Patterned in Dorset (4 – final)

(Visitor board image of the entire Maiden Castle site, regarded as Britain’s finest example of an Iron Age hill fort. ©English Heritage)

He did not know how many were up there…

Centurion Calogerus stared at the edge of the plateau above him. The vast hill-fort rose from the chalk lands below in what appeared to be a series of grassy layers. There were no walls that he could see. This would be quick…

As the dawning sun of the year’s longest day crested the edge of the hill, he smiled in remembrance of his youth. This would have been his birthday; not the day he had come into the world but a new one given by those gentle people who raised him in that far-off province, before the strong and swift youth was snatched from the sea of death and forged into a fearsome Roman soldier.

Calogerus stared into the distance, again. There was a figure up there… A figure so distant that he should not have been able to make out any details, yet he could. It was a priest, he knew. How he knew, he didn’t know…

Below him, huddled in the strange and twisting entrance road, crouched eighty of his best men. Bisected by machines of death on wheels. They were not elite soldiers. They were auxiliaries, trained by their centurion in the arts of war and tactics. Tough and more loyal than he had any right to expect… Give them to Calogerus, they would say, extracting from battles and conquered tribes the best, the strongest, the ones with the bright eyes. He will turn them into Roman soldiers.

And he did… He took the dregs and made them into the best that the Legions of Aulus Plautius contained. The hero of Camulodunum commands us, they whispered, looking at their centurion. Our new master is no coward, hiding behind Roman finery.

And so, when the mighty Legion that was sweeping southern Britain grouped to move on, they used him and his dregs to create the opening, to breach the defences, to probe the weaknesses, and sometimes, to die… A foreigner and not high-born, he had risen slowly through the ranks. For a centurion, he was old.

Calogerus looked down at his men, waiting in readiness, and shifted his right hand to his sword’s pommel. Below, in the winding trench – deeper than six men and hollowed to a near-point, like a ‘V’ – the silence became something you could taste… Like iron on the tongue.

He looked up at the distant figure on the hill. For a moment he imagined he was that priest, looking down; then drew back from the act as an image flashed before his inner eye – the one he dared not talk about, when the soldiers drank and feasted and bled. In the image he was a figure in white, seen, not by the priest, but by the hill, itself. He shook himself out of the daydream and found he had been fingering the scar in the middle of his forehead. Too many echoes of his youth followed that thought and he blinked his eyes clear of visions, drawing his sword so that it sang in the morning air.

“Let the memories be gone, forever,” he hissed to the line of liquid green-gold forming on the curved horizon. “Let the light of this longest day wash it away…”

His sword was the signal, and the line moved forward. He followed on the top of the trench, probing the place’s secrets. He was sure there were many. The scholars spoke in hushed tones about this place. There were rumours that it was thousands of years old, but he didn’t believe that. It was just a big hill, and Roman soldiers were adept in the capture of such places. The Durotriges tribesmen – and women – up there were doomed.

The first shock came when he heard the laboured moaning from below. He stopped to survey the men in the still-dark trench. He could see the sheen of sweat on their bare shoulders, but the noise was not theirs. He peered into the gloom and drew a breath when he saw the bowed wheel of the cart. The angle of the hill, and lack of a flat path at the bottom, was placing strain on the bearing and axle; the heavy weapons on board were doing the rest.

No fools the builders of this hill, he thought. But, no sooner had the admiration registered than there came the crack of breaking timber and one of the carts toppled sideways, pinning screaming soldiers beneath it. In seconds, their comrades came to the rescue, but several were injured.

The centurion uttered a curse before shouting, “Leave it! Ensure the rest of the wagons are forced level. Forward with weapons drawn!”

The loss of one-third of their armaments would weaken their strength, but the biggest cart remained – and it carried the largest punch. But progress was slow, and bore a weariness he did not understand…

The scouts had said that the gate with the twin towers lay dead ahead, but the centurion had to curse again as the path his men were following – with their heavy loads – turned abruptly left. There was a light path over the top, but the weapon carts would never get up its steep bank. His stomach turned over as he realised the complexity of these defences. Primitive tribes? Calogerus shook his head.

He had no choice but to carry on. They had not been challenged so far. For all they knew the tribe above them were unaware of this dawn attack.

They marched for far too long before the trench turned, again, seeming to snake back on itself toward the point on the hillside where they had entered the site. Here, the walls of the trench were even higher. The wailing noise stung his ears like the feeling of severe pain – as with a deep wound, where the flow of blood is not immediately seen. The centurion spun round, trying to locate the source. His men, far below, were also turning in panic – and he could see that they were becoming more faint in the trench’s gloom.

Calogerus stared at the madness. As far as he could see, his men were not being attacked, and yet they had begun to stagger around, as though injured – or drunk…

The baleful wailing had hidden the other, more subtle invader. The burning grass – the dreaming grass – the clouds of mist were clouds of smoke, washing over the men at the bottom of the trench… And then came a sound like the strike of a hawk and the ground began to shift under the centurion and he fell, rolling down the slopes as the trench walls came alive with snakes. A rough blow with a blunt weapon robbed him of vision and sense…

(©English Heritage: photograph of the visitor information board)

He woke to the sight of the gates – a prisoner on their own munitions cart approaching the thick wooden door as it cranked open on its chains. He could see, straight away, that the scouts had been wrong; that the twin towers, separated by the earthen bank, would be much harder to attack. Even here, the paths were curved… Such clever defences.

The voice walking behind him was gentle. “Only three of your men are dead,” the priestess said, holding a cup of soaked herbs to his parched lips. We only killed those we had to… the rest were encouraged to flee.”

He tried to sit up, but leather bonds held him fast. “Don’t struggle,” she said. “Your choices are few, but you are alive.”

“Better dead, than this disgrace…” His parched throat rasped the words. She gave him more to drink.

“In a military world, yes,” she said. “But the mark on your head tells the story of another world that once claimed you. She pulled him around and he beheld great beauty and calm eyes that spoke more deeply than he knew how.

“We are both doomed,” the priestess said. “I am not foolish enough to believe otherwise. In days…months at the most, the legion will return and its vengeance will be bloody and swift – and our tricks with paths that curve and the dream smoke will not prevail.”

He struggled to rise, again, and this time she helped him, slicing her knife through the bindings at his wrists, but leaving those around his ankles. “For now,” she said.

“They will kill me, anyway,” he said, knowing that his life had reached its end.

As the sun set on the day of the rebirth of his spirit, they held hands on the top of the plateau and faced the west, bathing in the red gold of the longest day’s passing. For now, and briefly, they could be timeless.

The armies of Aulus Plautius were not before them… but they would come, soon enough, as one civilisation died and another – younger, hungrier and more deadly, drank its blood.

Other parts of the Dorset series:

Part One    Part Two    Part Three

Stuart France’s “Church Crawl”, “Magical Elements”, “The Dance of Fire and Water”, “Gateway”, posts which are related background and description of the Dorset workshop…

This work of fiction is set in the real landscape of Maiden Castle, an Iron Age fort near Dorchester, Dorset. The details of the fort’s defences are real, as can be seen from the photographs. The Durotriges are known to have used psychotropic substances to enhance their rituals, and may well have employed all manner of attack in their complex defences – which are as described.

The visit to Maiden Castle was the last part of the Silent Eye’s pre-solstice weekend, June 2018. For details of the work of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, and other ‘in the landscape’ workshops, click the link below.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised by email.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Within, you’ll find friends, practical mysticism, poetry, literature and photography…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Jewels in the Claw (8)

Jewels Act Two Royal Court smaller2

Continued from Part Seven.

He – the man with the packing cases – picks up his empty tea cup and begins to walk towards the small table near the entrance door of the large room in which the mystery play ran its course. It’s important that everything is cleared, he thinks; restored to how it was, pristine…

Laughing to himself, he realises that he is walking the edges of the square of what was the royal court floor, though nothing of it remains outside of his imagination…and the memories of nineteen other people who helped bring it to life.

This was her space, he whispers to the silent air, still reverential, still listening for her commands to those within the square of black and white, the world of polarity. That, moment…that moment when enough had been seeded by clever language and innocent moves within the squares. That moment when the Sovereign stepped forward, intellectually, to declare her intentions. His memory of that second is acute. He relives it, but as what? Is he the playwright, above the creation, but guiding it as director? No, his involvement is still too acute. Is he, then, William Shakespeare, a character that thinks he is a creator? Perhaps… Or, is he each of the characters, permitted to play alongside the actors, if in memory only?

Putting the cup down on a table top full of other used cups, he realises he is all these things, because he is alive, and graced with the evolving stories of life – both his and the life of the world in which he lives and writes. And, most importantly, that the lives of the other players came together with his, and his with theirs, and the result was beautiful.

Realising this, with a clarity that is shocking, he shifts from writer to playwright character, to Queen…

Robert Cecil, horrified and incredulous has just spoken.

“Your Majesty, the Jesuit is still in our presence!”

The Queen holds back the smile out of deference to her First Minister, and scolds the man with the folded hands, sitting, quietly, in the West of the court… with whom she is secretly delighted, though she would have let Frances Walsingham kill him, had Dr Dee not been so… upright. Few understand what being a Queen entails… the embodiment of purpose.

“Priest! I gave you leave–are you so eager to forfeit your life?”

The Jesuit stands. His quiet voice belies the fear he has generated in her world – but not in her. “Your Majesty, I mean no offence,” he says. “I have no home as such… My life is spent in the shelter of others’ homes, often locked away in dirty holes in the ground where I must wait out Lord Cecil’s men… And all this for the giving of the Mass to those that need it! Never have I plotted against the Crown, never have I sought to cause distress or fomented uprising against your government or your reign.”

The priest looks down at his own feet, shaking his head in disbelief that he is still here, mere yards from two of the Queen’s closest guardians who would run him through in a second, if permitted. But the small voice continues:

“A man I do not know has just saved my life – an honest man, in my opinion – and the image of Christ within me says: ‘Stay and risk what little is yours to help defend him.’ You did promise me safety if I became part of this gathering. I beg you to let me stay a while longer and see if I can earn a deeper contribution, here”.

The Queen watches through narrowed eyes as Dr Dee looks at the Lady Rab’ya, who looks at the priest. The Saracen woman knows what Dr Dee knows: that the essence of the whole chamber has changed… And The Queen knows it, too.

Robert Cecil is still standing, glaring at the Jesuit. His words are fully the equivalent of Frances’s dagger.

“Your Grace! I can take no more of this!”

The Queen puts as much gentleness into her voice as she deems proper. “Robert, you are a good man. Stay with me… my plans are only partly unveiled and I seek, before God, to do no harm to you or your causes.”

She watches as the twin forces within him wrestle for his soul: his desire to better his father in service to his Sovereign; and his need to kill the long-hunted priest. He breathes deeply but is not calm.

“I am a good man, Your Majesty; I would follow in my father’s footsteps. For years he hunted that man, who was protected by some of the richest families in your Kingdom! Now, I have him in my grasp and you want me to let him go!”

The Queen gathers the material of her royal dress, allowing a few more seconds to pass.

“Robert, I, too, fight with the legacy of my father – King Henry. They were dark times… When I was halfway to my third year, my mother was taken from me, to walk, mere days later, to her execution. Later, still young, along with my dear Dudley, I was thrown into the tower by my half-sister, Queen Mary… Just Dudley, me.. and the ravens, the three ravens…”

The ravens, the three ravens that will come to mean so much more in this chamber… She continues:

“Your father, Baron Burghley, and Frances’s father, Francis Walsingham, swore to protect and guide my young life… and they did… A debt I could never repay.”

She must tell it from the heart, now. Must bare some of the most hideous detail to help this young, gifted and determined man raise his eyes and see beyond vengeance.

“Your father once told me that he had calculated that the Tudor dynasty had taken the lives of more than fifty thousand people. He left me to draw my own conclusions. Must we forever feed this cycle of blood and terror? The mighty Armada is vanquished. Even Imperial Spain does not have the wealth to rebuild it.” Then, softly. “Robert, could we not, now, build on the peace, in matters religious as well as military?

Robert Cecil says nothing. He holds his head in his hands for a moment, then rises, still full of rage. He strides down the Outer Court’s passageway, stopping to glare at the Jesuit, then wrenches aside the heavy door of the court chamber, letting it slam closed as he leaves.

There is silence in the royal court. For a while, not even the Queen dares to speak.

Other parts in this series:


Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three  

Part FourPart Five  , Part Six

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised by email.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Jewels in the Claw (7)

Jewels Act Two Royal Court smaller2

Continued from Part Six.

The tea cup is empty, but he continues to hold it – lost, happily, in his reveries on the edge of what was the stage, the royal court floor… He looks down at the cup and then lifts it to toast the great lady from the Saracen world, an unfinished woman who surprised a Queen of England… or did she?

Why am I here? Lady Rab’ya Anouri, the ‘Saracen woman’ wonders, rising to the royal command at the first seat in the Northern face of the floor. A guest in a mysterious royal court, perhaps a literal court to try this downcast man, this former friend and astrological advisor to the Queen, now clearly disgraced… But, to subject his lovely wife to this! Elizabeth, they spoke of your beauty and your strong will, but no-one told me about the cruelty…

The Queen is speaking: “Lady Rab’ya, lift these proceedings with your observations on the nature of the exchange between Lord Essex and Sir Francis!”

Put your self-doubt to one side, the Saracen women thinks. Lady Rab’ya must rise to the occasion… or who knows what will be lost.

She knows that her husband, the Moroccan ambassador to London, needs her to be a key part of a successful outcome. But that task looks like it might involve an unforseen struggle of place and position. She breathes deeply to steady her nerves, in the manner the Sufi master taught her, and speaks in a clear and musical stream:

“In my experience of the Saracen world, Your Grace, such simple skirmishes are the prelude to a deeper struggle.” She feels this is the right tone and knows she must let the Queen paint her guest’s role on this complex stage of minds and hearts. There is no threat to her… yet all are subject to the whims of what she now sees is a Sovereign to be feared as well as loved.

The Queen looks pleased with her honoured guest’s response. Perhaps the slight nod of her head is to be their code of approval?

“Such wisdom, Lady Rab’ya. How you see through my simple ruses!

Lady Rab’ya senses the way in which she must respond, then bows before speaking.

“Not so simple, Your Grace. The sovereign who stood before the Spanish Armada, unafraid, controls a complex country using a deep and wise mind.”

Lady Rab’ya looks at Frances Walsingham and Robert Cecil, who also incline their heads in the same subtle gesture. They are secretive, these English, but they have a code… Learn it fast, she scolds herself. This is no place for a girl!

Letting the tension flow away with the next out-breath, she adds, provocatively, to her praise:

“And knows when to listen to wise counsel…”

It is, perhaps, an advance too far… But no…

The Queen nods her head slowly, moving on… then gazes into the newly defined ocean of the Court Floor, before speaking.

“Lady Arabella,” she says, directing her attention to the secretive Spanish lady rising to her feet near the end of the Southern face of the court. “you have served this island realm with much bravery in the name of peace between our Kingdoms, can you calm these waters?”

And so it progresses… The Saracen lady seats herself quietly, glad that she has passed the first test. But now that royal gaze has left, she can take time to study the accused–this John Dee, a Doctor of learning… to a very high degree, she suspects.

The Queen initiates a more complex move on this board of life and death. Sir Walter Raleigh is instructed to bring both his charges – Dr Dee and the Jesuit priest- to the East of the court floor. They stand a few feet from the seated Saracen woman, who studies both with the techniques taught her in childhood. Don’t see with reaction… dig beneath and find what provokes…take yourself away…

Sir Walter is uneasy.  “Your Majesty, we await your command.” he says, involuntarily adding himself to the accused, though he knows this is unlikely to be the grouping. “You know that these actions place me in a position of great uncertainty…”

As are we all, Sir Walter, thinks the Saracen woman, watching The Queen, intently, while appearing to direct her gaze downward.

“Has it robbed you of the familiar, Sir Walter?” asks The Queen with a smile that freezes. “I know the chill of that! If I ask you to share it with me for a short time it is because I have deep need of your personal magic.”

At the word ‘magic’ Dr Dee stiffens, and pulls his tall frame straight, breathing courage. To Lady Rab’ya’s right, Mistress Dee shuffles her feet in anguish.

“Magic, your Majesty?” Dr Dee asks, in a voice that is shaky but filled with depth. “Am I to be tried for the practice of magic?” It is a brave thing to say, especially in one so clearly set up to be the victim…  but perhaps he is not the only one?

The Queen studies the good Doctor with narrowed eyes. “Dr Dee, I am told your house in Mortlake is in ruins. How should I trust a man who could let this happen with the handling of magic?”

His home… the poor man’s home… Her fire sears, thinks Lady Rab’ya. Let me not find myself the wrong side of that flame…

Sir Walter Raleigh tries to help Dr Dee, but is dismissed. With me, the royal gaze hisses…

In her calm mind, unbidden, Lady Rab’ya sees the image of a knife…. It is The Queen’s, she thinks, and she means to have first blood…

“Your Majesty, why am I here?” This time it is the calm and rather small voice of the Jesuit, John Gerard; the most hunted man in England according to others… and then the court explodes with rage, with Robert Cecil, newly appointed First Minister to the Sovereign, standing and shouting abuse at the priest.

“You should not be here!” he rages. “You should be in the Tower where my father had you imprisoned and from which, in league with your Catholic friends – and the devil – you managed to escape!”

From the other side of the startled Queen, Frances Walsingham – her new spymaster – stands and puts her hand over the outline of a thinly concealed dagger, sewn into the fabric of her tunic. “Your Grace, let me end this torment for you, now. Loftier demands than the Jesuit’s traitorous life should occupy your mind – especially when you are so shaken by the vision you have seen!”

The Saracen eyes watch as Frances Walsingham and Robert Cecil are seated, leaving the silent Queen filled with quiet rage. The Sovereign prolonges the silence; then, from those fiery depths, she plucks a masterpiece of action. Directing all her attention at Dr John Dee, she asks, in an impossibly polite voice:

“Dr Dee, there is value in these arguments. Would you like to end the life of this priest, who my two most trusted statesmen say is a sworn enemy of England?” To add to the tension she directs Frances to hold the knife blade to the Jesuit’s throat.

The immobilised John Gerard, realising he has been tricked – and by the Sovereign – wails:

“But, Your Grace! You promised me safe passage through your royal court and…” He points to the court floor. “…across the seas!”

The Queen’s eyes are those of a cobra, fixed on its prey, though the prey may be bait.

“We live in uncertain times Father Gerard. Be grateful for uncertainties… they can become friends.” She turns to the former Royal Astrologer. “Dr Dee, Father Gerard’s life is in your hands. Condemn the priest, now, and I will have Frances execute him.”

Dr John Dee hangs his shaking head. “How can I condemn a man whose crime I do not know? Where is the justice in that, Your Grace? If the son and the daughter of your fiercest protectors consider him guilty, what is my part in this?”

It is a good answer, and only the hint of incoming gentleness in The Queen’s eyes causes Lady Rab’ya’s intense concentration to waver. Has she been wrong about this woman? Is there an intent at work, here, one whose depth would rival anything she has seen in the politics of the mighty Saracen world?

The Queen leans forward to point to the large bag of gold doubloons on the small table before her. “They are yours, Dr Dee, if you will condemn this priest. There is more than enough to rebuild your home in Mortlake and restore your English fortunes.

What did you do, Dr Dee? Thinks Lady Rab’ya.

Before his eyes, Dr John Dee is seeing a darker magic than any in which he has ever dabbled. With a single action he could restore his life to be as it was… perhaps. But it would not be his, and his soul would certainly not live there. All this Lady Rab’ya sees, resolving that she will help this man… this good man, despite the risk to her own position, and that of her esteemed husband; who now shouts in the back of her mind: headstrong woman, I did not ask this!

The silence condemns Dr Dee and frees the Jesuit, who is dismissed, with royal protection renewed, from the Court and from the presence of the head-bowed Dr Dee – standing like a chastised schoolboy in front of his Queen.

Mistress Dee is sobbing and it is perhaps this, thinks the Saracen woman, that makes them all miss the fact that the reprieved Jesuit has not left the court, but taken his seat again in the now-empty West of the Court floor.

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three  

Part FourPart Five

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Jewels in the Claw (6)

Jewels Act Two Royal Court smaller2

Continued from Part Five.

Sipping the tea, his hands clasp around the warm cup. The gesture reminds him of the way she took her husband’s arm, at the end of that first glimpse of what The Queen had in store for him. She, John Dee’s wife, Jane, never entertained the notion that she would not stand, shoulder to shoulder, with her foolish but magnificent husband as his life turned to face the incoming cannon-ball of the Sovereign’s will.

He looks at the place where chair N5 had been, with its quietly intense and magnetically humble occupant.

Jane Dee – Mistress Dee as the others referred to her – had visited Nonsuch Palace, before. As a former Lady in Waiting, she had been at the Young Elizabeth’s beck and call; and had been happy to be so. But this was different. This time, forced to be here by the force of the charges against her husband, she was in hell…

When she spotted the bag of gold coins on the small, ornate table next to the Royal throne, her heart had missed a beat. She knew they were intended for her husband, Dr John Dee; knew beyond doubt that they were a part – possibly just the first part – of a human process designed to crush his spirit… or something worse.

‘Spirit’ she whispers, suddenly frightened that someone had overheard her soft and ironic utterance; spirit was a bad word to use in the land of the persecuted alchemist…

Dr Dee’s lady raises her eyes, slightly, to look around her. To her right is the line of chairs in the West that contains her husband, their apparent gaoler – Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Jesuit Priest, whom she has heard spoken of as ‘the most hunted man in England’.

And yet, The Queen is playing with them all…. First she delights in the dancing entrance of the figures of the Royal Court, orchestrated by Lord Essex – or was it really Sir Francis Drake whose prize was stolen by the more senior Peer? She doubts that few have survived robbing Sir Francis of anything…. though, on the high seas at least, he has done his fair share of piracy.

Is she taunting them – The Queen? Is this whole masque about learning a new dance code to take then across the chequered surface? As she muses, the Queen uses the ladies Bess of Harwick and Blanche Parry to good effect; having them stage an impromptu dance immediately after the stiffly formal movements of the gentlemen – who ‘sought to lift the Queen’s spirits’…. And then there is the first hint of something deeper, as Christopher Marlowe, that most intellectually mischievous figure, prompts an emotional reaction from Her Grace:

“I find men are obsessed with rules!” says The Queen, disparaging the protestations of Essex and Drake. “Women are much more flexible in how they do what feels right.”

Sensing this breach, Sir Francis Drake seems equally determined to flush out the real motives of the Sovereign:

“But, Your Grace, you would be harsh on any man here if he did not follow the set ways of the Court!”

She smiles at that, recognising the practiced hand of strategy, allowing it to have life – as though she had expected–nay held in readiness, the prompt.

Just so, Sir Francis,” she says, through her smile.  “It is an unjust world and women have few advantages – you would, therefore, expect us to use the ones we have!”

Sir Francis Drake bows, practices silence, and withdraws. Only Mistress Dee seems to notice the curl of his smile beneath the greying beard.

Shifting tack, The Queen plays games with sailors and soldiers as she spells out the real meaning of her statement; “Let all be sea, then…” The mock combat she has instigated invites comment of an almost legal level – as Lord Essex is ‘tried’ in the sense of being alive or dead at the bottom of the sea. Even Frances Walsingham, daughter of the – now dying – fearful spymaster; and Lord Cecil, deformed son of The Queen’s near lifetime First Minister, Lord Burghley, are asked for their verdict.

But this courtroom is not established to try these powerful and trusted people; it is established to try the man who now rises, on royal command, to his feet, to stand staring at the pot of gold towards which his unfortunate feet must now move….

Mistress Dee trembles with fear as her husband is escorted to what his wife senses will be his public death before The Queen.

But then, in the way of things of great power, the Saracen noble lady rises to her feet, also, and the world changes….


Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three  

Part Four,

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Jewels in the Claw (5)

Jewels Act Two Royal Court smaller2

Continued from Part Four.

Kind hands pass him a hot tea. He sits on the edge of what was the Royal Court, sipping and watching the ghosts… Many kind faces came to life in this, now-unstructured space – but it was heavily structured then… It takes but little effort to re-animate its dancing atoms…

Sir Francis Drake is a clever man. The naval mastermind who out-thought and fought the Spanish Armada detects that things in the Queen’s Royal Court are not exactly as they seem…

To start with, The Queen, herself: undoubtedly physically strong – though she pretends not, perhaps? – She seems vulnerable, even fragile, in the face of the terrible Tilbury vision: ‘The drowned man and the ghost with the white face’. What is he to make of that? Elizabeth, the person, is known to be both clever and resolute; never failing to show courage in the face of adversity. Look how she rallied the land-troops at the Kent Fort, when the clever Spaniards had re-grouped at Calais, ready to invade England with overwhelming force, the day after…

Drake smiles, knowing his and Hawkins’ strategy had rendered the Armada captive within the harbours of Calais, and that the fireships had devastated the frozen fleet, sparing the Sovereign from defeat, humiliation and execution.

Their hopes had all died that day: the King of Spain; the boasting Palma, admiral of the Spanish fleet; even the Pope, who had seen in Philip the perfect executioner of the excommunicated queen. All shattered asunder, like the bits of Spanish wood still being washed up on the shores all around the Isles of Albion and Ireland. Walsingham’s spies reported that King Philip now lived in isolation, his kingdom unable to muster the force, nor the will, to create a restored fleet… and if they did, could they really count on a Catholic God, whose force – sweet nature, herself – had turned on the Iberian forces with such vicious effect?

Much had died, but some things had been born; and Drake knows that this mysterious chamber was linked to that purpose: the refinement of the newly empowered.

Sir Francis smiles. There is no doubt about his place, here, in this strange ‘courtroom’ of the mind… and heart. He knows that he and Sir Walter Raleigh are on a par in terms of trust. He is not so sure about others in the gathering…

But there is no doubt where his duty lies, and he had been quick to suggest a partial remedy to The Queen’s malaise.

But now, ready to speak, on the edge of the chequered court, Essex – all powerful Lord Essex, beats him to it.

“Your Majesty! We seek to lift your heavy heart,” says the Second Earl, smiling at The Queen in way that infers an intimacy that he may or may not possess, yet clearly wants to display.

Drake knows when to play his part, knows when to be passive, when to bite the tongue and polish the small Toledo stiletto, on the inner fabric of his fine tunic. Bowing his head, slightly, to acknowledge Essex’s primacy, here, he adds his weight to the request that they may lift the spirits of The Queen.

 “Your Grace, will you permit us all to enter the Royal Court with a touch of levity?

The Queen smiles.

“Had others asked, I would have refused, Lord Essex,” she says. “But as you and Sir Francis are two of my most trusted subjects, I feel inclined to permit this… You may… but with caution! You may not yet know the rules of this place, but I do…”

The pair, having created it over a jug of ale the previous night, propose a simple entrance of dance movement. Elizabeth loves dancing, though her years have slowed her down, a little. The well-dressed twosome posture, as though a couple, and take three exaggerated steps to the middle of the court. The Queen’s eyes light up with the jollity of the moves: respectful but gay. Her lips smile their approval.

Once at the centre, the pair make a series of quick moves within the middle set of four squares that see them one place forward… and reversed, right to left. They look to the Sovereign; all is well. Four diagonal steps later, they reach their respective corners of The Queen’s fearsome floor and drop into the safe space of the inner court, their goal accomplished.

The Sovereign is pleased. She motions for all who wait in the shadows of the West to follow suit. The heavy spirits of the previous day seem vanquished. Soon, a full complement of players follows the steps and stands ready to be seated, as The Queen wishes.

She wishes.

Sir Francis is a little late in being seated. He has seen the heavy bag of gold coins on the small table by the Sovereign’s throne. Drake has his suspicions, and looks, quickly, as he sits, to the back of the Court – the West. There, another man, also slower in his descent than the rest, has spied the bulging bag of coins. Seated, Drake focusses on the familiar edge of the one visible flash of gold. A Spanish doubloon glitters in the bright sunlight coming from the high windows of the chamber. Drake looks one last time at Dr Dee and, his eyes passing those of the ever watchful Sir Walter Raleigh, at the mysterious and mute Jesuit priest.

What deadly game is this, Your Majesty? the sailor with the fearsome intellect muses. He dare not even think – lest his thoughts and face betray the knowledge – of his own mysterious training at the hands of the now-accused John Dee. What dreadful fate within this day’s remit links the priest, the mysterious former royal astrologer, the burgeoning bag of gold… and, mercifully, excludes, at least so far, himself?

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three  

Part Four,

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Jewels in the Claw (4)

Tudor Rose for SE18 jpg copy

Continued from Part Three.

The line of packing cases is nearly complete. The man looks down at the three chairs in the East, one white, one purple and one red. The symbolism of the outer two was plain: the Tudor colours, central features of the royal Tudor Rose – the white of House York merged with the red of House Lancaster. Queen Elizabeth had inherited a peaceful kingdom, but those who built it lived in times that were anything but peaceful…

The middle chair comes alive in his mind; the Queen in the fullness of her power, prepared and majestic, older in wisdom than most in the Court… but vulnerable in her own way. The dream… the dreadful dream.

Was its recall connected with the mysterious and currently invisible Count Mortido and Countess Libido? It does not matter – what matters is that when Act One was drawing to its close, with the court chairs of Dr Dee, the alchemist, and John Gerard, the hunted Jesuit, mysteriously restored to face her, the Queen, released from the frozen state like the rest, rose to her feet, troubled only by the memory of her vision at Tilbury.

All is sea, now. She has declared it so; the chequered floor – in which they all must learn the new rules of survival – is watery. Emotion perhaps, or water of a magical kind, a water associated with the coming into existence of things called and named. The Royal Court is its name, but navigating it is not as simple as the black and white squares would suggest.

There are soldiers here, powerful peers of the realm such as Lord Essex; and there are sailors, such as Sir Francis Drake–placed in polar opposition to Essex. Both are champions, respectively, of their faces of the sixty-four squares. The sailor may have the advantage over the solider, but only within the boundaries of the now-watery square of squares… There is, perhaps an invitation there, for one who would be brave enough… or foolish.

It is the vision at Tilbury that holds their attention: “The speaking, white face and the chained man drowning. So vivid, so other-worldly.” the Queen says. And then she pauses,  gazing into the squares, looking more lost than at any time since her imprisonment in the Tower as young woman. There, she had only the company of Lord Dudley and the ravens to ease the terror of imprisonment by her cruel half-sister, Mary.

Something was begun then, but she will realise its significance only later in the play, when fates beyond even the power of Count Mortido and Countess Libido play their unseen cards…

Sir Walter Raleigh, once so impetuous, now the Champion of the West of this chamber, sees his moment – not to rise in the Queen’s favour, for he knows that his presence is already predicated on the fact that he had the Queen’s complete trust. How does he know this? Because she has made him gaoler and custodian of the two seemingly condemned men: Dee and Gerard; former royal astrologer and hunted priest.

When the Queen looks across the Royal Court from the East, it is Raleigh’s eyes she seeks. He answers the call. Rising and striding towards the throne, unbidden, but welcome.

“Majesty, forgive me!” He offers his arm, she takes it and they turn to face the West. Everyone in the silenced court rises, ready to bow at the Sovereign’s passing.

“I doubt there is a royal rule you haven’t broke, Sir Walter!” But it is said with fondness, though, heaven knows, they have quarrelled in the past…

Raleigh sweeps his free arm across the image of the Court Floor. In quiet tones, as though only they two are present, he asks, “What is this ‘sea’? How may we cross it?

“We must all decide what it is, together, Sir Walter.” replies the Queen. “I have learned much about the wisdom of groups of people when faced with extreme difficulties. There are many patterns woven in these simple squares – and I may not have seen them all…”

She pauses and looks sad. “The lives of Dr John Dee and the Jesuit John Gerard may depend on it.”

Raleigh is keen to advance the moment. “Extreme? Their lives in danger! Majesty, this chamber is more than it seems!”

The Queen shudders, remembering that second visit to Tilbury, place of dark visions. The process that is the Royal Court is set on its course. She can leave it to sail. Tilbury is what worries her most…

“As was the woman from the sea with the white mask, Sir Walter… the woman with the question that made a Queen shudder.”

Raleigh, speaking for them all, asks, “Majesty? May we know that lady’s question, dream stuff or not?”

For a long minute, the Queen is still, then she says softly, “In icy tones, dripping with the salt of the sea, she asked me, “Whose face do you wear…?””

As they leave the chamber the Raven Song plays… The silence of the others is more than royal respect.

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three



Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham




Jewels in the Claw (III)

Continued from Part Two

The man with the packing case pauses as he passes the place that was the East, the place from which the Queen began her direction of proceedings in this, her favourite palace of Nonsuch, in 1590’s South London.

There is little left of the ritual-drama space now. Just the mental image of the chequered floor that was the Royal Court and the seats around it. But the square framework still contains that magical feeling of somewhere that has been declared and established as a place of working…

Ritual is a frightening word to some: pop-fiction has seen to that. To others, whose focus is beyond the egoic, it means a created place of loving and intelligent energy, self-discipline and intent – an intent focussed on the common good and the creation of a space in which collective work on the self – on each self, may take place. When this intent is sustained over a weekend, in a five-act drama with deep characterisation, the effects are electric…

There have to be catalysts, the man thinks, smiling and eyeing the top two chairs of the rows of five in the South and North. Some got it straight away, others saw it a little later…

Either side of the Queen, but not on the threefold Royal Dais, there were two characters that could not be seen… well, not initially. And, here, there are two realities which dovetail – for the sake of the story, but also because creation does that; presents different perspectives according to our ability to understand.

Christopher Marlowe understood; saw what his friend William Shakespeare had created, saw the two levels, if not the third, for life must enter its creation to be truly fulfilled… and understood, immediately, that the fearsome and painted Count Mortido and his lady, Countess Libido, were bigger than the play, and yet involved with it, like the highly coloured threads in a Persian rug, woven into the whole, yet capable of being ‘read’ individually if one knew how to follow the weave and see why it was laid down the way it had to be.

Marlowe knew that of the five chairs in the South and North, only four on each side were seen…

His smile – he, the man with the blue packing case – becomes the living stage once more, and the minds of twenty others remember, perhaps wistfully, as they pack to leave the little village of Great Hucklow, where remarkable things happen…

Unseen by most, the Count and Countess walk from South and North to meet across the Court Floor and let their loving hands link, then they step apart and to the West, away from where the Queen will be… but is not yet.

As they descend from the East, the place of power, Mortido, the Lord of Change and therefore Death, and his sister-wife, Libido, Count and Countess, loosen their grip on each other, no-one except possibly Marlowe and a woman waiting in the wings sees the sadness of this. Soon the figures of Death and Life are stationed at the far corners in the West – the place of emotion, water and the setting sun. There, they form a portal, glaring at the players as each is called by Marlowe… until the Queen raises her head from the shadows and takes the power from Marlowe, crossing into the court unmarked by the Lord and Lady of Death and Life; for Queens have deep power too, as have all marked out willingly or otherwise to serve the purpose of evolution in its slow spiral of civilisation.

The Queen crosses the floor alone, followed, as we have seen, by Frances Walsingham and Robert Cecil, the twin children of greatness.

But the Count of Death and his Lady are not finished with their opening… their nature is, inevitably, to dabble in mankind’s doings. No sooner do they see the plight of the reversed Dr Dee and the reluctant Jesuit Gerard than they are on their feet, suspending ordinary time with their great call, “Let the mists descend…”

In the time beyond human perception, they again descend the Court Floor, now filled with royal power and intent, and break into the sleep of the victims, raising them and reversing their chairs so that both face East, as they should.

Some might say the Queen is distracted by other concerns, others that the Count and Countess threw fairy dust over her as they established their power over the proceedings – even in the face of Royal presence.

This may get complicated…. but only necessarily so. Meanwhile, Dr Dee, former astrologer to the Queen, and John Gerard, the most hunted man in England, now face the East, the quarter of power, and both tremble at their presence in this, the most dangerous place they could be – facing it.

Other parts of this story:

One   Two

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Rings of Earth and Sky

To find that time and circumstance

Had placed us in an isle of fertile space

Where others led us to a place

A ring wherein the sky and earth would quarter meet

There is no sense of wonder deeper

Than that of being ‘brought’ and left

To gaze as heavens’ hand caress the land and sea

And consciousness completes the longing three

Strange markers lined the way

As if to say: be sure; discretion is required

Before that letting go of owning self

Surrenders to the land of higher health

And then the ring of bright companions forms

Called, named and present

From far and distant lands

To be here, to be now, to be

Brought forth: the moment birthed

For which no words have face

Where vision sees the depth of beauty’s kiss

And all are silent, knowing touch of grace

A sharing cake and golden mead

A silent, spellbound walk along the road

A bus to catch – mundane but vital in the gathering cold!

No-one speaks… we are so lost in gold

©️Copyright Stephen Tanham

Images taken at Beltane, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney.

Jewels in the Claw (1)

SE18 TempleMasterGeneric

There is a moment when he stops, puts down his packing box, and looks at what remains of the Court Floor. It is the last vestige of a creative journey of twelve months, of twenty souls intent on giving their all to the rather unusual script, and of a Spring weekend at the Nightingale Centre in the lovely Derbyshire hills…


Do things that have been created in the heart and mind cease to exist when they are played out in the time-honoured fashion of the mystical psycho-drama and pass from potential to actual to gone? There must be a difference between a thing – in this case a mystical play – created and performed to full effect, and a thing thought about in detail but not put into practice. The latter never makes it beyond the mind of the originator; the former becomes ‘actualised’ as a blueprint for the directed energies of a harmonic group of people, all of whom are aware that something deeper than an Elizabethan story is being told…

The man holding the box of monochrome, plastic squares thinks there is a difference… the life of the dramatic work has passed from potential to actual, and has, actually, not gone. Instead, its life has been transferred from single author to twenty others. Its story resonates differently in each of twenty acting perspectives, every one taking from its execution something unique to them and their lives; something that solidifies, then glows in the memory along with the unspoken words: “We did that. We came together and made that happen. We followed the path of the words in two-hundred pages of script and brought it to life.”

He hopes it will live for a while in their hearts, too. Long enough to ponder the many questions that the story prompts: What was most real, the dying figure of Shakespeare in 1616 or the drama created by the Tudor Queen of England when she brought an eclectic gathering of friends and enemies together at the Palace of Nonsuch in South London in April 1590 for a very unusual meeting of hearts and minds? Can we conceive of a reality that creates a plot, a story, as being different from the actual unfolding of that drama as twenty people bring it to life? Which is the most real? The passage of time is most certainly not the basis of the answer…

In his mind, the black and white squares re-assemble themselves into a very large chessboard known to the players as The Court Floor. It has four faces: East, West, North and South. Each face will later have a deeper name, but for now they are just the edges of a black and white, chequered surface.

In the shadows surrounding the chessboard and chairs:

“He is dying.”

“They say the spirit has come for him.”

Movement around the outside of the chairs – the Outer Court. The players realise they are being trained by doing.

“He is dying…”

Upstairs, in the chamber above the tavern, William Shakespeare lies dying on the chequered floor. At his head stands a candelabra with three lights lit. Behind this stands the surprisingly jovial figure of Death and Change: Count Mortido.

“Master Shakespeare, you have had an long and productive life, one which will be celebrated after you are gone. Are you content, now, to die?”

For the duration of two extinguished candles he nods and coughs his assent, but as the third is raised and the final chance of extended life is about to be removed, strong feminine hands grasp his ankles. Warm and sensual, they slide up the outside of his legs and an urging female voice fills the air as Countess Libido, sister-wife of the Count of Death hisses:

“Do not surrender this too soon! I will lend you my strength!”

She kisses Shakespeare on the lips, and the sexual/life charge rips through him. Filling his lungs with borrowed air and time.

“There was another story,” he says. “One that could not be told while she was alive.”

“The Queen?” asks Count Mortido.

The Bard nods.

The powerful female hands linger on his body, urging. “Tell it now…” chuckles the Count.

Elsewhen, the chequered floor, the arena and dancing-space of possibilities to come, flickers into life in 1590. Shakespeare’s form is no longer there…. but, of course, it is yet to happen.

A future-ghostly Shakespeare stands by the edge of an empty Court Floor, approached by a very real Christopher Marlowe, fellow Elizabethan playwright and friend.

“Play this with me, Master Marlowe. Be life to my ghost within this mind of life in death!”

The task between good friends is accepted. Marlowe turns to those in the outer shadows and summons them, one by one: the empty chair heading the South Face; the Dragon of the Seas, otherwise Sir Francis Drake; a spy who casts astrological charts for the powerful of Spain; the second richest woman in England…

The Southern seats are capped by the materialising presence of Count Mortido himself, come to check that the laws of causation are not being tampered with.

Marlowe moves across the empty East Face, which will soon be filled with the power of three. From the Northern edge of the Court Floor he summons others from the shadows: into the second seat walks an elegant Saracen lady, the wife of the Moroccan ambassador embarked on a trading exchange for English fancy goods… and possibly a little more; the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, comes forward to take the Champion’s seat in the middle of the row; this is followed by the wife of the Alchemist John Dee;  then Lady Blanche Parry, a woman who has cared for Queen Elizabeth since her birth in 1533.

The empty seat at the head of the row is taken by Countess Libido, who smiles at her brother-husband across the court. Neither of them can be seen by the others… well, not yet, at least.

The faces of the East and West are polarised in their emptiness. Eyes peer into the gloom at what is left of the tavern, and other faces are found; looking down at small tables and drinking from tiny glasses.

Marlowe speaks, again, and the lady in the golden gown slowly raises her head. Marlowe trembles, slightly, then gathers his voice….

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham