by Kat Otis
- Elizabeth, exiled Queen of Bohemia, leaned over the edge of the wherry to trail her fingers through the cold waters of the subterranean river. Part of her still couldn’t believe that she was there, that the river was real. Already she could hear the distant crashing of the waterfall. If that much of her vision was truth then she knew, deep in her bones, that the rest must be true as well. Here was a place where she could reach through time.
Here, she could touch the past. Change it. Save her husband and sons and perhaps all of Europe with them. Surely, with the knowledge she had now, she could stop the war before it tore the Holy Roman Empire apart.
The wherry rounded a bend in the river and Elizabeth’s breath caught in awe as the light from the lanterns suddenly illuminated a magnificent fall of water, ten times the height of any man. The rowers made for the grotto on the bank of the river then held the wherry steady while Dudley, her lady-in-waiting, helped her disembark.
A narrow rock ledge stretched towards the waterfall and beyond. The mist rising from the waterfall would make the rock treacherously slippery, but Elizabeth saw no other way to approach the waterfall. Her heart quailed as she considered trying to edge her way along that ledge. She wished she had worn sturdier shoes. And perhaps a narrower gown.
Dudley clenched her fists into the fabric of her own gown, no doubt hoping to hide the way they had begun to shake. “Your Majesty, perhaps you should reconsider-”
“Millions of lives are at stake,” Elizabeth said, firmly, trying to convince herself as much as Dudley. If she thought too hard about what she was going to do, she would lose her courage so she lifted the hem of her skirt and began to inch her way along the ledge.
It was as slick as she had feared. Halfway to the waterfall, her foot skidded out from under her and Dudley cried out in alarm. Elizabeth dropped her skirt and used her arms to balance herself. Strangely, though, the misstep settled her nerves. God was with her – He would not let her fall.
As she approached the violent flow of water, the roar of the waterfall became deafening. The vision had implied she would see the most important turning point from her past in the waters, the moment where it all went wrong. Had it been choosing exile in the Netherlands instead of returning to her childhood home of England? Encouraging her husband Frederick to accept the pro-offered throne of Bohemia? Marrying Frederick and moving to the Holy Roman Empire in the first place? She kept waiting for the moment when all would become clear, but the water remained stubbornly opaque. Perhaps she needed to be closer? She edged into the rising mist, wincing at the damage to her poor gown, and searched for a sign.
Only when the first splash of water hit her face did Elizabeth understand that she must step into the waterfall.
Elizabeth hesitated, then drew in a deep breath and took one final step. God would protect her.
He would not have led her here, otherwise.
- Elizabeth, Dowager Queen of Sweden, found the subterranean river exactly where she remembered it from her previous life. The factious Swedish Riksdag had been glad enough to support her pilgrimage, each nobleman hoping to seize control of her sons in her absence and thus rule in their names. Let the Riksdag enjoy its petty victories while this lifetime lasted, she would be triumphant in the end.
Dudley helped her from the wherry then held her lantern high and peered around the grotto, wide-eyed and pale-faced. She whispered, as if the roar of the waterfall wouldn’t prevent the rowers from overhearing them, “It’s exactly the way you described it.”
“Of course it is,” Elizabeth said, impatiently. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Dudley shook her head, but Elizabeth could see that it was only now – in this place – that Dudley truly believed the story Elizabeth had confessed thirty long years ago, in those first shocked moments of finding herself once again a nine-year-old child. Still, whether or not she believed, Dudley had faithfully devoted herself to Elizabeth’s plans. She was a true friend and servant, and so Elizabeth had brought her once again to the waterfall.
Elizabeth had done so many things differently in this new life, focusing all her energy on creating bridges between the great Protestant powers, but the Holy Roman Empire had still erupted into religious warfare. As she lifted the hem of her skirts and made her way along the ledge – this time in sensible, sturdy shoes – she couldn’t help but reflect upon her failures. She’d married the King of Sweden, over her Danish mother’s strenuous objections, then struggled to end the enmity between her new husband and her maternal uncle. The threat of their Protestant armies combined could have forced the Catholic Emperor to terms, but Gustav had not listened to her and so her husband had once again died on a Saxon battlefield. Back home in England, her younger brother Charles would not listen, either, bent on the same path of self-destruction he had followed before. He would plunge his three Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland into their own civil war, before the end. Bloody, stubborn men.
No wonder God had entrusted this task to a woman.
She would not fail Him, no matter how many tries it took.
- Elizabeth, Princess Royal of England, wept as the rowers entered the mouth of the river and left the sunlit world behind. Dudley tried to comfort her, but her lady-in-waiting’s words missed the mark entirely.
Dudley thought she mourned for her newly-deceased father. Elizabeth supposed that was not too far from the truth. She mourned the loss of his peace, for her elder brother Henry had taken England to war against the Holy Roman Emperor before their father was even laid to rest. But even more than that, she mourned the political capital she had spent to save Henry’s life, refusing marriage after power-filled marriage to prevent the wedding celebrations where he had fallen ill and died twice before. Despite all her years of experience – all the lives she had lived – her childhood love had blinded her and she had foolishly believed her beloved elder brother would be a more reasonable King of England than the younger had been.
This time she had not dared confide the truth to her lady-in-waiting. Dudley was still an innocent – she couldn’t imagine the pain and suffering Henry was about to unleash. And she was her king’s loyal subject – she couldn’t possibly understand the decision Elizabeth had reached.
Henry had to die young, as God had intended. Then all of England could remember him as a shining hope, tragically lost before his time, and never suspect it could have been otherwise.
As soon as the wherry reached the grotto, Elizabeth leapt out, ignoring Dudley’s cry of surprise. Grieving but determined, she headed towards the waterfall.
It was becoming increasingly clear to her that there was only one path that would save Europe from destruction. England had a queen once before. It must have a queen again. Both her brothers must die.
God so willed it.
- Elizabeth, Princess of Wales, sent Dudley away with harsh words the girl did not deserve. She had fought long and hard to hide her rage at her father’s betrayal, but now she had no more strength for pretences. How dare he betroth her to a Seymour – as if that bastardy-tainted junior bloodline had more of a right to the throne than hers! – and have the gall to assure her that her husband would do a fine job ruling England until their sons came of age.
But I am your heir, she had protested.
He had given her a patronizing smile, as if she were still a small child, never suspecting she had lived a hundred years and more. If she had needed any proof of her fitness to rule – any proof that none suspected the role she had played in her brothers’ untimely deaths – it was that smile. England requires a strong king to follow in my footsteps.
Her hands shook with fury as she strode into the waterfall.
God required otherwise.
- Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc., kept her head erect as the newly-appointed Archbishop of Canterbury placed the heavy crown on her nine-year-old head. The treacherous Guy Fawkes and fellow Catholic conspirators thought they had won a great victory by blowing up Parliament and bringing her to the throne, but she had already set a plan in motion to destroy them. This time, things would finally be different. And all of Europe would gratefully remember.
The fifth of November.