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    W_L
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Of Pride and Power - 5. Chapter 5: “Pose as a friend, Work as a spy”

After the wedding announcement, I never got a chance to speak with Robert alone. His father directed his men to take Robert to the country estate of his future bride-to-be, according to Ambrose, who came to see me that night ostensibly to return a book he borrowed from me. In reality, Ambrose had delivered me a letter, hidden inside some religious reflection written by a monk. I knew it was from Robert. He told me we would meet again and not lose hope. It was a cheesy and unrealistic comfort that I desperately clung to.

A few days later, Lord Ashley had a royal escort take me to Cheshunt, where Sir Anthony Denny would become my new guardian. Sir Anthony Denny was a former privy councilor of King Henry VIII and well respected for his character, making him an ideal choice to be guardian after Thomas Seymore. He would die within a few months of taking on the job as guardian though. I didn’t know what happened after that, since there were very few biographies that covered this period in Elizabeth’s life. I would likely spend the remainder of Edward VI’s reign at Cheshunt until the next shoe drops from Queen Mary. However, with Robert’s early marriage, I knew everything wasn’t following the track history had originally followed.

Unlike the journey to London with Robert, my travel to Cheshunt was torturous, both physically and emotionally. I cried for Robert, I cried for Jack as I hugged the pillows in my rocking horse-drawn carriage.

Upon arriving at the Denny manor in Cheshunt, I was greeted happily by a dozen children of ages ranging from toddlers to older teenagers. I didn’t expect a warm reception from what amounted to a medieval foster home, but it was the most welcomed I had been in a while. While the Seymore residence was spacious and well furnished with servants, it was too rarified and lacked any human empathy except for the Dudley brothers, who were guests in the household. Here with the smaller garden, vibrant field for growing instead of mock combat, and cries of children, it felt like a normal family.

An older man bowed before me as I exited the carriage, he spoke softly, “My Lord Eli, I am Sir Anthony Denny,” then he pointed to a beautiful mature woman on his right, “This is my wife, Joan. We are pleased to have you stay with our family.”

Everyone in the household seemed nice and cheerful, which put me on guard for something out of the ordinary. It was due to the family’s bright disposition that I spotted a short black-haired teenage boy, who was giving me a weird look.

If we were in modern times, I’d say he was emo-cute with his black clothing and shoulder-length black hair. I could imagine him having eyeliner and piercings to match his overall look. While Jack and I loved each other, we weren’t saints who couldn’t notice other cute boys or the occasional girl, who had a unique look. Some emo boys had returned our appraising looks and hung out with us. Sadly, as edgy as emo boys appeared, they would chicken out, when we offered to do anything beyond kissing. However, this emo boy caught me at the wrong time and mood for any kind of sexual overture, especially without Jack.

As we walked toward the Denny’s manor, I asked Sir Anthony Denny about the dark-haired boy who was among the last in the procession.

He nodded contemplatively, “He’s my sister’s son, Francis. His father passed away several years ago and my sister passed on recently. He was sent here for me to help with his education and growth. He’s a good lad, despite his appearance and countenance. The death of his mother had a great effect on him. He has a keen mind and knows more languages than can be counted. I think he would make a great barrister one day.”

Joan chimed in, “I hear from my brother, Lord Ashley, that you are quite gifted in languages as well. Would you like to join one of our lessons this evening?”

I accepted the invitation, picking up a key detail within her statement. Joan was Lord Ashley’s sister. That put me both at ease for my safety and raised my mental barriers. The man was enigmatic to me, having not appeared in history books nor been honest with his guided lessons. He was a man with set instructions that I could tell were not maligned towards me or the kingdom, but they were coercive toward an end that benefitted no one in the future. If I were to make a guess based on what I have seen and know, Lord Ashley was likely part of the stabilizing moderate faction, left behind by King Henry VIII. When Henry VIII died, England was in a mess of Protestant reform and Catholic insurgent factions that split society from noble to peasant down the middle, like 21st-century American politics in a way. A small moderate faction during the regency of Edward VI was all that kept each side from opening a civil war immediately. A royal tutor like Lord Ashley would have access to me, Mary, and Edward, making him invaluable as a peacemaking moderate. History would later indicate this approach was utterly wrong.

I had no problem with moderates who just wanted peace through compromise, but their cause was quixotic at best under these circumstances. Two groups in peace with divergent ideas would just grow further apart through compromising their beliefs, making reconciliation in the future harder and harder over time as each side got exceptions and exemptions. Moderates would be a reason why many nations became so polarized and factional in the modern world, having the opposite effect of maintaining peace, they sow the seeds for an even more bitter factional conflict. A lesson I learned from reading the manga, How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom, was that people with good intentions can do more harm through compromise. A good leader must be firm with different values than either side in conflict to create real peace in the long run. That’s why I could respect moderates for desiring peace, but reject their goals.

I settled in a small room with a simple twin-sized bed and desk. It wasn’t furnished with much except a candleholder, an inkwell, and a few pieces of paper. As I unpacked what few belongings I had, I discovered a piece of paper underneath my pillow.

I read it, “The last shall be the first.”

My first thought was that it was a bible passage hidden in my room, but I didn’t understand why someone would do that. It was written with a lot of ink and pressure; I could feel the writer had put a lot of force into it due to the indentation on the piece of paper. The phrase had no real bearing on me since I didn’t believe in Christianity. Concluding it as one of the Denny’s children offering me a prayer or something like that, I ignored it at first.

The lesson was interesting since I could understand the ancient languages through my unique ability and the historical contexts of various points. Joan Denny was trying very hard to befriend me during the lesson, offering me praise and supposedly private insights about things I had never read, such as Plato.

I offered her information that I doubted she knew based on the limited translated books at the time, “Lady Denny, I believe that Plato was not his given name, but a name given to him by his lover, meaning “broad” in ancient Greek.”

She was confused at my reply, “I am certain that his name was Plato, otherwise why would so many later Greeks and Romans have called him such? Lord Eli, you must surely be mistaken.”

Though I had wanted to leave it at that, the dark-haired boy named Francis supported my claim, “My good aunt Lady Denny, I believe that is correct. Plato’s true name was Aristocles. The reason why his lover called him Plato was due to a certain physical feature that men of a certain disposition praise.”

My eyes and smile went wide at the subtle insinuation about Plato having a fat dick, which I knew was considered one of the reasons why his boyfriend gave him the nickname. A lot of people think penises are all about the length, but the girth is just as important for hitting the prostate in the right spot. I knew personally how important that was both from Jack’s dick and the toys I used on him. Francis was not a reserved emo boy and knew his anal sex. It was the first time since London that I smiled.

Lady Denny and the other children were oblivious to the sexual innuendo. The lesson continued until dinner, which consisted of wheat porridge, an egg, and root vegetables. There were only a handful of servants and very few flavoring choices outside salt. It was far from the fried pastries, herbs, and fresh fruit of the Seymore’s residence, but Sir Anthony Denny had twelve children along with several wards like me and Francis. I can’t fault him for not having a massive kitchen or servants to meet every need. He was a decent man based on the quality of life for that period in history.

A routine began to form in the following days, I woke up at dawn and assisted with the work of the household. All the children did the same and we had very little time for things like afternoon tea or mock battles. As water was generated through a well, there were very few chances for bathing, but I had adjusted to the smell of body odor despite disliking it. At times when we did not work, Lady Denny would spend time educating us in Latin and Greek literature. We had a breakfast of bread and milk, no lunch, and a similar dinner every night. Also, every day after chores, I would find the same message hidden underneath my pillow, “The last shall be the first.”

My only interaction with Francis would be various innuendo-laden discussions about Greek and Roman culture. He knew his queer history, which I was surprised that anyone during this era would as translated writings on taboo subjects like male lovers were rare in England. We did our chores separately and ate far apart at the table. I wondered a few times if he was in the closet and was trying to test my interest. Despite the obvious flirtatious nature of our discussions, I had no interest in making a move, but I could use a new queer friend.

Things changed after a few months of this routine, when Thomas Denny, Sir Anthony Denny’s brother, arrived. While nothing outwardly changed, I noticed Francis had distanced himself from me and gravitated toward his other uncle. He also paid special attention to making my chores more difficult, when gathering wood, he hid the small hand-drawn cart, forcing me to make several trips with a backpack basket. I also heard him openly call me a sodomite among other things in front of Thomas Denny, which did get admonishments from Lady Joan. I don’t know why he was doing all of that after months of us flirting and having a semi-friendship forming. I didn’t feel safe around him anymore and it made me depressed.

Then late one night, I was awakened by a sudden jolt.

Someone spoke, “The last shall be the first”

I stared up in shock at the figure of a dark-haired teenage boy. Francis stood in front of my bed dressed in black with a dagger, while I was half naked. Thoughts of him plunging the knife into me cleared any lingering trace of sleep.

As I was about to scream for what I had guessed would be my last, he whispered, “Do not scream, come with me quickly, you are in danger.”

I didn’t protest and followed his instructions to dress because if he wanted to kill me, he could have done it in my sleep. The sudden change in demeanor was emotional whiplash, but I still maintained my rational brain. I had nothing of value with me except the letter from Robert, so I travelled light, while Francis had a satchel. We crept out of my room toward a side entrance used by servants. We made it out of the Denny’s manor into their wheat fields. Immediately, Francis grabbed me in a run. We ran until we reached the wooded area at the edge of the fields, then I turned back to see the manor engulfed in fire.

I knew Anthony Denny would die soon of natural causes, but the entire Denny family was never meant to die like this. Several of their kids would be serving Elizabeth I as commanders of her privateer fleet or hold office.

I stared at him, “What happened?”

He replied coldly, “My uncle Thomas was working for Bishop Andrews, the Papal envoy. I was told of their private meeting a few months before you came here. I sent a letter to my good uncle Anthony asking if he would offer me board, so I could be closer to the Denny family. Then, you came to live with us with the move of Lord Ashley.”

All of his previous actions finally made sense in my mind. When his uncle came to Cheshunt, he knew it was due to my presence. Francis drew his uncle’s attention and befriended him. He pretended to be homophobic and bullied me to gain information from someone working in the Catholic Church to get rid of a potential danger. Despite how confusing my actions in London were, I was still a danger to Mary’s rise to power and their plans.

Staring at the fire, I asked, “Why didn’t you warn your family about Thomas Denny’s allegiances?”

“It wouldn’t have changed anything. My uncle had brought men into the nearby towns and would have massacred everyone including me. They have the backing of Princess Mary and their Catholic followers, along with Protestant lords under John Dudley. Luckily, they chose a fire, which was the best choice for our escape.”

Francis was not part of the moderate faction or Protestant faction if he were countering both to protect me. My instincts about him were right, he was someone I could trust. However, I felt immense guilt for the innocent people who burned to death due to me. I can understand the Catholic Church under some future person’s influence wanting to get rid of me. As for John Dudley, based on what I know of him and his reactions, he was a homophobic prick trying to get rid of a stain on his family’s reputation. Having so many sons and ambitions to be the ruler of England himself, he wanted me and Robert out of the way. I hoped that Robert was safe from his father’s wrath, but watching the burning manor house filled with innocent men, women, and children, I doubted he would be merciful.

Anger surged at the act of cruelty in front of me, I shouted at Francis, “Why did you bother to save me? I have nothing to offer you as a reward. I am not a Prince, nor am I a Princess. People think I am a freak of nature.”

He bowed before me in supplication, “To those like me, you are everything. You represent the end of oppression and potential for future dreams.”

“Those like you?”

He nodded, “I was born of the fair folk, but there is no time for me to explain. We must reach the sanctuary of the coven before daybreak.”

History and reality itself were shaken up by his words, I needed something firm to believe in, so I asked, “What is your full name, Francis?”

Noticing my discomfort at his revelations, he gave me an encouraging smile, “My name is Francis Walsingham and I shall be at your side until my end.”

With the name of Elizabeth’s shadow protector, I followed him, knowing things would be fine.

Thoughts on the chapter:
 
Copyright © 2023 W_L; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Story Discussion Topic

Just a place for readers to ask questions, ponder alt-history in this universe, and have fun. Not sure if I have a lot of readers in this alt-history 16th-century English setting novel or not, but I thought I'd open it up for discussions. Eli is not Elizabeth I, nor a true male heir, but it plays out with interesting what-ifs based on history. An intersex/non-binary standpoint is something new for me to write, so I appreciate it if any NBs want to point out things to me for improvement. I'v
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Chapter Comments

Great chapter, this story is very interesting and intriguing.  Looking forward to more. This is a period of history that I know little of, and the main character is very engaging.

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On 10/6/2023 at 11:11 AM, chris191070 said:

Awesome chapter 

Thanks Chris

20 hours ago, VBlew said:

Great chapter, this story is very interesting and intriguing.  Looking forward to more. This is a period of history that I know little of, and the main character is very engaging.

Thanks, it's alternate history, but I use a lot of historical elements to write this story to make for some fun concepts and points of contrast.

Edited by W_L
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3 hours ago, drsawzall said:

And just who are the 'fair folk??? Onward to the next chapter!

The fair folk is another name used by English literature to describe the fae species from the fantasy genre.

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