“Tails,” you answer. This is an old game. You’ve done this before.

Your companion deftly flips the coin from his thumb, letting it spin in a shimmering arc before catching it and flattening it against the back of his hand. He meets your eyes and grins. Slowly, drawing out the suspense, he draws back his hand to reveal the coin.

Heads. “Hold on a moment,” you say. “Let’s try this again.”

He flips the coin again. Again, it spins to the apex of its arc, then falls to land in his waiting hand. Again, he presses it to his hand, then reveals the coin with a swift flourish.

Heads. You snatch the coin from his hand and examine both sides of it, but the coin is no cheat; on one side is a king’s face, and on the other, a coat of arms. You flip the coin yourself, watching it spin. You see heads and tails flashing together. For an instant, the two of them swim and blur, until they become indistinguishable. Then the coin falls heavy on your palm, and you turn it over onto the back of your hand.


A chill runs down your back as you look at the king’s profile. His face is stern but sorrowful, familiar in a way that you cannot describe. How many times have you seen that face before? How many times have you profited by it? “There was a messenger,” you say. “We were sent for.”

You hear a not-so-distant pounding, like the steady beat of a drum.

“A knocking at the shutters,” you continue, idly flipping the coin again. Heads. Heads. Heads. “Early in the morning, the two of us still half-asleep. And a voice: ‘Rosencrantz! Guildenstern!'”

One of those names is yours, by birth or by choice. The other is on the tip of your tongue. Your companion looks up at you, eyes golden-green in the dim light filtering through the trees. For a moment, you imagine coins laid over his eyes. The moment feels as delicate as a skin of ice over a swift-moving stream. A breath might shatter it.

You fear you must speak or go mad.

“What’s that sound in the wood?”
“Who sent for us?”