With as little fanfare as possible, the Prime Minister announced that the banquet in honor of recently promoted soldiers was cancelled- the rescheduled date to be announced. Despite his attempt at being as blasé as possible, the rumor mill began to turn. There was some conjecture that the Queen, prostrate with grief over the loss of GarGar, had retired to her rooms, refusing all sustenance and eschewing the company of others.
While there might have been some truth to that, the Queen in fact was running a fever. On top of that, her voice was nearly lost. When she tried to speak, her voice dissolved into unintelligible fits of coughing. At the behest of the Prime Minister, the royal physician examined her at length. When he emerged from her chambers, his expression was grave. He looked as if he may have been weeping.
“What is it?” Hissed Tata Sous-Sus who already harbored her own suspicions about Pirouette’s health. The physician shrugged her off, passing a hand-written note to the Prime Minister. After a quick perusal, he tossed it into the fireplace. It was all she could do to keep from trying to push her way past the guards. Her intuition told her that something serious was amiss. As night fell, Lady Abigail approached Tata Sous-sus and whispered in her ear, holding up her fan so that nobody could read her lips. “The pox,” said Abby, her voice shaky. Tata, who had survived a bout of the dreaded small pox some years prior was to be designated her nurse during the illness. If anything amiss befell Queen Pirouette, the blame would fall squarely on Tata’s shoulders.
Backing away from the Queen, bowing after each step, the Imperial Ambassador moved his pudgy frame with amazing grace toward the double-doors that led to the double doors that served as the exit from the Presence Chamber. Exhausted from nearly an entire hour of grilling from the Queen, the portly representative for the Emperor wiped his forehead. My God! He thought to himself. I’d endure another five hours just to be in her presence. She was THAT beautiful.
“What’s that knocking?” Pirouette asked the Captain of the Guards.
“I beg Your Majesty’s pardon?” Replied the mystified captain.
Because Queen Pirouette’s predecessor had lived so long, the number of people who could remember a time before him could be counted on one hand. While the old King had maintained his vigor well into his mid-seventies, as the years rolled by, he grew increasingly decrepit. By the time he finally died, the image of the king as a poor, doddering, half-blind, half-deaf invalid.
Even so, Pirouette decided early on to erect a column that would describe in detailed relief all of the accomplishments of his reign. From all of the sketches and portraits of the old king, from childhood to decrepitude, she chose a pen and ink rendition of the king when he was just becoming elderly, but still possessed all of his faculties. There he was, sharp-eyed, a bit stern and in absolute control of the levers of power. From this flat, two-dimensional depiction of the old king would be fashioned a bronze sculpture to crown the top of the great column. This was just the beginning of an era of building, great building, that would be attributed to the new, young Queen.
In almost all things, Queen Pirouette strove to conform to the era’s standards for ladylike behavior; however, there was one exception. When it came to horseback riding, she adamantly refused to ride sidesaddle. Before she became Queen, she spent some extra money and asked a saddle maker to create one for her that could double as both. In those days, she would mount her horse like a proper little lady, both legs dangling from the same side of her mount. As soon as she was beyond the prying eyes of the King and his councilors, she would swing one leg over and take off like a cannonball.
Now that she was in charge, and could do as she pleased, she rode astride her horse as well as any man. Some of the women of the court emulated their sovereign, Lady Abigail being the first to abandon the sidesaddle. Others, like Tata Sous-sus chose to ride the old-fashioned way. Sometimes, when she was charging at breakneck speed across an empty pasture, or jumping over a dilapidated wooden fence, the thrill was almost overwhelming. There were few things in her life that excited her more than this. None of the other women at court could keep up with her, and only a few of the men even tried.
In his day, GarGar was described as expansive, exuberant, exhausting and extroverted. There wasn’t a person he met that he didn’t call friend. At least, until they proved otherwise. He could be demanding, sometimes even thoughtless, but there wasn’t a mean bone in his body. Only the most curmudgeonly reacted with distaste toward him. A telling sign of his nature was the fact that his servants adored him. In today’s parlance, he might be called a “live wire.”
GarGar’s absence from the court was not felt only by Queen Pirouette. Le comte des Deux Chats was always the life of the party. When he entered a room, it immediately lit up. Always there with a witty phrase or a naughty double entendre, he drew a small crowd wherever he went. The Thursday night ball, which was an old institution by the time Pirouette took the throne, seemed a bit dull and broke up early more often than not.