Hotspur was brimming with adrenaline. ‘We’ll fight him tonight!’ he exclaimed, ‘taking all his allies by surprise.’
They were encamped at Shrewsbury, more or less ready for the encounter in the morning.
‘We can’t do that,’ said Worcester.
‘If you do you’re giving him the advantage,’ said Douglas.
‘Not at all,’ said Vernon.
‘Why are you all saying that?’ Hotspur said. ‘Doesn’t he have a backup force on the way?’
‘So do we.’ Vernon said.
‘Well?’ Hotspur looked round at them all. ‘His is guaranteed. Ours isn’t.’
‘Dear cousin,’ said Worcester. ‘I’m serious. Don’t start the fighting tonight.’
‘Don’t, my lord,’ said Vernon.
Douglas now spoke up in support of Hotspur. ‘You’re giving poor advice,’ he said, ‘based on fear and cowardice.’
Vernon bristled. ‘Don’t slander me, Douglas. I swear on my life – and I’m prepared to prove it with my life – that if I’m roused to fight through thoughtful, careful considerations of honour, I’m just as unaffected by fear as you, my lord, or any Scot alive. In tomorrow’s battle, we’ll see which one of us is afraid.’
‘Yes, or tonight.’ said Hotspur.
‘Indeed,’ said Douglas.
‘That’s the end of the discussion,’ Vernon said.
‘I’m saying tonight!’ Hotspur’s eyes blazed.
‘Come on, we can’t,’ Vernon insisted. ‘I’m really wondering – being the great leaders you are – why you can’t see the problems in that. Some of my cousin’s cavalry have yet to arrive, and your Uncle Worcester’s troops only arrived today. Their spirit and their bravery are asleep; their courage is dulled and tamed by the hard journey. Their horses don’t have even a quarter of their usual strength.’
‘Neither do the horses of the enemy,’ Hotspur said. ‘Most of ours are
‘The King has more men than we do,’ said Worcester ‘For God’s sake, nephew, wait until everyone gets here.’ There was the sound of a parley, announcing the approach of an envoy from the enemy. Sir Walter Blunt was escorted in. ‘I’ve come with a generous offer from the King,’ he said, ‘if you’ll listen to me and treat me with respect.’
‘Welcome, Sir Walter Blunt,’ Hotspur said. ‘I wish to God you were on our side. Many of us think very highly of you, though some of us begrudge you your honour and reputation, since you’re fighting on the enemy’s side.’
‘And I pray God I always will,’ Sir Walter said, ‘so long as you overstep the bounds of allegiance and duty by standing against the anointed King. But I’ll come to the point. The King sent me to find out the nature of your complaints, and to discover why you are invoking warfare in a time of peace, and spreading violent dissent throughout his loyal country. If the King has somehow overlooked any of your deserving acts, which, he admits are many, he asks you to name your complaints. He’ll meet your demands, with interest, as quickly as possible, and grant an absolute pardon to you and everyone who has been misled by your project.’
‘The King is generous,’ said Hotspur. ‘We know all about the promises he makes, and the ways he keeps his word. My father, my uncle, and I gave him that crown that he wears. And when he had barely twenty-six men supporting him, when no-one cared about him, when he was wretched and low, a poor, forsaken outlaw trying to sneak home, my father welcomed him back. When he swore an oath to God, weeping and speaking passionately, that he had come back to England only to reclaim his father’s title of Duke of Lancaster, to assume his estate and make peace with the King, my father, moved by a kind heart and a sense of pity, swore to help him, and did so. When the country’s most exalted men saw that Northumberland supported him, they came to see him, and bowed down to him. They met him in towns, cities, villages; they waited for him on bridges, stood in the streets, lay gifts before him, swore their loyalty, pledged the support of their sons, followed him like servants. It wasn’t long before he began to understand his power. He overstepped the promise he’d made to my father at Ravenspurgh when he was still modest. And then, suddenly, he took it upon himself to reform certain laws and strict decrees that weighed too heavily on the kingdom. He made angry speeches about the abuses we were suffering, and seemed to weep over the country’s problems. And with this face – this mask of righteousness – he won everyone’s heart. Then he went even further, and cut off the heads of all of Richard’s deputies, who had stayed behind to run the country while Richard was engaged in Ireland.’
‘I didn’t come here to listen to this,’ said Blunt
‘Then I’ll get to the point,’ Hotspur said. ‘A little while later he deposed King Richard. Soon after that, he murdered him. And straight after that, he raised taxes on everyone. To make matters worse, he allowed his kinsman Mortimer – who should, by rights, be king – to be imprisoned in Wales, and to be kept there without ransom. He tried to use my victories to disgrace me, and tried to trap me with espionage. He dismissed my uncle from the council of state, kicked my father out of the court in anger, broke promise after promise, and committed crime after crime. In conclusion, he forced us to raise this army for our own safety, and to question his claim to the royal title, which we believe cannot be sustained.’
‘Should I take this answer to the King?’
‘Not necessarily, Sir Walter. We’ll retire for a while. Go to the King. My uncle will bring him our demands early in the morning, provided that you arrange for a guarantee that he’ll be allowed to return safely. And so, farewell.’
‘I hope you’ll accept the King’s offer of forgiveness and love,’ Sir Walter said.
‘Perhaps we will,’ said Hotspur.
‘I pray to God you do,’ Sir Walter said.