Thrice The Brinded Cat
The gnomes of Jzadirune loved their city Under Cauldron, they loved their king and their people. The gnomes were avid engineers, devout worshipers of their god, Garl Glittergold, and were studious arcanists. But, above all, the gnomes revered their fae roots. Even far underground they longed for their old sylvan ways and they displayed their love of nature through their art. Murals, pottery, tapestries, fine glasswork and metal smithing all betrayed their ancient yearnings.
But no work of art the gnomes had crafted so blatantly described their ties to the Seelie Courts than their dramatic work, “The Loss of Queen Willowbough”, a haunting play written centuries ago by the famous gnomish bard, Eldann Witfallow. The gnomes of Jzadirune presented the play on Godsday of each week and they would eagerly invite the residents of Cauldron-above and The-Hold-Below to attend. Over the years, and long after the death of Eldann, the gnomes of Jzadirune blended technology and spellwork to the performance so that the action relied very little on actual actors. The permanent illusions the gnomes had blended into the work replaced most of the performers and the illusions even grew to envelope the areas off stage and out into the audience, giving all who attended the feeling they were actually present as the events unfolded before them.
When the Moonhowlers discovered the old gnomish theatre, the magic of the play was still active and they were able to see the production nearly in-full . . .
The lights slowly dim and then a single light shines down upn the center of the stage. The black curtain behind the stage flutters for a few moments and then a small figure emerges from behind the cloth. It is a baby black bear walking on its two hind legs – or rather a gnome in a bear costume. It walks to the light in the center and speaks in a squeaky voice,
“Night hath fallen in the village of Ludon and whilst myriad woodland creatures dream, Willowbough and her friends frolic beneath the sorcerous moon!”
The little bear then walks to the side of the stage, curls up and goes to sleep. The ceiling of the theatre lightens, and then small lights appear…stars! A bigger light shines on the ceiling to your right – a moon! The air suddenly changes, fresh and crisp and the sounds of crickets, night birds, a distant stream and the evening breeze in the trees can all be heard.
The stage dissolves before your eyes and then is transformed into a night time scene outside a small village near the edge of a jungle. A smoking volcano can be seen in the distance. Music begins, beautiful stringed instruments and a female voice sings hauntingly in a language you do not recognize. Tiny figures appear, light and airy all about – dancing under the moonlight.
ACT I – The Village
A well proportioned blond human female named Jenee is the object of every man’s eye in the village of old Ludon, and every fair maiden in the village is consumed with jealousy over her beauty. Jenee’s father, Lord Aulton, tries to marry her off to his best knight, an elderly man named Sir Geoffery, but it comes to light that Jenee is pregnant and the family is deeply shamed.
A sample of the dialogue is as such:
“Then out spake the Laird et Sire; And he spak ber meek and mild; And ever alas, sweet Jenee, he says; I think thou gays wee child.”
ACT II – Caterhaugh
Jenee flees to the haunted woods of Caterhaugh where she waits for her lover, a tree-spirit and Knight of the Seelie Court by the name of Tam Lin. She sets two roses upon a well to draw him forth, just as she always does when she calls upon him.
“She had do poo da double rose; a rose but only tway; Till up den sterted young Tam Lin, Say, “Lady, thou poos nay may.”
She tells him she is pregnant with his child and he is delighted and dances about for some time, and then he becomes very sad. He tells Jenee that once each year upon the Autumnal Equinox, Willowbough, Queen of the Seelie Court, must tithe to a devil named Yeenoghu. The tithe is the lives of three of her faerie knights and this year Tam Lin was chosen to be one of the three.
“And plesant is the faerie land; But an eerie tale to tell; Ay at end o ery year we pay tee end to Hell, I am say fair and too o’ flesh I am feard it be myself.”
Jenee is horrified and vows to save him from this fate. The two then pledge their lives to each other and the spirit of haunted Caterhaugh marries them, then and there. Tam Lin then explains to Jenee what must be done.
ACT III – Equinox
At midnight of the Autumnal Equinox, Jenee is seen hiding among the bushes at the side of a road—a black and foul place known as Miles Cross. She waits and then hears the slow approach of many horses. As the Faerie Court arrives in a glitter of lights, horses and faeries – both stunningly beautiful and grotesque – the Queen makes her entrance. When she appears in the scene, all the faerie folk stand or flit of fly or float around the edges of the crossroads. The Queen is magnificent, her gown of gauze and spiders web twirls frantically about her greenish glowing form, never letting one fully make out her features. At times it seems she is a beautiful elven woman with gracefully slanted eyes and ears, blond hair flowing gracefully behind her, and at other times is is almost as if her arms and legs appear grossly emaciated and frail, her face a frightful skull, but since it is never possible to get a good look at her from behind the flowing silken material it never certain which form, if any, hides behind those ghostly veils.
Then, the first rider appears, a fine elvish knight in gleaming mithril plate upon a sleek black stallion. When he reaches the center of the road a huge demon suddenly materializes in the air and leaps upon the rider, rolling on the ground with him and rending the shining armor with its claws and teeth. At this, the faeries all let out a magnificent and horrible cheer as the the knight is torn to bloody shreds. A stinking entrail lands on the bench near you – still steaming.
A second knight, this one clearly a powerful woodwoad riding upon a chestnut charger enters the clearing and is also torn asunder by another demon that looks very much like a gargantuan bug. The Seelie Court howls with glee while the Queen, Willowbough, claps daintily and smiles to the crowd.
Finally, a third knight on a plain white horse enters. This is Jenee’s cue and she runs from her hiding spot and leaps upon the knight before any can stop her, knocking him from his horse and to the ground. At that moment, a dog-demon appears and howls in rage, but Jenee does not let go of the knight as they roll upon the ground. Queen Willowbough screams and raises a wand – casting a spell and the knight suddenly disappears and turns into an enormous emerald snake with red eyes. But still, Jenee does not let go an the maiden and the snake struggle upon the ground while the dog-demon tries to smite the couple with its ferocious crab-like claws, but his blows seem to strike an invisible barrier just above them.
The Queen the casts another spell and the snake transforms into a large leafy hedge, but Jenee does not let go. The faerie fold go wild in a screaming frenzy and those with legs leap into the air and tear up chunks of earth and hurl them into the air with frustration. The hedge suddenly bursts into flame and Jenee screams with pain and fear . . . but still she does not let go.
Soon some of the nymphs and nixies surround the couple and hurl water upon them until the flames are doused. When the smoke and the steam disperse, Jenee can be seen sobbing and holding the naked form of the faerie knight, Tam Lin. Jenee quickly takes off her dress and covers them both with it. She looks up at the furious Queen for just a moment and there is a blinding flash of light and roar of thunder. All of the faeries cower and shield their eyes. The dog demon bellows once more and when the light fades, Jenee and her lover are gone.
The Queen then shouts a wicked curse:
“Out then spake the Queen O Faeries. And angry woman was she. ‘Shame betide her ill-fared face And an ill death may she die, for she tay en the bonniest knight with in my comp a nay.’”
The lights fade to darkness.
ACT IV – The End
The last scene of the play shows Tam Lin and a very pregnant Jenee in the forest under the moonlight as he gives her a totem to wear and claims it will protect her and the progeny from the eternal wrath of the Faerie Queen.