Continued from Part Three.
The line of packing cases is nearly complete. The man looks down at the three chairs in the East, one white, one purple and one red. The symbolism of the outer two was plain: the Tudor colours, central features of the royal Tudor Rose – the white of House York merged with the red of House Lancaster. Queen Elizabeth had inherited a peaceful kingdom, but those who built it lived in times that were anything but peaceful…
The middle chair comes alive in his mind; the Queen in the fullness of her power, prepared and majestic, older in wisdom than most in the Court… but vulnerable in her own way. The dream… the dreadful dream.
Was its recall connected with the mysterious and currently invisible Count Mortido and Countess Libido? It does not matter – what matters is that when Act One was drawing to its close, with the court chairs of Dr Dee, the alchemist, and John Gerard, the hunted Jesuit, mysteriously restored to face her, the Queen, released from the frozen state like the rest, rose to her feet, troubled only by the memory of her vision at Tilbury.
All is sea, now. She has declared it so; the chequered floor – in which they all must learn the new rules of survival – is watery. Emotion perhaps, or water of a magical kind, a water associated with the coming into existence of things called and named. The Royal Court is its name, but navigating it is not as simple as the black and white squares would suggest.
There are soldiers here, powerful peers of the realm such as Lord Essex; and there are sailors, such as Sir Francis Drake–placed in polar opposition to Essex. Both are champions, respectively, of their faces of the sixty-four squares. The sailor may have the advantage over the solider, but only within the boundaries of the now-watery square of squares… There is, perhaps an invitation there, for one who would be brave enough… or foolish.
It is the vision at Tilbury that holds their attention: “The speaking, white face and the chained man drowning. So vivid, so other-worldly.” the Queen says. And then she pauses, gazing into the squares, looking more lost than at any time since her imprisonment in the Tower as young woman. There, she had only the company of Lord Dudley and the ravens to ease the terror of imprisonment by her cruel half-sister, Mary.
Something was begun then, but she will realise its significance only later in the play, when fates beyond even the power of Count Mortido and Countess Libido play their unseen cards…
Sir Walter Raleigh, once so impetuous, now the Champion of the West of this chamber, sees his moment – not to rise in the Queen’s favour, for he knows that his presence is already predicated on the fact that he had the Queen’s complete trust. How does he know this? Because she has made him gaoler and custodian of the two seemingly condemned men: Dee and Gerard; former royal astrologer and hunted priest.
When the Queen looks across the Royal Court from the East, it is Raleigh’s eyes she seeks. He answers the call. Rising and striding towards the throne, unbidden, but welcome.
“Majesty, forgive me!” He offers his arm, she takes it and they turn to face the West. Everyone in the silenced court rises, ready to bow at the Sovereign’s passing.
“I doubt there is a royal rule you haven’t broke, Sir Walter!” But it is said with fondness, though, heaven knows, they have quarrelled in the past…
Raleigh sweeps his free arm across the image of the Court Floor. In quiet tones, as though only they two are present, he asks, “What is this ‘sea’? How may we cross it?
“We must all decide what it is, together, Sir Walter.” replies the Queen. “I have learned much about the wisdom of groups of people when faced with extreme difficulties. There are many patterns woven in these simple squares – and I may not have seen them all…”
She pauses and looks sad. “The lives of Dr John Dee and the Jesuit John Gerard may depend on it.”
Raleigh is keen to advance the moment. “Extreme? Their lives in danger! Majesty, this chamber is more than it seems!”
The Queen shudders, remembering that second visit to Tilbury, place of dark visions. The process that is the Royal Court is set on its course. She can leave it to sail. Tilbury is what worries her most…
“As was the woman from the sea with the white mask, Sir Walter… the woman with the question that made a Queen shudder.”
Raleigh, speaking for them all, asks, “Majesty? May we know that lady’s question, dream stuff or not?”
For a long minute, the Queen is still, then she says softly, “In icy tones, dripping with the salt of the sea, she asked me, “Whose face do you wear…?””
As they leave the chamber the Raven Song plays… The silence of the others is more than royal respect.
Other parts in this series:
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.
You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.