The Poisoned Cup


Gavin Miller

Structure of "The Poisoned Cup"

Act I
Scene 1: The Poisoning
Scene 2: Arrival at Angarra
Scene 3: The Proposal
Scene 4: The Trial


Act II
Scene 1: Discovery on Angarra
Scene 2: The Execution
Scene 3: The Battle
Scene 4: The Resolution

Cast of Characters

Queen Saralinda.
Prince Randolf, her husband.
Caspian, a clerk.
General Cardon, head of the palace guard.
Alexi, a Dwarf.
Natasha, architect of Angarra.
Aunt Catherine, chief elder of Angarra.
Viscount Gusforth, messenger for General Cardon.
Findock the Wizard, wandering magician.
The Executioner, head of the Archery.
Guard 1. Soldier under General Cardon
Guard 2. Soldier under General Cardon.

Act 1, Scene 1: The Poisoning

The Palace. Randolf and Saralinda are casually telling stories to each other. They are very much in love.

RANDOLF: What a horrible story!


RANDOLF: It's so miserable. Why not tell something funny?

SARALINDA: It's supposed to conjure up an air of tragic beauty.

RANDOLF: Sounds more like a dead frog to me.

SARALINDA (suddenly angry): Randolf! You asked me to tell you a story so I did. How dare you pull it to pieces?

RANDOLF: I'm sorry. I was only teasing.

SARALINDA (suddenly not angry): So was I. Come on, if you're so brilliant you tell me one. Otherwise . . .

RANDOLF: Otherwise what?

SARALINDA: It's frogs legs for dinner - every night.

RANDOLF: How callously regal of you, Your Majesty.

SARALINDA: Only as befits my position, Your Highness.

RANDOLF: So are you sitting comfortably?

SARALINDA: Not quite.

RANDOLF: What's the matter?

SARALINDA: You haven't kissed me yet.

RANDOLF: We've been married for two weeks now and I've kissed you four thousand three hundred and twenty two times barring one near miss and a wet ear.


RANDOLF: I made it up.

SARALINDA: Well kiss me again anyway.

RANDOLF (imperious in jest): If Your Majesty commands me.


(They kiss)

RANDOLF: How do you feel now?

SARALINDA: I'm fine. How are you?

RANDOLF: Wonderful, just a bit thirsty.

SARALINDA: That's easily fixed. Caspian! Caspian! Get Prince Randolf a drink please!

CASPIAN (off stage): At once Your Majesty.

SARALINDA: So about a story.

RANDOLF: Ah yes. Well, once upon a time there was an evil dragon which lived in a dark and menacing part of the forest. It used to pounce on and eat any travellers which came within its part of the woods, but it never ventured anywhere else. Because of this, the king, who lived far away, decided to commission a sign to warn the people of the danger. The king wanted the sign to be both clear and beautiful so he asked an artist to design it for him.

The artist, greatly pleased, scratched his head and pondered for many weeks. Eventually he presented to the king a plank which said on it in bright red letters "This is a sign."

The king was greatly pleased with the artist's modernity and wit, and the artist became rich and famous in consequence. The travellers, however, continued to be eaten by the dragon.

Well, what do you think?

SARALINDA: It's very clever, I suppose, but it lacks passion.

RANDOLF: Passion! Does this lack passion?

(He kisses her again. Caspian enters with a steaming goblet).

CASPIAN: Your drink Your Highness.

RANDOLF: Oh, thank you. Put it down over there will you?

CASPIAN: But it's much better when it's hot Your Highness.

RANDOLF: Very well, give it here.

CASPIAN: Will that be all Your Highness?

RANDOLF: No, er, bring me the Royal Account Book will you?

SARALINDA: Randolf you promised!

RANDOLF: I won't be long darling. But I must do some work. Being Prince Regent can't be all fun you know. Anyway, if you see me all the time you'll get bored.


CASPIAN: Your Highness, I would be glad to go through the accounts for you. In King Edward's day I used to . . .

RANDOLF: Thank you for the offer Caspian. But as I said before the answer is no! It is my duty to check everything, so get me the book now please.

CASPIAN: Certainly Your Highness, at once. Oh, and er, enjoy your drink.

RANDOLF: Thank you.

(Caspian exits)

SARALINDA: You shouldn't be so harsh with him. Caspian has been with my family for years.

RANDOLF: And he . . . , well, never mind. We'll talk about it another time, for now I propose a toast: to our beautiful queen.

SARALINDA: Flatterer!

(Randolf drinks, he spits some of it out.)

RANDOLF: Yuck! What did he put in it, it tastes awful.

SARALINDA: Randolf, what do you mean? I'll try some.

RANDOLF: Don't touch it! It's poisoned.

SARALINDA: Poisoned! How can it be?

RANDOLF: I feel, oh God, I feel dizzy. I can't . . .

SARALINDA: Randolf wake up. Wake up Randolf.

Help! Guards help! Randolf's been poisoned. Help!

(General Cardon enters.)

GENERAL CARDON: Is there something the matter Your Majesty?

SARALINDA: Randolf's been poisoned. You must help me.

GENERAL CARDON: What in particular would you like me to do?

SARALINDA: General, what are you talking about? Save my husband. There must be something we can do.

GENERAL CARDON: Has the prince eaten or drunk anything recently?

SARALINDA: Yes that drink! Caspian brought it. Oh don't just stand there. Do something damn you!

GENERAL CARDON: I shall apprehend Caspian at the earliest opportunity.

SARALINDA: Forget Caspian! What about Randolf? Wake up Randolf. Fight it. Come back to me. Randolf!

GENERAL CARDON: He appears to be dead Your Majesty.

SARALINDA: No! He can't be. Help me! Randolf, Randolf.


(Guard 1 and Guard 2 enter.)

Come and take the prince to the infirmary where he can be prepared for the funeral barge.

SARALINDA: Leave him alone. Just a little air and he . . .

GENERAL CARDON: The Queen is quite clearly hysterical. Escort her to her bed chamber.

GUARD 1: Yes sir.

SARALINDA: You have no right to talk to me like that.

GENERAL CARDON: I have every right. Under the constitution the head of the palace guard takes full control in time of assassination.

SARALINDA: But he's not dead. If only . . .

GENERAL CARDON: Take her away!

(The guards drag Saralinda off stage.)

(General Cardon glances at the body and then paces up and down deep in thought. Alexi enters.)

ALEXI: General, what's wrong? I heard shouting. Is Saralinda in danger?

GENERAL CARDON: The Queen is safe. The Prince however. . .

(and he points to the body.)

ALEXI: What happened?

GENERAL CARDON: An assassination has taken place, and I have been forced to take control until such a time as order is restored.

ALEXI: But the Queen she . . .

GENERAL CARDON: The Queen will be fine. I shall ensure that she comes to no harm. I have ordered her to be taken to her room.

ALEXI: But she is your queen, General. You should obey her, not the other way round!

GENERAL CARDON: I am in charge now Alexi, and you obey me. I command the guards and I command you.

ALEXI: I see, General.

GENERAL CARDON: You do not see, Alexi. My first task as Guardian of the State is to have you dismissed.

ALEXI: For what, General?

GENERAL CARDON: That aqueduct you're building is a complete waste of public money. It will never work and even if it does, what good will it do?

ALEXI: The people need this aqueduct to carry water to the city.

GENERAL CARDON: They get by perfectly well at present.

ALEXI: But they spend hours every day carrying water jars from the river.

GENERAL CARDON: If they want the stone they will have to buy it. They can sell the water later to pay for it.

ALEXI: But they have no money, General. The rich people have servants to carry the water for them, and the poor people have only just enough money to eat.

GENERAL CARDON: That sounds like a perfectly sensible arrangement to me.

ALEXI: But the poor people, General. Think of the time they waste - time they could be with their families or doing other work.

GENERAL CARDON: Time which they might spend plotting to overthrow the State.

ALEXI: But General . . .

GENERAL CARDON: Enough! You may go.

Act 1, Scene 2: Arrival at Angarra

On the beach. The shore of Angarra. Randolf lies washed up and unconscious. Natasha enters and sees Randolf. She examines his pulse and his bracelet and gently tries to wake him up.


NATASHA: Hello, who are you?

RANDOLF: I can't remember I'm afraid.

NATASHA: Well according to that bracelet you are "Prince Randolf".

RANDOLF: I suppose I must be..

NATASHA: But this is the Island of Angarra, and there are not princes allowed here, so I shall just have to call you plain Randolf instead.

RANDOLF: And what is your name?

NATASHA: I am Natasha and I'm the architect of this town.

RANDOLF: Well it does seem to be very unusual.

NATASHA: And where are you from?

RANDOLF: I can't remember that either. I am simply what you see before you.

NATASHA: Well that can't be helped. You can walk can't you?

RANDOLF: I think so.

NATASHA: You do it beautifully. Now come on, this way.

RANDOLF: Where are we going?

NATASHA: It's not far, and you'll see some of my finest accomplishments.


(Randolf and Natasha walk out into the audience.)

NATASHA: That is the great storage barn, and over there is the bakery.

RANDOLF: It smells wonderful.

NATASHA: You're supposed to admire the chimneys not the aroma but I suppose you must be hungry.

RANDOLF: I am rather.

NATASHA: Well don't worry. I'll get you something to eat very soon.

RANDOLF: Thank you. (about the audience) Why are they all staring at me?

NATASHA: Oh you mustn't mind my friends. It's just that they haven't seen a grown-up male like you before.

RANDOLF: Why ever not?

NATASHA: Because there are none. But it's best if I don't say any more. Let me take you to meet Aunt Catherine. She will explain.

(Natasha takes Randolf's hand and leads him to the stage on which sits Aunt Catherine.)

NATASHA: Aunt Catherine, this bedraggled creature is a young man whom I just found washed up on the beach. I thought it best to bring him to see you straight away.

AUNT CATHERINE: Quite so. Now, what is your name stranger?

RANDOLF: Randolf, Your Majesty.

AUNT CATHERINE: I am neither majestic nor royal so do not use that term again young man. I am the chief elder and I enjoy neither being in charge nor being old, so you must call me Aunt Catherine if you wish to address me at all.

RANDOLF: Yes, Aunt Catherine.

AUNT CATHERINE: Do you know any magic?

RANDOLF: I know nothing, Aunt Catherine, except for my name which is on this bracelet.

AUNT CATHERINE: Well show it to me here.

(Randolf does)

AUNT CATHERINE: Young man, I fear that some wicked crime has been perpetrated against you. But since you remember nothing, as yet, we will set you to work, helping us to build our community. You will have to work as a labourer, of course, since you are probably quite unskilled, but in the evenings you shall learn about our ways and customs. And I think that there is someone who will be willing to teach you.

(Natasha bows at Aunt Catherine, smiles at Randolf and takes his hand.)

NATASHA: Thank you Aunt Catherine.

AUNT CATHERINE: Now leave me alone to get some rest.
The Poisoned Cup

Act 1, Scene 3: The Proposal

The Palace Library. Saralinda sits reading and is obviously pregnant.

(General Cardon enters.)


SARALINDA: Yes, what is it General?

GENERAL CARDON: I understand, Your Majesty, that you have a few questions about the list of people recommended for a Royal Medal of Good Citizenship.

SARALINDA: Yes General, please explain to me what Count Bertram is supposed to have done to merit anything at all, let alone praise and a medal.

GENERAL CARDON: Your Majesty, Count Bertram by his generosity has built a fine new barracks for the palace guard. In this way he has saved a great expense from falling on the Royal Coffers and he has helped to increase the security of the realm.

SARALINDA: General Cardon, the only reason Count Bertram spent a farthing is because your men helped him to evict tenant farmers from disputed land, to his advantage.

GENERAL CARDON: Your Majesty, my men were upholding the law. The law is partial to no man.

SARALINDA: It only was the law because the farmers didn't have enough money to fight it in the courts. What sort of legal system is it that always upholds the cases of the rich and tramples on the poor?

GENERAL CARDON: It is our legal system Your Majesty, and it is founded on many splendid centuries of tradition. However, there are other matters for us to discuss. I must talk to you about the future of our kingdom.


GENERAL CARDON: Well, Your Majesty, as you know, under martial law I have taken the reins of State in accordance with the constitution.

SARALINDA: The constitution as you stated it.

GENERAL CARDON: And I shall remain in charge until there is a royal son eligible for kingship.

SARALINDA: What are you trying to say General?

GENERAL CARDON: I remember how, when I was a youth, the news of you being born made my heart leap with joy. Ever since then I have seen you grow from a delightful young girl into a fine and beautiful woman. I have always been fond of you, from afar it is true, but I always hoped in my heart that if I were a good soldier and a well respected citizen, you might reciprocate that emotion.

And even when you married that foreigner I did not object to the match, as I had every right to do, fearing for our people's safety.

SARALINDA (sarcastically): How gracious of you.

GENERAL CARDON: Still, that is past now and after your husband's unfortunate death you will soon have a child who needs a father. All children need a man to look up to. Mothers can't do everything you know.

SARALINDA: General Cardon, thank you for your offer, but I am afraid that I shall decline it, good night.

GENERAL CARDON: But Your Majesty, Saralinda, think of the kingdom. Think of the future. Will the realm be safe?

SARALINDA: It is the kingdom which I am worried about. You have control of it now, with your soldiers in the palace, but with a child of mine under your guardianship, your position would be unassailable. You are the man who was supposed to guard my husband's safety and he is dead. And what steps have you taken to find his murderer? None! From this I can only conclude that you had some part in his downfall.

GENERAL CARDON: Madam, I'm afraid that it is within my power to insist.

SARALINDA: What? Force me to marry you?

GENERAL CARDON: If it is in the interests of the State then yes.

SARALINDA (after a pause): If you can force me then I agree.


SARALINDA: I do. But afterwards, in every moment of every hour of every day, you will have to wonder how I am planning to kill you.

GENERAL CARDON: If you Majesty objects to strongly to my proposal, then I of course, withdraw it.

(Alexi enters.)

GENERAL CARDON: Out of my way!

(General Cardon exits.)

ALEXI: What's wrong with him?

SARALINDA: The General just asked me to marry him.

ALEXI: Marry you! What did you say?

SARALINDA: I told him to drop dead.

ALEXI: Quite so, and how did he take it?

SARALINDA: I put him off for a while but I'm sure he will try again. What am I to do Alexi? I feel so helpless. The guards in the palace won't obey my orders and the General has the army completely under his control. There is no way to get at him.

ALEXI: I will find a way, Your Majesty.

SARALINDA: Be on your guard Alexi. The General is a dangerous man. He will kill you if he gets the chance.

(Alexi shrugs, kisses her hand and exits.)

Act 1, Scene 4: The Trial

The trial. The scene is the court house. Alexi is in the dock.

GENERAL CARDON: Alexi, the Dwarf, the charge against you is a very simple one and because I am a fair-minded man I shall state the evidence clearly and then listen to what may be said in your defence before making judgement and passing sentence.

You stand here accused of high treason against the State by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow the government. You have before you a so-called "leaflet" which it is claimed was produced by you on some wicked invention of yours.

ALEXI: On a printing press it is true.

GENERAL CARDON: A machine which reproduces writing far more rapidly than could any ten men?


GENERAL CARDON: Which may be used to spread your pernicious vile lies throughout the land.

ALEXI: To convey my point of view, yes.

GENERAL CARDON: To convey your point of view. Ladies and Gentlemen of the court, let him read you this document, this poisonous vicious attack on your government and you can all judge its merits for yourselves.

ALEXI: "The Need for a New Direction."

Citizens, friends.

GENERAL CARDON: "Friends" he says.

ALEXI: I urge you to consider the plight of our fair land, to consider what dire changes have occured since that blinkered man, the General, came to power.

GENERAL CARDON: "Blinkered" he says.

ALEXI: As you all know, my plans for an aqueduct for the city have been halted.

GENERAL CARDON: I said they could continue but with their own money.

ALEXI: This short-sighted policy will ruin the lives of all except the very rich, enslaving them in endless journeys to get even the bare necessities of life. What is worse is that the work done by myself and other to design simple furniture for the poorer people has been destroyed or suppressed so that the rich can sell them inferior goods which are grossly overpriced.

But the General has gone further. He has stoped the repairs of the roads and the riverbank "to save money", he says, but for what? There are no writing materials in the schools and yet the rich sup in resplendent luxury.

SARALINDA (in disguise at the back): Hear, hear.

ALEXI: So I urge you with all my heart to stand up and be counted. Cast off the yoke of this oppressor. Freedom was ours. Freedom will be ours again!

(Saralinda claps. Others in the audience cheer.)

GENERAL CARDON: The prisoner may stand down. (Alexi does so.) The case is clear. The prisoner admits that he wrote this scurulous lible against the state. He intended to distribute it amongst the common folk who, beguiled by his rhetoric, would have taken to the streets rioting and burning and looting until the government toppled. High treason indeed, there can be not doubt. It only remains to hear the defense, if there can be any, and then I shall pass sentence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, is there any one who will step forward and speak on behalf of this little man? What? Is there no-one who will come forward and defend this "hero" whom you cheered a few moments ago?

SARALINDA (after a pause): I will be his champion.

GENERAL CARDON: And who is it that presumes to plead a cause which all others clearly see as hopeless?

SARALINDA (revealing her face): It is I.

GENERAL CARDON: But Your Majesty, this is most improper.

SARALINDA: Why General?

GENERAL CARDON: Because you are the Queen.

SARALINDA: All the more reason for me to defend the well being of one of my subjects.

GENERAL CARDON: But to have a queen defending a case of treason, this is farcical. It makes a mockery of the court.

SARALINDA: It is your court General, not mine. Would you have it said that your law is such that even a queen was not allowed to speak?

GENERAL CARDON: As Your Majesty pleases.

SARALINDA: Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I address you today not as your queen but as a friend of the prisoner. It is fair to say that I have known him for all of my life. Ever since I was a little girl I have been aware of his kindness and of his gentleness and of his love for our land and its people. He has worked tirelessly to use his skill and knowledge both to delight us and to help us prosper. My father, as you know, appointed him to build a great aqueduct which would have helped the city to flourish. But not content with this he laboured long and hard to have young men and women with him trying to improve every aspect of our lives. Their metalwork and craftsmanship were renowned not only throughout this kingdom but in other countries as well.

That was how things stood when the General came to power. He shut down the Summerhouse, centre of all that work, crushing Alexi's aspirations. He even forbade all but one apprentice to work for him. Born to design castles in the air, Alexi was forced to draw up holes in the ground for patrons who laughed at his fallen dreams.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Alexi is above all things a child of the imagination. If you give him a flower he will sniff it and before his eyes he will see an entire forest filled with mysterious creatures and strange sounds. Play him a melody and crystal towers fill his gaze, or a new dance, or some clever mechanical toy.

Is it any wonder that such a man should be numbed by being dismissed so rudely and with such little cause? Is it so surprising that faced with new and restrictive laws, he should suspect the worst? A child of the imagination has dreams which can delight us all, but his nightmares may be too terrible to think of.

General Cardon, if you show no compassion for Alexi's plight, if you close your heart to kindness, if you have him put to death, then you will have become the tyrant whom Alexi feared you to be and no-one will be safe.

You speak of violence on the streets. Where is this ravaging mob? Where is this monsterous threat which will tear us limb from limb? General, I beg you, show compassion. Do not destroy our brightest star. Imprison him if you must to satisfy your vanity, but do not murder him, for with him would die our only hope for a better time to come.

(General Cardon is hesitant)

VISCOUNT GUSFORTH (bursts in at the back): General Cardon, the mountain folk have assembled an army on the other side of the river. They say that you haven't anwered their demands for an explanation of their brother's death, and they will bombard the city if you continue to ignore their messages.

GENERAL CARDON: There is your threat, woman! I pronounce that at dawn tomorrow, the prisoner shall be taken before a firing squad and pierced with arrows until he is dead.

Court dismissed.

Now Gusforth, what is all this nonsense about "demands"?

VISCOUNT GUSFORTH: Findock the Wizard is here to talk to you, General.

GENERAL CARDON: That meddling old fool! Show him in.

(Findock enters.)

FINDOCK: General Cardon, as you know, since the death of King Edward, I have been travelling far and wide, keeping an eye on our enemies and trying to establish trade with new friends where I could find them. When I set out I left a country united in mourning for a dead king. A splendid funeral had just taken place and you had gone down on your knees at the ceremony pledging allegiance to Prince Randolf and Queen Saralinda. Now I return and find the Prince dead, the Queen displaced from power and you, of all people, on the throne. I am glad to say that I am not the only person concerned at this Stateof affairs. Prince Peter and Prince Archibald send their respects but ask for a final time that you make clear what efforts you have made to bring the murderers of their brother to justice.

GENERAL CARDON: Do they indeed? How dare they presume to infringe on another country's domestic concerns? They mass up a huge army on the other side of the river and then they demand to be answered in their wild accusations as if they were the heads of State and I were a mere servant.

FINDOCK: But General, it is only natural that they should be concerned for Saralinda and their new nephew.

GENERAL CARDON: "Natural" is it to threaten and scream and intimidate! I'll teach them some manners. Let them know that if one footsoldier of theirs crosses the border between our two countries then a state of war will exist between us. See how they like that!

FINDOCK: But be reasonable General. A few quiet words - a letter would settle this matter and we could all go our separate ways. The two nations have been friends for centuries. To tear them apart now would sever ties which are close to the hearts of all of us.

GENERAL CARDON: You, Findock, are a wizard and an interloper and you can keep your heart to yourself. As for the threat of intimidation from your masters, you can tell them to remember the mighty forces which I command, and to tremble at the prospect of my anger!

Act 2, Scene 1: Discovery on Angarra

The Island of Angarra. Natasha and Randolf sit talking.

RANDOLF: The trouble with losing your memory Natasha is that you can be sure that however hard you try, you are never going to remember any really funny stories. Sometimes I sit for hours staring into the blankness of my mind trying to goad it into a witticism. And if eventually there is some small spark of comic genius, I rush and tell it to your friends. They then explain to me, very kindly, that my joke is a bit like one they heard once except, of course, that one was funnier and had a much better ending which they are sure will come to them if only they think about it for long enough.

NATASHA: Yes, I can see that it must be very difficult.

RANDOLF: In fact there was a dragon once which had exactly my problem. It used to live in a remote and gloomy part of the forest. Every time a knight passed through on a quest, the dragon would pounce on him and ask a terribly difficult question. If the knight gave a brilliant or witty answer the dragon would get so annoyed that it would tear the knight to pieces. If, on the other hand, the knight admitted that he couldn't remember the end of the riddle either then the dragon would let him go.

NATASHA: Really? And what happened to the dragon?

RANDOLF: It wrote down all the answers that the dead knights had given and learned them off by heart. In the end it became so witty that fair damsels would come and sit at the dragon's feet merely to admire its conversation, and wise men would travel from distant lands to ask its advice on matters of philosophy and affairs of state. Eventually, of course, one of the younger knights became extremely jealous. He sharpened his sword and crept up on the dragon as it slept. He plunged the blade into the animal's side and said, "Now dragon, what have you to say about death?" The dragon was silent and still for some moments and then with its final breath it said, "Don't ask stupid questions." And it split the knight in two with a single blow of its claw.

NATASHA: Is that true?

RANDOLF: Of course not. I was just trying to cheer you up. Come on Natasha, why were you looking so miserable?

NATASHA: Oh, it's just that sometimes I remember my childhood.

RANDOLF: Which you spent on Angarra?

NATASHA: Of course not! I am a child of the forest. And to think you never realized.

RANDOLF: And were there mountains nearby?

NATASHA: Why do you ask?

RANDOLF: I just thought it would be especially beautiful, that's all. But tell me, how is it that you all ended up on this lonely island?

NATASHA: Well, when I was still a little girl, I used to live with my mother, my father and my cousin in a large hut on the edge of some woods. In those days the desert stretched behind it as far as the eye could see and it was fiercely hot, but in the forest we had water and shade and plenty to eat. We made our living by designing and making things which we traded with other settlements on the river.

Even then my cousin, who was an orphan, showed great skill and curiosity. He used to go out for hours making sketches of the trees and the wild life. I prefered to stay at home with my father, which is where I learned to make buildings which are warm and strong. Sometimes he would teach us about his machines which whirled and ticked and fascinated our young minds.

RANDOLF: Why didn't you stay there? It sounds idyllic.

NATASHA: It was, Randolf; I loved it so much, but one day out of the burning sand dunes came a message. We had to leave our home and surrender our lives to the invaders. They came, and I curse the memory, dealing poison and death onto our forest. We fought, of course, as hard as we could, but they had magical weapons and fearless natures. I hated them and wanted to stay for the battle, tiny as I was. My father placed me in the boat himself, just before the final onslaught. The male dwarves who were old enough stayed to fight. We pleaded with them to join us but they wouldn't. My father promised me that when the battle was over he would sail down stream to be with us again. But we both knew that it was hopeless.

RANDOLF: And what happened to your cousin?

NATASHA: He was off drawing in the woods when the first attack came. I haven't seen him since. But he was clever. I just know that he survived. He would have crouched down and hidden himself in some dark corner until they passed. He would have got away.

Where is he Randolf? I still miss him fifteen years later. We were so close once. He must miss me too.

RANDOLF: What was his name Natasha?

NATASHA: Alexander.

RANDOLF: Alexander. Did you sometimes call him Alexi?

NATASHA: Yes, of course.

RANDOLF: And did he have dark hair, blue eyes and a melancholy stare?

NATASHA: How did you know?

RANDOLF: I've seen him.


RANDOLF: In a dream. It's a rather wonderful dream actually. I have a beautiful wife and we live in a magnificent palace high up on a hill overlooking a valley. Well the dream would be wonderful if only I could find her. I hear her calling to me but she is always in the next room. When I get to it, she's moved on. Sometimes I meet a clerk who keeps wanting me to drink something. Alexi tells me not to. It's very annoying. All I really want to do is meet the princess.

NATASHA: Tell me more about the palace.

RANDOLF: Well, it's very old. It has two towers, one of which seems to have collapsed recently. Also, I remember stained glass windows. Every room has different coloured light streaming into it.

It's a very vivid dream, but all nonsense of course.

NATASHA: Randolf, my father once told me of such a place. It was a long way up stream from the forest, but very occasionally a funeral barge would drift by carrying a dead king. Tradition said that anyone who touched it would be sucked into a whirlpool and destroyed.

RANDOLF: Then my dream is real.


RANDOLF: And the princess?

NATASHA: Is your wife as you say, and she must be in danger.

RANDOLF: What can we do Natasha?

NATASHA: Aunt Catherine has spoken to me of a potion to bring back your memory. It is rather dangerous and I must admit I was afraid of losing you. But now I see I've been being selfish.

RANDOLF: I must try it, Natasha. But don't worry. You and I will still be friends whatever happens.

NATASHA: Come on then. This way.

(Natasha leads Randolf off stage.)
The Poisoned Cup

Act 2, Scene 2: The Execution

The Courtyard.

EXECUTIONER: Would you like a blindfold sir?

ALEXI: No thank you. It's such a beautiful morning. It would be a shame to miss any of it.

It seems so odd that I'm going to die today. I know that those are the orders, but it's such an ordinary lovely day - like any other. In a few minutes I shall stand against that wall, you will shoot arrows into me and I will die. And I feel that we can then all go home and get on with the important things that we hadn't quite finished doing yesterday.

EXECUTIONER: That's right sir, so if you could just move over there and we'll get on with the job.

ALEXI: You don't think that I'm being a coward do you, not feeling dramatic I mean?

EXECUTIONER: You sir? No sir. Long speeches with fine words would be a bit wasted on me and the lads. We're just following orders you see. A minimum of fuss and we can all go home, as you say.

ALEXI: Except me, of course.

EXECUTIONER: Yes sir. Right lads. This one could be a bit tricky - small target as you can see. Aim low, do your best. When I count to free.

ALEXI: This is a bit informal isn't it? I mean no ceremonial drums or anything.

EXECUTIONER: Well sir, who's to know? I won't tell and you certainly won't. Right now. One. Two. Free.

(Arrows hitting wall sound effect.)

Dear oh dear oh dear. Had a heavy night last night did we? Try a bit harder or we'll be here 'til lunchtime.

ALEXI: Suits me.

EXECUTIONER: Right. One. Two. Free.

(Arrows hitting wall sound effect.)

Sorry to drag your lordships out of bed this early in the morning. If you're all feeling too tired then maybe we could just ask the prisoner to impale 'imself on a railing and save you all the trouble.

ALEXI: I'd rather not.

EXECUTIONER: Silence! Now then, anyone who misses this time gets a sword in his belly. Understood? Ready! One. Two. . . .

(Wind effect blows the Executioner off stage leaving Alexi untouched. Findock and Saralinda appear from where the wind came from.)

FINDOCK: That'll teach the General to call me an interloper. I do my best to bring a bit of wisdom to this petty quarrel and all I get is abuse.

SARALINDA: So you're still alive Alexi.

ALEXI: Am I? I see.

SARALINDA: Now you go with Findock back to Archibald and Peter. They will look after you.

ALEXI: But what about you?

SARALINDA: I must stay to try to calm my subjects. I cannot be seen to march against them in battle even if it means that I must become their prisoner.

ALEXI: Well then, since we are to be parted so soon, Your Majesty, I must thank you for coming to my defence at the trial. You were the last friend I had in the world and it was wonderful of you to help me.

SARALINDA: It was no more than you deserved Alexi.

(She kisses him.)

FINDOCK: This is all very touching, but the guards will be back any minute. We must hurry.

(Saralinda exits one way, Findock and Alexi the other.)
The Poisoned Cup

Act 2, Scene 3: The Battle

The top of a hill overlooking the valley. Gusforth has a telescope. General Cardon sits surveying the scene.

GENERAL CARDON: Now Gusforth, when I give you the orders you must run to my captains to instruct them in the details of the operation. I have found to my cost in the last few months that most of the other nobles are too old or too stupid to carry out this important task, so I chose you.

GUSFORTH: Yes General, but why not have your captains at your side to give them orders directly?

GENERAL CARDON: Young man, when you get to my age you will realize the importance of keeping a certain distance between yourself and the men. Tell me, what can you see?

GUSFORTH: Well General, as you know, the army of Archibald and Peter is extended right along the riverbank from the oak forest at one end to the deserted tower at the other. There must be eight or ten thousand of them and they have catapults and ladders and what look to me like pontoon bridges ready to be assembled.

GENERAL CARDON: Is there much activity?

GUSFORTH: Some movement, General, but they look as though they are waiting for the final order before making war on us.

GENERAL CARDON: We will crush them like flies.

GUSFORTH: With respect General, they are numerous and well armed. We will beat them, I'm sure, but only at the cost of great bloodshed on both sides.

GENERAL CARDON: No opinions Gusforth, just facts. What's happening now?

GUSFORTH: General! A boat has appeared on the river. It is coming up stream and it's travelling at enormous speed. There is a great plume of white smoke pouring out of the back of it.

GENERAL CARDON: I ordered the rocketeer to destroy any craft that appeared upon the river immediately.

GUSFORTH: Indeed General, he has just fired off an explosive rocket. It is soaring through the air. But General!

GENERAL CARDON: What is it? What is it?

GUSFORTH: The craft has just fired a rocket of its own. It has exploded in the air and turned into a large spreading net. This has wrapped itself around our rocket and sent it crashing to the ground to explode harmlessly.

GENERAL CARDON: It must be that damned wizard!

GUSFORTH: No General, he is on the bank. Shall I order the rocketeer to fire again?

GENERAL CARDON: No, save the rockets 'til later. What is happening now?

GUSFORTH: The craft has stopped and two people are getting out. General! One is a young woman and the other . . .


GUSFORTH: Is Prince Randolf. He is embracing Peter and Archibald and the old man.

GENERAL CARDON: Nonsense, Randolf is dead. Let me see.

(General Cardon peers down the telescope with some difficulty.)

This is a very clever trick of theirs. They find a man who looks a bit like Randolf and greet him as a long lost brother. It is all designed to undermine our resolve.

GUSFORTH: But he looks exactly like Randolf.

GENERAL CARDON: I've had enough of this wretched thing.

GUSFORTH: Goodness! Now Randolf is getting in the boat to cross the river.


GUSFORTH: Sorry. The man who looks very much like Randolf.

GENERAL CARDON: That's better.

GUSFORTH: Well, the man who looks very, very similar to Randolf is climbing the near bank and walking towards us.

GENERAL CARDON: Have him shot with arrows as soon as he is within range.

GUSFORTH: But General, he is a single man without armour.

GENERAL CARDON: Take the order NOW!

GUSFORTH: Very well General.

(Gusforth crosses to the Executioner who is Captain of the archers.)

Captain, the General's orders. There is a man walking up the hill who looks like Prince Randolf. The General wishes him to be shot at as soon as he is within range. Now it is very important that you understand my instructions. This man looks so incredibly like Prince Randolf that if you did not know better, you might think that a mistake had been made about his death. It is as if he had been merely poisoned but not killed before being set adrift. Still, mistakes of this kind do not happen.


GUSFORTH: But, if such a mistake were to occur, say because people were a little hysterical or a fraction too keen to gain power, then it would be very important. And, of course, if the mistakenly dead person were to come back, then it would be a terrible shame that they should die because someone did not want them to be alive, wouldn't it?


GUSFORTH: And the person who killed them might suffer for it later.

EXECUTIONER: Might have a terrible conscience sir, and two angry brothers to contend with.

GUSFORTH: We understand each other.


GUSFORTH: But of course the General as we all know is a fine man and he is certain that such mistakes are impossible, and it is his order which I am giving you now, to kill that unarmed single man coming peaceably up the hill.

EXECUTIONER: I will do my very best sir.

GUSFORTH: Excellent.

EXECUTIONER: Right lads, you heard the gentleman. That single target coming up the hill, all alone and unarmed, is to be shot at - General's orders. Now I know that on a day like this with these funny wind conditions you can never be quite sure where an arrow might land. But if any of you shoots any different than you did with that dwarf this morning, I shall personally turn him into minced meat for the pot. Understood?

Right. One. Two. Free.

Oh dear, a little to the left. Well it can't be helped. I know that you were all trying really 'ard to hit 'im. Keep trying just as 'ard and when'e 's a bit nearer we'll try again.

GUSFORTH: Splendid work so far captain.

EXECUTIONER: Thank you sir. Now lads remember, the General's watching, so do your best. But I wouldn't want you to strain any muscles by pulling back too hard on your bows or anything like that.

Right. One. Two. Free.

What, fallen too short this time have they? That's too bad. I'm afraid sir, that the target is now rather close to the infantry. It might be dangerous to try again. We might hurt someone.

GUSFORTH: Thank you Captain.

(Gusforth crosses back to the General.)

GENERAL CARDON: Useless gang of incompetants.

(Sound of crowds of men off stage cheering: Randolf! Randolf!)

What was that?

GUSFORTH: It is the men sir. They seem to be being taken in by this man who looks identical to Prince Randolf.


(Randolf enters and approaches the General. General Cardon takes out his sword, almost as if to strike Randolf. He finally recognizes him and falls to his knees offering Randolf his sword to run him through.)

Your Highness, before I die a death which I deserve please believe that it was not I who organized your murder.

(Randolf takes the sword, hesitates and then hands the sword to Gusforth.)

RANDOLF: Guard him for me will you Gusforth?

GUSFORTH: Yes Your Highness.

RANDOLF: And tell me where Saralinda is.

GUSFORTH: She and the baby are quite safe in the palace Your Highness.

RANDOLF: And the baby. What baby?
The Poisoned Cup

Act 2, Scene 4: The Resolution

The Palace. Saralinda is anxiously awaiting the news of the battle. Randolf enters.

RANDOLF: Saralinda.

(Saralinda looks and then rushes forward to embrace and kiss him.)

SARALINDA: Randolf, is it really you?

RANDOLF: I hope you wouldn't kiss anyone else like that.

SARALINDA: Oh Randolf, it is you.

(They kiss again.)

RANDOLF: You see, the poison it wasn't really . . .

SARALINDA: I don't want to know. Just kiss me.

(They kiss again.)

I used to dream of this. I'd wake up with tears in my eyes wishing so hard that you were with me. . .

RANDOLF: Gently darling, it's alright. I'm back now.

SARALINDA: And you won't leave me again. You promise?

RANDOLF: I promise.

SARALINDA: Hold me tighter. Oh you are real! I knew you couldn't be dead, but where was I to look for you?

RANDOLF: I know, I know.

SARALINDA: Steven, I haven't introduced you to Steven yet. You did know didn't you, about our son I mean.

RANDOLF: Gusforth mentioned something about a baby . . .

SARALINDA: He has your eyes, your beautiful sad eyes. Come and see.

(They exit. Natasha enters with Viscount Gusforth.)

NATASHA: So where is he?


NATASHA: Alexi, of course, who else?

GUSFORTH: I'm afraid I'm not sure. He was supposed to be executed today, but it got put off. Something about a freak gust of wind. All most peculiar. Then he dissappeared.

NATASHA: Typical.

GUSFORTH: But I'm sure no harm has come to him. After the General surrendered, the soldiers all decided to scrap the battle and they threw a party instead. Alexi is probably propped up against some wine barrel having the time of his life.

NATASHA: Listen Gusforth or whatever your name is, I want to see him now. I've searched high and low for that wretched little cousin of mine. I've even gone into battle to find him. Now you say he's lying drunk somewhere oblivious to my existence. Go and look for him now please.

GUSFORTH: I'll try.

NATASHA: Thank you.

(Gusforth exits.)

Alexi! Alexi! Where are you?

(Randolf and Saralinda enter.)

RANDOLF: Any luck Natasha?

NATASHA: Where is he Randolf?

RANDOLF: We'll find him soon. There's plenty of time.

(Caspian enters and runs forward with a dagger in his hand to stab Randolf.)

CASPIAN: No time for you mountain dog. Prepare to die.

SARALINDA (screams with magical force): No!

(Caspian is thrown back and drops the knife. He cannot move. Alexi enters reading from a book.)

ALEXI: With permission Your Majesty, I shall read you Caspian's journal from last winter. And I quote, "What a marvelous plan. That will teach them to bar my genius from taking office. Just because that fool of a princess was taken in by the good looks and easy charm of a mere boy, why should he govern this land?" Shall I go on Your Highness?

RANDOLF: Please do.

ALEXI: Caspian then wrote as follows. "I who slaved for years under that fumbling king, why should I be deprived of ruling the state? I who am the cleverest mind in the land, why whould I be a mere vessel to carry drinks to the Prince. Well what a drink eh? It was enough to bring the General to power, and after this bloody war is over it is I who shall arise from the ashes, the one person brilliant enough to pick up the pieces and make them my own."

RANDOLF: Is this true Caspian?

CASPIAN: True? Of course it's true, and I spit upon your kingdom and your throne. What good is a country if a man cannot flourish by his own merits?

RANDOLF: To be a good leader, Caspian, talent alone is not enough. There must also be honesty and trust. You quite happily falsified the accounts for your own profit, and you then didn't even make a very good job of trying to hide your crimes. I was just about to find this out when you decided to poison me. But tell me, why didn't you kill me outright? Were you so sure that I would die fighting in the battle to follow?

CASPIAN: We all make mistakes.

RANDOLF: Even a man of your genius Caspian? Guards take him away!

(Guards drag Caspian off.)

CASPIAN (screams): Is there no justice in this land?



NATASHA: I think I am your cousin, Alexi. I have travelled a long way to see you.

ALEXI: I did have a cousin once, a very long time ago. But you, can you really be Natasha?

NATASHA: Of course I am. Don't you remember me?

ALEXI: Tasha, if it really is you, forgive me. I was to be executed today you see, and then there was a battle or nearly so and I haven't eaten anything since breakfast.

NATASHA: Well come with me to the kitchen and have whatever you like. And then I will remind you of some tales from our childhood which should bring back a flood of memories and perhaps a few tears.

(They link arms and then as they exit,)

Also, I want to talk to you about that aqueduct. It sounds to me as though what you really want is some windmills to pump water up from the river. . .

(Natasha and Alexi exit.)

SARALINDA (slightly jealous): She seems nice.

RANDOLF: Yes, she's lovely. I'm so glad she found him at last. But tell me, how did you do that just now?


RANDOLF: Stop Caspian like that.

SARALINDA: Just one of the little tricks that Findock taught me.

RANDOLF: I didn't know.

SARALINDA: There's lots you don't know about me, but now there's all the time in the world to find out.

(They embrace again only to be interupted by the cries of the baby.)

Feeding time. I won't be long.

(She exits.)

RANDOLF (to himself): And they all lived happily ever after.

SARALINDA: What did you say?

RANDOLF: Nothing darling, just something I read once, in a book.



© 1986, Gavin Miller. All rights reserved.