Clopin did not know how long he had been fleeing. At least a day he was aware of, gone by while he ducked and darted through forests and frantically looked for cover on open roads.
It was while on one of these roads that everything began to catch up to him. The horrors, the pain, it all started to take its toll. With every step he felt himself weakening.
Suddenly he heard a sound behind him. Gasping, wondering if he was about to be caught, he turned his head to look over his shoulder. He should have been paying attention to what was in front of him, however. Clopin let out an abrupt grunt as he tripped and went sprawling into the dirt. A mouthful of dust caused him to cough and choke. There he stayed, gasping and weak, trying to catch his breath. Nothing could make him move. Not even the thought of being caught. He was too tired to care.
Presently he noticed the sound of approaching footsteps. He froze; the thought of being captured by the Evil Ones stabbed him to the heart. He forced away the shudder that would make him appear to be alive. If they thought he was dead, maybe they would just leave him alone. He held his breath, a wash of terror flooding over him.
Then he heard a voice, a voice that sounded to him as if it came straight from the heavens. Clopin dared to look up...and saw a lovely apparition standing before him. She was tall and slender, clad in a blue dress, a dark blue cloak streaming off her shoulders, and a blue scarf holding her flowing raven hair back from her face. High cheekbones gave a definitive shape to her oval visage, a thin, delicate nose placed above full, dark lips, her skin a delicate light brown.
It was her eyes which presently caught his attention. Her eyes were as clear a blue as the sky, with a caring gleam of worry in them at the moment. Then her lips moved, as if speaking, but he could not decipher the words. Confusion clouded her expression. She repeated the words, and this time he heard part of what she said. "Are you. . .right? What happen. . .you?" she seemed to be saying in that soft voice he had heard earlier.
Clopin's pulse pounded in his ears. What had she said? He still couldnˆt hear too well. Oh, she was asking what had happened. "I - I was being chased--" he managed, but he could not think of the rest. His mind was a whirl in confusion.
He stopped trying to explain and just gazed up at her. She was biting her lower lip fretfully. She glanced over her shoulder nervously, then looked back at him. Clopin sighed dazedly. He began to wonder why his head felt funny. Sort of dizzy...His heart! What was wrong with his heart? He felt something in his chest as if he had been stabbed. He wanted to look down and see - had he somehow pierced himself with his own dagger? But he could not move his gaze from the girl's face. He had never seen anyone like her before.
Suddenly he realized that he might be making her nervous -- he was making himself nervous! He forced himself to tear his gaze away. This has to be a dream! Clopin said to himself. No one like that could really exist! He had to deny it, he just could not believe that she actually stood there. He groaned and turned his face to the ground.
"Are you hurt?" Her voice came again. Clopin stiffened as he felt a hand on his arm. Then he heard a gasp. "Your hands!"
Clopin jerked his head up. The girl was kneeling right in front of him, her horrified glance on his hands. Clopin blinked and turned his palms up. He uttered a short cry. His hands...his hands...From when he had grabbed the bramble vines. A fluttering cry rose from his throat as he stared in horror at his torn hands. Then he abruptly went silent, his head falling forward.
"Oh, you poor man," the girl said compassionately. "Please, let me help you."
Clopin quickly drew his hands back, squeezing them into fists. "No, please, I--" He pushed himself up, only to meet her gaze as he lifted his head. He swooned in his weakness, his arms sliding out from under him, so that he landed on his face again. He was beginning to feel like a complete idiot. His face burned in embarrassment.
"Let me help you," she repeated, a determined edge to her voice. Clopin glanced up feebly. A gentle smile flickered onto her face. Then she untied the scarf from around her waist -- Clopin had thought it was a belt. He was puzzled, but the sudden pain from his hands distracted him from her manner. She tore the scarf in half and carefully wrapped a piece around each of his hands. She sat back when she was done, an expression of pity and caring on her face.
"Can you stand?" she asked next. "Please, come to my home, and you can rest there."
Clopin pushed himself up onto his knees, stumbling to find something to say. His mind was too addled; he wasnˆt sure if he should get right back up and continue fleeing or find a place to hide.
The girl seemed to notice his lack of voice. She put on a kind smile to comfort him. "Perhaps we should start with an introduction. I am called Samira."
Clopin smiled in a daze. What a pretty name, he thought. Then he remembered himself and he stammered, "M-my name is Clopin."
Samira's expression turned pensive. "You sound younger than I thought..."
"I -- I am sixteen," Clopin mumbled.
A musing smile twitched onto Samira's face. "Well met, then. I am the same age." She moved to stand up.
Clopin suddenly felt a surge of strength and his smile grew with it. Although, as he stood, he swayed a little. Samira took his arm to help steady him. Clopin felt his ears burn, and he mumbled, "Thank you."
She smiled. "I am glad to be of help. Now, come, rest at my home. You must have been through much."
Clopin found himself nodding and muttering, "Aye." Samira took off her cloak and put it over his shoulders. Clopin smiled gratefully, though absently, and pulled the cloak close about him to hide his ragged clothes. She asked nothing else, and led him down the path toward a small farmhouse. There he met Samira's father, Jarek, and he was welcomed as a guest. However, Clopin was wondering what both were thinking of his gypsy appearance.
But they were accepting; neither seemed to care that he was a gypsy. Jarek was as kind as his daughter; he noticed Clopin's weakened condition, and offered him a place to stay for the night, or until he recovered. Clopin hesitated, pondering on whether he should continue his flight to outrun the Dark Gypsies or out-hide them. In the end, his fatigue won out and he gratefully accepted.
Samira led him into a small guest room in the back of the house. She went over to open the narrow window while he settled himself on the bed. Samira stared out at the approaching dusk as she said, ¶I hope your stay here is comfortable. We have a very modest home. There is not much to spare.¾
Clopin chuckled. "I am not used to more than a blanket and a pile of straw. This is luxury compared to--" He stopped suddenly. He swallowed hard. Meeting Samira had almost made him forget what he had lost.
Samira turned and smiled, not noticing his sudden mourn. "I don't want you to even pretend that we are the richest family around." Then she headed toward the door. As she started to leave, she turned back and said, "Rest well, Clopin, and may sweet dreams come to you."
As he watched the door close behind her, he knew they would.
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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