Modern Prose

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Some time had passed but King Alonso and the other survivors were as morose and irritable as before.

“Your Majesty, I can go no further,” Gonzalo said to the King. “My old bones ache. What a maze this island is. Straight paths and meandering tracks! With your permission, sir, I must rest.”

“Old lord, I can’t blame you,” King Alonso replied. “I am exhausted physically and emotionally. Sit down and rest. Hope is useless, and I can’t keep clinging to it. Ferdinand is dead. The sea mocks us as we feebly search on land. Well, I’ll let him go.”

“Sebastian, I’m glad that he is facing facts,” Antonio whispered. “Don’t let that earlier incident affect your resolve.”

“The next opportunity will be seized,” Sebastian replied.

“Sebastian, let it be tonight,” Antonio persisted. “They are exhausted from all this searching so they will not and cannot be as vigilant as when they are fresh.”

“Tonight, then. Be silent, now,” Sebastian said.

As Sebastian and Antonio completed their plotting strange music emanated from the dense trees and bushes. Prospero stood before them, but was invisible. His spirits, though, were visible to all and brought to the King’s party a lavishly laden banquet table. The spirits danced around and glided between the royal party beckoning them to the unexpected feast.

“What is this harmony? Good friends, listen!” King Alonso said, quite baffled.

“Marvellous, sweet music!” said Gonzalo.

“May Heaven protect us! What were they?” King Alonso said, amazed at Prospero’s spirits.

“An apparition,” Sebastian said. “Now I believe in unicorns, and that in Arabia they have a tree just for the phoenix, which is perched on a branch as we speak!”

“I’ll believe that, too,” Antonio said, “and whatever else seems implausible. Travellers don’t lie, in spite of the fools at home who laugh at them.”

“If I reported this now in Naples, would they believe me?” Gonzalo asked. “If I said I saw such islanders, I’m certain these are the natives, and peculiar though they appeared their disposition was gentler than that of many, no, most human beings.”

“Honest lord, eloquently put,” Prospero said to himself, “some of you here are worse than devils.”

“I am astounded by the way these spirits with gesture and sound can communicate with each other so readily- they have sign language of their own!” King Alonso said.

“Keep your praise for the finale,” Prospero thought.

“Oh, they are disappearing!” Francisco said.

“No matter, “Sebastian said, “for they have left us the banquet- and we are hungry. Your Majesty, would you like to taste what they have left for us?”

“Not I,” King Alonso said.

“Faith, sir, don’t worry,” Gonzalo said, adding: “When we were children would we have believed that there were mountain tribes with fleshy chins and throats? Or that there were such men who had no heads but eyes and mouths in their chests? But now we hear such commonplace tales from travellers.”

“I will eat,” King Alonso said. “It might be my last meal but it doesn’t matter, the best part of my life is past. Brother, and my lord the Duke, do as we do and eat.”

As they were about to enjoy the food thunder clapped and lightening struck from a clear blue sky. Ariel appeared in the form of the Harpy, the monster of legend who has face and body of a woman but the wings and claws of a bird. Ariel flapped his wings over the banquet table and the bounty disappeared. The royal party looked on in dismay and terror.

“You three are men of sin!” Ariel said to King Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian. “Destiny, which orchestrates this world and those contained in it, has made the hungry sea disgorge you on this island, you amongst men being the most unfit to live. I have made you mad, and your misplaced valour is the kind that makes men hang and drown themselves.”

The survivors drew their swords to combat the Harpy, but Ariel continued: “You fools! We are the ministers of Fate. We are the matter with which your swords are made, you might as well duel with the howling winds or stab the mountainous seas, as try to wound one of my feathers. My fellow ministers are similarly invulnerable. Even if you could hurt us, your swords now have a mass too much for you to lift. But remember- for this is my business with you- that you three did supplant good Prospero and exposed him and his infant daughter to the mercy of the sea. For this foul deed, the gods, delaying not forgetting, have incensed the seas, the shores, and every creature against you. Alonso, they have robbed you of your son and pronounce through me that you will linger in suffering, worse than any quick death, for the rest of your life. To protect yourself from their wrath, which will fall on your head on this desolate island, your only option is a life of sincere penitence.”

A thunderclap accompanied the departure of Ariel as a Harpy. The soft music of before began again, a sensual lullaby. The spirits returned and glided regally as they removed the empty table.

Meanwhile Prospero, still invisible, congratulated Ariel on the completion of his assignment.

“Ariel, you superbly played the part of the Harpy. It was a joy to watch. You followed my intentions to the letter. Even my lesser servants in their lesser tasks fulfilled their instructions to perfection. My ambitious spells have worked and my enemies are in despair. Now they are in my power. I will leave them in their confusion, while I visit the-supposedly-drowned young Ferdinand and his, and my, darling.”

Prospero left for his magic cave while the survivors were dazed and bewildered.

“In the name of something holy, Your Majesty, why are you standing there staring?” Gonzalo asked King Alonso.

“Oh, it is monstrous, monstrous! I thought the waves spoke and accused me. The winds sang my sins to me. Thunder, like the deep tone of the organ, said Prospero. My sin sounded as deep as the bass voice. My sins have led to my son being in the ooze of the seabed. I’ll seek him in the mud and join him!”

King Alonso ran off, sobbing and wailing.

“One fiend at a time, I’ll fight the whole army of them!” Sebastian bawled.

“I’ll be your second,” Antonio said and they ran off behind the King.

Gonzalo stood puzzled and vexed. The repercussions of events long forgotten were about to overwhelm them.

“All three of them are desperate, and their guilt is great,” Gonzalo said. “The poison of guilt has taken a long time to work but now it bites. Adrian, I beg you and the younger and fitter men to follow them and stop them from doing something that will only aggravate their plight.”

“Follow them!” Adrian said.