posted February 8, 1997
Where are we now? wondered the girl in the back of the wagon. It bumped and jolted as it sped down a street. Cobblestones,
she thought.I know that feeling.
And she didn't like it. Being jostled around was one thing. By now she knew the feeling of being bumped over every street in France. It was most uncomfortable. But what was more uncomfortable was the cord digging into the skin of her wrists. The ropes had been tied too tightly. Ah, but then again, what did they care for her comfort? They had promised to protect her from the soldiers who were hunting her, but now they only wanted to get rid of her. They had come to believe the rumors of her being a witch, as well.
A witch! she scoffed to herself. An excuse. They couldn't accuse me of being a gypsy. They don't think I look like one. She smirked, knowing no one could see her scorn since a blanket was covering her entirely. But I am a gypsy. I was born a gypsy. I just don't look it. Brown hair, somewhat unusual for a gypsy... Dark green eyes, a bit hazel... and pale, pale skin. Her smirk grew. That always throws them off. Then her face turned bitter. If only they knew why I am so pale...
She let out a gasp as a man's voice suddenly growled, "You get off here, you little wretch!"
She was only able to utter a weak cry as she was thrown from the back of the cart, blanket and all. She landed hard, striking her head on the wet ground. It had been raining, she realized. She felt consciousness slipping away from her.
But then she heard voices, and she struggled to decipher them from the whispers in her head. Ah, now she could see them, from under the edge of the blanket; two men, each wearing a hooded cloak that hid his clothes and face. They didn't seem to notice her. The taller one was bending over to retrieve his hat from a puddle.
"Next time we'll wear brighter colored clothes!" the shorter one joked, straightening his cloak.
"Yee-uck," replied his companion, wringing his hat out, a ragged-looking, bluish sort with a frayed yellow plume.
"I wonder what that was all about?" The shorter one said thoughtfully.
"I don't really care," snorted his friend, pushing the hat on under the hood of his cloak.
The girl narrowed her eyes, trying to see them better. Were they drunkards? Would they just ignore her? She hoped they would just leave...or did she? She wasn't going anywhere, that was for sure -- her ankles were bound along with her wrists. Maybe they could untie her...or maybe they would do something worse...
Suddenly she felt a wave of dizziness hit her. Her head hurt so much...
Come what may, she was doomed anyway. She let the blackness surge over her brain, losing all sensation. Unconsciousness swallowed her up for a while.
No...no, can't...black out...Mustn't let them...No...They could be witch hunters...Oh!
The girl uttered a soft moan. Then she opened her eyes. She gasped when she saw a strange, mischievous face leaning over her. She screeched in a desperate tone, "No! No! Please! Keep away from me!"
The face drew back quickly. It belonged to a young man. Her first reaction was to edge away from him. Suddenly she realized that her arms and legs were no longer bound. Her hands slipped on the wet cobblestones of the alley. She warily studied the young man. He had ruffled yellow-blond hair that gave him the appearance of an unruly student. He had a small triangle of a nose and pencil-line eyebrows expressing surprise. He had mischievous green eyes. There was a startled look on his face.
"Hey, calm down!", he cried in a shrill voice. "I won't hurt you!" He put his hands up in front of him as if in defense.
The girl continued to edge away from him, her expression terrified. She glanced up at the other man, also in fright. His face was exposed, too. His features contrasted drastically with his companion's. He was dark, with sleek black hair and thick black eyebrows above sharp black eyes. His pointed nose jutted out of his face arrogantly. A short, pointed goatee made his thin face look even more narrow.
But it was the gleam of gold by his ear that presently caught her attention. And calmed her. "Oh, I thought you were the witch hunters," she breathed out weakly. She let her head fall back in relief. "You are gypsies...Thank goodness..." However, she was still wary of them. They were still strangers. She hadn't spoken to another gypsy in at least a year. And this was peculiar; well, the younger one was peculiar. A blond gypsy? Fair skin, too. If she didn't know any better, she would think he was a regular Parisian student, not a gypsy at all! But what about the other man?
Just as she was thinking this, the taller man spoke up, nodding solemnly, "Yes, gypsies...You have heard some terrible things about gypsies, no?"
"I have," the girl replied warily, moving her gaze from the sky back to his face. He does not realize that I am a gypsy, too. Good. I will keep him guessing.
The man's eyes seemed to light up with a hint of glee. "Like thievery...magic...and...cannibalism?" He grinned maliciously, showing his sharp canines.
The girl shuddered and began to edge away from them again. "Oh, no..." she gasped, her face full of fear.
The blond man elbowed his friend roughly. The other man responded with a hoarse laugh. "It was a joke! It was a joke!"
The blond man now shot him a reproachful glare and, seeing the girl's fright, scolded, "Nice going. Just terrify her to death. That's real good for our image!" Then he turned to the girl, a kindly smile overtaking his scowl. "Don't be afraid. He is only kidding. Those are all lies. We gypsies only entertain with humorous performances. I am a tight-rope walker; he is a puppeteer and an acrobat, although he isn't in very good humor tonight!" The blond man laughed, a boyish laugh. The sound made her shudder again, but not from fear.
"Hurmp!" The other man grunted indignantly, crossing his arms and scowling.
The girl stared at the ground while she considered the young man's words. Could she believe him? Were they friendly? Or was it a trick? She bowed her head sadly, letting her shoulders sag. She had not talked to anyone who had turned out to be truly trustworthy in a long time...she was so tired of being lied to....all around her were lies...Could she start believing someone now?
The blond man interrupted her thoughts by asking quietly, "So, um, what is your name?"
She looked up at him in surprise. "What?"
"I asked what your name is," he repeated, a strange look in his eyes as he gazed at her in an unnerving way.
"Melisande," she replied softly. "And yours?"
"Jehan." He grinned loftily, then jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. "He's Clopin." This only solicited a grumble from the latter.
"Um, nice to meet you...I guess." The girl blushed, finally bringing color to her pale face. "I mean, I don't know if you are friend...or foe..."
In an impetuous, bold move, Jehan took her hand in his. "Friend, I hope," he said softly. Their gazes locked. Melisande's heart flip-flopped. She had to admit he was handsome, in a boyish, elfin way. What was that look in his eyes? She felt ready to swoon. She had never seen such a soft, caring look.
Clopin was quick to interrupt. "We have to get out of here! If anyone sees us, we will be caught! You know, Jehan, that there are still soldiers around who would like to see every gypsy hang!"
"I know," Jehan replied, slowly rising. He helped Melisande stand. She leaned unsteadily on his arm.
"That's right!" she gasped, panic overtaking her. "Where will I go now? They will hang a supposed witch before they hang a gypsy!" She moaned helplessly, turning away from Jehan to bury her face in her hands. "Oh, how did this all start? I can't remember anymore!" She sobbed loudly, feeling ready to crumple to the ground in her grief. "I don't belong anywhere!"
Jehan gently put his hand on her shoulder. "You could belong here," he said softly.
Melisande lifted her tear-stained face to stare at him. "What do you mean?"
Jehan smiled warmly. "Come with us. To the Court of Miracles. It's a place for gypsies, vagabonds, and outcasts alike. Everyone fits in there." He tenderly brushed away her tears. "And you will be safe from harm there."
"You really mean it?" Melisande asked, a hopeful gleam in her eyes. But her face was still troubled. She frowned. "It sounds too good to be true."
"It is the closest thing to sanctuary next to Notre Dame," Jehan endorsed. He winked and added, "Only we are more choosy about who enters."
Melisande gulped. "Who says who can enter?"
"Why, the King of the Court, of course," Jehan replied with a flourish, and he shot a grin at Clopin. "Don't worry," Jehan said, boldly putting his arm around her shoulders, "The king is a very good friend of mine. We will sneak you in, no problem."
Clopin rolled his eyes, though he went unnoticed. He pulled the hood back over his head as he followed Jehan through the streets to the Court of Miracles. Melisande wasn't sure what to make of the odd feeling that came from the warmth of Jehan's arm around her shoulder.
But she knew fear very clearly when Jehan suddenly stopped and clamped his hands down on her shoulders roughly. There was a hard look on his face as he glared at her. Anger suddenly replaced her fear as she narrowed her eyes at him. "What kind of 'Court of Miracles' is this?" she asked suspiciously.
"A secret one, Jehan whispered, his expression becoming soft again, removing his hand to press a finger to his lips.
She tried to pull away from him. "Let go of me," she said in a low, menacing tone. "I don't want anything to do with your 'Court of Miracles'!"
But Jehan only steadied his hold on her shoulders. "Don't be so afraid," he scolded gently. His warm smile never failed to send a chill through her heart. "Trust me, Melisande. Please, say you trust me."
She hesitated, gazing at him with uncertainty. There was that strange look in his eyes again; it melted her heart. She smiled timidly. "Okay, I trust you." With those words said, something came down in front of her face and covered her eyes. Clopin had quickly tied a purple handkerchief around her head. She couldn't see a thing. "What-? Jehan!" she gasped, her voice welling up with outrage. "I trusted you!"
"You can," Jehan reassured, taking her hand in his. "This is just a precaution. Don't worry, I'll guide you." He squeezed her hand comfortingly.
Well, not really comforting. Or at least she didn't feel comforted. She felt terrified. And hopeless. Oh, forget it! she cried to herself. Why do I bother? It had all been a trick. They were probably hauling her off to the gallows. Those witch hunters were getting better -- pretending to be gypsies to trap real gypsies. She should have figured from the start. Whoever heard of a blond gypsy, anyway? She should have just gotten up and run from them instead of being so gullible -- imagine, actually thinking she had found someone she could trust! Ha! What a joke!
Presently she felt a rush of cold water flow around her ankles, jolting her from her thoughts. How far had they traveled? Where exactly were they? She heard the echo of their footsteps as if they might be in a tunnel of some kind. That was all she heard; the splash of steps through puddles. Then she stopped short at the sound of a gruff voice.
"Halt! Who goes there!"
"Back off, you knave!" was the nasally reply. "Sheathe that sword! It is I, Clopin!"
"Forgive me, sir," the gruff voice came humbly.
Then Melisande was guided forward. Soon the murmur of many voices reached her ears. Then the blindfold was taken off and before her was the Court of Miracles in all its decorative glory.
"Oh, wow," she managed to choke out, becoming speechless in awe, trying to take in everything at one time; the rich colors of the curtains hanging down from the ceiling and the walls, the brightly colored tents and the numerous wooden carts between them. And the people! So many...It was like a regular town. Only she knew they were below ground.
"It's quite a place, isn't it," Jehan agreed. His hand still rested on her shoulder.
"By the way, Melisande," Clopin put in, a sneer on his face, "If you try to get out of the Court alone, you will end up lost in the catacombs for quite some time, so I don't suggest you try to leave." He turned on his heels and walked away.
Jehan shook his head, smiling, sighing. "Don't mind him. Come on, I'll show you to where you can stay until we see about getting you a place of your own." He took her hand and proceeded to show her around the Court. "You have to meet this really great friend of mine," he babbled, "She is the most beautiful dancer you will ever see!"
At the word dancer Melisande stopped short, jerking Jehan to a halt.
"What is it?" he asked, startled. She was on the verge of tears, he saw.
Melisande reached up to wipe her eyes, then noticed that he was holding onto her hand tightly. She tugged her arm away. "I think you should keep your hands off me," she said coldly. "I am too young for you." Her lip tightened into a small sneer.
Jehan stepped back and laughed. His eyes twinkled merrily. "Oh, really now? And how old do you think I am?"
"Too much older to be coming on to a girl my age!" she snapped.
He laughed again. "That isn't very accurate! How about a number?"
"How about this instead?" She put a fist in his face.
"Whoa, hey, all right. I get the message." Jehan backed away, holding his hands up in surrender.
Her face softened slightly and she muttered, "I don't like to be touched, okay?" She let her hands fall to her sides.
"Okay, okay," Jehan agreed. He walked ahead of her and motioned for her to follow. She kept several steps behind. As they walked, she noticed that other people around them had noticed her presence and were looking for a closer glimpse. She hastily lessened the distance between her and her guide.
"Seventeen," Jehan suddenly called back to her.
"What?" she answered, startled. Was he trying to guess her age? Close, but not quite right.
"I am seventeen", he repeated.
"Wha-?" She couldn't help gaping at him. He was only a seventeen-year-old boy? He had seemed older.
"What about you?" he asked.
"None of your business!" she snapped.
"Oh." His tone was hurt. She didn't care.
Presently he turned toward a purple and green tent. "This is where my friend lives," he said shortly. Then he called out, "Hallo! Anyone home?"
There had been voices coming from within. They stopped at Jehan's call. Someone groaned loudly and complained, "Oh, not you again!" Melisande surprised herself by recognizing it as being Clopin.
Jehan pushed back the tent flap and went in. Melisande hesitantly followed. She saw two people sitting at a low table. "Can't get awayfrom you today, can I, eh, Jehan?" Clopin said with a sneer. He was tipped back in a chair with his feet up on the table. Melisande snickered at the sight of his floppy, curl-toed shoes.
The woman sitting across from him smiled. Melisande admired her bright green eyes and flowing black hair, impressed by the large gold hoop in her ear and the complementing style of her white, green, and purple dress. Melisande now saw what Clopin had had on under his cloak; a rather ragged-looking purple-and-blue outfit, with that matching hat tilted far back on his head. His arms were folded across his chest, and Melisande could not help but notice the black gloves that went up nearly to his elbows, an odd touch to his outfit.
Jehan went over to the woman and flashed her a dashing grin. He likes her, Melisande snorted to herself. Any man would. She is beautiful. I can't compete with her...But why would I? That was an odd thought. She is older than him anyway, I can tell. She glanced down at the brown rags covering her. Definitely can't compare like this... She had her own clothes hidden, but she would wait to reveal her true gypsy nature later.
Jehan lowered himself to one knee and took the woman's hand to kiss it. "Esmeralda, my sister, meet Melisande. Clopin and I found her in an alley above-ground."
Sister?! Melisande could hardly keep her jaw from dropping. That is the oddest pair of siblings I have ever seen!
Clopin seemed to have noticed her shock when he looked straight at her and said quite simply, "They are both foundlings."
Jehan stood and swept back his cloak. Melisande was surprised to see that his clothes were nothing like normal gypsy dress. His shirt and pants were plain, beige and brown respectively. His shoes were simple, brown as well. Then again, her own shoes were brown. Melisande thought of him as even more of an outsider to the gypsy world now. How could he have just called Esmeralda his sister? She had fine dark skin, where as he had a light tan coloring. But Melisande herself was paler than he...
"Come sit down," Esmeralda invited, gesturing to the chair next to her. At her sharp glance Clopin slid his legs under the table.
But Jehan interrupted, standing. "No, sorry, we can't stay. I just wanted to introduce you. We have to find a place for Melisande to stay."
Clopin chortled at some secret joke. "Why not your tent?"
Jehan shot a glare at him. Clopin burst into a hysteric laugh. Jehan ignored him and hurried back to Melisande. "Come on, let's go." He took her arm to lead her out of the tent.
But she jerked away from him, tugging her arm from his grasp. "I told you to keep your hands off me!" she screeched.
Clopin chortled again. "Saucy one, isn't she, Jehan?" he snickered.
"You keep quiet!" Melisande snapped at him, feeling her anger take control.
"Oh-ho!" Clopin cried, clearly amused. "Why, she even talks back to a king! My, my! What a find we have here, Jehan!"
The boy had his hands clenched in fists at his sides. Melisande backed away from him. He looked frightfully angry. Her own anger was subsiding. But then Jehan relaxed, his shoulders sagging.
"King? Did you say king?" Melisande found herself asking as she turned to stare at Clopin.
"Indeed," he replied, nodding. With lightning speed he leapt up and produced a dagger from out of nowhere, stabbing the blade into the table top. "You have the dishonor to have met the King of the Court of Miracles!" He leered at her menacingly and pulled the dagger from the table, waving the blade at her.
Melisande's hands flew up to her throat as she gasped and started to back away. Clopin laughed, a confusingly cheerful sound. He slipped the dagger into a sheath on his belt and then sat down. "Do not fear, my dear! You are welcome here!"
Melisande lowered her hands, but she did not reply. She just stood there, not knowing what to say or do. "Speechless, I see," Clopin said indifferently, putting his feet up on the table again, "In the presence of royalty. Very good."
Jehan let out a snort of disgust. "Why do you bother, Clopin! You are the king of the dirt! Why frighten the poor girl for nothing?"
Clopin shot him a questioning look. Then he took out his dagger again and stuck it in the table. He turned it back and forth, as if to whittle a hole in the table top. "What has become of you now of late, Jehan?" he asked calmly. "You have not been acting like yourself today. Very strange, very strange."
He suddenly grabbed up the dagger in his fist and leered at Jehan. "Or could it be...because of our little guest here?" Now he was grinning widely.
Jehan felt his ears burn. He turned away so Melisande wouldn't see him blush. Clopin sniggered. "Shut up! Just shut up!" Jehan screeched, whirling around to glare at Clopin.
Clopin gave a start, dropping the dagger. Then he smiled. "Calm yourself, lad. It isn't wise to yell at your elders."
Jehan felt helpless to say anything. He turned round again and gestured for Melisande to follow him. "Would you like to go now? If not, I'll leave you with this old fool." He trudged out of the tent, his shoulders sagging.
Melisande felt a strange twinge of guilt, feeling as though she had hurt Jehan. But why shouldshe care? No one had ever cared about her before...Then she remembered the strange look in Jehan's eyes when he looked at her. She ran after him. "Wait, Jehan!"
He kept walking. She hurried after him. When she caught up to him, she put a hand on his arm to stop him. He seemed startled by her touch. Then he turned to look at her. She drew back and gazed at the ground. "Jehan, I--" she stammered. Why did her mouth feel so dry all of a sudden? Finally she choked out, "I am sorry. I am not good at trusting people. I did not mean to be so cold."
Jehan stood stiffly staring at her for a moment. Then he turned away, running his fingers back through his hair. "Aw, that's okay. I am too bold for my own good anyway. I am the one who is sorry. Forget me. You are better off finding a better friend here."
"But--" Melisande stopped, biting her lower lip. Now she really felt guilty. What could she say to him? No, she felt stung. Why didn't she just go off on her own, as usual, anyway? She always ended up on her own at any rate.
Jehan started to walk away again, staring at his shoes, his arms hanging limp at his sides. "Jehan, please, wait," she called softly. This time he stopped. What to say now? she wondered. Finally she gulped, then went up to him and took his arm, smiling meekly. "I think I might need a guide to help me find my way around my new home."
At this Jehan brightened, a smile curving onto his face. He bowed with a flourish and said, "Zis way, Mademoiselle." Melisande giggled at his exaggerated accent, and graciously took his arm when he offered his hand. Maybe she could trust him, after all...
She just happened to glance back once and notice that Clopin and Esmeralda seemed to be following them. Melisande shrugged it off and tried to pay attention as Jehan introduced her to every other person they came across that he knew. She would mumble a greeting and keep her eyes on the ground. She felt awfully shy at that moment. Or maybe flustered by the number of people who were friends with each other. She had never had very many friends, practically none at all. She was lucky she knew what the word meant.
Finally they came to an orange and yellow tent. "Here we are, home-sweet-home." Jehan held open the tent flap to reveal miscellaneous disarray: curtains sagged downward; blankets were scattered over the floor. The furnishings were few; a makeshift bed was adjacent to the entrance. A large round mirror with a crack in the top edge sat on a rusted brass stand. This, in turn, was placed on a high table with wooden slat supports across notches in the makeshift legs; actually, it looked more like an odd bookcase than a table.
"Well, make that home-messy-home," Jehan admitted sheepishly. "But it is nice once you get used to it." Melisande hesitantly went inside. Jehan glanced behind him and smiled to see Esmeralda and Clopin there. Jehan called after Melisande, "You get settled in. I want to talk to Esmeralda about something."
Melisande was about to reply, but he had already left the tent. She shrugged and went over to the mirror to see how haggard she looked this time. Usually after a good run from the soldiers she looked quite a mess. This time was not that different. Her hair was disheveled and tangled; her eyes looked a bit hollow, her face drawn with the years of grief and fear; of course she was always too, too pale... then there were her clothes.
Uttering a cry of disgust she pulled the torn rags off to reveal her only good piece of clothing: a light green dress with a pink bodice. She cast her eyes downward as she tried to disentangle a silver necklace from a blue ribbon on the bodice. When it was loose, she quickly slipped it over her head. Then she struggled to unhook another metal object from the ribbon tied around it; a single gold loop earring, which she raised to her right ear.
A gloved hand clamped down on her shoulder as soon as she had put the earring in. Melisande let out a weak cry of surprise. Then she raised her eyes to the mirror.
Clopin stood behind her, a fierce scowl contorting his features. He had slipped away from Jehan and Esmeralda unnoticed when he had seen and recognized the style of Melisande's dress. He whirled her around to face him. "You lied!" he cried in fury.
Melisande tried to pull away from him, but he gripped her shoulder. "What are you talking about?" Her expression was startled, but quickly turned to anger. "Let go of me!"
"I don't like liars," Clopin said through clenched teeth.
"What do you mean?!"
"Look at you! You lied! You are a gypsy!"
"What of it?! Let go!" she shrieked.
But he only tightened his grip. "Back in the alley! You were afraid of us! But you are one of us! That act was all a hoax!"
"It was not!" Melisande shouted indignantly. "I was afraid of what you said, and what you did!"
"I only said I was a supposed witch! I said nothing about being a gypsy!"
"Exactly! Why did you not just tell us you are a gypsy, hmm!"
"But that isn't lying!" Melisande tried once more to jerk away. "Let go of me!" she screamed.
"Hey! What's going on in here?" demanded a shrill voice. Jehan rushed over, an angry, confused look wiping off his usual smile.
"He - he accused me of being a liar," Melisande cried out, holding herself limply from Clopin's grasp. Jehan pried the gloved hand off her shoulder and angrily shoved Clopin away. Clopin, as he stumbled backward, suddenly seemed to be just waking up, as he scrunched up his face, then blinked several times as if in a daze.
Jehan quickly turned back to Melisande. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?" He couldn't help letting his gaze wander downward to glimpse her dress.
She shook her head -- no -- to the first question, and nodded to the second with tears in her eyes. She carefully pulled down the collar of her dress to reveal her pale shoulder -- with a bright red mark over it.
Jehan whirled around and shoved Clopin again before he had a chance to recover from the first blow. "What's wrong with you?!" the boy sputtered in fury. "How could you do such a thing?!" He shoved Clopin again, right out of the tent, and followed at his heels as Clopin went sprawling into the dirt.
Melisande glared after them. Such a pity, she thought bitterly. Then she glanced down at the dagger in her hand. Clopin may be on edge, but he still doesn't notice everything, she scorned to herself. She had snatched the dagger from him without him even noticing. Then she became mournful. I was absolutely right when I told them I don't belong anywhere...especially in the world of the living...even other outcasts hate me...
Meanwhile outside, the others around the tent had stopped everything to see what all the commotion was. Clopin had hardly gotten to his feet before Jehan shoved him back down again. "How could you?!" the boy screeched with rage. Just as he was raising his fist to back-hand Clopin, Esmeralda dove between them.
"Jehan, stop!" she cried, frantic. She grabbed his wrist and tried to force him back, while Clopin cowered behind her. Finally Jehan backed off, his face still contorted in hatred.
Esmeralda helped Clopin up. He was actually trembling. He had never seen such rage in Jehan before, never. "Please, please," he choked out, "Please forgive me. I did not realize...I...I just...snapped...for some odd reason." He glanced at Jehan pitifully. He was scared stiff at the force of Jehan's rage.
"Your old mind is snapped!" Jehan retorted angrily.
Clopin winced. Should he just stand there and take that? But he was -- yes, he actually was -- afraid of Jehan for the moment. The boy had also snapped. Clopin managed to mutter, "Please, ask her to forgive me. I don't know what came over me. I -- I am sorry."
"Ask her yourself!" Jehan growled. He disappeared into his tent. Esmeralda and Clopin followed.
But a horrible sight awaited them. Melisande was sitting on the ground on the other side of the tent -- holding the dagger above her, ready to plunge it into her heart.
"Noo!" Jehan cried. He dove for the dagger just as she was about to bring it down. But it dropped from her hand before he reached her, and she limply fell back against the ground, unscathed.
Jehan leaned over Melisande, frightened and worried. She slowly opened her eyes then sat up, a meek smile of scorn for herself crossing her face. Then she whispered, "I wouldn't have done it...I have come so close to doing so, many times before...I do not know what stopped me before...or now..." She buried her face in her hands. "But I just could not..." She shoved her hands down into her lap in frustration at not understanding.
"I am glad you didn't," Jehan said softly, reaching to gently stroke her cheek, his smile becoming suddenly shy. She cringed at his touch, but only looked down at her hands. Then she raised her eyes to his. They gazed at each other for several moments. Then Jehan's expression darkened as he remembered something. With an angry frown he glared over his shoulder. "Clopin wants to ask you something."
Melisande looked to Clopin in interest, her face calm. "Well?"
Clopin, who had been watching the scene in shock - he had caught a glimpse of the dagger -- came over and kneeled beside her, lowering his eyes guiltily. He wrung his hat in his hands. "Um, please forgive me. I don't know what came over me. I am sorry."
Melisande placed her hand under his chin and lifted his face to hers, glaring into his eyes as she said, "You most certainly are!" Then she slapped him across the face. "I forgive you," she added coldly, pushing him away. Clopin was reeling from the slap. His hand went up to his reddened cheek in surprise.
Melisande crossed her arms, her frown bitter. "I know that was disrespectful from a girl of sixteen to a man your age, but I have had enough of being accused and being forced to confess complete and horrible lies." Then she smirked. "You deserved it!"
Clopin was still rubbing his cheek. "Yes, I...guess I did," he agreed with a sigh, sitting back.
Melisande looked back at Jehan. "Now I suppose you will want to know everything about me."
"Certainly," Jehan replied. Melisande nodded, willing to reveal her past. Esmeralda came over to listen, sitting down beside Clopin.
Melisande arranged herself so that she was sitting sideways to them, stretching her right leg out in front of her. "Well, as I have already said, I really can't remember how it all started. I think it began with this." She hitched up her skirt just above her knee and turned her leg so they could see the strange, sickle-shaped reddish mark above the back of her knee.
"They call it the sign of the evil moon, they being the superstitious officials of justice who just happen to hate gypsies. All because of a simple little birthmark they hunt me as a witch! I never did anything wrong, but the accused me anyway. I can't remember what saved me from the gallows... It's all a blur of running, hiding, being caught, escaping..." She sighed heavily. "My life has been such a mess for the past few years. I can't remember anything before that. I don't know where I came from, who my parents are... I'm probably lucky I remember my name...
"When I was caught, more times than I would like to remember, they made me confess to such things as witchcraft, murder, being the Devil's daughter, all those horrible things they can get out of you under the threat of and actual torture. All lies." She glared sharply at Clopin. "I was forced to lie. I don't think I would tell lies all my life when I just wished someone would listen to the truth, would you?" Clopin only lowered his eyes guiltily.
Melisande went on: "And I am not this pale for nothing! I would have a nice color like the rest of you if it hadn't been for...My body went into shock or something from all they've done to me. My skin is practically white as milk and it will always be. My knees are crooked so that I walk funny and I can't dance any more." She heaved a great sigh. "It has been so awful," she whispered, tears welling up in her eyes.
No one knew what to say. Then Jehan put his arm around her shoulder comfortingly. "Don't worry. You will be safe here. I promise I will protect you."
Later Jehan and Melisande were straightening up the boy's tent so that it would look like an actual organized person lived there. Melisande gathered up the scattered blankets and folded them neatly on the bed, while Jehan strung a rope across the tent. Melisande caught a glimpse of him taking a large bundle of orange cloth from behind the mirror. She stopped to watch him unfurl the curtain and watch him set it over the rope so that the ends touched the ground. Then she shrugged and wentback to folding up blankets.
Presently Jehan commented, "Now I know why you reacted like that when I said 'dancer'".
"Yes," Melisande answered dully.
Jehan felt his ears burn. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. You had nothing to do with what happened to me."
"No, I mean I'm sorry for bringing back memories." Jehan's face grew warm. "Er, uh, I mean, I am sorry for what happened to you, but...Well, I would never want to hurt you."
She startled him by asking sharply, "Why?"
"Why?" Jehan repeated in a gulp. "Well -- I--" he stammered. Then he blurted, "Well, you are an outcast just like me. We outcasts have to look out for each other, you know..." He hoped she would accept his explanation. He waited for her reaction. She still had her back to him. His ears burned again and he quickly went back to arranging the orange curtain.
Suddenly Melisande whirled around and demanded, "What are you doing?"
Once again she had startled him. "Well, uh--" Jehan stuttered. But she did not give him a chance to answer.
"Do you think I'm going to stay here with you?!" she demanded, crossing her arms. "Isn't that just a little improper?"
Jehan stared at the ground, feeling his ears burn once more. Finally he said stiffly, almost indignantly, "Well, I don't see why. This will make it as if it is two tents put close together." He raised his head to reveal a cool expression, and he pointed to the orange curtain.
Melisande's arms slowly unfolded and her face lost its anger. A meek smile twitched onto her face. "I guess you have a point there."
Jehan placed his fists on his hips. "Besides, where else did you expect to stay?"
Melisande shrugged, then sank down onto the bed, propping her head up on her hands, and sighed, "I don't know...I am a stranger in a strange place." She mused, "I don't know what the living standards are here."
Jehan laughed, coming over to stand before her. "Is this really a strange place? Have you never seen a gathering of outcasts in one place, such as this, before? It isn't unusual for people with common interests to band together."
Melisande bowed her head and mumbled, "I have never been to any gathering except my own hanging. I was lucky to escape that. Now I want nothing to do with any kind of gathering."
Jehan lowered himself to one knee in front of her, and placed his hand under her chin to lift her face level with his, a reassuring smile belighting his expression. "You are safe here. Always remember that." Then he went back to rearranging the curtain.
Go To: The 2nd Chapter of The Consequences
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(c) 1996-2004 Autumn Loweck. This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. All characters are property of Autumn Loweck (aka Shiri), unless specified otherwise, and may not be "borrowed" or mentioned in other works without notifying the author first