They worked for several hours until Oxford fell asleep. As Shaxper continued on his own to create a fair copy of the new material, a cool breeze blew in from the window, calling his attention outside to Countess Elizabeth, who was gathering flowers in the garden. He set down his pen and watched her. He had never seen a woman with such beautiful hair, the color of luminescent honey. She was graceful and very sophisticated, a complete contrast to Oxford’s first wife, who had never outgrown her childish awkwardness.
From the first day she had entered his life after her marriage to Lord Oxford, Shaxper realized that he also loved her. That made him wish his role as an impostor included conjugal rights. Whenever he came to the house, he listened for her voice; and whenever she spoke his name, his heart flew into his throat. He decided it wasn’t a good idea to arrive late for work anymore, since it deprived him of these secret stolen moments. Countess Elizabeth had no idea how he felt. He had to be careful not to betray his feelings to anyone. It wouldn’t do to arouse Lord Oxford’s notorious temper. Maybe the Earl wasn’t as ill as he looked. Maybe he was strong enough to stab someone to death, just for having impure thoughts about his wife.
Still, Shaxper wondered what his life would have been like if he had wed such a fine lady as Countess Elizabeth instead of that bovine peasant to whom he was hopelessly tied.
“What are you staring at?” Oxford snapped on awakening.
“N-nothing. I just thought I’d get some fresh air,” the scribe said, nervously apologetic as he moved away from the window.
“You don’t look well. Your face is flushed.”
“Yes. Look in the glass. You’re as red-faced as Bardolph.”
Shaxper looked in the mirror and turned his head from side to side.
“I don’t see anything,” he said.
“That’s not good. Perhaps you’ve lost your head.”
“Very funny, my lord, a little humor at my expense.” Shaxper glanced out the window again, but the Countess had gone. His heart sank.
“Tell me, what do you think of poor Cardinal Wolsey?” Oxford asked.
“What should I think of him?”
“Pity him, for God’s sake. He dies simply because he fell out of favor with the King. Aren’t you afraid of that?”
“Why should I be? My position as a playwright is very secure.”
“That’s what Marlowe used to say. And so did the others.”
“Well, thank God I have you to protect me, my lord.”
“Don’t thank the Almighty yet. Lord Strange was poisoned for writing plays and the same thing could happen to me.”
“It’s possible, especially with Cecil’s passion for keeping score. Take it from me, I’ve lived in the shadow of the executioner’s axe all my life. Meanwhile, the tides have changed and we’re no longer in safe waters. It’s essential for you to beware of hidden dangers.”
“God’s blood! Are we to be next?”
“I don’t know. But ever since the Queen’s death, I’ve felt as if the world holds nothing more for me,” he sighed. “And that’s a dangerous sentiment.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Shaxper said. “This world is all I have. It suits me, and I’ll fiercely defend my right to stay in it.”
“You may well need to do that. I’m only trying to warn you, in case we become separated for some reason and you find yourself on your own.”
“Thank you, my lord, but I have no intention of separating from you.”
“Spoken like a true parasite.”
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