Lord Bardolph (not to be confused with Falstaff's pal, just plain Bardolph) arrives at Warkworth castle and demands to see Northumberland. Just as the Porter tells him to look in the orchard, Northumberland hobbles in the room.
Northumberland wants news ASAP and he says as much. But first, he takes the time to dazzle us with a fancy simile (a comparison of one thing to another): Civil warfare, he insists, is like a wild horse that's broken out of its stall. In other words, the times are wild and unpredictable so Bardolph should hurry up and tell him what's going on.
Lord Bardolph excitedly reports that King Henry IV has been wounded at the battle at Shrewsbury and is about to gurgle his very last breath. Even better, Prince Hal has been killed, which conveniently clears the path to the throne for Northumberland's son, Hotspur. Plus, Hotspur captured that "brawn" (a fattened pig), Falstaff, while Prince John, Westmoreland, and Stafford ran away with their tails between their legs. Things haven't been this great since Julius Caesar's victorious civil war in Rome. (Julius Caesar did rock the battlefield back in 49 B.C. but he was also stabbed to death by his own countrymen in 44 B.C. so, Bardolph might want to rethink this comparison.)
Northumberland wants to know how Lord Bardolph came by this news and Bardolph replies that he heard it from a "gentleman" with good breeding so the report has just got to be true.
Just then, a servant named Travers bursts in with contradictory news from the field. But, before he can report any information, Bardolph, who's feeling smug, says the kid doesn't know anything that Bardolph, who passed by Travers on the way to the castle, didn't tell him.
Travers confirms that, yes, he met Bardolph on the road to Warkworth castle and Bardolph did share some news before racing ahead to talk with Northumberland. But then, another guy road by on his horse and told Travers that Hotspur's "spur was cold" (that means Hotspur, Northumberland's son, got his butt kicked and is probably dead).
Northumberland, who's stunned by the news, stammers a bit before the ever helpful Bardolph urges him not to pay any attention to what Travers has to say.
Then Morton enters and when Northumberland takes one look at the guy's face, he guesses that Hotspur is indeed dead as a doornail.
Lord Bardolph says he doesn't believe it but Morton goes on to deliver a lengthy speech about how, sadly, Prince Hal pummeled Hotspur into the earth. As a consequence, Hotspur's army got scared and ran for the hills. In short, the king's army was victorious and King Henry IV has just sent out a crew to capture the Earl of Northumberland.
Northumberland, who has been hobbling around and bellyaching about painful joints, suddenly experiences a miraculous recovery. The terrible news of his son's death has, strangely enough, cured him of his illness. (Think Grandpa Joe, who summons the strength to leap out of bed for the first time in ages when he sees the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Funny how that happens.)
Only, instead of being happy about the prospect of gobbling up a bunch of delicious Willy Wonka bars, Northumberland throws down his crutch and says, rather heroically, that he's ready to don his armor and fight to the death.
Then he shouts some other valiant (and scary and rebellious) things like "Let order die!" He goes on to insist that everybody should act like "Cain" (the guy who killed his brother in the Book of Genesis) until everyone on earth is dead. (FYI: Northumberland has never talked like this before. In fact, if you've read Henry IV Part 1, you probably recognize the way Northumberland seems to be channeling the spirit of his overzealous son, Hotspur, right now.)
Lord Bardolph says, "Sweet Earl, divorce not wisdom from your honor." Translation: Don't be an idiot.
Morton chimes in and urges Northumberland to calm down and reconsider his strategy. In a lengthy speech, he says that everyone knew the risks of battle when the rebellion started so Northumberland needs to get it together. He's known all along that his impetuous son would probably die in combat. Besides, the Archbishop of York is organizing another rebel army so there's an additional opportunity to take out the king. The Archbishop's got a huge following because he's running around telling people that he's got God on his side and it's time for King Henry to be punished for the deposition and murder of King Richard II (an event that went down in the first play of the tetralogy, Richard II).
Northumberland has settled down by now and agrees that charging out of his castle with his sword probably isn't such a great idea, him being outnumbered and all. It would be best to hook up with York and proceed with caution.
Northumberland makes plans to write letters to his rebel pals in order to get the ball rolling again.