I stole a look back at the Salon of Marion Delorme, the makeshift ladder of sheets swinging from the window in the breeze like a noose to the gallows. That place would have been my noose had I stayed. The news of who my mother was, her relationship with Athos and the pain of the brand upon my shoulder that also served as a constant reminder of both, had brought me to the brink of insanity. My entire life was now shown to me as a painful unraveling of lies.
He had tried to teach me dark magic, Richelieu; the corrupt mage that was once under the holy order, his position attained by the very thing that innocent spinsters and gypsies were burned and hung for; magic. I was realizing all too soon that the world I came from, the problems I had thought I had there had been trivial in comparison; there are no Robin Hoods or fairies along the way; only hunger, reliance on one self and truth. Richelieu used his magic in a different way; unlike, Regina or even Cora he found the traditional methods of torture and torment to be more affective; poisoning my mind against near every fond memory I had. Letting the brand of the Fleur de Le fester and become infected with no means to tend to it unless I used magic.
Sick as a dog, tormented by memories and truths to my breaking point and starving I looked down and black sparks still danced and glowed at my fingertips. He had tried to teach me dark magic, and succeeded;
I turned away from the salon and started through the woods letting the low limbs of reaching trees tare and rip at my skirt, skin and hair. Breathing heavily and only concerned with protecting the brand upon my shoulder. Wandering aimlessly in the moonlight. I could not go back to the life I knew with Raoul because in the public eye I was dead and any hint of resurrection would be an immediate plague of a witchcraft accusation nor did I have any desire to burden Athos with any of the unnecessary evils of the ties that bound us, nor did I wish to recount them either. I did not wish my view of him to be any further tainted than it was. already every tender moment we had shared was shadowed by the fact that my mother had been his wife; and he too had webbed a bed of lies by kissing me, lecherous, incestuous lies. And perhaps Raoul had known it to. Perhaps everyone had known my past, but I. Was there no honest person left in this world?
I collapsed then face first in the serenity of the wood into a bed of dirt and leaves, cool mud sloshing against my cheek. “if I just lay here, maybe the world will stop.” I thought, half a sob escaping my lips. “Maybe, I will stop.” I move my hand to clench it only to feel that when I had fallen something firm and small had fallen inches from my fingertips. Instinctively I pushed myself up and the object traveled with my movement until it flopped waywardly against my chest, emerald shimmering in the moonlight like a sign. I removed the woven necklace and held it in my palm. The memory of it had somehow been lost in the interim of everything.
The givers name came to my lips as a welcoming sound. “Clopin.” He had given it to me on a night like this however long ago; a month? Three months? Who can tell. His dark eyes blended with the night sky as he hid like a shade in the shadow of the cathedral steps. He had been my soul comfort when Athos had left for his mission from Cardinal Mazarin. I stood out to get some air and he called to me. “Gabby.”
The torches silhouetted his tall form and lit his angled mouth the hood of his cloak shielding every other feature from view. “You are late tonight, no?”
I sighed in resignation that it was not the norm for me to stay in the city this late. “I am, I don’t wish to go back to the state tonight, Raoul has taken up with Christine and its baron there. Not to mention the nights have become all too routine.” I look at the edifice around me and motion toward it. “At least here I do not feel alone and that I have a purpose.”
“To pray for his soul?”
I nod and then he lifts his head and I can see his eyes. “That is the thing isn’t it?” he asks. “To try and find purpose. Asylum for the soul on earth until it can reach heaven.” All I can do is look away from his eyes and downward, there was too much truth in his eyes and words and I spoke without warning to no one in particular but it fell upon his ears. “Sometimes I think that earth is hell.”
“As do I.” he adds and then there is silence, he never takes his eyes off of me and it unnerves me because no one had ever looked at me that way. I took the steps down to him reaching in the folds of my dress and withdrawing a ripe strawberry I had wrapped in a handkerchief and held it out to him. “They were in Frollo’s basket today, the one he takes up to the bell tower.” I explain. “He was in one of his trances, I-I was able to procure it easily as he…rambled like a madman.” I bit back the disturbing memory of the man’s ‘prayers’ and managed a weak smile. “They are the sweetest I have ever tasted, Clopin.” He takes the offering and his fingers linger against mine for longer than necessary. The moon came out from behind the clouds and shun directly down on that part of the square. My head turned to behold the moon and a strand of red fell into my eyes. when my face turned to Clopin his dark, masculine hand reached up through the stillness and brushed the hair away. “Sometimes Heaven’s light can shine, and angels can masquerade as people, even in hell.”
Clopin had always been a shameless flirt, with many women; but this somehow felt different, in a way that stirred me to believe this flirtation to be sincere. I withdrew my hand cleared my throat, as a noise came within, my head shooting to see if it was Frollo. I turned back to Clopin once Frollo who had been scouting what I was doing was satisfied by seeing me stare out into open air; to think there was a time when I could have back-handed any man who sought to moderate my doings, oh where had that woman gone?
Clopin and I resumed both stepping out of the shadows. I purse my lips. “I wish you wouldn’t come and visit me, its dangerous.” He only held up his hand in assurance. “A greater danger is not seeing you and having a mind that is worried. Besides…” he meets my gaze again. “You would do the same.” He said it so assured of himself.
I felt my face soften at his unbridled confidence. “How do you know what I would do?” I ask in nearly a whisper as he takes a few steps toward me until he stood a slight bit taller, my face attempting to turn away. “I have seen you aid the downtrodden and feed those who hunger. I do not know who you are but I know a good soul when I am lucky enough to encounter one.” I can say nothing and he adds again, capturing my cheek. “You would do the same.” The wind captures the torch light and chills me. I shiver.
“Your Monsieur is a very lucky man, Raoul is too. Doubtless when he comes back--”
“You mean if, if he comes back.”
“When! When he comes back Gabrielle, you will doubtless be as a happy family should. But, should something go amiss.” He reaches through the hood of his cloak and unties a leather string and hands Me the beautifully crafted band. “Remember that when you hold this woven band you hold the city in your hand. The emerald will lead you to me and to a constant sanctuary.” And his next statement, was like a memory from a long forgotten dream. “I will always find you.” And he disappeared; those words, my God, out of all the things he could have said why did it have to be that? It almost punctured my heart.
I studied the band now, all the intricate detail of string and other things that were meant to symbolize one thing or another. The brook babbled deafly behind me and my finger found the blue string that laced round the outside. In a moment of pure grasping at straws; I looked at the angle of the river and the angle of the string and determined a close enough match and trained my eyes upward to find the lights of the cathedral in the distance. I looked back down at the band to see a cross ranging at the same longitude. I mulled the verse over in my deluded head once or twice more until I was sure my theory had a shred of logic. “when you hold this woven band you hold the city in your hand. A map! Clopin; mon amie, you are brilliant.” I sigh. At least I wouldn’t have to die alone and out in the wood like a lone beast.
Wherever Clopin had intended me to find him or wait for him was somewhere in the deepest depths below Paris in a cemetery. I had taken one of the torches with me down, down, down. My arm feeling weighted. The rough brick floor tore at the soles of my feet and I wheezed in the dank air. The ambush came as no surprise. Some recognized me and looked upon me as one would a ghost with large eyes and gapping mouth, others saw me as an intruder. I reached into the folds of my dress and withdrew whatever jewels I had stolen from the cardinal and let them fall from my fingers. “Please take it, take it all. I simply seek a warm shelter away from the world to lay my tired body to rest, please.”
There were some mummers and silent debate and Clopin was nowhere to be found. I became louder, more fervent as my legs buckled. “Please, just somewhere warm and dry to lay for a few hours and then I will be gone, is all I ask.”
“Take her to La Modonnya.” Seemed to be the thing reasoned upon as a burly, full-beaded gypsy took one of my arms and wrapped it about his neck as the other arm clasped my waist for welcomed much and needed assistance. The moment my shadow left behind the fallen jewels bodies sprang toward them with the heartbreaking sounds of desperate men. Some of the gypsies stared hard at me as I was whisk past carts, it was like a palace strung with banners, a city within a city. The water running down the walls almost beautiful in the saddest way. When we got to the most gaudy of wagons the man swept me up in an act of mercy and carried me up the few steps and set me in a bed of vibrant scarfs with a look of pity. I looked up into his large face and saw the scar above his eye. “You are Daniel, aren’t you?” I ask, he seemed surprised that I remembered his name. I smiled to remember a pleasanter time. “Clopin introduced me to your little girl, Mariska. She is a very gifted little dancer. Please, give her my regards.” I request. He blinks as a shawl is suddenly brought to me. “Thank you mademoiselle.” He manages. “I shall.” I manage another weak smile.
A shadow suddenly eclipses the room and a command rings out husky and strong. “Leave us.” And the gypsy ensemble obeys deafly. My head lolls forward to rest upon a chair that is next to me and I clasp it to keep the world from spinning. Her spindle-like fingers silhouetted against the wall as she lights a dim lamp, back and flowing air turned to me. I strain to turn my face. “Where is Clopin Trouillefou?” I shook. No answer, only her patient preparation of crystal ball and cards. Then gathered my dwindling strength. “Please, where is Clopin Trouillefou? I …I must see Clopin Trouillefou.”
She turned her head only slightly over her shoulder, pointed chin at the base of her shoulder. “In mourning.” She half growls in a heavy Romani lilt. “Always in mourning. He see no one. He hear no one. Many month now, in mourning; Who are you to disturb him?”
“Rose Red.” I struggle to say and then realize that wasn’t the name I went by. “No, no Gabrielle Dupont.”
Her eyes widen. “Please, please he is all I have left in the world, I am dying! Let me see him!” I was crying now, out of all the people in my life both passed and present in that strange moment he was the only thing I wanted. More then life itself, more than a chance to see my father, or sister or even Athos again.
There was a sudden shatter as another woman screamed at me angrily and spat in my face. “Hang her! she is an intruder! hang her!” it was quite possible that whoever this pretty Romani was wanted me dead more than I wanted to be dead. I stumbled backward a bit and watched as more people entered the room and begun to talk amongst themselves. Whatever I had done to personally upset the girl- I was sure it was personal, I knew the look in the eyes too well…had been enough to drag me to the gallows in their square.
I remember thinking “God just end it” on the platform as blood thundered in my ears. There was a pause… there was Clopin suddenly appearing in the crowd yelling something—about a gypsy law. He ran up and cut the rope from my neck and held me in his arms…I blacked out again not long after.
I sat on the floor in my caravan and looked down at the head that was now resting gently upon my thigh. My wife,…my wife. I had a wife. Its not an unusual prospect for a man to take a woman as his wife. Hell, it was basic nature to do so. But this creature that looked so much like an angel when she slept; even in distressing slumber haunted with nightmares, was mine?
I dipped the sponge into the cool mixture next to me, turning my torso as minimally as possible as not to disturb any other part of my body that might affect her,… my wife, and applied it to the fevered brow. The red curls sprawled against my trousers waywardly with each emphatic jolt of her head. the fever made her murmur things and I caught every other tortured word. “Regina.” “Father.” “Destroyed everything.” “Help.” A part of me didn’t want to decode it, the other part of me didn’t need to.
I tried to whisper to her soothingly but not in her language; in mine a part of me afraid of if there was a chance she could hear me even with as gone as she was. even so, my words or the content of them were as foreign to me as the Romani language was to her. “Shush, shush now my fired-haired heroine, my saint,…my life. I am here. Your Clopin is here. I have found you and I will protect you as I have promised.” My hand found her cheek and it seemed to set her at ease. She turned one final time, brought her hand to my leg near her face, curled her legs up like a child and at last went into a peaceful rest after so many hours of fighting. “thats it my darling.” I determined almost proudly.
At that precise moment the door flew open too convenient not to be planned; another beauty stood before me a contrast to my wife. Short but raven-haired and dark skinned; hands on hips, acutely awake and angry. “Dominica.” I say in a vow only slightly above a monotone but with the grin I was known for as I determined a further provoke. “Come to bring me good tidings on my wedding, no? sadly, as you can see my wife is unable to receive them.”
Her body swerved half in anger, half in an attempt of seduction, she spat off to the side. “I spit at the term!” she countered, I ran my tongue across my teeth in satisfaction of her response. She bared her teeth like fangs and stretched out her neck when she spoke. “You think Dominica is so easily fooled?’ she started. “You think that I believe that Clopin the great, wild gypsy prince would take a bourgeoisie to wife by the Law of Bohemia?” I simply arched a brow and dipped the sponge again and let the water run between my fingers. “I have not a clue what you’re talking about.” Forcing an innocent glance her way. Provoking her wrath still.
“I don’t believe that you; Clopin Trouillefou are so eager to play the part of the sniveling husband to this bourgeoisie tart.” She held up a finger and I watched leaning back; letting her come to her own logic as she so often did. “No, no! I do not believe it! Not when so often you could have had your pick of any woman in our camp. Not when so often I have seen you leaving the seedy rooms of Val d'Amour. No, you a willing husband? No! this is a trick an act. A conquest!”
“Well I am known as the greatest actor in Paris.” I reason, drawing my lips into a line. “Perhaps husband is just a new role I thirst to play.”
Her eyes flashed with rage, the bells on her sash jangled when she stomped her foot, unsatisfied by the simply regurgitation of her own words. “You are just doing this to prove to your father that you can fit into his class. And to upset your mother!”
“Perhaps.” I muse. I gently remove my wife’s head from my lap and lay her on a pillow quilting her in a blanket before standing and pouring myself a drink. Dominica came to me like a willing puppy; taking the bottle from my hands and setting it down before her slender hands traced the opened part of my shirt. “Clopin.” She pouted. “Is this revenge for that fight we had months ago? Hmm? When I let you take the fall for what I did? If it is, we can kiss and make up now. Forget the bourgeoisie brat. You’ve made your point.”
She made a play for my lips and I started laughing. “Now where have I heard that before?” I questioned bitterly, recounting all the times her silken touch had gotten me out of my anger and into her bed like the two rapid rogues we are, me usually half-drunk with curses and schemes against those who sought to repress us; as their change swam in my pocket. Her, mind racing with grandeur, as she fought of who next to seduce. she could charm the dead to live again if she so pleased.
I pushed her advancing hand away. “You are scared of this, of her.” I reason and the truth of it glinted in round eyes. “That’s why you were so rapid to have her hung, to prevent this. a good and proper hanging entertains that not so pretty part of you too much to be rushed. You like them healthy and strong when their necks snap. You had to be afraid of something.”
She turns away from me quick and I hear her breathing become shallow. I look back at my wife who stirs slightly, Dominica is looking at her too and I read her mind. “You lost Dominica, if not to this woman than it would have been another. I was never truly yours.” I used the words that had once come from her lips unto me. we both knew it wasn’t entirely true for different reasons, Dominica couldn’t have lost to another woman…because for me there could be no other woman, than Gabrielle.
“You’ve become soft!” the gypsy snaps. “Ever since you met her! I wanted her dead for that reason! The Clopin I knew would have never let an intruder live!” she started toward the door. “Do not tell me now that you have become charitable!”
I only gave her the vagueness of “Hardly.” And then she uttered a curse upon my marriage and left.
When her shadow left the threshold I took one of my puppets hanging from the small stage’s edge and sat to examine it as the curse lingered in my mind. Charitable? She had said. As if my invoking the gypsy marriage law for a girl I could have saved simply by showing the crafted band round her neck was an act of kindness or decency. Just by word alone I could have saved her life; but instead I had provided myself the means to be bonded to a woman whose heart belonged elsewhere. She would wake up and I would be her husband and if her honor would not, then the threat of the gallows would certainly compel her to acknowledge me, who was supposedly her friend as such titles as husband and wife. Our marriage had saved her from one eternity and sentenced her to yet another.
The marionette in my hand that had such a likeness to myself serviced as a reflection, I ran a finger down the cloth face and asked myself through his lips “And why Clopin?” as if probing the answer from my own soul.
That was the question. Why? Stroke of criminal genius perhaps? That’s what it had been, to charm a pretty Mademoiselle to get to the inside of upper French society; to never really care, but take advantage of the caring. After all Gabrielle had been so kind and unsuspecting to the old beggar with a artificial wound on his left leg when she walked arm in arm with the pretty viconte, and kinder still the next day when the wound was mysteriously transferred to the right, and kinder still when it was the arm. Sure a lot of fat Parisian maidens did the same but none quite as taking as this Mademoiselle who did not just toss coins to subdue the cries of the downtrodden but conversed freely; a flicker of dangerous intelligence behind her eyes and smile. My pretty patroness.
of course neither held water now; that that woman now my wife was of high rank or that she, had been at any point a stupid coquette to be played. No, no that the brand of the fleur de le was upon her shoulder and being executed or at least known as executed in the public eye now she had no value in that world, and therefore should have no value to me.
An act of rebellion toward a bourgeoisie father, and a mother who hated me already? No. A laugh for the other truants that I would acquire such a wife? One who was resurrected. Vengeance against an old flame? Marriage for shock value while an amusing concept was not something I’d aspire to do; there were far too many other ways to shock which were less lasting. And the wick of the flame with Dominica had become wet long before this day.
I married my wife; Gabrielle, because I was a sick man and only she had the cure. It was a kind of insanity. One that started when I attempted to steal a horse from the viconte’s stable. That was when I had started to follow her and the young viconte to the shateo beyond the woods. It was meant to be an easy heist in the dead of day when the pretty mademoiselle was in a dress fitting; both master and son of the house away. The stable boy went shrieking into the house when he saw me too young to do anything else and I was at a gallop when the maids and tenants came rushing out to see that there unprotected stables had been raided.
I never expected what came next, as I rode away a dead weight from the side and slightly above me lunged and landed full force, knocking me off the animal. It was the first time I had really looked into her eyes, my pretty patroness. Filled with rage but there had been something freed within her in that moment. Something wild and dazzling beyond that lovely, lovely face. There was an exchange of words, unbridled and real. There was brute strength, there was a woman before me full of untapped passion and life, full of mercy; when she let me go and never broached the incident again after relaying to me that she “could appreciate theft as an industry but not a sport.”
I wanted to know the woman behind the mask of lace and good manners, the one that I had set free for an instant and then refused to be acknowledged the next. And that wanting to know became my sickness, like a mad fever. And I realized, the only way to set her free; truly free was to trap her. I suppose even freedom comes at its price; but, then again…this is the Court of Miracles.