“Can you by dint of questioning and without suspicion find out what he knows?”
“You can depend on me, Majesty. I’ll perform a very thorough interrogation.”
“Be quick about it,” James said. “This matter must be settled before sunrise. I’ll order guards to protect me and my family, especially my son. Meanwhile, arrest Southampton and his retinue and confine them to the Tower. Use torture if necessary, but find out what he knows and if you feel it’s the only recourse, you have my order to silence him forever.”
Cecil bowed and took his leave.
When he was gone, King James walked over to the window. As he clutched Lord Oxford’s box to his heart, his mind teemed with memories of his literary friend. Only last month, they had enjoyed a charming and exhilarating dinner at the Earl’s estate in Bath. And not long before, they’d spent a few days together at Wilton House. Oxford had seemed very anxious to protect him from the plague; surely he had meant James no harm. And now, alas, Oxford had fallen victim to the plague, and there would be no more sparkling dinner conversations and no more Shakespeare plays. It was a tragic loss made even sadder, now that Oxford’s fine poetic style would be missing from King James’ new English translation of the Bible.
The King closed his eyes and said a prayer, pardoning his friend’s unintentional transgressions. Then he tossed the box into the fire and watched as the flames snapped and curled around it. Within minutes, only the boar’s head lock glowed fiendishly from among the ashes.
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