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Title: Proceedings

Author Eglantine_br

Rating G

Word Count 1086

Kit Marlowe


Cambridge 1581

The awakening boy came, while morning was still leached of color. His hand on Kit's shoulder was gentle, but it was implacable.

“Wake up, Marlowe. Time to get up.” Shaking his arm now. The boy was light on his feet, some scholars hit.

“Nnngh.” Kit twitched his arm away.

“Get up.”

The whisper was piercing. The shaking went on. Kit sat up, scrubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand.

“Aye, leave off. I'm awake.”

This boy was a pale thin creature with a persistent sniffle. He had had ringworm some weeks back, and had had his hair shaved to the skull. It was growing in again, whitish blond. It made him look like a hopeful starving piglet.

“You have a letter.” The piglet held it out.

“I do?”

Kit sat up in bed, still burrowed in his warm blankets, but fully awake now. His heart was pounding. He had never had a letter before. It could not have come from home.

Father could not read but he could sign his name, Kit had seen his signature in the baptismal book, and Father had also signed, Kit knew, at the leatherman's guild. Hard to imagine. His hands looked wrong for writing anyway. They were wide and the fingers red and hard. Father's nails were black and ragged even right after he washed them.

Mother could not read or write. She was clever though. She could add a string of numbers fast as anyone. (She flicked her fingers down by her apron as she did so, which you were not supposed to do, but it was not as if anyone was going to beat her for it.) She knew what to get for the house, and the shoe shop too. She had taught Kit to cast accounts. He had asked her once, long ago, why she never learned to read. She had laughed and said she was right busy enough without the trouble of that too. And she said that book learning was not so important for girls. But Kit had taught Jane. Having a book was a comfort for Jane, she could not run and play much at all, because of the wheezing. Jane was clever, like mother, like Kit. She had learned easily. Soon they put away Kit's horn-book, and Jane could read aloud from the Bible. And that day mother had kissed Kit and Jane both.

So no, this was not from home. It was fine paper, heavy and pale. It was sealed with wax.

He broke the seal with his thumb, quiet as he could. He did not want to share even the sound of this.

The ink was black, and straight. The letters small and fine formed. The letter was short. His heart was shaking under the thin cage of his bones. He put his tongue out, before he could think better of it, and touched it to the letters at the bottom. 'TW' tasted of iron and gall-- of ink.

He knew this could not be a dream. His dreams had never included the piglet boy, and the letter was heavy and real in his hand. His dreams were jumpy things, anyway. They were jumbles of sensation. He tried sometimes to make sensible stories of them, but they resisted. They burned him. He dreamed of the soft fine boots, the sweep of golden hair to the lawn collar, the voice, light and amused. Since last week they had a name now, too. In the dark of his bed he mouthed it silently, 'Thomas,'

He followed the instructions in the letter exactly. The clock sang four as he left by the gate. His Masters had nodded, and let him go.

He found the place, and a place to wait where he could see the door. That was in the letter too. It was quite specific. He had obeyed every detail but one. He had not burned the letter. He had put it under his shirt. It burned there anyway-- in the last fires of boyhood, against his leaping heart.

He asked for small beer, it was musty and thin. He buried his nose in the cup. He faced the door-- not because that was in the instructions--it had been. He faced the door because Thomas would come through it, as an angel takes the stage, with the light behind, all glory. Kit wanted to see that.

But, after all, when the door opened, Thomas came in behind a group of men carrying mattocks. There was quite a lot of mud involved. They seemed not to notice him at all. They seemed not to notice a stray nobleman behind them, though they would have had their hats off in the street. He was dressed in black today, rich man's black, soft and fine. It was a world away from the cloth that scratched Kit's skin.

Thomas smiled and swung his leg over the bench, to sit across from Kit. He signaled for wine.

Kit drank slowly, as they talked of small things. This was, perhaps, what life would be, when the learning was done. He finished his cup, set it down.

“Would you like another?” Thomas still had wine.

Kit shook his head. He had enough coin for the one, ready in his hand. He could drink water the rest of the week. But Thomas raised his cup, drank the wine down quick, all at once. He took out enough money for two, for three, and tossed it onto the table. They went out to the street. Dusky clouds stacked the west, the sun was almost gone and the shadows were cold now.

Kit had thought that they would go indoors to talk, where no one could hear. But Thomas led him to an open field beyond the inn. They stood, open to all sides, in the empty air. Only a goat was near them. It looked with those odd goat-eyes, and found them harmless and dull. It went back to chewing.

“Have you thought, upon my offer?” He asked. “Come along with me today, and see how 'tis done?”

“Yes-- but why me?”

“I was sent to Cambridge, to find someone. Someone to serve my uncle, and the Queen. Why not you?”

“I would like to-- yes.”

“Good.” Thomas smiled. “I had hoped that you would say yes. It pays good money too.”

Kit smiled then, and the laugh burbled up inside him. Of course, it would pay. He had not thought of that.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 12th, 2014 08:25 pm (UTC)
glad to see Kit back and this feeling portrait of his trying to get by at Cambridge

I enjoyed the vignettes of his family
Mar. 12th, 2014 08:43 pm (UTC)
Writing about the spy stuff is hard-- because we don't know what he did. Writing about being a teenager is easy, we all remember it, and most of us had that mix of awkward and secretive.

Not sure what they could do for ringworm in the 1580's. (I knew people in Florida who thought it was caused by an actual worm!)
Mar. 12th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
not sure either = we used to be checked for it at school I think amonst other things

we all remember it = yes though mercifully some of it has now become a blur, which is to be preferred :)
Mar. 12th, 2014 09:10 pm (UTC)
I kind of associate it with childhood. Kids are always touching things that are damp and going swimming in places that are ill advised. We were checked for all that stuff.

Teenage Kit would be so offended by me wanting to hug him! You can see by his portrait that he had a bristly exterior quite young.

Edited at 2014-03-12 09:12 pm (UTC)
Mar. 12th, 2014 11:32 pm (UTC)
He would have hated it certainly - too true
though he might later have thought back to being loved unthreateningly ( don't think that is a word)

my mum as a teenager drank water that was ill advised -she got typhoid and was in the isolation hospital - later as a teacher she used to watch the kids like a hawk on trips !
Mar. 12th, 2014 11:49 pm (UTC)
My grandmother's brother did the same, and died. He was out on a bike trip with one of those weird tall bikes. This would have been about 1900.

I shudder to imagine all the parasites and icky bugs that the early moderns would have ingested just as a matter of being alive. They were wise not to drink much water. Breast milk then straight to booze! Much safer. (Boobs to Booze! There should be a bumper sticker) And it is equally good advice for the Georgian Naval gentleman...
Mar. 13th, 2014 12:08 am (UTC)
mum was in 1940 and she was very ill I think - she was 15 at the time and remembers lying in bed recoverng and listening to the night bombers in the CArdiff docks just a few miles away.

re wine and water - yes I need to check the reference but Susan wrote to Ned worried precisely that he had cut back too much on wine :)
Mar. 18th, 2014 08:23 am (UTC)
I read this at some point last week and never had a chance to comment. Everything is going too fast just now.

You paint these boys so vividly, they shine in front of our eyes. I really like the description of Kit's parents and his mother's quick mind. Strange to think were an intellect like Kit's could come from. That is one of the eternal mysteries. I also love the way you capture the heart pounding excitement of the letter and the meeting. For all his intelligence and fearless curiosity, Kit seems to be getting a little out of his depth.
Mar. 18th, 2014 10:44 pm (UTC)
He is totally out of his depth.

He is a child. You know I started out writing of him as this tough man, a spy, an early modern roaring boy. And he was that maybe, but later. He had almost no free time at all, up to the age of about 22. He just went to school, and to sleep, and that was about it.

So, at 17, in the grip of a soul-consuming first infatuation, Kit is socially innocent. (Physically innocent too.) There is a power imbalance here. TW has social status, he has age, and experience. He is a grown-up. He is not a gifted genius, like Kit, but he is certainly not stupid.

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )