The Ad Hoc Committee to Save the Queen
Jan 11, 2009
It was a mad scheme. The Count knew this, for he was not at all mad. Grim. Formal. Humorless. Boring. But not mad. Even his enemies at court admitted that the Count was a fount of common sense. His only friend, as well as his sixty-year-old mother, would sigh in unison as they bit into their crumpets at tea time. They would sigh, and nod, and admit that the Count was too boring to be mad.
It was thus that the Count almost forgot that he was fencing when the idea occurred to him. He was reminded of his whereabouts when his young friend Reginald proudly poked him in the chest, after a very clever triple riposte, sending the Count stumbling backwards, dropping his foil on the ground. The Count was chagrined, but managed a stiff bow of congratulations before he fled to his chambers.
He refused to answer the door when his mother knocked that night, wondering why he had not come to dinner. The Count shouted at her roughly, embroiled as he was in the darkness of his mood. He was sorry to have been rude, but what was a man to do, when he had decided to murder a Queen?
The Count never did anything lightly. When he dressed, it was with calm deliberation and an absolute rigor of habit that astonished his valet. The right leg must go into one’s trousers first. Never the left leg. To do so would be plebeian and sloppy. The Count was never sloppy. Sloppiness was for the twits at court who ogled the bosoms of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. It was no excuse at all that their necklines were perilously low, and in some cases lower than that. More than once the Count had seen one of the idiots drool as he stumbled after a member of the fairer sex. The Count did not drool.
Fidelity and devotion to the kingdom were the Count’s raison d’être. He had fought in many battles, boldly risking his life for the magnificent old King. He had killed many men, each with a single rapier thrust, each as a service to his country. When the borders were finally secure, he had tended the King in his sickness until the old man had passed away with a hiccup and very loud burp. It was an undignified thing for a King to do, so the Count had ordered all of those present to never speak of it again.
Then, after years of service, the Count was reduced to the ignominy of waiting upon a Queen who was silly. The old King had cruelly left the world without siring a son. Instead, he had a daughter, a young snip of a foolish, feathery, flighty girl who was barely twenty when her father died. Her mother died soon after, possibly from embarrassment, leaving the kingdom, the Count’s kingdom, in the hands of a girl with no brain at all.
The Queen was admired by all except the Count. The Count knew well that they admired her because she was silly, and threw huge and expensive parties where the courtiers were allowed to dance all night. The Count did not dance. Instead, he brooded in a corner of the main ballroom, slumped in his chair, glaring at the rakes and the fops and the low-cut bosoms until his head hurt. He was frequently rude to the Queen, but the Queen was so decidedly silly that she laughed off his uncouth behavior and twirled away for another dance. He had no idea that the Queen was secretly in love with him, and had been since she was fifteen. She was certainly silly, but she loved her Papa, and she loved the Count for loving him too.
For an entire week after he had thought of his mad scheme, the Count spent his days poring over maps and documents and treaties and laws. He counted sums on ledgers of bank accounts that were shrinking in size because of the Queen’s wasteful lifestyle. He found one entry extremely galling. The Queen loved to swim, so much so that she had ordered a fountain and a small circular pool installed outside of her private chambers, on the second floor of the palace. It was very expensive, and the older members of the court didn’t know what to think when the Queen started jumping into the fountain and splashing about like a child. The Count entirely disapproved.
As he stomped around the palace offices, he ignored all queries about his health and his unseemly pallor. When each evening came, and the revels began, he retired to his corner and chewed over the details of his plan. Above all else, the Count was determined that his actions should be patriotic. It was for Queen and Country, after all. Well, not for the Queen, but one shouldn’t quibble.
His dear friend, Reginald, interrupted the Count’s gloomy ruminations on Saturday evening around 2 AM. Reginald was quite drunk, and threw himself down in a chair next to the Count and looked at him with his eyes ever so slightly crossed.
“My dear Count,” he asked. “Don’t you ever have fun? All you do is sit and stare at the Queen. Are you admiring her bosom?”
“What of it!” the Count rejoined. “Can’t a Count stare at a Queen?”
Reginald looked confused. “I don’t know. I suppose so,” he said. He sat quietly for a few minutes, perhaps because he was trying to think. Reginald was a loyal friend to the Count and of noble birth, but he was very stupid. In fact, he was the Count’s only friend, undoubtedly because he wasn’t smart enough to know how boring the Count was. That was the whisper murmured when the Count and Reginald were out of earshot. The Count’s mother knew better, for she knew that Reginald was a Good Boy. Only a Good Boy would like her son.
Reginald shook his head, unable to think any more. He looked at the Count and loudly blew his nose.
The Count was too distracted to grind his teeth at Reginald’s lack of manners. Instead, he leaned forward and whispered to the younger man.
“Dear boy,” he asked. “Are you prepared to die for your country?”
Reginald was drunk, but still proud. He saluted automatically and clutched his sword. “You know I am,” he replied.
“Dear boy,” the Count said again. “Are you prepared to kill for your country? To kill an enemy of our fair land? An enemy who is destroying our way of life with pomp and parties and silliness and too much mirth?”
“Yes, sir,” Reginald said. He looked sad, especially at the idea of killing mirth, but he was ever loyal to his Count.
The Count smiled, satisfied, and shook Reginald’s hand firmly. “You are now a member of the Ad Hoc Committee to Kill the Queen. Congratulations. I knew I could count on you.”
Reginald’s eyes got very wide, and not knowing what else to do, he blew his nose again, for a very long time. The Count restrained himself with an effort. Reginald squirmed in his chair and looked like he wanted to cry. “Not the Queen! I like the Queen!”
The Count shook his head. “Don’t worry, Reginald. We will thrust our rapiers into her heart together. She will die quickly. She must die, for the Good of the Country. But you cannot back out now. You have already given me your pledge.”
Reginald stared at the Count. “I have? I can’t back out?”
“No,” said the Count. “You cannot. If you do, you will hang as a traitor to the country.”
Reginald clutched his neck and loosened his cravat. He had a particular dislike of hanging, coming as he did from a long line of nobles who had been hung for one reason or another. After gasping for a short while, he looked at the Count and nodded his assent.
The Count slapped him on the back and said, “Buck up, Reg! No one will know. It’s not as if this is regicide. She’s a Queen, not a King.”
“Oh,” said Reginald. “Well, I suppose that is all right, then.”
The next day was Sunday, and the Queen was going to church. She tried to rouse her ladies in waiting, but most of them were suffering from too much drink, and snored through her delicate exclamations of “Wakey, wakey, my little birdies!” Only one girl responded, and sleepily followed Her Majesty down the staircase toward the waiting carriage.
The Count watched them from a second floor window, as they walked toward the coach-and-four. He hadn’t slept, not even one grim wink of sleep. At 3 AM, he had escorted Reginald to the Queen’s outer chamber and installed him in a closet. Reginald grumbled, for he badly wanted to lie down and sleep, but the Count had insisted. The Count knew how to be strict and had had a great deal of practice beating soldiers over the head with the hilt of his sword. Sometimes he had even used a nearby kettle from a campfire. The Count looked at Reginald sternly, and warned him to not kill the Queen before the Count arrived, but to wait for the Count’s signal. Reginald had no problem with these instructions, and nodded politely. He fell asleep as soon as the Count left the room.
The Count had no thoughts of Reginald now, because the Queen was approaching the carriage with her lady-in-waiting. His jaw clenched over and over and over until he stopped, wincing in pain. Pain, yes. Pain for the Queen. She would go to church, and spend exactly one hour. Her return would be swift, and then she would climb the long staircase to her chambers, and then she would die. He would be waiting with Reginald, and the country would be free again. Free from vice and drink and bosoms and fun. Free to have another ruler. One with gravitas. One with sense. Perhaps her Uncle. Yes, her Uncle would be good. He was immensely fat, and smelled and sometimes even farted in public. But he was not – definitely not – silly.
A clatter from the drive below brought the Count back to the present. One of the horses from the stables was galloping across the lawn directly toward the carriage. The Count’s eyes glinted in expectation. Perhaps a rapier wouldn’t be necessary after all. As the horse approached the carriage, a small group of people that had been standing by started to scatter in panic. The Count suddenly clutched the window sill, and leaned forward.
“Blast!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing there, mother?”
It was true. His beloved mother had been waiting for the Queen to emerge from the palace so that she could accompany Her Majesty to church. Now, the elderly woman was just yards away from being struck down and trampled to death. The Count wanted to shout, but was too horrified. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. For all of the Count’s faults, he loved his mother. She never tired of him, and always embraced him at tea time.
As the Count helplessly watched, he saw the Queen run toward his mother, arms outstretched. With the horse just inches away, rearing up with his hooves ready to strike his mother, the Queen grasped the old woman and ran with her to the other side of the carriage. Seconds later, the horse’s hooves pounded into the dirt and the horse ran again, down the drive toward the gate.
There was quite a lot of noise during the next few moments, with men chasing the horse, and men running around the carriage and men cursing and exclaiming and blaming and acting generally as men do when a crisis has been averted. Through it all, the Queen was beautiful and calm and not at all silly. She helped the old woman and her trembling lady-in-waiting into the carriage and waved at the courtiers and calmly drove away to church.
The Count was not a religious man, even though he believed in God. It was a requirement for a Count to believe in God, at least if one wanted to be respectable. But on this particular morning, the Count had an epiphany. He stood by the window for the entire time that the Queen was at church, with his hands clenched on the window sill, gazing at the spot where the Queen had saved his mother.
The Count was not a murderer. His determination to kill the Queen had been born from a conviction that the silly girl was ruining his beloved country. As he meditated by the window, he had to admit that she was indeed ruining the country; at least the country’s finances. The Count, being a prudent man, hated the idea of anyone ruining their finances. Emptying a country’s treasury was tantamount to treason. For this reason, he had justified his plan, believing that history would recognize his patriotism.
Now, after the nobility and self-sacrifice of the Queen’s rescue of his mother, he found himself helpless in front of his own creed. Above all other things, the Count valued heroism. He had seen a quality in the Queen that made him tremble in an agony of self-recrimination. He had been about to kill a truly noble woman. A silly girl, but a woman of great royalty.
As the coach-and-four swept up the drive to the palace, the Count made a decision. He didn’t wait to see the Queen descend from the coach and enter the palace. He ran to the hallway outside her chambers and stood there at attention, and waited.
The Queen and her lady-in-waiting were laughing merrily as they climbed the staircase to the second floor. As they approached the Queen’s chambers, she saw the Count standing in the middle of the hall, and stopped, puzzled.
“Why Count! Do you request an audience?”
The Count knelt in front of her, and said, “May I speak to you, here, alone?”
The Queen nodded at the lady-in-waiting, who stared curiously at the Count, and then went into the Queen’s chambers and closed the door.
“You may speak now, sir,” the Queen said.
The Count lowered his forehead until it touched the Queen’s shoe. Startled, she stepped back, and exclaimed, “Sir! What is this?”
He straightened, but stayed on his knees. As he looked at the Queen, he could barely speak, and much to his surprise, and to the Queen’s, he was unable to prevent tears from coming to his eyes.
“Your Majesty, I must beg your forgiveness, and ask your mercy.”
The Queen’s brow was furrowed, and her normal gaiety was gone.
“What do you mean, my dear Count?”
His voice was barely a whisper as he said, “Your Majesty, I love our country. I watched as you saved my mother from death. For that I owe you my life. I will live for you and die for you, as I did for your father.”
Her Majesty had tears in her eyes as she took his hands in hers. “My dear Count! I know how much you loved my father. For that, I love you.”
The Count’s mad scheme entirely crumbled at her words. His voice was hoarse as he replied, “But you will hate me now, for yesterday I planned to murder you. I thought you would destroy your father’s legacy.”
The Queen’s eyes widened in shock, and she drew her hands back. She stood for a long moment, staring at the Count.
“Lift your head, Count, and look at me, and tell me your intent now.”
He lifted his head, and gazed at the Queen, and said, “You may kill me at any time. Today I saw that you are your father’s daughter. I will serve you with all that I have, and with my life. I only pray for your forgiveness that I misunderstood you.”
She looked at him, for a very long time, but he didn’t move, or squirm, or flinch, or any of the other things a person might do when a Queen is staring at one without blinking. The Count was truly surprised that such a silly girl could stare at him for such a long time. But then he remembered that she wasn’t really silly – she just acted that way.
After staring at him for such a long time that he was worried that his legs would completely fall asleep, she sighed, and then sighed again, and then sighed a third time. She stepped closer to him, and took both of his hands in hers, and said, “Dear Count. I have been in love with you since I was fifteen. You have been a grumpy old fart since my father died, but I am determined to make you laugh. Will you do anything I say, from now on?”
The Count nodded, wondering how the Queen could possibly be in love with him, especially since everyone knew he was a grumpy old fart. Well, not that old. Only forty-two, although he felt much older.
The Queen took his chin in her hand, and asked, “Will you marry me, and be my Regent?”
His face must have been very comical, for the Queen started laughing and laughing. She said again, “Well? Will you?”
All he could say was, “Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Good!” she said. She laughed again, one of her most celebrated silly laughs, and pulled him up. His legs were a bit weak, so she put her arm around his waist and guided him to the edge of the fountain that stood outside her door. They sat on the stone ledge for a few minutes, and she just looked at him, and smiled. Then, without a bit of warning, she stood up and stepped into the fountain with all of her clothes on, and pulled him in after her, until they were both sitting in the circular pool, with the water up to their chests. Her skirts were billowing around her, and as she squeezed his hand, she laughed and laughed and laughed, until finally he laughed too.
They made so much noise that the lady-in-waiting opened the door and said, “Your Majesty? Is everything all right?”
The Queen smiled and said, “Everything is wonderful, my dear. Come, help us out of this pool.”
They climbed out of the fountain, and as the Queen walked toward her chambers, the Count darted in front of her and strode into the room, exclaiming, “Your Majesty, we are the Ad Hoc Committee to Save the Queen! We will guard you with our lives!”
The Queen raised a brow, and said, “We?”
The Count strode to the door of the closet and said, “Reginald, my friend, was guarding your chambers against any potential assassins.” He opened the door, and found Reginald sleeping soundly. It took a while to wake him, and when he woke, he was very confused, being Reginald, but there you have it. He finally understood that all was well, and was mightily relieved, since he really did like the Queen. He bowed, and tucked in his shirt, and scurried off.
The Count bowed too, and said, “Your Majesty! God bless you.”
The Queen smiled, and replied, “My Dear Count! I will see you soon.”
To say that the kingdom was in an uproar when the news spread that the Queen was to marry the Count, the grim, formal, humorless, boring old Count, was to not understand the levity of the silliest court in all of Europe. Ladies-in-waiting giggled and asked all types of questions. Courtiers drank themselves into mournful stupors, because they had wanted to marry the Queen.
It wasn’t until the Queen and the Count had been married for a number of months that everyone settled down. A curious change had swept over the court. It had become just a little bit more sensible. There were still parties and dancing and bosoms and fun. The Queen insisted that fun would never be outlawed. Much to his own surprise the Count completely agreed with his newfound love. The silliest, but the noblest Queen in the world had taught the Count how to laugh. Her spirit and beauty and love had melted him. She even appealed to his Sense of Truth, by saying, “Darling, don’t you know that God is the one who invented laughter? Why else would He have created monkeys and giraffes?”
The Count could say nothing to refute her most impeccable logic. So he lent her his wisdom and prudence and loyalty and bravery, and discovered that the silliest girl in the kingdom was his heroine, and his partner, and very good for the kingdom after all.
And so it was that the Ad Hoc Committee to Save the Queen saved a Count and a Kingdom and a Queen, all because of a runaway horse.
The Count and the Queen grew very fond of that horse, and named it Reginald.
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”