‘Cuthbert’s Choice’ A monologue by Harper Oldale

The Rows in 1277 (the reign of King Edward I) 

NORTHGATE.  BROTHER CUTHBERT, A TRAVELLING FRIAR CALLS OUT:

God be with you, my son.  No need to explain; I already know why you’re here.  I saw the comet too.  

TO THE CROWD:

Yes, I’ve talked to many today, and it’s fair to say that while some were merely curious, others were downright alarmed.  One woman tore out handfuls of her hair after seeing it, certain the child she carries must now be a devil.  Some, to be sure, were more hopeful: one man was convinced he would one day be King.  Good luck with that.  Still, comets are uncanny things, and last night’s cut such a fiery swathe across the sky that even I thought God was trying to tell us something.

What, though?  Well, I’m sure about one thing.  It’s not a sign destined for you or me.  We are lesser folk, and such portentous symbols are only fit for heroes or Kings. Still, the life of a travelling friar is often fraught, and fiery objects that fall from the sky bring other benefits. 

HE JANGLES A HIDDEN SACK OF COINS.  

Comets are great for business!  There’s nothing so profitable as people worrying, and for that I thank God. 

And yet, one young man I have spoken to has so lodged in my mind, that I cannot shake the recollection. 

“Tell me, Friar,” he says to me.   He’s as unassuming as you like.  Until you look into his eyes.  “Does God grant protection for deadly acts against deadly men?”

Well, I hedge my bets.  “God listens, my son,” I says, “And so do I.  If you have a penny to spare.”  He does.  So then he bends close with a secretive air. 

‘Because I’m going to kill the King.’

I look at him.  And he nods.  ‘Aye.  Ole’ Edward Longshanks.’  And he taps his nose. ‘Today’s the day,’ he says, and nods some more. 

The actor dressed as a monk talking to the audience

I try to pretend I’m unflappable.  “And how will you perform this terrible deed?’ I ask.

And he points a stubby finger, first at the tower, rising from the new works at the Cathedral, then at the heavens. “A single arrow, from on high.  I saw the sign.  The comet last night.  God wants me to save the Welsh.”

Touched, I think it’s safe to say.  I was glad to see him on his way.  But then I hear the news: King Edward Longshanks himself also saw last night’s fiery sign, and is heading to the Cathedral to ask the Bishop’s advice.  What should I do?  Should I warn him?

“Excuse me, Majesty, but there’s a deranged fellow inclined to take pot-shots at your Crown from the scaffold of that tower yonder …” 

Hmm.  I value my life.  Have you ever seen the brute?  I heard the Dean of St Paul’s took one look at Edward’s terrible face and fell down dead.  And yet.  God does work in mysterious ways.  My poor brain starts to race.  Was the comet a message for me?  Or for our dead-eyed assassin?  Or for the King?  Or for the Welsh Prince Llywelyn? 

As if in answer, I hear the drum announcing the Royal train.  The King, and he’s coming up from Bridge Street!  There he is!  Good Lord, that’s a pate, and no mistake, he’s a clear head above his guard.  He’s striding along on those long legs of his, and his guard’s having to scuttle to keep up.  Look at how folk hurry out of his way!  Fate does seem to be bringing us together.  The fate of two nations could rest on my shoulders.  And, despite myself, I think, I must warn him.  

My palms break out in sweat.  He doesn’t look too chipper.  But he’s passing closer. It’s now or never.  I’ll just try a little wave … (TO HIS ARM)  Move, curse you!  

HIS ARM WON’T MOVE.  

Right, then I’ll have to call to him… (HE MAKES BREATHLESS WHEEZING NOISES)  I can’t!

He’s passing under the scaffold … Ah … The light!   The sun cuts across the street and as the King passes, it lights up his red hair, setting it ablaze …

So.  Last night a comet blazed across the night sky, East to West.  And now a tall, grim King is readying himself to march in the same direction.  I stand, dumbfounded, as the King passes by.  There’s something inexorable about this man.  Nothing will stop him, least of all a raving fool clinging to a scaffold, trying to aim an arrow. Whatever, it’s in God’s hands, I suppose.  I actually feel a little sorry for the Welsh. Those proud Princes think they have the measure of the English King.  On the strength of this, I would say not. 

Well, the ship has passed, and a nervous young man stammers his way through the crowd towards me. 

“What’s that, you say?  You saw the comet and you wonder if it’s a sign about the girl you love?  My son, I could say with certainty that comets are neither for tired friars, mad murderous fools, or lovelorn boys, but I have a purse to fill.  So, pay me a penny, and I’ll tell you.”