By: James Dickman
Call me the Pirate Queen. Call me a rebel. And rightly so. It’s my clan’s trust that I carry, dear. Is it not my duty to protect our ancestral lands, enforce fishing tariffs, and to seek prosperous trade? And I’d rather die from a thousand flesh wounds than let my dearest son, Tibbot, perish from this earth. His capture and imprisonment by Sir Richard Bingham bleeds my heart, and hastens me to the queen’s court. I’m deep within the lion’s lair of Queen Elizabeth’s Greenwich Palace. As I climb the staircase and gaze at the regal portraits of the queen, I am overawed by Her Majesty’s power and influence. The queen, who is the author of this civil war, lets loose the hounds of hell and opens a vein that bleeds our nation to death. I come not as her loyal subject, but as her rival, the proud chieftain of the Irish O’ Malley clan, protector of my flock.
En route to the queen’s chamber, a tall and moustached palace guard wrinkles his face and looks at me with contempt. Seething inside, I stifle myself from pulling out my dagger and running him through. I’ve bled for my country. I’ve suffered my eldest son’s death at the cruel hands of Bingham. And now, having sailed from Clew Bay in the west of Ireland through treacherous waters, I’m here to plead mercy for my youngest son. I bite back my sharp tongue and give that wretched guard a look that turns his smug face to stone.
We enter the royal chamber, a hall soaked with pomp, ceremony, and the blood of the Tudor dynasty. The queen sits high on her gilded throne at the head of a long crimson carpet surrounded by guards and courtiers.
“Your Majesty,” the mustached guard says, bowing his head, “I present the Irish chieftain, Grace O’Malley.”
All the court dips their head in respect for their queen. I do not, for she isn’t my monarch. The courtiers gasp. Treasonous? Perhaps for a loyal subject. Now is no time to be seen as a sniveling sycophant. I come to negotiate a parley for my son; queen to queen.
The queen’s face shimmers like brilliant white pearls, and her lips are blood red. She wears a tightly woven wig of red curls and her robe is of the finest Oriental silk, and adorning her head is the jeweled imperial crown. Behind her regal demeanor, and dark eyes, lies an intelligent and cunning monarch who crushed the formidable Spanish Armada. She studies me like one would a wild, rare bird. My blood runs to ice. The queen is bent on the conquest of my people. Were it not for the grace of God, my legs would quiver.
The queen gestures with her hand for me to come forward. As I approach her, a guard steps abruptly in front of me, then looks at the queen.
“Your Majesty, she carries a dagger.”
The queen’s cheeks color. “Those that have come to my court with ill intent have suffered my fury.”
“I come with the most honorable intentions,” I say to her. ‘“Tis the nature of the gentler sex to protect ourselves. Surely you, a woman and a sovereign, understand?”
Her suspicious eyes sparkle, almost smile at my remark. With a flick of her wrist, she dismisses the guard. She is judge and jury.
“Approach, ‘Dark Lady of Doona,”’ the queen commands. “I have heard that you are the most notorious woman in all of Ireland.”
“My father taught me well how to command a fleet and to defend our kingdom.”
“You are too modest.”
As I near her, I sneeze. A noblewoman hands me a lace-edged handkerchief. I bring it to my nose, its heady lavender scent fills my senses. Spying the fireplace, I toss the handkerchief in and it immediately sparks. Another gasp echoes. A faux pas perhaps? In Ireland we discard a dirty handkerchief. The queen’s face seems amused.
“I bid you welcome. You come seeking an audience with the Crown, yet you do not take me as your queen?”
Her question is a trap for knaves, but I counter, “We are both queens and the only female sovereigns in Europe. Are we not bound by sisterhood?”
“I admire your courage, yet loathe your actions,” the queen barks with a half-smile. “Is it true that after birthing a child on your ship, you arose to lead the fight against Algerian pirates?” She places her delicate white hand over her mouth and suppresses a chuckle.
“A powerful leader never commands from a coddled place.” The queen’s taken aback. “You have not come to speak of your exploits, though. What do you want?”
“Sir Richard Bingham has overstepped his authority.”
“The Irish are most difficult to bring into the fold.”
My stomach is in knots, and my tongue suddenly feels thick. The queen fears we will unite with Catholic Spain. So she throws down the gauntlet to forcibly secure Irish loyalty. I think of my son rotting in Athlone Castle, and throw caution to the wind. For if I fail, my son perishes, and with it my peoples’s freedom and our ways. I make a play for her pride. “I’ve heard Bingham has usurped your authority by seizing stolen materiel for his own war chest.”
Her eyes narrow, then look away. “I am told that Bingham is a tad rambunctious.”
I stick the dagger in and twist it by deliberately using incendiary words. “Bingham has asserted that he is the law of the land.” The queen angrily raps the floor with her royal scepter.
“Be it that it may, there is unrest in Ireland, yet he must serve his queen. Tell me, have you not stoked the fire of Irish rebellion in the provinces for forty years?”
“It is my sworn duty to protect our ancestral lands, yet Bingham’s pillaging has raised havoc and widespread starvation among my peoples.”
“Ah spoken like a patron saint,” she says mockingly. She raises her index finger. On the high seas, are you not a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”
“We seek to collect our rightful fishing tariffs.”
“Including nefarious acts of piracy?” She says with a measure of satisfaction in her voice.
“We collect what’s due us, nothing more. We are a humble, proud people only trying to eke out a living, preserve our lands, fishing lanes, and customs for posterity.”
“I’m told that you trade as far south as Catholic Spain? Have you not entered into an alliance with them?”
I smell an opening and strike. I grasp my silver crucifix that hangs around my neck and rub it between my fingers as a potent reminder. “‘Tis true we are a Catholic people, and King Philip of Spain would enjoy nothing more than using Ireland as a base to attack England.”
“If your people were to entertain an agreement with King Philip, you would prove to be a worthy adversary.”
“Certainly a risk you can ill afford to take.” I have the queen in check. She holds her chin and her eyes dart around as if contemplating the next move on the chessboard.
The queen sighs. “And if I were to recall, Bingham?”
I intentionally do not answer her query, believing my statement has rattled her. I press my advantage. “There is another matter to discuss.”
“Pray tell.” The queen leans over her throne, her façade cracking.
“Bingham has also unjustly imprisoned my son.”
“Was he not taken in an attack on my soldiers?” The queen says.
“Perhaps my son may have been a trifle rambunctious, too?”
The queen rolls her hand out and says, “If I was to recall Bingham from Ireland, and have your son set free?”
“That accommodation would be most generous, however—”
She interrupts, “There’s more?”
“Our confiscated lands.”
“And you would swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown?”
“Yes, our fealty to you would be assured.”
“And no further acts of vengeance taken against my men?”
“Yes.” I smile inside, knowing that I have made Ireland proud today. Revenge is the sweeter, as at one time that swine Bingham had imprisoned me as well. “Will you draft a Royal decree declaring all that we’ve agreed to today?”
She glares at me with a calculating eye. “Yes, this shall be done, and delivered to Bingham within a fortnight.”
“If you shall will it, I would like to deliver this decree embossed with your great wax seal to Bingham myself.”
“We will arrange this.”
“Agreed,” I say. The queen almost seems to be enjoying this tête-à-tête by knocking Bingham off his high horse.
“You are a most worthy adversary.” The queen says.
And with that I nod my head to the queen, turn about face and stride away, dancing a jig inside my head with sudden, wild abandonment. My son to be set free and all the rest. ‘Tis more than I can bear. Dreams and ideas are more powerful than the fear of death.