Selections from the Writings of Lord Dunsany, by Lord Dunsany, , at sacred-texts.com
THE FIRST ACT OF KING ARGIMENES AND THE UNKNOWN WARRIOR
Zarb (a slave born of slaves)
An Old Slave
Slaves of King Darniak
A Young Slave
The King's Overseer
The Servant of the King's Dog
Queens of King Darniak
Guards and Attendants
Time: A long time ago. SCENE: The dinner-hour on the slave-fields of King Darniak.
(The Curtain rises upon King Argimenes, sitting upon the ground, bowed, ragged, and dirty, gnawing a bone. He has uncouth hair and a dishevelled beard. A battered spade lies near him. Two or three slaves sit at back of stage eating raw cabbage-leaves. The tear-song, the chaunt of the low-born, rises at intervals, monotonous and mournful, coming from distant slave-fields.)
KING ARGIMENES This is a good bone; there is juice in this bone.
ZARB I wish I were you, Argimenes.
KING ARGIMENES I am not to be envied any longer. I have eaten up my bone.
ZARB I wish I were you, because you have been a King. Because men have prostrated themselves before your feet. Because you have ridden a horse and worn a crown and have been called Majesty.
KING ARGIMENES When I remember that I have been a king it is very terrible.
ZARB But you are lucky to have such things in your memory as you have. I have nothing in my memory—Once I went for a year without being flogged, and I remember my cleverness in contriving it—I have nothing else to remember.
KING ARGIMENES It is very terrible to have been a king.
ZARB But we have nothing who have no good memories in the past. It is not easy for us to hope for the future here.
KING ARGIMENES Have you any god?
ZARB We may not have a god because he might make us brave and we might kill our guards. He might make a miracle and give us swords.
KING ARGIMENES Ah, you have no hope then.
ZARB I have a little hope. Hush, and I will tell you a secret—The King's great dog is ill and like to die. They will throw him to us. We shall have beautiful bones then.
KING ARGIMENES Ah! Bones.
ZARB Yes. That is what I hope for. And have you no other hope? Do you not hope that your nation will arise some day and rescue you and cast off the king and hang him up by his thumbs from the palace gateway?
KING ARGIMENES No. I have no other hope, for my god was cast down in the temple and broken into three pieces on the day that they surprised us and took me sleeping. But will they throw him to us? Will so honourable a brute as the King's dog be thrown to us?
ZARB When he is dead his honours are taken away. Even the King when he is dead is given to the worms. Then why should not his dog be thrown to us?
KING ARGIMENES We are not worms!
ZARB You do not understand, Argimenes. The worms are little and free, while we are big and enslaved. I did not say we were worms, but we are like worms, and if they have the King when he is dead, why then—
KING ARGIMENES Tell me more of the King's dog. Are there big bones on him?
ZARB Ay, he is a big dog—a high, big, black one.
KING ARGIMENES You know him then?
ZARB O yes, I know him. I know him well. I was beaten once because of him, twenty-five strokes from the treble whips, two men beating me.
KING ARGIMENES How did they beat you because of the King's dog?
ZARB They beat me because I spoke to him without making obeisance. He was coming dancing alone over the slave-fields and I spoke to him. He was a friendly great dog, and I spoke to him and patted his head, and did not make obeisance.
KING ARGIMENES And they saw you do it?
ZARB Yes, the slave-guard saw me. They came and seized me at once and bound my arms. The great dog wanted me to speak to him again, but I was hurried away.
KING ARGIMENES You should have made obeisance.
ZARB The great dog seemed so friendly that I forgot he was the King's great dog.
KING ARGIMENES But tell me more. Was he hurt, or is it a sickness?
ZARB They say that it is a sickness.
KING ARGIMENES Ah. Then he will grow thin if he does not die soon. If it had been a hurt!—but we should not complain. I complain more often than you do because I had not learned to submit while I was yet young.
ZARB If your beautiful memories do not please you, you should hope more. I wish I had your memories. I should not trouble to hope then. It is very hard to hope.
KING ARGIMENES There will be nothing more to hope for when we have eaten the King's dog.
ZARB Why you might find gold in the earth while you were digging. Then you might bribe the commander of the guard to lend you his sword; we would all follow you if you had a sword. Then we might take the King and bind him and lay him on the ground and fasten his tongue outside his mouth with thorns and put honey on it and sprinkle honey near. Then the grey ants would come from one of their big mounds. My father found gold once when he was digging.
KING ARGIMENES (pointedly) Did your father free himself?
ZARB No. Because the King's Overseer found him looking at the gold and killed him. But he would have freed himself if he could have bribed the guard. (A prophet walks across the stage attended by two guards.)
SLAVES He is going to the King. He is going to the King.
ZARB He is going to the King.
KING ARGIMENES Going to prophesy good things to the King. It is easy to prophesy good things to a king, and be rewarded when the good things come. What else should come to a king? A prophet! a prophet! (A deep bell tolls slowly. King Argimenes and Zarb pick up their spades at once, and the old slaves at the back of the stage go down on their knees immediately and grub in the soil with their hands. The white beard of the oldest trails in the dirt as he works. King Argimenes digs.)
KING ARGIMENES What is the name of that song that we always sing? I like the song.
ZARB It has no name. It is our song. There is no other song.
KING ARGIMENES Once there were other songs. Has this no name?
ZARB I think the soldiers have a name for it.
KING ARGIMENES What do the soldiers call it?
ZARB The soldiers call it the tear-song, the chaunt of the low-born.
KING ARGIMENES It is a good song. I could sing no other now. (Zarb moves away digging.)
KING ARGIMENES (to himself as his spade touches something in the earth.) Metal! (Feels with his spade again.) Gold perhaps!—It is of no use here. (uncovers earth leisurely. Suddenly he drops on his knees and works excitedly in the earth with his hands. Then very slowly, still kneeling, he lifts, lying flat on his hands, a long greenish sword, his eyes intent on it. About the level of his uplifted forehead he holds it, still flat on both hands, and addresses it thus:)
O holy and blessed thing. (Then he lowers it slowly till his hands rest on his knees, and looking all the while at the sword.)
KING ARGIMENES Three years ago tomorrow King Darniak spat at me, having taken my kingdom from me. Three times in that year I was flogged, with twelve stripes, with seventeen stripes, and with twenty stripes. A year and eleven months ago, come Moon-day, the King's Overseer struck me in the face, and nine times in that year he called me dog. For one month two weeks and a day I was yoked with a bullock and pulled a rounded stone all day over the paths, except while we were fed. I was flogged twice that year—with eighteen stripes and with ten stripes. This year the roof of the slave-sty has fallen in and King Darniak will not repair it. Five weeks ago one of his queens laughed at me as she came across the slave-fields. I was flogged again this year and with thirteen stripes, and twelve times they have called me dog. And these things they have done to a king, and a king of the house of Ithara. (He listens attentively for a moment, then buries the sword again and pats the earth over it with his hands, then digs again. The old slaves do not see him: their faces are to the earth.) (Enter the King's Overseer carrying a whip. The slaves and King Argimenes kneel with their foreheads to the ground as he passes across the stage. Exit the King's Overseer.)
KING ARGIMENES (kneeling, hands outspread downwards.) O warrior spirit, wherever thou wanderest, whoever be thy gods; whether they punish thee or whether they bless thee; O kingly spirit that once laid here this sword, behold I pray to thee having no gods to pray to, for the god of my nation was broken in three by night. Mine arm is stiff with three years' slavery and remembers not the sword. But guide thy sword till I have slain six men and armed the strongest slaves, and thou shalt have the sacrifice every year of a hundred goodly oxen. And I will build in Ithara a temple to thy memory wherein all that enter in shall remember thee, so shalt thou be honoured and envied among the dead, for the dead are very jealous of remembrance. Aye, though thou wert a robber that took men's lives unrighteously, yet shall rare spices smoulder in thy temple and little maidens sing and new-plucked flowers deck the solemn aisles; and priests shall go about it ringing bells that thy soul shall find repose. O but it has a good blade this old green sword; thou wouldst not like to see it miss its mark (if the dead see at all, as wise men teach,) thou wouldst not like to see it go thirsting into the air; so huge a sword should find its marrowy bone. (Extending his right hand upward.) Come into my right arm, O ancient spirit, O unknown warrior's soul. And if thou hast the ear of any gods, speak there against Illuriel, god of King Darniak. (He rises and goes on digging. Re-enter the King's Overseer.)
THE KING'S OVERSEER So you have been praying.
KING ARGIMENES (kneeling) No, Master.
THE KING'S OVERSEER The slave-guard saw you. (Strikes him) It is not lawful for a slave to pray.
KING ARGIMENES I did but pray to Illuriel to make me a good slave, to teach me to dig well and to pull the rounded stone, and to make me not to die when the food is scarce, but to be a good slave to my master, the great King.
THE KING'S OVERSEER Who art thou to pray to Illuriel? Dogs may not pray to an immortal god. (Exit. Zarb comes back, digging.)
KING ARGIMENES (digging) Zarb.
ZARB (also digging) Do not look at me when you speak. The guards are watching us. Look at your digging.
KING ARGIMENES How do the guards know we are speaking because we look at one another?
ZARB You are very witless. Of course they know.
KING ARGIMENES Zarb.
ZARB What is it?
KING ARGIMENES How many guards are there in sight?
ZARB There are six of them over there. They are watching us.
KING ARGIMENES Are there other guards in sight of these six guards?
KING ARGIMENES How do you know?
ZARB Because whenever their officer leaves them they sit upon the ground and play with dice.
KING ARGIMENES How does that show that there are not another six in sight of them?
ZARB How witless you are, Argimenes. Of course it shows there are not. Because, if there were, another officer would see them, and their thumbs would be cut off.
KING ARGIMENES Ah. (a pause.) Zarb. (a pause) Would the slaves follow me if I tried to kill the guards?
ZARB No, Argimenes.
KING ARGIMENES Why would they not follow me?
ZARB Because you look like a slave. They will never follow a slave, because they are slaves themselves, and know how mean a creature is a slave. If you looked like a king they would follow you.
KING ARGIMENES But I am a king. They know that I am a king.
ZARB It is better to look like a king. It is looks that they would go by.
KING ARGIMENES If I had a sword would they follow me? A beautiful huge sword of bronze.
ZARB I wish I could think of things like that. It is because you were once a king that you can think of a sword of bronze. I tried to hope once that I should some day fight the guards, but I couldn't picture a sword, I couldn't imagine it; I could only picture whips.
KING ARGIMENES Dig a little nearer, Zarb. (They both edge closer.) I have found a very old sword in the earth. It is not a sword such as common soldiers wear. A king must have worn it, and an angry king. It must have done fearful things; there are little dints in it. Perhaps there was a battle here long ago where all were slain, and perhaps that king died last and buried his sword, but the great birds swallowed him.
ZARB You have been thinking too much of the King's dog, Argimenes, and that has made you hungry, and hunger has driven you mad.
KING ARGIMENES I have found such a sword. (A pause.)
ZARB Why—then you will wear a purple cloak again, and sit on a great throne, and ride a prancing horse, and we shall call you Majesty.
KING ARGIMENES I shall break a long fast first and drink much water, and sleep. But will the slaves follow me?
ZARB You will make them follow you if you have a sword. Yet is Illuriel a very potent god. They say that none have prevailed against King Darniak's dynasty so long as Illuriel stood. Once an enemy cast Illuriel into the river and overthrew the dynasty, but a fisherman found him again and set him up, and the enemy was driven out and the dynasty returned.
KING ARGIMENES If Illuriel could be cast down as my god was cast down perhaps King Darniak could be overcome as I was overcome in my sleep?
ZARB If Illuriel were cast down all the people would utter a cry and flee away. It would be a fearful portent.
KING ARGIMENES How many men are there in the armoury at the palace?
ZARB There are ten men in the palace armoury when all the slave-guards are out. (They dig awhile in silence.)
ZARB The officer of the slave-guard has gone away—they are playing with dice now. (Zarb throws down his spade and stretches his arms)—The man with the big beard has won again, he is very nimble with his thumbs—They are playing again, but it is getting dark, I cannot clearly see.
(King Argimenes furtively uncovers the sword, he picks it up and grips it in his hand.)
ZARB Majesty! (King Argimenes crouches and steals away towards the slave-guard.)
ZARB (to the other slaves) Argimenes has found a terrible sword and has gone to slay the slave-guard. It is not a common sword, it is some king's sword.
AN OLD SLAVE Argimenes will be dreadfully flogged. We shall hear him cry all night. His cries will frighten us, and we shall not sleep.
ZARB No! no! The guards flog poor slaves, but Argimenes had an angry look. The guards will be afraid when they see him look so angry and see his terrible sword. It was a huge sword, and he looked very angry. He will bring us the swords of the slave-guard. We must prostrate ourselves before him and kiss his feet or he will be angry with us too.
OLD SLAVE Will Argimenes give me a sword?
ZARB He will have swords for six of us if he slays the slave-guard. Yes, he will give you a sword.
SLAVE A sword! No, no, I must not; the King would kill me if he found that I had a sword.
SECOND SLAVE (slowly, as one who develops an idea) If the King found that I had a sword, why then it would be an evil day for the King. (They all look off left.)
ZARB I think that they are playing at dice again.
FIRST SLAVE I do not see Argimenes.
ZARB No, because he was crouching as he walked. The slave-guard is on the sky-line.
SECOND SLAVE What is that dark shadow behind the slave-guard?
ZARB It is too still to be Argimenes.
SECOND SLAVE Look! It moves.
ZARB The evening is too dark, I cannot see. (They continue to gaze into the gathering darkness. They raise themselves on their knees and crane their necks. Nobody speaks. Then from their lips and from others further off goes up a long deep Oh! It is like the sound that goes up from the grand stand when a horse falls at a fence, or in England like the first exclamation of the crowd at a great cricket match when a man is caught in the slips.)