Her reign faltered. I could feel it eating away at me: terrible economy, war that drained resources, increased oppression. Every pang in my heart was a new problem, a new issue that sent me reeling. Every MP that murmured angrily sent me gasping for breath.
"Elizabeth, speak to me!" I called through the halls of Windsor castle. "Tell me what I must do! Give me a path!" But she never appeared, and she never called me.
One by one her closest friends and advisors were laid to rest. One by one her people turned against her, hungry and grasping, wondering when she would finally fall and another would take her place. But still, she did not call to me. For fifteen years she did not call to me. Her silence sucked away my joy. There was no comfort in my rooms, no contentment on my land. Even the sea, my only constant friend, seemed cold and cruel. I was alone, more alone than I ever had been when I was merely neglected. I was rejected. The people bolstered me, never angry AT me, only FOR me. But my Queen, my love, my only desire, would not have me. Though I stood at attention for the sake of my people, I was made hollow.
Fifteen years of silence one day broken by the barest hint of a whisper:
I jolted awake in my bed and threw off my sheets, breathing heavily. Sure it was merely a dream.
"England!" the voice said again, sharper, clearer, more demanding. I held my chest as I struggled into my leggings and pulled on a doublet.
"England!" the voice cried. I was out of my rooms, running, flying, urging my legs across the stone floors of the castle. I burst into the Queen's apartments, heaving for breath.
"Majesty?" I said, stumbling to the Queen's bed. She was dressed for sleep, but she sat cross-legged on the untouched bedding, a folio in her lap.
"Good. You are here," she said, turning a page. She looked up at me. "I need you, sir."
My heart beat quickened. I stood at attention.
"Yes, your Majesty?" I said coolly.
"You have brought me life," she said, looking down at the folio once more. "Foolish thing that you are. What did you expect would come of a ruler who has an unnaturally long life?"
"I -" I licked my lips. "I never thought -"
"We determined that ages ago," the Queen said. She sighed and held out the folio. I hesitated, then took the sheaf of papers from her hands.
"Romeo and Juliet?" I said, shaking my head and furrowing my brow. "I - I don't understand..."
"You gave me life," the Queen said, lifting her chin. "Now, you will help me die."
The funeral was beautiful. Thousands of mourners lined the streets. There was the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth. The new king, whom I had not yet appeared before, gave marvelous speeches about his dear cousin's passing. Those that handled the body marveled at the preservation of such an old, and therefore of course decrepit, specimen.
"Why, she doesn't look a day over thirty," one lady in waiting said as she washed and dressed the corpse.
"S'all the relaxing of the muscles, dear," her companion said as she slipped the Queen's most favored personal jewels about her neck. "It's completely natural, this youth in death."
The procession was solemn and dignified, the funeral long and despondent. Finally, the body was lowered into its resting place, the Queen's effigy slid on top and the mourners dispersed.
I waited. For days, mourners came to pay respects to the newly entombed Queen, brushing her likeness with their hands for luck. Finally, the quiet moments between visitors grew further apart. The night was dark and moonless when I snuck into Westminster with a blacksmith's pry bar clenched in my left fist and a large cloth bag in my right. I padded to the Queen's effigy, jammed the pry bar into the crack between marble slab and tomb, and pushed. The stone top slid slowly open, revealing the Queen's stiffened body. I stopped and wiped my brow, and placed the pry bar on the floor.
"All right, Bess," I muttered, pulling a small vial of green liquid from the pouch at my waist. "Time to end this nap."
I pulled apart the Queen's clenched jaw and dribbled all of the liquid into her mouth. I lifted her head a bit and waited. There was silence in the Abbey as the minutes ticked by.
Suddenly, the Queen's eyes snapped open. She breathed in deeply and clutched for her throat, coughing. I pulled her from the tomb. She lay in my arms for a moment, holding me as her breath became more steady. I helped her to her feet.
"Goodness, how long has it been?" the Queen whispered, placing a hand on the inch long fuzz that covered her head.
"Two months," I muttered, brushing dust off her burial gown. "You had many who mourned your passing."
"That is most comforting," the Queen said, pushing away from me. "And you brought everything?"
"Of course." I opened the bag and pulled out the simple dress of a middling merchant's wife. The Queen grabbed it. "Turn around," she said. I complied. "This will do most nicely," she said. I heard the rustling of fabric. "The gown will be sold, of course. Along with the jewels. I'll have to be careful, a stone at a time, a sample of cloth here and there. I cannot risk suspicion after all."
"I don't understand why you can't stay with me," I muttered. "Or at least let me help you! There is plenty of money - "
"Money that is not mine to take," the Queen said firmly.
"My money to give!" I snapped.
"I'll have none of it. There! You may look now." I turned and found my Queen reduced to commoner. She smiled and touched her coif. "How do I look?"
I took her hand.
"Please, Majesty - "
"Elizabeth," she said, raising a brow. "You may call me by my name all you like, now."
"Madam, please!" I said sharply. "You must not leave me like this to go out into the world! The world is harsh, the people unkind! I can -"
"Stop." The Queen pulled her hand from mine and placed it on my lips. She smiled sadly. "I will be no one's kept woman, England. Not any longer."
"But - !"
"You say this because you love me," the Queen said. She shook her head and held my cheek. "You foolish creature. I do love you, my dear England. I always will. But I cannot love you as a man loves a woman. How can any love a country in such a way? You are a mercurial lot, my friend."
She took a step back. I could not speak. I was locked in place.
"Well!" She threw the bag about her shoulders and steadied herself. "A good walk, and I should be well out of London by morning!"
"There is a block of cheese and some bread as you asked," I said, each word carved in stone.
"My thanks," she said. She smiled once more. "I am free, England," she said. "I did not think it at the time I discovered your doings, but I am truly free! I thought I'd die a Queen. Now, I shall die as simply Elizabeth."
"I am pleased for you," I said, not looking at her.
"We shall meet again," she said, backing slowly away. "Someday when I know for certain that we can be friends. Until then, my love!"
She walked quickly away, disappearing into the shadows of Westminster. I breathed out a shuddering breath, and began to push the effigy back in place.
I have seen her since then. Not as a visitor. From a distance, a copper-haired woman will catch my eye, dressed in cloaks or simple smocks or business suits. She will stand, staring at me, waiting for me to notice. A quick wave, a smile, and she is gone once more, knowing that I am not ready to receive her as anything less than my love.
Perhaps someday she will come to me. Perhaps someday I will forget her, and she will be my friend once more.