“Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me”

by Maxine Mayer


“Time to go, my lord,” Horatio mutters with a sigh. A passerby could hear that sigh a mile away. But he isn’t very far from me. In fact, he’s very close indeed.

“Not yet, Harry,” I tell him, and for emphasis I crush my head into his thigh and he braces himself more firmly on the ground.

We’re under an apple tree: Horatio, back up against the trunk, legs straight in front of him; me, stretched catty-corner, my head in his lap, my shoulders and the rest of me a long black-clad line in the wild green grass.

I can see the panoply of the heavens, branches, leaves, little green apples, and Horatio’s sweet face, overhead.

It doesn’t get much better than this, I know. Even at my age, I’m certain that this profusion of beautiful things, with nothing to mar, is rare.

“Not yet,” I repeat, lifting my hand from my book to tweak his nose. “Be a friend. Spare the rod.”

Horatio smiles. “Your wish is my command, my lord,” he tells me and puts his body behind his acquiescence by kissing my hand. “But soon. An hour’s walk to town. An hour for dinner at the inn. We must make haste, else we’ll miss the Scottish don’s first lecture.”

“Ah, yes,” I reply, remembering. “The new don. A good chance to practice my English.” I sit up, then stand, replace my folio of Marlowe’s latest play in my knapsack, brush myself off, and make ready to start for town. “Wittenburg is honored - think you, Harry, that Wittenburg is honored to have such a one come all this way, over sea and land, to put us in our narrow places?”

“I know not, my lord. But the talk is that Callum the Scot is a prodigy, a marvel, for his years, in wisdom. A substantial, cunning speaker. Learned, and right willing to share.”

Our steps fall in rhythm as we make our way down the road to our lodgings which lie hard by the university at Wittenburg. “Ah, Harry, but is he beautiful?”

“My lord?” Horatio speaks quickly, his puzzlement clear in tone and feature.

“Is he beautiful, Harry? Does he wear yellow stockings, is he cross-gartered, is there a plume in his cap? Does he play chess and drink ale? Does he wench and riot in a pub? In short, my dear friend, is he a man, or mere repository for other men’s leavings, which he expectorates, passing spittoons, spitting direct at gawking pupils at his feet?”

“My Lord Hamlet!” Horatio cries, shocked. In truth, I’m not sure why he’s shocked: he knows me well.

“You inform me, Harry: Callum the Scot is a prodigy. Therefore, he is too young for his overfull britches, and his overstuffed head. I conclude – rightly or no, time will inform re that – the man must needs regurgitate ‘the wisdom of the ages’ in a colorful way, thus garnering fame for deep understanding he probably has not.”

Horatio is silent for a moment, his fair face closed, his blue eyes staring at the road but seeing nothing. I take the moment as Heaven’s gift and study my companion. Tall, broad, plain, kind. A worker’s body. A scholar’s mind. A woman’s heart. A saint’s soul. I need Horatio. He is everything good, honest and strong. He is not like me….

When he speaks his words startle me.

“I understand, my lord. You are bored with our studies, our professors, our companions. This town is small, amusements few, new books rare. We don’t fall in the path of the greatest lecturers. This is not Paris –“

“Sweet Horatio –“

He continues as if I hadn’t opened my mouth. “You miss the Danish court. You miss your noble father and your lady mother. Perhaps others as well. The happy Lord Laertes and his sister, the Lady Ophelia, companions of your youth. Fierce Rosenkrantz and lively Guildenstern, with whom you’ve known many an hour of joy. Strong reasons, all, for you to long for home and the refined minds and wit you’ve known your life through. Had I such a home to ponder on, I’d long for that place, too.”

I shake my head and smile. “Satin and pearls, Harry. Gods, man, you are a lump!” I thump him on the shoulder. “How can I miss satin and pearls when I’ve got rough smelly wool in my nostrils and blood-red garnets in my eyes?”

“My Lord Hamlet –“

I press his arm to stay his words. “You’re right, Harry. I would up the pace a bit. The players – I do miss them. Lacks something in quality - those mimics who pass through our envire. And wenches. Well. Variety spices meat and drink. I know not ‘lacks’ in women - just differences.

“But with you I am not bored, my friend. Daily, I plumb the depths of goodness, Horatio - a miraculous, strange, glamourous new thing. Stuff my spirit with your goodness, man, as I would cram my mouth with fresh plump blackberries on a hot summer’s day.” I laugh aloud. “You are exotic, Harry! A scandalous contrast to my known world!

“As for this boasted scholar-Scot: we’ll see and hear and name, anon, wherefore he’s set the world aflame.”

* * *

Hark, the Scot approaches, finding me, as I knew he would, alone in the square, walking and reading, my daily meat. It is not prayer, but smacks thereof, and is the closest I’ve yet come thereto.

“Hail, Dane,” Callum greets me, all asmile. “I’m thinking we can speak an hour. I’d happily convince you that I’m honest.”

I breathe deep of the morning air. The Scot’s fragrance overpowers nature’s bounty. He reeks of leather, dust, new wine, and sausages. How is it that amidst these so strong odors the scent of Harry’s perfume tickles my nose? Harry’s been with him, not long since. As for me, I haven’t spoken with my friend for two long months. Nay, say you, only two long days? How can that be, only two days…?

“Convince me, then,” I tell the Scot. “My friend loves you well. I trust his judgment. Yet I’d be convinced.”

“I sparkle him. It is my way. Do you know what you’ve got, Dane?”

“Do you?” I answer hard his question with mine own.

The scholar-Scot is fair, I grant him that. He is very fair.

And he is learned. His mind works differently to mine. Skims like a sleek craft across the sea of knowledge. He took my Harry’s measure in an instant: answered Harry’s penchant for philosophy with chapter and verse. I’d do the same, yet tis not honest….

He speaks. “I want him with me, when I go.”

“I do no thing to hold him here.”

“Dane, you live! That holds him here, by you.”

“Convince me you are honest. Then shall I relinquish him to you, with open hands.”

The Scot stares at me. “I see the attraction.”

“Tis not attraction, man. Tis love.”

“Yet, your ties do not bind. Your Harry is not yours alone. He needs the world. I’ll give him worlds upon worlds, and words, and fire in his life.”

“Tis I who am bound,” I tell him frankly. “Bound hand, foot, head and heart.” Faith, I know not why I speak the truth to this rival trickster.

“Aye, but not to him. You’re bound to Danish court and king and queen and kindred. Bound to future upon future as king yourself, when he for whom you’re named is dead and gone.”

I nod. “I cannot go where Harry would delight to be, but Harry can just follow me.”

“He wants that not!” the Scot retorts. I don’t reply: tis true.

At last the Scot implores, “Be kind, good prince! Cut cord! Will set your heart to rest, though it shall writhe before it dies.”

An hour passes. More. A day. A year. Eternity.

No. Seconds, mere short seconds….

I bow my head, then raise my eyes to say, “Take him, then, Callum of Scotland. Do you but return him anon, whole and happy, to my breast.”

 The Scot’s eyes widen. He measures me again, as for a new suit of clothes. “This, then, I promise: I’ll care for him while I care for him, sweet prince. Nor whit nor jottle of his worth I’ll lose. And back again, with wise and seasoned mind, endly tis you he’ll choose.”


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