DISCLAIMER: Elizabeth: The Golden Age belongs to Studio Canal and Working Title Films, director Shekhar Kapur and most particularly to Cate Blanchett and Abbie Cornish for their portrayals of the Virgin Queen and Bess Throckmorton which inspired this piece of fiction.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Glass Wall
By Celievamp


Bess kept her eyes demurely lowered as she unfastened the laces that attached the elaborate collar to the white damask dress. The lawn collar and drape flowed behind her giving the illusion almost of angel's wings.

The queen's eyes were on her again. She held herself still as her ladies undressed her but every time Bess inadvertently touched cool bare skin she flinched. Bess's fingers fumbled the knotted tie. Whoever had attached it earlier in the day had botched it; the knot was too tightly tangled even for Bess's nimble fingers to deconstruct.

The queen must have realised what had happened. "A Gordian solution?" she quipped.

"Yes, my lady."

"The fruit knife should still be on the table. That should be sharp enough to suffice."

The Queen's guard stiffened as she crossed to the table and picked up the bone handled knife, carefully wiping it on a napkin. Bess might be one of the queen's most trusted servant's but a knife was a knife. And her cousin's rotting head was still displayed for all to see on London Bridge. The Queen noticed his disquiet and raised a hand to reassure him. "I am perfectly safe, I believe."

Bess stepped behind the queen. "My lady…"

"Continue, Bess," the Queen said, bending her head forward slightly to give Bess better access to the knotted tie. The gesture of trust took Bess's breath away for a moment. The Queen's winter-pale skin was almost translucent, Bess could clearly see the blue blood pulsing beneath the skin. It would have been the work of a moment for anyone with the Queen's death in their hearts to make it so. But Bess loved her Queen with all her heart. She would rather die herself than see her come to any harm. Swallowing, praying to the Lord that her hand be steady she set the small sharp knife against the knot and began to cut through the linen tie.

"Bess, you will attend me at my bath. I am in the mood for poetry tonight and your voice is most soothing," the Queen said.

"Of course, my lady," Bess said. The tie gave at last and she lifted the elaborate collar clear of the Queen's dress.

The disrobing proceeded without further incident and naked apart from her linen shift, her head free of the elaborate wig the Queen allowed herself to be led by her ladies into her inner chamber where her bath awaited her. Having seen their mistress safely into the warm, fragrant water all the ladies and guards departed save for Bess.

The wet shift clung to the Queen's lean body somehow more distracting and tantalising than bare skin alone would have been. Bess knew how strongly the Queen held to her image as the Virgin Queen untouched by any man. She had heard the Queen describe to one of her would-be suitors how she deliberately held herself apart from the world as if she was forever protected by a wall of glass. Bess drew the wet wash cloth gently over the queen's shaven skull and over her neck and shoulders. She watched quietly as the somewhat severe set of the Queen's mouth and face relaxed little by little as she kept up the soothing motion.

"Tell me, Bess. Do you think to marry one day?" the Queen asked.

"One day… perhaps. With your permission, your Majesty. But I do not think of leaving your side just yet."

"And what of Sir Walter? He cuts a fine figure. And he has eyes for you."

"He has eyes only for his advancement. If he cannot persuade you to support his 'shining city' in the New World himself then he hopes that I will persuade you to favour him."

"You keep us all honest, Bess." The Queen reached up, caressed Bess's cheek for a moment. "When you were dancing with him, earlier. I wished…" abruptly she fell silent, turned away.

Bess let her gather her thoughts awhile, continuing to gently sponge her skin, noticing how the older woman's nipples were clearly visible through the wet linen shift, how the wet translucent fabric clung to her breasts and the curve of her thighs. The queen shifted under her and Bess inadvertently cupped one of her breasts. Bess gasped and would have withdrawn immediately but the Queen's hand rested upon hers holding it in place, her gaze burning fiercely.

"I wished, Bess, that I was the one dancing with you that my hands were upon your waist. I wished that this world had a place for you by my side in every way but it does not. The Catholics already brand me as a bastard witch and whore. To acknowledge my true feelings, my true nature would have the whole of Christendom upon me. I cannot… I cannot risk my kingdom. Not even for you."

"I understand, my queen," Bess said softly. "I too wished that it was you that I danced with. You are… you are my world and I am at your command."

"Kiss me, my Bess. Just this once and never again. Let me break through this glass wall of mine for just one moment. Let me love as I would, and not as I should."

Bess cupped her hand behind the queen's skull, running her fingers through the short matted hair as they drew closer to one another. The queen's lips were thin and cool and she could taste the spiced wine the queen had drunk earlier. The queen's hand was on her cheek, her lips parted slightly her tongue tracing the line of Bess's lower lip, teasing it for a moment as they deepened the kiss. This was like nothing Bess had experienced before and her heart wept to think that she could never have it again.

A minute, an hour, a lifetime later and it was done. A moment in time perhaps never to be repeated. But it had happened. She would have it forever to treasure in her memories. The Queen loved her.

A tremor ran through the Queen's body that had nothing to do with desire. The water was beginning to cool. Hurriedly, Bess called in the attendants from the outer room and helped the queen to step from her bath, the warmed bathsheets ready to wrap around her so that she would not catch a chill. The shift was taken from her body and she was dressed in her nightgown and fur robe. Her musicians stood ready should she require them but the Queen dismissed them with a gesture. At last, only Bess remained.

"Bess… read to me," her Queen commanded.

Bess picked an old favourite from the pile of books near the bed. Sir Philip was still mourned at court and he too had once been a favourite of the Queen. The slim edition in her hand was one of the few of his poems and sonnets, he had presented it to the Queen himself. Settling herself between the candle and the firelight but within sight of the Queen (and knowing that the candlelight made her blonde hair shine) Bess opened the book at random and began to read aloud.

"Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings…"

Of all the sonnets to choose, fate had led her to this one. Her voice faltered a little but she continued to the end, the Queen softly voicing the last lines with her…

"Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me."

"An interesting choice," the Queen said drily. "Eternal love… do you believe such a thing is possible."

"I do, my Queen," Bess said. "I know it is possible. It is… it is how I feel."

"My poor girl," the Queen said softly. "I have so much and I can promise you so little."

"Just to be at your side is enough," Bess said. "I am no foolish girl, your Majesty. If this is all that can be, if there must always be this glass wall of yours between us, then it is sufficient. I will love for the both of us."


"Leave me, O love..." by Sir Philip Sydney (1554 – 1586)

Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings.
Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be,
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light,
That doth both shine and give us light to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide
Who seeketh heaven, and comes of heavenly breath.
Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.

The End

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