Sitting in a straight-backed chair, Tata Sous-sus, remembering her breeding, kept her own back ramrod straight and her hands neatly folded in her lap. Training her eyes on some imaginary, distant point, she succeeded in making her interrogators uncomfortable. It was as if she were staring right through them, as if they weren’t even there.
“Your Ladyship,” intoned the judge of the high court. “You have been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors against God and country.
So often in her life, Tata had been accused of having a loud, abrasive voice, but now she answered at a low volume, with a dignified, measured tone. “I am innocent.”
Shaking his head, the judge said, “You must plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” Those are your only options.
“As God is my witness, I am innocent as a newborn babe!” Forgetting herself, she allowed her voice to become strident, almost shrill.
From the public gallery, two of Queen Pirouette’s ladies sat side by side. Lady Abigail Hoffenhoff took the hand of her colleague, Lady Sharpsweet. Leaning into Sharpsweet’s ear, Abigail said, “At last, Auntie Finale is going to get her comeuppance.”
Despite the excruciating pain in his wounded leg, GarGar insisted that his men bear him to the battlefield on a cot. When the soldiers saw him coming from afar, they cried their approval, lifting their rifles in the, and some even discharging. From the top of a slow incline, he examined the enemy’s position using his lucky, gold-plated field glasses.
“Save your bullets for the enemy!” Shouted GarGar, who nevertheless smiled and waved. “We will fight together! Or, if need be, die together!” This was why his men loved him so.
Two of his men hoisted him up, placing the inner crooks of his arms behind their necks. As soon as GarGar was in a vertical position, the blood began to race into his legs. The pain was nearly unbearable, and caused him to twitch from head to toe. He bit his lip to keep from crying aloud, but it was futile. “Set me down!” He hissed through gritted teeth. And then, more calmly, “Have pity on your poor general.”
Kneeling before his Queen, GarGar bowed his head. Clasping his hands to his chest, he waited for the blow that he knew must come. Even so, when she struck him on the cheek with the backside of her hand, GarGar gasped. The pain travelled from his face to his spine and then down to his feet. “Wow!” He thought. “She’s strong!”
“Monsieur, le comte,” Queen Pirouette intoned, “I grant you the title, Knight of the Golden Circle, to be held in perpetuity by you, and your heirs in perpetuity.” Taking a sword, Pirouette gently tapped each of his shoulders in the time-honored ritual of granting knighthood. “God be with you,” she said.
Queen Pirouette was in no hurry to be coronated. She hated ceremony. Unfortunately, every day of her life since childhood had been governed by ritual. With time, the problem only grew worse. Now that she was Queen, nearly every aspect of her life was subject to strict etiquette.
At eight o’clock every morning, the Chief Lady of the Bedchamber would draw her bed curtains and say, “Your majesty, it is time.” This was called the levée. All of the ladies of the Court would vie for the opportunity to hand Pirouette a piece of clothing. Of course, only the highest ranking woman could claim pride of place to give the Queen her first piece of clothing. By no means was she allowed even an iota of privacy. Everything she did was open to public display, even taking a bath. Tickets were distributed for entrance to the gallery where the nobles could gather to watch her bathe.
Because a typical coronation lasted an entire day, Pirouette chose to procrastinate announcing a date. “Why should I be eager to have everyone see me stripped down to my shift so that the prelates can rub their holy oil on my arms, legs, chest and forehead!” Not even her fiancé, GarGar couldn’t convince her to name a date.
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.'”
Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Paul 5:8
Tata Sous-sus was sipping tea and gazing out the window of her little room on the ground floor of the palace. “It’s more like a broom closet,” she’d complained when she first saw it, but now she found it cozy and warm with its big fireplace that took up almost an entire wall of the compartment. There was a knock on the door, a rare occasion, that made her jump.
“Come in,” she said without even thinking. Damn! She thought. I just want to be left alone.
She was not so lucky. When the door opened, the Captain of the Guard entered with two underlings. “Greetings in the name of the Queen,” said the Captain gravely. “Were here to ask you a few question, my lady.”
“Concerning the murder of the Baroness, Lady Greenmeadow.”
“Take one of these twice a day for three days,” the doctor paused to allow Abigail to catch up with her note-taking, “And then once a week as a-.” He paused again, groping for the right word, “Prophylactic!” He finished triumphantly. Handing Pirouette a jar full of a noxious-smelling, cloudy blue compound, he smiled with the benignity of the brilliant.
“It smells awful!” Observed Abigail. “What’s a single dose?” She inquired taking the lid from the doctor’s hand and placing it securely on the top of the jar.
In response to her query, the doctor handed Abigail a dropper. “One drop,” he said succinctly.
“Is it thin enough to extract with a dropper?”
“I assure you, my dear, that while it looks dense, this mixture is actually as frothy as air,” he assured the Queen’s Chief Lady of the Bedchamber.
“You may address her as, ‘Your ladyship,'” interjected Tata Sous-sus from a dark corner of the room.
Taking advantage of a break in the rain, la duchesse du Linge and friends decided to frolic in the gardens. Given her advancing age, such diversions were now rare in the life of the old King’s former mistress. Catching her foot on an uneven brick in the pavement that cut through the roses, she fell to her knees, tearing her new dress, knocking her wig into a precarious position and soiling her gloves as she braced herself from falling on her face. In her distress, she cried, “Oh, poo! Somebody help me!” As she tore off her blindfold, she smeared her eye makeup, giving her the appearance of a sad clown.
“Oh, happy day!” Shouted the old King when he heard of GarGar’s safe return to the capital. His Majesty ordered bonfires to be lit throughout the kingdom. When le comte des Deux Chats entered the city gates, the people thronged to see him. Some threw flowers in front of his horse. Others waved handkerchiefs and bright pieces of cloth from their windows. Canons fired the salute. Church bells rang, carrying the sound of joy in the air.
For his on part, GarGar was pleased to smile and wave at the people. It was a hot, sunny day, so he was obliged to exsiccate himself with his own handkerchief. Afterwards he tossed the bit of white cloth into the crowd and it was immediately torn to pieces by those who were eager to have a momento of that glorious day.