1 I would like to state here that for the last year or so, I have been doing fairly extensive research on Gypsies for another project that I am working on. I wrote this story partly because, I felt that there were issues that the comics have not addressed about Dick Grayson being a Gypsy. I am trying to address them as I think they should be. While, as I have stated, I have done a lot of research, I am not trying to pass myself off as an expert on Gypsies. I have discovered that most of the information available on them is quite contradictory, so I apologize for any inconsistencies found within my story. I also apologize for the "rambliness" of the story, but I was having too much fun to shut up, so please indulge me.


3 Disclaimer: All characters depicted herein are owned by DC Comics and are being used without their knowledge or consent. This story was written expressly for entertainment purposes and not for profit.


5 *Author's note: I felt that I needed to give a definition for the title in order for it to make sense. A kumpania is a group of Gypsies who have banded together to form a community, usually for socio-economic reasons. These communities are generally very tightly knit, even though the families that make them up are often not related.



11:00, Christmas Eve in Gotham City. The flat, black sky emptied thick, fat flakes of snow onto the city, muffling the sounds of holiday cheer. Covered by a blanket of new snow, even the Projects, one of the most depressed parts of the city, looked clean and innocent. No one had bothered to rebuild here after the earthquake. There was no reason, this area hadn't seen its prime in decades.

A lone figure in somber black silently picked their way through the ankle-deep snow on the unshoveled sidewalks to stop in front of a high, rusty, but once elegant, wrought iron fence. The figure stood a moment gazing beyond the chained gate to the small church that sat within, the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin.

At one time the church had probably been described as quaint and picturesque. Now its stone walls were blackened with age and pollution, its ornate stained glass windows mostly broken, some were gone altogether and sheets of particle board covered the gaping holes. But despite the damage of the passage of time, this sad little church had somehow managed to survive the devastation of the earthquake and the chaos of the subsequent No Man's Land almost unscathed. Its one modest, but still elegant, tower stood, almost defiantly, thrusting itself toward heaven.

Perhaps it had survived the quake, while other larger, far more grand cathedrals had not, simply because it was so small. It did not have the weight to topple itself and there were no other buildings around to collapse on top of it. All of the other condemned buildings that had once stood around the church had been demolished and cleared away by the city prior to the quake. So the little church stood alone, abandoned and forgotten. It had survived the looters and the squatters of No Man's Land because they all knew from prior experience that there was nothing within worth their effort, not that the effort would have been much.

Obviously knowing just where to push, the figure bent back two of the rusted bars of the fence, just to the right of the gate. The bars made a soft squeaking sound that was quickly swallowed up by the insulating snow. Squeezing through the gap, then returning the bars to their original position, the figure started towards the church, boots scrunching softly in the snow.

Expertly picking the rusted lock on the door and stepping inside, Dick Grayson pulled a flashlight from the pocket of his wool and leather Gotham Knights jacket. Taking a moment to brush the snow from his shoulders and shake it out of his black hair, he stepped through the doorway of the foyer and into the chapel. Most of the wooden pews were gone (they had been scavenged by squatters for firewood), but a few remained.

As he moved through the small chapel, small furry shapes skittered away from the beam of his flashlight and he heard the faint flutter of bats above his head, an oddly comforting sound. The place had a musky, animal smell to it. The small creatures of the night had obviously been living here for some time.

The velvet-covered, padded kneeler that sat in front of the altar rail was moth-eaten and most of the padding was gone, so Dick pulled an old blanket from the backpack he had brought with him and laid it over the kneeler. He also produced several white votive candles that he sat around himself in a wide semicircle and lit them. The light from the candles would discourage the rats and other vermin from venturing too close. The last three candles, he lit and placed on the altar.

Resuming his place in front of the altar rail, he crossed himself slowly and precisely, just as his mother had taught him, and knelt on the blanket. Looking up at the altar, the faint light of the candles cast their weak glow onto the huge stained glass mural of the Virgin Mary that stood above the altar. She stood, in all her heavenly glory, her arms spread wide and her face shining with wisdom and love. The mural had somehow remained almost completely intact throughout the years. Although he could barely see it now in the dim light and it had been a few years since he had seen it last, Dick knew the mural well, its image was burned into his mind.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. He let the words of the prayer flow through his mind like a mantra. It was the only prayer he knew, the only one his mother had taught him. He had always thought that appropriate, as his mother's name was Mary. Whenever he said the prayer, he was never quite sure if he was speaking to the mother of Jesus or to his own mother. Perhaps it didn't really matter. He liked to believe that the beautiful, serene face above the altar resembled his mother, but in all honesty, he couldn't remember.

Gypsies were generally not overly religious, even those who belonged to a particular faith. They may, in fact, believe strongly in that faith, but they generally didn't bother much with the outward gestures, like going to church or even celebrating holidays. Gypsies generally didn't have time for holidays, they cut into work time.

John Grayson was like many Gypsies and had no true religious beliefs, just a confused mixture of half remembered Bible verses and firmly adhered-to traditions and superstitions. He had been baptized in the Catholic faith as a child, but that had been one of the few times he had ever been in a church. That was how he had been raised, that was how he intended to raise his own son.

But Mary Grayson was a devout Catholic. She was from a good Irish family from Boston and took her religion very seriously. She had insisted that their son have a religious education. In the end, John had relented and allowed Mary to take the boy to Mass and to teach him catechism, but only as long as this did not interfere with their practices or performances. So, for the first nine years of his life, Dick Grayson had been raised as Catholic.

Dick remembered that whenever their schedule allowed for it, his mother would take him to Sunday Mass, at whatever the nearest Catholic church was, in whatever town they happened to be in on that day. But she always made a special effort to take him to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It was their special time alone, since John would never come with them. Sometimes the churches would be huge cathedrals and other times they were no bigger that someone's house, but it was always special because it was their time together.

Although sometimes they were not always welcome. Dick remembered the night, some sixteen years ago that he and his mother had found this very church. Haly's Circus had been booked to play a Christmas Eve performance in Gotham City. Pop Haly rarely ever took Christmas engagements, the show usually shut down during the winter months, but this had been a special event, a big bash for charity, lots of homeless and disadvantaged children would be in the audience, so he had agreed.

The Flying Graysons were always one of the last acts of the show, so that left very little time for Mary and Dick to change out of costume, clean up and make it to a church in time for Midnight Mass. They had gone to the nearest church, a large, grand building in a well-to-do neighborhood. They had been in such a rush to get to the church that Dick had not noticed the stares of the people around them. He had not noticed at the time that he and his mother were very much out of place in their comparatively shabby clothes among those well dressed, beautiful people.

He did remember, vividly, the blush that had blossomed on his mother's cheeks as one of the priests had walked over and very gently asked them to leave. He remembered the sneer in the voice of the person who had whispered, "filthy Gypsies", as they were walking out. Glancing back at those people, he knew that not a few short hours earlier many of these same people had been gasping and applauding as he and his parents had performed their act. But even at eight years old, it was not Dick Grayson's first encounter with prejudice, nor would it be his last.

He and his mother had walked for a long time, not really paying attention to where they were going. Eventually they had ended up in the Projects, among the other social outcasts. They had found the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin and had gone inside, in the middle of the Mass. No one seemed to mind, or notice even. No one stared or made rude remarks. They were just two more faces in the crowded little chapel. It was the last time that Dick and his mother had attended Mass.

When they returned to their small, cramped train car at the circus grounds Mary had tearfully related the incident to her husband, who had listened tight-lipped and impassive. When she had finished, he walked to his son and took the boy firmly by the shoulders, saying, "You are Lovari, a true Romany. You come from a long line of circus performers. Your ancestors came to England from Hungary. You are a true Romany, you are better than these fool gadje, remember that."

"Then why do some of the other Romany here at the circus call me didakai, half-breed?" Dick asked, glancing apologetically up at his mother.

"Who calls you that?" his father asked quietly.

"Marko the sword swallower, for one."

John gave a derisive snort. "Marko is Manush, not a true Romany. Even with only half Romany blood, you are still more of a true Rom than he will ever be. And your mother has lived as a good Romany wife since the day we married, she is one of us now. Marko and the others are just jealous. They are jealous of your handsome face, your incredible natural talents, and they are jealous of your Lovari blood. Never, ever let them or anyone else, make you feel shame for what you are. You are better than them."

Two years later, when Dick had been sent to live with Bruce Wayne, he had been confused and even a little frightened. The huge mansion had seemed cold and uninviting, Alfred the butler, even more so. He had needed some time to himself, time to think, time to decide his next move. He would sneak out of the mansion at night and make his way to the city where he would search for the tiny chapel where he and his mother had spent their last Mass together. It took several nights before he finally found it, he had been very young the last time he had been there and it had been his first time in Gotham City.

He had been disappointed to find that the chapel was boarded up, a condemned notice stuck to the door. He had found a way inside anyway and spent most of the night there, kneeling in front of the altar, saying his one prayer, just as he was doing now. He had found the dilapidated little chapel comforting somehow. It was abandoned and alone just as he felt. He felt at peace there, if for no other reason than the small, tenuous connection it gave him to his mother's memory.

Even after he had taken up the mantle of Robin the Boy Wonder, he would return to the church whenever he needed time alone, away from Bruce and the manor. And he always made a special effort to stop by the chapel for at least a few minutes to light a candle and say a prayer for his mother on Christmas Eve. As he got older, his visits became less and less frequent, but it was always comforting to him to know that it was there for him.

It had always amazed him every time he stopped by after a long time away to see that it was still standing. Everything else had been torn down, why not this pathetic little chapel? It had been nearly fifteen years since he had first started coming here. You'd think someone would have done something about it. Or that the inevitable squatters or gangs would have taken it over, but that never seemed to happen. Whatever the reason was he was grateful for it. There were a precious few things in his life that he could truly rely on to remain unchanged, the undemanding, simple existence of this building was one of them.

Dick heaved a heavy sigh and looked up at the vague image of the Holy Virgin above him. Mother, I really screwed up this time, he said silently to the image. Barbara and I got into another fight. I thought it would be great if we spent Christmas Eve together. I got her a really nice present, I bought us some wine, I even made dinner for us. But when I got to her apartment, she got that cold, distant look in her eyes and said that she had a lot of research to do and was going to her father's early in the morning. I got mad, said some things that I really didn't mean ... I think I really blew it this time.

I don't understand what to do. When I don't do something for her, she gets mad at me. But then when I do something for her, she still gets mad. I can't win. She keeps saying that I'm going too fast, that she needs more time. But just how long am I going to have to wait? I think she's doing this subconsciously. I think she figures if she keeps putting me off and asking for more time, eventually I'll get bored and move on. Then she can justify feeling sorry for herself and closing herself off from any other future relationship. I don't know how much more of this I can take.

I tried to talk to Bruce, but that conversation hadn't ended any better. I just don't understand how he can be so emotionless all the time. Sometimes I wonder if he really is human... I suppose I should cut him some slack, I mean, he's never been in a normal relationship either, so how's he supposed to give me advice.

I don't know, maybe if I just had a sign that somebody, somewhere out there gave a damn about me I could face this with a better attitude... I know, I know, now I'm the one feeling sorry for myself. But I can't help remembering Gramma Lilya telling me that there were signs all around us that indicated what o Del (the God) had in mind for us. I just wish she were here now to read those signs for me.

"Gramma" Lilya was not really related to Dick at all, but to call an older woman "grandma" or "auntie" was an indication of endearment and respect in the Romany culture, the words conveyed matriarchal status. Lilya ran a fortune telling booth as part of the circus' sideshows. She read tarot cards, crystal balls, and tea leaves. But like most Romany, the only form of divination she personally took seriously was palmistry. The other things were just for show and just for the gadje.

Dick remembered the first time Lilya had read his palm. He had been six years old and the two of them had been standing outside of her tent. She had gazed intently at his small hand for several minutes before solemnly telling him that he would have an eventful life, that he would fly higher, longer, and better than any of his ancestors before him, but that he would receive little or no applause.

Then, he remembered, a strange thing had happened, a large bat had suddenly flown over their hands, casting its shadow across the boy's upturned palm. Seeing the shadow, the boy's eyes grew wide with fright. Nocturnal birds (with which Romany generally lumped bats) were considered omens of death.

"Don't fret, child," old Lilya had said, laying a big-knuckled hand on his cheek, "yes, I saw the shadow too, but looking at your palm, I also see much happiness. You will make a mark on this world, I promise you... Now you'd best go and get ready for your performance before your father comes looking for you."

Odd, Dick thought, smiling to himself, I had almost completely forgotten about that. Shaking his head in amazement at the memory, an errant breeze filtered into the chapel through one of the many broken windowpanes and caused the flames of the candles on the altar to flutter. The abrupt shift of the flames cast weird shadows on the walls of the small alcove and illuminated areas that had previously been in the dark.

As the flickering light flashed across something human shaped that had been hidden in the shadows at the corner of the alcove, Dick's entire body tensed. As the candle flames settled, and the shadows once again resumed their previous places, Dick slowly reached out and picked up his flashlight. Switching it on, he aimed the beam into the corner where he had seen the suspicious shape. Even expecting it, his heart still gave a small lurch as the beam illuminated a human face. It was only after a few breathless seconds that his mind realized that it was a statue. Breathing an audible sigh of relief, he moved closer to investigate. I don't remember there ever being a statue here before, he thought.

The statue appeared to be an image of the Virgin Mary, was about chest height and intricately carved from ebony. The glossy, black wood had made the statue virtually invisible sitting in the shadows beside the altar until the random breeze had set the candle flames trembling. Statues of the Holy Mother of Jesus were usually carved in some kind of white, or pale- colored, stone. Dick thought it very strange that this one was done in black wood. And yet there was something very familiar about that oddity.

It then occurred to him that this was not the Virgin Mary. It was a statue of Sara la Kali, also called Sara the Black Virgin, the patron saint of the Gypsies. According to the traditions, Sara was a pagan Gypsy, a leader of her tribe, who lived on the banks of the Rhone. One day she had a vision that told her that the three saints who had been present at the death of Jesus would come, and she must help them. She later saw them arrive in a boat, but the sea was rough and the boat was floundering. Sara threw her dress onto the waves, and using it as a raft, she floated to the saints and helped them to shore. The saints, the three Marys, Mary Salome, Mary Jacobe and Mary Magdalene, baptised Sara and remained to preach the Gospel to the gadje and the Rom.

Every year on May 24th and 25th, many Catholic Romany made a pilgrimage to this village, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in France. One year when Dick was very small, Haly's Circus was touring through France at about this time. The Graysons (including John) had made the trip to the church of the saints. Dick was too young to retain much about the trip, but he did remember the church crypt with its two altars and the black-painted statue of Sara. He remembered the smell of dampness and crowded humanity. And he remembered the way the Romany women would reverently stroke the statue with their hands and sometimes with pieces of clothing.

Dick couldn't help but wonder what an image of a little known Gypsy saint was doing in this condemned chapel in the middle of Gotham City. How did it get here? He had been in the chapel hundreds of times, both in daylight and at night, and he had never seen the statue before now. I couldn't possibly have missed this all those years, could I?

Dick felt a sort of numb ache in his chest. All of these memories of his former life, although happy ones, were still painful, and not just because of the loss of his parents. When he lost his parents, he also lost his people, his culture, and to some extent his identity. By being placed in the care of a gadjo, to be raised as a gadjo, he had become mahrime, unclean, taboo, and was now effectively barred from the Romany community. If another Romany were to come into any kind of physical contact with him, even if accidental or indirect, they would risk becoming mahrime themselves.

Since he had been a child and had had little or no input in determining his own fate, he knew that he could petition the kris of a community to seek acceptance by that community. A kris is a council made up of elders of a community that is responsible for enforcing the Romany laws within that group. This council has the authority to mete out penance for any transgressions that occur within their community. Dick knew that with the degree of his sin, his penance would be a long and time-consuming process. And he knew it would require him to isolate himself from all of his gadje associates.

He remembered his mother telling him about all the things she, as a gadji, had had to put up with in order to gain the acceptance of her husband's community. She had been required to sever all of her ties with her family and friends back in Boston and to immerse herself completely in her adopted community. For Dick Grayson that was simply not an acceptable option. But knowing this intellectually, did not in any way dull the pain of loss he felt in his heart. He remembered very fondly his time spent within the Romany community in Haly's Circus and his father's community in England. Although Haly's Circus had an amazingly relaxed and tolerant atmosphere, considering the diverse ethnic backgrounds of its employees, the Romany community held themselves somewhat apart from the gadje. It hurt Dick deeply to know that he would never be able to be a part of something like that again.

A sudden impression of movement, as well as a kind of preternatural tingling up his spine, interrupted his thoughts and warned him that he was no longer alone. Dick calmly turned to face the vague outline of a tall, powerfully built man dressed in black who stepped into the dim light provided by the circle of candles.

"Am I interrupting?" the man asked in a deeply resonant voice that oddly did not seem to disturb the peaceful stillness.

"How did you know that I was here?"

The man did not answer, just cocked one eyebrow.

"Right, sorry, stupid question. You're the Batman. I guess the better question would be how long have you know about this place?"

"Since you first started coming here. Did you really think you could sneak out of Wayne Manor without me or Alfred knowing about it?"

Dick smiled and shook his head slightly. "No, I guess not, but why didn't you ever say something?"

"Well, you never said anything about it, so I assumed that it was none of my business. I never spied on you while you were here. I just followed to make sure you that were all right. I assumed that you just needed your own space. I can relate to that."

"Then why are you here now?"

Batman didn't answer, instead he gestured to the wooden statue that Dick had been examining.

"Do you like her?"

"Yeah, she's beautiful, but where did she come from?"

"Bruce Wayne had it made the last time he was in France on business," Batman answered.

"Had it made?"

"Well, I couldn't find anything like it, so I commissioned this one."

"But...why? And how do you even know who Sara Kali is?"

"While I was in France, a few years ago, I happened to be staying in a lovely little village, called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and it happened to be May 24th. I witnessed this incredible event. Thousands of Romany came flooding into the village and proceeded to the town's church where they held an all night vigil. In the morning they all paraded down to the shores of the Rhone and many of them waded into the water. I must admit that I didn't really understand what was going on, but it was still quite moving. I did some research and discovered the name and story of the saint that they were honoring. When I learned that this Sara Kali was a Romany saint, it made me think of you.

"Have you ever been to see the Black Sara at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer?"

"Yes, I went once with my parents when I was a child. It was one of the few religious events that my father ever attended with us. But I still don't understand why you had the statue made."

At this question, Batman cleared his throat and glanced down, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

"Well ... it's just that when I took you in, I was aware of your Romany background, of course, but ... it seems that I didn't know as much about the Romany as I thought I did. It wasn't until after my trip to France that I discovered that a Romany who lives among the gadje is considered unclean. Dick, it never occurred to me that my actions would have that kind of consequence... I'm sorry. It was never my intention to separate you from your people. In fact, I had always wondered why you never seemed interested in making contact with them. Again ... I'm sorry."

"Bruce, it wasn't your fault. You didn't take me away from my people, the State of New York did. If you hadn't taken me in, some other gadje would have and I would still be in the same situation. And if I was going to spend my life isolated from my real family, yours would be the next one I would choose. I wouldn't trade you and Alfred and Tim for anything in the world. And if I had truly wanted to go back to my people, I could have."

Batman nodded solemnly. "Thank you," he said softly. "But there is something that has always bothered me. Your father was from England, right?"

Dick nodded.

"And he had family there, right?"


"I sent private detectives to England to find your family. But the P.I.'s never found anyone. Surely some of them are still around. Why didn't any of them step forward to try to claim you?"

"They probably didn't know that my parents were dead yet. Romany don't tend to pay much attention to current events. And they don't tend to be very forthcoming or truthful when talking to strange gadje in suits or uniforms, and Grayson is a commonly used name among English Gypsies. Most likely, they didn't learn that my parents were dead until Haly's Circus passed through London again. By that time, you had probably assumed custody of me and it was too late. No, I'm not surprised at all that your P.I.s couldn't find anyone... But, you still haven't explained what all this has to do with the statue."

"Haven't you ever wondered why all of the other condemned building in this neighborhood have all been torn down, while this one still stands? Or why no gangs or squatters have ever moved in?"

Knowing now that Batman had known about the church all along, this little mystery was beginning to make sense. Dick was amazed that the answer had never occurred to him before this.

"You bought it didn't you?" he asked, smiling.

Batman smiled. "Well, I guess I figured that if Bruce Wayne's money couldn't buy you happiness, at least it could buy you peace of mind and Batman could use his influence to keep the place tenant-free... I know how much that stained glass mural of the Madonna means to you. After the quake, it was nearly destroyed. I hired an artist to repair the damage, but not completely, just enough to make it look like it had before the quake... I think she thought I was insane. She couldn't understand why I didn't want to restore it fully, and the other windows as well. But I didn't want you to know that there had ever been any damage. I wanted you to think that this chapel would always remain the same, no matter what happened."

Dick didn't know what to say. Every time he thought he could write his mentor off as a thoroughly cold and heartless monster, he seemed to see right into his former ward's heart and do exactly the right thing to make up for his earlier errors. Perhaps the two of them were more alike than either realized. Dick turned to glance up at the glass mural. He couldn't imagine the amount of trouble it would have been to try to match the faded colors of the original glass, and make the new glass look aged, and make the repairs look natural. It must have cost Bruce a fortune.

"You did all this for me?" Dick asked.

"Of course," Batman answered, puzzled by the question.

"But if you went to all that trouble just so that I wouldn't know, why are you telling me now?"

"Well, that goes back to her," Batman said, gesturing to the statue. "You see, when I first had her made I had intended to put her in here for your enjoyment alone. Somehow I just knew that this chapel needed her, that you needed her..."

"But..." Dick prompted.

"But I've since discovered that there are several groups of Romany living in the tenements in this neighborhood, illegally. I have already purchased most of those buildings and am planning on renovating them and bringing them up to code so those people can continue to live there legally and affordably. I thought that as a goodwill gesture to the Romany, I would also restore this chapel and have it rededicated to Sara the Black Virgin. I've already found a priest who is willing to transfer here from France and begin the work of building a congregation. I believe Father Matthew is of Romany descent himself..."

Seeing the wide-eyed, stunned look on his foster son's face, Batman's voice trailed off, suddenly unsure.

"Oh God, Dick, I'm sorry," he said softly. "This chapel is yours, I shouldn't have made any plans without speaking to you first. That was thoughtless of me..."

"No, Bruce, it's all right," Dick said smiling. "I think it's a wonderful idea...You've found a way for me to reach out to my people and share something with them that I thought I would never be able to again. Thank you. This is the most wonderful Christmas present you could have given me."

As Batman smiled awkwardly and glanced down at his feet, Dick realized that, for probably the first time in his life, he was seeing his foster father flustered. And perhaps it was just the warm glow of the dim candles, but he could swear that Bruce was actually blushing.

"Well, I'm certainly glad that you're pleased with the plan," Batman said at last. "So, would like to join us at the manor? I know Alfred has been cooking all day and Tim said he was going to stop by tonight. Barbara called, looking for you. When I told her that I was going to get you, she said she would drop by also and I think she's going to bring Batgirl... So, what do you say?"

"I'd love to, thank you. I mean, how could I turn down spending Christmas Eve with my family and my kumpania?"