Wyatt had never run so fast in his whole life. The hard cobblestones made his feet hurt, his heels especially—fine shoes are not for running… at least that’s what his mother would say. But, there was no time to waste! Ever since buying Tempest Burbage’s Fine Blackmusic Masque of Theater from Hame Burbage, he’d been on the sidelines of a failing acting company watching his mother’s money and his own future shrivel into irrelevance.
All of his friends patroned artists, but he wanted to be the true star—and why not? Count Lothono’s son, Crizzen, he had made himself more than passing famous for that bawdy song he wrote (which his tutor actually wrote, but Crizzen took credit for). They sing it in alehouses, earthy and tawdry, all along the waterfront and someone raises a toast to the (ludicrous name) Count of Choruses every time. Wyatt knew he was jealous, but that didn’t make him feel any more magnanimous about it.
The cobblestones turned to packed earth as he crossed his way out of the Centira into the common streets of Bet Urala. He felt something tear in his pants, He cursed his state of dress—appropriate sashes and breeches for an afternoon lunch with mother and her friends. Only moments ago, he’d been sitting demurely, purring and nodding his pleasantries.
And when word came from Kingsly, the troupe’s playwright, that he’d completed the play Wyatt had been funding for months now? When the reality came over him that this epic story would be told with the gravity and power of his own skill? That throngs of people would mark the day they saw his production as the day they truly knew why Muses mused and why Emperor Kakilas’s famed addage was true that the breathe of the gods really was the art of the player…
…when the word came, Wyatt tore himself from tea and shouted his apologies to mother and made for the playhouse. Fucking Kingsly. A fortune and an age and lots of patience and finally, a play wholey new and—if the old goat wasn’t simply lying—maybe his finest work.
And the lead? Only Wyatt of House Stoneberry—the Lord of Monologues… or something. He’d had no luck thinking a great name for himself (fucking Crizzen, the gadfly).
He skidded and tripped headfirst into the old birch door of Burbage’s playhouse. He felt a gash on his temple as the wood of the doorjam punished him for the intrusion. A moment of horror took him as he realized the blood he wiped from his cheek was his own—and had it not been for Udom and Banks dragging him off of the floor, and slapping some wind and focus into his back while doing it (laughing as well, bastards), he might have vomited at the thought of it all. Muck about his clothes, blood on his face, and the surly and lowly actors and artisans of the troupe staring at their patron (and star) trying to suppress giggles and fits. Their hushed murmurs were as embarrassing as they were infuriating. Wyatt felt his face grow red and warm.
“My lord Wyatt…! I did not expect you so soon” a gravelly voice called from behind the the piles of seafaring set pieces. Kingsly dragged his bad leg with him as he walked, frowining at his quill and the book he was scribbling in as he did so. A man in motion, always restless, that he could not sit still even while writing always made Wyatt uncomfortable. A man should sit as often as there is a place to, his father had said. The most dangerous man, the most powerful, is the one that sits while others fidget about. It never made sense to Wyatt, but then again he’d never thought too hard about it either.
“Master Kingsly, I came right away when I heard you had finished the work—I am… most anxious, indeed most anxious, to begin preparing for the role of…”, his manner slipped a moment as he grasped for… well, damn. Wyatt realized he’d never so much as asked Kingsly about the parts to be played.
“…the hero? Yes?”, Kingsly cocked an eyebrow at him with a small smile.
“Yes, yes, of course. The Hero. Bold, eh? I should play him as bold as the great heroes of the empire of old, you say?”, Wyatt could see himself on the stage, painted gold armor, thundering fear into the villain of the piece. His jaw strong and his words shaking the first few rows in its powerful inflection. He would be The Valiant come again, if only for the night.
“—hardly ever, so there was not a need. I didn’t think it spoke well to do that. But, I’m sure we can place you well enough”, Kingsly droned on while returning to his scribbing.
“I said, there is no hero in the piece, my lord Stoneberry. The history is spare, of course, but this is only a tragedy. Everyone dies at the end. The only hero, I suppose, is the priest—but, even—”
Wyatt leaped in “Priest! Yes, of course! I have had versatile lessons in the manner of a godly character from the great Wotton Henks, of course. I can he the cleansing heroic priest that brings life and love and wisdom to the world”, Wyatt could see it now. The robe flowing and his role as the ever-present central figure of the story. Being the sage to the king that is a fool, being the quest-giver to the hero who dies, the desireable to the girl who cannot have him, the virtuous and the noble priest… he will save the kingdom and want nothing in return.
“—died anyway. But, that’s how these things go.”
Kingsly sighed, “I said, my lord, that the priest dies. They all die. The priest is part of the reason they die. It’s… perhaps you’d like a reading before selecting the part you’d like to audition for, eh?”
Audition? How dare he! Like some common play actor, needing to audition! The nerve.
. . .. … …..
Chorus: The Fates beseech you, flee this place, do not stay, avert your face; to tell the tale we must retrace the path of figures lost. From Mendarn to the raging sea, on land and water, jubilee; disgraceful mein and honorees all pay the final cost.
[Curtain parts to the sea voyage set]
Celanon: Cousin! hah-HA! [Jovial, sly] Why don’t you burl the halfstead there, I have too much wind on our flank.
[Krin grabs rope, is pulled comically off his feet onto the deck]
Celanon: Oh, stop your prattle, cuz. Twas only a little rope and we’ve been in thicker swells this far out to sea before.
Krin: It’s not the elope of the rope, Cel; but the scope of the slope when you sail. By the gods great and small, can’t you steer this thing at all?
Celanon: Haha! I could sail this Golden Storm to the ends of the earth itself!
Krin: [sitting and pouting on deck] Such a name, you dolt. Would that your Storm could rain gold we wouldn’t have to ferry crates of this up the coast and crates of that back down just to pay for dinner.
Celanon: Psshhh, perk up my brother of the sea. Perk up. My Golden Storm rains well enough to put food in your belly and wine in your flask does it not? Well enough to pay for a little more than that besides. Have you talked to our new quartermaster?
Krin: Him? [exasperated] But whatever am I to do, cuz? I’m no sailor and now this oily bearded devotee is to take my job?
Celanon: Oh, Krinaldo, my sweet faced. I have bought you secrets from the Academy of Cosolen and you still have the finest cabin on this old boat. Let the priest count the chickens and boxes, and devote your mind to higher goals. It is my love for you, cuz, that I do this. You, amongst all in the world, have a mind and a will to change all things. I promised your mother I’d see that you learned of the world and learned to make it your own. You have a talent for conjuring, my friend. I will help you develop it. Even if that means only putting shelter over your head and salt beef in your belly and paying Financier Winston Dashingstash to keep the books in your stead.
Krin: [pouting] I just want to be useful. I want to pull my own weight. I may be small, but I have a power inside me.
Celanon: I don’t doubt it, boy. By the by, would you grab me that rope?
[Krin grabs rope and is jerked off his feet again, Celanon laughs]
. . .. … …..
Wyatt clutched his sheaf of papers while moving about the stage. They put the greathelm on Udom to hide his skin—the thought of that hobgoblin playing an Eldoran soldier was hilarious. And to his credit, the hobgoblin managed a convincing accent and his manner was almost regal. Wyatt was a bit jealous, honestly. He might have to ask Kingsly about trading parts. The Eldoran had the best lines, all about strength and honor. He even had a dark past, some old war perhaps? Or a crime of passion? The mystery of the Eldoran only made the first act more fascinating.
Kingsly read through the scene’s actions. A storm. He gave notes to the triplets about how to make the sounds most realistic and a shopping list. Storm rages. A subplot with other players as the hero Paladins of the Valiant who he says will show in Act 2 believing the protagonists are criminals but get swayed by a speech from the priest. Wyatt wanted to read the speech out, but Kingsly was adamant that this walkthrough exercise was for interactions with the main cast and not monologues.
The protagonists are all shipwrecked on a jungle island in the far south, blown off course by the Storm Lord in his rage against the perversions of the Brandobian Empire. Celanon the Captain lays on the beach with broken legs and cannot continue the journey. Krin, the boy mystic, nearly dies and is brought back by the priest Winston (who throws coppers to the audience everytime he does a miracle). The Eldoran with dark secrets is with them. The blonde elf, Mistress Lovely, who was travelling to her sick mother on the ship is washed up to shore with them and it is Krin that wakes her from her coma with a kiss. The act ends with them all on the shore amidst wreckage.
So far, Wyatt was pleased with his role—more than he had thought. The coin tossing was a little pedestrian, but it was sure to get him talked about by the crowds. The story seemed good, he was eager to read on.
. . .. … …..
Krin: Lovely creature.
Lovely: Oh. But when you say my name, I must shield my eyes, for they tell the truth of my heart.
Krin: It is that heart that I would hear truth from.
Lovely: But, what if it is a lying heart? What if it only tells you what you wish to hear?
Krin: [Excitedly] Then hear it well I would! What man would not like to hear what he desires? What would your lying hear say to my hungry ears?
Lovely: They would… keep a lady’s silence. [Impish look]
Krin: Oh, truly… then I would speak my magic words and pry the truth from your lying heart.
Lovely: [Taken aback] Would you then? Can there be no secrets?
Krin: The world speaks to me, the heavens and the stars as well. I hear their secrets and know the movings of the world, but the movings of your beauty and your lovely heart would be worth more than all the golden roses in the far kingdom of Ualia.
Lovely: [smiling again] You must be a mage, Krin my love.
Krin: [Confused] Why?
Lovely: For you know the true and deep words that touch me deeply. You know my secrets, for you know my true love of you.
Krin: And you know mine.
Lovely: But, I must attend Celanon, he is still hurt and I fear he may catch fever.
Krin: [Unsmiling] Take not too much care that you forget me.
Lovely: [Leaving] Never in eternity.
[Krin slides out of view and we are further down the beach]
Celanon: Oh! Wine! Only more wine!
Winston: Vox, hold him down, I cannot bring him relief when he struggles so.
[Vox pins Celanon down]
Winston: Better. Now, I fear the leg must come off, Captain Vronn. It will kill you as surely as the fire of a dragon if you don’t let me.
[Celanon screams and whimpers in pain]
Lovely: Perhaps I can help.
Winston: [Charming smile] Oh, Lovely—you are only too dangerous for him to be near, a bad leg will kill him slowly, but if you take his breath away with your beauty he will not survive the minute.
Lovely: Flattery, priest. A golden tongue indeed, and not just a golden hand, then?
[Winston raises gold hand]
Winston: And why not? The Landlord has no greater servant than the priest who would gild his own flesh. You should see the great heroes of my faith, Lovely, half made of gold themselves.
Lovely: No, all of that luster would blind me. I prefer the roots and trees of my people. And might save our Captain with those yet.
Winston: Then I leave you to your earthy magics, Lovely. I will pray.
[Winston leaves, Vox stands to go]
Lovely: Oh, Celanon. You will die, I know. There are no magics to save you, but I would know if you’d have mercy from me sooner than more pain from the Profiteer.
[Celanon whispers, looking fever mad]
Lovely: What? Closer?
[Celanon holds her close and whispers to her ear]
Celanon: You bring me an offer of death? Then I trade you in the same coin. Butcher of Eldor… silence her.
[Vox lashes a whip around her neck so she cannot scream, and stabs her through the back]
Vox: Unclean thing.
Celanon: [in pain] Oh, no… no, what have we done?!?
Vox: It was necessary. She claimed power over you. Their kind cannot be allowed the assumption.
Celanon: No… [crying] We are foresaken.
Vox: It was always to be so.
Celanon: Krin cannot know. Quickly, hide her body in the trees. And… Vox?
[Vox picks up body and turns]
Celanon: Leave some coins near her.
. . .. … …..
The suspense was killing him! Oh, this was Burbage’s finest play. Kingsly’s best story. The tale was gripping, and Kingsly says it was even true! A history! It was said that the Emperor was mad for histories, but writing the same old stories over and over? The conquering of this or that? Boring.
This was such new history. Kingsly says if the troupe can hurry and get some xostumes doublequick, they could be performing this on the centennial of the return of the Prince!
Oh, that Crizzen would shit his pretty silver pants.
Wyatt… heir of Stoneberry… on stage in front of the great and good acting out the story from one century ago. Live.
Gods above… his was a destiny of greatness.
The second act was a series of racing adventures. They find a dragon (Wyatt cringed ad that old story-telling device… there’s ALWAYS a dragon there to give the heroes a ride, it seems). Celanon (with padded shirt to make him look like he is growing fat) returns home now that he cannot go on, but hires dark men to watch his cousin for fear of him finding out. Krin regards Winston warily, suspecting those coins to be evidence of wrongdoing, and as he mourns his love he turns to whispering in the night to creatures the audience cannot sea and his make-up grows pale. Winston’s arm becomes gold and he serves as the comic relief, it seems, for most of the act. Vox says little, but has two amazing fight scenes that Udom seems to have down pat.
They travel to an ancient forest and kill a demon. They are cornered by paladins of the Valiant who judge them true—but Krin tricks them by giving everyone rings to hide their secrets. They are confronted by a lute player who tells them riddles (and is there to tell the audience some of the secrets of the characters). Wyatt could imagine the audience gasping when the Lutist on the road sings his song and sings to Krin that “a man would pay any price to be with his love, but the coin is false”.
Wyatt read ahead while they were in the scene where they trick the hobgoblin king into giving them his sword.
“WAIT!” he barked just as Udom was braying his lines to the demon prince.
Kingsly looked up, face annoyed and curious.
“I kill Kakelas?”
Everyone stared at Wyatt.
“I mean… no. Right. So Winston kills the Prince with the sword of the goblin king? I can’t do that”
Kingsly’s teeth ground under his greying beard.
“And why?”, he asked flatly.
“Well”, Wyatt tossed his hands about searching for a way to explain, “I mean, what will everyone think? I can’t act like I’m killing a Prince. That would be unseemly.”
Kingsly took a deep breath and sat down on a crate.
“My lord, it isn’t real. It is a play. And that is actually what happened?”, He started.
“I KNOW it is a play, Master Kingsly. I am NOT a moron”, Wyatt sneered, “I mean to say that a gentleman does not appeal to the low thrills of political dissent.” The words came trickling out of him, he was sure his father had said something much like that when he was alive, but it didn’t matter. He was not going to play the murderer of the Lost Prince on stage before the court or nobility. He was not the villain.
Kingsly grumbled, running his hand through his thinning hair. He glared at Wyatt, and Wyatt glared back.
An hour, some yelling, a few drinks, and Belila flirting at the young lord and they managed to come to an agreement that the sword should be magical and the priest would kill the prince because he was possessed by an evil spirit. Where the damned priest is supposed to get a magic sword and why it’d be here… fuck. Whatever. Kingsly sribbled the notes about having the dragon give them one and winced at the sloppy storytelling.
Bart was doing a good job with the young mage, though—Kingsly was proud of that boy. His mama always said he should stay away from the stage, but he’s got the blood of an artist in him. Kingsly was proud to see him hunched and sneering as Krin, from the flush and funny boy in the first act. He’d go far.
. . .. … …..
[In a fiery dungeon]
Winston: I call you devil! I call you unholy!
Krin: I call myself righteous, priest. And you have had no quarrel with my power before.
Winston: But, this is too much. Sweet Celanon, laid low and risen by your foul magics. It is not done, Krin!
Krin: I Say tis done. And he complains not at all [evil cackle]. He was my true cousin and your murder of him was a thing I could not abide.
Winston: Murder, you say, but all souls live to be weighed and his was dark indeed. He was the one that took your Lovely! Your suspicions poisoned out bond, you who I would call brother!
Krin: You are no brother of mine, speaker of lies. It was you who killed Vox in the catacombs of the mountain king! I saw you speak his death with my own eyes!
[fire explosions, rumbling of cavein]
Winston: It was more than he deserved. For his crimes, he should suffer worse hells.
Krin: Then we must be enemies, you and I. Our friendship in the dirt. Our fellowship only ashes.
Winston: I cast thee out, then. By my power and your true name, I banish you. Mine is the power of the glory of the god of coin and his might is rich indeed!
Krin: Ah, but you have forgotten!
[pulls a box from under his mottled rotted robes]
Krin: I have the heart of the Prince here. Plucked from his chest while you ran from your petty crimes and murders. And the heart of a Prince is the power that moves the heavens. SONA-SHO-KA-KALIKAS!!!
[Streams of gold silk fall in ribbons over Winston]
Winston: Nooooo! What have you done?
Krin: I have bound your God to my will, for I am more powerful than any god. He will wash my feet and sup of my scraps. And you are now powerless to stop it.
Winston: You may have ensnared the Profit Lord, but you will never ensnare me! Mercy, away!
[Mercy, the magic horse, swoops in and carries Winston away]
Winston: I will revenge myself one day, I swear it!
Krin: Good riddance, this new kingdom of mine could do with fewer oiled men in pretty clothes. I like naught but the tatters. They remind me of the flesh I rend from the weak. [cackles]
[Krin beckons his servants close as he sits on his skull throne]
Krin: Heed me, worms. I will now flex my bony fingers and ensnare the world. Wait… what?
[lights from all around hit Krin from lanterns]
[Celanon crumbles to the ground and after wiping his face quickly on sleeve, looks healthy and alive again]
Krin: You cannot be alive! Winston murdered you!
Celanon: I have been called to the skies, cousin. I have repented my sins. It was I who killed dear Lovely. I took from you all your joy. I may not have raised the sword myself, but I killed her as surely as if I had.
Krin: Why now? Why tell me now?
Celanon: To tell you it is not too late. The gods will judge you Krin, for binding one of their own. Repent and you may be saved.
Krin: I can never be saved!
Celanon: You can! Pass me the rope, cuz… I’ll hold on tight for you.
[Krin searches for rope, but finds only frayed and rotted strands]
Krin: I have none. I cannot go. What will become of me?
[Booming voice of the gods from offstage]
Gods: You are cursed, Krin the Unclean, the Arcane, the Dark… we return your curse upon you and free our brother the Landlord. You sought to bind, and now be bound yourself. Your prison shall be this place where you betrayed your own. And for your only company, you shall have the one who killed your love and he shall never die—to remind you of your folly.
[Vox walks in, armor rusted and dented]
Gods: These things we visit on you. That all may know your crimes.
. . .. … …..
The playhouse was quiet in the hour before opening night of “The Tale of Vronn and McDashingstash”. Burbages was filled to the brim with people, the only sounds in the darkened theater being the wheeze of the wind through the attic crawlspace high above the stage.
Kingsley was backstage, doubled over with one hand on the old soft boards. His knees pressed hard into the floor. His body shaking, blood from where his left eye used to be streaming down his cheek and kissing his lips.
Wyatt was out on stage, Face down, wearing ornate robes of fake gold. Eighty-four people lay in their seats, bleeding from their eyes and noses and mouths, staring off into nothing—the stillness of death.
The large armored figure moved slowly, dragging his foot. Kingsly thought he was being mocked, but the dark figure made his way slowly toward him with no humor evident behind that plated exterior.
The gutteral whisper echoed from deep inside the metal shell.
The sword slipped quietly through the air and took Kingsly’s head off.
Fade to black. A playhouse on fire.