In which we, the warriors of love, commence our journey toward Surrey, and meet four significant people from my past.
Birdsong mingled with the snap of dry twigs under my pony’s hooves. Trees cast shadows all about, dark bars across the forest floor, otherwise bright with afternoon sunshine. My stiff padded leather armour contrasted with bridal underwear, soft against perfumed skin.
As an edible fragment broke free from a gap between my teeth, the sweet, almost cloying, taste of wedding cake returned to my mouth.
“I think,” Modesty said, from near the front of our column, “that, if we head west for a mile or so, we’ll come out on to a proper track.”
“I’d rather…” Lisa-Louise paused before continuing: “stick with the trees as long as possible.”
“We’d make better progress on a road.”
“I’d rather nobody saw us.”
“They’ll see us eventually. The forest won’t take us right into Surrey, will it?”
“No, of course not. I’m just hoping to put off the inevitable… for as long as possible.”
“I thought I saw movement,” Barguin said, “over to the left.”
“Just a deer, I think,” Lisa-Louise replied, after a quick leftward glance.
“All the same,” Modesty added, “it’s good to be alert.”
“And,” Diqui said, “I imagine that, quite apart from Tuerqui’s dad’s soldiers, there are dangerous beasts in this wood.”
“Likely some nazemen,” Modesty replied. “Tuerqui should know all about them, seeing as how she comes from Essex.”
“Is my mask straight?” I asked Tipsi, riding at my side as we crossed a clearing.
My padded leather armour included a mask covering the upper half of my face. In this Essex forest, there might be little need for such concealment, but it had seemed a good idea to start as I meant to go on. The purpose of secure covering for at least my forehead lay in a tattoo, identifying me as not only a slave, but a whore. Further into our journey, the Registered Brothel Stock mark, if seen, was likely to cause a lot of trouble.
“It’s fine, mistress…”
“Perhaps, Tipsi, you shouldn’t call me mistress any more.”
“Why ever not, mistress?”
“You’re no longer my slave, Tipsi. We’re companions, fellow warriors of love.”
“Perhaps, fart-face,” Barguin said, “Tipsi wants to cling on to old certainties, and discarded hierarchies, rather than face the dangers of our journey.”
“Never mind, Tipsi,” I ignored Barguin’s rudeness and unsettling idea. “Possibly you’ll lapse into calling me Tuerqui before journey’s end.”
“Maybe, mistress… As far as I can tell from your nose and mouth, mistress, you looked a bit surprised just now. Was that me calling you…”
“No, Tipsi, it’s more likely surprise at dislodging a bit of wedding cake from my teeth.”
“Yes, mistress, it hardly seems possible that you were married this morning. How about your wedding ring, mistress, any sign of dislodging that?”
“I haven’t tried since we set off into the forest. My finger’s a bit swollen. I expect the ring’s going to shift sooner or later… like you calling me mistress.”
My marriage, that morning, had been a sham: seeming to abide by father’s wishes, but in reality merged into a scheme devised by my friends, the warriors of love. The heart of the matter lay in a divergence between my parent’s vision of my future, and my own intentions. He had wished to see me as the dutiful wife of Lord Up Minester, sequestered in an Essex castle. In contrast, my objective was to return to my daughter and beloved mistress in Surrey.