Above all else, the old King loved beauty. He surrounded himself with only the best-looking people, tall men with straight backs and pretty young women. He collected art the way misers collect money. That is why he decided to marry Lady Greenmeadow. She was a rare beauty with blond hair and blue eyes. Her lips were red without the use of cosmetics. And while the King was eager for the wedding ceremony to take place, there were others who were less than enthusiastic about the match.
“Lady Greenmeadow is an adventuress,” said Princess Pirouette. “She will make a cuckold of His Majesty.” Abagail Hoffenhoff, who had recently been promoted to the post of chief lady of the bedchamber for the Princess, shook her head.
“She’s to be called la baronne now. The King himself has said so. Her next adventure will be as Queen.”
“Pray to God that it is not so,” replied Pirouette. “And pray to God that He sends GarGar home, safe and sound.”
“Amen,” said Abigail who in piety crossed herself.
When the prime minister told Princess Pirouette that the old King meant to marry again, she had to press her handkerchief to her mouth to stifle her laughter. “Who is to be the lucky bride, or has she been chosen yet?” She asked.
“His Majesty means to marry my niece, Lady Greenmeadow.”
Any mirth that Pirouette may have felt was squelched by this revelation. How could that old man even think of marriage? She thought to herself. Given his constant coughing fits, there probably wasn’t one healthy bronchiole in either of his lungs.
“I can’t think of a more unsuitable candidate for Queen of this realm,” said the Princess tersely.
“But Your Highness!” Said the prime minister. “You are to be her maid of honor!”
When Princess Pirouette reached the home of GarGar, she found his household in an uproar. Some wept openly, while others simply bowed their heads, wringing their wrists. Abandoning all pretense of bravery, she began to weep also. “Where is my love?” She asked and she petitioned God to send her love back to her. Through her tears, she commanded his servants to put a candle in every window and to keep them burning until le comte des Deux Chats should return.
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.
Princess Pirouette and her ladies were embroidering shirts for the man she loved and was affianced to marry. There was a knock on the door and her chamberlain announced, “A messenger from the King, Your Highness.” Pirouette put down her work and bid the chamberlain to show the man in. To her surprise, it was GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats to whom she hoped to wed very soon.
“My dear!” He cried. “Put down such foolish things and walk with me in the garden. It is too fine a day to be locked up in the house!”
“As you can see, my love, I’ve already set down your shirt. Abby, bring me my cloak!”
GarGar’s sudden recovery was seen as proof of Divine intervention. The prayers of the entire nation seemed to have accomplished what all the doctors in the world had failed to do. Calling for his riding cloak, he expressed the desire to go hunting. “But my lord,” said his majordomo, “It’s raining!”
Gesturing toward the window, GarGar replied cheerfully, “I want to feel the rain on my face. Send word to Princess Pirouette that I am-” He stopped himself in mid-sentence. “No! Wait! I will ride to the palace and surprise her myself.”
Moving from behind a coromandel screen, Pirouette said, “There’s no need for that. I’m here, my love.”
“Selina Dubois, you stand accused of witchcraft,” said the judge in a loud, clear voice. “How do you plead?”
The old woman, stooped over with age, dressed in rags with an unkempt shag of hair on her head, shouted back, “Guilty!” As she did so, she reached into her apron pocket and drew a clod of dirt which she threw at his head. Afraid that this action was a curse, the judge fled the courtroom, but not before ordering the woman to be taken away.
“You’ll burn for this,” said one of her guards as he placed the irons back on her wrists. “As sure as there’s a sun in the sky.”
“I really don’t care anymore,” said Selina with a smile. “Now take me back to my cell.”
She’s eluded the authorities during the first round of arrests, but when the crows gave the alarm, she knew that she was lost. She barely had time to throw her grimoire into the flames before they began to bang on her door. Knowing that all was lost, she tried to cut her wrists; however, her resolve faltered and the constable was able to seize her before she could do herself any harm.
Her hands were tied behind her back before they trundled her off to prison. Curious crowds began to coalesce along the road to the capital. Some only shook their fists at her, but others with more energy chose to pelt her with dirt and stones. “Burn the witch!” They shouted. “Hanging is too good for her!” She kept her composure during the entire ordeal, even though the cart in which they placed her pitched to and fro as it bumped down the weed-choked road.
Princess Pirouette stood at GarGar’s bedside, looking down on him. What she saw was enough to break her heart. There lay her fiancé who was but a pale, shrunken shadow of his former self. Where was the virile youth of yesterday? Although it had been but a few days since le comte took ill, to Pirouette it seemed like an eternity. “Surely he’ll recover!” She thought aloud.
When the priest arrived, GarGar at first reacted violently, coughing and kicking off his bed covers. As soon at the prelate blessed him and placed a consecrated wafer in his mouth, GarGar seemed to calm, resting his head on his pillow and breathing evenly. Pirouette dutifully knelt during the ceremony and afterwards, thanked the father profusely. “God bless you, my child,” he said to her, making the sign of the cross.
“Please save all your blessing for Monsieur le comte,” replied Pirouette through watery eyes.