Chapter One and Chapter Two free below, try before you buy.
Not an adaptation of the original Shakespeare play but the play as seen through Steampunk era glasses with all the original Shakespearean speech from the play, updated to make it more understandable for a first read, before further study.
Romeo And Juliet - The Novel
A Steampunk Solution by Stephenson Holt
Chapter One free below.
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Act One Scene One.
Nobody knew his real name except his close family and a few close friends. It was a name lost in the mists of time. From the age of eight when he’d made his own lifting-weights from rope, stick and stone he’d been known to all that knew him as Sampson which was a commonly used word for a forced increase in size, the verb being to sampson. His broad, muscular, shoulders so admired by young women from both of the adjoining towns were emphasised by his tight fitting waistcoat and the pleated sleeves of his shirt that was woven from cheap, itch-forming, cloth from the mill owned by a rich family where, for some years he had been a loyal and hard-working servant.
Sampson looked a servant but a swashbuckler servant if ever there was one and he knew it. From his shoulder length blond hair to his toes he tried hard to look the part and that included the buckler shield in his left hand, ready to protect himself against any Montague sword swashes. It wasn’t an attacking buckler, the type operated by the hand and designed, through a pulley system, to grip any sword that landed at a tangent; that was way out of his cost-range and his skills of fashioning. This buckler, that he’d made for himself, was fashioned from a piece of oak-wood that he’d found discarded and had once been the plinth to a statue. Steamsaw and hand planes were used to shape it and the polished brass centerspike and borderingedge came from scrap pieces he’d found at the domainlette discard-dump and the whole had been lacquered to make it look more flamboyant than it actually was.
The brown, hard wearing, leather of his waistcoat, dry and cracked through lack of expensive oils, formed a background for his silver watch chain. The clockwork on the end of the chain was highly decorated having six spikes to keep it in-pocket, away from theft. Being an almost accurate timing piece it had been passed down through his family, originally belonging to his grandfather’s father who had made all of it, down to filing the teeth of the cogs on a steam generated file on his workbench. The clockwork was his family’s most treasured possession. The steamfile was gone now, who knew where but Sampson still had the minuscule steampunch that fashioned the watch case and provided the trellis work
From working age, such a strong boy had been destined to work as servant and protector for the family of the owner of the Capulet Steam Mill centred in the dorm area of his town, Capuletville. The Capulet Steam Mill (and, also for that matter, the Montague Steam Mill in Cap-Montagne, on the other side of the river that flowed from the lakes) was situated over a near-magma-deep, heat-sinkhole, bored out by past family generations and, using lake water, was capable of producing steam to operate the mill and also provided heat and steam for cooking in the houses of the dorm areas that surrounded the mill. Sampson’s two brothers worked actually inside the mill, operating machinery that wove cloth, steam hammered plates and utensils, fashioned swords and shield pieces and generally made their master rich. He had one sister in service and one earning well in the whore house.
His black trews were skin-tight leather into high knee-boots and he sported on his left side a sword attached to a low slung belt copying the current fashion of the rich. His dagger-knife, ready for threat, close combat and for eating with was single strapped to his right thigh. It had been quoted in The Histories that an appearance can deceive you and so it was with Sampson who, appearing to be the slayer of dragons and men was more likely to retreat to a safe spot during a fight saying that he was studying the opposition before getting involved.
He was apprehensive as he walked with his fellow servant and friend as The Authority had stopped two massive brawls in recent times, each involving bloodspill and these were brawls between the Capulet family that he served and the Montague family and he didn’t want to be accused of starting the third brawl. The Authority was losing patience and punishment-by-hanging had been gossiped about but not yet formally announced. He always paid attention to his more intelligent friend now by his side, Gregory, a fellow servant to the Capulet family, who was prone to push Sampson into boasting but was also a good friend and protector to him.
The two had the same day off work and had drifted from what they saw as the boring Capuletville dorm-area into the central commercial area that was sat on an island where the river split in two, an island that served both towns through eight connecting bridges. They wanted to play each other in an Arcadia where, for a little chink of coinage, you could operate the 3D lighter-than-air-ships over real looking landscapes and send firebrand arrows from the side carriage if your enemy was in range. Just like The Authority Ships, the gaming lighter-than-air-ships had seven skins, so it took a while to bring one down and they marvelled that the Babbage machines had the power to keep the ships airborne without wires showing.
Young men had stopped trying to bring down the real Authority lighter-than-air-ships with arrows because of the seven skins protecting seven gas layers but still, some arrows could be seen occasionally flying into the air, fired by immatures who really knew that the ships flew higher than their arrow range. It was a statement against authority, nothing else.
On the way to the Arcadia they chatted as they casually browsed the shops, browsed even more the local women and hoped to taunt their rivals into possibly starting a brawl to make sure The Authority blamed the Montagues for any troubles. Sampson was in boasting mood, an over the top boasting mood. He was staring at a young woman scurrying past, unable to discern which area or town she came from but, with that bum that was wiggling that shapely bustle, waving itself at him, who cared?
“I ain’t taking any shit today.” He said absentmindedly and almost to himself, trying to boost his ego but rather waking Gregory, who was staring at the same bustle, out of his daydream.
Gregory smiled at the big fella’s sham bravery. “Well, that’s good because if we did actually take up some shit then I think that would make us shit shovelers and the lowest of the low, even lower than our servant level.”
A smiling Sampson was not put off by his friend’s comment, deliberately misunderstanding him and telling him he was stating the obvious. “If we get angry we’ll get our swords out, no problem” It was almost a question and he looked at his friend for agreement and a desperately needed support, to make sure he wouldn’t find himself alone in a fight.
Gregory looked pensive, casually took a bite on an apple he’d earlier stolen from the Capulet kitchen and was chewing before answering. “Yeah, I know, as long as you’re up and about you’ll manage to get out of the shit and avoid hanging for starting an argument.”
Sampson was more interested in talking about fighting than talking shit. His large frame provided a big target but his long arms provided extra sword length and his arm muscles were slow to tire. Without drawing his sword which would have meant drawing attention to himself from other shoppers or from possible Authority spies, he mimed a thrust into nowhere. “When I’m angry I can move this quickly.”
Gregory mimed a parry to Sampson’s thrust, looked up into the sky to make sure that the Authority weren’t looking down from their lighter-than-air-ship and getting the wrong idea and mentioned to Sampson that perhaps it was lucky that he didn’t get angry too often.
Sampson snarled like a dog making Gregory laugh at the impersonation of a dog being angry and laughed again when Sampson snarled out in the same dog-like voice. “Those dogs of Montague move me to anger.”
Gregory liked the dog joke but thought it was time his friend faced a tiny bit of reality. “Yes, I suppose so, but listen Sampson, if someone is that angry they’d stand still, not be pushed around and they would actually fight. I’m thinking that if you got angry and felt moved in a fight, your move would be to move swiftly away from the fight.”
Sampson wasn’t taking that, not even from his friend. His simple mind had not worked out that Gregory was goading him into making bigger and bigger boasts. He puffed out his chest. “All Montagues are dogs and make me angry and, whatever you say they won’t budge me. I’ll stand with my back to the wall and have any Montague, man or woman mind, I’ll take them all.”
Gregory pointed to a horse drawn cart coming along the narrow street towards them, the steam pistons on the back wheels that had helped the horse uphill from one of the bridges over the river hissed to a close as the valves shut down and the horse pulled its load on the flat, unaided by steam. To avoid them being crushed Gregory playfully pushed Sampson to one side of the street while he pressed himself against the wall opposite. After the high horse had passed, Gregory could see Sampson over the low load on the cart and shouted over to him. “Then you’re the weak one because we all know that the weakest go to the wall, or did you want to be crushed by that horse that was bigger and stronger even than you?”
Sampson, as usual, was getting confused by his friend’s quicker wit and thought about what he himself had just said, looking for a way out. “That’s true, and it’s true that women are weaker than us and in a fight they get pushed against the wall.” He thought again about what he’d said and his answer came out slowly with a gap between each word as if he was trying to work things out in his head but speaking his thoughts. “I’ll push the Montague men away from the wall where they can fight me and I’ll push their women against the wall.” He nodded to himself, pleased with the way he’d worked out an answer.
Gregory also nodded, he liked Sampson’s reasoning. The cart having passed they moved to the centre of the street and walked together again. “It’s not just our boss’s fight, it’s ours as well because our very jobs depend on our boss’s profits.” Gregory was reminding both of them of the obvious fact of life.
“I agree. I’ve always been a tyrannical fighter for Old Capulet. After I’ve beaten the Montague men to a pulp, I’ll be just as cruel to their women and cut off their heads.”
Gregory thought that might be going a bit too far. “You’d cut off the heads of young virgins?” The pair weren’t anywhere near being classed as gentlemen but aspired to be so in their actions and what Sampson was suggesting was not gentlemanly by any stretch of the imagination.
Sampson pushed out his chest again and placed his hand between his legs clutching his private bits. “Yes, either cut off their heads or break their maidenheads for them. I guess you can take what I said either way.”
Gregory laughed out loud. He’d been in the hot showers next to the kitchens with Sampson and knew it wasn’t only his shoulders that were large. “Any of those virgins you take will certainly know it. They will definitely feel you Sampson.”
The smile on Sampson’s face was one of smugness and pride. His walk turned into an over-emphasised swagger. “They’ll each feel me as long as I can stay erect. I’m known for being well endowed in those parts.”
Gregory was jealous of his friends female conquests even though he sometimes benefitted by being the friend that received the female friend of Sampson’s conquest. “It’s a good job you’re not a fish or you’d be dried out by now. Talking of your tools you can prepare to get one of them out now, two Montague guys are coming towards us.”
The two coming into sight were known to Sampson and Gregory, though not by name. They were dressed similarly in hard wearing leather servant clothes but these were fashioned a bit newer, more modern in style, a bit like a livery uniform in the style of the house of Montague. Abraham and Balthasar looked completely unconcerned at the sight of the two Capulet men. They were higher in station, personal servants, and Balthasar had recently become the personal servant to the young man that was Romeo who was destined to one day inherit the Montague fortune.
Sampson went into boastful mood but still needed Gregory to protect him. “My naked weapon is almost out, if you know what I mean, you start an argument and I’ll back you up.”
Gregory had seen it all before. “Yeah, right. By turning and running you mean.”
Sampson looked at his friend with a look on his face that showed Gregory that he felt offended. “Don’t worry about me mate.”
“Oh, but I do worry about you.” Gregory wanted to make sure that if there was a fight it wouldn’t be two against one with the odds stacked against him.
They both looked up as a dark cloud seemed to momentarily obscure the light from the sun. They both watched as an Authority lighter-than-air-ship hovered, not directly over them but only one street away. The Authority bowmen were clearly visible but it wasn’t clear whether their arrows were stun arrows or real ones. The pair looked at each other with worried expressions and Sampson spoke first, softly to Gregory. “Make sure it’s not us that breaks the law mind, let them start something first and be the ones that get into trouble.”
Gregory wanted to keep things simple anyway so agreed “I’ll give them a dirty look and see how they take it.”
But Sampson still felt hurt at his friend’s comments suggesting his cowardice and wanted to prove himself by upping the stakes. “They can do what they want with your dirty look, I’m gonna toss the vics at them, that’ll be a great insult if they let me get away with it.”
It was too much for Abraham to take and he shouted angrily at the Capulet pair. “Oi, are you sticking the Vs up at us matey?”
Sampson was fine with an exchange of banter. “I did toss the vics, yes.”
Abraham’s face was frighteningly stern and he knew he’d been insulted but needed to make absolutely certain that he was the one being provoked into a fight by insult and was not the one starting things. He spoke through gritted teeth “Yes, I saw that but did you stick them up at us, mate?”
Sampson wasn’t sure how to answer. He looked up again and the airship had moved on but there were still plenty of witnesses around the street, some of them now watching with a concern for their own safety on their face. Turning to Gregory, Sampson looked for guidance. “If I say yes, is the law on our side, d’you think?”
Gregory was certain in his reply and still had a small part of his apple left. He wanted to see how Sampson would keep his conversation going. “Nope” was his terse answer as he casually took a bite out of the stump, not wishing to leave anything but the apple stalk.
Sampson seemed relieved that he’d been given a way-out of fighting and shouted back with a casual tone. “No, not at you, just sticking them up generally at the world.”
Gregory didn’t want to be associated with his friend’s climb-down so ramped things up. “Are you out here looking for a fight then?” He spoke directly to Abraham with his hand on his unsheathed sword.
Abraham replied to Gregory’s question but, while doing so he was staring and sneering towards Sampson, knowing he was the one more likely to back down. “It’s not me looking for a fight.” He said to Sampson’s face, implying it was going to be Sampson’s fault if a fight was started.
Sampson took the stare and snarled back, copying Abraham’s voice. “If you want a fight you can have one. My boss is just as big as your boss.”
Abraham laughed out loud at the comment that sounded childish, a bit like my dad’s bigger than your dad. He dismissed the comment. “Mine is no better or worse than yours.” And he laughed again.
Sampson provoked Abraham without realising it. “You can think whatever you want mate.” He meant it harmlessly as if he was giving permission for the thought, but the insinuation taken was that Abraham was wrong.
The four servants faced each other and bystanders gave them a wide berth feeling that a fight was starting. Both servant pairs noticed a man approaching from behind the other pair but neither pair noticed both newcomers. The Montague servants, Abraham and Balthasar noticed Benvolio Montague, the son of Montague’s brother, approaching from behind the Capulet servants while Sampson and Gregory were unaware of that but saw Tybalt coming up behind their Montague foes. Tybalt was referred to and looked on as being a close member of the Capulet family although he didn’t share that name, being the son of Lady Capulet’s brother. Both pairs believed themselves to soon have the advantage of being a three.
Both Benvolio Montague and Tybalt were dressed differently from the four servants. No hard wearing leather but soft and well stitched cloth from the finest materials from their respective mills, rich embroidery highlighted panels in the cloth. Benvolio Montague was known as a peacekeeper but Tybalt liked people to think he was all for keeping the peace but, in reality he enjoyed a good scrap and was a very good swordsman, taught by experts from other countries.
Gregory suddenly felt a lot braver. He enjoyed the feeling, mistaken as it was, of three against two and addressed the Montague servants with a smile. “You’d better say our boss is better than your boss because here comes one of his family.” Gregory pointed behind Abraham towards Tybalt.
Abraham wasn’t going to fall for that old ‘look behind you’ trick and kept his stare forward. “Liar.” He spat back.
Sampson was riding on a high. If Gregory could get tough then so could he. “You’ll get out your weapon if you’ve got any balls. Greg, give them a slash with your sword.”
The four of them started fighting and the clashing of swords made the bystanders take note and even back away. Shopkeepers feared a further drop in sales as shoppers would likely stay away from buying anything but essentials, quick to buy and return home away from the troubles. As the fight went on it was evident that either all four were very good at defensive play and shielding themselves with their bucklers or the attacks were half hearted. Benvolio Montague arrived and was shouting, annoyed that a bunch of half-witted servants could get both the families into trouble. He joined in by trying to beat down all four swords. “Oi, stop you imbeciles, stop that fighting, you don’t know what you’re doing.” Benvolio shouted.
Tybalt walked into the fight area as if he was called Mr. Cool of the Capulet household. He ignored the sounds of clashing swords and placed, on a table in the square, a package of clothes he’d just picked up from his tailor; the latest fashions copying those from the Empire Hub but made with cloth from his uncle Capulet’s mill. He loved the situation before him. The fight had already started so he couldn’t be accused of attacking first. In front of him was a three on two so he would be merely evening up the numbers but he wasn’t beyond a bit of stirring things up with his words before casually joining the fight.
“Benvolio Montague, you’re waving around that sword, backed up by these two cowards. Pick on someone of your own class. Turn around to fight me and prepare to die.”
Benvolio answered him while still fighting defensively. “I’m just trying to keep the peace here as you can see, either put away your sword or use it to help me stop these four idiots before one of them hurts someone or themselves.”
Tybalt moved alongside the Capulet servants, it was the ideal situation for him. He could join in, he could legitimately fight Benvolio Montague and it was obvious to all that Benvolio had joined in before he did. “You have your sword out, you’re trying to kill someone, but you talk of peace. I hate you using the word peace and I hate all Montagues and you especially Benvolio. Take this you chicken.” His very first encounter took Benvolio by surprise and ripped Benvolio’s sleeve leaving a small cut on his arm.
The six were wrapped up in their exclusive little brawl, unaware of the rest of the world. They didn’t notice that the local shopkeepers, fed up with lost trade due to scared people staying at home, were being backed up by shoppers who were also fed up with the constant brawling. They were all approaching the fight with clubs, spears and anything else they could lay their hands on. Some of them were so fed up they were shouting. One shouted to those without weapons “Get your clubs, spears, anything you can. Beat them back to their town dorm areas where they all belong.” Another, fed up with arguments from both mill towns shouted. “Down with the Montagues and down with the Capulets.”
While all this was going on and the din was getting louder and louder Old Capulet the mill owner walked around the corner. He’d not been shopping but was parading around the town with a wife who was half his age wanting everyone to know how virile he was and how attractive he was to all women, even those women much younger than himself. He normally appreciated the smiles that came his way and had never interpreted them as smirks of derision from people who thought that Lady Capulet had offered subservient marriage to him just for his money.
The gossip was that she was the type to use her position of power to get the best for her daughter Juliet Capulet who it was rumoured she was grooming to be powerful among men in defiance of The Authority. It was generally talked about in the towns that Lady Capulet flouted the law but was not reprimanded because The Authority needed her and her husband’s power over their family if they were ever going to stop the family feuding and brawls. She was wearing a low cut corset under a see-through fabric dress that was also low cut. She was dressed as if she were on her way to a party rather than strolling around the streets. It was surely only a matter of time before she would be questioned by The Authority about possible female power seeking.
Old Capulet took off his top hat and shouted out to scare the fighters with his presence. “What’s this noise, go and get me my big sword now.”
Lady Capulet smiled. The last thing she wanted was to lose her old husband and the bringer of her wealth in a common fight. She needed a few more years out of him before the intended husband of her daughter, Juliet, took over the mill, keeping mill ownership and the power that came with it with her and her daughter. She turned to Old Capulet and spoke quietly so as not to show him up in public. “Crutches to hold you up you need my darling, you’re too old now for a sword and anyway you’ve left your sword at home.”
Capulet was affronted and even angrier. “No way, I need a sword now. Old Montague is waddling down the road, waving his sword about and taunting me.”
Old Montague was waving his sword, but in frustration rather than taunting. He and Lady Montague had also been out for a Sunday morning stroll when they’d heard the commotion. They were of similar age to each other and, although just as rich, did not dress as flamboyantly as the Capulets or, as they called them in private, the money grabber and the baby snatcher. Old Montague wished he was younger and able to make a difference in the fight. Lady Montague had wisdom with her years and was holding the tails of her husband’s coat, stopping him from moving forward. They had a single son, a spoilt dreamer called Romeo that worried them and she was looking to see if their inexperienced young boy was in the fight.
Although Old Capulet thought Montague was taunting him with his sword, Montague was just frustrated and was waving his sword in the air because he was unable to move. Unable to get any nearer to the fight, he shouted at Capulet. “You bastard Capulet.” Then turned to his wife “Get off me woman, let me go will you.”
Lady Montague was firm in her instruction. “You’re not going one more pace towards your old enemy.” She had promised subservience to her husband, years ago, but still had some say in the matter of his safety.
Unseen by all, the lighter-than-air-ship that had been seen earlier over the adjoining street had arrived directly over the fight and was making a stop-go film of what was happening. The ship had stopped and tied anchor at the pole that was on the high fishmonger building and written orders had been added to a capsule-tube that was placed in the steam tube on the chimney stack and the pressure had sent the message down through the fishmongers shop, into the underground system where it had arrived at Authority Barracks within seconds. Authority men had arrived, swords drawn, and were now surrounding the fighters who were forced to stop fighting, although some were more grateful than others for the ending of the fight.
A megaphone sound-amplifier in the airship was cranked and started low but built up volume until, in operation with sound bounce, echoing through the tubes, the speaker’s voice exited the horn fifteen times louder than it went in. It was Prince Escalus head of The Authority for this domainlette of Verona that included both towns and the commercial island area between them. He did not sound or look happy. He spoke to the feuding families as shoppers and shopkeepers slunk away believing themselves to be innocent bystanders and peacekeepers only.
“You lot dare to rebel against the stated wishes of The Authority? You are spoiling the peace yet again. You who insist on fighting with swords and daggers, how many times do you need to be told?”
They all looked up, scared of being hung and feeling the tension in their neck from the strain of their head angle. The Prince Of Authority had not finished.
“You lot I’m talking to. I don’t know if you’re men or animals, because when you’re fired up with anger, you think they can dowse that fire with blood spurting from veins like a bloody fountain? Throw down those weapons now. I represent The Authority – police, judge, jury and executioner. Listen to my sentence on you all now.”
The swords hit the ground in a clatter of steel with the word “executioner” on everyone’s mind. The Prince’s voice that had started out loud was diminishing and movement could be seen behind him. Someone was cranking a handle vigorously trying to get the voice louder again.
“This is the third big brawl in as many weeks, each started by an insult - yes we have heard the way this fight started, we hear everything up here. You’re ruining this place, ruining trade, ruining the peaceful strolling about of the locals. We’ve had enough and I hereby swear to you that the next persons, on either or both sides, that cause a fight will be executed by hanging.”
The fighters each gulped. Difficult to do with your head forced back, looking upward. Those that had started the insults and had apparently been overheard gulped loudest. The Prince knew it was only the bosses talking to their men that could possibly bring peace so concentrated on them. The Prince was looking at Lady Capulet partly in anger that she couldn’t be reprimanded for her illegal actions but partly also because her low neckline looked even lower from his high viewpoint. He could not take his eyes off her as he addressed her husband and she suppressed a knowing smile.
“Capulet, make your way now to Authority Barracks, I’ll speak to you there.”
Lady Capulet smiled openly, knowing the power she wielded and feeling the power held by her female ancestors coursing through her veins. On the other side of the brawl, Old Montague smiled also but the smile soon left his face.
“Montague, I’ll see you at the same place this afternoon, I want to speak to both of you individually.”
Having been reprimanded the younger fighters reached down for their swords, lying on the floor. As they started to move the Authority guards moved toward them, stopping them picking up what the fighters then realised were confiscated weapons. The megaphone struck up again.
“Do you not understand me? Once again then idiots, go home in peace without weapons, if, that is, you don’t want to hang out to dry.”
They all left amid a few snarls and grumbles about the cost of a new sword. They were watched closely by the Authority Guards who were there to make sure that each family went in different directions. Montague grabbed the arm of his brother’s son Benvolio Montague and, along with Lady Montague, they all agreed to go for refreshment and a chat at a corner coffee house. Montague wanted to get the story of how the fight had started clear in his head before his afternoon meeting with the Authority Prince.
Old Montague stirred his cappuccino and looked Benvolio Montague in the eye while talking softly, not to be overheard. “Someone was to blame for starting the fight this morning, tell, me, were you there from the very beginning?”
Benvolio knew that he wasn’t there from the start and had appeared as the four servants had just about started fighting but knew where to lay the blame and defend himself. “It was your enemy’s servants that started it but your own servants were involved as well. I only got my sword out to separate them. That was until that idiot Tybalt turned up with his sword slashing all over the place but without hurting anyone. I tried reasoning with him but you can’t talk to someone like that. As you know, while we were fighting, everyone joined in until the Authority Prince turned up in his lighter-than-air-ship with his guards on the ground and they stopped everything.”
Old Montague seemed satisfied that his afternoon meeting with the Prince would go well but Lady Montague had other worries. The mother hen was concerned over the safety and health of her only son who she still felt needed looking after even at the age of fifteen. “Yes but where’s Romeo, have you seen him today? I’m glad he wasn’t part of the fight. That’s one good thing at least.”
Benvolio had seen Romeo earlier and been ignored by him so had to be careful how he explained their near meeting to Romeo’s mother without making her son seem rude. “About an hour before the sun came up in the east I went out walking because I couldn’t sleep. You know the sycamore grove to the west of our town, well, I saw him there but when I moved toward him he quickly dived into the trees so I had to assume that he wanted to be alone.” Then he realised that he may well be making their son out to be rude. “I didn’t mind though, as I quite wanted to be on my own as well.”
Old Montague was concerned at the news. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard about Romeo walking alone at night but he’d not mentioned it to his wife. He turned to Lady Montague. “It’s not the first time this has happened, others have seen him at the same place and looking depressed and even sometimes crying. One old poetic bard that I know, who also knows Romeo, told me he cries so much that he adds to the dew on the grass and that the steam from his mouth that gives out huge, long sighs, adds to the morning clouds. Romeo must really enjoy the night because as soon as the sun comes up he goes to his room and closes the curtains to make it look like night again. It’s not good and it’s not getting any better. He needs to talk to someone, to get it out of his system.”
Benvolio, being of a much closer age to Romeo than Romeo’s parents, thought that he might be able to help if he knew what the problem was so asked the parents if they knew why Romeo was depressed and whether they’d really tried hard to find out. Old Montague had no idea what was wrong and told Benvolio that Romeo wouldn’t talk to him about it. “My friends have tried as well but like a flower bud that can’t function properly and open into a flower because it’s being eaten by a grub inside, Romeo can’t function normally and is being eaten up inside as well.” He wanted both Benvolio and his wife to know that spending his cash was an option and not holding back a cure. “We have money and if we knew what the problem was we’d pay to get it fixed.”
As they were all thinking over the conversation and finishing their coffees Romeo surprisingly walked in and stood in the queue, ready to place an order at the counter. He was dressed as expensively as Benvolio, posh clobber made from the best of his mill’s cloth, but everything seemed too big and baggy on him. The latest style was for tighter trousers and Romeo’s were baggy and light grey; his shirt, blue and white stripes, more suitable for a young woman, was covered in a baggy light green washed-out jacket. It was his own style. He hated the idea of following the latest fashion and saw himself as an individual that wore clothes that expressed his poetic individuality. He seemed pre-occupied and didn’t see his family sat in the comfortable chairs in the corner. Benvolio had an idea. “Look, Romeo is in the queue. Why don’t you two slip off and I’ll have a heart to heart conversation with him, see if I can get to the bottom of things.”
Old Montague thought that was an excellent idea but knew Lady Montague’s concern meant she would want to be with her son, so he took authority and bossed her. “I’m glad you’re willing to stay and do that Benvolio, come on my Lady, let’s get out of here before he sees us.” And he grabbed Lady Montague by the arm and dragged her through the door as she looked over her shoulder towards her son.
Benvolio left his bag and his empty sword sheath on the table top to keep the area reserved. He approached his cousin who had moved down the queue but they couldn’t speak for a moment as the coffee-barrister had started a machine that had the flying sort of cogs that were turning sword-like blades to cut something up. Probably the coffee beans Benvolio thought as he watched until the bladed cogs stopped. As the steam was released it vaporised and tubed itself to the cups of the young couple in front of Romeo.
At last in silence from the machine Benvolio was able to speak. “Morning Cuz. I have a table if you want to join me.”
Romeo looked a bit puzzled having lost track of time. “You just said morning. Is it still that early?”
Benvolio pulled on the chain leading to his waistcoat pocket and in one single, suave movement, caught his clockwork, flicked open the case and announced “It’s only just gone nine hours.” He smiled back at Romeo to make light of his confusion over the time of day.
Romeo had come into the coffee shop because he’d noticed the interior limelights dimming, burning out to leave the room in a gloomy state. He prayed that the lamps would not be replenished because he was hoping to sip coffee until sun-gone. The owners normally allowed him a seat as long as he kept ordering more coffee and Romeo was happy as the coffee kept him awake through his night time walks.
“God the hours drag. Was that my father I saw sneaking out without saying hello?” It wasn’t said with concern, more a feeling of indifference from Romeo.
“It was your father, yes, but tell me, if your day appears to be dragging and it’s only nine hours into the day, what’s depressing you?” Benvolio had cleverly spotted an opening into the conversation that he needed to have with his cousin.
“That’s easy. It’s not having the thing that would make the hours fly by.” Romeo replied in his usual, cryptic poet’s manner.
Benvolio probed further. “I think I’m getting the feeling that there’s a female involved here and you might be in love.”
“No. Out.” Another cryptic reply.
That confused Benvolio, he was not one for riddles. “Out. You mean you’re out of love?”
“No, out of luck. I’m out of luck with the girl I love.”
Benvolio at last knew where he stood, as he knew what unrequited love felt like and also remembered what young love felt like when he was Romeo’s age. He had enough experience of love to know how fleeting the feeling could be when you’re that age as he’d seemed to have fallen in love once a moon phase back then so he ventured an opinion. “Ah, a weird thing love. When you look at it from a distance it looks great but when you experience it yourself it can be a right bitch.”
They started to walk towards Benvolio’s table to sit in the comfy chairs. Romeo spoke to his cousin as he carried his coffee and a small cake that would last him the whole day. As they walked Romeo tried to explain his situation. “It’s shocking that love seems to all intents and purposes to be blind itself but is still able to lead you along paths where you don’t know where you’re going. By the way, where shall we eat?” Benvolio pointed to the table with his bag and sheath on top and they sat. Romeo relaxed and enjoyed the corner position where he wouldn’t be overheard and could open up to his cousin.
Romeo looked down at Benvolio’s empty sword sheath on the table, looked up again and noticed for the first time two sword-rips on Benvolio’s sleeve one having signs of bloodspill around the edges of the rip. “Oh dear, what kind of fight went on here today before I arrived? No, you don’t have to tell me, it’s the same old story isn’t it. There’s hatred in this place for the Capulets and it’s in me as well but, at the same time there’s more love in me, burning away at me.” He moved his head closer to Benvolio and went all poetic again trying to explain in words, not only all the opposing feelings in his body but also the way that his latest target Rosaline thought in the opposite way to the way that he did. He hated those opposites and blamed them for the turmoil in the pit of his stomach. “Can you imagine the turmoil in me? I’m fighting love and, at the same time, loving the thought of a fight. It just seems to me that everything is fighting with its opposite. Do I feel heavy hearted or the light touch of love? Should we be taking vanity seriously, looking at the chaotic shape of a perfect structure, feathers made of lead, smoke clear enough to see through, fire that’s cold to touch, a healthy sickness. There’s no way I can even start to describe love and what I’ve just said is nowhere near what it is. I feel love but not the love of these opposites. This fight against each opposite... You’re taking me seriously, why aren’t you laughing?”
“Because pal, I’d rather cry!” Benvolio looked seriously at Romeo, concerned for his mental state. He genuinely felt for Romeo’s confusion at first love with a girl who, Benvolio realised, he still didn’t know the name of.
Romeo was afraid that his state of mind was becoming contagious “Oh come on, tell me why cousin.”
“Because you are so depressed and I’m worried about you.”
Romeo sat way back in his chair, his coffee was untouched and going cold. He growled too loudly making some other drinkers look around at him. He brought the front legs of his chair back down to the floor and addressed Benvolio more quietly. “Can’t you see? This is the terrible thing that love does. The misery that it causes just spreads to everyone around it. This is just making me more depressed frankly. I can see in your eyes that now you have the depression that started off in my guts.”
Romeo looked down at the table, still unable or unwilling to notice his coffee or cake. In his mind the experience he was going through was unique to him and had never been experienced by anyone else before. He had to explain his situation to his cousin who, may have felt he’d been in love but could never have been as in-love as Romeo now felt – nobody could have, surely. His mind went back to catching a glimpse of Benvolio that morning as he’d sat near the sycamores and had watched as his own warm breath vaporized in the cold pre-dawn air. “Love is like a smoke screen made up of people’s sighs. It’s a poison that chokes you. It gives you a secret madness but, at the same time, a sweetness that makes life bearable as well.” He got frustrated, unable to express fully this feeling inside him and, in trying, he was just getting embarrassed. “Look I can’t talk to you, Goodbye my friend.” He stood, the chair scraped horribly on the tiled floor and people turned to stare again.
Benvolio stood, fearing he’d failed in his quest to lighten the mind of his uncle’s youngest son. “Cool down.” He said too loudly, and when Romeo stopped in his tracks with his back to him he repeated it. “Cool down” again but quieter this time. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for you. Please don’t insult me by just walking off like that.”
Romeo turned slowly and smiled in appreciation for the help that was being offered but still felt that nobody could help him. “My brain is confused Benvolio and my head is somewhere else, you’re not really talking to me, it’s not me that insults you by leaving but someone else’s headspace.”
Benvolio gestured for Romeo to sit down again and then sat himself. Romeo did sit and, absentmindedly, drank the cold coffee that had only just appeared in his consciousness. Benvolio made one last effort. “I know you are sad and I can appreciate it even if you think I can’t but, at least tell me her name, that’s bound to help, if only a little bit.”
Romeo looked even sadder, even more embarrassed and without moving his face, his eyes looked up at his cousin. “What, one long groan to get it out of my system with her name at the end of the groan?”
“You don’t have to groan or growl – people will stare again – just quietly, even though you’re sad, just whisper her name. I promise you it will make things easier having her name out from inside you.”
Romeo sighed for the millionth time that day and tried to explain, partly to himself and partly to Benvolio, why he couldn’t feel sensible. “If you were talking to a really sick and dying man, you wouldn’t mention to him that he should be sensible and make his will would you? That would make him more depressed and could actually finish him off. Sadly for me I am in love with a woman.”
Benvolio laughed “Well I think I guessed that when I first guessed you were in love.”
Romeo had half a smile on his face for the first time in days, not from any relief but through picturing the woman he loved in his mind. “You’re a cracking marksman and have sussed me out. She’s really beautiful the woman that I’ve targeted.” His half smile turned into a smile.
Benvolio returned the smile, wide eyed and with a knowing leer on his face, recognizing the lust built up in Romeo. “She sounds like the type of target that is just waiting to be hit with your straight arrow, if you know what I mean.”
The smile left Romeo’s face quicker that it had first appeared. “Your assumption is wrong. She won’t allow herself to be hit. She’s a confirmed virgin and probably wears a chastity belt of her own choosing. I’ve tried all my best banter with her but none of the usual stuff works.” He looked down at the table again, talking to Benvolio but also talking to himself as if mulling it over in his mind. “Me staring at her all the time is beginning to piss her off, big time. I’ve offered her gold and presents enough to tempt a saint but her legs stay firmly tight together. She believes she is rich enough basking in that beauty of hers but if she dies childless her family will be poor in not having any children to carry on that beauty.”
“Ah, so she’s taken a vow never to have sex?”
“Absolutely, and what a waste of a good woman. Her meanness towards men is starving her beauty. She’s told me she’ll never love a man or a woman and that’s left me walking about like a zombie – one of the living dead.”
Benvolio knew a lost cause when he saw one and could sense that this was a woman destined to be a future nun to only serve one of the Friars. He worried that the fact that the woman was not available was making her more desirable to his cousin. “Listen to me Romeo, you have to stop thinking about her and start thinking of something else.”
That made Romeo look up again from the spot of coffee he’d been concentrating on that was lying on the table. “Can you teach me how to forget about how to think? Every time I think, her picture comes into my head.”
“Exactly – you have to look at other women, other beauties, seeing them will take your mind off her. Now I saw yesterday this…”
“Benvolio, if I look at other women I’ll just be making comparisons with her and realizing how much I love her and her beauty. It’ll only show me that they don’t come anywhere near her in comparison. These women you’re on about just wrap themselves up in loose black clothing, hiding lumpy imperfections to make you think they have cracking bodies underneath.”
He was imploring Benvolio to understand and see his point of view, a point of view that seemed so obvious to him. “If you lose your eyesight you don’t forget how great it was to be able to see, so me not seeing her won’t get her out of my head. What is the point of me looking at the cool looking girls about the place just to remind me how fit she is compared with them?” He stood and turned, this time determined to leave. “There’s no way you can teach me to forget her. Cheers mate, I’m off and I’ll see you around.”
Benvolio shouted behind him before Romeo reached the door “I promise you I’ll show you a cracking bird fitter than yours or die trying.” Everyone in the coffee shop was staring at him, some disgusted, some laughing. Benvolio quickly grabbed his things off the table left immediately, trying hard to keep up with his cousin.
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