Vernon was optimistic that the rebels would be able to abandon their challenge, considering that the King had been so gracious and his offer had been so fair. He expressed that opinion to his companion as they rode back to the rebel camp.
‘Oh no, Sir Richard,’ Worcester said, ‘my nephew mustn’t know anything about the King’s generous and kind offer.’
‘But we have to tell him,’ Vernon said.
‘It will destroy us all!’ Worcester told him. It’s out of the question that the King will keep his word in embracing us again. He will always be suspicious of us. He’ll find other reasons to punish us for this rebellion. For the rest of our lives he and his loyalists will look on us with suspicion because treason is like a fox: however much you tame it or put it in a cage it will always have the wild instincts of its ancestors. No matter how we look – sad or happy – people will misinterpret our looks. We’ll be like oxen in a stall: the better they’re looked after the closer they are to being slaughtered. My nephew’s disloyalty might be forgiven: his youth and hot temper will excuse it. Moreover, his nickname gives him permission: the harebrained Hotspur – always flaring up. All his offenses will be blamed on me and his father. After all, we encouraged him, and since we trained him to take that attitude to the King, we’ll pay for it. So cousin, whatever you do. don’t let Harry know what the King offered.’
They rode on in silence for a while then Vernon said: ‘Tell him what you like: I’ll endorse it.’
As they approached the rebel camp Hotspur and Douglas, all armed and ready for battle, came out to meet them. ‘Uncle,’ Hotspur said, ‘What’s the news?’
‘The King will invite you to battle shortly.’
‘Have Westmoreland deliver your message of defiance,’ said Douglas.
‘Douglas, go and tell him to do that,’ said Hotspur.
‘With pleasure,’ said Douglas.
‘The King doesn’t appear willing to forgive us,’ Worcester told the young man.
‘You asked him for forgiveness?’ said Hotspur. ‘God forbid!’
‘I told him politely what our grievances are. I accused him of breaking his promises, and here’s how he answered: he lied about the fact that he had lied. He called us rebels, traitors, and said he’d punish us with the power of his army.’
Douglas returned. ‘To arms, gentlemen, to arms!’ he cried. ‘I’ve thrown a brave defiance in King Henry’s teeth, and Westmoreland, who was our hostage, will deliver it. This must surely bring the King down on us immediately.’
‘The Prince of Wales stepped forward in front of the King, Nephew, and challenged you to single combat,’ said Worcester.
‘Oh, I wish the whole quarrel were between us, and that the only people who would lose their breath today would be me and Harry Monmouth!’ exclaimed Hotspur. ‘Tell me, tell me, how did he put his challenge? Was it contemptuous?’
Vernon shook his head. ‘No. I swear, I’ve never in my whole life heard a challenge issued more modestly – like a brother inviting a brother to some friendly exercise. He paid you all due respect, and he summed up your qualities in the most princely language. He spoke of how deserving you are, as though he were your biographer, making you too praiseworthy for any skill he had in praising you; that simple praise could never measure up to your true merits. And he gave a modest account of himself, like a true prince indeed. He reprimanded himself for his misspent youth, but so gracefully that he sounded like a teacher giving a lesson and a student learning one at the same time. He stopped there, but let me say this quite openly: if he survives this battle, then England never had a better hope, nor was a prince so misunderstood in his poor behaviour.’
‘Cousin, I think you’ve been charmed by his foolishness. I’ve never heard of a Prince who was so wild and undisciplined. But however he wants to seem, before night falls I will embrace him with a soldier’s arm, and he will wilt in my affection. To arms, to arms. Hurry! And, partners, soldiers, friends, think about what you have to do. Think for yourselves. I’m not a good enough orator to be able to rouse your passions.’
A messenger arrived with letters.
‘I can’t read them now,’ Hotspur said. ‘Oh, gentlemen, life is short. To spend that brief time shamefully, would make it too long: even if life lasted only an hour, it would still be too long. If we live, we will have crushed kings. If we die, it will be a glorious death, princes dying with us. As for our consciences: it’s proper to bear arms when the cause is just…’
He was interrupted by a messenger. ‘My lord, prepare,’ he said. ‘The King’s on his way.’
‘I thank him for cutting off my speech, since I profess that I have no talent for speaking. Just one more thing: each man should do his best, and on that I will draw my sword. On this perilous day, I intend to stain its steel with the best blood I can find. So. ‘Hope’ Percy! And off we go! Sound all the trumpets, and let’s embrace one another to that music. For, by heaven, some of us will never embrace again.’
The impressive group of warriors embraced each other then followed their young leader to meet the King.