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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
Rebel King - Hammer of the Scots


A Brief History in Relation to the Story Rebel King - Hammer of the Scots

Rebel King - Hammer of the ScotsAt the head of the Annandale Valley, along the English border in southern Scotland, lies Lochmaben. In the late twelfth century, on a small, level peninsula that thrust out into the loch, there was built a defensive structure called a motte. This was little more than a hill, a massive earthwork, surrounded at its base by the waters of the loch and earthen ramparts and ditches.

Perhaps a century later, a wooden tower, thought to have been built by the Bruce, or de Brus, family, was added atop the hill, and buildings of stone were established there by 1298. Shortly after, the structure was altered to become a full-fledged castle, complete with a formidable gray stone curtain wall surrounding a typically square courtyard. A wide moat fed by waters of the loch changed the peninsula into an island, and, with other channels, allowed none to enter the castle without approaching by boat or drawbridge. The main gate, which opened upon the ditch, was defended by positions on all four walls of the court.

It was one of the strongest of Scotland’s fortresses, and a breathtakingly awesome sight when viewed from any direction across the rugged Scottish landscape.

Robert de Brus, "The Noble," lived at Lochmaben before his death in 1296. He was the esteemed Lord of Annandale who had vied for the Scottish crown against John Balliol and others, after the child heir to the throne, "The Maid of Norway," died before reaching Scotland from her native land. (Thus did de Brus come ever after to be called "The Competitor.") Both Balliol and de Brus were of royal blood and held the strongest of the claims, thus the decision eventually came down between those two.

The Scottish nobles, unable to decide amongst themselves who should ascend the throne, called upon Edward, king of neighboring England, to aid in deciding whose claim was the stronger. His requirements before giving such help to the Scots included the stipulation that Scotland be placed under his direct suzerainty until the matter was settled. Rankled and hesitant, the Scots nevertheless agreed.

After much formality and legal wrangling Balliol was awarded the crown, only to be bullied and eventually dethroned, imprisoned, and exiled to the Continent by King Edward. Whether premeditated or not, Edward had set upon the Scottish throne the one who was less competent to withstand his hectoring, and with the Scottish throne again vacant, Edward assumed overlordship of the sovereign land.

The stubborn Scots resisted with all their might through the blood and strength of her people, led by two patriot sons, the noble Andrew Murray and the commoner William Wallace.

Murray died late in the year of the tremendous Scottish victory at Stirling Bridge, possibly of wounds received there, and Wallace became Scotland’s champion, knighted by her nobles and appointed sole Guardian of Scotland. Just in his early twenties, Sir William fought valiantly, and his efforts at first gave great courage and hope to the Scots. However, his lack of training and battlefield experience eventually led to failed campaigns and lost battles, and Scottish hopes were dashed. Sir William escaped capture and was unheard from for several years. When he returned and again attempted to gather and lead an army of Scots, he was betrayed to and captured by English forces.

Wallace was tortured and executed August 23, 1305. It was a bloody affair that ended with the misfortunate Sir William beheaded and his body quartered by a London butcher and sent for display in four separate parts of the land. His severed head was set upon a pike high on London Bridge as fair warning of the punishment meted out for "insurrection." Many of Scotland’s patriots had suffered similar fates.

"Good King Edward" must have been of particularly cruel bent to have created such a horrible death for his enemies, but times were generally harsh. Most commoners of the period were literally enslaved to lands they would never own, and the savagery of life itself could easily spell a meanness to the spirit and body of the beholder.

Robert de Brus "The Competitor" had a son, also named Robert, who held the title Earl of Carrick in right of his wife, her late father having been so titled. When Earl Robert died on a crusade to the Holy Land in 1304, his eldest son and namesake inherited the earldom, as at "The Competitor’s" death he had become Lord of Annandale.

Through various other family affiliations, thirty-two year old Lord Robert de Brus, grandson of "the Competitor," also owned or controlled many estates and lands other than Carrick and Annandale, both in Scotland and in England. Though he had initially supported Wallace, de Brus was looked upon with favor by the King of England for his part in bringing peace, such as it was, between the two nations.

He was a wealthy, powerful man.

The following is a pre-book chapter...


DECEMBER 27th 1305
CASTLE LOCHMABEN - SCOTLAND

Thomas BrusA cold drizzle permeated the Annandale region. It was truly an ordinary winter in regard to the dreary weather, but to young Lord Robert de Brus and his family it was most extraordinary in every other way.

"Umfraville," said Robert, lost in thought.

"Umfraville?" questioned Lady Elizabeth, Robert’s wife, who sat upon the hearth of the large fireplace with her needlework. "What has Ingram de Umfraville to do with yer relations with King Edward?" Her fingers never paused in their exacting task.

"Hmm? Oh," Robert frowned until he realized his rumination had been aloud. "Umfraville gifted me some of his lands only summer last, and in October revoked his gift with no reason offered. What lunacy is that?"

Robert sat in a grand chair, elaborately carved of Scottish oak. "The Competitor" had commanded his domain from that same chair when he was master of Lochmaben. A platter of food and a flagon of wine sat on the large table before him in the great hall of Castle Lochmaben’s three-story keep.

Elizabeth fussed over a dress she and the seamstresses were making for Marjorie, Robert’s twelve-year-old daughter. His first wife Isabella, daughter of the Earl of Mar, had died of childbirth complications after but one year of their marriage, leaving Robert with the tiny babe to raise.

"We can’t blame all on poor, simple Umfraville," said Alexander de Brus as he entered the hall. He casually sat at the table beside Robert and nibbled at some of the foodstuffs from the platter.

"To the contrary, Brother, I blame naught on that trifling lapdog. ‘Tis his master, Edward of England, I worry was the reason the gifted lands were reversed," said Robert, taking a sip of his afternoon wine.

"Stand quiet, child," ordered Elizabeth as a seamstress tacked the hem at an exact height from the floor. Robert’s second wife was the beautiful, dark-haired daughter of Richard de Burgh, the Earl of Ulster, an experienced soldier and staunch supporter of England’s king. Elizabeth de Burgh was raised on common sense and had inherited a shrewd instinctive knowledge of politics.

Marjorie’s eyes rolled heavenward, but she knew better than to cross the only woman she had ever known as mother.

"The bodice is not a’right," complained Marjorie, fidgeting.

"Patience, child," replied Elizabeth pushing bone pins through the material to reform the drape of the dress. "‘Twill be, if you but hold still."

Robert sighed deeply and propped his clean-shaven face on upturned palms and stared aimlessly at the tapestry hanging at the far end of the hall. In the subsequent quiet, the crackling fire dominated the room, giving it a cheery, warm quality in spite of the drear outside.

"Let’s go on hunt," Robert said suddenly, his face taking on a freshness with the thought.

"Ye obviously have not yer usual wit for politics," replied Elizabeth, her nimble fingers still busy.

"Ye up for a hunt, woman?" said Robert purposely pushing his new agenda with a smile of almost childish delight.

"Winter wearies, I’d say," piped in Alexander stolidly.

"The falcons need a hunt," proffered Robert wiping his hand across his face and pinching his lower lip, all accompanied by his continued impish smile.

Elizabeth could not resist laughing at his mirthfulness, finally saying, "I surrender, husband. To hunt it is."

"Dawn on the morrow?"

"Dawn."

"Alexander, ye for the hunt?" asked Robert as he turned to eye his brother who, being dean of Glasgow University, usually preferred a musty old manuscript to the likes of the out-of-doors.

"Nay, Milord Robert. Ye would fare better should ye take Edward, or Thomas... Thomas would no doubt crave to go with ye," answered Alexander.

"Aye, that he would," agreed Robert as he stood to go find Thomas.

Robert found Thomas in the stables carrying water to the two black Friesian war-horses he had raised from colts.

"We have stable hands for such tasks," gently teased Robert as he came to Thomas, knowing full well it was a love that his great hulk of a brother had for fetching and caring for his horses, and certainly far removed from the thought of labor. "Ye rob them of the chance to earn their keep, Little Brother."

Thomas’ sweaty young face smiled broadly as he continued along his way toward the stalls that held the great horses.

"Want to go hawkin’ on the dawn?" asked Robert, his breath visibly wafting before him in the cool dampness, his yellowish gray hunting hound faithfully following his master’s every step.

Thomas hesitated but slightly in his stride, calculating changes in his schedule, before he answered; "Aye, ‘twould be good."

"I’m off to the mews to speak to the falconer now," said Robert as he turned to head in the other direction.

"Be with ye directly," replied Thomas who lost neither pace for, nor sight of, his intended destination.

FalconAs his lord rounded the corner, Roger the falconer was sitting on a three-legged stool among the cages that surrounded the small mews at the far end of the stables along the west curtain wall. He had one of the raptors socked and was repairing a broken wing feather by carefully splicing another to it with a thin woolen thread.

"We’ll be off hawkin’ on the dawn, falconer," said Robert as he approached.

"Aye, Milord. How many birds will ye want ready?" asked Roger as he awkwardly half stood and bowed while trying to hold the wing in place.

Robert smiled and motioned for the man to continue his task as he answered, "Two or three will be good, we won’t be out a full day... A few birds for the family supper."

"Very good, Milord," again bowed Roger, this time remaining seated and touching the wide brim of his hat. "I’ll have our finest hunters hooded and ready at first light."

A cool overnight wind had blown the drizzly rain clouds away and the dawn colors were magnificent as the entourage left through the main gate and across the castle drawbridge.

Elizabeth was excited to be away from the castle for at least a little while. She hated to be cooped in the donjon for too long a spell, and a day at hawking was a perfect day out, in her mind.

Her clothes were in a manner more like a man’s, as it sometimes was not safe to wander the countryside exposing a feminine flank to roaming bands of brigands.

Her horse was smaller and somewhat swifter than the large Belgians the seven men were riding but she knew how to navigate the terrain as well as any.

Within an hour and a half the caravan reached a far glen, out of sight of the castle, where the heather provided perfect cover for nesting grouse and pheasants. Its beauty notwithstanding, it was not a fit place for cattle, sheep, or crops, and was thus left to its natural state.

Roger had several hooded hawks tethered to a wide traveling perch. The birds were as keyed up as the riders to be off to the hunt. The falconer deftly managed the perch and spoke softly to his charges as he rode aft of Lord Robert and Lady Elizabeth in the party’s queue. Four lightly armored knights followed for the party’s defense, and Thomas served as rear guard.

The wind blew briskly, prompting Elizabeth to say, "Mean day for hawkin,’" as she guided her horse into the glen.

"‘Tis to be a glorious day," replied Robert exuberantly as he came to her side and with closed eyes raised his face toward the bright sun.

"Ye predictin’ such, Milord?" teased Elizabeth with a smile.

"Commandin’!’" Robert smiled in return.

The hound suddenly became nervous and his tail wagged quickly to and fro.

"Grouse a’ready?" asked Elizabeth rhetorically.

The two halted and Robert silently waved the entourage to him. The dog waited in silence, but excitedly, at the horse’s forelegs for his master’s order to flush the game.

As the eight overlooked the quiet vale, naught was seen flying.

"They’re settin’ tight in this wind," said Thomas softly as he looked across the heather.

"Aye," agreed Robert who turned to his falconer and signaled for him to set loose a bird.

Roger complied quickly, and gently spoke to a feathered hunter before he firmly grasped the leather jesses attached to the hawk’s leg. Untying the leather strips from the perch as he nudged the sleek bird’s pale breast with his heavy, leather glove, he said "Hup," and the bird stepped smartly from its perch to the glove. The falconer then removed the leather hood that kept the bird quiet and blinded.

The bird blinked and shook his head, ruffling the feathers the hood had held in place since they left the mews. In turn he raised all of his feathers and, shaking his body smartly, allowed the feathers to settle back into place. His eyes soon adjusted to the bright sun and he was ready to fly. Holding the leather thongs, which remained tied to the raptor’s leg, Roger offered it to Lord Brus.

Robert donned his glove and, walking his horse alongside the falconer’s, allowed the bird’s sharp talons to step across to his own hand before transferring the jess from Roger’s grip to his own.

Robert held the falcon high aloft. Everyone in the party had eyes fixed on the bird as Robert launched it into the air with a quick upward thrust at the same instant he released the jess straps.

The horsed group watched, each and all, as the raptor swiftly climbed high above their heads in spite of the blustery wind.

"Aye, that we could do as such," whispered Elizabeth as the bird reached its height and waited, gliding silently until catching sight of its prey.

"Aye," philosophized Robert, completely missing her thrilled observation of the bird’s flight, "that we as mere humans could kill with such skill."

"Fool me not, husband," replied Elizabeth, "for I have seen ye at killin’."

Robert frowned for he knew not how to take her comment but she knew it to be given as a compliment and nothing more.

"Go lad!" ordered Robert, and the dog leapt into the heather and bounded through it, barking ferociously. Within a heartbeat, the air was filled with numerous grouse, taking wing before the charging dog.

Tucking his wings back, the falcon chose an unsuspecting grouse and dropped abruptly into its dive. The watchers’ hearts raced admiringly as the bird descended many times faster than the fastest horse could run.

The falcon’s talons hooked deep into the flesh of its quarry’s back and a puff of loosed feathers flew out in every direction, accompanied by an involuntary and final cry.

The raptor took his prey and went to ground.

Thomas pulled out his heavy glove and rode toward where the falcon last was seen in the deep heather. Not seeing it right away, he stopped and listened for the tiny bells attached to the bird’s jesses. He rode in the direction of the erratic tinkling and dismounted when he sighted the hawk.

The grouse was bleeding from its lethal wounds and its slayer was pecking a patch of feathers away to get to the sweet flesh within.

The raptor nervously jumped and spread its wings when Thomas came to him with gloved hand, but being a trained hunter, hopped onto the awaiting leather and stood stoically as Thomas rewarded him with meat after wrapping the jess straps around his heavy glove. He then retrieved the kill, and, wrapping its legs with a leather thong, quickly threw a loop over his saddlebow.

He started to remount when he noticed several areas not twenty paces from him, where the heather was laid flat for no apparent reason.

"What’s Thomas about?" asked Elizabeth as she watched her husband’s brother leave his horse’s reins dangling to follow his curiosity.

In a moment, he pulled his sword and looked about him. Roger immediately spurred his horse toward Thomas to retrieve the falcon still perched on his gloved hand, and Robert signaled two of the armed knights to descend the hill as well. They rode cautiously to the site, drawing their swords and warily observing around them all the while.

"What be yer worry?!" shouted Robert as Thomas paused at the site.

"Bodies, still warm!" he shouted as he watched mist rise into the cool air from the freshly murdered victims at his feet.

"Mother of God," whispered Elizabeth.

Robert pulled his great claymore from its sheath, as did the last two knights, and immediately surveyed the landscape for movement.

Elizabeth also searched the landscape, quickly whispering, "Robert, off to the left, in the bramble wood!"

"What?"

"A flash, off metal."

Robert turned and looked up the hill and said, "I see naught, wife."

"Ye not believe me?" she asked. Without answering he looked away, down the hill at the four men.

He shouted to them, "We’ll send a buryin’ party later," and he waved his arm for them to return, which they started immediately, with Thomas bringing up the rear. He then turned his attention back to his wife, who grew frustrated at his seeming indifference to her sighting.

"Aye, I believe ye, woman," frowned Robert, "but ‘tis best to get arrayed with all our men together ere we go showin’ we know of their hidin’ place."

Elizabeth sighed in relief but again became anxious as she realized the four knights were the only ones with any armor at all and they with only jerkins of mail and upper chest armor. "We’re no match," she reasoned aloud.

"No match for what?" replied Robert as he glanced at the nearby wood.

"For them that’s hidin’ yonder."

"Calm, my dear," he said. "We know naught of them, but my guess is, if they believed themselves the stronger, they would have attacked us a’ready."

"Like now?" she asked pointing over Robert’s shoulder at the band of some fifteen marauders who came charging down the hill toward them.

"Thomas, there!" shouted Robert to his brother and the others who were now drawing near.

Eleven of the attacking men were on horseback and charging fast.

"‘Tis a mistake, committin’ yerselves with all this ground to cover," said Robert rhetorically to those racing toward him. Quickly the four knights formed in behind their liege lord. Thomas put himself between Robert and the attackers and waited.

Robert turned to his own band, leaving his back exposed to the charging men, and spoke to them in low but determined tones.

"Falconer, take my lady and the birds and go to that knoll yonder," he ordered. It was a position some fifty paces from Robert’s knights and would be relatively safe from the advancing killers. Since their weapons were but small dirks and of little value in a fight with swords, he wanted the two removed from the fighting. "Hie for Lochmaben if we fail," he added, "and protect your mistress with your life."

"Aye, Milord," the falconer nodded and immediately turned to follow Elizabeth to the top of the hillock. Roger had hooded the retrieved bird and tied it safely to the perch. All the birds were jumpy with the ambient excitement and the falconer soothed them with his familiar voice as they rode away.

The confident leader of the charging attackers gathered great speed in his downhill gallop.

Normally thieves of this sort would abandon the area of their dirty work as soon as finished, and would have this time had they had the opportunity to pick the pockets of their kill. But alas, with the approach of Robert’s hunting train they had been forced to hide in the bush and wait. They were emboldened by the wealth and scant number of the falconers, and intrigued at the possibility for additional booty.

Having given orders to his knights, Robert turned again to face the charge.

As the vile band of freebooters came upon them, Robert suddenly bolted left with two of the knights while Thomas went to the right with the others. The villains could not stop for the power of their momentum and swished past their prey, now behind them and at their flanks.

The four thieves on foot saw what happened and fell over one another to stop their descent. They scrambled to their feet and ran back up the hill when Robert’s fiercely snarling dog gave chase to nip at their legs.

Now, without a stroke of a blade, Robert had achieved the upper hand.

"Ye stinkin’ sons of whores!" screamed the leader of the cutthroats when he at last reined up and wheeled around. His men scattered in disarray at the base of the long hill, their only advantage left being their numbers, almost double Robert’s.

The desperate fellow glanced around, saw Elizabeth and the falconer atop the hill at his back and six knights coming at him from the hill he had just descended so rashly. The two behind did not seem an immediate threat and so he railed at his followers to charge back up the hill toward the oncoming knights.

The clash of swords rang crisp in the cold morning air.

Robert and Thomas each gave war whoops and came into the midst of the bandits with a fury and precision only such professional soldiers possessed. There is no substitute for training in the art of war, and against renegades with self-interests and lazy habits, master knights can easily find targets.

Five thieves were slain within seconds. Their blood splashed across horses and saddles as they slid to the heather, eyes bulging in disbelief that this was the last moment of their miserable lives.

Within seconds more, their chief cast his sword to the ground and threw his hands as high above his head as was possible. His six followers who were yet alive did likewise.

"Pray, kill us not, Sire!" pleaded the fellow, "We’ll share our booty with ye... I swear!"

Robert came to him and gingerly poked his ribs with the point on his claymore.

The unarmed brigand jumped and quivered in fear. Uncontrollable tears streamed down his rough and unkempt face.

"Ye slay them lyin’ yonder in the heather?" asked Lord Robert.

Redback’s eyes darted to and fro, his mind frantically searching for the convenient lie but his lips remained mute.

Robert prodded him once again with the sword point.

"Aggggh," he whined in agony as the Claymore drew blood.

"Off yer horses, ye murderers," Lord Robert ordered.

All quickly obeyed as Elizabeth and Roger came to the knot.

"We hangin’ ‘em?" asked Thomas as he maneuvered his horse beside his brother’s.

"Nay. Bind them and search for hid weapons," ordered Robert.

The four knights dismounted and began the task of wrapping leathers around the murderers’ clasped hands. One, a big man with little in the way of wit, became fearful of his hands being tied and panicked. He swiftly drew the dirk of the knight who was about to bind his arms, felling the knight with a sudden shove. The great oaf raised the blade to strike a deadly blow upon the startled man when his fellow knight relieved the wretched man of his life with a single sword stroke.

Elizabeth wanted to turn her head and not look at the awful vision, but she dared not show any sign of sympathy when her sympathies were all with the victims, stone dead in the glen.

There were but five thieves left, including the leader, who all put their pressed together palms as far out in front of them as they could so that there would be no misinterpretation on their intentions of surrender.

As Elizabeth searched the landscape to avert her eyes from the kill she saw the dog sniffing and barking where the thieves had previously sought cover. Perhaps the men afoot had returned there for some reason.

"We have more," said Elizabeth, pointing.

"Damn!" grimaced Robert, wheeling his large Belgian. He labored up the hill toward the bush alone thinking that, if there were others, they would be little more than men with sticks or the like.

Robert came to the hiding place and swung his claymore over his head accompanied by a loud outcry and demanded, "Come forth ye varlets ere I come in for ye and cleave yer ears from yer heads!"

Two dirty young girls about twelve or thirteen years of age shyly peeked out from the wood.

Robert slowly lowered his claymore to his side. He felt silly threatening such calamity upon frightened female children.

They were scared and anxious as they held their oversized and tattered skirts in a wad, pulling them tight to their malnourished bodies as they emerged from the briars and underbrush.

Tears of mixed emotions trickled down their faces. Were they saved, they wondered, or were they simply recaptured?

Elizabeth saw that they were young girls and came to her husband’s side as he questioned his captives. She dismounted and went to the two children, and immediately admonished Robert. "Obviously, husband, they had naught to do with the criminal acts of those varlets!"

"Where did these men find ye?" she asked the girls in a quiet and disarming voice.

There was hesitation as the filthy girls glanced from the glaring leader of the thieves to Elizabeth, to Robert, and back again.

"’Tis a’right," assured Elizabeth with a smile, "Ye’ll not be harmed further, I promise."

Uncontrollable sobs and fountains of tears erupted from both girls as they realized they had indeed been saved. They recounted a tale of woe that went back more than two years:

The girls were friends, their two families were traveling together through the rolling hills of Galloway on their way to a fair. Feigning hunger and begging scraps of food, several of the thieves including the leader, whom the girls called "Redback," had come upon the small caravan while it lay camped for the night. As the families prepared to share their meager stores with the beggars, the cutthroats murdered the girls’ parents and the three helpers and two men-at-arms accompanying them.

The girls were spared from death only to be used as slaves. Their captors’ every wish for service was fulfilled lest they be tortured by the flaying of small strips of skin from their backs and legs. This cruelty was a specialty of their host, who garnered his well-feared name from the torture.

"Let me see," said Elizabeth, turning the girls from the eyes of the men for she wanting to judge for herself the extent to which Redback was willing to go to hold his hostages in bridle to his bidding.

"Holy Mother!" exclaimed Elizabeth when she saw their old scars and fresh wounds. Standing, she said coldly, "Robert, ye must hang those villains..."

"I cannot, woman," claimed Robert. The falconer looked knowingly at the eldest of the four knights, who had been in Robert’s service a number of years. Though the two said nothing, much meaning passed between them with that look. Robert caught it, too.

Also within earshot, Redback smiled and sneered in private jubilation, to know that they would not be hanged straightaway. And where there’s waitin’, he thought, there’s always chances to escape.

"These girls will bear witness to these scalawags’ many murders and acts of thievery that they witnessed from the bush," pleaded Elizabeth. The taller girl nodded agreement.

Robert dismounted and took Elizabeth aside from the others.

"I cannot hang them, though they were the Devil himself!" Robert insisted.

"And why not?" Elizabeth confronted him.

"Have ye not heard of the curse of Saint Malachy, woman?" asked Robert quietly, that the others would not hear his dark tale.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes toward heaven, then closed them before she began to speak. "I’m sure ye have old bones to rattle on nights of dark tidin’s when ye fix to scare superstitious folk for jest," she replied with more than a little exasperation.

"I know yer sweet Irish temper is near raised to a boil, my dear," continued Robert, "but first listen! Near a hundred years back, in the time of my grandfather, there was caught a thief, much like these we have here. There was naught could be said for preservin’ his life, either."

"And a hundred years ago has what to do with these murderin’ savages?" asked Elizabeth.

Robert breathed deep. He wanted not to appear soft in his lordship o’er these criminals, but he genuinely feared the effects of the curse his grandfather had nearly worn himself to death to appease.

"In the town of Annan, ‘twas," he explained. "Saint Malachy was travelin’ to Rome when he grew ill, and at Grandfather’s invitation, stayed for a few days’ rest in the house of de Brus. While he was a guest in our home, he saw that Grandfather had caught a thief, and as a favor to bless and bring success to the remainder of his journey, the holy pilgrim asked Grandfather to spare the thief’s life."

"And…" said Elizabeth, sensing his hesitation.

"Well," he continued, "Grandfather had the fellow hanged, in spite of the request. Not only was it the lawful and just punishment for the man’s crimes, but it was already pronounced, and there were expectations to be upheld so that other such villains might be discouraged. Moreover, it was my grandfather’s own cattle that had been stolen and he was stretched tight betwixt pleasin’ Malachy, and pleasin’ his sense of justice."

Elizabeth sighed and said nothing.

"All might have gone well anyway," he went on, "except that Saint Malachy saw the hanged man and..."

"And that’s when he laid the curse on the de Bruses."

"Aye. That’s when. And Grandfather spent near all the rest of his days tryin’ to make up for it in the eyes of God and man."

"But, dear Robert, yer family has done little but gain since those days," said Elizabeth.

"Aye, Lass, we have done right well, or at least better than most. And we have suffered no more loss than others in like circumstance. But, our neighbors and cotters see it not that way. Every time a crop did poorly, it was Saint Malachy’s curse on the house of de Brus. When a child died in the village, it was the curse on the de Bruses. If a man or a horse was lamed, or a cow went dry, or if the milkmaid slipped on a slick stone and spilled the milk, in the minds of the simple folk it was Saint Malachy’s revenge for Grandfather’s disposin’ of the likes of these!" He swept his hand in the direction of the cowering thieves.

He looked at the face he loved so and said, "It got to where any evil or misfortune that befell any poor soul could be blamed on the de Bruses. We could hardly get our crops planted and our sheep tended for the fear that dwelt in the hearts of those who must plant and tend. ‘Tis not my belief, but the villeins’ that concerns me, here."

Elizabeth threw up her hands and slapped them back again against her thighs in surrender. "There’s naught more, husband... ye’ll have to do as ye see fit."

"Aye," said Robert, "I shall."

"Then turn them loose," she said almost casually, "But bring the children with us."

"We’ll bring the children. The murderin’ rogues I’m sendin’ to Dumfries," said Robert, remounting his horse. "There’ll be English judges holdin’ court next month."

"Lawin' the curse onto the English, are we, Robert?"

He shrugged. She thought she saw a light smile play across his lips.

Robert went to Thomas as Elizabeth told the two rescued starvelings that they would come with them to Castle Lochmaben and reside there. She then called for one of the knights to bring them horses to ride. The young man quickly rounded up two of the horses loosed by the slaying of the dead thieves and brought them to Elizabeth for her approval. One of the girls asked a boon.

"Please, Milady, may we ride one of those horses and this one," she asked with tears in her large, sunken eyes as she rubbed the nose of one of the mounts brought by the knight.

Elizabeth looked puzzled until the other child said, "This was our da’s, and that one," she pointed to a large mare a fair distance away in the care of another knight, "our ma would ride wi’ us."

"Then ye shall have them." Elizabeth looked at the knight who promptly retrieved the other horse. As she helped each girl onto a horse, she said, "Hold tight as you can. We shall travel at a walk, so you need not fear."

After they were mounted, she added, "These are your inheritance from your father. They belong to you, now, and their increase as well." Elizabeth then remounted and rode up the hill toward Robert, the two girls close behind. As they clung to the animals, they were warmer than they had been for days, in spite of the chill wind. Elizabeth seemed to them to be a kind lady, perhaps even as kind as their mothers.

Thomas and the four knights tethered the prisoners to each other, forming them in a line with Redback in the front. Thomas took a length of rope and tied it around Redback’s neck and mounted his horse.

A quick jerk on Redback’s tether let the criminals know they were walking, not riding, to their fates. They cursed and spat on one another, each blaming the others for their poorly completed misadventure. Certainly it would be late that night before they reached their dungeon cell in Castle Dumfries. The knights rode on either side of the prisoners and as rear guard, each also taking the leads of two or more of the captured horses.

The fancy stolen purses hanging like trophies from the saddlebows of the thieves were indeed heavily laden with a rich booty as Robert discovered on inspection.

"They could have lived like kings, had they only known when to quit," philosophized Robert.

The reformed entourage headed toward Castle Lochmaben.

"A day for the hunt was all I wanted ere I leave," lamented Robert.

Elizabeth looked quizzically at her husband, "Yer leavin’?"

"Aye. I’m to England in a day or two," he said quietly. "My lands there need tendin’"

"Lands be damned!" she replied, frowning. "‘Tis winter!"

"Aye, but business must be minded, even in winter. And, there’s to be a celebration of the king’s birthday, to which I’m invited. I shall take Edward, and Thomas Randolph. Those two rowdies will enjoy a good party more than shall I, responsible old married man that I am," he said with a broad grin. At that, he leaned in his saddle and kissed his smiling bride.

The story continues in the novel Rebel King - Hammer of the Scots

Charles Randolph Bruce
Carolyn Hale Bruce
co-authors of Rebel King-Hammer of the Scots

You can purchase this book at Amazon.com by clicking the link below
Rebel King - Hammer of the Scots 

Bruce & Bruce, Inc.
Ahead of the Hangman Press
crb@crbruce.com


Return to Oct/Nov 2002 Index Page

 


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