Characters: Psylocke, Blob, Hob Gadling (The Sandman); Mystique, Husk, a cameo here and there
Rating: PG-13ish for sex, violence, and theatrics
Word Count: 3,086
Summary: Psylocke - does an English lady of good breeding want to become a warrior in 1602? How does she fight? And for what cause? A groom and a bride take up certain tasks the evening before they are wed. Many apologies to the corpus of Elizabethan drama. Thanks to Abby for the beta.
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SCENE ONE: A MANOR HOUSE
Fanfare. ENTER LORD BRADDOCK and SIR ROBERT GADLEN, with veiled portrait, attended by members of the household.
LORD BRADDOCK: Good my lord, or rather God grants me joy to say my future son, the ink that binds our families is not yet dry upon our contract. Will you now give eye to my daughter, who will make you a groom this Sunday next?
SIR ROBERT: My honored father, for so I now consider you – as I am a Christian, I must own that I wondered if you should ever extend me the privilege you and your lady wife have so long enjoyed!
LORD BRADDOCK: In faith, I am sorry to have withheld her from you. But my Elizabeth is often away with her mother and nurse. She will be glad of the travel being a merchant’s wife affords, when you are wed.
SIR ROBERT: Travel? Well, we may venture to court and into the countryside when duty and inclination give us cause, but it is hardly fitting for a lady – especially a lady of your daughter’s breeding – to pass her days among the sailors and the waves. I myself cannot possibly join my crews on their many routes – I have my business to look to, and that can only find management in fair London. But I know what pleases women’s hearts, and I hope you will trust that she is to be provided for with only the best the wide world has to offer.
LORD BRADDOCK: Indeed. You are kind to so attend to her whims. If I may advise you, though, she is not over-fond of court, and speaks often of far Cathay. She will behave herself, but she will also speak her mind in private quarters.
SIR ROBERT: I am very amiable to any woman who enjoys conversation.
LORD BRADDOCK: Though we have sought to raise her demure and modest, she is quite a force. Yet I see this does not deter you: I have always thought it fitting to ensure that my Betsy is made happy in her company, with a man who is happy with her. I would not part with her for anything less, as a great deal of mankind proves himself to be.
SIR ROBERT: I am already quite in love, Lord Braddock. Would that I only knew the face to whom I ascribe so great a portion of my heart!
LORD BRADDOCK: A sensible wish, and one that I cannot deny any longer, now we are kin.
LORD BRADDOCK motions to two gentlemen of the household. The veil is removed from the painting.
SIR ROBERT: I’faith, she is a marvel. And such eyes! But wherefore the turban, my lord? Surely such a woman can only have glittering tresses to so match that light I see the portrait dimly shows us in her eyes.
LORD BRADDOCK: It is her particular fashion since she had not yet thirteen years. But you will come to know her true color in your wedded days, my friend. And now, if you will give me pardon, I will take my leave of you. My daughter ought to hear of our agreement in my own hand. Will you sup with me later, when the messengers have left?
SIR ROBERT: It would grant me honor and joy, sir. Do I trespass to ask a little time alone with this likeness?
LORD BRADDOCK: Indeed not! I will send a servant by and by to show you to your lodgings. God save you, Sir Robert.
SIR ROBERT: And you and yours, Lord Braddock.
EXEUNT OMNES, except SIR ROBERT.
SIR ROBERT: Well, damn my lying face and tongue! Here’s a thing to tickle the wits. Lowly Hob Gadling wedding and bedding a noble bride! Her father is skittish – I am a last resort, I think. She sounds a queer girl, and dresses the part. That turban! Ah, but what’s to complain about? Her face is fair, and her dowry is fairer, and in truth, I am merry enough as things stand. They say the Queen herself has her hair cropped like a shaved dog, and hides it under a wealth of readymade wigs. If it’s good enough for the consorts of the Virgin Queen, then I wager that I can make do. Besides, London is full of other women with healthy heads of hair, not to mention the rest of Christendom.
EXIT. The portrait continues to smile.
* * *
SCENE TWO: A LONDON HOUSE OF ILL REPUTE
A scruffy common sort of a man among many is less than unremarkable: you put him out of your mind when you see him walking past you. I’ve been able to put that to good use many a time. It got me in and out of a good many town whorehouses back during King Hal’s French exploits. Age teaches you many tricks. I must be the luckiest bastard in the world to live long enough to play all of them. It’s also taught me the importance of a good disguise, and that the best one to have onhand is your own self, in the end.
And so one more filthy Londoner swaggers down the streets, and manages to find a tavern he’s never set foot in before. It’s grimy, like he is, and filled with grimy people like him. I can’t believe my luck. If it holds out, the sack you can drain at the Devil’s Horn will do its house proud, and I will raise Hell in proud toast with the best of them. The ceiling is low, and the light is lower, and a raised platform in the center of the floor promises good boxing.
First, though, I have needs to be taken care of. There’s a doxy sashaying between the tables like her given name was “wench.” I grab her around the waist as she passes and catch her on my lap. She giggles.
“You haven’t had much to drink yet, squire.” Oh, but she’s a lithe, eager little thing. Puts a grin on a fellow’s face, she does.
“I just want to be top of my game for you, morsel.”
She slips her hands between my legs. Her eyes widen – good touch, that. “Glory of God, sir, you’re coming with me tonight!”
And for just a little whore (damn me if she’s not eighteen), her room is fine and her technique astounding. The sex is fierce and relentless, and it’s a fight for who’s riding the other. It takes hours. For a moment I’m worried about how I’m going to pay for her, and then I remember that I’m Sir Robert Gadlen too, and when I laugh she takes it as a challenge. There’s been no drink, but the girl seems to grow lovelier as the night stretches. I hadn’t remembered her skin being that pale, or her hair so red. Was she only seventeen?
“What’s your name?” I pant, while we’re both taking a breather.
“What for?” she asks. Her eyes slither for a moment. I shake the fancy off.
“Why, to keep in my heart when we are both parted.”
Her body covers mine. “We are not parted yet.” My question doesn’t get answered for some time.
“It’s Corva,” she growls. In the low light, her skin is all awash with copper. “I’m Corva Black, your honor. I’ve shown you mine: now show me yours.”
“Call me Hob,” I say, and I’m not sure why – I only ever use that name with one fellow these days.
“Just Hob? Not knob as well?”
“Woman, you’re a funny one.”
She smiles, open-mouthed. “I enjoy a good laugh now and then.” Her hair is burnished black now, I’m sure of it.
“There’s to be a big fight tonight,” she mentions as we lie still at last. “Monumental, I think.”
“Is the ring fixed? ‘Salright, you don’t have to tell me.”
Her teeth glitter. “No. Nothing is fixed here. But I keep an ear to the goings-on: both a mountain and a molehill will come crashing down tonight, I think.” She stretches. “There’s a lord here who fancies himself a conspirator. And there’s also an agent of Her Majesty the Queen.”
I prop myself on my elbows. “How do you know about all this, my dear?”
A sheen of yellow swims over her irises. “I like intrigue,” Corva says. She sits up. “I like to make it and I like to watch it.”
That’s my cue to take my breeches and go. I reach for my purse. She smirks at me. “No. No pay. That was for fun.”
“Oh yes.” I must not be seeing too clearly, for when she stands she’s already dressed. “Clever Hob, I’m the proprietor. Go and get yourself a new drink.”
* * *
SCENE THREE: BELOW, THE TAVERN
I been champion of this ring for eight years now, better even than Cain O’Th’Mark that was. I been a beefeater long as I’ve had teeth to eat with, and before that, it was straight heifer’s milk for me. Bain’t just a pride for me. I’m Fred the Duke’s Man – my strength’s his strength as well, and there’s plenty here in London and abroad who’d do well to know and remember that fact. “You’re a powerful beast,” the Duke once said to me. Worth my weight in lead to him ‘gainst those that would work against him.
They treat me well at this place. Back at barracks, I’m just a fat man with a costume and a pike, but my people know me when I’m at the Devil’s Horn. Always somebody ready to buy me a drink and a roast leg of meat for my favor. Bain’t always worth it, as I know where my loyalties lie, but I enjoy letting them try at me.
“I’ve heard something about your opponent tonight,” the Duke says at me when the evening’s getting late. Some thick little Spaniard called Santiago is ruining a man in the ring. “Someone who calls himself Lock and Key.”
“Who told you that?” I asks.
“Mistress Black,” he says, and I has me a chuckle. “What?” he says.
I knock back another wash of dark. “Mistress Black is the very snake out of Eden,” I says, and it’s true: she’s a shifty little bitch with a tongue to guile menkind.
“Yes, but she serves up nectar and manna, and for that I am well content.” He acts like he knows something I doesn’t, which is possible, but I don’t hold it against him. Can’t hold very much against anyman who’ll make you a general or a captain of the guard. “Anyhow, I have been asking about this fellow, and all I can gather is that it’s someone on Queen’s business, so you’ll have to be extra ruthless when you cut him down tonight.”
“Don’t need anyone telling me that, sir,” I says. I’m Fred the Duke’s Man: I’m unmoveable, and I hit back hard.
“Remember your cause, Fred,” he says to me, taking me by the arm and looking quite serious. “Remember what I will give you when Bess is dead and England mine.”
I take hard knocks but I know my rights. I tell him I ain’t stupid about that. The hairy little Spaniard is done in the ring. “I got to go make a show,” I says, and work my way out of the chair. The crowd parts for me: good. I may be the Duke’s man, but in the Devil’s Horn, I’m king around here.
* * *
SCENE FOUR: A CONFESSIONAL BOOTH (con’t from previous page) YOUNG GOWTHRIE: Oh, Father, I cannot go back there, I cannot take wages from that place another night!
FRIAR: Child, you are a virgin, and blameless. Tell me of what followed.
YOUNG GOWTHRIE: Well! I usually just scrub and clean, you understand, but this was a big fight, the like of which you don’t see that often. People had been whispering of it all night. Fred the Duke’s Man and a challenger no one knew aught about.
YOUNG GOWTHRIE: Fred always puts on such a display when he gets in the ring. Stomping and bellowing and throwing his weight around. I found my brother Sam and asked him if he knew anything. He keeps the doors, you remember. But he didn’t know, just that the challenger was called Lock and Key. So there’s Fred in the ring, roaring for the coward to come forth and take his hits.
FRIAR: Child, you mustn’t cry.
YOUNG GOWTHRIE: No, Father, I must. A woman stood up. A woman! And she climbed atop the platform to face him, and she smiled. She was so beautiful. Her hair, father – her hair was purple. The royal color. It was like the Queen herself was among us.
FRIAR: Queen Elizabeth is very old.
YOUNG GOWTHRIE: I knows that. But everyone there, they just started laughing. You couldn’t hear yourself think for all the uproar. She just stood there, only looking at Fred. I never been so terrified in my life, Father. Fred said he wouldn’t fight some little slip of a thing like her, wouldn’t be manly. But this lady what called herself Lock and Key, she started shouting at him in this stern voice. Called him a traitor to the crown and a pawn in a losing game, that sort of thing. Fred, well. Fred wouldn’t be having none of that, woman or no.
FRIAR: My little page, you must go on.
YOUNG GOWTHRIE: Oh, Father! I knew she were done for! And her so beautiful! I thought my heart would jump right out my mouth and stop. She didn’t have anything on her, no knife or mace or nothing. They just launched themselves at each other. It was hard to see a lot of that, everyone being so much bigger than me and all. But it lasted, Father. It lasted. You know how I said I never seen the tavern get that loud before? I never seen it that quiet neither. And then the Lady Lock and Key had Fred on his knees, and she closed her eyes and prayed, and—and—
YOUNG GOWTHRIE: God gave her a sword, Father. A gleaming purple blade from Heaven in her hand. And she swung it at Fred and it went right through him. And though there weren’t no blood—oh, Father! He just pitched right over and died!
FRIAR: Christ have mercy!
YOUNG GOWTHRIE: Everything sort of went into a frenzy after that. Old Fred – he was invincible, you know? And we heard her. We all heard her, though she couldn’t have been speaking that loud. It felt like she was speaking to all of us, just us. “The crown will abide no plots, great or small,” that’s what she said. And, “I am the Lock against treachery and the Key to just doings. Long live the Queen!”
FRIAR: The Duke is disposed of, then?
YOUNG GOWTHRIE (whispering): I—I don’t know, Father. That’s when it happened. I was trying to get away and someone grabbed my arm and—oh, the skin came off.
FRIAR: Show me, child. I will not harm you.
YOUNG GOWTHRIE’s arm shines silver in the dark.
FRIAR: Ah. We must talk of that, then.
* * *
SCENE FIVE: IN THE WEDDING BOWER
I was wroth with my father briefly for finding me a husband when Queen Betsy had better work for me to do. “Such a blessing!” my nurse cried when our messenger came with the letter. I cursed him, for my business in London required bruises of me, and I had not considered how to explain them to whatever rich and appropriate dolt I would be bound to come Sunday morning.
But in the church, I found myself surprised. This Sir Gadlen was not a troll in appearance, and at the altar he was all charm and devotion. Had my father found me a sonnet-scribbling courtier for a companion? We had no quiet with each other, save the carriage ride to his estate, until the consummation after the feast. There was something easygoing about him, as well as something secret. I could not puzzle it out. His airs were in jest, his riches a miracle, a victory.
As we sit on our bed, he does not lunge for me, as I had always assumed my wealth-hungry husband would. His hands are gentle over my cheek. “Let me see your hair,” he says, all softness.
“We are wedded now, my lord,” I remind him. This moment has always terrified me. “You cannot put me back now.”
He shakes his head once. “Let me see your hair.”
And so I unbind my veil, and loosen my ribbons. It falls to my elbows, that violet shock not known in civilized company. My husband regards it. “I saw you. At the Devil’s Horn,” he says at last.
“Where is that?” I laugh, lightly. What was he doing at that hole last night?
He cocks an eyebrow. “Do you really work for the Queen?”
I kiss him instead. I work off his clothes and he mine. My flesh is every shade in the rainbow, and sore as an fishwife’s temper. “The Queen is no friend of the witchbreed, you know,” Robert says, even as he pressed his lips to my neck.
“I work on behalf of the Queen,” I am forced to admit, as he unlaces my bodice. “She may not know of it, but she would thank me if she did.” I marvel at how comfortable he makes me. Perhaps he is scared of me, but I cannot sense it. He is not scared: he is intrigued. I feel for his mind, his intellect, his memory. I run fingers over him and his chest.
A tough knot of tissue rises up from his side. I frown. “What is this?”
He shrugs. “A battle-wound.”
“Where did you get it?” For a moment, I harbor fantasies of his having fought the Spanish and carried England to glory in a recent war, but then he smiles.
“Would you believe me if I told you it was Agincourt?”
He welcomes me in, and I trip through his remembered life. The world changes from one decade to the next. There stands one constant, a dark man in a tavern with burning stars for eyes. I am voiceless, amazed in the face of it.
“Sir Robert,” I am pleased to say to him, at last, “of all the men whose minds I have ever met, yours is the first which has ever truly interested me.”