Act 1, Scene 1, King Lear's Palace
Enter Kent, Gloucester, and Edmund
Kent was amazed by the colour of the sky. He'd never seen it so dark, so deep, like anything could whip out of it, foul weather or demon.
He'd met up with Gloucester at the door of Lear's house. He didn't know the third man of their party, but felt he should. There was something both familiar and worrisome about him.
"The President proposes to divide his kingdom among his heirs, though unequally," said Gloucester.
"Is he ill?" Kent asked, though he was looking at the third man.
"In his mind," Gloucester snorted. He followed the direction of Kent's look. "My illegitimate son, Edmund."
"My services to your lordship," Edmund said to Kent.
"Do I know you?" Kent asked.
"If not, I deserve knowing," Edmund replied, giving Kent a thorough look, broken by the sound of Lear entering the main room inside. The three men went in.
Lear had been President as long as Kent could remember. There was some obscure family connection between them. Kent's father had picked up on it, and sent Kent to Lear's court, no doubt hoping to add a bit of association and glory to the family. Kent, however, couldn't care less about glory and had no dreams of rising to any sort of power. This endeared him to Lear who stopped inviting Kent to the halls of power and, instead, began inviting him to the halls of his family home.
Kent came and went freely. Lear's daughters sniffed a rival, and perhaps two of them were behind the rumours that Kent's unencumbered access was not just in the main areas of the house, but to Lear's private chambers as well.
Lear sat in a throne at the head of the room. His daughters and the court stood in front of him.
Goneril was speaking, "Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter."
What's this? Kent thought. The division of Lear's lands had turned into a strange comedy.
Edmund sniffed and said just loudly enough for Kent to hear, "The lady wields words with her father, but with me, she wields something else entirely."
Regan was now speaking. "And find I am alone felicitate in your dear highness' love."
"When that lady felicitates, her bedchambers shake in their foundations," Edmund whispered.
Cordelia, the youngest daughter, spared not a look for anyone, but simply said, "And I, my lord, say nothing."
Lear looked startled. "Nothing?"
A peculiar conversation ensued. Kent listened warily, until a movement at his side turned his attention there. Edmund had leant forward. A predatory gleam entered his eye.
Kent frowned. This was foolish in the extreme. And dangerous. Of course, he couldn't tell Lear that. Lear would not take it well.
On the other hand...
"My liege," Kent said.
Lear, in a fury now, stood up and proclaimed, "Cordelia, I disclaim all my paternal care, and as a stranger to my heart and me, hold thee, from this, forever!"
"My lord," Kent said again.
Lear turned on him. "Peace, Kent! Come not between the dragon and his wrath."
The raging went on. Edmund again shifted beside Kent. At Kent's look, he said with a grin, "It could be worse."
"Worse? He's disinheriting Cordelia."
"I could tell you a thing or two about being disinherited," Edmund said.
Kent stepped forward again. "Royal Lear, whom I have ever honoured..."
"Loved as a father, as my great patron..."
"Are you trying for a piece of the kingdom too?" Edmund whispered. "Or another piece of him?"
"What wilt thou do, old man?" Kent asked, ignoring Edmund. "Think'st thou that duty shall have dread to speak, when power to flattery bows? Reverse thy doom. Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least. Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound – "
"Moo," Edmund chuckled.
"No more, Kent," Lear warned. "On thy life."
"What is my life?" Kent replied. "Except in service to thine own."
"Talk about flattery," Edmund mocked. "Is this how you get him in the mood?"
"Out of my sight!" Lear rumbled.
"Hear me," Kent said. "Revoke thy doom, or, whilst I can vent clamour from my throat, I'll tell thee thou dost evil."
"You tell ME?" Lear rose with a bellow. "Who are you that dare to tell me anything? To dare come between Lear and his power? Take your leave. Take to your heels. And remove thyself from my sight now!"
Lear motioned, and several men raised their swords.
Edmund tugged Kent's sleeve. "I suggest running." He didn't speak again until they had cleared the doors, the yard, and a convenient field. They collapsed in a copse of trees.
Gasping, Edmund was still able to say, "You don't know when to shut up. You must spend a lot of time running."
"This is new," Kent said, hearts hammering in anger and bewilderment.
"Well, get used to it. A lot of running is in your future."
Kent turned on him. "Just who ARE you?"
"Gloucester's bastard son."
Kent shook his head. "All right, Gloucester's bastard son, what are you up to?"
"Never reveal the ending too soon," Edmund said. "It spoils the entree. So what is it between you and the old man anyway?"
"He is my mentor."
Edmund sighed. "A puzzling way to put it." He would have said more, but his attention was distracted. He glanced behind them.
"What is it?" Kent asked, thinking they were still being followed.
"Don't you hear it?" Edmund asked.
Kent looked around. He couldn't hear anything except the breeze and a few birds.
As he peered back towards the castle, he could make out the distant forms of the men that had chased them. Oswald was in front, sword raised.
"Goneril's goon," Edmund said. "Everytime I turn around, there he is."
Me too, Kent thought.
"As you're banished, what have you got to lose?" Edmund asked, voicing Kent's thoughts aloud.
Kent was getting very tired of Edmund. "In good time."
"Or in bad time," Edmund said.
Oswald and his men started across the field. Without saying anything more to Edmund, Kent set out after them.
Act II, Scene II, Before Gloucester's castle
Enter Kent (in disguise) and Oswald, severally
In high court language, Oswald said, "Good dawning to thee, friend. Art of this house?"
Lowering his voice, Kent said roughly, "Ay, I am."
"Where may we set our horses?" Oswald asked.
"You can set yourself and your horses in the mire, for all I care," Kent replied.
"Why dost thou use me thus? I know thee not."
"But I know you, knave, rascal, base, shallow, beggarly, pin-headed, lily-livered, duckweed of a mongrel, one-trunk-inheriting slave, pander-headed and polka-dotted varlet, double-breasted, frog squashing maroon, imbecilic, knot-headed wouldn't-know-his-own-sot-covered-backside if it bit him," Kent said. Then he added, "Though I'll give you the bow-tie. Bow-ties are cool."
Oswald blinked. "I...dare you to say that again."
"I will tread you, unbolted villain, into mortar and daub the wall of a jakes with you. Once I figure out what a jakes is." Kent raised his sword.
"It's that thing over there," said one of the men with Oswald.
Kent turned and saw a large wardrobe. "I can do that."
"Enough!" Oswald said, taking out his sword. As he did so, Gloucester, Edmund, Cornwall, and Regan entered.
To Kent's amazement, Oswald nicked his own arm, enough to draw blood. Then he yelled, "Help! Ho! Murder!"
"Why, what's the matter?" Gloucester asked.
"I gave no offence to this stranger, and yet he has abused me, drawn his sword, and tried to run me through. It is only by the Lord's grace that I stand here before you."
Regan looked askance. Edmund tried to keep from laughing. But Gloucester and Cornwall took hold of Kent.
"He attacked for no reason?" Cornwall asked.
"I never gave him any, save I had sworn my fealty of the Lady Regan here and, of course, my own mistress, Lady Goneril. This man holds some misguided loyalty to the former President and is a devil in his fury."
"What say you?" Gloucester asked Kent.
"Oswald is a rogue and coward. Let me say a twit and a coward, because I think I mentioned rogue already and I hate repeating myself."
"Fetch the stocks!" Cornwall cried, and then added to Kent, "We'll teach you. You shall sit in them until noon."
"Night time, I think, and all night too," Regan said.
"The stocks are for the low and petty crimes," Gloucester said. "If he is the President's man, then the stocks are an offence."
"My father is no longer the President," Regan said. "My father is no longer much of anything, but a drunkard who cannot control the few men he has left."
Crudely, Kent was thrust into the stocks and bolted in. Gloucester shook his head. "Poor man."
"Not so much," Kent said. "I could use the rest."
Edmund waited until the others had left before saying, "You're much better at running, my dearest Kent. You should stick with that."
"Must you be here when I'm trying to nap?" Kent said.
"Whatever you have up your sleeve is ruining what I have up my sleeve," Edmund said. "Though I'm wondering if it's not so much up your sleeve as off your cuff. Or out of your ass." He tilted his head. "Someone's coming."
He had just made it behind a curtain when Cordelia appeared. She gave Kent a long look before producing a key.
"What are you doing, my Lady?" Kent asked.
"Regan and Goneril will soon be returning, your Lordship," Cordelia said.
"And I intend to be right here when they do," Kent said. "How did you know who I was?"
"Who else is so devoted to my father?"
Cordelia acknowledged that with a small nod. She went to put the key in the stock's lock, but Kent shook his head. "I would rather your sisters not suspect you of freeing me. I have someone waiting in the" – he glanced at the curtain – "wings, to do that."
Cordelia frowned at him. "You are very strange."
"No, I am very loyal."
"You love Lear too much, and yet not enough."
"I wouldn't call it love. Just a passing like," Kent said.
"Your self-made position is not safe," Cordelia said.
"It's safer than yours, My Lady."
"My position is not self-made, and I have no choice but to be in it." She sighed wearily. "We could do this all night."
"I'd rather not. I'm too old to be doing much of anything all night," Kent said. He heard a distant snort from the curtains. "My Lady, please depart and save yourself. I'm fine. I'm always fine."
The sound of someone coming along the corridor decided it. Cordelia looked over her shoulder, back at Kent briefly, and then hurried out of the room. Just as she left through one door, Oswald came in through another.
He stopped in front of Kent. "Who is the mongrel now?" He withdrew his sword and pointed it a bare inch in front of Kent's nose. "I should kill you as you stand."
"Well, it would save me from having to listen to your empty, pot-headed rambling any longer," Kent said.
Oswald frowned at him. "Are you that slow? You are restrained and I am holding a broadsword at your head."
"Exactly," Kent said. "You only come after me because I am restrained. Coward."
A ping from the curtain drew their attention. There was a soft flutter, and then Oswald looked down in surprise. The shaft of an arrow protruded from his shoulder and a silent stream of blood began to run over his shirt.
"Edmund, no!" Kent cried, but it was too late. Oswald, stumbling now, ran from the room, Edmund on his heels.
Kent thrashed in the stocks in vain. "Damn you..." he whispered angrily.
It may have been hours later – Kent's sense of time had always been erratic – when Edmund returned.
"Oswald?" Kent demanded as Edmund released him from the stocks.
"He died, though not by my hand," Edmund said, but he was strangely subdued.
Feeling a catch in his throat, Kent asked, "What happened?"
"A divided kingdom cannot stand," Edmund said. "Regan and Goneril poisoned each other in demented jealousy. Their armies have almost decimated each other. Cordelia has been hanged in the tower as a traitor, and, upon hearing it, Lear died from madness and grief. My father is dead. And, in the streets..." he put his hands to his head. "Oh, the sound in the streets, a drumming that will not cease. Kent, tell me you hear it too."
"I hear noise from the streets, but I don't hear that," Kent murmured as he fell into a chair. He heard a step and looked up to see Goneril's husband, Albany, enter the room.
"What's going on?" Kent asked.
Albany took a moment to speak. "We are a mad race. We call ourselves lords, but we are no better than our vilest enemies. Master Edmund, you have much to answer for." He gave Kent a second look. "Are you not His Lordship Kent?"
"No, not anymore," Kent said.
Abany went to the window. "It is ending. Our business now is grief." He stood for a while before adding, "Your Lordship, the last survivor of Lear's court, you will be needed."
He strode past them and went back out the door. Kent shook his head. "I don't think so."
Edmund was still holding his head. "Kent, tell me you hear this."
Kent touched Edmund's sleeve, but then just as quickly withdrew. "I have no sympathy left."
"I have nothing left," Edmund said.
Kent drew a breath, but thought better of whatever he might say. Edmund was not his problem.
Act VI, Scene I, A lonely field
The sky still held its demon colour. Kent didn't care at all about it anymore, and didn't spare it a look.
He carried a small satchel, nothing else. He'd set down his sword a mile back, left it on the torn ground and walked away. He was determined never to pick up a weapon again.
The field was not empty, though it was, by order of a President long before Lear, unattended and forbidden. Lear had never rescinded that order. It wouldn't even have occurred to him. The violence surrounding Lear's death, the utter civil catastrophe engulfing the capital city, would not come here, though what lay in this field could easily decide a victor one way or another.
Kent stepped into the field, walking the rows that lay between various eccentric objects. The things that grew in this field were not quiet. They hummed and vibrated and sang to themselves, wild and secret songs that only they understood. Kent felt the thrum of it on his skin.
He walked for a long time, row after row, until the night was so black that the stars disappeared into a black void. When Kent could no longer see his hand in front of him, he stopped and reached tentatively in front of him.
His fingers landed on something massive that stretched high and wide. But as he tried to feel its dimensions, it turned out to be not so wide. Here was a corner, and then another. Square dimensions, a rough panel, and then, at last, a door.
The door opened for him and he stepped inside. A few minutes later, a wheezing sound startled a bird in a nearby tree. The sound grew in intensity, and then faded away. By the time the bird took to flight, there was one less object growing in the field, and Kent was gone.