Subject: Elizabeth Jane Weston
Time period: 1587-1608 CE
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Rudolf II invited many notable figures to his court, making Prague the center of European culture. Among them were Englishmen Edward Kelley and his step-daughter Elizabeth Jane Weston. Observe her and report any alleged collusion.
Mama says Count Rožmberk will take care of us now, so long as Papa and Uncle John work for him. Our home is big, but Třeboň is a small town. Mama seems happy.
Uncle John— everyone else calls him Dr. Dee— says that not all five-year-olds can speak three languages or write as well as I do. "I foretell a bright future for you, Lady Beth."
- I like reading, drawing, and writing poems, but mathematics are hard. John Francis, my brother, is better at calculations than I am. He is one year older.
- Papa wants me to get the same opportunities as my brother. He says I am fortunate, that not all young ladies have private tutors. I study hard to please him.
- "We are fasting this evening, Master Kelley!" Uncle John announces. Papa grins. I know what this means: they will be working all night, again.
- After dinner, I run to the parlor and jump on Uncle John's lap. His beard, unlike Papa's, is all white, and rough! I ask him to tell a story.
- Uncle John makes everyone laugh; even Papa, who is usually so serious. He says they have to work now. Mama tells me it is time for bed.
- I pull the sheets over my head and listen to the low, humming voices coming from the study. I am afraid of the dark, but not tonight, not with Papa and Uncle John praying.
Papa needs to leave now, to earn money. I know about money; we need it to eat and purchase things. I do not want him to go.
- I give Papa a big hug, and Uncle John too. I wave at them until I can no longer see their carriage. How long will they be gone this time?
- I ask Mama about Papa's work. She says he gives conferences with Uncle John, providing advice to people who need it.
- John Francis says Papa communicates with angels. I laugh, but Mama does not. "He told me!" he says, crossing his skinny arms over his chest.
- After a long pause, Mama sighs. "John Francis is right. Your father speaks with angels. He gains..." she scratches her head, "insight from them."
- I ask Mama what an angel is. She says it is a being from beyond, a winged entity that lives with God, in Heaven. I do not know what she means.
- John Francis says only Papa can call angels. Mama nods, saying he has a rare gift. "He uses a crystal ball!" John Francis declares.
I seldom see Papa and Uncle John these days. They do not eat— they are fasting again— and spend most of their time in the study.
- I wake up with a start and pull the blankets to my chin. It is still dark, but I hear voices downstairs. Taking a deep breath, I sneak out of bed.
- I walk down the stairs, avoiding the creaking ones. I fear monsters will jump out of shadows— though Uncle John assured me he banished all monsters from our home.
- I tiptoe to the door of the study and put my ear upon it. I recognize Papa's and Uncle John's voices, but there is also another, much deeper voice within.
- A loud click! They have unlocked the door! I hide behind the cabinet. Papa and Uncle John come out of the study and walk away, smiling.
- I count to one hundred, then tiptoe toward the study. No one inside! "Elizabeth?" Papa says, behind me. "What are you doing?"
- Papa makes me promise not to go into his study. "There are things in there you should not see." There are a hundred questions I want to ask him, but I can only nod.
I have never seen Papa and Uncle John so happy. They whisper and laugh at things only they understand. Mama says it is because they have done good work.
- I have finished my dinner and ask to be excused. Mama nods and I hurry upstairs. I notice that the door to Uncle John's room is ajar.
- I hurry to the door. Holding my breath, I peek inside. The room is sumptuous! Uncle John always says Aunt Jane has good taste, and he is right!
- I tiptoe inside and open Uncle John's armoire. It is filled with treasure! Shiny rocks, a black mirror, a wax seal with pictures on it, a gold amulet!
- Ignoring everything else, I pick up what looks like a globe packed in cloth. Could it be the crystal ball John Francis mentioned? Quickly, I unwrap it!
- The sphere is heavy and feels warm in my hands. It is made of the shiniest gold! On its surface, I see a reflection of my face— and Uncle John's!
- Uncle John grabs the sphere and puts it inside his doublet. I shiver, but he smiles. "You should not be playing with things you cannot comprehend, Lady Beth."
We have been in Třeboň almost two years now. We are happy here; happier than we have ever been.
Papa continues to work while Uncle John is away. He keeps to himself and barely addresses us during breakfast, but at least he is eating now.
- I am feeble today. Mama says I have a fever and tells me to stay in bed. I sleep all day and most of the night. I awake famished.
- I dislike the night, but I am not as afraid of it as I used to be. I get out of bed, careful not to make a sound. I do not want to wake anybody up!
- A pale light emanates from the study. The door is open! Papa never leaves the door of his study open! I creep toward the light, on the tip of my toes.
- I sneak a peek inside. Papa leans over a table, reading a book. It has an odd, silvery tint. Papa suddenly mumbles an incomprehensible string of words and numbers.
- Papa sprinkles red powder on something upon the table. "I did it!" His wide grin deforms his face. "I did it!" He picks up— a clump of gold!
- Papa's guffaws make me shiver. His voice is deep and he speaks words I do not understand. I hurry upstairs and crawl back into bed.
I notice Papa and Uncle John in the distance. I pick up my dolls and hide behind the tallest oak in the garden. I try not to laugh as they walk toward me.
- Papa tells Uncle John that they should change the nature of their work, that they should study alchemy and stop wasting their time with angels.
- They pass by the oak. "The book has boundless potential!" Papa says. "I need your help, to unlock its formulas!" I poke my head out. Uncle John frowns.
- "We could work at the imperial court!" Papa continues. "Producing gold is only the first step!" Uncle John turns to face him. I hide again, hugging my dolls.
- "You should not fiddle with this book, Kelley!" I almost fail to recognize Uncle John's voice. "You cannot imagine the evil it contains! It holds more than mere numbers!"
- Papa protests, but Uncle John interrupts. "Your associate, Master Husey, the one who gave you the book... I dealt with him before, long ago. He cannot be trusted."
- Papa says they could be rich beyond their wildest dreams. I take a quick glance. Uncle John shakes his head. "No, my friend. The book will destroy you."
Mama is in her room, crying. She has barely uttered two words in days, and I suspect she has not even spoken to Papa. She has been avoiding his gaze.
- I am reading when a loud clang makes me jump. Is John Francis acting up again? He can be such a baby sometimes!
- Another clash, followed by a shriek; a woman's shriek! I put my book down and hurry to the door. Papa and Uncle John are screaming at each other!
- I walk out of my bedroom. The shouting has stopped, but I hear sobbing now, coming from Uncle John's room. Is Aunt Jane hurt?
- The door of Uncle John's room suddenly bursts open! Aunt Jane cries out after her husband, but someone interrupts her: Papa!
- I feel the entire floor shudder as Uncle John slams the door shut. He glares at me, fire in his eyes. I am paralyzed! My eyes well up.
- Uncle John takes my hand and pulls me away. "You should not be here!" He drags me downstairs. "You... You should not have seen this!"
Papa and Uncle John seldom speak now. When they do, they shout, which makes Mama cry. Aunt Jane stays in her room. I wish I could do the same.
- I wake up jumping. Papa is screaming again! I close my eyes, wishing things would be as they used to, but I am old enough to know better.
- A door slams. I look out the window and see Papa walking toward the stables, shouting, "Envious fool!" I watch him disappear in the darkness.
- I run downstairs. Mama sits in the parlor, sobbing in silence. I crawl under the sofa. "It is time for me to leave." Uncle John's voice is filled with sorrow.
- "You will be missed, both of you." Wishing Uncle John good fortune, Mama leaves. I stay hidden and watch Uncle John pace the room.
- I quietly follow Uncle John to Papa's study. Producing a key, he looks over his shoulder and unlocks the door. "At life's end, you will understand, old friend."
- Uncle John comes out of the study with Papa's strange silver book."I am doing this for your father. The secrets it holds are not meant for him."
Mama says she feels at home in Prague, but I do not. Papa will not let me do anything. He tells me the streets are not safe.
I like it when Papa brings me to Prague Castle. It gives me a chance to escape from the house, and spend time with him. He is seldom home these days.
- People from all over the world gather here, at the "center of European culture," as Papa puts it. I wonder why important people frown so much.
- Papa speaks with an elderly gentleman. His flowing white beard reminds me of Uncle John's. I sigh and take Papa's hand. He does not seem to notice.
- "We do not dare walk the streets," the old gentleman complains, "even during daytime!" Papa nods, saying that Prague has never been so unsafe.
- "You know why, Master Kelley? The Emperor," he leans close to Papa's ear. "He is weak! He gives the people too much freedom!"
- "I heard that a killer runs amok, targeting noblemen— and alchemists!" There is a tremor in the old man's voice. "They say he is a monster. A giant!"
- "Some say he is not even human." Papa declares. I squeeze his hand, wishing Uncle John could be here to banish the monsters of Prague.
For my tenth birthday, Papa will show me his workshop! I will finally have a chance to see where he spends his days... and many of his nights!
- Most people we encounter ignore me as I follow Papa through the corridors of Prague Castle, but some scowl or roll their eyes when they see me.
- The windows in this part of the castle have been sealed off with bricks and mortar. Papa carefully locks every door we pass through.
- Papa's workshop is a treasure trove! There is a myriad of items here, each more wondrous than the next: colored powers, ancient scrolls, amulets...
- Papa works all day, reading formulas, mixing powers, boiling liquids... I watch from afar, afraid to disturb him. His work is so important!
- Papa constantly mutters to himself. He blinks a lot and often glances over his shoulder. He makes me nervous, especially when he barks strange words.
- "I cannot do it!" Howling, Papa throws a glass beaker to the floor. It explodes in a thousand tiny shards. I cover my face. "I need the book!"
Night has fallen when a young visitor interrupts Papa's work. He enters the workshop and announces that the Emperor has summoned his alchemists.
- Papa tells me to wait, and warns me not to touch a thing. Then, frowning, he takes my hand and drags me along. "You must remain quiet."
- We enter a dark room where a score of old men gather around a long table. Papa motions me to stay behind, with the assistants and apprentices.
- A large man in black clothes with white ruff and fur hat enters. Everyone bows. I take a step back, hiding behind a lanky youth.
- The man (the Emperor?) sits at the end of the table, scrutinizing everyone in the room. When he raises an eyebrow, one of the alchemists jumps to his feet.
- "My brother has seen the monster!" The man squeaks like a mouse. "It is wholly black! A demon!" The alchemists discuss at length.
- Many alchemists agree: this killer, this monster, cannot be human. "What if it is a homunculus?" Papa suggests. A deathly silence falls upon the room.
We leave Prague Castle before dawn. A score of guards escort us, and other alchemists. "For our safety." Why are there so many monsters in the world?
- Dawn creeps over the Vltava. Finally! We arrive at the house of the last alchemist. We will soon be home! No, no, no! Papa will not stop talking to him!
- I walk into the alley next to the man's house. Two steps into it and— "Ouch!" I bump into an invisible wall! White eyes appear in the darkness!
- I see it! The silhouette of a giant! Marks cover the monster's pitch black forehead. No, letters: "EMET." I stare at the white eyes. "What are you?"
- "I have been called many names." The monster's voice is strange, guttural. "Here, they call me Golem." Papa shouts! Guards run toward us!
- "You have just saved your father's life, Little One," it rasps. Golem runs toward the river. I see it clearly now: a gigantic body, black and sinewy.
- The monster jumps in the river. I follow, Papa and the guards behind me. I observe the water: perfectly still. Not a hint of Golem!
We have never discussed Papa's imprisonment. Not one word about it in over three years. Now that John Francis is away, I alone must care for Mama.
Papa will be released from prison today, but Mama worries. She says he has one last chance to satisfy the emperor's expectations.
- Standing in front of the house, I hold Mama's hand. My heart beats quickly as I behold Papa's carriage. I forget to breathe when it stops, two paces before us.
- Mama trembles when the carriage door opens. A pale, emaciated man with a long, grizzled beard steps out. "Papa!" He walks by us, as if we were ghosts.
- Mama has prepared roasted lamb, Papa's favorite, to celebrate his return, but he does not eat. He simply stares at his plate, silent.
- Mama makes idle conversation, pretending— without much success— that nothing is wrong. Papa suddenly stands up. His chair hits the floor with a loud thud.
- Papa storms out of the dining room, pushing invisible spirits out of his way. He shouts in a strange tongue; the same language I once heard him speak, when I was little.
- My heart is in a knot, but I hold back my tears. I take Mama's hand, but nothing I can do or say will ease her sorrow. What will we do now?
The Emperor has restored Papa's status, but soldiers guard our house. They are not here to protect us, but to make sure Papa does not leave Prague.
- A month has passed since Papa's return. He remains distant, but at least he does not completely ignore us— though he works ceaselessly.
- I walk through the open doorway of Papa's study, the platter Mama has prepared for him in my hands, and stop. Papa sits on the floor, and begins to howl!
- I drop the platter and its content spatters across the room. I run to Papa and kneel next to him. He grasps my hand and immediately falls silent.
- Papa's nails dig into the flesh of my hand. I bite my lip to suppress a cry. He suddenly raises a tight fist in front of my face! I close my eyes.
- "I cannot do it!" Papa's voice is bleak, desperate. "Not enough... Not even a handful left!" I look at him. Tears run down his ashen face.
- Slowly, as if revealing a priceless treasure, he opens his fist. In the palm of his wrinkled hand is a tiny bit of red dust. "Curse you, Dee!"
Papa works without rest, even though he keeps saying he has already failed us. He has not slept in weeks and he barely eats. He is but a shell of the man I once knew.
- Mama shakes me out of my dreams. "Elizabeth! Soldiers are coming!" I do not react immediately, for I am used to soldiers guarding our house.
- I look outside. There is a column of young men in uniform in our yard. Their torches cast dancing shadows upon their faces. "Monsters of Prague."
- I open the front door. An officer and six stern-faced men step inside. The officer clears his throat. "By order of—"
- "No!" Mama darts forward, tears streaming down her cheeks. I hold her back. "You cannot take him away! You cannot! Not again!"
- The soldiers' eyes widen. Papa walks toward us, his face twisted in a demonic grimace. He murmurs a prayer in the strange tongue only he seems to understand.
- The officer tries to reason with Papa. Howling, Papa jumps on him, clawing at his face. A soldier strikes his head and he falls. Mama wails as they take him away.
I am sixteen years old, and some of the guards in Hněvín Castle have taken an interest in me. They insist on making conversation every time I visit Papa.
- None of them interest me. Most are boorish cretins; others are more bedraggled than hogs in mud-filled sties. But I always smile and remain courteous.
- I take a deep breath when, in the distance, I spot Hněvín's tower. I try not to think of the babbling louse I will have to confront before seeing Papa.
- What is this? A cross at the top of the tower? I walk more briskly, then my heart stops. Papa! He stands on the edge of the tower, arms wide open.
- I run toward the castle. I see Papa clearly now: a skeleton in tattered robes. He stares at me— no, not at me, but beyond! "You have come!"
- "Free me, Divine Messenger, free me!" Papa raises his hands to the sky, as if praying. "Heavenly Guardian, guide my fall!" He jumps off the tower!
- I support Papa's broken body. He bleeds profusely, but holds my gaze. His demons no longer haunt him. "Dee... was... wise..." He exhales his last breath.
News of Queen Elizabeth's death reaches Prague. The Virgin Queen, after which I have been named, has passed away, one month after my wedding.
A knock at the door disturbs my thoughts. I lift my head from the blank page on my desk and put my quill down. "Come in."
- Johannes, my husband, steps into my study. A tussock of raven hair brushes his face as he lowers his head. How remarkably formal of him!
- He apologizes for disturbing me while I work. I frown, feigning annoyance, but fail to suppress a thin smile. I seem incapable of writing today.
- Johannes' face lights up. His thumb absently caresses the ivory handle of his cane. "A package has arrived. It is addressed to Lady Beth."
- "Lady Beth?" Only Uncle John calls me thus! I have not heard from him in years. I run out of the room and hurry down the stairs, as I used to, when I was little.
- Ignoring the letter accompanying the package, I quickly peel off the layers of cloth covering what I assume to be a framed painting.
- The painting depicts the Virgin Queen, two ladies in waiting behind her, standing in front of three goddesses. "How thoughtful of Uncle John!"
Johannes and I stare at the painting, mesmerized. "Magnificent!" My eyes then fixate on the verse engraved upon its frame.
- Johannes contemplates every last detail, every tiny stroke, every subtle hue. Master Johannes Leo: Husband, Jurist, and Connoisseur.
- "See what lies on the ground?" Johannes points a finger, first at a golden scepter, then at a quiver of arrows, and finally at fallen roses.
- "Juno, Minerva, and Venus!" Johannes shakes his head, laughing quietly. He had not expected me to answer. He should know better.
- "Or Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite." Johannes' nose is two inches from the painting. "The three goddesses whose beauty Paris judged!"
- I remember the story well, having read it several times. "This painting is an allegory," my husband says. I suspect otherwise, but do not contradict him.
- There is something familiar about the painting. Is this? Yes! The golden orb! Identical to the one I found in Uncle John's room when I was a child!
I sit in my study, alone, staring at the painting Uncle John has given me. My hands tremble as my fingers brush the edge of the dry wax sealing his scroll.
- I carefully break the scroll's seal and unroll it. I immediately recognize Uncle John's penmanship.
- "Lady Beth," it begins. I smile, for I am still fond of the private name Uncle John used to address me. "Fairest and most noble of poetesses..."
- "Please accept this humble gift, from your not so humble friend and mentor." Uncle John is much more than that! He is family; a second father to me.
- "I hope you will find it a fitting tribute for your betrothal." I laugh quietly. I had never expected to receive such a splendid gift.
- "If you observe the composition, you will surely recognize the trinket you once unearthed in my chamber." The golden orb! I knew it!
- "You may think this picture a riddle, an allegory, an artist's fancy. It is not. The object in the hand of the Faerie Queen is real. So is its power. And so are the goddesses."