Sunday, December 10, 2023

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight: I Am Torn from the Heavens


Amanda’s voice, loud and urgent as it was, was not what woke me from the sleep that always accompanied my travels in the Town Carriage. After manifold farewells and the arrival of both the Carriage and our turn to depart, I had taken some moments once airborne to again observe the mathematical beauties of the Gardens Fairfax. The day was heavy and overcast, the sky crowded with dark clouds that hung low over the earth, and the effect was one of greyness and foreboding.

We rose to our customary altitude, and maintained a level and smooth flight just below the ashen fatness of the burgeoning nimbostratus, as an array of gimbals and gyros and machine-mind trickery countered the stirrings of the atmosphere so common at that height. Higher is most certainly smoother, of course, but the view is not nearly as lovely, and from that vantage I watched with pleasure until the gardens fell out of sight. Then, with a sigh, I settled back and drifted into my customary torpor, savouring the calming thrum of the rotors and the comfortable journey to which I had become accustomed.

From the inestimable pleasures of that languorous reverie I was most rudely awakened, not by Amanda’s gentle ministrations rousing me upon our arrival at Port Baltimore, but instead by a sudden and terrifying jolt, as the Carriage banked hard left, and then struggled to ascend as best it could. A terrific retort from outside the Carriage was heard, as an errant firework on a New Year’s eve, the sound only partially muffled by the insulation and sound damping fields. 

Amanda, whose dextrous attentions in restraining me with her own strength had ensured that I was not flung about the cabin, quickly engaged a hidden mechanism within my seat, and a web of fibrous netting sprang out about my midsection, attaching itself to elements within my corsetry that existed for just such a purpose, all of which had the effect of holding me tightly in my place.

“We are under fire, Milady.” The warm silverbell chime of Amanda’s mellifluous diction remained, but underneath it could be perceived a hard and unfamiliar intention.

“Caddiganites?” I queried, as my heart and mind raced with intermingled fear and anger.

“Yes, Milady,” she said, bluntly. “We have already sent…”

Here, her words were drowned out by the roar of an impossible blow, as the Carriage was struck like a pinata at a young girl’s birthday, caroming for a moment wildly and out of control, before struggling to right itself, and then again banking and diving with desperate effort.

“We have already sent a cry of distress, Milady,” Amanda resumed, utterly unshaken. “Now we must…” and here she paused, as some fierce projectile, cast with malice from great guns below, passed perilously close and detonated above us.

“...must get out of range of these…”

A concussion of even greater magnitude than the first tossed us momentarily upward, and I saw, to my horror and for just an instant, that diligent and stalwart Bertrand had been wrenched bodily away from his post, his fragmented form cast away to the winds in pieces, tumbling to oblivion. From the mortal effects of this brutish, savage blow, the Carriage began to spiral dizzyingly earthward, my stomach lurching to nausea within me, as the scent of burning plastics filled my nostrils and a flat and doleful voice filled my ears, one that I immediately realised was that of the Carriage itself.

“Rotors six, seven, eight disabled. Integrity compromised. Flight systems compromised. Emergency protocols engaged. Priority One transmission: Mayday Mayday Mayday. One thousand. Mayday Mayday Mayday. Descent is not controlled. Nine hundred. Descent is not controlled. Mayday Mayday Mayday. Eight hundred. Descent is not controlled.”

I realised with horror that we were hearing our ever diminishing altitude, dwindling numbers that marked a fall both precipitous and injurious towards the implacable earth below; I also knew with a deeper horror still that such a fall would leave us an earthbound ruin, the Carriage snared, and all aboard either destroyed or in the clutches of our Caddiganite assailants and their infernal and maleficent purposes.

“Seven hundred. Mayday Mayday Mayday. Descent is not controlled. Six hundred. Descent is not controlled. Mayday Mayday Mayday.”

I recalled Father’s fears, of what might befall the Crown should our servants or our implements fall into nefarious hands, and in that moment was moved to cry out a command to Amanda. The cause of my cry was my sense of duty, one that had been inculcated into my nature since my very first remembering. I and my foolish impetuosity could not, must not, be the cause of any harm to Her Majesty, or to Her Majesty’s well being. It could not be. I should rather die. I felt this with all certainty, and though my voice trembled, I knew what must be done.

“We must destroy ourselves. We cannot fall into their hands. Destroy the Carriage. Now, Amanda, now!”

“No, Milady.”

Amanda’s voice, as clear as bells, as firm as a fist, refusing for the first time I could ever recall to do what I asked. Her eyes, their hard dark glass inscrutable, met my own, and they bore within them a resolve that was quite literally steel.

“Three hundred. Brace for impact.”

With a motion so rapid that my eye could barely follow it, Amanda then leapt upon me, locking arms and legs and arranging herself over me so that her very body became a cage of protection around my still seated form, a last and most desperate ward cast about my delicate and fragile flesh.

“I cannot allow harm to come to you, Milady. For House Montgomery and for the Queen, you must live, Milady.”

“Two hundred. Brace for impact.”

“Thank you, dearest Amanda, best of servants.” I whispered, still torn between shock at her refusal, wonder at her love for me, and ultimately finding my own strength bolstered by the resolute and unbending will that burned behind her unblinking eyes.

“One Hundred. Brace for imp..”

There was a great wrenching blow, and another, and then all fell into darkness.