Has Cawdor been executed yet?’ said Duncan. ‘Haven’t those I sent to do it returned?’
‘My Liege, they haven’t,’ said Malcolm. ‘But I’ve spoken to someone who witnessed it. He said the traitor confessed his treasons very frankly: he implored your Highness’ pardon. He was deeply repentant. Nothing he ever did in his life was as much a credit to him as the way he faced his execution.’
The King’s eyes showed his sorrow. He shook his head sadly. ‘There’s no way of reading a man’s true intentions in his face. He was a gentleman on whom I had built an absolute trust.’
There was excited shouting and the sound of horses in the courtyard. Duncan went out on to the deck and looked down. ‘Oh worthiest cousin!’ he exclaimed when he saw Macbeth dismounting.
Macbeth and Banquo hurried up the stairs and joined the King and his advisers. Duncan embraced Macbeth then stood back and looked at him.
‘I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of a way of thanking you,’ he said. ‘It’s impossible. I wish you had done less – that would have made it easier to thank you. I could never repay you.’
‘Having the chance to fulfill my duty to you is reward enough,’ said Macbeth. ‘Your Highness’ only role is to receive our duties. By protecting you we are only doing what’s expected of us.’
‘Welcome,’ said Duncan. He turned to Banquo. ‘Noble Banquo, you’ve deserved no less and no-one should think you have. Come, let me embrace you and hold you to my heart.’
‘And if I grow there,’ said Banquo as Duncan embraced him, ‘the harvest is all yours.’
The King invited everyone to be seated. He walked slowly to his chair of state. His face was grave, now.
‘My undoubted good fortune and happiness must be tempered for a moment with some serious business,’ he told them. He beckoned to Malcolm, who rose and went to the chair beside his father’s.
‘Sons, kinsmen, thanes,’ said Duncan, ‘and all those close to me: you should know that we are making our eldest, Malcolm, our heir, and from now on he will be known as the Prince of Cumberland. It is an honour that carries profound responsibilities.’
The assembled men clapped then they all got up and congratulated the young prince. Duncan called Macbeth to him. ‘We’ll go from here to Inverness and honour you with a visit,’ he said.
‘It’ll be my pleasure,’ said Macbeth. ‘I’ll be the messenger myself and take the joyful news to my wife. I beg leave to go now.’
As Macbeth hurried down to the courtyard where a fresh horse was waiting the thoughts that had not left him for a moment became even more insistent. The Prince of Cumberland! That was a new development – a step over which he would trip unless he could jump over it: it was in his way.
He suddenly became aware of his thoughts and they appalled him. It was a good thing that no light could show his black and deep desires.
And yet… he wished that it would happen. Exactly what, he daren’t think about but it would be something that the eye would fear to look at.
As he rode off Banquo was telling the King about Macbeth’s astonishing performance in the battle.
‘Hearing about his valour is like a banquet to me,’ said Duncan. ‘Let’s follow him. He’s so diligent that he’s sped off ahead of us to prepare a royal welcome. He’s a cousin without equal!’