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Kathryn Kramer

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Kathryn

Kramer

                    

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Midsummer Night’s Desire

by Kathryn Kramer

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Historical Romance

 

 

Copyright 1992  by Kathryn Kramer

 

 

Notice: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser.
Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method, constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.

To my uncle, Howard E. Vickery, a consummate
actor whose love of the theatre inspired me.  You are gone now, but not forgotten.  The joy that you brought to others will be your epitaph.

 

And to a very special lady- my Aunt, Patricia Ferris Vickery, whose interest in my work and unfailing enthusiasm inspires me.

 

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

 

 

The forty-five year period from 1558 to 1603, the reign of Elizabeth I of England, is considered to be the English renaissance.  Such names as Christopher Marlow, Ben Johnson, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare are associated with that era of fruitful literary achievement: brilliant poetry and unsurpassed theatrical masterpieces.

Elizabeth Tudor was an intellectual, theologian, poet, musician; a lover of hunting, dancing, pageants and great plays.  At the age of twenty-five she came to the throne and issued in the Golden Age of theater.  Six years after her coronation
, a baby was born who would become a man of renown in his own right.  His name was William Shakespeare, perhaps the most remarkable storyteller the world has known, the ultimate writer of romance.  Shakespeare first came to London to become an actor and though his talents for writing were soon put to use, he continued acting, often playing character roles in his own plays, such as the ghost in
Hamlet
. Not only was he a playwright, poet, and actor, he was also a shareholder in acting troupes and theater buildings.

The established actor in Shakespeare's day enjoyed more social acceptance than had ever been exhibited before, with the exception of ancient Greek times.  Drama was the source of entertainment for all classes of people in sixteenth
-century England and was the most popular event in London. Therefore, good actors were in great demand and could make a living touring the villages or joining acting companies

The theater was a magical world where for a
moment in time a man could enter another time, another place, and assume a new appearance.  It was considered highly improper to enter the acting area without masks.  Thus it is in this story that when a young nobleman finds himself in danger, it is to the theater that he flees to hide his true identity.  Embarking on the greatest adventure of his life, he meets the woman of his heart where he least suspects to find her. 

 

 

 

 

ACT One:   A Dangerous Intrigue

England - 1597

 

“Give me that man

That is not passion’s slave and I will wear him

In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart.”

 

Shakespeare

HAMLET, act 3, scene 2

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

Torches and tapers blazed brightly, casting a magical glow on the great hall of
Whitehall Palace. In the far corner, on a raised dais, musicians strummed, plucked and tooted, filling the air with melodious songs as brightly colored, heavily bejeweled, elaborately dressed lords and ladies moved gracefully about the gigantic room. 

From her perch high above the dancers, leaning over the crowded gallery which crossed the hall like some hea
venly bridge, the young dark-haired Alandra Thatcher watched in awe, her brown eyes wide in surprise. It was like glimpsing paradise, she thought, opening her brown eyes wide in surprise.  She had heard her father speak of the court, but never in her wildest imaginings had she envisioned anything like this!  It was like a gathering of brightly colored birds or gilded butterflies, flying and bouncing about in time to the lilting rhythm.

"And there is the q
ueen," she gasped aloud, riveting her eyes upon that stately personage.  How magnificent she was, dressed in all her finery, standing straight and proud.  Clothed completely in white, her jewels shining in the light of a hundred flames, she looked to Alandra like an angel or fairy queen.  The large transparent veil wired about her shoulders did indeed form wings, and her red-gold hair twinkled with pearls and gems.  So this was Elizabeth Tudor, she who had been triumphant over all her enemies, had defeated the Spanish Armada, and had brought unity and peace to England.

Alandra watched as the queen moved among the crowd
, whispering to this nobleman or that lady, casting particular favor now upon a tall, blonde gallant dressed in gold and green.  She knew it was Lord Owen Stafford for her father had babbled on and on about the man, describing him in great detail.  This lord was partially responsible for Alandra being in Whitehall tonight.  He was giving a masque for the queen's pleasure and had hired Alandra's father to stage the lavish spectacle.  She thought, with not undue boasting, that her father was the finest scene designer in all of London.  Did not Master Shakespeare himself make use of her father's talents? And now the scenery, costumes and other effects for the masque would be viewed by Her Majesty.  Was it any wonder that at this moment her heart swelled with pride?

The world of the theater was the only life that Alandra had ever known.  She had been raised among actors, costumers and writers
and for just a moment she wondered what living at court would be like, to dress in silks and jewels, to wear lace and smell of lavender.  The dream was cruelly shattered as she looked down at her own simple garments--the dress of dullest orange cloth with its black, laced corset binding in her tiny waist.  The only resemblance she bore to those whirling about below was the white ruff she wore at neck and wrists.  Her dark tresses had no pearls, no ornamentation at all, except for a few wildflowers she had plucked on the way.

"Ah well!" she sighed. 
'T was a beautiful fantasy, but one she would never experience.  Even so, she could not help but wonder what it would be like to have a man stare at her as boldly as a  dark-haired man now stared at a woman dressed in pink. As if to devour her, she thought.  Was it any wonder, handsome as he was, that the golden haired beauty unabashedly returned his ardor, sweeping across the room to join him?  As they stood talking, they created a perfect portrait of mutual adoration, until the illusion was shattered by Elizabeth's appearance at their sides. As high above them as she was, Alandra  heard the queen's harsh words.

"Are you waiting to talk with me,
madame
?"  The queen's tone was scathing as she looked the blond in the face.  "Well, speak up!"

"I but wanted to compliment Y
our Majesty on her dress.  It is most becoming."

"My dress?  My dress!" 
Elizabeth's eyes traveled from shoulder to hem and back again, surveying the radiant female vision before her.  "Insufferable bitch to try to outshine your queen!"  The other woman's gown surpassed Elizabeth's, but even more eye-catching was her youth and her voluptuous curves.  "Go to your chambers and remove that gown at once.  It offends me."

"I will not!"  The queen's young rival was adamant.

"You will do as I say!"  The queen's gaze moved to where the handsome nobleman stood.  "Do not think I have not seen you looking cow's eyes at him, Madame.  Must I remind you of your marriage vows?  Leave immediately." 

For a
moment it appeared that Elizabeth might well strike the woman who had angered her, but the queen used restraint.  As the object of her anger quickly curtsied and obeyed, leaving the hall,  Elizabeth watched her go.  She then turned to the dark-haired nobleman.

"I warn you.  Have no more dealings with that woman.  It is I who have raised you up and I who can cast you down.  Remember that when the night chases away the day."  Turning on her heel
, she walked away with a rustle of her full skirts.              

What had that golden
beauty done to so inflame the queen's ire?  Alandra wondered.   Why was she so angry?  It was a puzzlement, but none of her business, she supposed. She could never hope to understand what emotions led these beautiful people.  Did these god-like creatures feel the same desires as simple folk?  Were they in truth as mortal as other men?              

"Alandra!"  Murray Thatcher
intruded on her musings. "There you be, girl.  I've been looking all over for you."  His voice was tinged with annoyance and concern.  "Come, I need your help in putting the finishing touches on the scenery.  The masque will be starting ere another quarter hour has passed.  Come, come, daughter."

"I'm sorry, Father.  I did not mean to concern you.  It's just that I wanted to see for myself what these noble lords and ladies were about." 

Her eyes were bright as she turned to face the gray-haired, bearded man who stood with his arms flung out.  He looked to be an unpretentious individual, haphazardly dressed in doublet and trunk hose that were sadly out of fashion, and his brown felt hat slightly askew, but Alandra knew what genius he possessed. 

"And the gleam in your eyes reveal
s that you have seen them.  Vain jackanapes that they be.  Such an ungodly throng as might ever be assemble," he grumbled.  "Ambitious, fawning monkeys."

"I think they are beautiful, especially that man down below dressed in a wine-colored doublet.  He has angered the queen, though I do not quite understand why.  How could she ever be in an ill temper when someone so handsome was near her?"  Seeking to steal one last glance, Alandra leaned so far over the balcony that she nearly toppl
ed from it.  But Murray’s strong hands rescued her.

"Careful.  Careful, I say."  He clucked his tongue as he followed the line of her gaze.  "Nay, they are not beautiful, for beauty is as beauty does!"  He shrugged his shoulders.  "But think what you will.  I have sheltered you
, and perhaps now it is time you learned the ways of this world."  Pulling her by the hand, he hurried her along.  "But hasten to the banqueting hall with me.  We've no time.  No time."

There was a flurry of activity going on inside the huge room as Alandra and her father stepped inside.  The room had been left in havoc by the quickly departing guests, anxious to follow the queen to the
great hall.  Cups and tankards littered the floor as well as the tables. Liveried servants, clad in the Tudor green and white, hurried to clear them away.  A thin little man swore beneath his breath as he lit  torches and tapers, granting Alandra only a nod as she passed him on her way to the stage.  At last the servants vacated the hall, leaving Alandra and her father alone.

"The scenery looks beautiful, Father, but then I knew that it would.  Perhaps, however, the grove of trees should be moved just a bit to the left so as not to block the shepherd's hut from view." 

At his nod, Alandra nudged the creation of wood, paste and paint aside.  The masque tonight was to have a pastoral theme, and the curtains, backdrops and set pieces had been painted to give the semblance of an open field.

From her place upon the stage
, Alandra looked out at the hall. Tiers of seats had been set up along the sides and across the back of the hall, upon which the lords and ladies would plant their noble bottoms.  The royal dais had been placed far back in the room  to provide the best view of the stage and to leave room for the dancers.  There would be three grand masquing dances and as always, all who participated would be masked. Several of the ladies and noblemen had been given parts in the evening’s entertainment.

"Let me make a test of the hoisting gear.  It would not do to have a noble lord fall flat upon his prat!" 

"Most certainly we would not want that."  Alandra said as she stood patiently while Murray Thatcher attached a rope with a hook at the end to the back of her dress. 

Giving a tug on the rope, he pulled her high above the stage as if in heavenly flight.  From her position in the air
she caught a glimpse of the elegant golden-haired beauty she had seen before.  The lady had just entered the room, dressed in a gown of brown and honey which was far more demure than her bright pink one.  Even the dull color, however, could not hide her beauty, and she would have drawn a lusty man's eyes, no matter what she wore.  But when her high-pitched voice reached Alandra's ears, Alandra thought that her speech did not match her looks.

"That witch!  That jealous old witch," she was shrieking to a tawny-haired
gentleman in black.  "To shame me so before the crowd.  All because her beauty has long since dimmed.  She seeks to make a moth of me.  A plain and colorless thing."

"Plain, Morgana?  I tell you nay.  That is an appellation that will never be attached to you."  The man could not hide his smile. 

"T'was she who arranged my marriage to Lord Woodcliff, but I will not let her win.  I am not a pawn nor a reward for those she seeks to favor.  Let her frighten the others with her frowning mouth and tantrums, but she will not have mastery over me!  I will yet be victor, and Sir Nicholas Leighton is just the man I need to do my bidding."

"I urge you to caution, niece.  Sir Leighton is no fool.  You will make no puppet out of him."

"Caution?  Only a bold soul attai
ns that which is highly desired, and I will have my way in this. More than all the riches of this world I want to be rid of my old, doddering husband.  And by God's nightgown I will be!"

Casting a glance over her shoulder, the blonde woman seemed u
nnerved to see Alandra dangling way up in the air, looking down at her. 

"You there,
gir
l
.  What are you about?  Who are you?"

Morgana
Woodcliff had no sooner spoken than Murray, now satisfied with the workings of the hoisting gear, suddenly slackened the rope, returning Alandra to the floor with a thud.  Somehow Alandra managed to regain her footing as the noblewoman eyed her with cool disdain.

"Answer me!  Are you perchance spying?"  The voice was a shriek.

Alandra was astounded by such an accusation and mortified to have caused this woman's wrath, a lady she had admired from afar.  "No, Mistress," she somehow managed to say as Morgana approached the stage.  "I am here with my father."  She pointed toward Murray who was now down upon his knees examining the trap door of the stage, unaware of the woman's condemnation.  "I am the stage master's daughter."

"A stage man's daughter!"  Morgana Woodcliff cast Alandra a contemptuous glare.  "Well, see that you do not rattle off your tongue or it will bode ill for you.  Do you understand?  Forget what you may have heard."

"Yes, Mistress." 

Alandra did not  understand at all.  The woman's words had meant nothing to her.  Why then had Alandra's presence been cause for such outrage? Watching the lady leave the room
, she pondered the matter, trying to make some sense of what she had overheard.  It remained a mystery.  These silk and satin clothed lords and ladies certainly were a strange lot.  Perhaps her father was right in his appraisal of them as "vain jackanapes".  And yet the memory of the dark-haired nobleman made her hesitate in forming so rash an opinion.  Something about him had drawn Alandra's interest; so much so that she could not push from her mind the way he walked, the angle at which he had cocked his head, the power and strength which emanated from him.  He was the kind of man a young girl dreamed about.  Handsome.  Tall. Well-muscled.  Gallant.  What she would not have given to be the recipient of just one of his smiles.  Thus thinking she sighed, leaning against the open door as she gave vent to such dreams.

The sound of shuffling feet brought Alandra quickly back to reality.  Looking up
, she saw a throng of laughing revelers coming her way.  It was as if her daydreams had conjured up the very man she had been thinking about for he was among the crowd, not more than a few feet away.  Alandra swallowed nervously, certain the pounding of her heart was loud enough to reach his ears.  Putting her hands to her chest she sought to muffle the sound as he swept past her.

Merry-go-up, he was even more handsome up close than he had been from afar.  Transfixed, she stared, realizing suddenly that as he had passed he had touched her arm.  That brief caress had warmed her, set her flesh afire with a strange tingling.  She couldn't think, could barely breath as she smiled expectantly, waiting for him to look at her.  Instead
, he did not even offer her a cursory glance.  He had not even noticed her.  Had she really expected that he would?  Yes. Disappointed, she pursed her lips.

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