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The Bruce
Book 15


King Robert in the Isles

WHEN the Irish within the town saw their men thus slain and chased home again, they were all downcast, and in great haste called loudly to arms. All armed themselves and made ready for the battle, and they marched forth all in fair array, with banners displayed, ready in their best fashion to attack their enemies.

And when Sir Philip the Mowbray saw them come forth in such brave array, he went to Sir Edward the Bruce, and said, "Sir, it is good that we devise some stratagem which may avail to help us in this great battle. Our men are few, but their will is greater than their power. Therefore, I counsel that our baggage, without man or page, be arrayed by itself, and it shall seem a host far more in number than we. Set we our banners in its front, and yonder folk who come out of Connor, when they see them, shall believe that we for certain are there, and shall charge thither. Let us then come on their flank, and we shall have the advantage, for if they be entered among our baggage they shall be entangled, and then we with all our strength may lay on and do all we can."

They did as he proposed, and the host that came out of Connor made at the banners, and, spurring their steeds, dashed at full speed amongst the baggage. The water carts there greatly cumbered the riders. Then the Earl came upon them with his battle, and made grievous attack. Sir Edward also, a little way off, joined battle right boldly, and many foes fell under foot. The field soon grew all wet with blood. Both sides fought with great fierceness, and dealt mighty blows and thrusts, dashing forward and drawing back, as either side beat the other. It was dreadful to see how they kept up that great struggle in knightly fashion upon either side, giving and taking wide wounds. It was past prime before it could be seen which were to be uppermost. But soon after prime the Scots drove on so desperately, and charged so recklessly, each man like a champion, that all their foes took flight. None was able to stand by his comrade, but each fled his different way, most making for the town.

The Earl Thomas and his host so eagerly chased them with naked swords, that, being all mingled among them, they came together with them into the place. There the slaughter was so fierce that all the streets ran with blood. Those the Scots took they put all to death, so that well nigh as many were slain in the town as in the field of battle. Fitz-Warenne was taken; but so affrighted was Richard of Clare that he made for the south country. All that month, trow, he was to have no great stomach for fighting. Sir John Stewart, a noble knight, was wounded with a spear that pierced him sharply right through the body. He went to Montpelier, and lay there long in healing, and at last recovered.

Then Sir Edward, with his host, took quarters in the town. That night they were blithe and jolly over the victory they had got. And forthwith, on the morrow, Sir Edward set men to discover what provisions were in the city. And they found in it such abundance of corn and flour, wax and wine, that they marvelled greatly. Sir Edward caused the whole to be carted to Carrickfergus. And be went thither with his men, and set close and vigorous siege to the castle till Palm Sunday was past. Then a truce was made on either side till the Tuesday in Easter week, [i.e., till April 13th, 1316.] so that they might spend that holy time in penance and prayer.

But upon Easter Eve, during the night, there arrived safely at the castle fifteen ships from Dublin loaded with armed men. Four thousand all told, I trow, they were, and they all privily entered the castle. Old Sir Thomas the Mandeville was captain of that host.

They had espied that many of Sir Edward's men were scattered over the country, and they planned to sally forth in the morning, without waiting longer, and suddenly surprise the Scots, who, they believed, would be lying trustfully because of the truce. But I trow falseness shall ever have foul and evil result.

Sir Edward knew nothing of this, for he had no thought of treason; but he ceased not because of the truce to set watches upon the castle. Each night he caused men to watch it well, and that night Neil Fleming kept guard with sixty valiant and active men.

As soon as the day became clear those within the castle, having armed themselves and made ready, let down the draw-bridge, and sallied forth in great number. And when Neil Fleming saw them he sent a messenger to the king [Barbour here forestalls the fact. Edward Bruce was crowned King May 2nd, 1310, three weeks later.] in haste, and said to those beside him, "Now I warrant shall men see who dares to die for his lord's sake! Bear ye yourselves well, for of a surety I will fight with all this host. We shall hold them in battle till our master be armed."

With that they joined battle. They were, of a truth, altogether too few to fight with such a great host. Nevertheless, they drove at them boldly with all their might, and their foes marvelled greatly that they were of such manhood, and had no dread of death. But their fierce enemies attacked in such number that no valour could avail them, and they were every man slain, and none at all escaped.

Meanwhile the man who went to the king to warn him of the Irish coming out, apprised him in the greatest haste. Sir Edward, then commonly called the King of Ireland, when he heard of such pressing business on hand, in right great haste got his gear. Twelve active men were in his chamber, and they armed themselves with the greatest speed. Then boldly, with his banners, he took the middle of the town.

With that his enemies were drawing near. They had divided their whole host in three parts. The Mandeville, with a great following, held his way right through the town. The rest went on either side of the place to intercept those that should flee. They planned that all whom they found there should die without ransom.

But otherwise went the game; for Sir Edward, with his banner and the men of whom I have spoken, made such bold attack on that host as was a marvel to see. In front of him went Gib Harper, the doughtiest of deed then living in his degree, and with an axe made room before him. He felled the foremost to the ground, and afterwards, in a little space, he knew the Mandeville by his armour, and dealt him such a swinging blow that he went headlong to the earth. Sir Edward, who was near by, turned him over, and with a dagger took his life on the spot.

With that Fergus of Ardrossan, who was a right courageous knight, joined the battle with sixty men and more. Then they pressed their foes right hard, and they, seeing their lord slain, lost heart, and would have drawn back. But ever as fast as the Scots could arm they came to the melee, and they drove so at their foes that these altogether turned their backs. The Scots chased them to the gate, and a hard fight and great struggle took place there. There, with his own hand, Sir Edward slew a knight who was called the best and most valorous in all Ireland. His surname was Mandeville, his proper name I cannot tell. The assault then waxed so hard that those in the donjon durst neither open gate nor let down bridge. Sir Edward so fiercely pursued those that fled there for refuge that, for certain, of all who sallied forth against him on that day never a one escaped. They were all either taken or slain. MacNicol then joined the fight with two hundred good spearmen, who slew all they could reach. This same MacNicol, by stratagem, took four or five of the English ships, and slew the whole crews.

When an end was made of this fighting, Neil Fleming was still alive, and Sir Edward went to see him. About him, all in a heap on either hand, lay his followers slain, and he himself was in the throes of death. Sir Edward pitied him and mourned him greatly, and lamented his great manhood and his valour and doughty deeds. So greatly did he make lament that his men marvelled, for he was not wont to lament for anything, nor would he hear men make lament. He stood by till Fleming was dead, then had him to a holy place, and caused him to be buried with honour and great solemnity.

In this wise Mandeville sallied forth. But of a surety, as was well seen by his sallying, falsehood and guile shall ever have an evil end. The English made their attack in time of truce, and on Easter day, the day on which God rose to save mankind from the stain of old Adam's sin. For this reason this great misfortune befell them, each and all, as I have said, being taken or slain. Those in the castle were thrown into such affright, forthwith, seeing not where any succour could come to them, that they presently made treaty, and, to save their lives, yielded the stronghold freely to Sir Edward. He kept his covenant with them to the utmost. He took the castle and victualled it well, and set in it a good warden to keep it, and rested there for a time.

Of him we shall relate no more at present, but go to King Robert, whom we have left long unspoken of.

When he had convoyed to the sea his brother Edward and his host, the king made ready with his ships to fare into the Isles. He took with him Walter Stewart, his kinsman, and a great host, with other men of great nobleness. They made their way to Tarbert in galleys prepared for their voyage. There they had to draw their ships. Between the seas lay a mile of land sheltered all with trees. There the king caused his ships to be drawn across, and since the wind blew strong behind them as they went, he had ropes and masts set up in the ships, and sails fastened to the tops, and caused men to go drawing alongside. The wind that was blowing helped them, so that in a little space the whole fleet was safely drawn across. [Fifty years earlier the same feat was done at Tarbert by Hakon of Norway, and two centuries earlier still, Magnus Barefoot drew his galleys across the isthmus.]

And when the men of the Isles heard tell how the good king had caused ships with sails to go between the two Tarberts, they were all utterly dismayed. For they knew by ancient prophecy that whoever should thus make ships go with sails between the seas should have the dominion of the Isles, and that no man's strength should stand against him. Therefore they all came to the king. None refused him obedience except only John of Lorne. But very soon afterwards be was taken and brought to the Bruce; and those of his men who had broken faith with the king were all slain and destroyed.

The king took this John of Lorne, and presently sent him to Dunbarton, where he was kept in prison for a time. Afterwards he was sent to Loch Leven, and was long there in captivity, and there I trow he died. The king, when all the Isles, greater and less, were brought to his pleasure, spent the rest of that season in hunting and games and sport.

While the Bruce in this fashion subdued the Isles, the good Sir James of Douglas was living in the Forest, valiantly defending the country. At that time there dwelt in Berwick Sir Eumond de Caillou, a Gascon knight of great renown. In his own land of Gascony he was lord of a great domain. [There is some uncertainty about this name. Skeat suggests a connection with a place called Caloy, on the Adour, in Gascony. The name resembles the Scottish Colquhoun, but the Colquhoun family claim an earlier native origin.] He had the keeping of Berwick, and he made a secret gathering, and got him a great company of men active and bravely armed. He ravaged all the lower end of Teviotdale, and a great part of the Merse, then hastened towards Berwick.

Sir Adam of Gordon, who was then become a Scotsman, saw the English driving away the cattle, and supposed they must be few, for he saw only the fleeing skirmishers, and them that seized the prey. He sped in hot haste to Sir James of Douglas, and told how the English had seized spoil and gone towards Berwick with the cattle. He said they were few, and that if Douglas would make speed he should full easily overcome them, and rescue all the herds. Sir James immediately agreed to follow them, and went forth with only the men he had in that place and those that met him by the way.

They followed the English at the utmost speed, and quickly came up with them. Before they could fully see them they came close up to their host. Then the foragers and the skirmishers gathered into a close squadron, and made a right fair company. The cattle they caused to be driven before them by boys and countrymen, who had no strength to stand in a field of fight. The rest kept behind in scattered order. The Douglas saw their whole intent, and their good tactics, and saw besides that their number was twice that of his own men.

"Sirs," he said, "seeing we have thus made chase, and are now come so near that we cannot eschew the fight except we foully flee, let each man think on his love, and how many a time he has been in great peril, and come safe away. Believe that we shall do the same this day. Let us take advantage of the ford at hand, for forthwith they shall come on us to fight. And let us set will and strength and force to the matter, and encounter them right boldly."

At that word full speedily he displayed his banner, for his enemies were drawing near. And when they saw his company so few they deemed they should soon make an end of it, and attacked the Scots vigorously. Then began a dire fight and most fierce melee, with many strokes given and taken.

Douglas was right sore bested; but his great hardihood so encouraged his men that none thought on cowardice. They fought so stoutly with all their might that they slew many of their foes; and though these foes were more by far than themselves, yet fortune so guided them that Sir Eumond de Calion was slain on the spot. When he was down all the rest were soon openly discomfited. Thereupon the Scots made chase, and slew some, and turned back the whole of the prey.

Of a truth this was the hardest fight that ever the good Lord of Douglas was in, by reason of his small following. Had it not been for his great valour, and his slaying of the English captain in the fight, his men had been all done to death. It was his custom ever, when he found himself hard pressed, to strive to slay the leader of his enemies. And many a time it happened that the doing of this got him the victory.

When Sir Eumond in this wise was slain, the good Lord of Douglas took his way to the Forest. His foes feared him greatly. Word of this exploit spread far and wide, and in England near thereby men still speak commonly of it.

Sir Robert de Neville at that time dwelt at Berwick, near beside the marches where the Lord Douglas had his abode in the Forest, and he had a mighty envy of him because he saw him ever more and more widen his bounds. He heard the people round him speak of the might of the Lord Douglas, of his force in battle, and the good fortune that oft befell him. At this he presently became enraged, and said, "Think ye there is none valiant but him alone? Judge ye him to be without a peer? I vow here before you that if ever he come into this land he shall find me at his throat. If ever I see his banner displayed for war, I shall set on him, never fear, although ye deem him never so stout."

News of this boast was soon brought to Sir James of Douglas, and he said, "If he will keep his promise I shall look to it that ere very long he shall yet have sight of me and my company near enough."

He then gathered his retinue, good men of valour, and on a night set out in brave array for the marches. In the morning early he and all his company were before Berwick. There he displayed his broad banner, and sent some of his following to burn two or three towns. He bade them speed to him soon again, so that, if need were, they should be at hand ready for the fight.

The Neville had a great host there, for all the best of that country were then with him, and in number they were many more than the Scots. Now perceiving that of a certainty Douglas was come near, and seeing his banner stand displayed, he made his way to a hill, and said, "Sirs, I could wish to make an end of the great hurt that Douglas does us day by day. But methinks it expedient that we wait till his men be scattered throughout the country to plunder. Then may we fiercely dash upon him, and we shall have him at our pleasure." All present agreed, and lay waiting on the hill, and the men of the land gathered, and drew to him with the greatest speed.

The valiant Douglas then, deeming it folly to wait longer, rode towards the hill. And when the Neville saw that the Scots would not scatter to the plundering, but made to attack him with all their might, he knew well that they meant battle. To his host he said, "Sirs, now launch we forth. Here with us we have the flower of this country, and we are, besides, more in number than they. Let us therefore join battle boldly, for, by my faith, Douglas, with yonder yeomanry, shall have no strength against us."

At that they charged, and joined battle.

Then could be heard the crashing of spears, as men drove fast at each other, and blood burst out at wide wounds. They fought with ardour on either side, each party striving hard to drive the enemy back.

In the heart of the struggle, when the fighting was at its fiercest, the Lords of Neville and Douglas met. Then between them a great combat took place. They fought fiercely with all their might, dealing great strokes one upon the other. But Douglas, I promise, was the starker man, and was besides more used to fighting; and be set heart and will to deliver himself of his enemy, till at last by sheer main strength Neville was slain.

Then Douglas shouted aloud his battle-cry, and with all his company charged so boldly on the rest, that shortly his enemies could be seen taking flight. The Scots gave chase with all their might, and in the pursuit Sir Ralph the Neville and the Baron of Hilton were taken, while other men of might, who had been of honour in their time, were slain in the field.

And when the field was wholly cleared, and their foes were every one slain or taken or chased away, Douglas ravaged the whole land, and seized all he found, and burnt all the towns, and afterwards came home whole and well. Forthwith he dealt the spoil among his followers after their deserts, keeping nothing for his own behoof.

Deeds like these cause men to love their lord, and of a surety this was done by Douglas's men. He ever treated them so wisely and with so great affection, and set such countenance on their exploits, that he made the most fearful of them stronger than a leopard. Thus with his kindliness. he made his men strong and of great valour.

When Neville thus and Sir Eumond of Calion were brought to the ground, the terror and renown of the Lord Douglas spread throughout the English border, so that all who dwelt there feared him like the Devil. Often to this day have I heard tell how greatly he was feared, and how women when they wished to threaten their children would, with a right angry face, commit them to the Black Douglas. By their account he was more fierce than any devil in hell. His great bravery and valour made him so dreaded by his foes that they shuddered to hear his name. He could now dwell in ease at home for a time, for I trow he was not likely for long to be sought out by his enemies. Now we shall leave him in the Forest, and speak of him no more for a space, but take up the tale of the brave Sir Edward, who, with all his valiant chivalry, was still lying at Carrickfergus.


 


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