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.”
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?
Words like accidental or coincidence rarely applied to events at court. Under the Prime Minister’s watchful eye, ceremonial roles of the crown were never ignored. Every minute of the Queen’s day was subject to court ceremonial and etiquette. Additionally, every tidbit of gossip was a missile sent with specific targets in mind. Nothing was left to chance. Everything was the result of design. Of course, the best laid plans… More often that not, many of the Prime Minister’s little intrigues fell to pieces, leaving him embarrassed. But despite the set-backs, it didn’t stop him from trying and trying.
Heaven and hell be damned! Thought the Prime Minister. My will shall be done on earth. We’ll worry about heaven later.
It was twilight and Queen Pirouette, her ladies-in-waiting in tow, decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and take a stroll through her rose garden. As the various butterflies hurried to get their last-minute bits of Buddleja nectar, the fireflies began their courtship rituals. Pirouette never tired of the glow of the little winged insects. Years ago, when Pirouette was just a little girl, Tata Sous-sus tried to comfort the little girl shortly after she became an orphan by telling her that two of them might be the souls of her parents on their way to heaven.
“Do you really believe that?” Asked Pirouette who, before the era of I.Q.’s, could still easily be seen to be twice the intelligence of her caregiver.
“Believe what?” Replied Tata, confused.
“Do you really believe those insects are the souls of dead people?”
Tata paused before answering. She always felt as if her charge was trying to make her look foolish, or to one-up her at every opportunity. “Well, you never know, my dear,” said Tata warily.
“And do you really think that my parents are going to heaven?”
“Of that I am quite certain. Your mother and father were saints. So kind were they. Not only are they in heaven looking down on you, they have wings and halos because they most certainly became angels, the very second they passed through those pearly gates.”
“What a load of rubbish,” said Pirouette. “If you believe in angels, fairies and saintly insects, then you need to read some scripture.”
Tata began to wring her wrists. The urge to slap little Pirouette was sometimes difficult to suppress, but the child had become inviolate. She’d become the closest living relative to the King. Now she was the heir-apparent. They couldn’t just say that she was the heir to the throne because, if by some miracle and the King fathered a legitimate heir, it would take precedence over her.
Two days beforehand, the Chamberlain had informed the Master of the Horse that the Queen would be taking carriage ride to the countryside in order to enjoy a nice, quiet picnic with no one around except her ladies-in-waiting with the footmen and coach drivers would double as waiters for this special occasion. So besides the Queen’s carriage, several more would be needed for the other ladies of her suite and, of course, the food.
Just as she was descending the staircase from the main entrance to the palace, her carriage pulled up to the bottom of the staircase. Clearly taken aback, Pirouette looked over at Lady Abigail and said, “I almost had to wait!” Almost always within earshot of the Queen, the Chamberlain clenched his fists. This was just the kind of episode that could cost the Chamberlain his job. Just look at what happened to the cook! He thought. The Chief Chef was now taking orders from the very same man who, in fumbling his own job, caused the Chief Chef to fall from his high position.
“My Lord Chamberlain,” said the Queen in a kindly tone. “Did I or did I not tell you a week ago that I’d be needing a carriage at precisely 10 o’clock in the morning today?”
“Well, uhm,” he stretched the two words out to half a minute before he finally answered the Queen’s question. “It was three days ago, but indeed it was ample time for the Master of the Horse to carry out his duties in this respect. It’s a scandal that the carriage wasn’t waiting for you when you came out of the palace.” He was a smooth one, the Queen’s Chamberlain.
“As Queen, I am the head of state. I know that I am young. I understand that the gentlemen of the court and the Privy Council are unaccustomed to obeying the commands of a woman. I rule over every man and woman in this realm. I rule their cattle and their crops. I even rule the soil where they plant their seeds. An entire week is ample time to ensure that there is a carriage waiting for me when I leave the palace. Wouldn’t you agree, my lord?” She asked the Chamberlain.
“On behalf of the Master of Horse and his staff,” said the Chamberlain quietly, “may I offer you their sincere apology for this error. Once they hear the news, I’m quite sure that they will be as appalled as the rest of us.” He bowed lowly.
“Indeed!” Piped up Lady Abigail who deployed her fan and began to used it to effect, fanning herself as if she were a block of ice in the middle of July. Both she and Queen Pirouette had attended L’Académie pour la tenue des jeunes femmes nobles. Despite its fatuous name, the school did more than just teach the young women deportment, or how to dance, apply makeup or make a nice, strong cup of tea. Mathematics, Geometry, Algebra were offered to those with an aptitude for numbers. Besides grammar and diction, the young women were exposed to the greatest writers that the Kingdom had ever produced. They were required to learn at least two musical instruments. Even Astronomy was available to those who showed an interest.
Because the Queen and Lady Abigail had shared so many experiences together, they developed a strong and fast friendship. They shared private jokes. Even some of their mannerisms were the same. Sometimes they’d even dance together, sparking unkind gossip about the nature of their relationship. In private, more than a few would quietly suggest that the relationship between the two of them was more than platonic.
Watching the palace guard frogmarch the Chief Cook into her informal Presence Chamber, Queen Pirouette felt a tinge of sympathy for the poor man. This was the third time, in as many days, that the Queen had summoned the portly, red-faced man to come to her. This last time, she’d told the Captain of the palace guards, “Don’t be overly gentle with him.” They took her at her word.
The guard gave the Chief Cook a shove and he fell to his knees in front of Pirouette, who was sitting on a daybed, her lap covered with a pile of paperwork that followed her wherever she went. Grabbing a handful of the papers, she shook them in front of the Cook and then tossed them into the air. “Do you see how hard I work, day and night, for the welfare of my people? How am I supposed to fulfill my duties when I have a cook who insists on serving me food that he must know I won’t eat?”
The poor man began to sputter, but Her Majesty cut him off with the wave of a hand. “I am demoting you,” she said as evenly as she knew how. “You are changing places with your number one assistant. Now I don’t want to hear about any infighting or discord in the kitchens. You shall train your assistant to the best of your ability. You can start by telling him to ignore anything the doctors tell him about what fare I should be eating. Do you understand me?”
The Chief Cook nodded his head, but didn’t say a word. He eyes were trained firmly on his shoes. Etiquette forbad him from looking the Queen directly in the eyes. A single tear trickled down one of his cheeks.
Queen Pirouette looked down at her plate, leaned in and sniffed. Straightening her back, she look over at Lady Abigail, as if to say, What now? Then she pushed the plate away. “Now you want me to eat giant insects!” Barely restraining her anger, Pirouette lifted her plate and chucked it at her Chamberlain. Next, she took a long draught from her goblet of wine and slammed it down, hard, on the the table. “Who?” She inquired tersely, “is responsible for bringing that monster to my supper table?”
As usual, it was Lady Abigail who swooped in the calm the situation. “The Chief Chef says it’s called a “Lobster.”
“More fruit from the sea, no doubt.”
Pirouette sighed. “Send the chief cook up to me.” Looking over at the Chamberlain, she said, “Go get the sub-Chamberlain. Do it now!” The Chamberlain bowed lowly at the waist, back out of the room and fled.
Cautionary note about the link below: It’s the trailer for the movie The Lobster. There’s some strong language.