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.
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.
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.
Lady Greenmeadow was dead. Le margrave du Port was being held in the North Tower for her murder. The prime minister, devastated at the loss of his niece, had locked himself in his room in the palace, refusing all sustenance except for wine. Red wine. Lots of it. The entire Court was rocked by the scandal. It was all anybody could talk about. Why had he done it? While the thick-necked margrave protested his innocence, nobody believed him. There was no doubt about it. He would hang.
Pirouette had taken the news with horror. She’d never liked Lady Greenmeadow. In fact, in many ways she considered her ladyship to be her nemesis. Nevertheless, she would never wish such a fate on anyone. She would pray for the peaceful repose of the victim’s immortal soul. In truth, she found the margrave’s guilt hard to swallow and she couldn’t help but wonder if someone very close to herself was actually the culprit.
Summer was over. Daylight was becoming more and more scant. While the days were still fairly warm, the nights were growing colder. Already the leaves on the trees were changing color, falling to the ground, creating a soft carpet on the forest floor, filling the air with the pungent odor of decay.
For Pirouette, it was a sad time. It seemed that all of the bad things that ever happened to her occurred in the Autumn. It was hard for not to wait for the other shoe to drop at this time of year. Looking at GarGar, asleep in his reading chair with an open book in his lap, she thanked God for the hundredth time for bringing him into her life. Here was somebody who loved her for who she was, not for her wealth and power. For the thousandth time, she crossed herself and asked God to bless him.
Pirouette remembered the day as if it were just yesterday. It was the day when they brought her the news that her father was slain in battle. The messenger, who knelt before Pirouette’s mother offered her his sword. She looked upon the steel blade with horror, and then shouted, “Take it away! Take it away at once!” Pirouette watched as her mother bit into her fist and then bent over, as if stabbed in the belly. The mournful, desperate cry that her mother emitted sent shivers down the little girl’s spine and the memory of it had the same effect.
As one memory often leads to another, so it was with young Pirouette. Not long after her father’s funeral, refusing to open her door to anyone with the exception of the cub bearer. She ate no food, nor drank any water. The only thing she imbibed was wine- lots of wine. When her confessor knocked on her door, she cursed him and told him never to come back. When Pirouette’s governess knocked on the door, she too was told to go away forever. It was only a matter of time before she didn’t even allow the cup bearer admittance in the room.
When Pirouette’s father went off to war, he appointed a castellan to run the affairs of the estate during his absence. This man, who was named Guy de Lusignan, finally gave the order for the door to be taken down. Concern for the well-being of Pirouette’s mother, over-road propriety, and so the axes were applied to the door. Once a hole big enough to allow a grown man to enter was made, the castellan entered her ladyship’s bed chamber. What he saw was enough to sober up the most besotted of drunks. There lay la duchesse de la Grande Montagne Noire dead by her own hand. A gash across her throat created an obscene, leering clown mouth. Dried blood stained her bodice, bed covers, even the floor. It appeared that even though she was at the very nadir of despair, she was fearless enough to cut her throat with one single stroke of her dagger.
“Your mother was a very brave woman,” said her confessor to Pirouette. “Unfortunately, she was not brave enough to face the world without your father.” While she had wept at the news of her father’s demise, she could not summon the same amount of grief for her mother. Suicide! Thought Pirouette ten years later, The coward’s way out. “I’ll never forgive you,” said Pirouette to her long-dead mother. “Never!”