(Hugh’s bedchamber. It is night. Hugh stands moodily looking out the window. Juliana enters, carrying a tunic and cloak. Crosses to Hugh, rests her hand lightly on his arm and stands with him silently for a few moments.)
Juliana: Take these with you, son. You’ll need them as the days grow shorter and the weather cooler.
Hugh: (taking them slowly) Mother, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t…
Juliana: I understand, Hugh, and your father will, too, eventually. Try not to allow this disagreement to turn to bitterness.
Hugh: This has been my home for 20 years. I have so many cherished memories. It is hard to leave. If only I knew what it is that I am seeking.
Juliana: Don’t leave God behind as well, Hugh. He will go before you, to make your paths straight if you learn to trust Him. Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we might be reconciled to our Heavenly Father.
Hugh: (smiling) I will pray that your God watches over you till we meet again, Mother.
Juliana: And I pray that He would be your God as well! Will you travel alone?
Hugh: Stephan has begged to accompany me and I have relented. It will be good to travel with a friend.
Juliana: Oh Hugh, how I will miss you! Don’t be afraid to return. This will always be your home.
Hugh: (hugs his mother) I know, Mother. Some day, I will. This will not be our last meeting!
Stephan knocks at the door.
Stephan: The horses are ready, Hugh.
Hugh: (picks up sack and turns to leave) Good-bye, Mother.
(Juliana raises her hand in farewell, Hugh leaves, and Juliana turns to window.
(After a day’s journey, Hugh and Stephan are camped in the woods, sitting by a fire.)
Hugh: This is wonderful, Stephan! I can’t remember when I’ve felt so free.
Stephan: Yes, free. But in a few days you are also going to feel hungry and food is not free unless you want to become a poacher!
Hugh: Stop grumbling, Stephan. Is food all you can think of?
Stephan: No, but it assumes a high priority when it isn’t readily available.
Hugh: You worry too much! Yes, ahhh - we’re off to seek the meaning of life!
Stephan: Yes, chops. Pork chops, mutton chops…if you have them, life is good. If you don’t, eventually you are dead! Very simple, actually.
Hugh: (gets up) But, Stephan, what about love? That must figure in your philosophy of life somewhere!
Stephan: Love? To be sure. I love chops!
Hugh: You’re hopeless.
Stephan: Yes, and I’m tired. I’m going to sleep! Don’t keep me up all night, musing on the meaning of life! (lies down)
Hugh: Good night, friend. (walks away from the fire) Chops! Maybe that does sum things up. Maybe I want too much. But some instinct tells me my life must have some purpose, that there is some cause worth devoting my life to. Is Mother right about God having a purpose for me? And how do I find Him when He seems as distant as the stars overhead?
(Hugh stands for a moment watching the stars, then turns away with a sigh to the campfire and lies down. Lights out.)
(Lights up on a scene of disorder in the woods. Justina and her ladies-in-waiting have been attacked by brigands who slew their armed escort, stole some of their belongings and their horses. Justina is making the rounds of the ladies, giving water, encouraging them and picking up scattered possessions.)
Justina: Catherine, here, have some of this. It will sustain you. Are you injured?
Catherine: No, Justina, I am only still in shock. I just need to rest for a moment. Thank-you.
Justina: (moving on to her best friend, Elizabeth) Are you recovered, Elizabeth? We will need to move on and find some sort of shelter before nightfall.
Elizabeth: I still cannot believe this has happened! Those brigands came from nowhere. I know James and Thomas did not see them until it was too late. What will we do with their bodies? How will we ever break the news to their families?
Justina: We cannot be too many days’ journey from home. I have covered them and perhaps we can send someone back for them later. It could have been worse. At least we are not injured. God was with us.
Elizabeth: Not injured yet, you mean! We have no escort, no horses, little food, only the clothes on our backs and several days’ journey to go!
Justina: Have faith, Elizabeth! We are strong and we all have warm cloaks. We can find food from the forest and this is the King’s Highway. Someone will come along to help us.
Elizabeth: Well, Justina, we must not sit here ‘til evening. Let’s gather up what we can carry and get started. Catherine, can you manage now?
Catherine: Yes, I am fine now, Elizabeth. Oh, no! I hear horses again! They have returned. God save us!!
(Enter Hugh and Stephan, after having dismounted.)
Hugh: (doffing hat) Good afternoon, ladies. You appear to be in distress. May we be of service?
Justina: Sirs, we have been the victims of a band of brigands who slew our escorts and stole our horses and goods. We still have some way to travel before we reach home. Food and shelter are our most pressing needs.
Stephan: We have very little ourselves, I am afraid. We are, uh, traveling light, m’lady.
Hugh: But we would be happy to share our horses and provide some protection for you along the way. We have some skill at hunting and hopefully we would not be considered poachers if we hunt to aid in your survival.
Justina: We should reach the boundary of my father’s land in a day or two. This is the King’s land, but it is not heavily patrolled.
Elizabeth: Can you give us assurance that you are not in league with those other rogues?
Stephan: I am Stephan de Parmenter, at your command, m’lady, and this is my friend, Hugh de…
Hugh: (interrupting) Hugh Marcus (bows). Let me help you gather what’s left of your belongings. My horse can carry what burdens we have, but we will have to walk, I am afraid. There are five of us and only two horses.
Justina: We were well prepared to walk on our own sirs. But thank-you for your escort and your horses. They are much appreciated, if we are not taking you too far out of your way.
Hugh: We have no way – no particular destination – in mind at the moment.
Elizabeth: What then is your purpose in traveling?
Stephan: Ahhh! A very good question, indeed, m’lady. And my friend, Hugh, would be very happy to answer it?
Hugh: I would? Yes, well, to make a ponderous story short, I disagreed with my father’s plan for my life and was obliged to make my own way.
Justina: Now, that is a remarkable coincidence, as I am just returning home, after having escaped the marriage plans my father had for me with a well-timed retreat at the convent in Leicester.
Hugh: (with interest) You do not wish to marry?
Justina: I wish to marry someone whom I love and who shares my beliefs and ideals. I do not wish my marriage to be a political union to increase my father’s influence.
Hugh: Lady, I do not know your name, though we seem to share much else in common!
Justina: I am Justina de…
Catherine: Ahhh! (faints)
Justina: Catherine!! (rushes to her aid)
(Three days later, nearing Justina’s home. The travelers have made camp. Stephan, Elizabeth and Catherine sit in one area near the fire. Justina and Hugh sit together on their own.)
Elizabeth: (removing a boot and rubbing her foot) Ohhh – my feet! We seem to have been walking forever.
Catherine: Tomorrow, you must take my place on the horse, Elizabeth. I am much stronger now.
Elizabeth: Nonsense, Catherine. You are still ill. A good night’s rest is all I need. Stephan, what are you concocting over that fire? It actually smells tempting, or is it only that I am so hungry.
Stephan: Rabbit stew. Hugh finally had some luck hunting, though I do not know when he managed to find the time. (gestures to Justina and Hugh, and winks)
Catherine: They do seem to have spent a great deal of time together these past three days. Do you suppose….?
Elizabeth: Beyond a doubt, Catherine, dear. I’ve never seen our Justina so smitten. I do hope she knows what she is doing. Hugh is a very fine fellow, but he seems to have very few prospects. It will be difficult to impress Justina’s father with his fortunes as they are now.
Stephan: (sighing) Well, so much for our search for the meaning of life. It seems it was quite easy to find after all. (dishes up stew for the 3 of them and they begin to eat)
(Spot on Justina and Hugh)
Justina: Hugh, I shall be home by tomorrow noon. These past 3 days have been wonderful.
Hugh: They have flown by, Justina. I cannot believe our journey is over. What will you do now?
Justina: I will try to get my father to understand my feelings and respect my wishes. He is just not used to having his will opposed. My mother will back me, I am sure. If he insists on the marriage, I will return to the convent, although I am not sure it is God’s will for me.
Hugh: (hesitating) Justina…..I know I have few prospects now, but I am determined to find my place in this world. With you by my side, I could do anything. Will you marry me?
Justina: Oh, Hugh! I cannot deny that I have desired to hear those words from you, but I cannot give you a reply. There are many questions yet unanswered.
Hugh: Then I will answer them all. I will find a way.
Justina: My father remains the biggest problem. He will never agree to marriage for me unless you are from a family of influence.
Hugh: Leave him to me, Justina. I do not think that will be a problem.
Justina: There is something you aren’t telling me, Hugh?
Hugh: All will be revealed at the proper time. Now what other difficulties do you have?
Justina: There is the question of faith, Hugh. What do you believe?
Hugh: Believe? I believe I love you!
Justina: And I you, but you know that is not what I mean. Do you know Jesus Christ as your Saviour?
Hugh: I have been brought up in the faith, Justina. My mother is a believer. It just has never seemed real to me. Religion is not for me.
Justina: It is not for me either, Hugh. I am not talking about religion. I am talking about a vital relationship with the living Lord. It is He who gives my life focus and purpose.
Hugh: You are so full of passion and conviction. How do you do it? I would give anything to believe as you do.
Justina: Truly search for the Lord, Hugh, and you will find Him. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Hugh: I will try, Justina. Now, which way do we go tomorrow?
Justina: From here we turn west, crossing the Tynehead River. My father’s land is bounded by it on the east.
Hugh: (shocked) The Tynehead!! You never did tell me your surname.
Justina: de Burgh. Justina de Burgh. Hugh! What’s wrong?? What is it??
Hugh: Your father is Ranulph de Burgh? (pauses and rises) My surname is not Marcus. It is de Massingham. My father is Henry de Massingham – your father’s greatest enemy!
Justina: Hugh! (in shock and despair) No! Hugh!
(The great room at Ranulph de Burgh’s castle. Justina sits despondent by the fire, needlework cast aside. Her mother, Alaina, looks on anxiously. Her father, Ranulph, paces by the fire.)
Ranulph: I do not deny that this marriage would be advantageous for me, Daughter, but I would not be so cold-hearted as to choose a wretch for my only child to wed. The Earl of Essington is a good man. He has the resources to provide well for you and the influence to keep it that way.
Justina: (subdued) As you wish, Father.
Ranulph: Good heavens, girl! Show some life. Your hotheaded willfulness I can handle, but not this … this indifference! What is wrong with her, Alaina?
Alaina: Leave her be, Ranulph. You have done enough. You have her consent.
(Ranulph throws up his hands and turns away. Just then a servant announces Hugh.)
Servant: A visitor, milord. Hugh Marcus.
(Hugh enters and bows. Justina startles.)
Hugh: I crave an audience with your Lordship. I am one of the men who escorted your daughter home after her unfortunate encounter with the outlaws. My name is Hugh Marcus.
Ranulph: I am deeply in your debt, sir. Justina was very fortunate to have been found by you and your friend.
Hugh: We were only too pleased to be able to help, sire. I deeply admire your daughter’s strength and resourcefulness. She handled adversity with great courage.
Ranulph: I am very proud of my daughter, as well. But what can I do for you, Hugh….Marcus. (looks carefully at him)
Hugh: I will be bold, sire. I have come to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.
Ranulph: Ho-ho! Have you now? And what have you to offer my daughter?
Hugh: A true heart, and enduring love. My protection, respect and honour.
Ranulph: (chuckles) Is that so? Do you possess land, other holdings?
Hugh: Not at this time, Lord, although I will at my inheritance.
Ranulph: You come from a titled family, then? I have not heard of the Marcus name. But you have a familiar appearance, boy… you bear a strong resemblance to de Massingham, my enemy. Are you related?
Hugh: No, sir. I have not heard that name. I am a newcomer to this part of England.
Ranulph: Hmm! Well, Justina! This news has brought you alive. Do you give this young man your favour?
Justina: Yes, sire.
Ranulph: Well, Hugh, you are a stout looking lad. Can you wield a sword?
Hugh: (warily) Yes, Sire.
Ranulph: Let us not be hasty. If you would marry my daughter you must prove yourself. Pledge your sword to me and serve me among my fighting men. We will test your worth against de Massingham.
Hugh: I have vowed to pledge my sword to no cause that I do not find worthy.
Ranulph: (raising an eyebrow) And the love of my daughter is not a worthy enough cause for you?
Hugh: I must consider this proposal, your Lordship. I will return to give you an answer. Good day. (Turns and looks at Justina for a moment, bows to all and exits.)
(Hugh gathers his belongings near de Burgh’s gate. Justina slips around the wall to meet him.)
Justina: Psst! Hugh! Shh – come softly.
Hugh: (rushes to her) Justina, forgive me. I couldn’t pledge my sword to fight against my own father, even for you.
Justina: You would not be the man I judge you to be if you did! But you are foolhardy! My father suspects you are of de Massingham blood. He could have you killed or imprisoned!
Hugh: I could not stay away, Justina. My love is too strong! But what will we do?
Justina: Do not despair, Hugh. Be true to yourself. Don’t give in. If it is God’s will for us to be together, He will work it out. Have you been seeking Him, Hugh?
Hugh: (bitterly) He seems no more real to me. He has put my heart’s desire within my hand, only to snatch it away again out of reach.
Justina: Perhaps it is because He wants you to learn to rely on Him. He wants you to give Him first place in your life, to love Him with all your heart, mind and strength.
Hugh: I do not know if I can ever do that, Justina. I cannot make that commitment. (reaches for her)
Justina: (backs away slowly) Then I cannot marry you, Hugh de Massingham. My heart cannot be divided. (turns to leave) Farewell.
(Hugh and Stephan are back on the road. They walk in side door in front of stage on the way to the stage where Geoffrey, Sabina and the troubadours are camped and practising around the fire.)
Stephan: It would be helpful if I knew where we were headed, Hugh.
(Hugh does not respond.)
Stephan: I’ve hobbled the horses in that clearing while we find a sheltered place to spend the night. Ho! What’s ahead? (sees the troubadours’ camp)
(Geoffrey spots the travelers and gets up to greet them.)
Geoffrey: Ah! Company! Welcome, fellow wanderers. Come and rest yourselves by our fire and share our supper, such as it is.
Stephan: I thank you, sir. It has been a while since we have eaten a regular meal. We’ve left our horses in the clearing if that is acceptable. I see that you are entertainers.
Geoffrey: I am Geoffrey Reynard, and this is my sister, Sabina. We shepherd this raggle-taggle troupe of mimes and musicians. And you are?
Stephan: Stephan de Parmenter.
Geoffrey: And your glum companion?
Stephan: This is my friend, Hugh de Massingham.
Geoffrey: And what mission has kept you on the road with no time to eat?
Stephan: What mission, indeed? I should like the answer to that question, as well.
(Hugh and Stephan are served meals.)
Geoffrey: Now, why does your friend look as though he were about to be executed?
Stephan: Well, just a fortnight ago, he set out to find the meaning of life, discovered it and had it snatched out of his grasp all within the space of a week!
Geoffrey: Sabina, my girl, I sense a romance here. What say you?
Sabina: Only a broken heart could account for such misery. But do not make light of his pain, Geoffrey. It is real enough.
Geoffrey: Tell us your story, Hugh, my good fellow. We’ve nowhere to go, and all the time in the world. A burden is sometimes lightened in the sharing.
Hugh: (sighs) It is a convoluted tale, friends. I left my father’s house because I could not be what he wanted me to be. I wanted to find a cause worthy of dedicating my life to. On our way, we met some ladies who had been victims of brigands and offered to escort them home. During the journey, I grew to greatly admire one of the maidens, Justina.
Stephan: He did not find out until the last day that she was the daughter of his father’s greatest enemy!
Geoffrey: Did she not know you by your surname?
Hugh: I was using a false name to travel under, so as not to be associated with my father’s dealings.
Geoffrey: And did she return your affection?
Hugh: Yes, so I summoned the courage to approach her father to ask for her hand, still using the assumed name.
Stephan: But he was suspicious, recognizing the de Massingham features and required Hugh to prove his worth fighting for him against Hugh’s own father.
Hugh: Of course, I could not.
Geoffrey: And the lady did not understand?
Hugh: Oh, no! She understood only too well. But there was another issue that proved an insurmountable barrier. She has a deep faith and will not marry me unless I, too, become a believer.
Geoffrey: Ah! She is a wise woman! But that needn’t be insurmountable, Hugh, lad.
Hugh: But, try as I might, I just cannot summon up faith out of nowhere.
Geoffrey: No, indeed! That is the job of the Holy Spirit. You need only to look fair-mindedly at the facts and let God change your heart.
Hugh: If only it were that easy!
Geoffrey: I have the beginnings of an idea that might be the answer to your problems, Hugh. Let me think for a while. Sabina, perform your new song and entertain our guests while I work this out. (goes off by himself to think and pray)
(Sabina sings a song that explains the gospel. (We used “In Christ Alone” by Getty and Townsend)
Hugh: Thank you, Sabina. That is worth pondering.
Geoffrey: (returning) I think I have it now! Hugh, do you think you could invite the members of your household and Justina’s household to a banquet without each group knowing the other would be there?
Hugh: Easily done, but a disaster in the making!
Geoffrey: Perhaps, but I think my troupe could avert that disaster with a memorable performance that could change lives, with God’s grace.
Hugh: (doubtfully) I would have to see that to believe it.
Geoffrey: What have you to lose, lad?
Hugh: True enough. All right, Geoffrey, I shall do it. I am trusting you to be able to pull this off.
Geoffrey: Right, then. Here’s what we’ll do.
(Banquet set up in the field. Tables on each side of the stage set as though for a medieval banquet. Enter Geoffrey and Hugh.)
Geoffrey: All is in readiness, Hugh. Will they come?
Hugh: I believe so, Geoffrey. Neither household knows the other will be here.
Hugh: I’m not so sure! When they see each other, there is going to be trouble! They may actually be united for once – united in their desire to have my head.
Geoffrey: Leave it to me to handle the crowd. I have been doing it for most of my life!
(Enter the de Massinghams, Henry, Juliana, Nigel, Roger le Dwyer, and Stephan.)
Juliana: Hugh! (rushes over to him) How are you? You look thin. Have you been eating well?
Hugh: (uneasily) I am fine, Mother. It is wonderful to see you. How is Father?
Henry: (comes up behind) I am well enough, Hugh. This was unexpected. (indicates banquet)
Hugh: Well, my friends here were looking for an audience and I thought you would enjoy their talents.
Nigel: (coming up) So is this what you are doing with your life now, brother? Being an entertainer?
Hugh: No, no. Just doing a favour for some companions.
(Just then, the de Burghs enter – Ranulph, Alaina, and Justina)
Henry: Hugh, what is the meaning of this? de Burgh, what are you doing here?
Ranulph: I might ask the same question of you! How dare you presume…..!
Henry: Who invited you?
Ranulph: Hugh Marcus. (indicates Hugh) And you?
Henry: That is not Hugh Marcus! That is my son, Hugh de Massingham!
Ranulph: I knew he had the look of de Massingham about him – and the same treacherous, deceitful character as well!
Henry: You’ll regret those words, de Burgh. To arms, men!!
Geoffrey: Gentlemen, gentlemen! Lay aside your swords. This evening is for good food and entertainment. Let it not be tarnished with violence and disagreement. Your wives and daughters are present. You needn’t interact. de Burgh may have these tables and de Massingham, those on the other side. Pray relax, gentlemen, and enjoy the evening. You may fight your battles later.
(The men grudgingly put away their swords and sit down, eyeing one another warily. Food is brought out while music is played.)
Geoffrey: Ladies and gentlemen… this evening, we would like to present, for your pleasure and edification, a performance of “The Good News”. The best news ever known to man – the story of our King and His gift.
(The drime “Ragman” is performed to the music “Agnes Dei” by Michael W. Smith . Silence for some moments after.)
(Hugh then slowly walks out, his sword drawn. He kneels on one knee facing the audience and holds out his sword in his upraised hands.)
Hugh: (moved) Jesus, my Saviour, only You are worthy. I pledge my sword and my life to You and You alone.
Justina: (walks to his side as he rises) And I pledge my love to you, Hugh, as Christ is the center of our love. (They embrace.)
(Ranulph and Henry rise as if to protest, but Juliana and Alaina approach Hugh and Justina.)
Juliana: God has indeed worked a miracle here tonight. Let the de Burghs and de Massinghams be no longer enemies.
Alaina: We will no longer waste our best and dearest in constant bloodshed. Let there be peace between our two families.
(Ranulph and Henry slowly cross the stage toward each other, and then slowly shake hands. Geoffrey comes to the center front of the stage.)
Geoffrey: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
Copyright Heather Cooper, all rights reserved.
This script may be performed without royalty payment, provided no charge is made for entrance to the performance. In return, the author would like to be told of any performance. She may be contacted at email@example.com