A Murderer Divine

by Farzana Moon


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Act III

Scene: The same as in act one.

olofernes is sitting in his chair, drinking wine. Sabri is playing the harp. Bagoas is leaning against one cushion, feasting on grapes.

When the curtain rises, Holofernes voice rings out loud and clear.

Holofernes: Oh, that we could discover truth in sounds merry and sweet!

Sabri: (To himself.) Beauty is truth!

Bagoas: Lord Holofernes, since that lovely lady, Judith, walked into our camp, you have gone mad...raving mad!

Holofernes: Three days! Three centuries! she has been in our camp. Flattering me, flattering me not? Holding her chastity as some mighty defense against my passion. Kindling my desire into some fire of hunger. These everlasting agonies of my heart and soul! She evades me like a Nereid, choosing her own waters? Bathing in a stream near Bethulia, eating her own food, drinking her own wine? (Takes a sip of his own wine, absently.) Oh, even dawn cannot escape the lust of the Sun, when its eye of desire sleeps no more! It consumes all...pride and purity, vanity and innocence, ignorance and vainglory! We would be disgraced, if we let this chaste beauty go without having her. Oh, mockery! mockery in my heart.

Bagoas: (Limping to his feet and nursing his leg.) Raving mad you are, as I said before, Lord Holofernes! Bethulians are gathering armies. Foretelling fortunes. And predicting victory over us, while you are simmering in the volcano of your lust.

Holofernes: (Replenishing his cup from the gold flagon beside him.) Ah, as many stars as in the heavens, cannot prophesy the whims of Destiny! How can, then, the little whims of these Hebrew slaves predict a victory over us?

Bagoas: (Slapping his knee with a violence akin to murder.) They care not for our might, and fear not the hosts of numbers in men and weapons! It's all superfluous to them. They have felt the boon and the promise of their God, it seems. In His will, they trust, knowing Him to be as their Lord over Israel.

Holofernes: (Mirth and mockery shining in his eyes.) All men, whose blind faith goads them to worship one God alone, are either bigots or unblessed heathens! Intolerable fools and insufferable rogues! Fools, all! Have no fear, Bagoas, their hopes will suffer death in the parched lands of Jerusalem, when we get there. (Gulps down a large draught of wine.) Tell me, Bagoas, how did the lovely maid, Judith, receive you? How did you deliver my message? What was her response?

Bagoas: (Stifling an oath under his exclamation.) What! Lord Holofernes, haven't I answered such questions a hundred times over! All morning, I have repeated and repeated...all afternoon too! Over and again, and still you don't tire of hearing the same thing.

Holofernes: (Sadly.) With many more questions, I importune Judith, more than I do you! Though they have a different strain. Over and over, day after day, I have been asking her the same questions...for three whole days. Who is she? Why did she desert the Israelites? Why did she come to the enemy's camp? What motive lies behind her whim or adventure? And she suffers all my inquiries, indulging me with patience and sweetness. You too must be patient with me, Bagoas, I am in love and I am stricken! Answer me just this once, is she coming to see me this evening?

Sabri: (To himself.) Once that you have tasted the fruit of lies, you will hunger no more for truth.

Bagoas: (With a wild gesture.) Pay attention to what Sabri says, Lord Holofernes. There he sits, our prophet! Our priest! His parables are no dreams, but prophecies, wearing the noose of truth!

Holofernes: (Laughing.) Dreams! Prophecies! I have had too many to count and remember. Ah, prophets play the part of a fool, and priests that of a madman! And yet, in ignorance, we heed the wisdom of the fools, thirsting only for levity, not prudence. (Laughter gone from his eyes suddenly.) Now answer my questions, Bagoas, or I will slit thy throat. (His hand reaching down to his jeweled hilt in one gesture of a challenge.) Answer me.

Bagoas: (Laughing stridently.) I believe you, Lord Holofernes, I believe you. I know you will slit my throat, so I must obey. (Reciting like a parrot.) I went to the beautiful Jewish woman and said: so fair a maiden should not be reluctant to come to my Lord to be honored by him. To enjoy drinking wine with us, and to be like one of the Assyrian women who live in the palace of our Lord Nebuchadnezzar. And she replied? Now, please, Lord Holofernes, be as good to engrave her response in your memory for just this once and ask no more. Yes, Judith said: who am I to refuse my Lord? Whatever is pleasing to him, I will promptly do. This will be a joy for me till the day of my death.

Holofernes: (In drunken mirth.) Ah, death! As death lives undying on the lips of hemlock, so do my passions in the tomb of fear! Such fear, which I have not tasted before. What is it, I cannot fathom.

Bagoas: (Storming toward the tent door, and peering out.) There is much sorrow in drunkenness, where men lie desolate and in sweet oblivion.

Holofernes: (Abandoning his cup on the table beside him.) There is no pleasure in wine, when her eyes tempt me to taste the nectars most sweet. Her very lips brimming with sweetness, for which my lips...nay, my whole soul thirsts.

Bagoas: (Lamenting aloud.) You are in love, Lord Holofernes, madly and hopelessly in love, no doubt about it!

Holofernes: (Dreamy and ecstatic.) Prick me with briers and thistles, Bagoas, and let the scorpions bite my tongue! Still, I cannot help but say, that I love her thousand times dear than my own life! Woe stands behind me like a looming shadow, I can feel it. Am I not forewarned? Mourning and lamentation await me, my heart sings. What is this--sickness...sweet and incurable? Yet and yet again, joy and rapture...in love...even in death.

Sabri: (Singing his own dreamy lament.) Death and desolation! Ruin and affliction.

Bagoas: (Still peering out.) Another prophecy, Lord Holofernes, mark that! And yet another? There is a storm out there, lurking behind the evil clouds.

Holofernes: (Deliriously and passionately.) Now, now! What sweet winds turn into whirlwinds, when the torments within heed not the impending storms.

Bagoas: (Casting an apprehensive look over his shoulders at his general.) You do love her, then...truly, I believe...Lord Holofernes.

Holofernes: (Wistfully.) Thorns and thistles lie at the altar of love, where my soul paces naked, cankerous and bleeding.

Bagoas: (Plodding back to his seat, as if bent double with fright.) Have you told her, Lord Holofernes...about this fateful love of yours?

Holofernes: (Leaping to his feet with an abrupt alacrity.) Chains of silence are the most intolerable to wear, Bagoas! Oh, these chains, this silence insufferable! Shackle me in chains of iron, Bagoas, and I can howl in agony, raising anguished cries to be set free. (Pacing.) But these chains of silence, no mute agonies or prayers, can ever break or sunder apart. Silence is my foe, bitter and infinite, holding me prisoner to her Beauty. Such agony supreme, that no rivers of tears could wash my pain--and desire!

Bagoas: (Tossing a grape into his mouth, nonchalantly.) And you a handsome man, with a...

Holofernes: (Interrupting with the fury of a storm.) I would rather be an object of derision in her eyes, than a handsome man ignored by her beauteous gaze!

Sabri: (Playing his harp, and watching Holofernes.) A handsome head...no more, no more.

Bagoas: (Desperately.) Lord Holofernes, will you be a slave to her love? Obedient and suffering?

Holofernes: (Pacing and thinking.) I am like an arrow in her bow...shooting, where she commands? Longing to get back in her quiver, which she keeps dear to her heart.

Bagoas: I should seek the advice of that old physician, Lord Holofernes. You surely have gone mad. Not only raving, but ailing.

Holofernes: (Laughing.) Love needs no healing potions concocted the physicians, Bagoas, but some wine of a promise from the sweet eyes of one's Beloved! The nectar of passion from her ruby lips! Oh, Judith, Judith, Judith!

Bagoas: (Discreetly.) Judith, if I may say so, Lord Holofernes, is not only wise, but unapproachable, as I have heard. Her name does not mean, Jewish woman, as we have been told, but the handmaiden of God. And this handmaiden of God is pious. She is devout, and her devotion to God is such that to serve Him, she is capable of betraying her own soul. And yet, she will not commit any sin, which might displease her God. The Lord of Israel is her God and Savior. She will not stray from her true path, carved by her own designs, which I don't know yet what they are? And yet again, she is familiar with the passions and the weakness' of men to a...

Holofernes: (Interrupting fiercely.) The only sin in a man or a woman, as far as I know, is the weakness of will. Gods, even her God commanded sins...not to punish men for their lusts, but for their weakness'. Is there any sin in seducing a beautiful lady? But to be seduced by her, an unpardonable one, I should say! (Is drowned in a volley of his own mirth.)

Bagoas: God! She is going to betray you, Lord Holofernes.

Holofernes: Betrayal is the legacy of the men, not of women!

Bagoas: Truth and honesty do not sit well with thee, Lord Holofernes.

Sabri: (Evoking a discordant note on his harp.) Truth and honesty are thrown out like the husk! While deceit and dishonesty are valued as kernels of hope on the tree of victories.

{Holofernes approaches Sabri, dream-like. Bagoas looks puzzled, rather disconcerted.}

Holofernes: (To Sabri.) So, our prophet speaks once more! Be a good minstrel, Sabri, and play a sweet tune. My heart yearns for sounds sublime and celestial.

{Sabri teases the strings of his harp playfully. Holofernes trudges back to Bagoas.}

Holofernes: (To Bagoas.) Do you wish your general to court deceit and dishonesty?

Bagoas: (Hopelessly.) Deceit and dishonesty will fare well with men, who are doomed for destruction. No danger for you there, Lord Holofernes, for you are too wise to fall into such a pit. You are honest, much too honest!

Holofernes: (Sinking into his chair.) What do you propose, then, Bagoas? Barter beauty with war?

Bagoas: (A glint of hope alighting in his gaze.) Abandon beauty, Lord Holofernes. Send Judith back to her vicious brood--the Israelites!

Holofernes: (His heart aching with tenderness.) Judith! Send her back? When my heart is pierced by the arrows of love and despair! No...her beauty, no man can ever abandon, but only cherish till death.

Bagoas: (Stroking his leg with utmost absorption.) Beauty, Lord Holofernes, can lead wise men to emotional disintegration. Any shameless harlot has as much beauty as some chaste virgin from Lebanon. The only difference is that while one allures with her eyes, the other bewitches with her words.

Holofernes: (Reclaiming his cup of wine.) But Judith, her wisdom too! Ah, but the wine in her eyes...have you seen icicles kindled to flames? Without drinking, I languish intoxicated.

Bagoas: There is no dearth of beautiful maidens in Judea, Lord Holofernes, or in Jerusalem. You will find many, if you but desire.

Holofernes: (One snort of a prophecy escaping his thoughts.) Do you think, Bagoas, that her charms will be the death of me?

Bagoas: (Caustically.) No man has ever died by the charms of a beautiful lady, Lord Holofernes, but many have lost their heads by the rivers of guile and wickedness in their hearts!

Holofernes: (Sipping his wine thoughtfully.) Oh, that I could drink her guile with my eyes adoring and worshipping, and could feed on her wickedness with my lips thirsting and hungering for love!

Bagoas: She would kill you for sure then, Lord Holofernes.

Holofernes: (Fury and storm trembling in his gaze.) Then depart from hence, Bagoas, begone. Let me test her strength...and my own weakness! Begone, I say. When is she coming? Urge her? She should have been here...when? Soon, soon, I hope. This long, abominable wait...infinite, abysmal.

Bagoas: (Stealing a supercilious glance at Sabri.) I go, Lord Holofernes, I go...while he sits there prophesying.

{Exit Bagoas. Holofernes takes a large gulp of his wine, his gaze arresting Sabri's attention.}

Holofernes: Do you think, Sabri, that Judith has some evil designs? Is she wicked, dangerous?

Sabri: (Closing his eyes.) Beautiful and virtuous as she is, Lord Holofernes, I fear, she might have plans of assassination.

Holofernes: (Hilariously.) A woman assassin? How ridiculous! You surely jest, Sabri.

Sabri: (His eyes still closed.) She may even succeed...I have this premonition.

Holofernes: I fear no assassins, but the assassins of love! You and Bagoas, both of you...dreamers, cowardly? (Mischief dancing in his eyes.) Are you a prophet, Sabri? If you are, prophesy for me. When is Judith coming?

Sabri: (Horror and prophecy shining in his eyes.) Soon, Lord Holofernes, much too soon.

Holofernes: You think you are perceptive, Sabri, don't you? As if I didn't know.

Sabri: (Murmuring heedlessly.) Women do kill men...not with their beauty alone.

Holofernes: Where have you learnt to read the souls of women so well? What about the men's souls? The beauty and wisdom of a woman...how does it affect the soul of a man? Do men have hearts?

Sabri: (With a dint of inspiration.) Men are doomed to surrender before the beauty of a woman. But if the beauty of a woman is polished with the wine of wisdom, then the men are not only doomed in this life, but condemned to suffering in the everlasting fires of hell. Suffering many a deaths, while living! And living many a deaths inside the dark holes of their tormented spirits.

Holofernes: (Heaving himself up thoughtfully.) With this note of wisdom, you may depart also. Dally not for a moment, Sabri, begone. Make sure, Judith comes soon, or you will be hanged for your false prophecies.

Sabri: (Sadly.) Yes, Lord Holofernes. With sorrow, I leave.

Holofernes: Bring joy then...into my tent, and you will be rewarded with gold and jewels.

{Exit Sabri. Holofernes stands there inert. Making a tight ball of his fists, he exclaims suddenly.}

Holofernes: Judith! This pharisaic beauty with her pharisaic piety. Her beauty I admire, and her guile I fear! Yet, no guile of any man has caused such fear in my heart...no one has ever succeeded in deceiving me? And no beauty of any woman has beguiled me to such an extent that I should become a victim of deceit. Ah, torments insufferable! Her beauty has robbed me of sense and reason, of caution and wisdom! Bewitched I am...yes, blinded and doomed. Wild, sightless reason, will it ever come to my rescue? Who is going to absolve this curse? This disease, my madness!

{Holofernes arms fall limp to his sides and he closes his eyes. Bagoas storms into the tent, startling Holofernes to awareness.}

Bagoas: Lord Holofernes, here she comes! Judith! She is coming, her maid too.

Holofernes: (Tenderly.) Judith! (Rage follows his awareness.) With her maid! That hideous hag! I will have none of her.

Bagoas: (Ominously.) That maid is Judith's shadow, Lord Holofernes...

{Bagoas flees without another word. Judith sails into the tent arrayed in silks the color of sunsets. Her jeweled tiara is casting a halo of light over the marble glow in her features. Her lips are crimson, absorbing the fire of rubies in her ears and around her throat.}

Holofernes: Judith! (Holds her hand reverently, leading her to a chair.) Here, rest here, this one has the softest of cushions. Are you afraid of me, my beauty, that you come with your maid as a chaperone?

Judith: No, Lord Holofernes, no! If you wish, I will send her away.

Holofernes: (Replenishing his cup and drinking thirstily.) Yes, my lady, during these three happy, painful days, I have learnt to respect your decisions. Yes, I wish to be alone with thee.

Judith: (To Nadira.) Set this flagon of wine here, Nadira, and leave us, please. Wait outside the tent, until I summon thee.

Nadira: Yes, Mistress. (Stands there demurring.)

Holofernes: (Commanding.) Nay, kind maid, go now! Go to your own tent. Seek comfort in sleep. This is going to be a long, long evening. Your mistress is going to stay with me, this night.

{Nadira stands there stricken, unable to move against the stormy gaze of Holofernes.}

Judith: (Appealing to Nadira softly.) Nadira, please leave us.

Nadira: (Ploughing her way out somnambulantly.) May our Lord God stay with you, Mistress.

{Nadira vanishes out into the darkness. Holofernes drains his cup quickly, turning to face Judith, and noticing a flicker of fear in her eyes.}

Holofernes: My Lady, you do fear me? My Judith, why? Have no fear, Love, I will not harm thee. I would rather cut myself to pieces, if even a thought of injuring you dares enter my head. You will not suffer any injury from my hands. No, not ever, my lovely lady.

Judith: (Boldly and sweetly.) Divine this suffering, Lord, if it be from your hands. My suffering itself will speak nothing but truth. Obeying only the voice of authority.

Holofernes: (Pouring wine into two cups.) My authority has fled, sweet Lady. I plead only mercy! Mercy from the hands of your sweet beauty and chastity. If you could put your heart into my hands, my sweetness, they would surely tremble. Fearing the heresy of raising your heart to my lips, whose hungers demand no truth, but love! (Holds out one cup to her.) Here, sweetness. You did promise to drink wine with me, tonight!

Judith: (Claims the cup, but her eyes return to the flagon beside her.) Yes, And if you will care to share with me the finest which I have brought. The best and the sweetest...from Helbon.

Holofernes: (Draining his cup once again.) I would share with thee the rivers of joy, if I could! If I could only winnow the pain away from the waves of passion in my heart and soul. Such stormy pain, and abysmal too, I have not the heart to share with thee. (Drifts toward the tent door, looking out sightlessly.) You are heaven incarnate, my Lady! Light and Heaven both! I can feel the heavenly light, permeating in the very air of my tent. How bright are the stars tonight! This dazzling dance of fire and sparkle up in the sky. Though less celestial than the purity and brightness in your beautiful eyes! (Turns around slowly, gazing.) This is going to be a heavenly evening, Judith.

Judith: Yes. The greatest in my entire life!

Holofernes: (Gazing and dreaming.) Yes, the greatest! But before I appease the hungers of my heart and soul, I must quiet the groans of my anguished mind. It is hungering for peace...and affirmation? Once more, once more, and once again! You, Judith of Bethulia, why did you come to the enemy's camp?

Judith: (With sweet patience.) I will say nothing false to my Lord, as I have said before for these past three days. And I must admit, you have been very kind to grant me permission to return to my valley and to pray to my God. I am a chaste and devout widow, and serve our Lord God alone. You have witnessed yourself, my Lord, how I pray day and night! And how I humble myself before our Lord God. I came here, Lord Holofernes, because the priests of Bethulia have offended me. Now that there is no more cattle to kill and no more water to drink, they are going to eat the forbidden flesh of swine. And to drink the consecrated wine from the very Temple of Jerusalem, which is reserved only for the high priests in that sacred city.

{Holofernes stands there rapt, gazing , gazing. He edges a little closer, while Judith continues with perfect guile.}

Judith: I am the handmaiden of our God, Lord Holofernes, and He Himself has sent me to you. With your help, my Lord God has promised, to wreak vengeance on these sinful people who are about to touch the unlawful food, forbidden to them. (Watching him drift closer, appeals sweetly.) Please, Lord Holofernes, taste some of this exquisite wine.

{Holofernes smiles, relieving her of her unsipped cup. Fills two more from the flagon beside her. Leaving one with her, he claims the other and straggles away. Standing across from her with his back toward her.}

Holofernes: You barely tasted mine, my Lady, but I will share yours. Did you happen to meet Achior, my Lady?

Judith: (Grazing her lips against the cup.) Yes, Lord Holofernes.

Holofernes: What did he tell you, Judith, if any?

Judith: He told me all about what happened in your camp, Lord Holofernes. His advice...your anger, his banishment. Achior was right in lending such an advice, though, my Lord. For, true it is, our nation cannot be punished, nor can it be subdued by spear and javelin, unless the people of this nation sin against their God. But now, my Lord, the very thought of sin has clenched them in its own aura of power, and our God of Heaven has chosen me to crush them with your aid.

Holofernes: (His back still toward her.) And if they sin not?

Judith: They will, they will, Lord Holofernes! They are corrupt. All of them, men and priests! Their corrupt thoughts will tempt them to sin, and the noose of inequity will tighten around their necks.

Holofernes: When are they going to sin, Judith, I have been waiting for that sign of corruption from them? You said that the first day that you came to our camp, and now it has been three days?

Judith: (Passionately.) Soon, Lord Holofernes, soon. This revelation has been bestowed upon me through the mercy of my Lord God. He has spoken to me in my prayers. One final moment, when I receive that divine consent from my Lord of Heaven, I will report it to you immediately. Then you would march against them with all force, and not a single one of them would have the power to resist you. I myself would guide you through the heart of Judea, and farther down the plains of Jerusalem. I will set your throne right in the middle of Jerusalem. You will lead our people under your sway like the sheep who have no shepherd. Nor will a dog so much as growl at thee. And people will talk about this with awe and wonder. Medes and Persians too, as far as the borders of Tigris and Euphrates, your fame will reach.

Holofernes: (Turning slowly to face her. His gaze ardent and smoldering.) A choir of angels sings in thy voice, my Lady. Guide me, and I will be your slave.

Judith: (Laughing.) I grant my slaves freedom, my Lord. And many of them have ruled with mercy.

Holofernes: Mercy! This slave does not beg freedom, my Lady! Appealing only for mercy and kindness from the bower of your beauty.

Judith: (Averting her gaze.) Mercy comes from God alone.

{Bagoas appears at the tent door, trying to catch Holofernes attention.}

Bagoas: Lord Holofernes. That maid, Judith's maid is still languishing outside the tent. I have pleaded with her, but she refuses to leave.

Holofernes: (Whirling back with a sudden violence.) Tell her, Bagoas, her mistress is safe with me. And begone. And don't intrude like an impudent lout. Pull that crimson flap down, and begone!

{Bagoas plucks the flap down with a seething violence, and disappears. Holofernes pours more wine into his cup from Judith's flagon, and sips greedily.}

Holofernes: Sweet wine and the sweetest of words, are making me giddy. Where did you say this wine was from? A sublime aroma and exquisite taste.

Judith: From Helbon, Lord Holofernes.

Holofernes: (Warmly and profoundly.) You are safe here, Judith, safe with me. I am in danger...yes, in danger of falling--in love! Truly and madly!

Judith: (Condoning this levity.) Bagoas, Lord Holofernes, he is so devoted to you...and Sabri too. May I, if I may...how do you win such devotion from men of valor and courage?

Holofernes: (With giddy mirth.) Give men titles, and they will work like the beasts. Carrying the burden of duty on their shoulders with pride.

Judith: (Smiling.) As much as making an honest woman captive.

Holofernes: You mean, you! Judith of Bethulia.

Judith: A prisoner just the same.

Holofernes: A fool that I am! Imprisoned by the beautiful prisoner herself.

Judith: And both seeking freedom, I hope.

Holofernes: (Under the spell of profound delirium.) Yes, one on the guillotine of Love. And the other, on the altar of Faith!

Judith: If no choice, I would gladly offer my head to the guillotine, to be saved from the sin in Living.

Holofernes: (Pacing.) The executioner's hand would surely tremble, if your beautiful head was lowered on the guillotine. But if your life was ransomed by me, you would have no mercy for the ignorant fool like me? Even the abysmal ignorance of my own generals attests to such incongruity. And as for sin, my Lady, there is no sin or transgression in Love. Where lies sin, when love breathes nothing but the purity of desire? Pleading a million pardons for loving and worshipping, and remaining chaste and unrewarded. And yet, suffering still, and cherishing the daggers of pain and denial.

Judith: (Laughing.) Such pain and pathos, just in the name of love, my Lord! Why not toss such love to the winds? I can promise you nothing, but honor--in war.

Holofernes: There is no honor in war, Lady, only in love! And both tempt men, to the perils in living.

{Strange melodies from a harp ebb and frolic, flooding inside the very warmth of the tent.}

Judith: And glory?

Holofernes: No glory in war either, my Lady, but utter, abysmal shame and degradation. Some sort of shame inside the heart of a victor that he has vanquished many a foes, who could have lived in peace without being ruled by the strangers. And peace is secured only, if men are judged not by the spirit of freedom in their hearts, but by the shadow of Faith on their shoulders. God loving man, and man living in peace, without the chains of captivity.

Judith: And yet, my Lord, all these wars in the name of Faiths, Beliefs! These wars, where men win and women sin? Raped and ravished by men who are not stained by the brand of sin, but rewarded with the Laurel of Victory, claiming the sinless ones as their rightful Rewards? All captive women, wedded to the strangers, or carried away as slaves to suffer captivity, indignity, deprivation. Man and woman, were both not expelled from the heavens, together? One, to labor for riches with pride! And the other, to earn her living in humble servitude? The woman, laboring Within, the man consuming from Without? Women travail body and soul to nurture living. While men despoil to bury and scatter.

Holofernes: (Moved and puzzled.) In our wisdom we see peace, and with Reason we barter it with chaos. (Replenishes his cup, murmuring to himself.) Yes, to barter it with confusion? Judgment and perception, lost and expired. Pride and shame, not ever humbled, not ever forgotten. (Stands gazing into her eyes.) You are wise, Judith! Wise, in brevity and shrewdness.

Judith: Brevity and shrewdness are, Lord Holofernes, women's only mantles of protection.

Holofernes: (Smiling to himself.) Yes, while men stand naked to the challenge of spears aiming to cut through their breasts. (Enigmatically and capriciously.) Tell me, Judith, do you think that I should believe in your divinations about your priests, who would stray from the path of righteousness? And would they succumb to sin?

Judith: Infinitely corrupted are they to the very cores in their souls, and they know not what righteousness means? (Her eyes flashing.) I promise you victory, Lord. Beyond Damascus, into the cauldrons of perdition, the rest of the them would flee.

Holofernes: (In joyful delirium.) Oracles escape thy lips, my Lady! No great victory could move me thus, as your beauty does, and your sweetness too!

Judith: Beauty fades, my Lord. While victory is everlasting.

Holofernes: Ah, not your beauty, Judith! I have arrested it in my soul. And inside its silence, it will stay forever young. (Staggering under the spell of a mad caprice.) Will you marry me, Judith, since you are so averse to love, deeming it clothed in sin?

Judith: (Merrily.) I was once a vestal bride, Lord Holofernes. Then a devoted and faithful wife. Now, a chaste widow.

Holofernes: (Pouring another cup of wine.) No wives are vestal, my Lady, only beauty is! Beauty too, as long as it lasts?

Judith: Forswearing your own words, Lord Holofernes? Didn't you just tell me that my beauty will never die?

Holofernes: In my heart, Sweetness, inside the clear pools of my heart! Witchcraft is in thy beauty, and the scent of hemlock on thy lips. (Drinking and pacing.) Yet, all lovers would yearn a million deaths, if they could but graze your lips...more soft and silken than the rose-petals.

Judith: (Softly.) These rose-petals! If they be shamed thus...would wilt and wither, welcoming death.

Holofernes: (Poetically.) Even thorns would lament and grieve, if Beauty suffered such death. For, roses, when they die, leave behind mournful thorns. Though brittle and tearless, they suffer anguish and loneliness. (Coming to a sudden halt before her.) My Beauty, you were betrothed to me in timelessness, were you not?

Judith: I am betrothed to none, Lord Holofernes, but to righteousness.

Holofernes: (Imploringly.) And to judgment? Betrothal of judgment with righteousness breed joys supreme, which only gods are privileged to hold and grant, bestowing on us the children of mercy. And you, Judith, are a goddess! And I beg mercy from a goddess. You were wedded once to a mortal husband. Now, could you deign to marry a mortal lover, who would worship you forever with all the fire of love in his heart and soul?

Judith: (Fear choking her thoughts.) You are wise, Lord Holofernes, very wise. Wise men should be betrothed to judgments noble, lovers to passions shallow.

Holofernes: (Hysterically.) You are a prophetess, Judith, wise and beautiful. Before thy prophecies, all prophets and diviners sound profane. You are the bride of the angels!

Judith: I am wedded to faithfulness also, Lord Holofernes...and to my God of Heaven, in humility and surrender!

Holofernes: (Unable to control his mirth.) Two husbands, yet three...and more? Shame, my Beauty! Yet, take another one, who would be faithful to thee till all time eternal.

Judith: (Concealing her fright.) And will not die.

Holofernes: (Mirth choking him.) Utterly faithful, in both life and death! Could you marry me for that reason alone?

Judith: (Summoning her wit.) The only reason I got married was that my parents wanted me to marry. And for the fear of our Lord God, in remaining obedient to the wishes of my parents.

Holofernes: (Impatiently.) We all get married for all the wrong reasons, dear Lady. The only right one is, that most of us don't bury our passions under the straws of celibacy.

Judith: (Dazed and speechless.) Reason is--not love! Lord Holofernes.

Holofernes: (Ardent and impatient.) Reason is more than love, my Love...it's a cosmic journey in quest of love. Ah, but love, an agony sublime! Fire and volcano simmer in my heart, my Lady!

Judith: (Holding on to the reed of her wit.) Take care, Lord Holofernes, the fires in your heart might burn the cities to ashes before you can claim any victory.

Holofernes: (Tenderly and profoundly.) The fires in hearts devour not the cities, my Lady, but the souls within. (His gaze is warm and searching.) I still wonder, if all that you have said is true. Guiding me toward victory...not ruin, I hope.

Judith: (Her guile sitting high on the throne of wit.) I swear by the Lord Nebuchadnezzar, that I have said nothing false. Our Lord God will accomplish victory through you. Lord Nebuchadnezzar is the king of all! Beasts of the field obey him. The birds and the cattle, and the heavens too, and through you, he will claim wondrous rewards. His house shall prosper through your wisdom. The whole world knows, that you! above all others in the kingdom, are strong and valorous. A great master, in the arts of war, you are!

Holofernes: (Desire and agitation wreaking havoc inside him.) Not flattery, but your faith in our Lord Nebuchadnezzar, has won my trust in you, Judith. (Kneels at her feet, claiming her hands into his own.) You are a goddess, my Lady. And I some angel, banished from paradise! How sacred, thy beauty...my desire? The mating of both will violate not our friendship. Oh, your beautiful eyes, such sparkling wisdom, filling the cup of my own desire to the brim! This purest joy, even to hold your hands...pale, amber sweetness, flaming gold in the sun! (Lifting her hands up with the intention of a kiss.) May I desecrate this golden purity with a kiss?

Judith: (Snatching her hands away.) Lord Holofernes, defile not your lips by touching a Jewish woman!

Holofernes: (Stumbling to his feet in a fit of hilarity.) I know, you love me not, Judith, but I do! (Pours more wine into his cup.) Yes, I am in love! Madly and insanely, in love! (Draining his cup and tossing it to the floor.) And I am a man of lusts and passions. (Feels the scimitar in his hilt with ecstatic delirium.) And I show no mercy, even to the virgins, if they dare repulse my desire.

Judith: (Her eyes flashing as she gets to her feet. She is about to flee, it seems, but stands there dauntlessly.) Chastity has the power to melt lust, Lord Holofernes. Changing such passion to purity, which then cannot war with piety, but humbles itself before the very flame of its own desire.

Holofernes: (Histrionically.) Thy pharisaic piety, Judith! I am humbled, Lady. Humbled and fallen! (Snatches his scimitar out of its hilt, tossing it to his bed.) Humbled and fallen, yes! Not wishing to win, but tempted to sin...against thy God.

Judith: (Softly.) May our Lord God in heaven forgive you, Lord Holofernes.

Holofernes: (In drunken reverie.) And heal too!

Judith: (Charmingly.) He has the power!

Holofernes: (Delirious and hysterical.) Who else could heal me, Judith, but you and your God, who have rained this affliction on me? This agony supreme, and this madness incurable!

Judith: A victorious end will heal thy madness, Lord Holofernes...and this illusion of agony too!

Holofernes: Ah, a drunken general, that I am! Am I fit to fight and make my enemy captive?

Judith: Inside the pools of their own inequity, they would become the victims of captivity.

Holofernes: (Drunken elation glowing in his eyes.) Yes, were they not scattered by the very winds...those slaves of Egypt? From...where, I know not. Now they sit and defy, from hill to the mountain, lighting fires on their bastions, and keeping watch throughout the night.

Judith: (With rising guile.) Not the slaves of Egypt, Lord Holofernes, but Israelites. Those wretched worms! No mountains could protect them from the unerring spears of the Assyrians.

Holofernes: (Declaring happily.) Oh, desire and inebriation! And you will be my general on the field, Judith! Wielding swords and shooting arrows. Winning wars for me, your Lord Holofernes.

Judith: (Sits at the edge of the bed, her gaze arrested to the jeweled scimitar.) If I ever got embroiled in wars, Lord Holofernes; prayer, fasting and devotion to my Lord God, would be my only weapons to wield. As they are now...ever and forever, against all the adversities in life.

Holofernes: (Drunken rage kindling in his eyes.) Beauty is thy sole weapon, my Lady! And with that alone, you could conquer the worlds! (Throwing his arms up in the air.) Oh, ye, gods! (Dashes closer to her, his arms fallen limply to his sides.) I am jealous of thy God, Judith! Thy God, who claims your love!

Judith: (Her fingers feeling the scimitar under some spell of fascination.) God's essence is not of the flesh. A man need not be jealous of him.

Holofernes: (With demented exhilaration.) If He was of the flesh, I would tear Him from limb to limb in jealous rage.

Judith: (Tearing her gaze away from the scimitar, and looking into his eyes.) How could you tear and rend--Light, my Lord? For, that is the essence of God. But he knows the secrets of the Darkness. Unlike Lord Nebuchadnezzar, our God Most High is immortal, omniscient!

Holofernes: (Deliriously.) Nebuchadnezzar is a living god. You can see, feel and touch his compassion. He is the emblem of dying and resurrecting god. Born again and forever, into the hearts of men and cities, as long as the world endures. Our own Lord Nebuchadnezzar is much like the God of Israel. Living and dying with the infidels, and knowing the renewal of his essence inside the hearts of the ones who profess Belief. (Desperately.) Why am I talking about the gods, when a goddess sits within my reach? The jewel of my desire...to be possessed.

Judith: (Sweetly and sternly.) Men are such weak slaves of their passions! Whipped by the rod of desire, they lose not only their head, but their honor false, too. Proclaiming themselves, honorable!

Holofernes: (Falling on his knees at her feet again, and gazing into her eyes.) Honor! my Babylonian Moon, is the scepter of the liars and the bigots! Oh, your lovely eyes, my Judith, are more bewitching than the romantic nights of Babylon! O, ye, gods! Yes, gods again, Judith! We worship many gods, with many names, and goddess' too! The moon god is called, the Merciful Father and Mother Womb all in one! (Inebriated mirth trembling on his lips.) O, Merciful Father, why should you be called Mother Womb, when this Jewish woman sits before me unapproachable? The Rose of my Veneration, my Judith! A Goddess sent by the gods! The moon god, what madness! I shall go mad, indeed! (Laughing and wounding his arms around her.)

{Judith is quick to squirm out from under his unsteady arms. Her mirth small and artificial. Holofernes abandons himself on the bed. Shaking with drunken mirth, he manages to squeeze a pillow under his head. His one arm is stuck under his head, and the other groping for his scimitar.}

Holofernes: Better sleep with the smooth beauty of steel, than with a goddess carved in ice.

Judith: (Cajoling.) You are wise, Lord Holofernes! And in your wisdom, you should fear God. (Begins to pace.) Fear of God is knowledge...in this alone is wisdom.

Holofernes: And in love too, I hope.

Judith: (Enigmatically.) And in hatred.

Holofernes: (Laughing.) Why hatred?

Judith: (Coming to a standstill at the foot of the bed and smiling.) How would one compare love, if hatred did not exist?

Holofernes: You mean, love spiritual against love physical?

Judith: No! Hatred sublime than hate odious.

Holofernes: (Choking with mirth.) A mound of absurdities in the tower of Babel.

Judith: A light upon light, in darkness beyond darkness.

Holofernes: You mean, the deeps within, created by both?

Judith: No! Uncreated by Darkness, in the creation of Light.

Holofernes: (With an unsuccessful attempt in propping his head up.) Ah, Light blinds! While Darkness lends sight. One conceals, the other reveals.

Judith: Mystery of the mysteries.

Holofernes: (In drunken opiateness.) In light, or in darkness?

Judith: In both.

Holofernes: Why both?

Judith: (Unheeding.) In piety, and in corruption.

Holofernes: Are both not the same?

Judith: Almost!

Holofernes: Meaning?

Judith: Piety, corrupted by zeal. And corruption purged by one stream of a noble motive.

Holofernes: (Impatiently.) Almost in what respect?

Judith: Both corrupted by some motives noble or wicked. Yet, one condemns one to folly, and the other liberates one through folly.

Holofernes: (Soporifically.) Folly! Almost! Both! What then?

Judith: Love.

Holofernes: (Dreamily.) Without hate?

Judith: With hate.

Holofernes: Why both?

Judith: To seek Truth.

Holofernes: In madness?

Judith: In oblivion.

Holofernes: (Enacting a mock embrace.) Embracing love?

Judith: Abandoning not hatred.

Holofernes: Why so?

Judith: To know love.

Holofernes: Where? In oblivion, you mean?

Judith: Absolutely.

Holofernes: Is that the absolute truth?

Judith: In the scale of opposites, yes.

Holofernes: Is that kind of Truth, sublime?

Judith: If garnished with the bliss in judgment.

Holofernes: You mean, gratitude, contrition, adoration?

Judith: No, surrender! The death of a soul.

Holofernes: You mean, a spirit liberated?

Judith: It can be.

Holofernes: Where does it go?

Judith: Soaring beyond time.

Holofernes: What then?

Judith: Timelessness.

Holofernes: What dull, spurious quest! For knowledge? (Dreamy ardor shining in his eyes.) Certainty! Isn't that the foe of joy in hope? (Squeezes his fingers into a fist, both his hand and voice shaking.) Welcome, hope! And despair, too! Live in the heart of a lover, and I shall conquer kingdoms. And inside the heart of this Jewish goddess, also. In love, I shall conquer! What is my ransom, both head and heart?

Judith: (Pacing and smiling.) To barter one's own self in love, is the privilege of the heart, not the courtesy of the head! Besides, head should be content in staying on one's shoulders.

Holofernes: (Opiately.) A parable most ill-matched, my Lady. (His eyes are closing, his tremulous fingers feeling his temples.) Oh, my head! When a man loses his head, he knows not whether he is the slayer or the slain. A victor, or the vanquished.

{Judith halts by the bed in some sort of fear and caution. Pity and sadness are stealing the sparkle from her eyes. Holofernes, with his eyes closed, looks spent and dreaming.}

Judith: (Murmuring.) Eye of misfortune, look behind thee.

{Holofernes is smiling, as if gathering happy dreams.}

Judith: Favorite of Fate. A general most brave and wretched.

Holofernes: (Murmuring dreamily.) Like Aphrodite, she appears painted with the Light of the Moon.

Judith: (Rapt and fascinated.) Know the Darkness, and you will see the Light.

Holofernes: (In one opiate murmur.) Thy beauty mocks my wisdom, where it shudders to think that fools may know bliss in love.

{Judith takes a step back, startled. Then stands there in utter immobility. A sad smile curls on her lips, as she becomes aware that he is the victim of his own drunken reveries.}

Holofernes: (Incoherently.) To think...bliss in love...while my wisdom is crumbling like a dry, parched leaf. Blown away by the winds...of time. Tossed and trampled...ashen and neglected...

{Judith stands there holding her breath. Watching and listening. Her look is wild as she darts a quick glance over her shoulders at the tent door. Only silence is her companion, and the drunken lord. Gently and carefully, her hand reaches for the scimitar, and she unsheathes it with utmost tenderness.}

Judith: In emptiness, you will find the rivers of wealth, beyond imagination. Beyond reckoning. (Gasps for breath, watching Holofernes, her fingers feeling the sharp blade.)

The mighty have fallen. (Edges closer the side of the bed, the scimitar poised before her.)

The morning Sun shall see his head as some prize from the hands of Dawn. Inglorious end of pride! The pride of Babylon! Yes, this head, upon the very head of Nebuchadnezzar, though his will remain on his shoulders...without the pride of...

{Judith towers over the drunken general like an angelic apparition of Mercy in Death. Her sight clouding in a mist of tears.}

Judith: Lord God of all power. Look in this hour upon the work of my hands for the greater glory of Jerusalem. For now is the...

{With one violent stroke, Judith slits the throat of the drunken general.}

The Curtain

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