Author's Note: Ugh! All these blasts from the past! This fic was a challenge from my friend ThreeOranges to write a story with this title. Since one of the themes of Herlikin's life were her miscarriages, I went with that topic. I think this one is from 2000.
Flawed, clumsy, immature, all the rest of it… you know the drill by now.
"HERLI!" The voice flung itself across the Court and was then tossed off the stone walls again, falling around me as I mused at the puddle of water at my feet, tracing one scarred toe across it carefully, wondering what the little ripples thought as they were pushed inwards and outwards again, in and out, in and out.
Such a rhythm had put me in the position I was in - that is, seven months pregnant, and I had thought a good many things about it, and not one of them bad.
"HERLIKIN TROUILLEFOU!!!" Again that familiar lady voice, usually such a welcome sound, interrupted my thoughts, and I sighed in irritation and pushed one long, straggly lock of red hair back over my shoulder, and wiped my nose, and rubbed my swollen belly and wished I could pull my legs up under my chin, wished harder I had the energy to hoist myself from my resting spot and go where one of my dearest friends could not find me.
I sat in the Square in the Court of Miracles, on a low wooden bench near one of the deep iron pots the women used for cooking, silent and cold now, the embers long since died out. I looked at the sooty place beneath it longingly. I wanted to run my toes through that muck, why I couldn't say, but I did not have the energy to move. It was midday and this area of the Court was near deserted, there were no rom-neve to host, it was summer and there was a lot of work to be done by both romni and romano to feed not only bellies tonight but for the winter months which were catching us up day by day.
Only I, the fat pregnant daj, had to stay below and be bored playing nursemaid not only to my own babbies, but to those of other women also. Thank the strength of good strong rom baro seed that I was not the only mother-to-be at that time and had managed to creep (quite literally with thanks to my belly) away unnoticed by them as they busied themselves chasing young, dirty-necked brats, and stopping brazen little wenches from tearing the hair and pinching the spindly arms of the other.
Now I sat by myself, sheltered by soot-black pots, and the left over rugs and cushions that always littered the place during the day, hoping Colombine would not discover me. She was the dearest friend I knew of woman, but she knew nothing about carrying a child within oneself, and the disinterestedness in others it could bring. I felt as though I carried a pail of milk within me, my lean husband could not lean in as close as I liked, I could not wear my favourite dresses or tumble with my children and I...waddled! As the duck waddled so did graceful little Herli who never stopped floating as she walked, though the fragile flesh on her feet hurt her so at times - ah! Never mind the rewards of holding a babby to my breast, I did not like being round as the barrel.
"HERLIKIN TROUILLEFOU NEE DUPRE!" Colombine would not be ignored and I tapped my hands over the stretched skin of my stomach, covered snugly in gold embroidered red cotton, in an agitated rhythm before giving in.
"I'm over here, dili!"
A moment later and her cheeky brown face appeared, bobbling over the tops of the pots, and then it was she herself bending her way around them, decked out in white and green, very becoming to her eyes and hair and slender, so slender, form. There were dimples in her cheeks as she smiled at me wickedly, and her green eye flashed in that way I knew so well.
"I'm in no mood for your devil's work" I grumbled ominously at her. "I could push you over with one nudge of my stomach, so be warned!"
She giggled delightedly. "Herli, pregnancy is dangerous for you! You sound like Tante Marie when you say things like that!"
"Oooohhh!" Lethargy forgotten I pushed myself forward and whacked her for that. I loved Tante Marie, but god knows I did not want to be like her!
She darted back, still laughing, glad to have provoked some life from me.
"Come on, Herli" she bounced to her feet, twitching her green skirts and holding out a bejewelled hand to me.
I wriggled my shoulders petulantly "What is your plan?"
Again that twinkle. "There is no plan, 'demoiselle', but you are acting not yourself, so perhaps Colombine will lead you in the path that is your own again, hmm?"
I sighed and pushed again that disobedient lock or hair over my shoulder, pouting to myself, and dragging again my toe through the little puddle of water which had fallen from such a long way through a tiny gap in the Court roof to gather there. Why not? It is true, I was very much not myself. Frustration from not being able to move about as freely as I liked, from being forbidden to leave the Court, from not being able to fit into my favourite dress...
Sulking was always fun until it became boring, so after another sigh I put my hand in hers, and she hauled me to my feet, and together we began our way out of the eating area of the Square, she tripping gracefully, and I...waddling.
On the other side of the Square, Renault had his tins of paint and was painting prettily some of the furniture he so cleverly made. It was a chair turning daffodil yellow, and a footstool become forget-me-not blue and a little table rose red. Both Colombine and I stopped at the sight of them, our eyes growing wide in astonishment, and heedless of my bulk I was the first to totter quickly to him, my eyes hungrily drinking the flowers in his paint tins.
"Colours, Renault, where did you get these colours?" I cried, waving a hand over them as though they were jars of magic. Colombine sighed and smiled at these joys, while Renault chuckled into his beard.
"I have had luck these days, mam'zelles. Luck." Renault was a man of a few words, and a stern temper and it was as much as we would get out of him, but I tried again anyway. I always try again.
"But from where? Who has bestowed you luck, Renault?"
He frowned at me with his brows becoming one. "It is my business, chey, you know better than to question again a man who has given you an answer."
Bah! Men. I wished that Clopin was here with me, he would get from Renault the information I wanted. So I pouted and twitched my skirts and sighed to the side, but could not leave these colours.
"For whom you paint these, Renault?" Colombine asked him as she bent over to peer closely at the bright yellow chair, so pretty and sunny.
He shrugged as his brush went stroke, stroke bright red over the table. "For pleasure, chey. Because such colour is pleasure. Possibly for sale."
At that both my head and Colombine's shot up and we peered at each warily from sideways eyes. She might be able to work when I could not, but I had my husband, greatest performer in all of Paris, and his purse which hung very loosely from his belt! Colombine and I gazed at each other as two beasts size one another up in damp green clearing of a forest where they have come across one another by accident, should I attack or is he too big? Who eats who here? She narrowed her eyes at me and I did likewise, before bursting out with -
"Renault, Clopin will give you the money for these tonight!" Who knows if he would, but I wanted my claim staked. Colombine groaned.
"No! You cheated! Too fast!" I grinned and poked out my tongue at her.
"He will pay you for each and all tonight, Renault. Let me have them, please!"
He leaned back from his painting, pushing the brim of his hat up with one red and yellow-stained finger, gazing at me with his bright blue eyes a minute, as I clasped my ringed fingers to him pleadingly. He gave a short laugh and bent to his work again.
"Very well, Herli. Just you make sure Clopin pays, for you will not get them before then. And it must be Clopin who brings the money, I don't want him coming to me later to explain how you cut the purse from his belt again, and that he must return my crafts."
I pursed my lips and twitched my skirts again. It would be hard to convince Clopin then, but perhaps I could work some sympathy from him because of my condition. I cocked my head to the side and blinked smilingly at Renault.
"It shall be as you say, Renault, just so." I said sweetly. He shot me a half-laughing glance from beneath his brows before laying carefully the small bright red table aside and standing to his feet, stretching wide, his great brawn of a chest expanding even more, his huge hairy arms all clenched fist and paint-stained.
"There, that's finished. Don't you brats touch it now, it needs to dry. Mind me, don't touch anything here."
Grasping a much begrimed towel from besides him, he walked away wiping his sweaty face, sighing into the linen, leaving me with a smug smile and Colombine with indignant eyes. She pinched me through my thin red sleeve.
"Herli! You're terrible! Must you have everything that takes your fancy?"
"Must you?" I reiterated rudely, for she was just as bad as me. "You know very well had I not been first you would have been!"
She grimaced and shook her hands in front of me. "That's not my point, Bengali!!"
I turned away with a little smile and ran my eyes over Renault's work area. Towels lay haphazardly on the stone floor, and on them his newly painted flower furniture. An enormous flask with his water lay next to his bench, but my eyes skimmed over it, coming to rest on the little pots of paint clustered nearby. With a wicked grin I dipped a finger into the yellow one
and flicked it suddenly at Colombine who gasped as it whipped a long line across the front of her dress and the bare part of her bosom.
"What is your point, dili?" I asked smartly, and put my hands on my hips, and thrust out my huge belly and laughed very heartily. But Colombine is not the woman who can so easily be beaten. Looking down at herself with an expression that was part bafflement, part disbelief and part crankiness, she dipped her finger in the red tin and tossed it at me, putting a large red splotch on my nose. But I could not stop laughing now, and there was a grin on her face too as one by one we dipped a finger in a paint jar and added a new and far more modern pattern to our dresses.
We backed up from one another, laughing, she nimbly and I awkwardly and now each of us held a pot of paint in our hands and were gaily flinging paint not only at each other but all about us as well, mimicking so well the children who sat just beyond and around the way, watched over by the women who were our own age, and younger as well. The thought of my babbies, Lena and Harlan, Clopin and Ahvel, and the way they would look if they caught sight of their maman so, doing the same thing that she scolded them mercilessly for, made me grab my belly and roar with laughter so much that it ached, and I had to put down my tin of paint and pause for a moment, unable to stop laughing, bending over in ache, and Colombine came over to me and we flung paint strewn arms about the other and held on to each other and laughed and laughed.
But I was not so lost in my merriment to not recognise she was in my power, and leaning back over to the bench, I filled a hand full with yellow paint and smeared it with a splat! over her hair, rubbing my hands through it and laughing. She was too jolly now to be much angered, she only gasped at the sticky coldness, and then retaliated in kind, smearing the sky-blue all over my face as I tried to cry between giggles for her to stop.
But suddenly a boom of thunder interrupted our sunny skies as Renaults' deep voice came booming to us in stricken-anger.
"My paints! All of my paints!"
How quickly the smiles ran from our faces as we stopped, still clinging to each other, covered lavishly in red and blue and yellow paint, and some purple and green too, now. It gave me an idea for an excuse as we broke hurriedly apart and gazed fearfully at the dark tower of a man who strode towards us, his face and arms freshly scrubbed, his blue eyes black with anger.
Before he could say another word I jumped forward timidly. "We were mixing new colours for you Renault!" I said hastily, but to my misfortune he took my reply as impudence and went to box my ears. I darted out of the way in alarm and fell with a shriek into Colombine's arms, and by this time both our laughter and Renault's shouting had aroused the women and children from where they sat, and their sudden movement had attracted the attention of a few of the men who worked within the Court, so that now we were surrounded on all sides, like two mischievous cats, by alternatively wide-eyed and stern-faced rom.
Renault flung his fists in the air and hollered at the roof of the Court as he surveyed the damage we had done; paint was everywhere, on Renault's vurdon which stood just to the side of his benches, the benches themselves, on his towels, all over Colombine and myself - a few splotches had even decorated the hide of his horse. He let forth a torrent of near-incomprehensible curses before wresting the hat from his head and flinging it to the ground, them stomping on it, stomp, stomp, stomp! Renault is not by any stretch of the imagination a small man, and the sight of him with his big beard, and big hands, and big chest and big boots stomping on his poor little hat was a sight so rare, it were as though Clopin had snuck up behind and begun to tickle me as my shoulders began to shake with suppressed laughter, and my eyes grew wet from the strain of staying silent, and hastily I buried my face in my shawl as though I were ashamed, and smothering my tears. That was too far even for Colombine, there were no smiles on her face as Renault finished his tantrum and turned around to face us. I could not see him through the blue of my shawl, but I felt his movement as he strode forward and snatched the shawl from my face. I gasped, outraged, that he should lay a hand on me, but I knew better than to say anything to a man in a temper with a wicked women, and we were this.
Pale-lipped I cast a glance around me, and did not miss the disapproving stares from my friends, the women and what men had come. Colombine and I were in for some trouble now and I was not looking forward to it. Christophe had taken in a great, shuddering breath, shut his eyes tight and calmed himself for a long moment before becoming his silent stern self again.
"Colombine, because you are unmarried, I have sole right to your punishment. Herlikin, you can sit down here and wait for your husband to come home." Taking Colombine by the shoulder he turned to lead her away.
I pointed my nose in the air. "I'll go to my tent and wait for him." He whirled around to me
again and gestured violently with his finger.
"You will wait here!" he bellowed, and startled, I sat down abruptly. I felt, rather than saw, the women nudging to each other and the children wriggle restlessly at being forced to wait before they could whisper frenetically to each other how little queenie was in trouble again. I sat with my back ramrod straight and did not deign to look at them there, I could not stand to see how my friends, the women would be staring at me with disapproval and that one Isabeau with smug smile. I sat there silent, with narrowed eyes and upturned nose until I heard them whisper amongst themselves and herd the children away, all of them drifting back to their respective business and leaving me sitting all by myself with only the babby in my belly for company. I got up and with a great effort hoisted myself onto the table and insolently put my feet upon the bench.
I pouted and rocked, stroking my huge swollen stomach and beginning a little Hindi hum beneath my breath. The paint was drying in my hair and on my clothes and very quickly the merriment of flinging it about was forgotten as I sulked over this. I wanted a bath, but I could not get it until Clopin came home. I hated sitting there, sitting in solitude where anyone who walked by might see me and then discover the reason for my position when they next passed the women. I could envision them all clucking amongst themselves at this moment; the children I did not mind, they were on my side, they would creep by soon with a glass of milk and pinches for me, but my friends, the women would be discussing at length what trouble I caused and what nuisance I was, and how I must cause my big, handsome husband's head to ache so hard. Then one by one these women, my age and younger, would drift to other parts of the Court on their business and pass by them older women coming in from the day's work to cook or sew or whatever dull thing they filled their evening with and the story would spread and the whispers so thick you could stir it with a spoon, and the older women would be saying what an unsuitable wife I was, and how I did not
behave as a wife and mother should, and what a bad example I set, me being wife to the King and all. My lower lip protruded further as I thought these things, for with the gossip-mongers it did not matter my husband was as happy as a man could be, that all four of my children were healthy and beautiful, that my home was spotless and comfortable. Nay, all that mattered to the women who both thrived on gossip and envied that I should be married to one who used to be theirs, is that I did not behave as a wife...should.
I felt very, very sorry for myself.
My babby moved in my stomach then, and I ran hands over it, wide out in front of me, all mine for two months more and smiled down at it. So big, so uncomfortable, but so warm and helpless in my arms afterwards. I may not be a typical daj, but I was a daj nonetheless, and I hated it when my children grew older and no longer wanted to cuddle under my arms and creep into my bed with me and beg for stories and songs and kisses everywhere. Feeling the babby move then reminded me of who I was, and who my husband was and it was comforting. No matter what those women said, Clopin and I adored one another, and this was our babby, and I was it's mother not anyone of them. And that was comforting but then I was reminded that I was, indeed, a pregnant woman and that I had responsibilities and, no harm intended notwithstanding, I had behaved stupidly and childishly in front of those who loved to find fault with me. So finally I was scratching my swollen belly in agitation and feeling very cross with myself as the day grew longer, though night and day seemed all the same in the Court, and the Square began to come to life once more as the huge fires were lit, and more lanterns too, though no one came to my little corner with a lamp. One by one the rom came in from their adventures in the streets above to saunter lazily back to their tents calling greetings to one another, and eyeing paint-strewn me with interest, amusement and my well-known disapproval.
Clopin would laugh when he heard about it, I knew, but he would be cross also because of the damage that was done to Christophe's things. He would not laugh to me, to me he would scold, to himself he would laugh and love me for being still a child in some ways, but he would also be cross. Cross because the men would expect him to beat me and he would not, because they would expect him to punish me, and he would not, and all around him would be the whispers of how I was wicked and wilful and not being punished as a disobedient wife should. But still, I wanted him to come home and scold me and shake his finger and then cuddle me and laugh above my head. Clopin didn't care that I was an unsuitable wife and mother, he loved me anyway. My babby moved again and I ran hands over my stomach and sung some more. I felt faintly disharmonious within myself, and it was not because of my trouble.
"Who is this bengali chey in disgrace by herself in the dark with a pouting lip?" came that golden voice which so sung through my days. I jumped a little and wanted to leap off the table and into his arms, but my belly was huge and protruding, and despite the humour in his voice there was also something of You are in trouble Herli there too, so I did not respond apart from my jump, just turned my head slowly to meet the glittering black eyes of my husband in his jongleur's garb, leaning over the back of the bench behind the table I was perched on, his mask dangling from one large black-shod hand and his hat pushed up high on his head. He regarded me inquisitively, with a strange half-smile and stern eyes, but he was happy to see me too and I wanted again to just kiss him, but it would not do - I was in disgrace - so I pouted further, and kicked out at the air.
"I'm no little girl!" I said sulkily, and he chuckled and rubbed his chin.
"No, you're not. You're a romni, a daj and twenty nine. You're in charge of our home and our children, and are expected to maintain both as any good romani wife would. So today I come home to find Christophe raging at the sky and telling me you play with paint like a cat would with yarn, and all around him the men are saying 'subdue her, punish her, teach her, beat her'. So which would you like first ,Herli?"
I rubbed my eyes with my hands. "It was all in fun, you brute, there was no harm meant."
He sighed and pushed his hat up further. "You never mean any harm, Herli, but harm is nearly always done. It cannot always be seen, this harm. I don't know where women like you and Colombine belong, but it's not here. When the other women see you playing like children, you lose credibility with them. It justifies them not heeding you, or feeding our children when your back is turned. Or especially making eyes and invitations to me."
"Perhaps it is not my behaviour which makes them feel they can do that, but perhaps your - liberty with your affections of a few years ago?" I said bitingly. His mouth pulled down into a long frown, and his eyes flicked to the side. It was a shot below his belt, but I was the one carrying the big fat babby inside of me for him. He hated for me to mention that, for his guilt was strong - though he yet believed there were some justifications for it.
"I thought that was all passed by and forgotten, Herli." He said softly. "Forgiven I thought." I wriggled my shoulders and again kicked at the air. "It is, it is. But I hate being punished."
He caught hold of my elbow. "Then you should not do things that require punishment."
"What then?" I said sharply "I should sit in my tent and sew and cook and have babby and babby and die like that?"
He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Of course not, you silly woman. But you can have your fun in less destructive ways. You're pregnant too, you should not forget this, especially after what has happened in the past."
Oh, he would have to bring that up, insensitive brute. A little shiver passed through me and I pulled my arm from his grip, looking away from him and rubbing my hands protectively over my stomach. He saw the pain in me and moved around the bench to stand beside me and stroke my back.
"Come on, you can't sit out here in the cold by yourself, and I can't stand here and talk to you when I should be punishing you. Let's go back to the tent, now, sort things out there. The children will be wanting their dinner soon."
I put my little hand in the large one he offered me, and supporting me around the waist with the other, he helped me get down from the table, where I stood and shook out my skirts, little flecks of dried paint flying everywhere and I saw Clopin smile. With his arm about my waist, he began to walk and I to waddle back in the direction of our tent, and I was very glad to have the feel and smell of him next to me. He stopped suddenly, and I glanced at him surprised as he turned me around to face him, his other arm slipping around my back and his lovely brown face beaming all down at me.
"Oh Herli, before I forget." He said laughingly and leaned down to kiss me, his lips all soft and warm and his breath with that familiar taste of wine on it, and it was easy for me to forget my petulance and kiss him back and slip arms up and over his shoulders and hate the interruption of my stomach between us. He broke the kiss with a soft chuckle, and turned with an arm about my shoulders now to begin leading me away.
"Come now, they won't think much of a punishment in the form of a kiss." He told me sardonically, but I didn't care much, quite happy to nestle under his arm. But as we moved away, I was arrested suddenly by something like ice spreading through my belly. It began in the centre, then split off to all sides, reaching up even to my heart, and I caught my breath and stumbled a little. Clopin caught me up quickly, alarm on his face.
"What is it kitten?" he asked, but the feeling had passed and I waved it aside.
"It is nothing, a stone on the ground." I said, and shook off the uneasiness poking my shoulder.
I began our dinner as Clopin told me stories of his day above performing for the gaje he hated and their children that he loved, at least until they grew up. My punishment was slightly bitter, I was not to have the flower furniture, but Clopin would help Colombine to pay for it, never mind that she had been a part of the mischief.
"Colombine will be punished enough by Renault to more than make up for that, kitten." Clopin told me when I protested. "She will work those slender brown fingers to the bone cleaning for him,
something I might add, you have only escaped due to your condition." He frowned mock-terribly at me. "It is also the sole reason you escape a beating."
I laughed at that, as he knew I would, and he grinned to himself as he put his feet up on a chair, and pulled off his hat, drinking down the wine I had poured for him. Clopin would never beat me, he was not a man of that nature.
I made soup with leftover beef and fresh vegetables, and left the whole thing on to simmer while I stood behind Clopin and rubbed his shoulders and he leant his head back against my bosom and shut his eyes while I whispered softly to him.
It was nice to have the quiet moments like this, different from shared confidences, playful exchange or tender moments in bed after being together, but just the quiet little moments where there was pleasure to take from one another being there. We'd learnt on several occasions not to take the love we had for granted, so even though I badly wanted to bathe I stood there for
moments longer, loving the feel of the bones and muscles of his shoulders beneath my fingers.
It was our one daughter, Lena, who broke the moment as she entered with an armful of wildflowers, the smell of her fresh and soft from outdoors, petals and grass in her hair. She smiled softly at us both, and said hello in her quiet little voice before coming over to give a wild rose to her papa and a kiss on his cheek. Lena was devoted to Clopin, but she could not forgive him straying from me briefly as easily as what I had, and it showed. Lena was a quiet and introverted child, but Clopin had easily been able to pull her out of herself, and in the past she had delightedly flung little arms around his legs and kissed his knees again and again with "I love you I love you I love you Papa!" heedless of who was around - a sharp comparison to how she would shyly show affection for the others she loved - now all she could do was such things as hand him a flower and a soft little kiss. She wanted to forget it and adore him as easily, but she could not, and it pained her and it pained Clopin. I could feel the want in him to embrace her now, but she was twelve, not a babby anymore, so he could do nothing but thank her for the flower and stick it into his belt.
None of our children slept with us in the tent anymore, they had had their own since they were all four years of age. Lena, having reached womanhood, only recently moving out of the tent she had previously shared with her twin brother Harlan, much to their mutual dismay.(they were most extremely close as binaks often are) But we always ate together of an evening, and Lena still helped me in our tent, as well as learning maintenance of the one she shared with Jeta, another romni girl the same age. Soon now, the other three would be making their way in, Clopin and Ahvel from their play in the Court, Harlan from where he worked with the other young boys. Taking note of this, I said to Lena to watch the soup (and hoped she and her papa would talk some more) and gathered my things for a bath.