Dee and Boleyn
by Marie Marshall
I have sought solace in reading psalms and in prayer, but nothing avails, except perhaps my dreams; and so I seek sleep, and hasten each day with pacing to and fro, as though I could not wait for the end. My mother called such behaviour wishing my life away, but would not laugh if she could see me here.
Each night I hurry to my bed, earlier and earlier, eager to enter a world of shadows and strange colours, and to find the answers to questions which perplex me, and any other whom I may ask, during the dubious hours of waking. Yet some nights are vague, and I may startle awake with a cock-crow or a bursting-in of sunlight, to remember nothing. Or again, I may lie upon my back all night, sleepless, and with my fists balled; the days that follow are drowsy and tedious, but the little sleeps between the visits of those who attend me are sans dreaming. I could read; I have many of my beloved books around me, but am without inclination these days, except for the psalms, with their illuminations – the blood of the whiplash fish, weathered green copper, gold-leaf. My constant prayer has been let me read the book of my dreams.
I recall the third night I was ever in this room. It seemed as though I was snatched from making out the shadows on the ceiling into another world. I was a child again, in a gown of green velvet, the hue of the under-side of leaves in high summer, and a gable-hood of the same. I was upon the London River, in a barge that slipped silently against the stream with the aid of neither sail nor oars; I was attended by silent servants in tabards that matched my gown. I enquired where we were bound for, and none would lift his head, save one who eyed me and looked away, and spoke in French.
“Au Lac de la Mort, Maitresse.”
To the Lake of Death – and this puzzled me, for I knew of no such place on the Thames, but only of a hamlet that had grown around a stream filled with silver salmon, for that was the place where the barge glided to the shore, and where I stepped out onto the bank. And it seemed that at the moment my toes touched the land, I was in a great hall. Everything was tall – the people in it, the tables and the chairs, for I was an infant in this dream, to whom the walls of a chamber are as great as an oak or the flank of a galleon. And this hall was filled with books, shelved against every wall. Not one window was there here, but light was given by candles, some upon tables, some on the floor, some even upon a pile of books. Between the furred skirts of the gowns of the men who gathered in the hall, I could see only a little of the tables around which they clustered. From some, charts and scrolls spilled; upon others I saw browned skulls and thighbones, bottles of dark liquids, a still but evil-faced raven which winked at me, and other objects nameless and beyond description. As I walked by them, some of the men turned their heads to look at me, and I felt my face burn in their gaze; others conversed with each other in whispers and mutters, and two or three stretched their hands over some object and intoned in a language I did not recognise. One I saw exchange gold coins for a leather pouch that seemed to move, as though it contained a frog or a mouse.
At the far end of the room, upon a sort of dais, an old man sat, as though enthroned, and it was towards him that I walked. If I looked away for a moment he seemed, from the corner of my eye, to be a boy of twelve or thirteen; but always when I looked directly at him he was venerable, white-bearded.
There was an impatience in his face, as he leant forward and beckoned me, as though he had news of great import, or some secret to tell me. But in the moment that he drew breath to speak I awoke, and was here in my prison again.
“Where is a Joseph or a Daniel who will riddle me this?” I thought.
That was the first time I met the old mage in my dreams, for indeed he seemed to be a philosopher or magician of some sort; but since that night I have met him often, walked with him through the strangely silent streets of London or the garden of Hampton Court, where we stopped to look at the great clock. I swear I saw the hands whisk through the hours and the moon-phases faster than the wheels of Phaeton’s chariot. Sometimes in my dreams he was struck dumb, sometimes I; at other times he spoke to me only in a language I could not understand, and grew angry because I did not answer. At other times we conversed.
“Do you know me, Lady?” he asked once.
“Certainly,” I replied. “You are the old magus whom I meet here in my dreams.”
“But do you know my name, Madam?”
“No, I do not.”
“I shall write it for you,” he said, and stooped to trace it in the dust with his finger. At this I shuddered, for it seemed blasphemous to imitate a gesture of the Saviour thus – hoc autem dicebant tenantes eum, ut possent accusare eum, Iesus autem inclinans se deorsum, digito scribat in terra. Even more so did what the old man wrote upon the ground, for it was more a picture or a sign than a name. A circle, which could have been his face or the sun’s, with a single eye in the centre; crescent horns surmounted the face, and could have been the moon; from a stick-like body, two arms protruded, in mockery of our Lord upon the cross; the whole figure squatted upon the ground, it’s knees drawn up, and its legs bowed.
“This is all-in-all,” he said to me, and seemed to be pleased with what he said, and to ignore my look of horror.
Three nights ago I looked for him once more, but in my dream I stepped into my husband’s closet, seeking my book of psalms. My lord was there, and I spoke to him, simply saying his name once.
I reached out my hand, but did not dare touch him. He seemed to hear me, and inclined his head, with a look of sudden irritation on his face. He said nothing, but continued what he had been doing when I entered – picking up books and leafing hastily through them as though searching for something.
Upon his table I saw my own book of psalms, and picked it up. But it was false – the cover of my book held pages of crabbed writing, little of which I could make out, except for the names of sundry angels. Then I came upon a page which had the symbol drawn by the mage in the dust, and I knew that this book was his. I put it down quickly, and my hand moved to another book, mutilated and coverless. That was mine, my poor little book of psalms in French, which I now opened to read, for solace. Quand je marche dans la vallée de l’ombre de la mort, Je ne crains aucun mal, car tu es avec moi… My eye was drawn from the holy words to the bright images upon the facing pages, which were unfamiliar, and bore such names as La Reine de Deniers, and La Reine d’Epées, as though the songs of King David had become a game, or a medium for scrying. I can recall no more of that dream.
Two nights ago I met the mage again, and he showed me the court of a great queen whom all feared and loved. She was enthroned, and clothed in a white gown on which pearls had been sewn with golden thread. She had my hair, and my eyes; but those eyes were full of loneliness past bearing.
Last night I dreamed yet again. I felt myself drawn to a place where the mage stood, with another old man. They were huddled together, standing on a spot where strange devices had been scored upon the earth, as though the perimeter of the devices protected them from some evil or force beyond their control. I approached them as though through mist, or through the hall where I had first encountered the old man (though now it seemed plundered and ruined), all becoming clearer as I came close to them. At last I stood before them, a hand’s reach away, but outside their magic circle. The old man spoke to his companion.
“Strike with your staff upon the point of the heptogram, Master Kelley, and make it speak.”
At this, a look of annoyance passed the other’s face.
“I am known as Talbot now, and not by my old name. How many times do I have to say so before you remember!” He turned his eyes towards me, and drew himself up, rapping three times upon the ground with his stick.
“Speak, spirit,” he said. “Speak or be returned whence you came, and shut again in your arrow-chest. Speak, I command, in the name of an holy Power!”
“Whom do you command to speak?” I said. “I speak or do not speak at my own will, not yours. I say what is in my heart and mind, when it pleases me to open my lips. I am not bidden by anyone to speak or to stay silent, to come or to go.”
My old mage – I now thought of him as somehow mine – smiled a little, but the other became agitated, and struck again several times with his staff.
“I charge you to speak,” he barked. “Are you from Paradise or from eternal fire?”
“If you rap much harder on the ground,” said my mage. “You will find out first hand, as we shall fall through and into hell ourselves!”
“Paradise or flames?” I said. “A room in the Tower is not Paradise, though it is comfortable enough for a while; nor is it hell, for all its dreary solitude. Rather say it is purgatory, as it affords much opportunity for reflection and repentance!”
“Speak not in riddles!” cried the other. “But answer plainly, I charge you, by the angels!”
Patient now, my mage interjected, “Peace, Master Kelley; I know her, I know of her – she speaks what she thinks is true. She knows naught of heaven or hell, but lies where she lies, with her last memories, waiting for the graves to give forth their contents.”
“Master Dee, you may have traveled much, you may have been to Bohemia, and to Poland (where, I have heard, men have tails), but in these things you are ignorant. She is a spirit, and as such she has seen things you and I have not. And she is bound by the enchantment and invocation I have made, to tell us the truth. This fiddle-faddle she gives us is but her resisting my power, and it cannot last.”
“I know nothing of spirits,” I said. “Except that Saul was damned for causing one to be conjured up. I am none such. I am a queen, albeit one cast down. And Master Kelley or Talbot or whoever-you-may-be, you would be well advised to address me with more deference, and indeed to desist from your imagined conjuring.”
At this moment, my old mage turned eyes on me that held more pity and kindness than I had ever seen in him. There was such sorrow in his voice, when he spoke again.
“Master Talbot, it is clear to me that she is telling you the truth, though you cannot see it. Madam… Mistress… Your Majesty… “
His voice faltered, as though he had something difficult to say.
“Can you tell me where your favourite French headdress is at this moment?”
“Certainly, sir,” I replied. “I have it in my hand.”
“Madam, you have more than your headdress in your hand.”
At that moment, in my dream, I saw his meaning clearly –though I knew not with what eyes I saw that which I saw, for my own eyes looked up at me – and I screamed. My scream was choked by my awakening. Dreams are beyond fathoming, the pictures they paint are strange, their meaning is deep and often unholy… and it is now today.
There is my gown, and my headdress; there also is my little book of psalms in French, undesecrated. I will wear my gown and my headdress today, and carry my psalms with me when I walk outside. I already have in mind what I will say:
Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.
But as I kneel, and before the swordsman scythes my head from my body, I shall think of my old magus. Then I shall breathe a short, Plantagenet prayer, and hope that my daughter, who has my eyes and my hair, will never be a queen, but will live her life a country lass, safe at home. For the burden of queenship is too heavy.
What an enchanting and sad write. Marie, you are the best. I always enjoy the words pouring out of your imagination bucket.
Sometimes I think the bloody thing has a hole in it, though, Dennis. Thank you for your kind words. 🙂