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Episode 2.2: Rowena

Writer: Robert Banks Stewart


OPENING SCENE


Arthur and Kai are riding through open country, ahead of two other Celts. Their horses are laden with the results of a trading expedition. They come to a halt. Kai looks disconsolately at two lovebirds in a cage, hanging from his saddle. He clicks his tongue at them, then tries whistling, but with no response.

Kai: Aah! I knew I should have made that rogue of a trader prove they were songbirds before we left the port.

Arthur: Didn’t that Greek tell you they were bred by a Delphic priestess near the Temple of Aphrodite?

Arthur leans over to look at the birds.

Arthur: Perhaps they only sing for women.

Kai: Perhaps I should have bought a woman with them.

Kai glances at Arthur, who laughs.

Decoy: Heeelp!

Arthur, Kai and the others immediately turn their horses and gallop along a woodland path towards source of the cry.

Decoy: Help! Help me!

Arthur’s group continue along the path. As they gallop past the Decoy, he pulls and tightens a rope stretched across the path, tripping each of their horses in turn, so that the riders fall or are thrown, and knocked unconscious. Someone takes the cage with the lovebirds from where it landed on top of Kai.

[OPENING CREDITS]


PART 1


In Arthur’s longhouse. Arthur and Kai have arrived home. Kai is injured: his arm, strapped to his body. Llud heats a wet cloth in the fire. He goes towards Kai.

Llud: Whoever they were, thank your god they were more interested in what you carried, than your lives.

Llud dabs a wound on Kai’s upper arm; Kai winces and looks away.

Arthur: We lost a man. Geraint – died in the fall from his horse.

Llud: That arm best stay tied for a day or two.

Kai nods.

Llud: [vexed] So … you leave the village to do trade in Cornwall, and return empty-handed.

Arthur: [even more vexed] Almost the whole winter’s work. Pots, skins, jewellery. And what to show for it? Nothing!

Arthur gets up and starts pacing.


Kai: We’re lucky we have our lives.

Llud: But not your horses.

Kai: In Saxon hands they’ll be eaten by now.

Arthur sits down near Kai.

Arthur: How d’you know he was a Saxon?

Kai looks pensive.

Llud: Your battle-horses are being whittled down. Two destroyed with a fever. One last week with a broken leg. And now, four more gone.

Arthur nods.

Arthur: We should have bred them. As the Romans did. But how do you stop to breed, when every day you need those horses for battle?

Kai: We’ll have to cross to Gaul for new stock.

Llud: There’s a man to the north who breeds strong horses.

Llud smirks; Arthur looks up.

Arthur: Yorath …



In Yorath’s village. A pot hits the side of a building, and shatters. Yorath looks alarmed. It was his daughter Rowena who threw the pot, from the doorway of the hut where she is standing with some other women.

Rowena: Traitor! Peddler of flesh! [She points an accusing finger at him] Yours was the promise – not mine!

Yorath: Yes, but you agreed! You go!

Rowena: Just because you sired me, I will not be treated like one of your dumb mares!

Yorath: Make yourself ready!

Rowena laughs dangerously and throws another pot in his direction.

Rowena: I’m not leaving!

She and the other women turn and go back inside the hut. Yorath rushes forward, brandishing a switch, but Arthur arrives. People run here and there. A group of young armed men assembles around Yorath. One of them brings Yorath a wooden chair. Arthur comes before Yorath, who sits down in his chair.

Yorath: Whaddayou want?

Arthur sets his spear down in the ground.

Arthur: I come in peace.

Yorath: Heh … then you are welcome.

Yorath claps, summoning someone to tend to his guest.

Arthur: But for a purpose.

Arthur dismounts; he looks as if he is in difficulty, possibly due to the recent fall from his horse.

Arthur: I need horses.

Yorath laughs. He looks around at his men, who also laugh.

Yorath: Your journey has been wasted. Heh!

Arthur: I need them. For the protection of my people, and yours. You’re well-placed here. But the Saxons trouble you, too.

Yorath: Eurgh! [he pours a drink from the vessel a woman has brought him] When the Saxons come, they find more trouble than they need.

Yorath laughs and looks to his guard for support. All laugh and nod. A serving woman brings Arthur a drink.

Arthur: For now, yes. But if they break through my lines, they’ll be on you like a winter flood.

Arthur raises his cup. Yorath shifts in his seat.

Yorath: I’ll give you no horses!

Yorath glances pensively at Rowena, still standing the doorway. He gets to his feet.

Yorath: Come with me.



Yorath and Arthur lean on a fence watching a rider working with a half-tamed horse.

Yorath: Yeargh! You see the spirit of that mare? And it’s only half-tamed. [heaves a sigh] Daughters are not brought to heel so easily, eh?

Arthur: I’ve no experience to judge.

Yorath: You will have.

Arthur does a double-take.

Yorath: Not as a father! As an escort.

Arthur: Escort?

Yorath: That is the price of your horses.

Yorath walks away from the corral; Arthur follows. They stand near a horse, petting it.

Yorath: Do you know a chieftain called Hecla?

Arthur: By name, yes. He rules a small kingdom to the south.

Yorath: Two years ago, we made a treaty with him. Part of that bargain was that Hecla would have my daughter as a wife when she came of age. So you see, I have to give her away. You will escort her to Hecla’s encampment.

Yorath walks off towards his longhouse.

Arthur: Yes, but –

Yorath turns back and points his riding crop at Arthur.

Yorath: Hey, Arthur, look! If you want my horses, you must take my place – understood?



Rowena, Arthur and the horses he has obtained from Yorath are travelling along a river bank.

Arthur: It does you no good.

Rowena: What?

Arthur: Not to move your face muscles. Your face’ll set forever in that scowl.

Rowena gives him a patently false smile.

Arthur: Did you not consent to this marriage to Hecla?

Rowena: Only to give my father his treaty. I thought the arrangement would be forgotten.

Arthur: You’ll have a much easier life. You’ll be taken care of.

Rowena: By Hecla? I detest him! I need no man to take care of me.

Rowena rides on ahead of him. Arthur smiles.

Arthur: I don’t doubt it.



Arthur is leading his horses across a stream. Rowena waits on the bank.

Arthur: From what people say, Hecla doesn’t sound such a bad prospect for a husband. A good, strong warrior. And handsome!

Rowena: Some may find him so. To me, he is oily, cunning and treacherous.

Rowena still hasn’t made any attempt to ford the stream.

Arthur: The crossing is easy.

Rowena: You have your horses. That’s all that matters to you.

Arthur leaves the horses he was leading on the far side, crosses back, and rides up the bank until he is looking down on her.

Arthur: I struck a bargain with your father.

Rowena: And I simply took to the hills.

Arthur: This way … together.

Rowena blows out a breath, and lets Arthur escort her across the stream.



They have stopped for a rest under some trees. Rowena is sitting on the ground. She empties out a bag of jewellery. Arthur comes over to see what she is doing.


Arthur: What’s this for? Safe-keeping?

Rowena: This would buy twice as many horses. You need gold to pay for your wars, don’t you? If it isn’t enough, have this too.

She pulls a necklace from around her neck, and adds it to the pile.

Rowena: Now, I go!

Arthur: Be ready to move on.

Annoyed, Rowena puts the jewellery back in her bag – all except a brooch which she slips into her boot. While Arthur is seeing to one of his horses, Rowena leaps up, jumps on her horse, and gallops off.

Arthur rides after her, and catches her horse.


Arthur: Woah. Woah Boy!

Arthur dismounts and drags Rowena from her saddle.

They continue on their way. Later, we see that Rowena’s hands are bound behind her back, and Arthur is leading her horse.


[INTERVAL]


PART 2


Arthur takes a pouch from his horse’s pack, goes to his cooking pot over a little fire, and throws something from the pouch – perhaps herbs, or salt – into the pot. Rowena is sitting against a tree, her hands still bound.

Rowena: That’s a woman’s work. Undo these bonds and let me help.

Arthur ladles some meat from the pot into a bowl. Rowena makes a frustrated sound.

Rowena: If you knew Hecla, you could not wish any woman on him. When I last met him, I thought he was a coward.

Arthur puts meat and bread into another bowl, and takes it over to her. He goes down on his haunches beside her.

Arthur: Perhaps he was made timid by your presence.

Arthur offers her some meat on the end of his knife.

Rowena: Aren’t you going to untie me now?

Arthur: Bite!

Rowena looks at the food, then into Arthur’s eyes, smiles, then cheerfully bites his hand. She lets go.

Arthur looks ruefully at his hand. He puts the bowl of food down beside her, stows his knife, and walks away. He takes his own food out of the glade to eat alone, while looking out for anyone approaching.

Rowena lies down and tries to eat from the bowl. Then she spits out the food, and instead uses her teeth to pull a knife from inside her boot. She drops it behind her, and sets about cutting her bonds.

Once she has succeeded, she rubs her wrists, then goes to free some of Arthur’s horses, and tries to shoo them away.


Rowena: [quietly, to horses] Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

She stows the knife in her boot, and sits back down, pretending her hands are still bound.

Rowena: The horses! The horses!

Arthur runs back, to find the horses free. He sets about re-capturing them. Once they are secure, he realises that Rowena has escaped, and goes to look for her. Someone flushes two birds from cover, so Arthur goes to investigate.

Arthur: Rowena?

He goes into some undergrowth to look for her.

Arthur: Rowena?

Rowena is being held captive by a Saxon, who has his hand over her mouth. Someone hits Arthur on the back of the neck with an axe haft.



Rowena and Arthur are being held captive by three Saxons. Arthur awakes and sits up.


Rowena: What will they do to us?

Arthur: Kill us. [He looks across at their Saxon guards] The wonder is, they haven’t slain us already. It isn’t like them to keep their axes clean, with Celtic blood about. Or Jutish blood.

Rowena glances at her boot. Arthur doesn’t notice. She kicks him. The Saxons laugh.

First Saxon: She’s good as hit him.

Arthur sees the knife in her boot, and tries to position himself so he can get at it. One of the Saxons, Erig, comes over and kicks him in the ribs.

Erig: Horses – eight of them. Seven of them are strung together – beasts of burden. Something valuable, was it? Something heavy you had to collect? What was it?

Erig kicks Arthur again; Arthur gasps in pain.

Erig: Arms?

Erig kicks Rowena out of the way, then grabs hold of Arthur, as if about to beat it out of him.

Rowena: I’ll tell you!

Erig drops Arthur; all three Saxons gather round Rowena. As she is speaking, they pull her to her feet.

Rowena: We were on our way to collect a store of silver.

All the Saxons laugh greedily.

Erig: Ohohh! [mocking her accent] Silver!

Rowena: Monastery silver! When your people took the nearby land, it was buried in an earth barrow not far from here.

Erig: Where?

Rowena: I will show you. If you can ride.

Erig pulls her close.

Rowena: But you will not kill me.

Erig shakes his head.

Erig: [mouths] Nooo. [to first Saxon] Watch him!

Erig cuts Rowena’s bonds. She mounts a horse. Erig tries to get hold of her belt.

Rowena: Yaaar!

She rides off. The others fall behind. Arthur stabs the first Saxon with the knife from Rowena’s boot. Rowena knocks the second Saxon over with her horse. Arthur draws his sword and engages Erig in battle, while Rowena looks on. After a short fight, Arthur kills Erig. Rowena looks relieved. She dismounts and comes over to Arthur. Arthur cleans his sword.

Rowena: I have my freedom now.

Arthur: Freedom?

Arthur sheathes his sword.

Rowena: I saved your life.

Arthur: Because of your stupidity, you nearly cost me my life!

Arthur grabs her from behind and sets about tying her hands once more, while she continues to struggle.

Rowena: Eh! You pig! You … eh … eh … you …

Arthur: I gave my word to your father that I would take you to Hecla.

Rowena: Of all the vilest creatures! Eh! Ow!

Arthur: And I’m a man of my word.

Rowena: I should have let them kill you!

She continues making sounds of protest as Arthur takes her to her horse, and lifts her onto its back.

Rowena: [vehement] I wish they’d killed us both!



In Hecla’s village. A celebration is in full swing. Hecla picks up Rowena by the waist and carries her, and presents her to some of his people for inspection.

Hecla: There now – look at that! Isn’t that a fine woman, eh? What do you think of that, eh? Good, eh?

Her picks her up in his arms this time, and carries her to another group of revellers.

Hecla: Just let me show you off!

He stands her on a bench. The revellers laugh lewdly.

Hecla: There we are! There now, look at that! [he slaps her bottom] How would you like a slice of that, eh?

Villager: She’s got more meat than your last one!

Hecla takes Rowena down from the bench and looks into her eyes.

Villager: I like it! I like it!

Hecla tries to kiss Rowena, but she pushes him away, and walks off.

Hecla: Oooh! She’s shy!

Hecla pantomimes sympathy, then grabs Rowena by the hand. He knocks someone off his seat to get past, and the fellow inadvertently kicks Rowena as he falls over. Hecla leads Rowena to the head of the table where he sits down.

Arthur is sitting to the right, looking disgusted with the proceedings. Rowena tries to go to him for support.


Hecla: No … here.

Hecla pulls Rowena into his lap and cuddles her, while she tries to shrink away.

Hecla: Well, this is a great day! I’m indebted to you, Arthur. You’ve done me a real service!

He pets Rowena’s neck.

Arthur: It was a pleasure to accompany such a sweet-tempered lady.

Rowena looks as if she is about to bust into tears. Hecla continues petting her.

Hecla: I was beginning to wonder whether I’d ever see my bride again. And here she is … looking even more beautiful than on the day we were betrothed.

Rowena: [trying to smile] I thank you.

Hecla: A mountain butterfly, flown down from the peak.

Hecla tries to kiss Rowena; she turns aside, looks around, makes some embarrassed noises then gets up and sits beside him instead.

Hecla: A butterfly with subservience shining in its eye – no?

Helca turns Rowena’s face towards him.

Hecla: Noo … Never mind. It will be …

Hecla stands, pulls Rowena up by her arm, and addresses the gathering.

Hecla: Now! I give you – Rowena!

Hecla raises his goblet. All follow suit, toasting Rowena. Hecla sits down and turns to Arthur.

Hecla: Well … at last we meet, Arthur.

Arthur: I welcome it. There’s much to discuss.

Hecla takes hold of Rowena.

Hecla: It’s a pity you won’t be here for our wedding, the day after tomorrow.

Rowena: So soon?

Hecla: Well, there’s no sense in delaying matters. [loudly] I’ve wasted two years already!

The revellers laugh. Rowena walks away. Hecla stand and leans across to one of his men.

Hecla: Jack. Jack. Jack. How many boars do we have?

Rowena goes to stand near where some men are cooking meat. Arthur comes to stand beside her; he seems troubled.

Rowena: You see what I mean? He’s a repulsive lout!

Arthur: He proclaims his love of you, and shows himself the perfect host.

Rowena: Take me away! Tonight!

Arthur: I cannot.

He walks away; she follows.

Rowena: Please … Arthur …

Arthur: And make an enemy of Hecla for a spitting cat?

Rowena: That’s all you care about! You want him to fight for you! My happiness is of no concern.

Arthur turns to face her.

Arthur: Believe me … I wish you well.

Rowena: Then help me to escape from here. Tonight.

Arthur: I fulfilled my obligation to your father. Now you must keep your promise to Hecla.

She turns and walks away. Arthur looks vexed.



Arthur is leading his horses through the village, prior to setting out for home. Outside one of the huts, he sees the cage with the two lovebirds that were stolen from Kai when they were ambushed. Villager comes out of the hut and sees what Arthur is looking at.


Villager: Useless! Heh! Meant to be songbirds! [splashes water on his face] May as well set them free.

Arthur: As they have just freed a mountain butterfly.

Villager: Butterfly?

Arthur: Given her back her wings.



In Hecla’s longhouse. Rowena is preparing for her wedding. Two serving women stand sniggering in the background. Rowena looks into a mirror. Hecla arrives and sets the mirror face-down.

Hecla: Are you ready? The priest is waiting. [to serving women] Get out!

The serving women depart. Hecla comes round behind Rowena and kisses her neck.

Hecla: Nervous? Oh, you mustn’t be nervous of me. Come … As soon as the priest has concluded the ceremony, w–

Hearing hoofbeats, Hecla looks up.

Hecla: Wait …

Hecla frowns and goes outside, to find Arthur, Kai and Llud waiting for him. Their men are holding a group of Hecla’s villagers at spearpoint, along with the goods they stole from Arthur and his men in the ambush. Rowena comes out and smiles.

Hecla: It seems as if we shall not be needing a priest after all.

Arthur: You did more than steal my goods, Hecla. In your ambush, one of my men was killed. You still have need of a priest.

[ROLL THE CREDITS]

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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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