Disclaimer: I don't own Tintin, or any other recognizable characters, though Miranda and Felix are all mine. Also, I'm not making any money from this endeavor, though I am loosing quite a bit of sleeping time. More info about this, and my other stories, can be found on my author's page......

The Adventures Of Tintin:

The Lungo Drom

Author's Note: The basic meaning of the phrase, Lungo Drom ( LUN-go DHROME, rhymes with "roam,") in the language of my people, the Romany, is "the long road." However, it can signify many other things, which I hope you can ponder for yourself, but to me it has always meant the journey of life that carries us from birth to death; sometimes we stumble, sometimes the way is smooth and easy, sometimes you get a pebble in your shoe....I have been asked for many years to tell this story, and I shall try to do it justice, though my writing is poor and syntax is often jumbled, especially when compared to the images in my memories. Some of the dates may not be entirely accurate, as I have never been one to live by a calendar, but I have done my best to put the pieces of my life together in a pleasing manner. Gypsies are known for their storytelling skills, are they not?

Chapter One-May 16

"Where's Miarka?"

I looked up as my sister, Ana, her face creased with worry, sat down next to me at the rear of the brightly painted wagon. "She was here a moment ago, where can she have gotten to? Mira, you must help me find her-with Rumen so ill, I cannot....." She trailed off, and swiped a tear from her eye. I put an arm around her shoulders and leaned my head to hers.

"You husband will get better, cheya, and we will find my troublesome niece, I know it."

After carefully setting down my guitar I rose to follow her around our ramshackle camp, peering behind every wagon, horse, and fellow Rom. None had seen my niece, and with every passing moment Ana wrung her hands and called her daughter's name again. "Miarka! Oh, Mira, she's just like you.....always running around with her head in the sky, never looking at the earth under her feet." We began to circle the perimeter of the camp, continuing the search. As if to prove Ana's point, I stumbled over an old car tire in my haste, and tumbled ungracefully to the ground.

"Hello lovely." Strong arms pulled me to my feet and I soon found myself face to face with Mike. Well, Michelangelo, really, though he detests his full name. The couisn of Ana's husband, Rumen, Miarka and her brother Tomas had taken to calling him "uncle." He was a handsome man, much taller than me with a proud nose and small mustache, with a smile that never failed to impress almost anyone, except me, for I knew it all too well. "Slow down, bori, or your feet will run away without you!"

"Mike! Thank you for your help," I turned away from him and pretended to inspect the tree line, carefully keeping my distance. Mike, however, didn't seem to notice.

"Anything for you, Mira. What's got Ana in such a fit? Don't tell me Miarka's...."

"Gone missing? Yes, well, you know how she is." A sudden motion in the woods caught my eye. Someone's coming, I thought, squinting through the trees. A glint of....copper? That's strange....

"She's pure Romany, just like you," Mike's voice brought my attention back to him. "Never wants to stop wandering." He reached for my hand, and I looked back at his face. He was handsome and strong, and I felt nothing when our eyes met, even though we'd known each other for many years now. But, out of habit, I smiled back, and ignored the part of my mind that scowled at his touch. Luckily for me, the moment was broken with a sudden shout, making us turn back to the camp.

"Strangers, Mike! Strangers are coming!"

With a grumble and sigh, Mike excused himself from me and hurried back to the circle of wagons. I however, remained where I stood, watching them approach through the woods, until I realized that they would see me as soon as they passed a particularly large oak; I darted behind a wild rosebush, and peered out beneath the green, quietly cursing as my blouse was ripped by a few thorns. Experience had taught me that simple observation was the wisest thing to do in this particular situation.

There were two of them, gadjos as Peter would say; one was older and dark-haired, with a sailor's hat and full beard that Mike probably envied. The other, the younger one, was fairer than his companion, with reddish-blond hair that was scuffed into an odd-looking cowlick. A small white terrier followed the pair, cautiously investigating the air around him, and in front of the whole party was....

"Miarka!"

"Mama!"

Ana ran forward to embrace her daughter, and I slipped out of the woods to join them. As I approached, I could hear the older man describing how they came across my mischievous niece, followed by one of Lucia's insistent offers of divination. Still clutching Miarka tightly, Ana beamed at me as I stepped into the small circle that had formed around the strangers. Lucia was in fine form, as usual; the older stranger was transfixed by her "predictions." The younger one, however, caught my eyes with his own, and gave me a friendly smile. His eyes were a clear and unwavering blue, a color I had never seen on a living creature, and, strange as it may sound, I felt something pass through my body like a gust of wind, swift and powerful. It was gone in the next moment though, as Lucia prattled on about jewelry or some such nonsense.

The older man seemed to agree with me, however. "That's enough mumbo-jumbo for one day." He turned to Ana and Miarka to bid the child goodbye. "Take care of that little cherub. But if you take my advice, you'll camp somewhere else, and not on this rubbish dump....In the first place, it's unhealthy...."

At this, Mike stepped forward to defend us, his voice sharp and swollen with anger. "D'you think we're here because we like it? D'you imagine we enjoy living surrounded by filth?"

I missed the stranger's reply as Peter pushed Mike gently aside. He was the voice of reason in the camp, the one who kept a cool head no matter what the situation, a drastic opposite from Lucia, his wife, and her posturing. "Listen, we arrived here yesterday with a sick man, and this was the only place where the police would let us camp." Several of the others muttered and shook their heads, the memory of yesterday's arrival still painfully clear. The stranger seemed moved as well, for he offered us a meadow nearby his house, to the pleasure and surprise of all present, including his companion.

As soon as they left, the camp was set into motion with preparations for leaving. Wagons were repacked, horses untethered, children gathered. Peter waved to me, and I met him and Mike next to the wagon he shared with Lucia. "Mike and I must get the others ready. Mira, I want you to ride ahead on Felix and see if you can't find this place the gadjo mentioned, to see if he was truthful with us. If so, wait and we will meet you there. If not, we will meet you on the road, and leave this village."

"Come back straightaway if it doesn't feel right; don't take any chances with them, Mira," Mike said, his eyes narrowed. "I don't care what you say, father; it is impossible to trust men like that."

Peter regarded his son thoughtfully. "Perhaps so. Perhaps not. Mira will soon find out for us."

***

Soon enough, Felix and I were cantering over the lush grasses around Marlinspike Hall, though I took great pains to remain far from the house proper. I caught a brief glimpse of it-large, marbled and dull-and even with my untrained eye I could see that it was built not only with stone and mortar, but with wealth and power. I was much more interested in the meadow the stranger had spoken of, and angled Felix away from the house towards a more wooded area. We slowed to a walk amidst the trees, where a sudden movement in a rhododendron bush caught my eye. "Hello?" I called out, not wanting to be accused of trespassing by an unknowing gardener. But the rhododendrons remained still, and I turned Felix towards a thinning of the tree line.

Soon enough, we approached a grassy field with a stream at its center. The grass was a rich, velvety color, the warm air was sweet with the scent of roses and cool water. Even Felix seemed to show his approval with a snort and a toss of his mane. Mike will be disappointed, I thought, guiding Felix across the meadow as we waited for the others. The gadjos proved to be trustworthy after all.

We did not wait long. Soon enough I could hear the familiar sounds of home and family: the creak of wooden wheels that constantly needed greasing, the clattering of pots and pans not fastened down securely, and the calling and chatter of almost everyone I had ever loved; in the lead was the young stranger, his white dog barely visible in the tall grass. Feeling a rush of recklessness, I nudged Felix into a swift trot, and approached the stranger, who watched us with interest. He smiled at me again as we reached the group, and gave a small wave.

"That's a beautiful horse," he remarked, lifting his palm for Felix to snuff. "I've never seen a paint with such vivid markings."

"This is Felix," I replied, glancing down at the little dog tentatively sniffing Felix's knee. I raised my eyes to the stranger, who met my gaze with his own.

"Who are you?" he said after a moment's hesitation. For the first time, he seemed almost as young as he looked-not that I can say much on that score, me being only 19-and I felt that same, strange sensation as we looked at each other. But I am Rom, full of stubborn pride, and my heritage got the better of me. I lifted my chin and straightened my spine.

"I am Miranda, or Mira, as my family calls me. Who are you, besides the friend of a wealthy man?"

I regretted the words as soon as they'd left my mouth-which is not unusual for me, mind you-but he did not seem to take offense, instead running his hand down Felix's piebald neck. "I'm Tintin, my dog is Snowy, and I chose my friends based on the strength of their spirit, not the size of their wallet." Though his words were calm, I could feel their edge. He lifted his hand, turned again to me. "It's nice to meet you, Miranda or Mira. I hope...."

"Mira, leave him alone! We need you to help with the children." Peter's voice startled me out of the moment, and I turned Felix and slipped into the commotion of the camp without looking back.