posted June 14, 1997

The Gypsy Princess

[I dedicate this chapter to my fellow Clopinphiles -- be glad we don't have someone like Corgee among us! ;) Or maybe we do and don't realize it...hmm...]

Chapter Three - A Confused Jester

If Shiriluna thought that proclaimation from her papa was going to keep her out of danger, she was wrong. In Paris, danger can lurk around every corner. Or can be right in front of you; especially if you are gypsy.
The following morning Clopin himself took Shiriluna into the city. He was a little less bouncy than he had been in the past two days, but not by much. "There it is, Shiri," he called out, pointing to his puppet-theatre wagon across the square outside Notre Dame cathedral.
"I have seen it already, Papa," Shiriluna said cheerfully, yet absently.
Clopin groaned. "Oh, drat that boy! Must he steal my glory?" Then he grinned. "Well, he certainly cannot take the attention away from me at the Feast of Fools! Ah, wait till you see it! Paris has the finest Topsy Turvy Day!"
They came up to the wagon. Clopin pushed aside the curtain that had replaced the broken door. Shiriluna waited patiently outside, leaning against the side of the wagon.
"I wonder if anyone will come today..." Clopin said thoughtfully, appearing at the window. "The heavens only know what the children thought when I didn't come here the other day..." A quiet smile formed on his face.
He did not have to wonder for long. As it grew later in the morning, a handful of children drifted toward his cart in ones and twos. Shiriluna stayed off to the side, watching from the shadows of a shop, holding her dark blue cloak close around her. She marveled at Clopin's storytelling abilities. She imagined herself as a little child again, listening to those tales, and her smile was the same as the other children's.
Gray clouds invaded the sky as noon approached. Clopin finished his last tale of the day by having his look-alike puppet bow and wave to the children before disappearing below the window sill. The children all clapped, then one by one waved to him and skipped away.
Two little girls, one slightly older than the other, lagged behind. The younger took something out of her pocket and leaned on tiptoe to place it on the window sill. It was a gold coin. Clopin smiled and leaned out the window to pat her head. "Many thanks, Mademoiselle," he said, taking off his hat in a small, nodded bow. The little girls both curtsied, then, giggling, hurried away.
Shiriluna came over as Clopin finished locking everything up within the wagon, and emerged from inside. He held up the coin. "Will you look at this!" he said, smiling. "I wonder whose idea this was? Maybe their parents have finally decided to pay me for watching over their children." He grinned. Then he threw the coin into the air, caught it, flicked his wrist, and then opened his fist to reveal the coin to be gone.
"A magician along with a king?" Shiriluna smiled.
He hugged her around the shoulders. "You have much to learn about me," he said with a wink. They started out of the square. Clopin noticed the clink of armor behind them. He glanced over his shoulder once, then grabbed Shiriluna's hand and began to run.
"Stop, gypsy!" the voice of a soldier called out.
"Leave it to be today of all days that the soldiers are on guard!" Clopin cried in anguish. They ducked into a dark, narrow alley. The four soldiers ran right past. Clopin sighed in relief, then turned to Shiriluna. "We get much excercise here," he grinned.
"But...what if we could not run or hide in time?" Shiri asked fretfully.
Clopin patted his pocket. "That is what smoke powder is for." Then his expression changed to one more grim. "When you are in the city, you must be on constant watch for the soldiers. They are trained to hate gypsies. Any little thing is an excuse to arrest one of us." He turned to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. "You, especially, must be wary. Most of them know by now that I am King of the Court of Miracles, and anyone would do anything to capture me. Once the wrong people find out that you are my daughter, you will be in danger. I cannot be with you always," he added softly.
Shiriluna nodded. "I will be careful, Papa."
"I know you will." He gave her a smile, and then they cautiously left the alley.
They reached the entrance to the catacombs without any other disruptions. As they walked through the dark tunnels, Clopin spoke up thoughtfully, "Perhaps I should assign an escort..?" His changing expressions told that he was debating fitfully. "But who, though?" he mumbled.
"Maybe...Jehan?" Shiriluna asked timidly.
Clopin chuckled. "Should I really trust him with the safety of my daughter?"
Shiriluna appeared disappointed. "Well...I think he is nice..."
Clopin laughed. "He is a fool. If he calls me 'you old fool,' I can call him 'the young fool'!"
"You don't like him, do you?" Shiri said, sounding more disappointed.
"On the contrary, my dear one, when I first met him, he was my son. Now he is my brother." Clopin smiled fondly.
"But..." Her voice trailed off as she realized the logic in what he had said.
They entered the Court a few moments later, and headed toward Clopin's tent. People waved to the new girl, even though none of them knew who she really was. The king planned to reveal her identity that evening. Clopin led her into his tent. He was going to tell her what his plans were.
All of a sudden a sweet voice called out, "Clopin! Clopin! Are you in there?"
Clopin groaned. He pushed Shiriluna behind the large armchair in the back of the tent. "Hide," he instructed. There was a confused look on her face, but she ducked down behind the chair without a word. Clopin calmly strolled over to the table before the tent flap was pulled back and a relatively tall, slight figure bounced in.
"Hello, Clopin! I have returned! Did you miss me?" A woman with short black hair, large brown eyes, and a wide, sweet smile on her face stood hopping on her toes in front of him. Her outfit, a jester's costume, was divided into eighths from tunic to leggings, alternating halves of deep red and dark violet. Her shoes were violet with red folded over the top, little bells at the curled-toe tips.
She bounced over to Clopin, saying in a sugary voice, "I missed you, Clopin." He stood stiffly as she hugged her arms around him. Shiriluna felt anger rise within her until she wanted to scream, but then she saw the look of disgust on Clopin's face, and she relaxed slightly.
"Do you want to hear about my travels? I went to many places." The woman sat down on the table, her smile bright. "I met a lot of people, too. Some of them did not like me..." She pouted for a moment, then babbled on, "But that was probably because I am a gypsy." She smiled again. "And I met someone who said he knew you..." She grinned broadly. "Did you miss your favorite jester?"
Clopin muttered something so that she could not hear, "Like the plague." Then he smiled at her. "Of course I did! There are not enough fools around here without you."
She giggled, then gazed at him with her mindless smile again. "I really missed you, Clopin." She began to lean forward.
"Corgee," Clopin said in a way as if he had lectured her about something before.
"I hated being away from you, Clopin." Corgee rested her head against his shoulder. Shiriluna saw Clopin clench his fists, which seemed to tremble for a moment. "My king..." Corgee began.
"Not a word!" Clopin hissed.
"But, Clopin--" She pouted. "You know how I feel." Tears brimmed her eyes. "Why are you so mean to me?"
He sighed impatiently. She gazed at him tearfully. He decided to pity her and attempt to be nice. "Corgee, you are a sweet girl," he said softly, "But I can never be in love with you."
Corgee pouted again; then her expression hardened as she proclaimed, "I am not a girl!" She lifted her chin proudly. "I am a grown woman."
Clopin smiled gently. "The performer in you belies that."
"What is your reason?" she demanded shrilly. "Why can you not--"
"Corgee, please," Clopin interrupted.
"Please, Clopin, please," she echoed, getting down on her knees before him. "I love you, Clopin! You cannot deny it! Please tell me you feel the same way!"
Clopin wanted to tell her something all right, but it was not very proper in the presence of a lady. He averted his eyes from her face, that desperate, pleading look of hers, his own countenance taking on an expression of hopelessness. "Oh, Corgee," he mumbled.
Her eyes gleamed with hope. "Oh, Clopin, please say you understand!"
"Corgee, I--"
With a frustrated and impatient sigh, he exclaimed, "Clopin's heart belongs to another!" He turned away from her.
Corgee slowly stood, wiping away her tears. "Oh, Clopin,," she said with a calm sigh, "One day you will learn..." She gave a quirky little smile and then dashed out of the tent.
"Who was that?" Shiriluna demanded, coming out of hiding.
Clopin sighed harshly. "That was Corgee, the 'Court Jester.' She is something to laugh at, although she uses the title to get close to me..." He clenched his fists again, then relaxed. "She came here a few years ago. The little idiot thinks she fell in love with me. Then, two years ago, she left to travel with her brother." Clopin snickered. "If he had been smart, he would have left her in the town farthest from here!"
"I suppose neither of them received the brains of the family."
Clopin laughed mockingly. "No, no, Corgee is truly not wise." His voice became hard at the end.
Shiriluna recalled the conversation from a few minutes ago. Then she heard her mama's voice repeating something that Corgee had said, except, more desperate, "I hate being away from you!"
Clopin noticed as her expression changed. He moved in front of her, then asked softly, "It makes you think of your mama, does it not?" He placed his hand under her chin and raised her eyes to look at his. "It does to me. Every time." There was anger in his eyes.
Shiriluna crossed her arms, and said bitterly, "She is but a giggling little fool."
Clopin hugged her, whispering, "No one will ever replace your mama in my heart." His voice trembled slightly as it became more of a whisper, "I will love Samira forever."
Shiriluna suppressed a shiver. Has Mama found a way to escape? Will she ever escape? What did they do when they caught her again? She sank down on a stool at the table.
"Well," Clopin said loudly, after clearing his throat of the resurfacing sorrow, "Perhaps it is time for a little introduction." He grinned and took her hand, pulling her out of her seat and toward the exit.
"Please don't make a big show of it," Shiriluna pleaded, knowing his antics by now. "I -- I am still nervous around all of these people. Th-They were never so kind, the Dark Gypsies..." She stopped and fidgeted with the scarf holding back her hair.
"Those days are gone now." He lead her out of the tent. "It is time for these people to know to treat you like the princess you are." He smiled. They headed toward the large stage that had been built for practice performances and celebrations (such as the death of Frollo), and public announcements.
But a few moments before they reached the stage, a red-and-violet form bounced up to them. "Hello again, Clopin!" Corgee said happily.
Clopin suddenly smirked, a smug look in his eyes. "Corgee! How are you? I would like to introduce you to someone."
Corgee looked at Shiriluna and smiled cheerfully, then said brightly, "Oh, is this your sister? I see the family resemblance."
"Clever of you, Corgee," Clopin said. Then he chuckled, "Not correct, although she is related to me."
"Hmm..." Corgee studied Shiriluna thoughtfully for a moment. Then she shrugged. "Cousin?"
"No." Clopin placed his hands on Shiriluna's shoulders and smiled. "My daughter."
Corgee went pale. "D-Daughter?" she repeated shrilly, her mouth hanging open in shock.
Clopin spoke up quietly, "Clopin told you that his heart belongs to another." There was something of a cruel grin on his face.
Corgee looked crushed. She bobbed before Shiriluna and mumbled, "Pleased to meet you." Then she hurried away.
Shiriluna tried to hide a smug smile. Clopin actually laughed out loud. "That will get through to her!" he exclaimed. Then he leapt into the open and called out, "Gather 'round ev'rybody! I have some good news tonight!" He motioned for Shiriluna to precede him up the wooden stairs to the stage. The residents of the Court came out of their homes and grouped around the stage. Shiri felt her face grow warm with nervousness.
Clopin stepped to the edge of the stage. "I am sure you have all noticed our new friend, Mademoiselle Shiriluna." He turned his head to smile at her. She was slowly backing up, her nervous expression becoming more clear. He motioned for her to come forward. She shook her head and slipped behind the curtain of the stage. Clopin went over to her. "What is wrong?" he whispered
"I -- I..." she stammered. She glanced out at the waiting crowd. Then she leaned close to him and whispered, "I am very nervous about being in front of a crowd. It -- it is their fault." She bit her lower lip fretfully.
"Stop thinking about them," Clopin mock-scolded. "You are home now, with people who know what love is." He smiled to reassure her, then took her arm and led her back to the edge of the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the Court of Miracles," Clopin exclaimed in a regal voice, "I present to you Shiriluna Trouillefou, my daughter!" He smiled broadly. Shiri attempted to be confident, but she felt her face burning.
Clopin watched his subjects, while slowly a lump rose in his throat. He hardly received the reaction he had expected. Murmurs ran through the crowd, but not much more. He placed near-trembling hands on Shiriluna's shoulders, anger beginning to rise within him. Were they not happy for him? Were they not happy at this news? A good many of them knew of his sorrows, knew of what had happened to him and his wife and child. Did they not care?
Clopin clenched his jaw as he searched the crowd. Someone, say something, he silently commanded. Where was Jehan? He kept looking until he caught a glimpse of Corgee. He knew she was not happy about the announcement, yet she was smiling...She was standing by one of the tunnel entrances. She appeared to be talking to someone, who was hidden in the shadows. A somewhat crafty-looking expression came over Corgee's face. Clopin shrugged off any thoughts of the jester and let his angry gaze wander over the crowd.
Suddenly a man called out, "Vive la princess! Vive le roi!" Clopin's face broke into a smile. At last!
The crowd repeated the cry. Clopin took a gracious bow, and then ushered Shiriluna off the stage before she became any more nervous. He had seen that she was beginning to turn pale from over-reacting nerves.
Shiriluna remained quiet while Clopin chatted with every other person who stopped them. The girl now seemed to have her mind on something else, as she searched for a certain person through the crowd as it dispersed. She must have spotted him, for she seemed to become a little more shy.
Clopin glanced up from his conversation to see Jehan heading toward them. Once before them, Jehan bowed to Shiriluna. "Your Highness," he patronized with a grin; he took her hand and kissed it. Shiriluna blushed. Clopin shot a glare at Jehan, who only shrugged and smiled. "I am not allowed to pay homage to the princess?" Jehan asked. He laughed at the wary look on Clopin's face.
On an impulse, Clopin leaned toward Jehan and said quickly, "Have you seen Corgee at all today?"
Jehan's expression turned grave. "I have not, yet. I am sure she is not happy about the announcement."
Clopin chuckled. "She thought Shiri was my sister."
Jehan stifled a laugh. "I told you the family resemblance was unmistakable!"
"Keep watch for her. See if she is...plotting...anything." Clopin remained grim.
Again, Jehan tried not to laugh. "Corgee? Plotting? You must be kidding. Or else very paranoid."
"I have my reasons." Clopin glared at him, expecting him to know.
Jehan finally nodded in understanding. He stood stiffly and saluted. "As you command, sir!"
Shiriluna could not help giggling. How inappropriate for him to impersonate a soldier! Jehan smiled at her. "Now, why do you need Corgee, Court Jester, while I, the fool, am here?" He grinned at Clopin and muttered to him, "Better a fool than an idiot." He chuckled scornfully. Then he noticed that Shiriluna was gazing at him with a strange look in her eyes. He shrugged it off and turned to leave on his mission.
"M'sieur." He nodded to Clopin. "Sweet Mademoiselle." He grinned and bowed to Shiriluna. Then he hurried away.
Clopin crossed his arms as he glared after Jehan. "I see he is developing some manners as he grows older." His tone was flat.
Shiriluna giggled, still flattered by the treatment. "He is a charmer."
Clopin chuckled. "Indeed." Then he frowned. "Although he had better be careful with whom he chooses to use his charm on."

* * * * * *

Later, Jehan was sitting outside his tent, trying to untangle a rope from his last balancing act. A slim form bounced up to him while he was untying a knot. "Jehan! Hello!" cried a quirky voice.
He nearly jumped in surprise. Instead, the rope was pulled taut between his hands, tightening the knot he had been trying to undo. He muttered an oath and looked up. Corgee smiled sweetly at him. "I have returned! Did you miss me?" She bent over and hugged him.
"Corgee--" Jehan sputtered, trying to slip out of the unwelcome embrace.
She teasingly kissed his cheek and let him go. "You have always been such a sweet boy." She ruffled his hair.
Jehan scrambled to his feet, then scowled at her. But then he grinned. "Sweet? When I was little, they called me the demon child." He leered at her, almost threateningly.
Corgee giggled mindlessly. "Oh, I would not believe that." She moved closer to him, still smiling away. "You are a good boy." Her lips pursed slightly.
Jehan took a step back. "I am not a boy any more. The last time you saw me was two years ago. Many things have changed." He glanced toward the tent. Melisande, please, he pleaded silently.
Corgee moved closer again. "You are taller than you were the last time I saw you." She smiled brightly at him. "I missed you, but I missed Clopin even more."
Jehan stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He edged backward. Melisande, where are you? He glanced toward the tent's entrance again. Corgee seemed oblivious to his discomfort. Jehan looked at her for a moment. Why is she doing this? She knows she is much older than I -- doesn't she?!
Evidently not. She seemed so smitten that she leaned forward and kissed him before he had a chance to react. There was nowhere for him to go, anyway; he had his back against the tent wall.
"What--?!" came a startled cry.
Jehan managed to push Corgee away and he turned to the voice. "Melisande!" he exclaimed with such clear relief that the look of fury on her face faded slightly. His eyes pleaded with her as he stepped over to her. His expression asked for understanding and forgiveness as he held her by the arms.
"Who is this?" Corgee asked curiously. She stared at Melisande. "I don't remember you."
Jehan finally smiled. He hugged Melisande close, and said, "This is Melisande. My true love." He made sure Corgee was watching carefully as he kissed Melisande. Melisande relaxed for the first time that week, slipping her arms around his neck as she returned the kiss.
Corgee gave a little pout, but then smiled brightly. "I am happy for you, Jehan," she spoke up as their embrace ended.
Melisande stayed by Jehan's side as she commented, "I have never seen you before. Who might you be?"
Corgee introduced herself by bouncing closer and singing out, "Corgee, Court Jester, entertainer to Clopin." She took a bow.
"Court jester?" Melisande mused. "Now I have learned everything about this place."
Corgee bounced again. "Well, I must go talk to someone. Fare well." She turned to leave, then shot a smile at Jehan over her shoulder. "See you later, Jehan." She giggled, then bounced on her merry way.
Jehan moaned and sank to the ground, burying his face in his hands. "Hang her, someone, please, hang her and put her out of her misery!"
"She is harmless," Melisande decided, still staring after the path of the flirtatious jester. She lowered herself beside Jehan as he started to look up, running his fingers back through his hair.
"You think that, after she--" he began in disbelief. He could not bring himself to say it, he loathed the incident so much.
"She is a twit," Melisande said curtly. "I have no worry over her." She smiled softly. "I know you would not betray me."
He smiled in agreement. Then he stood up. "I should find out who she must talk to. Clopin asked me to watch her carefully."
"Be cautious. She seems to be a tricky wench." Melisande smirked scornfully.
"Tricky, no. Without any idea, yes!" Jehan laughed. He hugged her around the shoulders. "You are right, she is harmless. And Clopin is paranoid. Besides, from what I have seen, Shiriluna can fend for herself."
"Aha, I was almost beginning to wonder -- what does this Court Jester think of the princess? Or rather, how close is this jester to the king?"
Jehan lowered his voice as he explained, "Corgee is in love with Clopin. But, you know his story already. However, she does not understand what I cannot stand you means." He shook his head, a look of pity on his face. "You can never be sure what she is thinking. She is very...strange."
"So I noticed." Melisande snickered, then frowned, having changed her mind on something. "And just what was she doing--"
Jehan hastily interrupted her. "Corgee can be a little confused sometimes. She did not mean any harm..." He felt his ears burn.
Melisande gazed at him demurely and reached out to caress his cheek. "You are so handsome when you look embarrassed." She then smiled. "Do not worry. I know she cannot do anything to us."
He took her into his arms. "Nothing will ever come between us." He smiled and hugged her. Then he kissed her.

Coming Next: the fourth chapter of The Gypsy Princess: Bait Fit For a King

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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