Thorkell and Alphege
Alphege- Archbishop of Canterbury
Thorkell- Viking leader of Danish army
Wilfred – Young man of Canterbury
Oswy – Young man of Canterbury
Eggfrieda – Young woman of Canterbury
Serving girl (later a prostitute)
Monks and citizens of Canterbury
Alphege speaks standard English. Thorkell and the Danish soldiers with north country, the others with southern rural accents.
Canterbury summer 1011. Citizens of Canterbury walking around talking animatedly.
WILFRED (excitedly) Oswy! Where have you been? Are you coming to hear the Archbishop?
OSWY Where and what?
WILFRED Speaking outside the cathedral.
OSWY I’ll come along with you if you like. You don’t usually fuss much about sermons. What is he going to speak about?
They walk together.
WILFRED Where have you been hiding? Do you really not know what’s going on?
OSWY I’ve just got back. I’ve been away for a few days, seeing to my furthermost fields.
WILFRED If you’d stayed out in the country you would have been cut to pieces. So you haven’t heard about the deadly peril we’re all in? Thorkell the Tall with his heathen army of Danes has been killing, raping and plundering all over Kent. Now with his host he is coming up to the walls of Canterbury.
OSWY Hasn’t he been here before?
WILFRED Not that I know. Never like this anyway, his army is the biggest anyone can remember.
OSWY I forget who he is. Remind me.
WILFRED Thorkell is one of the legendary Jomsvikings, wild heathen mercenaries who fight for whoever will pay them enough.
OSWY What does he want?
WILFRED They say he’s very, very angry. He has come to avenge his brother who got killed no one seems to know where or how.
OSWY How can he do that? Is it just an excuse for killing, raping and plundering?
WILFRED I should think that’s it. He’s recruited a huge host. Silly women have called it the flower of Norse manhood. Poisonous weeds I say, venomous vermin. He’s a hater of our faith. A wicked persecutor of Christians.
OSWY Lead on then, let’s hear what Alphege has to say about it.
Outside the cathedral. Wilfred and Oswy come to join the noisy crowd.
WILFRED Here we are, now stand here and wait. (sees Eggfrieda) Look who’s here! Eggfrieda!
Eggfrieda Hallo you two. Hush now, he’s about to speak.
ALPHEGE Men and women of Canterbury, the vile host is almost at our gate. We find ourselves under siege. Nonetheless there is no call for despair. We can hold out. Thorkell’s spokesmen have asked for money and goods. If we provide them they say they will leave us alone and go away. We could give what they ask, but I have resolved that we can and shall refuse. (Pause, murmurs from the crowd) This once happy realm of England, famed throughout Christendom for its wealth and industry, has for far too long been ravaged by cruel godless oppressors. Too many of our towns and settlements have been left in ruins, their people slaughtered, despoiled and defiled. This is our shame. Ponder upon it. I summon you, my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, to ponder what we once were and could with but a small effort become again. Let us cast our thoughts back to the heroes of our land and the martyrs of our faith.
Recall to your minds the great King Alfred, ancestor of our royal house. (Pause) Also take heart from the life of the holy Dunstan, statesman archbishop, mentor of my own youth. Both of these champions faced down enemies no less fearsome than those who now stand before us. For too many years now this land has been rotten with cowardice and treachery. We must hang down our heads when we think of how low we have recently sunk. Many of you remember, and the rest have heard tell, of the happy reign of Edgar, father of our present ruler, when England was whole and at peace. In those days, it is said, a woman carrying a baby and a sack of gold could walk the whole length of the kingdom with no fear for her safety. That was no fable. It was God’s truth. Edgar the Peaceable the King was called. If peace and justice are ever to return here, brutal invaders must meet with our open defiance! Or like quivering sniveling schoolboys shall we meekly present our naked rumps for whipping or worse? Shall we let all the wealth in the cathedral treasury be pillaged, looted, stolen from us? (Pause, then shouts) Shall we, I ask you all?
CITIZENS No! No! Never!
ALPHEGE Good citizens, I know there is none of you so craven hearted. What I hear from your mouths, I see in your faces. All of you agree with what I have decided. Our stand is for our children, our God and for Christian England. Our walls are sturdy. We can hold firm, we have food enough till the enemy loses heart, as in time, he always does.
EGGFRIEDA We are all with you Archbishop!
ALPHEGE. With firm resolution we can withstand the enemy, by force of arms if it comes to that. We are many, they are few. We are well supplied with weaponry. Our defences are strong. Even if, God forbid, the very worst comes to the very worst then we are willing and ready to fight to the death as any man must who values his pride and his freedom. In any case some of you will doubtless be called on to give your lives. Each morning I shall perform Holy Mass. Every defender will take communion before going up to the ramparts.
Now I call upon the saints in Heaven, from the first martyr, St Stephen and all his successors, the Apostle Paul, who died by the sword, our English martyr kings Edmund and Edward of late memory, to witness our steadfast resolve standing here to refuse to the foul heathen the tribute they would extort from us. Long live the men and women of Canterbury! God bless you all! Amen.
ALPHEGE (shouts) If we keep paying the Danegeld we shall never get rid of the Dane!
More cheers of the citizens.
EGGFRIEDA (turns to Wilfred and Oswy) What a wonderful saintly man!
WILFRED He’s much too old for you dear. But he knows what he’s saying or he wouldn’t say it. We’ll just have to wait inside the city till these wild beasts get fed up and go away.
OSWY It’s only a few years since Ethelred ordered the killing of every Dane in the kingdom. Thousands of them were slain at Oxford on St Brice’s day.
WILFRED That didn’t work though or they wouldn’t be here now.
OSWY I pray the walls hold.
EGGFRIEDA Don’t you feel inspired? He gave us his blessing!
WILFRED You are very lively today, Eggfrieda.
OSWY A lot of folk are very worked up right now.
WILFRED So we stay here for the winter. You can keep us warm, Eggfrieda.
OSWY The kingdom is falling apart.
WILFRED Come let’s all drink ale together and we can talk it all over.
EGGFRIEDA I can’t now. I’ve got to have my hair done.
WILFRED Tomorrow then.
EGGFRIEDA Yes I’ll look forward to it.
WILFRED You too Oswy.
OSWY Yes I’ll come.
WILFRED Tomorrow at noon, in the tavern.
EGGFRIEDA See you both!
Scene:- at the pub.
Eggfrieda, Wilfred and Oswy seated round a table.
OSWY So we must keep inside the walls for the next few weeks or months.
WILFRED The host out there won’t last the winter. There is no way we will have to hold out that long, but we can if needs must. Our walls are strong and thick and there’s enough food in the city.
OSWY But needs won’t, you say.
WILFRED It’s no great hardship. (calls out) Ale!
EGGFRIEDA What can we do to be safe?
WILFRED Nothing much we can do except sit here on our arses. The times are bad.
EGGFRIEDA How did they get so bad?
WILFRED You want me to tell you why the times are so bad?
A serving girl serves them with big pots of ale.
SERVING GIRL Here you are.
WILFRED Thank you. (gives her a coin) Keep the change.
SERVING GIRL And thank you sir.
WILFRED (To Eggfrieda) Listen to me and I’ll tell you how the times came to be so bad.
EGGFRIEDA Can we really be safe here?
WILFRED We can, and I’ll tell you why. We needn’t get bored. Knowing what’s outside makes us feel more warm and cosy. And we’ve got you here with us for company.
EGGFRIEDA I’m serious.
WILFRED I say we can trust the Archbishop. He’s a wise and learned man. He was a hermit for many years, and he thought very hard till he got wisdom.
EGGFRIEDA So why did things get so bad?
OSWY Dunstan put a curse on the king. And so the Danes came in. They swarmed all over England, burning town after town,
WILFRED These Danes are just like we were once.
OSWY Not like me. I have always been a God-fearing Christian man.
WILFRED I mean like our great, great, great, grandfathers were. It goes back many ancestors and many kings.
EGGFRIEDA What does?
WILFRED When we were like them. Back to the early days.
EGGFRIEDA When was that?
WILFRED Many, many years ago, before the kings of Kent. Before we came here this land all belonged to the Welsh. Wogs they were, but believers in the light, which we weren’t at that time. They had a king called Vortigern who was as daft as our own Ethelred.
OSWY Ethelred was cursed by Dunstan after King Edward was murdered.
WILFRED Don’t interrupt me and don’t change the subject. Hengist and Horsa landed their boats a few leagues over that way (points) in Ramsgate and they came from the same land beyond the sea where the Danes come from. In Kent we are Jutes. We are not the same as the rest of the English.
OSWY King Vortigern brought us in to fight the Picts and the Scots.
WILFRED But when we first came we killed the men and shafted the girls who were here, just like the Danes are doing to us. Vortigern hadn’t expected that.
EGGFRIEDA There were times before that, kings before that.
WILFRED In Jerusalem, which is the middle of the world, there was the time of Jesus. He hung on a tree to get wisdom.
OSWY They nailed him to it as the priests say. Then he died. There was a king there I think.
EGGFRIEDA I want to know about kings here.
WILFRED Didn’t I just tell you there was Vortigern?
EGGFRIEDA Before him.
WILFRED there was Old King Cole. Why you asking all these questions?
EGGFRIEDA The world is old and there is much mystery in it.
WILFRED What mystery? We have the light.
EGGFRIEDA You think you have.
WILFRED We know what is true.
OSWY We have the true faith.
WILFRED Still, if the Danes come here they will change it.
EGGFRIEDA You said they were going to kill you both and rape me.
EGGFRIEDA Will they have time to change what you believe?
WILFRED Maybe they’ll just make bondmen of us. You they will strip naked and shaft.
OSWY The archbishop they will sacrifice to one of their devils.
WILFRED No they’ll get gold for him.
EGGFRIEDA How can anyone do that?
WILFRED What get gold? They ask for it and he gives it.
EGGFRIEDA No, how can anyone change our faith?
WILFRED Like it won’t be Jesus any more it will be nothing.
EGGFRIEDA It will have to be something.
OSWY It will be devils we will have to pray to.
EGGFRIEDA How can we worship devils? They want to carry us off to hell.
OSWY But we won’t believe that any more. We’ll believe that hell is heaven.
EGGFRIEDA How can we know anything? All knowledge is just say so.
WILFRED As I told you, we now have the light.
EGGFRIEDA And how will that help when the Danes come in?
OSWY They will make us worship the devils in the days of the week.
WILFRED They will queue up to shaft Eggfrieda. You and me they will slay.
OSWY And we just have to take it.
WILFRED (taking a large gulp of ale) If the Danes come into this city I’ll give them as good as they get before they kill me. I’ve got a strong stave and I know how to wield it.
OSWY That won’t do much against Danish swords and spears.
WILFRED It’s a magic stave. (calls out) More ale!
Serving maid comes in with more beer.
SERVING MAID You drink fast.
WILFRED We need cheering up. (gives her a coin)
SERVING MAID Ta.
OSWY I’ve had a look over the wall. I’ve seen the host out there. If the walls and gates don’t hold, Jesus help us. They are a murderous looking heathen horde, bristling with sharp pointed iron. It’s the most horrible sight I have ever seen. Some of them look like children. They frighten me.
WILFRED You’d better drink more ale. There’s piss all we can do.
EGGFRIEDA What you call the light is just how we’re taught to look at the world.
There are things it can’t explain. There is a lot of mystery. There are wise women.
WILFRED If you talk like that you’ll fall foul of the law.
OSWY Eggfrieda wants to become a wise woman
WILFRED She understands nothing. If she makes herself into a wise woman she will be a witch.
OSWY What do the Danes do with witches?
WILFRED Eggfrieda doesn’t mind so much, she’s thinking about what it would be like to get a Danish prick up her coynt.
EGGFRIEDA Fie upon you, you dirty pig!
WILFRED And Danish hands all over her milk white bubbies.
OSWY She’s a good wench. Let’s talk seriously.
WILFRED And down the crack of her well shaped arse.
Serving maid comes in with more pots of ale.
SERVING MAID You’re still drinking the last lot.
WILFRED Oh so we are! We’ve got room for more though.
SERVING You’d better not waste it. There’s a siege started.
WILFRED As we well know.
He gives her a coin, she puts the ale on the table.
SERVING MAID Shouldn’t you be up on the walls defending us?
OSWY There’s enough men up there. They’ve got all the weapons.
Exit serving maid.
They are all quiet for a few moments while they sip.
EGGFRIEDA You’ve got a magic stave, I’ve got a lucky charm to help keep me safe.
WILFRED My magic stave is just a figure of speech. You’re a threat to civilisation with your silly superstition. Have you got a witches mark tattooed on your buttock?
EGGFRIEDA No I haven’t.
WILFRED Prove it to me. Show me your arse!
EGGFRIEDA You won’t be so lucky!
WILFRED In Canterbury we don’t use lucky charms. We are Christians, we have the light. We have reading and books.
OSWY, Can you read books?
WILFRED I’m not a monk or a clerk so I don’t need to.
OSWY Archbishop Dunstan prophesied ruin and disaster for this land. It is all coming to pass.
EGGFRIEDA I’ve heard an old prophecy that the world is going to end in a few weeks time.
WILFRED From a monk or a priest?
WILFRED Then it’s heathen rubbish.
EGGFRIEDA You’re too sure of your ideas. But your mind is shut.
WILFRED It’s shut against heathen superstition.
EGGFRIEDA Maybe to the Danes we are heathens. We believe what we believe they believe what they believe. What’s the difference?
WILFRED No. We know things now. We’ve got the learning. We know what’s true. You’re just a know nothing girl, what do you know? Sitting there on your arse with your pointed shoes and your fancy head rail? Daft cow!
OSWY Calm down Wilf, she’s only a girl
EGGFRIEDA A girl can be as good as a man.
WILFRED Not a flighty know nothing one like you!
OSWY Shut up Wilf.
WILFRED What’s the matter with you?
OSWY I see the way you’ve been staring at her. I know what your trouble is. You want her and you can’t have her.
WILFRED For all I care Thorkell can fuck her.
Eggfrieda shrieks and rushes off weeping.
OSWY Look what you’ve done! Now she’s left us.
WILFRED I can’t think why. She was all right a minute ago.
OSWY She’s gone because you went too far. You were very rude to her. You’re a low born pig with no manners.
WILFRED You will take that back Oswy.
OSWY A dirty goat. I saw the way your stared at her.
WILFRED A cat can look at a king.
OSWY And you kept talking about her arse.
WILFRED It’s not a bad looking arse.
OSWY You wish you could shaft her.
WILFRED Don’t you?
OSWY Who’s to say I don’t?
WILFRED What, wish you could shaft her?
OSWY No, shaft her.
WILFRED And who’s to say I don’t either?
OSWY You’re a LIAR!
WILFRED And you’re a dog!
The table is overturned and they start to fight.
3 weeks later. Streets of Canterbury.
Wilfred and Oswy standing talking. They are joined by Eggfrieda.
Sounds of uproar.
Enter Danes with swords fighting citizens and monks with staves, and pitchforks.
CITIZEN (offstage) We are betrayed!
EGGFRIEDA What’s happening?
WILFRED Holy shite! The wall has been breached!
Noise of fighting. Shrieks of women.
MONK (rushes in. Speaks breathlessly) Treachery! The whole of Canterbury is now in the hands of the Danes. The archbishop has been seized The cathedral is on fire!
OSWY Treachery you say? The same old story. It’s its traitors that are the whole curse of modern England.
WILFRED Now we’re all dead men!
Enter citizen, running.
MONK All is lost!
CITIZEN Damn him to the lowest pits of hell! A thousand curses on his vile lowborn head!
CITIZEN Base churls without honour or loyalty have been mixing with the highest in the land.
CITIZEN Yes I mean that filthy lowborn rat. He opened the gates.
OSWY What? Is he in Canterbury?
MONK It wasn’t him. It was Abbot Aelmar. The man whose life Alphege saved last year.
OSWY We could easily have held out.
CITIZEN Of course we could have done if we were not what we are. Now all is just darkness, woe and misery.
MONK It’s every man for himself. Do whatever you can to save your own skin. Arm yourselves with what you can find!
WILFRED We’d all better flee and hide.
CITIZEN (Turning to Eggfrieda) And you girl get yourself somewhere you can hide. If you know any secret places go there.
MONK Savior Jesus protect us!
WILFRED Run, run, flee!
All run off.
In the Danish camp. Thorkell is seated. Beside him is Eggfrieda, with a chain attached to her ankle, standing looking downcast.
Enter soldier with Alphege.
SOLDIER Here is the man, my lord, in all his womanish attire.
THORKELL Thank you soldier, you are dismissed.
Turning to Alphege.
I am indeed sorry you have been treated with so little honour. But that’s the way it goes.
ALPHEGE I would expect nothing else from you.
THORKELL What use was resistance Christian archbishop? You see the result. Now your men are all slaughtered or enslaved and your women are being dishonoured. I have heard about that speech you gave outside your temple. It was fiery enough, but I won’t say it was a good one. All your bravery was foolhardiness, and brought ruin on your people.
ALPHEGE You are a cruel heathen. What would you feel if it were your own mother and sister that had been raped?
THORKELL I’d feel a mighty vengeful fury and act on it. And here now for me there is also a matter of honour. I stand by the code of my forefathers and must avenge the death of my brother, Earl Sigwald.
ALPHEGE Whatever happened to your brother is nothing to do with the men of this city, let alone the girls and women.
THORKELL Women are the spoils of war. That is the law of life and always will be.
ALPHEGE One day it will not be.
THORKELL Soldiers go through much pain and hardship. They must have their reward. The lesson is don’t fight unless you are strong and brave enough to win.
ALPHEGE Our men are brave and strong, but we have traitors among us.
THORKELL That is your weakness.
ALPHEGE And for that our streets must run with blood you say?
THORKELL As for the slaughter, that too is the way of the world. But I have some time to spare. It pleases me to listen to you. Sit down. Tell me where I am wrong. Tell me of a better way.
ALPHEGE You are mocking me. Nonetheless I shall reply according to my holy duty and I am not afraid to answer you.
THORKELL You are my guest. Sit here.
Thorkell gets up from his chair. Alphege sits down on it.
THORKELL Go on then.
ALPHEGE I shall speak to you as a missionary, and tell you of the promise of eternal life.
THORKELL Very well then.
ALPHEGE As a heathen. you live in darkness, an unhappy slave to your crude desires. The path you have chosen in life is that of wicked and destructive lust. When you die you will meet your reward in hell, where you will suffer the torments of a damned soul.
THORKELL Spare me!
ALPHEGE Only when you are willing to repent your wicked, godless and bloodstained path, to abandon what you shall have come to know as sin, shall you be ready to accept the happiness that is forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Then you may have the gift of eternal life. What does your way bring you? Soon you will be dead, and what profit will you have?
THORKELL Pshaw! Tosh! Nursery tales for toddlers!
ALPHEGE The message of Jesus Christ our Savior is the best news you could ever hear. To you your life is but as a sparrow that has briefly flown into a lighted hall immediately to fly out again though another door into the winter night. You know nothing of what was before or what will come after, where you came from or where you are going.
THORKELL Please man, stop this nonsense! That is stuff fit only for women and small children.
ALPHEGE You asked me to speak.
THORKELL Please talk man to man. We Danes are not foolish savages. You can take it we know something of life. We see the best it has to offer. I have my own god, just as you have yours. The god I worship, Thor, was the guide of your own ancestors. Are you happy to believe your own forefathers are all burning in the place of torture you say you call Hell?
ALPHEGE You live by obsolete values. I have lived a very different life from you. I was an anchorite for years, a hermit.
THORKELL You evade my question.
ALPHEGE You told me to forbear.
THORKELL Talk on a level I can connect with. You were a hermit you say. That does not impress me. I am not some silly credulous churl.
ALPHEGE You live for vengeance, which you count as glory. I tell you that ideal is a trap, and it destroys your people, as well as mine.
THORKELL To be able to choose my own religion, that is what I can understand. That is a manly, noble freedom, worth fighting for. Sometimes when the gift comes upon me and I look far into the darkness of the future I foresee that freedom being lost for many hundreds of years.
ALPHEGE How can you foresee?
THORKELL I am much traveled. I have seen strange gods on unheard of shores, across faraway frozen seas. In Norway I saw the cruelties with which conversion has been done. I have learnt to hate your new religion.
ALPHEGE You are not talking of a new religion. The worship of Jesus Christ is a thousand years old. The whole world is turning Christian. You are indeed the uncultured barbarians. Who among you knows how to read?
THORKELL Never make the mistake of thinking of me or any of my brothers as unwise or foolish. I have my religion and you have yours. Do not despise us. We have our craftsmen as fine as yours, we too have genius, artists, skillful workers in gold and other metals. Our ships are the fastest in the world, and the most cleverly made. Then there are our many fine skalds and poets.
ALPHEGE Of a purely oral tradition.
THORKELL We have our runes. One day many more of us shall read. What do you know of our runes, of our gods or our wisdom?
ALPHEGE No less than you know of ours.
THORKELL No. Hear this.
When King Olaf lately converted the Norwegians he did it by massacre and mutilation. Are you happy to tell me that cutting off the noses of brave farmers was something to praise? Will you say as a Christian that was a good thing? And don’t give me all that canting guff about life after death. There is nothing the dead can do.
THORKELL Here’s a true tale. Have you heard what Olaf did to Raud the Strong when he would not abjure the faith of his forbears? Christian King Olaf forced a live adder into his mouth and down his throat. It gnawed its way down through his belly and out of his side. Then all his men who refused to accept the new superstition were killed or tortured until they did.
ALPHEGE The land of the Norsemen has now been enabled to join the world of Christendom, heir of the western Roman empire with all its rich literate culture.
THORKELL If that was the idea it was not spelled out. But I don’t believe it was. That would be an honest reason. You could hardly put forward that. Instead you talk as if your magical rubbish is all truth and light. And again you evade my questions.
We are the ones with the light. We have the open minds. Taking the Christian religion will mean going down into darkness and delusion.
ALPHEGE I note you say “will” rather than “would”. You know you are vainly trying to hold back the tide of history.
THORKELL Nothing has to be.
ALPHEGE Do you not believe in Fate?
THORKELL Yes, I revere the Norns. You don’t though, do you?
ALPHEGE I believe in the will of God.
THORKELL And I believe in the will of the free. Victory goes to the brave and the strong. This is a land of cowards and traitors.
ALPHEGE England will never be peaceful and prosperous again until the heathen has been tamed. You and your soldiers are destroying the land, wrecking the farms, ruining trade, burning the towns.
THORKELL If you’re talking about taming you need to look to your own Christian Saxon nobles. I know something of your politics here. I have heard tell of Edric, close to the king.
ALPHEGE And I have heard tales of your own late brother.
THORKELL I tell what I have heard. Dunstan could not bring lasting order and virtue to this land. After he cursed the present king at the start of his reign the kingdom has been an easy prey for such as us.
ALPHEGE Things are indeed not good with our kingdom. That is not because we are Christian but because we are not Christian enough. The millennium has passed, no one expects the world to end just yet. We may now look forward to another thousand years. If it takes ten more centuries we shall build our Christian world. We have time and history on our side.
THORKELL I say it is your religion which makes you cowards.
ALPHEGE There have been many brave Christian men and there shall be many more.
THORKELL They don’t use their bravery to right your wrongs. Your king and his advisers have no wisdom. King Ethelred makes all the bad choices. One day he is soft and merciful then he turns faithless and brutal.
ALPHEGE You are hardly a fit man to offer us a solution. Would you hope to rule us with the lawless qualities of the Vikings? I have heard a tale of your late brother Sigwald. Wise, he was said to be, but far less brave than he was wise, and people say he was guilty of base treachery.
THORKELL As you keep wanting to tell me. What have you heard?
ALPHEGE I heard tell of his behaviour at the Battle of Svolder, a dozen years ago. It is said he lured King Olaf to the battle and then allowed him to be killed.
THORKELL Faith is not so vital to a Viking as it needs to be to you. We live as free men and follow our own destinies.
ALPHEGE Your free choices are limited by your primitive religion.
THORKELL My gods are the ruling powers that are the root of all life.
ALPHEGE You are deceived.
THORKELL How so? Take love. Unlike you we see it clearly, for what it is. And that defies all the police controls that you Christians put on it.
ALPHEGE You are thinking of your own selfish appetites.
THORKELL No…(hesitates) well yes, but you have them wrong. Love is the source of everything. It is the creative energy that builds all life.
ALPHEGE Not what you call love.
THORKELL And what’s what you call it? The unhappy yearnings of cripples and eunuchs?
ALPHEGE We teach the love of holy matrimony.
THORKELL But what a grey womanish future you have in mind! (with a sneer) Every man as the chaste husband of one spouse!
ALPHEGE What you hail as your greatest moments were valueless, accursed even. You need a total upheaval of your thinking.
THORKELL That doesn’t wash either. You Christian priests besmirch and bemire all that is best in life.
ALPHEGE What you call best is not really so.
THORKELL You lie. I stand for all that is most glorious and satisfying. For a great health.
ALPHEGE For us you are a disease, a deadly plague.
THORKELL From the act of love comes birth. So from strength and health come all man has made and invented.
ALPHEGE You have no knowledge of the best.
THORKELL We have the best ships.
ALPHEGE I mean the humanly best, the best life.
THORKELL The best in life that may come to a man, is triumph in battle, and what follows it, like embracing this girl here. (Touches Eggfrieda, She flinches). What do they call you girl?
EGGFRIEDA (sullenly) Eggfrieda.
THORKELL Isn’t she beautiful?
ALPHEGE I am an old man.
THORKELL She’s even better naked. The nakedness of woman is the finest sight in the world.
ALPHEGE I have lived long and I know more than you.
THORKELL Show him your beauty Eggfrieda!
A sullen Eggfrieda makes as if to undress
ALPHEGE Stay! Make her keep her clothes on or I’ll speak no more with you.
THORKELL Do as he says Eggfrieda.
EGGFRIEDA As you wish.
ALPHEGE I am deeply sorry my child that it has come to this.
EGGFRIEDA (curtseys) Thank you your grace.
THORKELL Thank him that your boyfriends are all killed and you are where you are now! (Eggfrieda is silent). What do you think?
EGGFRIEDA It is not for me to speak.
THORKELL Of course it is if I say you can. Do you believe you will live forever?
EGGFRIEDA I’m a girl. I hear the teaching of the holy church.
THORKELL You think don’t you?
EGGFRIEDA I’m not meant to think.
THORKELL Pshaw! (Turning to Alphege) You, archbishop, rattle on about life after death. It is what happens within life that matters, whether it lasts for one day or forever. Mere carrying on is worthless. Would you choose to live a hundred years in a tiny prison cell?
ALPHEGE Eternal life is the news most people want to hear.
THORKELL And it’s lies, made up stories. You can’t promise it.
ALPHEGE We don’t promise salvation. We only give people the hope that God will have mercy on them.
THORKELL Is that what you think, Eggfrieda?
Eggfrieda bursts into tears.
ALPHEGE (stands up) Take my chair.
EGGFRIEDA (tearfully) Thank you your grace. (Sits down,)
THORKELL Right. (turns to Alphege)
I honour old men like my father and his father before him, who look back on victory in battle as the best happiness they knew. And let us not fool ourselves. With victory came the fruits of victory, and that meant the seizure of goods and women. Their highest moments are all that you spit upon.
ALPHEGE I do not spit. Mine is not the way of the scornful. I feel deep pity for you. In our faith we are taught to love the sinner and hate only his sin.
THORKELL That is all envy and weakness. There is the truth you dare not admit.
ALPHEGE Are you calling me a coward, I, Alphege, who refuse to procure you gold to save my own poor life?
THORKELL You yourself may be brave but your cause is a low one. You would turn a Viking into a Christian, a proud warrior into a trembling, sniveling monk.
ALPHEGE I pray you may come to know pity for the children you have orphaned and the mothers whose children you have slain.
THORKELL As I told you, I live by the code of my forefathers. I resist pity for my enemies. To yield to such feeling would unman me, rob me of all my power.
ALPHEGE You think you know power. Mine is greater. I speak for greater power, for civilisation, crafts to service wisdom, for subtler joys than you have been able to conceive.
THORKELL Your faith stinks. It reeks of the stench of crowds in great cities. In it I smell a world empire grown old and rotten, and all the wretchedness of slavery.
ALPHEGE There is much beauty in great cities. You may not have been there but I’m sure you have heard tell of Constantinople, with all its splendid buildings, the like of which was never before seen. There is the great church of St Sophia, the most magnificent in the world, glorious with precious metals and coloured minerals from the farthest corners of the earth.
THORKELL And nothing as beautiful as this girl here.
ALPHEGE Then there is Jerusalem, the centre of the world and the heart of our holy faith. Nearer home is Charles-the-Great’s fabled great church in Aachen.
THORKELL I do not find beauty or religion in towns and cities. For those things I go out in the forests, or on the open sea where the gods thrive. This is wild nature, forces not made or ruled by mortal man. How can sacred feeling join itself to fanciful histories, made up and put forth by tyrant kings?
ALPHEGE But holiness is attached to those histories, and that has to be the way forward. Man is not forever to dwell in the forests. Our faith is spirituality for civilised humanity, modern man of trade and industry, learning and history. Our monks and our hermits have great learning and holiness.
THORKELL What means this holiness? It has no meaning outside the jargon of your own beliefs.
ALPHEGE I am speaking to you. I think you know what I mean. It should not be hard to show you that civilisation is not the tame repressed thing you are making it out to be. You desire it yourself, that is why you press so hard upon it. Let me show you the landscape around Canterbury, take you to the fertile fields and the few industrious dwellings around them.
THORKELL I have seen all that. My own taste is for other scenes. I can speak to you of the open sea, of ships and rocks and the fjords of the northern lands, the wonder of the forests where the sun shines all night long. Of the lightning flashing across the sky during a storm at sea.
ALPHEGE You want mystery and magic. Let me tell you of the future of this soil that will be enriched by all the human lives and deaths that have been part of it. The human people who will be buried in the grounds of the churches we shall build more beautiful in styles and fashions as yet unknown. The great city we have only begun to build here, in Canterbury.
THORKELL The future is nothing. Your pieties are fiction and fancy. I can prophesy too. I foresee hundreds of generations of toil and drudgery. I see men and women struggling hard to keep away famine. This calling on the future is fatuous. How empty is everything that is not known! It is ugly to invoke styles or beauties we neither see nor understand. How can I relate to them? I speak of reality, of the here and now.
ALPHEGE As I can speak of eternal life, of a magic and a beauty which are stronger than yours.
THORKELL Now you start to anger me with your lies and your stupid empty pride. (He paces up and down and waving his sword about.) You say you don’t spit but your so called pity is a worse contempt, baseless as it is. Where in your future is the manliness my grandfathers have known? What of the memories that they took to their graves? You would rather break their spirits and teach them to despise themselves!
ALPHEGE Put down your weapon.
You will have wars enough, whether you want them or not. I can promise a thousand years or more of battles, home and abroad. There will be rivers of blood spilt on this very soil. There will be suffering and death enough to satisfy the bloodthirstiest Valkyrie. All in the name of Christ.
THORKELL And all unsatisfying.
He lowers his sword.
One year later, in Greenwich in the open air. A group of Danish soldiers drinking and talking. Among them are some English women.
Thorkell addresses the soldiers.
THORKELL Please leave now while I talk with the archbishop.
FIRST SOLDIER Best of luck with him. (The crowd leaves the stage).
Rowdy singing offstage. Women’s voices.
THORKELL You have been with us for nearly a year, Alphege, and the men are restless for their money.
ALPHEGE You have slain and dishonoured far too many of my people. Would you have me rob them to save my own wretched skin?
THORKELL As you know I have asked for a ransom, what you call Danegeld. This payment you yourself have fixed many times for others. Now it is a small matter to ask for it for yourself.
ALPHEGE My answer is exactly the same here in Greenwich as it was back in Canterbury. I refuse that a ransom should be paid for me, and that is the final message I have sent to the king. I do not care if you kill me.
THORKELL It is traditional for you to give us our money, a custom that goes back many years. You yourself have often bargained with us in the past. Why the sudden change?
ALPHEGE It is an evil custom, introduced in a time of weakness and it is now the time for it to come to an end.
THORKELL We share this land with you. It is not as though all of us are invaders from over the sea.
ALPHEGE I know you despise us and not always without reason.
THORKELL We are not so different. We can settle down in this land. Some of us can be earls.
ALPHEGE One day you will have to change.
THORKELL One day, sadly, yes I fear that may be so.
ALPHEGE And how you settle depends upon decisions made here and now.
THORKELL If you do not ask for the gold to be given I cannot vouch for what will happen.
ALPHEGE I have no money of my own, nor will I waste the possessions of the church which belong not to me but to the poor and needy for whose benefit they were given.
You say you are a free man who can do as he wills at his own pleasure. I call on you to renounce your allegiance and give your support to this productive civilisation against the barbarians who are destroying it. I conjure you to accept baptism and then join King Ethelred in his fight against the host that is presently marching towards London.
As for me I am well prepared to die. I am full of years, steadfast in my faith and determined in my will.
THORKELL Edric has said he can collect a ransom for you if you but give the word.
ALPHEGE And you would have me save my own wretched life by robbing the people who trusted me and whom I let down so badly?
THORKELL Don’t be too hard on yourself. You win some and you lose some.
ALPHEGE I am old and ready for death.
THORKELL I will not let my men kill you. On that I give you my word as a Dane and a nobleman. I’m not going to set you free though. I prize our talks. I have been thinking about what you said about fate and the Norns. I spoke too highly of the freedom of the will. Man’s life is a game of dice. The Norns decide what pattern the thread of your life will make in the great tapestry they weave. There is no choice. Some men are picked for fame and the glory of their great deeds, others for infamy, most for obscurity.
ALPHEGE That is a beginning.
THORKELL The world is ever changing, nothing is fixed. There are new openings that constantly arise. Criminal and victim turn into each other. For every possibility there is a place, every new crime, anger or vengeance. If the Norns decide it is yours to fill that will be your destiny.
ALPHEGE As you say, times change. Your emotional and spiritual range is limited. The joy of vengeance seems to be the highest emotion you can conceive. I won’t deny a certain grandeur to that, but there are other freer, more satisfying ways of thinking and feeling. Much much more. There are subtler more beautiful emotions, states of blessedness that with your limited spiritual vocabulary you are unable even to imagine.
THORKELL Even the traitor, even the most infamous, there is no way that force of will can alter your doom.
ALPHEGE Now you’ve brought up the theme I would ask you to open your mind to the most infamous doom. One who was reviled and accursed, put to the most degrading punishment, that reserved for the very worst of men. Think hard on that, the very worst of destinies. That was the fate reserved for the man we call our savior, who is our God. What I would ask you to do is to think upon this in all of its horror.
Meditate long until you understand how it can turn into its opposite.
THORKELL The converse of death is bodily love, the joy of sexual possession. Freya the naked goddess is the pure opposite of the gibbeted wretch.
ALPHEGE I wish to deny neither the beauty of woman nor the pleasure of physical love. But here is the great mystery of our faith. This worst is a doorway into the best. Into the spiritual cesspool you cast everything bad, all we call your sin, and the worst transforms itself into the best. The Christ, our Savior suffered the worst, which is ignominy, punishment death and Hell. With all the strength of the Almighty He overcame death and mapped out the path we all may follow.
THORKELL You are a cunning debater, that much I confess. I do not fully twig, but there is something clever there.
ALPHEGE You will come to understand.
THORKELL It is just a clever riddle, a trick of thought. I didn’t say was going to believe it.
ALPHEGE I have all the nations behind me, this is the creed of the civilised world.
THORKELL For now, it may be as you say, but it may not always be so.
ALPHEGE Can you now see the beauty of our faith?
THORKELL All I see is clever trick thinking. But for me who has the blood of kings in his veins it is just one creed I might choose. Mighty empires come and go, and so do their gods. A god may live for ten hundred years; then comes the day of his death. If it takes ten hundred more years your god will one day be dead in this land.
ALPHEGE A true discovery is not easily undone. All that is needful for man is contained in our faith.
THORKELL What this land needs is a strong king.
Right now I need a shit.
Thorkell walks off.
Noise of drunken soldiers.
A soldier enters with his arm around the serving girl, now a prostitute.
FIRST SOLDIER (sounds drunk) We’ve all had enough of this canting priest. Are we going to get our gold?
PROSTITUTE (very drunk) Could he give you silver instead?
ALPHEGE (ignoring her) So long as I have any say in it you will not, not ever. (soldier grabs his arm) Take your hands off me you profane dog!
PROSTITUTE Alphege dear, give him his money!
FIRST SOLDIER A dog you call me? Then you are a dead archbishop! We sentence you to die! (Let’s go of prostitute and draws his sword)
PROSTITUTE You tell him!
ALPHEGE Put down your sword. (Other soldiers gather round).
FIRST SOLDIER Unless you give us our gold!
DANISH SOLDIERS (chanting) Gold bishop, give us gold, gold. Gold, bishop, gold give us gold gold gold.
PROSTITUTE Give us silver so we can buy more of this, (she hiccoughs) hic, southern wine we have been drinking.
DANISH SOLDIERS Gold Bishop, gold, bishop, gold, gold, gold!
PROSTITUTE Silver, gold!
DANISH SOLDIERS Gold Bishop, gold, bishop, gold, gold, gold!
DANISH SOLDIERS Gold Bishop, gold, bishop, gold, gold, gold!
ALPHEGE Go to the Devil!
The soldiers throw battleaxes, bones etc at him and he falls to the ground
ALPHEGE (groans in agony) Aaaaargh! You’ve killed me! I am terribly wounded! Aaaaargh! It’s murder! I’m slain, cruelly martyred! Aaaaargh!
FIRST SOLDIER You’re not dead yet bishop!
General melee. Much confused noise and movement that continues for a while. Alphege is surrounded.
SECOND SOLDIER How do we get our money now?
FIRST SOLDIER We don’t.
Thorkell returns. Sees the first soldier standing with drawn sword looking down on Alphege’s corpse.
THORKELL Accursed churl! I never gave you leave to kill him!
Other soldiers move aside, stand and listen.
FIRST SOLDIER He was having us all on. He asked for it.
THORKELL You are a disobedient insubordinate dog!
Thorkell Raises his sword
FIRST SOLDIER Would you strike me my lord?
THORKELL (after pause) No, I refrain. I won’t even hang you though you deserve it.
Lowers his sword.
FIRST SOLDIER I didn’t kill him anyway, nor did any of us in here. Look, there’s no blood on my sword. One of his own, a Christian took pity on him and gave him his death blow.
THORKELL Who was that?
FIRST SOLDIER Thrumm.
THORKELL Where is he?
FIRST SOLDIER He’s not here. Would you slay him?
THORKELL It is time for the bloodshed to stop. But you are miserable wretches. You have killed a noble worthy man.
FIRST SOLDIER We were never going to get any money out of him. Let it be a lesson to them all.
THORKELL (angry, waving his sword) That is not for you to decide, soldier!
(First soldier steps back. Murmuring from other soldiers)
FIRST SOLDIER We were thinking of the future.
THORKELL The future!
FIRST SOLDIER What do you mean my lord?
THORKELL He said enough to convince me of his cause. I am going to take Christian baptism.
FIRST SOLDIER You amaze me my lord!
THORKELL I cannot remain among this disobedient insubordinate rabble. I no longer trust you.
Raises his voice to address all the soldiers.
Heathen king Sweyn Forkbeard is advancing on London, meaning to burn and destroy it. I am going to join up with King Ethelred and defend the town. Stay here among the drunken rabble or come with me, whoever is up for it!
SECOND SOLDIER (shouts) Sweyn fights in a good cause. Ethelred is a foul oath breaker and a deadly enemy of the Danes.
THORKELL Hold your tongue or I’ll cut it out! Ethelred is the prince of his people and trying to do his best for them. Come with me who will!
A few soldiers join him and they all follow Thorkell off stage. The rest stay staring at Alphege’s corpse. Then all leave
Scene 2 The same. A few hours later.
The prostitute is alone with the corpse. She straightens it and covers it with a sheet.
Thorkell returns with third soldier.
PROSTITUTE I’m sorry.
THORKELL No need to be sorry. Do what you are doing.
PROSTITUTE I’m very sorry about the archbishop.
THORKELL London church people will be coming to take him.
PROSTITUTE I wanted to show his body some respect.
THORKELL You are lucky you live now. In olden days when a great man died he took his slave girls with him to the after-world.
PROSTITUTE He was a holy man, and didn’t have slave girls.
THORKELL I know. Would you hear a riddle?
PROSTITUTE Tell me.
THORKELL I have four legs, stand taller than Thorkell, and see equally well at both ends. What am I?
PROSTITUTE I don’t know.
THORKELL A big blind horse. Now please excuse us we’re in conference.
Prostitute walks off. Thorkell calls her back.
PROSTITUTE (tuning back) What is it?
THORKELL Come over here.
She follows him as he walks over to the corpse. He uncovers the face and cuts off a piece of hair with his sword.
THORKELL Take a lock of his hair. It will make you rich.
PROSTITUTE No one will believe it’s his.
THORKELL Take it anyway. (He hands it to her).
PROSTITUTE Thank you. (She takes the hair, turns round and exits, sobbing).
THORKELL (turning to the soldier) We have enough men with us to hold nearly half the fleet. For now we’ll stay by London. We’ll guard the city and keep the ships out of Forkbeard’s hands.
THIRD SOLDIER Why have we changed sides? Has Ethelred given you money?
THORKELL England needs sorting out. I foresee great events. There are many strange omens and portents. There will be change. I mean to be where the power is.
THIRD SOLDIER And where is that?
THORKELL I’m still a Viking. I will give Ethelred a chance. This land needs to be ruled. For years it has not been. Was it his fault? We may find out.
THIRD SOLDIER And what then?
THORKELL We shall see. For many years Dunstan was great in this land. Now it is my time.
THIRD SOLDIER And what of the soldiers?
THORKELL I lost control. There’s nothing to be done with them. I am very angry about the murder.
THIRD SOLDIER And have you really changed your religion?
THORKELL Yes I have.
THIRD SOLDIER Why? Was it your long talks with Alphege?
THORKELL It’s the wind. I mean the tide. It leads the willing and drags the unwilling. Even the Danish army can’t withstand it. I didn’t know Alphege had been working on them. I hear he christened Thrumm only two days ago.
THIRD SOLDIER What about you, though? Did he get to you?
THORKELL Some of what he told me is true.
THIRD SOLDIER Do you want life after death?
THORKELL If I was bothered about that I could have got it from Odin.
Eggfrieda centre stage in different dress.
EGGFRIEDA Thanks to Thorkell’s stand, London was spared. Next year Sweyn Forkbeard died. War continued to rage. Betrayed by Ethelred, Thorkell left for Denmark to join Canute, Forkbeard’s son, whose childhood mentor he had been. When Canute embarked for England Thorkell came with him as military advisor to the conquering army. After Ethelred’s death and Canute’s coronation as Christian king of England, Thorkell was created Earl of East Anglia, to become one of the greatest men in the realm. A few years later he fell out with the king and sailed again for Denmark. Then they made peace and he was proclaimed Earl of that land, after which he disappears from history. His time and place of death are unknown.
Years later Archbishop Alphege was made into a saint. Beautiful buildings in fantastic new styles were to rise to rise over the site of his martyrdom
John S Moore 2013