“I am prepared to acknowledge your unique contribution to Lord Oxford’s work in our folio,” Jonson bargained. “After all, you were his most faithful confidante.”
“More important than his wives, his lovers, his children or his beloved Queen,” Shaxper added. “I guarded his darkest secrets, any one of which could have toppled the nation when he was angry; and oh, he was angry so often! I always managed to calm him down and remind him that our secret work on behalf of England was more important.”
“God’s blood, he needed no reminder of that from the likes of you. Your audacity makes my head spin.”
“Very well, Jonson; spin this – to hell with you and the Herberts and your Shake-speare folio. I won’t summon my man, but I’ll not say another word. I’ll take my secrets to the grave.”
Shaxper folded his arms and pursed his lips like a spoiled child. “Forgive me,” Jonson pleaded anxiously, realizing he’d gone too far.
He gently grasped Shaxper by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. “I was wrong to offend you, sir. After all these years, you do deserve a proper hearing for everything you suffered as Lord Oxford’s front man. I’m sure it would lighten your spirit to reveal those secrets, even to an old fire-eater like me. Let’s close the rift between us. Perhaps it would mend your ailing heart to bring you to some confession of your true state, as it were.”
“Yes, a deathbed confession would ease my mind,” Shaxper said. “But I must warn you – the truth will be far more burdensome than you think.”
Jonson ignored the warning. He sat down to listen and visualized the manuscripts drifting closer.
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