Queen of the Mallows
by William Cohen-Kiraly, Oct. 25,2014
Prompt: A master of disguise roasting marshmallows over a campfire with a British queen
Lady Jane Grey sat on her stool by the small campfire, watching the smoke and sparks rise lazily around the full moon into the star-studded sky above the trees. She hated hunting trips, hated camping in the woods even in the luxury of a royal camp but at this moment, she dearly appreciated the quiet and solitude long after the other nobles had drunk their fill and gone to their cots.
The ever-present soldiers who acted as both bodyguards and camp porters were either patrolling the perimeter of the encampment or spending time in their own bivouac. Lady Jane had long since sent her own handmaidens to bed and sat alone, trying to think.
Her cousin lay sick, everyone knew he was dying though no one would say it. He had always been sickly and now could barely get out of bed. It was clear he would not live to his majority. And when he died, the future of her country and even the future of the Reformation in England would fall on her slender, so-very-young shoulders.
She did not want to be queen but she could not let the Papists regain England or everyone she knew and loved would be put to death and the Papists would take back all the gains that had been made during her uncle’s tumultuous rule.
So lost was she in her thoughts and the vision of sparks floating like souls to heaven that she did not notice the man within her campfire until he spoke to her and she nearly jumped off her stool in surprise
“My lady,” he said. “I’ve come to offer some small solace and comfort in your times of trouble, if you would have them.”
“Words of comfort?” she asked, looking at a nobleman she did not recognize but whose face looked so very familiar.
“Perhaps, or just an ear to listen if you prefer. But what I really bring is a small delicacy you can get from no one other than me, a flavor you will not soon forget.”
Intrigued, Lady Jane swept her hand in a gesture of welcome though she said, “It is unseemly for a lady to be sharing delicacies with a man she does not know.”
She smiled her beautiful, jaunty smile, the one that made his insides turn liquid and asked. “What is it your bring me, good sir, and who might you be? I know I have seen you before but I don’t believe we have been introduced.” The last line came out as a question.
“Ah, my lady, I have brought you something unlike anything you have ever eaten before. It is called a S’more and I have loved it since I was child going on camping trips with my father.”
He set his own stool down next to her, not too close to be threatening but perhaps a little too close for propriety’s sake. He knew her though, and knew she would not pull away. He then opened a cloth on his lap which held two long sticks whittled clean at the end, some kind of square crackers, some kind of dark smooth black crackers and some white things which were nothing like she had ever seen before.
Intrigued, she watched as he put the white things on the end of the sticks and handed her one..”A S’more is only good if you make it yourself, your grace. Take this stick and hold it near the flames but not in them.”
He demonstrated but her first one still burst into flames. After that, though, she seemed to get the hang of it. Then he demonstrated how to combine the ingredients and eat the messy concoction at the end. Indeed it was a treat like none other she had ever had. She could taste spices from India and Arabia and maybe even China. The man laughed at the gasp she made as full force of all that sugar and spice hit her.
After a little while longer, she repeater her other question. “Sir, who are you? You look familiar but I don’t think we’ve ever been introduced.”
“Do you really not recognize me?”
Lady Jane made that smile again. It was the reason he’d come back for her. It was now or never…
“Sir, in all truth, you have a face I have seen over and over again. I have actually dreamed about your face, sometimes it is young, sometimes it is older like I see now. I do not understand. How can I see the same face over and over again on so many different people and not be able to place it? I pray God you will explain this to me finally.”
He nodded. “Yes, this time I think I shall.
“My lady, this will not be easy to explain and you may think me a madman or a warlock and perhaps I am mad…
“I first want to say that I have come here to offer you a choice, one you may think is crazy. Hell, it is one I think is crazy. If you accept my offer, our lives and the lives of everyone we know will be changed. You will be taken to a world I can barely begin to explain to you now. There is so much I will need to show you. My world, my people, my life as I know it now will be gone. Whatever will be the result of our choice, of your choice really, we will have to discover together…”
“Sirrah,” she said alarmed. “You know I am betrothed to Lord Dudley
He smiled sadly. “Yes, m’lady, I know this. And I know what happens next. You must hear me out then give me your answer. I swear I will not harm you nor force you into anything nor do anything that will harm your virtue. Please just listen to me.”
“I know of the forces around you and what they will do when Edward dies’”
“Do not say such a thing of our king.
“He is dying, you know it and I know it. I know it because I have read about it in my history books.”
Lady Jane looked very alarmed at this idea.”What in God’s name are you talking about!
She demanded. “Who are you. Tell me now or I WILL summon my guards.”
“My Lady, I am Andrew Stanik.”
“And you are a member of the court?”
“No lady, I am not at all what I appear to be.”
She shook her head. “I know no Staniks at court. I don’t know you but I swear to God I’ve seen your face before…
“M’lady, you have known me all your life and I have known you all my adult life. I helped your mother and worked in your household when you were just a babe. You will probably remember me first when you were a little girl. I was at Liecaster Park and I brought you a toy doll that danced when you pulled a string.”
A look of wonder and horror took over her face. “I remember the doll, yes. It was the most amazing toy. My father took it away from me saying it was too frivolous for a child.”
She looked at him much more closely now. “I remember you now, but that was 10 years or more ago. You look almost exactly the same.” she shook her head to clear it, thinking she must be conflating childhood memories.
“I first met you maybe a few months ago when you went riding from Chelsea Manor in London. I was the young stable boy who helped you when your horse refused to leave the barn.
He watched her eyes go wide as she recognized the face there too. “But you were just a youth then. How could you be an old man when I was a child and a young man only a few months ago?”
The man laughed. “Old man, eh. I suppose in your time, I am an old man. Where I come from, I am a good solid middle-age.
“Remember the man you met at a party at Lady Ashton’s home when you were but 14 or so. We argued Plato in Latin and Hebrew. I would guess not many men—or women—could do that with you.”
“But you were man then, maybe 35. Yes, it is the same face but I do not understand…” He could hear a hint of panic creeping in to her voice.
“I am not a warlock, if that is what you are thinking. I am only a man but I am a traveler. You know how you can get into a carriage and it can take you quickly between places. I have a similar carriage that can take me backwards and forwards through time.”
“Truly sir?” is what she said but her face was quickly switching between fear, fascination, horror, delight and almost every other emotion to be had. “I find this hard to believe.”
“Sometimes so do I.” he said.
“Then you know what is going to happen with my cousin.”
“I do,” he said, “and I know what is going to happen to you too. I come here now to give you a chance to live.”
“To live? I am King Henry’s niece and King Edward’s cousin. I have a thousand soldiers to protect me. I have the favor of the Privy Council and you want to save me?” Yes, she spoke with indignation but perhaps a little more bravely than she really felt.
“I know these things and you know too that the Privy Council can sometimes fly like a banner in a storm, first this way then that way. I know your future, Lady Jane Grey. When Edward dies, you will be queen. The council will name you queen then betray you.”
“Queen? I do not want to be queen!” she said firmly.
“I know, it won’t last. You will be queen of England for 9 days then you, Lord Dudley, your father and so many more will be tried and executed for treason by your aunt Mary who will damn well earn her sobriquet of “Bloody Mary” in her slaughter of Protestants..
She will be followed by her sister Elizabeth who will kill Catholics with the same fervor her sister killed Protestants though, truth be told, Elizabeth will have a long reign and rightly be regarded as one of Britain’s greatest rulers.”
Lady Jane sat with her mouth open, trying to decide whether he was a madman or not.
“My Lady,” the man continued, “I know this is a lot to take in but what I’m asking you is even more so. Will you chose to come away with me and live? I will take you with me and we can visit anywhere in the past. We can watch the Great Pyramids being built, we can sit in the Coliseum in Rome and watch the Gladiators. We can go anywhere in the past you want and find a place and time perhaps to settle down if you want.”
“If you read about me in your history books, you must be from the future. Can we see the future too?”
“No—I don’t know—but I don’t think so. If you come with me. If I save you from the execution, I will have changed my future so much that I may not be able to return to it. And your disappearance afrom history will probably change all of the future so much that it would be unrecognizable to me. I cannot take my time ship to a place I cannot find on a time map.”
Lady Jane did not understand nor yet believe but did not think the man crazy or a liar either. “Why do you want me to come with you?”
“Because I love you. I think I have always loved you from the first time I read about you, the nine-days queen. The history said you were smart, you were strong and unconventional and forward thinking. Then when I saw you in person the first time, I could see how beautiful you are…”
“Now I know you are lying. I am not a great beauty…” she laughed.
“Perhaps not to everyone but I see incomparable beauty in you… You have a smile that taunts the gods and sparkles with life and laughter. You have a mind that surpasses that of any other woman I have known.”
“Oh, then, I think I shall be flattered by your kind words. You read a book about me?”
“Well, several actually, but the first time I heard of you was in an old movie…”
“A movie. Its a way we have of copying images from real life so we can save them and show them again. A movie can be a story, kind of like a play you can watch over and over again on a box you can carry with you.”
“Now you’re just getting crazy.” she said. “What is this, some kind of bloody joke?”
“No my lady, it is not and you know its not. You have seen me in the past, your past, over and over again. Right? I’ve come back to see you maybe thirty times. Sometimes I’m just a face in the crowd, sometimes I’m a street vendor who sells you food or a book. Twice we even danced.”
Jane nodded. She knew this was true and she could feel the cold shivers running down her spine.
‘I can prove it to you too, but its in a way that will probably scare you.”
“How is that?” Asked the lady.
“I can show you some of these movies.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out something that looked to her like a small slab of dark glass. He pushed some buttons and touched little picture on it and it lit up in the darkness. My god, there were little people in this box, moving and talking.
“This is the movie I was telling you about. This person here, is a famous old-time actress named Helena Bonham Carter. She’s very pretty but not anywhere as near as pretty as you.”
Lady Jane laughed at his flattery and looked at the little people in utter fascination. “This is from the future,” she said, “where you can all do magic?”
“Not magic, my lady, these are machines but I’ll have to explain that latter. I do have one other movie to show you, one I made myself in your very near future but if I show it to you there is no turning back for either of us and I think it may scare you.
“What is it,” she asked.
“Your end, your execution. I have loved you all my life so I thought I had to see your last minutes too. For me, this happened a few hours ago but it is a few months into your future. The men you trusted when they declared you queen tried you for treason and they beheaded you—will behead you– in the tower of London. I can show this to you if it will make you come with me but I think now I would prefer not to. But it was while watching your execution and making this movie of it that I realized I had to come back to here and now and give you this chance to live.” The man was crying now. “If it’s any consolation to you, you were magnificent my lady, and brave. You put your own blindfold on and you made a speech that put them all to shame.”
“Can you show me some of it except for the part where I die/”
“That I can, my lady” He fumbled with the buttons and pictures again. “Just touch this circle here when you want it to stop.” he said.
Lady Jane felt an incredible coldness in herself as she saw herself being lead into the room, heard her own voice quoting scripture and loudly proclaiming her innocence. She did not touch the stop button when her final moments were shown and she could almost felt the axe blade as it cut into her neck. She heard a quiet crying from the box too, and realized it was the voice of the man before her.
Lady Jane was silent for a while as she thought about his magic and his offer. She did not believe him to be a warlock in concert with the devil though everything seemed to point that way. Despite her parents strict upbringing, she had always been a free thinker and did not feel that this man was evil—as strange as it sounded to her, she believe he loved her, perhaps in a crazy way, but he did seem to love her. And, as crazy as it was that he could make a moving painting in a little box that could speak in so many voices, everything about those images rang true to her, even her own last words and her struggle to find the chopping block in her blindfold.
“My lady, this is the last chance you will have to escape with me before events become unstoppable. I don’t mean to become insistent but in a short while, your lady-in-waiting will come to pull you back in the tent and I don’t think you will ever be alone again with me to make your choice.
“Yes, I love you, I have always loved you but I swear to God I will not force myself on you. If you come with me, you can choose to stay with me or you can choose to leave me. I will not force myself on you in any way. I know I am an old man to a 16 year old but I am not so old that I couldn’t keep you happy and I don’t know what our future may hold but I can promise it will be full of wonders and no one will be trying to chop your head off.”
She thought for a few moments more but it wasn’t much of debate, pretty much anything is better than decapitation. Finally she asked “will there be any more S’Mores?”
Stanik laughed.. “Some, my lady. I have lots of marshmallows with me but I did not bring quite enough chocolate and graham crackers. We will have to find something else somewhere and sometime else to take their place.”