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 mêlée, Eden Maxwell 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.
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?’
‘The attack? Yes.’ A pause. ‘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.’
Extract from the Prologue of THE KING’S FALCON