Stirring Ambition

Michael Bloor

(first published in Ink, Sweat & Tears, June 26th 2021 – National Flash Fiction Day)

As they’d agreed that morning, the three old women met again at the crossroads on the heath, when the sun was sinking. They were beggars, clad in beggars’ rags. War was once more in the land and beggars’ pickings were thinner than their rags. One of them had held high hopes of a sea captain’s wife that she’d call on, offering to bless his ship, The Tiger. But her journey had been fruitless and her mood was bitter: they were facing another night in the open.
There was the sound of drums, and of hooves and harness on the stony road. Their mood changed from rancour to fright. They couldn’t out-run horses: their only salvation lay in fawning and flattery. Peering into the evening murk, they made out two horsemen, richly dressed. One of the women whispered: ‘See the leading horseman, surely that’s the laird of Glamis?’
‘Your eyesight’s getting worse, Elspeth. That’s the laird of Cawdor there, not Glamis.’
‘Cawdor, my arse, Jean! I was born and raised just half a mile from Glamis Castle and I’d know the laird anywhere…’
‘Pish, Elspeth. Only yesterday evening, you mistook that badger for a piglet. Hush now, here they come.’
Elspeth ignored her and moved to the middle of the road. ‘All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!’
Jean, tuttered, grabbed Elpeth’s arm and called out, at the top of her voice, ‘Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!’
Their companion, Annie, slow in wits but determined to play her part, stepped into the road. ‘All Hail Macbeth, er… that shalt be king hereafter!’
The rider seemed rather taken aback by Annie’s greeting (as indeed were Elspeth and Jean). He reined in his horse. His companion drew alongside. ‘To me you speak not. Speak then to me!’
All three women together: ‘Hail!’
Elspeth, giving it her best shot: ‘Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.’
Jean, following her lead: ‘Not so happy, yet much happier.’
Annie, picking up the theme: ‘Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.’
Knowing how to quit while they were ahead, the women stepped aside and faded into the dusk of the evening. Elspeth muttered to Jean, ‘I 
still reckon that was the laird of Glamis.’
‘Huh, I’m 
still sure you’re wrong. And you were maybe a mite too fulsome, Annie. Still… no harm done.’

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