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Heart and Stomach of a King

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Hampton Court, 1575

The boy was obstinate to be sure. One shoulder tilted higher than the other; his tanned face in a scowl not unlike the pale skinned lady opposing him.

“What are you trying to say, milady? What do you mean, I’m no longer your son?”

“Your ‘father’, Lord Burghley agrees with me on this.” She calmly replied. “We are in the process of wiping records of the Earl of Chester; no one shall ever know.” Rather unsurprisingly, the boy shrieked.

What are you trying to do? It’s bad enough that you raise me separate from my peers; that you send me to the Low Countries on a peasant’s budget to ‘learn something’. Yet you say–”

“Because, monarchs are never meant for freedom! Their duty is to stand by their kingdom, to go down with the ship. What I do as the leader of my country is not to absolve my citizen’s sins, but to shift it onto myself.” She avoided the question, much to the roiling anger in the boy’s throat.

“But!”

“It’s not because I hated you. I love you. I love my country, my men, the boys who followed me into civil war. But you? You’re not a man to rule. I know that very much!”

“You—you shitty excuse for a mother!”

“I don’t think you quite recognize yet what I mean. I am the ruler of this country; and you have no idea of what I’ve been through! So go back to your room young man!”

“I won’t!”

-*-

“My lord Burghley, do you think I have done wrong?”

William Cecil simply stared at her, arms crossed, face in a frown. You fucked up, his expression clear as day.

“Don’t give me that look.” She crossed her arms. “I broke it as gently as I could.” He gave her an inscrutable look.

“Well?” A tic mark formed on Elizabeth’s brow.

“YOUR HIGHNESS!” A shout rang from the window. With a jolt, servant and master, loyal vassal and merciful lord stared at each other, before going to the window overlooking the courtyard.

A breath of smoke, a wisp of what-could-have-been.

“Mr. Dee!” Elizabeth shouted to the unofficial Court Wizard and Master of Revels. “What has happened?”

“Lord Cecil,” Robert’s assumed name; that can’t be good. “The Lord Burghley’s younger son has jumped down the well!”

Elizabeth looked to her Lord Treasurer. As if in response, the man simply shrugged.

“You pushed too hard, my lady. And he was at the point of choking.” Elizabeth momentarily dropped her guard, causing a sorrowful expression to wrap around her face. Then, the queenly mask swept into place; and she raised her hand, gesturing to her servants.

“We must look for my son. Lord Burghley, keep my disappearance quiet; I shall take no longer than a day. It is good that our discussion was at a quiet time; there are few at court. Lady Knollys shall be my substitute as per usual.”

“What is it, your majesty? What has he done this time?“ Cecil turned, not with little dismay, as the Earl of Leicester appeared.

“My Lord Leicester, it appears that the news I’ve imparted into my Lord Burghley’s son has not done well for his constitution. While I journey to join my son in his short jaunt; Lady Knollys is to act as my substitute while the Privy Council is to operate as though I have taken ill. Necessary decisions are to be seen as my lord sees fit.”

“Understood, your majesty.” Leicester dutifully nodded. With a look, Cecil backed away, before striding quickly to the court.

“Leicester? Maintain the facade. We need all hands on deck while we make our…jaunt.” Elizabeth swept towards the staircase.

“Elizabeth, I would feel much better if you were to take some men along with you–”

“I don’t think I would be able to, even if I wanted to, Robert.” Dudley’s eyes softened as she used his first name.

“It’s something I…I have to do.”