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The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at dawn a hot gust of
wind blows across the colorless sea. The KNIGHT, Antonius Block, lies
prostrate on some spruce branches spread over the fine sand. His eyes are wide-open and bloodshot from lack of sleep.
Nearby his squire JONS is snoring loudly. He has fallen asleep where he collapsed, at the edge of the forest among the wind-gnarled fir trees. His open mouth gapes towards the dawn, and unearthly sounds come from his throat.
At the sudden gust of wind, the horses stir, stretching their parched muzzles towards the sea. They are as thin and worn as their masters.
The KNIGHT has risen and waded into the shallow water, where he rinses his sunburned face and blistered lips. JONS rolls over to face the forest and the darkness. He moans in his sleep and vigorously scratches the stubbled hair on his head. A scar stretches diagonally across his scalp, as white as lightning against the grime.
The KNIGHT returns to the beach and falls on his knees. With his eyes closed and brow furrowed, he says his morning prayers. His hands are clenched together and his lips form the words silently. His face is sad and bitter. He opens his eyes and stares directly into the morning sun which wallows up from the misty sea like some bloated, dying fish. The sky is gray and immobile, a dome of lead. A cloud hangs mute and dark over the western horizon. High up, barely visible, a seagull floats on motionless wings. Its cry is weird and restless. The KNIGHT'S large gray horse lifts its head and whinnies. Antonius Block turns around.
Behind him stands a man in black. His face is very pale and he keeps his hands hidden in the wide folds of his cloak.
KNIGHT Who are you?
DEATH I am Death.
KNIGHT Have you come for me?
DEATH I have been walking by your side for a long time.
KNIGHT That I know.
DEATH Are you prepared?
My body is frightened, but I am not.
DEATH Well, there is no shame in that.
The KNIGHT has risen to his feet. He shivers. DEATH opens his cloak to place it around the KNIGHT'S shoulders.
KNIGHT Wait a moment.
DEATH That's what they all say. I grant no reprieves.
KNIGHT You play chess, don't you?
A gleam of interest kindles in DEATH'S eyes.
DEATH How did you know that?
KNIGHT I have seen it in paintings and heard it sung in ballads.
DEATH Yes, in fact I'm quite a good chess player.
KNIGHT But you can't be better than I am.
The KNIGHT rummages in the big black bag which he keeps beside him and takes out a small chessboard. He places it carefully on the ground and begins setting up the pieces.
DEATH Why do you want to play chess with me?
KNIGHT I have my reasons.
DEATH That is your privilege.
KNIGHT The condition is that I may live as long as I hold out against you. If I win, you will release me. Is it agreed?
The KNIGHT holds out his two fists to DEATH, who smiles at him suddenly. DEATH points to one of the KNIGHT'S hands; it contains a black pawn.
KNIGHT You drew black!
DEATH Very appropriate. Don't you think so?
The KNIGHT and DEATH bend over the chessboard. After a moment of hesitation, Antonius Block opens with his king's pawn. DEATH moves, also using his king's pawn.
The morning breeze has died down. The restless movement of the sea has ceased, the water is silent. The sun rises from the haze and its glow whitens. The sea gull floats under the dark cloud, frozen in space. The day is already scorchingly hot.
The squire JONS is awakened by a kick in the rear. Opening his eyes, he grunts like a pig and yawns broadly. He scrambles to his feet, saddles his horse and picks up the heavy pack.
The KNIGHT slowly rides away from the sea, into the forest near the beach and up towards the road. He pretends not to hear the morning prayers of his squire. JONS soon overtakes him.
Between a strumpet's legs to lie Is the life for which I sigh.
He stops and looks at his master, but the KNIGHT hasn't heard JON'S song, or he pretends that he hasn't. To give further vent to his irritation, JONS sings even louder.
Up above is God Almighty So very far away, But your brother the Devil You will meet on every level.
JONS finally gets the KNIGHT'S attention. He stops singing. The KNIGHT, his horse, JONS'S own horse and JONS himself know all the songs by heart. The long, dusty journey from the Holy Land hasn't made them any cleaner. They ride across a mossy heath which stretches towards the horizon. Beyond it, the sea lies shimmering in the white glitter of the sun.
JONS In Frjestad everyone was talking about evil omens and other horrible things. Two horses had eaten each other in the night, and, in the churchyard, graves had been opened and the remains of corpses scattered all over the place. Yesterday afternoon there were as many as four suns in the heavens.
The KNIGHT doesn't answer. Close by, a scrawny dog is whining, crawling towards its master, who is sleeping in a sitting position in the blazing hot sun. A black cloud of flies clusters around his head and shoulders. The miserable-looking dog whines incessantly as it lies flat on its stomach, wagging its tail.
JONS dismounts and approaches the sleeping man. JONS addresses him politely. When he doesn't receive an answer, he walks up to the man in order to shake him awake. He bends over the sleeping man's shoulder, but quickly pulls back his hand. The man falls backward on the heath, his face turned towards JONS. It is a corpse, staring at JONS with empty eye sockets and white teeth.
JONS remounts and overtakes his master. He takes a drink from his waterskin and hands the bag to the knight.
KNIGHT Well, did he show you the way?
JONS Not exactly.
KNIGHT What did he say?
KNIGHT Was he a mute?
JONS No, sir, I wouldn't say that. As a matter of fact, he was quite eloquent.
JONS He was eloquent, all right. The trouble is that what he had to say was most depressing.
One moment you're bright and lively, The next you're crawling with worms. Fate is a terrible villain And you, my friend, its poor victim.
KNIGHT Must you sing?
The KNIGHT hands his squire a piece of bread, which keeps him quiet for a while. The sun burns down on them cruelly, and beads of perspiration trickle down their faces. There is a cloud of dust around the horses' hooves. They ride past an inlet and along verdant groves. In the shade of some large trees stands a bulging wagon covered with a mottled canvas. A horse whinnies nearby and is answered by the KNIGHT'S horse. The two travelers do not stop to rest under the shade of the trees but continue riding until they disappear at the bend of the road.
In his sleep, JOF the juggler hears the neighing of his horse and the answer from a distance. He tries to go on sleeping, but it is stifling inside the wagon. The rays of the sun filtering through the canvas cast streaks of light across the face of JOF'S wife, MIA, and their one-year-old son, MIKAEL, who are sleeping deeply and peacefully. Near them, JONAS SKAT, an older man, snores loudly.
JOF crawls out of the wagon. There is still a spot of shade under the big trees. He takes a drink of water, gargles, stretches and talks to his scrawny old horse.
JOF Good morning. Have you had breakfast? I can't eat grass, worse luck. Can't you teach me how? We're a little hard up. People aren't very interested in juggling in this part of the country.
He has picked up the juggling balls and slowly begins to toss them. Then he stands on his head and cackles like a hen. Suddenly he stops and sits down with a look of utter astonishment on his face. The wind causes the trees to sway slightly. The leaves stir and there is a soft murmur. The flowers and the grass bend gracefully, and somewhere a bird raises its voice in a long warble.
JOF'S face breaks into a smile and his eyes fill with tears. With a dazed expression he sits flat on his behind while the grass rustles softly, and bees and butterflies hum around his head. The unseen bird continues to sing.
Suddenly the breeze stops blowing, the bird stops singing, JOF'S smile fades, the flowers and grass wilt in the heat. The old horse is still walking around grazing and swishing its tail to ward off the flies.
JOF comes to life. He rushes into the wagon and shakes MIA awake.
JOF Mia, wake up. Wake up! Mia, I've just seen something. I've got to tell you about it!
MIA (sits up, terrified)
What is it? What's happened?
JOF Listen, I've had a vision. No, it wasn't a vision. It was real, absolutely real.
MIA Oh, so you've had a vision again!
MIA's voice is filled with gentle irony. JOF shakes his head and grabs her by the shoulders.
JOF But I did see her!
MIA Whom did you see?
JOF The Virgin Mary.
MIA can't help being impressed by her husband's fervor. She lowers her voice.
MIA Did you really see her?
JOF She was so close to me that I could have touched her. She had a golden crown on her head and wore a blue gown with flowers of gold. She was barefoot and had small brown hands with which she was holding the Child and teaching Him to walk. And then she saw me watching her and she smiled at me. My eyes filled with tears and when I wiped them away, she had disappeared. And everything became so still in the sky and on the earth. Can you understand ...
MIA What an imagination you have.
JOF You don't believe me! But it was real, I tell you, not the kind of reality you see every day, but a different kind.
Perhaps it was the kind of reality you told us about when you saw the Devil painting our wagon wheels red, using his tail as a brush.
Why must you keep bringing that up?
And then you discovered that you had red paint under your nails.
JOF Well, perhaps that time I made it up. (eagerly) I did it just so that you would believe in my other visions. The real ones. The ones that I didn't make up.
You have to keep your visions under control.
Otherwise people will think that you're a half-wit, which you're not. At least not yet -- as far as I know. But, come to think of it, I'm not so sure about that.
I didn't ask to have visions. I can't help it if voices speak to me, if the Holy Virgin appears before me and angels and devils like my company.
SKAT (sits up)
Haven't I told you once and for all that I need my morning's sleep! I have asked you politely, pleaded with you, but nothing works. So now I'm telling you to shut up!
His eyes are popping with rage. He turns over and continues snoring where he left off. MIA and JOF decide that it would be wisest to leave the wagon. They sit down on a crate. MIA has MIKAEL on her knees. He is naked and squirms vigorously. JOF sits close to his wife. Slumped over, he still looks dazed and astonished. A dry, hot wind blows from the sea.
MIA If we would only get some rain. Everything is burned to cinders. We won't have anything to eat this winter.
We'll get by.
He says this smilingly, with a casual air. He stretches and laughs contentedly.
MIA I want Mikael to have a better life than ours.
JOF Mikael will grow up to be a great acrobat -- or a juggler who can do the one impossible trick.
MIA What's that?
JOF To make one of the balls stand absolutely still
in the air.
MIA But that's impossible.
JOF Impossible for us -- but not for him.
MIA You're dreaming again.
She yawns. The sun, has made her a bit drowsy and she lies down on the grass.
JOF does likewise and puts one arm around his wife's shoulders.
JOF I've composed a song. I made it up during the night when I couldn't sleep. Do you want to hear it?
MIA Sing it. I'm very curious.
JOF I have to sit up first.
He sits with his legs crossed, makes a dramatic gesture with his arms and sings in a loud voice.
On a lily branch a dove is perched Against the summer sky, She sings a wondrous song of Christ And there's great joy on high.
He interrupts his singing in order to be complimented by his wife.
JOF Mia! Are you asleep?
MIA It's a lovely song.
JOF I haven't finished yet.
MIA I heard it, but I think I'll sleep a little longer. You can sing the rest to me afterwards.
JOF All you do is sleep.
JOF is a bit offended and glances over at his son, MIKAEL, but he is also sleeping soundly in the high grass. JONAS SKAT comes out from the wagon. He yawns; he is very tired and in a bad humor. In his hands he holds a crudely made death mask.
SKAT Is this supposed to be a mask for an actor? If the priests didn't pay us so well, I'd say no thank you.
JOF Are you going to play Death?
SKAT Just think, scaring decent folk out of their wits with this kind of nonsense.
JOF When are we supposed to do this play?
SKAT At the saints' feast in Elsinore. We're going to perform right on the church steps, believe it or not.
JOF Wouldn't it be better to play something bawdy? People like it better, and, besides, it's more fun.
SKAT Idiot. There's a rumor going around that there's a terrible pestilence in the land, and now the priests are prophesying sudden death and all sorts of spiritual agonies.
MIA is awake now and lies contentedly on her back, sucking on a blade of grass and looking smilingly at her husband.
JOF And what part am I to play?
SKAT You're such a damn fool, so you're going to be the Soul of Man.
JOF That's a bad part, of course.
SKAT Who makes the decisions around here? Who is the
director of this company anyhow?
SKAT, grinning, holds the mask in front of his face and recites dramatically.
SKAT Bear this in mind, you fool. Your life hangs by a thread. Your time is short. (in his usual voice) Are the women going to like me in this getup? Will I make a hit? No! I feel as if I were dead already.
He stumbles into the wagon muttering furiously. JOF sits, leaning forward. MIA lies beside him on the grass.
JOF What is it?
MIA Sit still. Don't move.
JOF What do you mean?
MIA Don't say anything.
JOF I'm as silent as a grave.
MIA Shh! I love you.
Waves of heat envelop the gray stone church in a strange white mist. The KNIGHT dismounts and enters. After tying up the horses, JONS slowly follows him in. When he comes onto the church porch he stops in surprise. To the right of the entrance there is a large fresco on the wall, not quite finished. Perched on a crude scaffolding is a PAINTER wearing a red cap and paint-stained clothes. He has one brush in his mouth, while with another in his hand he outlines a small, terrified human face amidst a sea of other faces.
JONS What is this supposed to represent?
PAINTER The Dance of Death.
JONS And that one is Death?
PAINTER Yes, he dances off with all of them.
JONS Why do you paint such nonsense?
PAINTER I thought it would serve to remind people that they must die.
JONS Well, it's not going to make them feel any happier.
PAINTER Why should one always make people happy? It might not be a bad idea to scare them a little once in a while.
JONS Then they'll close their eyes and refuse to look at your painting.
PAINTER Oh, they'll look. A skull is almost more interesting than a naked woman.
JONS If you do scare them ...
PAINTER They'll think.
JONS And if they think ...
PAINTER They'll become still more scared.
JONS And then they'll run right into the arms of the priests.
PAINTER That's not my business.
JONS You're only painting your Dance of Death.
PAINTER I'm only painting things as they are. Everyone else can do as he likes.
JONS Just think how some people will curse you.
PAINTER Maybe. But then I'll paint something amusing for them to look at. I have to make a living -- at least until the plague takes me.
JONS The plague. That sounds horrible.
PAINTER You should see the boils on a diseased man's throat. You should see how his body shrivels up so that his legs look like knotted strings -- like the man I've painted over there.
The PAINTER points with his brush. JONS sees a small human form writhing in the grass, its eyes turned upwards in a frenzied look of horror and pain.
JONS That looks terrible.
PAINTER It certainly does. He tries to rip out the boil, he bites his hands, tears his veins open with his fingernails and his screams can be heard everywhere. Does that scare you?
JONS Scare? Me? You don't know me. What are the horrors you've painted over there?
PAINTER The remarkable thing is that the poor creatures
think the pestilence is the Lord's punishment. Mobs of people who call themselves Slaves of Sin are swarming over the country, flagellating themselves and others, all for the glory of God.
JONS Do they really whip themselves?
PAINTER Yes, it's a terrible sight. I crawl into a ditch and hide when they pass by.
JONS Do you have any brandy? I've been drinking water all day and it's made me as thirsty as a camel in the desert.
PAINTER I think I frightened you after all.
JONS sits down with the PAINTER, who produces a jug of brandy.
The KNIGHT is kneeling before a small altar. It is dark and quiet around him.
The air is cool and musty. Pictures of saints look down on him with stony eyes. Christ's face is turned upwards, His mouth open as if in a cry of anguish. On the ceiling beam there is a representation of a hideous devil spying on a miserable human being. The KNIGHT hears a sound from the confession booth and approaches it. The face of DEATH appears behind the grille for an instant, but the KNIGHT doesn't see him.
KNIGHT I want to talk to you as openly as I can, but my heart is empty.
DEATH doesn't answer.
KNIGHT The emptiness is a mirror turned towards my own face. I see myself in it, and I am filled with fear and disgust.
DEATH doesn't answer.
KNIGHT Through my indifference to my fellow men, I have isolated myself from their company. Now I live in a world of phantoms. I am imprisoned in my dreams and fantasies.
DEATH And yet you don't want to die.
KNIGHT Yes, I do.
DEATH What are you waiting for?
KNIGHT I want knowledge.
DEATH You want guarantees?
KNIGHT Call it whatever you like. Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles?
DEATH doesn't answer.
KNIGHT How can we have faith in those who believe when we can't have faith in ourselves? What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren't able to? And what is to become of those who neither want to nor are capable of believing?
The KNIGHT stops and waits for a reply, but no one speaks or answers him. There is complete silence.
KNIGHT Why can't I kill God within me? Why does He live on in this painful and humiliating way even though I curse Him and want to tear Him out of my heart? Why, in spite of everything, is He a baffling reality that I can't shake off? Do you hear me?
DEATH Yes, I hear you.
KNIGHT I want knowledge, not faith, not suppositions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand towards me, reveal Himself and speak to me.
DEATH But He remains silent.
I call out to Him in the dark but no one seems to be there.
DEATH Perhaps no one is there.
KNIGHT Then life is an outrageous horror. No one can live in the face of death, knowing that all is nothingness.
DEATH Most people never reflect about either death or the futility of life.
KNIGHT But one day they will have to stand at that last moment of life and look towards the darkness.
DEATH When that day comes ...
KNIGHT In our fear, we make an image, and that image we call God.
DEATH You are worrying ...
KNIGHT Death visited me this morning. We are playing chess together. This reprieve gives me the chance to arrange an urgent matter.
DEATH What matter is that?
KNIGHT My life has been a futile pursuit, a wandering, a great deal of talk without meaning. I feel no bitterness or self-reproach because the lives of most people are very much like this. But I will use my reprieve for one meaningful deed.
DEATH Is that why you are playing chess with Death?
KNIGHT He is a clever opponent, but up to now I haven't lost a single man.
DEATH How will you outwit Death in your game?
KNIGHT I use a combination of the bishop and the knight which he hasn't yet discovered. In the next move I'll shatter one of his flanks.
DEATH I'll remember that.
DEATH shows his face at the grill of the confession booth for a moment but disappears instantly.
KNIGHT You've tricked and cheated me! But we'll meet again, and I'll find a way.
We'll meet at the inn, and there we'll continue playing.
The KNIGHT raises his hand and looks at it in the sunlight which comes through the tiny window.
KNIGHT This is my hand. I can move it, feel the blood pulsing through it. The sun is still high in the sky and I, Antonius Block, am playing chess with Death.
He makes a fist of his hand and lifts it to his temple.
Meanwhile, JONS and the PAINTER have got drunk and are talking animatedly together.
JONS Me and my master have been abroad and have just come home. Do you understand, you little pictor?
PAINTER The Crusade.
Precisely. For ten years we sat in the Holy Land and let snakes bite us, flies sting us, wild animals eat us, heathens butcher us, the wine poison us, the women give us lice, the lice devour us, the fevers rot us, all for the Glory of God. Our crusade was such madness that only a real idealist could have thought it up. But what you said about the plague was horrible.
PAINTER It's worse than that.
JONS Ah, me. No matter which way you turn, you have your rump behind you. That's the truth.
PAINTER The rump behind you, the rump behind you there's a profound truth.
JONS paints a small figure which is supposed to represent himself.
JONS This is squire Jns. He grins at Death, mocks the Lord, laughs at himself and leers at the girls. His world is a Jnsworld, believable only to himself, ridiculous to all including himself, meaningless to Heaven and of no interest to Hell.
The KNIGHT walks by, calls to his squire and goes out into the bright sunshine. JONS manages to set himself down from the scaffolding.
Outside the church, four soldiers and a monk are in the process of putting a woman in the stocks. Her face is pale and child-like, her head has been shaved, and her knuckles are bloody and broken. Her eyes are wide open, yet she doesn't appear to be fully conscious.
JONS and the KNIGHT stop and watch in silence. The soldiers are working quickly and skillfully, but they seem frightened and dejected. The monk mumbles from a small book. One of the soldiers picks up a wooden bucket and with his hand begins to smear a bloody paste on the wall of the church and around the woman. JONS holds his nose.
JONS That soup of yours has a hell of a stink. What is it good for?
SOLDIER She has had carnal intercourse with the Evil One.
He whispers this with a horrified face and continues to splash the sticky mess on the wall.
JONS And now she's in the stocks.
SOLDIER She will be burned tomorrow morning at the parish boundary. But we have to keep the Devil away from the rest of us.
JONS (holding his nose)
And you do that with this stinking mess?
SOLDIER It's the best remedy: blood mixed with the bile of a big black dog. The Devil can't stand the smell.
JONS Neither can I.
JONS walks over towards the horses. The KNIGHT stands for a few, moments looking at the young girl. She is almost a child. Slowly she turns her eyes towards him.
KNIGHT Have you seen the Devil?
The MONK stops reading and raises his head.
MONK You must not talk to her.
KNIGHT Can that be so dangerous?
MONK I don't know, but she is believed to have caused the pestilence with which we are affected.
KNIGHT I understand.
He nods resignedly and walks away. The young woman starts to moan as though she were having a horrible nightmare. The sound of her cries follows the two riders for a considerable distance down the road.
The sun stands high in the sky, like a red ball of fire. The waterskin is empty and JONS looks for a well where he can fill it.
They approach a group of peasant cottages at the edge of the forest. JONS ties up the horses, slings the skin over his shoulder and walks along the path towards the nearest cottage. As always, his movements are light and almost soundless. The door to the cottage is open. He stops outside, but when no one appears he enters. It is very dark inside and his foot touches a soft object. He looks down. Beside the whitewashed fireplace, a woman is lying with her face to the ground.
At the sound of approaching steps, JONS quickly hides behind the door. A man comes down a ladder from the loft. He is broad and thick-set. His eyes are black and his face is pale and puffy. His clothes are well cut but dirty and in rags. He carries a cloth sack. Looking around, he goes into the inner room, bends over the bed, tucks something into the bag, slinks along the walls, looking on the shelves, finds something else which he tucks in his bag.
Slowly he re-enters the outer room, bends over the dead woman and carefully slips a ring from her finger. At that moment a young woman comes through the door. She stops and stares at the stranger.
RAVEL Why do you look so surprised? I steal from the dead. These days it's quite a lucrative enterprise.
The GIRL makes a movement as if to run away.
RAVEL You're thinking of running to the village and telling. That wouldn't serve any purpose. Each of us has to save his own skin. It's as simple as that.
GIRL Don't touch me.
RAVAL Don't try to scream. There's no one around to hear you, neither God nor man.
Slowly he closes the door behind the GIRL. The stuffy room is now in almost total darkness. But JONS becomes clearly visible.
JONS I recognize you, although it's a long time since we met. Your name is Raval, from the theological college at Roskilde. You are Dr. Mirabilis, Coelestis et Diabilis.
RAVAL smiles uneasily and looks around.
JONS Am I not right?
The GIRL stands immobile.
JONS You were the one who, ten years ago, convinced my master of the necessity to join a better-
class crusade to the Holy Land.
RAVAL looks around.
JONS You look uncomfortable. Do you have a stomach-
RAVAL smiles anxiously.
JONS When I see you, I suddenly understand the meaning of these ten years, which previously seemed to me such a waste. Our life was too good and we were too satisfied with ourselves. The Lord wanted to punish us for our complacency. That is why He sent you to spew out your holy venom and poison the knight.
RAVEL I acted in good faith.
JONS But now you know better, don't you? Because now you have turned into a thief. A more fitting and rewarding occupation for scoundrels. Isn't that so?
With a quick movement he knocks the knife out of RAVAL'S hand, gives him a kick so that he falls on the floor and is about to finish him off. Suddenly the GIRL screams. JONS stops and makes a gesture of generosity with his hand.
JONS By all means. I'm not bloodthirsty.
He bends over RAVAL.
RAVEL Don't beat me.
JONS I don't have the heart to touch you, Doctor. But remember this: the next time we meet, I'll brand your face the way one does with thieves. (he rises)
What I really came for is to get my waterskin filled.
GIRL We have a deep well with cool, fresh water. Come, I'll show you.
They walk out of the house. RAVAL lies still for a few moments, then he rises slowly and looks around. When no one is in sight, he takes his bag and steals away. JONS quenches his thirst and fills his bag with water. The GIRL helps him.
JONS Jns is my name. I am a pleasant and talkative young man who has never had anything but kind thoughts and has only done beautiful and noble deeds. I'm kindest of all to young women. With them, there is no limit to my kindness.
He embraces her and tries to kiss her, but she holds herself back. Almost immediately he loses interest, hoists the waterbag on his shoulder and pats the GIRL on the cheek.
JONS Goodbye, my girl. I could very well have raped you, but between you and me, I'm tired of that kind of love. It runs a little dry in the end.
He laughs kindly and walks away from her. When he has walked a short distance he turns; the GIRL is still there.
JONS Now that I think of it, I will need a housekeeper. Can you prepare good food? (the GIRL nods)
As far as I know, I'm still a married man, but
I have high hopes that my wife is dead by now.
That's why I need a housekeeper. (the GIRL doesn't answer but gets up)
The devil with it! Come along and don't stand there staring. I've saved your life, so you owe me a great deal.
She begins walking towards him, her head bent. He doesn't wait for her but walks towards the KNIGHT, who patiently awaits his squire.
The Embarrassment Inn lies in the eastern section of the province. The plague has not yet reached this area on its way along the coast.
The actors have placed their wagon under a tree in the yard of the inn. Dressed in colorful costumes, they perform a farce.
The spectators watch the performance, commenting on it noisily. There are
merchants with fat, beer-sweaty faces, apprentices and journeymen, farmhands and milkmaids. A whole flock of children perch in the trees around the wagon.
The KNIGHT and his squire have sat down in the shadow of a wall. They drink beer and doze in the midday heat. The GIRL from the deserted village sleeps at JONS'S side. SKAT beats the drums, JOF blows the flute, MIA performs a gay and lively dance. They perspire under the hot white sun. When they have finished SKAT comes forward and bows.
SKAT Noble ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your interest. Please remain standing for a
little longer, or sit on the ground, because we are now going to perform a tragedia about an unfaithful wife, her jealous husband, and the handsome lover -- that's me.
MIA and JOF have quickly changed costumes and again step out on the stage. They bow, to the public.
SKAT Here is the husband. Here is the wife. If you'll shut up over there, you'll see something splendid. As I said, I play the lover and I haven't entered yet. That's why I'm going to hide behind the curtain for the time being. (he wipes the sweat from his forehead)
It's damned hot. I think we'll have a thunderstorm.
He places his leg in front of JOF as if to trip him, raises MIA's skirt, makes a face as if he could see all the wonders of the world underneath it, and disappears behind the gaudily patched curtains.
SKAT is very handsome, now that he can see himself in the reflection of a tin washbowl. His hair is tightly curled, his eyebrows are beautifully bushy, glittering earrings vie for equal attention with his teeth, and his cheeks are flushed rose red.
He sits out in back on the tailboard of the wagon, dangling his legs and whistling to himself.
In the meantime JOF and MIA play their tragedy; it is not, however, received with great acclaim. SKAT suddenly discovers that someone is watching him as he gazes contentedly into the tin bowl. A woman stands there, stately in both height and volume.
SKAT frowns, toys with his small dagger and occasionally throws a roguish but fiery glance at the beautiful visitor. She suddenly discovers that one of her shoes doesn't quite fit. She leans down to fix it and in doing so allows her generous bosom to burst out of its prison -- no more than honor and chastity allow, but still enough so that the actor with his experienced eye immediately sees that there are ample rewards to be had here.
Now she comes a little closer, kneels down and opens a bundle containing several dainty morsels and a skin filled with red wine. JONAS SKAT manages not to fall off the wagon in his excitement. Standing on the steps of the wagon, he supports himself against a nearby tree, crosses his legs and bows.
The woman quietly bites into a chicken leg dripping with fat. At this moment the actor is stricken by a radiant glance full of lustful appetites.
When he sees this look, SKAT makes an instantaneous decision, jumps down from the wagon and kneels in front of the blushing damsel.
She becomes weak and faint from his nearness, looks at him with a glassy glance and breathes heavily. SKAT doesn't neglect to press kisses on her small, chubby hands. The sun shines brightly and small birds make noises in the bushes.
Now she is forced to sit back; her legs seem unwilling to support her any longer. Bewildered, she singles out another chicken leg from the large sack of food and holds it up in front of SKAT with an appealing and triumphant expression, as if it were her maidenhood being offered as a prize.
SKAT hesitates momentarily, but he is still the strategist. He lets the chicken leg fall to the grass, and murmurs in the woman's rosy ear.
His words seem to please her. She puts her arms around the actor's neck and pulls him to her with such fierceness that both of them lose their balance and tumble down on the soft grass. The small birds take to their wings with frightened shrieks.
JOF stands in the hot sun with a flickering lantern in his hand. MIA pretends to be asleep on a bench which has been pulled forward on the stage.
JOF Night and moonlight now prevail Here sleeps my wife so frail ...
VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC
Does she snore?
JOF May I point out that this is a tragedy, and in tragedies one doesn't snore.
VOICE FROM THE PUBLIC
I think she should snore anyhow.
This opinion causes mirth in the audience. JOF becomes slightly confused and goes out of character, but MIA keeps her head and begins snoring.
JOF Night and moonlight now prevail.
There snores -- I mean sleeps -- my wife so frail. Jealous I am, as never before, I hide myself behind this door. Faithful is she To her lover -- not me. He soon comes a-stealing To awaken her lusty feeling. I shall now kill him dead For cuckolding me in my bed. There he comes in the moonlight, His white legs shining bright. Quiet as a mouse, here I'll lie, Tell him not that he's about to die.
JOF hides himself. MIA immediately ends her snoring and sits up, looking to the left.
MIA Look, there he comes in the night My lover, my heart's delight.
She becomes silent and looks wide-eyed in front of her. The mood in the yard in front of the inn has, up to now, been rather lighthearted despite the heat.
Now a rapid change occurs. People who had been laughing and chattering fall silent. Their faces seem to pale under their sunbrowned skins, the children stop their games and stand with gaping mouths and frightened eyes.
JOF steps out in front of the curtain. His painted face bears an expression of horror. MIA has risen with MIKAEL in her arms. Some of the women in the yard have fallen on their knees, others hide their faces, many begin to mutter half-forgotten prayers.
All have turned their faces towards the white road. Now a shrill song is heard. It is frenzied, almost a scream. A crucified Christ sways above the hilltop.
The cross-bearers soon come into sight. They are Dominican monks, their hoods pulled down over their faces. More and more of them follow, carrying litters with heavy coffins or clutching holy relics, their hands stretched out spasmodically. The dust wells up around their black hoods; the censers sway and emit a thick, ashen smoke which smells of rancid herbs.
After the line of monks comes another procession. It is a column of men, boys, old men, women, girls, children. All of them have steel-edged scourges in their hands with which they whip themselves and each other, howling ecstatically. They twist in pain; their eyes bulge wildly; their lips are gnawed to shreds and dripping with foam. They have been seized by madness. They bite their own hands and arms, whip each other in violent, almost rhythmic outbursts. Throughout it all the shrill song howls from their bursting throats. Many sway and fall, lift themselves up again, support each
other and help each other to intensify the scourging.
Now the procession pauses at the crossroads in front of the inn. The monks fall on their knees, hiding their faces with clenched hands, arms pressed tightly together. Their song never stops. The Christ figure on its timbered cross is raised above the heads of the crowd. It is not Christ triumphant, but the suffering Jesus with the sores, the blood, the hammered nails and the face in convulsive pain. The Son of God, nailed on the wood of the cross, suffering scorn and shame.
The penitents have now sunk down in the dirt of the road. They collapse where they stood like slaughtered cattle. Their screams rise with the song of the monks, through misty clouds of incense, towards the white fire of the sun.
A large square monk rises from his knees and reveals his face, which is red-
brown from the sun. His eyes glitter; his voice is thick with impotent scorn.
God has sentenced us to punishment. We shall all perish in the black death. You, standing there like gaping cattle, you who sit there in your glutted complacency, do you know that this may be your last hour? Death stands right behind you. I can see how his crown gleams in the sun. His scythe flashes as he raises it above your heads. Which one of you shall he strike first? You there, who stand staring like a goat, will your mouth be twisted into the last unfinished gasp before nightfall? And you, woman, who bloom with life and self-
satisfaction, will you pale and become extinguished before the morning dawns? You back
there, with your swollen nose and stupid grin, do you have another year left to dirty the earth with your refuse? Do you know, you insensible fools, that you shall die today or tomorrow, or the next day, because all of you have been sentenced? Do you hear what I say? Do you hear the word? You have been sentenced, sentenced!
The MONK falls silent, looking around with a bitter face and a cold, scornful
glance. Now, he clenches his hands, straddles the ground and turns his face
Lord have mercy on us in our humiliation! Don't turn your face from us in loathing and contempt, but be merciful to us for the sake of your son, Jesus Christ.
He makes the sign of the cross over the crowd and then begins a new song in a
strong voice. The monks rise and join in the song. As if driven by some superhuman force, the penitents begin to whip themselves again, still wailing and moaning.
The procession continues. New members have joined the rear of the column; others who were unable to go on lie weeping in the dust of the road. JONS the squire drinks his beer.
JONS This damned ranting about doom. Is that food for the minds of modern people? Do they really expect us to take them seriously?
The KNIGHT grins tiredly.
JONS Yes, now you grin at me, my lord. But allow me to point out that I've either read, heard or experienced most of the tales which we people tell each other.
KNIGHT (yawns) Yes, yes.
JONS Even the ghost stories about God the Father, the angels, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost --
all these I've accepted without too much emotion.
He leans down over the GIRL as she crouches at his feet and pats her on the head. The KNIGHT drinks his beer silently.
My little stomach is my world, my head is my eternity, and my hands, two wonderful suns. My legs are time's damned pendulums, and my dirty feet are two splendid starting points for my philosophy. Everything is worth precisely as much as a belch, the only difference being that a belch is more satisfying.
The beer mug is empty. Sighing, JONS gets to his feet. The GIRL follows him like a shadow.
In the yard he meets a large man with a sooty face and a dark expression. He stops JONS with a roar.
JONS What are you screaming about?
PLOG I am Plog, the smith, and you are the squire Jns.
JONS That's possible.
PLOG Have you seen my wife?
JONS No, I haven't. But if I had seen her and she looked like you, I'd quickly forget that I'd seen her.
Well, in that case you haven't seen her.
JONS Maybe she's run off.
PLOG Do you know anything?
JONS I know quite a lot, but not about your wife. Go to the inn. Maybe they can help you.
The smith sighs sadly and goes inside.
The inn is very small and full of people eating and drinking to forget their newly aroused fears of eternity. In the open fireplace a roasting pig turns
on an iron spit. The sun shines outside the casement window, its sharp rays
piercing the darkness of the room, which is thick with fumes and
Yes, it's true! The plague is spreading along the west coast. People are dying like flies. Usually business would be good at this time of year, but, damn it, I've still got my whole stock unsold.
WOMAN They speak of the judgment day. And all these omens are terrible. Worms, chopped-off hands and other monstrosities began pouring out of an old woman, and down in the village another woman gave birth to a calf's head.
OLD MAN The day of judgment. Imagine.
It hasn't rained here for a month. We'll surely lose our crops.
And people are acting crazy, I'd say. They flee the country and carry the plague with them wherever they go.
OLD MAN The day of judgment. Just think, just think!
FARMER If it's as they say, I suppose a person should look after his house and try to enjoy life as long as he can.
WOMAN But there have been other things too, such things that can't even be spoken of. (whispers)
Things that mustn't be named -- but the priests say that the woman carries it between her legs and that's why she must cleanse herself.
OLD MAN Judgment day. And the Riders of the Apocalypse stand at the bend in the village road. I imagine they'll come on judgment night, at sundown.
WOMAN There are many who have purged themselves with
fire and died from it, but the priests say that it's better to die pure than to live for hell.
MERCHANT This is the end, yes, it is. No one says it out
loud, but all of us know that it's the end. And people are going mad from fear.
So you're afraid too.
Of course I'm afraid.
OLD MAN The judgment day becomes night, and the angels descend and the graves open. It will be terrible to see.
They whisper in low tones and sit close to each other.
PLOG, the smith, shoves his way into a place next to JOF, who is still dressed in his costume. Opposite him sits RAVAL, leaning slightly forward, his face perspiring heavily. RAVAL rolls an armlet out on the table.
RAVAL Do you want this armlet? You can have it cheap.
JOF I can't afford it.
RAVAL It's real silver.
JOF It's nice. But it's surely too expensive for me.
PLOG Excuse me, but has anyone here seen my wife?
JOF Has she disappeared?
PLOG They say she's run away.
JOF Has she deserted you?
PLOG With an actor.
JOF An actor! If she's got such bad taste, then I think you should let her go.
PLOG You're right. My first thought, of course, was to kill her.
JOF Oh. But to murder her, that's a terrible thing to do.
PLOG I'm also going to kill the actor.
JOF The actor?
PLOG Of course, the one she eloped with.
JOF What has he done to deserve that?
PLOG Are you stupid?
JOF The actor! Now I understand. There are too many of them, so even if he hasn't done anything in particular you ought to kill him merely because he's an actor.
PLOG You see, my wife has always been interested in the tricks of the theatre.
JOF And that turned out to be her misfortune.
PLOG Her misfortune, but not mine, because a person who's born unfortunate can hardly suffer from any further misfortune. Isn't that true?
Now RAVAL enters the discussion. He is slightly drunk and his voice is shrill and evil.
RAVAL Listen, you! You sit there and lie to the smith.
JOF I! A liar!
RAVAL You're an actor too and it's probably your partner who's run off with Plog's old lady.
PLOG Are you an actor too?
JOF An actor! Me! I wouldn't quite call myself that!
RAVAL We ought to kill you; it's only logical.
You're really funny.
RAVAL How strange -- you've turned pale. Have you anything on your conscience?
JOF You're funny. Don't you think he's funny? (to Plog)
Oh, you don't.
RAVAL Maybe we should mark you up a little with a knife, like they do petty scoundrels of your kind.
PLOG bangs his hands down on the table so that the dishes jump. He gets up.
What have you done with my wife?
The room becomes silent. JOF looks around, but there is no exit, no way to escape. He puts his hands on the table. Suddenly a knife flashes through the air and sinks into the table top between his fingers.
JOF snatches away his hands and raises his head. He looks half surprised, as if the truth had just become apparent to him.
JOF Do you want to hurt me? Why? Have I provoked someone, or got in the way? I'll leave right now and never come back.
JOF looks from one face to another, but no one seems ready to help him or come to his defense.
RAVAL Get up so everyone can hear you. Talk louder.
Trembling, JOF rises. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but not a word comes out.
RAVAL Stand on your head so that we can see how good an actor you are.
JOF gets up on the table and stands on his head. A hand pushes him forward so
that he collapses on the floor. PLOG rises, pulls him to his feet with one hand.
PLOG (shouts) What have you done with my wife?
PLOG beats him so furiously that JOF flies across the table. RAVAL leans over
RAVAL Don't lie there moaning. Get up and dance.
JOF I don't want to. I can't.
RAVEL Show us how you imitate a bear.
JOF I can't play a bear.
RAVAL Let's see if you can't after all.
RAVAL prods JOF lightly with the knife point. JOF gets up with cold sweat on his cheeks and forehead, frightened half to death. He begins to jump and hop on top of the tables, swinging his arms and legs and making grotesque faces.
Some laugh, but most of the people sit silently. JOF gasps as if his lungs were about to burst. He sinks to his knees, and someone pours beer over him.
RAVEL Up again! Be a good bear.
JOF I haven't done any harm. I haven't got the strength to play a bear any more.
At that moment the door opens and JONS enters. JOF sees his chance and steals
out. RAVAL intends to follow him, but suddenly stops. JONS and RAVAL look at each other.
JONS Do you remember what I was going to do to you if we met again?
RAVAL steps back without speaking.
JONS I'm a man who keeps his word.
JONS raises his knife and cuts RAVAL from forehead to cheek. RAVAL staggers towards the wall.
The hot day has become night. Singing and howling can be heard from the inn. In a hollow near the forest, the light still lingers. Hidden in the grass and
the shrubbery, nightingales sing and their voices echo through the stillness.
The players' wagon stands in a small ravine, and not far away the horse grazes on the dry grass. MIA has sat down in front of the wagon with her son in her arms. They play together and laugh happily.
Now, a soft gleam of light strokes the hilltops, a last reflection from the red clouds over the sea.
Not far from the wagon, the KNIGHT sits crouched over his chess game. He lifts his head.
The evening light moves across the heavy wagon wheels, across the woman and the child. The KNIGHT gets up.
MIA sees him and smiles. She holds up her struggling son, as if to amuse the KNIGHT.
KNIGHT What's his name?
KNIGHT How old is he?
MIA Oh, he'll soon be two.
KNIGHT He's big for his age.
MIA Do you think so? Yes, I guess he's rather big.
She puts the child down on the ground and half rises to shake out her red skirt. When she sits down again, the KNIGHT steps closer.
KNIGHT You played some kind of show this afternoon.
MIA Did you think it was bad?
KNIGHT You are more beautiful now without your face painted, and this gown is more becoming.
MIA You see, Jonas Skat has run off and left us, so we're in real trouble now.
KNIGHT Is that your husband?
Jonas! The other man is my husband. His name is Jof.
KNIGHT Oh, that one.
MIA And now there's only him and me. We'll have to start doing tricks again and that's more trouble than it's worth.
KNIGHT Do you do tricks also?
MIA We certainly do. And Jof is a very skillful juggler.
KNIGHT Is Mikael going to be an acrobat?
MIA Jof wants him to be.
KNIGHT But you don't.
MIA I don't know.
Perhaps he'll become a knight.
KNIGHT Let me assure you, that's no pleasure either.
MIA No, you don't look so happy.
MIA Are you tired?
KNIGHT I have dull company.
MIA Do you mean your squire?
KNIGHT No, not him.
MIA Who do you mean, then?
MIA I understand.
KNIGHT Do you, really?
MIA Yes, I understand rather well. I have often wondered why people torture themselves as often as they can. Isn't that so?
She nods energetically and the KNIGHT smiles seriously. Now the shrieks and the noise from the inn become louder. Black figures flicker across the grass mound. Someone collapses, gets up and runs. It is JOF. MIA stretches out her arms and receives him. He holds his hands in front of his face, moaning like a child, and his body sways. He kneels. MIA holds him close to her and sprinkles him with small, anxious questions: What have you done? How are you?
What is it? Does it hurt? What can I do? Have they been cruel to you? She runs for a rag, which she dips in water, and carefully bathes her husband's
dirty, bloody face.
Eventually a rather sorrowful visage emerges. Blood runs from a bruise on his forehead and his nose, and a tooth has been loosened, but otherwise JOF seems unhurt.
JOF Ouch, it hurts.
Why did you have to go there? And of course you drank.
MIA's anxiety has been replaced by a mild anger. She pats him a little harder than necessary.
JOF Ouch! I didn't drink anything.
Then I suppose you were boasting about the angels and devils you consort with. People don't like someone who has too many ideas and fantasies.
JOF I swear to you that I didn't say a word about angels.
You were, of course, busy singing and dancing. You can never stop being an actor. People also become angry at that, and you know it.
JOF doesn't answer but searches for the armlet. He holds it up in front of MIA with an injured expression.
JOF Look what I bought for you.
MIA You couldn't afford it.
But I got it anyhow.
The armlet glitters faintly in the twilight. MIA now pulls it across her wrist. They look at it in silence, and their faces soften. They look at each other, touch each other's hands. JOF puts his head against MIA'S shoulder and sighs.
JOF Oh, how they beat me.
MIA Why didn't you beat them back?
JOF I only become frightened and angry. I never get a chance to hit back. I can get angry, you know that. I roared like a lion.
Were they frightened?
JOF No, they just laughed.
Their son MIKAEL crawls over to them. JOF lies down on the ground and pulls his son on top of him. MIA gets down on her hands and knees and playfully sniffs at MIKAEL.
MIA Do you notice how good he smells?
JOF And he is so compact to hold. You're a sturdy one. A real acrobat's body.
He lifts MIKAEL up and holds him by the legs. MIA looks up suddenly, remembering the knight's presence.
MIA Yes, this is my husband, Jof.
JOF Good evening.
KNIGHT Good evening.
JOF becomes a little embarrassed and rises. All three of them look at one another silently.
KNIGHT I have just told your wife that you have a splendid son. He'll bring great joy to you.
JOF Yes, he's fine.
They become silent again.
JOF Have we nothing to offer the knight, Mia?
KNIGHT Thank you, I don't want anything.
I picked a basket of wild strawberries this afternoon. And we have a drop of milk fresh from a cow ...
JOF ... that we were allowed to milk. So, if you would like to partake of this humble fare, it would be a great honor.
MIA Please be seated and I'll bring the food.
They sit down. MIA disappears with MIKAEL.
KNIGHT Where are you going next?
JOF Up to the saints' feast at Elsinore.
KNIGHT I wouldn't advise you to go there.
JOF Why not, if I may ask?
KNIGHT The plague has spread in that direction, following the coast line south. It's said that people are dying by the tens of thousands.
JOF Really! Well, sometimes life is a little hard.
KNIGHT May I suggest ... (JOF looks at him, surprised)
... that you follow me through the forest tonight and stay at my home if you like. Or go along the east coast. You'll probably be safer there.
MIA has returned with a bowl of wild strawberries and the milk, places it between them and gives each of them a spoon.
JOF I wish you good appetite.
KNIGHT I humbly thank you.
MIA These are wild strawberries from the forest. I have never seen such large ones. They grow up there on the hillside. Notice how they smell!
She points with a spoon and smiles. The KNIGHT nods, as if he were pondering some profound thought. JOF eats heartily.
JOF Your suggestion is good, but I must think it over.
MIA It might be wise to have company going through the forest. It's said to be full of trolls and ghosts and bandits. That's what I've heard.
Yes, I'd say that it's not a bad idea, but I have to think about it. Now that Skat has left, I am responsible for the troupe. After all, I have become director of the whole company.
MIA (mimics) After all, I have become director of the whole company.
JONS comes walking slowly down the hill, closely followed by the GIRL. MIA points with her spoon.
MIA Do you want some strawberries?
JOF This man saved my life. Sit down, my friend, and let us be together.
MIA (stretches herself) Oh, how nice this is.
KNIGHT For a short while.
MIA Nearly always. One day is like another. There is nothing strange about that. The summer, of course, is better than the winter, because in summer you don't have to be cold. But spring is best of all.
JOF I have written a poem about the spring. Perhaps you'd like to hear it. I'll run and get my lyre.
He sprints towards the wagon.
MIA Not now, Jof. Our guests may not be amused by your songs.
JONS (politely) By all means. I write little songs myself. For example, I know a very funny song about a wanton fish which I doubt that you've heard yet.
The KNIGHT looks at him.
JONS You'll not get to hear it either. There are persons here who don't appreciate my art and I don't want to upset anyone. I'm a sensitive soul.
JOF has come out with his lyre, sits on a small, gaudy box and plucks at the instrument, humming quietly, searching for his melody. JONS yawns and lies down.
KNIGHT People are troubled by so much.
MIA It's always better when one is two. Have you no one of your own?
KNIGHT Yes, I think I had someone.
MIA And what is she doing now?
KNIGHT I don't know.
MIA You look so solemn. Was she your beloved?
KNIGHT We were newly married and we played together. We laughed a great deal. I wrote songs to her eyes, to her nose, to her beautiful little ears. We went hunting together and at night we danced. The house was full of life ...
MIA Do you want some more strawberries?
KNIGHT (shakes his head)
Faith is a torment, did you know that? It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.
MIA I don't understand what you mean.
KNIGHT Everything I've said seems meaningless and unreal while I sit here with you and your husband. How unimportant it all becomes suddenly.
He takes the bowl of milk in his hand and drinks deeply from it several times. Then he carefully puts it down and looks up, smiling.
MIA Now you don't look so solemn.
KNIGHT I shall remember this moment. The silence, the twilight, the bowls of strawberries and milk,
your faces in the evening light. Mikael sleeping, Jof with his lyre. I'll try to remember what we have talked about. I'll carry this memory between my hands as carefully as if it were a bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk.
He turns his face away and looks out towards the sea and the colorless gray sky.
KNIGHT And it will be an adequate sign -- it will be enough for me.
He rises, nods to the others and walks down towards the forest. JOF continues to play on his lyre. MIA stretches out on the grass.
The KNIGHT picks up his chess game and carries it towards the beach. It is quiet and deserted; the sea is still.
DEATH I have been waiting for you.
KNIGHT Pardon me. I was detained for a few moments. Because I revealed my tactics to you, I'm in retreat. It's your move.
DEATH Why do you look so satisfied?
KNIGHT That's my secret.
DEATH Of course. Now I take your knight.
KNIGHT You did the right thing.
DEATH Have you tricked me?
KNIGHT Of course. You fell right in the trap. Check!
DEATH What are you laughing at?
KNIGHT Don't worry about my laughter; save your king instead.
DEATH You're rather arrogant.
KNIGHT Our game amuses me.
DEATH It's your move. Hurry up. I'm a little pressed for time.
KNIGHT I understand that you've a lot to do, but you can't get out of our game. It takes time.
DEATH is about to answer him but stops and leans over the board. The KNIGHT smiles.
DEATH Are you going to escort the juggler and his wife through the forest? Those whose names are Jof and Mia and who have a small son?
KNIGHT Why do you ask?
DEATH Oh, no reason at all.
The KNIGHT suddenly stops smiling. DEATH looks at him scornfully.
Immediately after sundown, the little company gathers in the yard of the inn.
There is the KNIGHT, JONS and the GIRL, JOF and MIA in their wagon. Their son, MIKAEL, is already asleep. JONAS SKAT is still missing.
JONS goes into the inn to get provisions for the night journey and to have a last mug of beer. The inn is now empty and quiet except for a few farmhands and maidens who are eating their evening meal in a corner. At one of the small windows sits a lonely, hunched-over fellow, with a jug of brandy in his hands. His expression is very sad. Once in a while he is shaken by a gigantic sob. It is PLOG, the smith, who sits there and whimpers.
JONS God in heaven, isn't this Plog, the smith?
PLOG Good evening.
JONS Are you sitting here sniveling in loneliness?
PLOG Yes, yes, look at the smith. He moans like a rabbit.
JONS If I were in your boots, I'd be happy to get rid of a wife in such an easy way.
JONS pats the smith on the back, quenches his thirst with beer, and sits down by his side.
PLOG Are you married?
JONS I! A hundred times and more. I can't keep count of all my wives any longer. But it's often that way when you're a traveling man.
PLOG I can assure you that one wife is worse than a hundred, or else I've had worse luck than any poor wretch in this miserable world, which isn't impossible.
JONS Yes, it's hell with women and hell without them. So, however you look at it, it's still best to kill them off while it's most amusing.
PLOG Women's nagging, the shrieking of children and wet diapers, sharp nails and sharp words, blows and pokes, and the devil's aunt for a mother-in-law. And then, when one wants to sleep after a long day, there's a new song -- tears, whining and moans loud enough to wake the dead.
JONS nods delightedly. He has drunk deeply and talks with an old woman's voice.
JONS Why don't you kiss me good night?
PLOG (in the same way)
Why don't you sing a song for me?
JONS Why don't you love me the way you did when we first met?
PLOG Why don't you look at my new slip?
JONS You only turn your back and snore.
PLOG Oh hell!
JONS Oh hell. And now she's gone. Rejoice!
PLOG (furious) I'll snip their noses with pliers, I'll bash in their chests with a small hammer, I'll tap their heads ever so lightly with a sledge.
PLOG begins to cry loudly and his whole body sways in an enormous attack of sorrow. JONS looks at him with interest.
Look how he howls again.
PLOG Maybe I love her.
JONS So, maybe you love her! Then, you poor misguided ham shank, I'll tell you that love is another word for lust, plus lust, plus lust and a damn lot of cheating, falseness, lies and all kinds of other fooling around.
Yes, but it hurts anyway.
JONS Of course. Love is the blackest of all plagues, and if one could die of it, there would be some pleasure in love. But you almost always get over it.
No, no, not me.
JONS Yes, you too. There are only a couple of poor wretches who die of love once in a while. Love is as contagious as a cold in the nose. It eats away at your strength, your independence, your morale, if you have any. If everything is imperfect in this imperfect world, love is most perfect in its perfect imperfection.
PLOG You're happy, you with your oily words, and, besides, you believe your own drivel.
JONS Believe! Who said that I believed it? But I love to give good advice. If you ask me for advice you'll get two pieces for the price of one,