It is 38 years since Thatcher’s Conquest, and a new Queen reigns over the Commons. Castle Downing stands out menacingly amongst the buildings of British government; an immense gothic fortress constructed for the sole purpose of shielding the reigning Queen of the Commons from potentially damaging public scrutiny. In lieu of tricky questioning from senior herald David Dimbleby, the other Great Houses had laid siege to the Union Tree stronghold. The Heralds’ Guild dispatched me to the frontlines to make a record of the tumult following Queen Theresa’s latest devastating edict: that she would be formally coronated. The Red Rose and the Amber Bird had hated her regency but permitted it in the wake of King David of Eton’s ritual suicide on the steps of Castle Downing after his failure to uphold the alliance with Euros. Now, faced with further Union Tree supremacy, the only reasonable course was bloody, all-out war.
The army closest to the outer walls of Castle Downing were the amassed forces of House Red Rose, composed of the Blair Guard under Lady Kendall and the zealous Corbynistas under Jeremiah Corbyn, who had forsworn any titles. The bright-eyed youth of the Corbynistas, like their beloved Jeremiah, had sworn off violence. As one can imagine, this made waging war for the Red Rose a puzzle as vexing as trying to figure out how soon one can acceptably duck out of an awkward blind date. Instead of deadly munitions, the Corbynistas had taken to loading copies of the learnéd Thomas More’s Utopia onto trebuchets and hurling them with non-lethal force over the walls of the castle, cries of “Jezza! Jezza! Jezza!” accompanying payloads. This had so far proved ineffective.
What was most striking about the Red Rose encampment was just how little these regiments under one banner would speak to one another. When they did, inevitably someone’s honour would be impugned, a duel would ensue, and someone would be called a Papist.
On the other side of the castle to the Red Rose, quite intentionally I might add, the slimmer army of the Amber Bird was not actually embattled. They had raised up a modest carnival to celebrate their impending seizure of the Rose Heartlands. Well, in about five or so years. But they were a patient bunch. Lord Farron held jousts on every day of the siege, between those members of the house that thought he was a homophobe and those that did not. As if in mockery, a huge banner was draped over the tournament stands at his instruction, simply reading, “We are all sinners”. He and the scant nobility of the Amber Bird were in high spirits; they did not wish to claim the throne, not yet. They wanted to let the blood of the Rose flow.
In a little camp in the shadow of the castle’s southern wall, a small, disparate House known as the Green Globe were trying to gather support for an alliance to breach the walls of Castle Downing. Each day they sent envoys to broker a truce between the Red Rose and Amber Bird. Each day they offered to relinquish strongholds (save Brighton, the land of their foremothers), to assist their more numerous rivals in defeating the hated Union Tree. The trouble was that no-one was listening..
I accompanied Ser Jonathan Bartley, a handsome man in a sort of dadsy way, to the golden tents of the Amber Bird’s carnival. Lord Farron’s headsmen, Ser Tom Brake and Ser Alistair Carmichael, stood outside the entrance to the royal tent, brandishing huge whips. Brake and Carmichael smiled broad, gloating smiles but stepped aside when Lady Sarah Olney rested a hand on their sword arms to bestill their thirst for blood. In the amber bedecked royal tent, Lord Farron sat like the great khan, his throne low but huge. Amber Bird campaigners lurked in the shadows, or tried to. Their yellow badges made it really hard to hide.
“Why do you trouble us, Ser Jonathan? What does the Green Globe want?” Sarah Olney asked, counting a stack of coins, “The Glee Song is soon and I don’t want to miss it by chatting with a no-hoper.” A chuckle passed around the room, Tim Farron’s the loudest.
“It has been a week since the coronation was announced, the country is in chaos, of the kind not seen since King Gordon named some woman a bigot,” Ser Jonathan began with confidence. “The Green Globe would see a defensive pact between ourselves, your Lord Farron, and Jeremiah Corbyn. Together, we can topple Castle Downing.”
“Do you remember the last war?” Lord Farron spoke, in a near whisper, as the room fell silent. That special silence one only finds after grandfather has said something unsettlingly Catholic and no one knows quite what to do.
“I’m sorry, what? This is about now, Lord Farron-” Jonathan tried to continue but was cut off.
“Do you remember the last war?” Lord Farron repeated, stepping up from his khan’s throne. “I remember the last war. Two years ago, as my House burned and my kinsman Lord Clegg was shamed like a common pamphlet hussy, the Greens were stepping on our necks for petty selfish gain.”
“But that was then!” Jonathan foolishly tried to interject.
“WHERE WAS YOUR PROGRESSIVE ALLIANCE THEN?” Lord Farron exploded. The beetroot anger on his 90s boyband face quickly being replaced by abashedness, he apologised for his outburst, and continued. “Where was the Green Globe’s offer of sanctuary then? Nowhere, Ser Jonathan, and it is nowhere now. I. Will. See. The. Red. Rose. Burn. And come coronation day, I will pick its petalled corpse.”
Ser Jonathan had paled, his mouth bobbing open and closed like a goldfish. “B-but what about what the Union Tree did to the last lord of the Amber Bird? Didn’t they make Lord Clegg a eunuch? Don’t you want revenge?”
Lord Farron smirked, leaned into Ser Jonathan’s ear, and whispered, “King Gordon suffered, King David suffered, you do not yet know suffering. Get. Out.” Bartley stumbled, drunk with confusion, out of the golden tent.
I could not quite believe what I had witnessed, but it was the same reply from the Red Rose later in the day; a friendly Green Globe supporter was returned from the Red Rose with a little red book stapled to her sun hat. Scrawled in blood on every page of the book was, ‘DEATH BEFORE DISCUSSION’. I had been with these armies since the day after Queen Theresa had plunged us screaming into pandemonium and could not fathom why no truce could be brokered. Indeed, the Amber Bird had positioned itself so intractably in support of Euros and Jeremiah so firmly bound by Red Rose Leavers that regular skirmishes began to break out between the two armies. The Green Globe encampment was thoroughly trampled during each exchange and each time rebuilt with all the bloodymindedness of Sisyphus pushing his rock.
I had seen only Union Tree yeomen on the battlements of Castle Downing, not one knight and certainly not Queen Theresa herself. She was under strict instructions to do nothing but send out increasingly vague edicts on the Breaking of the Euros Alliance. I heard tell that Ser Boris had been sent north to stave off House Alba; there was little hope he could hold the Scots Union Tree together against Nichola, Queen Beyond Hadrian’s Wall. News arrived that across the Narrow Channel, Ser David Davis and his vassal Ser Nigel were confronting the mercantile Federal City of Brussels with little success and indeed little hope on that front for at least two winters.
On the last day of my mission from the Herald’s Guild, before I was rotated out for Andrew of Marr, I was trying to get something, anything out of a surly Ser Chuka in the Red Rose mess hall, when the great iron gates of Castle Downing opened wide enough to allow out a group of horseriders. I hurried to see which of the knights of the Rose would meet the suddenly emergent Union Tree. Ser Tom Watson, Ser John McDonnell, and Ser Diane Abbott were horsed and sped towards the other party, while I struggled to keep up. When we were 100 paces away, it became clear that it was not the Union Tree approaching but the Purple Pound. The Great House of Purple Pound had been even more elusive than the Union Tree lords. The riders came to a stop. I craftily hid my horse behind Diane, who I was sure would be the dirtiest fighter. Opposing the knights of the Rose were Purple Pound patriarch Paul Nuttall, his second Peter Whittle (his odd windswept parting kept distracting me), and behind them Douglas Carswell, a knight with no lord and despised for it.
Carswell spoke, “The Purple Pound is a servant of Queen Theresa. She has spared my life if I agreed to escort a champion out to meet you. Ser Paul wishes to challenge Ser John McDonnell to single combat, to show the Heralds’ Guild that his House has weakened the Red Rose. That the divine mandate has failed you.”
John McDonnell said nothing but he did nod. He and Paul Nuttall charged at one another. With a mighty parry and swift swing of his sword, Ser John beheaded Paul Nuttall of the Pound. The House that broke the grip of Euros had become an irrelevance, political grace had abandoned all, and as John McDonnell raised Paul Nuttall’s head into the air, I knew at last. Winter had come. In May. And it was going to be shit.