[livejournal.com profile] writers_muses 46.6 - Smallpox

Jul. 21st, 2008 09:06 pm
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"The Pox!" I threw my cup across the room, hitting the stone wall with a clatter. One of my ladies in waiting scampered after the pewter goblet that was now dented beyond all repair. "What in the devil are you talking about! The Pox!" I sneered.

Since my return to London from the filth of Ipswitch, neither brisk walks, nor rides or even a long bath in the afternoon the day before could make me feel better from the fever that had just made itself manifest. No. This man had to be wrong, it had to be the hysteria that had been sweeping all over England or even, so I had been told, as far as France and Spain.

"Yes, Majesty," Dr. Burcott, the skilled if not gruff physician newly in my employ countered,"You are in the early stages yet, but I do think it best if you were to take to your bed and be seen to...that is just in case...."

"I know what the symptoms are, Sir!" I cut him off, "Kat, bring me that book that every person in my Kingdom seems to have read, but this dolt has not." Immediately Kat Ashley had done exactly as she was instructed and came back with a copy of Thomas Thayer's "Regiment of Life". Not accidentally the page had been marked with a small strip of ribbon where I had been reading for myself. "It says here, I cited:

"---- Called ye the small pocks, the signs are itch and fretting of the skin as if it has been rubbed by nettles, pain in the head and back sometimes as if were a dry scab or lepry spreading all the members, other whiles in pushes, pimples and whayls running with much corruption and matter and with great pains of the face and throat, dryness of the tongue, hoarseness of the voice and in some quiverings of the heart with sorrowings..."

I looked up from the tome in my hands to glare at him harshly. I could feel my face still flushed either with the warmth of fever or anger, I was not quite certain, "Do I look to you as if I am covered with pustules and eruptions of leprous nature, Sir?"

"No, Ma'am..." he began, "however.."

"However, " I cut him off abruptly, "You seem to have a differing opinion from everyone else on the matter of our Person. Get out of my sight you dribbling German Knave! Get out before I have you beaten and force you to attend to those in my Kingdom who are hopelessly afflicted with this Pox until you can learn the difference!"

The gaunt doctor could barely contain his rage but when he was faced with two of my chamber guards at the ready to show him out, he turned away without saying another word, not to Walsingham or even to Lord Cecil who was hovering with his ever worried expression nearby.

For four days my irritability continued, my temperature would break only to re-establish itself immediately after. I could barely focus on Court business at hand. It was only when I awakened after, Robert Dudley told me, I collapsed on the floor of the Privy Council chamber. For four more days, there were no marks upon my skin and none of the symptoms of this pox could be seen? Had I contracted something else? Was this the work of some slow poison of either Our cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, or some other person that meant me harm? When I finally did come to, fearing for my Kingdom, I sent for my Councilors to the Royal bedchamber. It was quite a sight seeing all of their pinched faces. Well, what better time than to inflict my Will upon them, eh? I ordered them to appoint Robert Dudley the Lord Protector of the Realm with the salary of £ 20,000. This they granted with little ceremony along with other minor requests.

"Death, gentlemen, " I said as I fell back against the pillows, "feels as if it has posses every part of me." Indeed, I thought at that moment that I might well die, and here England had no successor. Would the last child of the Great Harry die unmarried and without issue and the Tudor Dynasty to die with me. I prayed as much as my addled mind might let me and my Councilors filed out of my chamber once more, leaving me to the ministrations of my ladies, in particular, Kat and the sister of Lord Robert Dudley, Lady Mary Sidney.

It was one of Walsingham's own men that found Dr. Burcott. I was told that this young man had gone galloping off to the Doctor's own home and begged him to come back with him, to the Court to see to me. The man, clearly still infuriated by the social blow he had been dealt at Court and in front of everyone reared up into the face of Walsingham's man, "By God's pestilence!" he roared, "She called me but a knave for my good will toward her! If she be sick and near death, then better to let her die!" The young man, clearly outraged and insulted by these words expressed toward me, his Queen, drew his sword and threw the man into a wall.

"As God is my witness, Doctor, I shall run you through here and now if you do not put on your cloak and boots and mount your horse and come back with me to Hampton Court! You will see to the Queen, or ye shall be the one to die!"

Dr. Burcott stormed from the room about his home, rousting both wife and servant in his bellowing and consented to be led back to the palace to my bedside. As he looked down upon me once more, he grumbled to himself, "It is almost too late to save Your Majesty," he growled, "but I have knowledge of a cure from old Arabic remedies that should be able to to turn this affliction away from you.' He straightened up and ordered the servants to find a red cloth to be taken to wrap me in it completely. Everything about my bed was to be made. All this was done until only my head and one hand was wrapped in the crimson linens. I was lain upon a mattress in front of the fire of my bedchamber and told to drink a bottle of an herbal infusion that he had made for me as much as I liked. I was made to feel comfortable and was very much so when the first dots of the pox appeared on my hand. I was filled with such fear as I had never known.

"What is this? What is signified here?" I asked.

"'Tis the pox, Majesty," Burcott said matter-of-factly.

"God's own pestilence! I moaned, my voice quavering, "Which is better to have the pox on the hand or in the face, or in the heart and kill the whole body?" I was actually frightened that the disease would disfigure me to such a degree I might never marry, even if I should want to.

"What are you complaining about! Of course you shall not be scarred, " Burcott snorted indignantly, "although I can tell you, I would have wished it for the blow you dealt to me, Majesty! I did not deserve your reproach, and came you close to death's door for having done so."

I gave him a weak smile as Lady Mary Sidney dabbed a cloth at my face, wiping the perspiration away that had come forth after the breaking of the last bout of fever. "You would hold such against a fevered sovereign, Doctor?"I said. "Well, perhaps I shall make up for your rebuke by rewarding you should I survive this pox."

He let out a small grunt and left my bedside, not acknowledging that this was probably as much of an apology as he would ever be able to extract from me. Suprisingly, for the next several days he did not leave my private wing of the palace. After all was said and done, there was, as he had promised, nary a scar upon my person. Dr. Burcott's old Arabic cure had indeed worked.

As I returned to health and got about my business, so it happened that Lady Mary Sidney herself had contracted the pox. I believe that it was in her care for me that she did. Again I beseeched the doctor to tend to she who had tended to me, offering my assurances that she would soon be restored to health. Of course at the end of the ravages of the disease, though her health was restored, the pox had turned one of the fairest of my ladies to be most foully scarred by its marks. Even her husband was taken aback. Lady Sidney chose to remove herself from Court and pass away from being seen by any but her immediate family. It was probably better that way. And admittedly, it was the underlying reason why I at last sent Dr. Burcott away, with a grant of land and a pair of golden spurs for my appreciation. May God grant forgivess for my all-too-human vanity, but I wanted no reminders of that illness which had passed over my door.

Muse: Elizabeth I, Queen of England
Fandom: RPF / Historical / 'Elizabeth' & 'Elizabeth The Golden Age'
Word Count: 1426 (does not include quoted text from Thomas Thayer's "Regiment of Life"- c. 16th Century)

Crossposted to [livejournal.com profile] writers_muses
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