Which is what you're doing. You're not looking at him properly. You think you are, but you are not. Watch him more closely. Really look at him. I know he has wormed his way into your heart by way of friendship, I know you hold him dearest in that respect, but it's not the only way you're meant to love him. Trust me, when you start looking at that man with all your eyes, and you look right into him, you will realise just how much, and in what way, you love him.
"To help clarify things a little, he's almost doing the same thing, but not to your extent. Clopin has always been open with his feelings - far too open. When the two of you agreed to be friends, he instanteously opened his heart to you, and you entered far too quick. But then he saw you weren't allowing yourself the same luxury, so he closed it again. He tries to open it, but is afraid. He knows, however, that he can trust you. He has some sense of what a truly important feature of his life you are. I know this because he shares with you what he has with no other. By doing this, he has broken down some of your ice, for you do the same with him. But as you refuse to see all of him, he can't get any further within.
"Speaking of 'getting within' - your refusing him is very easily explained!! And again it goes back to former folly. You're not only afraid of realising the full extent of your feelings, you're afraid of losing control. Control of yourself, control of him. Clopin is strongly independent, as are you. And you've never grown so close to someone like that before. If he wants to do something, he'll do it, even if it's not something you like. And so to your way of thinking - though you mayn't be aware of it - denying him yourself is a way of controlling him. For it's not simply about physical gratification or lust, it can sometimes be the most eloquent way of expressing deep love. And you, my girl, don't want to risk showing anything you don't think you're ready to show. So you keep saying no, no, no. But he ain't gonna wait for you to decide what you want much longer. 
"So here's my advice: stop being so damned scared. You and Clopin aren't outta the woods yet, but you'll get there. Make the trip a little quicker. Give in to how you feel. Look at the man. That's it - you're done!"
I was slightly startled by this abrupt ending. Throughout I had been listening with mixed emotions, understanding what she was saying, but feeling confused nonetheless. Now the spell had been broken, and I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts.
"You may need to mull over it a bit, but don't spend too much time doing it. Now go on, and send your husband in."
I got with difficulty to my feet. She held out her hand to me, and I clasped it, squeezing and smiling down at her.
"Thank you, Abigail." I kissed her hand, and she smiled back at me.
"Here, I'll help you to the door." She stood up, shorter even than me, and bid me lean on her arm. I was stunned at her strength as she helped support me to the tent flap, and impressed. We peeked out and saw my royal husband standing some way down from us, smoking a pipe and still looking put out. I grinned and waved to him, and he strode back, pulling a face.
"It's my turn now, is it?"
"Aye, hurry up!" Abigail turned and went back inside, leaving me to clutch the tent for dear life. Clopin chuckled and picked me up.
"How did it go, cherie?"

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

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