As The Sun Sets by Alesha Polles
Tudor Ghost Story Contest 2nd place getter 2002
I sigh deeply as I lie upon my cushions. Those around me beseech me to go to bed. I shan’t, though, for I know once I do, I shall never rise again. Once the undying, all-powerful Gloriana, the Queen, I now find myself succumbing to that which all mortals shall in good time, when we must part company with our fellow temporal creatures.
I glance around my chamber at the many keeping company with me. After decades of rarely being left to oneself, one grows rather less appreciative of such company. I dismiss them all for a time – the ladies in waiting, the maids of honor, the guards, the grooms, the footmen, the councilors, and the servitors. I am now left to myself, alone with my thoughts.
When one knows one is about to meet their Creator, as I know, one does not consider the future, for there is no future; rather, one ponders the past, reminiscing – remembering, regretting, rejoicing. My mind wanders.
I can see my life before my eyes. The gains and losses, victories and defeats, successes and failures. Some of the memories are what I can remember; others are simply what I have long imagined to be memories. I think of my mother, who I sometimes believe I can remember. My father, loving and hating me at once because I reminded him of her, whom he wished to forget. My dear brother, who was fond of me. My sister, who feared me. There were so many personages in my life. I can see them all clearly now, more clearly than ever before. The obscuring dust of power and fear and ambition has since been gently swept away by Time.
Then, of course, there was Robin, my loyal friend whom everyone doubted, coming as he did from a notoriously treasonous family. He was with me through every up and down. I can see us still as we were when young, riding and hawking and studying together. And again, years later, at my coronation, when he led my palfrey. When I as Queen created him Earl of Leicester. When he returned in triumph with my fleet, victorious over the Spanish. Then he was unwell, and left to recover in the country. It was the last time I saw him, fifteen years ago. Yet I hope to see him – to see all of those who have gone ahead of me – again soon.
Now, lying upon my cushions, I can see a little box sitting within my reach upon my desk. I take from the box a single sheet of parchment, old and yellowed. The ink has faded. It is a letter from Robin – his last. I read it again in the weak light filtering through the tapestries covering the windows, though there is no need. The words have long since been engraved in my heart.
Suddenly I hear a faint shuffling, of someone in the darkened room. I lower the letter from before my face, wondering who would be so insubordinate as to disobey one of their Queen’s last wishes. When I see who it is, I wonder if indeed my eyes and sight are finally failing me, for it is Robin I see before me.
Unbelievably it is not the aged, sickly Robin whom I last saw, but rather the
Robin I remember best – a youth, tall and strong. I wonder – nay, hope – that he sees me also as the pretty young woman with long golden-red hair I once was and not the old woman I am now.
I am lost for words and stare at him like a simpleton.
Robin makes no comment on the appearance that worries me so, asking, “Why art thou so sad, Elizabeth?” He acts as though nothing has happened, as though he was simply returning to court again.
“Robin,” I question him quietly, “dost thou not know what has happened?”
“Thee asks if I know I am dead?” he inquires, grinning boyishly. Without waiting for a reply, he continues, his smile fading as he speaks. “Aye, I know I no longer reside in this world. But that does not mean I cannot remember it, Elizabeth. And
I know we have had plenty of happy times in it. Would it banish the clouds from thy face if I helped thee remember one?”
“Perhaps,” I say wearily. “How long ago it was.” “But dost thou not still see it as yesterday? One will remember if one recollects it often and does not indulge in melancholy thoughts.”
I must smile faintly at the gentle rebuke. “There are none left of our generation to recollect it with, Robin. All are gone now.”
“None are truly gone from the heart, Elizabeth. But where has the old Elizabeth gone, to whom the past was important, to be remembered and learned from for the future?”
“There is no future, Robin,” I sadly say, turning away. “There is only the past.”
“No,” he tells me quite firmly. “Indiscriminate of creed or race or past, there is a Great Beyond. All shall go there someday. That was my future, and ’tis thy future now. We shall be there together.”
“I don’t want to die, Robin!” I cry, a tear tracing its way down my face.
“One only dies in body. One’s spirit passes on to better things. Thee has no choice,” Robin informs me. He looks odd; when he appeared, he looked solid, as a living person would be. Now a stream of sunlight breaks through a gap in the window tapestries onto him, causing him to fade, revealing him in his transparency as the ghost he is. I realize he will soon disappear as he continues to disperse.
“Farewell, Elizabeth,” he calls in a volume no louder than a whisper, sounding as though he is very far away. “I shall see thee again.” My friend is gone.
I must have fallen asleep then, for now I awake to find the same stream of sun that banished Robin slanting through the window at a sharper angle and painting my chamber hues of gold and orange. Night is falling, and I watch through the window as the sun slowly slips below the horizon. I can feel my strength failing as the courtiers I sent from the room gradually come back in. They put me into bed. From the bed I can see as the sun finally sets, leaving naught but a golden radiance to remind all of the brilliance of its sojourn in the skies.
I am like that sun. I was the Queen, Elizabeth Regina, the sphere around which all revolved, rising to my highest, but now setting, leaving only the glory of my reign to be remembered throughout the night to come. For me, however, that night shall be eternal, until I rise again in that fantastic place that surely exists beyond this life, that Robin assured me I am bound for. After the sun falls and darkness spreads, tiny stars, pinpricks of light, begin to burn in the sky. So shall others rise and shine in their own time after I am gone. The sun, however, has dominated all; so I wish to be remembered, as the greatest, the highest, the best. I realize now, however, that my sun has set, and it is time for me to go. It is time for the other stars to shine. My chamber and its other temporal occupants become increasingly dim, and my eyes begin to close in weariness. Unexpectedly I can see Robin again, far clearer than those around me. He smiles, and holds out his hand. “Thee has come to an understanding, I believe, about what you have to do, Elizabeth,” he tells me.
“Yes, Robin,” I reply weakly. “But I am tired now, so tired.”
He takes a step closer, still extending his hand before him, then another step, until I am looking up at him. “’Tis time for thee to come to thy true home.” I take his hand, and suddenly I feel as though I have left all cares behind. I am free now, free to take my repose. I rise from my bed for the last time, feeling no more of the pain I felt only moments before, and stand beside Robin. The living ones gathered round the bed weep for the loss of their Queen. In my mirror I catch a last glimpse of myself, which certainly only I can see, for few see the reflection of a ghost. I no longer see an old wrinkled woman with thin gray hair under a red wig.
In the mirror I see a young girl, a slender, red-haired princess beloved by her country, who once was, and who grew to be the sun around which the world revolved.
A sun who will live on in the memory of the stars who shine in the darkest night.