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The Reckoning

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I have read the account of that Anthony, or Tony if you will, who knew so little of my captious Kit (and how should he, or how should any man ever know another, save they entwine their souls like two trees grown from a single plot?) Yet I tell you that I knew him better, though it was only a portion of our lives that twined and not the length of trunk to twig.

This much that other account told right: our first meeting, and the communion of eyes, holy enough, though unsanctified by puling priests. Our second meeting in France, and that conjoinment of bodies - though it was not so wholly one-sided as young Tony, who knew only Kit's play of lordly dominance, would have you believe. That tryst lasted some few days that linger in memory like the blaze of Saracen spices on the palate. Of our third encounter Tony, in his scurrily, knew and wrote nothing.

It was some short while after my return from Paris, just before Michaelmas and the start of the Cambridge term. The weather was fine and dry, the farmers not yet despairing of their harvests. Knowing that Kit would be already in residence, I stopped near Corpus Christi to inquire of him.

That is, I inquired at the nearest tavern, and there found him perched upon a stool and holding forth poetically with his ale, scarce regarded by the other patrons who knew the habits of students too well. He sported new finery, his collar yet unstained and his dark sleeves slashed to show the bright silk beneath. His doublet was velvet of a foxy hue that in sunlight would make war with his own fiery hair, but in the dim light of the tavern they suited well enough.

I saw the moment he marked my arrival, the fixation of his eyes upon my face and then down my limbs. And then he smiled, broadly, fit to light the room with his joy.

- Tom, be welcome! Here, share of my trencher, it is roast gammon.

- My knife was snapped as I pried upon a rock in my mount's hoof.

- I have another - it is yours.

- It is too fine, I said, noting the heft of it and the sharpness of edge and point.

- Such may be had for twelve pence in a stall at any market. The handle is mere brass, not even gilt.

- Yet it is solid, meant for more than poking at crusts of bread.

- 'Tis fitting to feed oneself with a weapon of violence. Quod me nutrit me destruit as the poet says.

- Which poet is that?

- I cannot recall. It is of no matter. Perhaps it is mine.

And as he often did, Kit turned aside to scribble the line upon a much-marked sheet of paper next him, the words fading half through as the ink dried on his neglected quill.

We spoke of inconsequentials, the weather and our travels, but all the while his eyes were upon me speaking of deeper mysteries. And when the meat was gone we retired to his room at the college, he explaining that his fellow who was to share the room had not yet returned.

The room was strewn with books and papers and ink-pots, clothes worn and new draped across every surface. A dour orange malkin crouched glaring upon the bed with paws tucked in. The door-lintel and bed-frame were all carved upon by students from generations past. I looked for the inscription CM 1586, but was soon diverted by the claim, in water-darkened letters upon the sill, that MATER MEA SVS EST MALA.

- I am no master of Latin, but does this not say My mother is an evil - is that word pig?

- It is by way of a play upon words, or a lesson of accent and phrasing if you like. Inscribed thus in wood or stone all subtlety is lost. It might mean as you say, or read otherwise it is Mother, hurry, the pig is eating the apples.

I wondered who had left this lesson of poetical import, for rains had made the carving appear older than it might be. Kit moved a folded cape aside and bundled the hissing cat through the door as I turned to the books piled here and there.

- Here are the first two of Holinshed's Chronicles. The third is soon to be printed.

- And I have the coins for it, once it arrives at the shop.

Horace and Ovid I saw, and Catullus lying open upon the desk, an old copy much thumbed. Vivamus atque amemus I read, and half beneath the Carmina saw a poem written out in Kit's hand, clean of blotches or scorings or thrice-changed words.

- Come live with me and be my love?

- It is not a translation. Or a translation in spirit, rather than word.

My eyes searched down the poem for the lines I wished to speak, but Kit was before me.

- Te dabo basia mille, deinde centum...

So saying he pulled me to him and joined our lips. Soon enough the floor wore our clothes, and the bed bore the weight of our bodies. The blankets and linens as well were roundly insulted, and the wall received share of blows and kicks.

I will not sour this narrative with tales of who played stallion or mare, for the philosophers would call it unnatural and the priests would say unholy. But this I know: when our bodies commingled and our voices raised in unison, some other ineffable part of us communed as well. Hearts or minds or sinful souls, whatever it may have been, our insubstantial inward selves touched and clasped for a time that may not be told by the ticking of a pendulum or the tolling of bells.

And when we parted, I will hold forevermore that some fragment of Kit remained with me. I hope it was also true in the reverse that he carried a piece of myself, but that I cannot know. I never felt the least comminuted fraction to be missing from what I was, but I knew that a new tiny aliquid had lodged within me, as a grain of sand tickles a pearl. After that day, upon rare occasion, I would find phrases of lyric beauty appear suddenly amid my thoughts as a lost treasure cast upon a storm-wracked strand. Indeed, the first such instance was in those very moments when we lay panting together, and I murmured in Kit's ear as he clasped me sleepily:

- Beat down the bold waves with his triple spear.

- What is this?

- Some words that came to me. Something of Neptune. Perhaps I read it once, and your books brought it to mind.

- I think not, but I shall mark the phrase. Write it down for me, will you? So saying he yawned and closed his eyes.

In years after, when events of the world had shifted around us and the stars had swung to new fixations in their firmament, then Kit and I vined not so closely together but followed our separate creeping paths across the ground. Those many partings little eased my anguish when I heard what befell him in Deptford, and how my own man had part in it. I grieved the more when I received the dedication of his poem, wherein Neptune caressed Leander and kissed him, yet released him at the last to find a lonely fate despite all cares and cautions.

That day at Corpus Christi is how I care to remember my Kit: young and bold of eye, unscarred save for the barked knuckles that he ever passed off as some errant fumble, sprawled and debauched with the echo of ecstasy pulsing in his veins, and the corner of his mouth turned up, like a cat that has just tasted cream.