Chapter Sixteen

***The author would like to advise that there is some sexual content in this chapter and having given adequate warning, absolves herself from any blame in the corruption of innocent young minds***

"Well - maybe - " Clopin said, flustered. Clopin? Lost for words? This woman worked some trickery that was for sure.
"I still can't believe you managed to tie yourself down to one woman. I never would have thought you could."
I could imagine Clopin shrugging. "We can all surprise ourselves, mademoiselle."
"Silly. You know you can call me by my name. I think we have shared enough intimate moments for that liberty, don't you?" I knew by now she had probably draped herself all over him, and my temper began to rise. But I held it in check, and continued to listen, holding the tub of dirty water in my hands. "Although how you put up with that drab little creature is beyond me. She's very pretty, but so dull! I can hardly get two words out of her."
"Well, she's not really like that," Clopin said haltingly. "I'm not sure what's wrong with her but - "
"Oh Clopie, you don't have to defend her to me. I know you'd rather not be married to her, but what can we do? It doesn't matter. If she bores you, you can always seek entertainment elsewhere," she finished, her voice sly and mocking. I, however, had had enough. I strode to the tent flap, flung it open, and tossed the dirty water out all over her, soaking her head to toe. She was too astonished to react for a moment, and then she gave a shriek of outrage. I meanwhile, feigned horror and contrition.
"Oh Isabelle! I am so ever sorry!! I had no idea you were out here! What, is that dress silk? Oh it's too terrible! I feel simply awful!" She was a sad sight now and I was enjoying myself.
She sputtered angrily, and Clopin looked in bewilderment from me to her, and reached out a feeble hand to offer assistance.
"Now Clopin," I said, shoving him towards the tent. "Go inside and let me help Isabelle. I'm sure she doesn't want you to see her in such a bedraggled state."
Isabelle found her voice. "Clopin! She deliberately soaked me!! Are you going to allow that?!?!"
I looked innocently at Clopin who glanced at me suspiciously before saying, "I'm sure it was an accident, Isabelle. Herli wouldn't do something like that. I'm sure."
Isabelle gave an outraged cry, and stared at me with murderous eyes. I refused to be intimidated, however, and again offered assistance. She slapped my hands away in fury.
"I want nothing of yours, that's for sure!" she seethed before storming away. Several had witnessed the incident and she was followed by many titters and whispered comments. Clopin turned to me with his arms crossed.
"Did you do that on purpose, Herli?" he asked me crossly.
I widened my eyes. "Clopin. Please. Like I would ever do such a terrible thing?" I grinned at him and went inside. He laughed a little, and followed me for his supper.

I was very fond of that trick, and found a great many ways to do it afterwards. Once, we were down by the Court's stream, and she began singing a very provocative song about a man who betrayed his wife for his lover, when Clopin passed by. Taking up an enormous bundle of soaking wet linen, I passed by her, and "accidentally" drooped a great heap of it on her head, ruining her carefully-arranged hair, and soaking the back of her dress. The others laughed, and she again was given to only a few infuriated sputters while I apologised profusely. Another time I tripped a girl carrying a bucket of water while Isabelle danced for Clopin nearby, and the thin fabric was soaked and clung to her skin, revealing more than even she cared to show the general public. She glared around, her eyes flashing, but I only looked at her innocently. I had not been carrying the bucket, she could not blame me. My favourite was when she slipped over in the sludge in the Catacombs. It was my favourite because I truly had nothing to do with it. She had asked Clopin's assistance through it, and he had obligingly reached to do so, but before he could, she slipped and covered herself. I laughed heartily before apologising for my mirth. I could see even Clopin was amused by her continual bad luck, although he tried to hide it. But it seemed to not deter her. In a way it made her even more determined to get attention from him, she just was more careful I wasn't around when she sought it. Because I tried to stay by his side as much as possible, she found that a rather difficult task though.At any rate I had begun to enjoy the battle, and I doubted she did, which only cheered me more.
I think Clopin also realised why I was tormenting her so, for we managed to share some of our old camaraderie, he no longer avoided me, and I could feel I was winning him back.
So we sat one evening in what was now the Court Square, with the others, drinking cheerfully and joking with each other, and exchanging small, happy looks between us. I was very cheerful that night, and so very glad to be sitting with the man I now wholeheartedly confessed to myself that I loved. I made the mistake of leaning over to Colombine to share a whispered joke, and when I turned back Isabelle had managed to insert herself between us. She hugged Clopin, appearing herself to be in a glorious mood.
"Good evening, Clopie, you're looking magnificent as always."
"Hello Isabelle. You look fine yourself," he replied courteously, although I could clearly see indifference, and even weariness, written on his face. She laughed and wedged herself between us further.
"Darling, I was thinking that tomorrow you should let me cook you dinner. You're so terribly thin, you look as though you never get fed enough. Remember how much you used to love my meals? Remember how you used to love to eat what I gave you?"
I raised an eyebrow for her implication was clear, and while Clopin fumbled over a way of either refusing without insulting her, or accepting without insulting me, I took a sip of my wine and made a face.
"Bah, this wine is terrible!" I cried, and tossed it to the side, right into her face. All eyes were on us as she gasped, and blinked, and I again made a face of consternation.
"Isabelle! I was not aware you were there! I'm so sorry!"
Clopin got hurriedly to his feet.
"Er, excuse me ladies, I have to go trim my goatee." He moved quickly away, but I paid him no mind. I just gazed calmly into Isabelle's outraged face, meeting her eyes. She began to hiss at me.
"The hell you're sorry!! I know you do it deliberately!"
"Do what?" I asked innocently, and to my surprise she gave me a hard shove.
"I'm sick of you constantly soaking me whenever I pass you!!! I won't stand it any longer, you spoilt little bitch. Either you defend your husband like a real woman or you let him go to the one he really wants."
She had my temper up now. "Oh? Well the hell he wants you, if that's what you think!! You're nothing but an old woman trying desperately to cling to her youth. Clopin laughs at you, do you hear me? He laughs!" My voice had raised to a shout, and we were both standing, facing one another challengingly. A group of the nearby Romani applauded this little speech, to her outrage. She raised her hands, as though to attack me, but suddenly her formerly sly expression returned and she leaned closer towards me and said softly:
"A woman like you can't keep him satisfied, you pathetic little virgin. I know all about it, you see? He may not want me now, but he will, you can mark my words on that. And all you need to do is continue being yourself. You'll drive him to me. Only I know what he really needs. You're not even a woman. You're just a little child."
My fury reached its breaking point. The Romani who'd gathered around us watched eagerly, and I was sure some of them must've heard her. In a sudden rage I leapt on her with an angry cry. A cheer went up from those around us as she fought back. I scratched and bit and punched and kicked and she did the same, and we threw each other around, both of us screaming bloody murder, while the others watched us in excitement. But Clopin must not have gone very far, for I heard his voice above the din suddenly, demanding some assistance, and Isabelle and I were wrenched apart, and held back although we both struggled to fly at each other again. I was aching in several places, and had taken a bad punch in the eye, but I saw with great satisfaction that her nose was bleeding, her clothes torn, and I'd pulled a great handful of her hair out which I let drop to the floor. She screeched and spat at me, and in another fit of bestial excitement, I struggled with those who held me back to fly at her again. But the man who held me was stronger and whirled me around to face him, shaking me violently. It was Clopin.
"Control yourself, damn it!" he yelled at me.
"Let me go!" I cried, struggling with him. "She started it!"
"Calm down!" he roared, and continued shaking me until I stopped struggling, and my teeth seemed to rattle in my head. "Now go back to the tent! Now!" and he pushed me so hard I fell and skidded a little way. His face was immediately sorry, and he moved towards me, but I struggled quickly to my feet and backed off.
"Herli, sweetheart - " he began, but I just ran back to the tent, my heart racing still from the fight.
When I got there, I paused, panting, trying to get a hold of myself. I tasted blood in my mouth and realised Isabelle must of got a few good ones in. I paced up and down still, my agitation so great that I cried a little. A few seconds later the flap was pulled aside and Clopin entered, no longer looking angry.
"Herli, ma petite, come here," he said apologetically, reaching out for me, but I moved quickly to one side, wringing my hands. "I'm sorry I pushed you," he continued. "Please come here."
His look was so beseeching and his voice so sorry that I wanted nothing more than to leap into his arms right then, but I wanted to play for a little more coddling, so I pouted and sulked. "You hurt me," I said accusingly.
He sighed, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."
"You shook me so hard my head nearly fell off!" I exclaimed, sticking my lip out further. He looked at me and caught on to what I was doing. Playing along he sat in the big cushioned chair and mimicked my pout, holding out his arms.
"Well, you'd better come here so Papa Clopin can make sure it's still on."
I needed no further encouragement and let him pull me onto his lap, cuddling me close.
"I need a lot of attention, because I'm very badly hurt," I told him petulantly.
"Is that so?" he asked me. "You need me to rub your poor little neck?"
"Yes, I think I need that," I agreed, and smiled happily when he obliged me.
"So here now, little one. Show me all your cuts and bruises."
I pointed to each place that was sore, and he kissed each gently, first the corner of my mouth, then my eye, my neck, my arms, even a bruised finger. I motioned to my stomach where I'd sustained a vicious kick and he watched me as he leaned down and kissed it. I didn't want it to stop there and motioned to a spot between my breasts. He leaned down and kissed me and then raised his head to look in my eyes. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. He returned the kiss and I could feel him growing more and more aroused, as I took off his hat and ran my fingers through his hair. Finally he stood up, lifting me with him and took me over to the bed.
We lay down and kissed a while more, allowing our hands to move over each other, and my passion grew as quickly as his did. I tugged at his tunic and was glad when he got the hint and took it off. I ran my hands over his chest and then pulled him down close to me again. We kissed some more and then he pulled me up so we sat facing one another, and he began to untie my bodice. I moved to help him, though I began to blush at the thought of finally being naked with him. My breath caught when he pulled it off and then he helped me out of my dress. I was now only in a thin cotton chemise and my sandals, thrilled from head to foot. He pushed me back on the bed gently, and one by one took my feet in his hands, kissing them lovingly as he pulled my sandals off. He stretched himself out over me again and we resumed our lovemaking until I tingled all over and wished to god he'd take my chemise off.
He heard my wish, evidently, for he sat up again and smiling at me, helped take off this last barrier between our flesh. I blushed again, and felt not a little anxiety, but I saw only appreciation and desire in his eyes as he looked me all over. My heart was racing, as I'd never been in such a situation before, but I didn't want to stop, and was glad when he began to make love to my body, doing things that made me moan with delight. I kissed him greedily when he brought his head up to mine again, and then he finally removed his hose. I wasn't shy of looking at him anymore, and indeed, looked in wonderment. I let him guide my hand, but was thankful he asked for nothing more, for I hardly knew what to do, letting myself move mainly on instinct than anything else.
He sat up, sweating and laughing then, and fearing I had done something wrong I anxiously asked him what. In answer he raised his hands above his head and exclaimed "At last!!" and relieved, I smiled up at him and then wrapped my legs around him as he leant down again. He moved up me then and I tensed.
"Try to relax," he whispered, kissing me and rubbing my hair. I did, and he moved again, there was pain and he was inside of me.
The lead-up had been exquisite, the next part was considerably less so. I gulped and tried to relax again. Despite my arousal, I was small and he was large and it hurt me as he moved inside of me, and I cried a little, but still did not want him to stop. He kissed my tears soothingly and embraced me lovingly, and then we carried the act out until he climaxed. Despite the months of abstinence, and the level of his passion, he lasted a good while, but my body grew only a little used to it by the end.
Afterwards he held me very close, cuddling me and whispering to me softly. I held him just as tight, and wished very much I could tell him how I felt. But for the moment was grateful we'd finally consummated the marriage.
Not long after, he was ready for me again, and I willingly opened my arms to him. And again the lead-up was wonderful, but I still felt pain when it came to the final part. As the night wore on and we made love again and again I gradually became used to it, and even began to enjoy the rhythm and the feel of it. He taught me a good many things that night, and I wanted to stop perhaps even less than what he did. He was glad to find me so insatiable, and enjoyed bringing me pleasure. I recalled Colombine telling me of her own experiences, and of a idea Romani men had which made them very different from all others - the idea that your sexual prowess was obviously greater if you could make a woman scream in ecstasy, and they all prided themselves on being able to do that, and even worked hard towards it. So the night I lost my virginity was a very pleasurable experience, unlike what it might've been had I not been a gypsy girl.
I could hear people stirring outside as we finished once more, and I realised that it was dawn. I was by now, exhausted, and turned contentedly into his arms as he rolled off me. Sweat-drenched and thoroughly satisfied, we happily lay together and listened to those moving outside. After that it wasn't long before I fell asleep.

When I awoke he was smiling down at me, stroking my hair. I smiled back and stretched, pulling his head down for a kiss.
"How do you feel?" I asked him.
"I feel fantastic," he replied, and he looked better than he had in a while. "How about you?"
"Mmm... Much the same. As you that is. Do I have to get up?"
"Yes, you do, my love." He stood up and I saw he was fully dressed. "I've been up for ages."
"Rubbish, I don't believe you!" I laughed, and rolled over, lifting the covers to look at the sheets. There was blood on them and I sighed. "Dang... Oh well, it was worth it."
He looked mightily pleased at that, and I felt a surge of love for him. Again I wished I could tell him, but I swallowed and said nothing. He held up my robe and waved it tantalisingly towards me.
"You'd better come and get your robe..." he said.
"I'm not walking over to you naked!" I retorted, and he laughed.
"Last night you couldn't wait to get naked. Come on now, you have to get up."
"I'll get up alright!" I muttered, and wrapped a sheet around me, laughing at him triumphantly. I swung my legs over the side, and stood up, then gasped in pain. I took a few steps and gasped again. My inner thighs hurt, my lower back hurt and my hips hurt. Clopin looked at me sympathetically.
"Oh yes... You're going to be quite sore for the next day or so, cherie."
"Thanks a lot," I grumbled. I hobbled over to him, and then let the sheets drop. His eyes widened, and he looked at me hungrily, reaching for my waist, but I batted his hands away and snatched my robe back.
"Not now, not with the pain I'm in, you brute."
He shrugged. "Every virgin woman has to go through that the first time, and sometimes for several times after. You'll get used to it."
He pulled me towards him then and we kissed passionately. And if I couldn't say it to him, then I put as much love into my kisses as I could.

After that we couldn't get enough of each other. We took every opportunity we could, and I learned quickly, taking as much pleasure in it as he did. My body became accustomed to the act and the pain faded away. Isabelle, too, faded away. She seemed paltry, insignificant. She knew it too, and was furious. But what she could do? Clopin's now fearlessly cold attitude told her he would take no more of her rubbish, and defeated, she backed down, although I noticed her and her only two friends still caused as much trouble as they could, if they possibly could.
I worried only a short while our new intimacy would ruin our friendship, and was relieved to find it not so. If anything we shared a deeper friendship than before, and I trusted him totally and without fear. I understood more now what Colombine had said about long-lasting passion being inspired by more than beauty.
But, curiously, although I did trust him so, I barely showed it, preferring to keep it to myself. I suppose, at the time, some of my old caution remained yet. My love was a precious secret I guarded to myself, refusing to talk to even Colombine about it, although she pressed me always.
Now that the anxieties of my personal life seemed to be sorted out once and for all, I returned whole-heartedly to my plan. I required more fabric - black and white, and wanted it to be of the same type as the beautiful red velvet I so adored. I was stuck at an idea of how to obtain it however, until I heard along the grapevine that little Cosette's mother (whom she lived with) was a serving maid to one of the wealthy upper-class. That very day Colombine and I snuck out of the Court and cornered poor Cosette in one of the backrooms of the tavern, begging her assistance. Her eyes grew rounder and rounder as we told her what we wanted, and she flushed red all over.
"Lord, I couldn't do that" she nearly wept. "What if I were caught??"
"You won't be caught!" I said, a trifle impatiently. "And just think what fun we'll have."
She looked at me doubtfully. "It doesn't sound very fun to me."
I sighed. "Of course it is. Isn't it, Colombs?"
"Oh absolutely!" she agreed, and we resumed our pleading, pressuring her until the little thing finally agreed.
The next day she met us in the backroom, having crept surreptitiously in with the large bundle under her arms. Her face was flustered and scared and she handed it over with a gulp.
"Here you are. Lord, it's one of the madame's best. Just promise it won't be ruined."
I leapt on the package with a gleeful whoop and grinned a toothy grin at the older girl who seemed so much younger than me.
"I promise, Cosette, it shall be returned in the exact condition it was delivered in. Now, when's your day off?"
"The day after next, but - I don't see - "
"Perfect. You're coming with us, aren't you?"
She turned white with fear. "Oh no no, I couldn't!! I couldn't!! What if someone saw me? What if we were caught??"
"We won't be caught, Cosette!" Colombine and I declared wearily. "Anyway, you have to come with me, ladies always have two serving maids, isn't that so?"
"Yes, I believe it is," Colombine said confidently, before our little lamb could say a word. She still looked doubtful, but I kept insisting.
"Come on, there darling, I am a queen you know, and Clopin loves it when I'm happy. He loves people who make me happy."
She hesitated only a moment longer and then agreed. "Alright. But if anything goes wrong, please say I didn't give you that dress!"
I sniffed. "As if we would, pet. Alright, here's what we're going to do!!"

The day after next Cosette joined Colombine and I in the Court. She was trusted there and allowed to visit, although she seldom did. The tavern was scandalising enough for her, she found the Court positively nerve wracking. The three of us got ready. I was dressed in a very fine and expensive day gown, belonging to the wealthy lady Cosette's mother served. It was white with a pretty red floral pattern, and I praised Cosette her choice. We worked hard at it, arranging it prettily, so the pale red petticoats fell prettily beneath it. We pulled my stubborn voluminous hair up as best we could, and hid it with a beautiful silk bonnet. My face was lightly powdered ,and Cosette had further obliged us by bringing accessories - lace gloves, a fan, pretty slippers and silk stockings. She had stubbornly refused to bring any jewellery, and insisted that we give her the dress back that very afternoon. my neck, wrists and ears felt naked without my jewellery, but I put a brave face on it and helped my two friends prepare themselves. They were dressed in clean white smocks, with pretty and plain blue cotton dresses underneath, white caps on their heads.
Finally we were ready, and we admired ourselves, Cosette catching a little of our mood and daring to smile. I picked up several purses filled with crudely-formed brass coins, and we were ready to go. Sneaking out of the Court with no-one noticing us was difficult, and I remain unsure exactly how we accompanied it. Then we had to hurry quickly down the streets, for it was not common for gentlewomen to walk in that area alone. I had caught the giggles by the time we arrived in the better part of town and Colombine nudged me although I could tell by her face she was trying not to laugh as well. Cosette continued to look incredibly anxious, and so finally I got hold of myself and began playacting my part, ordering her to stop looking like a silly ninny. I told Colombine to stop misbehaving and she was about to retort when she realised it was a part of the game. I began a sedate walk, by head thrown back, my back straight, and my friends scurried obediently after me. We must have made a good impression, for the people moved aside for us on the street, and gentleman tipped their hats - something I had never experienced before, and very much enjoyed. So flanked by two "ladies' maids" we reached our destination - the very same fine cloths store I had been wrongly attacked in.
My heart sped up in anticipation as we entered. I held my fan in front of my face to mask my grin and swept in grandly. The same pasty-faced monkey looked at us from her counter, and her mouth dropped open at what she thought was a noblewoman of sorts. She came hurriedly and humbly forward, smiling a large fishy smile, making a terrible fool of herself.
"Madame, what can I do for you? I have the very best of merchandise here for your pleasure, you need only to say the word. I hope I can be of assistance, I'm so very glad you've come into my store on this fine day." And so it continued as I strutted up and down the aisles, examining the rolls and piles of beautiful fabric. I saw a great deal of stuff I liked there, but I was mindful we had to get the business over with quickly, in case she saw through my disguise. I turned to her abruptly, cutting off her grovelling speeches.
"Velvet," I snapped imperiously. "I require velvet. Extremely fine velvet, only the best will do. I don't suppose you have such fine fabric here?" I finished, staring down my nose at her.
"On the contrary, madame, I am very proud of the fine velvet I stock here," she said hastily, and led me over to the same place that the red velvet I had stolen used to lay.
I ran a lace-gloved finger over what she showed me, as she stood back, a fawning smile of anticipation on her face, and humphed finally. "It will do for my purposes, I suppose. You have this in black and white, I hope?"
"Of course!" she said and hastily got out what I required, wrapping it up for me, grinning that awful smile. So different from the face I had seen before.
"This will do very well for the horse's blankets," I said to her, and she paused, looking at me disbelievingly.
"I beg Madame's pardon, but did she say - "
"Horse's blankets, yes!" I said impatiently, rising my nose in the air. "My husband's horses."
She looked a trifle dazed, and shook her head slightly before continuing. "Begging Madame's pardon further, I'm sure her judgement is excellent, but this is *extremely* fine velvet - "
"And my husband owns extremely fine horses!" I said. "Come now, good lady, I have many things to do today."
I heard a stifled giggle behind me and turned around to observe Colombine covering her face.
"Flora, you will kindly mind your manners!" I snapped at her, and gulping so hard her face flushed red, she bobbed me a curtsy.
"Begging your ladyship's pardon."
"Oh - My Lady - I didn't realise - " the store lady began, but I cut her off again.
"It's of no consequence. May I have my fabric now?"
She finished wrapping it up, giving me an even larger smile, and handed it to me graciously.
I turned to Colombine. "Flora - my purses please."
Still struggling with her laughter, Colombine reached into her basket and withdrew one of the purses. I noticed the storewoman looking at her dark face closely, and to stop any suspicions forming I handed the heavy purse to her.
"That should cover it all, with something extra for your trouble. I've been very pleased here, I shall certainly recommend you to my friends."
"Oh thank you, My Lady! Your Ladyship is far too kind!" she enthused, and I turned, and motioned hurriedly for the others to leave. We did so, and walked sedately (yet very quickly) to the end of the street, turned the corner and broke into a simultaneous run. We ran until we were well clear of the store, and then we paused in an alley, the three of us gasping for breath, feeling very triumphant indeed. Colombine was the first to break our silence but whacking me good-naturedly.
"FLORA?? You called me Flora, you beast!!" 
I laughed. "It was all I could think of. What's the trouble? It's a pretty name!"
"Yes, pretty for an old maid perhaps!!!"
Cosette meanwhile, was clutching her chest.
"I've never had such a terrifying experience in all my life," she gulped. "Not even when those drunk sailors came into the tavern."
We laughed and hugged her and she looked anxiously at me.
"Please tell me you've not gotten that dress dirty."
I pirouetted for her. "Not a mark, see? Now let's get back quickly!! Once she looked in that purse and realised those coins were brass she probably screamed the store down on her head. It will be interesting to hear what comes of it."
"Lord, we're all going to hang!" Cosette moaned as we hurriedly got back to the tavern, the patrons there staring at the "noblewoman" and her two "serving girls" in much astonishment, and went through to the backroom. "That's what's going to come of it!"
Colombine and I were in far too jovial a mood to pay her pessimism any mind, and we danced our way through the Court. We decided to change in Colombine's tent to avoid any questions from Clopin, and when we were done I looked at my velvet proudly.
"Will I ever have stories to tell my grandchildren!" I said triumphantly. I wrapped up the finery carefully and gave it back to Cosette who happily scurried back to return it, and so ease her troubled little mind.
Colombine shook her head as she looked at me. "Your father sure put some fine ideas in your head! You acted the noblewoman like it was your born station in life."
I pouted and began to strut in front of her. "Says you, Madame Grand Duchess! You might recall I am the Queen!! I am royalty, by god! I will bear the royal children! You will call me Your Majesty!"
She laughed so hard she fell off her chair, and spurred on, I continued my preening, and personal exultation, speaking of how they would write about me when I died, how I was esteemed above all other women etc., etc. I heard a cough behind me and whirling around I found Clopin there, looking at me with a great deal of amusement.
"For god's sakes stop encouraging her, Colombine," he told her, as she was still laughing. Then he turned to me, and made me a great low (and very mocking) bow.

 (c) Harley Quinn 1999
(harley_quinn@cheerful.com)
Not to be reproduced without permission.
 

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