Chapter Three

Alas, my brothers grew older, Erik (who was 12 when I was eight) joining them altogether too quickly. Soon they lost interest in staging adventures with their little sister - they had things to think about, like family,forming their own tribes perhaps, things that didn't include me.The other children in the sgzany tribe were all older too, and there were no children thereabouts I could play with.Even had there been, very few would want to play with me. I was too cruel and too wild. Perhaps that is why I grew wild and reckless. Always seeking attention in some way. As I grew older, I almost stopped being a loner in that I would almost be civil and sociable with those I met. But it was purely a need for people to look and say "there is the King's daughter". I took especial pride that I never needed a man to help me over a river, that I never fainted at the sight of blood, and overall, that I never needed a man to love me.
Of course I grew into a young woman. Perhaps in England I would have been considered beautiful, despite my red hair, but not so in India. Oh there were those who were attracted to my pale skin, but on the whole no-one especially sought me out. It was a good thing I was betrothed, for no man displayed that kind of interest in me.I would've ended up an old maid. Those who did did so merely out of lust - curiosity about what a fair skinned woman would be like. Because I had a reputation for my hellion ways they also thought I would be easy to seduce.

It wasn't snobbishness, or even loyalty to my absent fiancee that caused me to reject them all. It was simply disinterest. Like I'd said to my mother on that fateful day, I wanted to stand tall like myself. So I did.
Like all the other sgzany women I became a living breathing object of sensuality.It ran through my veins like a fire and was hard to quell. But being the proud little thing I was, I wanted only to satisfy my passion with one I truly loved. Although I was a virgin I had an idea of my sexuality from the surrounding women. Using your charms to catch a man was impressed strongly upon the sgzany women, and although it was never done so with me, (I had a husband waiting in the wings) I could follow the example of others. I settled down a little as I reached my 14th year. I stopped isolating myself in the jungle and switched to isolating myself in my art.
I loved to sing and dance, and work with my masks. I loved my acrobatic tricks and my art. When I look back I think I involved myself in so much life, and so many activities to avoid the inevitable - that I would have to leave this charmed place, this beautiful place. Here people were used to my oddities and snappy temper. In Paris they would certainly be less forgiving.
It never occurred to me to make a change in my personality so I would not have to face this prejudice. That is - not until I fell in love.

His name was Raghu, though I'm not sure it was his real name, and he wasn't sgzany. He was a noble Indian gentleman who I noticed watching us perform on more than one occasion. He was not handsome, but he had a well-shaped face, and very soulful eyes.He watched us with thoughtfulness, only the intensity of his gaze suggesting he might be enjoying it all.
As time went by I came to look forward to him being there. Of course at that time I didn't know his name, he was simply the Nobleman. Many of the other performers had noticed his repeated visits, and at times he was the object of much discussion amongst us. I would wonder as he came - who is he? Where does he come from? Why does he always look as though he were thinking all the great thoughts of the world? He aroused my curiosity in a marvellous way. I gradually learned him by heart, as I would watch him from the outskirts, or from the corner of my eyes as I performed. I knew everything, from his jewelled sword, to the small birthmark just above his right eye. He was intriguing to us, there was no doubt of that. But as time went by, and all he ever did was stand and watch, the others lost interest and soon forgot about him altogether.
Then one day he wasn't there.I seemed to be the only one who noticed the Nobleman's absence. Everyone else saw just the crowd. I didn't sleep well that night, and although it was noticed I was not myself, I wasn't liked enough to warrant inquiry.
Then one day we had a new member to our tribe. He was brilliantly garbed in simple clothes, like ourselves, and dusty from the road, but we could all see he wasn't one of us. His clothes were too fine,his methods too refined, his speech too courteous. He asked my father if he could join our tribe, and when asked what talents had he, he said juggling and sword play.
"We have already jugglers! Far too many!" my father said, his suspicions aroused.
"Sahib, I am willing to learn whatever you have to teach me" the man said politely. My father was intrigued by him.There's no reason a spy would be sent amongst us, but why would a nobleman want to join sgzany?
"Come into my tent" he said gruffly. "We'll discuss it there."
I do not know, to this day, what exchange went on between my father and Raghu, but when they emerged my father told the tribe that Raghu was now one of us, and would be treated accordingly. Raghu looked well pleased as he turned away, and curious as the others, I leant forward to stare a little closer. I saw the birthmark above his right eye and knew then that it was The Nobleman!! My mother called me then and I was forced to go inside and continue work on my linen and dresses.But I'd made up my mind to find out what I could about the newcomer.
I didn't get my oppurtunity that day, nor the next, but from what I heard, Raghu was having a hard time adopting to the sgzany way - particularly performing. He had to deal with their mercilessness - there was no sympathy or coddling if mistakes were made, there never had been for anyone. So he would simply have to start over and continue his practice. I heard he was not particularly excellent at anything, except for sword play, but as we were performers, what good was that? He became the odd job man, someone who did a bit of everything in many of the acts, but was never given a main role. Since then my roles in the circus had been reduced (I didn't like *that* but what could I do?) to the mask act with my father and my animal performances. So I never actually worked with him myself. But he was there during my rehearsals, and of course during performances.
One night I had an opportunity to creep from my tent.I took it, of course, and went straight to where Raghu was tending his horses. He jumped when he saw me, and his horse skittered a little at his sudden movement. He relaxed again when he saw it was me, watching him quietly through cold, curious eyes. "You shouldn't be out so late,child" he informed me, rubbing his horse's neck. "Your father will have your hide, and mine too, if he catches us together."
"My father doesn't know I'm out here," I informed him. "I came to speak with you."
He looked at me, alarmed. Why would anyone seek him out? I could see he was thinking. His next words echoed those thoughts.
"Because," I said,with just a tad of malice, "I know you to be the NobleMan who watched us many nights in a row."
He was visibly shocked at that. He had thought himself unrecognised. But he came towards me, bravely. Clasping my hands in his own he looked at me with pleading in his eyes.
"Please, child, I beg of you! Do not tell anyone that you recognise me! It could have disastrous consequences!"
In my typical petulant way, I yanked my hands from his.
"Why should I keep silent? I would like to know why a nobleman joined a tribe of street performers! I shall do all I can to find out!!"
The look he gave me then was so sad that it reached a place deep inside me I'd almost forgotten was there.
"Very well," I sighed, relenting. "I won't tell anyone." His eyes lit up and he thanked me profusely. "But I would still like to know," I grumbled.
"Knowing is not always pleasure, child," he said. "Best we keep it this way for now."
He smiled at me then, and I found myself nodding, agreeing with him.
"You best get back, now. Before you're noticed to be gone."
I did that too, but not before pausing to look hungrily at him.
That night all my dreams were filled with Raghu and his smile. After that I found every opportunity to be in his presence. I realised quickly I was falling in love with him, though I could find no reason for it. He did not match my image of a perfect man at all, but after a while I began to think my idea of a perfect man was wrong. Raghu was educated, he was also very kind-hearted and brave. But he was very sensitive and shy, and I, so unused to being nice to someone, found it difficult to draw him out of his shell, without coming out of my own. But the change in me was noticed by everyone as I became slightly more sociable. My freedom was still restricted, but when we joined the tribe for meals or rehearsal my more civilised air was apparent.

 Gradually I became aware Raghu was intrigued by me also. After that we found ways of sneaking off together to go and talk in the jungle. He was the first person I ever opened up to, and I believe I loved him also because I was a better person with him. Although I enjoyed my little ways and were quite comfortable with them, I was beginning to find it hard to deal with myself. It gave me a thrill to be cold and snappy and arouse people's irritation, but it was also very lonely. With Raghu, his soft voice and gentle ways, I stopped biting, and began to purr. But it was only so with him. With the rest of the tribe I was as I had always been.
Raghu attempted to teach me to read, but I grew frustrated with it and refused to learn. I taught him more tricks, which he grew very adept at, and so earned himself more respect among the sgzany.
He commented often on the paleness of my skin, something I had grown quite irritated by. I trusted few men, for I knew they judged me immediately on my appearance, and whether trying to sleep with me, or finding me unattractive, I was always mocked and made to stand out because of it. I do not believe Raghu found it attractive, though I think he liked it. He loved my hair, that I know, and would play with it for hours.
I realised quickly into our semi-relationship he was holding something back - a reluctance to give his feelings over to me completely. He cared for me, that I know as fact, but not to his full potential. I, meanwhile, believed I had given all my feelings to him, and couldn't understand his holding back.
We sat on the banks of the river one afternoon, and I knew we would have to head back soon so we would not get into trouble. He had been unusually quiet that day, and I hadn't known what I should say to him. But then, before we left, he asked me quietly,staring off intensely over the river:
"Herli, why do you treat me so differently to the others?"
I looked at him in surprise. It hadn't occurred to me the difference in treatment would be so obvious. I shrugged.
"I don't know. You are nicer than them. I like you."
He turned to me "But *why* don't you like them?"
"I never said I didn't!"
"You have never a kind word for any of them."
I shrugged again, faint unease in my stomach.
"It's nothing really. I guess I'm just a bad-tempered old woman." I smiled at him, but he didn't smile back; just looked more thoughtful than ever.
"Come. Let's return," he said grasping my hand, and helping me to my feet. We would have to re-enter the camp separately, and the walk back I always hated for it meant we would soon have to return to pretence. But he did not hold my hand so tightly as usual, and when we got back he only kissed my cheek once. I was hurt by his coldness and re-entered the tribe with my temper flaring. Kavita, a friend of my mother's, was siting nearby, her fat baby son on her knee.
"Your mother's looking for you, Herli," she told me "and she's furious."
I grimaced in frustration. The baby on her knee began to cry. I looked at it in irritation.
"Shut up, you fat silly lump!" I snapped at it, only causing its cries to grow louder.
Kavita frowned. "Herli, how can you speak to a bab-"
"You too old woman! Nasty stinking busybody!"
She looked horrified. It's true, I was snappy and cruel but I never openly insulted anyone like that. No doubt had any of the men been nearby, I would've been spanked within an inch of my life, whether princess or not - my father would support it later. But the tribe was elsewhere except for the three of us - and Raghu.
As I turned to stomp away from Kavita I saw him on the other side of the camp, looking at me with horror and confusion. I was mortified he'd heard the exchange, but I pushed my shoulders back and glared at him as if to say "well?" 
He said nothing, just turned and walked to his tent. I felt distressed then, but I merely went to my own tent beyond, to face the scolding of my mother.

We didn't talk for several days after that, nor did we get a chance to sneak away. I had the distinctly unpleasant feeling he was avoiding me, and I again took a great risk in the night to confront him, pushing up the back of his tent and crawling under.
He gazed at me with a mixture of amazement and fear and then told me in a quavering voice I should leave, immediately.
"Why" I snapped. "And certainly not before I find out why you've been avoiding me these last few days!"
He sighed, and again that look of sadness came over his face.
"Herli, we're not meant to be together - " he began and I cut him off.
"Why not?? We love each other don't we? Aren't I always good to you? Don't I always listen with understanding?"
He stopped me. "It's not that. It's other things."
"Like what?" I demanded.
"For a beginning, you're promised to another, though you've never told me yourself." There was hurt in his voice.
"So what? I always was of the idea we could run off together."
He looked alarmed. "No Herli, absolutely not. It's not meant to be."
The effect of what he was saying began to sink in, and my heart knocked painfully against my chest.
"It *is* meant, Raghu. Don't we always support one another in everything, don't you enjoy my company?"
"Herli - this isn't easy. It's not anything you've done. Not to me. But there's something in you I can't reach. Something I don't want to reach."
I stared at him for a moment before responding.
"It's because of what I said to Kavita the other day, isn't it?"
"It's not just that."
"You shouldn't worry. I talk like that to everyone!"
"That's what it is."
Again silence.
"I don't understand, Herli. You're so sweet and kind and full of life with me - but with the others you become like some sort of demon. You're conceited and opinionated, and you don't give them the time of day. Your tricks are not fun - they are cruel. I can't believe this is the real you, yet you do nothing to stop it."
I stared at him again for several minutes more, weighing up carefully what he had said in my mind.
"Raghu - if you run away with me, I promise I will change."
He shook his head.
"I swear it!!! I don't think I am truly like this either. I can't say what made me this way, but you have helped me see the error!! Please say yes! We'll have a wonderful life together."
He shook his head again, and I grew desperate, and angry because I wanted him to stay so badly.
"Why not?" I snapped thumping my hand hard on the ground. He hushed me hastily.
"If it were meant to be - then Herli you would be different with them also. You say this now only to please me. I can't accept that, it isn't genuine. You need to make this change on your own."
I sat back, astonished and hurt. My mind raced wildly. At that time I couldn't consider being with anyone else and it shocked me Raghu did not feel the same. My pride and my temper came to my rescue - so I thought.
"Coward!" I snapped at him "That's what this is about! You are frightened!"
He shook his head again. "No, Herli, that's not it at - "
"Of course it is!" I interjected. "You were running from your nobleman's life to hide with us, now you're running from love, because you are a miserable stinking coward!"
I could see from the look on his face I'd now gone too far. He'd gone somewhere I would never be able to reach him again. But it was too late to stop now.
"Scum!" I hissed my voice growing louder. "Nothing but scum, for all your learning!!! Horrible male scum, nothing but a little coward, cowering in your little hole, hiding there, never daring to live, never daring to breathe, never daring ANYTHING!!"
My shouts had awakened the others, and within a few seconds the tent flap was pulled back and my father and the other men stood there, their faces fierce, torches glowing brightly.
"What's going on here?" my father bellowed. I knew we both looked terrified. "Did this man hurt you Herli?"
More than anything else that happened that night the thoughts that raced through my head at that moment never cease to bring me shame, for my initial reaction was to shout yes papa he has hurt me, he has ruined me!!! Just to see Raghu punished for rejecting me. But I was not entirely hardened, thank god, and I just shook my head.
"No, papa. He simply refused me a favor I asked him."
Of course what leapt through my father's mind was the worst thing possible, and now it looked like his daughter was a hussy. He bade the others hurry back to their tents, and shut the flap, stared at me with a fear I hadn't seen before in his eyes.
"What favor would that be, girl?" he asked hoarsely.
"I wanted him run away with me." I said bravely. Brief relief flashed over my father's face, then a look of hurt and anger.
"Run away, girl? Why? Have we ever been cruel to you? Haven't you always had everything you wanted?"
It was the look of hurt on my father's face that got to me then. That he should be upset I tried to leave him. I felt my first tears in many long years well up in my eyes, and I choked out a reply.
"No papa, you have always been an angel. I'm rather surprised you all haven't run away from me!" So saying I pushed my way out of Raghu's tent and ran to my own, sobbing all the way.
My father and Raghu came to an agreement during the night, and the next day Raghu packed his things and left us. The others saw him off, and I watched secretly, from a nearby tree, my heart full of anguish.
He paused as he slowly led his horse and cart out of the camp, and turned to look at the very tree I hid in, his eyes again full of sorrow. Then he was gone. I never saw him again.
And I never found out why he joined the sgzany.

After that I was a changed woman. Still a loner, still proud, I grew stronger and prouder still. More determined than ever to stand on my own and have no help from anyone.
But my personality changed also. I had learned a harsh lesson from falling in love with a man who couldn't bear unkindness to others, and I made a concentrated effort to be respectful and kind, helpful and less cruel. This change was treated first with suspicion and then impatience. It wasn't welcomed in a long time, and that was a harsh lesson in itself. Eventually, however, they began to treat me with a genuine respect, and I believe some of them even grew to like me more.
While still proud I was no longer haughty and I no longer snapped. I also retired entirely from performing. The only thing I did now was play with and tend my animals.I did sit demurely at home, and work on my Chest of Treasures without even a murmured complaint. My father was distressed by this change in me - not even in the height of my wickedness had I ceased to be his little princess - but my mother thought it for the best.
I believe everyone knew what happened. They spared me little sympathy, for the all believed it would be good for me. It was. For many months I sat, all the life and energy drained out of me, contemplating my months with Raghu. I was kind to children, helpful to my mother, and respectful to the other men and women. But I also had no life in me. I felt like a dead thing.
It was a long time before I got over Raghu, at least for a young woman. Many months. But eventually the pain ebbed away, and whilst I still retained a soft spot for him, the energy begun to come back to me. A far more gentle mischief came back to me, and I once again felt the desire to leave my tent and go exploring. I no longer played cruel tricks, instead I played games with the children. I wasn't one hundred percent an improved personality, that's certain, but I was better than I was. I was still quiet and didn't share knowledge or anything of myself with others, except for my animals who still brought me the greatest comfort,and I began to once again take the opportunities to sneak off to the jungles. I was more friendly than before, though I kept a coldness about me - I think it's an essential part of my personality and I can't help it. But on the whole I was changed for the better.
Gradually, gradually, my company became more enjoyable. My brothers didn't groan at my approach, and I was greeted where I went now, instead of being looked askance at. My papa once again was proud of me, though I was now different to the little girl he'd been proud of before. But under his continued encouragement, my humor came back, and I was more lively and active.

These changes did not mean I wanted to get married any more so than before, and thoughts of it were still enough to put me in a bad humor. I also feared that once I left India I would become again what I had been - that nasty, cold and cruel girl. That frightened me, and my defences as always, were my pride. Cover anything you're feeling with a mask of indifference - and no-one need ever know. I had grown to like being liked and I didn't want that to change.
But to admit this would be to concede to a weakness, and I wanted that even less. It seemed I would have to take my chances.

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

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