posted June 20, 1997

The Gypsy Princess

[I dedicate this chapter to my once-favorite author, R.L. Stine, who has been inspiring my career since he visited my school in 1991, getting me hooked on the Fear Street series.]

[Author's note: this contains violence that some people might find disturbing. Although I doubt it's any worse than what's already out there]

Chapter Four - Bait Fit For A King

Shiriluna stirred. There was a noise outside her tent. Someone, in a female voice, hissed, "Shh!" She was instantly alert. But everything was silent again. She slowly relaxed, closing her eyes to go back to sleep.
Then a hand clamped over her mouth. She was about to scream when the blade of a dagger flashed in front of her. "That is right, keep quiet and you will live. For now," sneered a grating male voice. She was pulled from the bed, and a second person tied her hands behind her back. The ropes dug into her wrists and she whimpered in protest. "Silence!" growled the grating voice.
"Andry! Be quiet!" came a sweet female voice. Shiriluna's eyes went wide as she recognized it. Corgee! A handkerchief was tied over her mouth before she could say a word.
They dragged her out of the tent. In the dim light she saw that they were dressed all in black. It triggered a horrible memory. Dark Gypsies! She began to struggle, giving muffled cries from beneath the gag.
"Stop!" hissed that awful male voice. Shiriluna froze as the sharp tip of the dagger was placed against her throat. Shiriluna rolled her eyes in the direction of the man, seeing his face for the first time. He had scraggly red hair sticking out like straw from under his black hat, his face gaunt and pale, his mouth in a sneer, and his one eye glaring hatefully. His left eye was covered by a patch. She knew he was not a gypsy; but, who was he, then?
They moved silently through the Court, going farther into the place rather than heading for the main tunnel entrance. Shiriluna said not a word, for the dagger was always there. She glanced at Corgee. Sweet, naive, stupid Corgee. Could she really be capable of hurting someone? She bounced almost cheerfully along, her expression belying that she was pleased with herself.
They passed by a familiar orange-and-yellow tent. Shiriluna whimpered the start of a cry. Andry swiped the dagger at her face. She jerked backward so sharply that she nearly fell. Corgee let out a hiss and grabbed Shiriluna's arm, pulling her along at a faster pace. They had to get out of there quickly. Corgee motioned Andry ahead of her. He knew the tunnels so well. He had to lead them above ground. "Hurry," she insisted in too loud a whisper. After another minute they had left the Court of Miracles and were wandering with a purpose through the catacombs.

* * * * * *

Jehan vaguely heard the hiss. He had been dozing fitfully since he had woken from a bad dream. "Hurry," someone outside said. He tried to clear his head. What was happening? He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and got up, straightening his clothes. He cast a glance at the curtain that divided the tent. Melisande was still asleep on the other side. He hurried out of the tent.
There was no sign of anyone. Jehan whirled around warily, glancing about suspiciously. A muffled noise from his right, from one of the seldom-used tunnels. Something told him to be cautious, but he was too apprehensive to be concerned with that. His eyes searched for any movement.
Not a sound now. Something caught his attention, right before disappearing into the total blackness. He knelt on one knee by a dark trail, studying it curiously. He reached out. It was a reddish, somewhat sticky liquid. His eyes went wide. Blood.
Inside, a knot of nervousness formed. He had to tell someone. Jehan stood and turned in the direction of Clopin's tent. Throughout the Court there was deafening silence. Jehan rubbed his thumb across his fingers, wondering whose blood it was.
Within moments he reached Clopin's tent. He futilely called out, "Clopin!" before entering. Of course the king was sleeping. "Clopin!" Jehan called again. He went over to the new bed.
Clopin was completely covered by the blanket, except for one arm hanging limply over the side of the bed. Something seemed odd about it. Jehan pulled the blanket away from Clopin's face. His cry caught in his throat; a purplish bruise marked the right side of Clopin's forehead. "Clopin? Clopin!" Jehan shook his slightly. No response.
Jehan held back an oath. This must have something to do with the noise and the...tunnel...It suddenly came to him. Clopin...Shiriluna! Jehan lurched out of the tent and made a sharp turn into the one beside it.
Empty No Shiriluna. He looked at the bed. It's unusual untidiness gave signs of struggle. And the blood...Jehan cursed his luck and ran back toward the tunnel.

* * * * * *

Corgee began to hum gleefully as they walked out into the cool night air.
"Would you shut up?" Andry snapped at her.
"Why don't you?" she shot back in equal anger. "Monsieur Knife-happy! You were not supposed to cut the brat."
"She should have kept quiet!" Andry snarled. Corgee had had to rip the bottom edge of her black tunic off to bandage the small wound administered to Shiriluna's arm by Andry's dagger.
"So, she is afraid. Good. I would rather hear her fear than have to wonder what she might be thinking."
"Are you wondering now?" Andry sneered. Shiriluna trudged silently ahead of him; he still had his dagger trained on her back.
"She knows what her fate is," Corgee said with a smirk.
Andry smirked, too. "Bait." He grinned evilly.
"And you should stop fussing," Corgee snapped. "You will get the power you want. And I will get Clopin." Her smirk grew more smug.
Shiriluna stopped short at the mention of her papa. Corgee giggled, becoming her sweet self again. No more was said.
A few twisting alleyways later, Andry turned sharply to glare at Corgee. "So, we are out of that accursed 'Court of Miracles.' You said you had a plan once we reached the city. What is it?"
Corgee smiled brightly. "You stay here and guard her. I run back to the Court of Miracles and scream about the kidnapping to Clopin. I bring him back here, and we give him our little deal." She smirked as though she were the most brilliant person to ever have lived.
Andry groaned. "He will not be agreeing to anything!"
Corgee put her hands on her hips angrily. "What are you talking about?" she demanded.
Andry gave a cruel laugh. "I gave him a nice bump on the head! He might not wake up for several mornings." He laughed again.
Shiriluna let out a muffled shriek of horror. Andry turned his dagger toward her. Corgee grabbed his arm. "Don't! She is the only thing that can get us what we want!"
"I could have killed Clopin to get what I want!" Andry snarled. Too late he realized his mistake.
Corgee pouted. "You want to kill him? Why?"
Andry scowled. "I have many reasons," was all he said. He looked at Shiriluna. A cruel smile flickered across his angry face as he turned the dagger around in his hand.
"Aw, don't hurt her yet," Corgee said with a little pout. She moved to block his path. "Wait until after we talk to Clopin. Then we can kill her." Her sweet visage contorted to disdain as she glared hatefully at Shiriluna. "She is in my way, anyway."
"I am tired of waiting!" Andry snarled. He advanced toward Shiriluna, raising the dagger. She backed away until she bumped into the stone wall that blocked the alley. Andry sneered. "I want to make Clopin pay now!"
Shiriluna tried not to show her fear. But she was terrified of dying. Then something inside her saw the hopelessness of the situation, and she went half-limp, letting her head loll back. Why not just die... They were going to kill her anyway. She could almost feel the edge of the blade coming closer to her throat.
"Oh, at least wait until Clopin is here to see," Corgee said fussily.
"It is now or never."
Corgee blinked. That did not sound like Andry. But it was male. And it sounded like it had come from above her. Corgee tilted her head backward. There was nothing but darkness above. She shook her head. Just strange voices again. She never paid them much heed. She looked over at Andry again.
She blinked again. All of a sudden a gray-clad figure landed in front of her. She swallowed a scream as she recognized him. "Jehan! You scared me!" she cried, pounding her fists against his chest. "Why did you--"
He grabbed her wrists, a determined look on his face. He forced her back against the wall of one of the buildings lining the alley. Corgee giggled brainlessly. "Oh, Jehan, let go of me, you silly boy." She leaned her head forward to rest against his shoulder.
"Get off me," he growled. He shoved her back against the wall again, hard. She moaned and slipped to the ground.
Jehan then whirled around and drew his dagger. Andry was already facing him. Shiriluna was slumped at the base of the wall. "I hope for your sake she is not hurt," Jehan said menacingly. He paused. "But who said I was going to show you mercy?" His expression tightened to a sneer. "I still owe you for a little incident nine years ago."
Andry laughed heartlessly. "So, you are that boy that would have bought my freedom -- freedom from those gypsies."
Jehan's grip on the dagger hilt tightened at the tone of the last word. Then his grasp loosened as he threw the dagger at Andry, catching him by surprise. Andry ducked. Jehan took the advantage and leapt forward, bringing both hands together in a downward thrust to Andry's neck. Within a second the vagabond was sprawled motionlessly on the ground.
Jehan retrieved his dagger and returned it to its hidden sheath. Then he knelt by Shiriluna. She appeared unharmed except for the bandage on her arm...The source of the red trail that had led him there. He removed her gag. "Shiri...Shiriluna," he called, shaking her. She whimpered, her eyes squeezed shut. "Don't be afraid. It is me, Jehan. They will not hurt you now."
Her eyes opened and she stared in disbelief. Then she flung her arms around him. "Oh! I thought I was going to die!"
"We have to get out of here before we are found," Jehan said uncomfortably. He helped her to stand, holding her arms as she swayed unsteadily. "We must move quickly." He held onto her hand as they hurried out of the alleyway.
They had not gone very far when Jehan noticed that Shiriluna was limping. He turned into a wide alley, but slowed to a stop halfway through. She slouched beside him, her breathing harsh. In the dim moonlight she looked pale. The shock..? Jehan wondered. Then she fell. He caught her in time, sinking to his knees as he eased her against the ground.
"Shiri--" he began in alarm. She gazed up at him, pain in her eyes. Her breathing slowed until her eyes closed. Then she went limp in his arms. "Shiriluna?" Had Andry killed her after all? He quickly looked her over for a sign of the fatal wound.
There, at the top of her skirt, on her side...A redness had seeped through the blue material. Her bodice had been shredded in that one spot. Jehan pulled out the train of tied-together scarves he had taken from Corgee, glad now for stealing for the first time in his life. He wrapped it around Shiriluna's side as best he could. Then he rocked her gently, stroking her hair, hoping that she would be all right.
He would go back and make sure that Andry and Corgee never saw the light of the sun ever again. He was sure that he had cracked Andry's neck. And he might have broken Corgee's back, but he was not confident of it. If not, he would do so when he returned to where he had left them. Anger is a dangerous fuel. More than a hanging was deserved by these two.
Suddenly Shiriluna stirred, shivering. Jehan hugged her close. She pressed her head against his shoulder. Jehan continued to hug her. She is alive, she is alive. Her hair brushed against his cheek as she uttered a fearfully trembling sigh.
They could have killed her, Jehan thought. Thank the heavens she is alive! Therewas a soft touch to his cheek. She kissed me, he realized. He smiled. Grateful that I saved her. Before he could stop, he kissed her in return -- he was just so glad that she was alive!
Her arms tightened around his neck, and she kissed him again. She likes me! That is what it was the whole time! Jehan realized. He would have chuckled if she had not kissed him a third time. This time full on the lips.
This is wrong, Jehan told himself. I have to stop this. I cannot let her think I love her. This is Clopin's daughter. It is not right.
She continued to hug him, although she drew back slightly. Jehan gazed at her, masking his surprise and...anger. I love Melisande, he thought fiercely. Why did I kiss her? Now what is she thinking?
She smiled weakly, then leaned her head against his shoulder. She was afraid, I only wished to reassure her, Jehan reasoned with himself. Shiriluna sighed dreamily.
"Well, 'ow sweet!" called out a broken, grating voice. "Well, 'ow sweet! The li'el lovers."
Jehan jerked his head up and gasped when he saw Andry staggering toward them. Shiriluna screamed as she saw the dripping-red knife in his hand. Then she fainted.
His other hand pressed to his neck, Andry moved slowly toward them, laughing cruelly. Jehan carefully stood, then shielded Shiriluna, whipping out his dagger. Andry laughed madly. "No sharp toys," he slurred, tossing his own knife down. "Are ya man enough to fight me 'and to 'and?"
Jehan knew it was foolish to let his pride get in the way. So he ignored the challenge and dove at Andry with a fierce cry, dagger raised high.
Andry waited until Jehan was about to stab him before revealing that he did not need to brace his neck. His left hand swung out as his right hand came up. They met at Jehan's throat. Jehan had only been focusing on Andry's heart, where his dagger was supposed to go. Instead, the dagger flew out of his hand as Andry shoved him to the side, into a wall. Andry tightened a furious grip on his throat.
"Still too foolish to be a man," Andry sneered. He loosened his hands and put his arm in their place, pressing Jehan against the hard stone and choking him at the same time. Jehan managed to wedge his hands under Andry's arm to keep Andry from actually strangling him. He was already losing the battle.
"You nearly made me blind!" Andry snarled, pressing his arm against Jehan's throat more forcefully. Jehan's last breath was a cut-off gasp. "I know more than you, boy. And that is why I will live. I am wiser than you! Than them! All of your kind! I will survive! And you will die!" He slammed Jehan against the wall, the result a dull crick and Jehan slid down limply, a drop of red trickling from the corner of his mouth.
Andry heard a scream behind him. Shiriluna was awake. He turned to leer at her. Even at that distance, he could see the fear in her eyes. He took note of the dagger clutched in her trembling hands. He bent to retrieve his knife. She was too terrified to move, he knew.
"Well, Princessss," he hissed, "There is no one to save you now. Would you like to keep quiet before you disturb any more citizens from their dreams?" His booted foot lashed out at her hand, knocking the dagger from her grasp.
He pointed his knife at her throat as he knelt in front of her. "You are such a pretty princess," he said in a tone of almost-regret, taking her chin in his hand and forcing her to look at him. "But you had the misfortune of being Clopin's daughter. Anyone else's and I might have let you live. But, you are his, so you are just an ugly little--"
The gleam of moonlight off a metal object made him pause. His gaze settled on the moon-star on her necklace. "Now there's a pretty little thing," he exclaimed, placing the flat of the knife's blade under the charm to hold it up. He actually smiled at Shiriluna. "Did Daddy give you this? Leave it to him to spoil his kid while others are starving!"
He whirled the knife around in his hand. "Time to stop spoiling him." He grinned at her wickedly. Then he brought his arm back, ready to slash the knife toward her throat. Shiriluna could not even escape, for his free hand held tightly to her wrist. "Time to join your lover!" Andry cackled. Shiriluna shut her eyes and waited.
She heard a wet cry from Andry before she ever felt the knife. She dared to open her eyes. Andry lay face-down in front of her, a dagger sticking out of his back...She looked up fearfully, only to see a pale Clopin standing over her, a horrified expression on his face as he stared at what he had just done.
But before Shiriluna could say a word, he took her hand and pulled her to her feet. He then gripped her arm with alarming strength, although he seemed to be trembling. "Lover?" he asked shrilly, almost in anger.
Shiriluna's mouth opened in an O of shock. "Jehan!" She whirled to the far wall. "No! No! No!" she shrieked.

Coming next: The Gypsy Princess, Chapter five: Not Fit For A Princess

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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