E. L. Schwarz


A fairy tale in 3 acts.

Translated from Russian by Yuri Machkasov.

Copyright © 2001, Yuri Machkasov. All rights reserved. The author may be contacted by means of electronic mail at yuri@yacht.zamok.net. All rights to the Russian original are not intended to be usurped or infringed upon by this translation and remain property of the corresponding copyright holders, or in public domain as the case may be.

 Cast of characters:

Charlemagne - the archivist.
Elsa - his daughter.
Heinrich - his son.
1st Weaver.
2nd Weaver.
Elsa's 1st girlfriend.
Elsa's 2nd girlfriend.
Elsa's 3rd girlfriend.
1st Townsman.
2nd Townsman.
1st Townswoman.
2nd Townswoman.
Servants, guards, townspeople.

 Act 1.

A spacious, cozy kitchen, with a big hearth in the back. The stone floor is shining. On the easy chair in front of the hearth Cat is napping.
Lancelot (entering, looks around, calls out) Master! Mistress! Is there a living soul around here? Nobody’s home… The house is empty, the gate is open, the doors are unlocked, windows ajar. Good thing I’m an honest person, otherwise I would’ve had to sneak around, tremble, grab what’s valuable and get out fast – just when I want to rest a little. (Sits down). All right, we’ll wait. Mister Cat! Are your masters going to be back soon? Huh? Keeping quiet, are you?
Cat. I am.
Lancelot. And why is that, if I may be permitted to inquire?
Cat. When it’s soft and warm around you, it’s wiser to slumber and keep your mouth shut, my dear friend.
Lancelot. Still, where are your masters?
Cat. They went out, which is most pleasant.
Lancelot. So, you don’t like them?
Cat. I love them with every hair in my fur, and with my paws and my whiskers, but there is a big tragedy upon them. I have peace in my soul only when they go out the door.
Lancelot. I see. So there’s trouble coming up? What kind? Are you keeping hush again?
Cat. I am.
Lancelot. Why?
Cat. When it’s soft and warm around you, it’s wiser to slumber and keep your mouth shut, rather than concern yourself with future unpleasantness. Mew!
Lancelot. Hey, Cat, are you trying to scare me? It’s so cozy here in this kitchen, the fire in the hearth has been built so lovingly. I refuse to believe that this nice house is being threatened. Cat! What’s going on here? Answer me! Now!
Cat. Why don’t you let me doze off, stranger.
Lancelot. Listen, Cat, you don’t know me. I’m a very light person – so light that I’ve been drifting all over the world like a feather. And I easily stick my nose into other people’s troubles. That got me wounded 19 times lightly, 5 times heavily and three times – mortally. But I’m still alive, because I’m not only light as a feather, but also stubborn as a mule. Now tell me, Cat, what happened here? What if I could rescue your masters? I’ve been known to do that, you know. So? Come on! What’s your name?
Cat. Marichen.
Lancelot. I thought you were …
Cat. Well, I am, but these humans can sometimes be so inattentive. My masters are still wondering why is it that I haven’t had kittens yet. They keep saying: "What’s wrong, Marichen?". Those dear, poor people! And there’s not a word more out of me.
Lancelot. All right, just tell me who they are, your masters.
Cat. Mister Archivist Charlemagne and his only daughter, the one with such gentle paws, the lovely, dear, soft Elsa.
Lancelot. And which one of them is in trouble?
Cat. Ah, she is – and so are we all!
Lancelot. And what is it? Come on!
Cat. Meow! It is almost four hundred years now that there’s a dragon living over our town.
Lancelot. A dragon? Excellent!
Cat. He imposed a tribute on the town. Every year the dragon selects a maiden. And we give her to him without so much as a meow. And he takes her to his cave. And we never see her again. It’s said that they die there from disgust. Pfft! Off! Off you go! Ffff!
Lancelot. Who?
Cat. The dragon! He chose our Elsa! That cursed lizard!
Lancelot. How many heads does he have?
Cat. Three.
Lancelot. Impressive. What about paws?
Cat. Four.
Lancelot. Well, that’s decent. Talons?
Cat. Sure. Five talons on each paw. Each one the size of an antler.
Lancelot. You don’t say! Are they sharp, those talons?
Cat. Like knives.
Lancelot. I see. How about breathing fire?
Cat. That, too.
Lancelot. Real fire?
Cat. Burns the forest.
Lancelot. Uh-huh. Has he got scales?
Cat. He got scales.
Lancelot. And them scales, tough, I gather?
Cat. Solid.
Lancelot. No, really, how tough?
Cat. Couldn’t cut’em with a diamond.
Lancelot. I see. Size?
Cat. Like a church.
Lancelot. OK, I get the picture. Thanks, Cat.
Cat. Are you going to fight him?
Lancelot. We’ll see.
Cat. I'm begging you – please challenge him to a fight. He’ll kill you, of course, but what with the commotion and all, we’d be able to dream in the meantime in front of the fireplace that by accident or by miracle, with something or other, maybe, possibly – you’d kill him too.
Lancelot. Thanks much, Cat.
Cat. Get up.
Lancelot. What is it?
Cat. They’re coming.
Lancelot. I wish I’d like her, if only I would like her! This usually helps so much … (Looks out the window). I do like her! Hey, Cat, she’s a very sweet girl! What’s that? Cat! She’s smiling? She’s completely calm! And her father is smiling happily. You tricked me!
Cat. No. The saddest part of this story is exactly that they are both smiling. Quiet now. Good evening! To dinner, to dinner, my dear friends!

Enter Elsa and Charlemagne.
Lancelot. Good evening, kind sir and gentle lady.
Charlemagne. Good evening, young man.
Lancelot. Your house – it was looking at me so invitingly, and the gates were open, and the fire was burning in the fireplace, so I let myself in. I apologize.
Charlemagne. No apologies necessary. Our doors are open for everyone.
Elsa. Please, sit down. Let me take your hat, I’ll hang it by the door. The table will be ready in a minute… What is it?
Lancelot. Nothing.
Elsa. Why do I get a feeling that you are… afraid of me?
Lancelot. No, no, no… It’s just… Never mind.
Charlemagne. Have a seat, my friend. I like strangers. That’s probably because I’ve lived my entire life without ever venturing outside the town. Where do you come from?
Lancelot. South.
Charlemagne. I guess you had a lot of adventures along the way?
Lancelot. Oh, more than I’d wish for.
Elsa. You must be really tired. Do sit down. Why are you standing?
Lancelot. Thank you.
Charlemagne. You can have a wonderful rest with us. This is a very quiet town. Nothing ever happens here.
Lancelot. Never?
Charlemagne. Never. Well, last week we had some very strong winds. The roof of one house was nearly blown off. But this is not such a big deal, is it?
Elsa. Here’s the dinner. Come, please. What’s wrong?
Lancelot. Excuse me, but… You’re saying that this is a very quiet town?
Elsa. Of course.
Lancelot. What about… the dragon?
Charlemagne. Oh, that… But we’ve grown so accustomed to him. He’s lived with us for four hundred years now.
Lancelot. But… I was told that your daughter…
Elsa. Mister stranger, sir…
Lancelot. My name is Lancelot.
Elsa. Mr. Lancelot, I beg your pardon, it’s not that I am trying to reprimand you, not at all, but please, I am asking you not to speak of this anymore.
Lancelot. Why?
Elsa. Because there’s nothing that can be done about it.
Lancelot. You think so?
Charlemagne. Yes, nothing can be done here. We just had a walk in the woods, and we discussed everything so nicely, so precisely. Tomorrow, as soon as the dragon takes her away, I’ll die too.
Elsa. Daddy, please don’t talk about this.
Charlemagne. Yes, yes, that’s all.
Lancelot. I am sorry. If I may be allowed just one more question: didn’t anyone try to fight him?
Charlemagne. Not in the last two hundred years. Before that, he was fought a lot, but he would kill all his adversaries. He’s an amazing strategist and a great tactician. He attacks the enemy unawares, pelting him with stones from above, then swoops straight down, right on top of the horse’s head, and beats it with fire – which totally demoralizes the poor beast. Then he rips the horseman apart with his claws. Well, in time, they finally stopped going against him.
Lancelot. Didn’t you try going with entire town?
Charlemagne. Of course we did.
Lancelot. And?
Charlemagne. He torched the suburbs and driven half the population mad with poisonous smoke. I told you this is a great warrior.
Elsa. Please, do take more butter.
Lancelot. Yes, I think I will. I need to restore my strength. So, I apologize for asking so many questions, but – nobody even tries to go against the dragon anymore? He’s grown completely shameless?
Charlemagne. Oh no! Not at all! He’s so kind!
Lancelot. Kind?
Charlemagne. I assure you. When the town was under the threat of a cholera epidemic, upon the pleading of the town doctor he breathed fire on the lake and thus boiled it. The entire town drank boiled water, which saved us from the epidemic.
Lancelot. Was that long time ago?
Charlemagne. Oh no. It’s been only eighty two years. Good deeds you don’t forget, do you?
Lancelot. What other good deeds did your dragon accomplish?
Charlemagne. He rid us of gypsies.
Lancelot. But gypsies are very sweet people.
Charlemagne. What! I’m speechless! I admit, I’ve never seen a single gypsy in my life. But even in elementary school they taught us that these are horrible people.
Lancelot. Why is that?
Charlemagne. They are vagrants by nature. It’s in their blood. They are an enemy of any organized state – or they long would have settled down, instead of drifting here and there. Their songs are without courage, and their ideas are destructive. They steal children. They sneak everywhere. Now we have completely cleansed ourselves of them, but as recently as a hundred years ago any brunette had to prove he did not have gypsy blood in him.
Lancelot. And who told you all that about gypsies?
Charlemagne. Our dragon, of course. Gypsies would challenge him blatantly in the first years of his rule.
Lancelot. Now there’s a nice, impatient people.
Charlemagne. Don’t. Please don’t say that.
Lancelot. That dragon of yours, what does he eat?
Charlemagne. Our town delivers a thousand cows, two thousand sheep, five thousand chickens and eighty pounds of salt a month. In summer and fall, there’s also ten acres of lettuce, asparagus and cauliflower added to that.
Lancelot. He’s eating you around!
Charlemagne. Not at all! We’re not complaining. How else can it be? As long as he’s here, no other dragons would dare touch us.
Lancelot. My guess is all the others are long gone.
Charlemagne. And what if they aren’t? Let me tell you: the only way to get rid of dragons is to have one of your own. That’s enough of him, please. Why don’t you tell us something really interesting instead?
Lancelot. All right. Do you know what the Book of Sorrows is?
Elsa. No.
Lancelot. Now you will. Five years’ walk from here, in the Black Mountains, there’s an enormous cave. There’s a book lying in this cave, filled up to half. Nobody touches it, but page after page gets added to the ones written before, added every day. Who writes them, you ask? The world! The mountains, the grass, the stones, the trees, the rivers – they all see what people are doing. All the crimes are known to them, all the suffering of innocents. From branch to branch, from drop to drop, from cloud to cloud the human sorrows reach the cave in the Black mountains, and the book grows with them. If there weren’t this book in the world, all trees would die from longing, and water would become bitter. Who is this book being written for? For me.
Elsa. For you?
Lancelot. For us. For me and few others. We are light and watchful people. We discovered that there is such a book, and took pains to reach it. And whoever glances into this book once will never have peace again. What a sorrowful book it is! The complaints cannot lay unanswered. And we answer them.
Elsa. How?
Lancelot. We insert ourselves in other people’s business. We help those in need of help. We destroy those who need to be destroyed. Do you need help?
Elsa. What help?
Charlemagne. How can you help us?
Cat. Mew!
Lancelot. Three times I have been mortally wounded, and all of those by the people I was trying to save against their will. But even though you aren’t asking me to do it, I will challenge the dragon to a fight! Elsa, do you hear?
Elsa. No, please! He will kill you, and that would poison the last hours of my life!
Cat. Meow!
Lancelot. I am going to challenge the dragon!
A sound is heard that is growing in intensity – whistling, noise, howling. The windows are clattering. Purple glow is seen behind them.
Cat. Speak of the devil!
Howling and whistling suddenly stop. There is a loud knock on the door.
Charlemagne. Come in!
Enter Butler dressed in a lavish livery.
Butler. Sir dragon.
Charlemagne. Our pleasure.
Butler swings the door wide open. Pause. Then an elderly, gray but sturdy, rather youngish-looking man with a military air about him walks in. His hair is in a crewcut. He’s in no hurry, smiling widely. In general his manner, while blunt, is not without charm. He’s slightly hard of hearing.
Man. How’s it going, guys. Hi, Elsa, honey. You’ve got yourselves a guest. Who is it now?
Charlemagne. That’s a stranger. Just passing by.
Man. What? Report loudly and precisely, as a soldier should.
Charlemagne. He is a stranger!
Man. Is he a gypsy?
Charlemagne. No, no! He’s a very nice person.
Man. What?
Charlemagne. Nice man.
Man. Good. Stranger! Why aren’t you looking at me? What’s with staring at the door?
Lancelot. I’m waiting for the dragon to come in.
Man. Ha! I’m the dragon.
Lancelot. You are? And I’ve heard – three heads, talons, huge size…
Dragon. I’m just plain Jane today. No ranks, y’know.
Charlemagne. Sir dragon has been living among humans for so long that he turns into one himself from time to time, and drops by for a friendly visit.
Dragon. Yes. Friends indeed, my dear Charlemagne. In fact, I am even more than a friend to all of you. I am your childhood friend. Not even that, I am a childhood friend of your father’s, and your grandfather’s, and your great-grandfather’s. Why, I even remember your great-great-grandfather in diapers. Darn! A wayward tear. Ha! The stranger is gawking. Didn’t expect such feelings from me, did you? Did you? Lost your wits, you son of a bitch. Well, well. That’s OK. Ha! Elsa!
Elsa. Yes, sir dragon.
Dragon. Give me your paw.
Elsa gives Dragon her hand.
You sweet little thing, you. Such a warm paw. Chin up! Give us a smile. Right. What’s that, stranger? Huh?
Lancelot. Admiring the view.
Dragon. Good. Now that’s a honest soldier’s reply. Carry on. We’re simple people here, stranger. Like in the military. "I don’t know but I’ve been told…". Grab a bite!
Lancelot. Thank you. I’m full.
Dragon. That’s all right. Eat anyway. What’cha doin’ here?
Lancelot. Business.
Dragon. Huh?
Lancelot. Business.
Dragon. What kind of business? Come on, spill it. Huh? Maybe I’ll help you, y’know. What did you come here for?
Lancelot. To kill you.
Dragon. Louder!
Elsa. No! He’s joking! Would you like to hold my hand again, sir dragon?
Dragon. Wha?
Lancelot. I am challenging you to a fight, do you hear?
Dragon stands silent, fuming.
Lancelot. I am challenging you for the third time, hear?
A deafening, horrible triple howl is heard. Despite all its might, it is not without certain musical quality. There is nothing human in this howl. This is the Dragon screaming, stomping his feet, fists clenched.
Dragon. (Suddenly cutting the howl short; very calmly) You idiot. Well? Wanna say anything? Scared?
Lancelot. No.
Dragon. No?
Lancelot. No.
Dragon. All right, then. (With a slight shrug of his shoulders suddenly completely transforms himself. There’s a new head on his shoulders; the old one vanished without a trace. A somber, reserved, highbrowed, narrow-faced graying blond man is standing in front of Lancelot.)
Cat. Don’t be afraid, my dear Lancelot. He’s got three noggins, so he just swaps them when he pleases.
Dragon. (his voice changed just as his face did. Quietly and dryly.) Is your name Lancelot?
Lancelot. Yes.
Dragon. Are you a descendant of the infamous itinerant knight named Lancelot?
Lancelot. He is my distant relative.
Dragon. I accept your challenge. Itinerant knights are like gypsies. You need to be exterminated.
Lancelot. I won’t let you.
Dragon. I have exterminated: eight hundred and nine knights, nine hundred and five men of undetermined social status, one old drunkard, two loonies, two women – a mother and an aunt of the girls I have chosen, and one adolescent boy of twelve – a brother of similar girl. This list has also been extended by six armies and five rebellious mobs. Please have a seat.
Lancelot. (Sits.) Thank you.
Dragon. Do you smoke? You may smoke now.
Lancelot. Thank you. (Takes out a pipe, starts filling it leisurely with tobacco).
Dragon. Do you know on which day I was born?
Lancelot. Wretched?
Dragon. The day of a great battle. That day Attila himself was defeated – you understand, of course, how many warriors had to be slain for that to happen? The ground was soaked with blood. The leaves on the trees turned brown by midnight. By dawn the huge black mushrooms, which they call Gravediggers, sprang up under the trees. And after them, I slithered out from under the ground. I am the offspring of war. I am war. My veins flow with the blood of the dead Huns. This is cold blood. When in battle, I am cold, composed and precise.
At the word "precise" Dragon makes a slight movement with his hand. A thread of flame shoots out of his index finger. It lights up the tobacco in the pipe that Lancelot have filled.
Lancelot. Appreciate it. (Draws on the pipe with contentment.)
Dragon. You are against me, consequently, you are against war.
Lancelot. Not at all. I have been at war for most of my life.
Dragon. You are an outsider, and we have learned to understand each other from ancient times here. The entire town shall look at you with dread and rejoice at your downfall. It will be a demise without honor. Do you understand?
Lancelot. No.
Dragon. I can see you are still resolute.
Lancelot. Even more so.
Dragon. You are a worthy opponent.
Lancelot. Thank you.
Dragon. I will fight you in earnest.
Lancelot. Excellent.
Dragon. This means I am going to kill you immediately. Here. Right now.
Lancelot. But I am unarmed!
Dragon. Would you have liked me to give you enough time to arm yourself? No. I told you I was going to fight you in earnest. Elsa, please fetch a broom!
Elsa. What for?
Dragon. I will presently incinerate this man, and you will sweep his ashes out.
Lancelot. Are you scared of me?
Dragon. I am unfamiliar with fear.
Lancelot. Why are you in such a hurry then? Give me until tomorrow. I’ll pick weapons, and we will meet on the battlefield.
Dragon. Why would I want to do that?
Lancelot. So that people do not think you a coward.
Dragon. People will know nothing of this. These two will keep their mouths shut. You are going to die now – bravely, quietly and disgracefully. (Raises his hand.)
Charlemagne. Hold it!
Dragon. What is it?
Charlemagne. You cannot kill him.
Dragon. What do you mean?
Charlemagne. Do not be angry, I implore you – you know I am loyal to you with all of my soul. But I am still an archivist.
Dragon. What does your position has to do with anything?
Charlemagne. I am in possession of a certain document signed by you three hundred and eighty two years ago. This document had never been rescinded. You see, I am not protesting – I am just refreshing your memory. It is signed, "Dragon".
Dragon. What of it?
Charlemagne. After all, she is my daughter. I am allowed to wish for her to live longer, aren’t I? This is only natural, isn’t it?
Dragon. To the point.
Charlemagne. Be it how it may – I object. You may not kill him. Anyone challenging you shall be secure until the day of the battle, so you write and affirm under oath. And the day of the battle shall be chosen not by you but by the one challenging you, so the document says and it is also affirmed under oath. And the town shall render him assistance, and no one will be punished – this is also affirmed under oath.
Dragon. When was this document written?
Charlemagne. Three hundred and eighty two years ago.
Dragon. I was a naïve, sentimental, inexperienced youth.
Charlemagne. But the document has not been rescinded.
Dragon. Big deal.
Charlemagne. But the document…
Dragon. Enough about documents. We are all adults here.
Charlemagne. But you have signed. I can fetch the document real quick.
Dragon. Stay where you are.
Charlemagne. There came someone who is trying to save my girl. Loving one’s children is OK. It is permitted. And being a good host – it is also mostly permitted. Why are you looking at me so horribly? (Buries his face in his hands).
Elsa. Daddy!
Charlemagne. I protest!
Dragon. All right. I’ll eliminate the entire nest.
Lancelot. And the whole world will know you’re a coward!
Dragon. How?
Cat jumps out of the window in one leap. He is heard hissing from a distance.
Cat. Everything, to everybody, I’ll tell everything, you decrepit lizard!
Dragon breaks into a howl again, it is as loud as before, but this time we distinctly hear moans, coughing and hissing in it. This is a huge ancient evil monster roaring.
Dragon. (Suddenly cutting the roar short.) All right. We’ll fight tomorrow, as requested.
Departs quickly. Immediately loud whistling noise starts behind the door. Walls are shaking, the light blinks. The noise dies down in the distance.
Charlemagne. He’s gone. What have I done! Whatever have I done! The damned old egoist. I could not help myself! Elsa, are you angry with me?
Elsa. No, of course not.
Charlemagne. I suddenly feel very weak. Excuse me. I have to lie down. No, no, you should not accompany me. Stay with our guest. Entertain him with a conversation. He was so nice to us. Excuse me, I’ll go now.
Exit Charlemagne. Pause.
Elsa. Why have you started all this? I am not blaming you, but everything was so clear, so decent. It is not at all frightening to die young. Everybody will grow old, and you won’t.
Lancelot. How can you say that! Even trees sigh when we bring them down.
Elsa. I am not complaining.
Lancelot. Don’t you feel for your father?
Elsa. But he will die exactly when he wants to. This is happiness, wouldn’t you say?
Lancelot. Wouldn’t you miss your girlfriends?
Elsa. No. If not for me, the dragon would have chosen one of them.
Lancelot. What about your fiancée?
Elsa. How did you know I had one?
Lancelot. I could sense that. Won’t it pain you to part with him?
Elsa. But to console him, the dragon made Heinrich his personal secretary.
Lancelot. I see. In this case, it is not such a tragedy to leave him after all. What about your town? Are you going to miss it?
Elsa. But it is exactly for my town that I am dying.
Lancelot. And does it just casually accept your sacrifice?
Elsa. Oh no! I will perish on Sunday, but up until the next Tuesday the entire town will be in mourning. For three whole days nobody will eat any meat. And special rolls called "the poor girl" will be served with tea – in honor of me.
Lancelot. That’s it?
Elsa. What else can we do?
Lancelot. Kill the dragon.
Elsa. That is impossible.
Lancelot. The dragon dislocated your soul, poisoned your mind and obscured your vision. We are going to fix all that.
Elsa. Don’t. If it is true what you just said about me, I am better off dead.
Cat bursts in.
Cat. Eight of my cat girlfriends and forty eight of my kittens ran all around town, telling everyone of the little skirmish we’re going to have. Meow! Burgomaster himself is on his way here!
Lancelot. Burgomaster? How lovely!
Enter Burgomaster.
Burgomaster. Hello, Elsa. Where’s the stranger?
Lancelot. Here I am.
Burgomaster. First off, be a sport, speak softly, preferably without waving your hands, move slowly and above all don’t look me in the eye.
Lancelot. Why?
Burgomaster. Because my nervous system is in awful condition, that’s why. I am afflicted with all of the neurological and psychiatric disorders that exist in the world, and with three more on top of that which were previously unknown. You think maybe that being a burgomaster under the dragon is just a walk in the park?
Lancelot. You’ll get better once I kill the dragon.
Burgomaster. Better? Ha! Better! Ha! Better! (has a hysteric attack. Drinks some water, calms down). The fact that you dared to challenge sir dragon is a disaster, that’s what it is. The business was in top shape. Sir dragon, by using his considerable influence, was keeping my worthless punk of an assistant under control, and his entire gang of flour merchants along with him. Now everything is going to be messed up! Sir dragon is going to be preoccupied with the upcoming fight and will disregard the concerns of the town council – just when we started to make progress!
Lancelot. How I can get it into your head, you poor man – I am going to save the town!
Burgomaster. Town? Ha! Town! Ha! Town! (Drinks some water, calms down). My assistant is such a scoundrel that I will gladly sacrifice not one, but two towns if only I could get rid of him. Five dragons are better than one bastard like my assistant. I am begging you – please leave? Pretty please?
Lancelot. I won’t.
Burgomaster. Congratulations. I am having a cataleptic fit. (Goes rigid, with a bitter smile on his face).
Lancelot. I. Will. Save. Everybody. Understand?
Burgomaster remains silent.
Lancelot. Do you understand?
Burgomaster remains silent. Lancelot sprays him with water.
Burgomaster. No, I don’t understand. Who asked you to pick a fight with him?
Lancelot. The entire town wants that.
Burgomaster. Oh really? Look out the window. The town’s best people have assembled to ask you to get the hell out of here!
Lancelot. And where are they?
Burgomaster. There, beside that wall. See? Come closer, my friends!
Lancelot. Why are they on tiptoes?
Burgomaster. So as not to get on my nerves. My friends, let us all tell good Mr. Lancelot what is it we want of him. And one! Two! Three!
Voices. Get away from us! Quickly! This instant!
Lancelot steps away from the window.
Burgomaster. See? Now, if you are a humane, intelligent person, you have to respect the will of the people.
Lancelot. Not on your life!
Burgomaster. Congratulations, I just went a bit crazy. (Puts one arm akimbo, bends the other one gracefully.) I am a teapot! Boil me!
Lancelot. I think I know why these little people were running on tiptoes.
Burgomaster. Oh? And why’s that?
Lancelot. So that they don’t wake up real people. I am just going to have a little chat with them. (Runs out.)
Burgomaster. Boil me! On the other hand, there isn’t much he can do, right? One word from sir dragon, and we’re going to lock him up in jail. Do not be concerned, my dear Elsa. At the appropriate moment, right on the clock, our dear dragon is going to lock you in his embrace. Rest assured.
Elsa. I will.
There is a knock on the door.
Come in.
Enter the same Butler that announced the arrival of the dragon.
Burgomaster. Hello, sonny.
Butler. Hello, father.
Burgomaster. You’re from him, right? There isn’t going to be any fight, right? Have you brought an order to throw Lancelot in jail?
Butler. Sir dragon has instructed: one – schedule the fight for tomorrow; two – provide Lancelot with weapons; three – be a little more smart.
Burgomaster. Congratulations. I have completely lost my marbles. Hello-o-o! Marbles! Where are you? Get out of there!
Butler. I have been ordered to talk to Elsa in private.
Burgomaster. I’m going, I’m going. (Departs hastily.)
Butler. Hello, Elsa.
Elsa. Hello, Heinrich.
Heinrich. Are you hoping that Lancelot is going to save you?
Elsa. No. Are you?
Heinrich. Me neither.
Elsa. What did the dragon want you to tell me?
Heinrich. He wanted me to tell you that you have to kill Lancelot if it becomes necessary.
Elsa. How?
Heinrich. With a knife. Here it is. It is poisoned, by the way.
Elsa. (horrified) But I don’t want to!
Heinrich. In response to that, sir dragon directed me to tell you that he’d exterminate all of your girlfriends.
Elsa. All right. Tell him I’ll do my best.
Heinrich. In response to that, sir dragon directed me to tell you that any hesitation will be punished as insolence.
Elsa. I hate you!
Heinrich. In response to that, sir dragon directed me to tell you that he knows how to reward loyal servants.
Elsa. Lancelot will kill your dragon!
Heinrich. And in response to that, sir dragon directed me to tell you: "We’ll see about that!"

Act 2.

Town’s central square. To the right there is the town hall with a tower, upon which an armed sentry is seen. In the back stands a huge somber brown building with no windows, but with an enormous cast iron door from foundation up to the roof. "No humans, no exception" is written on it in Gothic script. To the left – a wide ancient wall. There is the town well in the middle with a gazebo and figured railings. Heinrich, without his livery, is shining the brass fittings on the cast iron door.

Heinrich. (singing to himself) Old man dragon had a cow, e-i-e-i-o. He said "We'll see about that now", e-i-e-i-o… Puff the magic dragon said "Just wait and see"… Deep in my heart I do believe - we shall wait and see some day!
Burgomaster runs out from the town hall. He is in a straightjacket.
Burgomaster. Hello, sonny.
Heinrich. Hello, father. I just wanted to know how it’s going in there. Are you finished with the council meeting?
Burgomaster. You wish! We have worked through the night only to agree on the agenda for the day.
Heinrich. Tired, I’ll bet?
Burgomaster. What do you think? They had to change three straitjackets on me – and that’s in the last half hour. Maybe it’s going to rain or something, but my blasted schizophrenia is especially nasty today. Delusions left and right. Hallucinations, fixations, you name it. (Yawns.) Got tobacco?
Heinrich. Sure.
Burgomaster. Untie me then, let’s have a smoke.
Heinrich unties father’s straitjacket. They sit down together on the steps of the palace, lighting up.
Heinrich. So, when are you going to decide the question of weapons?
Burgomaster. What weapons?
Heinrich. For Lancelot.
Burgomaster. What Lancelot?
Heinrich. What are you, nuts?
Burgomaster. Of course I am. Now there’s a good son for you. Give him a minute, and he completely forgets how deeply ill his father is. (screams) All you need is love! (calmly) If that’s not a delusion, I don’t know what is.
Heinrich. It’s OK, father. It’ll pass.
Burgomaster. Don’t you think I know that? It’s still unpleasant all the same.
Heinrich. Listen here. I’ve got important news. Old man dragon is nervous.
Burgomaster. Can’t be!
Heinrich. Trust me. The old timer fluttered around who knows where all through the night, wings be damned. Showed up his mugs at home only by dawn. And he reeked of fish like you won't believe, which only happens when he’s worried.
Burgomaster. I see.
Heinrich. And I managed to find out the following. Our exalted serpent was fluttering all night exclusively to dig up the complete scoop on the good sir Lancelot.
Burgomaster. No kidding.
Heinrich. Don’t know how, don’t know where – Himalayas or Mount Ararat, Scotland or Caucasus, but the old timer figured out that this Lancelot is a professional hero. I despise their kind. However, being a professional bad guy, our Puff obviously pays a certain attention to them. He was cursing, he was screeching, he was whining. Then grandpa sent for a little beer. After guzzling a barrel of his favorite beverage the dragon spread his webbed wings once more, and can still be seen jetting to and fro in the skies like a birdie. Doesn’t this bother you?
Burgomaster. Not in the least.
Heinrich. Tell me, daddy. You’re older than I am… More experienced… Tell me, what do you think of the upcoming battle? Answer me. Is it possible that Lancelot… Straight answer, please, without all those canned pleasantries – is it possible that Lancelot could win? Daddy? Please?
Burgomaster. My pleasure, sonny. I’ll give you a simple, straight answer, right from the bottom of my soul. You see, my little one, I have grown, you know, so truly fond of our dear dragon! Cross my heart. You can almost say he’s like family now. I would even, you know… What’s the word… Give my life for him. Honest to goodness truth, blow me down. No, no! He’s going to win, my precious! He will prevail, our fervent serpent! Snarling darling! Bustler-robustler!
Heinrich. I can see, daddy, that you don’t want to speak to your only son honestly and sincerely.
Burgomaster. Oh no, sonny. I am not crazy. I mean, I am crazy, but not to that extent just yet. Did the dragon order you to interrogate me?
Heinrich. What are you saying, daddy!
Burgomaster. Great job, sonny! You conducted the entire conversation admirably. I am proud of you. And it’s not because I am your father, I swear. No, I am proud of you as an expert, an old hired gun. Did you remember what I told you?
Heinrich. Sure thing.
Burgomaster. How about all those words - fervent serpent, snarling darling, bustler-robustler?
Heinrich. I remember.
Burgomaster. Beautiful. Just put them in your report.
Heinrich. I will, daddy.
Burgomaster. You my little spy, you! My only sonny boy! Concerned with his little career, my sweetie. Need any money?
Heinrich. Not at the moment, thank you, daddy.
Burgomaster. Here, don’t be shy. I’ve got some. Just had a fit of kleptomania yesterday. Take it.
Heinrich. No, thank you, daddy. Can you tell me the truth now?
Burgomaster. Come on, sonny, you are not a little boy anymore. He wants truth, wouldn’t you know it. I am not just your average citizen, see. I am the burgomaster. I wouldn’t tell the truth to myself for so many years that I even forgot how it sounds, damn it. I distaste it. I loathe it. Do you know what that pesky truth smells like? Enough about that. Hail dragon! Hail dragon! Hail dragon!
The Sentry on the tower strikes his lance against the floor.
Sentry. Atten-tion! Eyes to the sky! His excellency the dragon has appeared over the Gray mountains!
Heinrich and Burgomaster snap to attention, turning their heads skywards. A distant rumble is heard, which gradually dies down.
At ease! His excellency has turned away and disappeared among flames and smoke!
Heinrich. Patrolling.
Burgomaster. Right. Listen, now you tell me one little itty-bitty thing. The dragon, he really did not give any orders?
Heinrich. He didn’t, daddy.
Burgomaster. No killing, then?
Heinrich. Killing who?
Burgomaster. Our dear savior, who else. Didn’t he order us to just whack the guy discreetly? Don’t be shy now, you can tell me. We’re all just one big family. Sonny? Keeping hush, are you?
Heinrich. I am.
Burgomaster. That’s OK. I understand. Business is business, nothing you can do about it. Right.
Heinrich. Let me remind you, Mr. Burgomaster, that in a few minutes the festive ceremony of conferring of the weapons upon our Mr. Hero there is scheduled to take place. Might happen that Puff himself would deign to attend, and you haven’t anything ready.
Burgomaster. All right, all right. I’m going. We’ll pick some weapons for him in a snap. Satisfaction guaranteed. Tie up my sleeves. Here he comes! Here comes Lancelot!
Heinrich. Take him away from here. Elsa is coming, and I need a talk with her.
Enter Lancelot.

Burgomaster. Glory, glory, halleluja, St. George, the Victory Bringer! Oops, sorry. That’s just my delirium talking. For a moment there, I could swear I saw a resemblance.
Lancelot. That’s quite possible. He’s my distant relative.
Burgomaster. So, how did you pass the night?
Lancelot. Walking around.
Burgomaster. Made any friends?
Lancelot. Sure.
Burgomaster. Who?
Lancelot. Your anxious citizens would sic their dogs on me. You’ve got some very sensible dogs, I can tell you. That’s who I made friends with. They understood me, because they love their masters and wish them well. We talked until dawn.
Burgomaster. Picked up any fleas?
Lancelot. Not at all. Those were very nice, clean mutts.
Burgomaster. Do you remember their names, by any chance?
Lancelot. They asked not to tell.
Burgomaster. Can’t stand the dogs, myself.
Lancelot. Your loss.
Burgomaster. Such simple creatures.
Lancelot. You think it’s so simple to love their masters? The dogs know full well what kind of people their masters are. They weep, but they still love. Did you send after me?
Burgomaster. After me, the stork exclaimed as he speared the snake with his sharp beak. After me, said the king looking back at his queen. After me the lasses came flying astride elegant canes. In short, yes, I did send after you, Mr. Lancelot.
Lancelot. What can I do for you?
Burgomaster. Fresh shipment of cheese is on sale at the Mueller’s dairy. Modesty and a sheer dress are the girl’s best friends. Wild geese are flying over the cradle at sunset. The town council is waiting for you to appear at its session.
Lancelot. Why?
Burgomaster. Why do linden trees grow on the Dragonpaw street? Why dance when you want to kiss? Why kiss when the horses are waiting? Members of the town council need to see you in person to figure out what kind of weapon will be most appropriate for you. Let’s go present ourselves to them!
Exit Burgomaster and Lancelot.
Heinrich. Old man dragon had a cow, e-i-e-i-o. He said "We'll see about that now", e-i-e-i-o… Puff the magic dragon said "Just wait and see"… We shall wait and see, we shall wait and see…
Enter Elsa.
Elsa. I am here. Did you send after me?
Heinrich. I did. Such a pity there’s this sentry on the wall. If not for that extremely annoying circumstance, I would have embraced and kissed you.
Elsa. And I would have punched you.
Heinrich. Ah, Elsa. You always were a little too virtuous. But it suited you, it did. There’s a certain something hidden behind your modesty. Puff has an eye for girls. He always chose the ones with the most potential, that naughty noggins. Is Lancelot hitting after you yet?
Elsa. Shut up.
Heinrich. On the other hand, he probably isn’t. Even if there were an old spinster in your place, he’d have gotten himself right into the scuffle all the same. He does not care who he’s saving. It’s part of his training. I bet he didn’t even take time to look at you closely.
Elsa. We have just met.
Heinrich. That’s not an excuse.
Elsa. Did you bring me here only to say all of this?
Heinrich. Oh no. I brought you here to ask – will you marry me?
Elsa. Stop it!
Heinrich. I am serious. I am authorized to inform you of the following: if you are going to be dutiful and kill Lancelot when needed, Puff will let you go free as a reward.
Elsa. I don’t want to.
Heinrich. Let me finish. Instead of you another girl will be selected. You don’t know her. She’s a commoner, and she’s planned for the next year anyway. So, it’s your choice: a stupid death or a life filled with such pleasures that have so far only appeared in your dreams, and even then they were disappointingly rare.
Elsa. He’s just scared!
Heinrich. Who? Puff? I know all of his weaknesses. He’s a tyrant, a blockhead, a leech – take your pick, but he’s not a coward.
Elsa. Is that why he was threatening yesterday and bargaining today?
Heinrich. That is my victory.
Elsa. Yours?
Heinrich. I am the real dragon slayer, if you wish. I can solicit anything. I was just waiting for my chance, and here it came. I am not so stupid as to concede you to anyone.
Elsa. I don’t believe you.
Heinrich. Yes, you do.
Elsa. It does not matter, I cannot kill a person!
Heinrich. But you did bring your knife, didn’t you? I can see it attached to your belt. I have to go, dear, to put on my ceremonial livery. But I am sure of you. You’ll carry out your orders – for your own sake and mine. Life, entire life is before us just for the asking. Think about it, my precious.
Exit Heinrich.

Elsa. Oh my god. My cheeks are flushed as if I were kissing him. How shameful! He almost convinced me… So that’s how I am! So be it. Very well. Enough. I was the most obedient girl in town. I believed everything. And what did it get me? Sure, everyone respected me, but happiness would always come to someone else. They are sitting now in their houses, selecting their most festive frocks, ironing the lace. Putting on their curls. They are going out to admire my misfortune. I can just see them sitting in front of their mirrors with their powder boxes, saying "Poor Elsa! That poor girl, she was ever so nice!" And I am here all alone, alone in this square, I stand here and suffer. And that idiot guard is gawking at me thinking what the dragon is going to do to me today. And tomorrow that guard would still be alive, he’ll have a break after his watch. He will go to the waterfall, where the river is so joyful that even the gloomiest people cannot but smile looking at how merrily it jumps. Or he might go to the park, where the gardener have grown a patch of wonderful black-eyed Susans that can squint, wink at you and even read, provided the book is written in big letters and has a happy ending. Or he would go rowing on the lake that the dragon boiled, where the mermaids are so gentle since then. Not only they don’t sink anyone anymore, they even sit in shallow waters and sell lifejackets. But they are still beautiful, and soldiers like chatting with them. And this stupid soldier would tell the mermaids how the happy music was playing, and everyone was crying, and the dragon was taking me to his cave. And the mermaids will ooh and aah and say "Oh, poor Elsa, that poor girl, the weather is so nice today and she’s gone!" I don’t want to! I want to see everything, hear everything, feel everything. There! I want to be happy! There! I brought the knife to kill myself. And I won’t. There!
Lancelot walks out of the town hall.
Lancelot. Elsa! You can’t imagine how happy I am to see you!
Elsa. Why?
Lancelot. My sweet lady, I had such a hard day that my soul is simply crying out for some rest, if only for a moment. And here I meet you, as if on purpose.
Elsa. Were you at the meeting?
Lancelot. I was.
Elsa. Why did they ask you there?
Lancelot. They offered me money if I would drop out of the fight.
Elsa. And what did you tell them?
Lancelot. I told them: you poor fools! Let’s not talk about them. Elsa, you look even more beautiful today than you did yesterday. This is a sure sign that I really do like you. Do you believe I will save you?
Elsa. No.
Lancelot. And I am not offended by that. This shows how much I like you, I guess.
Enter Elsa’s Girlfriends.
Elsa’s 1st Girlfriend. Here we are.
Elsa’s 2nd Girlfriend. We’re Elsa’s best friends.
Elsa’s 3rd Girlfriend. We were so close for so many years, since we were little.
Elsa’s 1st Girlfriend. She was the smartest.
Elsa’s 2nd Girlfriend. She was the nicest.
Elsa’s 3rd Girlfriend. And still she would care about us so much. She would sew anything you’d ask, and help you with your homework, and cheer you up you when you think you’re the most miserable girl in the world.
Elsa’s 1st Girlfriend. Are we late?
Elsa’s 2nd Girlfriend. Are you really going to fight him?
Elsa’s 3rd Girlfriend. Mister Lancelot, can you arrange it so that they let us on the roof of the town hall? They would not dare to turn you down if you asked them. We so want to see the fight up close.
Elsa’s 1st Girlfriend. Now you’re mad at us.
Elsa’s 2nd Girlfriend. You don’t want to talk to us anymore.
Elsa’s 3rd Girlfriend. But we’re not bad girls, we really aren’t.
Elsa’s 1st Girlfriend. You think we are not letting you say goodbye to Elsa on purpose.
Elsa’s 2nd Girlfriend. But we are not.
Elsa’s 3rd Girlfriend. Heinrich ordered us not to leave the two of you alone until sir dragon allows it.
Elsa’s 1st Girlfriend. He told us to keep chatting.
Elsa’s 2nd Girlfriend. So here we are, chatting like idiots.
Elsa’s 3rd Girlfriend. Because otherwise we would have had to cry. You, stranger, don’t have any idea how embarrassing it is to cry before strangers.
Charlemagne walks out of the town hall.
Charlemagne. The meeting has ended, Mr. Lancelot. The decision concerning your weapons has been made. Please forgive us. Please take pity on us, the poor murderers, Mr. Lancelot.
Trumpets sound. Servants quickly file out of the town hall, laying out the carpets and setting the chairs. They put a large, very ornate chair in the middle, with simpler chairs to the left and right of it. Burgomaster walks out, surrounded by town council members. He’s very cheerful. Heinrich, dressed in livery, is accompanying them.
Burgomaster. That is a very funny joke… How did she go? "I thought that to boys it comes naturally?" Ha-ha-ha! Have you heard this one? Very funny. One gypsy got his head chopped off…
Oh, everything’s ready. All right, I’ll tell you after the ceremony. Remind me. Let’s go, people, let’s go. Let’s get this over with.
City council members stand to the right and left of the big chair in the middle. Heinrich goes behind that chair.
(Bowing to the empty chair, very quickly) Overwhelmed and humbled by the trust that you, your excellency, invest in us by allowing us to adjudicate decisions of such importance, we beseech you to assume the place of the honorary chairman. Going once, going twice… Dejectedly, we acknowledge the inevitable. Got to carry on by ourselves. Please be seated. I declare this mooting…


A Servant brings up water from the well. Burgomaster drinks.
I declare this meddling… Water! (Drinks. Clears his throat, in a very high-pitched voice) I declare (in a deep voice) this meeting… Water! (Drinks. High voice) Thank you, darling! (deep voice) Get lost, screwball! (his own voice) Congratulations, people, I’ve got split personalities. (deep voice) What do you think you’re doing, you old hag? (high voice) Can’t you see, I am the chairman. (deep voice) That’s a man’s job! (high voice) I am not so thrilled about it myself, honey. Please don't show me your derision, I just need to read decision. (his own voice) On passage: providing weapons for one Mr. Lancelot. Resolution: provide such, though it pains us greatly. Hey, you there! Get those weapons over here.
Trumpets sound. Enter Servants. First servant hands Lancelot a small copper basin that has thin leather straps attached to it.

Lancelot. That’s a barber’s wash-basin.
Burgomaster. Why yes, but we have temporarily promoted it to helmet. This copper tray is appointed a shield. Don’t be concerned. Even things in our town are disciplined and obedient. They will carry out their duties to the best of their abilities. Unfortunately, we have no suits of armor in the town storage. But we do have a spear. (Hands Lancelot a piece of paper.) This is hereby given to you to certify that the spear is undergoing preventive maintenance at this point, which is affirmed by appropriate signatures and affixing of the town seal. All you have to do is present this to sir dragon during the fight, and everything is going to be just fine. That’s all, folks! (deep voice) Just close the meeting, old hag! (high voice) I’m closing, I’m closing. These people nowadays, they always get angry, angry, don’t know why they’re angry… (singing) Teensy-weensy Knightie went up the water spout… (deep voice) Close it! (high voice) What do you think I’m doing? (singing) Down came the Dragon and took the Knightie out… Out came the sun, and this session is now closed.
Sentry. Attention! To the sky! His excellency has appeared over the Gray mountains and is now approaching at enormous speed!
All present jump up and freeze with their heads turned skywards. A distant rumble is heard, growing louder by the moment. The stage darkens. Complete darkness. Rumbling suddenly stops.
Attention! His excellency is floating above us like a storm cloud, obscuring the sun! Don’t breathe!
Two little green points light up.
Cat. (whispering) Hey, Lancelot. This is Cat.
Lancelot. (whispering) I know. I’ve recognized you by your eyes.
Cat. I am going to be nodding off on the wall. Pick a moment, pussyfoot over there – I have something very pleasant I’d like to purr to you…
Sentry. Attention! His excellency is dashing heads-long onto the square!
A deafening whistle. Lights come on. There is a small, pale, elderly man sitting with his feet in the big chair.
Cat. (from the wall) Don’t be afraid, my dear Lancelot. That’s his third noggin. He just swaps them when he wants to.
Burgomaster. Your excellency! There were no extraordinary incidents within the limits of the town entrusted into my care. One person taken to the precinct. Present are …
Dragon. (very calmly) Get lost. Everyone get lost. Stranger excluded.
Everybody leaves. Left on the stage are Lancelot, Dragon and Cat who is sleeping on top of the wall.
How are you feeling?
Lancelot. Fine, thanks.
Dragon. What are these pans on the ground?
Lancelot. My weapons.
Dragon. Did my people think of that?
Lancelot. They did.
Dragon. Those rascals. I bet you’re offended.
Lancelot. I’m not.
Dragon. Lies. I’ve got cold blood, but even I would take offence. Scared?
Lancelot. No.
Dragon. Lies again. My people are very scary. Won’t find any like them anywhere. Solid piece of work. Hewn them myself.
Lancelot. They’re still human.
Dragon. That’s from the outside.
Lancelot. No.
Dragon. If you could see their souls, that would give you a fright.
Lancelot. No.
Dragon. You’d run away. Wouldn’t risk your life for the cripples. My dear man, I crippled them myself. Crippled them exactly as required. You see, the human soul is very resilient. Cut the body in half – and the man croaks. But tear the soul apart – and it only becomes more pliable, that’s all. No, really, you couldn’t pick a finer assortment of souls anywhere. Only in my town. Souls with no hands. Souls with no legs. Mute souls, deaf souls, chained souls, snitch souls, damned souls. Do you know why the burgomaster parades his supposed madness around? To conceal that he does not have any soul at all. Hollow souls, corrupt souls, worn out souls, dead souls. A pity they’re invisible, really.
Lancelot. You’re lucky they are.
Dragon. How do you mean?
Lancelot. People would be horrified if they could see with their own eyes what happened to their souls. They would rather march to their deaths than remain enslaved. Who is going to feed you then?
Dragon. I’ll be damned. You might be onto something there. So, shall we begin?
Lancelot. Why not.
Dragon. Say goodbye first to the girl you are dying for. Boy!
Heinrich runs in.
Fetch Elsa.
Heinrich runs out.

Do you like the girl I’ve chosen?
Lancelot. I do, very much.
Dragon. Glad to hear that. I also like her very much. An excellent girl. Very obedient girl.
Enter Elsa and Heinrich.
Come, come here, my sweet. Look into my eyes. That’s right. Perfect. The eyes are bright. You may kiss my hand now. That’s right. Excellent. The lips are warm. This means your soul is clear. Would you like to say goodbye to Mr. Lancelot?
Elsa. As you wish, sir dragon.
Dragon. Here’s what I wish. Go. Have a nice talk with him. Have a very nice, tender talk with him. Kiss him goodbye. That’s all right. I am going to be right there. You may do it if I’m there. And then kill him. It’s OK. I am going to be right there. You will do it if I’m there. Go on. You can take him a little farther along from here. I have excellent eyesight. I’ll see everything. Go on.
Elsa comes up to Lancelot.
Elsa. They told me to say goodbye to you, Mr. Lancelot.
Lancelot. All right, Elsa. Let’s say goodbye just in case. This is going to be a serious battle. Who knows what might happen. I’d only like to tell you that I love you, Elsa.
Elsa. Me!
Lancelot. Yes, Elsa. Yesterday I liked you so much when I saw you walking so quietly home with your father. Then I noticed that every time I meet you, you look more and more beautiful. There, I thought. This might be it. And then, when you kissed the dragon’s paw, I was not angry, just very sad. That’s when I could see it all clearly. I love you, Elsa. Please don’t be angry. I wanted so much for you to know that.
Elsa. I thought that even if there were another girl in my place, you still would have challenged the dragon.
Lancelot. Of course I would have. Those dragons, I just can’t stand them. But for you, I am ready to strangle him with my bare hands. Even though that’s pretty disgusting.
Elsa. You love me, then.
Lancelot. I do. What a horrible thought: if at that place yesterday where three roads met together I turned left instead of right, we would never have seen each other. Isn’t this scary?
Elsa. It is.
Lancelot. Isn’t it? I have a feeling now that I don’t have anyone closer to me than you are. And I think about your town as being my own, because you live here. If I am… What I’m saying is that if we don’t get a chance to talk anymore, please do not forget about me.
Elsa. No.
Lancelot. Please don’t. This is the first time today that you looked into my eyes. And I’ve just felt this incredible warmness inside, as if you have caressed me. I am just a stranger, light as a feather, but I’ve been fighting hard battles all my life. Dragon here, monsters there, giants… You hustle and you hustle… That’s a fussy, thankless job, you know. But I was always happy. I never grew tired. And I fell in love a lot.
Elsa. You did?
Lancelot. Of course. You travel here and there, you get into fights and you meet girls. Somehow they always manage to end up either in a giant’s bag or a monster’s kitchen. And those villains, they pick only pretty girls for some reason. Especially monsters. So, you’d fall in love, naturally. But never like this, like I do now. I was joking with those girls. Making them laugh. And you, Elsa, if only we were alone, I would just want to kiss you. I mean it. And I would take you with me, away from here. We’d travel around, through the forest and over the hills, it really is not that hard. No, no, I’d get you a horse, with a saddle that would never make you tired. And I’d just walk along admiring you. And nobody would dare upset you.
Elsa takes Lancelot’s hand.
Dragon. The girl is brilliant. She’s taming him.
Heinrich. Yes. She’s far from being stupid, your excellency.
Lancelot. Elsa, are you going to start crying now?
Elsa. I am.
Lancelot. Why?
Elsa. I feel sorry.
Lancelot. For who?
Elsa. For myself and you. We are not going to be happy together, Mr. Lancelot. Why did I have to be born under a dragon!
Lancelot. Elsa, I’ve never told anything but truth. We are going to be happy. Trust me.
Elsa. Oh, please don’t.
Lancelot. We are going to walk together along a forest trail, merry and happy. Just you and I.
Elsa. Don’t. Please.
Lancelot. And the sky is going to be clear above us. No one would dare threaten us from there.
Elsa. Really?
Lancelot. Yes. Oh, your poor people, they wouldn’t know how deep love can be. All the fear, all the weariness, all the misapprehension – they will just burn out inside you, disappear forever, that’s how much I’m going to love you. You will smile as you go to sleep, and when you wake up, you are going to smile and call me, that’s how much you are going to love me. And you’ll learn to love yourself, too. You will become calm and proud. You will understand that if I am kissing you, it means that you are beautiful just the way you are. And all the trees in the forest would talk to us gently, and birds, and animals, because real lovers understand everything. And everybody would be happy to meet us, because real lovers bring luck.
Dragon. What’s he prattling about over there?
Heinrich. A sermon, I guess. Knowledge is power. Wash you hands before every meal. The usual. Such a bore…
Dragon. I see. Look, she put her hand on his shoulder. She’s doing great!
Elsa. Even if we would never live to see that happiness, no matter. It doesn’t matter, I am happy now. These monsters are watching over us, but it seems like we’re oceans away. Nobody ever talked to me this way, my dear. I never knew there were people like you in this world. Only yesterday I was so obedient, just like a dog. I wouldn’t let myself to even think about you. And still, I went down to the kitchen last night, very quietly, and drank the wine that was left in your glass. Only now I understand that by doing that I was secretly, in my own way, kissing you that night, to thank you for standing up for me. You wouldn’t understand what a mess the feelings of us poor downtrodden girls are. I thought I hated you then. And now I see that this was my own secret way of falling in love with you. I love you! I am so happy to be able to say that openly. And I am so happy to… (kisses Lancelot).
Dragon. (stomping his feet with anticipation) She’s going to do it, she’s going to do it!
Elsa. Now please let me go, my love. (slides out of Lancelot’s embrace. Pulls the knife out of the holster.) See this knife? Dragon ordered me to kill you with this knife. Look!
Dragon. Come on, come on, come on!
Heinrich. Do it, do it!
Elsa throws the knife into the well.
You miserable wench!
Dragon. (thundering) How dare you!
Elsa. Not a word out of you! You think I will allow you to yell at me now, after he kissed me? I love him. And he will kill you.
Lancelot. And that is the truth, sir dragon.
Dragon. Well, well, well. I see. I guess we’ll have to fight then. (Yawns.) Tell you the truth, I am not really disappointed. I have developed a fascinating blow recently, with the X paw in the Y direction. We’ll just test it directly on the body. Knave, go call the guards.
Heinrich runs off.
Go home, silly girl. We’ll discuss all of this carefully, privately after the fight.
Enter Heinrich with the Guards.
Guards! Listen, what was it I was going to tell you… Ah, of course. Please escort this lady to her house. And hold her there.
Lancelot makes a step forward.
Elsa. Don’t. Save your strength. Come after me when you kill him. I will be waiting for you and remembering every word you said to me today. I believe in you.
Lancelot. I will come after you.
Dragon. That was really beautiful. Now go.
Guards take Elsa away.
You boy, relieve that sentry in the tower and send him to jail. We’ll have to cut his head off later tonight. He heard the damn girl scream at me, and he might squeal about it in the barracks. Go take care of it. Then return here. You’re going to help me spread poison on my talons.
Exit Heinrich.
(To Lancelot.) And you, you just stay where you are, understand? When I begin, I won’t tell you. Real war always starts out of the blue, understand?
Climbs out of the chair and goes off into the palace.
Lancelot approaches the Cat.
Lancelot. What was it so pleasant you were going to purr to me?
Cat. Glance to your right, my dear Lancelot. Do you see that mule in a cloud of dust? He’s being stubborn. Five men are trying to appease him. Let me sing a little song to them. (Meows.). See how he is jumping towards us now? But he’s going to stall right by this wall again. Have a word with those handlers of his then. Here they come.
A Mule’s head is seen behind the wall. He stops dead in a cloud of dust. Five handlers are yelling at him. Heinrich runs across the square.
Heinrich. (to handlers) What are you doing here?
Two handlers. (in unison) Delivering goods to the market, your honor.
Heinrich. What goods?
Two handlers. Carpets, your honor.
Heinrich. Move along, move along! No standing near the palace!
Two handlers. The mule is acting up, your honor.
Dragon’s voice. Bo-oy!
Heinrich. Move along! (runs inside the palace).
Two handlers. (in unison) Good afternoon, Mr. Lancelot. We are your friends, Mr. Lancelot. (They clear their throats together). Please don’t mind us speaking in one voice – we’ve been working together since we were kids, and we grew so close that we think and speak as a single person. We even fell in love at the same moment on the same day, and got married to twin sisters. We weave a lot of carpets, but we have woven the best one of them tonight, just for you. (They take a carpet off of mule's back and spread it on the ground.)
Lancelot. What a beautiful carpet!
Two handlers. It is. Superior quality, double sided, wool and silk, colors by our own special secret recipe. But the secret of the carpet is not in the colors, or the wool, or the silk. (softly) This is a flying carpet.
Lancelot. Marvelous! Tell me quickly, how do you pilot it?
Two handlers. It’s very simple, Mr. Lancelot. This is the altitude corner, there’s sun printed on it. This is the depth corner, there’s earth printed on it. This is the intricate flight corner, there are swallows printed on it. And this is the dragon corner. Lift it, and you fly sharply down, right on your enemy’s noggin. Here we printed the goblet of wine and some sumptuous food. Beat him and have a party. No, no. Do not thank us. Our great-grandfathers were waiting for you, looking at the road. Our grandfathers were waiting. And we finally got to meet you.
They depart quickly, and right away the Third handler runs up to Lancelot, with a carton in his hands.
3rd handler. Good afternoon, sir! Excuse me. Please turn your head that way. Now this way. Perfect. Dear sir, I am the town hatter. I make the best hats in the entire world. I am quite famous in this town. Every dog knows me here.
Cat. As well as every cat.
3rd handler. What did I tell you? Without any fitting, by just glancing at the customer, I produce things that flatter their owners immensely, and this is the source of joy in my life. For example, the husband of one lady only likes her when she’s wearing one of my hats. She even sleeps in it, and she admits freely that she owes me her entire life’s happiness. I was working for you, dear sir, all through the night, and I was crying like a baby.
Lancelot. Why?
3rd handler. You see, this is a very special, very tragic model. This is the invisibility hat.
Lancelot. Excellent!
3rd handler. As soon as you put it on, you will immediately disappear, and the poor master will never know if it suits you or not! Take it, but please don’t try it before me! I can’t bear it! I can’t!
He runs out. The Fourth handler approaches Lancelot right away – a gloomy, burly, bearded man carrying a large package on his shoulder. He unwraps it. There are a sword and a spear.
4th handler. Here. Just forged it last night. Break a leg.
Exit Fourth handler. The Fifth handler runs up to Lancelot. He is a little gray man with a stringed musical instrument in his hands.
5th handler. I am a luthier. I make musical instruments, Mr. Lancelot. My great-great-grandfather began work on this little instrument. Generation after generation we were working on it, and it became almost human in our hands. It will be a loyal companion to you. Your hands will be occupied with your spear and your sword, so it’ll take care of itself. It will sound the concert "A" and get in tune. It’ll change a broken string and start playing again. When you need it, it’ll do an encore; when you don’t, it’ll be silent. Am I right?
Instrument responds with a musical phrase.
You see? We heard everything, we heard how you were wandering all alone in this town, and we were hurrying, trying our best to arm you from head to toe. We waited, hundreds of years we waited. The dragon made us very quiet, so we waited quietly. And now our wait is over. Kill him and set us free. Right?
Instrument responds with a musical phrase. Exit Fifth handler, bowing deeply.
Cat. When the fighting starts, we – the mule and I – are going to take cover in the barn behind the palace. I wouldn’t want the flames to singe my fur. If you need us, just holler. Here in the mule’s bags there are some beverages to maintain your strength, cherry pie, sharpening steel for the sword, spare tips for the spear and a sewing kit.
Lancelot. Thank you. (Walks onto the carpet. Takes the weapons in his hands, puts the musical instrument at his feet. Unwraps the invisibility hat, puts it on and disappears).
Cat. Excellent craftsmanship. Outstanding masters. Are you still here, dear Lancelot?
Voice of Lancelot. Not really. I am ascending slowly. Take care, my friends.
Cat. Take care, my dear. Ah, what a commotion, and so much worry. Really, being desperate is much more satisfying. You just sleep away and you aren’t waiting for anything to happen. Don’t you agree, dear mule?
Mule wiggles his ears.
Well, I can’t talk with my ears. Let’s use words, shall we? I know we’re not too familiar with each other, but we are going to be working together, so we might as well have a little friendly meow. It’s torture to just wait in silence. So, how about a meow?
Mule. I do not meow.
Cat. OK, OK, let’s just talk. The dragon thinks Lancelot is waiting for him here, and he is long gone. That's a hoot, isn’t it?
Mule. (gloomily) Hysterical.
Cat. Why aren’t you laughing then?
Mule. They’ll beat me up again. As soon as I laugh, they always say: that damn mule is screeching again. And they beat me up.
Cat. Oh, I see. So you’ve got a loud, piercing laugh, right?
Mule. Uh-huh.
Cat. What do you laugh about?
Mule. You know… Things. I think, and then I think some more, and then I always remember something funny. Horses always leave me in stitches.
Cat. How so?
Mule. I don’t know. They're just… stupid.
Cat. Excuse me if this is too personal, but I was always wondering…
Mule. What?
Cat. How can you eat thistle?
Mule. Why?
Cat. Of course, you sometimes find something edible in the grass. But thistle… It is so… dry!
Mule. I don’t mind. I like spicy food.
Cat. What about meat?
Mule. What about it?
Cat. Have you tried it?
Mule. Meat is not food. Meat is something you carry. They put it in the cart, you silly.
Cat. Milk?
Mule. That I had when I was little.
Cat. Finally. Something nice and soothing to talk about.
Mule. Right. This is nice to remember. Soothing, too. Mommy is kind. Milk is warm. You suck, and you suck. Heaven! Tasty.
Cat. Milk is also good when lapped.
Mule. I do not lap.
Cat. (jumps up) Hear that?
Mule. Stomping his hooves. Bastard.
Dragon’s triple howl.
Dragon. Lancelot!
Mule. Peek-a-boo. (Breaks out in a bout of mule laughter). Hee-aah! Hee-aah! Hee-aah!
The doors of the palace swing open. Amid the fire and smoke we can see now three giant heads, now enormous paws, now flaming eyes.
Dragon. Lancelot! Come admire me before the fight. Where are you?
Heinrich runs out into the square. Scurries around, looking for Lancelot, peeks into the well.
Where the hell is he?
Heinrich. Must have hidden somewhere, your excellency.
Dragon. Hey you, Lancelot! Where are you?
Sword rings out.
Who dared strike me?
Voice of Lancelot. Lancelot here!
Total darkness. Dragon howls threateningly. Lights come on. Heinrich darts into the town hall. Sounds of battle.
Cat. Let’s get into the hideout.
Mule. It is time.
They run off. The square fills with townspeople. They are extraordinarily quiet. Everybody is whispering, glancing at the sky.
1st Townsman. This battle is dragging on excruciatingly long.
2nd Townsman. Yes. It's been two minutes already, and still no result.
1st Townsman. I just hope it is going to be all over right away.
2nd Townsman. Ah, we've led such orderly lives… And now look at us - it's breakfast time, and I don't want to eat at all. Terrible! Hello, Mr. Gardener. Why are you so distraught?
Gardener. I've just got my roses to bloom today - tea roses, bread roses and wine roses. You can be sated and drunk just by looking at them. Sir dragon was going to come by to have a look and give me a grant for further research. But now there's this war. This terrible mess can destroy the fruit of labor of many years.
Peddler. (in an animated whisper). Who would like some blackened glass? For a small fee, everybody can see sir dragon burned as a piece of toast.
Everybody laughs softly.
1st townsman. This is an outrage! Ha-ha-ha!
2nd townsman. A blackened dragon. That'll be the day!
They buy pieces of glass.
Boy. Mommy, why is dragon scrambling all across the sky?
Everybody. Shhh!
1st townsman. He is not scrambling, young man. He is maneuvering.
Boy. Why does he have his tail between his legs?
Everybody. Shhh!
1st townsman. The tail is tucked in according to carefully developed strategy, young man.
1st townswoman. Just think about this! This war is already six minutes long, and there still is no end in sight. Everybody is so worried, so worried. Vendors at the market have already tripled the price of milk.
2nd townswoman. Forget about the vendors! On our way here we saw a display that would really send chills down your spine. Sugar and butter, both pale as a ghost, were rushing from the stores back to the warehouse. That's nervous groceries for you! Making themselves scarce as soon as they hear the sound of battle.
Cries of terror. The crowd dashes aside. Enter Charlemagne.
Charlemagne. Good morning, friends!
Don't you recognize me?
1st townsman. Of course not. You have become absolutely unrecognizable since last night.
Charlemagne. Why?
Gardener. Nasty people. Harboring strangers. Ruining dragon's good mood. This is worse than… not keeping off the grass! And now look at him! He is asking us "why"!
2nd Townsman. I personally stopped recognizing you as soon as your house was surrounded by guards.
Charlemagne. Yes, isn't that awful? Those stupid guards wouldn't even let me to my own daughter. They say dragon doesn't allow anyone near Elsa.
1st Townsman. Nothing wrong with that. I can sympathize with their point of view.
Charlemagne. Elsa is there all alone. Even though she would wave at me cheerfully in the window, I still think she only did that to calm me down. I just can't find a place for myself!
2nd Townsman. Can't find a place? Have you been relieved of your archivist position, then?
Charlemagne. No.
2nd Townsman. So, which place are you talking about?
Charlemagne. Don't you understand?
1st Townsman. No. Ever since you made friends with that outsider, we speak different languages.
Battle noises, sounds of sword striking.
Boy. (pointing at the sky) Mommy, mommy! He just flipped upside down! Somebody is beating him so that sparks are flying!
Everybody. Shhh!
Trumpets. Enter Heinrich and Burgomaster.
Burgomaster. Listen here. In order to avoid an eye disease epidemic, and strictly because of that, it is hereby forbidden to look at the sky. You will learn of everything that is happening up there from communiqués that sir dragon's personal secretary is going to be issuing from time to time as needed.
1st Townsman. Right move.
2nd townsman. About time.
Boy. Mommy, why is it harmful to look at him being beaten up?
Everybody. Shhh!
Elsa's 1st girlfriend. This war has been going on for 10 whole minutes! Why wouldn't this Lancelot just surrender?
Elsa's 2nd girlfriend. He knows full well it is impossible to defeat the dragon.
Elsa's 3rd girlfriend. He is just torturing us on purpose.
Elsa's 1st girlfriend. I left my gloves at Elsa's place. But I don't even care anymore. I am so tired of this war; I don't care about anything.
Elsa's 2nd girlfriend. Me too. I have become completely insensible. Elsa promised to give me her new shoes as a present, but I don't even remember that.
Elsa's 3rd girlfriend. Just think about it! If not for that stranger, Dragon would have already taken Elsa to his cave. We could have been sitting comfortably at home crying right now.
Peddler. (whispering smartly) Can I interest you in a fascinating scientific instrument, a so called mirror? You look down, but you see the sky. For a small fee, the dragon is at your feet.
Everybody laughs softly.
1st Townsman. Outrageous! Ha-ha-ha!
2nd Townsman. Dragon at your feet! That'll be the day!
They buy mirrors. Everybody groups around the mirrors. The sound of battle grows even more fierce.
1st Townswoman. This is terrible!
2nd Townswoman. Poor dragon!
1st Townswoman. He is not breathing fire anymore.
2nd Townswoman. He is just blowing smoke.
1st Townsman. Such elaborate maneuvers.
2nd Townsman. It looks like… No, I am not saying anything.
1st Townsman. I don't understand it.
Heinrich. This is the communiqué from the town council. The battle is drawing close to completion. The adversary had lost his sword. His spear is broken. Flying carpet is infested with moths, who are destroying the enemy air power at an astonishing rate. Having lost communication with his ground bases, the challenger is not able to procure mothballs and is therefore reduced to hunting the moths by clapping his hands, which robs him of necessary maneuverability. Sir dragon has not wiped the enemy out only due to his innate love of war. He has not satisfied his thirst for heroic feats yet, nor has he sufficiently admired his own military prowess.
1st Townsman. Now I understand.
Boy. Look, mommy, look, honestly, someone is kicking his neck.
1st Townsman. He has three necks, boy.
Boy. You see, you see, now someone is riding his three necks.
1st Townsman. This must be an optical illusion.
Boy. That's what I'm saying. I have been in fights myself, I know when somebody is getting clobbered. Ow! What's that?
1st Townsman. Take the kid away from here.
2nd Townsman. My eyes, I don't believe my own eyes! Is there an optometrist in the house?
1st Townsman. It is going to fall right here. I can't stand it! Get away! Let me see it!..
Dragon's head comes crashing down onto the square.
Burgomaster. Communiqué! My kingdom for a communiqué!
Heinrich. This is the communiqué from the town council. Lancelot is now powerless, he had lost everything and had been partially taken prisoner.
Boy. How is it - partially?
Heinrich. Just like that. It's classified. Other parts of him continue to offer uncoordinated resistance. Incidentally, sir dragon had placed one of his heads on the disabled list. It is listed as day-to-day.
Boy. I still don't get it.
1st Townsman. What's there to get? Ever lost a tooth?
Boy. Yeah.
1st Townsman. See, and you're still alive.
Boy. But I never lost a head.
1st Townsman. Same thing!
Heinrich. Review of the current events. The topic today: why two is in fact better than three. Two heads are attached to two necks. That gives us four, right? And attached they are unimpeachably…
Dragon's second head comes crashing down onto the square.
We interrupt this review due to technical difficulties. Here is a communiqué. The military campaign is proceeding according to the plans developed by sir dragon.
Boy. That's it?
Heinrich. That's it for the moment.
1st Townsman. I have lost two thirds of my respect towards sir dragon. Mr. Charlemagne! My dear friend! Why are you standing over there all alone?
2nd Townsman. Join us, come join us.
1st Townsman. Is it true the guards would not let you to your own daughter? That's outrageous!
2nd Townsman. Why are you silent?
1st Townsman. You couldn't be angry with us, could you?
Charlemagne. No, but I am confused. At first you wouldn't recognize me quite sincerely. I know you. And now you are happy to see me just as sincerely.
Gardener. There, there, Mr. Charlemagne. Don't let yourself be concerned with this. It is too horrible. It is just horrible how much time I've wasted running around kissing the paw of this one-headed monster. I could have grown so many flowers instead!
Heinrich. We now return to our review.
Gardener. Leave me alone! I'm sick of you all!
Heinrich. So what if you are! This is wartime. We all have to make sacrifices. Let's begin. One god, one sun, one moon, one head on our sovereign's shoulders. To have only one head - this is so human, so humane, so humanistic in the best sense of the word. Besides, this is extremely convenient from the military point of view. It considerably contracts the front line. It is three times easier to defend one head than it is to defend three of them.
Dragon's third head comes crashing down onto the square. The stage erupts in shouts. Now everybody is speaking very loudly.
1st Townsman. Down with dragon!
2nd Townsman. We were misled ever since childhood!
1st Townswoman. What a joy! No one to report to!
2nd Townswoman. It's like I'm drunk or something. Honest!
Boy. Mommy, I guess we're not going to have school tomorrow! Yay!
Peddler. How about this toy? Sir Potatohead! Take a swing - and he's out cold!
Gardener. That is so funny! What? Dragon as a root vegetable? Sitting in the ground! In the garden! All the time! No way out! Yay!
Everybody. Yay! Down with him! Sir Potatohead! Stick it to them!
Heinrich. Please listen to the communiqué!
Everybody. No we won't! We shout as we wish! We bark as we like! Happy, happy! Get them!
Burgomaster. Gua-ards!
Guards run out onto the square.
(to Heinrich) You may speak now. Start softly, then hit them. Atten-tion!
Everybody quiets down.
Heinrich. (very softly) We would like to humbly ask you to listen to our communiqué. There is really, really-really nothing of any interest that happened at the front recently. Everything is quite all right, it's just fine. We are going to have just a teensy weensy martial law now. And spreading of teensy weensy rumors (menacingly) is going to be punished by chopping heads in lieu of monetary compensation. Understood? Now everybody go home! Guards, clear the area!
The square is emptied of people.
So, how did you like the show?
Burgomaster. Be quiet, sonny.
Heinrich. Why are you smiling?
Burgomaster. Be quiet, sonny.
Heavy thud that makes the earth shake.
Dragon's body crashed down behind the mill.
Dragon's 1st head. Boy!
Heinrich. Why are you wringing your hands, daddy?
Burgomaster. Ah, sonny! Power just fell into them all by itself!
Dragon's 2nd head. Burgomaster! Come here! Give me some water! Burgomaster!
Burgomaster. Everything is going smashingly, Heinrich. The deceased have brought them up so that they will carry anyone who cares to take the reins.
Heinrich. But on this square, just now…
Burgomaster. This is nothing. Every dog jumps around like crazy when let off his chain, but then he runs back into the doghouse all the same.
Dragon's 3rd head. Boy! Come here! I am dying!
Heinrich. Aren't you afraid of Lancelot, though?
Burgomaster. Not really. You don't think it was easy to kill the dragon, do you? Mr. Lancelot is most likely lying right now on the flying carpet completely exhausted, blowing in the wind away from the town.
Heinrich. And if he were to come down…
Burgomaster. We would handle him easily. He is exhausted, trust me. If anything, our dearly departed was good at fighting. Let's go. We have to issue the first orders. The most important thing is to behave as if nothing happened.
Dragon's 1st head. Boy! Burgomaster!
Burgomaster. No time, no time, let's go!
Exit Heinrich and Burgomaster.
Dragon's 1st head. Why, why did I strike him with the rear left paw? It had to be rear right.
Dragon's 2nd head. Hey, anybody! You, Miller! You would kiss my tail every time we met. Hey, Friedrichsen! You presented me with a three-stemmed pipe, engraved "Yours forever". Anna-Maria-Frederica Weber, where are you now? You told me you were in love with me, and you were carrying pieces of my talon in a velvet locket around your neck. We learned to understand each other from ancient times. Where have all of you gone? Give me some water. The well is right here, isn't it? One sip! Half a sip! Just to wet my lips!
Dragon's 1st head. Let me start this all over! I'm going to squash the lot!
Dragon's 2nd head. Just one drop, anybody.
Dragon's 3rd head. I should have cut out at least one faithful soul. But the material wasn't exactly lending itself for it.
Dragon's 2nd head. Quiet! I can feel someone alive is near. Come here! Bring me some water.
Voice of Lancelot. I can't.
Lancelot appears on the square. He is standing upon the flying carpet, leaning onto a twisted sword. He is holding the invisibility hat in his hands. The musical instrument is at his feet.
Dragon's 1st head. You won by accident! If only I had struck with my rear right…
Dragon's 2nd head. Farewell, then.
Dragon's 3rd head. I am content in that I am leaving to you hollow souls, worn out souls, dead souls… Farewell, then.
Dragon's 2nd hand. There is only one man standing beside me, the one who killed me. So this is how the life ends!
All three heads. The life ends. Farewell!
Lancelot. They are dead now, but I don't feel too good myself. My hands feel like someone else's. The vision is blurry. And I keep hearing someone calling me by name: "Lancelot, Lancelot". A familiar voice. A depressing voice. I don't want to answer it. But it looks like I'll have to this time. What do you think - am I dying?
Musical instrument responds.
To listen to you, it all sounds so noble and dignified. But I feel very ill. I am mortally wounded. But wait, wait just a minute… The dragon is dead, so I can breathe easier. Elsa! I have defeated him! But it's true that I will never see you again, Elsa. You won't smile at me, or kiss me, or ask me: "Lancelot, what's wrong? Why are you so sad? Why does your head hurt so much? Why do your shoulders ache? Who is it calling you constantly - Lancelot, Lancelot?" This is death calling me, Elsa. I am dying. This is sad, isn't it? This is not fair. They all hid away. As if the victory is some kind of misfortune. Listen, death, hold on a moment! You know me, don't you? I looked into your eyes many times and I never ran away. I am not running this time, either. I can hear you. Just let me think a little. So they all hid away. All right. But in their houses, they are slowly, very slowly recovering now. Their souls are straightening out. Why, they are whispering, why were we providing and tending to that monster? It is because of us that a man is dying right now in the square all alone. We are going to be brighter from now on, we are. See what fight has broken out in the sky because of us. See how difficult it is to breathe for poor Lancelot. No, that's enough, quite enough! The kindest, the strongest, the most impatient people were perishing - because of our weakness. Even rocks would smarten up. And we're people after all, not rocks. This is what they are whispering now in every house, in every room. Do you hear?
Musical instrument responds.

Yes, yes, exactly. And this means I am not dying in vain. Farewell, Elsa. I knew I would love you for the rest of my life… I just did not want to believe that life was going to be over so soon. Farewell, the town; farewell, morning, afternoon. It is night already. Hey, you! The death is calling for me, hurrying me… I can't collect my thoughts… Listen, you! Don't be afraid. It is possible not to hurt widows and orphans. It is also possible to feel for others. Don't be afraid! Just feel for each other. Feel for others - and you will be happy! And this is the honest truth, pure truth, the purest truth in the world. That's all. I have to go. Farewell.
Musical instrument responds.

Act 3.

An opulently furnished room in Burgomaster's palace. In the back, tables on both sides of the door are set for dinner. In the center in front of them there is a small table on which a heavy book with golden bindings lies. The orchestra is playing as the curtain is raised. A group of townspeople is shouting while looking at the door.
Townspeople. (softly) And one, two, three. (loudly) Glory to the conqueror of dragon! (softly) And one, two, three. (loudly) Glory to our ruler! (softly) And one, two, three. (loudly) It is mind-boggling how happy we are! (softly) And one, two, three. (loudly) We hear his steps approaching!
Enter Heinrich.
(loudly, in unison) Hip, hip, hooray!
1st Townsman. O glorious liberator! Exactly one year to date the abominable, antipathetic, inconsiderate, disgusting son of a bitch the dragon was destroyed by you.
Townspeople. Hip, hip, hooray!
1st Townsman. We have been living extremely well since. We…
Heinrich. Wait, wait, just a moment, my man. Why don't you emphasize "extremely".
1st Townsman. Aye, sir. We have been living extre-e-e-mely well.
Heinrich. No, my man, no. That's not right. Please do not sit on the "e". You get some kind of ambiguous whine this way: "e-e-mly". Try to hit on the "r".
1st Townsman. We have been living extrrremely well ever since.
Heinrich. You got it! I wholeheartedly approve of this version. You all know the kind of person the conqueror of the dragon is. He's a simple man, bordering on naivete. He likes sincerity, intimacy. Continue.
1st Townsman. We just don't know where to put ourselves from happiness.
Heinrich. Excellent! Hold on. We have to stick something here… something, you know… humane. Virtuous. The conqueror of the dragon likes that. (flicking his fingers) Wait, wait a moment! It's coming to me! There! Found it! Even little birdies are twittering with delight! Evil is gone - good is here! Chirp, chirp, hooray! Let's go over that one more time.
1st Townsman. Even little birdies are twittering with delight. Evil is gone - good is here, chirp, chirp, hooray!
Heinrich. That was some dismal piece of chirping, my man. You just see that you don't get chirped yourself for that.
1st Townsman. (joyfully) Chirp, chirp, hooray!
Heinrich. That's better. All right, then. Have we been over other parts yet?
Townspeople. Aye, Mr. Burgomaster, sir.
Heinrich. OK. Soon the conqueror of the dragon, the president of the free city is going to come out to you. Remember - you have to talk in unison but at the same time sincerely, compassionately, democratically. The dragon was stuck on formalities, whereas we…
Sentry. (from the center door) Atten-tion! Eyes to the door! His excellency sir president of the free city is walking down the corridor! (in a low wooden voice) You sweet thing! You guardian angel, you! Killed the dragon! Who woulda thunk it!
Enter Burgomaster.
Heinrich. Your excellency sir president of the free city! No accidents reported during my watch, sir! Present: ten townsmen. Wildly happy: all of them. Taken to the precinct…
Burgomaster. As you were, as you were. Good afternoon, Mr. Burgomaster. (shakes Heinrich's hand) O! What's this, Burgomaster?
Heinrich. Your compatriots remember that exactly one year ago today you have defeated the dragon. Just arrived here to congratulate you.
Burgomaster. You don't say! What a pleasant surprise! All right, let it rip.
Townspeople. (softly) And one, two, three. (loudly) Glory to the conqueror of dragon! (softly) And one, two, three. (loudly) Glory to our ruler…
Enter Warden.
Burgomaster. Hold on, hold on! Hello, warden.
Warden. Good afternoon, your excellency.
Burgomaster. Thank you, my dear men. I already know everything you wanted to tell me. Darn! A wayward tear (wipes the tear off). But you see, we've got a wedding coming up in the house, and I still have some unfinished business to attend to. Why don't you go now, and then come to the wedding. We'll have a ball. The nightmare is over, and we can enjoy life now. Right?
Townspeople. Hip! Hip! Hooray.
Burgomaster. My point exactly. The slavery is but a myth, and we have been reborn. Remember how I was under the damned dragon? I was sick. I was crazy. And now look at me - fit as a fiddle! To say nothing about you all. You are always jolly and happy, my little birdies. Just flutter along. On the double! Heinrich, see them off!
Exit Heinrich and townspeople.

Burgomaster. So, how's it going in your prison?
Warden. Everybody's still sitting.
Burgomaster. How about my former assistant?
Warden. Suffering.
Burgomaster. Ha-ha! You're just saying that.
Warden. Suffering, cross my heart.
Burgomaster. No, really, how badly?
Warden. Throwing himself at the walls.
Burgomaster. Ha-ha! Take that! Such nasty personality. You'd start telling a joke, everybody is laughing, and he's showing the beard instead. Meaning: that's a joke so old it's already grown a beard. Why don't you sit in jail for a while. Did you show him my state portrait?
Warden. Sure did!
Burgomaster. Which one? The one where I am smiling pleasantly?
Warden. That same.
Burgomaster. And he was…
Warden. Crying.
Burgomaster. Stop it!
Warden. Crying, cross my heart.
Burgomaster. Ha-ha! Soothing. What about those weavers that supplied the flying carpet to that… guy?
Warden. I've had it with those two. They sit in different blocks, but they still hold together as one. Whatever one says, the other does too.
Burgomaster. But they got skinnier, I hope?
Warden. On my watch you just try not to!
Burgomaster. What about the blacksmith?
Warden. He sawed through the bars again. We had to fit his cell with ones made from diamonds.
Burgomaster. Excellent, excellent, never mind the expenses. How is he?
Warden. Stumped.
Burgomaster. Ha-ha! Gratifying.
Warden. Hatter fashioned hats for mice so that cats don't bother them anymore.
Burgomaster. How come?
Warden. They just sit and gawk at them. And that musician keeps on singing, spreading gloom around. I have to put on ear plugs every time I need to go there.
Burgomaster. All right. What's the mood around town?
Warden. Quiet. But they are still writing.
Burgomaster. Writing what?
Warden. Letter "L" on the walls. That means Lancelot.
Burgomaster. Nonsense! "L" means - "Love the president".
Warden. I see. So, we don't detain those who are writing?
Burgomaster. Are you kidding? Of course we do. What else do they write?
Warden. Embarrassing to say. The president is scum. His son is a crook. The president… (giggles) Can't really repeat the expression, sir. But mostly they write the "L".
Burgomaster. Morons. What do they want with that Lancelot anyway? Any news about him, while we’re on the subject?
Warden. Not a word.
Burgomaster. Did you interrogate the birds?
Warden. Uh-huh.
Burgomaster. All of them?
Warden. Uh-huh. See this mark? That's eagle's present. Got me right in the ear.
Burgomaster. And what are they saying?
Warden. They say they didn't see Lancelot. Only the parrot agrees. You're like: "Have you seen him?" And he's like: "Seen him". You're like: "You saw Lancelot?" And he's like: "Saw Lancelot." Well, you know what kind of bird the parrot is.
Burgomaster. What about the snakes?
Warden. Those would have slithered in themselves if they smelled anything. They're on our side. And relatives to the deceased to boot. But they don't.
Burgomaster. The fish?
Warden. Not a peep.
Burgomaster. Maybe they know something?
Warden. Nope. We had our scientists look into their eyes, and they confirm - those guys know nothing. In short Lancelot, also known as St. George, also known as Perseus, named differently in each country, has yet to be located.
Burgomaster. Screw him, then.
Enter Heinrich.
Heinrich. The father of the happy bride, Mr. Archivist Charlemagne, has arrived.
Burgomaster. A-ha! Just the man I wanted. Show him in.
Enter Charlemagne.
You may go, warden. Carry on. I am satisfied with your performance.
Warden. We're doing our best.
Burgomaster. Keep doing it. Charlemagne, you two know each other?
Charlemagne. Very little, sir president.
Burgomaster. Well, well. That’s OK. You still might get a chance to get acquainted more closely.
Warden. Take him?
Burgomaster. Come on, why is it always "take him" with you? Go on, go on for now. Good bye.
Exit Warden.
So, Charlemagne, you already figured out, of course, why you have been brought here? All kinds of state business, personal worries, this and that had prevented me from dropping by in person. But you and Elsa must have noticed from the posters all over the town that today is the day of her wedding.
Charlemagne. Yes, sir president, we know.
Burgomaster. We high-ranking officials don't have time for popping the question with all those flowers, sighs and stuff. We do not offer; we just order - nothing wrong with that. Ha-ha! Very convenient. Elsa's happy, right?
Charlemagne. No.
Burgomaster. Nonsense. Of course she is. And you?
Charlemagne. I am desperate, sir president.
Burgomaster. Such ingratitude! I have defeated the dragon…
Charlemagne. I beg your pardon, sir president, but I cannot make myself believe in that.
Burgomaster. Yes you can!
Charlemagne. Honestly, I can't.
Burgomaster. Of course you can. Even I believe it, and so can you.
Charlemagne. No.
Heinrich. He just doesn't want to.
Burgomaster. But why?
Heinrich. Trying to jack up the price.
Burgomaster. All right. I am offering you the position of my first deputy.
Charlemagne. I don't want to.
Burgomaster. Nonsense. You do.
Charlemagne. No.
Burgomaster. Quit stalling, we don't have time. Public housing, the apartment is next to the park, near the market, hundred and fifty three bedrooms, all windows look to the south. A fantastic salary. In addition, every time you go to work, you get relocation expenses, and when you go home, you receive a paid leave. Go to a party - we pay you daily allowance; stay home - there's rent compensation. You will be almost as wealthy as I am. Done. You agreed.
Charlemagne. No.
Burgomaster. What is it you want?
Charlemagne. We just want one thing - for you to leave us alone.
Burgomaster. Leave you alone! That's rich! What if I've already made up my mind! Besides, this is just very solid statesmanship. The conqueror of the dragon marries the girl he has saved. It is so convincing. Why don't you understand?
Charlemagne. Why are you tormenting us? I have learned to think independently, sir president. This is torture in itself. And now there's this wedding. You can just lose you mind.
Burgomaster. No, you can't, you can't. All those psychiatric illnesses are really overblown. Poppycock.
Charlemagne. Oh dear! How powerless we all are! That our town is just as quiet and obedient as before - it is so frightening!
Burgomaster. What the hell are you talking about? Why is it frightening? What are you trying to pull here with your daughter - a mutiny?
Charlemagne. No. We had a walk in the woods today, and we discussed everything so nicely, so precisely. Tomorrow, as soon as she's gone, I’ll die too.
Burgomaster. What do you mean - gone? This is absurd!
Charlemagne. Do you really think she'll live through this wedding?
Burgomaster. Of course. It is going to be a nice, merry party. Any other man would be glad to marry his daughter off into such wealth.
Heinrich. He is glad.
Charlemagne. No. I am an elderly, polite man, it is hard for me to just say this to your face. But I will anyway. This wedding is a tragedy for us.
Heinrich. What a tiresome mode of bargaining.
Burgomaster. Listen, you! You are not getting more. You are obviously after a share in our enterprise, aren't you? Well, you can't have it! Everything that dragon was brazenly appropriating is now in the best possible hands. That is, mine. And partially Heinrich's. This is absolutely legit. You won't get a penny of it!
Charlemagne. May I be excused now, sir president?
Burgomaster. You certainly may. Remember this, though. One: at the wedding you are going to be merry, jovial and witty, if you please. Two: no deaths! Try to make an effort here and live for as long as I require. This goes for your daughter as well. Three: you are to address me as "your excellency" from now on. See this list? Fifty names. All your best friends. If you so much as think about rebelling, all fifty will disappear without a trace. Get out. No, wait. There is going to be a carriage sent after you. You will bring your daughter here, and not a squeak out of you! Understood? Now go!
Exit Charlemagne.
That went smoothly.
Heinrich. What did the warden report?
Burgomaster. Not a cloud in the sky.
Heinrich. And the letter "L"?
Burgomaster. They wrote those, and other letters on the walls under the dragon, too. Let them write. This seems to calm them down, and it does not exactly break our bones. Can you look if this chair is occupied?
Heinrich. Daddy, please! (Feels the chair over with his hands.) There's no one there. Have a seat.
Burgomaster. Don't smile. He can sneak anywhere in that invisibility hat of his.
Heinrich. You don't know this man, daddy. He is filled with prejudices up to his ears. Just out of chivalrous gallantry, he is going to take off his hat before entering - and the guards will be all over him.
Burgomaster. His disposition might have soured in the past year. (Sits down.) Well, sonny boy, my little muffin, let's talk about our little business. You owe me money, my precious!
Heinrich. How do you figure, daddy?
Burgomaster. You have bought off three of my servants so that they would spy after me, read my papers and so on. Correct?
Heinrich. What are you saying, daddy!
Burgomaster. Hold on, sonny, don't interrupt. I have raised them five hundred dollars so that they would only pass on to you things that I approve myself. Therefore, you owe me five hundred, you rascal.
Heinrich. Not really, dad. I've learned about that and added another six hundred.
Burgomaster. And after I figured that out, I added a thousand! And please don't give them any more, dear. With those wages they grew fat, sloppy and lecherous. Next thing you know, they're going to bite the hands that feed them. Right. Also, we need to straighten out my personal secretary. I had to ship him off to the psychiatric ward.
Heinrich. You don't say! Why?
Burgomaster. We would bid and outbid each other on him so many times each day that he can no longer remember who his boss is. Now he snitches on me to myself. Plotting against himself to grab his own position. He's a decent, hard-working guy; it pains me to watch him suffer like that. Let's both of us visit him tomorrow at the clinic and establish once and for all who he is working for. My little sonny boy! My sweetie! We want to get into our daddy's chair, aren't we?
Heinrich. Oh daddy, stop it!
Burgomaster. That's OK, pumpkin, that's OK. We're family. Listen, you know what I'm thinking? Why don't we just spy on each other openly, like relatives should, like father and son, without all those outsiders. Think of the money we'd save!
Heinrich. What's a little money, daddy.
Burgomaster. Right you are. Can't take it with you when you die…
Sound of hooves and bells clinking.
(dashes to the window) She's here! Our beauty is here! Just look at that carriage! Exquisite! Decorated with dragon skin! And Elsa herself! Miracle of miracles. Velvet all over. There's something to be said about power… (whispers) Interrogate her!
Heinrich. Who?
Burgomaster. Elsa! She's been so quiet lately. Could she know where that… (looks around) Lancelot might be? Find it out carefully. And I am going to listen from behind this curtain.
Enter Elsa and Charlemagne.
Heinrich. Greetings to you, Elsa. You are getting more beautiful with each passing day, which is very nice of you. The president is changing. He asked me to express his apologies. Have a seat in this chair, Elsa. (Makes her sit in the chair standing with its back to the curtain behind which Burgomaster is hiding). And you, Charlemagne, please wait in the hall.
Exit Charlemagne, bowing.
Elsa, I am glad president is putting on his ceremonial jewelry. I have long wanted to talk to you one on one, like friends, with an open heart. Why are you so silent? You don't want to answer? I am attached to you after a fashion, you know. Talk to me.
Elsa. About what?
Heinrich. Whatever you want.
Elsa. I don't know… I don't want anything.
Heinrich. How can this be? Today is your wedding, after all… Ah, Elsa… Once more I have to concede you. But the conqueror of the dragon is the conqueror. I am a cynic, a mockingbird, but even I bow before him. Are you listening?
Elsa. No.
Heinrich. Elsa… Have I become a total stranger to you? We were such good friends when we were kids. Remember when you had measles and I would hang out outside your window until I went down with it too? And then you would visit me and cry because you felt sorry for me being so quiet and meek? Remember?
Elsa. Yes.
Heinrich. Are those children dead now? Isn't there anything left of them in you and me? Let's talk like the old times, like brother and sister.
Elsa. All right, let's talk.
Burgomaster peeks from behind the curtain and applauds Heinrich silently.
You want to know why I am silent all the time?
Burgomaster nods his head.
I am afraid.
Heinrich. Of whom?
Elsa. Of people.
Heinrich. Is that all? Just name the specific people you are afraid of. We will throw them in jail, and you will feel all better.
Burgomaster takes out his notebook.
Give me the names.
Elsa. No, Heinrich, it won't help.
Heinrich. It will, I assure you. Tried it myself. Quick improvements in sleep, appetite and attitude.
Elsa. You see… I don't know how to explain this to you… I am afraid of all people.
Heinrich. Ah, so that's what it is… I understand. I understand only too well. Everybody, myself included, seem cruel to you. Right? You may not believe this, but… I am afraid of them too. I am afraid of my father.
Burgomaster throws up his hands, perplexed.

I am afraid of those loyal servants of ours. And I make myself look cruel so that they would be afraid of me. We're all tangled in the web we weave. Talk to me, tell me more, I am listening.
Burgomaster is nodding understandingly.
Elsa. What more can I tell you… At first I was angry, then despondent, and they I just stopped caring about everything. I am so passive now, like I've never been before. They can do whatever they want with me.
Burgomaster giggles loudly; then, alarmed, hides deeper behind the curtain. Elsa looks around.
What was that?
Heinrich. Never mind that. They are preparing for the feast there. My poor, my dear little sister. Such a pity that Lancelot is gone, disappeared. Only now I am beginning to understand him. That was an extraordinary man. We all are beholden to him. Isn't there any hope he will be back, any at all?
Burgomaster peeks from behind the curtain again. He is all ears.
Elsa. He… He will not be back.
Heinrich. Don't say that. For some reason I feel we are still going to see him yet.
Elsa. No.
Heinrich. Believe me!
Elsa. It is very nice of you to say that, but… Are you sure no one can hear us?
Burgomaster dives down behind the chair's back.

Heinrich. Of course they can’t, my dear. Today is public holiday. All spies have the day off.
Elsa. You see… I know what happened to Lancelot.
Heinrich. You don't have to say it if this is painful for you.
Burgomaster shakes his fist at him.
Elsa. I have been silent for so long that now I simply have to tell you everything. I thought that nobody but me would understand how sad it is, such is the town I have been born in. But you have been listening to me so carefully today… So… Exactly one year ago, when the battle was over, Cat ran to the town square. And this is what he saw: Lancelot, white as a ghost, was standing beside the dragon's heads. He was leaning on his sword and smiling so as not to worry the Cat. Cat ran off to me, to call for my help. But guards were watching me so vigilantly, not even a mouse could sneak in. They chased the Cat away.
Heinrich. Rude, inconsiderate soldiers!
Elsa. Then he called his friend the Mule. After settling the wounded on Mule's back, he led them through back streets and out of our town.
Heinrich. But why?
Elsa. Ah, Lancelot was so weak that people could have killed him. And so they started off along the trail to the mountains. The Cat was sitting near the wounded and listening if his heart was still beating.
Heinrich. It was, I hope?
Elsa. Yes, but weaker and weaker. And then the Cat cried out: "Halt!". And the Mule stopped. It was already late night. They have ventured far up the mountain, high up, and everything was so quiet around them, so cold. "Turn back towards home!", the Cat said. "People cannot hurt him anymore now. We have to let Elsa say goodbye to him, and then we will bury him."
Heinrich. He died, poor thing!
Elsa. He died, Heinrich. But the stubborn Mule said: I do not turn back. And he kept going. And Cat returned - he is so fond of our house, you know. He returned, told me all that, and now I am not waiting for anything. It is all over.
Burgomaster. Hooray! It is all over! (dances, dashes around the room) All over! I am the unlimited ruler over everybody! I don't have to be afraid of anyone ever! Thank you, o thank you, Elsa! This is truly a celebration! Who would dare say now that it was not I who killed the dragon? Well, who?
Elsa. He had been listening?
Heinrich. Of course.
Elsa. And you knew all along?
Heinrich. Don't pretend to be this naïve little girl, Elsa. You are getting married today, after all.
Elsa. Daddy! Daddy!
Charlemagne runs in.

Charlemagne. What's wrong, sweetie? (Tries to embrace her.)
Burgomaster. Attention, you! Stand to attention in front of my bride!
Charlemagne. (snapping to attention) There, there… Please don't cry. What can we do? There is nothing we can do. What is there to do?
Music starts playing.
Burgomaster. (running up to the window) How lovely! How cozy! The guests have arrived for the wedding. Horses festooned with ribbons! Little lanterns on the yokes! How beautiful it is to live and know that no idiot is going to spoil it for you! Give us a smile, Elsa. At the appropriate moment, right on the clock, the president of the free city himself is going to lock you in his embrace.
Doors swing open widely.
Welcome, welcome, dear guests.
Enter Guests, passing by Elsa and Burgomaster in pairs. They speak ceremoniously, almost whispering.
1st Townsman. Congratulations to the bride and groom. Everybody is so happy.
2nd Townsman. All buildings are decorated with lights.
1st Townsman. It is bright as day outside.
2nd Townsman. Liquor stores are full of people.
Boy. They are all drinking and swearing.
Everyone. Shhh!
Gardener. Please let me present you with these bluebells. They chime a little sadly, I admit, but that's OK. By morning they are going to wilt and quiet down.
Elsa's 1st girlfriend. Elsa, darling, please try and look happy. Otherwise I am going to cry and ruin my lashes. They came out so nicely today.
Elsa's 2nd girlfriend. He is better than the dragon, isn't he? He has arms and legs, and no scales. He is human after all, even though he's the president. You must tell us everything tomorrow. It is going to be ever so exciting!
Elsa's 3rd girlfriend. You will be able to do so much good for the people now! See, for example you can ask your groom to have my daddy's boss fired. Then daddy will take over his position, double the salary, and we will be so very happy!
Burgomaster. (counting guests under his breath) One, two, three, four… (counting place settings) One, two, three… Right… Looks like one extra guest… Oh, it's the boy. There, there, don't cry. You'll share the plate with your mom. Everyone's here. To the table, ladies and gentlemen. We'll get over with the marriage ceremony quickly and modestly, and then we will commence the wedding feast. I have procured fish bred especially for being eaten. It laughs with delight when boiled, and itself alerts the chef when it's done. Here's turkey stuffed with her own chicks. So cozy, so home-style. Here are suckling pigs, not only raised but also trained specifically for our table. They can sit up, beg and give you their trotters even though they're roasted. Don't scream, little boy, it's not scary, it's comical. Here are wines so old they went a bit batty and are jumping around like little children inside their bottles. And this is brandy so clear that the flask looks empty. Wait a minute, it is empty. Those shyster servants must have cleared it. But that's OK, we have many more flasks in the cellar. What a delight it is to be wealthy, gentlemen! Everybody seated? Great. Hold on, hold on, don't start eating yet, we're going to be wed presently. Just one moment! Elsa! Give me your paw!
Elsa gives Burgomaster her hand
You sweet little thing, you. Such a warm paw. Chin up! Give us a smile. Is everything ready, Heinrich?
Heinrich. Aye, Mr. President, sir.
Burgomaster. Do it.
Heinrich. I am a poor public speaker, gentlemen, so I apologize in advance if this sounds a bit muddled to you. One year ago a self-important interloper challenged the despicable dragon to a fight. A blue-ribbon commission set up by the town council have managed to establish the following: the deceased braggart only infuriated the deceased monster by inflicting a superficial wound. It was then that our former burgomaster, now president of the free city, flung himself onto the dragon and killed him, this time conclusively, while demonstrating assorted feats of courage.
The noxious weed of vile slavery was excised exhaustively from the soil of our collective civic consciousness.

The grateful city had therefore established: if we were ready to give up our best daughters to the abominable monster, how can we deny the same simple and natural right to our esteemed redeemer!
Hence, to signify the magnificence of the president on one hand, and loyalty and allegiance of the town, on the other hand, I as burgomaster shall now perform the marriage rites. Organist! The wedding march!
Organ plays.
Scribes! Open the Book of Happiness!
Enter Scribes with gigantic fountain pens in their hands.
For four hundred years we were inscribing the names of poor girls doomed to the dragon in this book. Four hundred pages have been filled. And now for the first time on the four hundred and first page we are going to inscribe the name of the lucky soul to be united in matrimony with the hero who destroyed the dragon.

Groom, answer me in good conscience. Do you agree take this girl to be your wedded wife?
Burgomaster. For the benefit of my town I am willing to do anything.
Heinrich. Scribes, write that down! Careful, you! Any blots you are going to be wiping with your tongues! Right. Well, that's that. Oh, pardon me! One empty formality left. Bride! You do, of course, agree to take the president of the free city to be your husband.
Talk to me, girl - do you?
Elsa. No.
Heinrich. Splendid. Scribes, you may write that she agreed.
Elsa. Don't you dare write that!
Scribes recoil.
Heinrich. Elsa, please do not hinder the proceedings.
Burgomaster. But she is not hindering at all, my dear. When a girl says "no", it always means "yes". Scribes, write!
Elsa. No! I will tear this page out and stomp it into the ground!
Burgomaster. Beautiful maiden indecision, tears, fears, this and that. Every girl cries in her own way before the wedding, but usually is quite satisfied afterwards. We are going to gently hold her hands now and do what we need to do. Scribes…
Elsa. At least allow me my last word! Please!
Heinrich. Elsa!
Burgomaster. Don't get excited, sonny. Everything is in perfect order. The bride is asking to speak. Let's have her speak, and we'll wrap up the official segment at that. That's all right, let her, we're all sensible people here.
Elsa. Friends, my dear friends! Why are you killing me? This is like a nightmare. When a villain is holding his knife to your throat, you still can escape. Somebody could kill him, or you'd be able to break free… What if the villain’s knife suddenly lunges at you by itself? And his rope slithers towards you like a snake to tie you up? If even the drapes on his window, quiet little drapes jump at you as well, to muffle your screams? What would you say then? I thought you were only instruments to the dragon, like the knife is to the villain. But you, my friends, you turned out to be villains in your own right! I am not accusing you, you may not recognize it yourself, but I am begging you - come to your senses! Could it be that the dragon hasn't died but turned into a human instead, as he often did? But this time he turned into many people at once, and now they are killing me. Don't kill me! Oh my god, what agony… Break free of the web you all got tangled in. Would no one stand up for me?
Boy. I would, but my mom is holding my hands.
Burgomaster. That's it, then. The bride has concluded her address. Life goes on, as if nothing had happened.
Boy. Mommy!
Burgomaster. Be quiet, pumpkin. Let's be merry as if nothing had happened. Enough of this bureaucracy, Heinrich. Just write somewhere "The marriage is hereby declared to be valid", and let's eat. I'm starving.
Heinrich. Scribes, write: "The marriage is declared valid". On the double! What's the matter?
Scribes take to their pens. There is a loud knocking at the door. Scribes recoil again.
Burgomaster. Who's there?
Hey, you! Whoever you are - tomorrow, tomorrow, during the business hours, register with my secretary. I don't have time! I am getting married here!
Knocking again.

Don't open the doors! Scribes, write!
Door swings open by itself. There is no one behind it.
Heinrich, come here at once! What does this mean?
Heinrich. Ah, daddy, it’s the usual stuff. The innocent lamentations of our maiden have disturbed all those simple-minded dwellers of rivers, forests and ponds. The house spirit came down from the attic, water sprites climbed out of the well… Let them. There's nothing they can do to us. They are just as invisible and powerless as the so called conscience. Worst case, we'd have a couple of bad dreams, and that's it.
Burgomaster. No, it's him!
Heinrich. Who?
Burgomaster. Lancelot. He's got his invisibility hat on. He is standing nearby. He is listening to everything we say. And his sword is hanging over my head.
Heinrich. My beloved father! If you don't come to, this instant, I am assuming the authority myself.
Burgomaster. Music! Let the music play! Dear guests! Please accept our apologies for this inadvertent delay, but it's just that I am afraid of drafts. A draft has opened the door, that's all. Elsa, please calm down, honey! I pronounce the marriage ceremony completed subject to subsequent confirmation. What's that? Who goes there?
A frightened Servant runs in.
Servant. Take it back! Take it all back!
Burgomaster. Take what back?
Servant. Take back your dirty money! I don't serve you anymore!
Burgomaster. Why?
Servant. He's going to kill me for my treachery!
Burgomaster. Who is going to kill him? Huh? Heinrich?
Second Servant runs in.
2nd Servant. He is walking down the corridor! I bowed to him, but he did not even look at me! He does not look at people anymore. He's going to get us! We're so in trouble!
Burgomaster. Heinrich!
Heinrich. Keep a straight face. No matter what. Only this can save us now.
Enter the third Servant, moving backwards. He is yelling into space.

3rd Servant. I will prove it to you! My wife can confirm! I have always condemned their actions! I only took their money due to altered mental state! I'll bring an affidavit!
Burgomaster. Look!
Heinrich. Straight face! For heaven's sake, straight face!
Enter Lancelot.
Burgomaster. Ah, hello, that's an unexpected visit. But welcome nonetheless. We don't have enough places set at the table… but no matter. You can eat from the soup plate, and I'll take the smaller one. I would order another setting, but the servants had run off, silly things. We're just having a little wedding here, you see, tee-hee, little family business, as they say, personal stuff… Allow me to introduce… Where are the guests? Oh, I guess they all dropped something and are looking for it under that table. This is my son, Heinrich. I gather you've met before. So young, and already the burgomaster. His career really took off since I… since we… since the dragon was defeated. What's the matter? Please come in.
Heinrich. Why are you so silent?
Burgomaster. Why are you indeed? How was your trip? What's news? Would you like to freshen up? The guards can escort you.
Lancelot. Good evening, Elsa!
Elsa. Lancelot! (runs to him). Sit, please sit down. Come in. Is this really you?
Lancelot. Yes, Elsa.
Elsa. Your hands are warm. And your hair grew a little longer since we last saw each other. Or does it only look that way? And your cloak is still the same. Lancelot! (makes him sit at the little table in the middle). Have some wine. No, no, don't take anything from them. You just rest a while, and we'll go. Daddy! He has come, daddy! Just like that night! Just when we thought again that there was only one thing left to do - die quietly. Lancelot!
Lancelot. Do you still love me, then?
Elsa. Did you hear, daddy? We have dreamt about this so many times, that he would come in and ask me: do you still love me? And I would answer: yes, Lancelot! And then I'd ask: Where have you been for so long?
Lancelot. Far, far away, in the Black mountains.
Elsa. Were you ill?
Lancelot. Yes, Elsa. Being mortally wounded is a very dangerous affair.
Elsa. Who looked after you?
Lancelot. One woodsman's wife. Nice, kind woman. But she would always get upset when I called her Elsa in my sleep.
Elsa. You missed me, then?
Lancelot. I have missed you.
Elsa. And I was so desperate here! They were torturing me.
Burgomaster. Who? Impossible! Why didn't you report it to us? We would have taken measures!
Lancelot. I know everything, Elsa.
Elsa. You do?
Lancelot. Yes.
Elsa. How?
Lancelot. In the Black mountains, not far from the woodsman's shack, there is an enormous cave. There’s a book lying in this cave, the Book of Sorrows, filled almost to the end. Nobody touches it, but page after page gets added to the ones written before, added every day. Who writes them, you ask? The world! Written, written are all the crimes, all the suffering of innocents.
Burgomaster and Heinrich are heading towards the door on their tiptoes.
Elsa. And you've read about us there?
Lancelot. Yes. Hey, you! Murderers! Stay where you are!
Burgomaster. Now, now. Why so rude all of a sudden?
Lancelot. Because I am not the man I was a year ago. I have freed you, and what have you done with your freedom?
Burgomaster. Oh, for Pete’s sake! If you are so dissatisfied with my performance, I will be happy to resign.
Lancelot. Not so fast.
Heinrich. That is exactly right. The way he conducted himself in your absence – it just boggles the mind. I can provide the full list of his crimes that haven’t made it to the Book of Sorrows yet, because they are still in the planning stage.
Lancelot. Shut up!
Heinrich. Wait a minute! If you give it impartial consideration, I personally cannot be held responsible. I was just brought up this way.
Lancelot. Everybody was. But you had to be first in class, you bastard.
Heinrich. We should leave, daddy. He is using bad words.
Lancelot. You are not going anywhere. It’s been a month since I’ve returned, Elsa.
Elsa. And you didn’t even think of coming by!
Lancelot. I did, but in the invisibility hat, very early in the morning. I have kissed you very softly, so as not to wake you up, and then I took to wandering around the town. It was horrible what I’ve seen. Hard to read it in the book, but seeing it with my own eyes was so much harder. You, Mueller!
1st Townsman rises up from under the table.
I saw you crying tears of joy when you were shouting "Glory, glory to the conqueror of the dragon!" at the Burgomaster.
1st Townsman. That is true. I did cry. But I wasn’t faking it, Mr. Lancelot.
Lancelot. You knew it was not him who killed the dragon.
1st Townsman. I sure did - when I was at home. But at the rally… (Throws up his hands)
Lancelot. Gardener!
Gardener rises up from under the table.
You were trying to teach snapdragon flowers to say "Hail to the chief!", weren’t you?
Gardener. I was.
Lancelot. Any luck?
Gardener. In a way, yes. But the snapdragon was always sticking its tongue at me after saying it. I thought it would help me to receive another grant for further research…
Lancelot. Friedrichsen!
2nd Townsman rises up from under the table.
Burgomaster became mad at you and threw your only son in the dungeon, didn’t he?
2nd Townsman. Yes. The boy was coughing all the time as it was, and that dungeon is so damp!
Lancelot. And after that you have presented the burgomaster with a pipe inscribed "Yours forever"?
2nd Townsman. I had to placate him somehow, don’t you see?
Lancelot. What should I do with the lot of you now?
Burgomaster. Just forget them, Mr. Lancelot. This job is not for you. Heinrich and I will handle them just fine. That would be the best punishment for these weaklings. Take Elsa with you and leave us to our own devices. This would be very humane. Very democratic.
Lancelot. I can’t. Come in, my friends!
Enter weavers, blacksmith, hatter and luthier.
And you have disappointed me as well. I thought you could take them on without me. Why did you yield to them and go to prison?
Weavers. They caught us by surprise.
Lancelot. Take these men. The president and the burgomaster.
Weavers. (taking Burgomaster and Heinrich) Let’s go.
Blacksmith. I have checked the bars myself. Solid. Let’s go.
Hatter. These dunces’ caps are for you. I was making beautiful hats, but that prison made me grow resentful. Let’s go!
Luthier. In my cell I fashioned this violin out of bread, and made the strings for it out of cobwebs. My violin plays softly and dejectedly, but this is your own fault. Let this music accompany you to the place from where there’s no way back.
Heinrich. But this is ridiculous! This is not right! This can’t be happening! A stranger, a drifter, an impractical person – how can he…
Weavers. Let’s go!
Burgomaster. I object! This is inhumane treatment!
Weavers. Let’s go!
Simple, depressing music, barely audible. Heinrich and Burgomaster are being led out.
Lancelot. Elsa, I am not the man I was before. You can see that.
Elsa. Yes. But I love you even more for it.
Lancelot. We cannot leave.
Elsa. That’s all right. We can be happy at home, too.
Lancelot. This is going to be a very meticulous job. Even worse than embroidering. We have to kill the dragon in each one of them.
Boy. Is it going to hurt?
Lancelot. Not you.
1st Townsman. What about us?
Lancelot. You’ll have to tough it out.
Gardener. Please be patient, Mr. Lancelot. I implore you – just be patient. Graft carefully. Build fires – warmth is conducive to growth. Pull the weeds out gently, so as not to hurt healthy roots. If you really think about it, people also, maybe, taking everything into account, after all deserve careful looking after.
Elsa’s 1st girlfriend. And let the wedding still take place today.
Elsa’s 2nd girlfriend. Because people get kinder from joy.
Lancelot. True! Let’s have some music!
Music plays.
Elsa, give me your hand. I love all of you, my friends. Otherwise why would I care to invest so much in you? And if I love you, then everything will come out beautifully. And all of us, after all the trials and tribulations, all of us are going to be happy, very happy at the end!
The end.



Translator’s notes

Evgeny L. Schwarz (1896 or 1897-1958) is a Soviet playwright and author of books for children, as well as scripts for enormously popular Soviet movies ("Cinderella", "Don Quixote", "The Shadow"). "Dragon" is listed as having been written in 1943 in the book I have in my possession; however, other sources give it as 1944, which I tend to give more credence (see below). In any case, this was the time Mr. Schwarz was employed as a chief literary council and writer-in-residence at the Leningrad Comedy Theatre; the play was apparently commissioned with a view to production in the same theatre.

The plot in fact follows quite closely after the legend of St. George, patron saint of England and the Russian/Soviet/Russian capital city of Moscow, among other places (the so called Golden Legend). Briefly: a fierce dragon was living near a Syrian town of Silena; he demanded two sheep from the town each day, and when sheep were gone, maidens from nearby villages had to be substituted, according to lots drawn by the people. Into this country came the future saint. Hearing the story on a day when a local princess was to be eaten, he crossed himself, rode to battle against the serpent, and killed it with a single blow of his lance. He then delivered a sermon so powerful that local residents converted.

In the beginning of 1942, as German forces were digging in for a prolonged war after having made astounding gains against the Soviet Army the previous year, Mr. Schwarz have been commissioned, and quickly completed work on an openly ultra-patriotic anti-Nazi farce "Under the linden trees of Berlin". A crude satirical review written by an immensely talented author, it was received very favorably by the high-level Party cultural bureaucrats and approved for performances throughout the armed forces (and undoubtedly was performed many times there). "Dragon", while having all of the outward appearance of just another work directed against Nazism and Hitler personally, did not have such luck, though.

Schwarz carefully selected neutral, mostly German-sounding names for his characters, based the play in an obviously European small burg, gave his dragon (or at least some of his incarnations) a vague military-Teutonic appearance and inserted historical references that should have been immediately familiar to contemporaries, such as having Heinrich spout almost verbatim the hysterical feel-good propaganda of another Heinrich – Goebbels - about military advantages of contracting of the front lines (it is this particular phrase, by the way, that makes me suspect 1944 as the correct year for the completion of the play, since in 1943 German army has not yet been driven back to the extent that such message would become the official propaganda stance), while the townsman is heard complaining that "It's been two minutes already, and still no result" - reducing the German blitzkrieg concept to the point of absurdity.

At the same time, there are blatant digs at the other dragon and his regime, this one much closer to home, sprinkled all over the text, their ubiquity and preciseness leaving no doubt in my mind about the author’s intentions (and civic courage; people have been known to "disappear" for lesser offenses). See for yourself. Dragon’s penchant for pipes ("You have presented me with a three-stemmed pipe…") closely follows Stalin’s own well-publicized love for them, depicted on countless state portraits, so that eventually a special museum housing pipes presented to the beloved leader by assorted artisans had to be instituted. Dragon’s characterization as "amazing strategist and great tactician" could have been lifted directly from the front pages of the Soviet newspapers of the day describing Stalin’s military genius. At a deeper level, the casualness with which dragons (the dragon himself, and later Burgomaster - "Are you kidding? Of course we do!", and Heinrich – "Quick improvements in sleep, appetite and attitude") get rid of undesirables matches the Soviet society more accurately than it does the German one. Townsfolk’s attitude towards Charlemagne in the fight scene accurately reflects the public ostracism that "family members of the enemies of the people" faced daily (anyone seen helping them risked becoming the enemy himself). The phrase "spreading of rumors is going to be punished by chopping heads in lieu of monetary compensation" pretty much describes the modus operandi of the wartime internal secret police activity, as countless "rumor spreaders" went to the camps. Different parts of the same "communiqué" of Heinrich’s can also be perceived as retreads of the Soviet InformBureau’s messages during the early days of the war. There is a ban on looking at the sky in the book - and in real life, all radios had to be turned in to the authorities shortly after the war began. I could continue, but the picture seems to be clear.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the theatre was summarily prohibited from performing the almost completed production. The attempted revival in 1962 met with approximately the same response after just a couple of internal shows. Print runs of 30,000 copies of Schwarz’s collected (not complete) plays were ordered that same year and again 10 years later; this edition was to remain the only one until well into the 80s (and is the one I have used). Only in latter Brezhnev years have professional adaptations of the play (and later, during perestroika, a controversial film version "To Kill A Dragon" imbued with many more contemporary attributes and allusions) finally appeared.

Cultural references are an eternal translators’ bane. I firmly believe there is a middle ground between the purist approach (taken, for example, by Nabokov in creating his "Eugene Onegin" by augmenting one volume of the almost literally translated text with three more of commentary, a virtual cornucopia of Russian culture to which the reader is referred from almost every word, including comments on comments) and the extreme cavalier attitude to the original whereby all cultural specificity is completely replaced by that of the new language (but instead is more often than not completely lost). I have tried to maintain the balance as best I could, including keeping these notes to manageable size. I admit to having used some references that obviously were not on hand for the original, but they should be readily accepted and easily acknowledged by any English- or American-speaking reader, while hinting at their counterparts’ position in the corresponding Russian folklore layers. By the way, Russian word for snapdragon does not have "dragon" in it, so this delicious pun is just an unintended bonus.

The play is about getting in touch with your inner dragon, not about its various protagonists (and would-be protagonists) of all shapes and sizes, whether dead or alive. In this context, it is timeless and transcends cultural boundaries. This book had been with me and dear to my heart for as long as I could remember. Upon starting this project I realized to my surprise that I still could recall almost all of it word for word. I am happy if this effort of mine can bring it to even one more person who wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to get acquainted with it. Enjoy.

Yuri Machkasov

February 2001, Framingham, Massachusetts.

Copyright © 2001, Yuri Machkasov. All rights reserved.

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