Season 3, Pointless Historical Episode
By Lady Alyssa and Random Dent
The last ever ‘Bagenders’. I’m not sure whether this is a fitting end or not. ‘Thegn’ and ‘Ealdorman’ are titles of noblemen, but I hope that the rest of the history makes sense. This story was inspired by the fact that Alfred’s name means ‘counselled by elves’.
878. England is beset by waves of Viking invaders. The last free English King, Alfred, has retired to Athelney, the last stronghold of the Anglo-Saxons; a small fort, in a swamp in Somerset.
Arwen just looked at him and seethed.
“Why? Why? Why did you do this to me?”
“Bring me here. I was quite happy. The Roman empire in the east has architecture. It has culture. It has SHOPS! And BATHS!”
“Aragorn, when I married you I did not intend to end up living in a swamp with a group of unwashed inbred Rohirrim-alikes! Why do you think I waited until you became king before marrying you!”
“Ummm… I thought that was your father’s idea.”
Arwen suddenly looked edgy. “Yes. Yes it was. But only because he has my best interests at heart.”
Being that all the buildings were made of wood this argument was carrying the length of the island. In the mead-hall King Alfred sighed. “Tell me, brother Frodo, where does the lady Arwen come from?”
Frodo jumped slightly. Since the argument between Aragorn and Arwen was being conducted entirely in Sindarin he’d been listening in with some amusement. “Erm- The East.”
“Anywhere I would have heard of?”
“No. Erm, more east than Constantinople or Jerusalem or anywhere you’d have heard of.”
“So why did they end up here?”
“Eeeeerrrrrm… heee… yes, he went on a pilgrimage, to, to the Holy Land, yep, got over enthusiastic, carried on going and converted this heathen family. Who gave him her and in marriage as a present.”
“Not a punishment?”
“What about her brothers? Why are they here?”
“Erm-” Frodo paused, and considered that Alfred had met the Twins. “Erm, I think they just followed them here because it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
There was a distant crash. Aragorn ran into the hall, buckling on armour as he went. “Just going out, northmen need killing, be back in a few days.”
“Oi! Remember to bring something to eat back with you!”
“Frodo? Are you ready to write this down?”
Frodo nodded and leaned over his wax tablet. Bishop Legolas, the king’s chief advisor, hovered in the background.
“Right. Meeting of King’s Thegns. Any matters arising that don’t in some way concern the northmen? Everyone accept the minutes from the last meeting?”
“Being that only you, your monk and Ceolwulf here can read, I think that we have to.”
“Good, good. Right, analysis of the situation. Resources available to us: Shire armies (parts not having been already slaughtered). King’s Thegns (that’s you, and Aragorn if he hasn’t been killed yet, and he did look quite depressed when he went out). Horses. Spears, shields etc. One insane warband -”
“This would be those twins, yes?”
“Yes – actually, I haven’t seen them for about a month, put them down as a maybe. Arwen. The power of the Almighty.”
“It’s a very irate goat.”
“Ok, write it down. Any other suggestions?”
There was a silence.
“Now, resources the heathen invaders have. The land and resources of the rest of my Kingdom that isn’t this swamp. The land and resources of the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Kent. Boats. Big axes. Hordes of well trained, insane warriors.”
“This doesn’t look too good-”
“We have the Lord on our side!”
“Fat lot of good that’s done us-”
“Right! Church! Now! I want you face down in penitential prayer before I can finish saying the Lord’s Prayer! Ourfatherwhoartinheaven-”
There was the sound of running feet as the unfortunate Thegn sought to appease both his lord and his Lord at the same time.
“Continuing where I left off. I have a plan. Step one: summon Shire armies. Step two: kill heathens. Step three: show remaining heathens the Glory of Our Lord. Step four: kill heathens who do not wish to be shown the Glory of Our Lord. Step five: acquire base that is not in swamp. Step six: educate the people in the worship of Our Lord, so that we may assuage His wrath and once more become good Christians. Actually, put that as Step One. Step seven: repeat steps two to six until heathens gone. Step eight: find out where the lady Arwen comes from and send her back there.”
“What’s the timescale for this?”
“Ermm… well, first we have to find some Shires to summon armies from… we should be able to start on Step Two in a couple of years. I believe the pace should pick up a bit after that.”
The Thegns very carefully avoided eye contact.
Legolas cleared his throat. The Thegns suppressed a groan. This meant trouble, as Legolas’ plans always involved them actually going out and doing things, and these things often ended in there being fewer Thegns than there were to start with. Alfred’s plans were much less taxing, usually involving him drawing command structures with a stick on one of the more solid parts of the swamp, and bible study when it rained.
“I believe that the rulers in Frankia have had success with fortifications. I believe we should build on their example.”
Alfred looked at Legolas. “We’re living in a fortification.”
“Lots of fortifications. If you would peruse this list of centres to be fortified, and amounts of land needed to support them,” Legolas gave Alfred a piece of parchment, “and if you could just sign where it says ‘by Royal decree of’?”
“This all looks rather complicated.”
“It’s all the rage on the continent, technological warfare. You wouldn’t the Pope to think that this was some kind of cultural backwater…?”
Alfred took a quill and signed.
Legolas looked at the signature. “Must you insist on signing yourself as ‘rex swamporum’?”
“But I am king of a swamp!”
“Yes, but modern politics is all about image. You need to project yourself as a great king, a leader of vast numbers of men, with huge tracts of land.”
“Rex magnus swamporum?”
“No, that isn’t that much of an improvement. How about ‘rex Anglo-Saxorum’?”
“But most Anglo-Saxons are under the rule of the Danes.”
“Yes, but all those who aren’t under the rule of the Danes are under your rule. And it sounds much more impressive than ‘king of a big swamp’.”
Alfred crossed out part of his signature and re-signed the document. “But since I am king and everything, I think we should still raise the shire armies and attack the heathens.”
“Hmm. A diversion. That could work. I will have messengers sent out immediately. Brother Frodo, take a letter. ‘Dear Ealdorman [insert name here]. It has come to our attention that Wessex is overrrun by heathens from the north. Your attendance with your army will be required on… check my diary would you, no, no don’t write that bit down…”
The messengers had left the previous day, and some of the more efficient ones who’d only been sent a couple of miles down the road were returning.
“My lord! Ealdorman Hrothgar sends word ‘All right, I suppose so’. Ealdorman Werwulf says ‘If you must, but only if everyone else is’.”
“When I said ‘raise the Shires’ I anticipated a better response. Brother Frodo – put ‘more enthusiastic noblemen’ on my ‘To Pray For’ list.”
Frodo nodded, and retrieved a wax tablet from his robes, and found a small space in the corner. As he wrote it began to pour down, and everyone went inside the main hall. There was much enthusiastic polishing of swords and oiling of chainmail.
Suddenly, as if by magic, there was a bang and the doors flew open. Silhouetted against the rain was a hunched figure, swathed in a huge cloak. It limped forwards towards the central fire, muttering under its breath.
“Fucking hate this fucking island, fucking rains all the fucking time.”
As it came to a table the figure dramatically threw off the cape, revealing that the hunch was the unconscious form of Aragorn, and the rest of it was Gandalf. He dumped Aragorn unceremoniously on the table.
“Is this yours?”
“Who are you? And where did you find him?”
“My name is Gandalf. I’m a-” Gandalf looked round him for inspiration. “Wandering holy man!” Pause. “From Ireland. So extra holy. And I found him in the middle of a Danish camp yelling ‘come on if you think you’re hard enough’, so I hit him over the head and dragged him away.”
“What were you doing in a Danish camp?”
“Ummm… spreading the word of the Lord?”
Legolas stepped out of the shadows. “And would the word of the Lord in your case be ‘do you have anything to drink?’”
“Legolas, nice to see you, you’re looking well.”
Legolas turned to Alfred. “My Lord, if this man is holy then I am the Roman Empress.”
“But he has saved the life of one of my Thegns, and I am indebted to him.”
“Fine, give him some money and tell him to sod off, it works well enough with the northmen.”
Frodo coughed. “Erm, as royal treasurer I’ve been meaning to tell you for a couple of weeks that we’ve got no money.”
“But what about those silver pennies I told you to save for a rainy day?”
“Um, you know that new Danish-style dress that Arwen’s got? She, erm, found them and spent them.”
“Didn’t you try and stop her?”
“She’s twice my height and more terrifying than any northman!”
“Good point. Looks like the only repayment I can offer you Gandalf is my hospitality. Oh, one more question. How did you find this place?”
“I asked directions.”
“This place is secret. Who gave you directions?”
“Big ginger bloke with an axe… Said his name was Ragnar.”
Complete silence descended. Then one of the Thegns murmured “We are so screwed.”
“No, we are not. We are in preparation for a great battle. I want messengers to give momentum to the preparation of the armies. I want the horses ready, the armour, prepared and everyone ready for battle. Everyone who’s not doing anything useful, pray for victory. Oh, and someone find a healer for Aragorn.”
Everything was in bustle as Sam came into the hall, bearing a bucket of water in one hand and a handful of herbs in the other. He nodded to Gandalf, who was perched on the edge of the table Aragorn was laid on.
“Ah, I thought you would be with Frodo. How are you?”
“Doing fine, thank you. The monastic gardening suits me.”
“You can do monastic gardening in a swamp?”
“In a window box or two. I do the healing herbs as well, so I’m the doctor round here. Could you move a minute? Thank you.” Sam methodically tore up the herbs and put them in the bucket of water. Then he threw the bucket of water over Aragorn’s head.
Aragorn woke up spluttering. He sat up, and managed to focus on his surroundings. “Why did you stop me, I could have taken them!”
Gandalf and Sam shared a look. “No, you couldn’t. Now, there’s a big battle coming, why don’t you get ready?”
“Why are you here?”
“Rome this time of year, it’s terrible, full of pilgrims, you can’t get a table for dinner anywhere.”
“You tried to kill another Pope didn’t you.”
“Look, if they would just make me Pope, none of this would happen. So, why were you trying to take on a whole heathen army?”
Aragorn looked at his feet and muttered. “Argument with Arwen.”
“Arwen’s here. In the swamp.”
“It may have been a kindness to let you die.”
“Just because you’ve never liked her doesn’t mean she’s a bad person.”
“No, but the fact that nobody else likes her either-”
“Why did you even bother coming here?”
“Do you talk like this to everyone who saves your life?”
“Only the annoying wizards!”
They stopped as they realised that everyone had turned to look at them, and were muttering ‘wizards?’.
“Erm… wizards… it’s an insult where he comes from. Means his mother had carnal knowledge of sheep.”
Gandalf knocked Aragon out for the second time that day.
(Extract from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, signed F. Baggins) Then Alfred rode to Brixton by the eastern side of Selwood; and there came out to meet him all the people of Somersersetshire, and Wiltshire, and that part of Hampshire which is on this side of the sea; and they rejoiced to see him. He proceeded to Edington; and there fought with all the army of the northmen, and put them to flight. Then the army gave him hostages with many oaths, that they would go out of his kingdom. They told him also, that their king would receive baptism.
Alfred was having doubts about the baptism. “Are you sure that Gandalf’s a priest?”
Legolas and Gandalf were in priestly robes, in the middle of a river. Two vikings cautiously waded in to receive baptism.
Aragorn gave a noncommittal gesture. “Well, Legolas says he is. And Legolas is a bishop.”
“I suppose so. Erm, are you supposed to hold their heads under water for that long during a baptism?”
Frodo looked up from his wax tablet. “Well, they are murderous heathens, so they’ve committed more sins, so you’ve got to give them more time under the water to wash them all away.”
“Even if that involves drowning them?”
“Well, they would go to the Lord in a state of Grace, I suppose.”
Alfred looked horrified. He yelled at Legolas. “Don’t you dare drown any of them! This is supposed to be sealing a peace treaty for goodness sake!”
Legolas looked at Alfred, then hoiked the unfortunate viking out of the water by his hair. He thumped him under the chest a few times, until the viking coughed up a couple of lungfuls of river water and started breathing again, and sent him back to the bank.
The next two short vikings half swam out into the middle of the river. Legolas was about to dunk them, when he picked one up and looked at it suspiciously. Then he picked the both of them up, and waded out of the river. “Frodo. I think these are related to you. Deal with them.”
Alfred looked at Frodo. “You didn’t tell me you had Danish relatives.”
“These aren’t Danes.” Frodo yanked off a pair of big ginger false beards to reveal Merry and Pippin, looking sheepish. “These are my ner-do-well cousins.”
“Frodo! How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. What the he- what on earth do you think you’re doing?”
“We were getting baptised. And before that we were looting, pillaging and fornicating. You should try it, it’s fun.”
Alfred looked aghast. “But you are incurring God’s wrath!”
Pippin looked smug. “Well, we haven’t seen much wrath for the amount of incurring we’ve been doing.”
“Yes, but did break my finger in Northumbria.” said Merry.
“You desecrated an altar the day before.”
“It wasn’t my fault I was sick all over it, I told you Olaf can’t cook, but you insisted on letting him.”
“Shut up the both of you,” said Frodo, “And get down and give me thirty ‘Hail Marys’ while I think of a suitable penance. Hmmm… I think you should walk-”
“Barefoot-” added Alfred.
“Backwards-” added Aragorn.
“And no stopping at any alehouses-”
“And indeed, no consumption of alcohol for the entire journey.”
“Aaaaawww, but, but-”
“Keep quiet, you’re in enough trouble as it is. Any more noise out of either of you and it’ll be Jerusalem. The long way round. And you’ll be hopping.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Some years later…
“So, Brother Frodo, what do you think of my biography of Alfred?” Asser, jobbing priest looked hopefully at Frodo.
Frodo looked shifty. “Um, well, nicely written. Very nicely written. Pretty.”
“You hate it, don’t you.”
“Um, well, maybe just a little bit. It’s a very good effort. I like what you’ve done with the illumination.”
“You’re just upset that I missed out the bits that you told me.”
“Well, you did! You just skipped all the bits with my cousins in them!”
“Look you, I’ve got an international readership to think of here. How convincing is it going to be if I send out stories of short northmen with false beards? This manuscript is going to make my name boy, I’ll be known from Dyfed to Constantinople!”
“By lying! You are supposed to be a holy man!”
“I am not lying! I just left bits out, because nobody would be interested in them.”
“You were fine with putting in all that detail about his stomach trouble. It’s not exactly dignified. How’s he going to feel when his piles are known from Dyfed to Constantinople?”
“Look, if he doesn’t want them to be written about he shouldn’t hark on about them at every given opportunity. Thinks he’s so special because God gave him piles. I’d have been more impressed if he’d given him a better singing voice.”
Frodo looked sulky. “You left me out.”
“Well, that I did. Because you don’t have mass literary appeal. No-one wants to hear your life story. It’s the kings that are important.”
“You put yourself in.”
“That’s author’s privilege. I have to put myself in otherwise people will think I don’t know him.”
“You don’t know him. All the bits you’ve got in there with him talking to you he was talking to me!”
“I see him all the time.”
“You see the back of his head every week in chapel.”
“He had me called to his court all the way from Wales I’ll have you know!”
“Only because he believes in the value of a diverse multicultural workplace environment. And Welsh was the only minority he hadn’t got one of yet.”
“It’s all the same with you English. Always had it in for the Welsh.”
“It’s all the same with you Welsh, a set of bloody paranoiacs!” said Frodo, in a truly awful imitation of Asser’s accent.
“That just proves it!”
Just at the point when they were about to have a go at each other they found themselves separated by a hoe. Sam had arrived in the nick of time.
“Mr. Asser sir, don’t you think you should be going an attending to things in chapel?”
Knowing when he was beaten Asser slunk off, mumbling things in Welsh.
“I’m sorry Sam. But he’s written all about Alfred and left out half of the important things! I never did that.”
“Well, you did leave out some things about Gandalf.”
“Only in the interest of public decency. I didn’t want to know those things, so I didn’t think I should inflict them on anyone else. But he left out Merry and Pippin, and all that trouble they had with the archbishop of Canterbury and the altar wine, and Arwen managing to get Aragorn banished and-”
“Don’t you think that’s all for the best?”
“Because we don’t want to be going round making ourselves all conspicuous. It’ll cause problems in the future.”
“But he left out Gimli, and Gimli was dutiful and non-controversial.”
“Gimli was also very dull. You can’t remember what he did. I don’t go round expecting to have myself put into any fancy history, because I do the things that need doing, not all this heroic nonsense.”
“I suppose you’re right Sam. So, how’s the garden?”
“Well, there’s some lovely strawberries just coming ripe now, Mr. Frodo.”