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DV Ficathon - Of Friends and Foes


Leonard has an audience with the Queen



 


A fearful shriek interrupted the muted mutterings that filled the elegant halls of Whitehall Palace, and the crash of metal against timber preceded the opening of the great doors from whence scuttled a young courtier, closely followed by a stream of torrid words and invective.

A gentleman standing alone outside the door, mouth dry and heart pounding in his chest, watched as the harried servant made good his escape. The gentleman had been here these three days hence, awaiting an audience with no lesser person than the Queen. He was so very tired in mind and body; his hands, holding a parcel tightly wrapped in leather, shook perceptibly. As his eyes followed the departing courtier he felt the urge to run also, but he must remain. He had made a promise; he had begged to be granted this challenge and now he must complete it. When he was at last directed to enter the room his legs would barely obey him.

The gentleman dropped to one knee before his Queen and waited, head bowed, until Elizabeth acknowledged his presence. “Come forward good sir; fear not, I have no more missiles at hand,” she quipped; then, more seriously, she continued, “I am told thou hast for me a letter from the dead. ‘Tis so, Master Vicarye?”

Leonard Vicarye looked down at the precious package in his hand then back at Elizabeth and nodded mutely; it had taken all his strength and wisdom to bring it here to this audience with his sovereign. He hoped he’d strength enough to complete his task.

Elizabeth took the package from the gentleman’s hand and carefully unwrapped the leather bindings. It did indeed contain, as she had expected, a letter from the dead, and also other documents, in other hands, some of which she recongnised instantly.

“Thou canst vouch that this be in the hand of thy friend?” Elizabeth enquired, holding the first letter out for Vicarye to inspect.

Leonard’s eyes, filled with sadness as he scanned the proffered parchment, “Yes Your Majesty, of that I can avow.”

The Queen’s expression darkened as she read the pages of fine handwriting. From time to time she looked up, right past Leonard, as though he did not exist. At length she returned to where the gentleman stood.

“Knowest thou the contents of these pages, Master Vicarye?”

“In truth, your majesty, I do not. The documents were sealed, as you have seen. I know only that they contain intellegences that my friend had of certain noble persons; knowledge that was a danger to him, or any other who had ken of it. He had kept the details of the documents unto himself.”

“‘Tis good then that it remain so,” the Queen said solemnly, then her mood changed and she asked sternly, “How is it come that it hath taken such a span of time for thee to present these pages unto me? Thou hast been returned from the Patagonia these thirty months. Thou sailed with Wynter didst thou not?”

Leonard dropped to his knee again and answered, “I most humbly beg forgiveness for my tardiness your majesty, but my friend did not carry the documents with him on the venture. He had them secreted away here, in England – only on the eve of his execution did he give to me a parchment writ in a secret script, such as he had learned from the great Dr Dee. He had not wanted to burden any friend with the heavy responsibility, but I had pleaded with him to provide me with a quest that might help me to survive the loss of him. In the end he did accede, not for his own sake, nor for the sake of revenge; but only as a means to protect his brother, John.”

“It hath required all my wit and whiles to decipher the code and devine the cryptic messages therein disguised to find at last the documents, the which I here presented unto you.”

Elizabeth nodded her understanding, stood silently for a time, deep in thought, then looked again at Vicarye; he was pale and visibly trembling.

“Thou lookst not well, Master Vicarye. Come sit here beside me faithful friend of my lost Thomas and now, I trust, good friend of mine. I will have warm spiced wine brought for thy relief and restoration.”

The gentleman was reluctant to sit in the presence of his monarch; it seemed to him highly improper, however falling away in a palsy in her sight was equally undesirable, so Leonard sat self-consciously on the edge of the richly upholstered bench his Queen had indicated.

“Now, tell me if thou canst, my good Vicarye, the sad story of your great friend’s demise, for I will have the truth of it. Spare none, Master Vicarye, I command thee.”

Since his return from the ill fated voyage to the Southern Seas Leonard had been careful not to speak of its travails to anyone; now, at his sovereign’s bidding, all the pain and anguish of the voyage poured out of him. The weeks of acrimony and accusation between Drake and Thomas as the little fleet crossed the Atlantic. The trial, the verdict, the execution of his friend; how Thomas had gone to his death with such grace and dignity that even his foulest enemies were not unmoved. How, after Thomas’ death, Drake had banished Leonard to the Elizabeth and forbade him any contact with young John. He related the triumphant traversing of the Straits of Magellan only to be met with 52 days of savage storms and wild tempests once they entered the ‘Mare Pacificum’; the loss of the Marigolde, with all hands; the separation of the two remaining ships and the long days of sickness that ravaged the entire company of the Elizabeth as they waited in vain to be reunited with Drake; and finally, the days and nights of bitter argument between young Captain Wynter and the Master of their now lone ship, on what course to best take home.

When the torrent of words had ceased Leonard sat exhausted, embarrassed that he had spoken so fervently and ceaselessly to his sovereign. He tried to judge her mood; he thought perhaps he saw a glistening in Elizabeth’s eyes, but his own eyes were so misted he could not be sure. He feared he had said too much, but there was one more thing he had to say to his Queen, “If it please your majesty, I know that Thomas sought not to bring discomfort to his Queen. He wished only to protect his brother; it was his final concern of his life. Now that John is returned he is hungry for revenge; he makes imprudent speeches to any who would listen. I fear he will come to a most grievous end if he continues to battle Drake. Sir Francis is now a man with powerful friends, and I fear, though I pledged to Thomas that I would help John, it is in no way within my power to protect him.”

Elizabeth took a moment to consider her response, “There have been any number of rumourings about the death of my young courtier since the return of Captain Wynter. In this court one learns to discount much as vicious calumny born of envy; but now it doth appear that Drake did use the friendship of my fine gentleman to further his own ambitions, and then cruelly took his life to gain preferment with a noble lord. Thomas Doughtie has been greatly abused by my deceiving dragon, methinks,” Elizabeth said with regret. “Conspiracy, it surrounds me always. I know not whom to trust.”

Ambition, intrigue, greed, conspiracy – Elizabeth was daily surrounded by them all; they wore the faces of her closest advisors and supposed supporters. Leicester, Burghley, Mountjoy, Walsingham - all professed their loyalty to her; their love even, but all desired to play puppet master – to pull the strings of the female monarch – to rule through her, or to profit through her; of this she had no doubt. Even those of her own blood plotted against her. Mary, her cousin, a prince in her own right, was a constant threat to Elizabeth. There were many at court who would gladly welcome the Scottish Queen to England. And Lettice, another cousin, who had, after the death of her first husband, secretly married Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s own favourite. Was it possible that the two of them conspired to rid themselves of their inconvenient spouses in order to complete their union?

Was there an honest man left in her realm upon whom she could depend? Perhaps. Perhaps this was one before her now, but he looked so ill and broken of spirit with the loss of the good Doughtie that she knew he would not suffer in this mortal world much longer.

Her woman’s heart ached for Vicarye’s loss but her prince’s heart was enraged. Her mind turned to Doughtie; the handsome, intelligent Doughtie, the honest, forthright, generous Doughtie; the gentleman whose smile could brighten the darkest room, lighten the saddest heart, and she was filled with anger that he had been so villainously used and betrayed by Drake and Leicester.

Bringing her attention back to Leonard she said solemnly, “Politics is a cruel master and, while it doth appear that I have indeed made a knight of a knave, I am bound to say that England and I may yet have need of this rogue. But this I do promise thee, Master Vicarye, I will make such plans as to protect young Doughtie and have him secreted away from England, for I fear he will ne’re be safe in this country anon. Despite the conflicts of religion and state, I have still friends in Spain who would gladly give sanctuary to an enemy of the great Sir Francis Drake.”

Elizabeth carefully folded the documents and tied them back into the leather pouch, then addressed Leonard again, “You have this day provided me with information of much value to me and to my realm. What boon may I grant thee, to reward thee for your efforts?”

“Most gracious Queen”, Leonard replied softly, “I seek no reward. My body fails me and I can do not more, but if I have fulfilled my promise to Thomas to protect his brother, then I am content. My only wish is to return to my home in Dunkeswell for the Christmastide and spend my remaining days amongst my family, my books and my memories of happier times.”

“Dunkeswell is a goodly distance to travel from London in this bitter winter weather; I shall speed thee on thy way by carriage and I will pray for thee, Master Vicarye,” Elizabeth replied with genuine concern.

“The carriage would indeed be most welcome, but if I may beg your majesty’s indulgence, such prayers I fear would be wasted on my soul; better your prayers be made for the much more deserving soul of your faithful servant, Thomas Doughtie. He was a most true and ardent believer.”

Elizabeth could not remember when she had been so moved, she placed her hand lightly upon the gentleman’s shoulder, “Be not so discounting of thy soul, good Vicarye. Thine actions do proclaim most well thy true goodness. I will pray for ye both - my new found friend Leonard Vicarye and my lost, but not forgotten friend, Thomas Doughtie. And fear not, when it comes thy time, thou wilt be reunited with your friend; of this I am most certain. Such faithful friends as thee will not be separated in eternal life.”

Elizabeth bade farewell to Leonard giving him a promise that she would protect young Doughtie. It would not be easy; she would need to act with stealth, but she had been surrounded by intrigue and deception since she was a child; she knew well the art of conspiracy. And she understood only too well that when it came to conspiracy, one’s ‘friends’ were far more lethal than one’s ‘foes’, and those who professed their love most fervently would be the ones to turn most viciously against the unsuspecting victim.

Yes, she would have her revenge on those who had deprived her of her talented young courtier; not perhaps in any way that was obvious to her court, or even to the chroniclers of her inevitable history, but in more subtle ways. These knaves would not finally profit from their base plans. She, Elizabeth, would devise a plot of her own. She would make use of them all, each against the other, to secure her reign and to protect England, for as Queen that was her most sacred duty. But she would ever know their true natures and hold them all at arms length; even her beloved Dudley, her ‘eyes’, her heart. She had forgiven him much already and would not doubt forgive him more, but he would never be what he aspired to be, of this she was now determined. And as for Drake, he may well be a knight, but he would never be accepted as a gentleman, for truly he lacked a noble heart. His star would shine only so long as he was of use to England, and when his fortunes began to decline Elizabeth would be as callous in dismissing him as he had been in condemning Doughtie.


 


 


 

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