The King’s Death.

The sleeping chamber of the King : a candle burns dimly by
the curtained bed. The arras stirs and two slaves enter
with daggers. A storm of wind rages without.
First Slave :
He sleeps !1
Second Slave :
He sleeps, whom only death shall rouse2
To dread unsleeping in another world.3
First Slave :
How long the careful night has kept him wakeful,4
As if sleep loathed to snare him for our knives.5
Second Slave :
Yea ! we have crouched so close in quaking dark6
I scarce can raise mine arm : thou must strike first.7
First Slave :
The heavy, rolling hours have crushed my
strength ;
The hate, that burst to such an eager flame9
Within my heart, has smouldered to dull ash,10
Which pity breathes to scatter.11
Second Slave :
Knoweth he pity ?12
First Slave :
Nay ! he is throned above his slaughtered kin,13
A reeking sword his sceptre !  He hath broken,14
As one across the knee a faggot snaps,15
Strong lives to feed the blaze of his ambition !16
Yet, shall a slave’s hand strike cold death in him17
For whom kings sweat as slaves ?18
Second Slave :
Yea ! at thy stroke19
One slave lies dead—a hundred kings are born !20
Yea ! every man that breathes shall be a king !21
Vast empires, beaten dust beneath his feet,22
Shall rise again and teem with kingly men ;23
When he, their death, is dead !24
First Slave :
How still he sleeps !25
The tempest shrieks to wake him, yet he slumbers.26
As seas that foam against unyielding scaurs27
The mad winds storm the castle, wall and tower,28
nd are not spent. Hark ! they have found a breach—29
Some latch unloosed—the house is full of wind—30
It rushes wailing down the corridor ;31
It seeks the King—it cries on him to waken ;32
Now ’tis without and shakes the rattling bolt :33
Lo ! it has broken in, in little gusts,34
I feel it in my hair ; ’twill lay cold fingers35
Upon his lips, and start him from his sleep.36
See, it has whipt the yellow flame to smoke !37
Second Slave :
And now it fails : the heavy, hanging gold38
That shelters him from night is all unstirred.39
First Slave :
Even the wind must pause !40
Second Slave :
’Twas but a breeze41
To blow our sinking courage to clear fire !42
Too long we loiter ; soon th’ approaching day43
Shall take us slaves, who clutch the arms of men44
And dare not plunge them save in their own breasts.45
Come, let us strike !46
[ They approach the bed and draw aside the curtain.
First Slave :
The King ! how still he sleeps !47
Can majesty in such calm slumber lie ?48
Second Slave :
Come, falter not, strike home !49
First Slave :
Hold !  Hold thy hand,50
For death has stolen a march upon our hate.51
He doth not breathe !52
Second Slave :
The stars have wrought for us,53
And we are conquerors with unbloodied hands !54
First Slave :
Nay !  Nay !  For in our thoughts his life was
spilt :
While yet our bodies lagged in fettered fear,56
Our shafted breath sped on and stabbed his sleep.57
Oh ! red for all the world, across our brows58
Our murderous thoughts have burnt the brand of Cain !59
See, through the window stares the pitiless day !60