From the plaza below her, Queen Pirouette was clearly visible to all. Dressed in a white gown, with little pink ribbons that made a circle around her skirt and festooned her sleeves from shoulder to wrist, she exuded femininity and royalty. On her head, she wore a crown of gold which to the people below resembled a halo. She rose both her arms in greeting, smiling benignly. She was the Queen, in all her glory and splendor.
[Note: Americans spell splendor differently than other countries, just like the word color. We leave out the “u” after that last “o.”]
Standing in the center of the large room, Tata Sous-sus could feel her entire body shaking. Bleacher seats had been erected against the walls to her left and right. Behind her stood a dozen palace guards. Before her sat three men with tall conical hats that covered their faces, revealing only their eyes and mouths through narrow slits. They sat at a dark wooden table and were elevated at least 5 meters above everybody else in the room. It was, in fact, a makeshift courtroom that had been built on the first floor of the dreaded North Tower, that she might be arraigned for murder charges in the death of the Baroness, Lady Greenmeadow.
The man in the center spot at the table began to speak. To Tata, his words were cryptic, peppered with Latin phrases and punctuated with the words, “whereas,” and “therefore.” Twice the judge asked her, “How do you plead?” But it seemed as if all powers of speech had left her. The third time, the judge fairly shouted, “Madame! How do you plead to these very serious charges?”
“I never hurt anyone in my entire life!” Croaked Tata Sous-sus. “Never! As God is my witness!”
The judge at Tata’s left spoke. Straining her ears, Tata thought she recognized the voice, “Innocent. Record her plea as innocent.”
It seemed as if half of the entire court was packed into the room. Granted, it was a large room. Along the entire length of one wall was a bank of glass windows stretching from floor to ceiling, which gave the room an air of being even larger. Two of the windows in the center were actually French doors that opened to a balcony. The balcony itself looked down on a plaza that could hold thousands of people. Indeed, thousands were gathered for a glimpse of their Queen- Queen Pirouette.
In the center of the room stood Queen Pirouette and her soon-to-be husband, GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats. With arms interlocked, they moved slowly towards the balcony. The report of canons from a distant tower announced to the people that their Queen would soon be appearing to give them a wave. It was a ceremony that Pirouette relished because it gave her a true sense of connection with her subjects.
The couple paused before stepping onto the balcony. Their eyes locked. GarGar gave Pirouette a little wink of the eye and said, “Shall we, my dear?” In response, Pirouette kissed GarGar on the cheek. When they emerged, the crowd burst into thunderous applause and cheers. “God save the Queen!” They shouted.
Queen Pirouette was reading the most recent reports about Tata Sous-sus who was incarcerated in the North Tower along with le margrave du Port. Both were suspects in the murder of Lady Greenmeadow. When her spies (for lack of a better word) brought her the news of Tata’s secret child, she was understandably shocked. Even more damning was the fact that the deceased lady knew about this sad event. The pieces fell together when a note was found, half-charred in the Margrave’s fireplace that read: Il faut trouver un moyen de faire taire LG/Some way must be found to silence LG.
It was well passed sunset. As the Queen’s vision was rather poor and had been so since childhood, Abigail stood behind her holding an oil lamp. Most of the reports had been written by the women who were sent to watch over Tata, but some of these ladies were in fact illiterate and were obliged to dictate their reports to the Captain of the Guard. Some of their descriptions of poor Tata were heart-rending to Her Majesty. Here Tata is praying fervently. There she is weeping uncontrollably. Here she is refusing food. There she is pacing back and forth, ringing her hands.
Please God. Exonerate poor Tata! Prayed Pirouette.
There was a knock on the door of Tata Sous-sus’ cell. Her companion this morning was a woman named Isabel. They heard the clanking of keys and the scraping sound of the lock being turned. Pushing the door open, the Captain of the Guard entered and said, “Madame, you have a visitor.”
Tata stood up from her chair where she’d been playing a game of Solitaire. She said nothing, but Isabel said, “Oh, really? Who is it?” The Captain motioned with his hand at the door and a woman, young and well-dressed, entered. When Tata saw her, she narrowed her eyes suspiciously, but maintain her silence.
“Do you recognize this woman?” Asked the Captain. Tata shook her head.
“Hello,” said the woman with a gleam in her eye.
“Go on. Tell her who you are,” urged the Captain.
“My name is Adriana,” said the woman smoothly. “Adriana Toussaint.”
Tata again shook her head. The name rang a bell, but she couldn’t quite place it.
“Madame,” said the Captain with relish. “This is the child that you abandoned twenty years ago to this very day!”
Tata swooned and Isabel barely had time to keep her from falling. She and the Captain helped Tata Sous-sus to her bed which she hit with a thud. Speaking for the first time of this encounter, Tata muttered the word “child,” before she slipped into complete darkness.
“Perhaps I should come back another day,” said Adriana.
It was time for Queen Pirouette’s religious studies class. This was conducted by Père Clairmont, the Royal Confessor. Unlike the confessional, these sessions were not protected by any form of confidentiality, so Her Majesty was often reluctant to answer him with complete candor. Père often found this frustrating, but he understood her reluctance. Some answers, if posited fully would be politically lethal.
“Tell me, Your Majesty,” he began. “What do you think is the source of evil in this world?”
“I suppose its the Devil,” she answered tentatively.
“That’s a good answer,” he said with a benign smile. “Have you considered that it might be man’s desire to place his own will before that of God’s?”
“I suppose,” she said again.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” he responded patiently. “The questions aren’t meant to be answered with suppositions, but with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.'”
Sobbing so convulsively that she could not speak, Tata Sous-sus hugged herself as she rocked back and forth on the stool. Just a few hours earlier, the palace guards had conveyed her to the North Tower of the Old Castle “for further questioning.” The real reason was because of a concern that, if left alone, she might make an attempt on her own life. In order to secure her safety, three women in eight hour shifts were sent to her cell as “companions.”
The women were chosen for their empathetic natures, and each attempted (in vain) to encourage her to eat. They sought to divert her attention from her fate by offering to play cards, or to read to her, but they failed in these endeavors also. Tata’s fear was understandable because while many were taken to the tower, few ever left.
Because some of the guards referred to her as the “old crow,” her codename was Crow. Her female companions were charged with the duty to submit daily reports to the Captain of the Guards of what she said and did. These reports were reviewed by the Captain, who abstracted them. Whatever was considered relevant was and whatever was considered relevant to the case (of the murder of Lady Greenmeadow) were sent to Queen Pirouette for her personal inspection.
When Tata Sous-sus saw the expressions on the faces of the Captain of the Guards and his lackeys, her heart began to beat so rapidly that she found it difficult to draw a breath. Indeed, it felt as though that little pump was beating against her chest. As she rose from her seat, she knocked over the cup of tea. She emitted a little cry, “Oh! Oh, my!”
“You needn’t worry about that. When I leave, I’ll ask your maid to clean that up,” said the Captain, annoyed.
“Murder?” Replied Tata. “What would I know about any murder?”
“It has come to our attention that the Baroness was in possession of some information that could seriously damage your standing at court.
“N-n-n-no!” Sputtered Tata. “I’ve no idea of what you are talking about. Information? What kind of information?”
“Come now, your ladyship. I needn’t remind you of that melancholy day from the past. Hm?” His eyes narrowed to veritable slits. “You know exactly what I’m talking about! I already know the answer, but I want to hear it from your mouth. Out with it!”
“What is the question? I’ll be happy to answer anything.” She clasped her hands together as if in prayer.
“Very well,” said the Captain. With his snub nose, and rather pointy ears, poking out from his plumed helmet, he looked very much like a pig. Tata was alarmed at how quickly his face turned turned a crimson shade of red. “Did you or did you not know that the Baroness was well aware of the fact that you gave birth to an illegitimate child- a child that was immediately taken away from you and put up for adoption?”
Tata was shocked speechless. She bit the back of her hand in an effort to suppress a scream.