posted December 26, 1998
[To my sis Rayven, yet again, for Lira. My thanks to Coquirie for permission to borrow her character. To the #CourtOM gang for attempting to help me so a certain hero wouldn't remain "Nameless" ::winks at Meeks and Rayven, and whoever happened to read FR:TFST:: And to my only baby, Theabella -- furbaby, that is. :-> KITTY!! Stop swatting the pencil so I can write!! Oh, and please excuse my pitiful attempts at the French language, I'm one of a few saps who took Spanish in school...Oh, and I have no knowledge on Romani funerals, either, so I'll admit my ignorance and go with what I know. And, if you haven't figured out the significance of the story's title, you will know by the end of this chapter.]
He gazed down at her sleeping form, smiling fondly. He noted the changes that had been gossiped about these past months -- how her hair had darkened almost to black in places, and how her skin had begun to take on a dusky hue -- that she was finally recovering from her past traumas in time for a new future. He suppressed a sigh over how odd a couple they looked now...for it did not matter, so long as they loved each other.
He brushed away the strands of hair that curled over her forehead. Then his hand hovered above her as it drifted down along her arm and side till he lowered it to her very pregnant belly. He rested his hand on the bulge, a delighted smile passing over his face as he felt a movement from the tiny being within. Then he took up the blanket, pulling it up to her chin. He tucked the sides around her then leaned over to gently kiss her forehead. He smiled softly and turned to leave...
Jehan jerked around sharply as he paced a rut into the floor of Clopin's tent -- anyone less distracted would have fallen over at such a movement, yet the blond gypsy continued his frantic striding. Was that only last night? he wondered. It seemed so long ago. And then when morning came, everything went so fast -- to the point that he was now worrying himself into a frenzy while Melisande was in labor. Lira and the other women tending his wife had chased him away, preferring he panic somewhere else. He wound up coming to the friend he knew would understand -- even if it might have been an inconvenience for Clopin to have to stay put and listen to the rantings of a man whose wife was giving birth for the first time.
Jehan stared hard at the ground, whirling 'round to pace in the opposite direction. His right arm rested against his hip, while his left hand was clenched in a tight fist. The arm Bruno had broken had healed stiff, and Jehan had a feeling it would be that way for the rest of his life; it was a hinderance when he tried to walk the tightrope, unsettling his natural balance, and he feared he would need to find a new hobby. The usual stress relief, however, would have been a tad unconventional for his current situation. He pivoted on his heel with a loud sigh.
Clopin sat watching him from a high-backed chair, leaning his elbows on the wooden arms, his head resting on his folded hands. The gypsy king's expression was of indifference hiding annoyance. It also covered up his own anxiety. "I don't know about you, but you are making me feel dizzy," Clopin groused.
Jehan muttered something about returning a favor before he turned again.
"Why don't you sit down, Jehan?"
"I would rather not."
Clopin shifted, leaning back into the cushions of the chair. "Right, then you can repair the floor once you are through..." His eyes followed the blond gypsy back and forth a few times, then he sighed in disgust, dropping his head to his left hand and staring off to the side. "Everything will be fine, boy..."
Jehan whirled to stare at him with an expression soaked in panic including flecks of frantically worried, wandering thoughts. "What if she doesn't survive, Clopin?" Then he was pacing again, faster than before, his voice cracking on every third word. "She has never been in good health...C-could this be what--? Oh, god..." He clenched his jaw to fight a rising tremble. "Clopin, what can I do? If anything happens to her, I'll never forgive myself -- i-it's all my fault..."
"Now, lad, let's not get into that," Clopin fairly hummed out, for his throat had constricted at the familiarity of Jehan's words. He railed at his own haunted emotions, reminding them that now was not their time, but Jehan's, and it wasn't right for Clopin to be distracted. Fortunately they relented, and he was able to think a little more clearly on the matter at hand. "She is stronger now, and Clopin believes this has made her stronger."
Jehan gaped at him. "But -- She was very ill since first speaking of it!!"
"That is normal. Trust Clopin, she will not die."
"I...can't...help..." The blond gypsy fell back to pacing, his tongue loose while his hands clenched tightly behind his back. "I -- I don't want to lose her, Clopin. I've come so close so many times before...I have to worry...I -- I have a bad feeling something will happen to her, and-and..." A violent swipe of his fist tore a teardrop from his cheek, and he scrubbed away another by the next turn.
Clopin gazed down at the ground. "We can only wait, and see," he said softly.
"Jehan! . . .Jehan!" came a cry from outside. The young man was at the entranceway in an instant, colliding with Emiline, who had just entered. Jehan grabbed her shoulders to stop them both from falling. "The -- baby--??" he stuttered, struggling to remember whether she had been among those tending to Melisande.
His hands fell away and she shrugged, sporting a sympathetic look all the while. She glanced back the way she had come before murmuring, "I wish I had good news on that for you. I have other words for you instead." Emiline took a deep breath, then clasped one of his hands between hers, squeezing it tightly. "Jehan...Mama has been very ill but we did not tell you because you had enough to worry about..." A shocked, yet numb, veil fell over him. He stared beyond her, his mind reeling. "Jehan, plese don't be angry! We thought she would be fine! But -- she -- well.....Sh-she's calling for you..." Emiline squeezed his hand again in hopes of gaining a response. She glanced over at Clopin. The gypsy king was pale with apprehension; he sighed and shook his head at her. She turned back to her adopted brother, murmuring, "Jehan..?"
The blond gypsy quivered all over. Then he drew his hand from her grasp, striding out of the tent with a whispered, "Mama...".. Emiline hastily followed after him.
Clopin remained in his seat, gazing sadly after them. He sighed again, shedding a tear for the three lives hanging in the balance.
"Mama. I am here, Mama."
Jehan shoved his way through the crowd around Paquette's bed. Emiline attempted to follow, failed, and settled for threading a path toward Alysia who stood at the ready by their foster mother. Paquette opened dim eyes to gaze up at Jehan, a weak smile managing to form on her fevered visage.
"My little Aubrey...You came..." She reached out a trembling hand to stroke his fair hair.
"Mama..." He brought his hand up to touch hers. "Mama, don't leave me...please..." Tears fell, and this time he did not try to stop them. "You are the only one who cared! You can't leave me! Please, Mama! No one else wanted me, you won't leave me now, will you??"
"I love you always, Aubrey."
Her hand went limp against his. He slowly lowered it to her side, bowing his head over her. "Mama..."
A grievous keen rose to bring the Court to mourning. Then, a moment or two later, it was joined by the wailing of a newborn baby.
Clopin was not surprised to find that he was first to see the child before Jehan. He realized it would be a while until the new father came. The gypsy king spoke briefly with Coquirie, sparing a few glances at Melisande, who lay still and limp -- and slept.
"Greetings to the new babe!"
Clopin turned to the tent's entrance to see Dovev entering, supporting Jehan on one side with Emiline on the other. The blond gypsy was staring blankly at the ground.
"Ah, so good of you to come, Dovev, Emiline." Clopin clasped his hands behind his back, nodding to each in turn. "I was about to bring the child to him, but now you have brought him to the child."
Dovev smirked at Clopin, while taking Jehan's arm from around his shoulder. "An excuse to be the first to see the babe!" He held his friend by the shoulder to keep him upright. Emiline did the same.
Lira came over to the group carrying a small bundle, eyes sparkling. She held it out to Jehan. His friends positioned his arms to cradle the bundle, waiting for him to realize where he was. Lira drew back the cover; immediately a wail sprang forth. Jehan's gaze shifted to the tiny figure that was rapidly turning red.
"Hush, hush," he soothed with voice cracking. "It is all right...There is someone who loves you."
Clopin wiped a tear from his eye. He smiled proudly. "Now, now. There are many who love him."
"Him..?" Jehan finally glanced up.
"Yes," said Clopin with a broader grin. "This is your son."
"A son..." The blond gypsy looked down at the baby he was gently shaking. The child, having quieted, stared up at him with clear green eyes.
"A son," a weak voice echoed. Weary Melisande was watching them. Jehan hurried over to her.
"Melisande -- you're all right..?" Cradling the baby in the crook of one arm, he reached the other hand out to touch her face.
"Yes, merely tired," she assured, though her eyes were dazed. She smiled then leaned into his hand.
"I -- was so worried.." He remembered he had forgotten all about her when Emiline told him about Paquette. But he would never, ever admit it...
Melisande reached up to touch the bundle he held. Jehan hastily lowered it to her arms. "Our baby," she whispered. The child murmured, staring at her a long moment before deciding she wasn't a reason to start crying again. "He is beautiful...Our son...Our only son..." Jehan understood and squeezed her hand. There was too much risk for her -- they had been lucky this time.
"What will you name him?" Clopin hollered across the tent to them.
Melisande glanced up at Jehan with such a look, as if the thought of names had never crossed her mind. "Yes, what will we call him?"
Jehan looked not at her, but at the baby, his eyes growing distant. After a tense silence -- for the three who knew about the previous events of the morning wondered what the blond gypsy was thinking -- Jehan announced, "Aubrey. His name is Aubrey."
Later, when Melisande had rested more, she asked Jehan about the wisdom of -- basically -- naming the child after himself.
No, he explained to her, it was to honor Paquette -- and he told her what had befallen while she was giving birth. And, after grieving, she agreed it was the perfect name for their child.
"Am I a grandpapa now?" was Clopin's teasingly eager question when he visited the new family after they had re-settled in their tent. Jehan shot a dubious glance at him over the make-shift wooden cradle that held baby Aubrey.
"I suppose you would rather I have the family, instead of your own daughter having one..?"
Clopin's face darkened as if in embarrassment, but Jehan guessed it was really anger at the thought of anyone begetting a child by Shiriluna. The blond gypsy rolled his eyes, then grinned good-naturedly. "Well, you old fool, your 'grandson' is sleeping over here, not to mention Melisande over there--" he pointed to the dividing curtain, "--so please be quiet."
The gypsy king's demeanor shifted to a knowing smile. "Tampered now that you are a papa, eh?" He went to kneel beside the crib and without hesitating -- or asking -- gently picked up the bundle of baby. "What a sweet little one," he cooed in a whisper. Then, unbidden, a memory continued for him, But tell me, what is such an outsider to the gypsy world doing here? A foundling, you said? He could easily have been left on a doorstep and accepted...
Clopin raised his head to look at Jehan, then lowered Aubrey into the crib. The blond gypsy was puzzled by the expression on his friend's face as Clopin stood. He was even more startled when the gypsy king clasped him in a tight hug. Bewildered as he was, Jehan patted his older brother's shoulder, almost feeling that he was reassuring him about something. But, as ever, Clopin's thoughts eluded Jehan.
Clopin stepped back, his gaze returning to the baby and the reflective expression remaining on his visage. "Aubrey, is it?" he said softly. Jehan clenched his jaw and nodded sharply.
"Hallo, Clopin," Melisande's sleepy voice called. Jehan turned. She stood slightly tilted with one hand holding the dividing curtain, the other rubbing the last bits of sleep out of her eyes. She yawned and stretched, then drifted over to them. "Clopin, did you wake my son?" Her tone was teasing. She took Jehan's arm and smiled at him before glancing at Clopin.
The gypsy king, however, had not acknowledged her presence; he was still studying the child. Abruptly he asked, "Aubrey what?"
"What do you mean?" Jehan stammered, confused.
Clopin looked at him with a blank expression and one eyebrow raised. "What is your name?"
"Je--Oh..." The blond gypsy finally caught on.
"Exactly. You have no family name to pass on to your son," Clopin mused. "Well, perhaps you do--"
"No," Jehan interrupted sharply, "I refuse to be associated with the gajo name."
Clopin flung his hands up in front of him in defense. "All right, all right, I never said you had to!"
"What was Paquette's name?"
Clopin shook his head. "No, no, Paquette's children all make names for themselves!"
Melisande finally spoke up, though quietly. "Why does it matter?"
The gypsy king shrugged. "It is merely something to think on."
Jehan glared at him. "Since you thought it up, old fool, do you have any suggestions?"
"Or should I even ask..." Jehan narrowed his eyes warily.
Clopin ignored the comment, casting one last soft glance at Aubrey with a quietly said, "L'Fout»m»raire, L'FouentŐte . . . D'Coeurvrai." And then he was gone from the tent.
Melisande blinked and missed him. "Why does he do things like that?"
Jehan stared at the spot where Clopin formerly stood, murmuring, "I have no earthly idea..."
She knelt by the cradle to check on Aubrey. The baby slept soundly. She drew him out in a bundle of blankets. "What was that last thing he said?" Carefully holding the infant, she rose, with an audible crick from her knees. Jehan frowned and moved to hold her around the waist. Taking it as affection instead of concern for her inevitable collapse, Melisande leaned against him, sighing.
"I believe he called me 'daring fool' and 'headstrong fool'."
"But you are not a fool...And I should hope neither will suit Aubrey," she commented wryly. She gazed at the tent's entrance, thinking. "Now I recall a third one. What do you think of it?"
"I take it seriously -- and wonder how well he is feeling lately." Jehan raised a skeptical eyebrow as he glanced toward Clopin's long since cold path.
Melisande unwrapped the bundled baby, cooing absently, "Do you think he really looks to Aubrey as a grandson?" Aubrey yawned and blinked at them, then smiled.
Jehan murmured, "I think 'the fool of true heart' is too long...D'Coeurvrai is perfect."
Aubrey added his own comment of "Aaa-aaa-AAA!"
Jehan sat at the base of a tree near a wall of the cemetery, a drooping wildflower ready to fall from his left hand. Beside him was a small unmarked grave -- unmarked save for the withered flower he had placed there seven nights back. Paquette had spent most of her life in the tunnels of the Court of Miracles, so it was decided that she should rest eternally as close to the sunlight as possible.
Jehan exhaled shakily, wishing to weep yet he could find no tears. The chill evening wind whispered through the bare branches of the tree, while the sky slowly darkened. The blond gypsy shivered, but left his cloak as it was, pinned behind his shoulders so that his heart was bared. "Mama...I wish you could have seen my son...You gave him a name, at least..." He smiled. "He is a wonderful little boy...I know you would have loved to help raise him..." His voice began to break. "Just...as...you raised...me..."
The flower fell from his trembling hand. He wiped his eyes with the back of the other. "Ma...ma..." He bowed his head, at last weeping. The wind whistled again, and the stars began to appear against the soft blue night.
Pressure on his shaking shoulder drew his attention upward. Warm candlelight greeted him, along with Clopin's gentle visage. Jehan hastily wiped his eyes, uttering a shuddering sigh that was meant to steady himself. The gypsy king sat down against the tree, placing the fitful candle between them. There was a silence where only the wind sang, teasing the tiny flame while the two watched it dance. But the candle remained lit through it all.
The blond gypsy inadvertently sniffled, and he croaked, "Why..? Did you follow me?"
Clopin looked out across the graveyard. He replied seeming-absently, "Can Clopin not come outside at night without being questioned?"
Jehan made a face that said he was fed up with Clopin's games. He then turned away from the gypsy king, his gaze falling on Paquette's grave. His face softened, and his shoulders sagged.
Clopin picked up the candleholder and slowly rocked it back and forth, watching the melted wax flow from one side of the pan to the other. Then he reached, carefully, over to let the wax spill onto the blond gypsy's hand. It took a moment before Jehan yelped and jerked his hand away, leaping into a crouch to face Clopin.
OW!! What was that for, you--"
Clopin pressed a finger to his lips, then gestured to the candle as he set it down. The flame was battered by the wind again, yet, again, it managed to stay lit. Clopin cupped his hands around the flame, then released the tiny fire. He waved one hand over the flame, and it went out. He held a hand in front of the smoldering wick and let out a small puff of breath. When he moved the hand away, a tiny blue nub of flame clung to the wick. It slowly grew until it shown bright once more. Clopin grinned at it as if it were a child he was proud of, a look Jehan did not miss. The blond gypsy slowly nodded in understanding.
Clopin again picked up the candle, this time holding it steady as he rose. He offered his friend a hand up. Jehan retrieved the dropped flower and placed it on the middle of the unmarked grave before accepting the help. Clopin patted the young man's shoulder as they turned toward home.
The crisp wind whisked past again, taking with it the older, withered flower. The new one rolled into its place at the head of the grave, and a bright star gleamed down upon it.
Coming Next: The Tale of The Circle, Chapter Five: The Return
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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