Moored in a tiny village with the ridiculous name of Saint Germain-en-Laye, the royal flagship had accumulated a thin layer of frost on its deck. It was the Festival of Saint Charles de Foucault after all. After hearing mass below deck, Queen Pirouette nearly broke her neck when she ascended to begin her hand-waving duties. If not for GarGar, who was nearly always at her side, she would have fallen on the slippery surface.
Unable to contain his anger, GarGar, le comte des Deuxchats shouted, “Sand! Salt! Why hasn’t this deck been treated properly for Her Majesty? Where’s Admiral Crank? I’ll have his guts for garters if any mishap should befall our Queen!”
Trying not to think about the enormous amount of bad luck of having so many women aboard ship, Admiral Crank took a large bite from the plug of tobacco, a recently discovered herb from the New World that was all the rage among the upper classes. While it tasted atrocious, and more often than not gave him a stomach ache, there was something about how the tobac (as they called it at Court) that made him feel tip-top. As long as he didn’t swallow the foam in his mouth created by this plant-based stimulate, but rather spat it out, there were no stomach aches, no nausea, no vomiting, no headaches. Instead, it made him feel as though he had the strength of ten men, maybe even twenty men. Spitting a big mouthful onto the deck, the “Angry Admiral” as his men called him, failed to suppress a chortle as the big glob of the noxious material landed on one of GarGar’s shoes.
“Er…a million ‘pologies yer Grace,” muttered the Admiral.
GarGar chuckled good-naturedly. “I can buy a new pair of shoes once we pull into the next port.”
“Surely you jest, m’lord,” said Crank. “You there! Boy!” Shouted the Admiral at a nearly toothless, old man. “Swab ‘is Lordship’s shoes.”
“Yes, Admiral,” said the sailor, falling to his knees with a rag that was somehow dirtier than GarGar’s shoes. Not entirely comfortable with the situation at hand, le comte des Deux Chats tried his best not to look at the goiter on the old man’s neck. Given that the excrescence was the size of a grapefruit, it proved an impossible. That poor man, thought GarGar.
The new flagship for the Royal Navy pulled from its moorings. Crusty Admiral Crank stood on the poop deck in order to survey the activities of the sailors under his immediate command. To his right stood Queen Pirouette and to his left, le comte des Deux Chats, GarGar. The blessings of calm seas and low breeze meant that most of the crew were required to sit at the oars. That put most of the men below deck.
During the reign of Pirouette’s predecessor, slaves operated the galleys. The first act that came from the Queen’s hand upon her accession was to abolish the detestable institution; therefore, the rowers were all volunteers. The emancipation of tens of thousands of human chattel was immensely popular with the majority of her subjects (with the exception of the nobles, who with the wave of her dainty, royal hand had lost millions.) Jealous of her power and eternally suspicious of the nobility, Pirouette’s mind constantly turned on ways to weaken the upper classes.
“Let’s go below,” said GarGar cheerily. “I don’t think you’ve ever gone down there, my love. Have you?”
“No,” answered Pirouette. “I’ve been told that the smell is unbearable.”
“That was in the old days,” said GarGar. “Things are completely different nowadays.”
So down they went. As they descended the steps, the first thing Pirouette perceived was the time keeper with his big kettledrum. The grunts and groans of the men, along with the thump-thump-thump of the drum, created a hellish symphony. The first lieutenant roamed up and down the central aisle, his ceremonial whip hanging uselessly from his belt, bouncing against his thigh. From his expression, he appeared more than ready to use it. Catching the Queen in his flinty eyes, he immediately fell to his knees. The timekeeper stopped drumming. An audible sigh rose from the sweaty ranks as they folded their calloused and blistered hands into their laps.
With the exception of the First Lieutenant, all of the sailors below deck were stripped to the waist. For the first time in her life, the Queen saw a tattoo. It was on the shoulder of the burly timekeeper. Made entirely of blue ink, the design featured a mermaid with her scaly tail wrapped around an anchor. Six inches tall and four inches wide, it was impossible to miss. With so much room in which to work, the artist succeeded in fashioning a beautiful face for the ocean nymph. Unseen and imaginary forces below the surface of the sea caused her hair to split into numerous locks. With both hands, she held a trident, normally the sole property of Poseidon.
To the Prime Minister’s chagrin, Tata Sous-sus was included in the party. As the nearest thing to a family member of the Queen, she felt entitled to board the ship before it set sail down the Great River into the Kingdom’s heartland. Standing at the prow, Tata practiced waving at the crowd below. Someone who was deeply disappointed that Tata wasn’t the Queen threw a rock at her. “Look out!” Shouted a crew member as the missile whizzed by her head.
“Perhaps you should go below until we set sail,” said the Captain gently. “Once the sun sets, there will be a fireworks display. I assure you. It will be spectacular.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll just stay put until Her Majesty arrives,” replied Tata Sous-sus drily.