Chapter Twenty-Three

All the while this conversation took place my heart was beating hard, completely filled with the old love I no longer had the power to fight. I listened to that magikal voice and dreamed of it enveloping me as I crouched in the bushes. Remy paused while he figured it out, and when he spoke his voice was incredulous.
"Harkin is your wife?"
"I've no idea what she's told you her name is, but she has the most glorious red hair you'll ever see, and her eyes are oddly colored. She's very fond of the color red."
I could almost see Remy nodding slowly. "Aye, that's her alright."
Clopin's horse whinnied, and when he spoke, his voice was hoarse with eagerness and worry, and my heart thudded painfully inside me.
"Excellent. Lead me to her. I've come to bring her home."
A long pause. Then Remy spoke. "What if she doesn't want to come home with you? What if she desires freedom?"
Clopin laughed coldly. "If I know my Herli she's discovered just what exactly your kind of freedom is, and furthermore, has discovered just how confining it really is. Anyway, it doesn't matter. I love her and I want her to come home with me."
Remy laughed in his cold, humorless way, and was about to answer, but I couldn't stand it any longer. I broke cover from the bushes, and ran towards my husband crying, "Clopin, Clopin!"
"Herli!" He jumped down from his brown gelding and ran to meet me as I collapsed into his arms.
"Oh my darling," he whispered tearfully against my cheek and hair as my body sagged in his arms and I cried with all the energy I had in me.
"Oh Clopin!!"
He held me tight and I squeezed him around his middle, never having known such happiness in a man's scent, the feel of his body or the sound of his voice.
He let me cry for a few minutes, running his hands through my hair and when he went to move away I begged him not to. I hadn't realised until that moment how much I had missed him. Finally, the extremities of our reunion being over, I leant back and smiled at him.
"You came to find me?"
He stroked my cheek tenderly, looking at me with what I knew was deep love.
"Of course I did, you silly woman. What the hell did you think?"
I couldn't answer, just choked back some sobs, and buried my head in his chest. The other Romani laughed and nudged one another happily. Clopin held me, smiling, hiding his feelings like a real man, and told the others to pitch camp, it looked as though we'd be stopping for the night.
When I was finally strong enough to raise my head and loosen my grip on him I looked around to see Remy looking not very pleased at all.
"This is my campsite!"
The others scoffed at him and Clopin laughed as he cuddled me in his lap by the new campfire.
"Well, you can either deal with sharing it with us for one night, or move on, it's your choice!"
"You're not going to punish me?" His voice was sullen. Clopin just looked at him strangely.
"Good god, whatever for? You've done nothing wrong. Herli went with you of her own free will, now she's simply seen the error of her ways." I nuzzled his neck happily.
"You should've told me you were married to the King," Remy said to me grumpily. I looked at him, my eyes shining, too happy to worry too much. I knew he'd get by.
'Oh Remy...." I paused, not knowing what to say. Finally I laughed. "I'm so glad I'm not like you!"
For the first time ever I saw, Remy looked hurt. But I just wanted to be with my husband, my love and dearest friend.
"God, how can you ever forgive me for being such a monster?" I whispered sadly to him that night as the others amused themselves with their home-made instruments and jokes. He chuckled and inhaled my hair deeply.
"It's not so hard. We'll just say you were possesed by a demon, and now you've been cleansed."
"Oh Clopin, cleanse me, please!"
He carried me quickly to the one tent that had been erected for just this purpose, though no-one had said as such. That night we made love like we never had before, glorious hours of becoming recaquainted with each other, renewing ourselves of each other's bodies and innermost feelings, as we spoke to each other of how torturous the last few months, and especially the last few weeks of absence from each other, had been. It had been so long since the last time that it hurt me, but I would not have had it any other way. I wanted his mouth to cleanse my entire body and he happily obliged me, and finally, long past a year of marriage, past a year of the first time we made love, I told him.
"Clopin, I love you."
"Do you, my love?"
"Oh yes. If I wake up tomorrow and this is a dream, I will die I know I will."
"Well, my only love, it's tomorrow already. This can't be a dream then, no?"
I smiled and wrapped my arms around him.
"Besides,I'd miss you too much if you died. If you died, then I would have to die to join you, and who would look after our children then?" he asked me, and I kissed him, loving him too much to even say it. But still I tried.
"Oh Clopin, if only I could tell you just how much this love consumes me - "
"Shhhh... I can feel it in you, ma cherie. Don't try and say it with the mortal's clumsy mouth. Tell me through your heart. And know, that no matter how much it is, that I love you back double and more besides." He kissed my cheek warmly, where the bruise had been and was now long since faded.
"Rubbish!" I giggled. "I know I love you more. I must!"
"Oh please!" he groaned and shushed me with his mouth as we reached another climax.
The skies outside had turned to gray by the time we'd finished and I was reminded of the first night we had truly slept together. But unlike that first night, I got very little extra sleep, as we had to awaken early to go back to the Court. My body was sore again but I gave Remy a happy kiss goodbye, and sat on Clopin's horse in front on my husband. Remy watched us with an expression of confusion. I knew he could never understand, but did not allow myself to dwell on it, being too preoccupied with the extra pain the horse's trot caused me.
"Ouch ouch ouch!" I sang in beat as we bounced along and Clopin laughed and kissed the back of my head.
"It's alright, my love. It won't be long until we're home. They've been asking after you."
"They have?" I asked, surprised and pleased. I felt him nod.
"Yes, yes they have. Colombine was distraught when you left. She blamed herself for you leaving, saying she had not supported you enough."
"She supported me far too much," I said reflectively. "I did not earn such consideration."
He kissed me again and groaned into my hair. "It's alright. She willingly blamed me when I told her how I whacked you. God, I could cut off my hand for that."
"No, I deserved it," I said decisively, and when he tried to protest I cut him off. "No I did! I was beastly. You were far more patient than you should've been. My only regret is how much time I wasted when we could've been so happy."
He cuddled me joyously.
"It took me a couple of days to come and look for you. I was too unhappy at first, I wanted to let you go if it would make you happy. It was Abigail who woke me up. She threw me out of my chair and told me to bring you home directly! Then I knew why you really left and knew I had to bring you home."
I smiled and leaned into him. "I was going to come back anyway, but I'm so glad you found me. " I twisted around on the saddle to face him and we kissed rapturously as the horse jolted us down the dirt path.

[stained

When we arrived back in Paris I smiled at the buildings and streets, glad to be back, and when we entered the Court I ran directly to our tent, and picked up my babies and covered them with kisses. I had only been gone a couple of weeks, but they seemed to have already grown bigger and more beautiful than ever.
The word got around the Court that I had been found, unharmed and free of the devil that sometimes possesses women after they give birth. Abigail hobbled as fast as her old legs would carry her to smile at me with her beautiful toothless mouth and I swept her little brown body into my arms. Everywhere I turned there were smiles of forgiveness and friendship, and my heart was warm and glad.
That night we held a party in the Center - not so much a welcome back feast for me, but more of a christening feast for my babies. We presented them formally to the Court, and they were cheered and sung to by all. Clopin held me in his arms and I held the babies in mine and we smiled at each other with complete content. They gurgled and cooed in my embrace, smiling gummy baby smiles to the women who clucked and fussed with them. Not at all distressed by the cacophany of music, smells, laughter and broad splashes of color that assaulted their young senses in the Center, they were very interested and watched it all with bright, alert gazes.
I noticed Colombine was there, but she had not approached me. She did not seem her usual self, she sat somewhat off to the side, only smiling quietly to herself. Decked out all in black and white, she was very lovely and I felt horribly guilty over the way I had abused her friendship. Handing the children to Clopin who was forced to put aside his drink and pipe, and promising to return with a kiss, I went over to her a little shyly. She gave me a grudging smile, not looking at me with her eyes.
I knelt down in front of her and clasped my hands in front of me, like the way the Christians do when they pray.
"Please, pleeeeease forgive me!" I begged her. "I was an absolute idiot!! I'm so sorry, Colombs!!!"
She sniffed and lay her head to one side, thinking. I stayed on my knees looking at her pleadingly.
"Come on, how many people do you think I've begged to in my life?" I smiled at her beseechingly, and finally she relented, giving me the old grin, her eyes full of her old humor and spark. We hugged each other fiercely, and laughed, and we skipped together with our arms linked back to where Clopin waited impatiently for me to return. Colombine tickled Harlena's forehead and she giggled at her. I let her nurse the little girl, holding my son to me closely. I felt Clopin kiss my cheek and turned to smile at him. He winked to me,as he and his friends continued to shout over the top of one another.I settled back comfortably against his body as the women joined us and I listened to them talk happily.

The next day, everything back to normal like it had never changed, I made Clopin his breakfast and we lovingly kissed goodbye as he went up to the world above. I knew he would allow me to perform again when the children were a little older, but I was perfectly happy with fussing over them that day. I cleaned the tent up and unpacked my little hessian sack, looking at my unicorn chest with pleasure, stroking my mother's heirloom box happily. I stroked Chester's cushions and wondered why I had grown so dissatisfied with life here. I could think of my old friend without crying now, and I put him in the paradise land my parents and brothers lived in, able to visit them with no regret, and no tears.
After lunch I went to Christophe asking him a favor, and he easily procured it for me. Then I went to Chanterfleurie's tent and gave Esmeralda the little kid goat Christophe had obtained for me, as a way of apologising. She grasped the wiggling little beast happily and forgave me instantly. After that I never minded her and her little goat coming around to the tent to play with the babies.
Her dancing lessons resumed, naturally, as Colombine and I returned to our old way of life. I was over my melancholy madness completely by this stage, and things were as they had always been. The two of us fooling around light-heartedly, seeking pretty things from the markets, Clopin joining us in the tavern, he and I sharing all our tiniest thoughts,makig love and knowing we had found all we'd ever need in each other. My heart and soul was open to him once more, and again we achieved the old bond few are ever fortunate enough to know. At any time of the day I could feel where he was, and if he was happy, and he knew the same about me. I was completely secure in our love for each other, knowing that after all it had been through it would last, even beyond our own deaths. I was curious about one thing, and had to ask Abigail;
"Abigail, you have always been able to see into my heart, why then, did you not guess that I would return and get over my grief?"
She laughed, shocked for a moment. "My lord, child, if you had any idea how closed off you were! Not even the most powerful sorceror in Europe could've broke down those walls!!!"
I grinned at her slyly. "I've always wondered how to keep my private thoughts a secret from witches, now I know how, I might just - " She glared at me and I laughed. "Only joking!!"

So life in the Court was once again it's old blissful state.Time passed in a happy blur, and my babies grew older and stronger. I would dangle my pendant in front of them so that the light would reflect off the precious medal and make them laugh. I put weight on, and kept my strength up by resuming my acrobatics. Very seldom I wondered about Remy and Jean-Luc and if they were happy in the lives they had made for themselves. But they seemed very unimportant and I didn't think of it much. I would swing Clopin's hand as we walked down the streets, and he'd laugh and sweep me up into a dance, both of us ducking swiftly away if any of the guards expressed interest in us. He kept a close eye on me to make sure I didn't do anything foolish, and I obliged him, waiting until he would let his guard down. We'd cuddle in his secret rock cave behind the stage and talk about the future, talk about the past, talk about anything that came to mind.
I'd look at him, so handsome and charming, besides me, and my heart would swell with love and gratitude. He'd catch the look and grin, teasing me, but I often found him looking at me in the same manner.
More time passed and Harlan and Harlena graduated from crawling to tottering unsteadily on their round little legs,holding on to whatever was nearest to keep them up and I cried with pride and showed Clopin who embraced them both as they pinched his nose and tugged on his beard. I thought he was a glorious father,much like my own had been, returning from his adult duties within the Court to play with the children and allow me some time to myself.And of course Abigail and Tante Marie were always more than happy to watch them for a few hours if we wanted to go out together.

[stained

I watched autumn in Paris, and decided it was my favourite season, the leaves turning to gold and brown and floating gently to the ground, the air warm and wild and the river rushing.It was over all too soon and the bitter cold of winter set in, driving me beneath to the warmth of the Court once more. I suffered a mother's malady and wrapped my children up in copious cotton garments. Being ten months of age by now, they babbled to each other happily, and I wondered often what they talked about. They were a source of constant wonder to me, and I watched them, fascinated, for hours. Harlan was my special pet and Harlena her father's. We would often bemoan to one another that we loved our respective child more than each other, though we knew hat was ridiculous.
I was able to attend the Festival of Fools that year, in fact Clopin very graciously allowed me to be part of the entertainment by dancing on the stage erected for the day. I'm proud to say I did very well. I've never witnessed such an enormous party - everyone singing, dancing, and getting as gloriously drunk as they wished. The festivities were splendid, although there seemed a very real danger of getting crushed in the boisterous crowd. Clopin had been so good and devoted the last few months by giving up much of his recreation time with his friends to help me look after the children that at the end of the day I told him to do as he had always done. He hesitated a moment, holding my hands in his, but I pushed him away and told him to come home in one piece. He kissed me and rushed off to join up with the other Romani men, they all linking arms and singing, and I laughed when he returned home the next evening, still drunk, and telling me he came home early because he missed me before falling asleep, snoring loudly.
We celebrated our second wedding anniversary  by leaving the babies with Tante Marie and throwing ourselves a party in the Tavern. All there were happy to join and we finished it off by acting out the romance writer's favourite scenario - making love by a roaring fire with a bottle of red wine!
The snows melted, and it was spring,my second favourite season and Clopin grew very annoyed by my constantly sniffing the air. I adore the scent of spring, the clean fresh air laden with new life, and I can't get enough of it. He'd tap his foot impatiently, waiting while I inhaled the air deeply on the streets, before moving about our business. One day he brought me back a bunch of freshly plucked roses, still dripping with morning dew, telling me ostentiously that he'd stolen them from the King's own Garden. 
"And you tell me not to take unecessary risks!" I teased him. He shrugged. "I'm a man, I'm cleverer about these things" was his come back. "Besides giving you the best roses in the whole country is very much a necessary risk!" he added, silencing any retort on my part.
On the Fifteenth of March it was the twins' first birthday and we had an enormous party in the Court, the whole lot of us gathering in the Center to cook great joints of meat and make up stupid songs in their honour. I wept the next day when first Harlena, then Harlan, said "maman" and Clopin sulked when he got home because I had spent the whole day getting them to repeat "maman" and had not taught them "papa". He took them in his arms and said "papa" over and over again but they stubbornly repeated "maman" and then laughed at the faces he pulled, thinking it a game.
The next day they were saying it however, and he took them around to all the tents, proudly showing everyone unfortunate enough to be there, and they laughed at him and clucked over the babies. After that, their development was fast and they repeated everything we said, and grew faster and more mobile on their feet.
Esmeralda used them as an audience for the tricks she was teaching her goat, whom she'd christened Djali. They understood none of it, but loved the sight of that pretty little creature hopping around on his hind legs.
Colombine and I would take one each in our arms and take them under the bridge and through the city, showing them the world which they loved instantly, looking at it from their beautiful black eyes, so much like their father's. I apologised to Cosette for my previously rude behaviour, and together the three of us giggled and frolicked and wondered why we'd ever been unhappy.
Life was very good.

[stained

It was about the middle of summer after that when I inadvertantly passed the Palace of Justice, glaring down at me, black and horrible against the azure sky. I glared back at it, not wanting an artefact of stone to intimidate me, and then pulled my cloak around me closer as a troop of guards led a procession from it's mighty mouth of a door. Then I saw, for the first time, the man who'd so plagued our people. Judge Claude Frollo. He might, at one time in his life, been a handsome man. His bone structure was good, and he was tall and straightbacked. But years of cruelty and prejudice had marked his face permanently and it looked to be carved from a chunk of marble, his cheek bones prominent, his mouth curling and cruel, his eyes haughty and cold and his head prematurely gray.
I watched him with narrowed eyes and thought of my old friend who had been slaughtered in part because of him. We never had found out what happened to his body. I made a decision then and hurried back to the Court. I sought out Jenessa, the sullen black eyed spy, and asked her certain questions about the Palace of Justice. She looked at me curiously.
"The Palace is bolted shut tight every evening as soon as the light begins to fade. During the day the doors are open, though heavily guarded, and some of the windows are open too. They're not guarded, but guards roam the hallways. May I ask why?"
I grinned at her. "Yes you may. Doesn't mean I'll answer though."
She looked at me, confused for a moment, before realising the joke and nodding in understanding. She didn't laugh and I shook my head as I skipped away. The spies at the Court were definetely weird.
That night I smiled secretly to myself and Clopin observed me for a while before demanding to know what I was plotting.
"Why, whatever makes you think I'm plotting something, my love?" I asked him feigning surprise.
"Because you're walking around grinning like a loon, rubbing your hands together and muttering to yourself. Now I know you're up to something. What is it?"
"Why nothing, my only darling!" I said soothingly and crawled onto his lap, while he "hmmm"'d at me, not convinced. But I distracted his attention with kisses and after a while he forgot about it and took me over to the bed.
The next day I rose early, as always, but surprised Clopin by getting dressed for outdoors.
"You don't normally leave so early," he said suspiciously. "Where are you going?"
"I want to get the freshest bread and fish," I told him, but I could see he didn't believe me.
"If you're doing something you shouldn't, I'll spank you hard."
"I'll look forward to it!" I teased him, and ducked out of the way as he tried to spank me then.
I dropped the babies off with Abigail and then set off, feeling very sly, directly to the Palace of Justice. I sat at a fountain, munching on some bread I bought, looking at the Palace from the corners of my eyes. I didn't want to risk even trying to get past the guards at the door, so after a while I set up and casually headed down the street to the side of the building, being careful not to look at the Palace or the guards. Once I was past them all I looked at the side of the building. Some of the windows were set lower than the others, but they were fastened shut tight.
"Damn Frollo, doesn't he like fresh air!" I muttered crossly to myself, and moved around towards the back of the building. A small courtyard was enclosed by a low stone wall, and after looking around surreptitiously to make sure I wasn't observed, I dug my feet into the wall and hauled myself over, scraping my knee painfully, and falling clumsily into the bushes. I stayed very still for a few moments, waiting to see if my movements had been heard. After a while, I found it safe to move and changed my position. 
By now it was past midday, and I crept cautiously to the latticed doors that opened onto the illcared for and dank courtyard. I snuck inside, keeping close to the walls and hiding in the shadows (and there were plenty of them),moving down the dark maze of corridors.
Frollo evidently favoured the heavy Gothic Architecture, for the walls were bare stone, the furniture heavy and made of dark wood, little decoration, no color whatsoever. Although the ceilings were high and beautifully carved, the place felt no less a prison for it. I felt a mad panic buzz between my ears as the corridors led me down a twisted path, seemingly neverending and frighteningly claustrophobic.

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


PREVIOUSNEXT

[Velvet