GarGar le comte des Deux Chats let the letter drop to the floor and heaved a sigh of relief. It was a commission, signed by the old King himself, to raise an army and lead it against the Imperial forces that were massed on the border. At last, here was his opportunity to escape from the stultifying atmosphere at court and to lead an expedition against the enemy. While he enjoyed some aspects of court life- the balls, the banquets, and courting Princess Pirouette for her hand, for the most part, he couldn’t stand the rumor mill that characterized life under the old King’s roof. The endless ceremonies that somehow seemed to give meaning the the old man’s reign. It was time to strike out and prove his worth as a general.
When Pirouette got the news that GarGar would be leaving soon for the front, she employed that age-old device and unfurled her fan, hiding most of her face behind its folds. While part of her enjoyed the attention that the dashing comte showered upon her, another part of her just wanted a little peace and quiet. She was still trying to come to terms with the notion that he would be her husband. Yes! He was handsome. Yes! He was charming, but his constant attendance on her, his endless stream of compliments, were beginning to ring hollow. She knew the Count to be a most charming individual, the most handsome of the courtiers in the palace, but she also knew him to be ambition. If Pirouette resembled a goat, his stream of compliments would have been the same. This sad truth tired the Princess and made her wish that he’d simply give her a much-needed rest from the bowing, hand-kissing and endless dancing to punctuated her typical day at the palace.
“Goodbye, GarGar,” she murmured to herself. “Your princess needs a break.”
The Imperial Ambassador, Monsieur de la Laideur saw his chance to speak semi-privately with Princess Pirouette, he seized the opportunity. While the orchestra played a subtle minuet, he bowed low before Her Royal Highness and took her gloved hand in his, leading her onto the dance floor. After six years at court, Pirouette could dance a minuet with her eyes closed, so rather than look the ambassador in those watery orbs that he called his eyes, she closed hers while they moved across the floor. “I trust Your Royal Highness is well?” was his unimaginative opening remark.
“As well as can be expected…” replied Pirouette ominously.
“Expected?” Repeated Monsieur de la Laideur. “Expected? Is there something amiss with Her Royal Highness’ health?”
Shrugging off the ambassador’s question, Princess Pirouette said, “I understand that you visited the King in his clock-making workshop. Did you find the experience edifying?”
The music stopped abruptly as the old King hobbled back to his throne. His official mistress, la duchess du Linge helped steady him as he mounted the steps of the dais. Monsieur de la Laideur pursed his lips as he watched the poor old King plop himself into his throne. His Majesty waved a hand to indicate that the music should continue, but by that time, Pirouette had extricated herself from the ambassadors clutches and moved quickly toward the dais, where she too had a little throne at the King’s right hand. “Forgive me,” was all she said to the hapless representative of the Emperor.
Princess Pirouette sat directly beside the old King at the table in his private dining chamber. Besides the usual servitors, she was the only other person in the room. With each passing day, the old King seemed to be growing more and more thin to the point that his physicians were growing extremely alarmed about his health. “Dear King,” she said. “You must eat. See? I have your favorite right here- plum pudding.” She held a spoonful of the concoction to his lips, but he refused to open his mouth. “Your Majesty,” she pleaded. “You must eat!”
Closing his eyes, the old King reluctantly opened his mouth. Seeing her chance, Pirouette quickly inserted the spoon into his mouth. He grimaced and then spat the food out onto the table. “You’re trying to poison me!” The old man shouted. “Help! Poison!”
Pirouette dropped the spoon onto the table. “Very well,” she said. “If you wish to starve, then starve. May I take my leave?” She rose from the table, curtsied and beat a hasty retreat, holding back tears of frustration.
The old King sat quietly by the window with his eyes closed. The sounds of laughter that filled his room was music to his ears. He was tired. God knows he was tired. So long was his reign that there was hardly a living soul in the whole kingdom who could remember a time when he wasn’t the king. Despite his fatigue, sleep did not come easily to him.
Just as he felt himself begin to drift off, the chamberlain struck the floor with his staff and shouted, “My lord, the Prime Minister!” Damn! The old King thought to himself. This is the last person on Earth that I want to see. “How may I help you, my lord?” The King’s voice was soft and shaky. “Can’t you see that I am trying to rest? I gave specific orders to the guards that I wasn’t to be disturbed.” He shifted in his daybed, in a feeble attempt to get comfortable.
Tata Sous-sus stood over the maid who was scrubbing the marble floor in her bedroom, offering helpful advice along the way. “You missed a spot!” She shouted, pointing at the offense with a trembling finger. “Yes, ma’am,” replied the maid softly.
“If you’d only use a proper cleanser,” continued Tata, “your job would be much easier.”
Just then the chamberlain intoned, “Her Royal Highness, Princess Pirouette!”
“Do leave that poor woman alone,” said Pirouette, “and let her do her job!” With each passing day, Pirouette found her patience for Tata Sous-sus being stretched ever-more thin. She could feel the anger that she bottled inside grow with each day, making her chest feel tight and constrained. Any day now, there would be an explosion and Tata would find her wig blown right off her head.
GarGar picked up the handkerchief that Princess Pirouette had just tossed out of her window. What’s this? He thought. A ring! To his horror, he realized that the ring which had been pulled through a corner of the cloth was the very same he’d given her on the day of their betrothal. What could this mean? He asked himself. Was this a rejection, or an invitation. How he wished that he could be given just a tiny glimpse into the mind of Her Majesty!
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats, chose the spot for his performance because it was directly beneath Princess Pirouette’s bedroom window. As he began to strum his lute, a small gathering (mostly female) formed around him. He cleared his throat and began to sing.
Skies would be grey for me, if I didn’t have you. Each hour of the day for me, if I didn’t have you. What could I live for, tell me, what could I do, if I didn’t have you?
At long last, Pirouette appeared at her window. It was a large window and afforded the small gathering a good view of her person. She pushed open the glass and tossed a handkerchief, weighted with a small diamond ring. “There’s no excuse for this kind of behavior,” she laughed. “Now be off, or I shall summon the guards!”