posted March 29, 1997

The Tale of The Blond Gypsy

[Author's Note: Please pardon the ''Oklahoma!'' reference, the school musical was getting to me at the time...]

Chapter Two - Puppet See, Puppet Do

Clopin liked the idea of being a teacher, especially with a student who wanted to learn. Lessons were held after ClopinĖs puppet shows, which meant they were usually after noon.
Jehan followed Clopin around more than ever now. He actually spent more time with his 'big brother' than with his foster mother Paquette. The times when he just had to tag along was in the morning when Clopin set out for the square outside Notre Dame cathedral where he had placed his puppet theatre-wagon. This was the one and only time Clopin never minded his second shadow being near. After all, he was telling stories to the children, and Jehan counted as one of them.
Clopin's upside-down life became righted when he was storytelling. It seemed to make everything better, or even make everything right. There was truth to his words in what ever moral he was teaching. The fairy tales drew the young children while the themes brought the older ones.
Yet even an innocent storyteller can find trouble other than matching up plot lines. Even more so for a gypsy storyteller. Clopin had learned to be cautious around the soldiers, although more than once he had caught one standing at ease and leaning toward the wagon to hear a tale.
On a day the same as any other, Clopin sat inside his wagon smiling at the small group of children milling around in front of the puppet theatre. Jehan was sitting almost right below the window-stage, a grin on his face. "So what story should Clopin tell today, hmm?" the puppeteer asked.
Immediately his look-alike miniature popped up. "Tell the one about the bell ringer!" Puppet-Clopin piped.
"And why do you want to hear that one?" Clopin asked.
"Because!" the puppet answered, "Um, because...because..." He seemed to debate for a minute, then replied, "No, wait, I don't want to hear that one because you always hit me on the head!"
At that moment Clopin smacked the puppet over the head with a stick. "Much obliged," Clopin said, and a chorus of laughter came from the children. "Anyone else have any other requests?" Clopin asked them.
Jehan jumped up, though ducked his head, and called out, "A story about Judge Frollo! One where he gets put in a cell like he does to the gypsies!"
Clopin laughed at how the boy made to avoid a whack from the stick, and also at his eagerness to hear about Frollo getting a taste of his own treatment...Clopin wished he knew a story about that, but he had to be wary today for the number of soldiers lurking around the square. "Sit, little one," Clopin said to Jehan. "And I will find a tale to your liking."
Instead Jehan leaned up to the window and hissed, "One where Frollo gets hanged!"
"Hush, boy!" Clopin replied harshly. Jehan quickly returned to his seat. Clopin thought for a moment, then: "Ah, I think I know one to tell you..." Clopin smiled, then related the tale of the Ugly Duckling via a blond-haired girl- and several gypsy-puppets.
When it was finished, Jehan scrunched up his little face into a scowl. "That was a stupid story, Clopin," he complained.
"Well, I liked it, and I am the one telling the stories, not you!" This produced giggles from the other children.
Jehan stood. "Then I will tell a story!" he proclaimed.
Clopin chuckled. "And what will you tell? Something about..." Here Clopin became silent and drew back into the shadows inside the wagon. Slowly a puppet rose up, taking center stage. The puppet was a perfect miniature of the Minister of Justice, including a sharp-toothed leer.
Jehan giggled. Puppet-Clopin popped up beside the Frollo puppet, wielding a stick fit for his tiny hands. Puppet-Clopin glanced at the children mischievously, then whacked Puppet-Frollo on the head, and then darted out of view. The Frollo puppet spun around, then fell flat on the window sill. Puppet-Clopin returned, along with a puppet resembling a gypsy farmer. "Poor Claude is dead," crooned Puppet-Clopin.
Jehan let out a loud laugh. Clopin quickly swept the puppets away. "All right, enough fooling around," Clopin interrupted. "Who wants to hear a true story?"
"What's it about?" Jehan asked warily.
"Well..." Clopin made as if he were thinking of the right words, but then: "All right, all right, so it isnĖt true!" he grumbled. The children giggled. Jehan looked smug. "But," Clopin quickly interjected, "It does have a truth to it--"
"Nothing a gypsy tells is truth!" a sneering voice cut him off. Clopin looked up and stifled a gasp. As inconspicuously as he could, he stuffed the puppet-Frollo under the low stool he was sitting on.
The children slowly, hesitatingly, began to leave, sad, disappointed expressions on their faces; but they knew not to stay around when the gray-haired, stern-faced, black-robed man came on his large black horse.
Clopin clenched his jaw. He was not going to let Judge Claude Frollo ruin another morning. "I tell the truth," he insisted softly, his gaze cast toward the lingering children, his gaze lighting especially on Jehan, who was scowling fiercely, his little arms crossed, so that he almost looked comical, if it were not for the hatred in his eyes.
Judge Frollo frowned angrily. "Gypsies are not capable of telling the truth." Clopin lifted his eyes and dared to glare Frollo in the face. The reason he would have looked away was revulsion; but what horrified him more was the similarity in the expressions of Jehan and Claude -- it was a strange thing to take note of, but he noticed it anyway. Judge Frollo's expression became even more furious. Clopin tried to fight the urge to cower, but the idea of acting humble became appealing, and he hunched down a little.
Frollo turned his glare on the remaining children. One in particular caught his attention. A small lad who gazed impudently up at him. What struck Frollo was the familiarity of the child's green eyes and fine blond hair.
By that time Clopin had gotten out of the wagon and was standing warily by the window. He saw Frollo's stare, and terror seized the gypsy. The other children had scattered; it did not seem that Jehan would flee. Clopin darted forward and grabbed up the little boy in his arms. Fear fell over him as much as FrolloĖs dark shadow.
Clopin glanced up, steeling his nerves, and his fear faded. Now he was angry at Frollo for so threatening the children. Clopin set down the boy and pushed Jehan behind him to shield him. Then Clopin glared at Frollo. "What is the meaning of this? I am simply entertaining the children. It is an honest living!"
Frollo sneered at him. "Learn your place, gypsy!" He spat the word like a curse. "You do not belong here. You are a bad influence on the children! The blasphemy you teach--"
"They are just stories, sir!" Clopin interrupted indignantly.
"Silence!" Frollo spurred his horse closer to the gypsy. Clopin leaned backwards and spread his arms protectively to shield Jehan from any harm Frollo might inflict. "You have been warned!" Frollo growled in a menacing tone. He said no more, only glared in disgust at Clopin. Clopin glowered right back. Frollo turned his horse and started off to enact more of his justice elsewhere, but, as Clopin started to turn to Jehan, Frollo's booted foot shot out to kick Clopin hard in the side.
Clopin let out a cry of surprise as he went sprawling to the ground. Jehan, equally startled, first looked to where Clopin lay, then raised his stare to Frollo. Again, Frollo found something familiar in those accusing young eyes. He ignored the thought and urged his horse into a trot away from the fallen gypsy. Jehan swiftly snatched up a pebble and pitched it at the horse.
It missed by much, yea, better, it hit Frollo square in the back of the head. Frollo turned around to glare at the boy, a snarl on his face. Jehan twisted his visage into an impish grin. Frollo turned away without another reprimand.
Jehan continued to grin devilishly until he heard ClopinĖs groan. The little boy leaned over the elder. When he had fallen, Clopin had struck his head hard on the ground. Now he was slow to regain his senses. He rolled over onto his back to see JehanĖs worried face. "Are you okay?" the little boy asked.
"N-no," Clopin managed. He put his hand to the side of his head, and instantly regretted -- touching the wound only made it hurt more. He groaned and lay still against the ground.
"Clopin? Clopin?" Jehan squeaked frantically. He tugged at ClopinĖs sleeve. "Clopin, wake up!"
"In a moment, little one," Clopin mumbled. He suddenly heard other voices; he wondered if they were from inside he head or not.
"What happened?"
"Is he alive?"
"Who is he?"
Then Jehan's voice, shrill and angry, "That mean ol' Frollo kicked him an' he hit his head!" Clopin was glad for the end of the questioning, but that shrill little voice cut through the pain and made it worse.
"Frollo, eh?" came a familiar baritone. The owner's hand grabbed ClopinĖs arm and yanked him to his feet. "Up you go, lad." Clopin staggered unsteadily. Jacques gripped his arm tightly. Clopin winced. He didn't even wonder what Jacques was doing there. Jacques then murmured harshly, "You have made a dangerous enemy out of Judge Frollo -- beware, Clopin." His black eyes burned into ClopinĖs with a true anger.
Clopin felt guilty under that glare, as if he had purposely brought on the attack. He turned away from Jacques and went over to Jehan, who was leaning over something on the ground. "Come on, little one, time to go home..." Clopin reached down to take the boy's hand, but then his eye caught what Jehan was looking at. One of the gypsy-puppets had managed to fall from the window-stage, and now it lay crushed against the ground, having had the misfortune of being in Frollo's way.
Clopin gingerly picked up the trampled puppet and cuddled it in the palm of his gloved hand. Jehan looked sadly at the puppet, then at Clopin. Jacques stepped up to them and patted Clopin's shoulder. "Come on, then, lads, before Judge Clod Frollo decides to come back here." He lifted Jehan onto his shoulders, and pulled Clopin to his feet roughly by his elbow. They looked like an odd set of brothers -- little Jehan with his blond hair, broad-shouldered, tall Jacques, and wiry Clopin. They looked out for each other as brothers do -- although there was something looming around the corner that could break their brothership apart.

* * * * * *

"You must be mad, Clopin!" Jacques proclaimed as he followed Clopin around the latterĖs tent.
"You are right, I am -- mad and angry over this ridiculous things Judge Claude Frollo believes. I am going to find a way to silence him." Despite the events of the previous morning, Clopin was getting ready to go out to his puppet theatre. Which was no easy task with his little shadow underfoot. Jehan clung to the bottom edge of Clopin's tunic, his other hand by his mouth as he sucked his thumb.
"Come now, Jehan, please stop," Clopin groaned, trying to detach the boy's hand from his shirt. "Let go of me and take your fingers out of your mouth. You are too old for that." He picked up the boy and set him on the table, then turned away. Jehan immediately began to cry. Clopin's heart wrenched.
Jacques smiled wistfully, his expression amused. Clopin looked at him helplessly. Jacques shrugged. Clopin leaned toward Jacques and whispered, "What is it with this boy? I feel like he is my foundling!"
Jacques suppressed the urge to laugh out loud. "I told you long ago that he had taken a liking to you, Clopin! He takes you to be his older brother." Jacques smiled contentedly. "He is true to the gypsy way -- we are all brothers and sisters." He clapped Clopin on the shoulders, then headed out of the tent, leaving Clopin to deal with Jehan by himself.
Clopin looked to the little boy, who had stopped crying and who was returning the look tearfully. Clopin sighed, then sat down beside Jehan on the table, and said softly, "Come, Jehan, tell Clopin what you are fussing about." Jehan suddenly burst into tears again and grabbed Clopin's sleeve. Clopin tenderly patted the boy's head. "Don't cry, little one. Tell me what is wrong."
Jehan wiped at his face, but still the tears fell. "I--I--" he sobbed, then blurted, "I-- scared Frollo's gonna get you! He-he'll kill you like he did to my mama!"
Clopin went into shock at those words. He latched onto a rational thought to keep from losing touch on reality. "J-Jehan, lad, do you know what exactly it was Frollo did to your mama?"
Jehan, rubbing one eye, shook his head no.
"Do you know for a fact that it was Frollo?"
Again, the little boy shook his head no.
"Has anyone told you that it was, for certain, Frollo?"
Once more, a negative answer.
Clopin hugged the little boy. "Jehan, I promise to one day find the real answer for you, but as for now, I can tell you that Frollo will not take me away from you."
Jehan clung to Clopin a moment longer, then smiled weakly up at him and hopped off the table. Clopin stood, then grinned mischievously and exclaimed, "Well then, little one, let us go visit ClopinĖs puppets and see what they think of the situation!" He took the boyĖs hand and led him out of the tent.
Jacques had been standing right outside listening to the conversation. He ducked to the side of the tent as Clopin and Jehan left. Jacques' expression held a lop-sided frown. Sometimes I think that lad is right-out insane with the way he talks, Jacques thought of Clopin. Then he frowned sadly as he recalled Jehan's words. I will have to tell them both the entire story of what I know some day soon...but when Jehan is older...

* * * * * *

Again despite the events of the day before, the children came to hear Clopin tell a tale or two. Leaving Jehan to find a seat on the ground, Clopin darted into the wagon after unlocking the door. He scrambled into place and immediately his look-alike popped up and leaned on the window sill. "I don't think Clopin is going to tell a tale today," the puppet squeaked. The children groaned in disappointment. Clopin fought a smile at the sorrowful pout on a brown-haired girlĖs face.
"Why not?" demanded a boy with sandy-colored hair, putting his fists on his hips.
"Clopin isn't feeling well," the puppet replied.
"Is he all right?" asked a red-headed little girl, a worried look on her face. "Is he sick?"
"Oh, very," the puppet nodded gravely. Then he placed his tiny hands on his 'stomach.'
"What is wrong"Ó piped up a chubby boy.
The puppet moaned for a moment, then leaned as close to the children as he could without revealing too much of Clopin's arm and proclaimed, "He got a real good look at Judge Flaw Crollo's face!" The puppet giggled hysterically.
Clopin gave the puppet an odd look, leaning forward so that the sunlight shone on him. "Flaw Crollo?" Clopin asked in a horribly confused tone.
"Yeah, the good Judge, who is full of flaws and speaks in a crowing low voice!" The puppet giggled again.
Clopin rolled his eyes and put his head on his free fist. "You are a sad, strange little boy," he muttered to the puppet.
"And you are a sick gypsy! You should go to bed!" The puppet placed his hands on his 'stomach' again and moaned.
"Sounds like you are the one who is sick, my friend," Clopin said with concern.
"Oy, of course I am! I have to look at that Judge every single time you throw me into that trunk!"
"What trunk?!" Clopin cried, alarmed. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, nothing, Clopin," the puppet answered, innocently clasping its hands behind it.
"Hmm, I am sure." Clopin eyed the puppet suspiciously. Throughout this conversation, the children went into various fits of laughter.
Suddenly Jehan cried out shrilly, "Clopin!" The puppeteer jerked his head up to see the Minister of Justice on his black horse heading across the square. Almost time for my big act, Clopin thought, his heart speeding up a little. Now...can I go through with it..?
Clopin turned his gaze to the children, meeting Jehan's fearful stare. Clopin grinned mischievously to reassure the boy. Then Clopin shook his finger at his look-alike. "That is enough of that, you silly boy." Once again he turned to the children. "Now, who wants to hear a tale, hmm?"
"No one wants to hear any more of your blasphemy," came the same voice that interrupted the show the day before.
Clopin swallowed hard, then forced himself to smile at the approaching Claude Frollo. "Ah, here is a volunteer! Good sir, perhaps you would like to hear about the Madonna and Child..." For a moment FrolloĖs expression wavered to nervousness. Then he growled, "Sacrilege!" The children scurried away in ones and twos as he came closer to the wagon until his horse was less than an inch from it. ClopinĖs gaze wandered to what was left of his audience, his eyes stopping on the look of terror on Jehan's face.
Clopin strengthened his resolve and he smiled at Frollo again. "Well then, sir, what story would you like to hear?"
"Stop mocking me, gypsy," Judge Frollo said menacingly. "I warned you before about your lies and--"
Well, here goes. Clopin suddenly interrupted him by jerking forward and leaning as close to the judge as possible without touching him, a wild grin on his face. "Are they really lies, sir?" Clopin asked brightly, unblinking, locking a mirthful stare on Frollo's eyes. "Are they?" Clopin held his wild smile, keeping his eyes wide with a maniac gleam in them.
Frollo drew back slightly, the faintest hint of unease in his expression. Clopin spoke again, "Are they? Are they?" Now he seemed to be asking a different question, but he forced the anger away and continued to smile. The thought that came into Judge Frollo's mind was: mad gypsy. Frollo tried to tighten his scowl, anything to make the gypsy's stare waver. This man is insane, came the alarming thought to Frollo. No sane gypsy would dare defy me in this way.
Frollo abruptly jerked on the reigns and his horse took flight, away from the wagon, and quickly disappeared from the square. Clopin let out a whoop of triumph and dove into a tumble out the window of the wagon and landed right-side up. Laughing, he picked up Jehan and spun around.
"How was that for a show, little one?" Clopin asked with a grin. "I don't think Frollo will annoy me for a while, do you?"
Jehan giggled. "He was scared of you!"
"Aye, he was indeed!" Clopin chuckled. He set the boy down and called out so anyone could have heard him across the square, "Now, who wants to hear a new story?"

Coming next: The third chapter of The Tale of The Blond Gypsy: The Tight-rope Walker at The Festival of Fools.

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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 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