* * * *
It took quite a number of days to get to Brenton. We did not travel by the Great Road, which linked the whole kingdom together. Poppa had ordered our driver, Saul, to take us down lesser-known pathways and to avoid the larger towns at all costs. The plague had carried away almost half of Klenard’s population already. He did not want us to be infected.
The route we took was full of narrow roads and was bumpy with rocks. They led us into deserted villages, random graveyards and lonely patches of woods that had lonely eyes peering out of the darkness. We broke down often. Saul had to stop and fix a wheel or rod in the carriage.
Lady Lee and Lady Alice always kept the shades on the carriage drawn. They did not want us to see the outside world and wished to keep the contagion away. It was boring not to see the outside world. Jayne and I could not help it. We sneaked peeks when they were not paying attention.
Jayne and I didn’t like to be secluded. We could not help but disobey. I was especially curious. I saw most of the kingdom except for the far corners and have met with so many people who did not see me as their princess. Now, Klenard was different than what I knew. What we saw was enough to make us stare in wonder and shock.
There were so many sick and dead people, more so than we thought. Many of them were delirious, wandering in circle sickly until they dropped dead. Families often had to leave behind those who could not walk. Those who were immigrating southward were not spared from rape and murder, the plague be damned. Abandoned merchant wares scattered across the fields, their dead owners picked at by birds. Nuns, priests and monks nursed the ill by the side of the roads or underneath trees.
Thieves were rampant. Each person we spotted, dead or not, had its goods stolen. Many bodies were stripped naked. These vagabonds did not exclude nuns, monks or priests either. While many had taken a vow of poverty, they still endured the worst and completed a task that they swore to forsake for Christ.
What intrigued me the most was seeing people who did not fight us or care about our passage. While we most passed through towns and villages that were empty, we also saw some with a population so small that they focused more on surviving that some unmarked vehicle ambling through their residence was not worthy of comment. I knew that Lady Lee was pleased. While she kept me close to her, she only relaxed when she knew a moment of safety.
Even so, I began the see Klenard at its worst. I was shaken to the core. My initial rides with Miranda did not prepare me for the tragedy that unfolded before my young eyes. It was like a mask had been peeled off and I was seeing the real person behind the misshapen face. It was nothing I expected.
It taught me a lesson, though. I could pretend all I want how powerful I am, even as a princess of a royal family. It did not mean that I was immune to death from the plague. I was a person like any other. If anyone had captured us, we’d be in the same position as our subjects…or worse.