He shook his head, no. "I don't deny that at all! But like you say, she is a great power! Not attainable, not for Clopin, not for you, even if you deserve her."
Why oh why did I insist upon it? I think because my heart ached so much, and I felt the loss of my babby so greatly, that I just wanted to feel that there was one person who would bend over backwards for me, who wouldn't leave me, lonesome and hungry for them. It wouldn't matter if he didn't succeed. And of course, no one on this earth loved me so much as Clopin, and I loved no one so much as him. So tears again stung my eyes, and I thumped my fists upon the bed.
"Oh Clopin! You promised me."
He looked at me desperately for a moment, kneeling on the bed with my eyes all-afire with tears, and my hair uncombed, and my prematurely flat belly. Then I think he realised why I made such an impossible request, and with a despairing little smile he came gallantly over to me, to catch up my hand up and press it against his lips.
"My lady has made her request, I go now to fulfil her desire!"
I squeezed his hand gratefully, and wiped my eyes. He smiled at me again, then placed his hat upon his head. He walked towards the tent flap before turning around and sighing. Then swiftly he leapt over to his trunks, and fetched something from them, which he tossed to me. I caught the multi-coloured blur and I hugged it to me when I saw that it was Puppet, Clopin's own favourite puppet, in his own image and his companion when he was on the streets.
"There, Puppet is your Guardian, your Knight. He will protect you and entertain you while I am away on my voyage. Look after her, Puppet!!"
Puppet, or Papuszo as I called him, lived when he was on Clopin's hand. He spoke with his own voice, he acted by his own thoughts. Like Clopin he was full of conceit, but he was also akin to a little child, for he trembled and shook and laughed and cried at Clopin's tales with all the inquisitiveness and naivety of a little one. He caused Clopin much exasperation with his cheekiness and mischievousness, for which he was punished with a sharp rap over the head. But Puppet was sweet and friendly, and when we were alone together he would come alive for me and we would talk, comforting me in the absence of my husband. But I was too shy to give him life with his master at hand, so Puppet only made Clopin a salute, and with a grin and a shake of his head, Clopin bowed out.
I stifled a little sob when I was alone, but then I remembered Puppet in my arms and I held him up to look into his winking black eyes. His lovely painted red mouth begged for a kiss and I gave it him gladly, before lying myself down, he cuddled in my arms, and settling for sleep.
"Tell me, Papuszo, will my husband be successful in his mission, will he return with what I have asked for?"
When Puppet spoke to me, it was not to my ears as he did with Clopin, but to my mind, and that is how I heard him then. "That big oaf is more clever than you or I give him credit! There is something that is telling me will bring back for you the moon!"
Later, I hovered at the tent flap for what seemed like hours, trying to decide whether or not to leave. The week had passed, mourning could cease, I could leave the tent. I still felt weak, so very weak and still so very sore, but I was tired from being tired, from sleeping so much. I clutched Puppet to me and asked again and again, should I go out? And again and again he replied, yes yes, go out go out. I would put out one toe, then hastily draw it in again. I would poke out my head then retreat. I would take a deep breath, march to the flap, and then my hand would halt upon it.
What could I do if I left? I did not think I could bear to see the pitying looks from my friends, the women. I did not want to tolerate the sidewards glances of the men. And I thought I would scream to be asked by the children "what happened to the babby in your belly, Queenie Herli?" Worse still, my old friend Colombine had not once come to visit me. Tante Marie and Abigail had made appearances regularly, to check my body and make sure all function as normal, but Colombine, my first lady friend in the Court - not a peep, not a whisper. I could not think of a reason. Colombine despised the idea of marriage, shuddered at the thought of bearing, and laughed in the face of what she called superstition. She would not think me so wicked she could no longer bear me?
I did not know, but I was afraid to find out.
When Puppet began a mocking song of the timidity of women, one I could well imagine Clopin having taught him, I put on my diklo and marched finally, boldly from the tent, grasping Puppet by the one ear, he squeaking all the way. I should not have feared so much - it was the middle of the day, and the Court was near deserted. I grumbled at myself for being so nervous about nothing, and my stride picked up as I moved through the tents. I had no purpose, I had no destination. I had wanted simply to get it over and done with - to walk amongst them when they all knew what had happened, and to not blink when they
looked at me curiously.
As I reached the Centre, the Court became more populated, here there were men going about their business, great large traditionalist men who nudged one another as I approached then turned away, though whether that was an act of respect or to shun me, I could not say. I narrowed my eyes at them, then greeted them each aloud by name "Bonjour Christophe, Jean, Arben, Emilian." to their surprise, and so it went on. I came to the large area in front of the stage at the front of the Court, the area where we all sat in circles of an evening to talk and drink. And there were my friends, the women. The ones who were pregnant, like I had been, who could not go above to the streets. They had all the smallest children with them, sitting at their feet and tugging at their skirts as they listened to stories and wriggled, wanting secretly to run wild. Therese caught sight of me first, and widened her eyes, before elbowing the bosom of the lady who sat next to her - Valentina. One by one sets of black, brown and green eyes turned towards me, blinking curiously in the ruddy light of the circle where they sat.
I was lucky to see Therese and Fifika there, not so lucky to count Valentina and Elena. The former two were quite sweet and placid and were both very young and relatively new to the Court. The latter two were much older and had been here for much of their lives. Valentina was gorgeous, shallow and very bossy, Elena was her bosom companion. Elena had been married before I had come, but Valentina remembered the time very well when Clopin was unmarried and unfettered and quite happy to share his affections amongst his lady friends. He was as shameless a flirt as ever, but the honeyed words which came from his lips were spoken now more in jest than true flattery, and Valentina felt that sharply. As I said, she was gorgeous, and I was not. Valentina had also counted as a friend the doomed and unmourned Isabelle, traitor of the Court. But I did not let them daunt me, not even the beautiful Valentina with her lizard glare. Clinging to Puppet, my little Clopin, I marched right up to them and sat myself down amongst the children, amongst the dirt of the floor. I could do this now, without my huge swollen belly protruding in front of me, and the babbies remembered me from days gone past when I would play with them easily, so now they clambered happily upon me, and I grinned back at them. Valentina, one eyebrow raised, said sharply to me.
"Why Herlikin, are you sure, quite sure, you are in health fit enough to leave your tent?"
"Oh I am in health fit enough, Valentina, why thankyou so for your concern." I replied sweetly, so sweetly.
A slight sneer passed over her lips, but instead of making a retort, she instead leaned back with her elbows against the bench, and stroked her five month belly with a caressing hand and a smug smile. I turned away.
Therese rubbed my shoulder. "There Herli, you are looking well. You must tell us if you feel ill."
I half-smiled wanly at her. "I will, I will."
A moment later Elena piped up with; "And where is that charming husband of yours, Herlikin? He sat with us for awhile earlier and said he was going then to be with you."
"He has been and gone, he is fetching something for me."
"Ah Clopin - he could never resist to do a favour for a lady." Valentina laughed, tossing her rich brown hair over her shoulders. I looked at her from unperturbed eyes. She would goad me and Elena would too, for her favour, as she had already tried.
"And yet I am sure, quite sure that only a few days ago when you asked Clopin to fetch for you a pail of water, he had to respectfully decline."
She narrowed her eyes at me. "He was occupied already! He was - " and here she stopped and I finished for her.
"He was coming over to me. Not to fetch me anything, not to give me anything, just to sit by me."
I couldn't resist the smug glint in my eyes, and the other three women had drawn back and were watching the two of us warily. Valentina pondered a retort, but it was clear who the winner would be. I was not pregnant and she was, I was also renowned for my vicious temper and habit of biting.
So finally she shook her hair back again, and laughed, a brittle sound. "Well that is love for you, and Clopin he is the romantic."
After that, our attention returned to the children with the outbreak of a scuffle. Two little boys were wrenched apart and spanked and subdued. Then we women leant back to watch them at their play through half-closed lids, chatting a little. I stayed silent, mostly, my attention focused on the babbies as Valentina bullied Therese and Fifika and Elena vied for her approval. Why did I stay with them? I did not really like them, we were not at all close. But I had sat with them for seven months, sat and gossiped and vied with Valentina for leader of the group. It was hard to pull myself away, especially watching the little babbies playing in front of us. So painful to watch it was too, those smiling, dimpled dirty little faces and bright eyes, the young chey playing with their even younger siblings as though they were the daj. I sighed reflectively to myself, and my hands wandered to my belly, the seven month habit hard to break. How strange it looked, all that empty space in front of me. How strange it felt. And here were these three women, each one of them blessed with a healthy, living babby in their belly, and all of them stealing glances at me when they thought I did not notice. I did not want to leave, for I knew the whispers would begin immediately. I did not want to even imagine what they would say about me, about my punishment, about how I had deserved it, about how disappointed Clopin would be.
I knew Valentina had smugly marked me reaching for the belly which was not there, and I sighed again. I was weakening. Soon the laughter of the children would be too much, I would start to cry and have to run back to my tent, leaving them behind with all their gossip they would spread further that evening. Then I remembered Puppet, safe in the folds of my skirts, and I pulled him out and cuddled him close once more.
"Papuszo, protect me from their chovexani wishes!" I whispered to him and Fifika marked it.
"It's Puppet, Clopin's Puppet!" she said delightedly. I pushed him quickly under my skirts again. "Herli, why you hide him, bring him out!"
Puppet was almost as popular as Clopin himself.
"Pick it up when Clopin was not looking, eh Herli?" Valentina asked dryly and I bristled.
"He gave him me to protect me while he is out getting me what I asked from him."
"That is just like Clopin!" Therese said warmly, her big brown eyes sparkling. "He is full of fancies. It is no wonder the children love him so!"
She meant no harm, but my mouth twisted anyway. I seemed to feel she had referred to me as one of those children, me, six years her senior! Valentina jumped in again.
"Hai, he is like that. Always a little story, a little game, a special name. He used to call me Tinabelle."
She would not stop trying! Valentina always managed to mention this little fact whenever we were in each other's presence for long enough. But it never bothered me, for it was long before my time, and Clopin only ever called her Mademoiselle Valentina now, much to her chagrin. Besides which, Clopin had told me about her. "When I came back from my travels one year, Valentina was a new arrival in the Court, and I was entranced by her beauty! My, but she was like the princess from a fairy tale! I dreamed of creating a puppet in her image! I was very young then, only sixteen, and Valentina was younger, but had long since learnt the art of flirting and she knew how to hide her true nature from a potential admirer. Valentina was one of the first to teach me beauty is truly only skin deep, kitten. We flirted awhile, and then lay together a couple of times, but I found we had nothing to talk about, there is nothing in that lovely head of hers, and I found it hard to be aroused by her afterward. Also she made the great mistake with me - for while she could mesmerize other men with her charms indefinitely, I was much used to being the one in charge, and her spoilt coquetry and demands did nought but kill any interest I had in her,
which was purely physical from the start. It died altogether the day I saw her whip a little boy for smudging her skirt. I called her Tinabelle in the beginning because it was pretty and it pleased her, afterwards I called her it diminutively, as I saw her - small and pretty and nothing else, though she never knew."
I thought of that story as Valentina pouted her rosebud lips and once more tossed those rich locks of hair over her shoulder. It would seem evident Valentina's mother had taught her nothing about the richness within herself, all she could do was mimick pretty gestures and little faces. She had nothing inside of her, no sense of herself, of her cycles, or of her links to the earth and to the mother.
It was easy to pity Valentina when I thought of her this way, despite the fat little babby growing happily in her belly.
Suddenly there was a shout behind us, and it surprised me how quickly I could move now, as I turned around to see my big, lanky husband bounding towards us. He was beaming his wonderful big smile, and I got up hurriedly to move towards him. He would barely notice the other women beyond a greeting, but I did not need my virile husband and his barren wife to be gawked at more than was necessary.
He swept me up in his arms and I kissed him all over his brown face while he laughed, then shouted, when Puppet popped up between us and began to kiss me all over. He put me down and snatched Puppet back who began immediately to shout out loud that I had made him do it.
"Shush!" Clopin said. "I know your evil and wicked ways! I will never be able to leave you alone with Herli again, least you take advantage of her!"
"It is she who will take advantage of me!"
"Papuszo, you speak so of your Queen? I am hurt!" I said sadly to Puppet and he lowered his head in shame. "But he protected me well." I told Clopin, and Puppet leapt up again, clapping his hands together. Clopin laughed, and Puppet vanished without so much as goodbye, as he did so often, and then my husband was wrapping a protective arm around my shoulders and leading me back to our tent.
"Herli, I would appreciate it in future if you waited until I got back before disappearing." Clopin said scoldingly. "I thought you might have taken it into your head to run off for awhile."
I frowned. "I can't organise everything to fit in with your time, Clopin. I felt like taking a walk, and so I took it!"
Two old romni passing by heard us and looked in disapproval. My cheeks burned red, already I had made another mistake. My babby was in the ground only a week, and I was behaving as though it had never happened. I pulled away from my husband and hurried back to our tent, but he wasn't far behind. He caught me up before I fell onto the bed and cuddled me close, and rude little Puppet remerged to wipe my eyes and kiss my cheeks, and I hugged them both and got a hold of myself. No sense in tears now, it was all over and done with after all. I knew those two old romni were probably in the Square again telling the others how wicked I was, and I could imagine them lapping it up with glee.
Clopin sat on the bed and pulled me onto his lap. "You know, despite what you think they do not all hate you and see you as the Devil's Own Daughter, Herli." he said knowingly. "They think you're a little wild, it's true, but you're good fun and I'm sure they none of them blame you for what happened. You should stop blaming yourself."
I clawed at his shoulders. "I don't blame me, I blame Her! Moon! She lied to me!"
His eyebrows flickered as he looked at me with confused eyes. "Herli, I don't know why you have chosen to fixate upon Her as the cause of your grief. I don't understand what has put this fancy in your head, or why you want to act upon it! What is really going on here?"
I didn't really know either. Perhaps because I had taken such great comfort in Her just hours before I had lost my babby. Perhaps because I had felt solace and power in the knowledge that my body works with her, and therefore She must protect me. It had not occurred to me that She would be heartless and cruel, and punish me for my wicked deeds by stealing from me my innocent babby. I was always aware of Moon above me, but not so much since I had left India as I had been that night. It seemed as though just as my faith in something had been restored, that faith betrayed me. My husband wanted to understand, and so I did my best to explain this to him, and at the end he sighed and rubbed his eyes.
"Oh Herli, you're hurting and it kills me. Where is my little one, my kitten, my Lune?"
"Don't call me by that name!" I exclaimed. "I throw that name away now!"
He mock pouted and blinked exaggeratedly at me. "But if that name is in the trash heap, Soleil is left by himself! What will he do then?"
"Sun is stronger, man is stronger." I snapped pettishly at him. Then my hand moved quickly up to touch the sun and moon pendant which hung around my neck. A golden sun and a sickle moon joined together, it was the first gift of love from Clopin to myself, a symbol of our finally joining together to live with each other. It had hung so long and so steadily around my neck, that the flesh beneath it was paler than the rest of my skin. Because of this gift we would sometimes call each other Soleil and Lune. Needless to say, Lune had a bitter ring to it now.
Clopin sighed. "Alright, Herli. But it will be dark in my night time without my moon."
I hated to feel I had disappointed him, hated to feel that my normally ebullient and cheerful husband was feeling low because of me. But I could not pretend that I was happy, and I felt angry than I thought I should be, so I poked him savagely in the shoulder and snapped.
"And where is She, She you promised to fetch for me today? You have come home empty handed?"
He put me gently down on the bed and stood before me, once again assuming his role, an exaggerated expression of dismay on his face, his hands clasped before him.
"I must confess, Madame! I could not capture the Moon herself. But only because it was day when I went seeking Her, which is something neither you nor I thought of, eh? But I would not return to my lady empty handed! I have found reminisces of Her sojourns to earth, and have brought them back to you, hoping they will lighten your burden, and bring a smile to your face, so that there can be one in my heart!"
"Such a poet!" I said scathingly, but my heart was very tender, and he knew it. He drew forth then from his pockets several little objects, handling them with his beautiful large hands, sighing as he looked down at them, before moving to sit next to me on the bed. "They seemed so sweet and appealing when I gathered them, but now, when I am faced with you, my love, they seem only inadequate."
He handed to me then, one by one, his moon memorials. A little box of the type used to keep perhaps a pair of earrings, or a small chain in, on its top engraved with a moon painted in silver. Then he handed me a shimmery white scarf, shot through with silver which I wrapped around my neck. There was a little carved candlestick with the face of the moon upon it, and some pretty silver bangles. I did not make a habit of asking Clopin where he acquired his little treasures, and did not begin to ask now, just as he did not ask me where I had acquired new jewellery or shawls when I come home with such things.
Despite my unhappiness, despite the little image of that red and blue body ever present in the back of my mind, it was impossible not to smile at the sweetness of what he had done, so I smiled and he grinned triumphantly. I put on my new bangles and set the candlestick by the one near the bed. Then I kissed him and he kissed me back, and we lay down on the bed and kissed for many hours, and with each kiss I felt fuller and cleaner, as though he were filling me up with love and sensuality, and I clung greedily to him. I was twenty nine and I behaved like a chit of twelve, but Clopin could always make me feel like a woman, no matter what sense of it had been stolen from me.
When finally we stopped, Clopin pushed my hair back from my eyes and told me carefully, "There will be other babbies, Herli."
I nodded, and hugged him again. I was not sure I agreed with him, but it was time to let it pass. My family wanted to be happy again without feeling as though they had done me an injury, and there was nothing that could be done, after all. I held onto my little treasures lovingly and smiled at Clopin and got up to make the dinner for my family.
But I was no better, really. The strain of appearing outwardly cheerful did damage to my insides. I did not fool Clopin that evening, and his smile quickly disappeared to be replaced with a long frown. When I was out of his arms I once again felt useless and unfeminine, unsuitable and ill placed. When dinner was finished and all was cleaned I forced Clopin out of the tent, telling him to go the Square and sit with the others. At least there he could laugh without feeling guilty.
The I put on my cloak and left the Court, slipping out through one of the back entrances, leading through the catacombs and coming up under a small bridge. It was late and the streets were silent and cold. And above it all the Moon hung, unblinking, emotionless and distant. The grey stones were illuminated silver, the small houses were a dim white. I could see my skin was washed like milk, painting me that smooth colour. It all seemed so cold and heartless. I felt that I hated it. I reached the little wall I had sat on over a week ago, and pulled myself up onto it, standing upon it and tiptoe, straining my arms out as far as I could, towards Her. She seemed so close, I could block her with one outstretched hand, but I could not reach her. My arm fell to my side.
"Where's my babby?" I whispered to Her. "Why did you trick me? What did my babby do to deserve dying before even living? What games do you play?"
She, of course, did not answer. She never answered unless you were flattering Her. I had no mind to do that. I took off my shoe and hurtled it at Her, as hard as I could, it flying off into the night sky and disappearing.
"DAMN YOU!" I screamed. "You take them all from me because I am different! I, who understand you better than most of them, and you treat me this way? Well, I won't be the same as them! You can take my babbies from me, but I will still be me!" I stopped and coughed.
"Herli" a soft voice said below me, and I leapt and almost fell from the wall, but my husband's arms steadied me, and I got my balance and turned to face him, looking down into his lovely gentle brown face."Bravi, Herli." He said, and stroked my hands. I coughed again and looked away. Already my vision was blurring.
"You should be with your friends." I said, to hide my tears. He shrugged.
"Hai, but I was struck with an idea. A brilliant idea."
I saw then beside him a large pail filled with water. I looked at him questioningly. He held his arms out to me.
"Come down here, kitten. I have a way to fulfil your desire."
I let him lift me down, and he made me kneel on the cold cobblestones with him, the pail of water between us. He clasped my hands and looked into my eyes, his face illuminated softly under Her
"Herli, you must have complete faith for me to be able to do this. Do you believe in me?" I nodded without hesitation. Over the years I had come to believe Clopin capable of doing anything he wanted to.
"There can not be the slightest doubt in your heart, the least flicker of disbelief. You must place your faith utterly in me and my abilities. Shut your eyes, love."
I did, and he carefully placed my hands in my lap, before tilting my head skywards. Then his hands left me, and it was just his voice which caressed me.
"I know how to capture the Moon, to pluck her from the sky. The Moon Cannot be Stolen? Clopin can steal Her, if only for a short while. I am doing it now - no - don't open your eyes, little one. Some faith must be blind, or there would be little faith in the world. You will open your eyes in a moment and She will not be in the sky. I will have Her for a few moments. You will be able to see Her in Her prison. Herli, open your eyes kitten."
I did and then I gasped in shock, for the sky was empty, Moon was not there! I felt my blood run cold and my heart almost stop, but before I could look about for Her, Clopin had grasped my face gently and was turning it downwards. There, in the pail between us, Moon was trapped! I could see her there, bobbling just below the surface. I gasped and reached out to touch her. It must be reflection! But Moon had not been in the sky a moment ago, I had seen! I lifted my head to look again, but Clopin caught it quickly and returned my attention to the pail.
"She is there, Herli. Yours for a few moments. That is all I can manage."
"What is this magic?" I asked him softly, my finger skimming the surface of the water.
He smiled at me. "Clopinomagik. You see what I would do for you? I will give you another babby, forget about this Moon who can be captured in a pail of water. Herli, she is a great power as the Mother of Womankind, but she is not a part of our lives. And Herli, I have considered I confess - perhaps she is only a light in the sky? She only represents the workings of your body, your light and dark sides, your growth, your rhythms. She does not dictate them. When a man finds his other half, and knows he will never love another, she becomes his Moon. You are not the Moon's daughter, Herli, you are the Moon." He reached out his hand to clasp mine." No matter what happens, you will always be you. You're a woman, and a good mother and wife, and a lover." his eyes seemed darker still as I looked into them now. "And my dearest friend. No matter what happens. This is what I think is truly meant when they say the Moon cannot be stolen."
I looked into his wonderful dark eyes for a long moment, those eyes simultaneously filled with warmth and humour, my lips slightly parted, and my eyes brimming. Then all of a sudden I laughed in delight, and splashed the water in the pail, the moon ripping and tearing easily in a dozen places. He was right about her, right about it all. I mourned still for my little babby, of course, but Clopin spoke the truth. In my grief I had twisted everything around, and had looked to the wrong source for comfort and solace. Only he who understood me, only he who was my other half, and my guide, and who made me a woman in this world could bring me that, and he had. No matter I was a brat, and an independent, and a ferocious little devil-child to all abouts, in the light of his sun I was a woman, I was everything I could be, I was Lune. And I didn't need to be anything else.
I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him again and again, loving him for working this magic though I did not know how he had done it. He smiled back at me, and it felt good to be able to laugh again with ease. He fished a little wooden cup from his pockets and filled it with water from the pail, handing it to me.
"Don't let the moon swallow you, Herli. You swallow the moon."
I drank the cup of water, and laughed, it was so cold and so sweet, like liquid silver. He helped me to my feet, and together we knocked over the pail, the water running over the cobblestones, setting moon free.
He let me look up at the sky again, and she was there, in her old place, and she did not seem so distant now. I noticed a black smudge where I had not noticed one before, and thought wonderingly of my lost shoe. I looked to Clopin, who shrugged with his old mischievous grin.
"She may be a light in the sky, but she's a powerful one."
I didn't care. I took off my other shoe and held out my hand to my husband, who took it and kissed it with a smile. Hand in hand we turned to walk back to our home, and I did not once look behind me.