Chapter Twenty-Two

I looked at him closely for a few minutes, and he noticed my gaze and returned it unflinchingly, coiling a rope in his hands. He offered me a small smile.
"Well, mademoiselle, royalty is always intriguing, but if you didn't know a man was a king, how would you tell him apart from his fellows?"
"Philosophy so early in the day? By his fine clothes of course."
"Gypsy Kings don't have fine clothes."
"Ours does. His wife made them for him."
"Is that so?"
"Yes. Or if not by fine clothes, then by the way his fellows treat him."
"But Gypsy Kings are rarely deferred to like gadje Kings."
"Must you always try to be right? At any rate you are wrong again. Clopin is recognised and respected by all."
He laughed. "I've no doubt of that, young mam'zelle.I always knew he would be."
I cocked my head to one side and smiled at him. I liked the way he threw his head back when he laughed. Again he saw me watching him and met my gaze.
"And when are you going to honour us with your prescence in the Court?"
"As soon as the humor strikes me."
"Is that so? And what if the King or Queen demanded your company?"
He gave another short laugh and slammed the shutters of his windows shut abruptly. 
"No King or Queen can demand my company."
"You think so?"
His mood changed abruptly. The smile went from his face, and took on a look of impatience. "Yes. If you'll excuse me mam'zelle, I have things to do."
He disappeared inside his caravan, closing the door tightly shut. I stayed for a few moments looking curiously at the door. His sudden exit had not put me off or offended me in the slightest. I just chuckled as I took my way home.

[stained

The next day I saw him again performing in a different area. I stopped briefly to watch him; at the end of his act he spotted me, but acted as though he hadn't, turning away with his back pointedly in my direction. At one time I might've been offended by such rude behaviour from a man, but so caught up in my little world I'd become that I didn't really care. On my way home that day I passed him again, and was somewhat startled when he called out to me, with a large smile on his face.
"Salut! Remember me, mam'zelle?"
I looked at him curiously, only a little baffled by this other sudden change. I didn't smile back, but I did walk up to him and took his hand.
"Of course I remember you. In a better mood, are we?"
He grinned that boyish grin again, his hair once more in his eyes. "Ah, I have to say sorry for that, don't I?"
"No."
He laughed."Well, I am at any rate. I am sorry, mam'zelle, my moods change like the wind. Anyway, enough of that. I never introduced myself. My name is Remy."
I shook his hand solemnly. "Mine is...Harkin."
I wasn't sure why I gave him a false name. I'm still not.
"That's unusual. It sounds like a Gaul name...something about red? Dark red?"
"Mmmhhmmm." I wasn't aware the word I made up would have an actual meaning.
"It suits you. You've been decked out in red these last two days. And of course you have that glorious hair." He reached out a hand to touch it, and I jerked back, irritated. He grinned again and apologised. I shrugged.
"Well, Harkin, if I may call you that, I was just about to have some lunch. Would you care to join me?"
And so began my aquaintance with Remy. We never exchanged last names, nor any real details about each other's lives. I learned quickly that his moods did change as fast as the wind. At one moment he'd be cheerful and full of jokes, the next he'd become sullen and grow irritated at the slightest thing. The odd thing about our friendship was that we never actively sought the other out. If we should happen to be in the same area at the same time, than more often than not we'd join up and do something together. Unless of course, one of us was in too bad a mood. In which case we'd just scowl at each other from over the way and go about our business.
We shared only the basic details with each other. He told me he preferred solitude after trouble with romanis earlier on in his life and so spent most of his time travelling solo. I told him a friend had betrayed me and so I spent much of my time in solitude. He did not ask me any details and I did not give him any.
We never really paid each other much attention, and I'm not altogether sure why we enjoyed each other's company when we had a mind to. After a while I realised that we were somewhat ideal companions, because we had both spent so much time isolating ourselves from others that we had many similar traits. I had grown as temperamental as he, through the weeks of being snappy and moving about by myself. I realised that this was why he was so moody - so much time had he spent on his own that he was used to doing whatever he felt like doing and feeling whatever he felt like feeling when he felt like it.
When we did talk we bantered philosophy - pretend philosophy, for we never took it very seriously. We argued over why man seeks companions and what good ever came of it. He had the fixed idea that the only way to be truly free was to have no attachments whatsoever. I realised eventually that this is why he never spoke about his personal self, and never enquired about me. He wanted to be able to get up and move on without regret, and leave no-one behind to worry about. The attitude intrigued, amused and annoyed me. Perhaps had I never met Raghu in India I would've grown the same as he. However, beginning with Raghu and ending with Clopin, I had seen too much of people to entirely agree with him. But so cold and bitter was my attitude at this time that I let him speak of it without much disagreement.
But in a curious way we came to depend on one another. We had no-one else in our lives that we could rave to without fear of consequence. The closest he got to confiding in me was telling me he had to have debates with himself on his long, lonely journeys. I asked why he didn't speak to his horse and he looked at me and said animals couldn't understand. I pitied him then, but said nothing.
He was good when I needed company, but was not in the mood to talk. I could sit next to his caravan on the banks of the river and watch him as he went about his business. He was also good in that I knew he expected nothing from me - not friendship, support or love or anything like that. I realised of course that that worked both ways, but I didn't know enough about him to care for him very much.
There was no doubt we found each other physically attractive, but we never made a move on one another. I removed my wedding earring before approaching him always, but I could not help but think of Clopin and my babies. I believe he kept his distance because he did not want to grow attached to me through physical love.
And so like Clopin, my hours out of the Court grew longer. We never spoke, not even to argue anymore. I tried to make sure I was back always before he was, but he noticed that the tent was not being looked after like before. Abigail was caring practically full-time for the children now, and when I got home one day she shoved them angrily into my arms and bade me listen to their cries. Unexpectedly, tears came into my eyes as I looked at my precious children, but I gulped back my feelings and told her I heard nothing.
I think even she had begun to give up on me. And in defence, I grew colder and more distant still. Had I but been more intelligent I could've opened my heart earlier, and not had them all turn away from me so. But they did not know me anymore and so they turned away - and so I became more withdrawn. I was about to leave Remy's caravan one afternoon when he threw casually into the conversation,
"By the way, I am leaving on the morrow."
I was startled, but careful not to show it.
"Oh? And you never did come and visit the Court."
"No... Maybe next time."
"Maybe. Why are you leaving?"
He shrugged. "It's time to move on. I've stayed here too long as it is."
"Well," I stood up, brushing off my skirts and held out my hand. "It was nice knowing you, Remy."
He took my hand, and atypical to him, kissed it. "It was nice to know you Harkin." He tried to look into my eyes but I masked them and returned his gaze coldly. Then I left.
When I got back to the Court I found Clopin in our tent. Abigail was not there, and his face was enraged as our children cried fitfully in their cradle. He looked at me as I came in and demanded to know where I had been. I didn't answer, just tried to move past him to feed the babies. BUt he grabbed my arm and hauled me back and asked again. I struggled, pulling a face like an animal but he woudln't let go.
"Out!" I finally said fretfully. "Where is Abigail?"
"I sent her back to her tent. We need to talk."
I finally shrugged his grip off. "There's nothing more to be said." I went over to our babes and looked down at them. I saw with shock that somone - Abigail probably - had been in my unicorn chest and had placed the pendant Clopin had given me between them. My eyes were truly opened to my poor little children and I almost cried as I leaned over them, regretting that I had spent so much time away, regretting I had been less than a mother to them.
But Clopin had not finished with me. Yanking me to my feet, he turned me around to face him, and I kept my head lowered, afraid to look, afraid that if I looked I would regret the way I had treated him and I wasn't sure I could handle the guilt and pain that would come with it.
He shook me, gripping my arms tight. "I'm well and truly sick of this, Herli. The tent's falling apart and the children are constantly unhappy. Abigail, an old woman too kind for her own good, is being run off her feet trying to make sure things stay in order in here. Now I can understand you grieving over the loss of your friend - grieving that Jean-Luc, a man you thought was your friend, caused his death - but enough is enough! You've become like a dirty little wild animal and I won't stand for it any longer!!"
"Then sit down!" I shrieked in a moment of hysterical mirth, and struggled with him again. He threw me down on the bed and stood over me, his face dark with anger.
"You're worse than any other wife in this Court and you used to be the best."
"I hate being a wife!" I screamed,longing suddenly for the freedom Remy knew. "Well you are one, so deal with it! You were the best of all of them. The best - and now - I don't know what's happened to you.You're not the woman I love any longer."
"You didn't love me until I had your stinking babies!!" I cried and he looked surprised, then angry again.
"Is that what you really think? You really think that? I don't understand you. I thought I did, once."
"No-one understands me."
"Poor you," he said sarcastically. "We don't understand you yet we were always ready to support you and give you friendship and love, unlike that lover of yours."
"What?" I sat up, surprised.
"You know who I mean. Remy. Boy with the dark red hair, notorious amongst us for his solitary lifestyle."
"But - but - but how - " I stammered.
"How did I know? Please. Other Romani walk the streets of Paris than the two of you, Herli. Word gets around. People think I should know. I thought you might take one. I didn't think it would be him, though I can see how you'd enjoy one another's company." His voice was bitter.
I threw my shoe at him. "He's not my lover!!! We've never touched one another! Why didn't you say anything to me??"
He shrugged. "There didn't seem much point. You've apparently made up your mind as to what you want."
"So you just give up on me?"
He threw his hands up in the air, outraged. "Goddamnit, how much more do you want from me? I tried everything - EVERYTHING - these last few months but you didn't want to know about it. I can allow you grieving time, but this is ridiculous. This has gone beyond anything I've known. Just do me a favor. I wont' expect anything from you, so long as you make sure our damned children don't starve. At least do me that courtesy." His look was reproachful as he turned to leave, and in sudden hysteria I tried to run past him and out. He caught hold of my hair and pulled me back.
"No, let me go! I don't want to stay here any longer!!"
"Well you have to!" he roared. "Things are going to change. You will do what I tell you, you'll stay here until you've got over this madness that has possessed you!!"
I slapped him hard across the face and his expression became very still. I pushed him back and faced him angrily.
"Once more, Herli," he said calmly, "and I hit back."
I sneered and shoved both of my fists against his chest, pushing him back again. Before I could make another move he caught me with a terrific backhand across my face and the next instant I was down on the floor, dazed, my head swimming. I looked up, blinking, holding my hand against my cheek. He towered above me, fists clenched and expression sorrowful, but he did not make a move to help me. When he spoke again his voice was quiet.
"I've never, in my life, raised a hand against a woman, and I would've sworn on everything precious to me never to touch you in anger, but sometimes you can only push someone so far. From what I've ascertained, you've spent your life doing just that. You're losing everyone you love and everyone who loves you because of it. If you want to replace us all with a cold man whose heart is harder than stone, then that's your choice. I'm sorry, Herli. I'll always love you, or at least the person you were, if you believe it or not, but I won't continue living the way I've been forced to these last few months. I'll let you think about it."
With that he left, and when he went I cried and tasted blood in my mouth and cried harder. The day grew longer, and I, cold where I sat on the floor, knew the night was thick and black in the streets above us. The babies cried, and wiping the blood and tears from my cheek I fed them, bathed them and changed them. I wrapped them both up warmly and put them to bed, singing to them until they fell asleep. Then I cleaned the tent. Abigail had done her best, but things were not as I liked them and I spent much time making them right again.
Then when I had finished I packed a few essentials - clean underclothes, another dress, some linen and a few other odds and ends including my precious unicorn box that my mother had given me, into a sturdy hessian bag. I wished desperately that I knew how to write so I could leave Clopin a note, but he couldn't read anyway, so it didn't seem to matter, after all. I bent over my babe's cradle to kiss them good bye, and saw Clopin's pendant. I picked it up and put it on, kissing it passionately. I remembered how once I would've died to be able to tell him how deep my feelings ran, and I had to leave quickly before they again overwhelmed me and made me stay where I no longer belonged.

I found Remy's caravan where it always was, and not surprised, I found him preparing to leave. He greeted me, startled, and I smiled at him wryly.
"I thought you were leaving on the morrow?"
He shrugged sheepishly. "Wanted to get a head start."
"Hah. Riiiight. Anyway, I'm coming with you."
His mouth dropped open, complete surprise written on his face."What? Harkin - what's come over you?"
"Nothing. I'm sick of the Court. I don't belong there. No you needn't worry, I won't stay with you long, I just need a ride out of this damned city."
He just kept looking at me, his handsome chiselled face confused. A strange look passed over his face, and he reached a hand out to touch the gold hoop that dangled from my left ear.
"You're married." He said quietly. I touched Clopin's earring. I had forgotten to take it out. I shrugged.
"Don't ask me about it. I don't belong here. Now come on, I don't want anything from you but a ride out of town. It won't kill you to do me a favor."
He shrugged, and said nothing,though I knew he must also have noticed the large purple bruise that had begun to color my cheek.Then he climbed into the seat at the front of the caravan and clicked to his horse. Within a half hour we had left the city and were - free.

[stained

Why did I leave? Not really because Clopin hit me, although that played a very small part in it. I knew in a way I deserved it, but I also knew he would never had done it had I not driven him to the very edge, the very edge where his love for me just might fall over and vanish if I kept pushing. Abigail said it to me many times, and I adored her, but it was when Clopin, the one I adored above all others, said it that I really saw. I *had* driven everyone away from me and quite deliberately too. What was wrong with me? I had made such a good effort at being a human being and then all of a sudden - this! Perhaps I was really more monster than human. I couldn't call myself animal, because their dignity and intelligence far surpassed my own. That's what went through my head as I lay down on Remy's little cot as he drove through the countryside that first night. I wept for many things - for the babies I wouldn't see grow up, for Clopin, for Chester, my darling Chester, and for Colombine and little Esmeralda, my surrogate daughter. But I thought what I did was for the best. Everyone in the Court would grow to hate me because of wild nature, just as they had in India, I didn't belong there. My presence would only bring misery to those I cared for most, and I wouldn't even show them I cared. Better to live on my own, make it by myself, let them get on with their lives and be happy.
It seemed an ideal solution at first. Remy and I left each other alone, talking only when the mood hit us, on the first few days of our travels. I quickly learned that so detached he had become from society that he wasn't even gentleman enough to offer me his cot. I didn't mind so much, but couldn't help comparing it to Clopin who would insist a lady take his bed than be wrapped up in a rug on wooden slats. Despite his gorgeous face and divine body, he knew nothing about women, though he was never lost for one should he want it. I sullenly went about my business, driving thoughts of the Court from my mind. I couldn't bring myself to take out Clopin's earring though, and I often caught Remy staring at it strangely.
I couldn't help myself from wondering, much as I had about India, over whether or not anyone in the Court noticed my abscence and whether they missed me or not. I didn't allow myself to think of the shame Clopin would feel when people found out I was gone. I didn't allow myself to miss him either.
Remy never asked me to leave, so I stayed with him longer than I wanted to. I still found him attractive and saw many times from the way he looked at me that he desired me also, but we never did anything about it. He did suggest once that if I really wanted to be free, I should take my wedding earring out. I pretended I hadn't heard him.
But despite our obvious closure to one another, we still got along. We had our laughs, we had our interesting discussions. His company was not too bad, although it could be terribly lonely at times.
In fact so lonely were the long stretches when neither of us said a word, that I turned to my magik. I used my skill with animals to become friendly with the birds who flew in the trees, and the other small woodlife. I had never needed magik to look into their hearts, but I used it to see into the hearts of those people we passed, ascertaining who would welcome us and who would wish us to move on.
We passed a wandering tribe of Romani one day and to my surprise, instead of stopping and supping with them, as is the custom with nomad Romani, Remy wanted to stay long enough only to say hello. Then he whispered to me to get back in the caravan to continue on. I was surprised at the depth of his coldness, and later that night, while we talked, I looked into his heart. I was sure something very serious must've happened to make him so hard and indifferent. It was a cold shock to find - nothing. Remy was just a hard person, who wanted complete freedom from everyone. He believed that to love someone was to tie yourself down with a chain that could never be loosened, and he didn't want responsibility - he didn't want obligation. He just wanted to have a stress-free life. Realising this made me feel more lonely that I have ever felt in my life, and for the first time I wandered if I had made the right decision.
As I slept I had the second of my most influential dreams. I found myself again in the street of skeletons, wading through them as they tore at me. But as I looked up towards the end of the street I saw Chester clearly, waiting for me, and then the skeletons rose up and bore me to him, setting me at his mighty feet. I threw my arms around him and cried happily "Chester, my oldest friend, my dearest friend, my love!" Looking up I saw that my clothes were restored and there was not a mark on me. Looking into Chester's pink eyes I saw his old wisdom and courage and then he spoke to me. We had spoken often through our hearts, sometimes the most eloquent way of speaking,but now he spoke to me with his mouth.
"I am neither your dearest friend or your love," he told me softly. "It is time you realised that."
"But I want you back!" I cried into his soft fur.
He shrugged his muscular shoulders. "It cannot be, my darling. Our time together was precious, but it is over now. You should not let my death slaughter your life. You felt pain when I died. You felt pain when Clopin held you back. You felt pain when you learned of Jean-Luc's treachery. Giving birth was painful. And so was losing your friends one by one. But that is life."
"Life is pain?" I asked him tearfully.
He chuckled, his warm breath golden on my eyes. "No, you foolish child. Life is all things, that's its purpose. You have to take the bad with the good. You can't have just one or the other. If you don't face it then you're not living. I faced it. You should too. Wouldn't you like me to be proud of you?"
I nodded, wiping the tears from my cheeks, surprised to see they were blood.
"Then go back and face your life. You could be so happy, but you must let yourself believe you can be. Pain is just a small part of it. Be strong, Herli.Be like the tiger. Stop being afraid of yourself. It's alright to be unhappy. But don't fool yourself into thinking you've conquered it by shutting yourself off from everything. You're only feeding it that way."
He kissed me with his velvet nose, and stood up, his beautiful muscles rippling beneath his glorious fur.
"Where are you going, Chester?" I cried and he looked at him, a smile in his eyes.
"I have to go. Keep me inside of you, don't trap yourself within me. There - there is your dearest friend and love. Go to him. He waits for you, my darling. We'll meet again, one day."
He leapt away powerfully and I waved to him, feeling curiously happy, loving him completely. I turned to where he had gestured with his magnificent head and saw my husband Clopin standing, arms folded, smiling at me, waiting patiently. Still filled with the happiness Chester's kiss had given me, I ran full pelt into his arms, crying tears of joy, and he held me tightly in his arms.

I awoke in the night, cold on the floor, and lonely with no-one beside me. But I wrapped my cover around me tight, and smiled in the dark, my heart strangely light.

[stained

The next day I was bathing in a nearby stream when Remy strode down. I gave a little cry and ducked down in the water. He squatted on the bank's edge and smiled at me.
"Come on Harkin, don't be shy. Come out of the water, I'll dry you off."
I peered at him through narrowed eyes.
"What have you been drinking, Remy? Stop being ridiculous."
He stood up and shook his head, still smiling.
"You're the one being ridiculous. You know how you feel about me and how I feel about you. Don't you think it's time we acted on it?"
"I'm married!" I spat at him, and he laughed in that way I had once found charming, throwing his head back.
"Some wife! You ran away from home, remember? I can teach you how to be truly free, but you must throw that earring to the depths of the muddy stream! Are you afraid to be free, Harkin?"
I looked at him for a few moments and found it very strange indeed that he thought I was afraid. In that instant several things became clear and I shook my head at him.
"I'm not afraid of anything, Remy. I'm not afraid of death, I've faced it. I'm not afraid to love, I've faced that also. I'm not afraid of pain, I've faced it again and again. Most of all, I'm not afraid to be myself, no matter what the consequences."
He turned back to me, pleased. "Well come on, then, free yourself. Be a true Romani!"
I shook my head again. "No Remy. You're the one who's afraid. You're incapable of loving anyone, even yourself."
He just chuckled. "Afraid, hardly! Don't you find this so much more agreeable, this life free of worry, of stress?"
"No. I find it lonely. Yes I enjoy my independence. I enjoy being able to make up my own mind - but my true friends always allowed me to do this. I did not sacrifice my freedom by caring for them. Anyone who believes they do I feel sorry for. I won't deny I think you're attractive - but I have decided if I'm going to love someone it must be wholly. I cannot sleep with a man I do not love. It is false. I cannot be friends with someone who I won't support in their time of need. If I cannot love someone in the way humans are able, I prefer a completely solitary life. It's all or nothing with me, I'm afraid."
He squatted down again, clasping his hand in front of him, gearing up for another philosophical discussion.
"So you'll deny yourself pleasure simply because we don't love each other?"
This time I nodded. "Absolutely. Because afterwards I would only return to being lonely and unhappy again. I thought once we were ideal companions, that we were very similar, but I since have learned I am wrong. I have made a good many mistakes, but at least I recognise them as being such. You will die alone, Remy."
He laughed again. "Just the way I like it!"
I smiled wryly. "You say that now. Maybe when you die you'll have convinced yourself it is true. For your sake I hope you never discover just how lonely you really are. I'm sorry for you, Remy."
"Don't be."
"Alright then, I won't waste the emotion." I could see I was going to get nowhere with him, so I made my tone jolly. He laughed along.
"I've never understood all the torment people want to put themselves through for love and other such silly emotions."
I ducked down lower in the water and thought of Clopin and how he could make me feel with just one smile. "It's worth it. No, I have to waste the emotion, I am sorry for you Remy. You're missing out on a lot of life with this isolation of yours."
He stood up again, kicking bits of dirt around."Au contraire, Mademoiselle Harkin. I travel all over, see all different things. It's a fine life."
I shook my head and didn't answer.
"Well, you better get out before that fair skin of yours wrinkles. I'll see you back at the caravan. And never you fear, ma cherie" - he winked at me - "I'll change your mind about us!"
I waited until he was out of sight before ducking out of the stream, and drying myself down, putting on my chemise. Suddenly he appeared from the nearby bushes and wrapped his arms around me.
"My god, you're beautiful," he breathed in my ear. "You must've driven that husband of yours wild with passion. That hair, that body!"
I shoved him away in annoyance.
"I told you to stop being ridiculous, Remy!!"
He kept trying to kiss me though and I grew angry.
"Force yourself on me, and I'll kill you, you bastard!"
He stopped and glared at me. "I thought you found me attractive?"
"Not anymore I don't!" I snapped. "Good God, you really don't understand, do you? Let me go, damn it!"
He obeyed and looked at me strangely."I really thought you were like me, Harkin. But it seems you're not."
"Damn right I'm not."
"I think it's better we part company at the next village."
I sighed wearily, and pulled my dress on. "Fine with me."
He shrugged and turned away to go back to the caravan. As he left I thought - did I look like that to others? So cold and uncaring? And I wanted more than ever to go home, home to the Court of Miracles.
I towelled my hair and began following him up the path when I heard the beat of horse hooves on the dirt road. I ducked down behind a bush, wanting to see who it was who came near us before they saw me. There were about four or five horses, by my reckoning, tired from the sounds of their breath, and I thought dreamily of the beautiful animals I'd left behind at the Court.
They reigned in near Remy's caravan and he came out to greet them reluctantly. Then a deep, beautiful voice spoke and my heart leapt when I realised who it was.
"Hello there, Remy, long time no see."
"Salut Clopin! What brings you to the countryside? I thought you'd be busy with the Court!"
"Alas, Remy. I've lost something very dear to my heart and have reason to believe you have found it."
"Oh? What is that, then?" Remy's voice was confused.
"My wife, Herlikin."

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

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