AN: In classic Masked Man form, I finished writing this chapter a couple of months ago, and only just got around to typing it. Such is life.
Last summer, I watched th touring production of Comedy of Errors at the Globe, and it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen on a stage. I absolutely loved the characterization of the Antipholus/Dromio pairs, so I couldn't resist including them in the prompt fic.
In Ephesus one day, a day fair only by meteorological metrics, one face, one voice, one habit, and two youthful persons traipsed the winding streets. Upon the sagging belt of one thumped a beleaguered purse, laden with the weight of five hundred ducats more than it had e'er been forced to bear ere now. About the slender arm of the other sat a coil of heavy rope, its splintered strands wreaking pilly havoc on the threadbare blue sleeve trapped beneath. One sang high and the other sang low, harmonizing a single melody miles apart, as they went about each other's business in perfect ignorance of each other's existence.
At opposite ends of the town, another face, voice, habit, and two equally youthful persons stared with poorly veiled impatience at the roads before them. One spoke to himself, not disconcerted enough by the way his voice echoed off unfamiliar walls, a clipped shadow of its habitual rough bluster, to leave off holding the silence at bay. The other spoke to the sallow-faced, drooping officer at his side, in the tense, brazen tones of a man too assured of his own importance to tolerate even the most half-hearted detention.
"Fear me not, man, I will not break away!" snapped Antipholus of Ephesus, shrugging off his jailer's heavy hand. Said jailer attempted, less than discreetly, to smother a yawn in his shoulder. The day had been hot, and long. Rich fools who lacked sense enough to know where they'd been gallivanting about only hours prior lay abysmally low on the list of fools whose company he'd willingly endure at present.
"He's drunk," quoth the jailer to himself. "Or else he's mad. Can't abide the mad."
Antipholus, ignorant still of what he'd done to merit such ill treatment, knew yet how to sway a poorer man's heart to his purpose. "I'll give thee, ere I leave," he murmured into the shorter man's ear, relishing the way his somnolent eyes snapped open, "so much money to warrant thee as I am 'rested for." The eyes narrowed, piqued interest slowly but certainly overpersuading suspicion. Antipholus cast his own eyes anxiously about, dreading the prospect of another misguided thump of the jailer's baton should he fail to produce the promised pay.
"And when I've spent a folly total, wey, hey, bully in the alley; off to bed, we end up cripol, bully down in Shinbone al-ley…." It was a sorry day, indeed, when Dromio's husky whine sounded as music to Antipholus' ears, when the sight of the blue double and bobbing red cap filled him, not with vexation, but with relief. Relief so great, in troth, that the rope sitting upon his man's shoulder went wholly, blissfully unnoticed.
"Here comes my man," Antiphlous exclaimed, twisting to loosen the thin rope entrapping him. "I think he brings the money!"
"So, help me, Bob, I'm bully in the alley, wey, hey, bully in the-"
"How now, sir?" he called. Poor Dromio jumped, the old shanty faltering on his lips. "Have you that I sent for?"
"There's not a man I meet but doth salute me, as if I were their well-acquainted friend, and everyone doth call me by my name," mused Antipholus of Syracuse, staring at the sandy brick walls towering above him as though they held all the secrets to that day's blessed peculiarity. If stones could speak...but of course they couldn't. Any notion that they ought to at least have that option was merely the product of a mind too much distracted by discrepancy. "Some tender money to me," he told those mute stones, growing, with each iteration of fortune, more and more perturbed. "Some invite me, some other give me thanks for kindnesses! Even now!-" stabbing a finger towards the stones, he cast wild, imploring eyes heavenwards, wondering what in Hell's name kept the Lord so damned busy that he couldn't deign to bestow upon Antipholus the pleasure of a sentient conversation partner- "even now, a tailor called me into his shop and showed me silks that he had bought for me and, therewithal, took measure of my body!"
Such fine silks they'd been, too: silks that in Syracuse, with his (dis)credit, he could scarce afford to look upon, let alone commission for purchase. Sumptuous maroon, bundled with spools of gold and russet thread for the embroidery. And the tailor had been so solicitous, asking in the most chipper of voices after his welfare and his lady wife. Thank all the powers that were and ever would be, he'd quickly turned talk to his own children and wife before Antipholus could even think of pointing out that he had no wife. The effervescent fellow had wound his serpentine way about Antipholus' body, humming approvingly as he measured him about the arms, snickering a little as he noted the girth, frowning in something approaching horror as he took his height. Which series of events had been, if not outright humiliating, then baffling at the very least.
"Sure," he muttered, glaring at a hapless wall, "these are but imaginary wiles, and fiendish sorcerers inhabit here."
"We're open, tope to a low-light-lark-oh wey, hey, bully in the alley; dawn and rain, the cock did call, oh, bully down in Shinbone al-ley," trilled a sweet tenor voice, the very picture of sweetness-
"Dromio!" As sweet the voice, how much sweeter the sight! For here was one just as befuddled by the day's rarities as he; one who, in his befuddlement, could be considered naught but sane.
The young slave, smug as Antipholus had never seen him, whistled his grisly tune, patting a bulging, jangling purse in time to his self-set rhythm. "Master," he cried, grinning wide, "here's the gold you sent me for!"
On opposite ends of the town, a tableau. Mirror images, mirror sentiments splitting sides of the same cold shock. Twin green eyes widen to a degree broaching impossibility, the only fitting response to yet another in a series of impossibilities. Twin particoloured servants of redemption and of ropes, of anger and of Adam-but their words fell on slowly deafening ears.
Goggle-eyed Syracuse, in want of answers, heard but "gold" and stayed his glutted fortune no longer to puzzle out the rest. Cowed into silence, he surged forward, clammy hands struggling for purchase upon his man's beardless cheeks as unwary lips crashed into a bruising embrace.
Irascible Ephesus, in want of gold, knew only too well how quickly shock could dissolve into bitter rage; nearly welcomed the familiar prickling of the skin and buzzing in the ears as he demanded to know where that gold might be. The man, more than accustomed to that capricious temper, had but to utter the dread "rope" before the master fairly flew from his bonds to rain blows upon the unfortunate head.
Two halves of a single fraternity. An obligation to love, a proclivity to hate; a delirium of shared triumph and a storm of gross misunderstanding. Antipholus and Dromio, searching for what they scarcely knew was lost, marvelling in the fatal brotherhood they'd found.