posted May 31,1998

Interlude: The Moon Song's Guardian Raven

[Once again, my continued thanks to the StarChild for allowing me use of the DreamWalker, doubly so for letting me warp DW beyond how she has previously appeared in Rayven's stories!
*** IMPORTANT NOTICE: The third section of this chapter contains a part in italics; this was written by the StarChild, and I had to put it in because it added the perfect touch for the end of this Interlude.]

Chapter Three - Endings and Continuations

The cold, crisp air was filled with the sounds of hammers on wood, people chattering, and here and there some music. Colorful swatches of cloth floated in the breeze or sat in piles waiting to be displayed. Construction for the Feast of Fools had begun again.
Clopin sat astride the right-hand crossbeam of the main stage, tying one corner of a brightly decorated curtain to the edge of the wooden frame with a piece of rope. Jehan straddled the opposite crossbeam, securing the other end of the curtain. Jehan waved over that he had finished. In unison they turned to each other, then each swung down to land on his feet on the stage.
"Another hour and there will be a crowd around this stage," Jehan said gleefully.
"And a few hours after that, it will all be over," Clopin added dryly.
Jehan folded his arms over his chest. "Why am I getting the feeling you aren't looking forward to this day?"
"Oh, of course I am!" the other protested. He scuffed his shoe on the floorboards. "I, uh--"
"--Worried about Shiriluna." Jehan shook his head, muttering, "Your own fault for keeping her away from the festival the past two years..."
"Yes, I am worried!" Clopin admitted with exasperation. "I have a feeling that something will go wrong."
"Something always goes wrong, but no one minds because it is a topsy turvy day." A sly grin made its way across Jehan's face.
Clopin glared at him, then spoke in a wary tone, "I sense something worse than the usual mischief..."
"Sense? You sound like Rayven! Relax, old fool. It's a day for fun. Don't go ruining it for Shiriluna just because you are paranoid." With that, the blond gypsy skipped off to join the flurry of activity around them.
Clopin scowled after him. "My fears usually prove right, no, young fool?" The curtain rustled behind him. Clopin whirled to see Rayven herself coming onto the stage. "You are still here?" he asked incredulously. She smiled and inclined her head in a nod. "I would have thought you'd have left on some quest by now," he scoffed.
"My quest led me here. So I shall remain until it is clear that I am no longer needed."
Clopin stifled a nervous grimace. "No offense, dear Rayven, but somehow that makes me uneasy..."
Rayven smiled softly. "I understand." She sighed. "After all, you know the legends of a raven's appearance."
"You, corbeau de reve, are the one exception to that saying." Clopin grinned broadly.
"Why, thank you," Rayven chirped with a curtsy. Clopin could tell from the gleam in her eyes that she was just as excited about the festival as everyone else. Then she looked him over from head to toe. "Should you not be getting ready, seeing as everything is nearly finished?"
Clopin looked down at his faded work clothes and nodded. He moved off the stage, calling to her without turning his head, "Enjoy the festival, Rayven...Be careful." He disappeared among the bustle of the arriving crowds.
"You, as well," the DreamWalker warned softly. She drifted back behind the curtain.
Phineas awaited her there, waving the bow for his fiddle at her. "There you are, lassie. I was hoping you wouldn't change your mind and go wandering off as you always do in the end." He sat down on one of the three chairs curtained off between the two stages.
"No, I am staying for a while this time," Rayven offered with a hypocritical grin.
Phineas sighed as he took up his fiddle and cradled the end under his chin. "Lass, you are far too flighty for one who is not truly a bird." He played a short scale.
"One might wonder," the DreamWalker murmured cryptically. She picked up the violin resting under the chair beside him. Phineas lowered his fiddle then stared at her for a long moment, while she, oblivious, launched into a lively tune on the violin.
A voice cried out from below their platform, "Hey! I am not ready yet! You are not starting already, are you?!" Shiriluna's head popped up in the space between the stage and the musicians' platform. Phineas chuckled at the mask adorning her face.
Rayven paused in mid-stroke. "Apologies, only rehearsing." She grinned at Shiriluna's costume as the girl pulled herself halfway up onto the platform.
"Well, be quieter about it, you are making me nervous!" Shiriluna rocked forward and back, leaning her stomach on the edge of the platform. "And I want to surprise the crowd, not alert them with false entrance music." She winked then slid back under the stage.
Rayven grinned at Phineas. "She should not be so nervous about being early, for in another moment it will be time to begin!"
Phineas noted the gleam in her eyes. He could not remember the last time he had seen her mischievous side, for all the changes she had gone through since their first parting; and upon her first return, the weight that was invisible over her had been a mantle of oppressive seriousness for whatever quest she was on. But now, with that eager smile on her face, he saw the lass he had fallen in love with so long ago.
A new voice entered their midst, that of Teague-Raviv, who carried his piccolo high like an unlit torch. "Are we all ready to start this?" He took the seat beside Rayven's chair. He looked even more nervous than Shiriluna.
Phineas laughed, at the boy's expense. "What's the matter, lad? You look worried -- and you get to stay out of sight while you perform!"
"Just -- nervous for Shiriluna," Teague sputtered.
"Everyone so nervous!" Rayven cried. She shared a mirthful smirk with Phineas. "`Tis ought but a small festival. These children always fret too much." Phineas winked at her in reply.
Just then Clopin stumbled by, pulling on the last bit of his costume over a pair of bright blue breeches. When he had his balance again and stood trying to adjust the clothing over his form, both Phineas and Rayven burst out laughing. Clopin whirled and glared at them, inspiring more laughter, with Teague joining in.
"You asked for it!" Rayven proclaimed between chuckles. "It was your idea!"
Clopin grumbled something then stalked off to the far edge of the platform, causing another round of mocking mirth. Phineas pointed after him with the bow while they calmed. "The lad there seems troubled -- beyond knowing how ridiculous he looks. It wouldn't bother him so much, otherwise," he added with a crooked grin.
"Aye," Rayven muttered, sounding suspiciously like she knew something other than the apparent.
Teague looked begrudged. "You call everyone 'lad'?" he questioned.
"Yes," Phineas replied brightly. "Or lass."
"You'll understand when you are older," Rayven offered. She traded glances with Phineas and they laughed again.
Shiriluna scrambled up onto the platform a moment later. "It's time!" she crooned, whirling around in glee. Then she caught sight of her papa skulking at the other side of the enclosure. Hysteria laughter bubbled forth. Clopin growled something that should have made her blush, but she only laughed harder.
Outside, spread around the stages, the crowd waited anxiously for the festival to begin. A sour-looking minister of justice sat in a shaded booth set at the side of the pavilion, although, his presence did not hold an oppressive air over the joyous atmosphere. Too much. Jehan stood atop his tightrope bedecked in bright orange and yellow; the rope was situated a few feet away from the top of the main stage. At that moment he commanded all attention. He twirled his balancing pole in one hand like a quarter-staff as he called out the traditional introduction in a clear tenor. "Come one------! Come aaaaalllll! Come and join the Feast...of..."
A brightly clad figure cartwheeled out onto the stage. It stopped at the edge, spread-eagle and grinning broadly. The crowd was silent in puzzlement -- well, it looked like the usual master of ceremonies, same costume as usual, same mask, same hat...but the figure's hips were too wide, and the chest...decidedly feminine. Then the M.C. sang out the traditional return, "FOOLS!!" in a pitch definitely not male. The figure pulled off the hat and mask -- long sable hair tumbled free, and female facial shape was revealed. A mistress of ceremonies. The crowd answered with chuckles of surprise and some cheers for the festival's official beginning.
Then a second figure came out, stumbling out from the side of the stage, behind the curtain. He staggered to where the stage ended, then looked down at his costume, incredulous, looked up again, and gave a wail of despair; Clopin wore Shiriluna's blouse, bodice, and skirt. He was answered by a roar of laughter from the crowd.
Jehan guffawed the hardest, nearly falling off the rope. He kept his balance, though, and twirled the staff again. "Let the festivities begin!" he called out, while Shiriluna and Clopin bowed in unison. The crowd answered with cheers, then spread to tend to the various entertainments. Clopin did a flip onto the stage and proceeded to "trade costumes." He took off the skirt and bodice, revealing the blue breeches that matched the checkered shirt sticking out from under the blouse. Shiriluna removed the borrowed blue-and-magenta tunic, revealing her spare outfit piece, a light green blouse. She threw her arms up at the exact moment before Clopin brought the skirt down over her head. The whole exchange became comical, and by the end they were each clad in a completely different, and mismatched, costume -- Clopin in blue trousers (the breeches were longer than first assumed ), a short-sleeved yellow-blue-green tunic, the green shoes he had entered with, and his mask; Shiriluna had her own skirt, the green blouse, the borrowed leggings and shoes, and Clopin's hat perched on her head. They bowed again. To the crowd their similar looks were uncanny. Anyone could surmise that they were related -- unless the 'anyone' was completely drunk, that is.
The two retreated to the curtain to let the next act on. Esmeralda twirled past them, Phineas following with his fiddle in hand. He sat in the back corner of the stage while Esmeralda took center. Inside the enclosure, Teague leapt up to hug Shiriluna. She barely contained the urge to shove him away in impatience. "I can't wait to do it again next year!" Shiriluna cried, twirling out of Teague's hold. She grinned at him teasingly.
"I think I would rather be out front next time," Teague commented. He snatched up his piccolo and played a scattering of notes.
Clopin chuckled as if he had already thought of a better trick for the next Feast of Fools.
Shiriluna kicked off her borrowed shoes then struggled out of the leggings. "Can I go wander the festival now, Papa? I don't really need someone to watch over me!"
Clopin handed her the plain shoes as he took his boots and leggings from her. "Teague isn't necessarily watching over you..." He grinned at the boy.
Teague saluted with the piccolo. "It is my first time, also. We are in it together." He shot a grin at his ladylove.
"Well, let's get going!" Shiriluna danced to the edge of the curtained platform, holding her hand out in gesture for Teague to come and take it. He pocketed the piccolo and followed her out into the crowds.
"Be careful!" Clopin called after them. He sighed and shook his head, taking a seat beside the silently-watching Rayven. "I should follow them. Or send someone to follow them."
"I would not worry about it," Rayven assured, waving a dismissive hand through the air. Clopin thought he heard a flutter of wings and a faint caw and wondered about her gesture. "You will not enjoy the festival if you fret all day -- and neither will she." The last was said in a warning tone, reprimanding Clopin to not spoil his daughter's fun. "Teague is perfectly able to watch over her, and you know very well Jehan will spy on her without you even asking."
Clopin chuckled lightly. "Aye, you are right, he will, the little fool." He added sharply, "As long as he stays sober, I don't mind if he is nosy."
Rayven raised an eyebrow. "Jehan never drinks. He refuses to after that one incident."
"He will be sorely tempted," Clopin snorted. He shook a finger in suspicion. "There is something troubling that boy, but he is hiding it well." Rayven recalled Phineas' similar comment about Clopin and merely nodded non-committally in response. "We shall soon find out, too," Clopin vowed.
"Clopin, why don't you go spy on all three of them yourself?" Rayven asked sweetly.
Clopin jerked back, shocked by her tone. It wasn't her way to act like that. "I have a puppet show to tend to," he sputtered out, then darted out of the enclosure before she could blink. Rayven sighed and leaned back. The tension vibrated in the air around her. This was going to be an interesting day...
The curtain between her and the stage was pushed back to admit Phineas and a gasping, but grinning, Esmeralda, who headed straight for the gap between the platforms. Phineas stood before Rayven, brandishing the fiddle's bow like a sword. "Come now, lass, see the festival! I'll keep you safe!" He galliantly jabbed at the air with the bow, rewarded with the added touch of a twang from his fiddle. Rayven laughed while he gazed in dismay at the snapped string curling loose on the instrument.
"We still have music to make, lad." She emphasized with a scale on her violin.
Phineas shrugged, smiling sheepishly. "Still, lass, no one said we had to hide here all day." He grinned mischievously.
"I would rather hide," Rayven said in a tone that bespoke of the apprehensions previously sensed.
Phineas "hmph"ed in defeat and sank onto the chair to her right. "Lass, I never imagined you could play that thing." He gestured to the violin. "Surprised me, I must say."
"I think I surprised everyone by volunteering for this." She grinned. "The reaction was a king's ransom."
She started a soft tune, while Phineas tried futilely to reset the broken string on his fiddle. Finally he gave up, gently setting it under his chair. "Well, Mitta won't be singing any more today." He slumped forward glumly.
"You have plenty to fall back on," Rayven put in without pausing her tune.
Phineas abruptly grabbed her arm, causing the last note to become a hair-raising scrik. Rayven glared at him. "Come on, lass," he pleaded softly, "Let's enjoy the festival while we still have time together." Rayven hesitated. "Please?" His grey eyes showed the sorrow of knowing she would leave Paris soon after the festival's affects wore off.
"I can't," she mustered. She patted her bad hip. "Can't go wandering today."
"I'll support you," he offered in a useless reply. He looked down at the floorboards, hanging his head in defeat. Abruptly he stood. "I'll return in a moment," he muttered, heading for the side exit.
"Wait." Rayven set aside the violin and bow. He turned, despair on his face. Rayven smiled and held her hand out for him to take. "You are an insistant one, Teachdaire."
Phineas grinned from ear-to-ear as he helped her down from the platform.

* * * * *

The crowning of the King of Fools went to the hands of the master of ceremonies, with help from Esmeralda and her highly-opinionated goat, Djali. Jehan was in the crowd talking to his friend Dovev when the contest began. "You should be up there, gajo," Dovev taunted with a grin.
"No, you should," Jehan insisted, tugging a swatch of Dovev's shaggy black hair that tended to fall into the younger gypsy's eyes whenever he turned his head.
Dovev swatted him away. "You ought to show them how its done!"
The blond gypsy gave him a skeptical look. "I don't think I should, friend. It could get ugly." He turned back to the stage. It took a minute before Dovev burst out laughing. Jehan clenched his teeth in a faulty grin.
The face-making contest lasted longer than usual since Djali was more interested in taking a nap than kicking people offstage. Finally Esmeralda choose a hilariously foolish made-face as the winner. Jehan watched passively. "I think I could have done better than that."
"I think you could have, too," Dovev agreed.
"But you wouldn't have to try so hard!" Jehan laughed.
Dovev chuckled to humour him, turning to wander elsewhere without a fare well. Jehan was about to move off in the opposite direction when a flash of blue caught his eye. He twisted around and saw Shiriluna leaning against a wall, just outside the shadowed mouth of a narrow alley. He would have dismissed it as that she wanted to get aside of the crush for a moment, but then he noticed how she somewhat swayed, forward and back, in rhythm with none of the audible music. She took one staggering step, then fell back against the wall. Suddenly grave-faced, Jehan hurried over to her.
"Shiri--?" The word had barely left his mouth when her legs trembled and she began to collapse. Jehan quickly grabbed her about the waist to hold her up. Another question formed on his lips, but froze in his expression as she smiled dazedly up at him. Jehan pressed his lips together tightly, concern fully in him. He let her sag to the ground to a better position for him to gather her up in his arms. She uttered a stifled giggle, letting herself hang limp in his hold. Only as he neared one of the costume tents did she put her arms around his neck to ease his burden -- and he caught a whiff of something sweet that didn't quite seem like perfume.
Shiriluna giggled again as he set her down on a pile of curtains. He crouched beside her, studying he warily. He noticed that her blouse was wet, mostly along the wide collar. Suspicious, Jehan leaned a little closer and sniffed -- and drew back in shock, now recognizing the scent. "Wine?" he whispered. Then he looked Shiriluna straight in the eyes, hissing, "Wine?! Why were you drinking wine?!" She merely smiled back dreamily and swayed. Jehan grasped her shoulders firmly, scowling. "Wine, Shiri? How could you get drunk?!"
She hiccupped then. "It...wassseasssy." She mulled over the words, then let out a brash laugh.
"You know how your papa feels about..." Jehan's eyes widened at the laugh. "He is going to kill you!"
"Nonononono," Shiriluna slurred, leaning forward against him. "You won' let him, righ'? 'Course you won'..."
Jehan pushed her away from him, holding her out at armslength. "How did this happen, Shiri? You would not do this at your own free will!"
"Yesshh, I coul'," she protested gleefully. She grinned lewdly. "Afte' the firssst few glasses they made me drink, another wasshh....easshhy..."
"They?!" He shook her hard. "Who was they?!" He gripped her shoulders so hard he feared he might hurt her, although she showed no signs of registering pain, and he was desperate for an answer.
"Ssssome nice man...He said-said I wasss...very...pretty!" She giggled again.
Jehan groaned and shook her again. Getting her drunk had better be all the bastard has done, he thought in fury. "Where is Teague?" he asked suddenly. The boy was supposed to be guarding the princess...Jehan narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
"He, umm..." Shiriluna seemed to contemplate a reply. Then she giggled. "I think he gave me the wine!" she said brightly, as if it were some brilliant idea.
Jehan shook her again. "Shiri! This is no time for games! Think so that you make sense!" She giggled once more. In an instance of uncontrolled rage, he slapped her across the face.
Shiriluna drew back, the light of recognition coming to her eyes as her hand flew up to her cheek. She looked like she was about to cry. Jehan was hiorrified by his action. "Shiri, I--" he stammered, his face flushing.
Immediately she flung herself at him, hugging her ams around him and burying her face in his shoulder. "I know you didn't mean any harm," she mumbled.
Jehan sighed in relief and gently patted her back. "I'm sorry. But, come, we have to find Teague...And tell your papa."
Shiriluna only hugged him tighter. As if oblivious to his words, she murmured, "No, no, you would never hurt me...Because you love me..." Before he could respond, she kissed his neck, then his cheek.
Jehan stiffened, giving a mental groan. Not this again...Hadn't she gotten over her deluded feelings for him? Obviously not, he chided himself. He gently tried to push her away. But she clung to him for dear life. "Shiri, stop--" he attempted to say; however, it came as "Mmph!" as she kissed him full on the lips. Another bout of rage came over him and he found the will to shove her away hard. She squealed as she landed against the pile of curtains, a look in her eyes when she gazed at him that made him turn away. Jehan leapt to his feet and bolted for the tent's entrance. "You stay right here!" he ordered sharply. He threw aside the tent flap and crashed right into Teague-Raviv. More specifically, Teague's fist. Jehan clutched his nose, falling to his knees, then bent forward, groaning.
"What is going on in here?" Teague demanded. He glared over at Shiriluna, who was in the act of cowering. Then he glared down at Jehan, about to kick the beleaguered blond gypsy.
Jehan raised his head, looking over his fingers with one eye. "She's to be your wife," he snarled, "You remind her she is supposed to be in love with you!"
Teague reeled back in surprise. He thought he had heard...He dropped down beside Jehan. "I left her alone for a few moments. She promised she would wait, but when I returned she was gone. I have been searching for her since, and when I walked past here I heard my name. I, uh, only listened instead of looking in." His ears burned in shame. "I were..." He clenched his jaw.
Jehan's fist shot out to cuff Teague's ear. "I would never do such a thing! I do not love her as she would have me to, but I would never..." His breath came hard in anger, and he barely resisted the urge to punch Teague for such an insulting assumption. A flash of pain across his face had him wincing and holding his nose again.
All of a sudden Shiriluna screamed. Both men turned toward her, Teague hurrying to her side. She sobbed while he wrapped her in a protective hug. "Shhhh," Teague soothed.
Jehan watched half-blindly for a moment before groaning once more, closing his eyes. He bent over again, then unfolded his legs to sprawl face-down. "Mad," he mumbled. "All Trouillefou's are mad..."
He remained like that for he-didn't-know how long. Sometime later, he felt his head being lifted, heard a woman's voice gasping, and felt cool hands gently touching the area around his nose and eyes. "Jehan, love," she murmured, and he was thankful to recognize it as Melisande's voice.
"What in the name of the high heavens happened here?!" blustered another voice. Clopin's. Jehan uttered a low groan, knowing he was the only one who could tell Shiriluna's part of the story. Melisande helped him to sit up. He was relieved to find that he could see just fine, although, the bridge of his nose was tender.
Clopin stood in the entrance to the tent, tapping his foot, his arms folded in irritation. Rayven was there, too, kneeling by the weeping Shiriluna and an uncertain Teague; of course, Teague was ashamed for letting Shiriluna out of his sight. Jehan got unsteadily to his feet, Melisande supporting him by one arm. "She got into the wine," the blond gypsy said without an ounce of tact.
Clopin took a step backward in shock, his arms falling. He stared, horrified, at his daughter. "Shiriluna -- how could you?" There was no anger in his voice, only grief.
Rayven looked up at him. "She is very frightened, Clopin. I don't think she knows what exactly happened, herself."
Jehan shrugged off Melisande's help to storm over to where Shiriluna sat. "And so inebriated she thought she was still in love with me," he sneered down at her coldly. The girl whimpered and hid her face in Rayven's shawl.
"And you, young man!" Clopin turned on Teague. "How could you have left her by herself? You could have at least found Jehan, or someone to watch her before you wandered off!" He emphasized by swiping his hand through the air.
"I can take care of myself!" Shiriluna suddenly shrilled. All eyes turned to her. "Stop treating me like a child!" The words came in a throaty cry, as if she were about to scream. She glared around at all of them, her gaze softening only as she looked at Rayven beseechingly.
Jehan turned toward the exit, gently taking Melisande's hand to lead her out. He paused long enough to narrow his eyes at Clopin. "You had better find an end to this charade, old fool." Then he walked out, Melisande in tow. No one saw them for the rest of the day.
Clopin shook his head in defeat, sinking to the ground. He hung his head and clasped it between his hands. "Why...why anything..." he muttered.
Rayven sat back with a sigh. "What else are topsy turvy days for?" she mused. Shiriluna let out a laugh in agreement.
Clopin glanced up to glare at his daughter. "I am very disappointed in you, Shiriluna."
"I know." The girl bit her lower lip. Then she offered, "Rayven is right. It's just another Topsy Turvy Day..." her voice trailed off when she saw he wasn't amused.
Rayven watched each of them. With a nod, she said, "Let it pass, Clopin. She is young yet. Enough lessons have been learned for one day." She rose slowly. "Continue on."

* * * * *

Two women stood in a field. The grey skies above them drizzled down water like tears. The grass beneath them moved like a restless sea.
The DreamWalker closed her eyes, feeling the shift of patterns around them. Shiriluna watched the older woman's face for a moment before asking softly, "What do you see?"
"Just...two women in a field outside Paris, in the rain." She frowned thoughtfully. "One at the beginning of a quest, the other nearing the end of one." Rayven shook her head and opened her eyes, still frowning. She turned to look at Shiriluna and the two studied each other. Shiriluna absently tucked a straying lock of wavy black hair under her scarf, her blue eyes searching the DreamWalker's face for the answer to some unspoken question. Greying strands of hair blew unattended about Rayven's face, her green eyes revealing nothing. After a few moments it was she who broke the silence.
"So, child, you are home now." There was something of a question in her tone.
Shiriluna nodded slowly in answer. "And you?"
Rayven only shrugged. They walked on.
"One at the beginning of a quest....?" Shiriluna watched the grass before them, thinking. "Do you mean me?"
The wind blew stronger as Rayven answered, nearly obscuring her words, "I don't know."
There was another space of silent walking before the next question. "Where is the storm going?"
"I don't know that either...." The rain began to fall harder and they both shivered, pulling cloak and shawl closer around themselves. When Rayven spoke again, her words came slowly, her voice almost mournful in the wind. "I have always..followed these quests..." She broke off briefly and scowled at a raven as it flew above them, cawing loudly. "Once..once I stopped... broke away from the call. Once......"
Shiriluna interrupted the pause, "So, are you home now?"
Rayven turned away wordlessly.

Shiriluna slowly became aware of the darkness, thought the soft sound of music was what woke her. The dream...Rayven...She sat up quickly, ready to throw aside the blanket. A turn in the music made her pause. The fiddle sang a mournful tune. And she knew she would not find Rayven.
The DreamWalker had answered the call once more.

The End

Coming Next: The Tale of The Circle, Chapter One: Riffraff Ruffian

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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