A Chamber in the Royal Palace. Enter KING VUSILLUS, QUEEN
VULPECULA, PRINCE VISCUS and PRINCESS GLOXINIA, attended by
ETTY and CLEMENTINE.
VUSILLUS: No news hath come from Aquilegia
For good or ill. But let us hope that Felix
Hath won his spurs i’ th’ war and thrashed the foe:
No news is good news, as I always say.
VULPECULA: Thou sayst it far too often for my taste:
O how I wish we know that he was safe!
The diamond on my ring doth still shine bright,
Though I perceive a little dimming of it
The past few days; but mayhap ’tis my fancy.
VISCUS: Perchance my brother hath a cold i’ th’ head;
He often had them when we were but lads.
GLOXINIA: He is not sickly? He seemed such a hunk.
VULPECULA: Nay, he is strong as thirteen hundred bears
And healthy as a hive of honeybees:
Scorn not the fruit till thou have tasted it.
(Enter a HERALD.)
HERALD: Sire, I bear heavy tidings of Prince Felix.
VULPECULA: Alas! I had a fell presentiment!
TILDA (aside) Ah, God! What hath befallen my sweet prince!
VUSILLUS: Come, man, speak out, thou’lt not be punished for ‘t.
HERALD: A sailor came to th’ palace from the dock;
He had come here upon a corsair’s xebec
Wi’ a letter from the King of Aquilegia.
I have it here.
VULPECULA: Quick, give it to me, man. (She reads.)
‘To his most gracious majesty the King
Vusillus of Uraemia’, et cetera …
‘We hold your elder son, the Crown Prince Felix,
Lawfully captured on the battlefield,
Unharmed save for a slight bruise on the head.’
Alack! At least the dear lad is not wounded.
‘We shall release him to you upon payment
Of four-and-twenty thousand golden ducats.
Prompt payment would be much appreciated;
Pray do not ask for credit, as a slap
I’ th’ face doth oft offend. Pistachio Rex.’
The barefaced bloody cheek o’ th’ little git!
I’ll send a murrain on him, borne by a raven.
VUSILLUS: ‘Tis an enormous sum: we could not raise it,
Not if we asked the people of Uraemia
To work for a year, and give us all their wages.
The last time that I had to pawn th’ regalia
It barely raised five thousand, and the palace,
As thou well know’st, is mortgaged to the hilt
And we can scarce keep up the payments on it.
VISCUS: Could we not raid the King of Perineum?
His land is rich, and none too well defended.
VUSILLUS: Thou dost forget two things, Viscus, my boy:
First, old King Clitoris is my good friend;
And second, if the foe have taken Felix
That means our army’s scattered to the wind.
I’ll hear no more of thieving from our allies.
VISCUS: I have a cast-iron money-making scheme:
‘Twas shown me by a clever friend of mine.
VULPECULA: Percy, I’ve not the slightest doubt of that.
VISCUS: Well, as it happens, aye, it was Sir Percy.
But he is full three times as rich as us:
What better proof o’ the soundness of his plan?
Thou’lt have to pawn th’ regalia again,
And I’ll turn thy five thousand into thirty
Within a week.
VUSILLUS: And how wilt thou do that?
VISCUS: I shall invest it in a company
Sir Percy told me of: it cannot fail.
They make ice cream to sell to th’ Eskimoes.
VUSILLUS: Who are the Eskimoes, when they’re at home?
VISCUS: I know not, but he says their land is hot
And they are parched with thirst, and long for cooling.
‘Twill be like taking candy from a baby.
VUSILLUS: I like this not; but what else can we do?
We are in a cleft stick, and no mistake.
Go, Viscus, take my treasures to the shop:
I hope the moths have not got to my robes.
On second thoughts, I’ll go along with thee;
Old Stercus will not rook us if I’m there.
VULPECULA: I do not trust Sir Percy any farther
Than I could throw him. Take great care, my son.
VISCUS: Worry not, mother: he is my good friend,
He would not cheat me. ‘Tis a sure-fire thing.
(Exeunt VUSILLUS and VISCUS.)
GLOXINIA (aside): My father did not say they were so poor.
(To VULPECULA) I beg your leave to go up to my room,
This grave news hath upset me grievously.
VULPECULA: As it hath all of us. Thou mayst withdraw.
(GLOXINIA moves away and speaks softly to CLEMENTINE.)
GLOXINIA: At first I did not credit what thou told’st me
That Etty had told thee about Prince Felix:
I thought it one o’ th’ usual palace rumours
Tattled about by an idle servant girl.
But now I feel there may be reason in it:
This talk of poverty is most distasteful.
(Exeunt GLOXINIA and CLEMENTINE.)
VULPECULA: O Etty, Tilda, what grave news is this!
Our darling Felix mouldering in chains,
And all we have to save him is a scheme
Hatched by my bird-brained son and th’ evil squire
Whom I do loathe as much as I mistrust him.
I doubt the king will see his crown again –
But damn the crown and all th’ regalia,
I want my son again, at any price!
O Felix, my poor boy, where art thou now,
Languishing in some dark, pestiferous cell!
How will he cope? He is not strong i’ th’ head,
He doth not know how to conduct himself
With brutal men; nor yet with anyone.
He will be buggered by a hundred Turks,
My diamond dims each time I look on it:
O, shall I ever see thy face again?
TILDA: He is the sweetest prince that ever breathed:
O, how I pray he will return to us!
But stay, my queen, he is not as thou think’st:
I have been watching him since I came here …
ETTY: Indeed, we’ve noticed.
TILDA: … And he is no fool.
He hunts all day, but so doth any prince:
What else to do, when ye earn not your bread?
But in the evening, in his private chamber
He doth read Aristotle, in the Greek:
The Knickerbocker Ethics, as I trow.
And ere he left upon his first campaign
He read a book by one Vegetius
On the successful conduct of an army,
Aye, and a man whose name began with X:
I think the book was called the Anaconda,
And when I asked him what it was about,
He discoursed on it for full half an hour:
‘Twas how an expedition into Asia
Was forced to march for many hundred leagues
Until they reached the sea, and when they got there,
They all did shout ‘The lassie’ for sheer joy –
I did not really understand that part:
Mayhap they missed their sweethearts back at home.
I hung upon his lips with bated breath,
He did explain so well.
ETTY: I can imagine.
TILDA: And then you and Gloxinia came in,
And he reverted to the tongue-tied ninny
Ye take him for.
VULPECULA: Why, I had no idea,
And I his mother. Maybe I have not paid
Enough attention to him. Dost thou think
My presence frightens him? Thou canst speak freely.
TILDA: He knows that ye do love him very much,
But he is shy and ill at ease with folk.
A palace is no place to rear a boy,
Far from the bustle of the living world,
Talking with none but servile courtiers
And pea-brained nobles, begging your pardon, ma’am.
He should have grown up working on a farm,
Ploughing the field, reaping the golden grain,
Drinking at the old inn with th’ village lads,
Chasing the village maidens – O that he had!
He would have grown up confident and bold,
Not like a plant grown in a forcing house.
But he is young, and there is time for him –
Alas, how I do pray that there be time!
VULPECULA: ‘Tis strongly spoken. Thou art a bold lass
To speak so to a queen; but thou art right:
He hath been kept from th’ world all his young life,
And now the world hath met him with a vengeance.
Speak on, my girl. Hast thou the least idea
Of anything that we might do to save him?
TILDA: Your majesty, ye are a powerful witch:
Can ye not use your powers to bring him forth?
VULPECULA: Pistachio hath a strong witch, Macadamia:
I fear I cannot overcome her powers.
We witches are aware of one another:
She’d sense my interference, and resist it.
ETTY: Could one who do not be a witch get by?
VULPECULA: Aye, but without all power, what could he do?
ETTY: He’d use some ruse to get into the castle,
Dressed in a woman’s clothes, and give the gaoler
A pint of sack laced with a sleeping draught,
And steal the gaoler’s keys, let Felix out
And gallop off on steeds as fleet as th’ wind!
VULPECULA: Etty, my lass, since thou didst learn to read
Thy head is filled with gaily coloured fluff.
These things are never done in the real world –
Yet all that’s left t’ us now is such a trick,
Some desp’rate stratagem born of despair.
Let us all go away and muse awhile,
Not to grieve over my poor captive Felix
But to devise a plan to set him free:
There is no time for sorrow, while he lives.
© Tachybaptus 2017