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Nothing Like the Sun

Description:  Will had gotten to his place through application of will and hard won observation. Mayhap he was a bit of a rough upstart crow and a playwright besides. A fool as well. Caught in Kit’s unlikely orbit all the way to Helsinore and back.
Rating:  R for sexual content and violence
Genre: Real Person Historical fiction, Adventure, Espionage, William Shakespeare as Gangster, Kit Marlowe as Spy

"Master Greene, do I go into your house and made water in your ale?" Will asked the question in a low reasonable tone. In his observation, shouting made a man look a red faced fool.

Robert Greene didn't answer for the very simple reason that he had a filthy strip of canvas in his mouth. Will observed the way Greene struggled at the rough ropes that bound his hands and legs. Henry had done an excellent job on the knots.

Henry stood behind Greene, out of his field of view and said, "No, you has not, Master Shakespeare."

"Have not, Henry. I have not." Will smiled pleasantly and continued. "Master Greene, have I come to your table and claimed your children are my bastards?"

This time it was John, as he leaned against the far wall. "Indeed not, sir."

"Have I gone about London speaking out of the side of my mouth about an upstart crow without the education to a hold a pen, much less the witted will to write with it." His smile grew ever more pleasant. "Have I gone about claiming to all and sundry that I was the willful author of the Two Veronan Gentlemen." He idly spun his table dagger between his hands, tip and pommel. "Actually, I have done that last." He leaned forward and slid his thumb across the viscous slick of sweat on Greene’s forehead, the dagger still in his hand. Will licked his thumb and thought about the taste of fear. "The difference between us being that as I am Will, I have the witted will to write that much and more."

Greene tasted and stank of a brothel, which made sense given where Will had tracked him down.

Will gestured with his dagger hand and watched the way Greene's eyes tracked it. "I'm not going to cut you with this knife. I use this knife to cut my meat on my table that I have worked to have, and not to slice through awful offal." He glanced at John.

John put the tip of his own dagger to Greene's throat. Will smiled his ever pleasant and polite smile. "However, John here has no problem with putting his blade into all manner of things."

"No problem at all, Master Shakespeare. I like to stick it in and twist. Gives me jollies, it does." John's blade left a long thin cut on the side of Greene's neck. Will observed the way Greene pulled away from the sharp edge.

"That will do, John." Will looked down at his knife all the while watching Greene. "Here's what you will do. You will tell your friends that you are a fool, which is only the truth. You will cease to meddle willfully in my affairs. Is that understood?" He grinned in as pleasant and friendly a fashion as an actor of middling skill could manage. "John, please remove your knife so Master Greene can nod."

Greene nodded with eyes white and wide to fair consume his face. Will observed the faint smell of urine. He glanced at Henry. "Please escort Master Greene on his way."

After they had hauled Greene from his rented rooms, Will sat down to the table. He wrote down notes from all that he had observed as was his habit in a small black book of coarse paper with a bit of graphite. Not sentences, which would have filled it up and quite implicated him besides. Instead, he wrote in odd words and numbers and images that would elicit a location within his house of memory should he need to use it for some play or other at a later time.

When he was done, as it was early yet, he left the rooms without paying. They were after all made out to Master Shakelspar and who was Will to pay Shakelspar’s debts.

He settled some small accounts for his own employer, Francis Langley, who funded the Lord Chamberlain's men and some other enterprises besides. He paid a few visits accompanied by Henry to those establishments to ensure that monies that were owed were paid. At least one gentleman had to have the shape of things rapped into his skull with the blunt of Will’s brass cosh, but that wasn’t unexpected. As he made his rounds, he observed and he recorded in his book of memory.

He made his way through the tight packed streets and by ferry back over to Southwark where the Swan feathered his nest.

He made some suggestions on the practices of the Lord Chamberlain’s men, which were hopefully to their benefit as while young John made a very pretty Shrew, but he would simper his lines, which somewhat affected the effect.

It was so late that the clock went far enough around to declare the hour early when Will finally made his way back to his lodgings.

As he came into his home, which were nowhere near the rented rooms of the morning, Will felt the cold edge of a knife pressed to his throat and the heat of a man’s body quick behind his own.

Kit Marlow whispered warm in his ear, "Careless Shagspeare, or is will so applied without care."

Will did not sigh. Kit was right. He should have known Kit was there. His rooms smelled of Kit’s tobacco, an expensively unlikely habit for a Cambridge scholarship student. It was no perfume that came from Kit’s lips, but the smell of smoke. There was an idea in there somewhere, if Will could dig it out.

He pushed aside the blade with his index finger. He stepped away with a very studied not a care, but his body warmed from the memory of Kit’s heat down his back. "What do you want, Kit?"

Kit laughed high in his throat. He spilled himself over the arms of Will’s chair. He knew better than any how that made him look. "Why do think I want something?" His sharp fox teeth dazzled in the light of the single candle.

Will could almost felt the grip of those teeth on his flesh or deeper still. Will did not grace Kit's remark cut-purse of wit with a direct response. He stripped off his gloves and poured them each a cup of gut-rot.

Kit grinned his mad grin. He looked quite the penniless student in his black clothes. "You just received a message from Kempe and Bryan in Helsinore. They want you to send them some five or eight actors to put on a play for the King of the Danes in his toll castle there." He threw back his drink and licked the shine from his lips. "I’ve always wanted to act in a play."

Will didn’t ask how Kit knew about the message. He poured Kit some more rot-gut. "You’re already employed in writing plays. Cast yourself as an imp and leave me be."

Kit swung himself around in the chair and stood up. "I’ve a longing for the Danish shores." He made an erratic orbit around the room.

Shakespeare leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. He forced himself to uncross them as bad blocking. "Ask them yourself."

Kit eyed the bottom of his empty cup. "They don’t like me." There was a playful whine in his voice.

Will fixed the state of Kit’s cup. "I don’t like you."

Kit put a hand to the place where his heart would be if he had one. "Will, you wound me. You know you’d miss me if I were gone."

Will poured himself another drink. This argument had been lost before it had been begun.

That five days later found him on a packet ship bound for Helsinore was simply good business. He needed to protect dishonest actors from entanglements with Kit.

They had no sooner left the dock, but he found himself sharing a cabin with Kit where Kit claimed the bottom bunk. More accurately, he said, "I love a good bottom."

He winked and would have lit up his clay pipe, but that Will too took it from him. "Please don’t set fire to the ship while we are on it."

He moved away from Kit to sit on the swaying floor. He opened his copy of North’s Plutarch. Men might praise genius, but in Will’s experience it was the application of mind that lent success. So he lent will to work.

The packet ship creaked around them and their single lantern swayed as the boat went up and down on the waves.

Will did not look up from where he was not reading Plutarch. He did not think about what the motion of the waves him think upon.

"Bored." Kit stretched out on his stomach on the lower bunk. His legs were crossed at the ankles. "Bored. Bored. Bored. Entertain me." His feet were bare and they wove a pale pattern in the dark space of his bunk. Around them, the packet ship swayed along the channel.

Will did not sigh. He failed to reread a page in Plutarch. He made a notation in his book of memory. It was not about Plutarch, which he could have wished to the ass crack of Satan in this moment.

"Entertain me." Kit threw a worn hose at Will. It smelled of smoke and Kit. "Or must I entertain myself."

Will frowned. He closed his book. "Fine. We can study our lines from," he picked up the folio for "A Rake’s Revenge".

They made it all of three lines before Kit clutched his head. "This is an artless apish apple-john of a play."

Will grinned in spite of himself. "Nay, fox, I say it’s a beslubbering bugwitted bladder of a play, which is entirely a different matter."

Kit sat up and crossed his legs as a child might sit. But no child tapped his breeches so. "No, sir. You are wrong. It’s a cockered clap-clawed clackdish of a play."

"Like yourself, it’s a dankish dismal-dreaming dewberry of a play." Will tapped his finger to his crown; he set the folio to one side.

"I swear, sir, by the very teeth of Christ that like yourself this is an errant earth-vexing elf-sprite of a play."

"And that description bears no resemblance to you at all." Will leaned forward and realized that he was so leaned. He sat back against the wall. "We are agreed then on its abysmal nature. Shall we rewrite it?" He picked the folio up and bent the air of the cabin with it.

By the time they made port in Helsinor, the play had been entirely rewritten. Although, perhaps more to their amusement than its actual advantage. They larded it with a murderous hunchback, three uncivil wars, a maiden that was no maid, an unvirtuous wife laid civil siege by a noble Saracen wizard, and five separate cases of mistaken identity. In the end, everyone died, the Saracen’s staff was broken, and there was a wedding in the woods.

Will whistled when he saw Kronborg castle along the grey channel through which every ship that sailed out of the Baltic must pass. "A percentage toll from every ship that sails here pays for a pretty place."

Kit’s response was an enigmatic, "You’d think so." He lit up his pipe and wandered off to make friends with the bored guards at their stations along the thick walls. They were Danes and no concern of Will’s. He repeated this to himself as he made his way up the shell lined path.

Kempe met Will at the gatehouse. He looked at Will sideways to see him following Kit. A talented actor, he conveyed volumes in the lift of his eyebrows and a foolish cant to his lips.

Will ignored him. He was under no obligation to admit what he understood of himself to any but himself and to himself he kept sealed lips.

However, as long as he was there, Will observed. He perambulated the wide white stone square of the courtyard and he smiled at the courtiers taking their amusement in the carved wood chapel. He watched Queen Sophia with booming King Frederick some twenty years her senior. He observed how carefully devoted she was to him. He watched the servants as they swept the straw and the guards as they held their pikes tight before heading down into the dark earthworks of the castle walls.

He watched Kit flit and flirt and it was no business of his.

They practiced the new edited lines, which had Bryan groan and Kempe cheer to see his new lines as the capering fool. Still, ever the businessman, Bryan made much to King Frederick that the playwrights, for in truth this was a new play by this point, were to act as the murderous hunchback and the soiled dove respectively.

King Frederick boomed. "Good. Good. The Queen does love her learning." He squeezed her close. Will observed that their children were much in absence. While the casks of ale that rolled in for the six hour long dinners were much in presence.

On the second day, someone searched his room. For what, he had no idea. He’d not be such a fool as to keep his money in open sight.

On the third night, as they readied for their performance, Kit popped from around whatever corner he’d been conjuring dressed as the debauched maiden. Will said, "Aren’t you a little dun for the maid?"

Kit rubbed his cheeks. "Wires do grow from my cheeks." He waggled his eyebrows. "Come then. Pluck them out."

Will scowled. "Because of you, I have to play the murderous Hunchback."

"Oh, but the hunchback is the best part." Kit grinned like the black haired fox that he was. "I wrote those lines with your skills as an actor in mind."

Will raised his eyebrows at that, but didn’t say anything. He plucked the whiskers from Kit’s young beard with bronze forceps. "What have you been up to?"

Kit didn’t wince at a judicious pluck. "Oh, this and that. All they that love not tobacco and boys are fools and I’ve a mind to be the mount of wisdom. And you Master Shagspeare, are you wise for your Mistress Marley?"

Will did not follow up with a quip. There was a time he might have. "You’re not my Mistress."

He heard Kit mutter as he was clearly meant to do, "Not for wont of trying."

He helped Kit with his makeup. Kit’s cheeks had no damask roses. Will deftly applied roses to them. Kit’s handsome face sharpened to a pretty cut. Kit’s lips were not coral red, but pale pink with small sharp teeth that could prick the hand that reached for him. Will rouged them until they glistened.

Kit pursed his lips and fluffed the bosom that he did not have.

Will turned away and went to his own makeup.

Later, with the torches blazing, all the court of Denmark, having just risen from their short supper of fifteen pounds of food each, sat in chairs half asleep as the play spun its way along.

Along the long great hall, musicians perched in the window alcoves. While rich tapestries that showed the great kings of the Dane of old were stretched along the outer windowless walls. All the better for the ladies in their wide dresses to slip into the alcoves behind the tapestries to relieve themselves on the straw of some of their dinner weight. What they hadn’t vomited with a feather tickle during the meal. Will did so love these stately state entertainments.

He watched and he observed all the room. So, it was that as the court watched them, he watched the court as Kit pranced through his lines as the maiden who had been so imprudent as to write her lover letters that now led her to greater misfortune of honor. He saw Queen Sophia’s eyes widen just a little bit. Her eyes sought out a knavish looking fellow to the back of the room. While King Frederick clapped on with delight as Kit died for a very long time on his own knife.

It was his misfortune that the knavish fellow met Will’s eyes. Will kept his face blank. It was a little too late to play the dolt.

Still, when the play was done and the court turned to dancing, he expected the man to press him for what he knew. He didn’t expect, as he went to relieve himself as the great lords did from the top of the spiral stairs outside the hall, to be grabbed from behind and shoved forward. If he’d been as drunk as a lord, he’d have fallen, but he did his drinking after work. He struck back with his elbow and swung a blow with the brass cosh that he conveniently kept in his sleeve. In the theater, it paid to be careful. Still, the hunchback’s hump made it difficult to fight with any skill.

He didn’t recognize the man. He soon found himself the worse for the fight and toppled over the railing. He gripped onto the carved stone for his life’s worth over the long drop. A shape tumbled past him to thud wetly on the stone below. Kit peered over the edge, still in his maiden’s dress. "This is quite the turn." He held out his hand and Will gladly took it.

He looked back when he was safely over. A stranger lay sprawled on the stones while a pool of blood soaked the piss soiled straw around him. Will decided pleasantries like who and what the hell could wait until they were elsewhere.

As soon as they came to an empty space half the castle away, Will slammed Kit back up against the wall, his arm across Kit’s neck. "What in the name of Christ’s left nut is going on here?"

Kit opened his mouth to tell some lie or other. Will pressed hard to press his point and got a hand’s soft stroke on his groin for his troubles. "Looking for a rough trade on rough tumble?"

Will hissed and jumped back, but didn’t look away. "I repeat, what have you gotten me into?"

Kit shrugged a careless gesture accompanied by a dark sideways glance of his eyes. "I may have searched a few people’s rooms. Purely out of curiosity. I’m a curious fellow." He crossed his arms over his bodice.

Will glared at Kit. He tapped his cosh against the wall. "Then why was that fellow about to toss me over the railing? I haven’t searched anything."

"I did suspect something when they searched your room in response." Kit eyes fair to twinkled, but his eyes were nothing like the sun. "You have been wandering the castle writing in that little book of yours. All in code. I’m quite sick with jealousy. I need to get a code. Teach me yours." He put his hand on Will’s chest over his fast beating fool’s heart.

"It’s called working for a," Will stopped himself, because no good could come of an argument at this jointure. He stepped farther back from Kit. "Explain yourself." He sighed. "You are bad for my health, Kit."

"Oh, but you know you’d miss me if I were gone." Kit grinned like a moon maddened loon "Every ship that passes through the port pays a duty." Kit blinked his false lashes. "Except the ships of Count Bressaria of Gustrow. Certain parties wished to know what makes him so special."

"Weedy fellow with a yellow beard and a pock mark here." Will gestured to his face.

Kit nodded quickly with his painted gaze intent on Will. "What have you seen?"

"He’s blackmailing the Queen with old love letters." Will shrugged. "She gave herself away in the midst of the play." Will stopped. "God’s balls, the Queen of Denmark wants me dead?"

"No, the Queen of Denmark's blackmailer wants you dead, which isn't nearly as bad." Kit rubbed long fingers through his hair and dislodging his girlish wig. His dark hair curled in all directions. "He must keep them close." He paced and his skirts swayed with the motion. "All the better to keep her the closer." Kit grinned his loon grin. "Now what will smoke him out? They say there’s no smoke without a blaze."

He ran from the room, before Will could get farther than, "What?" He ran after to find the fool in the great hall, the court still at their dancing, and a tapestry already alight. Will yanked at the tapestry, which only made the thing catch fire all the faster. Kit helpfully yelled, "Fire. Fire. Everyone run. Fire."

This predictably was followed by a mad rush of shoving gentlemen and screaming ladies making for the stairs, except for the weedy blond fellow. He ran farther into the square of the castle. Foolish Kit raced on ahead. Will struggled with the tapestry and gave it up as a bad business.

Will came around the corner in time to see Gustrow bending Kit back over a bench with his hands to his throat in a way that Will quite disliked. He expressed that dislike with the business end of his cosh. Gustrow bled to the floor. Kit plucked up a sheaf of missives and a handkerchief from where they peeked out from behind a wooden carving of a pig.

Kit shoved the papers into his bodice as he laughed high in his throat.

Will bent to check on Gustrow and finding him living, made an efficient end of him. He observed the Hanseatic ring on the man’s finger and the hallway that now blazed with fire. They swung the body hallward to better make a roast of him and out a courtyard window they went. As his arms left pillar and his feet met the cobblestones. Will sighed. "A man like that had friends." He remembered the feel of the ring under his fingers as he swung the man. "We must calmly go outside and gape at this unfortunate fire and not betray where we've been."

Kit tapped his cheek. "Those friends think you are the spy, while I am fairly pregnant with his papers." He slipped Will’s book of memory from his doublet and moved his eyebrows significantly. "If you run out near to mother naked then clearly you don’t have any papers."

"While you slip away like a frothy hell-borne lewdster." Will flung off the damned hunchback, which he’d worn this entire time. He flung off the cassock too and even though it was the middle of summer, Will shivered, because it was damnably cold. He said, "You’ll be the death of me, Kit."

"Oh, you know you’d miss me if I were gone." Kit threw on the cassock and stood back as Will made his bare assed run through the gates and out to the outer courtyard.

He ran into Kempe with the rest of the crowd. After they stood gaping at each other, Kempe found him a woolen blanket. "You’re a fool."

Will sighed and wrapped the folds around him. He watched the fire lick at Kronborg castle. "It has been observed."

Will caught the next packet home. He avoided below decks. He roamed the ship as it made its homeward way.

As he reached English shores, he took a room at the first inn that he saw. By now his eyes were red rimmed with unknitted care.

He went inside and there was Kit with his wild eyed grin. He held up Will’s book of memory. "It took you long enough." He tilted his head and looked at Will up and down and up again. "I’ve decided I’m bored with waiting." He licked his lips and gripped fingers into Will's hair and burned him with a kiss that sparked lightening down Will’s body. They twisted and grappled. It was almost a fight. They fell onto the bed as clothes were wrenched in the struggle. Teeth grazed tender flesh and nails raked skin for the better sewing of seed. For the twist of a two backed beast that expended itself on itself. Will spent his will on a gasp. "Love you." He laughed to himself as he said it and thought, "Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?" More fool he.

Afterwards, they tangled on the bedding damp with their exertions.

As heartbeats stilled to steady, Kit lay still for all of the passing of a single heartbeat. Will counted it.

Kit sat up. He ran his hand through his wild hair. His hands already moved to put on his clothes. "I hate to rut and run, but I've people to meet." He patted his doublet where something metal jingled.

Will sprawled open on the bed. He whispered, "Kit, you're bad for my health."

Kit winked at him."You know you'd miss me if I were gone," and with a theater man's sense of timing, left the room.

Will lay still on the bed’s thick straw tick. He did not move. He watched the way the steady tallow candle cast shadows on the white washed wattle between the rafters. His left hand lay spread on the cooling sheets still damp with sweat where Kit had but lately lain. He inhaled the smell of smoke and let it out again.

He made himself get up and write down what this moment felt like. As if, he'd forget. He found himself writing a sonnet to be crossed out and blurred with the blunt of his thumb until it was something else again.


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.