THERE WAS A TIME, OH PILGRIM, WHEN THE STONES WERE NOT SO SMOOTH
07 01 2022
595 pp. 174,838 words
In my novels where HM The Queen occasionally appears, one of those instances is after her own mother’s death at 101 years. Here is a meeting between my protagonist, ST, facilitated by the Royal Steward, Howard.
As it is the most of formal protocol days ST must accept that Howard is first and foremost a Steward of the Queen. He will be guided, he will be ushered, he will be tended to with the utmost of discretion.
“A sad occasion, Howard.”
“Leavened a touch this time around, Sir.”
This is Howard’s way of informing him that all – more or less – is as it should be.
“Please convey to Her Majesty my deepest condolences.”
“You may do so yourself, Sir.” Howard indicates for another member of the staff to continue greeting the flow of arriving vehicles. “If you’ll follow me.”
This is unexpected. ST had been surprized enough to be invited back to what he assumed would be a somber buffet in one of the State reception rooms. There would be small talk and a hurried atmosphere as most of the Royal family would soon be on their way to the internment at Windsor Castle.
“Whose idea is this?” ST asks the question to Howard’s retreating back as he follows the other man along the front of the palace.
“Whilst on duty, Sir, I have no ideas of my own.”
They enter a section of the palace unknown by ST. They come to a door that Howard has to unlock. He uses no swipe card nor keypad but a substantial metal key upon an equally impressive key ring. When they are through the door Howard locks it behind them.
The corridor is far shorter than the length they have just walked. ST guesses they are near the back lawns and gardens. He wonders if he is going to be taken to the pond he stood beside so many years ago, and if he will have the chance to skip stones again. However, in less than a minute, Howard turns sharply along an unexpected hallway and shortly stops in front of a set of double doors.
“Our destination, Sir.”
ST makes a quick appraisal of his person, tugging a coat tail and smoothing his hair. He questions the steward with a glance and Howard nods his head before he knocks on the door. ST can’t tell if Howard actually hears a response or if there is a designated seven seconds before he swings the doors open.
“Come in, Howard.”
ST notes that Howard unusually precedes him into the room instead of standing aside and then following. He is also surprized that when he himself enters the room Howard does not close the door behind him.
“Thank you for attending.”
“Your mother made a profound passage through Time. You’re welcome.”
The Queen is mid-room, standing beside an ornate floor lamp. The room is not a large audience chamber but a smaller sitting room or den. There are comfortable chairs and books on shelves and a writing table. In one corner is a television and a discreet bar.
“Yes, she did.” The Queen finally approaches ST with hand outstretched. “She put every year to use.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” ST takes the Queen’s hand, ungloved and barely adorned, and shakes it gently. He looks her in the eye as she does to him and finds a calmness he did not expect.
“Come to the window.”
He follows her across the room and notes that Howard, although unbidden, does the same. They stand in a line before the broad panes of glass.
“My mother did not often reside in this palace as she believed it rightfully belonged to the current monarch.”
“Howard tells me you are finding out about appearances.”
“Yes.” ST does not hide his glance toward the steward. “I am discovering that it is others who do not permit me to be on an equal footing.”
“Exactly so.” The Queen smiles. “And does Howard instruct?”
“I suspect so, Ma’am.” ST also smiles. “But with Howard, who can ever know?”
“Oh, we live and learn from that one.”
The Queen looks away from the men and stares out the window. Since ST is here by request and no polite dismissal has occurred, he realizes the audience is not over. He also realizes, standing and looking onto a burgeoning garden, that this may be one of the quietest rooms he has ever been in. There is not a sound reaching them from the great city of London, nor from the bustle of the palace.
“When my mother did come here, this was her favourite room with her favourite view.” The Queen points out the window. “She would often spend an afternoon here after some public or family function – the two often intertwined.”
“As she would often point out, Ma’am.”
ST almost snorts in surprize for Howard has just given the Queen a verbal nudge. He assumes this is part of a steward’s job, but ST has never seen it done.
“Yes, Howard.” The Queen glances at him. “My mother was a ‘public’ person over sixty years. She both resented and appreciated the fact that she had forty years without.”
“Both, Ma’am?” ST is struck by the notion for not only does it sound contradictory but he is startled to realize he has similar feelings.
“Yes.” The Queen turns and looks directly at ST. “She appreciated the fact she did experience the younger portion of her life where she lived almost normally. She resented the fact that by having that experience she lived the rest of her life knowing what she was missing.”
“And you, Ma’am?”
“I was not born to be a Queen but as long as Uncle David had no issue I was always reminded I was Heir Presumptive. My youth had some normality but I was never allowed to go my own way. “She pauses to look out the window. “I have never known what I am missing but I am aware I am always missing something.”
“Do you think that is worse?”
“How can I compare?”
ST has no answer for this and hopes it is rhetorical. That you can’t really know one thing without experiencing its opposite is a nugget found in the core of Space/Time – and Space/Time rules the world.
“Howard’s body language is urging me on.”
“Is it, Majesty?” It is Howard himself who asks the question. “Uncharted waters, Ma’am. I apologize.”
“You’re being protective, Howard.” The Queen nods. “It’s appreciated.”