Waiting for Starlight by Holly Wells

The Doctor’s library is a room that never lets go of the light. Mirrors multiply window light and lamplight, and the star charts and bookshelves bathe the room with a radiant wisdom waiting to be discovered.

I have never been in greater need of this light.

I recline in a comfortable Turkish chair. The bespectacled Doctor sits in a straight-backed, much more English chair with his back to the large window.

“I am afraid,” I say. “I am not strong enough anymore. They tell me he is already on his way. He will destroy me and all I have ever tried to do.”

“He will not,” the Doctor says, stroking his pointed beard. “Remember, you felt this way last year when your cousin in Scotland was causing similar problems. She did not destroy you.”

The pain of last year has become a constant prayer rising over the rooftops and burrowing into the bowels of the earth past the reach of all language.

Pain like that again would kill me.

“Doctor, this is Philip—the man who married my sister, treated her abominably, and then proposed to marry me right after she died! Just so he could—”

“Keep her—inheritance, so to speak. Yes, I know.”

“He had to give it all up, and now he wants it back. That’s what all of this is about. Most of all, he does not want me to have it because I am the woman who had the nerve to refuse him. And not only that, he has everyone in his church on his side. That self-righteous prig has them all believing that I am some Jezebel.”

The Doctor is consulting a book, but I know better than to think he is not paying attention to me.

“False piety is a prison, a lack of understanding, a prison from which you were freed long ago.” He looks up, his finger holding his place. “Above all, you need to go outside tonight and look at the sky. Distant stars illuminate where our own sun’s rays do not reach. We find ourselves in the infinite expanse, carried above our restricted observations.”

“Restricted? Are you implying that I am narrow-minded?”

“No, of course not, madam. I am speaking for all of us, of the limited perspective we all have by virtue of being human. There are forces at work that are greater than we know.”

“I used to be sure of that, but it doesn’t seem true anymore.”

“That is why you need to look at the night sky. It will restore your belief.” He searches for a passage in his book. “Ah, here it is, the sea tides. What do you know about them?”

“Only that the moon controls them.” I breathe in the patience that tries to evade me. Surely he will make his point soon.

“Correct. Though the moon’s diameter is nothing compared to that of the sun, the sun’s influence is about one third of that of the moon.” His eyes lift from the page again. “The lunar effect is considerable.”

“So what must I do to have this considerable effect?”

“You wait.”

I lean forward. “Until when?”

“Until he gets here.”

“I don’t even think Philip is coming here himself,” I say. “It would be just like him to send others to do his dirty work for him.”

“Well, you wait until they get here, then.”

“And in the meantime?”

“We all pray,” he says, as if he means more than is usually signified by the term. “We must urge the stardust to fall down into this land of shadows and dim reflections.”

At his words, all the lights in the room, in the mirrors, grow brighter.

Or I may be imagining it.

We stand, his long black robes drifting to the floor like drapery.

“Do not forget that the luminous exceeds the darkness. Even the greatest eclipse lasts for only a few moments.”

“I will try,” I say, though I feel as if eclipses have been occurring at an unnatural frequency of late.

“And Your Majesty?” He takes my hand in both of his. “Never forget that you are not alone.”

I feel myself smiling for the first time in a while.

“Thank you, Dr. Dee.”

I give his hand a final squeeze and then walk through the library door into the parlor, where Sir Francis Drake stops pacing the floor and bows.

“If we wait, the Spanish Armada will not be invincible,” I tell him.

“I thought you might say that, so I came up with a plan. However, I must tell you that it will involve the destruction by fire of several of Your Majesty’s ships.”

“By all means, burn them to bits.”

The guards follow us to the edge of the river, where my barge awaits.

“Sir Francis, you are an experienced sailor who will know the answer to this. Where is the best place near the palace to view the stars?”


Holly Wells lives in Mississippi and has taught both high school and community college English. As a writer, she is interested in exploring the points of view of both major and marginal historical figures. Her work has appeared in The Copperfield Review, Torrid Literature Journal, TWJ Magazine, Sehnsucht, and Wordgathering.