Ruled Britannia

Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove Read Free Book Online

Book: Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove Read Free Book Online
Authors: Harry Turtledove
nor particularly wanted friends. He did have a great many acquaintances of one degree of intimacy or another, that being defined by how useful they proved to him.
    He was almost as aware of the lack as were other folk. He hesitated before nodding, and added, “A man with whom I’ve been yoked in harness some little while.”
    â€œYoked in harness of what sort?” Shakespeare asked.
    â€œSide by side, vile-minded lecher, not fore and aft,” Marlowe said. “ ’Tis a matter of business on which he’s fain to make your acquaintance.” His shoulders hunched. He glared down at the ground. He was furious, and not trying hard at all to hide it.
    Shakespeare judged he would burst like the hellburner of Antwerp if not humored. Marlowe in a temper was nothing to take lightly, so Shakespeare said, “I’ll meet him, and right gladly, too, whosoever he may be. Bring him to my ordinary while I dine or sup, an’t please you.”
    â€œI’ll do’t,” Marlowe said, though he sounded far from pleased. If anything, he seemed angrier than ever.
    In God’s name, what now? Shakespeare wondered. Now, instead of hastening on toward Bishopsgate, he stopped in his tracks. Marlowe was the one who kept striding on before also halting a few paces farther on. “I have said I will do as you would have me do, Kit,” Shakespeare said. “Wherefore, then, wax you wroth with me still?”
    â€œI do not.” Marlowe flung the three words at him and started on again.
    â€œWhat then?” Now Shakespeare had to hurry after him—either that or shout after him and make their talk a public matter for any whocared to hear it. He asked the only question that occurred to him: “If not for me, is your anger for your ‘friend’?”
    â€œIt is.” Two more words, bitten off short.
    â€œHere’s a tangled coil!” Shakespeare exclaimed. “Why such fury for him?”
    â€œBecause he’s fain to see you in this business,” Marlowe said sullenly.
    By then, with the darkness coming on fast, with a few drops of drizzle falling cold on his hand, Shakespeare was beginning to lose his temper, too. “Enough of riddles, of puzzles, of conundrums,” he said. “Do me the honor, do me the courtesy, of speaking plain.”
    â€œI could speak no plainer—because he’s fain to see you in this business.” But then, unwillingly, Marlowe made it a great deal plainer: “Because he’s fain to see you, and not me. Damn you.” He hurried off, leaning forward as if into a heavy wind.
    â€œOh, Kit!” Now Shakespeare knew exactly where the trouble lay. What he did not know was whether he could mend it. Marlowe had been a success in London before Shakespeare rose from performing in plays to trying to write them. Some of Shakespeare’s early dramas bore Marlowe’s stamp heavily upon them. If a man imitate, let him imitate the best , Shakespeare thought.
    Marlowe remained popular even now. He made a living by his pen, as few could. But those who had given him first place now rated him second. For a proud man, as he surely was, that had to grate. If the “business” had to do with the theatre, if his “friend” wanted Shakespeare and not him . . . No wonder he was scowling.
    â€œWait!” Shakespeare called, and loped after him. “Shall I tell this cullion that, if he be your friend, the business should be yours?”
    To his surprise, the other playwright shook his head. “Nay. He hath reason. For what he purposes, you were the better choice. I would ’twere otherwise, but the world is as it is, not as we would have it.”
    â€œYou intrigue me mightily, and perplex me, too,” Shakespeare said.
    Marlowe’s laugh held more bile than mirth. “And I might say the same of you, Will. Did you tender me this plum, I’d not offer it back again. You may be sure of

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