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Episode 1.4: The Penitent Invader

Writer: Terence Feely


Arthur and Llud are fighting the Picts; seriously out-numbered, they are losing. One of the Picts throws a knife, which hits Arthur in the back; it looks serious. Llud catches Arthur as he falls. In the nick of time, Herward the Holy and two other mounted warriors come to the rescue, putting the Picts to flight.

Arthur: Herward the Holy. To say that I am pleased to see you –

Herward: No need to put your gratitude into words. But put it into action. I have helped you. Now you must help me.



In Arthur’s longhouse. Arthur is lying prone on the bed; in the background, women are treating other wounded warriors. Herward is sitting in Arthur’s big chair.

Arthur: Rolf the Penitent. Herward, I’m fighting for my life.

Herward: I’m fighting for mine.

Arthur: For five weeks the Picts have been coming at us, from two flanks. Today, Kai lost seven men holding them to the north.

Llud is heating a big stone in a brazier; he picks it up with tongs, and carefully tests the heat against his own chin.

Arthur: I myself saw six fall to their knives.

Kai: We stamp on them like rats, and still they advance.

Llud: Romans knew them – and feared them. ‘Picti’, they called them – ‘The Painted Ones.’ Savages from the North.

Llud tests the stone again, and this time it’s hot enough; he grasps it in a cloth and comes over to the bed.

Llud: Lacinius the old Centurion called them ‘The Legion of the Dead.’ They believed that if they died in battle, they went straight to their paradise – but if they were defeated, or surrendered, they went straight to hell.

Llud presses the stone to Arthur’s back, to cauterise the wound. Arthur trembles and sweats.

Llud: They are unstoppable.

Herward: Rolf the Penitent is unstoppable. He ravages my cattle, steals my grain, seizes my womenfolk!

Arthur: [very quietly] He’s his own man, not mine.

Herward: He’s a Celt! You are the self-appointed leader of the Celts. You are the one who would show us the way to live in peace. Rolf the Penitent breaks that peace. He is your burden.

Llud: I thought he’d been converted to your religion – to the Christ of the One God. Well, has he?

Herward: Oh, yes. He’s embraced it as if it were one of my village maidens.

Kai takes a fur from behind Herward, and wraps it around Arthur’s shoulders. Arthur picks up a goblet and takes a drink; his hands shake.

Herward: He’s bitterly sorry for his sins. Bitterly he repents them. His remorse is terrible to behold. Then as soon as he’s done his penance, he’s off again, refreshed and worse than ever.

Kai puts a hand on Herward’s shoulder to get him out of Arthur’s chair, then helps Arthur to sit down.

Arthur: I will give you help. I’d sooner spare you twenty swordsmen, but I will give you Llud.

Rolf’s village. Llud rides in, causing general excitement among the villagers.

Llud: Here is Llud. I seek Rolf the Penitent.

Rolf rushes forward, drops his shield, stabs his sword into the ground and kneels.

Rolf: I know! Kill me. Slay me first. Burn me over a slow fire. I deserve it. I am a sinner! I want to pay!

Llud: I am here –

Rolf: Use my own sword –

Llud: On the authority –

Rolf: Cut out my heart –

Llud: Of Arthur.

Rolf: – and give it to the dogs. Stake out my liver for the birds to pick at –

Llud: I have –

Rolf: – cut off my head –

Llud: WILL YOU HOLD YOUR TONGUE! So you are Rolf the Penitent. Murderer. Thief. Liar.

Rolf: Ravager of maidens. Stealer of crops.

Llud: Breaker of his given word.

Rolf: Hideous in the sight of God!

Llud: Your crimes are many enough to remember without your help. Get to your feet.

Rolf warily complies.

Llud: You gave Arthur a promise.

Rolf: And have broken it a thousand times. [Rolf suddenly smiles] Food! Food for the mighty Llud of the Silver Hand. Food and drink! [He gives some villagers a shove] Come. Please. First eat. Then – listen to a humble sinner.

In Rolf’s longhouse; everyone is feasting.

Rolf: So then. Edwin. Stalks out of the camp in all his kingly dignity, trips over a chicken, and lands flat on his face in a dung-heap.

General laughter.

Rolf: [to Llud] Here – have some more Adder’s Sting.

Llud: We must talk.

Rolf: D’you like songs? Songs, is it? I have a song I made myself. Here. Peace.

Someone guffaws drunkenly; Rolf throws a bone, which hits him; the laughter stops abruptly. The Minstrel plays.

Rolf: [sings]
In the evening, when the lake shines,
I seek in the water its meaning.
And in the night, when the sky shines,
From God my faith I am gleaning.

Rolf’s people applaud. Llud just nods soberly.

Rolf: Short, you see? Short, but strong.

Llud: You’re a strange man, Rolf. There are more sides to you than a woman’s argument.

Rolf: I have another one. Here. Peace! Peace!

Llud gets up.

Llud: Time we talked.

Rolf reluctantly gets up and follows him out through a curtain, to a side room.

Llud: Arthur wants you as a friend. But each time you raid and pillage, your shadow falls on him. His heart is warm, but his sword arm is hard, and there’s a limit to his patience.

Rolf: Do you threaten me, Llud? Threats don’t frighten me. Not even Arthur’s. I frighten me. I want to change. [Rolf grips Llud’s arm] I mean to. But every time I see a chance of plunder, I cannot help myself. Why do you think I became a Christian? You’re looking at a sinner who’s begging to reform.

Llud: What penances does your church give you?

Rolf: Fasting. Walking up the rocks of the Hill of Morvyn on my knees. Scourging.

Llud: Penances for women and children! Who does your scourging?

Rolf: Abbot Morpeth – my confessor.

A cock crows. The frail and elderly Abbot Morpeth emerges, smiling, from his hut. Seeing Rolf, his face falls.

Abbot Morpeth: Oh. Not again, my son!

Llud: [to Rolf] This is your scourger?

Rolf smiles.

Llud: My lord abbot!

Llud approaches Abbot Morpeth, who is hard of hearing, and speaks close to his ear.

Llud: May I have a word with you alone?

Llud and Abbot Morpeth go inside. A cock crows.

Rolf has remained sitting outside on a fence, next to the Abbot Morpeth’s donkey. Llud and the Abbott emerge.

Llud: My thanks, Abbot Morpeth.

Abbot Morpeth: It is I who should thank you. [to Rolf] This man has generously consented to relieve me of my arduous, and I may say physically exhausting, responsibilities of seeing to your penances. [to Llud] Again, my heartfelt gratitude. [to Rolf] Now, mind you obey his instructions, as if they were my own.

As Llud and the Abbot walk away, Rolf kicks the donkey in disgust.

Llud and Rolf walk through Rolf’s village.

Llud: Your scourger? That old man couldn’t scourge the hairs off a peach! I’ll set some penances for you. Remedies of the old gods. Where’s your blacksmith?

Rolf nods reluctantly to indicate the direction of the forge.

Later, in Rolf’s bedroom. Rolf is lying on the bed, his eyes closed. Llud is sitting beside him, cleaning a knife.

Llud: Tomorrow we go riding, you and I. If you feel temptation coming on, you must tell me.

Rolf seems amused. The smith comes in and gives something to Llud.

Llud: Ah … my thanks.

Llud goes over to Rolf’s bed, where Rolf is now sitting up, somewhat anxious. Llud shows Rolf a leather jacket, lined with spiky metal studs.

Llud: It was a favourite penance of Mithras, god of the Roman soldiers.

Rolf looks horrified.

Llud: Put it on.

Rolf handles it gingerly.

Rolf: [quietly] I can’t sleep in that!

Llud: A sinner should not be capable of sleep. His conscience should trouble him.

Rolf takes the jacket, which is so heavy, he nearly drops it.


Part 2

Llud and Rolf are riding through the countryside, apparently both having a good time, though Rolf is still wearing the spiked shirt of Mithras. They see an isolated hut. Outside, a metal-worker sits working on some jewellery, of which there is a large pile laid out on a table in plain sight.

Llud: Tempted?

Rolf: Yes …

Rolf closes his eyes, and Llud hits him across the shoulders with the flat of his sword.

Rolf: Aaaagh!

Rolf half-draws his sword.

Llud: WHAT?

Rolf shoves his sword back into its sheath.

Rolf: [shouts] I deserve this!

Llud hits him again. They ride off, Rolf yelling in pain, and Llud in pursuit.

They stop by the river, and see a young woman lying alone on the far bank. Rolf leers. Llud hits him, this time on the chest.

The come to a pen where two men are tending two fine horses. Rolf looks longingly at them, and Llud clouts him on the back.

They stop to rest. Rolf sits by a tree; Llud lies down on his back. Rolf tries to get comfortable, leaning back against the tree, but the studded jacket makes it impossible.

Rolf: Aaaahhh. How can I be easy in this shirt of the devil?

Llud: You are rightly clad, then. And the intention –

Rolf: I warn you, Llud –

Llud sits up and gives Rolf a hard look.

Rolf: No, no. No. I have no right to complain. Every moment reminds me of what a miserable sinner I am.

Llud: Yes.

Llud falls asleep; Rolf fidgets.

Llud wakes to find that Rolf has gone. He goes looking for him, and finds the young woman on the riverbank distraught, the horses gone from the corral and the two men who had been looking after them lying unconscious or possibly dead. The metalworker is having his injuries tended by his wife; his jewellery has been stolen.

Back in Rolf’s village, Rolf is being publicly flogged by two men; Llud supervises the punishment.

Rolf: Aaahh! Mea culpa! More, more! I’m a miserable sinner! A damned soul! I deserve more! More!

Llud: And if you do not truly repent, more you will get.

In Arthur’s longhouse. Arthur is leaning forward in his big chair, furiously berating Kai, who sits at his feet, but not facing him.

Arthur: We do not have the men to lose. We can go on killing five Picts for every Celt, and still be overwhelmed.

Kai: You would have had them, on a sloping river bank, between you and the river – [Kai turns to face Arthur] and you would not have attacked?

Arthur: Defence is the only way. Careful defence. To kill without being killed. Every day I tell you, every day you agree, and every day you disobey.

Kai: I have not lost a battle yet.

Kai gets to his feet; wounded men are still being tended in the background.

Kai: And I can still fight beside my men.

In Rolf’s longhouse. The village has gathered again for the evening meal. All Rolf has in front of him is a bit of stale-looking bread. Llud laughs.

Llud: Yes! Good!

Rolf reaches for some meat; Llud skewers it with his knife so Rolf can’t take it. Rolf grips Llud’s arm.

Rolf: You’re right. Thank you. You’re my conscience, Llud.

Rolf reaches for a wine cup; Llud smashes it with his silver hand. Rolf leaps to his feet, his knife drawn.

Rolf: Be off! This devilish armour plagues me. My back is raw from the beatings I’ve received. And now for two days I cannot eat at my own table!

Rolf holds a dagger to Llud’s throat, but Llud is unflustered.

Llud: I see. You are a virtuous man now, are you? Purged of all your sins? The girl … the jewels … the horses? All paid for so easily?

Rolf drops the dagger, and sits down.

Llud: Abbot Morpeth would’ve been proud of you.

Rolf: I feel I’m getting better.

Rolf grips Llud’s arm.

Llud: Mmmhm?

Rolf: In my fight against the devil.

Llud: Good, good!

Llud takes a big bite of an apple.

Rolf: In fact I think I’m almost cured.

Rolf puts some dry bread in his mouth.

Next morning. Llud strides through the village, followed by a man with a bandaged head. He goes into Rolf’s bedroom, followed by the injured man. Rolf is in bed.

Llud: Herward tells me that during the night someone attacked his food train, injured his men, and stole a whole boar. Who? I will ask but once. Who?

Rolf folds his hands over his stomach and belches sheepishly.

In Arthur’s longhouse. Arthur is sitting at a table, on which there is a makeshift map of a battlefield, with a loaf of bread for the longhouse, half-apples representing the Celts, and knives for the Picts. Kai, perched on the edge of the table, grabs up the knives.

Kai: We could destroy them!

Arthur: And at the same time destroy ourselves?

Arthur leaps up, and sends bread and apples flying with an angry sweep of his arm. Kai gets to his feet as well.

Kai: We must attack! Every day they gain more and more ground! Tomorrow or the next day, this hut will be all there is left!

Arthur: Then that will be the time for the last stand. From defensive positions. We let the boar run onto the spear.

In Rolf’s village. Supervised by Llud, Rolf is preparing to walk over some hot coals, while the whole village watches.

Rolf: For one wild boar?

Llud: It’s your choice.

Rolf considers.

Rolf: I deserve it. The fires of hell. I am a miserable wretched sinner. Mea culpa! Mea culpa.

A Messenger arrives on horseback.

Messenger: Llud!

Llud: [to horse] Hey.

Llud goes to the gate, consults with the Messenger, then returns.

Rolf: I have stayed my penance, so that you may witness this wicked sinner walk through the flames.

Llud: I must return to Arthur.

Rolf: A matter of great urgency, I can see it in your eye. Yes, yes, you must go. Immediately. But fear not. I will walk through those burning ashes until I can no longer stand.

Llud: I know you will, Rolf. I would stay longer, but I must ride to protect a simple band of people who pay tribute to Arthur.

Rolf: Ah. Yes, yes, yes, you must go … Heh. Tribute?

Llud: Yes – a token of friendship. Jewellery, treasure … They’re a gentle people, and easily plundered. They’re in the forest north of our camp. I lead a party to bring them safely through.

Rolf: Heh heh heh. God speed.

Llud: [to horse] Hey! Huh!

Llud rides off. Rolf crosses his hands over his chest, and walks slowly across the hot coals. Then he starts unlacing the spiked jacket.

Rolf: Tell the women to douse that fire … and raise up every man who can hold a sword.

Rolf’s people, fully armed, run out of the village with gleeful shouts. From a hiding place, Llud watches them go.

Llud: Such a penance you have earned.

Rolf and his men are surrounded by Picts. Screams and wild battle cries ring out. Rolf and his men are being overwhelmed. Arthur and his cavalry appear.

Rolf: Arthur – The Bear.

Arthur’s men ride into the fray. The Pict forces leave Rolf’s men and run to attack the cavalry; many of the Picts are cut down.

Rolf: Charge! Waste them!

Rolf’s men join in the attack, and the Celts win the day, but there have been many losses on both sides. Abbot Morpeth closes the eyes of a dead Celt, and places a shield over his face. Rolf looks up at Llud.

Rolf: [bitter] What penance do you bring now, Llud, conscience of the world?

Llud: [weary] This sin brought its own penance.

Rolf and his people, many of them wounded, make their way home, bringing their dead with them on various carts. Rolf sits on his horse outside the palisade, and addresses Llud.

Rolf: I never had to fight like that. To me, battles are for winning, not for dying. I felt the death-fear, Llud. I leave a brother there. Many friends of many years. The night-gathering will not be the same.

Llud: As others have felt. Those who’ve been the victims of Rolf the Penitent.

Rolf: Time for a reckoning.

Rolf follows the last of his surviving men, into his village.

In Arthur’s longhouse. Arthur is resting in his big chair, with Kai and Llud sitting on the dais at his feet.

Cabot: [sings] Rolf the Widow-Maker, fought the Painted Ones. Found his penance in the slaying.

Kai holds up his goblet, and a serving woman pours him a drink.

Cabot: [sings] Rolf the Penitent shrived his sinning … mourned his dead … paid his paying.

Kai: To Rolf the Penitent. [Kai drinks a toast] Hammer of the Picts.

The serving woman pours a drink for Arthur.

Arthur: An old Caesar’s trick. Set a barbarian to fight barbarians.

Llud: Rolf is no barbarian. Great good, and great wickedness, are but a hair’s thickness apart.

Arthur: Good or bad, we need Rolf.

Llud: Oh, I think you’ll find he’s a friend. If you go to sleep with one eye open.

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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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