posted August 11,1998

The Tale of The Circle

[To my beloved.]

Chapter Two - Decisions, Decisions

Melisande lay still and pale as ever on the bed, seeming to be asleep, yet seeming to not be breathing. Jehan sat slumped over at the foot of the bed, appearing to be asleep as well. However, he was wide awake, as he had been for the past three days since finding Melisande in the tunnels. He didn't respond to much, having not taken sleep or food, nor had he ventured out of the tent in that time. Bruno was no where to be found, and confronting Paquette had left the kind woman in fearful tears and Jehan in fear-inspiring fury. There was nothing to do but worry for Melisande and wait for Paquette's errant son to show his hated face. The blond gypsy stared at the worn cobblestones and wondered why these things always happened to him, and why could he not live his life in peace with Melisande and always be happy...
Jehan uttered a groan that fell to a whimper. His head hurt, but he knew why. He felt lonely. In the same three days, none of his friends had called on him; besides that if he had gone out, he probably would have avoided them.
The young man soon fell into darkness and so he did not notice the shadow against the tent's entrance. One tent flap was lifted, and half of Clopin's wary face was revealed. Seeing that the boy was not immediately alert, Clopin entered, slowly, silently. He carried a plate of food over to the small table, set it down, then tiptoed toward the bed. He looked Melisande over, his gaze settling on her face. He was just as worried about her as Jehan was, although he had found something more constructive to do with his time. Ah, to be a mere peasant in the Court of Miracles...but a king had plenty of things to tend to.
Sighing, he nudged Jehan's side with a booted foot. "Come, lad, it is morning. Time to walk the tightrope again." When he received no response, he lowered himself to one knee before the boy and took him by the shoulders, shaking him gently. "Jehan?" He grimaced when he saw the angry bruise on the blond gypsy's forehead. Jehan's eyes were open, though distant, as if he could not see Clopin at all. "Jehan, do you hear me?"
A fire of recognition suddenly appeared in the boy's eyes. Jehan bolted upright, hands reaching for Clopin's throat. Clopin shoved him down, pinning his arms to his sides. "Find your senses, Jehan! I am not Bruno!" Jehan growled and struggled to free himself. Clopin did not hesitate to slap him across the face. "Hold, boy!" Jehan went limp. Clopin backed off slowly. "That is better," he said, wary.
Jehan sighed, shuddering, closing his eyes for a moment. Then he looked up soberly at the gypsy king. His voice was soft and broken. "Clopin."
The other man clasped his good wrist, hauling Jehan to his feet. "You are in ruins," Clopin said softly. He touched two fingers to the bruise on the young man's forehead. "What did you do?"
Jehan scowled, winced, and turned away. "Nothing," he muttered, rubbing at the purplish mark.
Clopin sighed in exasperation and shook his head. "You cannot keep living like this. Worrying and not taking care of yourself is no help."
"But there is nothing I can do to help," Jehan murmured.
Clopin took him by the shoulders and guided him to the table. "Well, it won't do any good at all if she wakes and you drop dead a moment later. Eat, boy." He used the derogatory term again. "Clopin will worry for you." Jehan slumped into the chair, scowling bitterly. But he reluctantly began to eat, picking the hard crust off a piece of bread and trying not to reveal how hungry he was.
Clopin, meanwhile, paced from one end of the tent to the dividing curtain. Jehan's glare followed the gypsy from under his brow. Clopin spoke hesitantly. "I know something must be done about Bruno..." He coughed and made sure his back was to Jehan before he continued in a very quiet voice. "However, I cannot do anything right now..."
"What?!" Jehan jumped up, knocking the chair over backward. "Why not immediately?!" He swept the plate off the table, just to be destructive.
Clopin winced at the resulting crash and clatter. "I...merely cannot," he said softly, looking at the ground.
"Why?!" Jehan raged, throwing his arms upward in exasperation. "Too many other things to do?" He stepped up to Clopin. The gypsy king's gaze was forced to meet the blond gypsy's snarling visage.
"Jehan," he attempted to sooth.
"Or isn't this important enough?!" Jehan grabbed Clopin by the collar of his cowl, his sneer deepening. Clopin twisted his head to the side, which was as far as he could get in an attempt to draw back. Through clenched teeth, Jehan growled, "I bet you would react faster if it was your own daughter, wouldn't you?!"
His grip on the cloth tightened. Clopin realized that the blond gypsy was tensed to strike. He gasped and shoved Jehan backwards. "Get ahold of your senses, man!" Clopin flung out a hand to stop Jehan from pouncing. "There isn't a thing anyone can do while Bruno is missing, might I mention." He dusted off the offended cowl, whirling around, turning up his nose indignantly.
Jehan glared after him, his chest heaving. He held his hands up in front of him as if ready to tear something apart. Then he jerked his gaze toward the bed, and the motionless figure there. "W-w...w-what if she doesn't wake..?" he coughed out weakly. Then he fell to her side, uttering a cry of despair that dwindled to a helpless choked sob. If only he hadn't left her alone...He should have known better...
Clopin clasped his hands tightly behind his back. Neither of the youths deserved this...Melisande had her perfect savior in Jehan, and the boy had a good lady to keep him in line...No, no, he wasn't a boy any longer...Clopin pondered for a moment, then tried to remember what he himself was doing when he was Jehan's current age...Abruptly the cry of anguish echoed back at him, in his own voice, and he recalled with frightening clarity what he was doing twenty years ago...
Hiding in the tent they had given him, he paced tirelessly, sometimes tugging on his hair, other times twisting the black gloves between his scarred hands. They had found nothing, no trace, no path, no clues. Only a torn scarf...He tortured himself with scenerios where he rescued her, defeating all the enemies. Or by avoiding the pit. Or coming with a rescue party from the Court and finding the enemies before they could go two steps from where he had seen them last...And the child...The child he had found out about only that morning...An innocent lost because he could not get back to her in time...He would pace faster, murmuring prayers for her safety in mad-like tongue...
Clopin drew in a sharp breath, jerking his head up. No, no, no...Heaven and all other great powers forbid Jehan to fall to his fate! It was too much to bear, and Clopin would not wish it on anyone else...He hastily wiped away the tears that had formed, and swallowed the sob that had been about to burst free. He had his children to watch over, there was time for grief later. It was always later. "Jehan..?" he called softly.
The young man was slumped awkwardly over the bed, Melisande's head cradled in his arms. "What if she doesn't wake, Clopin?" he choked out. "How could a little faint do this? What if she was ill the whole time.." He was whispering his fears aloud. And he was afraid, afraid that she had been ill all along, and Bruno's huntings had made worse the sickness. But what was it? ...And when would she recover from it?!
It was then that he thought he felt a slight movement near him. He drew back quickly, daring to hope he wasn't imagining things. He remained frozen for a long moment before he noticed her lips part and her chest move in shallow breathing. "Melisande?" Something fluttered within his chest -- hope, fear, anger, sorrow, all of it, plus the worry of imagining things. Then he clasped her face between his hands and kissed her, hopefully. A startled sound came from her. Her eyes flitted open, and there was a smile in the next sound. He drew back long enough for her to sigh in relief, "Jehan, it's you..." and then she pulled him to her again to continue the kiss, her hand tightly gripping his shirt sleeve.
Clopin turned his gaze to the ceiling, hiding his relief with irritation, stating dryly, "I suppose I had better leave now. Quickly." He started toward the exit. As an afterthought, he added with a sigh, "You two need to stop taking turns standing at Death's door..."
Jehan hastily, though gently, broke the kiss, easing Melisande away. "Not so fast," he said softly. "Now we have the victim to tell all." His expression hardened as he swung a glare at Clopin. "To convict."
Clopin sighed, returning to his usual pacing. "Of course Bruno will be dealt with...As soon as he is found and brought to Paquette."
Jehan mouthed the first syllable 'Pa' before he jumped up to stare Clopin down. "No," he said slowly, "He will hang as soon as he is found, damn you!"
Clopin flinched. Carefully he stepped back and folded his arms across his chest, lifting his chin. "You would spite your mother in such a way..?"
Jehan clenched his fists, although helpless fire rage in his eyes while his glare tried to burn a hole in Clopin. He knew he could make no reply. He settled for a growl as he turned back to Melisande.
The gypsy king continued putting a rut in the floor. "I am thinking of quicker solutions, mind you." He paused in his pacing for the briefest moment. "I don't know what you will agree too."
"Say your ideas, old fool," Jehan grumbled. He glared at the floor. "We don't seem to have much choice but to hear you out."
Clopin paced some more, paused thoughtfully as if to say something, then resumed pacing. "Well," he stammered, "I think it would be best if you considered...Marriage."
"Marriage?!" the two exclaimed at the same time. They stared at each other then at Clopin.
"It is about time," he encouraged with a somewhat feeble grin. They sort of gaped at him. "Well, he never goes after married women, does he?"
Melisande muttered sourly, "Nor Shiriluna..."
A look of outrage swept across Clopin's face. He sputtered vehemently, "And if it was Shiriluna instead of you, Jehan would be telling me I could not hurt Paquette!"
"Marriage?" Jehan said blankly, looking slightly dazed. Melisande frowned.
"You are already living together," Clopin said flatly. "And," he added more softly, "You are in love. There is no reason not to be wed." He winked. "I think it has been long overdue." A broad grin slid over his visage.
"Uhhh," Jehan said intelligently. Melisande's expression showed the conflict warring within her.
Clopin noted the reactions and shook his head, sighing. He said gently, "You are no longer children. There is no need to worry about this..." He saw that they had much to discuss by themselves. Once again he sighed, then found a path to the exit. "When you decide, come tell me." He gave a last glance at them, and then walked out.
"Marriage," Jehan murmured. He smiled musingly. "Well...Why not?" He glanced over at her, looking a tad sheepish. What he saw shocked him. Melisande was paler than ever; she was staring down at her hands tightly clenched together, and trembling, on her lap. She was obviously not pleased with Clopin's suggestion. But he had to ask anyway. "What is wrong?" He closed a hand over hers.
"I--!" she gasped out. Then she turned a terror-stricken gaze on him. "It is too soon! Too soon for marriage!"
"It has been five years," he said gently.
She tried again, desperately. "We are too young!"
"We are at fine ages for it," he countered, still using a soft, patient tone.
Melisande narrowed her eyes at him. "You have thought about this before, haven't you?"
His gaze was distracted by a flicker of light outside the tent. "Um...Well, I was startled by Clopin bringing it to attention..." He cleared his throat, then looked awkward. Finally he admitted, "But, yes...I have...considered it..." She began to draw back, or at least as well as she could, a wary scowl marring her face. Jehan caught her hand. "My love, I see no reason to wait.." He seemed to hesitate, as if in thought; then he brought her hand up and kissed it. "Melisande, I would have you to wife. Will you take me as a husband?"
There was a tense silence as he gazed longingly into her eyes. She stared back, unreadable. Then she tore her gaze away, expression creasing in shame. She whispered, "Too soon..." Her voice sounded slightly more steady than she thought it would. Her heart pounded painfully. It had been such a serious proposal. How would he react since she refused him, and how many more times would she be afraid to agree...and why was she afraid of being wed?
Jehan merely sat back quietly, slow to loosen his hold on her hand. Too soon... So when would it be the right time. Or, what about the time when it would be too late. He had the urge to shout that at her, but then he wondered why he should yell...He was more disappointed than he had expected to be. He loved her, more than anything, despite any faults, and he wanted to show how dedicated he was. Yelling will get you nowhere, he mused to himself. He mentally shook his head. She will agree in her own time. He had said the words, she merely at any time had to say yes.
And if she says 'no', you fool? What then? The thought flickered through his mind for a brief moment. He froze cold, then shoved the doubts away. She loves me, she will not refuse forever...
He was left with a permanent fear, however.

* * * * *

Wood creaked as the door behind him opened. He ignored it, or at least did not look up from his seat on the wagon's steps. Jehan, hunched over, scuffed his shoe in the dirt. He began to reconsider the wisdom of seeking advice from Phineas -- who had chosen the wrong mystic to fall in love with.
"Well, lad, there is a good way to be tripped on!" came the bard's startled baritone. "I wasn't expecting visitors today." The cheerful, if aging, man hopped down from the stoop to the ground to avoid an attempt of stepping around Jehan, then crouched down to find the blond gypsy's gaze. Jehan purposely kept his head down so his hair would fall over his eyes. "What is the matter, Jehan?" Phineas asked in a tone weighted with concern, free of any teasing.
Jehan sighed heavily. Then he mumbled, "The--the trouble with Bruno..."
"What? What was that?" Phineas leaned closer to hear, and lost his balance in the process. He flung down a hand to brace against the ground, but it was too late as he landed ungracefully on his backside. "Errgh," he said, sitting up more comfortably. He brushed off his trousers, then folded his legs. "I suppose you have some sort of tale to tell," Phineas coaxed after returning his attention to Jehan. The blond gypsy had no comment about the momentary disruption.
"Nothing to tell," Jehan mumbled. "We must find Bruno first...But to stop other problems, Clopin suggested...that Melisande and wed..."
Phineas leapt up with amazing agility for someone his age. "And I take it you agreed? It's about time, lad!" He slapped him on the back enthusiastically. Jehan, not expecting it, fell forward with an "Oof!"
"Err, sorry, lad." Phineas took his arm and helped him up. Jehan dusted off his shirt, looking to the ground to avoid making eye contact. Phineas tilted his head slightly. "I take are not happy with this suggestion..?"
Jehan flopped down onto the steps with a groan. "I -- I don't mind it. I mean, I--Ilike the idea! It's Melisande!" He leaned his head back to stare at the faded green paint on the wagon's overhanging roof, ignoring the wooden step poking into his backside. "She--she is...afraid for some reason that completely eludes me!" He sat up straight, looking at Phineas almost accusingly, as if the bard knew the exact answer.

* * * * *

The bundle was a pleasant weight against her back. Melisande ventured a slight skip in her step as she headed toward Paquette's tent to deliver the mass of patched clothing. Those children certainly outgrew clothes fast enough -- and wore them out in an even shorter time! She swung the bundle off her shoulder when she reached the Court orphanage. "Hello?" she called, putting out a hand to pull back the entrance curtain, "Clothes for the children!"
"Come in!" answered a girlish voice that Melisande recognized as belonging to one of the twins. She grabbed one corner of the bundle and made a show of dragging it in backwards, tugging and gasping as if it was extremely heavy. When she got to the round table that was off to one side, she tossed it up neatly onto the top, right in front of one twin who had her own sewing project strewn across the table. "That much, eh?" the girl laughed.
"And more!" Melisande joined in with a mock-weary expression. Then she asked in a politely quiet tone, "Which one..?"
"Alysia." The twin sighed.
"Sorry," Melisande blurted, her cheeks reddening.
"Oh, no worry." Alysia smiled apologetically. "I suppose if Emiline and I did not act alike when a lot of people were around, it would be easier to tell us apart!"
"It was your idea to play that game," commented an identical voice from a curtained-off area. Emiline emerged from around the side a moment later. Melisande noted that the twins looked different when they wanted to; Alysia had her hair loose, while Emiline's was twisted up in a bun. They both had an air of worry about them, though. Melisande decided to listen before asking. She unwrapped the bundle and took out one piece of clothing at a time to fold it neatly and place in a soon-to-grow stack on the chair beside her. Emiline busied herself at a well-hedged miniature hearth that held the cookfire before saying haltingly, "You didn't have to worry about the--"
"Nonsense," Melisande interrupted, folding a shirt more fiercely than was necessary. The result was more sloppy than it had been when crushed in the bundle. With haste she refolded it, hoping they hadn't noticed her fumbling. "I--it gave me something to do while..." Her voice trailed off. She continued the thought in her head, while Jehan made me stay in the tent two days straight, and he disappeared for the entire time!
Alysia reached across the table to stay Melisande's hand from taking another bit of clothing -- more like to get her attention and keep it. "How have you been feeling, Melisande?" the younger twin asked, her tone inquiring about the past two days since she had woken from the terror-inspired coma.
Melisande's gaze fell to the floor. "Fine, I've felt...fine..." She suddenly understood what lay beneath their concern for her, but she held back any questions.
Emiline abruptly dashed over and leaned close with a conspiratorial air. Her voice was lowered to an excited whisper. "We heard rumours of a marriage proposal!" Alysia's eyes brightened. "Did you agree?"
Melisande looked startled, betrayed, and helpless all at once. She merely turned her gaze away.
"Are you mad?" Alysia coughed. "I would never refuse if he asked me!" Melisande snapped a bitter, possessive glare on her. Alysia shrank back. "Sorry!"
"Alysia, hush," her sister scolded.
Melisande stared at the floor again. "Maybe I am mad..." She wrung her hands, then reached for another piece of clothing in hopes of a distraction.
Emiline frowned. "You are worried about something?" she half-asked.
Melisande flung a pair of breeches down on the table. She tittered, "What is there to be worried about?--!" they shook their heads at her. She stuttered feebly, "I--it's too soon...We are too young..." Blankly, she sank down on a nearby stool. Emiline placed her hands on Melisande's shoulders reassuringly. "I -- nervous, I suppose..." She cast her gaze downward.
"Melisande, our brother will make a fine husband," Emiline said warmly.
"You shouldn't be so nervous as to delay this," Alysia put in. She smiled, adding, "Although I do understand why you are nervous."
"I, as well," her sister agreed.

* * * * *

Phineas leaned against the side of the wagon that held the door, a speculating look on his face. "Well, she might have already agreed to it, but is also nervous..."
"She said it was 'too soon'."
Phineas stroked his peppered beard thoughtfully. "Well, if you want my opinion, I say she is nervous." He put a reassuring hand on Jehan's shoulder. "She loves you. You two have been through too much for it to end just like that."
Jehan slumped forward without a reply.
"Tell me honestly, lad: Are you not nervous, even a little?"
The blond gypsy gazed at the ground, scuffing his shoe in the dirt again. "I...I suppose so..."
"That's fine. But don't let this opportunity slip by. You might regret it...When it is too late..."
Jehan was about to retort that it was Melisande who was causing the delay when he noticed something in the tone of the bard's voice. He turned to look up at Phineas. "You--"
"Were to be wed, once," Phineas finished for him. He leaned back with a sigh that said he wished he hadn't mentioned it.
"To the DreamWalker?!" Jehan blurted, incredulous. It was the most foreign concept he had ever heard.
The bard chuckled. "Ah, no, lad, but that would be the world's second greatest feat!"
Jehan took the bait. "What is the first?"
"Getting her to stay in one place long enough for the wedding ceremony!" Phineas laughed; Jehan didn't even crack a smile. The blond gypsy frowned instead. He wished the DreamWalker was there. She could find a solution to this...problem.
"I don't think sitting around moping will get you anywhere," Phineas was saying. "Maybe..." Abruptly he grabbed Jehan's arm and hauled the blond gypsy to his feet. "C'mon, there is someone we should talk to!"
"Wha--?" Jehan attempted a question. "Who?"
"Your mama." Paquette was the last person Jehan wanted to know about this. But he was literally dragged toward the orphanage despite any attempt at protest.

* * * * *

Melisande wrung her hands and did not look up at them. Emiline squeezed the pale gypsy's shoulders, then returned to the cookfire. A few moments later a matronly voice called from behind the curtained off area, "Emiline? Is my tea ready yet?" Followed by a small cough.
"In a moment, Mama."
Melisande frowned, feeling guilty. How stupid of her to suspect Jehan of hiding from her -- of course once he had seen that she was well enough, he would go visit Paquette and see how she was recovering. Melisande slumped down, letting the shame gnaw at her a bit, before leaning forward to ask Alysia, "How does she fare?"
Alysia glanced toward the room where Emiline had just gone to, then replied softly, "She is better..." She shook her head next. Her voice was a whisper as she leaned closer. "I worry for her. She has a sickness, and that rat Bruno isn't helping her strength any with the trouble he caused!" Her hand shot out to clamp onto Melisande's arm, and she gazed at her pleadingly. "She does not know of the wedding talk! Please, please tell her something...Good!"
Melisande drew back, slightly startled. But she would do anything to help Paquette get better. Besides sewing for the orphans, she had on occasion helped watch over the children, and she was fond of the woman, admiring her dedication to strangers' children. She hastily nodded once, and just then heard Emiline say, "Melisande brought the clothing, too."
Paquette's voice was considerably more cheerful as she answered, "How wonderful! Melisande! If you are still here, please come greet an old woman!" The pale gypsy smiled sheepishly at Alysia, then went around the side of the partitioning curtain. Paquette was propped up in bed, a steaming cup clasped in her hands. "Melisande, dear, thank you! You know, those children go through clothes so quickly!" Melisande glanced at Emiline, who nodded and went to join her twin. Melisande knelt by the bedside in her place.
"You are welcome." The girl shifted uncomfortably. "How are you?"
"Better now that I know you are well!" Paquette set the teacup down on a conveniently close table. "Dear, you have been through so much..." She pressed a hand to Melisande's cheek. "I was worried about you...and Jehan!" She drew back, acting out fear. "He was miserable! For a moment I thought my little boy would die before I did!" Melisande fought a grimace. Paquette heaved a dramatic sigh of relief, then clasped her hands to her chest. "But we are all alive and safe." She looked at the wall before adding mostly to herself, "For now..."
Melisande hesitated, her heart skipping a beat, then another, before she blurted out, "D-did you hear -- Jehan wishes to wed! --Me!" Her hand were wringing without her even noticing.
Paquette gasped -- then she clasped Melisande in a crushing embrace. "Oh, it's about time, dear! Oh! This is wonderful!" Melisande politely extricated herself from the enthusiastic hug before she wound up with a crushed spine, and managed to smile warmly at the woman. "When, dear, when?" Paquette demanded with a girlish giggle.
Melisande fairly bounced in her seat, having caught the woman's undefeatable joy. "As soon as possible -- when you are well-rested. I want you to be at your best -- I want you to attend, Mama," she added formally. She bent to kiss Paquette's forehead. She whispered, "Get well for us, Mama."
Paquette took her hand and squeezed it, poised to say something. She nodded. "I will, dear...I will..."
"Hallo!" called a male voice from outside the tent.
"More visitors, Mama!" Alysia called.
Melisande leapt up. She recognized the voice as belonging to Phineas, but visitors could mean that Jehan was with him! And she didn't want Jehan to find her out of their tent. She ducked around the side of the partition -- and, ah, so much for wishful thinking. She stumbled forward awkwardly at the sight of the blond-haired figure Phineas was towing toward Paquette's little room. "Jehan! Um--hallo!" Melisande exclaimed, cheeks reddening.
Jehan jerked upright at the sound of her voice, wrenching his arm from Phineas' hold. Then he slouched, bowing his head slightly as he muttered for her only, "Please, you didn't tell her,"
Melisande gave a meek grin. She twisted her hands anxiously as she nodded twice. "Y-yes..."
Jehan sighed, his shoulders sagging even farther as if he had finally given up on a losing battle. Melisande drew back, waiting for an angry outburst. But he only smiled sheepishly at her, and shrugged. "It couldn't be helped."
Emiline suddenly pounced at him, catching him in a sisterly hug. "Jehan, you scoundrel! Can't imagine you being wed!"
"To anyone other than Melisande, I hope you mean." He regained his balance and winked, grinning. Melisande folded her arms, though her glare was humoring.
"Aubrey! Come here right now!" Paquette's voice ordered, undefiable. Jehan cast a briefly-panicked glance at Melisande before he disappeared around the side of the partition. Paquette beckoned him close so she could administer another of her crushing hugs. "You! To be wed!" You are growing up, my son..." she whispered to him. She hugged him even tighter. "My Aubrey..."
"Mama," he coughed, squirming slightly. She understood and hastily let up on her hold. Jehan stood straight, taking her hand as it trailed away from his arm. He said very quietly, "We are still deciding, Mama..."
"Ah-ah, don't waste your words! It is inevitable, no matter how many days you wait! And I will be there for the ceremony, yes..." Paquette's eyes gleamed, her joy bringing a healthy glow to her face. She grinned at him mischievously. "And I will be around to help name the child, as well."
"Mama!" Jehan exclaimed, jerking backward, his face turning a bright crimson of embarrassment.
Paquette laughed loudly to more of her adopted son's chagrin. Melisande's face appeared at the side of the partition, blushed to the roots of her hair. "Paquette!" she hiccuped in distress. The twins and the bard, meanwhile, were laughing right along with Paquette. Melisande crept over to Jehan and took hold of his arm, whimpering, "I'm sorry I told her..."
He turned to clasp her shoulders, murmuring in return, "She would have been the first to know, anyway, if we had both agreed the moment Clopin suggested it." She nodded in acceptance, then leaned her head against his shoulder.
A few moments passed while the laughter quieted and the couple kept hitherto unconsidered thoughts to themselves. Then they all became aware of a din from outside, not the usual bustle and music, but angry shouts and the sounds of fighting. And it was moving toward them. Phineas was the first to the entranceway, Jehan quick to follow. Melisande and the twins warily stayed back. There was an unnecessary oath from outside, then a loud grunt, then brief silence. Then a nasally voice, "Well, well, well -- what have we here?"
Jehan, too apprehensive to constrain himself any longer, tugged the curtain away so they could see what was happening outside. He staggered back a step, his face contorted in surprise and fear together. Phineas moved forward to take his place, expression grim.
In the space in front of the tent, something half-resembling a battlefield was laid before his eyes. At least a half-dozen men lay in various stages of unconsciousness, the other half fighting to restrain the one-man army they had been battling. Clopin stood to one side of this, overseeing the Lilliputian tying-down of the one-man army -- Bruno had returned to the Court of Miracles. The girls ventured near to see, and suddenly Jehan found Melisande clutching his arm, her eyes wide with fear.
And then Paquette was pushing past them all, her long black hair falling over her rumpled clothing, her face set in determination. No one tried to stop her, or maybe they were too shocked to react. The battle ended as she walked into its midst. The Court defenders leapt back from the man-giant although he was for the most part securely bound with strong rope. Even Clopin had to pause as the little woman strode toward her errant son. Bruno was on his knees, dazed from a blow to his head. He was shaking out his senses when Paquette stopped in front of him, hands on her hips. She was just about eye level with him then.
"Bruno." Her voice was hard and cold and -- somehow, only a little -- grieving. He lifted his head to look at her through his hair, the expression on his face comical -- like a little boy knowing he had been caught at doing something wrong yet still surprised by it. Paquette's frown was tight. "You have been a very bad boy!" was all she said before turning back to her tent. As she passed by Clopin, who had moved up in case Bruno should sink so low as to attack his mother, she muttered to the gypsy king, "Do with him what you will."
Clopin nodded grimly and patted her shoulder once. Then he turned to the recovered men. "Check those bonds. Then take him to the dungeon." They worked quickly. His tone left no place for slackers.
Paquette never faltered as she headed into her tent. The five watching parted to let her through. Jehan, however, could not stop from embracing her. She patted his arm, assuring him that this had not stolen much of her strength.

* * * * *

When Jehan and Melisande returned to their tent that evening, each was thinking about the day's events. Both were glad of Bruno's capture, but worried about his close proximity -- in the dungeon, yes, but still, in the Court. They would have felt better if he was in the dungeon of the Palace of Justice. Melisande seemed the more unnerved, although they both felt safest with the other within reach -- for a reassuring hug. Jehan was nervous about Melisande sleeping where he could not immediately see her, but he was equally afraid of being slapped. But, seeing how reluctant she was to leave his side, he decided to chance it. As she drifted from the table where they had been sitting silently since the evening meal toward her curtained-off bed, he got up to follow her. She held the orange curtain aside while gazing back at him warily.
"I will sleep on the floor. I -- I am afraid to let you out of my sight..." He continued forward, his expression a cross between a sheepish smile and nervous fear. Melisande merely shrugged and held back the curtain until he took the edge from her. She sat down on the bed, sighing.
Her words were nearly lost in the surrounding silence. "When will we be rid of him?"
Jehan let go of the curtain and moved to sit beside her. "Soon enough. He is in the dungeon. The next step from there is the noose." He smirked wickedly.
"Not soon enough," Melisande murmured.
"Tomorrow, then..." He absently rubbed her far shoulder.
"Should have been as soon as he was brought in." She suddenly shied from his touch, shrinking down.
"So we should go wake Clopin now and demand a hanging." Jehan grinned at her, reaching his other hand up to brush her hair out of her face. "Although I think we have other things to discuss. Since it is out everywhere by now, when should we have the wedding?"
She batted his hand away, though she was smiling. "If we wait long enough, Bruno will have found the end of a rope, and it won't matter..." Something unreadable settled over her face, and then she said, "But we should not wait longer than a fortnight. A few days, for Paquette to gain more strength..."
Jehan's smile broadened. "So, you agree now?"
"I am planning things already, aren't I?" She smile impishly at him, then leaned close to press her cheek against his. Her arms slid up around his neck as she kissed him. Jehan smiled and leaned her back as he returned the kiss.

* * * * *

When morning came, above ground the sun shown brightly and everyone seemed to feel the freshness of dawning Spring. Even in the Court of Miracles, the feeling permeated the ground.
Melisande lay curled up on the far side of her bed, subconsciously holding the blanket wrapped around her. Jehan, shirtless, was slumped against the base of the bed, emitting the faintest of snores. A figure walked up to the tent and walked right in uninvited. He was only a bit surprised to see the bed on the left was empty. He went over to the curtain dividing the tent and pushed it aside. "Well, well, well," he called out in a mischievous tone.
Jehan started awake. He looked up in shock to see a tall, thin shadow before him. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and then blinked at the figure. "Clopin--?!" Jehan near-yelped. Then he looked around in feigned surprise. "Huh...I didn't realize I fell asleep over here."
"Mm-hmm," Clopin hummed suspiciously, putting his fists on his hips.
"I mean it!" Jehan tried feebly. Clopin smiled at him knowingly. Jehan glowered back at him, then got up and shoved the curtain out of the way as he went to his side of the tent, grumbling, "Who said you could come in here, anyway?"
Clopin chuckled. Then he turned and moved to lean over Melisande, who still slept peacefully. He brushed her hair away from her face and whispered, "Bless you, mademoiselle, for falling in love with him." Then, chuckling again, Clopin left the tent.
A few moments later, Jehan returned to her side of the tent, now fully dressed with a dark blue tunic over gray leggings. He gently shook Melisande awake. She blinked up at him, then rubbed her eyes. "Good morning," he said softly as she sat up. Their eyes met. There was a silent communication between them. He clasped her hands in his.
Jehan smiled and continued. "We must speak with Clopin immediately!" At once he frowned indignantly. "Wait a minute, the scoundrel was just here!" He shook a fist at the air.
"He comes when he shouldn't, and when he is needed he isn't around!"

Coming Next: Chapter Three: The Circle Is Complete Again

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(c) 1999-2004Autumn 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