‘What’s he done, that he’s had to flee to England?’ said Lady Macduff.
‘You must try and understand,’ said Ross. ‘And have patience.’
‘He had none! It’s madness. I know he’s not a traitor but now it will look like it!’
‘You don’t know what’s in his mind,’ said Ross. ‘There may be some wisdom in it.’
‘Wisdom! To leave his wife, his babies, his castle, all his possessions, in a place he’s fleeing from? He doesn’t love us. Where’s his fatherly instinct? Even the tiny wren, the smallest of birds will stay and fight an owl to save her chickens. His fear’s greater than his love for his family. Don’t talk to me about wisdom! There’s no reason in his flight!’ She flung herself down on a chair and sobbed.
Her young son ran to her and stroked her hair. Ross put an arm around her. ‘Control yourself, my dearest cousin, I beg of you.’ He went to the door, looked into the corridor, closed the door and came back to her. ‘Listen. Your husband is noble and wise. He’s clever and has a deep understanding of the politics of the present time.’
Lady Macduff looked doubtfully at him.
‘I daren’t say any more – but I’ll just say this: the times are bad when the most loyal people are accused of being traitors – when we listen to rumours just because we’re so afraid, and don’t even know what it is we fear but are just battered by troubles – coming from all directions.’
He kept looking towards the door as he spoke. ‘I can’t say any more,’ he said. ‘I have to go now but I’ll be back soon. Things can’t get any worse so they’ll either end or start getting back to how they were.’
He ruffled the boy’s hair. ‘Bless you, my pretty cousin.
‘He’s an orphan even though he has a father,’ said Lady Macduff.
‘I would look a fool if I were to stay any longer,’ said Ross. ‘I’d start crying and embarrass you. So I’ll go at once.’
When he had gone Lady Macduff drew the child on to her knee. ‘Your father’s dead, Sweetheart. What will you do now? How are you going to live?’
‘Like a bird, Mother.’
She brightened up, then. ‘What? By eating worms and flies?’
‘By eating whatever I can find, I mean. Like they do.’
‘Poor little chicken.’ She cuddled him. ‘You’ve never had to be afraid of nets, or bird lime, or any other trap.’
‘Why should I, Mother? No-one would want to trap such an unimportant bird. Anyway, my father’s not dead, whatever you may say!’
‘Yes he is. What are you going to do for a father?’
‘No, the question is, what are you going to do for a husband?’
‘Hrumphh! I can buy twenty at the market!’
‘You’d have to sell them again. What would you do with twenty husbands?’
‘Clever boy,’ she said and hugged him.
‘Was my father really a traitor, Mother?’
‘Yes he was.’
‘What’s a traitor?’
‘Someone who swears and lies: swears to love you and protect you without meaning it.’
‘And are all those who do that traitors?’
‘Every one,’ she said. ‘And they should all be hanged!’
‘Who’d hang them?’
‘The honest men, of course.’
The boy laughed. ‘Then the liars and swearers are fools: because there are enough liars and swearers to beat the honest men up and hang them!’
She laughed. ‘God help you, poor monkey.’ Then her face became serious again. ‘But what are you going to do for a father?’
‘If he were really dead you’d be crying and if you weren’t it would be a good sign that I’d soon have a new father.’
‘Little chatterbox. You could go on forever.’
The door burst open and a travel-worn man came in. ‘Don’t be alarmed, fair Madam,’ he said as she pushed the child from her and sprang up. ‘You don’t know me, although I’m well aware of your rank. Listen, I haven’t got much time. You’re in immediate danger. You must leave right now. Take your little ones and go! I’m sorry to frighten you like this but not to warn you would be far worse. Go now: the danger is close.’ He made for the door. ‘Heaven protect you. I dare not stay any longer.’ And he was gone.
Lady Macduff looked about desperately. ‘Where can I go to? I’ve done nothing.’
There was some screaming somewhere and the child ran to her and clung to her. They stayed, frozen, listening to the commotion outside, then two men appeared in the doorway and came in.
‘Who are you?’ said Lady Macduff.
‘Where’s your husband?’ one of them said.
‘I hope he’s not anywhere so unsanctified that someone like you might find him,’ she said.
‘He’s a traitor,’ the one with the shaggy hair said.
The boy rushed at him and kicked him in the shin. ‘You lie, you shaggy-haired lout!’ he cried.
‘What?’ The man grabbed him as he was about to kick him again. ‘You egg!’ He drew his dagger and thrust it viciously into the boy’s spine. Blood spurted on to his face. ‘You traitor’s spawn!’
The boy turned pale and blood trickled out of his mouth and down his chin. The shaggy haired man rubbed his shin. Lady Macduff stood with her mouth open, unable to scream.
The boy fell heavily against his mother. ‘Run,’ he sighed. ‘I beg you.’ He slipped to the floor and lay still.
Lady Macduff moved then. She began running, dodging round the men who tried to catch her, and out into the corridor. ‘Help! Murder! Help! My babies!’ she cried.
The men followed her.