I made myself stop and breathe the dank air deeply, calming myself and
getting my bearings. I listened carefully at a heavy oak door, even sniffing
at the keyhole like my tiger would've done. Finally I decided it was safe,
and carefully slid the door open. I crept inside the enormous, bare room,
the flagstones cold beneath my feet, the tall, heavily-draped windows letting
in the least amount of light. The room was empty, and I closed the door
quietly behind me. I darted to the windows and glanced out to see where
I was. Below me was the small alley that Clopin and I had run down that
first day out, two years ago now. Now I knew where I was, I went and hid
under a large stone table, covered with a deep mauve piece of velvet. I
wanted to wait until it was dark, and I settled down, shifting around uncomfortably
on the hard floor.
The prospect of several hours wait did not daunt me; I amused myself
in my mind. I imagined myself backflipping onto the stage and dancing,
twisting, cartwheeling, performing the various acrobatic tricks I so loved
to do. I imagined making beautiful dresses from expensive fabric and wearing
them to the admiration of all. The I ran barefoot in the forests of India
with Chester's powerful body galloping gracefully besides me. We played
in the mud and I teased the monkeys. I was vaguely aware that I was reliving
actual events, but then my mind moved on. I played with my children, now
older and more divine than ever, then greeted my gorgeous husband who came
in the door to sweep me up in his arms. I dreamed of us old and wizened
like Abigail, but still able to arouse all the old passion in each other,
still laughing and sharing adventures as we teased each other and hobbled
about. And there were are children, grown up strong and intelligent, and
there were more - two boys, twins and a girl, younger. Under that heavy
stone table, leaving against the roughly carved leg, my head thrown back,
my eyes fell open a little way and I started to become aware that so deep
in my trance I had fallen that I was now seeing my future.
A heavy door clanged shut somewhere in the building, intruding far
enough to startle me out of my trance, and then I was back in the present
once more, my heart pounding from the shock of so violently being pulled
out of a life I could look forward to. I waited a few moments more till
my heart slowed down again and I smiled at what I had just experienced,
moving cautiously out from under the table. The room was still empty, and
now pitch black. I waited a few moments until my gypsy eyes adjusted to
the dark, and I could make out the vague image of the objects in the room.
I crept quickly to the window and looked out. The streets were dark, it
was night. I snuck again to the heavy door I had come into the room from
and within a few seconds had slipped into the corridors beyond. I held
my head high in the black and got my bearings. Acting on instinct more
than anything else I headed toward the center of the Palace.
Sure enough, the maze eventually opened up into the large reception
hall at the very front of the building. Only a few candles still burned
and I realised it must be quite late. I could make out the few hangings
on the walls, the rugs on the floor beneath me. A huge marble staircase
in the Center of the room led upwards, and behind it, smaller, darker staircases
led down to the dungeons. There were other dark oak doors set in the gray
stone walls, I guessed that they led on to the magisterial courts and such.
Which meant upwards....
Ducking in and out of the shadows I reached the stairs and sped silently
up them. I had my years of moving in the jungles with Chester to thank
for my stealthiness and control. At the top of these stairs it was another
pause, and I knew I had no way of truly guessing where anything was. I
was not even entirely sure what I was looking for, except I knew a white
tiger was a very rare oddity in this country. I moved down the marbled
hall and came to the end of it where it turned into another hall. Further
down this one I could see a dim orange glow seeping out from beneath one
of the doors. With a goal now I sped down, arriving outside this one lighted
room. Cautiously, and oh so slowly, I pushed on the door.
Slowly, slowly, it opened revealing to me a huge room, even barer than
its predecessors, the end of it a great fireplace was carved into the wall,
it was from this that the glow emitted. In front of it and facing it was
a huge velvet chair, one arm visible lying over the side.I crept forward,
my bare feet making no sound on the floor, and I peeked cautiously over
the side. It was Frollo, sleeping fitfully as well he should, his brow
lightly furrowed, fingers twitching where they lay. I glared at him in
wonder and some small apprehension at being so close to this man who once
put a bounty on my head - and likely would again. I looked forward at the
fire and then had to shove my fist into my mouth to stifle my cry, for
lying outstretched on the floor was the pelt of my beloved Chester! His
head stuffed and mighty mouth were propped open, black stones wide and
vacant where his eyes should have been. I crawled forward, tears streaming
down my cheeks and ran my hands lovingly over the fur, still soft, still
smelling a little of my old friend.
But I could only allow myself to grieve a few moments longer. I was
too close to the danger with not many means of escape. Carefully, I gathered
up my old friends skin, and wrapped it around me, wresting his head on
mine, his long claws, still intact scraping my chest where they dangled.
Then with my eyes hot and stinging I turned to face Frollo. He slept still,
the sleep of a guilty man, troubled and unpleasant. I thought of my little
dagger under my skirts and thought...how easy would it be...to put an end
to so much misery and heartache right now....to free my people from his
terrible grasp.....but while I debated still whether or not to act on this
urge, a log moved in the fire place, dropping heavily, and his eyes flickered
then opened wide. He gazed at me, startled and alarmed, and I froze, not
sure what to do.
I took up the arm of Chester that was wrapped around my neck, and raising
it high brought the claws down across Frollo's chest. He gave a scream,
as they scrapped lightly across his flesh, and then I bounded past his
chair and out the door. I could hear him screaming behind me, and knew
the guards would be alerted. I had no time to lose myself in the maze of
corridors once more, so instead once I rushed down the staircase I headed
straight for the main door, forgetting it was solidly bolted. I pounded
on it for a few moments in panic, then gave a gasp as I heard the voices
of the guards approaching me, running, their weapons drawn. I thought wildly
for a moment, and then ran behind the staircase and down one of the miserable
little things that led into the dungeons. Trying to ignore the cries of
those suffering, dodging their outstretched arms, and shoving one of Chester's
paws across my nose to block out the stench I leapt through this filthy
terror, finally arriving at the steel door I was sure must be the one.
Tearing it open I flung myself inside and, hearing the soldiers move
angrily through the dungeons behind me, pressed frantically at the wall
until finally I found the right brick and the exit was open to me.I paused
only long enough to make sure the door slid shut again, and then I was
tearing through the streets, not hesitating once, just following my heart.
I must've looked a terrible sight,a red-haired gypsy with a tiger pelt
thrown around her, eyes shining with tears.
At the city gates I stopped, wondering if I should return to the Court
and tell Clopin what I was doing, what had happened. But I seemed to have
come too far. I continued out along the cobblestone road which eventually
gave way to dirt. I walked along this way until morning. My feet were cut
and bruised all over and my skirts were dusty. I hitched them up to make
my progress easier, and tore the sleeves of my dress to cool myself down.
I tried admiring the countryside to distract me, but it was extremely difficult,
especially with the weight of Chester's heavy pelt on my back combined
with the weight of the sun which beat down mercilessly.
Finally a man in a cart passed and I asked him if he could give me
a ride, offering to pay and showing him a purse of money to prove it (for
I was far too proud to beg). He agreed, and was quite friendly all the
way, chatting to me cheerfully, although he looked at my strange package
curiously. We reached the field with the stream, and I told him he could
let me off here. I asked him for some flint, and he gave it to me, then
refused my money after all. I spent the next couple of hours building a
small raft of mud and reeds, then piled the old skin of my darling friend
onto it. Poking bits of straw over it, I kissed the head tenderly, then
struck the flint. I watched it burn for a moment, making sure the flames
caught hold properly, then pushed it off.
I watched it for a while, crying a little,but I felt better, much better.
Things had been put right now and I was ready, once again, to go home.
I picked my weary way through the field and started back along the road.I
moved much slower now, my body tired out. Several carts passed and though
I asked for a ride, no-one would stop.
So I walked many miles, in this manner, to the small town I'd passed
on my way out, and made my way into the inn, a small cheerily-lit and dirty
place with a grumpy thin husband and a stern fat wife. I settled down near
the bar and ignored the stares of the men who wondered what a strange dirty
gypsy woman was doing on her own, paid for wine and some bread and cheese,
a few pieces of fruit with it. I was in danger of falling asleep, though
I knew that I couldn't - that I had to keep going. I tried to urge myself
to climb from my chair, but I couldn't do it.
The innkeepers's wife took pity on me, and told me to stop for the
night. "I can't." I moaned "I have to go home, my husband will be worried
I heard a few of the men chuckle, amused by the thought that gypsies
married and were loyal. The fat, dirty wife crossed her arms and shook
her head at me.
"Where do you live?"
"Ha! Thats' miles away yet. You'll never make it home in one piece
the condition you're in. You can sleep by the fire tonight, and I'll ask
not a sou for it. But you should stay."
I thanked her wearily and accepted the dingy blanket she gave me. Her
husband argued with her, none too quietly, that I would rob them blind,
but she shushed him, and too tired to care what they said, I curled up
on the hearth and fell into a sound sleep.
It was only a few hours later when I awoke, my heart racing,my mind
a panic of fear. I glanced wildly around me, at the now dead fire, the
bare-benched room, everyone long since asleep in their beds. I could see
nothing to attribute my fear too, but it continued nonetheless. I got up
and paced anxiously, my mind a whirl, cries coming to my throat that I
had to choke back. Finally I paused and collected my thoughts. What could
I attribute to this panic? The word came unbidden - Clopin! Something was
wrong with Clopin, I was sure of it, and tossing the little rag of a blanket
to the floor, I unbolted the inn door and raced out of the town, running
as fast as I could towards Paris.
When the sun rose on yet another day I was forced to slow my pace,
and a terrible stitch had formed in my side, causing me almost to double
over. But I kept on doggedly, the feeling of panic having not subsided.
When a cart finally passed driven by a farmer with a great black beard
taking his produce to town I begged shamelessly for a ride, offering them
money, my jewellery if only he would take pity on me. He did, and slowed
the cart enough for me to hop on, then told me to be careful to keep my
hands in my lap; he had a scythe in the back and was not afraid to cut
the hands off a gypsy thief. I glared at him a little, but said nothing,
not wanting to lose my ride. He mumbled something about gypsy beggars and
I drew myself up proudly and said pointedly to him "Sir I assure you I
am not in the habit of begging, but my husband needs me. Would you not
want your wife to be prepared to sacrifice a very small part of her pride
to rush to your aid?"
He said nothing just scowled, and he ambled towards Paris.
Sitting back and trying to calm myself, I put my hand on my chest and
felt with ever increasing alarm that my pendant, the precious pendant Clopin
had given me, was not around my neck. I cried softly when I realised I
must of dropped it somewhere along the way and now it was probably lost
Finally, finally, we got there just as the sun as about to set on the
second day I had been away. I could barely wait for him to stop, so slow
had his driving been, so impatient I was, and so afraid, terribly afraid
for my beautiful husband. I jumped down from the cart and threw my purse
of money at the sullen farmer, not bothering to say thank you, and then
raced through the streets, my hair wild and streaming like fire, my skirts
torn and ragged, my feet bleeding. I ducked hastily through Paquette's
tavern,waving briefly to her and Cosette, and then I was in the Court running
for all I was worth to our tent.
As I got closer I could hear my babies crying, and I burst in, breathing
hard and looking about me frantically. Both Colombine and Abigail was there,
the former leaping to her feet as I entered, the latter gasping in shock,
as she nursed my babes close to here. Colombine rushed over to me, I pushed
past her to run my hands over my children's heads tenderly.
"Herli, where on earth have you been??" she cried.
"Where is Clopin??" I asked her, not seeing him anywhere. Abigail and
she looked at each other worriedly and then back at me.
"Where is he?" I said again and Abigail sighed sadly.
"Sit down child.I'll tell you as quickly as I can."
I will now recount the tale as she told it to me.
"Clopin arrived home two evenings ago to find you and your babes nowhere
abouts. He came down to my tent to enquire after you and grew worried when
he saw that you had placed the children under my care.
"Did Herli tell you where she went?" he asked me.
"No" I replied. "I was under the impression she would not be gone long.
When she did not return I assumed she was with you. It is not normally
like her to leave them with me so long unless she is caught up elsewhere."
"Clopin's brow furrowed with worry and he took the children back to
your tent. I went with him, knowing he would not know how to change them
or attend to them. We passed several hours, the both of us growing more
and more anxious. We could not understand how you would not have sent word
to us, why you would not have told us where you went, and so we came to
think something terrible had befallen you. It was long past the hour of
midnight when the spy Jenessa brought us news.
"We learned that Frollo had been attacked during the night, what he
believed to be the direct result of gypsy magik. He has apparently claimed
that a tiger fur he keeps as a rug rose up from the ground and clawed him.
He has the cuts across his chest to prove it."
I broke in here. "Of course! I was standing directly in front of the
fire, he must not have been able to see me beneath the pelt! That was Chester's
She nodded and continued. "We gathered as much, for Frollo had learned
from Isabelle the Gypsy King's wife came from India, doubtless he presumed
the tiger slaughtered in the streets that day was yours.
"Clopin asked where you were and Jenessa grew confused. She had thought
her information to be another bounty on your head, but when Clopin told
her you were missing she recounted to us how you had asked questions about
the security on the Palace. Here we guessed you had entered the Palace,
but did not understand the part of the magik, for we knew you did not know
that type. Clopin hammered Jenessa for news but all she could say is that
Frollo's wrath was being brought down on the Gypsy Queen for possessing
the dead tiger. We assumed the worst. That very night Clopin gathered some
men and went to the dungeons through our secret way. They searched as long
as they could safely, but found no trace of you. Clopin was in a panic,
and the men had to drag him back down. We passed a stressful day, in which
Clopin's fear grew to rage.He guessed Frollo was hiding you somewhere else,
trying to bring the Gypsy King out of hiding so he could butcher you both.
"I'll come out of hiding alright!" Clopin raged. "And when I do that
damn Judge will wish I had stayed hidden!"
And leaving the babes in my care he went to the Court Center."
Here Colombine took over the story.
"Clopin got up on the stage and called all the men of the Court to him.
"My friends, Claude Frollo has once again declared war on our people, but
this time he has tried to tip the scales in his favor by taking prisoner
our own dear Queen!! He wants us to come out of hiding and fight back,
what do you say to that my friends?"
Christophe, our own dear butcher, spoke up. "I say we come out of hiding
and fight back for our Queen!" and the others took him up on this chant.
"Herli, if ever I have felt attracted to your husband it was right
then, as he stood looking out over the Court! Not even the King of France
himself decked out in all his finest finery could have looked as powerful
and imposing as Clopin Trouillefou did right then, and Clopin had only
his dirty tunic and old feathered hat! He smiled with those beautiful teeth
of his, that tall body throwing a longer silhouette over the back of the
stage, and clasped his hands together.
"Then let's go, I say!" he cried "Let's gather arms and go!"
"We spent the day gathering what weapons we could, and organising our
battle strategy. Things would've been well had Clopin not got drunk! I
could see he was drinking too much and tried to stop him, but he was so
afraid for you Herli! It wasn't enough that we were fighting, he was afraid
we were already too late! He couldn't walk steadily when we went to fight,
though he made a brave show of it, the first to enter the Palace as the
sun fell, holding his sword up high! I hope I have a man to fight for me
like that one day, Frederick is sweet, but so timid! The guards rushed
upon us, but they were ill-prepared and we outnumbered them, thankfully!
It was a terrific mess, and all took place in that big cold hall inside
the Palace! I'd never seen it before and never want to again, I assure
you! At any rate by the time we'd finished there were men on both sides
down, and several of ours unaccounted for. Oh Herli - Clopin was one of
I jumped to my feet, my heart pounding wildly. I should have known!!
Colombine began to cry and Abigail's eyes were misty.
"Oh Herli, we don't know if he's even alive or dead!" she sobbed to
me. I remembered the terror I had felt during the night. It had not wholly
left me. "He is not dead. He lives still." I said calmly. "I know this."
They looked at me and slowly, one after the other, they nodded. I sighed
"I can't believe all this trouble I have caused, and I was doing so
well! I went to dispose Chester's skin in a manner he deserved. I had no
idea this would happen!" Although I knew my beloved lived still, I was
well aware there had been much pain and heartache that could easily have
been avoided. "But I don't understand - Clopin has never needed to expend
effort to know where I am!! Why did he not know now?" I turned to Abigail
beseechingly. She thought for a few moments.
"You say you were disposing of the skin of your friend? In that case
you must've been reliving some grief?" I nodded. That was certainly true.
"Then it's possible that's why Clopin couldn't reach you. You were trapped
on another plane for the time. That's also probably why he panicked so
- he couldn't sense your presence, he might've thought you were dead or
in great agony!!"
It made sense. "And then, when I had finished the rite over Chester's
body I was immediately aware when Clopin encountered trouble - that's why
I got up in the middle of the night to run home!"
They stared at me, amazed. "You ran back to Paris?" Colombine asked
"Only a few miles. Then I got a lift."
Their gaze travelled down to my purple, swollen feet, blood and dirt-encrusted.
Their eyes widened simultaneously, before rising to meet me again.
"Herli you're absolutely insane," Colombine said at last.
"Not insane. In love. Look this really isn't important. What's important
now is that we find Clopin and bring him home before I suffer a heart attack
from the stress!!!!"
Abigail nodded "The men are planning another attack later on tonight.
You should stay here, you could be - "
"Later tonight isn't fast enough!!!!" I cried. "It's not fast enough!
We have to go NOW!! God, not only have many men died at my expense, I have
to wait around for my husband to be tortured to death I - " I broke off
and bit down hard on my finger to shush my cries. "If only I had said something!
People have died because of me!! All for nothing, nothing!"
I flopped down hopelessly and Abigail tapped me hard on the head. "Don't
be ridiculous. They won't see it that way. The war against Frollo and his
kind of gaje is eternal.Whether you were in the dungeons or not is irrelevant
- the battle was still building up anyway. If they did it only in your
name and the name of others like you, that is enough. They won't hold you
responsible if you don't bring responsibility on yourself for it. Wouldn't
you have done the same if it had been another in your position?"
"Yes, but another would've been smart enough to tell people where she
Colombine cut in. "Don't be silly Herli. If I were planning to ransack
the Palace of Justice, I wouldn't tell anyone! No-one would! All evidence
pointed to you being there, that's what the others will think. They didn't
have any certainty at all, they chose to attack for your honor, not just
your life, as they would for any gypsy! Now stop being silly! I thought
we'd gotten over all this melodrama and arguments."
I took a deep breath and calmed myself. I didn't entirely agree with
them, but so long as the rest of my people did not regret the attack I
could deal with it. I just hoped they truly believed it worth it. But there
were more pressing matters to attend to right then, and rushing to Clopin's
chest I rummaged through it until I found his other sword. It was heavy
and I buckled it clumsily around my waist while Colombine and Abigail looked
at me with astonishment.
"What in God's name do you think you're doing, child?" Abigail's voice
"Saving my husband!" was my terse reply. "It's my fault he's there,
now I have to save him!"
They shook their heads vigorously, pressing on my arms."No Herli, wait
for the men!"
"I'm sick of waiting for men!" I snapped. I kissed my children rapturously
on their foreheads as they lay wrapped in Abigail's embrace. "How I love
you my darlings! Be strong in your maman and papa's name! I'll see you
soon" I embraced Abigail and Colombine. "I love you both. Tell the others
not to bother attacking! We don't need to lose more of our people! I'll
be back soon!"
I leapt out of the tent before either could say another word.
Wending my way through the catacombs, I came to the trapdoor that led
into the dungeons under the Palace. I pushed it open cautiously, oh so
cautiously, not knowing if it had been discovered, and breathed a huge
sigh of relief when I found the room empty. My blood pounded in my ears,
and I could feel my husband nearby, very nearby.I let my heart guide me,
taking me through the dark and miserable dungeons, stopping suddenly at
the voices of soldiers.
"Tell us,damn you, tell us now!" The sound of a whiplash, and I flinched
as it struck flesh. The voice that replied was unmistakeable and caused
me to cry as it was hoarse and thick with pain.
"I'm sorry, I've forgotten. What was it you wanted to know again?"
The whip was brought down harder this time, and Clopin couldn't suppress
a cry of pain.
"Tell us how to find the Court of Miracles?"
"The Court of Miracles?"
"Yes, Gypsy scum, you know it well!"
Again the whip. "Yes, tell us!!"
Clopin coughed, and my heart gave way. "I'm sorry I've never heard
of it, my friends."
"We've had enough of your lip, "Your Majesty". If you don't value your
own life, perhaps you value that of your wife's!"
Silence. "If you don't tell us now, we will kill her."
"My wife is not a prisoner here."
"You know yourself she is. You said yourself that's why you attacked.
Frollo is keeping her prisoner in his own quarters. If you do not tell
us how to find the Court of Miracles we are to send word to him to kill
Clopin gave a little laugh. "I thought before she was here. I know
now she is not."
"Fine, have it your own way, Gypsy King! Emile - go!"
"With pleasure." I heard one of the soldiers leaving, clomping heavily,
and I imagine Clopin guessed as I did that that was the moment he was meant
to break - meant to cry out "no wait I will tell you!"
But he didn't of course. Then Clopin began to sing with his hoarse,
beautiful voice. He sang, ignoring the soldier who made repeated demands
for his attention, bringing the whip down again and again, and incensed
at the pain they were cursing him I crept forward, pulling the heavy sword
from its scabbard. I peeked around the corner and saw them both. The soldier,
fat and red-faced, Clopin tied between two wooden beams, a fire raging
behind them, the soldier's whip splattered with blood on the ends. But
my husband would not give in. His face was quiet and calm as he sang to
himself. It was the blood on the whip that got to me then, and making sure
I had my sword pointed forward I ran out, straight towards the soldier.
He gave a cry of alarm as I ran forward and went to pull out his own
sword, but too late! I hacked it clumsily into his side and he gasped,
then knocked me back. I wielded the sword again, just as clumsily, and
managed to bring it down on his helmeted head. But it was evidently hard
enough to do some damage, for he gave a groan and then collapsed. I dropped
the sword over his prostate body and flung my arms around Clopin, who gave
a strangled gasp as my thoughtless hands hit his injured back.
"Oh Clopin, I'm so sorry!" I sobbed onto his bloody shoulder.
"Herli - " he gasped "Get out! The other one will be back soon!"
"NO!" I cried, and began to fumble with the leather bonds that bound
him to the pillars.
"Herli!" he gasped "Now! Go!"
"Oh, stop trying to be brave!" I snapped at him and then gasped as
my hair was yanked from behind and I was spun dizzyingly onto the floor.
The other soldier had returned, and found me there. Now he pulled me to
my feet again, as I pounded my fists against his heavy armour.
"Hahaha!" He laughed "What have we here? A Gypsy Rat or a Gypsy Queen?
I'll wager it's the second, eh your Majesty?"
Clopin didn't answer just glared at him angrily, straining at his bonds.
"Well now, let's see if we can't use the lovely Queen to get the information
we want from you!!" He began to push me up against the wall, as I kicked
and punched and tried to bite him. He covered my mouth with one large hand
and knocked the back of my head against the stone pillars until I was too
dizzy to struggle as hard.
"Let her go," Clopin said quietly through gritted teeth.
"Not yet, sir. I've got a job to do, you understand. Now,how about
I take my pleasure from her and then behead her in front of you. Will that
get you talking? It would be a shame to ruin all this lovely hair, so if
you talk I might let her go after the first."
He tried to shove my skirts up but I kept fighting, struggling for
all I was worth. He struck me across the face and I fell, Clopin crying
out despite himself. He pinned me to the floor, and I tried to kick him
between the legs, but he wisely pushed my own apart and kept pushing my
"No! Leave her alone! I'll tell you!" Clopin shouted.
"Don't you dare, Clopin!" I gasped out, getting my mouth from beneath
the soldiers hand.
"I'll tell you how to get to the Court!" - sounding defeated: one of
the only times I ever heard him so.
"Don't be a fool, fool!" I shouted "Don't you dare tell him!"
"Tell me and I'll spare her all of it!" The soldier leered "Though
I've no doubt she's used to this kind of thing, being nothing but a gypsy
I gasped in fury and tried again to free myself. Clopin strained angrily
at his bonds once more, but then stopped. "Just let her up and I'll tell
you," he sighed wearily.
The soldier laughed triumphantly. "First tell me!"
"NO, CLOPIN!" I shouted again "Don - "
But my voice was cut off by the sound of a vicious snarling. I stopped
my struggles as well when I heard it, and Clopin too looked up, astonished
and alarmed. The three of us paused in mid-action, looking about us in
wonderment to discover where this beast's cry came from. The soldier looked
up and beyond me then, and I saw a look of terror come over his face. He
sat up, releasing his grip on me and thrusting his hands in front of his
© Harley Quinn 1999