Elizabeth paced the floor of her chambers. She had tried sitting, but the pacing helped her somewhat; at least, it provided an outlet for her nerves. It occurred to her that this should have been a happy time ¾ she had, after all, successfully defeated the Spanish Armada ¾ but she was anything but happy. Nervous, angry, afraid…

It all began shortly after official news of the defeat of the Armada was brought back to her and her council. One by one the nobles had stood and congratulated her on the success. Sir Francis had stood and, just as he extended his hand, collapsed to the floor. Medical help had been sent for, his family notified…but currently Elizabeth still had heard nothing on the condition of her trusted spymaster.

She was, by request, left unaccompanied in her chambers. Alone with only her thoughts, Elizabeth began to realize just how much she needed Sir Francis Walsingham. It was he, after all, that had encouraged and helped her to transform, all those years ago, into the queen that she was today. He had been unflinchingly loyal, and her most trusted advisor. She could scarcely imagine life without him.

And yet, she reminded herself coldly, in these most recent years she had taken him for granted. After everything he had done for her. She had hit him, yelled at him…acted as if she no longer required his counsel. In hindsight, Elizabeth could hardly understand why he had stayed. It was no secret that his health was on the decline ¾ he could barely stand, for God's sake! ¾ and it was obvious his duties for the court were not helping. And despite everything, he had stayed. And Elizabeth would forever be in his debt for it.

Elizabeth wondered if Francis knew just how grateful she was to him. Considering the way she had treated him in recent years, probably not. She hoped he did; if not, she would have to tell him. If she ever got to see him alive again, she thought harshly. She tried to envisage the court without his presence, unsuccessfully.

"Majesty," a voice penetrated her thoughts. Elizabeth looked up, both surprised and angered at the interruption. "Sir Francis is conscious; you may speak to him, if you wish."

"He will be well?" Elizabeth asked, approaching the servant who had come to notify her. The servant looked down.

"Sir Francis is dying, Your Majesty."

Dying. The word echoed in Elizabeth's mind. It was not possible. Francis had always seemed so…invincible. She motioned for the servant to lead her to him. No; he could not be dying. He was her most loyal advisor, her spymaster…her friend.