The Throne Room in the Royal Palace at Purdonium. Enter KING VUSILLUS,
QUEEN VULPECULA, PRINCE VISCUS and PRINCESS SHEBA.
VULPECULA: I’ve tried the scrying glass another time:
Nothing. I think the wretched thing is broken.
‘Twould cost a sorry sum to have it mended;
O that I’d bought th’ extended warranty!
At least my ring is bright: Felix is well.
Indeed, it brightens with each passing day.
VISCUS: And how canst thou be sure ’tis on his finger?
Mayhap it is on that o’ a healthy thief.
VULPECULA: Viscus, how canst thou say such dreadful things?
VUSILLUS: Be silent, son, and do not taunt thy mother.
SHEBA: How do we know that anything we saw
I’ th’ scrying glass was true?
VULPECULA: We do not know.
But I am sure my son is still at life:
I am his mother, and I am a witch:
How could I fail to feel it in my bones?
VUSILLUS: Hark to your mother: never give up hope.
(Enter a HERALD in Haste. followed by COURTIERS.)
HERALD: I bring glad tidings to your majesty:
The prince is home! He’s past the harbour bar
In a Venetian carrack: folk do say
That he hath wrought havoc among the Tartars
And seized the jewels from their treasury.
VULPECULA: Felix is safe! O happiest of days!
O, how my heart is eased by thy glad news.
VUSILLUS: And he’s a hero, if the tale be sooth.
Come to mine arms, my queen, my dear old cheese!
And is our Tilda with him, and little Etty?
HERALD: Ay, sire, they stood beside him on the deck.
A sailor came ashore i’ th’ jolly boat
And said his highness had slain seven Tartars
And two Circassian pirates, but that Tilda
Had beaten him: she scored ten and a half.
VUSILLUS: How could a person slaughter half a Tartar?
HERALD: Etty accounted for the other half:
They blew five Tartars up with a great cannon.
Etty slew four beside, wi’ a yataghan,
And Tilda eight within the Tartar tower.
VUSILLUS: Ha, that’s my girls: I knew they would do well.
VULPECULA: Call’st thou that well? I know not what to think,
Tallying corpses like shot partridges.
But O, my heart is glad!
VUSILLUS: And my heart too.
(To the HERALD) Go, summon Hob and Jess without delay.
VISCUS (aside, to SHEBA): I’ll not believe a single word of it:
Our feeble brother with his moping ways
Mammocking Tartars? Pull the other one.
SHEBA: But if ’tis true, he’ll be unbearable.
(A Sennet. Enter PRINCE FELIX, TILDA and ETTY.)
FELIX: Mother! Father!
VUSILLUS: My dearest son!
FELIX: I feared I’d never see ye twain again
In all those months of dull captivity.
‘Twas not my doing that I did escape:
Tilda and Etty have wrought miracles,
Finding me in a tower by th’ Euxine sea,
Rescuing me at th’ head o’ a Mongol horde,
And tearing Tartars into little bits.
I owe my life to them.
VULPECULA: O valiant girls,
Ye saved my son for me!
VUSILLUS: Tilda and Etty:
We have heard tell of all your doughty deeds.
I and my queen, and all the land o’ Uraemia
Stand in your debt. How then shall we repay ye?
To make ye duchesses is no great matter,
And gifts of lands are easy for us kings;
But what ye did outstrips these little trinkets.
Say what is in your heart, and ye shall have it.
TILDA: Your majesty, the honour is too much.
And yet I ask … Alack, how can I say it?
It is too much for a poor peasant girl.
FELIX: I’ll say it for thee. Father, may I wed Tilda?
We love each other more than life itself.
VUSILLUS: Indeed thou may’st, and that with all my heart.
VULPECULA: And with my blessing and my mother’s love.
(FELIX and TILDA embrace.)
TILDA: O Felix! Shall I be a real princess?
FELIX: Of course thou shalt, in a great golden coach.
VUSILLUS: Steady on with the gold, my dearest boy.
We spent our last sol on that futile war;
And even pawned the crown to pay thy ransom.
FELIX: Thou sold thy crown to save me? O my father!
VUSILLUS: ‘Twas naught, the gems were glass. In any case,
Sir Percy of Malpractice stole the money.
TILDA: Sir Percy! Ah, the cur!
VULPECULA: I’ve dealt with him.
Let’s turn to merrier things, weddings for instance.
FELIX: A moment, mother. Come, Tilda and Etty.
(ETTY brings forward a Sack. She stands beside TILDA and FELIX.)
FELIX: We found these in the tower. From all of us,
And from the Mongol horde, our noble allies,
Here is a present for Uraemia.
(ETTY opens the Sack, and all gasp at the Jewels it contains.)
VUSILLUS: Why, it would buy our country three times over!
My son, dear girls, I know not what to say.
We shall devote it to the public good,
But I am sure the public would forgive us
If we dispensed a little on thy wedding.
VULPECULA: I’m sure they would. And maybe we could stop
Living on radishes from th’ kitchen garden.
(Enter HOB and JESS.)
JESS: My daughter, be it thou, my little lass?
O how I missed thee!
HOB: Welcome home, my Tilda!
TILDA: O mother, father! We are safe returned,
And dearest Felix says he’ll marry me,
I am the happiest girl in all the world.
HOB: My lass, be thou run mad from all that sun?
FELIX: Nay, it is true. Pray, may I have your Tilda,
To be my princess and beloved wife?
HOB: Well, stap me vitals. Yes, of course ye can,
Yer royal highness.
FELIX: Pray you, call me son.
JESS: Cripes, we’ve a royal king for pa-in-law,
What shall we do? I’ve not a thing to wear.
TILDA: Dear mother, I shall sew thee such a dress
As shall make thee the envy of the court.
And fret ye not about royal dignity.
In all my travels I have learnt this lesson:
The worth of men depends not on their rank,
A ploughboy may be nobler than a king.
Loyalty, love and friendship count for more
Than all the trappings of an emperor.
VUSILLUS: Tilda, thou hast thy wish: my dear son’s hand,
To be a princess, aye, and queen thereafter.
But Etty, we have not yet heard from thee.
Titles and lands are thine, thou needst but say.
ETTY: I thank you for your generosity.
Riches and vast estates I will decline,
If it offend you not; I was not born
To be a noble. Pray you, majesty,
Let me remain at court among my friends.
Tilda, my faithful friend, gave me a gift
Surpassing even diamonds in its worth,
When she did teach me how to read and write.
I read of the adventures of great kings
And valiant knights, and never once did think
That I should witness them with mine own eyes,
And even take a part in them myself.
Now, with your leave, I’ll write all in a book,
In verse – I have forgot how to speak prose.
VUSILLUS: Etty, it shall be done. I do appoint thee
The poet laureate to th’ court of Uraemia.
But I shall not require thee to write odes,
Except, mayhap, upon a royal birth.
ETTY: Thank you, your majesty. My work shall tell
Of all our doings, faithfully recorded;
Titled: Tilda – or Fortitude Rewarded.
(Music. Exeunt Omnes.)
© Tachybaptus 2017