Once the Ambassador took the seat of honor at Queen Pirouette’s right hand, there was a flourish of trumpets, drums, fifes and tambourines. The Ambassador, thinking that all of this musical display was in his honor, rose to his feet, his face suitably red with embarrassment and pride, suddenly realized that all eyes were fixed on a doorway to the right of the Queen’s seat. GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats had entered the room from a hidden doorway behind the Queen’s seat of honor. Monsieur le comte, dressed in white britches that appeared to be studded with diamonds, seemed to emanate an unearthly beam. Quietly taking his seat, he joined the other guests in their rapturous applause for the Queen’s husband-to-be.
When the Imperial Ambassador, Monsignor von Thornbird entered the banquet hall, he was stunned by the enormity of the room, as well as by the number of people gathered in his honor. There must be two hundred people in attendance. He thought to himself. When the Chamberlain struck the floor three times in order to silence the attendees, he shouted, “Monsignor von Thornbird, Imperial Ambassador!” The Monsignor was bowled over by the thunderous applause that the pronouncement induced. So enthusiastic was the welcome of the courtiers, that he felt embarrassed. He could feel the blood rush into his face. His scalp began to itch. He had to fight the urge to turn and flee the room.
The Queen rose from her seat, holding a small glass of wine. “To the honorable ambassador, Monsignor von Thornbird! Long life and prosperity!” She announced in a loud, firm voice. “Here! Here!” Intoned the courtiers. They all took a solid draught from their glasses. Queen Pirouette then left her place at the table and approached the befuddled Monsignor. Taking him by the elbow, she said, “Please, my lord, come sit at my right hand. We’ve so much to discuss.”
It’s those mysterious attic windows that always capture my attention. What’s up there? I wonder. Is there a lost Rembrandt? Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War diaries? There could be anything up there! What are your secrets? I’d like to know.
Of all the faces Monsignor von Thornbird had seen in his life, Queen Pirouette’s was beyond dispute the most beautiful. Now he understood all of the rapturous reports that had come from all quarters. Without exception, every story of the young Queen began and ended with details of her legendary beauty. This beauty extended beyond physical description. Her poise, her gracefulness, her smile, all of these attributes and more set this woman apart from all others.
Where is le comte GarGar des Deux Chats? The Monsignor asked himself. From all he had heard, the queen’s fiancé never left her side, except when he was on a military campaign. Scion of one of the Kingdom’s oldest families with a devil-may-care attitude, his disinterest in politics made him most suitable as a future consort for Her Majesty. Dare I inquire?
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Shocked by the Chamberlain’s rebuke, Monsignor von Thornbird forced his gaze downwards to the floor of the Presence Chamber. “Sir!” Had shouted the Queen’s Chamberlain. “You forget yourself!” Indeed, the Emperor’s new ambassador extraordinaire had forgotten himself. So beautiful was the Queen to whose Court he’d been sent, Monsignor von Thornbird had been ill-equipped to remember the rules of protocol that dictated he never look the Queen directly in the face. How not to look with admiration upon the most beautiful face in the world?
“My lord Chamberlain,” said Queen Pirouette in a voice so sweet that it made birdsong sound like thunder, “Please do not be so harsh with the Monsignor. He is new to our Court. He must be given some leeway in order to adjust to his new surroundings.”
The Chamberlain bowed deeply from the waist. “Forgive me, Sire,” he muttered. Scouring his mind for some excuse to explain his indecorous outburst, he rubbed his forehead, as if that would hatch a thought worthy of a man of his station. “Forgive me, Monsignor,” he finally managed to utter in a tone that sounded deeply sincere to all in the presence chamber. “Please forgive me,” he repeated.
“Let’s not become mired in blame,” said the Queen serenely. Extending her hand for the ambassador to kiss, she continued. “My lord Monsignor, it is my sincere hope that you shall act as a bridge between myself and your master, the Emperor.”
When Monsignor Nigel von Thornbird entered the Presence Chamber, also known as the throne room, his heart was beating so hard that it felt as though it might burst from his chest. The Chamber was basically a long, wide hallway, fifty feet wide and one hundred and fifty feet long. On the left and right were galleries where the curious could look down upon the royal grandeur. Poor Nigel could feel the pressure of all these gazes weighing down upon him. He thanked the fact that he was employing a walking stick to help him maintain his equilibrium as he moved carefully, one careful step at a time, toward the Queen who sat enthroned on a dais at the end of the room.
As he progressed closer to Queen Pirouette, he could hear the hissing of the courtiers as they whispered to each other about this new intruder into their realm. The new Imperial ambassador chose to recite in his mind a childhood nursery rhyme in an effort to drown them out. Ring around the rosies. A pocket full of posies. Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down! Surprisingly, it worked rather well and he was able to concentrate his attention on the woman that he’d been sent to meet. While he used his right hand to clutch his walking stick, in his left hand, he held the letter of introduction for the Queen that had been written in the Emperor’s own hand.
Once within five feet of the bottom of the dais, he fell to one knee. The Royal Chamberlain struck the marble floor of the Presence Chamber with his staff and shouted, “Monsignor Nigel von Thornbird, ambassador extraordinaire of His Imperial Majesty,” he paused, not daring to speak the name of the Emperor in front of his Queen, and so he concluded the introduction with the words, “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”
Against all protocol, the Monsignor couldn’t resist the urge to look Queen Pirouette directly in the face. He had to suppress the urge to gasp. Never had he seen such beauty. Most striking were the Queen’s eyes, the deepest shade of blue that he’d ever seen on another human being. While she gazed straight ahead, as if concentrating on something in the distance, he felt drawn to the young woman on the throne. Cobalt, he thought. Her eyes are made of cobalt!
“You forget yourself, sir!” Said the Chamberlain angrily, shocked by the ambassador’s temerity.
Imperial Ambassador Nigel von Thornbird adjusted his cravat, staring intently into the hand mirror that his valet held before him. Dressed from head to toe in black, as was expected from any servant of the Emperor, his peach colored cravat was the only expression of individuality allowed to a servitor of His Imperial Majesty. With his index finger, he gave the mou on his chin a final adjustment. Monsignor von Thornbird brusquely pushed the mirror away.
“Go!” He barked at his poor, beleaguered valet. “Polish my shoes, or do something useful to justify the enormous salary you collect!”
Let us not judge the Monsignor too harshly. He was consumed with anxiety over his first interview with Queen Pirouette. Being the third ambassador within a single year to fill the post, the stories he’d heard about Her Majesty ranged from a living saint to a screaming banshee. The one thing all of the reports agreed upon was that the young sovereign was beautiful, stunningly so. So intense was her pulchritude.