Cornwall had called Goneril, Regan and Edmund to a council to deal with the problem of Gloucester. ‘Send someone to my lord your husband at once,’ he said. ‘Show him this letter. The French army has landed.’ He turned to some waiting servants. ‘Go and find the traitor Gloucester.’
Regan said: ‘Hang him instantly!’
Goneril said: ‘Blind him!’
‘Leave him to my displeasure,’ Cornwall said. ‘Edmund, go with our sister. The revenge we intend to take on your traitorous father is not fit for you to watch.’ He turned to Goneril. ‘Advise the Duke, when you get back, to prepare for war. We’ll do the same. Our messengers will keep the information going fast between us. Farewell, dear sister.’ To Edmund, ‘Farewell my Lord of Gloucester.’
Oswald came in. ‘Well?’ Cornwall said. ‘Where’s the King?’
‘My Lord of Gloucester has taken him away,’ said Oswald. ‘Some thirty-five or six of his knights, urgently searching for him, met him at the gate and, with some more of the Lord Gloucester’s men, they took him towards Dover, where they claim to have well-armed friends.’
‘Get horses for your mistress,’ said Cornwall.
‘Farewell sweet lord, and sister,’ said Goneril.
Cornwall bowed. He shook Edmund’s hand. ‘Edmund, farewell,’ he said.
Goneril left with Edmund and Oswald.
‘Go and look for the traitor Gloucester,’ Cornwall told some servants. ‘Tie him up like a thief and bring him to us.’
Cornwall paced thoughtfully while Regan kept looking out of the window at the raging storm, the lightening flashing up the woods beyond the castle keep.
‘Though we can’t pass a sentence of death without due process of law we can nevertheless vent our anger on him,’ Cornwall said. ‘People may condemn it but they can’t do anything about it.’
At last there were torches moving towards the castle.
‘Ungrateful fox!’ exclaimed Regan. ‘It’s him.’
Conrnwall’s men brought him in and stood him before their master.
‘Tie his withered arms up,’ Cornwall instructed the servants, who hesitated, looking at each other uncertainly.
‘What do your Graces mean?’ said Gloucester. ‘My dear friends, consider. You’re my guests. Don’t hurt me, friends.’
‘Tie him up, I say!’ demanded Cornwall, and the servants set about it.
‘Tighter, tighter!’ screeched Regan. ‘Oh you filthy traitor!’
‘Merciless lady that you are.’ Gloucester spoke defiantly. ‘I’m not!’
‘Tie him to this chair.’ Cornwall pushed him on to the chair. ‘Villain, you will find…’
Regan stood in front of Gloucester and yanked his beard.
‘By the kind gods, that’s disrespectful, to pull my beard!’ exclaimed Gloucester, struggling against the efforts to tie him to the chair.
Regan shuffled the hairs from her fingers. ‘So white and such a traitor!’ she exclaimed.
‘Unworthy lady, these hairs that you’ve snatched from my chin will come to life and accuse you. I am your host. You shouldn’t abuse my hospitality with robbers’ hands. What are you going to do?’
‘Come, sir.’ Cornwall pulled up another chair and straddled it, facing his prisoner. ‘What letters have you received recently from France?’
‘The straight truth: we know everything,’ said Regan.
‘And what contact have you had with the traitors who’ve just landed in the kingdom?’ Cornwall said.
‘Who have you sent the lunatic King to?’ said Regan. ‘Tell us!’
‘I had a letter written in a kind of questioning way, from someone who’s not on anyone’s side – not from an enemy.’
‘Cunning!’ accused Cornwall.
‘And a lie!’ exclaimed his wife.
Where have you sent the King?’ Cornwall demanded.
‘Why to Dover? Weren’t you told to your peril…’
‘Why to Dover?’ interrupted Regan. ‘Let him answer that.’
‘I’m tied to the stake and I have to endure it,’ muttered Gloucester between his teeth.
Regan advanced threateningly. ‘Why to Dover?’
‘Because I couldn’t bear to see your cruel nails pluck out his poor old eyes, nor your fierce sister stick her boarish fangs into his anointed flesh. The seas themselves would have risen up and quenched the stars’ fires if faced with such a storm as his bare head endured in this hell-black night. Yet, poor old man, he joined the heaven in its rage. If wolves had howled at your gate at that dreadful time you would have said, “Good porter, unlock the gate.” All other cruel creatures have at least that much compassion but I will see divine vengeance overtake such children as you are.’
‘See it you never will!’ Regan beckoned the servants. ‘Fellows, hold the chair. I’ll stamp my foot on those eyes of yours!’
Gloucester, feeling the violence coming his way, began to struggle. ‘Any one of you who hopes to live to be old help me!’
Cornwall pushed the chair over so that Gloucester lay on his back, still bound to it. He lifted his foot and brought it down hard on Gloucester’s face, grinding the heel of his boot in Gloucester’s eye.’
Gloucester yelped as the blood flowed. ‘Oh, cruel! Oh gods!’
‘One side will make a mockery of the other,’ said Regan. ‘The other too.’
Cornwall raised his foot again. ‘If you see vengeance…’
He was interrupted by one of the servants, who had had enough. ‘Hold your hand, my lord,’ he said, coming between Cornwall and the moaning Gloucester. ‘I’ve served you ever since I was a child but I’ve never done you better service than now, in telling you to stop.’
‘What, you dog!’ Regan tried to push him away.
The man glared at her. ‘If you were a man I’d shake your beard over this,’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ she said.
Cornwall drew his sword. ‘You villain!’
‘Alright then,’ the servant said. Come on and take your chance against my anger.’ He drew his sword.
The fight was short and vicious and within a few seconds Cornwall lay wounded on the floor. Regan ran to another servant. ‘Give me your sword!’ She snatched it out of the man’s scabbard. ‘A peasant to rebel like this?’ She rushed at the servant standing over Cornwall and plunged the sword into his back.
The man fell forward across the dying Cornwall. ‘Oh, I’m killed,’ he said. He strained himself to turn and look at Gloucester. ‘My lord, you have one eye left to see him die. Oh!’ Then he fell back and lay still.
‘In case it sees more I’ll prevent it,’ said Regan. She leant over and sank her nails into Gloucester’s remaining eye and pulled it out. ‘Out, vile jelly!’ she cried. She threw the eyeball on to the floor and crunched it beneath her foot. ‘Where is your lustre now?’
Gloucester groaned. ‘All dark and comfortless. Where’s my son Edmund? Edmund, kindle all the sparks of nature to revenge this horrid act!’
‘Nonsense, treacherous villain!’ exclaimed Regan. ‘You’re calling on someone who hates you. It was he who reported your treason to us. He’s too good to pity you!’
‘Oh, my follies!’ Gloucester cried. ‘Then Edgar’s been abused. Kind gods, forgive me for that and make him prosper!’
‘Go and throw him out at the gates,’ Regan told a servant. ‘Let him smell his way to Dover.’
One of them untied Gloucester and dragged him out. Regan went to her husband. ‘How are you, my lord. How are you feeling?’ She helped him up.
‘I’ve received a wound,’ he gasped. ‘Follow me, lady. ‘Turn that eyeless villain out. And throw this slave…’ – he kicked the dead servant – ‘on the dunghill. Regan, I’m bleeding badly. This injury has come at the wrong time. Give me your arm.’ He limped off, helped by Regan.
The two remaining servants looked at each other, dazed. ‘I don’t care what wickedness I do if this man comes to any good,’ one of them said.
‘If she has a long life and dies of old age all women will turn into monsters,’ the other said.
‘Let’s follow the old Earl and get the lunatic to guide him where he wants to go,’ the first one said. ‘His madness allows him to do whatever he likes.’
‘You go,’ the other said. ‘I’ll fetch some flax and whites of eggs to make a plaster for his bleeding face. Now, heaven help him!’