Nicholas Brembre 11
The king was speaking to his people once more, repeating the creamy words of Mile End and Smithfield, as if restringing pearls. He had pardoned them and did so again. They were no longer serfs and should return to their land – without delay – as free men. It was all as he had said and done before, and it had all been written down by his scribes.
Those who remained listened and appeared to share his desire that they all go home. The anger had gone cold in them after so many days on their feet with little food. They clutched their banners and their royal pardons but they seemed to sense that they had lost their meaning. Here and there Nicholas could see a man still gnashing his teeth or fingering a blade, but these were like piss in a pond. By acting as if a fool and a coward, the king had won back the crown that others would have tossed away.
In the fields, king Richard knighted William Walworth. The boy brought down his sword on the shoulders of the old man, caressing the greying hair as he knelt in the dust. Nicholas saw that there were tears on the face of his friend, but the eyes of the king were dry.
‘You men of the city have served me faithfully. Nicholas Brembre, John Philipot, Robert Laund. Take your places.’
They looked at each other, caught stupid in a tangle of hope and embarrassment. Then John pushed Nicholas firmly to the ground and they became Sir Nicholas and Sir John in turn. After four days of shrieking and roaring, flame and darkness, shock and anticipation, this honour was like the sun bursting free from a storm. The new knights looked back to their smouldering domain as their colleagues were raised to join them. The king’s sword had found a use.