The King was up early and, accompanied by his two sons, prepared himself for the battle. Blunt and Westmoreland were there too, and Falstaff had somehow managed to insinuate himself into the royal tent as well.
‘How blood-red the sun is as it peers over that high hill,’ the King said. ‘The day looks pale and sickly compared with its feverish appearance.’
‘The southern wind is playing its trumpet to announce to the world what the sun means,’ said Hal. ‘And judging by its whistling in the leaves, it’s going to be a stormy, blustery day.’
‘Then let it be in sympathy with the losers,’ said the King. ‘Nothing could seem unpleasant to winners.’
A trumpet sounded and the two envoys from the rebel camp approached them.
‘Well, my lord of Worcester!’ the King exclaimed. ‘It isn’t right that you and I are meeting in these circumstances. You have betrayed my trust and forced me to put my comfortable peacetime clothing aside and cram my creaking limbs into hard armour. That isn’t good, sir, it’s not good. What do you say to that? Won’t you untie this ill-tempered knot of hateful war? And return to loyal obedience where you used to shine beautifully and naturally. Stop being an exhausted comet – avoid being a symbol of illegal rebellion for future generations.’
‘Listen, your Majesty,’ Worcester said. ‘Regarding myself, I would be very happy to spend my old age in peace and quiet. I protest, I wasn’t the one who sought this unfortunate confrontation.’
‘You did not seek it? Then how has it happened?’ Falstaff sneered and pointed at the rebel grandee. ‘Rebellion just got in his way and he bumped into it.’
The King looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Hal turn furiously on the fat knight. ‘Shut up you chatterer; shut up!’
Worcester shook his head. ‘Your Majesty chose to turn your back on me and my family. I must remind you, sir, that we were your first and dearest friends. I gave up my position under Richard for you, and rushed day and night to meet you on the road and kiss your hand when you were far less powerful than I was. It was my brother, his son, and I who brought you home, disregarding the danger. You swore an oath to us at Doncaster that you had no designs against the state; all you wanted was your natural right – the dukedom of Lancaster, and in this we promised to help you. But before long fortune began to pour on you like rain, and a flood of greatness fell upon you. You had our help; and the King had been away so long; and the country was suffering from bad government; and you seemed to have been so grievously wronged; and difficult winds were keeping the King so occupied in those unlucky Irish wars that people in England thought he was dead. And with all these advantages you seized the opportunity, and took the general feeling into your hands. You forgot the oath you swore to us at Doncaster. We fed you, but you used us, like the cuckoo’s chick uses the sparrow: you settled in our nest, ate our food, and grew to such a size that we couldn’t even come near you, for fear that you’d swallow us up. We were forced to fly for our own safety and were forced to mount this challenge. And now we’re here, armed with powers that you yourself have caused to come into existence with your unkind treatment, anger, and broken promises, and your abandonment of the trust you swore to us in earlier days.’
‘You’ve been most articulate on the subject,’ the King said. ‘You’ve proclaimed it in marketplaces, sermonised on it in churches – trying to make rebellion look acceptable in the eyes of all the fickle turncoats and poor malcontents who laugh and clap eagerly at the news that a revolution is coming. But insurrection always trades in this kind of propaganda, and never lacks angry beggars hungry for mayhem and chaos.’
The two adversaries stared at each other in passionate silence. Prince Hal stepped forward.
‘Both your armies are full of men who will sacrifice their lives in this battle once it starts. Tell your nephew that the Prince of Wales joins the whole world in praising Henry Percy. With this current enterprise the exception, I don’t think there’s a gentleman alive who is braver, more heroic, more daring, or more bold. For my part, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve neglected my chivalric responsibilities. I hear that he agrees with me on that. But I want to say in front of my royal father – in order to avoid bloodshed on both sides, I wish to challenge him in hand-to-hand combat, although I’m aware that, based on his good name and reputation, he would be the favourite to win.’
‘And, Prince of Wales,’ the King said, ‘I’d support you, except that there are countless reasons why I shouldn’t. No, good Worcester, no. I love my subjects, even those who have been misled by your nephew. If they accept our pardon, then he, you, yes all, will be my friends again, and I’ll be theirs. Tell your nephew that and bring me his answer. But if he won’t surrender, rebuke and harsh punishment await him. So, go.’ And as Wocester opened his mouth to speak, he waved him to silence. ‘I don’t want to be bothered with any more talk. I offer a fair deal; I advise you to accept it.’
As Worcester and Vernon rode off, the Prince said: ‘It won’t be accepted, I’d bet my life on it. The Douglas and the Hotspur are convinced that they could take on the whole world in battle.’
‘Then everyone get to your regiment,’ said the King. ‘As soon as we have their answer we’ll attack. May God be with us because our cause is just.’
As the Prince was leaving Falstaff tugged on his sleeve. ‘Hal,’ he said. ‘If you see me fall in battle, bestride me like this…’ he demonstrated a protective posture. ‘… it’s a matter of friendship.’
‘Only a giant could do you that friendship,’ the Prince told him. ‘Say your prayers, and farewell.’
‘I wish it were bedtime, Hal, and all was well.
‘But you owe God a death,’ the Prince told him as he walked away.
Falstaff left the tent without any sense of urgency. His death wasn’t due yet.. He would hate to pay God before the due date. Why should he be so eager to pay him before he even asked for it? Well, it didn’t matter – it was honour that was spurring him on. Yeah, but what if honour spurred him off once he was on, and singled him out to die? What would happen then? Can honour set a broken leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the pain of a wound? No. Honour couldn’t perform surgery, then? No. What was honour? A word. What was in that word, ‘honour?’ What was that ‘honour?’ Air. What a bargain! Who had it? A fellow who died last Wednesday. Did he feel it? No. Did he hear it? No. It’s not substantial then? Right—not by the dead, anyway. But wouldn’t it live with the living? No. Why? Slander wouldn’t allow it. That’s why he didn’t want any of it. Honour was nothing more than a gravestone. And there ended his sermon.
He lumbered off to join his scarecrows.
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