posted November 12, 1998

The Tale of The Circle

[Okay this is a long one: To my sis, Rayven; thank you for permission to feature Marya and mention Lira. :-) To Alikhat, Coquirie, Peregrine, and whomever else in the SF, for the research I inquired about and, erm, never actually used... ;-) To YD and Ginny, for their timely kissing up--err, compliments, and for reasons to extend the wedding scene -- PUT DOWN THE NOOSE!! To Mom -- sorry. My thanks also to Therese for permission to reference her tavern! Lastly, the wedding ceremony is mostly borrowed from Victor Hugo, I have no idea how traditional Rom weddings go, and I do not want to insult them by writing one myself. So don't use this for reference! And, no, that guard's name has nothing to do with Les Miz...]

Chapter Three - Deciding On One Thing, Not Knowing About the Other

The dungeon of the Court of Miracles was really just another tunnel, though a rather wide one where two dozen smaller tunnels ran into it. Each of these small tunnels had been sealed off about six feet in from its opening, which was crossed by bars soldered to a round frame to make a moving door. Both inside and outside the cells, lining the walls of the dungeon, were, like every other tunnel surrounding the Court, rotting skeletons, their empty eye sockets still beseeching mercy. They remained silent, though, and continued rotting.
In the second 'cell' on the right, the currently only occupant of the dungeon knelt so as not to hit his head on the low ceiling. They had left him in that dark, dank place for about a week -- maybe longer, as far as he could tell, with no food, and no light. Maybe they had forgotten him. All the better. Only the skeletons could see his smirk. He tensed the muscles in his arms. The chains binding them to the walls groaned under the stress. Then he jerked his right arm. Metal screeched and strained for a moment before he relaxed. He felt for the place where the chains were soldered to the wall. He smirked again.
Maybe they had forgotten him. It didn't matter, for in another day, they would see him again whether they planned to or not. The skeletons were wide-eyed in fear.

* * * * *

Bruno had not been forgotten, or at least not too much. Even an execution could wait -- for there was a wedding to take place! It wasn't every day that the Court's favorite gajo got married (much to the disappointment of several admirers, heheh). The one guard outside the metal-bound wooden door of the dungeon grumbled to himself about being stuck there while everyone else celebrated. It wasn't fair that he had to stay there, blah, blah, blah...However, he didn't admit to himself that he wasn't exactly best friends with the happy couple, loyal to the Court as he was.
The ceremony was being held in a part of the Court far from the dungeon, in the space that had been left clear of homes for performers to practice in -- it was the only space in the entire Court of Miracles large enough to hold the gathering currently taking place (second to the area around the hanging platform -- but, after all, it wouldn't do for a couple to be wed with a gibbet over their heads). It wasn't traditional fare, as far as Rom weddings might have otherwise gone, for there had been some discussions and disputes over the silly matter of Jehan's legitimacy of being a gypsy. By adoption fine, and Paquette vouched for him. Not by blood, well, at least the marriage wasn't being prohibited. The couple understood the conflicts, and said it didn't matter how they were wed as long as it was by an acceptable ceremony! So the suggestion of the breaking of a jug was brought to attention.
And so Jehan and Melisande stood before Clopin, the king of the tribe, and a tall man who was the equivalent of a shaman, named Rosso, and of course their many friends. They wore the finest clothes they had ever owned -- and all gifts, too. Jehan's shirt was blue cotton, over dark grey breeches, lighter grey hose, ending with a fine pair of black boots. His brown leather belt sported a new dagger sheath to his left side. He had chosen to tie an orange-and-yellow patterned handkerchief about his neck, tucking it partway under the shirt, as out of place as the garish colours seemed. His earring gleamed in the light, the first testimony of his love for the woman beside him, offsetting his wheat-coloured hair. Melisande's dress was one piece, the skirt swirling around her ankles. It was blue-green in hue, making her dark green eyes more noticeable. A pink scarf was tied about her waist, decorated with plain coins. Her earring was obvious, too, shining against her -- suddenly seeming darker than ever before -- brown hair. She also wore a silver necklace that held a small disk -- jewelry she had never worn blatantly before; let everyone think it was a gift from Jehan, she had thought. Only she and Clopin knew who it had really been a gift from.
Now the couple stood facing each other, smiling smiles that were mixed joy and uncertainty. Clopin shushed the murmurs of the crowd by raising his gloved hands. His voice gave a friendly challenge. "Is there any here who would oppose this union?" He knew no one would speak, for fear of facing the wrath of the shrewish bride. Melisande, meanwhile, glanced over Jehan's shoulder to glare pointedly at Shiriluna. The princess noticed, blushed, and shifted so that she was mostly hidden behind Teague-Raviv. Melisande then smiled sweetly at Jehan, who had realized where her gaze was focused. He cocked an eyebrow reproachfully, then grabbed her hand and squeezed it. She relaxed, noting that everyone approved their marriage. Her heartbeat doubled. Jehan, in turn, looked past her to where Paquette stood with Phineas.
The woman held a beaming smile, and a kerchief clutched in one hand. The other hand was held by the bard, who sported a proud grin. Jehan thought to himself that he would have been glad to have them as his real parents. He briefly wondered what kind of marriage he would have had if he had not been separated from his parents, or if he had not met Melisande. Then he shook off the thoughts, unable to think of things any other way.
Rosso handed an ornate clay jug to Melisande. The young woman nodded, then held the jug out before her and bowed to her intended husband. The jug contained a small cupful of wine -- the best from the stores of Chez Therese, donated to the cause by the tavern owner, Mme. Therese Darbois. Melisande stood tall, then tipped back the jug to take a hearty swallow of the contents. Then she passed the jug to Jehan, wiping her mouth, partially to hide a grin. Without a moment's hesitation he tossed back the remaining wine. He was grinning ear-to-ear as he brought the jug level again. And his cheeks quickly became flushed, but that point was moot. He glanced at the shaman, who nodded. Jehan motioned for whoever was close by to move back. Melisande clasped her hands in front of her, watching hopefully. Jehan raised the jug upward, pausing as his muscles tensed. Then he heaved it downward with force enough to shatter it to the next step up from dust. As it were, the jug broke into a myriad of small pieces.
Rosso and Clopin traded glances, as if to ask the other Can you count that high? then the shaman stepped forward and placed on hand on the brow of the groom, then the bride's. "Brother, she is your wife; sister, he is your husband; long as you both shall live!" A cheer went up from the crowd, followed by hollered wishes for eternal life to be bestowed upon the couple. Jehan embraced Melisande tightly, and their lips met in a long kiss to seal their decision.
And then Clopin stepped forward to (try to) part them. "Enough for now, you two! Let the celebration commence!" The eager revelers did not have to be told twice. Such happy occasions were not regular happenings in the Court of Miracles, after all; they were frequently overshadowed by less cheerful occurrences, ones where grief was more appropriate.

* * * * *

Paquette was the first to congratulate the couple after Clopin. She barreled right into them, collecting her son and daughter-in-law in a crushing embrace. "Ah, I'm so proud!" Jehan managed to extricate himself from the hug, and he let the woman fuss over her newest daughter. Phineas came up behind him and gave him a hearty slap on the back, once more startling the blond gypsy but not causing him a loss of dignity this time.
"Congratulations, scoundrel!" Phineas crowed. He elbowed the young man's side. "Be sure to hang onto this jewel, eh?" The corners of the bard's grey eyes crinkled with laughter, but Jehan saw the sadness in their depths. He nodded solemnly, then smiled and clapped the older man's shoulder, before turning to collect his bride from his jabbering mother. There were many other people who wanted to speak with the couple, and, besides, Paquette had the assurance that the two would come talk to her when the excitement was over. Phineas escorted Paquette away to find Alysia and Emiline and the little children who had been playing instead of disrupting -- attending the wedding.
Next the couple was approached by two young women. Both were about Melisande's height, one with brown hair and brown eyes, and wearing a yellow tunic over blue leggings. The other was pale, with auburn hair and dark eyes; she wore an oversized green tunic, a long yellow skirt, and an intricately patterned scarf tied around her waist. Jehan immediately recognized the second girl, wary of her for something Clopin had once mentioned about her. The brown-haired woman was said to be the caretaker of the quiet, pale girl. In any case, the two were good friends. Y'Dnew and Virginie, if he recalled correctly.
Y'Dnew bounded up to them first, grinning broadly. "Congratulations!" she cried, catching them both in a hug. "It's about time!"
"Congratulations," Virginie echoed softly behind her. Jehan glanced her way after Y'Dnew stepped back, to see the timid girl twisting one end of her scarf between her hands.
Y'Dnew hugged Melisande again. "I am glad you are well," she said softly. Melisande nodded her thanks, understanding what Y'Dnew was referring to.
The couple suddenly became visibly tense. Y'Dnew wondered if they were reacting latently to Virginie. She was ready to jump to the defense, when she saw another couple approaching; Shiriluna and Teague-Raviv. A stifled grimace crossed Jehan's face; he'd already expected trouble. Teague smiled nervously, then gave a nod. "Congratulations." Jehan managed a smile in return. Melisande, however, eyed Shiriluna warily.
The princess surprised them both by merely hugging Melisande and placing a sisterly kiss on the pale gypsy's forehead. "Congratulations," she said warmly, not a hint of animosity about her.
Melisande allowed a small smile to show on her face. "Thank you, everyone." She then smiled broadly all around.
"Though I fear," Jehan spoke up, "that I will be quite tired of hearing that word by the end of the day!"
Laughter was followed by fare wells as Y'Dnew and Virginie headed off. Shiriluna and Teague were turning to leave when another young woman, with familiar features, long black hair, and dark green eyes, came up to the group. "Marya!" Melisande exclaimed, glad to see her, for she had not seen the girl anywhere in the crowd during the wedding ceremony.
Marya stood before the newly weds, a benign expression on her face that could have housed a warm smile. She was silent for a few moments, seeming to study them. Then she closed her eyes. Finding a prophesy for us, Jehan thought with a touch of apprehension. He traded glances with Melisande. Marya hummed softly, almost absently for only a second or two, before opening her eyes and regarding them solemnly as she proclaimed, "What is most precious and lost will be returned to you." Then she half-bowed with a small smile and a quiet "Congratulations." She went on her way without acknowledging Shiriluna.
Melisande appeared to ponder Marya's words, while Jehan merely shook his head. "Cryptic as ever," he murmured. However, he clasped Melisande's hand briefly as they both wondered what it was they might lose.
Teague broke the awkward silence Marya had left. "Paquette will be looking for you. You had better find her fir--"
He was interrupted by an alarmed shout from somewhere behind them. Shiriluna saw amongst the crowd who was making the commotion and began to ask, "Isn't that the guard assigned--" Jehan realized the same at that moment and muttered an oath unmindful of the ladies present. He immediately strode toward the disturbance, the others following on his heels.
"Jean-Val!" the blond gypsy hollered. "What are you doing here?" He shouldered his way through the large group around the should-be guard. It was only then that Jehan noticed the fellow's condition. Half of Jean-Val's face was marred by bruises, and his dark brown hair was matted with blood. Clopin suddenly appeared beside him.
The gypsy king grabbed Jean-Val's shoulders and shook him hard. "What happened?!" he demanded in fury, although he was at that moment very afraid of what he would hear. "Why are you not at the--"
Eyes wide with fear, Jean-Val cried out, "Bruno has escaped! Bruno has escaped! He has escaped the dungeon!" At those words Melisande uttered a sob and Jehan clutched her to him.
Much less than a day, then.
Clopin shoved Jean-Val backward into the arms of an approaching healer. The king immediately began giving orders."Double amount of guards, start searching! Triple number of guards tonight!" He shot a quick glance at Jehan. "And I want the four best guards stationed by Jehan's tent until Bruno is caught! ...Unless Jehan wishes otherwise..."
Jehan nodded hastily. "A week, at least..." He hugged a weeping Melisande, then more tightly as she leaned against him for support. He realized he was holding her entire weight when he tried to relax his hold and she sank downward. And he realized her knees had given out. He gently lowered her to the ground so he could better gather her in his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder as he rose, her arms lightly resting around his neck.
Clopin's expression was grim and sad. "Get her home," he urged softly. The blond gypsy did not have to be told twice. Clopin turned back to the gathered gypsies to continue shouting orders.

* * * * *

Melisande had calmed a bit by the time they reached their tent, though her strength had fled. Jehan carried her across the threshold into the tent only to stop and gape. Melisande followed his gaze...and raised an eyebrow. "Why those little -- Dovev! I will get you for this!!" Jehan hollered, in hopes his friend was hiding nearby. Melisande merely giggled; Jehan's bed was gone, the blankets and pillow left in a heap on the floor.
"They think highly of my honor," she giggled.
Jehan's forehead creased with his helpless expression, then he sighed and smiled weakly. "I will sleep on the floor, I don't mind..." He brought her to her side of the tent -- the dividing curtain had been left untouched -- and gently set her down on her bed. "You rest now, I will go see if I can help Clopin..."
Melisande kept a hand on his sleeve, preventing him from leaving. In a soft tone, she said, "I don't mind sharing a bed..."
He clasped her hand in an excuse to remove it from his arm. "I will only be awake waiting for him to sneak in, anyway. You would be safer out of the way." He patted her hand. A meek grin formed on his face. "Besides that I don't want to indulge Dovev and his accomplices." She chuckled shortly in agreement.
"Very well, I will rest..." She leaned forward to kiss his cheek.
"And I will make sure those four guards are in place before I go too far away," Jehan assured.
Melisande placed a restraining hand on his sleeve again. Her voice was weary as she murmured, "Why is it that the happiest day of our lives should also be one of the worst..?" Jehan only squeezed her hand and could not answer.

* * * * *

"Alysia! Good morning!"
Melisande dodged a speeding toddler to reach the table in Paquette's tent. Alysia barely managed a nod of acknowledgement while attempting to catch the aforementioned child. Melisande set down the bundle she had been carrying then turned to watch in amusement. The two-year-old girl shrieked with laughter, avoiding Alysia's grasp by ducking behind a low stool. The twin reached over the stool, about to pick up the child, but the little girl darted away so quickly Alysia lost her balance and tripped over the stool trying to regain it. Her target shrieked again, then ran over to Melisande, to hug the young woman about the knees. Melisande smiled, leaning over to pick her up. Balancing the child on her hip, she turned to Alysia. "Good thing I came by when I did." She grinned.
"Yes, fine timing..." Alysia grumbled, climbing to her feet. She righted the stool before going over to the table. "Little Danica is Emiline's charge, I don't see why I have to be the one to chase her around all the time." The child giggled, mischief in her eyes. Melisande set the girl down on a chair before taking a seat, herself. Alysia took up the bundle Melisande had brought in. "How does Jehan fare lately?" she asked as she drew out clothing from the bundle.
"He is well. He is running errands in the city today..." Melisande scowled at the table top. "Which is all he ever seems to do. Sometimes I think he is being taken advantage of because he is gajo..."
"Melisande! That's a fine thing to say!" Alysia threw down the newly patched shirt she held, to put her hands on her hips in indignation. "Would you rather our gypsy brethren go into the city themselves, and be caught and executed? It is safer for all if Jehan goes -- he is inconspicuous among them."
Melisande colored and lowered her eyes to her hands, which she wrung in her lap. "I'm sorry. I..."
Alysia knelt to find the pale gypsy's gaze. "I understand. You feel safest when Jehan is near." She patted the young woman's hand. "But, Melisande, you really have nothing to fear here -- the Court of Miracles is your home. You should not worry about even Bruno -- why, how long has it been since last word of him?" She gestured a length as she stood.
"A-a good three weeks, I think..." Melisande stared off into the distance thoughtfully. "Since the wedding...It only seems like yesterday..." Her voice trailed off. She smiled softly.
Alysia finished refolding the patched clothing with a look of surprise. "Is this all of it?" she asked, motioning to the two shirts, three pairs of pants, and one pair of small shoes.
"I'm sorry there isn't as much as last time," Melisande stammered, blushing again. "I -- I haven't been feeling well, and it was hard to concentrate on the sewing..."
"How are you feeling right now?" Alysia studied the pale gypsy with concern. "You look well to me...And quite well-fed, might I add." She grinned mischievously. Melisande blushed once more, hugging her midsection in embarrassment. Alysia softened her smile. "That is a good sign for you, since I know you tend not to eat when you are extremely worried. And I told you, you should not worry, anyway!"
"I...know..." Melisande murmured.
Alysia took the patched clothing over to a wicker trunk in the corner, setting them neatly inside it without noticing that the shoes were missing. She returned to her seat looking thoughtful. Turning to the pale gypsy, she began to ask in a quiet tone, "Melisande..?" But she hesitated. Melisande answered with a look that told her to not continue the question. Alysia hastily moved her attention to Danica, who was giggling over her new shoes.
"Knock, knock!" called a familiar male voice from outside the tent.
Melisande rose while Alysia replied, "Come in!" Jehan entered, grinning broadly.
"There you are, love. I was wondering where you were!" He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Doing more charity work, I see!"
Alysia smacked his arm playfully. "She has been more helpful than you, you lazy lout! Say, why don't you two adopt a few orphans, get them off our hands?"
Melisande blushed, but Jehan grinned again. "We might, but, alas, dear sister, I am hardly the type a child should look up to as a papa." He gave a short bow, as if proud of his reputation for being reckless and obnoxious.
"Oh, I had forgotten about that," Alysia pretended to muse. She sighed and turned away. "Well, if you can't be helpful, get out of here!" She twisted her head far enough around to wink at them.
Jehan's expression softened, then he drew a small bag from a pocket in his cloak. "Here, Alysia, give this to Mama." He handed the bag to her and kissed her forehead. Then he took Melisande's hand and nodded toward the entrance.
"Thank you, dear brother. Fare thee well." Alysia waved once before watching them disappear through the entranceway. Then she tossed the bag into the air, closing her fist completely around it as it came down. "Not coins," she murmured. She slowly untied the strings holding it closed, hesitating for wonder if she should just give it to Paquette to discover the contents. But the knot fell apart before she could decide. Alysia peered into the bag, her eyes widening in surprise, and she exclaimed breathlessly, "The medicine Lira told us about...and couldn't find!" She wondered where Jehan had found the herbs. They were rare...Though she realized Jehan would spare no expense if it would help Paquette.

* * * * *

One rainy day, about a week later, Clopin wandered into Jehan's tent with some news for the young man. All he found was Melisande, suspended in mid-stitch on a sewing project, her expression vacant while her eyes held a faraway look. Clopin cocked an eyebrow as he approached her. He waved a gloved hand in front of her face, concern disrupting his initial amusement.
Melisande blinked, then focused on him."Clopin..? Hullo..." she muttered, looking down, embarrassed to have been caught daydreaming.
"Are you all right, my dear?" he asked, easing into the chair beside her.
"I'm just fine," she insisted. "I was merely...thinking about things and lost myself in it all..." She stared at the needle and thread in her hand for a few moments before finishing the stitch.
"You are well otherwise, I assume?" Clopin leaned back in the chair, folding his arms behind his head and crossing his ankles.
"Perfectly fine!" She attacked the bit of blue cloth with the thread in a flustered movement.
Clopin asked casually, "More patch-work for Paquette?"
"Um...yes." Melisande grew a little more flustered, though it seemed to be spawned by the thread tangling around a knot.
"Might small, isn't it?" he commented next with innocence.
"There are orphaned infants too, you know," she retorted coldly, tugging on the knot in hopes of freeing the tangle. The thread in her hand snapped, while the knot remained. Melisande sighed in frustration and threw down the entire mess onto her lap. A glare graced her visage as she looked up at Clopin. "Who said you could come in here?!" she suddenly demanded. She placed her hands on her hips, glaring daggers at him.
Clopin smiled, amusement gleaming in his eyes. "I hope in all the recent excitement you have not forgotten that the king goes where he pleases without asking, nor that Clopin is he!"
Her scowl made his grin grow broader. "Well, so long as I live here, no one enters without permission! Even kings!"
Clopin abruptly leapt from his seat, folding into a dramatic low bow before her. "Against the wrath of the shrew, I concede the point! My humble apologies, I was merely seeking the master of the house, bringing news about his mama." He snapped upright, then turned on his heels, marching toward the entranceway, expressionless.
"What about Paquette?" Melisande stood, her sewing forgotten and falling from her lap. She strode after him, clamping a hand down on his shoulder, halting his next step. She swung around in front of him to hold his gaze and be sure he wasn't up to something. "You can tell me first. Jehan is practicing for the festival, he doesn't need a distraction right now." Melisande's expression dared him to attempt to avoid her.
"Well, if you say so..." Clopin shrugged. Then he patted her head as if she were a child. "Or perhaps Clopin should tell you both together. Ah, nevermind. It is good news, so calm down, will you?" Melisande took a step back, crossing her arms and tapping her foot. Clopin sighed at her, then smiled before continuing in a softer tone, "Lira says Paquette is faring better, and should be completely well again soon."
Melisande gasped and clapped her hands together, letting fall her defensive manner. "That's wonderful! Just what Jehan needs to hear -- he has been so worried about her!" She grabbed Clopin's arm and practically dragged him out of the tent behind her as she headed for the last place she had seen Jehan.
They didn't get very far before a frightened-looking woman ran up to them. Clopin stopped playing helpless in Melisande's grasp as he recognized the woman. "Franchesa, something wrong..?" he half-asked.
The woman glanced from him to Melisande speechlessly for a moment before blurting out, "Bruno!" She turned toward the direction she came from, then glanced at Melisande again. It was the direction the pale gypsy had been heading. Melisande gasped. She hitched up her skirt and ran now. Clopin grimaced and strode after her.

* * * * *

It wasn't a pleasant feeling to have the rope one was walking across snap in the middle just as one reaches a certain point. It is also not pleasant, Jehan could tell, to be jerked upright after a hard landing and have one's right arm twisted to match a similarly aching ankle. Especially when one knows who must have caused all that trouble. Even moreso when the cause is still holding one's arm in so awkward a position and hissing still more threats.
Jehan dearly wished he had put a dagger in Bruno's back when he'd had the chance.
"Melisande is my wife now! She's beyond you!" Jehan proclaimed through clenched teeth.
"I can easily make her a widow!" Bruno bent the blond gypsy's arm farther backward.
Bruno grinned.
No!" Bruno looked toward the scream, then smirked.
"Why, look, gajo, now your wife can see you die!"
A nasally voice spoke up from behind where Melisande stood frozen. "No, no! That is not how to threaten someone!" Clopin came forward, gesturing dramatically like a frustrated director. Bruno stared at him, in his mind confirming his past thoughts of the gypsy king's insanity. The distraction, however, proved to loosen his hold on Jehan's arm. Clopin stopped a few feet away, placing his fists on his hips. "This is how you do it." He cleared his throat, then reposed himself rigid, raising his chin and glaring down his nose at Bruno, his expression unforgiving. "Bruno, you are going to hang." His example was sucessful; no one listening could suppress a shudder at his cold tone, not even Bruno.
But the menacing giant recovered first. He twisted Jehan's arm sharply, causing the blond gypsy to cry out, then sag backward. "Stay out of this, Clopin!" This is none of your business!"
"Is it, now?" The gypsy king's tone remained cold. "I don't know about that -- you are threatening one of my subjects..."
"This cowardly gajo doesn't even belong among us!" Bruno shook Jehan by one shoulder, still holding tight to the bruised arm.
"I can see a noose tightening around your neck already, Br--"
Clopin snorted in indignation at being shushed, his fists painfully clenched at his sides. He started forward, ready to strangle Bruno with his bare hands, nevermind the noose. But then Melisande put a hand on his shoulder, holding him back. He turned to her questioningly. "Let me try something," she said quietly. He noticed her face was flushed. Nervous? Terrified? Aye, the same as Clopin, he thought, watching warily as she approached Bruno.
"Bruno, dear," Melisande called in a matronly tone, "You should let him go."
"Coming to your senses? Coming to me?" Bruno leered at her, while Jehan's eyes begged her to stay far away from the brute.
"Oh, I have all my senses already." Melisande swallowed the tremor in her voice. Her heart was pounding painfully. Please let this work...Or at least be a distraction!.. "And I could never care for someone who might not remember our laws...Such as the one about not assaulting a man whose wife is with child..." She crossed her fingers behind her back. Clopin forced away the urge to stare, forming his face into a solemn calm topped with a nod to endorse her. The nod doubled as a sign to himself of confirming his suspicions.
Jehan jerked upright of his own accord. "With child??" he echoed shrilly. Then he fainted.
Bruno growled. She was certainly beyond him now...She couldn't be lying...He snarled in rage, "Our laws do not apply to gaje!" His fury funneled down into the hand gripping Jehan's arm. There was a sharp cracking sound. Jehan was instantly revived, crying out in agony, all color draining from his face. Then he collapsed to the ground, limp as a rag doll while Bruno backed away. Clopin was darting around Bruno like an enraged hornet, dagger flashing. Melisande rushed to Jehan's side, becoming oblivious to the din around her as she fell to her knees beside him.
A loud crack-like noise came, with an echo like thunder. Clopin was abruptly motionless. Bruno wheeled toward him in fury, then stopped, clutching at a wound in his chest that no dagger could have made. Then Bruno fell forward, never to rise again. Clopin glanced past the villain's bulk, to where Dovev stood grim on a tunnel shelf holding a smoking arquebus. The gypsy king nodded a grave acknowledgement before moving toward Bruno's last victim.
Melisande sang a wordless lullabye, stroking Jehan's hair comfortingly. He lay curled up with his broken arm cradled against him. His eyes were open, but distant from pain. Melisande leaned over and kissed his cheek, then whispered to him, "Don't worry, love, he will never bother you again..." He turned slightly to gaze, tearful, up at her, his lips moving as he tried to ask her something, but he could not find the words. Instead, he reached his good hand toward her mid-section, letting his bewildered expression communicate the question. She gave a small, warm smile and nodded. His eyes rolled up as he fainted again.
Clopin bent over them, both eyebrows raised. "Now, now. Enough surprises. Let's get that arm set. You will be just fine, Jehan. Stop being so dramatic!" Evidentally, the blond gypsy was beyond responding, so Clopin left off the teasing. He hurried away to find a healer.
Melisande took Jehan's good hand and held it against her mid-section. "Our baby..." she said softly. A single tear rolled down her cheek and landed on his hand...

Coming Next: Chapter Four: The Circle Is Complete Again

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(c) 1999 - 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