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Episode 1.8: Rolf the Preacher

Writer: Terence Feely


In Mark’s village in Cornwall. Rolf is on his knees, in the middle of a circle of men – including Mark of Cornwall.

Rolf: Yes … The Lord showed me that he who strikes his fellow man is no better than a ravening wolf. And he who lives by violence is already dead in his heart. [He snatches someone’s sword] What did the sword ever bring you but pain and death?

He starts to chant, and everyone except Mark joins in.

Rolf and Villagers: Pain and death, pain and death, pain and death.

Rolf: And what is peace, but life and sweetness?

Villagers join in again.

Rolf and Villagers: Life and sweetness, life and sweetness.

Rolf holds up the villager’s sword.

Rolf: The day the first sword was forged on earth – that day there was weeping in heaven.

Mark looks dubious.

First villager: Shame!

Rolf: I was a killer. I raped, and I plundered. But I was not a happy man. Then the Lord opened my eyes, and took the sword from my hand, and I found peace. Has the sword given you happiness?

Villagers: No!

Rolf: Has the sword given you plenty?

Villagers: No!

Rolf: Do you want to renounce the sword?

Villagers: Yes!

Rolf: [yells] Then cast it out!

Rolf drives the villager’s sword into the ground, grabs one from another villager, and does the same with that one. All the other men, except for Mark, begin drawing their swords and throwing them to the ground, while Rolf continues his exhortations.

Rolf: Cast it out, cast it out!

Mark: Pick them up!

The few men who haven’t thrown their swords away keep hold of them. Mark grabs a villager by the scruff of the neck, and throws him to the ground in the pile of swords.

Mark: I say! What are you? [Mark grabs another man by his shirtfront and gives him a shove] Warriors or bloodless priests? This fool – he’s moonstruck! [Mark takes Rolf’s place in the centre of the circle and addresses them all] Are you going to let him talk you out of your manhood?

Rolf: Man is made strong by strong heart – not by the sword. Cast out the poisoned blade!

Some start to draw their swords, then sheath them again as Mark starts to speak.

Mark: Even now, plunderers are massing against us. And they mean to take what is yours. How are you going to defend yourselves? On your knees?

Rolf: You will conquer them with peace! And friendship! They will come in hate – but they will leave in love. It will be a victory greater than the Celts have ever known.

Rolf crosses his arms over his chest in rapture.

Mark: Yaar, this man booms like an empty wineskin. No man can return love for hate! The world is a battlefield. [to Rolf] You say that violence is wrong.

Rolf: I do.

Mark: [nodding] And you would not defend yourself against an attack.

Rolf approaches Mark, and holds up his wooden cross.

Rolf: I would not.

Mark: [grins at the onlookers] You would not. Then show me what you’d do, if someone did this.

Mark takes Rolf’s cross, drops it, hits Rolf, back-handed, on the right side of his face, knocking him to the ground, then draws his own sword. Rolf gets slowly to his feet, hands raised, then strokes his left cheek, and offers it for Mark to hit.

Rolf: Now this one.

Mark gives him a look of puzzlement and disgust. All the villagers throw down their swords again.



In Arthur’s longhouse. Arthur is seated at the table; Kai is standing behind him. Mark paces in the foreground.

Arthur: Why is it everyone comes to me when Rolf runs wild? I’m not his keeper.

Mark: He’s more dangerous now than when he was a bandit. It was Llud who made him turn to converted. Now he must put him back the way he was before.

Kai: Llud’s not here.

Mark: And I’m not the only one in trouble. This thing is like a plague. It spreads.

One of Arthur’s men comes in.

Arthur: Yes, what is it?

Celt: We hear that Rolf is preaching marvels in Cornwall. Some of the men are asking for leave to go and hear him.

Arthur: No.

Celt: But –

Arthur: I said no.

The Celt bows his head, and leaves.

Arthur: We must deal with it now. You go back alone. Kai and I will follow a day later.

Mark: Well, why not now?

Arthur: First, like John the Baptist, you must pave the way.

In Mark’s village. A pig is roasting on a spit. Rolf walks among Mark’s people, expounding his theories.

Rolf: My Friends, look into yourselves … deeply into yourselves. Look for hate – cast it out. Look for violence – cast it out. Believe me Friends, when hate is banished, life is sweet.

Mark: Yeah! Hey!

Mark gallops into the village.

Rolf: Greetings.

Mark: Greetings.

Mark assesses the situation, then slowly approaches Rolf, trying to look sheepish.

Mark: I – er – I have been in the wilderness, thinking of your words. And it has come to me that – er – [sighs, as though it pains him to admit it] er – that you’re right, Rolf the Preacher. And I beg your forgiveness for all the wrong I’ve done you.

Rolf smiles, and claps Mark on the shoulder.

Rolf: There’s no need for that. They say there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents …

Mark: [to villagers] Mark was wrong!

Villagers cheer.

Mark: And Rolf is right. Violence is evil.

More cheers.

Mark: From today, there’ll be no more killing in the Kingdom of Cornwall!

More cheers.

Mark: Even the least of life’s creatures shall be safe.

More cheers.

Mark: No more cattle shall be slain. The boar shall be safe from the spear.

Mark pushes a villager away from the roasting spit, which he dislodges and drops into the fire.

Mark: No more feasting on the fruits of violence!

Rolf gives a puzzled grimace.

Mark: No more meat shall be eaten. There shall be peace in life for all living things!

As Mark says this, he snatches a piece of meat from the hands of the nearest villager, kicks the man’s backside, and throws the meat into the fire. Rolf immediately snatches it up.

Rolf: Your zeal does you great credit, Mark. But the holy word does say ‘moderation in all things.’ Man must live.

Rolf holds up his piece of meat, and Mark snatches it back, and throws it into the fire once more.

Mark: [enthusiastic] And so he shall! He shall live from the things that the gods provide – the things that grow in the earth.

Rolf: That may not be enough.

Mark: Is the bull strong? And does the bull kill to eat? Is the horse strong? It can carry a man for fifty leagues. And does the horse eat its fellow creatures?

Rolf: Yes, bu –

Mark: It was you, Rolf, who showed me the light! Now, tell me – am I right or wrong?

Rolf: [reluctant] Mark is right. There can be no half-measures in the way of peace.

Rolf claps Mark on the back, and they walk off together.

Kai and Arthur are riding toward Mark’s village.

Kai: I just want to get it quite clear. For once, I can be as free as I like with the girls of the village, and there’ll be no reproaches.

Arthur: Not from me.

Kai chuckles.

In Mark’s village, Maeven is ladling some green soup into a bowl. Her husband, the First Villager, sniffs one of the bowls.

First Villager: What’s that supposed to be?

Maeven: Herb stew. You can thank your saintly preacher for this.

The Second Villager takes his bowl of herb stew to Mark and Rolf.

Second Villager: Meals without meat aren’t worth eating!

First villager: Our wives and daughters don’t believe in your preaching. They ask why they should suffer because of us.

Rolf: They will believe in time. Peace in the heart is worth more than meat in the belly.

As the assembled womenfolk make sounds of complaint, Arthur and Kai ride into the village whooping.

Kai: What is this, Mark – a burial place, or a village?

Arthur: Hey, Woman! [He drops to dead boar he was carrying on his saddlebow at Maeven’s feet] Get that over a fire. We’re hungry!

First villager: [annoyed] That’s my wife you’re talking to!

Arthur: Lucky man! [He dismounts and slaps Maeven’s rear with the flat of his sword] Come on, Woman – don’t stand about!

First villager takes a step forward; Arthur raises his sword to the man’s throat. Kai dismounts and grabs the nearest woman, Gladwen.

Kai: And you, my pretty one – go and help her.

He picks her up, kisses her on the mouth, then puts her down.

Kai: Go on, move!

He slaps Gladwen on the rump; she giggles. Second villager – her husband – takes hold of Gladwen, then approaches Kai.

Kai: Yes, friend?

Kai raises his axe. Second villager backs off, and gives his wife a shove. Kai laughs.

Kai: How are you, Mark?

Kai walks casually past Rolf and Mark, slaps Mark on the shoulder, then takes an apple from a villager’s hand, bites into it, and walks away.

Mark, Kai, Arthur and Rolf walk through the village together. Mark surreptitiously taps Arthur on the shoulder and gestures to one of the huts. Arthur opens the door and looks inside.

Arthur: We’ll be staying for a day or two. This’ll do us very well.

Kai: Hmmm.

Kai goes inside; Rolf looks worried, peers inside, then follows Arthur.

Rolf: Well, that’s where I’m sleeping …

Kai throws Rolf’s knapsack out of the door, hitting Rolf on the elbow.

Arthur: Holy men can sleep anywhere.

Kai throws a blanket out and Rolf catches it, then turns to Mark for support.

Rolf: Mark …

Mark: [regretful] Well – in the old days I’d have broken their heads ... [suddenly animated] And that’s what I’ll do now!

Mark makes a grab for Rolf’s sword. Rolf stops him.

Rolf: No! What’s the comfort of a bed, compared to the great work?

A large pillow flies out of the door and hits Rolf on the head.

Rolf and Mark are walking around the yard, while the men sit gloomily eating their herb stew. Further off, the womenfolk are all sprawling around Arthur and Kai, noisily enjoying drinks, roast boar, and flirtation. Arthur and Kai talk loudly, to make sure the women’s husbands will overhear.

Arthur: Here, Gladwen! A bonny girl like you needs feeding!

Gladwen laughs drunkenly and falls on top of him.

Kai: You too, Maeven! If your husband won’t look after you, someone else must!

Kai leans across, grabs Maeven, and kisses her on the mouth. Gladwen and Maeven’s husbands watch resentfully from a distance.

Maeven: My husband’s watching.

Kai: Don’t worry about him.

Arthur emerges from the giggling pile of admiring women.

Arthur: [to Gladwen] Are you worried about your husband?

Gladwen: Well, he’s not going to be much good to me on herb soup!

Raucous laughter from the whole group, which tumbles in an unruly heap.

First villager: That’s it! I’m not taking any more of this.

Second villager: Neither am I.

All the men begin rising to their feet. Rolf puts an arm out. Arthur’s party temporarily goes quiet, listening.

Rolf: Stop! Those men are deliberately provoking you. Can’t you see that? They live by war, and the sword.

Second villager: But our wives –

Rolf: Your wives are in no danger. They’re just testing you. If you want to see the sour look of defeat on their faces, do nothing.

The men sit down again.

Arthur: Rolf? You’re a magician. You can turn men into milkmaids!

Mark: Whaaaaat?

Rolf restrains Mark; the women laugh.

Rolf: Stop! Only children are hurt by words.

Rolf walks towards Arthur, Kai, and the women. Arthur stands up. Kai also gets warily to his feet, but stays where he is, while Arthur goes to meet Rolf.

Rolf: Why do you seek to destroy my work?

Arthur: Because your work will destroy us – all of us.

Rolf: When can peace destroy?

Arthur: When it stops men defending what is good and right, and honest and just.

Rolf: Good cannot be defended by evil.

Arthur: If you don’t believe in the sword, why are you the only man in this village still wearing one?

Rolf: It belonged to my brother. He was slain when I involved him in a battle with the Picts. I wear it as a reminder, and a reproach.

Seeing Rolf with his hand on his sword, Kai begins to draw his own sword. Arthur takes Rolf’s, raises it in the air in both hands, then brings it down against his thigh, and breaks it, and throws the two pieces to the ground. Rolf smiles sadly.

Rolf: That has hurt both of us.

Rolf turns and walks away. Mark comes over to Arthur, and picks up the pieces of the broken sword.

Mark: It isn’t going to work. And the enemy gets closer every day.

Arthur: I haven’t finished with Rolf the Preacher. Not yet.



The womenfolk are still gathered around Arthur and Kai.

Kai: Some more meat, Ladies!

Kai gets to his feet and goes to get some. The menfolk continue to glower at Arthur’s group. Rolf sits apart, meditating. Mark surreptitiously kicks Second Villager’s behind. He falls over.

Third Villager: Mind what you’re doing!

A fight breaks out, and Mark helps keep it going, with a trip here, and a push there, until Rolf notices what’s going on, and wades in to put a stop to it.

Rolf: Stop it! Stop it! That’s enough!

Mark: Stop it! What d’you think you’re doing?

Rolf: Peace is not easy. It must be worked for.

Mark nods. When the men have settled down, he comes over to Arthur, Kai, and the women, and sighs deeply.

Arthur: [calls out] Brotherly love on an empty belly is only for saints, Rolf!

Rolf smiles slyly.

Next morning. First villager, Maeven and Second villager are sitting together eating their breakfast.

Second villager: Much more of this, and I shall look like herb stew!

Arthur and Kai come over to talk to Mark.

Arthur: One more breakfast of that watery stew, and we’ve got them.

First Villager: Food!

Villagers rush excitedly to the entrance to the palisade. Cheers go up, as Rolf comes in carrying a dead boar on his shoulders, and leading and a horse laden with supplies. Arthur, Kai and Mark look worried.

Mark: We’d better do something or we’ll lose them.

Arthur: The boar – somebody must have killed it.

Rolf: From the hamlet on the ridge. I told them of our plight, and God moved them to be generous.

Mark: [shouts] No! Wait! [He makes his way through the crowd towards Rolf] Thank you, Rolf, for having mercy on our weakness, but we cannot accept the boar. Your own teaching tells us so. It has been slain. We must not profit from violence.

Rolf grins, and grasps Mark’s face.

Rolf: You’re a true son of the Word, Mark. Hah! But put your mind at rest. The boar was not slain, it fell into a ravine and broke its neck. It may be eaten!

Villagers cheer. Rolf walks away with his hand on Mark’s shoulder. The villagers start preparing the food.

As Rolf enters the longhouse, Arthur challenges him.

Arthur: I thought you were a holy man, Rolf. I hadn’t expected deceit.

Rolf: There was no deceit.

Arthur: No man makes gifts of boars. How many heads did you break?

Rolf: God works in strange ways. [He grips Arthur’s shoulders] I went to the hamlet to beg for charity. They saw me coming. Sadly, they thought I was the old Rolf … Rolf the Plunderer. They must have thought I was leading a raiding party, so they fled, leaving everything there. I knew they would have given gladly had I been able to explain. So I borrowed the food.

Arthur: The boar died of fright, I suppose.

Rolf: No. It was a tame boar. It fled with the rest. It did fall into a ravine.

Arthur: You have the luck of the devil, Rolf.

Rolf: I have the luck of God.

Rolf grins, and goes inside.

The villagers are enjoying a feast. Rolf tops up First Villager’s mug of from his pitcher, then kisses Maeven, first on the cheek, then more vigorously on the lips, then holds up his cross in self-defence. Arthur and Mark watch from a little way off.

Mark: He’s got them back!

Arthur: He can’t do that trick twice. All we need is time.

Mark: Haven’t got time. I’ve had word – the enemy have reached the valley.

Rolf pours more drink for a noisy group of villagers.

Mark: I must kill him.

Arthur: You can’t kill him. He’ll be even stronger dead than alive.

Mark: Nah, that’s old wives’ talk. They’ll forget him before he’s cold.

Arthur: You can’t slay a man in cold blood.

Mark: It won’t be in cold blood.

Mark goes into the longhouse.

Mark: Hey! You!

He picks up two swords, comes out, hustling a peasant, Lendor, in front of him, and approaches the revellers.

Mark: [shouts] Rolf the Preacher!

Rolf turns round to face him.

Mark: You’re a cheat and a liar!

Rolf: What?

Mark: This is Lendor, from the hamlet on the ridge. He says you took the boar, by force.

Lendor: It’s true! He came at dawn like a savage bear. We … we fled in terror.

Rolf: That’s not so. I intended no harm. Arthur knows the truth of it.

Mark: You may take in Arthur with your oily tongue. But you don’t gull me. Not any more. You’ve made fools of us!

Rolf: If that’s what you want.

Mark: It’s what I know! You came here with your words of love and peace, and all the time you were laughing at us. [He steps forward, holding out the swords] But no one makes a fool of Mark of Cornwall. [He throws one of the swords on the ground, in front of Rolf] Defend yourself!

Rolf grips his cross and holds it up in front of him.

Rolf: I will not fight you.

Mark: I see! Terrifying innocent people like a dawn wolf is one thing, but meeting a man face to face is another!

Rolf: I will not fight you.

Mark: Then die like a coward!

Mark raises his sword to strike at Rolf; Arthur draws, and meets Mark’s blade. Mark turns on Arthur, punches him a number of times, knocking him to the ground, then kicks him. Rolf approaches First Villager.

Rolf: Where’s Kai?

First Villager: He’s watching the valley.

Mark kicks Arthur again.

Rolf: [to Mark] Your quarrel was with me – not him.

Mark looks up, and comes over to Rolf, chuckling.

Mark: Yes. But you’re the man who can’t fight, aren’t you? [He taps Rolf in the stomach] Show me that trick again.

Rolf turns his left cheek towards Mark. Mark pats it, then backhands Rolf’s right cheek, knocking him down. Mark returns to Arthur, who is still lying on the ground, and kicks him again.

Mark: [to Arthur] You should not involve yourself in matters that are not your business.

As Mark speaks, Rolf gets up, comes up behind Mark, puts a hand on his shoulder, and turns him round.

Rolf: You gave and I took. If you want to learn about Christianity, you must try the other side too. Now I give, and you take.

Rolf holds up his wooden cross, gently taps Mark on his right cheek, and then punches him hard, in the face, knocking him back.


Rolf takes a run at Mark, and hits him in the chest with a flying drop-kick, flattening him. Mark gets up, and they have a fight, in the course of which Rolf picks up a post to use as a weapon. As Arthur gets slowly to his feet, Rolf hits Mark on the back of the neck with the post, knocking him out cold. Rolf drops the post, kneels beside Mark, turns him over, whimpers, and holds his head. The villagers stand around, looking shocked.

Arthur: Rolf is right. Violence is evil. And if everyone thought like Rolf, the world would be a better place. [He comes to stand behind Rolf] But everyone doesn’t think like Rolf, and until they do, we must defend ourselves, and our kin, as Rolf defended me just now. If we do not, others will come and take our land. We will perish, and any good that we might bring into this world will perish with us.

Rolf: Thank you. I’m not sure that you are right, but thank you.

Next morning. Leading his horse, Rolf is walking dejectedly away from Mark’s village.

Mark: [to horse] Heey!

Mark, evidently recovered, rides out of the village, catches up with Rolf, and dismounts.

Mark: That thing – about turning the other cheek. That takes a lot of iron.

Rolf: Yes it does.

Mark: [pensive] Who started it?

Rolf smiles.

Rolf: Let me tell you about him.

They walk off together.

Rolf: A man of vision and courage. A man whose name will spread throughout the world. A man who died, for us…

The aftermath of a skirmish between Mark’s men and some Saxons. Most of the Saxons lie dead.

Mark: How many men did we lose?

First Villager: Not one. They didn’t expect us to be ready.

Mark: You – collect the weapons.

One of the Celts picks up a Saxon’s axe. The Celts walk through a gap in a hedge. A lone Saxon survivor runs from where he has been crouched behind the hedge. Mark and the other Celts give chase. The Saxon trips and falls. Mark stands over him, pulls him up by his sheepskin, and raises his sword. The Saxon looks terrified. Then Mark just knocks him into the river. The Saxon starts to swim away.

Mark: And tell your friends, if you ever come again, they’ll get the same. And next time, I won’t turn the other cheek!

Mark turns to find that his men are all staring at him.

Mark: What are you gawping at?

He chases after his men and administers mighty kicks in the pants to each and every one of them.



Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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