Ealdwine’s Tale



Scene 1

The stage is set on two levels with access to the top level at stage left. It is an English woodland situated on a hill top facing west. Between the trees in the distance, the sun is low in the sky, seen through a haze. On the top level is the trunk of a large tree rising up beyond the field of view.

On the lower level, stage left, is a fallen tree trunk and on the right a spring with running water which falls in to a pool. The roots of the tree above are visible growing over rocks, out of which are growing ferns. Moss grows in proliferation. It is early autumn. The foliage is beginning to turn.

The sound of evening birdsong is present.

Ealdwine, a vagrant of old, enters from stage right. His clothes are more coverings than anything tailored. Bits of animal fur and scraps of cloth make up his costume. All patched and cobbled together. He carries a walking staff and a bundle of belongings comprising more scraps of fabric and a threadbare blanket. His two possessions, a bone handled knife and a wooden bowl are attached to a belt made of twine.

He speaks in a ‘soft country accent’.

Ealdwine’s speech:

‘ I’ll rest here a while to take ‘freshment ‘an contemplate the lane. It’s been a trial of wits, these last few days, the old wind an’ the rain fightin’ it out some’

(Ealdwine moves across the stage to the fallen trunk, sits with a groan and takes a small piece of bread from his pocket)

‘Seems so long I’ve been roving I don’t recall where I began’

(He contemplates for a moment. Taking in the scene.)

‘I recall my Da though. He were a big bugger for sure. Calm though, proper gentle. ‘E did carve the sticks for us little uns. Boats and whistles and sorts. ‘E’d a love ‘is animals ‘e did. Taking the time for ‘em. Love ‘em like they were his kin. Fox,  brock, frightsome hare. Otter in the river and the coney on the ‘ill side. ‘E loved ‘em all. Sing little songs about them ‘e did. How did it go now?


‘Little  Coney come,

with the men o’ Rome,

The boat sails in,

little Coney they jumps out.

When I comes for my supper,

They ‘ops about’.

(Ealdwine gives a chuckle)

‘Aye, that were it. ‘ops about’.

(He chuckles again, shaking his head).

‘My dear old Ma she did love ‘my Da something rotten. She did say ‘e were the kin’est man about the place and that were why she chose ‘im to father her babbys. Cos she did want kine Childs. And she say to us that was why we was all so kine and gentle, on account of ‘im. She had a hand in it too mind. Rockin’ us like she did on them cold morns after old Jack of the Frost ‘ad been and done ‘is work, and on the long summer evenings while the swallow did dip an’ dive around our ‘eads and the door mouse curled in the nest in the long grass about us. She did make us feel as content as those tiny beasts, all wrapped in ‘er arms as we were. Close to ‘er chest like she’d never let us go.

(He bows his head and closes his eyes for a minute)

‘Four of us little ‘uns their were. Two of us didn’t see the turn of age. Little Mildred, she went first. Didn’t stay a week of seven nights she didn’t. My Ma she did a cry an’ cry. I ‘member it clear, being the eldest. My Da, after we’d given the tiny body back to the earth, ‘e did just sit, staring, contemplating his grief. After some time, ‘e put it like this. ‘Tis like all the beasts’, ‘e said, ‘some do come for long, and some for a little. But each do bring us all we need. Our sweet Mildred did bring us the understanding of grief, so we as know it in others. So we may as understand how other folks be feeling when they tell us they be grieving’. I’ve learnt well enough since then, I tell thee.’

(He stamps his bare foot on the floor)

‘With all this wonder I do share it with. The trees, plants, birds and the beasts. The rising and the settin’ of the sun. I figure I’ve known as much grievin’ as any man, and it were our little Mildred who showd me ‘ow’

It were our Ashlee the younger who left us next. Went off one mornin’ hunting eggs, looking to bring us some eatin’. By the time night swallowed us ‘e hadn’t made it back an’ Ma, was a frettin’ summut awful. Knowing like she did, summut bad had ‘append. My old Da, ‘e did set off with first light and sure enough that af’noon ‘e come back carrying the body that used to be our Ashlee’s, all busted about the neck. Cryin’ in ‘is eyes me old Da were and I reckon that boys body were the ‘eaviest load ‘e was ever a burdened with. Grievin’ was somethin’ we was easy with now, thanks to little Mildred, we all sobbed around Ashlee as we laid ‘im deep.

But life went on, an’ we saw as ‘ow Ashlee ‘ad shown us ‘ow to laugh. Always pullin’ stools out from under ye or ticklin’ the feet of the babby when we was trying to settle. It did drive my Ma to distraction. But she loved it really, we all did and the lightness of ‘is ways was sorely missed.

Time was it were me, Ma, Da and me sister Wren. She was Wren on account of her being so small. That and the fact the birds did all love ‘er so. Even when she were tiny, she’d stay so still that the birds would come and perch on ‘er. She could talk with ‘em too. They loved her they did. My Ma knew when Wren was on ‘er way home, she’d say, ‘cos the birds would raise up their song to greet ‘er, so much they loved ‘er. Wren were stubborn too. When Wren made up ‘er mind there was no swingin’ it.

(Ealdwine stands and, taking his bowl from his belt, moves toward the spring to take some water.)

‘Well, time passed without us laughing for a season or two after Ashlee left us until after some contemplating, my Da said this would never do, and that Ashlee had come to teach us how to laugh so we best be ‘membering. And on this ‘e took us to the fayre in the town. It were the first time we’d ever been near the place, Wren and me, and I’m reckonin’ my Da did soon rue ‘is thinkin’ to take us, seeing as we played up so much. Run wild with the ‘citment we did. Gettin’ in to mischief and causin’ strife about the place. Didn’t hurt no one, just silly games, like the spirit of young Ashlee was us in us. Letting chooks out of cages, scratching at the ears of old sows til they squeeled. Pulling on maids apron strings so they do fall in puddles. Tripping up the gentle folk, playing round their feet. Proper little rascals we were. But my Da brought us home tired and content that evening havin’ seen more than we’d ever seen. Jugglers and jesters. Singers an’ the ol’ dancin’. I heard bells and flutes. There was folks from all corners. Some you’d want to pop in your pouch and bring home with you, others, the likes of which, you’d be happy to never see again. All sorts of smells and sights, more than I could tell thee. But, as I sits ‘ere telling thee it all seems real enough for me to touch. Like I could reach out my ‘and to bring one of those jugglers ‘ere to entertain I.’

(Ealdwine moves back to the tree trunk and sits again).


‘Time did pass like it do, and my loved ones did pass with it. It was only I that stayed on to be the one to tell the tale. Our Wren, she met a fella who did put the fear in ‘er that we was godless and as such we were sure to burn in some eternal fire. My Da, ‘e did say the man was talkin’ codswallop but Wren had taken on the fear an’ no words could bring her round. Eventually after much yellin’ and rowing Wren left us to be with ‘er God. She couldn’t hav’ known the sufferin’ she left us in. Cos if she ‘ad, she never would ‘av gone. Not like that. The pain led to my Ma fallin’ sick and we couldn’t get ‘er well. No matter what. Soon after, the men came to clear the wood and see to make us leave. Da did tell ‘em we be livin’ in these woods since all time but they says don’t mean nothing, we can’t live there no more. When they made to touch my Ma, who just lay silent in them days, my Da and I did set on ‘em. They was too many for us and we ended up on our arses with bloody noses and nowhere to live. That was the end for my Ma. She flew off to find Mildred and Ashlee. My Da and I wandered like I do now. Harsh times full of grief. My Da’s spirit left behind in them woods. It weren’t long before ‘e lay down ‘im self to take death over the suffering ‘e felt. He couldn’t see no sense in stayin’ when so much o’ what ‘e loved had gone. I made ‘ im a bed of ivy and woodbine, like the ones ‘e was familiar with and I told ‘im tales of the old times, with Mildred and Ashlee. I reminded ‘im of how the birds would sing for Wren and sang ‘im the songs ‘e used to sing us when we was childs. I cradled him like my Ma cradled us an’ ‘is Ma cradled ‘im and how the land cradled all of us since there was a time known to man.

Three days it were, with me an’ ‘im . My Da, the kindest, gentlest man you’re ever likely to meet and me going with him back through ‘is life. Till eventually we came to an end and ‘e slipped off. The love finally leaving ‘im. And then there were only Ealdwine. And no matter how much I bawled and bellowed in my grief, no one came to comfort I. I was going to ‘ave to make this right within my sel’.

(Ealdwine moves across the stage, climbs to the upper level and prepares himself a bed at the base of the tree from the foliage around him. Taking his blanket from his bundle. He sits on his bed to finish his tale).

‘I have lost track of the time they been gone. Aye, Mildred wanted me to learn the most, seeing as I’m the last to have known ‘em. One by one they went to the land from whence they’d come an’ I’d loved ‘em. Every one of ‘em. And they took with ‘em their tales and songs and jokes and all the little ways that made them who they were. My Ma’s fussing, my Da’s singing, Wren’s whistlin’ with the birds and Ashlee’s gigglin’. They is all only in old Ealdwine’s head now, nearly as real as when they was about themselves, but all in ‘ere.

(He taps his head)

If I wants some fussing or needs a little caring I do call on my old Ma and sure enough there she be all smilin’ all rosy an’ apple like. And if I wants a song I ask my old Da to come and sure enough he do come with ‘is old whiskery face raising up to the big old sky and letting loose some old tune for the clouds to dance along with. When I hear the birds chiruppin’ and singing away I do see my sister there holding out ‘er ‘and to bring down the Sparrows from the hedge. If it’s wet and cold and the birds be in short supply it ‘s Wren I call on to whistle for me to cheer my heart. When it’s  a laugh I need I shout for Ashlee and there ‘e be. Mischievous like, eyes still bright with the fun and ‘e do make I laugh some. And little Mildred’s face do come to I when I’m needing to understand summut all innocent and peaceful as the day we laid ‘er back in the earth.

How all those folk comes to be in old Ealdwine’s head I don’t s’pose if I were to see another thousand moons I’d ever know. It do vex me something rotten. So grinnin’ I am there’s room for ‘em, but I’ll be foxed to my end to know how they got there. Love ‘em’

(The sun goes down. The bird song and light fade to nothing)



Ben Greenland




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