posted March 1, 1997

The Consequences of Taking a Walk at Night

Chapter Four

The next evening, Melisande was pacing her tent, wondering if Jehan would return at any moment. She hadn't seen him all day. She wanted to talk to him before she went to confront Clopin. Then she decided that maybe she should go on her own. Having Jehan there might complicate things.
With that decision made, Melisande scurried out of the tent and headed toward ClopinĂs abode, going over her motives in her head. She was going to give Clopin a good earful about his cruelty to think about. She was, however, partway in agreement with him; yes, Jehan was a headstrong, daring boy, but that is what he was; a boy, trying to prove to himself and the world the he was a man on his own. Clopin had no right to threaten Jehan like that.
Melisande shuddered as she walked. Clopin had threatened to hang Jehan. For no reasonable crime! She could not understand. Jehan had told her that he and Clopin had their disagreements, but they never really hated each other. However, from the way that Clopin had been talking, it sounded as though he really did mean to hang Jehan in the future!
Melisande hesitated as she approached the blue and magenta tent. What exactly would she say to him? She panicked. He could hang her, too, if he so felt like it. Quickly shoving that thought from her mind, she gathered her wits back together, and, determined, strode into the tent.
Empty. No one there. She stared around in dismay. A neatly made bed lay adjacent to the entrance. Near the far wall was a round table with four low stools around it. At the back of the tent was a high-backed armchair with red velvet cushions. Intrigued, Melisande went over for a closer look.
Fit for a king, she thought as she ran her hand over the smooth, dark wood and onto the soft velvet. Up to the top edge of the backing. She uttered a short cry as her fingers brushed an indentation in the wood. It felt like a definite shape, not just a stab from a knife as she would have expected. Now that she looked at it, she saw three shapes delicately carved into the wood above the cushion. Some type of symbols.
The one on the left was of the sun with beams radiating from it. The right-hand one was of a round planet with a ring around it. And the one in the center. . . Melisande gasped. She recognized the middle symbol. "It cannot be!" she murmured.
Just then someone behind her cleared his throat loudly. "And just what do you think you are doing in here?"
Melisande gasped and whirled around to see Clopin glaring at her inquisitively, his arms crossed, his poise cool. "I was--" Melisande began, but she couldn't remember her reason. The symbol on the chair had been seared into her mind, blocking her thoughts.
Clopin's expression softened, and he smiled kindly. "And what do you find so incredible about this?" He walked over and went around the chair, stopping behind it, and pointed over the backing at the middle symbol.
"It is familiar to me," Melisande blurted unintentionally. Her face grew warm.
"Oh?" Clopin glanced at her in interest. Then he moved around to the front of the chair. He traced the tip of his finger over the curve of a crescent moon with two stars inside the curve. "How so?"
"This." Melisande took something out from under the collar of her dress; a thin silver chain with a small disk attached. She held up the disk to show a symbol in relief on one side. A depiction of a crescent moon with two stars outside the curve.
Clopin's eyes grew wide. "W-where did you get that?" he choked out.
"A woman gave it to me...I had escaped some soldiers and I joined a group of Gypsies who were also fleeing. The woman gave this to me as a token of friendship and to remind me of hope. But then I was separated from her and the others when a band of soldiers discovered us and we ran...I never found what became of them."
Clopin sank down into the chair, letting her words settle over him, a certain blankness of face upon his countenance. Then he spoke quietly, studying her face, and he pointed toward the disk. "Do you know what that symbol means?"
Melisande nodded shortly. "I believe it means 'Daughter of the Stars'."
Clopin nodded, oddly closing his eyes and rubbing his temples. Then he pointed behind him, up at the middle symbol on the chair. "And do you know this?"
Melisande hesitated, then said, "I would imagine it means about the same thing. 'Son of the Stars' perhaps?"
" 'A Son of the Moon' to be exact," Clopin said, his head tilted back slightly. His hand passed over his eyes in a meaningless gesture. Melisande glanced about nervously. What should she say next? She didn't need to worry. Suddenly he blurted out, "That woman -- do you remember her name?"
"I -- uh -- no. . .Um, I don't think she told me."
"Oh, it doesn't matter! I know. . .that woman was my mama." His words were tense but of no particular emotion.
"Th-they said they were running from something bad, but not soldiers," Melisande mumbled.
"I know what they were running from, then..." There was silence for a few moments. Then, as if they had never had that conversation, Clopin said sternly, standing up to pace in front of her, Would you care to explain why you were snooping around my tent?"
"I wasn't snooping!" Melisande snapped thoughtlessly.
A smirk twitched onto ClopinĂs face. "Back to your old self again, eh? Not so afraid of me anymore, no?" He sat down in the chair again, smiling gently. "Have no fear, child. I would never hurt you. Nor Jehan." He looked straight into her eyes. "I know that is why you came here. You were there when we fought, no?"
Melisande nodded, her hands clasped in front of her fretfully. Clopin nodded, sighed, and sat back against the cushions. He continued softly, "I did not mean those things I said to Jehan. I would never want to hurt him. He is like a younger brother to me. I care for his safety. But he is too brash for his own good. Ah, but that is how such young lads are."
He grinned. "Believe it or not, Clopin was like that at one time. But he has grown wiser with time. Jehan has yet to learn." Melisande was silent. Clopin leered at her. "Quiet, eh? I know what you were thinking in coming here. You were going to let that shrew side of you loose on me. Well, I can tell that you agree with me. You have realized Jehan is an impudent boy, no? Don't tell me; you have been around him long enough to know by now."
Melisande sighed and nodded. Clopin stood and motioned for her to sit. She was startled at the sudden gesture, but then she graciously sat in the chair meant only for royalty. Finally she spoke softly, "Jehan told me how you two are friends and that you get into fights sometimes, and that you never really hate each other." She glanced up at him meaningfully. "But the way you threatened him, Clopin. The way you threatened him with death. It froze my blood." A tear came to her eye.
Clopin took in a sharp breath, then lowered himself to his knees so that he rested his head on the arm of the chair. "It froze mine, too, Melisande. Later, I regretted all that I had said. Yet, even as I was walking away, I did not see what I had done."
The tear rolled down her cheek and her lip trembled. Clopin patted her hand reassuringly. Then he said solemnly, "Clopin was wrong, and he realizes he was wrong." He stood and turned away, adding quietly, "But he is not sure if Jehan will forgive him."
He turned back around and asked, "Have you talked to Jehan since the fight? Do you know if he is still angry with me?" His voice was anxious and he tapped his fingers together nervously.
"I -- I have not..." Melisande replied slowly.
"Ah, I would suspect he would disappear after a tussle like that. He is proud boy, and he hates to be insulted. Of course, Clopin would disappear, too, if someone said they would hang him." He shuddered.
Melisande noticed this. "I see very well that you regret what you said. But then why did you threaten Jehan?"
Clopin sighed, almost, inconspicuously, with a hint of impatience. He clasped his hands behind his back and started to pace. "I already said that Jehan is too brazen for his own good. One day he will say the wrong thing to the wrong person. He knows how to get me riled up; and so he was purposely incurring my anger yesterday to see how far I would go to defend myself. Clopin is a proud man as well, and he hates to have his honor hurt. I only let a choice few get away with that; Jehan is not one of them."
He frowned for a moment, but it was too unnatural an expression for him to let it stay long. It gave way to a look of helplessness. He sighed again, then mused, "Jehan has been this way since the first day I met him." Clopin grinned at her. "Has Jehan told you about that? It is an interesting story." Melisande shook her head. Clopin shot her a mischievous leer. "You are strangely quiet. You are finally finding awe in my presence, no?"
Melisande returned the leer. "No."
Clopin let out a laugh. "Well, I see I have met my match. Very well then, Clopin will tell you of how he was introduced to that rascally Jehan whether you want to hear it or not." He grinned again.
"I am very interested," Melisande pointed out brightly, a smile coming to her face. "Please, tell away."
A delighted look played across Clopin's face. He stopped pacing as if to reflect on the memory. Then he began, "I met Jehan on my first day in the Court of Miracles. He was about two years old then. Tripped right over him as he crawled by. The man in charge of the Court at that time -- Jacques -- he laughed then helped me up. He had been showing me around the place, when suddenly this little blond haired rug-rat came along. I instantly took a liking to the baby, brat that he was -- as soon as I picked him up he grabbed the end of my nose and pulled hard. Such uncouth!
"Jacques laughed again. Then he told me of how this odd little one had come to be in amongst the dark features of the gypsies. Jacques himself had seen everything; he had watched from an alley as a man sneaked toward the street corner and dropped a bundle into the gutter. It had been pouring rain, and the water was flowing down the street with the force of a river; the bundle was quickly washed away from the man. The man turned and hurried away without ever glancing back.
"Jacques wasn't usually a nosy man, but when he heard a cry from the bundle he knew he had to find out what it was. He ran after the bundle, and grabbed it just before it fell into a sewer. He unwrapped the blanket to see a tiny baby that was about to start screaming its head off. He quickly wrapped it back up and brought it to the Court of Miracles.
"Now Jacques knew that he could never care for an infant. He did not want to abandon it again, though. He went to every gypsy woman, asking for someone to take in a poor foundling." Clopin shook his head sadly. "No one wanted that boy." He raised his voice to a higher pitch, imitating a woman, "A blond gypsy? Ridiculous! Get that baby out of here!"
His voice went back to normal as he said, "But then Jacques came to Paquette, and, bless that woman, she never could turn away a foundling. I will have you know she helped raise half the children in the Court - Jehan one of them. Of course, they have all been told that they are someone else's child. They all understand.
"And so that is how Jehan grew up, knowing the whole time that he was a foundling. Why hide it," Clopin scoffed. "He knew he wasn't like the other gypsies. We are all dark, mostly black hair and black eyes; he stands out a mile, this strange gypsy boy with blond hair and light skin. But he is one of us, in spirit." Clopin stopped, and waited for her reaction. She remained silent. "Have you nothing to say?" he inquired with anxious expectancy.
"What is there to say?" Melisande mumbled, turned so she sat on the edge of the chair, as if turned away from him. "Such a horrible thing to happen to a baby. . .Being abandoned by his father--"
"We don't know that," Clopin interrupted sharply. "No one knows if the man was Jehan's father."
Melisande was startled by the intensity of his tone. It was as if he did not want the man to be Jehan's father. Melisande glanced up at Clopin to see if his sudden unexplained anger was gone so she could continue.
"What I mean is, if that had not happened to the innocent infant, I would never have met Jehan."
Clopin chuckled. "There is fate, working away even on a mere babe." He put his foot up on the seat of the chair, leaning his elbow on his knee. "Clopin has had fate work on him, oh yes." His voice took on a wistful tone. "Fate is a funny thing, no? Fate mocks love, yet embraces it." A sad look came over his face. "Fate certainly is a strange thing, it is..." His voice trailed off.
Melisande sighed harshly. "Oh, I know how fate can be...especially when it is cruel!"
Clopin placed his hand on her shoulder and said softly, "Now, child. There are reasons why fate does certain things to you and Clopin. It is a test of challenges to show us the many paths to choose. Well, you see what fate has done for you; your earlier years were bad, but now, look at you today." He grinned. "Why, my dear, you have found your true love!"
Melisande smiled up at him. "I guess you are right. That much is right."
A crooked expression overtook Clopin's grin, turning into a half-frown. "But what of Clopin?" he asked in a wistful voice. "Shall fate ever guide him back to his true love?"
Melisande's face grew concerned. "You, Clopin. . ?" she murmured.
Clopin let out an untimely laugh. "And what do you mean by that? Are you thinking Clopin could not fall in love? Ha!"
Melisande's face burned. Then she said, "Well, it is obvious fate had a role in this, I guess."
"You are guessing correctly." Clopin sighed dreamily. "Her name, Samira. . .the most wonderful girl I have ever met..." He grinned at her. "Sounds familiar, no?" He sighed again. "Seeing you and Jehan together reminds me so much of Samira and I..." A faraway look came to his eyes. "Fate brought us together, and fate separated us." Then he shrugged, repeating, "Fate is a funny thing. Perhaps fate will bring our paths together once again, someday. Until then, there is a piece of Clopin's heart missing."
"Will I ever learn what happened?" Melisande wondered out loud.
Clopin grinned once more. Then he winked. "Perhaps."


Coming next: Chapter One of The Tale of a Dream, The Darkness

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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