Much like 'Herlikin', this fiction was written in 1999 and is subsequently HIGHLY flawed. I'm archiving it here because of the lovely people who continue to read these old tales of mine and enjoy them. Thanks, you guys! I never expected them to have such an enduring readership over the years – it means a lot.
Despite the fact I would tear this to shreds if I went over it with a red pen, I'm leaving it just as it was first written, as much to remind myself of how far I've come and of what not to do, as for sentimental reasons
How Clopin Got A New Pair of Shoes
The truant couple idled their way down one of the dusty streets of Paris in an amiable silence. They were far beyond the merchant's stores and city square, the sprawling townhouses and wide, neatly paved streets of the wealthy. Here the homes and taverns and stalls all melded into one long sprawling, coiling mass of bricks and mortar, labyrinthine in its twists and turns, claustrophobic in its density. But the truant couple were very much at home here, their noses offended only slightly by the smell, their spirits not at all by sight after sight of debauchery and despair.
The gentleman - if such he could be called - of the two was very tall and very thin, his face burned brown by the sun and his ancestry, his eyes charcoal pits, at once both cunning and friendly. Though gaunt and obviously a Romany, the man's face was a charismatic one, a unique type of handsome, and the confident gait he carried himself with was very attractive. His younger, female companion was a different story indeed. Her oriental features spoke of Romany blood, but her skin was fairer and her red hair straighter. She was far smaller than him, but the strength of her person made her no less his match for it. Though the lines of her face seemed less eager to break into a smile than those of her companion, there was humour in her large, oddly collared eyes. She was not wildly beautiful in the common way, but she had her own charm. She looked about her with keening thoughtfulness, and stroked the arm of the man at her side. Both were dressed in a rag-tag assortment of colours and textures, outrageous to behold.
To a casual observer they were just an ordinary gypsy couple, possibly married, more likely not. The only thing that perhaps set them aside from the others was the pure confidence and assertiveness they carried themselves with. Arrogance, the upper-class would sniff angrily to see it, arrogance and sin. To those more in the know - and there were scant few of non-Romany blood who did - the couple were none other than the King and Queen of Thunes - Clopin and Herlikin Trouillefou. And the confidence did not stem from any exaggerated ideas of power because of their title, but rather because both were born to the stage and fiercely independent - they had, perhaps, an exaggerated idea of their own self worth.
For example, right then their thoughts ran thus:
"Unbelievable, to think that I should have to share the Square with her tomorrow. And it is just like her to insist upon it. Well, we shall see. I'm not sure why she thinks the gadje will pay her any mind while I am around, but she shall learn the truth. It will be a good laugh anyway, a lovely knock to her vain little head to face such public humiliation! And of course there will be all my lovely ladies, watching eagerly as always. She gets greatly amusing around them. But can I help it; I don't do it on purpose! It is simply the charisma of a King!!"
That was Clopin, of course, whilst Herlikin's ran down similar paths.
"I imagine right now Clopin is dreaming of tomorrow and how they will all shun me for him! Well, let him dream! I've got those dazzling tricks I learnt in India and have resurrected. Besides which, I am a woman, and not a bad looking one either. They are so used to Clopin, but I will be something new, a splash of colour which has nothing to do with what I wear. Poor fool. I suppose he'll need something extra special for dinner to help him brave his humiliation."
To read these thoughts does them no justice. They seem to speak of disdain for the other, but that is not the case. Though at that moment both were silent, very unusual as they spent a great deal of time trying to talk over the top of one another, it was clear to even a casual observer that the couple were close. The silence was comfortable, and not even there because conversation had waned, but simply because they had both wanted a moment of silence, content with the scent and feel of the other beside them. On this day they had desired desperately some time to themselves, and with their colourful home now the playground for two small children, they had no other alternative than to take to the streets until the evening came.
As street performers and gypsy vagabonds, the couple were known for their dazzling skill and exuberance, their recklessness in pursuit of a joke or the extra touch of spice to their performance. They were flirtatious and ostentatious, friendly, but not personal. Both were highly popular with their respective members of the opposite sex, but it was well known they were entirely devoted only to each other, and any interference would be ineffectual, and extremely dangerous. As King and Queen amongst their people they were known for basically the same thing. They were not famous for their kind hearts, or their constant struggle to stop the gadje prejudice against their people. They were both known to be cold, and even cruel at times. They did not create laws nor dictate action to their people, unless absolute necessity required it. Instead, they worked to survive like all the other gypsies.Their most regular contribution to the people were their performances and "adventures" more often than not played out in an attempt to outdo the other. Whilst they certainly leant a guiding or helping hand if asked for it, and whilst they certainly gleefully took part in any revolution or outrage
that should at the time be happening, like all the others they worked mainly for themselves, and did not interfere or get mixed up in the troubles of Romany and gadje alike, unless it should be a personal friend.
Which was why, as they idled their merry way through the drudgery, they could easily ignore the beggars and whores, the coughing wretches with only one filthy rag to hide their disease riddled bodies, and instead amuse themselves with snappy exchange, shared jokes and confidences, and outbursts of laughter which seemed dizzyingly out of place.
Callous? Perhaps a little. They were not blind to the plight of others, they just didn't care much. It was hardly their fault that the folk who surrounded them were not of their blood or race. And for Clopin and Herlikin, the romaines and the romaines alone, were their concern. They were not hell-bent on a religious crusade for justice for all. So long as their people were generally comfortable, and there was plenty to get drunk on and sing about, so long as there were festivals were they could show off their respective skills and dance wildly on the streets, and so long as they could return to the comfort of the Court of Miracles with a tent over their head, and the company of their fellows, life was good. Woe betide anyone who disturbed it.
Oh, there were certainly those who had tried, and who had swung limply by the necks for it. There were those who tried right then and there, in broad daylight, stumbling out of the dark and the dank, wicked little blades gleaming and clutched loosely in bony hands, taking the opportunity to rob anyone who looked even remotely like they had something worth robbing. But the acrobatic and agile Clopin, his skinny frame belying his strength, dodged artfully out the way, wresting the weapons easily with a crippling grip, then shoving the attacker disinterestedly back to the street. Or perhaps it was Herlikin who shot them a disdainful glance, and blew a little of her "fey spit" at them, a powder she kept always clutched close by, which stung the eyes and choked the throat. Despite agility, her physical strength was no match for a man like Clopin. As for the diseased scavengers desperate enough to assault them, she could overpower them easily enough, but disliked the thought f touching them. She disliked physical contact in general, unless it was with her nearest and dearest, in direct contrast to her husband who expressed him self best through physicality.
"Bah!" Clopin spat grouchily, as a felled attacker clutched at his retreating feet. "The insolence of some!! How dare the down and out of Paris ruin my good shoes, by smearing them with their grimy fingers!"
Herlikin laughed cheerily at his side. "Now, now my love" she said silkily. "Let's not give that hogscloth you wrap your feet in too much credit."
Clopin sniffed at her contemptuously. "Hogscloth, indeed. I should take my belt to you for that one."
Herlikin was unmoved. "I'm sure you would, if you didn't fear the repercussions."
Clopin stopped momentarily to throw back his head and let loose a great shout of laughter. Herlikin looked at him with just a trace of irritation. They both knew they feared nothing from the other, but perhaps his mirth was just a little too loudly expressed. The couple "debated" frequently, good natured arguments which more often than not finished with the two laughing, but when they truly argued, which was rare, the battles were phenomenal. They would fly at each other with clenched fist, Herlikin using all her strength to try and vanquish the bigger and stronger man, whilst Clopin would be distracted trying to not expend too much force with his punches, and therefore not truly hurt his darling wife. When at last the physical battle would draw to a close, they would stomp away from each other, to privately work off their temper, before returning to kiss and makeup.
After Clopin had made much of slapping his knee and wiping tears of merriment from his eyes, with Herlikin observing him stonily from under one arched eyebrow, he wrapped a lean arm around her and they continued on their way. They weaved the uneven streets, talking softly to each other over various affairs of the Court, their two children and their performance material before observing that the shadows were growing longer, and it was time to go home.
It wasn't long, however, before Clopin's attention was returned to the state of his shoes, caused by a slight nudge courtesy of Herlikin's hip - which in its turn caused the normally untrippable Clopin to step in a muddy puddle. The smile which curved his wife's lips convinced him the action had been deliberate, and he retaliated by kicking some of the mud at her with his other shoe. She nimbly sidestepped it and avoided being soiled, but now both
Clopin's shoes were in a sopping wet, and very dirty state. His long mouth pulled down into a long frown, and in typical exuberant fashion, he began to bewail his uncomfortable state, with outstretched arms and thrown back head. Herlikin laughed, and held a hand out for him, but he refused it with turned up nose. They walked awhile in a stubborn silence, both refusing eye contact, both with folded arms, before she finally gave a sigh and darted in front of her husband.
"Alright then, you great brute, I'm sorry I nudged you. I would not have done it had I not believed all your boastings of being the most sure-footed acrobat in Europe, you know. So in a way, it's really your fault."
He widened his eyes at her. "Madame, you mistake me. I don't believe at all the nudge was deliberate. I know that with such ample pastry-fed hips as yours, it's very hard to control their swing."
She gasped and whacked Clopin indignantly and took off in front of him at a hurried pace. He gave a little laugh before his long legs easily caught her up and he put an arm around her shoulders that she shrugged off.
"Come now, come now" He said teasingly. "An eye for an eye, as those villainous Jews believe, and the Gypsy too. You muddied my shoes, so I muddied your pride. You know I think your hips to be the most divine pair that ever sashayed this earth. Don't be so silly."
Her bad temper was broken and she grinned at him amiably.
"Alright then, you vengeful bully. I'll clean your shoes for you."
Meanwhile, the sun had been setting rapidly, and the narrow streets had grown quite dark. The couple had now arrived at their destination - The Bells & Motley Tavern, where gypsies were welcomed, and the couple were friendly with the landlady. Secreted in one of the back rooms was a cleverly hid trapdoor which would take them below the city of Paris, to the city of the Court of Miracles where they were named as rulers. The summer wind was soft scented and pleasant as they walked at a lazy pace over the cobblestones to the tavern
The streets at this time were almost deserted. Those who had left their place of business were now at home, eating their supper if they had it. Those who would be going out for the night would do so shortly, if they hadn't already done so. The Tavern's windows were just being lit with a warm orange glow as the couple reached the stairs that would lead inside. Before they could mount them however, the oak door was flung open, letting out a subdued mix of voices and smells. The doorway was then quickly filled by the large black shape of a man, clearly inebriated, who tottered drunkenly down the steps. Typical machismo inclination led Clopin to push his wife back, who glared at him, as the drunk swayed down the steps, singing snatches of various tunes, his voice hoarse and broken with drink. He caught sight of Clopin who looked at him in a calm and friendly manner, though his hand stayed still protectively on Herlikin, and turned to him.
"What are you doing, you wretch, standing there staring like a fool? Don't you recognise one of your betters? Make way for me, make way!"
Clopin's eyes narrowed at the man's pomposity. He could never stand another man to treat him with disdain, as though he were a better person than Clopin Trouillefou. Especially if that man were a Parisian. Long years of persecution by those particular people had made Clopin very adamant to take no nonsense from then, and he opened his mouth to reply.
"Sir, the amount of drink you've swallowed today, and the considerable size of your girth have both made quite sure I need not make way for you. You'll undoubtedly make way for yourself, for it is a man of stone indeed who could withstand a nudge from you as you go about your drunken staggerings."
The drunk gave a cry of outrage, and took a swing at Clopin, who dodged it quite easily, and stepped back to look at the man in amused disgust. Herlikin sneered as the drunk lost his footing and sprawled inelegantly on the cobblestones. She took Clopin's arm, and they stepped gracefully over his prostate form to go inside the Tavern.
A curious choking sound came from the drunk then, and they turned around in a little surprise. The drunk fell still and silent, and they peered at him curiously, bending over his discoloured face. Clopin frowned, and reached out a hand to slap the man (not very lightly) across the face. The man made no response. He slapped again, harder, then grabbed his fatty cheek in a pinch, and shook it hard. Finally, Clopin knelt down beside the man, and pushed aside his coat and tunic. He rested one ear on the man's chest, then looked up at Herlikin in astonishment.
"My God, darling, the rascal's dead!!"
"Surely you're joking!" Herlikin replied, kneeling down beside her lover, and bending her own ear on the man's chest. She listened intently for a moment and then looked up to meet her husband's eyes.
"You're right." she said softly "He's quite dead as a doornail."
They stared at each other in stunned silence for a moment, then awfully, they both began to laugh quietly.
"I'll bet he didn't see that one coming!" Clopin chuckled." Poor bastard, he choked on his own hot air!"
Herlikin shook her head and quieted. She began to examine the man's clothes.
"My, he was a fancy fellow" she said. "One wonders what he was doing here. Look at the lining on his coat! Look at his fine hose. Ooooooooh!!" her eyes lit up with an eerie glow "Look at that ruby ring!!"
Clopin's attention was elsewhere. "Look at his splendid shoes!" he exclaimed gleefully, and leapt on the dead man's feet. He tore the man's shoes off, and then removed his own soiled ones. The man was a huge fat man, and Clopin a very skinny one, but one of his most distinctive features was his large feet. The man's shoes fit, and he leapt gracefully up with a cry of joy, and danced around. Herlikin praised him with an appreciative glance, whilst her other hand slyly worked off the dead man's ruby ring. Clopin covered the man's bare feet with his old ones.
"They look very well on you, my love" Herlikin said, rising to her feet. "And they've certainly saved me some work. Now, let's go before the rest of the clientele arrives to shout murderous gypsies!"
Clopin danced a last quick jig, before leaping nimbly to her side. With a broad sweep of his yellow feathered hat, he made her a bow and offered his arm.
She took it with a loving smile, and a mocking curtsy. Then the two mounted the steps and entered the Bells & Motley Tavern, slamming the door behind them.
This story was inspired by a comment made by Mike Surrey in the Book "The Art of the Hunchback of Notre Dame", wherein he said "Clopin could steal the shoes off a man who just died on the street". I wanted to explore some of the more callous aspects of Herlikin's and Clopin's characters.