It begins Sunday, January 6, 1603, during an especially cold winter.
Simon receives a cheery letter from John Croft inviting Simon and his friends for dinner. Simon invites Viola, Matthew, and Robert with his manservant George. When they arrive at Croft’s house, Viola notices that, despite the freezing weather, there is no smoke rising from the chimney. The windows are dark. No one answers the door.
George climbs in through the 2nd story window and lets the rest inside. The house is almost empty, with few signs that anyone was living there. The hearth was never used. No food in the kitchen. Robert and Viola go upstairs to find Croft in his bedroom, hanging dead from a rafter. It appeared that Croft died at his own hand. He had strangled slowly, rather than the more merciful death a proper hanging provides.
The room is in shambles and it smells of tallow candles and alcohol. There is a bloody knife and a partially eaten leg of lamb with flies buzzing around it. On the floor below him, bottles with tallow candles were placed in a circle. On the wall, a strange symbol painted there. The symbol was hard to focus on and gave everyone an unsettling feeling. Sheets of paper were strewn around floor everywhere. Simon found Croft’s diary, the diary of Christopher Marlowe, and 100s of pages of screenplay, written in the hand of Croft and two other writers. (Marlowe wrote the play Doctor Faustus, a story in which Faustus learns necromancy and makes a deal with Lucifer, agreeing to eventually pay with his eternal soul.) Looking closely at the corpse, Matthew noticed he had recently a disease of pox, but was mostly healed from it. Croft also had the look and reek of a man too fond of the drink.
The entries in Croft’s diary start off in the normal fashion, until he speaks of a package he received from the Late Christopher Marlowe. It included an unfinished play, which Croft pledged to complete. Knowing he lacked the talent for a masterpiece, he enlists William Shakespeare for assistance. Croft discovers that Marlowe’s play is not fiction. There truly is a King in Yellow. Shakespeare quits, but then later returns. They are stuck, lacking inspiration. They perform a ritual from Marlowe’s diary and contacted an entity. Croft had a burst of writing success. Shakespeare refused collaboration, citing nightmares and visions. Weeks later there was one more entry in Croft’s diary. The writing shaky. He spoke of visits from the king at night and the rapture it brought him. The diary ends with words from an identifiable language.
George gathers up the papers, and the group departs Croft’s house. To avoid crowded streets, they pay to be transported across the Thames by boat. They went to The Mermaid Inn, a place mentioned in Croft’s diary, hoping to find Shakespeare. He was not there. The group decides to tell the authorities, sooner rather than later, but first Simon wants to clean up the occult nonsense in the room. Croft was his friend, and Simon wanted to protect his reputation. Viola, Robert and George go to his printing house to sort through the paperwork.
Simon notifies the police, who accompany him and Matthew to Croft’s house and investigate the scene. The police didn’t seem terribly concerned, and Simon and Matthew returned to the printing house. After sorting through the papers from Croft’s house, they found the full manuscript for “Doctor Faustus.” They also found the unfinished screenplay, “The King in Yellow – Play in Three Acts begun by Christopher Marlowe and completed by John Croft and William Shakespeare.”
Marlowe’s diary includes incantations and four complex rituals: Bringe Forthe Hastur, Contact Ye Kinge, Crystal Calle, and Enchant Knife. Marlowe wrote of a man he identified as “J,” who took Marlowe to the maelstrom. The experience was horrible, filling Marlowe with fear and despair. At this event, Marlowe recognized David Moore, a composer and regular of the Mermaid Inn. “J” insisted Marlowe go again, saying the king demands it. “J” blackmails him, threatening to reveal his homosexual behavior. Marlowe agreed to meet “J” in Deptford the next day. (Marlowe died from a stab wound in a bar brawl at the Eleanor Ball Inn in Deptford.)
While the investigators were reading through these documents, Robert receives a note from his old love, Lucy Henry, the woman who, several months earlier, suddenly and inexplicably broke is heart. Her cousin Marijne, who was expected two weeks ago, never arrived. Marijne’s father said she was to stop first to see an old friend, Johannes van der Wyck, a jeweler. Lucy visited the shop, but no one answered her knocking, and the shop appeared to have been closed for some time. Lucy believes the Johannes knows something about her cousin’s disappearance. Lucy, ordinarily proud and independent, begs for help from Robert. It is late at night, so everyone spends the night at the printing house with plans to resume following the leads the next day.
Monday, January 7, 1603
The jeweler’s shop is located on London Bridge itself. The investigators knock, but no one answers. The door is locked. His neighbors have not seen him in around four days. Viola might have picked the lock, but it would have been far too obvious. There was no way to discretely get inside, so the plan was to wait for darkness or another opportunity to get inside.
The group goes to a tavern near the Globe theatre, asking for Shakespeare. Some colleagues state that he is working to finish Hamlet, which opens tomorrow, January 8th. Shakespeare is staying in Bishopsgate with the Monjoie family. To visit the house, the investigators walk into the quiet and sullen neighborhood. As the approach the Monjoie home, an increasing number of doors bear a red cross, the sign of the plague.
Shakespeare, looking weary, allowed them in and offered tea. Simon informed him of Croft’s death. Shakespeare confirmed the evidence the group had found thus far. He spoke of nightmares where he was whipped and scourged by a rag-clothed giant. He may have seen this creature during his waking hours, or it may be hallucinations brought about by stress and lack of sleep.
The last time Shakespeare saw Croft was at the Mermaid Inn, when Shakespeare was dining with Ben Johnson. Croft spoke like a madman, calling Shakespeare a fool. Then Croft asked for Shakespeare’s help to locate a friend of Marlowe’s named Joseph Barker. Shakespeare knew of a character in The King in Yellow named Harker and explained to Croft that Barker was not real. Croft got angry and stormed out. (Robert met Barker several months earlier through his acquaintance with Lucy. He was a poet who requested print work from Robert. Robert declined citing a heavy workload.)
It was about 2:00 pm when the investigators left Shakespeare’s home.