posted March 9, 1997

The Tale Of A Dream

Chapter One - The Darkness

Clopin was not born in Paris, nor France for that matter. In fact, he lived very far, far away from the place he now calls home, the Court of Miracles. His original hometribe lived in a large cavern hidden in the hills - a sort of primordial Court of Miracles, if you like. There were many families in this tribe, and Clopin had many friends.
As a little boy, he loved to watch the acrobats and dancers. As he grew older, he practiced and practiced until he became the best amongst the performers. His parents were proud of him, yet his father was a bit disappointed. Adriel had hoped that both of his sons would follow in his trade of metalworking (his daughters, of course, pursued the art of dancing and fortune-telling). Clopin did have knowledge of this trade, but he felt that performing was his calling. His older brother, however, took to being their father's apprentice, so Clopin was free to his choice.
As was said, Clopin had many friends. But one particular group never failed to get in trouble. And one certain member of this group would lose his life over this mischief.
They were lounging around one day by one of the boy's wagons. There were about eight of them, ranging in age from sixteen to eighteen. The tallest and among the oldest, proud and stout with dark skin and slicked down black hair, dressed all in dark gray, Robuert, usually the leader, was leaning against the side of the wagon cleaning a knife with a rag. "Anyone have any comments?" he called out.
"About what?" a lazy boy with light-colored hair named Louis asked in answer. He was slumped against one wheel of the wagon. His red and green vest clashed with his orange pants and yellow bandana tied at his neck.
Robuert shot him a glare, then went back to cleaning his knife. "About the elders," he replied in a low tone.
"Oh." Louis hiccuped. An empty bottle lay beside him.
"I saw strange smoke come from the back of the cave last night," someone said.
"That was your papa, clouding his head as usual!" came the snide reply from someone else.
"I heard a strange noise two nights ago," a thin boy with red clothes hanging loose about him named Damek spoke up.
"That was Louis' sister, screaming again!" guffawed the someone else.
"Aw, shut up!" Louis snarled. A laugh came in answer.
Someone passed a bottle to Robuert and he took a long swig, then gave the bottle back. "What do you say, Clopin?" Robuert asked. "You always have a good story to tell."
He glanced up at the boy sitting crossed-legged on top of the wagon. Clopin was one of the youngest in the group, yet seemed to know more than the older boys. He hesitated, thinking for a moment, stroking his chin thoughtfully. He had on a dark blue outfit, a green bandana around his neck. Someone held the bottle up to him, but he pushed it away. Then he said, stretching out to lie down, propping his head up on his hand, "I say we should stop listening to silly rumors."
Someone snorted. Another let out a sound of disgust. Robuert said indignantly, "Silly rumors?! That is all the excitement we have around here!"
"Seeing you fight Louis is excitement!" Clopin laughed.
"Hey, shut up!" Louis groaned.
Robuert laughed too. "He is right! You cannot stand on your feet long enough to make a fist!"
"I-can-too," Louis slurred, scowling.
"How about this," Clopin interjected, "You-drink-too-much!" There was a chorus of laughter.
Then Damek put in, "And you drink too little!"
"Not at all," Clopin corrected pointedly.
"Why not?" Damek continued. He grabbed the bottle and shoved it toward Clopin. "How about a sip?"
Clopin shook his head, pushing the bottle away. "No-no. There are better things to get high on than beer. Life itself is good enough for me."
"Suit yourself." Damek took a swig from the bottle. Then he sniggered. "What a coward."
Clopin shrugged. "Eh." Then he leaned back again, folding his arms behind his head. "How about if we go back to what we were discussing before? I could bet you are all imagining this nonsense."
Robuert slipped his knife into a sheath on his belt, then put his fists on his hips. "Oh, are we now?" he said, giving Clopin a sideways look. Then he smirked. He leapt up and came back down in the middle of the group. He waved his arm round at them. "I dare any one of you to sneak into the next meeting and find out the truth!"
There was silence for a moment. Finally someone snickered. "Ha, and to see our grandmothers trading recipes? Dare yourself, Robuert!"
Robuert shot a glare in the direction of this voice. "Sounds like you are nominating yourself, Dmitri."
"Never!" Dmitri retorted. Another round of laughter.
"Well, we can't very well send Louis," someone else called. "One hiccup and we will all be caught!" More laughter.
"Hey, shut up!" came the standard reply.
"Don't you know how to say anything else, my drunken friend?" Clopin mocked.
"Shut up!" Louis screeched.
Robuert did not join the merriment. Instead, he pointed from one boy to the next as the laughter died down. "Basir? Cadell? Ivar? Any of you?" His glance was challenging. When he received no answer, he went back to leaning against the side of the cart. "None of you, eh?"
Just then Clopin jumped up to a standing position on top of the wagon. "I will do it!" All eyes turned to him.
"You?" Damek scoffed.
"Me!" Clopin answered, arrogantly sticking out his chest.
"You are too scared to drink!" Damek snorted.
"Better to be sober on a mission such as this," Clopin shot back.
Robuert laughed. "Little Clopin, trying to be brave!"
Clopin scowled, and leapt down in front of Robuert. He poked him in the chest. "I am not little."
"Then why am I looking down at you?" The others laughed.
"I am only two years younger than you, you know that," Clopin said in a low, menacing tone.
"Younger, little, it is all the same!" Robuert laughed. "I am still looking down at you!" Another chorus of laughter.
Clopin's hands curled into fists at his sides. His narrow jaw clenched in anger. Robuert continued to laugh. Suddenly Clopin's hand shot out and grabbed the collar of Robuertąs tunic. Clopin glared him straight in the eyes. "Don't mock me," he growled.
Robuert shoved him back. "Get that pointy nose out of my face!" Then he sneered, "You have bite, Clopin, but do you have the bravery?"
Clopin knew the challenge in Robuertąs voice. Not for the dare, though, but for a fight. He quickly glanced at the others. From the looks of some of them, he knew they were waiting for him to answer the challenge. Instead he said knowingly with a grin, "What good would it be for me to be beaten to a pulp and then go spying? They would recognize my limp!" In less than a second he had darted back up on top of the wagon, avoiding a swing of Robuert's fist.
Robuert had blinked; he glanced around in confusion, wondering where his adversary had gone. Clopin, lounging casually on his stomach, reached down to tap Robuertąs shoulder. Robuert looked up, then scowled furiously. "Come down and fight, or else you are truly a coward!" Robuert taunted, putting up his fists.
"At least I am a living coward!" Clopin sang out cheerfully. In another second he disappeared from the top of the wagon.
Robuert stared in confusion and anger. "Where did he go?!"
One of Clopin's better friends, a brown-haired boy in green, yellow, and purple clothes, and one not so given to mischief, Basir, cried out, "You have to keep an eye on that one! His quickness will surely have you miss him!" The others laughed.
Robuert squeezed his hands into fists again, and he threatened through clenched teeth, "Would anyof you care to take the runt's place?"
The laughter became gulps. Robuert was not one to be messed with. It would be better for Clopin to fight Robuert in that moment before Robuert got any angrier. Just then a high, squeaky voice called out, "I am not a runt! You are a big bully! And you cannot catch me-hee!"
"It came from over there!" cried one of the boys who were hoping for a fight. Most of the group went running in that direction. They went right passed Louis, still slumped down low against the wheel, and they didnąt notice the pair of hands gripping the spokes of the wheel.
Basir however, stayed, along with a few others. They stood there, snickering. Then Basir kneeled down next to Louis, who was out cold, and whispered to the figure hiding under the wagon, "That was good, Clopin. You are getting better at throwing your voice."
He could see his friend grinning in the shadows under the wagon. "Aye."
"But you had better be careful," Basir warned. "It is not wise to further encourage Robuertąs anger."
"But he is like a brother to me! To all of us!" Clopin scolded, crawling out from under the wagon. "He would not severely hurt any of us. We are his family!"
"Yes, but he is still furious. And it is still not wise--"
"I know that," Clopin interrupted. He dusted off his shirt, then grinned. "But then what is a fool good for?" Once more he darted away, leaving his laughter lingering in the air.
Basir stood there, shaking his head, and he sighed.

* * * * * * *

Later Clopin and the rest of the group waited behind Damek's cart, Robuert among them holding a dark cloak tightly about his shoulders, a smug look on his face. Clopin kept wondering why he was going through with this; why had he accepted the dare? Could he actually go through with it? But he knew he could not back out now; then the others would truly believe he was a coward and he would lose all respect from them.
After another moment Damek slipped out the door of the cart. He shoved a bundle of black cloth toward Clopin. "Here. Put this on. It is a disguise. They all wear one."
Clopin took the bundle and let it unfurl to its full length; a black robe with a hood. He was about to make a joke about fashion statements, but Damek quickly continued, "There is a tunnel hidden in the back of the cavern. Go through there, and then luck be with you." Clopin could see the grim expression on his friendąs face in the dim torchlight. Damek clapped his shoulders reassuringly. "Don't worry. We will defend you if you get in trouble." The others murmured their agreement.
Clopin pulled the robe on and then bragged in a low voice, "You do not worry! I will never be caught!" So saying he tugged the hood over his head so that his face was hidden, and he strode confidently toward the back of the cavern.
He had no way of knowing that those were the last words his friends would ever hear from him.
Clopin chuckled to himself as he headed around the boulders in the back of the cave. He would never be caught! He was too quick for anyone to catch! And no one would know he was there, anyway.
Ah, there is the tunnel! he thought as he glimpsed a low, dark hole in the cave wall behind a boulder. He ducked inside the tunnel and was greeted by a blast of freezing air. Strange, he thought, shivering. It should not be so cold in such a small tunnel.
Clopin suddenly received the feeling of being completely alone. He glanced back -- there was a bit of light coming in past the boulder that nearly blocked the entrance. The light was warm and welcoming. He thought about going back; but he immediately decided against it. How would he explain his fear to the others? And what was he afraid of, anyway? The dark? The cold? He could not explain it to himself. With new resolve, he turned back to the darkness of the tunnel to continue his mission. Yet uneasiness stayed with him, and he nervously checked to be sure once more that his dagger was in its sheath on his belt.
He rounded a bend in the tunnel and nearly gasped out loud as he saw a rosy glow reflected off the corner up ahead. A fire; yet, there was no warmth at all in the tunnel. Clopin gulped, and tugged on the hood of the robe to make sure it covered his head completely. Then he stepped toward the light.
Clopin edged cautiously beyond the corner to glance into a small cave. In the center was a huge fire, burning bright red and orange, although it seemed to have strange wisps of green running through it every few moments.
Standing around the fire were a half dozen men, the tallest of which stood at the far end of the cave. Clopin quickly slipped up behind two of the robed figures and hoped that he would go unnoticed. Damek had been right. Each of them wore a black robe; and each had a hidden identity. Clopin smiled to himself knowing that he had yet to be noticed as the odd one out -- but perhaps there was certain number of people at these meetings; an extra person would surely be noticed.
Six more robed figures came in after Clopin had entered. No one had said a word. Perhaps, Clopin hoped, thirteen was the usual number. He waited on pins and needles for one more person to come, the one who would expose the infiltrator.
Relief flooded over him as the tall man, obviously the leader, spoke in a low voice, "Let us begin." Immediately the others started a chant in a strange language. Clopin listened in confusion. He had never heard more stranger words than these. He hoped no one would notice his silence.
This is quite boring, Clopin thought, fighting back a yawn. It seems as though I am in the church in the town below our cave, when they sing their hymns.
But, oh, if only he had been paying attention. It took him too long to notice. But when he finally did...He would realize that this was no prayer.
Clopin found nothing odd about this ceremony, just the strange language. Although, as the chanting went on, an unsettling feeling came over him. He could not describe it, but it surely was not a nice feeling. It started in the pit of his stomach and he could actually feel it working its way up toward his heart.
It was then that he noticed something strange about the fire. The flames seemed to bend and dance unlike any fire he had seen before. Also, the streaks of green were becoming more frequent. Clopin stared at the fire, fascinated. Suddenly he was overwhelmed by horror.
He couldn't believe his eyes. There were actual images in the fire, shapes of demonic impression. Clopin was shocked back to panic; though first he was nervous at being caught, now he was absolutely terrified at the thought.
This has to be a dream! Clopin told himself. No! This is a nightmare! The intense evil emanating from the fire sank into Clopin, darkening his heart. He frantically fought away the feeling, his thoughts racing. These are not normal gypsies! These are evil gypsies. The Dark Gypsies. So now he had a name for the terrible force that had wormed its way into his peaceful tribe. And he realized that there could be peace no longer. The darkness that was curling itself around his heart told him this was so.
Clopin knew that he should have been more paranoid, but instead he was excited. He was thinking that he could save his people from this evil. He would warn them and together they would all destroy the evil ones.
But then came the moment that he would remember in his deepest nightmares. The leader's voice came, loud and angry, "Now, reveal to us the intruder in our midst!"
Before Clopin could think to react, the hood was yanked from his head and his face was revealed. He paled as he realized what had happened; he had been found out by an evil power.
"Get him!" screeched a voice that seemed to come from the fire. Clopin choked down a cry of terror, then forced himself into motion, and he ran out of the cave. Into the cold, dark tunnel he went, stumbling frantically as he tried to remember the winding path. The robe was impeding him more the faster he ran. He managed to pull off the robe, and he flung it behind him. Perhaps someone else would get their feet tangled in it and give him an advantage.
Up ahead he saw a sliver of light, warm, welcome light from the main cavern. Clopin wished that he could embrace that light, but escaping into it would be enough for him. As he squeezed past the boulder that hid the tunnel entrance, he noticed that he really did have a harder time getting past; and he knew that it was the work of the evil he had witnessed in the cave.
Clopin continued to run, though blindly, but he knew he had to escape from there. He realized that he would pay dearly for spying. Suddenly he became aware of the whispers around him. "Get him! Stop him! He must not get away!" Pure terror seized hold of Clopin, and, forgetting all he had lived through in that cavern, his friends, his family...he fled toward the mouth of the cavern, only wanting to escape.
All of a sudden a hand clamped down on his shoulder. Clopin let out a cry of anguish. But then, without even thinking, he grabbed his dagger from its sheath and slashed the blade toward the hand. He heard a howl of pain. Then he was running again, sheathing the dagger as quickly as it had been removed.
Running, upward, up and out of the cavern, into the night air. Into the forest that surrounded the cavern. He knew he was being pursued. Clopin forced a frantic path through the trees and underbrush, branches snapping in his face and tearing at his clothes. The footsteps were right behind him...
He let out a cry as he tripped over a rock. He stumbled and landed hard on his knees. He sat there a second too long, gritting his teeth at the pain that raced up his legs. Then reality came back to him in the form of the hurried footsteps.
Clopin gasped and lurched toward the nearest bush. He scrambled through the thick leaves, ignoring the stabbing branches. A near-shriek escaped him as his foot caught on something. His hands shot out to grab whatever foliage was in front of him so he could pull himself forward and free his leg. He felt something sharp pierce his skin as he grabbed a vine of some sort. He ignored the pain and yanked on the vine, moving forward and freeing his leg.
He took a few, blind, crawling steps before tumbling head-over-heels down a hill. Clopin landed hard on his back at the base of the hill. He groaned, then sat up and glanced back to where he had fallen from. The bright light of the full moon revealed that he had just fallen out of a bramble patch - no wonder he felt torn to pieces. But it wasn't just physical.
Clopin jumped up as he heard voices coming from over the ridge. He started running in the opposite direction. Maybe they wouldnąt catch him. If they found his path through the brambles, they would see that he had left enough blood on the thorns for them to think he would not live another day.
However, he had escaped with his life; that he did have, but he had left all he held dear behind. The only possessions he had now were his torn clothes, his dagger, a small box containing the match to his earring that he always carried, and the guilt of having abandoned his family. Clopin wondered if he would ever be able to come back to them. But he was driven by terror, and fear is strong. He could never turn back now, only kept running and wondering if he was being pursued, and wondering what would happen to him if he was caught.


Coming Next: Chapter Two: A Star in the Darkness

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(c) 1996-2004 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.