SCENE THREE: CHOOSING 

I.

 

It is by now very dark and very still when the boy returns to his town. The dragon was right – there is no place he knows devoid of his fear, and the fear of his fear draws him back home like a giant’s hand squeezing tight around his chest.

 

He slips through the silent house and locks fast his bedroom door, chased by the thunder of his pounding sparrow’s heart, certain the sound will bring another round of shouts and screaming, of clenched-up fists and shame.

 

The house sleeps. The town dreams. But there, in his hand, is something warm and awake, something real and alive, and it burns him like flame.

 

Is he thinking of it now, I wonder? Has he made up in his mind to destroy us all now, the terrible deed that he’s now fated to do? Or are our deaths still a dream, a seed not yet watered with hate and spite and loathing? Wherefore comes this venom that sours such fertile ground? And what holes have we dug to permit this hateful plant to grow?

 

On a night like this, so still and so black, when the promise of sleep is just a lie told to comfort children, how can thoughts but help to turn inward to the questions one asks when the night is long and dawn so far in coming. What is this shadow that falls on my life? Is it the death I always knew that walked by my side? Have I been a good parent? Could I have been any different?

 

All death is preordained, a bargain struck with God the moment our newborn mouths gasp our first morning air and our eyes perceive the world as a blur of His light. How we stumble in our younger years, blinded by light and uncertain of every step towards the price we pay for the gift we call our lives. Why resent death for what it claims? What does it take but a life lived in satisfaction?

 

And what have we to resent if the life we have lived is a pure one? A life lived in knowing we have toiled, and striven, and thrived with hard work and honest hearts? Such a life is charmed, and such an end peaceful and deserved.

 

But not every life is lived that way. Some lives are full as others are empty. Life is not an equal prize. It’s only in death that all things are equal, and what is “dragon”, at heart, but another word for “death”?

 

 

II.

 

(Barrow sits in his room, in the dark, Dargon’s heart in his hands. His Mother, draped in a shawl, carrying a lantern, knocks on his door.)

 

Barrow, dear? Son? Are you awake?

 

There’s your dinner on the hob, of course. Some soup and chicken bones. I expect you must be hungry. A boy must eat, or else he won’t be strong.

 

Barrow? It’s the Choosing Day tomorrow. I’m glad you’re well asleep. The Feast of Names runs half the day. A boy needs his rest, or else his mind will not be sharp.

 

Barrow? Barrow, are you there?

 

Your father and I… we wonder… Perhaps it might be best, on tomorrow’s day of names, that you decline to stand among them? Your father and I, we worry… The right of choice comes not with age, but in a certain character and bearing… We love you, yes we do, but perhaps… That is, we hoped, your father and I, if perhaps… perhaps…

 

Barrow? Are you there?

 

Perhaps it’s best you’re not. Perhaps it would be best if you’ve gone away for good. Would it be kinder to us both if we were now no more than strangers? Was all our harm undone, the mistake we’ve made corrected… could we then resume our lives without a common sense of shame?

 

Have you gone, Barrow? Are you gone?

 

Please. Why won’t you go?

 

… Sleep well, Barrow. Sleep well… and dream of somewhere else.

 

(His Mother exits. Barrow sits in the dark. He blows gently on the tiny glowing heart. The glow grows brighter. He blows on it again, and the light grows brighter still.)

III.

 

(The next morning. Adults of the town all sit side by side at a long trestle table. The Baron, centre of them, rises, with a notepad in his hand.)

 

(reading) A house beneath the trees, the sky,

A fire, warm inside.

At table chairs, in picture frames,

Community resides.

The trees entwine, its garden grows,

Their boughs uphold the sky.

Take care to tend this house without,

So those within may fly.

 - A poem for Choosing Day.

 

(Scattering of applause. He sits.)

 

Thank-you, most kind. Just a little thing, for the occasion. Cheers.

 

We are so gathered on this day, at the wane of the harvest moon, when the instruments of our labour – the rod, the ruler, the ploughshare, the muffin tray – may at last be set aside, hearts full, hands content, toil well toiled. The future we’ve tended these long days and months has now come to pass, and now, having passed, it secures our future once again. We do proudly give our thanks.

 

Many thanks oh Lord, amen.

 

Amen.

 

Amen, that’s right.

 

Now we turn the same tender care we show our town to those who would profit from it most. Our toil may make us wealthy, but our children make us rich. Today, we honour those who’ve come of age, and offer them the choice to claim their seat here at our high table.

 

Let the Choosing Day ceremony begin!

 

(More applause. Kidd, Sty, and Barrow sit off to one side. Kidd and Sty are reluctant to step forward.)

 

(muttering) You go.

 

(same) You first!

 

Sty, would you do us the honour of kicking off proceedings?

 

Fine.

 

I mean… yes, sir.

 

(Sty steps forward, unfolding a sheet of paper. He reads from it with a great show of nerves.)

 

(reading) “Townsfolk, kinsmen, masters of craft. These are my words, my wish for the future, the road I will walk to arrive in the world. My name is Sty, and by your leave, I recite the pledge of my Choosing.”

 

Who here will grant young Sty the leave of his Choosing?

 

It would be my pleasure, lord Baron. Sty has always been an attentive student, one of my best, possessed of a kind heart and ample frame.

 

Thank you, Teacher. We bid you, Sty, speak on.

 

Thank-you, Miss. Dad. Ahem.

 

(reading) “I am very excited to stand before you all, the people of the town, and recite my virtues, of which there are many, and I am humbled to share them all with you now, so here they are.

 

I am 16 years old, and have lived in the town all my life. It means everything to me. I work hard at school so I can get a good future. I’m five feet five inches tall, and I’m good at running, hiking, and throwing things. I once threw a brick so high it landed on the chapel roof, which I think was a record.

 

I have lots of friends, and they’re all important to me. They value my friendship because I’m strong, I can lift heavy things, run faster than them, and am loyal. My favourite colour is blue and my favourite food is the ice-cream sodas you buy at the corner store for sixty cents and get free refills.       

 

My proudest memory is hunting down the fox that ate the Baker’s laying ducks. Everyone set traps but no one could catch it, so I went out into the apple grove and traced its tracks and sat up half the night waiting for it to come back and even though it was really cold and I was almost frozen stiff from the cold I was still quick enough to spot it when crept back with another duck and shoot it dead, in the face. I’ll never forget how good it felt when I got back into town and everyone applauded what I’d done – how proud my dad was of my bravery, or how the Baker gave me a whole pound cake as a reward, which I ate the whole thing myself.

 

Because I’m so good at hunting, I think I would be a good big game tracker or a bounty hunter or maybe a policeman or a judge or general. I have courage and lots of skill, I don’t feel the cold much and I already have my own gun.

 

These are my words, my wish for the future, the road I will walk to arrive in the world.

 

Thank you for listening, and thanks to my dad for helping me write this.”

 

Thank you for that, Sty. You’re most welcome.

 

(The townsfolk all applaud.)

 

(He always was a strong boy.)

 

(Bold and brave.)

 

(A model student.)

 

(I stuffed that fox, you know.)

 

(Indeed?)

 

Who here will grant young Sty his wish for the future?

 

I do, lord Baron. I acknowledge his courage, his strength, and his pride. Well may he walk to arrive in the world.

 

Then congratulations, my boy. You may take your place at this table.

 

(Applause as Sty crosses the floor to sit on the other side.)

 

Now, who will be next to espouse before the town?

 

You’re up, squirt.

 

Bite me.

 

Kidd? Will you take the floor?

 

(Kidd steps forward. She has written her speech on little cue cards.)

 

“Townsfolk, kinsmen, masters of craft. These are my words, my wish for the future, the road I will walk to arrive in the world. My name is Kidd, and by your leave, I recite the pledge of my Choosing.”

 

Who here grants young Kidd the leave of her Choosing?

 

I will, my lord Baron. Kidd has ever been among the brightest lights to shine among our merry flock. The sharpness of her mind and breadth of her compassion are reason enough to grant her leave, though I must confess a sin, for she is also my niece, and my pride in her character and carriage knows no earthly bounds.

 

Thank you, Pastor. A glowing endorsement, young lady. Please, speak on.

 

(reading) “I have, all my life, tried to be helpful. Not just to myself, but to others as well. I was taught to hold open doors and wait for others to pass, and to give up my seat on the bus for someone older or more pregnant than I. When my mother cooked jam, I’d turn the page of her cookbook, and when my father felt poorly, I’d bring him broth to drink.

 

Being helpful cost nothing, and being kind costs less, and I believe whatever we lose in doing either isn’t missed. In fact, we’re richer for it.

 

This is why I’ve tried to be helpful all my life, not for myself, but for others besides me, because I believe to give the best of ourselves to others is to see the best of us in them.

 

I want to help people, which is why I would like to be a doctor. If the town allows me, I want to help those without help, to heal their wounds that need healing, and to use the strength I find in others for the strength to make them whole.

 

These are my words, my wish for the future, the road I will walk to arrive in the world. Thank you.”

 

(Marvellously said.)

 

(Concise and to the point.)

 

(That last line is from Kipling.)

 

(That was my idea.)

 

Thank you kindly, young lady. Who here will grant young Kidd her wish for the future?

 

I do, lord Baron. I acknowledge her kindness, her compassion, and the strength of her heart. Well may she walk to arrive in the world.

 

Tremendous. You may take your place at this table, Miss Kidd.

 

(Applause as Kidd crosses the floor to sit next to Sty. Only Barrow is left sitting.)

 

What a splendid Choosing Day this is, if I do say so myself!

 

Now, have all eligible children been heard and witnessed?

 

(Affirmative chatter and nodding from the townsfolk.)

 

Very good! Now, it is my great pleasure to commence the Feast of Names /

 

What about Barrow?

 

(The townsfolk fall silent. A beat.)

 

Barrow! But of course! Where is the boy?

 

(Silence. The townsfolk murmur uneasily.)

 

(standing) My lord Baron, if I may /

 

Yes, if we might have a word…

 

Young Barrow is feeling… poorly today.

 

We thought it best, perhaps, if he did not speak the Choosing this year.

 

He’s a fragile boy /

 

An honest boy /

 

And we do not wish to inflict more harm on him than he might inflict… himself.

 

A beat.

 

Is this the truth of it, young Barrow?

 

A beat.

 

I would like the chance to speak. If it’s so allowed?

 

Of course, my boy. On this day of Choosing, none may be denied. Barrow, will you take the floor?

 

(A silence. All look to Barrow with creeping horror. Barrow stands, walks to the centre of the floor. He has a sheet of paper in his hands. Silence.)

 

In your own time, Barrow. No rush.

 

(A silence.)

 

(reading) “T… towns-folk… kins-men… m-masters of… craft. These are my… words… my w-wish for the… fu… fu… future, the road I will… walk… to arrive in the w… w… world /

 

Please, lord Baron. It really might be best if Barrow abstained the right to speak this day? For his piece of mind?

 

As well as ours…

 

Patience, good friends. How else might our children stand, if not upon their own two feet?

 

Continue, young man.

 

(reading) “My name is Barrow, and by your… leave… I re-ci… re-ci… re-ci… recite…”

 

Lord above, we’ll be here half the day.

 

The idiot can’t even read out his own name.

 

(A silence. The townsfolk stare. Barrow grows smaller with shame. The Baron stands.)

 

Perhaps it were best if I spoke with the boy? I have a way with them.

 

That’s true! I’m a boy!

 

Indeed he is. Now, young Barrow, let’s have a wee chat, shall we?

 

(The Baron takes Barrow aside.)

 

Today, as you know, is the Day of Choosing. Am I wrong in presuming you are of age to cross the floor?

 

(quietly) No, sir. I’m of age.

 

Very good. And have you come here this day, with your pledge well in hand, and your words in their proper order?

 

I have, sir.

 

Why, then – already today you have wrought two great achievements! You’ve mustered the courage to speak before your betters, and found the will to make it so! So what fails you now?

 

Is it something you fear?

 

No, sir.

 

(gestures to townsfolk) Are they something you fear?

 

(Barrow is silent.)

 

I see.

 

You know, do you not, that no woman or man amongst them has means to cause you any harm? For all their frets, their looks and words hold many meanings beyond what’s seen and said.

 

In this town, I am proud to say, we are all of us as equal, none more fit for worth or work than him, or her, or you. Why, I should think that in all the world, there are none who love you and support you more than those gathered here today!

 

If you cannot speak to such an audience, why… when else could you ever speak?

 

We shall skip the formalities. Who here will grant young Barrow the leave of his Choosing?

 

(The townsfolk sit uneasy, unmoving, not meeting Barrow’s eye. A silence. Kidd finally stands.)

 

I will, lord Baron.

 

Now Kidd, let’s not be rash…

 

I’ve crossed the floor to sit at this table. Does anyone deny me the choice I’ve made?

 

(A beat.)

 

Go on, Miss Kidd.

 

Barrow. Barrow has always been… well… Barrow’s always been there. Not everybody sees him, and not always as he is. Who he really is. It’s hard to see, sometimes, the things we don’t think want to be seen. I think there’s more to Barrow than he appears, or in what he doesn’t say. I can say that because I’ve seen him. I’ve seen him, and I think I understand your fear. Is that right, Barrow? Am I right?

 

Sorry, lord Baron, but what’s that supposed to mean?

 

Miss Kidd?

 

I just think that what right we have to speak is as much his own as well. It’s his choice. I was afraid to speak before you all. I’m still afraid to speak up now. Why should Barrow’s fear be treated any less than mine?

 

(A hiss and rumble of hot rocks, distant thunder. Dargon’s shadow begins to loom behind the townsfolk, unseen by all except for Barrow.)

 

Again that word, the fear, the sound; the circle moved, once more around. Which is it to be: The fear they’ll speak their hearts in place of yours, or what fear will make you say? Did I not say that fear has your scent? Did I not say it sleeps in your shadow?

 

Such a solution, then, is simple. Listen, young Barrow. We sympathise with your fear…

 

For sympathy is inspired in those who do not fear…

 

Every man, at one time or another, must make their stand upon the void. They’ve been known, on occasion, to jump, but only in the rarity; these men, ahem, are generally unhappy. But to stand there at all is a certain leap of faith, and such faith is like a kindness, it is /

 

Unkind /

 

Unkind?

 

/ to lavish kindness.

 

Well. Perhaps. You are a strapping boy, of no physical deformity. A trifle short, perhaps, but not cripplingly so. Your hands are unlined from a surfeit of toil, and your back unbent from unnecessary hardship. And yet, despite these contradictions, you do not move yourself to Choose.

 

A man speaks of choice as if it’s freely given, but what is “choice” that isn’t given but another word for “force”?

 

Or is it, perhaps, that you will not choose? Trust me, Barrow, for we have all here lived both privilege and pain, and emerged in both ways for the better. And deference of a choice is no deference from a choice.

 

What is your dream of the future? What path do you wish to walk? What beats within the breast of Barrow? Tell us, has he a heart of a boy, or of a man?

 

I’m afraid… I don’t know the difference.

 

A man’s heart may be bold like a lion’s, or proud like a bear’s. He may rule his domain, and chart his own freedom, lead by his heart and the compass it steers by.

 

But what of a boy’s?

 

Yes, what then is a boy’s?

 

A boy’s heart, indeed, is something half as much besides. It is filled with potential, but itself incomplete.

 

Must I be incomplete til I grow to a man?

 

And why should you not? Why, a man’s heart is a fine thing to aspire, possessed of qualities of worth a boy should delight to call his own!

 

A heart filled with nothing so much as anyone would want…

 

Weakness, loneliness, pettiness, hate…

 

I beg your pardon?

 

Must my heart grow to be that? Might it not change, to grow to the heart of a… a…

 

A dragon.

 

A dragon!

 

A dragon?

 

Well… I don’t know how one might come by the heart of a dragon, or even if he could, or would, or should… What need has a man for a heart so bound in fright and flame?

 

(Barrow removes the dragon heart from his pocket, looks at its glow. The world appears to recede around him.)

 

The dragon’s heart was a small thing in his hand, its steady beat shallow and frail like that of a tiny bird. Yet inside its chambers ran flame as hot as molten lead, blood as rich and wild as the core of the earth, or the surface of the sun. It didn’t quail at the smallness of its size, but seemed to grow large in its certainty, in its heat.

 

In it he saw something the town and its people had felt but never seen; a childhood truth once glimpsed, now long abandoned. He saw the lie we tell the world – the longing for what could be, not what was – and it spoke to him in the voice of the dragon. It said /

 

“What would you do, had you a heart so full of flame?”

 

Had I the heart of a dragon, I would… I would… spread out my wings to pull down the sky, and lash my tongue of flame upon the face of idle gods. I would break through steel chains with the strength of my claws, and turn aside blades with the thickness of my scales. With one flick of my tail I would part angry seas, sweep mountains aside, tear down towers of stone. I’d fly, and I’d fight, for I’d be strong, and I’d be free. The light of my flame would outshine the sun, and all who looked up and saw me would be filled with warmth and pride. No place would be denied me, no words would be unkind. I’d have no difference, no defect; no reminder of someone’s shame. My fate would be my own, for my heart would be complete.

 

Had I the heart of a dragon, these would be my words, my wish for the future, the road I would walk to arrive in the world.

 

The boy would be more than he was ordained by choice to be; that was the truth he saw in the shard of the dragon’s heart. But he spoke it to the heart, to the dragon that grew inside him, and the townsfolk heard not a word.

 

All he spoke was silence, which is all they wished to hear.

 

(A silence. The townsfolk all look away from Barrow, as if afraid, disturbed, overwhelmed with pity, at the boy’s silence. Kidd sits down, disappointed.)

 

What a freak.

 

My good lord Baron, does the boy design to speak or not, or can we all get on to lunch before the soup up and bloody spoils?

 

Silence is an answer as clear as any speech.

 

We cannot waste a hearty meal all on his account.

 

(A beat.)

 

Barrow? What do you say?

 

(A long silence. Barrow does not speak.)

 

As you wish.

 

(All move off, except for Barrow and Kidd. Kidd walks over to stand beside him.)

 

I’m sorry, Barrow. Perhaps… next year?

 

(Barrow does not reply. Kidd exits, leaving Barrow, standing centre, holding the glowing heart as…)

 

 

IV.

 

(… A shadow descends on him. Dargon’s great clawed arms move in around him, as if to embrace him, the dragon’s great head looming down over Barrow’s own.)

 

Sorry? They’re sorry? What for? Next year. Another year. Another year after that. Always another year, another day, and at the end, how many more?

 

How many more years will they speak for me? How many more years can I stand there in silence? Too many. Not enough. And all the while, their faces, their smiles, their voices in my head…

 

Our hearts are alike, as I told you before. They burn with ambition, though they seem cold to the touch. All they lack is the freedom to be what they will.

 

Yet still you are mighty where I am small, and ruthless where I am weak. I wish I truly were a dragon. A dragon would not abide them. A dragon would… it would…

 

But I am not a dragon…

 

Are you so sure of that?

 

(A silence. Barrow looks at the glowing heart.)

 

If I am to possess the heart of a dragon… what becomes of my own? It is frail, and incomplete. Its hurt leads it just to anger.

 

It is true that the heart of a boy bears no weight of its own, yet still, a thing of such potential should not be put to waste. Gift it, then, to me. Let it grow within my breast, sustaining me, reviving me, lending me the broken life that’s fated to be yours.

 

You would take this heart from me, though it knows just pain and fear?

 

It’s through your fear, and pain, and shame that rage, alone, can grow. What greater fan of righteous flame could either of us know?

 

(A beat.)

 

We are not all of a kind, Barrow. Man to man, or beast to beast. Some of us are brave, some of us are bold, and all the rest just follow.

 

Sheep.

 

And dragons eat sheep.

 

(Barrow pushes Dargon’s heart into his breast. Dargon’s arms close around him.)

 

You have saved my life, Barrow boy, who walks in the shadow of dragons. True, I was not dying, yet you’ve saved me even still. Kindness is a virtue that we give and soon forget; a gift we lavish kindly out of fear, of loss, regret.

 

Give me your heart so that I may soar again. I will be your might, and you will see that all things – through fire, through hate, through misery, through shame – all, in time, are made the same.

 

For you are wrong, Barrow boy: You are a dragon, and all of your life shall be lived as you deserve. For I am Dargon, of dragon kind, and I am magnificent.

 

What am I, Barrow?

 

You are magnificent.

 

So I am. And so will you be, Barrow, from now and henceforth to all that know and fear you.

 

Barrow the Magnificent, wreathed in dragon flame.

 

(Lightning flashes. Thunder is heard. The dragon opens its mouth, and flame within begins to glow.)

 

 

V.

 

The storm blows in out of nowhere, for a sky once crystal blue is now, without warning, turned black and full of rage. The wind rises and with it, the eyes of the townsfolk, some caught with hand to mouth, others halfway through a dance, all in forms of celebration of a Choosing Day well earned.

 

Great storm clouds, thick and torn with lightning, bear down out of the north. And on their leading edge, a great shadow darts and weaves, leaping through curtains of raw blue lightning, riding waves of stormheads like a dolphin through the surf.

 

The storm breaks upon the town, and with it comes the dragon. The men grab up their guns, but their strength is dashed by a sweep of his mighty wing. They beat at him with spades and hoes, but his scales are like iron, and their actions cannot harm him. They drop to their knees and beg him for mercy, hoping that mercy might live among the rage of a dragon’s heart.

 

But the dragon has no heart – at least, no heart that belongs to a dragon – and so the dragon shows them none. He opens up his gaping maw and sets free a young boy’s pain and fear.

 

The fires crash upon the town like waves on the shore, and the town, its people, its laws, its rules, all is washed away; burning and burning until the storm-cloud sky is white with ash, the land streaked red with the light of the setting sun.

 

And the boy on the hill – a boy named Barrow, who couldn’t read, and now never will – turns away from the sight of the burning town, and runs.

 

(A final clap of thunder. Darkness.)

 

 

Kidd

 

 

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