The flames danced and bobbed, twin lights fighting for dominance in the darkened chamber. The great lady sat, unattended, in the corner. Mercifully alone, she allowed her thoughts to wander. The melancholy of great age threatened to overwhelm her mind. The candles matched her mood, turbulent and restless.

Ah, my beloved Robin, the flames are just as we were! You dancing me around the meadow in those perilous days, when every sound of a hoof on the road could bring certain death. My own dearest love, how impossibly young we were…

A vision of a young man stepped out from the dark, the candles flickering through him like a mirage. Tall and dark-haired, his aquiline nose and deep-set eyes gazed at her through decades past. His stiff, regal bearing revealed a lineage that stretched back. A traitor’s lineage. Not that she’d ever worried about his loyalty. He was her “eyes,” the only friend she could ever trust.

The handsome phantom crossed the room and bowed deeply before her, his golden doublet lighting his path, a youthful, heartbreaking spectre. For all his refinement, his eyes were merry as he proffered his hand to her in a forbidden dance. She was an accomplished dancer, but those days were long past. She found herself reaching up to adjust her wig in a sudden fit of vanity, but in so doing found only the short, wiry mess of gray hair that remained. Not at all a girl in the first flush of youth, but an old crone of nearly 70 winters.

“Ah, Robin! ‘Tis why we never wed! I’ve nearly doubled my own mother’s lifespan and kept my head in the process. I will allow no man dominion over me! That is, except in the confines of my own, secret heart.”

He bowed once more, sadly backing away from her. She reached out to him, felt a painful pop of her joints before reluctantly letting him go. The ghost gave her a final wistful look before disappearing upon a sudden breeze.

A haggard-looking woman of middle years and a young boy stepped forward in the candlelight. The woman stood in defiance, tall and stately, a pinched look upon her face. The boy was impossibly pale, his terrible sickness consuming him even in death.

“Mary, my long-suffering sister. Edward, the fair-haired boy on which the hopes of a nation were pinned. We were, all of us, birds in a gilded cage. May God have mercy on our souls.”

She saw her siblings as they were in the last days of life. Her teenage brother, in agony, signing the act which disinherited both his sisters in order to give the throne to a puppet. Mary, the fighting Queen, taking it all back in a wave of bloody vengeance, only to die a few short years later in bitterness. Her womb as empty as her heart.

“You were a worthy adversary, dear sister. The blood of Aragon running through your veins. I lived in fear of you for years. Yet, here I sit.”

The candle’s flames went sideways as a new phantom pushed its way through. Sudden tears sprang to the great lady’s eyes at this newcomer, grateful that the image’s body appeared to her intact. She’d pushed this particular memory deep within her. To even think of her was high treason.

“Mother. I never thought to look upon your face again.”

The doomed Queen bowed before her daughter, her legendary dark eyes flashing in the candle’s glow. The old lady could see the “B” of her mother’s famed necklace hanging around her slender neck. The very thought of that neck sent chills through the old woman, long-buried emotions causing her hands to shake uncontrollably.

Their roles tragically reversed, mother and daughter gazed upon the other in silent contemplation. There was nothing said, nothing needed to be. The candle flames grew brighter, dancing high in agitation, before going out completely and plunging the chamber into blackness.


The great lady woke out of a fitful sleep, a final snore causing her neck to snap up painfully. It was too late to move herself without assistance; she’d just have to make the best of it. As her eyes adjusted to the blackness of the room, the candle suddenly lit itself. The flame shot out, impossibly high in the night. She jolted up, her old heart beating erratically.

She could feel his presence before seeing him. He’d always exuded danger and charm in equal measure, the man and his peculiar madness wrapping itself in cold dread around her spine. She’d reigned longer than him, 44 years to his 36, but for all of that, she was still the frightened little child looking to hide behind the skirts of her dead mother.

The room was plunged into supernatural daylight, all the candles lit together as one. Which was as it should be when one was in the presence of a king. He strode out of the shadows, hands on his hips in all of his worldly glory.

The old lady gripped the arms of her chair. Even with the pains of old age, one must never sit before a king. Slowly hoisting herself up, he stopped her with a commanding look. Half-standing, half-sitting, the great lady watched as her father took her full measure. She had a lot to be proud of in her long reign, but she was not the son he’d torn the country apart for. Yet here she was, all the same. The very last of their line.

Meeting his eyes head-on, the great lady watched as the king slowly dipped his head to her in tribute. It was an unheard-of honor, her old body trembling as she slowly lowered herself down in quiet wonderment.

The candlelight danced and bobbed in final tribute as Gloriana sighed, taking her final breath. The twin flames weaved around each other, a stunning kaleidoscope of light before they died down and blew out forever.