The French had camped near Agincourt and the generals were finding the time before daylight tedious. They couldn’t wait for the dawn and the battle in which they would defeat the English once and for all. The Constable and the Duke of Orleans were indulging in some banter.
‘Tut,’ the Constable said, ‘I have the best armour in the world!’ He looked up at the sky and sighed. ‘I wish it was day!’
‘You have excellent armour,’ agreed Orleans. ‘But give my horse his due.’
The Constable yawned. ‘It’s the best horse in Europe.’
They were silent for a moment then Orleans stamped his foot. ‘Will it never be morning!’
The Dauphin smiled. ‘My lord of Orleans and my Lord High Constable, if you’re talking about horses and armour…’
‘You are as well set up with both as any prince in the world,’ said Orlean hurriedly.
The Dauphin smiled graciously. ‘What a long night this is! I wouldn’t swap my horse for anything that walks on four legs. Ca, ha! He bounds from the earth as if his stomach were filled with hares – the flying horse, the Pegasus, with fiery nostrils! When I’m astride him I soar, I am a hawk: he trots on air, the earth sings when he touches it, the sound of his hooves is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.’
‘He’s nutmeg coloured, though,’ said Orleans.
‘But with the spice of ginger!’ insisted the Dauphin. ‘He’s a beast fit for Perseus. He is pure air and fire, and the dull elements of earth and water never appear except for his quiet patience when his rider mounts him. He’s some horse. All the other nags are oxen compared with him.’
‘Indeed, my lord,’ said the Constable, ‘it’s an absolutely wonderful horse.’
‘He’s the prince of stallions,’ said the Dauphin. ‘His neigh is like the command of a monarch and his looks enforce respect.’
Orleans held his hand up, laughing. ‘Enough, enough, Cousin,’ he said.
‘Never!’ The Dauphin, laughing too, backed Orleans up against a tent and began lecturing him on the virtues of his horse while the others laughed.
‘The man is stupid who can’t heap praise on my stallion from lark-song to lambs’ bed time. It’s a theme as infinite as the sea. If the beaches could speak eloquently my horse would be praised by every grain of sand. It’s a subject worthy of a sovereign’s contemplation: and for a sovereign’s sovereign to ride on. And for the whole world, those known to us and those unknown, to put everything they’re doing to one side to marvel at him. I once wrote a sonnet in his praise that began like this: Wonder of nature…’
‘I’ve heard a sonnet to someone’s mistress begin like that,’ said Orleans.
‘Then they imitated the one I composed to my charger, because my horse is my mistress.’
The other two laughed loudly and the Constable slapped the Dauphin on the back. ‘Your mistress is a good mount,’ said Orleans.
‘She is,’ agreed the Dauphin. ‘Which is the essential quality of a good and exclusive mistress.’
‘Yes, but I thought your mistress gave you a rough ride yesterday,’ said the Constable.
‘I thought yours did too,’ retorted the Dauphin.
‘But mine wasn’t a bridled mistress,’ said the Constable.
‘Oh then, she was probably old and worn out, and you rode her like an Irish peasant, your trousers off and in your underwear.’
‘You’re an expert in horse riding,’ said the Constable sarcastically.
‘Learn from me then,’ said the Dauphin. ‘Those who ride like that and don’t ride carefully, get into trouble. I would rather have my horse as my mistress.’
‘I would rather have my mistress a nag,’ said the Constable.
‘I’ll tell you something, Constable,’ said the Dauphin, ‘at least my mistress has his own hair!’
‘I could make as true a boast as that if I had a sow as a mistress.’
‘ “The dog returns to its vomit, and the clean sow to its muck.” You’re not very fussy.’
‘But I don’t use my horse as my mistress or quote irrelevant proverbs,’ said the Constable.
Lord Rambures was growing weary of this conversation and tried to change the subject. ‘My Lord Constable, the armour that I saw in your tent tonight, are those stars or suns on it?’
‘Stars, my lord,’ said the Constable.
‘I suppose some of them will come off tomorrow,’ said the Dauphin.
‘There’ll still be many left.’
‘Probably,’ said the Dauphin. ‘You’ve got too many – fewer would be more modest.’
The Constable couldn’t help rising to the Dauphin’s cynical sneer. ‘Like the way you praise your horse: it would trot just as well if some of your boasts dismounted.’
The Dauphin shrugged. He looked round at the others. ‘I wish I could match his wit.’ They all laughed. The Dauphin looked impatiently at the sky. ‘Will it never be day? I’ll trot a mile tomorrow and my way will be paved with English faces.’
‘I wouldn’t say that in case I was forced to take a detour and be embarrassed,’ said the Constable. ‘But I wish it was morning because I’m dying to climb into those English.’
‘Who will risk a bet with me?’ said Rambures. ‘That I’ll take twenty prisoners.’
‘Before you capture them you’ll have to take some risks yourself,’ said the Constable.
The Dauphin got up. ‘It’s midnight. I’m going to get ready – put my armour on.’
When he had gone they began talking about him. ‘The Dauphin longs for morning,’ said Orleans.
‘He can’t wait to eat the English,’ said Rambures.
‘I think he’ll eat everyone he kills,’ said the Constable.
‘By my lady’s white hand he’s a gallant prince!’ exclaimed Orleans.
‘Swear by her foot instead, so she can stamp that statement out,’ said the Constable.
‘He is simply the most active gentleman in France,’ said Orleans.
‘Making love is activity. He’s always doing that,’ said the Constable.
‘He hasn’t harmed anyone as far as I know,’ said Orleans.
‘Nor will he tomorrow,’ said the Constable. ‘He’ll keep his reputation.’
‘I know he’s brave,’ said Orleans.
‘I was told so by someone who knows him better than you do,’ said the Constable.
‘Well he told me himself and he said he didn’t care who knew it.’
‘He doesn’t have to,’ said Orleans. ‘It’s not a secret.’
‘Indeed it is,’ insisted the Constable. ‘No-one ever saw it apart from his lackey. His courage is kept covered up and when it’s exposed it won’t come up to your expectations.’
‘Ill will never spoke well,’ said Orleans
‘I’ll cap that proverb with “There is flattery in friendship.” ‘ retorted the Constable.
‘And I’ll top that with “Give the devil his due.” ‘
‘Most appropriate!’ exclaimed the Constable. ‘Your friend stands for the devil. I have a bulls eye on that proverb with “A pox on the devil!” ‘
‘You’re better at proverbs to this extent: “A fool shoots his bolt without taking proper aim.” ‘
‘You’ve out-gunned me,’ laughed the Constable.
‘It’s not the first time you’ve been out-gunned,’ said Orleans.
A messenger, breathless, joined them. ‘My Lord High Constable,’ he said. ‘The English are camped within fifteen hundred paces of your tents.’
‘Who’s measured the distance?’ said the Constable.
‘The Lord Granpre.’
‘A valiant and very expert gentleman.’ The Constable dismissed the messenger with a gesture. ‘I wish it were day! Alas, poor Harry of England. I’ll bet he doesn’t long for the dawn as we do.’
‘What a wretched and pathetic fellow this King of England is, to be wandering around with his fat-headed followers so far from home,’ said Orleans.
‘If the English had any sense they’d run away,’ said the Constable.
‘That’s the thing they don’t have,’ said Orleans. ‘If they had anything inside their heads they wouldn’t wear such heavy helmets on the outside.’
Rambures shook his head at this over-confidence. ‘That island of England breeds very brave creatures,’ he said. ‘Their mastiffs have unmatchable courage.’
‘They’re stupid dogs,’ said Orleans. ‘They run with shut eyes right into the mouths of Russian bears and get their heads crushed like rotten apples. You might as well say that it’s a brave flea that dares eat his breakfast on a lion’s lip.’
‘Good point, good point,’ the Constable said. ‘And the men are like mastiffs in aggressive and reckless behaviour, leaving their brains at home with their wives. Just feed them on beef and iron and steel and they’ll eat like wolves and fight like devils.’
‘Yes, but these English have seriously run out of beef,’ said Orleans.
‘Then tomorrow we’ll find that they’re only hungry for beef, not for fighting,’ said the Constable. ‘It’s time to put our armour on. ‘Shall we do it?’
‘It’s two o’clock,’ said Orleans. ‘But let me see – by ten we shall each have taken a hundred Englishmen.’