tried, without success; the Queen, whisper the gossips, still burns; the Queen still groans; the Queen still weeps, for she cannot be fulfilled. Even common alehouse jesters make no jokes concerning this; even the most puritanical, the most radical of evangelists draw no morals from her predicament. Men and women have died grotesquely (though never with the Queen’s knowledge) for making light of the Queen’s Trouble.

Day upon day Queen Gloriana, in her beauty and her dignity, her wisdom and her power, conducts the business of the State according to the high ideals of Chivalry; night upon night upon night she seeks that satisfaction, that final abandonment, that release which sometimes she has almost reached, only to fall back from the brink of fulfillment, back into an agony of frustration, of misery, of self-hatred, of conscience, of confusion. Morning after morning she has risen, suppressing all personal grief, to continue with her duties, to read, to sign, to confer, to discourse, to receive emissaries, petitioners, to christen ships, to unveil monuments, to dedicate buildings, to attend entertainments and ceremonies, to show herself to her people as the living symbol of her Realm’s security. And in the evening she will play hostess to her guests, converse with those courtiers and friends and relatives closest to her (including her nine children); and thence, again, to bed, to her search, to her experiments; and, when, as always, they end in failure then she will lie awake, sometimes voicing her agony, not knowing that the secret halls and passages of her vast palace catch and amplify her voice so that it may be heard in almost every corner. Thus the Queen’s Court shares her grief and her sleeplessness.

“Ah, the yearning! I would cram whole planets into my womb, could they but fill the void in me! This torture is too great. I could bear any other. Is there nothing, no one, to sate my need? If in dying I could experience release, just once, I should willingly submit to any horror…. But this is treachery. We are the State. We serve, we serve…. Ah, if there were but a single being in all our Realm who could serve us….”

In his great bed of sable and beaver, a naked wife on either silk-clad arm, Lord Montfallcon lies; listening to these words which come to him as whispers and occasional cries, knowing that they issue from the lips of his Queen a quarter of a mile distant in her own lodgings. She is the child, the hope he guarded with mad idealism through all the terrible, euphoric tyranny of her father’s monstrous reign. He recalls his own loyal attempts to find a lover for her, his failure, his considerable despair. “Oh, madam,” he breathes, so that his loved ones shall not hear, “if thou wast only Woman and not Albion. If thy blood were not the blood it is.” And he draws his wives to him, so that their hair shall cover his ears and he need hear no more, for he would not weep tonight, this brave ancient, her Chancellor.

“…Nothing can destroy me. Nothing can bring me to life. Has it been so for a thousand years? Three hundred and sixty-five thousand aching days and wasted nights…”

Skulking through one of his discovered tunnels on his way to snatch food from the palace larder, Jephraim Tallow, outcast and cynic, a little black-and-white cat, his only friend, upon his shoulder, pauses, for the words boom in his eardrums, boom through his bones, boom in his belly “Bitch! Ever on heat, never brought to the boil. One night, I swear, I’ll sneak into her rooms and service her, for my satisfaction if not for hers. I can sniff her sex from here. It will lead me to her.” The cat makes a small sound, to remind him of his quest, and digs claws through thin, patched cotton. Tallow turns a mild, shifty eye on his companion and shrugs. “But so many have tried in so many ways. She’s a much-explored maze, without a centre.” He slides around a bend of metal, reaches an air duct of stone which leads to a disused sewer, finds himself in a gallery of creaking beams and dripping pipes, scuttles through dust, his candle guttering, and into a rotted doorway like the entrance to a kennel. His nose twitches. He catches a whiff of lately roasted meat. He licks greedy lips. The cat begins to purr.

“We’re none too close to the kitchens, Tom.” He frowns, then lets the cat jump down and pass through the little door, wriggling after it until both are stopped by a lattice of carved wood behind which firelight bounces. Tallow puts an eye to an opening. Here is one of the palace’s great public rooms. The fire is dying in the grate directly opposite. A long table is scattered with what is left of a feast-and some of the feasters who lie on and about the table. There is beef and mutton and poultry, wine and bread. Tallow tests the panel. It rattles. He seeks for catches and finds nails instead. He reaches for his little knife, on a cord at his throat, draws it up and pries at an edge, pushing it back from the nail until it threatens to splinter. He works his knife around the entire panel, loosening it. Then, grasping the lattice with his fingers, he pushes with his free hand so that the whole is detached. He pulls the panel in and places it carefully behind him, then looks down. It is a fair drop to the flagstones; there seems no easy way of returning, save by moving a piece of furniture, which would betray his means of entrance. The cat, disdaining his master’s caution, and with a noise in his chest, half-purr, half-growl, springs from vent to table in one long leap. His mind made up for him, Tallow swings out, hangs by his fingers, then drops, grazing a small bench he has not seen from above, barking his shin. He curses and hops, resheathing his knife inside his shirt, turning and limping rapidly for the table where the cat already tugs at a turkey. It has been cold in the tunnels and Tallow realises the extent of his discomfort as the fire warms him. He carries a good part of a baron of beef to the fire, sits himself in the inglenook and begins to chew, cocking one eye at the snoring guests-entertainers, by their costume, who entertained themselves too well. Light suddenly falls on these figures and Jephraim is alerted until he looks up to see that there are windows set near the roof; he is unused to windows in his own dominion. Moonlight enters. White clowns and patchcoat harlekins lie upon cloth-of-silver, like dead geese on snow; their disguises are stained with wine which turns from black to red as the strength of the moonlight grows. Their powdered, masked heads are twisted, lying on outstretched arms; their crimson mouths gape, their painted eyebrows twitch, and Tallow fancies they are all murdered, looks about for weapons, sees only slapsticks, bladders and a wooden cucumber, subsides to give his full attention to his meat, feels his belly begin to swell, and sighs, turning a newly ruddy, grease-smeared face towards the dying fire, licking the savoury beef juice from his curved lips (a permanent smile which has saved him from as many disasters as it has threatened to create). It is the cat who looks up first, a whole roasted wing in its mouth, and Jephraim is not slow to hear the footfall. He rushes for the wine bottles, picks one which is too light, grabs another almost full, glances at his doorway, realises he cannot leap for it without abandoning meat and wine, ducks beneath the table, disturbing a grunting zany whose sacklike smock is sour with vomit and whose left hand is buried in the clothing of some ambiguous Isabella who smells altogether too strongly of violets. Cross-legged behind his companions Jephraim watches the far door, through which, clumping gloomily, comes one he recognises, for no other would wear such ornate and useless armour so late at night without a ceremony of some sort to demand it. It is Sir Tancred Belforest, the Queen’s Champion, miserable as ever-as unfulfilled in his way as the Queen he serves, for Gloriana has demanded his word that he will not do violence in her name, nor in the name of Chivalry. Sir Tancred stops to gaze around the room. He crosses to the mirror which reflects the fire. His long moustaches are drooping and he tries to curl them, twisting them around his naked fingers (which jut oddly from the mass of metal encasing the rest of him). He has some success, but not enough. He sighs, clanks to the table and, so Jephraim guesses, pours himself a cup of wine. Studying the noble knight’s gold-spiked knees, Jephraim lifts his own bottle and joins Sir Tancred in a gulp or two. The door creaks and Tallow cranes his neck, observing first a trio of candles, burning cheerfully, then the outline of the young woman who holds the candelabrum. She wears a bulky robe pulled over her scarcely less bulky night-gown. Her face is in shadow, but seems soft and young. There is a further bulk above it, a bulk of dark red hair. From this young woman’s mouth comes a strong impatient sigh. “You are too quick, Sir Tancred, to retreat into silly sulking.”

Sir Tancred creaks a trifle as he turns. “You blame me-and yet it’s you, Lady Mary, who spurns my embrace.”

“I merely feared a spearing from your ornaments and suggested you remove your armour before you took me in your arms. I reject not you, Tancred, my dear, but your suit.”

“This armour is the badge of my calling. It is as much a part of me as my soul, for it displays the nature of my soul.”

Lady Mary (Tallow guesses her to be the youngest of the Perrott girls) moves across the floor and Tallow feels her warmth as she comes close to Sir Tancred. Tallow begins to lust for her, to scheme, a little hopelessly, for a means of making love to her. “Come back with me now, Tancred. The Old Year has passed, as I swore it would not, without a sharing of love between us. Let us, I beg you, begin the New Year in proper resolution.”

The zany groans and stirs. A little more vomit bubbles in his throat. He coughs, soiling his smock again. He takes a firmer hold on whatever it is that he grips in or upon his Isabella and begins to snore in a loud, somewhat self-satisfied tone, disturbing the lovers.

“My dear heart,” murmurs young Mary Perrott.

“Oh, indeed, my dear heart!” replies Tallow very quietly.

Mary tugs at Tancred’s hand.

Unable to resist an impulse, Tallow takes the arm of the zany and stretches it out towards the Champion’s

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