"I can marry whomever I like and I'm not going to marry Monsieur Fourbault! He's old and fat and a pig!" I glared down at my mother who was, coincidentally, a good four inches shorter tha I. Her graying hair was escaping from the bun on top of her head, the stray tendrils framing her red face making the sight of her almost comical. Our argument had been raging since the aforementioned Monsieur Fourbault had taken his fat self arrogantly out the door after I had turned down his rather unpleasant proposal. My mother seemed to have had her heart set on his bank account and so she pounced on me the moment she had heard.
"Monsieur Fourbault is a highly respected citizen, a gentleman, and if you think you're going to get a better suitor now, you're sadly mistaken." I folded my arms crossly, more than slightly angry at the way my mother was reacting. She shook with fury, her round plump figure quivering like Christmas gelatin. "Spend the day in you chamber, young lady, then see how you feel towards your pig. You will marry him whether you want to or not!"
I stalked up the stairs, heedless of my ripping petticoats, my mother's words echoing through my head. She had no right to order me about, I was a woman of 18, nearly 19, years old. She had no power over me. I crossed the hall to my room and shut the door, nodding satisfactorily at the loud slam that reverberated throughout the house. What did that fat pig want with me anyway? I wasn't pretty by Parisian standards, my hair and eyes unfashionably dark, my appearance constantly askew. At times I looked more like one of the Gypsies who performed in the streets than the genteel lady I was supposed to be. I glanced out my window, the late afternoon sun glaring against my eyes. I had one of the best views in the entire city for I could see Notre Dame in all her glory from my vantage point. That was it! The hunchback lived up there, why couldn't I? I was ready for an adventure and he knew the Gypsies. Perhaps I might even be permitted to join them and live my own life. I began to plan my escape.
An hour later, when I was sure that everything was in order, I changed from my restricting attire into my free-flowing "Gypsy" clothes. I had no idea what constituted the attire of a Gypsy but I had searched my closet for the simplest and least worn dress I could find. A loose white dress tied at the middle with a blue sash was what I had chosen and laid on my bed. I gratefully discarded my shoes and stockings, fastening in their place, a silver anklet of bells. I thought that perhaps the hunchback might be more predisposed to help me if I showed my appreciation for his belltower companions. It was a foolish notion but it appealed to the more romantic side of me. Getting out of my house was going to be more difficult than I had initially anticipated, my original plan of climbing out through my window obviously defective. The space between my house and the little shop beside it was barely wide enough to let a cat pass through, and certainly not enough to let a runaway girl through. I was at a loss for ideas when my mother called up through the rafters that she was going to the market, giving me the desired time to make my escape. I pulled my blue cloak around me smugly before adding a few extra touches to my outfit, namely the silver chain I always wore around my neck and a silver bracelet I had found in my mother's jewelry chest. Thoroughly pleased with myself, I grabbed my bag of clothing and proceeded to strut out of my door.
Right into Monsieur Fourbault. He looked at me, astonished, one flabby hand pressed to his large belly in surprise.
"Mademoiselle Lilith? What are you doing in that scandalous outfit?" I stared at him a moment more than moved to go around him, no easy task indeed. He blocked my leaving, his pudgy face growing hard and pitiless. "Now my dear, I can't allow you to leave looking like a Gypsy heathen." I still had not said anything and I was becoming more and more desperate by the moment, my chances for escape diminishing with each minute that ticked by. My unwanted suitor raised his hand as if to grab my shoulder and march me right back into the house I had just left. I immediately saw my chance to escape, ducking wildly under his arm and running as fast as my small, newly bare feet could carry me. I didn't need to look back to know that Monsieur Fourbault was calling to anyone around him to catch me. I tried to run even faster, ignoring the pebbles that stung and occasionally caused me to stumble. I finally chanced a look back only to trip over a small child playing in the road. I fell flat on my face, adding more scratches and bruises to my already tired body.
It wasn't far to Notre Dame, only a few more blocks away, but I could hear the shouting voices coming closer. I pulled myself to my feet, determined to make it even if I had to bruise and batter every part of my body to do it. It seemed like an eternity before I was running up the steps of the huge cathedral. I hoped I had lost whomever Monsieur Fourbault had sent after me and I smiled slowly, my breath returning to me. I tugged the door open, then entered cautiously on tiptoe, the other parts of my foot too full of pebbles to be of any use.
Once inside, I was completely overwhelmed, the beauty of my surroundings utterly astonishing to my eyes. I had never been inside the great church although I was at that fateful witch-burning a month ago. My mother and I attended the small chapel in our neighborhood for it better suited our needs. I pulled down the hood of my plain blue cloak, feeling that to have my head covered by a faded and dirty piece of cloth in this cavernous house of God was sacrilegious. I had no idea how to go about finding my hunchbacked saviour, for all I knew he didn't even live in the belltower anymore. I decided to risk it, searching around for a possible entry into the into the tower. I found what I was looking for near the front of the massive building, or at least what I thought was the object of my quest. A small doorway led to an equally tiny spiraling staircase lighted all the way up with torches set into the walls. Seeing as it was the only plausible means of entry I could find, I tentatively made my way up the narrow passageway.
The steps ended at the rooftop space between the two twin towers of stone. From the belltower directly in front of me, I could hear the faint murmuring of voices resonating against the stone walls. I stepped towards them, wincing as the bells around my ankle jingled, to my ears, loudly. Whoever was inside didn't seem to notice so I continued stealthily to my destination. As I reached the doorway, I distinctly heard the bleating of a goat and the voices hushed in reply. I realized all this a moment too late, for as I put my foot down, those infernal bells set to tinkling again. This time I knew I had been caught for sure, the sound echoing off the sepulchral stone walls. Footsteps sounded and I stood riveted to the spot, my eyes glued to the ladder I knew they would be coming from.
"Who are you?" I heard the voice before I saw the speaker, a figure that seemed to form itself from the darkening shadows. He had to be the hunchback I sought, his squat body shaped like a sideways crescent moon, his back severely bent. He didn't seem to have a neck, his head was so pushed back into his shoulders. One of his eyes was almost completely covered by an enormous wart, his nose squished up into a bell-like shape, and yet I did not find him ugly. Here was the one who could help me, a friend I could trust, and at that moment he was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes on. He repeated his question, advancing towards me.
"Uh, I-I'm L-Lilith Tremain," I could have died right there, I was stuttering like a frightened five-year-old.
"What do you want?" the hunchback's voice was full of menacing threats.
"I need your help," I held out my hands to him a little desperately. He looked genuinely surprised at my answer.
"Follow me." I did as he told me and obediently climbed the ladder I had been eyeing warily before. The wooden planks were roughly hewn and I managed to acquire quite a few splinters in the tender soles of my feet on the way up. The slight pain was worth it, though, for as soon as I reached the top of the improvised stairs, I was assaulted by rainbows of color. Cast off pieces of glass were suspended from the rafters on string over a long trestle table. The squares of light played over a model of Notre Dame and a few carved images of various different townspeople. I was so intrigued by the set up, I barely noticed the real live figure standing almost directly beside me. I jumped as slender fingers touched my shoulder and I turned to see a dark-haired Gypsy woman, probably the same one our late minister of justice had attempted to burn.
"You're Es-Esmeralda, right? The one Frollo tried to say was a witch?" The woman grimaced and nodded, looking me up and down. At her side was the she-goat who had so unceremoniously announced my arrival, glaring at me. "Who's this?"
"She's Djali," Esmeralda reached down and stroked the little goat's head. From a little ways ahead of us, the hunchback cleared his throat, so obviously irritated, I couldn't help but smile at him. Esmeralda shook her head and introduced us. "This is Quasimodo. He lives up here in the belltower." I made a small bow.
"I know. It's why I came," I lost my smile, preferring instead to subconsciously play with my hands. "I ran away from home and I need somewhere to go. I sought your help, Quasimodo, because I knew you had contact with the Gypsies and since I don't know any personally, I thought maybe you could ask them to let me join them," I finished my rather lengthy explanation and looked hopefully at my two companions. Esmeralda searched my face, a question burning in her eyes.
"You want to join the Gypsies? Girl, we've got lots to talk about."
"So you ran away from a potential husband, money, and a warm house to join the Gypsies, the most hated race in Paris?" I looked sheepishly at Esmeralda and shrugged.
"At least when you're hated, you can do what you know is right without anyone thinking any worse of you," I switched my gaze to Quasimodo. "Please, you've got to help me. I can't resign myself to just crawl back to my mother and marry the pig. I have to know that at least I tried." He glanced at Esmeralda, seemingly communicating silently with her.
"Please excuse us Lilith," Quasimodo stood. "We'll be right back with our answer." He and Esmeralda walked outside leaving me sitting alone at the table save for my nagging worries. I was anxious, my nervousness showing in the way I was constantly biting my lower lip. Little snippets of conversation drifted in the open door, tantalizing morsels of information about my cloudy future. "Let her try... can't... bring Clopin... decide..." I couldn't stand it anymore, I had to get up or risk completely losing my sanity in the suspense. The platform on which I was positioned was relatively small but I still managed to find room enough to pace back and forth. Finally, just when I thought I was about to die from waiting (I realized later that it had only been five minutes) the two returned, Esmeralda looking pleased and Quasimodo looking a bit put out. The situation did look especially grim, at least I thought so.
"Lilith, you are to stay here in the belltower with Quasi tonight and I will bring Clopin to see you in the morning."
"Thank you so much!" I stopped suddenly. "Who's Clopin?"
"Clopin Trouillefou. He is the leader of our tribe and if he likes you, you're in. If he doesn't, well, I'd start packing for the pigsty if I were you." My face must have fallen visibly, for she smiled at me. "Don't worry, our king has a heart." Quasi snorted rather loudly and Esmeralda shot him a dirty look. Djali, who had been lying on the floor by the glassless window since I had first come in, suddenly perked her ears up and bleated plaintively. The golden red sun was making it's way slowly towards the horizon and the sky was beginning to turn the faintest of lavenders. "I must go now. Goodbye, Quasi. Until tomorrow morning, Lilith." She hugged Quasimodo and was gone. I turned to look at my companion but he had disappeared. I wondered briefly how such a malformed body could get away with so much stealth before sighing and taking my seat at the table.
I sat on the hard wooden bench, my freezing feet tucked up under me, my blue cloak pulled snugly about me. I had a book in my hands and I had every intention of reading it but I soon found I couldn't concentrate because Quasimodo kept looking at me from across the table. Every time I turned a page or made the slightest sound, I could feel his royal blue eyes follow my movements and it was making me nervous. Our meal of bread and meat had been tense to say the very least and I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I had made the wrong choice in coming here. I sighed, closing my book to look directly back at him.
"Can you please stop watching me?" I asked irritably. "It's starting to bother me."
"I'm sorry," he muttered and bent over his work again. I was ashamed of myself then; he had only been curious about me, I should have been more considerate. I stood and walked around the table to where Quasimodo sat holding a knife in one of his hands and a small block of wood in the other.
"What are you making?" he jumped at my words, the knife slipping off the wood and slicing into his large finger. A drop of red welled up out of the cut and dripped onto the half-carved wood. Quasimodo just sat there watching the blood trickle out of the cut in his finger. It wasn't very deep but it was bleeding and since he obviously wasn't going to do anything about it, I took matters into my own hands. Literally.
"I'm so sorry! Here, let me," I grasped his hand in mine and examined the small gash that ran from thumb to index finger. I pressed my free hand to the wound and the bleeding stopped as quickly as it had begun. "There!" I proclaimed, wiping my hand on the underside of my skirt. "Thank you," Quasimodo grinned companionably at me.
"You're welcome. This is a incredible place to live," I moved to look down over the side of the platform we were on and gulped. "Are you ever afraid of falling?"
"I've never really thought about it. I just ring the bells."
"Can I see them?" I looked up at the bells up above me. "I mean, when they're not 30 feet off the ground." Quasi nodded eagerly, I grinned at his enthusiasm. We became fast friends that night, Quasi swinging from rafter to rafter with me following gingerly behind on the narrow catwalks. I had never been real big on heights, the very thought of being higher than a second story window absolutely terrifying, but I found it was actually quite exciting. I went to bed happy, though not before I had made Quasi promise to wake me in time to see him ring the bells.
I awoke the following morning to the ringing of bells and the stinging of freezing feet. I tried to free myself from my tangled blankets and almost succeeded in rolling right off the platform. Finally, I wriggled out of the tight cocoon, only a little worse for the wear. Sometime during the night I had forgotten where I was, giving me one incredible shock when I remembered. I was to meet Clopin this day. I didn't like the idea of giving this man, whom I had never met, the power to make or destroy my future, although it seemed that I had no say in the matter. I ran my fingers through my badly snarled hair, straightened my wrinkled skirts, and set off to give Quasi a piece of my mind. It took me longer than I expected to reach my new friend, for I had to stop every few steps to pick a new splinter out of my foot, and the bells had been silent for a time before I reached Quasi.
I found him near the entrance to the belltower speaking to a tall man I was sure I had seen before even though I couldn't quite place from where. He was dressed all in purple with a small dagger clipped to the belt he wore around his narrow waist. Atop his head perched a shocking blue hat adorned with a scraggly yellow feather, black hair sticking out from behind his ears. He wore a huge gold hoop in one ear that swung against his neck as he talked animatedly, never seeming to stay in the same place for more than a few moments.
"This had better be worth my time. I don't like leaving my people to come see a little girl who has some silly notion of joining us. She has to be out of her mind to even think I'd consider her foolish request." He had the most unique accent I had ever heard, not quite French but not quite completely different. He stood, arms folded, one foot slightly in front of the other. I decided I didn't like this presumptuous man at all. I stepped out of the shadows.
"Does everyone here talk about me behind my back?" The man turned so quickly on his heel that I barely registered the movement before I was looking into his face. His eyes widened and took in my appearance. "I am not out of my mind, monsieur. In fact, if I had stayed in the situation I was in without trying to escape, then one could question my sanity. But I do say, between you and Esmeralda, I'm beginning to think staying at Notre Dame would be better than trying to get in with you!" I glared at the man, my familiar temper rising to the surface, quelled fractionally by the realization that I was staring into one of the most handsome faces I had ever seen.
"Ah, so she does have some sort of grip on reality," just as if I wasn't there. I was fuming by this time, practically ready to go at his throat with my bare hands. The only thing that stopped me was the sudden reminder of a certain weapon he wore. So I was forced to deal with my anger in a less violent manner. Namely, insults.
"Yes, and because of that, I have a moderately normal fashion sense. Unlike you monsieur. And I think you are on of the most pretentious people I have ever had the misfortune to meet! Just who do you think you are?"
"Clopin Trouillefou, gypsy king, at your service," he swept his hat off his head and bowed to me. I glared. "You have spirit, girl. I find that amusing." He finally addressed me directly though I bristled at his condescending attitude. I despised being called 'girl', I was grown up and I knew I looked it.
"My name is Lilith Tremain, not 'girl' and I would appreciate it if you called me thus. Well, this was fun but why don't we end this little game and you can go back to your precious Court of Miracles," I turned to the stairs and had begun my ascent when a strong, long-fingered hand closed around my wrist. I was forced to look back at Clopin, who was staring at me, his gloved hand still firmly gripping my wrist.
"You have two weeks, girl, two weeks. Find a talent, present it to me, and then we will see if this was a game or not," his dark eyes burned their way into mine, searching my very soul it seemed, making me blush and nod in agreement. He let me go then, and left the tower, bowing to Quasi on the way out. Quasi stood leaning against a beam, a knowing smile spreading across his face.
"So, you two seemed to hit it off well," he chuckled, more to himself than to me. I glared at him before stomping up the stairs, my anger beginning to die down in light of this new development. On one hand, I had been given the chance I so desired, the chance to make a place for myself and to become free, well, as free as I could be. Although I sensed that finding a talent would be like trying to find grapes in January but I was sure I could manage it, if I enlisted the help of both Quasi and Esmeralda. And on the other hand? On that hand I couldn't seem to shake the feeling of pressure left by five long fingers on my wrist.
I was right, finding a talent was the most difficult task I had ever taken into my head to complete. I was sorely lacking in vocal talent and my hands were too clumsy and slow to play the little flute I had Quasi make for me. My only artistic talent was painting the small wooden figures Quasi carved and as one passerby put it, my sidewalk drawing of a cat looked more like a warped picture of Fourbault than the feline I was trying to portray. Almost a full week had passed before I finally came up with a solution. I would learn to dance and I asked Esmeralda about it that very same afternoon.
"Esmeralda?" I asked quietly.
"Mm-hmm?" She was painstakingly copying the alphabet she had convinced Quasi to teach her. I gulped loudly, suddenly nervous about asking her help.
"Do you think you could teach me how to dance so I can impress Clopin?" I waited for her to laugh at me, or at least tell me I was crazy for even asking. She just looked at me and put down her piece of charcoal.
"You really have no idea do you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You stood up to Clopin. That alone impressed him more than you will ever know or hope to." She grinned lopsidedly at me. "He can't stop talking about you. He's even taken to calling you his winter flower, you know because of your name. You could sing the praises of Frollo and he would still let you in. If you want to learn, I'll teach you but I don't think it's really necessary. "
"I want to learn to dance." And true to her word, she taught me. Everyday, she would take me into a deserted alley along with a small flute player and teach me how to spin on my toes, how to move my body. I was better at this than anything else, my feet picking up the steps and flowing into dance without me even thinking of it. I practiced every night in the belltower as well, much to the delight of Quasimodo.
The day before my big debut, Esmeralda surprised me with a gift. A flowing blue skirt of the softest silk with a deep purple underskirt and a matching blue shirt. I was a little anxious about the modesty of the outfit, the skirts didn't even reach my ankles and the shirt bared both my shoulders and my stomach. Esmeralda assured me that I looked like a proper gypsy in it and I relaxed.
"In fact, if your hair wasn't that copper color, anyone would take you for a born gypsy." She informed me, as we left the tower and headed for the alley she had selected for my last day of practice. We set up a small area and Esmeralda handed me my small borrowed tambourine. Butterflies were dancing in my stomach, making it hard to concentrate on my dancing. Quasi was there that day, watching to critique my suddenly unsteady feet. I began to dance to a rhythm of my own making, the flute player joining in with an impromptu tune. I drew quite a crowd into that alleyway, some random townspeople and even gypsies coming in to see what all the noise was about. I gained confidence with the clapping of the audience in time to my tambourine and I added more steps, making the dance more complex. Soon I was lost in a whirl of color and sound, voices joining in the melee as the tune switched to a song the crowd knew.
Abruptly, everything stopped and I stood, bewildered, my skirts still swishing softly around my legs. It took me a moment to discern the point of interest but the sight, once I found it, chilled me to the core of my being. A piece of parchment was being nailed to the side of the building situated at the entrance to my alley, an ink drawing of Monsieur Fourbault placed beneath a glaring headline.
"No, oh God in heaven, no," I breathed, dropping the tambourine and running towards the departing soldier who had nailed the sign up. The slapping of my bare feet echoed as I ran through the now silent crowd. I reached the post at last and stared, disbelieving. Tears gathered in my eyes, not of sadness but of pure unadulterated anger. I blinked to clear then turned to face the wondering crowd, their expressions screaming their unanimous question. I spoke in a firm voice, quoting directly from the sign.
"This decrees that Monsieur Fourbault is henceforward Minister of Justice for all Paris." And the tears fell.
After I had gotten over the first shock of the announcement, for it had indeed rattled my convictions to their very foundations, I decided it was in my best interest to stick to my decision. I wanted to be free, I had worked hard on my talent, and no bald, fat man with too much power and influence would take away my freedom. Besides, it was easier to belong to a large group that would protect you while half the armed forces of the city were out to get you. If I could get into that group. Afterall, I still had my little "audition" before Clopin the next day and with the way my week had been going, I would be married to the pig by sundown the next day. I said as much to Quasi in the belltower that night, in one of increasingly frequent bouts of self-pity. He shook his head at me, a conversation rarely went by without a shake of that red-brown head, and told me to stop worrying. I, of course, didn't listen, instead spending a sleepless night of tossing and turning.
The next day dawned gray and cloudy, not exactly the kind of weather to heighten my lagging spirits. Quasimodo whistled as he rang the bells in spite of, or perhaps because of, several glaring looks. I grumped my way all through breakfast and all through getting ready to go. I'd helped Quasi make me a pair of sandals one day when we were both bored to tears and I sat, nervously picking at the decorations of glass beads. Esmeralda came at last, along with a lovely blindfold for me to wear. The audition was to take place in the Court of Miracles, the gypsies safe haven, so every precaution was taken to make sure I didn't know exactly where it was, in case I wasn't accepted. I slipped on the shoes with shaking hands then stood as the blindfold was tied behind my head. Finally we were off, and I realized what a condemned man feels like as he marches to the gallows.
It didn't take that long to reach our destination, I was surprised at the lack of distance, and soon I was being led through a curved tunnelway. I knew I must have looked quite the fool hanging tightly to each of my companions hands, stumbling through a world of utter darkness. I blinked rapidly as the cloth over my eyes was ripped away, allowing the light to blind me all over again. As my vision cleared, I became aware of only one thing; Clopin, arms folded across his chest, staring at me from atop a hastily assembled stage. I knew that huge stage was for me and my knees chose that moment to give way beneath me. Strong hands gripped my arm as Quasi and Esmeralda struggled to help me keep my balance.
"I thought it was only going to be in front of Clopin!" I hissed at Esmeralda. She shrugged.
"So did I. Don't worry, you'll do fine." She and the hunchback lifted me up onto the stage and disappeared into the crowd, leaving me all alone to, pardon the pun, face the music. I faced Clopin, finding it easier to stare at him than meet the eyes of the silent crowd, and waited.
"This is Lily. She wants to join us." He announced to his people. I was confused at his abbreviation of my name but figured now was not the time to correct him. "I told her she had to find a way to earn a living so she's here to show us what she could come up with."
"Is that your flower, my king?" A merry voice cried out, answered by a glare from Clopin and a light ripple of laughter from the assembled gypsies. He turned his back on me to take a seat at one corner of the stage, looking for all the world like he would have preferred to skip the dance to go ahead and hang the heckler. The music began then, the familiar soprano sound of the flute filling the cavernous area with sound, and I felt the now familiar fire stir in my veins. I drew out my tambourine from where it had been hidden in my skirts, kicked off my shoes, and danced for all I was worth. I stole a look at Clopin every once in a while but his face remained impassive, not a blink betraying his inner thoughts. The music soon slowed, signaling the end of my dance, and I decided I had to do something memorable if I wanted to get in. I thought back to the Festival of Fools and Esmeralda's dance, an idea coming quickly together in my mind. I twirled my way over to Clopin's corner of the stage and scooted onto the arm of his chair, all in perfect time with the music. I had let my hair down for the dance and now the auburn curls cascaded over my shoulders as I leaned towards the king on his throne. He sat completely still as I whispered into his ear, so close to him that I could see the gold earring he wore quivering slightly.
"My name is not girl," I smiled slowly, pushing myself away to finish my dance. I didn't look at him again until the last notes of the flute faded away and the silence crept back in. Clopin was staring at me with a look I couldn't quite interpret, his dark eyes wide and unblinking. I looked over at Esmeralda for reassurance only to find her, along with the rest of the crowd, holding her breath. I turned back to Clopin who was now on his feet and making his way rapidly towards me. I was beginning to cower now, afraid I had gone too far and done something I shouldn't have. When he reached me, Clopin looked me over once then grinned widely.
"So is she in?" The crowd let out their collective breath and cheered, a favorable sign for sure. "Lily, these are for you." I held out my hand cautiously, afraid that it was all a cruel joke and his smile would vanish, along with all my dreams. But Clopin still smiled as he placed a pair of silver hoop earrings, the name "Lily" engraved on the inner curve, into my waiting palm. I stood staring at them, a smile working its way across my lips, until Clopin leaned in and whispered in my ear. "They're yours, girl." He stressed the "girl" and walked away, leaving me with a full heart and a hopeful future.
I moved in with the gypsies, living by myself in a tent instead of with a family like Clopin and Esmeralda thought I was going to. I loved the dark green tent I was given by a young gypsy named Christophe. It was plain on the outside but Christophe helped me decorate the inner walls with cut out silhouettes of various musical instruments. My little dwelling gave me a sense of freedom that I relished, letting me live relatively separated from the rest of the world. Of course all that vanished as soon as I stepped outside into the tumultuous chaos of the Court of Miracles but I was happy.
I was also beginning to find out about the customs of my adoptive people, including what Clopin did all day besides torture girls like me into finding a talent. As king, he headed festivities, dispensed the gypsy brand of justice, and occasionally took on students. But most of the time, he was out performing just like any other gypsy in the Court. I wasn't allowed to go out dancing yet, Esmeralda had convinced me that I needed to be settled into my new life before I risked a public performance, so I spent most of my time prowling the catacombs which housed my new home. It was during that time that I met a friend, or so I thought.
I was wandering a side tunnel, picking my way between the bones littering the sides, determined to acquaint myself with every nook and cranny of my home. I was so focused on not getting lost that I didn't see the approaching young man until I had run directly into him a bit clumsily.
"Hello," he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye that vaguely reminded me of Fourbault on a good day. He was tall, taller even than Clopin, with dark brown eyes that looked nearly black and definitely black hair falling to his shoulders. He wore a forest green tunic with lighter green leggings, the top of his head covered by a matching bandanna. Like every other gypsy I had met, he sported a large gold hoop hanging from his right earlobe. "You are Lily, no?"
"Yes, how did you know?" He reached out to tap my silver earrings. I flushed, a light stain of red covering my cheeks, as I grinned with embarrassment. "I guess I'm pretty conspicuous around here aren't I?"
"Well, you are the only Parisian gypsy who prefers to wear silver jewelry and who could forget your dance? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mathias, son of Lynette and Jean de Troyes." He bowed slightly, taking my hand in his and gently kissing the back, brushing his lips across my knuckles. I was thoroughly charmed and I hoped I had found a new friend in this gypsy. "So, what did you do to get on Clopin's good side, my winter flower? Our king doesn't take kindly to townspeople who barge into his kingdom. And what possessed you to join us anyway? I thought all of Paris hated us."
"Oh, well, most do but I've always been different. My skin is a bit dark and my hair is an unusual color. My mother was furious every time some ignorant person would mistake me for a gypsy. She was always very proper and I went out of my way to appear as though I was." I giggled a little. "I don't know, I've always thought that being a gypsy would be the most exciting thing in the world. I'm beginning to find out otherwise."
"I for one, am glad you came. If you had not, I might not have met you and I would never have known what I was missing. You are quite beautiful, you know that don't you?" I shook my head in wonder, too surprised to be embarrassed. Mathias tucked my hand in the crook of his elbow and led me back down the way I had come to the main square of the Court of Miracles. "You are, and I intend to be seeing your lovely face for a long time. Come along, you must meet my parents."
And I went with him, despite a subtle nagging feeling deep down.
After I had finally gotten away from Mathias's parents and returned to my tent, I sat down and studied my earrings. Mathias had said I was distinguishable by my jewelry and I was determined to know what about it set me apart. I wanted to ask Esmeralda about it but as soon as I reached her dwelling, I saw her exit with a taller blond man. I sighed and turned my feet away from my original destination, willing them to move rapidly towards the place I knew my king would be. I really didn't want to ask him, I was a little wary of him, but Quasi wouldn't know and I really had to find out. I pushed aside the wooden panel that covered the exit from the Court of Miracles to the Place de Notre Dame. I made sure I had the right door before leaving completely. Wandering the streets of Paris, in my gypsy clothing, was not exactly appealing to a person with half the city watching for her.
I found Clopin right where I knew he would be, entertaining the last batch of children before the sun went down with his stories and puppets. He was in the middle of a particularly exquisite tale and I knew I couldn't interrupt him, lest I awaken his anger. I retreated into the shadows, becoming more and more enthralled with the performance of the lithe man. He was wearing a magenta mask to hide his features, a strange thing to do since he looked the same without it, and the multi-colored, multi-belled costume I knew I had seen before. The children were captivated as he manipulated a puppet dressed like a horrible monster and an intricately designed princess puppet. As the story ended and the audience drifted away, I made my way over to the curtained cart. Clopin watched me approach , a knowing smile playing over his face. I had a feeling he was going to try to make asking my question that much harder to do. I sighed resolutely and leaned on the small ledge of the puppet theater.
"Lily, I'm honored," I smiled coyly before asking to be let in. Clopin grinned maddeningly as he opened the half door to allow me to enter and I began to feel like the canary the cat had caught. The look my king was giving me wasn't the most reassuring either.
"Why'd you change my name?" I stood uncomfortably, my back to the door.
"You have heard the flower jokes by now, no? Well, Lily is a nickname for Lilith and also a bit more Romany than Lilith. You must admit, you are named after a beautiful flower now, and you yourself are more enchanting than any flower." He rested his shoulder against the wall and gazed at me. "But that's not the real reason you're here. You've either met someone new or you're wondering about some custom. Come now, what is it?"
"Both, my king," I began to relax but I was still wary of him. After what I had done at my audition, I wasn't quite sure what he was thinking of me, not being able to see the thoughts behind the shrouded eyes. "I met Mathias de Troyes in the catacombs today."
"Mathias?!" Clopin pushed himself off the wall. "Oh, Lily, you can't trust him! He goes after the first pretty face he sees and will throw you away as soon as he has tired of you." He was in front of me in moments and grasping my shoulders, forcing me to look into the eyes I had been trying do desperately to read.
"It is not like that, Clopin! He wants to be my friend, nothing more!"
"Did you meet his parents?" I nodded. "Then he wants more. Lily..."
"Hush! I can make my own decisions, thank you! Besides, I didn't come here to discuss my personal life with you. I actually did have a question so if you'll just let me go, I'll ask it and be out of your way." He dropped his hands from my shoulders and resumed his position against the wall. "Thank you. Now, why does my jewelry set me apart?"
"The gold earrings themselves are the symbol of being a gypsy and you give the match to yours to a person you love. Married people usually wear two earrings, their own and the one that belongs to their spouse." He reached out to touch the hoop in my ear, causing it to swing lightly against my cheek. "Yours is silver because you are an adopted gypsy, different from the rest of us. When you find someone who cares for you, you receive their gold hoop and are considered a born gypsy. You will probably get Mathias's earring, you know."
"It is not like that!" I protested quickly, raising my hands as if to ward off his words. Clopin leaned forward to capture my wrists and pulled me towards him, his eyes seeking mine and holding them. Sometime during our talk, his mask had disappeared and his entire face was revealed to me again.
"But it will be and then I won't be able to do anything about it, will I?" He searched my green eyes, a strange look on his face. I could do nothing but stare at him, marveling at the way his brown eyes were nearly black, not allowing anyone in. "You say you can make your own decisions but I warn you, be careful with young Mathias. Make sure you love him and he loves you before you do anything rash or you will find yourself in a bigger mess than you were with Fourbault. Another may love you." Again that look, the one which made me catch my breath and keep it. I had no idea why he was affecting me so much but I managed to finally find my voice.
"I-I must go. I have some things- ah, people- um, I'm leaving," He let go and I backed quickly into the closed door, my tongue and brain stumbling over simple words and thoughts. I struggled with the latch before opening it and nearly running from the cart that had quickly become much too small.
I ran to the Court of Miracles blindly, not allowing myself to think about the odd encounter with the king. Cristophe caught my arm as I rushed to my little tent.
"Lily, where are you headed in such a hurry?"
"Um, home. I need to get home."
"Oh, well, Esmeralda just sent me to tell you to be ready to perform tomorrow. You will be fine, won't you?" I nodded and he released me, allowing me to return to my tent somewhat calmer. I decided not to think about this afternoon and continued with a lighter step.
The very next day, I danced for money for the first time in my life. Clopin had come to my tent the night before, seemingly forgeting our conversation earlier, and insisted he take me to the place where I would dance. I suspected it was more to make sure I didn't run to Fourbault than out of the goodness of his heart. I told him as much, in no uncertain terms as he just stood there watching me in that increasingly unnerving way he had. He informed me patiently that he watched out for all foundlings and that I was no exception. I was particularly offended by the use of the word 'foundling' but I saw the logic in his decision. I allowed him to show me to the place, though I would much rather have had Mathias take me by the arm amd lead me out of the Court of Miracles.
As the two of us left through one of the side exits and emerged outside, I realized exactly where we were headed. A small open square directly across from where Clopin usually performed. I was just as confused by this as I was by the sudden kindness I was being shown. Then I was struck by a thought, not a very pleasant one, but one that explained quite a bit. Clopin DID want to keep an eye on me!
"Is this where I'm to be?" he nodded absently, already heading over to where his cart stood, set up there by two boys not over twelve years old. I sighed and sat down to wait for the morning crowd to fill the little shops all around me. A little boy, a gypsy, tiptoed over to me, a small reed flute clenched in his grubby six-year-old fist.
"Lily? He-," the boy jerked his thumb over his shoulder in Clopin's general direction. "-sent me to play for you. He said I'm not to take any of your money." The boy pouted a little, his small round face sqinching up under the the grime that covered it. I smiled and winked at him.
"Hey, I'll give you half and we just won't tell Clopin about it. How's that?" the kid winked back at me, his pout turning into a grin in the blink of an eye. "So what's your name, kid?"
"Alright Toby, what can you play?"
"I can play anythin you want," Toby puffed his chest out in childish pride. I poked him in the stomach, laughing when he exhaled with a loud whoosh.
"Play your favorite for me and I'll dance for you," I pulled my tambourine from the sack hanging from my shoulder and stood up.
"Oh, I've seen you dance! I think you're better than Esmeralda is!"
"Now I think you're just trying to get more money out of me," I raised my tambourine above my head as the first people of the morning began o wander by. "You ready?" Toby nodded, raised his flute to his lips, and played a light tune I recognized. I spun around and shook my tambourine in time to the music, pausing from time to time to check the hat Toby had set on the ground. I was getting worried when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a glint of gold drop froom the fingers of a passing gentleman. More and more coins were dropped in the hat, mainly by young men and children dressed in too many layers of velvet with nothing better to do with their endless money. I was getting pretty smug by noon, the hat nearly full to the brim and I knew that I made a face when Clopin called to us to quit.
"Why?" I asked, not as nicely as I could have.
"It is noon and I expect you're hungry," Clopin told me, not asking if he was right, just assuming what he said was law.
"What happens if I'm not?" my stomach chose that moment to betray me by growling out its hunger. He raised one eyebrow at me, my face growing red with more than embarrassment. "I'm not saying I'm not hungry..." Toby stared. "Nevermind."
So we ate our meal in silence, well Clopin and I at least. Toby had quite a habit of talking about everything and questioning everyone. even whil shoveling food into his mouth. I realized why he had been given the flute to play, there was no other way to make him be quiet! I didn't eat very much, my stomach turning queasy everytime I met Clopin's eyes over Toby's dark head. I felt bad about snapping at him and that, coupled with the looks he kept sending me when he thought I wasn't looking, was making me jumpy. Toby finally noticed the tension in the air but only after he had stopped to take a breath.
"Hey, what's wrong?" he asked innocently though I suspected that those child eyes of his had seen more mischief and malice than mine had.
"Nothing is wrong, lad," Clopin avoided looking at me and secretly I was relieved. I wasn't sure what I was going to do if he looked into my eyes one more time. Apperantly yesterday hadn't been forgotten. "Why don't you and Lily go back to your spot now? I'm sure there are many more coins that she could earn."
"Okay," Toby took me by the hand and dragged me away. I couldn't help taking one more backward glance at Clopin, just to see what he was doing but the man had disappeared without a trace. I turned around and almost walked over Toby. He was staring intently at something I couldn't see, something that was coming down the street. "Uh-oh!" The boy vanished from in front of me nd I could just barely make out the slapping of bare feet against the cobblestones getting farther and farther away from me.
"Toby!" I yelled after him. " Where are you going? What's wrong?"
"You are, gypsy," I heard the voice direvtly behind me and turned to face the man it belonged to. "Wait! You're no gypsy! You're that girl the minister's looking for aren't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," I feigned innocence, hoping against hope that the foolish guard would believe me.
"Oh, but I think you do," He grabbed both my wrists in one large meaty hand and held them above my head. I had no idea what to do, afterall my experience with resisting arrest extremely scarce. In fact, I only had one idea that even remotely sounded like it would work. To scream at the top of my lungs.
"Clop-" the man slammed his free hand down over my mouth, cutting off my cry for help and my only means of escape. I struggled to get out of his grip, biting his hand harder than I thought was possible. I tasted the bitter tang of blood and nearly gagged with the utter disgust of having this vile man's blood in my mouth. He pulled his hand away and slapped me hard across the face, leaving a red mark from my cheek to my chin. I knew to scream again would be futile so I closed my eyes and tried to wriggle from his grasp, to no avail. I was beginning to lose hope when I felt the man's grasp on my arms weaken and finally fall from my outstretched arms. I collapsed onto the ground, too relieved at being saved to do much of anything else. There was a thud next to me and I opened my tightly shut eyes to see the soldier on the ground, his eyes rolled back into his head. I was gathered into someone's arms and lifted into the air. I instinctively cuddled against my rescuer, my complete gratitude washing away and shreds of embarrassment I might otherwise have felt.
"Are you alright?" I lifted my head to stare once more into those dark, guarded eyes.
"You came to my rescue," I said breathlessly, my mind reeling.
"Yes, well, you called for me," Clopin made a move to put me back down. I clung tightly to his tunic, not wanting to leave the security of his embrace.
"Don't put me down just yet," I pleaded, my arms around his neck.
"I need to sit down," he looked around for a place to settle himself, finally deciding to take a seat on the short, two-rung ladder that led into his cart. I stayed curled up against his chest, trying to allow my still rapidly beating heart to return to normal. "What happened?"
"I don't know. One minute I was walking behind Toby and the next he was off without so much as an explanation. Then that horrid man showed up and grabbed me," I began to shake as I realized what would have become of me if Clopin hadn't been there. "Thank you for coming when I needed you."
"You're welcome. Shhhh, you're fine now. I promise nothing will ever happed to you again," he tucked my hair behind my ear and smoothed it down again. I rattled out a thin sigh, meant to calm my nerves but somehow only succeeding in making me realize just how close to this man I was. Only I found that I didn't mind at all, in fact, I wanted nothing more than to stay forever in the warmth I was feeling. "I need to tell you something, Lily." I looked up at him again.
"What is it?"
"I think I-"
"Lily! What happened?" I turned to see Mathias running towards me, little Toby at his heels. He didn't even glance at the unconcious soldier on the ground as he ran past him. I reluctantly scooted out of Clopin's arms to stand and greet Mathias. "Toby came to get me as soon as he realized you weren't behind him. Are you alright?" He noticed the red mark on my cheek then and reached out to wipe it away. I shivered slightly under his touch, out of the cold chill I now felt and not any tenderness or gentleness on his part. "Come, let's get you home where you won't get into any more trouble."
"I don't think that's what she wants," Clopin spoke from behind me.
"Oh and I suppose you know exactly what she wants," Mathias taunted his king, trying to force Clopin into a fight.
"Yes I do! She wants to be held and comforted, not scolded or treated like a child. That's what she ran away from, I doubt it's what she wanted to run to." I smiled at him, knowing he had understood how I felt after my run-in with the local law enforcement. Mathias just glared and grabbed my hand, pulling me after him with cold, angry jerks. Toby scooped up his hat full of coins and followed us. I took one last look at my saviour but, like he had before, the man had vanished without even a sound to mark his departure. I turned to face forward, not at all surprised to see we were heading back towards the catacombs. I tried to unthread my fingers from Mathias's with no effect whatsoever, so I resigned myself to being dragged home. I exchanged glances with Toby; the boy was trotting meekly beside us, clutching his hat so tightly, his little knuckles were turning white. I suddenly had a sense of deep foreboding.
"What do you think you were doing, getting caught like that?" Mathias rumbled in my direction though it seemed more towards the street. "You could have ruined everything!"
"What?! You're crazy! Let me go!" I yanked my hand away from his and took off running for the closet entrance to the Court. I wanted to go visit a friend who would help me sort this whole thing out.
"It was that bad, huh?" Esmeralda ducked her head to bite the thread she had been using to repair a tear in her skirt. I nodded. I had told her the entire story, including the odd encounter with Clopin in his cart. She hadn't seemed all that surprised by the attack itself but I think that the subsequent reactions of Clopin and Mathias bothered her more than she'd admit.
"And I'm so worried about Clopin! There were sure to have been more soldiers about, they never travel alone. He disappeared after Mathias came and they could have gotten him and he could be hurt and I have to go help and..." I trailed off as Esmeralda began to laugh, giggling at first, then laughing out loud, presumably at me. "What?"
"Have you listened to yourself? Just a moment ago, you were telling me how you were in such trouble and Clopin came to save you. You couldn't even defend yourself against one soldier, how do you expect to help our king if he was in trouble?" Esmeralda's eyes sparkled with laughter at my discomfort.
"Well, I didn't- I mean, I would...but you see..." I gave up then, anything I said would just come out as a lame excuse. "Mm-hmm," Esmeralda looked as though she was about to say something else when the flap that served as her front door was flung aside. Clopin entered the room, bending down to get inside. Things for me hd just gotten a little bit worse, or maybe they had gotten better.
"What do you need, Clopin?" Esmeralda folded her mending and got to her feet. He bowed slightly to her then turned to look directly at me.
"I request Lily's presence in my tent in ten minutes."
"Why?" I couldn't help but blurt out.
"Of course, Clopin," Esmeralda spoke as if I had never asked my question. He nodded a farewell and left the tent.
"What was that all about?" I asked incredulously. The entire day had been long and confusing and this was the final straw.
"The king wants to see you ad you don't refuse an audience with the king, now do you?"
"He's not a real king! He is a puppeteer with delusions of grandeur who stares at me all the time!"
"Calm down Lilith!" I shut up at the use of my real name. She hadn't said it since I had left Notre Dame to come live with the gypsies in the catacombs. If Esmeralda was calling me by the name outsiders knew me as, it was because I was acting like a hypocritical townsperson. And I was ashamed of myself.
"I'm sorry, Esmeralda. I didn't mean to sound like that. It's just," I sighed to collect my thoughts. "I don't understand our king. Can you please explain to me what just went on and why Clopin wants to see me?" I looked hopefully up at her.
"He probably wants to tell you that he won't always be there to save you and that you need to learn to defend yourself," she paused, looking thoughtful. "He'll want me or Mathias to teach you." She made a face.
"What? You don't want to teach me?" I was a little offended at that, after all I had apologized for insulting Clopin.
"It's not that I don't want to teach you, it's that I don't want Mathias to teach you," Esmeralda sat down and looked up at me. "You'd better go see what our king wants with you. He doesn't usually take kindly to people just wandering in when they feel like it so don't be late." I nodded and pushed through the door flap and into the crowded communal living area.
Clopin was waiting for me as I approached his tent, arms folded as usual. He blended in with the vibrant colors of the tent for he was still wearing his suit of bells from that morning.
"Ahh, Lily, how are you feeling?"
"Just fine now, thank you," I stood awkwardly in front of him, waiting while he looked me over, presumably checking for any outward signs of injury. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, he was satisfied and beckoned me inside the tent. I followed him hesitantly, ready and waiting for him to yell at me as Mathias had. "Please, my king, I am sorry for the inconvenience I caused you in calling for your help." Clopin looked genuinely surprised at that, an unusual thing for our usually unshakable king.
"Twas no trouble, Lily," Clopin tipped his hat. "Indeed I am sorry I did not arrive sooner. If I had been any later, all I could have done was watch that man take you away from me-um, us." He glanced at me still standing uncomfortably near the door. "You are allowed to sit down, you know." I glanced around for a chair, finally settling down on the top of a green trunk. "Then if you weren't going to scold me, why did you want to see me?" I busied myself with arranging my double skirts around me, partly so I wasn't sitting on uncomfortable folds, and partly to keep from staring at Clopin. He had his back to me and was searching through another trunk.
"Here!" He said triumphantly, holding something small and sharp and shutting the trunk. " You need to be prepared if something like what happened today occurs again. As much as I'd like to be, I won't always be around to save you." He held the object out to me and I took it gingerly. It was a knife, almost identical to the one Esmeralda kept strapped to her leg and its little case was purple. I held the thing in the front of me, staring at it lying flat in my hands.
"What am I supposed to do with it?" I asked. " I can't possibly use it, I haven't the courage!"
"Come now, of course you do. If you can disagree with me and come out all right then you can definitely do this." I gave him my 'eye-brow raised' look but with the hint of a smile tugging at my lips. 'That's better! You have the sweetest smile, Lily. I only hope I may see more of it while I teach you."
"You're going to teach me?" I was incredulous again, although I knew that Clopin occasionally took on students, I never thought he'd take on the responsibility of teaching me, the naïve newcomer. Besides that, Esmeralda would most likely be a more patient teacher.
"Yes unless you would rather I didn't." I looked up at him and smiled gently.
"No, I would be honored to be taught by you."
"Good!" He offered me his hand, which I took gratefully, and pulled me to my feet, holding on to my hand even after I had stood up. He pulled me to him and put his arms around my waist, causing me to lay my arms lightly on his. " I thought I had lost my beautiful flower today, Lily. Promise you'll learn from me and never leave me." He begged.
"I will learn and I have no intention of ever leaving." I proclaimed, smiling to reassure him. When he didn't grin back at me as usual, my smile faded. "What is wrong, Clopin?" He pulled me closer to him and touched his forehead to mine.
"Lily, what I was going to say in the alley is important and I think I should tell you now that no one is going to interrupt. I-"
"Ahem!" Clopin and I flew apart at the sound, both of us looking sheepish. Mathias stood framed in the door, hands on hips, looking slightly angry and definitely annoyed. He stalked into the tent and without a word, grabbed my wrist, marching me out ahead of him. I turned back as Clopin said my name.
"Lily, I will see you tomorrow, yes?" I nodded before I disappeared from his line of vision.
"Lily! No! If you hold it like that, you'll never hit anything!"
"If I hold it like you want, I'll hurt myself! I'm doing fine like this!"
"Then why haven't you hit anything close to the target?" I pouted for a moment before turning quickly and hurling the knife I was holding as hard as I could at my impatient teacher. I didn't really expect to hit anything close to him but the blade sailed through the door, caught the brim of his hat and embedded itself in the wooden wall behind his head. Clopin looked startled for just the bare width of a second then recovered and grinned widely.
"Very good! Could you do it again?"
"Clopin!" I said, exasperated. He shrugged and I found myself looking around for something large and preferably heavy to throw at him. I had been going to lessons with him every day for nearly two weeks and I thought I was getting quite good at the techniques he taught, but he obviously didn't think so, causing many a disagreement.
"Lily, go get your knife out of the wall," I just stood glaring at him. He looked at me warily, twisting his body to slowly pull the weapon out. He tucked it into his belt and pulled a needle and thread out of the pouch at his waist. "Why do all our lessons end like this?" Clopin began to stitch his hat together, pulling the two edges together quickly and angrily.
"Because you're cold, cruel, and unfeeling," I informed him icily.
"Do you really think that, Lil*ith*?" He stressed the last syllable of my real name, knowing as he did so that I couldn't stand it when someone did that. My eyes widened in surprise then narrowed sharply, dangerous fire burning in the darkened green circles.
"Why do you do that?! You are the one who said I should be Lily, your precious 'Winter Flower', and leave my past behind but when you choose to, you use the past to hurt me!" Clopin made a move as if to cut off my accusations but I wouldn't let him. "No, my king, listen! You said you wanted me to learn, to never leave you and I want to do what you ask, but how can I when you won't let me belong? You have no idea how much I want what you have. I would give anything to walk through the tunnels and caverns of this place, knowing that I am loved and accepted. But the way you make it sound, that will never happen. Am I doomed to never fit in anywhere because I had the misfortune of being born to the wrong life?" I asked him, accusing and pleading at the same time.
"You have barely been here a month! How can you know you don't fit in? Esmeralda loves you like a sister and," Clopin seemed to pause for a moment. "and Mathias cares for you a great deal."
"That's two people! Just two people out of how many? You're the king and you don't even accept me!"
"Lilith..." he said softly. I cut him off before he could continue.
"There it is again!" He just stood there and stared at me with melancholy eyes. Somehow this just managed to add to my anger. "I hate you."
"You can't mean it."
"I do. I'm not coming back to anymore of these lessons," I advanced on him, backing his tall form up to the wall with nothing but the sound of my voice and the anger in my eyes. I reached down and pulled the knife out of his belt, glaring at him still. "Good day, my King of Idiots." I left him then, just like I promised I never would.
My fight with Clopin left me shaking with fury and ready to rip the head off the next person who had the misfortune of crossing my path. I was only just beginning to sense a bit of sadness that I had lost someone I had come to consider my friend. But at that moment, I was too angry for regrets.
I stormed through the passageways, making my way to an exit, I didn't care where, just out of the Court of Miracles. Behind me I could hear someone calling my name and I was suddenly reminded of a previous escape and also of where I had run to. I hadn't been to see Quasi since being accepted into the gypsy tribe. I had the distinct feeling that he would understand exactly how I felt about Clopin; he hadn't seemed very friendly towards the king upon our first meeting. I finally found a way out and clambered through the door into the streets of Paris. As soon as I emerged in the sunlight, I realized that I had forgotten the cloak that hid most of my clothes from view. The lack of covering was causing me to look awfully conspicuous as I tried to find my way to Notre Dame.
It wasn't an easy task, all the exits were hidden in obscure alleyways and the one I had just used was no exception. I could see the twin towers looming above the rooftops so I knew I was close, but beyond that, I hadn't a clue where I was going. I was just about to give up and go back underground when I glimpsed a priest strolling down the street that intersected my alley. After waiting a few moments, I followed the man, trying my best to blend in with the crowd.
The young priest did not return to Notre Dame. Instead he walked to a small chapel only a few blocks from my original alley. This turned out to be less of a problem than I had thought because by that time, I had figured out where I was. It was only a couple of minutes before I once again found myself standing on the steps of Quasimodo's cathedral sanctuary. I didn't waste a moment getting up into the belltower. The massive bells were deathly quiet, the ominous silence not allowing me to call for my friend in much more than a whisper. The hunchback must have heard me though, for he soon appeared over the edge of the highest platform.
"Hello, Lilith," He called down to me, his bellowing voice driving away the quiet that had threatened to engulf me.
"Morning, Quasi," I yelled back at him, as he scrambled down the ladders to the floor where I stood.
"I haven't seen you in weeks," he swept me up into a bear hug. "What brings you here?"
"Nothing, I just wanted out of the catacombs for the day." Quasi released me to arms length and studied my face. I squirmed under his scrutiny, not really wanting him to know about my fight with Clopin. Quasi had an annoying habit of reading my thoughts when I didn't want him to. Which is why I cringed at his next words.
"You fought with someone." It wasn't a question. "Someone you love."
"No, no, no!" I told him quickly, laughing weakly. " I fought with Clopin." Quasi looked at me a moment more then grinned.
"I'm never wrong."
"I do NOT love Clopin!" I informed him vehemently. Quasi just shook his head, chuckling at my little outburst.
"Okay, okay, I'll leave it alone." He smiled and turned back to the ladder, beckoning for me to follow. "How long are you going to stay today?"
"I don't know. Were you busy?"
"Hardly! I was just trying to amuse myself by making more figures for my city. You can help paint if you want to."
"Are you sure? You've seen my attempts at art..."
"It's not that difficult." We had reached the top of the ladder and I saw that the familiar table-top where Quasi worked had changed since the last time I had been there. Instead of the rough board supported by cast off pieces of stone, a sturdy wooden work table stood under the hanging mobiles of glass. Pots of colorful paints were set in two neat rows, each with its own paintbrush lying across the closed lid. Even the splinter filled slats of the platform itself had been sanded to a silky smooth finish.
"You've been busy, haven't you?"
"Yes, with Frollo gone, I'm able to do a lot of things I was never able to do before." We sat down at opposite sides of the table and Quasi handed me a wooden figure. I looked at the little man resting on my fingers and recognized immediately.
"Why'd you make Clopin?"
"He's a model townsperson?"
"Ugh. That was a bad joke and you know it," I rolled my eyes. "Do I have to paint him?"
"Yes because it will get you past this childish grudge you are holding. And don't give me that look, you know it's stupid." He put the blue pot of paint in my still outstretched palm, being careful to avoid snapping the thin figure in half. I sighed and sat back to examine the miniature likeness of Clopin. It was actually quite well done. He was even wearing his blue hat with the feather sticking out the back. His clothing didn't have much carved detail so I decided to paint him in his festive suit of bells. I picked up the blue paintbrush and began to spread the color over the smooth wood. I was so intent on getting every detail right that I didn't notice when Quasi stopped working to watch me. I soon put down the blue to grab another pot of paint. I was putting the finishing touches on the painted bells, nearly done with my creation when I finally noticed the lopsided grin directed at me.
"What?" I asked him curiously, setting the painted figure on the worktable to dry. I was quite proud of my masterpiece, I had worked quite hard to make every detail right, channeling all my anger into my paintbrush. Hair had fallen in my face as I worked and I pushed the loose strands behind my ear, accidentally leaving a streak of paint along my cheek.
"Nothing. Now that wasn't so bad was it? He looks very good."
"He does doesn't he?" I grinned, not at all modest.
"You're sure you don't love him?" He asked slyly.
"Quasi!" I shouted in exasperation.
"Love who?" Esmeralda appeared over the edge of the platform. My face burned red as Quasi answered.
"Clopin," he informed her gravely. She nodded in understanding.
"well, then that explains it doesn't it?" She remarked casually, capturing my attention immediately.
"Explains what?" I couldn't help myself. You would have done the same thing in my place. Come on, you know you would have.
"Why you went missing and our king hit the proverbial ceiling." Esmeralda grinned as she took a seat next to me and picked up the Clopin figure. "Great job, Lily." I barely heard her; I was having too much trouble grasping her first statement.
"He noticed I was gone?" I finally got out. Esmeralda looked at me funny.
"Of course. He's got it bad for you, dear. You know that, don't you?" She nudged me. I was stunned. But then the logical side of me kicked in.
"Yeah, right...and can I have that back?" I said, reaching out for the small Clopin statue. "Anyway, why are you here?"
"You're trying to change the subject," Esmeralda grinned knowingly. "But I'm here because I was sent, first by Clopin, then by Mathias, to track you down. You're quite popular this evening, my girl."
"Well, I'm not going home now, so you might as well make yourself at home." I made another grab for the wooden figure she held.
"Who's Mathias?" Quasi spoke up.
"A fool who appears to be quite taken with our flower here." Esmeralda frowned.
"Let's just say, the de Troyes are not known for their honesty." She frowned again, this time with a hint of disgust.
"He's never given me any reason to distrust him," I defended my friend, even though I didn't quite believe that. After all, there was that incident in the alley after the soldier...
"Just wait..." Esmeralda grinned at me; I was still trying to reach the figure of Clopin. "Did you want this?" She indicated her closed fist.
"Then you're coming home with me!" She teased. I sighed and nodded.
"Okay, okay. Now can I have him?" I begged. She handed it to me, only a little smudged from being in her fist. I looked him over, decided he was okay, and slipped him into a hidden pocket in my skirt.
"Would you like the match?" Quasi asked carefully.
"The match?" I asked, confused by his question. He smiled lopsidedly and pulled out another figure carved out of wood. It was me, well, a smaller version of me. "Oh! I love it! May I keep it?"
"Yes, of course. That is why I gave it to you."
"But you said it was a match..."
"Indeed I did." Quasi smirked as Esmeralda smothered giggles, not very well I might add.
"Everywhere I go, people make fun of me!"
"We're not making fun, we're telling the truth." Esmeralda told me soberly. I tilted my head and looked at her with an eyebrow raised, my usual response to something I didn't quite believe. She grabbed my hand.
"Let's go home Lily." She said quietly. "Goodbye, Quasi."
"Thanks Quasi!" I called as I was all but dragged down the wooden ladders.
We reached street level fairly quickly, Esmeralda walking quickly and me trying to stay un my feet. It was growing darker with each passing minute though it couldn't have been much later than 5 o'clock. I would have been lost if not for my companion, although I nearly lost her several times on the way. We ducked into an alley which hid one of the entrances to the Court, and if I had been more aware of my surroundings, I would have noticed it was the same one I had emerged from earlier that afternoon. Esmeralda was still walking quickly when I large figure came to stand directly in our path. I didn't notice him until Esmeralda stopped short, her entire body gone rigid.
"Hello Esmeralda...Lily." Mathias smiled slightly at me.
"Go away!" Esmeralda hissed. "We have something we need to do."
"This won't take more than a moment. I need to talk to Lily," he glanced back to the fuming gypsy beside me. "Alone." She looked at me, pleading wit her eyes not to trust him and disappeared into the darkness of the catacomb. When she had completely gone, I turned back to the man in front of me.
"So, what did you need?" I asked, my voice catching in my throat. I was inexplicably anxious just being around him, suddenly wishing for the company of anyone else, even Clopin.
"Where did you go today?"
"Around..." I pointedly avoided answering his question, seeing as how he hadn't answered mine. Also, I didn't want yet another person finding out where I ran to when I was upset. Pretty soon, Clopin would find out and then I'd never hear the end of it.
"Well, I had something I wanted to tell you today." Mathias pulled a small brown leather bag from his waist and, pulling my arm from where it rested on my hip, placed it in my palm. I curled my fingers around it, knowing with out a doubt what was in that bag.
"Oh my god..." I breathed shakily.
"I love you, Lily." He smiled and indicated the little gift I held. "Well, aren't you going to open it?"
"Um, well, I, ah, don't know..." I trailed off, avoiding his eyes. He plucked the bag from my hand and opened it, displaying its contents for me. A gold hoop, just as I had thought. Mathias stepped closer then reached up and unfastened my silver earring. He handed it to me before clipping the heavy gold one in its place.
"Don't worry about yours. Think about it, then tell me you love me." I didn't speak as he bent down and kissed me softly on the lips. He took my hand and together we walked into the main squareof the Court of Miracles. Only one thought ran through my head: What was Clopin going to say?
Unknown to me, Esmeralda had held back and heard the entire exchange. When we had reached the square, Mathias left with some excuse and I was left alone. Well, not quite all alone.
"Do you believe him?" I jumped at the sound of Esmeralda's voice in my ear. I turned to look at her, the new gold earring swinging in my ear, reminding me of its presence. "Because I don't. I think he's lying. I don't know why, but I don't think you should trust him." She reached out to touch the hoop, setting it to swinging again.
"Why were you in such a hurry to get me back here?" I asked, trying to divert her attention from her now favorite topic of discussion.
"I was hoping to get you to talk to Clopin before he got to you. I didn't quite succeed." I looked at her thoughtfully, fingering the pair of figures concealed in the folds of my skirts.
"Maybe I should go talk to Clopin. I feel bad about our argument today."
"Yes! Yes, you should! Especially after this!" She took me by the hand again and all but dragged me to Clopin's multi-colored tent. The dwelling looked deserted and I couldn't hear anyone moving around inside. I could feel my meager courage draining quickly away.
"Oh, look, no one's home. I'll come back later." I turned to leave but Esmeralda caught my arm and held it firmly. From all the people who had been doing that lately, I was sure I was going to have permanent bruises up and down my arms.
"No you don't. Go say you're sorry and ask him what he thinks about Mathias's confession." She pushed me through the door flap and walked away, leaving me at the mercy of the king. I stood, head down, for a few moments but when no one spoke, curiousity got the better of me. I raised my head to see Clopin seated at the small table in the middle of the room, his head resting on his outstretched arm, obviously asleep. I let out a small sigh of relief and walked over to stand beside his chair. He was frowning a little in his sleep, so uncommon on his waking face that I was fascinated. Without thinking, I reached out and smoothed away the wrinkle caused by his down-turned mouth. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly and I smiled gently. I stood looking at him for a moment, then turned to leave. The moment my hand left his face, a gloved hand caught mine. I turned to see two deep brown eyes looking at me. Clopin raised his head and pulled me back towards him.
"Lily, you came back," his smile faded quickly as he took in my appearance. My hand self-consciously raised to my ear; if he hadn't noticed the earring before, he was sure to know. "That's Mathias's earring." It definately wasn't a question.
"He told me he loved me," I told him simply, nothing else needed to be said. I watched my king swallow hard and shivered as he brought his gaze up to mine.
"Does he now wear yours?" At the negative shake of my head, the tension disappeared from Clopin's face and was replaced by an overly enthusiastic cheerfullness. "Well, that settled, why are you here, Lily?" I noticed he had let go of my hand.
"I wanted to say I was sorry for what I said earlier."
"Is that all?" The fake cheerfullness again.
"No," I paused and knelt to look up into his down turned face. "I don't hate you, but I don't want to come back to anymore of those lessons. The next time I come to this tent I want it to be as a friend, not a pupil."
"A friend..." he trailed off, refusing to meet my eyes. "Of course it would be a friend."
"Yes a friend. Is it a deal?" I stood and held out my hand to him.
"Oui, mon amie," Clopin tokk my hand in both of his and kissed the back so softly, I barely felt it. I snatched my hand back, staring into his eyes, searching for, but not finding any aign of mockery. I was only met with that unreadable gaze of his.
"I have to go. Mathias is waiting." I said quickly.
"Yes, goodbye Lily." He turned from me and I rushed out, wanting nothing more than to be at home in bed with a warm cup of Esmeralda's chocolate. But it was not to be for when I returned home, home was not there. The spot where my tent usually stood was completely bare, a stark contrast with the chaos of colored tents which surrounded the empty place. Wonderful, I thought to myself. This has been a wonderful, lovely day.
"I moved it next to mine," came Mathias's voice from behind me. I turned and just looked at him blankly. I was slightly angry with him for moving my entire house but there really wasn't a whole lot I could do about it. Besides, I wore his earring, it was probably right that we lived in the same place. I let him lead me to where he had set up my tent and crawled into my cold sheets as soon as I got home, passing up the choclate in my desire to put the entire confusing day behind me as soon as possible.
The days passed, turning into weeks, and eventually flowed into a month. I danced in the streets for money, Toby at my side every day. Mathias connected his tent to mine after the first night, rigging the doorflaps so that I could have a little privacy. We didn't consummate the love though, as I still had not given him my earring or my pledge of love. In fact, he had barely touched me since that first chaste kiss in the catacombs. I visited Quasi nearly every day, sometimes with Esmeralda, but more often by myself. He and I would sit on opposite sides of the worktable and he would listen as I poured my heart out to him. Once, I had the distinct feeling I was being followed as I left the Court. I wasn't wrong.
I climbed the stairs to the bell tower anxiously, wishing that the towers weren't quite so high. I had to tell someone about what had happened that day, and Quasi was the only one who wasn't involved in it. I finally reached the top and raced up the ladders to the main platform. Quasi looked up at me, my dress dishevelled and my breath coming in short gasps, and motioned for me to sit down.
"What happened now?" He asked as rummaged around in a basket, looking for something to sand down the small house he held. He waited for me as I caught my breath and sat down in my usual place across from him.
"Okay, I was in the Court of Miracles all day today, you know, because of the weather." I glanced out at the overcast sky for a moment. "Nearly everyone was there and Clopin was getting pretty fed up with all the scuffles that were breaking out every so often."
"And let me guess, you got involved with one of them." Quasi found what he was looking for and began to rub at the figure. I nodded although I wasn't sure he saw it.
"Yes, but it wasn't my fault!" Quasi chuckled.
"It never is." I glared at him but resumed my story.
"Anyway, I decided to go farther out into the catacombs so I could practice a new step Esmeralda taught me. I thought I was far away from anyone else but I guess I wasn't because before I knew it, this women was yelling at me! She told me that if I barged into anyone else's tent, she would make sure that I was hung. I tried to apologize for accidentally stepping into her house but she just started yelling at me about youngsters today having no manners. She was loud for an old lady! Stop laughing!" I exclaimed, halting mid-oration to berate him. He just chuckled a bit more then told me to finish my story. "Everyone in the Court must have heard her screaming because pretty soon a whole group of people had gathered around, everyone of them calling for Clopin. I thought it would be fine then because he would defend me."
"But he didn't?" Quasi looked up from his work and stopped. I was too caught up in my story to notice.
"No he didn't! He came in and told me to respect my elders. I tried to tell him what had happened but he told me I was being impertinent. He treated me just like I was a small child, calling me girl and marching me back to Esmeralda!" I was getting pretty worked up. Clopin's condescending attitude had hurt me more than I had told Esmeralda or even Quasi. I wasn't going to cry but I could feel the dangerous lump rising in my throat and my eyes begin to prick. I glanced up at Quasi but he didn't seem to notice my struggle for composure. "He's been such a good friend lately! Always coming to see me dance and calling me his flower and I thought..." my voice trailed off. "I thought he was actually starting to care about me." I finished softly.
"Lily..." I froze at the voice. It was Clopin's. How long had he been standing there? I didn't want to know. I turned slowly and stood up before my king.
"I...I don't know what to say." Clopin was picking at the fingertips of his gloves, a nervous habit I had never seen him engage in before.
"You don't have to say anything. You were eavesdropping on me and you followed me! I don't want to see you right now." I turned from him. Quasi sat still, watching both myself and the man behind me.
"Lily, let him speak." Quasi reasoned with me. "Everyone deserves a second chance."
"Fine!" I turned back to Clopin, determined to be mad at him. The mournful look on his face melted my heart and I know my expression softened considerably. "Well?"
"Lily, I didn't know it meant that much to you-"
"What? That you treated me like I was inferior and stupid. Like I was no older than Toby. That you took someone else's word over mine when you know I would never lie to you. That hurt, Clopin! You hurt me...I never thought you'd do that. You're supposed to be my friend and being my friend means trusting me over a bunch of people who don't even know what happened. What you did, just shouldn't happen between friends." The lump was rising again, this time not from sadness, but from my familiar quick temper.
"Lily, I had to take their word over yours," he said calmly.
"Why? Why are they more important?"
"They are my people and I have to do whatever I can to keep the peace. If I was to take your side, many of those people you are referring to, would have been very angry. Even angry enough to do something to you." As he explained, I felt my anger begin to drain away, leaving only the hurt and confusion.
"But why would they be so angry?" I asked, looking at my sandals. Clopin stepped toward me hesitantly, as if to see what my reaction would be. When I didn't say anything, he moved closer until he was right in front of me, less than arm's length away. He reached up to my face and caught a lock of my hair between his gloved fingers, pulling it in front of my face to show it to me.
"What color is this?" He asked quietly.
"What does it matter?"
"It's red, Lily. A shade of red that makes you all the more beautiful, but red none the less." He smiled gently. I slipped my hair out of his hand and he dropped his arm. "Lily, how many of the Gypsies you know have red hair?"
"None, but I-"
"Still don't see my point, do you? Ah, well, let me say it straight out. You are not a Gypsy by birth, nor are you a foundling or an outcast. You are a young woman of fine birth who decided one day it might be fun to be a Gypsy." At my indignant look, he held up a hand. "That's not the real story, I know, but to everyone else, who have no idea why you are here, that is how it appears. And in their eyes, you have attached yourself to their king and made him forget his real people."
"That's what they think? I had no idea..." I bit my lower lip and gazed at Clopin, a little sadly. "I suppose I have been spending more time than I need to with you but I thought it was all right and that everyone spent time with you. I never knew that you didn't want me there or that people wouldn't like me because of it and-" I stopped as he put his hands on my shoulders and drew me towards him.
"Lily, I never said it bothered me, only that some people were talking. If you dare to start avoiding me, I will not be responsible for my actions." I cracked a smile at that. "I am sorry I acted that way to you and I am sorry I took the word of an old woman I don't even know over yours. Am I forgiven?"
"Yes, you are." I put my arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. He didn't respond at first, but then I felt his arms go around my waist and he was hugging me back. I pulled away, gently at first, but then more forcefully when he didn't let go. He released me the second time but didn't step away from me. "Just don't do something like that before explainging it to me, okay?"
"Yes, madamoiselle," he grinned and made a short bow. I finally remembered Quasi and turned to see him still sitting at his table, smiling that little knowing smile of his. He got up and stood beside his bench.
"So, Lily, do you have something to tell him now?" Quasi asked slyly.
"No, should I?" I asked, confused.
"I'm sure he has something else to tell you." Quasi leaned on his table. I turned back to Clopin.
"Do you, my king? Do you have something to tell me?" I asked curuiously. Clopin looked down at the floor then his gaze travelled up to meet my eyes. He looked as though he was about to say something when he caught sight of my earring. He glanced away from my eyes just enough to tell me he wasn't looking at me anymore.
"No Lily, I have nothing to tell you. Let's go home, you are soaked and I'm sure you want to get into something warm." He produced a cloak from nowhere and wrapped it around my shoulders. I never knew quite how he did that. He began to walk back to the ladder at the edge of the platform. I waved goodbye to Quasi, whose grin had disappeared, and caught up Clopin. I followed him closely all the way down to street level before catching his hand in mine. He didn't seem to mind, actually, he held my hand tighter than I held his. I was content for the time being.
The weather cleared up later in the week and I went back to my dancing. Toby and I didn't run into anymore soldiers and I hoped against hope that the fat Fourbault had forgotten about me. I soon found I had no such luck.
It was late in the day, the sun already slipping below the tops of the houses, and I had sent Toby home ahead of me. I gathered my tambourine and various other thing, placing them all neatly in my bag. I was reaching for the floppy hat filled with coins when a strong hand grabbed my wrist and forced me to stand up straight.
"Well, well. What a pleasant surprise, Adrien," I addressed the soldier coolly. "I didn't know you had become a member of the guard." Adrien, a tall stocky youth of about 20, had been one of my least intelligent suitors in my old life.
"Lilith Tremain," he remarked casually, dropping my wrist. As I said before, he wasn't the brightest fellow I had ever met. I dropped my bag to the ground and stooped as though I was going to pick it up. Before he had time to know what was happening, I pulled out my knife and held it carefully up against the side of his neck, just under the ear.
"I am Lily, the Gypsy Flower now, not the meek girl you once wooed, and I've been taught how to use this thing by the king of the gypsies. Now, I was never here or you'll be getting a closer shave than you've ever had in your life!" I pushed the knife up just enough for him to feel the blade I had learned to sharpen under Clopin's watchful eye. My other hand pushed into his throat, cutting off his air supply until he could barely take in a breath.
"So, you're the 'Flower' that annoying fiend of a gypsy keeps talking about. Tell me, how much wine did he have to feed you before you went to bed with him?" He choked out, still managing to sound malicious. I lost my temper at his words and with a swift flick of my wrist, I had cut his cheek from ear to nose, laying the flesh open to the bone. Adrien howled in pain as the red of his blood flowed down his chin and onto my hand. I stepped back and wiped my dirtied knife on his uniform as he clutched his wounded face.
"I didn't go to bed with him!" I screamed, unable to stop myself.
"Shut up! My king has more dignity and honor than that which is more than I can say for the likes of you." I spit in his general direction before replacing my knife in its hidden case. A voice called out for Adrien and I knew it was time to make a hasty exit. The said soldier was crumpled against the wall, still pressing his hand to his cheek, the blood beginning to seep out between his fingers. I grabbed my bag and ran before I had even stood straight again.
I ran without looking back all the way to the nearest alleyway entrance to the Court of Miracles, not know nor really caring who was following. I ran blindly, not seeing the huge figure of Mathias until I had collided with him, knocking both of us to the ground.
"Bitch!" He slurred and clumsily climbed to his feet. He looked down at me still sprawled on the ground and didn't seem to recognize me for a moment. Then a light shown through his dim eyes and he looked around for something. "Lily? Where's the money?" Mathias managed to get out before letting off a loud belch. I cringed and reached for my bag and scattered possessions. I realized in a few moment's time that I had left the hat full of money in the alley at Adrien's feet.
"I, uh, lost it. There was a soldier and-" My words were cut off as Mathias slapped me with the back of his hand. The ring Mathias wore cut into the sensitive skin at the corner of my mouth. I wiped the blood away, glaring at the drunken man before me. Looking up at him, I tried to explain once again. "Please, Mathias, there's plenty more money in the tent. I think you've had a little too much to drink tonight."
"Shuddup! No money, you whore, no money!" I cringed at his words. As a result, I was unaware of the punch aimed at my head until his fist connected with my cheek. He grasped my shoulders and yanked me to my feet. Mathias shook me viciously, his strong fingers biting deeply into the tender skin of my upper arms. "Look at me when I talk!" He shoved me to the ground. My head hit the hard cobblestone street with a loud crack. I curled up into a ball on the ground as he began to kick me with his hard leather boots. I could feel a sticky warmth spreading through my hair and with each kick, the pain washing over me grew. Hurt cascaded through my body, the betrayal of my heart causing almost as much pain as the repeated blows to my already battered legs and ribs. Then, as suddenly as it began, the assault was halted, Mathias retreating back into the Court of Miracles, leaving me alone in the falling darkness.
I struggled to keep my eyes open and my mind alert even though the pain coursing through me was too much for me to bear. I tried not to focus on it as I channelled what was left of my energy into staying awake. I was no doctor but I knew falling into the void my entire being wanted to jump into would mean my certain demise. I struggled to keep a firm grip on the conciousness that had become my only lifeline.
"Lily!" I heard Esmeralda's voice from what seemed like far away and saw her leaning over me. "What happened?" I knew I couldn't tell her the truth so I settled for the next best and more likely attacker.
"Soldiers," I gasped before the darkness finally came in and claimed me for its own.
I awoke slowly, the intense ache filling my body and nearly forcing me back the darkness I was struggling so hard to separate myself from. I was finally able to open my eyes all the way and focus on the ceiling above me. I was lying in a bed, a comfortable one at that, surrounded on all sides by pillows and blankets. I tries to raise my arm, only to be rewarded with a new pain to add to my already extensive collection. I was almost afraid to move my mouth but when I did, I was surprised to feel only a light sting instead of the wave of hurt I had been expecting. I decided to try out my voice box.
"Hello?" I croaked out, shocked at how weak my voice was.
"Ah, so you are finally awake. I-we were worried about you," Clopin appeared in my field of vision, a bright smile lighting up his entire face. I grinned back at him, ignoring the pain caused by doing so.
"Where am I?" I tried to sit up, wincing at the pain that shot up my ribs. Clopin saw what I was attempting to do. He slipped an arm under one of mine and around to support my back, reaching under my knees with the other. He pushed me gently up against the cushions so that I was in a semi-upright position before removing both arms.
"Better?" he asked quietly. I nodded. "Good. As for where you are, you're in my tent. Do you remember what happened to you. He asked, concerned. His last few words were drowned out by the whistling of a tea kettle somewhere deeper in the tent and Clopin sighed, pushing himself up from his seat on the bed to take it off the heat. He returned a few moments later with two red earthenware mugs filled to the brim with steaming tea. "Now, do you remember what happened to you?"
"No," I lied as I took a mug of tea from him and sipped it, revelling in the feel of the hot liquid sliding down my throat. "Well, I can tell I've been beat up. How many hours have I been unconcious?" Clopin took his seat on the edge of the bed again and stared at me solemnly.
"Six days." I nearly choked on my tea.
"You're joking," I told him. "I can't have been out that long! And why am I in your tent, not mine?" I was frantic. Clopin took the mug from my hands and set it on the ground, then returned his hands to mine. He held them tightly and sighed.
"Because as long as you are here, Mathias can't get to you." I avoided his eyes.
"So, you know?" At his saddened nod, I bit my bottom lip. "How?"
"Your soldier story didn't make sense." Clopin turned and pulled my knife off of the bedside table. "I taught you to use this and you learned faster than anyone I've taught before. If it had been a soldier, you would have had that out within a few seconds. But you didn't."
"And you knew it was Mathias from that? I find that hard to believe." I told him.
"Well..." Clopin looked guilty. "And nearly everyone in the Court knew that Mathias had gotten drunk that night. We were expecting him to go after some one. It always is like that. But I never thought he would go after you."
"It was a chance occurence, Clopin. If I had gotten to that alley just a few minutes later I would have missed him completely. No one could have known I would be in the wrong at the wrong time." I smiled gently.
"But, Lily, why did you let him do that to you? You could have defended yourself! It didn't have to end up like this."
"Are you mad at me?" I asked quietly. Clopin tilted his head to one side and watched me study our joined hands.
"No, don't ever think that. But, my flower didn't deserve this." "Yes, I did. I lost the money to Adrien and that's what Mathias had wanted." I told him, finally bringing my eyes up to his.
"Adrien? The soldier they found in the alley?" At my nod, he managed a small smile. "Well, at least I know you remembered some of what I taught you. That was good, Lily."
"No, I did what I did out of anger, not defense. I could have gone on my merry way without any blood being shed. He said...some things and I lost my temper." I looked towards the wall.
"What did he say?" He asked, reaching out to turn my chin back towards him.
"Just things...it is nothing."
"You wouldn't hurt anyone if it was just 'nothing, my flower. You can tell Clopin, can't you?"
"He said...he said...that I had...well, that..."
"There was more between us than there is?" He asked, releasing my hands and leaning back in his chair. "I could see how that would upset you." He muttered so quietly I barely heard him.
"I didn't mean it that way!" I sat up more and reached out to him. He caught my hand before I had moved it far and placed carefully back in my lap.
"Don't worry about it. You shouldn't move your right arm too much. You fell on it and we're not quite sure if it's broken or not." I was guiltily relieved that he had dropped the previous subject.
"Oh, it doesn't hurt that much." I told him, attempting to move my arm again. He gave me a look that plainly said don't move it again!
"Still, it's better to be safe than sorry." Clopin tucked a hair that had fallen across my face back behind my ear. "Lily?"
"Yes?" I asked. He looked me over.
"Your hair is a mess!"
"I thought it might be," I giggled. "May I have a comb to straighten it out?" Clopin had disappeared by the time I had finished and I sighed. He returned presently bearing a hard wooden brush and a length of royal blue ribbon.
"Ah, no you don't!" he scolded me lightly when I reached out for the brush. "You are too weak still. Clopin will do it for you." He moved the pillows propping me up and took their place, sitting cross-legged behind me. Gently, he ran the brush through the jungle of snarls and tangles covering my head. His thin fingers were ideal for pulling hair out of the tight knots and soon my hair was brushed smooth. I had barely felt more than a tug. Clopin tied it back in a loose braid and fastened the end with the ribbon he had brought back with him.
"You are very welcome," he pushed himself up from his seat on the bed and replaced the pillows. Picking up his hat from where it lay on the table, he pushed oped the door flap and prepared to leave.
"Where are you going?" I asked, starting to panic.
"You have other friends who will want to know that you are awake. I can't keep you to myself forever, now can I?"I shook my head and leaned back into my pillows, closing my eyes. I listened to him leave, not opening my eyes until I was sure he had gone. I looked around the the brightly colored room, just taking in my surroundings for a few moments. During all of our lessons together, I had never taken the time to really look at the inside of Clopin's tent. Its blue and magenta ceiling matched his performing clothes except on a much larger scale. Various puppets, pieces of scenery, and also some small pouches which contained colored powder were suspended from the walls. I also noted the absence of another bed in the tent, instead, a small mat and blanket were neatly laid out in one of the corners. Of course, there was the table and chairs in the middle of the room. A small black tea kettle still sat steaming on the table and I realized the cup on the floor was probably stone cold by then. I kicked at the covers, testing the strength of my legs. They seemed fine, save for the constant ache I was becoming accostomed to, so I carefully pulled my legs from under the blankets and placed them side by side on the floor. I realized I wasn't wearing my bloody and rumpled skirts; instead, I was clad in a loose white woolen shirt. Both my skirts and my blouse were gone and I suddenly felt a bit self concious. The white men's shirt I was wearing only came down to my midthigh, showing an astounding amount of my leg. I covered my bare legs with a blanket and placed my hands on the bed, ready to try to stand.
"What do you think you are doing?" I turned and grinned at Esmeralda standing in the doorway, hands on her hips. "It's good to see you smiling again. When I found you in the alley, I thought I'd never see it again." She came over to the bad, followed by Quasi carrying a small blue bundle.
"We brought you a 'welcome back to conciousness' present," Quasi smiled and held out the bundle. I took it from him, unfolding it carefully. It was a long blue skirt, even darker and longer than the skirt I had been given before. I held it up and a matching lace-up bodice tumbled out.
"Oh, I love it!" I told them, my eyes sparkling with happiness. I didn't see Clopin enter the room until he too stood shyly before me, offering a tiny gift.
"I found this in a Paris shop a few days ago. It seems appropriate to give it to you, now that you are feeling better and are awake to appreciate it." He placed it in my hand and I contemplated it quietly. The object was a miniscule red wooden pendant shaped like a heart. A silver ring, just large enough to be threaded onto my silver chain, protruded from the top. Clopin reache both arms across my shoulders and around my neck to unclasp my necklace. I lifted my head up sharply at his sudden movement and suddenly found my face mere inches from his. He stared at me and I at him, his hands still and unmoving against the back of my neck for what seemed like an eternity.
"The necklace," I breathed quietly. Clopin's face turned just a shade darker as he deftly undid the catch and slipped the chain off. I handed him the heart and he slipped it over the thin silver links. Not at all ready for another bout of staring, I took the necklace from him and put it back where it had been. "Ahem!" Esmeralda interupted our little trance and Clopin backed away slowly, still staring at me. Esmeralda pushed him out of the way and Quasi took him outside. She turned back to me and glared.
"What was all that about?" I set the blue bodice aside and tried to pull my new skirt over my head.
"What was what?" I asked innocently as I struggled with the blue cloth. Esmeralda finally came over and helped me but not before giving me one of her looks. "Oh, the necklace thing. Um, I don't know. Sometimes that just happens." I settled the skirt around my waist and reached for the bodice.
"It just happens? Lily, you are so blind it's not even funny." Esmeralda watched me put the bodice on over the white shirt I was already wearing.
"Blind? What do you mean?" I laced up the purple ribbons that closed the front of my dress.
"Nevermind," she said, looking defeated. "Did you know that Clopin wouldn't let anyone in here for the entire six days you were in here? Quasi and I were beginning to think that you had died and that he was in mourning."
"No, I'm lying to you," she retorted. "Of course, really!" Esmeralda knelt in front of me and clasped my hands in both of hers. "Talk to him Lily and you will see."
"I'll think about," I said warily. I had no intention of talking to Clopin about it, in fact, I was going to try desperately to avoid this topic from then on.
"Mm-hmm," Esmeralda stood up and moved towards the door. "You had better get back in bed or Clopin will be angry with me. Not you, though, He won't yell at you..." she muttered as she left the room. Clopin entered the room after she was gone and proceeded to completely ignore me. I watched him move around the tent, putting dishes away and straightening the already neat place.
"Thank you," I said quietly. He raised his head, putting down the kettle he was holding and came over to where I sat on the bed.
"For what?" he asked, sitting down beside me and taking my good hand in his. He looked almost hopeful and I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Esmeralda knew more than she was letting on. "For taking care of me." He looked down at the hand he held in his and tightened his grip.
"Anything for my flower." I smiled and finally, he returned the favor. "Just promise me something." I raised an eyebrow at his words.
"I seem to be promising you quite a bit, don't I?" I asked. Clopin mimicked my one eyebrow raised look. "Alright, what?"
"Don't scare me like that again. Promise me that no matter who is coming after you, you will pull out that knife and do what you have to do to be safe." The smile on his face vanished as he said this. I lowered my eyes to study my lap then returned my gaze to his.
"I promise," I leaned forward and kissed his cheeck on impulse before resting against the pillows again.
"Yes?" I peered at him curiously as he appeared to be fighting an internal battle and loosing. He still held my hand and he brought it to his lips as I watched. After kissing it softly, he let it go and stood up, to my complete confusion.
"I must leave. I will be back as soon as I can." He was nearly out the door by the time I got up the courage to ask a question of him.
"Clopin?" He turned. "Were you going to ask me something?" He shrugged slightly.
"It is nothing." I watched him go, considering his answer, and finally decided that it was rather troubling. Despite my best efforts, I dwelled on it for the rest of the day.
"Lily! It you can't stay in that bed, I will put you there myself!" Clopin said as he walked into the tent.
"Just as long as you don't follow me in, I laughed and pushed myself up from my seat on the floor.
"Heavens, no! I would never take advantage of a poor injured little girl." He leered at me. "I'd much rather have you fully functional, Little One."
"Don't call me 'little'!"
"Okay, Big One," I playfully threw a piece of the bread I had been eating at him. He ducked, laughing, and the missile hit the wall, bouncing off harmlessly. "Ah ah ah, Lily. You shouldn't start something you can't finish." He walked over to the bed and pulled the bedclothes over me. I stubbornly kicked them off and tucked my legs up under me.
"Why do I still have to stay in bed? I've been fine for days and it's boring here when you're gone."
"Better to be safe..."
"...then sorry," I repeated the phrase I had heard over and over again in the two weeks I had spent confined to the bed. "Yes, yes, I know. But Clopin, I feel better! My bruises are long gone and I can use my arm freely too."
"I know. Well, then you'll be happy to know that tomorrow I am allowing you out of the tent," he sighed. I was excited and I leaned forward eagerly.
"Really?" He nodded in response. "So I can go and dance again?"
"Of course not! You will accompany me to my cart and stay there all day. Then you're coming straight home and going back to bed. Understood?" he said with mock severity, eyeing me playfully. I noded happily and allowed him to cover me with the blankets again. He stepped behind the curtain that separated his sleeping place from mine and I heard him settle down on his mat. I felt bad about taking his bed, it was one of the only real beds in the Court, and I felt like I was just wasting space. The bed was much bigger than I was and I would much rather have slept on the mat that was more my size. But Clopin had refused, saying that an invalid needed rest and not to worry about it.
We had grown even closer, Clopin and I, in the days following my return to conciousness. For the first few days, he wouldn't even allow me to move on my own, fussing over me as though I were a child. After I had finally convinced him that I would be fine if he left, he began to go out in the mornings. Every afternoon, he would return home with some sort of story or gift to amuse me. Despite his good intentions, I was dreadfully bored and I continually nagged at him to let me accompany him somewhere, anywhere, just to relieve my intense boredom. He refused, of course, and laughed when I pouted. But it was all in good fun and he made sure I knew he was never serious in his teasing. The next morning, I awoke and nearly sang with delight. Except if I did, I'm not sure who would have survived. I sat up in bed, grinning, and swung my feet over the edge. I reached down into the little bag of possesions that Esmeralda had rescued from my tent and pulled out my wooden hairbrush. I ran it through my hair to free it of knots and twisted the copper tresses up against my head. I was reaching for a pin to secure it when a gloved hand stopped my searching fingers.
"Wait, I have something for you." Clopin flipped his other hand over to reveal a dark wooden hairclip decorated with a carved lily-of-the-valley. It was beautiful and I took it gratefully.
"Thank you," I said, fastening the clip into my hair and grinning widely. "Can we go out now?"
"Patience, my flower, patience," he winked at me and I stuck my tongue out at him. For a moment, he pretended to look horrified, then he grinned. "Alright, my dear, out of bed." I cheerfully hopped out of bed, grabbed his hand and nearly dragged him out the door. He barely resisted and was just able to grab his hat from the table. I pushed out into the Court and breathed deeply.
"Ah, the fresh air," I said, then spied an old woman dumping the very suspicious looking contents of a bucket into the walkway. "Well, sort of." Clopin chuckled a bit and followed me as I made my way out of the court and into the sunshine of the Paris morning. "Now, here's the fresh air I was talking about!"
"Well, as fresh as Paris air gets." Clopin smiled and, taking my hand, led me to where he cart was already set up. We took a few moments to set up before the first bells of the morning started ringing and he began to sing the story of Quasimodo with me acting the part of a sort of befuddled assistant. A few children, mostly ones I knew as being the children of the shopkeepers who were just setting up their wares, sat in front of the cart and listened with rapt attention. It continued this way for the entire morning, Clopin telling his stories and me messing up his meticulously organized repetoire of puppets.
"Lily! Can't you see they are in order?" He asked me at one point, exhasperated after he saw the state of his puppet shelf. But besides my poor attempts at helping, the day proved to be just what I needed. The sun was high overhead and Clopin had just finished another of his stories when I called out it was time for lunch.
"Very well, Lily." He looked around for the spot where he usually kept the puppet he was holding, found it occupied by another one, and just tossed the thing onto the pile with resignation. I smiled a bit apologetically and he shrugged his shoulders. "Shall we eat?"
"Yes!" I laughed and followed him to the door of the little cart. I reached for the latch but was stopped by Clopin's arm.
"I'm sorry, my flower, but you are still too weak to go down the steps by yourself. And, being the gentleman I am, I will carry you down the steps." With that, he swept me into his arms and proceed to carry me out of the cart. He set me down on the ground, laughing, and I smiled up at him.
"Well, isn't this just too sweet."
"Oh my god," I gasped. Clopin stiffened and wrapped his arms around my waist protectively, pulling me to him. I was grateful for the added support as I faced the man in front of me.
"Hello, Mathias." Clopin sneered.
"Good day, Clopin," Mathias didn't even look at him. "I see you wasted no time in taking my love from me."
"You bastard, you never loved her in the first place. If you had, you would never have done what you did." I didn't like Clopin fighting my battles for me but I also did not want to speak to Mathias and chance doing something I didn't want to do.
"I did love her, and I love her still. And I am here to beg her for forgiveness." Mathias stepped closer to me. I looked at him then back at Clopin. "Lily, I love you and I want you to know that what happened in the alley was not because I didn't love you, but because I was being stupid. I am so sorry and I cannot help but hate myself for the pain I caused you that night. Will you forgive me and please, please, give me another chance to prove just how much you mean to me?"
"Why, you miserable excuse for-" I cut Clopin's name calling off with a word.
"Yes." Mathias looked at me questionally."Yes, I will give you a second chance."
"Clopin, I gave you a second chance and you have become one of my dearest friends. No matter what may have happened in the past, everyone deserves a second chance." I stepped towards Mathias and let him take my hands in his.
"You are a very special person and I love you, my flower," Clopin's looked ready to kill as Mathias used the pet name the king had given me. Mathias ducked his head and kissed my hands before turning to walk away. "I will see you tonight then. Thank you." He walked away and disappeared around a corner.
"Lily! What are you thinking?!" I faced Clopin angrily.
"It's my life, therefore, my decision so leave me alone! If I want to go with Mathias, then that's my choice, not yours," I turned away from him and began to walk back towards the catacombs. I had already entered the Court by way of a trapdoor before I heard the footsteps behind me.
"Lily, I can't let you go," Clopin placed his gloved hand on my shoulder. I shrugged away from him, continuing at a quicker pace.
"Why not? I think he deserves a second chance."
"A second chance?! He left you for dead in an alley and you decide that just because he seems sorry, it's alright to leave me? I took care of you!" Clopin was nearly yelling, attracting the attention of most of the gypsies in the Court. Many began to wander over, trying and failing to appear as though they weren't listening intently.
"So that means I belong to you now? I don't think so! You may have helped me but it's my life!" I was angry with him for assuming that I was a possesion. "Mathias may not be as perfect as you think you are but he loves me."
"But he doesn't! Can't you see? He's using you! Just wait and see." He glared at me, his arms folded across his chest. I had an idea, one that would hopefully shock him and perhaps force him to back down.
"Well, fine, then. If I had loved you, wouldn't I have given you a second chance as well?" I gazed straight into his eyes, waiting for the affirmative that would give me victory. But he dropped his eyes and his rigid shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Go to Mathias, Lily. You told him you would." He sighed and pushed angrily through the ring of gypsies around us, leaving me speachless.
"The king is angry with you, flower. Guess, now you have to be just like the rest of us." A voice called out. But I was too stunned to do anything more than look at the speaker. I began to walk towards the tent I had previously shared with Mathias.
I moved in with Mathias despite the protests of Clopin, Esmeralda, and Quasi. The latter two had heard about what I had done through the gossip that is always flying around the Court. Esmeralda wasted no time in chewing me out for being "profoundly stupid" and "unbelievably insensitive", to name a few. Quasi just stared at me mournfully and shook his head before asking me to come visit him as soon as I was able. I promised I would come when I could. As soon as Mathias came home, though, my visitors left with little more than a glare in his general direction. Only Clopin didn't show up at the door to our double tents in the days following my return. I saw him briefly each day when I left the Court to dance and when I came in again at dusk. I varied my routes home each day so that I never ran into another soldier on the way home. I was content if not happy and I fell into the normal routine of my days without thinking too much about Clopin. I missed him horribly but I wasn't going to be the one to go to him. I put him as far from my conscious thought as I possibly could but nothing stopped the thoughts of him from staying always at the edge of my mind.
Sometime in mid-June, nearly five months since I had joined the gypsies of Paris, I came to seriously regret ignoring my king's advice and returning to Mathias. He and I had gotten in another argument about my withholding my silver earring even though I wore his gold hoop. I usually won, but this time, it seemed he was bent on victory.
"Lily, if you really loved me, you'd at least give me your earring. That's all I ask and you know it's not mine." He was right in the last part at least. He had never asked for me to join him in his bed or to do anything more than I wanted to. I was grateful for that but still I couldn't give my earring without being completely sure in whom my heart was placed. "I know it is not much to ask but I am still not sure." I sighed and played with my bracelets. Mathias stepped up to me and wrapped his arms around my waist, his solution to most, if not all problems. In his mind, an hour's worth of cuddling would erase an entire afternoon of hurt. I reluctantly let him kiss me, not very enthusiastically. When had the wonderment of being loved faded into everyday boredom? I pulled away from him, intent on leaving and going out to dance as usual but he held onto me. Reaching up to my bodice, he unlaced the ribbons holding the two edges together. I gasped and struggled to pull away from him, twisting and turning to free myself. His grip was like iron around my waist, a tight band that bound me to the reality of my worst nightmare. His strength far surpassed mine and I knew I was in an extremely compromising positions. I kicked him hard in the shin then aimed higher but he saw what I was attempting to do. He bent down and picked up my legs then carried me to the back of the second tent where the larger of our two beds was waiting.
I was ashamed of myself that night as I sat huddled in my room, arms around my shaking knees. I hadn't left all day, too afraid that everyone would see my shame written across the features of my face. I sat stiffly and silently, not knowing what was going to become of me, only knowing that I could not ever let anyone know what had happened. And yet, I never thought to worry about any irrefutable proof to what happened, anything obvious to everyone else. I am sure that at the back of my mind I knew that my luck had never held and that I would probably not be lucky this time either.
For the next month, I moved stiffly through the everyday chores of dancing and avoiding Clopin. That was the worst of my shame, the thought that Clopin, with his eyes that could read my soul, would know that I was no longer the virtuous girl he had nursed back to health. And dancing no longer brought me the simple joy it had before; the world it had taken me to was not the same place of light and laughing. The shadows that lurked in me seemed to laugh every time I tried to return, telling me I had no right to enjoy the virgin beauty of the world.
At the end of that month, it became to obvious to me that all was not going to be well and that the incident could not be forgotten. I was going to have Mathias' baby and I did not know what I would do. Mathias' reaction was not at all what I expected it to be when I told him. He shrugged and told me that I would be responsible for caring for it and that it was not to bother him at all. No anger, no joy, just a simple shrug and a warning to keep it away from him.
Mathias forbid me to leave the tent during the day, for reasons he kept to himself, and I meekly obeyed, not really wanting to provoke him into anything. Toby would sneak into the tent nearly everyday with bits of news for me and mostly just to keep me company. I would reward him as best I could, usually by feeding him with as many sweets as I could. I relied on the boy almost entirely and I wasn't sure what I would do if he wasn't there. Then one day, he wasn't there, nor was he the next day. I asked Mathias about it but he ignored me, much like he had since finding out about my pregnancy. On the third day, Clopin showed up while Mathias was out.
"Clopin!" I cried as he pushed the door flap aside cautiously. He smiled weakly, stepping forward to clasp my hands in a friendly greeting.
"No bruises, Lily? You are well?" He asked anxiously.
"No bruises, my king," I told him gently. At least, none that you can see, my subconscious reminded me. At that, my pleasure faded, rapidly replaced by an intense fear. "You can't stay here, Clopin. He will kill you if he finds you here."
"He cannot. I am the king. Besides Lily, I have something very important to tell you." He frowned and led me to a chair. I sat down gratefully. "Toby is dead, dearest."
"No!" I shot up from my chair and grabbed Clopin by the shoulders. "This is a cruel joke. Please, please, tell me this is just a joke!"
"It is no joke, my dear. Fourbault hanged him in plain view of Notre Dame for trying to enter the church. After his body was cut down, we found this note pinned to his clothing." I stared at him, wide-eyed as he read me the horrible words. "Dearest Lilith, Return to me now or more of your little gypsy friends will suffer this same fate."
"He's going to kill you all just to get to me," I whispered, burying my face in Clopin's shoulder, seeking comfort. He brought his arms around me in a hug, holding me close as I clung to him for support. I didn't cry, I hadn't since I had left my mother, but the grip I had on my self control was shaky at best.
"Lily, you are not going back to him. You came to us for help and we will protect you as one of our own." He neglected to tell me about the gypsies in the Court who would have happily turned me over to the Minister of Justice right then and there.
"Lily!" A voice I knew much too well cause me to stiffen in Clopin's arms.
"You must go now!" I tries to pull away from him and push him to the door, but he wouldn't move. "He will kill you!" I repeated.
"No, you need me and I will stay until you don't." He moved his arms to rest loosely around my waist and I leaned against him. I knew I'd need him there as Mathias entered the tent.
"Lily, why isn't-you!" Mathias' look could have frightened the most fearless warrior. I felt Clopin's arms tighten and I looked up to see he was clenching his jaw shut. "What are you doing here, you old fool?"
"I had news for my flower."
"She is no longer yours!" Mathias pulled us apart and held Clopin up by the front of his tunic. "If I ever find you touching her again, I'll-"
"You'll what? Kill me? I assure you, if you do, you will have to face the wrath of all your fellow gypsies." Clopin made Mathias threat seem empty, as he had known it was.
"No, my king," he said sarcastically. "I will kill her." All the color drained from Clopin's face and for the first time, I saw real fear in his eyes. I knew Mathias would not kill me because of the child I was carrying, but my king did not have this reassurance.
"You bastard, I will not let you harm her again!"
"There is little you can do, Clopin. Now get out!" Mathias picked him up and dropped him outside the tent. I nearly ran out to him but the look on Mathias' face stopped me dead in my tracks. "Lily, get back in your bed. We don't want anything to happen to my son, do we now?" He moved toward me to place a hand on my stomach.
"My daughter," I said, pulling away from him. "She will be a beautiful girl and I will make sure she is safe in spite of you." I covered my stomach protectively with my arms and quickly left the room. I flopped down on my bed, falling asleep immediately from exhaustion and grief.
I didn't wake up the next day until Mathias had already left the Court of Miracles. I almost expected to see Toby running through the door but my common sense told me otherwise. I pushed myself out of bed, barely making it to the pot next to the table before the sickness I always felt in the morning overtook me. Moments later, I felt better, save for the slightly queasy feeling lingering in the pit of my stomach. I looked around the room and officially declared it cleaning day for me. I had avoided coming into the main room most of the time so it was no wonder that the room was in shamble.
I set about straightening the place, putting the chairs back at the table, moving his sleeping mat and pillows back into the corner and putting his blankets back in their chest. As I was folding the top one, a small piece of white paper floated leisurely to the ground. It was a letter addressed to Mathias and I was about to tuck it into the chest with the blankets when the signature at the bottom caught my eye. Why was Mathias receiving letters from that pig, Fourbault?
Curiosity ruling out any common sense I might have had, I sat down and began to read the letter:
I trust you have my bride to be in your custody. Arrange to have her brought to me on the Sunday after next. If you cannot get her to comply, who else is she close to? My gallows are waiting.
I was shocked. No, I was beyond shocked, I was furious, enraged even. It had been Mathias who arranged the hanging of Toby and it was he who would betray me. I was carrying the child of a traitor. I suddenly heard footsteps very close and stuffed the letter back under the blanket, standing to meet the person. I stayed stock still as the door flap was pushed aside.
"Clopin?!" I rushed to him. "I have something I must tell you!"
"There in something I must tell you as well, Lily." He looked nervous and agitated. Perhaps he already knew what I had just discovered. "As soon as Mathias returns, come to my tent."
"Why not just tell me now?"
"It is too risky. Just tell me you will be there," he begged.
"I will," Clopin grinned quickly, kissed my hand and bounded lightly out of the door. Not three minutes after he had left, none other than Mathias came walking through the door.
"Good afternoon dearest," he said as he breezed in. I glared at him, unable to keep my loathing of him hidden. "I trust the baby is well."
"I got a message from Clopin today. He wants to tell me something and I'm going to see him."
"Well then," he munched on an apple he had pulled out of a basket. "You'd better go talk to him. I have heard he is planning on taking you back to Fourbault today." I stopped halfway outside.
"He has been speaking of it lately. You are more trouble than you re worth." I could not stand to hear anymore. I covered my ears with my hands and ran from the tent blindly. I headed towards Clopin's tent, determined to know exactly what he was up to. But what if he really is going to take me back to that horrible man? If he tells you that he blames you for Toby's death, I thought to myself. I love him. I slowed and finally stopped outside the brightly colored tent. I was right, I loved him. I was blindly in love with my king and now it was too late. I began to run again, away from Clopin. away from the Court, throughout the streets of Paris to the Palace of Justice. I knew what I had to do for my king and his people. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs up to the door and began to climb the steps slowly. The only thing Fourbault wanted more than food was me. I would give him what he wanted to save my adopted people. Myself. I cried as I ascended the steps. I cried for my losses, for the losses of my loved ones, but especially for the keeper of my heart. At the top of the steps, a great door rose high above my head, a heavy wooden gate I knew I would fear for the rest of my days. Fourbault was behind those imposing structures, planning my life out for me. I raised my fist to the door and gave my life away.
Moments later, he doors opened to reveal a trio of guards, all wearing the identical black uniforms of the official palace guards. I was immediately grabbed and pulled into the huge empty front room. Two of the soldiers stayed with me, each grasping one of my arms as though I'd disappear if they let go, while the third left the room through a side door. He returned in a few minutes with a grinning Fourbault, who, in my not so humble opinion, was even fatter than I remembered. He came to a stop directly in front of me and I took an involuntary step back.
"Well, well, well, so the 'Gypsy Flower' has decided to return to where she belongs," the judge sneered at me and chuckled without humor. "Take her away."
"Wait!" The room echoed with my cry.
"What happens to me now?" I couldn't hide the waver in my voice any better than I could hide the loathing I felt for that man. Fourbault grinned viciously.
"I will marry you and the child you carry will be my heir," he turned and left me with the soldiers. I was pulled, pushed, and prodded up stairs, through halls, and into another bare room, definitely smaller than the first. The door was shut firmly behind me, the key turning loudly in the lock, as the full force of what I had just done hit me. I sank to the ground, silent in my misery.
The next evening, I had been moved to a room with furniture and bodily forced into an elaborate brown silk dress. I felt pinched and uncomfortable, forced back into the life I'd abandoned. I hadn't expected to be dressed up like I was going to be displayed as a trophy. A beating, weeks in the dungeon, even losing my life, I expected but not this pampering. I hated it. I couldn't quite justify what I was doing beyond wanting to save more gypsies from Toby's fate. Sacrifice is the coward's way out, I thought dejectedly. In the panic of the day before, I had done something irreversible and terrible. I was startled out of my thinking by the loud knock at my chamber door. Without waiting for my answer, the door was swung open to reveal Fourbault standing there, framed by lamplight.
"Someone to see you, Madame Fourbault," he seemed to be deriving immense pleasure out of that announcement. I stood slowly, arms folded across my chest, and glared at him.
"Don't ever call me that again!"
"But, my dear, it's what you are now," he snickered. "Aren't you going to inquire after your caller?"
"Why should I care?" I wanted nothing more at that moment than to use the silver letter opener on the desk to cause the fat man considerable discomfort. All violent tendencies left me though, as another figure was pushed through the door. A bruised and disheveled Clopin took his place between Fourbault and I, both his hands tied behind his back.
"He hangs tomorrow, Lilith. You have 10 minutes to say goodbye to the only thing that would draw you back to the heathen gypsies." Fourbault made a mock bow to my king and I before leaving the room, chuckling all the way. I turned back to Clopin, who was looking solemnly at me with those large dark eyes. The beginnings of tears pricked at the corners of my eyes, threatening to spill over if I let them.
"Clopin, what happened?" I moved behind him and helped him slip his hands from the rope binding them, He still had not answered me by the time I had finished. "My king?"
"You left me." I stepped back, not daring to look at him.
"I had to. Mathias was-"
"Mathias!" Clopin spit the word out as a curse. "He is the one who turned me in. That horrible man, no not even a man, a self-absorbed child who cares more for himself than for any others, he has been working for Fourbault the entire time."
"Clopin," I said softly. "I know." He stopped his ranting to look at me standing no more than two feet in front of him. "I also know a way out of here. You must escape before Fourbault returns. I don't care how you got here or who betrayed who; all I want is for you to leave this place."
"Only if you are coming with me." He reached out and cupped my face in his palms. I was forced to look directly into his eyes. "I need you."
"I can't." It took all of my will power to say the two simple words and I couldn't look at him anymore or he'd see my heart in my eyes.
"Then I'll die tomorrow because...I can't live without you. I love you, Lily," he lifted his hands from my face but I could still feel him close to me, even with my eyes tightly shut. I was biting my lip to keep from crying but it didn't work well as a small tear leaked out and began its slow journey down the curve of my cheek. "Lily?"
"No, don't say that. You will not die tomorrow," I shook my head, backing away from me. He loved me, I loved him, and life had messed it all up. But what he was asking was impossible, both to resist and to accept.
"I will say it. I have been trying to tell you how I feel since that first day you danced with Toby but someone or something had always prevented me. Well, there's no one here now and I love you, Lily." I was trying to back away, my eyes still shut, as he said this, willing myself not to run to him. Because if that happened, all was lost.
"Clopin, you have to save yourself..." I trailed off as he grabbed both my shoulders and shook me gently.
"Lily! Didn't you hear me?"
"Yes, I heard you."
"Do you love me?" That was the question I most dreaded him asking, for it was the only one I could not answer truthfully. So, with my eyes and my heart closed, I lied to him.
"No." He was silent and I knew he was staring at me. I wasn't going to say anything, not trusting my voice not to betray me. I ventured a look at him, opening my eyes cautiously to watch my king. He pulled something from a fold in his tunic, I couldn't see what, and put it in my hand. I didn't look at it, preferring instead to stare at the floor.
"Very well then, I won't bother you anymore, cherie. But I want you to have that if only to remember me by." He took the rope that had tied his hands and easily slipped them back through. Without another look at me, he moved to stand facing the door. Not a sound came from him and I felt my resolve weakening, waning until I knew I had to speak.
"Clopin, I-" The door swung open and Fourbault strolled in.
"Time's up!" The fat man announced, interrupting my confession and for the second time that night, I felt like bursting into tears. "So gypsy, do you want your freedom or will you hang? Ah well, I don't think you have much of a choice." He motioned behind him and two soldiers emerged to pull Clopin out the door. I watched them drag him off, feeling as though I was living a nightmare, before my legs gave out and I fell to my knees. I looked up at Fourbault.
"Don't hang him, please. Don't let him die tomorrow..." I pleaded weakly.
"Oh, hang he will and with you at my side on the scaffold."
"I'd rather be at his side on the scaffold, thank you."
"Careful what you wish for," he chuckled, thinking he was funny, as he slammed the door after him. I pulled off a slipper and threw it at the closed door, wishing it was my little knife and the door, Fourbault. It was late and the bloated old fool would not return until morning, when Clopin would hang. I shuddered. He loved me. I suddenly remembered the object clenched in my left hand; I was holding it so tightly, there was no doubt in my mind as to what it was. I pried my fingers from the circle I held. It was a perfectly round gold hoop earring and inscribed on the inside curve was 'Clopin' in big block letters.
He was giving me his heart and I was not going to let him die. I began to plan.
The next morning dawned with me already standing at the window, shifting my weight from one foot to the other nervously. I was waiting for Fourbault to send for me, to watch Clopin either die or be saved. Of course, my entire plan depended on one very unreliable variable. It wasn't long before I heard heavy footsteps heading towards my door and a soldier entered noisily.
"Lily, you are to come with me."
"Adrien." The one soldier that probably wouldn't sympathize with me was the one Fourbault had sent. I sensed this was no accident on the judge's part. Adrien approached me quietly and placed a hand on my arm.
"Why did you come here?" I looked into his scarred face and was surprised to see genuine caring there, "You didn't seem to want to return the first time we met."
"I had to. Clopin was..."
"You love him, don't you?" I stared at him.
"How did you know?"
"I may not be the smartest man alive but I am observant. When Fourbault brought him here, I knew, and I am sorry, Lily."
"And I am sorry about your face." Adrien laughed and I felt better, especially since he had been calling me Lily.
"Well, I brought that one on myself. I knew what I said was going to make you angry but I had no idea you had become such a fury," he grinned. I laughed then quickly turned to more serious matters.
"I need your help."
"To help you, will I defy Fourbault?"
"Uh...to a degree..." I hesitated.
"All right, I'll help. I hate being a soldier as much as I hate Fourbault." He started to lead me out of the room and into the hall. "What would you like me to do?"
I explained my plan on the way down to the carriage waiting to carry Fourbault and myself. After I had received Adrien's solemn promise to do as I asked, I settled into the carriage. I sat quietly, mulling over everything that had happened in the past week. Toby had been hung, I thought as tears gathered in my eyes again. Well, if I had anything to do with it, the person responsible for his death would pay. The carriage came to a stop and I pushed the door open, stepping out before either Fourbault or the footman could escort me. The fat one squeezed himself out, taking me hand and leading me up the steps of the scaffold. Two chairs had been set up on the side of the scaffold and we both took our seats. I scanned the crowd for the one who would allow my plan to work as I wanted. It was a fairly large gathering, not nearly as large as the one at Esmeralda's burning, and I spotted him in the back, leaning against a beam. I very nearly grinned but the sound of wooden wheels on cobblestones attracted my attention. Clopin, looking even worse than he had the night before, was being carried to his death in a crude wooden wagon, his slender wrists still tied together behind him. His dark eyes sought me out and focused on me for a moment. I looked away quickly. The gypsy king was led up the same steps I had climbed and was positioned over a trap door. The executioner, his head covered by a black hood in an attempt to hide his identity, slipped the rope noose over Clopin's head and went to stand by the lever that would send my love to his death. Fourbault got up to recite the charges.
"This man is accused with kidnapping an innocent young woman, stealing her innocence, and flagrantly disobeying the law on several occasions." Fourbault turned to the man in the noose. "How do you plead?"
"He is innocent!" The executioner, now revealed as Adrien, and I shouted at the same time. I stood from my chair and ran to pull the noose off of Clopin's neck. He smiled weakly at me.
"Cutting it a little close, aren't we?" Clopin asked quietly. I nodded then stood in front of him.
"This man has been wrongly accused! The real culprit is standing among you now." I pointed to the stunned Mathias and everyone turned to see who it was. "Mathias de Troyes is my kidnapper!" He tries to turn and run away but several men in the crowd grabbed his arms.
"Bring him up here!" Adrien commanded and the people parted to create a path for the men dragging Mathias. He soon found himself with a rope around his neck and a grinning Adrien back at the lever. "Any last words?" Mathias looked at me, now with Clopin's arms clasped around my waist, and opened his mouth to speak. Just as the lever was pulled.
"I didn't think so," Clopin sneered from behind me. I turned to face him as the crowd cheered. "Thank you, Lily, for giving me my life." I was just about to answer when we were roughly pulled apart.
"That's my future wife you are touching." Fourbault glared.
"Don't you mean, my fu-" he stopped as I placed a hand on his arm.
"Clopin, there's nothing you can do. Go back home and tell everyone I'm all right, that I'll miss them all." I turned from him and took my place in the abandoned chair. "This is where I belong now."
"I love you," he whispered, pulling one of his powder filled pouches from his tunic and vanishing in a swirl of colored smoke. From what seemed like a great distance, I vaguely heard Fourbault announcing the wedding the next day. I couldn't concentrate on what he was saying, distracted so much by the figure of a tall thin man trudging sadly into an alley.
Midnight found me locked up in my room, fingering the white gown I would wear the next day. I pushed it away in disgust and walked over to the window, leaning against the sill to gaze wistfully across the city. I wanted so much to be out there instead of smothered in a cell of a room, to be free to run where I pleased. I wondered briefly whether it would be easier to just hurl myself from the open window and end all my troubles. But I quickly put this thought away, both for the child I carried and for the man who was somewhere in that city, loving me. My eyes followed the gray ribbon of the river and a thought occurred to me. A faked suicide would stop Fourbault from looking for me and would allow me to escape and have my child without worry. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. I would leave my shoes by the side of the river and leave footprints leading to the water. And I would be gone from Paris before anyone found the evidence. But before I left, I had one thing left to do. Working quickly, I had picked the lock of my door with my trusty letter opener and was sneaking silently out of the Palace of Justice. I pulled open the heavy wooden door just slightly, careful not to make a sound and was running from the Palace on hardened bare feet before any of the guards regained consciousness. I ducked into an alley and made my way down into the catacombs.
I emerged from the tunnels into the darkened main courtyard. I hoped desperately that no one had seen my entrance as I crept towards Clopin's blue and magenta tent. Drawing the door flap aside, I entered the room to see my king sleeping soundly in his bed, a little frown on his handsome face. Cautiously, I sat down next to him, touching his face gently to smooth away his unhappy expression, as I had done once before. I don't know hot long I sat there, thinking and watching him, but eventually, I fell asleep curled up beside him.
I woke up a few hours later at the touch of a slim hand caressing my cheek. I sat bolt upright and stared at Clopin. He chuckled merrily at my surprise, unable to keep himself from smiling. In spite of the decision I had made in the night, his joy was infectious and I grinned back at him. I pulled out my silver earring, the match to the one I wore, from my belt and presented it to him.
"I love you, too." He took the hoop from me and I watched, fascinated, as he replaced his gold one with the silver. Then I was in his arms and kissing him, with all my heart. Reluctantly, I pulled away and felt the tears begin to stream from my eyes.
"What's wrong, love? You're crying!" He didn't try to restrain me as I pulled away from him and slid off the bed.
"I have to go. We will meet again, no? We are connected, you and I." I turned and strode towards the door. At the exit, I faced him for the last time. "Goodbye."
"Lily?! Where are you going? I don't understand!" He looked lost and frantic but I knew what I had to do. I walked out the door without a look back...
"Lilith!" A voice called out as the girl set down her pen. She bent down and reached into the cradle at her feet for her three month old daughter, Brittany.
"Yes?" Lilith called. A bustling female figure burst through the door.
"Have you finished you writings yet?" The healer's wife took the girl from her mother's arms. Lilith nodded. "May I read it?"
"Yes, go ahead." The older woman settled herself down in a chair with the stack of papers in one hand and the baby nestled in the crook of her other arm. When she had finished, she looked solemnly up at Lilith.
"Why don't you go back to him? You love him enough."
"It's not that simple." Lilith sighed. "Maybe someday I will return to him..."
Well, that's it. Hope you enjoyed it... :o) Want more? Check out the sneak preview of the second, as of yet unnamed, Lily story here.
© Copyright 1997, Sara L. Clay