THE DEVIL AND GOOD QUEEN BESS

On the night of her greatest victory, Elizabeth of England clashes with a mysterious stranger and confronts her own darkest fears. This story is set on Tilbury Plain in 1588. Please comment nicely!

"Operation Desert Storm isn't a war. It's a Children's Crusade. But these children are not patriots. Raised on television and video games, they're an army of Bart Simpsons: not smart, not rich, not directed enough for college." Alexa Culhane, New York Times columnist, 1991.

"I am come among you in the midst and heat of battle, being resolved to live and die amongst you all, and to lay down for my people my honor and my blood, even in the dust." Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, 1588.

In the dark of night, Elizabeth Tudor sat alone in her tent, scratching out a last message. She was a desperate woman, fighting to survive. The words she was writing now might spell the difference between life and death, for her and for her people too.

"My loving people," Elizabeth wrote. She knew the people of England loved their queen. The poor farmers, the rich merchants, the crippled beggars, the innocent country maids, all loved her. But who really understood her? Who would keep her legacy alive after she was gone? The Queen of England felt very much alone.

"Don't sweat it, sister. I've got you covered," said a sassy and self-confident female voice.

"Who are you? What would you?" Though taken off guard, Elizabeth showed no fear. She glared coldly at the odd apparition. Was it a ghost? But this outlandish specter wore baggy trousers like a peasant boy, and her hair hung loose like a madwoman's.

"My name is Alexa, and I'm a journalist from New Jersey. Oh, sorry. New Jersey doesn't exist yet. But it will, four hundred years in the future. That's where I'm from, the future." Without waiting for permission, the fast-talking, strange-looking woman dropped right down on a joint-stool right next to Elizabeth's writing table. Either the woman truly was mad or she had no manners at all.

"You live not now, but in a time yet to come?"

"That's right, I'm the type of woman most women will be four hundred years from now. And it's all because of you!"

"Then my people will survive? Spain rules us not?" Elizabeth was pleased, but she knew better than to trust in spirits, especially when they were ill-dressed, crack-brained and impertinent.

"Oh, sure, the Armada is defeated. But that doesn't matter. The real victory is the one we win after you're gone. What matters is how women get stronger and braver because of what you did!"

"And pray, what did poor Elizabeth do?" The queen smiled, wondering just how history would remember her turbulent reign.

"You stood up for us! You proved that a woman can do anything a man can do. You had power, so naturally your life story empowers all women. You stood up to all those men, and you did it all on your own."

"I was standing up for England," Elizabeth corrected. "And I wasn't alone. Many men stood with me. We all stood up together, against proud Spain and Catholic tyranny. I'm not alone!"

"Uh, I don't think you're seeing the big picture here," Alexa replied, as if she were talking to an idiot. "I'm a Catholic, and I think you're awesome! But in the future nobody really cares about religion. What matters is celebrating strong, smart women!"

"Then celebrate this." Without warning, Queen Elizabeth backhanded the insolent woman. The blow sent her sprawling, and she hit the floor with a thud. What manner of ghost was this?

"What did you do that for?" Alexa from the future lay whimpering on the carpeted floor of the royal tent. "I'm your sister!"

"Indeed?" Elizabeth hauled the terrified woman to her feet. "Come, my loving sister. See what a prince sees the night before a battle." The queen dragged her visitor halfway across the tent, and then flung her towards the opening. Alexa howled in pain as she banged her head on the tent pole. Then Elizabeth twisted her arm behind her back, forcing her to gaze out into the dark of night.

"Look outside my tent, you fool! What do you see?"

"I don't know!" Alexa blubbered. "Uh, I see tents, campfires, a few old men with swords, and a bunch of dirty, ratty-looking boys. What am I supposed to see?"

"My victory," Elizabeth said, with icy contempt. "If Drake and his sea-dogs fail to destroy the Spanish fleet, these untrained men and boys are all that stands between me and destruction."

"But they're a bunch of losers," Alexa sniveled. "They don't look like heroes to me. They look weak. They look scared. Who cares what happens to them?"

"Women of future ages clearly don't," the queen said dryly. "For the wellborn ladies of your age, it may be a genteel pastime to ridicule the untried soldier and sneer at his fear and anguish. Perhaps in your most happy age wars are no more. Or perhaps men willingly lay down their lives for those who hate them."

"They're losers and they're weak, that's why they serve. Ignorant people get what they deserve!"

"'Let the lying lips be put to silence which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.'"

"Huh?"

"In my age even women read the Bible. As for my troops, I know right well that many of these untried men are afraid. Not all will pass the test, but some of them will. And to my mind, to acclaim my deeds while ridiculing the men who served my cause is no honor to me, but rather a deadly insult. I don't like insults, sister."

"I get it, I get it!" Alexa howled as the queen twisted her arm. "They're losers, and they're going to die, but you have to pretend to care about them. It's the only way to get them to fight."

"Not the only way." Elizabeth twisted harder. "Look out to sea. What do your eyes behold?"

"There's nothing there!" Alexa squirmed like a slippery little worm. "You can't hurt me, you're my hero. Girls need gutsy heroes!"

"The real heroes are out there!" Elizabeth snapped. "Do you know why Drake the pirate hates the Spanish so much? He was trading slaves in South America, and the Spanish governor took several Englishmen as hostages. Then Drake had to watch while priests of the Holy Catholic Church burned them alive. They kept the slaves, of course. Slaves are valuable even in Catholic lands."

"But what's that got to do with me?" Alexa wailed. "I'm not that kind of Catholic! I only believe in success and fighting to come out on top. Winning! That's why I love you. You're a winner!"

"Fool! This victory is England's. Now while my meager land forces pray and prepare, Sir Francis Drake makes war at sea, and he is no untried boy. This time the Spanish will burn, ships and priests and soldiers alike. I wish I could burn you, but I can't. Now begone, lying devil! Mama don't allow no easy riders here."

"No, you can't burn me." Rubbing her sore arm, Alexa glared at the queen. "All you can do is paint your face, and pretend to love the poor, and get rich off crimes like piracy and murder. I always knew we had a lot in common."

"You lie! We are nothing like you!" Elizabeth shouted fiercely. "We love not lying vanities, but the Lord. And tomorrow if it be His will we will lead our people – all our people – to a glorious new day!"

"Bess, why are you shouting? There's no one here!" The Earl of Leicester was by her side at once, taking her arm with concern on his handsome face. "You look as though you've seen a ghost!"

"Indeed." Elizabeth gently shook free. "My thoughts strayed for a moment from my loving people, and the devil sought to make me afraid. But now, my noble lord, let us finish my proclamation. All Englishmen who fight for love of us must know how much we love them in return!"

THE END