The cathedral is an anvil dropped from a great height on the shoulders of the city. Houses and market stalls crowd away from it and heavy blackout blankets blind its openings. Many people go in but Marlowe sees few leaving.

He slings himself off the coach. He pushes two coins into the driver's gloved palm. She glares at him and cracks the horses on, and one of the citizens who rode with him pats him roughly on the back.

'You keep that up,' he says, 'you walk everywhere soon.' The stranger pulls his cap down and performs a pantomime sulkiness: back hunched in, arms crossed, a pouty, furrowed frown. He pats his pockets and rolls his eyes, shrugs his shoulders. It's Marlowe, the petty miser.

Marlowe huffs and strides past him. 'This is a city of clowns,' he says, and shoves aside the heavy blanket overhanging the cathedral entrance.

As the blanket falls back in place behind him all the sounds of the city cease. A bird rises to its tall, tall feet, lowers its scalpel, and stares at him from across the makeshift hospital. Marlowe blinks. The bird strides past bloodied beds and frantic nurses. Its black crow's coat is fabric and its long beak a mask. Fierce eyes are fixed on his through dense mesh windows. The bird draws up to him and speaks with the voice of a woman.

'You are Marlowe?' she says.

'Here I am.'

'Marlowe the magnificent.'

'Hello,' he says, hopefully. The woman stares at him for a furious moment, snatches something from a shelf to his left and shoves it into his hands. A robe and a mask.

'Sorry,' Marlowe begins, clutching the heavy fabric to his chest and frowning at the herbal beak of her outfit, 'is there a plague on?'

'You will be extracting the contraband from the wounded,' she says, and as the doctor storms away her robes are so stiff and her form so obscured that she seems almost to glide.