On the Internet at
The interior of a King’s tomb in ancient Egypt. At rise, the tomb is in darkness. Suddenly a spotlight shines on a dead body: the corpse of a young member of the royal guard. A second spotlight reveals a second body. Spotlights continue until the stage is littered with the dead. Lights come up full, revealing the Captain of the Guard, quite alive and quite shocked.
Oh...oh, this isn’t very good.
The Captain approaches the bodies one by one.
OK...who’s alive...? Who’s still breathing? Breathing’s good; breathing—I’ll take twitching.
He finds nothing. He looks around.
Did someone...come in?
The Captain pulls out a dagger and begins backing away, extra cautious.
No, no; we’re sealed in. He’ll come, I’m sure of it. But he’s four days away. He couldn’t have made it already....
The Captain makes it to the back wall and begins feeling a particular spot. He notices himself doing this and stops. He walks away.
No one could. We’re alone for now. No one’s here to attack, and that means—
As he walks, his foot hits a pitcher. He looks at it. He picks an empty cup from the ground next to one of the corpses. He sniffs.
Poison? Oh, boys...no....
He stands over one body lying on its side. He turns it over, revealing a sword sticking straight out of its chest.
Now that’s overdoing it.
The Captain stands and addresses the bodies.
Now, boys...we have a misunderstanding here. We are the royal guard, here to follow our King into the afterlife in his defense. From the assignment, I see you figured “afterlife” meant getting there. The quickest way possible, with poisoning, stabbing.... All the good stuff. So yes, protect our King; that’s all well and good. But there was one more step. You all know the head Priestess. You all know her son. Big guy. Currently on a mission of diplomacy and/or slaughter. He might make a good king. He certainly thinks he’d make a good king; that’s why he’s planning to usurp the throne.
He kneels down in front of one of the corpses.
Yeah, yeah; he’s not too happy about being passed over. Our King is dead; its his time! Forcing himself onto the throne, that’s easy enough, but the real trick is legitimacy. He’ll need some sort of approval. Some unique royal artifact like, say, the Cloak of Horus. The royal good luck charm—the mark of the true king of Egypt. He’ll say our King gave him the cloak as a promise, as a guarantee of the throne. He’ll say it, and if he has the cloak, the royal court will believe him.
But the Cloak of Horus isn’t in his hands. It’s buried in here with us. And in five days’ time, he’s coming to get it.
So that’s our real mission, gentlemen. Not to bury ourselves alive, but to get ourselves slaughtered defending the cloak. I really, really should have told you all sooner.
He shakes his head.
I figured you’d all ask questions first. No one else in our kingdom sacrifices themselves; why us? Why do we have our own food and water if we’re here to die—I mean, a little bit of thinking would have prevented this and we’d all be a lot happier. Because now, when this very insistent Priestess’s son arrives, I’ll be here alone. I can’t guarantee he’ll be.
Oh well; what can you do? Might as well get this place cleaned up.
He points to a soldier.
Son, you’re with me.
The Captain picks a corpse from the ground and drags it off left. He returns a moment later, exhausted.
OK...OK...uh, you’re next. Don’t go anywhere; I’m just going to catch my breath, and....
He puts his hands on his knees and breathes.
He lifts another corpse and—slowly—brings it offstage. Another moment passes, then the Captain returns, extremely fatigued.
You guys work out. I guess it’s the uniform; we’ve all got to fill it out. I never thought it would make such a difference.
Guys, really—killing yourselves, you should have done this already at your posts. Because now, what I have to do....
He bends down to lift another corpse, staggering as he rises.
I’ve got to...one by one....
With a cry, the Captain topples over, sprawled out like the other bodies. He stays down.
I don’t see what’s so bad about staying here.
Enter the Queen. Dressed in her finest, she makes her way cautiously through the tomb. She sees the corpses.
She spies the bottle of poison and walks towards it.
Is someone there?
Oh, I’m sorry. You aren’t dead?
No. No, I’m defending the tomb.
I’m on break right now...and hallucinating, I guess. So don’t loot anything until I get up.
The Queen approaches one of the corpses.
He looks dead.
He is. I’m the only one breathing.
Are you going to be alive for long?
What do you mean?
Oh, I was going to say, if you took poison, if you were waiting for some effect to—
No, nothing like that. I heart my body.
Can you stand?
Oh, yeah, yeah.
He doesn’t. The Queen approaches the Captain and the body on top of him.
Which one are you?
The Captain raises his hand.
You have a man on you.
Oh, yeah. Corpses, you know. You’re walking for two.
You need help?
No, none at all; no. I couldn’t think of asking.
For one thing, you’re a hallucination.
And more importantly, this is a guard thing. I’m their captain. I have to look out for my boys.
Oh, you’re bodyguard to the King.
Oh, yes; I’m sorry. Let me—
Oh, you don’t have to get up.
He collapses again.
It’s nice to meet you. I’m the Queen.
A beat. Then, quickly, the Captain throws off the corpse, stands, and kneels before her.
No, no. I just can’t.
She crumples to the ground. The Captain looks up.
You don’t want me to—?
That’s for the throne. In here should be the one place we don’t have to—
I couldn’t agree more.
No prostration necessary.
Looking down on her:
That goes for you, too. May I?
He helps her up.
So, updates...things going on. Everything’s smooth. In fact, in some ways we’re quite ahead of schedule....
He glances at the corpses.
My guards have crossed over with the King and have joined him in spirit, if not yet in body. Your husband is in the next room already exactly as he should be. The mask is on, the sarcophagus is sealed. His organs are across the room on the table, except for his liver which is under the table. There’s also an assembly guide to show him which body part goes where, but I think we can leave that to my team. And that’s it.
So, I think our most immediate concern is security. I mistakenly believed we were sealed in, but obviously not every entrance is secure. If you’re satisfied here, I’m willing to walk you back.
From where you came in. Some secret passage?
He built himself a secret passage?
That’s what I’m asking you.
I came through the front door.
This right here?
That stopped being a door about an hour ago.
Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?
Well, yeah, but once you come in.... Your majesty. Why are you here?
You should know.
It’s the same question; why are you here?
It’s top secret.
Observing the bodies:
It seems obvious to me. I was planning the same thing.
Oh, no no. That’s not what this is. That’s not what you do in a tomb! That’s what I was trying to explain to them. Belatedly!
I am here for my husband.
No! This is not how marriage works! Burying a queen with her king? That’s old fashioned!
I’m a traditionalist.
You had no obligation! You were married, what, two weeks?
A year and a half.
To a man twice your age! It’s—you didn’t even like him!
You were in love with the Priestess’s s—
I don’t know what that means.
I love my husband. I think my very presence here proves that.
Yes. What other reason could you have for being here? None, of course. You really must love your husband.
Let’s hurry up with this.
Right, right. So you want to be dead. Here. I’m only a little concerned about that because it’s so unexpected. I’m not prepared for you. You’re supposed to get wrapped up, perfumed, a nice box of your own!
A trip to the spa.
And there’s nothing like that here. You know, people have to prepare these things! You should have told somebody. They’d make arrangements, they’d give you choices—you know, you’ve got options.
He looks at the door.
Well, you had options.
They’d ask questions, and I wouldn’t want to answer them.
In fact, I don’t have to explain myself to you.
You know what I’m here for.
Sort of, ma’am.
So you’ll help me.
A beat. The Queen looks around.
Tell me, these dead people. Bodyguards. How did you help them on their way?
They helped themselves.
Perfect. Where’s the bottle?
Whoa, whoa, whoa; hold on a minute!
Hold on for what?
Well, you just got here! It’s not like you can just—
Obviously, I missed the party. I’ve got to catch up.
A party? No, you’ve got to understand.
You aren’t going to disobey your queen, are you?
Disobey? No, never! I’m just trying to figure out the next room. Because there’s a place for everybody. You know, there’s this tableau. And with one extra person—
Is this really necessary?
You don’t spend your afterlife crumpled like dirty laundry. Now, uh, you’ll want to be next to your husband, right?
No, no; it’s going to look weird, otherwise. Now, we don’t have another....
He mimes the shape of a sarcophagus.
...and if it’s possible I don’t want to throw you in there with him.
I’ll be dead. I don’t see what—
What we do have, though, are some tables. Big, heavy dealies. Like an altar. We can put one of those next to your husband and you can lay out for a while.
Perfect. I love it. Can you kill me now?
Well, hold on. We’ve got to move the table.
I can’t pick it up by myself.
I don’t believe this....
What about you? Who’s going to fit you into your “tableau”?
I honestly hadn’t thought about it.
So much for planning.
Well, with the Queen comes a certain expectation. Whatever your wishes might be, your station has it’s own....
Yes, it’s wonderful. I’m flattered.
You get the idea.
I’m not helping you with your makeshift altar, your mise en scene, anything. It’s time to die.
I don’t have to give an answer.
I know, still—
And I won’t.
Right, OK. But I don’t see why we can’t wait a few minutes and—
What would we wait for? This is a tomb! Are you going anywhere?
There’s always a chance....
Even so, there’s so much to do!
What, the tableau?
In here? What you plan on doing any housecleaning? Are there stories on the walls that need a re-write? Are you cooking something for the guests?
So there will be guests....
I can’t believe we’re still talking.
You’re right. There’s no reason.
Then let’s do this.
Let’s do this now.
Break out the bottle.
So, which of us drinks first?
The Captain fumbles the bottle.
Or should we drink together?
Wait, together? You think that I—I’m here to—?
He looks at one of the corpses.
Well, it’s understandable.
I have been keeping you. If it wasn’t for me you probably would have been dead already.
I was actually kinda worried about the opposite.
What I mean is, that, with me dead, and you alive, I feel that my duties—
Please, no; I can take care of myself.
—To you, yes. But also to your husband—
The Queen stops him, takes the bottle from his hand, and pours a glass.
This is an order from your Queen. Relax....
She brings the glass to his lips. Instead of drinking, the Captain shouts and begins flailing his arms, spilling some of the poison onto himself.
It’s on my leg!
I can feel it throbbing. Oh no....
He wipes the poison away.
You don’t seem ready for this.
To tell you the truth, that’s about right.
All of the endless preparation is one thing, but you don’t even want to be dead.
It’s a failure on my part; I know.
We could drink together.
If that would help.
With you slightly first.
She pours another glass and hands it to him. She takes the other. They stand together.
Well, this is it.
I feel we should say something.
What do you want to say?
Well, I’ve had a good life. I’ve served my King. And now I won’t. Well, this one last time. Eventually. That’s it.
Some things don’t go on in this life. Luckily, we can always try the next one.
You call that lucky?
We’ll find out, won’t we?
Your majesty, considering all the ways to spend my last moments, this isn’t so bad.
The Queen goes to take a sip.
Do you ever think about what happens? When we die?
I mean, after we die? Here we are in the midst of all this...iconography. Telling us that this means something. And for me, it just doesn’t work. Does it do anything for you?
But you were just talking about the next life.
There’s no such thing. I just think it sounds nice.
I’m sorry, but I have to be frank.
If that’s how you feel, why even come here?
Because I’m just as dead out there.
Well, yeah, that’s bleak.
Of course it is.
I’m just saying.
Sorry if you’re looking for meaning. For any proud, majestic gods to guide you through life and wave hello when you pass on. Because it doesn’t happen.
It sounds nice, though.
Like you said.
Raising her glass:
You should sit first.
He clears a corpse off of a low platform. The Queen sits.
The next life is a sham, huh? You don’t expect to see your husband again?
I don’t expect to see anything again.
Yes, of course. Well, in that case there’s nothing left to do. So lie back, close your eyes, and drink up. Nice meeting you, your majesty.
Nice meeting you, too.
She lifts her glass.
Don’t forget yours.
He raises his glass.
Well, here goes...nothing.
What a beautiful word.
They touch glasses. Their eyes meet. They raise their glasses to their lips and...they bring their glasses past their heads, spilling the poison over their shoulders. As the poison hits the ground, they notice each other’s actions.
You didn’t drink!
You didn’t drink!
Oh, I was never going to, but now I know what you’re about!
You don’t have me fooled.
What am I about?
An inside job, your majesty. An insight into your true loyalties.
You wanted me dead!
I thought you wanted you dead. At least my husband did.
I am very disappointed in you, your highness. Everything you’ve said. You’ve expressed such eloquent nihilism. Queen of the nihilism!
But you didn’t drink!
I just wanted to do it alone. I wanted you to go first.
I’m sure that would make things so much easier for you.
I want peace of mind.
What kind of peace of mind do you get with me dead and you only pretending to be?
I really don’t wish to say it.
Don’t. But don’t expect me to sympathize.
None of this is getting poison into my mouth.
I’ll say it. If it will ease your suspicions. I wanted to drink after you were dead in order to protect the body I leave behind from any possibility of...corpse defilement.
It’s a precaution.
Is that what you think of me?
To be honest, I don’t know.
I walked in here, you were throwing around a pile of dead boys. What should I think?
Your majesty...what an imagination.
What’s your reason? Why won’t you drink?
It’ll kill me!
That’s the point. Isn’t it part of your job?
More directly, my job is security. I have to ensure the safety of our King’s resting place for eternity. So there’s a lot of double checking to do.
Security checks. How long will they take?
To do it right...to confront the problem head on...it’s going to be a couple of days.
Days? Multiple days? To walk through a few chambers, look at dead people...and artwork?
I’m nothing if not thorough.
There isn’t much poison left. I don’t know if there will be enough to finish you off.
A few days from now I’m sure I’ll be face-to-face with many interesting ways to kill me.
Well, I’m not waiting that long.
She goes back to the poison and pours a glass.
Enjoy yourself. I’m done here. Don’t change my outfit.
The Captain grabs her glass.
Your majesty, you want to die? You want to die right now? Really?
Give me back my glass.
The Captain does so.
You have something else on your mind; I’ll let you work it out.
She raises her glass:
I don’t think we need another goodbye.
She begins to drink.
In your drink!
In the Queen’s drink, probably put there by the Captain, is a very large, dead scarab.
It’s a big bug!
Well, nobody will want to drink that poison now.
Ewww, get it away!
She throws her glass across the room. The Captain runs over and stomps the ground where the scarab landed.
Pest control. I guess that’s a type of security.
That was the last of the poison.
Was it? What a shame; and you were really looking forward to it.
Give me your dagger.
Royal request. Dagger. Now.
You don’t want to do that. You’ll get bloody! And that’s a pretty dress.
I have wasted far too much time as it is. Far too much time living. Give me something I can kill myself with!
A beat. The Captain unsheathes a dagger, holding it. He looks at her.
I don’t think I’m going to do this. The poison, the bug. I think this is a sign.
A sign? That I shouldn’t kill myself?
I think so.
So I tell you I don’t believe in the gods and now you tell me to trust fate?
No, you don’t have to believe it, but it has to make you think...something.
OK. I’m thinking something.
Fate is telling me to live. “Don’t take that dagger. Go enjoy a long, natural life.” Well, fate, there’s a slight problem. My natural life isn’t long anyway.
You think yours is? We’re in a grave! Buried alive! So spill the poison, deny me the weapons, and we’ll just starve to death anyway.
No, we’ve got food.
We’ve got bodies. That’s disgusting.
We’re not eating my boys. There’s a garden.
There is! Over in the other room. There’s sunlight, fresh soil, everything!
A garden with food?
Enough for a regiment of men for a few weeks. With two it’ll last a long time. We even have a stream off of the canal. Running water!
Why would my husband want indoor plumbing in his tomb?
It’s life! It’s something from nature; it keeps things going.
Where nobody’s going anywhere.
I’ll tell you what. We’ll make this a trial period. We’ll give living our best shot for a while, say....
A glance towards the door:
At least four days. But probably more like six. Six days of gardening, enjoying some solitude. And if that doesn’t suit you then go ahead, hack yourself to bits.
This is your plan?
No, wait; today counts as a day. Five days.
I don’t see the point.
Wait long enough and you will.
We’re not going anywhere. I’m not going to decide after a few days that I like living in a grave. What’s going to change?
Oh, you might be surprised.
Why five days? Why not a year? Why not a thousand?
I want to prove a point. Please just say yes.
I’ll give you the five days.
But I still think this is a waste of time.
First thing’s first; let’s get our boys to work.
Working for my husband?
You got it. Grab a body.
She gives him a look.
You want to keep busy, your Majesty, there isn’t a whole lot else to do.
They both grab bodies—perhaps the Captain grabs two—and drag them offstage, clearing the room of corpses. After a moment they both return, exhausted.
Now we fall down.
They do. End of scene. The next scene starts immediately afterward, the change in time indicated by little more than a change in lighting. The torches dim and a small sliver of natural light peeks in. The Captain stirs.
Well. It’s one day later.
He stands and looks at the Queen. He frowns, kneels in front of her, and holds his hand under her nose.
He holds his hand to her chest.
He pinches her nose. Finally the Queen gasps and wakes.
Oh; thank goodness.
Good morning! I was worried about you. You know, you’re not a very heavy breather.
I should be sorry?
And your heart doesn’t beat much, either.
Adjusting her dress:
That I’m aware of.
Not deeply enough.
We’ll adjust things; you shouldn’t have to sleep on the floor.
I like the floor. I’ve gotten used to it.
I was worried we’d have a lot to get used to here, but it’s not taking so long now, is it? We’ve got this room all cleaned up. It looks very nice.
We hardly need to care about appearances here.
I care. Besides, it’s an accomplishment.
Yes; got to keep ourselves busy. Keep going and going and going.
What do you want for breakfast?
And that’s how it starts.
Yes, breakfast. Many days start with it.
And then they keep going. Going untill we get tired, fall asleep, and wake up again.
And eat more breakfast.
I’m not hungry.
You most certainly are. Your highness; you haven’t eaten for half a day, at least.
Yes; it’s a habit I’ve grown into.
You have to eat something.
Do I? Haven’t you heard of prisoners going on hunger strikes?
You’re not a prisoner. This isn’t a prison; its a tomb.
Not when you live in it.
Have a pear, at least.
You have a pear tree?
A tiny pear tree. It grows tiny pears. I wouldn’t want to upset your royal diet.
Do you want to inspect the merchandise first? Come with me; you haven’t even really looked at the garden.
I don’t feel like getting up, either.
Shall I bring the garden to you?
It’s comfortable here.
Against the stone.
Getting up will do nothing for me. Eating? I’m not interested. You go ahead.
I’m not sure I should.
Well, I don’t even feel like talking any more. So if you’re hungry, you’d better take care of that.
I could never eat in peace if your well-being was in question, your highness.
It’s not in question at all. I’m going to stop talking.
Have you stopped?
Well, OK then. I’ll be in the garden. Call if you need me.
He begins walking. An aside:
It’s a violation of principles, but I think it would do you some good.
The Captain exits. True to her word, the Queen remains motionless, her eyes closed. The Captain calls from offstage:
Oh, these pears look good...! Tender to the touch. I think I’m going to have two! There’s plenty.
The Captain reappears with a pear in each hand.
Look at this! Soft, delicious fruit from the garden. Every tomb should have one.
He cuts a piece from one of the pears. He eats it.
Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful.
The Queen does not respond. The Captain takes notice.
Is it too much? I’m pushing harder than I need to? I do that. I get carried away. But these pears; who wouldn’t? I think you should have one.
He cuts another piece, crouching down close to her.
Not a whole one; just one piece. A little slice like this. That will convince you. You look like you need convincing. You see it? It looks good? Here comes the desert caravan....
He begins pushing the piece into her mouth. The Queen reacts, stands, and spits it out. She composes herself and glares at the Captain.
What are you doing?
I’m having breakfast; I guess you’re not.
Stop treating me like an infant! I’m a grown woman. I deserve a little dignity.
You absolutely do, your highness. You also deserve nourishment.
On my own terms, thank you.
At least you’re talking.
This was all a mistake.
We’ve got other meals.
I have no incentive to keep up my end of the bargain.
To keep myself intact.
Is there anything I can do—?
Do nothing. Not doing. That’s my preference. For the both of us.
I know that. I don’t agree, but I’m aware of your wishes. I don’t understand it, even, really. The mechanics of your body alone are enough to—I mean, you’re hungry.
You haven’t eaten; you’re hungry.
I haven’t thought about it.
You have to! You have to think about it! Your gut tells you you’re hungry.
How is that important to me?
Your body makes it important!
Royalty cannot be ruled by their appetites. They have to do the ruling. This tomb attests to that, all by itself. Our bodies die, however we are expected to ignore this and continue.
It’s hard work.
Makes you hungry.
I will eat when I choose to. Not when my stomach growls. Not when you smother me, either.
You’re an inspiration to me, your highness.
Please. I don’t need reverence. From you it’s insincere on top of being unnecessary.
I’m sorry I come across that way.
The things you say to me. Talk to the wall. Talk to the former door. Pretend it’s me. You’ll get the same response. In a few days it will be exactly the same.
Oh, don’t talk like that.
I like talking like that. It gives me something to look forward to.
Of course, because after that you can’t look back.
One way or another, that ends up being true; yes.
That’s all I need to care about.
Beat. The Queen stands, satisfied.
So, does that mean more not-talking?
It means I will do exactly what I want to do.
Beat. The Queen looks around. After a moment she heads into the garden. She calls from offstage.
Should I take the pears from the top of the tree or the bottom?
Whichever are ripest.
The Queen returns, eating a pear.
You aren’t concerned about sandstorms?
Wind in general, really. Your sliver of sunlight. Where the air comes in. It’s going to get covered. Sand is going to pile up.
It’s rock up there.
There’s sand around the rock. We’re in the desert for a reason. It’s good at burying things.
I think we’ll be OK.
One good storm and we’ll suffocate.
Then you win.
I don’t think you chose a very good place not to kill yourself. Forget the air. That garden wouldn’t feed all of your men for weeks on end.
It would get us far enough. And with two, even longer.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
Are you done eating?
I’m going to make this pear last. I don’t want to clean us out.
Your highness, I know you’re living against your wishes. Thank you, though, for holding up your end of the bargain.
It is an unusual bargain, isn’t it?
It has to be.
Was five days really your best guess? Because we’ll last longer than that.
You aren’t making sense, your highness.
Staying here is not a sustainable way of life. We’ll both die soon enough, whether from starvation or suffocation—whatever.
Oh, there are more options.
Like mine. Either way, you know this. You’ve talked endlessly about living here, so much so you must be prepared for when life runs out. And it’s soon.
Not five days.
Maybe not for you.
Things will change.
My “perception” will. The sun will rise on the fifth day, I’ll ignore our dead and dying surroundings, and I’ll commit to living here into old age.
I’d like that change.
I don’t know what that means for the man I came here for in the first place, though.
There’s a case to be made for his retirement plan, too.
Ah, there’s something you can do. These walls are filled with the heroics of your husband. The majesty of his reign.
I know the stories.
Well, relive them. Check them for accuracy. Pick a wall and start reading.
If that’s really the best you can offer.
Your husband has done so much; we had to make the tomb bigger just to fit it.
I suppose I could spend an hour or so before going back to...pear-eating. Or some other variety of tedium.
I think I’m going to start here.
That’s not the beginning.
It’s about where I came in.
The Queen reads. After a moment the lights change. The Captain, now slumped over, speaks:
Well, it’s five days later. Isn’t that odd?
I lost my place.
Something should have happened by now.
Your expectations for this place are entirely too high.
So, five days? That means I can kill myself.
It’s what I promised, isn’t it?
Sounds right to me. I suppose you thought something would happen that would make me change my mind.
Well, yes. Some event that might make your decision for you.
I see your plan. I saw it the moment I got here.
What, you overheard me?
A few days ago, I didn’t have a single duty left on Earth. Now, I’m under the Earth, and I’ve been planting seeds, arranging the burial room so it better suits the royal style, and reading my husband’s accomplishments on the walls.
See? There you go. Even here there’s always something to do.
But I’ve done all of it. Twice. You wanted me to settle into a routine; to get used to life where no one should be living. So far you haven’t made much of a case for sticking around.
You said to wait. You promised some sort of surprise. I’m not surprised.
Yes, well, I am. I thought—Well, if you want the truth....
I can wait. Whatever you want to tell me, just make it up.
I thought people would come in.
No one’s coming in.
Obviously. Unless they’ve been delayed by bad weather....
It’s a tomb. There’s a big stone wall. You thought grave robbers would work that fast?
You thought the tomb would be raided so soon? There are still a fair number of people up above.
The Priestess is building herself a place not so far away. There’s still enough construction in the area to scare away any grave robbers.
And that’s what you thought this was?
Grave robbers? No, no.
Nobody’s taking anything out of this place?
Well, that’s the thing. I thought there would be a legitimate break-in.
How does that work?
It’s people who are looking for something very specific.
Oh? What do you have that’s very specific in this place?
You’re a missing queen! I thought they’d be sure to come looking for you.
A missing persons case?
Right! And that’s why I said five days. The procedures we follow in the guard have us covering a lot of ground in just a few days. We definitely would have looked out here.
They must not have looked very hard.
I’m at just as much of a loss as you are.
Oh, I’m not lost at all. I’m not missing; I’m buried. I’ve ended up right where I said I’d be.
Wait, wait wait. You told people you were throwing yourself into your husband’s tomb?
I didn’t shout it from a tower or anything.
Right; you could have just thrown yourself over.
I made it clear, though, that my husband’s fate was my own.
Right. And you made it clear to...more than just handmaidens, right? To members of the court...maybe the clergy...their relatives?
Everybody. No one cared.
Only the old Priestess said anything. She was the only one with any reaction at all. And the words she said.
She listened to me—no interruptions—and when I was done, she smiled. She told me that getting swallowed up by the desert would be the best thing I could do for my husband. I was his bad luck charm. Alive, I’d ruin his legacy. She felt this would be the most discrete option.
The Priestess told you to do this?
I had already decided. She just thought I had a good idea.
Wait, but her son. I thought she wanted you two together. I thought she wanted to get closer to the throne.
You think a lot of things, don’t you?
So...everyone wanted you here?
No one objected.
But you’re the young, beautiful widow. You are a potential kingmaker.
They’ll make their own kings. The Priestess knew the truth.
You’re not a bad luck charm.
I’m hardly a priority though, aren’t I? We’re past five days and no one’s come knocking. According to you, that’s procedure.
Yes, that is what I said. It still might happen.
No, I can assure you no one with any royal authority will come here. Ever.
I guess I was wrong.
And I waited for nothing.
Maybe it’s only been four days. Maybe I miscounted; let’s see, Day One was the bodies. Days Two was gardening. Day Three we spent touching up the paint....
He notices she is gone.
Where are you?
Clanging noises are heard.
What’s going on?
The Queen returns.
Where are the weapons?
That word doesn’t mean anything to royalty. You should know that by now.
I’m not giving you a weapon.
I need something sharp.
Good luck finding it.
You still think you can treat me like a child. All your men had weapons. There isn’t enough room down here for you to have hidden them all.
I didn’t hide a thing.
You moved them to the top shelf; whatever infantile insult you—
I did no hiding, no child-proofing. You’re an adult and I’ll respect whatever decisions you make.
That said, the knives are gone. So are the spears.
Softly, with a smile:
Where did they go?
Your majesty, I am a forward-thinking man of the kingdom. This tomb won’t see any war. The corpses in the next room won’t battle in any conflict. What good are their weapons?
What did you do?
Check the garden.
The Queen, still listening, exits to the garden.
That is where life in this place still exists. It’s the perfect place for a new life for our old war devices. So I took action. I dulled the blades, flattened the tips, and turned our weapons of war into hoes and rakes.
The Queen reenters, holding a gardening tool.
What is this?
It used to be a knife. Now it’s a trowel.
Tools of the trade, your majesty.
You still need something sharp.
I’m sure you think so.
I really don’t believe your arrogance. You did this on purpose. The poison, the knives....
Oh, your highness, I would never—
That’s why you had me wait. You wanted me to live.
I do want you to live.
Testing the trowel:
It’s still a little sharp.
Death by trowel. It’s your choice; I can’t stop you.
I don’t think I’ll be killing myself with a trowel today.
Good. Dull and painful lacerations would take a while. And leave a mess.
You still have your knife.
Give it to me.
I’m surprised that you have it. According to you, we don’t need them.
Well...I think we might need just one.
After all, there’s more to cut here besides our own bodies.
Or there will be....
Give it to me.
I’ve done everything you asked. Everything.
A beat. Reluctantly, the Captain hands his knife to the Queen.
Don’t mention it.
I’ll be in the garden.
She begins to exit.
Are you sure you want to be alone?
I’m going into the garden.
You don’t have to do this.
In fact I do. The peas aren’t getting enough light. The other plants need to be cut back. That requires a knife.
The trowel wouldn’t quite do the job.
So you’re not going to—
Right now I’m gardening. I’ll worry about the rest later.
Right, OK. Gardening.
I’ll need that knife back, though!
If our guests are late, we’ll definitely need it. Tomorrow—six days—maybe that’ll be the day.
Well, it’s 29 days later.
A beat. Then the Captain rushes the door, banging on it, kicking it—attacking it with everything in him. After a moment, he slumps against the door, exhausted.
Anybody hear that? Anybody want to break in? I’ve got your good luck charm! I’ve got your bad luck charm, too. It’s very charming in here. The keys to the kingdom—no one wants them? You need a king out there! Inside, we’re just collecting dust! Everything you need, just come in! Just change things. Give us something! Because I can’t take this! Every day forever....
He begins banging his head against the door.
Ah! Ah! Ah!
He stops; it hurts.
A beat. The Captain stands, but then holds his head and crumples back to the floor.
The Queen enters. She looks at him.
I hit my head.
It seemed appropriate.
Walking to him:
Let me look at it.
No, it’s just a—OK.
She kisses the top of his head.
You’ll be fine.
Did I do that right? Sympathy?
You did fine.
I see mothers; they know what to do with bumps and scrapes. I don’t have any children. I don’t know much about caring.
You need children to care?
With husbands it’s not such a priority.
Tell me about your child.
How old? Boy or girl?
You can tell? I scream “father figure” to you?
How many children?
I have a son. Just one.
He’s with your wife.
He’s with his mother.
I’m sorry; I’m—I shouldn’t be prying—
—This is obviously very personal.
It’s OK. I could be on either side of this wall. Anywhere, any time. I’d still be the same distance from my son.
A weak laugh.
You know, your husband—he didn’t want to break tradition. People who go into tombs in this country—they’re dead. Their bodies have been prepared for the trip. Walling people in—live people—that’s almost human sacrifice. Something you’d expect from the Persian kings, not ours. I was the one to suggest it. What difference would it make to me?
You didn’t know it would be this way.
No, no; I did. But I wouldn’t admit it.
Your majesty? I’m sorry.
Don’t be. I got what I wanted.
No you didn’t.
I’m with my husband.
No; you wanted to be dead with your husband.
I’m close enough for now.
We’ve been here so long you’ve rubbed off on me. You wouldn’t have just bruised and beaten yourself if either of us followed my advice.
You were going to injure yourself. I just accomplished that.
I never wanted to hurt myself. Just kill myself.
And now you’ve had a change of heart?
A postponement. Just as we started out.
You can stop petting.
She stands, no longer caressing his head.
I don’t think I had a change of anything, really. I was right when I told you nothing changes here. The plants grow taller. The sun is still out there somewhere. That’s all the change we get.
She turns to leave.
But what’s different every day is how we feel about that. How do you feel?
I feel bruised about that.
I don’t doubt it.
Rest up. Don’t try anything like that for a while.
That joke has just about run its course.
How you feel about motherhood: different already.
The Queen exits. Lights change.
Well, it’s one-hundred and seventy-five days later.
The Captain stands, a makeshift chisel and hammer in hand. He holds the chisel against the door. With one strong swoop, he hammers the chisel into the slab. The chisel crumbles into dust. After a moment, his hammer falls apart as well. Lights change.
Well, it’s two-hundred and...something days later.
More than that, actually—two-hundred and three-hundred days later. I have it written down somewhere; I could do the math. If you want me to.
You’re in a rush this morning.
Are we flooding again?
No, no; it’s something interesting.
If I can find it....
Take your time.
The Queen returns with a self-scrawled piece of paper.
I wrote this down the other night.
My husband’s words. Not anything from the walls. We’ve both read of his rout of the unbelievers, the peace he won at the—
Yes, of course.
He had an incredible string of luck.
I can believe it.
All of this on display. But I never looked at the coffin. I sit with him every day. I talk. But I never bothered to read the words surrounding him there.
You talk to him?
What’s there left to say?
Have you read my husband’s words?
I must have seen them at one point. But it’s been a while.
She gives him the paper. The Captain reads silently. He then looks at the Queen and shrugs.
Geez, tell everybody, why don’t you?
That’s your response?
The guy’s got confidence; I can tell you that much.
The message makes sense to you?
More or less.
I’m unsettled by it.
It’s strange. “With me for all time is that which makes me the true king of Egypt.” What’s here?
Royal essence. Royal “oomph”.
He was a proud man. Not that proud.
You know how it is. This was a confidence thing, to let his soldiers know they were on the right track.
You really think his message was for dead soldiers?
Did they ever read it?
Who can say?
You had their bodies out here, not with him.
Location is everything, huh?
It still isn’t “that” though. It’s as if he was talking about something.
Or someone? His lovely bride?
Don’t say that!
It’s an incredibly stupid answer.
Of course. Stupid, but increasingly true.
“For all time.”
It’s what the man said.
A wave of dismissal:
No, no. Nevermind, forget it—
—I’m being stupid; I’m sorry.
Because I’m not reading it like a statement of fact. The tone of it makes it read more like a curse.
Oh, see? No, no; I know I’m wrong.
No, that’s fine. A curse. I haven’t heard that one before.
Is that even done for tombs? Some sort of incantation, something to keep people away?
No, there’s nothing like that. There’s no such thing as a curse.
See? I’m so embarrassed.
No, don’t be. We also don’t put living soldiers in tombs—but this time we did. That’s creepy enough.
I still shouldn’t have said anything.
How is that a curse, anyway?
“The true king of Egypt”. That’s a job description.
It was the words “With me for all time.” In my mind, it was as if he was telling us we’d be here forever.
He might be right.
Not only that, but as if he was the one keeping us here. Forever.
But I’m wrong. So that’s OK.
Yeah, who needs a curse when you’ve got a heavy stone slab to do the same thing?
In fact, we could go further. What do you say we make this place a little more forbidding, a little more dangerous? Some spikes on the ceiling, booby-trapped coffin?
You’re making fun of me.
Would I ever do that, your majesty? I only want to demonstrate that we can do just fine without curses, enchantments, or the supernatural. Forget curses; he wouldn’t do that to you.
I would never have thought so.
How are the two of you right now, anyway?
The King and I?
You and the old man, yeah. You talk to him.
With him. Every day.
I can’t imagine there’s been much that’s new to talk about. For either of you.
People said the same thing about us when he was alive.
But it wasn’t true then and it isn’t now.
There’s less that’s new here, but yes, we still talk.
It is good.
And after all this time he can still surprise you. Still give you a jolt.
Sometimes I misunderstand him.
You know something? You and the King have been together longer in this tomb than you were during his lifetime.
The Captain shrugs:
I don’t think that’s right.
I’d need to do the math, like I said. But I’m pretty sure. Not only that, but the two of you have been a lot cozier in here than you ever were in the royal court. In those times when you were there together.
I don’t like these insinuations. I explained this months ago.
No, your majesty, you never explained anything. I just stopped asking.
And now you’re starting again.
I didn’t want to. It’s none of my business. But I won’t pretend I understand. You and your husband were hardly a close couple. I was by his side for years. I don’t think you spent five consecutive days together. Yet you come here ready to die with him. Those are two opposite ends of the same relationship.
And you seem so curious about it all of a sudden.
Throwing yourself into a tomb—why ever you did it—always seemed to me to be more about guilt than about love.
The Queen rolls her eyes.
Humor me; it’s only a theory. You and the King were never close before, so this was your last chance to make up for that. And you did. For a long, long time. In fact, your penance has lasted longer than any crime of neglect you could have committed. Aren’t you done?
I don’t follow.
You should. I’m telling you you’re free. Your sentence is up; you don’t owe him anything. I don’t think you ever did.
Listen to you....
It’s what I’m asking; yes.
I’ll humor you. My bondage to the King is over.
Right! Tell that to the wall.
Come on; you know what I mean.
I know what you mean. But your verdict doesn’t matter. This is still a life sentence.
At first you wanted a death sentence.
Or maybe it isn’t a sentence at all. Or bondage. Or anything to do with guilt. Maybe it’s love.
The Captain laughs.
No; I’ve never seen a love that would make you do what you did.
I guess you haven’t.
I’ve never seen a love that would explain what you did a few minutes ago! You thought your husband put a curse on you! What kind of a love is that?
I never asked you to understand it.
I don’t think you do, either. Why else would the inscription get to you like this? Did you ever ask him, during your many talks, what makes him the “true king of Egypt”?
Question and answer; that’s conversation. The way you talk about it I figure he’d be more than happy to give you an explanation.
My husband is a corpse. Conversation with him means a lot to me, but when it comes to a response my expectations are realistic.
Still, to read what he wrote as a curse, that’s not a sign of a healthy relationship.
It’s a side to him I’ve never seen.
A clairvoyant side, if you’re “that which makes me”.
I’m not. I can’t be.
I am not capable of making my husband the true king of Egypt.... I really, honestly hope that I’m not meant to be.
The curse of unattainable career goals.
He wanted more from me. I don’t have any great lineage. I haven’t given him an heir. From the way you talk, you make it sound as though I lost his kingdom.
That’s succession; what can you do?
Something. I could have been a head of state. Instead I distanced myself from the court and wound up here. I did nothing for his legacy, nothing to live up to his words. So to read that—read about my permanent failure—that’s a curse.
“Your accursed majesty”—let’s get that right.
You’re not cursed.
I believed in love. Our love was enough, and it was eternal, and it.... It doesn’t get you a kingdom.
You’re not cursed.
I couldn’t give him what he wanted.
He wasn’t talking about you. I know that. I can prove it.
But he loved me.
Let me show you something.
The Captain brushes his hand against the wall until he identifies a particular stone. He wiggles it loose from the wall, revealing a hollow space behind it. From the hole he retrieves a small cloth. He unrolls it.
The Cloak of Horus!
In tatters, the Cloak of Horus is not much bigger than a washcloth. It is weathered, dirty, and indistinguishable from any other ragged cloth.
I thought Horus was taller.
Horus wore this when he and Set—
The Queen rolls her eyes.
—You know what? Forget it. This is a relic from the gods. They don’t exist. What makes it important is that it is the sole property of the true king of Egypt. It brings good fortune to those who rule—you can’t rule without it. And it’s staying here. For all time.
It’s a rag.
All the same, it’s a relic. My men and I sealed ourselves in to protect it. We were quite sure that there would be a break-in by pretenders to the throne.
If someone wanted to be the true king of Egypt, they could get their own rag; call it whatever they needed.
No, you see, the real Cloak of Horus has a faded gold fringe, along with a pattern—
It doesn’t matter.
No; if you look closely—
No one is looking closely. It’s hard to fight for the throne, but it’s easy to forge the details.
You think we sealed ourselves in for nothing?
Don’t be ashamed. I did the same thing.
Rolling up the cloak and returning it:
I think so.
You’re putting it back.
Hiding it? From invaders?
Replacing the rock:
You can never be too careful.
Still, you have a point. During our time in this tomb, the importance of the Cloak of Horus has been...lessened in our society.
They’re content to rule without luck.
Or, as you said, they’ll use counterfeit luck. But I believe in the Cloak of Horus. What’s more, your husband believed. Enough to inscribe it on his coffin.
You’re not inadequate; he didn’t want you to make him an eternal king. He wasn’t thinking about you at all.
That’s meant to make me feel better, I suppose.
No; your majesty, I’m through flattering you, smoothing things over—you deserve the truth. I can’t tell you when the King was thinking about you, but I can tell you when he wasn’t. And you didn’t factor into his burial plans at all.
You’re right; this isn’t flattery.
You say he loved you—I’ll take your word for it. Believe me, though: he loved this tattered fabric just as much.
I can see you’re the same way.
Not at all. The Cloak’s a job. Everything I do for you is out of love.
Don’t deny it, highness—we’re soulmates.
We’re victims of circumstance. You and my husband concocted a scheme based around that loincloth.
I don’t take orders from a corpse, your majesty. I don’t live this way for your husband’s sake. I love you.
I mean that. As much as I can mean that. I love you.
She stares at him.
You are serious, aren’t you?
The only thing that’s kept us going this long is love. I mean everything.
Following her offstage:
It’s true! If it’s not what you feel, fine. But I had to say it.
So I’m going back into the other room now. Honest. You don’t have to hide.
This is how I feel. You’re the only one I can love and make it mean something.
The Queen returns, unreadable.
If we had run off together to an estate on some island and spent the same amount of time we have here, we’d probably be a common law couple by now. Married in every way that matters. But this isn’t an island. Two people alone in a grave aren’t making a life together.
That’s the way I feel about it, anyway.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of feeling to feel that way.
I have what I have because of you. Thank you. If you want me to be honest about my feelings. About love. I can only tell you: I don’t know. Do I love you? I don’t know.
I’d like you to think about it. I’d like you to decide whether you do at some point.
Is there a way I can decide? I don’t think there is.
The Captain takes the Queen into an embrace and kisses her. They hold this position for a moment, then separate. They look at each other.
I should probably slap you.
They break apart. She doesn’t slap him. Instead, she exits. The Captain watches her go. The lights change to night.
Well it’s one hundred million fagillion zillion days later.
He crosses to the side of the stage and retrieves a heavy stone.
The Queen won’t speak to me. She won’t even look at me. It’s worse than being alone.
He places the stone onto a pedestal that has a rope lying across it.
It’s time. It’s long past time.
He ties the stone with the rope, making a lasso with the other end.
Time to leave.
He takes the lasso and throws it around a fixture on a pillar. The lasso secure, he begins tightening the rope.
So, I tighten this, then give the rock a push. The pillar comes down and cracks through the slab. I don’t know why I never thought of this sooner.
He steps back and surveys his machine.
OK. Bon voyage.
He moves to the pedestal and starts to push the rock. As he touches it, though, a loud scraping is heard offstage. The Captain stops. Again, the sound of stone on stone echoes. The scraping starts a third time and the King’s stone tomb appears. The Captain watches as the tomb moves again. Once the entire coffin appears the Queen can be seen pushing it in. As she continues to move it center stage, the Captain walks around her, observing her work. Satisfied, the Queen stops.
The Queen looks at him.
What are you doing up?
Don’t be. It’s nice enough to see you back in this room.
I’ve been busy.
The garden doesn’t need that much tending. Neither does he.
What’s the rope for?
That’s my mechanical prowess at work, your majesty. I’m getting us out of here.
I’m crashing that pillar into the slab.
That’s not going to do it.
The rope is going to pull it towards the pedestal, not the door.
But the way I have the rope, it should—
It will fall somewhere in between. If the pillar even goes anywhere at all; you might just bring down that dog face.
That’s not supposed to be a dog, it’s just a monumental—oh, wait, it is a dog. It’s not a very good one.
It’s artistic license.
How long have we been here and I never knew that was a dog? Well, your majesty, that’s my new project. Freedom. What’s yours?
Like you said, redecorating. Sort of. I shouldn’t say my husband is furniture; that’s wrong. So it’s not redecorating.
I wanted to come back in here. In the main room. We haven’t spoken for far too long.
I don’t know why you need the King here for that. Well, I do. I have a guess.
This is the main room.
I want him in the main room.
Did you discuss this with him first? That’s what you do.
It is what I do.
He had no objections.
Clever. Why do this in the middle of the night?
Oh, really, I’m sorry I woke you. This is just something—I wanted to do it myself. If I did it tomorrow you would have jumped up, grabbed the other end, and...well, I didn’t want you to have to do that.
But I wasn’t asleep.
I didn’t know yet.
And I didn’t help. Is that the place you want him, though? If not I’ll lend a hand.
Thank you, no.
To the King:
Welcome home, boss.
To the Queen:
You didn’t wake him.
I don’t need to.
Good for you.
He returns to his lever, making adjustments.
We’ve had some time apart, the two of us. I guess that’s not a bad thing. We needed space, and that’s hard to come by in our neck of the woods.
You don’t have to say “we.”
I needed space. You can say that.
I did, your majesty. The royal “we.”
He regards the rope.
Now the pillar will just fall down.
Well, that’s more than the dog face.
Why are we leaving again?
Because I thought of it. A method of escape came to mind and I feel I should try it.
But why think about it? Why even hope to escape?
You’re still mad at me.
Or not mad, but.... I made things different. I got upset.
I made it so you didn’t want to stay. That’s obvious. And I’m sorry.
Don’t apologize, your highness. I overstepped my boundaries. And I’ve overstayed my welcome.
But I’m here now. We’re talking—the way we used to talk. You don’t need to leave.
Oh, that’s not true.
Things are not back to normal in the tomb. We spent an eternity together, then an eternity avoiding each other. This is our first extended conversation in what feels like decades and you’ve brought your husband to chaperone. That’s normal?
He’s not a chaperone.
We have the King between us, your majesty, in every sense of the word. I’m leaving; you’re welcome to do the same.
I have less of a reason to leave than you do.
And one big, heavy, motionless reason to stay.
Do you still love me?
Love requires a little understanding. I’m not so sure I understand you anymore. But my feelings haven’t changed. I called that love once.
My feelings haven’t changed, either. But then I was hiding from them. I want you here.
How do you mean that?
The Queen kisses him. They break apart. The Captain kisses back.
Are you sure?
In front of your husband?
What’s he going to do?
An enormous thud sounds. They stop. Another thud. They look at the coffin.
We’ve been cursed!
It’s not coming from the coffin.
It doesn’t matter; I knew this would be wrong.
No offense, your majesty, but you’re not worth the wrath of the undead.
The thudding stops.
He waits. Nothing.
Well, that’s better. Where were we?
The Captain attempts to put his arm around the Queen; she resists. Suddenly a huge explosion blows through the front slab. The Queen and Captain take cover. The explosion dies down and the dust begins to clear. Through the dust appears a figure. He is a modern-day Explorer, dressed as expected in khaki shorts and safari helmet. He looks around the room, then notices the Queen and Captain.
Oh, ho ho...this is a find....
Blackout. End of Act I.
The second act begins a few minutes after the first. The Explorer stands alone onstage, surveying the surroundings. He approaches the rope and gives it a twang. The Queen enters with a bowl.
I’m sorry. I thought we had more.
I’m sure it’s wonderful....
He approaches the bowl and looks in.
It’s something; it’s all right. They don’t grow very large down here.
It’s heavenly, really. Absolutely perfect. I’ve been living on nuts and candies for weeks. The food here in Egypt, it’s not for me. There’s nothing like this left in the country.
Well, thank you. And I’m sorry about...all of this all over the place. We’re usually much cleaner.
Please, I’m no one to apologize to about cleanliness. This is immaculate. Every sight in this room....
He returns his bowl to the Queen. Their eyes meet.
You don’t recognize me, do you?
For too much of my life, people did recognize me. Whereever I’d go. They might not have known me, but they knew who I was. What I found, from experience, is that the only way to not be recognized is to not be seen.
The media. Jackals, aren’t they?
And from what you’re telling me, I’m right. Wait long enough and you can pass from memory.
It’s too late. I don’t imagine I’ll forget you.
You don’t have to forget. Just don’t genuflect.
I promise nothing.
He walks around.
So, you and the Captain, enjoying an extended retreat.
Nice place for it.
It’s suited us.
I can see. Now, I hate to ask this; I can usually tell these things: you and the Captain...is there anything...?
Oh, oh no. The captain is head of the royal guard. He worked for my—
You really don’t recognize me.
To my eternal regret.
I’m a widow.
No, you don’t need to say that. It was a long time ago.
Was he anybody I know?
I have a guess....
The Explorer taps on the coffin.
The Explorer genuflects. The Queen looks away.
Oh, please don’t....
You don’t need to worry. You’re not my queen. I’m not Egyptian. I kneel to be polite.
Feel free to be impolite.
The Captain appears, entering from the blasted door.
The hero returns!
To the Queen:
I thought you were coming.
I was making dinner.
You have to see the sky. You have not seen the sky in an eternity. The stars—there isn’t a cloud up there tonight. You can see everything in the heavens.
I’ll see it.
Come up here.
We have a guest.
Oh, pay no attention to me. Believe me, you’ve made me feel more than welcome. Do something for yourself.
Is there a little Egyptian’s room I can use?
Oh. We have a little place through the garden on the other side.
Your majesty, I am in your debt.
Remember, use the downstream side, not the upstream.
The Explorer gone, he turns to the Queen.
Should I prepare for it?
Not at all. The world’s exactly as we left it.
I can’t believe that.
Well, the immediate area is. It was sand and sky then and it’s sand and sky now. And I have to say, I don’t know about our guest.
What about him?
You fed him. You talked to him. Did you get his name? His line of work? Why he’s in the neighborhood?
But I bet he asked a lot about what’s been happening in here.
Once we go outside, you’ll see what he brought along. He has this huge metal cart, filled with all these tools. There’s a sledgehammer right by the door, along with what seems like explosives. He’s not here by accident.
I didn’t think he was.
And he walked in, he didn’t expect to find us here. This isn’t a rescue.
You think he’s a grave robber.
A little behind schedule, but yes! We can’t discount that very real and frightening possibility.
Didn’t your original plan call for the element of surprise? We didn’t hide.
I am worried about that, yes. He comes looking for an empty tomb. He finds two people. I’m worried he might want to make this an empty tomb.
Watch your back.
The Explorer returns, drying his hands on his pants.
So, it’s Indian-style in the bathroom, is it? No paper; I had to make sure.... Well, don’t worry. I washed. Washed well. You two have been living here.
I didn’t believe it, but the things you have done here. Impressive.
Yes, well, I found it impressive that you came out all this way. In the middle of the night; you must be tired. We can make up a bed.
No. Sleep? Don’t kid me. I’ve seen nothing like this anywhere. You know, I’ve visited the neighbors. Other tombs. They don’t have anything like this.
Believe me, you’re not missing much.
These tombs aren’t places to make calls. They’re for death and rebirth. But mostly death.
You’re supposed to leave them alone.
I understand. This is tradition. This is something very serious. I don’t do this lightly. But the visits I make are in service to history!
We are history.
To the Captain:
You knew that. You could tell, right?
The Egypt of tombs and pharaohs has past by. All that’s left of it is buried in these sands. I’m an archaeologist. You can see my interest in this.
Archaeology? You sure know how to make a guy feel old.
Be proud. I hope to be excavated someday myself.
So, you freely confess to blowing down doors, rummaging around, and disturbing the dead?
I must confess.
But it’s OK, because it’s all for science?
Yes, you’ve got it.
I’m sure I do. You know, you have royalty here.
I am aware.
This isn’t the tomb of a commoner, or say, a high priestess; in here you have a king and queen and their royal guard. I’d hope your science could show a little discretion to that.
Kid gloves, as always. I’m a gentle touch.
But you’re not a scientist this time. Think of what you’ve done. You’ve rescued us.
We couldn’t get out. You opened the door.
Interesting...you’ve been here a while.
A long while.
Very long. But it’s worked for us.
I was telling the Queen, she should go up. See the stars. You’ve given them to us.
How is it outside?
I think I’ll take a look.
The Captain moves to take her arm.
Oh, no sir; please, allow me.
To the Explorer:
He leads her off.
To the Captain:
Nothing personal, Captain, but she should see the modern world with a man of the modern world.
Calling after them:
It’s the sky!
The same sky....
He sighs. The Captain returns to his contraption. Visually, he follows the stone, the rope, the pedestal, and the pillar. Laughter from outside; he scowls. He scrutinizes the landing spot of the pillar, concluding that it will miss the doorway. He shrugs.
Well, it’s two hours later!
The torches dim for his benefit. A long moment passes before the Explorer enters, alone.
Alone under the stars. She’s safe?
There’s no one around. Just us three.
I should be up there. I’m the royal guard.
Good idea. You watch the Queen, and leave me alone with this guy.
The Captain looks at him. The Explorer laughs.
I know you don’t trust me. Why should you? I’m completely alien. You and the Queen are a cozy couple, and here comes a man from another place and time to ruin it all.
I don’t need your help to ruin my relationship with the Queen.
I won’t pry.
I’m not here to ruin things. I promise. I’m here as a scientist. And this tomb is very scientific. I know you Egyptians like to keep fellows like him well-preserved, but I didn’t think you did so well doing the same thing for yourselves.
Well, you’re not sugar coating this. Obviously we’re relics to you. A new regime has take the country and swept us out of memory.
It’s all true.
So what was it? A revolution? Foreign invaders? Plague?
Oh, plagues! A little of all three, actually. Now Egypt is run by Arabs. Muslims. Nasty people. Intolerant. If they don’t like something they blow it up. They blow up people, too. Blow up themselves.
Doesn’t sound like much of a way to run a country.
The Muslims here have calmed down a bit. They’ve let us back in to study antiquties, such as yourself. It’s a good relationship.
You only blow open the front door.
They’d do the whole tomb.
Now, describe this for me, carefully. How will you go about “studying” the tomb?
No trust at all....
Absolutely none. In my time, people studied animals by seeing how many spears they could throw into them.
Animal testing, a tragic necessity.
We studied other cultures through what we could plunder from their burnt villages. So I would feel a whole lot better knowing that these objects of deep significance aren’t going to be “studied” in the throne room of your king.
The only King I recognize is buried in Memphis.
Memphis is a terrible place to put a tomb.
Don’t say that until you’ve taken the tour. Graceland; it’s a velvet paradise.
One that you left intact when you left, I assume.
You don’t seem to understand who’s in control here. It’s not me, it’s Muslims. Everything in Egypt belongs to them, and they’d just as soon sell what they can to the last brick and burn the rest, including you. My role is to prevent this. I am an impartial, outsider, scientific mediator, and what I tell the Muslims may prevent them from tearing this place apart. In this, I’m your best friend.
Is this meant to be encouraging? You’ve cut open your patient, doctor, but what organs are you removing? Not that you’re a doctor.
Of course I am. I have the student loans to prove it.
You say the new Egyptian government will just blow us all up.
Barring my diplomatic help.
You intervene and what happens?
A number of things. The Muslims will want some trinkets. Some museum pieces to pay lip service to the Grand Egyptian History they have nothing to do with.
This is for research?
Oh, no. This is a permanent collection, I’m afraid. Don’t worry; when it comes time to choose, you’ll have maximum input.
Now, of course my research team will be taking samples of their own. Many of them will return. Just a trip to the lab and back again. Others will also rotate, making appearances in history museums worldwide.
World tours? You’re talking about years of time. That doesn’t sound very temporary.
Really? Well, you’ve waited this long.
How long is that, exactly?
The Explorer takes a beat, then laughs, ominously.
You mean you haven’t kept count?
We have. We don’t like the number.
Ha ha; I’ll bet! You Egyptians were always good at math. Greeks were better. So were Arabs....
Still, you should take our situation into account. You have a Queen up those stairs, fast asleep and far out of her time. Think about her instead of rifling through her jewelry for your world tour.
I am thinking of her, with every honest intention. You can be sure of that.
Then reassure me. Let me make the list.
Anything you want from this tomb I write it down. You take what I say you can take and you return it on my say-so.
God, now I need a library card to do my job.
As for the local powers that be, I don’t see why you need to tell them anything.
Because they get angry. Then things go boom.
I’d rather keep the Queen from going boom, and I think that’s more likely if they never know. You’re one man in the desert! Scientist or not, if you come out empty-handed, who’s going to suspect otherwise?
And the items on loan? You still giving them to me? That raises eyebrows.
You found them in another tomb. Something other scientists missed.
And give another king the credit.
Somehow I doubt your people care much about which dead foreign king is which.
Most can’t name their MP.
I’ll start right now—what items will convey the proud history of my Egyptian era?
You’re in luck. It’s royal. Ah hah!
The Captain holds up a hairbrush.
The Queen’s hairbrush. A relic from the past used not so long ago. Not by the Queen—I used it to touch up some paint. I thought I had her permission, but, whatever the case, she doesn’t want it back.
I cleaned it off.
No monkey heads?
That’s a dog.
I blame the artist.
Captain, you’re a reasonable man. Do you honestly think that I can convey the mystery of ancient Egypt with one hairbrush?
It’s a start.
It hardly sets the imagination aflame.
You asked for something of scientific value. Something that reflects us living our lives.
Lives? I came to a tomb.
So what else do you have?
I’ve got a trowel.
Try harder. There are stories associated with your friend here. He’s a man of remarkable good fortune—one with a significant string of conquests any antique monarch would envy. I’m surprised his tomb doesn’t contain some contributing factor to that success.
A pause. The Captain stares at the Explorer.
You’re getting specific. I told you I’d get you something general.
What fun is that? I need something unique. Something to put on the book jacket. Perhaps something I can model?
I understand your request. But you’ll get nothing that can be traced back to this tomb.
Well that’s perfect. What I have in mind was only a rumor; you can give it to me with no problems. If anyone asks, say you never heard of it.
I never heard of it.
Exactly! Say that to anyone else and they’ll believe you.
What would you believe?
I believe in the true king of Egypt.
I have something you may find significant. An item that wasn’t necessarily part of the tomb; unaccounted for when we were sealed up.
A handy bonus.
If you think so.
Does she know?
I’d hope not. The way she and the King operated, though, I have no idea. Neither of them mentioned it.
Oh, I think he has. Maybe not outright, but there are those of use who’ve picked up on the signals. May I inspect the merchandise?
Let me get it.
Deliberately, the Captain goes to the wall and removes the stone. He reaches inside, pulling from the hole an elaborate necklace. He presents it to the Explorer.
It’s a necklace.
It is, isn’t it?
I was expecting something else.
The King has excellent taste. Though this wasn’t for the King.
There’s a story behind it, of course.
Part of one; let’s see if you can fill in the blanks. Supposedly, this necklace was a gift from the King to our high Priestess, given to her long ago. The Priestess immediately returned it, and the King hid it away.
The Captain returns the stone to the wall.
Possibly. There is definitely that possibility. But it’s all ancient history.
It was years ago. Since then they both improved in station. Coronations. Court drama. Wars. The Priestess had a child. The King married. Several times. The alleged affair—not important. Still, one wonders why the Priestess’s son, now grown, feels he has some claim to the throne.
Though from the way you tell it, things haven’t gone well for him up there. There’s no throne left to claim.
No, your juvenile friend wasn’t lucky. I was hoping I’d find an explanation here.
I’m sure you were. This is all I can do for you.
The Explorer takes the necklace and pockets it.
Well, if this is the best you can do, I think I can make it useful.
History, man! It’s a big deal.
It doesn’t stop, does it? History?
No; it’s great. Maddening, but great. You don’t like somebody, some culture, some species—clobber ’em! Wipe ’em out; it’s possible. But that’s just present and future. Are they literate? That’s a lot of books to burn. Once you do that, good for you. Nobody knows what they said. But these literal or figurative sub-humans had places to live. Burn ’em down! Bulldoze ’em. Kick over that anthill. A nice thorough job. But there are still bones; bones become fossils. Your natural enemies had foolish or unlucky members who wandered off into tar pits and peat bogs and the like. It’s hard getting rid of that history. Everything leaves a trace. And even if the picture’s never clear, we’ll find it. We’ll uncover that history.
And then what?
We make that history part of our own.
The Queen reenters, rubbing her eyes.
Good morning, your majesty.
It’s still dark.
Not for very long. The sun is just over the horizon. A new day. A very new day. For all of us, I think.
Why is it always a princess in fairy tales? The Queens, why are they always old, jealous, past their prime? Princesses become Queens, you know.
I was never a princess.
Never a princess?
Not for a day.
How about a wicked stepmother?
They should rewrite the fairy tales just for you. It’s a blasphemy any other way. I have something for you.
Something of your husband’s. Something of yours.
Wait just a minute—
Your captain is deeply embarrassed. The years he’s spent with you. The years and years. He’s never found it. It took me an hour, if that.
You’re not amusing.
His assistance, of course. It helped me to fill in the blanks. And now they’re filled. Close your eyes.
The Queen looks to the Captain, who crosses his arms. She turns back to the Explorer and shuts her eyes. The Explorer retrieves the necklace and puts it around her neck.
Opening her eyes:
You’ve never seen this?
It’s yours. To the best I can tell, your husband wanted you to have it.
Meant for a beauty.
From my husband?
To the Captain:
Do you think so?
He’s full of surprises, even after all these years.
Do you really think so?
No. No, I don’t.
Taking off the necklace:
Neither do I.
The Queen hands the necklace to the Explorer:
I understand flattery is a universal language, but let’s be honest: my husband would never arrange for something like that.
I was never his dress-up doll.
No, you weren’t....
He snickers in the direction of the Captain.
To the Captain:
Would you mind telling me what this conspiracy is between the two of you?
I want no part in his winking!
I misspoke earlier. The Captain did know of this piece of jewelry.
I did indeed.
He was hiding it. For a sordid, sordid reason.
Stop toying with her. As a young man, the King may or may not have had an affair.
Long before his marriage to you, of course. He wanted it kept discrete.
She looks at the necklace. Suddenly, she realizes:
She drops the necklace and grimaces.
I can’t believe him.
She faces the coffin.
I can’t believe him!
It’s just a maybe....
He was hiding that necklace for something, though.
To the Captain:
I can’t believe you. You knew about this the whole time. You kept his secrets.
I’m the captain of the guard!
Doing your job?
Your duty. Your dead King’s bidding. You once told me a different motive for the things you did for me....
The Captain turns to the Explorer:
Oh, you’re good.
Your majesty, it’s obvious. Our new guest is trying to create a rift between us.
Widen a rift—listen to what he’s saying!
Better him than you.
If I may, I think it would be for the best if you two spent some time apart.
Here it comes....
Your majesty, I am staying at one of the finest extended residency buildings at Cairo University. I would be more than happy to give my suite up to you.
Of course he would. That’s what he wants.
It’s an offer. That’s all. But I think you and the Captain, you need some time apart.
Listen to him. As if we haven’t been apart before.
Not as far as I can take you.
And that’s a much greater prize than any shiny trinket. Your majesty, don’t you see? He wants you. Wants you for science!
I am only concerned with the Queen’s well-being.
Don’t be fooled! He wants to examine you. He wants to put you on display, like any other relic. He doesn’t care about you.
No. The people who care about me always have an awful way of showing it.
To the Explorer:
Deal’s off. You get nothing. You think you can trade up jewelry for a human being? For royalty? Never.
Not three hours ago, you were trying to escape. You wanted to knock a hole in the wall, and here it is. So now what? You want to stay?
With you, yes! And I thought you wanted to stay.
Motioning to the King’s coffin:
Things are bad between us right now—that’s nothing new. And, yes, things might be touch and go between you and your husband for the moment, but...that’s OK. Every marriage has a bad spot. A bruise on the fruit. You still eat it! You’ve showed so much devotion already. You’ve put him between us over and over again—the King in death was more attentive than me in life. Now, you’re dropping him. For this guy?
The Explorer tips his hat.
Look, I’m sorry I tried anything with you. I’m sorry I can’t make you feel like a queen on a throne. I’m sorry I made us a couple. In any sense of the word. But him? You go with him, you won’t be royalty. You won’t be a fellow captive. You’ll be an experiment. A sideshow. The Greeks bring the royalty they conquer through the streets in chains.
I’m not Greek.
Should I believe you’re more civilized?
I’ll provide chains only upon her majesty’s request.
He wants to charm you. But he’ll deceive you.
I’m used to that.
You need time for self-pity, and I’d rather not be here to watch you go through it. Again.
It hits him:
And you’re not. Royal orders. I plan to return tomorrow night and I expect my husband to be where I left him.
Can you expect that? It’s not up to me; you’d better ask him.
Your high and mightiness, I can’t persuade you to stay more than a day? It’s almost morning.
A day isn’t enough time for him to loot the place, stab me, throw you in a cage....
This is wonderful! Who knew I was so devious?
...You don’t want to believe it’ll happen, but I do. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
This is jealousy. Years and years and years together, and you think I don’t trust you. You’re right. I trust a total stranger over the man I’ve lived an eternity with, side by side. And you’re doing nothing to change my mind.
She starts to exit.
Tomorrow night, right?
The Queen turns and exits.
Well, you tried. You’ve grown accustomed to her face; I understand.
No response. The Explorer looks above.
Dawn. I was hoping to be out of here sooner.
Easier said than done.
That’s right; you were on your way out yourself. I suppose not now. Not immediately. But the world’s open for business. Know what you’re going to do with it?
I’ve still got the big guy. My job has been to see him safely on his way. Once I establish that he is safe.... Well, I’ll go from there.
Loyal to the last.
In my own way.
No doubt. If you ever find yourself out west, and I mean way west, look me up. I’m teaching in Kansas in the fall. Kansas, man. I don’t know how I got talked into that one. We all make crazy choices. Good thing we’re never stuck with them forever, right?
The Queen reenters with a bundle of clothing—an “overnight bag.”
I haven’t been anywhere for so long. I don’t know what I need with me.
You’ll want for nothing.
The Queen and the Captain stare at each other.
This isn’t goodbye.
No. But we’re getting there.
To the Explorer:
How far is the walk?
You leave everything to me, your highness. Quickly now.
You heard the doctor.
The Queen sighs and looks at the Captain.
I think we set a record.
Be careful up there.
Why worry? Whatever we were running from, we outran it. We won.
The Captain is still dejected. The Queen pats him on the head, kissing the top.
The last time you kissed me, the wall exploded.
Don’t wait up.
The Queen walks up to the Explorer and begins to ascend. Suddenly, a chorus of car horns from above.
What was that?!
Running his hand down his face:
They let you teach? Standards have slipped.
A half-dozen young men enter excitedly. They chatter non-stop, shouting instructions at each other, fidgeting and tinkering with every aspect of the tomb. Aside from brief “hello”s to the Explorer, they ignore the trio.
You brought your students with you?
They followed me.
I can’t feed them all.
They don’t deserve it. Overeager brownnosers.
To the Captain:
I’m cleaning house. Taking everything. We’re going to photodocument, dust, and disturb every inch of this tomb. I’m not going to negotiate the find of the century.
You betrayed the Queen!
I was hoping she wouldn’t be here when they came. Spare you any ugliness.
Tell them to stop!
To the students:
This place is cursed!
You’re speaking to a roomful of people who know their Egyptian history; there’s no such thing—
Give him the cloak.
So it is here!
Wait a minute....
Hold on a moment, boys!
The students stop their work.
The Cloak of Horus? You do have it.
Your majesty, we can’t—
What difference does it make? There’s no more kings to fight for it.
Tell me where it is.
Only if you take it and go. Leave us just the way we were.
You won’t join me?
I can get lied to anywhere.
This is a bad deal.
I know; he gets the good luck charm, you keep the bad one.
OK, tell me. The Cloak will be the only thing I take.
The Queen goes to the wall and taps it.
Behind this stone.
Excitedly removing the stone and reaching in:
Same place as the necklace. Clever, Captain; it would be the last place I would look.
He takes out the cloak and looks at it.
Amazing.... So well-preserved....
We’re good at that.
You’ll be leaving now.
Still staring at the cloak:
I don’t think so.
Who are you to tell me what to do?
I’m the queen.
The queen. That’s no concern to me. I’m the true king of Egypt!
With this? Yes!
Say it again.
I’m the true king of Egypt!
I’m the true king of Egypt!
Like you mean it!
I’m the true king of—
The Queen throws the Captain’s rock from its pedestal, ripping the pillar from the floor and sending it crashing into the wall—directly where the Explorer stands, crushing him to death. The impact of stone on stone resonates. The students stare at the spot where their professor stood, dumbfounded. After a moment, they all begin to scream and run out of the tomb. They are heard driving away. The Queen and the Captain are left alone.
Well that was a short reign.
The Captain approaches the pillar.
It didn’t hit the door.
I told you.
That was—wow. I wouldn’t have thought to do that. What about his students?
They’re not coming back. This place is cursed.
Or just a safety hazard. I should have done something. I’m the bodyguard.
I’m the queen.
Hard to compete with that.
The Captain comes to the entrance.
I’m going outside.
Perimeter check. I want to make sure they left for good. That they’re not coming back armed.
And it’s long past time for me to work on my tan.
The Captain begins to ascend.
You know, we’re part of the world now.
Are we? We’re still mostly part of the desert.
It’s something. We’re not buried anymore.
No. No, we’re not.
I’ll be right back.
He exits. The Queen watches him go. After a moment, she approaches the King’s coffin. She puts her hand to it, pats it gently.
I don’t know if the two of us can continue like this. You’ve changed. It’s not that you’re dead. It’s not the affair....
She gives the coffin a big tug, back towards where she had it.
You’ve just put on a lot of weight.
She continues to pull the coffin back to center, getting it most of the way there, before stopping, exhausted. She stands, catching her breath, as the lights begin to fade. Suddenly—
Well, it’s 365 days later.
The lights come back to full as the Captain reappears from the entryway. He is wearing a modern business suit. The Queen busies herself as he approaches.
One year later! Before that, every day was the same! And now....
He reaches the Queen, kneels, and kisses her hand.
Now we’re back where we started.
How are you?
Wonderful. Couldn’t be better.
You haven’t been here in months.
And you’ve been here too often.
Of course. I live here again.
What did you do that for? What about the penthouse we picked out? What was wrong with that?
Neighbors. Nothing specific. Just neighbors. I don’t have that problem here.
You’re isolating yourself again.
No. I still go out. I’m still working; I can write my gardening column anywhere.
Well, if you ever think I’m being reclusive, just come here. Take me out.
I will; I promise you.
You know, I never asked this. And I should have: what did you do with the Explorer?
He’s tastefully buried.
In the garden?
Because you say “tastefully,” and I’m thinking...fertilizer?
How’s work? You’re wearing a suit; does that mean you got the promotion?
Promotion? It is, sort of. I am a Captain of a guard again, instead of just being a bodyguard. But I’m out with the celebrities a lot less; there’s more time behind a desk.
Trailing off, he returns his attention to the Queen.
Notice anything different?
Different? No...the pillar’s still in the same spot; probably the safest place for it. You didn’t paint.... Is it the King?
You moved him back out here.
You had him in a couple of different places the last few months; why have you settled him—?
I’m leaving him.
I have to let him go.
Well, I’m sure he understands.
Next week I’m going back to the penthouse. I’m not coming back. I don’t want you to, either.
We’ve had time to adjust. Whatever we’re adjusting to.
No more tomb. Not for us. Not for the world.
I think that’s fair.
Maybe in another few thousand years we’ll find it again.
We shouldn’t need to try.
When did you want to leave?
Wow. Before or after—?
After dinner. Everything I need is packed. I’ve potted most of the garden.
You’ve thought this out.
No. As of this morning I wanted to stay.
What changed your mind?
I thought about our Explorer friend. He got out of here the way we originally planned. But he gave us another way.
Guess it’s one way or the other. You know what this means, though? You won’t be buried with the King.
I’ve been buried with him long enough already.
An electric buzzer sounds. The Queen stands.
How did she get an oven down here?
Do you want to get some plates?
Sure. It’s a nice night; do you want to eat outside?
Reentering, with champagne and glasses:
No, if this is it, we should stay down here.
We are modern people now.
And in years to come, maybe we’ll be somebody else, too.
Put a curse on somebody else.
Your majesty. The next time you stick yourself in the ground to die, bring me with you.
They prepare for dinner as the lights fade.