It was noon on a cloudless day and the men had been marching all day. Lucky to be on a mount, GarGar, le comte des Deux Chat was still parched. Reaching out to his aide-de-camp who was riding beside him, he said, “Wine, if you please, François.” “Yes, my lord,” replied François, handing le comte a bursting wineskin. Popping the cork with his teeth, GarGar drank deeply until the red liquid ran down his chin.
“Perhaps we should stop to water the horses-” GarGar paused. “And the men.”
“Halt!” Shouted François, while GarGar raised his arm to indicate that the order was coming directly from him, rather than the speaker. A trumpet sounded the command as well. A collective sigh of relief could be heard up and down the line. “At least it ain’t rainin'” GarGar heard one of his foot soldiers say. “Indeed!” Replied GarGar. “Here, my good man, have some wine.” He handed the wineskin to the soldier’s eager, trembling hands. “Pass that along to your comrades, if you would be so kind.”
Poor old King rose from his bed every morning at seven sharp. His chief gentleman of the bedchamber would pull the curtain aside on his bedside and say, “Your Majesty, it is time!” Poor old King who could never sleep more than a few hours at a time would groan and thank his gentleman. Next came the royal dressers who would pull his nightshirt over his head and begin dressing him from head to toe. With half a dozen hands to help him, it still took His Majesty nearly an hour to dress fully from his wig to his shoes. The gentleman of the mirror would drag the full-length mirror to his bedside so that His Majesty could inspect the work. At this point in his life, he barely gave it a glance. “Thank you, all,” he would intone and with a wave of his hand, the royal dressers would leave.
As his chamberlain would lead him to the chapel to hear mass, the poor old King would look wistfully at his bed and then, leaning heavily on the chamberlain’s arm and with the assistance of a cane, he would proceed to hear mass. Sometimes, he would be so tired that he would sleep through the entire ceremony. After Princess Pirouette entered the court, nobody dared disturb the old King while he snored through the Agnus dei. One stern glance from the Princess would belay any would be beadle from nudging the King.
GarGar picked up the handkerchief that Princess Pirouette had just tossed out of her window. What’s this? He thought. A ring! To his horror, he realized that the ring which had been pulled through a corner of the cloth was the very same he’d given her on the day of their betrothal. What could this mean? He asked himself. Was this a rejection, or an invitation. How he wished that he could be given just a tiny glimpse into the mind of Her Majesty!
“His Majesty’s funeral should be a sombre affair, as sombre as humanly possible,” said Tata Sous-Sus, standing at the foot of the old King’s bed. Princess Pirouette put one hand to her forehead as though blocking out glare from the sun. “What’s the matter, my dear?” Continued Tata who was looking as grim and serious as she possibly could. Yes! She was wearing a new wig. Yes! She was wearing new makeup, new jewels and even a new gown, but that still didn’t give her the right to be so dictatorial, in Pirouette’s opinion.
“I don’t know why you should be so eager to make me Queen,” snapped Pirouette. “His Majesty is not even dead yet, and here you are measuring him for his coffin.” Tata Sous-sus stepped back and put a hand to her cheek, as if she’d actually been struck in the face. Never in all of their days together had Pirouette spoken to Tata with such sharpness. It was grief, no doubt, Tata told herself. As if to underscore her tenuous position at court, Pirouette continued, “I don’t know who appointed you to the planning committee for His Majesty’s funeral, but rest assured, there will be no undue pizzazz.
Pirouette rose from her place beside the old King’s bed and walked over to the window. Who should she see but GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats walking alone in the King’s private garden. He held a flower in his hand, something like a daisy, and he was casually pulling off the petals slowly and tossing them into the air. Pirouette was not impressed with Monsieur le comte’s cavalier manner.
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats heard the alarming news and acted at once. First, he gave command of the army to his trusted lieutenant. Then he mounted his favorite horse, Electra and bounded off to the capital. There wasn’t a moment to waste. He rode poor Electra until she was half-dead and then traded her for a lesser steed before completing the two day journey to the palace.
When he arrived at the palace, GarGar was surprised to see the flag at full staff. None of the guards wore black armbands. Was the news of the old King’s demise just a silly rumor? Half-running through the halls of the palace, he made his way to His Majesty’s bedroom. There he found Princess Pirouette sitting bedside, calmly dabbing a clothe on His Majesty’s forehead. Tearing his hat from his head, GarGar bowed deeply from the waist, “Forgive my appearance, Your Highness, but I’ve just arrived at the palace from the front. I’ve not had a chance to clean up.”
Pirouette surveyed le comte from head to toe before speaking, “Yes, my lord, I can see from your dusty boots that you’ve had a hard ride. Won’t you have some tea to refresh you?”
For the second time in as many months, the three highest ranking women in the court were sitting vigil by the old King’s bed. Princess Pirouette sat from dawn to dusk, then came Tata Sous-sus through half the night, and then finally la duchesse du Linge brought up the rear. Others might come and go through the sickroom, but these three ladies sat like imperious statues by the royal bed, wiping the sweat from the old King’s brow, plumping his pillows and otherwise doing their best to make him comfortable.
For three days His Majesty lay supine and motionless on the bed. On the fourth day, his eyelids began to flutter and his lips to tremble as though he might be awakening. “If only Her Highness would allow me to apply a few leeches, I’m sure we would see His Majesty awakening straight away!” Bemoaned his chief physician, but Pirouette expressly forbade the use of knives or leeches or hot brands to cure the old King of whatever was ailing him. “Your tender mercies will no doubt be the death of our King,” retorted Princess Pirouette. Tata Sous-sus, who was on the side of the physicians, could only shake her head and pray for the best. As for the old King’s old mistress, la duchesse du Linge didn’t know what to think or say in this situation.
Monsieur le Premier ministre was enjoying a cup of tea with Princess Pirouette (and her ladies) one sunny afternoon on the Southern Terrace. These get-togethers had become something of a ritual. The Prime Minister found that he enjoyed the Princess’ company and since one day, one day soon, she would become his sovereign, he thought it appropriate that she should be briefed regularly on the business of governance. She poured his tea with her own hand and smiled at him as she did so. “Oops!” She said. “Your cup runneth over!” They both laughed as she dabbed at the spill with her lace napkin.
Suddenly, in mid-chortle, Monsieur le Premier clutched his chest. Searing pain cut his breath and travelled down his left arm. He collapsed into his chair, his face ashen, his lips blue. He tried to cry out “Help!” But all he could do was croak hoarsely, “Ack! Ack! Ack!” Even in the throes of this fit, his mind race. Poison! He thought. I’ve been poisoned! But why? Why would the Princess want me dead? What Monsieur did not know, nor would his physicians ever know, was that he was suffering from endocarditis; that is, a bacterial infection of his heart.