Banquo paced the corridors of Forres palace. His mind was preoccupied by the turn of events. “You have it all now,” he said to himself, “King, Cawdor, and Glamis, just as the weird women promised. And I fear you played a foul hand to get it. Yet it was said your title would not last into posterity, but that I myself would be root and father of a line of kings. If their promises become truths for you, can’t the weird sisters be my oracles, too?” He was excited and tempted by the supernatural just as much as Macbeth. His musings were disturbed by the heralding of the arrival of the Macbeths, now King and Queen. I can’t be thinking of this now, Banquo told himself. He greeted the royal party with a bow.
“Here’s our chief guest!” said Macbeth.
“If he had been overlooked his absence from our feast would have been unbecoming,” the Queen whispered to Macbeth.
“Tonight we are holding a solemn supper, Banquo, and I request your presence.”
“Let your highness command me of my duties. My loyalty is indissoluble.”
“Are you riding this afternoon?”
“Yes, my Lord.”
“Ah, we would have benefited from your participation at today’s council. Your advice is always serious and good. We can talk tomorrow. Are you riding far?” Macbeth asked.
“As far as I can between now and supper. If my horse isn’t fast I will have to ride an hour or two in darkness.”
“Well, remember to be back for our feast,” Macbeth said.
“My, lord I will.”
“We hear our blood-stained cousins are fugitives in England and Ireland,” Mavbeth said. “They won’t admit their patricide but instead fill anyone who will listen with stories of macabre invention. But we will discuss that tomorrow when I wish to deal with matters which concern us jointly. Well, farewell and till this evening. Is Fleance going with you?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. We must go.”
“I wish you a fast and stable run! Farewell!”
As Banquo left Macbeth turned and told the company, “Everyone can occupy themselves however they wish until seven this evening. To make our welcome more relaxing we will keep ourselves to ourselves until then. God be with you!”
The court dispersed leaving only Macbeth and a manservant.
“Come here a moment,” Macbeth said to the servant. “Are those men here?”
“They are, my lord, outside the palace gate.”
“Bring them in.”
As the servant went to fetch the men he asked for, Macbeth was again consumed by the implications of his bloody deed. “To be king is not enough, I must also be a safe king. I must be wary of Banquo: his nature is ruled by a fearless streak. But he also has the acumen to be brave without being impetuous or rash. He is the only one I fear. Near him I feel shackled… intimidated. They say Mark Antony felt this way about Caesar. When the weird sisters first said I would be king Banquo chided them and insisted they foretell his future. Then like prophets they hailed him the father of a line of kings. On my head they have placed a sterile crown and in my hand I hold a seedless sceptre, which is to be seized by a man who is not kin, denying my own line. If that is to be so, then it has been for Banquo that I have murdered a gracious king and haunted myself. I’ve succumbed to the temptations of Satan for Banquo and his sons! No! Rather than that I will challenge Fate to the death!”
His line of thinking was interrupted by a knock. It reminded him of the night of the murder.
The servant entered with two men Macbeth had asked for. Macbeth gestured the two men to a corner and instructed the servant to wait outside the door until he called.
“Wasn’t it yesterday we spoke together?” Macbeth asked the men.
“It was, Your Highness,” the first man said.
“Well then have you considered our discussion? You know that in the past it was Banquo who was responsible for your misfortunes, when you actually thought it had been me, as I explained this to you at our last meeting. I clarified to you how Banquo deceived you, the people he used, and their methods. Enough evidence for even a fool or a crazed soul to see it was Banquo.”
“You made it clear to us,” the first man said.
“I did and I went further, which is now the point of our second meeting. Can your patience endure suffering to the point of forgiveness? Are you so God-fearing that you’ll pray for this good man and his sons, when his tyranny has bent you to the grave and impoverished your families forever?”
“We are merely men, sir!”
“Yes, but in the catalogue you are men much as hounds, greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, strays, shaggy dogs, water dogs and shepherd dogs are all called dog. A more refined register distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle, the guard dog, the hunter. Each one has a special gift from nature which distinguishes it from the anonymous ranks of dogs. It’s the same with men. Now, if your station is above the lowest rank say so and I’ll give you a job that will remove your enemy from your sight and raise you in my esteem. My health is suspect while he lives, his death would be the antidote.”
“I am a man, my liege,” said the second man, “who has suffered from the vile blows and gusts of the world to the extent that I don’t care what is involved to spite the world.”
“And I’m another. So weary with cruelties and battered by misfortune that I’d risk my life on anything that could mend it.”
“To both of you Banquo is the enemy.”
“True, my lord.” both men said in unison.
“He is also mine! So close is the threat that every beat of his heart is like a piercing in mine. I could banish him quite openly but I can’t since certain friends of his are friends of mine and I need their loyalty. I will wail at the death I have arranged for him. That’s why I need your help to hide from the common eye the intricacies of our business. Solely, you understand, for reasons of state.”
“We shall, my lord,” said the second man, “perform what you command of us.”
“Though our lives-” the first man said, not being able to finish before Macbeth interrupted:
“Your spirits shine through you! Within the hour I’ll tell you where to hide and when will be the best time to do it. It must be tonight and make sure it’s not near the palace. Bear in mind I can’t be implicated. Just to make sure everything is settled, Fleance, his son, who will be with him, must share the same fate. His removal is no less important. Discuss it between yourselves. I’ll speak to you later.”
“We don’t need to discuss it, my lord,” the first man said, with the second nodding in agreement.
“I’ll be with you soon. Stay in my antechamber.” Both men left and again Macbeth was gripped by power.
“That’s it then! Banquo, if your soul is destined for heaven, it will be there tonight.”