TO LIVE WITHOUT LOVE

Elizabeth of England will do anything to hold on to power, even imprison the gentle Queen of Scots. This story is fiction, but the words of the poem and the details of Mary's life are real. Please comment nicely!

Queen Elizabeth of England knew that all men were weak. But she always listened to her two closest advisors.

"It's a dangerous plot, Your Majesty." Francis Walsingham insisted. "The traitors plan to murder you, set Mary Queen of Scots free, and then marry her to the Duke of Norfolk."

"Does Mary know that the plot involves treachery towards a sister queen?" Elizabeth's low, husky voice indicated open skepticism. She scornfully ran a white, bejeweled hand through her long, flame-red hair. "Mary's not the killer type."

"Perhaps not," handsome Robert Dudley acknowledged. The queen's closest friend and long-time lover was secretly squeezing Elizabeth's other hand under the table. "But dear madam, we can't take a chance on anyone hurting you. Let me go to Mary's prison in secret. I'll take care of this for you."

"You mean the way you took care of your wife Amy?" Elizabeth's piercing light-brown eyes were filled with scorn. When her lover turned pale she patted his cheek reassuringly. "There, there, dear Robert. I know you didn't really push the poor girl down a flight of stairs. You wouldn't have the nerve. But I don't want any more suspicious 'accidents' happening to beautiful ladies while I am queen." She turned to crafty Walsingham, clearly focused on the political situation. "What do we know about the relationship between the Duke of Norfolk and Mary Queen of Scots?"

The dark statesman gave a cynical shrug. "As far as we know, the two of them have never met face to face. But we do know they send coded letters and love poems in secret."

"I'll wager Mary enjoys that part, at any rate," Elizabeth chuckled. "My guess is she's merely hoping to run off to France with her new lover, not to kill me and take my place. She hasn't had a man in ages!"

Walsingham cleared his throat. "We know the traitors will strike soon. For reasons of secrecy, finance and diplomacy, they have only a limited amount of time. The plan is for Mary to light a candle and leave it in the window of her chamber as a signal for the duke's men to attack."

"Ah!" Elizabeth clapped her hands. "Then all we need do is make sure that Mary never lights that candle."

"But Your Majesty, how do we do that?" Cynical Walsingham and boyish Robert Dudley both looked equally confused.

"Leave that to me." The Queen of England gave them a mysterious smile.

****

As she prepared for bed Mary Queen of Scots had a bad feeling about what the night held in store. She wanted to escape. But she didn't want to hurt anyone. Even though the secret letters told her otherwise, she sensed that if her plans went through it would almost certainly mean death for her beautiful cousin. As much as she disliked her captivity, gentle Mary didn't hate bold Elizabeth. In truth she admired her. If only there was a way . . .

"A package for Your Majesty." The little servant girl bobbed a shy curtsey as she approached the enormous four-poster bed. No sooner had she presented the paper-wrapped parcel than she made a swift exit from the grand but lonely bedchamber that was Mary's prison.

"The seal of the Duke of Norfolk." Mary sighed deeply as she unwrapped the parcel. It had been so long since anyone really showed her any attention or made her feel attractive. Thomas Howard was interested in marriage, but his expressions of devotion were always very stiff and formal. The thought of marrying such a cold, proper gentleman was one reason Mary couldn't get very excited about her escape.

This latest little bundle didn't seem like the duke's style at all. Not only were there a pair of lovely pearl earrings, but there was perfume from Mary's beloved France, and sweets, and even a classical love poem that had been written just for her.

Even as the sun with purple colour'd face

Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn . . .

The golden-haired Queen of Scots lay back on her pillows and began to read, eating sweets from the tray beside her. She knew that her followers were expecting her to rise and give the signal at midnight, but it was still early. The poem Norfolk had sent her was actually a story from pagan mythology, about the divine Venus and her ill-fated love for handsome mortal Adonis. The captive queen frowned as she read, wondering if the poem contained a hidden message.

Norfolk was a cold, dignified man, and he would hardly want a wife who was impulsive, passionate, and romantic like Venus. Was this poem a warning to her? Mary flushed, remembering how the mobs in Edinburgh had jeered at her for marrying her brutal third husband under scandalous circumstances. The Scots people were cold and judgmental, with no understanding for a queen with human feelings. Depriving her of power, they had branded her a whore and publicly humiliated her. Was that how Norfolk saw her too, as a common strumpet?

Her anger faded as she read further. There was something so knowing and perceptive about the way the poet captured Venus' predicament. Adonis was just a pretty, pouting boy, with no real understanding of how desperately the goddess adored him. He reminded Mary of her cruel, weak, devastatingly handsome second husband, Lord Darnley. Before long she was lost in the story, weeping over the tearful pleas of the love-struck goddess. And her tears flowed even faster when she hurried on to the end of the poem, and read of the death of that foolish, foolish boy, who rejected the love of a goddess and paid the price. It was all so sad, and it touched her so deeply.

As though drained by the passion and emotion of the beautiful poem, when she was finished reading Mary turned over on her pillows and closed her eyes. The Queen of Scots was sleeping soundly when the clock struck midnight.

****

"We rounded up the lot of them that very night," Walsingham proudly informed Elizabeth a week later. "They should have scattered when the Scots queen failed to rise from her bed and give the signal, but instead they just stood about in the dark moping until we closed in."

"Blind loyalty," Elizabeth snorted. "Give me common sense any day."

"But what I can't understand," Robert Dudley said, with an adoring gaze at England's queen, "is how you knew that Mary would be so enchanted by the gifts you sent her. Who would trade a chance at freedom for earrings and perfume?"

"Never underestimate the power of poetry," Elizabeth told him. "All that poor woman really wants is to know that someone else understands how it feels to live without love."

"And could that someone else be Your Majesty?" Walsingham asked, with one of his oily, all-knowing smiles.

"The poem I sent was written by a promising young playwright here in London," Queen Elizabeth said coldly. "His name is William Shakespeare."