Where Sorrow Seems To Follow Our Heroine
In The Year of Our Lord, 1492, influenza swept through England like a violent storm. The sobs of the dying echoed through the ravaged streets and the tears of loved ones disappeared in the rain-drenched filth of the alleyways. The village of Hampstead was no exception to such devastation. Even King Henry had escaped to the country for clean air.
For Phillipa Redmond, death had become all too familiar. It had haunted her for the past year, taking her parents within a week of each other. Then her five siblings—one after the next. She’d shed the last of her tears when her youngest brother, Peter, had finally succumbed to the terrible sickness. Peter’s body was still upstairs, covered in the white linen sheet she’d pulled over him, and locked behind his bedroom door—as if that would keep the sickness from permeating the rest of the house. But one had to follow the law in times like these.
The meat wagon hadn’t been around to collect Peter’s body, even though she’d sent word two days before. She’d received a missive back that the dead by far outnumbered those who were working to bury them properly. Peter would have to wait.
Phillipa cast one last glance at her home, memorizing the way the stair banister curved in a smooth arc of mahogany and the way her mother’s prized vase from France sat in a position of importance in the entryway, the flowers long since wilted. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them back rapidly. She could no longer afford the indulgence of tears. She had to think. And think quickly. The orders to evacuate had already been given. She had a grandmother in Scotland, though she’d only met her once when she was quite young. There was really no choice in the matter. Her grandmother was her only hope.
She took a deep breath and wrapped her dark red cloak around her tightly, lifting the hood so it covered her head. The cloak was lined with white rabbit fur, and the fabric was a wool so smooth and unblemished it felt almost like skin. It had been a gift from her parents for her eighteenth birthday, the last birthday she’d gotten to share with them.
The echo of footsteps shuffling from the village streets below her family estate could be heard through the thick English oak of her front door. The survivors were already fleeing Hampstead.
She said a quick prayer for courage and walked out of her home, down the tree-lined dirt road, and into the streets of Hampstead with the others. The crowd was bedraggled and unkempt—men, women and children she’d never seen before without so much as a hair out of place. No one spoke. Everyone’s eyes were cast downward, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.
Phillipa glanced one last time at the home she’d grown up in. There was a red slash of paint across her front doorway that could be seen even from a great distance, signifying to all who walked by that the house was contaminated. She’d see that slash of red in her dreams for eternity.
She looked at the cottages of her father’s charges as they continued to shuffle to the outskirts of the village. The wind had turned chilly and a light drizzle fell and clung to her lashes, so she pulled her cloak tighter. The doors of the cottages held similar red marks. It had been so long since she’d left her home she hadn’t realized the extent of the devastation that had wreaked havoc through her village over the past weeks.
The palace had sent knights to all the villages to make sure the laws were followed. They sat rigidly atop their horses, their heads uncovered and water dripping from the steel plates of their armor, as they herded the survivors out of Hampstead. No one was allowed to bring any possessions—no animals or food, no carriages or clothing—only what they could carry as they fled for their lives. Phillipa had a small, painted likeness of her family, dried fruit, a thin volume of poems, a few coins, and a hair ribbon tucked away in a pocket that had been sewn inside her cloak.
They made it to the outskirts of the village just as dusk was setting in. Small groups of people set up camps under a thick copse of trees, shielding themselves from the wind and rain. Leaves were gathered for beds and animals were hunted for food.
Phillipa stood in shock, alone and separated from the others. She was eighteen years old and had never stepped outside without her maid or a proper escort. But now she had no one. There wasn’t anyone to bring her food or lay out her clothes. No one to dress her hair.