It wasn't long afterwards that I turned fifteen. As the time for my departure
grew nearer, my parents became less vigilant and allowed me more freedom
than I had ever been allowed in my life. I believe this was so I would
be able to say goodbye to all around me at my own pace, although at the
time I wondered if they hoped I would befall an accident so I wouldn't
have to go. Before I realised it the year was nearly over and I would be
16 in only four full moons more.
It was time to leave.
My mother had had my trunk all packed by the time I returned home one
evening, Chester (now a fully grown and extremely handsome tiger gentleman)
by my side and Divil (who was, alas, ageing intolerably) on my shoulder,
a bundle of fish I had caught on that lazy day when I'd had nothing better
to do strapped to my belt.
She frowned when she saw that.
"Herlikin-Elise, when you are a wife you will have to watch yourself
- soiling your clothes does not make a good impression on others, and men
are often judged by their wives."
It seems so unfair doesn't it, to be told to make a good impression
for my husband? Actually we were far more relaxed than a lot of people.
My father adored everything about my mother and would have burst with pride
even if she had walked in with her head on backwards. A hearty and vibrant
woman was the spice of life he claimed, and many of the men seconded this.
My mother was merely being mindful that others may not be so accepting.
"I want to marry Clopin Trouillefou even less than I did eight years
ago, mama!!! If he doesn't like my soiled dress he can go to hell!"
"Hush now, don't speak so strongly, wicked wicked child! If I were
Clopin I'd have you over my lap and belt your bottom raw for that one!"
"What, like a child?"
"Exactly, little one. You behave like a child, I've no doubt he will
punish you like one."
I didn't say it but I thought Clopin Trouillefou is a dead man the
day he lays a hand on me.
"Now, little one. Your trunk is all packed with everything you will
need for the journey and beyond, and your Chest of Treasures stands waiting.
You leave India in a week, but you must leave us tomorrow for you need
to travel to the Docks."
Tomorrow? I had no idea it would be so very soon! There had
been some very large talk behind my back and no mistake!
"I'm so glad you made me aware of this mama!! And you've given me such
time to prepare!! I don't feel rushed at all!!"
I was hurt and shocked. Tomorrow I would be bundled off to marry horrible
stinking Clopin Trouillefou and bear his grotty children!!
"Shush and don't you dare speak to me with such sarcasm! You're not
so old I can't take my belt to you!! Geraud, your father's dearest assistant,
will accompany you the entire trip. He and Erik will drive you and your
things to the docks tomorrow in the small cart. Erik will return to us,
Geraud will continue on with you. He will leave you with your new family
in Paris, however. They will have plenty to take care of you."
I thought she seemed so callous and matter-of-fact until I saw the
glint in her eyes. She turned away hastily so I mayn't see her tears. Poor
mama! I was her only daughter, and tomorrow I would be travelling far far
away over the sea.
Suddenly, she began to pull off all her most precious jewellery - her
heirlooms. She put them into a leather sack - her ruby ring, the emerald
earring,the necklace set with sapphires, pearls, and diamonds. All in real
gold. They were the only things of exquisite value we owned, apart from
some handsome pieces of furniture. She placed the leather sack in a small
carved chest which she then wrapped in several silk scarves, and placed
in my trunk.
"Mama, what are you doing? Those are your heirlooms!"
"That's right, Herlikin-Elise. For me to pass onto you. You must have
"Mama, you are supposed to wait until death! You - you're not dyin
"Don't be foolish, child! I'm in my prime! Better I give them to you
now, than die knowing you will never get them!"
She bustled off then to finish preparing supper for my father (my brothers
all having since moved into tents with their own wives), leaving me to
think. Mama would not have given me her precious jewels unless she thought
we woduln't meet again. I had never given it any consideration - it seemed
impossible to think we wouldn't - but now - my parents were getting on
in years. The trip to France was both long and expensive, and needed much
preparation and organisation of the tribe. It hit me suddenly that this
night was probably the last I would ever have with them. My insolence over
being forced to go gave way to sorrow suddenly, and I wept miserably over
the lovely carved jewel-box my father had given my mother as a wedding
gift, which was now mine.
But that last evening I showed no unhappiness to distress my parents.
We ate together the same as always. My father put in great effort to appear
jolly and at his usual pace, but I noticed the change in him. There was
a great sorrow underneath his smile and I knew I was the cause. I did not
want to cause my beloved father any misery. For his sake I put in even
extra effort to smile and appear well-at-ease, and I believe it helped
I slept not a wink that night, and was washed and dressed when my mother
came in to awaken me. Geraud, and Erik, my darling brother, loaded my trunks
onto the cart, and we were ready to go.
Then I turned to my parents. I tried so hard to bite back the tears,
but they spilled over.
"Papa!" I cried, throwing myself into his arms.
He hugged me back, fiercely, and kissed the top of my head.
"Now now, Madam Sahib," he said hoarsely. "Be a good girl and do your
I nodded tearfully, and he released me. My mother and I embraced just
"Be a good girl by him, Herli. He will be good to you if you are to
"Alright mama, I will do my best."
She pushed me back.
"You have to go now."
I wiped the tears from my face with the back of my hand and turned
to find Erik waiting to lift me into the cart. He and Geraud got in beside
me, and to my joy I found Chester there also, waiting for me. I would not
be so alone then. Geraud clicked to our little donkey and we were off.
I don't need to describe the journey. It took place through some countryside
and the small seaside town. It was rough, but not terribly uncomfortable,
and I was very sad throughout it.
While I said goodbye to Erik, Geraud loaded my trunks into our quarters.They
were small, dank and dirty, for we weren't rich by any means. Erik embraced
me hard and told me to be a good girl. I was getting pretty sick of being
told to be a good girl, I can assure you.Then he left, with not even a
glance back. It smarted, but I knew now it was the time to behave like
the young woman I was and not a baby. So I bit down on my lip, and took
Geraud's hand. Chester leaped in effortlessly beside me, and we three went
below deck to settle ourselves in for the long and unpleasant journey.
I was comforted not just by the prescence of Chester, my dearest friend,
but by Geraud. He was blindingly loyal to my father, and I knew he would
kill for me, risk his own life, and not once leave my side until he had
delivered me safely to Paris. Honor was so important to us all, and if
I were to take ill with a sea fever he would lay his face next to mine
and inhale every breath I exhaled, so that he too would become ill and
die, to show all he had failed in his duty.
That kind of loyalty and friendship is greatly soothing, and whilst
still sad to be leaving my home, probably forever, I did not despair as
I might've had I been alone.
Just before they cast away, I climbed up on board and stood at the
rail to watch my life grow slowly smaller and smaller.The warm orange shores
resplendant with spices and glorious people drifting further and further
beyond my reach. I stayed on deck I don't know how many hours, but when
I finally turned to go below again I could no longer see India on the horizon.
It wasn't even a speck in the distance. It was nothing. It was gone.
So I was resigned to thinking of France - France where the people wore
tight, constraining clothes, where magik was forbidden and I couldn't dance
to an intoxicating drum on the street if I felt like it. Where I would
be an outcast, not the exotic bird I was back home. Where I would be expected
to cook and clean and only speak when spoken to.
The actual gypsy life I would be living, the one I had observed eight
years previously, seemed to have slipped my memory. I remembered only what
the sgzany tutor had told me of the country, of its people. But then -
though very optimistic, I was a dreamer whose romanticised view was not
always close to the reality.
That night I wept once more, and it was Chester who came to comfort
me, he who had always listened to my woes, whose eyes had always sparkled
with humor at my tricks, and who had always secretly followed to protect
me when I went on my adventures although I had told him to remain at home.
I buried my face in his thick white fur, and he kissed me with his warm
golden breath and purred to soothe me. He was better than a blanket, and
I spent the night in a comfortable warmth, when I finally drifted off to
sleep, exhausted from crying.
We finally arrived in Paris many weeks later, the three of us thoroughly
sick of the water and the confines of the boat. At one point I was convinced
death awaited us, as we battled it out in a storm, but no - we made it
safely through. Unfortunately I had sworn that if we did, I would make
Trouillefou a delicious meal each night - and blast it, honor, always honor!!
When we docked, none of us felt very well and we tottered unsteadily
onto shore. It was our luck it should be raining. So now we were dirty,
tired, cold AND wet through. Thankfully it took us only a few minutes to
retrieve my trunks, and then a young man was walking up to us and introducing
himself as Jean-Luc, our guide to the Court of Miracles.
Exhausted from our trip, my hackles were immediately raised.
"Guide? And where is Trouillefou? Did he fear his tunic to become soaked?
Was his future wife not cause enough to leave the Court and guide her himself?"
Poor Jean-Luc. My unexpected assault caused him to stammeringly reply,
"Clopin sends his deepest apologies Mam'zelle.He had intended to be here
himself, unfortunately something unexpected rose, and he was forced to
attend to the emergency."
He spoke very prettily for a gypsy boy, and drew an eyebrow from both
me and Geraud.
He must've noticed our inquistiveness, but he said nothing. He simply
assisted Geraud to load my trunks onto the small cart he'd brought with
him and then to help me into it. He very considerately covered my soaking
legs with a blanket, and I smiled at him, my early peevishness forgotten.
He looked relieved and then alarmed as Chester forcefully pushed past him
into the cart.
I turned to Geraud who stood silently outside.
"Are you not getting in, Geraud?"
He looked surprised, but hastened to answer. "Missy Sahib does not
remember? I was only to lead you as far as Paris. It is your father's orders
to leave you with your new people."
Instantly my heart sank again. "Geraud, no! You can't leave now!"
He shrugged, although his eyes showed sorrow. "I must, missy. The boat
leaves again at dawn, I need to be on it."
My precious pride forgotten I wept hopelessly, clinging to his gnarled
old hand. He was the last human link to my old life and I didn't want him
to leave. I watched his eyes cloud over, but he gripped my hand tight just
once before letting it go.
"Now now... Be a big brave girl. Show these Parisian Gypsies what the
sgzany are made of!!! Dazzle them!"
It was the most original parting I had been given yet and I smiled
then, feeling a little better.
"That's a girl. I go now. We'll meet again one day."
Then he was gone too. Chester stared balefully up at me, and I back
at him, as Jean-Luc climbed up on the cart and bade the horses move.
The trip to the Court of Miracles was not so long nor so tedious
as the last time I had been here, but the main entrance through which we
entered was just as dark and frightening. There were people below to meet
us, who took my trunks and carried them forth, long years of practice guiding
their steps. A huge monster of a gypsy stepped forward, and spoke with
"Here, madam. Let me carry you on my back so you don't get your little
feet soiled in this muck."
I was far too exhausted and depressed to give a reply of wit; I merely
nodded and thanked him hoarsely, as he hoisted me up and carried me through
The trip could not have been that long, but I believe I must of dozed,
for the next thing I was being placed inside a warm tent. I looked dazedly
about for Chester and sighed in relief when I saw him settling down in
a corner, after first checking to see me awaken.
Then suddenly the strange gypsies were gone and I was left all alone.
Exhausted as I was, I feared sleeping - I was in a strange place, with
strange people. I did not want to make myself vulnerable. I checked my
trunks to make sure all was intact after the boat trip, and once I had
satisfied myself all was well, I settled back into the cushioned chair
I had been placed in.
I was soaking wet and chilled through and through, but I could see
nowhere near something to dry myself with, nor anything to wash in. Cautiously,
I peeked outside the tent - but there was nothing out there either. I could
see tents placed all around me, but nowhere linen or washtubs.
I saw Jean-Luc exit from a tent away down from where I was, and I thought
about asking him for assistance - but after my breakdown in the cart I
wanted to regain my injured pride, and foolishly, I withdrew back inside.
Again I sat on the chair, and took to counting the circles woven into the
elaborate embroidery of the covers I was nestled on. My head drooped with
weariness but I kept it up.
"I can't bear this much longer," I thought "I can't stand it!"
I thought myself then weak and pathetic, and was ashamed, and hastened
to wipe away the hot tears which sprang from my eyes. I was beginning to
feel unwell besides, and hated the feeling of sea grime that seemed to
be all over me.
Suddenly there was a burst of life from outside the tent, a shout of
voices which rose above the soft murmurs of the Court's regular activity.
Some masculine laughter, and then the approach of footsteps.
A voice spoke then, and although I had not heard it in eight years,
I knew it instantly.
"Well, Jean-Luc, where is she then?"
A voice resplendent with strength and merriment, and I flushed scarlet
to think of myself sitting here, wet, dirty and tired. Please do NOT
let him come in and see me like this!
"She's in the tent you had us put up for her, 'boss'," was Jean-Luc's
easy reply. "Though go easy, she was practically dropping from fatigue!"
He only laughed in reply, and while I fidgeted in agitation, the tent
flap was flung aside and a tall, thin man entered, excuding a masculine
confidence from even his very fingertips. It was Clopin. My future husband.
He'd grown even more handsome in the last eight years, his face now
matured and very well defined. His hair was still long and the same jet-black,
and he now sported a brilliant black goatee on his chin. He'd grown taller
as I knew he would, and though painfully thin you could the strength from
years of exertion.He stood before me glorious and splendid, beaming his
great smile, his teeth whiter than I could believe, his eyes just as dazzling
And there I sat, like a pathetic drowned rat.
He gazed at me for a moment, arms folded across his body, before turning
to the outside.
"Hey Jean-Luc! You've made some sort of mistake here! I find no future
wife, only a drowned rat!"
He'd said it with humor, no cruelty, but is so very much mirrored what
I had been thinking, and I was so completely at my wits end, that I took
in an outraged breath and, not being able to think of a retort, burst into
tears, the second of that day.
His face expressed his astonishment at my emotion, but he was quick
to kneel by my side, his gestures suddenly uncertain, as he made an attempt
to soothe back my hair.
"Now now then, ma petite, it was said only in jest, no need
to be so emotional!"
I could only weep further. What a first impression to make! Mortified
by my tears I knew Clopin now feared he had a spoilt and highly-strung
woman on his hands, and I was neither of these!!! But I was too distressed
to take a hold of myself just then. I batted his hands away. Not only could
I not bear the thought of him touching me, but my hair was filthy and in
desperate need of a wash.
He stared at me in confusion for some moments before again turning
to the open flap.
"JEAN-LUC!" he bellowed, and I was startled to silence by the ferocity
of his tone.
Jean-Luc appeared within an instant, his face also bearing apprehensiveness.
"Are you blind as well as stupid?" Clopin snapped "Can't you see this
young lady is wet and cold and tired? She's been at sea for weeks, she
arrives in the rain, she is brought and dumped by a bumbling fool who then
leaves her in an exhausted state in dirty clothes!"
Jean-Luc had paled, poor boy. But his mistake was simply the result
of no forethought, he was not truly callous. Or so my vulnerable heart
told me then - for I had been so touched by Clopin's immediate understanding
of my overly-emotional state, I was willing to forgive even Jean-Luc's
failure to bring me clean linen. He hastened now to get a tub for a bath
and direct others to fetch hot water for it. Clopin himself went to fetch
me linen, I think he did this deliberately so that I might compose myself
in private. After Chester came up to me and kissed me tenderly I managed
to do this, so by the time he returned I was once again calm and in control
of my emotions.
Even though we both were normally the boisterous, gregarious types,
when he returned with soft towelling to dry me after my bath, we both skittered
around each other. Neither of us spoke, only glanced in each other's general
direction. I was mindful of my vow, and despite his kindness I was determined
to keep it, so I sat with my back ramrod straight and my chin high in the
air, observing him with a look I'm sure he remembered from many years ago.
He for his part, was just as casual. He made no effort to touch me, he
simply placed the linen where I could reach them, and leaned causally,
his arms folded, his face at ease and relaxed.
He chuckled suddenly, causing a slight stir from me.
"You know," he said, "When you broke down a moment ago I thought perhaps
a pixie had possessed that little body of yours, so different a reaction
was it to one you'd of given eight years ago. But now, watching you here
I see you are just the same as always."
"Not so, m'sieu," I said stiffly. "I've changed a great deal. You have
just yet to witness it."
"Is that a fact then, Madam?" he said humorously. "I certainly hope
so. I've no time to keep you in check otherwise!"
"If you take my meaning to be that I will sit silent and demure day
by day doing nothing but take care of your whims, then you are also mistaken!"
He chuckled again and would've replied, but at that moment Jean-Luc
and some others arrived with my bath and steaming hot water. My heart rose
at that sight and they left once they had set it up. I couldn't wait to
get in and scrub myself clean, but Clopin stayed on, watching me with some
"If you'll excuse me, m'sieu," I said crankily, "I would like to take
my bath now."
He nodded affably. "Yes I know." He stood there for some minutes more,
returning my gaze before exclaiming, in mock-sudden realisation, "OH, you
mean you'd like me to leave you be?"
My eyes narrowed at his "joke" and I nodded curtly.
"Well Madam, you had only to say so. Just like you had only to say
to Jean-Luc you wished for a bath. Then your desire would be fulfilled!"
The implication of what he said - that my continuing discomfort was
my own fault - was clear, and I rose angrily to reply, but he bowed swiftly
out of my tent and left me in privacy.
The bath was an exquisite luxury, and I soaped myself thoroughly, completely
enjoying the experience of being clean. Once done, I rubbed myself dry
with the fresh linen, and massaged my long hair until it was only slightly
damp. Then I opened my trunk to put on one of my new gowns.
My mother and myself had worked long and hard on them, for we were
aware that my saris would not place well in Paris. We'd remembered the
style worn by the gypsies from or last visit, and we worked some lovely
gowns in that fashion. I hadn't realised it then, but I saw it now - the
loving care my mother had put in to every stitch, for every garment was
a work of art, and every one unique. They all also had a touch of individuality,
so that I would feel like myself, not just one of the crew. There were
many red garments in there, being mindful of my love of red, and it did
not take me long to select a beautiful full-skirted red dress, its hem
lavishly embroidered in small black beads, teaming it with a black lace-up
bodice. I pulled on my little golden slippers and decorated my arms with
my brass jewellry I so adored. I pulled a comb through my thick hair, and
then tied a black scarf through it, so that it still hung loose and lovely.
Checking my reflection in the small glass I had brought with me, I was
well satisfied, and after giving Chester a vigorous brush and rub down,
I was ready to explore. At least, so I thought.
As I strode purposefully toward the tent flap which would lead me out
into my new world, I noticed how soft and inviting the downy pillows looked.
They were also covered with beautiful fabrics. I knelt down to admire the
embroidery, and doing so thought it couldn't hurt to lay down and have
a few minutes rest.It had been a long journey after all, and I would feel
better after a short nap.
So thinking, I sank gratefully down onto the bed, drawing the soft
covers around and over me. It was a heavenly bliss after months of sea,
and stringy little canvas hammocks, and my entire body relaxed immediately.
Within a minute I was sound asleep.
I slept the rest of that day and the whole night through without
stirring once, but when I awoke the next morning, I realised someone had
been in whilst I was dead to the world. My trunks had been rearranged,
more clean linen placed nearby, and just within my reach were a few red
roses. I had never forgotten the taste of the roses, and I gratefully grabbed
one and munched on it, enjoying the flavor all over again.
I felt thoroughly refreshed after my long sleep, and I bathed and changed
quickly. Then, Chester by my side, I ventured out into my new world.
The Court of Miracles, through well rested eyes, was a pleasing place.
It always had been. But I noticed that tents were no so shabby, possessions
not so meagre and clothes not so tattered as they had been eight years
ago. I doubted many of the gypsies had taken to stealing, so it could only
mean their situation had begun to improve. Most of the gypsies had been
up since daybreak, and I felt more than a little shamefaced at my laziness.
But still - I would have the rest of my life to make up for it.
© 1999 Harley Quinn