‘Hang our banners on the outer walls,’ said Macbeth.
Seyton snapped his fingers and the soldiers moved about the dark battlements, hoisting the flags and banners.
‘They’re still coming,’ said Macbeth. ‘ Our fortifications will make a mockery of any siege. Let them sit there until disease and famine destroys them. If they hadn’t been reinforced by my people we’d have met them face to face and pushed them back to England.’
A long mournful wail went up somewhere inside the castle.
‘What’s that noise?’ said Macbeth.
‘The cry of women, my Lord.’
Seyton went to find out why they were crying. Macbeth stared over the battlements to the darkness in front of him. He had almost forgotten what fear was like. There was a time when he would have shuddered to hear such shrieks in the night and his scalp would have crawled as though it had life in it. He had indulged in so much horror that nothing could disturb him any more.
‘What was that about?’ said Macbeth when Seyton returned.
‘The Queen is dead my Lord.’
‘She should have died later. This isn’t the time.’
How the days stretched out – each one the same as the one before, and they would continue to do so, tediously, until the end of history. And every day we have lived has been the last day of some other fool’s life, each day a dot of candle-light showing him the way to his death-bed. Blow the short candle out: life was no more than a walking shadow – a poor actor – who goes through all the emotions in one hour on the stage and then bows out. It was a story told by an idiot, full of noise and passion, but meaningless.
It was getting light. A young soldier stood behind him, reluctant to deliver his message.
‘Lost your tongue?’ said Macbeth. ‘ Come on. Out with it.’
‘My gracious Lord,’ said the soldier. ‘ I want to tell you what I think I saw but don’t know how to say it.’
‘Well just say it.’
‘While I was standing watch on the hill I looked towards Birnam and suddenly I thought the wood began to move.’
‘Liar!’ said Macbeth. ‘ Rogue!’
‘Be angry with me if I’m lying. It’s only three miles away. You can see it: a moving grove.’
‘If you’re lying I’ll string you up on the nearest tree. And you’ll hang there, alive, until you shrivel up with starvation. If you’re telling the truth I don’t care if you do the same for me. I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t believe the fiend that lies with a straight face. ‘Fear not, till Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane!’ And now a wood is coming to Dunsinane.’
He placed his hands on either side of his mouth. ‘To arms! To arms!’ he cried. A drum began to beat and soldiers took up their positions, ready to march out to the battlefield.
If what the soldier had told him was true there was nowhere he could go – nor could he stay. He was thoroughly sick of life and wished the world would just come to an end.
He buckled his breastplate and pulled on his helmet. ‘ Ring the alarm bell!’ Whatever happened – hurricane or ruin – at least he’d die fighting!