The other women were as yet distant - though more friendly than when I
had first arrived. I was determined to show them up, and learnt all their
names and greeted them with much friendliness and civility, so that they
were ever so slightly shame-faced by their nasty treatment, and became
more civil still. They were not horrible girls, despite what their coldness
would suggest, they simply resented me, an outsider, coming in and marrying
one of the best men there. On the whole they were rather sweet and full
of life and fun,with a few exceptions, but I never grew very close with
many of them, though as years passed and they fell in love with others,
old rivalries were forgotten and we would sit in a circle and talk. I met
the other girls who were able to resist Clopin's charms, who had great
loves of their own, or simply enjoyed their independance, and became quite
friendly with several of them. But my closest friend remained Colombine,
and she was still the one I liked best out of them all.
Although friendly and full of life, until I arrived she had been something
of a loner herself. Direct and to the point is the way of gypsy women,
but it seemed Colombine had been rather more direct and to the point than
the others. She wasn't disliked as I had been,being too good-natured for
that, but the others were wary of her sharp tongue, and she thought many
of them far too silly to be with anyway. She was an orphan in the court,
who had given herself the title of "Grand Duchess", a quirk I found entertaining.
She spoke Romany and Italian (being of mostly Italian heritage) very well,
but spoke French barely at all, so as a way of making her keep she performed
pantomime in the streets above. That intrigued me, for mask work involved
a lot of pantomime,and I wondered how passionate she was about it. I noticed
quickly that she was also something of a compulsive thief - she couldn't
help herself, if she saw something she wanted she had to pick it up. It
made me laugh, because she didn't hold with stealing at all! She always
kept her head, too,I noticed, remaining very cool and calm, and although
she was far more friendly than I, I soon recognised many similar traits
between us. For example - she was always willing to help people, but won't
volunteer her service. One had to ask.
There were days of course when Colombine didn't visit - she was above
in the streets of Paris, doing her pantomime or shopping as the case may
be. I envied her greatly and more than once expressed my restlessness and
desire to see the above world. As much as I loved the Court, I was getting
very sick of stone walls.
I thought several times about sneaking out - but then, what if I got
lost? I considered taking Chester with me, but then - what if they were
unused to such beasts and attacked him? But the restlessness was building
up in me with each passing day, and Colombine was urging me to go with
her, and it was becoming more than I could bear.
I mentioned as such to Clopin one evening two weeks after our marriage,
after he had told me of the day's events, and the children who had watched
his puppet show with glee. He said nothing then, but the next day when
he had finished his breakfast he told me to put on a dress suitable for
the chilly Paris weather, and to come along with him.
Thrilled to the very core, I wrapped myself up warmly,and sensibly
put shoes on. I checked several times in my glass to make sure I was presentable
and he laughed at my vanity.
"Here, you look fine!!" he said. "With that silly pale skin of yours,
no-one will mistake you for a gypsy!"
"My skin isn't silly!" I said petulantly. "I can't help it, it's all
my mother's fault!!"
"Aw, poor baby!" he said mockingly. "What a wicked mother you had,
giving you pale skin that people will trust, as opposed to dark Romany
skin people will throw insults at!"
I sulked and told him, "I've never met a man who thought my color skin
is attractive!!! There were many who were curious, but none who considered
He just bellowed laughter. "And I bet that was a hard knock for your
vain little head, eh? Well you're in France now, and though the gypsy men
mightn't find you so very beautiful, the Parisians will on the whole admire
you. Though maybe they won't!" he added, thoughtfully. "Though they'd die
as opposed to admit it, a lot of the French men find the exotic gypsy skin
I grumbled. "Rub it in, why don't you?", but he laughed all the more.
"Mind, my little wife," he said, taking me by the arm and leading me
from the tent "I don't mind at all if other men don't find you attractive!!
Though I think you'll find they do. It's just that haughty air of yours
that makes them all stay away. They're afraid you'll bite their heads off
if they get too close!!"
I didn't like this conversation at all, it was painful for my ego,
and I stuck my lower lip out and pouted.
"Hey now" he chuckled, guiding me around the tents. "Don't look so
sorry for yourself. Admittedly fair women aren't normally my type, but
you're intriguing enough to hold my attention."
Well it was something, and I gave him a smile as we reached the main
exit of the Court. He continued:
"Also, you're far far too thin for my liking, but so long as I keep
feeding you, you should plump up a little. Then I'll feel like I have a
real woman under me!!"
He had to spoil it.As he laughed, I grimaced, very unamused. In India
slim, petite women were the fashion. Over here, despite much tightening
of corsets, a woman wasn't a woman unless she had many curves and bumps.
I turned around to find Chester following me - poor Chester! He hadn't
had exactly a wonderful time since coming here, and I spent many long hours
each day combing his fur and spoiling him to make up for it. I couldn't
let him out on the streets just yet, not until I got to know it better
"Go back to the tent, Chester, go on now!" I said firmly. He looked
at me so sadly, but I'm sure he knew I did it for his own good.
He went back, clearly sulking, and Clopin grinned at me. Chester more
or less tolerated Clopin, but they certainly weren't great friends. Chester
was jealous of Clopin and would get a look of extreme irritation if Clopin
so much as stroked my hair. Clopin for his part was always yelling out
in frustration to find Chester on his bed, or sneaking away his supper,
or just glaring at him as he went about his business.
"Thank Heavens I don't have to force civility with that kingly beast
whilst we're on the streets!!! It's hard enough when we're back in our
tent!" he said jokingly.
I laughed "Chester will grow to lov - er - Chester will grow to lik
- hmm...Chester will grow to - er - accept you, dear!"
He shot me a look of gentle reproach. "Very funny, cherie." He took
my hand and guided me along the narrow hewn stone passageway. "I did not
intend to keep you locked away in the Court so long, sweet. But I thought
it might be better if you settled in first, instead of bombarding your
frazzled nerves with the streets of Paris!!" he said with a grin.
"Hmmm... Appreciated, I guess" I said uncertainly.
"You're going to find it very cold after India, you know."
"Yes, I remember," I said, with a shiver at the memory.
We'd reached the end of the passageway. Above was a trap-door, leading
into a tavern where the publican was friendly with gypsies. He turned and
looked at me with an eager smile.
"Here we are, ma petite!"
Throwing open the trap-door, he let in a variety of sounds and smells.
The sweep of a broom, the filling of a tankard, the noisy rumble of men's
voices, and the smell of beer and tobacco. He climbed up before me, his
lithe body swinging up easily, then he turned and held out his hands. I
took them and he hauled me up effortlessly.
We were clearly in a backroom of the tavern, barrels of beer and wine
lining the walls. He shut the trapdoor and I saw it had been so carefully
and cleverly made that you would't be able to see it against the floor
unless you were looking for it.
My heart was beginning to beat hard in excitement, and I squeezed his
hand eagerly. He smiled at me and kissed my hand affectionately, before
leading me through the backroom, into another plain room, and from there
into the main body of the tavern.
I was amazed to see so many there so early in the day, many having
sought a moment's warmth from the chilly February streets of Paris. I realised
it was probably nothing compared to how it would be tonight. Now, patrons
were still calm, sitting around tables playing cards and talking quietly,
as the Barmaid and the Publican (also a woman) busily cleaned and poured
Although the tavern itself was nothing spectatular or unusual, I felt
a little shy, and already a little overawed. As in the Court, everyone
seemed to know each other, and the room itself was huge. Clopin grasped
my hand and took me over to the bar, smiling at the older woman, who was
evidently the owner, or at least the boss, as she told the others what
to do and handled all the money - she also had that general air of being
in charge and important here. She caught sight of the two of us approaching
and beamed at Clopin before giving a shout of welcome.
"Hi Clopin, bit early in the day, even for you, don't you think? What's
this you've brought with you, she looks far too fine for you my boy!"
Clopin feigned insult and put his hand on his chest.
"Madame Paquette, you wound me!" he said mockingly. "I was always under
the impression you held me in the highest regard!"
She gave a snort. "Oh yes, the highest, especially when you can't even
walk home by yourself, and start calling me your darling Paquie!!" she
said with much irony, before turning to me.
"Here, girl, what are you doing with rubbish like this one? You look
as though you've far too much sense!"
Before I could reply Clopin dove in. "Madame Paquette, most honorable
of all publicans, surely you've heard that Clopin Trouillefou is no longer
a single man? The woman you see before you is none other than my wife,
She looked at him, unimpressed, for a moment before saying, "Ho, really,
and what happened with the other one, then?"
Clopin's jaw tightened just a little.
"We no longer speak of that other one, Madame," he said stiffly.
She gave another quiet snort before finally giving me a smile.
"You watch out for him, he's trouble if ever I saw it!"
I smiled stiffly back. I wasn't sure if I liked this woman or not yet.
I observed her a few moments more - she must've been at least forty, though
she was as yet unlined. She was plump, but not fat - only a little bigger
than what was currently fashionable. Her hands were rough, and her mouth
was hard, but her eyes were kind, and very pale blue. Her hair was a dirty
blond color, very long, and wound up into an enormous bun on the top of
her head. Her apron was dirty, but I could see the dress she wore beneath
it was spotless, and well made.
She was hard to read as well. I couldn't tell if what she said about
Clopin was gentle teasing, or genuine disapproval. So my answer consisted
of a tight smile and a "I'm sure I can handle him, Madame."
She stared openly, though not unpleasantly, at me for a few minutes
before turning back to Clopin.
"What are you having then, King?"
"The biggest mug of beer you have, Madame!"
"For you, Queen?" She was the first one to call me 'Queen', and it
was said with irony!! I definitely didn't know how to take this woman.
"Nothing, thank you," was my firm reply.
Clopin gave a shout. "Rubbish, nothing! You'll need something to warm
your belly for when we go outside, little one. A glass of red wine, Madame
Paquette, the best you can get your hands on in this rathole." She gave
him a playful swat for that. "But make it just a little one, mind," he
added with a wink at me, "the lovely lady is not altogether good at holding
her drink yet!!"
It was not considered a marvellous talent for a woman to be able to
drink like a man, but my cheeks still burned when he said it. When the
wine came I sipped it slowly and didn't look or talk to him, although he
kept up the cheery banter with Madame Paquette. He'd reached his third
beer by the time I'd finished my first glass, but was no worse for it.
When he saw my glass was empty he motioned for it to be refilled. I protested
but he seemed not to hear it. I was beginning to wonder exactly when we'd
be leaving and seeing what Paris looked like outside of the tavern. But
my growing restlessness went unnoticed as Clopin drank and talked.
One of the little barmaids approached us then, and Clopin stood up,
making her a very solemn bow.
"Good day to you, Mademoiselle Cosette!" he said formally, taking her
hand and kissing it. She blushed and smiled shyly as I raised an inquistive
eyebrow to Madame Paquette, who merely shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"Good day, Your Majesty," she said softly, through lowered eyelids.
Clopin laughed at that.
"Your Majesty! I love it! No-one ever calls me that!" His laughter
made the girl Cosette forget her shyness, for she raised her head more
and smiled more broadly. Clopin resumed his seat, and motioned for Cosette
to come closer. He brought me forward and spoke.
"Dear mademoiselle, it's an honor for me to introduce you to my wife,
The young girl's eyes widened and she gazed at me in shock. All I could
do was inwardly groan, for it was obviously another member of his harem.
But I nodded and smiled at her and said, "A pleasure to meet you, mademoiselle."
She bobbed me a little curtsy. "And you too, Madame." Her voice was
like a tinkle of little bells, sweet and pure. Her skin was paler even
than mine, and her large blue eyes made her look like a frightened lamb.
The little wisps of hair poking out from under her bonnet were extremely
fair, and her eyebrows were almost invisible against her skin. Typically,
I was comparing myself to her, and thought with pleasure of my own eyebrows
which were perfectly shaped and arched finely over my eyes.
It was impossible to guess her age, although she was obviously not
a child. Clopin all the while was watching me while I sized the girl up.
His eyes were faintly amused, and his eyebrows raised, expression inquistive.
I realised suddenly I had probably a very imperious expression on my face,
both by the way he was looking at me, and the hot flush of color that was
beginning to burn the girl's cheeks. I smiled hastily and turned back to
my wine. She gave us another curtsy, and with one last longing look at
Clopin, turned back to her work. He chuckled to me.
"Next time, try not to frighten her so. You looked like you were about
to order her head cut off!!"
"It's just getting slightly wearying to be introduced to every moon-faced
child who holds you in their sky, dear", I said sarcastically.
He clutched his chest in shock. "Don't tell me you're jealous, Herli!"
"Please - " I began, when Clopin leapt from his chair, clapping his
"Right! Finished, ma cherie? It's time we were off!"
I glared at him. No, I wasn't finished, which he well knew, but I boldly
drained my glass, and stood up, my challenging look meeting his own. Then
with a nod to Madame Paquette, and taking my arm we moved towards the door.
As we got closer, I breathed harder, feeling a rush of excitement.
My memories of Paris were dim, to say the least,and I had never seen snow
before in my life. Clopin moved in front of me to gallantly hold the door
open, and agust of icy wind met me as I stepped out into the city.
I gaped in amazement as I looked around. Paris is a fine city in the
summer, but in winter it looks like a world of crystal. Everything blanketed
in a fine layer of soft cold snow. Even here, in one of the simple trade
streets, it seemed grand and imposing to me - everything black and white,
even those who hurried about their business swathed in dark garments as
snow speckled white kisses on their shoulders and heads.
Clopin moved to join me by my side, and I could see he was pleased
at my amazement.
"Beautiful, no?" He said. I could only nod.
I looked down to my feet, already sinking in the white, and lifted
them cautiously, admiring the way the snow fell apart.He moved in front
of me, and took my hand to help me down the steps.
"Mind, love, it's slippery," he warned. I stepped carefully down,and
then looked around again, finally smiling.
"It's incredible," I breathed. Even the sky seemed to glitter as the
snow continued to fall.
He laughed softly. "Yes, I suppose it is," he agreed, taking my arm
once more and beginning to guide me toward the end of the street.
I stumbled a little through this strange ground, but I barely noticed.
The snow and wind made everything seem so quiet and still. Unreal. There
were so few people about in this weather, the streets seemed so lifeless.
Clopin frowned as he looked around him. "The weather's worse than I
expected, cherie. We won't stay out long, you'll catch your death.
" "I can handle it!" I protested.
"You say that now, cherie, just wait a little longer. I won't
be peforming today - there'll be no-one to see it. I'll check my cart and
make sure it isn't stuck in the snow, but I'm afraid a more detailed tour
of Paris will have to wait until the temperature's more agreeable."
I had begun to notice just how very cold it was, and I pulled my cape
tighter around me. The wind still teased my face mercilessly though, and
I had to admit Clopin was right. I would have to wait.
But I wouldn't have missed even this brief visit for the world. I bent
over to scoop the snow up in my hands and shivered at its biting cold,
but it was so beautiful!
"Is it good to eat?" I asked him. He looked at me strangely.
"You have the most bizarre eating habits, love," he said, bemused,
"but yes, I suppose it is all right to eat. I don't see it could hurt you."
I stuck my tongue out cautiously and tasted a little. It was freezing,
but tasted just like water. I offered my hand to Clopin.
"Want some?" I asked him. He gave me another strange look, and shook
I prepared to toss the handful back to the ground, but he grabbed my
hand suddenly, so I was forced to face him, and looking directly into my
eyes, he licked some of the snow from my hand.
He pulled a face. "It tastes like water!" He said "What a swindle!"
I laughed at him, and he shook his head again.
"Come on, we're practically in the town square now!" He grabbed my
hand again and forced me to run with him.
Running in snow is not easy. "Clopin, stop!" I laughed.
"I'm just trying to make sure you stay warm, Herli!! Is that a crime?"
"It will be if I trip and fall face down in the cold!" I said. He laughed,
and slowed down. We entered the square, and I'm sure he planned it very
carefully. We entered so that the first thing I saw was the enormous Cathedral
of Notre Dame - Our Lady.
If I was in awe before, I was dumbstruck now. There were many beautiful
and elaborate buildings in India, but I had never been so close to one
as I had been to this Cathedral. I moved forward automatically, gaping
upwards in complete amazement. The Cathedral was elaborate and beautifully
executed, reaching straight up for the heavens. Covered in snow, glimmers
of stone peeked out from under the white. An amazingly imposing and powerful
building, it none the less had grace and an air of serenity. I kept moving
forward, unaware of anything around me, able only to look up the pillars
and carvings, the windows winking at me like many eyes.
Clopin whispered in my ear and his breath was warm on my cheek. I savoured
it as he said:
"I will tell you stories about the Great Cathedral of Notre Dame one
day.It is said, not three years ago, Judge Claude Frollo took a devil and
ordered him to ring the bells."
Although I have belief in the supernatural, I'm not of the Christian
faith. Yet in the presence of this magnificent building, I felt a little
shiver go through me.
"A devil?" I repeated in a whisper. He took advantage of my awe to
snake his arm around my waist, his body pressing into me from behind. His
voice took on a deeper timbre as he continued.
"A devil. A hideous deformed creature who possessed the body of a small
boy. Frollo ordered he ring the Cathedral bells as penance for his sins.
When the night is very still and quiet you can hear the screech of his
unholy voice ride on the wind with the bells, as they do battle against
one another - the earthly voice of God and the mortal form of the devil,
clamouring against one another in a supernatural symphony."
His voice was bewitching and I listened rapturously.
"That is what is said. I, however, know the true story!"
"What is it?" I asked eagerly. He broke his hold on me and moved away.
"Another time, cherie. I'll tell you the whole story." His voice
resumed its usual tone and he looked at me slyly. I knew he had enthralled
me deliberately with the intention to leave me hanging and I shoved him
"That depends on whether or not you're a good story-teller!"
He laughed. "I'm the best in Paris, cherie, you'll not find that disputed
"I'll bet," I grumbled. He laughed again.
"I remember a little girl who told all she was the best at everything.
It was never proven, of course."
"Who was she?" I grumbled, thinking I knew.
"Oh you knew her too, you knew her very well. Though you might not
recognise her today. She's all grown-up. But you need only speak with her
to realise she is the same!" He smiled at me,and took my hand. I wrested
it from him.
"I've barely associated with you, sir, I find it hard to believe we
both knew this girl."
"Alright, alright, you're not in the mood to play games. Come on, I'll
show you my cart."
I let him take my hand this time, and he took me into a small side
street where he stored his cart when not in use. It was rather large, and
although painted and decorated to look like a puppet cart, I thought it
had once been a caravan.
"There was a time when I was a nomad," he told me, as he unlocked the
door. "I used this to get around in. But when my - when it was time for
me to take over the Court, I had no use for it anymore. So now I perform
I'd noticed the catch in his voice when he'd been about to say "when
my father died" and I felt sorry for Clopin. At least my parents were still
The cold had beginning to bite me very hard, and I was feeling grateful
we were going indoors until I discovered the interior was about as cold
as the outside had been. Clopin lit a few candles on the small table, and
I gasped in delight to see all the little puppets and painted sceneries.
"You like it, then?" he asked. I smiled and squeezed his hand in response
and he moved to show me the various puppets. I noticed a door in the wall
and moved over to investigate.
"Yes - I put a petition in. That's why it's so small here. On the other
side is where I perform from. I cut a large window in the other wall. I
set up before a show, through this door here, and then when it's time,
I just go on the other side and raise the curtain in the window."
"It's very clever," I told him truthfully, and he looked pleased. He'd
created all his players very carefully, the attention to detail was beautiful,
though I didn't recognise any of the characters. There was one in a judge's
clothes, various indiscriminate soldiers and gypsy types, a priest, some
shop-keepers and women. I supposed he had based some of these on people
within the city.I moved to another table, and found the characters here
There were devils and angels, a mermaid and a sea monster, a wolf and
girl with a red cape - in short, characters from faery tales.
All the while he watched me carefully from a stool, but I pretended
not to notice as I gently touched the little figures. I looked up at him
finally and smiled.
"They're beautiful," I told him.
He nodded. "Thank you, madame."
I looked around again before moving towards him. "Is this all you do?"
"No no. I am Master of Ceremonies at all festivals! I am the leader
and champion in the pursuit of fun and entertainment!!"
"I'm sure!" I grinned. With a swift momevment he pulled me onto his
lap. "It's true!!! Without me,those festivals would be dull and lifeless!!!"
"Dull AND lifeless? My Goodness, the citizens of Paris must thank their
lucky stars for you!"
He raised his hand modestly. "It's true. But I don't like to brag!"
I laughed and whacked him in the chest. He pretended to be confused.
"I don't understand why the lovely lady laughs!" he said, wrinkling
his brow. "Is it possible I am so brilliant I entertain her even when sitting
I giggled, and, taking his face in both hands, I kissed his nose. He
responded with a kiss on the lips and with the thought that a little kiss
couldn't hurt, I sat placidly on his knee still. He saw that and kissed
me again, his hands now reaching beneath my cape to hold me around me waist.I
felt something stir beneath me and when I realised what it was I knew what
his intentions were. I pushed his hands away and leapt off his knee, apprehension
and anger thudding in my blood.
"Absolutely not on the street!" I shouted wildly at him before running
out of the puppet cart, and through the snow, back the way we came. I was
half way across the square when he caught up with me. By that time I'd
slowed to a walk, but I didn't look at him.
"We weren't on the street, Herlikin," he said stiffly.
"We practically were!" I threw at him.
He sighed and grimaced. "What the hell am I supposed to do with you?"
he asked grimly. I glanced at him then, and though he stared straight ahead
I saw his jaw was clenched tight, and so were his fists. He was genuinely
angry, and I felt a little flutter go through me.
"It was also stupid of you to run off like that. How did you expect
to find your way back, especially in this weather?"
I pointed to the ground.
"Following our foot-prints, of course!" I snapped.
"The prints are being covered with snow right now, smarty!" he snapped
We walked the rest of the way back in silence. Madame Paquette raised
an eyebrow as we both stomped through the tavern, and in a moment of lost
control I poked my tongue out fiercely at her. She looked surprised before
turning away again, with a disinterested shrug.
By the time we reached our tent, he'd calmed down somewhat and so had
I. We still weren't in the humor to talk with one another, though, and
he made a feeble excuse about needing to speak to Jean-Luc for a while,
before storming away.
I flounced into the tent and plonked myself down on the cushions burying
my face in Chester's fur, who raised his head to give me a warm and comforting
"Men are all brutes!" I told him. "Except for you."
I stroked his head gently and wondered what the time was. I knew that
Colombine had stayed in the Court today, and I thought I would go and visit
"Come on Chester, let's go my love," I said, pulling myself to my feet
and guiding him out with me.
It was late afternoon I decided, as I observed what activity was happening
within the Court. I nodded and smiled to a few I passed including Jean-Luc,
I was interested to note, with no sight of Clopin anywhere nearby.
Jean-Luc's cultured accent intrigued me. Having observed him in better
light than my first day, I realised he wasn't Romany. I wondered how he'd
come to be here and why the others accepted him, but he didn't intrigue
me enough that I ever remembered to ask. And at that moment I was far more
interested in the fact that Clopin had lied. But I didn't say anything,
only waved and smiled as I passed by.
"You see Chester?" I said to the great tiger. "Lying brutes!"
People had become accustomed to Chester's prescence within the Court,
and he did not warrant as many stares as he had previously. But few had
courage to pet him or approach him as yet. I knew the circumstances unsettled
him, both being constantly undergound,and bein constantly sidled around.
Those in India had healthy respect for him, but they did not fear him.
That people were so palpably wary of him disturbed him, for he was not
sure why. As a result his temper was flighty, and he treated others with
the same wariness they treated him. For this reason I was glad no-one made
too great an effort to come close to him. A tiger on his defences is an
unpredictable animal and I didn't need Romanies with big tiger holes in
them on my conscience. Nor did I need the inevitable execution of my oldest
friend as a result. I was regretful that he was forced to live this way,
and many times I wondered if I should've left him in India, where he'd
been happy and comfortable.
Colombine was sitting outside her tent,embroidering one of her pantomime
costumes and she saw me coming. She greeted me with a big smile until she
saw the dark frown on my face.
"Uh oh. I have a feeling that a certain skinny goateed king has been
- well, breathing in your general area."
"Don't talk to me about skinny goateed kings," I exclaimed, throwing
myself down beside her. "A pox on them all! They can all go to Hell! Furthermore,
they can all go to Hell and die!"
© Harley Quinn 1999
May not be reproduced without permission