The City and the Stars (4) – The Ring of Brodgar

You turn to take in the landscape… This magnificent place, where the natural features are as spectacular as the Neolithic discoveries, lies between two lochs surrounded by a natural amphitheatre. You are encircled by the hills and the monuments that make up the heart of Orkney’s Neolithic World Heritage Site. Welcome to the Ring of Brodgar, in the valley of the stars…

(1500 words, a twelve-minute read)

The Ring of Brodgar lies on the isthmus between the Lochs of Harray and Stenness. It is one of the best stone circles in the world and originally comprised 60 megaliths, of which 27 remain upright. It is a perfect circle, 104 metres in diameter.

It is breathtaking, and unlike many ancient circles, if you go at the right time, you can have it all to yourself… When we visited, in September 2020, there were less than twenty people there.

It used to be that theories of Neolithic Orkney were based around the Brodgar stone circle, but now, an entire complex of temples and dwellings, located just a few hundred metres away, have been added to the list of treasures to be found here. The Ring of Brodgar is likely to remain the central attraction, but with Skara Brae within a day’s return walking distance and the new discoveries matching the latter in style, the entire Ness of Brodgar is now being seen as a ‘spiritual city’, rather than just the place of the stone circle.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve been here twice. I’ve documented many of our explorations of Scottish islands in these pages.

In May 2018, we fulfilled a life-ambition and, came to Orkney for a five-night spring break, travelling with some friends by train to Thurso, then by ferry across to Orkney – as with this present Silent Eye trip. Bernie had spotted, online, that there was a local pagan group who would be celebrating the Beltane festival at the stones. They had invited anyone interested to join them, asking for a few details prior to our arrival.

I count myself more a mystic than anything else, and wrote to tell them that, but they were pleased to have us present, and, in view of my personal history, offered me a small part in the ceremonial proceedings. It was a great honour.

(Above: from May 2018 – the Beltane ceremony)

This was on our second evening, and we hadn’t yet collected our rental car, so we took a taxi from Stromness to the Comet Stone, which marks the beginning of the Brodgar site. From there, we were inducted into the ceremonial process. It was a lovely event, with an open spirit and a celebration of the magnificence of the location and its importance to Orkney – past and present.

I will remember it most for the sunset. It was early May and we had expected little in the way of decent weather. But Orkney surprised us with the most golden sunset I have ever seen. Even after leaving the site, standing at the bus stop a mile away, we were still gazing mutely at the sky, enraptured that this could have happened.

The Orkney weather on the 2020 trip was overcast, so I have included shots from both visits to give the reader a flavour of that splendour in this most powerful of locations.

The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic henge and stone circle. It is rare to find both in the same site. It is the only stone circle in Britain which is a perfect circle. Brodgar ranks with Avebury and Stonehenge as among the greatest of such sites. These are the northernmost examples of circle henges in Britain.

(Above: Ring of Brodgar – September 2020)

There are no known stones within the circle (unlike Avebury, for example) but there has never been a detailed excavation of Brodgar, and wooden structures may have been located within. The Ring of Brodgar was created later than most of the surrounding sites, such as the chambered mound of Meashowe and the nearby settlement of Skara Brae. It is likely that it represented the pinnacle of the work of these mysterious people, who may well have been the forerunners of the Picts.

The Ring of Brodgar is managed by Historic Environment Scotland, whose ‘Statement of Significance’ for the site describes its significance better than I could:

The monuments at the heart of Neolithic Orkney and Skara Brae proclaim the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places. They were approximately contemporary with the mastabas of the archaic period of Egypt (first and second dynasties), the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India, and a century or two earlier than the Golden Age of China. Unusually fine for their early date, and with a remarkably rich survival of evidence, these sites stand as a visible symbol of the achievements of early peoples away from the traditional centres of civilisation…The Ring of Brodgar is the finest known truly circular late Neolithic or early Bronze Age stone ring and a later expression of the spirit which gave rise to Maeshowe, Stenness and Skara Brae’

(Quoted from Wikkipedia)

The Ring of Brodgar’s natural setting did not function alone. There is a final addition to the story of Brodgar’s sacred landscape. The mapping of the heavens carried out by the ancient priests required they mark the position of the winter solstice sunset… ideally against a feature on a hill in the landscape, as used throughout the Scottish Pictish world.

(Above: The Brodgar stone marking the winter solstice setting sun points to a valley on the neighbouring island of Hoy)

The chosen position (above) – a valley between two mountains – looks close to Brodgar, but is in fact on the neighbouring island of Hoy. A mysterious shrine, now known as the ‘Dwarfie Stane’ was constructed at the exact spot on Hoy corresponding to this line of sight from the Ring of Brodgar.

(Above: the mysterious Dwarfie Stane on the island of Hoy)

The information board at the Dwarfie Stane reads:

Dwarfie Stane

This unique monument has attracted attention for centuries and many scholars have visited it and theorised. It has been described as the dwelling place of giants, of dwarves, and as the home of an early Christian hermit.

It was actually a tomb, related to the many chambered cairns found throughout Orkney. It dates to between 3500 and 2500 BC. Its construction, carved from a single enormous block of stone, is without parallel in the British Isles. 

The labour involved, given the lack of metal tools, suggests that although small, it may have been of special significance.’

During the 2020 workshop, we did not have time to visit Hoy. But we were fortunate to have stumbled across it on our 2018 personal trip, during which we had visited the neighbouring island. Then, we had no knowledge of the link between Brodgar and the mysterious ‘natural shrine’ we came across on our way to the far side of that mainly uninhabited island.

(Above: from 2018 – Hoy’s dramatic west coast – the Old Man of Hoy is an hour’s walk from here)

(Above: Hoy is beautiful but bleak)

(Above: from 2018, the Dwarfie Stane looks back towards the Ring of Brodgar – lone sentinel of the winter solstice sun)

We took away some wonderful memories of that earlier trip to Hoy. Two stand out in memory. The first was a Persian inscription on the walls of the ‘Dwarfie Stane’, left by a Victorian artist, soldier and traveller, Willam Mounsey. On the outer wall of the tomb, he wrote ‘I have sat for two nights and have found patience’. To me, this immediately suggested a Sufi thought.

No-one knows what its meaning is. But Mounsey was a learned scholar who could speak and write in several middle eastern languages, including Persian and Hebrew. He is believed to have operated as a spy for the British Army. He was an accomplished historian and an authority on the Celts. His work suggests to me that he had a ‘mystical bent’. It’s entirely fanciful, but I like to think he may have sat there, looking back along the line of sight to Brodgar and musing about the spiritual nature of the Celts who created this ‘line of light’.

The second memory is of a startled Bernie seeing a golden eagle minutes later, in the telescope of a bird-watcher parked in the lay-by. He had been watching the eagle on its nest for many hours and offered us each a viewing. Only Bernie saw it… but what an end to the day it had provided.

At the time, we knew nothing of the visual link across Scapa Flow to the Ring of Brodgar, but, now, two years later and standing at the Brodgar marker stone, looking across at Hoy and remembering, I marvelled at how connected our human experience can be…

In the next post we will look at the remaining sites at or near to the Ness of Brodgar and summarise the incredible story of this heart of Sacred Neolithic Orkney.

To be continued.

Notes:

Link to William Mounsey.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, This is Part Four.

The preceding Pictish Trail weekend blog posts:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye – a journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

The City and the Stars (3) – The City on the Ness

A ten-minute journey from Stromness, on Orkney, lies an ‘isthmus’ which recent excavations have shown to contain one of the richest archeological concentrations in the world… It is nothing less than an ancient spiritual city, lost to time until the early years of this century.

(1200 words, a ten-minute read)

An ‘isthmus’ is defined as ‘a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land’. It’s an old word, not seen often these days. Scotland – land of lochs, lochans and vast waterways has many of them. But this is a land beyond Scotland, yet just a few miles off its north-eastern coast.

(Above: the isthmus that is the site of five major archeological treasures from 5000 years ago. Picture Source)

We were in the final few days of the Silent Eye’s exploration of the land of the Picts, having reached the tip of the mainland and journeyed to the beautiful archepelago of Orkney – a place so far north you are on a line of latitude with southern Norway.

The arial image above, from the official archeological dig site of the Ness of Brodgar – one of several sites on this isthmus – says it all. It is a land within a land, a place whose location has such intense beauty that you can imagine why the ‘stone’ age priests who came here stopped and stayed to make it not just a home, but a spiritual city.

We have largely lost the sense and meaning of the word ‘Priest’. A priest was a wise one; a teacher of life, a way-shower to relationship. And that relationship was with the world around us. The heart of that relationship was our own individual sense of self, an ‘I’. Later, understood more deeply, the ‘I’ became an ‘I am’ and bore a deeper relationship with the beauty around us. Over time, organised religion has the unintended effect of taking away our relationship with what should be the vivid edge of our own existence. When that happens, we lose the chance to dissolve that barrier…

It is only with the advent of ‘object relations’ psychology’ that we are finally understanding the many facets of the ‘I’, and its importance in the development and maturity of the individual, transiting through separation to maturity… and for a ‘priest’, beyond.

The ancient priests of Orkney did not have the psychology of object relations; but they did have stories and myths; and for those of emotional maturity, they had ritual, an action they knew spoke to a deeper part of themselves, individually and collectively. It took a giant of psychology, Carl Jung, to show our modern age what we had lost in not talking and listening to our deeper minds, to translate the need and usage of ritual into modern language.

We can imagine families, grouped around a fire beneath a sky full of stars, sharing the wisdom stories that would act as a reliable canvas for the experiences of the maturing child, guiding her or him through play, then puberty and into sexual and societal maturity – each aware of their powers and their responsibility to the tribe, the land and, above all, to self. From that, all else flowed.

Thousands of years later, Shakespeare was to encapsulate that thought in Hamlet:

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man…” (my italics).

For the ancient priests, the truth was written by nature into the world – as experienced by a self-honest human. The land had the properties of earth: it was solid and held the seeds of that which fed them. These were farming people, and the seasons of growth, fullness, harvest and fallowness were profound truths, whose existence was self-evident. Their own bodies were sustained by the air and the earth and the earth in turn was sustained by the seasons, powered in shorter and longer cycles by the moon and sun. The moon was strongly linked with women, the sea and the shorter cycles of sex and fertility; the sun controlled the longer cycles of life-giving energy that flowed from the sky onto the earth… and specially for humankind, into the daily miracle of fire, something no other creature seemed to possess.

The great story of this relationship with nature was told in the heavens. The priests, as with any civilisation, were deeply concerned with the constantly unfolding saga within which life on their given and fertile ‘earth’ was set. People’s natures were indicated – though not entirely – by the placing of the mysterious ‘wanderers’ in the sky – what we now know as the visible planets – ending with Saturn, the limit of unaided sight without magnifying lenses.

(Above: the constellation of Orion, the Hunter)

Within the city of learning that was built here, the isthmus, surrounded on nearly all sides by a soft and gentle sea, had a special relationship with the constellation of Orion – the hunter, which is bright and easily visible at these latitudes. The symbolic link, and the stories told of its significance to the ancient people of Orkney is lost to time…

The Ness of Brodgar is the name of the isthmus that separates the lochs of Harray and Stenness. The name derives from the Old Norse nes – headland; brúar – bridge and garðr – farm, and translates roughly as the “headland of the bridge farm”.

Within this small area of land are several ancient archeological sites. The image below gives an idea of the sheer scale of what has been recently uncovered.

(Above: one of the information panels from the Ness of Brodgar’s excavation site. These are freely downloadable as PDFs here. The site asks you to consider a donation to help it further its vital work)

The Ness is the centre of the Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. The Ness is covered in, and surrounded by, ancient archeology. Until the start of the 21st century, this was best known as the location of the Ring of Brodgar. That changed in 2002 when, on the south-eastern end of the Ness, excavations revealed a massive complex of monumental Neolithic buildings along with associated artwork, pottery, bones and stone tools. The design of the dwellings here closely resembles that at Skara Brae, and hence my suggestion that they may have been tightly linked.

The Ness is only open to visitors at specific times of year. The Covid restrictions meant that it was closed during our visit. But the websitehttps://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/about-the-ness-of-brodgar/ is rich in information.

The Ring of Brodgar is an open site and was not subject to Covid restrictions, apart from social distancing. Situated on the isthmus between the Lochs of Harry and Stenness. It is one of the best stone circles in the world and originally comprised 60 megaliths, of which 27 remain upright. It is a perfect circle, 104 metres in diameter. In the next post, we will examine it in detail.

(Above: The Ring of Brodgar)

To be continued.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, This is Part Three.

The preceding Pictish Trail weekend blog posts:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, which offers a distance-learning program to deepen the personality and align it with the soul.

The City and the Stars (2) – Skara Brae’s Ancient Houses

Skara Brae’s modern story began in 1850 when a violent sea-storm tore off the layers of grass, sand and soil that had covered what appeared to be two ancient and completely intact Neolithic houses. For 4,000 years, they had been lost to history, having been mysteriously abandoned.

(1000 words, a ten-minute read)

The local landowner at the time was William Watt, who lived at Skaill Hall, which is located next to Skara Brae and can be visited in its own right. Watt explored the two exposed houses and collected many objects. Like several other local explorers, Watt left few records of his work. In the 1860s, George Petrie, an able Orcadian historian and antiquarian, made frequent visits to the site and discovered there were other buried houses. He made copious notes and left them to public posterity. By the end of 1867, this dedicated man had cleared and documented the contents of Houses 1,3,4 and 6. – See key below.

(Above: Professor Gordon Childe)

This foundational work paved the way for the detailed excavations carried out by Gordon Childe, the first Professor of Archeology at the University of Edinburgh. It was due to Professor Childe’s work that Skara Brae became one of the foremost Neolithic sites in the world.

(Above: a modern schematic of the eight houses plus a ‘workshop’) at Scara Brae)
(Above: a modern drawing (Jim Proudfoot) showing how the settlement of Skara Brea is likely to have looked 5000 years ago)

The far side of Skara Brae is adjacent to the present beach of Skaill Bay. The sea level has risen and gradually encroached. When the village was occupied the bay was fertile farmland. The new outer wall is massively reinforced to protect the site well into the future. Skara Brae has been classified as a World Heritage Site and is cared for by Historic Scotland.

The whole site is around 100 metres across. It’s compact, and most of the houses are connected by internal paths and what appears to be stone plumbing! You can simply ‘feel’ the quality of the dwellings, as though something of their ancient spirit survives…

The long path from the visitor centre brings you to Houses 10, 9 and 7. The path narrows but continues around the site. It has been constructed at a higher level allowing visitors to look down and into the ancient dwellings. You can’t actually go into the houses, but you can get very close.

(Above: House 7, showing the central hearth, the alcoves for the beds and the ‘dresser’ on which the family’s precious objects would have been stored… or was there another purpose? More on this, later)

The entire village of Skara Brae was set into a midden, which had been transported from another site as a prerequisite to building the house structures. The midden was essentially a rubbish tip for organic waste – food, shells, carcasses of animals. As it decomposed it gave off heat and warmed the houses. It might have been smelly but it was warm! Humour aside, it showed the sophistication of both planning and living in this ancient settlement.

(Above: House 9, adjacent to House 7)

All the surviving houses at Skara Brae are remarkably similar to each other. The main building material was stone, which was locally available. For all the houses, the outer and inner faces of the walls are dry stone, meaning without mortar. The spaces between the walls were packed with additional midden material, as detailed above. The resulting wall was over two metres thick. The midden core of the buildings not only provided heat, it kept the houses waterproof as well.

(Above: House 1, the nearest to the present sea wall)

Historically, it had been thought that the roofs – possibly constructed of whalebone and cloth – were kept low because of the winds. But recent evidence suggests they were conical, high, and lined with eel grass which absorbed smoke, allowing a much more pleasant interior space.

(Above: House 5, close to the centre of the village)

Detailed excavation has revealed that each house had at least one ‘storage cell’. The larger dwellings had a large storage cell that linked with a central drain with running water. This points to the provision of toilets at Skara Brae, their earliest known use in Britain.

(Above: a central covered corridor linked most of the houses from the inside. Stone slabs formed the doors, and could be locked into position from the inside)

(Above: Structure 8, or the Workshop)

‘House 8’ was the only building in the settlement which was not actually a house. Whilst there was a central hearth, it lacked beds and a dresser. Known as Structure 8, it appears to have been a workshop for making stone tools and perhaps pottery, bone tools and wooden implements. The walls were thicker than the other houses because they were not dug into the midden for support and heat.

(Above: Another photo of Structure 8, a more detailed view of its segmented interior)

To my mind, the ‘dressers’ are the most curious aspects of the houses in the settlement. The guide book admits they may have been individual shrines, something I hadn’t read prior to this visit. Being close to them, again, there came the strong conviction that the dressers were holy places within the houses. Moreover, given the opulent nature of the settlement, I strongly felt there was a good chance that Skara Brae did not house ordinary farming people.

(Above: the symbolic and all-important ‘dresser’)

I consider it possible that the whole of Skara Brae was a ‘school’ for a priesthood whose central authority was a few miles away at the Ness of Brodgar – next to the famous Ring of Brodgar. I will go into more detail in the next post. The picture of Orkney thrown up by the continued sophistication of the finds at the Ness of Brodgar has changed, dramatically, and there is world-wide interest in its potential to update the history of this part of the world.

The more you learn about Orkney, the more it is evident that, in Neolithic times, it was the centre of a pivotal civilisation. It is likely that these people were the forerunner of the Picts, driven south by some unknown force or, possibly, warring armies from pre-Viking Scandinavia.

The group, quiet with the depth of the experience, moved back to the cars. We had important things to consider, and the Ring of Brodgar was only a few miles away and our next stop…

To be continued.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, This is Part Two

The Pictish Trail weekend blog posts:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, which offers a distance-learning program to deepen the personality and align it with the soul.

The City and the Stars (1) – Skara Brae

With the Pictish Trail weekend a long car journey and a boat ride behind us, we had awakened in Stromness to the early morning of an overcast Orkney day – The excavated and intact Neolithic village of Skara Brae was a few short miles away…

(1300 words, a ten-minute read)

We had not expected to be here at all. Visiting Orkney for the second part of our Pictish Trail journey had seemed impossible because of Covid restrictions. But there were signs that things were relaxing and even re-opening. Our potential companions for the extended weekend had urged us to keep trying, so we’d put ourselves on every visitor ‘notification list’ possible.

In the end, we couldn’t call it with any certainty, and simply contacted everyone who was interested and asked if they’d be prepared to risk it… Everyone said yes; that it was worth it just to go to Orkney, regardless of what was open or not… In the largest sense, there was an act of faith, here…

Our ferry tickets and accommodations in Stromness were booked. There was no going back; we’d just have to make do with what we could achieve on each day. Stromness and Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, were worth at least a day each, and we only had three. Then we got a message saying the Neolithic village of Skara Brae had opened for a limited number of bookings which were to be strictly time-controlled. Within minutes, Bernie had responded and we had our visit: 10.00 am on the morning after our arrival. Getting off the ferry, with our hotel just at the end of the quay, one of our party was so excited, she was literally hopping from foot to foot…

We had only a few days to give our group a taste of this wonderful archipelago, situated just a few miles off the coast of north-east Scotland. It’s a world of its own – especially in terms of its ancient history. We’d been here once before and couldn’t wait to share it. In addition, since I was here last, work done on the Neolithic civilisation on Orkney was being revolutionised by the new findings at the Ness of Brodgar. I had my own views on some of it…

Now, we were at Skara Brae, just a few miles from Brodgar, on the Orkney Mainland. There was a queue to get into the visitor centre of this 5000 year old ‘village’. We’ll come on to why I’ve put that in quotes, later…

We were awaiting our timed entry to access the walkway to the actual village when I read the graphic above. It puts everything into perspective. I’ve reproduced it below:

You have come to a village which started life around 3100 years BC. Before Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids of Egypt were built. This is the oldest village in Europe where you can still see the houses with their original stone furniture intact.

For reasons I’ll go into later in these posts, I’m not sure it was an ordinary village. I think it was something far more exciting.

Then the hour turned and we were socially-spaced and walking through the descriptive graphics, towards the sophisticated reconstruction of one of the eight houses beyond. The visitor is not allowed to descend into the real dwellings, but a landscaped walkway around the entire village has been constructed to allow close visibility – from above, in most cases.

To compensate for this, the reconstructed house at the entrance of the site is an exact reproduction that you can enter to immerse yourself in Neolithic life. I had been fascinated by it on our visit in 2018 and couldn’t wait to see its effect on our companions.

But, sadly, it wasn’t open…too small an enclosed environment to accommodate the restrictions on social distancing. However, I do have photos from our first trip, so here’s a visual journey through what would normally be available.

(Above: The replica house at Scara Brae is modelled on House 7 (see map) and gives the essential feeling of height not apparent from looking down at the real houses from the walkway. House 7 was excavated by Professor Gordon Childe in 1928 (below). When he found it, it had no roof. He dug down through the sand to find the layers where people had lived)

(Above: Gordon Child, the principle archaeologist who excavated Skara Brae in the years 1928 to 1931)

(Above: The real House 7 is shown on the site map: bottom row, middle. We would be visiting that next)

(Above: the reconstructed ‘sail-cloth’ and timber roof)

(Above: the central hearth contained ashes and red clay)

(Above: there are two box beds, The fireside slab of one of the beds had carvings on it, worn away in the middle, as if by people climbing in and out of the pen. A decorated pot was also found in the bed. Above the beds are cupboards set into the wall. Intriguingly, skeletons of two women were discovered buried partly under the house wall behind one of the beds…)

(Above: the ‘dresser’ – my italics – The top shelf of the dresser was found to be bare, but on its lower shelf were pieces of pottery and burnt bones. There was a storage cell in the room, but it may have been linked to drains found under some of the other storage cells in the village. The astonishing possibility that they may have served as indoor toilets cannot be ruled out)

Near to the ‘model house’ is an information board that sets the scene for the actual village, which lies a few hundred metres away, on the edge of the sea. Here are two useful excerpts.

(Above: a more detailed scale map of Scara Brae)

‘5000 years ago the villagers who decided to settle at Skara Brae did so for good reasons.

This was a land of plenty, with rich fertile soil for grazing cattle. The temperature then was a few degrees warmer than it is now, making it easier to grow crops. In the uncultivated land wild deer and boar roamed.

Birch Hazel and willow trees formed sparse scrubland. Wild berries and herbs grew. The lochs and sea were stocked with fish. Driftwood from the virgin forests of America was regularly cast up on the beach.

The cliffs supported colonies of sea birds important for their meat and eggs. Seaweed provided a plentiful supply of fuel. The abundant stones, clay and pebbles were useful building materials.

Today the landscape differs in one important respect: 5000 years ago the sea was much further away from the village. Land once covered the area which now forms the adjacent Bay of Skaill. This area of land held a loch or lochans which gave the people a vital supply of freshwater. Over hundreds of years the cliffs were gradually eaten away by the sea and sand dunes formed. This process of erosion was already beginning in the early life of the village…’

(Above: the elevated walkway snakes around the Skara Brae village, allowing a thorough visual exploration without actually entering the 5000 year old dwellings)

The reproduced House 7 and the information boards had served us well. Everyone had taken what little time the visitor centre would allow to study what was coming. Now we had a few hundred metres to walk to get to the real Skara Brae. As we walked, there was a palpable but delighted feeling of disbelief that this was actually happening…

To be continued next Tuesday.

To be continued…

This is Part One of the City and the Stars – a continuing mystical trip through north-east Scotland and Orkney on the trail of the Picts.

The Pictish Trail weekend blog posts:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, which offers a distance-learning program to deepen the personality and align it with the soul.

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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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 stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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

©Stephen Tanham