La Mort Rit En Dernier
The Vicomtesse had arrived in a frightful mood back at the Palace of Justice.
She stormed through the doors the guards hastily pulled open for her, then
stood glowering in the center of the large entrance hall, her pale face
mirroring the smooth coldness of the bare walls. She turned to one of the
guards violently who looked in some surprise at the small purple bruise
next to the Vicomtesse's mouth.
"Search the palace!! Everywhere! Anything unusual you find, bring it
to myself and the Minister immediately. Do you understand?"
The guard saluted respectfully, then gestured to a few of his men to
assist him. Then the Vicomtesse marched up the wide marble steps, through
the maze of corridors, and down to Frollo's personal sitting room.
Frollo raised his eyebrows delicately at her clearly furious state
and gestured she should take a seat and calm herself. In no mood to be
subservient, the Vicomtesse refused, and stormed over to the tall leaded
window, glaring out of it and into the dusty streets of Paris below. A
few Parisians still milled about the Parvis, asking the Minister for answers
to this strange plague that had knocked down so many and without explanation,
and she glared down at them in disgust, foolish, superstitious idiots that
they were. Why didn't Claude send out his guard to tell them to go home?
Frollo looked at the Vicomtesse's silent stony back and rubbed his
chin. He wondered what had happened to infuriate her so. Smiling slyly
to himself he glided silently up behind her and placed skeletal hands on
her shoulders, massaging them gently.
"Care to tell me what's troubling you, Belladonna?" he whispered against
her cheek, and she shivered a little at the sensation of his breath against
her face. Moments like this reminded her of why she put up with the man's
arrogance, his magnetism and sheer charisma were incredible.
She sighed and dared to lean her head back against his shoulder. "Those
lunatics have brought trouble with them, Claude, I can feel it," she said
in a monotone.
He laughed softly. "You should not concern yourself so. On the morrow
once they have finished their work, we will arrest them and hang them."
Ginevra did not dare to tell Frollo she had revealed that plan to Harley
Quinn. She had underestimated the girl's stamina and brightness and reluctance
to reveal this lack of insight played as great a part in her silence as
fear of Frollo's anger.
Frollo's voice, when he spoke next, was cold with anger. "Of course
the Fool has caused considerable trouble in the streets today, something
that was not a part of the bargain. The people are demanding an answer,
but I cannot give them one until tomorrow."
The Vicomtesse's lip twisted. "I did warn you, Claude, that the man
There was no answer except a tightening of his thin hands on her shoulders.
She could imagine the thin, straight line of his mouth and his narrowed
eyes at her last comment, and slightly nervous, she pulled herself free
and walked over to the chair she had previously declined, sitting up straight
in it, and daring to glance back at The Minister, her white face faintly
shining in the thin,pale light that seeped through the tall windows. He
had turned to face her, and standing as he was directly in front of the
window, the light behind him, she could not see his facial expression,
and she did not like it. Twisting one of her rings around her finger, she
stood up. "I wish to return to my estate, Claude."
She felt, rather than saw, his eyebrows shoot up and his mouth purse.
"Do you, my dear? You will abandon me in my time of need, with a maniac
loose on the streets, slaughtering the good citizens of Paris?"
Bile rose in her throat. "A maniac you sent out, Claude."
"To do a job quite different to the one he is currently doing. You
will not stay and offer your support?"
She stood silent for a long moment, considering the options. If she
left, would this be the end of everything between them? Would he ever again
ask her to visit when her husband went away, to sit and drink fine red
wine and discuss politics, poetry, art, history? Would they ever laugh
again over the ignorance of the commoners, secure in their superiority?
Or would she, Ginevra, be forced to languish around a manor house that
for all its opulence and excessive trappings seemed more bare to her than
the vacant stone walls of this palace? Perhaps she should stay.
But no! She was not one of Claude's pathetic mistresses, hell-bent
upon their own destruction. She had no desire to stay here and await whatever
the madman had planned. She was going back to her estate. Taking a deep
breath she spoke: "Claude, I have no wish to remain in this city and watch
you create a fool of yourself. I am leaving immediately."
She raised her chin and looked at him defiantly, daring him to answer.
After a moment, he raised a hand in condescending resignation and turned
back to face the window.
With her lips more pale than usual, the Vicomtesse marched out of the
room and headed towards the wide staircase that would lead her out of the
Palace. A guard hastily bowed to her as she approached and humbly interrupted
"Excuse me, Vicomtesse, but upon following your instructions we uncovered
these objects down in the Entrance Hall."
She paused, glaring at what he held in his hands, two round objects,
green and purple, and bearing the visage of the lunatic Claude had let
loose on the streets. With a sneer she jerked her head back to the room
she had just left. "Show them to the Minister."
He bowed and she continued her march.
Outside, the wind was whipping more fiercely still, and black threatening
clouds hung low over the city. Strands of her hair coming loose with the
force of the wind, she gazed in exasperation at the dark sky, as Erik helped
her into her coach.
"We're going straight home, Erik," she snapped. "Immediately."
He bowed to her and climbed up into his seat, urging the horses on
with a click. The Vicomtesse stared out at the dark, intimidating Gothic
monstrosity that was the Palace of Justice, even blacker against the dark
sky, and her heart was heavy within her.
"Don't go away, toots, I want to forget you exactly the way you are!"
Joker laughed, blew Irea a kiss, then flounced out of the house, leaving
Irea and the little girl lying on the floor, still tightly bound, with
a laugh and a blown kiss.
Irea gritted her teeth against her gag and wriggled furiously against
the ropes which cut into her wrist. Probably drawing blood, she thought
with a grimace, but did not cease her struggle. She had to get free!! Get
free and back to the Court of Miracles, and somehow stop that maniac. The
two dead bodies nearby her were repulsive to her, and she wished to get
away from them. The little girl, in shock, simply lay stock still on the
floor, her bloodshot eyes staring blankly in front of her. Irea's wrists
and hands were small, and although the ropes were tied tightly, continued
struggling and finally managed to push them down a little way over her
wrists. Calling out in mingled frustration and pain, Irea continued to
struggle, jerking her arms almost out of their sockets as she forced the
ropes down further over her hands.
With a last fierce push, the ropes were off completely, and almost
crying with relief, Irea sat herself up and wrenched the gag from her mouth,
licking her dry lips. She pulled her numb legs in front of her and whacked
them hard to bring them to life again, and fumbled with the ropes that
bound them, her hands now free and able to utilise a simple spell to loosen
Then it was time for the little girl. Irea tore the bonds and gag from
her, but she only hung limply in Irea's arms, barely moving, still staring
ahead vacantly. Irea slapped her face, and shook her by the shoulders,
but the child did not react. Irea sighed and slumped down, rubbing her
aching shoulders as she stared at the child. She had to get out of here
and fast, but she couldn't leave the child frozen like this. Irea did not
know what was wrong with her, but she thought it was perhaps a spell Joker
had put on her, and she was reluctant to leave an enchanted child unattended.
Groaning at her foolish heart, she finally picked the child up, heavy in
her slackness, and stumbled out of the house with her, ducking down quickly
by the door to make sure no nearby Parisians saw her, a gypsy, exiting
gadje house with a babe in her arms. She certainly didn't need
them to go in the house and discover the dead bodies within.
The street was deserted, and the sky was an angry black, a few fat
splotches of rain hitting the cobblestoned street, and plonking onto Irea's
head and bare shoulders. Running hastily down the cottage's small stone
steps, Irea took up the streets as fast as she could.
As the rain began to pour down heavier and the wind screamed and bent
the trees, in the Cathedral of Notre Dame the hunchbacked bellringer tugged
on the cords of the bells to announce a Mass hastily called by the Archdeacon.
The greater population of Paris filled the aisles and knelt in prayer.
Not all of them were entirely sure what was going on, but rumors of enchanted
deaths and murderous enemies attacking the city had spread like wildfire,
and the Archdeacon had called the Mass to placate the people and prevent
a panic. Minister Frollo was not in attendance: he stood still by his window,
watching the rain, and glad the Archdeacon had acted so he would not have
Outside on the wet streets, Columbine spotted Irea carrying something
large, and clearly heavy, as she stumbled over the loose stones of the
streets. Narrowing her eyes, Columbine ran gracefully up to the girl, who
shrieked as Columbine darted in front of her. When Irea saw who it was,
her black eyes narrowed. After her encounters with The Joker, she firmly
did not trust anyone associated with him, and she backed away from Columbine
who only stood staring expressionless at her, glaring at the woman.
"Have you seen him?" Columbine barked at her and Irea started and continued
to glare, her lips firmly shut. Columbine gave a short nod of her silky
head. "You have. What are his plans?" Then she glanced at the stunned child
in Irea's arms and sneered. "So gypsies stealing babies is a true story?"
That got Irea talking. "This child is under enchantment from your murdering
Joker!" she shouted over the wind to Columbine. "He is going to slaughter
the children of my people! You've done nothing to stop him!"
The mention of children caused Columbine to frown. She did not hold
with hurting children. Irea shivered, her wet clothes clinging to her,
trying to keep the child's head covered, but although soaked to the bone,
Columbine stood still, heedless of the wind and rain, staring straight
ahead in thought.
Finally she looked at Irea. "Then we had best act fast, if we're going
to stop him." Irea stared at her, uncertain whether to believe her. Columbine
held out her arms. "I'm stronger than you are, give the child to me." After
a moment of hesitation, Irea handed the little girl over to Columbine,
and the two women took up running through the streets, back towards the
Court of Miracles.
Down by the river, Clopin had a protective arm around a shivering Mirage,
as the Rom gathered with their sacks, and hessian cloaks wrapped around
their bodies to keep out the rain. One by one, the sacks were emptied into
the river, all of Joker's bombs bobbling cheerfully on the surface, their
smiling faces leering up at the Rom who clung to one another and sang softly
that the dark magik in the bombs would be rendered useless. The rushing
water swept the round balls quickly down the river, taking them speedily
out of the city. A feeling of triumph and peace swept over the Rom as they
watched them go, and they turned to each other with smiles on their dark
faces, wives cuddling close to their husbands, the men shaking hands as
the tension was broken and they laughed cheerfully, despite the cutting
of the Autumn rain.
Mirage and Clopin were not at peace. Worry for the still absent Irea
tugged at both of them, and they clung to each other for comfort. As the
Rom agreed it was time to go to the taverns that allowed Gypsy patronage
for drinks and celebratory meals, Mirage turned her head to Clopin, her
mouth pulled down at the corners and her eyes sorrowful.
"Where is she, Clopin?" she asked him softly, and he pulled her head
to his chest.
"We'll find her, Mira, don't worry," he said soothingly. "Leave the
people to their celebration, we don't need to worry them. We'll go back
to the Court and see if she has returned there, and if not we'll hunt the
streets until we find her." He squeezed Mirage's cheeks. "We'll even break
into the gadje homes if necessary!"
Mirage grinned up at him, and the two turned away from the Rom and
made their way through the streets to their underground home.
Harley crouched in a doorway, soaking wet, shivering and very cranky.
Of all the luck!! It would have to pour down like Armageddon just when
she was out and about and looking for her man. This was useless! No-one
told her medieval Paris was BIG. How was she supposed to find Mistah J
in this labyrinth?? There was only one thing for it! She would just have
to trot on off back to that old Court place and demand an explanation for
the weather. Then that sexy Clopin could just take her back out on the
streets and help her look THEN she could convince Puddin' that Paris in
the fifteenth century was small potatoes! Everything would be hunky dory
Her mood considerably lightened, Harley leapt out from her doorway,just
as the Vicomtesse's carriage rattled past, spraying mud all over Harley's
dress. Harley pouted and glowered after the carriage. This had been the
worst trip ever!
Frollo glowered out at the raging storm, clutching one of Joker's bombs
in his skeletal hands. He had been a fool to trust the madman! No matter
- his soldiers were on the streets, hunting him down at that very moment.
A little sooner than he had anticipated, but he couldn't allow the lunatic
on the streets any longer, that had been proven. He rather thought his
people would be placated by a public hanging in the morning.
As for Ginevra - Frollo grinded his teeth in fury. Insupportable woman!
That she should dare to walk out on him - still. She had been correct about
The Joker. A fact he was sure she would secretly gloat about if she knew.
Perhaps the best mode of action would be to leave her to calm down for
a few weeks and then leave this unpleasant incident behind them.
Frollo steepled his fingers and observed two of his soldiers splashing
through the rain soaked streets in pursuit of the madman,trying to shelter
their heads. They would find him. Where on earth could a lunatic like that
Joker hummed the WB cartoon theme as he splashed happily through the
muddy earth in the graveyard, heedless of his lovely white spats getting
dirty. Hmm...was it a fashion mistake to wear spats with Cuban heels? But
then, he'd never followed the social norms. And he had enough style to
pull it off.
He arrived at the large stone sarcophagus, put the sack he carried
on the ground, cracked his knuckles and shoved the lid to the side. He'd
visited the Court of Miracles back in the twentieth century. A huge cavern,
filled with rotting artefacts, and heaped skulls, haunted by the ghosts
of long dead Gypsies. Joker had liked it very much, the smell of damp and
the chill of lost spirits on his neck.
Joker lowered his lanky form in, pulling his sack in with him. This
was going to be lots of fun. And one couldn't deny the lovely symbolism
behind it too. Death of the next generation - death of the Gypsy future,
so to speak. Cackling cheerfully, Joker moved quickly down the long tunnel,
like a demonic skeleton, then tap danced his way down the stone steps into
Lanterns had been left lit for the children who'd gathered collectively
in the Court Square to play, young girls holding their baby siblings close
to their bosoms as they'd seen their mothers do, and several pairs of moist,
dark eyes turned their way apprehensively towards Joker, blinking guiltily,
afraid the return of elders would lead to spankings for running wild like
wildebeests. When they saw it was no elder they knew, but a tall, frightfully
thin very white man with the visage of Death on his face, they gaped and
looked at him nervously. They were naturally suspicious of outsiders, and
this man gave off a strange impression of menace and madness.
But Joker was not fazed by their fearful looks. Pulling out three of
his Joker gas bombs, he began to juggle them cheerfully, moving his way
into the square as he did so. The children blinked at him again, but his
laughter, now taking on a considerably lighter and friendlier tone, his
smile, the way he danced as he juggled intrigued them, and they turned
to watch him as he made his way into their midst. As he moved amongst them,
he swept a cap off one, a shoe off the floor, and his gun from his breast
pocket, and swept them up with his bombs, juggling them all without hesitation.
"Step right up, folks!" he shouted to the children. "And witness the
wonder of the one and only Joker! He's brought a treat for all you kiddies
with him today, but get up close or you'll miss out."
A few of the children had begun to giggle at his funny manner of speaking
and after an initial hesitation, they began to creep closer to him. Joker
felt like the Pied Piper. Wasn't that a French story? Joker ceased his
juggling, letting all the items fall to the floor with a clatter, and bowed
to the children who smiled and pushed hair from their eyes.
The gun fortunately had the safety switched on, but when one dirty
footed boy slipped forward to retrieve his cap, he picked it up curiously,
glancing at the Joker to see if he would be scolded. When Joker only smiled
at him encouragingly, he darted back to his place with cap and gun, fiddling
with the strange new object with protruding lower lip. Joker threw back
his head and laughed, then beckoned to a particularly beauitful young girl
with large green eyes, who nursed her baby brother in her lap. Smiling
shyly, she handed the baby to a friend, then crawled forward to Joker who
tousled her hair and pinched her nose and asked her if she liked dolls.
After she nodded, smiling and still silent, he produced a doll from
his coat pocket, in Harley's likeness, and tossed it to her. She caught
it, and backed up to her place, cuddling the doll close. With a bang the
doll exploded, sending multi-colored confetti raining down on the heads
of the children, who after a moment of shock began to laugh, and dance
under the stream of paper.
Joker grinned over it all, rubbing his hands with glee.
He was having fun already!
Thunder raked the now black sky, followed quickly by blinding bolts
of lightning. Visibility was difficult, and the rain streaked down savagely.
Clopin and Mirage spotted the three huddled figures lifting the lid of
the sarcophagus as they splashed through the graveyard, desperately trying
not to step on any of the tombstones, and gave a shout. "Irea! Irea!" Mirage
called frantically as she recognised the shaggy head of her friend who
looked up with a start.
Slipping in the mud, the two Rom raced over to their friend who ran
forward to meet them, laughing in relief. They slammed together in a group
hug, and, looking down into Irea's sparkling black eyes, Clopin wished
for once that Mirage wasn't quite so close. He swept the two girls up into
his arms and squeezed them tight as they hugged one another, thankful to
be reunited, the two girls trying desperately to talk over the top of each
other, just as though everything were normal. Next to the sarcophagus,
Columbine watched with narrowed eyes through the sleeting rain, still clutching
the shocked child in her arms.
Looking up at her, Clopin realised something serious was in the air,
and explanations and hugs could be given later. Putting his lady friends
down, he nudged them towards the sarcophagus, and Irea ran ahead of them.
"Come on!" she shouted above the wind. "The Joker will already be down
Clopin and Mirage exchanged frantic looks, and Clopin's long legs quickly
caught up with Irea as he grabbed her arm and swung her around to face
him. "What do you mean? The Joker is down there with the children?"
Irea detached herself from his grip which rubbed painfully against
her wounded wrists and nodded.
"He wants to slaughter them all!!! We have to hurry!!"
Her heart racing, Mirage helped her friend push aside the lid of the
sarcophagus and the five were quickly underground, pushing the lid back
"WAAAAAAIIIIITTTTTT!!!!!!" a familiar high-pitched voice shrieked,
and a second later Harley threw herself into the grave, screeching as she
fell heavily down the stone steps, a second before the lid was shut.
"Harley!" Columbine all but dropped the child she was carrying, who
was quickly rescued by Clopin, and darted down the steps to help the sopping
Harley to her feet.
"Oy vey!" Harley moaned. "Man I'm gonna be sore tomorrow!" She looked
up around her at Columbine, the three gypsies and the little girl and gave
a lopsided grin. "Hey, the gang's all here! Where's the fire?"
Mirage pointed ferociously at Harley. "The 'fire' is your lover wants
to slaughter our children!"
Harley blinked. "I didn't know you were a mother!" she said to Mirage.
Mirage paused for a beat, then with a roll of her eyes,pushed her way
past the two women, earning herself a death stare from Columbine and a
bewildered expression from Harley, and then they were all moving quickly
down the tunnel, wondering what carnage they would find and hoping to find
© Harley Quinn, 2000 (firstname.lastname@example.org) May not be reprouced