Richard Lazarus sat nursing a pint of Guiness at a quiet bar in Greenwich Village, waiting for his date. The bar that they had agreed to meet at was just down the street from her apartment, so he didn’t expect too long a wait. But one never knew – woman’s perogative and all, he mused. So he arrived early, as was his custom, and sat watching the mirror behind the bar, waiting for her arrival. The face that stared back at him was unremarkable, until you looked in his eyes. Something about those odd, amber colored eyes hinted of mystery and sadness. Beyond those odd eyes, he was a man of average height and in the physical prime of adulthood. His sandy brown hair was closely and stylishly trimmed, his face clean-shaven. He was stylishly dressed, wearing a collared, burgundy, pull-over shirt with a zippered neck, baggy grey slacks, belted with a broad, black belt, and black, flat-soled, biker-style boots with buckles on each side. The black leather bomber jacket, which lay on the bar next to him, completed the ensemble.
As he waited, he smiled to himself, thinking of his date. Gwen was a tall brunette, with deeply tanned skin and laughing blue eyes. He’d met her at an artist’s debut party in the village, and the attraction between them was immediate and mutual. Even after all these years, it never ceased to amaze him that he remained continually enchanted by beautiful, intelligent women. Of course, he mused, the next time I see a beautiful woman and I fail to appreciate her beauty, it will be time to finally toss the dirt in my face, because, then, I’ll be dead.
That first night, they had shared drinks and found their way back to her apartment, where they had made love through the early morning hours, finally falling asleep with the dawn. When they parted, they exchanged phone numbers, and he had hoped to see her again. So when she called him to invite him to a play, he just couldn’t refuse. Even if that play was Shakespeare’s Henry V . . . and even if the date was October the twenty-fifth.
While he waited, he used the mirror to survey his surroundings. There were two couples playing pool off to his left. A pitcher of pale-colored beer sat on the table beside them, as they drank and laughed, taking turns shooting. Given the amount of time they’d been playing since they last racked a set of balls, it didn’t look like any of them were very good at pool. Regardless, they seemed to be having fun.
To his right, a pair of off duty cops was blowing off steam. Though they were out of uniform, he’d noticed a badge in the shorter one’s wallet when he paid for the drinks. He overheard the taller of the two say, “ . . . it was a slow shift. Just like I like it.”
His companion agreed, “Yeah, that’s always nice. Not like last night’s double homicide.” He up-ended his glass of beer. “Some days, I don’t know why I do this job.”
Richard looked at them more closely. The shorter one was balding, with thin blonde hair, and was a bit heavy-set, while his friend was a couple of inches over six feet, with the dark complexion of Italian genes and a five-o’clock shadow. He motioned to the bartender, a tall redhead with a tired face, and asked, “Pool?” placing a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.
She grabbed a set of billiard balls from behind the bar, and placed them in front of the two officers, “You want your change, or do you want to just run it towards another round of drinks?”
“How ‘bout we get a pitcher and you let us know when we owe more? Can you bring it over to the table?”, he asked. As they walked away, Richard overheard the taller one saying, “Yeah, it sucks coming upon a couple of young kids with their throats cut . . .”
Without appearing to take notice, Richard tried to listen in, but the two men had moved too far away. Survival instincts die hard, and one never knew when such information might prove useful. However rare vampires were, it always paid to pay attention to slasher murders. This one was probably nothing out of the ordinary, but he made a mental note to check the details of the killings later
After the bartender returned from taking the pitcher to the two cops, she looked down the bar and smiled at Richard, then moved over to him.
“Are you waiting for someone?” she asked. She was probably pushing forty, but was still quite attractive, he thought.
He smiled back, but said, “Yes, my date and I are supposed to meet here. She should be any minute.” He looked up to see her walking through the doors behind him, “And here she is.” He turned to greet Gwen.
She was wearing a long suede leather coat – unbuttoned and open in the front – over a full-length black dress. Her evening dress was cut very low in front. She had beautiful cleavage, he thought. The dress was also slit up the right side, showing off one long, muscular leg. She smiled at him as he turned, looked at the bartender with an amused grin and said, “Richard, I’m glad I got here on time. Given another minute or two and you’d have forgotten about me entirely.”
“Not a chance, Gwen. Not a chance,” he returned the smile as she stepped close for a kiss. “Do you want to stay for a drink, or are you ready to go?”
“I’ll have a drink.” She looked at the bartender and ordered, “Scotch and soda.” The bartender gave Richard a disappointed glance as she mixed the drink, then placed the drink on a small napkin and moved down the bar.
Gwen took a sip, looked at Richard and smiled. She nodded towards the retreating back of the bartender and said to him, “I don’t know how you do it. I noticed that at the party the other night – women seem to just open up to you.”
“I’m a good listener, I guess,” Richard said quietly.
Her expression grew introspective, “No, there’s something more. Something about your eyes – you have a sadness that never really leaves your eyes, no matter how much you smile. Women see that and wonder, ‘what’s this guy’s story’,” she took a drink, and her face brightened. “I guess we just love a mystery. Especially when it’s wrapped up in a good looking guy,” good-naturedly elbowing him in the ribs.
“Flatterer,” he said, with a lopsided grin. He changed the subject, “You sure you want to see Henry V?”
“Now Richard, what do you have against Shakespeare?” she asked, with mock indignation. “You’d think an English professor would appreciate the bard.”
He was quiet for a moment. He couldn’t tell her the truth, and so could only give the admittedly lame excuse, sighing, “I really enjoy Shakespeare, if its done right.”
Gwen replied, “Well, this one is getting great reviews.” She finished off her drink, and took his hand, “Shall we?” taking a step for the door.
Richard picked up his coat, tossed a couple of bills on the bar, “Let’s be off then.”
Gwen was right. The play was truly a splendid rendition of Henry V. However, as he sat in the darkened theatre, his attention began to wander as baritone voice of the lead actor cried out:
“ . . . He that shall live this day, and see old age,
will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
and say ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then he will strip his sleeve and show his scars,
and say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’”
Gwen leaned over, put her hand on my knee and whispered, “They are really good, aren’t they?”
He smiled and said quietly, “Not the best I’ve seen, but they do justice to old Will’s work.”
The lead was continuing:
“ . . . This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
from this day to the ending of the world,
but we in it shall be remembered –
we few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . .”
As those famous lines continued, faint memories stirred to life in Richard’s mind. First came the smells – the rich earthy aroma of a muddy field, a faint whiff of septic stink from pierced guts, the charnel iron reek of spilled blood. Then came the sounds – five thousand bow strings thrumming in unison, the angry hornet buzz of descending clothyard shafts, the screams of agony of horses and men . . . Suddenly, it all came flooding back . . .
He had come to France to die. As far as he was concerned, his life had ended with the Alice’s death one bitter night in February. On the tenth day of the second month of 1415, he had paid the ultimate price of survival – his love, his life, had died . . . of old age. He had held her frail body in his arms as the lung fever took her. It was torture for a man who had never been sick a day in his life, and who was still physically in the prime of his life, even though he was sixty-six years old. Over the years, the couple had moved from place to place out of fear others would discover his secret. With each passing year, he watched with growing agony, as each day, the spring in that beautiful young woman’s stride had been transformed to halting arthritic steps. At the very end, the newest set of neighbors had assumed that he was a dutiful son, and had praised his dedication for taking such devoted care of his dying mother.
Then the light in his bride’s eyes went out, and more than anything else, he just wanted what he couldn’t have – to die and be with her again.
So when King Henry V had massed his army and sailed to France, Richard had packed up his bow and went along, fully expecting – hoping – to die on some battlefield. But the opportunity to die on the battlefield eluded him.
Overall, the campaign of the summer of 1415 proved uneventful . . . the siege of Harfleur was mind-numbing tedium. Like most sieges in those days, the greatest enemy hadn’t been the French, but dysentery. While many of his comrades wasted away from rampant diarrhea, he was, of course, untouched by the scourge of disease. Finally, the King – Harry, as he was called by his loyal followers – decided to march back to Calais at the end of the campaign season, and Richard had finally found himself in the battle he so desired. And learned that even in combat, wounded by a blow to the head that would have killed an ordinary man, that he was destined to survive.
Mud now squelched between his bare toes as he looked about at the aftermath of battle. Ten thousand Frenchmen lay dead from arrows, sword, or, more ignomibly, drowned in their armor in the knee-deep mud. Harry’s masterstroke in the battle had been in choosing the site – this open, muddy field – and then in goading the haughty French nobles to attack his ragtag, tired, mostly barefoot and unarmored band. They played right into his hands, as their armored weight bore them down deeply into the mud, while the most of the English army retained their agility – in their bare feet, in many cases.
Richard was numb with fatigue as he staggered across the battlefield. His arm and fingers burned from pulling back the longbow string to loose uncounted shafts into the French soldiery. His skull ached dully, but he could feel the bones knitting with each beat of his heart. His ears were filled with the moans of dying men, but the screams of the horses were the worst, almost like the wailing of a woman. While men died knowing why, the poor beasts writhed in incomprehending pain. Richard looked about him. To his left, the body of a once proud French knight was being looted of his armor, his swords, and his jewels. He watched as one of his English “brothers”, in a crass gesture, was pissing on the corpse’s face, laughing. He turned away in disgust to see a black crow stab his beak sharply into the eye of a dead foot soldier. The air was filled with the stench of bowels released in death, a smell that was nearly overwhelming.
“Ho there, Richard!”, a voice called out. “Will you not be seeking spoils?”
He turned to see one of his companions, John Bates, slogging his way through the mire towards him. In his hand was dagger. A scratched and discolored spot showed where a jewel had formerly set in the pommel, but otherwise it was a quality blade of fine workmanship. Bates held out the dagger to him, “Since you don’t seem of the mind to search for yourself, here’s a bit some’at for you. Least I can do for you, in payment for putting an arrow in that French fellow back there – he would have done me in if it weren’t for you, you know.”
“Thanks, John,” Richard said quietly as he looked about the bloody field. “I’ve seen enough of death today to be able to stomach grubbing about the field in search of a few shillings.”
“You’ll never make a soldier”, Bates said, shaking his head. “Why else risk life and limb but for the chance at loot?”
“For the King, I suppose . . . in a just cause.” He had argued as much the night before, as a group of soldiers had sat by the campfire, unable to sleep with the pending battle and the raucous sounds of music and revelry from the nearby French camp.
“Hah, that’s more than we should know. It’s enough that we are his subjects – we follow his orders, and let him worry about right or wrong,” said Bates, rehashing the argument from the night before. “Without the prospect of gain, I’d not be here.” That said he wandered off in search of what he reckoned a soldier’s due.
Richard could say no more. These men would never understand that I came here to die, he thought. Yet even that release is robbed me. “God, why have you forsaken me,” he whispered, falling to his knees in the bloody mud. Sobs wracked his body as he finally gave release to the pain and despair that had haunted him since February. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he looked around in horror at the fields of Agincourt where so many had met their death. Long moments passed, and the sobs slowly turned to laughter, at the joke of it all. Wearily, he stood up in the mire. It was at that moment, standing ankle deep in a muddy French field, that he realized that he would live. No matter what he would do, he would live.
It was there, standing in the mud, his laughter bordering on madness, that his King found him. The night before, in disguise as a common soldier, the King had taken gauge of the morale of his men by wandering among them and listening to their conversations. He had been impressed by the arguments presented by this man. To see this solid soldier, seemingly out of his wits, piqued the Harry’s curiosity.
“Soldier,” Harry called. “What ails you?”
He turned to see the King and his party on horseback. Realizing that it was the King, he bowed at the waist and said, “Nothing, my liege.”
“What is your name, sir?” asked the King.
“Larraby, more than ten thousand French lie slain upon the field, and nary one hundred of our boys. This day shall be recorded as the greatest victory in our history. What happened here shall not be forgot. Crispain’s day shall ne’er go by that what we did here shall be remembered – you and your band of brothers,” He reached down to take Richard’s hand, “Rejoice, sir, that today went well. We live, when so many do not.”
“Yes, my lord. I shall never forget this day,” Richard said.
The king turned to one of his knights, gave a command, and turned to ride on through the field. As he rode away, he paused, turned, and said, “Larraby, a token for your efforts on this day.” He untied a small sack, and tossed it to his soldier. It clinked with the unmistakable sound of coin.
“Thank you, my lord,” Richard
bowed. It was then he realized that his despair had been burned away. I
will go on living, he thought. More importantly, though, I will live.
Richard was jolted from his reverie the audience’s applause. He stood, and clapped politely. Gwen slipped her arm around his as the curtain fell and the lights came back on. The couple slowly made their way between the rows of seats to the aisle, and then out into the lobby.
As they walked, Gwen asked, “As an English professor, what’s your opinion on the stories that say Shakespeare didn’t really write all of his plays?”
Richard smiled and said, “Well, you have to realize that no one really concerned themselves with ideas like plagarism in those days. It was all about competition with other playhouses, and selling out the plays. It was common to work in collaboration and not credit everyone as co-author.”
“You’re not answering my question, though . . .” Gwen prompted.
Richard laughed, “No, I guess I’m not. Time to get off the fence – old Will wrote most of his plays, but he did have help a time or two.” As he finished, his expression became reflective as he remembered a tavern in London long ago. An image flashed through his head . . .
The tall, balding actor and writer was scratching his thin beard in thought, “Asher,” (Richard had gone by Jeremy Asher in those days), “how doth this sound:
‘And Crispin Crispian shall
ne’er go by,
from this day to the ending of the world,
but we in it shall be remembered –
we few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . .”
“Will, the spirit of Harry’s speech have you penned; not, perhaps the exact phrases as recorded on the field of Agincourt, but the spirit nonetheless,” Asher/Richard had replied. “Now, in Scene IV . . .”
Gwen had repeated herself, and was staring at him, “Richard, earth to Richard.”
“Sorry,” he apologized, “Shakespeare always makes me . . .think.”
“I could,” she purred, stepping closer, running a finger over his chest, “take your mind off of Shakespeare.”
“You want to get a cab, or take a moonlight stroll?” he asked.
“We’ll never get a cab now, anyway, so why don’t we walk?” Gwen replied.
They collected their coats, and headed down the sidewalk back towards her apartment. They said little, as they walked, quietly enjoying each other’s company. The sky was clear, and the moon near full overhead, lighting the skyscrapers and casting shadows in the man-made canyons down which they strolled.
As they began to near Gwen’s apartment, Richard felt the hairs on the nape of his neck rise as a chill ran down his spine. He listened carefully, but could not sense any movement on the street that was out of the ordinary. Aside from another couple strolling along a half block in front of them, the street appeared to be deserted. Yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. Just as suddenly, the feeling passed. Perhaps, he thought, its just old memories dredged up by the play. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that, just for a moment, that they, or more specifically, he was being stalked.