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The castle was sleeping off the merrymaking of the banquet when Banquo and his son Fleance were in the courtyard of Macbeth’s castle. Fleance used a torch to guide them.

“What time is it, son?”

“The moon’s gone down, sir, but I haven’t heard the clock.”

“The moon goes down at twelve.”

“I assume it’s later than that, sir.”

“Hold my sword. Look at the sky, how dark it is! Heaven is cutting back on the candles! My eyes are heavier than lead but I can’t sleep. God, restrain the cursed thoughts that fill my dreams!”

Banquo was tense and agitated. He thought about the weird sisters, the uncanny accuracy of their prophecies. The prospect of a bloody future unnerved him. Banquo heard footsteps crunch the gravel of the courtyard before a torchlight could be discerned.

“My sword! Who’s there?”

“Your friend, Macbeth.”

Macbeth appeared accompanied by a servant.

“What, sir, not yet asleep?” Banquo asked. “The King has gone to bed. He’s a happy man tonight! He tipped your staff well and he has a diamond he wishes to give his kind hostess. He went to bed immeasurably happy!”

“Being unprepared, we were worried about being inadequate hosts.”

“All’s well.” Banquo paused and stared at Macbeth. “Last night I dreamt of the three weird sisters. They certainly let you see some truths!”

“I haven’t thought about them. But one day when we have an hour to spare we must talk about that business.”

“Name the day.”

“If you give me your support when it’s needed I’ll reward you.”

“If my honour can remain intact and my allegiance unchallenged then I’ll be your council.”

Banquo felt his bleakest suspicions were going to be confirmed.

“Meanwhile, sleep well,” said Macbeth.

“Thanks, sir. You, too.”

Banquo and Fleance left for their chamber. Macbeth turned to his servant: “Tell my wife to ring the bell when my drink is ready and then you retire yourself.”

The servant left and Macbeth stood alone in the darkness. His mind was awash with doubt and determination. But then in his confusion something strange seized his attention: “Is this a dagger I see before me? Is its handle pointing to my own hand? Here, let me hold you! I can’t grab the dagger but I still see it there! It can be seen but can’t be touched. Or is it just a dagger of the mind? Is it a false creation from my troubled brain? Yes! No, no, no! It’s still there just as palpable as the dagger I now draw from my sheath. Look, it points me in the way I intend to go! A dagger was the weapon I was planning to use! My eyes are being ridiculed! Or are they worth more than all my other senses combined? It’s still there! Now the dagger is spattered with blood! The bloody business that fills my mind is making me see this. Half the world is now sleeping – wicked dreams abuse the peace of man. Witches sacrifice their offering to Hecate. Howling wolves tell murderers now is the time and serenade Tarquin as he stalks his prey. The hard dry earth mustn’t hear my footsteps now. Even the stones mustn’t be allowed to betray my whereabouts. Nothing must detract from the deed. Now is the time! All this talk only prolongs his life. How words cool the heat of the moment!”

The apparition convinced Macbeth that all the forces of the unknown were with him, guiding him to his royal destiny. Just then a bell rang, the signal from Lady Macbeth.

“Ah, the bell! It’s almost done. Duncan, don’t hear the knell for it summons you to heaven – or to hell!”