The elderly Gonzalo couldn’t understand how it had happened. He, the king, the king’s brother and the Duke of Milan, had somehow ended up on dry land without any ill effects. The king’s two young attendants, Adrian and Francisco, had survived as well. The king, Alonso, didn’t seem to realise how lucky he was because he sat on a log, dejected, unable to appreciate their miraculous survival. It was understandable, though, because his son wasn’t there with them, but they still had something to celebrate. Gonzalo looked around at this lovely place. Birds sang, there were bright flowers growing and the sky was cloudless.
‘Cheer up, I beg of you,’ he said. He sat down beside Alonso. ‘You have reasons for being joyful, as we all have, because our escape far outweighs our loss. The cause we have for sadness is a common thing: every day some sailor’s wife, the captain of some merchant ship and the merchant who owned it, have the same reason for grief as we have. But as for this miracle – I mean our survival – few people in millions can end up talking as we do now. So, good sir, put it in perspective.’
Alonso looked up briefly. ‘Please be quiet,’ he said.
Sebastian and Antonio stood a little apart from them. Sebastian laughed. ‘He treats comfort like cold porridge,’ he said.
‘But the comforter won’t give up easily,’ said Antonio.
Gonzalo was obviously preparing for a new approach. ‘Look,’ said Sebastian. ‘He’s winding up the watch of his brain. It will strike soon.’
‘Sir,’ began Gonzalo.
The observers laughed. ‘One! Count!’ said Sebastian. They went closer, laughing openly at him.
Gonzalo took no notice. ‘When you think about all the unfortunate things that could happen to one then it comes to one…’
‘A dollar,’ interrupted Sebastian.
Gonzalo nodded. ‘Dolour comes to him indeed. You’ve spoken truer than you intended to.’
‘You’ve taken it more wisely than I intended it,’ said Sebastian.
Gonzalo tried to ignore him. ‘Therefore my lord…’ he continued.
‘For God’s sake,’ said Antonio, ‘how he gabbles.’
‘Spare me, I beg of you,’ said the king.
‘Well, I’ve finished,’ said Gonzalo. He shook his head. ‘But still…’
‘He’ll talk,’ said Sebastian.
Antonio whispered to Sebastian. ‘For a bet, which of he or Adrian will first begin to crow?’
‘The old cock,’ said Sebastian.
‘The cockerel,’ said Antonio.
‘Done! What’s the bet?’
‘Just for a laugh,’ said Antonio.
There was silence for a moment then Adrian spoke: ‘Though this island seems to be uninhabited…’
Antonio pointed at his friend. ‘Ha, ha, ha,’ he said.
‘So, you won,’ said Sebastian.
‘Uninhabitable and almost inaccessible…,’ continued Adrian.
‘Yet…’ whispered Sebastian.
‘Yet…’ said Adrian.
‘He couldn’t help it,’ said Antonio.
‘It must have a mild and delicate temperance,’ said Adrian.
‘Temperance was a delicate young girl,’ said Antonio.
‘Yes, and she was mild, as he said with great knowledge,’ said Sebastian.
‘The air breathes sweetly on us,’ said Adrian.
‘As if it had lungs. And rotten ones,’ said Sebastian.
‘Or, as though it were perfumed by a swamp,’ said Antonio.
‘There’s everything advantageous to life here,’ said Gonzalo.
Antonio looked around. ‘True,’ he said, ‘except the means to live.’
‘There’s none of that, or very little,’ said Sebastian.
‘How lush and rich the grass looks!’ said Gonzalo. ‘How green!’
Antonio looked down and pulled a face. ‘The ground is parched and brown!’
Sebastian kicked a tuft of grass. ‘With a spot of green in it,’ he said.
‘He doesn’t miss much,’ said Antonio.
‘No, he only misses the truth completely,’ said Sebastian.
‘But the strange thing about it is – and this is really almost beyond belief…’ said Gonzalo.
‘As many strange things are,’ said Sebastian, nodding wisely.
Gonzalo ignored them. ‘That our clothes, although they were drenched in the sea, are still fresh and new. They look as though they’ve been newly dyed rather than stained with salt water.’
‘If only one of his pockets could speak, wouldn’t it say he’s lying?’ said Antonio.
‘Yes, or conceal the information by pocketing it,’ said Sebastian.
‘I think our clothes are as fresh now as when we first put them on in Africa at the wedding of the king’s lovely daughter Claribel to the King of Tunis,’ said Gonzalo.
‘It was a lovely wedding and we’re having a good return voyage,’ said Sebastian wryly.
‘Tunis was never before blessed with such a perfect queen,’ said Adrian.
‘Not since widow Dido’s time,’ said Gonzalo.
‘Widow!’ exclaimed Antonio. ‘A pox on that! Where did that “widow” come from? “Widow” Dido!’
‘What if he had also said “widower Aeneas”? said Sebastian. ‘Good Lord, where is this going?’
‘ “Widow Dido” you said?’ Adrian scratched his head. ‘I’m thinking about that one. She was Queen of Carthage, not Tunis.’
‘What is Tunis now was once called Carthage,’ said Gonzalo.
‘I assure you – Carthage.’
‘His assurance is more authoritative than the miraculous harp that created the city walls of Thebes,’ said Antonio.
Sebastian laughed. ‘Enough to create the walls and build the houses too.’
‘What impossible thing will he make easy next?’ said Antonio.
‘I think he’ll carry this island home in his pocket and give it to his son as an apple,’ said Sebastian.
‘And he’ll sow the seeds of it in the sea and grow more islands.’
‘Yes, it was Carthage,’ said Gonzalo.
‘Well done!’ exclaimed Antonio.
Gonzalo bent over and tried to catch Alonso’s eye. ‘Sir, we were saying that our clothes seem to be as fresh now as when we were in Tunis at the wedding of your daughter, who is now the queen.’
Alonso took no notice of him.
‘And the most perfect queen who ever went there,’ said Antonio.
‘Except, if you don’t mind, the widow Dido,’ said Sebastian.
‘Oh yes.’ Antonio roared with laughter and Sebastian joined him. ‘The widow Dido. Yes, the widow Dido!’
Gonzalo persisted in trying to attract Alonso’s attention. He stood right in front of him. ‘Isn’t my doublet as fresh as the day I first wore it, sir? I mean sort of.’
‘That was a good piece of fishing to pull that ‘sort of’ out,’ said Antonio.
‘When I wore it at your daughter’s wedding?’ said Gonzalo.
‘You cram these words into my ear as if you were forcing food down my throat,’ said Alonso. ‘I wish I had never married my daughter there! Because coming back I’ve lost my son. And her too. She’s so far away from Italy that I’ll never see her again. Oh, my heir of Naples and Milan. What strange fish has made a meal of you?’
Francisco shook his head. ‘Sir, he may still be alive,’ he said. ‘I saw him struggling with the waves beneath him, riding on their backs. He trod the water and flung the waves aside and breasted even the biggest ones that assaulted him. He kept his head boldly above the water and swam powerfully to the shore, which sloped down as though trying to rescue him. I’m sure that he gained the land safely.’
Alonso moaned. ‘No, no, he’s gone,’ he said mournfully.
Sebastian drew himself up and confronted his brother. ‘Sir, you have only yourself to thank for this great loss,’ he said. ‘You refused to bless our Europe with your daughter, but preferred to waste her on an African, where at the very least she is banished from your eyes and has herself cause to weep for the grief of it.’
‘Please be quiet,’ said Alonso.
‘We all knelt before you and begged you not to do it,’ persisted Sebastian. ‘The poor girl fluctuated between hating the marriage and wanting to be obedient, not knowing which way to turn. We’ve lost your son forever, I fear. Because of this Milan and Naples have more widows than we bring home to comfort them. It’s all your own fault.’
Gonzalo sighed. ‘My lord Sebastian,’ he said. ‘You’re right but you’re saying it without sympathy, and at the wrong time. You’re scratching the sore when you should be dressing it.’
‘Well spoken,’ said Sebastian, wagging his finger at Antonio in mock reprimand.
‘And in the style of a surgeon,’ said Antonio.
Gonzalo turned back to the king. ‘It’s foul weather for all of us, good sir, when you are cloudy,’ he said gently.
‘Fowl weather?’ said Sebastian.
‘Very foul,’ said Antonio.
‘If I could plant things on this island, my lord…,’ began Gonzalo…
‘He’d sow it with nettles,’ said Antonio.
‘Or weeds and wild plants,’ said Sebastian.
‘And if I were king of it what would I do?’ said Gonzalo.
‘Escape being drunk because there’s no wine,’ said Sebastian.
‘In the state I would do everything differently,’ said Gonzalo. ‘Because I wouldn’t allow any trade or business. There would be no-one with the name of ‘magistrate’. Learning would be unknown. Riches, poverty, the use of servants – none. Contracts, hereditary privileges, boundaries, ownership of land, cultivation, vineyards – none. No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil; no working. All men would be idle. All. And women too, but innocent and pure. There’d be no sovereign rule…’
‘And yet he wants to be king of it,’ laughed Sebastian.
‘The result of his state forgets its beginnings,’ agreed Antonio.
‘Nature will produce everything for the common good,’ continued Gonzalo, ‘without sweat or toil. I would have no treason, crime, sword, spear, gun or any weapons, but Nature would give all plenty, all abundance, to feed my innocent people.’
‘No marrying among his subjects?’ said Sebastian.
‘None, man; everyone would be idle – whores and villains,’ said Antonio.
‘I would rule with such perfection that it would excel the Golden Age,’ said Gonzalo.
Sebastian bowed deeply. ‘God Save his Majesty,’ he said.
‘Long live Gonzalo!’ echoed Antonio.
‘And…’ Gonzalo saw that Alonso was looking at him. ‘Are you listening to me, sir?’ he said.
‘Please, no more,’ said Alonso. ‘To me it’s all nonsense that you’re talking.’
‘I agree, your highness,’ said Gonzalo, ‘and I did it to give these gentlemen some entertainment: they have such sensitive and lively lungs that they laugh at nothing.’
‘It was you we were laughing at,’ said Antonio.
‘And in this silly fooling I’m nothing compared with you so you can continue laughing at nothing.’
‘Oh, that was a witty blow!’ said Antonio.
‘If it hadn’t fallen flat,’ said Sebastian.
‘You’re such brave gentlemen,’ said Gonzalo. ‘You’d lift the moon out of her orbit if she continued in it for five weeks without changing.’
Ariel was somewhere above them, invisible, and he began playing his lute softly.
‘Yes we would,’ said Sebastian, ‘and then we’d go bird hunting by her light.’
Antonio put on a mock apologetic expression. ‘Good sir, don’t be angry,’ he said.
‘No, I assure you, I won’t,’ said Gonzalo. ‘I won’t forfeit my reputation so lightly.’ He yawned. ‘Would you like to laugh me to sleep? I’m very sleepy.’
‘Go on, sleep,’ said Antonio. ‘And listen to us.’
Gonzalo lay down, and so did Adrian and Francisco, and they fell asleep immediately.
Alonso looked around at the sleeping figures. ‘What, everyone asleep just like that? I wish my lids would close and shut out my thoughts.’ He rubbed his eyes. ‘I think they’re inclined to do so.’
‘Please do, sir,’ said his brother. ‘Don’t resist it. It seldom comes to those in sorrow; when it does it’s a comfort.’
‘The two of us will guard you while you rest, my lord,’ said Antonio. ‘We’ll watch out for your safety.’
‘Thank you,’ said Alonso. He slid to the ground. ‘I’m wonderfully sleepy.’ He curled up and fell asleep.
The music faded and came to an end.
‘What a strange drowsiness has overcome them,’ said Sebastian.
‘It’s this climate,’ said Antonio.
‘Why aren’t our eyelids dropping?’ said Sebastian. ‘I’m not sleepy.’
‘Nor am I. I feel lively. They all fell asleep together, as though by agreement. They dropped off as though they’d been struck by a thunderbolt.’ Antonio stared down at them and stroked his beard thoughtfully. ‘What if, my dear Sebastian.’ He shook his head slowly. ‘Oh, what if… No, forget it.’ He searched his friend’s eyes. ‘And yet I think I can see it in your face… what you could be, I mean. This situation gives you an opportunity, and in my imagination I can see a crown dropping on your head.’
Sebastian started. ‘What? Are you awake?’
‘Can’t you hear me speaking?’
‘I can, but surely it’s just drowsy babbling and you’re talking in your sleep. What did you say? This is a strange sleep, to have your eyes wide open, standing, speaking, moving, and yet being so fast asleep.’
‘Noble Sebastian, you’re letting your fate sleep, or rather, letting it die. You’re sleeping while you’re awake.’
‘You’re snoring most clearly,’ said Sebastian. ‘There’s meaning in your snores.’
‘I’m more serious than I usually am,’ said Antonio. ‘You must be too, if you’re getting my drift. If you are you’ll triple your fortune.’
Sebastian stared at his friend. ‘Well, I’m like still water.’
‘I’ll show you how to flow,’ said Antonio.
‘Do,’ said Sebastian. ‘I’m naturally too lazy to flow.’
‘Oh, if you only knew how much you want this, even while you’re mocking it. How, in rejecting it, you want it even more. Men who ebb stay at the bottom because of their own fear or laziness.’
‘Go on,’ said Sebastian. ‘The look in your eye and in your face is saying something serious that you can’t wait to get out.’
Antonio stared at him for a moment then nodded. ‘It’s this, sir.’ He touched Adrian’s sleeping form lightly with the tip of his shoe. ‘This lord, who is a nobody…’ He pointed at the unconscious Adrian. ‘… this lord who will be just as little remembered when he is dead and buried, has almost persuaded the king, because he feels it’s his duty to persuade him, that his son’s alive.’ Antonio sneered. ‘It’s as impossible that he’s survived as it is that this one who’s sleeping here is swimming.’
‘I’ve given up hope that the king’s son has survived,’ said Sebastian.
‘Oh, out of that hopelessness what great hope there might be!’ exclaimed Sebastian. ‘To have no hope of that is to have such high hope of something else that’s so unbelievable that even ambition couldn’t have anticipated it. Do you agree with me that Ferdinand’s drowned?’
Sebastian nodded gravely. ‘He’s gone,’ he said.
‘Then tell me who the next heir of Naples is.’
‘The one who is Queen of Tunis,’ said Antonio. ‘The one who lives ten leagues more than a lifetime’s journey away. The one who can’t get a message to Naples in the time it takes for a new-born baby to sprout a beard, unless the sun were her messenger – the man in the moon’s too slow. The one from whom we were sailing when we were all swallowed up by the sea. Although some were thrown out again, as though by destiny, to perform an act that this shipwreck only began. What happens now is up to you and me.’
‘What’s this!’ exclaimed Sebastian. ‘What are you saying?’ He went silent, suddenly, thought for a moment, then spoke slowly, thoughtfully. ‘This is all true: my brother’s daughter is Queen of Tunis. And she’s heir of Naples. And there’s some distance between the two places.’
‘Such a distance that every inch of it seems to scream out, “How can Claribel get us back to Naples? Let her stay in Tunis and let Sebastian wake up!”’ Antonio nodded towards the sleepers. ‘Let’s say they had just died. They would be no worse off than they are now. There are those that could rule Naples as well as this one who’s sleeping here. There are courtiers who can prattle as fully and unnecessarily as this Gonzalo. I could teach a jackdaw to talk as much sense as he does. If only you could think like me. What an advantage this sleep would be to you.’ He paused. His friend was staring at him. ‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’
‘I think I do,’ said Sebastian.
‘So what are you thinking?’
‘I’m remembering that you usurped your brother Prospero.’
‘Right. And look how well my clothes suit me now; much more so than before. My brother’s servants were my equals then: now they’re my men.’
Sebastian glanced at his sleeping brother. ‘But what about your conscience?’
Antonio laughed. ‘Yes sir. And where exactly is that situated? If it were a corn it would force me to put on slippers. But I don’t feel this spiritual thing in my heart. Twenty consciences that stood between me and the dukedom of Milan would melt like candy before they would bother me. There’s your brother. He would be no better than the earth he’s lying on if he were what he seems to be, which is dead.’ He slapped his sword. ‘I could, with three inches of this trusty steel, put him to bed forever. And you could do the same to this fossil, the Sir Prudence, who would upbraid us for it. As for the others, they’ll do as they’re told, like cats lapping milk. They’ll go along with anything we say.’
Sebastian nodded decisively. ‘Your situation will be my example,’ he said. I’ll get Milan in the same way you got Naples. Draw your sword. One stroke will set you free of this tribute you have to pay, and I, the king, will honour you.’
‘Let’s both draw at the same time, then,’ said Antonio. ‘When I raise my hand to strike, you do the same and let it fall on Gonzalo.’
‘Oh, just one more thing,’ said Sebastian. He beckoned Antonio aside.
Ariel began to strum his lute. He went right up to Gonzalo and whispered in his ear. ‘My master, through his magic, sees the danger you, his friend, are in. He’s sent me here to keep you all living, or else his project will die.’ He began singing:
While you do snoring lie,
His time doth take.
If of life you keep a care,
Shake off slumber, and beware:
‘Then let’s do it now,’ said Antonio.
They drew their swords and rushed at their intended victims. Gonzalo opened his eyes. He scrambled to his feet and instinctively threw himself down again to cover Alonso’s body. ‘Now, good angels, save the king!’ he yelled.
All three awoke. ‘What’s going on?’ demanded Alonso. ‘Hello? Is everyone awake?’
Sebastian and Antonio stood, frozen, their swords raised.
Gonzalo rolled away from Alonso and the king got up. ‘Why is your sword drawn?’ he said, looking from the one to the other. ‘And why such a terrified look?’
Gonzalo stood up unsteadily and brushed himself off. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said.
Sebastian’s voice trembled when he spoke. ‘While we stood here guarding you as you slept, a moment ago, we heard a hollow burst of bellowing, like bulls, or lions, rather. Isn’t that what woke you? It was very loud.’
‘I heard nothing,’ said Alonso.
‘Oh it was a din to frighten a monster,’ said Antonio, resheathing his sword. ‘Enough to cause an earthquake! It must have been the roar of a whole herd of lions.’
‘Did you hear it, Gonzalo?’ said Alonso.
‘To tell you the truth, sir, I heard a humming, and a strange one too, which woke me. I covered you, sir, and cried out. As I opened my eyes I saw their weapons drawn. There was a noise, that’s certain. It’s best that we protect ourselves, or that we leave this place. We’d better draw our weapons.’
They all drew their swords. Alonso nodded. ‘Let’s go then,’ he said,’ and keep looking for my poor son.’
‘Heaven keep him from these beasts!’ exclaimed Gonzalo. ‘Because he must be on this island.’
‘Lead away,’ said Alonso.
Ariel spun away. He would tell his lord what he had done. Now the king could go safely on to seek his son.