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Plays of Gods and Men Plays of Gods and Men by Lord Dunsany

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Produced by Tom Harris

Title: Plays of Gods and Men

Author: Lord Dunsany

[Note: this edition was prepared from the 1917 Unwin edition. Later
US editions had many minor changes and an additional page of dialogue
in "The Laughter of the Gods".]

Preface

Lest any idle person might think that I have had time to write plays
during the last few years I may mention that the first act of _The
Tents of the Arabs_ was written on September 3rd, and the second act on
September 8th, 1910.

The first and second acts of _The Laughter of the Gods_ were written on
January 29th, and the third act on February 2nd and 3rd, 1911. _A Night
at an Inn_ was written on January 17th, 1912, and _The Queen's Enemies_
on April 19, 20, 21, 24, 28, 29, 1913.

Dunsany, Captain
Royal Inniskilling Fusileers.

The Laughter of the Gods

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:

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