I was serious, but she began to giggle anyway. I tried to frown at her,
but she laughed all the more. I sighed in exasperation and rolled onto
"Hey now, don't be lying around like that!" she said severely. "You'll
psotively scandalise old Tante Marie should she walk past!"
I gave her a grudging smile.
"And don't be using language like that either!" she continued. "Imagine,
a pure and sweet young woman like yourself knowing such words as "hell"
I finally gave a little laugh.
"Well, 'pure and sweet' is not far off," I said grouchily. "Though
I'm not sure they're altogether accurate. Perhaps frigid and prudish
are more on the mark."
She looked at me in bewildered amazement for a moment, before laying
her needlework aside and grasping my hands.
"This I have to hear!" she said "Come in, the Court has ears everywhere."
"And eyes and teeth and fur too!" I said. It made me laugh but she
just shook her head.
"You're a very strange person, Herli," she said as she pushed me down
on the cushions. I took Chester's head in my lap and scratched his ear.
"But that's why I love you."
With a wink, she closed the tent flap. Colombine's tent was small and
she liked it kept dark, but she had a great deal of possessions, due to
her inability to resist what took her fancy. There was always a smell of
sandalwood, not from incence, but from the many little carved figures she
kept scattered around. She liked color, but the hues of her furnishings
were barely visible in the dim light. I knew if she had more candles around
we'd look like we were inside a rainbow of sorts. A mound of her black-and-white
costumes covered her bed. I often wondered where she slept at night.
"Now, tell me what's troubling you," she said, sitting before me and
taking my hands in her own. She often did that when she was trying to get
me to open up to her. "Why would you, Miss Passion Incarnate, call yourself
prudish and frigid? Has that brute Clopin been bullying you?"
I paused for a moment. Should I confide in Colombine this shameful
secret? Would she laugh? Would she tell anyone? In the two odd weeks since
meeting her I'd grown to trust her more than a good many people I'd known
in my life. I'd looked into her eyes often and held her hand many times,
and my perception of people following these actions was rarely wrong. (And
before you bring Clopin into it, at that point I was unsure, for he mostly
wore gloves and I hardly ever looked into his eyes). I looked at her a
moment longer and decided to take the chance.
"First off, my "passion" manifests itself mainly in my temper."
She grinned "Noted. But there's a fire of sensuality in you somewhere,
I've seen it!!"
I raised my eyebrows. "Maybe. Or maybe once. I thought so too. I don't
know anymore. Coming here has played havoc with me, I'm not altogether
sure who I am anymore!"
"Well, it just means you're changing. You're young yet, you can't expect
to be everything you will be. I have to say, I've noted a few changes in
you, and they're for the better. You were a cold distant little fish when
you first got here. The ice is melting now."
"Gee, thanks," I said wryly. She laughed.
"Here now, don't be cranky! This is what I mean - you're always on
defence. But you're starting to relax. Note - I said starting. Now, what's
Clopin been saying to you? Can't he bend you every way he wants to? And
I don't mean to his will!"
"He's been saying nothing he hasn't a right to say," I said and then
I told her how we had not yet been together as man and woman. Her eyes
widened till I thought they would fall out as I told her of the wedding
night, and the nights after, and also of the events in the Puppet Cart
"You're joking with me!" she breathed when finished. I shook my head,
and bit my lip.
"Good God, Herli, no wonder he's been walking around as tense as a
"You're not helping," I told her through gritted teeth.
"To be honest, I wasn't even sure if you were a virgin or not!" she
told me. "I'm not, not many of the girls here are. But to keep on even
after being married to him - Lord almighty!! Why are you so afraid??"
"I don't know!" I told her helplessly, and felt tears prick behind
my eyes. I forced them back down again. Silly to cry over this. She squeezed
my hands tight.
"Here now, don't be too upset. At least he hasn't forced himself all
over you, and I tell you Herli, most men would've in his situation."
"I know," I gulped.
"You see, it must mean he at least respects you a great deal to put
up with it," she told me gently. "You should be grateful for that, but
don't take it for granted. He won't put up with it forever."
"I know" I said. And I did know. His patience would run out, and even
though I knew it would come, I just couldn't bring myself to do it yet.
"And I might add, forcing himself on you wouldn't be the worst thing.
He might seek satisfaction elsewhere..." she told me warningly.
"Somehow I think that would be better than forcing himself on me,"
I told her. "At least in my view."
"You say that now," she said, and I remembered Tante Marie saying something
similar a while back.
"You Parisian Gypsies have a funny way of thinking," I told her, finally
relaxing a little and leaning back on the cushions. She smiled and shook
her head at me.
"Not so funny as some," she retorted.
"Humph. Oh - and then there's the matter of him lying to me today.
He told me he was going to speak with Jean-Luc, but I saw Jean-Luc and
the Honorable King was nowhere to be seen."
"After you got back?"
"Forget it. He's probably gone off on his own to work his temper out.
Go back and cook dinner up for him. He'll come back, his usual sweet self
and you'll be teasing each other like usual."
"No. If I go back and do all that he'll think I'm ready for it."
"Herli, Herli, Herli. You have to go back at some stage. Better to
be back before he is. You'll look like a good girl then."
"I don't want to be a good girl!!" I said in exasperation. "It's extremely
She laughed. We sat in silence for a few minutes more, both of us lost
in our own thoughts. My mind wandered over the last few weeks and the progress
I'd seemed to be making with my husband. Today it appeared I'd taken us
back to square one. I felt sulky again.
"He wasn't even there to meet me when I arrived," I said petulantly.
She glanced up. "He wasn't? Ah of course. That was the day he helped
Isabelle out of Paris - oh!"
She didn't realise what she'd said until she'd said it, but I pounced
on it straight away.
"So that's what happened, was it?" I asked crossly. "Helping his lost
"That's right, Herli, helping her *leave*!!" she stressed to me. "She
told him to go to Hell and she couldn't stand the sight of him anymore,
and she demanded he help her out of Paris!"
"Lovely!" I snapped. "His future wife arrives cold and wet and sick
and he's off helping some spoilt brat to escape into the country!"
She didn't say anything to that, just looked at me. I glared at her.
"I am not a spoilt brat! Not as much as she is anyway!"
"You don't even know her."
"I don't need to." I'd risen to my feet and was pacing angrily."I bet
she knew that was the day I arrived as well!"
"I don't think it was an accident, no," she said softly.
"Tell me everything!" I demanded. She shook her head.
"I wasn't here then, remember? I only know what the others have told
me. Herli, it doesn't matter, she's long gone now and Clopin will get over
it. Besides which, I thought you didn't care!"
"I don't!" I stormed angrily. "I just don't like - it's just - well
"You like to be number one!" she told me with a grin. "Just like him.
Herli, please, forget it. I know he's trying to. Go back to your tent,
calm down and both of you be friends. You won't be able to keep your hands
off each other soon enough, you'll see."
She turned away then, to look over her costumes. I knew it was my cue
to go, and I pulled a terrible face at her back.
"And don't pull faces at me!" she called out as I left. I grumbled
all the way back to the tent.
Colombine was right. Clopin returned in a much better mood and smiled
at me amiably as he came in. After a long and fierce debate with myself
I had finally fixed dinner, and I saw he was very pleased. When I saw that,
I decided it had been better to do so. It made everything much more pleasant.
When I'd finished cleaning the dishes I asked him if we were going to the
Court Center tonight.
"No," he said, filling his pipe. "Not tonight. Tonight I relax here.
You can go if you like."
I looked at him in surprise.
"What?" he said. "it's not unusual for one partner to go without the
other. It's not frowned upon."
"I wouldn't feel comfortable. I don't know anyone." I said. He snorted.
"Just go sit with Colombine. You'll be fine."
"Do you want me to go?" I asked. He looked up, this time he was surprised.
"Am I trying to get rid of you, you mean? Don't be silly. I just want
you to understand you're not chained to the tent."
"I move about a lot during the day!" I begun defensively.
He interrupted me. "I know, Herlikin. I wasn't implying you didn't.
Stop jumping to conclusions."
There was silence for a while after that, which got increasingly difficult
to bear. He must've thought so too, for he looked at me and gave a short
"What?" I asked.
"Just us, love. Sitting here pulling faces at each other. Let's have
He hopped up, grabbed the wine and a couple of glasses and came to
sit down next to me. He poured us each a glass and then raised his.
"No more fighting" he said. I looked at him for a minute and then smiled
and clinked my cup against his.
"Alright then," I agreed. We drank and smiled at each other again.
So Clopin and I agreed - no more fighting!! But there were plenty of
- let's call them "heated discussions". But we had our fun also. For several
days it remained too cold in Clopin's opinion for me to go out, and indeed,
many of the Court stayed under.Neither Clopin nor Colombine performed for
several days, and it wasn't long before the three of us felt extremely
"I don't know why you're so restless, Herli," Colombine grumbled two
days later, as we three sat up on the stage, looking out over the Court.
"You're here every day from beginning to end."
"Sure, rub it in" I replied. "Anyway,I'm restless because all these
people are here in my Court and I don't have as much room to move around
in as usual."
She turned to me with a grin.
"Oh no! They're so evil, aren't they, imagine the nerve! Staying in
their homes during intolerable weather, and inconveniencing you!"
I sniffed. "Yes, you think I like the Court to be so full my skirts
should brush against someone wherever I turn? It's unforgivable!"
"And yet this weather seems to have had a good effect on your temper!
I rather fancied you'd rip out poor Colombine's lungs after that little
dig!" I poked my tongue out at him. He peered closely at my mouth.
"You know, Madame, there's a little pink bug who lives your mouth,
and lately he's been appearing more and more frequently. I fancy he gets
in the way of Madame's witty retorts."
Without meaning to I poked my tongue out again. Clopin pounced on me,
and covering my face with his huge hands tried to wrest my mouth apart.
"Never fear Herli!" he said gallantly. "I shall pluck him from your
mouth! He will torment you no longer!"
I grasped at his hands helplessly and tugged on Colombine's skirts
to get her to assist - but she only laughed. Clopin and I wrestled for
a few moments longer and he managed to open my mouth a little way, but
I bit him as soon as a finger entered it.
"Ouch!" he exclaimed pulling his hands back. "You little savage!!"
I sat back panting, and laughed at him.
"Yes. Yes I am," I said agreeably. Colombine stood up, dusting off
her skirts. "Come on you two zanies!" she said. "let's go to Paquette's
Tavern - it's warm there and we won't be so bored."
"Sure - we'll move from one crowded space to a smaller crowded space.
Brilliant, Col," Clopin said sarcastically, picking himself off the floor,
and hauling me to my feet. She only slapped him and started to lead the
We went the way Clopin and I had done before - that is, through the
floorboards. Clopin was right - the Tavern was very crowded and noisy,
but I especially was glad of the change. I peeked at the new faces from
under my cloak and watched Clopin greet his friends enthusiastically, a
lot of young, drunken boys whose names I promptly forgot.
Colombine was quite comfortable here, and waved cheerfully to some
of the other gypsies over in a corner. Several of Clopin's friends recognised
Colombine from her performances, and within a few moments she had fought
her way to the bar which she perched cheerfully on and let the boys buy
her drinks and woo her in French, thinking she would be an easy victory,
not knowing she understood little of what they said. She spoke to them
in Romany, which they didn't understand, mimicking their affectionate tone
and I laughed to hear what she said.
"You're so stupid," she crooned, caressing one boy's cheek. "I would
like to spit on your head. But then I think, you are too stupid even for
that. I will pity you and let you buy me drinks, you poor sad fool..."
But they believed this wild beauty to be in earnest, so they continued
to ply her with drinks, each attempting to outdo the other with stories
and jokes. She gestured for me to join her on the bar, and I jumped up
and sat beside her. They knew better than to try their tricks with me,
Clopin being so close by, so after a few compliments they left me alone.
"It's a laugh, isn't it?" Colombine said to me in Romany. "I have no
idea what they're saying and they have no idea what I'm saying."
"You needn't worry about what they're saying," I replied. "They're
praising your beauty and your charm and grace and telling you all about
how many Englishmen they've killed, and how many dragons they've fought,
and how many mugs of beer they can drink in an hour."
She laughed. "Men are fools," she told me. "They'll be supplying my
drinks until closing time and I won't be going home with any of them. Poor,
I accepted a drink, and took a large sip. I wrinkled my nose. It was
beer. Still, Colombine was drinking away, and Clopin,leaning on the bar
besides me, was happily quenching his thirst too, so I shrugged and took
"You know," Colombine said, leaning in close to me, "Clopin doesn't
understand much Italian..." She winked and nudged me in the ribs. I understood
what she was getting at and leaned forward to drape my arms around my husband,
who turned to me in surprise.
"Big-nosed one," I said with affection in Italian, "you are knock-kneed
and gangly and your goatee makes your chin look too long."
He raised an eyebrow.
"Oh really?" he asked me in Italian, and my mouth fell open in horror.
Colombine, meanwhile, was laughing heartily besides me, holding her
sides. I whacked her hard.
"You brute!" I screamed. "How could you?"
She tried to answer through the tears of laughter pouring down her
cheeks. "I didn't know, I swear, Herli," she cried. "He didn't know it
"No, I decided I should pick it up!" Clopin said dryly, turning to
face her. "I had a suspicion that the expression in your face masked what
you were truly saying, and I hate being made a fool of, you know."
She could only laugh, nearly falling off the bar in her merriment.
I gave her a shove, feeling quite vicious. Clopin shook his head at me
and stared at her, seemingly unamused.
"It's alright, Herli, you don't have to apologise, I know she set you
up," he told me, dismissing her and focusing on me.
"I wasn't about to apologise!" I exclaimed. "It was only a joke!!"
He gave a little laugh. "Does it really make my chin look too long?"
he said in mock dismay, stroking his goatee, but I thought I could see
something else in his eyes. I realised he might have been genuinely hurt
by what I said, so I put my hands on both his shoulders and looked straight
"No it doesn't. None of what I said is true, it was just a joke, Clopie,
He pulled a face. "Don't call me 'Clopie'. Here, I'll get you another
drink," and gestured to Madame Paquette who muttered something under her
breath. She and her girls were being run off their feet with the number
of customers there today, but within a few minutes Clopin and I had another
tankard of beer each. The second didn't taste so bad as the first, and
I got it down quite quickly. Clopin laughed at me.
"Another one?" he asked.
"Why not?" I said, feeling quite merry. "Everyone else is drinking
drinking drinking away. I feel left out."
He chuckled and was about to say something when Colombine stuck her
head in between us.
"Aww, please don't be cranky at me!!" she cried."It was all in good
fun!" She toasted us with her glass and returned her attention to the young
men gathered around her. It seemed several of them could speak Italian
quite well, and pretence was dropped as they all chatted and tried to speak
over one another. Clopin chuckled as he watched her.
"She's had too much to drink, again" he told me, leaning his arm on
my lap and pulling his hat off his head.
"I better make sure I don't do the same!" I giggled over the top of
my mug. He smiled at me.
"I think you already have," he whispered confidentially.
"No!!" I protested. "I can handle as much as you!"
His next look was incredulous. "Now I would like to see that!" he scoffed.
"I could do it" I said confidently.
Two of the young men whose linguistic skills were limited to French
came over to join us.
"So Trouillefou, you've left the carefree days of bacherlorhood behind
then, eh?" one asked jovially. I stuck my nose up at him.
"Indeed I have, Jehan, to join the even more carefree days of marriage!"
"Bah!" the one called Jehan spat, a dirty scrap with long blonde hair.
"There's nothing carefree about marriage. It's all nagging, and handing
out money, and giving everything to only one lady, only to have her grow
old and fat and ugly!"
Needless to say, I wasn't taking to Jehan.
"On the contrary," Clopin said, smiling at him. "You get all your meals
cooked, your clothes attended to, and this ravishing creature to share
your bed every night!" He gave me a wink, and put his arm around my waist.
"Aye, she's pretty enough," the other said, looking me over. "A little
undernourished, but she'll plump up."
"I thought you didn't like wives to get fat," I snapped at him and
"That's my little firefly!" he said warmly in Romany.
The other shrugged over my remarks. "When men and women are fat they
all look alike," he told me. "Same as when they're too thin. A thin woman
looks like a young boy!"
I flushed deep scarlet, although he was wrong to say this. My curves
were there for any to see, but he'd clearly resented my retort and repaid
me in kind. For that reason I held my temper.
"I can assure you that Herli has everything a woman needs," Clopin
told his companions. Jehan gave him a knowing nod.
"She's very pale for a Romany, Trouillefou. I didn't think she'd be
the type you'd take for a wife."
Clopin stood back a little to look at me. "She's very fair-skinned,
yes. More so than when she arrived here. It's because she's been confined
underground so long. Don't worry," he said to me "when spring arrives you
can go out and play in the sun again."
"In the meantime she looks like a fish's belly!" Jehan exclaimed and
the other laughed so hard he snorted drink out his nose. I'd had enough
by this point and tried to jump down from the bar. Clopin tried to hold
"They've drunk too much," he said in my ear. "They dont' know what
"It doesn't matter!!" I hissed back and scratched his hands with my
nails till he let me go. I jumped down and stormed away to a corner and
sat down in a recently vacated seat. I turned back and saw that Clopin
was speaking savagely to his two companions, and flattered myself he was
defending me. It brought me a little satisfaction, but I still did not
feel any inclination to return.
It didn't matter. While I sulked over my drink, he came up to join
me. "Those two silly boys send their apologies" he said, grinning.
"Humph" was my only response and he knelt down before me. "Come on,
cherie, you hardly think two drunk young men are going to come up
to a Romany girl and apologise? They're not close friends of mine, and
whilst they cheerfully drink with us and take advantage of our women, they're
not going to suffer themselves to say sorry."
I only pouted and he shook his head.
"Now now, little one. They won't do it again. I gave them a fair warning,
and all gypsy men are scoundrels, don't you know? I'm the King of Thunes.
They're too afraid of my wicked temper and my little dagger to insult my
lovely wife again." He grinned at me and pinched my cheeks and won a little
"Come on," he said, taking hold of my hands. "Let's go. I want to show
"What about Colombine?" I said as he led me to the back room.
"She'll be alright. If she isn't back by the evening, we'll come and
look for her. I promise."
We went down into the Court again and I felt sorely disappointed. Clopin's
eagerness and easy, graceful movements had led me to think we might be
going somewhere special, but of course, such energy was typical of him.
"I hate to disappoint you, darling," I said sarcastically, "but I walk
through here every day."
"It's not this, smarty!" he said, giving me a shove. "It's something
else.And it is special."
We smiled and said hello to Christophe, he who provided the whole court
with meat, and his wife Miriam. We stealthily bypassed Tante Marie's tent,
neither of us wanting to get coerced into conversation with her, and then
we waved to "La Chantefleurie" and her daughter Esmeralda, who was just
five years old. We'd reached the Court Center, and the large wooden stage.
Clopin looked around with exaggerated surreptiousness to make sure we weren't
watched and I laughed and told him to stop. He smiled at me, and motioned
to me to move to the back of the stage.
"Alright, so I make a joke, but it's true, little one. I haven't shown
this to anyone before. Others probably know about it, but I only ever find
We slipped behind one of the large drapes covering the stone wall at
the back of the stage, and climbed up into a little space in the rock.
It was dark until Clopin struck some flint he evidently kept there and
lit a small candle. I looked at him with interest.
"So why am I special enough to see this secret place, Your Majesty?"
He shrugged. "I don't know, little Queen. I just felt like it. Look,"
- he showed me childish chalk drawings on the walls - "I've hidden up here
ever since I was a child. Whenever I got annoyed or bored I would come
up here and tell myself stories. I made my first puppet here and planned
my first real tale to tell. I also watched how all of my tricks played
The little space was close to a corner of the drapes which hung in
front of it, and he pushed it aside a little way. I gasped when I realised
I could see the entire court from this place. The Court Center was simply
a title for it, for it was actually beyond all the tents, with only stone
behind it. The main entrance (from the graveyard) was off to the side of
the stage. Then in front of the stage was the large open space where the
gypsies gathered of an evening, or for special occasions. The Tents, which
were personal tents and ones where people gathered for baths and trade,
were arranged in "streets" fanning out to the back of the Court. The hundreds
of fires and candles gave the whole place a very warm glow, and of course
it was entirely sheltered from the outside world. Gypsies love color and
beautiful fabric, so what I beheld was a dazzling sight.
"I've never seen it from this angle before," I told him, and he smiled,
stretching out his long, lean body beside me.
"Once," he said, "Bethan, the one who provides us with most of our
fabrics and who does alot of the embroidery and dying, you've met her?"
I nodded. "Well once, I put some purple dye in with her white linen. I
came up here to watch how she reacted! I swear to you, some of the stones
in the roof were loosened by her screaming." I giggled. "Then another time
I told my younger sister Aloise to tell her little friend Henriette that
your good Tante Marie's bosom confidante Josephina was fooling around with
the honorable Mistress Marguerite's husband (Josephina at that time being
still unmarried). Anyway little Henriette went and told her little friend
Agnes, who told her mother Guillemette who told Sophie who told Marguerite!
My Goodness!!! The ears that were boxed and the hair that was pulled!!!
I thought I'd covered my tracks so well, but no! It was all traced back
to me, and my excellent mother gave me the whipping of my life!"
I laughed outright then. "I didn't know you had a younger sister."
"Oh no. She probably wasn't here when you were. She's nomad, travels
around, comes back when she feels like it. Same with those younger brothers
of mine. You'll meet them, though I couldn't tell you when."
He continued telling me the stunts he'd pulled as a young boy, keeping
me thoroughly entertained. At one point I wondered how long we'd been up
here, but Clopin's storytelling distracted me and I listened, paying little
heed to anything else. He came to the end of one and fell silent. I followed
his lead by stretching out beside him.
"Now, lovely madame!" he said, turning to me with a smile. "Tell me
tales of your devilment! And don't shake your head for I know there was
"No no!" I protested. "I have nothing to tell. Truly, my tales are
not so much fun as yours, you don't want to hear them!!"
"I disagree, cherie, I most certainly do! Now, I have bared
my soul to you, you must do the same!"
"Really, Clopin," I said, growing uncomfortable, "what I did was not
so fun as you!"
"All right," he relented, opening his palms in resignation. "But you
must tell me one day!" he shot back, waggling a finger at me.
"Maybe," I said, and we smiled together. "So," I said, turning to look
at his little chalk pictures, "you've been coming here all your life?"
"Mm-hmm - just about. Since I was about eight years old. It is my place
of retreat and rest. As a boy I loved learning my acrobatics, but it wasn't
all I wanted to do. So I came up here and created my stories."
"Stories you are now famous all over Paris for!" I joked, and he nodded
"You will see, little one. You will see. It is also-" - here he hesitated
before continuing - "it is also the place I come when I am sad or need
I burst out laughing. "You? Sad? I believe a smile has been chiselled
onto your face. As for thinking - your body is far too much in action to
allow your brain much time to think!"
© Harley Quinn 1999
May not be reproduced without permission