Edmund was giving instructions to an officer. Regan paced. They were in the British camp near Dover.
‘Find out from the Duke whether he’s holding to his last plan or whether anything’s happened to make him change it. He’s unreliable and insecure. Bring his latest plan.’
The officer saluted and left. Regan turned impatiently.
‘Something must have happened to our sister’s man.’
‘Most likely,’ Edmund agreed.
Regan went close to him and placed her hand on his coat. ‘Now, sweet lord,’ she said. ‘You know that it’s my intention to favour you. Tell me the truth, the real truth – do you love my sister?’
‘In an honourable way.’
Regan stood back and looked at him from beneath her eyelashes. ‘But have you ever found my brother’s way to the forbidden place?’
Edmund smiled. ‘The thought of that worries you.’
‘I have a strong idea that you have got very close to her, been intimate – gone all the way.’
‘No, on my honour, madam!’ he protested.
‘I can’t stand her, my dear lord: don’t be intimate with her.’
‘Don’t worry about me,’ he said. There was a drum beat. ‘She’s here, with her husband, the Duke.’
As Goneril approached with her husband and some officers, she was concerned about Edmund’s association with her sister. As far as she was concerned she would rather lose the battle than have Regan come between her and Edmund.
Edmund and Regan came out to greet them and Albany bowed to Regan. ‘Our very loving sister, greetings,’ he said. Then, to Edmund: ‘Sir, this is what I’ve heard: the King has gone to his daughter, with others whom our harsh rule has driven away. I’ve never been able to stand dishonesty. Regarding this business, I’m involved only because France is invading our country, not to confront the King and others whose just grievances, I’m afraid, force them to oppose us.’
Edmund bowed. ‘Sir, you speak nobly.’
‘Why are you even talking about this!’ Regan snapped.
‘Unite against the enemy,’ said Goneril. ‘These domestic and private quarrels are irrelevant here.’
‘Then let’s confer with the experienced military advisers about our tactics,’ said Albany.
‘I’ll come straight to your tent,’ Edmund said.
Regan wasn’t going to stand by and let Edmund be alone with Goneril. ‘Sister, are you coming with us?’ she said.
‘I think it would be best,’ said Regan. ‘Please come with us.’
Goneril glared at her sister. She knew exactly what she was up to. ‘All right, then, I’ll go,’ she said ungraciously.
Before they could leave they were confronted by a peasant, who spoke directly to Albany. It was Edgar, still in disguise.
‘If your Grace has no objection to talking to such a poor man let me have a word.’
Albany motioned the others on. ‘I’ll catch up with you,’ he said, and they moved on.
‘Before you fight the battle open this,’ Edgar said, giving him a letter. ‘If you win sound the trumpet to call me. I may seem humble but I can produce a champion who will confirm what is stated in there. If you’re defeated all your business with the world will be over and everything will be pointless. Good luck!’
‘Stay till I’ve read the letter,’ Albany called after him.
Edgar turned. ‘I was forbidden to,’ he said. ‘When the time comes just tell the herald to sound the trumpet and I’ll appear again.’
‘Why, farewell. I’ll read your letter.’
Before he could open the letter Edmund came back. ‘The enemy’s in view,’ he said. ‘Get your troops together.’ He handed Albany a document. ‘This is our spies’ estimate of their strength and numbers. But you must hurry now.’
‘We’ll be ready,’ Albany said as he left.
Edmund went off to muster his army but he wasn’t thinking about the battle ahead. He had sworn his love to both these sisters and each was suspicious of the other, just like those who have been stung are suspicious of the adder. The question was, which one should he take? Both? One? Or neither? Neither could be enjoyed if both remained alive. If he took the widow it would exasperate and infuriate her sister, Goneril. But, with her husband still alive, he wouldn’t find it easy to carry out his side of the bargain. Well anyway, he would use the husband as a figurehead for the battle. When that was over, if she wanted to she could find a quick way to get rid of him. As for the mercy that Albany was intending for Lear and Cordelia, when the battle was over and those two were in their power, they were never going to see his pardon. He speeded up his pace. His best approach was to act, not debate.