From The Steps Of Traitors Gate

Bess paused at the threshold of Traitor's Gate where, even in the height of summer, the sun seldom shone. It was a dismal and foreboding quarter of the Tower, with its moss-covered outer walls dripping constant damp from the mist rising out over the river, and the scent of desperation always lingering in the air.

The centuries-old waves lapped relentlessly against the stone steps. The barges which navigated the clouded waters had carried many a personage, both stately and otherwise, toward their destiny. If they could but talk, what tales would be told of integrity and infamy; but the river was wise and guarded its secrets prudently.

Within the dark shadows tarrying upon the slippery staircase, Bess perceived two insubstantial figures...watching and waiting. She recognized them, of course, well aware that only she had the power to distinguish the ethereal shapes. They were observers from the past...her past. Bess welcomed their presence.

The first, barely indistinguishable from the gloom in her black garments, was the woman whose name Bess had never mentioned, not even to herself, since she had been a small child. It was not from lack of respect or honor or love, but she had her own reasons. Reasons Bess kept unto herself...just as the river maintained its silence about certain matters.

In deference, she bowed her head slightly to acknowledge the sacrifice made by this lady, her mother. Bess knew that Queen Anne had refused to budge when they had attempted to lead her through Traitor's Gate, sitting stubbornly upon the clammy steps and declaring with conviction that never would she walk willingly beneath such a portal when she had been a true and loyal wife.

It was rumored she had been manhandled into the assigned apartments where she awaited trial, if such it could be called...that mockery which had failed to provide justice. Offered a chance at freedom if she would disown the legitimacy of her daughter, the fallen Queen had laughed in the face of deliverance.

By a mercifully swift stroke from the expert sword of a Gasconite, Anne had paid for the child's birthright with blood that had stained the straw. The foreign executioner had been a skilled artisan, hastily dispatched by Francois of France in memory of an old spare the lady from the indignities of a barbaric English axe.

Again, Bess inclined her head in recognition, but still could not persuade her tongue to form the name.

At the sight of the second illusion, Bess was unable to hide the indulgent smile which played about her lips. The effigy was so young, so haughty, so proud...and so very afraid. Feigning anxiety that the hem of her damask gown would become soiled by the filthy waters of London's river, the girl nervously plucked at the fabric of her skirts. It was a clever ruse to carefully disguise the deep-rooted dread that she would never leave the confines of these walls alive.

A victim to the suspicions of an older sister plagued with doubts and misgivings, the girl had been made captive. The months to follow would be perilous for her. Even under guard, she remained the subject of treasonous plots and subversion. Admittedly, she was far from an innocent bystander but, in truth, she had never intended any harm to her devout and pious sister, the Catholic Mary, who had died a bitter and broken woman aged far beyond her years.

In surviving the imprisonment, the girl had learned much. How to bend and sway like a willow with the winds of change; how to manipulate the fickle dice until it appeared to roll in her favor; and, above all else, she had discovered the only one she could truly trust was herself. These were all accomplishments which would serve Bess well in the years to come.

"Nothing to fear, little one," Bess murmured to the young girl she had once been. "All is fated to turn out well."

The visions blurred and faded as Bess was jarred into reality by Dudley's soft voice in her ear. "Your devoted people await you, my does the crown." She turned and looked sternly into the adoring eyes of her dashing Lord Robert.

"It would be folly to continue to address me in such a fashion," she commanded. He lowered his handsome head and she lightly tapped his cheek. Try as she might to stifle the proclivity, she would remain eternally fascinated with this bold and passionate man.

Unabashed, he glanced up and she threw him a coquettish smile...she was, after all, her mother's daughter.

From the flat-bottomed barges meandering along the banks of the Thames toward the appointed place of coronation, echoed joyful cheers and cries of: "God save the Queen!" The river was indifferent and had heard many such accolades come and go in the course of its time.

Her subjects demanded much from their bright and youthful new monarch. Princess Bess, soon to be Queen Elizabeth, accepted the challenge willingly. She was prepared. All that they asked of her, she would give them.

All that...and even more besides.

Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley

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