On the fourth morning since their arrival at Court, both Lady Marguerite and Princess Devant awakened with severe headaches. By the middle of the day, the pain became nearly intolerable. Not only that, but they developed sore throats. That night, both women were obliged to drink mulled wine with poppy seed oil. Despite these ministrations, neither of them slept well until the royal physick administered leeches to their right and left temples.
To the intense alarm of the old King and his Court, the next day found the two ladies even sicker. They’d begun to cough up blood, black clots the size of one’s thumbnail. While everyone else sat down to a marvelous breakfast in the Great Hall of the palace, Princess Devant and Lady Marguerite couldn’t rise from their beds. Tables set against the two long walls groaned under the weight of dozens of esculent viands and treats.
After the death of Pirouette’s father, Prince Devant, his widow, the Princess Devant decided that living at the old King’s Court would be a good money-saving tactic. Less than a few weeks after the New Year (and Pirouette’s birthday) servants, retainers and useless hanger-ons bundled up and packed their wagons for the three-day journey. One bright spot was that the roads were frozen solid, making for easier navigation, especially over the occasional creek. Not one speck of mud would sully garments, or trap wheels in their mire.
At their first overnight stop in the village of Saint Germain-en Fossé d’une grande profondeur, Lady Marguerite remarked causticly, “The smaller the village, the longer the name…”
In reply, Princess Devant said, “I simply adore your ability to find le mot juste for every situation.”
It was the occasion of Princess Priouette’s ninth birthday. Nearly everyone at Castle Rising, even the guards and stable boys, gathered in the great hall and sang “Happy Birthday” to her. There was cake, adorned with nine candles and presents. Her mother gave her new shoes made of the softest grey leather and a pink satin gown with lace at the collar, sleeve and hem. Best of all, the old King gave her a new doll.
Although she was growing a bit old for such things as a doll, this one was special. Its face was made of porcelain and painted so sweetly that it looked almost real. Its lips were red and cheeks a rosy pink. Her eyes were blue, adorned with lashes made of silken thread. Of course, His Majesty couldn’t be expected to leave his Court and duties as sovereign for the likes of something so trivial as a child’s birthday, he did send one of his favorites, le Chevalier de Pont Neuf to present it.
With great solemnity, monsieur le Chevalier extracted the doll from a box, wrapped in silver foil and tied with a pretty pink ribbon. While he allowed the child to tear open the wrapping, he insisted on pulling the doll from the box himself, peeling away the light, delicate paper with his own hand. Normally a man of gruesome visage, for this event, even he looked happy and not so scary.Before accepting the doll, Pirouette made sure to kiss monsieur le Chevalier’s hand, giving him her best curtsey.
Just a few days later, in the nursery room, Pirouette showed her doll to her playmates. They were suitably impressed. Pirouette, being of a kind and generous nature, was happy to let the other girls take turns holding the precious thing. Suddenly, GarGar, intrigued by all the fuss, insisted on having his turn with the doll. Shocked by his effrontery and simply the impropriety of his request, she hugged her present to her chest and gave him an emphatic “No!”
Wresting the doll from the little girl with all his might, it flew into the air and crashed onto the marble parquet floor. When Lady Marguerite retrieved it, everyone could see that the poor thing’s face was cracked in two, changing from a sweet little girl into something like a deformed demon.
For the first time in her life, but not the last, Pirouette felt her heart transform from a warm, beating vessel into a frozen icicle. From that moment on, she determined that it would be best to keep all things precious away from the eyes of others, and more importantly, to view her kinsman, GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats from the corner of her eye at all times. Clearly, he was an impulsive boy who cared more for his personal wants than for what might be good for others.
Before one could be introduced to the King, it was required of one to be interviewed by his Chamberlain. In this case, it was le chevalier du Pont Neuf. Tall and skinny, his wig seemed two times larger than his head. His pancake makeup did little to hide the ravages of time and illness that left deep pockmarks and crevices on his face. To make matters worse, his lipstick and rouge, hastily applied, left one cheek redder than the other and made his mouth look much like a gash or wound. To Princess Pirouette, le chevalier’s appearance was a source of alarm to the point of fear.
To the surprise of both Princess Devant and her daughter, when Monsieur le chavalier spoke, he emitted a high-pitched voice with a glaring lisp. To Pirouette’s chagrin, he asked, “Tho thith ith the wittle Pwinthess? What age are you? Thix or theven?”
Even the normally composed Princess Devant was taken aback by his weak attempt at charm and wit. The number one dictate of the old King to his Court was at all times to be charming. With his upturned, wrinkled nose, slit eyes and stooping posture, the Chamberlain was a complete failure in this.
“This man will not get a rise out of me,” thought la maman Princesse. Never! Jamais!
Always conscious of their manners, both Princesses curtsied and bowed their heads. “Mais non, monsieur!” Replied Princess Devant sweetly. “My daughter will be turning nine years old in just a few weeks.” She took Pirouette’s hand in hers and gave it a little kiss.
“Thkrawny childwen need exthra thpethial care,” he rudely cautioned.
“Scrawny?” Thought Princess Devant. “He’s one to talk!
Princess Pirouette’s first appearance at Court was something of a flop. It was during an unseasonably warm Winter Solstice, ushered in by several days of rain. By the time her entourage reached the old King, everyone was covered in mud. Pirouette’s litter bearers had the worst of it, while those on horseback, for the most part were spared the indignity of being slathered in wet soil. Without exception everyone was soaked to the bone, even the little Princess and her mother.
Upon arrival, one would think that Pirouette would be taken to a warm fire and given dry clothing for her presentation to His Majesty but this was not the case. As the old King was in the habit of taking frequent naps, it was thought prudent to bring her straight away to him. Now the King, while in a downward spiral physically, was still fairly quick in his wits. When he saw the little girl, dripping wet, he said, “My poor child! Why have they not seen to your wellbeing? This is disgraceful treatment for a Prince of the Blood!”