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As Richmond came out, his kind eyes fell on the boy and he greeted him with a warm smile, “Hello John”.
He remembers my name! John’s heart filled with pleasure. His nervousness didn’t let him speak so he just bowed and smiled back. Richmond ruffled his blond hair and asked him to tend to his duties. Since the page had none, he just moved away and watched the knight pass through the ranks, instructing and encouraging the men to get ready for tomorrow’s battle.
John knew that he had made the right decision when he fled from London to join the rebels. Since he was only eleven he was not allowed to be a soldier but Sir Oxford had noticed the boy’s skill with horses and so he had personally taken him in to be his page.
He was content with the time spent in Richmond’s force although it was filled with hard chores. He was made responsible for many things and this made him proud to be a pageboy. He had met many other boys like him, who had fled from the tyranny of the evil King. Like the others his own family had suffered under Richard’s harsh rule. The Kings men had beheaded his father, being a noble. His mother had then left for another man and had forgotten about her only child. No one else to turn to, John fled to Richmond. Here he found the love and protection he had yearned for and enjoyed the hard work found in a marching army.
A cheer from the men caused John to interrupt his thoughts. He saw that Richmond now stood on a platform, his head high above the others. John looked at him with admiration and pride. The knight’s warm eyes surveyed his men in a way that filled them with courage and security.
As he spoke his bold voice carried clearly to John, “My brave men and loving friends! We have marched into the centre of the land with no resistance from the enemy. Victory is near. Our forces shall crush the tyranny that plagues this land.
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“In God’s name we shall find courage and valour to pass the last trial of war, and then I promise you, my good men of God, we shall be rewarded with peace.”
John joined in the tremendous cheer that filled the sky. The army prepared to march. It was inevitable that they win.
In contrast to the rebels, Richard’s grand army although three times in size was more solemn and quiet. The red tents were pitched and the mad rush to intercept the rebels was over. Although tired after the long fast march, the men were forced to do their duties before they were allowed to rest.
His men had never seen Richard in such a mood. Recently he had become edgy and prone to quick bursts of anger. Although they knew that King was much a man of battle than peace, there still seemed to be something that caused a lag in the King’s movements.
Even though Richard was trying to uplift his soldiers with words of encouragement and laughter, he could not banish the feeling of inevitable defeat that hung over the camp, even he felt it and that didn’t make him feel any better. But wisely he managed to conceal it with a cheerful face.
Unsatisfied with the results of his efforts, he sulked back to his tent where he found Norfolk and a glum Surrey awaiting him. He decided to try again, so he said cheerfully, “My Lord Surrey, why do you look so downcast?”
“Oh, am sure that I feel much happier than I look” was the uninspired reply.
Giving up the pointless cause he turned to Norfolk, “How big are the rebel forces?”
“Six or seven thousand at their utmost power.”
“Our forces are three times as big! My name is a tower of strength that soft Richmond certainly lacks. Come, gentlemen lets us see what the land looks like. Quickly now, tomorrow is a busy day.”
A peaceful stillness came over the rebel camp as the soldiers slowly retired to their tents. John cherished the tranquillity of the golden sunset, it was one of the rare moments where he was allowed to just sit there and let the memories flow away.
Soft voices drifted to his ears, and once he realised that it was Richmond conferring with his generals he couldn’t help but overhear.
“Surely this magnificent sunset is a sign of our coming victory over evil. Take heart gentlemen, because God is on our side.”
He called over to John, “Come page get me ink and paper to my tent.” Then to his officers, “Sir Brandon, you shall bear my standard. My Lord of Oxford, you and Sir Herbert stay with us. Let the Earl of Pembroke lead his regiment separately. Captain Blunt, go tell the Earl to meet me here tomorrow as early as possible.” The Captain started to leave, when Richmond called him back, “One more thing good Captain, where is Lord Stanley’s forces?”
“Unless I am mistaken, his regiment lies half a mile south of the King.”
“If there is no danger, is it possible for you to take a note to him from me?”
“Yes sir, upon my live I shall undertake it.” Captain Blunt agreed and left to tend to his errands.
John had heard of what happened with Stanley. The good knight couldn’t help Richmond because the King has kept his son George a prisoner. Stanley was Richmond’s stepfather and was willing to help him as best he could without endangering his son. Without Stanley’s forces, Richard would be severely crippled. He wondered wether Stanley was willing to risk his son’s life by betraying Richard.
Richmond decided to retire to his tent to draw up the battle plan. The generals went in with him.
A similar war counsel was continuing in the King’s tent. He was addressing Norfolk, “My good Lord Norfolk, summon your best and trusted sentinels. It is your duty to watch over the camp tonight. Make sure the guards are disciplined.”
“I shall go.”
“Wake up early and refreshed my good lord.”
“I will my lord.” With that Norfolk left to assign the watch.
“Catesby! Is my armour ready?”
“Yes everything is ready my Lord.”
“Send out a messenger, to Stanley. Ask him to bring his army before sunrise, his son’s head is in danger.” Catesby left to do his bidding.
“Yes my Lord?”
“Did you see how dispirited the Earl of Surrey was?”
“Don’t worry about it sir. He went from troop to troop, cheering up the soldiers.”
“Good, I am satisfied. Get me some wine I need something to cheer me up. Is ink and paper ready?” The wine, the ink and paper were brought.
“Leave me Ratcliffe. Wake me after midnight and help to arm me.” Richard was left alone to sleep.
Lord Stanley was here! John had managed to catch a glimpse of the knight before he was urgently taken into Richmond’s tent. Unable to contain the curiosity, he snuck in with the others. When he entered he saw Richmond and Stanley in an embrace. Greeting were exchanged and then Stanley laid out his proposition; “Strike Richard earlier than he expects so that Richard will not be able to carry out his threat. I will be able to withdraw from the battle at the last possible movement. I will try to help you as best as I can, but I cannot take too many risks.” With that he stopped, looking for Richmond’s response. The smile of gratitude spread across the young knight’s face. Not willing to put the other at unease, Stanley went on, “Fearful time makes us cut short this union. After the battle God give us leisure for sweet discourse and rites of love. Good bye; be valiant and speed well.”
“My good lords, take him to his regiment. Goodnight again kind Stanley,” Stanley and the others left.
The royal army was still. Gentle breathing of sleeping souls drifted in the frosty wind. The night was unusually dark and cold. The dwindling fires made no difference to the blackness. But the men were too tired to notice. They were also too tired to notice the faint sounds of uneasy mumbling and shifting that from the King’s tent.
Despite the coldness of the night, the Kings face was beaded with sweat. He shifted uncomfortably in his makeshift bed. The wine lay spilled on the ground beside him. A small sound escaped his lips. The he started mumbling continuously, almost in a chant. He repeated it again and again, wincing as if in pain every time he said it. Despair and Die! He twisted as if to shrink away from some invisible presence. Despair and Die!
That invisible presence seemed very much visible to Richard. It was more than just one invisible presence and what made it more frightening was that he knew and remembered them very well. He especially remembered the way that he had killed them one by one. Ruthless murders after murder sin upon sin, staining the royalty with horrific blood baths. Now they were here right before him, all his victims, cursing him to despair and die! Despair and Die!
Richard woke with a start. His breathing was heavy and coarse. He shouted for the page to bring him some more water. The terrible images were still vivid in his eyes. The page came back with water and with him came Ratcliffe. Richard gulped down the water and turned to him, “O Ratcliffe, I have dreamt a fearful dream. I feel that our friends are going to betray us. Do you think that they will stay loyal?”
“No doubt, my lord”
“I fear, I fear!”
“Come good lord, do not be afraid of shadows.”
“By God, the shadows tonight have struck more terror into my soul than any army can. Especially ones that shallow Richmond leads. Come Ratcliffe, help me with my armour.” Richard begins to get ready for battle.
John was ashamed that he had let Richmond wake up earlier than him. But embarrassment subdued when he realised that no one else was awake. Richmond called him over to help set up his amour and lance. John was in the middle of adjusting the straps when the Generals came in.
The Earl of Pembroke was the first to greet him, “Good morrow, Richmond.” Richmond replied cheerfully, “Good morrow, gentlemen! You have certainly taken your time to get here!”
“How have you slept my lord?”
“The sweetest sleep and the most fair dreams that ever entered a drowsy mind. I think the souls of whose bodies Richard had murdered came to my tent and prophesied our victory. I promise you my heart is light when I remember a dream so fair. How far into the morning is it?”
John answered, “Four ‘o’ clock your highness.”
“It is time to arm. I will speak to our men now.”
The tent emptied. A tremendous cheer greeted Richmond. He waded through the crowd to get to the platform. John followed him with his flag. As the knight climbed the stage the men grew silent awaiting the oratory. Richmond began; “My loving countrymen. Of all the things that I have stressed repeatedly, remember this; God and our good cause fight on our side. The prayers of holy saints and tortured souls guard us. Even those who fight with Richard want us to win and save their families and children. Richard is bloody tyrant and homicide. He was raised in blood and used blood to gain kingship. He has always been god’s enemy. Therefore we fight against God’s enemy. Then in the name of God and all the right, advance your standards and draw your swords. Sound drums and trumpets boldly and cheerfully. God and Saint George! Richmond and Victory!”
The battle chant began. Richmond and victory! Richmond and Victory! Striking fear into the enemy’s hearts. Summoning the forces of good against evil. John’s heart filled with pride. Richmond and Victory!
The feeling of uneasiness was not only with the Richard’s soldiers, but also with Richard himself. He turned to Ratcliffe and said, “What did Northumberland say about Richmond?”
“That he was never trained in arms,” Ratcliffe replied confidently.
“Then how did Surrey reply?”
“He smiled and said “the more the better for us”,”
“He is right. Come lets go to our men and assure them our victory,” Richard said and stepped out of his tent to look at where the sun was in the sky. He froze when he saw that the sun was covered behind a very black cloud. He was suddenly afraid; “A black day it will be for someone.” Then
The soldiers looked at the figure that hobbled over to the horse and uneasily climbed on it. I would have seemed comical but the soldiers didn’t look at Richard that way. He was a great general who had commanded his first army when he was only fourteen and had beaten back the Lancasters for King Edward. They suddenly became sure of their victory when they looked as their King.
But Richard wasn’t as sure as his own men were. He was afraid and confused. His mind was still filled with the images of his dream. The voices of his wife and his young cousins were still ringing in his ears. Despair and Die!
But he managed to hide his fears with a determined face and spoke to his men; “When you fight today, remember that you fight against rascals and runaways. A scum of Britains and peasants led by a milksop, still drinking his mother’s milk. If we are conquered let men conquer us not these rats who rejected by their own fathers.“
A messenger enters. Richard turns to him, “Will Lord Stanley bring his power?”
“My Lord, he refuses to come,”
Richards face turns red with anger and he shouts, “Of with his son George’s head!”
“The enemy is upon us. Let’s kill George after the battle,”
“Yes, you are right we will defeat the enemy first,” then shouts to the men, “Upon them! Victory sits on our helms!”
It was John’s first experience of war and it was not a pleasant one. He was overwhelmed by the feverish chaos of blood and smoke and blows and parries. Every man’s sword was caked in dark red. Heads lay on the ground…
It seemed to Richard that he had already killed five Richmond’s but he could not find the right one. His skill with the sword had left a wake of dead behind him. Then suddenly out of nowhere two rebels - one only a young boy – risked their lives to penetrate him to his horse.
The blow was delivered and John jumped out of the way and managed to turn just in time to see the horse tumble to the ground bringing Richard down with him. His accomplice had been crushed under the horse’s body but Richard was still alive. He was one his foot fighting two rebels off. John ran out of there before Richard’s men came to rescue their king. He knew he had done his job.
Richard managed to kill one of the rebels and turned to find the other already dead. He needed a horse! “A horse! A horse! a kingdom for a horse!”
He heard Catesby reply, “Withdraw my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.”
“Fool, I can’t withdraw now! I cannot leave until I find Richmond and kill him. Just get me a horse!”
John stood by Richmond as Stanley spoke to him, “Courageous Richmond. Here is the crown taken from the dead King’s bloody head. Wear it and use it well.”
“Great god of heaven, say amen for all! But tell me my lord, is your son well?”
“He is my lord, and safe in Leicester.”
“Bury the bodies of the enemy dead and give them respect. Ask the enemy soldiers to join us. We will unite the warring factions. Now civil disputes are averted, peace lives again. God make the peace last for ever!”