Work Header

Great Piece of Turf

Work Text:


didst thou ever see a lark in a cage? such is the soul in the body: this world is like her little turf of grass


Bosola, one-time intelligencer to the Duke of Calabria and his most excellent brother the Cardinal, a man always possessed - so to speak - with the wooden dagger of the theatrical Vice, is not surprised after his bloody death to find himself appointed intelligencer for hell.

A kind of infernal mercury or messenger boy, he is given an ugly sort of livery and a little black book in which to write those names acquired by his new masters. He carries a parcel of coals, as well, burning in his belly, making of him a kind of warming-pan or dark lantern. But this, he tries not to dwell on.

In hell, time runs like molten glass, often exceeding slow, and losing none of its weight or bulk along the way. And Bosola, it may be said, runs with it. When he is called upon for business, he is blown out as it were, like glass again, into his old shape, albeit a spirit in nature and essence. And he is called from the company of fellows with mouths wide enough for an army to shit in, lined all with teeth like barnacles, or from the embraces of fair ladies with faces of finest cerecloth and flesh of a kind of sticking, burning quality, to hear what office it is that he, ever now the faithful servant, must perform.

He is told this time he must correct a trivial error: a lost soul mislaid. A fellow you know well, they tell him. A certain Ferdinand.


men that paint weeds, to the life, are prais'd.


Bosola has a good idea of where to look.

Long ago, when he was flesh and blood himself, he had found it politic to step heavily on the bunioned toes of a waxwork-maker.

"You must not remark upon it," Bosola had said, from the corner of his mouth. "Keep up your countenance, man. Stitch on a smile."

But the waxwork-man had looked at what the Duke had done with his creations and made a face like boiled piss.

And, it is true, the Duke had wrought wildly with them. Fair Antonio and his little children, made up so nicely of pure wax in all the colours of flesh, finer than there'd been need of, since they'd been shown behind cloth, muffled up like milady's face on a dusty road - fair Antonio had been melted all, slops and slutteries of flesh, great collops of wax over his fine jerkin, over his un-shaped little children, boneless and jellied, their pretty colours lost to fatty marbled rolls of wax. Wigs frizzled to whorish patches; blockish wooden bones standing up from molten wax-flesh; poxed past help from mercury.

"I see you have given him physic," Bosola had said, for the benefit of the Duke. "A burning bath for a hot lecher." Better not to harp on the children; better to screw his heel down, discretely, on the toes of the wet-eyed waxworker.

Duke Ferdinand had hunched by the casement; turned to them sharp dark eyes. "Ah," he had said. "Master Lauriola, my heart's artificer. And Daniel de Bosola, my brutish court-whisperer. You see our show is ended. I have sent this climber and his sweetlings on ahead to the dark place, where they shall make up the stage for their more substantial brethren. Is it not well done?"

"It is a fancy fit for a mountebank," Bosola had said, for the Duke had thought he liked a kind of cynic-mouthed plain speaking, "shown to hooting crowds upon a scaffold. Your grace plays like a boy with marchpane. Or one who pulls the wings from silly flies."

But the Duke had been looking to Lauriola. "Dry your eyes," he had said, softly. "Look up, good sir, look merry. This curious work is gone, tis true, but I have finer stuff for you."


Lauriola had bent over the Duke by the window, listening to his instructions with a smile growing on his face. Indeed, the beauty of the Duchess had been then well known, and Lauriola's new bag of gold coin likely very heavy.

"Make up a likeness; let the woman rest," Bosola had suggested to the empty air. "She will grow old, and you will have her beauty still, while she tells beads and mumbles by the fire."

Ferdinand had bared his teeth and shaken his head. "Go," he had said, "and bring your comfort to the Duchess."

Bosola had nodded shortly. It had been a sort of kindness to squash flies, once the Duke was done with them. So he had told himself.

But the Duke had beckoned him back, held up one crooked finger. "Have the ladies," he says, "keep back her hair. And see you bring it to me, every lock. Good master Lauriola will, he swears it, do the rest."




The Duchess had died as if she was going under in deep water. When Bosola had called her back, long enough for some small true kind of comfort, to untell the waxen tale, he would have liked to imagine that she granted him, as she left again, a smile. The smile Antonio Bologna would have seen by dawn's grey light, rising to leave their warm bed as she, half waking, dream-drenched, bid him stay. But she had died looking - well, no more than grave, with bloody spittle strung upon her lip.

They had made up the hair for him in a leather bag: the most gold he'd got from any of them, he had thought, looking in. It had yielded, crunching, like fresh snow as he had jounced the bag on his knee, waiting for the Duke to curse, and leave, and come again, chewing words over like a fairground monster.

Master Lauriola had been coming on the roads behind him, with the rest.




When the Duchess was finished, she had been very fair. Time was she was always doing, always holding - holding Antonio's arm (how was it he took so long to see it?); holding her pen; holding her hand out, ordering this be done or that. Now she had laid still with her hands folded, and her hair had spread out loose and long across the pillows of the Duke's own bed.

Master Lauriola would make no more figures; on that, Duke Ferdinand had been quite clear. Bosola had heaved the waxworker into the Tiber with a slit in his gizzard and the leather bag around his neck, filled now with stones.

"She lacks but a voice," he had told the Duke. "A voice; a heart; a breath."

"Get you gone, tomb-maker," the Duke had said, absently. "Leave us alone."

The Duke would have no lights near her, so the room had been very dim. Bosola, by the door, had seen only a heaving shadow, bending over the pale figure on the bed.


I limb'd this night-piece


Bosola, now something like a glassy kind of eye that swoops and sees, hanging hooked on the world of things as lightly as a leather bag of golden hair, goes straight, then, to the Duchess.

Time, while he was in hell, has slipped and flowed, so that she now lies in a neat glass case, her fine white fingers yellowed and a little cracked with age. Dust, like thick orris powder, clags her golden hair. She has been put aside, he sees: the corridor where she lies is quiet and still. A card lies by her head; the writing on it faded though extremely neat. And, Bosola can see quite clearly, all the air around her is foamy with the leavings of an old and crudded spirit, thick as barm on beer.

He reaches through the glass and taps her shoulder. "Your grace," he says. "I have some way to send you, still."

The waxen thing within the case twitches itself upon its velvet cushion. Raises its glass eyes.

"I can," says Bosola, "show you something of comfort."

The figure lifts a hand, perhaps to wave him off, but stops when, at the wrist, a bone breaks through the glossy skin. Fussing a little with wax fingers at the join, it lies down gently by degrees, with infinite care, as if it thinks it has a long time left to spend hung on its own worldly hook, stuck there like flies in wax.

Within the relic that it ordered made of hair and wax and bone.

Bosola shrugs, and lets a little of the heat he carries in his stomach fill the hall. The glass case cracks. The Duchess seethes and melts. And Ferdinand, dislodged from out her wax-clad bones, gives Bosola a pettish kind of smile and falls away, like smoke in rain. To fret and howl in hell, most like. Or, with his wolfish soul worn out, to fade entire away.

The mortal world, one soul the lighter, settles back. A touch of disenchantment done; a witchery of lust and wax set spinning loose. A wondrous thing unmade. The air in the quiet corridor cools and clears.

And Bosola, a thing of little substance and some small memories of good ill-done, takes out his black book and writes down a name.