[Author's note: Viola is a young woman who has been shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. With the help of the captain of the ship she was travelling on (whom I have decided to call Francisco), she disguises herself as a boy, calling herself Cesario, and takes a job working for Orsino, the Duke of Illyria. Orsino sends her as his messenger to the woman he is in love with, Olivia – who falls in love with 'Cesario'. I hope this is all the background you need.]
This mustn't go on any longer, Viola decided. She couldn't leave Countess Olivia pining for Cesario, who didn't even exist, and Orsino (the DUKE – don't let yourself think of him as Orsino – no, it's Orsino I care about) with no chance of winning Olivia while she was in love with Cesario. On the other hand, what else could she do? Put a dress on, go to the Countess as herself, Viola, and ask to be taken on as a lady-in-waiting? Put up with having the Countess's grouchy steward as her boss?
Well, maybe Malvolio wasn't too bad to underlings who were sober and hard-working. She couldn't blame him for being unfriendly to 'Cesario' when he was under orders not to admit any visitors. But she couldn't imagine being happy working under Malvolio, becoming friends, the way she was friends here with the Duke's other servants, like Valentine and Curio – and with Orsino himself. Well, as far as she could be friends with people she couldn't tell the truth to, anyway. She needed to talk to a friend who already knew the truth.
She remembered Captain Francisco, the last person who had addressed her as 'lady': 'This is Illyria, lady.' She heard her own voice, unable to resist punning, even after (or because of) the shipwreck and Sebastian's death, 'And what should I do in Illyria? My brother, he is in Elysium, and I am cast ashore to seek asylum.' To which Francisco had capped the pun: 'Seeking a madhouse? Welcome to my country!'
'Well, lad, have you got any plans for your day off?' The Duke's voice broke through her thoughts. 'Going to see your girlfriend?'
Viola mentally groaned, remembering that she had invented a girlfriend as protective colouring. Why hadn't she stuck to her original plan of claiming to be a eunuch? No, wait – when she first arrived, she had claimed to be a eunuch, and Orsino had absent-mindedly said, 'Oh, hard luck – still, you're being saved a lot of trouble, believe me,' and gone into eulogies about his unquenchable, undying, unrequited love for Olivia, and eventually broken off to ask, 'And what about you? Do you have a girlfriend yet?' She had got used to his not listening. After all, Orsino never even listened to himself, so there was no point in expecting him to listen to anyone else. Somehow, knowing this just made her feel even fonder of him, rather than irritated.
'I don't have a girlfriend, my lord,' she explained. 'I'm in love with someone who's in love with someone else.'
'Oh? Well, she'll come round, I expect. It's the prerogative of women to change their minds, after all.'
'Yes, my lord, but I'm not sure they use that right very often. I've always found that they can't help being in love with the same person, even when it's hopeless, and can't help not loving someone who's in love with them. Though we men are much the same, I suppose – except that we're usually too oblivious even to notice if someone is in love with us.'
The Duke laughed, stroking her short hair as if she was a favourite hound. '"We men" indeed! You're scarcely more than a boy, yet! Well, have a good day, and I'll see you this evening.'
Viola hurried to the Elephant Inn. Would Francisco still be there? Or had his ship had to set sail by now? Or would he have gone home to visit his family? His parents lived not far away, after all.
No, surely he'd have stayed in town, in case there was an emergency. Francisco had been a good friend of her father, and had watched over her and Sebastian like a loving uncle ever since Papa died. And now that Sebastian was probably dead (dead, admit it – no, PROBABLY dead), that left just her. And Francisco had arranged to hide Viola's dress (the one dress she now owned, as everything else had gone down with the shipwreck), along with her jewellery and any personal items that could prove who she was (and even her long golden hair when she'd cut it off). She might need them back, now. But mainly, she just needed Francisco as a friend she could discuss things with, the way she'd discuss them with Sebastian, if he was still ali- still here.
The young woman on the reception desk at the Elephant furrowed her brow in surprise. 'Captain Francisco? No, I'd have thought you'd have heard. He was taken off to prison yesterday.'
'Prison? Where? Why?'
'Dunno – piracy, I'd think, wouldn't you? You can't trust these foreign sailors, they're all the same.'
'What? Francisco's from here!' Viola hoped she wasn't letting her own Italian accent show through. 'And he's an honest merchant, not a pirate. They must be getting him mixed up with someone else!'
'Tell that to the Watch, not me.'
'I'm going to,' said Viola grimly, as she strode off.
The guard on duty outside the Watch house wasn't disposed to be helpful either. 'We're not supposed to tell anyone what he's charged with,' he said. 'Not even him. We're still investigating. Anyway, it's nothing a young lad like you would want to know about.'
Oh, really? Young boys generally wanted to know all about violent crime, especially if it was suitably swashbuckling. Viola knew that most people took her for about fourteen, rather than the seventeen she actually was. Now to see if she could pass for eleven.
'Is he a pirate, sir?' she asked with interest. 'I wanted to be a pirate, but my mum made me get a job as a page-boy so I'd be nearer home.'
'It's a bit nastier than that, lad,' said the guard gently. 'He's supposed to have murdered a young lady,' he whispered, after checking that nobody was eavesdropping. 'Someone saw him hiding the body. A young lady with lots of long blonde hair, they said.'
'Who said?' retorted Viola, forcing herself to whisper in return. 'Anyway, it's not true! Captain Francisco would never do anything like that! Where's this "body" supposed to be hidden, anyway?'
'We-ell, it's just investigation,' the guard said. 'Probably nothing to it. I mean, we didn't have time to talk to the witness for long yesterday, and today, we heard he'd been taken ill. So it could be that he'd already been – seeing things, before the Countess Olivia noticed there was anything wrong with him.'
'The witness was one of Countess Olivia's family? That uncle of hers would see anything, after a few pints of sherry!'
'No, not one of the family. Anyway, it's none of your business. Run off and play, can't you?'
So, it was one of the Countess's servants who had seen Francisco hiding a dress and a mass of cut-off hair. Feste, the jester? He seemed to have eyes everywhere, and he came and went as easily as a stray cat between the Countess's house, Duke Orsino's house, the pubs and clubs, and the surrounding countryside. Viola wasn't sure whether he was officially a member of anyone's household. He had claimed to live in a house next to a church, but that had probably been just a joke.
On the other hand, Feste loved knowing things that other people didn't, so he didn't seem the type to catch a glimpse of something and then run to the Watch without checking for himself. He had dropped several hints that he knew Viola was a woman, so he would probably have guessed what was really going on, instead of mistakenly assuming that Francisco was a murderer. Could he be doing this on purpose, to blackmail them? Why would do that? Viola hadn't had time to earn much money yet, and Francisco didn't have access to his while he was locked up. Besides, Feste was charming enough to wheedle money out of everyone, without needing to resort to crime.
At any rate, she needed to go to Countess Olivia's house to try to clear the matter up. Feste, or whoever it was, might not be well enough to walk over to the Watch House and discuss the case, but if he wasn't actually asleep, Olivia probably wouldn't mind letting her in for a few minutes of quiet conversation.
Before she even arrived at the main house, she could hear voices coming from an odd, windowless stone building in a distant corner of the garden. Nobody knew why it had been built. It was called a folly, which seemed appropriate enough for Illyria.
The Countess's maid Maria, and the tall, goofy young Englishman whom Viola had sometimes seen hanging around with the Countess's uncle Sir Toby, were hiding in the shrubbery, while Feste was wearing a huge false beard, and talking in a peculiar voice to the stone building. 'Vell, how is Malvolio zis mornink feelink? Are ve still ze hallucinations havink?'
'They're not hallucinations!' snapped Malvolio's voice from inside the building. 'My lady the Countess sent me a letter with some instructions in, and when I obeyed them…'
'Hmmm, interestink. Zis "lady", does she you of your muzzer you remind?'
'What? No, of course not! She tricked me – she was doing it all to make fun of me…' Malvolio sounded as if he was struggling not to burst into tears.
'Hmmm, paranoia as vell as hallucinations? Tell me, haf you any younger bruzzers or sisters? Ven vere zey born? How long did your muzzer you breast-feed?'
'Mind your own business! Have you brought people here? I can hear someone giggling! Two someones, at least!'
'Still ze hallucinations,' said Feste sadly. 'If zere no progress soon is, must ve ze lightning shocks use.'
'LIGHTNING SHOCKS?!' roared Malvolio, trying to sound more outraged than terrified.