The Castle (17)
Colonel Richard Fortescue sat alone in the dining room of Arwenack House. Two days had passed since Fairfax’s triumphal entry into Falmouth, and for the first time in many weeks Fortescue was at last able to enjoy a decent meal. Soldiers of his regiment of foot had been allowed the run of the town, billeting themselves in the damp dingy cottages that edged the harbour. Apart from the usual instances of drunkenness and rowdyism, the population of Falmouth town remained pliant with no sign of an uprising. All that was left to do was to flush out the garrison of Pendennis castle. Then, the south-west England would firmly be under Parliament’s control.
As he chewed on boiled cabbage and a tender end of beef, Fortescue found himself unable to fully appreciate the great swathes of territory claimed by the New Model Army. His appetite for war was waning. He knew that great victories were quickly over-turned; that the country lurched, at greater cost, first one way then the other as Royalists took back what Parliament gained. Perhaps, he thought, it was Cornwall that was dampening his outlook. Ever since he arrived he’d had a bad feeling about the place. The weather was too changeable; the population too untrustworthy. More used to life in the city, Fortescue found that the incessant twanging of bowlines and flapping of canvas, from ships moored in the harbour, played on his nerves. There was an aura of the supernatural that he, a Presbyterian, did not care for. And he found the language of the locals insufferable, an indecipherable mixture of old Cornish and what could only be termed as rough, bawdy English; it was a language that was good for no man’s ears.
There was a knock at the door. Fortescue bade entry. A young orderly entered carrying fresh logs, ready to stoke the fire and clear the table.
‘What news of the general ?’ said Fortescue.
‘He’s dictating terms, sire. Then he wishes to sleep.’
Fortescue watched the boy go about his business with the plates. ‘Tell him I too will soon a-bed, so I am able to rise with the first crow.’
The young orderly gave an ungainly bow and left the room. Fortescue, despite just having eaten, felt cold. He moved from the table to a wainscot chair near the window where he sat for a while drinking port and gazing at the harbour approaches.
Shortly after the Roundheads’ arrival at Arwenack House Fairfax had taken ill, tiredness and a sharp pain below his ribs causing him distress. The air in the manor, made nauseous by the fire, was deemed by a doctor as the likely cause of his drowsiness, though Fairfax contended this, saying both ailments had reared themselves after the battle at Launceston. The doctor prodded and probed, shook his head; medicine was dispensed and sleep suggested as remedy. Fairfax, though, continued dictating the terms of Pendennis Castle’s surrender from his bed, terms that Fortescue was obliged to present to the governor the next day.
As he sipped his wine, Fortescue considered the general’s ill health to be a signal – a signal that Cornwall and its pagan ways offered nothing but bad luck. Swift victories, he feared, were at an end. An angry, godless wind seemed to be blowing them asunder.
At dawn Fortescue made his way to the manor’s courtyard, where a small troop of soldiers, stableboys and horses were waiting. The group rode the short distance up the steep hill road from Arwenack House - passing the heavy cannons that had been put in place by Roundhead positions - towards the castle’s moated entrance, halting before they came into view of Royalist soldiers manning the turret. A scout was sent ahead carrying the regimental flag. He informed the guards on the castle’s battlements that Corporal Richard Fortescue of the New Model Army wished his presence to be relayed to the governor. The scout also demanded safe passage for the Colonel and his men.
Once an agreement had been reached, Fortescue and the others moved on, holding their horses before the gate. Inside, the lieutenant governor of Pendennis, Richard Arundel, roused his father in his bed with news that a meeting was to be had. Sir John Arundel, more irritable than usual, snorted at this unwelcome intrusion, and ordered his son to represent him, adding for good measure that he expected the lieutenant governor to don full military uniform before coming face to face with any traitorous Parliamentary officer. Richard Arundel snarled in anger as he made his way to his quarters to be dressed. He was angry not at the prospect of speaking with Fortescue but at his father’s petty whims.
Eventually, after much waiting (which Fortescue deemed a slight) the castle gates were opened, and Richard Arundel walked across the drawbridge. Fortescue dismounted and the two men stood at a distance from one another in the gathering light. Each imparted his name and rank, taking good measure of the other as they did so.
Fortescue was handed a rolled and sealed parchment which he held up for the younger Arundel to see. ‘I have been ordered to deliver, on behalf of General Fairfax, terms of surrender for the garrison at Pendennis Castle.’
‘I know precisely what you have come to deliver here, sir’ said Richard Arundel.
Fortescue took a pace forward and held out the parchment. Richard Arundel ordered one of the soldiers to retrieve it, as if the thing would sully his hands.
‘I assure you, they are generous terms’ said the Colonel with a sharper edge. ‘Mark, they may not be as generous next time.’
‘I do not doubt it’ said Richard Arundel. ‘But my father is a proud man whose loyalty is to the king. Surrender does not come naturally to him. The decision rests in his hands.’
A moment passed with only the gentle lap of waves and the clink of a horse’s harness acting as a steady hand between the two groups of men. Under different circumstances Richard Arundel and Fortescue might have been friends. They were of similar age and stock, each blessed with good prospects. Yet now they stood eye to eye - errand boys in a war that neither wished for or fully understood.
‘Let us hope then, for the sake of the souls who live behind the castle walls, your father’s decision proves the correct one’ said Fortescue.
‘My father’ said Richard Arundel ‘is in the twilight of his days. His only wish is that his honour will not be blemished through surrender. He would rather find himself buried beneath these castle walls than commit treason.’
Was the younger Arundel wavering ? Or hinting, perhaps, that his and his father’s hearts were not fully aligned ? Fortescue wasn’t sure. He briefly wondered whether he should engage with the lieutenant governor on more equitable terms. But he found that he was unable to do so: the imperative of war was pushing him hard in another direction. ‘If, sir’ he said ‘the terms of surrender are rejected, we will see that your father has his way.’
Fortescue remounted while Arundel, again disappointed with Fortescue’s abrupt manner, stood his ground. ‘There are good soldiers in this place, sir’ he said ‘with plenty of powder and shot to see us through. Do not underestimate our conviction. It would be a grave mistake.’
‘Your castle is a prison’ shouted the Colonel. ‘If our canon does not do the job in hand, your empty bellies will.’
Fortescue pulled on his reins, bringing his animal round, and beckoned his men retreat. Richard Arundel walked over the moat’s bridge and ordered the gates shut. He had not disclosed the ace up his father’s sleeve - a mercenary army from across the channel which, with God’s speed, might even now be on its way.