"I am getting too old for this," Jacques grumbled as he landed hard on his feet after a difficult backflip. He stood at the side of a clear space of the Court's floor, an area left blank of tents and wagons to allow the acrobats and dancers room to practice.
Clopin looked at him up-side down from his handstand pose. "Too old for what, my friend?"
Jacques let out a huff. "Everything." He leaned heavily against the wall, sighing.
"Even the Feast of Fools?" Clopin asked, almost in a whimper.
Jacques sighed again, then muttered, "Maybe, Clopin, maybe..."
"You have to be kidding!" Clopin exclaimed. He straightened his arms and flipped over to right himself. "Aww, Jacques, tell me it isn't true! No one is too old for Topsy Turvy Day!"
"Maybe not too old for Topsy Turvy Day, but too old to be bouncing around all afternoon!"
"Jacques, you are not that old," Clopin said flatly.
"Do you know how many years I have been doing this? Energy does not last forever, you know."
"So then what are you saying?" Clopin turned a quick cartwheel.
"Don't you ever sit still for more than a minute?!" Jacques suddenly exclaimed impatiently. Then a sly look fell over his face. "Say, Clopin, how would you like to take over as master of ceremonies of the Festival of Fools?"
"Moi?" came the startled answer. Clopin was in the middle of another handstand. He lost his balance and tumbled into a heap. "Moi?!" he repeated dumbly.
"Yes, toi!" Jacques replied. "And put your jaw back where it belongs."
"Why not you? You have taken over everything else around here." Jacques grinned.
"Well..." Clopin rubbed the small bump on his head that he had just received.
"Come on, Clopin, you know how much everyone likes your antics! Imagine the reaction if you were center stage!"
Clopin stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Hmm."
"You know that if you refuse, I will appoint you to the position anyway." Jacques leered at him.
"All right, then, I guess I have no choice!" Clopin chuckled.
"Hurrah! Hurrah!" called a shrill voice from above him. Jacques and Clopin both looked up at the blond-haired boy on the rope that was stretched across that corner of the chamber. Jehan grasped the rope with both hands and swung down to hang just above them.
Clopin narrowed his eyes, though his expression was gleeful. "You set me up!" Then he laughed.
"Don't blame me!" Jacques cried, smiling. "It was Jehan's idea to ask you. I heard him muttering about it the other day." Jehan grinned impishly down at Clopin.
"Conspiracy!" Clopin proclaimed, laughing again.
"Say you'll do it, Clopin!" the blond nine-year-old pleaded. Jehan began to sway back and forth as if he were on a swing.
"Do as the boy says!" Jacques clapped Clopin's shoulders hard, nearly sending him tumbling.
"What choice do I have?" Clopin repeated. His mind already began to swirl with ideas for a lively show.
The next afternoon began the preparations for the Feast of Fools. There were stages to build and larger pieces of decor that had to be set up early. More gypsies came above ground than ever before around Topsy Turvy Day, mostly to help with the festivities.
Jehan was helping Clopin hang a red curtain across the back of the largest, main stage. "I'm nervous, Clopin."
"Don't be, lad. You and I both have our firsts this year."
"But you have performed before, Clopin!"
"Just don't fall off the rope and you will be fine!" Clopin straightened a corner of the curtain and then walked away.
Jehan leapt down from his perch on top of the frame that the curtain was hung on and scampered after Clopin. "I'm too nervous, Clopin," Jehan whined after he had caught up. He had to skip along quickly to keep up with Clopin's rapid pace.
Clopin suddenly laughed bitterly. "The only thing you have to fear is Judge Claude Frollo!"
Jehan scowled. "Oh, no, I won't let him ruin anything this year!"
Clopin chortled. "I have in mind something for yet another scare on the Good Judge." He stopped short, grabbing Jehan's arm to stop him as well. "It is a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself." He grinned slyly. "And I do!"
Jehan knew that look. "No, oh, no, not me! Don't you get me in one of your crazy plans!"
"Oh, come now, Jehan, it will be fun! I need your help this time!"
Jehan put his fists on his hips, then shook his finger at Clopin. "Don't you dare! I don't want to know what you're up to!"
"You are a very stubborn boy, Jehan," Clopin grumbled, though thinking how comical the boy looked scolding him that way. "It is Topsy Turvy Day! You are not supposed to be afraid of acting like a fool!"
"I'm not afraid," Jehan protested stoutly.
"Then help me." Clopin pouted. "You put me in the situation I am in now, so I must return the favor." He leered at the boy spitefully.
Jehan sighed. "Not fair, not fair!" he cried out, suddenly indignant.
"Of course it isn't!" Clopin grinned. "But it's fun!"
They headed over to where a special booth was being set up. Clopin eyes the structure nastily; but it was involved in his plan. Jehan's expression held equal disdain. "Make sure the rope is right in front! Not a little ways back, nor too far forward!" Clopin directed the positioning of the tight-rope between two buildings across that section of the square.
Jehan saw immediately what Clopin's plan was. "No, no, no, Clopin! I am not jumping off that rope just to give Frollo a scare!"
Clopin gave him an odd look. "Not you, silly! You just do your act and not worry what I'm up to." Clopin winked. Jehan then understood and he nodded.
"The rope is set, Clopin!"
"Very good." Clopin snatched up a tent pole and turned to Jehan. "Care to practice?"
Jehan grinned. "Why not?" Clopin knelt so the boy could climb onto his shoulders. Then Clopin stood, his hands clamped on Jehan's ankles to brace him from falling. "Ali-oop!" Clopin took a little leap as Jehan jumped upward. The boy deftly grasped the rope and quickly scrambled up to balance upon it precariously. Clopin then held the pole up to him. "You will be all right by yourself, no? I have some more work to do."
"I'll be fine, Clopin. Thank you," Jehan replied.
Clopin strolled away, chortling over his plans for the next day.
Before he knew it, it was the next day. Topsy Turvy Day! The city became a mad house with people running here and there in brightly coloured costumes, singing, dancing, drinking, laughing, just one big party. But of course, that is why it is the Festival of Fools! Clopin was having the time of his life, darting around, not staying in one place for more than a moment; first he's there, then he's not. His costume jingled merrily along.
And he always had to make a show of appearing. He had started off the festival with a grand enough entrance with an explosion of smoke powder on one of the stages while he came staggering out from behind the stage. He had had his look-alike puppet with him.
"You missed! You missed!" the puppet had cried out.
"You're right!" Clopin had moaned in reply, jumping up onto the stage.
"No, I'm left."
"What?" Clopin had turned to his audience. For a moment his nerve had wavered, but then he went back to his act. "I said you're right," he had repeated to the puppet.
"No, I'm left," the puppet had insisted.
Clopin had shrugged, then held his hands aloft. The entire crowd was in fits of laughter. The puppet was, indeed, sitting on Clopin's left hand.
That joke said, the puppet disappeared in an instant and Clopin went flying into a cartwheel. "Come one, come all!" he sang out at the top of his lungs. "Come and join the Feast of Fools!"
And they did. Mania, everywhere. Well, except one place. Clopin, after doing a handspring off a stage while the young dancer Esmeralda twirled on, had noticed a shadowed booth and he made a point of looking at its inhabitant. Then he scowled. It was sour-faced Judge Frollo. Hasn't that man ever had any joy or fun in his life? Clopin wondered. He skipped away from the stage toward a cart placed in front of a building and below the tight-rope. He pushed away all wondering of Frollo's happiness. For now was the time for his little plan.
Jehan was doing his own act on the rope, feigning dangerous wobbling and swaying, but never falling. He had a habit of poking his balancing staff down into the top of the Judge's booth, receiving growls and grumbles from the Minister of Justice. Jehan may not have realized what he was doing, either that or he knew and kept it up on purpose.
One time he passed over the booth and heard Judge Frollo saying angrily, "That moronic boy up there has a death wish. What idiot would not want to stay on the ground?"
Jehan had let out a hearty laugh in hopes that the Judge would hear him.
Presently he felt the rope wobble ever so slightly. Jehan glanced to his right and saw Clopin balanced at the other end of the rope. Clopin grinned at him mischievously.
Impossible! Jehan thought, nearly panicking for a moment. Two people cannot be on a tight-rope at the same time! That's all part of the trick!
"And now, ladies and gents, the moment you have been waiting for!" came a call from the main stage. Jacques had a job in front of the crowd after all -- presiding over the crowning of the King of Fools. He was dressed in an outfit similar to Clopin's festival costume. Part of Clopin's plan, I'll bet, Jehan reasoned. Although, he had more to worry about at the moment. His balance was beginning to waver as Clopin made his way toward him. Clopin motioned frantically for Jehan to move away from him.
Jehan turned and started to totter forward, putting enough distance between him and Clopin so that he stopped wobbling. He had reached the window where the end of the rope was secured. He turned to see Clopin watching him. Jehan signaled to him, and Clopin braced his balance as Jehan hopped up onto the window sill.
Clopin saluted the boy, then turned his attention to the task at hand. Jehan decided now would be a good time to ignore the foolish puppeteer. The boy leaned against the window frame and took up the time by grimacing, wincing, and bursting out laughing at the ugly face competition on stage. He didn't seem to care about how loud he was guffawing, nor about the nasty glances he was getting from the people below him.
A whistle from Clopin quieted him. Jehan glanced toward the other rope walker to see Clopin glaring at him. Jehan shrugged sheepishly, then turned back to the stage.
Clopin sighed. How am I supposed to do anything with that boy acting like a fool? Then he smirked and looked to the stage. Just say the line, Jacques, and the best mockery of the day will follow!
"And here he is, ladies and gentlemen! May I present to you the ugliest man in Paris, this year's King of Fools!" Jacques placed a floppy tri-colored crown on top of the grisly head of a gruesome-looking, rotten-toothed man.
At that exact moment Clopin leapt down from the rope, yelling out, "You have crowned the wrong man!" He landed directly in front of Frollo, who didn't expect anyone to come crashing from the sky, and his cruel heart nearly stopped at that, but even more so at the way the gypsy darted at him, wide eyed. Clopin motioned toward Judge Frollo, calling out, "Now this is the true King of Fools!"
The crowd roared with laughter. Frollo's face turned a shade of red in anger and embarrassment. Clopin had a wide, wicked grin on his face. Frollo suddenly stood and cried, "This is a direct insult to the High Justice of Paris!"
"It is Topsy Turvy Day!" Clopin shot back and danced around Frollo and his fancy chair.
"How dare you--!" Frollo began, but Clopin interrupted him.
"Come on, Jacques, let's have that crown over here!" Clopin sang out gleefully. The crowd cheered him on.
"Guards!" Frollo hollered. He glared straight at Clopin. "You are under arrest, gypsy!"
Clopin stared squarely back at him, then said peevishly, "Gypsy is too informal." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled. "Let me introduce myself. I am--" Here he took off his hat. "--Clopin Trouillefou, master storyteller and puppeteer, and King of the Gypsies!" He straightened, replaced his hat, keeping his smile. He looked at Frollo's stone frown. "Hmph. You don't seem very impressed."
A chuckle rippled through the crowd. Frollo clenched his fists in rage, then shouted, "Guards!!"
Clopin took off his hat again in a quick bow. "Fare well!" he blurted cheerfully, then darted out of the booth.
There's my cue, Jehan said to himself as a half dozen soldiers surrounded Clopin outside the Judge's booth. Placing his balancing staff on the rope, he swung down and grasped the staff with a hand on either side of the rope. Then he pushed off from the wall, picking up speed as he slid down the rope. "Com--ing d--own!" Jehan called as he zoomed toward Clopin.
As the soldiers closed in with drawn swords, Clopin reached his hands upward and when Jehan came into their midst, Clopin jumped up and grabbed the boy's ankles. Clopin's feathery weight only slowed the momentum a little, and so they were still able to keep ahead of the soldiers. They were quickly approaching the opposite window where the rope was secured -- but they would meet brick before they met an open window.
Clopin tensed and began to swing despite the impossibility of the move. Jehan's grip on the staff began to fidget. "I want to let go now, Clopin!" the boy cried.
"Don't!" Clopin hissed harshly. "Just a little farther--" His swinging was putting them in a dangerous position, but it was necessary for his next move.
"Hello wall!" Jehan cried out, and let go of the staff. At the exact same moment, Clopin flipped upward and grabbed the rope, then swung up and over the rope to land on top of it. Jehan fell straight down and plunged into a cartful of fruit. The crowd awed over Clopin's agility. Once again the gypsy was balanced on the rope. He took another sweeping bow, then dove through the open window.
The soldiers looked helplessly at the Minister of Justice. "Well, don't just stand there, you idiots!" Frollo snarled. "Capture his accomplice -- get the boy!"
Jehan scrambled out of the cart, futilely wiping off his clothes. Then he grabbed four tomatoes and started to juggle them as he moved toward the soldiers -- or rather, toward where his balancing staff lay. One soldier moved toward Jehan -- how hard could it be to catch one little boy? Very.
"Come along, boy, the Judge wants to have a talk with--" the soldier found a tomato smashed over his mouth instead of words coming out. Jehan laughed and continued his juggling with three. The three closest soldiers soon had a face-full of tomato as well.
Jehan snatched up his balancing staff and shoved it at the ground, lodging it between two cobblestones. As the three remaining clean-faced soldiers came at him, he held tightly to the top of the staff and swung around, kicking each soldier on the way. He laughed as they stumbled backward.
Then Jehan freed the staff and took off in a run toward the main stage. There was still a small crowd in front of it. Jehan aimed the end of the staff at the ground, and, a foot shy of the edge of the crowd, he shoved the staff at the ground. It took hold and he went vaulting over the crowd, the staff gripped in his hand. The momentum caused him to fly right into the curtain, pulling it off its frame, but he was laughing the whole way.
Jacques had been grinning nonstop since Clopin had interrupted the crowning of the King of Fools. Now he turned to the crowd. "The show is over, folks!" Then he climbed down from the stage and hurried over to untangle Jehan from the curtain. Pulling the cloth from over the boy's head, he found the lad was laughing hysterically. "So, you had fun with that, hey, Jehan?"
"Oh, yes! I hope Clopin saw!" Jehan answered gleefully.
"I am sure he did," Jacques assured, ruffling the boy's hair. "Come then, let us go find him--" Jacques stood and immediately found a sword tip at his throat. He stiffened and glanced at Jehan in alarm. The boy had a deep scowl on his face as he glared at someone beyond Jacques. The former master of ceremonies turned very slightly to see the object deserving such hatred from a boy -- Judge Claude Frollo. "Bring them to the Palace of Justice!" the Minister of Justice commanded.
"Not the boy!" Jacques protested. "Let him go home! He had nothing to do with--"
"He is an accomplice and must pay for it accordingly," Frollo cut him off.
Jacques narrowed his eyes. "Damn you, Frollo, if any harm comes to him!"
"You can do nothing except cooperate, you criminal!" Frollo said it loud enough for the words to be heard across the square. People had begun to leave to find revelry elsewhere -- at the moment, just another of the Minister of Justice's arrests was happening.
"He will not be harmed," Jacques growled, struggling as his hands were tied behind his back.
"Silence, gypsy!" Frollo ordered. "He will pay for his crimes."
Jacques abruptly pulled his hands free and he grabbed the front of Frollo's robes. "Have you no heart? He is just a boy!"
"He is a criminal the same as you and all your kind!"
Jacques let out a furious growl. "You will have to go through me first if you think I will let you hurt him!"
"Very well, then." Frollo made a gesture to a soldier, then turned his head away. With one silvery streak, Jacques' troubles were over.
Jehan gasped shortly and stepped backward as the voiceless form slumped to the ground, red on yellow. . .The boy raised his eyes to stare -- or rather, glare at Frollo. The Minister of Justice nearly drew back from the fiery hatred in the piercing green eyes, but instead issued his next command with a nod.
A soldier pounced on Jehan, twisting the boy's arms behind him. Jehan let out a screech, then brought his leg back to kick at the guard. Missing, he flailed his limbs frantically to get free. He succeeded in doing some damage, and slipped away before anyone else could grab him.
Everywhere he looked as he ran there was someone who might snag him and hurt him, and the gleam of light off any object seemed to be a silvery sword that would cut his throat. On and on he ran until he came to a dark, dank place...the catacombs. He had come to be there without realizing -- then he wondered if anyone had followed him. He gasped and darted into a small tunnel entrance up in the wall. There he stayed, hunched over and trembling, crying piteously.
Coming Next: The 4th Chapter of The Blond Gypsy: The True King 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