Edmund encountered a young lord he knew as he made his way towards his brother’s hiding place in his father’s castle.’God save you, Curan,’ he said.
‘And you, sir,’ said Curan. ‘I’ve just been with your father, and I’ve informed him that the Duke of Cornwall and his duchess, Regan, will be here with him tonight.’
Edmund was surprised. ‘How did that come about?’
‘I have no idea,’ said Curan. ‘Have you heard the news that’s going about? I mean the whispered rumours, because it’s only idle gossip at the moment.’
‘No,’ said Edmund. ‘Please. Tell me.’
‘Haven’t you heard rumours of war between the Dukes of Cornwall and Albany?’
‘Not a word.’
‘You may do, then, in time. Goodbye, sir.’
The Duke coming there that night! Things were getting better and better. Fantastic! This fitted his scheme perfectly. His father had hidden himself to overhear his brother and he had a tricky operation to perform. He stopped at the foot of the staircase that led to Edgar’s hiding place. This had better work.
‘Brother,’ he called. ‘A word. Descend, brother. I say!’
A door opened. Edmund knew where his father was hiding – behind a huge pillar – and he went and stood in front of it. When Edgar approached, smiling, Edmund put on an agitated manner.
‘Oh sir, run from this place,’ he whispered. ‘Our father knows where you’re hiding. You have the advantage of darkness. Have you being saying things about the Duke of Cornwall? He’s on his way here right now, in the night, in a great hurry, and Regan’s with him. Have you said anything in his favour against the Duke of Albany? Think.’
‘I’m sure of it – not a word,’ said Edgar.
‘I can hear my father coming,’ said Edmund. ‘Excuse me: I have to pretend to draw my sword on you. You draw too, make as if to defend yourself. Make it realistic. Surrender!’ he shouted. ‘Come to my father. Light there! Fly, brother,’ he whispered. ‘Torches, torches! So, farewell,’ he whispered as Edgar turned and ran.
Edmund cut his arm. Some blood pouring from him would be convincing evidence of his fierce struggle. He had seen drunkards do more than this in fun. ‘Father! Father!’ he bellowed. ‘Stop, stop! Will no-one help me?’
Gloucester stepped from behind the pillar and joined Edmund as some servants appeared with torches. ‘Now, Edmund,’ he said, ‘where’s the villain?’
Edmund displayed his wounded arm. ‘He was standing here in the dark, his sharp sword out, mumbling of evil spells, and doing obeisance to the moon to gain her favour.’
‘But where is he?’
‘Look, sir, I’m bleeding.’
‘Where is the villain, Edmund?’
‘Fled this way, sir.’ Edmund pointed. ‘When he couldn’t…’
‘Pursue him!’ Gloucester told the servants. ‘Hurry. Go after him. Couldn’t what?’
‘Persuade me to murder your lordship,’ said Edmund. ‘I told him the vengeful gods vent all their thunder on parricides. I mentioned the strong and complex bond that ties a child to its father. Sir, in short, seeing how bitterly opposed I was to his unnatural scheme, he lunged at my defenceless body with his naked sword and wounded my arm. But when he saw the energy with which I responded to the challenge, aroused by the rightness of the cause, or perhaps startled by the noise I made, he suddenly ran away.’
‘No matter how far he flies, as long as he’s in this land he’ll be caught,’ said Gloucester. ‘And caught, killed! The noble Duke, my master, my worthy lord and patron, is coming here tonight. I’ll use his authority to proclaim that he who finds him will be rewarded for bringing the murderous coward to the stake. For anyone who shelters him, death!’
‘When I tried to dissuade him from his intention and found that he was determined to do it, with angry words I threatened to expose him,’ said Edmund. He replied, “You penniless bastard! Do you think that if it was your word against mine anyone would believe you? No, I’d deny it all. Absolutely. Even if you were to produce my own handwriting. I’d say it was your scheme and that you had proposed it. The world would have to be very stupid not to see the advantage of my death to you – enough to make you seek it.” ‘
‘Oh, the strange and uncompromising villain!’ exclaimed Gloucester. ‘He said he would deny his letter did he? He’s not my child!’
There was a trumpet call. ‘Listen,’ said Gloucester. ‘The Duke’s trumpets. I don’t know why he’s come. ‘I’ll block all the gates: the villain won’t escape. The Duke must grant me that. I’ll send a picture of him far and wide, too, so that the whole kingdom will know what he looks like. And, concerning my lands, loyal and natural boy, I’ll find a way for you to inherit them.’
They went out to meet Cornwall and Regan.
Greetings,my noble friend!’ said Cornwall. ‘Since I arrived a moment ago I’ve heard strange news.’
‘If it’s true, no vengeance is adequate to punish the offender,’ said Regan. ‘How are you, my lord?’
‘Oh madam, my old heart is broken: it’s broken.’
‘What! Did my father’s godson seek your life? The one my father named? Your Edgar?’
Tears rolled down Gloucester’s cheeks. ‘Oh, lady, lady, I’m so ashamed.’
‘Wasn’t he one of the riotous knights who served my father?’
‘I don’t know, madam, it’s too terrible, too terrible.’
‘Yes, madam,’ said Edmund, ‘he was one of them.’
‘It’s no wonder that he was disloyal, then,’ said Regan. ‘They’ve put him up to plotting the old man’s death so that they can squander his wealth. Just this very evening my sister has informed me about them and with such warnings that if they come to stay at my house I won’t be there.’
‘Nor I, Regan, I assure you,’ said Cornwall. ‘Edmund, I hear that you’ve been looking after your father.’
‘It was my duty, sir,’ said Edmund.
‘He exposed his plot, and received the wound you can see, trying to arrest him,’ said Gloucester.
Cornwall nodded. ‘Is he being pursued?’
‘Yes, my good lord.’
‘If he’s captured you won’t have to fear him again,’ said Cornwall. ‘Make whatever plans you like, using my resources as you please. And you, Edmund, whose virtue and obedience is so commendable at this moment, you’ll be one of our people. We need such trustworthy people, so we’re seizing upon your services.
Edmund bowed. ‘I will serve you loyally, sir, above everything.’
‘I thank you on his behalf, your Grace,’ said Gloucester.
‘You don’t know why we came to visit you…’ began Gloucester
‘… so unexpectedly,’ said Regan, ‘weaving our way through the dark night. Matters, noble Gloucester, of some importance, requiring your advice. Our father has written to us – and so has our sister – of quarrels, and I thought it best to deal with it away from home. The messengers are waiting for their instructions. Our good old friend, cheer up, and give us your much valued advice about these matters. They require instant action.’
Gloucester bowed. ‘Your servant, madam. Your Graces are most welcome.’ he led the way indoors.
Read more scenes from King Lear: