I wrote an adaptation of Lord Dunsany’s stage-play Gods of the Mountain for the Samuel French short play contest last year. I didn’t win anything (or even place). Perhaps it was because adaptations, even of old and forgotten works, were discarded, or because the subject matter didn’t fit what the judges were looking for. Issues of “social justice” and “current events” seem to be preferred. The winners for my year included a story about a robotic hentai maid, a disabled college student, and a high-school boy who hides in his room covered in blood and eating snack food. It’s also possible that my writing simply wasn’t up to snuff. Regardless of the outcome, it was a lot of fun, if only because it allowed me to stretch out my long dormant dramaturgy muscles, and immerse myself in the imagination of one of the greatest fantasy authors who ever lived.
Since this script has just been sitting on my hard drive for the last year collecting virtual dust, and I don’t have plans to do anything with it in the near future, and a major writing project (notes soon) is taking up the majority of my spare brain cells, precluding me from generating any new blog content, I thought I would share it with you good people. I hope you find it as amusing to read as I did to write.
Act 1 – Homeless Encampment
Two beggars, OOGNA and ULF, warm themselves around a trash-can fire. Oogna is a middle-aged “bag” lady. Ulf, a younger male “crusty punk”. In the background are the silhouettes of others in the encampment. Hiding in the silhouettes is Agmar, an older and archaically dressed hobo.
ULF: The days are bad for beggary.
OOGNA: Some evil has befallen the rich ones of the city.
ULF: It is true. They take no joy any longer in benevolence, but are become sour and miserly.
OOGNAA: sore affliction indeed, and bad for those of our calling.
ULF: What thing, do you think, has befallen them?
OOGNA: There has been a comet come near to the earth of late, and the earth has been parched and sultry so that the gods are drowsy. While the gods sleep all those things that are divine in man: benevolence, drunkenness, extravagance, and song; have faded and died.
ULF: Well, it has indeed been sultry. If things do not change, I will forsake the calling and buy a shop, and sit at ease –
AGMAR: You will keep a shop?!
Ulf and Oogna look over, startled. Agmar leaves his concealment and joins them.
ULF: I spoke but hastily, the times being bad.
AGMAR: Bah! I have been three times knocked down and injured by carriages. Seven times beaten and robbed. I have had nine diseases. One time I was killed!
AGMAR: Apparently. Yet never have I followed a trade, or haggled and bartered and sat in a shop!
OOGNA: Times are bad for the calling here.
AGMAR: They are bad.
ULF: This city is unworthy of our calling! Did you not say the gods are drowsy and all that is divine in man is dead?
OOGNA: They are drowsy in their mountains away at Marma. The green idols are drowsy. Who is this that rebukes us?
AGMAR: I am but an old beggar. One who has known the mystery of roads and felt the wind arising new in the morning. Who has called forth out of the souls of men pity, and benevolence, and the charitable giving of alms! Let us speak no more of any trade or the miserable gains of shops and trading men.
ULF: The times are bad.
AGMAR: Then let us set right the times!
OOGNA: Have you a plan, great master?
AGMAR: Perhaps. Have you any thieves among the calling here?
ULF: We have a few that we call thieves.
OOGNA: But they are not very good ones.
AGMAR: Find one, for we shall need fine raiment, and it must be green. Also, we shall need a corner-preacher to spread a prophecy throughout the city before us.
ULF: We will dress ourselves as lords and impose upon the city?
OOGNA: Yes, yes; we will say we are ambassadors from a far land!
ULF: And there will be good eating!
OOGNA: And wine!
ULF: And perhaps… dancing girls?
AGMAR: Hah! Not as mere ambassadors!
ULF: Then as kings?
AGMAR: Beggars as kings!
OOGNA: Then what, master?
AGMAR: Why, we shall go as gods.
OOGNA and ULR: As gods?!
Act 2: Part 1 – City Hall
Citizens gather in small groups to chat about the business of the day. Among them are LANAN, a city official, RANDER, a guard and KAMOS, a merchant.
The three beggars: Agmar, Oogna and Ulf enter slowly, swaying back and forth and chanting. Bits of fine green silk can be seen here and there through their ragged clothing. The beggars circle the stage, spiraling towards the center. Slowly all conversation stops. When all is quiet the beggars seat themselves cross-legged, and hold their right hands up, like seated Buddhas.
ULF produces a bell and strikes it once.
SFX: A BELL RINGING
RANDER: What do you do here?
OOGNA: What is it you do, mortal?
RANDER: Who are you, and whence come you?
ULF: Who is to say what we are, or whence we come?
RANDER: Look here! Beggars are not allowed –
OOGNA: Who said we were beggars?
RANDER: You people cannot –
ULF: Who said that we were people?
Rander looks hopelessly at Lanan, who bustles over.
LANAN: To what purpose is this? By the moon, I’ll –
AGMAR: My sister.
AGMAR: The moon is our little sister. She comes to us at evenings away in the mountains of Marma. She trips over the mountains when she is young. When she is beautiful and slender she comes and dances before us, and when she is old and unshapely she hobbles away from the hills. Yet she is young again and forever nimble with youth; yet she comes dancing back. The years are not able to curb her, nor to bring gray hairs to her brethren.
Ulf strikes again on the bell –
The crowd murmurs. Lanan and Rander look at each other helplessly. The merchant Kamos joins them. The beggars sit as if meditating. Lanan, Rander and Kamos huddle together and conspire.
RANDER: This is not wonted.
LANAN: It is not in accordance with custom.
KAMOS: I heard men speak today in the market place. They spoke of a prophecy read somewhere of old. It says the gods shall come down from Marma in the guise of men.
LANAN: Is this a true prophecy?
KAMOS: Who can say?
RANDER: If it is all the prophecy we have, we should heed it. My grandfather told me that man without prophecy is like a sailor going by night over uncharted seas. He knows not where are the rocks nor where the havens. To the man on watch all things ahead are black and the stars guide him not, for he knows not what they are.
KAMOS: Should we not first make inquiries as to this prophecy?
LANAN: Let us accept it. It is the small uncertain light of a lantern, carried it may be by a drunkard or a fool, but perhaps along the shore of some haven. Let us be guided and, discretely, also make the appropriate inquiries.
The three break their huddle and address the Beggar-Gods.
RANDER: We humbly worship you, if you are gods!
LANAN: You are mightier than all men and hold high rank among other gods and are lords of our city. You have the thunder as your plaything and the whirlwind and the eclipse and all the destinies of the human tribes – if, of course, you are gods.
AGMAR: Let the pestilence not fall at once upon this city, as it has indeed designed to; let not the earthquake swallow it all immediately up amidst the howls of the thunder; let not infuriated armies overwhelm those that escape – if we be gods.
The crowd murmurs and chatters. Lanan turns to address them.
LANAN: Come friends! Let us sacrifice! Bring lambs and wine for these very divine gods!
The people shuffle out. As they leave the lights fade, two of them, CITIZEN 1 and CITIZEN 2 linger briefly in the spot-light.
CITIZEN 1: These are most divine and uncommon gods.
CITIZEN 2: Indeed! I heard it said that they have made us and all human beings!
Act 2: Part 2 – Throne Room
The city-hall has been transformed into a throne room. The beggars lounge on great chairs styled like mountains. Agmar sits in the center, on the largest throne, Ulf and Oogna to either side. They have dressed themselves entirely in rich green silk and gold accoutrements. Banners are draped from every possible location.
Rander, dressed in a tabard with three mountains embroidered and carrying a long spear, stands to the side of the dais. Lanan reclines against a pillar next to Rander, watching the proceedings. A line of citizens wait to be received by the three. One, CITIZEN 3, steps forward to address the beggars.
CITIZEN 3: Master, my child was bitten in the throat by a death-adder at noon. Spare him, master; he still breathes, but slowly.
AGMAR: And is he indeed your child?
CITIZEN 3: He is surely my child, master.
AGMAR: Was it your wont to thwart him in his play, while he was strong and well?
CITIZEN 3: I have never thwarted him master.
AGMAR: And whose child is death?
CITIZEN 3: Master?
AGMAR: Who is it that created life and therefore death?
CITIZEN 3: Why, the gods surely, if anyone.
AGMAR: Do you that never thwarted your child in his play ask this of the gods?
CITIZEN 3: (weeping) But! But! Master!
AGMAR: Weep not! For all the houses that men have builded are the play-fields of this child of the gods called death. Now go.
Crying the Citizen 3 leaves, consoled by others. Another steps forward, CITIZEN 4, wringing his hat, but a MESSENGER, shoves Citizen 4 aside, and throws himself on his knees before the beggars.
MESSENGER: Master, it is terrible! It is terrible when you wander in the evening. It is terrible on the edge of the desert! Men die when they see you in the evening!
AGMAR: In the desert? What are you speaking of?
MESSENGER: Last night masters. You were terrible last night. You were terrible in the gloaming. We ask, we beg of you, stay as you are now, in flesh like men!
ULF: You say as we are now. How did we appear in the evening?
MESSENGER: Otherwise master, otherwise.
OOGNA: Be not afraid. How did we appear?
MESSENGER: Masters, we can bear to see you in the flesh like men, but when we see a rock walking it is terrible. It is terrible.
AGMAR: A rock walking?
MESSENGER: Yes master. Green stone should not move. Rock should not walk. When men see you they do not understand, and they die. Green stone should not walk in the evenings. It is terrible! Spare us, masters! Spare us!
The Messenger collapses in fear. The beggars look at each other uncertainly. Rander approaches and helps the Messenger to his feet and off stage. As he leaves, Kamos enters and approaches Lanan, to whisper in her ear.
AGMAR: There… there have been doubters of late, who now should be satisfied. Be faithful, and no harm shall befall you.
Citizen 4 finally bustles forward.
CITIZEN 4: Lords, my wife and I are childless and we –
AGMAR: Enough! Trouble us not now, but tomorrow, for it is the accustomed hour at which the gods speak to the gods in the language of the gods. If Man heard us he would guess at the futility of his destiny, which were not well for Man. Begone.
LANAN: Before you dismiss us, Lord!
Lanan walks to center, followed by Kamos and Rander.
RANDER: (to Lanan) Hush! You anger the gods!
LANAN: (to Rander) I am not sure whom I anger.
LANAN: (to the beggars) Two holy pilgrims have gone to your sacred shrines, wherein you were wont to sit before you left the mountains. They return even now with gifts for you from your homeland.
ULF: (aside to other beggars) They went to Marma!
OOGNA: (aside to other beggars) We are lost! They will have seen the green jade idols sitting against the mountain. They will say, “The Gods are still at Marma!” and we shall be burnt!
Agmar hushes them rapidly, swatting them back into composure. When he addresses the crowd his voice cracks with uncertainty.
AGMAR: They left us here and went to find the gods? A fish once took a journey into a far country to find the sea.
KAMOS: Most revered deity, their piety is so great that they have gone to worship even your empty shrines.
AGMAR: I know these men that have great piety. Such men have often prayed to me before, but their prayers are not acceptable. They little love the gods. Their only care is their piety. I know these pious ones. They will say that the seven gods were still at Marma. They will lie and say that we were still at Marma. So shall they seem more pious to you all, pretending to that they alone have seen the gods. Fools shall believe them and share in their damnation!
The crowd drops back in fear, murmuring.
LANAN: Regardless, most holy master, they are here.
Enter PILGRIM 1 and PILGRIM 2 dressed in travelling clothes. Kamos rushes up to them and they speak whisper briefly together.
OOGNA: (aside) We are doomed!
AGMAR: (to Oogna) Not yet! Not yet!
LANAN: Are these the men that went to the shrines at Marma?
KAMOS: Ah! Yes, yes! They are!
Kamos ushers two Pilgrims forward. The beggars shrink back, fidget and grip their thrones in fear.
LANAN: Did you men see the Gods at Marma?
PILGRAM 1: We… we did not.
LANAN: What? They were not there?
PILGRIM 2: The shrines were present, but empty.
RANDER: Behold the Gods of the Mountain!
The crowd cheers. The beggars look at each other amazed.
KAMOS: Yes… yes, of course. They have indeed come from Marma!
LANAN: Yes… yes… come all! Let us bring to the gods a great sacrifice! A mighty sacrifice to atone for our doubting!
As the lights come down there is a sound of drums, and horns, and dancing and drinks and a great revel.
Act 3- Finale
The throne room lies in disarray. The beggars are draped over their thrones. Agmos and Ulf are drunk. Oogna is snoring. Discarded food and beverages litter the floor. Clothes and other fabrics are strewn about: the end of a great revel.
AGMOS: Never have beggars had such a time!
ULF: Never. And yet… it is strange – the missing idols.
AGMOS: Bah! Someone has stolen them. Who knows when men last visited the mountain shrines? They are remote and difficult. They could have vanished ages ago!
ULF: True. Yet.. there is something –
OOGNA: (waking with a start) I had a dream!
AGMOS: What was your dream?
OOGNA: It…it was nothing. I dreamed that I was thirsty and one gave me wine; yet there was a fear in my dream.
ULF: That man! That man’s face had been near to some fearful thing!
AGMOS: What man?
ULF: The man who – someone was coming this way from the desert he said. He begged us to spare him.
AGMOS: They have seen their own fears dancing in the desert! They have seen something green after the light was gone, and some child has told them a tale that it was us. I do not know what they have seen. What should they have seen? It is… it is only we that have frightened them, and their fears have made them foolish.
There is a booming noise outside, low and distant, but reverberating… boommmm.
AGMOS: Was that? Did you hear?
SFX: Boom. Boom.
ULF: Ah! Dancing girls. I have requested dancing girls. With flutes!
OOGNA: Is it sunset already? We should have good eating.
ULF: They should come in with baskets on upon their heads. With fruits.
AGMOSAll the fruits of the valley.
ULF: There is no sound of flutes. They said they would come with music.
SFX: (louder) BOOM!
Agmos jumps up startled. Ulf and Oogna crowd near him uncertain.
OOGNA: What heavy boots they have. They sound like feet of stone.
SFX: Boom Boom Boom!
The beggars now cower half on and half behind the thrones.
AGMOS: I do not like to hear this heavy tread! Those that would dance for us must be light of foot.
ULF: Yes. They should come more nimbly.
AGMOS: Go out. Go out and tell them that I shall not smile if they are not airy.
Ulf reluctantly moves toward the side of the stage. As he just about reaches the exit, a loud rapid booming cadence breaks out, and he goes flying – half running half crawling, back to the thrones and the other beggars.
SFX: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM
A cacophony of screams rips through the air. The voice of dozens in mortal terror. The beggars clap their hands over their ears. Suddenly, all is quiet. They sit for a moment, in fear and wonder.
ULF: I have a fear. An old fear and a boding. We have done ill in the sight of the gods. Beggars we were and beggars we should have remained.
AGMOS: What nonsense do you speak?
There is a loud creak, as a door slowly opens. The beggars are bathed in a green light. Agmos and Ooga start and stare, transfixed.
ULF: It is we who have brought the gods down from the mountain. For this doomed city, we have called down an evil thing.
The green light spins and a great rushing noise rises as if from a river. The beggars scream and hide their faces. The noise becomes deafening, drowning out all other sounds.
Dim light falls from off stage into the room, as if the room were in darkness and a door were being opened. Enter Lanan, Rander and Kamos tentatively, carrying lanterns. Three heaps sit where the beggars were previously.
LANAN: Masters? Masters are you here?
Their lanterns illuminate the heaps. They are perfect statues of the beggars, cowering, their faces distorted in terror. The three citizens fall back with gasps.
Kamos approaches and prods them, finding them solid.
KAMOS: They are cold! They have been turned to stone!
RANDER: We have doubted. We have doubted them, and they have turned themselves into stone idols yet again, and left us.
LANAN: Yes. They were the true gods.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little diversion. If you haven’t read Dunsany before, do yourself a favor and bump him up to the top of your book pile.