Be Always One by Alesha Polles
Tudor Ghost Contest Winner 2001
I lay in bed, unable to sleep. Those around me were not troubled by their surroundings. To my ladies, this was just another old castle. To the guard, this was just another night on duty, another prisoner to guard. But to me, this place was far more, a forbidding fortress that reeked appallingly of death. Though the past haunted me, I had been too young to remember any of it. My memories were based on the stories that were told of a time no one, even those who had not seen it, would ever forget.
I thought about the events of the morning with a gradual panic washing over me. What were they going to do with me? I had had an unpleasant visit from my sister’s councilors – the Lord Chancellor and more than a dozen members of the Privy Council. They had questioned me closely about my involvement in the rebellion. I denied knowing anything about it. I hadn’t!
They had left then, but only after they gave me some terrifying news. The Lord Chancellor had stepped forward from the group and said quite calmly, “My Lady Elizabeth, it is the Queen’s wish that you go to the Tower until the matter is further examined.” The he turned on his boot heel and left my apartments, with the rest of the council members following him.
And I had been left, shaking. The Tower of London. That terrible place of so many deaths. And the site of the event that had changed my life so deeply – though I had been far too young to remember it.
The room had spun and gone dark.
A strange feeling slowly crept over me. I had to be somewhere. Someone was waiting for me. But who? Where? I didn’t know.
I sat up, looking around my room. My ladies were stretched out on pallets near my bed, deeply asleep, with nothing disturbing them. I could not tell them anything confidential. Half of them were my sister’s spies, and even the ones who were faithful could not be trusted, for all of them were shameless gossips. ?? Just as I gazed around my prison, that feeling that I was needed somewhere suddenly increased.
And I felt something take my hand. I gasped, and looked at it. There wasn’t anything visible there, but I could still feel the grasp of whatever it was holding unto me.
I felt gentle pressure, pulling me towards the door. I can’t leave, I thought. The guard will stop me. I balked. I knew not why I had been brought here, and I felt it was in my best interest to be obedient. If only until I should be imprisoned again, I wished to keep my head. Beheading seemed to run in the family, and I did not wish to be next. Whatever it was gripping my wrist; it didn’t seem to mean any harm. It suddenly occurred to me to put on my shoes and cloak, for if this being planned to take me somewhere, it would undoubtedly be cold. It was the middle of March.
I was drawn near to the door.
Apart from being invisible, what held unto my wrist was also silent, yet it seemed to have some kind of telepathic connection with me. It beckoned me to open the door.
I did so and peered out, looking for the soldier who was guarding me. He was leaning against the stone-wall opposite me. He didn’t say a word when I walked out, the thing still holding my hand, guiding me. He didn’t move either. When my escort led me by him, his eyes were glassy, staring; he seemed dead.
It seemed ominous that I should be leaving my room with an invisible force holding onto me, and a dead soldier behind me. What was going on?
It led me out of the Bell Tower, where I had been placed, and down a narrow lane, paved with cobblestones. At first I thought it was going to set me free, lead me beyond Traitor’s Gate to the outside world. Instead of taking me out through the gate, which was locked anyway, it took me to the left, through the Bloody Tower, and down the stairs to the Green. I didn’t want to go near the Green; the mere sight of the place that had beheaded so many of my relatives would cap off the foreboding feeling that overtook me now. Was I being led to my own doom?
The scaffold on the Green was still standing from the last execution, that of my cousin, a pretender to the Crown. I had no idea why they kept it up. Perhaps to use it again? On me? I had no reassurance of my continued existence while I resided in the Tower.
When I attempted to resist, the being that kept a firm grip on me stopped being friendly and fairly dragged me past the Green. As we went by, another psychic message floated into my head that it was my destiny to meet someone. There was flickering light coming from the Chapel. I was bewildered, and terrified, but it kept me going. Right to the door of the Chapel, and in.
The door swung shut behind me. And that force – which had seemed protective, if aggressive – was gone.
I turned from the door and saw people in the Chapel! All dressed slightly out of fashion. Only one acknowledged me. That one turned to me. The face seemed vaguely familiar, bringing back memories from long ago, that I had not been able to remember moments before. A woman carrying me, lifting me to an immense man in a window – my father. Begging him to spare her. Another woman? I had a feeling that the one before me and the two from my memory were one and the same – affectionately playing with me. A young woman, a different one this time, taking me around the gardens at my beloved Hatfield. There was a strong feeling of dislike radiating from her; she hated me.
I knew these two women. The one at Hatfield was one I knew all too well – my sister, Mary, now queen, the one who had imprisoned me here. The one who stood before me – it was impossible.
She was my mother, who had been beheaded on the Green and buried in this Chapel eighteen years ago.
My mother came to me. She took my face between her hands and carefully studied it. Her hands felt like ice.
She must have realized how terrified I was, for she stepped back slightly. “Fear not,” she said in a low voice, hardly above a whisper. “You are not to soon meet your end. You shall not depart this world within these walls, though many have before and shall again. You shall live, Elizabeth, and continue to exist after this mortal realm has failed you, as it did I.”
“You shall be queen. Undo Mary’s prejudices, the harm she has already done and has yet to. If you do so, history will remember you. Bring England to her finest, and show her off to the world. And one more thing, most important: Be always one.”
I found my voice at last, and though it trembled, I answered, “Yes, Mother.”
“You have your father’s strength, determination, and intelligence. Use it well.”
“Do you have any questions, daughter?”
“How am I to do this?”
Mother sighed. “Alas, that I cannot tell you. But it shall all become clear when the time comes.”
“Are you – alive?”
“No. I am a ghost of my former self. Do not let that deter you from the path which destiny has allowed me to show you. You have been chosen, Elizabeth.”
She began to fade. “My time here is done. Keep in mind what I have told you. And be always one.”
Then my mother was gone forever from me for a second time.
The next night, my mysterious friend, who had helped me to at last meet my mother, visited me once more. I was led again to the Green. I wondered if I was to see
Mother once more? But when we arrived at the Chapel, there were no ghosts. No bright light. There was but one small light, hovering over a particular spot in the floor. I was pulled gently over to it. It was over one of the paving stones marked with the names of those buried beneath them. I bent over and read the name with the light of the orb floating just above my head:
I once again felt the slight grasp on my hand. It led me back to my chamber. There was a feeling that seemed to hang around it: the deepest sympathy. But for what? I wondered then, and do now. For the fate that seems to have been chosen for me by destiny? For the loss of my mother a second time? I’ll never know.
But no matter what the circumstances of that visit, I have kept faithfully the promises I gave to my mother that night. The promises I made to her and to England.
I have always been one.