The crimson smear on the white marble threshold was the first sign something was wrong. Friar Lawrence held up the lantern he had brought with him, peering into the dark interior of the tomb.
Juliet was easy to discern, clad in white and lying motionless on a marble slab. She had yet to wake from her deathlike sleep. That much, at least, was going according to plan.
The lantern's beam picked up a glint of steel on the floor: a discarded dagger. Lawrence bent down, trying to distinguish the crest on the hilt––it was not one he recognized. He stepped further into the monument. His foot touched something not quite hard; he realized, with horror, that it was a human arm. Paris, the young man who had so nearly claimed Juliet as his wife, was sprawled out on the ground. A stain redder than the rose clasped between Juliet's hands blossomed across his white shirt. It must have been his blood there on the threshold. No time to wonder how he came to be there, or why he lay dead on the floor.
Lawrence held the lantern over Juliet. Her pale face was tranquil as the marble angel guarding the monument. He had to get her out of this place of death and darkness. He could carry her, if he put the lantern down––he'd set it by the entrance so it would light the way out. He nearly tripped over a form in the dark, lying beside the marble slab where Juliet had been laid out. Lawrence crouched down, with the lantern held high, praying he was wrong.
He'd seen that same body, curled up in that same childish way on the floor of his cell not three days ago. And he knew that face all too well, though it was drained of color, the lively black eyes closed. One thin brown hand was curled around a tiny glass bottle.
"O, Romeo," he whispered, "foolhardy youth, what mischief hast thou done?"
From above, he heard a faint murmur. Juliet was waking. Lawrence stood up, bending over the girl as her eyes fluttered open. "O, comfortable Friar," she said, smiling in recognition––or was it relief? Her eyes darted to and fro, searching. "Where is my lord?" she asked. "I do remember well where I should be…and there I am. Where is my Romeo?"
Lawrence slipped his arm under her shoulders and helped her to sit up. "Come, Juliet," he said quietly, trying to keep his voice steady, "A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intents. Come, come away." He took her hand to lead her from the tomb, but he was too late. Juliet was staring down, her eyes fixed on Romeo. Her face was a blank.
"No," she whispered. "No, no, it cannot be…"
Lawrence set the lantern on the ground, near Romeo's head. He cradled the limp hand in his own––not yet cold or stiff. Hoping against hope, he laid two fingers on the boy's wrist. After a moment, he felt a pulse throbbing against his fingertips, weak and erratic, but it was there nonetheless. Lawrence brought the lantern near Romeo's face, hardly daring to breathe himself until he saw a faint mist frost the glass.
Juliet dropped to her knees beside Romeo. "What's this?" she asked softly, "A cup closed in my true love's hand?"
"Ay, poison it would seem," said Lawrence, "but drunk so lately there may yet be hope, if we act in haste. Take thou the lantern; I shall bear thy love."
Juliet picked up the lantern. Lawrence gently lifted Romeo from the ground. He carried the boy in his arms, like the child he was. "Lead on, bright angel," he said to Juliet. The girl obediently led the way out of the monument, holding the lantern.
The churchyard was so dark Juliet could scarcely tell the outside from the inside of the tomb. But looking up, she saw a few timid stars shining through the pale wisps of cloud up above. There was a path somewhere, she knew, that would lead them out of the churchyard, but in the dark she could not find it. She walked slowly and silently, as if in a dream. Perhaps it was all just a dream; everything felt so different and strange.
Her knee collided with one of the tall, slate stones, and she cried out before she could stop herself. Immediately her hand flew to her mouth to smother the sound, but not soon enough.
"Ho!" A distant cry answered hers. "Who's there?"
"Balthasar!" called Friar Lawrence. "Come hither, lad, and lend a hand."
Under the dark shapes of the trees, a faint yellow glimmer rose, like a firefly, and began bobbing toward them. As the light drew closer, it took the shape of a lantern in the hand of a small, dark figure.
"Ay, me! What's here?" said Balthasar, "O, Romeo, friend, art slain? And this, thy lady, whom thou camest to mourn––lives she?"
"Peace, Balthasar," Lawrence chided. "We may yet save him if we act in haste. Help me to bear him; we will to my cell. Juliet, lead on."
With each step, Juliet felt her numbed sense returning to life. The cool night air brushed her cheeks and made her shiver. Rough stones underfoot reminded her what it was to walk on solid ground. The moon was veiled in clouds, and Juliet wished it would remain so, praying the night would hide them until they reached the safety of the abbey. She had not yet begun to wonder how their careful plans had gone so wrong. Romeo was here, and he needed help; that was all that mattered now.