"HERLI!" The voice flung itself across the Court and was then tossed off the stone walls again,
falling around me as I mused at the puddle of water at my feet, tracing one scarred toe across it
carefully, wondering what the little ripples thought as they were pushed inwards and outwards
again, in and out, in and out.
Such a rhythm had put me in the position I was in - that is, seven months pregnant, and I had
thought a good many things about it, and not one of them bad.
"HERLIKIN TROUILLEFOU!!!" Again that familiar lady voice, usually such a welcome sound,
interrupted my thoughts, and I sighed in irritation and pushed one long, straggly lock of red
hair back over my shoulder, and wiped my nose, and rubbed my swolled belly and wished I could
pull my legs up under my chin, wished harder I had the energy to hoist myself from my resting
spot and go where one of my dearest friends could not find me.
I sat in the Square in the Court of Miracles, on a low wooden bench near one of the deep iron
pots the women used for cooking, silent and cold now, the embers long since died out. I looked at
the sooty place beneath it longingly. I wanted to run my toes through that muck, why I couldn't
say, but I did not have the energy to move. It was midday and this area of the Court was near
deserted, there were no rom-neve to host, it was summer and there was alot of work to be done by
both romni and romano to feed not only bellies tonight but for the winter months which were
catching us up day by day.
Only I, the fat pregnant daj, had to stay below and be bored playing nursemaid not only to my own
babbies, but to those of other women also. Thank the strength of good strong rom baro seed that I
was not the only mother-to-be at that time and had managed to creep (quite literally with thanks
to my belly) away unnoticed by them as they busied themselves chasing young, dirty-necked brats,
and stopping brazen little wenches from tearing the hair and pinching the spindly arms of the
Now I sat by myself, sheltered by soot-black pots, and the left over rugs and cushions that
always littered the place during the day, hoping Colombine would not discover me. She was the
dearest friend I knew of woman, but she knew nothing about carrying a child within oneself, and
the disinteredness in others it could bring. I felt as though I carried a pail of milk within me,
my lean husband could not lean in as close as I liked, I could not wear my favourite dresses or
tumble with my children and I....waddled! As the duck waddled so did graceful little Herli who
never stopped floating as she walked, though the fragile flesh on her feet hurt her so at times -
ah! Never mind the rewards of holding a babby to my breast, I did not like being round as the
"HERLIKIN-ELISE TROUILLEFOU NEE DUPRE!" Colombine would not be ignored and I tapped my hands over
the stretched skin of my stomach, covered snugly in gold embroidered red cotton, in an agitated
rhythm before giving in.
"I'm over here, dili!"
A moment later and her cheeky brown face appeared, bobbling over the tops of the pots,and then it
was she herself bending her way around them, decked out in white and green, very becoming to her
eyes and hair and slender, so slender, form. There were dimples in her cheeks as she smiled at me
wickedly, and her green eye flashed in that way I knew so well.
"I'm in no mood for your devil's work" I grumbled ominously at her. "I could push you over with
one nudge of my stomach, so be warned!"
She giggled delightedly. "Herli, pregnancy is dangerous for you! You sound like Tante Marie when
you say things like that!"
"Oooohhh!" Lethargy forgotten I pushed myself forward and whacked her for that. I loved Tante
Marie, but god knows I did not want to be like her!
She darted back, still laughing, glad to have provoked some life from me.
"Come on, Herli" she bounced to her feet, twitching her green skirts and holding out a
bejewelled hand to me.
I wriggled my shoulders petulantly "What is your plan?"
Again that twinkle. "There is no plan, 'demoiselle', but you are acting not yourself, so perhaps
Colombine will lead you in the path that is your own again, hmm?"
I sighed and pushed again that disobedient lock or hair over my shoulder, pouting to myself, and
dragging again my toe through the little puddle of water which had fallen from such a long way
through a tiny gap in the Court roof to gather there. Why not? It is true, I was very much not
myself. Frustration from not being able to move about as freely as I liked, from being forbidden
to leave the Court, from not being able to fit into my favourite dress......
Sulking was always fun until it became boring, so after another sigh I put my hand in hers, and
she hauled me to my feet, and together we began our way out of the eating area of the Square, she
tripping gracefully, and I....waddling.
On the other side of the Square, Renault had his tins of paint and was painting prettily some of
the furniture he so cleverly made. It was a chair turning daffodil yellow, and a footstool become
forget-me-not blue and a little table rose red. Both Colombine and I stopped at the sight of
them, our eyes growing wide in astonishment, and heedless of my bulk I was the first to totter
quickly to him, my eyes hungrily drinking the flowers in his paint tins.
"Colors, Renault, where did you get these colors?" I cried, waving a hand over them as though
they were jars of magik. Colombine sighed and smiled at these joys, while Renault chuckled into
"I have had luck these days,mam'zelles. Luck." Renault was a man of a few words, and a stern
temper and it was as much as we would get out of him, but I tried again anyway. I always try
"But from where? Who has bestowed you luck, Renault?"
He frowned at me with his brows becoming one. "It is my business, chey, you know better than to
question again a man who has given you an answer."
Bah! Men. I wished that Clopin was here with me, he would get from Renault the information I
wanted. So I pouted and twitched my skirts and sighed to the side, but could not leave these
"For whom you paint these, Renault?" Colombine asked him as she bent over to peer closely at the
bright yellow chair,so pretty and sunny.
He shrugged as his brush went stroke stroke bright red over the table. "For pleasure, chey.
Because such color is pleasure. Possibly for sale."
At that both my head and Colombine's shot up and we peered at each warily from sideways eyes. She
might be able to work when I could not, but I had my husband, greatest performer in all of Paris,
and his purse which hung very loosely from his belt! Colombine and I gazed at each other as two
beasts size one another up in damp green clearing of a forest where they have come across one
another by accident, should I attack or is he too big? Who eats who here? She narrowed her eyes
at me and I did likewise, before bursting out with -
"Renault, Clopin will give you the money for these tonight!" Who knows if he would, but I wanted
my claim staked. Colombine groaned.
"No!!You cheated! Too fast!" I grinned and poked out my tongue at her.
"He will pay you for each and all tonight, Renault. Let me have them, please!"
He leaned back from his painting, pushing the brim of his hat up with one red and yellow-stained
finger, gazing at me with his bright blue eyes a minute, as I clasped my ringed fingers to him
pleadingly. He gave a short laugh and bent to his work again.
"Very well,Herli. Just you make sure Clopin pays, for you will not get them before then. And it
must be Clopin who brings the money, I don't want him coming to me later to explain how you cut
the purse from his belt again, and that he must return my crafts."
I pursed my lips and twitched my skirts again. It would be hard to convince Clopin then, but
perhaps I could work some sympathy from him because of my condition. I cocked my head to the side
and blinked smilingly at Renault.
"It shall be as you say, Renault, just so." I said sweetly. He shot me a half-laughing glance
from beneath his brows before laying carefully the small bright red table aside and standing to
his feet, stretching wide, his great brawn of a chest expanding even more, his huge hairy arms
all clenched fist and paint-stained.
"There, that's finished. Don't you brats touch it now, it needs to dry. Mind me, don't touch
Grasping a much begrimed towel from besides him, he walked away wiping his sweaty face, sighing
into the linen, leaving me with a smug smile and Colombine with indignant eyes. She pinched me
through my thin red sleeve.
"Herli! You're terrible! Must you have everything that takes your fancy?"
"Must you?" I reiterated rudely, for she was just as bad as me. "You know very well had I not
been first you would of been!"
She grimaced and shook her hands in front of me. "That's not my point,bengali!!"
I turned away with a little smile and ran my eyes over Renault's work area. Towels lay
haphazardly on the stone floor, and on them his newely painted flower furniture. An enormous
flask with his water lay next to his bench, but my eyes skimmed over it, coming to rest on the
little pots of paint clustered nearby. With a wicked grin I dipped a finger into the yellow one
and flicked it suddenly at Colombine who gasped as it whipped a long line across the front of her
dress and the bare part of her bosom.
"What is your point, dili?" I asked smartly, and put my hands on my hips, and thrust out my huge
belly and laughed very heartily. But Colombine is not the woman who can so easily be beaten.
Looking down at herself with an expression that was part bafflement, part disbelief and part
crankiness, she dipped her finger in the red tin and tossed it at me, putting a large red splotch
on my nose. But I could not stop laughing now, and there was a grin on her face too as one by one
we dipped a finger in a paint jar and added a new and far more modern pattern to our dresses.
We backed up from one another, laughing, she nimbly and I awkwardly and now each of us held a pot
of paint in our hands and were gaily flinging paint not only at each other but all about us as
well, mimicking so well the children who sat just beyond and around the way, watched over by the
women who were our own age, and younger as well. The thought of my babbies, Lena and Harlan,
Clopin and Ahvel, and the way they would look if they caught sight of their maman so, doing the
same thing that she scolded them mercilessly for,made me grab my belly and roar with laughter so
much that it ached, and I had to put down my tin of paint and pause for a moment, unable to stop
laughing, bending over in ache, and Colombine came over to me and we flung paint strewn arms
about the other and held on to each other and laughed and laughed. But I was not so lost in my
merriment to not recognise she was in my power, and leaning back over to the bench, I filled a
hand full with yellow paint and smeared it with a splat! over her hair, rubbing my hands through
it and laughing. She was too jolly now to be much angered, she only gasped at the sticky
coldness, and then retaliated in kind, smearing the skyblue all over my face as I tried to cry
between giggles for her to stop.
But suddenly a boom of thunder interupted our sunny skies as Renaults' deep voice came booming to
us in stricken-anger.
"My paints! All of my paints!"
How quickly the smiles ran from our faces as we stopped, still clining to each other, covered
lavishly in red and blue and yellow paint, and some purple and green too, now. It gave me an idea
for an excuse as we broke hurridedly apart and gazed fearfully at the dark tower of a man who
strode towards us, his face and arms freshly scrubbed, his blue eyes black with anger.
Before he could say another word I jumped forward timidly. "We were mixing new colors for you
Renault!" I said hastily, but to my misfortune he took my reply as impudence and went to box my
ears. I darted out of the way in alarm and fell with a shriek into Colombine's arms, and by this
time both our laughter and Renault's shouting had aroused the women and children from where they
sat, and their sudden movement had attracted the attention of a few of the men who worked within
the Court, so that now we were surrounded on all sides, like two mischevious cats, by
alternatively wide-eyed and stern-faced rom.
Renault flung his fists in the air and hollered at the roof of the Court as he surveyed the
damage we had done; paint was everywhere, on Renault's vurdon which stood just to the side of his
benches,the benches themselves, on his towels, all over Colombine and myself - a few splotches
had even decorated the hide of his horse. He let forth a torrent of near-incomprehensible curses
before wresting the hat from his head and flinging it to the ground, them stomping on it, stomp
stomp stomp! Renault is not by any stretch of the imagination a small man, and the sight of him
with his big beard, and big hands, and big chest and big boots stomping on his poor little hat
was a sight so rare, it were as though Clopin had snuck up behind and begun to tickle me as my
shoulders began to shake with suppressed laughter, and my eyes grew wet from the strain of
staying silent, and hastily I buried my face in my shawl as though I were ashamed, and smothering
my tears. That was too far even for Colombine, there were no smiles on her face as Renault
finished his tantrum and turned around to face us. I could not see him through the blue of my
shawl, but I felt his movement as he strode forward and snatched the shawl from my face. I
gasped, outraged, that he should lay a hand on me, but I knew better than to say anything to a
man in a temper with a wicked women, and we were this.
Pale-lipped I cast a glance around me, and did not miss the disapproving stares from my friends,
the women and what men had come. Colombine and I were in for some trouble now and I was not
looking forward to it. Christophe had taken in a great, shuddering breath, shut his eyes tight
and calmed himself for a long moment before becoming his silent stern self again.
"Colombine, because you are unmarried, I have sole right to your punishment. Herlikin, you can
sit down here and wait for your husband to come home." Taking Colombine by the shoulder he turned
to lead her away.
I pointed my nose in the air. "I'll go to my tent and wait for him." He whirled around to me
again and gestured violently with his finger.
"You will wait here!" he bellowed, and startled, I sat down abruptly. I felt, rather than saw,
the women nudging to each other and the children wriggle restlessly at being forced to wait
before they could whisper frenetically to each other how little queenie was in trouble *again*. I
sat with my back ramrod straight and did not deign to look at them there, I could not stand to
see how my friends, the women would be staring at me with disapproval and that one Isabeau with
smug smile. I sat there silent, with narrowed eyes and upturned nose until I heard them whisper
amongst themselves and herd the children away, all of them drifting back to their respective
business and leaving me sitting all by myself with only the babby in my belly for company. I got
up and with a great effort hoisted myself onto the table and insolently put my feet upon the
I pouted and rocked, stroking my huge swollen stomach and beginning a little Hindi hum beneath my
breath. The paint was drying in my hair and on my clothes and very quickly the merriment of
flinging it about was forgotten as I sulked over this. I wanted a bath, but I could not get it
until Clopin came home. I hated sitting there, sitting in solitude where anyone who walked by
might see me and then discover the reason for my position when they next passed the women. I
could envision them all clucking amongst themselves at this moment; the children I did not mind,
they were on my side, they would creep by soon with a glass of milk and pinches for me, but my
friends, the women would be discussing at length what trouble I caused and what nuisance I was,
and how I must cause my big, handsome husband's head to ache so hard. Then one by one these
women, my age and younger, would drift to other parts of the Court on their business and pass by
them older women coming in from the day's work to cook or sew or whatever dull thing they filled
their evening with and the story would spread and the whispers so thick you could stir it with a
spoon, and the older women would be saying what an unsuitable wife I was, and how I did not
behave as a wife and mother should, and what a bad example I set, me being wife to the King and
all. My lower lip protruded further as I thought these things, for with the gossip-mongers it did
not matter my husband was as happy as a man could be, that all four of my children were healthy
and beautiful, that my home was spotless and comfortable. Nay, all that mattered to the women who
both thrived on gossip and envied that I should be married to one who used to be theirs, is that
I did not behave as a wife....should.
I felt very, very sorry for myself.
My babby moved in my stomach then, and I ran hands over it, wide out in front of me, all mine for
two months more and smiled down at it. So big, so uncomfortable, but so warm and helpless in my
arms afterwards. I may not be a typical daj, but I was a daj nonetheless, and I hated it when my
children grew older and no longer wanted to cuddle under my arms and creep into my bed with me
and beg for stories and songs and kisses everywhere. Feeling the babby move then reminded me of
who I was, and who my husband was and it was comforting. No matter what those women said, Clopin
and I adored one another, and this was our babby, and I was it's mother not anyone of them. And
that was comforting but then I was reminded that I was, indeed, a pregnant woman and that I had
responsibilities and,no harm intended notwithstanding, I had behaved stupidly and childishly in
front of those who loved to find fault with me. So finally I was scratching my swollen belly in
agitation and feeling very cross with myself as the day grew longer, though night and day seemed
all the same in the Court, and the Square began to come to life once more as the huge fires were
lit, and more lanterns too, though noone came to my little corner with a lamp. One by one the rom
came in from their adventures in the streets above to saunter lazily back to their tents calling
greetings to one another, and eyeing paint-strewn me with interest, amusement and my well-known
Clopin would laugh when he heard about it, I knew, but he would be cross also because of the
damage that was done to Christophe's things. He would not laugh to me, to me he would scold, to
himself he would laugh and love me for being still a child in some ways, but he would also be
cross. Cross because the men would expect him to beat me and he would not, because they would
expect him to punish me, and he would not, and all around him would be the whispers of how I was
wicked and willful and not being punished as a disobedient wife should. But still, I wanted him
to come home and scold me and shake his finger and then cuddle me and laugh above my head. Clopin
didn't care that I was an unsuitable wife and mother, he loved me anyway. My babby moved again
and I ran hands over my stomach and sung some more. I felt faintly disharmonious within myself,
and it was not because of my trouble.
"Who is this bengali chey in disgrace by herself in the dark with a pouting lip?" came that
golden voice which so sung through my days.I jumped a little and wanted to leap off the table and
into his arms, but my belly was huge and protruding, and despite the humor in his voice there was
also something of You are in trouble Herli there too, so I did not respond apart from my jump,
just turned my head slowly to meet the glittering black eyes of my husband in his jongleur's
garb, leaning over the back of the bench behind the table I was perched on, his mask dangling
from one large black-shod hand and his hat pushed up high on his head. He regarded me
inquisitively, with a strange half-smile and stern eyes, but he was happy to see me too and I
wanted again to just kiss him, but it would not do - I was in disgrace - so I pouted further, and
kicked out at the air.
"I'm no little girl!" I said sulkily, and he chuckled and rubbed his chin.
"No, you're not. You're a romni, a daj and twenty nine. You're in charge of our home and our
children, and are expected to maintain both as any good romani wife would.So today I come home to
find Christophe raging at the sky and telling me you play with paint like a cat would with yarn,
and all around him the men are saying 'subdue her, punish her, teach her, beat her'. So which
would you like first,Herli?"
I rubbed my eyes with my hands. "It was all in fun, you brute, there was no harm meant."
He sighed and pushed his hat up further. "You never mean any harm, Herli, but harm is nearly
always done. It cannot always be seen, this harm. I don't know where women like you and Colombine
belong, but it's not here. When the other women see you playing like children, you lose
credibility with them. It justifies them not heeding you, or feeding our children when your back
is turned. Or especially making eyes and invitations to me."
"Perhaps it is not my behaviour which makes them feel they can do that, but perhaps your -
*liberty* with your affections of a few years ago?" I said bitingly. His mouth pulled down into a
long frown, and his eyes flicked to the side. It was a shot below his belt, but I was the one
carrying the big fat babby inside of me for him. He hated for me to mention that, for his guilt
was strong - though he yet believed there were some justifications for it.
"I thought that was all passed by and forgotten, Herli." He said softly. "Forgiven I thought."
I wriggled my shoulders and again kicked at the air. "It is, it is. But I hate being punished."
He caught hold of my elbow. "Then you should not do things that require punishment."
"What then?" I said sharply "I should sit in my tent and sew and cook and have babby and babby
and die like that?"
He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Of course not, you silly woman. But you can have your fun in less
destructive ways. You're pregnant too, you should not forget this, especially after what has
happened in the past."
Oh, he would have to bring that up, insensitive brute. A little shiver passed through me and I
pulled my arm from his grip, looking away from him and rubbing my hands protectively over my
stomach. He saw the pain in me and moved around the bench to stand beside me and stroke my back.
"Come on, you can't sit out here in the cold by yourself, and I can't stand here and talk to you
when I should be punishing you. Let's go back to the tent, now, sort things out there. The
children will be wanting their dinner soon."
I put my little hand in the large one he offered me, and supporting me around the waist with the
other, he helped me get down from the table, where I stood and shook out my skirts, little flecks
of dried paint flying everywhere and I saw Clopin smile. With his arm about my waist, he began to
walk and I to waddle back in the direction of our tent, and I was very glad to have the feel and
smell of him next to me. He stopped suddenly, and I glanced at him surprised as he turned me
around to face him, his other arm slipping around my back and his lovely brown face beaming all
down at me.
"Oh Herli, before I forget." He said laughingly and leaned down to kiss me, his lips all soft and
warm and his breath with that familiar taste of wine on it, and it was easy for me to forget my
petulance and kiss him back and slip arms up and over his shoulders and hate the interruption of
my stomach between us. He broke the kiss with a soft chuckle, and turned with an arm about my
shoulders now to begin leading me away.
"Come now, they won't think much of a punishment in the form of a kiss." He told me sardonically,
but I didn't care much, quite happy to nestle under his arm. But as we moved away, I was arrested
suddenly by something like ice spreading through my belly. It began in the center, then split off
to all sides, reaching up even to my heart, and I caught my breath and stumbled a little. Clopin
caught me up quickly, alarm on his face.
"What is it kitten?" he asked, but the feeling had passed and I waved it aside.
"It is nothing, a stone on the ground." I said, and shook off the uneasiness poking my shoulder.
I began our dinner as Clopin told me stories of his day above performing for the gaje he hated
and their children that he loved, at least until they grew up. My punishment was slightly bitter,
I was not to have the flower furniture, but Clopin would help Colombine to pay for it, never mind
that she had been a part of the mischief.
"Colombine will be punished enough by Renault to more than make up for that, kitten." Clopin told
me when I protested. "She will work those slender brown fingers to the bone cleaning for him,
something I might add, you have only escaped due to your condition." He frowned mock-terribly at
me. "It is also the sole reason you escape a beating."
I laughed at that, as he knew I would, and he grinned to himself as he put his feet up on a
chair, and pulled off his hat, drinking down the wine I had poured for him. Clopin would never
beat me, he was not a man of that nature.
I made soup with leftover beef and fresh vegetables, and left the whole thing on to simmer while
I stood behind Clopin and rubbed his shoulders and he leant his head back against my bosom and
shut his eyes while I whispered softly to him.
It was nice to have the quiet moments like this, different from shared confidances, playful
exchange or tender moments in bed after being together, but just the quiet little moments where
there was pleasure to take from one another being there. We'd learnt on several occasions not to
take the love we had for granted, so even though I badly wanted to bathe I stood there for
moments longer, loving the feel of the bones and muscles of his shoulders beneath my fingers.
It was our one daughter, Lena, who broke the moment as she entered with an armful of wildflowers,
the smell of her fresh and soft from outdoors, petals and grass in her hair. She smiled softly at
us both, and said hello in her quiet little voice before coming over to give a wildrose to her
papa and a kiss on his cheek. Lena was devoted to Clopin, but she could not forgive him straying
from me briefly as easily as what I had, and it showed. Lena was a quiet and introverted child,
but Clopin had easily been able to pull her out of herself, and in the past she had delightedly
flung little arms around his legs and kissed his knees again and again with "I love you I love
you I love you Papa!" heedless of who was around - a sharp comparison to how she would shyly show
affection for the others she loved - now all she could do was such things as hand him a flower
and a soft little kiss. She wanted to forget it and adore him as easily, but she could not, and
it pained her and it pained Clopin. I could feel the want in him to embrace her now, but she was
twelve, not a babby anymore, so he could do nothing but thank her for the flower and stick it
into his belt.
None of our children slept with us in the tent anymore, they had had their own since they were
all four years of age. Lena, having reached womanhood, only recently moving out of the tent she
had previously shared with her twin brother Harlan, much to their mutual dismay.(they were most
extremely close as binaks often are) But we always ate together of an evening, and Lena still
helped me in our tent, as well as learning maintenance of the one she shared with Jeta, another
romni girl the same age. Soon now, the other three would be making their way in, Clopin and Ahvel
from their play in the Court, Harlan from where he worked with the other young boys. Taking note
of this, I said to Lena to watch the soup (and hoped she and her papa would talk some more) and
gathered my things for a bath.
© Harley Quinn, 2000 (email@example.com)
May not be reproduced without permission.