posted April 6, 1997

The Gypsy Princess

Chapter One - My Moon Song

The sun was just peeking over the horizon as Clopin made his way through the alleys of Paris toward Notre Dame Cathedral. A muffled jingle of the bells on his costume under his dark blue cloak cheerily accompanied him. In a few hours the children would be gathering to see his puppet show. Clopin smiled broadly as he recalled the children's laughter and cheers. He loved to see the children so happy. They always seemed so innocent in those moments.
While he was distracted thinking of what story to tell the children that day, Clopin did not even realize where he was going until he suddenly tripped over a large bundle. Coming back to hard reality, he glanced around in shock to find himself in a dark, dirty, narrow little side street where poor people wandered aimlessly in a deathly fashion.
Clopin whirled around to see what he had stumbled over. It appeared to be simply a large bundle of cloth. Curiosity got the best of him and he lifted the top most blanket. To his horror he saw that it was a person. He leapt back, mortified, then stood stiffly for several minutes waiting for someone to claim the body. People walked by in all stages of rags, and no one seemed to notice the bundle, though a few eyed Clopin nastily, jealous of his nice clothes. Clopin instinctively pulled his cloak closer about him. Personally, he was a bit frightened. This place was scarier than the Court of Miracles after everyone has had too much to drink.
With curiosity stabbing at him once more, Clopin approached the bundle again and pulled the cloth away from the head. His heart melted as he glimpsed the face of a young girl. She could not have been any older than Melisande, he thought. Her black hair spilled over the cobblestones around her head. Her skin was a fine light brown. Clopin tugged at the cloth some more, revealing a tattered, torn dark gray dress. He hastily covered her back up.
Then he stepped back, wondering what had happened to the girl. Had she met her end, and someone had had the decency to cover her? If doing that, then why just leave her there? Then he asked himself, why donÕt I just leave?
Truly, he wanted to. He could not understand...Why didn't he just leave her there? That is what he always did when he came upon such a find; it was not uncommon for a person to just up and die in the street. If he happened to come across one such poor soul, he would remove his hat, place it over his heart, bow in respect, and then leave. Sometimes he would relieve them of their purse, but only if it was worth taking.
However, this time, for the first time ever, he just could not leave. A strange feeling came over him. A feeling that he could not really describe. But he realized that he felt he had to help her.
Clopin removed his cloak and wrapped it around the girl. Then he gathered her up in his arms and headed back the way he had come. Back to the Court of Miracles.
He was in luck. Someone was leaving just as he came to the vault entrance. Clopin called out to the figure struggling with the stone slab, who turned so that he saw it was Jehan. "Clopin, what in the world--?" Jehan started as he hastily opened the entrance again.
"No time for questions!" Clopin cried as he hurried past the boy into the tunnel. Jehan followed after him when the entrance had been covered again.
Jehan found that he could not keep up with Clopin. He decided to fall behind and find out what happened later. Just as Jehan entered the Court, Melisande came running up to him. "Jehan, what has happened? Clopin came in here as if Judge Frollo had been chasing him!"
Jehan clasped her in a short embrace. Any mention of Frollo always made him nervous. "I don't know, but we had better find out."
"He went to Paquette's tent. I did not follow him in, though." Melisande had a worried look on her face. "Do you at least know what he was carrying?"
Jehan shook his head. "From what I could tell, it was just a bunch of cloth. But he went by so fast, I could hardly get a glimpse of him."
"We had better find out," Melisande urged. "It could be trouble."
The two hurried through the Court to a pink-and-lavendar tent. Once there, Jehan cautiously pushed back the tent flap and called softly,"Paquette?"
"Come in," trilled a sweet voice. Jehan and Melisande hesitantly entered. A large gypsy woman in a pink dress immediately stepped forward to hug Jehan. "Jehan, dear, how are you? You have not visited in a while."
Jehan stepped back from her with an awkward air, his ears burning. "I -- I know, mum, I--"
"Shh-shh," Paquette whispered. She nervously tugged on her long black hair, which she kept tied back in a ponytail with a pink scarf. She turned and pointed to the side of the tent. Jehan and Melisande followed her gaze to a bed against the wall, and the person standing beside it. Clopin.
Clopin turned to see who else was there. He should have known Jehan would follow him. "Who--?" Jehan began to ask.
Clopin raised his hand to stop him. The boy obediently fell silent. Then Clopin turned back to the girl on the bed. He was trying to figure out why she looked somewhat familiar to him. It wasn't that he had seen her before, because he knew he had never seen her anywhere. It was more like she looked like someone he knew. Her face was oval in shape with seemingly round eyes and a small nose that did, however, look a bit pointed, above thin, pale red lips. There was also her black hair and dark skin, but he knew a lot of people fitting those two descriptions, himself included. What was it about her that gave him an odd feeling? He could not tell.
Her arms were at her sides over the blanket, the shredded sleeves showing her condition. Clopin noticed something strange about her left arm, something which concerned him. He tore off the remainder of the sleeve to reveal a strange black mark on the upper part of her arm. Clopin took off his glove and tentatively touched the odd marking. He gasped and jerked his hand back. The mark was singed into her skin.
"How could anyone be so cruel?" Clopin whispered, unable to take his gaze off the terrible mark. It was a picture of small lines at different angles and curves, a symbol perhaps, though unlike any Clopin had ever seen before.
Jehan's confused voice came once more: "What?" Clopin heard Paquette hush the boy again. Then came the swish of moving curtains as the two left the tent. Yet Clopin knew that Melisande was still there, watching him. He simply ignored her.
He could only focus on the unconscious girl on the bed anyway. He leaned over her ardently. What was it about her face? A terrible feeling that he knew her and yet couldn1t recognize her tore at him. How could he know her? Why wouldnÕt the feeling clarify itself?
Suddenly the girl's eyes flickered open. They were a clear sky blue. Clopin gasped. Those eyes...there was something there that he recognized clearly. He whispered, "" Then he crumpled to the ground. At the same moment the girl's eyes closed and she went limp again.
Melisande stared between the two still forms, backing away in horror. What had just happened? She choked back her shock and cried, "J-Jehan! Paquette!" She stumbled out of the tent. "Jehan?" Where had they gone? "Paquette! Someone! Help!"
A few minutes later when Melisande returned with Jehan and Paquette, they found Clopin kneeling beside the bed, his hands clasped together, his head bowed, and he was murmuring something. At first it was incomprehensible, but it came to sound as though he was saying, "Shiriluna. . .Samira, Shiriluna. . .Samira. . . Shiriluna. . ."
Jehan took a step toward Clopin. Paquette reached to stop the boy, but he was too quick. He gently put his hand on ClopinÕs shoulder. Clopin lifted his head to stare at him with the most soulful look Jehan had ever seen on a human being. Jehan gulped, then asked softly, "Who is Shiriluna?" Clopin turned slightly and motioned toward the girl on the bed. Tears were in his eyes. Jehan was confused. "How do you know..?"
With a sorrowful expression staining his face, Clopin sat back, drawing his knees up to his chest, hugging his arms around him. He whispered, "The day we almost reached Paris, Samira told me she was with child." His voice softened more. "My child." His eyes closed as he reflected, "We so much hoped it would be a daughter. I wished to name her Shiri, my song. Samira liked Luna, moon. Then we happily decided on Shiriluna..." His voice broke. "My moon song." He wiped at his tears.
Jehan hesitated, then said quietly, "But, Clopin, you know Samira didn', lost the child along with her." Jehan immediately regretted what he had said. He waited nervously for Clopin's reaction, knowing he had made a mistake, although he continued, "It would have been impossible for either to have lived. You have to accept that. It was--"
All at once Clopin leapt up and grabbed Jehan by the throat, screeching, "I'll kill you for that!!" His hands closed tightly around the boy's neck, as fury contorted his face. Jehan let out a startled gasp, only for it to be choked off.
Paquette screamed, her hands flying up to her cheeks in horror. Melisande was at Clopin's side in a second, grasping his arm to pull him away from Jehan. "Blast you, Clopin, let go of him!" she shrieked.
At once Clopin's grip went slack, his arms falling limply to his sides. He dropped to his knees, burying his face in his hands. "You see? You see?" he moaned. "This is what true love did to Clopin! He is a wretched man now." He uttered a quiet sob.
Jehan rubbed his throat, his breath coming in gasps. Melisande squeezed his other hand, her expression worried as she glanced up at him. He nodded in understanding. Then Melisande lowered herself beside Clopin, placing her hand on his back. "Clopin, you are not--" she began softly. But his heart-wrenching sobs stabbed her deep and she had to pause.
Jehan knew what to say, though. "I forgive you, Clopin. I can understand your anger at losing the two most important people to you. I would be furious at any who would take Melisande away so permanently. . ."
"I, too, if the same happened to Jehan," Melisande put in.
"But you must accept it," Jehan added softly. "It has been too many years. There is no chance either of them..."
"You are right, you are right," Clopin sobbed out. "It has been so many years, and I have not forgotten a day of it! All the terror! All my loss! I lost my heart in that day along with my beloved! Wretched, wretched Clopin! How could he ever think of hope for his lost love?"
Melisande hugged him gently. "You are not a wretched man. You are very noble. You wanted to get help for this girl even if you do not know her."
"Is it too late for her, too?" Clopin's voice came small and frightened, muffled as he kept his head down. "Is there ever any hope yet?"
Melisande felt Jehan's hand on her shoulder. She stood up as he leaned close to her ear to whisper, "He has had relapses before, but this is the worst."
Melisande glanced back down at Clopin. He remained on his knees, though now he was bending over backwards. Then he sat back, unfolding his legs in front of him. Then he bent forward again, and stared at his shoes, as a little boy who had lost something. Like his mind.
Clopin rubbed his eyes, then staggered to his feet. He leaned unsteadily on Melisande's shoulder. "A wretched... a wretched, a wretched life," he hiccuped. "You see what sorrow Clopin has hidden in his heart? You see what it has done to him?" he demanded. He turned away, clenching his fists. "Mad," he muttered, "Mad."
"Yes, this is insane!" Jehan declared. He grabbed Clopin's shoulders and shook him roughly. "Stop, Clopin! Enough! We know, we know..."
Clopin tearfully pushed him away. "You know my story, lad, but you do not can never understand..."
"Oh, come now," Jehan started, beginning to feel fed up with the entire situation.
All of a sudden the girl on the bed let out a soft moan. Clopin gasped and turned to lean over her again. He still couldn1t shake the feeling that he knew her.
The girl's eyes slowly opened. Clopin smiled weakly, as to not frighten her. Some kind of recognition registered there and her eyes went wide. Then she threw her arms around his neck, crying, "Papa!" Clopin choked in shock. "Oh, she told me I would know you when I saw you! I never thought how I would feel when I did!" A sniffle escaped from her. "Oh, how it is to know you!" It became clear that she had begun to weep.
Clopin eased the girl back from him, a troubled look on his face. He studied her tear-stained expression. She gazed at him hopefully. Finally he whispered, "Shiriluna, it is you, isn't it?"
She nodded, a fresh stream of happy tears flowing down her cheeks. Clopin let out a cry of joy and clasped her in a rejoicing hug.
"Well, I'll be!" Jehan exclaimed in disbelief.
"This is too bizarre.." Melisande mumbled in equal disbelief.
"I knew it, I knew it," Clopin murmured, hugging the girl tight. "I knew it was you, Shiriluna. Shiriluna, my moon song."
The girl continued to weep. "Papa, Papa...I have never seen you before...but I know it is you..." She sat back, smiling through her tears. She sniffled and wiped at her cheek.
"Where have you been all these years?" Clopin choked out in a soft tone. He himself was beginning to weep.
Shiriluna's face turned sad, and she whispered, "It has been terrible. Th-those horrible Dark Gypsies--" She buried her face in her hands and wept again.
"Dear, dear Shiriluna," Clopin soothed. "I never thought... how the evil would follow those I loved..." He winced, as if he had been stung. "A-and what of your mama? What of..." His voice softened to barely a whisper, "My beloved Samira?"
Shiriluna clasped his hand in hers. "We both tried to escape, Papa, we did. But they were about to catch us, and...and Mama told me to go to Paris and find my papa. Then she fell behind and...Oh, Papa! She sacrificed herself so I could be free!" she sobbed.
Clopin hugged her again. "Oh, Shiri...Shiri..." He could not help thinking that now he had to give up all hope of ever getting Samira back.
Shiriluna continued, "I have been searching for three years for this Paris and the man Mama said would be my papa. She never told me anything about him. When I asked, she would just cry. Her sorrow was so deep I felt it. So I stopped asking. Then one night she woke me and said we would escape now. But only one escaped."
"I shall never forget," Clopin vowed, "What those Dark Gypsies have done to such sweet innocence. Nor shall I forgive myself for--"
"She never blamed you," Shiriluna interrupted. "That she did say about you. Late at night, when there were none of the Evil Ones around, she would tell me that my papa was not to blame for what happened to us. She said he had tried to save us, but the Dark Gypsies had gotten their revenge and we would never know if he was dead or alive. She always said that she believed he was still alive."
There was silence for a few moments, except for Shiriluna's quiet sobs. Clopin was thinking, remembering, cursing the Dark Gypsies to himself, and wondering what had become of his Samira. Then he stammered, "Shiri, your coming...well, we must -- I mean...Shiri, dear, you must get to know your new home." He smiled weakly, reaching to wipe away her tears.
Shiriluna forced a meek smile. Clopin thought of something and jumped up. "I have to go see about something," Clopin announced. "You rest here, Shiri. I'll be back." He grinned at her and then darted out of the tent.
Melisande came over to take his place by the side of the bed. Jehan, still standing by the entranceway, had not recovered from his shock yet. Melisande nodded at Shiriluna. "I am Melisande and this is Jehan. We are close friends of Clopin."
Shiriluna's smile was a bit meek. "Nice to meet you," she replied softly.
"You know," Melisande said nervously, "This is the first we have heard of you. Clopin told us about Samira, but he never mentioned a daughter until today."
Shiri's face was thoughtful. She whispered, "Clopin." She glanced up at Melisande. "Mama never told me his name. She just said that I would know him when I saw him...As if there would be something that would guide me to him..." Then her face grew confused. "How did I get here, anyway? All I remember is wandering down a dark street at night. Then it suddenly got darker. And then I woke up here."
Melisande replied as best she could, "As far as I know, Clopin found you in that same street above ground and he brought you straight here."
Shiri crinkled her nose in confusion. "Above ground? What--?"
"Why, we live below the streets of Paris. In the old catacombs. It's a safe hiding place for all outcasts. We affectionately call it the Court of Miracles." Melisande grinned.
Shiriluna glanced around, the whispered, "I believe miracles can happen here...I finally found my papa." Then she glanced over at Jehan. "Is he always this quiet?"
Melisande followed Shiri's gaze and then laughed. "No, he is never quiet! This was just such a shock to him, I guess. The first time you woke, Clopin told us about his daughter. Jehan and I kept telling him it was impossible for either her or Samira to -- well, um...But then you woke again and recognized Clopin -- well, frankly, it shocked us all." Melisande laughed again. "Jehan especially!"
Melisande stood and went over to Jehan, then took his arm, leading him out of the tent. "We will be back in a moment, Shiriluna," Melisande called. Then she tugged on Jehan's arm, hissing, "Jehan, wake up!"
Jehan answered by murmuring dazedly, "Well, I'll be."
Melisande shook him. "That is right, you'll be--! If you don't snap out of it!"
"What, what, what?" Jehan asked, stepping away from her, finally coming out of his stupor.
"Have you been paying a word of attention to what has happened?" Melisande demanded, setting her hands on her hips.
Jehan gulped. "Um, I think I got lost right after she cried 'Papa!'." He ran his fingers back through his hair. "I can't believe this...After all that...I'll be danged! He really wasn't kidding the first time he said she was Shiriluna. And I thought he had finally gone completely insane."
"I never doubted that he was before this," Melisande muttered.
"Huh? Oh, nothing." Melisande grinned innocently.
Jehan smirked. "Yeah, yeah. I heard you. And I agree."
"Oh, goodness!" Melisande said in alarm. "I hope Shiriluna does not hear us. She does not know her papa at all. We would not want to give her any faulty ideas."
"I agree again," Jehan put in, heading back into the tent. He added in a whisper, "But he is still insane." Melisande snickered and followed him in.
Paquette had finally stepped in and was fixing Shiriluna's hair for her. "My, you have such fine hair, Shiriluna. I have never seen a more beautiful, healthy shade of black."
"Thank you, Paquette," Shiri replied, blushing slightly at the compliment.
Jehan crept up to where Shiriluna sat and whispered in her ear, "She is just being motherly. I will have you know that she raised me, even if she isn't my real mama." He slipped back to the entranceway before she could reply. Shiriluna glanced at him shyly, then quickly turned her gaze away. Melisande was startled by the look on Shiri's face. Melisande made a note of it and vowed to remember it well.
A little while later Clopin returned, grinning up a storm. Everyone noticed (and three recognized) the tell-tale look on his face that said he had been getting things done via 'threats' so to speak. He bowed to Shiriluna, then took her hand, a gleam in his eyes as he looked at her. "If you would follow me, mademoiselle." Immediately he let go of her hand, did a backward handspring out of the tent, and then started off in the direction of his own abode.
Shiriluna smiled then followed obediently, glancing around curiously. Clopin's cloak was still draped about her shoulders. She subconsciously hugged her arms around her for the sake of covering her tattered clothes. Jehan and Melisande came behind her, both wondering what Clopin was planning. He was being even more bouncy than usual. They saw Shiriluna's smile of delight as she watched his antics.
Others also began to notice as the gypsy danced in and out of view, a leap here, a handspring there. As usual, he was good at drawing a crowd. Clopin glanced back once from his flighty path, and he stopped short when he saw the nervous look on Shiriluna's face. He had inadvertently drawn attention to her as well. Clopin came to a stand-still and then calmly walked back to Shiri. He smiled at her sheepishly, then linked his arm around hers and led her in a more formal manner the rest of the way.
Jehan was startled when they came around the bend in the 'street' formed by rows of carts and tents to see that beside Clopin's blue-and-magenta tent was a well-constructed-for-something-hastily-built purple and blue tent, where nothing had stood only an hour before.
Clopin's grin grew as he ushered Shiriluna into the smaller purple-and-blue tent. "Here," he said, turning round with a flourish, "is where you will be staying. Your very own place." Shiri looked at him hesitantly. "Go on, look around!" he urged.
Shiriluna obliged, then turned to look at the furnishings, few, but the best the Court could offer. An actual bed had been placed by the left-side curtain (at Clopin's expense -- he now had no more than a thin blanket to sleep on). A wide rug patterned with suns, moons, and stars on a light blue background lay across the very center of the tent. Shiriluna stood upon it, entranced by the beautiful stitchery.
While she was distracted, Clopin started to grin broadly again. He took something from his pocket and placed it over one of his gloved hands. Then he went up behind Shiriluna. He smiled, and an identical, though much smaller, smiling face looked back at him; it was his look-alike puppet.
Clopin reached his arm forward so the puppet could tap Shiriluna's shoulder. "Excuse me!" squeaked the puppet. "What are you looking at?"
Shiriluna did not seem to notice who -- or what, actually -- was asking the question. Her gaze was still on the patterns of the rug. "This...I have never seen anything so beautiful..."
"It is pretty," the puppet agreed, "But I have seen something more beautiful."
"What?" Shiriluna asked in genuine curiosity. She turned her head to see who it was, finally snapping out of her trance. She gave a start when she saw the miniature Puppet-Clopin smiling stupidly at her. Confusion crossed her face.
"Well, don't just stare at me!" the puppet squeaked. "Aren't you going to ask what is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen?" Despite the puppeteer's intent, a wistful tint slipped into his falsetto.
Shiriluna, after her initial surprise, realized what was happening, and she smiled with more delight then before. She replied, "All right. What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?"
The puppet's mouth twisted and he scowled. "You did not ask correctly," he proclaimed in his impossibly high voice. "You are supposed to ask: what is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen?"
Shiriluna finally caught on. "What is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen?" she said mechanically.
The puppet clapped. "You got it!"
Clopin now moved into view and shook his head at the puppet. "You have forgotten something, little one."
"I have?" the puppet squeaked in confusion. Clopin nodded. The puppet's face scrunched up and its hand tapped its chin in an effort to look thoughtful. Shiriluna could not hold back a laugh.
The puppet suddenly straightened. "Oh, yes, now I remember!" he said sprightly. Then he cleared his throat and turned to Shiri. "I don't know, what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?" The puppet giggled.
Shiriluna laughed in spite of herself. When she stopped (or tried to stop), she said, "But that is what I asked you!"
The puppet nodded. "All right, then, I will tell you." Puppet-Clopin leaned close to her face and said, "You!" Then it planted a quick cloth peck on her cheek.
Shiriluna blushed. She looked at Clopin, who was smiling innocently. In a wink the puppet disappeared and Clopin pulled a bundle of cloth from behind his back. "For you, Shiri," he said softly. Shiriluna took the bundle from him. Wistfulness came to his face. It was a blue dress, much like the color Samira so loved, except it was made of different shades of blue, for it was all Clopin could get on such short notice. "Put it on, see how it fits," he said. A rush of excitement came over him and he bounded out of the tent in a blur.
Once outside, Clopin quickly reposed himself. Sometimes those spurts of energy were annoying. He glanced around to see Jehan and Melisande still standing nearby. "Come on, you two, stop gawking," Clopin called teasingly.
Jehan grinned and went over to Clopin. "So, you old fool," Jehan said in a quiet tone, yet his wide grin belied tact, "you really do have a daughter, after all."
Clopin smiled loftily, yet that wistfulness crept in again and the expression began to fall to one of self-pity and then to sadness. Jehan noticed the quick change of feelings. Jehan's own grin faded as he said more gently, "I never thought..." Jehan stumbled for words. He had lost the urge to do his own teasing.
Clopin turned his gaze to the ground. He finished the sentence his own way: "Clopin never thought he would ever see her." That ended the conversation cold. Jehan drew a sharp breath and stared at his shoes. He had made another mistake. He knew very well what had happened, once Melisande had coaxed the story out of Clopin.
The awkward silence was broken by a call from within the tent. Clopin leapt to attention and darted inside. "Well, what do you think?" Shiriluna asked, turning round to show off her new dress; the skirt was about the same color blue as on the tunic Clopin wore for the Festival of Fools; the top of the dress was white, meeting the skirt at a blue-and-yellow striped bodice. Shiri had tied a lavendar scarf around her hips, and a blue scarf held her hair back from her face.
Clopin clasped his hands together in elation, his eyes shining with a look of joy. Shiriluna beamed. Jehan and Melisande went over to compliment her.
Clopin continued to gaze at Shiriluna, entranced by how beautiful she looked in the mostly-blue dress. Blue had always been Samira's favorite color. As he watched her, he suddenly felt a cold, sad feeling slowly sweep over him. He did not even realize that he was weeping until a tear glided to the corner of his mouth and he tasted its bitterness. Not weeping out of joy, but of sadness.
"Sixteen years," he murmured. None of the others heard him. He wondered what he had missed in those years; he had never known the feeling of holding her, as an infant, in his arms; he had never been able to tell stories to her, as he did to other children; but most of all, the thought that he had never seen her grow up, drove a mournful feeling into his heart. That thought was so overwhelming that Clopin did not realize that he was hugging Shiriluna, till a gentle touch to his cheek woke him. He gazed upon Shiriluna's face, noting how her eyes held Samira's beauty. There was sadness there, too, and he knew her thoughts were the same as his.
Shiriluna kissed his cheek again, then whispered, "I love you, Papa." Then she hugged him.
Melisande's eyes glistened with unshed tears as she watched the unprecedented reunion. But a shudder ran through her as the thought came to her that she would never see, nevermind hug, her parents ever again.
Jehan, at her side, was touched, too, though something did not seem right to him; it was probably that he had never thought of Clopin as the fatherly type. Jehan had never considered that Clopin could ever settle down. Clopin loved to entertain the children of Paris, including the scamps of the Court, but it had not occured to Jehan that Clopin would care for a child of his own. Now Jehan was seeing Clopin in a whole new light.
The embrace ended. Clopin held Shiriluna at arm's length, smiling. Then he frowned for a fleeting moment. "Something is missing..." he muttered as he circled around her. He stopped once he was in front of her again. Her eyes held confusion. "Oh, of course!" Clopin snapped his fingers, then reached out to pinch Shiriluna's ears. "No earring, Shiri? We must tend to this immediately!"

* * * * * *

A short while later, Clopin led Shiriluna into his tent, Shiri fingering her recently pierced right ear. The back of Clopin's home was made from the stone wall that his tent had been set against. Clopin, beaming, strode toward the wall and stopped where one side curtain met the stones.
Clopin turned back to Shiriluna and put a finger to his lips to indicate a secret. Shiri hastily made sure the tent flaps were closed so no one could peek in. Then Clopin beckoned her over to him. Shiriluna wondered what he was up to now.
Clopin ran his gaze over a section of the wall about the height of his shoulders. He poked at the bricks for a few moments, then pulled out a particularly large stone from its seemingly unmovably spot, revealing a hollow space inside the wall. He set down the stone, then straightened and slid his entire arm into the space. His face lit up as he found his treasure. When he retracted his arm, Shiriluna saw that he held a small black box.
First holding the box as if it was his best kept secret, Clopin then put it forth and blew on it, producing a shower of dust to the ground. Now Shiri saw that a golden band ran around the top edge. Loving the suspense and mystery, Clopin ever so slowly began to raise the lid of the small box. He glanced at Shiriluna mischievously. Then he opened the box all the way, a crooked grin spreading across his face.
Shiriluna caught the gleam of light off the object in the box. It was a gold hoop earring, the match to the one Clopin wore. Clopin lifted the ring out of the box, a hint of a wistful look in his expression. Shiriluna pulled her hair back from her right ear. Clopin tried to stop grinning crazily as he fastened the ring to Shiri's ear. At once he stepped back, gazed at her completed look, then let out a whoop and did a backward flip. He landed squarely on his feet and within the same second he was into a handspring. Landing right-side up, he grinned widely, then leapt into a cartwheel, and ended by diving at Shiriluna and catching her in a hug. "My daughter!" he exclaimed.
Suddenly they heard a laughing from outside. Clopin darted to where he hid his treasures and replaced the stone. In the next moment he was standing beside Shiriluna as Jehan walked in uninvited.
"Clopin, Clopin!" Jehan called out. "You have piqued much curiosity about the little mademoiselle! Perhaps it is time to introduce her to your subjects?" Jehan stopped and stared at Clopin and Shiriluna. Then he burst out laughing. "By the heavens, Clopin, she really is your daughter!" He was on the verge of hysterics. "She looks just like you!"
Clopin turned to face Shiriluna. Surprise flickered across his countenance. Then he started laughing. Shiri had been up to her own feat of quickness -- she had spotted and snatched Clopin's magenta mask from the table and had put it on without Clopin noticing. He let out a hearty laugh, clutching his sides, and he exclaimed, "She does indeed take after me--!"
His laugh was cut short as he was finally overwhelmed by the conflicting emotions of the day. Without another word he slumped to the ground. Shiriluna removed the mask and kneeled beside him. She quietly hugged him.
Jehan was plunged into a moment of confusion at the wild mood swing. Then Jehan understood. Even as Clopin had gained Shiriluna, he was reminded that he had lost Samira, forever. Jehan had watched Clopin prevail over that sadness throughout the morning; but now the weight had become too great and Clopin had collapsed under his sorrow.
Jehan went over to stand before the two. Clopin had his face buried in his gloved hands; Shiri had her arm braced around his trembling shoulders. Jehan lowered himself to one knee at Clopin's other side, then clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, you old fool, you have survived before, and you will do it again."
Clopin glanced up. Jehan nearly drew back in shock at the sorrow in his friend's face. But Jehan held in his surprise; still, the expression was haunting. Clopin's visage softened to a lighter sadness, then cleared altogether as he nodded, and his smile returned. "You are right, lad. There is nothing I can do...about the past..."
Afraid that Clopin would slip again, and also fed up, Jehan grabbed Clopin's hand and then Shiriluna's hand, and started to drag them both toward the entrance of the tent. "Come on, then, we must not keep the Court waiting!"
Clopin dug his heels into the ground to stop this intrusion. "I will introduce her in my own time!" he proclaimed. Jehan made an annoyed face at him. Clopin scowled at the youth, then grinned. "Jehan, lad, if you would be so kind as to give Shiriluna a tour of our humble home, I would be grateful. I have some more business to tend to." He winked at Shiri. Then he leaned close to Jehan and murmured, "And if you say a word about who she is beyond her name--" Clopin ran his finger across his throat.
Jehan gulped, and nodded, but then hissed back, "I will not have to tell! She looks so much like you, it is obvious!"
Clopin gave him a wary look. "I have my reasons," he mumbled. Then, once again, he took his leave in a quick blur.

To Be Continued. . .

Coming Next: The 2nd Chapter of The Gypsy Princess: Moon And Star

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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 not owned by Disney are property of Autumn Loweck (aka Shiri) and may not be "borrowed" or mentioned in other works without notifying the author first