(Or the Knave of Fruity)
a comic opera in two parts
Lyrics by B.S. (Billiam Sapp) Argent^
Music by Javier Bellicrose^^
The Janni of Askance tells the story of a highway robber gang of Janni
that exclusively steals expensive fruits & vegetables. They prey on the
roads to and from the outer fields of Ammingrad, especially along a wide
and isolated road known as the Askance.
Ward-Chieft Sylvanley – An Honorable Sylvani Official
The Violet King – A Janni Leader of Produce Highjackers
Stratus – The Violet King’s Janni Lieutenant
Forsyth – The Highwayfey Sylvani Apprentice
District-Chieft – A Leader of Fist & Foot Wardens (Race Varies In Casting)
Maple – Ward-Chieft Sylvanley’s Youngest Daughter, Sylvani
Jane – The Highwayfey’s Maid of All Work (Race Varies In Casting)
Chorus – Janni Highwayfey, Fist & Foot Wardens (Race Varies), and General
Sylvanley’s Other Sylvani Daughters
In a grotto off the road of Askance in Southwest Ammingrad, the Sylvani
boy Forsyth celebrates the harvestday of his fiftieth year, and the end
of his apprenticeship to a genteel band of Janni Produce Highjackers
(“Pour, oh pour the violet berries”). The gang’s maid of all work, Jane*
appears and reveals that, as Forsyth’s nursemaid long ago, she made a
mistake “through being hard of hearing”: Mishearing Forsyth’s father’s
command to apprentice him to an Agricultural Guildsman, she apprenticed
Forsyth to “fruit stealers” instead of “fruit wielders” (“When Forsyth
was a seedling boy”).
Forsyth has never seen any woman other than Jane, and he believes her
to be beautiful. The highwayfey know better, and suggest that Forsyth
take Jane with him when he returns to the city of Ammingrad proper.
Forsyth announces that, although it pains him, so strong is his sense
of noble fey duty that, once free from his apprenticeship, he will be
forced to devote himself to the highwayfey’s extermination because
they are criminals. He also points out that they are not successful
highwayfey when it comes to murder: since all the Janni highwayfey are
Jarbroke** (they escaped their jars as infants, and blew about until
touching ground with no memory of their families) they are essentially
orphans, and out of sympathy allow their prey of any race to go free if
they too are orphans. Forsyth notes that word of this has got about, so
the drivers of captured crop-wagons and guild transports routinely claim
to be orphans.
The highwayfey argue briefly that since all Gobbins are automatically
orphans in the technical sense, they at least are never lying. Forsyth
counters that if Gobbins automatically qualify as orphans, that just
makes the Janni’s mercy clause even more stupid.
Forsyth invites the highwayfey to give up their produce-thieving ways
and go with him, so that he need not destroy them. But the leader of
the highwayfey, the Violet King (so named because of his purple skin),
says that, compared with respectability, highway robbery is comparatively
honest (“Oh! better far to float and fly”). The highwayfey depart,
leaving Forsyth and Jane.
Forsyth sees a group of beautiful young Sylvani girls approaching the
highwayfey’s grotto, and realises that Jane misled him about her appearance
(“Oh false one! You have deceived me without magic!”). Sending Jane away,
Forsyth hides before the Sylvani girls arrive.
The Sylvani girls burst exuberantly upon the secluded spot (“Climbing
over grass and ivy”). Forsyth reveals himself (“Stop, ladies, fey!”) and
appeals to them to help him reform (“Oh! is there not one maiden’s bark?”).
One of them, Maple, responds to his plea, chiding her sisters for their
lack of charity (“Oh sisters deaf to weeping tree, now see!”). She offers
Forsyth her pity (“Poor wand’ring bud”), and the two quickly fall in love.
The other girls discuss whether to eavesdrop or to “leaf” (hah) the new
couple alone (“What bough we to view?”), deciding to “talk about the
weather,” although they steal glances at the affectionate couple (“What
good Weather they assign”).
Forsyth warns the girls about the highwayfey (“Fey, we must not lose our
branches”), but before they can flee, the highwayfey return and capture
all the Sylvani girls, intending to marry them (“Here’s a fate with some
im-prune-ity”). Maple warns the Janni that the girls’ father is a Ward-Chieft
(“Hold, tornadoes!”), who soon arrives and introduces himself (“I am the
very model of a modern magic Warden-Chieft”). He appeals to the Janni
highwayfey not to take his daughters, leaving him to face his old age
alone. Having heard of the famous Janni of Askance, he pretends that he
was orphaned as a seedling to elicit their sympathy (“Oh, men of dark and
Jarbroke fate”). The soft-hearted Janni release the girls (“Hail, Libertree!”),
making Ward-Chieft Sylvanley and his daughters honorary members of their
gang (“Fey observe the sylvalinity”).
The Ward-Chieft sits in a half-overgrown gazebo on his estate, surrounded
by his daughters. His conscience is tortured by the lie that he told the
highwayfey, and the girls attempt to console him (“Oh dry the glist’ning
sap”). The District-Chieft and his Fist and Foot Wardens arrive to announce
their readiness to arrest the highwayfey (“When the foe-fey bares his air”).
The Sylvani girls loudly express their admiration of the Wardens for facing
likely slaughter at the hands of fierce and merciless foes. The Wardens
are unnerved by this but finally leave.
Left alone, Forsyth, who is to lead the Fist and Foot Wardens, reflects
on his opportunity to atone for a life of robbery (“Now for the Janni’s
air”), at which point he encounters Jane and the Violet King. They have
realised that Forsyth’s magical apprentice contract was worded so as to
bind him to them until his fiftieth harvestday – but Jane points out
that in a quirk of fate, Forsyth had actually harvested himself as a
seedling. He climbed from the earth after only six months instead of
the full year customary for seedlings to grow. So he had to be shoved
back into the ground, and re-planted by his carers to finish growing
(“When you had left a Sylvan bold”). Because his “true harvestday” was
six months premature, Forsyth’s age is legally halved in perpetuity
(each year only counts for six months) and thus Forsyth will not reach
his real fiftieth harvestday until he has lived for one hundred years.
Forsyth is convinced by this “logic” and agrees to rejoin the highwayfey.
He then sees it as his duty to inform the Violet King of the Ward-Chieft’s
deception. The outraged outlaw declares that the Janni’s “revenge will
be swift and terrible” (“Away, away, my maelstrom ire”).
Forsyth meets Maple (“All is bedecked”), and she pleads with him to
stay (“Plant Forsyth, plant”), but he feels bound by his duty to the
highwayfey until his fiftieth harvestday – now another fifty years away.
They agree to be faithful to each other until then, though to Maple “It
seems so long” (“Oh here is love and here is root”); Forsyth departs.
Maple steels herself (“No, I’ll be bloom”) and tells the wardens that
they must go alone to face the highwayfey. They muse that an outlaw might
be just like any other fey, and it is a shame to deprive him of “that
libertree which is so dear to all” (“When a fruit thief’s not engaged in
his purloinment”). The wardens hide upon hearing the approach of the
highwayfey (“A blustery band of Janni we”), who have stolen onto the
estate, intending to avenge themselves for the Ward-Chieft’s lie (“With
Just then, Ward-Chieft Sylvanley appears, sleepless with guilt, and the
Janni also hide (“hush, hush! not a wind”), while the Ward-Chieft listens
to the soothing breeze (“whistling softly to the forest”). The Sylvani
girls come looking for him (“Now what is root and what is leaf”). The
Janni leap to the attack, and the wardens rush to the defence; but the
wardens are easily defeated, and the Violet King urges the captured
Ward-Chieft to prepare for death. The District-Chieft has one stratagem
left: he demands that the highwayfey yield “in The Dair Olghar’s name”;
the Janni, overcome with loyalty to their Dair, do so. Jane appears and
reveals that the highwayfey are “all noblefey who have gone wrong” and
are the lost children of very highborn Janni families. The Ward-Chieft
is impressed by this and all is forgiven. Forsyth and Maple are reunited,
and the Ward-Chieft is happy to marry his daughters to the noble Janni
*Jane’s race was deliberately written to be unspecific. She is most
often played by a Brownie, but occasionally a Fairy, Gobbin or Human.
**Jarbroke is an uncommon but very real condition in Warda, as accidents
can happen and Janni infants are already predisposed by nature towards
trying to escape their Jars. This is also a rather tragic condition,
as Janni infants who escape risk injuring themselves, or even dissipating
if they have not fully gestated yet. In this opera being Jarbroke is
portrayed as a sort of tongue-in-cheek-tragic Peter Pan situation, much
like the trauma of actually being orphaned is often minimized in the
“orphan hero” archetype.