Entrance to Entrance
Later after we had returned to the Court I was finding it difficult to put Francoise from my mind. It was early evening in the Court of Miracles, Clopin had gone up to the tavern for a while, and I was making my way over to Bethan's tent with a bundle of silks and cottons in my arms, for I wanted a dress made and none sewed better than Bethan.
Francoise had come in with a kumpania only that day and I was terribly curious about her and them, but to have gone over straight away would mean offering assistance in the unpacking of vurdons, and I had enough to do in my own home. Apart from that I did not particularly want to. Better to join them in the Court center this evening and listen to their tales, ask them about their travels. Although somehow I doubted I would be paying much attention to all but one of them. I remembered her legs, their long smoothness, the muscles I could see through the fabric of the hose she wore. I remembered how I thought she was a man until she'd whipped off her hat revealing those eyes, and her wonderful nose. I loved the red of the feather that dangled from one ear.
Most of the rom had already gathered in the center on benches and cushions around fires, supping from the huge pots and pans used whenever there were visitors to the Court, and as soon as Clopin came home we would go over to join them. I heard the familiar shouts of laughter and conversation, and was looking forward to joining in, new stories, new faces, new smells. I always enjoyed the first evening with new arrivals; after that I grew agitated at their presence and the amount of my husband's time they took up.
I was smelling the perfume on a shimmering piece of green when a voice wavered up and out of the crowd hustled in the center. It arrested me immediately, a long high note, pulled out of the throat like a piece of cord, hanging on the air before crashing back down into a song without words. I stayed where I was, frozen. Right then I did not know that it was Francoise who sang. I did not know that the voice was female, I did not know that it was mortal, the voice could have been the song of the devil, it could have been my own madness speaking to me, I didn't know…
All I knew right then was that I liked it.
Forgetting Bethan I turned on my heel and strode decisively towards the Center. The rom there were gathered around something, they were laughing and clapping their hands, men and women alike. I stood on tiptoe to see over the shoulders of those in front of me, broad chested men, and wide-hipped women. I caught a flash of color, like the underbelly of a parrot as it darts through the sky, and then another, and another. Whatever it was it was fast. Clutching my bundle of fabrics tight to my bosom, I began to nudge my way through the rom in front of me, intent upon seeing our guest. I could hear her speak now, not singing, but in the same strange, birdish language. My eyes were wide and eager to see, and I felt like a cat as I slunk forward---one who’s been intrigued by a quivering color in the corner of its eye and must know more.
There were only a few rom in front of me now, but I could not push through. They were men, and they were large and they had their hands on their hips in a commanding fashion as they observed the spectacle beyond. I was agitated that so small a barrier stood between me and satisfaction and felt like kicking the calves of those who blocked my path, but thought better of it. Ducking down a little way, I peeked through the crook of the arm of the rom in front of me, and saw what I had come to see.
At first sight I gasped and clutched my fabrics closer, for my eyes played a trick on me and showed me a giant bird, moving frenetically as though trapped. Once it stopped twirling a split second later, I realised my mistake, but my mouth did not close. I could see its yellow hose and vibrant red tunic, the life of its green and blue scarves which whirled vividly like wings from its sleeves. But what held my attention was the creature's mask. The long beak ran up into an explosion of colored feathers, the eye holes revealed a pair as black and beady as any bird's that seemed to take in all its audience at once. From then I followed the mask, not its wearer's body. I was like a kitten following its first butterfly, the desire to possess but not destroy, and I had to check myself lest I reach out and bat at the feathers of this bird's face. Suddenly, the creature stopped in mid-movement, balancing elegantly on one leg, it's other raised to the side and bent at the knee. I held my breath as I wondered what could’ve caused this sudden stillness.
Still balancing on the one leg the creature bent at the waist and peered curiously in between the waist and the elbow of a man who stood with his hands on his hips. The man in front of me. Slowly, slowly, the bird brought its other leg down in front of it. Slowly, slowly, it repeated the process, moving step by step, closer and closer to me. It sees me! I thought with a rush of blood, and leapt backwards, shoving my way out of the crowd and out of the center with a racing heart.
Once free, I slumped down with my bundle of fabrics in my lap and was surprised at myself. What brought that on, I wondered crossly. How very silly. But I did not return to the Center until Clopin had come back under and found me waiting with a fearful eagerness. I stopped barely long enough to kiss him before snatching up his hand and hustling him with me to the Court Center, he laughing in confusion.
"Come and look!" I insisted, dragging him behind me.
"It would help if I knew what I was going to be looking at!" he said cheerfully, and I sighed.
"Words cannot describe it, you must see, you must hear!"
"It is amazing then?"
I stopped and turned back to him, grabbing him by the tunic. "It looked at me!"
He made a face of mock-shock. "My god! It IS amazing!!"
I slapped him, then pulled him with me again.
But to my consternation, the bird- creature had gone, as though it had never been. The Center was as always. Normal, ordinary romno and romni sat side by side, eating and drinking and chattering about their mundane days. My heart plummeted into my stomach and I reached out my hands to bat at the air. "Its gone!" I said mournfully. By my side Clopin shook his head.
"If it ever was, and not just one of your madwoman's fantasies."
I stomped my foot. "It was here! The others saw it too!"
Clopin shrugged. "It probably came with the kumpania--- you’ll see it again. Whatever this mysterious thing that looks at people might be."
But I wanted to see it now.
Sulking, I went over to the wine barrels to fetch myself a drink, and then I saw Francoise, out of her hose and in women's clothes. One look and I was cursing my idiocy, the fact I had been bewitched by a mask and a haunting song - she and the bird creature were one and the same of course! She was sitting with some of the other women, both new faces and old, and smiling at them with her lips pressed together…but her eyes did not seem to really see them. My eyes ran over her again and again, feasting on every detail I saw. Her skin was darker than all the other women surrounding her, her hair was chopped short, only shoulder length, and was a glossy black. Her long, brown legs poked forth from her blue skirts, resting idly in front of her as her strangely large hands flipped a small dagger over in them.
She was a gypsy through and through, but she seemed more to me like an exotic bird than she had even in her mask. I couldn't tear my eyes from her, though I belated myself for this foolish curiosity, this stupid entrancement. It had been the mask with it's feathers, its pretty colored feathers, that's all. She felt my gaze, as subtle as lead weights, and turned without hesitation in my direction, meeting my eyes with her own brown ones. I was caught out in the open now, so I threw back my shoulders and returned the look, but she did not flinch. Most of the women could not stand to look me in the eye, my chovexani eyes, oddly colored and as bright as bits of glass, but this one's gaze was steady. Just as it had been on the streets this afternoon. Just as it had beneath the bird mask.
It was my husband who broke the spell,the back of him appearing in my line of vision, saying to the woman in a voice which couldn't seem to decide whether to sound pleased or annoyed.
"Francoise! I see you've made yourself at home."
I could not see her, but her voice once again called out to me although it was my husband she addressed in her rich tones.
"Did you think I was only teasing when I said I’d come, sir?”
My husband was no longer stunned as he had been on the streets this afternoon: he was in his territory and on his guard, and would not be goaded.
"What did I say would happen if you ever returned to this city?"
"Trouillefou, if I remember correctly, you were never able to finish that sentence." She had risen to greet my husband and was grinning at him, and her eyes were no longer blank, while he looked at her with something unfathomable on his face. I was being ignored. I strode forward to push in between them.
"It was you." I said with something close to accusation. "You were the bird who danced!"
She smiled with her teeth now, seeming not to notice my tone. "And you were the little kitten who watched from the cover of the men."
My mouth was shut tightly and I widened my eyes at her. She was tall. She was nearly even with Clopin’s eyes, whereas I only came up to his ribcage. She had a smell of cloves and incense about her, and I could feel my nostrils involuntarily quiver.
"Without Herli's interference this time - you're not staying too long, one hopes?" my husband said dryly, and I poked him in the side though ordinarily I did not mind speaking so bluntly to others.
She smiled up at him now, a brilliant twinkle in her deep eyes. "I never do. But Paris is on the way to my next destination, and I waas slightly curious as to how things were in the Court and with the King."
"Things are wonderful here, for a change. No rain, no Christian holidays and no scandalous plays in production." She laughed then, and I shot a glance from one to the other, aware a memory that excluded me was being shared. I wrapped both arms around my husband's waist and blinked up at Francoise as Clopin rested a hand on my shoulder.
"That's not good to hear, Trouillefou. Perhaps I should come up with something to keep you on your toes? Don't want you losing your figure." She indicated with a long finger Clopin's slender torso, but he jerked back before she could reach him, jolting me. Despite the agitation in his movement, he smiled at her amiably.
"I assure you, my boredom previous was due only to Herli's absence. When she is around I am more than enough kept on my toes."
"Well then, you are a lucky man to have such a wife," she said with a sidewards look at me, her lips slightly parted. I raised my eyebrows as something passed through my veins, then blinked. What on earth had that look meant?
It was Clopin's turn to laugh. "I suppose I am. But you'll have to excuse us, Francoise. We have children waiting to be fed."
She smiled at him knowingly with arms folded over her broad chest. "Of course." Clopin had turned away with me before I had a chance to say anything more. I twisted out from under his arm and turned back to her.
"Good night, Francoise!"
She smiled at me and raised a long brown hand. "Good night, Herli."
She was still on my thoughts several hours later, when the children were fed and in bed, and I was sitting up in bed with nothing on but my jewellery, waiting for Clopin to come back from tucking our two in. She had called me Herli. Most people knew a few moments into conversation with me that I was not one to immediately treat like a friend, most people called me Herlikin until I had told them otherwise. But this one had called me Herli, and I had liked the way it sounded on her tongue. I could not explain to myself this fascination I had with her. Was it just because she had appeared to me first like a supernatural beast? That she had dazzled me? I ran a hand up and down my thigh, examining my smooth, pale skin. I wanted Clopin to hurry up and come back. The tent was glowing pink and red by the candlelight, and it washed this color over my thighs and breasts. I had liked the way she looked out of costume better, the richness of her skin and eyes, the sharp stare of them, her long beak-like nose. A bit like Clopin's. Maybe that was why I was so curious about her, she was like my husband in a woman's body. No. No, she wasn't, not really. As little interaction as I had had with her, I knew she was not really like Clopin. My hand ran over my belly, pulling at the ring in my navel, curling my toes up in the cool linen of the bed, smelling the lavendar. I wondered if she was nice, if she was exciting and intriguing. I thought she probably could not help but be. I wondered if she would want to know me. I furrowed my brow. Why oh why was I thinking about her so much? Normally the other women did not interest me beyond a pretty scarf or a sparkling ring I might covet. She wore no such trinkets. She wore a mask and danced, and so far that was all she had done.
But I knew I would still be seeking her out tomorrow.
Clopin entered the tent then, finally, and his face broke into a grin when he saw me, and he moved over towards the bed, pulling off his clothes as he did so.
"Oh the joys of coming home!" he said cheerfully and I pulled a face at him.
"Only when I'm like this, never otherwise." I said shrewishly, and he looked at me curiously.
"Don't be silly. Come here, kitten."
He'd called me that for years, but tonight when he said it an image of Francoise and her smile was immediately conjured up, she'd called me a kitten earlier as well. I pulled out of his arms.
"You seemed agitated around our bird tonight."
He blinked at me for a few seconds before his expression cleared. I thought the confusion was feigned. "Oh, you mean Francoise? Yes well, the last time she was here she tried my nerves a bit." He bent his head to my shoulder and began to kiss it.
"That was when I was away that time?"
His mouth moved up and over my neck and his breath was hot. "Yes, that's right."
"You didn't want her to touch you. Were you attracted to her?"
He stopped kissing me and sat up abruptly with an incredulous chuckle. "Herli, no! No, my love, I can assure you that whatever elseI felt for the Rouen Bird, attraction was not one of them." he bent his head to my neck again, his hands moving up from my waist. I batted at him. I wanted him and yet I did not. I felt confused, and restless.
"You like her?" I asked him.
"I don't dislike her. Why you asking this anyway?"
I shrugged. "Your attitude towards her was strange. I thought perhaps she once stirred something in your loins as well as in your temper."
He sat up again and took me by the shoulders. "I'll only say it once more, Herli. Francoise is not a woman who could ever 'stir my loins'."
He sighed. It was a genuine query, but he seemed to take it as a challenge to prove he did not find the woman attractive. "She's obnoxious, unbearably cocky, has endangered others with no good reason and has single-handedly proved to be the most exasperating person I've ever known, your own darling self included."
I pouted. "She did not seem to be any of those things to me. She seemed very pleasant, witty and charming." I rubbed my hand where she'd kissed it.
He sneered. "She dazzles to begin with, throws you off guard with her amiability, and then drives you up the wall. You'll learn, kitten. She's nothing sweet on the eyes either, let's be honest. Far too tall, her legs are gangly, and her torso is like a man's. Her hands and nose are too large, and her hair is cut unevenly."
I was surprised at his lack of charity, more surprised that he supposedly found her appearance so uncharming.
"You think this? I disagree. I found her height to be marvellous and her legs a wonderful shape. Her profile is striking, and her eyes are like garnets."
He looked at me with his mouth slightly open. "You really think she was good-looking?" I thought of Francoise with her wonderful height and knowing eyes, the slender curve of her lips.
"I do. I think she was beautiful, in her own way."
He looked at me, surprised, for a second. I was spurred on and continued.
"She was exotic, I liked the way she smelt and I liked the way she danced. Her voice was like a caress, like yours is, but harsher. A light scratching of nails down my cheek."
"You noticed an awful lot about her." my husband said quietely, looking at me with a strange expression. "More than you usually notice about other women."
I waved a hand. "Other women do not make such interesting entrances."
I was glad Francoise had come to the Court, whether my husband was or not. I thought of her twirling the dagger easily in her graceful hands moments before noticing me, her long neck and blue skirts. I looked at my naked husband and was overcome with a wave of desire again, grasping him to me and kissing him hard, running my hands over his narrow hips.
(c) Covielle and Harley Quinn 2000