I’m getting Chapter 2 up early, because my Tuesday is chuck full is day job fun. If you’re new to the game, you can catch up here.
“How are you called, Shakespeare?”
The next morning, myself still uncollected and askew from a long night spent with Burbage and the Company’s other shareholders during which we lamented the Lord Chamberlin’s death and did much attempt to blunt the sting of this insult of fortune with such spirits as were at hand, a herald arrived from Somerset House, that being the Lord Chamberlin’s home and that of his family, summoning me to meet that very evening with the Lord Chamberlin’s son, George Carey, the Second Baron Hundson. And so, borrowing from the Company’s stores, I did attire myself into some semblance of propriety, in hopes this prompt attention from the late Lord Chamberlin’s heir signaled good fortune.
“Your name, man. How are you called?”
“Will, by those in my familiar, but as you like it.”
Carey grunted. “By which to say that, should I prefer to call you a spotted ass, you would pretend no offense so as to retain my good favor?”
“Which is to say, My Lord, that my name is William, and whether Will or Willie of Bill, they all fall as easy on my ear, and that I am sure that the truth of your reputation, which is that of a fair and gentle man, would preclude that you call me by any name to which I could not in honor answer.”
Carey laughed, and poured from a silvered jug two measures of claret, holding one out to me.
“Can you in honor drink?”
I smiled and accepted the goblet, “In honor yes, and even again when honor is out of earshot.”
“And so you are clever.”
I gave a long nod, as if to bow. “As a shepherd has naught but his mutton to sell, I have naught but my wits, and as I am not yet starved, they do find some commerce, but in a more common market than your grace doth frequent, so my wits, like that rough lamb on which feed the unwashed, might fall more stale upon your appetites than would the finer meats of your habit.”
“I suspect you know well enough he quality of your mutton, Sir, and I suspect also you have found few voices which so well please you as your own.”
“I had Sir, until I made your company, but I now am better served to hear yours.”
Carey rose from his chair and made a slow circuit of the room. A decade older than I, a half-head taller, a powerful man in his youth, gone heavy now, but still with shoulders and arms that no doubt could cleave well with a blade. His clothes were of fine material and yet simple manufacture with little excess in way of adornment for its own sake.
“You are concerned, I assume, for the future of your company? Having lost the weight of my father’s favor?”
I cleared my throat. “As a shareholder of the Company I am, of course, bound to consider its interests, but would not so sully your father’s memory as to broach such matters so close in the wake of his passing. There is time enough, always, for business, but for now, this time should be reserved to the fond memory of your father.”
Carey stood stock still a moment, considering me, then spoke, a harsher air to his voice. “Do you imagine, sir, that I require your presence to properly remember my father? A commoner, and not even of my personal acquaintance? What business could I have with you save business, sir?”
A misstep. A volatile man, Carey, and though he did at first act as in good fellowship, he was quick to return our speaking to the bounds of standing. And too, in both his countenance and tone I did now discern some distress, though whether that be more than could be owed to the weight of his current circumstance I could not know. I bowed.
“My lord, I fear my own love for your father did color my judgment and am here as your humble servant only, in such capacity as you may require and no other. I do humbly beg pardon for my offense, asking that you know it stemmed only from an excess of affection.”
Carey let out a soft snort. “I am told you are of the country, only marginally schooled, and yet your tongue can dance a jig about the truth as well as the over-read mandarins of the court with whom daily congress is my unfortunate duty. There is always time for business, Will, and as a man much of this world, I understand that that time is always now. It is the memories of men that must await their moment until such time as some respite grants us leave to consider them. My father will always be in my mind, but my hands, must be about his work.”
“As you will my Lord.”
“I am prepared to continue patronage of your Company in the custom that my father has established. The Queen will, I am told, soon name me to continue my father’s duties as the Lord Chamberlain, and, as such, it will be my favor that decides those players chosen to entertain at court and to otherwise distract her Majesty as she desires.”
I bowed deeply. “I am most grateful, my Lord.”
“Prepared to continue patronage, Will, but in return I will require a service.”
“My Lord,” I interrupted, “you should know I already have begun work on a play to be performed in your father’s memory . . .”
Carey held up his hand. “Such plans as you may have to honor my father should proceed as you deem his honor merits. The service I require is of another nature.” Carey paused for a moment, breathed deeply, then turned, faced me and sat on a chair. I noted the caste of trouble on his features.
“How closely did you know my father, Will?”
“Our Company was well blessed by his favor, my Lord, and I did on those occasions when we would perform at court have chance to speak with him. He was forthright in his opinion, kind in his manner, fair in our dealings and I have always thought of him only well.”
Carey nodded, facing away and looking out through the mullioned window into the evening, the edge of the distant sky turning the same red as the claret that I had nearly finished.
“He was a soldier first, as am I,” Carey said, “and not by temperament suited to court. He was better loved by those at arms, I am sure, than by the untried souls that stalk these halls to curry to the Queen’s favor. Save for the Queen herself, by whom he was loved best of all.”
“I should trust a soldier’s opinion as to the measure of a man above all save the Queen’s, my Lord, and thus only redouble the respect with which I had until now your father held.”
“He loved me well,” said Carey, “And I him. Does your father yet live?”
“By the grace of God he does.”
“And do you hold him dear?”
“I do, Sir.”
Carey nodded, turning back from the window to face me.
“Then we have a bond not so common as it might in a better world be. Few men know their fathers scarce at all, and fewer still with any affection. And yet all I have learned of worth I learned at his hand.”
“Then his loss must afflict you greatly, my Lord.”
Carey sat back in his chair, drew in a long breath and let it out slowly in a sigh. “He lived three score years and ten, was an able soldier, held and well those offices to which he was by his Queen appointed, raised to manhood two sons, and goes to God as unstained, I think, as any man of his years and experience can pray to be. I should greet his passing with only peace.” Carey raised his goblet and drank it dry. “Save for my dreams.”
“Your dreams my Lord?”
“My dreams. Which are my curse and the purpose of your visit.” Carey rose from his chair again, a troubled man who could find no peace when still and seemed intent to chase it. “You are aware, I am sure, that I did not until of late frequent your revels. It was my father who asked that I consider them, as he found them instructive. Such plays as you authored in particular. And I have noted that dreams figure in them often.”
“I find dreams a useful devise in a story, my Lord.”
Carey turned to face him. “In a story only?”
I paused to consider his question, sensing risk in an answer to either side. “I think we know sometimes in sleep truths we cannot yet know or bear in waking, my Lord. That I do believe.”
“The truth I know in sleep is that my father was murdered. Last night he came thrice to me in dreaming, once each hour starting at the time of his passing until dawn and every dream the same in its particulars. It is night, he is in the garden, which is curious, because he paid no concern to the garden – that was my mother’s province and they in later years are not frequent in each other’s company. He tells me he cannot enjoy that peace that he has earned until stand punished those hands that stilled his heart, hands that had sworn they did love him. And he then holds out to me his right hand, a hand already red and poxed with corruption beyond that which could be achieved in those short hours in which he hath been dead, and he charges me to his death avenge”
Carey paused, but I did not feel it was my place to speak.
“I will have those hands that stilled his heart found, Will. And I will have them punished.”
Again, I waited to speak, beginning I thought to understand his purpose, and hoping he would say something further to prove my understanding false.
Carey stalked about the room, both tired and restless.
“My father wished I watch your plays for instruction, Will, and what I have learned is this. We reveal ourselves through our words, our movements, in every passing moment, both with intent and in secret we reveal ourselves, sometimes even to our detriment. This is one of your lessons.”
“I have never written a play as a lesson, my Lord. They are entertainments only. I do not pretend to scholarship.”
“Humility when true doth credit a man, but when false doth make him false. I find too much craft and art in your efforts to believe you think them only as bangles for clowns. If I have learned a lesson from your plays, then you have taught it. Ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos. And to have made this lesson so plain, to have authored such words and scenes by which such revelations are made so clear, and yet still do mimic so much in life, you must be well inclined to see in others those things revealed that they hold most dear and secret.”
“Any writer must observe the world closely, my Lord, and then steal from it such metal that can be wrought into that which he imagines. I claim no special gift beyond that.”
Carey turned to face Shakespeare directly, his face set, his voice sharp.
“I do believe you discern my purpose, and now attempt to withhold from me that one gift that to me now can prove useful. Claim it or not, I ascribe it to you, so lest you be prepared to call your patron a fool in his own house, you will admit to it.”
Shakespeare just nodded. Carey turned away again, looking out the window into the nearly full dark.
“I believe my father murdered, but our law has no method by which to ferret out the truth. If I make the accusation, those in the household will be considered, more or less vigorously depending on their station, those in my father’s familiar subject to some uninformed scrutiny, and I have faith that, in short order, the charge having been made, some poor soul will be made to suffer for it, at Tyburn or at the Tower, according to his birth. But I have no faith that the truth will be served. If some man of standing should be chosen to die, it will be to fit some agenda that will be forwarded by his death. More likely, a servant will fall suspect, be subject to those gentle persuasions by which confessions are gained, and then be taken to the tree and hanged. And thus the uncomfortable truth of my father’s murder will be buried as surely as his body.”
Carey turned back to me, then continued. “But you are a man who knows truth when he sees it. And you will learn the truth of my father’s death. That is the service I require.”
And so now the request that had been hinted was made bald. By what station did Carey imagine I would have standing to so much as speak to The Lord Chamberlain’s family, his household, his circle at court? And should there truly be a murderer amongst that assemblage, how could I hope to protect himself from such machinations as they would have at their disposal? And yet to decline Carey’s request would surely mean my ruin.
“My Lord, I am truly saddened by the pain you must feel at your father’s passing, and doubly so for you to know it murder. And had I such powers by which I could unmask the assassin, I would do so, even without your continued patronage, as your father was a friend to me and to our Company and is by us well loved. But I fear you see in me gifts I do not recognize in myself, nor can I conceive of any ploy by which I could gain sufficient confidence, or even commerce, with The Lord Chamberlain’s circles by which to make even the most subtle inquiries.”
“For ploys, I do not require your art, for I was born at court and though prefer a soldier’s life have spent such time here as to speak ploy as if it were a tongue. My father’s household and the court will be informed that I have commissioned the celebrated playwright William Shakespeare to draft a work in his memory, and that I request their forbearance in entertaining your questions as you gain insight into my father’s celebrated history and character. Any that will not answer to you will answer to me.”
Carey turned away before I could answer, striding to a table at the far end of the room and returning with a scroll tied with a ribbon and sealed with wax.
“Of course, such conversations will be easier were you a gentleman. The College of Heralds has too long considered that matter, and a gentleman you now are, along with your father. The College’s fee has been paid. Consider this your commission.” In only the day since his father’s death he had looked long into me and to my family, and that attention in these circumstances was no comfort. He passed to me the scroll, the seal of the College facing up. I paused for only a moment before taking it, understanding that in its passage I accepted not only the station to which I so long had aspired but also whatever fresh hell I had by the lever of my own appetites given Carey the power to admit me.
“I thank you humbly, my Lord. My father will be greatly pleased.”
Carey nodded. “As to the matter of your Company, it will take some days to have drafted the necessary charters, and as I am currently distracted with my father’s funeral and other matters of his estate, I imagine that we can conclude such business as concerns the theater at such time as we also conclude this business now at hand. As for your father, Shakespeare, I have heard rumors that he is a man of questionable allegiance at least so far as matters of faith are concerned. As no proof of these whispering has yet been offered, I am happy to consider these charges to be falsely made by those who would have for themselves such things of his as they can obtain by cause of the legal blackmail with which to many these days do entertain themselves. But as I have now through my own offices assisted in his status as gentleman, I would, for my own honor, have to act and harshly should I find I have aided a Papist in his seditions against the Queen. Our business is concluded.”
He turned and strode from the room much like a soldier and his message clear. Whether in thanks to his father, in of the interests of the Company, in service of my own greed or in fear for those travails to which he could at his whim make me subject, I was to be his good servant.