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The Bruce
Book 3


The King a Fugitive

In that region dwelt the Lord of Lorne, the king's deadly enemy for the sake of his uncle, John Comyn. [Alastair MacDougal, Lord of Lorne, had married Comyn's third daughter, and was therefore his son-in-law, not his nephew.] He planned to take a cruel vengeance. When he knew the king was so near he mustered his men, and was joined by the barons of Argyll. They were a force of a full thousand or more, and made to surprise the king.

Bruce was well aware of their coming. He had all too few with him, nevertheless he boldly awaited them, and a large number at their first meeting were laid low. The king's men bore themselves right well, and slew, and felled, and dealt sore wounds. But the men of the other side, being every one on foot, fought so fiercely with axes that they slew many of the horses of Bruce's men, and gave wide wounds to some of the riders. James of Douglas was hurt, and also Sir Gilbert de la Haye.

The king, seeing his men dismayed, shouted his battle-cry, and charged the enemy so boldly that be drove them back, and overthrew many. But when he saw they were so numerous, and saw them deal such dread strokes, he feared to lose his men. Therefore, rallying his followers about him, be said, "Sirs, it were folly for us to combat more, for many of our steeds are slain, and if we fight further we shall lose some of our small band, and be ourselves in peril. Therefore methinks we are best advised to withdraw, defending ourselves, till we come out of danger, for our stronghold is near at hand." [Local tradition has it that after this fight at Dairee, Bruce took refuge in the island castle in Loch Dochart, a few miles to the east.]

They withdrew then in a body. The retreat however, was not cowardly, for they held together, and the king devoted himself to defending the rear. With such valour did he do this that he rescued all the fleeing host, and so stopped the pursuers that none durst leave the main body. So well did he defend his men, and so stoutly did he prove his prowess, and so often did he turn to face his foes, that whoever had seen him then must have held him indeed worthy to be king of a great realm

When the Lord of Lorne saw his men stand in such awe of the Bruce that they durst not follow the pursuit, he was mightily vexed, and for wonder that one solitary man should baulk them, he said, "Methinks, MacMurdoch, [The unknown person here addressed by Lorne was probably the chief of the MacMurdochs, or Murchisons, a sept afterwards famous in the region.] as Gaul, the son of Morni, [A famous hero of the Ossianic poems.] was wont to save his followers from Fingal, so this leader has saved his folk from us!"

The comparison thus made was but indifferent. More aptly might he have likened Bruce to Gaudifer of Larissa in the fray in which the mighty Duke Betys assailed the forayers in Gadyris. [The reference is to an episode in the romance of Alexander the Great, one of the favourite sources of entertainment in Bruce's time.] When King Alexander succoured his men, Duke Betys took flight and would not abide the battle, but Gaudifer, bold and stout, gave himself so valiantly to save the fugitives and dismay the pursuers, that he bore to earth Alexander himself, with Ptolemy and Caulus, as well as Dauclene and others besides. But at last he was slain there himself, and in this the likeness failed; for Bruce right chivalrously defended all his company, and was set in the greatest danger, and yet escaped whole and sound.

There were two brothers, the boldest in all that country, who had sworn that if they could see the Bruce in a place where they might come up with him, they should either die or slay him there. Their name was Maclndrosser, or "Sons of the door-ward." [De Soulis, one of the fifteen competitors for the Scottish crown, based his claim on his descent from Alan the Durward of Alexander II's time, who married an illegitimate daughter of that king. The Durwards were therefore as bitter enemies of Bruce as Comyn and Baliol.] They had a third man in their plot, right stubborn, wicked, and fierce. When they saw the well-known figure of the king riding thus behind his people, and saw him so often face about, they waited till he was entered in a narrow place, between a loch and a hillside, a place so strait that he could not well turn his horse. [The Battle of Dalree took place, according to the chronicler Fordoun, Aug. 11, 1306. It was fought in the valley of the Dochart, near St. Fillan's Pool, a mile or so below Tyndrum. Bruce was probably attacked by the Maclndrossers in the narrow pass between the moraines and the river.] Then they went wildly at him. One seized his bridle, but the king dealt him such a stroke that arm and shoulder flew from him. With that another took him by the leg thrusting his hand between the foot and stirrup. And when the King felt the hand there he stood firmly in his stirrups, and struck spur into his steed, so that it dashed quickly forward, and the man lost his footing, while, despite him, his hand remained under the stirrup. At that moment the third, bounding up the hillside, leapt on the horse behind the Bruce. The king was then in the greatest difficulty. Yet, with presence of mind as in all his deeds, he set himself to do an unheard feat. Forthwith he lifted the man at his back, against his will, and in spite of all his efforts, laid him straight in front, then with the sword gave him such a stroke that he cleft the skull to the brain. The man crashed to the earth all red with blood, slain on the instant. Then the king struck hard at the other whom he dragged at his stirrup, and slew him at the first blow. In this way he delivered himself from all these three fierce foes.

When the men of Lorne saw the Bruce so stoutly fend himself none dared assail him further, so greatly did they fear his strength. There was a baron, MacNaughton, who in his heart took great heed of the king's feats of arms, and admired him greatly in secret. He said to the Lord of Lorne, "Assuredly ye now behold retreating the starkest man of might that ever ye saw in your life. For yonder knight, by his doughty act and amazing manhood has slain in short space three men of great strength and pride, and so dismayed all our host that no man dare go after him, and so often does he turn his steed that it would seem he has no dread of us."

Then said the Lord of Lorne, "I'faith, it seems to pleasure thee that he slays our folk in yonder fashion."

"Sir," said MacNaughton, "God knows, saving your presence, it is not so. But whether he be friend or enemy that wins the praise of knightly deed, men should speak loyally thereof. And assuredly, in all my time, I never heard tell, in song or romance, of one who so quickly achieved such a great feat of arms."

While they spoke thus of the king, he rode after his people, and led them to a safe place where he had no fear of his foes. [After the fight at Dairee Bruce is said by tradition to have taken refuge in the castle on the island in Loch Dochart. Another tradition says that he retreated farther, to a great cave at the head of Balquhidder.] And the men of Lorne departed lamenting the hurt they had suffered.

That night the king set watch and gave order that his folk should eat, and bade them take comfort and make merry as they might. "For dejection," said he, "is the worst thing possible. Through much dejection men fall to despairing, and if a man be in despair, then is he vanquished utterly. If the heart be discouraged the body is not worth a mite. Therefore," said he, "above everything, keep you from despair, and think, though we now suffer hurt, that God may yet give us good relief. We read of many that were far harder bested than we are yet, and God afterwards lent them such grace that they came fully to their intent. Rome was once thus hard beset, when Hannibal, after vanquishing the Roman army, [At the Battle of Cannae, 2nd Aug. 216 B.C.] sent to Carthage three bushels of rich stone rings taken from the fingers of knights, and forthwith marched upon Rome to destroy the whole city. Great and small within the city would have fled before his coming had not the young Scipio threatened to slay them if they took flight, and so turned them again. Then, to defend the city, he freed the slaves, and made them knights every one, and took from the temples the arms borne by their fathers, which had been offered there in name of victory. And when these stalwart and active earls were armed and arrayed, and saw that they were free, they determined rather to die than let the town be taken, and with common assent, as one man, they marched forth to fight Hannibal, where he stood in great might arrayed against them. But by God's grace there fell so heavy and terrible a rain that even the stoutest could not withstand it, but sped in haste, the one side to their tents, the other to the city. Thrice in this way the rain stopped the battle. When Hannibal saw this miracle he left the town with all his great armed host, and went his way; and he was afterwards so assailed by the forces of that city that he lost both land and life.

"By the example of these few, who so valiantly overcame such a mighty king, ye mat see that no man should despair, nor let his heart sink for any misfortune that may befall. For none knows in how little space God may be gracious. Had the people of Rome fled, their foes would quickly have taken the city. Therefore should men, in time of war, set their endeavour always to withstand the might of their enemies, either by force or stratagem, and expect ever to compass their design, and if the choice lie before them—to die or to live as cowards—they should rather die valorously."

In this fashion the king encourages his followers. And to fortify them he brought to mind old tales of men sore bested and battered, hard by fortune, who yet won success at last. "They that would keep their hearts undismayed," he said, "should ever steadily expect to bring their enterprise to a successful end. Thus did the valiant Caesar, who laboured always so busily, and with all his might, to accomplish his intent, and who deemed that he had done nothing at all so long as ought remained to do. For this reason, as may be seen in his story, he achieved great things. From Caesar's unbending will it may be seen—and the thing also stands to reason—that he who forms his plan firmly, and pursues it steadily, without fainting or tempting of Providence, provided the thing be feasible, and unless he be the more unfortunate, shall achieve it in part, and if he live long enough, may accomplish it all. Therefore should none despair of achieving the greatest purpose. If it happen that he fail in it the fault lies in his effort."

Thus he spoke to them, and feigned to make better cheer than he had ground for; for his cause went from ill to worse. They were ever in such difficult journeying, that the ladies began to fail, and might no longer endure the toil. There were others also in the same plight. John, Earl of Atholl, was one of these. When he saw the king defeated twice, and so many rise against him, and life in such toil and peril, his heart began altogether to fail him. And one day he said to the king, "If I durst speak to you, we live in so much fear, and have often such want of meat, and are ever in such journeying, with cold and hunger and want of sleep, that for myself I count not life worth a straw. These sufferings I can no longer endure, and though I should die for it I must rest, wherever it be. Leave me therefore, I beg of you."

The king saw that he was overcome as he said, and outwearied with toil, and answered, "Sir Earl, we shall take order soon what may best be done. Wherever ye be God grant you defence from your enemies!"

With that he forthwith called those most privy to him, and among them they thought it best that the queen, the earl, and the ladies should at once go to Kildrummy with Neil the Bruce. For it was thought they might dwell securely there so long as they were well provisioned, since the castle was so strong that it could hardly be taken by force while there were men and meat inside.

Forthwith they did as they agreed. The queen and all her company mounted and fared forth. Men there might have seen the ladies weep at the leave-taking, and their faces wet with tears, and knights, for their love's sake, sigh and weep and make lament. They kissed their loves at parting, and the king bethought him of a plan. Thenceforth he would go on foot, and take good and evil fortune as a foot soldier, and would have no horsemen with him. So he gave all his horses to the ladies, who needed them.

The queen rode forth on her way, and came safely to the castle, where her people were well received, and comforted well with meat and drink. But no comfort could keep her from thinking of the king, who was so sore bested that he had but two hundred with him. The relief greatly helped the queen's little band. God Almighty help the king!

The queen dwelt thus in Kildrummy, and the king and his company, after sending away their horses, wandered among the high mountains and endured much suffering, for it was near winter, and so many enemies were about them, that all the country warred against them. Such dire hardship assailed them then, with hunger, cold, and bitter showers, as indeed none living can describe. The king saw how hard pressed his people were, and the sufferings they endured, and he saw winter coming near, and felt he could not hazard the cold lying out in the hills, and the long sleepless nights. He resolved to go to Cantyre, and sojourn there till winter was past, when without more delay he should return to the mainland, and drive his fate to a final issue. And since Cantyre lies in the sea, he sent before him Sir Neil Campbell, to get boats and food, setting a certain time when he should meet him at the coast.

Sir Neil Campbell, with his company, departed forthwith, leaving his brother with the king, and he so wrought that in twelve days he procured boats in plenty, and a great abundance of victuals, thus making noble provision. his kinsmen dwelt in that region, and they helped him right willingly.

After he was gone the king took his way to Loch Lomond, and came there on the third day. [A cave in Craigroyston, under Ben Lomond, is pointed out as the place where Bruce took up quarters.] But no boat could be found at the place to bear them over the water. Then were they greatly disheartened, for it was far to go about, and they were in doubt besides that they might meet their wide-spread enemies. Therefore they sought busily and diligently along the loch-side, till at last James of Douglas found a little sunken boat, and drew it with all speed to land. But it was so small that it could carry but three at a time over the water.

They sent word of it to the king, who was joyful at the discovery. He went first in the boat, and Douglas with him. The third was one who rowed them quickly across, and set them on dry land. The boat was rowed so constantly to and fro, fetching over always two at a time, that in a night and a day all were brought across. For some of them could swim well, and bear a burden on their back, and so with swimming and rowing, all were brought over, with their baggage. The king, the while, merrily read to those beside him the romance of the valiant Fierabras, [The famous Romance of Fierabras was printed for the Roxburgh Club in 1854.] who was gallantly overcome by the doughty Oliver; and how the Twelve Peers of France were besieged in Egremont by King Balan and more thousands than I can say. And they within were only eleven, and a woman, [Florippa, daughter of Balan.] and were so beset that they had no food but what they won from their foes. Yet they so bore themselves that they held the tower manfully till Richard of Normandy, despite his enemies, apprised the king. [Charlemagne.] He was joyful at the tidings, for he supposed they had all been slain. Therefore he turned again in haste, and won the bridge Man- treble, and passed the river Flagot, and presently severely defeated Balan and all his fleet, and freed his men, and won by his valour the nails and spear and crown that Jesus had borne, and a great part of the cross. [Relics carried off from Rome by Fierabras, and thus recovered by Charlemagne.]

Thus the Bruce encouraged those beside him and made them sport and diversion till all his people were ferried across.

When they had passed the broad water, though they had many enemies they made merry and were blithe. Nevertheless full many times they had the greatest lack of food. For this reason, in order to get venison they went in two parties. The king himself was in one, and Sir James of Douglas in the other. They took their way to the hills, and hunted a great part of the day, and searched woods, and set snares; but they got little to eat.

It happened by chance at that time that the Earl of Lennox was among the hills, near that place, and when he heard the horn-blowing and shouting he wondered what it could be, and he enquired in such a way that he knew it was the king. Then, without more delay, with all his company he went straight to the Bruce. He could not have been more glad and joyful, for he believed the king was dead, and was so much at a loss that he durst rest nowhere. Since the king was defeated at Methven he had heard no certain news of him. Therefore with the greatest delight he very humbly greeted him, and Bruce welcomed him right gladly, and kissed him very tenderly, and all the lords were right joyful of that meeting, and kissed him in great delight. It was most touching to see how they wept for pity and joy when they met their friends that they thought dead. They welcomed him most heartily, and he for pity wept again, being never so glad of a meeting.

Though I say they wept, it was no real weeping. For I trow, verily, that weeping comes to men as a displeasure, and that none weep without vexation, except women, who can wet their cheeks with tears when they list, though often enough nothing hurts them. But I know that, whatever such weeping may be called, great joy or pity may cause men to be so moved that water will rise from the heart and wet the eyes like tears, though it be not so in fact. For when men indeed weep the heart is sorrowful or vexed, but weeping for pity, I trow, is but an opening of the heart shewing the tender ruth it contains.

The barons thus by God's grace were come together. The earl had food in plenty, which he gladly gave them, and they ate it very gladly, asking for it no sauce but appetite, for their stomachs were well scoured. They ate and drank what they got, and gave praise and thanks to God with glad hearts that they had met their friends. The king then earnestly enquired how the earl and his folk had fared since he saw them. And they related the piteous adventures and distresses and poverty that had befallen them. The king had great sympathy with them, and told them in return the sorrowful distress, toil, and suffering he had himself endured. There was none, high or low, among them but felt pity and pleasure at the remembering of these past perils. For when men are at their ease it is wondrous pleasant to speak of bygone suffering, and the recounting of their old distress gives them encouragement and comfort. In this there is no blame, dishonour, shame, or wickedness.

After the meal, and when he had done asking questions, the king rose and got ready, with his company, and made haste towards the sea, where Sir Neil Campbell met them with food, sails, oars, and all things to speed their passage. Then they embarked, without more ado, some taking the helm and some the oar, and rowed by the Isle of Bate. There might be seen many a noble youth casting his eyes along the coast as he rose on the rowing oars; and fists, strong and square, used to the spanning of spears, might be seen spanning oars so earnestly that the skin often was left on the wood. For all were employed, knight and knave; there was none that could be spared from steering and rowing, to further them on their passage.

But at the time when they were taking ship the Earl of Lennox, I know not by what chance, was left behind with his galley till the king was far on his way. And when the people of his country knew that he lingered behind, they followed him in boats. He saw that he had not force enough to fight these traitors, and that he had no succours nearer than the king's fleet, so he hastened after it. But the traitors followed him so fast that they were near overtaking him. In spite of all he could do they came ever nearer and nearer. And when he saw them so near that he could even hear their threats, and them still coming nearer, he said to his men: "Unless we find some stratagem we shall very shortly be overtaken. Therefore I counsel that, without waiting longer, we east into the sea everything save our armour, and when the ship is so lightened we shall make such speed that we shall easily escape them. For they will delay to pick up our belongings, and we shall row without resting till we be escaped."

They did as he planned, and lightened their ship, and rowed with all their might, and she, being lightly built, sped sliding through the sea. And when their enemies saw the things floating more and more about them, they took them, and presently turned again, and so lost all their trouble.

When the Earl was thus escaped, with his followers, he hastened after the king, who had then arrived in Cantyre. The Earl told him all his adventure, how he had been chased at sea by those who should be his own people, and should certainly have been taken had he not heaved out all he had to lighten the ship, and so escaped.

"Sir Earl,"; said the king, "since thou hast escaped we shall make no complaint of the loss but I will say one thing, that it is folly to pass often from my host. For constantly, when thou art away, thou art stiffly assailed. Therefore methinks it were best for thee always to keep near me."

"Sir,"; said the earl, "it shall be so. I shall in no wise pass far from you till by God's grace we are strong enough to hold our purpose against our foes."

Angus of Islay was at that time lord of Cantyre. He right well received the king, and undertook to be his man, and him and his in many ways he devoted to his service. For greater security he gave him his castle of Dunaverty [The ruined stronghold of Dunaverty still stands on its tremendous precipice at the extremity of Cantyre. It was here at a later day that Alister M'Donald, 'Colkitto', the lieutenant of Montrose, with three hundred Highlanders, after a gallant defence surrendered to the Covenanting general on assurance of their lives, and were afterwards put to death.] to dwell in at his pleasure. The king thanked him greatly, and accepted his service. Notwithstanding, in many ways he ever feared treason, and therefore, I have heard tell, trusted securely in none till lie knew him utterly. But whatever fear he had, he showed always a fair countenance, and in Dunaverty he dwelt three days and more.

Then he made his men prepare to go over sea to Rathlin. This is an island midway between Cantyre and Ireland, where the tides run as strong and perilous to sea-farers as is the Race of Brittany or the Strait between Morocco and Spain. They set their ships to the sea, and made ready anchors, ropes, sails, and oars, and all things needed for a voyage. When they were prepared, they set out with a fair wind. They hoisted sail and fared forth, and quickly passed the Mull, and soon entered the tide-race. There the stream was so strong that wild breaking waves were rolling as high as hills.

The ships glided over the waves, for they had the wind blowing from the right point. Nevertheless had one been there he must have seen a great commotion of ships. For at times some would be right on the summit of the waves, and some would slide from the heights to the deeps, as if they would plunge to hell, then rise suddenly on a wave while other ships at hand sank swiftly to the depths. Much skill was needed to save their tackle in such a press of ships, and among such waves; for, ever and anon, the waves bereft them of the sight of land when they were close to it, and when ships were sailing near, the sea would rise so that the waves, weltering high, hid them from sight.

Nevertheless they arrived at Rathlin, each one safely, and each blithe and glad to have escaped the hideous waves. There they landed, armed in their best fashion. When the people of the region saw armed men arrive in their island in such number they fled hastily with their cattle towards a very strong castle in the country near that place. Women were to be heard crying aloud and seen fleeing with cattle here and there. But the king's folk, who were swift of foot, overtook and stopped them, and brought them back to the Bruce without any of them being slain. Then the king so dealt with them that they all, to please him, became his men, and faithfully undertook that they and theirs, under all circumstances and in all things, should be at his will. Also, while he chose to remain there, they would send victuals for three hundred men, and would hold him as their lord, but their possessions were to be their own, free, against all his men.

The covenant was thus made, and on the morrow all Rathlin, man and page, knelt and did homage to the king, and therewith swore him fealty and loyal service. And right well they kept the covenant, for while he dwelt in the island they found provision for his company, and served him very humbly.


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