Because of her petite stature, Queen Pirouette was able to stand erect in the cramped space of the carriage. Approaching the peculiar intruder, she brandished the piece of ribbon under his nose. “Where in God’s name did you find this piece of ribbon?” She demanded, her voice tinged with anger.
“It’s just as I told your Lady, Your Majesty,” replied the man softly. “I bought it from Egon the Tailor about a year ago..”
Pirouette’s stomach did a flip-flop. Without hesitation she felt that she could recognize the man’s voice, but she dare not voice her apprehensions. Kissing the hem of her dress, the man looked up at her and winked.
Lady Eleanor was the first to voice the ladies’ collective suspicions. “Monsieur le comte?” She queried. “Are you le comte des deux chats? Monsieur GarGar?”
Pirouette covered her face with both hands and began to sway. If not for Lady Abigail taking an elbow in hand, the Queen might very well have fallen over.
“Given Monsieur’s penchant for fashionable clothes, it’s hard to believe that he’d be caught dead in the rags you are wearing,” remarked Lady Eleanor.
“As the arbiter of culture in your Court, Your Majesty, I simply can’t conceive of someone like this appearing in front of you and claim to be Monsieur le comte.”
“Where did you get this?” Demanded Lady Abigail of the stranger.
“I bought it,” answered the man succinctly. “From Egon the Tailor.” Abigail held the ribbon behind her shoulder where Queen Pirouette could take it without attracting much notice. As soon as her fingertips touched the article, she recognized it for what it was. On one side, the words “For my beloved P,” were stitched in golden thread.
“Egon the Tailor?” Mused Lady Eleanor. “Never heard of him.”
“Nor I,” agreed Lady Abigail.
“He was GarGar’s tailor. He could always be relied upon to make his clothes. My beloved always looked snappy. He was more fashion conscious than anyone at court,” said the Queen wistfully.
Lady Abigail was the first to extend her hand for the strange man to kiss. Instead of kissing her hand, the man quickly placed a piece of ribbon in it. To Abigail’s amazement, the ribbon was of a color and texture that only Queen Pirouette wore.
“Why don’t we open the door and see who it is?” Offered Lady Abigail with a shrug of the shoulders.
“Very well,” sighed Queen Pirouette who with a hand flourish indicated to Lady Eleanor to open the carriage door.
All three women started from their seats when they saw the figure below them. It was a man dressed like your average journeyman worker. He wore trousers with alternating muted hues of red and yellow vertical stripes. His shirt, once white, was now yellowed with age, adorned with several patches of varying size, shape and color, along with what appeared to be numerous food stains. On his back he wore a big, black cape with a hood that was pulled way down to his eyebrows. His mouth was likewise covered with a bright red scarf.
The man bowed like a courtier, deeply with one arm akimbo.
As the knocking on the carriage door grew louder and more insistent, Queen Pirouette put her hands over her ears. “My God!” She exclaimed. “What could possibly be so important that you knock down my door!”
The sudden change in events caused Lady Eleanor to be struck sober. Her giggles were replaced by groans. Lady Abigail reached into the basket on her lap and extracted the bottle of brandy yet again. She carefully poured a small portion into a tiny crystal goblet. The aroma of the thick, heavy liquid filled the compartment and gave the Queen a sense of comfort.
“Here, Your Majesty,” said Lady Abigail. “Rejuvenate yourself.”
As quickly as it came, the storm passed, leaving behind a clear, sunny sky and a refreshing breeze. Before the Queen and her ladies could continue their progress, there was a knock on the carriage door. “Now what!” Exclaimed Lady Eleanor. Playfully, Lady Abigail put a hand over her colleague’s mouth. In response, Lady Eleanor gave Abigail a gentle slap on the wrist. In the blink of an eye, the women’s roughhousing escalated.
“Ouch! That hurts!” Cried Abigail as Eleanor bit into her shoulder. “You don’t have teeth! You have fangs!”
“Stop that,” chided the Queen.
“Your Majesty,” said the man at the door. “A humble subject begs an audience with Your Grace.”
To Queen Pirouette’s recollection, there weren’t so many vines growing on the outer walls of Castle Rising. As her entourage drew closer to the destination, the road began to line with well-wishers from the nearby villages. Some wore fine clothes. Others were in rags. The driver of the Queen’s carriage began to throw newly minted coins with Her Majesty in profile on one side and on the reverse was an eagle, its wings outstretched and in its beak, a tiny scroll that read, “Peace & Prosperity.”
A woman with two little girls, hand in hand approached the carriage. One child carried a bouquet of flowers and the other held a picture in a frame. Pirouette ordered the driver to stop. As the carriage door opened, the people broke out in spontaneous applause. “Please, Your Majesty!” Cried the woman, “Bless my daughters.”
“I’ll do better than that,” replied the Queen. “Each of your daughters will be provided an ample dowery that they may wed well.” With a benevolent smile, the Queen took the gifts from the children. When she looked more closely at the frame, she saw that it held a holy icon- the image of Saint Swithin.
Out of the blue, Queen Pirouette decided to inspect her birthplace, Castle Rising, which she hadn’t seen since she left it ten years prior as a young girl. With only a few guards and ladies Eleanor and Abigail in tow, she rode for nearly three hours in a rickety carriage. With only four horses to pull it, and the condition of the roads made progress a slow roll.
“Eleanor, please give me that bottle of brandy,” said Lady Abigail. “Just like the horses, I need to revive myself.”
“Watchword!” Said the guard to the shadowy figure with a black cape pulled over the lower half of his face, revealing only his eyes and forehead. Even his head was covered with a tricornered hat. At first, the unknown person, caught prowling around the ramparts, refused to respond. Annoyed, the guard lifted his lantern to get a closer look.
Finally the man responded, after noticing the guard touch the pommel of his sword. “Humpty Dumpty! You fool! It’s me. The Prime Minister!” The man dropped his hold of the cape, showing the guard his entire visage.
“Forgive me, Your Eminence. I mistook you for -” The guard paused and scratched his head. He was searching for the correct word that would not give offense.
“Never mind! Never mind!” Said the Prime Minister impatiently. “Get out of the way. I’m inspecting the wall.”
Even a person of limited intelligence would recognize this as a bare-faced lie. Who conducts inspections in the dark of night?