“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.
For a day and a half, Princess Pirouette had wept. On the second day after hearing the news, she dried her eyes and bid her ladies to dress her in black. Next she told her master of the horse to make ready a steed that would carry her to GarGar’s house. When her footman helped her into the saddle, it took all of her composure not to begin crying again. The last time anyone had touched her so intimately, it had been GarGar. The tactile memory was hard to bear, but instead of crying, she only made a guttural sound, as though she were choking.
“Are you alright, my lady?” Asked one of her servants. All she could do in reply was shake her head.
“Giddy up,” she said as she spurred her horse. Off she rode, with her ladies and guards in tow.
Bodies littered the streets. It pained GarGar to see that women and children were among the dead. “That’s the price of treason,” said his aide de camp with the callousness of youth. GarGar’s approach was more pragmatic. He pressed the survivors into work gangs, clearing the streets and throwing the corpses into one of several mass graves. Whole city blocks were razed to the ground in order to create space.
“This is the last time I lead an army against my own people,” said GarGar with emotion. “The very last time!”
“What kind of fashion statement is that?” Asked the recently rehabilitated Lady Greenmeadow. The object of her scorn was the old King’s former mistress (one of many) la duchess du Linge. Rather than the usual court attire, the omnipresent mantua, she’d donned a pair of baggy trousers. Men’s trousers were usually rather tight and form-fitting, so she could not be accused of cross-dressing. No, this was the duchess’ feeble attempt to influence court fashions.
When the old King saw Madame la duchesse, he said, “My dear, you’ve never looked more lovely. Where did you get those trousers? They are much too large for you!”
There were few places that Princess Pirouette enjoyed more than the garden. Many of her hours were spent among the blossoms. Besides the beauty of the flowers, there was the peaceful solitude afforded her. With the exception of a few ladies-in-waiting, who knew when to be quiet, she was alone. It was here in the gardens that she could sort out her thoughts. While many a seed might be planted in the ground, other seeds were allowed to germinate in her mind.
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats gave the door to the prime minister’s office an apprehensive knock. Monsieur le Premier ministre had couched a command in a polite invitation summoning Monsieur le comte into his presence. S’il vous plait, sa seigneurie, M. de l’Âne vous invite à le fréquenter à son bureau dans le palais à 9 heures du matin, the note had read.
“Please come in!” Said a cheerful voice from the other side of the door. Recognizing the voice of the prime minister, GarGar pulled a little at the cuffs of his jacket, shifted his tricornered hat a bit and then entered the poorly lit room with a slight bow. Holding his cane in his left hand, arm akimbo, GarGar extended his right to shake hands. The prime minister chose to ignore the gesture, cleared his throat and then invited M. le comte to sit down in a chair opposite his desk.
I wonder what the old widowmaker has planned for me now. Mused GarGar. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.
“What is the meaning of this?” Asked the prime minister. “Why is there a long line of nobles outside His Majesty’s antechamber?”
“Haven’t you heard?” Replied his youngest, newest secretary.
“Heard? Heard what?” The prime minister gave the young lad a withering glare that silenced him immediately.
“His Majesty requires everyone at court to be inoculated against small pox. Any who refuse must leave court. They have until Tuesday,” said the chief secretary, glowering under heavy eyebrows.
At first the prime minister was too shocked to speak, but after he gave time for the words to sink in, he did speak. “What is this? Who has been speaking to the King?” It was the prime minister’s firm belief that he was the only person qualified to converse with the old King.
Seeing his opening, the young lad piped up, “Monsieur le comte suggested it!”
Monsieur le Premier ministre grabbed the back of a chair to steady himself. He could feel the room spin. “That’s impossible. Count GarGar is in the North Tower.”
Rubbing his hands together, the young man had the effrontery to speak out of turn yet again. “Why no, sir,” he said gleefully, “Monsieur le comte was released just this morning. Didn’t anyone tell you?”