It was dawn. The sun was just beginning to rise over the slight hill beside which Viola had lain down beside which to sleep. She smiled, and looked around. It was pleasant to sleep outside, however wet with dew you might be the next morning, and she stood and shook her ragged dress to get as much water off as possible.
"What shall I have for breakfast?" she mused aloud, for she had no fear of being overheard. It had been two weeks since she had been on the island, and she knew that she was the only one there. But she didn't mind. She was confident that one day a ship would sail by and she would be rescued, brought back to England, a widow and a wealthy one at that, and she would see Will again. Oh, how she missed him! Him and his plays! Plays were one of the few things she missed while being stuck here. She sighed, remembering the glorious day when she had played Juliet alongside Will. It had been so romantic, and exhilarating. She wished she had been born a boy. Then she would be able to act onstage.
She noticed a patch of mushrooms, and these she picked, knowing that they were not poisonous. She laid them down on a patch of wet grass, then went in search of some other vegetable that she might be able to eat.
She found nothing, and so she ate the mushrooms, then drank some water from a nearby spring which she had found on the second day. The water was cool and refreshing, and made her start to think about her future. There was no telling how long it would be before a ship came by to save her, and she wouldn't be able to live off the land for much longer. Every day she found fewer and fewer things to eat, and every day her only dress grew more and more ragged and unusable. She wondered if she might be able to build a boat herself. It was a possibility.
She groaned, noting that she had no tools to cut trees with, and that she would only be able to build a small raft, which would probably never make it to England. She would just drown when the boat sunk, and all of her efforts at survival from the past weeks would have been in vain. She shook her head, casting away that idea.
There was a noise behind her and she turned in shock, wondering what was there. She had seen only a few tropical birds and seagulls while she had been on the island, and no other animals of any kind. But the creature she saw was no animal. Viola closed her eyes, trying to wish it away, praying silently and fervently that it wouldn't hurt her.
Will groaned and got up. His whole body ached. That, though, was no wonder, since he had fallen asleep at his writing-table, his quill in hand. He set his mouth in frustration when he noticed that the ink had all but dried up overnight. Now he would have to buy more, and that was expensive. He had long since spent the money he had won from Viola's husband, and now he was almost broke. Since the Rose Theater had closed and he had been forced to sell his plays to Richard Burbage, he rarely saw a penny, except at the completion of his works. Most annoying, but Richard knew his ways well by now, and he would not fall for Will's tricks, especially when he knew that Will had no one else to sell his plays to.
Will looked outside. People were busy in the streets. London was bustling, as usual, and he sighed longingly. He wondered if he would ever love life again, for since Viola had gone to Virginia, he had been moody and distraught. He took pleasure in nothing except drink, and though his plays were very well-received by the Queen and by the London public, even that could not comfort him, for he had found that success was meaningless unless you had someone to share it with.
There was a knock on the door, and Richard Burbage walked in. He was dressed as a fine actor should dress, wearing very expensive clothing, all the latest fashion. He looked quite dashing, and was even shaved. Will smiled as pleasantly as possible, wondering tiredly why Richard should decide to call on him at this of all times, when he was feeling most tired and sad. He sorely missed Viola, the only true love he had ever known, but he did not admit that to anyone, not even the apothecary, to whom he made his daily confessions. But Richard did not appear to notice Will's apparent moodiness, and began to speak in a most gallant fashion.
"Mr. Shakespeare, I have come to ask you some questions about your new play. You know that we are having problems finding someone to play the lady Katherine? Well, now we cannot even find someone in the streets to play the lady. Of course, we can, but those we have found are unsatisfactory. I have come to ask your help. You know famous actors, don't you? Could you perhaps find someone willing to play a shrewish wife? Or would that be too controversial a role?"
Will rubbed his eyes, making stars erupt in them. His stomach rumbled, but he ignored it. He was so used to hunger, now that he had barely enough money to buy writing supplies.
"I don't know, Richard. I've sort of lost touch with the more brilliant actors in London. They don't talk to me much anymore, now that I've got steady work for one of the more successful playhouses. They think it's against the writer's code of honor to work for such high wages. Of course, they don't know what I go through every day," Will said wryly, and Richard smiled congenially. He resented the remark, but he said nothing because he knew that William Shakespeare was a very popular playwright he could not afford to lose.
"Could you at least help us and search for someone? We are desperate. It has been almost a month now that we are searching. And we have found no one. We had thought not to disturb you, since you are busy enough every day writing the play, but now we really need your help. You could perhaps talk to the Queen sometime, when you are assisting a production of yours at the Palace. She might want to help you, since she's such a merciful soul and has taken such an interest in you." Richard's voice was almost pitiful.
Will sighed. He stood and walked over to the small stool by his bed, on which stood a decanter filled with ale. He took a swig, and smiled. Drink always made him feel better, no matter what. It was one of the few sure things in this world.
"I'll do what I can, Richard, but I'm not promising anything. Just continue as you've been doing. You don't need to worry too much about such a small matter."
Slightly more at ease, Richard smiled and tipped his hat to Will. He turned to go, but paused in the doorway.
"And let me remind you, Will, that it is your own play at stake here."
"Yes, yes, I know that already. I may be a poor drunk, but I am not a fool."
Richard smiled in that knowing way he sometimes had, then left, closing the door behind him. Left once again in solitude, Will lay down on his bed and tried to sleep off his hangover from the previous night.