Chapter Eighteen

He sniffed at me, "A child is very different, cherie. I'm much more a suitable companion for you."
"Have you no sympathy for him at all?"
"Of course I have cherie, but he is not a charge in my care, and I don't intend him to be either. And I know you well enough to know you're entertaining mere fancy now, I doubt you'd feel the same after a couple of weeks of constant demands and cries for attention and play. Especially seeing as how you've not borne him yourself. And we have plenty to do, and worry about as it is. Come on. Let's put the child to bed and go."
"I'm sure I could have help to care for him. I needn't look after him myself. I just don't think it's fair he should become a social outcast."
Clopin dragged me to my feet, the boy with me. "NOW, Herli."
"Alright," I grumbled, and smiled again at the boy, taking him by his hand. He led me eagerly inside, smiling happily, having already identified us as new friends. I felt bad that we were deceiving him so, but could tell from the stubborn line of Clopin's mouth he would not be moved on this decision. The boy led us to a dark room in the top of the belltower, lit only by a small candle. He limped in front of me eagerly, showing me his bed and three of the weather-worn stone gargoyles, that had evidently been removed from the parapets for some reason. He had begun to talk, his childish speech babbling incoherently from his mishapen mouth, but I followed the best I could. I saw on the walks many childish drawings in charcoal, and grinned wickedly at Clopin.
"For a boy of three, he is quite an artist. Better than you were, and you were older!" He only snorted, but I saw him look at the drawings carefully. They were good for such a small boy, and I noticed with disgust that there were no other toys for the boy here to play with. I picked up a lump of wood, and an idea hit me then. Eagerly I pulled out my small fine dagger concealed beneath my skirts, and handing both it and the chunk of wood to Clopin, urged him - 
"Here, carve the boy a toy. Show him how you do it!"
Clopin just looked at me, jaw open, evidently thinking I had finally gone mad. But I shoved them on him, and in defeat he took them and sighing, sat down at the table, beckoning to the boy to come closer. His skilled hands quickly carved a little figure from the wood, with smiling face and belled cowl, and he handed it to the delighted boy who looked at in amazement.
"Leave him my dagger," I said to Clopin. He shook his head at me.
"The boy will cut himself, for god's sakes!"
"Damn you! If you won't let me take him where he can have toys of his own, at least give him the means to make them!"
I snatched the dagger from him, and handed it to the child. The boy took it and another piece of wood, and with infinite care began to copy the actions he had seen Clopin do a moment before.
"See, he is careful! He is smart!" I leaned over to the boy and pointed to the knife. "This is very sharp. You must be very careful not to cut yourself."
The boy nodded, and I touched his cheek, smiling.
"What's your name, little one?"
The boy hesitated and then answered, "Quasimodo."
"No, what's your name? What are you called by those who know you?"
He looked at me blankly for a moment and then said again, "Quasimodo."
"You are called this? Quasimodo?"
Again a hesitation and then a nod. I looked at Clopin who sighed and raised his shoulders helplessly.
"Oh yes, it's much better to leave the boy here where his very name is "half-formed"!!"
He gave another sigh and shook his head. "Things happen for a reason, my love. It's not our place to interfere. Now let's go."
I took his hand and smiled sadly at the boy who watched us now, with a stricken expression, dagger in one hand, half-formed and lumpy clump of wood in the other. He gave a little cry that wrenched at my heart, and I saw a flicker of emotion on Clopin's face, but he dragged me firmly away as I promised the boy we would visit again.
When we reached the bottom Clopin shook his head at me.
"We're not visiting again, Herli. It's not our place. We have our own lives."
"But - "
"End of discussion. Come on."

Although I sulked that night, I did find myself so busy with the activities of the Court that I could scarcely spare the boy a thought after that. I did wonder about him sometimes, but the Cathedral was such a remote and distant place, our moonlight meeting so brief, that I did without very much concern or worry. After Abigail told me that the boy had his place in our future and we should leave things as they were, I let him slip from my mind with a clear conscience.
But even that brief encounter had been enough to awaken the maternal instincts within me, and I began to fill a small part of my day playing with the Court children. It was as yet only a small part of my day, as I was always busy caring for our tent, filling it with pretty possessions Clopin lamented we didn't need, but which were pleasing to look at, fooling around with Colombine, practising the magik Abigail was graciously teaching me, and continuing of course to work on my plan. If you hadn't already guessed, my plan was simply to perform once more on the streets, but under a mask so that no-one should see my visage. Add to this cooking, sewing and cleaning, helping Clopin in the development of the Court, and providing my husband with support, friendship, love and physical gratification, and I was a very busy woman.
Abigail had "ascertained" that the skill I would exceed in was perception. She claimed that now I had opened my heart up I could obtain a high ability to see into the hearts of others, or at the least, perceive their deeper feelings. So apart from the simple skills of preparing medicines and spells I was taught the far more difficult skills of casting a circle from which to pursue the thoughts and feelings of others and opening my mind to revealing dreams. It was frustrating, for so long had my mind been closed and unreceptive to those around me, it was hard work to get it limber and working again. But I pursued it doggedly, and Abigail was pleased at my progress.
Clopin further developed the Court, adding to it as whimsy struck, and we were all impressed by his efforts. Our people grew to love and admire him as they had few leaders before him. The only negative aspect of it was giving him a higher recognition, something not exactly desirable at the moment. I guessed that part of his strategy was to bring all the Romani together, to give them a sense of us sticking together and existing in our own right as a people, inspiring in them a sense of comradeship and loyalty and discouraging possible spies and traitors. I questioned him about it and he had hugged me fiercely to him.
"I should've known you would see," he whispered to me and kissed me passionately. With my new sight I could swear it was love, but I did not want to give myself so much credit, not yet.
And all the while Isabelle hovered in the background, her face ugly with hatred, her words poison which she dripped into the ears of the gypsy girls. As silly and impetuous as many of them were, most were smart enough to ignore her. But she had her supporters. For the most part she left Clopin and I alone, but she and her girls expressed loud displeasure in the increasingly static nature of the Court. They claimed it was better we remained nomad. Though she never attacked me directly herself, she had her few friends try to continue the resentful attitude towards me, which had rapidly begun to dissipate as the girls lost interest. But never having been particularly friendly with those girls anyway, I didn't care at all. I was quite content with Colombine's sole company.
I noticed Jean-Luc's continuing discomfort and finally questioned Clopin about it. His reply was a shrug, he had noticed the change as well, but found nothing to attribute it too. He supposed it had something to do with his family, not within the Court.
"For he is not one of us, you know, cherie," he told me.
"No? Really? I would never have guessed!" I replied with sarcasm and he tickled me.
"Speaking of the gadje, doubtless you know Colombine's amour is one of them?"
I nodded. Colombine's acquaintance with Frederick, her supplier of glorious black and white garments, had continued and developed into quite a passionate love affair. Between the two of us becoming so involved with the men in our lives we did not have as much time together anymore, but grew no further apart as a result of it.
"She tells him nothing, my sweet. He is a good man, from what I can tell, but she does not share our secrets with him."
"I know, she is not so stupid as that Herli! It will be interesting to see what becomes of it though."

Another month passed and all remained well within the Court. The heat from the soldiers began to die down as they grew bored with consistent failure. I learned that this was a regular occurrence. The direct pressure from Frollo never really dissipated, but the concentrated efforts were only so as long as Frollo's fury was at its peak. The moment it calmed somewhat, and the soldiers realised they were going to have no luck, they stopped bothering, until the next time one of us invoked Frollo's greatest anger.
Clopin still tried to get me to remain hidden beneath, but I continued to disobey, my argument being that if he had the right to distress me so by disappearing regularly, than that right was mine also. Besides which, I was determined to give Chester the fresh air and exercise he so needed. It was true, I loved stirring Clopin up as well.
We could read each other marvellously well now. He knew when I was homesick, when I was frustrated or upset over something. Likewise I could see the same in him, from the gestures he made, the things he said or did. We were a continual source of comfort and support to each other, not needing to enquire about the other's whereabouts to know instinctively where we would be. I suppose you could say we looked after each other, but more than in a physical sense. We were also the protectors of each other's mental stability!
My strength of perception grew and Colombine, Tante Marie, Christophe, Bethan and many others grew irritated with my accurate diagnosis and predictions, as I practised on them. I began to have enlightening dreams frequently, but found also that the powers descended on me far too quickly. It then required a great deal of effort to control them so that they came only when they were bidden. I knew as well as any that to constantly use them could only lead to disaster - we're not meant to know all things. As tempted as I was to read Clopin's heart, I forbade myself. I wanted him to tell me himself, when he could. But finally I had them under control and employed them only when I had a matter of some importance to pursue. The dreams came whether I wished them or not, but as yet they remained optimistic.

My costume and practice was complete. I was ready to begin performing. I had of course kept all my preparation secret from Clopin, but he had noticed the development of my muscles, my increased energy and he knew that I shared some secret with Colombine. But all his cleverest efforts to discover what it was inevitably failed. Spying on me failed, bribing Colombine failed, swearing he wouldn't sleep with me anymore failed (he couldn't keep that one for a day!), threatening me with a spanking completely failed, threatening to confiscate all my jewellery and clothes almost worked but I saw from the twinkle in his eye he was bluffing, so my secret remained hidden. Had he chosen simply to go through my trunk he would've found the costume and doubtless put two and two together, but he respected me too much for that.
So the day I crept out of the Court with my cloak wrapped tightly around me Clopin was unaware of my intentions. I rubbed my hands with glee on the streets and chose the Town Square to begin. My costume was designed to be striking, and it grabbed the attention of all as I cartwheeled into the Center. It was a red, black and white Jester's costume, with a belled cowl and hood, alternating black and white diamonds and large panels of red, all made from my luscious stolen velvet. Concealed in the costume were many Romani devices to aid me in my craft, and with my hair hidden and my face masked, I knew it was highly unlikely I would be recognised.
And so I cartwheeled in, an explosion of color and energy, and exclaimed my greetings to the crowd, my lyre strapped over my shoulder, my jester's wand tucked into my belt. What I had planned was simply a - variety show. Singing, dancing, jokes, mockery and a few small illusions. With my heart thudding a hundred times faster than usual at the thrill of having a captive audience I put everything I had into my performance, and was well pleased with myself. The audience lapped it up, street performers in this style being unusual when it wasn't festival time, and my velvet purse was filled quickly. I disappeared in a puff of smoke to reappear at the other end of the square to be observed by an all-new audience. I couldn't help but notice that several of the previous spectators came over to watch again.
I had practised very hard and it was paying off, although I could feel places needed improvement - the quickness of my wit for example. But working off the working class folk who watched, and the small children who grew delighted with what I did, I gave several quite good performances of mixed content, keeping my eyes peeled for Clopin, knowing he would see directly through the disguise.
But that day he didn't trouble me, so every day that I could (and I couldn't every day) I reappeared in different parts of the town to entertain, and I grew in skill and content. The typical structure of my show involved me making a dazzling entrance of some type - appearing in a cloud of smoke, somersaulting off a roof, something of that nature. This was followed by a humorous greeting to the gathering crowd, from whence I burst into song, playing my lyre. For the opening I usually did a humorous song, to warm the crowd up. I would then make jokes - usually using members of my audience as punchlines. From there I would relate the town's juiciest gossip in parody and caricature, then do a little dance as I again would sing. Perhaps then I would juggle, or perform some acrobatic feats to entrance. I would finish up with a simple story and song, before bowing and moving on. Many of the town children grew to recognise me and would herald my approach. I had other regular viewers too, most common amongst them errand-running wives, seeking a bit of light relief in their busy day.
No-one knew who I was of course, and because of my still fairly fair complexion, I rarely heard the word "gypsy". Most guessed I was just a wandering entertainer who'd decided the best pickings were in Paris. Few but the most pig-headed men commented on the fact that I was a solitary woman. My fame grew amongst the common folk, and many suggested, in their common naivete, I take my act to the Palace. That idea amused me, though I knew it wasn't possible. I enjoyed my fame, the only downside being that my choice of costume and performance did not give me much opportunity to show off any kind of sensual femininity, but I comforted myself that a performance content and costume can always be reviewed at a later date. At any rate, my purses were always full now, and Clopin often commented on my smug expression when he returned of an evening, demanding to know where I was and what I had been doing. I promised to tell him soon, and told him I had been in no trouble. He trusted me and let me off the hook.

I had been performing for a couple of weeks when my first opportunity to act on the second part of my plan arose. I was juggling a variety of a nearby street vendor's fruit, when out of the corner of my eye I espied some approaching soldiers. They were a common sight in Paris, and I, in my full body disguise, was never alarmed by them, but on this day they dragged a gypsy girl between them. I recognised her. It was Louisa, one of the nicer of the Court's younger women. Knowing her as I did, I doubted very much that she had done anything to earn their escort, and keeping one eye on my juggling, and the other fixed firmly on them, I waited until they drew closer. When they were within range, I rounded the fruit off so they sailed in a straight arc over the heads of the spectators, one by one hitting the lower back of the nearest guard. He yelped in surprise, as I took a running leap and somersaulted up on to a signpole, sticking horizontally from a store front. It was a slippery and slim landing surface to say the least, but I managed to grip on with my feet and when the soldiers spied me I made them a grand sweep and mocking bow before back-flipping off to land neatly on my feet, both perfectly healed.
They let Louisa go, and moved menacingly towards me, but I pretended as though it had all been part of the act, and halting them with an outsretched hand, continued my tricks. I balanced my Jester's wand on my chin and resumed my juggling. They stopped and watched me in spite of themselves, laughing when I deliberately dropped the new pieces of fruit (whilst the vendor groaned) and made a sad and doleful face, in direct discordance with my painted smile. Grinning at them in encouragement, I took a watermelon in each hand and flipped easily over to where they both stood. Nudging one in feigned confidence, I smashed one watermelon over his companion's head. The other soldier laughed at his friend and then gasped as the other fruit was brought down over his. The audience roared their approval, watching the procedings eargerly. While they stumbled about, pulling the pieces of fruit from their face, and wiping the juice from the eyes, I darted nimbly to the side, and whipping my lyre out, began to play a well-known song about the stupidity of soldiers.
Aware now that they were very much the butt of my jokes, they drew their swords and charged. I made them a hasty bow, before drawing a handful of pellets from my fingers and flinging them down, using the smoke to make good my escape. And throughout it all I had been very careful to not utter a word.

So I continued in this way. If a soldier should be unfortunate enough to be picking on an innocent nearby me, he was quickly made a fool of. I had a new fame now - notoriety. But I had managed still to keep secret my identity. I used my perception to anticipate a soldier's actions, and this way, kept always two steps ahead of them. I was recognised by many where I went as not only a street performer, but the defender of gypsies and truants. Abigail knew what I was up to and scolded me fiercely, but I could see she was pleased nonetheless, apparently not seeing any impending danger in my actions. Only a few of the Romani picked up on who it was in the elaborate Jester's costume, and they thanked me and promised not to tell Clopin.
Somehow he had been so distracted with the Court he had managed to miss the gossip of the mysterious masked "femme fou", and I was glad. He might be pleased I was performing, but actively seeking out soldiers to torment was another matter entirely. He'd be furious.
With my new found wealth I was able not only to stock myself generously up on jewellery clothes and ornaments, but I bestowed gifts upon my closest friends lavishly. I bought new cloths for Abigail, replacing her old worn tools with new ones (the tools used for magik were left as a high degree of personalisation is essential for the craft), and a new ladle and pot for Tante Marie who bemoaned the only thing she wanted was for me to have a baby. Her lamentations were silenced by a new carved chest though. Colombine got glorious jewellery (cheap of course, I was not so rich I could afford the real thing!) and I delighted her by furnishing her bed with a huge black and white coverlet, cushions and sheets, folding all of her costumes up and putting them away in her trunks. She pursed her lips and looked at her bed in bewilderment.
"I'd forgotten what my bed looked like without all my costumes on it. With those covers it looks just the same!" And we laughed and danced.
We went through our jewellery collection and found a large bronze hoop. We christened Cosette an honorary gypsy and then furnished her in appropriate clothing. She looked at her reflection, did a little dance, laughing and then blushed. But we could see she was pleased.
I bought Jean-Luc a new hat to try and get the doleful expression off his face, and it did lift momentarily at the gift, before returning again. Chester got his own embroidered coverlets, and I bought him a sturdy brush as his old one was beginning to be worn out, and a large bronze collar he wore with pride.
As for Clopin - Clopin I bought anything that caught my eye I thought he would like. Buying fabric (I had wisely stopped going near Monkey-Face's store, sticking mainly to the market as they stocked themselves with object d'art more to my taste), I, on a whim, created for him a "King's" outfit of black and red and white, with a long flowing cloak trimmed in ermine. I kept my word and paid for the restorations on his cart, as he had cautiously begun going out again. He was delighted with my attentions, although not a little curious as to how I was obtaining all these things, in particular the money. It was extremely hard work to distract him from those questions and refocus his attention, and I knew I would have to tell him sooner or later. He was only letting it go now because he knew how badly I wanted my secret, but he wouldn't stay patient forever.
The only thing that kept me from telling him was the undoubted argument we would get into over my trouble-making, and I didn't want that.

But of course, my actions couldn't remain secret forever. In eluding one guard who was in better condition than the others, he managed to snatch my cowl from my head, revealing my fiery red hair to the world. Not wanting to lose part of my costume, I swung around a pole, kicking him in the chest, and retrieving it to dart hastily back to the Court by the most complicated route I knew.
After I changed, and cooled myself down, I wondered if many had observed my hair and if it would lead to my being discovered. It was discovery by Clopin I feared, and I had had the misfortune of counting Jehan and his friends in my audience that day. If Clopin should stop in the tavern, they would doubtless mention a red-and-black-clad street performer with red hair who caused trouble for the guards. Clopin would of course realise who it was immediately.
But I told myself not to speculate, what were the chances of him going to the Tavern? Extremely high, I thought with gritted teeth. But perhaps he wouldn't realise. What were the chances of that? Extremely low.
But I forced myself not to worry and begun along the way to visit Colombine. Even if he did go to the tavern, his drinking would take him a few hours, enough time for me to work out a plan of some sort. At any rate, he couldn't possibly be angry at me. Most of what I did was legitimate performing, just conveniently taking place at the same time soldiers were making unjust arrests, thereby allowing their captives to escape. No he had no right to be angry. That would just be silly of him, I was sure he would see reason - 
There was a sudden kerfuffle in a corner of the Court, not far from where I stood, followed quickly by a bellowed -
"WHERE IS MY WIFE?!?!?!"
I gulped. That voice could only belong to one man, and the ferocity of its tone struck a very nervous bone in my body. I could hear indignant shouts as Clopin pushed his way through the Romani of the Court, making his way to our tent, which I was not as yet very far from. In a moment of panic I ducked behind one of the tents, watching as he appeared so fast he was practically a blur, throwing upon the entrance to out tent and disappearing within. I cringed as I heard him throw cushions and bed covers around, supposedly looking for me, and then the entrance was flung open again, and he emerged, a huge frown of anger on his face. I ducked back but he saw me, and giving a shout of mixed anger and triumph, started towards me. I broke cover and ran for my life.
"HERLIKIN, COME BACK HERE NOW!" he shouted.
"No!!" I threw back at him over my shoulder and continued to run, leaping over tent-strings and pegs, ducking around other Romani who followed me with amazed eyes, Clopin ever hot on my heels, his long legs covering a lot of distance. Filled with a terrified thrill I leapt over a wooden bench, and ducked down behind some barrels. I heard Clopin arrive then, breathing heavily.
"Where is my wife?" he demanded of the few Romani who sat nearby, but they were too startled by the sudden events to answer him straight away. It didn't matter. He took a wild guess and pounced on me behind the barrels. I gave a shriek and struggled, but he was stronger, and pulled me out. Dragging my struggling, protesting form to the bench he sat down, threw me over his lap and began to spank me soundly.
Clopin is not a lady-beater, that I have always known, and a spanking is as far as his "beatings" will go. But I, who had not known what to expect, was still stunned at his choice of punishment, embarrassed at being treated like a child, and I struggled helplessly, crying out in outrage.
When he finished he stood up, letting me fall to the ground mercilessly, and I saw to my mortification the nearby gypsies chuckling, trying to hide it. Clopin picked me and threw me over his shoulder then with me punching and kicking all the way, he ignoring it, we went back to our tent, the others looking at us in amazed mirth.
Once there I was thrown roughly down on the cushions, while he went through my trunks. He found the Jester's costume and held it up in grim triumph, looking imposingly down at me. I brushed it off and leapt to my feet yelling at him.
"How dare you embarrass me like that! Don't you ever lay a hand on me again! Who do you think you are?"
"Your husband. And when I tell you to behave yourself, then damn it, I expect you to behave!"
He flung my costume to the ground and I gathered it protectively to myself. If he destroyed it I would never forgive him and I said as much with my defiant stare.
He knelt down in front of me, shaking a finger in my face. "Now you listen. Had you told me you wanted to go out and perform, that is fine, it's wonderful. I guessed you were doing as much when you started to come home with all this money. But deliberately antagonising guards is not just endangering you, it's endangering us all. Not to mention you. Yes, I did repeat myself. Can't you understand anything, you silly woman? They hate us up there!! They would just as soon hang you as look at you, and you're deliberately arousing their anger. You're not thinking before you act, you foolish girl!"
So saying he smacked a hand against my forehead. I shoved him away angrily, and resisted the urge to leap on him, and bite him hard.
"Don't you lay a hand on me!" I sputtered. "I knew what I was doing or I would never have done it!!"
"No, you think you know what you're doing. You're deliberately going against things I told you not do for your own good. I'm the only one allowed to take risks in this Court!" I didn't laugh at his joke, but he didn't care. "Because you have to insist on being so stupid, I have no choice but to ban you altogether from performing until I decide you can again. This is not a rule being imposed for your own safety, it's just a punishment for acting like an idiot!"
"You can't ban me from performing!"
His look was wryly amused. "Oh yes I can."
"Stop treating me like a child!"
"Stop behaving like one!!"
"I wasn't! I was only performing. I only took advantage of a situation if it was there, I never actually sought it out."
"That may be so, but nonetheless you should never have done it to begin with. I know Colombine encouraged you and the same punishment applies to her. This is for your own good."
I hated him treating me like a child, speaking to me like a parent. He reached out his arms to pull me to my feet but I slapped them away, incensed.
"I said don't lay a hand on me!"
He stood up from his kneeling position, shaking his head. "You can be angry as you want, cherie, I'm not going to go back on what I've said. If you leave the Court without permission you can expect another spanking."
I pulled a shoe off and threw it at him in rage. He caught it before it hit him, dropped it, and with a despairing look, left me to my sulk.

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

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