Gloucester’s castle was situated on the edge of a vast heath. Kent had begun his search for the King there. The storm that had threatened during Lear’s encounter with his daughters had broken and the heath had been transformed into a wild, noisy and wet hell, with blinding lightning and deafening thunderclaps. The rain came down in cutting sheets, blown about by a screaming gale.
It would be impossible to find the King in these conditions but, unusually for such a wild night, there was someone out here with him. Kent struggled toward the dim figure and managed to reach him.
‘Who’s there, besides foul weather?’ he shouted.
The man shouted back. ‘Someone just as disturbed as the weather!’
Kent could see the man’s face, now. It was the knight who had accompanied the king in his coach. ‘I know you,’ he said. ‘Where’s the king?’
‘He’s trying to cope with the angry elements,’ said the knight. ‘He’s telling the wind to blow the earth into the sea, or raise the swollen waters above the coast, that things might change or disappear. He’s tearing his white hair, which the sudden gusts catch with eyeless rage in their fury and think nothing of it. He struggles in his pathetic human state to out-storm the to-and-fro thrusting of the wind and rain. On this particular night, when even the famished mother bear will take cover, and the lion and the starving wolf are keeping their fur dry, he runs, bareheaded, and shouts out recklessly to the tempest.’
‘But who is with him?’
‘No-one, except the fool, who’s working hard to laugh off his master’s deeply felt injuries.’
Kent nodded. ‘Sir, I do know you,’ he said, ‘ and because of that I’ll confide something important in you. There is a rift between Albany and Cornwall, although they’ve been able to conceal it with deceitfulness. They have servants – as which great ones don’t? – who seem no less than they appear but are spies supplying France with intelligence about our kingdom: either the quarrels and plottings of the Dukes or the rough way both of them have handled the kind old King – or something more sinister, of which those are only the outward signs. But there’s no doubt that an army is coming to this divided kingdom from France who, knowing too well how unguarded we are, has already established a secret foothold in our best ports and are on the point of showing themselves in their full power. Now, as for you, if you trust me enough to speed to Dover you will find some men who will thank you for delivering an honest account of the unnatural and maddening sorrow that the King has got cause to complain of. I am a gentleman of high rank and good breeding and as a result of my information and judgment I offer this commission to you.’
‘I’d like to talk about this a bit more,’ said the knight.
‘No, don’t, said Kent. ‘For confirmation that I’m more than my outward appearance suggests open this purse and remove the contents.’
The knight opened the purse and found a ring there.
‘If you see Cordelia – and I have no doubt that you will – show her this ring and she’ll tell you who this fellow who’s unknown to you at present, is. Fie on this storm. I’m going to find the King.’
‘Give me your hand,’ said the knight. ‘Is there anything else?’
‘Just one more thing, the most important of all: that when we have found the King – you go that way, I’ll this – whoever finds him first, give the other a shout.’