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The Laughter of the Gods  by Lord Dunsany

A Tragedy in Three Acts

Dramatis Personae

King Karnos
Voice-of-the-Gods (a prophet)
Ichtharion
Ludibras
Harpagas
First Sentry
Second Sentry
One of the Camel Guard
An Executioner
The Queen
Tharmia (wife of Ichtharion)
Arolind (wife of Ludibras)
Carolyx(wife of Harpagas)
Attendants


Act I

Time: About the time of the decadence in Babylon.

Scene: The jungle city of Thek in the reign of King Karnos.

Tharmia:

You know that my lineage is almost divine.

Arolind:

My father's sword was so terrible that he had to hide it with a cloak.

Tharmia:

He probably did that because there were no jewels in the scabbard.

Arolind:

There were emeralds in it that outstared the sea.

* * * * * * * *

Tharmia:

Now I must leave you here and go down among the shops for I have not changed my hair since we came to Thek.

Ichtharion:

Have you not brought that from Barbul-el-Sharnak?

Tharmia:

It was not necessary. The King would not take his court where they could not obtain necessities.

Arolind:

May I go with your Sincerity?

Tharmia:

Indeed, Princely Lady, I shall be glad of your company.

Arolind:

[To Ludibras] I wish to see the other palaces in Thek, [To Tharmia] then we can go on beyond the walls to see what princes live in the neighbourhood.

Tharmia:

It will be delightful.

    [Exeunt Tharmia and Arolind]

Ichtharion:

Well, we are here in Thek.

Ludibras:

How lucky we are that the King has come to Thek. I feared he would never come.

Ichtharion:

It is a most fair city.

Ludibras:

When he tarried year after year in monstrous Barbul-el-Sharnak, I feared that I would see the sun rise never more in the windy glorious country. I feared we should live always in Barbul-el-Sharnak and be buried among houses.

Ichtharion:

It is mountainous with houses: there are no flowers there. I wonder how the winds come into it.

Ludibras:

Ah. Do you know that it is I that brought him here at last? I gave him orchids from a far country. At last he noticed them. “Those are good flowers,” said he. “They come from Thek,” I said. “Thek is purple with them. It seems purple far out on the sand to the camel men.” Then...

Ichtharion:

No, it was not you brought him. He saw a butterfly once in Barbul-el- Sharnak. There had not been one there for seven years. It was lucky for us that it lived; I used to send for hundreds, but they all died but that one when they came to Barbul-el-Sharnak. The King saw it.

Ludibras:

It was since then that he noticed my purple orchids.

Ichtharion:

Something changed in his mind when he saw the butterfly. He became quite different. He would not have noticed a flower but for that.

Ludibras:

He came to Thek in order to see the orchids.

Ichtharion:

Come, come. We are here. Nothing else matters.

Ludibras:

Yes, we are here. How beautiful are the orchids.

Ichtharion:

What a beautiful thing the air is in the morning. I stand up very early and breathe it from my casement; not in order to nourish my body, you understand, but because it is the wild, sweet air of Thek.

Ludibras:

Yes, it is wonderful rising up in the morning. It seems all fresh from the fields.

Ichtharion:

It took us two days to ride out of Bar-el-Sharnak. Do you remember how men stared at our camels? No one had gone away from the city for years.

Ludibras:

I think it is not easy to leave a great city. It seems to grow thicker around you, and you forget the fields.

Ichtharion: [looking off]

The jungle is like a sea lying there below us. The orchids that blaze on it are like Tyrian ships, all rich with purple of that wonderful fish; they have even dyed their sails with it.

Ludibras:

They are not like ships because they do not move. They are like... They are like no tangible thing in all the world. They are like faint, beautiful songs of an unseen singer; they are like temptations to some unknown sin. They make me think of the tigers that slip through the gloom below them.

    [Enter Harpagas and a Noble of the Court, with spears and leather
    belts.]

Ichtharion:

Where are you going?

Harpagas:

We are going hunting.

Ichtharion:

Hunting! How beautiful!

Harpagas:

A little street goes down from the palace door; the other end of it touches the very jungle.

Ludibras:

O, heavenly city of Thek.

Ichtharion:

Have you ever before gone hunting?

Harpagas:

No; I have dreamed of it. In Barbul-el-Sharnak I nearly forgot my dream.

Ichtharion:

Man was not made for cities. I did not know this once.

Ludibras:

I will come with you.

Ichtharion:

I will come with you, too. We will go down by the little street, and there will be the jungle. I will fetch a spear as we go.

Ludibras:

What shall we hunt in the jungle?

Harpagas:

They say there are kroot and abbax; and tigers, some say, have been heard of.

Noble:

We must never go back to Barbul-el-Sharnak again.

Ichtharion:

You may rely on us.

Ludibras:

We shall keep the King in Thek.

    [Exeunt, leaving two sentries standing beside the throne.]

1st Sentry:

They are all very glad to be in Thek. I, too, am glad.

2nd Sentry:

It is a very little city. Two hundred of these cities would not build Barbul-el-Sharnak.

1st Sentry:

No. But it is a finer palace, and Barbul-el-Sharnak is the centre of the world; men have drawn together there.

2nd Sentry:

I did not know there was a palace like this outside Barbul-el-Sharnak.

1st Sentry:

It was built in the days of the forefathers. They built palaces in those days.

2nd Sentry:

They must be in the jungle by now. It is quite close. How glad they were to go.

1st Sentry:

Yes, they were glad. Men do not hunt for tigers in Barbul-el-Sharnak.

    [Enter Tharmia and Arolind weeping.]

Tharmia:

O it is terrible.

Arolind:

O! O! O!

1st Sentry: [To 2nd Sentry]

Something has happened.

    [Enter Carolyx.]

Carolyx:

What is it, princely ladies?

[To Sentries] Go. Go away.

    [Exeunt Sentries.]

What has happened?

Tharmia:

O. We went down a little street.

Carolyx:

Yes. Yes.

Arolind:

The main street of the city.

    [Both weep quietly.]

Carolyx:

Yes? Yes? Yes?

Tharmia:

It ends in the jungle.

Carolyx:

You went into the jungle! There must be tigers there.

Tharmia:

No.

Arolind:

No.

Carolyx:

What did you do?

Tharmia:

We came back.

Carolyx: [in a voice of anguish]

What did you see in the street?

Tharmia:

Nothing.

Arolind:

Nothing.

Carolyx:

Nothing?

Tharmia:

There are no shops.

Arolind:

We cannot buy new hair.

Tharmia:

We cannot buy [sobs] gold-dust to put upon our hair.

Arolind:

There are no [sobs] neighbouring princes.

    [Carolyx bursts bitterly into tears and continues to weep.]

Tharmia:

Barbul-el-Sharnak, Barbul-el-Sharnak. O why did the King leave Barbul- el-Sharnak?

Arolind:

Barbul-el-Sharnak. Its streets were all of agate.

Tharmia:

And there were shops where one bought beautiful hair.

Carolyx:

The King must go at once.

Tharmia: [calmer now.]

He shall go tomorrow. My husband shall speak to him.

Arolind:

Perhaps my husband might have more influence.

Tharmia and Arolind:

My husband brought him here.

Tharmia:

What!

Arolind:

Nothing. What did you say?

Tharmia:

I said nothing. I thought you spoke.

Carolyx:

It may be better for my husband to persuade him, for he was ever opposed to his coming to Thek.

Tharmia: [To Arolind]

He could have but little influence with His Majesty since the King has come to Thek.

Arolind:

No. It will be better for our husbands to arrange it.

Carolyx:

I myself have some influence with the Queen.

Tharmia:

It is of no use. Her nerves are all a-quiver. She weeps if you speak with her. If you argue a matter with her she cries aloud and maidens must come and fan her and put scent on her hands.

Arolind:

She never leaves her chamber and the King would not listen to her.

Tharmia:

Hark, they are coming back. They are singing a hunting song.... why, they have killed a beast. All four of the men are bringing it on two branches.

Arolind: [bored]

What kind of beast is it?

Tharmia:

I do not know. It seems to have barbed horns.

Carolyx:

We must go and meet them.

    [The song is loud and joyous.]

    [Exeunt by the way that the Sentries went.]

    [Enter Sentries.]

1st Sentry:

Whatever it is has passed away again for they were smiling.

2nd Sentry:

They feared that their husbands were lost and now they return in safety.

1st Sentry:

You do not know, for you do not understand women.

2nd Sentry:

I understand them quite as well as you.

1st Sentry:

That is what I say. You do not understand them. I do not understand them.

2nd Sentry:

......Oh. [A pause.]

1st Sentry:

We shall never leave Thek now.

2nd Sentry:

Why shall we never leave it?

1st Sentry:

Did you not hear how glad they were when they sang the hunting song? They say a wild dog does not turn from the trail, they will go on hunting now.

2nd Sentry:

But will the King stay here?

1st Sentry:

He only does what Ichtharion and Ludibras persuade him. He does not listen to the Queen.

2nd Sentry:

The Queen is mad.

1st Sentry:

She is not mad but she has a curious sickness, she is always frightened though there is nothing to fear.

2nd Sentry:

That would be a dreadful sickness; one would fear that the roof might fall on one from above or the earth break in pieces beneath. I would rather be mad than to fear things like that.

1st Sentry: [looking straight before him]

Hush.

    [Enter King and retinue. He sits on the throne. Enter from
    other side Ichtharion, Ludibras, and Harpagas, each with his
    wife beside him, hand in hand. Each couple bows before the
    King, still hand in hand; then they seat themselves. The King
    nods once to each couple.]

King: [To Tharmia]

Well, your Sincerity, I trust that you are glad to have come to Thek.

Tharmia:

Very glad, your Majesty.

King: [To Arolind]

This is pleasanter, is it not, than Barbul-el-Sharnak?

Arolind:

Far pleasanter, your Majesty.

King:

And you, princely lady Carolyx, find all that you need in Thek?

Carolyx: More than all, your Majesty.

King: [To Harpagas]

Then we can stay here long, can we not?

Harpagas:

There are reasons of State why that were dangerous.

King:

Reasons of State? Why should we not stay here?

Harpagas:

Your Majesty, there is a legend in the World, that he who is greatest in the city of Barbul-el-Sharnak is the greatest in the world.

King:

I had not heard that legend.

Harpagas:

Your Majesty, little legends do not hive in the sacred ears of kings; nevertheless they hum among lesser men from generation to generation.

King:

I will not go for a legend to Barbul-el-Sharnak.

Harpagas:

Your Majesty, it is very dangerous....

King: [To Ladies]

We will discuss things of State which little interest your Sincerities.

Tharmia: [rising]

Your Majesty, we are ignorant of these things.

    [Exeunt.]

King: [To Ichtharion and Ludibras]

We will rest from things of State for awhile, shall we not? We will be happy, (shall we not?) in this ancient beautiful palace.

Ludibras:

If your Majesty commands, we must obey.

King:

But is not Thek most beautiful? Are not the jungle orchids a wonder and a glory?

Ludibras:

They have been thought so, your Majesty; they were pretty in Barbul-el- Sharnak where they were rare.

King:

But when the sun comes over them in the morning, when the dew is on them still; are they not glorious then? Indeed, they are very glorious.

Ludibras:

I think they would be glorious if they were blue, and there were fewer of them.

King:

I do not think so. But you, Ichtharion, you think the city beautiful?

Ichtharion:

Yes, your Majesty.

King:

Ah. I am glad you love it. It is to me adorable.

Ichtharion:

I do not love it, your Majesty. I hate it very much. I know it is beautiful because your Majesty has said so.

Ludibras:

This city is dangerously unhealthy, your Majesty.

Harpagas:

It is dangerous to be absent from Barbul-el-Sharnak.

Ichtharion:

We implore your Majesty to return to the centre of the world.

King:

I will not go again to Barbul-el-Sharnak.

    [Exeunt King with attendants. Ichtharion, Ludibras and Harpagas
    remain.]

    [Enter Arolind and Carolyx; each goes up to her husband, very
    affectionate.]

Arolind:

And you talked to the King?

Ludibras:

Yes.

Arolind:

You told him he must go back to Barbul-el-Sharnak at once?

Ludibras:

Well, I——

Arolind:

When does he start?

Ludibras:

He did not say he will start.

Arolind:

What?

Carolyx:

We are not going?

    [Arolind and Carolyx weep and step away from their husbands.]

Ludibras:

But we spoke to the King.

Arolind:

O, we must stay and die here.

Ludibras:

But we did what we could.

Arolind:

O, I shall be buried in Thek.

Ludibras:

I can do no more.

Arolind:

My clothes are torn, my hair is old. I am in rags.

Ludibras:

I am sure you are beautifully dressed.

Arolind: [full height]

Beautifully dressed! Of course I am beautifully dressed! But who is there to see me? I am alone in the jungle, and here I shall be buried.

Ludibras:

But——

Arolind:

Oh, will you not leave me alone? Is nothing sacred to you? Not even my grief?

    [Exeunt Arolind and Carolyx.]

Harpagas: [To Ludibras]

What are we to do?

Ludibras:

All women are alike.

Ichtharion:

I do not allow my wife to speak to me like that.

    [Exeunt Harpagas and Ludibras.]

I hope Tharmia will not weep; it is very distressing to see a woman in tears.

    [Enter Tharmia.]

Do not be unhappy, do not be at all unhappy. But I have been unable to persuade the King to return to Barbul-el-Sharnak. You will be happy here after a little while.

Tharmia: [breaks into loud laughter]

You are the King's adviser. Ha-ha-ha! You are the Grand High Vizier of the Court. Ha-ha-ha. You are the warder of the golden wand. Ha-ha-ha O, go and throw biscuits to the King's dog.

Ichtharion:

What!

Tharmia:

Throw little ginger biscuits to the King's dog. Perhaps he will obey you. Perhaps you will have some influence with the King's dog if you feed him with little biscuits. You——

    [Laughs and exits. Ichtharion sits with his miserable head in his
    hands.]

    [Reenter Ludibras and Harpagas.]

Ludibras:

Has her Sincerity, the princely Lady Tharmia, been speaking with you?

Ichtharion:

She spoke a few words.

    [Ludibras and Harpagas sigh.]

We must leave Thek. We must depart from Thek.

Ludibras:

What, without the King?

Harpagas:

No.

Ichtharion:

No. They would say in Barbul-el-Sharnak “these were once at Court,” and men that we have flogged would spit in our faces.

Ludibras:

Who can command a King?

Harpagas:

Only the gods.

Ludibras:

The gods? There are no gods now. We have been civilised over three thousand years. The gods that nursed our infancy are dead, or gone to nurse younger nations.

Ichtharion:

I refuse the listen to——O, the sentries are gone. No, the gods are no use to us; they were driven away by the decadence.

Harpagas:

We are not in the decadence here. Barbul-el-Sharnak is in a different age. The city of Thek is scarcely civilised.

Ichtharion:

But everybody lives in Barbul-el-Sharnak.

Harpagas:

The gods——

Ludibras:

The old prophet is coming.

Harpagas:

He believes as much in the gods as you or I do.

Ludibras:

Yes, but we must not speak as though we knew that.

    [Voice-of-the-Gods (a prophet) walks across the stage.]

Ichtharion, Ludibras, and Harpagas: [rising]

The gods are good.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

They are benignant. [exit]

Ichtharion:

Listen! Let him prophesy to the King. Let him bid the King go hence lest they smite the city.

Ludibras:

Can we make him do it?

Ichtharion:

I think we can make him do it.

Harpagas:

The King is more highly civilised even than we are. He will not care for the gods.

Ichtharion:

He cannot ignore them; the gods crowned his forefather and if there are no gods who made him King?

Ludibras:

Why, that is true. He must obey a prophecy.

Ichtharion:

If the King disobeys the gods the people will tear him asunder, whether the gods created the people or the people created the gods.

    [Harpagas slips out after the Prophet.]

Ludibras:

If the King discovers this we shall be painfully tortured.

Ichtharion:

How can the King discover it?

Ludibras:

He knows that there are no gods.

Ichtharion:

No man knows that of a certainty.

Ludibras:

But if there are——!

    [Enter Prophet with Harpagas. Ichtharion quickly sends Ludibras and
    Harpagas away.]

Ichtharion:

There is a delicate matter concerning the King.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Then I can help you little for I only serve the gods.

Ichtharion:

It also concerns the gods.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Ah. Then I hearken.

Ichtharion:

This city is for the King, whose body is fragile, a very unhealthy city. Moreover, there is no work here that a King can profitably do. Also it is dangerous for Barbul-el-Sharnak to be long without a King, lest——

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Does this concern the gods?

Ichtharion:

In this respect it does concern the gods—that if the gods knew this they would warn the King by inspiring you to make a prophecy. As they do not know this——

Voice-of-the-Gods:

The gods know all things.

Ichtharion:

The gods do not know things that are not true. This is not strictly true——

Voice-of-the-Gods:

It is written and hath been said that the gods cannot lie.

Ichtharion:

The gods of course cannot lie, but a prophet may sometimes utter a prophecy that is a good prophecy and helpful to men, thereby pleasing the gods, although the prophecy is not a true one.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

The gods speak through my mouth; my breath is my own breath, I am human and mortal, but my voice is from the gods and the gods cannot lie.

Ichtharion:

Is it wise in an age when the gods have lost their power to anger powerful men for the sake of the gods?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

It is wise.

Ichtharion:

We are three men and you are alone with us. Will the gods save you if we want to put you to death and slip away with your body into the jungle?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

If you should do this thing the gods have willed it. If they have not willed it you cannot.

Ichtharion:

We do not wish to do it. Nevertheless you will make this prophecy—you will go before the King and you will say that the gods have spoken and that within three days' time, for the sake of vengeance upon some unknown man who is in this city, they will overthrow all Thek unless every man is departed.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

I will not do it, for the gods cannot lie.

Ichtharion:

Has it not been the custom since unremembered time for a prophet to have two wives?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Most certainly. It is the law.

    [Ichtharion holds up three fingers.]

What!

Ichtharion:

Three.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Do not betray me. It was long ago.

Ichtharion:

You will be allowed to serve the gods no more if men know this. The gods will not protect you in this matter for you have offended also against the gods.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

It is worse that the gods should lie. Do not betray me.

Ichtharion:

I go to tell the others what I know.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

I will make the false prophecy.

Ichtharion:

Ah. You have chosen wisely.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

When the gods punish me who make them lie, they will know what punishment to give to you.

Ichtharion:

The gods will not punish us. It is long ago that the gods used to punish men.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

The gods will punish us.

Act II

    [Same scene.]

    [Same day.]

King Karnos: [pointing off L.]

Look at them now, are they not beautiful? They catch the last rays of the lingering sun. Can you say that the orchids are not beautiful now?

Ichtharion:

Your majesty, we were wrong, they are most beautiful. They tower up from the jungle to take the sun. They are like the diadem of some jubilant king.

King Karnos:

Ah. Now you have come to love the beauty of Thek.

Ichtharion:

Yes, yes, your Majesty, I see it now. I would live in this city always.

King Karnos:

Yes, we will live here always. There is no city lovelier than Thek. Am I not right?

Ludibras:

Your Majesty, no city is like it.

King Karnos:

Ah. I am always right.

Tharmia:

How beautiful is Thek.

Arolind:

Yes, it is like a god.

    [Three notes are stricken on a sonorous gong.]

Whispers: [on]

There has been a prophecy. There has been a prophecy.

King Karnos:

Ah! there has been a prophecy. Bring in the prophet. [Exit attendant.]

    [Enter mournfully with dejected head and walking very slowly Voice-of-
    the-Gods.]

King Karnos:

You have made a prophecy.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

I have made a prophecy.

King Karnos:

I would hear that prophecy. [A pause.]

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Your Majesty, the gods in three days' time——

King Karnos:

Stop! Is it not usual to begin with certain words? [A pause.]

Voice-of-the-Gods:

It is written and hath been said... that the gods cannot lie.

King Karnos:

That is right.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

That the gods cannot lie.

King Karnos:

Yes. Yes.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

In three days' time the gods will destroy this city for vengeance upon some man, unless all men desert it.

King Karnos:

The gods will destroy Thek!

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Yes.

King Karnos:

When will this happen?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

It must be in three days' time.

King Karnos:

How will it happen?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Why. It will happen.

King Karnos:

How?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Why... there will be a sound... as the riving of wood... a sound as of thunder coming up from the ground. A cleft will run like a mouse across the floor. There will be a red light, and then no light at all, and in the darkness Thek shall tumble in.

    [The King sits in deep thought. Exit Prophet slowly; he begins to
    weep, then casts his cloak over his face. He stretches out his arms
    to grope his way and is led by the hand. The King sits thinking.]

Tharmia:

Save us, your Majesty.

Arolind:

Save us.

Ichtharion:

We must fly, your Majesty.

Ludibras:

We must escape swiftly.

    [The King sits still in silence. He lifts a stick on his
    right to beat a little silver bell; but puts it down again. At
    last he lifts it up and strikes the bell. An Attendant
    enters.]

King Karnos:

Bring back that prophet. [Attendant bows and exits.]

    [The King looks thoughtful. The rest have a frightened
    look. Re-enter Prophet.]

King Karnos:

When the gods prophesy rain in the season of rain, or the death of an old man, we believe them. But when the gods prophesy something incredible and ridiculous, such as happens not nowadays, and hath not been heard of since the fall of Bleth, then our credulity is overtaxed. It is possible that a man should lie; it is not possible that the gods should destroy a city nowadays.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

O King, have mercy.

King Karnos:

What, would you be sent safe away while your King is destroyed by the gods?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

No, no, your Majesty. I would stay in the city, your Majesty. But if the gods do not destroy the city, if the gods have misled me.

King Karnos:

If the gods have misled you they have chosen your doom. Why ask for mercy from me?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

If the gods have misled me, and punish me no further, I ask mercy from you, O King.

King Karnos:

If the gods have misled you, let the gods protect you from my executioner.

1st Sentry: [Laughs aside to 2nd Sentry]

Very witty.

2nd Sentry:

Yes, yes. [Laughs too.]

King Karnos:

If the doom fall not at sunset, why then the executioner——

Voice-of-the-Gods:

Your Majesty!

King Karnos:

No more! No doubt the gods will destroy the whole city at sunset.

    [The sentries titter. The Prophet is led away.]

Ichtharion:

Your Majesty! Is it safe to kill a prophet, even for any guilt? Will not the people——

King Karnos:

Not while he is a prophet; but if he has prophesied falsely his death is due to the gods. The people once even burned a prophet themselves because he had taken three wives.

Ichtharion: [Aside to Ludibras]

It is most unfortunate, but what can we do?

Ludibras: [Aside to Ichtharion]

He will not be killed if he betray us instead.

Ichtharion: [Aside]

Why... that is true.

    [All are whispering.]

King Karnos:

Why do you whisper?

Tharmia:

Your Majesty, we fear that the gods will destroy us all and...

King Karnos:

You do not fear it?

    [Dead silence. A plaintive lament off. Enter the Queen. Her
    face is pale as paper.]

Queen: [loq.]

O your Majesty. Your Majesty. I have heard the lutanist, I have heard the lutanist.

King Karnos:

She means the lute that is heard by those about to die.

Queen:

I have heard Gog-Owza, the lutanist, playing his lute. And I shall die, O I shall die.

King Karnos:

No. No. No. You have not heard Gog-Owza. Send for her maidens, send for the Queen's maidens.

Queen:

I have heard Gog-Owza playing, and I shall die.

King Karnos:

Hark. Why, I hear it too. That is not Gog-Owza, it is only a man with a lute; I hear it too.

Queen:

O the King hears it too. The King will die. The great King will die. My child will be desolate for the King will die. Mourn, people of the jungle. Mourn, citizens of Thek. And thou, O Barbul-el-Sharnak, O metropolitan city, mourn thou in the midst of the nations, for the great King will die.

King Karnos:

No. No. No. [To oldest present.] Listen you. Do you not hear it?

The Oldest:

Yes, your Majesty.

King Karnos:

You see it is a real lute. That is no spirit playing.

Queen:

O but he is old; in a few days he will die; it is Gog-Owza, and the King will die.

King Karnos:

No, no, it is only a man. Look out of the window there. [To any Young Man.]

The Young Man:

It is dark, your Majesty, and I cannot see.

Queen:

It is the spirit Gog-Owza.

The Young Man:

I can hear the music clearly.

King Karnos:

He is young.

Queen:

The young are always in danger; they go about among swords. He will die too and the great King and I. In a few days we will be buried.

King Karnos:

Let us all listen; we cannot all die in a few days' time.

Tharmia:

I hear it clearly.

Queen:

Women are blossoms in the hand of Death. They are often close to Death. She will die too.

All:

I hear it. I hear it. And I. And I. And I. It is only a man with a lute.

Queen: [pacified]

I should like to see him, then I should know for certain.

    [She looks out of the casement.]

No, it is too dark.

King Karnos:

We will call the man if you wish it.

Queen:

Yes, I shall be easy then, and then I shall sleep.

    [King instructs Attendants to enquire without. Queen at window still.]

King Karnos:

It is some man down by the river playing his lute. I am told that sometimes a man will play all night.

Tharmia: [Aside]

That's their amusement here.

Arolind: [Aside]

Well, really, its almost all the music we get.

Tharmia: [Aside]

It really is.

Arolind: [Aside]

O how I cry for the golden Hall of Song in Barbul-el-Sharnak. I think it would almost hold the city of Thek.

    [Re-enter Attendant]

Attendant:

It is only a common lute, your Majesty. All hear it except one man.

King Karnos:

All except one, did you say? Ah, thank you.

    [To Queen at window.]

It is only a common lute.

Queen:

One man did not hear it. Who was he? Where is he? Why didn't he?

Attendant:

He was riding back again to Barbul-el-Sharnak. He was just starting. He said he did not hear it.

Queen:

Oh, send for him here.

Attendant:

He is gone, your Majesty.

Queen:

Overtake him quick. Overtake him.

    [Exit Attendant.]

Tharmia: [Aside to Arolind]

I wish that I were going back to Barbul-el-Sharnak.

Arolind:

O to be again at the centre of the world!

Tharmia:

Were we not talking of the golden hall?

Arolind:

Ah, yes. How lovely it was! How beautiful it was when the King was there and strange musicians came from the heathen lands with huge plumes in their hair, and played on instruments that we did not know.

Tharmia:

The Queen was better then. The music eased her.

Arolind:

This lute player is making her quite mad.

Tharmia:

Well. Well. No wonder. He has a mournful sound. Listen!

Arolind:

Do not let us listen. It makes me feel cold.

Tharmia:

He cannot play like Nagra or dear Trehannion. It is because we have heard Trehannion that we do not like to listen.

Arolind:

I do not like to listen because I feel cold.

Tharmia:

We feel cold because the Queen has opened the casement.

King Karnos: [To Attendant]

Find the man that is playing the lute and give him this and let him cease to play upon his lute.

    [Exit Attendant]

Ichtharion:

Hark! He is playing still.

King Karnos:

Yes, we all hear him; it is only a man.

    [To another or same Attendant]

Let him stop playing.

Attendant:

Yes, your Majesty. [Exit]

    [Enter an Attendant with another]

Attendant:

This is the man that does not hear the lute.

King Karnos:

Ah. You are deaf, then, are you not?

Man:

No, your Majesty.

King Karnos:

You hear me clearly?

Man:

Yes, your Majesty.

King Karnos:

Listen! ...Now you hear the lute?

Man:

No, your Majesty.

King Karnos:

Who sent you to Barbul-el-Sharnak?

Man:

The captain of the camel-guard sent me, your Majesty.

King Karnos:

Then go and never return. You are deaf and also a fool. [To himself] The Queen will not sleep. [To Another] Bring music, bring music quickly. [Muttering] The Queen will not sleep.

    [The man bows low and departs. He says farewell to a sentry.
    The Queen leans from the casement muttering. Music heard off.]

Queen:

Ah, that is earthly music, but of that other tune I have a fear.

King Karnos:

We have all heard it. Comfort yourself. Calm yourself.

Queen:

One man does not hear it.

King Karnos:

But he has gone away. We all hear it now.

Queen:

I wish that I could see him.

King Karnos:

A man is a small thing and the night very large and full of wonders. You may well not see him.

Queen:

I should like to see him. Why cannot I see him?

King Karnos:

I have sent the camel-guard to search for him and to stop him playing his lute.

    [To Ichtharion]

Do not let the Queen know about this prophecy. She would think... I do not know what she would think.

Ichtharion:

No, your Majesty.

King Karnos:

The Queen has a very special fear of the gods.

Ichtharion:

Yes, your Majesty.

Queen:

You speak of me?

King Karnos:

O no. We speak of the gods.

    [The earthly music ceases.]

Queen:

O do not speak of the gods. The gods are very terrible; all the dooms that shall ever be come forth from the gods. In misty windings of the wandering hills they forge the future even as on an anvil. The future frightens me.

King Karnos:

Call the Queen's maidens. Send quickly for her maidens. Do not let the future frighten you.

Queen:

Men laugh at the gods; they often laugh at the gods. I am more sure that the gods laugh too. It is dreadful to think of the laughter of the gods. O the lute! the lute! How clearly I hear the lute. But you all hear it? Do you not? You swear that you all hear it?

King Karnos:

Yes, yes. We all hear the lute. It is only a man playing.

Queen:

I wish I could see him. Then I should know that he was only a man and not Gog-Owza, most terrible of the gods. I should be able to sleep then.

King Karnos: [Soothingly]

Yes, yes.

    [Enter Attendant]

Here comes the man that I have sent to find him. You have found the lute player. Tell the queen that you have found the lute player.

Attendant:

The camel-guard have searched, your Majesty, and cannot find any man that is playing a lute.

    [Curtain]

Act III

    [Three days elapse.]

Tharmia:

We have done too much. We have done too much. Our husbands will be put to death. The prophet will betray them and they will be put to death.

Arolind:

O what shall we do?

Tharmia:

It would have been better for us to have been clothed with rags than to bring our husbands to death by what we have done.

Arolind:

We have done much and we have angered a king, and (who knows!) we may have angered even the gods.

Tharmia:

Even the gods! We are become like Helen. When my mother was a child she saw her once. She says she was the quietest and gentlest of creatures and wished only to be loved, and yet because of her there was a war for four or five years at Troy, and the city was burned which had remarkable towers; and some of the gods of the Greeks took her side, my mother says, and some she says were against her, and they quarrelled upon Olympus where they live, and all because of Helen.

Arolind:

O don't, don't. It frightens me. I only want to be prettily dressed and see my husband happy.

Tharmia:

Have you seen the prophet?

Arolind:

Oh yes, I have seen him. He walks about the palace. He is free but cannot escape.

Tharmia:

What does he look like? Has he a frightened look?

Arolind:

He mutters as he walks. Sometimes he weeps; and then he puts his cloak over his face.

Tharmia:

I fear that he will betray them.

Arolind:

I do not trust a prophet. He is the go-between of gods and men. They are so far apart. How can he be true to both?

Tharmia:

This prophet is false to the gods. It is a hateful thing for a prophet to prophesy falsely.

    [Prophet walks across hanging his head and muttering.]

Prophet:

The gods have spoken a lie. The gods have spoken a lie. Can all their vengeance ever atone for this?

Tharmia:

He spoke of vengeance.

Arolind:

O he will betray them.

    [They weep. Enter the Queen.]

Queen:

Why do you weep? Ah, you are going to die. You heard the death-lute. You do well to weep.

Tharmia:

No, your Majesty. It is the man that has played for the last three days. We all heard him.

Queen:

Three days. Yes, it is three days. Gog-Owza plays no longer than three days. Gog-Owza grows weary then. He has given his message and he will go away.

Tharmia:

We have all heard him, your Majesty, except the deaf young man that went back to Barbul-el-Sharnak. We hear him now.

Queen: Yes! But nobody has seen him yet. My maidens have searched for him but they have not found him.

Tharmia:

Your Majesty, my husband heard him, and Ludibras, and while they live we know there is nothing to fear. If the King grew angry with them— because of any idle story that some jealous man might tell—some criminal wishing to postpone his punishment—if the King were to grow angry with them they would open their veins; they would never survive his anger. Then we should all of us say, “Perhaps it was Gog-Owza that Ichtharion or Ludibras heard.”

Queen:

The King will never grow angry with Ichtharion or Ludibras.

Tharmia:

Your Majesty would not sleep if the King grew angry with them.

Queen:

Oh, no. I should not sleep; it would be terrible.

Tharmia:

Your Majesty would be wakeful all night long and cry.

Queen:

Oh, yes. I should not sleep; I should cry all night. [Exit]

Arolind:

She has no influence with the King.

Tharmia:

No. But he hates to hear her cry all night.

    [Enter Ichtharion]

I am sure that the prophet will betray you. But we have spoken to the Queen. We have told her it would be dreadful if the King were to grow angry with you, and she things she will cry all night if he is angry.

Ichtharion:

Poor frightened brain! How strong are little fancies! She should be a beautiful Queen. But she goes about white and crying, in fear of the gods. The gods, that are no more than shadows in the moonlight. Man's fear rises weird and large in all this mystery and makes a shadow of himself upon the ground and Man jumps and says “the gods.” Why they are less than shadows; we have seen shadows, we have not seen the gods.

Tharmia:

O do not speak like that. There used to be gods. They overthrew Bleth dreadfully. And if they still live on in the dark of the hills, why, they might hear your words.

Ichtharion:

Why! you grow frightened, too. Do not be frightened. We will go and speak with the prophet, while you follow the Queen; be much with her, and do not let her forget that she will cry if the King should be angry with us.

Arolind:

I am almost afraid when I am with the Queen; I do not like to be with her.

Tharmia:

She could not hurt us; she is afraid of all things.

Arolind:

She makes me have huge fears of prodigious things.

    [Exeunt Tharmia and Arolind.]

    [Enter Ludibras.]

Ludibras:

The prophet is coming this way.

Ichtharion:

Sit down. We must speak with him. He will betray us.

Ludibras:

Why should the prophet betray us?

Ichtharion:

Because the guilt of the false prophecy is not his guilt; it is ours; and the King may spare him if he tells him that. Again, he mutters of vengeance as he walks; many have told me.

Ludibras:

The King will not spare him even if he betrays us. It was he that spoke the false prophecy to the King.

Ichtharion:

The King does not in his heart believe in the gods. It is for cheating him that the prophet is to die. But if he knows we had planned it——

Ludibras:

What can we say to the prophet?

Ichtharion:

Why, we can say nothing. But we can learn what he will do from what he says to us.

Ludibras:

Here he is. We must remember everything that he says.

Ichtharion:

Watch his eyes.

    [Enter the Prophet, his eyes concealed by his cloak.]

Ichtharion and Ludibras:

The gods are good.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

They are benignant.

Ichtharion:

I am much to blame. I am very much to blame.

Ludibras:

We trust that the King will relent.

Ichtharion:

He often relents at sunset; he looks out over the orchids in the evening. They are very beautiful then, and if he is angry his anger passes away just when the cool breeze comes at the set of sun.

Ludibras:

He is sure to relent at sunset.

Ichtharion:

Do not be angry. I am indeed to blame. Do not be angry.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

I do not wish the King to relent at sunset.

Ichtharion:

Do not be unhappy.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

I say to you that I have betrayed the gods.

Ichtharion:

Listen to me. Do not be so unhappy. There are no gods. Everybody knows that there are no gods. The King knows it.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

You have heard their prophet lie and believe that the gods are dead?

Ludibras:

There are indeed no gods. It is well known.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

There are gods, and they have a vengeance even for you. Listen and I will tell you what it shall be. Aye and for you also... Listen!... No, no, they are silent in the gloom of the hills. They have not spoken to me since I lied.

Ichtharion:

You are right; the gods will punish us. It is natural that they should not speak just now; but they will certainly punish us. It is not therefore necessary for any man to avenge himself upon us, even though there were any cause.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

It is not necessary.

Ichtharion:

Indeed, it might even further anger the gods if a man should be before them to punish us.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

The gods are very swift; no man outruns them.

Ludibras:

A man would be rash to attempt to.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

The sun is falling low. I will leave you now, for I have ever loved the sun at evening. I go to watch it drop through the gilded clouds, and make a wonder of familiar things. After the sunset, night, and after an evil deed, the vengeance of the gods. [Exit R.]

Ludibras: [with contemptuous wonder]

He really believes in the gods.

Ichtharion:

He is as mad as the Queen; we must humour his madness if we ever see him more. I think that all will be well.

    [An executioner steals after the Prophet; he is dressed in
    crimson satin to the knees; he wears a leather belt and
    carries the axe of his trade.]

Ludibras:

His voice was angry as he went away. I fear he may yet betray us.

Ichtharion:

It is not likely. He thinks that the gods will punish us.

Ludibras:

How long will he think so? The Queen's fancies change thrice an hour.

Ichtharion:

The executioner keeps very close to him now. He comes closer every hour. There is not much time for him to change his fancies.

Ludibras:

He has the will to betray us if that fancy leaves him.

Ichtharion:

The executioner is very eager for him. He invented a new stroke lately, but he has not had a man since we came to Thek.

Ludibras:

I do not like an eager executioner—the King sees him and it makes him think...

Ichtharion:

Look how low the sun is; he has no time to betray us. The King is not yet here.

Ludibras:

He is coming.

Ichtharion:

But the prophet is not here.

Ludibras:

No, he is not yet come.

    [Enter the King.]

King Karnos:

The Queen's maidens have persuaded her that there is nothing to fear. They are quite excellent; they shall dance before me. The Queen will sleep; they are quite excellent. Ah, Ichtharion. Come to me, Ichtharion.

Ludibras:

Why does the King send for you?

King Karnos:

You were wrong, Ichtharion.

Ichtharion:

Your Majesty!

    [Ludibras waches.]

King Karnos:

You were wrong to think that Thek is not very lovely.

Ichtharion:

Yes, I was wrong and I am much to blame.

King Karnos:

Yes, it is very beautiful at evening. I will watch them go down over the orchids. I will never see Barbul-el-Sharnak any more. I will sit and watch the sun go down on the orchids till it is gone and all their colours fade.

Ichtharion:

It is very beautiful now. How still it is! I have never seen so still a sunset before.

King Karnos:

It is like a picture done by a dying painter, full of a beautiful colour. Even if all these orchids died to-night yet their beauty is an indestructible memory.

Ludibras: [Aside to Ichtharion]

The prophet is coming this way.

Ichtharion:

Your Majesty, the prophet walks about in the palace, and the executioner is close behind him. If the Queen saw him and the executioner would it not trouble her? Were it not better that he should be killed at once? Shall I whistle for the executioner?

King Karnos:

Not now. I said at sunset.

Ichtharion:

Your Majesty, it is merciful to kill a man before the set of the sun. For it is natural in a man to love the sun. But to see it set and to know that it will not come again is even a second death. It would be merciful to kill him now.

King Karnos:

I have said—at sunset. It were unjust to kill him before his prophecy is proven false.

Ichtharion:

But, your Majesty, we know that it is false. He also knows it.

King Karnos:

He shall die at sunset.

Ludibras:

Your Majesty, the prophet will pray for life if he is not killed now. It would be pity to grant it.

King Karnos:

Is not a King's word death? I have said he shall die at sunset.

    [Enter Prophet. The Executioner creeps along close behind him.]

Voice-of-the-Gods:

O the gods are about to have lied. The gods will have lied. I have prophesied falsely and the gods will have lied. My death cannot atone for it nor the punishment of others.

    [Ichtharion and Ludibras start.]

Ichtharion:

He will betray us yet.

Voice-of-the-Gods:

O why did you let your voice come through my lips? O why did you allow your voice to lie? For centuries it has been said from city to city, “The gods cannot lie.” The nomads have known it out upon the plains. The mountaineers have known it near the dawn. That is all over now. O King, let me die at once. For I have prophesied falsely and at sunset the gods will lie.

King Karnos:

It is not sunset yet. No doubt you have spoken truly.

    [Enter Queen.]

How well the Queen looks. Her maidens are quite excellent.

Ludibras: [To Ichtharion]

There is something a little dreadful in seeing the Queen so calm. She is like a windless sunset in the Winter before a hurricane comes and the snow swirls up before it over the world.

Ichtharion:

I do not like calm sunsets; they make me think that something is going to happen. Yes, the Queen is very quiet; she will sleep to-night.

Queen:

I am not frightened any longer. All the wild fancies of my brain have left it. I have often troubled you with little fears. Now they are all at rest and I am afraid no longer.

King Karnos:

That is good; I am very glad. You will sleep tonight.

Queen:

Sleep. Why—yes, I shall sleep. O yes, we shall all sleep.

King Karnos:

Your maidens have told you that there is nothing to fear.

Queen:

Nothing to fear? No, no more little fears to trouble me.

King Karnos:

They have told you there is nothing at all to fear. Indeed there is nothing.

Queen:

No more little fears. There is one great fear.

King Karnos:

A great fear! Why, what is it?

Queen:

I must not say. For you have often soothed me when I was frightened, and it were not well for me to trouble you at the last.

King Karnos:

What is your fear? Shall I send again for your maidens?

Queen:

No, it is not my fear. It is all men's fear if they knew.

King Karnos: [glancing round]

Ah, you have seen my man in red. I will send him away. I will——

Queen:

No, no. My fear is not earthly. I am not afraid of little things any more.

King Karnos:

Why, what is it then?

Queen:

I do not quite know. But you know how I have ever feared the gods. The gods are going to do some dreadful thing.

King Karnos:

Believe me; the gods do nothing nowadays.

Queen:

You have indeed been very good to me. It seems a little while since the camels came to Argun-Zeerith by the iris marshes, the camels with the gold-hung palanquin, and the bells above their heads, high up in the air, the silver bridal bells. It seems a very little while ago. I did not know how swift the end would come.

King Karnos:

What end? To whom is the end coming?

Queen:

Do not be troubled. We should not let Fate trouble us. The World and its daily cares, ah, they are frightful: but Fate—I smile at Fate. Fate cannot hurt us if we smile at it.

King Karnos:

What end do you say is coming?

Queen:

I do not know. Something that has been shall soon be no more.

King Karnos:

No, no. Look upon Thek. It is built of rock and our palace is all of marble. Time has not scratched it with six centuries. Six tearing centuries with all their claws. We are throned on gold and founded upon marble. Death will some day find me, indeed, but I am young. Sire after sire of mine has died in Barbul-el-Sharnak or in Thek, but has left our dynasty laughing sheer in the face of Time from over these age-old walls.

Queen:

Say farewell to me now, lest something happen.

King Karnos:

No, no, we will not say unhappy things.

Executioner:

The sun has set.

King Karnos:

Not yet. The jungle hides it. It is not yet set. Look at the beautiful light upon the orchids. For how long they have flashed their purple on the gleaming walls of Thek. For how long they will flash there on our immortal palace, immortal in marble and immortal in song. Ah, how the colour changes.

    [To the Executioner]

The sun is set. Take him away.

    [To the Queen]

It is he whose end you foresaw.

    [The Executioner grips the Prophet by the arm.]

Voice-of-the-Gods:

The gods have lied!

King Karnos:

The jungle is sinking! It has fallen into the earth!

    [The Queen smiles a little, holding his hand.]

The city is falling in! The houses are rolling towards us!

    [Thunder off.]

Ichtharion:

They are coming up like a wave and darkness is coming with them.

    [Loud and prolonged thunder. Flashes of red light and then
    total darkness. A little light comes back, showing recumbent
    figures, shattered pillars and rocks of white marble.]

    [The Prophet's back is broken, but he raises the fore-part of
    his body for a moment.]

Voice-of-the-Gods: [triumphantly]

They have not lied!

Ichtharion:

O, I am killed.

    [Laughter heard off.]

Someone is laughing. Laughing even in Thek! Why, the whole city is shattered.

    [The laughter grows demoniac.]

What is that dreadful sound?

Voice-of-the-Gods:

It is the laughter of the gods that cannot lie, going back to their hills.

    [He dies.]

    [Curtain]

The Queen's Enemies

Dramatis Personae

The Queen Ackazarpses (her handmaid) Prince Rhadamandaspes Prince Zophernes The Priest of Horus The King of the Four Countries The Twin Dukes of Ethiopia Tharni, Tharrabas, Harlee (Slaves) Slaves.

Scene: An underground temple in Egypt.

Time: The Sixth Dynasty.

    [The Curtain rises on darkness in both parts of the stage. Two
    Slaves appear with tapers on the steps. As they go down the
    steps, they light the torches that are clamped against the
    wall, with their tapers. Afterwards when they come to the
    temple they light the torches there till they are all lit. The
    two Slaves are Tharni and Tharrabas.]

Tharrabas:

Is it much further, Tharni?

Tharni:

I think not, Tharrabas.

Tharrabas:

A dank and terrible place.

Tharni:

It is not much further.

Tharrabas:

Why does the Queen banquet in so fearful a place?

Tharni:

I know not. She banquets with her enemies.

Tharrabas:

In the land from which I was taken we do not banquet with our enemies.

Tharni:

No? The Queen will banquet with her enemies.

Tharrabas:

Why? Know you why?

Tharni:

It is the way of the Queen.

    [Silence.]

Tharrabas:

The door, Tharni, we have come to the door!

Tharni:

Yes, that's the Temple.

Tharrabas:

Surely a grim place.

Tharni:

The banquet is prepared. We light these torches, that is all.

Tharrabas:

Unto whom is it holy?

Tharni:

They say to the Nile once. I know not to whom it is holy now.

Tharrabas:

So Nile has left it?

Tharni:

They say they worship him in this place no longer.

Tharrabas:

And if I were holy Nile I also would stay up there [pointing] in the sunlight.

    [He suddenly sees the huge misshapen bulk of Harlee.]

Oh-h-h!

Harlee:

Urh

Tharni:

Why, it's Harlee.

Tharrabas:

I thought you were some fearful, evil god.

    [Harlee laughs. He remains leaning on his great iron bar.]

Tharni:

He waits here for the Queen.

Tharrabas:

What sinister need could she have of Harlee?

Tharni:

I know not. You wait for the Queen, Harlee?

    [Harlee nods.]

Tharrabas:

I would not banquet here. Not with a Queen.

    [Harlee laughs long.]

Tharrabas:

Our work is done. Come. Let us leave this place.

    [Exeunt Tharrabas and Tharni up the steps.]

    [The Queen appears with her handmaid, Ackazarpses, coming down
    the steps. Her handmaid holds her train. They enter the
    temple.]

Queen:

Ah. All is ready.

Ackazarpses:

No, no, Illustrious Lady. Nothing is ready. Your raiment—we must fasten it here [shoulder], and then the bow in your hair.

    [She begins to tittivate the Queen.]

Queen:

Ackazarpses, Ackazarpses, I cannot bear to have enemies.

Ackazarpses:

Indeed, Illustrious Lady, it is wrong that you should have enemies. One so delicate, so slender and withal so beautiful should never have a foe.

Queen:

If the gods could understand they would never permit it.

Ackazarpses:

I have poured out dark wine to them, I have offered them fat, indeed, I have often offered them savoury things. I have said: The Queen should not have enemies; she is too delicate, too fair. But they will not understand.

Queen:

If they could see my tears they would never permit such woes to be borne by one small woman. But they only look at men and their horrible wars. Why must men slay one another and make horrible war?

Ackazarpses:

I blame your enemies, Illustrious Lady, more than the gods. Why should they trouble you who are so fair and so easily hurt by their anger? It was but a little territory you took from them. How much better to lose a little territory than to be unmannerly and unkind.

Queen:

O speak not of the territory. I know naught of these things. They say my Captains took it. How should I know? O why will they be my enemies?

Ackazarpses:

You are most fair to-night, Illustrious Lady.

Queen:

I must needs be fair to-night.

Ackazarpses:

Indeed you are most fair.

Queen:

A little more perfume, Ackazarpses.

Ackazarpses:

I will tie the coloured bow more evenly.

Queen:

O they will never look at it. They will not know if it is orange or blue. I shall weep if they do not look at it. It is a pretty bow.

Ackazarpses:

Calm yourself, lady! They will be here soon.

Queen:

Indeed I think they are very close to me now, for I feel myself trembling.

Ackazarpses:

You must not tremble, Illustrious Lady; you must not tremble.

Queen:

They are such terrible men, Ackazarpses.

Ackazarpses:

But you must not tremble, for your raiment is now perfect; yet if you tremble, alas! who may say how it will hang?

Queen:

They are such huge, terrible men.

Ackazarpses:

O the raiment, the raiment; you must not, you must not!

Queen:

O I cannot bear it. I cannot bear it. There is Rhadamandaspes, that huge, fierce soldier, and the terrible Priest of Horus, and... and... O I cannot see them, I cannot see them.

Ackazarpses:

Lady, you have invited them.

Queen:

O say I am ill, say I am sick of a fever.

Quick, quick, say I have some swift fever and cannot see them.

Ackazarpses:

Illustrious Lady——

Queen:

Quick, for I cannot bear it.

    [Exit Ackazarpses.]

Queen:

O, I cannot bear to have enemies.

Ackazarpses:

Lady, they are here.

Queen:

O what shall we do?... Set this bow higher upon my head so that it must be seen. [Ackazarpses does so.] The pretty bow.

    [She continues to look in a hand mirror. A Slave descends the
    stairs. Then Rhadamandaspes and Zophernes. Rhadamandaspes and
    Zophernes stop; the Slave stops lower down.]

Zophernes:

For the last time, Rhadamandaspes, consider. Even yet we may turn back.

Rhadamandaspes:

She had no guards outside nor was there any hiding place for them. There was the empty plain and the Nile only.

Zophernes:

Who knows what she may have in this dark temple?

Rhadamandaspes:

It is small and the stairway narrow; our friends are close behind us. We could hold these steps with our swords against all her men.

Zophernes:

True. They are narrow steps. Yet... Rhadamandaspes, I do not fear man or god or even woman, yet when I saw the letter this woman sent bidding us banquet with her I felt that it was not well that we should come.

Rhadamandaspes:

She said that she would love us though we were her enemies.

Zophernes:

It is not natural to love one's enemies.

Rhadamandaspes:

She is much swayed by whims. They sway her as the winds in spring sway flowers—this way and that. This is one of her whims.

Zophernes:

I do not trust her whims.

Rhadamandaspes:

They name you Zophernes, giver of good counsel, therefore I will turn back because you counsel it, though I would fain go down and banquet with this little playful lady.

    [They turn and mount.]

Zophernes:

Believe me, Rhadamandaspes, it is better. I think that if you had gone down these steps we scarcely should have seen the sky again.

Rhadamandaspes:

Well, well, we turn back, though I would fain have humoured the Queen's whim. But look. The others come. We cannot turn back. There comes the Priest of Horus; we must go to the banquet now.

Zophernes:

So be it.

    [They descend.]

Rhadamandaspes:

We will be circumspect. If she has men in there we return at once.

Zophernes:

So be it.

    [The Slave opens the door.]

Slave:

The Princes Rhadamandaspes and Zophernes.

Queen:

Welcome, Illustrious Princes.

Rhadamandaspes:

Greeting.

Queen:

O you have brought your sword!

Rhadamandaspes:

I have brought my sword.

Queen:

O but it is so terrible, your great sword.

Zophernes:

We always carry our swords.

Queen:

O but you do not need them. If you have come to kill me your great hands are enough. But why do you bring your swords?

Rhadamandaspes:

Illustrious Lady, we do not come to kill you.

Queen:

To your post, Harlee.

Zophernes:

What are this Harlee and his post?

Ackazarpses:

Do not tremble, Illustrious Lady, indeed you must not tremble.

Queen:

He is but a fisherman; he lives upon the Nile. He nets fish; indeed he is nothing.

Zophernes:

For what is your great bar of iron, Slave?

    [Harlee opens his mouth showing that he is tongueless. Exit.]

Rhadamandaspes:

Ugh! They have burned out his tongue.

Zophernes:

He goes on secret errands.

    [Enter Second Slave.]

Second Slave:

The Priest of Horus.

Queen:

Welcome, holy companion of the gods.

Priest of Horus:

Greeting.

Third Slave:

The King of the Four Countries.

    [She and he make obeisance.]

Fourth Slave:

The Twin Dukes of Ethiopia.

King of the Four Countries:

We are all met.

Priest of Horus:

All that have warred against her Captains.

Queen:

O speak not of my Captains. It troubles me to hear of violent men. But you have been my enemies, and I cannot bear to have enemies. Therefore I have asked you to banquet with me.

Priest of Horus:

And we have come.

Queen:

O look not so sternly at me. I cannot bear to have enemies. When I have enemies I do not sleep. Is it not so, Ackazarpses?

Ackazarpses:

Indeed, the Illustrious Lady has suffered much.

Queen:

O Ackazarpses, why should I have enemies?

Ackazarpses:

After to-night you will sleep, Illustrious Lady.

Queen:

Why, yes, for we shall all be friends; shall we not, princes? Let us be seated.

Rhadamandaspes:

[To Zophernes.] There is no other doorway. That is well.

Zophernes:

Why, no, there is not. Yet what is that great hole that is full of darkness?

Rhadamandaspes:

Only one man at a time could come that way. We are safe from man or beast. Nothing could enter that way for our swords.

Queen:

I pray you be seated.

    [They seat themselves cautiously, she standing watching them.]

Zophernes:

There are no servitors.

Queen:

Are there not viands before you, Prince Zophernes, or are there too few fruits that you should blame me?

Zophernes:

I do not blame you.

Queen:

I fear you blame me with your fierce eyes.

Zophernes:

I do not blame you.

Queen:

O my enemies, I would have you kind to me. And indeed there are no servitors, for I know what evil things you think of me——

A Duke of Ethiopia:

No, Queen, indeed we think no evil of you.

Queen:

Ah, but you think terrible things.

Priest of Horus:

We think no evil of you, Illustrious Lady.

Queen:

I feared that if I had servitors you would think... you would say, “This wicked Queen, our enemy, will bid them attack us while we feast.”

    [First Duke of Ethiopia furtively hands food to his Slave
    standing behind him, who tastes it.]

Though you do not know how I dread the sight of blood, and indeed I would never bid them do such a thing. The sight of blood is shocking.

Priest of Horus:

We trust you, Illustrious Lady.

    [He does the same with his Slave.]

Queen:

And for miles around this temple and all along this river I have said, “Let there be no man.” I have commanded and there are not. Will you not trust me now?

    [Zophernes does the same and all the guests, one by one.]

Priest of Horus:

Indeed, we trust you.

Queen:

And you, Prince Zophernes, with your fierce eyes that so frighten me, will you not trust me?

Zophernes:

O Queen, it is part of the art of war to be well prepared when in an enemy's country, and we have been so long at war with your Captains that we perforce remember some of the art. It is not that we do not trust you.

Queen:

I am all alone with my handmaid and none will trust me! O Ackazarpses, I am frightened: what if my enemies should slay me and carry me up, and cast my body into the lonely Nile.

Ackazarpses:

No, no, Illustrious Lady. They will not harm you. They do not know how their fierce looks distress you. They do not know how delicate you are.

Priest of Horus: [to Ackazarpses]

Indeed we trust the Queen and none would harm her.

    [Ackazarpses soothes the Queen.]

Rhadamandaspes: [to Zophernes]

I think we do wrong to doubt her, seeing she is alone.

Zophernes: [to Rhadamandaspes]

Yet I would that the banquet were over.

Queen: [to Ackazarpses and the Priest of Horus, but audible to all]

Yet they do not eat the food that I set before them.

Duke of Ethiopia:

In Ethiopia when we feast with queens it is our custom not to eat at once but to await the Queen till she has eaten.

Queen: [Eats.]

Behold then, I have eaten.

    [She looks at the Priest of Horus.]

Priest of Horus:

It has been the custom of all that held my office, from the time when there went on earth the children of the Moon, never to eat till the food is dedicate, by our sacred signs, to the gods. [He begins to wave his hands over the food.]

Queen:

The King of the Four Countries does not eat. And you, Prince Rhadamandaspes, you have given royal wine unto your slave.

Rhadamandaspes:

O Queen, it is the custom of our dynasty... and has indeed long been so,... as many say,... that the noble should not feast till the base have feasted, reminding us that our bodies even as the humble bodies of the base——

Queen:

Why do you thus watch your slave, Prince Rhadamandaspes?

Rhadamandaspes:

Even to remind myself that I have done as our dynasty doth.

Queen:

Alas for me, Ackazarpses, they will not feast with me, but mock me because I am little and alone. O I shall not sleep to-night, I shall not sleep. [She weeps.]

Ackazarpses:

Yes, yes, Illustrious Lady, you shall sleep. Be patient and all shall be well and you will sleep.

Rhadamandaspes:

But Queen, Queen, we are about to eat.

Duke of Ethiopia:

Yes, yes, indeed we do not mock you.

King of Four Countries:

We do not mock you, Queen.

Priest of Horus:

They do not mean to mock you.

Queen:

They... give my food to slaves.

Priest of Horus:

That was a mistake.

Queen:

It was... no mistake.

Priest of Horus:

The slaves were hungry.

Queen: [still weeping]

They believe I would poison them.

Priest of Horus:

No, no, Illustrious Lady, they do not believe that.

Queen:

They believe I would poison them.

Ackazarpses: [comforting her]

O hush, hush. They do not mean to be so cruel.

Priest of Horus:

They do not believe you would poison them. But they do not know if the meat was killed with a poisonous arrow or if an asp may have inadvertently bitten the fruit. These things may happen, but they do not believe you would poison them.

Queen:

They believe I would poison them.

Rhadamandaspes:

No; Queen, see, we eat.

    [They hastily whisper to slaves.]

1st Duke of Ethiopia:

We eat your viands, Queen.

2nd Duke of Ethiopia:

We drink your wine.

King of Four Countries:

We eat your good pomegranates and Egyptian grapes.

Zophernes:

We eat.

    [They all eat.]

Priest of Horus: [smiling affably]

I too eat of your excellent banquet, O Queen.

    [He peels a fruit slowly, glancing constantly at the others.
    Meanwhile the catches in the Queen's breath grow fewer, she
    begins to dry her eyes.]

Ackazarpses: [in her ear]

They eat.

    [Ackazarpses lifts her head and watches them.]

Queen:

Perhaps the wine is poisoned.

Priest of Horus:

No, no, Illustrious Lady.

Queen:

Perhaps the grape was cut by a poisoned arrow.

Priest of Horus:

But indeed... indeed...

    [Queen drinks from his cup.]

Queen:

Will you not drink my wine?

Priest of Horus:

I drink to our continued friendship.

    [He drinks.]

A Duke of Ethiopia:

Our continued friendship!

Priest of Horus:

There has been no true enmity. We misunderstood the Queen's armies.

Rhadamandaspes: [to Zophernes]

We have wronged the Queen. The wine's not poisoned. Let us drink to her.

Zophernes:

So be it.

Rhadamandaspes:

We drink to you, Queen.

Zophernes:

We drink.

Queen:

The flagon, Ackazarpses.

    [Ackazarpses brings it. The Queen pours it into her cup.]

Fill up your goblets from the flagon, princes. [She drinks.]

Rhadamandaspes:

We wronged you, Queen. It is a blessed wine.

Queen:

It is an ancient wine and grew in Lesbos, looking from Mytelene to the South. Ships brought it overseas and up this river to gladden the hearts of man in holy Egypt. But to me it brings no joy.

Duke of Ethiopia:

It is a happy wine, Queen.

Queen:

I have been thought a poisoner.

Priest of Horus:

Indeed, none has thought that, Illustrious Lady.

Queen:

You have all thought it.

Rhadamandaspes:

We ask your pardon, Queen.

King of Four Countries:

We ask your pardon.

Duke of Ethiopia:

Indeed we erred.

Zophernes: [rising]

We have eaten your fruits and drunk your wine; and we have asked your pardon. Let us now depart in amity.

Queen:

No, no! No, no! You must not go! I shall say... “They are my enemies still,” and I shall not sleep. I that cannot bear to have enemies.

Zophernes:

Let us depart in all amity.

Queen:

O will you not feast with me?

Zophernes:

We have feasted.

Rhadamandaspes:

No, no, Zophernes. Do you not see? The Queen takes it to heart.

    [Zophernes sits down.]

Queen:

O feast with me a little longer and make merry, and be my enemies no more. Rhadamandaspes, there is some country eastwards towards Assyria, is there not? I do not know its name—a country which your dynasty claims of me...

Zophernes:

Ha!

Rhadamandaspes: [resignedly]

We have lost it.

Queen:

...and for whose sake you are my enemy and your fierce uncle, Prince Zophernes.

Rhadamandaspes:

We fought somewhat with your armies, Queen. But indeed it was but to practise the military art.

Queen:

I will call my Captains to me. I will call them down from their high places and reprove them and bid them give the country back to you that lies eastwards towards Assyria. Only you shall tarry here at the feast and forget you ever were my enemies... forget...

Rhadamandaspes:

Queen...! Queen...! It was my mother's country as a child.

Queen:

You will not leave me alone then here to-night.

Rhadamandaspes:

No, most royal lady.

Queen: [to King of Four Countries who appears about to depart]

And in the matter of the merchant men that trade amongst the isles, they shall offer spices at your feet, not at mine, and the men of the isles shall offer goats to your gods.

King of Four Countries:

Most generous Queen... indeed...

Queen:

But you will not leave my banquet and go unfriendly away.

King of Four Countries:

No, Queen... [He drinks.]

Queen: [she looks at the Twin Dukes amiably]

All Ethiopia shall be yours, down to the unknown kingdoms of the beasts.

1st Duke of Ethiopia:

Queen.

2nd Duke of Ethiopia:

Queen. We drink to the glory of your throne.

Queen:

Stay then and feast with me. For not to have enemies is the beggar's joy; and I have looked from windows long and long, envying those that go their way in rags. Stay with me, dukes and princes.

Priest of Horus:

Illustrious Lady, the generosity of your royal heart has given the gods much joy.

Queen: [smiles at him.]

Thank you.

Priest of Horus:

Er... in the matter of the tribute due to Horus from all the people of Egypt...

Queen:

It is yours.

Priest of Horus:

Illustrious Lady.

Queen:

I will take none of it. Use it how you will.

Priest of Horus:

The gratitude of Horus shall shine on you. My little Ackazarpses, how happy you are in having so royal a mistress.

    [His arm is round Ackazarpses' waist: she smiles at him.]

Queen: [rising]

Princes and gentlemen, let us drink to the future.

Priest of Horus: [starting suddenly]

Ah-h-h!

Queen:

Something has troubled you, holy companion of the gods?

Priest of Horus:

No, nothing. Sometimes the spirit of prophecy comes on me. It comes not often. It seemed to come then. I thought that one of the gods spoke to me clearly.

Queen:

What said he?

Priest of Horus:

I thought he said... speaking here [right ear] or just behind me... Drink not to the Future. But it was nothing.

Queen:

Will you drink then to the past?

Priest of Horus:

O no, Illustrious Lady, for we forget the past; your good wine has made us forget the past and its quarrels.

Ackazarpses:

Will you not drink to the present?

Priest of Horus:

Ah, the present! The present that places me by so lovely a lady. I drink to the present.

Queen: [to the others]

And we, we will drink to the future, and to forgetting—to the forgetting of our enemies.

    [All drink; good temper comes on all. The banquet begins “to
    go well.”]

Queen:

Ackazarpses, they are all merry now.

Ackazarpses:

They are all merry.

Queen:

They are telling Ethiopian tales.

1st Duke of Ethiopia:

...for when Winter comes the pigmies at once put themselves in readiness for war and having chosen a place for battle wait there for some days, so that the cranes when they arrive find their enemy already arrayed. And at first they preen themselves and do not give battle, but when they are fully rested after their great journey they attack the pigmies with indescribably fury so that many are slain, but the pigmies...

Queen: [taking her by the wrist]

Ackazarpses! Come!

    [The Queen rises.]

Zophernes:

Queen, you do not leave us?

Queen:

For a little while, Prince Zophernes.

Zophernes:

For what purpose?

Queen:

I go to pray to a very secret god.

Zophernes:

What is his name?

Queen:

His name is secret like his deeds.

    [She goes to door. Silence falls. All watch her. She and
    Ackazarpses slip out. For a moment silence. Then all draw their
    wide swords and lay them before them on the table.]

Zophernes:

To the door, slaves. Let no man enter.

1st Duke of Ethiopia:

She cannot mean to harm us!

    [A Slave comes back from door and abases himself. Loq.]

Slave:

The door is bolted.

Rhadamandaspes:

It is easily broken with our swords.

Zophernes:

No harm can come to us while we guard the entrances.

    [Meanwhile the Queen has gone up the stairs. She beats with a fan
    on the wall thrice. The great grating lifts outwards and upwards
    very slowly.]

Zophernes: [to the Two Dukes]

Quick, to the great hole.

Stand on each side of it with your swords.

    [They lift their swords over the hole.]

Slay whatever enters.

Queen:

    [on the step, kneeling, her two arms stretched upwards]

O holy Nile! Ancient Egyptian river! O blessed Nile!

When I was a little child I played beside you, picking mauve flowers. I threw you down the sweet Egyptian flowers. It is the little Queen that calls to you, Nile. The little Queen that cannot bear to have enemies.

Hear me, O Nile.

Men speak of other rivers. But I do not hearken to fools. There is only Nile. It is the little child that prays to you who used to pick mauve flowers.

Hear me, O Nile.

I have prepared a sacrifice to god. Men speak of other gods: there is only Nile. I have prepared a sacrifice of wine—the Lesbian wine from fairy Mitylene—to mingle with your waters till you are drunken and go singing to the sea from the Abyssinian hills.

O Nile, hear me.

Fruits also I have made ready, all the sweet juices of the earth; and the meat of beasts also.

Hear me, O Nile: for it is not the meat of beasts only. I have slaves for you and princes and a King. There has been no such sacrifice. Come down, O Nile, from the sunlight. O ancient Egyptian river!

The sacrifice is ready. O Nile, hear me.

Duke of Ethiopia:

No one comes.

Queen: [beats again with her fan]

Harlee, Harlee, let in the water upon the princes and gentlemen.

    [A green torrent descends from the great hole. Green gauzes
    rise from the floor; the torches hiss out. The temple is flooded.
    The water from under the doors rises up the steps, the torches
    hiss out one by one. The water, finding its own level, just
    touches the end of the Queen's skirt and stops. She withdraws the
    skirt with catlike haste from the water.]

Queen:

O Ackazarpses! Are all my enemies gone?

Ackazarpses:

Illustrious Lady, the Nile has taken them all.

Queen: [with intense devotion]

That holy river.

Ackazarpses:

Illustrious Lady, will you sleep to-night?

Queen:

Yes. I shall sleep sweetly.

    [curtain]