The old King sat quietly by the window with his eyes closed. The sounds of laughter that filled his room was music to his ears. He was tired. God knows he was tired. So long was his reign that there was hardly a living soul in the whole kingdom who could remember a time when he wasn’t the king. Despite his fatigue, sleep did not come easily to him.
Just as he felt himself begin to drift off, the chamberlain struck the floor with his staff and shouted, “My lord, the Prime Minister!” Damn! The old King thought to himself. This is the last person on Earth that I want to see. “How may I help you, my lord?” The King’s voice was soft and shaky. “Can’t you see that I am trying to rest? I gave specific orders to the guards that I wasn’t to be disturbed.” He shifted in his daybed, in a feeble attempt to get comfortable.
Tata Sous-sus stood over the maid who was scrubbing the marble floor in her bedroom, offering helpful advice along the way. “You missed a spot!” She shouted, pointing at the offense with a trembling finger. “Yes, ma’am,” replied the maid softly.
“If you’d only use a proper cleanser,” continued Tata, “your job would be much easier.”
Just then the chamberlain intoned, “Her Royal Highness, Princess Pirouette!”
“Do leave that poor woman alone,” said Pirouette, “and let her do her job!” With each passing day, Pirouette found her patience for Tata Sous-sus being stretched ever-more thin. She could feel the anger that she bottled inside grow with each day, making her chest feel tight and constrained. Any day now, there would be an explosion and Tata would find her wig blown right off her head.
GarGar picked up the handkerchief that Princess Pirouette had just tossed out of her window. What’s this? He thought. A ring! To his horror, he realized that the ring which had been pulled through a corner of the cloth was the very same he’d given her on the day of their betrothal. What could this mean? He asked himself. Was this a rejection, or an invitation. How he wished that he could be given just a tiny glimpse into the mind of Her Majesty!
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats, chose the spot for his performance because it was directly beneath Princess Pirouette’s bedroom window. As he began to strum his lute, a small gathering (mostly female) formed around him. He cleared his throat and began to sing.
Skies would be grey for me, if I didn’t have you. Each hour of the day for me, if I didn’t have you. What could I live for, tell me, what could I do, if I didn’t have you?
At long last, Pirouette appeared at her window. It was a large window and afforded the small gathering a good view of her person. She pushed open the glass and tossed a handkerchief, weighted with a small diamond ring. “There’s no excuse for this kind of behavior,” she laughed. “Now be off, or I shall summon the guards!”
When the news that le comte GarGar and Princess Pirouette would be joined in happy union reached the people of the capital, they poured en masse into the streets. Heartfelt toasts to the happiness of the royal pair were shared by friends and strangers alike. Although it was mid-day, bonfires were lit. Songs were sung and the citizens danced joyously in the market squares and the broad thoroughfares. It was a day of celebration.
While all this merry-making was being made, Princess Pirouette hid in her apartments in the palace, refusing to see anyone besides Abigail Hoffenhoff, her official dresser. Even Tata Sous-sus was forbidden entrance. When the old King himself came to her rooms to see what was amiss, she hid under her bedcovers and told Abigail, “Tell him I’m sick with a cough. That will keep His Majesty at bay.” And she was right, leaning on the arm of one of his footmen, the poor old soul shuffled back to his own bed, muttering unintelligible curses under his breath.
The ceremony was conducted in the great cathedral. Outside hordes of people chanted, “GarGar! Pirouette! GarGar! Pirouette!” Inside the old King and his ministers watched from the gallery above. The betrothal of Princess Pirouette to le comte des Deux Chats had been rehearsed and re-rehearsed days in advance, leaving no room for error. The Princess, the unwilling participant, looked pale and positively gobsmacked, while GarGar looked relaxed, even a bit elated.
“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.”
GarGar, le comte des Deux Chats pulled on the reins and brought his horse to a complete stop. Bending from the saddle, he pulled a flower from his sleeve and presented it to Princess Pirouette. She accepted it gladly, giving it a little sniff before putting it behind her ear. She giggled. “I can’t believe you followed my carriage all this way,” she said with a smile.
In a typical act of spontaneity, she’d ordered a carriage and taken an impromptu ride into the country with nobody but Abigail Hoffenhoff for company. For her part, Abigail had taken scrupulous notes of all the birds and flora she’d noticed on the way. Miss Hoffenhoff fancied herself an amateur naturalist and hoped to publish a volume someday on her observations. Now that the carriage had stopped and le comte had presented himself, she pushed herself into a dark corner of the carriage and pretended to read the very notebook into which she’d recorded her findings.
Just as all hope seemed to be lost, the old King rallied and rose from his sickbed. The first thing he did was attend a mass of thanksgiving before launching into a hearty meal of roasted chicken, fresh fruit, cheese and bread, all washed down with copious amounts of a dark, red wine. To everyone’s amazement, he summoned an impromptu concert where he danced with la duchesse du Linge and Princess Pirouette until the musicians grew weary of playing.
The next order of business was the governance of the kingdom. He closeted himself with his prime minister for several hours where he grabbed random pieces of paper from his desk and shouted orders at his mystified servant. “It’s high time we find a suitable husband for Princess Pirouette,” he said to Monsieur le premier ministre. “I want you to draw me up a list of names. Chop! Chop! Man! Do you not hear me?” Such was His Majesty’s impatience with his servant that he grabbed a crystal paperweight from his desk and hurled it at the poor unfortunate’s head.