Chapter Nineteen

That night I had a very unsettling dream. I was running in the jungles of India, calling for Chester, but Chester wouldn't come. Suddenly the jungles turned into the streets of Paris, the shadows long and dark, my feet bare and cut and my clothes torn, my hair wild as I ran screaming desperately for my friend. 
Suddenly a troop of soldiers passed in front of me, and in the midst of them, carried in a elaborately draped and decorated carriage like the ones in which noblemen and women were borne in India, was Minister Frollo. In my concern for Chester, I turned to run past them, and noticed out of the corner of my eye that he was wearing a cloak of white fur. But I continued on my path, turning into a street I was horrified to observe was strewn with skeletons of both human and animals. At the far end my heart rose suddenly at what I perceived to be Chester: his figure dark, illuminated from behind by a full moon.
Forgetting my horror, I began to clamber over the skeletons which gave way beneath me like quicksand. I struggled to the top in terror, continuing on my way regardless, and observed that the distant figure now looked like Clopin. I called out for him desperately, but was distracted by a skull I saw nearby. It was a tiger skull, and crying piteously, I clambered over the bones which poked and tore at my ragged flesh.
"Chester!" I moaned, but before I could grasp it I heard the cries of babies, coming near from where Clopin stood. I looked towards him and then back at the tiger skull. Again I looked at Clopin, and the cries grew louder. I had the feeling that if I went to Clopin I could silence the babies and Clopin could silence my fear. But nearer to me was the tiger skull, and I took another step forward, more hesitant now. The cries from near Clopin stopped, and I looked around, startled, then jumped again as they restarted, much closer to me.I looked back at the tiger skull and was frightened to see its wide jaws open - and within - I leant down a little looking fearfully into the bone mouth - was that - a baby - ?

I awoke screaming, terrified, drenched in sweat. Feeling something touching me, I lashed out in fear, screaming still. Cool hands were pinning me to the bed, a soft voice hushing me, and as I awakened more I realised it was Clopin, that he was holding my thrashing body to the bed, and I became aware that it had been a dream, and a strangled gasp came from me before I ceased my struggles and he loosed his hold on me, wiping my wet hair from my face, kissing my clammy forehead tenderly.
A light filled the tent and an anxious voice asked Clopin if all was well. He replied that I had had a nightmare. Whoever it was, I was too dazed to place the voice, asked if we needed any assistance and Clopin replied in the negative. I had calmed down somewhat now, and gave myself over to my tears as the light left the tent and we were once more in the soothing dark. Clopin tried to pull me into his arms, but I pushed him away.
"Go away, Dealer of my Humiliation!" I said in a poetically tortured voice, and continued my tears. But he was worried about me, and he went hurriedly to fetch me some water and a cool cloth. Lighting the candelabra next to our bed he forced me to drink a little, then made me take off my sweat-soaked nightdress (the first night in many I had worn one, owing to our fight!) and bathed my body tenderly with the cloth. As angry as I remained at him, it felt nice and was greatly soothing and I forgave him a little for spanking me. I trembled with emotion as he washed me down, his face concerned, his hands gentle. I had never been so greatly affected by a nightmare before, and the tears continued as he dried my body and then brushed my hair, kissing my neck.
Chester had been awakened by my cries and had come over to investigate, looking as concerned as Clopin. I threw my arms around his neck and sobbed again, and he purred against my cheek.
"Oh sure, hug the tiger!" Clopin said jealously, but I ignored him. Finally he bade me release Chester and send the tiger back to bed. He laid me down gently, climbing in beside me and blowing the candles out, and I allowed him to hold me close, the warmth of his body and the sound of his heartbeat very comforting.

The next day he only asked tactfully if I felt better and when I nodded he leant down to kiss me, but I remembered I was angry at him and pushed him away. For the next four days I wouldn't speak to him or let him touch me, until the evening when he brought me a bunch of roses. I was determined to blow that off as well, until he knelt in front of me and kissed my navel passionately, apologising for spanking me in front of other Romani. I smiled, a little cheered, and forgave him. I swallowed my pride and apologised for disobeying him, and he forgave me and then asked if maybe I would not eat these roses, but keep them awhile. I arranged them in a vase cheerfully, and liked the way they made the tent look. We made love on the floor, not being able to wait long enough to get to the bed, and I had to swallow the urge to scream impassioned declarations of love.
When we'd finished he kissed me as he moved to get to his feet, and I tried to pull him back, but he explained he had to go, looking very sorry about it too. But a wicked smile came over his face as he spoke the next words.
"Ma petite, I am very sorry for publicly humiliating you the other day, but please understand your punishment still stands. If you leave the Court without permission you will get another spanking."
And leaving me too grumpy to reply, he kissed my pierced navel and went off to speak to his spies.
The dream still troubled me, though I would not tell Clopin about it, and in mass confusion, I went to Abigail to ask her advice.
"Chester would not eat a baby of mine, would he?" I asked her tearfully and she shook her head vigorously.
"No child, don't even let the thought in your head. He would know if you gave birth and protect your offspring with his life. What the dream tells me is you may be forced to make a choice between those you love most. Be careful, child."
It wasn't exactly good news, but it soothed the worst of my fears. I told her of my punishment and she laughed heartily.
"Oh I know about that!! And not through any hocus pocus either! That was all over the Court within five minutes of it happening!"
I blushed, fiercely humiliated, and later me and Colombine grumbled together over our confinement. When she laughed at the mental image of me being spanked I whacked her hard, and we both fixed Clopin with a death stare upon his coming back. He just laughed at us and shrugged as if to say, "well, what can I do?"
Colombine was mortified she wouldn't be able to see Frederick for awhile, and we had to beg Clopin to send word to Cosette to send word to Frederick that Colombine would not be able to see him for an indeterminate amount of time, Clopin laughing and refusing to say when our punishment would be lifted.
"'Indeterminate', marvellous!" Colombine grouched to me. "He'll think I'm not interested in him anymore."
"If he really cares for you, he will have faith," I tried to console her.
"Ha, it's not that! It's the fabric! The sex!" But I knew she cared about him. I'd only glimpsed the young man once or twice, and he was certainly quite good looking, although he seemed of a very Jean-Luc temparament - quiet and boring in other words, not someone I'd have chosen for her.
Louisa and Henriette, two of the young women who I'd saved from the clutches of the guards, extolled my virtues so vigorously to the other women that Isabelle's spite was rendered quite ineffectual, and they grudgingly accepted me as one of them, finally. I was pleased, though I pretended indifference, Colombine being still my favoured female companion. But I found their company useful at times, and it certainly enabled me to learn even more about the various families and goings on in the Court.
But on the whole me and Colombine now preferred to sulk within the Court on our own. Restless and bored we became quite unsociable, raining curses on Clopin's head as we idled on the stage, looking out over the Court. We were more than a little surprised one day when one of the little girls climbed the steps to approach us, looking nervous yet bold, her chin determined.
"Why, it's little Esmeralda!" I said recognising her. She was very pleased the Queen knew who she was, and flushed with pleasure.
"Salut, Your Highness," she said, giving me an awkward curtsy and I laughed merrily while Colombine grinned from the sidelines.
"Call me Herli, Esmeralda. Come over and sit with us then."
She did, delighted at being able to sit with the big girls, looking proudly down at her little friends who played below us.
"So what brings you to us, Esmeralda?" I asked her, as she blinked her beautiful eyes at us.
"Well, I just wanted to say that I think Clopin is a horrible meanie to lock you up in here."
We both of us moved closer to her then and praised her excellent taste highly.
"You're absolutely right, Esme. Absolutely. He's an awful bully. Don't ever let him tell you what to do," I told her.
"He stifles our feminine creativity, Esmeralda," Colombine confided in her. "He is a brute!"
"A brute amongst brutes!" I agreed.
Colombine snorted scornfully. "Don't listen to Herli's words too hard, Esmeralda. She says them all very vigorously now, but she'll still return quite happily to his bed tonight!"
I poked her. "Don't say such things to a small girl, you wicked woman!"
She shrugged. "It's true. She's better to listen to me. At least I mean it when I curse him."
Esmeralda giggled, thrilled to be our confidante. Rather shyly she spoke to me next. "I saw you tease the soldiers once, I thought you were very clever and funny. You were beautiful too."
I was now very fond of Esmeralda indeed and pulled her onto my lap. "Thank you, my little darling. You're a wonderful child. If only you could convince my husband it was so."
She smiled, then pouted and looked thoughtful. Colombine and I continued to banter with one another, continuing to idle the day away. Finally in a fit of boredom, I got up and began to dance, preferring it very much in the long flowing dress I wore. Esmeralda stood up and watched me happily and when I finished she clapped her hands, delighted.
"Oh I'd love to be able to dance like that!" she said joyfully. A thought struck me then and I exclaimed, "Well now, that gives me an idea!"
Colombine, who was outstretched with her chin in her hands, groaned and covered her face. "Oh no. You sound like Clopin when you say that!! What's the master plan, dare I ask?"
I laughed and skipped over to her. "Nothing dangerous. We'll just teach Esmeralda to dance!"
She looked a little interested at that, although not altogether convinced, but with mine and Esmeralda's pleading, she finally agreed. Esme was ecstatic. The lithe graceful little thing intrigued me, and Colombine and I filled our boring spare hours teaching her tricks and the beautiful rhythm of dance. She was an enchanting creature, with her large green eyes and curly black hair. Both of us could see she would become not only a great beauty but an exquisite dancer, and we joked with each other if perhaps we should cease her education, for fear it would take the limelight off us. Esmeralda's bold nature and sophisticated turn of phrase reminded me of myself as a child, but she had nothing of my haughtiness or conceit. She adored Chester, and longed for a pet of her own.
"I would teach him tricks to do with me," she told us, dreamily. I laughed, and remembered my own childhood days, teaching Chester. It was now far below his dignity to do tricks.
I had more or less forgotten my nightmare by now, although sometimes it would creep up on me during the day, catching me unawares. I kept shrugging it off, however, determined to ignore the feeling of dread it caused within me.
Colombine was right, I was very two-faced, for while I merrily insulted Clopin with her, I would still rush home to cook his dinner for him, or join him in bed, or just listen and talk with him. I loved for him to sing to me, letting that voice caress every inch of my body, it never ceased to arouse the same ecstatic flush in me it had the first day I heard it. He very quickly realised it's power over me, and would use it whenever I began to be difficult, much to my despair.
Clopin told me that suspicions of spies had been re-awakened, following an attack on a gypsy caravan harbouring wanted thieves, and I thought with a start of Jean-Luc's continuously odd behaviour, and remembered too that Esmeralda had told me just that afternoon in childish innocence that she had seen Jean-Luc leaving Isabelle's tent, which was just near her mother's. I voiced my concerns to Clopin who said with a frown he doubted Jean-Luc was a traitor, but perhaps the matter was worth looking into.

Thanks to my hard work my home was now a beautiful, comfortable clean haven and the envy of the other women. Clopin loved it, and I thought how proud my mother would be could she see it. I could think of my family without too much of a pang now, although it still hurt. I was careful not to neglect my magik studies, and continued to slave away at them. I knew I would never be as good as some of the witches in the court, but I could become very skilled if I worked hard. After my nightmare, I almost ceased the pratice, but I changed my mind again, and kept on with it, learning various remedies and spells, and how to help influence a person's thoughts. Again, I practised using these with care. They were not necessary to everyday life, and so I kept them in check.
There were only a few people whose minds were closed to me - Abigail of course, being one of them and Isabelle another. This unsettled me because I didn't like the thought of her being so powerful. But as Clopin barely even noticed if she were around, I tried to not let it worry me. I was thrilled to observe I was the sole object of his gaze wherever we were, the only object of his passion, he told me willingly and with much enthusiasm. It wasn't as good as telling me he loved me, but to be the one woman he had to be with was a satisfying alternative.
It was around the middle of June that I felt some changes to my body. My breasts were tender, and swollen, my stomach felt unsettled. It being around the time my curse was due, I thought nothing much of it, and it wasn't until two weeks later I realised my time had not arrived. I hardly dared believe it was possible, not even when I spent the next several weeks throwing up of a morning, and feeling otherwise not very well. Clopin was in a panic and in typical over-dramatic fashion, thought I had been poisoned, as I still did not have the confidence to tell him what I thought it was. I finally agreed to let Abigail examine me and she chuckled happily at the end of it.
"You know what it is, don't you child?"
I nodded. "Well, at least I thought it might've been."
She held my hand tight, and her eyes were bright. "It is."
"What what?" Clopin asked, having refused to leave during my examination, hopping up and down. We both looked at him and then at each other and laughed.
"You laugh? You laugh at a time like this!?" he exclaimed, tearing at his hair. I sat up and pulled him into my arms, loving him more than ever at that moment.
"Times like this are usually occasion for joy!" I told him, resting my head happily against his chest. "You big oaf! Haven't you guessed? I'm going to have my babies!"
He only stared at me, stunned for a moment, before a large smile spread across his face.
"Really?" he whispered, hardly daring to believe it himself.
I nodded, feeling femininely sentimental, and crying as I cupped his face in my hands and smiled at him. He kissed me passionately before giving a huge whoop of joy, gathering me very gently and carefully into his arms, before running out of the tent at full speed. I clutched his neck and laughed while he shouted for all to hear.
An impromptu party was held in the center that night, the entire court in extremely high spirits. Tante Marie bawled for joy, Colombine danced in a joyous frenzy, even Abigail left her tent, something she rarely did, to join in the festivities. Everyone was full of congratulations, and Clopin's chest was swelled to burst. He treated me as a precious doll, piling cushions high to give me a seat of honor, and getting everyone to drink to me - for getting pregnant so quickly he joked. But when he leaned over to kiss me he whispered he just needed a good excuse to throw a party for me, and I let myself believe for a change it was love I saw in his eyes.
He insisted on carrying me back to the tent, and when he laid me down on the bed, I saw the usual fire of desire in his eyes, but he turned away from me, swallowing deeply. I laid a hand on his and told him Abigail had said it would be safe until the fifth month, and he turned back eagerly and happy, though he controlled himself more than usual, being incredibly gentle and tender. Yet even at this controlled pace it was some of the most intense and passionate lovemaking we'd yet had, and I knew instinctively that the joy over the babies was more than satisfaction at the procuring of heirs, we were both of us thrilled to have made something together, something in this way.

In his happiness, Clopin lifted Colombine's punishment from her, and she thanked me happily for getting pregnant before darting off to become reacquainted with her darling Frederick. I, on the other hand, was told I must stay under, Clopin didn't want me getting sick.
"It's the middle of summer!" I exclaimed, disbelieving. He just shook his head stubbornly. In the end I didn't mind so much. The pregnancy was hard on me with morning sickness that often left me weak for much of the day. It also gave me opportunity to work baby clothes, and Clopin demanded other colors besides red. I knew I was having twins, but I didn't know if they would be male or female, and so made plenty of both kinds. Clopin pulled an exaggerated grimace when he saw the little girl's clothes that were beginning to evolve under my hands.
"You're not having boys?" he asked in dismay.
I rolled my eyes at him. "I have to be prepared for both, love. Don't worry. My mother had lots of boys. Probably I will too."
He cheered up at that, and pulled my sewing from my hands, kneeling before me, his face alight with eagerness.
"I have a little gift for you, my love," he said to me, happily. "It's extremely special. You have to love it forever."
I laughed. "I will always love anything you give me, no matter what it is."
He kissed me, and withdrew a little box from the hidden pockets in his clothes. He thought a minute, then pulled his gloves off, the smooth brown skin of his large hands pleasing me to look at, as his elegant fingers fumbled with the latch on the box.
"This is a gift of love from me to you," he informed me, and my heart leapt. "So both my flesh and yours must touch it."
Opening the box, he withdrew something on a slender gold chain and I gasped in pleasure. It was a pendant of a full gold sun and a sickle moon, joined together. Catching it in my hands and looking at it closely, I realised the gold and silver were genuine. It was prettily engraved, and although very simple, polished highly so it shone and sparkled, and the craftsmanship was excellent. I held it in my hands, admiring it, and Clopin pointed out for me:
"You see, the sun and the moon. Man and woman. Different as the times they inhabit, but in eternal harmony and rhythm. Do you like it?"
"Oh Clopin, it's beautiful!" I sighed, beginning to cry. My emotions were in turmoil since becoming pregnant and there was little I could to do to stop them. "It's the nicest thing I've ever been given! I could die!"
He chuckled gently, enjoying playing the hero; he kissed the pendant, then pressed it to my lips for me to kiss and fastened the chain around my neck. 
"Here, don't cry, you adorably silly woman," he soothed me, his breath warm and sweet on my neck, and in another sudden swing I kissed him passionately, my arms strong about his waist.

There was only one woman in the whole of the Court who did not seem pleased at my situation, and I've no doubt you've already guessed her name. Still, Isabelle made a good pretence of it one day, bringing over a picnic hamper laden with food and asking if I cared to lunch with her.
I could only stare at her dumbly for a moment, completely disbelieving the request. Her sly cat's smile on its own told me there had to be more to it than a friendly lunch, but her mind and heart (if she had one) were, as always, impenetrable.
"Why?" I asked her finally, suspiciously. She shrugged, not put off by my attitude.
"Because I've been simply awful to you. It's time I realised my place and made amends."
I knew as well as she did that this was rubbish, so I continued to stare coldly at her. She smiled, seeing my apathy, and retracting nothing added, "As well as that, I have some very interesting things to talk to you about. Things you'll want to hear."
It was pure curiosity that made me lay aside my sewing and prepare to go out. I knew this woman bore me nothing but ill will, but I wanted to see what she had to say. I checked to make sure Clopin was nowhere near about to forbid me from going, although I was sure he'd left to perform today, and got dressed in an outdoor dress quickly.
Joining Isabelle, I was surprised to find Chester follow me. He knew he couldn't leave the Court unless I said so. But following his gaze, I realised what had attracted him. He was staring daggers at Isabelle who looked at his large snarling mouth with as much apprehension as I'd ever seen her show. The three of us stood in front of my tent, I looking from the noble cat to the sly cat in human clothing, they looking at each other, the one in dislike the other in fear. Chester didn't trust Isabelle, that much was clear, and I praised him inwardly his animal instincts and obvious good taste. I moved forward to join her nonetheless, and Chester broke his gaze to press against me beseechingly.
I turned to him, cupping his handsome furry face in my hands. "My darling, you're right to not trust this girl," I whispered to him softly. "But do not fear. I'll be fine, I promise. I'll eat none of her food. Go back to the tent now."
But he refused to go. Instead he sat down firmly on his haunches and watched us as we left. I bade her make sure the latch on the door was fastened securely; I wasn't sure he could resist the temptation to follow me. I should've checked it myself.
Isabelle and I walked in silence, not even pretending civility, until we came to the same bridge Clopin and I had sat under often. Here the sly cat stopped and set her basket down. The day was humid, the wind still and hot. I noticed, as I had a few times before, that Isabelle had put on a considerable amount of weight. She didn't strike me as the type who would allow herself to get fat, but there it was. Perhaps Clopin's rejection had depressed her. I settled myself down on the soft grass also, and we observed each other for a few moments, as she laid out the food. I refused what she offered me and she laughed.
"It isn't poisoned. Like I said, I wanted only to talk."
"So talk."
She munched her bread and cheese, looking at me thoughtfully, her older, darker face aglow with malice that was as much a part of her expression as her pouting lips. She swallowed and then spoke.
"So this child you bear, it is Clopin's isn't it?"
I bristled inwardly, but was careful to keep my outward demeanour as calm and indifferent as hers. "It would be no-one else's."
She smiled. "So you two finally got around to it, then? Just as well. Any longer and he'd be mine as we speak."
If there had been any pretence to begin with it dissipated entirely now. Boldly, I picked up a slice of the bread and cheese, and chewed it as she did. When I finished I spoke to her.
"Two words, my dear." I leaned in close and breathed in her face, "You wish."
A small flicker in her eyes. "Do I?"
I took another bite. "Yes. Clopin doesn't even look at you now. Half the time he doesn't notice you're there."
Another small flicker. "I have to commend you on that spell."
"I don't need spells to hold a man's attention."

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

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