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The Faerie Fellers Master Stroke. A whimsy.

January 3, 2014

An indulgent homage in the style of a play, to both the song of that name by the group Queen, and to the painting by a madman that inspired it.

But first, the overture:

He’s a fairy feller
The fairy folk have gathered round the new moon shine
To see the feller crack a nut at night’s noon time
To swing his axe he swears, as it climbs he dares
To deliver…
The master-stroke

Ploughman, “Waggoner Will”, and types
Politician with senatorial pope – he’s a dilly-dally-o
Pedagogue squinting, wears a frown
And a satyr peers under lady’s gown, dirty fellow
What a dirty laddio
Tatterdemalion and a junketer
There’s a thief and a dragonfly trumpeter – he’s my hero
Fairy dandy tickling the fancy of his lady friend
The nymph in yellow “can we see the master-stroke”
What a quaere fellow

Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, ploughboy
Waiting to hear the sound
And the arch-magician presides
He is the leader
Oberon and Titania watched by a harridan
Mab is the queen and there’s a good apothecary-man
Come to say hello
Fairy dandy tickling the fancy of his lady friend
The nymph in yellow
What a quaere fellow
The ostler stares with hands on his knees
Come on Mister feller, crack it open if you please



It is first night. The sussurant murmurings from the audience have risen to a crescendo in the restive moments that precede the curtain’s rise. Conversations are hastened, last minute changes are made to seating arrangements, and requirements finalised for the interval. Children and awed adults scan the vast space, marvelling at the faded magnificence, the high plasterwork and gilt decoration, the crowded balconies and the tiered ranks of private boxes. The turbulence of human discourse is arrested at its peak, and overborne by the clarion clamour of horns. Overhead lights dim the house to a glow, diminishing and subduing the auditorium.

The curtain opens onto a night scene, dressed for autumn. Midnight approaches, and we are deep in the woods, among the mossy banks and the massive boughs of fallen trees. A dream-like diorama unfolds as a gossamer cloth is raised on the first scene, and a subtle change of lighting reveals that the stage is crowded with characters.

A musician moves around and through the assembly, his tame mosquito, disguised as a dragonfly, occasionally offering a random quavering fanfare on a long thin trumpet, and we are privileged to bear witness to the sight of the Royal Household out abroad on a promenade, as is their custom on such a breathless night as this, with the Moon brand new, and in her pomp.

In the party, we have the Royal couple, Oberon and Titania, proud and querilous, aloof and very much immersed in a private and animated conversation. Nearby, and paying the couple close attention is ‘Queen’ Mab, the Royal Midwife, stone-faced harridan of the Regal birthing chamber. Her presence here kindles rumours of an impending birth. Around this group various members of the Court disport themselves; the Arch-Mage who serves as Prime Minister, various Lords and Ladies-in-waiting, soldiers and sailors under Royal warrant. Close at hand is a visitor from a neighbouring state, a leading politician; a suspected junketer, out to enjoy the fruits of the many tables at which he dines. He stands with one hand at his breast and puffs self-importantly at his senatorial pipe.

They have been tempted from their stroll by the rowdiness of a group of peasants; a sorry crew of tinkers, satyrs, creepers, tatterdemalions and peepers, pimps and floozies, thieves and hobbledehoys mingling with more upstanding tradesfolk, tailors and labourers.

The Clerk of the Council, an apothecary man by trade, rushes forward and calls out, in thin reedy tones

“Hello, your Majesties. You are most welcome here!”

He falters, his message delivered and no further words entering his head to allow for any continuance. He is a good and honest soul, but star-struck by the company standing before him in all their sartorial magnificence. Easily overlooked by the regal brigade, he is jeered into humility by the crowd.

“What is afoot here?” calls the Arch-Magician, Advisor to the Royal Court, addressing himself in stentorian tones over the head of the crowd.

A man has been seen all the while to be making various practice passes and swings with his long-handled two-headed axe over a raised area on which balances a single ripe filbert from the hazel tree.

The visiting politician shouts across in his provincial tones.

“Why are all your people gathered round here, while the New Moon shines and there is work to be done?”

The politician’s accents are unfamiliar to the local folk. At his officious, pompous words, much amusement spreads among the various ‘types’ assembled, and Waggoner Will and his ploughman friend mutter their witty asides through half-closed lips. There is outright laughter when the crowd overhear one of Will’s heckling remarks.

“He’s a Dilly-Dally-O, aint he?’

The Arch-Magician stamps the foot of his staff on a hollow log repeatedly until the crowd silences.

“You with the axe. Who are you and what is going on?”

In answer comes an old man’s voice. He speaks up from his seat at the front of the crowd, where he is hidden from the sight of most of the characters.

“He’s nobody special. A Fairie feller, that’s all. We are here to prepare for the feasting time that celebrates the Hazelnut harvest and much good will it do him to use a hatchet! He spoils the meat with his hasty ways.”

He frowns furiously, the grimace folding his whole face inward so that his sad old features are quite changed. There are some in the gathering who nod at these words and murmur unhappily at the break with tradition they are witnessing this night.

“Let the priests open the nut in the old way.”

The object of the old man’s disdain stands flexing his muscles and readying himself to once more swing the heavy axe. He stares at the old man squatting in the dirt and addresses him.

“Quiet, Schoolmaster. Or I may be tempted to apply this axe to your skull. Notice how the priests have fled the field and left you to fight alone. You old pedagogue! You squatter! Go and flee with those mendicants who poison bodies with their herbs and potions, just as you poison honest minds with your books and sums. You squint and you frown as if you can barely see the nut, and the bounty before you. Otherwise you would plainly see how I have already split three successfully this night and I swear that I will have cracked another nut by night’s noon time. Aye and many more by break of day.”

He raises his eyes to the Royal onlookers and speaks directly across to the Arch-Magician.

“Sir. Except the idle and the muddle-headed, nearly everyone….”

He is interrupted by the scowling Didactic once more, who scoffs loudly.

“Hah!! Nearly everyone? Since when did you voice the opinions of the crowd?”

The Master Woodcutter stares, growing red and angry in the face.

“As I said, except the idle and the muddle-headed, nearly everyone is in agreement with me. Instead of spending three days feasting on meagre portions, we can fill our bellies tonight and get back to work the morrow with happy hearts. My men can cease their indolence all the sooner and the woodlands can ring once more to the sound of their axes. We can fill the castle woodsheds to bursting point before the frosts.”

A man to his side is seen to nod toadishly. He is bent over almost double to get a better sight of the target as he delivers his piece.

“Aye! See. We’ve never managed more than one nut a day before, even with three old men sawing them open. C’mon Mister feller. Crack it open. If you please.”

The Woodsman claps this yeoman on the shoulder and pushes him aside roughly.

“Stand back there, Ostler. I steer men to wield the axe for me nowadays and I’m rusty with this kind of heavy work. With your hands on your knees so, you present me with an opportunity to crack your own nut for you if I miss my aim. What good would your team of horses be to me then, with their leader even more brainless than usual?”

The over-attentive swain steps a couple of feet further back, and in attempting to assuage his discomfort at this delivery of ‘faint praise’ from his overbearing employer, looks around at something to vent his ire on, as a weak man must do in a crisis.
He points aggressively at a couple who are standing near the intended target,

“Hey! You two. Give the boss some room. Yeah, the short swarthy one and his maid. The ‘nymph’ in yellow.”

A call comes down from Mr. Ploughman.

“Some nymph that!. A quaere fellow and no mistake.”

The ripple of merriment from people catching this aside dies down to an expectant silence as the Arch-Magician clears his throat to gain the attention of all. The quiet is disrupted only once more, by a woman’s voice, off to the side where we might assume a fairy dandy is tickling the fancy of his lady friend with suggestions and lewdness, prompting her to give out a chuckle that is low and coarse and to remark loudly

“What a dirty laddio, Leave off this instant.”

The Arch-Magician clears his throat again and someone hushes the ardent couple, as the dignitary clearly intends to deliver a short speech. However, the pompous politician gets in first, cutting across as the Mage draws breath to speak.

“It seems plain to me that this woodsman is a fine and resourceful man, and deserves to hold some high rank in your society.”

The Arch-Magician frowns, and recommences his oration.

“My noble friend is wise, if a little precipitate. You oppose Mr Woodcutter because he swears to swing his axe, and as it climbs, he dares to deliver this master-stroke in productivity. I tell you there is plenty of mischief around to tie up the hands of idle men and women, and there are far too many folk around here just looking to lie abed in the cold and dark ahead, complaining of overwork and illness, and all the while making more Summer babies to squander food on. You are all serfs to the Royal estate, and there can be no place for laziness. There will be a turnout and a reckoning. Some of you will be looking for food on your way along the road this winter.”

“Now. Will you wait for my mark, man?”
The Arch-Magician addresses this to the Woodsman, the old political showmanship stirring in him. He feels joy at his impromptu speech. He is confirmed as a skillful wielder of rhetoric. He is Presidential. He is the leader.

“On a count of three?”

He waits for the Woodsman to nod.

“On One.”

The axe climbs upward and back.

“On Two.”

Some of the crowd start to count with him. The axe starts the return swing.

“On Three”

The axe head smashes down onto the nut in the centre of the platform, shattering the hard shell and leaving the kernel, whole and exposed, in full view of the crowd. The Ostler cavorts about, cheering and clapping. The whole crowd cheers along with him, unhappiness forgotten, albeit briefly. They burst into song, clapping rhythmically.

“Another one bites the dust!!”

So we retreat, as do the Royal party, leaving the vulgar folk gathered there. Some of the crowd feel an odd heaviness returning to their breast in spite of the impending reverie, and sense an incipient shift in their lives. Others look forward, not only to the feast to come, but also to the advantage they can take of this flux in the affairs of their fellow men.

End of Scene.


From → Fantasy, Writing

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