"Maybe so. But it is true what I said you know. It's fortunate you gave
in when you did. I know you wondered how I knew about the situation. Well,I'll
tell you. I used no magik. Clopin himself told me."
I swallowed hard around the crusty bread. The sun was hot on my head.
"Clopin wouldn't do that."
"Oh, wouldn't he? He told me, my dear. Told me he was going mad with
a frigid wife. That he didn't know how much longer he could stand it."
She was watching me careful, but keeping her voice expressionless.
I finished my food, and then dusted my hands free of the crumbs.
"Why should I believe you?"
"Because I'm telling you the truth. I told him right then and there
I'd be happy to relieve his tension. He said he couldn't do that to you,
betray you like that. I said no betrayal as such was necessary, there are
other ways to get around it. And he let me do just that."
I narrowed my eyes, my heart thudding within my chest, and I tried
desperately to keep a hold on my emotions. "Did he now? What did you do,
sing him a lullaby?"
She laughed nastily. "No, my methods are a little more advanced than
that. I just got down on my knees, pulled his hose down, opened my mouth
and - "
"You're a liar!" I snapped. "I don't believe you!"
"Fine. Why don't you ask that big husband of yours then? If it's any
consolation, it was your name he called out. A blow to me, but what can
you do? I was just happy to give him some satisfaction."
I looked at her, my heart racing out of control. It was impossible
to tell if she was lying or not. It was all I could do to remain seated,
and not fly at her. Telling myself her satisfaction over any attack I made
was not enough, I had to remind myself of the babies in my belly. She grinned
at me like the cat that got the cream, and I took a hasty sip of the wine.
I swallowed hard, and got to my feet, wandering to the water's edge, clutching
my new pendant in one hand.
She had to be lying. There's no way she could be telling the truth.
How could I know? By asking Clopin. I turned to look back at her, and she
was packing the things up quietly. She looked at me calmly. Surely no-one
who lied could be quite so blasé about it. What if she told the
While I wrestled with my inner confusion, an enraged roar grabbed both
our attention. The shouts and screams of panicked Parisians rose in the
air, followed by another all too familiar roar.
"Chester!" I cried in a panic, and heedless of my condition, started
off at full pelt, running towards the noise, back the way we came. A crowd
had gathered in the street near the exit we used, and I realised that the
bitch must've left the latch unfastened, that he had followed us, that
Another roar, this one of pain. I continued running forward, struggling
to see over the crowd. I saw that there were soldiers preparing their arrows
and I gave a distraught cry, shoving people aside, getting shoved violently
in the process. I glimpsed my oldest friend then, and saw to my horror
that there were three arrows in him already, one in his leg, one in his
back and the other in his belly. I screamed out in anguish, my despair
drowned amidst the screams of the other panicked women. I knew for a fact
that prior to being attacked Chester would not have been vicious. He was
used to people! But now, in his pain and confusion, he was snarling viciously,
on his guard and the soldiers were shoving the crowds back.
I backed into an alleyway and went over my options anxiously. My hesitation
was all due to what I carried within me. If I ran out, I could subdue him,
but what would happen then? Would I be arrested? Why would they arrest
me? They couldn't harm me anyway I was a pregnant woman! I also couldn't
let Chester die. They say your life flashes before your eyes as you die
- my life with Chester flashed before me then. A lifetime of memories and
shared adventures. I bit down hard on my finger, trying to hold back my
screams, drawing blood. I heard the soldiers release their arrows and another
cry of pain from my friend made my mind up for me. I ran forward, again
trying to fight my way through the crowds, when suddenly I was yanked to
the side. I was shocked to see Clopin, in performance dress, holding me
firmly. I fought him viciously, kicking and biting down on the hand that
held me, but he put both arms around me and dragged me to the side.
"You can't save him!" he gasped as another kick hit its mark.
"I can save him! Let me go, let me go you monster! Don't you dare do
But he wouldn't let go. He held me tightly in the alley, trying to
calm me. I screamed again and again.
"Think of your babies!" he whispered. "They'll arrest you, Herli. You're
a gypsy with a wild beast. Herli, think please!"
"You save him then!!" I demanded and at that moment we heard the sound
of more arrows rushing through the air and another roar. I screamed again,
and renewed my struggles, sobbing violently.
"Save him, you must save him!" I punched at his face with my one free
"I can't" he whispered to me sadly. "It's too late by now. They'll
kill him and then arrest me for trying to help."
"No! Save him, go and save him now!!"
But already there was silence descending over the crowd as the soldiers
held their fire. I struggled with Clopin so I could run out and look, see
what had happened, but still the bastard held me back.
"Herli, you shouldn't see that," he said, sounding for all the world
like he was sorry. "Please, my love, come now. They'll destroy what's left.
There's nothing we can do."
I pushed him away, trying to break his grip, but he hauled me away.
I fought as we went, sobbing and trying to run back. Finally, exhausted
from my efforts, I could do nothing more but slump against him.
Then we were back in the Court, and me heart was a cold weight within
my chest. I knew there was no hope now. Clopin carried my weary body back
to the tent undressed me for bed, leaving me in my chemise. His face was
sorrowful as he leaned over me, but I shoved him away, hitting him and
"I'll never forgive you this!" I screamed at him. I tore the pendant
from my neck, cutting the skin and not noticing, and threw it at him savagely.
I buried my head beneath the pillows and knew nothing more for many
For days I was inconsolable,spending all my time crying. I couldn't
sleep and I felt ill at the thought of food. Tante Marie and Colombine
urged me to eat, reminding me of my babies, but I couldn't keep it down.
I didn't speak either, unless it was to Clopin, and then only to curse
him or throw insults at him. Always the thought that went around my head
was that I hesitated too long, and in doing so, had killed my oldest friend.
I was quite willing to lay blame on Clopin as well, for holding me
back, and not trying to do anything. I didn't let him touch me, and would
scream if he came too near. His face became dejected and miserable as I
continued to assault him with everything I had, but so wound up in my grief
was I that I could not bring myself to forgive him.
"He was my oldest friend, my one link to India and the people I loved
there!" I lamented to Clopin after he had once again tried to console me.
He buried his head in my lap and sighed.
"And you killed him! You let him die, you monster! You didn't even
He sighed again and didn't reply. He had already told me a dozen times
why he hadn't tried, but for me it would never be good enough.
"I'm so sorry, cherie. I know how much you loved him - "
"Don't call me cherie!" I shrieked, pushing his head away "Don't
call me anything! Don't touch me, don't look at me!!"
And I cried again as he left the tent sadly.
I didn't even have Chester's body to mourn. The one thing that had
made the transition of life with me was gone, gone forever, like my parents
and brothers. They were all no more. I was once again entirely on my own,too
unhappy to take comfort from my husband and friends here.
After a couple of weeks I was able to hold food down again and I ate
a little at Abigail's pleading. I had lost much weight and she feared that
damage had been done to my babies. At that point I didn't care much. I
thought of them as worms Clopin had implanted in my belly, and told him
as much as he looked at me with a stricken expression.
I was only partly aware of how much I was hurting his feelings with
my constant insults. It seemed as though I had rejected him, his friendship
and love, entirely, and it wounded him to the quick. The change of attitude
to him was so abrupt and violent he barely knew how to take it, and mindful
of both my pregnancy and grief he was reluctant to fight back.
They all tried to get me to forgive him. Tante Marie scolded and bullied
me, but I threw pillows at her until she left. Colombine reminded me of
the fun we'd had before, but it only made me cry. Abigail reminded me of
the way I had adored him and then of my dream.
"I know what the dream means now!" I snapped at her."I saw it happen
as the soldiers butchered him."
She shook her head. "No, no child. That was only part of it. Now the
real choice begins - what are you going to do? Let your children wither
within you because of a dead tiger, or are you going to nourish them as
he would've done? Chester would've mourned your death, but had he young
of his own he would have returned all his attention to them. He would know
that the dead are dead, and while you may have grief, it should not be
at the expense of the others you love."
I sniffed miserably to myself. It was August now, and as yet my pregnancy
was not noticeable. I laid a hand on my stomach and cried more as I thought
of my children and my tiger. I admitted to myself I did not want to lose
my babies. Abigail smiled at me, knowing what I was thinking.
"Try not to be so hard on him, love. Your unhappiness is all the punishment
he needs. Try to forgive him."
But that I still could not do. I saw he had had my pendant mended,
but he did not try to give it to me. He continued to look at me sorrowfully,
but he would not try to speak to me as I turned my face away from him.
I blocked him off, telling him nothing of how I felt. I would now speak
only to Colombine and Abigail, ignoring the others who left their sympathies
with me. Chester's death was treated much as a mortal's would be, and the
other Romani dropped around gifts of food, leaving their messages with
Clopin who related them to me while I lay, pulling my hand from his and
After a while, as my tears slowly froze on my cheeks and my eyes dried
out, I remembered Isabelle and her part in that day's events.
"Is that witch still here?" I deigned to ask Clopin one day when he
came in to get changed. He was rarely in the tent anymore, as I made it
too difficult for him. I think he would like to have stayed with me, but
I kept throwing him out, refusing to allow him to offer me any comfort.
He looked over at me in surprise and asked softly who I meant.
"Isabelle, who do you think? It was she that caused it you know. He
followed us because of her. And she left the latch off. She did it deliberately."
My voice had risen and finished on a hysterical note. He moved forward
to hush me and I slapped him away.
"Well, aren't you going to punish me? After all, I left the Court without
permission. Don't I get a spanking?" I asked him viciously, and he sat
by my side helplessly and did not answer. "I know what you think, you think
it's all my fault. That if I hadn't left it would never have happened!"
He sighed "Of course I don't think that, my love. It wasn't your fault.
Yes, Isabelle is still here."
"I want her to go! I want her out today, now! I want her banned!"
He looked at me. "I can't send her away at the moment, Herli. It's
a bit of a delicate time and - "
"What do you mean? Of course you can! I tell you I want her gone.Or
do you need her to help relieve tension?" I asked him bitterly. He looked
at me, confused, and I burst out, "she told me all about what you let her
do to you before!! She told me how you told her about us!! She told me
He stood up, looking unsettled and even more unhappy. But he denied
nothing, and I started to cry again.
"So it's true then is it? I should've known."
He reached for me. "Herli - "
"Get out of my sight!" I sobbed and turned away from him.
The worst of my grief passed, and I became mindful of what I carried
within me again. I got out of bed eventually and bathed thoroughly, changing
for the first time in weeks. My legs were weak from lying around so much,
and at first I hobbled around. My heart was still cold, and I felt no desire
to smile or do much of anything in fact. I walked sullenly down to Colombine's
tent, paying no heed to those I passed as they looked at me worriededly
from the corners of their eyes. Colombine gave a gasp to see me, and ran
out to meet me and bring me inside.
"Herli, you're up! Thank goodness!"
I didn't say anything, just pouted, as she brushed the hair from my
face and looked at my sympathetically.
"You poor thing. Everything is all happening at once to you. Look,
Tante Marie and I have been helping you," and she showed me proudly the
baby clothes they had made. I cried as I looked at them and thanked her
softly. She made a medicinal tea, and I drank it gratefully, although its
taste was bitter and strong. It eased some of my inner discomfort, and
I calmed down. She sat with me and filled me in on all the gossip that
had happened while I had locked myself away. I could only listen, showing
no emotion, unable to even smile.
I was told that Esmeralda had created a dance she called the Dance
of the White Tiger in Chester's honor, and that the little girl was unhappy
I stayed away; and, touched, I cried again. Colombine tried to stick to
cheerier news after that, but little had happened. In fact things were
bad once more. Frollo had apparently decided the white tiger had been sent
from the gypsies to destroy him and things were worse than ever for the
Romani on the streets of Paris. Completely disheartened, I got up and left
her with no further words.
Clopin was awaiting me anxiously when I got back and rushed forward
to clasp me in his arms, holding me tight. I didn't respond but I didn't
push him way. I had not forgiven him as yet, but I was going to force myself
to be somewhat civil. He told me he had worried and I replied dully that
I had been with Colombine. He sat me down looking at me anxiously, then
forced a smile.
"I've brought you a present," he told me. "I saw it and knew it was
for you, so I had to get it for you."
I remembered with an aching heart how I had said such similar words
to him often, only a short while ago when I had been earning all my money.
It seemed like a dream now, unreal, as though it had never really happened
in our world.
He gestured to a new large carved chest I had not yet noticed in one
corner of the tent. He pulled me gently to my feet and led me over. When
I got coser I saw that it was carved with unicorns, beautiful inlays of
wood and mother of pearl highlighting it strategically. It was exquisite
and as I looked at it I began to cry again, for seeing it made me realise
I still loved Clopin as much as I ever did. He pulled me fretfully into
his arms, trying to soothe me, and I let him, but still I did not respond.
I made my heart remain cold within me as he told me I could move my things
into the new chest and use the other for the babies' things. That is, he
added falteringly, if I wanted to.
I just nodded and pulled myself away from him.
That evening I followed him to the Court Center, and when he realised
this he turned back and made me let him take my hand, asking me if I was
sure I wanted to come. I just nodded again and kept walking.
I was greeted heartily when I got there, the other Romani being very
glad to see me out and about again. I just nodded to them all, beginning
to feel like a jack in the box, and sat down, as Clopin put a protective
arm around me. I was oblivious to the jokes and music of those gathered
there, my mind wandering down my path of memories. But I was roused by
a familiar perfume and looked up to the evil Isabelle, she being very careful
to not look at me.
My eyes wandered hatefully over her body, and I noticed her stomach
bulged larger than ever. I realised with my heart in my throat just then
that she was pregnant, and heavily into it as well. Could it be Clopin's?
But the last they lay together was January. She'd be almost into her ninth
month now - unless - unless when she'd rejoined us in March she'd done
more with Clopin than she said she had. My eyes widened looking at her,
and then I glanced sharply at Clopin who was staring at me in dismay. I
got unsteadily to my feet and walked quietly back to the tent. He came
with me of course, but we didn't speak until we got back. Once there, the
feeling of numbness that had washed over me washed off again and with an
agonized scream I shoved at him angrily. He caught my hands and said to
"Herli, it's from January I swear! I'm not even sure it's mine, truly!
She only claims that it is."
"Well, we'll know soon enough, won't we?" I snapped at him.
He sighed and released me.
"That's why I can't ask her to leave. I can't throw her out while she's
pregnant!! We don't need to match her for heartlessness."
"And what if it isn't from you in January? What if, say it's from you
He knelt down before me and looked into my eyes. "I swear it's not.
I never lay with her after we married. You have to believe me. I would
tell you if we had. I made a mistake confiding in her then, but she made
me remember how she'd been before when she could comfort me."
"By getting down on her knees?" I snapped, crying again.
He shook his head. "No, no, it wasn't just that. It was a mistake.
I didn't make it again. I don't even like her anymore. I want her to leave
too, but I can't make her just yet. Please believe me."
I did believe him then, but I didn't forgive him. I couldn't allow
myself to now. My heart had already been broken twice in my short life,
and was in serious danger of becoming so again at that moment. I realised
then that if I were to get through the next months I would have to keep
him locked out from me. So my cold attitude continued towards him, although
I began to leave the tent more and socialised a little. I didn't feel like
it one little bit, but I was determined to keep up with Isabelle's going-ons.
She wisely did not gloat over her state, for it wasn't just I who bore
her greater resentment than ever.
I moved my things from my old chest and into my new, which was beautifully
fitted with compartments and locking drawers. I put my pendant into one
of these, crying as I did so for a reason I could not altogether place.
I put all of the baby clothes into my old chest, and found some small
solace in their delicateness. My stomach was just beginning to bulge when
Isabelle had her child.
The women of the Court helped her out of concern for the child, although
they did not wish to. I sat in my tent the whole time and listened to her
screams with satisfaction. I hoped she would die giving birth, but I did
not have the luck. When Colombine told me she had borne a girl I released
my breath in a long sigh of relief I had not realised I was holding.
The baby was fairly dark-skinned with black hair. Like all babies its
eyes were blue at birth, Colombine told me. It remained to be seen what
color they would be, so it was as yet not entirely possible to tell the
Clopin was a little more settled now that I had stopped attacking him
at every approach, but he was still unhappy I shrugged away from his touch
and did not seek his company like I had used to. Apart from that, so fierce
had the soldier's attack been on renegade Romani that many of the men within
the Court were making sure they were armed at all times. Tension was running
The greater majority of the Romani believed Clopin should not have
anything to do with Isabelle and her child. They told me he should only
worry about me and the children we were to have, and there was no way Isabelle
could prove the baby's paternity. But Clopin had a greater responsibility
than that, and held the child in his arms when she bade him to, looking
down at it in confusion. He told me that once he would not have cared had
she had a dozen of his children, but now he was mindful of how he would
want a man to treat me if I were ever in her situation. I just raised my
eyebrow at him and was quietly insulted that he had ever considered I could
be in her position. She was now openly isolated from the rest of us, but
did not seem to care. She guarded her baby carefully, looking at me smugly
as I went about my duties woodenly.
I ignored her, indeed I more or less ignored everyone. Time passed
and my belly swelled painfully. I let Colombine and Abigail do with me
as they wished, feeding me and forcing various medicines down my throat.
I didn't speak much, just sat and listened quietly, sewing or painting,
something new I had taken up. Clopin wanted to indulge me and procured
paints and white sheets for me to paint on, but I was closed off to him
still. In the beginning it was difficult, especially when he looked at
me so sadly and wishfully, but as time passed I was numb all over and it
didn't seem to matter what happened.
I never left the Court anymore, not only due to my grief, but also
because of my delicate situation. My lower back ached painfully, and so
did my feet. I wanted to continue sleeping on Chester's pillows of a night,
but Clopin made me take the bed, indulgently arranging the pillows for
me until I was comfortable every night, and still I wouldn't kiss him.
I knew Abigail had told him my emotions were in a turmoil because I was
with child, and I knew also he was trying to believe that was all it was.
Colombine brought me news of how the weather had changed and it was
getting on to winter. I had a passing regret I had missed autumn, but it
left me as quickly as it came. The Court was warm and comfortable always,
I had no idea what the weather was like above us.
I did notice however, that Jean-Luc's continuously strange attitude
had grown. I never saw him without a look of anxiety on his face, but did
not feel the old curiosity about it. Colombine brought me the news that
he had befriended Isabelle, and somehow, I wasn't surprised. Five gypsies
were hung in November, the guard on the Palace of Justice having so been
increased that it was impossible for Clopin and his men to free them.
Many of the Romani were convinced there were spies amongst us now -
but who they were no-one could say. Everyone seemed to know everyone so
well it was practically impossible to point at anyone and say that this
one or that was a traitor.
Clopin came in one evening and sat down at the table, sighing heavily
and burying his face in his hands. In a moment of clarity I knew he felt
he had failed his people and failed me. I wanted to comfort him, but instead
I rolled over on the bed and turned my face to the wall. He had grown thinner
and paler, fine lines appearing on his face. He was no longer full of the
boundless energy that had suffused him with life before, now he seemed
weary and older than he really was. He was no longer the Clopin we all
knew, and even in my self-absorbed state, I worried about him with the
It was in December when a great many things were explained. In the previous
weeks I had observed Jean-Luc watching mine and Clopin's estrangement from
each other with misery, and his face was in a state of confusion and stress
at all times. By now I was fed up with the attitude and couldn't even arouse
mild concern for him, so I was greatly surprised when he came to our tent
on evening, the hat I had given him in his hands, his expression more certain
and determined than I had seen in a long time. I saw that Clopin, who had
been painting a new puppet at his table, was surprised to see him also.
He rose, and invited the young man in, offering him a chair, as I watched
them both coldly from the bed.
Jean-Luc refused the seat, shaking his head. "I'm only stopping for
a moment. You will not want me here when I have told you, but I have made
up my mind to deal with whatever comes. There is something you must know."
I was interested now, and so was my husband, looking at Jean-Luc suspiciously.
I realised from his look that Clopin had been uncertain of Jean-Luc's loyalties.
The young man took a deep breath and looked from one to the other of us.
"I know who the spy in the Court is. I've not betrayed any of you,
but I suppose that doesn't matter much now. I still let her get away with
it for far too long."
"Isabelle." Clopin said coldly and Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes, but there's more than even you think. You know she walks on the
border, she's not a gadje, but she's not truly one of us either. Her loyalities
lie only with herself. That is what has allowed her to do as she has done,
and she became determined to destroy you, or at least ruin your life.
"The baby she has is not yours. After she left the Court the last time
she followed down her usual path and ingratiated herself with one of the
wealthy men in Paris. The baby is his. You've probably noticed she keeps
the baby hidden from us at all times. That is because it's parentage is
clearly written on its face. She took a drug to induce her labour and so
make you believe the child truly is yours. She could've claimed she became
pregnant by you after returning to the Court, and ruined your marriage
that way, but she knew that you would know the truth of it."
Clopin's face had become a deeply-etched mask of anger, his fists clenched
shut on the table as he looked at Jean-Luc intently.
"She's determined to make you suffer before she hands you over to the
soldiers. She wants to see your life fall apart for being the one man to
completely reject her."
"And what part have you played in all this, Jean-Luc?"
"Like I said, I never betrayed anyone to the soldiers. But I have been
guilty of being an accessory to her plans. I did not want to, but I felt
trapped. She knew somehow about the man I had killed by accident before
in my old life - I suppose it doesn't matter who knows it now. Also it
was as though she put a spell over me. I felt hopelessly attracted to her.
I couldn't resist her. It was I who started the rumors of the child being
yours, Clopin, and I passed encoded messages on. If I had known what the
messages truly said I wouldn't have done it. Also - Herlikin - I'm sorry
- it was I who let your tiger out."
"NO!" I screamed and tried to jump off the bed to lunge for him. Clopin
swiftly leapt to my side to hold me back. Throughout his little speech
I had listened in astonishment, but this last was too much. Weakened and
sluggish from the swollen belly, my struggles with Clopin were ineffectual
and I gave way to tears. Clopin glared at the traitor who gulped, but continued:
"I didn't think he would be killed."
"Well, what did you think would happen?" Clopin asked him dryly.
He trembled. "I don't know. I didn't know. I just did it."
"Because you were under a spell, of course." Clopin's voice was full
of sarcasm. "But however did you break this spell to come and tell us all
Jean-Luc's lip quivered and he shook his head helplessly. "I couldn't
stand it any longer. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I was weak.
I couldn't stand to see you and Herli so unhappy - your people took me
in and accepted me when I was a wanted man. I couldn't keep betraying you.
I'll accept punishment gladly. But before it happens, there's more you
"More?" Clopin said bitterly."Could it get any worse?"
Jean-Luc nodded. "The wealthy man who Isabelle remains a mistress to
- it is Frollo."
The two of us stared at him in shock; neither of us could believe what
he had said. Clopin stood up slowly, his expression grim, releasing me,
as Jean-Luc took a nervous step back. Clopin strode forward and punched
him hard. Jean-Luc fell, and Clopin grabbed him by the scruff of his neck
and pulled him out with him. I rolled off the bed and followed clumsily.
Clopin was shouting for the others to fetch Isabelle and the child and
bring it to the Center. Intrigued, the Romani who didn't run to do this
followed us as we went to the Center, watching Clopin in some astonishment
as he dragged Jean-Luc up on the stage. Jean-Luc's face was the very picture
Clopin turned to him angrily and asked if there were anyone else in
the Court who was a traitor. Jean-Luc shook his head, his shoulders sagging
in defeat, and then some of the men were dragging Isabelle up between them,
she fighting all the way, screaming, knowing she had been caught. One of
the women carried her child with her, and brought it up on the stage to
show Clopin. He looked at it for a moment, closely and then nodded. I found
out later that the baby's eyes were brown and not blue, or black as Clopin's
were. Had the eyes been blue, then perhaps he could've believed it was
his, as Isabelle had blue eyes. But more than that, the baby's skin was
pale, and the hair which had been black at first, as babies' hair commonly
was, had now become a very light brown. There was very little of the Romani
on the baby's face, and Clopin's Romany blood was so strong it would surely
have shown itelf.
(c) Harley Quinn 1999
May not be reproduced without permission.