The truant couple idled their way down one of the dusty streets of Paris in
an amiable silence. They were far beyond the merchant's stores and city
square, the sprawling townhouses and wide,neatly paved streets of the
wealthy. Here the homes and taverns and stalls all melded into one long
sprawling, coiling mass of bricks and mortar, labyrinthine in it's twists and
turns,claustrophobic in it's density. But the truant couple were very much at
home here, their noses offended only slightly by the smell,their spirits not
at all by sight after sight of debauchery and despair.
The gentleman - if such he could be called - of the two was very tall and
very thin, his face burned brown by the sun and his ancestry, his eyes
charcoal pits, at once both cunning and friendly.Though gaunt and obviously a
romani, the man's face was a charismatic one,a unique type of handsome, and
the confident gait he carried himself with was very attractive. His
younger,female companion was a different story indeed. Her oriental features
spoke of romani blood, but her skin was fairer and her red hair straighter.
She was far smaller than him, but the strength of her person made her no less
his match for it.Though the lines of her face seemed less eager to break into
a smile than those of her companion, there was humor in her large, oddly
colored eyes.She was not wildly beautiful in the common way, but she had her
own charm. She looked about her with keening thoughtfulness, and stroked the
arm of the man at her side.Both were dressed in a rag-tag assortment of
colors and textures, outrageous to behold.
To a casual observor they were just an ordinary gypsy couple, possibly
married, more likely not.The only thing that perhaps set them aside from the
others was the pure confidence and assertiveness they carried themselves
with. Arrogance, the upperclass would sniff angrily to see it, arrogance and
sin.To those more in the know - and there were scant few of non-romani blood
who did - the couple were none other than the King and Queen of Thunes -
Clopin and Herlikin Trouillefou.And the confidence did not stem from any
exaggerated ideas of power because of their title, but rather because both
were born to the stage and fiercely independant - they had, perhaps, an
exaggerated idea of their own self worth.
For example,right then their thoughts ran thus:
"Unbelievable, to think that I should have to share the Square with her
tomorrow.And it is just like her to insist upon it.Well, we shall see. I'm
not sure why she thinks the gadje will pay her any mind while I am around,
but she shall learn the truth. It will be a good laugh anyway, a lovely knock
to her vain little head to face such public humiliation!And of course there
will be all my lovely ladies, watching eagerly as always. She gets greatly
amusing around them. But can I help it, I don't do it on purpose!It is simply
the charisma of a King!!"
That was Clopin, of course,whilst Herlikin's ran down similar paths.
"I imagine right now Clopin is dreaming of tomorrow and how they will all
shun me for him! Well, let him dream! I've got those dazzling tricks I
learnt in India and have resurrected. Besides which, I am a woman, and not a
bad looking one either.They are so used to Clopin, but I will be something
new, a splash of color which has nothing to do with what I wear.Poor fool.I
suppose he'll need something extra special for dinner to help him brave his
humiliation."
To read these thoughts does them no justice.They seem to speak of disdain for
the other,but that is not the case.Though at that moment both were
silent,very unusual as they spent a great deal of time trying to talk over
the top of one another, it was clear to even a casual observor that the
couple were close. The silence was comfortable, and not even there because
conversation had waned, but simply because they had both wanted a moment of
silence, content with the scent and feel of the other beside them. On this
day they had desired desperately some time to themselves, and with their
colorful home now the playground for two small children, they had no other
alternative than to take to the streets until the evening came.

As street performers and gypsy vagabonds, the couple were known for their
dazzling skill and exuberance, their recklessness in pursuit of a joke or the
extra touch of spice to their performance.They were both flirtatious and
ostentacious,friendly, but not personal. Both were highly popular with their
respective members of the opposite sex, but it was well known they were
entirely devoted only to each other, and any interference would be
ineffectual, and extremely dangerous.As King and Queen amongst their people
they were known for basically the same thing. They were not famous for their
kind hearts, or their constant struggle to stop the gadje prejudice against
their people.They were both known to be cold, and even cruel at times. They
did not create laws nor dictate action to their people, unless absolute
necessity required it. Instead, they worked to survive like all the other
gypsies.Their most regular contribution to the people were their performances
and "adventures" more often than not played out in an attempt to outdo the
other. Whilst they certainly leant a guiding or helping hand if asked for it,
and whilst they certainly gleefully took part in any revolution or outrage
that should at the time be happening,like all the others they worked mainly
for themselves,and did not interfere or get mixed up in the troubles of
romani and gadje alike, unless it should be a personal friend.
Which was why, as they idled their merry way through the drudgery, they could
easily ignore the beggars and whores, the coughing wretches with only one
filthy rag to hide their disease riddled bodies, and instead amuse themselves
with snappy exchange, shared jokes and confidances,and outbursts of laughter
which seemed dizzingly out of place.
Callous? Perhaps a little.They were not blind to the plight of others, they
just didn't care much.It was hardly their fault that the folk who surrounded
them were not of their blood or race.And for Clopin and Herlikin,the romanis
and the romanis alone, were their concern. They were not hellbent on a
religious crusade for justice for all.So long as their people were generally
comfortable, and there was plenty to get drunk on and sing about,so long as
there were festivals were they could show off their respective skills and
dance wildly on the streets, and so long as they could return to the comfort
of the Court of Miracles with a tent over their head, and the company of
their fellows,life was good.
Woe betide anyone who disturbed it.

Oh, there were certainly those who had tried, and who had swung limply by the
necks for it. There were those who tried right then and there, in broad
daylight, stumbling out of the dark and the dank, wicked little blades
gleaming and clutched loosely in bony hands, taking the oppurtunity to rob
anyone who looked even remotely like they had something worth robbing.But the
acrobatic and agile Clopin, his skinny frame belieing his strength, dodged
artfully out the way, wresting the weapons easily with a crippling grip,then
shoving the attacker disinterestedly back to the street.Or perhaps it was
Herlikin who shot them a disdainful glance, and blew a little of her "fey
spit" at them, a powder she kept always clutched close by, which stung the
eyes and choked the throat.Despite agility, her physical strength was no
match for a man like Clopin.As for the diseased scavengers desperate enough
to assault them, she could overpower them easily enough, but disliked the
thought of touching them.She disliked physical contact in general, unless it
was with her nearest and dearest, in direct contrast to her husband who
expressed him self best through physicality.

"Bah!" Clopin spat grouchily, as a felled attacker clutched at his retreating
feet. "The insolence of some!! How dare the down and out of Paris ruin my
good shoes, by smearing them with their grimy fingers!"
Herlikin laughed cheerily at his side. "Now, now my love" she said silkily.
"Let's not give that hogscloth you wrap your feet in too much credit."
Clopin sniffed at her contemtuously. "Hogscloth,indeed. I should take my belt
to you for that one."
Herlikin was unmoved. "I'm sure you would, if you didn't fear the
repercussions."
Clopin stopped momentarily to throw back his head and let loose a great shout
of laughter.Herlikin looked at him with just a trace of irritation.They both
knew they feared nothing from the other, but perhaps his mirth was just a
little too loudly expressed.The couple "debated" frequently, good natured
arguements which more often than not finished with the two laughing, but when
they truly argued, which was rare,the battles were phenomenal.They would fly
at each other with clenched fist, Herlikin using all her strength to try and
vanquish the bigger and stronger man, whilst Clopin would be distracted
trying to not expend too much force with his punches, and therefore not truly
hurt his darling wife.When at last the physical battle would draw to a close,
they would stomp away from each other, to privately work off their temper,
bfore returning to kiss and makeup.
After Clopin had made much of slapping his knee and wiping tears of merriment
from his eyes, with Herlikin observing him stonily from under one arched
eyebrow, he wrapped a lean arm around her and they continued on their way.
They weaved the uneven streets, talking softly to each other over various
affairs of the Court, their two children and their performance material
before observing that the shadows were growing longer, and it was time to go
home.

It wasn't long, however, before Clopin's attention was returned to the state
of his shoes, caused by a slight nudge courtesy of Herlikin's hip - which in
it's turn caused the normally untrippable Clopin to step in a muddy puddle.
The smile which curved his wife's lips convinced him the action had been
deliberate, and he retaliated by kicking some of the mud at her with his
other shoe. She nimbly sidestepped it and avoided being soiled, but now both
Clopin's shoes were in a sopping wet, and very dirty state.
His long mouth pulled down into a long frown, and in typical exuberant
fashion,he began to bewail his uncomfortable state, with outstretched arms
and thrown back head. Herlikin laughed, and held a hand out for him, but he
refused it with turned up nose.They walked awhile in a stubborn silence,both
refusing eye contact, both with folded arms, before she finally gave a sigh
and darted in front of her husband.
"Alright then, you great brute, I'm sorry I nudged you. I would not of done
it had I not believed all your boastings of being the most sure-footed
acrobat in Europe, you know.So in a way, it's really your fault."
He widened his eyes at her. "Madame, you mistake me. I don't believe at all
the nudge was deliberate.I know that with such ample pastry-fed hips as
yours, it's very hard to control their swing."
She gasped and whacked Clopin indignantly and took off in front of him at a
hurried pace.He gave a little laugh before his long legs easily caught her up
and he put an arm around her shoulders that she shrugged off.
"Come now, come now" He said teasingly. "An eye for an eye,as those
villainous Jews believe, and the Gypsy too. You muddied my shoes, so I
muddied your pride.You know I think your hips to be the most divine pair that
ever sashayed this earth. Don't be so silly."
Her bad temper was broken and she grinned at him amiably.
"Alright then, you vengeful bully.I'll clean your shoes for you."
Meanwhile, the sun had been setting rapidly, and the narrow streets had grown
quite dark.The couple had now arrived at their destination - The Bells & Motley
Tavern, where gypsies were welcomed, and the couple were friendly with the
landlady. Secreted in one of the back rooms was a cleverly hid trapdoor which
would take them below the city of Paris, to the city of the Court of Miracles
where they were named as rulers. The summer wind was soft scented and
pleasant as they walked at a lazy pace over the cobblestones to the tavern
door.

The streets at this time were almost deserted. Those who had left their place
of business were now at home, eating their supper if they had it. Those who
would be going out for the night would do so shortly, if they hadn't already
done so. The Tavern's windows were just being lit with a warm orange glow as
the couple reached the stairs that would lead inside. Before they could mount
them however, the oak door was flung open, letting out a subdued mix of
voices and smells.The doorway was then quickly filled by the large black
shape of a man, clearly inebriated, who tottered drunkenly down the steps.
Typical machismo inclination led Clopin to push his wife back, who glared at
him, as the drunk swayed down the steps, singing snatches of various tunes,
his voice hoarse and broken with drink. He caught sight of Clopin who looked
at him in a calm and friendly manner, though his hand stayed still
protectively on Herlikin,and turned to him.
"What are you doing, you wretch, standing there staring like a fool?Don't you
recognise one of your betters?Make way for me,make way!"
Clopin's eyes narrowed at the man's pomposity.He could never stand another
man to treat him with disdain, as though he were a better person than Clopin
Trouillefou.Especially if that man were a Parisian.Long years of perseuction
by those particular people had made Clopin very adamant to take no nonsense
from then, and he opened his mouth to reply.
"Sir,the amount of drink you've swallowed today, and the considerable size of
your girth have both made quite sure I need not make way for you. You'll
undoubtedly make way for yourself, for it is a man of stone indeed who could
withstand a nudge from you as you go about your drunken staggerings."
The drunk gave a cry of outrage, and took a swing at Clopin, who dodged it
quite easily, and stepped back to look at the man in amused disgust. Herlikin
sneered as the drunk lost his footing and sprawled inelegantly on the
cobblestones. She took Clopin's arm, and they stepped gracefully over his
prostate form to go inside the Tavern.A curious choking sound came from the
drunk then, and they turned around in a little surprise.The drunk fell still
and silent, and they peered at him curiously, bending over his discolored
face. Clopin frowned, and reached out a hand to slap the man (not very
lightly) across the face.The man made no response.He slapped again, harder,
then grabbed his fatty cheek in a pinch, and shook it hard.Finally, Clopin
knelt down beside the man, and pushed aside his coat and tunic. He rested one
ear on the man's chest, then looked up at Herlikin in astonishment.
"My God, darling, the rascal's dead!!"
"Surely you're joking!" Herlikin replied,kneeling down beside her lover, and
bending her own ear on the man's chest. She listened intently for a moment
and then looked up to meet her husband's eyes.
"You're right." she said softly "He's quite dead as a doornail."
They stared at each other in stunned silence for a moment, then awfully, they
both began to laugh quietly.
"I'll bet he didn't see that one coming!" Clopin chuckled."Poor bastard, he
choked on his own hot air!"
Herlikin shook her head and quieted. She began to examine the man's clothes.
"My, he was a fancy fellow" she said. "One wonders what he was doing here.
Look at the lining on his coat! Look at his fine hose.Ooooooooh!!" her eyes
lit up with an eerie glow "Look at that ruby ring!!"
Clopin's attention was elsewhere. "Look at his splendid shoes!" he exclaimed
gleefully, and leapt on the dead man's feet. He tore the man's shoes off, and
then removed his own soiled ones.The man was a huge fat man, and Clopin a
very skinny one, but one of his most distinctive features was his large feet.
The man's shoes fit, and he leapt gracefully up with a cry of joy,
and danced around. Herlikin praised him with an appreciative glance, whilst
her other hand slyly worked off the dead man's ruby ring.Clopin covered the
man's bare feet with his old ones.
"They look very well on you, my love" Herlikin said, rising to her feet. "And
they've certainly saved me some work. Now, let's go before the rest of the
clientele arrives to shout murderous gypsies!"
Clopin danced a last quick jig, before leaping nimbly to her side.With a
broad sweep of his yellow feathered hat, he made her a bow and offered his
arm.
She took it with a loving smile, and a mocking curtsy.Then the two mounted
the steps and entered the Bells & Motley Tavern, slamming the door behind them.
 


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***AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was inspired by a comment made by Mike Surrey in
the Book "The Art of the Hunchback of Notre Dame", wherein he said "Clopin
could steal the shoes off a man who just died on the street". I've bemoaned
the fact I don't think my long origin story of Herlikin told everything about
the two's character and personality that I wanted to convey, and so this will
be the first of a series of short stories designed to do just this. This is
the reason that this story takes quite a long time to build up to the
conclusion, and spends alot of time discussing their respective
personalities. I'm quite aware this is not brilliant,it's just a short
character piece, I suppose.It could've been done better, and I will endeavour
to do so in the future. But, to be fair to myself, the story was not designed
to be an action story. I simply gave the two a setting that the reader could
envision while I discussed their nature, building up to the finale where you
see just how callous they can be at times. At any rate, I hope you enjoy it,
mediocre though it is!!***
 
 

© Harley Quinn 1999
(harley_quinn@cheerful.com)
May not be reproduced without permission.