The Kings of Saranazett
By Lewis Worthington Smith
A Scene From the First Act
A drama of the awakening of the nearer Orient. In this scene
Nasrulla appears as the royal lover of the fig merchant's
daughter, Nourmahal. She has learned something of the ways of
the West, where even kings have but one acknowledged consort,
and she is not willing to be merely one of a number of queens.
Before the wall and gate enclosing Nourmahal's Garden. It is early
morning, just before dawn. Above the gleaming white of the wall's
sun-baked clay there is the deep green of the trees—the plane,
the poplar, the acacia, and, beyond the garden, mountains are
visible through the purple mist of the hour that waits for dawn,
slowly turning to rose as the rising sun warms their snowy
heights. At the left the wall extends out of sight behind a clump
of trees, but at the right it ends in a tower topped by a turret
with a rounded dome passing into a point. The space under the dome
is open, except for a railing, and is large enough for one or more
persons. It may be entered from the broad top of the wall through
a break in the railing. At the left, out from the trees and in
front of the wall, there is a well marked out with roughly piled
At the right, out of sight behind the trees that come almost to
the tower at the corner of the wall, a man's voice is heard
singing Shelley's "Indian Serenade."
"I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright;
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a something in my feet
Hath led me—who knows how?
To thy chamber window, Sweet!
"The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream—
The Champak odors fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale's complaint,
It dies upon her heart;—
As I must die on thine,
O! beloved as thou art!
"Oh lift me from the grass!
I die! I faint! I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast;—
Oh! press it to thine own again,
Where it will break at last."
During the singing Nourmahal has come slowly out from the left,
walking along the broad top of the wall until, coming to the tower,
she drops down on the floor by the railing of the turret and
listens, her veil falling from before her face. When the song has
ended, Nasrulla comes forward and approaches the little tower. He
leads a horse, a white horse with its tail dyed red in the Persian
Nourmahal. You turn the gray of the poplars in the darkness into
the silver of running water.
King Nasrulla. The dawn is waiting under your veil. I see now
only the morning star.
Nourmahal. I am but the moon, and I must not be seen when My
Lord the Sun comes.
King Nasrulla. The Lord of the Sky rises to look on the gardens
where the nightingales have been singing.
Nourmahal. But when he finds that the nightingales are silent,
he passes to other gardens.
King Nasrulla. Following the song, as I follow the lisp of
spring in your voice, the flutter of the wings of birds in the branches
when buds are swelling.
Nourmahal. It is the flutter of wings and the song that you care
for; it is not the bird.
King Nasrulla. It is the song of the bird that tells me where I
shall find the bird herself. It is the oasis lifted up into the sky
that guides the thirsty traveler across the desert.
Nourmahal (rising in agitation). When I am your queen, will you
follow the voices of other nightingales?
King Nasrulla. You will be my first queen.
Nourmahal. I must be your only queen.
King Nasrulla. Always my first queen, and in your garden the
fountains shall murmur day and night with a fuller flow of water than
any others. The flowers there shall be more beautiful than anywhere
else in all the world, and a hundred maidens shall serve you.
Nourmahal. And I shall not be your only queen?
King Nasrulla. It is not the way of the world.
Nourmahal. I have heard stories of places where the king has
only one queen.
King Nasrulla. It has never been so in Saranazett.
Nourmahal. It has not been so in Saranazett, but does nothing
King Nasrulla. I must be king in the way of my ancestors.
Nourmahal (dropping down by the railing again). And we must live
in the way of our ancestors, over and over again, sunrise and
noon-glare and star-shine, as it was before our stars rose in the
heavens, as it always will be?
King Nasrulla. Our ancestors have taught us that a king should
not live too meanly.
Nourmahal. We cannot appeal to our ancestors. We cannot appeal
to anything, and nothing can be undone. As the Persian poet says, "The
moving finger writes," and what is written must be.
King Nasrulla. And if what is written is beautiful, and if you
are to be a king's throne-mate, if all the treasures of all the world
are to be sought out for you——
Nourmahal. It is nothing, nothing, if you must have another
wife, if you must have two other wives, three.
King Nasrulla. My prime minister will choose the others. I
Nourmahal (passionately). But what shall we ever choose
again—and get what we choose? Have not the hours been counted out for
us from the beginning of the world? Can we stop the grains of sand in
King Nasrulla. Each one will make a new pleasure as it falls.
Nourmahal. Yes, but it falls. We do not gather it up. It falls
out of the heavens as the rain comes. We cannot make it rain.
King Nasrulla. But the drops are always pleasant.
Nourmahal. Yes, like a cup of water to a prisoner who dies of
thirst and cannot know when his jailer comes. If we could bring the
clouds up over the sun when the hot dust is flying, it would be really
"That inverted Bowl we call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop'd we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help—for It
As impotently moves as you or I."
You are my sky, and the old poet is right, if you must have four wives
because your father had four wives, and his father.
King Nasrulla. They are but symbols of kingliness, and they
shall bow in the dust before you, whom my heart chooses, as weeds by
the roadside bow when you pass in your tahktiravan and the air follows
its flying curtains.
Nourmahal. Why should anyone bow to me? Why should I care for
bowing? It would make me a slave to the custom of bowing. Are you a
king and must you be a slave too? Impotence is the name of such
kingship, and why should I care to be a queen when my king cannot make
King Nasrulla (advancing to the tower and leaving his horse
standing). Come! The stars are paling, and there is only the light
of your eyes to lift me out of the dust. Come!
In the side of the wall by the tower a sloping series of stout pegs
has been driven, descending to the ground at short intervals.
Nourmahal comes out of the tower, puts her foot on the highest of
these pegs, takes Nasrulla's hand, and, with his help, comes slowly
down the pegs, as if they were a flight of stairs, to the ground.
Nourmahal. How I love a horse! It is Samarcand and Delhi and
Bokhara and Paris, even Paris.
King Nasrulla. Paris! What is Paris?
Nourmahal (standing in front of the horse and caressing its
head). I don't know. I have never been there, but a horse makes me
think of Paris. I don't know London, but a horse makes me think of
London too. A horse could take me there. I could ride and ride, and
every day there would be something new and something wonderful. There
are cities beyond the water, too, marvelous cities, full of things more
than we dream of here. A horse is swift, and the tapping of his feet on
the stones is distance. When he lifts his head, when he curves his
neck, already in his heart he is going on and on.
King Nasrulla. And these are the stories that you have heard,
stories about Paris and London and the cities across the water?
Nourmahal. Stories? Perhaps not stories. Dreams, I think,
imaginings dropped from the wings of falcons flying out of the west.
King Nasrulla. You shall sit on the horse, and you can seem to
be riding. Then as your dreams come true, you can tell them to me. Let
the horse be Paris in my fancies too, and London and the cities across
The horse is still standing where he stopped when Nasrulla led him
out from behind the trees with him. He faces toward the left, and
Nasrulla is back of him. Nourmahal puts her foot into Nasrulla's
hand, and he lifts her into the saddle. When she is comfortably
seated, he stands beside her and in front of her, back of the
horse, leaning against the horse's neck and caressing his shoulder.
King Nasrulla. Now we are on the road, and all the world is
moving across the horizon. If it is all a dream, let me be in the
Nourmahal (looking out and away from him and pausing a moment).
Stories! Dreams!—What I have heard is only a whisper, but it seems so
true and so beautiful. Somewhere a man loves one woman always and no
other. Somewhere a king is not a manikin stalking through ceremonies.
Somewhere he lives humanly as other men. Somewhere to-day is not like
yesterday, and man has learned to break the cycle of what has been
forever, of what seems dead and yet out of death comes back again and
again. I have not seen it, but I know it. Somewhere you and I could be
happy without being king or queen. Somewhere a woman thinks her own
thoughts, and not the thoughts of her lord only. Somewhere men are not
bound to a king, and somewhere kings are not bound to the words of
their fathers' fathers.
King Nasrulla (slowly, after a pause). It is the way of the
world, Nourmahal. What the world is, it is, and that is forever and
ever, unless it should be the will of God to make a new world.
Nourmahal. A new world! (She pauses dreamily.) Yes, that
is what I want, a new world. That is what men are making somewhere, I
know it. That is what is in my heart, and the same thing must be in the
hearts of other men and women. A new world! What would it be to wake up
every morning with a fresh wonder, not knowing what the day would
bring? What would it be every morning to take the saddle and follow a
new road ahead of the sun?
King Nasrulla. If I could go with you——
Nourmahal. You have horses.
King Nasrulla. It is not so decreed. My place is here.
Nourmahal. Your place is here, and it is your place to have
three or four queens as your ministers decide for you. One queen is to
keep peace with the King of the South, another is to keep peace with
the King of the West, and the third is to keep peace with the King of
the East. The fourth queen you may choose for yourself from your own
people—if you choose before some other king offers a daughter. You may
make slaves of your queens so that your neighbor kings may make a slave
King Nasrulla. Yes, if I would be king—and you would be queen.
Nourmahal. Queen!—in a world where the flowers that bloom
to-day died centuries ago! Queen—in a world where queens may look out
of grated windows and never walk the streets! Queen—in a world where
My Lord the King may not come to my door too often lest the daughter of
the King of the South put poison in the nectar that her slaves offer
King Nasrulla. The world is the world, and its enduring is
forever and ever. We are but shadows that change and break on the
surface of running water. We may stand for a moment in the sun, but we
cannot stop the rain that fills the stream. We cannot fix our images
for a moment on the drops that are rushing out to the sea.
Nourmahal (looking away from him dreamily). "Ah Love! could you
and I with Him conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things Entire,
Would we not shatter it to bits—and then Remould it nearer to the
He looks at her steadily, but she does not turn her head, and,
while they are so silent a woman comes from the left with a water
jar, fills it from the well, puts it on her head, and passes off
again. The sun is now warming the tops of the mountains to a soft
King Nasrulla. We must find the water where it flows—or go
Nourmahal (more passionately). But somewhere the women do not
carry water. The poet only thought of doing what somewhere men have
done. Here a thousand years are but as yesterday and ten thousand as a
watch in the night. I am not I, but an echo of the mad desires of dead
men whose dust has been blown across the desert for countless
centuries. Why should I not think of my own desires before my dust,
too, flies forgotten before the passing caravans?
King Nasrulla. But you are to be my queen. Nothing more can
anyone give you in Saranazett.
Nourmahal. And to-morrow or next week your ambassador to the
King of the East comes back with letters and pledges of friendship.
Perhaps he brings with him the King's daughter.
King Nasrulla. But she is only the official seal of a bond, only
a hostage. She is not the rose that I pin over my heart. She is not the
nightingale that I love to hear singing in my garden. She is not the
face behind the lattice that draws my eager feet. She is not the
fountain that will make me drink and drink again.
Nourmahal. But I shall not ride with you into the distance and
leave the kings' daughters behind?
King Nasrulla. The King of the East——
Nourmahal. I know. The King of the East has a great army. I must
stay in my garden, or I shall have to spend my life talking about the
things he likes or dislikes, his angers and his fondnesses, with the
women of his harem.
She puts her foot out for his hand, ready to be taken down from the
King Nasrulla. Nourmahal!
Nourmahal. Yes, I must keep my veil before my face and stay
within my garden.
He helps her down, and she turns the horse's head back to the right
in the direction from which they came.
King Nasrulla. I shall take you, Nourmahal, and make you queen.
Nourmahal. Take me! Take the others and let them be queens. They
will be happy enough, after the way of their mothers, but you cannot
take the wind.
King Nasrulla. Being your lover is not ceasing to be king. May
not the king ask of his subjects what he will? What is it to be king?
Nourmahal (turning as she is passing toward the gate). Sometimes
it is making a fresher and happier world for those who come to kneel
before the throne. Kings are not often so wise.
King Nasrulla. And when they are not so wise they think of their
own happiness. They let love come into the palace, and the favorite
queen has the riches of the earth heaped in jewels before her. The
tenderness of the moon shines in the clasp of her girdle, and the
splendor of the sun glitters in a circlet for her forehead.
Nourmahal. And sometimes, seeking their own pleasure, kings make
the killing of those who are not kings their joy. They teach all men to
be soldiers and all soldiers to be ruthless. Their women learn to
delight in the echoes of battle, and the man who is not scarred by the
marks of many fights they pity and despise. So women forget to be
gentle, and the lords and masters of earth no longer watch over them
and care for them, no longer shelter the weak and the defenseless, no
longer think of right and justice, because they carry in their hands
the javelins of might and they have learned to fling them far.
King Nasrulla. But I shall watch over you as the cloud watches
over the garden where the roses are waiting for the rain.
Nourmahal. No, I shall not have a king to watch over me.
Somewhere they have no kings. A queen dies daily with loneliness, or
lives hourly in the burning hate of all her sister queens. To breathe
the air where there are no queens would be an ecstasy. I will not be a
king's first queen or his last queen or his concubine or any other
creature whom he may cast aside for a new fancy whenever the fancy
A messenger enters from the right, preceded by two attendants
carrying each one of the long, melon-shaped lanterns that accompany
royalty. The messenger bows before Nasrulla, dropping on one knee.
Messenger. Your Royal Highness, I am sent to beg that you will
King Nasrulla. It is my pleasure to listen to your message.
Messenger. It is not I speaking, Your Majesty, but your
King Nasrulla. I listen to the words of Huseyn.
Messenger. Know, O Mighty Lord of the Great Center of Earth—the
ambassador to the King of the East is reported returning by the long
Nourmahal's father, Mehrab, comes out from the gate in the wall and
King Nasrulla. Say to Huseyn that I will see him and make
arrangements for his reception before nightfall.
Messenger. He brings very important tidings, Your Majesty.
Pardon me, O Lord of the Lives of Your Servants. I speak but the words
King Nasrulla. I hear the words of Huseyn.
Messenger. The ambassador should be received a early as may be,
is the word of Huseyn. He knows the will of the King of the East, and
the King of the East would know your will, O Mightiest of the Mighty.
Nourmahal (bowing to her knees before him). Let me beg of you
also, King Nasrulla, that you give audience at once to the ambassador
who comes with word from the King of the East.
King Nasrulla. I listen to the words of Nourmahal with the words
Messenger. And I shall say to the Prime Minister Huseyn that His
Majesty, the Lord of Everlasting Effulgence, will graciously consent to
speak with him before the sun looks in at his image in the water jars.
Nourmahal. O King Nasrulla, for the sake of the rule that is
thine from thy fathers, for the maintaining of peace in all thy
borders, for the security of thy people, who harvest their hopes in
fear, permit the approach of the ambassador who returns from the King
of the East.
King Nasrulla. The wish of Nourmahal is a command. I go to make
ready for the ambassador who comes with word from the King of the East.
Nourmahal. And for the daughter of the King of the East, give
thanks, O King Nasrulla. It is said that she is very beautiful, and
many wooers have sought her vainly. She has been kept for the joy and
the splendor and the growing greatness of My Lord the King.
King Nasrulla. Announce my coming to my Prime Minister, Huseyn.
Messenger (rising). Your Noble Majesty is most gracious. I fly
with your words to Huseyn.
King Nasrulla. As a king I go, but my thoughts are not a king's
thoughts, and they stay here. It may be I shall look for them again, as
one looks for love in his friend's heart at the home-returning.
Nourmahal. I shall keep your thoughts forever, My Lord Nasrulla,
but for the King and the ways of the King—farewell!
The two lantern carriers who have come with the messenger turn to
the right to light the way for the King, and, as they pass off, he
follows them. Nourmahal watches them until they are gone, while
Mehrab, Nourmahal's father, comes forward slowly.
Mehrab. He threatened you, did he?
Nourmahal. Threaten! No, father, he did not threaten me.
Mehrab. Does he not mean to make you queen whether you wish to
be or not?
Nourmahal. He will not dare.
Mehrab. I am only a merchant, only a dealer in figs and olives.
I am not to be feared or considered by him or by those that are about
him. It is the way of his kind to think that you are to be taken as he
would take a pomegranate from the garden of one of his satraps.
Nourmahal. He will not take me.
Mehrab. They despise me because I go with the caravans, but I
have learned something. I know the world. My camels have tracked the
sands hundreds of miles from Saranazett, and there are places where the
words of Nasrulla the King mean less than the words of Mehrab the
Nourmahal. They will have horses to follow us. Horses are
swifter than camels.
Mehrab. We shall have horses too, and ours shall be the
fleetest. The riders of the King's horses will put out their palms for
my silver. They will know how to make their whips fall lightly.
Nourmahal (eagerly). Let us go to-morrow. Let us go before the
daughter of the King of the East is carried in her palanquin to the
palace. I want to see all the places where you have been. I want to
know something of the strange things that you have seen.
Mehrab. The women of Saranazett have never traveled.
Nourmahal. But I will not be a woman of Saranazett. There are
other worlds and other ways for me than the ways of Saranazett.
Mehrab. You shall not be queen one day and someone else queen in
your place the next. I was not born to live in the world's high places,
but also I was not born to bend the knee. You shall not suffer because
you are not a king's daughter, and because those that are kings'
daughters smile at you behind their curtains.
Nourmahal (more dreamily reluctant). If we could make Saranazett
over into a new world.
Mehrab. A new world somewhere else, Nourmahal. The packs are
being made ready for the camels. Have your women tie up your clothes as
if they were bundles of figs. Day after to-morrow or the next day or
the next, we shall take horse and follow. We shall go to a world that
is an old, old world, wiser than our world, a world where men's
thoughts are free and their women's eyes look wherever they will.
Nourmahal (passing to the gate). The women shall make ready.
Mehrab. At once, and tell Zuleika she goes with you.
Nourmahal. Zuleika shall make ready.
She passes out through the gate into the garden. Mehrab turns and
sees the spikes driven into the wall by the tower. For a moment he
looks at them in astonishment, observing that they pass down to the
ground slopingly, and then, one by one, he pulls them out and
flings them down on the ground violently.