Anecdote of the Lioness
The flames were hot. They
surrounded the four like a watery ocean grave.
Ariel sat up, her black hair matter against her forehead with a cold sweat that had broke on her face. Her breath was heavy in her in lungs and her heart pounded inside her chest, burning. She wiped the beads of moisture away from her brow and tried to calm down. She moved a curtain away from her window in her nomadic performing cart to see it was still night. She looked out and saw the stars winking at her, their twinkling making her more calm. She heard the clip-clopping of their horses' hooves as Pipes led the way into Paris. She took in a few shorter breathes as the sounds of the horses' trotting stopped. Frightened the night patrol of soldiers had stopped them she grasped onto her blankets tightly, squeezing so hard her dark knuckles turned as pale as the moon. She sat silently, impatiently awaiting an explanation of their halt.
The door opened and Pipes, her cousin, walked in quietly. He must have stopped to give himself and the horse a rest, she thought to herself. He silently lit a candle and glanced her way, expecting to see her soundly asleep. Surprised at what he actually caught a glimpse of he hurried to her side.
"My dear Ariel, what is wrong? Why are you drenched as if you have seen a spirit right before your eyes?" He brushed aside some hair in her face.
"I had that horrible dream again, why am I recalling what happened so long ago every night? It haunts me, Pipes. It stalks my thoughts and chokes them until all I can see in my mind are the burning bodies of our parents. It scares me." Tears had sprung from her eyes and Pipes pulled her close to him, giving her a comforting embrace. He was used to this by now. He had not forgotten how both their parents were burned at the stake many years ago but he had moved on, she had not. She wouldn't allow herself to. She felt that if he did, it would be betraying her mother, father, aunt, and uncle by more pleasant thoughts. Trying to convince her that they would want her to move on was always no consolation on her beliefs.
Pipes let her go and got up, pouring her a small glass of red wine to wake her up and please her tongue. She took it gratefully and sipped slowly as she closed her eyes. "You mustn't continue on like this Ariel. You will worry and cry yourself down to nothing and waste your life. You have so much beauty and so much talent. It needn't be thrown away," Pipes informed her, sounding like a parental figure. He always tried the same words on her for encouragement but she looked away, avoiding the truth. She never wanted to listen, and he never lied to her. Ariel had much talent, she was able to sing and do a bit of magik. Her outer beauty was unbelievable; black, curly hair that had locks which shined when the sun beamed down on it, making a black sky all in itself, inviting people in. Her eyes were of an amazing shade of violet, uncommon to any race, especially romany. And her skin, its perfect olive color which made her stand out in any gadje crowd. Her complexion beautiful, her lips red as the apples in market which were freshly picked. Yes, Ariel was no less than a work of art, one of nature's own wonders.
Her inner soul was bright and fun, when she let it show. She loved to perform and have fun. She could also read and write, something quite rare among her kind. Proud of it as she was, she didn't flaunt it along with any of her other talents and looks for that matter. A unique person who was trapped in the woes of the past. Her true self silently screaming to be free but still kept imprisoned. Pipes could tell she wanted to get out, but was afraid.
He kissed her damp forehead and coddled her chin in the palm of his tough tanned hand. "I am going to sleep now, we will continue to the Court of Miracles tomorrow. You finish your rest and no more nightmares. Good night." Ha gave her one last reassuring smile and walked over to his own bed, its mattress stuffed with soft straw and goose feathers. He pulled up the quilt over him, the one Ariel had made him. So bored when they were on the road and she was not performing she had needed something to keep her busy, hence Pipes' quilt was produced. The different patterned squares held love in them and he cherished it because of the thought put into it by his dear cousin. Before dozing off he thought of her staying at the Court of Miracles by herself and wondered if it was really a good idea. Maybe a new temporary home would be too much for her and all the commotion would drive her to the brink of insanity. He shrugged off the possibilities and closed his eyes, sinking into the feathers.
Ariel, however, would not do the same. By the time dawn would rise she would be able to recall every crack in the cart's ceiling. She pulled her self made quilt up to her chin but she still shivered underneath. She felt small drop of sweat fall onto her pillow. The puddle of moisture grew and she sat up again. She swallowed, not being able to shake off her reoccurring dream. Her mother had been punished for being different. Ironically, Ariel's mother had always told her to be an individual, an opinionated person, who had respect as well. She thought back to when her mother would tell her these words, it was the advice that killed her.
Quietly, Ariel tiptoed her way to the door. She opened it, wishing Pipes had fixed the creaking noise in the hinges. But he didn't stir in his deep slumber. She walked out and was stung by the chilly night air. It was spring but the night wind still brought the cold from the north. Ariel closed her eyes, feeling the breeze on her face and through her hair. The sweat disappeared and Ariel felt a little more soothed. She saw Pipes had set the front of the cart on a patch of grass for the sake of their horse. She walked up to the horse and ran her delicate fingers through its mane. Like a steam of black silk, it looked similar to Ariel's hair when properly maintained. The horse whined softly as she stroked its smooth fur. She knelt by the face and looked into it's deep eye, looking up at her. She laid against him and whispered, she always felt she could confide in the animal, he listened and he didn't tell her secrets to anyone.
"Where am I going to? Pipes promises the where I am going is going to be a good place to reside for some time. It's called the Court of Miracles," she snickered at that, "what miracles could possibly be performed there?" She sighed doubtfully. Against the idea from the start, Pipes insisted that Ariel go and stay in the Court. He promised a place of kindness which would welcome her with open arms. She, on the other hand, was quite skeptical. She figured it would be just one more place to be isolated from. He promised she would make friends. She laughed at the suggestion. Friends were not a part of her life in any way, other than Pipes of course. He always pressured her to be more social with tribes they passed but a short greeting was all they would ever get out of her. She did not want to block the memories of her dead family with people who would probably betray her anyway.
Ariel laid her head against the horse, listening to the heart beat and feeling her head move up and down as he breathed softly. She found herself crying again, unsure why. Perhaps it was nervousness of what was yet to come. Patting the horse lightly one more time she pushed herself up and walked back to the cart, growing a bit drowsy during her short visit maybe she would get some shut eye. Keeping a straight face she turned around to get one last look of her silent comforting friend.
Slipping quietly into her bed she held the covers against her, but not as tight as before. Ariel closed her eyes and easily fell asleep, her body tired from the emotional work out.
She awoke to find herself bumping up and down and her head hit the wall of their traveling cart. The sound of the hooves beating against the cobblestone at a steady pace echoed through the wood. She rubbed her eyes, and then her head as she stepped out of her bed.
Traveling through many countries she had an advantage of scarce food that wasn't common in Paris. She squeezed herself orange juice into a glass. She licked her lips, getting all the pulp from them. She smiled at the refreshing taste and bit into an apple. Not having many different choices, though unusual, of food she tried to eat healthy, picking fruit from passing gardens they went through.
Dressing, she walked up to the door that lead to the seat which controlled the reigns. She opened it up and peeked out, Pipes hearing the noise and turned his head quickly around the greet Ariel.
"Good morning! Feeling better?" He turned back to focusing on the horse and direction. Few paid attention to the passing gypsies.
"Mmmm," she replied cheerfully, her mouth full of juice. She finished her glass and answered in understandable words. "Yes, much so. Last night was the jitters, that is all." He nodded silently and they sat together, enjoying the sunlight and the cool breeze that lingered from the previous night. The wind blew Ariel's hair in her face and she had to constantly keep moving the strands in order to see.
"I'm going inside. The breeze is nothing but a plague to my locks." Pipes chuckled as she crouched down to get into the door. After Ariel went inside Pipes watched the people he passed, a few nods and waves. Then he passed another brightly colored cart such as his own. He stopped the cart temporarily to look. Out of the roof in a puff of smoke appeared a dark skinned gypsy dressed as the romany do. With a puppet in hand and a bell decorated outfit he instantly recognized Clopin, future king of the gypsies. Having paying attention to him Clopin nodded at Pipes. He started up their horse again toward the Court of Miracles, which was not far.
Pipes stopped at a bakery in the Town Square to pick up a simple loaf of bread for something to eat as a small dinner. Ariel had not emerged during Pipes' halt. She deiced to stay inside, Pipes had sighed at her refusal to come out and shrugged in defeat as he had walked into the store.
Ariel found plenty of things to occupy her time while inside her portable home. She ate more of her apple and she held a book in her free hand, one she had read before but still enjoyed the climax. She crunched and set the book down, only one chapter to go. Was she being too difficult for Pipes' simple plea? She didn't want to know anyone. She had Pipes and the horse and their act to make money for them. The places they had been throughout their travels were more than almost all gypsies would see in their lifetime. She wouldn't completely give in but a chance wouldn't hurt her. Risks had never stopped her from being herself before.
As she contemplated on what a bore staying in one place would be she hadn't noticed that they had stopped. Pipes stuck his head inside where she sat. He motioned to her with his hand, "Come on, we're here." She slowly walked out and saw they were in a graveyard. Dusk had creeped up onto the sky as she followed Pipes closely through the tall concrete headstones. They stood tall above her and looked down onto her body, she felt as if the cherubs on them had real eyes, following her footsteps. She watched as Pipes removed a large stone covering what seemed like an upraised tomb. To her surprise there were stairs leading down to muddy waters. She crinkled up her face in disgust as he offered for her to walk down first. They continued slowly through the sewage and she frowned, upset the hem of her dress had darkened from the unsanitary water. She wore her beautiful blue dress with gold embroidering just to impress the King and Queen of the Court of Miracles.
She hoped that staying in one place wouldn't force her mind to dwell on depressing thoughts. She was here for a break, not to have more nightmares. Her head was lowered until the sign of light appeared at her dirty feet. She slowly looked up and her eyes widened in awe at the beauty of the place. An underground paradise with bright colors and people bustling about their ways. Ariel had to smile, the rainbows created before her of tapestries was certainly a miracle.
Pipes place his firm, supportive hand on her smooth shoulder and guided her toward two intimidating figures. They both shook Pipes' hand, him kissing the woman's hand lightly in respect.
"This is my cousin, Ariel. She is the one that I have sent information about who will be staying in the Court for some time." He patted the shoulder his hand was on previously and smiled at the two. Her smile had faded.
"Ariel, these are the Trouillefou's, Harlan and Delilah. They are the king and queen of this haven. They will help you to become familiar with the place and will help you with setting up a tent." She said nothing and offered a hand to them, as she felt Pipes was silent hinting at, and curtsied in respect.
"My dear," Harlan place a gentle hand under her delicate chin and brought her face to look up, "please do not look so sad. We do not like our guests to be upset from the start. I'm sure this place will brighten your mood right away." Doubtfully she nodded. Pipes stepped in front of her shaking bother their hands again, they conversed for a few moments quietly and then they spoke aloud.
"Thank you so much for your hospitality for Ariel. I must go now. I'm afraid I've left my horse and cart outside for too long." He turned to Ariel. "I'm not sure how long I will be gone, I hope no longer than five months." The couple watched sympathetically as Pipes and Ariel embraced tightly. She tried to hold back her tears but a few escaped. She wasn't ready for him to leave yet. He wiped her tears away. "Now, now. We'll have none of that. You are a strong young lady and you will be perfectly fine without me." He kissed her forehead quickly then briskly walked out the way they both had come in. He knew if he stayed any longer it would hurt Ariel more and he was also up for some tears as well. It was only for a short time though.
"Now my dear Ariel, we will show you around. We also have a spot all clear for your tent. It is near ours so if you should need anything we will be close." Harlan's strong, yet gentle voice was comforting and kind. They two had a friendly twinkling in their eyes, she trusted them.
They walked slowly around the Court, describing the different people and places. They even told a few personal experiences with the people and places as well. One of the stories actually got quite a laugh out of Ariel, the King and Queen's smiles grew larger. They knew she'd be all right.
The two approached an empty space with some rolled up cloth on it. Ariel put down the sacks she had been carrying of her belongings. "This is where your tent will be. And that's ours." He pointed to a nearby purple set up. It was obvious it belonged to gypsy royalty.
They were almost finished setting up when a cheerful you man started running past. He stopped to see what his parents were up to. "Mother, father, what's all this? A home for a new pet goat?" He chuckled at his own joke.
His parents shook their heads. "No, it's for the newest edition to the Court." The young teen rolled his eyes.
"Are there not enough people populating this place? Who is this....fresh blood?" Clopin rubbed his hands together playfully with an evil glare mocking his gesture. "What is his name?" His parents laughed at his eagerness and mistake.
"Ariel." She poked her head out from the tent at the King's call. She looked up to see the young man, looking quite close to her age. His brightly colored clothing became his muscular, yet wiry body.
"Oh," Clopin whispered to himself seeing the beautiful girl emerge. She looked away, going back to what she was previously working on. He kept staring.
"Clopin, weren't you going somewhere?" Delilah smirked at him as she opened a purple blanket.
"No," he lied quickly as he brushed off the fact his current lover was awaiting for him in her tent. "Being the wonderful son I am, I volunteer myself to show our new arrival around our merry Court." He smiled matter-of-factly and put his hands on his bony hips.
"I'm sorry dear but we've already beaten you to the deed. After we finish setting up she is going to rest. She's been on the dirt and cobblestone road for quite some time. She needs some sleep." Clopin's parents didn't even look at the pleading face as they refused his request. He hung his head.
"I can show her around some more tomorrow." They both shrugged at their desperate son.
"Very well, but it is all up to her. We cannot make decisions for her." They turned to hear her response but she had slipped into her tent. She undressed and slipped into the simple bed they had for her.
"Clopin, I think you should be on your way. Ariel has had a long, hard journey. Give her time to bring back all her energy." Clopin tried to forget her strikingly gorgeous face but couldn't. He turned to run to the girl who was expecting him some minutes ago wearing only a simple cloth to cover her body. He made his excuses to her about how he felt ill and went back to his parents, still standing by the new tent, brushing their hands off.
"I want to get to know her." He smiled, this time not playfully, but serious.
"You must remember she is not one of your woman followers, this girl deserves respect. Her life has not been easy and she is very insecure about this new place. Please do not treat her as an object as you like to do sometimes, teasing the girls with compliments just out of reach for them to capture you and take you for their own. This girl is independent and at the time, a bit frail, remember that. Besides," he opened up the flap to her tent and they all peeked inside, only to see her body curled up under the covers and hearing soft sobs coming from the pillow, "I think you should wait awhile. At least give her the night to shake it all off." They frowned and Delilah put her arm around Clopin's shoulder, guiding him away from the tent.
Inside she cried, for the fact of missing her Pipes and traveling with him. She missed her horse and the wonders of other countries. Her new life had begun.