A Norse Lie

Characters
CULLEN, Irish priest from Baile Átha Cliath (Modern-day Dublin)
ARNVITHR, Norse pagan, Viking raider from Gotland, Sweden.

Scene 1
(9th Century Munsö island. The tribe of Sigtuna and Lake Mälaren in the background. A faint blue light illuminates the stage. Pines decorate the scene on its sides. In the centre of the stage, a clearance with a rock big enough for Cullen to lie on. One of the pines on the right has a noose. The theatre should be cold)

(Waves and the sound of a ship)

ARNVITHR: (Off-Stage) By Odin! Hurry it up, ye filthy monk!
(Cullen is pushed into the stage. Arnvithr follows, holding a battle-axe and a round, wooden shield)

CULLEN: There is no need to recur to such aggressions, my Danish friend. This problem of ours can be solved—

ARNVITHR: Hush thine lips. The Gods do not appreciate sacrifices with a runny mouth.

CULLEN: Sacrifices? What mean’st thou?

ARNVITHR: Hel shall bid thee welcome in her hall. (Points at the stone) Blood Eagle or (points at the noose) dying with your neck broken and dangling from a rope? Decide thy fate.

CULLEN: Woe is me! Is returning back home not among the options? Is there no way for me to leave this magnificent life at a later point therein?

(Beat)

ARNVITHR: Neinn.

CULLEN: Beest thou certain about that?

ARNVITHR: Já.

CULLEN: And is that a certainty? Is there truly not a way for this wretched man to save himself?

ARNVITHR: It is what the mystic Norns beneath Yggdrasil have fated it to be.

CULLEN: Then let it be as the (mispronounced) Nornus desire! If they spoken have, then man is naught to judge or complain but to accept the fate he got.

ARNVITHR: Hm? Know’st thou about the Norns?

CULLEN: (Nervous) I do, my good man. I very much do.

ARNVITHR: Then thou must surely be acquainted with Valfodr?

CULLEN: (More nervous, slight stutter) Indeed, thou beest in the right.

ARNVITHR: Hast thou heard about the time he gave his eye to the Norns to achieve wisdom most infinite?

CULLEN: (Increasingly more nervous) I quite enjoy that bit, I must admit.

ARNVITHR: Really? I enjoy his relationship with Loki.

CULLEN: That story seems not particularly bad for me; I admit I enjoy it too.

ARNVITHR: Vinr, hví?

CULLEN: (Confused) Well… I was just… A bit… Just…

ARNVITHR: Why art thou not here with your kin? Why hast thou drifted away from your fólk? For what reason were you in Ireland dressed so?

CULLEN: Oh! Well… Forgive me…I was… Spying. Yes, indeed. I was spying on the Catholics. I was learning their ways to further increase our knowledge of them

ARNVITHR: Why dost thou not speak our mál? Our tongue? ‘Tis a beautiful language not to be spoken between men of the same kin.

CULLEN: It is a curious sight, my friend, for I have been in Ireland far too long. I have forgotten my (badly pronounced) maaal. Shame, thy name is mine, my name is thine.

ARNVITHR: I hereby take the freedom to welcome thou back home, vinr.

CULLEN: I hereby thank you, (exaggerated) feener.

ARNVITHR: Come with, let us inform the fólk that a new friend is come from Ireland. I shall get the longship ready. (Exits)

CULLEN: What have I witnessed? Have I, perhaps, infiltrated the ranks of the Vikings? Only by saying yes and agreeing! God forbid these barbarians don’t get mad and take away that which is to me most dear if they find out I am a Catholic. For now, let us pretend. See what from this comes. (Exits)

Scene 2
(The trees from the previous scene stay, without the noose. The background shows rudimentary Norse houses. The blue light remains, as well as the low temperature in the theater)

(Arnvithr and Cullen walk into the stage)

ARNVITHR: And so, this is the place I have mentioned to you: Sigtuna. It is here I was born.

CULLEN: It looks… Peculiar, I must say.

ARNVITHR: It was a lovely town just some years ago, já.

CULLEN: “Was”?

ARNVITHR: Já. It lay abandoned now. A mere shadow of what it used to be. Ever since the fólk noticed that Uppsala was a better place to live, they all left to look for new opportunities. Ambition knows no boundaries. It leads many astray, and is thus the source of great destruction and abandonment. As a ghost town next to the Mälaren.

CULLEN: By God… Oh, forgive me, Gods. Gods, yes. So… Why don’t we go to Uppsala, then, if all the people who were once from Sigtuna are now from Uppsala?

ARNVITHR: This is but a stop, not the end of our journey, and neither is Uppsala: ‘tis Visby, in the island of Gotland.

CULLEN: Oh.

(Beat)

CULLEN: So… What is it that people do in Visby?

ARNVITHR: The answer to that and many questions depends on who thou ask’st. Methinks it depends.

CULLEN: Depends? On what could such a matter depend?

ARNVITHR: The amount of mjöthr the fólk have had.

CULLEN: Hm? How is that so?

ARNVITHR: Já, the more mjöthr, the more they fight.

CULLEN: Can simple (mispronounced) myother affect the behaviour of a human being such?

ARNVITHR: Vinr, Ireland hath done thee ill. Are you Norse no more?

CULLEN: Yes, yes, ya, I am a Norse, naught else, naught more.

ARNVITHR: Then stop thine acting, vinr. Behave like your fólk.

CULLEN: How exactly would that be?

ARNVITHR: (Suspicious) Hm. Let us go for now, as Uppsala awaits.

CULLEN: (Nervous) May I ask—

ARNVITHR: (Visibly suspicious) Hvat? What ail thee now?

CULLEN: What do the people do when they have no myother?

ARNVITHR: They discuss endlessly about our religion. Now, let us go. (Exits)

CULLEN: (Agitated) Oh! Tragedy! There is nothing a poor soul like me could do! Barbarians will go after my head the moment they realize I am nothing but a fraud! They shall realize that I lack the tongue for communicating, the hand for fighting, the throat for drinking, and the heart for their faith! ‘Tis madness! I shan’t live nor leave! Though, perhaps, if luck doth bestride me, I may be able to swim back home… Nay, it is impossible. Ireland is much too far and the water is much too cold. I lack any knowledge in Latin to settle somewhere else as a priest. I lack the money to pay for a ride back to Baile Átha Cliath. Fate shall find it best to go with this heathen. God, please, hear my prayers! Protect me from the barbarian rage! (Exits)

Scene 3
(Cullen and Arnvithr on a longship. The wind blows and the tide is strong. Dim blue lights, for it is cloudy. A storm is brewing)

ARNVITHR: Vinr, I have a question for you. What be thine name?

CULLEN: My… My name? (Nervous) Why don’t we start with yours? ‘Tis the courteous way, is it not?

ARNVITHR: I am Arnvithr.

CULLEN: (Nervous) I am… I am… Cullen. My name is Cullen

ARNVITHR: “Kolen” is a name that is as foreign to me as the distant, Eastern shores of Cathay. What does it mean?

CULLEN: (Nervous) It… It means “Strong wolf.”

ARNVITHR: How is that so? (Slowly becomes angrier) Kolen is no wolf, no ulf, as much as the heat is not the cold. (Beat) You liar! I put my faith in thee! Thou art naught but a miserable spider, spinning an endless web of lies! May Hel have pity on you and may your God punish thee at every possible chance!

CULLEN: Wait! Do not be hasty in thine choices, my friend! We may still resolve this!

ARNVITHR: Já, we may! Here! (takes a battle-axe from the floor of the ship and throws it at Cullen). Now, do or die.

(Arnvithr lunges at Cullen, while Cullen defends. They fight)

CULLEN: (While fighting) Stop it! Please! I do not desire to fight with thee so!

ARNVITHR: That is naught but falsehood! Thou shall be naught other than dead! I shall make thee but a memory!

(They keep on fighting. The tide and the wind grow wilder. Both Cullen and Arnvithr stagger)

ARNVITHR: Curse this violent sea! It shall be the end of us!

(A strong wave hits the ship, causing Cullen and Arnvithr to fly overboard, screaming)

CULLEN: Dear God, please, let me endure this unforgiving cold! This is too much to bear!

ARNVITHR: Hush it, you! We both are dead now! The halls of Hel await us! Oh, Valhöll, unreachable prize! Why must you send your valkyries away from me? Why, Norns? Why have you chosen for me this fate? Why must you take the endless mjöthr and the endless fighting of Asgard from me? I curse thee, Norns!

CULLEN: Oh, God! Please! Let this heathen not have that which he desires! And grant me the ability to cross the pearly gates! I beg thee! Have mercy on my poor, wretched soul! We have all sinned! Humanity is naught but a sin unto itself! Forgive me, God! Forget this dumb priest’s sins!

(They both struggle to keep afloat)

CULLEN: The cold! ‘Tis unbearable! Why me, God? Why me? (alternatively underwater and above it) Why… Hast thou chosen…This damned soul… (Stops struggling. Sinks and drowns)

ARNVITHR: Alas, he hath drowned! (alternatively underwater and above it) Good… Riddance… Gods… Help… Me… (Stops struggling. Sinks and drowns.)

End

 

Artwork by John Bauer “Elk Cotton”

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