Andria Cardarelle

To Sleep With Evil


The gypsy stood in a moonlit circle of blossoms, dancing slowly to the rhythm of the drums. She was naked, concealed only by a curtain of wild black hair that tumbled just past the curve of her waist. On the ground outside the circle crouched the drummers-three withered, silver-haired sisters. Like the dancer, they wore no clothes, only a coating of white clay that had dried and cracked in the folds of their sagging skin.

If the women were aware of their watcher, they showed no sign. Roused from his slumber by the throbbing of Vistani drums, the man had followed the sound into the woods and pressed himself into the shadow of a tree, becoming one with its dark shape- a silent voyeur, held captive by sight of the dancer.

The Vistana moaned with each swirl of her hips, turning slowly in the moonlight. She was luminous. She extended one perfect arm aloft, tracing a serpentine path through the air, fingers unfolding like a fan. The hand dropped slowly, descending past her face and across her torso like a feather drifting to the ground. She began to chant in low, unintelligible tones.

The moon overhead was swollen with power. The dancer threw her head back and stretched both arms toward the silver orb, commanding its strength to flow into her.

The voyeur felt its power too.

He knew it was forbidden to watch-that no man, let alone a giorgio, a nongypsy, was meant to witness this sacred ritual This was a Vistani dance of the iunaset the night of a full moon.

Yet no one noticed him. No clucking females sought to drive him away with shaking fists. No tribal captain brandished a blade toward his throat. And no rauni, or tribal queen, threatened him with a curse or the evil eye.

To the voyeur, this proved that he had powers of his own. He squared his shoulders and stood straighter in the shadows, Soon, he mused, he would be nearly as potent as the god the dancer hoped to summon. It could be that he was already. Perhaps that was why the drums had roused him from his slumber, had drawn him into the dark wood; it was he she called, and not some elusive being.

He knew this woman; he had seen her before, in the Vistani camp, her dark eyes and wine-colored lips fascinating every giorgio and gypsy male alike. As lord of the manor and leader of his own band of thieves, the voyeur had been invited to stay by the campfire. There she had danced, her bright silks swirling and her round hips rolling, until his longing had grown almost painful. Then, of course, he and the other gior-gios had been dismissed from the camp. But no one would dismiss him tonight. And tonight, the dancer was even more bewitching.

She snatched something small from the ground besifde her feet and held it aloft. It was a clucking black hen. 'Ravallah,' she intoned. Strangely, the hen fell silent. 'Ravallah-niri.'

The dancer arched her back and held the bird above her, plucking its feathers until they fell upon her breasts like black snow. Her body glistened with sweat, and the feathers clung to her damp skin.

'Ravallah-niri,' she said again, pleading, almost in a whisper.

The voyeur saw that her face was wet with tears.

The dancer plunged her sharp nails into the hen, digging her fingers deep into its living breast, then killed it with a twist of the neck.

The drumbeats quickened.

'Goddess of the moon,' said the woman, 'send me Ravallah. Let him pass out of the darkness and into me, that he may show us the way through the mists. Show us the way home.'

Blood streamed from the hen, and the gypsy clutched the bird to her heart. Her tears ran red.

The drumbeats reached a savage pace. The dancer placed her hands upon her thighs, letting the dead bird fall to the ground. She shifted her weight quickly from one foot to the other, chanting, swaying her hips, painting her smooth skin with the hen's darkening blood. The voyeur was spellbound.

She let her head fall forward, then rolled it from shoulder to shoulder as if the weight were too great to carry.

'Ravallah come to me,' she pleaded, amid a strange chorus of sisterly moans and sighs from the trio of withered drummers. 'Come and show me the way.'

The voyeur did not know Ravallah, did not know who or what he was. It hardly mattered. From the pieading intonations, he gathered that the gypsy's summons had never been answered. These lands were not the kind where prayers were heeded-at least not the prayers of ordinary men.

But certainly he was no ordinary man. The voyeur dug his fingers into his hands, until his nails tore his flesh and dampened his palms with his own blood. He felt drunk with the promise of transformation. On this night he would will himself to be something greater. He would shed his weakness and cast out the pathetic creature he loathed, the one who toadied to other lords. Who were these gypsies who camped on his land as if it were their own? He had feared them once. Mow they would fear him-fear htm and worship him.

'/ am Ravallah,' he called. It was a lie, yet he almost believed it himself.

The drummers stopped. The dancer continued to sway.

'I am Ravallah,' he repeated. He entered the clearing. A vein pulsed in his forehead, echoing the rhythm the drummers had let fall silent.

He drew his sword, and the withered sisters stared with watery eyes at his blade. They did not rise. He swung his weapon and sliced through the first crone's neck. The others did not cry out. He whirled, as if performing his own macabre dance-a lunaset ritual to celebrate the harvest-and beheaded the second drummer. The third sister bowed her head, then he spun again and struck it off.

The pale sphere rolled across the circle of blossoms toward the dancer. When it came to rest, its milky blind eyes gazed skyward, glowing faintly. Dirt and fragments of leaves clung to the moist stump of its neck.

The gypsy dancer was frozen in place, her face awash with horror.

The voyeur stepped into the circle. He kicked the head aside, then took hold of the dancer's hair, grasping it behind her neck and pulling it backward to lift her face. Her only reaction was a vacant stare. He brushed the dark tears from her cheeks, staining them with the blood from his lacerated palm. He traced a path across her skin with a fingertip, meandering from her neck to her breasts, to the fullness of her right hip. In its wake, his finger left a faint red trail The tendons on his hand were raised and taut, and the skin was turning black. He did not notice. He was tost in a tempest of his own creation.

'I am Ravallah,' he said, now for the third time. His tone was low and measured. 'And I am here to show you the way.'


Marguerite's head snapped back violently, striking the narrow wooden planks behind it. A single blow vanquished her slumber, and the dreams that came with it retreated into oblivion. Her eyes flew open. The wagon plunged into another muddy rut and, for a second, held fast. The stout gray ponies snorted loudly, jerking their heads in protest. Marguerite's skull struck the wall again. Then the wagon pulled free.

Night had fallen, and the gypsy caravan journeyed through a sea of darkness. The air was cold and wet and pungent with the smell of pines that crowded against the road. Marguerite's head throbbed, and her neck ached. She righted herself on the wagon seat, then pulled the green hooded cloak around her like a cocoon. It did little to ease the chill that had invaded her body.

She stared at the driver beside her. His eyes did not leave the road, though what he could see through the black shroud of night, she could not imagine. He was fully two heads taller than she and nearly twice as broad at the shoulders. Beside him, she looked a child-not nearly the woman of twenty that she was.

A red gem adorned the side of his nose-a mark of vanity, but to Marguerite it resembled a blood blister. A similar bauble pierced his brow, while a trio of small gold hoops dangled from his left ear. His black hair, oiled and slicked close to his head, fell in greasy ringlets to his shoulders.

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