“Thank you,” Christine said gratefully as she accepted the bowl of water and rags from the doctor’s daughter, who closed the door behind her.
She turned back to Erik, who was shifting restlessly, and sat on the edge of the bed, placing the bowl on a nearby chair. Not saying anything, she lifted his hand away from his face and laid it gently on the bed. The entire time the doctor had been attempting to treat Erik he had insisted on keeping his face covered, despite the doctor’s protests that he had seen it all before. It had made the doctor’s work difficult but Erik didn’t care, no one was going to see his face.
He had continued to refuse to reveal his face when the doctor had sent his daughter in to clean the blood that remained on Erik’s skin. The young girl had refused to be cowed by Erik, having worked in her father’s practise for as long as she could remember and being used to stubborn patients, and she simply cleaned around his hand. Once she had finished she had returned with fresh water for Christine, hoping that she would be able to convince the patient to cooperate.
But he allowed Christine to reveal his face, now even more hideous because it was covered in his blood. She had seen the very worst that he had to offer when he had killed Danior in front of her and she hadn’t run away. He was truly able to believe her now when she said that his face didn’t frighten her.
“You could have been nicer to the doctor and his daughter,” she scolded lightly as she wet the rag. “They were only trying to help you.”
“Hmm,” Erik grumbled. He stilled under Christine’s ministrations, having become used to her treatment from his injuries on the worksite.
She continued to work in silence, cleaning the blood away until she was satisfied that no trace of it remained and handed his mask to him.
“I can’t believe that your injuries weren’t worse,” she said quietly. “I was certain that something would have been broken.” Although Erik was covered in cuts and bruises were already starting to appear, the doctor had told them that there were no broken bones, but some of his ribs would be tender for the next few weeks.
“Danior knows how to hit to cause pain, but not any lasting damage. Or he did,” Erik explained. Except for when his shoulder had been dislocated when he had tried to escape as a child, Danior and his men had never broken Erik’s bones, although they had inflicted many deep cuts that had left scars.
“Never again,” she said quietly.
Erik watched her as she wrung out the rags and hung them over the back of the chair to dry. She put the bowl of now bloody water near the door of the bedroom and returned to the bed.
“We’ll still have to leave Paris,” she said after a moment.
“I know,” Erik agreed.
“I used to think that the clan would accept me back, if Danior wasn’t there. But now...I don’t think they ever could.”
“Nicu and Tamas?” Erik questioned, remembering that the two men had bolted the moment they had realised that he had killed Danior, no doubt returning to the safety of the clan.
“Partially. They will return to the camp and tell the clan everything. Everything,” Christine emphasised, taking Erik’s hand. “The clan...they won’t understand this. That I want this and it makes me happy. Even the people who love me the most, Vadoma, the twins, I’ll be tainted to them.” Sensing Erik’s anger, she added, “It’s what they’ve been taught, you can’t blame them.”
“I’m sorry,” Erik apologised. He had always feared that his touch would ruin her.
“Shush,” Christine stopped him, placing her finger against his lips. “Don’t ever apologise for loving me. But even if that weren’t an issue I wouldn’t go back because of you. You killed their leader Erik, no gypsy clan would ever forgive that. Most of them don’t realise what he was really like, they loved him. And they will want revenge.”
“They’re going to keep hunting me,” Erik realised.
“Maybe not with the same vigour as Danior, but yes, they will always be looking for you. I would never want to be a part of that. And I am not going to let you run without me,” she said firmly, pre-empting anything Erik was going to say.
“I think I’ve passed the point where I could ever let you go,” Erik said slowly.
“Good,” Christine said, leaning over to lightly touch her lips to his.
“Alison said that we can stay here a few days, until you’re able to travel,” she explained after she had straightened up.
“The doctor’s daughter,” Christine smiled. “She’s going to find some extra blankets for me...”
“Christine we can’t stay,” Erik interrupted.
“What? Erik you need to recover,” Christine stressed. “The doctor’s not going to let anyone in.”
“We can’t afford to wait, not again. That’s what got us here to begin with.” Like Christine, Erik had also realised that they should have left as soon as she had heard about the clan and not bothered waiting the day for his wages. They would have survived without them. “Besides if we wait we’ll miss the boat.”
“Right,” Christine said, rubbing her forehead.
“We’ll wait until daybreak, but then we have to go,” he decided. “You should get some sleep.”
“Alright. But I want to talk to the doctor before we leave so I know what to do to take care of you,” Christine agreed reluctantly, lying down beside Erik on the narrow bed to try and get some sleep before the sun rose.
Erik was already awake the next morning when Alison came to the door to deliver some food. Christine was still sleeping, balanced precariously on the edge of the bed and he shook her gently to wake her up. “Christine,” he whispered.
“Is it time to go?” she asked groggily.
“The daughter’s just left some breakfast but then we have to leave,” Erik explained, carefully sitting up and testing his injuries.
“But the doctor...” Christine quickly scrambled from the bed and rushed out the door to catch up with Alison. Erik could hear the murmur of their conversation as he slowly got out of bed.
“We can’t leave yet,” Christine announced as she flew back into the room.
“The doctor had to go see a patient very early this morning and he hasn’t return. Alison said that he should be back soon,” she explained.
“He could be hours!” Erik exclaimed. “We can’t afford to wait.”
“Erik, if something happens to you on the ship I don’t know what to do. And I doubt anyone else on the ship will know. We have to wait so I can talk to him,” Christine insisted.
“We’ll wait an hour,” Erik countered. “Then we’ll see.”
He slowly hobbled over to the window, wanting to check whether there was anyone suspicious in the vicinity, but he was quickly intercepted by Christine.
“Please lie down,” she asked, bringing a hand up to gentle rest on his chest. “Rest, whilst you still can.”
Christine had been telling Erik that he needed to rest for years. Every time the gypsies had injured him and she had brought water and rags to the black caravan she would tell him to rest and that it would help him recover sooner. But there was something about this time that made him stop and stare at her. She was looking up at him, looking so beautiful and perfect despite what she had endured in the past couple of days and she cared about him, loved him.
“Marry me,” he blurted out.
“Yes,” she replied without hesitation.
“No, wait, I should do this properly,” he muttered, more to himself that to Christine.
“Erik, you asked and I said yes. We don’t need anything else,” she said, the happiness coming off her in waves.
“But it wasn’t what I planned,” he said, his back turned to her as he dug through the bag that contained his clothes.
“You planned this?” Christine asked with a waiver in her voice.
Finding what he was looking for, Erik knelt before Christine, holding up a plain gold ring. “From the moment I realised that I was in love with you, I have wanted nothing more than for you to be my wife. Even when I believed that there was no chance that you could return my feelings I would imagine what it would be like. And when we arrived in Paris I thought that maybe, one day, I could be worthy of you.”
“Erik...” Christine murmured.
He twisted the ring between his fingers and reached for Christine’s hand, “I saw this on my first day working with Cloutier. I know that it’s not much...”
“No, it’s perfect,” Christine interrupted.
Erik gave her a small smile and continued, “When I saw it I didn’t think that this could really happen, but I still bought it, just in case. I know that I don’t have anything to offer you, but I love you Christine, more than I think any man could ever love a woman and I would do anything to make you happy. I want you by my side for the rest of our lives. Will you do me the honour of marrying me?”
“I’ve never wanted anything more than to be your wife,” Christine said, kneeling down in front of Erik and accepting the ring. “Of course I will marry you.”
As he slipped the ring onto her finger Erik kissed her, “I love you so much. I never thought that this could be real.”
“I love you too,” she replied, before looking down at the ring that was to symbolise their union.
There was a sharp knock at the door and they heard the voice of the doctor call out, “Can I come in?”
“Just a minute,” Christine called back, quickly getting to her feet.
It was slightly more difficult for Erik to get to his feet then it had been for him to kneel. But with help from Christine he managed to get to his feet and stagger over to the bed and sit down.
“Come in doctor,” Christine said, opening the door for the man.
They spend the next half an hour or so trying to explain to the doctor that they couldn’t afford to stay any longer and that they needed to leave Paris, without explaining exactly why they were being forced to leave the city. At first he had been adamant that Erik wasn’t to leave his care and that he certainly wasn’t able to travel. But he soon realised that the couple weren’t going to be convinced otherwise and that underneath Erik’s intimidating stare, the man was quite terrified for what could happen to the young woman if they stayed. So he explained to them, in explicit detail, what Erik’s injuries were and what could make them worse. He then told Christine what she needed to do to ensure that they healed properly and gave her a supply of clean bandages for their journey.
An hour after Erik proposed to Christine, they were at the train station where they had first arrived in Paris, preparing to leave the city.
“It feels like a lifetime has passed since we were last here,” Christine said as they sat and watched people bustling through the station. “So much has changed.”
“But some things have remained the same,” he replied, the frustration obvious in his voice. “We’re still running from them.”
“I know,” Christine sighed, rubbing her thumb across Erik’s fingers. “But this will be the end. Once we leave Europe we won’t need to run anymore.”
“I just want so much for you. But I’m too selfish to let you go.”
“Erik, all I ever want is you. And if you’re being selfish, than so I am, because I’m not willing to let you go either.”
“Perhaps.” A part of him was triumphant that she mirrored his feelings and was unwilling to release him from her life, but he didn’t say anything further.
“Besides, don’t they say America is the land of opportunity? Maybe our every fantasy will come true. You’ll be a sought after architect and I’ll sing on the most famous stages in the country.”
“All our dreams. I promise Christine, I will do whatever I have to to make them come true,” Erik vowed.
“Me too, Erik,” Christine promised in return. Glancing up at the large clock on the wall, she sighed. “It’s time to board.”
Although they were once again running from the clan, they were different as they boarded the train for the second time. All the good things that had happened since they arrived in Paris, Erik’s work, their relationship, had caused Erik’s confidence in himself as a man to grow and whilst the events of the night before had shaken him, and caused him to fear for Christine, they had not broken him. They boarded the carriage just like any other couple, with Christine’s hand looped around Erik’s elbow and Erik helping Christine climb up the stairs. Although Erik was wearing a hat and jacket, he was no longer using them to hide; instead he wore them just like a normal gentleman. His mask was only visible upon close inspection and although the ticket inspector stared for a second longer than would be considered polite, he didn’t make any comment and allowed Erik to board the train without any questions.
Despite this, Christine could feel Erik’s tension in the way that he tightly gripped her hand once they were sitting down.
“Erik, we’re safe,” she whispered.
“We won’t be safe until we’re on the boat, away from here,” he whispered back, eyes darting around the carriage.
“They won’t come on a train,” she tried to reassure him.
“They weren’t supposed to come to Paris either,” he retorted.
“Danior brought the clan to Paris,” Christine emphasised. “He was obsessed with you, with how much money you could bring in. Their focus will be on burying him, nothing else. By the time they come to think of you we will be long gone from here.”
“I hope you’re right,” he sighed.
“I am,” she said simply, resting her head on his shoulder.
With a jerk, the train started to pull away from the platform and Erik stared out the window and watched as the city turned into countryside. Still exhausted from the night before Christine fell asleep, trusting that Erik would watch over her as she slept.
The further they got away from Paris, the more relaxed Erik felt. He realised that Christine was right, the gypsies’ first priority would be to bury Danior. He didn’t doubt that they would want vengeance against him, but there was no one in the clan who was as tenacious as Danior. The clan always travelled together, rarely separating for more than a day or two, and whoever the next leader was would never be able to transport the entire clan half way across the world in pursuit of them.
They were leaving Paris and going to a place where there would be no gypsies chasing after them and no noblemen who wanted to marry Christine. Erik had no doubt that there would be men in America who would want Christine, but she was to be his wife. She was going to promise herself to him for the rest of their lives and nobody was ever going to be able to come between them. He gently rubbed his hand across the ring on her finger that symbolised their promise. A year ago, trapped in the caravan, he never would have imagined that this could possibly become a reality. He placed a light kiss in her hair and prayed that she would never have reason to regret tying herself to him for the rest of her life.
Hours later Christine was still sleeping, not even waking when the ticket inspector came through to announce that they would be arriving soon and the passengers around them became much more lively, talking and fetching their luggage.
“Christine, Christine,” he whispered. “You need to wake up my love.”
“Oh, are we there?” she yawned, looking out the window just as they pulled into the station. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sleep so long. How are you? Are your bandages alright?”
“My bandages are fine. Although I am a bit stiff from sitting in the one position for so long.”
Christine instantly jumped to her feet, motioning for Erik to get up and walk around whilst she pulled their bags down.
He didn’t have much of a chance to stretch his legs before the train arrived at the platform and they got caught up in the rush to get off.
They immediately asked for directions to the docks, not wanting to run any risk that they would miss their boat. After asking for assistance once more they were able to find the boat, an older sturdy vessel that looked like it had spent a fair amount of time being battered by the sea. The dock in front of it was lined with crates waiting to be loading and Christine watched the men scurrying back and forth for a moment before rushing to catch up with Erik, who was approaching the captain.
The captain told them that it would still be few hours before they were ready to depart as they were still loading the ship. He said that they were welcome to come aboard if they stayed out of the way of the crew but he recommended that they take advantage of being on solid land whilst they still could.
Although Erik was hesitant to do so, for fear that the boat would leave without them; they decided to stay on dry land. It had been a number of years since Christine had been to the sea and she was thrilled at the prospect of being able to walk along the beach.
They walked hand in hand across the sand, not saying a word. Christine remembered the last time she had been on the coast, playing in the waves with Mala and Milosh at Marseille. Erik had never really been to the coast, and whilst the smell was familiar from the season at Marseille, the sight was something entirely new and wonderful.
“Erik, look!” Christine suddenly gasped with delight.
He immediately looked where she was pointing, at a small church in the distance, just beyond the sand dunes.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she exclaimed, stopping to stare at it.
“Lovely,” Erik agreed. As he watched Christine staring at the church, inspiration struck him and wrapping his arms around her he said softly, “Marry me.”
“What?” Christine twisted her head around and asked, obviously puzzled.
“Marry me, right now. In that church,” he explained.
“Really? Right now?” she asked, her entire face lighting up at the prospect.
“Yes,” he said simply. “I don’t want to have to wait until we reach America to marry. We should start our new life as husband and wife.”
“Of course! Erik that sounds wonderful,” Christine exclaimed, flinging her arms around his neck.
Hand in hand they walked up the dunes towards the church. They startled the priest as they burst through the door, but he quickly regained his composure and asked, “Can I help you?”
“We want to get married,” Erik announced.
“Of course, I’m certain that we can arrange something,” the priest said, walking closer to the couple.
“Right now. We want to get married right now,” Christine added, smiling up at Erik.
“Right now?” the priest asked, wondering why this couple needed to be married so soon. “Are you certain?” he seemed to direct the question to Christine.
“Absolutely,” Erik said firmly, taking a step closer to the priest. He had seen the priest stare at his mask and knew that the priest was wondering whether he was forcing Christine into this.
“But what about your families?” he stammered.
Sensing that Erik was going to lose his patience with the priest, Christine stepped forward, “We have no family father. It is only the two of us and it would mean so much to us if you could marry us now.”
“Well I suppose if you have no family...Are you certain this is what you both want?” he said, giving them one last chance to change their minds.
“It is,” Erik said solemnly, his anger cooling as he realised that the priest was agreeing.
“More than anything,” Christine added.
“Alright then. Follow me,” the father said, leading them down the aisle to the front of the church.
Twenty minutes later they walked out of the church as husband and wife, their marriage certificate tucked safely in Erik’s coat pocket.
“Nobody will ever be able to break us apart now,” Christine said as they stood on the deck of the boat, Erik’s arms wrapped around her middle as they watched themselves drifting further away from the dock. “We belong to each other and can prove it to the world.”
“Hmm,” Erik agreed.
“We’ll never have to hide our relationship or each other’s existence again,” she continued, thinking that for the entire time she had known Erik there had always been so many secrets. The gypsies had never known of their relationship and then in Paris at the theatre no-one had known that Erik existed. She didn’t want to live like that anymore.
“Everyone will know that you are my wife,” Erik said, still slightly in awe of that fact.
“And you are my husband,” Christine added, nuzzling at his neck.
“Forever,” he promised as the drifted further away from France and closer to their new life.