Authors: Robin Maxwell
Copyright © 1997, 2011 by Robin Maxwell
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For my mother
roared Elizabeth. “Will you not give me one day’s respite from this tiresome pestering? You make my head ache.”
—The Queen’s councillors could hardly keep pace with the extraordinarily tall and slender woman now moving in great strides across Whitehall’s wide lawn to her waiting mount.
Her chief advisor, William Cecil, a stern and steady man of middle age, was torn between admiration and despair of his new young queen, now attired in a purple velvet riding habit, her gold-red hair flying long and unbound behind her. Headstrong and stubborn did not begin to describe Elizabeth Tudor at twenty-five. Reckless she was, lacking in anything vaguely resembling restraint, with a razor wit and a bawdy tongue unfitting England’s monarch. But, he was forced to admit, her intellect was broad and magnificent. She spoke six languages as fluently as her own and was easily as magnetic as her father Henry VIII had been in his long and turbulent life. If only, thought Cecil, she did not take such perverse delight in outraging the great lords whom she had appointed to counsel her. Cecil chanced her further wrath.
“I beg Your Majesty to give the archduke Charles more thought. He is, besides being the best match in Christendom, said to be, for a man, beautiful and well-faced.”
“And, more important,” added Elizabeth with a decidedly lascivious leer, “well-thighed and well-legged.”
“I’m told his stoop is not noticeable when he’s on horseback,” added Lord Clinton, hoping they were gaining some ground. But Elizabeth stopped in her tracks and turned on them so suddenly that the councillors collided with one another like players in a stage comedy.
am told he’s a young monster with an enormous head! Good Christ, the pitiable choices for husband you offer give me scant cause to change my state of matrimony.”
“Prince Eric is a …”
“Lumpen Swede,” finished Elizabeth.
“But he’s very rich, Your Majesty, and generous to the extreme.”
“But that ridiculous delegation who came simpering to court in their crimson robes with velvet badges of arrow-pierced hearts…?” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “You ask me to consider the French king who has stolen Calais, our only remaining port on the Continent… and Philip, my queen sister’s swarthy Spanish widower, who is a devout and unwavering
Come now, gentlemen, surely you can do better than that.”
“Are the English suitors more to your liking, then?”
“The English suitors?” Elizabeth’s eyes seemed to soften, and a hint of a smile tilted the corners of her scarlet mouth. She turned and continued at a more leisurely pace toward her fine chestnut stallion trapped in a footmande laced with gold, and toward the tall well-built young man of confident posture and athletic grace who stood beside it, reins in hand. Cecil regarded Robert Dudley, the Queen’s Master of the Horse, with quiet annoyance. It was surely Dudley who brought the smile to the Queen’s lips and the almost languorous sway to her walk as she crossed the remaining distance to her mount.
“Indeed,” she purred, “I do like my English suitors far better.”
Cecil could hear the councillors grumbling discreedy at the sight of Robert Dudley. This arrogant nobleman’s outrageous pursuit of the Queen and her even more scandalous acceptance of that pursuit were creating an unwholesome climate that imperiled Elizabeth’s chances of marrying honorably here or abroad. For Dudley, believed by many to be the Queen’s lover, was a married man. Cecil pushed out of his mind the thought that Elizabeth’s wanton behavior was her way of insuring that she would never have to marry, but could instead keep a series of lovers throughout her reign; worse, that the Queen might be showing a streak of her mother’s nature. The Boleyn blood was tainted with perversity. As it was, everyone — from Elizabeth’s royal advisors who supplied her with endless choices for matrimony, to her childhood mistress Kat Ashley who begged the Queen to come to her senses, to her loyal subjects who petitioned her daily — was demanding that for her honor’s sake and the welfare of the kingdom she marry and relinquish the reins of government to her lawful husband.
Elizabeth approached Dudley, who, rising from a deep bow, stood straight and manly, his strong features and clear-eyed expression forcing even Cecil to admit the horsemaster was a fine figure of noble virility. Dudley locked his gaze on the Queen’s. With no thought to the disapproving stares of her councillors, Elizabeth reached up and with careless intimacy caressed Dudley’s cheek, drawing her long white fingers down his face, slowly tracing the sharp line of his jaw and chin, ending with a tiny tickle in the hollow of his throat.
“How does my great stallion?” she asked, suppressing a smile. Perhaps the outraged sniffs and sharp intake of breath from behind prompted her to slap the chestnut steed’s massive flank with a resounding thump, affording her stunned councillors the distant but grateful possibility that the Queen’s remark was not the grossly vulgar one they suspected.
She turned to Cecil and bestowed on her advisors a warm, playful smile. “My lords Clinton, Arundel, and North, I do greatly appreciate your clement advisements and take them to heart.” She allowed Robert Dudley to boost her onto the horse, and sat tall and regal in the saddle looking down upon the men. “My choice of husband and king is one not lightly made, requiring much reflection. So you will forgive a poor weak woman’s hesitancy to commit. But I do promise this. When the decision is made, you will indeed be the first to know. Good day, gentlemen.”
With a swift kick her horse was off. Dudley, inclining a mockingly respectful head to the councillors, leapt upon his own horse and sped off after the Queen, who had already attained a full gallop.
Cecil and the other chagrined advisors turned and, without meeting each other’s eyes, began a slow and troubled walk back to the royal palace.
It was late in the afternoon when the first sunshine pierced the overcast, falling through the cottage window in a golden swath across Elizabeth’s pearl white and naked breasts. Dudley, reclining close beside her propped upon an elbow, traced a lazy path around the small dove-soft mounds with a rough-skinned but gentle hand. He grazed the rosy nipple and it moved beneath his touch. An unexpected sigh escaped the mouth whose painted lips had by now been kissed clean. Her eyes fluttered behind the lids and opened slowly.
Elizabeth and Dudley had had a hard ride through green April fields and come at last to the royal hunting lodge, a rough and tiny timbered house at the edge of Duncton Wood. The pair had entered laughing, breathless from their exertions but with the blood racing in every extremity, and had fallen into passionate embraces and kisses, and, as had been progressing in the months preceding, to several intimacies.
“You take some liberties with your queen, my love,” Elizabeth murmured with just a trace of sharpness.
Measuring his words and finding room for boldness, Dudley replied, “I mean to take more, Your Majesty.”
Her protracted and steady gaze was surely meant to cause hesitation. But Dudley was a man aroused and almost past caringo Elizabeth’s sleeves and bodice lay undone around her reedlike torso, but the skirts and petticoats of her velvet riding habit were still intact upon her hips and legs, though rumpled and softened by the steamy vapors of their afternoon’s embraces.
His wandering hand caressed Elizabeth’s waspish waist and the hot, moist ridges of her spine. He pushed his fingers down beneath the lacy underkirde to find the soft vee between her buttocks and, with this grasp, pulled her hips against his. She gasped in sudden pleasure and, so emboldened, with the skirt all loosened from above, he groped to find her mound of maiden hair.
He answered her command with one fierce kiss covering her mouth. She moved beneath him, but not in ardor. She pulled her face away.
“Don’t stop me now, Elizabeth.”
“Yes, stop I tell you, stop!” Her voice had changed, had lost its silk. Her body’s softness turned to rigid wood. Dudley’s features flushed with helpless rage. He pulled his hand reluctandy from the Queen’s great skirts.
Elizabeth watched Dudley’s beautiful face as he struggled to control himself. His naked desire for her body which she loved and feared had changed, with her command to stop, to sudden fury and then to something different, more difficult to discern. She was queen. He was her subject. His eyes showed the confusion of this awkward state. She was, she knew, the only woman in England who had the power to command a man this way. This exultant strength was new, for her coronation had been only three months before, and Robert Dudley had been her dear friend since early childhood. Once she’d become queen, his loyal affections had taken on a fervent quality which she had found altogether irresistible. She had with an imperious flourish named him her Master of the Horse, and he had ridden proudly behind her in the coronation procession for all the world to see. Most believed them already intimate to the fullest degree. But Elizabeth had withheld the ultimate favor.