It had been simple, back then, when all eyes shone with approval; when she was the young bride of the Queen’s Champion, Sir Philip Sydney. This daughter of the ‘Sworn’, – the inner cabal of those sworn to lay down their lives, without question, in the defence of their embattled queen – could do no wrong.
He should be here, she thought, fighting back the mist that threatened to undo the mask of determined perfection she wore. Phillip, help me… use that old magic to help me from beyond your premature grave, my love… You knew her so well.
She sighed at the uselessness of the thought. Philip Sydney, Queen’s Champion, and the monarch’s most intellectual challenger, had died in battle eight years ago – his life wasted in a skirmish – and Frances had scant time to grow into the might of his intellect, his inner nobility, nor the ancient and magical arts he practiced alongside his renowned poetry.
The Queen, Elizabeth I, noticed the shift in her mood. How does she do that? Frances thought, turning to nod, subtly, her acknowledgement to the women at whose feet she learned the craft of living with royalty. Nothing less than complete honesty of gesture would be tolerated… especially now.
What is she doing with us? thought Frances. Here in this chamber, carefully crafted for this, and possibly only this, occasion. She thought of her father, dying an hour’s ride away from NonSuch, lying in his bed, untended. Father, forgive me, she thought. I had no choice but to obey her. You, above all men, would rejoice at that!.
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