Three Scenes

Maksym Kurochkin

Illustration by Hong-An Tran

1- from ACT ONE

An open field. SIEGFRIED and GUNTHER stand at a chess board that HAGEN holds above his head as he kneels on one knee before them. Siegfried moves pieces quickly and easily. Gunther thinks over each move carefully. When he does make a move he snatches his opponent's pieces as a hawk would a mouse.

GUNTHER: Your move.


GUNTHER: As you wish. (Takes Siegfried's knight and loses interest in the game. Walks about the field doing gymnastic stretches.)

SIEGFRIED: (still looking at the chess board.) I think it's the other way around.

GUNTHER: No. Something's wrong with you. You never used to lose. And if you did, you weren't afraid to admit it.

SIEGFRIED: How can you know I wasn't afraid to admit defeat if I never was defeated? That isn't logical.

GUNTHER: (vaguely taken aback, quickly puts on a borrowed air of wisdom.) "He who has lost all but logic, has lost more than he who has lost all." (Gradually understands the full significance of his victory.) Listen, what a shame. The world will be infinitely more boring when it loses its last immaculate hero – when it loses Siegfried.

SIEGFRIED: Why should it lose me?

GUNTHER: I don't mean it should. I mean it already has. Perfection is a rickety concept. One little misstep and it's gone. Reality is another thing, of course. It doesn't matter what you take out of it - it still remains reality. (Gazes at Siegfried with warmth, continues analyzing the chess game.) But you know, this suits you even more. Somehow you've become more – (searches for the word) more real –

SIEGFRIED: (gesturing at the pieces on the board.) What makes you think I lost?

GUNTHER: (with feeling.) Have you really lost touch with the language of the birds?

SIEGFRIED: Why should I have lost that?

GUNTHER: I hate to inform you, but in the logic of mythology that is the most banal of all occurrences. The hero who has committed an error is deprived of his magical powers. (Points at a crow sitting on a branch.) What's that crow saying right now?


GUNTHER: There, you see? It has begun.

SIEGFRIED: Nothing has begun. It isn't saying anything.

GUNTHER: Maybe. (Talks animatedly on an abstract topic.) You know, deciphering the language of the birds has been my lifelong dream. In fact, that is one of the great dreams of all mankind. Funny – the dreams of mankind come true; mine do not. In other words, it is easier to fulfill the dreams of mankind than it is to fulfill the dreams of a single individual.

SIEGFRIED: (confused.) I don't follow you.

GUNTHER: Well look. If mankind is compelled to invent the wheel, it is not necessary for every individual to invent a wheel. It's sufficient for just one person to do it. Same thing with the language of the birds. Mankind is perfectly happy with that. I am not. Because I am not that one person. More to the point, I don't like the fact that you are that one person.

SIEGFRIED: (ignoring the hostile intent of Gunther's words.) In fact I never had the intention of deciphering the language of the birds. I wanted to understand birds. You see? To understand them. That's what I wanted. I can give you an example, too: There are those who understand the language of the Britons. That is, of those who live in the British Isles. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. I have seen such people myself. But! Even though they understand the British tongue, as a rule they still cannot fathom the British. So the question arises: What is the point of understanding the tongue of those you cannot fathom? First decipher the people, then study their language. Yes, I did come to understand the language of the birds and animals. What good did it do me? I was able to perform tricks like: "Hey-little-bitch-bring-me-my-slippers!" (Watches as a puppy runs in with slippers in its mouth.) Good girl! So what? And I learned that the world of fauna was no stranger to villainy and envy. And what of that? The main thing is this: When I cracked the code of the language of the birds, the birds themselves caught on immediately and kept their lips zipped every time I appeared among them. This crow here – she's not saying nothing for nothing. She's keeping mum because she's got something to keep mum about.

GUNTHER: (makes final move on the chessboard.) Checkmate!

SIEGFRIED is silent for a few moments as he looks back and forth at the board and at Gunther.

SIEGFRIED: Checkmate?

GUNTHER: You lose.

SIEGFRIED: (grows serious.) May I ask you a question, O Gunther, King of Burgundy? What game were you playing just now?

GUNTHER: (imitating Siegfried's tone.) I'll happily answer you, King Siegfried, son of Siegmund. I was engaging you in an ancient diversion devised in India. Its name is chess.

SIEGFRIED: (pause.) I hate to disappoint you, Gunther. I was playing another game.

GUNTHER: (mocking.) And what was that?

SIEGFRIED: One much older than chess. Suicide chess.

HAGEN shudders. The figures fall from the board. The old man stands up and stares at Siegfried with hatred. The crow caws.

GUNTHER: What's that she said?

SIEGFRIED: She says – (listens gloomily, but not for long.) That's a stupid crow.

GUNTHER: But really.

SIEGFRIED: She said that Kriemhild sewed a cross on Siegfried's shirt.

GUNTHER: (unpleasantly surprised.) Is that so?

SIEGFRIED: Do me a favor. Take a look. (Turns his back to Gunther.)

GUNTHER: (touches the cross between Siegfried's shoulder blades with his fingers.) There's nothing here.

SIEGFRIED: You see? I told you the crow was stupid.

SIEGFRIED laughs. GUNTHER laughs. HAGEN tries to laugh. Horns sound.


2 - from ACT TWO

GUNTHER: Kriemhild, you are like a sister to me. Don't you realize your brother has your best interests at heart? I'll find you a new husband. Better than the other one.

Does any lamp shine brighter than the sun?
Is not the falcon Ruler of the skies?
Is any river more watery than the Rhine?
Whoever could replace the man I loved?

GUNTHER: Let's be honest. There are pisspots bigger than the Rhine. And our sun is just a little lantern dangling in the margins of the sky. Believe me, you will have a greater husband than Siegfried.

I would smile through my tears
At how you swear upon your own deceit.
You're like a beggar in the street
Who found a misplaced copper coin
And now believes himself to be
A king on par with Solomon.
The tramp with sudden money in his pocket
May drink with gods
And lie abed with beauties pretty as a rose
And shake from satiating every last desire
While giving Zeus a playful tap upon the nose.
But all these dreams aren't worth the copper coin he found.

There is a thing more dear than any copper coin,
Than all the copper coins there are,
And all the tribes of Solomon!
That is – the scourge of God!

Flaming arrows fly into the hall. At first rarely, but soon they come raining down.

When the mountains hear the echo of the name
Of him, whom I shall make your second spouse,
They shall be swallowed in the fires of envy
And the dainty, snowy hairs of nature's rocky beauties
Shall melt in jaundiced blazes
And plummet to the pasture lands below
In crackling, rushing, tumbling avalanches.
His name is more than thunderbolts
That strike across the anxious heavens,
Sowing fear in all who do there dwell:
What is this dreadful name? Attila!

What a fool I was to listen.
Silly name for such a fat, old swine!
The wily Hun – ruler of the kingdoms to the east!
But like no other he just might
Be Kriemhild's savior
And help avenge her loving husband's murder.

(To Gunther.)

Back off, you snake. Give me time to think.

While KRIEMHILD thinks, GUNTHER approaches LAZY.

GUNTHER: I promised her she could have Attila for a husband. I can't go back on my word. I promised you money, fame, the moon from the heavens – it's yours. Just play Attila for me.

LAZY: I can't play Attila.

GUNTHER: You already playing him somewhere else?

LAZY: I told you I would marry her, but I refuse to pretend that I am Attila the Hun.

GUNTHER: You'll be good at it. She's stupid, she'll believe anything.

LAZY: I cannot make believe that I am Attila the Hun.

GUNTHER: Why the hell not?

LAZY: Because I am Attila the Hun.

Kitchen People return in fright. They carry LUCY COPPERPOT in their arms. Blood streams from her head.

KRIEMHILD: What is this?

LUCY COPPERPOT: (in delirium.)
Nibelungs, are you all as blind as bats?
Your castle is devoured by rats,
Your voices are eaten by worms,
You wear an ugly monster on your heads
Who lacerates your brows of anger
Like a diamond sickle cuts through wheat.
Nibelungs, are you all as blind as that?
Where is the wanton fury of the used and the insulted?
Where are the howls of your wounds?
Where are your daring, valiant eyes?
Who among you chose as nature's king the rat?

There is no grief; only happiness forgotten.
The hero's dead – why now lament the hero?
Killed long ago – not here and not by us.
But live our lives we must.

Live our lives we must –
Eat and marry – then eat again...
Kriemhild you say they called you?
An hour ago in your sad cloak
You stood out like a radiant, black pearl,
Hidden from tempests and temptations
In the misleading guise of a mollusk.
And all the species of the wat'ry deep –
From the pale, half-dead crab
To the giant killer whale...
Sharks and eels and golden manta rays,
The hideous, misshapen giant turtle –
All of them ruled over you, my queen!
For all you were a silent slave.
Your lot in life was sad, pathetic...
But still a black star burned in you!
And the glowing of its feeble rays,
Unseen to all cold-blooded creatures
Blinded the eyes of that Judge who stands above the World.
He, who knows that neither piles of meat
Nor forests of bones, nor sea Leviathans
(That which today we call the whale)
Are capable of making pearls out of sand!
Your lot, indeed, was high, my queen!
And yet you say, "Forget the hero!"
Take that back, O child of monstrous thoughts!
The hero is forgotten! – and the pearl becomes
A common stone – a drop of sleaze,
A gastronomic ailment, an obstacle to life...
Forget the hero! – and all those rows of rubies
Stitched into your regal collar,
Shall shake as if a trumpet blows retreat,
Shall pale to yellow and run like cowards.
The hero is forgotten! – you are a rotting colossus,
Whose dust the breeze shall raise and scatter.
The hero is forgotten! – you are a torchlight without fire,
The glittering, rancid meat of a queen.

TATYANA: When I get out of here I'm not going to town to see my lover. I'm heading straight for the beauty salon. To get a manicure. And then a pedicure. I'll have them do me a mask. Then I'll come home and lie in the bathtub. And then I'll have a cigarette. And after that – another cigarette. Then I will sit back and watch television. And after I have done all of that, then I will go to see my lover.

CHUBBY: You know, basically nothing has happened. The main thing is not to panic. Okay, a calamity befell us, what can you do about it? You can not panic. Now wait, now wait, now wait – (to KRIEMHILD, after thinking.) You, please, call up those people you called and cancel the alarm. And everything will be fine. We will take into account your feelings for the dear departed. The negligent will be punished. If you think about it, you're very fortunate: your tragedy occurred right before the eyes, if you will, of a professional witness, a member of the collegium of attorneys. Rejoice!

KRIEMHILD: You mean I was lucky?

CHUBBY: Naturally, it is unnatural to speak of such a tragic misunderstanding in a blatantly joyful manner. But essentially? Yes, you lucked out.

KRIEMHILD: Listen! I was lucky! I am so thrilled! But that means I am the cause of the peril now hanging over your heads.

CHUBBY: Well, it sort of happened that, not really trying to do it, that's what you did.

KRIEMHILD: Yes, my mind did not see what my hands were doing!

CHUBBY: And now it does. So now's the perfect time to rectify your error.

KRIEMHILD: Yes, now I see.

CHUBBY: Isn't that just marvelous? (Hands KRIEMHILD his phone.)

KRIEMHILD: (dials.) Hello? Oh, hello! It's me from the castle again. No, I won't do it again. Yes, right from inside. Yes, I can go now.

All nod supportively.

The others? Who do you mean? You mean my husband's assassins?

All look concerned.

Yes, of course they can go if you let them go. But I don't think that would be fair. (Shakes the telephone receiver.) We were cut off. (Dials again.) I haven't said all I wanted to say.

HOT CHEF: Now listen here, Nadya. Listen to me. You are upset. They could easily misunderstand you. Innocent people might suffer, you understand? (Takes the phone from KRIEMHILD.)

KRIEMHILD: Where do you see innocent people? You don't think you are innocent, do you?

HOT CHEF: Nadya, come to your senses. What am I guilty of?

KRIEMHILD: You're guiltier than all of them. You serve an assassin.

HOT CHEF: Everybody serves him.

KRIEMHILD: Then everybody's guilty.

HOT CHEF: You worked for him, too.

KRIEMHILD: And I did, too.

HOT CHEF: So what do we do then?

KRIEMHILD: I don't know. I'm weak. What can I do? I can only howl, "Remember Siegfried's death!" "Remember Siegfried's death!" (approaches LAZY.) Tell me, handsome. Are you really who you say you are?

TATYANA: Get laid and calm down, for God's sake.

KRIEMHILD: (To LAZY.) Say it yourself.

ATTILA: I am Attila, ruler of the East.

KRIEMHILD: Listen Attila, ruler of the East. I don't want to make any more mistakes.

ATTILA: Beware mistakes.

KRIEMHILD: Why are you here?

ATTILA: To dry your tears.

KRIEMHILD: My brother Gunther also wants to dry my tears. Kriemhild's tears are to no one's advantage. Did Gunther pay you to marry me?


KRIEMHILD: Why did you accept that money?

ATTILA: So he would not realize who I really am.

GUNTHER: Good answer, ace.

KRIEMHILD: You do understand why they want to marry me off, don't you?

ATTILA: Of course.

KRIEMHILD: If I take an unworthy groom, I am a traitor to my husband. If I betray my husband, how will I take revenge on his assassins?

ATTILA: I am worthy of you, Kriemhild.

KRIEMHILD: Attila the Hun is worthy of me, that is true. What shall you give to receive Kriemhild?

ATTILA: Twelve crowns, a sprawling territory reaching from the Rhine to the Great Wall of China. You shall be known as the Empress of South and Central Europe – the Italites, the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, the Franks and the Germans –

KRIEMHILD: The Bourgognes?

ATTILA: Burgundy is in flames. Worms is under siege. My captains await my orders to storm the citadel. I shall give them the signal when I can declare you my wife.

HAGEN: (to GUNTHER.) I don't like this guy.

GUNTHER: An amazing kid! Look how her cheeks have gone all rosy. Look how she's looking at him! Marvelous performer, just marvelous. He's kinda chewing the scenery, but in a case like this that's just what you need. Crazies are gullible when it comes to theatrical flair. Marvelous performer.

HAGEN: I don't like any of this one little bit.


HOT CHEF: Yes. What I don't understand is how I physically get out of here.

GUNTHER: What are you all making such a big deal out of this for? Okay, so a few security forces showed up. Some trigger-happy soldier shot off a few rubber bullets. By mistake he hit our young employee. No, that's awful, I know. But where's the big tragedy? Get the white flags out and wave 'em. Here, you want my kerchief?

HOT CHEF: I don't think she took a rubber bullet.

GUNTHER: What then? Speak up. No loaded pauses here. Say that awful word lurking behind your enigmatic expression. If not a rubber bullet, then what? Speak up. Go ahead, scare me.

HOT CHEF: A rock.

GUNTHER: A rock? Nonsense. We aren't Neanderthals.

TATYANA: Are you speaking for yourself?

GUNTHER: Who would use a rock?

HOT CHEF: Who would use combat elephants, siege towers, ballistas, catapults and battering rams? Who would employ archers, slingshotters and spearmen? What are 500,000 horsemen doing surrounding your castle?

GUNTHER: How many thousand horsemen are surrounding my castle?

HOT CHEF: 500,000.

GUNTHER: Horsemen?

COLD CHEF: Horsemen.

GUNTHER: Hm. Tomorrow we all begin a short vacation. How many horsemen did you say?

HOT CHEF: 500,000.

GUNTHER: Oh, forget the tourists. We all need a break. Turn on some music.

COLD CHEF: We only have television.

GUNTHER: That'll do.

They turn on the television.

...and raised the drawbridge o'er the moat.
O woe, o woe to us – there may be victims.
Scattered phrases fly to us on gusts of wind,
Ancient horrors are reflected in the eyes of birds.
The Nibelungs have locked themselves inside the castle
And no one has the right to leave...

GUNTHER: What is this crap? (Changes the channel.) Oh, here's the weather.

...the dreadful predictions have come true.
The savage airy leaps of furry squirrels
And the burrowing of stripéd shrews
Have come together in a mysterious ornamental script.
The city is stricken by the scourge of tornados
And the hoods of BMWs are shattered by hail.
When time comes to a halt, sulfurous comets
Shall not fill the world so full of evil

GUNTHER changes the channel.

Heh, heh. Cool, Butthead.
Ha, ha. Beavis, cool!

Everybody is happy, as if they've run into old friends.

Heh, heh. Those eggheads in the castle think they're hot tamales.

GUNTHER: What's my castle got to do with it?

TV: Yeah, Butthead. Ha, ha. What's the castle got to do with it?
You dick-brain, Beavis. The castle has nothing to do with it. The castle is fucked.

The castle will save no one from the plundering Huns.
The Nibelungs are wasting their time in there.
None again shall ever see the light of day...

Gunther turns off the TV.

GUNTHER: That God damn broad! (To Kriemhild.) Is this your work, witch?

What do you say, my king?
That savage midgets rustle in the dark?
That vengeful arrows rain down from the skies?
Or that each and every one who has an eye
To see the blood that flows,
Or has an ear to hear
The howls of Queen Kriemhild,
Or tears to share her weeping –
That each and every one of them is trapped by fate?
Oh yes! Is caught upon a fishing hook!
The fisherman is caught no less –
And much the sadder for it –
Pulled amongst the reeds and shoals
Behind the writhing fish,
Risking all, his boat and oars,
And life into the bargain.
But there is no going back!
He cannot cut the line
(His hungry children wait at home).
So too does Queen Kriemhild steer
The ship of vengeful fortune.
My work? Yes, it is my work!
I weep: Therein lies my woman's work.
But someone hidden there, beyond the icy
Vault of heaven's desert
Took heed and heard my sad and wailing plaint
Above the din of prayers offered up by common priests.
My work? No, my cunning king!
Kriemhild is naught but bones and joints,
I am a sack of stinking meat,
A wretched drinking barrel gone dry.
The sharpened tip of a flaming arrow.
My work? Oh, no! The work is His!
It was He who wove my tears from rivers,
To drown this blust'ry age in seething floods,
An age that never stopped to pause
The day my husband died; the dazzling Siegfried.
My work? Yes! My work!
My hand now grips the pleated whip
And I have leave to flog and thrash my age
Then drive the bloody mares back home.

HOT CHEF: (holds a book in hand.) This book has talking pictures in it. It's my daughter's birthday tomorrow. What a wonderful age we live in when books can talk! I wouldn't want to live in any other age. I want to live in that age when tomorrow I will give my daughter a gift of a book with talking pictures. Nadya, can I give my daughter a book with talking pictures?

KRIEMHILD: Do you keep the memory of Siegfried's death?

HOT CHEF: My daughter came late in life. This book has two stories in it and fourteen talking pictures.

KRIEMHILD: Do you remember how the hero perished?

HOT CHEF: Vaguely.

KRIEMHILD: I pity you. Prepare to die.

translated from the Russian by John Freedman