The Dukes drove us at a frantic pace, but given that we were almost in a state of war, I could hardly blame them. No doubt the frenetic drive through the countryside was meant for my protection. The journey to Wickhampshire would take the better part of a week. We traveled down the Ferryway in a large convoy of black coaches with no emblem to designate me as royalty. I was told to keep my windows shuttered for my own safety. I felt safer as the dukes’ heavily armed men rode ahead of us to scout for any bandits or Augustinian soldiers and the rest rode beside each of our carriages to keep us safe. Yet I still could not settle my nerves.
The last time Pendland had been at war with Augustine I had been nestled in my mother’s womb with my brother. My father was leading the war on Augustine so he was forced to leave my very pregnant mother as regent. In a famous tale, my heavily pregnant mother led the charge against the Augustinian king who thought to invade Pendland as my father and most of the Pendlish army were in Augustine. My mother rallied the troops left at home and rode out with them in full battle armor to protect our country from invasion. The Augustinian king had been killed in the ensuing skirmish. My mother had sent his bloodied battle crown to my father as a token of wifely affection and devotion.
I had been lucky to have had a childhood free from war or even the threat of war. Now I was quite unprepared for the fear that descended on me and refused to leave. Every flash of light in the distance was an army of Augustinian soldiers determined to rape and kill me and my ladies. Every delay in my party’s progress meant a squadron of soldiers had discovered us and were attacking.
My ladies, my Mariahs, did little to soothe my ragged nerves. Lady Mariah Giscombe, who had been the one lady most eager to live in Augustine railed against them for a solid hour after we left the harbor.
“Those arrogant Jack-a-knaves! Vile savages!! I pray that the king exterminates every last one of them. I say that the Augustinian race should be no more.”
“That’s interesting,” Lady Mariah Buttonwood interjected. “Just last night we were all excited at the prospect of landing dashing Augustinian husbands.”
Lady Giscombe blushed. “Well that was last night before they revealed themselves for the false friends that they really are.”
“Will both of you be quiet!” Lady Arendell snapped. “Let’s pray for peace and not an endless river of blood.” With that Arendell took out her prayer beads and led us all in a prayer song of peace. The other Mariahs like to make fun of Arendell’s piety and her prudishness but I have to admit that her prayer songs always lightened my heart and reminded me of my connection to the goddess. My youngest Mariah, Lady Beaton, held my hand tightly. I could see in her large brown eyes how frightened she was but not wanting to be chided for being a baby she was unsually quiet.
We drove through the night and only stopped once we saw the sun rising through the trees. My chamberlain sent servants in search of a suitable clearing and then had them set up a small meal for my party to break our fast. They laid a tapestry on the ground and my ladies and I sat down and dined on a meal of fish marinated in coriander and ginger, an Elderflower and cheese tart and Lavender tea with honey. I felt better after I ate. The tea coated my throat and sent a warmth spreading through my chest and into my belly. I let myself feel content for a moment. I was tired, exhausted really. I had not been able to sleep in the carriage that seemed to find every bump and twig on the road. Even my dear Saltsberry had been able to sleep, filling the carriage with very unlady like snores. I tried to close my eyes for a few moments as I sat on the tapestry holding a cup of tea, but when I did the image of my mother rose behind my closed lids.
I was wondering how my pregnant mother was faring. Had she been so distressed at the prospect of war that she had gone into premature labor? Surely if that had happened there would have been some word from the palace? But what if there had been and the dukes were withholding it so as not to upset me? I also worried about Meri. Where had they sent her? Was she still in the capital with our mother and father or had she also been sent to the countryside for her protection?
The whole idea of war turned my stomach, but not as much as the idea that Jahn’s letters had been full of subterfuge and lies meant to deceive me and my country into lowering our collective guard. I could not reconcile that Jahn with the sensitive young man who had sent me drawings of his pet turtle and wrote me about his favorite rooms within his centuries old castle. Jahn had promised to show me the catacombs that ran beneath them and led to the beach. He had sworn that he had seen mermaids on the horizon when he was a little boy and that during every trip to the sea he always watched for them no matter how his younger brothers mocked him for a fool. I did not want to believe that kind young man was tricking me. Perhaps his father had tricked both of us.
As we were packing up to leave, Northfork approached. “My lady princess, I am afraid that we have to split your household into two parties. Such a large party will attract unwanted attention.”
I moved to protest, but Saltsberry held me back. Saltsberry had always been weary of the man that she mockingly referred to as The Good Duke. “Whatever you think is best, your Grace.” I said and watched as half of my household was sent on ahead of me to Robart Hall.