Illustrations © Zenobia 2018
A Street in Uttalibad.
Enter TILDA, VULPECULA, JESSICA, ETHYLENE, OCTANE and CONCUBINES.
TILDA: Where to begin to set a country free?
Myriads of women lurk behind these walls
And we must reach them one step at a time,
First in this city, then throughout the country.
ETHYLENE: This is the house of Grievas, the high priest,
On whose dark altar thousands have been slain;
Even the walls and doors are stained with blood.
He hath six wives and forty concubines;
Let’s free them for a start. How to get in?
TILDA: Jessica, break the doors.
JESSICA: Aye, mother. Rumpo!
(A huge Hole appears in the Wall.)
TILDA: I only said to blow the bloody doors off;
Hold up the ceiling while we fetch them out.
VULPECULA: Ladies, ’tis time to leave. I break your chains:
Rumpo! Run out before the building falls.
Nay, do not swathe your heads in bags; that time
Hath gone, and now we walk the streets unveiled.
(Enter WOMEN, including the Priest’s first Wife, STYRENE.)
STYRENE: Ethylene, cousin! What glad day is this?
Is it the dawn we were all waiting for?
(They embrace. The Building falls, unheeded.)
ETHYLENE: It is, and we shall march through all the streets
And all the land, till everyone is free.
See ye these three? They form a witches’ coven
More powerful than a battery of brass cannon.
They will break doors and chains, and Thetan men
Foolish enough t’ oppose our growing might.
Let’s to another house, and free some more.
OCTANE: I deem we’ll meet a mite of opposition:
Here come the guards, clanking with iron and spite.
VULPECULA: No matter, I can hold them. Teneo!
(The GUARDS are rooted in their Tracks.)
TILDA: And I can maze their minds. I say, Confundo!
(The GUARDS look around, dazed.)
JESSICA: Please, mother, may I do Oblivio?
TILDA: Aye, my love, but take heed thou dost not harm them.
JESSICA: I will be careful, mother. Oblivio!
They know not who they are or where they go.
FIRST GUARD: Ladies, it is a pleasant afternoon.
Where do ye fare, and may we walk with you?
ETHYLENE: Aye, willingly, but see the arms ye bear.
We are an army, and ye fight with us
To set all Theta free from tyranny.
Women unchained, and all men of good will
Shall join our growing force and march with us
Till we establish freedom everywhere.
FIRST GUARD: I do remember now: we are the guards,
And what to guard better than liberty?
TILDA: Welcome to our small force; indeed, ’tis well
We have men in our ranks now, for a war
Of women against men were a sad campaign.
Let all the folk of Theta strive together
T’ unseat the tyranny that holds them down
With books and racks and sermons from the pulpit.
VULPECULA: Our struggle’s easy here, with our magic powers,
But we are three, and only in one city.
We shall not win until the whole of Theta
Stands up to overthrow her evil priests.
Her women are in chains: how may they rise?
TILDA: See here this smithy, and the hanging sign:
Chains forged for women at the lowest prices.
STYRENE: I had not known such places did exist;
O fie for shame, that folk should do such work!
ETHYLENE: A filthy trade, but someone has to do it.
TILDA: Let’s speak with th’ smith, and use no magic here;
We need to know how things stand in the country.
Ho, smith! We wish to have some words with thee.
(Enter DUFF, a Blacksmith.)
DUFF: Good morrow, ladies. Why, ye are unchained,
Unbagged and free, a wonder to behold;
Hath sanity prevailed at last i’ th’ land?
I do our rulers’ bidding to chain women;
’Tis a sad task I and my brother smiths
Perform reluctantly, for fear of torture.
Ye should hear what my wife doth say of me.
TILDA: Sanity grows, but O, ’tis a frail plant
Easily stamped under the tyrant’s heel.
We bear the seeds of it and hope to sow them
That they may sprout and flower throughout the nation.
DUFF: ’Tis grand to hear. Ho, wife, come out the front,
There is great news for us.
(Voice of DUFF’s Wife PROPANE): I come at once;
Let me put on my chains.
DUFF: There is no need;
Come as thou art. (To TILDA): She hath the key to th’ lock;
’Tis often thus in more enlightened households.
PROPANE: O gladsome sight, women without chains!
What means this, shall we all be free at last?
TILDA: That is our hope, and this is the beginning.
We can unchain this city within days
And have the priests buzzing like angry bees;
But how can we spread word throughout the land
Of what’s done here, that all may follow us?
PROPANE: I have a sister, Butane, in Realibad,
My cousins Methane and Hexane in Terabul;
They have their cousins and their confidantes.
Rumour doth spread like wildfire among women.
DUFF: And among smiths, as all o’ a certain trade.
I warrant, if thou set free the whole city
And keep the priests and guards from harming us,
The word will circulate within a week.
We pay lip service to the priests of Satan
With all their guards and racks and scary tales,
But they are few and we, the folk, are many.
ETHYLENE: Aye, and forget not the ten thousand slaves
Who toil in building Gonbad’s monstrous palace
At Realibad, which covers ninety acres
And every week encroaches on five more.
Chained, they writhe under th’ overseer’s lash.
But if those chains were broke, how they would rise
And smash their torturers to smithereens!
So it would be with slaves throughout the land
And on the galleys, robbed from Christian towns.
PROPANE: We light the fuse, and soon the powder blows
And brings the palace down upon their heads.
TILDA: Then let us strive to set off an explosion
Whose thunder shall resound throughout the land.
Come, people, let’s rampage across the city
Unchaining women and recruiting all
Who’ll join with us to swell our growing ranks.
Thus mighty oaks from little acorns grow;
Thus a few folk can fell a fearful foe.