posted February 15, 1997

The Consequences of Taking a Walk at Night

[Author's Note: Last time I was missing a "I have very little knowledge of gypsy customs" disclaimer, so, here it is!]

Chapter 3

When evening came, the soldiers were waiting in the darkness. Jehan and Melisande found themselves trapped in the church for another night. It did not matter, for MelisandeĚs recovery was slow. She continued to have trouble walking.
By the second evening Melisande was able to walk without hindrance. But once again the soldiers were waiting outside. One false step, and the two would be caught.
Jehan was fed up when the third evening came around. He wanted to get out no matter what. So, in the last remaining moments of daylight, he and Melisande took a risky venture out of the cathedral. As they darted into an alley, the last rays of the setting sun helped to ensure their escape.
Although it did not help when they went below ground. There was no torch near the entrance to the catacombs as there should have been, and Jehan knew they would be lucky if they didnĚt get lost forever.
"I can't believe it!" Jehan cried shrilly, moving slowly through the blackness, holding tightly to Melisande's hand. "How could there be no light?"
"Do you think we will get lost?" Melisande asked meekly.
"No," Jehan said sternly, though he was fighting down a lump in his throat. "I trust my instincts," he whispered, and repeated it in his mind over and over to reassure himself.
However, after a while, Jehan wasnĚt feeling assured anymore. In fact, he was convinced that they were completely and hopelessly lost. But he couldn't tell Melisande that. She was counting on him. Finally, it happened, as he had feared. Melisande whispered, "Are we near to the Court?"
Jehan couldn't stand to lie to her, although he stammered, "Um, close, I'm sure."
Suddenly a voice squeaked out, "Too close!" The two went rigid. There was the sound of splashing footsteps, a shriek as something grabbed Melisande, and a cry from Jehan as he was snagged. Then a torch flared up and the two found themselves surrounded by living skeletons. Melisande screamed and fainted, but was held up by the large skeleton gripping her shoulders.
"Well, well, well," cackled a voice that seemed to come from all around them. "What have we here?" One of the skeletons who had grabbed Jehan's arms - it had been this one's voice both times - suddenly stepped back and pulled off its mask, to reveal Clopin's delightedly surprised face. "Why, if it isn't our little wandering-soul Jehan! So nice of you to return! We were getting worried!" Clopin was grinning from ear-to-ear.
Jehan scowled at him. "Enough with the jokes, my friend," he said coldly. "Your mouth precedes you."
"And suits me," Clopin snapped cheerfully. He raised his hand to stop the skeleton guards who had started to back away. "Wait, men." He pointed to the one holding Melisande and to the two gripping JehanĚs arms. "You, bring the girl. You two, restrain him. He may try to wring my neck by the time I'm through! The rest of you, back to your posts." With a merry laugh, Clopin led the small group to the Court, making terrible jokes at Jehan's expense on the way.
"I saw this coming," Jehan muttered to no one in particular. "I'm just glad Melisande isn't awake to hear this."
Clopin noticed this comment meant to interrupt his running monologue, but he didn't stop. "...And disappearing for three days with a girl - for shame, Jehan! Imagine the ideas people will get about you! What, with admitting you fell in love, and now this! Goodness gracious! Jehan, you rascal!"
A tiny face appeared over Clopin's shoulder. It was his trusty look-alike puppet. "I hardly know what to think!" the puppet-Clopin squeaked.
"I do, but I can't tell you!" Clopin hinted slyly.
"Why not?" the puppet squeaked disappointedly.
"Because. Besides, it is Jehan's private business. Don't be so nosy!" Clopin scolded.
The puppet made a rude gesture over Clopin's shoulder at Jehan. Then its hands clapped together, its mouth pursing. "Kissy-kissy!" it mocked Jehan.
"Oh, quiet," Clopin snapped, bending his other arm back to smack the puppet on the head. "Leave the boy alone."
Jehan gritted his teeth angrily. Then he cried, "Clopin, you are a complete lunatic! You act like that blasted thing has a mind of its own!"
"But I do!" the puppet squeaked sprightly.
"And those brains are about to be scrambled if you don't hush up," Clopin threatened, shaking his finger at the puppet.
"I won"t hush up, and I dare you to do something about it!" The puppet made the same rude gesture at Clopin, its mouth in a sneer.
"Why you insolent little-!" Clopin grabbed the puppet off his hand and shook it violently, then stuffed it into his pocket. "That will teach you," he chuckled.
Suddenly there was a scream behind him. "Jehan!!" It was Melisande.
Clopin whirled around to see the girl staring in terror up at the skeleton guard who was carrying her. "You didnĚt take off your mask!" Clopin scolded, walking backwards. "No wonder!" He laughed.
"Sorry," the guard apologized sheepishly. He pulled off his mask to reveal an embarrassed bearded gypsy.
"Put me down! I can walk!" Melisande protested indignantly. He quickly obeyed. Melisande hurried over to Jehan and tugged on the arm of one of his captors. "What is this?" Melisande demanded. "Let go of him!"
Clopin laughed again. "They would, my dear, but he would probably kill me if he got loose!" Chortling merrily, he continued to walk backward all the way to the Court. Only as he entered the great cavern did he about-face. The others were still in the tunnel as he sang out,

With that Clopin disappeared from sight, leaving his laugh lingering in their ears. The two skeleton guards, laughing mockingly, pushed Jehan down into the dirt, then went back into the tunnel. The boy landed face first, and lay there seething in anger. He lifted is face to show a begrimed scowl, his hands clenched in fists at his sides.
Melisande took his arm and tried to pull him up. He seemed to refuse to move, and she fell to her knees beside him from the effort. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she said bitterly, 'He is very mean to you."
Her glance wandered over the Court, her eyes narrowing as if she were searching for Clopin.
Jehan propped himself up on his elbows, sighing wearily, his scowl fading. "Clopin and I--" he began, then hesitated, then went on, "Well, he and I have a strange relationship. Sometimes he is like a father, then an older brother, then a best friend, then a rival. In the end, though, we are good friends. We will make fun of each other, get angry, but the hatred never lasts." Jehan scowled again. "Although he is really pushing his luck lately."
Melisande crossed her arms huffily. "Maybe I should teach you how to hold a grudge. I certainly wouldnĚt forgive anyone who treated me like that all the time!" She added wistfully, "But the witch hunters are definitely worse than him. . .They deserve to be hated forever."
Jehan sat up and dusted off the front of his shirt, chuckling smugly, "Him and that dumb puppet. I can't believe he thinks he has actual conversations with that thing. I'm glad you didn't hear what he was saying. He thinks he's such a riot." Jehan stood up, his scowl returning once more. "If he thought that was funny, heĚs dead wrong!" he snarled mercilessly, "I'd like to hang him and that blasted puppet along side him!"
Melisande couldn't help laughing. "Now I'm sure I don't want to know what he said."
"And I"m not going to tell you!" Jehan shook his head, muttering, "Some friend he is." Then he smiled sheepishly. "Well, as long as he doesn't turn it into a story for his puppet show, I guess it didn't do any harm." He added in a mumble, "Except to my reputation..."

* * * * * *

Over the next few days Clopin avoided Jehan as best he could, after he remembered how vengeful the usually jovial boy could be. Then one fine evening Clopin happened to wander under JehanĚs tight-rope and have a shadow fall over him. He glanced up to see the lad tottering across the rope, once more without a balancing staff, a wide grin on his elfin face.
Clopin put his fists on his hips and called up to him, "Hallo there, friend! Still wishing to hang me and my puppet?"
"Maybe," Jehan replied, still grinning, pretending he didn't care how Clopin had known that.
"In that case, I think I'll leave." Clopin was about to launch into a run for his life as he recalled the last time JehanĚs shocking rage had been unleashed on him. But then he stopped, a look of surprise coming over his face as he caught the gleam of gold by Jehan's left ear. "Oh-ho! WhatĚs this? What a fine golden earring! Why, my dear Jehan, you never had a pierced ear before."
"That is because I never had a reason to before."
"What? Of course you did! You're one of the Gypsies! It's a custom!"
Jehan seemed not to have heard him, making his way over to the torch holder. "Besides," the youth went on, oblivious to his friend's shocked reaction to his next words: "Melisande gave it to me. When we were in the church. It's the match to hers, and I don't have a pair to share with her."
Clopin was shocked into speechlessness at the boy's non-chalant manner. Then he narrowed his eyes, leaning his elbow on the railing of the haycart. "Well, I always knew you were going to be an odd one," he said dryly.
Jehan's expression fell to surprise at the sting in Clopin's tone. His arms flailed frantically and he bent over in a convulsive spasm as he struggled to regain his balance. He ended up clinging upside-down with his arms and legs wrapped around the rope. "And what, exactly, was that supposed to mean?" Jehan demanded angrily.
"Only that it is more traditional for the boy to give the earring to the girl," Clopin replied calmly.
"Phooey on tradition!"
"Why you-!!" Clopin stamped his foot in outrage. He narrowed his eyes and pointed accusingly at Jehan. "How dare you!! We accept you into this tribe, and you dare to mock us!"
Jehan let out an insolent little laugh and said, "How dare you! I was here before you!"
"And I was much older than you!" Clopin shot back. "And I still am! Besides that, I was born a Gypsy! You will never be one of us!"
"Not by blood!" Jehan proclaimed with a careless boldness, "but you forget I am sworn by spirit! And by my mother!"
"She isn't your real mother," Clopin sneered.
"At least mine is here, foster or not!"
Clopin flinched. Jehan smirked. Clopin's voice lowered. "At least I wasn't abandoned by my parents."
"I wasn't abandoned! Shut up!" Jehan snarled shrilly.
Clopin's expression was cool. "Then don't mock my gypsy family. And don't mock our customs."
"It isn't - I - Oh! I didn't mean it that way!" Jehan grumbled, trying to climb back up onto the rope.
Clopin went back to leaning on the railing of the haycart, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "Hmm, well, then, what did you mean?" he asked suspiciously.
"That it doesn't matter to me." Jehan sneered at him.
"Then what does?"
"Why do you care? It's my private business, anyway!"
"I would like to see you justify your reasoning." Now it was Clopin's turn to sneer.
"Fine, then," Jehan sniffed, finally succeeding in standing on the rope. "I love her and she loves me. That is what really counts."
"Suit yourself. But I wouldn't go telling anyone else that if they asked the same, if I were you," Clopin retorted. Then he turned and started to walk away.
"Well, you're not me!" Jehan shouted after him.
"I am glad I am not you!" Clopin shot back vehemently.
"I could find a better use for this rope, you know!" Jehan called spitefully.
Clopin whirled around and came back over, pointing accusingly up at Jehan. "Don't threaten me, lad. You walk a dangerous line saying that."
Jehan smirked. "I'm good at tying a noose." He sniggered.
"Remember who is in power here," Clopin growled. "I can kick you out of here so fast you won't know what hit you."
"Just try!"
"And when you have no where to hide, you will get a taste of the real hangman's noose!"
"I can outwit those twits any day!" Jehan bragged.
"Well, you cannot outwit me," Clopin snapped. "One day you shall slip, Jehan, and you shall find yourself caught in a noose - theirs or mine!" So saying he turned and stormed away.
"And someday you will find yourself in your own noose, Clopin!" Jehan yelled after him, nearly falling off the rope again.
Neither of them knew that Melisande had overheard the entire conversation. She hadn't liked what she had heard. She shuddered at the thought of how Clopin had threatened Jehan.

Coming Next: The 4th chapter of 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