By John McNeil
A classic tale of good v. evil, with echoes of The Pied Piper.
In mediaeval times, a gleeman was a strolling player or troubadour. Our modern-day equivalent is a busker or street theatre artist.
Note: This html document contains only Act One of this full-length play. The entire play, for which a small royalty is requested,
can be obtained by contacting the author (see addresses at foot).
The Gleeman (a juggler)
Clef (a musician)
Rolf (his German Shepherd dog - could be a child in costume)
Gislane (pronounced: G'-lane)
Cameron (a crippled boy)
Gloucester (a City Councillor)
Foucester (the Town Clerk)
Debenham (a City Councillor)
Mrs Gladstone (a wealthy dog-lover)
Blaze (leader of the street kids)
Deathrow (a street kid)
Other assorted street kids, children
Various locations in and around a small (unnamed) city. Time is anytime.
(Enter Gloucester and Foucester)
Gloucester: I tell you, Foucester, I will have those vermin out of there! These rats have thrived for so long, if they are allowed to run loose any longer, they will take over the town. They are a pestilential plague, spreading their filth everywhere and killing the tourist trade. It must not, it will not, go on any longer.
Foucester: It will not be easy to root them out, councillor. They have had free rein for so long, people can scarcely remember a time when they were not here. And you must know that some actually encourage them. The political repercussions of a campaign against them could rebound on us severely.
Gloucester: Enough! When I say I will have them out, by the statue of our founder I will have them out. I had news today which could be just the tool we need. A little time, and these vermin will be ousted.
(Scene: A piece of waste land typical of that found on the edge of a town's inner industrial belt. Known as The Pitch, it is a no-man's land, by day the not-quite-approved playground of children, the site of a weekly flea market, and the gathering place of those between work or between Missions; by night the haunt of street kids and those who didn't make it to the Mission. Facilities are what you make them. A small stand of trees is off to one side. The town skyline can be seen at rear. It is mid- afternoon on the day of the flea market. At front right stands Clef, playing a recorder or flute. On the ground in front of him is a hat, and lying behind is his dog, Rolf. Surrounding Clef are a group of children, among them Cameron, a cripple who is able to stand only with the aid of a pair of crutches. As the curtain opens, Clef is playing a tune, which is punctuated by the occasional cries of stall holders. The children are entranced by the music. Clef concludes the tune and makes a mock bow.)
Children: (Cries of) 'Don't stop', 'Play us another one, please', 'More, more', 'That was beautiful', etc.
Child 1: We love your playing, Clef. Listening to you is like looking through a window into another world.
Clef: (Bends down and shakes his hat. There are few coins in it. Sighs.) It's a pity your musical appreciation doesn't come in a more tangible form, kids. The food of love doesn't fill the belly very well.
Child 2: Perhaps if we dance while you play, some of the adults will come and watch.
(Clef shrugs. He has nothing to lose. He breaks into a lively jig, and the children - except for Cameron, who keeps his eyes fixed on Clef - dance around. As he plays, enter the Gleeman, who takes a central position upstage, takes out of his pack some juggling balls and begins to juggle. Some of the children begin to notice him, and start nudging each other and pointing. The Gleeman drops a ball, which rolls towards the children. One stops dancing to pick it up, and takes it over to the Gleeman. Except for Cameron, the others also break off and follow. They start playing with the Gleeman, who tosses balls to them. Clef sees no point in continuing to play, and stops.)
Cameron: (Who has scarcely noticed the other children leave.) That's too fast for me. My inside likes it, but my outside can't keep up.
Clef: Fast or slow, you can guarantee someone's not going to like it. (He bends down and picks up the hat. Shakes it ruefully and takes out the few coins inside.) In fact, they didn't seem to like much at all today.
Cameron: That's not true! Lots of people stopped to listen. But times are hard. They just don't have the money. Ask the stall holders over there.
Clef: I'm lucky to get the time of day out of some of them. They don't know whether to thank me or curse me. They like it when the entertainment keeps customers hanging around a bit longer, but watch their eyes narrow if a coin should go into this instead of their pockets. (Puts the hat on his head. Looks as if he is about to leave.)
Cameron: You're not going!?
Clef: I've lost what little audience I had. There's nothing else here for me today.
Cameron: Don't give up just because some of the kids have gone chasing the juggler. They'll get tired of him and come back quick enough.
Clef: I'm tired now and I need something to eat. Though heaven knows what it will be with today's largesse. (Cynically fantasizes.) A grass burger with all the trimmings. Pate de Phew Gross! Worms on toast! A meal fit for a king, and to wash it all down, Chateau Recycled Cardboard. All at my favourite restaurant, Death by Choked-Hard, the epitome of dining out, whose slogan is, Ôwhere you get your just desserts'.
Cameron: Don't go away angry.....
Clef: Just go away.
Cameron: (Hurt, turns) I liked it.
Clef: (Relents) Come back, I didn't mean to hurt you. I wasn't aiming at you.
Cameron: I just got in the way? I'm used to that.
Clef: Don't you go in for self pity, too. One helping of that is quite enough to go round. Here, what's your name?
Clef: Okay, Cameron,I will play you one more tune - guess you've earned it the amount you've been hanging round today. But then you'd better get on home - your dad and mum'll be looking for you.
Cameron: I don't have a dad and mum. I live with my Gran.
Clef: Whoever. At least you've got someone. Look, this place is depressing me too much today. I'll play on the hoof, and you can follow along. (Calls to the dog.) C'mon, Rolf.
(Clef walks off slowly, playing a slow, sad tune, followed by Rolf. Cameron starts to follow, but then stops to watch the other children playing with the Gleeman. He would love to join in, but they take no notice of him. He looks in frustration at his crutches. By the time he turns, Clef has left the stage, although his flute can still be heard. Cameron hurries off to catch him up. As he leaves, the Gleeman and the children work their way downstage.)
Child: Throw it to me, throw it to me!
Child: Yes, more! We don't want to stop.
Gleeman: Have you ever heard the saying, ÔYou can have too much of a good thing'?
Child: No, more, more.
Gleeman: One day there will be more, but that time is yet awhile. Today, I think, we have reached ample sufficiency.
Child: You talk like my parents. They make promises with big words that mean nothing.
Gleeman: I don't make empty promises. But I have many things to juggle, not just these balls.
Child: Have you got a set of firesticks? I didn't see them in your bag.
Gleeman: I have, but that's not what I meant.
Child: What do you mean, then?
Gleeman: Time, for one. And that means it's time for you to head home. It'll be dark soon, and I don't want your parents getting anxious on my account. So be off now.
Child: No, I want to stay and juggle.
Gleeman: Go, or you will be persona non grata next time.
Child: What does that mean? I don't like it when you speak like the rest of the grown-ups. I thought you were our friend.
Gleeman: A friend is someone who does what's best for you. And best for you right now is to go. If you don't, putting it in plain language, there will not be a next time. Others will have your place. Now, off!
(They leave reluctantly. The Gleeman packs away his balls in a small backpack, from which he takes a sandwich and begins to eat. Night is coming on, but he does not leave The Pitch, instead squatting, apparently waiting for something.)
(Two street kids, Blaze and Deathrow, enter from opposite sides of the stage rear. Seeing the Gleeman, they signal to each other and, each taking a knife from his pocket, quietly stalk him. As they approach, the Gleeman casually stands up, but apparently does not see them, for he does not turn around. When the street kids reach the Gleeman, one circles an arm around his neck and holds a knife to his side, while the other jumps in front of the Gleeman and threatens him with his knife. The Gleeman appears quite unperturbed.)
Gleeman: Good evening, my young friends. You are rather late....
(Before the pair can react, the Gleeman turns the tables on them, sending both crashing to the floor with obviously well-honed martial arts skills. He looks down on them with disdain.)
Gleeman: ....and also rather stupid. The Gleeman is not so easily caught out. And if you should try it again, the penalty will be considerably more severe. I trust I make myself clear. Now, when you requested my presence here tonight, was it simply with the intention of mugging me, or was that merely the initiation ceremony. If it was, I trust I have passed?
Blaze: (Spits on the ground in front of the Gleeman) Very fancy talk, mister, but if I were you I'd walk very carefully in this part of town. A lot of big bastards have been sorry they tried to muscle in on the Pitch. You're only one man.
Gleeman: Let's not bother with all the bluster. I'm not easily intimidated. You asked me to come, so here I am. The Gleeman, at your service. What can I do for you?
Blaze: (Studies the Gleeman carefully, contempt and distrust alternating with caution and calculation.) There's been talk going round. Some of the guys heard it up north. About some character who was a sort of official jester of the city. He was paid to act the fool, be the life of the party at all the fancy functions, and provide camera fodder for the tourists. But something went wrong, and this character left town in a big hurry. No-one's quite sure what it was all about, but some weird rumours were floating round. Kids starting to act up strange, the town clocks chiming 13, an unknown disease killing off flowers....
Gleeman: And I suppose all the rats vanished from the sewers, too, when this mysterious character played his flute.
Blaze: I don't get you. There was no talk of rats.
Gleeman: Oh, you are alive. I was beginning to wonder.
Blaze: That's not all. There was also talk of this guy having a secret that a lot of punks would have cheerfully killed for. Some sort of new high that makes Ecstasy seem like a 1950s movie.
Deathrow: What d'you say to that, Mr Jester?
Gleeman: I would say that those who listen to the wind are liable to get a cold in their ears.
Blaze: (Brandishing his knife) Would you like to see the wind whistle from your belly? If we're into party tricks, I'll put up some birthday candles, and you can blow them out with your navel.
Gleeman: For a man who's looking for information, you have a strange way of calling for volunteers. Put your toy away and you might hear something to your advantage. Otherwise, we'll call it an early ... and profitless ... night - on all sides.
Blaze: You're a slippery character, Mr Jester. I don't trust you as far as I could throw one of your kidneys.
Gleeman: You actually have no reason to distrust me. And my name is the Gleeman. Some have called me a jester, but that is only a tiny portion of the whole picture.
Deathrow: If you're not a jester, what are you?
Gleeman: There is no word for it in your language. Let's say I am a dream-bringer. A weaver of tales that come to life. A holder of myths that are truer than reality. Sometimes I jest, because it hides a truth that would otherwise be too hard to bear. Sometimes I juggle, weaving patterns in the air that are pictures of what is happening in the unseen. If I tell a lie, be sure it is truer than your most sacred oath. And when I tell the truth, beware, for no man can hear it and stand.
Blaze: I should have punctured your bag of air straight off.
Gleeman: If you only asked me here to trade insults, then I have a goodly stock in hand. Two for your one, if you like. And if you'll take a bagful at one go, why then we'll enjoy a verbal feast.
Blaze: I asked you here because the stories from the north suggested we might have something to trade.
Gleeman: What would I have that would be of interest to you? And what could you offer in return, anyway?
Blaze: I think you have it the wrong way round, Mr Gleeman. Hand over your secret and we will refrain from passing on to the city authorities information we have in our safekeeping. Certain documents have come our way which I think you would prefer the authorities don't get their hands on. You see, it's not just rumours that we have been listening to.
Gleeman: So, bartering is the new name for blackmail?
Blaze: It makes no difference to us what you call it.
Gleeman: And quite frankly, it makes no difference to me whether you hand your so-called information to the authorities or not. They cannot touch the Gleeman. We can deal with each other to mutual advantage, but there are some things I want to bring to order first. (The Gleeman picks up his bag.) We will meet here again tomorrow night, and then both our causes may be advanced. Good night. (Exits. Blaze and Deathrow are too non-plussed to attempt to stop him.)
Deathrow: Are we going to let him get away like that? Why don't we call up the others and nail him?
Blaze: No, I don't think so. He talks a load of bullshit, but somewhere under all that crap there might just be something we can get our hands on. Go and tell the others I think we're on to something.
(Deathrow exits. Moments later, Foucester enters. He has been in hiding during the previous encounter.)
Foucester: What are these documents you told that madman about? You didn't tell us there were any papers. What are you keeping from us?
Blaze: Listen man, if you want my help, you'll play it my way. You're afraid of that Gleeman, and you want to spring the trap on him. Right? The way you lot pansy around, you'll never find out a thing. So you just come up with the money, like we agreed, and we'll look after this poufter. That's the deal, now get out before the bogeyman spots you.
Foucester: You don't get a bean out of us until this character is swinging.
(Blaze suddenly reaches over and grabs Foucester's leather belt with one hand. With the other he starts stropping his knife on the leather.)
Blaze: See this knife? I'll sharpen it on something a little higher up if there's any more threats. You and your fancy pal do your part, and we'll do ours. Now get (shoves him roughly off). This is no place for nice people. (He also exits.)
(The following morning, in the city Square. Enter Gislane, wearing a backpack. She has obviously travelled some distance, and is weary and dishevelled. The weariness cannot disguise her restlessness, however. While she takes off the pack, and sits on it, at times she gets up and walks round, or seems to be listening for something. It is unclear whether she is talking to herself or to something unseen.)
Gislane: This is the town, but now what? Where to from here?
Wind, you have led me this far, but too many other voices are growing stronger. Or am I just tired? What I need to hear is growing faint.
But this is the town, and he is here. He is strong in the city, but that's where I am weakest. He draws his strength from the very things that sap mine.
But, right now, I need to find somewhere to stay.. And to clothe myself with better than naked ambition.
(Enter Cameron. He hobbles across the stage on his crutches. He pauses briefly when he sees Gislane, then goes to continue on. However, she calls to him.)
Gislane: Excuse me!
Cameron: (Stops, looks round) You were calling me?
Gislane: Yes. Can you spare a moment?
Cameron: (Hobbles over) I guess so. (Examines her) I don't think I've seen you round here before.
Gislane: No, I've just arrived in your town. Is there a City Mission or hostel nearby where I could put up for few days while I get my bearings?
Cameron: There is a backpackers' hostel one block from here, and the City Mission backs on to The Pitch. That's about half a mile away. I'm not sure that's suitable for a lady, though.
Gislane: I'm not sure I feel all that much like a lady at the moment. Anywhere that the voice of the trees and the wind has not been completely shut out will probably suffice. What's the Pitch that you mentioned?
Cameron: It's a sort of common area, I suppose. Belongs to nobody, and to everybody. We....(pause) kids use it during the day, and there's a market there once a week. But you wouldn't want to go there after dark.
Cameron: The street kids hang out there at night, and it gets pretty wild. The police have tried a few times to move them on, but there are so many hiding places in the trees and banks you'd need an army, and because the gangs know the area so much better the cops always come out with egg on their faces. I don't think even the Gleeman would stick around there after dark. Come to think of it, I don't know where he does stay.
Gislane: The Gleeman? What do you know about the Gleeman? Has he been here long?
Cameron: He turned up about a month ago. Don't know where he came from, but he hangs around the Pitch during the day and makes a bit of money busking. The other kids seem to enjoy playing with him, but as you can see it's a bit difficult for me to throw and catch.
Gislane: You don't know how thankful you may be for that, one day.
Cameron: Why do you ask about the Gleeman? Do you know him?
Gislane: Where I come from everyone knows the Gleeman. Sometimes it seems there was never a time we did not know him. But I was not a friend of his. Anyway, I'll check out your suggestions. (She picks up her pack, and starts to move off.)
Cameron: I wonder perhaps..... We have a spare room at our place .... I live with my Gran, you see .... and she sometimes takes in boarders for short periods. It gives her a bit of extra money because it's hard to make ends meet on the benefit, even with what she gets for me. It's not a big place, and it's upstairs, above the pet shop at the other side of the square there, but Gran keeps it nice inside and ..... well, I could ask her, if you're interested.
Gislane: (Looking at his crutches) Upstairs! How do you....I'm sorry, that's rude of me.
Cameron: I'm not helpless. People usually think I am, but they'd be surprised if they knew what I can do given a chance. My brain's not crippled.
Gislane: I can see that. Look, your offer is very kind, but I'm a stranger, and I can't impose on your Gran.
Cameron: It's not imposing. I told you, she often takes boarders. You would have to pay, but others have told me it's not as much as they paid at the backpackers and they really liked our place.
Gislane: You can be very persuasive...... What's your name?
Cameron: I'm Cameron.
Gislane: And my name is Gislane. Okay, Cameron, go and ask your Gran if you like, and I'll wait here.
Cameron: Great. Don't go away, I'll be right back. (Exits)
Gislane: What have I agreed to? A concrete square, with no trees! How will I hear? But, above a pet shop. That holds hope. Perhaps even a disguise. And he's certainly an engaging kid. Better still, untouched, if he can stay that way. Wind, perhaps you led me better than I realised. (Sits again.)
(Enter Gloucester and Foucester at rear of stage.)
Foucester: And I say you are unwise, councillor, to put any reliance in him.
Gloucester: I don't trust him, be assured of that. As soon as he has fulfilled my purposes .... (stops as he spots Gislane). Now there is a perfect example of my complaint. Ever since that juggler appeared, this town has attracted the riff raff of the universe. They drift in like a foul odour, and are as difficult to get rid of. They don't spend a cent, bleed the local economy dry with their begging, sleep wherever the mood takes them, and frighten off genuine visitors who would otherwise handsomely grace the purses of our merchants. A plague on them.
Foucester: I suspect you have a plan to deal with this nuisance, also, councillor.
Gloucester: Indeed. I just lack two pieces of information to bring it to fruition. But come, our breakfast meeting awaits us, and I do not like cold croissants....
(Enter Clef and Rolf, downstage. Rolf is limping.)
Clef: I would carry you if I could, Rolf, but then we would both quickly be lame. And if you won't let me touch your leg, how can I see what's wrong. I can't afford the vet, so the best I can do is try and put a poultice on it when we get home. And what do I bribe you with to do that?
Gislane: You don't need to bribe him.
Clef: I beg your pardon!
Gislane: I said, you don't need to bribe him. He's just frightened that you'll touch him in the sore place, and he's not sure which pain is worse.
Clef: Who are you? You seem very sure of yourself.
Gislane: Not of me, just of Rolf.
Clef: Are you a vet, or something?
Gislane: No, but I .... I have a sympathy for animals. I might be able to help him if you don't mind me trying. Animals often don't mind me getting close to them when they would be frightened of other strangers.
Clef: If you can get near him, good luck to you. He's normally very easy going, but since he injured himself this morning he's been very skittish.
Gislane: (Kneels in front of Rolf. Holds out her hand for him to smell). Hello, Rolf, I'm Gislane, and I'll help you if I can. What's the problem? (Rolf gives a gentle whine.) A stone or thorn in your pad, I think. Do you mind if I have a look?
(She reaches out carefully, and Rolf allows her to take his leg. She examines it.)
Gislane: Yes, a thorn. I can see where it's gone into the pad. I'll need a pair of tweezers.
(She goes to her pack, and takes out a small first aid kit. Choosing a pair of tweezers, she goes back to the dog.)
Clef: Hold on. If you try and dig in with those, Rolf will go through the ceiling. You've already got further than I thought you would, and that's a marvel. But he'll snap at you, I know. He did once to me when I accidentally touched a sore place, and I've still got the scar. I think you'd better let me get him home, where I can put a poultice on it. That should draw it out.
Gislane: Just let me have one try. I'm willing to take the risk. I think Rolf and I have an understanding.
Clef: Okay, but on your head be it.
Gislane: (Picks up Rolf's leg again.) It's alright, isn't it, Rolf. (Bending down, she blows on the paw, then gently runs her finger over the sore spot. Rolf whines slightly.) A little more? (She blows again on the spot.) That should do. (Taking the tweezers, she applies them to the pad, and draws out the thorn. Rolf whimpers slightly, but holds his ground.) There, it's out. Don't move yet. (Going back to the pack, she gets a small pot of ointment, which she applies to the pad. She takes the things back to her pack.)
Clef: That's amazing! I can't think how to thank you, miss. What did you say your name is?
Gislane: (Over her shoulder). Gislane.
Clef: You certainly have a way with animals. I wonder where he picked up that thorn?
Gislane: (Partly distracted in her pack.) Down at the Pitch when he chased that rabbit.
Clef: What...? How could you know that?
Gislane: (Shrugs) Just a guess, that's all. I must have seen you there as I came past, and put two and two together.
Clef: I never saw you there! Who are you?
Gislane: I told you, my name's Gislane. (Sees Cameron coming hobbling over) And it looks as though I'll know in a moment whether I have a bed for the night.
Cameron: Gran says that'll be fine, Miss Gislane. You're welcome to stay with us. Hello, Clef, I see you've met this lady; she's going to stay with Gran and me for a few days.
Gislane: That's very kind of both of you, Cameron. I'll bring my pack over straight away. If it's possible, I could really do with a wash and clean up. (To Clef) Is your name Clef? I'm pleased to have been able to help you. Doubly pleased, because you've given me an idea. See you again, Rolf. Okay, Cameron, lead the way. (Picks up her pack and goes off with him.)
Clef: (Somewhat weakly; there are too many things he does not understand.) See you again. I guess. Can you make it home now, Rolf? And what did she tell you that I never heard?
(The Square, later the same day. The Gleeman is there, playing with a group of children. Clef is off to one side, watching, flute in hand and his hat at his feet. Rolf is not with him.)
Children: (Shouts such as 'Throw it to me', 'Again, again', 'Ready, here it comes', etc, as they play the same kind of game they did the previous day. The Gleeman interacts with them, making sure all are involved. After a few moments he stops the game by gathering all the balls.)
Gleeman: Would you like to try a new game, kids?
Children: (Cries of 'Yes', 'Show us', 'What is it', etc.)
Gleeman: Let's imagine that these balls have invisible elastic joining them to me. If I throw one to you, when you catch it, you come zooming back past me to the other side of the circle. Let's try it with just one ball first, to show you what I mean.
(He throws a ball to a child, who catches it, and then as the Gleeman mimes a tug on the Ôelastic' the child runs as if being pulled to the opposite side of an imaginary circle which has the Gleeman at the centre.)
Gleeman: Hey, that was well done. Let's try two now.
(He throws balls to two children in succession, who do the same as the first child.)
Gleeman: Great. Now we'll double the fun.
(He throws balls to four children, who act as before.)
Gleeman: I think this would go really well with a bit of music. Why not ask our busking friend over there to come and play his flute for us while we dance. I'm sure he'll be delighted.
Children: (Cries of 'what a good idea', 'let's do it', etc. They crowd around Clef, and ask him to come and play for them.)
Clef: I'm sorry, I'm not in the mood for that kind of playing today.
Children: (Various cries, such as 'But we need you', 'Of course you can', 'Please come and play', etc.)
Clef: No, no! I'm sure the juggler can manage without my help.
Children: (They won't take no for an answer. They start pushing and pulling at him to drag him over. 'You've got to come', 'We can't manage without you,' etc.)
Clef: (Rather than create a scene, he gives in reluctantly.) All right, then.
(Clef starts playing, slowly at first but building in tempo. As he does, the Gleeman throws balls to the children, and they rebound across the imaginary circle as before, keeping time to the music. As the tempo builds, the Gleeman starts 'pulling' the children in different patterns, eg in maypole fashion, so they become extensions of his weaving arm movements.)
(As the dance builds in pace, Gislane enters. She stops in horror at what she sees happening.)
Gislane: Oh no, not already. And he has involved Clef as well. How did that happen? This has got to be stopped. But he mustn't know. Oh Ruach, what to do? (She is near panic.) I wonder if... It's dangerous, but we've got to do something. (Calls to offstage.) Cameron! Quickly!
Cameron: What's the matter? What do you want?
Gislane: That dance! We've got to stop it.
Cameron: What's the problem. They're only dancing.
Gislane: No, they're not, but they don't understand that. Don't ask why right now. It just has be stopped. But I can't do it. I'm going to have to rely on you, because the Gleeman must not know I have anything to do with it.
Cameron: Me!? How can I do anything? I can't dance.
Gislane: That's the perfect reason why. But please don't ask questions just now. I want you to go and grab Clef's flute off him. And when you've got it, throw it away as hard as you can. I'll go round behind them and catch it when you throw. Don't worry if Clef gets mad at you, I'll explain later. But please go. You're my only hope. And whatever you do, don't touch any of the juggling balls.
Cameron: I can't do that. It's too hard.... Oh, no, she's gone already. What's going on? Why me? This is crazy! Clef will kill me.
(Despite himself, Cameron is drawn over to the group. He edges round the dancers towards Clef. A ball is thrown towards him, and Cameron's first reflex is to want to pick it up.)
Cameron: Oh, I can't reach it. Darn these crutches! What's that she said, ÔDon't touch any of the juggling balls'. Why not? (A child runs to get the ball, and knocks into Cameron. Cameron stumbles, and in trying to get his balance knocks into Clef. Cameron puts out a hand to steady himself, and in the process grabs Clef's flute.)
Gislane: That's it, Cameron; throw it to me, quickly.
(Cameron tumbles over, taking Clef with him, but somehow manages to throw the flute towards Gislane. She picks it up and exits. Although the music stops, the Gleeman and the children carry on their dance for a brief time before they break up in confusion, cannoning into each other and into the Gleeman. During all the preceding, they were oblivious to everything except the dance. Now they start acting as if they are coming out a trance.)
Children: (Cries of 'What happened', 'Where am I', 'Where has the music gone', etc.)
Gleeman: Who interfered with the dance? (Sees Cameron and Clef on the ground.) What are you doing there, child? What do you think you are doing?
Cameron: (Trying to get up.) One of the children knocked me over. I couldn't help myself.
Gleeman: (Pulls Cameron roughly to his feet). If you want to join in our dance, you will need to be a lot more careful. (To Clef) This young lad is a friend of yours, isn't he? You would do well to teach him to step a little more carefully. Even a marionette will learn the steps if you pull the strings in time.
Clef: Where's my flute? It was knocked out of my hand. Where has it gone?
Gleeman: It probably fell underneath something. (Turns to the children, who are in something of a daze.) The dance is over for the day, children, but we will meet again tomorrow, I am sure. (He takes the balls from the children.) In the meantime, (sarcastic) you might like to extend the hand of friendship to our young friend. (Exits.)
Children: (While Clef and Cameron search for the flute.) 'What did he say?' 'Was that a dance? It felt more like flying.' 'Where has the Gleeman gone?' 'What happened to the music?' Etc.
Child: (To Clef) Why did you stop playing? It was so lovely.
Clef: Cameron knocked me over, and now I can't find my flute.
Child: (To Cameron, angrily) What did you do that for? You had no right to stop that! It was so beautiful.
Cameron: It was an accident. One of you knocked me over. I couldn't help it!
Child: You could so. You did it on purpose. You were jealous of us.
Cameron: Jealous!? No I wasn't. But why are you getting so upset about a dance?
Child 2: It wasn't just a dance! It was like being in a living dream, or a true fairytale. He was taking us someplace else, and then you crashed in with your clumsy crutches. You got jealous just because you weren't invited, and so you spoiled it for the rest of us.
(The children begin to crowd Cameron, and threaten him.)
Clef: Hey, wait up there! I'm sure Cameron was right, that it was just an accident. If only I could find my flute. I can't understand it. (He steps in between Cameron and the others.) I know you were enjoying the dance, but the Gleeman has promised you another one tomorrow. So there's no need to get upset at Cameron. Go on home now, kids. (The children leave reluctantly, still muttering threats.)
Clef: What is going on? I get dragged against my will into playing for that juggler, I lose my flute in the process, and those kids act as if they've had a favourite toy taken from them. Do you know what's up with them, Cameron?
Cameron: No, I don't....
Gislane: (Entering, carrying the flute) But I do, and here's your flute back, Clef. Sorry we had to act a bit roughly to stop you playing. I hope it's not damaged.
Clef: How dare you! If this flute is damaged I have no way to earn a living. What do you think you're playing at? Has the whole world suddenly become unhinged?
Gislane: Please calm down. If you give me a chance, I'll explain what I can. I had to find a way of stopping you from playing, because you were being used as a tool in a terrible game. And don't blame Cameron - he got caught in the middle because the Gleeman must not suspect me of anything.
Clef: There are riddles within riddles here. If it weren't for the fact that you helped me with Rolf this morning, I'd suggest to the authorities that you are mentally unstable and need to be locked up.
Gislane: You don't know what a knife that turns in me. I have a sister who may never get back her right mind because of the Gleeman. He must be stopped before it happens to anyone else.
Clef: That sounds very melodramatic. What does he do, sell drugs on the side?
Gislane: No, he is the drug!
Clef: I beg your pardon!?
Gislane: Look, I don't understand how he does it, but this is what happened. About six months ago this Gleeman turned up in our town, doing street theatre and juggling. Then somehow or other he persuaded the Town Council to employ him as the town's official jester. So they paid him to appear at council functions, open proceedings by knocking people on the head with a pig's bladder on a stick, tell jokes, take the mickey out of dignitaries, that sort of thing. They loved it, because he is a very good storyteller and he has a compelling presence. And of course the kids flocked to. I seemed to be the only one in the town who didn't like him. I began to feel very uneasy about him, but I could not understand why.
Then I noticed something odd was happening to the children who played with him. They couldn't get enough of playing with him. They stopped doing things they used to love doing, and they talked of nothing else among themselves. At first I thought it was fairly harmless. You heard what those kids said just now, about fairytale lands and being in a living dream? That's how our's started too. But they started to become obsessed, to the point where nothing else mattered. It was like a drug.
Clef: If it was such a problem, why didn't the parents start to worry, or stop their kids spending so much time with him?
Gislane: That was the awful thing. All this was happening, and they were completely oblivious. d most of the adults thought how patient the Gleeman was with children. To further allay suspicion, he announced that he was putting on a play, in which the children would be the star performers. The 'Pied Piper' he chose. It was the perfect disguise. The more the children left our world and vanished into his, the more their parents simply thought they were becoming immersed in the roles of the play. And then .... the night of the play .... (she breaks down).
Cameron: What...what's the matter? What happened?
Gislane: (struggles to get the words out) The play was staged outdoors, on a river bank. You know the story of the Pied Piper, how he leads the children into a mountain and they are never seen again because the town councillors won't pay him for getting rid of their rats? In our play, the way to the mountain led across a bridge over the river. It was a wooden footbridge that had been there for years. But as the children were crossing, it collapsed and they all fell into the river. Not only that, but at the same time, the lights failed. It was pandemonium. No-one could see, people were trampling over each other trying to get to the river, or falling over bits of scenery. By the time someone could get lights working, the children had been swept downriver. They never had a hope. They were too spaced out to swim.
Clef: You mean, they all drowned?
Gislane: All except one. Just like in the story. A girl who played the part of the cripple that gets left behind. She wasn't used to the crutches, and she tripped over trying to catch the others up. She didn't fall into the river, but she was badly trampled on by the adults trying to save the rest. But that wasn't the worst of it. The trauma and the utter despair of missing out on going to the dreamworld was worse for her. She has turned in on herself, and now no-one can reach her.
Cameron: And that girl was your sister?
Clef: I don't understand.
Cameron: I think maybe I do. You know how a few minutes ago those kids talked about being in a living fairytale.
Clef: All kids talk like that.
Cameron: But what if they meant it! What if they really felt like they were stepping out of this world into another one ... one so beautiful it hurt too much to come back. (Looks at his legs) I could understand that.
Gislane: That's it exactly. Somehow the Gleeman is able to draw kids into a world that he implants in their minds. I don't know how he does it, but I've come here to try and stop him before he wrecks any more lives. And if I can succeed, maybe somehow Natasha will be freed from the spell that holds her.
Clef: Look, I can appreciate the tragedy this must have been for your town, and for you. But aren't you spooking yourself out with all this talk of dreamworlds and living fairylands? If that was true, how come you were the only one to see it? I'm really sorry your sister has been so badly traumatised, but I think you're getting off balance over the whole thing. Chasing a harmless juggler around the countryside in revenge for something that was sheer bad luck and coincidence.
Gislane: Harmless!! He is evil and totally unscrupulous. He will do it again, I know. Haven't you already seen the evidence?
Clef: Evidence!? A few kids getting carried away in a game. That's no evidence. How can you be so sure when no one else saw anything?
Gislane: The wind .... I just know.
Clef: I would strongly suggest you go back home and care for your sister and leave off this witch-hunt before you turn this town against you. And please, above all, don't touch my flute again. Eating will be a lean enough experience tonight as it is. (Exits.)
Gislane: (To his departing back) You must see. Please, take the scales from your eyes. How do I make them understand? Who will believe me?
Cameron: I do. I know it's not much, but it's a start, isn't it?
Gislane: I can't ask you to join this battle.
Cameron: You're not asking, I'm volunteering. I don't exactly have a lot of friends here, but if what you say is true, then you're right - we have got to do something about it.
Gislane: Oh Cameron. A girl who listens to the wind, and a boy who is lame. It's not much of an army, is it? And without a piper, we don't even have a brave song to head off to war. Let us hope we will not be sunk for want of a song.
© John McNeil 1993
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