DEATH OF THE SPIDER

By Dave Reed

CAST OF CHARACTERS

ROYAL FAMILY

KING RUSHKIN III

QUEEN KAIRNAS

PRINCE BRUTAS

COURT

THOMAS RETE

LORD ROLAND

LORD ASSALA

GENERAL HARMAS

LADY HARMAS

BISHOP OF TRENT

COURT CHAMBERLAIN

BOY

SERVANT I

SERVANT II

SERVANT III

OTHERS

MISCELLANEOUS

TOURIST

GEORGE

OTHER TOURISTS

REBELS

PROLOGUE

A wall with a large painting, a tapestry and a coat of arms with a large spider on it appear to the audience. The stage is dimly lit. The COURT CHAMBERLAIN emerges, moving slowly from the back of the stage, followed by about twelve TOURISTS. He is old, bent, and aged but still bearing a winning smile. He addresses the audience officiously, as if they are members of a tour group.

CHAMBERLAIN: This is the main corridor of the palace as it was fifty years

ago. Ambassadors and courtiers had to make their way

down this hallway on their way to audiences with the King.

This way please, ladies and gentlemen! This way!

He stops at the painting and looks at it longingly.

TOURIST: Sir, where were the King's chambers?

CHAMBERLAIN does not even notice; he is in his own world.

CHAMBERLAIN (murmurs to himself): The spider's web…

TOURIST (annoyed): Sir?!

CHAMBERLAIN snaps out of his trance.

CHAMBERLAIN:

Ah, a real treat for you ladies and gentlemen. This painting has just been recovered from the cellars of the palace. It is the last known portrait of King Rushkin and Queen Kairnas, on the occasion of their son's marriage to Hondrol of Damton. The monarchs are remembered even today for their passionate love affair that survived to their death. Here they are dancing at court.

The crowd mills around the painting, trying to take worthy photographs. The CHAMBERLAIN, crosses to center stage.

CHAMBERLAIN (to himself, sadly): The last sunset before…

One of the tourists turns and looks at the CHAMBERLAIN and then back towards the painting.

TOURIST: Look George, he looks like one of the men in the painting…the resemblance is uncanny.

GEORGE: Yes…but it can't be. They must all be dead by now.

CHAMBERLAIN shrugs and rolls his eyes at the audience and turns back to the crowd.

CHAMBERLAIN: Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you would be so kind as to follow me, I will show you the gardens…

He leads the TOURISTS off the stage.

SCENE I: THE SPIDER'S WEB

The throne dominates the room. A large wooden chair with gold backing and arms. Behind thee throne is the cloth of state; a large black spider is situated on a web on a red background. There is a low stool beside it on which the QUEEN regally holds state in black tresses, attended by GENERAL HARMAS and his lady. LORD ROLAND stands beside the throne his hand on one of the arms; his fingers lovingly caress the gold upholstery; he is a man bursting with impatience and self-importance. He is in earnest conversation with LORD ASSALA who appears to the audience a man caught in the ring with a dangerous bull. There is a tension that permeates the room and all seem to be conscious they are caught in a powder keg that could explode at any moment. No one notices the entrance of the COURT CHAMBERLAIN, in formal uniform with a wig. He emerges from the shadows with a cynical smile, casually observing the scene. A man at home with intrigue. A master of duplicitous dissembling.

CHAMBERLAIN:

The court. Center of government, society, and culture. Where the pillars of the state gather and mill about with effortless grace, dispensing law and order with the greatest of ease. Where all come to pay their respect to God's representative on earth, the King. Rushkin III of the Malician royal family to be precise. And here they are, the crème de la crème, the experts of idleness, the nobility of the nation. That pompous potbelly over there is Lord Roland, the richest magnate Malice, trying to get a wife for his son who has but one eye. Lord Assala appears to be his latest victim. Ah, and overthere is Lady Harmas, Malice's sole contradiction to the proven ignorance of women. Her third bookof poetry is due out next week. That fellow in the uniform, looking seasick is General Harmas, the Commander of the Malician Armed Forces. Don't be fooled by appearances. He is the most ruthless bastard this country has ever known and just recently he has been appointed Prime Minister. And last but not least…

The QUEEN has noticed the CHAMBERLAIN.

QUEEN: Chamberlain, what news?

The CHAMBERLAIN flashes the audience a devious smile.

CHAMBERLAIN: The Queen.

The CHAMBERLAIN puffs himself, takes the edge of his robe and ceremoniously conducts himself to the QUEEN'S presence. He perfectly executes a bow.

QUEEN: Have you seen His Majesty?

CHAMBERLAIN: I have Your Grace. In fact I have just come from His presence.

QUEEN: How fares my lord, the King?

CHAMBERLAIN: I regret to say that His Majesty still labors under a dark burden of grief. His nature has been heavy since the tragedy.

ROLAND: Ah, my dear Chamberlain! (aside to ASSALA): The court catamite.

CHAMBERLAIN: My lord, you have returned. What welcome news. (his tone is effusive and fawning)

QUEEN:

Chamberlain (raising her voice to regain attention) the situation grows serious…the ceremonies will be in a matter of days; the ambassadors are three days from the court. And my son (she cringes when she speaks of him)has not grown more discreet with age. The King must emerge to hold the reins of state in his famous iron grasp.

CHAMBERLAIN: The crisis is indeed severe, my Queen. I am uncertain of the remedy. Disaster will strike if the King does not emerge…

ROLAND (aside to ASSALA): Instead of sulking over the loss of his unhappy love.

CHAMBERLAIN (points his mace at ROLAND): Roland, you speak treason!

ROLAND (growls): You insolent dog! Treasonous words are nothing compared to treasonous deeds. (steps across the stage and leans down

to whisper to the CHAMBERLAIN).

You are no less Implicated in this thing than the rest of us. Remember that, before you strut around like a peacock, Chamberlain!

QUEEN: (worried more by the whispering than the brawl)

Enough. This is no time for quarrels my Lords!

The CHAMBERLAIN steps away and turns toward the QUEEN.

CHAMBERLAIN: The King would speak with you, Your Grace.

QUEEN (her voice trembling and questioning): Does he Chamberlain?

CHAMBERLAIN: Lord Roland, General Harmas. The King has commanded me to order Your Lordships to be confined to your quarters.

QUEEN: (aside): The spider's web has grown…

LADY HARMAS (moans to HARMAS): My God, what have you done?

CHAMBERLAIN: Guards!
Five armed men, dressed in gray, enter and lead the two men away. ROLAND, exiting turns back to the CHAMBERLAIN.

ROLAND: Chamberlain, you snake! Your blood will be spilt with mine…you shall not escape!

QUEEN (to herself): The spider's web has ensnared new prey.

CHAMBERLAIN: May I have the honor, Your Majesty?

He offers his arm and the QUEEN takes it as if it is a poisoned dagger.

They exit leaving LORD ASSALA and LADY HARMAS.

LADY HARMAS: Well, Lord Assala, it appears your daughter shall escape the snare of Roland's young Cyclops.

Curtain closes.

SCENE II

Dimly lit chamber. A painting of a dashing man in a suit of armor dominates the room. To one side of the room are a wooden desk with papers, and a large scroll. To the right side is a large, glistening spider web. In the back of the stage, the audience can barely make out a figure kneeling. CHAMBERLAIN and the QUEEN enter; CHAMBERLAIN motions for the QUEEN to wait at the left of the stage. CHAMBERLAIN crosses to center stage. Chamberlain is slightly trembling as he speaks.

CHAMBERLAIN:

I have served this man for twelve years and every time I come before him, my bowels loosen. Some kings are known for their feats on the field of battle. Some for their patronage of the arts. Some for great monuments and cathedrals. ButRushkin III of Malice is known for his feats of ruling. It seems he was born to rule. Every movement, every word is for a purpose. Even his shadow inspires respect and fear.

CHAMBERLAIN turns back to the figure in the darkness and waits patiently. After a moment, there is a movement and RUSHKIN steps into the light. Dressed in black, his very presence shouts out his authority and demands due attention and respect. There is a cunning and agility to his movements, yet he carries a great burden; his face speaks of a certain sadness.

CHAMBERLAIN: The Queen is here as you requested, Your Grace.

RUSHKIN: Good. Leave us.

CHAMBERLAIN turns to go and passes the QUEEN who looks after him as if her final chance of survival has just been extinguished. She turns to the KING as if finally realizing she is trapped in the web. RUSHKIN motions her to come closer to him. He is smiling kindly at her, but there seems something insincere about his look. He holds out his hand for her to kiss but as she does he grabs the necklace around her neck and tears it off, letting pearls scatter all about the floor. The QUEEN cries out and Rushkin pushes her to the floor and stands over her, like a snake, who may any moment devour his prey.

RUSHKIN: My gilded doll. Bedecked as always.

He tears a glittering jewel from her dress.

But now you have committed a crime greater than immodesty.

QUEEN: Your Majesty, I…

KING:

Silence! Did you really think you would escape me! The spider always catches his prey. And my venom shall spare none of the traitors whichplague this court…your days of splendor are drawing to a close, Madame!

The QUEEN makes as if to rise.

QUEEN: Your Majesty, I plead with you…

RUSHKIN: Silence, I say!

RUSHKIN strikes her, and she collapses and begins to weep. He takes a handkerchief and wipes her face, completely changing his manner, speaking in soothing tones.

The mother of my son. The wife I once loved. Do you know they still write ballads about us, about our romance? The poets think us the greatest love affair since Anthony and Cleopatra. But then, these men of arts seldom look truly into the soul. Kairnas, why couldn't you have let me be! You wanted for nothing. A palace, jewels, the adoration of a nation. I danced with you at every banquet, appeared before the people as your loving and devoted husband. And this is my reward…You ought to be hanged!

The last phrase is spoken almost in laughter but there is a menacing tone to it. The QUEEN looks as if she will speak but thinks better of it.

RUSHKIN: Speak, speak!

QUEEN: I only acted out of love for Your Grace. There was cruel gossip that was a threat to Your Majesty's person and I could no longer endure…

RUSHKIN (snarls): A woman's duty is to endure; a king's is to act!

The QUEEN curtsies, completely subdued. RUSHKIN begins to pace.

RUSHKIN:

Now, what am I to do with you? To destroy you would be foolish…you are too worldly to be made a martyr. Banishment? Divorce! I think not. The trouble is, you are too useful to me. A king is not complete without a Queen, a model of subservience for his subjects. No. You shallstay beside me. We shall appear together as before. And dance as as I lean forward and caress your face lovingly...

He leans forward and caresses her face.

And appear to speak loving words…they shall be sharp barbs, dripping with contempt.

He goes over to his desk and snatches a paper and returns to her.

In my will I have commanded that you are to be remanded to a convent the minute I breathe my last. I cannot have you scheming at our son's court. The poor fool would not know the first thing about how to deal with you. The public will see your retreat as the act of a grief-stricken widow, who cannot bear the court now that her beloved husband is dead. A fitting end to the great illusion of our marriage.

He laughs but his merriment is interrupted by a coughing fit that overtakes his entire body. The QUEEN looks on with genuine concern. When it has stopped shetouches his shoulder and speaks gently.

QUEEN: You are not well, my lord.

They look at each other for a moment, and the audience catches a glimmer of what was. Rushkin turns away.

RUSHKIN: It is nothing. Leave me.

The QUEEN curtsies and hastily exits. The KING sits down at his desk and looks as if he is trying to concentrate on state papers. He sighs, and as if realizing that it is of no concern he wearily drops his pen and rises from the desk and crosses to the center of the stage. He speaks in the direction of the audience, but it seems as though he is addressing a person not present physically.

RUSHKIN:

You must be laughing at me now. The mighty King brought low, surrounded by the vipers that used to be his friends all waiting forhim to die. That it should end this way. Ha!

The coughing again overtakes him and he is again convulsed with pain.

RUSHKIN (in pain, and almost intelligibly): Thomas!

The CHAMBERLAIN rushes in from the shadows.

CHAMBERLAIN: Your Majesty!

RUSHKIN rounds on him.

RUSHKIN: What are you doing here, I never sent for you. Out!

CHAMBERLAIN turns to go, RUSHKIN begins to speak to him, halting his exit.

RUSHKIN:

Ah, Chamberlain. I thought for a moment death had found me at last. What joy that would have brought me. I long for release from this makeshift tomb.

CHAMBERLAIN: Such an event would bring me no pleasure Sire, nor the kingdom.

RUSHKIN pays him no notice. CHAMBERLAIN prepares a drink and hands it to him. Rushkin's face softens as he speaks, and the hint of sadness in his eyes now floods his face.

RUSHKIN: These are sad times. I fear for my family. I see it drowning in blood and terror. The end is near for me and my line.

CHAMBERLAIN: Your Grace has a son, who is robust in health.

RUSHKIN: (derisively): As many a lady in the land will attest! I long for happier times. When I thought my life mattered. When…I knew love's golden touch. He drifts off into his own world. The CHAMBERLAIN seeks to distract him.

CHAMBERLAIN:

I had come to tell Your Majesty that Bellnini, the architect has been seeking an audience. I believe he has completed his designs for the project so near Your Majesty's heart.

RUSHKIN visibly brightens.

RUSHKIN: Ah! Good! Show the man in.

CHAMBERLAIN returns with a beaming and corpulent BELLINI, who manages a clumsy bow.

BELLINI: Majesty! I am at last finished commission.

RUSHKIN:

Excellent, Bellini. I knew I could entrust you with this task. Well you scoundrel, don't just stand there! I am a busy man. Let me see it!

BELLINI proudly produces large scroll and hands it to the CHAMBERLAIN who unrolls it. RUSHKIN and BELLINI stand before it. RUSHKIN intently studies the scroll.BELLINI, glances somewhat anxiously at RUSHKIN.

BELLINI: Your Majesty likes?

CHAMBERLAIN (aside): Or has the spider found new prey?

RUSHKIN is fixed on the blueprint, almost bewitched.

RUSHKIN (trancelike):

It is genius. You have captured the spirit in your pencil. The eyes are uncanny. It's as if they were staring at me and me only, it's as if they were still on this earth at this moment. My God…

BELLINI (bursting with pride): Majesty accepts the proposal?

RUSHKIN: It would be a sin to reject it.

(breaks his glance away from it)

Chamberlain, take Signor Bellini to the Lord Treasurer and ensure he is paid the proper amount.

CHAMBERLAIN lets the scroll go so it will wrap up. In doing so he drops it on the floor. BELLINI snatches it up and scowls at CHAMBERLAIN. Just then the guards enter with ROLAND and GENERAL HARMAS. CHAMBERLAIN moves toward them to intercept them. RUSHKIN looks on without expression.

CHAMBERLAIN: How dare you force your way into the King's chambers! Are you mad?

ROLAND: Clear the way, little man! We would speak to the King.

ROLAND pushes him aside.

CHAMBERLAIN: Little man? I am the Chamberlain!

RUSHKIN strides to intercept the squabbling courtiers.

RUSHKIN: Enough of this! Harmas, Roland, what would you want with me?

HARMAS: Only the chance to plead our case before Your Majesty's person.

RUSHKIN: The spider's trap is nearly complete, for your foolish intrusion has only made your guilt more apparent.

ROLAND (desperately): We are Your Majesty's most devoted servants…we are…

RUSHKIN (in a dangerously soft tone): Are you indeed?

ROLAND: Our actions have always been to secure Your Grace's throne. Your mind has been poisoned by those who envy Your Majesty's love for us!

He looks meaningfully at CHAMBERLAIN.

RUSHKIN (roars): Why then, O Loyal Servant, did you murder my cherished companion and most trusted advisor?!

HARMAS: Your Majesty, we had nothing to do with such an odious…

RUSHKIN (screaming):

His blood is on your hands! He turns from them and recovers his composure. He speaks with his back to them. If I was acting on my own inclinations I would have you cut to pieces for all to see. However, the one you slaughtered would not use such means with enemies. My dear friend was as gentle as a lamb. It is out of respect for that saintly person that I have decided to spare your pathetic lives.

RUSHKIN turns and there is a quiet but searing contempt in his eyes.

HARMAS (kneeling before him): Your Majesty is great and merciful.

RUSHKIN:

Up, up! You are relieved of the office of Prime Minister from this moment. The art of soldiering is more suited to you. Roland,you are to return to your estates until such time I deem it worthy for you to return.

ROLAND (subdued): It shall be as you wish, Your Majesty.

HARMAS (relieved): I too, shall leave with Your Grace's permission.

RUSHKIN: (abruptly) No! I shall need you here. There may yet be work for you.

(The two men bow and prepare to retreat)

Wait. There is one more piece of business. Bellini here has just finished telling me of his great project.

BELLINI who has been watching events with a bewildered wonder, smiles faintly at the two men.

Signor, how much will it cost to build?

BELLINI unrolls another scroll and furiously begins counting figures and making calculations. When he has finished he looks up at RUSHKIN with a pleased and greedy smile.

BELLINI: Nine thousand gulags Your Majesty. Not counting for…He licks his lips. Unforeseen expenses.

RUSHKIN: There you have it. Bellini…the men before you are to be the source of your funds.

ROLAND (boldly): What is this project?

RUSHKIN (smoothly):

It is a monument to honor the late Prime Minister, Thomas Rete, much beloved by the people and their king.

The two men look at each other with a knowing glance; ROLAND seems barely able to conceal his fury.

Chamberlain, you are not exempt from this. I expect you to make an appropriate and generous contribution.

The CHAMBERLAIN'S gloating stance is somewhat stifled, and ROLAND looks at him with satisfaction.

Get out…and consider yourself lucky. Bellini, leave that with me.

BELLINI hands him the blueprint as he waddles out of the chamber. RUSHKIN unrolls it on his desk and becomes engrossed in it, humming a little tune to himself.

Curtain closes.

ACT TWO: Twenty Years Earlier

SCENE I

The curtain opens to a ball. The music playing is the same as which RUSHKIN was humming in a previous scene. There is a band playing, dressed in a red and gold uniform. All are dressed in stunning displays of wealth and style. Several couples are dancing. A younger LADY HARMAS is at the center of a group of men and women laughing and drinking wine. ROLAND and HARMAS, stand conspiratorially off to the side. A boy stands beside the band on a raised platform singing in youthful tones.

BOY: The youth have joys like no other man. Hopes and dreams and sweet imaginings That soon expire but while they live. Shine as golden as the sun….

CHAMBERLAIN enters as a wine steward. He serves several before noticing the audience. He graces them with a winning smile.

CHAMBERLAIN:

Well one has to start somewhere! The joys of a court with a new king. Nothing can compare. The glorious honeymoon before he proves himself an imbecile, a lecher, or a tyrant. When youth reigns supreme.

BOY:

I once did see a young child lying in a meadow. Staring up into the sky. With wonder and awe. The precious treasure of innocence…

HARMAS (with impatience): Where is the lad?

ROLAND: He shall be here. I have it on good authority.

HARMAS: It's about time he decided to grace us with his presence.

ROLAND (with false sweetness): Now, dear General, it is no easy thing for a prince to lose a father.

HARMAS: Bah! Is he a babe or a king? Roland smiles knowingly.

ROLAND: Babes are in need of nurses, and what better nurses than we.

CHAMBERLAIN serves a drink and then turns back to the audience.

CHAMBERLAIN:

Some people as usual still need to learn to guard their tongues. The focus now turns to Lady Harmas's group. She has noticed a young man among her

midst.

LADY HARMAS: Sir your face is new to me.

What place have you come from

And left with broken hearts strewn

And maidens' faces damp with tears?

THOMAS RETE, blushes but is obviously pleased with her attentions.

THOMAS: I hail from Boget, a coastal village in the south. I have

spent the last few years at the Malician Institution, studying

in the civil service department.

At this Assala perks up.

ASSALA (incredulously): You, a peasant studied at that place of repute?

It's preposterous! Your common blood was mixed

with that of the nobility…the very idea is completely

bereft of reason!

RETE reddens.

RETE: Such talk is typical of the ignorance which plagues the

aristocracy. Your kind shall be extinguished if you

continue to….

LADY HARMAS: A prophet as well as a student…indeed!

(dryly but amused)

The circle erupts into laughter.

BOY: Infancy, fresh as the first bud in spring.

The end of the cruel frost.

The robin's sweet song.

The anthem of youth….

RUSHKIN enters, at the side of the BISHOP of TRENT, dressed in red and looking excessively severe. All bow.

ROLAND: (aside). The babe has risen from the cradle.

(aloud). Your Majesty honors us with His presence.

RUSHKIN (smiles uneasily): Congratulations on the birth of your son my Lord. I am sure others will follow.

ROLAND (a little too abruptly): Your Majesty is too kind.

RUSHKIN continues to circulate and greet the various members of the aristocracy. He eventually comes to face RETE. The two men lock gazes for a moment; Rushkin's face flushes…his air of remote detachment has clearly left him in a moment of clear fascination. RETE, though less visibly moved by the RUSHKIN's attentions does not look away from the king's face.

BOY: That soon expire but while they live Shine as golden as the sun…

BISHOP:

Ah, Your Majesty has met young Thomas Rete, I see. He has come to us after four years in the Malician Institution. One of the country's brightest minds.

ASSALA rolls his eyes and several laugh.

ASSALA: (softly) One of the country's brightest peasant minds.

RUSHKIN: It is an honor to meet a great scholar.

RETE: I am hardly that, Your Majesty.

ASSALA (aside): Hardly.

RUSHKIN (hotly) Do you have anything to contribute Assala?

ASSALA: No, Your Majesty.

RUSHKIN: I thought not. What community is proud to call you their own? Wert? Gast? Barnos?

RETE (proudly): I come from a village on the southern coast, Your Majesty.

Titters from the crowd.

RUSHKIN (eagerly): You can sail?

RETE: I can.

RUSHKIN: You shall teach me to sail when the court travels to the lakes in the spring.

RETE: If that would please Your Majesty.

BISHOP: Your Majesty neglects your other guests…these men are all your brothers.

RUSHKIN and the BISHOP move on, RUSHKIN looks back. CHAMBERLAIN approaches RETE and offers him a drink.

CHAMBERLAIN (aside): It's not what you know but whom you know!

BOY: The robin's sweet song. The anthem of youth.

Curtain closes.

SCENE II: FOUR DAYS LATER

A council room. There is a simple long table with six chairs. The BISHOP of TRENT is attempting to preside over a meeting of raucous noblemen. ASSALA, ROLAND, HARMAS, and three others are all talking loudly. CHAMBERLAIN is sitting to one side of the table furiously writing down notes. He looks up at the audience and shrugs his shoulders and returns to his task.

BISHOP: Gentlemen, I want order! One at a time! Order!

ROLAND: We want an answer!

ASSALA: A child cannot defend a nation.

HARMAS: Growing unrest, the Wolves are on our borders…we need an army and we need a King to lead it.

BISHOP: The King has great confidence in your leadership, General…

ASSALA: The King spends his days in lessons and in the chapel, on his knees, what does he know?!

BISHOP: (blustering) Watch your tongue, Assala, by the Maker if you don't take care…

ROLAND: I say the pup should marry.

RUSHKIN has entered unseen.

RUSHKIN: And what if the pup should refuse, my Lord?

CHAMBERLAIN (with some amusement): The King, my lords. All bow and the RUSHKIN takes his place at the head of the table.

RUSHKIN: What news, Bishop?

BISHOP (flustered): There is..I..Unrest! There is great unrest in the land Your Majesty. The people seem to think they are not well treated.

ROLAND: Bah!

RUSHKIN: (musing) My people are not happy?

BISHOP (reading from a scroll): There have been riots in the markets, strikes by the sailors, and several officers have been struck down by assassins.

RUSHKIN: What do they want?

ASSALA: Your Majesty, with all due respect, I think this is more a matter for the army. All offenders should be shot on site.

HARMAS: I have ordered more soldiers into the cities, and that should…

ROLAND: The soldiers are obviously not doing their duty. Perhaps they too are infected by this revolutionary propaganda.

HARMAS: Good sir, I assure you, they can be counted upon for…

RUSHKIN: You have not answered my question. What do they want?

The BISHOP motions to CHAMBERLAIN who drags out a stuffed bag.

BISHOP: In earlier days, these were delivered to the court.

RUSHKIN: Were they read and studied?

BISHOP (with a tinge of scorn): With all due respect, Your Majesty, the ministers of the King have scarce time to read the wishes of peasants.

RUSHKIN (angrily):

Those peasants are my people and their wishes are my most sacred care. I swore an oath on the eve of my coronation that I would protect and shelter the people of Malice and that is what I intend to do. If none of you would care to read these petitions, then I shall.

BISHOP: Your Majesty, if I may…

RUSHKIN: Now, on to other matters….

ROLAND (softly): A babe, Harmas?

RUSHKIN:

Bishop, I have come to tell you and you, my lords, that I have received kindly your gentle prodding to marry and produce an heir. I have decided on a bride…I shall wed Kairnas of the Wolves.

There is much murmuring.

ROLAND: A toast, to His Majesty and his bride-to-be. Long may they reign and happy may they be! All raise their wineglasses.

ALL: A toast!

BISHOP (tears in his eyes): Your Majesty, you have made an old man very happy. Your father would be most pleased with you if he were alive.

BISHOP and RUSHKIN lock hands for a moment.

ASSALA:

Well, now there are arrangements to be made. A delegation must depart to the Wolves at once.

ROLAND: Your Majesty, may I have the honor?

RUSHKIN glances briefly at the BISHOP who nods slightly.

RUSHKIN: Go forth, dear Roland and bring my love to my bride!

ROLAND, ASSALA, HARMAS, CHAMBERLAIN depart.

BISHOP: Are you coming my lord?

RUSHKIN sits at the desk and begins looking at the petitions.

RUSHKIN:

I think I will sit a while the court bustles and the news is spread. Methinks I shall not have to wait long until even the cockroaches shall know that King Rushkin intends to wed.

BISHOP puts his hand on RUSHKIN'S SHOULDER.

BISHOP:

Do not overburden yourself. You are a giving man with a heart the size of a king. One day you may be confronted with that you may not be able to give.

BISHOP leaves. RUSHKIN is poring over the papers with youthful intensity when RETE enters. He hesitates but then steels himself to advance. He coughs and bows.

RETE: Forgive me for disturbing you Your Majesty. The good bishop bid me collect his papers.

RUSHKIN (archly): Yes, that and to spy on me.

RETE (taken aback): Your Majesty?

RUSHKIN:

I am well aware of the Bishop's paternal care for me. His spies are everywhere. I swear, I am watched from the jordan to my bed and with all luck, to my early grave.

RETE (hotly): I swear to you, Your Majesty. I am no spy; the bishop bade me only to fetch his papers.

RUSHKIN (angrily): I see I must find a new sanctuary. Good day sir!

RETE: Wait! Please! I am not here to pry into your movements. I am a man of my word. You need not fear me.

RUSHKIN (arrogantly): A king need not fear anyone.

It is clear he has decided to stay.

RETE: What is it you read?

RUSHKIN (pompously): Petitions from my people.

RETE (excitedly):

You read the petitions! I have been begging the bishop to read them for months. I think there is much value in them. You are wise to peruse them.

RUSHKIN (stiltedly) You have read these papers?

RETE (proudly): Yes, every word of them…Your Majesty!

Rushkin rises and hands RETE one of the papers he has been reading and begins to pace.

RUSHKIN:

Tell me then, what do you think the authors mean in these phrases?

RETE (after a brief glance):

These men want mandatory trials before imprisonment, a parliament, and the abolishment of the Baron's privilege.

RUSHKIN: The Baron's privilege?

RETE: It is an ancient statue that states a landlord has the right to his tenant's bride on the night of their marriage.

RUSHKIN (horrified): What?! But that's obscene!

RETE (sadly):

There is much injustice in the land. Your Majesty could bring great relief to his people.

RUSHKIN: That is my intention. Only…

RETE (probing): Your Majesty seems uncertain.

RUSHKIN (suspicious): It is nothing.

RETE: I am not a spy.

RUSHKIN:

The Bishop has preached to me that my reign shall see the decision between the rule of one and the rule of many. He claims it is my choice whether or not to preserve the monarchy of my ancestors and that one concession would collapse the entire foundation. And those parliaments are the instruments of the devil.

RETE: Who is King, you or the Bishop?

RUSHKIN: Me!

RETE (simply): Your Majesty has his answer.

The BISHOP can be heard off stage.

BISHOP: Tom? Fie! Young Tom, where are you lad? Tom!

RETE: I must go…

RUSHKIN (anxiously): I would see you again.

RETE (smiling): Then you shall.

BISHOP enters; he is flabbergasted to see the two in conference.

BISHOP: Tom, I have been looking for you.

RETE: Forgive me, master.

BISHOP: You are forgiven.

Holds his hand out for RETE to kiss.

You must forgive me, Your Majesty for interrupting your conference with master Tom. I need him for an errand of state.

RUSHKIN: I would forgive you almost anything, dear Bishop.

RUSHKIN briefly takes the BISHOP's hand. The BISHOP and RETE leave. RUSHKIN looks after them, lost in thought. He exits in the opposite direction, leaving the petitions behind. The Chamberlain emerges from underneath the table. He takes a quick look through the papers, then, sensing the audience's moral outrage looks at them in frustration.

CHAMBERLAIN: Oh, get off your high horse! A job is a job.

The Curtain closes.

SCENE III

The conference room. The BISHOP and RETE have arrived early to prepare. RETE is helping the BISHOP sort his papers.

BISHOP (worried): A council meeting! A council meeting! He has never called one without consulting me before. This bodes ill for me…my days are at last running their course.

RETE: You have nothing to fear…the King loves you dearly.

BISHOP (narrows his eyes): Aye. You may be right, young Tom. Besides I have you to protect me.

RETE does not show that he has heard the comment and passes the BISHOP a paper.

You are with the King from time to time. What is it you discuss with him? Dark secrets?

RETE (uncomfortable): No…nothing like that. Just…small affairs. Events, a maiden he fancies.

BISHOP (stubbornly): And between all these small events, did he mention his motivation for this assemblage?

RETE passes another paper, his head down.

RETE: No, Your Excellency.

The nobles enter, headed by ROLAND.

ROLAND: Dear bishop.

BISHOP: My lords! That will be all Tom.

RETE: With all due respect, my liege. The King requested me to stay for this meeting; he did not give a reason.

BISHOP (shocked): Tom! What is this blasphemy?

ASSALA: This conference is for nobles only!

ROLAND (roars): Clear out, young pup!

RETE leaves. Moments later, RUSHKIN enters with CHAMBERLAIN. RUSHKIN notices RETE's absence immediately and whispers into CHAMBERLAIN's ear; the courtier scurries away.

RUSHKIN: My lords. Bishop. Be seated.

ROLAND: This irregular timing has all of us wondering…what is Your Majesty's intention?

RUSHKIN: Patience, my friend and I'll be out with it. I have gathered you here to announce my first decree…I intend to expunge the Baron's Privilege.

HARMAS: No!

ASSALA: You simply cannot do that, Your Majesty!

RUSHKIN (sourly):

And why not? Are not all laws an expression of the King's will? Am I not the King? I mean to destroy this burdensome oppression of my people.

BISHOP (softly):

It would not be wise your Majesty. The statute has been established for hundreds of years. To wipe it out of existence would cause much unrest among the nobility.

RUSHKIN: Then, the army shall enforce it!

HARMAS (desperate):

Sire, the army is led by aristocrats. They would shrink from shedding the blood of their brothers.

ROLAND has finally emerged from simmering silently.

ROLAND:

To say nothing of aiding in the destruction of the core of their position as the nation's elite. Outrage!

BISHOP: (to RUSHKIN) You should have consulted me first. I could have saved Your Majesty this embarrassment.

(out loud)

Gentlemen, the King is merely attempting to test his wings. He surely will not press this now he has seen reason.

ROLAND: The King has obviously left his nest too early.

ASSALA: Here! Here!

The CHAMBERLAIN has returned with RETE.

RETE: Five thousand gulags.

ROLAND: What now, pup?!

RETE:

Five thousand gulags is the price the Swedes demand for the use of their mercenaries. A professional and deadly army waiting to be employed by the highest bidder.

BISHOP (indignant): This wild scheme is not fit to be put before a royal council Thomas!

RUSHKIN (raises his hand): Does our exchequer allow for it?

CHAMBERLAIN dramatically appears to read off a scroll.

CHAMBERLAIN: It does.

RUSHKIN: There you have it, my lords.

ROLAND: Does Your Majesty intend to massacre every noblemen who crosses him on this statute?

RETE (smoothly): Do you not massacre every peasant who crosses you my lord?

ROLAND (voice raising): I was talking to the King!

BISHOP: My lords! I suggest we adjourn to allow tempers to cool.

ROLAND: I say now that if this law comes to be, I resign from this council.

OTHER NOBLES: So say I!

RUSHKIN (coldly): The council is dissolved.

BISHOP (alarmed):

Your Majesty…no! You have no authority for such a momentous…

RETE: He does, my lord Bishop. The law clearly states a minor King has the right to make changes to the administration three months before his majority.

BISHOP (bitterly): You have learned well, young Tom.

RETE: I was taught well.

ROLAND (making one last attempt to rally the BISHOP): Are babes to supplant grown men, then Bishop?

BISHOP (resigned): It appears so.

RUSHKIN: Good day to you gentlemen.

The nobles storm out. The BISHOP turns to THOMAS.

BISHOP (gruffly): You bear me no rancor?

RETE: I never have, nor shall ever will, bear you anything but the most sacred love.

The two men embrace.

RUSHKIN: I too will never forget the momentous debt I owe you.

RETE escorts BISHOP to the door.

BISHOP: You have made many enemies today, Thomas. You alone now shall be able to protect the King from Roland…and himself.

RETE: I shall do so in your name.

BISHOP exits. RUSHKIN is addressing the CHAMBERLAIN.

RUSHKIN: Your services were of great help to us this day. I reward my servants well and punish them just as well. Remember that. I hereby proclaim you my Court Chamberlain. Come, Rete, there is much to do and say.

RUSHKIN and RETE leave. The CHAMBERLAIN walks over and sits at the head of the table.

CHAMBERLAIN:

The youth have joys like no other man. Hopes and dreams and sweet imaginings.

That soon expire but while they live

Shine golden as the sun.

Curtain closes.

SCENE IV

The scene is a banquet. The court, minus ROLAND and RETE are enjoying a sumptuous meal and are laughing uproariously at a fool, dressed as a monk desperately trying to retrieve his crucifix from the ample bosom of a young maiden.

LADY HARMAS: Your Majesty is enjoying the evening's entertainment?

RUSHKIN: Indeed fair, lady.

LADY HARMAS: Methinks Your Majesty enjoys more the absence of Lord Roland more than any antics a jester might offer.

RUSHKIN (suppressing a smile): My lady is too bold. Roland is my dear cousin and I could never but regret his absence from my side.

LADY HARMAS (softly, maternally): Your Majesty has truly become the man your mother dreamed your Majesty would be.

RUSHKIN is jerked out of his interest in the jester.

RUSHKIN: You knew my mother?

LADY HARMAS smiles and looks back at the performance.

RUSHKIN (with a tone of suppressed desperation): My lady…please?!

At that moment a page enters the room and sidles up to HARMAS and hands him a message. HARMAS rises.

HARMAS: Forgive me, Your Majesty, I must go.

RUSHKIN (puzzled): Most loyal soldier, what wrenches you away from my side?

HARMAS (quietly): The matter we discussed earlier, my liege.

RUSHKIN (dismayed): How bad?

HARMAS: I don't know…I will send word.

He exits.

ASSALA: What's going on?

RUSHKIN (hollowly):

A minor ripple in the countryside; it shall be smoothened out soon enough. Assala, you mustn't worry so much. This night is for laughter and merriment, not frowns and worry!

LADY HARMAS: Your Majesty, I beg permission to retire.

RUSHKIN: Your husband would have you stay if he was here.

LADY HARMAS (her voice breaking): I cannot bear it!

RUSHKIN:(hisses) All shall be well! Do not stir up the hens in this roost lest the eggs shall all break!

CHAMBERLAIN enters.

CHAMBERLAIN (to RUSHKIN):

Thomas Rete has arrived, Your Majesty. It seems that he is preparing to leave yet again; I thought Your Majesty would want to know.

RUSHKIN, alarmed, rises.

RUSHKIN: Continue without me; I command you!

He leaves the room

SCENE V

The light lowers on the banquet and rises in a hallway. RETE is marching angrily down it and RUSHKIN appears behind him.

RUSHKIN; Thomas, wait!

RETE is not even startled. He continues without so much an acknowledgement of his pursuer.

Stop! What means this departure?
RETE turns on RUSHKIN.

RETE (voice is a strange mixture of disbelief, sadness, and fury):

Three hundred men were struck down in the countryside tonight on your orders, while their wives and children looked on. I leave for a week to nurse my ailing brother and you transform into Nero!

RUSHKIN (unfazed):

I ordered Harmas to stop the riots in the country. The peasants were burning the houses of their landlords and looting granaries. That cannot be…

RETE (at the end of his patience): Your Majesty, for God's sake, they were starving!

RUSHKIN (coolly): How would burning a house to the ground appease their hunger? They gave me no indication of their plight.

RETE: Would you have done anything?

RUSHKIN:

I am a merciful man; I would do anything for my people. I have done everything you have asked of me. Every injustice you have listed has beenm eradicated. (his voice betrays his growing conviction). What do you want, Thomas? Anarchy? I must respond to disorderly movements in my state…I have no choice!

RETE:

Majesty, imagine you live in a small hut with your son, your wife, and your parents. Imagine your son is dying, because there is no food. Imagine you work all day, come home and watch him slowly drain of vitality and life…you have no idea…

RUSHKIN: And drown myself in drink?

RETE (with an air of finality): Good-bye Your Majesty.

RUSHKIN (shouting):

What! Where will you go?! You are nothing outside these walls!

RETE (shouts over his shoulder):

I would rather die a mere fishermen in Boget than a party to the slaughter of my countrymen!

RUSHKIN grabs him.

RUSHKIN:

No! You cannot leave me. I need you, Thomas. We are making progress…we're doing what we've always dreamed of. Righting the wrongs. Beingthe liberators. This was a setback…we'll fix it. I need you, please…do not leave me.

RETE: (solemnly, dazed) If I stay, they shall blame me…it is never the King who is dragged through the dirt.

RUSHKIN: I'll take the blame…I'll do anything you want. God's elbows, must I grovel?

RUSHKIN grabs RETE's arms and twists them around his back.

Stay.

RETE: No.

RUSHKIN twists even harder.

RUSHKIN: Stay!

RETE (in pain): No. Unless…

RUSHKIN: Unless what?

RETE (twists free): Your Majesty creates a Parliament…

RUSHKIN: Thomas, you know very well…

RETE (raises his voice): Of elected and free men.

RUSHKIN (ironically): So I shall reward bloodshed with freedom?

RETE: You will grant freedom to stop bloodshed.

RUSHKIN (beaten): It shall be as you say.

RETE: Then I shall stay.

RUSHKIN: After I marry. I can't have the Wolves reneging on our alliance because they think I am weak.

RETE looks deeply into RUSHKIN's eyes.

RETE: I have your word. No tricks?

RUSHKIN (raises his hand solemnly): No tricks.

They kiss deeply. They part, both taken aback.

RUSHKIN: I…what was that?

RETE: Your Majesty, forgive me.

RUSHKIN: There is nothing to forgive.

They kiss again. They part and look embarrassed. RUSHKIN paces. He comes across a spider's web in the hallway. He is about to brush it away.

RUSHKIN: Damn drunkard of a servant!

RETE: Stop! Let the creature be. What harm is she to you?

RUSHKIN (bemused): So you are defender of the peasants and the insect? Is their any whose cause you do not take up?

RETE (darkly): Tyrants.

RUSHKIN (obviously hurt, turns away and coughs): I see…Why do you care whether or not I squish this petty insect?

RUSHKIN steps forward and menacingly raises his arm as if to strike the web. RETE rushes toward him and grabs him from behind and holds him around the waist. He whispers into RUSHKIN's ear.

RETE (gently):

Don't. Look at her. Don't just look at her size or body. Look beyond that…there is a certain majesty about the creature. Silently, steadily, she builds, spins her creation. Without malice, with stubborn purpose, unobtrusively carrying out her life's work. Laying her trap for her prey.

RETE's voice becomes more passionate and mystical as he speaks. RUSHKIN is clearly entranced.

The spider and her web are not just wonders of the natural world. No, they are symbols. They are models for rulers to follow. Men are spiders or they are flies. One can noiselessly and modestly strike down one's enemies, or one can be like the fly. Buzz loudly and generally inflame everyone by being a pest. Flies must make everyone know of his presence. Flies are nearly always vanquished. They proclaim their glory noisily but it is short lived. Almost always too short for even history to catch a glimpse.

RUSHKIN (trying to make light of RETE's explanation...) Roland is a fly!

RETE: (smiles sadly) Yes, yes he is.

The two men stand holding each other silently staring at the web.

RUSHKIN: Your brother?

RETE: Dead, Your Majesty.

They continue to observe the web in an embrace.

The spotlight concentrates on the web. The CHAMBERLAIN emerges on the edge of the light. He watches impassively.

CHAMBERLAIN (hisses):

The web has been built.

The spiders have been busy.

Building their trap for

Petty flies.

The natural silk stretched

Taut.

Curtain closes.

ACT THREE
SCENE I

TWENTY YEARS LATER.

THE CHAMBELAIN comes on stage with a large and colorful duster, which he proceeds to apply to all corners of the banquet hall. He whistles and the room is flooded with other servants with various other cleaning duties. Some begin setting the table with dishes of silver and gold. CHAMBERLAIN finally notices the audience.

CHAMBERLAIN:

Well, look whose come crawling back after twenty years. Couldn't find anything better? Hmph! Well, I'm afraid I don't have as much time for you as I used to. I am a man with responsibilities.

SERVANT I: Chamberlain, the cooks want to know when they should start.

CHAMBERLAIN (nonchalantly): Twenty minutes from now should do it.

SERVANT II: Do the back halls need to be cleaned?

CHAMBERLAIN (with casual menace): Do the back halls usually need to be cleaned?

SERVANT III: Yes Chamberlain, I'll see to it.

CHAMBERLAIN: As you see, I am a man of responsibility. Respected and feared. I am a myth and an enigma.

He trips over a bucket and falls. The servants burst into laughter. CHAMBERLAIN rises and sees a servant about to demolish a spider web.

CHAMBERLAIN:

Stop! You fool, don't you know that spiders are to be left in peace by order of the King's First Minister. (the last two words are spoken with contempt)

SERVANT IV: Sorry, Chamberlain, I had forgotten.

CHAMBELAIN shakes his head.

CHAMBERLAIN:

As I was saying, a man of responsibility. That's me. The King still trusts me as ever. Only he's married now. Kairnas of the Wolves came over, and then, as promised His Majesty brought in the Parliament. You should have seen Roland over that one! I've seen bonfires give off less hot air! The King now has a son. He's a real character that one.. But of course, I don't say anything. It's safer that way.

Enter ROLAND, graying but still not wise.

Ah, Lord Roland. A pleasure! A pleasure. I trust the country air has done you some good?

(aside) I hope it hasn't loosened your tongue.

ROLAND: Is everything well?

CHAMBERLAIN: Yes, my lord.

ROLAND: Have you approached the persons we mentioned?

CHAMBERLAIN: 'Tis done.

ROLAND (surprised): All are in agreement?

CHAMBERLAIN: Except dear Assala. He has gone soft with age. Even the embers of his once great fire do not give off heat.

ROLAND (with satisfaction) You have done well, Chamberlain. Your payment as promised.

ROLAND delivers a large purse of money and departs jauntily.

CHAMBERLAIN (senses the audience's disapproval):

Oh, bugger off! A man has to eat, doesn't he?

SCENE II

Light lowers on that side of the stage and rises on another side to reveal KAIRNAS and RUSHKIN preparing for a formal ceremony. RUSHKIN seems stiff, sore, but more subtle and sure of himself. KAIRNAS, still with the zest of youth, is obviously very fond of her husband, but there is a distance between them, which pains her. They are completing the final touches on their dress. RUSHKIN is fastening his buttons; KAIRNAS is arranging her tiara in a large mirror.

RUSHKIN: This is not happening.

KAIRNAS: It is.

RUSHKIN: I feel so old.

KAIRNAS: It shall pass.

RUSHKIN (with bravado): I shall forbid it. I will stop it all. Yes, that's what I shall do.

KAIRNAS: He's getting married, so Your Majesty might as well resign himself to that fact. The ambassadors will not take kindly to your sour mood.

RUSHKIN: He's too young, he has not maturity.

KAIRNAS: He will attain some…it will take time.

RUSHKIN: Bah!

He turns and looks at her. They stare at each other. She seems wistful; he seems contemplative and yet, uncertain. They move slowly towards each other. He holds out his arm and she takes it. He smiles stiffly

KAIRNAS: How do I look?

RUSHKIN: (distractedly): Hmmm…?

KAIRNAS (with barely suppressed annoyance):

The correct response would be: You look beautiful, my dear.

RUSHKIN: My queen; I fear I have not been the husband I should have been.

KAIRNAS: (lovingly) I would trade you with no other.

Each kind word she utters seems to strike RUSHKIN like a dagger.

RUSHKIN: Why don't they call us?

KAIRNAS: Patience.

RUSHKIN: I feel like an old man.

KAIRNAS: You're forty-five. You haven't even lost any hair.

RUSHKIN (dryly): Well, now I can look forward to that.

SCENE II

The door opens to the banquet chamber. The couple enters. Bows and curtsies by members of the court. At the center of one wall is a coat of arms bearing a spider on its web. The ambassadors approach and execute perfect bows.

RUSHKIN: Chamberlain, bring in the Prince, heir to all Malice!

The CHAMBERLAIN proceeds to the opposite end of the stage and returns with the PRINCE, a tall, thin young man with a cold smile. The royal entrance is less than magnificent, almost an inebriated stagger. He bows to his parents and holds his hands out for the ambassadors to kiss.

My son, Your Excellencies. Let the entertainment begin!

A fool begins to juggle when there is a commotion at the door.

The CHAMBERLAIN goes to discover what is causing the noise. He returns and whispers in RUSHKIN's ear. RUSHKIN grimaces and motions for his son to follow him. They cross the stage to find ASSALA and a young maiden.

RUSHKIN (surprised): Assala, what is the cause of this rude interruption?

ASSALA: Your Majesty, I come on account of my daughter.

RUSHKIN (abruptly): What of her?
ASSALA (embarrassed): She has been violated…by your son.

RUSHKIN turns to the PRINCE.

RUSHKIN: Is this true?

PRINCE: Yes, father. I cannot deny it.

RUSHKIN:

You will compensate Lord Assala in full for this dishonor done to his daughter and you will apologize…now.

PRINCE: I am deeply distressed at the…inconvenience, I caused you Madame. (BELCHES loudly)

The maiden, shaken, merely curtseys.

ASSALA (impatiently): Yes, but who will marry her now?

ROLAND emerges from the shadows.

ROLAND:

Excuse my intrusion, but my dear Assala, I may have the solution. My son is nearly thirty, but he would make a handsome match for your daughter. I would be willing to overlook her…disgrace, if I were compensated appropriately.

RUSHKIN: Assala?

ASSALA (resigned): I agree.

RUSHKIN: It is done then! Seal your pact, my lords and I shall pay the maid's dowry myself.

ASSALA and ROLAND shake hands. CHAMBERLAIN produces a scroll, scratches out a few words and the two lords affix their signature.

RUSHKIN (to the PRINCE): You drunken brute! This could have ruined the House.

PRINCE: Forgive me, father…it was wrong of me. (BELCHES)

RUSHKIN has already turned away and returns to his guests. The fool is still juggling, only now he has progressed to knives, to the great enjoyment of the company.

KAIRNAS: Your Majesty?

RUSHKIN: Our son was simply demonstrating, once again, his great maturity.

KAIRNAS groans.

The lights gradually change and the scene has transformed to a dance floor with KAIRNAS and RUSHKIN at the center.

KAIRNAS: Well, was it as bad as you expected?

RUSHKIN: Worse.

KAIRNAS (laughs): I can't win.

RUSHKIN looks at her strangely.

What is it?

RUSHKIN: I have never seen you do that before.

KAIRNAS (puzzled): Your Majesty, I am uncertain of what you mean.

RUSHKIN: I have never seen you laugh before. It is pleasant. You should try to display it more.

KAIRNAS:There are seldom occasions for humor here. Oh, my son! It seems only yesterday…

RUSHKIN: How trite!

SCENE III: FIFTEEN YEARS EARLIER

The scene has changed once again. A darkened bedchamber. The CHAMBERLAIN hurries in.

CHAMBERLAIN: Your Majesty! Your Majesty!

There is stirring in the bed.

RUSHKIN: (groggily) Who is there? What means this intrusion!?

(A muffled voice): Your Chamberlain is here.

There is a slight groan and then RUSHKIN emerges from his bed, in his nightgown.

RUSHKIN (nonplussed): What is it, which causes you to disturb me at this late hour?

CHAMBERLAIN: Your Majesty has a son.

RUSHKIN hurries out.

CHAMBERLAIN backs away but still keeps his eye on the bed. There is another stirring and RETE emerges, shirtless. RETE exits.

CHAMBERLAIN: The web has been built!

He skips away into the shadows.

The light rises on the other side of the room. KAIRNAS, attended by her ladies is in bed, with RUSHKIN at her side, holding a baby.

RUSHKIN: (disbelieving): Kairnas, he's beautiful, he's..

KAIRNAS: (knowingly): You.

They kiss, uncertainly.

RUSHKIN: I shall call him whatever you wish, my Queen.

KAIRNAS: Brutas, after your father. That is your wish, I know.

RUSHKIN: It was his deathbed wish that my heir should bear his name. I don't know why I feel I should honor it.

KAIRNAS (quickly) Do not speak ill of the dead! It is bad luck for the baby.

RUSHKIN roars with laughter.

RUSHKIN: Since when have you become as superstitious as a peasant?!

KAIRNAS: Since, I have a life in my charge.

SCENE IV

The lights dim and rise again on the other end of the table. RETE and RUSHKIN are sharing a candlelit dinner.

RUSHKIN: I can't remember the last time we shared a meal.

RETE (quietly): Your Majesty has been busy of late.

RUSHKIN (defensively):

She gave me a son! I owe her some happiness. At least the illusion of a brief paradise.

RETE:

I gave you a nation! And what do I receive?
Paperwork!

RUSHKIN (soothingly): Please…let us not spoil this moment by quarreling.

He grasps RETE's hands. RETE throws them back.

It is you I love.

RETE: I hate her and I hate your son.

RUSHKIN (horrified): But he is but a babe!

RETE: He is hers…that is enough.

The light lowers and rises on the other end of the stage.

KAIRNAS sits with her ladies, embroidering. The CHAMBELAIN enters.

CHAMBERLAIN:

Your Majesty, there is someone here who would like to speak with you…on a most urgent matter.

KAIRNAS: Who is it?

CHAMBERLAIN (enigmatically): He prefers to keep his anonymity.

KAIRNAS motions for her ladies to leave. CHAMBERLAIN exits and returns with another whom he deposits in the shadows.

KAIRNAS: You!

?: Whom were you expecting…Thomas Rete?

They both laugh.

Your Majesty's heroism in spite of all is admirable.

KAIRNAS: A woman must endure…it is her duty.

The man emerges; he is an army officer…a general. It is General HARMAS.

What is it you want Harmas?

HARMAS: I want Rete's head on a plate, like everyone else in this country.

KAIRNAS (with little conviction): He has done much for the people of this country.

HARMAS:

They hate him. They remember only too well, the massacre he perpetrated years ago. They call him Bloody Tom. Join us.

KAIRNAS (menacingly): I could have you arrested.

HARMAS (with soft intensity): Join us.

ACT FOUR

SCENE I

The lights dim and rise on the other side of the stage.

RUSHKIN and RETE have consumed a fair quantity of wine and are now laughing over some bawdy joke.

RUSHKIN (grows serious): Why do you hate women?

RETE (puzzled): What?

RUSHKIN: Why do you hate them so much?

RETE: I don't

RUSHKIN (persisting): You do. Why?

RETE: (darkly) Let us not spoil this moment. Please.

RUSHKIN presses his hands against RETE and gazes into his eyes.

Very well. As you know, I was born in Boget. My father was a fisherman. He was also a terrible drunk. He would come home every night and beat my poor mother until she cried out for mercy. And yet my mother would never leave him, no matter how much I pleaded. One night, my father came home, looking more dangerous than I had ever seen him.

RETE crosses over so he is in front of a large spider's web. His eyes have glossed over.

I discovered later that he had sunk our boat in a drunken sailing spree. His eyes burned with rage. His face was dark. And my mother seemed oblivious to it all. It took only a few moments and he had pounced on her, striking again and again. I don't know how I worked up the courage…but I did. I jumped on his back and smashed one of his bottles over his head.

He throws his wineglass against the wall.

He fell to the floor in a heap. My mother got up…I remember that. She looked at me…blood running down her face. Her eyes were dead…nothing was in them. And then she hit me. She said nothing, just hit me. And then again and again. She just became an animal. She didn't stop until I fainted. The last thing I remember before I lost consciousness were her smoldering eyes, filled with hatred.

For a moment Rete's voice cracks. Rushkin takes his hand.

I left the next morning. It took me ten years to discover why she had beaten me to a pulp. She was frightened he would leave her for turning his son against him. There, now you know why I hate women.

RETE bottoms his glass.

RUSHKIN (musing):

My mother was a saint. She was, Thomas. I saw her five times in my entire life. Each time she was dressed in a white gown, her face smooth and perfect. I spent hours just struck by the fact that a clumsy oaf like me was her son. Whenever I spoke, she simply looked at me sadly, as if grieved by the fact that such an unnatural creature was hers. She was an angel…I suppose God discovered that and ordered her back to him. She was gone by the time I was five. My father blamed me. He forever called me my mother's murderer.

RUSHKIN embraces Rete.

CHAMBERLAIN enters. The men do not move.

CHAMBERLAIN: The Prince would like to see his father, Your Majesty.

RUSHKIN (without turning): Bring him in Chamberlain.

RETE turns to leave.

Wait. You will meet him today.

RETE: Don't do this to me.

RUSHKIN (firmly): I insist.

A nurse enters, hands the baby to RUSHKIN and departs. RUSHKIN holds the baby, amazed by its fragility, flabbergasted that this creature is his. He offers it to RETE. RETE, looks at it as if it is a bundle of explosives. He turns away. RUSHKIN persists until RETE takes the baby. There is a transformation. RETE's stony face erodes to reveal human features. The baby laughs and RETE laughs with it. Asmall tear rolls down his cheek.

CHAMBERLAIN re-enters.

CHAMBERLAIN: Your Majesty, Lord Roland would see you on some matter.

RUSHKIN: I'll see him in the garden.

RETE is still entranced with the babe. RUSHKIN touches his shoulder and departs. RETE coos to the child. KAIRNAS emerges from the shadows. She is not pleased.

KAIRNAS: Tom Rete. A surprise, indeed. Have you been demoted to nursemaid?

RETE laughs, ignoring the sarcasm.

RETE: Indeed, no, Your Majesty. I was just minding the Prince while his father had an audience.

KAIRNAS: Mind you do not drop him in the moat!

KAIRNAS snatches the child away. She turns to leave but turns back.

Do you intend to compete with me in everything?
I am a patient woman, Rete, but you may push me too far…

RETE: I meant no disrespect, Your Majesty.

KAIRNAS:

You will be the death of my husband and his house. You…It is no wonder they call you Bloody Tom. How much are you willing to destroy for…

RETE: That is unfair!

KAIRNAS: What is unfair is I cannot share my husband's bed because you are in it!

RETE: I will leave, before Your Majesty says something completely unforgivable.

RETE exits. KAIRNAS holds her baby tightly.

SCENE II

The light dims. We have returned to the dance floor.

KAIRNAS: Only yesterday!

RETE has entered. ROLAND goes over to him and shakes his hand. The dance continues. RUSHKIN has not noticed RETE's presence. Suddenly the entire stage is immersed in darkness. There is the sound of women screaming. A loud groan. Shouts of, "The King, the King! Save the King!" Torches fill the room. Soldiers. They illuminate RETE on the ground, stabbed fatally. RUSHKIN is being ushered away by his guards.

RUSHKIN (screaming): Thomas! Thomas! No! Let me go! Thomas!

The stage empties until CHAMBERLAIN is alone on stage with a torch.

CHAMBERLAIN:

Infancy, fresh as the first bud in spring.

The end of the cruel frost.

The robin's sweet song.

The anthem of youth….

He walks over to the spider's web and ignites it. He then blows it out.

SCENE III

RUSHKIN is alone in the banquet hall with RETE's body, which has been covered with a blanket. He is weeping softly. An old lady enters.

LADY HARMAS: It is a great loss…

RUSHKIN (without turning):

Leave me; I will not have his body tainted with crocodile tears.

LADY HARMAS touches his shoulder.

LADY HARMAS:

I too loved Thomas Rete. He was my dearest friend. We shared a love of poetry and nature. My heart

is heavy, and… (her voice breaks).

RUSHKIN: His death will be avenged.

LADY HARMAS looks at him curiously.

He will not have died in vain.

LADY HARMAS (mournfully): Then you will have undone his life's work.

RUSHKIN (puzzled): What do you mean? He was murdered.

LADY HARMAS:

One day, Thomas and I were walking in meadow. We had along with us, my dog Clive. Thomas was feeding Clive a piece of meat, when Clive bit him. Now, as you know, the law dictates that a dog who bites must be destroyed, and the the victim has the right to kill the creature. I sadly made such an offer to Tom. He refused, most gallantly. He merely gave it a swift kick and said to me that a stern mercy teaches more than retribution without clemency.

RUSHKIN: His murderers were not dogs…

LADY HARMAS:

Oh yes, Your Majesty, they were! The most foul and beastly of dogs, this nation ever knew. I will trespass on your grieving no longer.

She leaves and RUSHKIN returns to his vigil.

The light dims.

SCENE IV

The court is once again assembled in its entirety. THE PRINCE is now the center of attention, together with his lavish newlywed HARMAS, who has just arrived. The nobles come forward one by one to pay their respects. The end of the line has nearly been reached when the curtain rises. The trumpets blow, and RUSHKIN and KAIRNAS enter in royal regalia, looking the perfect couple. He is attentive, and gentle; she is docile and loving.

The PRINCE takes his bride out on the center of the dance floor, followed by his parents.

RUSHKIN (whispers): Savour this dance, Kairnas. It shall be your last.

THE CHAMBERLAIN ushers a man to the sidelines. It is the BOY.

BOY: The youth have joys like no other man.

Hopes and dreams and sweet imaginings

That soon expire but while they live.

Shine as golden as the sun….

I once did see a young child lying in a meadow.

Staring up into the sky.

With wonder and awe.

The precious treasure of innocence…

Infancy, fresh as the first bud in spring.

The end of the cruel frost.

The robin's sweet song.

The anthem of youth….

The youth have joys like no other man.

Hopes and dreams and sweet imaginings

That soon expire but while they live.

Shine as golden as the sun….

By this time the light has lowered on everyone but the PRINCE and his newlywed. A noise slowly builds, reaching a horrendous climax. It is the rumble of a great mob. Without warning it rushes onto the stage surrounding the PRINCE and his wife. They carry red flags and pitchforks and torches. The spider coat of arms is snatched from the wall and torn to pieces. Soon the head of the PRINCE, ROLAND, and HARMAS appear on pikes. The crowd parts, to reveal the CHAMBERLAIN sitting on the throne, smiling triumphantly.

CHAMBERLAIN:

The web has been built.

The spiders have been busy.

Building their trap for

Petty flies.

The natural silk stretched

Taut.

Curtain Closes..

FINIS