The Banks of the Avon, June 1593.
Terpsichore Danza von den Tanzen.
It took more than two years to complete Will’s Henry VI trilogy. Cli and Nia were exhausted, even though Nia didn’t have much left to do after the first one. Tere…just kept going. I’ve never admired her more for her stamina. But still, it was wearing. I joined my sisters when they worked on battle sequences, and I made several trips to Olympus to consult with Athena and Ares. Cli, I think, nearly broke down several times, trying not to care about the apparently massive desecrations to history, but by the time the third one was complete (before the second one) she had learned to augment his history and add in her own references, that she hoped would lead those in the future to understand that this history was strictly true. When they finished the trilogy, Cli and Nia would go back to Rome for a while to recuperate. And Mel and I would join what had become daily writing sessions by the Avon…
"Read it, Kate."
“ Now, York, or never, steel thy fearful thoughts
And change misdoubt to resolution;
Be that thou hop'st to be; or what thou art
Resign to death- it is not worth th' enjoying.
Let pale-fac'd fear keep with the mean-born man
And find no harbour in a royal heart.
Faster than spring-time show'rs comes thought on thought,
And not a thought but thinks on dignity.
My brain, more busy than the labouring spider,
Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies.
Well, nobles, well, 'tis politicly done
To send me packing with an host of men.
I fear me you but warm the starved snake,
Who, cherish'd in your breasts, will sting your hearts.
'Twas men I lack'd, and you will give them me;
I take it kindly. Yet be well assur'd
You put sharp weapons in a madman's hands.
Whiles I in Ireland nourish a mighty band,
I will stir up in England some black storm
Shall blow ten thousand souls to heaven or hell;
And this fell tempest shall not cease to rage
Until the golden circuit on my head,
Like to the glorious sun's transparent beams,
Do calm the fury of this mad-bred flaw.
And for a minister of my intent
I have seduc'd a headstrong Kentishman,
John Cade of Ashford,
To make commotion, as full well he can,
Under the tide of John Mortimer.
In Ireland have I seen this stubborn Cade
Oppose himself against a troop of kerns,
And fought so long tiff that his thighs with darts
Were almost like a sharp-quill'd porpentine;
And in the end being rescu'd, I have seen
Him caper upright like a wild Morisco,
Shaking the bloody darts as he his bells.
Full often, like a shag-hair'd crafty kern,
Hath he conversed with the enemy,
And undiscover'd come to me again
And given me notice of their villainies.
This devil here shall be my substitute;
For that John Mortimer, which now is dead,
In face, in gait, in speech, he doth resemble.
By this I shall perceive the commons' mind,
How they affect the house and claim of York.
Say he be taken, rack'd, and tortured;
I know no pain they can inflict upon him
Will make him say I mov'd him to those arms.
Say that he thrive, as 'tis great like he will,
Why, then from Ireland come I with my strength,
And reap the harvest which that rascal sow'd;
For Humphrey being dead, as he shall be,
And Henry put apart, the next for me…
It’s perfect, Will. Exactly right to lead up to the battle and Cade’s death. It’s the right preparation. But, now you’re done.” Clio sighed.
“It had to happen, Kate. The only question now is what I will write next. With thee and thy sisters beside me, it is impossible that I should not write another play. But not one based on English history, it was too difficult for thee. Perhaps something further back into the past?”
Mel and Corrie walked up the bank toward the group sprawled out further upriver. Nia was flat on her stomach, dangling her fingers in the river and watching the ripples sparkle in the sun. Cli’s head rested on Will’s lap and she had the last new page of the second part of his Henry VI in her hand. He was stroking her hair while they talked.
“Mel, Cor! Look, the plays are done!”
“But, that’s wonderful! Congratulations, Master Shakespeare!”
“What are your thoughts on the continuation of my writing? What ought I address next?”
Corrie’s face lit up. “Something with a great deal of fighting and bloodshed.”
Mel chimed in, “In the past. Far back, nearly to when we were children.”
“I know.” Clio grinned easily. “Remember Titus and his daughter? That would suit, wouldn’t it, Cor?”
“Perfectly.” Corrie’s eyes sparkled as she looked at Shakespeare.
Clio stood and helped Nia up. “Thank you, Will. We’ll both be back eventually.” Each of them kissed him tenderly and then vanished in a swirl of wool skirts.
Shakespeare looked up at the two new Muses. “What am I to call you?”
“We’re Margaret and Tamora here. Meg and Mora will do.”
“Call me Will.”
The Muses’ Camp. May, 1591.
Melpomene Tragedia de Soupir
It’s a bloody good thing Tere doesn’t hold grudges. She could blame me for listening to Nemesis and I wouldn’t have any real defense. Fortunately, she was more inclined to cast aspersions on Sissy, and we were back to being friends again. So, we all settled in to our roles in our makeshift circus. Corrie got tired of beating me up four or five times a day after a few weeks, so we switched to an acrobatics act. The problem with that being that we had to appear to be boys for the act to maintain standards of decency. For the record, I hate strapping myself down, it’s damned uncomfortable. Thank Olympus we decided on baggy trousers. And on it went, for weeks. And weeks. And weeks…
Occasionally, Tere, Cli, and Nia would slip out in the evening and meet Shakespeare at the College Arms to write, but for the most part, the Muses kept up their act and Shakespeare stayed at home with his wife and three children. The play was apparently coming along fairly well. When they went out, the trio always brought back snippets of text, speeches and dialogues which the group devoured, acting it out in as many ways as they could. Nia blazed as Joan la Pucelle, Mel giggled her way through Margaret, knowing that as the story progressed the lady would become more her type of character. Eri found Suffolk entirely her type and thoroughly enjoyed seducing her sister. They whiled away the evenings with readings and filled the days with performances and the mud thawed out and it was spring.
The hedgerows were all in bloom and the field had gone from icy sodden muck to thick verdant grass. Evening readings were moved outside to enjoy the warmer weather. Rania and Cli took a day and walked to the Avon, after that, the sisters rotated taking days to walk . They all seemed prosperous and pleasant. In reality, they were entirely bored and trying not kill each other. As April passed into May, Corrie and Mel returned to the gladiator act, because it let them beat on each other.
It was the last week of May. The sun was shining, the grass was growing, and Cirkus Pieria was closed for the day, as all its members were settled on the banks of the Avon. Callie was writing an epic about a performing bard whose life never went anywhere. Cli and Lia were lawn bowling, but without much spirit. Eri and Mel were practicing the Suffolk and Margaret scene, but mostly giggling and kissing. Tere was playing her lute, just scales and arpeggios. Nia was making notes in the margins of a table sized illuminated bible. Corrie was swimming in the Avon. Rania was building a model of Jupiter and its moons; if one looked closely, one would see that the pieces were made of gold, silver, and copper.
“Bored.” Lia dropped her ball. “It’s all well and good playing circus for a few weeks, but it’s been five months.”
Her sisters sighed and nodded agreement. Rania pitched a couple of Jupiter’s moons into the river. “What else can we do?”
“Orgy?” Eri asked, overly perkily.
The Muses’ Camp, February 1591.
Thalia Commedia del Risa.
And wasn’t that a mighty kick in the arse? It’s so difficult to be part of a family where manipulation for fun is practically the all family sport. Not that we mind picking on each other, but it’s different. Nemesis had us, good and proper, and it wasn’t as if we could go and complain that we were being abused. After all, we’re demi-goddesses in our own right, it’s expected we’ll have run-ins with the rest of the family, just like it’s expected that we’ll hold our own and pick on the others. Healthy family, us? It’s just our bad luck that most of the family that does the picking on have more…offensive skills than we do. Which by no means should indicate that we won’t or can’t strike back…
“Sissy.” Erato’s voice had the flat quality it acquired when she was trying very hard not to be deliberately violently rude.
“Eri, darling! I haven’t seen you since that one night stand in Venice! Seems like a century ago.”
“A century and a half, Sissy. You’re looking…well.”
“Never better. I had a bit of time off, you know I’m in Spain now? And I thought, ‘I heard my wonderful Muse cousins are just a blink away, I should visit them!”
“And annoy the living daylights out of them.” Tere muttered as she wandered over to sit on the arm of Cli’s chair.
“What kind of greeting is that, Cousin Eutwerpe? It’s so important for the family to get together when we can…”
At the despised childhood nickname, Tere’s neck stiffened, but she showed no other reaction. “Our family is together, Sissy Pissy. Count us, we’re all here.”
“I meant the family at large. The more powerful members of the family taking time to visit with the less important ones…”
The air hummed. It usually did where Tere was annoyed. Eri eyed her sisters and made a decision. “Sissy, my dear, it’s always a pleasure to see you.” She stood and walked languidly over to her cousin. “And it’s so thoughtful of you to visit us and participate in our little affairs.” She hugged the younger goddess and stared at Tere over Nemesis’s shoulder, telegraphing loudly that if anything was going to happen, now would be a good time.
Tere smirked as an idea came to her and she called in a tiny shimmering green sphere. She slipped up behind Nemesis and tucked it into her elaborately arranged hair. When she got back to her seat, she started humming quietly, a repetitive children’s ditty.
Nemesis finally pulled away from Erato, smiling a sultry smile at her cousin. “You should come visit me in Madrid while you’re exiled by your blindly humming sister.”
With that, she vanished. They all watched Clio until she nodded. “She’s gone.”
Tere giggled “She’s going to be hearing that song for weeks. It has to be removed on purpose, it can’t be dislodged or accidentally brushed away. She’ll have to figure out it’s there…”
Mel stood up, looking on the verge of tears. “Tere mia, I’m so sorry I didn’t feel her influence and stop it. I didn’t mean any of that.”
“Of course you didn’t. Don’t worry about it, Melly. It’s a fair point. What are those Muses not immediately working with Will going to do?”
“There are other people in London. We’ll work it out.” Lia smiled in relief, “We should rotate through Elizabeth’s court, always have someone in to collect information. That way, Will’ll always know what she wants.”
“So, one for Bess’s court, one for the rival companies, I should think…We’ll need to have as many as seven and as few as three tasks available.” Calliope had out parchment and a quill and was scribbling notes. In verse, as was her habit. “With those two and one in charge of maintaining our general well-being and our disguise, that’s the constant three. Anyone else can go out and find protégés.”
“Sounds perfect,” Mel smiled at her sisters. “When is Master Shakespeare going to come so we can get started?”
The Muse’s Camp, February 1591.
Urania Stella d’Etoile.
My sisters were…enthralled. It was all they could do to keep up basic day to day functions to maintain the cover we needed until Will decided to return to London. Melly stopped complaining about wrestling with Corrie and Corrie practically danced through her routines. Lia almost forgot to ask money from our customers and Eri ran around barefoot with her cloak off, even though it got colder every day. Cal and Cli embellished their poetry to the point of ridiculousness, spouting off about heavenly Athena and her stormy eyes like the mist at the center of a hurricane in the second immediately following a lightning strike when the wind blows westerly and rain is expected in five to ten minutes but the storm will pass by sunset which is in four hours and seventeen minutes. I mean, really…Nia snapped about four violin strings a day until Tere glared at the instrument and strings stopped breaking entirely. Tere was the only one who looked as calm as I was, which was strange, she’s usually among the most emotional of us. It wasn’t until almost two weeks later, at dinner, that Melly suddenly came up against a problem…
The Muses all stopped eating. Clio closed the book she was reading and Urania stopped turning little balls of bread into a miniature solar system. They sat frozen for about five minutes before Lia turned to Mel. “Psst…What are we waiting for?”
Mel blinked a few times. She seemed as if she had been so stunned by the idea that she had yelled and then frozen herself, with no conscious effort. Lia didn’t buy it and poked her sister in the side.
“Ouch! Zeus, Li, that hurt!”
“Then tell us what you yelled for, idiot. You can’t just yell and then expect us not to do anything until you stop being enraptured by whatever has gotten itself lodged in your brain. If you’re going to study your ideas before discussing them, don’t yell until you’re done studying.”
Mel glared at Lia, then shifted her gaze over to Tere. “You planned this.”
“Planned what, Melly? Dinner? It was Rai’s night. I cooked two nights ago.”
“You were angry at us for…something, I don’t know, so you figured out how to get your revenge on all of us at once.”
“Melly, honey, have you been eating the weeds or the toadstools? You’re acting a little strange.” Tere spaced out her words as if she was speaking to a very small child.
“What did you think we were going to do about it? You just thought ‘Ha-ha, pulling one over on my sisters, going to be the most important for a while and everyone’ll have to see that I’m the queen of the May and Sheba and all the other places with queens!’” She rose as she spoke and hurled her words at her incredibly startled sister.
“What in all good fuck are you talking about?! What am I plotting, Melpomene? You tell me, because, believe me, I haven’t the first idea what I am apparently doing!” Tere stood as well and squared off with her sister.
“You have been planning to send the rest of us into stultifying, mind-numbing, boredom ever since we got here! It will be worse than sitting at home, because at least then it was all nine of us being bored together, but you’ve concocted this little scheme to keep us simmering in stifling tedium while you get to play goddess!”
“You are so far beyond the bounds of natural reason I doubt we could find you with a telescope.”
“Stop. Both of you, this is ridiculous.” Calliope stepped between the two Muses, who looked like they were about to start clawing each other. “Euterpe, you know something isn’t right, step down.” Tere moved to sit on a stool, with one eyebrow raised in displeasure. “Melpomene Tragedia, what in Hades is wrong with you? This isn’t like you at all. Now sit down and breathe. Rai, bring Melly a draught of ambrosia to clear her head. Mel, drink this. Now.” The tone brooked no refusals. Mel drank it and sat silently, glaring at Tere over Callie’s shoulder.
Cli sat in the corner in a large upholstered chair, staring off into space. “There’s something…It’s familiar…It’s…” She sat up, eyes wide, mouth curling into a half amazed, half nasty smile, “NEMESIS!”
A petite dark haired woman in closefitting, not at all period appropriate black blinked into view, sitting on the table next to Mel. Her smile was sharp and wicked. “Hello, cousins.”