Having escaped from the Battle at Worcester and ridden all night with a group of 40 men, King Charles has ended up at the secluded Whiteladies, a home in Brewood Forest occupied by George Penderel and his family......
Charles looked at the grimy, muck and blood smeared men swarming into the little room, all whispering and conniving together like a flock of crows bickering over the rights to scavenge a corpse… his corpse if the bits and pieces of conversation he caught led him right.
“The King has to make for Scotland! There is no other way – we can still catch up with Leslie’s cavalry!” ___________ said emphatically to Buckingham, pressing rudely right up in George’s face. Charles caught George’s abrupt frown in his direction and then Buckingham scowled at the man with measurable distain. Lauderdale with his considerable height and weight shoved his way in front of _________________.
“You’d trust the King’s life - all our lives - t’ those traitorous cowards after they sat in t’ field all day and watched their own countrymen be slaughtered by Cromwell’s butchers and never so much as took a step forward to help? I’m a Scotsman myself and I wouldn’ trust that fool Leslie t’ safeguard a turd, much less th’ King, not with what I’ve seen of th’ yellow livered son of a - ” he swore, bespeckliing the man with flecks of spit such as Lauderdale was apt to do when especially excited. A much louder argument over the behavior of the Scots cavalry broke out amongst the tattered and bloodied soldiers, some of whom were Scots themselves and of course deeply resented the accusations, even if they were made by a fellow countryman.
Now was hardly the time to relive past mistakes on the battlefield, Charles thought; the results of those mistakes were seared into his memory, and worse yet loomed the thought that he had lost everything – crown and kingdom both, and would very possibly lose his life within the next few hours if Cromwell caught up with him. And so would all of these if they were caught with him.
He rose stiffly and they all went silent as he moved to the long table where lay the unceremonious heap of mean clothing Richard had brought.
“None of you will go with me. I am best left alone now.” He said with as much authority as he could manage in his state. They stared at him in astonishment, and then broke forth with a flood of objections, each trying to forcefully convince the other by volume if not by rationale.
A piercing whistle from the side silenced the cacophony and as a body they all turned to Henry Wilmot and the Earl of Derby who stood together beside the long scarred table before the fireplace that served for the Penderel family’s meager dining area.
“His majesty is right. A group of men will be noticed and reported. Lesley’s troops are sure to be detected within hours if not already and the news of Worcester will travel swiftly. As soon as Cromwell realizes the King is not among the slain and captured, the hunt will be intense. Even the people will rise up on us; mark my words gentlemen. No, his only chance is to go with less, not more. Make your own plans as you will, but you will all be gone from this house within half an hour, or I will shoot the man who isn’t.” Wilmot told them harshly with heavily furrowed brow.
Wilmot was considered one of the ‘Old Cavaliers’, if one could be such at age thirty and seven. Known for his hard drinking, hard fighting and copious amounts of sheer bravado, he also had an Irish temper that matched the auburn cast of his hair and mustache. But Wilmot was no push-over, as he had proved time and again on the battlefield. The man could carouse all nght, run copious amounts of the enemy off the field in a single charge, chase after them for twenty miles with his devoted cavalry, then return to mop up the rest and be the lead madcap at the evening revel… then get up and do it all again. His men were utterly dedicated to him, and he to the barely twenty and one year old King. 'Harry' was the living embodiment of a Cavalier in every form and manner, which meant if he said he would do something, even the gods in heaven above would nod and say 'of course sir', and all those in the room knew it as well.
Considering the size and breadth of the cavalier, and considering even more the three pistols he pulled from various places and laid before him on the table with grim purpose, the crowd instantly turned to devising their own escapes. Charles gave Wilmot a look of gratitude and the man nodded.
Buckingham separated himself from the group and came over, worry and shock in his eyes. Charles swallowed hard and blinked at the table. Giving up George would be hardest of all, despite their differences of the last week, and partially because of them at the same time.
“Charles, let it be just the two of us then, you and me. You can’t tell me to just walk away and leave you. I can’t do it. I won’t. I’ll share your fate whatever it be life or death. You can’t tell me to just leave you to go alone. We’re in the very heart of England – the coast is hundreds of miles…” he left off as he recognized sad determination in the King’s expression.
Charles swallowed past the lump in his throat. Buckingham was only two years older than himself, and Charles’ chances were slim to none of avoiding capture, which meant not only would he be executed, but so would any caught with him. He believed George would gladly face such danger on his behalf, but he could not allow him the chance. If he loved George like a brother, and even more than such, he had to send him away to save his life. It was the only hope there was for Buckingham....