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

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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 watches.]

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 titivate 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]

The Tents of the Arabs

Dramatis Personae

The King
Bel-Narb, Aoob (camel-drivers)
The Chamberlain
Zabra (a notable)
Eznarza (a gypsy of the desert)

Scene: Outside the gate of the city of Thalanna.

Time: Uncertain.

Act I

Bel-Narb:

By evening we shall be in the desert again.

Aoob:

Yes.

Bel-Narb:

Then no more city for us for many weeks.

Aoob:

Ah!

Bel-Narb:

We shall see the lights come out, looking back from the camel-track;
that is the last we shall see of it.

Aoob:

We shall be in the desert then.

Bel-Narb:

The old angry desert.

Aoob:

How cunningly the Desert hides his wells. You would say he had an
enmity with man. He does not welcome you as the cities do.

Bel-Narb:

He _has_ an enmity. I hate the desert.

Aoob:

I think there is nothing in the world so beautiful as cities.

Bel-Narb:

Cities are beautiful things.

Aoob:

I think they are loveliest a little after dawn when night falls off
from the houses. They draw it away from them slowly and let it fall
like a cloak and stand quite naked in their beauty to shine in some
broad river; and the light comes up and kisses them on the forehead. I
think they are loveliest then. The voices of men and women begin to
arise in the streets, scarce audible, one by one, till a slow loud
murmur arises and all the voices are one. I often think the city
speaks to me then: she says in that voice of hers, "Aoob, Aoob, who
one of these days shall die, I am not earthly, I have been always, I
shall not die."

Bel-Narb:

I do not think that cities are loveliest at dawn. We can see dawn in
the desert any day. I think they are loveliest just when the sun is
set and a dusk steals along the narrower streets, a kind of mystery in
which we can see cloaked figures and yet not quite discern whose
figures they be. And just when it would be dark, and out in the desert
there would be nothing to see but a black horizon and a black sky on
top of it, just then the swinging lanterns are lighted up and lights
come out in windows one by one and all the colours of the raiments
change. Then a woman perhaps will slip from a little door and go away
up the street into the night, and a man perhaps will steal by with a
dagger for some old quarrel's sake, and Skarmi will light up his house
to sell brandy all night long, and men will sit on benches outside his
door playing skabash by the glare of a small green lantern, while they
light great bubbling pipes and smoke nargroob. O, it is all very good
to watch. And I like to think as I smoke and see these things that
somewhere, far away, the desert has put up a huge red cloud like a
wing so that all the Arabs know that next day the Siroc will blow, the
accursed breath of Eblis the father of Satan.

Aoob:

Yes, it is pleasant to think of the Siroc when one is safe in a city,
but I do not like to think about it now, for before the day is out we
will be taking pilgrims to Mecca, and who ever prophesied or knew by
wit what the desert had in store? Going into the desert is like
throwing bone after bone to a dog, some he will catch and some of them
he will drop. He may catch our bones, or we may go by and come to
gleaming Mecca. O-ho, I would I were a merchant with a little booth in
a frequented street to sit all day and barter.

Bel-Narb:

Aye, it is easier to cheat some lord coming to buy silk and ornaments
in a city than to cheat death in the desert. Oh, the desert, the
desert, I love the beautiful cities and I hate the desert.

Aoob: [pointing off L]

Who is that?

Bel-Narb:

What? There by the desert's edge where the camels are?

Aoob:

Yes, who is it?

Bel-Narb:

He is staring across the desert the way that the camels go. They say
that the King goes down to the edge of the desert and often stares
across it. He stands there for a long time of an evening looking
towards Mecca.

Aoob:

Of what use is it to the King to look towards Mecca? He cannot go to
Mecca. He cannot go into the desert for one day. Messengers would run
after him and cry his name and bring him back to the council-hall or
to the chamber of judgments. If they could not find him their heads
would be struck off and put high up upon some windy roof: the judges
would point at them and say, "They see better there!"

Bel-Narb:

No, the King cannot go away into the desert. If God were to make me
King I would go down to the edge of the desert once, and I would shake
the sand out of my turban and out of my beard and then I would never
look at the desert again. Greedy and parched old parent of thousands
of devils! He might cover the wells with sand, and blow with his
Siroc, year after year and century after century, and never earn one
of my curses--if God made me King.

Aoob:

They say you are like the King.

Bel-Narb:

Yes, I _am_ like the King. Because his father disguised himself as a
camel-driver and came through our villages. I often say to myself,
"God is just. And if I could disguise myself as the King and drive him
out to be a camel-driver, that would please God for He is just."

Aoob:

If you did this God would say, "Look at Bel-Narb, whom I made to be a
camel-driver and who has forgotten this." And then he would forget
you, Bel-Narb.

Bel-Narb:

Who knows what God would say?

Aoob:

Who knows? His ways are wonderful.

Bel-Narb:

I would not do this thing, Aoob. I would not do it. It is only what I
say to myself as I smoke, or at night out in the desert. I say to
myself, "Bel-Narb is King in Thalanna." And then I say, "Chamberlain,
bring Skarmi here with his brandy and his lanterns and boards to play
skabash, and let all the town come and drink before the palace and
magnify my name."

Pilgrims: [calling off L.]

Bel-Narb! Bel-Narb! Child of two dogs. Come and untether your camels.
Come and start for holy Mecca.

Bel-Narb:

A curse on the desert.

Aoob:

The camels are rising. The caravan starts for Mecca. Farewell,
beautiful city.

[Pilgrims' voices off: "Bel-Narb! Bel-Narb!"]

Bel-Narb:

I come, children of sin.

[Exeunt Bel-Narb and Aoob.]

[The King enters through the great door crowned. He sits upon the
step.]

King:

A crown should not be worn upon the head. A sceptre should not be
carried in Kings' hands. But a crown should be wrought into a golden
chain, and a sceptre driven stake-wise into the ground so that a King
may be chained to it by the ankle. Then he would know that he might
not stray away into the beautiful desert and might never see the palm
trees by the wells. O Thalanna, Thalanna, how I hate this city with
its narrow, narrow ways, and evening after evening drunken men playing
skabash in the scandalous gambling house of that old scoundrel Skarmi.
O that I might marry the child of some unkingly house that generation
to generation had never known a city, and that we might ride from here
down the long track through the desert, always we two alone till we
came to the tents of the Arabs. And the crown--some foolish, greedy
man should be given it to his sorrow. And all this may not be, for a
King is yet a King.

[Enter Chamberlain through door.]

Chamberlain:

Your Majesty!

King:

Well, my lord Chamberlain, have you _more_ work for me to do?

Chamberlain:

Yes, there is much to do.

King:

I had hoped for freedom this evening, for the faces of the camels are
towards Mecca, and I would see the caravans move off into the desert
where I may not go.

Chamberlain:

There is very much for your Majesty to do. Iktra has revolted.

King:

Where is Iktra?

Chamberlain:

It is a little country tributary to your Majesty, beyond Zebdarlon, up
among the hills.

King:

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