[personal profile] arthur_of_the_britons
Season 1, Episode 1: Arthur is Dead

Writer: Terence Feely


OPENING SCENE


Arthur, Kai, and three other Celts, all mounted, line up for a race.

Kai: Across the ledge at the back of the village.

Arthur: Then through the forest. Now. Let’s see who’ll be first man.

Kai: Everybody ready? [shakes reins] Har!

They thunder across the landscape. One by one, the other three horsemen fall – or are thrown – from their horses, leaving Arthur in the lead, with Kai close behind. Arthur looks behind him, and a low branch knocks him from his horse. He lands flat on his back, and lies motionless. Kai dismounts, kneels beside Arthur, and carefully moves his head. Two of the other Celts arrive. Kai looks up.

Kai: Go and tell the village. Tell the world. Arthur is dead.

The others gallop away.

[OPENING CREDITS]


PART 1


Mark of Cornwall, surrounded by his men, tears off a chunk of roast boar, and takes a bite.

Mark: With Arthur dead, who will now lead his men? [he laughs] They are not great in size, but by all that’s holy, they can fight. And with Arthur dead, now that rabble will follow me.



Dirk the Crafty, on horseback, addresses his men, who stand around him.

Dirk: Arthur’s encampment lies in a key position. With that, I could make myself secure. We leave within the hour!



Herward the Holy addresses his men.

Herward: The man who adds Arthur’s strength to his own will be unbeatable. Let it be Herward the Holy!



Ambrose lounges beside a lake, drinking with a group of men and women, all luxuriously attired.

Ambrose: Attack and conquer Arthur’s camp? John, John, that’s what all the others will be plotting. All those crude thieves – Mark, and Dirk, and Herward. No, we’re the only ones who remember the old ways. Roman ways! Strength of the lion, cunning of the fox. No, no, no. We offer those poor frightened people of Arthur our protection. And if they refuse, then we attack.



The various leaders and their parties, set out for Arthur’s village.



Dirk: With Arthur dead, the others’ll have no stomach for a fight.

Someone throws a large net over Dirk and his followers, and they fall in a struggling heap.



Herward and party are marching along when their way is blocked by an innocent-looking little boy.

Herward: Child, out of my way. I am Herward the Holy.

A Celt hidden in a tree above Herward knocks him on the head with a big stick.

Cabot: And I’m Cabot the crafty.



Ambrose and company are marching along a narrow path.

Ambrose: We’re coming to Arthur’s encampment. We don’t want to slouch in like a lot of old half-women. March like the legions of Rome!

Ambrose falls into a pit-trap; his men are surrounded.



Inside Arthur’s longhouse. Mark is dragged in through the door. Kai follows, and stands, his axe at the ready, guarding the door. Mark chuckles when he sees the other chiefs.

Mark: They got you too, eh? Dirk the Crafty, Dirk with the extra eye. Ha! In his bellybutton! [to Kai, who is standing silently inside the door] You got us all now. Well? What are you waiting for? Kill us! We’re not women, that we have to prepare.

Ambrose: I thought too little of you, Kai. I should have known. I watch you breathing down Arthur’s neck often enough.

Arthur comes in, very much alive.

Mark: You tricked us!

Arthur: You tricked yourselves, by your own greed. How many times have I asked you for this meeting? How many times have you refused?

Dirk: We had better things to do.

Arthur: Like plundering each other? Ripping and warring amongst yourselves like brainless wolves? Tearing apart our people, leaving them helpless before any Saxon war parties?


Celt spy starts to sneak away outside the longhouse.


Dirk: You’ve done your share.

Arthur: When I’m attacked, I defend myself, and my people. But there is a greater enemy now. Cerdig, the Saxon moves forward year by year, cutting down our forests, taking more of our land. None of us is strong enough to beat him on our own. We must make a pact.

Mark: A pact? With a moon-blasted priest, an imitation Roman, and a weasel?

Herward: [indignant] Moon-blasted priest!

Ambrose, Dirk and Herward all attack Mark, who throws them off. Arthur slams his sword into the table to stop them. Outside, the spy sneaks past the sentry and out of the village.

Arthur: Outside is a stone. Beneath the stone is a sword. The man who can lift that sword above his head will be our leader.

They go outside, where a boulder sits, with a sword underneath it.

Herward: I am the destined one!

Mark: Ha!

Herward: Nodens! Maponos! Barli! Help me now!

Herward struggles, but can’t move the stone.

Ambrose: Meponas, Nodens, Barli. What gods are they?

He begins taking off his cloak.

Ambrose: There is only one god. Mithras, god of the Legions, god of the sun, symbol of the bull.

Ambrose throws his cloak to some villagers, and tries to move the stone, to no effect. Mark kicks Ambrose away, amid general laughter.

Mark: You prattle of your gods and your bulls. There is only one bull, and it is I – Mark of Cornwall. Stand aside!

Mark tries, but he can’t shift the stone. Dirk is smirking.

Mark: [to Dirk] Alright, Squint-eye. It’s your turn. Let’s see how you get on! The muscles of a girl-child.

Dirk tries to move the rock by using a branch as a lever, but it breaks. Everyone laughs.

Mark: [to Arthur] So you look pleased with yourself. Maybe you think you can move it.

Arthur: No. But I know how it can be moved.

He runs down the steps to stand by the stone.

Arthur: All I want is one hand from each man. Here… here… here… and here. Now. Push!

As the rock moves, Arthur grabs the sword, and holds it aloft.

Arthur: Ha!

Mark: That proves nothing. You did it with our help.

Arthur: Exactly. And that’s how I’ll beat Cerdig. With your help. None of us can do it alone. Together we will roll him into the sea as easily as we shifted that rock.

Ambrose: He’s right. The Romans had a saying for it – divide and rule. That’s why Cerdig wins.

Arthur: I ask each of you to put half his army at my disposal.

All the Celtic leaders start shouting, except Dirk who just laughs.

Mark: What?

Ambrose: No …

Mark: D’you hear what he’s saying?

Herward: No …

Arthur: Then I can fight Cerdig on equal terms.

Celtic leaders start shouting again.

Herward: Never! Never!

Ambrose: Oh, no …

Mark: [at Ambrose] You were mad, wanting …

All shout incoherently.

Dirk: Then there’ll be nothing to stop you attacking us. Marching on us, one by one, and slaughtering us.

Llud: There’s nothing to stop him slaughtering you now. If that’s what he wanted, why hasn’t he done it already?

Herward: He still could! We are unarmed and defenceless. Give us back our arms, and then we will talk.

Arthur: Kai – their swords.

Kai leaps down the ramp from the longhouse, and faces up to Arthur.

Kai: I’d as soon give a snake back his fangs. Let’s kill them now and make an end of it. You’ve seen and heard them! You can’t argue with jackals.

Arthur: No, Kai.


The Celt spy runs up a grassy slope.


Arthur gives Dirk, the last of the four leaders, his sword back.

Arthur: If you need swords to make you feel like men – very well. You are men again. Now think like men, and give me your answer.

Herward: We must speak together.

Arthur: Speak quickly! Cerdig was at Ilchester last night, not a day’s march from here.



Up on the hill, the Celt spy gets caught by Cerdig’s sentries.

Spy: I must speak to Cerdig!



In Cerdig’s camp. Cerdig and his followers are eating.

Cerdig: Ambrose, you say? And Mark of Cornwall?

Spy: And Herward the Holy, and Dirk. They’re meeting in council to join forces against you.

Cerdig: Whose idea was this brotherhood of wolves?

Spy: Arthur’s.

Cerdig: Oh. Dangerous man, Arthur of the West. He thinks before he fights.

The other Saxons laugh.

Spy: They have few men. Strike now and you get them all, Arthur among them.

Cerdig kicks the Celtic Spy.

Cerdig: Why should a Celt deliver Arthur into my hands?

Spy: I went before him at the seat of judgement. He gave judgement to my enemy.

Cerdig: Wisely, I’d say. You’re a rogue if ever I saw one. [to one of his men] You see what a thing it is, Hengist, to be a leader. You give justice, and you make a knife for your back. [to all the Saxons] Prepare for battle. At least when I slay Arthur, I’ll do it from the front!

Cerdig slams his axe into the table.

[INTERVAL]


PART 2


Arthur, Mark, Ambrose and Herward emerge from the longhouse.

Arthur: You’re agreed?

Ambrose: Yes, it makes sense. We forget our quarrels and join together against Cerdig. It is the way of Rome.

Herward: It is counselled by the gods.

Arthur: The gods are wiser than I thought. Very well, what I propose –

Mark: One point! Why you? We’ve agreed to combine our forces, yes. But why should you command them?

Llud: Only he can.

Mark: By whose word? Not mine. No! We go by the law.

Arthur: Not an hour ago I spared all your lives. I had you all at my mercy. I gave you back your swords.

The Celtic leaders laugh.

Mark: A sign of your weakness. Let us see if your sword arm shows the same flow. Unless any of the others wants to try his chance against you.

Mark glances at them – no one volunteers.

Mark: Who wins, leads. That’s the law.

Arthur: Small boys decide things so. We are grown men!

Mark: Small boys are not afraid to fight!

Arthur goes over to Llud and Kai for advice.

Kai: You can beat him. He’s slow on his feet, he drops his shield arm to the left, he moves his head forward before he strikes –

Arthur: Kai! I am trying to build an alliance based on sense and reason. If I fight now to prove myself, reason will have flown. I won’t be a leader, just a fighting stag. Llud knows I’m right.

Llud: No, Arthur, you are wrong. You fight with your mind as a leader should. But there’s a time to fight with the mind, and a time to fight with the belly. And these men understand only the belly. You must fight.


Cerdig approaches Arthur’s village.



Arthur and Mark fight each other with clubs and shields; the villagers cheer them on.


Llud: Enough!

A Celt sentry rushes across the bridge into the village.

Sentry: Cerdig!

Llud: The enemy!

Sentry: Cerdig! The Saxons!

Arthur: We must retreat!

Mark: Follow me! Attack!

Arthur: That’s just what they want. They’ll be waiting for you!

All apart from Arthur’s men rush off to join battle with Cerdig.

Llud: They’ll be back – what’s left of them – with Cerdig biting at their heels.



In the forest, the Celts and the Saxons fight. Ambrose and Mark are trapped, with their backs to a tree.

Ambrose: I don’t care what everybody thinks – Arthur was right.

Mark: Arthur is a milksop!

The fighting goes on until the Celts – outnumbered – fall back.

Cerdig: Where is Arthur? Show me Arthur!



Mark and the other bloodied survivors join Arthur and his men by the lake.

Mark: They were waiting for us.

Dirk: They got us through the trees.

Mark: [to Arthur] Where were you when the battle was at its hottest? Skulking in the camp like a handmaiden!

Arthur: I told you not to go.

Mark: You were afraid to go. Your men could have made the difference.

Herward: They could have made no difference. The gods were against us.

Arthur: It wasn’t the gods, it was your own stupidity, attacking Cerdig on his terms. Well, now we fight on my terms!

Mark: Your terms?

Arthur: Listen to me, men of the Celts! The day is not lost!

Mark: Nobody listens to you. Friend of the old men, clinger to the hearth!

Arthur: Gather to me! There is a way! When did Arthur lose a battle?

Mark: When did he ever fight a battle? Celts! This is I, Mark of Cornwall, slayer of many. We attack again, and this time we scatter them like chaff before the wind!

Arthur: If boasting could kill Cerdig, this oaf would have talked him to death years ago! Today the Celts fight back. I have a battle plan.

Mark: Nobody talks to me like that!

Mark raises his sword to strike at Arthur, but Llud holds him off with his metal hand, then Arthur punches Mark in the stomach and kicks him over.

Arthur: Herward! You with Llud. Take your forces and hurry. The rest with Kai, over the hill.



In the forest, Arthur – with a small warband – faces Cerdig’s forces.

Cerdig: Ah. All alone, eh? No doubt your brave allies have found urgent duties back at the home fires.

Arthur: Have you come to fight, or talk all day like an old woman?

Cerdig: Fight!

They fight. Arthur and his forces retreat.

Cerdig: Big words before the fight, but when the fighting begins, it’s ‘Back! Back!’



The Celts come to a bog.

Arthur: Follow me!

The Celts find their way safely through the bog, but the Saxons start to sink, and the Celts throw spears at them.

Arthur: Now! [more spears fly] Again!

The last volley of spears finishes the Saxons off – all but Cerdig and two of his men, who regain the safety of solid ground.

Cerdig: Arthur – I’ll be back!



Back in the longhouse yard; the leaders are getting ready to depart.

Herward: You are a man of fate. I will put at your disposal half my men.

Arthur: And you, Ambrose?

Ambrose: Rome always loved a winner. You may have a quarter of mine. I too have dogs biting at my heels.

Herward: I had not thought of that. On second thoughts, a quarter.

Arthur: Dirk?

Dirk: I shall have to think about it very carefully. There are many things to be considered. Anyway, after today you may not need so many.

Mark just glares at Arthur, and rides away. Arthur turns to the Celt spy, who has escaped from Cerdig and found his way home again.

Arthur: You did well. Almost too well. They were on us sooner than I expected. Well, at least the action got us some men. Without that, we would have still been talking when the snow came.



Inside the longhouse, the Celts are finishing a merry meal.

Spy: You should have seen that Saxon’s face when his foot went into the marsh.

Sentry: You should have seen my face – I nearly went in after him!

Arthur: That’s enough! Men cannot feast for ever. You – take the cliff path. You take the creek. [slaps the Celt Spy on the back] Get to the bridge.

The Celts grumble.

Arthur: Now!

Kai: Arthur, let them rest. They won a great victory today.

Arthur: Great victories are as dangerous as great defeats. Men get soft and sleepy. Our danger remains as great as ever it was. And now Mark is an open enemy.

Arthur heads for the bedroom.

Minstrel: [sings] Then strode bold Arthur up to Cerdig… [to Llud] Hey, what rhymes with Cerdig?

Llud: He fights the battles. You write the songs.

Arthur takes off his belt and sits down, looking troubled. The Minstrel comes to the open bedroom door.

Cabot: [sings]
The Saxons fell upon us, like the rain upon the ground;
But the great Lord of the Forest bade the quagmire suck them down.
When Arthur fought the foe.




Arthur and Kai prepare for another race: this time, it’s just the two of them.

Kai: Same route as before?

Arthur: First man into the village.

Kai: This one’s for real. I’ll have the mead poured ready for you when you get back.

They thunder off, Kai in the lead, and race across open country and into the forest. As Kai emerges, still in the lead, he sees Arthur’s horse come out, apparently riderless. He goes back to look for Arthur. Arthur hauls himself back into the saddle: he’d been hiding, hanging off the side of the horse, and now he is in the lead.

Arthur: [shouts] Kai!

Kai’s face lights up with relief and he sets off in pursuit of Arthur.

[ROLL THE CREDITS]

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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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