‘The Scottish Play Murder’ by Anne Rutherford aka Julianne Lee
When charming Scotsman Diarmid Ramsay asks to play the titular role in Macbeth, he sets off a flurry of excitement among The New Globe Players. Despite protests from the company director that performing the “Scottish play” will lead only to disaster, Suzanne decides that the show must go on—with herself acting the part of Lady Macbeth, opposite the handsome stranger.
Rehearsals begin—but then rumors about Ramsay arise, implicating him in the death of a sailor found behind the Goat and Boar. Is the man a murderer, possibly involved in a plot against the newly restored king? Suzanne refuses to believe it, until another murder connected to Ramsay occurs.
It seems the curse of Macbeth may have been unleashed, leaving Suzanne no choice but to use her wits and her wiles to determine if Ramsay is a gifted actor—or a murderous villain.
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He said to the voice, “Tell your business.”
“Louis, let him in. I can’t hear him out there.”
With a show of reluctance, Louis hauled the door wide enough to allow the visitor to enter. In stepped a man in a skirt. Not just a skirt, but a checkered one that barely covered his knees. The woolen fabric of it overflowed his belt so lavishly that he threw the excess over his shoulder like a cape or shawl. Suzanne had seen a kilt once before, but that had been a dull brown with black threads running through it. This luxurious garment was a stunning red with green, black and yellow criss-crossing in large squares. The fabric was clean and appeared new, a rare thing in this neighborhood, and in her experience almost an oddity in a Scot. Beneath the kilt the visitor wore a clean white shirt that was equally stiff and fresh. His belt was dyed shiny black and bore a large, silver buckle wrought so finely as to bespeak a great deal of wealth. As did the sword that hung at his side from a black leather baldric. A utility dagger with a plain wooden handle was thrust into his belt without scabbard. For shoes he wore only soft leather without ornament or heel, and no leggings at all. It begged the question of what linens he might be wearing beneath the kilted wool, and though there had once been a time when Suzanne might have simply lifted the hem to find out, today she refrained for the sake of proving herself no longer a tart. At her age, that sort of behavior was less than amusing to most men and should be left to women far younger and comely than herself.
And besides, this man’s face caught her attention and held it. He had the black Irish coloring she’d always found appealing, with jet black hair, pale skin, and warm, ruddy cheeks. His mouth was red, and appeared to have the sort of habitual smile that made some people seem happy all the time. In addition, this man was actually smiling. His charm was palpable, and Suzanne felt if she stood in his presence long enough she would soon be covered in it, like spring pollen.
He looked straight into her eyes and said, “I’ve come for an audition.”
Suzanne blinked, surprised. This man appeared far too wealthy to need employment as an actor. Theatre was something one did when desperate and only when without skills other than lying. Certainly that was how she herself had ended up here. In the general scheme of things, acting was thought by most people as one step down from military service, one step up from thievery, and just around the corner from murder for hire. The wealth and beauty she saw standing before her was almost never found onstage.
Their visitor continued, in a rich, rolling brogue, “My name is Diarmid Ramsay, and I’ve been told you’ve a need for someone to play the title role in Macbeth.”
This was news to Suzanne. That play was one the troupe had not yet addressed, and she’d not heard mention of it from Horatio. She turned to call him from the ‘tiring house, and found he’d not left the stage. He was still there, staring at the brightly dressed Scot as if fascinated by the busy tartan wool. “Horatio!” she called. “Have you put out an audition notice regarding Macbeth?”
“I expect you mean the Scottish play.” An odd stress in his voice puzzled her, and he crossed himself as if she’d uttered a curse. When he kissed the wooden crucifix he wore around his neck, she knew she’d truly frightened him.
Oh, right. Nobody ever called that play by its proper name. Bad luck, or something. Horatio was a stickler for taking no chances with theatre superstition, going so far as to ban whistling in the ‘tiring house though he’d only just that year heard it was bad luck. “Very well, then, if you like. The Scottish play. Are we casting for it?”
“No, and we will not ever. ‘Tis terrible luck and I won’t have it.”
Suzanne turned to Ramsay. “I’m sorry, kind sir, you seem to have been ill informed. We’re not casting Mac…that play.” She took a glance back at Horatio.
“Are you certain?” asked the would-be Macbeth.
Horatio called out from where he stood, “We are most certain. No Scottish play for us. Every troupe that has performed that play has failed and dispersed soon after. ‘Tis bad luck.”
Suzanne frowned, thinking, and turned back toward Horatio. “Well, it seems to me the luck is not so much luck as simply timing. Everyone knows that a failing company performs popular plays to increase attendance. And you can’t deny it’s a popular play.”
“You’ll recall in the old days, the time Cromwell’s soldiers attacked us we’d just performed that play.”
“We were performing The Twelfth Night when they came.”
“But the day before it had been the Scottish play.”
“And you think we were cursed by Shakespeare?”
“’Twas the witches. The witches cursed us.”
“You mean the Double, double…”
“Stop!” Horatio pressed his palms to his ears and shut his eyes tightly. “Do not say it!” He crossed himself again, then quickly returned his right palm to his ear. He crouched, as if awaiting a blow.
Louis said mildly, “I’d like us to do Macbeth.” Horatio flinched, but Louis ignored him. “I’ve always enjoyed that play, all dark and mysterious like. I prefer the spooky ones. Witches and ghosts and all that there suchlike.”
“A young man such as yourself would know no better than to flirt with the powers of darkness. So exciting for yourself, but not so merry for those of us who know the ways of the world and how badly they can go awry. ‘Tis bad luck, I say. You can have your mystery, Louis, and keep it.”
Matthew said, “Not so mysterious, I think. Ambitious woman eggs on her husband to do murder, they both go mad with guilt, and everyone ends up dead.”
“Everyone who deserves it, and then some. A crowd pleaser, that one.”
Suzanne allowed as she did rather like Macbeth, and thought it would be a good addition to the repertoire. Indeed, one might think it a necessary addition, being a crowd pleaser. “I think we should do it.”
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AUTHOR INFO: At twelve I began to write for fun, which I think is the only real reason to write fiction. Daydreaming with a purpose, and gradually I realized I could gain approval for the very thing teachers used to criticize me for in class. When I was thirty I decided to write for money and bought a copy of Writer’s Digest.
Twelve years, twelve completed novel manuscripts, and eight proposals for uncompleted novels after buying that Writer’s Digest, I sold a novel. Son of the Sword was my thirteenth completed manuscript. Lucky thirteen. Since then Berkley has published two time travel series set in historical Scotland, and two straight historicals set in Tudor England. I also write historical mysteries set in Restoration London, under the pseudonym Anne Rutherford.