The Scottish Play
Written by Melissa "Merlin Missy" Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Story concept by: Todd Jensen; Outline By: Kathy Pogge
Illustrations by: Rene "Damocles" Modesto
Previously on Gargoyles...
Three Sisters: All hail Duncan, king of Scotland and father of the king hereafter! All hail MacBeth, king of Scotland and father of the king hereafter!"
~ City of Stone ~
* * * * *
Joanna: Oh, by the way, Iris, how's your play coming along?
Iris: Oh, it's coming.
Joanna: I'd be interested in seeing it when you're done.
Macbeth: ...the works of Shakespeare are loosely based on history, but often he rewrote history until the events in the story were totally different from what had actually occurred.
Student: Professor Macduff, sir, why would Shakespeare want to rewrite history?
Macbeth: Good question, lad. The reason is that Shakespeare was aiming his plays towards his more wealthy patrons, some of whom were distant relatives of the people he characterized in said plays.
Student: What about Macbeth's wife?
Macbeth: The Lady Macbeth? Yes, she was pretty badly maligned by Shakespeare. Her name was Gruoch, and she was a very warm and caring person, and a devoted wife, not some treacherous shrew like in the play.
Student: You sound like you used to know her.
Macbeth: No, of course not. It's just that I've researched these people to the point where, in a sense, I do know them. Of course, I've also known some women like the fictional Lady Macbeth. My last ex-wife, for instance.
~ The Hunted ~
* * * * *
The Scottish Play
* * * * *
October 8, 1997
"Bring forth men-children only / For thy undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males. Will it not be received / When we have marked with blood those sleepy two / Of his own chamber ... " Eugene made an over-theatrical gesture with one hand, enunciating the lines perfectly.
Iris whispered in a sing-song voice: " ... and used their very daggers / That they have done it?"
Joanna hushed her, and attempted to listen attentively as Brenda recited Lady Macbeth's lines. She could not fail to notice Iris' hand waving in time to the closing couplet, and glared at the student assistant director.
"Thank you both," said Joanna. "And thank you all. The parts will be handed out at four on my office door. Everyone will have something to do. There are no small parts ... "
"Only small actors," chorused the aspiring thespians lounging on and around the stage. Joanna sighed and waved them away. "Get."
When everyone else had left the theatre, Iris said, "By opening night, I'll be able to recite the entire play."
"You might have to. Shall we decide who's playing whom now?"
"I've been jotting down suggestions." Iris handed over her clipboard. Joanna had to admit, she was impressed. Relativity theory may have left her in the dust, but Iris was turning out to be a fine assistant director.
"These look good. But, I have to ask, Eugene as Macbeth?"
She stopped cold, as Iris went rigid. The younger woman said slowly, "I'll walk you to the stage door."
"Right." In silence, the two went backstage. Iris held the door open. The early October air was warm, but held an icy threat just the same, as Joanna walked quickly around Miller Theatre three times. It would be a hard winter.
She nodded to passing students on the last leg of her walk. She turned her head to the left and spat into a bed of late- blooming azaleas. Iris opened the door on her third knock.
Superstitions were silly, but it never hurt to be careful.
* * * * *
The sun lay red and bloated on the horizon, taking its own sweet time to set. Elisa stood, her face resting on her elbows, overlooking the city.
"Just like old times, hmm?" she said to the inert form of Goliath, frozen in a snarl. She'd spent countless evenings waiting for his and Angela's and Bronx's awakenings during their long voyage via Avalon Cruise Lines, International.
A flicker of sun remained, and then ...
Cracks formed in Goliath's stone shell, splintering outwards in a crazy pattern. She took a step back and covered her face. He stretched and roared, casting shards around her. From below, she could hear the awakening roars of the others.
"Got a minute?" she asked.
* * * * *
Brooklyn cursed. "Another one?"
Elisa nodded solemnly. "We thought we had a pattern to the crimes. The thief, or thieves, have been striking every first Tuesday and second Monday of the month. We had extra people posted at every museum in the city."
"Did any of them see anything out of the ordinary?" asked Broadway.
"No," said Elisa. "Because this time, our thief didn't strike a museum." She pulled out a folded piece of paper, hot pink. Photocopied on it was an announcement: "Scottish Antiquities, October 25 - November 28." There was a grainy picture in the center, just below the tastefully small Columbia U. banner. She'd already circled the item in question with a thin black marker. She passed it to Goliath, who gave it to Angela, who gave it to Broadway. Ariana pulled at Broadway's wing until he let her and Graeme take a look as well.
"The object in question is a scroll."
"A magical scroll?" asked Angela.
Elisa shrugged. "I asked around. Maybe, maybe not. The display suggested it might contain 'spells of revelation,' but it also said it might be a recipe for haggis."
"That makes seventeen thefts," mused Hudson.
"And nothing connecting them except for rumors of curses. I won't be able to convince anyone but Matt that this one is even part of the same case, but I think it's a clue." She expelled a breath. "And it's about time, too."
Angela said, "Still no other leads?"
Elisa shook her head. "Not for us, and if the FBI or Interpol have made headway, they're not talking." She didn't want to ask, felt like a heel for asking, but this was her job. "You're certain Demona has nothing to do with this?"
Angela said nothing, the tightening of her lips saying all that was needed.
The paper returned to Goliath. He folded it with the utmost of care, reminding her again that he came from a time long before the printing press, when paper and the words it sheltered were beyond price. Even offensively pink paper was a treasure.
"Be assured," he said, "that we will keep watch for this thief. He cannot elude us forever." He handed the photocopy back to her. Idly, she unfolded it again, trying to make out any of the writing on the paper, knowing it was far too rough a picture. Not for the first time, she wondered if a photocopy of a spell would have the same effect. Visions of the Grimorum being hawked from the corner newsstand danced in her head as she slipped the paper back into her pocket.
Owen appeared beside them, a respectful distance away. "There is a call inside for Angela." He stood to the side as she walked past. Moments later, the rest of the clan joined her. "Make a note: gargoyle culture does not include telephone privacy," Elisa teased as she followed them.
Angela's face held the mixture of apprehension and eagerness Elisa had come to associate with her whenever Demona's name was mentioned. Sure enough, before she hung up, she said into the receiver, "Yes, Mother. I'll be by. I love you, too. Good-bye."
At the word "Mother," Goliath had clenched his fists; whether he was aware of the action or not, Elisa didn't know.
"Father, I need to go see Mother before I return from patrol."
Several emotions crossed Goliath's face. To his credit, he said only, "I see."
"You're not going to be angry about this."
A deep breath. "No."
"Good!" she said, smiling brightly. She took Broadway's arm. "Let's go patrol."
When the others had gone, Elisa held Goliath's arm, keeping him in the room. "She'll be all right."
"I am aware of that."
"As long as Angela is safe, I will be fine. Demona will not allow anything to happen to her." The words were forced, like something he'd made himself think by effort of will.
"Yeah," she said quietly, and having nothing else to say, offered him what little comfort she could in her silence.
* * * * *
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" asked Broadway nervously. They were two blocks from Destine Manor. She could see the top of the building poking gray through the still green trees.
"I'll be fine." She tried not to sound annoyed. She was going to see her mother, not Maeve or Madoc, although the latter thought was becoming more worrisome by the night. They hadn't seen a trace of the Dirty Pair in the handful of nights following Halloween. Angela did not relish a rematch, but just the same, she wished they'd make some kind of defining move. The garden variety of street crime they'd seen tonight, none of which had involved the museum theft unfortunately, stood as anticlimax to what she knew would be a vicious battle when the Unseelie returned.
"I'll be fine," she said again. She glided up to him, took his hand, and kissed his knuckle. "I'll see you back at the castle."
"Okay," he said, and with a last look down at her destination, not entirely hiding his frown, he glided off.
She watched him go, then descended.
Her mother met her at the front of the house with a firm hug. "I'm glad you came," she said, and led her quickly inside. Angela could not help but note the way her eyes gleamed, as if anticipating something.
Me, she thought hopefully. She was waiting for me. But she was not certain.
Her mother led her through the dark hallway and up the stairs. Hurriedly, still holding her hand with light pressure, she said, "First, I must have you swear to secrecy all you see tonight."
Demona turned back to her. "Your father would no doubt disapprove of what I am about to show you."
"What is it?"
"Swear to me." She made a noise. "Trust me."
"I swear." Demona squeezed her hand.
"What we are about to do is a grave undertaking, something I would never consider under normal circumstances."
"What do you mean?"
Her mother placed her free hand against a closed door. The frame flashed green. Demona opened the door.
At first glance, the room appeared to be the ill-gotten product of a union between Muppet Laboratories and Radio Shack. Shelves lined the walls filled with white and gray powders, liquids clear and vermilion and algae-green. Benches below the shelves held the multicolored guts of laser rifles and other equipment she could not as easily identify.
The center of the room was divided into two areas, one with a square table, four feet to a side, and an empty space, where pungent traces of ash lay strewn in the remnants of a circle. Letters in an unfamiliar tongue were scrawled in chalk at five points on the circle. The shelves on that side of the room were covered in books, filed, stacked, or leaning against one another companionably, some with unbroken laminated spines, some probably older than Demona herself. Odd trinkets, none bigger than her thumb, were piled on one side of the table, scrolls in various conditions in another pile opposite them. Make that Muppet Labs, Radio Shack, and a particularly vivid dream by the Archmage.
"Welcome to my workroom."
Angela turned around twice, trying to take in everything. "Why have you brought me here?"
"In my life, I have seen much of danger and unrest. When humans squabble amongst themselves, gargoyles die. At Wyvern, at Moray, in Paris, frightened humans murdered our kind." She scowled, eyes momentarily lined with ancient pain. "Our kind are never completely safe, but these are more dangerous times than even I have seen. And the humans will be terribly afraid."
"What do you mean?"
"I fear for you. After what Maeve did ... " Her face went dark again, while Angela blushed in hot shame at the memory of her capture. Something was wrong. Not for the first time, she had the uneasy feeling her mother was not telling her the whole truth. More dangerous times? A chill shivered down her wings. Rather than ask, and perhaps receive an answer she could not accept, she grasped onto a flaw in her mother's argument.
"Maeve isn't human. She never was."
"No," said Demona. "But she and her kind are the nightmares that make humans fear the dark. For your protection," she paused, then said quickly, "and that of the clan, I'm going to teach you the art of magic."
Angela's eyes went back to her mother. In confusion, she stammered, "Me? A magic user?"
"I know you have the gift within you. All it requires is training to coax it out." Thoughts of the Unseelie momentarily forgotten, her mother's face was bright, animated.
"I don't know. Father isn't going to like this."
Demona spat, then said, "Your father will be the death of this clan yet. That's why I made you promise."
"What if I talked with him about it first?"
"He would tell you that I am trying to corrupt you." She rolled her eyes. "I am trying to protect you. Look into your heart, Angela. Surely you can see that it is the truth." Demona took her hand again, which Angela had pulled away. "Think of this as a trial. I'll teach you some basic spells. After you learn them, and it will take some time, you can show Goliath, and he will see that it is for the good of the clan, and you, that you learn."
Angela bit her lip. It would make her mother happy. As she said, it would be helpful for the clan if they had someone on hand who knew a little magic, just in case. It wasn't as if they could simply drop Alexander off the building so that Puck could appear. She could hear no trace of guile in her mother's words, no more than their usual colored impression of the world, and she did so want to believe.
Demona smiled. "Excellent. Do you swear to be silent about your lessons, at least for the time being?"
"Yes," she said, more quietly. She would keep the secret for now. If she thought Goliath needed to know, she would tell him. It was that simple.
"Good. Then let us begin."
"We have already lost too much time. Besides, what I will teach you tonight is not difficult."
Demona went to the large table. Angela followed her, casting an eye over the strange contents strewn over the tabletop. "Here." Demona selected a rolled parchment, untied it, and spread it out. "Can you read this?" The spell was in Latin, which she had learned as a hatchling.
"Ring of light, protect all within."
"You'll have to recite it in Latin when the time comes, but yes. This is a basic protection spell. Once you know it, you can cast it anytime, anywhere."
Angela read the scroll aloud again, this time in Latin. "Nothing happened."
"That's because you simply read it. You have to study it before you can cast it. Close your eyes."
Demona led her through several breathing exercises, and then made her visualize a nimbus of white energy surrounding herself. She tried, but each time, found her mind getting distracted by stray thoughts, or by focusing too hard on one edge of the ring. When she finally thought she had it, she recited the spell.
"Did anything happen?"
"No. You need to focus on the image, the words, but also what you want the spell to accomplish."
She tried again, several times, but after an hour, gave up, disgusted.
"I don't think I can do this," she said dejectedly.
"It will take time," said her mother with uncharacteristic patience. "Practice it on your own, feeling the words move through you as you hold the image. Imagine the light protecting you, whatever you are doing. Gradually, it will come to you. Come back in a week and show me what you've done."
"I will." She felt suddenly light-headed, and sat down on the floor. Demona helped her up again.
"That, too, will pass." Impulsively, Angela drew her into a hug.
"Thank you, Mother."
Demona's arms went around her, and then her wings. "Know that everything I do is for love of you, Daughter."
Angela sniffed. The Trio would probably be making gagging noises if they were there. She laughed at the image.
"Nothing. Just happiness."
* * * * *
With a push and a slight tug sideways, the key slid into the lock. He jangled it about until the teeth caught, then unlocked the door to his office. The light flickered on under his touch, dispelling the shadows if not the musty smell of the closed room, collected and reflected in his books the way a piece of shattered glass caught and returned sunlight.
Lennox Macduff, former king, former husband, former hater of gargoyles, set his briefcase on his desk and mused that he was actually glad to be back in the United States. It had been a long trip, made even longer by the wait going through Customs.
He'd originally considered taking the entire semester abroad, seeing some of his old haunts, catching up on his research, as professors on sabbatical were supposed to do. Instead, he'd felt a pull to come back here, to this crowded city, noisome with life. No matter how he ran from it, his destiny pulled him back to this place, this circle of beings who had helped create him in the first place.
He opened his briefcase, quickly removed and filed the notes he'd been able to take. "Not much of use for the classroom, certainly," he mused aloud. Perhaps he'd get a book out of it. The halls of academe had once intoned "Always learn, always teach." Now they chanted "Publish or die."
His notes away, he faced the task he dreaded most: checking his mail. He slipped out the door, eyes downcast, and almost walked right into her.
"Len! Welcome back! I thought you were going to be gone all semester."
"Joanna!" He offered her his largest smile. She responded with one of her own. "I'd thought so, too." He shrugged. "Plans changed. I can research here as well as anywhere."
"Yes, but here you have to attend faculty meetings."
He made a concerned face. "I'd forgotten. In that case, I'll book the next flight to Edinburgh."
She laughed, and her voice was clear and shining in the otherwise less than cheerful hallway.
"Dr. Walker," he said gravely.
"Yes, Dr. Macduff?"
"Would you be interested in accompanying me to dinner tonight?" He hadn't known that he was going to ask until the words were said, and found himself more than a touch eager for her answer.
She cocked her head to one side. "Any special reason?"
"A celebration. I'm back on campus, may the saints preserve us all."
She smiled. "All right, a celebration, then." She dropped her smile. "Ah, but not right now. We've got rehearsals this evening until seven. Can you come by the theatre?"
She laughed again. "Actually, I'm tempted to have you come by a little early. You could probably help us with getting some of the inflections down."
"We're performing 'Macbeth.'" His knees went numb. "I have to go. I'll see you at seven." She touched his arm, and ran past him down the hall. He turned, belatedly, to watch her go.
When Joanna was out of sight, he leaned heavily against the wall, and stayed there for a long time.
* * * * *
"Gotcha!" Ariana's giggles echoed in the night air, as her brother tickled her mercilessly. Brooklyn looked over at his mate, who glided beside him serenely. It wasn't her turn to yell at the kids. "Keep it down, you two."
"C'mon, Dad," said Ari. "It's not like anyone can hear us from up here."
"That is not the point," said Sata. "We are on patrol. We must be vigilant, not engaging in raucous behavior."
Chagrined, the twins came into formation behind the two of them. A few minutes of silence passed. Then, whap "Gotcha!" Ariana zipped ahead of her parents, Graeme in hot pursuit.
"Remind me why we had children."
"The moon shone, the nightbirds sang ... " Sata trailed off, letting Brooklyn fill in his own memories.
"Brooklyn-san," she hissed, and pointed. They had come in close to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hoping for a glimpse of the Museum Thief. Elisa had told them earlier in the evening that the Met was hosting an exhibit of Gaelic antiquities, and it being the second Monday of the month, they were hoping to catch a criminal. Sure enough, a figure cloaked in darkness lurked against the roof.
"Kids!" he barked. "In formation. Now!"
The twins stopped in mid-chase, embarrassed to have been caught again. Ariana jostled her brother with an elbow-spur as they came back. Then they turned to see where Brooklyn and Sata were already focused.
"Sata, take the frontal assault with Graeme. Ari, you're with me." He swooped around in a wide circle, pleased to note that his daughter stayed at his heel in perfect alignment. When they tried, they were great kids. One day, they'd make fine warriors.
Together, they finished their curve behind the figure. He could just make out the shapes of his mate and son on the opposite side. He held up his arm, then dropped it decisively.
He pulled in his wings and dove for the thief, wind whistling past him at an exhilarating speed. He heard Sata's yell as she came in from the other side. Behind her, Graeme flew like a demon, eyes blazing white. He did not turn to see Ari; he knew she was there.
The figure stood. The cloak, for it had been wearing a cloak after all, fell away. Brooklyn saw a fat face, still not large enough for the number of irregular teeth ringing its mouth, discolored blotches covering the bald head. The creature held up a three-toed hand and vanished, cloak and all.
With no target available, Brooklyn suddenly found himself on a collision course with his mate. They unfurled their wings simultaneously, but not in time. They collided and went sprawling down the edge of the roof, to land in a tangle on one of the false fronts of the building. Sata was on her feet first, and helped him up; Graeme and Ariana were already scouting the rooftop for some means of egress, but the expressions on their faces told him they were having no luck.
"Did you see that?" he asked her. She nodded solemnly.
"I had not thought to see a dragon in the middle of the city."
"Me nei ... Dragon?"
The twins landed beside them. "Whoever it was, he's gone now," reported Graeme.
"That was too weird," said Ari. "I thought werewolves were only stories you made up so we'd eat our vegetables."
"Werewolves?" asked Graeme. "Sis, get your eyes checked. It was a giant bat."
Dragon? Werewolf? Bat? Brooklyn had been pretty sure he'd seen an ogre. "All right," he said, "Let's take another pass and see if he's gotten far. Regroup here in ten minutes."
"What are we looking for, Brooklyn-san?"
"You've got me. But look for it anyway."
The twins exchanged glances, but said nothing. Sata was equally as quiet. That was good, as Brooklyn had no idea what to tell them if they had asked.
* * * * *
"Let's try that again. Emma, from when you enter." Joanna sounded both tired and invigorated. Lennox knew she loved the theatre, that it made her happy even as it sapped her energy. That made hearing the lines which followed all the harder.
"That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold / What hath quenched them hath given me fire. - Hark! - Peace!" Hooting noises came from backstage. "It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman / Which gives the stern'st good-night ... "
He growled deep in his throat as she spoke words that he knew his beloved Gruoch would never have spoken. "Curse the playwright and his play."
Joanna's head turned. "Professor Macduff! How good of you to join us." The students clustered around the stage snickered at him. He realized that he must have spoken aloud.
"Aye, I'm here, sad to say, a witness to this mockery."
"Excuse me?" said Joanna. The girl on stage, Emma, appeared mortified. "We're done for the evening. And for the record, that was an excellent reading."
"Of a horrible miscarriage of history. Have ye studied nothing of the time?" He didn't intend to shout, but the acoustics of the theatre caught his words, sending them booming through the high-ceilinged room.
"Mac B killed the rightful king," said a student he didn't know.
"The 'rightful king' as you call him was a murderer and a tyrant. Duncan had no great love for Scotland, nor did that whelp Malcolm. They were both cowards, killing their enemies while they slept. Duncan died in battle, not in his bed. An he'd allowed the same for his foes, he'd have died much sooner, and Scotland would have been the better for 't."
He walked to Joanna and plucked the script from her hands. "As for this travesty, all I can say is that Mr. Shakespeare was grossly mistaken about a great many things. I should like to think Macbeth was not such a scoundrel, and I know for a fact his lady was far finer a woman than this world might ever see again."
He took in all the students with a glance.
"Have any of you so much as opened Holinshed? The story itself was told in detail, still wrong, but far closer to the truth than this!" He dropped the script. The slap echoed in the silence.
"He said it," said a young man, face scarred by ancient acne.
"I had no idea you were so passionate about Shakespeare," said Joanna quietly.
Flushed, he turned to her, saw the controlled anger on her face. And why not? Ye've come in here like a blowhard, blustering about ancient history, when all she wanted to do was put on a play.
A quick glance confirmed the matching looks of bewilderment and indignation at his outburst. "Joanna, I'm sorry. Perhaps we should do this another time."
"Perhaps we should."
He nodded to her, felt her eyes and those of the rest on the back of his neck as he turned away. He spun as soon as he heard the thud and the screams.
"Wha --- ?"
A sandbag, which had previously hung out of sight above the stage, sat slumped on the stage, contents spilling in a soft whoosh over the foot of the acne-scarred young man and onto the floor. Joanna must have flown from her seat to the stage.
"Eugene, are you all right?"
The boy nodded, face gone pale. "It came out of nowhere."
"Jeremy, Angel, Jennifer, make sure the other bags are tied tight." The three students so addressed ran backstage. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm sure." His eyes were scared, and directly on Macduff. Lennox, content to see the boy in good health, turned and walked out of the theatre.
His mind was buzzing, with more than just the residual fire of his angry lecture. Joanna was annoyed with him, the actors surely thought him mad, and he himself was reconsidering his abrupt words. Perhaps he could lend them a copy of Holinshed's Chronicles to use as source material.
As he stepped out of the building into the evening air, the flutter in his mind calmed. Just to make sure, he started off in a random direction. A brisk walk was just the thing to settle his nerves.
* * * * *
"He didn't do the ritual," said Eugene. He started shivering. Dr. Walker patted him on the shoulder.
"He probably doesn't even know about it," she reasoned.
"With a name like that?" said Brad, who promised to play an outstanding Macduff himself.
"Ritual?" Brenda asked in a cutely befuddled manner. Iris rolled her eyes. She'd run into far too many girls like Brenda: blonde and pretty, who could have been brilliant if they hadn't learned by the age of three that being cute was more acceptable.
"You know," said Chris. "The ritual. When you say the name of the Scottish Play, you go outside, turn around three times and spit. Then you knock and ask for permission to come back inside."
Angel, back from checking the sandbags, said in her too-soft voice, "I heard you had to run around the building three times and cross yourself." They would have to work on her vocal skills before the play, Iris decided.
"Whatever," said Brad. "The point is, we're cursed now, because he didn't."
"That's just superstition," said Brenda, dismissively.
"Want a bet? I knew a guy who performed the play, got appendicitis on opening night. He almost died."
Iris couldn't resist adding, "When Olivier did it in '55, he poked the guy who was playing Macduff in the eye with a sword."
Eugene said, "When we did it in high school, the lead got in a car accident on the way to the last performance. He still can't walk."
"And I have an uncle who died on-stage while doing the play," said Dr. Walker.
Everyone turned to her. "Really?" squeaked Brenda.
"No, not really. You're dealing with a lot of coincidences. You might just as well say 'Hamlet' is cursed, and see how many stories you can find. We're not cursed. End of discussion."
There were low mutters of agreement while Dr. Walker gathered her things. As soon as she was gone, they went back to their conversation.
Jeremy said, "I knew this guy who knew this guy who was stabbed while they were filming the Republic version ... "
None of them referred to the play by name.
* * * * *
He lingered outside of Miller Theatre for a long time, listening to the lines, cringing with the worst of them. How could anyone ever think that the historical him could be so awful?
The man currently known as Lennox Macduff blew out a breath. He did owe Joanna a proper apology. Listening to the students perform today seemed an appropriate penance, as painful as it was. They had shown a marked improvement from the admittedly little he'd seen when he'd come two days before. He would not have come today if he had not already been on campus. The class he'd volunteered to teach for Latkovski this week had ended, and so he stood outside the theatre, feeling too foolish to go watch.
"Aw, blast it, anyway." He opened the door and slipped into the back row. Fortunately, the play was nearly over.
To his dismay, the acne-scarred youth was playing the title character, while a noble-looking young man had been cast as Macduff, whoever that was supposed to be. The two taunted each other in iambic pentameter, then went offstage to fight. Macbeth, the true king of Scotland, balled his fists tightly, and held them to his sides. They were only children.
Something caught his eye. "Now that's odd," he whispered.
The theatre's carefully designed walls caught his whisper and floated it to the front of the room. Joanna turned her head, saw him, and turned back to the stage again without comment or expression.
The boy-king Malcolm spoke, as the surviving cast members looked on in proper adulation. To a one, their eyes glowed faintly green, as if casting a spell. He knew enough of magic and enough of plays to understand that the two were not necessarily separate things. Still, to see it before him was shocking.
The Malcolm-impersonator said, "What's more / Which would be planted newly with the time, / As calling home our exiled friends abroad / That fled the snares of watchful tyranny; / Producing forth the cruel ministers / Of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen."
"Who, as 'tis thought, by self and violent hands / Took off her life - This and what needful else / That calls upon us by the measure of Grace / We will perform in measure, time and place ... "
The hairs on the back of his neck lifted, sparking with tiny discharges.
"So, thanks to all at once, and to each one, / Whom we invite to see us brown'd off at the bone."
The lights went dead. He heard curses from the front of the stage, a few shouts, and someone running past him in the dark. He kept his seat, knowing that he'd do no good stumbling around sightless. Less than a minute later, the power returned to a ghastly scene.
Three witches circled 'round a girl on the floor, who held her ankle and bit back her tears. Without thinking, Macbeth sprang forward to defend her, knowing too well the price the witches would exact for their help.
"Stay back!" he shouted, grabbing a fallen sword from the stage and brandishing it before them. The three fell back, and he maneuvered himself between them and the fallen girl. When he was certain they would do her no harm, he turned back to her. "Child, are you all right?" She looked up at him, eyes round as saucers.
"Lennox Macduff, put that down!" Joanna Walker's voice thundered from everywhere. She strode up to the front of the stage and grabbed the sword from his hand. "What on earth were you thinking?!"
Joanna jumped from the stage and knelt beside the fallen young woman. "Iris, how bad is it?"
"I don't know. It hurts." She flexed her ankle and winced.
"Try to wiggle your toes."
"Good, then you've probably just sprained it."
Macbeth turned back to the witches. No longer in a battle-heat, he could see that beneath their makeup, they were three terrified young women who'd just been threatened by a sword-wielding history professor. That had to be the worst nightmare of half the student population of Columbia.
"I'm sorry," he said to the three.
Someone snorted. Someone else started laughing. The applause began soon after, as the false Macbeth, miraculously healed from his decapitation, clutched his sides and guffawed. "That was funny! You should have see the looks on your faces!"
"Bite me," said one of the witches. They turned as one and stalked off.
"Come on, Conan," said Joanna. "You can help me take my assistant here to the infirmary. If you reach for a sword, I will hurt you, got it?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said sheepishly. He knelt before the girl. "Miss, if I may?" She nodded, and he scooped her into his arms.
Joanna said, "The rest of you, be here tomorrow, same time. We've got a lot more work to do." She faced Macbeth and Iris. "This way."
* * * * *
They sat side by side in the waiting room. Macbeth turned over several conversations in his mind, before finally saying, "I wish you wouldn't do that play."
"Don't you start talking about the curse." Joanna flipped to the next page in the magazine she was ostensibly reading.
"It's not that. It's ... It's a lousy play for one thing."
She folded the magazine. "It's literature. This is theatre at its finest!"
"But it's wrong!"
"So what?!" They were the only ones in there but for the nurse on duty. The nurse, wisely, ignored them.
"What do you mean 'So what?' It's historically inaccurate. Generations of playgoers have taken away from it a terribly wrong picture of how things were, who people were."
"And? Len, it's a play. It doesn't have to be accurate in every detail. It just has to make you think, and to feel something." She held her hand against her chest. "If you only read for the history, you miss everything else, everything that makes it wonderful. The use of language alone makes it a masterpiece. I can't begin to tell you about the psychological study of a madman it affords." He made to protest, but she raised her arm. "Even if it's not about the right madman."
"But ... It's not right."
"No, it's a tragedy."
There was no way he could explain to her without sounding utterly insane. She would not budge on her view, and he knew too much to ever waver on his own.
The door saved them, by opening and emitting Iris on crutches. Joanna stood. "What did the doctor say?"
"I have a sprain. I'm supposed to use these for a few days, take these," she shook a bottle, "for a week, and come back when they're done. Otherwise, I'm fine."
"I have an idea," he said. Joanna gave him a patented "What now?" expression. "Would the two of you allow me to take you both out for dinner? I feel partially responsible for your being here, and it is getting rather late."
Iris' eyes lit up, and Joanna smiled. "Congrats, Len. The fastest way to a college student's heart is directly through her stomach. Also occasionally works for college professors. Iris?"
"Sounds great to me. Where are we going?"
Joanna volunteered, "The Amsterdam Cafe is still open." He hid his frown; he'd thought something classier, but it was getting late.
"The Amsterdam it is. Ms. Chang, Dr. Walker?" He got the door for the both.
As Iris limped out, she paused. "She wasn't quite right, you know."
"The fastest way to a college student's heart. Through the ribcage." She grinned, and limped out. Macbeth followed the two of them, chuckling.
* * * * *
Matt held something warm and pleasant-smelling in his hand. "Tell me they didn't burn it this time," said Elisa.
He took a sip and made a face. "You don't want to know." He sat down at his own desk, stared at her across an expanse of manila. "Tell you what, I'll take the computer records."
"So you can do a ten minute search and be done? Not a chance." She shoved roughly half the pile onto his desk. "I have to look, you have to look."
"Great." He opened the top folder and scanned down. "Got one."
She tossed him a notepad. "Write it down. Then keep looking."
"Yes, mistress." Elisa shot him a glare from over the pile. "Kidding, kidding. You know, this wasn't any more fun the last time we went through these."
"That was six months ago."
"You're joking? I thought it was ... " he trailed off, counting on his fingers. "Okay, six. You're right."
Elisa blocked him out for a moment, reading through an eyewitness account. "Now here's something interesting. The witness to this robbery swears she saw a gargoyle."
"Not likely." She flipped through the file. "This one took place while she was on ice in the Labyrinth."
"Thailog or one of the clones, then?"
"Maybe, but that wouldn't explain the later thefts. He's been dead for over a year, and I know the other clones aren't responsible." She placed the file on the "Keep" pile. Something nagged at the back of her mind.
"When Brooklyn, Sata and the kids saw our thief, they couldn't even decide among themselves what they saw. We've got at least a dozen witnesses, none of whose stories correlate."
Matt pulled the list of stolen items off the wall. Elisa only half-watched as he compared the list to the index of fenced or suspected fenced goods. She already knew he wouldn't find anything. Their thief wasn't in this for the money. She walked behind him, mentally read the list: scrolls, talismans, trinkets, each one with a story behind it. This scroll supposedly brought good fortune. This statue was sacred to Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god. That trinket was worn by Catherine the Great as a love charm. All were valuable more for their historical interest than anything else. Only a private collector, and an eclectic one at that, would want this odd array of gewgaws and old parchment.
"Follow me a minute. What would you do with a vast collection of supposedly magical items?"
"Get a date?"
"Someone could wage a war with 'em." His tone was only slightly mocking.
With a click everything fell smoothly into place. Her vision darkened, and for half a second, she was sick to her stomach. "A magic war." The nausea passed, and she grabbed her jacket. "Let's go for a drive."
On their way out, they passed Jerry Pearson. He smiled in a friendly fashion. "What's up, Detectives?"
"The usual tricks," said Elisa, deadpan, and walked past him. Matt shrugged, as if to indicate he wasn't sure what was eating her, either. Elisa ignored them both. Things were sliding into a terrifying pattern, and she needed answers.
* * * * *
Matt clutched his seat with both hands as Elisa rounded a corner. "Hey, slow down!"
On cue, she slammed on the brakes for a red light, squealing the tires as they came to a stop a whisper behind an idling Jag. Matt checked behind them for rubber.
Elisa was muttering to herself: "Energy is energy, whether through science or sorcery. Don't mix magics. Never ever assume it's just a mirror."
"Dark elves, demons of air and darkness ... "
The light changed and Elisa floored it. Street lamps whizzed by, but there were mercifully few pedestrians out at this time of morning. He'd taken the trip to the Eyrie Building enough to recognize the route. He'd just never made it in under two minutes before.
"Elisa, stop the car!" To his surprise, she did. She stared out of the windshield, blinked, then turned to him.
"If a train leaves Chicago at midnight with a Book, an Eye and a Gate, can it take over Avalon?"
"A train leaves Chicago on time? No way."
"Matt ..." All flippancy was forgotten as he finally got a good look at her eyes: wide, the whites trembling.
"What if it's Madoc?"
He considered it. "I don't get it. Madoc is Oberon's brother, right?" She nodded. "And he has his powers back."
"It looks that way."
"What would he want with a bunch of magical knick-knacks? He's got all that power of his own."
"This isn't fay power. It's human. That's different."
"Yeah. It's a lot weaker, for one thing."
"Don't underestimate human magic," was all she said, and edged back into the little traffic that haunted the streets. Her hands were clenched around the wheel, white at the knuckles. If he had to pry them free, he wasn't sure he could. He went over the reports in his head, fitting the data to the new concept that it could be the Unseelie. He wasn't entirely convinced. Elisa might have more working knowledge of magic and its agents, but Matt had gone on enough personal quests to know that if they walked into Chavez' office to tell her that the museums had been robbed by fairies, they'd have neighboring rooms at Bellevue before noon.
Elisa found a parking spot near the building and killed the engine. As she reached for the door handle, he grabbed her arm. "Wait."
"We don't have time to wait."
"Owen's not going anywhere. He's who we're here to see, right?"
"Then he can keep polishing Xanatos's wingtips for a few more minutes. I'm worried about you."
"You're my partner. I have to worry. It's in the contract. Talk to me."
"Not now," she said. "Not yet. Let's talk to Owen first. Maybe he'll give us some good news." Her smile never reached her eyes, but it was a smile.
"All right. But you will tell me, right?"
"Right." Her smile widened. She was still scared, he could see that, but her hands had loosened their clench.
They waved to the security guard on duty, then took the elevator to the castle. Matt had been there enough times by now to know where everything was, and still he felt like a little kid every time the elevator door yawned open to reveal the Great Hall.
Elisa strode out and nearly walked into Fox. "Detectives, we weren't expecting you this evening."
"Plans changed. We need to talk to Owen. It's important."
Fox's face went puzzled for a moment, both at the request and the tone of voice in which it was delivered. "He's not here."
"When will he be back? We can wait."
"You won't want to. He's in Chicago this week, working on something for me."
"Legal?" he couldn't help asking.
"Of course," said the woman smoothly. She lost a touch of her composure as she turned back to Elisa. "How important?"
"Enough." She rubbed her forehead. "But not enough to call him back into town. Yet. I need to talk to him about ... " She sighed. "Never mind. Just tell him I need to talk to him. Please."
"I can do that."
Matt glanced at his watch. "Partner, we're almost done for the night. Why don't you stay here? I'd like to take the car and follow a few leads of my own."
"I'll go with you."
"What? Don't trust me with the car after all this time?" He feigned pain. "Besides, where would you rather be, stuck in a car with me, or upstairs ... "
"You're an evil man, Bluestone." She pulled out her car keys. "Don't hurt my car."
"I promise." He took the keys, and pressed the "Down" button for the elevator. Only when he was safely inside did he say to himself, "I may be evil, but you're not driving anymore tonight."
Bored during the long trip down to ground floor, he began singing to himself, a catchy pop tune he'd heard on the radio going to and from work. A security camera lurked quietly in one corner of the ceiling, recording his musical attempts.
"What?" he said to the camera, "you've never seen someone talk to themselves before?"
The camera had nothing to say on the matter. Matt stuck his tongue out at it.
* * * * *
Joanna rubbed her head. "All right, again, from the beginning of the scene."
Iris said, "Brenda, don't forget to stir while you're talking." Joanna nodded her approval.
Brenda began stirring her pot. "Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd."
Angel threw in some carrots. "Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined." Steam from the dry ice they'd put in the cauldron roiled at the lip.
"Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time," said Jennifer, and threw in a sock.
The three continued to toss in the stew's ingredients, or as close as theatrically possible. The bright colors of the tent behind them contrasted nicely with the hideous spangles and sparkles of their garb. Off-key carnival music played over the speakers, lending the scene a sense of a circus gone weirdly awry, exactly as she'd planned.
Jennifer chanted: "Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, / Witches' mummy, maw and gulf / Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark, / Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark, / Liver of blaspheming Jew ... "
"Ewwww!" said Angel, and dropped the jar she was holding. It shattered wetly on the stage. She jumped back.
"Are you okay?" asked Iris. It was becoming a litany with the production.
"Yeah. Who put real liver in the jar?"
Joanna approached the stage and inspected the mess. "That's not real liver. That's the sponge that's been in the jar since we started practicing."
"No, it isn't. It's ... " Angel looked down at the floor. "It was real. I saw it."
Eugene, waiting off-stage for his entrance, smirked. "Seeing things again, Angel?"
"It's just stress, people," said Joanna, offering Eugene a well-aimed glare. Tomorrow would be opening night, and they were all nervous. The liver wasn't the first thing Angel had said she'd seen. Joanna privately thought the girl was an incipient prima donna, looking for attention. That didn't explain the spotlight that had exploded, sending Jeremy to the infirmary with glass in his palms. Nor did it account for Neil's biking accident the week before, which tore the ligaments in both arms so that he would not be performing at all.
"Pretend you have a jar. I'll dig up another one in the props room after rehearsal. From the last 'Double, double,' then."
The three witches continued to recite their spell. Eugene, a too-large crown slipping down to his ears, entered on cue. "How now, you secret, black and midnight hags! / What is't you do?"
The three replied, "A deed without a name."
Afterwards, Joanna wasn't certain what she saw. Possibly, it was static buildup from the cheap polyester costumes in the dry air. That was the most likely explanation, and the one that set her mind to the most ease. As Eugene made an expansive motion with his arm, a green spark shot out from his fingers, striking the backdrop. The tent fell onto the four of them.
It also fell onto the sterno can they were using to supposedly heat the cauldron for the full dress rehearsal.
The cheap material of the tent flared, making a sickening, oily smoke. The sprinkler system activated as Joanna reached the stage. The rest of the cast moved in from backstage. "Stay back!" she shouted.
Avoiding the flames, she grabbed the edge of the tent. "This way!" Eugene crawled out quickly. Angel and Brenda dragged Jennifer through the hole as a spray of white foam enveloped everything. Joanna looked up and saw Len Macduff with a fire extinguisher. She checked on the kids. Miraculously, none of them appeared to have been hurt.
The spraying stopped. The fire was out, leaving a scorched mess on the stage. Joanna looked at Len, and said simply, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he replied gravely. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." He took her hands. She was about to pull away, thinking it far too intimate a gesture for the eyes of the Drama Club, when he turned them over. Nasty red welts had formed on the backs of her hands. She had not even noticed.
"You should have this looked at," he said.
"The tent," she said. "I have enough material. I can probably repair it tonight."
"Uh uh," said Iris. "You go to the doctor. We'll fix the tent. Right, people?"
There were mumbles from the rest, but no complaints. Len helped her up. "I'll drive."
"Are you sure you're all right?" she asked of the three young women and the young man.
The three girls nodded in unison. Their identical clothing and makeup made it all the more eerie when they responded together: "Go on."
Eugene had already been commandeered by Iris for spreading out the tent to check the damage. He seemed fine.
"All right," she reluctantly agreed. "Let me get my things." She went backstage, where she'd left her briefcase. As she picked it up, she brushed her hand against her pant leg and gasped at the pain. Yes, she needed the doctor.
Someone was crying. "Hello?" she called. She went back to the dressing rooms, thinking maybe one of their witches had not been as well as she'd thought. No one was in there. Still, she heard quiet sobbing from somewhere.
She poked her head through the curtain. No one on or around the stage appeared to be in distress. Gradually, the weeping stopped. Joanna paused in thought.
She'd been in enough theatres to know certain things. They were gathering places, where sound and light were focused, using tricks of the voice, or of advanced acoustic technology. In well-designed theatres, a whisper spoken on the stage could be heard from the back row. The physicist in her often reminded her that sound and light were only a few of the waves that could be collected and amplified. Drama was a means of bringing the past alive. Couldn't, then, a very well-designed theatre collect other things, possibly even echoes of performances past, replaying them from time to time like an old video recording?
Her first experience with drama had been as a freshman in college. According to her fellow students, the resident ghost was a harmless gentleman they called Fella. He turned off lights as they left, stole the occasional script, and made peculiar noises when only a few young women were in the building at night. One of her friends claimed to have seen him once; considering that friend's other extracurricular activities, she was certain he saw many more interesting things than that on the weekends.
Perhaps the Columbia University theatre had such a ghost. More likely, her imagination was playing tricks on her. "I hope everything turned out okay in the end," she said to the air. If echo it was, whatever the being cried for was long since past. She grasped her briefcase handle as well as she could, and went through the curtain.
* * * * *
Elisa waited less than patiently outside the boardroom. Fox had called her two hours before to let her know that Owen had arrived back in town. She had neglected to mention that he would immediately go into a meeting with the heads of Xanatos' security forces. Sunset was still a few minutes away; she'd spent her time here alternating between skimming through magazines -- it seemed she wasn't the only person who'd had to wait here for some time -- and scribbling down more random thoughts about the museum robberies. There was definitely a pattern. It remained for a certain man on the other side of the closed door to tell her if that pattern pointed to what she suspected it did.
The door opened. Several people she did not know walked out and past her. One or two shot her a glance, probably wondering who she was, what her business with Xanatos might be, too polite to ask either question. They would no doubt be shocked to discover her reason for being here.
She went into the boardroom.
Xanatos sat at the head of the table. Owen leaned over his chair behind him, indicating something on a piece of paper. Xanatos smiled genially at her. "Detective, to what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Business. Mr. Burnett, I need to ask you some questions."
"Seventeen objects, rumored to be magical in some way, have been stolen from area museums and collections. From what we've pieced together, fifty or more have been reported missing from various places around the country. We're checking into international thefts as well, but it's a lot harder asking around for missing items that may or may not have a legend connected to them."
"I'll be in my office," said Xanatos, and left them alone.
"What do you need to ask me?"
"We know that none of our usual suspects are involved. This is too big, too well-organized. We're thinking there's a private collector involved, someone who has a strong interest in magical toys."
Now that she was here before him, all her fears came back, the night-things that Madoc and his followers commanded. They were the dark creatures lurking beneath little girls' beds, the closet monsters, Jabberwocky and Boojum and Boogedy, the demons sneaking in the shadows where the street lamps had been shattered. As a child might, then, she asked Owen, "Could the Unseelie being taking them? Could they use human magic?"
"No," he replied, perhaps a little fast, "but there remains another possibility. They could be removing objects that those trained in human magic might use in their defense." His normally calm demeanor was suddenly showing signs of agitation. "If that is the case, this is very grave indeed. If you'll excuse me." He walked out the same door which Xanatos had exited. She considered following him, and knew it would be futile. He would tell them what he thought they needed to know, and no more.
"Fairies," she muttered, and went back into the hallway. Angela waited where Elisa had been sitting. Sunset had come without her.
"Hi, Elisa. Is Xanatos still in there?"
"Nope. I don't think now's a good time to talk to him."
"Come on. We need to go talk to your dad."
* * * * *
Goliath was still in the courtyard. Elisa greeted him with a warm smile, which faded when she remembered why she'd needed to talk to him. "Well," she started, "The good news is that we've cracked the museum thefts."
"That's wonderful!" said Angela.
"Have you caught the perpetrator?" asked Goliath.
"That's the bad news." She described her suspicions, and her interview with Owen. Angela's initial excitement turned to concern. Goliath stayed quiet for some time after she finished.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Something Demona said." Angela turned her head. "We have not truly vanquished Madoc, Maeve or their followers, only sent them into hiding for a time. They will return when they think they have a chance at defeating us."
A cold breeze, typical for December, blew over the courtyard. Elisa shivered. "What scares me is that I don't think there's anything we can do about it right now. Owen's as tight-lipped as ever. All we can do is wait until Madoc and company announce their intentions, or whatever they're planning on doing."
"What do you think it will be?" asked Angela.
"We'll find out soon enough," said Goliath darkly.
Angela opened her mouth, as if she were going to say something. Then she closed it again, and an expression almost like guilt crossed her face and was gone. "I'll see you both later," she said, and walked quickly away.
"What's with her?"
"I believe she is concerned about her mother. We have not heard from her in some weeks." His tone indicated that was not necessarily a bad thing from his point of view. In a completely different manner, he asked her, "Do you have the rest of the evening free?" She nodded. "Tonight, there will be a production of 'Macbeth' at Columbia. Would you perhaps be interested in joining me?"
She balanced her options. She could go back home and hammer out more on this case, maybe see if she could find something to tell her what Madoc and Maeve's next move would be. She could sit balanced on the rafters at the Columbia U. theatre, watching a bunch of college kids perform a badly mangled version of the life of one of their allies. She could be alone in her apartment, going up against a brick wall, making up theories that she wouldn't be able to test until a King of the Third Race wannabe made his presence known again, or she could be with Goliath.
"Let's go see the play."
* * * * *
The library was chilly, but a few well-stoked logs soon made a nice fire by which to sit and read. Angela went to a shelf, bent down, and snatched the spellbook her mother had sent. She was not hiding it, she reasoned. It remained in plain view every day and night. Therefore, it wasn't a secret, and she didn't have to feel as bad for not telling Goliath.
She sat down near the fire and began reading furiously, hoping to find something, somewhere that might be of some use in the coming battle. From time to time, she glanced over her shoulder, just in case.
* * * * *
The painkillers turned the fire in her hands to a faraway numbness. "Nice effect, that," Joanna said to herself. One last time, she looked over the tent. Iris had managed to commandeer the entire cast and crew into sewing duty. It was a patchwork crazy quilt of sharp oranges and yellows and greens, not exactly as it had been before, but certainly carnival-looking. The other backdrops had been painted the week before, and still looked good to her critical eye.
Music, some moody guitar piece that fit the tone of the play, piped in from the speakers. The cast was still changing, but the crew had already started getting the lighting and such going.
Iris came out of the dressing room with her clipboard. "So far, so good. Everyone has all their makeup. No missing pieces of costume. I checked the props again, and everything's there. I think we're a go."
"Thank goodness," said Joanna.
"Plus," added Iris, "there's no sign of Professor Macduff."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Dr. Walker, he's been around for more than his share of accidents. I'm just as happy to not see him here," she said bluntly.
"That's not nice."
"But it's true. Ever since he said the word, we've had nothing but trouble, especially when he's around, and he's been around a lot."
"He hasn't been around 'a lot.'"
"Right. You know, it's not entirely a secret that he's sweet on you." Joanna blinked. Iris laughed. "When we were at dinner, and he was talking about his trip to the U.K., he all but asked you to go back with him."
"No, he didn't."
"Yes, he did. Pay attention to what he's not saying sometime. He likes you, Doc."
"We're colleagues," said Joanna. "Although he did say he would attend the performance tonight."
Iris made a concerned face. "I'll warn the cast." She turned around and went back into the dressing room.
"Sweet on me?" Joanna mouthed. Then she grinned.
* * * * *
They touched down feather-light on the roof of the theatre. Goliath held onto her several more seconds than perhaps he should have, but she did not mind. When he finally set her on the concrete, she felt no sense of loss; she could still feel his heartbeat in his palm.
"I think the way down is over ... " Goliath picked her up and pulled her behind a jutting chimney. His hand was at her mouth, his pulse faster than it had been just a moment before.
He leaned his head over, and she followed suit. A dark figure skulked along the rooftop. Passing headlights illuminated the face, poring over a scroll yellowed with age. At his feet lay a thick chain.
"Macbeth!" roared Goliath, pouncing from the shadows. He plowed into a shocked Macbeth, and remained on top of him, eyes blazing. "You are the thief?!"
Macbeth drew something from his pocket. Elisa guessed it was a taser and struck his wrist with her foot before he could activate it. His head snapped up and saw her. "Have ye both gone mad?"
"You have a lot to answer for," she said. Goliath grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dangled him a foot off the ground.
Oddly, this did not appear to faze him. Macbeth calmly folded his arms. "May I ask what are you talking about?"
"The museum thefts," said Goliath, but suddenly Elisa was unsure. She grabbed the scroll from where it had fallen. She'd spent enough time looking at photographs and descriptions of the missing items to be fairly sure this wasn't one of those listed as stolen. She was entirely unfamiliar with the language in which it was written, but the paper gave her a spidery tingle down her arm as she touched it. There was magic here.
"Where did you get this?" she demanded.
"It's part of my personal collection."
She showed it to Goliath. "Can you make out what it says?"
He squinted in the low light, then turned back to Macbeth again. "What are you trying to summon?"
"That's none of your business. Now will you kindly release me?"
"Goliath, I don't think he's the thief. Call it cop instinct."
Goliath dropped Macbeth, who landed in a crouch. For a moment, Elisa feared he'd turn on them and attack. Then he straightened up and dusted off his jacket. "Thank you."
"What are you summoning?" asked Goliath again.
Elisa handed him the scroll. He inspected it for any damage, then said, "Your guess is as good as mine. I'm thinking perhaps to catch myself a fairy or three."
"The Weird Sisters?"
"Maybe. Or maybe one of their brethren. There's magic around this wretched play. I've seen it during the rehearsals. It almost killed Jo ... the director last night. I need to find out who's behind it, and stop them."
"You think the Scottish Play is cursed?" asked Elisa.
Macbeth smiled humorlessly. "Aye, wouldn't that be something? All these years, and the stories were right? No, I don't think the play is cursed, but I do think there's someone or something who doesn't want this performance to happen, and I'm of a mind to find out who."
"Can we help?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied honestly. "We could summon an embittered college student, or a demon lord from the ninth pit of Baator." He kicked the chain. "I'm rather hoping for one of Oberon's bairns, given a choice."
The word 'Unseelie' passed unsaid among them.
"We will help you," said Goliath. "But if there is any hint of trickery on your part, be assured you will regret it."
"Paranoia doesn't suit you," said Macbeth, and he unrolled the scroll. Musical words fell out of his mouth like iridescent serpents, writhing on his tongue. Was it Gaelic? Welsh? Some language only spoken in a forgotten dream? She held her hands over her ears as he chanted.
Golden mist collected before him above the chains, as a high, keening note sliced through her skull. The mist collected into a form, only one form. Her eyes were wide set, her hair the color of sunset, her face round and beautiful and sad beyond words. The scroll slipped from Macbeth's numb fingers, as he whispered raggedly:
"Gruoch ... "
"My love," she said, her voice a cascade of bells. She reached her hands out to them. Elisa gasped and stepped back into Goliath's touch. This ghost had been killing people for centuries.
The woman ignored the two of them, took a step towards Macbeth. He stayed where he was, fingers opening and closing, gasping. She went to him, tried to take his hands. Her own fell through them. She tried again, and failing, gave a little cry.
He went to touch her face then, stopping just before the contact. "How? Why?"
She wrapped her hands around his, again not quite touching, but being near. "It is a long, painful story."
"Imagine that," said Elisa.
"Hush," whispered Goliath.
* * * * *
Castle Moray, December 1605
Gruoch opened her eyes, or what she considered to be her eyes. Still she was in Moray, still surrounded by crumbling walls, where ivy and the shells of ancient spiders clutched, both brown and brittle. As she had countless times over the years, she ambled through known and once-beloved passageways, open to the gray sky, and she reminisced, for there was naught else to do in this forsaken place.
Once, she recalled, there had been kisses, blushingly bestowed upon a brown beard. As if it had been the day, she remembered the scent of her son, first placed in her arms by the midwife. Also could she remember the feel of her wrist, bruising as Gillecomgain grabbed her too roughly, but these were memories she did not choose to revisit often. Memories had been her sole companions since her death and her first awakening. It was true that visitors occasionally walked the halls with her, looking for scraps of history, or more likely some forgotten bit of treasure not already looted. She had tried making contact with them, seeking some kind of company. Not a one had heard, and only a handful had felt a cold wind across the brow. As time went on, fewer came. The last soul she'd seen had been a lone gargoyle, who appeared in a ball of fire, and left hours later in the same manner. Time had not dimmed her anger against her husband's treacherous general, and she had chosen not to even attempt conversation with the beast.
Sometimes she rested, closing her ether-eyes, opening them again days or weeks or years later. She had no way to count the passage of time but for the seasons. She would waken, wander her domain and prison to see what ravages Time had wrought during her slumber. She would think upon Macbeth and Luoch, and all those she had loved and trusted during her life, and she would weep phantom tears. Thus had been her routine for centuries.
clip-clop clip-clop jangle clip clop The approach of the horse interrupted her thoughts for but a moment. Another thief, she thought, and made her way to the courtyard, as was her wont. She was not alone.
"Are ye sure ye want tae spent the night 'ere?" The man glanced around skeptically, his horse panting mist into the afternoon air. His was rough garb, thin wool hiding thick, sturdy muscles.
The other man, smaller, dismounted from his horse. His face lit with excitement. "I'm certain. 'Ifaith 'tis a ruinous place." His accent betrayed his origins to be from the South, possibly English. Gruoch, who had not finished her tour of the courtyard, frowned in recollection of the Englishmen she'd known in her own day.
The smaller fellow began unloading supplies from his horse, while the other man looked on pensively.
"I do nae think this a good idea, sair." The horses whuffled to each other, as if in agreement.
"So you've said." The Englishman opened a leather satchel on his belt and pulled out coins. He placed them into the other man's unresisting hand. "Here's half the sum we agreed upon. If you wish not to return on the morrow, I'll find my way from here."
The other man mumbled thanks, and something which to Gruoch sounded like "blasted fool," then coaxed his own horse towards the gate. "Jest ye watch fer the ghosts," he said, and he was gone.
"That's why I'm here," the Englishman said, and went back to his belongings.
Seeing nothing else of interest, Gruoch continued her inspection, submerging her annoyance at the Englishman's lingering presence in concern at the continued decay of the stonework. When she had finished, she returned to her bedchamber. No bed remained but for the brown leaves collected in the corners of the room, but it was still her chamber, where she had spent the last happy nights of her life.
Macbeth, she thought to the air, and began to cry.
When she again opened her eyes, darkness covered the sky. How much time had passed? Who was to say? As always, she began her tour of the grounds. In the great hall, she noted a disturbance.
The Englishman, pleased as punch, sat by a fire in the middle of the room, scratching on paper with a quilled pen. She moaned; she must have only slept a few hours.
"Blast it!" He crumpled the paper and threw it to the floor. He placed his face in his hands and rubbed his forehead. "The King's own kin a regicide, and the man behind it all no more than a man trying to save his family!"
Almost against her will, she found herself pausing to watch him, as he paced. The flames cast his shadow as a dancing devil on the stone wall. "I can't very well make him a hero, or the King's Men will become the Poor Men." A gust of wind blew the flames low. Although she could not feel the cold, she drew her ghostly cloak around her. He seemed to ignore it, resting his bare head against a frigid wall. "Who were you, Macbeth?"
She jolted. For a moment, her senses sizzled with sensation. "Macbeth!"
Was that the faintest echo she heard from the hallways, her own voice? The Englishman raised his head, as if he'd heard her. That was madness; no one had heard her in five hundred years.
"Who were you?" he repeated. He continued his pacing. "A madman. James could not fault me for making him mad. Fawkes himself must have been insane." He picked up his paper, unfolded it, smoothed it, and scribbled. Gruoch came closer. She knew some of her letters, but not these. "A madman," he mumbled.
His eyes took on a cast to which she was not entirely unfamiliar, almost green in their glow. The Demon that her love had once called friend had worn a similar expression when she cast a spell. Was this man a sorcerer, then, bound on recapturing the soul of her beloved husband? He muttered what sounded to her ears like an incantation: "'Is this a dagger that I see before me / The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee - I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. / Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible / To feeling as to sight? or art thou but / A dagger of the mind ... ' Oh, this is good!" He scratched more words to the parchment, feverish in his speed.
No, not a sorcerer, she thought. She had seen plays before, brought to their home by minstrels. This Englishman was writing a play about her Macbeth?
"Duncan's murder will have to change," he muttered. "Mayhap I'll work in old Duff's murder yet. 'Twas so close to that of the King's father ... " His voice muttered into silence, and the room filled with sounds of crackling wood and scratching nib against paper.
Murder? Duncan's murder, as he called it, had been the only thing to save her husband's life as well as her own and Luoch's.
"All hail Macbeth," said the Englishman. As before, her senses sizzled.
"Begone by tomorrow!" she shouted to the man. How dare he come and profane the name of her beloved?
Like a mocking cry, she heard the pale echo of her own voice bouncing along the ruins "Tomorrow ... tomorrow ... tomorrow." The man cocked his ear, as if listening. The daft fool thought his muse was speaking to him!
Gruoch ran from the room. Exhaustion, something she had not experienced in hundreds of years, crept over her. Weeping, she fell back into her own private oblivion.
* * * * *
She woke suddenly, knowing something was terribly wrong. She was not in her chamber, nor anywhere else within the familiar walls of her home and prison. She lay on a wooden platform, in a round enclosure open to the sky. Two men stood beside her, unseeing, as they spoke quickly to one another.
"No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive / Our bosom interest - go pronounce his preset death / And with his former title greet Macbeth."
"I'll see it done."
"What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won."
What was this madness? They spoke of Macbeth? She found strength in her limbs, tested it against the hilt of one man's sword, watched with satisfaction as it slid from his fingers. As she let go, she found herself growing tired again. She closed her eyes.
* * * * *
She opened her eyes, saw more people surrounding her, all dressed in odd costumes. The Englishman who'd come to her castle stood amidst them, pointing out where this one and that should stand. Was he a conjurer, then, trapping her to watch his little pageant?
A young man in a gown began to speak. With horror, she realized he was supposed to be her. Yet, she had never known such bloodthirstiness. That had been more the role of the Demon. Angrily, she struck the young man. To her surprise, her hands met flesh, and the boy fell.
"'Sblood, are you well, Hal?"
The boy sat up, then clutched at his stomach, moaning. "I'll be all right," he said, his face pale.
"Nonsense," said the Englishman. Then he cursed. "The Danish King himself is coming with our patron for tonight's performance. We dare not risk your falling ill. I'll take the Lady's part."
Gruoch stared agape, as the Englishman helped the young man out of the elaborate gown, then put it on himself. Tired, shaking, she found a place at the edge of the stage and sat.
Whatever the magic of this mummery, it gave her strength to make things happen. She'd forgotten what it was to touch another living being, found it not nearly as pleasant as she'd remembered. She clutched a fist, looked impassionately through her own hand, and at that moment, desired nothing so much as rest.
* * * * *
He was near. She'd grown accustomed to waking on or close to the stage, to not being allowed beyond the boundaries of the Globe's walls. She had even consigned herself to the mockery of her life that William had created. Tonight was different.
She saw his face in a box, above the groundlings. His eyes were pained, and he grimaced more with every word. She went to the box, tried touching him as the lines were spoken, found that she could not.
"Not like that," he whispered so that only she could hear. "Not at all."
She ached for him, for what he must have been through these past five centuries. She ached for the pain William's thoughtless words gave him.
Crying, she ran back to the stage, and with hardly any effort, tipped over the backdrop onto one of the actors. In the confusion, her love walked out of the theatre. She tried to follow him, knew as she reached the doorway that she could never do so, and walked alone back to the prison of the stage.
In the wings, she saw the three actors who played the witches, and had the oddest feeling they watched her. That was impossible -- she was invisible to mortals. They turned back to one another, and began rehearsing their lines
"Our player-king cannot accept his fate," said the first.
"Our queen has naught to do but bide and wait."
"So bound they be until they take to heart ... "
All three spoke together: "The broken mirror of this fragile art."
Thus spoken, the actors went on stage, leaving Gruoch alone to curl in a corner. As she faded into sleep, she listened to the words, thinking vaguely that the three had rehearsed the wrong lines.
* * * * *
December 11, 1997
"I woke every time they practiced, every time they performed. Sometimes I tried to stop them, sometimes I waited for the agony to end on its own. After a time, the King's Men stopped performing the play, and I slept for a long time. When William died, his friends and patrons published all the plays together."
The woman's ghostly face took on a more grim expression. "Do you have any idea how many copies were made on that blasted Gutenberg device? Suddenly, the play was being performed everywhere. I'd find myself summoned in London, Paris, New York, anywhere someone could find a stage. All I wanted was to sleep.
"Sometimes I could control the power. I tried to stop the play from being performed however I could. Then I discovered that I need not do anything at all, indeed that my being angry was enough for an actor to catch ill or to injure himself. I meant no harm to the players, but when they spoke of you, my love, with such terrible words, I could not control my heart. And the accidents continued.
"The hardest thing was to see you in the audience of a night, knowing how much this travesty hurt you, at the same time wanting you to stay." Her eyes welled with tears. "It has been so long since I last saw you."
Elisa wiped her eyes, as Macbeth reached his hand to his wife, as he passed through her. She leaned back, felt the solid comfort of Goliath's presence behind her. He was many things, but right now, the most important were that he was alive and solid and well.
"I wish I'd known," said Macbeth, voice laden with emotion.
"It would have pained you more," Gruoch responded. "I would not have had that."
"You should not be trapped like this. It's bad enough that I'm forced to wander." She placed her hand over his mouth.
"Don't. We have such a short time together. I want to remember this for the next performance, and the next."
"My lady," said Goliath. "Perhaps you are not as trapped as you think."
Elisa looked up at him, then thought that she followed his thought. "Do you remember exactly what the three actors said the first night Macbeth attended the play?"
"They wouldn't ... " said Macbeth.
"You doubt it?" asked Goliath, and Macbeth glowered.
"I remember," said Gruoch, and she repeated the lines.
Unhappily, Goliath rumbled, "Like the Captain. The only escape is from within."
Elisa said, "You have to accept the play. No matter how wrong it is, that's what is hurting you both."
"Accept this piece of filth?!" cried Macbeth.
"It's a perfect trap," said Elisa. "Accept what you thought you never could." In her own mind, she added another strike against the Weird Sisters, if indeed they had been the playwrights behind this mess.
"Accept?" asked Gruoch. She closed her eyes, and Elisa feared she would vanish. Then she said, "Yes."
"Are you certain?" Macbeth's face was drawn in pain. If this worked, Gruoch would fade away forever. She would be gone. And she would be at rest.
"Very well," he said. "I accept the play, as I should have long ago."
"I think you need more than that," said Elisa. "If you really want to prove you can accept it, you're going to have to actually read it."
"But ... "
"My love," said Gruoch. "Please."
He nodded. "Fine. I'm sure Joanna has an extra script somewhere."
"I'll get one," Elisa volunteered. She hurried back down the stairs. Backstage, everything was in chaos. Joanna stood in the center of the tumult, pointing this way and that, as students rehearsed lines from all acts of the play simultaneously.
"Detective, now isn't a good time. Emma, your bodice is coming unlaced."
"Sorry for bothering you, but believe me when I say this is very important. Do you have a spare copy of the script?"
"Not right now. Eugene, this is iambic pentameter, not Dr. Seuss. Try it again."
"Here," said someone. A copy of the script was thrust into her hands. She saw a deep set of brown eyes underneath a ridiculous hat, a well-shaped muscular body almost hidden beneath a tartan, and sighed automatically.
"Thanks," she said, and wondered how hard it would be to get Goliath into a kilt as she dashed up the stairs again.
The breeze on the roof was nippy as she handed over the play to Macbeth. She dug in her pocket and pulled out a flashlight, and handed that also.
Goliath sat down and opened his arm. She nestled into the shelter it provided, as Macbeth opened to the first page. Gruoch huddled beside him, a being of smoke. She mouthed the words as he read.
"When shall we three meet again / In thunder, lightening, or in rain?"
The cadences of his voice matched the words well. As she had when she was younger, listening to her mother read bedtime stories, Elisa closed her eyes and pretended she could see the people in the play.
Below them, and a thousand miles away, the production began. In her mind's eye, the two performances mixed: the Scottish king narrated the adventures of the schoolchildren on the stage, as the ghost kept time.
Macbeth recited: "She should have died hereafter." Gruoch shivered.
"It is all right," she said. Her face glowed in a soft smile. "Continue reading. I ... don't think it will be long."
He picked up the play again. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time ... "
Gruoch shivered more violently. She became less smoke, more a memory of smoke. "Keep reading," she breathed.
"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out! Out! Brief candle ... "
The wind was louder than her voice, as she whispered, "Be happy, my love." Her form was lit with a brilliance that could not be explained by the flashlight or the street lamps.
"I love you," said he.
"Love you," echoed she, and she was gone in a flash of golden light.
When she could see again, Elisa went to Macbeth. He stood in the same position as before, staring at where Gruoch had been. Not knowing what else to do, she placed her arms around him, felt his strong shoulders tremble at her loss, at all his losses.
She turned her face, saw Goliath, and understood.
* * * * *
Applause rained welcomely from the audience. Joanna sent the actors out for their bows, still expecting the building to collapse at any moment. Then Iris and Eugene grabbed her arms, being careful of her bandaged hands, and dragged her out to the stage. She took a bow of her own to the standing audience.
It had been one heck of an opening night.
Lennox waited backstage, holding an armful of roses. Awkwardly, he held them out. "For you, Madame Director."
She took them, breathed in, and sighed happily. "Thanks. Now where were you?"
"I'm sorry. Something unexpected came up, a personal matter."
She almost called him on it, then saw the lines around his eyes. "Is everything all right?"
"It is now," he said. He looked around the area, at the props, the costumes, the returning young actors in their makeup, and he gave a little shrug she could not read.
"Good," she said. "It was a lovely performance, for opening night. I guess what they say is true: lousy dress rehearsal, great performance."
"Do you believe every superstition about the theatre?" he asked her, taking her arm. She did not protest.
"Not every superstition. Just the important ones."
"Would you be interested in telling me about them after dinner tomorrow?" He was so strange, she mused. One minute, he was haughty and remote, the next as nervous as a schoolboy asking out a girl on a first date. This would make, what, their fourth or fifth? Then she realized she was thinking of their dinners as dates. A warm feeling fluttered in her stomach.
"Tomorrow we have another performance."
"I know. I'd ... like to see it," he stumbled. Very strange indeed, she thought, and smiled.
"All right, after the play, then."
"Good," he said. Silence threatened to yawn between them.
Joanna asked him suddenly, "What's your opinion on 'Midsummer?' I'm thinking about putting that on for next semester's play."
"'Midsummer?' Don't get me started on that. Did you know ... " He still had her arm as they walked past Eugene and Brad, who both watched them with smirks. When they passed Jennifer, Angel and Brenda, the three of them nodded at them in an odd fashion and continued to remove their makeup. The time for witches had ended.
* * * * *
The streetlights were too far below them to shed any decent light into the castle library, but neither Goliath nor Elisa felt like turning on a lamp or stoking the dying embers of Angela's fire. Instead, they sat in dimness.
"All those years, she only wanted to see him happy." Elisa rested her head against his shoulder. "And all either of them had to do was accept the version of events that history remembered."
"Surrendering old hatreds is never easy. For Macbeth, it has taken centuries."
"I wonder what effect it'll have on him? Think about it, in a way, he caused her centuries of suffering, without even realizing it."
"They loved each other deeply. That forgives many wrongs. And he did not bind her there."
"No." She sighed. "Why do I get the feeling that events like tonight's are going to be the norm rather than the exception from now on?"
"That would probably be an astute prediction."
"How about this one: whatever's coming, it's not going to be good. Something's brewing. I think Owen knows more than he's telling."
"That would not be unusual."
"More than normal." She waved her arm, trying to find a shape for something shapeless and dark in the back of her mind. Her arm fell limply back into her lap. "I don't know what to do about it."
She felt his arms change position. "What we always do -- we will face each situation one night at a time, together."
She smiled in the darkness. She liked the sound of that "together" part. Quiet descended around them. After a long time, Elisa broke it by asking, "Where do you think she is now?"
A dozen heartbeats later, he answered, "At peace."
* * * * *
Miller Theatre was empty, the way a depression in dry ground is empty in the hot, still hour before a summer storm. The patrons had gone home, and even the actors had returned to their dorm rooms and apartments, to celebrate and prepare for the following night's performance. The stage lay abandoned, littered with dust, trampled flowers, and a few discarded props. The students were not nearly as conscientious about the location of their props as they claimed.
On the nearly-bare stage, in the closed room, a gust of wind brushed up a cloud of dust. A program fluttered from the seats and was still. A fragment of song from a long-forgotten musical whispered in the air.
Had someone been there, he or she might have looked out the corner of an eye at the right moment, had his or her head cocked in just the right manner. There might have been a glimmer of a face, framed in fire-red, a gentle smile with a slight blush to a young woman's cheek, beside it a boy's cheery visage. Had any living being watched, there would have been soft and joyful laughter, like light applause, and a warm sensation, shivery as a last, tender kiss, quiet echoes from days long turned to night, and then nothing at all but the darkness.
* * * * *