Never Pure and Simple, Truth Is.
A/N: I am so excited for this chapter. Sorry it took so long, I've been agonizing over getting it just perfect. I actually wrote most of this last year and I've been waiting to implement it for ages. This is the Baroness truly coming into herself for the first time. Enjoy!
Also, special thanks to SiValesBeneEst for her generous research into the hierarchy of the nobility. Couldn't have got through all that German by myself! Thanks!
It was not long before the urgent message from the Archbishop of Paris reached the Vatican. The rumors had been true: Claude Frollo, a secular minister, indeed showed all the signs of planning his own inquisition and the discovery of the book of Inquisitorial Methods and Standards was the ultimate confirmation. Upon hearing the news, Pope Innocent VIII, quite put out, issued that all support given to Paris in his name, financial and otherwise, was to halt immediately. This was a bittersweet time for the gypsies: the threat of an inquisition had gone, but the Court of Miracles' whereabouts had been uncovered and the gypsies scattered in an effort to find safe haven. Unfortunately, no impromptu hideaway was as good or effective as their old one, and many found themselves again in the clutches of the law as the current ministers, while perhaps not as extreme as their former leader had been, still believed in what Frollo coined "the gypsy menace." As for Judge Frollo, it was reported by Baron von Bergen to his superiors that he had met his death by some violent means in the tumult several nights previous.
One Judge Gruyere, trying to make a name for himself and likely vying for leadership made it known that it was under his orders that guards had captured who they thought to be the very gypsy king himself: Clopin Trouillefou. (Any of those familiar with his capture in the Court of Miracles, however, knew this to be outright propaganda meant to favor the aspiring Judge.) Desiring to break the gypsy network at its strongest point, Gruyere announced that once found guilty, Clopin would be publicly made an example of. Of course, that could have meant anything from burning or hanging to an assortment of any number of ghastly tortures. The Paris tribe of gypsies made a hasty attempt at rescue, but because they were scattered and divided, the plan was ill-executed, as Emilian was now quickly realizing. Signaling retreat, he and those that were left of his companions fled the Palaise. Escaping the pursuing guards, he pushed hot breath into the cold air in front of him, his chest splitting with cold and failure. He soon found the correct cellar door and made a tapping rhythm on its decaying wood. It opened for him and he slipped inside.
"Emilian! What happened?" Esmeralda asked urgently as other gypsies crowded in to hear.
He threw off his shabby cloak in rage and despair. "We tried. We did everything we could, but there was no way to get him out."
"There must be some way! Emilian, I can't have his blood on my hands-" she was nearing hysterics.
He grasped her tightly by the wrists. "This is not your fault."
"This is all my fault! If I'd had the sense not to provoke Frollo that day-"
"This would all have happened anyway! Esme, listen: Clopin knows that the ministers are the devils here, not you. His blood is on the their hands."
There was silence for a moment. Tears streamed down Esmeralda's face. Finally she looked back into Emilian's face. "Is there no hope for him, then?"
Emilian averted his gaze and clenched his jaw. "None that I can see."
In the courtroom of the Palaise de Justice, the King of the Truands was caged and guarded as he stood trial for an assortment of charges both true and trumped up. It really didn't matter: they would find him guilty regardless. But he would go down making it as difficult as possible and he'd already nearly spent his wit coming up with the most scathing and humiliating remarks and hurling them jovially at the assembly. Suddenly, the large doors of the courtroom boomed as someone made their entrance. Judge Gruyere stood at the disruption. "What is this? By what authority are you here?"
Clopin was astounded to see the Baroness, his Baroness, heading straight to the front bench at which the lawyers sat, a servant placing some large, somber books on the long table there with a thud.
"I demand to know, Madame, under what pretense are you present here?"
"It is no pretense that I am mistress of my husband's barony and I have a rightful place in this court."
There was murmuring amongst the group of lawyers and other judges, nearly all corrupt politicians she knew had not run a trial in pursuit of truth even once in their lives. "Even so, you are a Lady and as such this is no proper thing for one so delicate to -"
She interrupted forcefully but kept a business-like tone. "I am my husband's representative in this affair, as he is away in Rome on business. If you care for his support and good opinion, it would be wise to oblige him. My husband is a practical and orderly man and he did not marry me for my girlish charms, Monsieur. Remember I am not some silly French ingénue; I am a German." Her gaze gave every impression that he was out of his depth.
One of the Judges addressed her meekly, "Madame Ingrid von Bergen, as Baroness of -"
"Speak up, man, I know my titles."
Clopin's face expressed a stunned silence. Ingrid von Bergen. His Baroness was… Ingrid von Bergen! He fumed and churned at the very distinct possibility that he'd been duped; fooled into caring for and even trusting this woman he'd taken to bed with him on so many occasions: wife of one of his most hated enemies. And now she stood to do…what? Would she now take all she knew and use it to throw him to the wolves? Could she really have acted out all that rebellion, all that passion and discontent? There lay the glimmer of the other possibility. He had never sensed pretense or deceit from her behavior. What if he had seen the notorious woman for who she really was? It was either that…or he had been caught in a deadly snare; tricked yet again by a pretty face.
Gruyere continued his debate with her. "With respect, Madame…you nor your barony has a place in this court any longer."
"That remains to be seen."
"You may be unaware, Madame, that his patronage is by Papal order no longer allowed."
"His holiness the Pope and Maximilian II are placing great consideration on the idea of keeping my husband's role here; perhaps not in a position of patronage, but certainly to keep an eye on the Pope's interests in Paris...as well as her government." She eyed them pointedly.
"Though I would never doubt the authority of His Holiness, a Baron is not high enough in office to carry such authority."
"Then you will be assured to know that, as the Duke of Württemberg has produced no heir, it will be the Emperor's desire to style my husband with that duchy. As Duchess von Württemberg, which I will very soon be, I dare say I will hold enough authority to satisfy. It would be an unwise thing to start this new sort of friendship off on the wrong note, nicht wahr?*" Her eyes dared him to debate her further.
The courtroom grew quiet with a new tension. Some of the ministers exchanged looks.
Well, that's settled. Her tone became softer and more refined, but her iciness was palpable. "Now, under the law I am to be treated just as if I were the Baron himself. Do not think that if I am treated less he will not hear of it, as will his Holiness the Pope."
There were a few beats of quiet as the ministers comprehended the delicacy of their position. "Our apologies, Madame," minister continued, his tone rather more complying and gentile. "Of course you are very welcome to these hearings. We will do you every honor which we would your husband."
"I thank you." Her iciness was not placated. "Now allow me to do some honor by you," she addressed the assembly, "that is, to save your honor in this matter, for the trial you are about to hold is one that will make you all look like fools; especially in the eyes of those you mean to terrorize: the gypsies." She stood again and walked over to the cage and looked at Clopin dispassionately. "You are trying the wrong man."
There were murmurs at this statement, and Clopin felt a sudden surge of anticipation, though his gaze remained suspicious and hard.
She continued quickly. "I know that in matters of order and the maintenance of the authority of the state, this is a trifling thing. An example made is an example made; however, you have made claims about the impact this man's death will have on the gypsy networks. In this, sadly, you will be shown very wrong."
Some Judges were not taking this well and became outraged at her boldness. "With respect, Madame…by what source and by what proof can you make this claim? What makes you believe that you above all of us can know the truth of this matter?" Other judges called out their agreement in his opinion and his outrage. It was bad enough they were being called fools let alone by a woman, whatever her status.
She never flinched. "Under orders from his highness Frederick III, my husband conducted research into the matter of the society of the gypsies, if one may call it that. From paid spies we were able to garner information regarding their hierarchy. As to the matter of Clopin Trouillefou, supposedly the gypsy leader, we have found…that there is no such man."
The floor instantly burst into commentary and argument. The Judge pounded his gavel. "Silence! I will hear this explanation, Madame, and you had better give a grand one."
She met his gaze disinterestedly at his threat. "I hope for your sake that you meant nothing by that, Monsieur Judge. Granted all that the name of von Bergen has given Paris, it would be highly foolish to doubt that we have Paris' best interests at heart."
The Judge was still suspicious and angered, but he backed off slightly. "I merely meant that such an explanation, to hold water, would have to be grand indeed to account for its claim, Madame."
The Baroness explained. "You are all too aware of the trickster ways of the gypsies in dealing with outsiders. They may be heathens, but they are not stupid. Our hired informants recalled to us that, on separate occasions where Clopin Trouillefou was asked for, more than five different men were said to be this so-called gypsy king. Initially, we believed this a tactic to protect the identity of their leader; however we soon discovered that Clopin Trouillefou is a completely fictional identity and the true leader of the Parisian gypsies has never been named; perhaps the greatest gypsy trick ever played on our authority."
There was more commotion on the floor in reaction to this information. Banging his gavel in frustration, Gruyere shouted for silence. "Madame, if this is true, then why have you not condescended to share this information with the Parisian state?" He was in rage.
"Because, Monsieur Judge, to be perfectly frank, your Judge Claude Frollo carried out state affairs like a man touched in his upper works: burning down half of Paris, besotted with a gypsy woman, illegally claiming Papal authority. Our operation was delicate and we could not afford his blind aggression in this matter. Irrationals cannot be afforded where order must be enforced. I can be assured, I trust, that you will be a more controlled and sensible man in such dealings."
She had placated him somewhat. "You have my assurances, Lady, that I will have a steadier hand than my predecessor."
"Now, as to the matter of this particular gypsy, I am afraid we must let him go."
More outrage. Gruyere glared, "And what of your 'order'? After your preaching you would have us let this charlatan go?"
"Indeed. He falls into the category of the vagrant populace and has no citizenry, I know," she said, leafing through one of the books. "But according to the Laws Regarding Vagrants and Foreigners he is allowed temporary asylum so long as he remains in respectable employ."
The floor laughed at this. "Respectable-? Madame, with all due respect, you must think us simpletons indeed. Gypsies only ever employ each other! Whoever may have said he is employed with them is clearly a gypsy supporter, no doubt a criminal himself!"
"Indeed? You say I am a criminal? Or even more absurdly, a gyspy?"
There was silence.
"I am his employer, Monsieur. He was my personal spy. Thanks to you, I shall have to find a new use for him."
"Madame…what need have you with a spy?"
"A woman of my connections is not invincible, Gruyere. Even I must protect my interests. As to what those may be, that is a private, not legal affair. Now, have I left anything un-discussed?" She looked down her nose at the assembly, who remained quiet. "I should say not." She concluded.
Judge Gruyere glared at her as she looked at him expectantly. There were a few very palpable moments of dead silence. Reluctantly and with ire in his voice, he declared "on this day, February the 1st in the year of our Lord 1482, the prisoner is found innocent and will be set about his business."
Clopin stared in astonishment from the cage as guards came to let him out.
"And since you prematurely decided to torture him, I believe he is to be offered a small sum for his wrongful detainment according to the laws of-"
"Yes, Madame Baroness, thank you." He was clearly sick of her. "This trial is adjourned."
Ingrid von Bergen, having sent her servant ahead, now walked alone on the streets of Paris. Though her head rang with the memory of what happened on the other occasions she'd taken to the road alone, she wished to brood alone on what she had done. Her heart had pounded in her chest the entire time, but apparently they had not seen it. Now, able to be something other than a face of stone, her adrenaline poured through her, slowly relenting the further she walked. She thought she should have felt her victory, but she only felt blank. She had saved Clopin from torment, but she had seen his face when her name was uttered. As much as she had in fact stood by him in his time of need, betrayal was written deep in his features in that moment. Likely, she would never see him again. Suddenly, someone grabbed her arm and pulled her into an alleyway. She screamed and fought, but a hand covered her mouth and struggled against her thrashing arms.
"For God's sake, cherie, for all your wisdom, you don't know that you should watch for criminals in the streets?" The voice was familiar and as she opened her eyes, she exhaled, somewhat put out. "Clopin!" she panted from her momentary adrenaline. "You gave me a fright. After what I've done today, a kidnap and questioning would not be entirely unexpected."
He merely stared hard at her. "Was it true?"
She met his gaze soberly, a tinge of guilt in her eye. "I am Ingrid von Bergen."
"And the spies in the Court of Miracles?"
"Johann did place spies, but it was a year ago and I believe you caught them."
"Ah yes, those three," he recalled, crossing his arms. "Well you should tell darling Johann that he should pay for more intelligent spies. We knew them from the first."
"And of course, there is a gypsy king named Clopin Trouillefou."
His iciness melted as he cracked a smirk. "And yet you convinced them that there wasn't." He paused. "You were very clever."
She shook her head and smiled modestly at what she felt was a glimmer of admiration in his voice. "I can't believe I made them believe me."
"I mean it; you could easily be as good a charlatan as any of us."
"I thought 'a gadje is a gadje.'"
"That's still true, but gadjes don't usually risk themselves saving a gypsy, especially with the name like yours attached to them."
"I wasn't going to stand by when I had the power to act." There was something in her eyes.
"Madame…Ingrid von Bergen," he laughed as he said her name "…I think you are very much in danger."
She looked serious. "Of what?"
"Of being very much in love with me," he teased, caressing her shoulder.
Her pride kicked in and she pushed his hand away. "How dare you make such a presumption!" she laughed. "A woman like me in love with a scoundrel like you? The idea is not to be borne!"
He laughed heartily at her outrage, knowing she only half meant it. "Isn't it?" he asked, changing the tone and pressing his body against her.
"Of course it is…" she whispered, feeling his closeness very keenly. Wrapping her arms around him, he suddenly winced and she felt something damp and sticky on his back. When she pulled her hands back, there was blood on them. For a moment she was stunned, but then looked at him sympathetically. "They whipped you."
He shrugged. "They did, and worse, too. But burning to death; that is something I was not prepared to handle. You don't get any practice, you see. It's a one-time performance."
Her face told him she didn't understand how he could make so light of it.
He drew in close. "Would you like to nurse me back to health, Ingrid?" he whispered, a smile on his mouth.
"You don't want me to nurse you," she laughed softly before her mouth met his.
A/N: More to come! Stay tuned!
*nicht wahr? – not true?/Is it not so?