"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
Henry stood behind Greene, out of his field of view and said, "No, you has not, Master Shakespeare."
not, Henry. I have not." Will smiled pleasantly and continued. "Master
Greene, have I come to your table and claimed your children are my
This time it was John, as he leaned against the far wall. "Indeed not, sir."
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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
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."
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 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."
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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."
grinned in spite of himself. "Nay, fox, I say it’s a beslubbering
bugwitted bladder of a play, which is entirely a different matter."
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."
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.
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
Will ignored him. He was under no obligation to admit what
he understood of himself to any but himself and to himself he kept
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
He watched Kit flit and flirt and it was no business of his.
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
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
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."
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
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."
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
Kit pursed his lips and fluffed the bosom that he did not have.
Will turned away and went to his own makeup.
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
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.
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
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?"
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?"
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.
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."
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
"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
"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?"
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.