I am sitting in a courtyard near the high point of Castle Buckmore, surrounded by noise. The flowers and herbs around me are buzzing with bees delighted at the bounteous nectar and, in the still air and the semi-enclosed space, the noise is deafening. I stand as Lady Nimrod of Buckmore comes out, accompanied by a lady-in-waiting carrying a parasol to shade her. “Shall we sit over here?” she asks me, waving to a shaded bench seat, and instantly two people rush out with padded cushions to line the back and seat of the bench. She asks whether I am in need of refreshment and, on hearing the answer is no, the lady-in-waiting and the cushion attendants withdraw, leaving us alone.
I thank her for her courtesy in granting me the interview and ask her to reveal her background, saying she is quite the lady of mystery in the books. She laughs at the idea.
“Mystery, oh no! Well, I keep myself to myself I suppose. I am not the subject of idle gossip, thank goodness. Let’s see, I was born in Castle Powell but brought up at Buckmore, since my parents were of both houses. I am in fact second cousin to Prince Lupin, you know. I was a little older than the other offspring of the King at the time, so I was given the honour of being educated as a princess would, which was just as well, really, since the princesses and the younger prince died in the influenza outbreak of ’99 and the Queen died of a broken heart. I did my best to support the King after that.”
So you are a sort of substitute for the Queen, really? I ask. She considers that. “In role, maybe,” she replies without further elaboration. But other people consider her to be a person of power and influence, like a Queen, and one with great wisdom, I suggest. “Thank you,” she says simply, and I realise that she is all of that and tricky to interview too.
“I chose it all!”
“How is a princess educated?” I ask. She explains about the roles and situations that have to be covered and protocol to be learnt, then adds that she had the freedom to do as much or as little of the standard curriculum as she chose. “And I chose it all!” she laughs. When asked what the ‘standard curriculum’ is, she replies by inviting me to view Buckmore’s library with her, and we walk down through the corridors and staircases to the imposing hall in which it is housed. On the way I continue the interview.
Her most important contacts are, it seems, everybody. She makes a point of keeping regular correspondence with a senior lady in every castle and community, she says, and normally with every king as well. “If something goes amiss I tend to visit,” she laughs, “which tends to surprise some of the more unenlightened Castles!” She also finds that travelling enables her to at least observe “the lot of the general populace”.
“I think it important that I should see what people do in going about their daily lives. I am responsible for the conditions they live in, and how can I make those sufficient for health and welfare if I don’t know what people do and how they wish to do it.”
I note that she allows how they wish to do it into the equation. Exploring more, she explains how she desires that people should live in harmony, with adequate food, social contact, possessions if they need them, and the means to fulfil reasonable desires and ambitions. “That way we use people’s talents for the good of society,” she explains, “and they are happy and fulfilled in their lives.”
I need to challenge her. “Does it always work?”
“No, of course not,” she says, “partly because there are some who always wish to lord it over others in a negative sense. Leaders can do so positively though, and people need a responsible leader.” Is Lupin a responsible leader? “He does very well, considering, and he has the sense to surround himself with good people. The people as a whole trust him.”
“He is an exceptional talent”
I am honoured she trusts me sufficiently to follow the line of enquiry. We arrive at the library where she shows me the standard curriculum, the books and the patterns by which young people can flow through them.
“On one of my journeys I realised that those young people who were outside the castle system had little or no access to the curriculum, so I arranged for two sets of books to be sent around the land, being passed from one settlement to another as they completed them. That has worked very well. I am very pleased to see certain young people coming from those places now and making a valuable contribution to our society.”
Buckmore’s society? “No, the realms as a whole.”
I can think of one, I suggest.
She smiles. “Victor Barton, perhaps?”
“Yes, he is an exceptional talent, although he has a charming way of missing the obvious too.”
We leave the library after I have admired the building itself, the pictures, the older records, and the stained glass window. As we return to her courtyard she points out other things of interest, while still answering my questions.
“He’s an old fuddy-duddy”
Her most exciting experiences, other than the fulfilment achieved from the mobile curriculum system, are the journeys she has made in George’s flying machine. “The first one was terrifying, of course, but once I got used to the idea and the steadiness of the flight, I looked out and was amazed by the wonderful views. It made such a difference to the way we think of Buckmore as a community, seeing the land laid out like that, and the connections between the farms, the hamlets and the castle.” She confesses that she has asked George to teach her how to fly a machine of her own. “Lupin doesn’t approve but I’ve told him he’s an old fuddy-duddy. I’ll always have a qualified co-pilot with me so he shouldn’t worry.”
Her most embarrassing moment, she says, was when she was having what she considered a business dinner with a gentleman, and he seemed to think it was rather more personal. “I know that ladies travelling are not the norm in the realms, although I think the restrictions are out-moded, but all the same, the gentleman concerned should not have made such an error of judgement. It was all the more embarrassing,” she adds, “because of course I had to meet him on many further occasions. We tried to ignore the past but there was always tension between us afterwards.”
I resist the temptation to ask her to name names, simply because I think I already know, and the information is revealed in the first book of the trilogy. I move on to the next question.
“What I’d most like to change is something beyond my power, and that is the attitude and desire for domination that some rulers have. I think they are brewing trouble for themselves, and I hope it doesn’t result in trouble for all of us. Other things I try to change myself, and even just small steps are worthwhile if you have a clear vision of where you want to be heading.”
“It was our secret”
I ask who she would like to say sorry to, and wonder if I am going to be able to find out the answer to Lupin’s enigmatic answer to the same question. I think I do.
“To Lupin,” she says with a sigh, “for not fulfilling our promise. When we were very young we were betrothed, and we took it very seriously. No-one knew about it, it was our secret. When the time came though, it turned out that I was one of many who had been affected, we think by the medication for the influenza epidemic, and I couldn’t have children. So I couldn’t marry Lupin, I had to break our engagement. He had to have a wife to bear him children, you see, as Crown Prince as he was then. He waited years till he eventually took a wife. Nerys is perfect for him though, and they are very much in love now, I am pleased to see. He never let me leave his side though. Of course I defer to the Queen in everything, although she has graciously kept me as her counsellor also.”
Sometimes when you are interviewing people you hear such poignant stories it is difficult to write them down, finish and move on. It is a few minutes until I feel ready to continue, and Lady Nimrod feels the need for a break also, which she achieves by ringing for an aperitif. “Just the right time for something before our dinner,” she says with a wink.
If you were in a life or death situation, I ask, and she completes: “who would I most like to be with? Lupin, of course, although he wouldn’t be much use. His security team might be! There are a couple of very handy and useful people up in one of the northern castles, Castle Haunn; they would be good in a tight spot. Very resourceful. Baden and his brother Robert are also good chaps to have around, I suspect they’d wriggle out of most things, one way or another.”
Finally, who would she like to be if she wasn’t herself?
“Well, I gather from George that this flying business is going to need a lot of newly trained pilots to explore places and map them out. Also open new trade routes and even carry passengers from one place to another. I think I’d like to do that. Does that count?”
I think so. The first female aviation pioneer. I’m sure she’d be successful! Suddenly I’m feeling less worried about whether I’ve brought the right dress for our formal dinner tonight. I’m sure to be able to talk about flying machines with the company present. It’ll be delightful.