Tuesday, January 9, 2024

In the Shadow of Her Majesty, Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen: The Journey To Meet My Handsome Rescuer

Our journey to the village of the anarchists was hardly the sort of travel to which I was accustomed, and although one must make the best of any situation into which one is placed, it reminded me of how deeply I enjoyed my serene journeys in the Town Carriage. Our modest convey was comprised of two lightly armored vehicles recently purloined from the dead Caddiganites, followed by the two rattling anarchist jitneys. The truck into which I and Ernest had clambered was one of the latter, and the last of the four to depart, and was perhaps one hundred years old; it had obviously been repaired and rebuilt on so many occasions that its precise provenance was no longer discernible. I found myself in the canvas-covered rear area of the transport, where I had taken my place of honour on a crude bench that had been so thoughtfully bolted to the floor, a floor which was strewn with miscellaneous bric-a-brak, debris, booty from the Caddiganites, and what appeared to be several unsecured explosive devices. Everything about the truck was ad hoc, and that it could even move without collapsing into a heap of disparate parts seemed a minor miracle.

And move it most certainly did, the driver of both our truck and the ones we were following pressing on with such wild abandon that it reminded me of the very first time I had occasion to trot on a horse. Father and Mother were not equestrian people, but it was expected that every lady should have at least some capacity in the saddle, and so I received lessons shortly after my eighth birthday. I was eager to begin, being filled with a romantic girlish presumption about the nature of horses and the riding thereof. What I found during the course of my month of lessons was this: first, that I had precisely no natural ability in that area whatsoever, and second, that an afternoon of unsuccessful efforts at trotting and posting created a discomfort the character of which I had not yet ever experienced. Some wags are fond of suggesting that there is a perverse pleasure in such an excruciating experience, but the only effect it had on my person was to turn my interests very decidedly to the mastering of the pianoforte.

As the four trucks roared across the trackless scrubland, pounding over ruts, our particular vehicle felt ever on the verge of imminent disintegration, the entire body seeming to leave the subframe, separate momentarily, and reassemble itself, over and over again. Despite my white-knuckled grip upon a jerry-rigged strap, I was continually thrown about as if at sea in a storm, and the repeated impacts with both the barely padded seat and other, less forgiving metalwork were undoubtedly bruising my tender person.

Ernest, by choice, remained unseated and upright, his immense strength and gyroscopic balancing allowing him to absorb every impact, and giving the most distinct impression that he was riding the truck as a Hawai’ian prince might ride their papa heʻe nalu upon the crashing surf. The one anarchist who remained back in the cargo and passenger area with us, a sturdy, blockish woman of indeterminate age and close cropped hair, while tossed about as I was, could seemingly not take her eyes off of him, evidently marvelling at this display of prowess. I had attempted at first to engage her in conversation, but, like all of her comrades, she was either reticent, constitutionally laconic, or desperately rude…and perhaps, to be sure, some bilious combination of all three.

Our clattering, bumptious journey took us through the scrubland, as I had mentioned, but in travelling through it, I was able to observe that it had once not been so, but had been part of the endless expanse of cheaply built living spaces of those who had fouled the land before the collapse. Centuries later, all that was left of homes made of cheap timber and paperboard were foundations, the edges of which were largely responsible for many of the impacts that threw myself and my silent companion about the truck. Also scattered about with surprising regularity were the overgrown and rusted-out remnants of vehicles; to my understanding, or so I recall from my brief study of the histories of that era, such vehicles were once so ubiquitous that they choked great highways; while most have long ago been scavenged for parts and steel and componentry, a remarkable number remained to serve the same purpose they had always served: to be an obstacle to others progress.

After twenty minutes, scrubland gave way to a great forest, and we roared along what were evidently considered “roads,” although that really did stretch the definition of the term, as they were barely better tended than the ruined land through which we had just passed. I marked the many trees as we rushed by…oaks, maples, poplar, chestnuts…and felt that inimitable pleasure that comes from being in a place filled with growing things. The trees, from their girth and height, were all apparently the growth of hundreds of years. Although most of the leaves had fallen, it was nonetheless still lovely, dark, and deep, as Frost would have put it, and as we roared and clattered along that road, I knew that I, too, had promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Over gently rolling and heavily wooded hills we continued for quite a time, until, coming around a bend, our driver finally began to slow our madcap pace. Ernest, who from his standing position was able to peer forward through a gap in the canvas top over the truck bed, finally spoke.

“The convoy is approaching a fortification, milady. I believe that we have arrived.” I rose, cautiously, and ventured a look towards our destination.

We were approaching a great gate in a large wooden stockade, one that, as we grew even closer, was encircling what appeared to be natural clearing of approximately forty acres in area.

Arriving at the gate, a group of irregularly dressed guards approached, all armed, of course; after some shouted exchange with the lead truck’s driver, which I did not manage to overhear in any detail, all four of our vehicles were waved on into the fortified compound.

As we passed through the gate, I could see that what lay within this considerable enclosure were mostly fields of a most basic and functional variety, which were either lying fallow for the winter season or planted with various overwintering crops: cabbages, collards, broccoli, and the like. Continuing on the hard packed gravel and dirt main road, we moved at barely more than a brisk walking pace towards another stockade, one that was far smaller, and had been situated at the very centre of the larger one, which was clearly where the residents of the community had their homes. Interspersed amongst the fields were solar arrays, composters, and other necessities of a self-sufficient life, all of which were being tended to by little groups of drably but functionally dressed individuals.

While it was not unpleasing, these bluntly functional and oft haphazard elements seemed, like the vehicle in which we rode, to have been cast together as if thrown up into the air and allowed to fall where they might, with nary a thought for design or the aesthetic interplay of their relation to one another. As such, they stood in stark contrast to the mathematical perfections of the Gardens Fairfax, where but yesterday I and Father…

O, Father.

For a moment I felt again such a great rush of melancholy that I could hardly formulate thought, but in the knowledge that I was most surely being observed, and that this was not a time at which one might have the leisure to mourn, I quickly recovered myself.

Some of the residents of this village clearly had an interest in our arrival, and paused from their labours, turning to watch our passage with a now-familiar wary curiosity. The children of the village in particular seemed fascinated by the presence of both Ernest and myself, and we soon had a crowd of them following along behind us, running or walking. Some talked quietly with one another, whispering and staring, and most didn’t seem to know quite what to make of us, so I endeavoured to put them at ease by greeting them with my brightest and most winning smile, while waving from the wrist in the delicate manner that most becomes a lady of my stature.

I continued this for the long minute it took us to reach the inner ring of the compound, but despite my best efforts, not a one of the children waved back in return. My strongest impression from their expressions was that they all viewed us as a tender child might cautiously view the arrival of a pair of captured but barely restrained wolves, the security of whose cage was of a questionable nature.

Soon enough we had arrived en masse at the entrance to the central fortification, which was so constructed that any access to the dozen or so structures within could only be on foot. There was shouting, and then more shouting, first between two voices, and then amongst many, as evidently our hosts were of multiple minds about what to do with both the spoils of their recent conquest and our own persons. This went on for quite a while longer while than one might have expected, and then faded into a sustained murmuring; when I rose to peer out at the group, I discovered why: there appeared to be some sort of peculiar impromptu debate underway, one that involved a sequence of votes, motions, countermotions, during which consensus was being sought, consensus being signified…as best I was able to determine…by the number of fingers each member present was pointing in the air. To be quite honest, it felt as if we’d stumbled into the feral collectivist equivalent of a meeting of the Ladies Aid Society, in which the entire agenda revolved around establishing a clear consensus about where to park four trucks.

Given that this absurd process seemed something of a compulsion for our hosts, and seemed to have no clear schedule or urgency about it, I decided to take advantage of the pause in our progress to attend to my appearance. I opened my bag of toiletries, removed a small mirror, and gave careful consideration to what must be done. I was, by reason of the recent unpleasantness, something of a sight; my face, streaked with tears and ashes, my eyes puffy from weeping, my pompadour a wind-scattered chaos. Mother’s dress, being constructed as it was, remained spotless and without tear or blemish, as were her gloves, but I myself looked simply dreadful.

As I would at some point be engaging in conversation with this rowdy bunch, and might even be called to treat with their evident leader, this simply would not do. A lady must in every circumstance be a reflection of Her Majesty, as we speak as peers of the Crown; that required dignity, composure, and diligent attention to the presentation of one’s self.


“Yes, milady?”

“Please do forgive this imposition on your position, but I require assistance in composing myself. I am loath to ask it of you, but as we have lost dear Amanda, might you be able to fix…this?” I gestured helplessly towards the ruin of my coiffure, and gave him the most plaintive of looks.

Ernest gave his customary efficient nod of assent. “I am entirely capable of doing so, milady, and it is no imposition at all, particularly given our current circumstances. I assume you wish me to reassemble the pompadour and bun precisely as they were when we departed the Estate Fairfax?”

“That would be most satisfactory, dearest Ernest.”

While Ernest busied himself competently about my hair, I did what best I could to restore myself to a condition that I found acceptable, applying the necessary powders and pastes to the task of erasing any trace of the horrors of that day.

We had almost concluded the process of repair when a voice could be heard from a person just outside of our truck. The anarchists had evidently concluded their arcane negotiations, and were finally and after fierce and contentious debate taking the action that was so obviously the correct choice in the first place.


I did not respond at first, as I was quite focused upon both my mirror and the vital matter at hand; further, I had not been clearly or politely addressed.

“You! You with the bot! C’mon! Time to go!”

I paused for a moment, and turned to regard the person who was addressing me so rudely; peering down my nose with slightly narrowed eyes, I was not surprised to discover that it was the same lean and uncivil woman who had been so brusque back at the crash site.

“I am almost finished,” I said, politely, for one must always be civil, doubly so to those who lack any sense of propriety. “I shall require another moment.” I returned to the mirror, the powder, and the work at hand, which was almost completed.

She may or may not have offered up threats and imprecations at that point; of this I am not aware, for I was otherwise occupied.

Once I was certain that I was finished, I regarded my appearance both carefully and methodically, and finding myself well pleased with the results of our efforts, I thanked Ernest most graciously; only then did I turn to address our uncouth host.

“Forgive me. What was it that you were saying?”

The look upon her face was one of a near purpled lividity, as she was clearly afflicted with an importunate fury which she was desperately and near-unsuccessfully attempting to constrain. Her voice was tight and her affect flat, as through clenched teeth she spoke in what appeared to be a herculean effort not to shriek.

“Get. Out. Of the Truck. Diego…wants to talk with you.”

“Very well,” I replied, blessing her with the most courteous of acquiescent nods. “Ernest, if you would help me down, please?”

Ernest moved with his usual potent grace, springing to action and positioning himself to receive me, from there with careful arms he assisted me in descending ever so delicately from the rear of the truck; all the while our simmering escort, having stepped back in visible alarm when Ernest leapt from the truck, glowered at the both of us with an impotent and impatient irritation.

“Come on,” she growled, after which she strode off swiftly ahead of us, issuing a quiet torrent of other inaudibly muttered syllables that I didn’t quite catch.

Ernest and I did as she asked, and following the path of our grumbling, choleric guide, we strode at a stately pace into the heart of their village, where I was eager to finally make the acquaintance of my most striking and well-formed saviour, whose name I now knew: