Prince of Shadows

9,409
05.03.2019

“Is such violent correction necessary?” he asked, and I heard a sharp edge to the question. “The girl is, after all, promised to the Church.”

“And it is our duty to ensure that she reflects well upon the house of Capulet,” her aunt said, with an imperious jut of her chin. She did not like being questioned so. “The scriptures tell us that a disobedient child should be corrected; is that not so? I thought you were summoned to tend to her spiritual needs, not her bodily ones.”

“Sometimes one entwines with the other,” Friar Lawrence said cheerfully, and moved forward to kneel next to the girl. He took the voluminous wool of his sleeve and wiped carefully at the cut on her head. “How fare you, my lady?”

“Well,” she whispered, and closed her eyes for a moment. “Well enough, I thank you.”

“Well enough to understand that you have been summoned to the glorious service of Our Lord?”

“At this hour?” Lady Capulet cut in, sharp as a blade. “Surely not. She’ll need at least a week to be presentable for the journey.”

Friar Lawrence stood, pulling himself to his full height, and bulk, with his hands folded in his bloodied sleeve. “A week, you say? To do God’s bidding?”

“God’s, or yours?” I risked a quick glance upward. Lady Capulet’s ale-colored eyes were far too sharp, her lips far too thin. She was suspicious of nature, and this miraculous visit had waked howls within her. It remained to be seen whether we would survive the Capulet hounds, if they had been set hard on the hunt. “I shall send to the abbess to confirm that this . . . vision of yours is inspired of God, and not from some lower place. You shall hear from me within the week. If your message proves true, you may have the honor of escorting the girl to the cloister. If not, you may be sure that we will speak to the bishop and request his instruction.” The bishop, of course, was a Capulet born. Friar Lawrence had placed himself squarely in danger for my sake, but looking at Rosaline—who had suffered for my sake, as well—I could see no alternative. Her life hung in the balance of Tybalt’s temper and her aunt’s indifference. I did not want to leave her here, risking more, but I caught a tiny movement from her. She had gently moved her scraped hand in a way that I knew was meant to warn me off.

So I bit my tongue hard enough to taste the metal of my blood, and kept my head bowed, my hands folded, as Friar Lawrence cooed his social graces to Lady Capulet, whose pursed mouth never loosened, and after exacting a promise that Rosaline’s wounds would be tended, he led me out and down the stairs.

Tybalt still lounged there, spineless as a cat, and we were forced to edge by him toward the landing. I passed close enough to smell Rosaline’s blood on him, and the heavy, angry stink of his sweat.

I felt a blind, red urge to let fly all the violence within me. My hand twisted and ached with the need to draw the concealed dagger at my waist and plunge it deep into his heart, but the cold, calm part of me reminded me that Rosaline Capulet was no kin of mine.

No kin and never kind, she’d said.

The taste in my mouth changed from blood to ashes as we left the Capulet house, and the doors slammed and bolted behind us.

I was suffocating in the folds of my disguise, and wished desperately to free myself of it, but Friar Lawrence’s hand closed hard on my arm as I tugged at the ropes holding it closed. “Not here,” he said. “You were right to fear for her, but with God’s grace we may have saved her life. Her lady aunt will not wish to have Rosaline murdered this night; they might be within their rights to so dispose of a rebellious girl-child, but they have not the liver for questions the Church might bring. She’s safe enough, for now. But our pressing concern must be intercepting the message she will send on to the abbess.”

“I will see to that,” I said. At least it was something to which my skills were well suited, unlike miming a biddable young postulant. “But what reply should we send in its place?”

“If you don’t wish to damage my newly minted reputation as a prophet, I would suggest it say that I am selected to be the one to escort the lady Rosaline to her joyous union with Christ. You might mention a saint and a vision or two, as well.”

I did not want Rosaline to be sent within the walls of a cloister, and I never to see her again, but perhaps it was the best for her; it was undoubtedly the safest. Here, in Verona, she risked her brother’s wrath, which might lead to worse than we’d seen tonight.

Jesu, I wanted him dead.

But I nodded beneath the suffocating weight of the robes, rounded my shoulders in submission I did not feel, and followed Friar Lawrence across the silent, dangerous city.

FROM THE PEN OF ROSALINE CAPULET, WRITTEN AND BURNED IN THE SAME NIGHT.

I have lied not only once, but many times now.

On the morning following the first visit from the strange and legendary Prince of Shadows, when he took my brother’s sword, I faced the question like all who slept beneath the Capulet roof: What did we know of the robber? There is secret power in being thought weak, and a fool, as women are so often seen; when I lied, I did so without a quiver, and no one looked more closely—save my wretched brother, who found the footprints below my balcony, and the broken flowers that showed someone had jumped there.

I had managed to convince him—or so I had thought—of my innocence then, and the punishment had been vicious, but brief.

Not so last evening, when the Prince arrived, silent as a black angel, and demanded the wretched verses I had already burned, as I will this account when I am done. I had already guessed his name, but the sight of his face, of the burning, foreign green eyes . . . of the teasing, testing look in them! I have always been practical, where my younger cousin Juliet dreams of amour; how then to explain the sudden rush of feeling to my skin, the blush in my cheek, the ice-cold fear that clutched me when I realized the risk he had taken in returning?

That last glance of Benvolio Montague had shown me too much of what feeling was within him, too. The stark, stunned horror told me that he’d seen my brother, Tybalt, come fast upon me, and that he knew what would come.

But what he could not know was how often it had come to this before. My brother was—in the parlance of our honey-mouthed aunt—of a high blood, and he often drew it from others—namely, from me. Of late I had begun to fight back, since I had come into a height where it was possible—though strictly forbidden—to do so. I had scored him with my nails more than once, and even bruised him, but never did I hurt him enough to matter.

I had thought, from the look on Benvolio’s face, that he might risk all to defend me, and it struck me with a deep horror, and also with a traitorous yearning. I had never known anyone to feel overmuch for me, since my father’s death. I had scarce known my mother. I had been exiled from our father’s home with Tybalt, passed from one uncaring set of hands to another until we had come to the chilly splendor of Verona, and this palace built of bones and memories.

I wished we had never come, and yet I am glad of it, because he came back. Benvolio Montague, wearing not his Prince of Shadows mask, but the robe of a postulant brother, trailing like a pet dog behind the sweaty bulk of Friar Lawrence (who is a kind man, for all his many faults). I know not what possessed the good friar to rush here to witness my shame, save that it must have been done at the urging of Benvolio.

I recognized him even before I spied out those cool green eyes within the hood’s shadow. I think now that I might well recognize him in any disguise he could attempt. And once again, I saw the dark, dangerous impulse in him to help me—an impulse that here in the heart of my violent and blood-soaked family could lead only to his painful death. Thank God and the Virgin that he left meekly, looking at least a little as a penitent young man should, though what might have passed between him and Tybalt, had things gone otherwise, does not bear thinking.

I write this by the well-banked light of a single candle, in haste, and the paper is smeared with my blood, for the cut in my forehead continues to seep despite the bandage provided by Juliet’s old nurse; I thank the saints that Juliet did not wake to see this.

I write the words because I know I can never speak them, for my own sake and for that of the Prince of Shadows.

But I feel no good can come of any of this, however delicious it may seem to keep such a secret.

And now I burn this paper, and hope—in pagan belief, perhaps—that somehow he will know.

QUARTO

2

Romeo and Mercutio were waiting for me in my room when I regained the safety of the Montague palace. Like Mercutio, I scaled the wall, which was a good deal easier for me than it had been for him, but I had practiced more, and with less wine in my belly. Still, it had been a long and exhausting evening, and I was well weary by the time I climbed over the sill and landed lightly on the carpets, not more than an arm’s length from where Mercutio had sprawled himself loosely in a chair, cradling a goblet that I suspected had been filled more than once. From the angle of it now, it was well emptied.

It took him at least two breaths to recognize that I was standing at his side. Once he did, he jerked himself upright, cup falling in haste, and threw his arms around me. “Fool!” he said, and roughly pushed me back to stare at my face. “Tybalt did not manage to puncture that wind-bladder you call a stomach, but I may. What manner of devil has gone into you, to do such things for a woman—worse, a Capulet?”

I looked past him to Romeo, who had also gotten to his feet, but somewhat more shyly. There was an uncomfortable light of hero worship in his face. “You survived it,” he said. “Twice you entered that cursed house, and escaped. You truly are blessed.”

“Lucky is not the same as blessed,” I said, and pushed Mercutio away as he opened his mouth to make some clever retort. “I’m not in the mood for games.” I sat in the chair he had leaped from, picked up the goblet, and held it out. My manservant, ever vigilant, filled it—but only halfway. I stared at him. He added a few more drops.

“Does she live?” Romeo asked anxiously. My cousin sank down on a stool near me, looking as earnest as an owl, if considerably less sharp-witted. “Rosaline? Is she—”