Annie and Clopin sat together in his tent later that night. The air was tense—Clopin weighed it down with his mood. Annie sighed as she looked over to Clopin, who was seated cross legged on a pillow. He wasn't saying anything. He had been jolly up until Josephine's arrival several hours before. Annie hated to see him so miserable…and just when he was starting to forget the pain the girl had caused…She had avoided bringing up the topic before, but now she couldn't help herself.
Annie brushed back her auburn hair and gently cleared her throat.
"How do you feel about her return?"
Clopin shrugged his shoulders, looking lost. "It is confusing, ma Cherie."
Annie paused. His forehead was lined with worry, his eyes sad. She had seen Clopin and Josephine together before; Annie remembered meeting the girl for the first time, and she remembered how Clopin had fawned over Josephine. Since she had left, though, Annie figured that Clopin would forget about the problematic beauty- out of sight, out of mind.
But when Annie had made her move on him, many a time, she felt as though Clopin was thinking of Josephine whenever they spent time together. She looked over to him again, knowing that she would never compare to his precious Josephine.
"I care for you a great deal, Clopin," Annie said, breaking the silence, reaching over to take Clopin's hands in hers. "But it has been clear to all of us since you first met Josephine that your heart belongs to her. "
Clopin squeezed her hands, but remained silent. He hated to choose—choosing meant hurt feelings, no matter which path he chose. Before, he had rarely taken anyone's feelings into consideration- if he did, he certainly didn't consider it too much —but since his heart had been smashed into what felt like a thousand pieces, he treated others with more kindness and concern than ever before. How long it'd last was anyone's guess. For the time being, he was very considerate.
Josephine had broken his heart, true, and had caused such discord in the Court and Annie was so good to him…but… he had never felt that way about anyone else. Annie smiled at him sadly, knowing that she was making a great personal sacrifice. However, she was well aware that if she didn't, Clopin would either leave on his own accord or he would eventually become unfaithful out of spite. Annie didn't want that. Better to be a self sacrificing martyr than be played for an idiot, she thought.
"Go with Josephine. It's alright. I won't be upset." She paused, watching him closely. "It's where you belong."
He sighed heavily, and pulled Annie into a hug. Although he felt like grinning, he kept from doing so to spare her feelings.
"Merci, Annie. I will always keep you in my heart." He lingered for a moment with Annie clutched in his arms, then pulled back to give her one last kiss on the cheek.
With that, Clopin exited the tent and as soon as the curtain fell to block him from Annie's sight, he burst into a full on sprint to Esmeralda's place to retrieve Josephine.
Clopin burst through the front door of Esmeralda and Phoebus' home, startling the young couple with their child. Phoebus drew his sword quickly, preparing to defend his family from an intruder, but instead saw the Gypsy King's flamboyantly colored clothing and lowered his weapon.
"What are you doing here?" The blond captain questioned, noting Clopin's disheveled appearance.
"Josephine— where is she?"
Esmeralda rose to her feet, and set Zephyr down in his bassinet. She looked highly uneasy, as she didn't want to be the one to break the news to him.
Clopin nearly exploded from a combination of shock, anger, and frustration.
"Why did-never mind that- where did she go?"
Esmeralda hesitated. "She left because she believed you had eyes only for Annie."
Clopin smacked himself in the forehead with his gloved hand. How was it possible that he always acted such a fool when it came to Josephine? His black hair stuck out at awkward angles from underneath his hat, and his eyes flashed, clearly agitated.
"Tell me where she went!"
Esmeralda was torn; on one hand, she had known Clopin forever, and she desperately wanted to tell him, but Esmeralda knew Josephine's pain all too well. Before Phoebus, her first love had ultimately decided to turn in the emerald eyed beauty for a girl that belonged to higher society than that of the gypsies. She knew what it was like to be replaced, and therefore didn't know if she should side with her adopted brother, or if she should side with Josephine.
"Clopin," Esmeralda said, pleadingly. "She asked me not to say. I can tell you that Josephine escaped death—the viceroy wanted her back to kill her, and she desperately wants to be with you—"
Clopin's expression covered the ranges of several different emotions upon hearing the news- outraged, horrified, and frustrated.
"As your King, I order you to reveal where she's headed! You will say, or so help me God—"
Phoebus stepped forward, knowing that Esmeralda had promised Josephine she would not say anything, and therefore would not disclose where Josephine had gone. Time was wasting away. Since the young woman hadn't asked him to remain quiet, he felt he was perfectly free to divulge all the information he had overheard.
"Come, Clopin. Let's get some firewood."
Clopin threw him a disgusted look, not wanting to do such a menial chore at a time such as this, but the look on Phoebus' face told him the golden haired soldier knew more and would tell him. Still irked that Phoebus had the upper hand this time, Clopin stalked out of the wooden door, hating to be ordered around, hating that this was happening, hating everything at the present moment.
"Firewood? Really? You giant oaf—"
Phoebus shut the door behind him and grabbed Clopin's shoulders.
"Listen. I overheard Josephine telling Esmeralda that she was leaving for the Middle East just under an hour ago. She asked Esmeralda not to say anything to anyone, and she agreed," he started urgently. "If she is going to the Middle East, like she says, the only road out of Paris in that direction is the la route de soleil. If you want to catch her before nightfall you must leave now."
Clopin didn't even think to thank his brother in law before dashing away into the streets.
He continued running- it was not until he reached the very outskirts of the city that he spotted her. Her figure was outlined in the slowly setting sun, walking alone along the dirt road. She carried a satchel on her back, and long wavy hair outlined the shape of her head.
"Josephine!" Clopin yelled; although he had not yet regained all his breath, it was loud enough for her to hear. The figure turned her head back slightly, as if she acknowledged her name, before straightening around again and continuing on as if she hadn't heard.
Knowing that he had found her, Clopin sprinted ahead to Josephine. Her blue skirt swished as she walked, her waist cincher preventing her from inhaling as deeply as she would have liked. She maintained a steady speed, her feet carrying her from Paris.
Clopin darted in front of her, stopping Josephine in her path. She tried to step around him; he nimbly anticipated her each and every move, refusing to let her pass. Instantaneously, she became very agitated and went to shove him aside.
"Really, Clopin. Move."
The Gypsy King took hold of both of her shoulders and held onto her tightly.
"Josephine, please, come back."
Josephine gave a little bitter laugh, and then glared him under her thick eyelashes.
"Seems to me that you've another lady. I'll be on my way—" She tried to pry his hands from her shoulders "-if you'll just let go of me."
Clopin stared at her, hurt in his eyes. He had not anticipated this. He had thought that running after her was enough to make Josephine see that he wanted her, that no one else meant anything to him. He launched into an explanation, madly trying to make her understand.
"Ma amore, listen to me. I do not love Annie—she is a wonderful soul, but you are my future. You are the one—the only one- I want."
Clopin paused to try to read her emotions. As far as he could tell, she was not entirely convinced. He had to admit, he had felt the same way when he found out that she was promised to another man—hurt, betrayed, unwanted- but he could only imagine how much more it would hurt, how heartbreaking it would be, if she had entered the union entirely on her own. Like he had with Annie.
Josephine pressed her hands on his chest, trying to push him away. She was evidently wounded.
"Oh? Am I? Then why did you only stare when I came back? One surely does not 'get over' their love in less than two months, correct? Found a replacement rather quickly, didn't you?"
Clopin opened his mouth and shut it. He felt it wouldn't be productive to explain to her that he needed a distraction, needed someone to fill the empty space. Instead, he answered her with a question of his own.
"Why did you leave me to go to Saubure?"
Josephine's eyes flashed; she thought that she had explained this to him before.
"You know I had to live up to my duty! I couldn't shrink away—"
"That certainly didn't stop you from leaving the first time around, no?"
Josephine clenched her fists, knowing he had brought up a valid point. She didn't say anything, but instead seethed silently, hating the fact that Clopin had cleverly outmaneuvered her. She was not used to being the one that didn't have complete control over the situation. Josephine, acting rashly and rather childishly, tore away from Clopin's slackened grip on her shoulders. It had been a difficult road, she figured. It would be best to just let it go.
Clopin, moving incredibly quickly, blocked her from going anywhere.
"Josephine," he pleaded, realizing that if he wanted this to work, he shouldn't bombard her with accusatory questions and statements. "We're even, aren't we? You had your…Alfred, I had Annie. We each had someone, correct? So what does it matter, if there was—"
"Because, Clopin, yours was voluntary! You liked her! Mine wasn't—I never loved him, never wanted him, it was only out of my sense of duty did I—"
"I never loved her, Josephine. I did not lay with her, I never did anything with her. We are no longer together," Clopin stated, trying to reason with her. Clearly, Josephine took this much harder than he had expected. But, he realized, he had been feeling what Josephine was feeling now, after she had left him nearly two months ago—the only difference was he never endured the pain of actually seeing his loved one with someone else. He sighed.
"Do you really think that if I didn't care for you, I would run after you, not once, but twice? Do you think I would lay my heart on the ground before you? Do you think I would do that for someone who didn't mean the world to me?" Clopin pressed fervently. In the back on his mind, he was beginning to wonder if together, their stubbornness was too much.
Even though she drove him to the point of wanting to beat his head against a wall, something in him wouldn't allow for that. Instead, he dropped to his knee, getting dirt on his best set of tights, and held Josephine's hand in his own, with such a grip that she thought her bones might break. For being so slender and lean, he certainly had enough force to rival the strongest men of Paris.
"Do you think I would make a fool out of myself if I didn't love you?" Clopin asked gently, staring up at her grey eyes, holding her gaze intently.
A smile broke across Josephine's face; her eyes began to tear up as she saw in his eyes the truthfulness, the sincerity, the love that she had been looking for all along. Isn't this what she came all the way back to Paris for? She would have to be an idiot to throw it all away, she thought, as she observed the man kneeling before her.
"You're always making a fool out of yourself, Clopin," She chuckled, unable refrain from taking a jab at him, as she was still rather upset about Annie. But it was true, Clopin was the unofficial jester of the Court. "Every time I turn around it's something or another. But… I have to admit I love you too."
He smiled up at Josephine, ignoring her earlier slight. He plainly saw her trying to suppress happy tears and smiled that smile that always made her weak in the knees and her heart skip a beat.
"I suppose I am- but only when it comes to you, ma Cherie. If you'll be my lady, I'll be your fool," Clopin said, hardly daring to believe that she was turning around, but luckily, her genuine smile was one that Clopin could not misread.
Josephine nodded, looking at the man before her. Clopin still remained on one knee, grinning ear to ear, attempting to phrase his next words suitably.
"I don't think you understood me, mon seul amour."
"How could I not? Things are back to the way they were!"
"No, no, Josephine," Clopin said, his eyes bright. "I'm asking you to be my queen."
Josephine paused, and squeezed Clopin's hand, an unwavering smile still fixed on her face although her thoughts were racing wildly. He wanted to marry her? But…marriage was an enormous step, and Josephine was unsure… marriage meant children and commitment. Although she didn't particularly mind the latter, she knew Clopin wanted a family and didn't know if she could make that sacrifice, even for him.
To an unobservant eye, one would think that Josephine was simply shocked to hear his proposal, but Clopin knew her better than to think that.
"It was a long time coming, no? I'm afraid I don't have a ring at the moment," Clopin said, standing up. His knee was beginning to pain him; the compact dirt wasn't comfortable. He still clasped Josephine's hands in his own, looking down at her.
"Clopin, I-" Josephine started to say, but Clopin placed a finger to her lips to shush her. He continued.
"Just be my wife, Josephine. I promise I will not stifle you, I will not make you become a mother unless it is what you wish, and I certainly promise I will never kill you."
He smiled down at her; Josephine, even in all her happiness, looked rather uneasy.
"But, if it is children you desire, then I don't want to stand in your way…"
"I love you more than anything, ma Cherie. I only want to make you happy," he stated simply, pulling her close, arms around her waist. "Besides, there's always Zephyr for me to spoil."
Josephine smiled and threw her arms around Clopin's brightly colored shoulders, catching him in a passionate kiss. For the first time in his life, Clopin felt he was exactly where he should be—he had an overwhelming feeling of contentment, knowing that he was with a kindred soul. Josephine pulled away to beam at her intended husband, whose smile matched her own. In the back of her mind, she realized that she had misread the fallen tarot card—the two of cups. It had jumped from the deck, intended as upright, a message of attraction, relationships, marriage and love. Josephine shrugged it off as she ardently kissed him for a second time, not caring who saw their affection.
Clopin, in all his excitement, scooped Josephine up off the ground into his arms like a bride and spun around to face Paris, causing his bride-to-be to swat him on the side of the head in jest and clutch her arms around his neck in fright.
"Put me down!"
"I'm afraid I'm never letting you go again, Josephine," he said, half teasing, half serious. Josephine pushed his tattered purple hat up to give him a small peck on the lips.
"I'm not going anywhere."
At that instant, nothing else mattered- the struggles they had endured, the clashes they had had, the people who had tried their hardest to prevent this very moment- were far from their minds as they embraced each other. Behind them the sun set against the landscape, shining fiercely of orange and pink, bathing Josephine and Clopin in warm light.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed, alerted, and favorited this story. I truly appreciate it—it's very encouraging to get feedback!
I am considering a sequel to "The Silence's Spirits"; several scenes are already written, but had to be cut due to awkward placement. This would include a rather intimate scene between our favorite couple ;)
Allow me some time to outline and write. Please be patient as school will be extremely time consuming this semester (turns out a double major in physics and biochemistry requires a fair amount of extra effort outside of class.)
If all goes well, perhaps this will turn into a trilogy.
Hope you enjoyed!