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THE DEVILL'S LEGACIE
by Marc Singer
The Tragical History of Johann Faust
as related by one Hannibal, Moor of London
Act II (of II)
"Hank," as the friendly, loquacious black man had asked them to call him, was taking a long swig of his coffee, causing a gap in his story. Anne and Harvey took advantage of the gap to glance at each other, and try to take stock of what he'd told them. Hank's story, about a descendant of the "real" Faust meeting Christopher Marlowe during a revival of Marlowe's Faustus play, seemed comepletely unbelievable. The implication that Hank would actually know all this, and tell it to Anne and Harvey as a "reward" for the service they'd done Jack Russell, was equally hard to swallow.
Anne and Harvey both looked at Jack questioningly, silently asking him to confirm or deny the story's veracity (and perhaps the storyteller's sanity), but Jack just shrugged like he'd heard the whole story before and he had no idea whether it was true or not. Finally, Harvey caved in before Anne did, and he came out and asked Hank.
"It's all a put-on, right?" Harvey said. "I mean, we're supposed to think you're this 'Hannibal' character... there's just no way. You're making up at least some of this... right?"
Hank smiled enigmatically. Each tooth glistened like ivory, quite a contrast from his extremely dark skin. "Normally, at this point in a conversation, I make some melodramatic injury to myself to demonstrate my healing faculties. But you know what Jack's capable of, so I think I can dispense with all that. Let's just say, I age well."
Anne was positive Hank was an Omega, and since Jack had already come back from the dead once, she wasn't ruling out anything on the biological front. But some of the literary details still bothered her. "But all this stuff with Marlowe is just too convenient. I mean, I know what happened to him, but am I really supposed to believe"
"Believe?" Hank stared down into his cup of Denny's coffee, looking at a tiny reflection that was no blacker than his face. "You may believe what you like, Ms. Benson, that does not change reality. Unless, of course, you get enough other people to believe in the same thing. Then, you call that belief ideology or philosophy or religion, and you feed it millions of people, to satisfy its unending hunger." The coffee swirled around, sucking Hank's gaze, and his listeners' attention, in all the deeper. "I've known lots of people, lots of very young people, who through no fault of their own were placed upon the sacrificial plate of one particular belief; some brave few tried to climb off it. Marlowe and Fletcher were two of those people. And your belief, Ms. Benson, no matter how guileless and well-intentioned, can't change that."
Hank took another long drink. The caffeine seemed to ease his temper.
"May of 1593," Hank continued, "John Fletcher, or Johann Faust if you prefer, was still in London..."
Fletcher was currently staying in a room in Southwark, the neighborhood across the Thames from London proper. It was near the Globe, the Rose, and several other of the major theatres, a convenient location since it was home to several actors in Christopher Marlowe's troupe, the Admiral's Men. Marlowe had stationed Fletcher there, hopefully safe from the prying eyes and knives of the men who had attacked him the night before. Then the playwright saddled up a borrowed horse and headed out for the countryside, to meet his patron and plead for Fletcher's sanctuary. Thomas Walsingham was a man of considerable influence, and his cousin Francis was the secretary to Queen Elizabeth herself, and the master of her spies and agents. With their help, and with Marlowe promising to rewrite his play to redeem old Georg Favolius's reputation, Fletcher just might make it back to Wittenberg after all.
But he had to endure such difficulties in the meanwhile. Fletcher was relying upon his magics more and more often, and he was afraid that each arrow he flung upwards had an equal and opposite reaction which propelled him straight down to Hell. Although he prayed each time he used his magics, he was never sure if it was enough. To make matters worse, Fletcher was now sequestered with actors, many of whom seemed quite openly gay. Fletcher thought they were all nice people, but that did nothing to mitigate their Church-mandated damnation. (Protestants and Catholics fought over many things, but they could always agree on which people were even more damned than the other side.) Fletcher feared that their damnation would taint him as well. Last night, old Hannibal had ribbed him about believing God was "petty enough to determine guilt by association," but since Hannibal himself was in all likelihood condemned for his nigh-constant blasphemy, his arguments didn't sway Fletcher.
As Fletcher prepared to go to sleep that nightjust a little afraid that one of the other men might become inflamed by passion and take advantage of himthe old divinity student in him welled up and he quickly sank to his knees and said a prayer. To Fletcher's surprise, most of the actors joined him. It moved Fletcher to see them praying, quite sincerely, when he knew they would burn anyway. Their piety was made all the more touching and honest because it did them no good.
Fletcher ignored the question of whether his own piety was really any more effective.
And his roomates' newly-demonstrated holiness notwithstanding, Fletcher slept with an arrow tightly clutched in his hand. He never knew when someone would be inflamed by passion.
Although it was very late, Walsingham was graciously listening to his personal poet's report. Marlowe was pleading so eloquently for government aid, that Walsingham suspected the speech might be written in iambic pentameter and blank verse. That brought a slight smile to his faceMarlowe might be a troublemaker, but at least he's good. Better than any in the Count of Pembroke's little circle, actually, even that idiot Sidney.
His pride thus assured, Walsingham help up his hand, and said, "No more, Kit. You've convinced me, this Fletcher boy is in grave danger. Let me know where he is, and I'll tell Frizer to round up a guard for him."
Marlowe choked, and started looking around the room, looking anywhere but at the older man. Walsingham could tell the poet was improvising something, and sure enough, Marlowe then said, "Sir, I am not sure if Frizer is the best choice for such a job. His temper lacks control, and his touch lacks delicacy..."
"Bodyguarding does not require delicacy, merely competence."
"And Frizer is nothing if not merely competent." Marlowe could not help but pause and smile at his joke, and Walsingham himself couldn't stifle a laugh. "But," the poet continued, sensing a small verbal victory, "he's all wrong for this sort of work. For one thing, he disdains me and my men, I am sure, and he would not fit in."
"Why on Earth not, Kit?" Walsingham admired Marlowe's quick, flashy wit, but many a gadfly had gotten caught in his own, subtler webs before. "Oh, I see... Fletcher is staying with your men, isn't he? Yes, that's a wise place to keep him... where exactly is he, Kit?"
Marlowe stammered, trying to improvise something else, but Walsingham wouldn't give him the chance this time. "Kit," he said, and he surreptitiously jingled a pouch full of coins, coins like the ones that funded Marlowe's theatre and his dreams. "Kit...."
The playwright mumbled, "Alleyn's apartments. In Southwark." But Walsingham heard him quite clearly. Marlowe might have been the finest dramatist and poet in England, but when it came to the game of nations and lives, he was as a rank amateur next to the Walsinghams.
Georg Favolius spoke to him that night. So did Werner Faust, his father. Georg was being torn apart by two demons, who fought over his body even as they rent it to shreds, while Werner was burning alive, just as he had in real life when the smithy went up in flames. Only now the smithy fire had been set by demons, and Werner was screaming the way Alleyn screamed when he played the role of Faustus, and he was burning for being gay, not a sorceror, and others were burning for not saying their prayers and not meaning them and consorting with black Moors who blasphemed God. Everything, everyone was burning and there was no way around it. Damned damned damned. And the foul fiend Mephistophilis was creeping through the window to claim them all.
Fletcher woke up in a cold sweat, somehow knowing that that was not part of the dream. He opened his eyes just in time to see the man tiptoeing across the bedroom, brandishing the knife that would soon slit Fletcher's throat. Fletcher panicked, and the arrow leapt out of his hand, as if by it's own accord. But the dream of damnation was still fresh in his mind, and Fletcher wished he hadn't used his Hell-sent powersand the arrow halted in mid-air, then clattered to the floor.
The assassin, spared from certain death as if by a miracle, couldn't help but laugh even as he lunged for Fletcher. But by now, the commotion had awakened the other two men in the bed (only the very rich could afford to sleep in their own bed, even in the middle of summer), and they tried to attack the killer.
Unfortunately, this was no stage fight. And while Alleyn, like all good leading men, was an accomplished swordsman, his swords were in another room. The assassin gave the boy named Harry a hard kick to the stomach, winding him, then he began approaching Alleyn. Soon Alleyn was cornered, and the assassin, perhaps believing the actor to be Fletcher in the pitch-black room, moved in for the kill.
Fletcher recited a prayer, and the arrow on the floor leapt up once again, arcing across the room and burying itself neatly in the killer's neck.
Ingram Frizer, personal agent of Thomas Walsingham, was perched out in the hall and just down the stairs from Alleyn's rooms. He and his men could hear the sounds of a scuffle within. That was bad; if Putnam had done his job right, they wouldn't have heard anything at all. So Frizer waved for his men to break down the door, charge in, and kill everyone they found. They had the numbers, they had the weapons, it shouldn't go wrong this time.
Except, for no apparent reason, a large beetle materialized in the hallway right in front of Alleyn's door. It was bright red, and covered in strange markings, which Frizer thought might be Egyptian in origin. And it was eating Frizer's men, making a hideous clicking sound all the while.
The other men, who weren't being crushed by its mandibles, tried to stab or chop at it, but Frizer just ran. He figured only guns could penetrate the scarab's shell, and they hadn't brought any gunson the assumption, now proven quite erroneous, that this would be a quiet job.
But that wasn't the real reason why Frizer ran. He knew the scarab meant the Invisible College was poking its nose in the Faust business. And Frizer wanted to stay as far away from them as possible.
Now all he had to worry about was telling Walsinghamhis Walsingham, not the College's, of coursethat he was the only survivor of yet another failed murder attempt. And hope that Walsingham was slightly more forgiving than the jaws of Egypt.
Harry managed to light a lamp, and they all surveyed the damage. Harry was winded, but otherwise unhurt; Alleyn had a few scratches, but he was fairly well-off too. Certainly much better off than the intruder, who was quite dead. "Nice throw," said Alleyn, self-consciously rubbing his neck.
"Good thing you had that arrow handy," said Harry.
"Yes," added Alleyn, "I'd been admiring that myself earlier. A right manly shaft you had in bed, Fletcher!" Alleyn laughed uproariously, but that made it all too easy for Fletcher to imagine him writhing in agony, down in the circle reserved for sodomites. Alleyn, naturally unaware of this, continued to rib Fletcher, saying, "It looks like your rear entrance was the least of your worries tonight, Fletcher. He'd have given you a whole new exit-hole." Suddenly, Alleyn dropped his good cheer, and Fletcher realized that the master thespian had been feigning it completely. "Let that be a lesson to you, Johnnie. You trust your friends, even when their tastes may not be to your liking."
Fletcher lowered his eyes, somehow more ashamed of his real misconduct than of his friends' infinitely graver theological crimes. "I am sorry, Edward."
Alleyn smiled again, this time probably for real, though of course Fletcher could no longer tell. "That's fine, lad," said the actor, "we didn't find you that attractive anyway."
"Too nervous, for one thing," Harry contributed.
Before the discussion degenerated any further, there was an urgent knock at the door. Alleyn opened it, to find more members of the troupe waiting with swords drawn. "You'd better see this," one of them said.
Alleyn and Fletcher followed them out through the front room, and then into the hallway. One of Marlowe's company was holding up a lantern, illuminating the hall and stairwell.
The hacked walls and floor indicated that a furious struggle had taken place. All manner of swords, knives, and axe-blades (but not handles) were strewn on the floor, along with buttons, belt buckles, and other odd assortments. And strangest of all, something had left dozens of circular impressions on the wooden floor.
"There are enough armaments here for six, seven men," said Alleyn. "Perhaps the noise of our struggle scared them off."
"Then who were they fighting?" said Fletcher. "And why did they take the time to discard all their metal first?"
The actor with the lantern dropped closer to the floor; once lower, the candlelight showed that the wooden boards were black with blood. All the men shuddered involuntarily: whatever happened here, it happened lethally, silently, and within seconds.
"I think it's time we found new rooms, boys," said Alleyn.
Fletcher spent the next several days moving from room to room, never staying the same place two nights in a row. Marlowe met him on most days, and although the playwright assured him that the Walsinghams would try to protect him, Fletcher himself remained unconvinced. Especially when Marlowe told him about the heresy charges.
"It's nothing," said the playwright, cavalierly. "Mostly based on some rash words I said back in my college days. And some supposed blasphemies that the paranoid believe are hidden in my plays."
"But Kit," Fletcher said, "you told me there are meanings hidden in your plays."
Marlowe smiled. "Indeed, and they are hidden precisely from the sort of person who would go around looking for blasphemous meanings. These old fools will fuss over my plays, especially Faustus, but they won't know why my plays disturb them so. And I'll be off the hook in no time, the Walsinghams will see to it."
Fletcher was hardly so convinced, but he had to admire Marlowe's cheerful confidence. So he drifted from room to room, neighborhood to neighborhood, waiting for events to happen around him. As he always did. Until he received his next visitor.
Although his location was supposedly a secret, it didn't surprise him to see Hannibal knocking at the door on the thirtieth day of May. Fletcher let the Moor in, then quickly shut and locked the door behind him. Fletcher started to offer him warm greetings, but the harried look on Hannibal's face killed his words in his throat, making them stillborn.
"I'm glad I finally found you," Hannibal said. "I've come to give you another warning."
"I already know about the killers, and I'm hiding"
Hannibal brushed past Fletcher and began closing every window and shutter in the apartment, even though it was an exceptionally warm summer's day. "The government's killers are the least of your concerns, Fletcher."
"The government's killers?"
"Yes. Her Majesty does not relish the thought of having a Faust make his home in England, and Walsingham cheerfully executes her commands like a lap-dog who thinks he is in charge. I had hoped at least one of the cousins would be sensible," Hannibal bitterly explained. "But as I said, they are the least of your worriesthe Invisible College has also targeted you."
"The?" Fletcher had to sit down on a small wooden chair. "How much of this are you making up, Hannibal?"
Hannibal stalked across the room and crouched down in Fletcher's face. "None of it. Now start listening." He leaned even closer forward, addressing Fletcher in a raspy whisper. "The College is an organization of scholars, thinkers, and magicians, led by men who possess gifts very similar to yours."
Fletcher trembled. "Sent by Hell?"
"No, you provincial fool, sent by their parents, and their grandparents before them. Just like your gift, Fletcher." Hannibal pulled back, and started rubbing his forehead. "I'm sorry, John, I realize this is too much, even for a 'Renaissance' mind. One thing at a time." He pulled over a chair and sat next to Fletcher, still whispering. "The men of the Invisible College all possess tremendous, innate power, like you. And like me. And they also fear the name of Faust. Like-minded men killed your father and... and old Georg in years past, and now the next generation of this organization wants to kill you." Fletcher started to speak up, but Hannibal hushed him. "Listen: they have one man who can make maps and lenses that will find you anywhere. Another man has learned darker magics, and can summon beasts to kill you. And heaven forbid Percy should come back from Northumberland any time soon.... They've already tried to kill you once, John, they sent a scarab to do it. Fortunately, I was present at the ritual where they conjured the scarab, and I was able to will it to a mission of protection, rather than murder."
Fletcher's eyes widened. "The men outside Alleyn's rooms... !"
"Exactly. The scarab devoured them. But now the College has found me out, and I can't pull the same trick again. It's only a matter of time before Harriot is able to fix your location, and then... you'd better leave the country, John. Fast."
Fletcher's head was spinning; just when he thought he'd gotten used to having his world pulled out from under him.... "Hannibal, I must thank you for looking out for me, but I've been kicked out of nearly every nation in Europe. You seem to know this College, is there anything you can do to dissuade them?"
Hannibal lowered his eyes. "John, my business here in England was to negotiate a treaty between the College and a... group of people like myself. I've already come dangerously close to breaking it so many times, any more and I fear that the damage will be irreparable."
"So you're just going to let them kill me!" Fletcher screamed.
"John, it's not like that"
"What is it like, Hannibal? My life is clearly less precious then some treaty with a pack of murderers!"
"You are a murderer yourself Fletcher, a multiple one, or have you forgotten so quickly?" Hannibal calmed himself, and quietly said, "John, I'm breaking enough rules by warning you. By diverting the scarab. Please don't ask me to do more, when I didn't have to trouble myself with warning you in the first place."
"Troubling yourself?" Fletcher spat. "Well, don't let me trouble you any further, Hannibal. Go."
"Go." Fletcher got up and unlocked the door. Hannibal reluctantly left the apartment; after he did, Fletcher crept over to the window and peered through the shutters at the departing Moor, who stood out on the bright London streets like a patch of night.
"And thank you for saving me again," Fletcher mumbled.
Fletcher didn't bother to say goodbye to his current hosts; he just left a few coins and a note of thanks, which also advised Marlowe to cease his dealings with the Walsinghams. Then Fletcher gathered his bags and practically ran for the river, to find a boat heading for the coast, or better yet, for the Continent.
For some reason, the city streets were emptying fast, and by the time Fletcher got to the docks, they seemed almost deserted. Boats were still there, lots of them, but no merchants or travellers were milling around, and no business was being done. Even the sailors were mostly absent, either holed up in their ships or clumping together in little groups on the piers. Fletcher hopped down from the Embankment to the piers, and started asking around for a boat out of town. The sailors were extremely hostile, and Fletcher had to show them that he had no weapons (except, of course, for the arrows hidden in his bags) and bore them no ill feelings.
Finally, one sailor spoke to him. "We can't leave town," he said in a thick Dutch accent. "There is rumors of a plague in the city, and no ships go in or out. To prevent the spread. Haven't you heard?" The sailor eyed Fletcher suspiciously.
"I've been indoors most of the time. Haven't heard much. When was this plague discovered?"
"Just recently. A few days ago, some people say they find a man who looks like the Saint Sebastian of the Popists." The sailor turned and spat into the filthy Thames water, to show what he thought of the Catholics and their Saints. Fletcher kept his mouth shut, figuring it was for the best if nobody knew he'd created "Sebastian" when he pumped a quiver's worth of arrows into a hired killer.
"Then more dead people turn up around town," the sailor continued, "with little red marks like this." He held up his fingers to form a circle, about the size of the depressions the scarab had left. "Soon, there are tales that a German has brought this plague to the city, so Londoners begin attacking all foreigners. We have come here together for protection, since we cannot go home."
"But I need to leave London now!" said Fletcher.
"Get a horse, maybe you can still leave by land," offered the sailor. "Any friends outside London, I would find them." Fletcher thanked the man for his advice and started to hand him a coin, but the sailor wouldn't accept it. "I am happy to help someone in distress. But one more thing: hide your accent when you talk with Englishmen. They would be most eager to meet a German like you."
The only thing Fletcher needed less than another warning, was another group of people out to kill him.
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there's no truth in us. Why then belike, we must sin and so consequently die. Aye, we must die an everlasting death."
Fletcher entered the Rose Theatre, searching for allies, or at least sanctuary from the imaginary plague. Most of the company was there, and Alleyn was on stage reciting his opening monologue. Fletcher willed himself to ignore the wordsFaustus's refutation of divinity, if he recalled correctly, and looked for Marlowe.
Harry wasn't needed yet (his role as Helen of Troy only came in the last act), and he informed Fletcher that Marlowe, like many other Londoners, had left the city to avoid the plague. And also conveniently avoiding the Privy Council's charge of heresy. "He's out in Deptford," said Harry, "guesting with Walsingham's men, at his patron's request."
Fletcher paled. "Then he is in grave danger. Walsingham is no friend of his... thanks to me, anyway. I must find him before it's too late. I'll need a horse, Harry, has the company got any?"
"Yes, for touring in the summer months. They're around back." Fletcher started to run, but Harry clutched at his arm. "Bring Kit back safe, will you?" he pleaded.
"I'll try. And HarryI'm sorry about, you know"
"Make up for it by finding Kit. Go." Harry released him.
Fletcher ran from the theatre, no longer sure if Harry and Kit and the rest were damned. Up on the stage, Alleyn was proclaiming, "What doctrine call you this, che sera, sera, what will be shall be? Divinity, adieu!"
The Walsinghams were both enjoying cool drinks on a balcony at their estate outside London. Sir Francis raised his glass (real glass, a sign of the luxury and influence that was synonymous with "Walsingham") and made a toast to the sealed city. "I must commend you, Thomas, your 'plague' was a brilliant idea."
"Thank Doctor Dee for making it happen." Thomas took a gentle sip. "It should make our searches that much easier. How is your end progressing?"
"Oh, that damned poet of yours is making too much noise. I've decided that he needs to be silenced before he ever comes to trial."
"Pity," said Thomas, smiling. "It was nice to have such a good poet in residence. But it's best that your men dispose of him, while the College takes care of Faust. We're better suited to it, you know."
"Not so fast, dear cousin." Francis wagged his finger disapprovingly. "My men may yet get Faustus before yours do. And I confess, I have a bit of a secret I've kept from you."
"It isn't just my men taking care of Marlowe." Francis sneered, prepared to win this game of one-upsmanship. "Your man Frizer is with them. He's been working for me for some time."
Thomas glared at his cousin briefly, then quickly feigned a laugh. "Very nice, Francis, the years haven't dulled you a bit." He took another sip. "So, who does Frizer think he's killing Marlowe for? You or me?"
Francis thought for a minute, tapping his fingers on his chair's armrest. Then he said, "It doesn't really matter, does it?"
They laughed and drank in the light of the warm setting sun.
Several other members of the Admiral's Men rode with Fletcher, but without the Walsingham name to spring them out as it had sprung Marlowe, Fletcher doubted that the civil patrol would let any of them leave the city. And sure enough, the patrol was trying to seal every land exit from the city.
There was no way they could get past any closed gate or door, but after several hard minutes of riding (made possible only by the fact that the normally-busy streets were all but deserted), they came upon an open road. The patrol was trying to block it with commandeered wagons and carts. "Make for the road," Fletcher shouted, "and don't stop to be polite!"
The civil patrol wasn't polite either, and when they saw a mob of horsemen charging towards them, they raised their guns. "Halt!" cried their commander. Scared (and rightly so) by the guns, the actors started falling behind or turning around.
But Fletcher, the only one who really grasped the urgency of the situation, kept charging. And the patrol fired at him.
Fletcher had never tried moving somebody else's projectiles, or moving something as fast as ammunition. Now seemed like an ideal time to try, at least in the sense that death was the only other option. Fletcher prayed, not just to cancel out his powers' hellishness, but to survive this encounter.
Fletcher's forehead burned, and he slumped over in his saddle. But not a single bullet hit him; instead, they started exploding into the wagons and carts behind the patrol, sending them diving for cover. Fletcher recovered and rode over the patrolmen, between their wagons, and out towards Deptford.
Thomas Harriot was sitting in the middle of an astrological circle in his Greenwich observatory, focusing on a unique astrolabe of his own design. A map of London and the surrounding environs, also of Harriot's own design, was affixed to the wall, and Harriot gazed at it through the astrolabe. Suddenly, he felt a surge of power at the fringes of the city, and he realized it was Fletcher. He also realized exactly where he was heading.
"Deptford!" exclaimed Harriot. "Of course! I must notify the others!" Just to check, he looked through the astrolabe again.
And saw a dark, manlike shape blocking his view. Harriot dropped the tool, and saw Hannibal standing before him.
"Sorry," said Hannibal, "I can't let you betray that poor boy."
Harriot stammered for a moment, then said, "Hannibal, this will completely break our new treaty!"
"You're damned right it will." Hannibal let his fist fly, and knocked Harriot out cold in one punch.
Hannibal couldn't waste any more time there, so he ran for Harriot's stable. Deptford was clear on the other side of London, and he might not reach it in time.
Fletcher rode into Deptford just as the sun was setting. Though the small town was quite close to London, it wasn't as crowded and filthy, nor was it under quarantine.
Fletcher galloped down London Street, able to see in the twilight because the buildings were not crowded together closely enough to block out the sky's light. There seemed to be a lot of people out on the streets, although it was a gentle summer evening. Marlowe brought his horse to a halt to avoid trampling anyone, then he dismounted and asked the nearest person if she knew where the playwright Christopher Marlowe was staying.
"Playwright?" the woman asked. "Oh, some play type was at the Widow Bull Inn, down the street." Fletcher bolted down London Street, even as the woman shouted after him, "You can't go in there, there's been a fight!" But that only made Fletcher run faster.
He dashed down the middle of the road, through the ever- thickening crowd, until he reached a large half-timbered building that bore the sign of the Widow Bull Inn. A crowd was gathered outside, held back by town watchmen. Fletcher asked one what had happened.
"Some patrons got in an argument over the bill. One of them attacked the others, and they had to kill him in self-defense." Over the watchman's shoulder, Fletcher could see three men being led out of the inn by guards. One of them was the laughing killer of several days ago, the only one who had escaped his and Hannibal's wrath. The killer saw Fletcher, showed surprise, and then smiled maliciously.
"Who was it?" Fletcher asked. "Who died?"
"Some fancy London playwright"
"NO!" Fletcher shoved past the watchman, and ran up to the Inn. Two men from the Coroner's office were carrying a body out of the building, with a sheet draped over it. Fletcher tore the sheet away, to see Kit Marlowe lying underneath, cold and dead. There was a deep stab wound above his eye, and dark red blood was caked all over his head. The brain which had introduced blank verse to English drama, the brain which had translated Lucan, the brain which had inspired a host of younger poets and set the stage afire with the boldest and most doomed heroes England had yet seen, was spilling out of Marlowe's head and onto the knife of a hired thug.
Town watchmen were now grabbing Fletcher and dragging him away from the grisly scene. "I'm his friend!" Fletcher screamed, "I'm his friend!"
"So were they, supposedly," said one of the watchmen. "Come on, lad, it's too late."
Fletcher ignored the man, and turned to face the smiling killer. "Why did you kill him? He was just a poet, for God's sake!"
The killer detached himself from his armed escortthe guards were showing a surprising amount of deference towards himand strolled over to Fletcher. Once he drew near, the watchmen holding Fletcher let go of him and dropped back to give them some privacy.
"You said it yourself," said the killer. "He was a poet. Maybe more of a threat than you."
"Really? Now who will rewrite your grandfather's history?"
"Come on, Frizer, that's enough," said one of the guards.
Frizer made a very slight, very obnoxious bow, and said, "Farewell, little Faust. I killed your story; I guess that will have to keep me content, since someone else is going to kill you."
Fletcher was still a few stages behind in the conversation. "Grandfather?" he said. "You mean great-uncle."
Frizer laughed, long and loud. "Oh, this is too rich!" He pointed back at Marlowe's dead body. "He wasn't the only one in this story who went horned. And at least he only did it in costume!"
One of the guards was pulling Frizer back, but Fletcher pulled the other way. "What are you talking about, you bastard?"
That just made Frizer laugh harder. "I, a bastard?" He stepped forward again, whispering so only Fletcher could hear him. "Little Faust, why don't you ask your grandmother what she did nights? And ask her husband why he went horned, why his 'son' took after his brother and not him. Ask your father if he is the bastard son of a devil-worshipping"
Frizer got no further, because Fletcher tried to wipe the ugly smirk off his face with his own bare hands. But the watchmen piled on him and pulled him away, and Fletcher could only watch as Frizer was gently led away, with a smile on his face.
An hour later, Fletcher had climbed most of the way into a cheap bottle of port, and showed no signs of wanting to leave. The watchmen had inflicted more than a few gratuitous bruises on him after Frizer left, but he didn't bother resisting. He just took the punches, as penance for getting one of his few friends killed. And for being the grandson of Faust.
Then he got the port and slinked into a Deptford alley, where hopefully nobody would find him. He would decide later if he would try to leave the country or revenge Kit, but since both prospects looked pretty futile, he spent this night drinking. Partly for his dead friend, but mostly for himself.
Was Kit in Hell right now? He certainly had an impressive list of crimes that would open the gates for him. But it didn't seem right that Kit Marlowe should burn while filth like Frizer walked the streets alive. Or that heartless men like Hannibal should claim to have lived hundreds of years, while Kit hadn't seen thirty. Or that Kit died instantly, with no words on his dying lips, while so many lesser poets and minor characters like Fletcher lived on, only to babble meaninglessly.
Fletcher's overindulgent remorse was interrupted by a strange clicking sound emanating from one end of the alleythe street closest to him. He looked up, and saw two gigantic red beetles crawling towards him, their mandibles clacking together salaciously in anticipation of a man-sized meal.
Fletcher was instantly sober. The sight of two very real monsters coming to claim him will do that to a man. Fletcher briefly wondered if the monsters were sent by Hell, but concluded that they came from the far more aggravating Invisible College, and he pulled out his arrows.
The arrows simply bounced off the hard, hieroglyph-covered shells of the scarabs. Fletcher clumsily drew his sword and tried to stab the first scarab from arm's length, but the insect simply grabbed the sword with his mandibles, wrenced the blade off of the hilt, and spat the blade out in what might have been disgust.
Out of tricks, Fletcher ran deeper into the alley, but saw a party of men massing at the other end. This did not look good.
A door was set into the side of one building, offering Fletcher's only escapebut it was locked. Fletcher shouldered it several times, but it would not givemeanwhile, the men and scarabs both drew closer.
There was nothing else to be done. Fletcher placed both his hands on the door, and prayed fervently. The door buckled, twistedand flew off its hinges. Fletcher was astonished.
He ducked inside the building, feeling blood trickling out of his nose. No matter, Fletcher knew his power carried a much steeper price. If Georg Favolius, the original Faust, were really his grandfather by an illicit liason with his sister-in-law, then Fletcher was more damned than he'd ever guessed. He could add adultery and incest to diabolism in his family's list of crimes. And his legacy.
Fletcher was in a small commons room; he realized it was the Widow Bull Inn, which the Coroner had closed. There was nobody in the building to aid him. Fletcher turned at the clicking sound of the scarabs scuttling into the inn after him. He tossed chairs and tables on the insects, but they simply shrugged them off or ate their way through them. Without any better weapons, Fletcher would have to fall back on his accursed magics; perhaps the unholiness of the creatures he was fighting would permit it.
Fletcher tried more arrows, but they did no good; even when they lodged between plates of armor, the scarabs didn't seem to care. Then Fletcher remembered the way the first scarab had spat the sword, and the curious fact that they'd left all the metal behind outside Alleyn's rooms. He dove for the fireplace, just as a pair of mandibles clamped shut on his ankle. The jaws cut through his boot and bit deeply into his flesh. The scarab started pulling Fletcher back, so he and his mate could begin their feast.
Fletcher strained and touched a poker with the tip of his middle finger. It was enough. The poker lifted straight up into the air, then whirled like a dancer and shot straight for the scarab. It slid neatly between two plates, and continued all the way into the beast. The beast emitted a piercing whistle and quaked in agony, releasing Fletcher's ankle. He quickly touched a pair of tongs and similarly dispatched the other scarab.
In seconds, both were dead. They disappeared, leaving behind only the metal fireplace tenders, each covered in a disgusting black ichor.
Fletcher's elation only lasted seconds; the men were still outside. He could see some of them through the Widow Bull's windows, moving to secure the front of the building. Others were huddling outside the side door; at least his slaughter of the scarabs caused them to hesitate before attacking.
Except he didn't know if he could kill the men quite so easily. Faust's grandson. He was Faust's grandson. He was probably damned long before he was even born. Every time he used his grandfather's inherited magics, he was just hurling his soul down further and further into the abyss.
And besides, he was almost out of arrows.
Fletcher used his cape to wipe off the handle of the poker. Then he tied the clean part of the cape around his ankle, to stop the bleeding. Hefting the poker in one hand and an arrow in the other, Fletcher crept towards the front door, limping on his bad ankle. He was going to do this the right way for once. The holy way. And no matter what Hannibal said, or even poor Kit, there was a God who would be on Fletcher's side.
Hannibal galloped into Deptford at full speed, heedless of the dangers of riding an exhausted horse down an unfamiliar road in the dark. The worst that could happen was he would break his neck, and he would recover from that; but others' wounds were far more permanent. If he'd left soon enough, if Harriot hadn't woken up, if the other Walsingham hadn't sent his men... if only there were still time. Maybe he could still save Fletcher.
He saw a scuffle in front of a building, and headed straight for it, screaming a Saracen war-chant. All of the men who were still standing scattered at his approach.
Hannibal leapt off his horse while it was still galloping full tilt, landing harmlessly on the ground (a trick he'd picked up from Arabian nomads). But for all his speed, he still wasn't sure if he'd made it.
He stepped right over three dead men. They were negligible, their lives forfeit the day they'd decided their life's career would be killing their fellow humans. Hannibal didn't regret their passing in the slightest.
But he picked up speed as he saw the third body, crumpled in the doorway. Fletcher's wounds looked very bad, to bad for even Hannibal's skills. The young man was sweating profusely and clenching his teeth, while trying to murmur his own last rites. "John," Hannibal said, "John, I'm here."
John Fletcher opened his eyes, as much as they could open. "You came," he said, smiling weakly.
Hannibal stared at the bloody poker in Fletcher's hand, aghast. "John, why didn't you use your powers?"
He coughed, spitting blood. "God... will forgive me... this way."
For once, Hannibal did not offer a counter-argument.
"You see," Fletcher continued, "He's even given me... last words..."
"Try not to talk, John."
"Do you think... I'll end up in Heaven...?"
"Of course you will, John. You're a good man."
"No!" Fletcher grabbed Hannibal's arm, with perhaps the last of his strength. "I mean... is there... Heaven... to end up in..."
Hannibal hesitated before answering. In that small span of time, Fletcher closed his eyes, and let go of his arm.
As a foreigner, "John Fletcher" probably would have been tossed into a mass grave with the other "plague victims." But a mysterious stranger, black as a devil, removed his body and gave it a decent burial. A burial that befit a good man.
Christopher Marlowe was also buried, while his killer was pardoned only thirteen days after the murder.
Georg Favolius finally had his reputation cleared over two hundred years later, by one of his own countrymen. Scholars are uncertain what muse inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to redeem Faust, but I have some idea.
Ingram Frizer, Sir Francis Walsingham, Thomas Walsingham, Thomas Harriot, Doctor John Dee, Edward Alleyn, Harry, and all the other actors in this drama died eventually, as people do. It could be argued that mortality is some form of justice, but it is still uncertain as to which of these men went to Heaven, and which went to Hell. I know that the church at the time, whichever church you picked, was quite clear on who was saved and who was damned. But, having observed these men and their behaviors, I can only hope that the exact opposite was the case. I find it odd that Alleyn should burn for love while Frizer should be saved for murder.
Perhaps some kind of justice was ultimately done. Perhaps John Fletcher, Johann Faust, really did ascend to Heaven that thirtieth day of May, 1593. And perhaps his true friend Christopher Marlowe was there waiting for him.
But, as I am a heretic and immortal, I will never know for sure.
Anne and Harvey sat in stunned silence for a few minutes. Even Jack Russell, who had heard this all before, was moved.
Finally, Anne had to ask, "What's the point of all this, HankHannibal? Why tell us this?"
Hannibal shrugged. "Just to let you know that stories like yours don't always have happy endings. To warn you things might have ended differently for you, and still might." He lowered his eyes, mournfully. "To give John Fletcher his last words."
Hannibal put his money down and left. Jack Russell mumbled his goodbyes, said he'd be in touch, and followed.
Anne and Harvey just sat in the restaurant, very happy to be together and alive in this chilly new year.
"Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo's laurel bough
That sometime grew within this learned man.
Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practice more than heavenly power permits."
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