“It is entirely in your own hands archbishop,” the slender red-haired woman in the huge gilded chair spoke coldly and deliberately, “but you and your confederates have ensured that the majority of the populace believes in one virgin birth so I fail to see your problem.”
The ancient, and cadaverously thin, prelate stared at her for a long moment while the muscles in his jaw worked. He obviously wanted to say something but in the end he lacked the courage and subsided into fulminating silence.
“And you Master Cecil. Do you have nothing to say?”
The richly clad figure of Her Majesty’s spymaster in chief bowed floridly.
“This, your Majesty, is either a master stroke or the biggest mistake a reigning monarch ever made. With the greatest respect, we will not know which it is for many months yet.”
“Agreed, there is an element of risk but I would know whether you are with us in our great endeavour.”
Cecil dropped his world-weary pose and bowed his head.
“To death and beyond, Majesty. To death and beyond.”
“You can serve us best by remaining alive,” the Queen spoke with some asperity although her narrow dark eyes warmed a little as they rested on Cecil’s beaky face.
The third man came forward and bent the knee before his sovereign.
“Parliament will uphold whatever your majesty chooses to do.”
“My lord Essex was ever the gentleman,” the Queen laughed although it was a mirthless sound. “The lords temporal range themselves alongside us, as does Master Cecil’s organisation, which just leaves the lords spiritual to declare.”
Essex looked at the cleric with something akin to loathing.
“You are either with us, my lord archbishop, or you are against us. We have no time for you to mull over your decision.”
The stubborn old man in the cope and mitre stared at his queen.
“Do you even begin to know what you are asking?”
She regarded him for a long moment.
“We are perfectly well aware. But what would you have us do? Marry England to some foreign prince? Elevate one of our noble families above the others?”
The archbishop looked at her marble pale features with dawning respect.
“No, Majesty, I would have you do neither of those.”
“Then give me an alternative.”
The old man bowed his head.
“There is none. I stand corrected. The church ranges itself beside you.”
“Good.You may all leave us now.”
The three men bowed themselves out of the room and as soon as they had closed the door behind them the figure in the huge chair allowed her shoulders to sag just a little. A large sandy-haired man, dressed plainly in leather and homespun, stepped out from behind the rich hangings and came to kneel at her feet. She smiled down at him.
“It appears,” she said carefully, “that our plan has the support it needs. Now it is for you to do your part.”
He lifted one small foot in his large, calloused hand and brought it to his lips.
In due time Gloriana, the virgin queen, gave birth to a strapping red-haired son. She called him Henry after her great father, and he ruled wisely and well as did his own son and the son of his son, and the son of the son of his son….