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"God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road." - Isak Dinesen


"Tonight, I think I die"

The Tower had errupted in clamour. The clanking of keys, the shuffle and hurried step of the booted feet of soldiers became louder had become as a din, echoing off the cold, stone walls. This place, once housed my mother, Anne Boleyn, before her Coronation, and later was to have become her prison before being executed by my Father. How odd, I thought numbly as I reached for Kat's fingers and squeezed them, that this would be my final home before going to my Eternal Rest. I had entered through the Traitor's Gate. Would it be through that portal that I would leave it for the last time?

It had not mattered that my brother-in-law, Philip of Spain had bade his wife, the Queen, my sister to treat me well with a mind toward reconciliation. Ever the dutiful spouse, she endeavoured to obey the husband that she loved. But the serpent of jealousy, in the form of one of Mary's Councilors, would whisper in her ear that I was ever like my mother, the Concubine, Great Harry's Whore and meant to snatch her husband and his love from her.

The heavy lock of my cell tumbled and released with a loud clank and my heart sunk to my ankles as the Sargent at Arms stepped through the doorway of my cell, flanked on either side by at least four guards armed with pikes. Kat squeezed my hand tighter now and my cousin, Lettice Knowllys clutched my arm fitfully until it dug into my flesh and stung.

"Madam.."

The Sargent at Arms took my arm and wrested me from Kat's grip, propelling me forward. Lettice still clung to my arm in spite of one of the other armed guards trying to shove her back into the cell.

"Where do you take my Lady, Princess Elizabeth?" my cousin wailed pitifully, "Please! I beg you! Take me with her! I must be with her!" Her cries and Kat's now audible weeping were left unheeded by the men. I was ushered roughly through the corridors that were dimly lit with torches. Our pace was brisk and with a certain purpose. The night, I could tell was bitterly cold outside.

"Where do you take me?" I asked, finally finding my voice to speak. "To what purpose do you rouse me from my bedchamber, Sir?"

"We are to take you to Her Majesty the Queen, my Lady Elizabeth," the Sargent said curtly, his expressions betrayed nothing.

Queens did not grant audiences in the middle of the night, I knew! Surely Lord Bedingfield had known it, too, when he consented to let the guards take me before the Queen. I was certain that I was surely going to my death. We came to another entrance where I was posited into a rough hewn carriage, the door slamming shut with a thud, tearing the hem of my skirt. I would go before the Queen, my hair dishevelled, my garments torn, I was left with no clue as to what my fate would be. With a shout the carriage lurched forward and we set through the dirty and chaotic streets of London. The smell of burning flesh from those that fell to the Spanish Inquisition burned day and night now, it seemed. Was I to be one of the ones who would suffer the common death of those convicted of witchcraft? I prayed God that I would survive this night.

The palace was dark as well, and I was to be led by means of a back stairway by none other than Sir Henry Bedingfield himself. I felt the heat of betrayal sting sharply at my face. I thought to rail against him for the Judas I believed he was when I caught his gaze in mine and noted that his eyes were wet with tears. This man who had served as my protector had surely lost his cause with my sister and her accusing advisors that flanked her on every side since her ascension to the Throne. I was pointed to the stairway by the Queen's Lady in Waiting, Susan Clarencieux. The narrow passage wound to a concealed door that was within a hidden panel along the wall inside the Queen's own bedchamber. I felt myself being pushed in the small of my back into the room. Had I not been, it would probably have been some time before I entered that room, into the den of the hungry lioness that was my sister.

She sat in a high-backed chair, her spine painfully straightened to attention by pillows that supported her. Her breath came in and out in audible wheezes.

Mary, my sister, had once been a handsome woman in her youth. The ravages of a life of being the cast-off Princess by my father, removed from the succession, supplanted by myself and later my brother Edward, left her ever embittered toward me. All of this and the numerous wars that Philip of Spain had declared and in the process emptying England's coffers taken its toll upon her. Now, with Philip gone to some other part of Europe and she left alone, my sister was clearly in ill-health. Her skin had taken on a waxy appearance much like that of old parchment in the candlelight and the stench of death seeped from her pores. In spite of the best efforts by her ladies to conceal it with both perfumery and pomanders, it clung to her and everything she touched like a cloying miasma. Philip must have sensed it, too.

I rushed, stumbling and fell to my knees before her, pushing back the hood of a cloak that had been hastily thrown over me before I was dragged from the carriage and through the grounds of the palace. My hair hung loose and unadorned to my shoulders. My ladies had no time to prepare me for this audience with the Queen. Perhaps this was precisely what Mary had wanted. Suspecting feigned sentiment on my part, Mary had allowed me no time to put on pieces of jewelry that she would recognise as that which she had given to me over the years.

"I am Your Majesty's most loyal and humble servant," I began, keeping my eyes averted from her piercing gaze and on the floor, "I beg Your Majesty not to have a bad opinion of me, no matter what you might have heard." My voice was trembling, and that much I could not have feigned. I was frightened, truly frightened, not for the first time for cert, but definitely never more deeply than now.

She was silent for many long moments. I could feel her relentless, shortsighted gaze boring into me, but still I could not bring myself to raise my eyes. With a wheeze she shifted in her chair. I glanced up to see that she did not offer me her hand with the coronation ring upon it to kiss. After a few moments more she spoke. "I am told that you have as yet not confessed to your sins against me," she croaked, sounding now as ill as she looked and smelled. "I pray for your immortal soul, Elizabeth. You stiffly persevere in your truth, do you think now that you have been wrongfully punished by Us?"

"I have not said so, Your Majesty," I said forcing calmness within me, "I have borne the burden that I have been placed under and will continue to bear it until it pleases Your Majesty to release me."

"But you do say so to others!" Mary countered angrily, "Do you not confess at least to that, dear sister? What other crimes do you harbour in your traitorous heart against me?" She was the one who was sounding frightened now. "Get up from your knees so that I may no longer have to witness your false humility!" Mary had been made undeniably irritable by her illness and this meeting would end up very badly for me, I knew, if I could not think of something quickly in order to placate her.

I rocked back on my heels and rose clumsily to my feet, gazing down at her imploringly. In answer to my unspoken question she lay her hand upon a document and held it between us. "This," she said in a low and acidic tone, "will rid me of you at last. It is your death warrant. All that is needed is my signature and seal and at dawn you will be taken to be executed. It would be a relief. " The finality of the statement obviously pleased her very much to say it. Philip was not here now to stay her hand nor to advise clemency on my behalf.

"For years I have borne the humiliation dealt to me and my mother by that whore, your mother. Every time I look at you, I see only her. Nothing of my father, the King. It was well done of him to cut off her head."

"Your Majesty forgets," I said, lightly reminding her, "the King was also my father." There was no reaction from her other than a twitch of her lip. "Your Majesty now reigns as England's Queen and I am but your subject." I had to think quickly now. "Majesty," I began again softly, swallowing hard, "I beg of you; if you sign that document you shall be committing the murder of your own sister. Were you not supported by me even as Jane Gray and Guildford Dudley rose up against you? You are my sister, Mary!"

Mary put the document aside, and collapsed against the back of her chair, struggling for her next breaths and wringing her hands, "What do I not know of murder?" she wailed, "They have killed my son, and now my husband is gone and I am alone. I am beset on all sides by treachery!"

I took a great chance and fell to my knees before her once more. "Mary, you are unwell, " I said, daring to touch her hand now. If I lived or died by such a gesture, then so be it. " Please let me at least call for your ladies to put you abed and send for Your Majesty's physician."

"Do not attempt to divert me, Madam!" Mary rasped,"Why do you not confess to your crimes against me and against England?"

"Because, Your Majesty, I have committed none. I have been much accused by many, but I have never been any less than a faithful and loyal -"

"Why do you persist, Elizabeth?" she was crying now, reaching out, she gave my hand a slight squeeze. It was a small but promising sign. My sister needed understanding now and I would give her that small compassion. "When I am gone I know that you mean to take my husband as your own! I should have married you off and sent you far away years ago!"she flung my hand away in a fit of remembered jealousy, shattering what little hope that moment might have brought between us.

"Your Majesty! I have never entertained such a notion!" I protested.

And truly I had not, but I knew that Philip had every intention of maintaining the Habsberg domination of England. He would not let go of his little concealed desire at he and Spain being Master of the World in his own lifetime. If Mary were to die, I was the only thing standing between Spain and France. Philip was shrewd enough to have pressed his case under the guise of the chaste love of a brother-in-law. But Mary was no fool, and what was worse is that she knew quite well the nature of both political power and alliances and of the treacheries of men's hearts. If that man were a Prince, the getting of an heir was or primary importance and treacheries could be written off as a strategic necessity. To her very great sorrow, Mary had failed in providing Philip and either England or Spain with one. My ultimate demise was not only a matter of personal satisfaction or even vindication on a lifetime of slights by my father and our brother Edward, but one of a strategic necessity for her as well.

"My physicians say that this cancer will make you Queen, Elizabeth. What is to stop you? What would it matter? I would be gone!"

I mustered every ounce of Will that I had ever imagined that I had and looked my sister, the Queen in the eye. "Mary," I said, putting my full conviction on each and every word, and I meant them with all of my heart. "I give you my word, as my Queen, your sister, and by the blood of our father, the King, that if the worst does come to pass, and I do most ferverently pray that it will not, that I will not seek Philip's hand in marriage. Nor will I accept it if he were so ill-considered as to ask for mine."

My words must have convinced her, for she eased out of her chair and sat down upon her footstool and took my hands into hers almost with affection. She was obviously relieved. I had given a lonely and rejected woman who was grieving a false pregnancy and dying a slow and painful death something that no one else had given her since Philips departure for his latest war against France. I had given her a small glimmer of hope. 'Then will you also promise me," she hesitated and then continued, "that you will uphold the True Faith? Hmmm? Do not take from the People of England the consolations of the Blessed Virgin to whom they turn in time of need." If Mary's own priests and inquisitors could not get such a commitment from me, then certainly she could do no worse than to try herself.

"I promise, Mary," I used her name and not without affection in my voice, "that I shall do as my conscience dictates and I will protect England as you and our father have always done."

Mary pulled her hand away from mine abruptly. "Then do not think to become Queen at all!"

I had angered her. I had dashed any hopes that Mary had held of my conversion to Catholicism upon her impending deathbed against the stone walls of her bedchamber. Struggling back to her feet she looked down at me indignantly. The familiar icy gaze that struggled to perceive both distance and features had returned. I bowed my head once more, hoping to calm her newly restored ire. "You are to be taken at once to Woodstock and there you shall remain until I am fully recovered. "

I was astonished that the Queen did not mean to send me either back to the Tower or to my death. "Thank you, Your Majesty," I said, rising slowly, still bowing. I turned slightly and meant to follow the escort that had now appeared in the doorway back out of the Queen's bedchamber when she spoke once more.

"No," Mary said, her voice was eerie in it's finality, "take her through the entrance of State. Let us throw her then to the wolves. If she means to rule, then let her begin to see what the treachery of the mob is truly like."

Those were the last words I ever heard her say.





Muse: Elizabeth I
Fandom: Hiistorical / "Elizabeth", "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Word Count 2553

crossposted to [livejournal.com profile] writers_muses
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