Monday, November 27, 2023

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Two


Chapter Two: Informing Suzanna of My Plans

I immediately set myself about the business of preparing for my ill-fated journey. Jane, as always my strength and my support, quickly rallied the necessary servants. I would wear Mother’s dress, of course, as I have to all such events ever since I reached the full bloom of womanhood.

There is a school of thought, particularly amongst some of the lowest ranks of the peerage and almost all commoners, that assumes that every social event requires a different equipage. The finest cloth, the purest synthetic silk and plastic textiles, cast in styles and colors to match the very latest fashion. All must be new, else one will be seen as insufficiently au courant, and for both ladies and gentlemen who violate this norm, the resultant whispering and tittering becomes pure social devastation.

This has been, historically speaking, a perniciously persistent expectation, one that has gone hand in glove with patterns of thought that have consistently over the annals of humankind torn apart society again and again. Fashion’s endless demands for novelty, trivial and flippant as they may seem, are the first steps down the road to decadence, which in turn leads inevitably to republicanism, anarchy, and societal collapse.

Her Highness defies this absurd notion.

It is one of Her Majesty's greatest gifts to Her devoted servants that this preposterous assumption has been forever overturned. No longer does one’s regent secretly live in thrall to the whims and passions of the masses. The Crown understands that once a standard of elegance has been established and perfected, it does not need to be changed. The Crown does not change, and like the sun’s presence has from time immemorial held and nourished our little world in her golden orbit, so too does our Virgin Queen hold and nourish her subjects.

Tradition must be the master of decorum, or decorum falls to ruin.

That is not to say that those who feel constitutionally compelled towards the endless pursuit of the new must needs be subject to shame or dishonour. The realm of the a la mode is, regrettably, a distinctively common human compulsion. But just as one does not place a scoop of ice cream upon one’s head when visiting polite company, the absurdity of fashion must be checked and bounded.

It is in those regular blessings of Her Majesty’s presence that this boundary is established. When She deigns to give an audience, or arrives in all of Her Regnant Power at a gathering of the peerage, She is always the same. As She receives her peers, those who in their manner, dress, and posture affirm their commitment to the unchanging perfection of the Regency are duly noted. It is never to the point of giving insult to those who choose to innovate in some trifling manner of appearance, of course it would never be, for such pettiness is hardly something that could ever cross Her noble and gracious mind. But Her favour is unquestionable, and clearly observable, such that it is universally acknowledged among the peers that to show fealty to tradition in dress is to welcome the admiration and blessings of our Glorious Queen.

So with a clarity of purpose and the explicit approbation of all decent God-fearing society, it is my Mother’s dress that I wear to every significant gala, jubilee, or festival. It was GrandMaMa’s dress before Mother ever wore it, and it is in precisely the style that fits within the boundaries of propriety established and blessed by the Crown. It has, of course, been tailored to meet the particular needs of my physique, and most of the structural and functional elements within upgraded in a way to keep pace with the latest dictums of material science, but it remains in appearance exactly as it has always appeared.

While Jane and the other servants prepared, I summoned two footmen, each to bear tidings that pertained to my decision. The first, I instructed to convey my regrets to Aunt June, in precisely the manner that I had mentioned earlier. Aunt June is not one for floral and indirect language, so I spoke to her with clarity and candour about my obligation to my intended, along with frankness about Stewart’s lamentable incapacity to hold more than one thought in his head at any given time.

The second, I instructed to go with all due haste to Father at the Ministry, informing him of my decision to attend the festival, and of my plans for the maintenance of the household in my absence.

I sent the footmen on their way, and then proceeded myself down from my much-beloved sanctuary in the second floor conservatory. If I was to leave Suzanna as the only remaining soul in our urban redoubt, it behooved me to inform her of that state of affairs.

Suzanna would remain, of course she must, and she could not protest it, as she is only sixteen years of age, still yet six months from her debutante ball, which is, if I am utterly honest, not the primary reason it would not be in the interests of Wexton-Hughes to have her represent us at an affair of proper society.

Suzanna is as yet insufficiently attuned to the demands of decorum, although that is perhaps an overly generous description of her complete disinterest therein. She was always a flighty and impetuous girl, even as we grew up together, and while Father places some stead in the impact of birth order in a noble family upon one’s temperament, I am convinced that Suzanna has been Suzanna since she danced and fidgeted in Mother’s womb.

“Oh, that child!” Mother would exclaim. “Even inside me, she was always in motion! I was certain I would simply come apart at the seams due to her endless fidgetings.”

The constraints of a soiree would simply drive Suzanna to madness.

She was much more content when we were at Wexton Hall, and she could ride and run through the estate grounds to her hearts’ content. Here in town, she was reduced to spending her energy in the first-floor sub-basement gymnase, where she would spar for hours with Joao, her personal footman.

It was there that I knew I would find her, and as I continued on down the ornate staircase leading to the entrance hall, I could faintly hear the shouts and cracks of her exertions against the tireless Joao.

Always a girl of fleeting passions, Suzanna had for the last eight months discovered a love for kendo, one sparked by a gift to Father from Hakushaku Yamauchi of the Kazoku. In addition to a ceremonial sword possessed of both singular elegance and impossible sharpness, the gift included three full suits of Nipponese sparring armor, and a dozen bamboo shinai, all crafted impeccably by a master among their legendary swordsmiths. The practice weapons and armor were lovely and intimidating in design, and Suzanna was afire with a desire to learn the art of their use, which Father and I had assumed would be one of her countless weeklong enthusiasms.

But here we were, half a year later, and still she flung herself into mastery of both the technique and the ritual of that ancient Oriental art. Her letters to House Yamauchi for advice on her efforts, translated by Jane, of course, had become an unanticipated gift to the peerage, helping in their own way to cement a bond of affinity between those of us in the old colonies and the reconstituted Nipponese lords.

I reached the door to the first sub-basement, and upon opening it, descended the narrow ironwork stairs to the floor below. The gymnase was a practical affair, designed, as such things should be, for utilitarian purpose; hardwood floors, unadorned walls, a small section of padded floor, barbells, equipment, and all that a lady required to remain well-turned and able, but the acoustics of the space, at the moment, had the deleterious effect of magnifying the din of Suzanna’s fierce exertions to a deafening degree.

Before me, my little sister…although “little” was solely ever an affectionate sobriquet, as she was always more sturdily constructed than I…was engaged in an impressive display of martial prowess, her feints and parries far more deftly considered than those that I recall from my own days spent mastering the rapier and epee to my satisfaction, with Suzanna displaying elegant economies of effort and a tactician’s consideration of form, position, and ground.

Rather unlike my well-spent year of classical Western sporting swordsmanship, Suzanna’s sparring had evolved to include significant modifications to the gymnase floor itself, with her addition of moveable pallets of varying heights, stairs, and inclines added to simulate the effects and requirements of a more natural, irregular terrain. Also distinguishing itself from my own efforts was the distinctive and pleasing nature of the art of Nipponese swordplay, which was of both remarkably measured movement and explosive violence, the latter of which would be released in bursts of motion that were of such a concussive aggression that their juxtaposition with the meditative element delighted and terrified the eye.

Joao, of course, was not engaging the fullness of his capacity, as none of our Series Tens could without bringing fatal harm to a sparring partner, but an uninformed observer could not have known this from the intensity of his strikes and Suzanna’s parries. The two of them, each equally featureless beneath their leather and bamboo armor, were as lithe performers in a martial waltz, and I marveled for a long moment at how far Suzanna had come these last months. They leapt and wheeled about one another with the grace of great fighting cats at play, all coiled effort and sheathed claws, and I will confess to have taken in that moment some filial pride in her attainment.

I observed with pleasure, but then, whilst leaping from a pallet and repositioning herself to defend against Joao’s fierce onslaught, she noted my presence; for an instant, our eyes met, and even beneath the stern bars of her face shield I could see her indignation at the interruption.

“Yameh!” Suzanna’s alto barked out across the room, and Joao instantly transitioned from preparing a strike to a formal resting posture. With a long sighing exhalation and a practiced motion, Suzanna removed her traditional Nipponese helmet, which coming away revealed an avalanche of her unruly, auburn hair.

“My dear sister,” she said, her broad smile spreading beneath wide, high cheekbones, eyes twinkling with sarcasm. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit this morning? I was under the distinct impression you were still grappling with your cruel Hungarian tormentor, and that I’d not see you until our noon repast. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to take this pause from my own exertions, and how much I enjoy providing amusement to those who wish to watch my practice.”

There was a time, when we were younger and I was more foolish, that I would have risen to that offered bait, and the next few days of sisterly feuding would have both made things shamefully tense about the house and infinitely frustrating to Mother. I am, thank the Good Lord, no longer such a child, and my forbearance of Suzanna’s temper now rises from an awareness that she and I both bear the strong will of our beloved and much lamented Mother.

“My apologies, dear Suzanna,” I said, inclining my head slightly in submission to her discomfort. “I know this is your sanctum, just as the conservatory is mine, and I really would not interrupt both of our precious morning recreations to trouble you were it not a matter of urgency.”

She exhaled again, this time doing so with less sharpness, and her refocusing and calming of herself relieved the tension that she had just a moment before radiated.

“Understood, dearest Becca. Understood. What is the matter of which you speak?”

“I am unexpectedly called away on family business and social obligation, to the winter gala at the estate of Duke Fairfax, which I am obliged to attend with Stew. I shall leave tomorrow in the afternoon, which will leave you here alone and in charge of the house until my return Monday morning.”

“I’m to remain here, with the whole household at my disposal, until you return three days hence?”


“That’s all?”


Suzanna’s smile and eyes now both shone together with genuine pleasure. “Well, that’s simply delightful news! More time to practice is always welcome. That, and attending my tutoring. Of course, of course, my tutoring. I would not for a moment consider using my temporary position as lady of the house to invoke a holiday from my duties.”

She gave a demure cough, which I acknowledged with an arch of a single eyebrow. She would do no such thing.   Silly, silly girl. She continued:

“And I am so very sorry about the gala, for I’m sure it’ll be utterly tedious. Perhaps I might guess at your agenda; one day of bleeding heart chatter amongst the dowagers of the Ladies Aid Society, one day of strutting about the gardens of Duke Fairfax in finery with one’s nose in the air, and one day of interminably bland conversation about esoteric matters of state. ”

“One does what one must, dear sister.”

“One does,” she replied, genially enough, “but this particular Wexton-Hughes would rather not. If you’d not mind, Becca, I’d like to continue my practice before my limbered muscles cool to uselessness.”

“Not at all. I assume that I shall see you at supper?”

“You shall.”

With that duty discharged, I took my leave of Suzanna, and from the cacophany of war cries and clamor of weapon upon weapon that followed as I ascended the ironwork stairs, I could surmise that she had only redoubled her efforts.

In the bright and illuminating glow of hindsight, there was so much more that we needed to discuss, and so many ways we could have steeled ourselves and House Montgomery for what was to come.

Mais vraiment, as they say, le regret est la prison des vieux fous.

Chapter Three: Of My Journey and Its Portents