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Season 1, Episode 2: The Gift of Life

Writer: Terence Feely

OPENING SCENE


Kai and Arthur ride into the village to find it in flames. Villagers are variously fleeing, mourning their dead, and trying to douse or beat out the flames.

Arthur: Where is Llud?

Celt Villager: He was called away to see Ambrosius. The Saxons attacked us after he left.

Arthur picks up a small child from by the roadside, and returns him to his mother.

Horseman: Saxons! Saxons! They’re coming back!

Kai and Arthur run down to the lakeside to see a Saxon longboat drifting towards the jetty. Other Celts join them, crouching behind some fishing baskets.

Arthur: He’s lying low.

Kai: How many of them?

Arthur: Lying low against our spears.

Kai: Yes, but the first head to be split will be with this.

Kai brandishes his axe and leaps into the boat, ready to do battle. Two little blond-haired children, Krist and Elka, appear from the bottom of the boat.

[OPENING CREDITS]


Part 1


Arthur carries Elka, and Kai escorts Krist sheltering him under his cloak, towards the longhouse. A crowd of Celt villagers follows.

Celt woman: [shouting] They are Saxon children. No woman here is going to mother them. That boat is holed and sinking – lash those Saxon brats to the boards and send them down with it!

Murmurs and shouts of agreement from the villagers. Arthur and Kai take the children up the steps into the longhouse and shut the door. Arthur sets Elka on her feet, and drops to his haunches beside her.

Arthur: [to Krist] What’s your name?

Krist: Krist. What’s yours?

Arthur: Arthur. This is Kai.

Krist: This is my sister, Elka.

Arthur: Hello, Elka.

Elka: Hello Arthur. This is Kerrig. I like him best in all the world. But his head’s come off.

Arthur: I’m sorry about that.

Arthur passes Kerrig’s head and body to Kai.

Arthur: Krist – where are you from?

Krist: Ulrich’s people.

Kai: That’s the Saxon camp around the headland. Maybe they’re the ones who made this slaughter.

Kai fixes Kerrig, gives him back to Elka, and takes a few paces forward.

Elka: Thank you, Kai.

Kai looks disconcerted. Arthur gets to his feet, and comes forward to talk to Kai.

Arthur: No. We’ve never fought them. They plague Herward, not us.

Kai: How can you be so sure?

Arthur: Krist, what happened?

Krist: We were to go across the water. There were big winds and waves. Our father and mother – [he glances at Elka] They had to leave us.

Kai: [to Arthur] What can we do with them?

Arthur: They can’t stay here. You saw how the people feel.

Kai: You can’t blame them.

Arthur: No – but it means they have got to go back to their village.

Kai: Hmmm?

Arthur: Someone has to take them back.

Kai: Whoever takes them back’ll be slaughtered.

Arthur slowly walks forward, and Kai goes with him.

Arthur: Not if he looks like a Saxon, and can behave like one because, by birth, he is one.

They come to a halt.

Kai: No – I won’t do it. Let them take care of their own.

Arthur: There is no-one else.

They walk forward again, this time with Kai leading.

Kai: I’m no minder of children, especially Saxon brats.

Arthur: Once Llud found a Saxon brat who’d been abandoned.

They stop again.

Arthur: He wasn’t too proud to be a minder of children.

Kai: That was different.

Arthur: Was it?

Kai takes a few more paces forward, then turns back.

Kai: [frustrated] Arthur, I’m no good with children.



Next morning. Kai is on his horse, with Krist sitting behind him. Arthur lifts Elka up to sit in front of Kai.

Arthur: [to Kai] Don’t get too involved with your Saxon brothers, and stay there.

Kai looks hurt.

Arthur: Goodbye, Elka.

Elka: Goodbye Arthur

Arthur: Goodbye, Krist.

Krist: Goodbye, Arthur.

Arthur watches pensively as they ride off, then goes into the longhouse.



Kai and the children ride through the countryside.


Krist: Kai?

Kai: Mmm?

Krist: What’s that scar on your neck?

Kai: A gift from Arthur.

Krist: Doesn’t Arthur like you?

Kai: Yes, he likes me.

Krist: Then why did he give you a scar?

Kai: We became angry with each other.

Krist: Why did you get angry with each other?

Kai: Perhaps because one of us asked too many questions.


A little later on.

Elka: Kai – I want to feed the squirrels.

Kai: There aren’t any squirrels.

Krist whispers in Kai’s ear.

Kai: Oh, no.

Elka: Oh, yes.

Kai: Why couldn’t you – feed the squirrels before we left?

Elka: I did, but now I want to feed them again.

Krist dismounts, and Kai helps Elka off the horse. Elka looks back as they go off hand in hand.

Elka: I feed them – quite often.

Kai smiles.


They ride on.


They have stopped to rest under a large tree. Krist feeds Kai’s horse some grass.


Kai: Where’s Elka?

Krist: She took Kerrig for a walk.

Kai: Go and find her.

Krist disappears into the bracken. Kai puts the saddlebags on his horse, and leans against the saddle.

Kai: Come on, we’re moving off.

Silence.

Kai: Krist? Elka!

Kai goes in amongst the bracken to look for them.

Kai: Krist! Elka!

Kai looks around anxiously, and draws his sword part way out of its sheath – then hears giggling in the bracken, and slides it back in again.

Kai: Come out of there! Come out, you little Saxon monsters! Out!

Kai strides through bracken, finds Elka and grabs her.

Elka: Kerrig’s lost his head again!

Kai: Kerrig’s won’t be the only one if you go off like that again. It’s dangerous country. Krist! Unless you want a leathering, come out!

Krist emerges, a bit shamefaced.

Krist: Sorry, Kai.

Kai pulls Krist to his side.

Kai: You play that game once more and I promise you won’t sit down for a week.

Krist: Why’s it dangerous country, Kai?

Kai: Because it is. Wild boar everywhere. They’re dangerous, aren’t they?

Elka: Never seen one.

Kai: Just as well.

Kai sets Elka on her feet, and goes down on his haunches between her and Krist.

Kai: Now you listen to me. If ever you hear me whistle like this: [he gives a distinctive whistle] you come running to me as fast as ever you can.

Krist tries the whistle; then he and Kai whistle together.

Kai: That’s good.

Elka tries, but makes no sound.

Kai: You’ll have to wait for that tooth to come back.

Elka: I couldn’t even whistle when I had all my teeth.

Kai smiles.


They ride on. The children are asleep. Then Krist sneezes, and wakes.


Krist: We’re here! I know this place! We’re nearly home!

Kai: Sssh. No noise. Let’s surprise them, huh?

He helps Krist down, dismounts, then lifts a sleepy Elka off the horse, and tethers it to a tree.

Kai: [to Elka] Come on, wake up. Wake up, wake up.

They go along the path, Kai holding each of them by the hand. When they are a little way from the horse, Kai goes down on his haunches, his hands on their shoulders.

Kai: Now, we’re going to play a game. When I give the word, you two run down into the village. Quietly. Then I’ll follow. And that way we give them two surprises. Good idea?

The children nod.

Kai: Right. Now you start off. And when I give the word, you run. Go on.

He gives them a little shove, and they start walking, but Elka turns to look back at him.

Kai: Now, no looking. Run.

The children start running down the path; Kai starts to back away, but almost bumps into a Saxon who has just come out from the undergrowth, axe in hand. Kai draws his sword and jumps back.

Hald: Woah, did you think you’d backed into a murdering Celt?

Hearing his voice, the children turn around.

Krist: It’s Hald!

Elka: Hald, Hald, we’re back!

The children run back towards Kai and Hald.

Hald: Oh. The children! Ahh. By all the gods, we thought you’d –

Hald picks up Elka and hugs her, then pulls Krist to his side. Kai sheathes his sword.

Hald: Elka! Krist! The cup will be passed tonight. Come! Come.

Holding hands, the children set of for the village. Hald picks up his axe, then puts his arm around Kai’s shoulders, propelling him along with him.

Hald: My, the relief to see you and the children. You must be a stranger in these parts.

They follow the children along the path. Kai casts an uneasy glance back towards home.



They come out from among the trees, and Hald leads the way to the Saxon village. Kai once more has a child by each hand.


Hald: Ahoy – they’re back! The children are back! Elka and Krist, they’re back. [he embeds his axe triumphantly in a fence post] Elka and Krist, they’re safe.

Saxon women come from their work in the field and surround Kai and Hald, accompanying them in procession. The men come from the village to meet them.



A little later the village has gathered outside the Saxon longhouse for a feast. Kai is sitting between the old chief, Ulrich, and his attractive daughter, Hildred.


Minstrel: [sings]
There are treasuries fit for the plunder;
There is room in my house for a wife.
For a wife, for a wife,

Horgren looks on resentfully. Ulrich passes a goblet to Kai. He drinks, and goes to pass it back, but Ulrich indicates that he should pass it to his right.

Minstrel: [sings]
There is room in my house for a wife.
There is room in the cup for more drinking,

Kai passes the cup to Hildred, who drinks, while looking into his eyes.

Minstrel: [sings]
And there’s many a secret to keep;
Could keep even the dullards a-thinking
Of the harvest there is for to reap.
For to reap, for to reap,
Of the harvest there is for to reap.

The villagers applaud.

Kai: [musing quietly] Haven’t heard that since I was a child.

Hildred: You should stay here.

Kai: Mmm?

Hildred: The minstrel sings it every day. It’s the only song he knows.

Horgren: How can he stay with us, Hildred? Perhaps he has a wife at home.

Hildred: [to Kai] Have you?

Kai: No. But all the same, I must leave.

Kai gets to his feet. Ulrich stand and puts a hand on his shoulder.

Ulrich: Sit down, man! You have brought the gift of life. Ulrich’s people know how to repay. You will stay with us tonight. [announces] He stays with me! My daughter will prepare a place for him.

Kai looks uneasy; Horgren even more resentful.



In Hald’s hut, Hald and his wife are putting Krist and Elka to bed. Krist pulls off his shirt.


Krist: [sulky] It’s still daytime. The Celts let us stay up last night.

Hald: The Celts?

Elka: We stayed with them last night.

Hald: How did that man get you away from those savages?

Krist: He was with them. Kai was one of them. He was an important man. They listened to him.

Hald: By all the gods …

Hald leaves the hut.

Elka: And they’re NOT savages. They’re NICE.



Back at the feast, Hildred drinks, then passes Kai the cup; Kai’s hands cover hers. Horgren bites his thumb.

Horgren: Where you found the children, that’s er … Celt country, isn’t it? What were you doing there?

Hald comes up behind Horgren.

Hald: I’ll tell you what he was doing there. That’s Kai – the Saxon who rides with Arthur.

[INTERVAL]


Part 2


Two Saxon guards escort Kai, his hands tied behind his back, from the hut where he has been held, past mostly hostile Saxon villagers, to the table where a council of older Saxons is seated.

Ulrich: So you are Kai, the barbarian Arthur’s right-hand man.

Minstrel: I sing a song about your great fight with him.

Horgren: Huh. The brawls of savages make brave songs. Why do we waste time? This man is our sworn enemy. We kill him!

Ulrich: We act according to the law. Otherwise we are no better than savages ourselves.

Horgren: He is the Saxon who fights against Saxons. The law says he is a traitor.

Ulrich: What say you to that?

Kai: I was abandoned as a child and left for dead by the Saxons. The Celts gave me life.

Ulrich: Are you saying you kill your own kind for revenge?

Kai: I’ve killed only those who would have killed me. The Celts were here before us. You are the intruders.

Ulrich: There is room in this land for both of us.

Kai: No. You despoil our forests. You cut down our trees. You drive out the wild boar which is the food of life to us.

Ulrich: Plant rich crops. We raise fine cattle.

Kai: You raid our villages.

Ulrich: As you raid ours.

Kai: You kill our women. Yesterday in my own village –

Horgren: [frustrated] Ulrich! Who is on trial here? He, or us? This is Kai the Butcher, killer of many Saxons. Killer of many more, if we let him go. He is our enemy! The fate of enemies is to die. So let him – die!

Hildred: Father!

Hildred comes to the council table and sets her hands on it.

Ulrich: You know the law. Women may not be heard.

Hildred: Then the law shall be clever enough to close your ears.

Ulrich: Hildred!

Hildred: He is of our blood. He brought back two of our children. He could have let them die. Two lives deserve one.

Horgren: He is a spy. That is the only reason he brought the children back. He came to seek out our defences.

Ulrich: We will make our decision. Take him to the hut! Guard him.

Ulrich gets to his feet. He and the Saxon elders file into their longhouse. Kai is taken, under guard, to a hut.



The man guarding the door of Kai’s prison hut looks in. Kai is sitting on the floor, bound hand and foot, and looking anxious.

Outside, Hildred creeps round the back of the hut, and pokes a spear through the wall.


Hildred: [whispers] Kai!

Kai shuffles over, and frees his hands using the spear-point. As he is untying his feet, the guard notices something is going on, and comes in. The guard lunges at Kai with his spear, but misses and embeds it in the wall. They fight hand to hand.

Meanwhile, the Saxon council emerges from the longhouse. As the fight continues, they make their way towards the hut.

The guard, a knife in his hand, is leaning over Kai, who is on the ground. Kai manages to shove the guard off him, using his knee, and the guard accidentally impales himself with his own knife.

Ulrich arrives at the hut, to find Kai sitting on the floor, with his hands behind his back. He beckons, and Horgren also approaches.


Ulrich: The decision of the court is that you go free. You can thank Saxon justice for your life. You will be escorted.

Kai looks disconcerted, Horgren, angry. Ulrich leaves, but Horgren comes and stands in the doorway of the hut, looks around, then comes inside. He finds the barely-concealed body of the dead guard.

Kai leaps up and through the doorway, knocking two guards over, tumbles, gets up and runs for his life. Horgren comes out of the hut.


Horgren: Kai’s out!

Villager: I see him!

Horgren: Advance!

Kai runs out of the village, past Krist and Elka, towards the woods. The Saxons chase after him. On his way,Horgren grabs Hald’s axe, which was still embedded in the post. More Saxons come out, directly in Kai’s path.

Horgren: Take him! Take him!

Kai changes direction and manages to escape into the trees.

Saxons: Come on! Come on!

Krist and Elka watch the Saxons go past, and into the trees. The Saxons start thrashing at the undergrowth with their weapons.

Saxons: Come on! Here we go there.



One of the Saxons, who has got separated from the rest, runs into a clearing, breathing heavily. He goes to poke gingerly at some bracken. Kai erupts from it, and quickly breaks his neck.



Horgren emerges from the undergrowth onto the track, and spots Kai’s horse, still tethered to a tree. He conceals himself nearby. Kai emerges from the undergrowth, and goes to untie his horse. Horgren raises his axe to strike; the horse whinnies, Kai just manages to dodge the axe. Unable to get close enough to strike, Horgren kicks Kai into the bracken, then goes in after him.

Kai leaps at Horgren from behind; they roll about in the bracken, fighting, first one of them on top and then the other.

Kai is the one who emerges, but he is wounded, and – hearing Saxon voices – he hides in the bracken again. While the Saxons continue to beat the bracken not far away, Kai hears the distinctive whistle he taught Krist. He whistles back. As the Saxons draw nearer, Krist and Elka appear, leading Kai’s horse.


Elka: Kai!

Krist: This is the time, Kai.

Kai: You remembered.

With their help, Kai struggles to his feet, and onto the horse. He briefly grips Krist’s hand, ruffles his hair, then rides off.

As the children watch him go, a Saxon emerges from the bracken, right behind them. They turn towards him.


Elka: [brightly] Kerrig’s head’s come off again!

The Saxon fixes her doll, and moves on. Krist and Elka smile at each other. The Saxon hunt passes by.



Back in Arthur’s longhouse. Kai is reclining in bed with a bandage round his ribs. He fingers it thoughtfully. Arthur is sitting across the room from him, near the fire.


Arthur: Wear that wound proudly, Kai. That is the only gift you will ever receive from the Saxons.

Kai: No. They have more to offer.

Arthur: Had the blade gone deeper, they would have given you death.

Kai: But they gave me life. They are men like us, and like us, they also believe in justice.

Arthur: It is a strange justice that prompts them into stealing our lands, burning our villages, and slaughtering our people.

Kai: It’s a stranger one that sent them into the council hut to argue my fate. They gave me a trial. A fair trial.

Arthur: The Celts would have held council. The lawgiver would have decided the case.

Kai: There every man was heard. They listened to the arguments, debated my case. And they gave me … a gift of life.

[ROLL THE CREDITS]

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