The Weird of the three Arrows
strange stories that were circulated in Scotland, in the days of her
adversity, and received a credence from the people, in consequence of the
heartfelt pressure of the misery which, perhaps, produced them, there was
one which asserted the usual claims on the faith of the Borderersand
probably on as good grounds as any of the othersbut which has been
somewhat unfairly passed over by our historians. We delight in doing
justice to an old neglected legend, and therefore present it to our
Sir James Douglasthe
companion of Bruce, and well known by his appellation of the "Black
Douglas"was once, during the hottest period of the exterminating war
carried on by him and his colleague Randolph against the English,
stationed at Linthaughlee, near Jedburgh. He was resting himself and his
men, after the toils of many days fighting-marches through Teviotdale;
and, according to his custom, had walked round the tents, previous to
retiring to the unquiet rest of a soldiers bed. He stood for a few
minutes at the entrance to his tent, contemplating the scene before him,
rendered more interesting by a clear moon, whose silver beams fell, in the
silence of a night without a breath of wind, calmly on the slumbers of
mortals destined to mix in the melee of dreadful war, perhaps on the
morrow. As he stood gazing, irresolute whether to retire to rest, or
indulge longer in a train of thought not very suitable to a warrior who
delighted in the spirit stirring scenes of his profession, his eye was
attracted by the figure of an old woman, who approached him with a
trembling step, leaning on a staff, and holding in her left hand three
English cloth-shaft arrows.
"You are he wha is caed
the guid Sir James?" said the old woman.
"I am, good woman," replied
Sir James. "Why hast thou wandered from the sutlers camp?"
"I dinna belang to the camp
o the hoblers," answered the woman. "I hae been a residenter in
Linthaughlee since the day when King Alexander passed the door o my
cottage wi his bonny French bride, wha was terrified awa frae Jedburgh by
the deaths-head whilk appeared to her on the day o her marriage. What I
hae suffered sin thet day," (looking at the arrows in her hand,) "lies
atweenme an heaven."
"Some of your sons killed
in the wars, I presume," said Sir James.
"Ye hae guessed a pairt o
my waes," replied the woman. "That arrow" (holding out one of the three)
"carries on its point the bluid o my first-bornthat is stained wi the
stream that poured frae the heart o my secondand that is red wi the
gore in which my youngest weltered, as he gae up the life that made me
childless. They were a shot by English hands, in different armies, in
different battles. I am an honest woman, and wish to return to the English
what belangs to the English; but that in the same fashion in which they
were sent. The Black Douglas has the strongest arm an the surest ee in
auld Scotland; an wha can execute my commission better than he?"
"I do not use the bow, good
woman," replied Sir James. "I love the grasp of the dagger or the
battle-axe. You must apply to some other individual to return your
"I canna tak them hame
again," said the woman, laying them down at the feet of Sir James. "Yell
see me again on St. James Een."
The old woman departed as
she said these words. Sir James took up the arrows, and placed them in an
empty quiver that lay amongst his baggage. He retired to rest, but not to
sleep. The figure of an old woman and her strange request, occupied his
thoughts, and produced trains of meditation which ended in nothing but
restlessness and disquietude. Getting up by daybreak, he met a messenger
at the entry to his tent, who informed him that Sir Thomas de Richmont
with a force of ten thousand men, had crossed the Borders, and would pass
through a narrow defile which he mentioned, where he could be attacked
with great advantage. Sir James gave instant orders to march to the spot;
and, with that genius for scheming for which he was so remarkable,
commanded his men to twist together the young birch trees on either side
of the passage, to prevent the escape of the enemy. This finished, he
concealed his archers in a hollow way, near the gorge of the pass. The
enemy came up; and, when their ranks were embarrassed by the narrowness of
the road, and it was impossible for the cavalry to act with effect, Sir
James rushed upon them at the head of his horsemen; and the archers
suddenly discovering themselves, poured in a flight of arrows on the
confused soldiers, and put the whole army to flight. In the heat of the
onset, Douglas killed Sir Thomas de Richmont with his dagger.
Not long after this, Edmund
de Cailon, a Knight of Gascony, and governor of Berwick, and who had been
heard to vaunt that he had sought the famous Black Knight, but could not
find him, was returning to England, loaded with plunder, from an inroad on
Teviotdale. Sir James thought it is a pity that a Gascons vaunt should be
heard unpunished in Scotland, and made long forced marches to satisfy the
desire of the foreign Knight, by giving him a sight of the dark
countenance he had made a subject of reproach. He soon succeeded in
gratifying both himself and the Gascon. Coming up in his terrible manner,
he called to Cailon to stop, and, before he proceeded into England,
receive the respects of the Black Knight he had come to find, but hitherto
had found not. The Gascons vaunt was now changed; but shame supplied the
place of courage, and he ordered his men to receive Douglas attack. Sir
James sought assiduously his enemy, and experienced the difficulty of
finding him, that had been imputed to himself. He at last succeeded; and a
single combat ensued, of a most desperate character; but who ever escaped
the arm of Douglas, when fairly opposed to him in personal conflict?
Cailon was killedhe had met the Black Knight at last. "So much," cried
Sir James, "for the vaunt of a Gascon!"
Similar in every respect to
the fate of Cailon, was that of Sir Ralph Neville. He, too, on hearing the
great fame of Douglas prowess, from some of de Cailons fugitive
soldiers, openly boasted that he would fight with the Scottish Knight, if
he would come and show his banner before Berwick. Sir James heard the
boast, and rejoiced in it. He marched to that town, and caused his men to
ravage the country in front of the battlements, and burn the villages.
Neville left Berwick with a strong body of men; and, stationing himself on
a high ground, waiting till the rest of the Scots should disperse to
plunder; but Douglas called in his detachment, and attacked the Knight.
After a desperate conflict, in which many were slain, Douglas, as was his
custom, succeeded in bringing the leader to a personal encounter, and the
skill of the Scottish knight was again successful. Neville was slain, and
his men utterly discomfited.
Having retired one night to
his tent to take some rest after so much pain and toil, Sir James Douglas
was surprised by the re-appearance of the old woman whom he had seen at
"This is the feast o St.
James," said she, as she approached him. "I said I wad see ye again this
nicht, an Im as guids my word. Hae ye returned the arrows I left wi ye
to the English wha sent them to the hearts o my sons?"
"No," replied Sir James. "I
told ye I did not fight with the bow. Wherefore do ye importune me thus?"
"Give me back the arrows,
then," said the woman.
Sir James went to bring the
quiver in which he had placed them. On taking them out, he was surprised
to find that they were all broken in the middle.
"How has this happened?"
said he. "I put these arrows in this quiver entire, and now they are
"The weird is fulfilled!"
cried the old woman, laughing eldrichly, and clapping her hands. "That
broken shaft cam frae a soldier o Richmonts; that frae ane o Cailons;
and that frae ane o Nevilles. They are a dead, an I am revenged!"
The old woman then departed
scattering, as she went, the broken fragments of the arrows on the floor
of the tent.
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