The cathedral is an anvil dropped from a great height upon sand-worn streets. It explodes from the earth. No denomination emblems its face but there are heavy blackout blankets flung across its openings. Many people go in but he sees few leaving.
Marlowe 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 pat him roughly on the back.
'Shit money,' the citizen says and, backing toward the cathedral, pulls his cap down and performs a pantomime sulkiness: back hunched in, arms crossed, a pouty, furrowed frown. It's Marlowe, the petty miser.
Marlowe huffs and overtakes the escort. 'This is a city of clowns,' he says, and shoves aside the thick blanket overhanging the cathedral entrance.
A bird rises to its tall, tall feet, lowers its scalpel, and stares at him from across the makeshift hospital. Marlowe blinks. Not a bird, obviously, he thinks as the robed figure 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,' he says, tugging his shoulder out of the grip of one of the escorts.
'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.