The Janni of Askance
(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 pixie-like flight”).
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 after all.
*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.
This fictitious synopsis was written by Alexis Cohen-Pena.