Legacy: The Acclaimed Novel of Elizabeth, England's Most Passionate Queen -- and the Three Men Who Loved Herby Susan Kay
A Spellbinding Tale of England's Most Passionate Queen-and the Three Men Whose Destinies Belonged to Her Alone.See more details below
A Spellbinding Tale of England's Most Passionate Queen-and the Three Men Whose Destinies Belonged to Her Alone.
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- 5.40(w) x 8.04(h) x 1.47(d)
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From the Prologue
He was only a small rat, but bolder than most, with a disproportionately long tail which curled behind him on the stone floor, losing itself in the half-gloom of a solitary candle's light. The crumbs of bread and stale marchpane, which had first tempted him out into danger, were long since finished. But still he sat there furtively, listening to the rain which teemed down the rough glass windows and drummed into the dirty moat outside the fortress. Black eyes, like polished buttons, gleaming yet opaque, nose quivering with the pungent tang of human scent, he sat and watched a shadowy prey. Young and female, it would be sweet between his teeth if only he dared to bite. But he did not dare, not yet; he was uncertain.
Once, in a darker, deeper cell than this, he had eaten away the entire face of a young boy on death's helpless threshold. It had been enough to teach him that human flesh was better warm and void of decay; and now that dangerous craving inched him forward against the warning note of instinct. All his sharply defined senses told him that this victim was still dangerously alert. And yet there was an utter immobility which lulled him, drawing him ever closer in the faint, hungry hope that he might have been mistaken.
She sat on a low stone window-seat, wrapped in a cloak against the creeping cold and, like the solitary stone pillar that supported the roof, she might have been carved in that pose out of stone. She sat staring out of the window into the courtyard below, straining her eyes to see the yawning cavern that was the Tower's main gateway.
The gate was her lodestone. Night and day it drew her to the stonehooded window, and there was a starkly simple reason for her obsession. She had not entered beneath that archway and had even less hope of leaving by it. Through Traitor's Gate she had come to this "very narrow place," a grim fortress which had swallowed up so many lives-one of them, her mother's.
Her long legs were drawn up beneath her chin, and a crumpled sheet of red-gold hair fell like a curtain over the arms which clasped them. She was just twenty, and had been waiting here to die for so many days that there had begun to be hours when she even forgot about it. Tonight she was well beyond her native fear of consequences, past caring about a tomorrow she had less hope of seeing than most.
Within the deeper shadows of the semi-circular room, there was a movement and a sudden shriek which sent the little piece of vermin fleeing through the stinking rushes for sanctuary.
"Hell's teeth!" said a voice from the window-seat, strong and vibrant, yet curiously soft. "What have you seen now, Markham?"
Isabella Markham drew her cloak more closely round her shoulders and replied defensively. "A rat, madam. Close enough to have bitten Your Grace."
The girl laughed. "The only rats I fear walk on two legs."
"Then you ought to fear them, madam," insisted Markham severely.
"Father swears they carry the plague."
"There are worse deaths," said the girl, and was silent, thinking of one. Markham snatched up the single candle and began to beat about in the dark corners of the room with a poker. There was an agitated savagery about her movements which suggested hysteria.
"When I find his hole I shall stop it up with rags. I won't have you shut up in this filthy God-forsaken place with that-that unspeakable creature."
"For Christ's sake, Markham, it's only a little rat." The girl's voice was still amused, but suggested a touch of impatience now. "We have them bigger than that at Hampton Court and Greenwich."
"It's not his size that troubles me," muttered Markham grimly. "It's the way he watched you. Madam, it was horrible-if you had seen him..."
"Oh, I've seen him, several times. Bold little devil, isn't he? If he survives the attention of your poker, I shall try my hand at taming him."
Markham straightened up and looked round with the poker suspended in her hand. "Tame him?" she echoed, stupid with disbelief. "You can't tame a Tower rat-they're flea-bitten and vicious."
"So are most men!" The girl smiled and stretched her cramped limbs. "Shall I tame one of them instead? They too make diverting pets, you know."
Markham laughed nervously. "Wouldn't you rather have a dog, madam?"
"Ah no-too loyal! They present no challenge." Behind the girl's steady eyes a shadow stirred, darkening them to the hue of gleaming wet pitch. "My mother had a dog once. She used to make it jump through a burning hoop to prove its devotion to her, until she found my father did it better. He jumped through that hoop for over six years. When he finally got tired of performing for her amusement he killed her. And that's what makes men such interesting pets, Markham-you never know when they're going to turn and bite."
Markham sank on to the stone seat beside her, chilled into silence. Between them the candle flared in a draught, sending ripples of light over the girl's angular face.
Strictly speaking it was not a beautiful face by conventional standards, but it was curiously arresting. Elizabeth Tudor was a labyrinth. She drew people, without conscious effort, into the maze of her own personality and abandoned them there, leaving them to find their own way out again-if they could. Most found they were unable to, many never even tried. And those few who succeeded were troubled by a vague sense of loss for the rest of their days. Isabella Markham, already safely in love with a young man languishing within these same walls, would be one of those few who held a lifeline to the outer world.
She looked up and found Elizabeth's eyes upon her.
"You're cold, Belle. Go and sit by the fire before it goes out." Markham resisted the narcotic of her presence, that instinctive automatic inclination to obey her without question.
"I'm not cold, truly, madam." She hesitated. "I'm curious."
"Curious?" Elizabeth's eyes were suddenly veiled and wary.
"About tonight-about the man you're waiting for. Is he to be no more than a pet to you?"
"Pet, playmate, partner," said Elizabeth slowly, turning the words around in her mind as a squirrel turns a nut. "How shall I know until he comes?"
"He's not coming now," said Markham darkly. "I knew it would be prevented. And to take such a risk in the first place-oh, madam, it's so unlike you!"
"Is it?" Again that strange, maddening smile.
"You know it is! All these years you've been so careful, ever since-"
She stopped and looked away. "Ever since the Admiral."
Elizabeth put one hand on Markham's shoulder and tilted her chin gently upwards.
"I can only die once, however many crimes are laid to my charge. I've lived a nun's life since I was fifteen and where has all that circumspection brought me? Only here to this prison cell. Don't you see, Belle, our fate is written in the stars, we can't alter it. And if I'm to go to my mother's death this spring, careful is not a word I wish to take with me."
Markham said nothing. She was very close to tears. At length she rose, curtsied and went obediently to her seat at the hearth, leaving Elizabeth to rub the black glass where her breath had misted it, and stare out again towards the river.
The sand in the hour-glass swallowed up another hour and the rats chattered in the wainscoting; beyond the brooding fortress the east wind wailed peevishly like a spoilt and fretful child.
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