Read The Queen’s Enemies of Plays of Gods and Men, free online book, by Lord Dunsany, on ReadCentral.com.

Dramatis Personae

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

Scene:  An underground temple in Egypt.

Time:  The Sixth Dynasty.

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

Tharrabas: 

Is it much further, Tharni?

Tharni: 

I think not, Tharrabas.

Tharrabas: 

A dank and terrible place.

Tharni: 

It is not much further.

Tharrabas: 

Why does the Queen banquet in so fearful a place?

Tharni: 

I know not.  She banquets with her enemies.

Tharrabas: 

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

Tharni: 

No?  The Queen will banquet with her enemies.

Tharrabas: 

Why?  Know you why?

Tharni: 

It is the way of the Queen.

    [Silence.]

Tharrabas: 

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

Tharni: 

Yes, that’s the Temple.

Tharrabas: 

Surely a grim place.

Tharni: 

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

Tharrabas: 

Unto whom is it holy?

Tharni: 

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

Tharrabas: 

So Nile has left it?

Tharni: 

They say they worship him in this place no longer.

Tharrabas: 

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

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

Oh-h-h!

Harlee: 

Urh

Tharni: 

Why, it’s Harlee.

Tharrabas: 

I thought you were some fearful, evil god.

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

Tharni: 

He waits here for the Queen.

Tharrabas: 

What sinister need could she have of Harlee?

Tharni: 

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

    [Harlee nods.]

Tharrabas: 

I would not banquet here.  Not with a Queen.

    [Harlee laughs long.]

Tharrabas: 

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

    [Exeunt Tharrabas and Tharni up the steps.]

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

Queen: 

Ah.  All is ready.

Ackazarpses: 

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

    [She begins to titivate the Queen.]

Queen: 

Ackazarpses, Ackazarpses, I cannot bear to have enemies.

Ackazarpses: 

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

Queen: 

If the gods could understand they would never permit it.

Ackazarpses: 

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

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

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

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

You are most fair to-night, Illustrious Lady.

Queen: 

I must needs be fair to-night.

Ackazarpses: 

Indeed you are most fair.

Queen: 

A little more perfume, Ackazarpses.

Ackazarpses: 

I will tie the coloured bow more evenly.

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

Calm yourself, lady!  They will be here soon.

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

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

Queen: 

They are such terrible men, Ackazarpses.

Ackazarpses: 

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

Queen: 

They are such huge, terrible men.

Ackazarpses: 

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

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

Lady, you have invited them.

Queen: 

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

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

Ackazarpses: 

Illustrious Lady -

Queen: 

Quick, for I cannot bear it.

    [Exit Ackazarpses.]

Queen: 

O, I cannot bear to have enemies.

Ackazarpses: 

Lady, they are here.

Queen: 

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

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

Zophernes: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Zophernes: 

Who knows what she may have in this dark temple?

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Zophernes: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Zophernes: 

It is not natural to love one’s enemies.

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Zophernes: 

I do not trust her whims.

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

    [They turn and mount.]

Zophernes: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Zophernes: 

So be it.

    [They descend.]

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Zophernes: 

So be it.

    [The Slave opens the door.]

Slave: 

The Princes Rhadamandaspes and Zophernes.

Queen: 

Welcome, Illustrious Princes.

Rhadamandaspes: 

Greeting.

Queen: 

O you have brought your sword!

Rhadamandaspes: 

I have brought my sword.

Queen: 

O but it is so terrible, your great sword.

Zophernes: 

We always carry our swords.

Queen: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

Illustrious Lady, we do not come to kill you.

Queen: 

To your post, Harlee.

Zophernes: 

What are this Harlee and his post?

Ackazarpses: 

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

Queen: 

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

Zophernes: 

For what is your great bar of iron, Slave?

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

Ugh!  They have burned out his tongue.

Zophernes: 

He goes on secret errands.

    [Enter Second Slave.]

Second Slave: 

The Priest of Horus.

Queen: 

Welcome, holy companion of the gods.

Priest of Horus: 

Greeting.

Third Slave: 

The King of the Four Countries.

    [She and he make obeisance.]

Fourth Slave: 

The Twin Dukes of Ethiopia.

King of the Four Countries: 

We are all met.

Priest of Horus: 

All that have warred against her Captains.

Queen: 

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

Priest of Horus: 

And we have come.

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

Indeed, the Illustrious Lady has suffered much.

Queen: 

O Ackazarpses, why should I have enemies?

Ackazarpses: 

After to-night you will sleep, Illustrious Lady.

Queen: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Zophernes: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Queen: 

I pray you be seated.

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

Zophernes: 

There are no servitors.

Queen: 

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

Zophernes: 

I do not blame you.

Queen: 

I fear you blame me with your fierce eyes.

Zophernes: 

I do not blame you.

Queen: 

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

A Duke of Ethiopia: 

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

Queen: 

Ah, but you think terrible things.

Priest of Horus: 

We think no evil of you, Illustrious Lady.

Queen: 

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

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

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

Priest of Horus: 

We trust you, Illustrious Lady.

    [He does the same with his Slave.]

Queen: 

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

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

Priest of Horus: 

Indeed, we trust you.

Queen: 

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

Zophernes: 

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

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

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

Priest of Horus:  [to Ackazarpses]

Indeed we trust the Queen and none would harm her.

    [Ackazarpses soothes the Queen.]

Rhadamandaspes:  [to Zophernes]

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

Zophernes:  [to Rhadamandaspes]

Yet I would that the banquet were over.

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

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

Duke of Ethiopia: 

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

Queen:  [Eats.]

Behold then, I have eaten.

    [She looks at the Priest of Horus.]

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Queen: 

Why do you thus watch your slave, Prince Rhadamandaspes?

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Queen: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

But Queen, Queen, we are about to eat.

Duke of Ethiopia: 

Yes, yes, indeed we do not mock you.

King of Four Countries: 

We do not mock you, Queen.

Priest of Horus: 

They do not mean to mock you.

Queen: 

They... give my food to slaves.

Priest of Horus: 

That was a mistake.

Queen: 

It was... no mistake.

Priest of Horus: 

The slaves were hungry.

Queen:  [still weeping]

They believe I would poison them.

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen: 

They believe I would poison them.

Ackazarpses:  [comforting her]

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

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen: 

They believe I would poison them.

Rhadamandaspes: 

No; Queen, see, we eat.

    [They hastily whisper to slaves.]

1st Duke of Ethiopia: 

We eat your viands, Queen.

2nd Duke of Ethiopia: 

We drink your wine.

King of Four Countries: 

We eat your good pomegranates and Egyptian grapes.

Zophernes: 

We eat.

    [They all eat.]

Priest of Horus:  [smiling affably]

I too eat of your excellent banquet, O Queen.

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

Ackazarpses:  [in her ear]

They eat.

    [Ackazarpses lifts her head and watches them.]

Queen: 

Perhaps the wine is poisoned.

Priest of Horus: 

No, no, Illustrious Lady.

Queen: 

Perhaps the grape was cut by a poisoned arrow.

Priest of Horus: 

But indeed... indeed...

    [Queen drinks from his cup.]

Queen: 

Will you not drink my wine?

Priest of Horus: 

I drink to our continued friendship.

    [He drinks.]

A Duke of Ethiopia: 

Our continued friendship!

Priest of Horus: 

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

Rhadamandaspes:  [to Zophernes]

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

Zophernes: 

So be it.

Rhadamandaspes: 

We drink to you, Queen.

Zophernes: 

We drink.

Queen: 

The flagon, Ackazarpses.

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

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Queen: 

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

Duke of Ethiopia: 

It is a happy wine, Queen.

Queen: 

I have been thought a poisoner.

Priest of Horus: 

Indeed, none has thought that, Illustrious Lady.

Queen: 

You have all thought it.

Rhadamandaspes: 

We ask your pardon, Queen.

King of Four Countries: 

We ask your pardon.

Duke of Ethiopia: 

Indeed we erred.

Zophernes:  [rising]

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

Queen: 

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

Zophernes: 

Let us depart in all amity.

Queen: 

O will you not feast with me?

Zophernes: 

We have feasted.

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

    [Zophernes sits down.]

Queen: 

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

Zophernes: 

Ha!

Rhadamandaspes:  [resignedly]

We have lost it.

Queen: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Queen: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

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

Queen: 

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

Rhadamandaspes: 

No, most royal lady.

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

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

King of Four Countries: 

Most generous Queen... indeed...

Queen: 

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

King of Four Countries: 

No, Queen... [He drinks.]

Queen:  [she looks at the Twin Dukes amiably]

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

1st Duke of Ethiopia: 

Queen.

2nd Duke of Ethiopia: 

Queen.  We drink to the glory of your throne.

Queen: 

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

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen:  [smiles at him.]

Thank you.

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen: 

It is yours.

Priest of Horus: 

Illustrious Lady.

Queen: 

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

Priest of Horus: 

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

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

Queen:  [rising]

Princes and gentlemen, let us drink to the future.

Priest of Horus:  [starting suddenly]

Ah-h-h!

Queen: 

Something has troubled you, holy companion of the gods?

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen: 

What said he?

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen: 

Will you drink then to the past?

Priest of Horus: 

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

Ackazarpses: 

Will you not drink to the present?

Priest of Horus: 

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

Queen:  [to the others]

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

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

Queen: 

Ackazarpses, they are all merry now.

Ackazarpses: 

They are all merry.

Queen: 

They are telling Ethiopian tales.

1st Duke of Ethiopia: 

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

Queen:  [taking her by the wrist]

Ackazarpses!  Come!

    [The Queen rises.]

Zophernes: 

Queen, you do not leave us?

Queen: 

For a little while, Prince Zophernes.

Zophernes: 

For what purpose?

Queen: 

I go to pray to a very secret god.

Zophernes: 

What is his name?

Queen: 

His name is secret like his deeds.

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

Zophernes: 

To the door, slaves.  Let no man enter.

1st Duke of Ethiopia: 

She cannot mean to harm us!

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

Slave: 

The door is bolted.

Rhadamandaspes: 

It is easily broken with our swords.

Zophernes: 

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

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

Zophernes:  [to the Two Dukes]

Quick, to the great hole.

Stand on each side of it with your swords.

    [They lift their swords over the hole.]

Slay whatever enters.

Queen: 

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

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

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

Hear me, O Nile.

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

Hear me, O Nile.

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

O Nile, hear me.

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

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

The sacrifice is ready.  O Nile, hear me.

Duke of Ethiopia: 

No one comes.

Queen:  [beats again with her fan]

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

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

Queen: 

O Ackazarpses!  Are all my enemies gone?

Ackazarpses: 

Illustrious Lady, the Nile has taken them all.

Queen:  [with intense devotion]

That holy river.

Ackazarpses: 

Illustrious Lady, will you sleep to-night?

Queen: 

Yes.  I shall sleep sweetly.

    [curtain]