art by Tais Teng
A is for Arthur
by Tim Pratt, Jenn Reese, Heather Shaw, Greg van Eekhout
Will stood on the riverbank and lifted a sheaf of papers to the moon. "Here is Arthur," he thundered in the remains of his stage-seasoned voice, "the tragedy of the world's mightiest king, penned by John Shakespeare's boy, a humble Stratford mummer." Bowing deeply, he laughed at his own theatricality. Then he coughed until his breaths came in a ragged whistle.
A twig snapped and Will spun, unsheathing the dagger on his belt. Less than two yards away stood a tall man cloaked in black.
"You call that a Stratford welcome?" said the stranger, his eyes shining like blue flame.
"It was a welcome learned in London," Will panted. The man's hands were large and calloused, but with gracefully tapered fingers.
"You think me a devil," said the stranger. "You believe in such things."
"True," said Will. He considered calling for the constable but doubted it'd do him much good. He'd already shouted his lungs raw at the moon and attracted no notice. Old Dogberry was probably fast asleep in the guild hall doorway.
Without threatening, Will turned the knife to make the blade wink in the moonlight. "Tell me your business or take your leave."
Nodding, the stranger stroked his beard. "Who I am is who I've always been, and what I want is your play."
Will allowed his face no change in expression, but his heart kicked a hammering rhythm. He'd spent his last year at home as a nocturnal creature, ostensibly reading and attending to his business affairs while, in truth, he'd been writing as though his life depended upon it. No one knew about the play. Not even Anne. He was supposed to be retired for good, and if Anne had known he planned to leave again for London…
He studied the stranger's expectant gaze, considered what he ought to do, decided, bolted up the river bank with all the speed he could muster. "Constable!" he managed to shout, his feet struggling for purchase in the mud. "Thieves!"
He surmounted the slope and froze. The stranger had somehow beaten him to the top and now towered over him.
"You were right about the constable, Will. He is asleep. He'll be asleep for a very long time." The stranger reached out, his long fingers uncurling like serpents. "Now. Your play."
With one hand, Will held the papers tighter. With the other, he leveled the knife blade at the stranger's fiery eyes.
"Go on, then," he said. "Take it."