"NOOO!" he screamed. Though I wondered what could frighten him so I took advantage of his fear. Shoving him back, I pulled my dagger from under my skirts and drew it quickly across his throat, screaming in horror as a spray of blood hit my face. But the soldier fell back, the wound gaping openly like a horrific smile, and I pushed him completely off me. The snarling sound stopped and I turned around to face the beast that had saved us. I saw nothing there - except - a flash of white fur and gentle pink eyes that vanished as if in thin air. I looked in wonderment, feeling strangely moved, and felt tears fall down my cheeks.
But I stopped for only a moment before running forward to cut Clopin's bonds with my dagger, holding his heavy body as it sagged forward in my arms. He wrapped his naked arms around me and we held onto one another, our tears mingling with our blood. We looked at one another to kiss before understanding it was time to move on.
"Wait" I said, stopping again.
"What is it?" He asked me, his voice tired, his eyes bloodshot.
I picked up an axe that leaned on the wall.
"This is the only way I know how to repay the debt for the men we lost thanks to my foolishness," I explained to him. Taking up the axe, I struck down the doors of all the dungeons, releasing the prisoners within. They streamed out, their bloody, mangled bodies fighting against one another, rushing up the dungeon stairs to break down the Palace's doors and be free.
Clopin and I on the other hand, took the trapdoor down to the Court, smiling at one another lovingly and holding hands as we made our way back home.
I had only been gone a half hour, and the look of amazement on Colombine and Abigail's face when I returned with our King - both of us bloody and beaten and filthy dirty, our clothes hanging off us in ragged tatters - made us both laugh and cling to one another. Colombine waited only a moment to calm herself before racing around the Court to scream that the King and Queen had returned, safe and sound!
So even though we were dirty and tired, we were obliged to go to the Centre and celebrate with the others. We clung to one another tiredly, for dear life, smiling, no explanations necessary for either of us. Colombine and Abigail had been right - the others did not care that I had not been a prisoner. They believed they did the right thing no matter, and considered my debt repaid when I risked life to free the King. I proudly told all how Clopin would not give in under torture, and he proudly told them how I'd fearlessly freed the prisoners like an avenging angel and I laughed and told him not to be metaphorical.
Later on we repeated impassioned vows of love, needing each other to understand just how much we would be prepared to sacrifice for the other. We needed to say it, although words seemed so inadequate. We have matured enough now not to need to say it - all we need to do is look at each other and it's there in our eyes for all the world to see.
We cleaned each other up, although he bears scars to this day, and my feet cause me pain in the cold. I kept the dress I had worn on those two days, although it was no longer wearable. Sometimes I get it out still and look at it with a smile.
You can well imagine we were unable to leave the Court for a terrific amount of time. Frollo was furious - religious superstition made him truly believe the tiger had come to life before him and attacked him. He also believed it was this same tiger that freed Clopin and robbed him of his victory over the romani. As for the snarling beast that saved Clopin and I that night - I do not know, although my heart tells me it was Chester, watching over me as he always did.
The pressure to capture us was so intense that many Romani were forced to leave Paris altogether for the next few months. No grudge was borne, they though it greatly amusing that Frollo should be caused to so tear his hair out. Clopin and I stayed underground in the Court, sneaking out mainly at night. Clopin again busied himself with the development of the Court and I concerned myself wholly with the development of my children, guiding them as they grew.
A few months after our exciting battle with Frollo I was hiding under my cloak in the tavern, grinning and feeling very reckless - Clopin would kill me if he'd knew I'd snuck out - having a drink with Cosette (who'd grown amazingly since associating with Colombine and myself - although she was still very shy and timid, she now laughed more and was more adventurous) when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
My heart leapt and I grabbed the dagger beneath my cloak and turned to face the man who stood there - to my absolute amazement it was the farmer who had first so kindly given me a ride to the field where I said my final goodbyes to Chester.
"Bonsoir, Madame" he said smiling at me. I nodded to him and returned his greeting in kind.
"I can't believe I've been so fortunate to find you! I knew one day that I must - but imagine, my first trip to Paris in many months, and by pure luck, here in this tavern!"
I forced a laugh, nervous though I sensed his intentions were not malicious. "What on earth could you want with me, Monsieur?"
"Well - I believe it is with you, though I couldn't tell you why. It's the strangest thing, Madame. Just a few days after I took you to your field, I had the shock of my life - an enormous white cat was coming up the path towards me! My horse stopped in terror and it was all I could to keep hold on her. Anyway, this great beast came right up towards me, and spat something out on the floor of my cart! Then he looked straight up at me, and never such an expression have I seen in the eyes of a beast before! Then he turned and galloped away! It took me a few moments to get over it, and I looked down at the floor of my cart and when I looked up - he had vanished! At any rate, Madame, this is what the beast left me. I don't know why I think it is yours, but I can't imagine it belongs to any other."
So saying he drew from his pouch a shimmering object - my pendant!! I gasped and my breath caught in my throat, before I reached out my cupped hands to clasp it. His story had brought tears to my eyes and I trembled as I looked down at my precious pendant. He peered at me curiously.
"I hope I haven't brought you harm, Madame?"
I shook my head, still staring at the pendant in wonder. "Oh no, monsieur. You have brought me a great deal of joy! I thank you, Monsieur. Know that you are a friend of the Gypsies. If ever you need a favour, ask for me. My name is Herlikin. Don't forget it. Goodbye, monsieur."
And with that I rushed out, back down to the Court. I ran towards Clopin who frowned when he saw that I had my cloak on, then looked surprised as I flung myself into his arms.
"LOOK!" I cried, holding my pendant aloft. "It has been found!! It has been brought back to me! This means that we are truly meant to be together."
He laughed, flashing all those gorgeous teeth. "Did you ever doubt?"
"Well, no, but surely you see what this means!!" I cried and hugged him. He knew how grieved I had been at its loss, but we had seemed to be resigned to accepting it. Clopin could obtain other gifts for me, it's true, but this was the first exchanged with real deep love. I was so glad I had it back.
I did not tell him the means by which the Farmer came by the pendant; I kept it a secret to myself. Abigail knew, as she knew everything, and we spoke of it sometimes. Under her guidance I adopted cats as pets and blessed them all in Chester's name. Some of the Romani would laugh as I played with the cats, creeping and leaping about and called me the 'femme chat'.
There is one last dream I should relate here. It began with me again running in the jungles of India, but then I broke free of them and saw before the sgzany encampment, and there was my mama and papa, waiting for me with outstretched arms and huge smiles.
I ran into their arms, crying with joy and we embraced each other fiercely.
"How are you then Madame Sahib?" my papa asked me.
"Behaving yourself we hope!" my mama added.
"Everything is wonderful!" I told them "You were right. I love Clopin and he loves me. I have a son and a daughter - you have grandchildren! Life is wonderful. I am happy. I miss you still, but it does not hurt so much anymore."
They nodded, their smiles wide and joyous. "We're missing you also, but we're happy like this. We're glad things worked out for you. We knew they would, so long as you were sensible. You've made us proud."
We hugged again and then my papa spoke.
"But your husband is waiting for you. You should go back to him."
"Be good," my mama said.
"But not too good!" my papa laughed. And I kissed them both and headed back toward the jungle which turned into Paris immediately upon my entering it. I awoke with a start and Clopin turned to me.
"Anything wrong, cherie?" he asked.
I snuggled happily into his arms. "Nothing at all, my only love. Nothing at all."
But after that there is not much to tell. Actually, I lie, there is a great deal to tell, but I have told the story I set out to. That of how I came to love Paris and call it my home, because of one amazing man - and how I came to love with every breath I had in me, that man also.
Colombine finally accepted that she loved the mysterious young Frederick, and he for one abandoned the gadje life to join our own. Some of our people were reluctant to accept him after Jean-Luc, but Colombine can be very persuasive. Frederick was very sweet, and he adored her no end, heeding her every beck and call. She never would marry him, and I think a great deal of love was attributed to the fact that he was so easily pushed around. He was nice company, though we would often have to liven him up somewhat.
Time passed and the hunt for us relaxed somewhat; we moved about on the streets with more freedom, although still exercising a great deal of caution. Clopin began performing again and so did I. I went on the streets under two visages - the first being my Jester's garb, the second a dancer and animal commander. I had taught Abigail's animals many tricks they gladly came above to do with me. Money was something I never tired of earning, and there were many Parisians - men mostly when I appeared as a dancer - who never tired of giving it to me.
It became my habit to visit the docks when a ship set sail to India, or arrived from that country. Despite my dream I wanted to try and learn anything I could about my parents. I asked the sailors to pass on messages if ever they saw the sgzany tribe. Somehow, my curiosity must have been sensed, for after that my mother began to visit with me now and then in dreams and we would walk and talk together. One year I did not dream of her for many months, and I knew instinctively that she had died. A few months later I was sewing when my heart gave a terrible lurch and for a few moments I was quite out of breath. I started to cry, not knowing why, but then I realised that my father - my wonderful adoring bear of a papa - had joined my mother. That night I cried and Clopin worried terribly, poor thing.
When Harlan and Harlena reached their sixth year, I gave birth again. Twins, once more - two boys which sent Clopin's joy through the roof. He was thrilled when they both had black hair - less thrilled when one was discovered to have blue eyes, the other green. Harlan and Harlena greatly resembled him in a good many ways but Harlan's dark red hair prevented him from being a totally look alike son. Clopin and Ahvel - for such we christened them - also looked much more like me. Their skin was fairer as well. It didn't really matter, for Clopin loved them no less because of it. I know he'd still like a look-alike son, but he wouldn't swap the children we have for all the look-alikes in the world. At the time I tell this tale I am pregnant again - I believe it will be a girl - and ironically - Clopin's look-alike in every way!
A year prior to this a great many things happened, which I've no doubt you all know about. It's quite a famous story, actually. That poor boy that Clopin and I met once in the belltower, then a grown man of twenty years, saved us all from Frollo, whose terrible reign was put to an end in death. In particular rescuing my darling Esmeralda, who at that time was a gorgeous woman of twenty-two, famous now for her dancing, and for her clever little goat Djali. Quasimodo became a friend of the Romani, Clopin much exalting him to all abouts. The precious creature has never known such happiness now he is no longer confined to the belltower, although he rings the bells still, he loves them. To my pleasure he even has a vague recollection of our visit, some eighteen years ago.
He and Esme have grown to be practically inseparable. I was grateful when Esmeralda outgrew the soldier Phoebus. He is a very good man, and remains friends to us still, but far too stuffy for Esmeralda who has been happily influenced by Colombine and I in many ways.
The Gypsies still face much prejudice from the gadje, and probably always will. Now that Frollo is gone however, the pressure and pain inflicted on us is no more. A much better man has been appointed to replace Frollo, and he is concerned only with truth and justice, not his own misguided prejudice. So life has become sweeter for us still.
Abigail and Tante Marie live still, though I fear for Abigail's health. She is growing frailer, and I spend much time making sure she has all the necessary comforts. I don't know what I will do without her when it is finally time for her to go. Tante Marie remains as bossy as ever though she is slower now, and somewhat more placid.
As for Clopin and I - our love for each other has not dissipated in the slightest, but only grown stronger. He is my dearest friend and lover and I his. I know I should die if anything ever happened to him, but growing old with him is something I look forward to. He numbers forty years now, though he barely shows it. He is still as agile and energetic as he was in youth, and as handsome as he always was. His face bears a few lines, his hair is receding slightly, but he can still charm the women effortlessly to my feigned consternation. I myself am thirty-three and as yet unlined, my figure still good, my hair still as long and lustrous and a constant source of joy to him. He still leads our people almost faultlessly and they are crazy about him. My guidance as a queen is not called on very often, which I'm grateful for. Royalty I may be, but first and foremost I am wife and mother, and then trouble-maker, something Colombine is still happy to join in with me. It doesn't sit on my conscience well to cause trouble and then be called on as queen to fix it. That's Clopin's job. But now and then I will help in making decisions which affect us all, meting out punishment or guiding Romani who need it. I still dance and perform now and then, though not so much as I used to. There are so many other things I'm busy with. Clopin remains as popular a performer as he always was, and shows no inclination to retire.
He has always adored children, but even more so now he has some of his own. He is a wonderful father, and they are proud of him. They all live in their own tents, as Clopin insisted they should as soon as they reached their fourth year. Not so much to teach them independence, but to allow us our private moments in peace and without scandalising their young ears. With the concern only a mother can have, I wanted my babes to stay close by as long as I could keep them there; but when Clopin explained that it would be easier for us to enjoy each other without them sleeping next to our bed, I relented. Our two eldest are sixteen, the next two are ten. They are beautiful children, strong and independent, intelligent and fun. I like to flatter myself they love me as much as they do their father, and I try to be always the best mother - supportive and understanding. Each one bears a trait of ours. Harlan has his father's acrobatic skill, Harlena my skill of perception, though hers is practically effortless unlike mine which had to be cultivated. Little Clopin has his father's magnificent voice and Ahvel my skill with animals.
So I reach the end of my tale. I'm sorry I can't tell you what will happen in the future - what adventures will befall us, what sorrows or joys we all may know, but my heart tells me I have a good many happy and exciting years ahead - right up until the night I, lying in my husband's arms, dream a white tiger comes to lead me down my path - the path that leads from this world to the next.