Princess Pirouette couldn’t take her eyes off of the stained glass. To think that she had commissioned such a work of beauty was almost beyond her comprehension. For five years, starting at the age of only thirteen years, she’d been making payments, now the window was finally completed. She’d made certain that the saints depicted were women, and there they were: Saint Philomena with her anchor and the Blessed Mother herself. Right there above the altar was the result of her devotion. In a tiny corner of the window was an inscription bearing the words, “Commission by HRH Princess Pirouette,” along with the date of completion.
Kneeling at the altar rail, she’d been praying for at least an hour. An untold number of “Glory be’s,” “Our Father’s,” and “Holy Mary’s” had parted her lips and risen straight up to Heaven. Upon the third completion of the entire rosary, she concluded with the words, “And God bless the King, le comte des Deux Chats, Tata Sous-sus and dear Abigail.” As she rose, Pirouette was surprised at how stiff her legs and back had become from such an extended period of immobility. “And God bless me too!”
When Pirouette knocked over the ink pot, it was only half accidental. She watched calmly as the document upon which the pot had sat, soaked up the blue liquid. She smiled and said to herself, “Thank God paper isn’t waterproof.” She was done for the day anyway. Calling Abigail, she said, “See that pile of papers at the end of the desk? Give them to a messenger to take to his lordship, the prime minister.”
Abigail’s eyes grew wide at the titling tower of paperwork. “Did you go through all of that in one sitting?”
“Indeed I did, and my hand is cramping so that I can’t do one more jot of work!”
Princess Pirouette sat at her new desk. The polished surface was not visible for all of the papers scattered on it. Lord Boyd, the prime minister’s youngest secretary, personally delivered the piles earlier that morning. Pirouette was aghast. “What am I supposed to do with this?” She asked the secretary incredulously. “My suggestion is that you start from the bottom,” he said smoothly, before bowing low and departing as quickly as he’d arrived.
Chewing her bottom lip, Pirouette took Lord Boyd’s advice and pulled a paper from the bottom of the largest pile. The script was ornate and unfamiliar to her, but she squinted her eyes and tried to sound out the letters. “Whereas the people of the capital have found their streets to be piled with rubbish, and whereas …” That was all she could glean from the document. Scanning further down, she made out the words, “Therefore His Most Gracious Majesty…” Dipping her quill into the ink pot, she began to underline the words that she didn’t understand.
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats, returned to a hero’s welcome from the campaign against the rebels. The church bells of the capital rang. The people thronged the streets. The markets were all closed. As he and his army road through the city, young maidens threw rose petals before them. Princess Pirouette and the old King greeted him on the steps of the great cathedral. Even the wretched poor, who couldn’t find a loaf of bread were assuaged by the wine that flowed from various fountains.
GarGar shifted uncomfortably in his saddle. Addressing a delegation from the rebellious city, he said, “Tell your city elders that if they do not surrender immediately, I will burn their city to the ground.”
Reaching into his waistcoat pocket, he drew out the miniature portrait of his beloved Princess Pirouette. At times like this, when he was required to be cruel, it helped him to remain steadfast in defending his future wife’s posterity. She looked back at him, unblinking, a faint smile adorning her elegant features. He sighed. How he loved her. Would she ever love him in return with even a fraction of the passion he felt for her? Whether or not she did, he vowed never to stop loving her.
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats, folded his field glass and put it back inside his sleeve. He was not encouraged by the enemies fortifications. From where he’d placed his canons, he should be able to land a canon ball on the roof of any building he chose. The problem was the walls that surrounded the entire city. Over ten feet thick in some places, it was a formidable challenge to breach. After the failure of the last campaign to suppress the rebellion, GarGar’s reputation as a general was clearly at steak.
Even though they were not yet wed, it had become customary for Princess Pirouette and GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats, to enjoy supper together. As they were surrounded by servitors, functionaries and ceremonial guards, the conversation was kept idle and for the most part, inconsequential. On this occasion, Pirouette’s confessor, Father Gant and Tata Sous-sus were sharing a meal with the happy couple. Court protocol required all to be silent until Pirouette spoke, so it was up to her to break the ice.
“Tell me, Father Gant,” she began. “How goes your work with the poor in your parish?”
Father Gant paused from his soup, cleared his throat and then said, “Oh, very well, Your Highness! Very well indeed. Your Highness’ concern for the poor is legendary. Legendary indeed.”
“I’ve been looking over the contents of my coronation oath, Father, and there is no mention of the poor. I wonder why that is so?”
Contrary to protocol, Tata Sous-sus chimed in. “The coronation oath has been the same for hundreds of years, my dear. Every King heretofore has sworn the same oath. To alter it now would be a terrible breach of tradition.”
GarGar gave Tata a withering look, but held his tongue. Father Gant returned to his soup. Pirouette tapped the table top to indicate that she was finished eating her soup; therefore, all the places had to be cleared. Father Gant looked crestfallen as gloved hands whisked his soup away. Tata sighed, licking her spoon before a servitor snatched it from her hand. GarGar, who was sitting to Pirouette’s right, gave her hand a quick squeeze. “I wonder what the next course is going to be?” He said.
GarGar listened intently as the Imperial Ambassador spoke. He did his best to obey Pirouette’s instructions to remain calm and quiet throughout the ambassador’s address, but he found it increasingly difficult. The ambassador’s butchery of the court tongue was hard bear, but it paled in comparison to the catalog of lies that issued forth from his painted mouth. His brand new shoes were a bit too tight and his feet began to cramp. Leaning over to one of his lieutenants, GarGar whispered, “I don’t know how much more of this I can bear.” The lieutenant’s face made an expression of sympathy, but what could he do? He just shrugged.
“We’ve got a word for people like you where I come from!” Shouted GarGar. “You’re a spruiker!”
Having lost his train of thought, the ambassador began to sputter. “Wha- Wha-” was his confused response to the interruption. He pointed his folded fan at GarGar and began to launch a verbal assault of his own at GarGar. GarGar simply snatched the ambassador’s fan away and gave him a poke in the chest. “I know that I am not alone in feeling disgust with your Imperial lordship. I’ll not say another word.” GarGar bowed at the old King and stormed out of the room, followed more than a few other courtiers.
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.