By Teresa Murguia
Count Paris of Verona opened his eyes, then instantly regretted it. Brilliant shards of pain shot through his head, and he raised a hand to his temple, where the pain was most intense. It came away sticky with blood, the dark red seeping into and staining the fingers of his kidskin glove. He blinked, trying to remember what had happened. It came to him sluggishly, going to make his visit to the Capulet mausoleum, to lay roses there for Juliet, his dead betrothed. Romeo! That foul boy, who had slain Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, had been at the tomb, with a crowbar and an axe, obviously unable to let the feud die. Even after his own banishment and the death sentence it carried, he came back to torment the Capulets more. Paris remembered the indignant rage, for that Montague whelp was, in a way, responsible for Juliet’s death as well, for she had mourned herself into the grave.
He remembered drawing his rapier. Challenging Romeo, and Romeo’s reluctance to fight at first. There was a fight, though. Paris moved his other arm, intending to sit up, but gasped and crumpled back to the cold flagstones where he had been lying. Ah, now he remembered. Romeo had gotten him in the shoulder, and he had stumbled back. He’d noticed that they were close to the marble pedestals that flanked the mausoleum entrance; he must have hit his head on one when he’d fallen. His surroundings became clearer as he lay on the flagstones and looked around more. Romeo must have thought him dead, but for some reason had dragged him into the crypt. Using his good arm, Paris hoisted himself into a sitting position. The bier he leaned against was thankfully unoccupied.
The flickering light he could see by suddenly registered as torchlight, and the sounds of quiet sobbing as well. Could Romeo have come because he regretted Tybalt’s death, which had lead to his banishment? A woman’s voice echoed in the still air, followed by more sobbing. Paris felt the hair on his arms stand up. That was definitely not Romeo. Could Juliet’s specter be in the tomb, mourning the loss of Tybalt still, and perhaps, their own stillborn marriage? He genuflected, and whispered, “Jesu, give her peace.”
The sobbing continued, and he gave into the urge to see, not knowing what to expect. Using the bier, he pulled himself upright to stand. The lonely lit torch created a pool of light around the bier that should have held Juliet’s corpse. His knees nearly buckled at the sight of Juliet, resplendent in her funerary attire, weeping over the body of Romeo, who should have been alive. Paris closed his eyes, then opened them again, just to be sure he was seeing her alive. How was this possible? Echoes of horses’ hooves, and men’s voices, came from outside the chamber. The city guard. His manservant must have run to fetch them when he’d been dueling Romeo. At the noise, Juliet’s head whipped up.
“No! NO!” She cried. Casting aside a small bottle she’d been clutching, she pulled a dagger from Romeo’s belt. Paris lurched forward, falling across the bier, when she placed it against her breast. Pushing himself away with his good arm, he made his legs move. There! He was around the bier.
“Oh happy dagger!” Juliet stroked the hilt lovingly as she tilted her head upward, eyes fluttering closed. Paris stumbled forward, still weak from the knot on his head, and the blood lost to Romeo’s blade. He grew dizzy, and fell to his knees, gritting his teeth as they cracked against the tiled floor. Crawling worked, too; he could crawl with only one arm.
“Here is thy sheath.” Juliet raised the dagger away from her, arms tensing as she gathered the strength to plunge it into herself. Paris pulled himself across the floor faster, ignoring his screaming knees, aching head, and sore shoulder.
“There rust,” Juliet opened her eyes, not seeing the dagger, not seeing anything, just gazing into eternity as tears sparkled on her cheeks. Paris could hear the voices of the guard getting more distinct.
“And let me die!” Paris lunged.
Captain Sergio Valentino of the Verona City Guard stared down openly at the man standing next to his horse. “Repeat what you just said, Lieutenant.”
“Well, Captain,” The man wiped his pale, sweating face with a kerchief, “We found the outlaw, Romeo Montague, dead. The Count Paris is alive, although badly injured, and….”
“The Lady Juliet Capulet, alive and weeping in the Count’s arms, and struggling with him to throw herself onto Montague’s body.”
Sergio nodded, as if this all made perfect sense. Something strange was definitely going on. He was a military man, and as far as he knew, when you died, you stayed dead. For Juliet Capulet, whose body he himself had escorted to this tomb as part of the funerary guard, to be alive, was utterly out of his realm and scope. Then again, one of his men had Friar Lawrence in custody, shaking and weeping like a woman, blubbering about mislaid plans, vile potions, and other nonsense. Balthazar, young Romeo’s man, was also in custody, pale and silent as a ghost after hearing of what had been found in the Capulet mausoleum. Only one thing to do. “You there, young man!”
“Sir?” Count Paris’ manservant stood at attention.
“Ride to the city palace, have the prince roused from his bed. Let him know that there is urgent business to attend to.”
“Right away, Captain.” Puffed up with pride for helping the guard, the young man swung up onto his mount, and took off with a wild clatter of hooves on cobblestones.
Sergio turned back to his lieutenant, who seemed intent on wringing his kerchief to pieces. “Lieutenant, I want you to take charge of the friar and the Montague boy. Get them to the prince quickly, and try not to draw any attention to yourself.”
“Yes, Captain!” He saluted with relief, then went about securing a small detachment to help escort the two to the palace. Sergio swung down from his own horse, and grabbed another boy to procure a carriage transport the count and the lady, a surgeon for the count, and a wagon to transport Montague’s corpse. Steeling himself, he entered the crypt. As his lieutenant had said, a battered looking Count Paris held the writhing, screaming Juliet in his good arm. Romeo Montague lay several feet away, waxy and lifeless, an unsheathed dagger lying beyond on the edge of the ring of light cast by a single torch. His own men were pressed back against the wall; murmuring and casting fearful glances at the dead woman come back to life.
Captain Valentino cleared his throat to get their attention, then asked pointedly, “Don’t you think the count would appreciate a little help?”
Abashed, two came forward. One took over custody of Juliet, wresting her further away from the body as the other helped the count to stand. The guard holding Juliet shouted in pain when she dug her nails into his arm, loosening his grip for only a second. She lunged forward, landing on the boy and wailing louder. All the murmuring stopped, the silence broken only by the unintelligible wails of the Capulet girl clutching the head of the lifeless Montague boy to her breast. Sergio felt the presence of something greater, an unknown presence and sadness, steal into him.
Here, he could glimpse for a moment that there had been the possibility of peace between the two warring houses that were tearing their city, his city, apart at the seams. It seemed that possibility had strangled in the womb, aborted by the bitter hatred that ran through every street. The guard whose arm Juliet had clawed gently touched her shoulder. The moment passed as her sobs cut off abruptly, and she sprang towards the forgotten dagger. It skittered away from her fingers into the dark, and the guard had her arms pinned to her sides, wrestling her away and out of the tomb.
Count Paris leaned heavily against the guard who supported him, clutching his injured arm to his belly. Sergio saluted, and said gruffly, “We have a surgeon on the way to look at your injuries, my lord. Are there any besides the shoulder and your head?”
Smiling bitterly, he showed the hand on his bad arm. A deep cut ran across the palm, almost to the bone it looked like. Sergio shot him a questioning glance. The count answered in a raspy voice, “I caught the edge of the dagger that the lady was trying to stab herself with.”
Sergio felt his face go cold, and asked, “The Lady Juliet tried to kill herself?”
The count nodded his head once. “Whatever happened, she thought it was worth the eternal damnation of her immortal soul.”
Sergio and the rest of the guards crossed themselves. The atmosphere inside the crypt became too much. They abandoned the dank, musty air of the tomb for the outside. A carriage, bearing the surgeon inside, waited for Count Paris and Lady Juliet. Two guards were dispatched back into the tomb to bring out Romeo Montague and put him in the wagon that waited. A guard informed Sergio that Juliet had managed to get a guard’s dagger, but it had been wrested away almost immediately. The surgeon had given her a draught to calm her down, and Sergio ordered Juliet’s guard to ride in the carriage to make sure she didn’t get another chance at any sharp objects. As she was being placed in the carriage, the guards came out bearing Romeo’s body. Juliet cried out weakly, stretching her arm towards him, “My love, my love! No!”
She struggled against her guard, now a frail bird beating its wings against the cage that held it. “Please, let me ride with him! I promise, I will behave myself, just please, let me be with him. Please, my lord….”
Sergio felt a funny gripping in his chest as she turned her dark, tearful eyes to him. Drawing a deep breath, he replied, “My apologies, my lady, but I cannot allow that.”
Her answering cry of despair was muffled as her guard shut the carriage door, blocking her view of the body, and Sergio’s view of her. He ran a hand over his face. As soon as he had turned this whole mess over to Prince Escalus, he was going to go home and drain the biggest flagon of wine he could find. Maybe, if he was drunk enough, he wouldn’t remember the shattered, haunted look in the poor girl’s eyes as the carriage door closed on her.
* * *
Prince Escalus blinked weary eyes as he made his way from his bedchamber to his receiving room. He slumped into a chair, and signaled a serving boy to bring him wine. Wiping his hand over his face, he glanced at the young man waiting for him. “What has happened, young man? Captain Valentino wouldn’t rouse me from my sleep unless it was a matter of deep importance.”
The boy straightened and squeaked, “My prince.” He cleared his throat, “My prince, there has been an incident at the Capulet mausoleum. Romeo Montague has returned to Verona!”
The prince sat up, surprised, and then closed his eyes wearily. He took the goblet of wine the serving boy had brought, sipped from it. Shaking his head, he snapped, “Young fool! I banished him to save his life. Now, I must take it, or go back on my own edict.”
The boy shifted, casting his eyes down, and avoiding the prince’s eyes. A feeling of dread filled Escalus’ chest. Steeling himself, he asked, “What else, boy?”
“Romeo…is already dead, highness. They found him dead inside the Capulet crypt, and your cousin, my lord Paris, injured. Balthazar, Romeo’s man, was found, along with Friar Lawrence, who was well nigh incomprehensible with tears.” The prince nodded. He had heard that the Friar was fond of Romeo. Raising a hand, he waved at the boy to continue. His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed, “And Lady Juliet Capulet, alive.”
The goblet of wine shattered on the tiled floor. Escalus stared, ears ringing, as the hem of his night robe sopped the puddle of dark wine. He sat forward started to speak, then stopped. After a long pause, he choked out, “How?”
“I know not, my prince. I ran to fetch the guard when my lord and Romeo began fighting. Captain Valentino of the guard should be arriving soon. He should be able to explain.”
“Thank you, boy. You are dismissed. Dominic here will show you to the kitchens, and after you have eaten somewhat, he will find you bed. Speak of this to no one, though. I must…think, and hear what Captain Valentino has to say.”
“Yes, my prince. Thank you.”
Escalus pursed his lips and stared into space. There was a soft scuffing as the two boys left the chamber, leaving the prince to the sound of the crackling fire. The wait for the captain was a silent one. He registered a serving maid, voice rough with sleep, telling him that two of the guard had arrived with Friar Lawrence and Balthazar. He flicked his fingers at her, sending her away. What was going on, that a dead girl had returned to life? And Romeo, whom he had always considered practical, if a bit hot tempered, had returned to Verona, and a death sentence.
* * *
Escalus started awake as the door to his receiving chamber opened to admit Captain Valentino. He heard his cousin Paris’ voice asking for a bed, and the low murmur of a serving maid’s reply. Another guard came in behind the captain, bearing a still figure wrapped in a heavy cloak. The prince nodded towards the man, and asked the captain, “Is that Montague?”
“No, your highness, that is,” He cleared his throat, “That is Lady Juliet.”
“So it is true?” He leaned his head back. “How does one whom we saw placed in that crypt, silent and cold in death, just come back to life?”
“My prince, from what I can gather, Friar Lawrence may be able to explain some of tonight’s strange events. My men brought him and Balthazar in earlier, I believe.”
The guard with Juliet in his arms gently placed her on a couch, and then saluted to the prince and captain. Escalus stood and went to the side of the couch. It was indeed Juliet Capulet, alive and breathing. Her dark eyes stared at nothing, and her dark hair pooled around her head, a few stray strands caught in the beading on her funeral gown. The prince brushed her cheek with his fingers, still not quite believing that she was alive. Juliet’s eyelids fluttered, but she never looked away from the spot in space she’d fixed her eyes on. Escalus turned to Captain Valentino, brows drawn. “What is wrong with her?”
“We had to have the surgeon give her a draught to calm her, highness. She attempted to, well, to do harm to herself several times.”
“Holy Mother.” Escalus looked at her again. “There is much more to this than just a dead woman rejoining the living. You said that Friar Lawrence appears to know more about what has happened?”
The captain nodded.
“Send him in to me.”
“Yes, my prince.” Captain Valentino saluted, then moved to the door. He called over one of the guardsmen. “Have the Friar brought to the prince immediately.”