The old King looked older everyday. Still he rose every morning at dawn to hear mass, eat breakfast and attend to the business of running the country. His movements were slow and deliberate. His voice was raspy and tremulous. When addressing him, one was obliged nearly to shout because of his hearing loss. He’d been King for so long that there were few living who could remember his predecessor.
When she was first introduced to the King, Princess Pirouette, much like many children who are not regularly exposed to the elderly, was taken aback by his advanced years. It was only through gentle words and little acts of kindness that the King was able to ally the young girl’s apprehension. As she grew older, the Princess found that His Majesty was the first person she would consult when she had a problem or question that needed to be addressed.
When GarGar, le Comte des Deux Chats arrived at Court, Princess Pirouette was sixteen years of age. In his calvary officer’s uniform, he cut quite a dashing figure with his black riding boots and red cape, his curved sword bouncing against his hip as he strode into the Throne Room. Pirouette watched from a gallery above, hidden by a coromandel screen. As soon as he entered the room, all the courtiers hushed their whispering, and more than one woman hid her blushing cheeks behind her fan.
When it was Princess Pirouette’s turn to grant her monthly audience to all the new arrivals to the Court, she stood at one end of her Presence Room. The new courtiers were already assembled at the other end of the room when she entered through a hidden door that was disguised as a bookshelf. They all bowed or curtsied, depending on their gender. With her fan, she motioned for them all to rise. In the past, it was her custom to flit from one individual to the next, barely taking notice as they each kissed her hand, but in this case, she paused in front of le Comte and looked intently into his face. She was a little taken aback when, contrary to protocol, he returned her gaze with aplomb.
The outdoor concert and dance was Princess Pirouette’s idea. Brilliantly conceived, torches lit one end of the yard, where the dancers would assemble underneath the starry Summer night. When the minstrels began to play, “Sans Frayeur dans ce Bois,” the Captain of the Guard took the Princess by the hand and led her onto the dance floor. He looked quite dashing in his white uniform with his sword by his side and red sash across his chest. And handsome he was. His jet black hair caught the torchlight and seemed to shimmer.
Neither dancer seemed inclined to look their partner in the face. They both concentrated their gaze over each others’ shoulder. The Captain seemed almost distressed as his brow was beaded with sweat. Later he would blame the heavy Summer air for his behavior. When the music stopped, the Princess tried to disengage from him, but he responded by pulling her more tightly in an embrace. She gasped quietly at his effrontery. Releasing her, he suddenly fell to one knee, took her hand in his and kissed it.
Lady Greenmeadow was the late queen’s lady-in-waiting and gentlewoman of the bedchamber. As such, she was the perfect choice to become Princess Pirouette’s new governess. Every morning she would raise the Princess from her slumber by presenting her with a breakfast tray. After the Princess had eaten, she would dress her charge and lead her in morning prayers. Everyday followed the same routine which brought the comfort of stability into the life of Pirouette. A life which here to for had been riddled with sorrows, grief, doubt and uncertainty.
“God bless Lady Greenmeadow!” Exclaimed the King after Princess Pirouette made a perfect curtsy in front of His Majesty. “Will you be glad to go riding with me this morning?” Asked the old man gently.
“Oh, yes! Your majesty! I should love to go abroad with your grace,” the young girl gushed.
When Princess Pirouette entered the Throne Room, it erupted into a cacophony of whispers. To the Princess’ ear, it sounded much like the hissing of a hundred snakes. She immediately curtsied, walked a dozen paces on the red carpet and then curtsied again. She did her best not to look at the King, who was exceedingly old. His snow white hair fell loosely upon his shoulders. A matching beard flowed down to the center of his chest.
Extending a gnarled, arthritic hand, he said, “Welcome to my court, little lamb.”
Princess Pirouette heard the news from her maid who heard it from Her Highness’ confessor, so it must be true. How the King’s only son had been killed in battle not more than three days prior to the arrival of the delegation from the capital. Pirouette felt certain that she knew why they had come. With the deaths of every conceivable heir to the throne, no one was left save the Princess. They’d come to take her away.
Pirouette knew that she must dress to impress, so she donned her best gown, a satin and silk affair embroidered with repeating shapes: circles, triangles and squares. When she swept into the room, she looked older than her twelve years. The delegates bowed low and she allowed her majordomo to lead her to a plain, straight-backed chair.
The day was bitterly cold, but that didn’t stop Queen Pirouette from taking a ride on her favorite horse, a white mare with a small diamond-shaped patch of brown on her nose. It pleased the Queen to take big breaths of air and then watch the steam as it came out of her mouth. She was some distance from the castle when she heard the chapel bells ring. Shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun, she saw a rider coming in her direction. Bad news, she thought.
And she was right. The messenger brought sad tidings that brought to her might the reality of the brevity of life.
Organized crime was not a serious problem in the Kingdom. There was certainly nothing so glamorous as the mafia in operation; however, there were a few noble and not-so-noble families that liked to push their rights and privileges beyond the limits of legality. Queen Pirouette took a personal interest in these matters. Whenever a family was found to be acting in a manner that was less-than-proper, she would insist on passing judgement upon them. Her wrath could be terrible in these cases, especially if the exploitation of women was involved. For instance, it was discovered that one family in the capital was operating a bawdy house, replete with madams and ladies of the night. She had these women rounded up and sent to various convents for training and education; whereupon, they were released into society. As for their employers, several senior male members of this particular family were sentenced to a lifetime as galley slaves.