A Thousand Eyes: A Novel of Elizabeth I

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Chapter 7: May 1559

When Matthew Parker entered my office for the second time that year, he seemed tired. Exhausted, really. His quiet life in the countryside was evidently wearing him out, creating little purple circles under his eyes and making his mouth turn down in defeat. I tried not to sound like I was jesting when I asked, “How are you, sir?”

“I’m all right,” he said quietly. “My daughter has caught the sweat, and the physician says she has but weeks left, but I myself am doing well.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. Everyone knew that a clergyman marrying was almost a sin, even though many did it anyway, but with Matthew Parker it was already done, sealed inside an envelope, and now what mattered was that his daughter was dying. “Sir,” I said softly, reaching out grab his outstretched hand. “I will pray for her as if she were my own. We all will.” I wasn’t sure exactly what I meant by “we all”, but I wasn’t going to point that out.

He nodded his head solemnly. I wondered what it would be like to lose a child—would it be the same as losing a part of yourself? Or would it be like failing in God’s duties, for He had blessed you with a babe, and you couldn’t even protect it? You had just let it slip from your curled fingers like a tiny acorn, so it fluttered and danced in the wind for just a second, until it fell. And it was your fault. “I apologize for dragging you away from your home at such a time. Go, and come back when you are finished there. Remember, I will still need you.”

He nodded once more. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

Then he left.

I knew it would be months before I would have an Archbishop of Canterbury, but I was content with this. I could stand the Archbishop of York for a few more months while I waited for Matthew Parker to be able to fill the position I needed (I had to keep him in office because couldn’t see how I could replace the Archbishop of York when I had little for an idea of whom to replace him with, and also no Archbishop of Canterbury). Besides, I had other clergymen to deal with.

“You want to get rid of the Bishop of Carlisle?” Cecil was incredulous. “Who would you replace him with?”

“That’s not what is important. The point is, he believes himself to be above me. He thinks that, just because he is a member of the Church, royal authority does not apply to him.”

“That’s not it. He thinks you are a heretic, so you are not the true Queen.” He made an attempt to amend the comment, no doubt from analyzing my facial expression, but I was quicker.

“He crowned me. Why would he not regard me as the true Queen, but offer to crown me all the same? He is obviously too ambitious for his own good.”

“Sure,” Cecil replied doubtfully. “That might be it.” But I knew, I knew that he was not speaking the truth, yet he was not going to tell me the real problem. That he was going to keep to himself.

This was the first time in several weeks that I’d focused on my duties as a sovereign. It bothered Cecil like the sweat, but I found it easy to ignore that. When I decided to again delve into the complex issues that faced my realm, he would welcome me back happily. He would give in great detail an account of what I had missed, and hide little a thing. My Secretary of State would welcome me back with open arms, because I was needed. He would let me read my mail before the messenger delivered it to him, and he would keep his emotions closed when I flew into a rage because my cousin Mary was making outrageous decisions on the advice of the French. These all became so enticing, that I figured the longer I stayed away, the more I would be welcome when I came back.

There was another reason, too, though. A reason by the name of Robert Dudley.

It had been colder than I could ever remember it being. Drops of rain sprinkled down from the sky like pepper. I instinctively stooped lower as I rode, but I was unsure how it would help me stay dry. Just like anything, if the rain was going to hit, it was going to hit, no matter how much I delayed it in being minimally closer to the ground.

Robin was laughing. The rain was turning his honey hair a shade as dark as the coat of the midnight-black horse he rode, but he was just riding towards me, chuckling. I flicked a look at him in annoyance. Why did he get to be so jovial, when we were so cold and wet? It was England, and it wasn’t uncommon for it to rain, but it was annoying when it did, and there was no reason for Robin to make a face like we had just won a war.

“Remember that day so many years ago, when it was raining and we ducked under that empty shed for cover? Then, as we waited out the rain, we jumped at every rustle of a bush?”

I laughed. I had been about nine, and Kat had let us ride alone as long as we didn’t get lost, but when the rain started, we made a path to the nearest shed such that it would appear we tried to make it so we could not get back to Hatfield. “Whenever I heard a noise, I was sure it was Kat with a whip. I knew she would be angry.”

“You know she always loved you more than she could bear. She wouldn’t really be angry enough to whip you!”

It was true. Kat tried to be a good, stern governess, but she didn’t see a misbehaving child when she looked at me. I wasn’t sure what she did see, but I could remember that the only eyes I saw on her face when she was really seeing me were sweet marzipan, less stern than a young dog. “That didn’t ease my fears then. I was waiting for her to break and start with the whip.” I related this all in an amused tone, but when I looked at Robin he wasn’t so enticed. Not in a comedic way, anyway. He had a blaze in his eyes, a streak of soft passion I couldn’t place. I realized then how wonderful it was—he had completely flipped my mood in less than the time it took to get to the end of the field.

After that, I couldn’t stop seeing him. It was worse than when I had translated Medea for Katherine Parr--it was excruciatingly difficult for me to stop seeing Robin. I hadn’t had an honest companion since that last stepmother, and Robin was like a bright, clear, predictable patch of sky in a very unpredictable storm. Nothing stayed the same, but Robin was the closest to that anyone had ever gotten.

“Baron Caspar Breuner,” the usher announced. A man laden in a bejeweled white vest with dark breeches to contrast it entered, the heavy-chinned, similarly dressed Spanish ambassador at his side. The baron was the new ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor (the father of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria). He looked as nervous as if his life was at stake here, as if I’d send him to be hanged if he spoke out of turn.

The baron had a pointy nose, thin eyes and mouth, and red cheeks like the roses of summer. He addressed me with over-exaggerated respect, and a bow deeper than I’d seen in a long while.

“Good day, sir,” I told him, acutely aware of my station.

“Good day, Your Majesty,” he stuttered. “His Royal Highness sends you his warmest greetings.”

“You may thank him for it, and tell him I wish him well.” In truth, I didn’t even care who was Emperor, so long as they didn’t threaten me. Hopefully not a man like Prince Erik, though, who was determined to see me wedded to him. “How is your stay so far in England?”

“It pleases me well,” he said enthusiastically. “Never have I seen such beautiful buildings, or such lovely villages, even in Austria. You English live grandly, I believe.”

I hoped he was overstating it, for it would be a sad thing indeed if England was better than Austria. I let Cecil organize the route the ambassador would take here to Whitehall from the shores, but even as the baron no doubt passed through England’s best-kept towns, they were not impressive. Everywhere I went, the poor were begging at shop windows, and there were no charitable churches to help them as there had supposedly been before my father had had them demolished in favor of strict Protestant churches he’d had little time or effort to take down when he re-converted to Catholicism. Ailing beggars were often seen groaning in the streets, and no one took care to act the Good Samaritan. Austria was doubtless twice as rich as my sad little country.

However, I had nice properties. If one was not impressed by Whitehall’s twenty-three acres, they were obviously stoics who had no sympathy for the luxurious life and most definitely a lack of greed. Green gardens circled the castle, and the fields stretched on forever, only a part of the biggest estate in Europe, grander than the Vatican, even, where the Pope lived as a hermit, issuing excommunications as he pleased.

“I do enjoy my luxuries.” This was a lie, but it never hurt to please the Emperor’s dispatch. Let him think I had a large purse, let him think I was a grand monarch.

“The Emperor--he wishes me to propose one of his other sons, the Archduke Charles, for your hand.” It was so abrupt that I staggered back from my place near the table, my hand over my collarbone. The Archduke Ferdinand was the first son he had offered, but the man was stoutly Catholic enough for me to politely decline. Now, another one. The Habsburgs were clearly desperate for an English match--or, perhaps, any match at all.

Politeness, I reminded myself, as if Kat hadn’t drilled it into me so dutifully. “Why, it is a great honor, my lord. That the emperor would choose me for one of his sons…I never dreamed of it.”

“You’ll consider it, then?” he confirmed, as if I had a choice whether I lost sleep from it or not.

“Of course. The Archduke is a most prestigious match.”

Nicholas Bacon, my treasurer, had perhaps the darkest hair of all the court. A long, untamed beard graced his chin, and his eyes were a bit too close together. But otherwise, with his soft lips and muscular limbs, he was handsome.

He looked around the marble hall, to the door inside which the council meeting had just been held, and flinched when I asked him what the council had thought of the Emperor’s proposal. “We think him an adequate match.”

“Even though he is Catholic?”

He pressed his hand against his breeches. “There is rumor that he is not so deeply rooted in his religion as the Emperor wishes. He may convert.”

“With his father so imposing? I don’t think he’d dare.” The Emperor was under the rule of the Pope, and would be deeply disgraced if his son were to be excommunicated along with me.

“The baron seems to think you’re a woman worth waiting for, with your estates and such. He’ll definitely report that to the Archduke, and I’m sure the man would do anything for you then. He is what--nineteen? All I cared about at nineteen was money and land, and that’s for sure.”

“He could make more profit out of another marriage than one to me.” Mary had left me with over two hundred-sixty pounds of debt (about as much as my annual income) and I had yet to pay it off.

Nicholas was thoughtful when he advised me, “But you don’t need to tell him that. Let him think you’re rich, and you have an Imperial marriage.”

“Trick him into marrying me, you mean?” It was an awful thought. “But what if he is disappointed with my lack of riches and divorces me?”

“It’d be too much work.”

I sighed. “My Lord Treasurer, he is the Emperor’s son. The pope would dissolve the marriage like that, if the Emperor wanted it.” I snapped my fingers on the word that. “Considering my beliefs, the Emperor would want it, if he discovered how poor I am. I’d have to be the richest woman in the world to please His Royal Highness, and the only reason he has proposed his son is because he believes I am.”

“Your Majesty, from what I have discovered, loves to play with the fancies of men. Why now, why is it now, that you decide you have tired of it?” If I was not mistaken, I could see tiny purple moons under his eyes.

“My lord, I have not tired of such things one bit. It is only that in this game you propose, too much is at stake.”

“When has that ever stopped you?” he chuckled, his round face going up and down. I could see that he was recalling when Mary quite nearly executed me, and I roped in everyone I could until I was safe, and free. Danger had never halted me; if I had let that happen, I would never have been Queen.

“All right, I’ll do it,” I replied, and for a flicker of a second, I believed I was telling the truth.

It was clear to me very soon that by proposing that I trick the Emperor of Austria, Nicholas Bacon had gone mad. Therefore, by agreeing to this proposal, I had gone mad as well.

If there was anyone I hated to resemble--even only once in a while--it was my cousin, Mary. Mary was the one who made the irrational decisions before anyone could even explain to her what she was doing. I was the calculating one, the one that ran everything by half of the court before it was signed and sealed. She was the fool; I was no such thing.

So, I regretted agreeing with Nicholas Bacon in a very short amount of time. I wanted to erase the part where I’d said, “All right, I’ll do it”--the part that would’ve made my immature cousin proud--crumple the words and toss them out the window. They would discolor the perfect grass, because they were out-of-place, useless. Stupid.

But they were there, words that shouldn’t have belonged to me, and I was wrapped in this plan so much that I couldn’t get out. Well, that wasn’t true, I could have gotten out. But I couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth. Whenever I saw the treasurer, whenever he spoke to me about it, my skin crawled in a way that, when I became the ruler of my realm, I thought it wouldn’t ever again. But whenever I tried to tell him that I had changed my mind, my lips wouldn’t form the right way, and my throat could not make a sound. I realized then that I had all the power I could ever want, but that didn’t free me of situations like this--where all it took was one word, and yet I didn’t have an ounce of power to make that word come out.

Thus, I very nearly married a man named Charles who would never be a king, even though he was so irresistibly close. I very nearly married a man who, like me, enjoyed the works of Cicero and could have been a musician if not for the color purple in his blood. I could have had him so easily, if I wanted. But I didn’t. There were two words that convinced me to not want it enough that I could tell Lord Bacon. These words were words that, in due time, would be on the tongues of everyone in the land: Robert Dudley.

It was misty. A cold fog surrounded my horse master and myself like a cloud, and the sky was like a metal spoon teetering off the edge of a table, threatening to fall off with a deafening noise, but one of the things that made the friendship between Robin and I last so long was the fact that almost nothing could keep us away from our horses. Not thunder, not rain, not my cousin Mary wreaking havoc; nothing.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to mention the deal I had made, since it was risky even by my standards and I knew he would doubt me for agreeing to it, but I had to. No one else would listen. Usually I confided in Kat, but my governess would take the latter action and lecture me on thinking before I acted (words I had heard numerous times). No, with Kat, it was better to discuss things that weren’t my fault--she gave me better-than-worthy advice on those occasions. So it was Robin that I was forced to turn to here, if I was to turn to anyone. And I knew I had to speak to someone.

So I told him. I told him the whole story, and how I completely regretted agreeing to my treasurer’s plan. When I was done, it was like removing a huge pile of rocks from my chest and finally realizing how heavy they had been. I had known I needed to say something, yes, but I never imagined it would feel this good when I was done saying it.

Robin was nodding along, I suppose feeling the cadence of my words, until I had nothing more to say. Then, he asked, “But why didn’t you just say no? He is a nobody compared to you, he shouldn’t stop you from refusing to do something you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to marry the Emperor’s nephew—”


“—then don’t.” He paused and stared at me intensely. “If you do this, you’re going to be stuck with it for the rest of your life. Don’t do something you’ll regret forever just because you didn’t have the one minute of courage you needed to back out of it. If you let anyone control you, you won’t be Queen for long. And I don’t mean it as a threat.”

I let the reins go slack as the world hung still around us. He was right, I knew. I should stop it before it got too far. But it wasn’t Robin’s words that convinced me to do it. It was his eyes, the way they glittered when he spoke. I looked straight into them, and realized that I couldn’t marry anyone that didn’t have those eyes. I couldn’t marry anyone without those barrel arms or pink lips.

I couldn’t marry the Archduke. I would regret every second of it, but not for the reasons I had expected when I first decided I couldn’t do it.

“You said the Archduke has brown hair?” I ran my fingers through my own flaming hair, feeling the breeze swim through it. “Dark?”

“Dark enough, yes.” The Baron Breuner looked confused, since I had already sent the letter to the Emperor, but excited that not all hope was lost. It was lost, but I would let them think that perhaps there was a shred of it left, since I needed protection from France. There was the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, but it wouldn’t make King Henri or Queen Catherine like me any more. They were staunch Catholics who regarded me as a heretic and illegitimate (believing that Queen Mary of Scotland, wife of their heir, was the true Queen of England).

But this wasn’t me agreeing to Nicholas Bacon’s plea. It was different. Austria was going to be played for fools, yes, but I was doing this my way. Not anyone else’s.

“Does he like to ride? Does he hunt, or joust?”

“He does both, when he can.” The baron smiled, which showed off a bit too much of his yellow teeth. “He is excellent, too: a man to rival your late father.”

A new question came, cropping up out of nowhere, like the others. “Does he dance?”

“I have seen him dance.” He swayed with the barge, which floated serenely on the water while spectators from nearby towns continued to hoot, throw flowers, and pay reverence to me. I looked back at them for a second and waved, which created a unified sound to damage my ears. “He is particularly gifted at music, though. He plays the lute almost as well as Your Majesty, and he can even play the flute. When I complimented him on it once, he said to me: I seek only to help the world a little, for ‘Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.’”

I did not see my eyes, but I was sure they were sparkling with joy. I would never marry this man, even if he could play all the instruments known to man, and then some, but it pleased me to hear that men so gifted were vying for my hand. “He reads Plato?” I asked, as if we were the only two in the world that did.

“Aristotle, too. When I left he was working on In Catilinam, by Cicero.”

I clapped my hands together. “I re-read that not too long ago! He must be a marvellous dancer then, my lord.”

“He is. The Volta is his favorite.”

“You must adore him. He sounds like a pleasurable man.”

There is a pause, where the baron hesitates. “Of course. He is most wonderful.”

“I am sure that he might make a wonderful husband.”

The baron shot back with, “You’ll have to hurry if you want him--the Emperor is already searching for another wife. But, I’m sure that, were you to repeal your rejection, they’d come to a halt.”

“It would be awfully difficult--he’d have to come to England, and--what is the matter?” I asked, seeing the baron’s expression altered.

“He’d have to come to England?” he stuttered.

I gave him a look. “Would you marry a woman you’d never met, or seen in person?”

The wind rushed through the boat. “Some of us don’t have a choice.”

I looked out to the curling waves and responded, “But I do. That’s why I refuse to marry someone I haven’t seen: because I have the choice not to.”

“God has blessed you,” he said softly, words that warmed my heart.

“Why of course--who but He put me on this throne?”

“None,” he spoke swiftly. “I believe God favors you above all others, Your Majesty. I think that, because of this, you must choose the Archduke. Together you would be the power-couple of Christendom!”

I brushed the water drops off my robes. “You must understand, my lord, that as much as I would love to take the Archduke as a husband, I won’t be doing it for power. I don’t want three kingdoms. I want England, and England only. If this marriage will help me keep England, then so be it, but I don’t care a whit if I have Austria and Germany and Poland, too. I don’t want Austria and Germany, really. England is the only thing I care for.”

“A true woman you are, Your Majesty,” he chuckled. But his eyes were worried.

“That doesn’t mean I won’t take the Archduke,” I repeated, feeling redundant. “God knows, with Queen Mary trying for my throne, I’ll need him. I don’t,” I stressed, “want a civil war in my realm. I’ll take the Catholics. I’ll take Papists and Puritans to keep my realm from warring and nominating my cousin to take my place. I’ll take five husbands, even.” Which was a blatant lie, but I had a charade to keep up. Of course I wanted England, and Queen Mary was indeed gathering her strength, but I had no intention of taking a spouse in order to assist me with my battles. Battles weren’t solely for men, anyway (if Boudicca could be used as an example).

“You’ll let heretics slide through your fingers because of your cousin?” He looked shocked.

I was unsure what to say, not knowing whether by “heretics” he meant the Catholics or the Protestants. “I’ll do anything,” I told him at last. Except marry.

“The Emperor is less determined than you, I must say. If you exclude religion, of course…” His cheeks were red, but it looked to be from the cold. It was funny, how ambassadors and other foreigners had such trouble with the weather here in England. I’d never describe my homeland as “cold”, but I had lived here more than twenty years and had no comparison.

“I have determination, my lord,” I answered passionately, “only because I need it.”

We moved to Greenwich, where I’d been born in mid-autumn of 1533. Robin was determined to see to it that I had the best entertainments, the best food, and the best flowers to decorate my tent during the jousts. I wished endlessly that I could just kiss him, right there in front of everyone, but Kat had taught me better than that. Still, it was so difficult to have him in front of me, sweat beads forming on his tan forehead, and be unable to run my hand down his muscular arm. Love was not a priority for me, but it was distraction enough.

At the end of June, I received news that the King of France was on his deathbed from a jousting incident, and not ten days later I received the news that he was dead. This meant that King Francis was King of France.

It also meant that my cousin Mary was the Queen.

Queen of two countries. Together, France and Scotland could crush us English. Also, I didn’t think twice about the fact that Queen Mary would use this chance to claim the crown she insisted was rightfully hers.

I had to get my paws into Scotland, where, similar to England, religion was a controversial subject. The Scottish Protestants--who were more numerous than the Catholics--would side with me, surely. Though I was not a strict Puritan, I was the best they had. Yet unlike Queen Mary to England, I had no claim to Scotland’s throne.

Which brought me back to the fact that I didn’t want it.

The joust on the eleventh of July was an exciting event, as usual, but it filled my heart with pudding. Robin was the main jouster, challenging any man willing to suit up and get some excersize, and with King Henri so recently dead from the same sport…

It made me shudder, for sure. I tried to compose a tune in my head while everyone filed in, but Nicholas Throckmorton’s wife Elizabeth, who herself was a good composer, was gossiping too loudly. Bess (whose husband had actually been a friend of my late sister) had the voice of an angel, but it was always as loud as a trumpet.

So I tried to listen in, but all they had to talk about was politics, which I knew only too much about. If they’d talked about one of the Russell sisters, who were always stirring up trouble and were close kin to the Boleyns, then I’d listen. My heart might even have become firmer, instead of flopping around in my chest lie the ears of a dog.

But the only conversations of interest to anyone were about my cousin, so I bit my lip and tried all the ways I could think of to settle my chest.

Finally the event launched into action, with Sir Thomas Sudley as the first contender. He was opposed by Francis Throckmorton, brother of Sir Nicholas. I gave my favor to the former, and fell into a pattern of switching off: one match I’d give it to my Lord Thomas, and the next to his rival. But whenever Robin played, he was awarded the ribbon. Usually he won, too. I prayed when there was naught other to do, and by the end of the joust I was thanking God that He had preserved my love.

When he had dismounted and shed his armor, I approached him. “Oh,” I said, embracing him. “You did wonderfully!”

“Well, I could not very well have allowed myself to fail with Your Majesty watching,” he smiled, and my heart tugged. This was merely the courtly compliment, but it was so natural from Robin.

“I love you.” I had to whisper it in his ear to evade my ladies’ wandering minds, but it carried the same passion as if I had shouted it.

He ran his calloused hands through my bright hair. “And I can’t help but feel the same,” he grinned, and pulled me to him in a tender hug.

It was one of those moments where I wished I was not the Queen but a peasant girl, or at least a lower-class noble, and I could love anyone without consequence. I could have married Robin when I first knew I loved him, had I been the daughter of a marquis or an earl. But God had given me this duty, even if my heart butted in.

Since it was disputable that my mother had once, long ago, been Queen of England, it was inevitable that my Tudor cousin would claim my throne, if only in name.

But I wasn’t prepared for it. When Cecil informed me that the Queen of Scotland and France was telling everyone that she was Queen of England, too, I should have just waved it aside. This had gone on from the minute my half-sister had died, and my cousin of the same name had obviously considered herself the heir even before Edward was in his grave. Ambition doesn’t have a starting point, I knew, just like God: it’s simply there.

But now, the woman had France, who could strike me down, especially since the King wanted to be King of England as much as Mary wanted to be Queen. Though the boy wielded little actual power, young Francis would not hesitate to send an army after me. A sixteen-year-old boy was capable of the same reckless ambition as Mary.

“Should we do something?” I inquired. “Should I fight them before they fight me?”

Cecil’s eyes wavered. “You speak as if you’re alone, Your Majesty. You must remember that England is, and forever will be, right behind you.”

“But should we fight?” Then I remembered what war entailed: death, the breaking of a hard-won treaty (in this case), and money I did not currently have. “Never mind. I don’t want war now.”

“We may have to step into Scotland, interfere with the reign of Marie de Guise.” Marie was the product of my father’s sister and the King of Scotland, now the Queen Mother. “Scotland is just too close to England, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” I told him. I had been born into an England that warred with Scotland, and this had not changed much.

Chatter filled the empty space in the sparsely furnished room, though it was caused by only six others. A wind funneled through an open window, tickling my exposed hands. But my privy chamber was crowded with the sound of men trying for an audience with me, men who resented that I did need time for the affairs of England as opposed to their own interests. They were waiting in my presence chamber on the other side of the wall, some arguing with the usher outside the door.

“How will we keep the French in tow?” I asked. I didn’t want a war, especially one that we were destined to lose.

Cecil was blunt. “A marriage.”

“You want me to make a French marriage?” It sounded silly. My cousin was already part of the French troupe, and the Dowager Queen held little respect for me. She’d never have me as a daughter, Queen of England or no.

Cecil shook his head, and I breathed out. “You’ll need to make a Habsburg marriage.”

“As if I haven’t already been doing that?” I felt sweat on my forehead. “I’ve seen the Austrian ambassador three times in the past week. I have this all worked out.”

“But you wrote to the Emperor declining the marriage, Your Majesty.”

“Does the Emperor think I can’t change my mind?” I stroked my hand, feeling the softness and warmth of it. “He may be Catholic, but we are of the same species, and any human will know that opinions do change.”

Cecil was quick to fling back, “But that doesn’t mean they expect it.”

I sighed. “But surely he thinks that I may have changed my mind? I have shown the Imperial ambassador especial favor. Surely he’s reported that to the Emperor.”

“Nevertheless, if you want the ambassador to know for sure that you are set on this marriage, you must write to him again.”

Your Royal Highness,

I have been thinking very much about your son the Archduke Charles, and it has come to my attention that perhaps he should come to England. After all, I cannot marry a man I have not seen. Pray, send him to me, and I am sure you will hear of a betrothal soon.


Elizabeth R.

I rode with Robin the next day, under the cover of a rosy sun. “The Archduke might come here.”

His face grew pale. “Here?” he echoed. “To England?” When I nodded, he exclaimed, “But you told the Emperor--”

“I know what I told him. But Robin, my cousin is on the throne of France. How long do you think it will take for her to rally them and come to claim England for herself? I need a marriage that will protect me from France, and a Habsburg one is just that.”

We passed a streak of grass that had pink flowers spouting out of it, and I inadverdantly dug my heels into the side of Euripides, the Irish stallion Robin had purchased with the 12,000 I had given him (the money that the Spanish ambassador was telling the world was for his own use). My accidental signal caused Euripides to speed up, and Robin’s horse with him.

“You promised me you’d never marry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t think a throne would change that.”

I looked back at my ladies, who weren’t listening a bit to our conversation. Almost slipping and telling him the truth, that I would never marry, I quickly retaliated with, “It does. It changes everything.”

He was disappointed, I knew. But the thing that was once a secret between him and myself was now a secret I could only trust to my own mind, my own mouth. The world was a perilous place for me now, more so than ever.

I spoke again. “You know I want to marry you, and I am absolutely positive that you’d make a great King. But I need a prince for a husband,” the lie felt like a dagger, “one that will help me keep what is mine.”

“I’m sorry I can’t do that, Your Majesty.” He sounded resentful.

The wind felt cruelly cold on my back. I looked up at the sky, willing an answer to drop down from the heavens. “I am, too.”

“You’ll marry the Archduke, then? There will be a foreign King, and you’ll drain your resources for Austria if need be? And all I’ll have of you is distant favor and enough memories to blind me?” He looked as if he were going to spill over with tears, but the expression was gone swiftly.

“No one said God was kind. He is merely merciful.”

“Then I pray He’ll show me a sliver of mercy.”

I wished to hug him, to embrace him and inform him that I would never marry, ever. But I could not. Even though his father and grandfather were condemned traitors, which turned the public eye against him. Even though Mary had almost had him executed for the crimes of his foolish father. Even though he deserved a peace of mind, and I wanted to give it to him. Even though he was the reason I was doing this, the one who had brought me into this. “I’m sorry,” I told him, but it wasn’t enough for either of us.

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.