SCENE FOUR: ASHES 

Mother

Pastor

Teacher

Baker

Teacher

Pastor

Baker

Teacher

Baker

Mother

Pastor

Teacher

Mother

Baron

Baker

Baron

Guard

Mother

Guard

Barrow

Guard

General

Guard

Barrow

Queen

General

Barrow

Queen

Guard

General

Mother

Teacher

Mother

Teacher

Mother

Teacher

Mother

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Barrow

Sty

Sty

Sty

Kidd

Sty

Kidd

Sty

Sty

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Barrow

Kidd

Teacher

Baron

Teacher

Baker

Pastor

Teacher

Baron

Baker

Teacher

Baker

Pastor

Baron

I.

 

(In darkness, the people of the town appear, one by one, each holding a lit candle as they speak. They appear grey and spectral, as if ghosts covered in ash.)

 

What does it say about us when we hate a child?

 

No, I object. Hate is such a violent word. It suggests a certain kind of thinking. It’s reductive, simple, base. And no one here could be held to task for malice in their minds. It simply wasn’t our intent.

 

Yes, it was never hate. You must understand. No one ever said so in their actions, or their words. No one raised a hand to strike him, or with knowing cruelty, pull him down.

 

But if an action were to be… misread… who, then, is to blame: the actor for their good intention, or the audience for their misconception? I, for one, won’t hold with that. One can’t be condemned for another’s misreading. And I stress again, the boy was never very good at reading…

 

No.

 

And our actions were always plain to see. Not once did we raise a hand /

 

Or shake him /

 

Shout /

 

Put him down /

 

With anything more than the best intentions.

 

Still. The road to hell is paved with good intentions…

 

Is that the road the boy now walks? When he turns his back on what he’s done and runs, again, from all his fear?

 

We should know. We put him there.

 

 

II.

 

Barrow ran from the sight of the burning town, as far and as fast as his feet could carry him, which was further and faster than any boy could reasonably run. But Barrow wasn’t a boy anymore, not completely. In his chest beat a heart that, to a dragon, was no more than a speck of useless dust, but to a boy, was something huge and heavy – full of potential he’d never had, responsibility he’d never had to carry.

 

No wonder he ran.

 

But what he ran from was already inside him, and so wherever he went, he took it with him. And more often than not, it arrived there first.

 

(A Guard, carrying a bell and lantern, steps forward.)

 

Whoa, hold there, son, not so fast! There’s a curfew here, you see? There’s trouble in the next town over. Wild tales, crazy tales, surely none of them true, but still, one can’t be sure at this hour, and orders is orders, so – hold up!

 

The dragon had made Barrow a promise: that for all his years of silence and shame, his life would now be lived in magnificence and renown. No longer would he be small. He would be blazing, burning, plain for all the world to see.

 

And the dragon was as good as his word.

 

Here, what you running so fast from, boy? You’re covered in… what’s this? Ash? And you reek of… smoke and… sulphur? Here, boy, you’re as pale as plaster! What’s happened?

 

Wait. The rumours, they can’t be true, can they? What they’re saying? About the dragon?

 

Yes, the dragon, I didn’t mean to bring the dragon /

 

(ringing the bell) My God, a dragon! Dragon! It’s a dragon!

 

(Barrow runs. A General, in full decoration, steps forward on another part of the stage.)

 

Bally good work of you, my lad, getting word out of that dragon. Hell of a thing, risking life and limb like that – rare is the man with such sense and good thinking, not to mention the mettle, and you, my boy, have all in spades.

 

You’ve done a brave thing, boy, to come this far to warn us! Your good deed will not go unrewarded!

 

But I didn’t, that isn’t true /

 

(Barrow runs. A Queen steps forward, on another part of the stage again.)

 

Such a service you’ve done, this kind, selfless thing. Myself and my court do pay you honour well deserved, or so I’m told.

 

Behold, this boy, who stood alone against a foe unmatched – no battalion at his side to fight, or cannonade to fire – and drove his enemy to heel, and brashly, threw him down! It’s his bravery, and his alone, we owe our selves and safety!

 

But no, I /

 

Please, you can’t object! The tales of your courage, your fleet feet and your wiles, are known the length of all the land. Barrow the boy, who bore the weight of his own tragedy, the loss of his own town, so that this scourge, this beast, might be scoured from our towns, has earned the realm’s highest honour, and my thanks. Sir Barrow the Brave, who dared face down a dragon and live to tell the tale, your deeds shall be known to all!

 

Barrow the Brave!

 

Barrow the Bold!

 

Barrow ran. He ran in a vast shadow that always fell before him, and it spread in the shape of a dragon. For so it went, that every person he met, every town in which he stumbled – the story of his deeds outran him, and each time it was told, the truth became a thing that only Barrow knew the heart of.

 

It was a monstrous heart, a dragon’s heart /

 

Filled with pride that it might earn with the flick of a wing /

 

Or in a story, mistold, in the shape of his renown /

 

And always hollow, in truth, for the pride in it was unearned.

 

Barrow ran from the lie in his shadow, every smile and cheer of his deeds, this twisted truth, proof perfect, to his eyes, of the guilt that had birthed it. He ran until his legs were heavy iron, until his boots fell apart and his feet bleed on the stones, until it seemed the world reduced around him, for the time he’d spent running far exceeded the life he’d lived before /

 

Until one day he came to a ruined town, sullen and silent and all covered in ash.

 

And there, at last, his fear found him.

                       

 

III.

 

(Sty sits centre stage, waiting by an unkindled fire, draped in a blanket. He is blind, his eyes covered with a bloody bandage. Barrow enters, dressed in a tattered cloak with a hood that hides his face.)

 

(Barrow sees Sty, attempts to pass by him without being noticed.)

 

Hello? Is someone there?

 

I don’t have anything worth taking. Please.

 

I’ve some bread and soup you’re welcome to, but nothing else of value.

 

Please. The nights get cold. This blanket isn’t mine to give.

 

You don’t have to be afraid. I’m not a thief.

 

Ah! I knew I wasn’t talking to myself. I do that sometimes. It helps pass the time.

 

Are you lost?

 

You needn’t worry, if you are. We don’t have much, as I’m sure you can see, but what we have you needn’t be a thief to share.

 

Please. It’s not warm, but it’s still soft.

 

(Sty offers Barrow bread. A beat. Barrow waves his hand in front of Sty’s face. No reaction. Barrow takes the bread.)

 

That’s very kind of you.

 

I can afford to be kind. It doesn’t cost me anything.

 

Sit. Please. We don’t get many visitors.

 

We?

 

Just the two of us now. All that’s left. There was a town here, some time ago, but not anymore.

 

What happened here?

 

What happened is why we don’t get many visitors. You’re the first in a long time, or at least the first for today. It’s hard to tell the days apart. They’re all the same to me.

 

And you…

 

Huh? (touching his eyes) Oh, this? This isn’t so bad. Lots of others had it worse. I was sitting in the square when the sky caught fire. The storm came in quick, and when it rained, it was fire. I looked up to see and it fell in my eyes.

 

There wasn’t much pain, just a bubbly, runny feeling. I don’t remember much after that, but Kidd told me later. It was a dragon. One moment the world was there, and the next…

 

Well. Dark.

 

Do you know about the dragon?

 

I’ve heard of it.

 

Kidd says we weren’t the worst to burn, just the first. That everywhere the dragon goes is turned to flame, and then ash, and then silence. Somewhere over the hills, the dragon makes a home for himself, and bides his time to rage again. Countries and kingdom, forests and fields. All gone.

 

Who says this?

 

Everyone. That’s what Kidd says. Besides, it seems a dragon-ish thing to do, I think. What other purpose has a dragon but to rampage and rage?

 

A dragon is possessed of other qualities. Magnificence, might…

 

Really? I should have liked to have seen those.

 

(A beat.)

 

I’m sorry. I can’t stay. (Barrow goes to leave.)

 

But it’ll be night before long, and dark, and Kidd will be back soon, with kindling and a warm fire /

 

I’m so sorry. I have to go.

 

Please, Barrow, don’t leave me alone!

 

That is you, isn’t it, Barrow? Please tell me you’re not a dream?

 

(A beat.)

 

I’m sorry, Sty. I can’t stay.

 

(Barrow goes to leave.)

 

No, Barrow, wait! It’ll be night soon, am I right?

 

Yes. The sun’s almost down.

 

I know. I can feel it. The day slips away and I feel it die. The warmth goes. I get so scared when the dark turns cold. I start to believe that the sun was never there, that the world was always cold. I get afraid I might be dead.

 

(Sty holds out his hand, reaching for him. Barrow is on the verge of leaving. A beat. Barrow takes Sty’s hand, sits slowly.)

 

I wonder that, sometimes. If I might be dead. Do you think that’s possible? To have died and not have known it? The Pastor once told me, life is like a dream we have, and death the real awakening. It feels like that, sometimes, like a dream so real that it feels the same as waking. But it makes no difference. To me, it’s always dark.

 

Can I tell you something, Barrow? It’s something I’ve never told anyone before. When I was a kid, a real little kid, I was so afraid of the dark I couldn’t stand to even see it. I used to sleep in bed at night with my head pulled under the blanket. The thing was, it was dark under the blanket, too – just as dark as it was outside. Crazy, right? But under there was different – different in the way only kids make sense of. Under there I was safe. The blanket was like arms, holding me close, making me safe. Do you understand? Nothing could get me there - not my fears, not the cold, not even whatever was out there, waiting in the dark…

 

Because there was something out there, Barrow. I knew there was then, and I know there is, now. It’s a different kind of thing, but it’s out there just the same, and this old blanket… it’s not as warm as I remember.

 

I’m still scared, Barrow. I’ve never told anyone this before. Not about the dark. Not about… being afraid. Because someone like me… like the person I was… People would laugh. They’d hate me. You’d hate me. For being what I was, not who they all believed. Afraid. And the fear of what would happen then… that’s the worst thing, Barrow. Worse than the fire, the dragon, what’s out there in the dark… The fear.

 

(Sty sits with his head in his hands. Barrow is unsure how to comfort him. A beat.)

 

(Kidd enters, carrying an armful of firewood. A log slips from her arms, drops to the ground. Startled, Barrow stands, hiding his face with his hood.)

 

Kidd? Kidd, is that you?

 

(Kidd stares at Barrow and Sty. A silence.)

 

Stop crying, Sty. You’ll start bleeding again.

 

It’s Barrow, Kidd. You were wrong, he came back. Do you see?

 

(Kidd stares at Barrow. Barrow looks away. A silence.)

 

There’s no one here, Sty. You’re imagining things.

 

But he spoke to me! He’s here! Barrow? It is you, isn’t it? Barrow?

 

(Barrow does not reply. A silence.)

 

Why would he lie to me? Barrow never spoke to me, but at least he never lied…

 

Come on, Sty. It’s time for you to sleep.

 

(She helps him stand. Sty draws away from her. He looks back to where Barrow stands. A beat. Sty exits, walking uncertainly without Kidd’s help.)

 

(Kidd slowly collects her dropped kindling, goes to the fire, begins to lay it. A silence.)

 

I’m sorry if I disturbed him. I was just passing through. We talked, and he… mistook me for someone he thought he knew.

 

I didn’t mean to upset him.

 

You’re not at fault. Since he lost his eyes, he sees what he likes. If what he sees upsets him, then he has only himself to blame.

 

Perhaps I mislead him. I didn’t mean to.

 

I said you’re not at fault.

 

(A beat.)

 

I should return this. (Barrow offers Kidd the bread) He was very generous.

 

Sty gave you his bread?

 

The thought was very kind.

 

Generous and kind. Not qualities I’d credit him, once upon a time.

 

He told me what happened. How the sky caught fire; that it fell in his eyes.

 

The bunting. The bunting caught fire and fell on his face. Wrapped right round his head. Still burning. I cut it off with a pair of my mother’s sewing scissors. Too late though, to save his eyes. Oh well. He learned qualities of kindness, so you could call it an even trade.

 

So it’s true, then. About the dragon.

 

Yes, there was a dragon. A dragon and a boy. The boy brought down the dragon, and burned the town away. Then the dragon disappeared, raging into the night, and the boy… The boy ran.

 

I don’t think a dragon is so easily outrun. Perhaps the boy simply burned, along with all the rest?

 

No, he didn’t burn. I saw him up there, on the shoulder of the hill. The town burned, and he watched. He watched what he wanted to see. And then he ran. So no, he didn’t burn, though I hope some days he might wish that he did.

 

(A beat. Kidd’s fire won’t light.)

 

Here, let me help you…

 

No thanks. I know enough of fires to start one of my own.

 

(A beat.)

 

You live here, just the two of you? Alone?

 

Of course. There’s nowhere else we can go.

 

There are other towns. Other places. Not all the world is burned.

 

For you, perhaps. You’re not the same as us. Strangers look at you and see you as you are, and nothing else. But look at me; a cinder. And at Sty; he’s blind. They look at us with pity; they see our pain, then look away. Both of us are ash-stained with the fear of dragon flame.

 

Forget them, then. Forget their pity. Go somewhere, anywhere, and make yourself a home.

 

This is our home.

 

Whatever was here is gone. All I see is broken, barren, burned.

 

If that’s all you choose to see, then I feel sorry for you.

 

I don’t see what I choose, all I see is the truth.

 

You should be grateful for that gift. Some of us don’t get to choose at all.

 

Maybe that’s how he felt, the boy who brought the dragon. That all his choices were made for him.

 

I think he knew deference of a choice is no deference from choice.

 

You think he could have acted differently?

 

He could have told us how he suffered! He could have turned his pain towards us and asked us for our help!

 

Such a simple thing to ask for when you have a voice to ask.

 

That’s right. His voice was just a thing he never felt he had or owned. So he chose to speak with the voice of a dragon. The dragon was his choice.

 

(A beat.)

 

Was he… a bad person?

 

Who?

 

The boy; before the dragon came. Was he ever kind, or always cruel? Could he have been bold but not broken, or brave but never burned? Did he have qualities of kindness, or was he always just a misconception, wrought by hands of good intention?

 

Good… bad… He was just… a boy. A quiet boy; a lonely boy; a boy who couldn’t read. And the town hated him, because he couldn’t read.

 

At least, that’s how I think it felt to him. Every day he walked to school in the village, and every day he walked home again, bent beneath the weight of his sorrow and his shame.

 

The boy had his shame, and he was ours, without a word to comfort, or a gesture to ease his pain.

 

But shame cannot be beaten, broke, or left alone. Shame is like a dragon, growing deep inside us. Here. Beside our heart. Heavy. Hurtful. Hot. Until, in the end… it consumes us. Or escapes.

 

Then you see: he had no choice.

 

He had a choice. We had a choice. For good or bad… we choose.

 

You talk about him like you know him. Like you cared. Tell me then. Use your words. Tell me you’d have chosen any differently to him.

 

(A beat.)

 

His choices are his own, just like his feelings, thoughts, and deeds. I can’t presume to speak for him; I tried that once, and failed.

 

But I could have spoken to him, many times, of the things I thought he feared. Out there in the field, among the broken barley. Me, with my bicycle, and the boy, with his shame. I could have said – “I see you, Barrow. I see you clearly, and I know.”

 

But I couldn’t, and nor could he. Another’s pain is like an open flame; we’re afraid of getting burned. I was afraid. He was afraid. And so it goes, this circle, around and around and around, until eventually, a spark…

 

(Kidd’s fire is finally lit.)

 

(A beat.)

 

The boy did something awful, and the worst thing is, he meant it. Could he ever be forgiven, for what he did?

 

Forgiven by himself, or by those who did him wrong?

 

Is there a difference?

 

I don’t know. What does your heart tell you?

 

My heart… is not my own.

 

That’s not so unusual. Mine feels the same, most hours of the day.

 

We bend, we break, we grow up, we grow old. We all choose our path to arrive in the world. And then we learn to live with it.

 

(Barrow and Kidd sit on opposite sides of the fire, and stare into it in silence.)

 

 

IV.

 

Barrow knew now why his heart had lead him back to this town, though it pained him so to see it. He wasn’t looking to assuage his guilt, or to outrun it, or to elsewhere lay its blame; he was looking for someone to give it to him, wrapped like a parcel, tied up neat with string. He wanted someone to present him what (for once) he knew was his.

 

But blame is not a fruitful game; it leaves no clear-won victor. The point is not quite who did what, or to whom the thing was done, but the choices that are made by those who find they still remain. How does one redeem a thing that seems without redemption? Who grants to us forgiveness when there’s none left to forgive?

 

Pain may fuel our fire, and fear chase us as we run, but neither last forever. Fires fade, and fear consumes; both, in the end, burn cold.

 

Kidd could not blame Barrow, just as he could not blame her. Who was she to judge what she did not prevent? And what could he demand from her that he himself owed her?

 

So they sat, the two of them, and stared into the fire, no more apart than a single pace but a chasm, still, between them. For the living are adrift like this; they collide in painful ways.

 

Only those no longer here may stand as one together, and so reflect, and so forgive. Even if forgiving means to face our fatal flaws.

 

Not that they can hear us, or if they ever could.

 

But you see us, and you listen. Do you understand us now?

 

They’re children, and they’re wilful, and inherit all our flaws. If they fear they’re built for breaking, then it’s we who made them so.

 

We know it, and we fear it.

 

And so it goes, this simple circle. Making fear from feeling. Round and round and round.

 

Unless we find the strength to tame it; to tell a fate that’s all our own. Though it pains us so to speak it… and more so still: to live.

 

(The townsfolk sit behind Barrow and Kidd, and blow out their candles. From this point on, they observe in silence.)

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter Black Round
  • Instagram - Black Circle