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.”
GarGar raised his hand to signal his men to stop marching. Trumpets blared so that even the farthest ranks would know the order. The commanders shouted, “Pitch your tents!” Yes, the army had stopped marching, but they were bursting with activity. There was so much to be done. First, a trench had to be dug that would circumnavigate the camp. Tents needed to be pitched. Fires needed to be stoked. GarGar dismounted from his horse, picked up a shovel and began digging alongside his men. That was the kind of leader he was. His men loved him for it.
From the very start, the campaign was hampered by poor planning. Funds that were meant to go for provisions somehow were diverted into the pockets of greedy middlemen. Because of this, GarGar was forced to spend his own money to keep his men from starving. Everything from canon fodder to musket balls were in short supply. GarGar did his best to present a cheerful face to the men under his charge, but they could see that he was unhappy.
“Why so glum?” Asked his aide de camp. “What can I do?”
“Not to worry,” answered GarGar with a sardonic grin. “You’ve already done more than anyone could expect.”
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.
It was at the entrance of a long, broad valley that GarGar rose his hand and signaled his men to stop. Snapping his fingers at his aide-de-camp, he shouted, “Charles! Make a note of the time and location!” Charles de la Rivière was brand new to his position, so he wanted to make a good impression on his senior officer. Unfortunately, he dropped his satchel. Scrambling from his horse, he snatched it up and began rifling through its contents. GarGar began to whistle tunelessly which only served to fluster poor, young Charles all the more.
Finally, after several minutes of fruitless searching, he decided to dump the entire contents of the satchel onto the ground. “There it is!” He cried. “My notebook!”
“Now all you need is a pen,” said GarGar sardonically.
“You Majesty! Look! Look out the window!” Abigail Hoffenhoff, out of breath, bounded into Queen Pirouette’s bedchamber. Gesticulating wildly, the Queen’s closest friend and confidante, unlatched the nearest window that looked onto the courtyard of the palace. “Wait!” She shouted. “Wait! The Queen!” Exhausted by her own emotions, Abigail broke into a series of coughs that shook her entire frame.
“What’s this?” Said one of the Queen’s other ladies in waiting. “As you can see, Her Majesty is in the middle of reading important state documents.” With pursed lips, the dower dowager shook her head and with an elegant gesture, moved her hand in Pirouette’s direction.
“Be that as it may, the Queen needs to see her fiancé right now…” Abigail paused to catch her breath. “Amirite?” She blurted out.
Dropping the magnifying glass that used to help her decipher the chicken scratch that the Prime Minister considered handwriting, Pirouette rose from her desk and moved to the window in measured paces. It never failed to amaze Abigail (and others) how their Queen could walk in such a way that she appeared to be gliding like a skater on ice.
When she reached the window, Pirouette saw her beloved GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats riding a magnificent white steed and dressed in his full uniform as a general in Her Majesty Army. He looked every bit the hero with his light blue coat, a dozen or more medals hanging from his chest, with his shiny black riding boots and his sword by his side. On his face, he wore an expression that bespoke authority, determination and pride. But it was his flashing eyes that were his most noticeable adornment.
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.
Everyone was assembled, from the guards to the spectators to the judges. The defendant and her lawyers sat at one table facing the judges, while the prosecutors sat nearby at another table facing the same direction. (God forbid that they should face each other!) Tata Sous-sus, whose dumbfounded expression was the source of much merriment at Court, sat hunched over, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Unobserved, Queen Pirouette sat in the gallery, veiled behind screens.
Only a few days earlier, Tata, the Queen’s closest living relative, had been found guilty of the murder of Lady Greenmeadow. All of these great personages were gathered to witness her obligatory sentence: DEATH. The presiding judge who sat under a large white wig with many curls, cleared his throat and struck his gavel. Behind him, a young valet, dressed in the Queen’s livery, held a curious-looking black cap over the judges head as he spoke.
“We are gathered here today for the sad business of sentencing this unfortunate woman, the lady commonly known as ‘Tata Sous-sus.’ Picking up a document and clearing his throat again, before he could speak, another valet bounded through a side door of the courtroom, ran up the stairs that led to the judges’ seats and thrust a piece of paper in front of him. An audible gasp rippled through the spectators.
“Wha- what’s this?” Stammered the judge, peering through his half-lensed reading spectacles at the note now resting in his hands.
“I’m afraid that I must call for a recess while I consult in chambers with my colleagues. Council for the prosecution and the defense will attend me there.”
As the judges retreated to their chambers, the rest of the courtroom rose to its feet. The room veritably exploded in people shouting into each others’ faces. Tata Sous-sus swooned, and it was only because two of her lawyers grabbed her that she didn’t fall right there on the floor. Looking skyward, Tata murmured, “Thank you, Lord. I thought I was already a corpse.”
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats, sat on his big white stallion. He’s paused because he and his men weren’t quite sure where they were; that is, where they were located. While his Aide de Camp wrestled with a map that seemed to have a thousand folds, GarGar decided to take a bit of refreshment. Reaching into the inner breast pocket of his jacket, le comte extracted a silver flask. Casually taking a long draught, he also trained his eyes on the Aide de Camp.
“You there!” Said GarGar. “How’s it going with that map? Here! Let me take a look at it!” With that, GarGar tucked his flask back into his pocket and simultaneously reached for the map. His Aide, a young man of about twenty years, looked at him as if he had two heads. “My lord!” Was all the poor fellow could think to say.
“Let’s see here,” said GarGar, tucking his chin into his chest, “The trail we are on started going East, then it went North-East. After a bit, it double-backed South-West, and then corrected itself due East, here!” He poked energetically at the map. “Here!”
The Aide shrugged his shoulders. His ability to read a map was hindered by a serious learning disability. In later years, he’d be labelled with words such as “poor impulse control,” “dyslexic,” and “Attention deficient syndrome.” Be that as it may, he did have the presence of mind to pull a compass from his trouser pocket and shove it in the direction of his leader.
“Yes!” Cried GarGar. “Maybe we can tell by what direction we are going now, it will tell us where we are on the map!”
It was the first anniversary of Queen Pirouette’s accession to the throne. Because this day fell so closely to Her Majesty’s birthday, all sorts of festivities were planned. Abigail Hoffenhoff, Pirouette’s First Lady of the Bedchamber, threw herself into the plannings at the sacrifice of both sleep and food. There was so much to do. Where to begin? First and foremost, locations had to be secured. There was the Great Cathedral, the public square, and even the Grand Ballroom of the palace had to be scrubbed clean and staffed with extra personnel. The Queen, whose time and energy were occupied with matters of state, didn’t bother to question any of Abigail’s decisions.
The first and most important event was the holy mass to be said at the beginning of the celebration. Of course, this would be held at the Great Cathedral, but who would be the celebrant? There were many candidates for the job, but the two most likely candidates were the Cardinal and the Queen’s Confessor. The two men, implacable enemies, tried every means in their disposal to convince Lady Abigail to choose them. Their methods diverged. While the Cardinal initiated a whispering campaign against Her Majesty’s Confessor, Pére Joachim, the Confessor himself chose to whisper in Her Majesty’s ear all of his qualifications for this important post.