Chapter Fourteen

"That's for me to know and you to find out." I said smugly, then gasped with astonishment as he made a sudden move away from the tent. "Hey!" He plonked me down unceremoniously, and chucked me under the chin.
"Just so you don't listen in, love."
I sputtered angrily. "Please, like I would bother! That's your trick, remember! I wouldn't waste my time!" But he'd already left me, laughing softly to himself.
So I was left to sit by myself, with a throbbing foot and a great many ideas swirling around in my head. Perhaps all of what Abigail had said was true. Perhaps I was afraid to look at Clopin properly.I took a few deep breaths and courageously allowed my thoughts to wander. My heart throbbed when I came to the realisation that I treasured him above all else. I didn't very much like the thoughts of being separated from him. But just as quickly the idea sprang in that this was only because he was all I knew so well in this new place. Perhaps, had it been him to travel to India, I would not value his friendship so. But the one idea that remained constant was that I was not in love with him. I did not allow myself to even go there.
By the time Clopin rejoined me I had decided I would slowly follow Abigail's advice. I was not so convinced, as everyone else seemed to be, that we belonged together, but at least I might get around to having his children. So, with a new outlook already, I lifted my gaze to meet his.
It was Clopin as always, his long limbs graceful, poise confident and determined, eyes full of humor and pride. But I fancied I saw something else there, and whether it was imagination or reality, it made me glad of the way he lifted me up.
We made our way back to our tent in silence; I didn't ask until we got there how it went for him. He smiled at me charmingly.
"Very well, cherie. Things are a little clearer."
That was all that was said of the matter, then at least. I think we both wanted to think over what had been told us before moving on, so as I fixed dinner we shared only common small-talk. Supper, too, was a rather quiet afair, us both being unusually subdued and restrained.
At one point he enquired about my silence. I told him "my foot". Then I asked why he was so silent. He replied, "Your foot". And while we both laughed he carried me over to our bed. I changed under the sheets, which made him laugh so hard he choked, and I tweaked his goatee. He kissed my aching foot, and I his injured arm, then he blew out the candles and we slept.

The next afternoon we learned from Jenessa, one of the Court's spies, that our adventure in the town square, combined with the inexplicable escape of the thieves from the Palace of Justice earlier, had made Judge Claude Frollo hungry for gypsy blood - in particular, their leader. My Clopin. It would appear Frollo had spies of his own, for he had learned of the Gypsy King's marriage, and putting two and two together had decided that Clopin's wife and the evil red-headed witch from the store were one and the same.
Furthermore, Frollo had decided that the Gypsy Royalty's death would make an excellent example to other truants and vagabonds, especially those so arrogant as to title themselves as sovereigns and leaders. I learned that both Clopin and myself were wanted - I on charges of witchcraft, the wilful destruction of an honest woman's cloth store, and the wielding of a deadly weapon with intent to kill. I was chilled to my very bone by these charges, frightened to know I was a hunted woman.
Clopin meanwhile, was being sought on charges of inciting the masses, encouraging depravity and thievery, assisting a witch in her craft (I assumed that was me) and blaspheming the King's name by taking that title to lead the heathens. And possibly murder. Jenessa told us Frollo had not decided on that one as yet.
"Murder?" I repeated, stupefied.
"Frollo knows his guards disappear somewhere," the black-eyed Jenessa told me, her tone ever so slightly scornful. She dropped it when Clopin shot her a vicious look, however, and then he surprised me by laughing.
"It's alright. My father was up on the same charges,and I too have been a wanted man before this. It's simply a matter of patience. I stay underground until the heat dies down. He's not one-hundred-percent sure who I am, and at festivals and the like I have immunity at any rate. I just won't be able to perform in the cart for a while - if it's still standing," he added, shooting me a meaningful look.
"Frollo believes exterminating you would be the answer to all his problems," Jenessa continued in her quiet, sullen voice. "He thinks that if you were to die, the Romani would lose hope. They would scatter, afraid. He could destroy them all."
"He doesn't know my people very well!" Clopin retorted, still grinning.
"Besides which, he'd repay you all the times you mocked him at the Festivals."
He gave a great guffaw at that. "This very episode is giving me new material!!"
"And the death of your little wife would see that you have no heirs, as well as cause you great pain."
He stopped laughing and glared at me where I sat, still frightened and wide-eyed. In a sudden mood change he kicked violently at some nearby crates, scattering them. 'Damned gadjes. Bastards!" He swore for several more minutes, kicking whatever lay in his path. Then he calmed down, and turned to us, that easy smile again spreading across his handsome face. But I saw still a glint of danger in his eyes, and it unsettled me.
"Alright, Jenessa, you've done well. You may go now."
She slunk away, disappearing quickly. Clopin turned to me with a sigh. "You see what's happened, now, Herli?"
"It wasn't all my fault!" I interrupted him, feeling on the verge of tears. He held up a hand, and shook his head.
"I didn't say it was. But you had better grow used to the idea of living frugally for a while. We're both wanted people. And don't steal anymore."
I limped painfully to the bed, and lay down, sulking, upon it. I was tired from a busy day, compounded by having to limp around on an aching foot, and with this extra bad news my temper was short. A moment later I felt his hand on my hair, stroking it back gently.
"There now, Herli.  I'm not angry at you. Don't sulk, I have tricks up my sleeve yet. And I've got into worse trouble without you. You're alright."
He waited until I gave him a little smile, and then he turned, putting his hat on.
"I'm off to the Center, for a while. I want to talk to the men. I want to drink. You sleep, cherie. Let your foot rest."
He kissed my forehead, and I slipped a peck on his chin. Then he was gone, and it wasn't long before I fell into a fitful sleep, visions of the gallows dancing in front of my eyes.

I was unsure how long I slept, but it was hours later when I awoke. The tent was black, and the Court was quite silent.I wondered, panicking, what had made me wake up, but I relaxed again when I heard Clopin muttering about a stubbed toe. He climbed into bed with me, pushing his body close to mine, and I realised with a start he was naked. Since our first night he had worn hose to bed, and although he was immodest about changing, I never really looked. I couldn't ignore what pressed against me now, however.
His hands stroked my hair and he whispered to me, asking if I was awake. I nodded and he pulled me closer.
"Good," he said, and began kissing me. Still hazy from sleep, and startled by the suddenness of it all, I did nothing but lie there. I checked his breath, and smelt faint alcohol, but it was no stronger than usual. So he wasn't drunk. His kisses travelled down my neck, and my fingers clutched his shoulders as I lay in the dark, uncertain of what to do.
He paused and sat up. I couldn't see him, but I sensed the movement.
"What did Abigail talk to you of last night?" he asked me softly.
"It doesn't matter," I whispered back. "It's my business."
He laughed a little. "She told me why you won't lie with me. Love, don't be afraid to show me. It might even be easier this way. She told me if we both realise that, and if you follow her advice and if I follow her advice, everything should be fine."
I felt a little apprehensive. "What advice did she give you?"
"She told me to stop taking no for an answer."
My heart thudded dully within me. I was beginning to discern his outline in the black, and he raised a hand, smoothing my hair again. He continued:
"She said it was the big mistake,and by giving in always I let you think you *could* control me this way."
"She told you that?" I said faintly.
I could see his dark silhouette nodding. His head bent to my neck again. "Just remember what she told you. Everything will be fine."
As his hands moved over me, I lay unmoving still, frightened for some reason. My mind raced with Abigail's words. Surely she didn't mean like this though? Not so quickly, not so violently. I had expected more time, more of a chance to adapt to this idea, more of a chance to follow the rest of her advice. And now Clopin was deciding to assert himself, assuming I was ready.
My nightdress was high above my waist now and I closed my eyes, tears beginning to fall, as I realised I couldn't stop him now. Not so much because he wouldn't listen, but because I truly had allowed it go on far too long. It was time that I do what I was supposed to do - as much as I wished it could be different. So I lay quiet and meek beneath him, allowing him to do as he liked. I began to notice by his frequent pauses, the way he kissed me, things he did, that he was trying to get a response out of me, but I was simply too uptight, too reluctant still to do anything. He seemed determined to continue, however, and as he pushed my thighs apart he kissed my eyes and tasted my tears. Again he stopped and asked me, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," I replied hoarsely.
"Why are you lying so stiff?"
"I don't know," I answered pathetically. He lay on me still for a few minutes in the dark, and then jumped up violently, swearing for the second time that day. I heard something being kicked, and I hastily lit a candle. He thudded both fists down on the table, a grimace of frustration on his face.
"Damnit, Herli, damnit, what in god's name do I have to do? Enough is enough, I'm sick of this! It's ridiculous. A month and half! It's beyond ridiculous."
I didn't know what to say, so I just stared at him stupidly.
"Haven't I tried?" He continued his tirade. "I know I have! I tried very, very hard! Harder than I ever tried for anyone before! I'm sick of trying. Trying is a waste of time with someone like you."
"I was going to let you," I said brokenly. He came towards me, pulling his hose on.
"Yes, but you wouldn't have enjoyed it, would you? There's a big difference. You would've hated me afterwards."
"I would not have!" I cried. He just shook his head.
"Can't you understand? I don't just want to grunt on top of you for a few minutes. I want it to be more. It has to be more. You're my friend. I--" He stopped and stared at me for a few moments.
"You're my dearest friend, Clopin," I said softly. "That's why I would let you."
He sighed, and wiped his forehead. Then he began pulling on a tunic.
"Be that as it may - it's still a waste of time. You either don't understand or don't want to. And I'm sick of trying to understand you."
"Where are you going?" I cried as he reached for his shoes.
"For a walk," he replied shortly. "I need it."
I saw with sudden terrible clarity that if I let him go now he'd find another bed to sleep in, even if that wasn't the purpose of the walk. And once he did that things wouldn't get better. They wouldn't even be the same as they were. In a panic of losing him I cried loudly, "Please don't go!!"
"Shhhhh!" he hissed, annoyed.
"No, Clopin, don't go!! Stay here! Please - here - hold my hand!! I don't want you to go. You can do anything you like, but stay here with me!" I sobbed.
He paused, terrible indecision on his face, while I sat up in the bed, crying openly. Finally he relented.
"I'll stay," he said gruffly. "But I won't sleep in that bed. I sleep here, on the cushions. So call this blasted beast of yours away."
"Here Chester, come here my darling," I implored Chester, who'd glared at Clopin with a warning gleam in his eye. He padded over, and hopped up next to me, immediately monopolising the pillows. I watched Clopin as he stomped around, pulling off his clothes again and arranging the cushions to his liking. He was still in a rage, that much was clear, and I thought that if he stayed this way towards me, how much I would miss his smile and easy humor; his mocking yet sincere courtesy and the way he confided his troubles or worries to me over the Court. I wondered then if this is what Abigail had meant by seeing him, and I stayed watching him still as he wrapped himself up and lay down for the rest of the night.
"For god's sakes, blow that blasted candle out!" he grumbled, and I obeyed him hastily.

The next day he wasn't there when I woke up, and I wrapped the blankets around me tightly, not so much from the cold as from the sobering memory of the previous night's events. I wondered if he were still angry at me, and whether I could swallow my pride and my fear long enough to give in to him willingly. Then I thought he just might be further angered by my sudden change of heart. I feared he had gone to another woman after all.I feared he was with her even now.
I shivered and pouted and again felt that overhwelming confusion of emotions. Clopin had been the very best of men in putting up with my constant difficulties, as well as being a good friend and guider. A lesser man would not have put with half as much, and I had shown him very little of the same consideration. So guilt-stricken, I buried my head on Chester's back and wished I could be different.
Clopin burst in then, and I jumped up, looking anxiously at him.He looked at me coldly, and my heart sank. So he was still angry then. He paced up and down a bit, then turned to me, pointing a finger.
"You're very, very lucky Madame," he said, quite savagely. "The damage to my cart was minimal." Despite his temper, I was relieved he had been checking on his cart and not locked in a passionate embrace with some passionate woman.
"Good morning, Clopin" I said softly, and he grunted in reply.
It was just the beginning of a difficult day. He hardly spoke to me, just grimly went about his business, as I did mine. I had no assistance with my foot, and was forced to hobble around, grumbling crossly to myself. I picked up my precious red velvet, and an idea began to form in my mind. I didn't act on it then however, just placed the fabric away in my trunk and busied myself with cleaning and tidying the tent.
I had lunch ready and he did oblige me by returning for it. "Tante Marie has invited us to her to tent for supper," he told me gruffly. "I told her we'd go."
"Very well," I said softly, sipping my wine. I thought about enquiring how long we'd have to stay beneath in the Court for, but the look on Clopin's face discouraged me. It wasn't exactly angry or frustrated still, more a frown of deep thought, as he stared intently into his plate. He finished his wine and stood up again, stretching.
"You're going again?" I asked, a trifle dismayed. He looked at me curiously. "Yes. I've got a lot of things to do. Remember? Why?"
"Well... I thought we might... Well, sit and talk, like we do." I finished lamely. He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head.
"Not today. Maybe some other day. Today I have important things to do."
And he left me feeling very cold. I cleaned our crockery savagely, putting it away with much noise. Exactly how Abigail intended me to follow her advice with that brute being so difficult to get along with was beyond me. He was simply being pig-headed now, trying to assert some kind of male authority over me, I was convinced. I concentrated the niggling hurt that I may have lost his friendship into anger at his stubbornness, and very quickly worked myself into a fine temper, with no way to vent it.
I opened my chest and found the small jewels box my mama had given me before I left. I rested my head against the unicorn carved into its front for a moment, and then opened it up. Since we'd arrived I had placed the rest of my most precious and beautiful pieces of jewellery in it, although none matched the heirlooms I had been given. None except for one - a unicorn talisman my papa had given me as a very small girl. Beautifully crafted in silver, with colored glass pressed into it, it had always served to comfort me in my times of greatest need. I sat with it clutched in my hand for several moments, concentrating on the unicorn's purity and virtue of nature, and shortly I began to calm down.I placed it carefully back in the box, and taking up my red velvet, began my work.

That was how Clopin found me when he returned, calmly sewing. He grimaced at the sight of the fabric, then asked me if I was ready to go.
I nodded silently, and put my work carefully away. I limped over to him in great pain, but I didn't show it. He graciously offered me his arm to lean on, and I took it gratefully. We then began, very slowly, to move across the court. Every now and then a great stabbing pain would shoot up my leg, and I would have to bite my lip to keep from crying out. I couldn't altogether mask my face though. Clopin sighed many times, but whether it was a sigh of impatience or one of sympathy I couldn't tell. I assumed it was the former and tried desperately to move faster. But he stopped me suddenly and lifted me up, taking the pressure off my feet, and moved swiftly towards Tante Marie.
"This is just so we can get there within the hour, mind," he told me grimly. I didn't reply, just clung to his neck.
She was waiting for us when we got there, a deliciously spicy odour coming from her cooking pot, her large girth filling the entrance to her tent and her round dark face grinning at us amiably.
"Well now, how romantic the young play!" she said cheerfully, at the sight of Clopin carrying me."What I wouldn't give to be young and in love!!"
Neither Clopin nor I answered, just smiled and nodded to her, and followed her inside.
I was settled down and she fussed around to make sure I was comfortable. I realxed a little, enjoying the pampering, and doing my best to hold onto Clopin's hand and draw him in with us. But he stubbornly refused, sitting beyond our conversation, thinking his own thoughts, paying us no attention. I looked at him anxiously, wishing he would stop acting so strangely. Tante Marie noticed as well, and gave us both curious gazes as she repeatedly tried to get more than an "uhhmm" or an "mmmm" from him.
Finally she poked him several times and with another dazzling change he was his old self, smiling and joking and eagerly supping on the delicious stew she served up for us. Even I he treated as normal, scooting closer to me and honoring me with a grin. But I saw from his eyes that he was still in the distance somewhere, so I did not enjoy what would otherwise have been a most enjoyable dinner.
When we'd finished I offered to clean the dishes, as was the custom when a guest in someone's home, but she stubbornly refused me, on account of my foot. There was another motive behind it however, as we soon found out. The dishes were plced to one side to wait until after we'd gone, as Tante served us coffee, and that sat eagerly before us, beaming her large smile all over her attractive face.
"Alright now, my children. I have been very patient these last months. How are things going between you then?"
Silence. I glanced at Clopin nervously, but the only perceptible change was a tighetning of his smile. He was leaning back on his elbows, relaxing, indifferent. He made a grand gesture with his arm.
"I think you should tell her, love," he said smoothly. "Tell her all about it."
I felt my cheeks flush, and I stared at him, saddened for a moment, before turning to Tante Marie and lying blithely.
"Things are well, Tante. Indeed I'm very glad I have taken your advice. It's been a long time since I was so happy, in fact."
Tante was too delighted to hear Clopin's sarcastic snort to the side. Growing a little angry at him, I continued cheerfully. "I can't recall spending so many days in such idyllic bliss. Everything you said, and more besides, about Clopin is true. I only wish I were more eloquently able to describe how I feel."
She clutched my hand, grinning. "I'm sure he understands just fine, child. Now, how about babies?" Clopin burst out laughing, rather too loudly, I felt.
"No Tante, no babies yet, I'm afraid," he said, snickering. I cut in before he went any further.
"Although we're hoping soon, of course."
She nodded, a trifle disappointed. "I hope so too. I truly do. I look forward to you having your first child."
"Children," I corrected her, as a strange feeling washed over me.
"But of course, there'll be more--"
"No, they will be twins. I think."
She and Clopin both looked at me curiously. I blushed and shrugged. "I don't know. I just had a feeling. They will be twins."
Tante nodded again. "Women often have these feelings. It is nothing unusual. More often than not, they are true as well."
Clopin said nothing, just curled his lip and looked away. I read his expression though - 'how are you going to have children?'- and I grew uncomfortable again.
It wasn't long after that we made our excuses and got up to leave. Clopin went to lift me again, but I pushed him away and embraced Tante tightly. She sighed and leaned back to look at us contentedly.
"Just remember you two - the only reason I'm not married today is because I could never stay friends with my lovers. The way I see it, it's the most important thing of all - to be friends with those you love the dearest. To like them as well as love them."
We didn't look at each other after she closed her tent, although he picked me up forcibly and carried me back. We arrived back at our own tent, and Clopin placed me down on the bed. I had a feeling he planned to go out again, and so I clutched at his sleeve. He stopped and glanced at me before saying calmly, "Let go, please. I want to go out."
"Alright, but listen to me first, please," I said, feeling desperate. I had an idea this might be my only chance to rectify the situation between us. "I have to speak to you, please."
He sighed and raised his hands in defeat. "Alright, I'll listen!" He perched on the end of the bed, turned away from me, his face a mask. I put my hands on his shoulders and tried to turn him towards me, but he was like a stone wall, his long lean shoulders immovable.
I could feel tears spring into my eyes and I implored him more humbly than I was given to. "Clopin, look at me. This is very difficult for me. It takes a lot for me to say, so please look at me."
He muttered, "I would think it easier to say with me turned away," but he turned to look at me. I gulped, and fought the fear in my chest.
"You know that isn't my way. But this is so hard. Just give me a moment. Clopin, what I said back in Tante Marie's tent is mostly true. I am happy with you. I... am happy to be with you. I don't know altogether how I feel yet but I know that you've given me a lot more than a great many people in my life, and that I have been more open to you and to your friendship than anyone else. Not even Colombine can get the same response from me. I-" I stumbled, and averted my gaze from him, before continuing. "I'm grateful you're my friend. I don't know how I ever came this far without someone like you - without you - there. I wish I could give back to you what you have given me, but I don't know how. I'm still learning how to. I never wanted to before, but for you I want to. Please, just give me some more time."
I gulped and stopped. I'd put as much of my feelings into words out loud as I could bear to do at that time and I was as yet unsure how I felt. "There, I've finished now, you can laugh if you like." I'd lowered my head and let my hair fall into my eyes, something I'd practically stopped doing. But he didn't laugh. He just pushed the hair out of my eyes, lifted my chin and kissed me. I kissed him back, a little, and when it was finished I fell happily into his arms, and let him hold me, rocking my body comfortingly.
"Thank you," I whispered, clinging to him.
"Any time," he whispered back, with a little laugh. He stroked my hair again and smiled at me.
"Have I ever told you what a gorgeous color your hair is?" he asked me laughingly, and then drew me close again. "That, by the way, is my way of saying I'm also grateful you're around."

So once again Clopin and I overcame a personal drama of sorts. We didn't mind, there were plenty of dramas to keep us occupied. Firstly, the issue of our being sought after. Then the mystery of how Frollo was getting his information. Clopin decided he wanted to reward little Cosette for tipping us off about the guards, and there was also the matter of how we were going to earn money whilst stuck underground. I was not so worried about this as Clopin, I had my plan that I was working on. At any rate, Clopin's captivity enabled him to do more things around the Court and he garnered his creative frustration into organising the development of new sections, the escape of prisoners, and the decorating of the Court with new painted images and drapes. I fancied I heard a groan arise from the Court every time Clopin bounded in with the words "I have an idea!"
I also had my fears for Chester's health, and I also suffered a brief bout of returning misery over my absent family. I required both Colombine and Clopin to cure me of it.
Colombine was thrilled to hear of my adventure and excited to hear I was a wanted woman. I let her in on my plan and she agreed to help, and we plotted with much delight.
Meanwhile I had been following Abigail's advice and was "looking" at Clopin more closely. It would appear she was right, for every movement I saw, everything he said and did, held a new charm for me. He was such an expressive person and although not everyone could always be sure when he was playing a role and when he was himself, I saw through his pretences quickly. I liked very much what I saw beneath. It wasn't very long - a matter of a few days - that Colombine began to mutter with jealousy and expound the virtues of *feminine* companionship to other women as opposed to male companionship. I silenced her with a kiss - extremely affectionate of me - and the reassurance she was my dearest *female* companion, before running off to adoringly follow my handsome, charming husband. We grew closer than ever. But still I debated over the kind of love I held for him.
Gypsies were coming and going within the court quite regularly, for Frollo's persecution of us was swift and vicious. I became aware - through Clopin's own uneasiness - that there was growing tension in the Court.
"Come now, you can't hide anything from me!" I said teasingly to him one evening after he had protested that there was nothing wrong. He laughed and cuddled me.
"That's true. Not that I really want to. You're my little devil, my wicked unicorn, you saucy lass!" I slapped him lightly, and he grabbed my hand and held it tight. "Alright, I'll tell you a little, but there is as yet no cause for alarm, so I will tell you nothing to cause you alarm. Some of the gypsies believe there may be spies among us, or with access to our fellows. We've just been discussing about how to handle the situation. That's all you need to know."
I pouted at him. "I have as much right to know what's going on as you do."
He tweaked my lower lip. "Aww, my poor darling. I only deny you because I know you'd want to get mixed up in it all, and if anything happened to you I really think I'd miss you a little," he told me, his eyes saying more than his mouth did. "Enough talk of business. Are you still worried about that bully tiger of yours?"
I nodded sadly. I had not been getting Chester out half as much as I wanted to, and although he was well fed and scrubbed and brushed every day, he still pined for the outdoors.
"Alright then. I have a surprise for you tomorrow. You'll both enjoy it."
"What is it?" I asked eagerly, clutching at his tunic. He shook his head and pushed me aside.
"Absolutely not will I tell you!" he said firmly. "You'll see in the morning."

The next day I woke up early, and remembered I had been promised a surprise. Clopin woke up shortly after and was pleased to see me up already.
"Good. We have to leave early. Is there any breakfast?"
I fed him, and he washed and dressed quickly. He kissed my forehead. "Get dressed and be waiting with that brute out front of the tent. Pack us some lunch as well. I need to have a word with Jean-Luc before we go. I'll be back shortly."
He left, and I urged Chester to eat quicker. In the meanwhile I washed, and then paused, turning over a thought in my mind, wondering whether I dared it. I decided I did, and got dressed quickly, then pulled my cloak over me, hiding what I wore. I took a basket and packed wine, bread and cheese and cold chicken in my own garlic and chilli sauce, and fruit. I also wrapped up a large cow leg for Chester and put it with the rest.

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

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