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Episode 2.7: In Common Cause

Writer: Michael J. Bird


Arthur and Brother Amlodd are in a field, looking at a dead bull.

Arthur: The same?

Amlodd: No bear or wolf brought this beast down. Nor spear, neither.

Arthur: It was no hearsay, then, Brother Amlodd. The Saxon animals are dying of a pestilence.

Amlodd: They are. That pleases you?

Arthur: With cause. Our enemy’s sheep and cattle are struck down. Men with empty bellies have little heart for war.

Amlodd: Well, the pestilence does not choose between Saxon and Celt. And you also have bellies to fill.

Arthur bites his lip thoughtfully.



In Arthur’s longhouse. The Celts are feasting.

Llud: So, Cerdig and his Saxons are losing their livestock to the sickness. We should be grateful for it.

Arthur: It’ll spread further than their pastures.

Kai: What if it does? We’re hunters, not farmers.

Arthur: We still need our cattle and goats for their milk – our sheep for their wool. Brother Amlodd has what he thinks to be a remedy.

Kai: Perhaps you should pass on this great lore to Cerdig.

The other Celts laugh. Arthur bites into an apple.

Arthur: That is what I intend to do.

Everyone goes quiet. Llud gives a nervous laugh.

At the Giant’s Dam; some Saxons are building a fence. One of them spots someone approaching.

Saxon: Celts! Quickly!

Four Celt horsemen are approaching. The Saxons grab their tools and run, but the first Saxon gets separated from the other two, and the four horseman trap him between them and three more mounted Celts, including Arthur.

Arthur: Do you know me, Saxon?

Saxon: You are Arthur.

Arthur: You live only to take a message back to Cerdig. Tell him I know how death runs with his herds by day and night, and would speak with him. If he doubts my earnestness, then let the fact that a Saxon was in our hands, and lived, be proof of it. Tell Cerdig that I would meet with him at dawn tomorrow.

The following day, near the Giant’s Dam. One by one, Arthur takes his three spears from where they hang by his saddle, and throws them down.

Arthur: My spears are blunted, Cerdig. They will hurt no Saxon today.

Cerdig and his men emerge from among the trees. Some of them walk out onto the dam. They lay down their axes and spears.

Arthur: You did well to come.

Cerdig: I gave it much thought. Is it that you seek terms to lay down your arms? If so, you and yours will not find me too hard a master.

Kai: Hah! It is because you dream these dreams by the hearth, Old Man, that we do not see you on the battlefield.

Cerdig: He bites, then, that Saxon puppy, who has all the Celts for his brothers, and no man for a father! [the Saxons laugh] You would talk of sick cows?

Arthur: Your livestock are dying.

Cerdig: The pestilence will pass.

Arthur: It will destroy all your flock and spread further afield.

Cerdig: You’re worried about your few sheep and goats?

Arthur: I would protect them against this Saxon plague.

Cerdig: Saxon plague?

Arthur: It was not known here before you invaders set up farming in this land!

Cerdig: Listen now to these Celts, who hunted and fought in their mud huts, until their lords and masters of Rome taught them to wipe their noses with leaves, and to be good servants. What did they learn from their masters? Nothing! Save to fight!

Arthur: There is honour in battle.

Cerdig: There is greater honour to see that your family is fed. To do that, a man must till land, and pasture flocks. But what of it? You think there is a cure, then?

Arthur: Amlodd the Monk has a way to halt the spread of this disease.

Cerdig: [to Amlodd] What does your one god tell you, then?

Amlodd: First, you must slaughter your pigs, and your herds of sheep and cattle, sick and well alike. Their bodies must be burned.

Cerdig laughs scornfully.

Amlodd: Then you must burn the byres in which they were penned.

Cerdig: Gaaar!

Amlodd: This way, as fire will cleanse a wound, so fire will cleanse this sickness from the land.

Cerdig: You must be mad! Slaughter me livestock? D’you think I can’t see through your trap?

Arthur: That is not the way of it, Cerdig. Listen to me!

Cerdig: I’ve heard enough. The sickness will pass.

Cerdig and the Saxons leave.

Amlodd: Cerdig the Wolf … Cerdig the Simpleton.

Sounds of buzzing flies. Cerdig walks from one dead animal and its grieving owner to the next. He looks worried. Arthur and some of his men are watching from cover. Cerdig scratches his head.

Arthur: Still he does not learn.

In Cerdig’s hut. It is night. Arthur and Kai find Cerdig sleeping. Arthur holds a knife to Cerdig’s chest, and Kai has an axe at the ready. Carefully, and at the same time, Kai puts his hand over Cerdig’s mouth, and Arthur grips Cerdig’s nose. Cerdig awakes, and struggles.

Kai: Draw one breath to cry out, and it will end as your death rattle.

Cerdig stills, and they withdraw their hands, but not their weapons.

Arthur: Your animals are still dying, Cerdig. The sickness has not passed. Amlodd was right.

Cerdig: It is possible.

Arthur: So now, will you follow his way?

Cerdig: And put all my people at your mercy?

Arthur: Do as the priest says, and I, Arthur, give you this pledge – that you shall have half of all the sheep and goats belonging to my people. That way, you Saxons can survive, until you build up fresh herds from untainted stock.

Cerdig pushes Kai’s axe blade aside. Kai and Arthur draw back, and Cerdig sits up.

Kai: [aside to Arthur] Half our animals? You said nothing of this.

Arthur: Such decisions are mine.

Kai: [with quiet vehemence] Share our livestock with our enemies when our own people need food – are you mad? Let him starve, and all the Saxons with him.

Arthur: If the sickness does not pass, we will all starve.

Cerdig: There is self-interest in what you propose, so I believe you are in earnest about the sickness. But if I do order all our animals killed, how do I know you’ll keep your word?

Arthur: When I return to my village, I shall send one of my people as a hostage.

Cerdig: Very well. Let this be our bond. But I want as a hostage, not some ordinary man who means little to you. I want him.

Cerdig points at Kai, who looks disconcerted.

Cerdig: And his life will be the first forfeit for any trickery.

Arthur: So be it, then. When you have done what has to be done, we’ll make the exchange, at the Giant’s Dam. And mark this, Cerdig. Injure this man in any way, and there will be no place, here or across the sea, where you shall be safe. For I will hunt you down and cut out your heart.



In Cerdig’s village.

Ulm: My Lord Koenig, think again. There are those who doubt the wisdom of this.

Cerdig moves closer, takes a bite of apple, and speaks while chewing.

Cerdig: Then let ’em speak out.

Ulm: But this is a Celt trick.

Cerdig: Nah. Arthur wouldn’t dare. Not while we hold such a hostage as Kai. It might almost be a blessing if Arthur did not keep his bond. [he chuckles] What would happen to our young hostage then, eh? Would he seek to fight with Arthur again? Or would the love he bears him turn to hate, and would he then, fight with us again? Huh. Would it were so. But to Arthur, the word that’s spoken cannot be recalled. Perhaps there’s some other way …

In Arthur’s longhouse. The Celts present are in formal dress, as if this is a Council meeting. Llud stands, grim-faced, on the dais behind a table. He does not look at Arthur as he speaks.

Llud: You left my adopted son at the mercy of Cerdig?

Arthur: There was no choice.

Llud: Against a ransom of half our livestock?

Arthur: What is our main source of food, Llud?

Llud: The wild boar and the deer in the forest.

Arthur: Well then, you’d better start learning how to fish. Because if this pestilence goes unchecked, it must spread to the forests. And from one forest it’ll reach out to the next, until the whole land is affected.

Llud: Well, the Saxons will suffer equally!

Arthur: No! For a while they’ll share our misfortune, then they’ll reap in their filthy wheat and it’ll just be the Celts weakened by this plague.

Arthur grabs a joint of meat and walks over to Llud, holding it before him.

Arthur: Take a long look, Llud. See it – taste it – savour it – for soon it could be just a memory in your starving belly. [he bangs the joint down] And not just you, Llud, not just you – [he picks up the meat and walks towards the fire] – and me – and this village. But the entire Celtic race will be searching the forests in vain for the meat that is their life’s blood. Fate has planned this for Cerdig, better than if he’d sacrificed his own son to the gods!

Arthur angrily flings the meat into the fire.

Llud: Arthur … [he comes down from the dais and approaches Arthur] My sword is yours. I’ll stand beside you against any threat, as I have done since you were a child. But never again put Kai, who is also as my son, at this risk to achieve your own ends.

In Cerdig’s village. Two Saxon guards bring Kai to Cerdig. Kai’s hands are tied behind his back, and he is stripped to the waist. Cerdig goes to Kai and lets him have a drink from his goblet. Kai drinks thirstily. Before he has drunk his fill, Cerdig takes the goblet from him, and walks away.

Cerdig: Look around you, Kai. You know, it was in a village such as this that your mother and father lived. Where you were brought up and cared for. It must seem strange to you, to think that even this could have been your village. Where you laughed, and played … got to know your own people.

Kai: You’re no longer my people.

Cerdig: Oh, no – no, you belong to the Celts now. To Arthur’s people.

Cerdig walks back to Kai, and puts the goblet to Kai’s lips again; Kai drinks.

Cerdig: Nevertheless, the blood in you’s Saxon blood, as was your parents’.

Kai: They’re dead.

Cerdig: But are they?

Cerdig goes to lean on a post; the Saxon guards nudge and chivvy Kai over to him.

Cerdig: That man over there. [He indicates an old man with white hair and beard] Isn’t it possible he could be your father?

Kai: He would know if he had lost a son.

Cerdig: Hmmm.

Cerdig walks about, and the guards make Kai follow after him.

Cerdig: But somewhere, in one of our villages, perhaps not very far away, your father may live.

Kai: If my father lives, why has he not sought me all these years? Why have you not heard from such a man?

Kai walks over face Cerdig.

Cerdig: I ask you again. [He looks over to the white-haired man again] Could not that man be your father?

Kai: I tell you again – he would know if he had lost a son.

Cerdig: Nyeah …

The white-haired man nods to Kai, and – with grudging courtesy – Kai nods back, then follows Cerdig again.

Cerdig: He would also know that that son was you. The Saxon who kills Saxons. Would he claim you? Or would he let you pass?

Arthur, Llud and Brother Amlodd watch from a distance as the Saxons burn their byres and dead animals. Llud nods, satisfied.

At the Giant’s Dam. Cerdig and his party wait for Arthur to come and make the exchange. Kai’s hands are still tied behind his back, but he is now wearing his tunic once more.

Kai: He will come. Arthur keeps his bonds.

Cerdig: And the moment of his coming – the moment of your decision. Whether you return to Arthur, or remain amongst your own kind.

Kai sees Arthur’s party hidden behind the trees on the other bank of the river; Cerdig hasn’t seen them.

Kai: What would you give me if I stayed, Cerdig? Would you feast me? Smother me with gifts? Present me with the best house in the village, and the choice of any of the young women for my pleasure? What tempting scraps would you throw to me from your table?

Cerdig: I’d give you nothing. You’d have to build your own house, court your own women, as the others must. There’d be no gifts, and you would feed on whatever harvest you could plough and reap yourself. But one thing I would swear to do. I would acclaim you throughout the Saxon lands, and call upon your father to come forward, and take his rightful place, proudly, beside his son Kai, the wandering Saxon, who has come home to his own people.

Kai: And you would have me fight beside you, against the Celts?

Cerdig: I would have you defend your people against whoever may attack them.

Kai: Never Arthur. Never could I take arms against Arthur, who was as a brother … nor Llud, who was as a father to me. If you agreed those conditions, then I would stay.

Cerdig: It is agreed. [to guards] Cut his bonds.

The guards free Kai’s hands. Cerdig throws his axe down.

Cerdig: Hah! [he goes to Kai and embraces him] Arthur loses more than sheep and goats today!

Cerdig chuckles, still holding onto Kai, and hugs him closer. Still chuckling, he walks away. Kai rubs his wrists.

Kai: Cerdig!

Cerdig turns round.

Kai: I would say this. Among the Celts, I was a warrior among warriors. I cannot stay here to be a fool, among fools such as you!

Kai grabs Cerdig’s axe from the ground, despatches his guards and makes a run for it. The white-haired man is in his path. Kai throws the axe to him.

Kai: Here – give this to your son.

Kai runs past another Saxon and jumps off the dam into the water. A Saxon throws a spear at him; others prepare to do the same.

Cerdig: Hold your spears! Hold your spears, I say!

Kai swims across to the other bank. Arthur rides out from behind the trees.

Ulm: Arthur! Where are the animals? Aach! We’ve been betrayed. Arthur has broken his bond.

Some sheep come into view. Cerdig gives Ulm a satisfied look.

Kai reaches the bank, waves to the Saxons, grins, and runs eagerly to Arthur. Llud is grinning, but Arthur’s face is like thunder.

Arthur: Could you not wait?

Kai’s smile disappears.

Kai: Cerdig sought to dig deeper the pit you left me in. I had to build a ladder of cleverer lies with which to climb out.

Kai goes to his horse, and mounts up, and shakes Llud’s hand heartily. Llud laughs. Some goats are herded towards Cerdig’s people.

Kai: There’s no need for this bargain.

Arthur: I gave my word.

Kai: To a Saxon?

Arthur: To Celt or Saxon, my word must stand.

More animals – sheep and goats – are herded across.

Kai: There is no more sickness. Our animals are healthy, and the hunting will be good. With empty bellies, our enemies would soon be at our mercy. [he glances at Llud for support] I say prepare for …

Kai looks across river at the white-haired old man, who is standing proudly looking back at him, axe in hand.

Arthur: Well, Kai? What do you say?

Kai: Your word must stand.

Arthur nudges his horse nearer to Kai and Llud.

Arthur: [shouts to herdsmen] Leave the animals! Go! [to Kai] My thanks – for supporting my pledge to Cerdig.

Kai looks at Arthur, then at the old man again, and then at Llud, who nods.

Kai: Kai is himself again. [to horse] Yar!

They ride off.

Some days later. Cerdig and some Saxons are in a field with their sheep and goats.

Saxon: Cerdig – Celts!

Arthur and some of his men have arrived: some on horseback and some on foot. They form a line opposite Cerdig’s men.

Cerdig: Get back to your own land! The bond is kept!

Arthur: In common cause, we have done well. In common cause, let us draw a line beyond which you shall not advance!

Cerdig: Who shall keep that line?

Arthur: We both shall. And you must send messages to your people across the seas, saying that they are not welcome here.

Cerdig: [aside] The messages shall tell of green pastures, and abundant game. Rich, new land. [calls out to Arthur] It shall be done!

Arthur: And you will not burn nor pillage, and you will not advance across that line?

Cerdig: We shall not! [aside to Ulm] At least, this day, we shall not.

Arthur: [aside to Llud] Today, at least, they shall not.

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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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