Illustrations © Zenobia 2018
The Entrance of the Royal Palace at Purdonium.
Enter GONBAD, in a Chariot drawn by twelve of his Wives chained together.
GONBAD: Halt, bitches! On your faces in the dust,
And move ye not until I bid you rise!
(Enter from the Palace his Chief Vizier SKUMBAGH.)
GONBAD: Ho, vizier, tell me news of the campaign.
Let it be good, or else, by Satan’s hooves,
I’ll have thee spitted like an ortolan.
SKUMBAGH: Our scheme goes well: we have subdued the country,
Barring some paltry rebels in the north. If Satan wills,
We shall have killed them all within a week,
And then we will drive north to Zinnia.
GONBAD: ’Tis well, and thou mayst keep thy head for now.
But where do these last rebels take their stand?
SKUMBAGH: Thanks be to Satan, they do sit like sheep
Within a day’s march of the northern pass:
We’ll fall on them like wolves, Satan be praised.
(Enter an ATTENDANT.)
ATTENDANT: May Satan’s grace shine on your majesty!
Word from the north: a spy is new returned.
GONBAD: Bring him at once, by Satan, no delay.
(Exit ATTENDANT. Enter GHASTLI, dishevelled and in Haste.)
GHASTLI: By your Satanic majesty’s request
I come from th’ north, bringing you my report.
GONBAD: Quick, spit it out, thou wretch, in Satan’s name.
GHASTLI: Satan is great! I come from Tritium
In the far north, below the Drongo valley.
Here in the marketplace, I heard some rumours
Of how the Zinnians had massed an army
Threatening to come south and stand against us.
GONBAD: Rumours heard in a market? Satan, what care we
For th’ tales of tinkers and of travelling quacks?
Com’st though to me with ribbon-sellers’ gossip?
GHASTLI: For love of Satan, let me tell my tale.
GONBAD: Speak out or, Satan, ’twill go ill with thee:
Thou shalt be strangled with thine own intestines.
GHASTLI: I was with private Orfel: we resolved
To head into the hills to find the truth;
May Satan blast me if I speak not truly.
We travelled northward up the Drongo valley,
I to the hills, he up the river bank;
And when I climbed a hill, thanks be to Satan,
I saw a mighty army, clad in pink armour,
Astride pink horses, under a pink banner.
In Satan’s name, I ne’er saw such a sight.
GONBAD: Pink, thou say’st, pink? Thou mock’st me, traitor loon!
By Satan’s hooves! Attendants, seize this man
And put him to the death o’ th’ red-hot stones.
GHASTLI: By Satan’s beard, I tell ye but the truth.
(ATTENDANTS drag out GHASTLI.)
SKUMBAGH: Pish, ’twas a waste of time, in Satan’s name,
To send that loon into the northern hills.
He hath been drinking that forbidden brew
That makes weak fools forget the words of Satan
Set down within the sacred book of Badmash:
Tell naught but truth to th’ faithful, naught but lies
Unto the faithless folk that know not Satan;
Behead them, lest they lead thy soul astray.
(Enter an ATTENDANT.)
ATTENDANT: Your majesty, may Satan grant you ease,
Another spy is new come from the north.
GONBAD: Send him in quick then and, by Satan’s liver,
Let his words bring some comfort to our ears.
We have heard lies enow to spoil our lunch.
(Exit ATTENDANT. Enter ORFEL, halting and besmirched.)
ORFEL: Your majesty, may the dark light of Satan
Shine coruscating on your noble head;
I am come from the north, where private Ghastli
And I pursued a rumour o’ Zinnian troops
Massing to march down through the Drongo valley
And stand against us.
GONBAD: Then, by Satan’s nose,
Tell me what thou didst find; and if thy words
Deviate from the truth by a hair’s breadth,
Then ’tis the pincers and the hooks for thee.
ORFEL: By th’ smell of Satan’s farts, my words shall be
True as the words of the great prophet Badmash,
Blessed be he, and blessings unto Satan.
GONBAD: Satan! Get on with it, thou poxy churl.
ORFEL: Satanic eminence, I travelled north
With private Ghastli.
GONBAD: Aye, Satan, that liar,
He screams now for his drunken taradiddles.
ORFEL: I went along the valley of the Drongo
And soon, far to the north, I saw the dust
And heard the clamour of a marching army;
By Satan’s moobs, I hid within a bush
And waited for the forces to approach.
GONBAD: By Satan’s armpits, what didst thou see then?
ORFEL: Satan! They numbered thousands, tens of thousands:
Infantry, cavalry, engineers with mortars;
A mighty retinue marched in their tracks,
Armourers, farriers, cooks and prostitutes,
All that befits a force upon the march.
GONBAD: Think well, by Satan, ere thou answer this:
What colour were their armour, horses, banners?
ORFEL: Sire, ’twas the strangest thing I e’er did see:
In Satan’s truth, it was a sea of pink,
The banners, the camp followers, e’en the chickens.
GONBAD: Pink, fool? Then, by the hairy arse of Satan,
I’ll have thee racked till though dost tell the truth;
Attendants, take him to the torture chamber
And write down every word that he doth shriek.
(ATTENDANTS drag ORFEL away.)
SKUMBAGH: He speaks as foolishly as his sad fellow;
Yet, majesty, by all the dung of Satan,
Two fools speak of an army from the north
And, midst their drunken words there may be truth.
Let us dispatch three regiments that way,
For if, praise Satan, we be bound for Zinnia,
They’ll have to tread the road in any case.
GONBAD: ’Tis well, true spawn of Satan: let them go
To th’ Drongo valley. Satan! Make it so.