Elena had a theory that whatever Pluto touched, he could potentially mask or make invisible in a birth chart. It was only a theory. Pluto’s reputation was one of transformation. She calculated that if Christopher Marlowe had been born around 2pm on the day of his birth, Pluto would have been exactly conjunct the Sun. But what did it really mean? She ran it by Mary one more time.
“So I’ve set the chart for 2.13 pm, look at this.”
Mary understood the meaning of this birth chart. “It’s him to a tea, isn’t it? The Moon rising in Leo, all that drama and creativity in his personality. And then the Sun and Pluto locked together in Pisces in the eighth house, he just had to be this shadowy, mysterious and strange individual, a spy – a man wearing a mask! It’s funny, but some say the image of Shakespeare in the First Folio looks like he’s wearing a mask.”
“And look at the well-developed Mercury, in good aspect to that Jupiter Saturn conjunction. He was a born writer too.”
Mary sat up. “Ah yes, of course, the birth and death of kings, that’s true. This conjunction is associated with that. And I would argue that Marlowe’s Edward the Second was really the first history play, very much along the same lines that Shakespeare would continue to write and develop later on.”
Elena then noticed something else. “He died on May 30 1593, didn’t we find out?”
“Look, if I put in the transits for that very day, Pluto is closely conjunct his midheaven and Neptune is hovering close to his ascendant, just like it is in mine right now.”
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
Elena was beginning to feel more than a twinge of excitement. “Pluto on his midheaven might mean his career was rocked to its foundations, destroyed even, but it could also mean it goes underground, to become a career in disguise. And Neptune dissolves his personality. It’s like a kind of death.”
Mary eyed her friend. “Yes, either way he disappears forever. It is all very Faustian.”
“What do you mean?”
Mary picked up the book with the picture of Marlowe in it. “Maybe his play Faustus was not only a warning us about getting mixed up with magic, it was in part autobiographical too. Maybe he’s been in some kind of limbo ever since he died, a place from where he can at least contact us through the medium of dreams.”
Limbo maybe, but Elena still couldn’t figure out the other mystery. “So are we any nearer explaining the initials on that oak tree, I wonder?”
Mary thought for a few seconds. “Not yet, but give it time.”
Elena took the pregnancy test as a precaution, she knew pretty well what the result would be: positive. Michael too had his suspicions, though neither of them had intended starting a family just yet. Although privately pleased, even with the continuing morning sickness, she kept it to herself.
So it was with mixed feelings that Elena booked a doctor’s appointment, somewhat surprised to get an appointment that same day due to a cancellation. She had been sick again that morning, several times, and didn’t feel too good while she sat in the waiting room. It concerned her that she couldn’t see her own doctor. Instead she had been given an appointment with a locum, Dr Kim Parris. At least it was a woman, she much preferred to see female doctors.
Half an hour later, she was still waiting, the appointments evidently running quite late. Elena was wondering whether she should go to the toilet, when the light on the screen flashed. It was her turn. Taking a deep breath, she stood up and walked briskly to the surgery door, ignoring the slight sickness she was feeling once more in her stomach. She knocked on the door.
Some women had rather deep voices, she figured. She opened the door to find no one.
“Please, sit you down,” came a voice from behind a white screen.
Doctor Parris emerged. He was putting on a jacket, his hair swept back. He was clean shaven and smirking. Elena blinked a few times during those few seconds. They seemed to be gilded with a semblance of eternity.
“Elena, what a lovely name,” he said, sitting down in front of her. “That’s Italian for Helen, isn’t it?”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
The following day, Elena spent most of the morning lying on the sofa reading, fighting off any weariness by making herself cups of tea. In the end, Michael had gone to work a little later than normal, though not until he had made sure she was feeling better.
Around eleven, just after she had re-opened Mary’s book, she turned the page – and her heart skipped a big beat.
Before her was a painting and a very familiar face. She knew those eyes, as cute as a dog’s, but as sharp as the devil. And those lips, too, and particularly the thick, flowing hair. Even his shirt, or coat, black with the strange gold stripes and buttons; she recalled it from that dream in the church. He had his arms folded, with a slight but telling smile, as if he knew something. On the top left of the portrait was a date, 1585, and what appeared to be his age, 21.
There was a knock on the door. Elena knew who it would be. She got to her feet slowly and walked to the door.
“Mary, you’d better come in and look at what I’ve just come across.”
Without saying a word, Mary followed into the living room, where Elena handed over the open book she’d borrowed from her friend.
“Mary, this is him, I’m sure.”
“Damn and blast, I haven’t got my specs with me,” Mary held the book a little further away from her. “Oh, my… are you sure, Dear?” Mary immediately sat down and drew a deep breath.
“I should’ve known this, something was bugging me.”
Elena walked over, pointing at the portrait. “My Latin is very rusty, what does this verse mean?”
Mary had gone almost white and was holding her chest. “I’m too old for this. Let me see. Oh, Elena.”
“What is it?”
“It means, ‘what feeds me… destroys me’.”
“He said that I had destroyed him.”
Elena sat down beside her friend. “Last night, and then he died.”
Mary lay the book open on the coffee table and took her hand. “You poor girl. I’ve seen this portrait so many times before, why didn’t I think of it?”
“Where have you seen it?”
“Didn’t I tell you? I went to Corpus Christi College Cambridge in the late seventies. And this, my Dear, is the notorious, even infamous playwright Christopher Marlowe, though he was often called Kit.”
Elena’s shock was now turning to embarrassment. “I don’t think I know too much about him, if I’m honest.”
Mary was shaking her head. “No, if you don’t have a strong interest in literature you might not have.”
“So what do you mean by notorious?”
“Oh, he was supposedly a brawler, a bragger, highly controversial, but a literary genius as well.”
“How does that work?”
“Well, for one thing I don’t believe all the stories.”
“It’s a long story, but he was said to be an atheist and a counterfeiter, despite the fact that he spent six years at Cambridge studying divinity. But his first play, Tamburlaine, rocked the Elizabethan stage around the mid 1580s. It was so popular, he had to do a part two.”
“Mary, I never knew this.”
“And he wrote other plays, great plays, like Edward the Second, The Jew of Malta and Faustus. Ah, Faustus.”
“I’ve heard of that one, the name.”
Mary’s gaze assumed its own dreamlike quality. “It’s probably his most well known play today, and it’s still performed from time to time. It’s about John Faustus who sells his own soul to the devil in exchange for earthly knowledge and magical power.”
“It sounds like pretty heavy stuff to me.”
“Oh, it is, he even manages to conjure up people from the past like Helen of Troy, in the flesh. Which reminds me, I must read the Iliad again, it’s so important.”
Elena began to smile. “Now I’ve read that, such a great story, but so brutal. I can see why Kit Marlowe would use references from it.”
Mary stood up, looking restless. “A war that lasted ten years, all over Paris of Troy kidnapping Helen of Sparta, but maybe that’s a sounder pretext than some of our modern wars.”
“It’s all so tragic.” Elena was playing with her hair. “But tell me, if Marlowe was so great, why don’t I know more about him? What happened to him?”
“He was murdered, Dear.”
Elena looked shocked. “But wait, I saw him die, in bed. I think. Assuming it was him…”
“It seems poor Marlowe overstepped the mark one too many times, in his own way a bit like poor John Faustus. He died in a supposed tavern brawl in London in 1593, I believe.”
“Right, but then what could he have meant when he said that I destroyed him?”
“I think he was referring to this verse.” Mary was pointing again at the portrait. “It’s the reverse of what a phoenix does.”
Elena looked back blankly at Mary.
Mary moved over to the fireplace. “You see the phoenix, in mythology, rises from its own ashes.”
“I get that, but Marlowe is saying it in reverse?”
“Kind of, Dear, kind of. I’m pretty sure it can’t be a mistake.”
“You wouldn’t go to all that trouble of having your portrait done with a mistake on it. But what does he actually mean? It’s very negative and obscure.”
Mary looked back at the portrait. “You see his pose, the folded arms? In Elizabethan portraiture this pose means ‘I keep secrets’.”
“It means precisely that. That’s his real career, if you like, he was as an intelligencer.”
“A spy, in other words, Dear. The English secret service was in its infancy then, all tied up with the on-going conflict with imperial Spain and other Catholic countries. He would play roles, portray himself as someone he was not so he could infiltrate enemy organisations and find out about their plans. That’s why I don’t believe all the negative stuff written about him, you can’t necessarily take the things he said and did at face value. And he was doing this sort of thing while he was still at university.”
“So he probably worked for the government.”
“Yes, for his queen and they certainly protected him more than once, got him out of some sticky situations which were all to do with his role as an intelligencer.”
“And all these plays you’ve told me about, he did all that in his spare time?”
Mary chuckled. “It seems that way, but, then ‘I know not what seems’, my Dear.”
“Which reminds me.” Elena, opened her laptop and searched for Christopher Marlowe. “Hm.”
“What is it?”
“He was christened on February 26 1564 in Canterbury.”
Mary pointed a finger at Elena. “The number twenty three you saw in your first dream. Was this dream, this ghost, or whatever he was, trying to tell you he was born on February 23, three days before his christening?”
“Isn’t it true that babies were baptised within a few days after birth back then.”
Elena continued on her laptop, using astrological software which calculated birth charts. Allowing for the change over back to the older Julian calendar still being used in late Elizabethan times, she brought up the midday chart for February 23, 1564, set for Canterbury, where Christopher Marlowe was born.
“I don’t believe it.” Elena was ushering Mary towards the chart.
“Incredible, Dear, simply incredible. Pluto, Hades himself, almost exactly conjunct his Sun in Pisces when he was born. What are the chances of that?”
She put down the laptop.
“Are you alright, Elena?”
“I’m sorry, I’ve just had one of those shivers go up my spine. I’m like you, I don’t believe in coincidences either. It’s as if he really was speaking allegories to me from beyond the grave, four hundred years after he died. But why? And how is any of this real?”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
Elena had taken herself off to the spare room, the very room where Michael had said she had sleep walked in to the previous night. One thirty and she still wasn’t asleep, she was simply too apprehensive, too much going on in her head. Once more she lay back and opened another book she’d borrowed from Mary. She came across a reference to the fact that most children were baptised within two or three days of birth, at least until more recent times. This was because of the much higher rates of child mortality. It made her think. With that thought in her mind, she lay the book down and closed her eyes.
The room was dark, quite small. Long curtains were closed, just a peep of light came through a gap. Outside there were distant voices, so she opened the curtain a touch to see. It was the canal or river she had seen before, though there was less activity this time, as if it might be evening. As she turned away, she noticed a mirror with an ornate frame on the right wall. Keeping the curtains open, she looked at it. Elena had the clearest blue eyes, a smooth, ivory complexion. She brought a hand to her face, touching the soft flesh.
“I am… quite beautiful,” she whispered.
She recognised the room, the bed in the corner where someone was lying. Walking up to the bed, she recognised him, though he made no move, as if he was asleep. She peered more closely; then he opened his eyes, slightly.
“Elena,” he croaked, weakly, “you have destroyed me.”
She stepped back as he reached out, trying to touch her. “What’s the matter with you? Is it something I’ve done?”
“Elena, you have destroyed me.”
She felt a sudden unease. “What have I done?”
He tried to smile, though it seemed to be difficult. There was pain written all over his face, emotional as well as physical discomfort.
“Just… tell me who you are.”
His hand fell limply by his side, a weak gaze remaining fixed on her where she stood.
Kneeling down she put a hand in front of his face. There was no breath. She checked the pulse on his wrist: nothing. His candle had burned out. Elena closed his eyes, reached forward and kissed his cheek. Then she sat on the chair next to the bed. Tears began to well up in her eyes, though she wasn’t sure why. Did she know this man? And if so, how?
“I want to come out of this dream now,” she said out loud, wiping her eyes. Yet she remained in the room, apparently present in some time which may have been four hundred years ago. She began to feel queasy, quite strange in fact. So she stood, but had to sit down again, feeling quite faint. She bent down on all fours and was sick into the empty chamber pot by the bed. There was no cloth or tissue to use, so she wiped her mouth on the bed sheet. Suddenly without the strength to get up, she lay on the floor, closing her eyes.
Elena felt the gentle stroking of her hair. Opening her eyes, Michael’s concerned face was examining her own.
“It was quite a shock to find you lying here.”
“Where am I?”
“The toilet, I see you’ve been sick. Something you ate last night, was it?”
“No,” she said, faintly, “I don’t think so. What time is it?”
“Six o’clock. Have you been like this before, recently?”
Elena thought for a few seconds. “A little yes. I thought it was the lack of sleep.”
Their eyes met, instinctively, though neither dare ask that most pertinent question. Michael helped her to her feet and led her back to bed.
“Get some sleep, I’ll take the day off, it won’t matter.”
“I’m not sure I want any sleep.”
“Hm, because of him? This strange kisser fellow?”
“Maybe,” she said, laying down her head, “though I get the feeling that I won’t be seeing much more of him in my dreams.”
“I like the sound of that. I’ll get you some water.”
copyright Milly Reynolds 2020
The following morning found Elena knocking at Mary Allen’s door. Her neighbour could see that something was amiss.
“This is getting seriously weird.” Mary brought through a Royal Albert pot of tea and two matching cups and saucers, placing them clumsily on the coffee table in front of the sofa. “Early Grey, Elena, things always go better with Earl Grey.”
Elena wasn’t much in the mood for small talk, she just wanted answers. “What do you think he meant by saying that I feed him?”
Mary flopped down beside her, with a whiff of Chanel 19. “It’s love, isn’t it?”
“Love? But how can it be love?”
Mary poured a little milk into each cup. “I don’t know how, but it is. Love is blind, they say. Never experienced it myself.”
“The problem is that each dream is getting longer, clearer, more real somehow. He even spoke to me, properly this time from his lips, though there weren’t many words. Michael thinks I’m working too hard, but I’m not. I haven’t been able to work for days, I felt quite ill this morning. And I’m getting worried now.”
“About falling to sleep?”
Elena nodded, watching Mary fill up her cup to near the top. “If only I knew who he was, why doesn’t he come out and tell me.”
Mary sat back in the sofa and sighed. “Have you looked at yourself in a mirror in these dreams?”
“I’ve not come across one yet, though I know my hair is a bit lighter than my own, virtually blonde in fact.”
“Then those initials carved in the oak tree, PH, you said?”
“The P could be you, if he sees you as Persephone and the H is Hades. Unless we’re talking about two historical figures.”
“It would be a shot in the dark but I’ll give it a go.”
“You mean, find out all the men in the past whose Christian names begin with H? That would be a very long shot.”
“Not all history, Dear. From what you describe he lived somewhere between 1490 and, say, 1600. And there’s already something bugging me about all this.”
“Bugging you!” Elena reached for her cup of tea.
“Yes, I can’t quite put my finger on it, from what you described about him and that initial H… the number twenty three. I don’t know. We’ll go through to my library in a minute, I should’ve been onto this days ago.”
Mary Allen’s library, in fact her spare room, was an eclectic collection of books, old and new, mainly historical, though there was plenty of biography and fiction too. Elena sat down on the wooden chair and watched her friend peruse the massive selection of titles.
“Maybe we should just stick to the internet,” Elena said, eyeing the grey sky out of the window.
“No, no, Dear. Books are far better, especially my books.”
Elena noticed that Mary was drawn particularly to the Shakespeare section, which included a copy of the First Folio.
“Hm. You know when I said this fellow’s odd behaviour reminded me of Hamlet’s ghost?”
“Yes.” Elena noticed a book that had Pluto in the title, one of Mary’s astrological books. She stood up and pulled it out of the bookcase. “Can I have a look at this?”
“Of course, Dear, jump in. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Elena recalled that some astrologers talked about Pluto’s mask, from the myth of Hades, who was said to wear a mask which could make him invisible. “Maybe this isn’t all about Neptune and the Moon after all, like we suspected.”
Mary turned to face her, peering over her reading glasses. “Go on.”
Elena held up the book about Pluto. “Perhaps it’s all about drastic change and masks and hidden things.”
“What makes you say this?”
“It might be a hunch but think we can narrow down the search to someone in history born on February 23. I just know that number means something.”
“You may be right, Dear. Let’s get to it then.”
An hour later, after much intensive searching on the internet and through Mary’s book collection, they had found nothing of apparent significance.
“It’s looking as though I’m going to have to wait until tonight to find out more.”
Mary knelt down beside her, putting a consoling hand on hers. “It is all rather exciting though, isn’t it? I know it’s easy for me to say, but you really can’t beat a good mystery.”