Our escape from the province of Quarantinia was made swiftly, and by night. We could not travel ostentatiously, for fear of drawing unwanted attention (nor would this have been possible, for Koronin has commandeered the Royal Coach for his own wicked use), but we did travel in relative comfort, for which I am thankful. The children slept soundly upon sheepskins donated by the humble villagers and we were amply supplied with preserved foods. The first leg of our journey took us to Erasmus’ Castle. The legendary knight, my cousin and kinsman, has rebelled against every enemy invasion of Lockdownia. I know that I can count upon him to help defeat Koronin: no doubt he would rebel against the very pestilence itself if he knew how.
It was almost dawn when we reached the castle, which is perched on a hillside within the mouth of a great cave. Our coachman blew the royal herald on his horn and the portcullis gates were opened. As I alighted from the carriage, I was greeted by a member of Erasmus’ staff, who bowed low to the ground and signalled we should enter. I saw to it that the weary horses were stabled and the coachman was given bed and a hot meal. We were fortunate to have journeyed this far without incident. The children awoke the moment the carriage ground to a halt, and just about leapt out in excitement. They jumped for joy when they saw the imposing form of the castle etched out from the black mouth of the cavern which stood behind.
News from Erasmus
My cousin had prepared a lavish breakfast spread in the great banqueting hall of the castle. Of all the castles in Lockdownia, that of Erasmus is surpassed in grandeur only by Caer Nonpareil, my true home, which rightly bears the name ‘Beyond Compare.’ Of course the evil wizard Koronin has renamed it, but this means nothing, for he will surely fall. I shall return victorious to my rightful home.
Erasmus had much news of developments within his region of the Kingdom. He has been mustering rebel troops from all of the surrounding villages, and planned to march North on my orders, but of course, the pestilence has struck here too. He lives in a state of siege within the castle walls, and will not allow anyone in or out without prior approval, excepting, of course, his cousin the Queen and all who travel with her.
Erasmus was heartened to learn of the protective tincture which will break the potency of the pestilence, and of the rebel army waiting to set sail from the Outlands. My task is now to wait for the rebel army to land in the South, and lead the march North, gathering strength from Erasmus’ troops before taking back Caer Non-Pareil and defeating Koronin once and for all.
A personal matter
Once affairs of state were attended to, I took to the Royal Chamber for some much-needed rest. I asked Erasmus to ensure that the children did not become lost playing hide-and-seek in the caverns behind and below the castle. He took it upon himself to supervise them personally: my good cousin continued young at heart, and I found myself feeling for him that he had yet no children, nor a Lady of his own.
I had the strangest of dreams: a ship at sail through mists and a dog baying at its prow. The crew were absent. She seemed a ghost ship. I awoke in fear.
Dinner was already prepared and the household were awaiting my presence at table. I dressed swiftly (as swiftly as a queen can) with the help of one of Erasmus’ chambermaids. It was refreshing to wear robes of state once again after such a long time draped in the dull garb of Quarantinia.
After dinner, Erasmus requested we retire to his private quarters, as he would entreat my advice on a personal matter. My heart fluttered a little, as I had an inkling this might relate to matters of his own heart. And sure enough, it did. He was in love, he told me, but alas! with a common girl from the nearest village. What was worse, even in this time of pestilence they had been meeting in secret, and she was now with child!
Erasmus feared a scandal were the affair to come out:
‘Would she had been born a Lady!’ He exclaimed. My advice to him was this: take her into the household as a member of staff, so that no one should learn he had broke quarantine. Then marry her in the spring, once the pestilence had abated and before she was showing with child.
‘Alas, I cannot!’ he told me ‘to marry a commoner would not befit my knightly standing!’
‘You have always been a rebel,’ I replied ‘and yet in this, a matter of the heart, you will not once rebel? I can grant the girl the status of a Lady. I could make her my Lady-in-Waiting in the Southlands, how would this…?’
‘I cannot discuss the matter further’ he countered, ‘for my mind is now made up. We shall no longer meet in secret. We shall no longer meet.’
And I realised at this that he did not fear scandal at all, but rather the stirrings of his own heart, and the commitment of his affections to anyone besides himself.
‘Then send the poor girl to me in the Southlands anyway, and I will see to it that she and child are well looked after.’
‘This much I shall do.’
I have a feeling that Erasmus will pay for the cold negligence of his cruel heart.
I have spent much time in writing to you, dear readers from another time, on this, my portable enchanted crystal screen. I cannot write further now, as we must prepare our onward journey to the Southlands: the most perilous part, below the slopes of Mt. Nanos where the North Winds blow all year round and wild wolves and mercenary bandits roam. Erasmus has provisioned us amply but still I fear for my children who travel with us, the most precious cargo of all.
I hope to write to you soon from the Southlands, and remain as ever
Your Queen in Exile.
Read the story so far in the Chronicles of Lockdownia archives.