“Oh, no,” murmured Lady Natasha Rambovalina. “Here she comes.” For a woman who was nearly as wide as she was tall, Tata Sous-sus was amazingly fast and lithe on her feet. Walking like a woman with a purpose, she reached Lady Natasha in a few seconds, arm extended with a folded piece of paper in her hand.
“This is for you,” blurted Tata. “Read it now.”
“Would it kill you to be a little more discreet?” Asked Natasha as she snatched the note from Tata’s hand. “What’s this all about?”
“Just read it,” sighed Tata in exasperation.
It read: To my devoted servant- leave my Court now. -P
“What law have I broken,” demanded Lady Natasha. “Why should I leave Court like a thief in the night?”
“I’m just the messenger. I’ve no idea why someone would want you to leave.” Unspoken was the fact that the “someone” was Queen Pirouette.
“Just answer her!” Hissed Lady Abigail who was clearly at the end of her rope with all this missing GarGar business. She was waiting for the stranger to perjure himself, to claim that he was the lost comte des Deux Chats. At which point, he would be executed or locked away forever, thus ending, if not the entire saga, then at least a chapter.
“Ever since I returned, I’ve been treated like a stranger. I’m tired of it. I’m GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats. There! I said it! I hope you’re happy!”
Without thinking, Queen Pirouette extended her hand to the interloper. He took her hand in his, and then kissed his own thumb, rather than the Queen’s actual hand. This was a strict observance of court etiquette. When kissing the Queen’s hand, one was always expected to fold their thumb over the top of her hand, and then kiss one’s own thumb, rather than sullying the royal hand with one’s slobbery lips. Only someone who’d actually been to court would be aware of this practice.
All three women- the Queen and her two closest ladies in waiting- were astonish by the man’s observance of this obscure rule of behavior. While the Queen’s hand was still in his, the man looked up at her and said quietly, “Don’t you recognize me, my love?”
Looking back at the man, Pirouette realized that the man’s eye color was exactly the same as her beloved GarGar. They were a pale shade of green. He winked at her. This was something that only le comte des deux chats, Monsieur GarGar would ever have the nerve to do. Pirouette swooned.
“Guards!” Shouted Lady Abigail. “Guards! Take this man away at once! He’s trying to pass himself off as some spook. He’s upsetting the Queen. Get rid of him immediately!”
“Quiet, Abby!” Cautioned the Queen. “Sometime, dear friend, you take on too much. You need to learn to keep quiet.” She then leaned forward to get a closer look at the strange man. “Take him back to the palace. Make sure he is comfortable and well-fed. We will examine him more closely later.”
To Queen Pirouette’s recollection, there weren’t so many vines growing on the outer walls of Castle Rising. As her entourage drew closer to the destination, the road began to line with well-wishers from the nearby villages. Some wore fine clothes. Others were in rags. The driver of the Queen’s carriage began to throw newly minted coins with Her Majesty in profile on one side and on the reverse was an eagle, its wings outstretched and in its beak, a tiny scroll that read, “Peace & Prosperity.”
A woman with two little girls, hand in hand approached the carriage. One child carried a bouquet of flowers and the other held a picture in a frame. Pirouette ordered the driver to stop. As the carriage door opened, the people broke out in spontaneous applause. “Please, Your Majesty!” Cried the woman, “Bless my daughters.”
“I’ll do better than that,” replied the Queen. “Each of your daughters will be provided an ample dowery that they may wed well.” With a benevolent smile, the Queen took the gifts from the children. When she looked more closely at the frame, she saw that it held a holy icon- the image of Saint Swithin.
Hunting for sport wasn’t Queen Pirouette’s cup of tea, but she knew she was obliged to participate in this sport in order to remain on a good footing with the nobles. To the sound of blaring horns and baying dogs, she would ride and fling, half-heartedly the spears needed to fell something as big as a wild boar. With more enthusiasm, she would also go hawking. When she pulled the mask from its head, she would marvel as the creature took flight. It was something that she would never forget, watching the creature ascend, circle in the sky and then swoop down on its prey. Usually it would drop a small rodent like a mouse or a rabbit into her outstretched hand.
As the funeral cortege exited the great Cathedral, honor guards with their long pikes were stationed along the route to the Chapel of Pulchritudo Vincula, where all the late kings were entombed. The coffin, made of oak and painted black, was placed on a caisson, and six white horses with black feathered plumes on their heads, pulled the sad cargo. Unfortunately, nobody bothered to inspect the caisson beforehand, and about halfway through its route, a wheel fell off, causing the coffin to come crashing down onto the street. Pandemonium erupted as the onlookers rushed to the spot in order to gather a momento of the occassion- a splinter from the outer coffin, a plume from one of the horses.
“By sunset, His Majesty will most surely be dead,” said his chief physician gravely to the prime minister. There were at least twenty people in the old King’s bedchamber. There was the Archbishop who’d given the dying man extreme unction. There were the other members of His Majesty’s privy council. Princess Pirouette sat at his bedside, while Lady Greenmeadow stood beside her uncle, the prime minister. Even Tata Sous-sus was there, standing behind Pirouette with a hand on her shoulder.
All of the windows had been covered with tapestries. The only lit in the room was by candle. The smoke of incense filled the air. There were no tears. People had been anticipating this day for years, but now that it had come, they were stunned into silence. The death of a sovereign is a serious affair.
“Just how old is the King?” Whispered one courtier to another.
“I’m not sure,” was the reply. “I don’t think there’s a soul alive who remembers when he was born.”
“He’s run quite the marathon to live to such a prodigious age.”
“Well, he may have run the race, but the event is almost over.”
“Curiosity killed that cat!” Shrieked Tata Sous-sus, brandishing a wooden spoon as she chased little Princess Pirouette from the family library. The memory from so many years ago still burned in the now older woman’s heart. Despite the distance of time, the pain wrought by such treatment was raw, fresh and unsettling. I’ll never forgive her, thought Pirouette. Never!
Tata’s hand shook as she poured the Princess’ tea. After her less than successful interview with the prime minister, Tata felt her position as chief lady-in-waiting was tenuous at best. “Doesn’t Her Highness find it curious that, even though she’s an adult, she’s not allowed to make decisions about the management of Her personal staff?” Tata was never one to mince her words. Princess Pirouette was taken aback at Tata’s effrontery.
“Mind your own business, old woman,” was all Pirouette could think to say. “Just pour the tea.”