The evening is pregnant with excited noises which are getting closer by the moment. A small crowd is gathering in front of the theatre, and in the crowd, there is a young man of astonishing beauty. His eyes are emerald green, his hair is golden, his features are classically perfect. He is graceful of movements and gentle of manners. Looking at him one would most certainly miss his naivete, his innocence and entire absence of wit. He is kind because he doesn't know how to be evil, and even if he did, his evils would be small and irritating and causing nothing but laughter. He is accompanied by an older man, heavily drunk but still capable of walking straight. He is telling his young companion who is who, but their conversation is of little interest to us.
Once inside, the older man, his name is Wystan, walks away in search of more wine, and his young friend looks around, eyes wide open, mouth in a slouchy "o" at the sight.
Wystan returns with a full goblet, and a few gulps from it put him into less acerbic mood.
"Your angel should show up, really, Christian. Otherwise we are wasting our evening here."
"Oh, but I'm sure he will be here. Please. I don't know anyone in Paris, and I can't stand another day without knowing who he is."
"Oh, young love. So quick, so fast, so impatient… oh look, I'm out of wine already. Better get me another goblet."
Wystan walks away again, and Christian not knowing what to do with his hands, shoves one of them in his pocket to find a hand there.
"I was looking for a glove," Christian says threateningly.
"And found a hand," a pickpocket smiles smugly.
"I'll kill you."
"Brave musketeer. You might regret it, for I have a secret you must need to know."
"Your friend, Wystan, is in danger."
"In danger? How so?"
"He wrote a poem, which made certain powerful people very angry. A hundred men will meet him tonight at the Porte de Nesle, and not to exchange pleasantries."
"A hundred? For one drunk poet?"
"Indeed. Paris is a passionate city, here everything is magnified, especially when the king's minister is concerned."
"Off you go," Christian lets the pickpocket disappear into the crowd and tries to find Wystan, who is coming back to him, just as a soft whisper runs through the crowd, and Christian looks up and sees the man he was searching for.
"Oh, so this is your angel," sighs Wystan knowingly.
"Yes! Who is he?"
The man in question is entering the box, the king's minister's nephew with him, and judging by the look on the man's face, he is not pleased to be in such illustrious company.
"This is Aziraphale, the king's librarian. A man of quiet character, but clever and, may I say, aware of the effect his indeed angelic features have on us mere mortals."
Aziraphale suddenly finds Christian in the crowd and smiles, happily and openly. He nods his head, his blue eyes glowing with joy, which disappears as soon as count Gabriel stands beside him, putting a possessive hand on Aziraphale's arm.
"Who is it? With him?" asks Christian clutching his sword.
"Easy, easy. It's the Cardinal's nephew, a very capricious man. He's been smitten with Aziraphale for years, but is married, and finally he conjured a plan. He is going to marry Aziraphale off to that sickly viscount who is standing right behind them, and claim his prize. Being a friend of Gabriel is apparently worth becoming a cuckold."
"Indeed. I wrote a poem about it, they say Gabriel is furious."
Christian doesn't put two and two together, and keeps staring at Aziraphale, who makes an admirable effort of taking his gaze off of the young man and turns to Gabriel.
"I hear Crowley is coming tonight. They say he swore to kill Barbige, if he dares showing up on stage again," says someone next to them.
"Yes, I heard that too. But honestly, is he going to show up indeed?" asks another.
"He will. He swore, and Crowley never says a word he doesn't mean," mentions the third voice.
"Who is this Crowley?" comes the fourth voice.
"A very strange fellow. Here comes his friend Hastur, better ask him. Hey, Hastur!"
"How can I help?" asks Hastur, a man of Wystan's age with gray hair and black eyes.
"Say, Crowley, he's the strangest of the men…"
"That he is," answers Hastur affectionately.
"Who is he though?"
"Oh, hard to tell…" Hastur is indeed a bit lost for words.
"He is a poet!" says Madame Tracy, the owner of the most popular bakery in Paris.
"A brave man," adds Hastur.
"An astronomer," inserts another voice.
"A botanist," supplies yet another man.
"A musician," admiringly says someone else.
"Oh hush, the play began," shushes them a grumpy voice, and everyone turns to the stage, where a young man lauded as the best actor of his age, begins his soliloquy.
"To be or not to be…" he utters with an air of enviable pomposity.
"Oi, you! Haven't I told you to stay away from Shakespeare?" comes a loud voice from the balcony.
The nobles sitting on the stage calm the actor down and promise their support.
"That is the question."
"The only question here is whether I will cut you in two or four, if you keep torturing the bard like that."
"Come, Barbige, pay no attention to that brute," says one of the nobles.
"Whether tis nobler…"
"Nobler? Indeed nobler would be to chop you into my stew!"
There are loud and angry steps and then there is a tall skinny man, dressed in black, on the stage, a sword in his hand. His long copper hair makes his delicate and sharp features even sharper, his eyes are hidden behind dark glasses, small and round, and he walks with a peculiar saunter, his hips apparently having a mind of their own.
"Go on, Barbige! Buck up!"
"Buck up? I'd say those are some brave words coming from such a cowardly mouth. Are you willing to duel me? I'll duel everyone here, if I have to, but this abomination gets off the stage now."
The public sounds amused.
"You come up, pompous ass, and dare speak the words of the greatest poet to have lived, and you just don't have enough wit to grasp the meaning, or to express it properly. Begone before I show good people here what you are made off!"
Barbige tries to whine and turn to those who have claimed to protect him, but the perspective of duelling Crowley doesn't impress them too much, and the man is still there, his sword ready and his movements as easy as they are deadly.
"The only ass here is you!" comes a shrieking voice from the Gabriel's box, and everyone turns to watch the unfortunate viscount embarrass himself.
"An ass? And who are you, a shepherd to take me back to my stable and feed me with your empty wit?" Crowley grins.
"I'm viscount Famine."
"Well, glad to meet you, viscount. Pity you cannot remain my acquaintance for long," Crowley's grin is predatory.
"You… poor and… stupid man."
"Ouch. That stung my sword but haven't reached my ears. Is there something else that might be worthy of my occupied attention?"
(No one notices Barbige leaving the stage.)
"You… you're the devil's offspring! It's known your eyes are of the serpent that once tempted Eve," the viscount finds some inspiration.
Crowley takes off his glasses and looks at the man with pity.
"Is that all you can master? My oh my! Then how about, those eyes are flaming yellow, I only wish I could roast my dinner in that fire? Or rather, those eyes do tempt me to tend to the sunflowers in my garden better? Or maybe, those eyes remind me of hellfire which I'm not to escape at any rate? Perhaps, those eyes are as venomous as snake and probably I should not seek the company of their owner's sting?"
"You… filthy… poet…"
"Why, that reached my ears, and made my sword squirm… come forth, sweet viscount. We'll set this dispute in a duel, and to prove to you how pitiful you are, I will compose a ballad while we fight. It will both entertain the public and refine your mind. See, I'm doing it already. Come!"
Crowley winks at someone in Gabriel's box, and Aziraphale mouths back:
"Really, my dear?"
The viscount goes down and stands en guarde in front of Crowley.
The crowd readjusts itself to make more space for the duelists.
"The ballad, in which it will be told how a good for nothing viscount was swiftly dealt with by a snake armed with a sword," recites Crowley.
"What the hell is that?" asks the viscount shocked.
"The title," clarifies Crowley.
He indeed moves like a snake, elegant and agile, he uses viscount's anger and frustration against him, so he doesn't attack at first and just watches the aristocrat show off, and then he charges forward, swift, predatory and unstoppable, and all the while he recites:
"My sword has its own soul
A certain surgeon
In search of knowledge
Into my blade crawled
I know your bones by name
They form a lovely poem
I'll edit it into a golem
And golem's will I'll claim
I'm kindly warning you, you witless creature
That by the end of the last stanza I will reach you
You look so pale and far less courageous
Than when we first began this enterprise
Tell me is your death worth the prize
Of bringing wicked joy to heaven's sweetest angel?
Your eyes are full of fear and I admit, with reason
Yet honestly you brought it on your head yourself
I had no interest in your life or health
But now each breath you draw is an act of treason
I'm kindly warning you, you witless creature
That by the end of the last stanza I will reach you
You surely should have known and have considered
That your own words have turned me into snake
Now your blood only may your spell unmake
There is such magic in its flowing crimson
I'm closer, viscount, any last words yet?
I'm telling you now is the only time
To try and fail to find logic, reason, rhyme
In your untimely but not unwelcome death
I've warned you at least twice, you witless creature
That by the end of the last stanza I will reach you!"
Crowley wounds the viscount, his sword's tip beginning its deadly journey to his heart, when Crowley lifts his eyes, suddenly soft, knowing and asking for permission.
From the box Aziraphale mouths:
"Let him be, my dear. Not worth it."
Crowley nods and lets the viscount fall.
"You murdered him!" someone screams.
"Just a small wound. He'll never forget what a ballad is, though."
Crowley grins. The crowd cheers, and judging by their reaction, the spectacle has entirely paid off. People begin to leave, repeating Crowley's newest poem and the theatre director briefly considers whether it will be possible to arrange another glorious duel, before he remembers that he has a nervous wreck of an actor to attend to.
Crowley and Hastur meanwhile take a seat in a dark corner.
"Crowley, this is madness. Now Gabriel is angry with you, and by proxy the Cardinal."
"Whatever. Gabriel is a pale shadow of his uncle, and his uncle loves a little mischief here and there. Besides, by proxy, I fought and wounded Gabriel. Dirty bastard."
"You know, I can't believe I'm saying this, but you need to fall in love."
"Careful here, Hastur. I'm no glass, I won't break, but it still hurts when you try."
"Oh, so in love already? Who are they?"
"Alas, nothing to boast about. Who else a demon can fall in love with? Only the purest, sweetest, gentlest angel…"
"Then tell him!"
"Have you missed the point of me being a demon?"
"You are not a demon, you have strange eyes, but believe me, it's the least strange thing about you. Tell him. You are the hero of this evening, and he was pale with worry when you were fighting."
"Shut it… hey, Wystan? What are you doing here?"
Wystan weeps drunkenly.
"A hundred men are waiting for me at the Porte de Nesle."
"A hundred?" Hastur looks at Crowley in disbelief.
"A hundred. One of my poems upset Gabriel and the Cardinal. I think, mostly Gabriel… I'm going to stay here till morning."
A young boy approaches the group.
"Isn't it Aziraphale's servant?" asks Hastur, very amused.
"I have a message for Monsieur Crowley, from his cousin."
"Yes?" encourages Hastur, because Crowley is breathless and wickedly stupid at the moment.
"He is asking you to meet him tomorrow morning, at six, at Madame Tracy's."
"Ngk," answers the poet.
"He was asking so very tenderly," adds the boy.
"Tell him I will be there," says Crowley, and the boy leaves.
"Wystan!" shouts Crowley.
"Oi, don't scream, my head is killing me!" whimpers Wystan.
"You'll sleep at home tonight. I will make your bed! Hastur!"
"I'm not going to fight a hundred men with you, Crowley," Hastur raises his hands.
"No need. I have a hundred arms, I have a hundred hearts beating against my ribs in perfect harmony. Enough of this, I have a legion of giants hiding in my chest! Come on!"