All Our Yesterdays: A Novel of Lady Macbeth

All Our Yesterdays: A Novel of Lady Macbeth

by Joel H. Morris
All Our Yesterdays: A Novel of Lady Macbeth

All Our Yesterdays: A Novel of Lady Macbeth

by Joel H. Morris


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A USA Today Bestseller!

A propulsive and piercing debut, set ten years before the events of Shakespeare’s historic play, about the ambition, power, and fate that define one of literature’s most notorious figures: Lady Macbeth.

Scotland, the 11th Century. Born in a noble household and granddaughter of a forgotten Scottish king, a young girl carries the guilt of her mother’s death and the weight of an unknowable prophecy. When she is married, at fifteen, to the Mormaer of Moray, she experiences firsthand the violence of a sadistic husband and a kingdom constantly at war. To survive with her young son in a superstitious realm, she must rely on her own cunning and wit, especially when her husband’s downfall inadvertently sets them free.

Suspicious of the dark devices that may have led to his father’s death, her son watches as his mother falls in love with the enigmatic thane Macbeth. Now a woman of stature, Lady Macbeth confronts a world of masculine power and secures the protection of her family. But the coronation of King Duncan and the political maneuvering of her cousin Macduff set her on a tragic course, one where her own success might mean embracing the very curse that haunts her and risking the child she loves.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593715383
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/12/2024
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 116,876
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Joel H. Morris has a PhD in comparative literary studies from Northwestern University. Recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, he has worked as a bookseller, sailor, and teacher, and lives near Denver, Colorado. All Our Yesterdays is his debut novel.

Read an Excerpt

In my husband's eyes I see a hunger. In their gleam is a longing to know. We lie together, pale in the milky half-light, half ourselves, half each other's.

It is our wedding night.

He rises on an elbow, considers my face. His eyes dwell on each feature-mouth, nose, cheek, and chin. I am a book he desires to read. He wishes that I would teach him how.

"Tell me," he says.

I grin. He is a poor student of anything apart from the battlefield. There he is practiced, studied. But he has not yet learned to apply his art to life-or to love.

"My noble lord," I say. "You tell me. Describe what you see."

He considers. Where to begin?

"Your lips," he says, "are red as roses."

I sigh. "It's a start. A schoolboy's, but a start."

"Oh?" He is not used to being thwarted. "Let me try again. Your rose-red lips are full of mirth."

"Too easy." I grin. "You cheat."

"But when you laugh, your smile is slightly crooked on one side. Here, on the right."

I smile again.

"Just so," he says. He brushes the tip of his finger across my lips, and I cannot stifle a laugh.

"My lord, that tickles."

"And because this side lifts slightly higher, when you laugh-truly laugh-you reveal this tooth. I have never seen one so pointed."

My wolf's fang. I know it. My entire life I've felt its shame.

"It is a beautiful tooth," he says. "The other one is not so sharp."

I blush, tightening my lips.

"I've offended?" He frowns. "And now you'll hide the tooth I love?"

"I have not given you permission to love my flaws."

"Are they flaws if I love them?"

"Do you?" I search his face. "Honestly?"

"Gentle Lady, I do." His eyes are giving. It was their kindness that drew me to him, allowed me, that night, to knock at his door. "But," he says, "you have not let all your secrets be told."

"Only because I have no secrets, my lord."



"I believe I shall find them out."

"You may try." I crane my neck to kiss him. He withdraws.

"Only once I've discovered them," he chides.

I pout. I enjoy playing like children. Who would blame us on our wedding night? I wonder if the gentlewomen of the house are gossiping, whispering in the castle corners, behind their veils: It's an unholy union, marrying Macbeth. She has her dead husband's blood on her hands.

He touches my cheek, just below my eye, and continues his quest. "When you laugh, too, your right eye squints closed." He touches my lashes.

"It does not."

"It does. The instant you smile you must be blind in one eye."

"And you must be half blind in both."

He ignores my joke. "Your eyes," he muses. "Yes. I see. There's the mystery."

"Oh?" I settle in the bedsheets, banish my fears of castle gossips. "Tell me. What is my mystery?"

He gleans my face, reading once more. "There is love there. I see love."

"For you, I suppose?"

"Mmm." His brows knit in concentration. "And honesty."

I feel bold. "Oh, I am honest."

"You are." He pauses, rapt, a realization growing. "But you are practiced in that honesty."

My laugh is uneasy. I didn't expect him to learn so quickly. Outside our chamber the moon is full. The dark forest quakes, strains, desires to know what my husband already knows.

"What do you mean?"

I accept the gentle brush of his thumb across my cheek, the wiping of mist from a pane. He steadies his gaze; his face is a book whose page has just turned.

He speaks. "It is not that you are not honest, but that you have learned to use that honesty. Like an equivocator."

"An equivocator?" I scoff, seize his wrist. It is meant in jest, to deliver a bite to his thumb, but his muscles coil. I see the roped tendons in his neck; I sense the sudden force that might spring on its enemy, beat him down with a fist or sword. I let go, but now his hand takes mine. I feel his sinews slacken, relax, even as he presses my hand to the bed, holds me there. "My worthy thane," I protest.

"Fair Lady, do not mistake me. You are honest. Truly. But there is something behind that honesty. A practice, an art. As though you have learned that it is more powerful than the lie. And your eye, your tooth, your joyous laugh-"

"Are not honest?"

His fingers find mine, intertwine. "Are too much so."

"And that is my secret? My lord, I don't think you know me at all."

He considers, his face lowering to mine, his lips hovering above my lips. "Your face, my Lady, is as a play. Rehearsed. And you perform what you wish others to see. The audience believes they are seeing behind the curtains, but they see only the curtains themselves."

I move swiftly, press my mouth to his as if for a kiss. Instead my teeth take his lower lip, bite. It is gentle, but my tongue tastes a faint mingling of salt and blood. He does not flinch. I release.

"See what I mean?" He grins. "All honesty."



the boy

It was done quickly.

The boy gazed out the window, arms crossed on the casement. A braid of clouds twisted across the sky, fire-kissed by the sun's downward climb.

The boy watched the road. His father was coming. He must be. Over the hills that bordered the world, back from the place far beyond. He would return. At any moment his father would come home and put an end to it.

He touched a stone he had set on the sill; a small round stone, red with odd stripes of black. The colors had called to him a week ago, and for a full day he had carried it in his fist. Now, in the light of the ruddy evening, the little stone glowed. The boy slid it to the window's edge, tempting its fall. At once he decided its fate and with a final push watched it plummet to the grass below.

Behind the boy his nursemaid wept. She was a plump woman, with hair tightly wound and covered in a fresh white wimple. That morning she had wept so fiercely at the sight of the boy's mother that his mother had to sit with her, take the nursemaid's hands in hers, and see to it that the poor woman did not faint. But Nurse wept on the whole day through. "Your mother," she cried to the boy. "Such happiness."

For days he'd observed the many preparations-the sewer's ordering, the butcher's hacking, the scullions' scrubbing, the laundress's distress. Often he was caught underfoot, cursed at by an unbalanced maid, pushed by a tipsy porter. Nothing could dissuade his curiosity. There was more meat, more fish, more barley than the boy had ever seen before; more wine, more bread, more eggs than he would likely ever see again.

Now the day had arrived. The weather was exceptionally fine, and Nurse had declared the fair day a blessing-heaven's light shining down on the lovers' union.

The clouds roamed, the sun lowered, and the boy was shut in the chamber with the nursemaid to guard him. "Why should the thane want children at his nuptials?" she scolded. "Especially when he has none himself?"

Resting his head on his arms, he watched the road. From the window he could just make out the little chapel cross. The wedding was taking place there, in the chapel where his father used to spit and curse each time he passed. That was why he was delayed. That was why he had not yet come. His father was a man who spat at churches.

That, and he was dead.

The sight of a rider caused the boy to start. He lifted his chin from his crossed arms, squinted. But no, the rider looked nothing like his father.

"Do you see something?" Nurse asked.


She sighed. "What will your days bring now? You, just a babe."

"I will be ten next year."

"Your mother is an angel in her dress," she said, sighing again. "An angel. When he saw her, the thane could hardly speak."

The boy spread his hands and laid his head on the casement stone, felt its smoothness cool his cheek. His father had been gone a long time when the new man came to their castle. The thane whose eyes were wild and whose hair was long and whose skin stretched over his bony frame. The man's skin was so rosy it looked like uncooked meat.

When he came to their home, the boy's mother had trembled at the sight, pressed her son to her breast. They hid together in shadows when he passed. His mother had prayed; she bade the boy to do so, too. The thane remained. He made their house his home. He ate their food with his men in the great hall. He befriended the castle hounds. On and on he stayed until, one day, the boy's mother said she was to marry him.

The boy had not understood. "How will you be married?"

"Why, with words," she had said. "And a ring."

His father would be furious. He told her so.

"Your father," she said, "is dead."

But ghosts come out of graves. Bones seek out their fallen flesh. Why else must you lock them down in the dust, pray to keep them away?

His father was coming. Even now at his mother's wedding, his father was crossing the heath, badged with blood and mud. Men like him could not die-men so large, so fierce. The mormaer was a man who could pull down the heavens, who could roll back the sea.

What was more: his mother had not wept for her dead husband. Not once.

He would come.

The wedding bells tolled. Their chimes shook the boy's teeth.

"It's done!" Nurse exclaimed. "Boy, look! Can you see anything?"

He angled his head from the dimming sky to spy the chapel cross below. A sudden thought pricked him, a means of escape. But the nurse would need to come close.

"Yes, Nurse," he said. "Yes, come see."

She hoisted herself from her seat like an old waterwheel and ambled over to the window. Just as she reached him, the boy spun around, delivered her shin a fearsome kick. The shock sent her reeling, fumbling for a hold, and she fell, letting out a huff as she went down, a dull thud as her head met the casement.

She lay still, crumpled on the floor. Her eyes were unfocused, her breath like wheezy bellows. A red flower blossomed on her brow.

The boy did not wait for the guilt to catch him. He flew out the door, a wing on the wind. Through the hall and down the staircase, skipping over the narrow stone steps, leaping over lazy greyhounds whose ears hardly twitched.

Soldiers and attendants scrambled, dodging out of his way.

"Wicked egg!"

In the kitchen the wedding feast was being boiled. The sewer blocked the way, but the boy ducked under his arm, knocking over a stool to block the path. He bumped a cook, broke a pitcher, and tripped a servant, who tumbled to the floor in a billow of barley.

"Vile thing!" someone scolded. "Little fiend!"

At last he reached the door. He ran out across the courtyard, past the porter and soldiers there, until at last he sighted the chapel. The little building was brightly rowed with garlands for the marriage banns.

"With words and a ring," his mother had said. He would shout down the words. He would shatter the ring. If his father would not come, the boy would put an end to the wedding.

A sea of bodies blocked his way. He pressed and pushed but could not find a path. Behind him now he saw a devil's host of servants giving chase.

The boy dropped to a crawl, pushing through the guests' legs, bumping off hips, pulling at dresses, until he surfaced on the other side, damp and panting, covered in straw and dust, and stood to face whatever might come out the chapel door.

The crowd pressed at the boy's back. An elbow bumped his ear. Below the ringing bells came a chanting shout: "Macbeth! Macbeth!"

It was his mother who stepped out. In her hand she clasped the hand of the reddish thane. The man stepped out with her, their fingers entwined, their wrists banded taut. On her finger shone a golden ring. The terrible bells drowned out everything.

Now the crowd surged forward so that the boy was squeezed between flanks, swallowed in the folds of frocks, and it was all he could do to find an opening in the closing press. Just in time he saw the man put his hand to the bride's face-his mother's face-and pull her near. Their noses touched. They kissed.

A great cheer rose up, and someone seized the boy's arm. He was pulled backward, lifted up, and slung violently over the porter's shoulder. Dangling like a sack of rye, the boy bounced back through the upturned kitchen and up the stairs, to return to the empty nursery. The sun was nearly down. By the window was a crimson dot where the nurse had fallen.

An old maidservant entered and without a word set to stripping the boy of his clothes, wiping him of the straw and filth. She cursed her position, muttered many other curses about how the boy had nearly murdered the nurse and, what was worse, had made a mockery of his own mother's wedding.

His father had not come. "He didn't come," the boy whimpered.

"Be quiet, child." The aged woman dipped a rag in the water basin and pressed it so roughly behind his ear he cried out. But he clapped his mouth shut and held like that, unbending, unbudging as she cleaned. She ordered him to his bed, and when he refused, the maid snatched his ear and thrust him to it.

"You'll stay here and miss supper as punishment for what you've done."

He wasn't hungry; he didn't care.

The maid saw it as stubbornness. "Your own mother's marriage," she scowled. "Little fool. How will the thane feel about you now? The man is powerful. And you should be grateful."

The boy turned in his bed. The image of his mother kissing the man seared, a spark on silk. "Why must they kiss?"

The old woman softened. "It is their wedding," she replied. "They kiss out of love."

Out the window night had come. The last dull embers of sun lingered on the clouds and slowly snuffed themselves out.

"He didn't come," the boy said again. His father could have shook the castle down, could have closed the walls around them as he once did so that the boy and his mother huddled. The mormaer frightened her, and the boy knew it was because his father was Power.

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