A young officer came into the campaign room where Macbeth was pacing among his closest advisers. ‘Don’t bring me any more reports!’ said Macbeth. ‘I don’t care if every single one of them deserts me: nothing will bother me until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.’ He laughed and some of those present joined him.
‘What danger is the boy Malcolm? Wasn’t he born of woman? The spirits that know everything that’s going to happen to human beings told me: ‘Don’t be afraid, Macbeth: no man that’s born of woman will ever have power over you. That’s what they said.’ He went to the window and leant out. ‘Then fly, treacherous thanes!’ he shouted to the open countryside. ‘And join the English weaklings!’ He turned back to his silent officers. ‘My strength of mind and courage will never collapse with doubt or shake with fear,’ he told them.
A servant came in and stood looking as though he hoped he wouldn’t be noticed. ‘The Devil damn you black you cream-faced loon!’ screamed Macbeth. ‘Where did you get that goose-look?’
‘There are ten thousand…’
Macbeth raised his arm and the boy cowered. ‘Go and prick your face and cover your paleness with blood, you coward!’ he yelled. ‘What soldiers, clown? Damn you! Those white cheeks of yours are hideous.’ The youth trembled. He opened his mouth but couldn’t speak.
‘What soldiers, whey-face?’
‘The English force, Sir.’
Macbeth took him by the scruff of the neck and marched him to the door. ‘Get your face out of here!’ He opened the door and threw the boy out. ‘Seyton!’ he called. ‘I get fed up when I see… Seyton, where are you?’
The doctor, who had been sitting among the attendants, rushed across to Macbeth, who pushed him away.
This was a crisis and it would be solved one way or another. It made no difference how it ended: he had lived too long. His career had turned into a dry, withered scrap like a leaf about to fall. All the things that one should enjoy in old age – honour, love, respect, friends -he wouldn’t have now. Instead he’d have curses – perhaps not spoken aloud, but heartfelt – lip-service – mere air -which he would rather do without.
His ensign appeared. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘What’s the latest?’
‘I’ll fight until my flesh has been hacked off my bones. Give me my armour.’
‘You don’t need it yet,’ said Seyton.
‘I want to put it on. Go and get it. Send more horses out. Search the countryside: hang anyone who talks of defeat. And get my armour.’
Seyton left and Macbeth turned to the doctor. ‘How’s your patient, doctor?’
‘Not sick as much as troubled with incessant fantasies that stop her from sleeping.’
‘Well cure her of that, then.’
The doctor shook his head.
‘Can’t you treat a sick mind? Remove a terrible experience from the memory? Rub out the troubles printed on the mind and cover over the terror of a guilty heart with some pain-killing drug?’
‘That’s something the patient must do himself.’
Macbeth stared at the doctor for a moment then he made a dismissive gesture. ‘Throw medicine to the dogs! I don’t need it.’
Seyton came in, followed by two servants carrying Macbeth’s armour.
‘Come, put it on. Where’s my commander’s baton?’ He pointed at the doctor. ‘Doctor, the thanes are fleeing from me.’ He turned back to Seyton. ‘Come on, hurry. If, Doctor, you could analyse a sample of my country’s water and diagnose her disease, then bring it back to perfect health, I would applaud you to the rafters and the echo of that would applaud again
He snarled at the servants: they had positioned one of the pieces incorrectly. ‘Pull it off: go on, pull it off. Doctor, what rhubarb or senna or other purgative drug would purge these English.’
He walked away from the servants, who had only half finished dressing him. ‘Bring it with you.’ He strode to the door and out, towards the battlements. ‘I won’t be afraid of death and destruction till Birnam forest comes to Dunsinane.’
The doctor whistled softly to himself. If he were far away from Dunsinane, no money on earth would bring him back.