Authors: Stella Riley
The King’s Falcon
Copyright 2014 Stella Riley
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Table of Contents
‘We are upon an engagement very difficult. The enemy has blocked up our way … and our lying here daily consumes our men, who fall sick beyond imagination.’
Oliver Cromwell to Sir Arthur Haselrig
It was fair to say, decided Eden Maxwell, that the invasion of Scotland hadn’t so far been a howling success. In the six weeks since crossing the border, they had advanced twice from Dunbar only to fall back as their supplies ran out and utterly failed to bring General Leslie to battle.
Not exactly an impressive record; and not one likely to improve if the campaign was allowed to drag on into the winter.
There were mitigating factors, of course.
The weather had been consistently cold and wet, causing sickness and exposure amongst the men; the Scots had removed every beast and grain of corn, thus making it impossible to live off the country; and canny David Leslie, with roughly thirty-five thousand men to their own sixteen, was using his local knowledge to take up one unassailable position after another.
None of these made life easy.
On the other hand, it might conceivably be argued that under commanders like John Lambert, George Monck and Old Noll himself, the finest fighting machine in Europe ought to be able to overcome such difficulties – particularly in view of the fact that the Scots’ army, as well as being raw and ill-equipped, had also been purged by the Kirk of almost all the Royalists and everyone who’d supported the first Duke of Hamilton’s
with the late King.
As Eden understood it, the ministers of the Kirk were eager to drive out the English invaders but nervous of amassing an army that might become a tool in the hands of the young man who had been proclaimed their King but who they didn’t entirely trust.
And that was somewhat ironic – because the New Model’s presence north of the border was due solely to Westminster’s conviction that the Scots were on the point of sweeping into England and reclaiming Charles Stuart’s lost throne for him.
It was a conviction not everyone shared.
Sir Thomas Fairfax had resigned rather than lead an invasion force – with the result that Cromwell had been appointed Lord-General in his place.
Oliver, of course, had no such reservations.
Having crushed Ireland with a savagery which Eden, grateful not to have been there, found disturbing, he had promptly led the New Model north to subdue the unruly Scots.
Only, after weeks of marching hither and thither through the mud, here they were amongst the swamps and bogs outside Dunbar, in a place where you couldn’t even pitch a tent, with Leslie’s Scots overlooking them from Doon Hill, blocking the road to Berwick and outnumbering them two to one.
It wasn’t a pleasant predicament and Eden would be glad to know how his superiors planned to resolve it.
He himself had spent the morning drawing up his fellows in battle order in anticipation of an attack.
Not, so far as Eden could see, that there was the slightest need for Leslie to put himself to so much trouble.
All he had to do was to sit tight and wait for their next move.
Except that he didn’t.
One minute the Scots were perched on their impregnable hillside, looking as though they’d sit it out till Doomsday … and the next they were preparing to descend.
Eden reached for his perspective glass and took a long look.
Then, laying it aside, he said softly, ‘Bloody hell.
Now why is he doing that?’
Major Cartwright’s countenance tightened and he considered reminding the Colonel that Parliament had recently passed an Act against profanity.
Instead, he said stiffly, ‘I couldn’t say, sir.
An attack, perhaps?’
Unless … but no.
I know the Kirk’s hanging round his neck like a stone but Leslie’s too experienced to allow a pack of preachers to run his campaign for him.’
Major Cartwright stood ramrod straight and stared into the middle distance.
Eden drew a faintly exasperated breath. Isaac Cartwright was conscientious but lacked both flair and humour.
Now, for example, he gloomily announced that the Lord would show them the way if they only stood firm and had faith.
‘Then I wish he’d hurry up about it,’ returned Eden dryly.
And then, in response to a distant outburst of noise, ‘Something’s happening on our right.
Find out what.’
By the time Major Cartwright returned with the news that their outpost on the far side of the Brox Burn had been overpowered, the afternoon was wearing on and the Scottish descent well-advanced.
Removing his gaze from the position Leslie was taking up on the lower slopes, Eden said, ‘And?’
‘There’s information to suggest that General Leslie thinks we’ve shipped off half of our Foot and most of the artillery.
He doesn’t believe we’ll fight.’
Eden turned sharply. ‘Doesn’t he, indeed?’
Eden pocketed his perspective glass and flexed his shoulders beneath the weight of his sodden buff coat. ‘Then let’s hope the Lord-General has a workable plan.’
The Major’s expression grew fervent.
‘I shall pray for it.’
‘That,’ murmured Eden, ‘is bound to make all the difference.’
Afternoon became evening and Eden sought what shelter could be had for his men before returning to Dunbar in search of some supper. Then, at a little after ten o’clock, Major-General Lambert walked in saying, concisely, ‘The Council of War has finally decided not to make Leslie’s day by shipping off the Foot and decided that the gaps in his front are wide enough to push a troop of Horse through.
Consequently, we’re ordered to try fording the Brox Burn near the Berwick Road and mount an attack.’
Colonel Maxwell didn’t bother remarking on the obvious difficulties of this plan but said merely, ‘When?’
‘Two hours before dawn.
I want to be across before first light.’
Eden nodded and started pulling on his coat.
‘Nothing,’ returned Lambert with a dry smile, ‘that you won’t think of yourself.’
Outside, the night was still windy and wet with clouds obscuring the moon.
As silently as possible, Lambert had the Army moved closer to the screen of trees and shrubs beside the burn while the heavy artillery was drawn to the edge of the ravine.
Eden and his fellow officers worked ceaselessly to organise matters and Cromwell rode back and forth, agitatedly chewing his lip.
Once the Army had been re-positioned, Lambert began the mammoth task of moving six regiments of Horse and three-and-a-half of Foot over the burn.
It was four in the morning and still pitch dark.
Eden, whose regiment was one of the first to cross, found the business extremely tricky.
Horses slithered on steep banks made treacherous with mud; infantrymen lost their footing and collided, grunting, with each other; and every squelching boot and jingle of harness sounded uncannily loud above the whistling wind.
Incredibly, all remained quiet in the Scottish lines and the cavalry was able to make the crossing in just under an hour, apparently undetected, with the infantry trudging behind.
On the other bank, detachments
of Horse and Foot under Cromwell waited alongside the artillery.
Eden, awaiting Lambert’s signal to attack, loosened his sword in its scabbard, checked his pistol and cast a final glance over his assembled regiment.
Somewhere behind him, he could hear Major Cartwright praying.
Dawn was breaking, bleak and grey, as Lambert’s cavalry made its first headlong charge up the hill towards the enemy’s right wing while, taken by surprise, the Scots leapt to arms and to horse as best they could. There was an exchange of pistol-fire, followed by the roaring thud of artillery; and then two bodies of horsemen met head on in a fierce clash of steel.
The world erupted into noise and confusion and the earth vibrated.
From the fringes of the m
e, Eden bellowed staccato orders and strove to gain an over-all view of the situation. Then a troop of Scottish lancers pelted downhill at them … and, after the first shock of impact, Eden found his regiment being driven back.
Until the futility of it became plain, the English cavalry struggled to hold their ground – but finally Lambert’s trumpet sounded the Recall and Eden set about withdrawing his men in order to re-form.
This was where discipline paid off and Eden was grateful that he’d inherited a regiment trained by Gabriel Brandon.
Gathering his men with brisk efficiency beneath the steadily lightening sky, he exchanged a couple of sentences with Major-General Lambert and sent off a reconnaissance party to report on how General Monck was faring.
The answer was not encouraging.
‘He’s being pushed back,’ Eden told Lambert tersely. ‘Smaller numbers and lower ground.’
‘Reserves,’ snapped Lambert.
And wheeled his horse about, shouting for a message to be sent to Cromwell.
It was never delivered.
From away to their right came a huge cry of ‘
Lord of Hosts!
’ and the Lord-General’s infantry started pouring across the burn and up the slopes towards Monck and the Scots.
Further away still, the English artillery thundered and growled, its smoke swirling madly about on the wind.
And then the sun came up.
Now let God arise and his enemies shall be scattered
Cromwell’s reserve troops smashed into Leslie’s Foot and engaged it at push of pike, causing the Scottish line to waver and give ground.
‘Now!’ shouted Lambert.
His trumpet sounded the Charge and Eden’s fellows swept forward with the rest against the enemy Horse.
What followed was brief and bloody.
Pistols were discharged, then used as clubs; the discordant ring of steel on steel mingled with strangled screams; and the Scots cavalry foundered and then disintegrated.
Men were cut down like corn-stalks to be trampled beneath the hooves of both sides. And as the retreat became a rout, Lambert swung his regiments about to support the Foot.
Soaked from the incessant rain and liberally spattered with mud, Eden did his duty by his men whilst fighting as hard as any of them.
A bullet tore unnoticed through his sleeve; and though the sword-cut on his thigh was a different matter, it was not serious enough to stop him spitting the fellow who gave it to him.
In an hour, it was all over.
In addition to those Scots who lay dead on the field, three thousand more were taken prisoner.
By the middle of the afternoon, Lord-General Cromwell was gloating over a hoard of fifteen thousand enemy weapons and two hundred colours.
Later, whilst having his wound dressed, Eden received a brief visit from his superior officer.
‘Will you still be able to dance?’ asked Lambert with his customary sardonic smile.
‘As well as I could before – which is to say, not very,’ responded Eden, wincing as the surgeon touched a tender spot.
‘Your idea, was it?’
‘You did well today.
When Oliver recovers, I’ll tell him so.’
The hazel eyes narrowed.
‘He was injured?’
‘No,’ replied Lambert aridly. ‘But, as yet, he hasn’t stopped laughing.’
tre du Marais in Paris, that same day …
What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose,
by any other name would smell as sweet.
Two very different women sat in the deserted Green Room.
The younger one, a dainty creature with long-lashed grey eyes and a torrent of dark copper curls, looked faintly sulky; the other, some ten years older and possessed of glossy brown hair and a trim waist, wore an expression of restrained exasperation.
The girl said mutinously, ‘I’m ready.
You know I’m ready.
So why won’t Froissart let me have some lines?’
‘You’ll be ready when I say you’re ready,’ came the calm reply.
‘And Froissart will give you a speaking role when I tell him to.’