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Robert G. Ferrell
firstname.lastname@example.org (210) 287-7274
Staging and Atmosphere Western European, High Middle Ages (see, for example, classic 'Medieval Hollywood' films such as The Court Jester and The Black Shield of Falworth. These—along with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and a dash of Shakespeare's comedies—were stylistic reference points for the script). Music would ideally be live early musicians in the pit, but if not available suggest selections from 'A Mediaeval Banquet' by the Martin Best Mediaeval Consort. Music may of course also be employed as filler during set changes. Cast (in order of appearance) Harald (Royal Herald): Male. Costuming: Herald's tabard, tights. Needs a strong voice with good projection. Percy (Citizen): Adult male. Costuming: middle-class. Tether (Citizen): Adult male. Costuming: middle-class. Esmerelda (Princess): Young adult female. Costuming: Princess. Melicinda (Handmaiden): Young adult female. Costuming: Noble (Royal Household). Lilith (Chatelaine): Middle-aged female. Costuming: Noble (Royal Household). Jasper (Prince): Young adult male. Costuming: Prince. Bustram (Knight): Young adult male. Costuming: Noble (Knight). Ayelbor (Knight): Young adult male. Costuming: Noble (Knight). Egbert (Chamberlain/Regent): Late middle-aged/elderly male. Noble (Royal Household). The Crone/Perrilyn (Mother to Alembic, Sorceress): Attractive middle-aged female. Costuming: Witch's mask. Gown with large sleeves lined with fur, one of which has a piece of sleeve and fur trim missing, as though torn from the garment by force. Seducer 1: Young adult male. Costuming: In South Tower, Noble. In bedchambers, dark, tight-fitting to exaggerate gestures in silhouette. Seducer 2: Young adult female. Costuming: In South Tower, Noble. In bedchambers, dark, tight-fitting to exaggerate gestures in silhouette. 2
Alembic (Bastard Prince): Young adult male. Costuming: peasant-like, then Noble in the coronation scene. Quincunx (Seneschal): Adult male. Costuming: Noble (Royal Household). Progne (Mistress of the Wardrobe): Adult female. Costuming: Noble (Royal Household). Liam (Guard Sergeant): Young adult male. Costuming: Soldier. Kullen (Guard): Adult male. Costuming: Soldier. Figsbury (High Tribune): Adult male. Costuming: black judge's robes, white powdered wig with one coil constantly unwinding. Sten (Guard): Adult male. Costuming: Soldier. Hieronymous (Royal Scribe): Adult male. Costuming: Noble (Royal Household). Dead Queen: Middle-aged female. Costuming: Royal ghost. Dead King: Middle-aged/elderly male. Costuming: Royal ghost.
ACT I SCENE 1 OPEN with Harald the herald standing at a street corner with unrolled scroll, to the accompaniment of a deep bell tolling slowly. Harald: The king is dead, long live the king! (Repeat several times) As Harald exits, from stage opposite Percy and Tether stroll in and stop at stage center. Percy: Oh, blast. We missed the crier again. What was he saying this time? Tether: "The king is dead," was what it sounded like to me. It was bound to happen eventually, you know. He was a very ill monarch. Percy: No, no, I meant the other bit. Tether: What, "Long live the king?" Percy: Yes, that bit. What is that supposed to mean? Tether: Well, which part is giving you difficulty? Percy: It seems to me a trifle unrealistic to wish long life on someone whom you have just pronounced dead. Tether: Yes, I see. It would probably help you to know that he was referring to the new king, not the dead one. Percy: Ah, that explains it, then. Tether: Glad to be of service. Percy: Tether? Tether: Yes, Percy? Percy: Which "new king" would that be, precisely? Tether: Prince Jasper, I suppose. Except that he has not actually been crowned king yet. Percy: How do you know that? 4
Tether: There would have been a big to-do at the castle. Bells rung. Beacons lit. Doves flying every which way. General mayhem. Even more noisome than the jousting cup finals. Percy: They were ringing the bells just now, were they not? Tether: That was intended as mournful tolling. Celebratory ringing has a more lively aspect. Percy: Ah. If Jasper is in fact the heir apparent but he hasn't been crowned yet, would it not properly be, "Long live the Prince," or something to that effect, then? Tether: Well, that is hardly traditional, is it? Presumably he has the office of king effectively sewn up, what with being the eldest child and all. 'Prince' is just his outgoing title, as it were. Percy: Ah. But Jasper isn't the eldest. Princess Esmerelda is. Tether: You cannot have a ruling Queen when you have male children hanging about! The other kingdoms would talk. We would have to make all new robes of State. Besides, I heard that His Majesty specifically named Prince Jasper as the Heir Apparent. Percy: Where did you hear that? Tether: Basil the butcher. He delivers hogs and fowl to the Royal Kitchen. I think he is sweet on the Chatelaine, Lady Lilith. She fills him in on castle gossip. Percy: I suppose you can trust the word of such a man. 'Sharp blade and a sharper wit:' that is what they say about Basil. (They begin to stroll off stage) Tether: They do? What else do they say? Percy: Not sure. They usually stop talking when I get close enough to hear. Tether: Pity. (Exit)
SCENE 2 The boudoir of Princess Esmerelda The Princess sits combing her hair and being attended to by Melicinda, her handmaiden. Esmerelda: Alas, poor daddy. Mum took it well, though, do you not think? Melicinda: Oh yes, Your Highness. Esmerelda: I mean, she could have simply fallen out of the tower window. That is what the priests have declared, at any rate, and we ought not to argue with God. I suppose that makes me an orphan now, does it not? I am not certain I like the sound of that. Being an orphan is not a good thing, is it Melicinda? Melicinda: Oh no, Your Highness. Esmerelda: I suppose this also means that I shall have to be Queen now. It sounds like a great deal of bother, but it is my duty, after all. Melicinda: Oh yes, Your Highness. Esmerelda: Run away now, Melicinda, and fetch me someone with a little more penchant and aptitude for conversation. I must needs take counsel on weighty matters. Melicinda: Oh yes, Your Highness. (Exits) Esmerelda: I wanted a popinjay, but daddy said, "No, handmaidens are cheaper and easier to take care of. Besides, they are not as likely to go poos in your hair." Alas, he was mistaken on all counts. Enter the Royal Chatelaine, an older woman named Lilith with a peculiar accent (director's option) who has served as a sort of nanny and confidant to the Princess throughout her young life. Lilith: Your Highness, the popinjay says you want someone to talk with, rather than at. Esmerelda: How true. I suppose it would be too much to expect that she actually told you that?
Lilith: To be truthful, I simply surmised it from her attitude as she passed me in the corridor. I have learned to recognize her snits, and this one was definitely an exasperated "I cannot keep up with her@ snit. And so, here I am. Esmerelda: Here you are, indeed. The world turns more bravely, and its peoples breathe more easily, knowing that you have responded to my unspoken beckoning with such admirable fidelity and promptitude. Tell me, what news from the court since my parents' departure to a higher plane? Lilith: What a saucy mood you are in, dear Princess. No wonder Melicinda fled bloody and babbling. The court, since you ask, is a-twitter. This is the nature of courts, of course, but the twitter they are twittering at present concerns the revelation by an unnamed source that on his deathbed your father named Prince Jasper as his successor. It is further said that only the Prince, the Queen, and the Lord Chamberlain, your father=s obsequious toad, witnessed the proclamation. Your poor mother, alas, is with the Saints in Heaven and can neither confirm nor deny this rumor. Esmerelda: (Gasps) Jasper is a certifiable gargoyle! He has less grasp of diplomacy than the moat monster, and only half the personal appeal. If he has the stuff of a king, then I am myself a popinjay! Lilith: Calm down, calm down; (Reaching into her pouch) here, have a cracker...(Under her breath, realizing her faux pas.) Oh, bloody hell. Esmerelda: (Royal Wrath glare on full power) You had best look to your geese and stuffings, Chatelaine, lest you find yourself hanging in your own larder. Go and harvest me some truth in this matter while you still have legs to carry you! Lilith: Oh yes, Your Highness. (Exits quickly) Esmerelda: I have known since first awareness that I would someday be Queen, but the knowledge in truth hath not impacted fully until this day. My brother will seek to place himself upon the throne by whatever means he can; this I have also known since childhood. My father and I have spoken at length on these inevitable sibling politics; he seemed to support my candidacy as the eldest without reservation. This talk of a deathbed proclamation naming Jasper as heir sits not well with me, as it seems counter to what I know of my father's wishes. I sense an evil intent underlying this affair, yet one outside my brother's accustomed sphere. He is grasping, stubborn, and sometimes forgets his upbringing in fits of pique, yes, but he has never before shown an aptitude for duplicity or intrigue on this level. I fear the turns this river may take before it reaches the tempest-tossed sea strand, not least because it twists under an influence I cannot fully fathom.
INTERLUDE Lights go down. Music (duration at director's option), then Harald wanders through again and stands center stage in a spotlight. Harald: Oyez, oyez, good Nobles and gentles, pray attend. The plot proceedest according to plan, and we wish you to know at this juncture that we have decided to skip the funeral scene, as it is dreadfully dreary, and go straight into the good bits about sex and intrigue and so on. Any of you who wish to simulate the funeral experience for purposes of verisimilitude may stare at the floor for approximately three minutes and think about spending a two-month sabbatical alone on an otherwise uninhabited island with your least entertaining relative and nothing but plain rice cakes and water to sustain you. The rest of us will forge ahead and you may catch up later as you will. Hip, hip, huzzah, and what-have-you. (Exits) More music of a somber nature, which stops abruptly as the lights come up.
SCENE 3 The Royal Armory. Prince Jasper is looking at different pieces of armor, trying to select one. He is accompanied by two young knights, Ayelbor and Bustram. Jasper: No, that one will definitely not do. It looks as though the rats have been at it. By God=s wounds, we have the mightiest rodentia in the world. (Picks up another piece) And this! This isn't so much armor as badly constructed feast ware. 'Squire, hand me my trencher and pot hook for the next charge.' (Suddenly) Have at you! He makes a mock lunge toward Aylebor, who leaps away and in doing so knocks over a rack of weapons. He scrambles to pick them up and put them back in place. Jasper: Well parried, Sir Ayelbor! Confound the enemy by wrecking their sword racks and running away: 'tis a strategy worthy of mighty Darius himself, methinks. Bustram: Most amusing, Your Highness. One might almost say you have talent as a man of comedic wit. Jasper: One might almost say you have talent at flattery, Sir Bustram, except that one would be grossly mistaken. (Rubbing his stomach) Shall we seek out a hearty table, fellows? Ayelbor: (Still rounding up displaced weapons) But you have not found a suitable new breastplate for tomorrow=s tourney. Are you certain the old one is unusable? Jasper: As I am of your lack of grace, Sir Hop Frog. The Crone's potions have an unsettling effect on metal even as they have on the soul. Bustram: You do not mean to say that old hag in the South Tower is responsible for melting your armor! Why did you suffer her to live? What did you say about a table? Jasper: It is not I who prolonged her existence; she breathed on my father's whim. I have no doubt that my dear sister will fall under her spell as well, if indeed she has not already. From one monarch to the next, they say, passes a certain tangible madness. Bustram: I have heard it whispered from behind tapestries and the depths of empty, darkened rooms that your father the king made a proclamation on his deathbed.
Jasper: That gives me no surprise. My father was wont to proclaim at length on matters of great import and small. He once spent the better portion of an afternoon proclaiming to two desperately bored foreign emissaries on the salubrious nature of toadstools. The hapless gentlemen retired from diplomatic service soon after, and were at last report tending to the plaster at a monastery in Flanders. Bustram: As it may be, my Prince, but His Majesty's terminal proclamation was reputedly that you should succeed to the throne, rather than Her Highness Esmerelda. Jasper: What news is this? It could beB I was off pursuing boars when he inconveniently chose to draw his last breath Bbut why would I only now hear of it, and then from one who listens beneath casements? Ayelbor: It is further said, my lord, that no one but the Queen, your sister and the Chatelaine were in attendance upon His Majesty when this wish he set forth. Jasper: That would be typical of my father's paucity of planning where affairs of State were concerned. If no one else was there, who is it that whispers these things 'in empty, darkened rooms?' I doubt that my sister or her insipid shadow would let such a sweetmeat slip prematurely, given that they stand to lose a kingdom in the slipping. Bustram: The walls have ears, my lord. Jasper: So they say. It is a pity that they have not voices as well, not least that they could in all likelihood provide better conversation than you lot. I must know more of this proclamation; we shall seek the Lord Chamberlain posthaste. Ayelbor: Why the Chamberlain? Jasper: He was appointed Regent by the High Tribune for the interregnum. Presumably he would be privy to any deathbed proclamations my father made. Bustram: (Whining) But...what of the hearty table? Jasper: Walls have ears, tables have legs. If you desire to sit at the former again—and by that I mean a table—employ the latter—your legs—and come. (All exit)
SCENE 4 The Lord Chamberlain, Master Egbert, sits at a desk, poring over some dusty-looking documents. He seems a bit nearsighted. Egbert: Confound dust! Cannot seem to get rid of it, confound it. Two score servants in this confound castle; must be at least ten of them do nothing but dust every confound day. Wonder why they never seem to dust in here? This place has more confound soil in it than the confound Royal Gardens. Bet you could grow barley on this confound parchment. Ought to try it. Think I will. The Chatelaine enters at this point and watches Egbert with interest. He is shaking off dust from all of the scraps of parchment onto a single sheet on the table, muttering to himself. The only intelligible words are the occasional emphasized "confound." After about 15 seconds the Chatelaine shrugs and clears her throat. Lilith: Ahem. (No response) Ahem! Egbert: Down the corridor, third door on the right. Lilith: I beg your pardon, sir? Egbert: You wanted a hem. The seamstresses are down the corridor, third confound door on the right. I would have expected you to know that, Chatelaine. The only confound hems in here are on this confound gown, and they are not long for this confound world. Cannot get confound quality workmanship these days. My father had a confound cotehardie that lasted through two wives and an energetic mistress. Confound seamstresses nowadays cannot even sew a clasp that will stay on all the way through a midsummer feast. Ought to toss the whole lot of them and hire trained rabbits...Why are you still here? Lilith: I...I do not want any sewing done. I need to talk to you, Master Egbert. Egbert: Confound funny way to start a conversation. Go ahead and talk; I shall listen for so long as it suits me. Lilith: Master Egbert, I have heard some disturbing rumors concerning the succession to the throne. What are your thoughts on the matter?
Egbert: Thoughts? Confound it, woman, I don't have any thoughts. The coronation is next Sunday; we've already hired the confound entertainers and ordered the feast victuals. I do not suppose I could persuade anyone to make some confound respectable clothes for me by then. Does not matter—they would undoubtedly just fall to pieces during the confound oath-taking, anyway. Lilith: I am not speaking of the ceremony, Chamberlain, I am talking about the guest of honor. Who will be crowned? Egbert: (Stops tinkering and looks at her in earnest for the first time) The duly designated heir, of course. Has all that confound pottering about in the pantries finally driven you completely daft? God's Mercy, woman...I have neither the time nor the inclination to bandy about confound riddles with you. I suggest that you turn your energies instead to preparations for the confound coronation feast. Good day. Lilith: Good day, my lord Chamberlain. (Exits, reluctantly) Egbert: Confound busybody. From the other side of the stage enter Jasper and the two knights. Jasper: Ah, there you are Master Egbert; well met! We have matters to consider. Umm...What are you doing, exactly? Egbert: (Trying to plow the accumulated dust pile with his finger) Attempting an experiment in domestic horticulture, my Prince. What burning questions inflame the Royal soul this day? Bustram: Oh most learned Chamberlain, we beseech thee: reveal to us in thy wisdom that which has been hidden, that we may know the truth of all things. Egbert: Have you any particular area of enlightenment in mind, Sir Knight, or do you just wish general consciousness? It has been, I might add, a long time in coming. Ayelbor: Please, 0 Wellspring of Knowledge, we would wish to be enlightened as to the identity of our next Sovereign, if this be within your power to give forth. Jasper: Um, pardon us for a brief moment, Chamberlain. (Motions the knights to him and huddles with them) Why in the name of blessed conquest are you talking that way? Bustram: What way? Ayelbor: Are we being improper, my Prince? 12
Jasper: Oh no, I should bloody well say not. You may as well be chanting the mass. How am I going to get on with being king with that kind of language flying about? 'May we beg of your Most August Majesty a boon, and allow we poor servants of Your Regal Splendor's Orders of Chivalry to make immediate pilgrimage to that place wherein your noble subjects may rid themselves of certain burdens of nature?' Bloody hell—we would never get anything done. Bustram: But my tutors taught me to speak thus to Persons of High Learning. Jasper: He's just the Chamberlain of my father=s household, not the bloody Oracle of Delphi. By God's wounds, the man plays with dust balls! Bustram: Very well. I must needs wiz. (Exits) Jasper: Well spoken. They return to the Chamberlain, who is patting down a newly planted seed. Dust flies. Egbert: Come to a consensus, have you? Where is the other one? Ayelbor: He hath departed on an errand of some immediacy, my lord. Egbert: Oh, off to potty, eh? Skirting the edge of his intellectual capacity, no doubt. Jasper: Verily. Now, what can you tell me about my father's final hours? Egbert: He was in great pain, until someone brought him a potion. After that he got rather silly and began to sing. Something about Alittle fuzzy-wuzzy on the bedpost,@ if I recall. Jasper: Did he say anything? Make any proclamations? Egbert: Oh, I heard something about declaring the Royal Forest a Faerie Preserve, but no one took it very seriously, since we all know that the Faeries emigrated to Erin to a creature when the local shamrocks gave out: it must be, oh, two hundred years ago if it was a fortnight. Jasper: So you were with my father at the end, then?
Egbert: No, good gracious, no. I was trying to have a rather large hole in the East wing wash basins patched before all the kitchen wenches got the croup from standing around in dish water. The poor things were so grateful they insisted I partake of their midday porridge. I was on my way to the Royal Infirmary for the antidote when they told me that His Majesty had passed on. Ayelbor: Ah, that is just what we are trying to find out. Egbert: Come again? Ayelbor: What did he pass on? Egbert: Are you making some sort of jest? If you are, please tell me. I always enjoy a good jest when I am made aware I have heard one. Jasper: I think he means: did my father say anything about who was to be his heir? Egbert: Well, speaking purely from my own extensive knowledge of kingdom law and tradition, I would have to attest that the eldest child generally inherits the title, without the necessity for any Royal Affirmation to that effect. Bustram: (Returned) Jolly better. Did I miss anything? Is it all straight now? When do we eat? Jasper: I understand they have porridge in the East kitchens. You should tromp along and relieve them of it. Bustram: I am yours to command, my Prince (Exits gleefully, then pops back in) Shall I bring bowls back for you both? Jasper: No, no, we'll muddle through until supper. Bustram: Righto! Back in a nonce. (Ducks out again) Jasper: Truly a man of rare thought. Ayelbor: How meanest thou, Your Highness? Jasper: 'Tis rare that he has one, save it concern food. My news for you, dear Chamberlain, is that the prevailing gossip holds my father as having declared on his deathbed my ascension to the throne in place of my sister. What say kingdom law and tradition to this? Egbert: If it can be taken for truth, such a thing is within the king's prerogative. How came you by this revelation? 14
Ayelbor: Bustram and I overheard it being discussed in urgent whispers in the grand drawing room. We, ah, could not see who was talking. Egbert: And how is it that your unwitting informants maintained their invisibility? Ayelbor: Well, my lord, we do not rightly know. We searched the entire room, but no matter our path, the voices always seemed to be just beyond the next corner or behind a tapestry. We eventually decided that the news was more important than the source, and gave up the quest in order that His Highness might learn of our discovery the sooner. Egbert: We must take counsel on this immediately. Come, let us retire to my chambers. (Passing his "experiment") I must remember to get a page to water my crop of barley. (Exits) Jasper: (Staying behind for a moment) Methinks 'barley water' may be a tonic with which the Regent is already quite familiar. It would explain a great deal, in any event. Can it be that my father, in his doddering final hours, actually came to his senses and realized that his son was the logical choice for sovereign, not that simpering wench of a daughter? I have argued thusly since he and I first took turns sparring at the quintain in my childhood. He never seemed eager to embrace the obvious sense of my reasoning, though; I wonder what breath of divine zephyr filled the sails of his brainpan with this sudden wisdom so late in life? Whatever force drives the engine of fate, it is plain to me that my duty is to find this proclamation hidden away by those who would see my sister on the throne or, failing that, exercise my birthright in more direct terms as my training and warlike manner dictate. By will or law, I will be king; that none shall gainsay while I yet draw breath. (Exits)
SCENE 5 The South Tower, den of Perrilyn, "the Crone." A typical dank and dingy chamber, crowded with magical implements. In two chairs stage right sit an attractive young couple, in fine clothing, with small pouches on chains or leather thongs around their necks. They have distinctly vacant expressions. The Crone wears a rather obvious wrinkled old witch mask. Crone: Ah, my little birds, soon will I set you free to do your work. The Royal brats will succumb to the considerable wiles I have bestowed upon you, and my sweet one will take the throne. Oh, to be in the bosom of power—'Tis all I have longed for these many cruel years, since the King cast me out into this not-so-gilded dungeon. (Picks up parchment w/Royal seal) With this shall I at last have both my vengeance and my rightful position in court. (Taking two small flasks from a shelf) Now, my pretties, drink you each these philters of charming and stealth and heed well my words. (They drink, mechanically) When I give the release, you will hie thee hence to the royal bedchambers and sequester yourselves in some dark corner, therein to await the arrival of your respective prey. When they fall into slumber, put one drop of the potion in the pouch around your necks on their recumbent lips and leave them there to dream of the throne they shall never possess. Go and slip the notes I have prepared for you under the doors of the court officials whose names they bear, making certain to knock as you leave, then return posthaste to the bedchambers and proceed with your seductions. Once the traitorous indiscretions have been properly witnessed, slip away into the night and make your way back to me with no dallying. Now, fly! They rise and exit somewhat rigidly, as though drugged. Crone crosses to center stage and pulls back a curtain to reveal a desk with a studious young man reading a book sitting at it. Crone: Alembic, my sweet pet, it is almost time for you assume your rightful mantle and lead this wretched kingdom to the greatness that has so long eluded it. Before the cock crows the wheels of your ascension shall be set inexorably in motion. Are you listening to me? Alembic: (Stirring after a few seconds from his book) What? Uh, of course I am listening to you, mother. The cock will crow and...something about...wheels. Crone: Boy, I am plotting your meteoric rise to the office of monarch. Kindly do me the simple courtesy of attending on the details! Alembic: Mother, I do not want to be king. I have told you that a thousand times. All that Royal business will take ever so much time away from my reading schedule.
Crone: (Gritting her teeth) You will be king, you insolent pup, and what is more, you will like it. There will be plenty of time for your accursed books once you are firmly ensconced on the throne. I have not spent half my life imprisoned in this odious oubliette just so you can fritter away your own existence with nose buried in those musty parchments. You are of the Blood Royal, boy, and the birthright of kingship is yours whether you will or no. Alembic: According to the laws and traditions of primogeniture, to which this kingdom quite firmly subscribes, the throne goes to the eldest offspring. That would be Princess Esmerelda. Crone: No! You were born a full turning of the seasons before that strutting shrew; I have ironclad proof of that blessed event. What=s more, this proclamation signed and sealed by the king himself declared you the rightful heir to his throne before either of the current brats first drew breath in the world. Alembic: Why have you not told the world ere now, then? Or myself, for that matter? Crone: We have spoken of this before! Why must you drive the dagger of your apathy and ignorance into my heart again and again? This history is of paramount import to your life; it is most distressing that you cannot seem to retain it. (Takes a deep breath) You are a bastard, boy—had the court any knowledge of your true parentage, I could not have kept your body and soul together long enough for full manhood to flower. Although in truth I still await some of the truant petals to unfurl. Alembic: How is it that the king was my father? Crone: (Shakes head) We were lovers, boy. His promised queen had not yet arrived from her ancestral estates and His Majesty was young, lusty, and impatient. I was proximate and starry-eyed enough at the attentions of a king to fall under the spell of his not inconsiderable wiles. After some...cajoling, I did manage to convince him to sign the proclamation that our first-born would be king. He had been told by his utter quack of a physician that he was protected from such inconveniences as potency outside of wedlock and so saw no harm in signing the parchment as it won him unlimited access to me. At the ninth rising of the moon following our final tryst, you squalled your welcome to this mortal coil. The king had me cast into this glorified pit of perdition before I was visibly with child to remove me from his sight and sound and never, I suspect, thought on me again. That scribbled meat casing is the key to your future: our future. Alembic: Even were you to establish before the Tribune that I am the eldest child, I am yet an unacknowledged son. There would be considerable room for debate and quite possibly violent disagreement as to the legitimacy of my claim to the throne.
Crone: There is one final piece at play on the board: a scroll I had your father dictate on his deathbed. It states that were either of the acknowledged children to be observed in flagrante delicto prior to coronation, the crown would pass to the other, or, if both were demonstrated unfit to rule, then to you. I have arranged for both of your half-siblings to be witnessed thusly compromised; this fact in conjunction with the attestation to your status as eldest offspring should permit no ambiguity concerning the lawful succession. Alembic: Through what mechanism of persuasion did you pry such a utile pronouncement from His Majesty's terminal hours, if he hath never 'thought on you again' since my conception? Crone: I sent to him a dream wherein his kingdom fell to decay and ruin as a result of the indiscretions of his children following his demise. It was sufficiently vivid and convincing that it had the force of unassailable prophecy in his enfeebled mind. On waking he summoned the Royal Scribe and witnesses and had the proclamation of terms of succession drawn up. The Queen took possession it when he died, partly, I suspect, because it contained an admission that a bastard son she did not know about existed, but I relieved her of it shortly before her unfortunate demise at the base of the high tower. Now the kingdom will enter an era of unprecedented prosperity with you, rather than one of those privileged Royal jackanapes, firmly at the helm. Alembic: Ah. And what role do you see for yourself in this new age of enlightenment, pray? Crone: Why, Royal Mother suits this old frame nicely, methinks. Alembic: Royal Puppetmaster crossed your age-enfeebled mind not at all, then? Crone: Bah. Prattle such as this befits neither you nor the station to which you should be aspiring, boy. Gird what loins you have and prepare, for the morrow brings winds of change that may well blow gale ere tempest passes and lark sings a new song. Alembic: I see you have been working tirelessly on your metaphors, mother. Keep at it.
ACT II SCENE 1 The Royal bedchambers. Two beds with curtains, one on either side of the stage, lit such that only silhouettes can be seen from the audience. The two seducers slip in from either side and hide, followed closely by the Prince and Princess, who pull on nightclothes and crawl into bed. Soon the seductions are underway, facilitated by the drugs applied to the Royal lips; the extent to which this act is portrayed is left up to the director=s discretion. Continue with the seduction as long and as elaborately as you see fit, then Quincunx (the Seneschal) and Progne (Mistress of the Wardrobe) enter quietly, following instructions on the notes slipped under their doors, which they believe to be from the Prince and Princess themselves, respectively. Quincunx: (Whispering) My lord Prince, I am here in response to your summons. What is this portentous event you wish to discuss in privy chambers? (Hears giggling) My...my lord, are you...alone? (Walks to the bedside) Progne: (Softly) Ladyship? Princess Esmerelda? I am here for you. What is it you wished to tell me about under such cover of secrecy? Quincunx: W...Who is this strumpet and what is she doing to your...Merciful angels, I cannot...You must think of your family, my Prince. Think of your throne. Think of your sausage...er...social responsibilities. Progne: My Princess, why are you...Oh! Who is that with you? He is...he is...my lady, this should not be! You must save yourself for...oh, my goodness, that is quite impressive, yes, but... At the same moment, both Quincunx and Progne turn and hurry off stage the way they came. The two seducers wait for them to be well on their way, then slip off stage surreptitiously. The Prince and Princess moan but remain motionless in bed, drugged. This might be a good place for some appropriate music.
SCENE 2 The next morning. Soldiers are fanning out within the castle, searching, under orders of the Regent, for the perpetrators of the previous evening's improprieties. Liam (Guard sergeant): You lot take this hallway. Question everyone, rank does not matter. Crack open every crate and every barrel, look behind every door. Get moving. Kullen (Soldier): Wha...wha if the door's closed? Liam: What do you mean? Kullen: Well, if the door is closed, there is no 'behind it' to look at, am I right? Liam: (Blinks) If the door is closed, open it first, and then look behind it. Kullen works this out in gestures. Finally a tiny, tiny light dawns in his eyes. Kullen: Oh...hang on...got it! (Exits) Liam: (Rubbing his forehead) Somewhere a jungle is missing its monkey. The soldiers proceed to check every nook and cranny of the castle thoroughly, without result. This can be simulated by sounds of doors opening and boxes being lifted/dropped off stage. The seducers are nowhere to be found. The guards eventually give up and report to the Chamberlain. Egbert: What news of your mission, oh intrepid hunters of the hidden? Liam: My lord, I am grieved to report that no trace of the intruders has yet been uncovered. Egbert: They can't have simply vanished. They must be sequestered somewhere on the confound castle grounds, or else they have dug a heretofore undiscovered exit. Liam: I do not know of any secret exits, my lord. Egbert: Of course not, confound dolt. That is what is meant by 'secret.' (Sighs) Very well, you may stand down. We'll wait for them to make the next confound move. Be vigilant! Liam: Always, my lord. (Exits with soldiers)
Egbert: (Staring after them, shaking his head) That lot couldn't locate a trebuchet in a garderobe. Neither Jasper nor Esmerelda claim to remember what happened last night, but the patrol saw someone slip out of each of their bedchambers at about the same time, and somehow lost them both in the darkness. Some confound mischief is afoot, of that there can be no doubt. I only wish I could comprehend its nature, as I am responsible for the confound well-being of the Royal Heirs, at least until one of them is safely on the throne. Confound complications such as this give me night sweats and they are bad for my confound digestion. Enter Figsbury, the High Tribune. He wears black judicial robes and a powdered wig, one coil of which is continually unrolling. He adjusts it frequently by reflex. This can be used for effective comedic counterpoint to Figsbury's rather staid nature. Figsbury: My Lord Regent, there is an urgent matter to be discussed. Egbert: All of your confound matters are urgent, Tribune. Don't you ever relax and simply chat about the weather, or the joust standings? Figsbury: (Taken aback) I...I sometimes speak of such things, after my weekly bath. Be that or not, at present you must know of a parchment I have discovered tucked behind a loose stone in the Council Chambers. It is written in the hand of the Royal Scribe and bears both the mark and seal of His late Majesty. I cannot fathom how I have managed not to notice it ere now. Egbert: Presuming it has, in fact, been there since its creation. What says the Royal Scribe himself concerning this document? Figsbury: He has not been seen since the funeral, Regent. I have the guards searching for him now. Egbert: Very little confound point in that, methinks. Figsbury: Why, do you know something of his whereabouts? Egbert: Not I. But were he dancing a bransle wholly nude on the formal banquet table I doubt the full force of our confound constabulary would be sufficient to locate him. Figsbury: Oh? Well, meanwhile, we must consider the interpretation and disposition of this scroll. It is an attestation to a proclamation apparently made by the king on his deathbed concerning succession to the throne. However, it contains no details of the contents of said proclamation; merely attests to the authenticity of same, in the manner of the Royal custom where such matters were concerned. Egbert: So, in essence it is a scroll signed by the king that promises another scroll signed also by the king was, in fact, signed by the king? 21
Figsbury: Um, yes, I suppose that is an accurate, if somewhat prosaic, assessment. Egbert: Prosy is my middle name, Figgie. It has been more years than I care to count since I was enrolled in the Trivium, but His Majesty's document integrity process strikes me as one of confound circular logic, seeing that it relies on self-reference to 'prove' authenticity. Figsbury: Yes, well, monarchs are prone to idiosyncratic behavior. Inbreeding, and all that. That is the way His Majesty handled all important documents of State, regardless, and while admittedly it rather fails at its intended function, it does nonetheless imply that there is a missing parchment of some gravity at large, as it were. Egbert: How do you suggest we go about locating this fugitive document? Shall we ask the local witches coven to whip up a vision and scry it out for us? Figsbury: That is an...option, certainly. Egbert: Confound it man, that was merely a jest. Figsbury: It is difficult to tell with you, Regent. You are inscrutable. Egbert: While you, Tribune, are eminently scrutable. Figsbury: (Sniffs himself, concerned) Must be time for my bath again. Has it been a week already?
SCENE 3 The throne room, with the Royal Chamberlain/Regent seated on one side of the Throne and the High Tribune on the other. Sergeant Liam, Kullen, and Sten escort Hieronymous, the Royal Scribe, up to the dais and deposit him rather unceremoniously on the kneeling cushions. Liam: My lords, we found the Royal Scribe holed up in the lower larders, behind some crated cabbages. Egbert: You actually found him? A miracle has taken place. Thank you for your efforts, Sergeant. (Sniffing the air) You did not, by chance, partake of any of the aforementioned vegetable matter in the course of the capture? Liam: No, my lord, I did not. A sudden loud blatting sound echoes through the throne room, and Sten looks embarrassed. Everyone stares at him. Liam: (Rolling his eyes) It would seem, my lord, that the same cannot be said for my squad. Egbert: (Clamping his nose) Get out. Posthaste. Liam: At once, my lord. They exit, half-dragging the offending soldier with them. Another loud report rings out just as they disappear into the wings. During the incident Hieronymous crawls behind the throne. Egbert: Fling open the confound shutters, for pity's sake. Now, to the matter at hand...where did that confound rabbit scamper off to this time? Hieronymous: (From his hiding place) Alas, I am nowhere to be found. Figsby: Poppycock. You are quite plainly cowering behind the throne like some scuttling cockroach. Hieronymous: No, not at all. No roaches here. I am far away, in some other part of the castle entirely. Not even this castle, in fact. Completely hidden. No point in even searching. Egbert: Come out from behind there, you confound lunatic, or I will have you dipped in gravy and served to the forest trolls, à la carte.
Hieronymous: (Crawling out on his knees) Oh, you found me. How frightfully clever of you chaps. Have you considered a rewarding career in missing persons retrieval? Figsby: Why have you been in hiding, scribe? Hieronymous: Why, I have not been in hiding at all, Your Eminence. Only someone who has done something naughty would take such an action. I have merely been difficult to locate, like that brooch shaped as a gillyflower your aunt Agatha gave you for your sixteenth birthday. The one that "accidentally" fell behind the great armoire. Figsby: (Disconcerted) How could you possibly have known about that? Hieronymous: In truth, it was merely a fortuitous guess. You look like the intentional gillyflower brooch-misplacing type to me. Egbert: Will you two stop chatting like confound scullery maids so we can get on with this? Figsby: Apologies. Now, Master Hieronymous, I have in my possession a parchment quite clearly written in your hand and bearing the Royal Seal attesting to another parchment the text of which we would very much like to be made privy to. (Hands the scroll to Hieronymous) Hieronymous: Privy? You want to read it in the loo? The light is very bad in there. You'll ruin your eyes. I have been trying for months to get through Tirant lo Blanc in the West wing privy. I have only made it as far as 'Tirant's Gift to the Saracen.' I have contemplated taking extra candles in with me, but the risk of detonation is just too great. Egbert: No, you insufferable idiot, he wants you tell us where that confound scroll is, or at the very least relate to us what it said. Hieronymous: It did not say much of anything intelligible, being constructed, as it were, of scraped bovine hide and oak gall. No vocal apparatus, you see? Figsby: (Slowly, as though explaining something to a child) There were words written on that scroll, by your own hand. When read aloud, what was their meaning? Hieronymous: Well, I do not rightly know. I merely lettered the thing. I had no occasion to read it aloud. Not the sort of pastime I go in for, really. Oh, sometimes I move my lips when I am struggling through a difficult passage in the jousting report, but I do not make a habit of it. Figsby: Ah. What sort of pastimes do you find enjoyable? I, myself, am rather keen on old sword pommels. I have a sizeable collection mounted on oak panels in my study.
Hieronymous: I prefer bawdy poetry, personally. My favorite to date is: "There once was a maiden from Ghent..." Egbert: (Shouting) For the love of...focus, gentlemen, focus! I want to solve this confound mystery during my confound lifetime! Hieronymous: Apologies. Alas, now I have completely forgotten what it was we were attempting to decipher. Egbert: (Teeth gritted) We were discussing how much longer you have on the confound physical plane, sirrah. That will depend entirely upon how confound cooperative you decide to become within the next few confound moments. Hieronymous: (Taking a deep breath) Very well. The jig is up. The fox is cornered. The curtain has dropped. The procession has at last reached the altar. The final shake is on the roof. The ultimate... Egbert and Figsby: (Together) Get on with it! Hieronymous: (Sighs) The scroll about which you are enquiring essentially dictated the terms of succession. Specifically, it stated that His Majesty would name as His rightful successor whichever of His offspring displayed the highest moral fiber, especially where affairs of the flesh were concerned. I do not recall the precise wording, but that was quite definitely the gist. Egbert: Hallelujah. There is a dim light of lucidity glimmering within that mental murk pit, after all. What became of that pivotal parchment, scribe? Hieronymous: After His Majesty passed over, it was taken by Her Majesty for safekeeping. I have not seen it, or her, since. Figsby: The Queen! She had very little time to sequester it, as she must have fallen from the high tower scant minutes after taking possession of the scroll. We must search for it at once. Logic dictates that we begin by retracing her path from the Royal Quarters to the High Tower. Shall we summon the guards? Egbert: I think not. This task is too important to be left to those addle-pated simpletons. We shall conduct the search personally. Come, both of you. Scribe, if you stray from my sight for so much as an instant I will have you collared and leashed like one of the confound hounds. Hieronymous: Arrooo! (All exit)
SCENE 4 The high tower. Egbert, Figsby, and Hieronymous are seated on crates/casks, looking disheveled and disheartened. Their search obviously hasn't gone well. Figsby: Well, that is all we can do. We have pried open every crate, peered into every barrel, and excavated every cranny all along Her Majesty's presumed path. The scroll is simply not to be found. Hieronymous: Not wishing to be morbid, but I suppose Her Majesty's body was searched? Egbert: Yes. She had nothing on her but a strange tuft of fabric clenched in her hand. Her ladies-in-waiting said it did not match any of her clothes. (He holds up a torn scrap with a small section of fur trim attached to it) Figsby: I suppose we have no option now but to hope the parchment turns up on its own. Hieronymous: Tragically, parchment is notoriously lacking in aptitude for self-propulsion. Or, you might ask the kitchen boy. I saw him skulk past the door just as Her Majesty left the King's chambers with the scroll. Egbert: And you've only now thought to mention him. I propose we try a confound experiment to see what aptitude for flying is possessed by scribes. Hieronymous: Quills alone do not a bird make, Your Grace. Egbert: But that which has quills may be plucked. Waddle away now, goose, before I strip you for fletching the guard's crossbow bolts. Hieronymous: Even the fatted gander can fly when the fox is near. (Exits) Egbert: What an annoying confound hedgepig. He hath licked one too many confound nibs, methinks. Figsby: 'Tis an aberration born of his occupation, Regent. Writing other people's words all day has an egregious effect on some, a deleterious effect on others. I have never known a truly sane scribe, in all honesty. Egbert: Then truly he is a scribe, in all honesty. (Standing up) I will send the guards to locate this kitchen boy. I hope it is not too challenging an exercise for them. We may tarry at this futility no longer. Coronation will be upon us apace and there is still much to prepare.
Figsby: Agreed. I must speak with the Chatelaine regarding the ten score hogsheads of Halloumi she has ordered shipped in from the Levant. I fear that will be insufficient for the guest list as it now stands. Egbert: And I, for my part, must ensure that the Princess has received the proper protocol, etiquette, and political instruction for conducting herself as monarch. I would rather scale the high tower using only my confound teeth, truth be known. Figsby: There is much to be said for scaling, as fishermen and minstrels will attest. (Both exit) Intermission, if one is desired.
ACT III SCENE 1 The solar. Esmerelda is there with Lilith and Melicinda, who are fussing with her hair and jewelry. Melicinda: Only three days before your coronation, Your Highness. You must be ever so terribly excited. Esmerelda: Oh, sweet, innocent little Melicinda. Running a kingdom is not just sitting on the throne looking glamorous. A queen must also choose furnishings for the castle and entertain dignitaries at elaborate banquets. It can grow quite tiresome. Lilith: And she must decide on the menu for Royal meals. Especially dessert! (Claps her hands excitedly) Egbert: (Entering from stage left) Not to mention set tax rates, sit in judgment in the tribunal, negotiate treaties with foreign powers, command the armies, dictate projects for the common weal, preside over induction of knights into the Royal Company, hear grievances, placate barons, allot lands and chattel, hire and dismiss officers of the Court, and marry some eligible prince so that we may have a suitable heir to the throne. Lilith: Well, that last one does not sound too onerous, at least. Egbert: Notice I did not say 'attractive' nor even 'hygienically aware;' merely eligible. Those are rather hard to come by in and of themselves. Esmerelda: I will marry for love, and love alone. Egbert: (Sighs) We will discuss your Royal reproductive responsibilities in private at a later date, Your Highness. (Melicinda giggles; Egbert glares at her) For now it is vital we make final preparations for the coronation ceremony itself. If you will follow me to the conservatory, I have all the plans laid out on the table for easy viewing. Following that, the Princess and I must begin her final course of instruction in the rudiments of ruling. (All exit) Jasper, Bustram, and Ayelbor enter from the opposite side of the stage. Jasper: My spies have confirmed that the parchment naming me successor does, in fact, exist. We have only to find it and the throne is mine. Ayelbor: It is a big castle. Where do we start looking?
Bustram: When my mooma was looking for lost things, she always found them behind poopa's wardrobe. Jasper: What in St. George's name is a...mooma? Ayelbor: I think he is talking about his mommy. Jasper: His mommy? We are knights of the realm, you infantile twit, not children playing blocks in the rumpus room. Bustram: (Crestfallen) You mean...you do not play with blocks anymore? Jasper: (Shoots him a withering glare) No. Only with blockheads. Ayelbor: Should we be searching for the scroll? We have little time left. Jasper: Indeed. We will begin in the throne room. Let us away! Ayelbor: But, why would they hide it in the throne room? Jasper: Because right under our very noses would be a devilishly clever place to sequester such a thing. No one would think to search there. No one but me, that is. Bustram: I once hid a pea in my nose. Jasper: I have no doubt of it. I also expect it doubled your intellectual prowess. 'Tis a pity it no longer lodges there. Bustram: I never said that. (All exit)
SCENE 2 Part 1 The grand drawing room. Jasper, Ayelbor, and Bustram are there looking a little bedraggled, having already searched half the castle for the missing scroll. Jasper: All right, so they did not hide the scroll in the throne room. Or the Royal library. Or the chancellery. Ayelbor: Or the undercroft. Or the oratory. Or the minstrel's gallery. Bustram: Or the buttery, bottlery, or kitchens. Jasper: Yes. I noticed you searched those with particular attention to detail. Repeatedly. Bustram: One cannot be too diligent in these matters (Burps). Jasper: And so, here we are in the grand drawing room. Is this not where you two claim to have heard whispers concerning the missing scroll in first place? Ayelbor: Aye, my lord Prince. They seemed to come from every direction: around each corner, behind that tapestry, from the great chandelier... Bustram: It was as though we were being toyed with—led about with no particular destination. Jasper: You should have felt right at home then, as that is precisely how you live your life. Bustram: (Pouting) Not true, my Prince. My destination is and always has been wherever you choose to lead me. Ayelbor: (Elbowing Bustram) So long as that route passes near the kitchens on regular occasion, at any rate. Jasper: You have both been loyal and true companions, that I will freely grant. I withdraw my unkind remark. Ayelbor: My lord Prince, we must consider who in this castle could have created such a wily subterfuge in directing us here and there in that manner, and why. Jasper: Aye. That is an excellent piece of tactical thinking, Sir Ayelbor. The 'why' will, I think, lead us to the 'who.'
Bustram: When I was a child my mooma told me if I did not behave the Crone would boil me alive in a black cauldron. Ayelbor: What do the wise say? Out of the mouths of babes... Jasper: Yes! That has to be it! The Crone. She had some mysterious hold over my father. Although she was a prisoner in the South tower, we all knew she came and went from time to time, but the King never allowed the guards to hinder her. Bustram: The South tower! I have never had any wish to venture near that accursed place. It is haunted by specters of all the murdered souls throughout this castle's long history: enslaved, it is said, by the Crone to guard her shadowy demesne. Jasper: And yet, that is precisely where we must go. I will confront this creature of the darkness with the shining beacon of chivalry. Creatures such as she cannot withstand the unblinking light of justice and honor. Bustram: I will...I will wait for you in the kitchens and keep your path of retreat open. Jasper: You will come with us and form the vanguard, brave Sir Bustram. Let us away for truth and valor! Ayelbor: Hurrah! Bustram: (Weakly) Truth and valor. Yes. Hurrah. (All exit)
SCENE 2 Part 2 The South tower, hallway leading to the Crone's quarters. Jasper and Ayelbor approach the door to the Crone's quarters cautiously. Bustram takes up the rear, clearly terrified. Jasper: (Whispering) All right, stout lads, here we are. Remember, we need to find that scroll. Bustram, stop shaking so hard. You are knocking mortar out of the floor stones. Bustram: P-p-pardon, my l-l-lord P-P-Prince. I will t-t-t-ry. Jasper: Oh, for the love of St. George...the Crone is a tricky old woman, verily, but she is no witch. Witches are just something mothers make up to frighten dim children into behaving. Apparently the effect is permanent in some cases. Ayelbor: Methinks he might be more concerned about the, you know, s-p-e-c-t-e-r-s. Bustram is now shaking so hard he cannot stay in one place. Ayelbor: Apologies, my lord Prince. I had hoped spelling it out would throw him off. Jasper: At least that proves he is smarter than most of the hounds. Never mind. Sir Bustram, go and wait at the end of the corridor. You have become a liability to our stealthy approach. Bustram flees to far stage left. Jasper: Now perhaps we can get on better. Ayelbor: The door appears to be locked, Sire. How are we to get in? Jasper: I have the Castellan's skeleton key. It should open every door in the castle. Ayelbor: Do you think the Crone is in there? Jasper: I expect she is, but this is yet my castle and I will go where I will. Ayelbor: Aye, my lord Prince. Let us proceed. Jasper inserts the key into the lock and twists. As he does an indistinct figure appears behind him, glowing eerily in the dimly lit corridor. Neither Jasper nor Ayelbor appear to notice it at first.
Jasper: This lock is very old and not well-maintained. The key fits but it is very difficult to turn. Will you please stop breathing down my neck, old boy? Back off a little so I have room to work. Ayelbor: Um, I am fully a sword's length behind you, Sire. Jasper: Then who in blazes is...(Turning to see the apparition)...Great saints in armor! It looks like the portrait of my great-grandfather Cassius! Why would his ghost wish to impede us? Ayelbor: Nay, it..it is the old glazier who drowned in the moat when I was but six! I recognize his shaggy beard! Jasper: Whoever it is, or was, will feel the wrath of my blade! (Swings violently at the apparition with no apparent effect, as the cuts go right on through) Ayelbor: 'Tis no use, Sire! The dead cannot be hurt by the living. The witch has us! We must needs flee before the specter drains us of our very souls! Jasper: Fall back, Sir Ayelbor! I will cover our retreat! They back down the corridor, Jasper still swinging at the hovering ghostly figure following them menacingly. Ayelbor: Flee, Sir Bustram! The specter is upon us! (Over his shoulder) Now do you believe the Crone is truly a witch, my lord Prince? Jasper: A witch, indeed. My father must have been enchanted into sparing her miserable life. Bustram exits the stage at full speed, with Ayelbor close behind. As he retreats, Jasper passes over the spot where Bustram had been standing and slips badly, almost falling down. Jasper: (Disgusted) Oh, for the love of...and brave Sir Bustram once again leaves his unique calling card at the scene of the skirmish. (Exits) After a few seconds the eerily-lit sheets hanging from the rafters are hauled up, with the Crone laughing wickedly off stage.
SCENE 3 The throne room, elaborately decorated for the coronation ceremony. Esmerelda, accompanied by Harald the herald, Melicinda, and Lilith, stands at the end of the red carpet leading up to the throne. In front of the throne wait Egbert and Figsby. Figsby holds a satin pillow upon which rests the crown and scepter. Off to the side sits Heironymous at a writing desk, quill in hand, to create the official record of the proceedings. Quincunx and Progne stand on the opposite side. Extras on far stage left and right with varying attire to represent the assembled populace would be nice, if you have them available. Harald: Oyez, oyez. The helm of the Ship of State has no one to guide it. Our kingdom plies through perilous waters, dangerously close to the Rocks of Ruin. We must have a captain, a pilot to guide us through the treacherous straits of diplomacy, past the pirate ambuscade of failure and around the horn of adversity to dock at the shining pier of prosperous peace. Egbert: What is the meaning of all that confound nautical nonsense? Figsby: He just inherited a cog from his father, and now fancies himself a regular salt. Egbert: I hope the cog is in good repair. The one he has now is definitely coming loose. Harald: Stands before all assembled now the fair and noble Princess Esmerelda, daughter of the blood Royal, scion of the Ruling House, rightful and lawful heir to the throne. Any who will not acknowledge her claim as legitimate step forward now. (Very short pause) There being no lawful challenge to the claimant, let us proceed to... Jasper, Bustram, and Ayelbor rush in, with full battle raiment. Jasper: I, Prince Jasper, do hereby issue challenge. I am the only male in the Royal line, and this kingdom must have a man to rule it properly. My sister knows nothing of military campaigns, defending our borders, or leading our armies. We would be at the mercy of our enemies in a fortnight. Esmerelda: Outrageous. You know scarcely more of real war than do I, little brother. There is far more to warfare than riding back and forth at the lysts, Jasper, and far more to ruling than combat. A ruler must also be effective at diplomacy, judgment, and mercy. You are utterly lacking in all of those attributes. If you were king you would quite definitely need those fighting skills because you would make enemies of anyone unfortunate enough to come into your crude presence. That is no way to rule. Figsby: By St. George, Regent, you seem to have made marvelous progress with Her Highness' instruction.
Egbert: It was not without its price, I assure you. My throat is sore and my patience is thin. I shall sleep for a week after this is all over with. Jasper: As always, we disagree, sister. I will show you now why military might is an important tool in diplomacy. All three knights draw their swords. Liam, Kullen, and Sten rush on stage to defend the Princess. A spirited sword battle ensues at stage right. Everyone else falls back to stage left. Harald: (Annoyed) Well, now we are definitely off-script. The battle rages, neither side gaining the upper hand for some time. Finally Jasper's team emerges victorious. Jasper sheaths his sword and approaches Figsby, who still stands by the throne with the crown and scepter. Bustram and Ayelbor hold Esmerelda. Jasper: Place the crown on my head, Tribune. I am triumphant, and the rightful heir. Figsby: I...(Glances at Egbert, then Esmerelda)...should not do this. Jasper: (Grasping his sword hilt) I will have the crown! The Crone: (From offstage) Nay! Stay your hand, Tribune! The Crone and Alembic enter. The Crone clutches two scrolls, one of which she hands to Figsby. Crone: Halt this illicit ceremony at once. I bear His Majesty's proclamations to be heard by all assembled. Jasper: At last! The missing scroll that names me as rightful successor has surfaced. Crone, foul witch though you are, you have my undying gratitude. Your execution for treason against the Royal House will be quick and relatively painless. Crone: Your 'undying gratitude' proves your heritage even better than your father's visage, sirrah. Tribune, His Majesty made clear in this proclamation his conditions for the succession of either of these two Royal brats, and they have not been met. Esmerelda: What effrontery! Guards, remove this...creature and throw her in the donjon immediately. Jasper: No need. I have a more permanent solution, and one that is long overdue. (Draws his sword) The Crone flings up her hand and Jasper stops in mid-stride, as though frozen in place. 35
Crone: You already have the manners of a gargoyle, pup. Now the effect is complete. We just need to find you a parapet to stare out over and collect pigeon-droppings. Egbert: What is the meaning of this confound intrusion? Have you something germane to say, or did you simply burst in here to insult the Royal Family? Crone: The Royal insult here was perpetrated upon me rather than by me, Regent. Be that as it may, direct your inquiries as to the validity of my interruption to the High Tribune. Egbert: Tribune, what say you? Figsby: Madam, this writ would appear to be legitimate. However, it stipulates that if both of the heirs presumptive engage in "flagrant acts of impropriety" prior to their ascension, the crown would revert to some heretofore unknown bastard child. These are extraordinary charges that would require unassailable witnesses to corroborate. Have you such witnesses? Progne and Quincunx duck down and attempt to sneak off stage. The crone snaps her fingers and they stop, bolt upright. Crone: Come and stand before the Tribune, little skulking birds, and sing your song to brighten this day of celebration. Progne and Quincunx obediently walk to center stage and stand before the Crone, Figsby, and Egbert. Figsby: This woman claims you have witnessed flagrant acts of impropriety involving the Prince and Princess. What say you both to these charges? Egbert: I remind you, you are sworn to tell the truth before the Tribunal, under pain of exile. Progne and Quincunx regard each other helplessly for a few moments. Quincunx: I...I did see something...unusual occur. To what extent it qualifies as flagrant impropriety is not my judgment to render. Egbert: Indeed, it is not. Simply relate to us what you witnessed. Quincunx: (Fidgeting as he notices Jasper glaring at him) I..I..I saw a woman I did not recognize in...close proximity to the Prince in his...um...bedchambers. Egbert: Is that all? What were they doing, discussing courtly dancing?
Quincunx: I believe one could truthfully assert that something very like dancing was involved, albeit somewhat more horizontal a figure than traditionally performed, but rather than a discussion it was more of a...hands-on...tutorial. Figsby: I see. And Mistress of the Wardrobe, what did you witness? Esmerelda: She saw nothing, for there was nothing to see. Is that not right, Lady Progne? Progne: Well, it was very dark and very hard to see. Egbert: Very hard to see where? Progne: In the Princess' bedchambers. Egbert: What did you find it so difficult to observe? Progne: What she was doing with the young man in her bed. Egbert: Who was this young man? Progne: In truth, I did not know him. Egbert: But apparently the Princess did, at least in one sense. Esmerelda: I remember nothing of the sort occurring. She is lying through her teeth. Progne: (Distraught) I am so very sorry, Your Highness. It did happen just as I described. Figsby: It would appear, taking into account the laws and customs of our kingdom and the testimony of these witnesses, both trusted officers of the Royal Household, that the terms of this document of succession have indeed not been fulfilled by either of the acknowledged children of the Royal House. Egbert: (Passing the scroll to Hieronymous) Scribe, is this the parchment you wrote out for His Majesty on his deathbed? Hieronymous: (Looking it over from all possible angles) Yes, I believe it is. Those are definitely my ascenders, although the serifs look a bit askew. I may have been sober at the time, though. That always affects my nibwork queerly. Egbert: That leaves us thereby with a conundrum. The next in line for the throne, by His Majesty's dictate, is a bastard son whom no one knows. Where do we even begin to search for this confound demi-prince? 37
Crone: That problem I can solve forthwith. Alembic! Attend us! Alembic shuffles on stage, book in hand. Liam and Kullen rush over and grab hold of his arms. Liam: My lord Chamberlain, we have located the kitchen boy and brought him to you, as you commanded. Crone: Release him, you insolent apes! You have laid unworthy hands on Alembic, Prince of the House Royal, eldest child of His late Majesty. Esmerelda: Stuff and nonsense! I am the eldest child of the Royal Line, witch, not this besoiled waif you dragged in from stirring the kettles. Crone: Your beauty belies a creed of arrogant privilege, haughty Princess, and ignorance is no fitting dais from which to preach it. (Hands another parchment to Figsby) My Lord Tribune, please read this writ and verify its authenticity. Figsby examines it, surprised, then hands it to Egbert. Figsby: (A little shaken) It has every appearance of being authentic. If it is a forgery, it is a very skilled one. It is dated twenty years ago, and the signature and seal are absolutely correct for that period. Egbert: I must agree. I remember this seal well, and I also recall that it was destroyed in a fire which swept the Royal Chancellery not two years later. Esmerelda: Well? Are you going to tell us what it says, or must we wait for the crier to announce it at Vespers like a jousting score? Crone: I will reveal to you what it says, little Princess. It testifies in the King's own hand to his patrimony of Alembic, and further clearly identifies the date of his birth to be a full year before yours. It effectively nullifies your claim to primogeniture. Esmerelda: What poppycock! Why would my father...be with someone so soon before his marriage to my mother? Who suckled this supposed bastard? Crone: I am Alembic's mother, Princess. Esmerelda: (Bursting out laughing) You? My father would as soon bed a milking goat as a dried-up prune of a creature such as you. Even twenty years ago you cannot have been comparable to my mother, Heaven rest her soul. Her beauty was known from here to the Far Sea Islands. You, on the other hand, have not even simple pride in your appearance. Why, look at that disgraceful hole ripped in the sleeve of your houppelande. 38
Crone: In those days they called me...Perrilyn. A collective gasp from everyone except Jasper—he just blinks a lot—and Egbert, who seems lost in thought. He pulls the fabric scrap from his pouch and examines it. Esmerelda: P-Perrilyn? The Perrilyn? Perrilyn Roseshamer? This cannot be true. Crone: It is true, nonetheless. I once possessed a more...pleasing demeanor. Liam: Begging your pardon, madam, but if you really are Mistress Perrilyn then you will know what this is. He fishes a small object out of a leather pouch slung around his neck and holds it up. Perrilyn inspects it closely and suddenly a light appears in her eyes. During this Alembic quietly disengages himself from Kullen's grasp and slips away. Crone: This was my sister's favorite brooch! I have not seen it since I was a child. How came you by it? Liam: (Tearing up) It was my mother's gift to me upon her deathbed. You truly must be Perrilyn. I am your nephew, Liam. Crone: Little Liam? You were still in swaddling in the cottage near the old forest gate when last I laid eyes upon you. I had to sneak out of the South tower to visit my sister on her birthing cot. My, but you have shot up like a swamp reed. Liam: It is good to meet you at last, Auntie Perrilyn. I had no idea you were still alive. Egbert: If I may intrude upon this touching reunion, there remains the small matter of Royal Succession to iron out. Crone: There is nothing further to be 'ironed out,' Regent. Jasper and Esmerelda have disqualified themselves from the throne. You have a documented heir, who is also the eldest child, free of the moral taint that doomed his half-siblings. Your course is clear. Figsby: Speaking of the putative heir, where has he toddled off to? A short but frantic search ensues. Liam and Kullen seem surprised and embarrassed that they are no longer in possession of their erstwhile prisoner. Alembic is finally discovered sitting behind the throne, reading. Egbert: Young master Alembic, would you please join us in front of the throne? We need your learned counsel.
Alembic: What? Well, if you put it that way, I suppose I can spare a few moments. (Joins them) Egbert: Splendid. Now, as you may be aware, the documents your mother has somewhat mysteriously produced seem to indicate that you are the rightful heir to the throne. How do you feel about that? Alembic: How do I feel about it? I feel as though being king will be a serious impediment to my studies. Egbert: Have you no wish to rule, then? Crone: Of course he wishes to rule! His entire pathetic life has been leading up to this moment. Figsby: His, or yours? Crone: We are of one mind on this, I assure you. Figsby: Be that as it may, I will hear it from the candidate's own lips. Alembic, Prince of the Royal House, are you willing to take on the mantle of the monarch and devote yourself to the governance of this kingdom for the rest of your days, placing the welfare of your people above all else? Crone: He is (Figsby and Egbert glare at her and she backs down) Tell them you are, pet. Alembic: (Drawing himself up) Very well. If the fates decree that this be the destiny of my blood, then I will take this high office upon myself, though it cost me dearly. Crone: We've been over this. You will be...wait, what did you say? Alembic: I have thought it over, mother, and decided that there are things more important than my studies. I feel it in my soul, if you will. Egbert: I am impressed, young Prince. You may be His Majesty's son, in truth. Crone: (Aside) All those years of hard work are finally paying off. Soon I will be mother to the king! No more skulking in the dungeon! No more living off scraps wrestled from resident rodents! Most importantly, no more hiding behind this mask... She rips off the witch mask she has been wearing the whole time to reveal a strikingly attractive middle-aged woman. Everyone reacts.
Alembic: (Rolling his eyes) I am gratified beyond reckoning that you finally removed that dreadful face covering, mother. It smelled like the bottom of a long disused vinegar cask. Figsby: (Shaking off his surprise) Shall we get on with the coronation now? Egbert: Princess Esmerelda, do you accept the claim of Alembic? Esmerelda: I think it is a disgrace that my father saw fit to name this bastard as heir to the throne, but if the parchments you hold are authentic, I have no leg upon which to stand in opposition. I accept him, albeit with grave reservations. Egbert: Prince Jasper, do you...(Turning to Perrilyn)...for the love of St. Michael, will you please release him from the spell? He looks like some forgotten garden statuary. Perrilyn: He is not really under the hold of any magic, Regent: merely the power of suggestion. The strength of that liquor is proportional to the size of the mental void into which it is poured. Everyone believes me to be a witch; therefore I have magical influence over them. Jasper: (Embarrassed, then angry) I do not care what parchments you hold or what my father's senile rantings encompassed. I will not allow this pathetic excuse of a man to rule this kingdom. He knows nothing of the arts of war, and without a strong military leader we are doomed. Alembic: As a point of order, I am quite well versed in the history of military strategy. I can expound for hours concerning Senusret the First's conquest of Nubia, or Alexander's brilliantly staged siege of Halicarnassus. My enthusiasm knows no bounds when I lay out in great detail the humiliating massacre of Varus and his three Roman Legions in the Teutoburg forest. I will gladly wax eloquent far into the night over... Jasper: Enough. I concede the point. You've read more military history than have I. Reading accounts of conquests and defeats does not necessarily translate into success on the battlefield, however. Alembic: In solution of which I will name you Royal Champion and General of the Armies. If you are the soldier and tactician you purport to be, our military posture will be well-served by your occupation of this office. And you, Esmerelda, shall be Executrix of the Royal Diplomatic Corps, to treat with foreign dignitaries and play a high-level role in molding our foreign policy. Figsby: Perrilyn: what role will you wish to play? Perrilyn: Whatever role His Majesty has in mind for me, of course.
Egbert: Of course. I am certain it will be well in keeping with the role to which you have become accustomed. Your Highness, are you prepared? Alembic: Proceed, Regent. Egbert: Do you, Alembic, swear on the blood of your ancestors to uphold the laws and customs of the kingdom, to treat with her people fairly, each according to his station, and to take a Queen and produce an heir so that the Royal line may remain unbroken? Alembic: I do so swear. Figsby: Then I set this circlet of gold and jewels on your brow to signify your high station and the trust the kingdom places in you. Egbert: The scepter represents justice and the temporal authority you will wield in its service. Hold it firmly as you will hold the lands and people of your kingdom. Figsby: Having accepted the symbols and taken the oath of office, in accordance with the legal authority vested in me as High Tribune and in Master Egbert as Regent Royal, we now therefore pronounce you King, until death take you and the crown pass to your lawfully designated heir. Harald: All hail His Most Serene Majesty, Alembic the First! (All bow). Alembic: (Seated on the throne) As Our first official act, We would call Our mother Perrilyn before Us. Perrilyn: (Approaching the throne and bowing) Yes, Your Majesty? How may I serve you? Alembic: Perrilyn, as Royal Mother you hold an honored position in the Royal Family. In recognition, We decree that special quarters are to built in the East wing for you, to your specifications. In the interim, you may occupy the late Queen's private chambers. Perrilyn: Your Majesty, I thank you most graciously. That arrangement will suit me quite well. Queen: (Angry ethereal voice from offstage) But it suits me not at all! The ghostly form of a woman floats into the room and strikes Alembic and Perrilyn down with lightning bolts. General panic ensues.
SCENE 4 The Afterlife. Fog, clouds, etc. The old King and Queen are seated in golden thrones. Alembic and Perrilyn stand before them, dazed and disoriented. Perrilyn: Wh...Where are we? Queen: You are dead, foolish shrew of a woman. I struck you down for seducing my husband, murdering me to further your evil little plan, and then daring to think yourself my equal by taking my private quarters for yourself. Alembic: It was I who offered her your quarters. As mother to the king she deserved no less. Queen: For that audacious lack of judgment, snot-nosed little whelp, you may notice that you, too, are deceased. Perrilyn: You impudent hussy! It was your husband who seduced me, and before he had even laid eyes on you. I was his first love, not you. And you fell out of the High Tower of your own careless accord. I even tried to rescue you. Queen: Lies! You are nothing but a common trollop! (Hurls lightning bolt at her) Perrilyn instinctively puts up her arm to shield her face and a fireball forms in her other palm. She realizes that she, too, has ghostly powers now. A firefight ensues and quickly escalates. Alembic crosses over and sits in the unoccupied throne next to the old king. He pulls out a book and begins to read. The king produces a cup-and-ball toy and devotes himself to playing with it vigorously. The battle rages fiercely around them. Queen: Electrocute, scurrilous social-climbing murderess! Perrilyn: Incinerate, loathsome Queen of hags! A fireball lands between the thrones, knocking both the king and Alembic to the floor. They get up, brush themselves off, switch thrones, and return to their pastimes, totally ignoring each other in the process. The vicious battle rages on, gradually fading to black.
EPILOGUE A lone voice cuts through the darkness. Harald: So endeth the extraordinarily brief reign of Alembic the First. Less than a minute, all told. No time to ring the bells or light the beacons. Not even a full footnote to history; more of a 'toenail' note, one might say. The king is dead. Again. Long live the king! Lights come up on Percy and Tether, as before. Percy: What news hath the crier tonight? Tether: "Long live the king." I do not understand why he keeps saying that. It seems a hollow sentiment. Percy: 'Tis his employment, hollow or otherwise. They do that with some frequency, do they not, Tether? Tether: Do what, Percy? Percy: Die. Kings die rather often. Tether: Yes. Must be all that luxury and cleanliness and rich food that does them in. Percy: I have no wish to be king, Tether. Tether: Oh? Why not, Percy? Think of the splendid life you would live and the power you would have over your adoring subjects. Percy: Rich food gives me gas, Tether. Rumble of thunder from off stage. Tether: Oh, bother. Sounds as though another storm is brewing. The weather has been positively frightful since the day the new king and his mother dropped dead. Percy: Indubitably. Three of my gilliflower beds were struck by lightning just this morning. The hounds have no fur left on. Our fowl are singed, and the dray horse had his tail burnt off. Tether: I can live with the lightning strikes. It is those rolling wheels of fire that put me off. A fireball chases them off stage as the bell begins to toll once more. Fin. 44
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