Chapter Three – Crossroads
Septimus pointed. "That road leads to the Market. You should find a good job there and someone to help you. Call yourself..." He hesitated. "Judith Underhill. Your parents are dead and you are seeking work. If you're low on money and...acquaintances, contact me, don't try anything desperate. Do you understand?" His dark blue eyes stared deep into mine, of a lighter shade.
We were standing at a crossroads a few miles south of the Palace. I was in a plain red dress, my dark hair done up on top of my head, carrying a basket full of food, drink, maps and, for some reason, a necklace that had belonged to my late mother. Septimus had packed it. Once I stammered out my cause of leaving to him, only a few hours earlier, he commanded me to change, packed the basket, took two horses and – bang – we were out of the Palace. I was prepared to leave my life as a princess behind me. He was prepared to see me off.
"D'you want me to tell anyone else about you..." He didn't need to finish his sentence.
I thought about that. "Tell Primus. And tell our lord Father that...that he doesn't need to worry about me finding out about our mother anymore. That I'll stay away from him now." A lump rose in my throat and I looked away, embarrassed. I wasn't one for sentimental goodbyes and farewell speeches.
He hugged me tightly in response. "I love you, Una," he whispered into my hair.
"I love you too, Septimus," I whispered brokenly. I would miss him so much. "I'll write, I promise, as soon as I can. I might even visit one day when...when..."
"When?" he prompted.
I was going to say, When our lord Father is dead and Primus is king, but that sounded treasonous and I only shook my head.
His eyes narrowed for a moment, then he looked away. "Judith Underhill," he muttered.
I nodded. "Judith Underhill."
He sighed and hugged me quickly, one last time, then hopped onto his horse and rode away into the horizon, where I could see the sun setting – the end of the day.
That was the last time I saw Septimus as a playful young boy and my beloved brother.
I had been traveling for about two hours now and was exhausted. Septimus, trying not to make my escape look obvious, wouldn't let me take a horse, so I now had to walk. I was not used to such long distances and how stumbled along, tired, hungry and aching.
"Why my dear," said a soft voice from my left. "What are you doing out here on such a dark night?" I turned around, suddenly alert.
It now strikes me, nowadays when I don't have much to worry about, what could have happened and what could not have happened if I did not turn around and simply carried on my way. If I had kept walking I would've missed out on twenty years of miserable boredom, but I also would've missed out on who are currently the three most important people in my life right now. So I settle for the first option in these confusing crossroads.
There was a yellow caravan drawn by a handsome light brown horse at the side of the road. A woman sat in front of it, stoking a fire. She was perhaps in her thirties, with wild red hair and dark, shrewish brown eyes. Her pursed lips were turned into a winning smile as she stared at me. "And such a pretty little thing like you, too?"
I opened my mouth to say, My name is Judith Underhill, I'm on my way to the Market and would like a lift, if you would be so kind. But exhaustion overwhelmed me; my eyes half-closed and I swayed on my feet. Black dots swam before my eyes.
Before I knew it the woman was at my side, supporting me, helping me towards the caravan, relieving me of my basket. "Oh, you poor dear, you seem so tired! You must've come such a long way! A pretty girl like you can't be safe on the country roads for long – why not spend the night in my caravan? At no cost, too. Oh, yes, my name is Sal. Dearest, what's yours?"
"Una," I mumbled stupidly, then my eyes flew open with shock when I realized what I had done. Una, you idiot!
If Sal had been surprised, she showed no sign of it. Inside, she handed me a warm cup full of a thick, brownish liquid. "There you go, dear. It'll wake you up slowly and tenderly. That's right – sup it up." I had grabbed the drink from her hands after a brief mumble of "thanks" and was gulping it down, parched and hungry.
It was warm at first. Then a paralyzing cold shot through my body, followed by a wave of aching – everywhere. I gasped and fell to my hands and knees, my natural defenses willing me to vomit. I could feel my eyes rolling back into my head – a grotesque feeling, do all in your power to avoid having this done to you – and everything slowly faded away to black.
The last thing I saw was Sal's face, no longer smiling warmly and sympathetically, but jeering at the fainting princess in intense pain in front of her.