All day, Sarah had gone about in a fog. Though no mist was before her eyes, it seemed to cloud her mind and muddle her thoughts. Thankfully, after over a year of dressing the queen, her movements came easily and thoughtlessly. And as the queen knew of the reason for her distress, perhaps she might be understanding if Sarah did not quite seem herself. Still, Sarah had done her best to remain as courteous and efficient as ever.
It was more difficult to hide things from Bess. At their afternoon meal, taken once Sarah had attended to Her Majesty and Bess had attended to one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, Sarah had hardly heard what Bess said. Poor Bess had repeated herself twice before Sarah finally answered. And then at dinner, Sarah had been distracted enough to dip her sleeve in the gravy. Though she had laughed it off, Bess had not laughed with her.
Then of course, there was Philip. Sarah had brushed him off as coldly as she could when he had sidled up for their usual repartee, telling him "Not now." And for once, instead of coming up with a jest, he had seemed to know she was serious, and had let her be.
Her mind was still in a whirl as she got into bed. As stiff as a board, she looked up at the ceiling, waiting. There were a few murmurs of good night exchanged between the other three maids who shared this room with her. Bess blew out the candle, and the room went black.
Though it did little to ease her mind, Sarah ran over in her mind what she needed to remember to say to Philip. She needed to make sure she got this right.
Minutes passed. Finally, the room was still and quiet, and Sarah's eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Very slowly, she eased into a sitting position, careful not to make the bed creak.
Despite her efforts to shift off of the bed as discreetly as possible, she heard the whisper from beside her:
Bess. Sarah grit her teeth.
"Don't worry," Sarah whispered. "It's alright."
She was trying to spare words as much as possible. If one of the other girls woke, everything would be at an end. Catherine, for one, had made it very clear that she coveted Sarah's position with the queen, and Sarah was sure Catherine would not hesitate to report her to Mrs. Smith for even the most minor infraction. Sarah could not take that risk.
Bess was looking at her hard in the darkness. Despite their years of friendship, and Bess' knowledge of Sarah's piety, Sarah could only imagine what Bess must think of her.
Sarah and Philip had been teasing each other for almost a year now, and for months, stealing kisses in secret whenever they could. That was extremely rare, of course; it was nearly impossible for them to find a chance to be alone. This was the first time that Sarah had ever snuck out to see him at night, and Bess might make an assumption about why.
Given how busy they were with work during the day, Sarah and Philip had never before been foolish enough to give up the chance to sleep, even to see each other. Besides, Sarah had heard rumors of a guard patrolling the servants' corridors to ensure that no one snuck out. No one was quite certain of the truth of it, as the threat alone had been enough to keep them in their beds at night. Tonight, though, the queen had promised Sarah that there would be no patrol.
"Be careful," Bess said finally.
Though she wasn't sure if Bess could see it, Sarah nodded. Then she wrapped her dressing gown over her nightgown, and crept carefully to the door.
Padding down the dimly-lit corridors, Sarah breathed shallowly. Every few seconds, she glanced around wildly, imagining she had heard footsteps - but the halls were empty. She prayed as she went, all the while berating herself for her foolishness. If she had any sense, she should turn around and go right back to bed, and tell the queen she couldn't do it.
At that thought, she exhaled shakily. Saying no to the queen would be no easy task.
She crept on until she reached the male servants' corridors. She realized with a start that she did not know how to find which room was Philip's. Freezing in place, she started to breathe faster. It was then that she heard laughter muffled from one of the rooms, and voices talking low. She took a few steps closer, hesitating in front of the door. The low voices continued. One of them, she was quite sure, was Philip.
Before she could lose her nerve, she rapped once on the door.
Though the words were inaudible, she heard a voice rise in question. A moment later, a valet named Charles came to the door, shirtless. Sarah was not sure who blushed worse - her or the man.
"Philip?" she managed at length, her cheeks burning.
"Ah. Phil," Charles said over his shoulder. "You have a visitor." Charles waggled his eyebrows at Phil suggestively, and Sarah felt she could have melted into the floor in shame.
Through the door, in the faint light cast into the room by the lanterns burning in the corridor, she could just barely make out Philip peering out into the corridor, then tugging a shirt over his shoulders. Her breath caught in her throat.
Finally he appeared before her in half-buttoned shirt-sleeves, and swiftly closed the door behind him. For an instant, he said nothing, gaze sweeping over her. Sarah swallowed, wishing she could have put on a bit more clothing without waking her roommates. And yet… something stirred in her at the look in Philip's eyes as he beheld her.
"Mercy," he breathed, looking heavenward briefly. "Father, did You not hear me when I begged Thee not to lead me into temptation? And now Thou hast sent me this angel?"
"Hush," Sarah whispered, though she could hardly help from a quick smile at the compliment. "I must speak with you."
Philip raised an eyebrow, but paid her no heed, instead letting his eyes roam over her once more. "Is this to make up for my cold reception at dinner?" he asked teasingly, reaching to encircle her hips.
"Don't touch me," Sarah insisted, stepping back. The last thing she needed was for him to distract her. "I'm sorry, it's just - it is very important that I remember everything."
Philip's brows knit together, no doubt as he attempted to follow her meaning. Sarah closed her eyes for a moment to go back once more over the details. The queen's plan was intricate enough to dizzy her, and just mad enough to possibly work - if Philip was willing.
She led him to a quiet corner, where there would be less chance of being overheard if anyone else was still awake.
"The queen has asked for my involvement in a conspiracy," she began. This was no time to tease, for this was far too grave a subject. "It would involve great sacrifice, but possibly great reward."
Philip's brows lifted again, all mischief vanished from his eyes. "Is everything alright, Sarah?"
"Her Majesty…" Sarah paused, giving a slight shake of her head. It was still impossible to believe. "Her Majesty wishes for us to bear a son that she might raise as her own."
"What?" Philip gaped at her, blinking fast.
"We would marry as soon as possible - in secret," Sarah went on, more hurriedly; she needed to get through the details lest she forget. "No one must know. Once we conceive, I am to inform her, and then she would begin to act as though she was with child. I am to keep it a secret until after the queen makes her announcement, so that no one suspects anything, and then I must pretend I am giving birth early. Of course, I must give birth here, so that the baby could be smuggled into her birthing chamber."
"Where… she won't actually be giving birth," Philip pointed out slowly. "And we… we…" He pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes closing. "We would give away our child? ...To be raised as a prince?"
"Only our firstborn son," she said, very quietly. "After that, we may keep all our children."
Philip gave a scoffing laugh without humor. "How kind," he muttered.
Sarah chewed her lip. She took a breath, then plunged on; she mustn't forget anything.
"Once we have given her a son, I am to tell people that I have had an early stillbirth. And then, in our grief," which Sarah supposed would hardly be less than if the child had died, since she might never see her infant son again, "she will make sure we have a house of our own."
Philip exhaled heavily and stepped back, leaning against the cold stone as if for support. He blinked a few times and passed a hand over his face. For a short time, he said nothing. Sarah understood; she'd had nearly all day to think on it, and she still found the idea staggering.
"You do not have to decide tonight," she assured him, moving closer to touch his cheek. The blank look in his eyes had frightened her. "And I will not blame you if you do not wish to do it."
He took another breath and let it out shakily. "We would have a home," he said softly. "And a family."
Sarah nodded. It was a finer lot in life than any she had ever dared to expect.
"Do you think it will work?" he asked then. "First, do you expect the queen can convince her husband that she is with child?"
Sarah lowered her gaze. "That might be less difficult than one would think." It was hardly a secret that the king had had many mistresses even while married. The queen let her guard down in front of no one, scarcely ever even Sarah. Yet the queen always was alone in her apartments at night when Sarah prepared her for bed, and was still alone in the morning when Sarah came to dress her for the day. Sometimes for an instant, sadness passed across her face, but it was an instant only. "I… do not think they spend all that much time together."
The most difficult part, frankly, might be to get the queen into the king's apartments. Otherwise, she most certainly would not be able to convince His Majesty that she was with child. At any rate, not with his. Sarah knew the queen would never do to the king what he had done to Her Majesty.
After a slight shake of his head, Philip continued, "Then let us suppose that we have a son. Do you think you could stomach giving him away to be raised by Catholics? Could we give him up to this life?"
Biting her lip, Sarah considered. The queen had never tried to evangelize to her, and she had certainly never presumed to evangelize her Protestant beliefs to Her Majesty, either. Still, the matter of one's immortal soul was grave indeed. And being raised to be king would not be easy, either. Though she envied the queen's fine dresses and elegant jewelry, Sarah would never wish upon anyone the burdens that she knew the queen bore - and she was not even tasked with making the important decisions that her husband was.
"It would be very hard," Sarah admitted quietly. "But our child would want for nothing. And I wish to help her, where I can. She has always been very kind to me." She took his hand, searching his gaze. "I place no obligation upon you, of course." Yet she would not think of doing it without him.
Philip inclined his head slightly, giving her a grateful nod. Servant though he was, Philip did not take kindly to receiving orders from anyone other than God and the king.
"Even so," he pointed out, "do you really suppose a newborn baby could be smuggled into Her Majesty's chambers without anyone noticing?"
Sarah swallowed. His questions were necessary - each step of the deception would require a small miracle to accomplish. Nearly everything had to go right for any one of them to happen, let alone all of them.
"Then let us suppose that His Majesty finds out we helped his wife deceive him and we tried to place our child on the throne of England." Philip breathed out shakily, unable to help himself when considering the magnitude of that preposterous thought. "What will become of us?"
"I don't know," Sarah said, very softly. "The queen might do the noble thing and try to acquit us of blame - say that she forced me into it."
"And… if she does not?"
Sarah was quiet for a moment. "Then I suppose we shall face what all traitors do."
Philip swallowed. Execution.
"Sarah, I- I hardly know what to say," he said finally. "This… this is absolute madness." His arms slid around her waist and he sighed. "Do you wish to do this?"
"I wish to be with you," Sarah admitted, inching closer to him until his embrace tightened pleasantly.
She looked up at him, relishing this closeness - aware of the warmth of him through the thin fabric of her nightgown, of the soft patch of skin peeping out from his half-buttoned shirt. Never before had they stood together this intimately. It was almost too much to dream that someday she could be with him like this without having to sneak about - that she could fall asleep next to him and wake up beside him. If they took this chance, they would serve no one but each other. They would be together, and, albeit missing one child, they would have a family.
Yes - she wished to be with him in every way.
Tentatively, she slipped her fingers beneath the fabric of his shirt, eager to feel the warmth of his soft skin. She explored the taut muscle of his back, the smooth flesh of his sides. If she did not take the queen's offer, they would never again be alone like this; curiosity drove her, as well as a sense of what she would lose, and something else deep in her stomach that she could not explain. Philip shivered, and her name fell from his lips on a shaky breath.
"We would have a home of our own," she said softly, raising her eyes to his once more as she repeated his words from earlier back to him. "And a family."
He leaned in to kiss her then. In dark corners, they had snatched kisses before, quick and hungry, hands clutching to pull each other closer, eager and furtive. This was different. It was slow - searching. The other kisses had made Sarah tense in anticipation; this, however, had her melting deliciously into him.
When he drew back, he sighed again, his breathing a bit ragged. He tilted his head to let his brow rest against hers.
"Sarah," he murmured. He brushed her hair back from her face; she realized he had never seen it loose before. "I would give my life to see you happy."
Sarah prayed that it did not come to that. "I do not ask that of you," she said softly, taking a step back.
His hands settled on her hips once more.
"Now, I'm not saying I want to," he began. He let his hands wander for a moment, making Sarah blush, before his gaze found hers again and his hands stilled. "...but what would become of us, if we were to say no?"
Sarah bit her lip. "I do not know," she admitted. "I suppose the queen would find another girl who is less scrupulous. And we would just go on as are here."
Philip sighed heavily. Somehow, even though a day ago she had been almost content to go on this way, it now felt unbearable. Even knowing the risks they faced, and how impossible it seemed to accomplish what the queen asked, Sarah would not be able to stop thinking of a life with Philip in a little cottage in the country.
"Oh," she said then, another detail occurring to her. "And… if we do say yes, the queen would supply us with one hundred pounds a month from her allowance." She had wanted to save this fortunate offer for later, once the shock of the more frightening and awful aspects of the queen's plot had been revealed.
At this, Philip's jaw dropped.
"One… one…" His eyes bulged, and he struggled for a minute to overcome his shock enough to speak. "One hundred pounds?"
Sarah nodded, unable to help her grin.
"With that, we could have a servant!" Philip whispered. "Why, we could nearly have a palace!"
Sarah had to try to stifle a laugh. "I know, my love. I know." She stroked his cheek, quieting again. "Why don't you sleep on it?"
Giving a slight shake of his head, Philip murmured in wonder, "I hardly think I can."
"Tell me soon what you decide," Sarah said. The hour was late, and she knew Bess would be wide awake, waiting for her return. "For now, I will say good night."
On tiptoe, she pressed her lips to his, quick and sweet. Then she turned to hurry back to her room.
She glanced back over her shoulder to give him a final, nervous smile.
"Good night," he whispered back, still staring after her slack-jawed as she went.
Author's note: Mary of Modena received five thousand pounds a year as a personal spending allowance. Some of it she allegedly spent on gambling, with her ladies-in-waiting pressuring her into it; I thought this would be a "gamble" for her to invest in as well! C'mon - she couldn't expect Sarah to risk her life without getting something really good in return! One hundred pounds in their time would be about eleven thousand pounds today, or about fourteen thousand dollars. So there is a reason why Philip practically fainted, haha. (Oh - and that's only 25% of the queen's monthly allowance!)
There are still some details to work out in the queen's plot- it wouldn't be realistic to think that the queen and Sarah thought of EVERYTHING all in one day - so be patient. And of course, not everything will go according to plan, either...