A Road in Uraemia.
Enter FELIX, VISCUS and SOLDIERS.
FELIX: Alack! The Thetan troops pursue us hotly.
They are a scant two hours behind ourselves,
Driven along by torturers with whips
Who flog to th’ bone any who fall behind.
Ahead lies nothing but the treeless plain
Devoid of hiding place; yet we’ve no choice
But to traverse it, and to take our chances.
VISCUS: But what is this? A sign beside the way:
Honey for sale, made by our local bees.
Let’s purchase some with our remaining ducats;
’Twill give us strength upon the dusty road.
MELIBEE: I come, good sir – but lo,
Ye are king Felix and his brother Viscus;
Felicitations be upon you both. (He bows.)
What brings your majesties t’ my poor abode?
FELIX: Nothing for good, I fear; the bloody Thetans
Are hot upon our trail, and soon their army
Will sweep over thy home like a poisoned wave
Engulfing it with horror. We fly before them
Till we can find a fastness in a wood
Or on a mountain, from whose lofty crags
We’ll harry them – but there is naught ahead
But open land that would not shield a mouse.
Yet, ere we march again, pray may we buy
Some of thy wares, to stay us on the road?
MELIBEE: Your majesty, I’d give you all I have
And ask no payment, save for a dire drawback
That would undo you if you took my wares.
FELIX: What is this dreadful thing of which thou speak’st?
MELIBEE: I am a beekeeper from Lithium,
One of a hundred there who ply this trade;
Last year I moved to this secluded spot,
Set up my hives, and hoped to reap good profit.
The local people bought my wares at first,
But soon I heard bitter complaints from them.
They said my honey conjured strange delusions
And vomiting that left them weak as kittens.
I tried ’t myself: sadly, they spoke the truth.
I cannot sell a pot for a halfpenny.
FELIX: Thy tale reminds me of old Xenophon
Whose soldiers, fleeing much as we flee now,
Encountered honeypots left by the road
And took them, as one would. They too went mad
And sick, and could not lift a cucumber
For three days’ space. He knew not of the reason,
Yet I do now: see’st thou these spreading bushes
Beauteous with glossy leaves and purple flowers
That cluster round thy mansion? Rhododendron
The shrub is named, and honey from its blossom
Hath just th’ effect thou hast so well described.
MELIBEE: Alas that I should choose this poisoned spot!
Yet greater poison spreads along the road.
I’ll flee: your majesty, may I join your troop,
I and my lusty sons Ashbee and Bumblebee?
The future’s dark; what can we do but fight
Till we have lightened it, or lost our lives
In trying? But we shall not die in vain.
Ho, sons! Come out, king Felix doth await ye.
(Enter ASHBEE and BUMBLEBEE. They bow to FELIX.)
FELIX: Indeed ye may, and welcome to my band;
We are honoured by your trust. Come, let’s away,
But ere we go, let’s pile up all your wares
Upon the tables set before the shop.
Mayhap we’ll pull the selfsame trick that felled
Xenophon’s men, and gain some time thereby.
(MELIBEE and his Sons bring out Pots of Honey, and FELIX and his Men begin setting them upon the Tables.)
VISCUS: We are short of arms; pray, have you any weapons
Fit for the fray to come?
MELIBEE: We have no swords
Or pikes, or halberds, helms or brigandines;
Yet my old blunderbuss may serve us well
Loaded with rusty nails and shards of flint.
Naught else but th’ agricultural implements;
Ye see there there piled up against the wall.
Sons, pray you take your pick.
ASHBEE: A pick I’ll take,
And I shall excavate the Thetans’ heads.
BUMBLEBEE: And I an axe, and with it I shall fell
These fell folk who presume to plant themselves
In the good soil of our beloved land.
VISCUS: Soldiers, take up any remaining tools
That fit your fancy; for a humble mattock
Wielded with strength and skill in a close fight
Succeeds where a Toledo rapier fails.
FELIX: My brother, a bare month ago I thought
Thou wert a foolish and limp-wristed fop
Who could not swat a fly. Yet I do see
That grim necessity hath now brought out
The warrior spirit of old King Vusillus
Who slew a hundred Turks at Antioch
Wielding his gilded double-handed sword,
And then sat down mildly to eat his dinner
As if he’d spent the morning at his ease.
VISCUS: Sadly we lack the dinner: all we have
Is stringy mutton and an old stale loaf.
I would have liked some honey for my tea,
But thy Greek writer gave us timely warning.
FELIX: When I was but a lad, my tutor Priscus
Told me that education in the classics
Would be a boon to me throughout my life.
I knew not what he meant, and scoffed at him.
He beat me for it, but I mocked the more.
Yet now that danger looms, and the veneer
Of modern life peels from the wood of war,
Vegetius, Caesar and Thucydides
And Xenophon and all the ancient crew
Stand by to aid me in the hour of need.
Old friends are best, and these are old indeed.