7.08 Burying the Dead


ACT ONE

FADE IN

The next evening. A big victory celebration on the main square of Thebes by the royal palace lit so brightly by torches and oil lamps that it might as well be daylight. The camera slowly pans over the square, taking in the various sights and sounds of the festivities: singers, mimes, clowns and acrobats entertaining the public, pipers and drummers playing, vendors hawking snacks and drinks, parents hoisting their children up on their shoulders, men and women dancing in a conga line.

We follow the camera to a large dais in front of the palace doors for the royal family, the most important people of the city, and the guests of honor. Creon is seated on a throne, now wearing a crown and a rich mantle, discussing something with two middle-aged city aldermen. A servant comes up to refill their goblets with wine.

CREON (lifts his goblet):
     One more toast--to our victory!

ALDERMAN #1 (likewise):
     To our victory, and to King Creon!

EVERYONE:
     To King Creon!

As Creon and the others empty their goblets, the camera pans over to a far corner of the dais, where Antigone stands alone. She is now wearing a plain black dress and no jewelry. She is staring into the distance, looking very tense, as though expecting something. The goblet in her hand is still full.

Gabrielle comes up on the dais. She looks around a little anxiously, then finally sees Antigone and heads toward her. She puts her hand on Antigone's arm; the girl flinches and turns. Seeing Gabrielle, she smiles wanly and looks away again.

ANTIGONE:
     Oh...hello, Gabrielle.

GABRIELLE (gently):
     Antigone...how are you holding up?

ANTIGONE (sighs):
     About as well as anyone could be--in my shoes. (she looks up at Gabrielle, her voice growing harsh) I wonder, Gabrielle, how many people do you suppose there are in my shoes? People who've had to see both their brothers die in one night...at each other's hands? And who've had to see one of them being left to the vultures and the dogs like a piece of carrion?

GABRIELLE (a pained look on her face):
     Antigone...

ANTIGONE:
     Just don't tell me that you know how I feel. You don't. No one does.

GABRIELLE (looks at Antigone, biting her lip, then finally speaks):
     It's true, Antigone. No one can know how you feel. But I do know something about pain and loss. And I do know that you could use a friend right now...I'd like to be that for you.

CUT TO

Xena, coming up the steps to the dais. She searches for Gabrielle and sees her talking to Antigone, then heads toward Creon.

CREON (sees her coming and rises):
     Xena! I was beginning to worry that you weren't going to show up. And you are, after all, our guest of honor. (raises his voice) More wine! (a servant refills his goblet) Let's drink to Xena, the warrior who saved our great city!

VOICES:
     To Xena! To Xena!

CREON:
     And to our wise prophet Teiresias, who counseled us to call for the Warrior Princess.

The camera pans over to a very frail, white-haired man in a dark blue robe at the back of the dais. His eyes are closed and sunken--he is blind. He inclines his head, acknowledging the toast.

VOICES:
     To Teiresias!

As everyone drinks, Xena stands silently, her face chilly and closed. Creon gives her a worried look.

CUT TO

Antigone and Gabrielle.

ANTIGONE (chuckles bitterly):
     Look out there, Gabrielle. Look at them. Dancing and laughing and singing like it's a big holiday...

GABRIELLE:
     You really can't blame them, Antigone. A war just ended, the city is safe again--

ANTIGONE (interrupts):
     And hundreds of our men, their men, lie dead. But they don't care, do they. They'll put up with anything as long as their lives aren't in danger and their stomachs are full.

GABRIELLE:
     Maybe someday, everything won't be quite so black and white to you anymore.

ANTIGONE (impatiently):
     Oh, Gabrielle, please don't tell me that someday I'll grow up and learn to accept things as they are. If that's what growing up means, I don't ever want to grow up. You don't believe that, Gabrielle--you of all people. You and Xena, you've dedicated your lives to fighting injustice.

GABRIELLE (softly, taking her hand):
     Antigone--you haven't had a very happy life, have you--even before all this happened?

ANTIGONE:
     Can a bird in a cage be happy? Ever since I was little, people have told me to be a good little girl. No, Antigone, you can't play with those other kids in the street, you're a princess. No, Antigone, you can't get on your horse and gallop through the fields with your hair flapping in the wind--you can only go with a retinue of servants, and besides, you don't want to mess up your hair. No, Antigone, you can't take off your gold bracelet and give it to a beggar in the street, it's a foolish thing to do. All I've ever heard is what I can't do. I wish, once in my life, I could just stand up and shout for all the world to hear: Yes, I can!

Gabrielle speaking to Antigone

GABRIELLE:
     We all have our place in life, Antigone. Isn't it true that in five years, when you turn twenty-three, you will take over from your uncle as the ruler of Thebes? (Antigone nods sullenly) Think of all the good you'll be able to do then.

ANTIGONE (bitterly):
     Do you really think I'll have much more freedom as the queen? Only the words will change. (in a mocking tone) Queen Antigone, you must play by the rules. Queen Antigone, you must follow your head and not your heart. Queen Antigone, you can't eliminate poverty and injustice, it's just not practical. (she sighs) How I wish I could leave all this behind and live the way you and Xena do, Gabrielle. I've read your scrolls, you know.

GABRIELLE (smiles a little--she can't help feeling flattered):
     You have?

ANTIGONE (nods):
     You and Xena, you're my heroines. You don't answer to anyone...you break all the rules and defy all the odds...and all you care about is doing the right thing.

A close-up of Antigone's face, with a wistful and simultaneously defiant look.

CUT TO

The battlefield outside the city walls where the dead bodies of the Argive soldiers and Polyneices lie. Three guards are patrolling the grounds, one of them carrying a torch.

GUARD #1:
     I'm telling ya, boys, it just ain't right. Yeah, I know they were the enemy and all. But let's face it, the same thing could happen to us someday. Could be you or me, just lyin' out there like that for the dogs and the vultures to snack on....

GUARD #2 (with the torch):
     Hey, cut it out. You're gonna get me all jumpy. It's bad enough as it is, bein' on patrol out here...

GUARD #1:
     It's gonna get worse. Pretty soon, they're gonna start to smell...

GUARD #3:
     Kings... They just give their orders. We're the ones that have to get our hands dirty.

Suddenly, Guard #2 stops.

GUARD #2:
     What the--? Take a look at this, boys.

He lowers the torch a little, shining it on the ground. One of the dead bodies is covered with a layer of earth.

GUARD #1 (shocked):
     Somebody buried the poor devil.

GUARD #3:
     Who is he?

GUARD #2:
     Come on, boys. Let's get this stuff off him.

Guard #3, a little reluctantly, uses his sword to sweep the earth off the body. In the glimmer of the torch, they see the shining armor with an ornate design.

GUARD #2:
     Well, I'll be damned if it ain't Polyneices himself!

CUT TO

Creon, on his throne, draining another goblet of wine. Xena stands next to him.

XENA (quietly):
     Creon, I think we need to talk before all this revelry affects your judgment--any further.

CREON (gives her a suspicious glance):
     Any further? What do you mean?

XENA:
     I think you know what I mean. The order you gave not to bury the slain Argives--

CREON (harshly):
     The order shall stand.

XENA:
     You've won a war, Creon. Now is the time to show proper respect to your fallen enemies.

CREON:
     They were no better than bandits.

XENA:
     They were soldiers--soldiers who went where their commanders ordered them to go. Creon...what's the point in denying them the final honors?

CREON:
     Xena, Thebes can't afford any more wars. Let the men of every kingdom in Greece and beyond know what happens to those who come here to attack us, and maybe they'll have second thoughts.

XENA:
     So you're willing to subject your own people to the risk of disease just to make a point. (she shakes her head slightly) You're an educated man, Creon. You know what can happen if you leave those dead bodies rotting out there--

CREON:
     The vultures and the wild dogs will take care of that.

XENA (softly):
     Creon...your own nephew...

CREON (abruptly):
     ...is the worst of them all! Polyneices is no nephew of mine. He's a traitor who brought an enemy army to the gates of his own city.

XENA:
     And died for it.

CREON:
     His punishment deserves to continue, even in death. (he notices the disapproving look on Xena's face) Listen to me, Xena. You know that I never wanted to rule Thebes. I wasn't even born into the royal family--my late sister, Jocasta, became queen by marriage to King Laius. I'm no politician; you know that. (there is a sad tone in his voice now) I've always loved the arts... I've spent most of my life collecting scrolls. If it were up to me, I'd spend most of my days in my library. You remember how we got to know each other, don't you?

XENA (wistfully):
     Oh yes...you met Gabrielle at a Bards' festival...nearly...thirty years ago. (she shudders slightly) It's so strange, when everyone you know is suddenly twenty-five years older--I still can't get used to it.

CREON (smiles slightly):
     Well, it might be even stranger to imagine Xena, Warrior Princess as a middle-aged lady. (his smile fades.) Until yesterday, Xena, I never thought I'd have to take the reins of governing in my hands. But look at everything that's happened to our city. First, four years ago, my sister and her husband died in a mysterious outbreak of disease...some of the rumors blamed it on poison, and others said that the royal family had somehow incurred the wrath of the gods. Since their sons, Polyneices and Eteocles, were born mere hours apart, there wasn't a clear heir to the throne, and so they became joint rulers--but Polyneices was too ambitious and started plotting to seize all the power for himself. So he was exiled, and you know the rest--he raised an army in Argos and brought it here. We were barely able to defend our city--with your help, for which I'll be forever grateful.

Xena talking to Creon

XENA:
     What does all this have to do with refusing burial to the dead? Creon, we're talking about a simple act of human decency.

CREON:
     No, we're talking about maintaining order in the city. I know there are many in Thebes who think that I don't have what it takes to rule. Oh, Creon, that bookworm. Oh, Creon, he's never held a sword in his hand in his whole life. Oh, Creon, he's nothing but an old softie. Well, if anyone thinks I can't make tough decisions, let them think again.

XENA:
     Is this really the way to prove yourself?

CREON:
     Let me tell you something, Xena. Even if you convinced me right now that I was wrong to give such an order, I am not going to reverse my very first decree as the ruler of Thebes. How much respect do you think I'll get after that? After all that turmoil, our city needs some stability. And that's not going to happen if the new king is seen as a weakling who can't make up his mind.

XENA:
     Creon, sometimes it takes more strength to admit that you were wrong than to stick by a bad decision.

CREON:
     You know I have the greatest respect for you, Xena. But you're a warrior, not a ruler. I don't like this any more than you do, but I'm doing what's best for the city. This conversation is over. There will be no more burials.

A close-up of Xena's face. Her look is one of bitter disappointment--but it also looks like she is mulling over a plan.

Suddenly, a commotion is heard. Creon turns his head sharply.

VOICE (off screen, hoarse and breathless):
     My Lord Creon! My Lord Creon!

A hush falls over the revelers on the dais. The camera pans over to Guard #2, who stands by the dais panting. He is holding some object in his hand.

GUARD #2:
     My Lord....someone tried to bury the traitor Polyneices!

There are loud gasps. Creon rises abruptly. As the news spreads through the square, the festivities come to a halt.

CREON:
     What happened?

GUARD #2 (stammering):
     M-my Lord....

CREON:
     Speak up, soldier.

GUARD #2:
     S-sir...we were making the rounds outside the city walls, just like you ordered...and then all of a sudden....there he was, almost completely covered with earth...

CREON:
     Did you see anyone?

GUARD #2:
     N-no, sir...not a thing. Didn't see anyone, didn't hear anyone...but we did find something by the body. (he holds up his hand)

CREON:
     What is it? Bring it here.

A servant takes the object from the guard's hand and brings it to Creon, who takes it and looks it over.

Toy shovel

Seen in close-up, the object turns out to be a small wooden shovel, painted red although the paint is chipped, covered with fresh dirt.

COUNCILOR (standing near Creon, looks shocked):
     It's a kid's toy!

CREON (thoughtfully):
     Whoever they are, they're clever. (to Xena) Now, Xena, do you see what I have to deal with? Treason still lurks within the city walls--the supporters of Polyneices are among us. And now they come up with this ploy to seek sympathy, making it look like a child did this.

XENA:
     Or maybe it was someone who just thought it was the right thing to do.

CREON:
     I decide what the right thing to do is. (he steps forward and speaks in a loud, commanding tone that carries all over the square) People of Thebes, hear me! You know what I have decreed. The bodies of the Argive invaders shall lie unburied, as a lesson to anyone who would come to Thebes with ill intent. And the one who deserves such a fate the most is Polyneices, our former prince turned traitor. Polyneices, who brought an enemy army to our own gates and who cost Thebes hundreds of her best and bravest men. Such is my decision, and as your king, I will not tolerate disobedience. Someone has just tried to bury the body of Polyneices.

Loud boos from the crowd.

CREON (continues):
     I hereby declare that anyone who is caught trying to do it again... (he pauses dramatically, a close-up of his face) ...shall be put to death!

A murmur and subdued cheers from the crowd. Xena's face remains emotionless, her lips tightly pressed together. As she looks to where Gabrielle stands with Antigone, the camera pans over. Gabrielle meets Xena's eyes and then turns to look at Antigone. The look on the princess's face is one of shock and pain, but also defiance and determination. Gabrielle's eyes widen slightly. She looks troubled as we:

FADE OUT

END OF ACT ONE