Despite the excruciating pain in his wounded leg, GarGar insisted that his men bear him to the battlefield on a cot. When the soldiers saw him coming from afar, they cried their approval, lifting their rifles in the, and some even discharging. From the top of a slow incline, he examined the enemy’s position using his lucky, gold-plated field glasses.
“Save your bullets for the enemy!” Shouted GarGar, who nevertheless smiled and waved. “We will fight together! Or, if need be, die together!” This was why his men loved him so.
Two of his men hoisted him up, placing the inner crooks of his arms behind their necks. As soon as GarGar was in a vertical position, the blood began to race into his legs. The pain was nearly unbearable, and caused him to twitch from head to toe. He bit his lip to keep from crying aloud, but it was futile. “Set me down!” He hissed through gritted teeth. And then, more calmly, “Have pity on your poor general.”
Crawling on his belly, GarGar could feel the wind of the musket balls as they whizzed overhead. He knew he had to keep moving, despite the pain in his right leg. The canon ball that had fallen near him had knocked both him and his horse off their feet. Oddly, the world grew silent as he sailed through the air- now more shouting, no more screams, no more reports from the guns, big and small.
He rolled onto his back in order to catch his breath. Looking at his uniform, he was displeased by the grunge it had collected from all the smoke and dirt. I’d never pass inspection looking like this, he thought. He somehow managed to pull his sword from its scabbard and waved it in the air in the hope it would catch the attention of one of his officers. When they see it, surely someone will rescue me!
GarGar raised his hand to signal his men to stop marching. Trumpets blared so that even the farthest ranks would know the order. The commanders shouted, “Pitch your tents!” Yes, the army had stopped marching, but they were bursting with activity. There was so much to be done. First, a trench had to be dug that would circumnavigate the camp. Tents needed to be pitched. Fires needed to be stoked. GarGar dismounted from his horse, picked up a shovel and began digging alongside his men. That was the kind of leader he was. His men loved him for it.
From the very start, the campaign was hampered by poor planning. Funds that were meant to go for provisions somehow were diverted into the pockets of greedy middlemen. Because of this, GarGar was forced to spend his own money to keep his men from starving. Everything from canon fodder to musket balls were in short supply. GarGar did his best to present a cheerful face to the men under his charge, but they could see that he was unhappy.
“Why so glum?” Asked his aide de camp. “What can I do?”
“Not to worry,” answered GarGar with a sardonic grin. “You’ve already done more than anyone could expect.”
Kneeling before his Queen, GarGar bowed his head. Clasping his hands to his chest, he waited for the blow that he knew must come. Even so, when she struck him on the cheek with the backside of her hand, GarGar gasped. The pain travelled from his face to his spine and then down to his feet. “Wow!” He thought. “She’s strong!”
“Monsieur, le comte,” Queen Pirouette intoned, “I grant you the title, Knight of the Golden Circle, to be held in perpetuity by you, and your heirs in perpetuity.” Taking a sword, Pirouette gently tapped each of his shoulders in the time-honored ritual of granting knighthood. “God be with you,” she said.
How long had she been immured in this desolate place? Tata Sous-sus asked herself. With only a single candle to light her cell, she squinted over the letter that the last guard had smuggled to her. It was a tiny piece of paper, perhaps two centimeters squared, and the script was hard to decipher. It read:
My Lady, You are not alone. There are many who understand your plight and who most earnestly pray for you! With reverence, A Friend
Tata Sous-sus crumpled the note in her hands and looked over her shoulder at her “companion,” one of those tiny women who is bursting with energy. Already in the few hours that they’d been together, she’d swept the floor, made the bed, and read scripture aloud for Tata’s edification. She’d mended Tata’s sock that had a hole in the toe. She’d given Tata a nice foot massage. For all that, Tata hated her and feared her. She knew the woman to be a spy. Most importantly, Tata knew that the woman’s heart was eaten away by malice and that under no circumstances could she be trusted.
So when the woman suggested a hand of cards, Tata Sous-sus smiled, clapped her hands and said, “Oh, yes! Let’s!”
As the woman shuffled the deck of cards, Tata began to drift into her own thoughts. The sound of the cards slapping the table only served to give a certain rhythm to Tata’s revelry. Perhaps it was because of her severe fatigue, but Tata found her mind opening a doorway of the past. She could see her parents, her friends, all sorts of people from her childhood long ago.
Without thinking, she put her hand to her face and felt herself smile against the palm of her hand. So this was bliss. She’d never known it before. Had somebody put something in her drink? She asked herself. From where do these sensations emanate? Tata swooned. She tried to steady herself by grasping the back of her wooden chair, but she only knocked it over to its side. She giggled at the sound of it clattering onto the floor. “Did I do that?” She asked aloud. She staggered over to her bed, the tiny woman running to her side.
“My lady!” She cried, grabbing Tata’s left hand, and wrapping her right arm around Tata’s waist. “Please! Let me help you!” She steered Tata to the edge of her bed, which she sat on and then fell to her side. “You rest now, my lady,” said the woman in hushed tones, stroking Tata’s forehead, pushing away stray strands of hair. “You rest.”
It was at the entrance of a long, broad valley that GarGar rose his hand and signaled his men to stop. Snapping his fingers at his aide-de-camp, he shouted, “Charles! Make a note of the time and location!” Charles de la Rivière was brand new to his position, so he wanted to make a good impression on his senior officer. Unfortunately, he dropped his satchel. Scrambling from his horse, he snatched it up and began rifling through its contents. GarGar began to whistle tunelessly which only served to fluster poor, young Charles all the more.
Finally, after several minutes of fruitless searching, he decided to dump the entire contents of the satchel onto the ground. “There it is!” He cried. “My notebook!”
“Now all you need is a pen,” said GarGar sardonically.
“You Majesty! Look! Look out the window!” Abigail Hoffenhoff, out of breath, bounded into Queen Pirouette’s bedchamber. Gesticulating wildly, the Queen’s closest friend and confidante, unlatched the nearest window that looked onto the courtyard of the palace. “Wait!” She shouted. “Wait! The Queen!” Exhausted by her own emotions, Abigail broke into a series of coughs that shook her entire frame.
“What’s this?” Said one of the Queen’s other ladies in waiting. “As you can see, Her Majesty is in the middle of reading important state documents.” With pursed lips, the dower dowager shook her head and with an elegant gesture, moved her hand in Pirouette’s direction.
“Be that as it may, the Queen needs to see her fiancé right now…” Abigail paused to catch her breath. “Amirite?” She blurted out.
Dropping the magnifying glass that used to help her decipher the chicken scratch that the Prime Minister considered handwriting, Pirouette rose from her desk and moved to the window in measured paces. It never failed to amaze Abigail (and others) how their Queen could walk in such a way that she appeared to be gliding like a skater on ice.
When she reached the window, Pirouette saw her beloved GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats riding a magnificent white steed and dressed in his full uniform as a general in Her Majesty Army. He looked every bit the hero with his light blue coat, a dozen or more medals hanging from his chest, with his shiny black riding boots and his sword by his side. On his face, he wore an expression that bespoke authority, determination and pride. But it was his flashing eyes that were his most noticeable adornment.
Queen Pirouette was in no hurry to be coronated. She hated ceremony. Unfortunately, every day of her life since childhood had been governed by ritual. With time, the problem only grew worse. Now that she was Queen, nearly every aspect of her life was subject to strict etiquette.
At eight o’clock every morning, the Chief Lady of the Bedchamber would draw her bed curtains and say, “Your majesty, it is time.” This was called the levée. All of the ladies of the Court would vie for the opportunity to hand Pirouette a piece of clothing. Of course, only the highest ranking woman could claim pride of place to give the Queen her first piece of clothing. By no means was she allowed even an iota of privacy. Everything she did was open to public display, even taking a bath. Tickets were distributed for entrance to the gallery where the nobles could gather to watch her bathe.
Because a typical coronation lasted an entire day, Pirouette chose to procrastinate announcing a date. “Why should I be eager to have everyone see me stripped down to my shift so that the prelates can rub their holy oil on my arms, legs, chest and forehead!” Not even her fiancé, GarGar couldn’t convince her to name a date.
Everyone was assembled, from the guards to the spectators to the judges. The defendant and her lawyers sat at one table facing the judges, while the prosecutors sat nearby at another table facing the same direction. (God forbid that they should face each other!) Tata Sous-sus, whose dumbfounded expression was the source of much merriment at Court, sat hunched over, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Unobserved, Queen Pirouette sat in the gallery, veiled behind screens.
Only a few days earlier, Tata, the Queen’s closest living relative, had been found guilty of the murder of Lady Greenmeadow. All of these great personages were gathered to witness her obligatory sentence: DEATH. The presiding judge who sat under a large white wig with many curls, cleared his throat and struck his gavel. Behind him, a young valet, dressed in the Queen’s livery, held a curious-looking black cap over the judges head as he spoke.
“We are gathered here today for the sad business of sentencing this unfortunate woman, the lady commonly known as ‘Tata Sous-sus.’ Picking up a document and clearing his throat again, before he could speak, another valet bounded through a side door of the courtroom, ran up the stairs that led to the judges’ seats and thrust a piece of paper in front of him. An audible gasp rippled through the spectators.
“Wha- what’s this?” Stammered the judge, peering through his half-lensed reading spectacles at the note now resting in his hands.
“I’m afraid that I must call for a recess while I consult in chambers with my colleagues. Council for the prosecution and the defense will attend me there.”
As the judges retreated to their chambers, the rest of the courtroom rose to its feet. The room veritably exploded in people shouting into each others’ faces. Tata Sous-sus swooned, and it was only because two of her lawyers grabbed her that she didn’t fall right there on the floor. Looking skyward, Tata murmured, “Thank you, Lord. I thought I was already a corpse.”