Off-Road Pecha Kucha: Repairing Cymbeline

My lovely college friend Hannah Kushnick co-runs this awesome thing every month in Chicago. Pecha Kucha is Japanese for “the sound of conversation,” apparently, and it’s a presentation format in which you make 20 slides that hold for 20 seconds each. She and artist Rachel Herman ask presenters to adapt this any way they see fit, including using theatrical devices and audience participation. This is an unofficial series, held at the amazing Hyde Park Art Center, and Hannah asked me back in April if I wanted to present on the theme of “repair.” The other presenters were so, so great, and we had an awesome discussion (with wine!) after, plus it took place inside a giant sculpture of a bull. You should make it to the next one if you can.

You all know how much I love Cymbeline. A lot of that comes from how frankly wacky it can be. I started thinking about our desire to fix or iron out things we don’t understand, which then led to thoughts about the PowerPoint presentation we’ve all dreaded (and secretly always wanted to sabotage). Here’s my off-road pecha kucha; I hope it makes you smile.

Hello. Hello, welcome. Thank you. To both our esteemed chairs, I appreciate your time. I’m Edeth Garblers, team leader for this action committee, and this is my presentation.
Hello. Hello, welcome. Thank you. To both our esteemed chairs, I appreciate your time. I’m Edeth Garblers, team leader for this action committee, and this is my presentation.

Continue reading “Off-Road Pecha Kucha: Repairing Cymbeline”

The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories

I set out to put fiction out in the world here, but there hasn’t been as much fiction on M&W as I’d like. Even though I still hope to finish it someday, Innogen and the Hungry Half stalled out when my mother received her terminal diagnosis, and I haven’t been accomplishing original short stories like I’ve wanted either. This doesn’t mean I’ve haven’t been writing, but sometimes you start a project and realize that it’s just too painful to pursue, even if you go in with open eyes.

What follows is the beginning of a novel whose working title was Kate and Harry Fight the Devil. Some of it has been cannibalized into Coldspur, which I also promise you all should see someday, but that one is more of an adventure story. This WIP is about grief and cancer and spouses. I started it on a visit home the month my mom died, in August 2012. Ever since she got sick in early 2008, I’ve been writing these reverse Eurydice stories. Take one dead Shakespeare protagonist, give him an indomitable wife and shake vigorously. What wouldn’t we do to bring our loved ones back? It’s a kind of war story too — what will we brave for each other? What do we have when we come through to the other side?

This story probably comes closest to expressing what I was feeling in that last month. I was trying to anticipate what it would be like once we lost her for good. Reading it again puts me in a very vulnerable place, but I also have the distance to know that the work is good. I’d like to put it out there. Someone else might need it too, but I also need for people to see it. Sometimes you just need witnesses. If you get that, I’m sorry we’re both in this club.

The plan here was that there would be no single victory, no crowning triumph and reunion: Kate Percy would get back her cored-out husband, and fight tooth and nail to recover him, piece by painstaking, incomplete piece. It would be ugly, and hard, and slow. But it would be about things gained rather than things stolen away: the hideous battle could, in the end, be won by people and not tumors.

I got down 7,000 words before admitting that I couldn’t do this to myself, that it was too painful, no matter how much I liked the idea of my villain, and of Kate Percy, witches’ champion, and of the weirdness of Macbeth stealing into a history play. No one will want to read that kind of resurrection, I told myself. And I’m not comfortable with that kind of body horror, to write about cancer the way it really looks. That’s still too close and private.

We’ll see. Thank you for reading.

If you don’t know Henry IV Part 1, all you need is that Harry Percy rebelled against the king and lost, far away from home.


In a cold bed, she still hears him, drunk on her name, good Kate, gentle Kate, my loving Kate, my wife. His shamefaced father has left them alone with the echoing castle, fled to Scotland, where all his allies are captured or killed. She huddles on her side of the blankets, watching the door, waiting for the shadows to flicker, for her Harry and his raging and his flights of imagination to approach. His voice comes back to her in the dark: Will this content you? She has wept herself still and dry without him.

The king’s guard will come. They will ride hard from the battlefield to seek out the rebels and revenge themselves on them. His mother Northumberland is mobilizing the household, dispatching family treasures, sending friends into the wild. King Henry’s men must find nothing at Warkworth Castle, no trace of her Harry, and Kate knows it cannot be done, when he is in every stone and worn path in the marches.

She does not care that the king is still Bolingbroke, she does not care that the Prince of Wales did the slaying. Her Harry’s pillow has not lost its dent; the sheets still smell of him, the goblets he left on the table are where he set them, and she must leave. Would that someone had saved his jacket, a lock of hair, a letter from the front! She would beat him bloody herself if he only would come home. Continue reading “The WIP That I Put Away: Grief, Shakespeare and telling stories”

Yes. Yes, this is exactly what Cymbeline needs!

Cymbeline is directed by Michael Almereyda (Hamlet), based on William Shakespeare’s original text. Ethan Hawke (Training Day, The Purge) stars in the film which unfolds as an epic battle between dirty cops and a drug dealing biker gang set in a corruption-riddled 21st century America. The film also features Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, Penn Badgley, Anton Yelchin, Penn Badgley, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman and Dakota Johnson. The film has landed distribution in various territories around the world, but doesn’t yet have a distributor in the United States, and thus has no current release date. Stay tuned for updates. Thoughts? (source)

So many. The first being that the women are the stars of this play. It is so, so not about the dudes. Cymbeline himself is a weak king with a Lear-like temper and a Leontes-level ability to make good character judgments. Pisanio is an awesome secondary character but mostly inasmuch as he serves and helps Imogen. Iachimo (Hawke’s character) is often played as the evil-but-funny villain! Posthumus is a doofus! And I say that as someone who adores writing him. Imogen is who gives the play weight and an arc; it’s the Queen who is the real antagonist.

The trailer was up briefly, but then taken down. It mostly looked like strutting and posturing — and, unsurprisingly, almost exactly like the director’s Hamlet, particularly Dan Humphrey — sorry, Penn Badgley as Posthumus. The only good thing I’m seeing right now is that PJ Ransone has an unnamed role in the thing.

I really want a great Cymbeline movie. I really, really do. But I do not have good feelings about this one. If it rage-spurs me to get moving on Innogen and the Hungry Half again, though, that, at least, might make it worth my time.

(Once upon a time I wrote up some thoughts and feelings from a non-theater professional about how I’d love to see this play staged. Hey, who knows, maybe this film will surprise me. Don’t all you crickets chirp at once, though.)

The counterpart to the “Hello, world!” post: “I aten’t dead yet.”

Well, that’s embarrassing — the first piece of spam on Magpie & Whale made it through Akismet, which I then had manually go in and delete, to my shame. It’s been, what, three months since I updated? Many apologies; there’s been a lot going on.

Medill is going well — it’s going very well, in fact. I continue to be wildly, wildly happy, with the program, with the people and with this profession. We’re coming up on the end of the quarter, and it looks like all my final projects are due on June 3, which is inconvenient, as that’s my mom’s would-have-been 70th birthday and I will be in Ohio that weekend. She, of course, would not let me get away with not doing the work, so it’s going to be a busy week.

I have a new side project that I keep banging my head against, trying to make it go from concept to outline to execution. It’s more “what if?” Shakespeare, though it’s more in line with the play (Henry IV Part 1, for the curious) than Innogen is with Cymbeline. (I also have not forgotten Innogen. It pains me that it’s still stalled. There is a break coming up, though, and hopefully that will be fruitful. Thank you everyone for your patience. If George R.R. Martin can [sort of] do it, so can I, goshdarnit.)

In the meantime, if you’re interested in the reporting I’ve been doing as part of the Medill News Service this quarter, here are links to my seven published stories so far; I have four more to go. I’ve been covering veterans and military families, and I’m spending this Memorial Day transcribing interviews conducted at the opening of the new exhibit at the National Veterans Art Museum, so I suppose that’s apropos. Continue reading “The counterpart to the “Hello, world!” post: “I aten’t dead yet.””

All My Hotspurs

Kenneth Branagh is the only Benedick; anyone else is just mouthing the lines. That’s what comes of having seen his Much Ado About Nothing at a very formative age. Even with the story reconfigured, as in the BBC Shakespeare Retold series, while I adore Damian Lewis’s take, it still looks odd to me.

I’m having this issue with a history play at the moment. Over the summer, the BBC released The Hollow Crown, a tetralogy spanning Richard II, both the Henry IVs and Henry V. Despite the fact that Shakespeare’s history plays have never really been my thing (I tend more towards the weird stuff), I was always going to watch these productions: Tom Hiddleston plays Prince Hal/Henry V. Now, he does a magnificent job, as does everyone on the cast and crew, but for me, someone else stole the show. Thanks to Joe Armstrong, I’ve become a total Hotspur fangirl. Continue reading “All My Hotspurs”

This story the world may read in me: Esther’s many feelings about Cymbeline

This past Memorial Day weekend I corrected a longstanding tragedy, which was that I had never seen Cymbeline performed. I’ve read it numerous times, but there’s a particular thrill in seeing a text you love interpreted in another medium—in this case, its right medium. The fabulous Alex agreed to trek down to Hyde Park during her visit to Chicago, and we showed up, full of dinner from a favorite college haunt, for an outdoor performance at the new (and stunning) Logan Center for the Arts. Continue reading “This story the world may read in me: Esther’s many feelings about Cymbeline”

Innogen and the Hungry Half: 08 – How fit his garments serve me

Silk embroidery depicting Penelope in scene from Homer's Odyssey

Previously: Not her perfume; Varinia departs; the Roman rails; threading wires through wood; the guard at the unmarked door; Dagobiti is not at his post; barbarism toward starfish; Pisanio knows; Posthumus moves on; Tincomarus Place; “He’s the other one”; “Shall you go first, or should I?”

Cambria: West of Britannia, unconquered by the Romans, ruled by coalitions of Silures and Ordovices. Sends no ambassadors, proclaims every dock an embassy. The free port at Milford-Haven remains open to all who come with nonmilitary and apolitical intent.

The road to Milford-Haven was unpaved, a bending, crooked thing parting the wide wilderness. Rigantona marched in a straight line, the chill spring damp still a shock on her skin and in her lungs. Behind her, the wagon wheel remained cracked, swallowed by a hole in the road, and Cloten continued shouting. He was 14 and rawboned, not yet shaving, not shy about leering at girls. She was 34, not meant to endure such things at this or any other age. The thought was dizzying, just walking away, relying on only herself again. She turned away from him mid-sentence and headed for the town the last mile marker had promised. Continue reading “Innogen and the Hungry Half: 08 – How fit his garments serve me”

Love in the time of science

Nikola Tesla testing Tesla coil indoors

First things first, folks: I have every hope of posting Chapter 8 of Innogen and the Hungry Half this Tuesday. I am proceeding with this post as though that will be the case. There’s some personal stuff happening at the moment, though, and we expect to get some important news over the next day or two. If there’s another delay, it will be because I’m dealing with family things. As ever, I deeply appreciate your patience and support.

I have been having some frankly wonderful conversations lately with the fabulous Alexandra Kingsley, who is always doing a lot of really cool things with literature, theater, the BBC Sherlock and Americana. (Everything she does is excellent, so you should check out her work!) She told me that she enjoys reviewing these preview posts after the next chapter goes up and seeing what hints link up to the story. Does anyone else do that? I really enjoy writing these up, so it’s lovely to hear you all are enjoying them too.

Fun fact, as an aside: Nikola Tesla shares a birthday with me, along with Jessica Simpson, John Calvin, Marcel Proust and the State of Wyoming.

In The heavens must still work, Imogen wakes up to find the world has changed around her while she slept. She goes to confront the source of all this upheaval, but what Rigantona has to say shocks her. What’s coming? How will it all unfold? Read on and see what you think!

One song:

“Haunted” by Poe [lyrics]

Ah, Poe. So great for so many reasons. This song and this album in particular have a lot of Shakespeare in them: Poe has threaded Hamlet throughout the album’s narrative, and here, bits of King Lear (“My heart will break before I cry”). I’m also delighted, now that I’ve read the lyrics, to discover that one line is “Hallways, always.” Right fitting all around.

Two links:

Rigantona’s device is not quite a Tesla coil, though they’re certainly closely related. One great thing about writing steampunk technology is you can play fast and loose with your skience, so long as you keep it believable/consistent. I do this with open eyes and hope my readers do too. However, this guy who works at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles (which you may recognize from Rebel Without a Cause) gives a great five-minute explanation of what a Tesla coil is really capable of, aside from emitting really cool, gigantic sparks.

And who knows how accurate this is, considering it’s from Tumblr, randomly, but I enjoyed this factoid about children and the age of most nightmares. Considering what’s coming, you may too.

Three lines:

Do you feel me right here? She pressed him to her shoulder as he gasped himself back to sleep. It was a problem to be worked out in the dark, the thin weight of him huddled against her side.

Big things are coming. Are you ready? New, game-changing chapter this Tuesday! As always, no knowledge of steampunk or Cymbeline is necessary to enjoy Innogen and the Hungry Half, but if you’d like to read the play, MIT has the full text available for free online.

Innogen and the Hungry Half: 07 – The heavens must still work

Fractured reflection of old clock face

Previously: Out after bedtime; Sower Street; a ringing endorsement; pub crawling in the Roman Empire; he’s not his brother; haven’t I seen you before?; katabasis; corralling Cloten; a convenient exit; a confession; a convenient pipe; a confirmation.

That isn’t my perfume.

It colors everything—the smell of my sheets, the smoke in my hair, the stink of Sower Street still in my clothes. A newspaper rustles. Before the sound ends, I am rigid and upright in my bed.

“Calm down, my dove. Helen let me in.” Varinia doesn’t look up from her broadsheet. She fits precisely into my chair, ankles crossed. She has come in her traveling clothes, the long, tailored jacket spilling over the seat.

I yank my quilt up to my waist. “How long have you been here?”

“You obviously needed your rest.” She eyes me around the page—the Citizen Countryman, out of Durocortorum. The headlines swim. “I took the liberty of having your letters sent out.” She makes a show of folding the paper, the creases correct, just so. “What an exciting evening you had. Was he worth it?”

“You are completely out of line.” I fling back the covers, willing my panic not to show so drastically, and bolt for the nearest dressing gown, slung over a closet door.

“Your hair is so long now.” She’s smiling at me. I can hear it. “I can’t remember the last time I saw it down.”

My hands shake as I tie off the robe. “Can you remember when last you saw fit to trespass on my chambers?”

Her chair creaks; she’s leaning back. “I’m leaving Britain soon. I’ve missed you.”

Helen let her in. Dorothy didn’t wake me up. In my own bedroom, of all places. I face her, fists balled at my sides. “Is this one of the rights of a quaestor of Rome? To presume you understand how I weight my schedule?”

“Have you been seeing to business, then? I should love to hear of it; my work has been lacking in trifles these days.” Her voice goes harder. “I cannot imagine what outweighs the future of your own nation, but then, I am not so young as you are.”

My knuckles go white. “Do not insult me for my age. You never have before.”

“And you have always kept your appointments. But then, you are very like your father.” Some of that languid drawl seeps back into her voice. Cold shots hurtle up and down my spine. “I worry, Imogen, that I am telling you this, rather than the reverse.” She reaches into her jacket and offers me a piece of folded paper—treasury letterhead. “This came across my desk last night. Look and see what your father has authorized.”

The memo is short and formulaic. By order of Cymbeline, Rex Britannicus, funds heretofore allocated to the below subsidies and works are hereby redirected to defense.

Increases in military spending. Illyria took steps long before they broke the Pax. My cheeks color. “You know he’s negotiating to expand the Roman rails. As a show of good faith—”

“Imogen.” Varinia rises. Her silence demands my full attention. “Rigantona’s been spending time here. We know what she’s like, and what she believes.”

I wait to hear it, proprietary technology, the good of the empire, where is ours, but Varinia only crooks an eyebrow. “It is easy enough to start a war from a pillow,” she says, more carefully.

I breathe in, once, and hold out the memo with a small smile. “Virginity doesn’t make me stupid.” We must be friends, Varinia and I. She is too valuable to be otherwise.

She shakes her head. “I have copies. Do not let your father deny it.” She hooks her buttons through each hole, one by one. “I have every confidence in you, my swan. Trust me when I say this visit was a compliment.”

We embrace, and I inhale her perfume. “All the same,” I say, in the moment before we let go, “when you come back to Britain…”

“In the spring, I hope.”

I set my hands on her elbows. “Never come into my bedroom like that again.”

“If you invited me, I could never accept.” She winks, and kisses my cheek. “I’ll be in Lusitania for a month, then winter in Cyrenaica.” Her lips curl at the corners. “I’m only a telegram away. Please send word if you’re in danger of marrying Rigantona’s son.”

I clutch my stomach. “You would never say such a thing if you had met him.”

Helen is pacing outside my door, hugging one elbow, a knuckle to her lips. She snaps to attention, anxious, but I dispatch her and Varinia both with coolness and poise. Varinia glances at me over her shoulder; I shut the door and sink against it.

The room looks different to me, now that someone has intruded on it. Dorothy declined to wake me up. Helen chose to let Varinia in. I cannot be showing that much strain. I cannot require tending.

No one who knows this business could accuse me of being idle. Even so, I have been stalling; nothing else can rightly call itself preparation. In the quiet, I slip out of my dressing gown and shuck off last night’s disguise. No more skirting the matter. I must arm myself.


Dorothy pins my damp and scented hair, not at all hiding that she’s watching me in the mirror. I hold myself straight and still, looking over my vanity. The tabletop is a clutter of bottles, tins and notes, but only we will ever know that. I will look my part today: she will appreciate that. The dress of a local, highly regarded make; the necklace from Sorviodunum, Rigantona’s birthplace; the glass comb in peacock colors, a gift from Neapolis, shot through with gold teeth.

“I am only saying—” Dorothy begins.

My eyes flick up. “We are done with this.”

She adjusts a roll of hair. “It’s not that you’ve been straying, it’s that for you, all this—”

“I’m not a child, Dorothy. It’s not your place to mind me like this—”

“—you’re leaping out of a hot air balloon.” For a moment, we glare at each other’s reflections. Dorothy thins her lips. “You’re never like this, Imogen. You’ve always been so good.”

Lies have their uses, but the truth accomplishes more. I look away. “On the contrary, I think I am more myself than ever.”

The door swings inward; Helen approaches my chair, too quiet, her usual bundle of letters and papers in hand.

I break the silence, as is my right. “You are in a king’s house, Helen.”

Helen does not waver. “She thanked us for your father’s hospitality.” She sets the letters atop a jewelry box. “She mentioned the Boar and Brachet, and said you would know what that means. I am to ask after its local charm.”

I must exhale. “It has little.” Varinia did not press on the matter of Cloten; another front may have opened up, but I suspect she’s showing her hand to make a point. If the world knows the British princess came to Sower Street, it will have come from her. I look back to Helen. “Where is the king this morning?”

Helen raises her eyebrows. “With chieftains from the Cornovii and the Atrebates, touring sites for the Roman rails. He’ll be out of Londinium for several days.”

Dorothy sets the final pin in my hair. She holds up a hand mirror so I may inspect the back. A moment’s study, and then I look to Helen. “If he writes, tell him all is well.”

She remains stiff-backed. “Lie to him?”

I rise, and gather up the letters she brought. She will see my face as I speak. “There is no lie in it.”


Only the din of construction troubles the halls, muffled, intermittent and somewhere out of sight. Someone must have told me that my father would be gone. I must have known, though I cannot call one scenario less worrisome than another. The full contingent of guards remains at the palace; they patrol the corridors, vigilant of the royal person as ever. Some stand square-jawed and ceremonial, but others nod and wink as I pass.

As a little girl, I honed many of my charms on the palace guard. I was reprimanded more than once for distracting them from their work. I argued that they would protect a friend better than an assignment. My father always growled that duty was impetus enough.

Rigantona’s work crew greets me with an atlas of accents: Durotriges, Brigantes, Iceni, one thick burr I suspect is Caledonian. One shows me how they’re threading the wires through the walls without damaging the woodwork. A low hum laps at the edge of my hearing. The Caledonian engineer assures me it’s just the generator stowed in a wall nearby. There are more of them every several yards. It’ll subsume, he says. I won’t notice it after a bit.

The unmarked door is three halls away, with no guard in sight. More than Varinia’s cautions, Cloten’s words last night have wormed their way into me. I cannot begrudge my father some dalliances. It has been a long time since my mother died. I will focus on this, on arming myself. I will push past what happened on Sower Street: Cloten’s fumbling hands, his sour breath, his plaintive, abusive self-pity.

This is the usual room. It looks onto a secluded cul-de-sac; in the spring and summer, it smells of mint and the flowering trees below. A place for lingering. The bed is crisply made, the linens sweet and fresh. Greenhouse flowers sit on a table, the water high in the vase. There is no more reason to stay here. I know enough.

My father sets his favorites outside this door. When I step into the hallway, I don’t recognize the guard with whom I nearly collide. The guard has a young face atop a broad body. I blink at him. “This is Dagobiti’s post.”

The stranger gestures with his pike at the hallway. “I’m filling in for him, milady.”

Dagobiti has always showed promise—strapping, popular, discreet. When I was younger, I nursed a bit of heartache that our love could never be. I wonder who this new boy is, and what he has done to merit guarding Cymbeline’s lovers. I search his face. “Is he with the king?”

He is too professional to shrug, but he wants to. “I wasn’t informed,” he says, “just told to be here.”

I cannot begrudge him. There is value in being where you should be.


I glance at Dr. Cornelius’s back. “Are you sure he doesn’t mind?”

Posthumus snorts. “Only one thing makes him happier than being arm-deep in starfish, and that’s cutting live starfish in half.”

“Is that what you do here?”

“It’s not that barbaric,” he insists. “They grow back. He’s studying how they regenerate.”

Dr. Cornelius coaxes and cajoles his quarry from the side of a barrel. My insides twist on themselves a little. I turn back to Posthumus. He stoops to avoid the hanging lamps; the yellow cast of the light brings out the bruises under his eyes. “Pisanio knows,” he says quietly, before I can explain myself. “We spent most of the night talking about it.”

A particular spot in my chest clenches. I would have trusted Dorothy that much, before this morning. “What did he say?”

“That I was always an easy boy to raise, and that he can’t speak for raising any other.” A shadow deepens at the corner of his mouth, but his shoulders are tight. “It came out, though, that I changed when I was eight.” He bows his head. “He just thought I was living up to my potential.”

I hug my elbows. “You believe it happened, then.”

“I see no other explanation.” He pulls at his rubber gloves. “It makes no sense not to move on.”

He wrestles with it, though. Every inch of him broadcasts his struggle. I don’t know why it troubles me less, to think that he has been distilled into his best parts. Then, that is our nature, his and mine. Posthumus is the good half. I have seen it all my life. So be it if that is the consequence of our actions that night, even if Cloten is the byproduct.

(I must still make myself pity Cloten. A better person would have done so already. Who would leave anyone passed out and injured in an alley? But I am coming to accept that as well.)

“You’re dressed very nicely,” Posthumus says, when neither of us have continued. “Are you going to see her?”

I push my shoulders back. “Yes.”

“I ought to come,” he says, but makes no move to remove his gear.

I hesitate. “How did Pisanio manage when you told him?”

“Not well. He thinks it’s mad. But he’s not running from it.” Posthumus watches Dr. Cornelius. The frames of his glasses glint briefly. “It’s a lot to take in.”

“Aha!” Dr. Cornelius raises his arms and beams. “There—the work of many months! Pure science, my lady. Your father won’t be sorry!” I peer at the specimen he displays for us, spread out in his hands. His quarry is a misshapen creature, with one large arm and a number of odd-sized others. My stomach lurches. I imagine it has been cut many times over.

“Is that the original?” I am too aware of Posthumus just at my shoulder.

Dr. Cornelius’s smile falters. “Eh?

“When you cut them—” I nod at the starfish. “Is one the original and the other the twin?”

“No,” says Posthumus, a tray in hand. He steps past me, heading for the scalpels. “No, there’s no original.” He begins picking out his instruments. I can’t see his face. “They both are.”


Tincomarus Place is no place for a revolutionary. The houses are uniform and fine, with pristine faces and good bones. Of course, Rigantona, clarissima femina, is not afraid of tools, any more than I am afraid of armor.

I look at what she’s telling me from the sitting room where I wait. She has only been renting the property for a matter of weeks, but she has filled it with books—interesting ones, from what I can see, touching on all number of subjects. Every available surface is covered, with papers, letters, bits of machinery, a stained teacup and saucer, whatever is at hand. I imagine the housekeeper’s orders are the same as ours: do not move a thing, I know exactly where everything is. The knot in my chest eases, if briefly, and irrationally: she is just as messy as I am.

I remember how it is now, to be nervous about meetings. Varinia always said that was the side effect of perceiving a power imbalance. Rigantona is a scientist, and I am heir to the throne. This is not a matter of power.

I focus on my breathing, in and out, deeper and slower, until the room slows down. I cannot ask this question yet, not even in front of Posthumus. I must prepare myself.

Heavy footsteps outside, descending a staircase. The noise jolts me out of my calm. My mind sprints from one unlikely possibility to another. I strain to see through the open door.

Cloten staggers past, bleary-eyed and grubby. Straight lines are beyond him: he blunders against a wall with a soft thump. I’m on my feet before I can reconsider, watching him from the next door down. He catches sight of me. I grind my teeth, bracing for some assault, but he simply grunts, sighs and continues. No memory of the alley, then. No memory that we found him, or that we came for him. He slouches away, trailing the tie of his bathrobe.

I have no more hope of quiet; now I can hear all the noises of the house. Pipes rumbling, shoes clacking, door shutting. I straighten. Two voices, coming closer through the corridor. One is Rigantona’s; the other is male, and familiar.

I peer down the hall. She is striding alongside a palace guard, one who is out of uniform but unmistakable. I have become uncareful about watching. Dagobiti spots me and slows to a halt. “My lady?”

Rigantona steps forward, lit up with a smile. “My dear Lady Imogen, what a surprise!”

“Good morning to you both.” There can be no more preparation. I hold my chin up and look to Dagobiti. “My apologies, I didn’t expect to find you here.”

He grins. “The king has asked me to supervise the new security system. Rigantona was putting me through my paces to be sure I’m up to it.”

“He more than is.” She sets a friendly hand on his shoulder. “I hope you’ll forgive me if I turn my attentions to the princess.”

“Not at all, ma’am!” Dagobiti shakes Rigantona’s hand, then offers me a crisp parting bow. “My lady.”

The house has gone quiet to me again. Rigantona leads us back into the sitting room. “I’m so pleased you dropped in, my lady.” She catches my eye and smiles. “I was about to order lunch. Would you do me the pleasure of joining me?”

“I suspect you may wish to hear me out before that.” I fold my gloved hands. Here it begins. “I’ve come on a matter that’s personal to both of us.”

Something canny comes over her face. She offers me a seat, which I accept; she pauses, to remove her jacket. “I beg your pardon, my lady. If we may both make ourselves comfortable…”

The sleeves of her shirt are rolled to the elbow. Her forearms teem with tattoos; more are surely hidden beneath her clothes. Rigantona gives me a wry smile. “The markings of a different age. I assure you they were quite fashionable at the time.”

The ink is bright and crisp: she maintains them. They’re also all of a type: horses, trees, slogans, fish, whorls. All the iconography of British nationalism. She lowers herself slowly to her seat.

“A personal matter, then. My dear, I believe I can guess.” She presses her palms together and touches the tip of her mouth. “It’s your Posthumus. He’s the other one.”

There it is. And still my preparations fail me. “My—sorry?”

“Posthumus. Your friend. Or… more than that?” She lifts her eyebrows.

“He’s a dear friend,” I say quickly.

She lowers her hands and nods. “I knew as soon as I saw him. I didn’t wish to proceed indelicately, though. Imagine my shock—of all people, the daughter of the king.”

I prop my hands against my knees, though every inch of me must be shaking. “We must trade stories, then. I owe you an explanation, and much more.”

“Yes,” Rigantona says, and threads her fingers. “Such a long time we’ve been half in the dark. Shall you go first, Lady Imogen, or should I?”

home | next: How fit his garments serve me

Hi, and thanks for reading! Got some feelings? I would love to hear your thoughts. All content © Esther Bergdahl, 2011. Thanks again, and hope you enjoy!

Innogen and the Hungry Half: 06 – A tail more perilous than the head

Previously: Britannicus the pamphleteer; Imogen the diplomat; Cymbeline versus Illyria; Cymbeline versus Innogen; Dr. Cornelius and his caller; Posthumus and the walls; Rigantona looks fondly on him; Imogen leaves on her own.

All of Londinium is my city, even the parts I haven’t seen yet. Behind us is the palace, the chieftains, the minders, the arrangements, the backrooms. Behind us is my father, whose greatest fear is that I will be out of bed.

We have the river between us now. Yes, it warms me a little. Maybe some. Maybe more.

This is my city, day and night. It will open to us if we ask.


“I say, I say, I say! A girl for that other arm, my lad? Fine-looking woman, two’s better than one, I say!”

Posthumus pulls me closer, stammering to the stout man who’s planted himself in our way. The fellow winks at me and tips his cap. “Or I got boys—you want two boys for your lovely lady there? Guarantee she’ll love it, bet you will too! Ten pieces for the first hour, prices negotiable after that.”

“I—thank you,” Posthumus tries, pushing up his glasses. A towering woman jostles us with an enormous, ragged bustle as she passes. I clutch my jacket as I catch myself, to be sure of my purse inside.

“We’re fine,” I say quickly, and lead Posthumus around the pander.

“It’s Bellicia’s Bawds when you change your mind!” he shouts after us.

Before I came to Sower Street, I might only have known this: that when the Romans built their great bridges over the Tamesis, fishers sold their bankside land to builders and moved on from fishing. That taverns, theaters and all manner of low entertainment bought deeds along the new road, and flourished like so many toadstools. That Sower Street is a byword in Britain for all the trappings of ill-spent money and youth.

Posthumus twists to stare at the pander, gobsmacked at the offer we just fled. “This was a better idea at the palace,” he says.

I have to smile, only a little. “Oh come now. Cloten is here somewhere—what’s that, if not a ringing endorsement?” I nod toward the long row of public houses, Romans and Britons alike streaming through the open doors. “Which one looks most appealing?”

“I’m not him,” he says, irritated. “Don’t start with that.”


I have accepted the fundamental madness of our childhoods, for which I’ve been granted some narrative consistency. Posthumus may not remember it, but that means nothing. Soldiers may black out the pitch of battle; survivors of a sinking ship may blot out their time in the water. A trauma like ours could easily leave no trace. A child might touch a machine and become two children. A girl might dream of it for years and learn it was true.

Cloten might know what happened that night at the exhibition. He was there too, and his mother who found him had to tell him something. We are not doing anything unreasonable, now that this is the case.


The Emporion, the sprawling port. Every surface plated with bright tiles from Massilia. Continental fare covers the tables, wine and olives and goat’s cheese and rosemary. One look and I’m ready to turn around. “He’s not here.”

Posthumus knits his brow. “He might have stopped in.”

Rigantona surely raised him calling us Lud’s-town. She believes in Britain. This place seethes with empire.

Posthumus catches a trim, dark man in a spotless apron. “Excuse me,” he says, one hand on his arm. “I’m looking for someone, my height, no glasses, curly hair.” The server glares and pushes past us. Posthumus tries to follow. “His name is Cloten. Has he been by?”

The server curls his lip and leaves us behind. At the bar, a smartly-dressed man, his black hair slicked neatly back, smirks into his tumbler. I am exquisitely aware of my scuffed boots and seasons-old skirt, of Posthumus’s knobby wrists inches beneath the sleeves of his coat. This place is aspirational; he wants to be here, not Cloten. All at once, I’m embarrassed for him. I grip the back of a nearby chair. “We can do better than this.”

Posthumus’s expression curdles, just a little. “I’m listening.”

You live at the palace, I want to say. Instead, I nod to the tiles, to the statues of the gods. “Let’s start with places where he wouldn’t come just to pick a fight.”

“Fine.” He dips his chin. “By all means, we’ll do it your way.”

I drop my hand. “That’s not what I’m saying—”

“Aren’t we wasting time?” he says, and strides toward the door.


“Can we be clear on one thing?” Posthumus steps to avoid a puddle of effluvia, pressing us instead into a hooting gaggle of wealthy teenage boys. “I need to know why you’re out here with me.”

“We need to find Cloten. Were you not sure?” I squeeze my elbows to my side, narrowly dodging a young man with much to learn about sharing space. “Remember we both had the same idea and met in the middle.”

Posthumus shakes his head. “I want to find him and see what he’s about. As far as I can tell, you just want to win at something.”

I smile. He’s needling because he can, because he’s nervous. “What do I want to win here?”

“You don’t like it that no one thinks your theory is wonderful,” he says. “You don’t like it that I haven’t said I believe you.”

My smile becomes tighter. “I don’t like that you’re less committed than I expected.”

“Soft beds up here!” someone calls from an open window. “No fleas! Good rates!”

Posthumus bows his head. “You’re telling me that I’m half of some other person. Forgive me if I’d rather take some time on this.”

Rigantona is not waiting for any of us. I can only laugh; I am out of other rebuttals. “What time have we got?”


Ardu, named for the forest without roads. The walls teem with hunting gear and taxidermy; no subtlety nor chance of escape allowed. The barkeep glowers, a gladiator in a starched shirt. His bald head gleams; his mustache bristles, perfectly trimmed. His arms bulge as he wipes down a mug that engulfs his fist.

“He’s not my brother,” Posthumus insists. “I’m just looking for him.”

The barkeep eyes me suspiciously. I give him a bland, eager smile. He grunts. “Strangers have no business hearing about my customers.”

I have coin ready; it gleams against the counter between us. “We’re customers too. Doesn’t that make us friendly?”

He pockets the money with not a flicker of interest and strolls off to the taps. Posthumus drums his fingers, engrossed with the wall art. The din of the pub rushes in to fill the space. Behind us, a cluster of men howls in a parody of song. A few seats down, a red lady leans against a shabby man, her hair threaded with the ribbons of her trade. Where her hand is is anyone’s guess. Posthumus appears, with effort, not to notice.

The barkeep returns with two tankards, one laughably dainty, which he sets before me. He grunts at Posthumus. “Left here about an hour ago,” he says. “I wasn’t sorry to see the back of him.”

I lean over the counter. He can be no harder to crack than a proconsul. “You don’t have any idea where he could have gone?”

The barkeep’s monstrous mustache twitches, but Posthumus cedes the man’s attention to me. “He didn’t confide in me. I’d guess further down the street.” He says so with rueful disdain, as one who knows that he’s low but not that low.

“He’s not my brother,” Posthumus insists, setting down his mug. The barkeep watches him, unimpressed. Posthumus glances at me, wipes his mouth and drinks again.


Three Cambrians cheer as we leave Ardu. “Lovely catch!” crows a ruddy fellow with one dead tooth. Posthumus tightens his hold around my shoulders.

“They’ve obviously seen him!” I hiss. “Let’s go back!”

“There’s nothing obvious about it,” he says, eyes forward. “They’re just catcalling.”

“I could give a damn. We have to talk to them!” I squirm out from under his arm.

He throws up his hands. “Yes, of course we do, Imogen, because after all, it’s your idea, and your ideas are never wrong.”

I circle in front of him and glare. “Would you shout a little louder, please? I don’t think the whole street heard my name.”

He rolls his eyes. “Oh, calm down.”

Don’t, Posthumus.”


We cut across the current, across the street. On the curb, a young woman is bawling; another crouches next to her, rubbing her back. Drunks spill past us, laughing and baiting each other. We step to one side, not looking at each other, waiting for an opening. One of them catches sight of us. He’s a middle-aged man, shorter than I am, half bald with a merry face. He beams. “Here now. Haven’t I seen you before?”

“I think you’re mistaken,” says Posthumus, at the same time I say, “Him? Have you seen him?”

“No. No no no.” The man veers closer. “I know I’ve seen you before.” He wags a finger. My breath catches. “Down on Epaticcus Lane, eh? Here on your own time, then?” He reaches for my arm.

In an instant, Posthumus has stepped between us. He has a good eight inches on the man. I cannot think of Posthumus as ferocious, but in that moment, he is so still, I wonder what he might do.

“Too early for a fight, Mato.” One of his friends pounds his shoulder and pulls him back. Mato gives me one more merry wink before he’s swept off down the street.

“This is all a mistake,” Posthumus murmurs, neck bent.

“Let’s not catastrophize.” I slip my arm through his again. I also look behind us, watching Mato, weaving away.


The Boar and Brachet, wild pigs and hounds crowding every inch. Posthumus cocks his head. “Isn’t it the Gauls who are obsessed with boars?”

It’s an old place, all the wood dark and stained and smooth. The booths are pitted with nicks and dents, deeply gouged with graffiti. The names and boasts are all British; not a hint of Latin to be seen or heard. A proud place. For a princess of Britain under Rome, an oddly uncomfortable place.

Posthumus has gone still again. Of course he has: abruptly, there is Cloten, raising his glass to a group of regulars.

He is hard to watch. He goes from chair to chair, the dog wagging furiously and hoping for scraps. I still can’t reconcile the movements he makes with the face and the body he wears. His expression shifts constantly, often exaggerated, often unpleasant. I glance at Posthumus, who is so quiet I hope he will come up for air.

“We should get him,” I say quietly.

Posthumus looks at me, skeptical. “It’s noisy, it’s raucous, the night is young and so are we—what do you think you’re getting from him tonight?”

“He’ll talk to us,” I insist. “This is important.”

“Imogen, this theory of yours, I’m not even sure I believe you yet.” Posthumus slips his hands in his pockets and looks out over the bar. Then: “I’ll get him.”

“Why don’t we both—”

Posthumus shakes his head. He’s in earnest. I glance toward the bar again, uncomfortable. “You don’t like each other.”

He doesn’t look away. “Let me have this.”

Posthumus is here for a different reason than I am. If I am honest, I have no rebuttal.

He leaves me at a booth that hasn’t been cleared yet. I slide into the middle of the bench and try being patient. One hand starts tugging at the fingers of the other. The noise of Sower Street is starting to bear down on me. I jump at an unseen burst of laughter. At another table, a handful of sailors whistle at me. When I look up, one of them makes grotesque kissing faces; another waves me over. I swallow. Posthumus has left me alone with my city. Realizing I don’t feel safe here infuriates me.

The Greeks have a name for everything. In one word, they describe the act of descending into the underworld: katabaino. Perhaps tonight is making me heavy-handed. I think we’re at the rim of something we can’t see the bottom of.

The pit of my stomach boils, watching Posthumus’s slow collision course with his double. Cloten has shed his jacket and rolled his sleeves to the elbow, loose-limbed and gregarious; Posthumus is shabby and contained, pushing politely through the throng. I wonder, in that moment, precisely what parts of him went with Cloten when they split.

I brace myself for tension, more of the spitting cats from our encounter near the Pallas. Instead, Cloten beams and crows “Posthumus Leonatus!” before thumping him on the back. He embarks on a ramble, full of gesticulations. The regulars lose interest. Posthumus leans close to him, and then points toward me. Cloten’s face lights up with that leer. My jaw goes tight. He swipe his coat from a stool and marches toward the booth, Posthumus at his shoulder. I slide to the outside edge of the bench: he’ll have no chance for liberties.

Cloten plants both hands on the table in front of me. “Who’d have thought to see you here?” He grins. “You have any more surprises for me tonight?”

He reeks of curmi, the cheap barley liquor. Posthumus hovers behind him. To see them side-by-side is still dizzying. I lift my chin. “Have a seat.”

Cloten needs no further obliging; he throws himself down the bench. Posthumus lowers himself next to him, corralling him by the wall. I fold my hands. “Cloten, we’re so glad we found you.”

“Aren’t you?” He smirks, and slings an arm over the back of the booth. “I knew you couldn’t keep away from me.”

“That’s not what she’s saying,” Posthumus begins.

He reaches for his shirt buttons. “I was going to woo you first, but hell, if you’re eager, I’m willing—”

“Cloten,” I interrupt sharply. “This is important.”

He pounds the table. “By all means, then, another round!” He splays a hand over the table, then counts each finger. “I have been at this for five hours now. Let me elucidate you, it only gets better with more.”


Cloten plants his chin in his palm. “You came for me,” he says dreamily. “How many times?”

“Mind yourself,” says Posthumus sharply. “She’s going to be queen one day.”

Cloten wags his eyebrows, a senseless jackal just before he laughs.

“Enough.” I shift toward the edge of the bench. “Cloten, we have questions for you, personal questions. Let us take you somewhere, we can make sense of some things.”

“Why, what is it we can’t do here? Other than the expected. I’ve already been reprimanded for that.” He slings an elbow around Posthumus’s neck. “I feel so close to you already—”

“He’s not your brother!” I snap, unplanned and more passionately than intended.

Cloten wrinkles his nose. “Who’s saying that?” Posthumus watches me while carefully disentangling himself from Cloten’s arm. “You know, we both made mistakes tonight.” Cloten’s mouth twists, ugly. “You left your father with my mother, and I left my mother with your father.”

Posthumus frowns. “She’s working for the king.”

Cloten twists toward him. “Have you ever worked a queen?” He winks at me. “Or a future queen?” He claps a hand on Posthumus’s knee. “You should if you haven’t tried.”

My cheeks are hot. All my foolishness is smacking me in the face right now. Everything we’ve learned tonight could have waited another day. “Watch yourself, Cloten. You won’t remember this in the morning, but I will.”

“Save your breath,” he sneers. “This isn’t the palace. None of this matters and no one cares.”

“Listen,” says Posthumus quickly, glancing at me, then turning to Cloten. “Why not take a walk? Get some fresh air?”

Cloten points at him. “You have an interest in asking me nicely.”

“We both do,” he says. “Come on, there’s no reason we can’t all be friends.”

Cloten thumps both elbows on the table. “I like him,” he says to me. He sniffs. “So what if he’s poor and half Roman? I wish you could be more like him. Wait, this is a good one!” He hunches low. “Have you got any Roman in you?”

Posthumus sighs. “Don’t answer that.” He stands and buttons his jacket. The sailors start to howl and whistle.

“Are we going?” Cloten blinks. He waves lazily at the churning pub crowd. “Forget all this. I know a back way out. Forgive me if I’m not precise—I was distracted when the lady showed it to me.”


We’ve come only to make him trust us. We follow him, past the brewing vats, past the kitchens, out the delivery doors, into the alley and past the men urinating on the bricks. Posthumus and Cloten walk sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes drifting into a line. The rhythm in their movements is nothing alike: Posthumus upright, steady; Cloten swaggering, meandering. How different they became. How queasy to see them together.

The alley runs parallel to the street—to be expected, but so far we can’t seem to find a way back, save through other pubs. I glance at Cloten, hoping he hasn’t led us totally astray. There’s something haggard in his face under the cider cast of the gaslamps. He’s coiled tight and in his cups, which makes me warier than ever. “Are we close?” I ask, hoping one or the other will answer.

Cloten stops and looks around, his face blank. Posthumus turns and points over his shoulder. “I’ll check up ahead.” His long stride takes him away from us before I can insist otherwise.

Cloten and I stand there by the trash bins of The Laughing Mare, awkward as unwilling dancers. The persistent roar of merrymaking is muddied back here, as is the silt smell of the river. “You came for me,” Cloten says thickly.

“We were impatient.” I glance up the alley, to check on Posthumus. “We think you might know something important.”

He shakes his head, something unspooling in his face. “No one ever comes for me.” Too late I see he’s closing the space between us. I sidestep him, but he traps me between his arm and the bricks. “Finally,” he slurs, and leans in, mouth open.

It happens so quickly. I twist away; his lips only graze my forehead. I catch the full force of his five hours of drinking, and gag. His hand gropes at my stomach, seeking higher than that. He tries to pull me toward him. “Oh no,” I grunt; I grind my teeth, brace myself and ram my elbow into his chest.

He staggers, wide-eyed, hanging midair for a moment before collapsing spectacularly into a stack of empty crates. His limbs go flailing. A rat shrieks and scuttles away, at which Cloten thrashes even harder. “What was that for?” he yells.

I raise both fists. “What do you think it was for?”

“Oh, that’s right,” Cloten snarls, grappling for purchase and toppling more boxes. “Never mind what my mother’s doing to your father right now. Never mind what a man wants for himself. It’s all the same whatever Cloten wants.”

Posthumus skids to a halt behind me. He checks in, a hand on my elbow, then takes a step toward Cloten, who shouts, “You stop pretending at me!” He rolls away from the mess he’s made and pushes himself to his full height. “I don’t need you,” he barks. “I’ll find better ones. To all the hells with both of you!”

He spins on his heel and marches, full speed ahead, two whole paces, where he collides, headfirst, with a thick copper pipe and lands flat on his back, dead to the world.

One of the men who’d been at the wall yells up the alley. “Hurt, love?”

I wrap my jacket as close around me as I can. I’ve gone cold with rage, shaking and breathing hard. Posthumus sets a hand on my shoulder. “We’re fine,” he shouts back.


Posthumus takes a step toward him. “Come on.”

I plant my feet. “Come on what?”

He stops. “We can’t just leave him there.”

“I don’t see why not.”

Posthumus just nods. “Fine. Go back to the palace. I’ll meet you there.”

My knuckles go white. “Don’t be absurd. I’m not leaving without you.” Posthumus lifts his eyebrows. I point to Cloten. “You’re excusing him?”

He holds up his palms. “No, I’m not—”

My voice quakes. “You were right, you know. There was no way we’d get anything out of him, now or ever.”

“That isn’t what I—“

“We’re done. I could honestly give a fig what happens to him.”

“You have stakes in this if I do,” Posthumus says quietly. I only listen because it’s him, it’s Posthumus, and he came with me tonight. “You’ve asked me to believe a lot of difficult things about Cloten and me. Either he’s as important as you say, or you don’t want to deal with what you’ve started.” We’ve both gone still now. “Tell me,” he says, “because it’s one or it’s the other.”


We drag him back toward Sower Street, toward the gaslamps, toward the hackney cabs. We carry him between us, deadweight over our shoulders. Cloten’s eyes flutter open. I ought to want to see him as Posthumus does, as related, as salvageable, but I can’t. I can’t and I won’t. Cloten laughs, unsteady and soft. “You’ve never come back for me before.”

Posthumus leans closer. “What was that?”

He releases a long, deep breath, a rotten wind. “My whole life, over and over again at night. I’m left there and I can’t see anything and no one ever comes back for me.” He trips, and Posthumus grunts as he props him up.

I hitch his arm up higher. “We came for you, Cloten.”

“It was just an accident,” he mumbles. “I caused so much trouble.”

“Yes,” I murmur, resenting his sour smell, the fact of my bearing him. “More than you know.”

“The lights went out,” he continues, and his voice cracks. “Oh, everything just went out, and no one came.”

An empty cab lurches in our direction. I hail it, certain it won’t slow down even after it hits us. The driver casts a jaundiced eye at us, but accepts us with our load.

“Well,” Cloten sighs as we push him upright into a seat. “She came for me. But she wasn’t angry long.”

“Say it again?” Posthumus settles in beside him, but Cloten is already snoring, open-mouthed.


I realize this as we are walking home, Cloten since deposited at his front step.

The nightmare will come tonight: the pearlescent glow, the air sucked out of our chests, the towering generator thrumming through the floor. Children can touch a machine and become two children. Posthumus has no such memory, but that is not proof against it.

“I did win,” I say softly. Posthumus looks at me, brow furrowed. Oh, for all the comfort it brings me. “It happened just like I’ve said it did.” I ball my hands in my pockets. “Cloten remembers.”

Posthumus matches me, step for step. “How can you tell?”

“He dreams it. He said so, on the way back.”

Neither one of us speaks. We plod on, quiet as the city around us, back to our beds in my father’s palace.

 | next: The heavens must still work

Hi, and thanks for reading! Got some feelings? I would love to hear your thoughts. All content © Esther Bergdahl, 2011. Thanks again, and hope you enjoy!