Chapter Two


Then it was the jugglers, and I the little accomplice who jumped and danced and was generally a nuisance, all to no success for they never dropped a ball. The audience laughed heartily at the end when I became the ball they passed from one to the other, and then they clucked approvingly when I got up and juggled, first three, then four, then five, all the way up to nine objects. I dropped one at the end, deliberately, then all the others in a go and made a great fuss of failure for the audience to laugh at as they pretended to drag me offstage.
It was typical fare, the kind of thing you'd fine in any travelling troupe over the country. 
We had a few dwarfs perform acts of comedic value, we had a couple of men and women dazzle with a few illusions - nothing the gypsies marvelled at, for they were experts in illusion also. I amazed with my menagerie - in particular my python Murray and my little white Bengal tiger Chester.who caused a great stir on accout os his fur being like new fallen snow), my flocks of parrots and little Divil my monkey.(Indians were the first to discover just how intelligent monkeys and parrots truly are).The great rapport I shared with these creatures was obviously apparent, and the gypsies were silent until the end, where I got the parrots to fly up in front of my little stage and I used a quick trick to disappear from view, where they praised me wildly.
The final act was one my father had worked out for myself and him, and involved our beloved masks. Masked performance was not to become popular in Paris until years later, so we were quite a new experience. The trick of working with masks is to make as though the mask is a part of you, yet an independent part. You must never touch your mask. You just never speak under a full face mask. You must never ruin the illusion. My father had taught me brilliantly, and we created quite a performance of both magik and buffoonery which had the audience alternatively holding their sides in laughter and then gaping in shock, accompanied by the strange feeling that any good masked performer can affect his audience with - that of being not entirely real - of being a mystery.

Then we were done, and the Gypsies whole-heartedly welcomed us into their arms. They were thoroughly impressed, meanwhile I was thoroughly self-satisfied. My brothers were not so pleased with me. Erik strode up to me afterwards.
"What do you mean,wicked little devil, stealing the thunder like that? Our act is OUR act, you're not to take it all yourself!"
"Erik, the audience was bored stupid! They needed something to dazzle them and that something was me."
"You're a fine little one to put on airs" interrupted Luc. "Conceited little brat!"
I pulled a face and would've shoved him away had Harlan Trouillefou's voice not broken in.
"Now now,my fine boys. Let your sister enjoy her moments!She is quite a dazzling performer."
He was beaming down at me with much pleasure and affection, my father meanwhile was bursting with pride. My mother stood to the side, just a faint look of disapproval on her face - she also did not think it fair for me to steal all my brother's act.
"Yes - she's quite an amazing talent, Hussain. You must be very proud of your little girl.She will be a beauty when she grows up too, no?"
Hussain! No man had ever called my father by his name before! The Two Kings must have grown close indeed!
"Indeed she will, Harlan.She is my pride and joy! The epitome of all I have to offer!!"
My brothers rolled their eyes. They were not put out for they knew my father adored each one of them individually. However, being the little girl, it was always me who was openly praised.It was not good for my ego.
Harlan looked me over carefully before turning to my father again.
"I have something I'd like to discuss with you, sir. Something of a proposition, benefical to us both."
"Sounds interesting already, Harlan!"
"Splendid. We'll talk while we eat! Meanwhile if we don't go now,while the food is hot, our ladies will skin us alive."
The company turned off to follow the two kings over to the dining area of the Court. I skipped along, once again comfortable in my self pleasure and not caring about my brother's anger. It was Clopin who caught up with me.
"Hey there little Madam! Quite a wonderful show you gave us this evening." His tone was perfectly affable, but there was a little mockery in his eyes.
"Of course" I said, reacting to that "I never give anything but the best."
"Is that a fact mam'zelle?" He stopped and for some bizarre reason I stopped along with him. Laughing he removed his hat and with a long sweeping bow he offered me his arm. "In that case, may I offer you the best of the gentlemen to dine with?"
It was something I would say, had I been a man. I could see he said it not altogether seriously, but I knew Clopin Trouillefou thought quite a bit of himself, and whilst always ready to indulge egotism in myself, I hated it in others.I was a hypocrite through and through.
"I would be delighted,m'sieu. Just lead me to him and I will accompany him with great pleasure."
He laughed uproariously at that.
"Ah you are a devil, little one." He said with a shake of his head. "But then so am I. I suppose I deserved that one."
I didn't reply, just raise an imperious eyebrow.
Still laughing he returned his hat to his head. I noticed with some small degree of pleasure that nearby a few of the younger woman of the tribe watched with envious eyes. I couldn't help but play on that and I scooted quite a bit closer to Clopin. He looked at me with laughter in his eyes, but outwardly he behaved gallantly, taking my arm and leading me gently.
"You're a funny one, little madam.You're the daughter of only the second highest form of commoner yet you conduct yourself as though you're worthy of the grandest palace in all France!!"
"I am!" I said, insulted. "I'm the daughter of a King!"
"The King whose subjects include street performers and fortune tellers!"
"So! What is wrong with that? My father is a man of dignity and grace. So is yours. They are Kings, and their subjects love them! They are as good as any you'll find in a palace."
I saw by the way he started then I had made him think.He gazed at me thoughtfully for a moment and then said:
"Ma petite - you are right."
"Of course I am!" I said huffily. By this time we had long reached the dining area, a great circle encamped around a fire sporting many bubbling pots, from which delicious odours emerged. I sat down with much elegance, modestly arranging my skirts (red once again, with a lavish gold trim I adored), and Clopin flopped down beside me. Admittedly I was beginning to grow bored with him,and wished he would take himself elsewhere. He sat for a few minutes more as we were served our food (chicken with spices) and then turned to me again.
"You're eight, are you now little one?"
"Yes I am eight,though it is not polite to ask."
"You're very smart for a lady of only eight!"
"Yes I know," was my automatic response. This brought him out of his reverie and he chuckled again, chewing thoughtfully on his food.
I cannot believe I have come this far in my tale without describing this dashing young gypsy!!!!!Even at fifteen Clopin was a handsome boy to look at, though I would not of admitted it to myself then. Already reaching six feet in height,and still more to grow, his skinny young body was rippled with muscles, the result of much acrobatic practice.His face was long and well shaped, the nose large, the eyes flashing and black, the mouth generous and sensual.He had thick black hair which fell to his shoulders and and dark hair was just beginning to speckle his chin. His hands were large and calloused, but they looked elegant and graceful and, I felt, capable of great tenderness. Despite being so lanky he carried himself with the same easy air of self-confidence and pride as my father did. As I did.His eyes sparkled with mischief and a wicked benevolence and Marcum had already told me tales of the tricks and devilry the two planned to get up to.
But although he and Marcum numbered the same in years, and Clopin Trouillefou was a young man obviously capable of much wickedness, you could see he was mature beyond his age.Intelligent and well-spoken, in the few days at the Court of Miracles I had already seen what Clopin's silver tongue, combined with his good looks and irrepressible personality, were capable of.The women literally fawned over him, both young and old alike. The children adored his playful nature, his mock charm, the girls his own age were enamoured with him, his handsomeness, his talent (talents I'd only heard about, not seen so I was sceptical to say the least!) his vibrancy, each competing to be his special lady, and the older women couldn't resist his respectful charm and grace. Even at his tender age he exuded a seductive masculinity, only made more irresistible by his mischeviousness.
I, for my part, was sickened by these fawning women, and determined not to be made a part of it! Perhaps that is, in part, why I treated him with such disdain. That and I never liked the sense he was mocking me in some ways. I didn't know it then but it tickled Clopin pink that a little girl of eight should behave like such a grown up woman, talking and carrying herself with all the dignity of a mature lady. He was also attracted to the juxtaposition of these airs and graces with my wicked nature, my desire to play jokes and cause trouble. But I didn't know that, and all I saw was amusement in his eyes, and I didn't like to amuse unless I was seeking to do so.
But after my last comment we sat together in silence, we both of us, I think, listening to the laughter and noise around us, feeling comfortable among the people. Gradually my ears tuned into my father's and Harlan Trouillefou's conversation.
"You see, Hussain, my marriage to my beautiful Delilah was something of an experiment. I was a real rascal in those days and had not my own father insisted I marry her, I doubt I would ever have settled down."
My father laughed at that. "I did not have the same trouble - one look at Elisabetta and I was a shackled man!"
Companionable laughter and then Harlan spoke again:
"The thing is - the experiment was a success. My father had an eye for the kind of woman who'd suit me, and within a year I was madly in love with her and we were producing children like rabbits. The problem I'm having is that my eldest, Clopin, is just the same as I was."
"Ah yes - I've noticed that boy - quite a ladies man. He has the eye."
"Ah, don't get him wrong.He's a good boy, much kinder hearted than I was. He is always "falling in love". Falling in love with what he believes his latest amour to be, and then finding out she is not so. She is not the only one who leaves with a broken heart - or at least she's not the only one until he finds the next love of his life."
"Thinks he's produced a few illegitimate heirs already then?"
"If he has I haven't heard of it - yet. He's going to be the next King, and while I don't mind him fooling around, he really does need to produce a legitimate heir. Gypsies are usually very lax about this, but I strongly believe it should bear the Trouillefou name. This means he will have to get married, but I can't see him choosing to do so - at least, not in time."
"Hmm...I think I know what is coming."
"Hussain - your little girl is unique. She's dazzling! Clopin doesn't mind his harem fawning over him while he wanders the Court, but to settle down and live with someone the rest of his days - he will need a woman who can match him in wit and vivacity. I've never seen anyone more capable of it that your little Herlikin."
"Hmmmmmm.......she is my universe. You will need to do some more talking, Harlan."
"She also bears "noble" Gypsy blood - meaning that the Gypsies will take to the idea of a continuing nobility.They need a leader, and my boy will be it. He will need boys to continue our lineage. Also, she has already made such a pet of herself here I think the others will welcome her with delight."
"So far she's done naught but perform and tease a few of the other children," as my mother put it.
"She will grow. The performances are enough. She's strong, healthy and cheeky. It's all we need to make babies."
"Hmm...what about the boy?And what about Herlikin herself?"
"They're made for one another. It may not seem so now, but I'm sure of it. We will of course,wait until she's 16, but then I really think it would be mutually beneficial to marry the two. It would also tie a link between our two tribes."
That did it for my father.
"So be it Harlan!"
"Excellent! Now is there some formal way of striking the deal?"
"The old ways are the best ways!"
The two raised their glasses.
"I, Hussain DuPre hereby state that my daughter Herlikin-Elise to be betrothed to Clopin Trouillefou, son of Harlan Trouillefou King of the European Gypsies, and that eight years from now the two should be wed."
"I, Harlan Trouillefou hereby state that my son Clopin Trouillefou to be betrothed to Herlikin-Elise, daughter of Hussain DuPre King of the Oriental Gypsies, and that eight years from now the two should be wed."
The smashed the glasses together,thus sealing the deal. To break it now would be to bring great dishonor on the tribes. So I, in all my "brilliance" chose that moment to protest.
"Papa NO!" I cried, leaping to my feet and scattering my food bowl to the ground. I noticed then that the greater part of the tribe had been listening with much interest to the deal, and by throwing this tantrum I'd be embarrassing everybody. I looked at Clopin, who had evidently been listening, and he looked as stunned as horrified as I was. That angered me, the least he could've done was look hurt I didn't want him!
"What do you mean no, Herli?" my father asked. "This is an excellent marriage, a wonderful union!"
I wanted to say more, but I could see the others looking.As used to getting my own way as I was, I knew to cry and scream now would humiliate my father. The others would whisper he had brought up a spoilt child. I couldn't do that to him, not even when he had promised me to some lanky, conceited, older boy.
I choked back a sob and said:
"I meant nothing Papa. I will marry him."
The circle returned to their own inner conversations and gossip, but I left it.I ran to my tent and threw myself onto my pillows. I punched and kicked and stabbed them with my whacking stick, and when I'd thoroughly exhausted myself I cried piteously. To think my father, the most understanding man in the world, would force me to marry! He who'd always told me he married for love, true love. I sat there sulking and crying, and didn't hear my mother as she softly entered my tent.
"There there,little baby, hush now" she said, coming closer to brush my tangled hair out of my eyes.
"Mama!!" I wailed.
"I know, I know, but hush now,don't let the others hear and say your papa raised an ungrateful girl."
It silenced my sobs to a whimper.
"Come, get out of this pretty dress so your tears do not stain it."
She helped me out of it and int a comfortable cotton shift. Then she took the brush and sang soothingly to me in Hindustani. My whimpers stopped altogether and I was calm once more.
"Herli, my little baby, I know you think your father cruel, but he would never do something he didn't think best for you."
She'd called me Herli!! Never in my life had she done that, and so I sat up and listened.
"Clopin is a real catch, he is handsome and intelligent, and he will be King besides. He also treats women with much respect. He is not like a womaniser who charms with his tongue and his body and then laughs at his conquests behind their back.He has real goodness in him and a great love and respect for women. He will be a good husband to you."
"I don't want him."
"Herli, you are only a little girl. When you are a young lady of sixteen and he a bold strapping man of twenty-three, you will see him differently. You will swoon,like all the other girls."
"I dont' want to swoon like all the others mama. I want to stand up tall,like myself."
She hugged me "That's my baby. He's the type of man who admires that kind of boldness in a woman. You will grow to love him.You must."
My mother had made up her mind. She approved the match, so I said nothing. I sat there, outwardly in defeat, but inwardly I swore I would never love Clopin Trouillefou, not even if he brought me all the jewels in the world.

The next day he came to my tent, which I thought quite bold of him (although to be fair he didn't have anything to do with the making of the deal). He'd regained his composure, and quite gallantly handed me a blood-red rose, full in bloom.
"The flower seller assures me it is the freshest, so its taste should be quite pleasing," he told me.
I glared at him suspiciously. Who had told him I liked to eat flowers? Nevertheless, I couldn't resist the scent and shape of the rose, and I'd never tried one besides, so I took it ungraciously from him, and then minding my manners, I pulled off petal by petal and chewed on them. He watched, absolutely fascinated. The rose was delicious, with a tang I'd never known before, and I was sorry there was only one. But whilst I loved the gift, I minded my promise and looked at Clopin coldly.
"I do not want to marry you." I told him.
He grinned. I was enflamed my rejection did not affect him, but I held onto my temper.
"Why ever not,little madam?" He said, pulling a mock frown over his features.
"Because.....because....because you were going to eat me!" I snapped back.
He grinned larger at that. "Who knows.....I may yet eat you one day years from now."
Wicked man to say something like that to such a young innocent girl! But then I did not know what he really meant, I only thought he intended one day to cook me and serve me up.
"You better not!" I said, incensed "I'll tell my Papa, I will!"
He only laughed a little.
"I'm glad you liked my gift, mam'zelle. I wish you good day with all sincerity."
And catching up my hand he kissed the palm of it warmly. I was so enraged I could do nothing but stand there and sputter like a fool as he bowed his way out of my tent, laughing still. I made a new promise. No matter what I would make a fool of Clopin Trouillefou!!

But I did not get an opportunity with that stop in Paris for by the next day, my tribe had packed up and were preparing to tour around the country, and perhaps some of its neighbours.
My father and Harlan clasped hands vigorously and bid each other farewell. They also bade one another to not forget their deal, and with a few smiled parting words, we left the Court of Miracles. I wasn't to see it again for another eight years.
The thing you must understand about my father and Harlan - as Kings of their respective tribes, they did not look any different, or act any different from the other gypsy. The difference was in the way they composed themselves. They did not outwardly impose any authority, unless the occasion should arise when they needed to. Of course their subjects respected them and theirs, but not to the extent where there was an actual social class distinction among us. Walking along the streets, they looked the same as any other. You could not point and say "there, that is the King of the Gypsies", unless one judges on strength of character alone, and few do. They did not have more wealth, nor more comfort. They had to work as hard as anyone else to stay clothed and fed. They merely guided the tribes in all that they did.
I learned later that day from my brother Erik that Clopin had had a huge fight the night previous with this father. Apparently he'd been asserting his right to choose his own bride. He'd been so charming this morning!! He was deceptive that was sure, and I found the prospect of marriage to him even less appealing than before.
However, I was not one to dwell on something so far into the future, and for the next six months I suffered through our short tour in France. I placed Clopin and the future into the back of my mind and concentrated solely on performing. We Sgzany learned quite a lesson in France. Whilst our performances were recieved with much praise and acclaim, we found the pickings very slim. We had a charmed life in India, as I said before, and were accustomed to being rewarded quite generously for our entertainments. Here we had to learn how to conserve money. There wasn't always quite as much food to go round, and we had to take care of our clothes and costumes with great care, for so long as we were in France we would not have money to replace them willy-nilly. For awhile I could not understand why exactly my father would chose to come to a c ountry where he was hated and feared, where every day was a fight for survival - I do know. He sought to revisit his ancestry, his roots in France. He was of mixed blood, and more Indian in his ways than anything else, but his heritage still lay here in France. At the time I was furious I had to suffer for his whims, but now I understand in my own way, what drove him there.
So with that and the fierce bitter cold I could not get used to,I was well pleased to reboard the ship for India again.
 

The journey back was much the same as the first, though I did not get sick this time. I stayed well below deck though. The toss and turn did not bode well with me, and the ship itself was such a huge cantankerous beast. My mother and I shared the same fear - shipwreck, and an eternity below the depths of the sea.
But we made it home safely and within a week were back to the old routine. I found Clopin not so easy to put from my mind once we were home, for my mama, being the perfect wife and mother she was, immediately set up my "glory box" or "Chest of Treasures" as we called it. As the years passed, she piled this up with crockery, linen, clothes to wear as a wife, ornaments, and jewellery. She wanted me to have the best of everything and bartered for it long and hard in the marketplaces of India.(You've never seen a marketplace till you've been to one in the East, they are more than an experience, every turn is an adventure!!) She also refined my sewing skills, my cooking ability, and showed me all the secret ways to keep a caravan or tent spotlessly clean.It also included finding a sgzany fluent in French who could teach me all I needed to know.
How I hated those lessons, for they could only remind me of my future prison, chained to a man I didn't love for the rest of my life. Despite all this, I learned well, and I was soon a housekeeper to rival my mother, no small feat I assure you.
But that was not the sum total of my last eight years in India. I think as a protest to what I would be forced to do, I rebelled somewhat and grew more unpleasant in temperament, something my papa and mama never really saw in me. Although sgzany were much more lax about letting their girl children run around, I was still expected to control myself. Geraud, a old friend and assistant of my father's, was expected to stay with me at all times, and as I grew older I was gradually forbidden from playing with my brothers as I had been. So apart from working with my brothers on our routines, I was supposed to sit quietly and like a lady.
I rebelled against this too, so difficult had I become to get along with. I didn't like many people much, and they didn't like me either, for I rarely spoke and was generally unpleasant to all. I cannot count the number of times I gave Geraud the slip by tripping him up in the mud and running off into the jungles.I became a true loner, withdrawn except when performing, and unsociable.
I played in the dirt and the mud. I tickled the elephants back and kissed him, I swung in the trees with the monkeys. I explored the vivid humid jungles and played with all the manner of creatures there. Most were friendly and loved having such a strange and clumsy beast to play with.(you must remember, no matter how excellent the human acrobat, the animal is always better.They don't "civilise" the natural grace in themselves) Some, like the poisonous snakes, were not so. I have always wanted to befriend them, they are so lonely all the time. But their loneliness suits them, as the cobra told me once.
I saw him just over the way, slithering over a rock as I was clambering one over just opposite him. Our eyes locked. Any other human would've run away screaming fit to wake the dead, but not me. I looked at him and said hello in the language that all animals understood.
"I am like you, but my skin is different," I said, "just the same inside".
His forked tongue darted from between his cold lips. They never answer me, but this one did. Perhaps, being royalty, he could see I was as well.
"Leave me be," he whispered to my mind. "I do not want friends, leave me be."
And because it was his home I was in, I did leave.

I changed only little over the years.I was still haughty, though gradually I stopped being *as* conceited.I still loved my pretty things, but I rarely looked at myself anymore. This was just because I so rarely associated with people it didn't occur to me to be overtly concerned about my appearance.
That changed again as I grew older still, but in my early adolescent years I was considered a very strange and wicked child, as I went about my business, slipping from my protector and causing a general mischief. Gradually my mother and father did become aware of my behaviour, and for the first time in my life my father instilled discipline within me. I knew my mother despaired of me ever making a decent wife. It wasn't enough I could do all was required - I was wicked and stubborn.
I trained dozens of animals, of every shape and size, for the other sgzany, and soon I became known for my gift - if you had a beast giving you trouble, take it to Herli - she could fix it. It was the one gift I never accepted money for - for in my eyes I was helping the beast, not the human.That was reward enough for me.
My love of animals was also my one concession to kindness in those years, for in all other things I was a terrible fright.

© 1999 Harley Quinn
(harley_quinn@cheerful.com)
 

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