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Lit Gloss: A Rose By Any Other Name



By Crystal Carroll

Copyright © 2015 Crystal Carroll

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Discover other books by Crystal Carroll at crystal-carroll.com


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Introduction

It's human nature to see or hear a story and frame it according to our own perspective. This may be as simple as imaging who'd you'd cast in the movie of your favourite book. Watching a tragedy and imagine how we'd fix the ending, or taking a train wreck of a comedy and imagining how we'd tragedy it up. We fill in the inner lives of our favourite characters gaping in the background of the stage based on our own life experiences.

It's certainly what William Shakespeare. The original legend of King Lear has Cordelia (spoilers) saving his life and making him king again. Shakespeare added the tragedy. Shakespeare didn't invent the stories of Henry V or Richard III. What he did do was reimagine them in new ways that live on in the plays that we watch and reinterpret with each new production.

Each play has different elements that a given director keeps or tosses out. There are some many things that can inform how one play is staged. The costuming and sets create the space. The way a given actor feels on a given day. The way the audience was feeling on the day they went.

Consider Hamlet. The way the story changes if the lead actor in the role were to be played by someone in their late teens rather than a man in his thirties. How we'd view Ophelia differently if by the very last act before her suicide, she were visibly pregnant. How the meaning of that would change if she were dressed in medieval clothing or modern dress. The way some productions play Claudius as manipulative and power hungry, others as genuinely in love with Gertrude, and others as an inept drunkard. The way emphasis on potential war with Norway changes the play if it's not entirely a family drama.

Then there's the narratives in the margins of the story. Stoppard's Rozencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead brilliantly takes two minor characters and places them at the centre of their own story, and what comes out of that is a completely new way of looking at Hamlet.

Thinking about those margins is something I enjoy doing, and I frequently write stories about different myths or works of literature. These stories form a sort of gloss on the margins of how I think about those stories. I suppose could have called this book Lit Marginalia, but that wouldn't make a pun on lip gloss, and Shakespeare made a lot of, often quite dirty, puns.

The short stories in this collections are retellings of Shakespeare plays about characters in the margins, frequently women. Because let's face it, when all your female characters are played by young boys, the female representation may not be 50% of the population of characters and lines.

A few things before we get started. These stories aren't critical analysis of the plays, which I'm not really qualified to do anyway. But they are part of an active engagement with thinking about the plays. Re-telling a story helps provide a new way of looking of the base material. Like West Side Story looking back to Romeo and Juliet, or Forbidden Planet's retelling of The Tempest.

Now that's said, there's a certain assumption that if you're reading this, you're familiar with the original Shakespeare plays. In many cases, these stories comment on the action of a play and do not retell those stories.

Before each story, I will let you know which play each story is based on, provide some context as to why I wrote it, and a list of characters. Where it seems appropriate, I'll provide warnings, because I want avoid triggering anyone where possible. Warnings will indicate if a story contains triggers like: miscarriage, abortion, rape, brain washing, torture, violence, murder, and suicide. I'll also indicate if a story contains explicit sex scenes between characters and the gender orientation of that pairing.

With some further ado, here's an overview of the stories/plays:

  • Romeo and Juliet – Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps
    Perhaps, the story went this way. Perhaps, it went that way. There were a thousand ways the story could have gone and a thousand loves that could have been that did not lead to the vial and a dagger. Perhaps.

  • The Merchant of Venice - Between First and Second Sleep
    For Venetians, it was common enough to visit neighbours after First Sleep and before setting down for Second Sleep. At around midnight, they'd get out of bed from First Sleep, put on their warmest night visiting robes and best night visiting slippers, and step out onto the narrow stone bridges over the canals and cross the cobbled plazas with candles all aglow for a visit. If they didn't want to go out, they'd light the lantern by the door to indicate they were at home to visitors. Venice glowed in the middle of the night during the visiting hour. Night Visiting was one thing, but Night Painting doors was another. Rachel had never heard of such a thing, which meant she definitely had to investigate.

  • The Tempest – After She Wakes
    In the palace she’d grown up in, when Miranda said, “I’m hungry,” food bustled into the room of its own will. The sheets pulled back on her bed. She wore what she wanted. She slept when she was tired and she ate when she was hungry. She ran when she wanted to run and she was still when she wanted to be still. Milan was not much like that.

  • The Tempest – Dreams of Paracelsus
    Were a gnome of earth to be imprisoned, she'd but smile and wait. The earth was made to wait and slowly shift over millennium. For a salamander of fire, no such thing would ever occur. Her rage would be so instant, so burning, she'd consume any who dared so much as look at her or else die trying. For an undine of water, she'd surge and if barred by one route, she'd seek another. Oh, water could be contained, but whether she turned into vapour, or she froze and melted to crack any surface, she'd be free again. Ariel was a sylph of air.

  • Midsummer Night's Dream – On Neptune's Yellow Sands
    Like a winter blown leaf, Titania drifted to the shores of the Saraswati River where a child threw coloured powder in her face and ran away laughing as if Titania weren't a Queen, as if it weren't the dead of winter and all were gales. As if a fragile human could do magic. There by the Saraswati River perhaps they could.

  • The Tragedy of Julius Caesar – All Hail
    As the Stoic Antiochus of Ascalon had said, "Happiness consists in a virtuous life, but it is not independent of external things." It was by this motto that Portia lived her life. The good of the Republic above all else. While the ladies of the Moirai salon had always worked to do more than merely spin and sew and cut the thread.

  • Hamlet – Ghosts of Elsinore
    Ophelia had always been a fool for love and charity. Sighing over the tragic hero, Sigismund, or Lancelot, for all Father would chide her and her brother, Laertes, would make fun. That her foolishness might lead to her ruin was what every lady was told. Yet how could it be so? When she loved her sweet prince and Hamlet certainly made her believe he loved too. How could there be ruin when there was love?

  • King Lear – Owning Her Own Mistakes and Moving On
    There was no Queen in the Queen's bower. She'd long ago died. There was no King on the throne. He'd given it up to be Mothered by his daughters. That left only a Kingdom with holes in the middle. Even the Fool could see war was coming. Goneril was no fool. She could regret the coming war. But with the memory of her mother's chides in her ear, she'd ever press on. After all the stars have no feet to guide us to the deeds we do.

  • As You Like It – Love Thee and I
    Celia's feelings were not new in the origin. They were not the moment of a chance meeting in a bucolic dell or in a marble hall. No, these feelings were the result of years of earnest study of her cousin's most deserving nature. It were easy to divine a divine nature to a stranger. Her most beloved cousin, was no divine. She snored a tiny noise in her throat. She had a wicked temper and a more cleverly wicked humour. Her jests some betimes could sting. Yet, these feelings not asked for, and not desired, they had grown clever weeds in Celia's heart that then bloomed into brilliant flowers.

  • Twelfth Night – Carnivale
    In the time of Carnivale, the good men and women of Illyria were wont to put on masks and take on the costume of other fates. The Duke and Duchess of Illyria were wanton in this custom more than most.

  • Othello – There are Five Lights
    The very first thing that Iago said to Emelia after they were wed was, "The sun is shining very brightly in the sky." As this was their wedding night, she replied, "What do you mean? That is the moon and stars. It's dark out." Emelia didn't know to shiver then when Iago stroked her cheek and said, "No, My Love, it is the sun." Then again, she hardly knew the man to whom she'd been wed.

  • Henry VI Part 1 – The Journey of the Paladin of the Artistic Heart
    Rene would far rather have been writing his epic poem "The Journey of the Paladin of the (figure out the right words later) Heart", but the English were invading every garden party, dropping bottles of cider, throwing the food away as too flavoured and shouting. So much shouting. It made it hard to think. There was also the matter of his ransom payments to the Duke of Burgundy, which that Duke wanted to collect. The Holy Maid, who wanted to save France. Rene's Mother, who hadn't married her daughter to Charles so that daughter wouldn't be Queen. Rene's daughter Marguerite, who really ought not to be born yet, but who could resist the laws of Aristotelian dynamics, or the Pope's Fashion Police? They will get you if you cross them. So not a nurturing environment for an artist, but art will on.

  • Much Ado About Nothing – These Three Things Abide
    When Beatrice was born, she was blessed by three fairies. With a clever tongue and a soft heart and laughter. This stood her in good stead when she was nine and went to Hell. It was also of some use when she was eighteen, had her heart broken and went to Purgatory. Didn't hurt the rest of her life either. For the triple blessings and tripled magic, it didn't really stop with that first blessing.


Overview: Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

Story Source: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night's Dream.

Summary: Perhaps, the story went this way. Perhaps, it went that way.

There were a thousand ways the story could have gone and a thousand loves that could have been that did not lead to the vial and a dagger.

Perhaps.

Why: There's this moment watching the play where I always think, "Wait, that's your plan. This is a bad plan." And so it proves.

What came out of thinking about that is a sort of spiralling narrative of other paths Juliet could have taken. Other choices and other decisions. This isn't so much a fix-it story as an exploration of possibilities.

Pairings: Juliet/Romeo, Juliet/Other Male Character

Warnings: Oblique reference to a miscarriage and heterosexual sex.

Persons of the Story:

  • Juliet, a lady of Verona

  • Roadside Lady, Titania, Queen of the Fairies

  • Peaseblossom, a fairy

  • Cobweb, a fairy

  • Way station keeper, a woman of Verona

  • The Pirate Captain, a pirate with a liking for music

  • Rosaline, Juliet's cousin

  • Mother Superior, the head of a nunnery in Verona

  • Romeo, Juliet's lover


Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps

Perhaps it went like this.

Juliet stared at the vial in her hand and she thought to herself, "Is faking my own death really the way to go here?"

She wrote a long rambling letter to her mother and her father. In it she listed her grievances and they were many. She underlined the ones wherein in particular she had been grieved against. She underscored deeply. She cut hers thumb and sealed it in blood to let them know how serious she was.

She put on some page's clothes and, dressed as a boy, she climbed down the balcony. For what Romeo might climb up, might not Juliet climb down?

She took with her a lute and what money she had and set off down the road. After she had been walking some time, her feet hurt, she had a blister, and she despaired of reaching Mantua.

As she limped, she came down the hill and saw a party of ladies just off of the road. They were feasting by moonlight. They had a fire that looked very warm. She approached them and bowed before the great lady at the centre of the feast. She said, "Oh, great lady, if I play for a time, would you let me sit by your fire?"

The great lady's hair spilled in Titian red curls and her skin sparkled as if with tiny fairy lights. She laughed. "We welcome all musicians here in our company, little one." She waved to the fire.

Juliet sat by the fire and she played a love song for that was all that was in her heart.

The great lady called out, "Peaseblossom, bring this child wine for love is in the air."

Peaseblossom brought Juliet rich wine and she drank it.

She sat by the fire and she played a love song for that was what swelled in her heart.

The great lady called out, "Cobweb, bring this child sweet food for love is in the air."

Cobweb brought Juliet sweet food and she ate it.

Juliet played for a long time. She played every love song that she knew until the great lady cried out, "Enough. You are breaking my heart. Come sit beside me and watch my ladies entertain us."

Juliet sat beside the great lady. She drowsed with the rich wine and the rich food. She saw wonderful things. She saw lights consume lights and things be made to appear and disappear. The night stretched long. The great lady kept her near her throughout the long night as the stars appeared to wheel above them in the sky.

Finally, Juliet slept.

When she woke, she was alone in a the centre of a circle of mushrooms all covered in dew. She laughed at herself and went on her way. But the road had changed overnight. It was now covered in black stone with a yellow line down the centre.

Great metal chariots raced down it. She inquired at a way-station along the road and they looked at her. A woman asked, "Are you in a play?"

Juliet was not in a play. Except it seemed as she glanced at the broadsheets that were on display at the way-station that she had slept some five hundred years in that field.

She wept and cursed fairy wine.

That is perhaps what might have happened.

What also might have happened is as she walked down the road, she did not leave it for the camp with its fire. She kept walking all the night through, because what was a blister on her toe to love.

As she walked, the road curved down along the sea. Perhaps she was overtaken by a group of pirates. A pirate with a braided beard said, "What have you there, boy?"

She said, "Nothing but a few coins, which you may take, and my lute, which I beg of you leave me. For by it I make my way in the world." It was true. She fully intended to help Romeo support them by playing music.

The lead pirate, a swarthy fellow with a hook for a hand, but with a gentlemanly way about him said, "We will take your coins and your lute."

She fell to her knees. "Please spare my life. I love someone as I have breath in my body. He is the most beautiful boy in all the world."

The lead pirate waved his hook. "Ah, it's good to have something to live for. I will take you as my prisoner. I need someone to accompany me when I play my dulcimer."

So they took her on board their ship and she was their prisoner. Their captain had spoken truthfully. He did play upon a dulcimer and wanted someone to play with.

Some months after joined the crew, she was sick with love and even sicker when lost the child she and Romeo had created on their wedding night.

Even when she was better, every day she begged to be with the one she loved. Every day, the Captain would glare at her and tell her to pick up her lute.

When they were not playing, the Captain had her serving as his cabin boy, for she did not feel it proper to betray her true sex. He had her to sleep in a bunk over his own that she entered by way of a ladder, and would he speak with her long hours during the night watches. He may have been a pirate, but he had read extensively, and seen much of the world.

They sailed seas rough and calm. Captured ships full of gold and raced ahead of naval fleets. At the Captain's side, she saw the green spark that occurs when the water is still. She saw lights in the sky when they sailed farther north than she had ever been. She ran to carry the Captain's commands as white whales battled great creatures with tentacles that made the ocean roar.

They sailed south to blue waters where the Captain said, "Julio," for that was the name she used aboard ship, "you can join the lads swimming if you like."

Through all of this, she clung to her boy's clothes. She shook her head and did not swim for to do so would have betrayed her sex.

Every day she would ask to be released to be with the one she loved. But the Captain would not let her go, because he was a pirate who loved music.

It seemed as if years went by. She had grown several inches and the Captain joked that she'd grow whiskers soon enough. She told him, "That will take some doing, sir," and played a new melody on the lute.

By the time that she had finished with growing, she could not have said what Romeo looked like for some time had passed and she had only known him for a brief time. She'd have looked in the Captain's log, but she was afraid to know how many years it had been.

She cursed herself as fickle, because the face that came to mind when she thought of love had a very different cast.

The morning came that she did not ask to be released.

The Captain said, "You haven't asked to be released today. Well then, get it over with. It's like waiting for my morning's tea. I find I cannot start my day without it."

"No, Captain, I haven't asked today." She glanced at him and smiled. Even though she was wed to another, she kissed him, which he returned in kind.

As things progressed, there was some surprise on his part when he exclaimed. "You're not a boy at all!"

She pulled away. "Is this a problem?"

"No, no problem." He said and proved it to both their satisfaction.

Some time later, they changed course across the sea towards a new land beneath a shining star.

Perhaps that may have been what happened.

It may also be that Juliet never even headed down the road to Mantua.

She may have gone up to the nunnery where her cousin, Rosaline, was deep in thought with her herbs. Rosaline hugged her cousin and said, "You can ask for sanctuary here. I will speak with the Mother Superior. You're not the first to come here to escape a hateful marriage. Though I'm surprised they'd arrange it so soon after Tybalt's murder." Juliet agreed by crying.

Juliet took sanctuary with her cousin while her parents raged at the nunnery's gate. The Mother Superior was kind. She was firm. She said to Juliet's parents, "Your daughter has chosen to be a bride of Christ and not of man."

Juliet was ashamed as her belly curved outward with the sign that she was pregnant. Rosaline sighed when she realized it. Juliet was quick to say, "I married Romeo first. This child will be born in wedlock."

Rosaline sighed again. "You have married Romeo, who swore he loved me, and swore he loved you, and now lives in Padua with his landlord's daughter."

Rosaline held Juliet in her arms as she cried. Rosaline kept Juliet's secret. All through the long months, she protected Juliet and saw to it that no one guessed.

She kept her close to her in the Herbarium. She taught Juliet during that time too. She read to her from Hildegard of Bingen's Physica. She taught her to understand its secrets. They played together on lute and viol their own variations of Hildegard of Bingen's Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum. Rosaline spoke to Juliet about what it meant to Rosaline to be a bride of Christ. She spoke with her of the idea of viriditas, of greenness as a reconciliation of the earthly and the heavenly. At first, it seemed cold comfort to Juliet, as she had to hide the ever growing swell of her body, she took some comfort from being among the growing things in the garden.

Rosaline was with Juliet when she gave birth in secret to a sweet girl. Rosaline took the child then. She took it and abandoned it at the gate to the nunnery. She waited three or five breaths and then discovered the child who had been so heartlessly abandoned.

She took the child to the Mother Superior and said, "This child has been abandoned at our gates. I found her there. Do you think it is right that we should raise this girl here?"

The Mother Superior said, "Yes, it is right. Will you care for the child this night until we can find milk with which to feed her?"

"I will," said Rosaline. "I and my cousin will care for her." She took the child back to Juliet, who held her daughter through the night. They named her Celia so she might be able to see the truth of what was there.

Celia had a hundred mothers in the nunnery, but she was always especially close to Rosaline, who had found her at the gate, and to Juliet, who doted on her and taught her to play the lute.

That is perhaps what happened.

It's also perhaps true that Juliet snuck out of her room in the dead of night. She never drank a vial meant to mimic death. She asked Paris for time given her cousin's death, and being a reasonable fellow, he agreed. Equally being a reasonable fellow, he agreed. He was glad enough when Juliet ran off with Romeo a week later.

It's also perhaps true that Juliet did leave her room that night, but she took another road to Mantua entirely. One less travelled. That she arrived in Mantua to find that Romeo had never arrived because there was sickness in that city. Juliet sweated with the sickness of love, or simple illness and there in Mantua, she died.

It's also perhaps true that she was merely sick with love. Women have loved and died and worms have eaten them, but no one ever died of love. Perhaps Romeo came to her with the sweet cure of his lips. In wedded bliss, they were joined.

If in some months, they realized they were to be parents, it was no impediment to their love. Late night feedings, sleepless nights while struggling to live upon Romeo's thin stipend these were perhaps impediments. When words of love gave way to angry shouts.

Perhaps they weren't impediments at all. He loved and she loved and little Tiana was loved. They all laughed and loved in their little house in Mantua that was ever filled with the sound of lute music.

Perhaps.

Perhaps.

Perhaps.


Overview: Between First and Second Sleep

Story Source: Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

Summary: For Venetians, it was common enough to visit neighbours after First Sleep and before setting down for Second Sleep. At around midnight, they'd get out of bed from First Sleep, put on their warmest night visiting robes and best night visiting slippers, and step out onto the narrow stone bridges over the canals and cross the cobbled plazas with candles all aglow for a visit. If they didn't want to go out, they'd light the lantern by the door to indicate they were at home to visitors.

Venice glowed in the middle of the night during the visiting hour.

Night Visiting was one thing, but Night Painting was another. Rachel had never heard of such a thing, which meant she definitely had to investigate.

Why: One of the difficulties for a modern reader in Merchant is whether or not the play is anti-Semitic. Shylock gets a great speech, but Shakespeare focuses Shylock's "Does a Jew not Bleed" speech on revenge, which is contrasted with Portia's "Quality of Mercy" speech. Part of the happy ending is that Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity, which is more than a bit problematic. There's also the question of Shylock's genuine rage in the play, which doesn't seem like something that would be neatly tied off with a legal ruling. This story looks at where a next generation could have gone from that ending.

Persons of the Story:

  • Rachel, a young girl of Venice

  • Master Shylock, a mysterious visitor at the door

  • Tonio, a young boy of Venice and Rachel's best friend


Between First and Second Sleep

From where she was curled in the chair up beneath the window, Rachael could hear the faint shwap, shwap, shwap of someone painting the front door.

It was the middle of the night, so this was a little unusual.

Oh, for Venetians, it was common enough to visit neighbours after First Sleep and before setting down for Second Sleep. At around midnight, they'd get out of bed from First Sleep, put on their warmest night visiting robes and best night visiting slippers, and step out onto the narrow stone bridges over the canals. They'd cross the cobbled plazas with candles all aglow for a visit. If they didn't want to go out, they'd light the lantern by the door to indicate they were at home to visitors.

Venice glowed in the middle of the night during the visiting hour.

Night Visiting was one thing, but Night Painting was another. Rachel had never heard of such a thing, and she listened in on what everyone had to say. Even if Father Rodrigo told her gossip wasn't a very Christian thing to do, she knew it must be very Christian because every Christian she knew did it. Rachel might only be ten, but she understood very well the difference between what people said and what people did. Mostly it seemed if the priest said not to do something that was because everyone did it all the time. When Father Rodrigo talked about mercy one week and that God was on their side in the war with the King of Aragon the next, Rachel couldn't help but ask how that made any sense.

Even Night Visiting, Father Rodrigo loved to raise a glass of wine while Night Visiting and talk about how the practice led people to sin, but Father would shush her the moment Rachel said anything.

So, when Rachel heard the shwap, shwap, shwap, she couldn't help but be curious. The time for Night Visits was long over.

Rachel had already gone out with Mama and Papa to visit Mistress Portia and her husband, Master Bassanio. Everyone said that their good friend, Antonio the Elder, who had lived with them as long as anyone could remember, was Mistress Portia's lover, but their son, Tonio, wouldn't answer Rachel's questions.

They'd argued about it earlier, which Rachel didn't think was fair at all. She'd only asked Tonio, because she was curious, and she'd seen Master Bassanio kiss Antonio the Elder that one time with tongues moving around in each other's mouths.

But Tonio had accused Rachel of trying to get his father imprisoned for sodomy and break his mother's heart and he'd called Rachel a filthy Jewess.

Now generally, Rachel wasn't of the opinion that she had to take anyone's opinion but her own. But Rachel's Mama had been a Jew and Rachel was named after her Jewish grandmamma. Mama had become Christian when she married Papa, but not very Christian. Papa and Mama mostly went to Mass to gossip, just like everyone else. So, maybe she was very Christian if she was like every other Christian. Mama wasn't filthy. Not that the Jews that Rachel saw in the market were terribly filthy either, and Mama always told her that she mustn't think of them that way and that she mustn't be ashamed.

Rachel had an idea Mama was ashamed of something, or she wouldn't keep saying that.

Rachel wasn't ashamed anything. Not eating all the honey that one time. Not listening to gossip. Not even the time she'd cut all her hair off because she'd wanted to cut her own hair, and then had to go about with a cloth covering her head, which Rachel had thought was marvellous and made her feel like a wizard, and who was to say a wizard couldn't be a girl, because everyone knew that witches got their powers through sex with the devil, but wizards got their powers by studying, which made Rachel wondered why everyone didn't just study, but she supposed books took money and not everyone could read, and certainly adults liked to talk about sex; so maybe there was something to it after all, and the prostitutes from the city run brothels gave away wonderful figurines during Carnivale; even if Mama turned bright red when she'd seen Rachel playing with them.

Still not being ashamed didn't meant that Rachel couldn't be upset by arguing with her friend.

That was why Rachel hadn't been able to settle down to Second Sleep. She'd picked up the Bible and had been planning to tempt sleep by reading the begat part of Genesis. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing more boring than a whole lot of begats, and just because she could read didn't mean she was a Jew or a Protestant; although she couldn't quite understand why that would be a problem; especially since Mistress Golda always talked so kindly to Mama when they went into her shop, but either way, she could read and Tonio could go to hell; except she didn't want him to go to hell, because he was her best friend; even if he'd called her a filthy Jewess and thrown the toy soldiers she'd saved up her pennies to give him for his last birthday, but once she'd decided someone was her friend she wasn't about to let a little thing like their being stupid matter.

But none of that had anything to do with someone painting her front door past the middle of the night. That was much more interesting than some old begats.

Rachel stood on the chair and pushed her way passed the thick curtains to look out the window. There was an old man wearing the silly red hat Jews had to wear by law, and a Jew's Star of David on his robes. He was waving a red rag at the board over the door, which had a name, but for the life of her Rachel couldn't remember it just then.

Perhaps that's why when she opened the window, she didn't ask the Jew why he was painting the board over her door. Instead, she asked, "What's the name of the board over the door?"

The old man jumped and she was a little worried that he might drop dead right there, but instead he blinked at her for long enough for the paint to drip from his rag onto the stones. Actually, she supposed it was too thin to be paint, but it was much too thick to be water.

Rachel said, "It's alright if you don't know." She looked at the darkened lantern by the door. Mama had put it out when they'd come back from their Night Visit. "Do you need more light?"

He swallowed once. Then he swallowed again. He put his rag on his bucket. He said, "Child, I would be very grateful if you would light the lantern so I can see you more clearly."

Rachel hopped down from the chair. She got a tinder and opened the front door. The man was waiting patiently. She kissed her fingers and brushed them on the metal box by the door like Mama always did, because it was a good luck charm, and biting her lip, because that made it easier, she lit the lantern.

When it was done, she grinned at the man. She could see he was very, very old now that there was more light. She said, "Are you here for a Night Visit? I didn't know that Jews could go Night Visiting; I thought they had to stay in their homes after dark, which must be pretty horrible in the winter when it gets dark so early, but if you're here for a visit, you're too late. Mama and Papa have gone to bed, but we have wine and cheese if you want it. The breads only a little dry, but if we melt the cheese on it, the bread will loosen up, and are you sure that you don't know what the name of the piece of wood over the door, because now I really want to know. Although it's still…"

"Peace, child." He held up a hand. There was a shiny place on the palm where it had been burned and healed. "It's called a lintel, and this," he kissed his fingers and brushed them across the metal good luck charm, "was the mezuzah from your Mother's house when she grew up."

"I knew that." Rachel nodded and, wanting to add something to the conversation, said, "It's a good luck charm."

The old man drew himself up taller and looked very angry. Rachel though he looked like old King David must have looked when he was so very old that he had to sleep with a virgin for warmth, but still looked like someone who could have cut off a lot of foreskins when he was younger. "It is not a good luck… charm." The word charm stretched out and then was abruptly cut off. "It is a contract for protection and blessings from the one who is not three or five or a thousand." He slid a paper from inside the mezuzah and tisked his tongue as he unrolled it. "Jessica hasn't had anyone to look at this since she put it up." Rachel peered around his arm to look at the paper. He knew her Mama's name, so he must know her Mama. She hoped he knew stories about her when she was younger. The man pointed at flaws on the paper. It did look very old and spotted like the old man's hands. "See how the print is faded and there's a touch of mould here."

Rachel was getting a little worried. "You should put it back now. Mama always says she couldn't feel comfortable in her house if it weren't there."

"There is that at least." His shoulders slumped and the old man replaced it, saying, "Blessed are you, Hashem, our G*d, creator of time and space, who enriches our lives with holiness, commanding us to attach a mezuzah to our homes."

He huffed out a breath that curled steam in the night air. "And no, Jews aren't allowed to go Night Visiting. They must remain in their homes from dusk to dawn guarded by armed Christians at the gate to the ghetto."

Rachel had every sympathy for doing something that wasn't allowed, particularly when the rules were stupid. She did it every time she could find a hole in what someone was asking. If Mama said, "Clean the floor," that meant pile everything on the bed, and if Papa said, "Clean the bed," that meant pile everything on the floor. It wasn't her fault people couldn't be specific.

She picked up his bucket. "Then you should come in so you don't get caught. Now, what's your name? Because I can't let you in if I don't know your name." Rachel knew her way around what she could and couldn't do.

"I am… Master Shylock," said the man.

Rachel bobbed her head. "I'm Rachel," and since he was still just standing there, she waved him to come in. "Come on. The night watch will walk this way in a few minutes."

He didn't resist as she tugged him inside the door and went into the kitchen. He did say, "Do you often allow strangers into your home?" He looked around the kitchen. "I could mean you harm."

She looked him up and down, and laughed. "You're really, really old, and Papa calls me his little ox because I can lift a twenty pound bag of flour, even though I'm only ten. Anyway, I have a knife." She pulled out the knife she used for eating from its sheath. "I keep it really sharp."

"I see that." He sighed. "Still, as I am a filthy Jew, I could use filthy poison." The last word lingered like honey in his mouth. Rachel liked the way he said it. She liked the way he talked all over.

Rachel laughed. "You're cleaner than Father Rodrigo, who only bathes for Easter." She pinched her nose to illustrate her point. She always loved this kind of game, but most people got angry when she played. She carefully cut the cheese and bread, and set them on a pan over the embers in the fireplace to warm up. "But you're in my house, and I'm ten, which I've been told is a naturally evil age," she rolled her eyes, "and since I'm serving you, maybe you should worry about… poison." She wiggled her eyebrow as she poured Master Shylock watered wine and another for herself.

His brow wrinkled and he removed his silly looking red hat. "Perhaps," he measured his words as if they were very precious, "you should worry about magic. Perhaps, I am a wizard, who was once a simple moneylender. So simple that he trusted the law of this city to give him revenge for himself and his people, and when the quality of that cities mercy was to take away everything he had and force his conversion, he left. Perhaps that man though no longer young crossed half the world for study. Perhaps he learned the way to call on a higher form of justice." His teeth bit through the word justice.

Rachel's eyes widened. Master Shylock was quite easily the most interesting Night Visitor there had ever been. She looked in the bucket. "Is this the blood of a black rooster slaughtered on the night of a full moon under a hanged man?"

"No!" Master Shylock rubbed at his mussed silver hair, which was as well trimmed as his beard. He had a very kingly nose, which suited his own hair better than the hat. Rachel knew a kingly nose when she saw one because she had a queenly nose, which she got from her Mama.

She was about to ask more, when a burned scent reached that nose. "Oh, the bread!" Rachel raced to the fire and pulled the pan off the fire, which since it was very hot, she succeeded mostly in burning her hand and scattering bread on the floor.

"Be careful." Master Shylock took her hand as she hissed. He tisked his tongue. "It's a wonder that Jessica allows you to greet visitors.

"Well," Rachel wriggled her reddened fingers, "I'm not really supposed to, but I did ask your name before I let you in."

"You did do that," he glared down his nose, "but you shouldn't be so quick to trust." She snorted at the idea that she couldn't take care of herself.

Master Shylock sighed and lifted her to sit on the table. He filled a bowl with cool water from the jug and put her hand in it. He bustled about the kitchen pulling this and that down from the shelves, which he sprinkled into the bowl. The burn eased enough for Rachel to peer over the side of the table at the bread. He said without looking, "Don't even think of moving."

Rachel sighed. Then she sighed again and wriggled her fingers in the bowl. "My hand feels fine."

"Keep it in the bowl for at least sixty more heartbeats." He glared at her. "Can you count that high?"

"I'm ten, not three." Rachel felt it was Master Shylock's own fault if he had to listen to her count while he cleaned up the bread on the floor and scraped off the cheese, which showed he must be a wizard because the bread hadn't landed cheese down on the floor.

It even tasted good. "So," she crunched down on a piece of cheese, "what kind of blood is it?"

"Don't talk while you're eating," said Master Shylock. She rolled her eyes at him. "It's lamb's blood."

"Oh, then you're a good wizard," said Rachel, before taking another crunch.

"And what do you base that conclusion on?" asked Master Shylock, arching an eyebrow.

She flicked water from the bowl at him, which startled a laugh. "Whoever heard of someone doing dark magic with lamb's blood? Anyway, you fixed my hand."

He shook his head. "It wasn't a very deep burn, and there are many dark things that may be done with the blood of a lamb." She flicked more water at him, and he sighed. "In this case," he said so slowly, she had to wonder if each word had once had to be written in mud, "I was warding your home against the curse that I will cast come the morning. All the more important now that I've seen the state of your mezuzah."

Rachel was about to ask about the curse, when there was a knock at the door. She hopped down from the table and went to the door. It was Tonio.

Tonio looked miserable. He looked like he'd been crying. His eyes were puffy and red and everything. He said, "I saw that you still had your lantern on." Tonio sniffed. "I'm sorry, I called you a filthy Jew. But," he bunched his hands. "You can't say things like that about Uncle Antonio and my Father, it's dangerous."

Rachel sniffed and was about to close the door on this non-apology when he said, "You're not filthy at all."

"But," said Master Shylock, who looked very regal in his black robes with the Star of David shining over his heart, "Rachel is Jewish in that her mother is a Jew and reminded herself of this by naming her child after her own mother."

Just then Rachel remembered the lamb's blood. She said, "Oh, Master Shylock, you should bless Tonio's house against the curse."

Master Shylock came closer. "But that would defeat the purpose of the curse, as he is the eldest son of his father's house," said Master Shylock. "I know Master Bassanio's son when I see him. I don't think much of a young man who comes to visit a girl while her parents are sleeping."

"What? Tonio?" Rachel laughed. "Please, don't be silly. But," she pointed at Master Shylock, "you are not going to distract me." He puffed up, but she put her hands on her hips to show she meant it. "You may as well give in and bless Tonio's house. I can be very annoying."

"God's teeth, you're annoying," said Tonio, so she poked him.

She told Tonio, "Master Shylock's a wizard." Rachel felt so proud, she could have been floating with pride, because she'd never met a wizard when going on a Night Visit to Tonio's house. Only some of the Council of Ten, who were all boring.

Tonio didn't seem properly in awe of her guest. He said, "Who are you? Are you some relative of Rachel's mother?" He glanced at Rachel and back at Master Shylock. "You shouldn't be here. You're not allowed to leave the ghetto after dark."

"Yes," is was very impressive how much venom Master Shylock put in that yes, "aren't you just an excellent example of the fine quality of Venice's Christian mercy and hospitality, Master Tonio, son of Mistress… Portia and..."

"Don't talk about my parents." Tonio's hands were balled into fists.

Rachel was getting a little irritated. Without thinking, she shoved Tonio, and winced because she'd used her burned hand. "Owe."

Master Shylock grabbed her hand and examined it. "This needs to be back in the bowl for at least another sixty heartbeats. He pushed her back into the kitchen. Tonio trailed after.

Tonio said, "If I call the guard, they'll throw you in prison for being here."

"If you call the guard, I'll cast my curse now. I've already marked every house in the ghetto and had to use precious time to slip back out past the guards. As it was, I almost did not come here to mark this house." Master Shylock pressed Rachel's hand further in the bowl. "I cannot hear you counting."

"I'm counting," said Rachel, who just to be annoying decided to count in Latin, which she'd badgered Sister Maria into teaching her. But Master Shylock wasn't impressed at all. He counted after her in Jewish.

"In Hebrew," said Master Shylock, hardly pausing his count.

Rachel had never been more glad that Papa snored and Mama stuffed her ears with cotton. "Can girls be wizards," asked Rachel. She felt everything hinged on Master Shylock answer.

"Rachel!" said Tonio, who she hadn't even been asking. "No, girls can't be wizards!"

"Ah," said Master Shylock, "But they can also be quite able lawyers."

"No, they can't," said Tonio. He was turning a little red and looked almost as if he'd cry again.

Master Shylock held up a finger. He waved that finger. "If a girl has a clever mind, hah," he looked at Rachel, "she can dress in a boy's clothes and play a doctor of the law and thwart well worded justice. But," he seemed to consider what to say next, "when her work is done, her only choice is to be what she is not or be confined to skirts again." He looked up towards the ceiling, where there was a faint sound of snoring, "doubly so if she has a Jew's blood and a woman's heart."

"Oh, what happened," said Rachel, fairly certain there was a story here, because she could always tell.

Tonio sat in a chair and Rachel held court on the table, while Master Shylock told an amazing story about an entire race, who were forced to dress as fools by prideful men who thought they were dressed in rich robes, when they were actually naked, and women dressed as men, and a cloak of invisibility and there were at least three magical journeys by flying horse and a dragon. It ended a good deal happier than Master Shylock had started.

It was the best story ever told.

From outside, Rachel could hear the town crier being annoying like always, because no one ever wanted to get up from Second Sleep.

Tonio jumped up. "Oh, Mother will be checking on me. I have to go. Umm… nice to meet you, Master Shylock." He ran out the door, and Rachel had to close the door after him because sometimes she wondered if Tonio hadn't been born in a barn.

Rachel looked out at the pink peeking over the rooftops. "Is it too late for your curse? Please, don't cast it until you've blessed Tonio's house. Not after you told him a story."

Master Shylock sighed. "It would seem that it is too late to cast my curse."

"Sorry," though she was only a little sorry.

Master Shylock looked as if he could tell she was only a little sorry. "I think that if tomorrow you can convince your parents to stay in, and light the lantern, I shall come for a Night Visit." He reached up and brushed the inside of the lintel and then slowly smiled at her. "Perhaps it is time I seek a different sort of revenge." He leaned down. "How would you like to learn to read in Hebrew and learn of your people? You might be required to dress as a boy as we go about the city."

Rachel very much wanted. "Will there be magic?"

Master Shylock looked at her in a way that said yes. But what he actually said was, "Even if your parents forbid it?"

Rachel especially wanted to do it then.

"Even if it is… unchristian?" Master Shylock's face was very serious, but there was a smile somewhere in his toes. Rachel could tell.

Rachel could barely contain how much she wanted to learn and study and have adventures.

"Then," said Master Shylock, "You may definitely expect to see me tomorrow night. I shall bring paper and pen so I can repair the protection on your door. Though," he looked up and down the street, and lowered his voice, "I may turn out to have an even larger secret."

"Even better," said Rachel, who could barely wait until the next night.

Master Shylock lifted the hood of his robes and in a wink disappeared as if he wasn't standing there, while Rachel clapped. Rachel found his hat in the kitchen, which she hid under her pillow as she settled down to Second Sleep.

It was fortunate that she slept through a good deal of the day, because the next night was even more amazing.


Overview: After She Wakes

Story Source: Shakespeare's The Tempest

Summary: In the palace she’d grown up in, when Miranda said, “I’m hungry,” food bustled into the room of its own will. The sheets pulled back on her bed. She wore what she wanted. She slept when she was tired and she ate when she was hungry. She ran when she wanted to run and she was still when she wanted to be still.

Milan was not much like that.

Why: I have to think that was an oddly rude awakening. The loss of magic. The implied soon to occur death of Prospero. Going from a deserted island to a city. The new strictures going from a largely unstructured life on a Mediterranean island to highly structured court life.

Then again, after being put to sleep so often, Miranda gets to wake up, which is no bad thing.

Pairings: Miranda/Ferdinand

Persons of the Story:

  • Miranda, Duchess of Milan, Princess of Aragon and Naples, and but lately inhabitant of an island

  • Ferdinand, Duke of Milan, Prince of Aragon and Naples, and but lately shipwrecked

  • Queen of Aragon, Miranda's Mother-in-Law

  • Ladies, women of Milan


After She Wakes

In the palace she’d grown up in, when Miranda said, “I’m hungry,” food bustled into the room of its own will. The sheets pulled back on her bed. She wore what she wanted. She slept when she was tired and she ate when she was hungry. She ran when she wanted to run and she was still when she wanted to be still.

In the palace she’d grown up in, the only people she’d had to talk to were her father and Caliban. Until Caliban tried to do what he’d done. Until she’d shrank from the very sight of him. Until she’d seen what was in his heart with only just her own hands and her voice to try to save herself.

She’d left the island behind.

Her father died mere days after they sailed into Milan.

Away from their island. Away from food that came when asked or sheets that pulled back. To where Miranda had to wear certain things or speak a certain way. Where it wasn’t that she wasn’t allowed to run. It was that she couldn’t. The weight of her clothes were too heavy. She could hardly breathe with the way her bodice squeezed her.

Still, she loved her Ferdinand. She loved the world that had so many wonders in it.

There were people. Shouting people. Whispering people. Watching people. Loving people. Judging people.

She smiled for her Ferdinand. Her sweet wonderful Ferdinand, who was now both Prince of Naples and Duke of Milan. She was the Princess of Naples and the Duchess of Milan. Although, that didn’t mean that she was to rule. That was for her husband, who smiled and said, “You’ve been so sheltered, my island goddess.”

When they went to visit Naples, her mother-in-law, the Queen would say, “Are you with child yet?” She’d nod. “You have narrow hips. That’s not good.”

Miranda would look down at her hips. She didn’t know how to fix them. She’d say. “I don’t think so.” Then endured an hour of grilling over her eating habits and humours.

At least she knew something of humours. She tried to talk about her father and the things she’d heard him mention, but the Queen would cut her off. “It’s best you not talk of witchcraft.” The Queen looked out the window. “The Inquisition has ears everywhere.”

Sometimes Miranda went to her father’s grave and asked him, “What should I do? I don’t know how to go about being the Duchess. Why didn’t you teach me when you taught me to read?”

Although, given remarks that various she heard people loudly whisper, her father had not been renowned for his ability in that area. The Countess Constance said, “The only wonder is his brother didn’t depose him sooner, as little time as the old Duke spent doing his duty.” Her Count laughed as a reply.

Miranda tried doing her duty. She just wasn’t sure what that was. She asked Ferdinand. Her hero. Her rock on the shore. He kissed her and said, “Why to be my love, my sweet.”

That didn’t really help.

She went to church to pray for guidance. Angels didn’t descend and tell her what to do either. They would have if her father were there.

She heard her Ladies whisper, “At least she’s pious. Have you seen the state of her nails and skin? Run wild all her life she has.”

She looked at her sun browned skin and scrubbed it. She would have looked at her sun bleached hair, but it was pinned tightly under a cap.

Miranda was expected to know things she did not. Sometimes the ladies laughed at her. When Ferdinand smiled at her and patted her hand and told her, “You’re my innocent island goddess.”

He worshiped her tenderly in their bed. She loved his tenderness. She did. She wasn’t sure what more she wanted. Only that she wanted it.

There was no one thing. It was the hundredth time one of her Ladies laughed and said, “Your Highness, don’t you know…” that Miranda stiffened.

A thin thread of metal inside of became quite hard. She smiled and said, “You are dismissed.”

It turned out that she couldn’t exactly dismiss her Ladies. That she needed to always be accompanied lest someone trifle with her. The clear implication was that if this happened, it would be her fault.

She didn’t intend anything more than needing a moment of freedom in the stifling glass bowl she was living in when she opened her father’s trunks. When she opened one of his books to find the spell of invisibility. She knew it was there. She’d seen Father use it.

Miranda learned it and she used it. She had to go back to the books to find a spell to leave a simulacrum in her place. It sat in her clothes at her window embroidering flowers in a hoop. She went to explore the city. She went to walk the streets of Milan. It was nothing like the island. Unseen, people jostled her. The yelling voices hurt her ears.

She didn’t intend anything when she made a spirit of clay to accompany her when she walked about her city, listening to her people. She wanted someone to protect her. She wanted something solid to stand behind. She wanted to use the magic tenderly. It was dangerous stuff she already knew, and would burn through her if she wasn't careful.

Fire may burn, but it was still good for cooking.

She learned a great deal about her city on that first day and the ones that followed. She learned a great deal about the way people laugh and love and lie.

When she was able to speak intelligibly about a dispute over port rights, Ferdinand looked at her. “How did you know that?”

She smiled and pleated her hands. “I’ve been trying to learn.”

He kissed her cheek. “As long as I don’t lose my island goddess.”

She frowned, because she could hardly see how one had anything to do with the other.


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