CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER
by Leslie Silbert
Englanddusk, May 1593
rendezvous was set for nightfall and the sun was sinking
quickly. The young man had no time to spare. But as
he neared London Bridge, the familiar sounds along that
particular stretch of the Thames were hard to resist.
His pace slowed. His ears perked up. The clamor of the
bear-baiting arena beckoneda chained bear howling
as canine jaws tore at its flesh, frenzied dogs shrieking
with every swipe of the bears claws, groundlings
hollering out bets and cheering wildly.
mid-stride, with one tall black boot hovering a few
inches above the ground, he tested his resolve. It failed.
veered off the riverside path and headed toward the
arena. En route, a swath of bold colors drew his attentionthe
canopy of an unfamiliar booth. Curious, he approached.
Long scarlet tresses came into view, then the gnarled
face of an old woman, smiling with red-stained lips
that matched her shiny wig. At first she appeared to
be selling decks of playing cards, but after looking
him over, she lifted a small sign advertising her forbidden
trade: Grizels Tarot. With his rakish clothing
and brown hair hanging loose, it was clear he was no
prim city official.
a few pennies on her table, the young man asked, Should
I put my money on the bear?
would rather hear the bears fortune than your
looked away for a moment, as if thoughtful, then turned
back with a mischievous smile. Yes.
would be more worth your while to attend to yourself.
that is a subject Im fond of. He took a
laid her battered cards out slowly, several ill-fitting
rings sliding along her shriveled fingers. When the
tenth card had been carefully placed face down upon
the table, the woman looked up.
we skip to the end? I havent much time.
dont you let Grizel be the judge of that? First,
I must know who you are. Near her left hand, five
cards were arranged in the shape of a Celtic cross.
She picked up the central card. Your soul.
Turning it over, she gazed reverently at the faded image
of a man in a red cloak and cap. The Magician.
Manipulator of the natural world
loves tricks and
illusions. Has a powerful imagination. A master of language,
he is most nimble with words.
a gray brow at his inarticulate response, she double-checked
the card. With a shrug, she set it down, then selected
the bottom-most card of the cross. The card of
the present moment. Oh my, the Page of Swords. You have
a passionate mind, dont you, my friend? Always
searching, seeking to uncover the hidden truth. Indeed,
you begin such a quest today.
young man leaned forward with interest. Sweet
lady, youre good.
she began flipping over the cards that formed the remainder
of the cross. The Ten of Coinsin reverse.
You like gambling. And risk, grave risk. Toeing the
edge of a precipice.
life interesting, and my pockets full.
let me see. The Three of Swordsa
dangerous triangle, a fierce conflict. Two powerful
forces threaten you. Looking up, she noticed that
his expression remained calm. Youd best
take heed, she declared sternly. Danger
discovered in this position is real, but it can be survived.
such things are everyday occurrences.
He waved his hand dismissively. If you please,
my last card?
she turned to the second formation of cards on her table:
a column five cards high. Lifting the top one, she peered
at the image for a moment, hesitated, then showed it
to hima hand-painted skeleton, skull on the ground,
toe bones in the air. How could this be? Upside
down, the Death card signifies an impending brush with
danger, but one that will be survived. Here, in the
afterlife position, it seems to mean you will live after
she tilted her head and studied his face.
seem odd, I admit, he said. Though some
have called my looks otherworldly, perhaps
scowled, then broke into a toothless grin. Ah,
of course. I forgot who you are, Magician. Now I understand.
It is your magic that is to survive. Long after you
take your last breath.
young man bowed his head bashfully. Though Grizel didnt
know it, she was talking to Londons most popular
playmaker, a writer whose deft pen had worked magic
upon the theatrical stage. He marveled at her insight.
Then his jaw muscle twitched. A pox on it! The cursed
thought had wormed its way back into his headthe
very one he had been chasing away for months. Would
he make such magic again? Of course he would. When the
time was right, he told himself.
back up, he flashed his mischievous smile once more.
My lady, could you tell me just one thing I do
not yet know?
tried to frown, but the twinkle in his eye was contagious.
Lifting the second highest card in the column on her
right, she glanced at it, then slammed it down as if
it burnt her fingertips.
it is it?
she placed a hand over his. Barring angelic intervention,
youll not live to see the next moon.
startled, he slid his right hand into the pocket of
his close-fitting silk doublet. Theres nothing
like a second opinion. Particularly when the first suggests
your end is nigh. Do not mistake me, youve been
a delight, but theres another lady I always consult
when it comes to matters of fate. He produced
a silver coin. If its her face that greets
me, Ive nothing to worry about.
tossed the coin up in the air. Glinting now and again,
it flipped over a few times before falling into his
left palm, landing face up. Ah, not to worry,
Grizel. The queen here says all will be well. And as
her dutiful subject, I am honor-bound to take her word
a blown kiss and a smile, the young man left the Tarot
booth and hurried once more on his way to London Bridge.
Tilting his coin to catch the setting suns orange
glow, he looked closely at the metallic image of Queen
Elizabeths face. He winked at her, and as always,
she winked back. Hed scratched off a fragment
of the silver over her left eye, revealing just a speck
of the darker metal beneath. The trick coin, which had
more silver plate on one side than the other, was a
counterfeit English shilling hed fashioned with
an associate while on a clandestine mission in the Netherlands
the previous year. The fates are fickle. Better to manufacture
your luck, than hope for it.
of any kind was a precious commodity to him. After all,
he was not just a writer in search of his muse. Young
Christopher Marlowe was a spy in the queens secret
a spy with no idea that the old crone was
CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER
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