Fluellen was beside himself with rage. ‘To kill the boys and all the other camp civilians!’ he fumed to Gower. ‘It’s expressly against the rules of war. It’s the worst kind of villainy, look you, that can be imagined. Tell me now, isn’t it?’
‘One thing’s certain,’ said Gower, ‘there’s not a boy left alive. The cowardly rascals who ran away from the battle have done this slaughter. They have also burned and carried off everything that was in the King’s tent. So the King has quite rightly ordered every soldier to cut his prisoner’s throat. Oh he’s a great king!’
‘Yes. He was born at Monmouth. Er…, Captain Gower, what was the name of the town where Alexander the Big was born?’
‘Alexander the Great?’ said Gower.
‘Why, pray, doesn’t Big mean Great? The big or the great or the mighty or the huge or the magnanimous: they are all the same – just variations.’
‘I think Alexander the Great was born in Macedon. ‘His father was Philip of Macedon, I understand.’
‘I think it was, indeed, Macedon where Alexander was born,’ said Fluellen. ‘I can tell you, Captain, if you look at the maps of the world, I’ll bet you’ll find, in comparisons between Macedon and Monmouth, that the situations is, look you, both alike. There is a river in Macedon, and there is also, moreover, a river at Monmouth. It is called Wye at Monmouth but I can’t remember what is the name of the other river. – but it doesn’t matter: it’s as alike as my fingers are to each other, and there’s salmon in both. If you think about Alexander’s life Harry of Monmouth’s life resembles it uncannily. For there are parallels in everything. Alexander, God knows – and you know too – in his rages and his furies and his wraths and his cholers and his moods and his displeasures and his indignations, and also being a bit pissed out of his mind, did, while drunk and enraged, kill his best friend Cleitus…’
‘Our King is nothing like him in that,’ Gower interrupted. ‘He never killed any of his friends.’
‘It’s discourteous, look you now, to stop my story before it’s finished,’ said Fluellen. ‘I’m only speaking figuratively and metaphorically. In the same way that Alexander killed his friend Cleitus while drunk, so Harry Monmouth, being sober and clear in judgment, turned away the fat knight with the enormous belly. He was full of jokes and jibes and mischief and mockery… I’ve forgotten his name…’
‘Sir John Falstaff,’ Gower told him.
‘That’s the one. I tell you, there are good men born at Monmouth.’
A trumpet fanfare brought their conversation to an end. ‘Here comes his majesty,’ said Gower as the King’s party came to a halt.
‘I have not been angry since I came to France, until this moment,’ said King Henry. ‘Take a trumpet, Herald. Ride to the horsemen on that hill over there. If they want to fight with us tell them to come down. Or get off of the field: the sight of them offends me. If they’ll do neither we’ll go to them and make them move away as fast as stones flung from the old Assyrian slings. And what’s more, we’ll cut the throats of the prisoners we have and not a single man will have any mercy from us. Go and tell them that.’
Montjoy, who had said that he would not come to King Henry again, was approaching.
‘Here comes the herald of the French, my liege,’ said Exeter.
‘He doesn’t have such an arrogant look anymore.’ said Gloucester.
‘Well hello,’ said Henry. ‘What can this mean, Herald? Don’t you know that I’ve pledged only these bones of mine as a ransom?’ He smiled. ‘Have you come back to talk about ransom money again?’
‘No, great King,’ said Montjoy. ‘I’ve come to you for permission to wander around this bloody field to make a record of our dead and then to bury them: to sort out nobles from common men because many of our princes, unfortunately, lie drowned and soaked in the blood of mercenaries. In the same way our low-born drench their peasant limbs with the blood of princes, and our wounded horses writhe fetlock-deep in gore, kicking out at their dead masters with their steel-shod hooves in their wild rage, killing them again. Oh allow us, great King, to view the battlefield in safety and dispose of the dead bodies.’
Henry was thoughtful. ‘To tell you the truth, Herald, I don’t know whether we’ve won the day or not, because many of your horsemen still appear to be galloping across the battlefield.’
‘You’ve won the day,’ said Montjoy confidently.
‘Praise be to God, not our army, for that,’ said Henry. ‘What’s that castle called that stands nearby?’
‘It’s called Agincourt,’ said Montjoy.
‘Then we’ll call this the battle of Agincourt, fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus,’ said Henry.
Fluellen found that very satisfying. ‘Your famous grandfather, may it please Your Majesty, and your great uncle Edward the Black Prince of Wales, according to what I’ve read in history books, fought a ferocious battle here,’ he said.
‘They did, Fluellen,’ said Henry.
‘Your Majesty is right,’ said Fluellen. ‘If Your Majesty recalls, the Welsh fought well on a battlefield where leeks were growing, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which Your Majesty knows is an honourable badge of service to this day. And I do believe Your Majesty isn’t ashamed to wear the leek on St David’s day.’
I wear it as a token of respect,’ said Henry, ‘because I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.’
Fluellen bowed. ‘All the water in the Wye cannot wash Your Majesty’s Welsh blood out of your body, I can tell you that. God bless and preserve it, as long as it pleases Him, and Your Majesty too.’
‘Thanks, my good countryman,’ said Henry.
Fluellen punched the air. ‘By Jesus, I am Your Majesty’s countryman. And I don’t care who knows it. I will admit it to all the world. I needn’t be ashamed of Your Majesty, praise be to God, as long as Your Majesty remains an honest man.’
The King laughed. ‘God keep me so.’ He nodded toward Montjoy. ‘Send our heralds with him. Bring me an accurate report of the death toll on both sides.’ He looked about and saw Williams among the soldiers, wearing his glove in his cap. ‘Call that fellow here.’
Exeter went over to Williams. ‘Soldier, you must come to the King,’ he told him.
Henry looked him up and down. ‘Soldier,’ he said, ‘why are you wearing that glove in your cap?’
‘If it pleases Your Majesty, it’s the gauntlet of someone I have to fight if he’s alive.’
‘An Englishman?’ said Henry.
‘If it pleases Your Majesty, a rascal, who bragged to me last night – who, if alive and ever dares to challenge this glove, I’ve sworn to box his ears: or if I see my glove in his cap – which he swore, as a soldier, that he would wear if he lived – I will knock it out without hesitation.’
Henry turned to Fluellen. ‘What do you think, Captain Fluellen? Should this soldier keep his oath?’
‘He’s a coward and a villain if he doesn’t, if it pleases Your Majesty, in my opinion.’
‘It may be that his enemy is a gentleman of high rank and so unable to answer to a man of low degree.’
‘Even if he’s as fine a gentleman as the devil is, as Lucifer and Beelzebub himself, it is necessary, look Your Grace, that he keeps to his vow and his oath. If he perjures himself, see you now, he would have the reputation of being as arrant a villain and as cheeky a knave as ever trod on God’s ground and his earth in black shoes, in my opinion, the lord save me.’
‘Then keep to your vow, man, when you meet the fellow,’ said Henry.
‘So I will, my liege, on my life,’ said Williams.
‘Who is your commanding officer?’
‘Captain Gower, my liege.’
Fluellen nodded enthusiastically. ‘Gower is a good captain and is well experienced and literatured in warfare.’
‘Call him here to me soldier,’ said Henry.
‘I will, my liege,’ said Williams, and he went off to get him.
Henry beckoned his baggage attendant and removed Williams’ glove from a bag. ‘Here Fluellen,’ he said, ‘wear this token for me – stick it in your cap. When the Duke of Alencon and I were in close combat I snatched this glove from his helmet. If any man challenges this he is a friend of Alencon and an enemy of mine. If you encounter any such man, arrest him if you love me.’
‘Your Grace does me the greatest honour as can be desired in the hearts of his subjects.’ Fluellen took the glove. ‘I would like to see any man on two legs that will find himself aggrieved at this glove, that’s all. Just once! May it please God in his grace to grant me that.’
‘Do you know Gower?’ said Henry.
‘He is my dear friend, as it pleases you.’
‘Pray go seek him and bring him to my tent.’
‘I will fetch him,’ said Fuellen.
Henry watched him go then spoke to the princes. ‘My lord of Warwick and my brother Gloucester, follow closely on Fluellen’s heels. The glove I’ve given him to wear as a favour may perhaps get his ears boxed. It is the soldier’s. Because of the bargain I made I should really wear it myself. Follow him, good cousin Warwick. If the soldier should strike him, and I think, judging by his blunt manner he will keep his word, there may be a sudden flare-up. I know Fluellen to be valiant, short tempered, as explosive as gunpowder, and he will quickly return an insult. Follw him and see that nothing happens between them. Come with me, Uncle Exeter.’