The lights are turned to suggest morning. Hangers-on and crowd enter from the left and gather before the steps of the palace.
CHORUS (A hanger-on)
We are here summoned to hear the Raja’s proclamation
of his decree forbidding the burial of Sirat’s body.
Sirat, already hung unwashed and naked from a tree
at the city gate is further to be stripped by wormy decay
till not a single tatter of his flesh remains,
no strip of skin to clothe his bones from the public eye.
The central door opens and Maniaka enters with Bendahara
and elders to the thunderous sound of battery of gendang
and shouts of ‘Daulat Tuanku’
Here he comes now in full regalia to rowdy shouts
of ‘Daulat Tuanku! Daulat Tuanku!’ barely heard
above the gendang. He comes in such shining splendour
as to blind our eyes to that day when Sirat sent him
tumbling with his yellow parasol, with sampin undone
down this same flight of palace steps.
(loudly, joining in the shouting) ‘Daulat Tuanku! Daulat Tuanku!’
Stands on the upper step before the door doing his best
to look dignified. Assumes a pompous tone when he speaks.
We are gathered here this day to mark our return to the throne,
the regaining of our sovereign rights and dignities
and unimpaired capacity to govern. By the power
divinely ordained us, we renew our pledge to protect
and maintain our city’s peace, and preserve the hierarchies
by which our subjects are ordered since our nenek moyang’s days
We owe this happy day to one man, Wira, who even now
serves us on a mission to the Majapahit, troublesome of late.
Alone, without help, he put down that monstrous traitor,
saved our royal house from ruin. The traitor you all know.
As visible sign of our favour, we will present Wira
a full set of garment of silk and satin threaded with gold
appropriate to his rank, and from my treasury
enough silver to fill twenty trays. He has earned the right
to one-tenth the levies on boats that ply our river.
Pauses. Puts on a face as stern as he can manage
and surveys the gathering .
As for the traitor Sirat, we decree that his carcass
be hung by the city gate to be seasoned by night dews
and cooked by the sun as a meal for maggots
and such crows and dogs as have a taste for carrion.
He shall be left to rot there until his bones
clack like dry angsana seed pods in the wind.
No one, moved perhaps by pity or a bribe in gold or silver,
shall, on pain of death, attempt to cut him down.
The sight of his corruption, as it perfumes the wind,
should engender fear in the heart of any man who
dares even think defiance of our edict.
Any man who dares will join Sirat in his shame.
CHORUS (All speaking, but not in unison)
We are your loyal and most obedient subjects. Tuanku,
We will abide by your will. You are our divinely ordained lord
and are fully within your rights to enforce it.
That is our will. We expect every man of you to do your part.
CHORUS (An elder)
We are old men not trained in arms. We humbly suggest
that Tuanku have his fighting men do it.
You have not understood my meaning. Do you all think
I have no eyes to see how useless you would be
if even a woman chose to force her way to that tree?
CHORUS (An elder)
What then will Tuanku have us do?
You shall report to us at once should you hear talk
of any man plotting to steal that traitor’s carcass.
You yourselves, of course, will not render any help
in the perpetration of such a crime.
CHORUS (An elder)
We would be mad to do that. We are not madmen.
Death is fearful. But money or gold can induce such madness
in a man as will make him see nothing to fear in death.
Guard enters from the left, talking to himself.
I have walked a long way here, but I am not out of breath.
I simply took my time – cursing myself for a fool for coming.
I really don’t need this trouble, but then I thought to myself
if somebody else had brought the news first to the Raja
I would have got it hot. I would be in worse trouble.
Hurries toward the Raja. Performs the sembah. He avoids
as much as he can looking directly at Maniaka.
Ampun Tuanku! Beribuan ampun, Tuanku!
I… I… I… I do not know how to begin. I hardly believe it myself.
I did not do it, Tuanku. I did not let it happen.
It’s more likely the others…
Out with it! What did you not let happen?
I beg Tuanku not to punish me. The dead man…
The dead man…I do not know how to say it.
The guard fumbles for words.
Sirat… He is not there… Not hanging from the tree I mean.
Maniaka shows no reaction.
Someone has cut him from the tree and, on the ground
where his body fell, covered him up with a little dust.
Long Pause. Maniaka remains deadly calm.
Who is the man who dared do this?
I do not know Tuanku. The ground was dry.
We who were on the watch saw nothing, nothing at all Tuanku,
no trace, no prints from animal or man, or wheel marks
from a barrow on the ground. I don’t know how, Tuanku.
When the morning watch relieved us, the older one
pointed to that tree. There it was, clear against the morning light,
the tree with no hanging corpse. Then we saw that mound of dust.
The body showed through in one or two places.
The dust so thinly covered it I could not tell
if it was given a proper burial. There was dust enough
over him, perhaps, to set the dead man’s soul at peace.
What an uproar then broke out among us.
We pointed at each other, one man accusing another
of doing what we dared not even think about.
And every man among us swore that he was innocent.
Everyone swore on his mother’s grave and tried to show
how another man than himself could have done the deed.
It was not I. I do not know who it was, who did it.
Believe me Tuanku, it was not I.
Guard continues, not noticing the Raja’s rising anger.
Then someone said Tuanku had better be told.
We stared dumbly at the ground and eyed each other
out of the corner of the eye. Then I said we should draw lots
to see who was to do it. I was the unlucky one who drew
the short straw. So here I am.
CHORUS (An elder)
Could it be that the gods have done this?
MANIAKA (Exploding with anger, shouts) Stop! All of you.
Your wits must have preceded you to your graves
and left you old fools a gaggle of empty heads
babbling of childish things. How can the gods have thus
favoured him? Our Sirat defiled the sacred precincts
of their temples, had even sat laughing on their altars
and tweaked the noses of their images. He beat the priests up
for small coin, took delight in kicking over wayside shrines
of minor gods. The gods should curse him and indeed they have,
else he would not have been strung up naked for all to see.
Who could have buried him? Some malcontent, some would-be Sirat
disaffected with the state, some paid trouble maker
from the Majapahit sent to cause confusion?
Pauses. A new thought occurs to him.
Ah! I know it. Money! Gold! Someone must have been paid.
Nothing in the world can so corrupt as money.
(To Guard) You!
Find out who is behind this. Tell me what man
paid for all this to be done. Bring him to me.
I shall have him impaled upon a keris, then hung
beside Sirat from that tree. Find that man,
you and the others on your watch,. and bring him to me.
Or else I will have you all strung up alive.
I know of many ways to make you talk.
You will tell me who arranged to have you paid.
Tuanku is right in being angry at person
or persons unknown brave enough to commit this crime.
Looks fearfully at Maniaka and quickly looks down.
Ampun Tuanku, forgive me, if I say you are not being just
to be so angry with us. You accuse us
because no one else is found to admit to the crime.
This wretch presumes to lecture me now on what is just
and what is not. Bring me the man behind all this
or you will, I promise you, confess to your part in the crime.
Maniaka leaves, angry, by way of the central door.
If only I could produce the culprit Tuanku wants.
One way or another, there is going to be trouble here.
I better clear out of here, and fast. I promise you,
your right royal highness, your most mighty majesty,
if I don’t find your man, this is the last you will see of me.
Guard leaves by way of the left side of the stage.