Posted November 29, 1997
[Timeline: This chapter takes place about the same time as chapters 3/4 of The Tale of The Blond Gypsy. My thanks to Karen aka Huguette for inspiration for this chapter, and also to Rayven]
"Shiriluna! Shiriluna, don't wander too far!"
"I won't, Mama." The little girl went skipping ahead through the forest, as though she had not heard her mother.
Samira took her time walking between the trees. She was free, free...well, for a while anyway. It was a warm Autumn day. She had been sent to get water from the stream at the edge of the forest. The only warning had been that she should not go beyond the river's closer bank. She wondered why they trusted her...
She had kept track of the time. Seven winters. Seven years of obedience, of slavery, of a stifled will. At least they had not broken the spirit of the child. Samira stopped to rest a moment, leaning her arm on a tree and resting her head against the arm. She watched Shiriluna skipping through the leaves, waving a stick in her hand as if conducting the foliage in a Fall symphony. Samira smiled. The child would see freedom yet.
I make that promise every year, she sighed to herself. When will I make it true? She batted away the thought and continued on, making a straight line out of Shiriluna's capricious path. The stream should be around here, somewhere....The trees began to thin, and then Samira saw what seemed more like a narrow river than a little stream. And across the water-way was a wide open field -- and beyond that, beyond the low, rolling green-and-wheat-coloured hills, beyond the little line cutting a road through the land, was that another forest there? Samira whimpered slightly. Was Paris just beyond that forest? Would Clopin still be there, if he had made it to the city? Would she ever know..?
In time, she told herself. She knelt on the bank of the river-stream and lowered the first bucket into the cool water. Some day a chance will come. We can wait. We will be ready, whenever that day comes.
She filled the second bucket. But instead of heading back to camp as she should have done, she settled down comfortably to just sit for a while and enjoy the sunshine. Shiriluna pranced around, having a grand old time dancing with the air and leaves and maybe an invisible friend. Samira smiled, listening to the girl babble aimlessly to no one and everything. The stream whispered soothingly. Samira found herself feeling more happy than she had ever felt since the day Shiriluna had been born.
She did not notice the passing hours. She felt so at peace in that one spot that she did not want to leave. It was as the sun was descending that she realized she had best return to camp or be punished. The water had seeped out of the buckets. She hastily refilled them. Then she looked around for Shiriluna. Not seeing her in the immediate area, Samira began to panic.
"Shiriluna? Shiriluna!" she cried in a gaspy voice.
"Over here, Mama." A small form popped up from the tall grass in the field on the other side of the stream.
"Come here at once," Samira commanded in a relieved, yet exasperated tone.
"Coming, Mama." The little figure crawled out of the grass, stood up, and shook off the bits of weeds and sticks in a humorous way, dry grass stuck to her clothes and giving her black hair literal wheat highlights. She came up to the river's bank, bending over to splash water on her face in an attempt to clean off the dirt.
"What a mess," Samira scolded, gently though. She reached out across the stream to brush some straw off Shiriluna's skirt -- but halfway over the stream, her hand began to tremble violently. Samira drew back in shock. She reached out again, but knew already what would happen. She buried her face in her hands and wept. Now she knew why they trusted her not to run away. Because she could not, would not. Because she would always obey them. Because she was one of them.
Shiriluna found the narrow part of the stream where she had crossed earlier and hopped over. Then she ran to her mama and clung to Samira's arm. "Mama? Mama, Mama..."
Samira did not hear her. She was too lost in her weeping...She had become what she hated most...She should never have played their game, she should have rebeled instead of obeying. She would rather have died than be one of them...Only the feeling of a small body slumping against her drew her out of her thoughts.
Shiriluna had crossed the stream, Samira remembered as she absently hugged the child. Of course, the girl was innocent, maybe their dark magic could not affect her...But what of the coming years? How much time would she have to help Shiriluna escape before it was too late? And...and this also meant that Samira could never see Clopin again...
She began to weep again. She had to find a way to escape this curse! She raised her head to look through her tears toward the distant forest across the field and hills. The light from the setting sun gave a rosy-yellow hue to the sky. A breeze whispered by, gently taking snatches of her hair and draping them across her face. Samira looked toward the setting sun, receiving a sudden dread of the approaching night. The abrupt call of a bird made her look upward.
A raven danced in the air, its wings folding delicately against the currents as it soared. It called again, yet its voice was not the harsh caw of its brethren. Samira was neither overly curious or cautious. There was something odd, yet not threatening about the black bird.
At last she stood, after refilling the buckets once more, and then with Shiriluna following at her skirt, headed toward camp.
Robuert was waiting at the edge of the camp, his arms crossed as he casually leaned against a tree. Samira walked right past him, ignoring him as best she could. Her only change in glance was to look down to make sure that Shiriluna was still with her, which she was. She brought the water to the cook tent. Instead of returning to her own tent, she went to the end of the clearing to sit and look at the sky. The raven had followed (or led) her to camp. She had felt calm, even reassured, despite her earlier discovery. She felt a hope, that is what it was.
The raven settled onto a high branch, and cawed softly. Shiriluna meandered around, but not wandering too far. Samira gazed off through the trees, resting her head on her hands and her elbows on her lap. It had been a long while since she had stargazed. At the moment, she was afraid to.
She sensed the fourth presence even before the raven called out loudly. She went rigid, then turned, standing as she whirled 'round. She involuntarily took a few steps backward in fear.
Before her was a sorry excuse for a man, his dark clothes raggedy, his face badly unshaven, black hair unkempt, one eye covered by a makeshift patch, the other sunk and bagged, and the right-hand sleeve of his tunic hung at his side, empty...Samira covered a gasp with the back of her hand, inadvertantly biting a knuckle in horror.
The man also took a step or two backwards, retreating silently to the shadows of a tree. "Em sorry, M'm," he rasped softly. "Did'n mean t' scare you." He seemed to have trouble pronouncing words.
Samira forced her hand down, clasping the other in front of her. "Who are you?" she demanded, trying to keep her voice steady.
He looked thoughtful for a moment, as if he had to consider a great puzzle. "Dem-mek," he said at last. He glanced around furtively, then leaned too close to her for Samira's comfort and breathed, "A freend of Clopin."
Samira caught her breath in hope. So was Clopin alive, and had he sent someone to find her? But, no, she realized immediately after the first thought, this man had been among the Dark Gypsies longer than she had -- possibly involved in whatever had spurred them to hunt Clopin and try to kill him.
"That tis why Em like this," the man, Damek, was saying. "They thought I was a traitor, too." A gleeful glint came to his eye. "But I was'n. I fool them. They doh'n know what side Em on now!" He sobered and said quietly, "I want t' help you."
Samira was taken aback. Was she to fall for such an obvious trick? Robuert had sent one of his repulsive minions to her to offer freedom, freedom which would lead to deep, enchanted slavery, and she was to believe it? She fixed him with a burning glare. "Why would you help me? Why are you doing this?"
The poor man cringed back slightly, then went into the same puzzled trance as before. After too many moments for Samira's taste, he replied, "because you innocent. Child should not be here, either." He offered a tight smile. "Need t' help Clopin. My fault..."
His face collapsed to sorrow, and tears fell openly. Samira was again startled, but this time she accepted him as truthful -- for the moment. Something about him told her that he was extremely sorry for what he had done in the past.
"`Twas wrong of me," Damek whimpered. "I did'n know then th' extent of this accursed darkness!" He clenched his hand into an angry fist. "Other freends, like Clopin, disappear, found dead...Never found Clopin..."
Samira felt hope again. If the Dark Gypsies never caught Clopin, there was definitely a chance that he had reached Paris -- the soldiers there were not exactly kind to gypsies, she knew, but he would be far safer hiding from them than from his ex-kinsmen.
"I'll help you," the man singsonged. "I'll help you escape."
"When?" Samira cried, more excited than she had meant to sound. At last, a chance to see Shiriluna free!
"Must wait," the man said in hushed tones. "Time'll come that is right. You wait jus' a little while longer...It will come." His expression was deeply solemn, sealing his promise as true.
Samira thanked him gratefully before fetching Shiriluna and heading for her tent. At last, freedom was within reach...She was disappointed that the sky was now cloudy, for she wished to see some foresight to the event of their escape -- best not to get too hopeful if the attempt was to fail.
Shiriluna was asleep as soon as she hit the blanket. Samira almost resisted sleep, afraid of what dreams might come -- they had come less and less over the years, yet still persisted, never leaving completely.
She considered Damek and his promise. Was he truly a spy, or did he mean exactly what he said? How could he help her escape? Robuert had ways of watching her, and from the experience at the stream, ways of keeping her trapped.
Yes, the stream....Everything drew inward at that thought. Am I now one of them, because I obeyed the magic holding me, because I did not fight them this time? she wondered, horrified. Is the darkness inside me, without me realizing, and am I a follower of it? A small sob escaped from her. "I am..." she whispered. She gasped breathlessly, "No, no, I will not let them own me. I will not house an evil darkness. They shall not keep me here!"
She put her face in the blanket to calm herself. Madness will get me nowhere. I know, and they know, that I will never truly be one of them.
She drifted off to sleep.
Random images went through her dreams. Shiriluna as a young woman; a raven; a fiery village; a blond-haired young man whom she did not know; a cloud of darkness that followed someone; and Clopin, so different, yet still the same as she had known him.
She did not see Damek the next morning, nor the day after that, or the day after that. Even though she had not allowed her hopes to get high, her heart sank all the same. No one here even cares about a mere child, she thought forlornly as she watched Shiriluna play with her doll while Samira was sewing clothes. Children do not deserve such hardship and oppression... Nor do I, she added bitterly. I would be working my hardest back on the farm...And that is far different from this.
It was not until a fortnight after the promise was made that Damek appeared again. Samira had noted that she never saw him with the others during the times she left her tent, which had been more frequent in recent years. She had to find out more about him before she trusted him and saw his promise as credible.
His expression was grim in the light from her small cookfire -- terrifying even. She had been fighting the urge to stargaze, with the sky finally clear, and he startled her to say the least.
"Em sorry," he began softly. "It'll be a longer time to help you than Eh thought..."
"But...I will be able to escape?" Samira dared to ask, her voice barely a whisper.
"Yes, yes, you'll not be here forever," Damek assured. He looked around for Shiriluna and smiled at the sight of the little girl hopping between the moonbeams that shown through the trees. She seemed to dance with the light, her arms waving delicately out in front of her, a soft, sweet song coming forth from her small lips.
Samira allowed a smile of her own to surface. Damek chuckled. "Aye, there's a child o' Clopin, all righ'," he said. A distant look came to his eye as he recalled his long lost, and nearly forgotten, childhood days. Long since lost...
"How long?" Samira whispered, bringing him back to his now harsh, bitter world.
"Eh can' say..." He hesitated, then looked at her squarely, "For Eh doh'n know..." He stared at the ground again. "It'll be sooner than you think, M'm. I promise."
He stole away into the shadows, leaving Samira to sink inside herself, hating herself for getting her hopes up. Only Shiriluna kept an unconcerned air.
Samira could no longer resist. Humming softly, brokenly, she eased her head back to look at the stars. Her eyes widened. Then her head fell forward and she buried her face in her hands. Only one message came to her: Damek, her only hope, was going to die...
Coming Next: The Fourth Chapter of Living in the Darkness: Free Spirits
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(c) 1997-2004 Autumn Loweck. This work may not be copied, distributed, or reprinted without the author's permission. All characters not owned by Disney are property of Autumn Loweck (aka Shiri) and may not be "borrowed" or mentioned in other works without notifying the author first