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The Bruce
Book 6


Adventures of the Ford and the Sleuth-Hound

THE king went to his quarters, and tidings of his deed soon came to Sir Ingram Bell, who perceived that his subtlety and guile had wholly failed in that case, and was therefore sore vexed. He went back then to Lothian, and told Sir Aymer the whole matter. Sir Aymer was vastly astonished that any man could do so sudden and great a feat of arms as the king, who single-handed had taken vengeance on the three traitors.

"Certes," he said, "I can see how of a surety fate helps always the brave. Ye may know it by this deed. Had he not been so desperately brave he had not so undauntedly and so quickly seen his advantage. I fear his great prowess and endeavour will bring to pass what men meanwhile full little dream of."

Thus he spoke of the king.

Meanwhile Bruce ever, without rest, journeyed here and there in Carrick. His men were so scattered, to procure their needs and to spy the country, that not sixty were left with him. And when the people of Galloway knew for certain that he had only a small following, they made a secret gathering of over two hundred men. They took a sleuth-hound with them, for they planned to surprise him, and if he chanced to flee, to follow him with the hound that so be should not escape.

They thought to surprise him in the evening suddenly, and they held their way straight for the place where he was. But he, having his watches always set on every side, had word of their coming long ere they drew near, and knew who and how many they were. He settled, as it was near nightfall, to withdraw with his company from the place. Since it was night he thought the enemy should not be able to see the way by which he and his men went off.

He did as he planned, and made his way down to a morass on a running water, and in a bog, over two bow-shots from the spot where they had passed the water, he found a very strait place. "Here," said he, "ye may tarry, and lie down and rest you all a while. I will go and keep watch for you secretly if I hear aught of their coming, and if I should hear anything I shall have you warned, so that we shall not be taken at advantage."

The king took his way, and took two servants with him, and left Sir Gilbert de la Haye with his followers. He came to the water, and listened very intently if he might hear anything of the coming enemy; but he could hear nothing yet. Then he went along the water a great way in each direction, and saw that the banks stood high and the water ran deep through mud, and he found no ford which men could pass except where be himself had crossed. There, too, the ascent was so narrow that two men could not press up together, nor by any means manage to land abreast.

His two men he then bade hasten back to lie and rest with their fellows, while he should keep watch there.

"Sir," said they, "who shall be with you?" "God alone," he answered. "Pass on, for I wish it so."

They did as he bade, and he remained alone.

When he had waited there awhile he heard far off as it were the questing of a hound coming ever nearer and nearer. He stood still to listen more, and the longer he waited he heard it corning nearer. But he thought he would stand till he heard further token, for be would not waken his followers because of a hound's questing. So he made up his mind to wait and see what folk they were, and whether they came straight for him, or passed by another way.

The moon was shining clearly, and he stood long listening, till he saw at hand the whole rout coming at the greatest speed.

Then he hastily bethought him that, if he went to fetch his company, the enemy should everyone have passed the ford ere he could return, and that then his only choice must be either to flee or die. But his heart, ever stout and proud, counselled him to make a stand alone, and stop them at the ford side, and defend the up-coming. He was clad in armour, and need not dread their arrows, and if he put forth his strength he might discomfit them all since they could only come one by one.

He did as his heart bade him. Stark and extraordinary was his courage, when so stoutly, all alone, with little advantage of ground, he took on hand to fight two hundred and more.

Therewith he went to the ford, and they on the other side, seeing him stand singly there, rode in a throng into the water; for they had little doubt of the upshot, and made at him with the greatest speed.

He smote the foremost so hard with his sharp-cutting spear that he bore him to the earth. Then the rest came on in a furious rush. But the horse of him that was overthrown hindered them in taking the bank, and when the king saw this he stabbed the horse, and it lashed out and fell at the up-coming. At that with a shout the others came on. But he, stalwart and doughty, met them boldly at the bank, and dealt them such blows that he slew five in the ford. The rest then drew back a space, dreading his strokes wondrous sore, for he spared them no whit.

Then said one of them "Certes, we are to blame. What shall we say when we come home, when one man withstands us all? Who ever knew so foul a thing happen to any as to us if we leave matters thus?"

With that they all together gave a shout and cried "On him! he cannot last!" Then they pressed him so eagerly that, had he not been the better man he had without doubt been slain. But he made such stout defence that where his stroke fell straight nothing could stand against it. In a short space he laid so many low that the passage was stopped up with slain horses and men, and his enemies, for that hindrance, could not reach the bank.

Ah, dear God! whoever had been by, and seen how he so boldly bore himself against them all, I wot well they should have hailed him the best living in his time. And, if I may tell the truth, I have heard of none in times past who single-handed stopped so many.

History tells the story of Tydeus, sent by Polynices to his brother Etiocles, to ask possession of his heritage of Thebes for a year. They had come to strife because they were twins, for each sought to be king. But the barons of their country had caused them to agree that the one should be king a year, and then the other, and that the followers of the second brother should not be found in the country while the first was reigning. Then the second should reign a year, and the first should leave the land while he reigned. Thus always by turns each should reign a year. To ask possession by this agreement Tydeus was sent to Thebes, and he spake so for Polynices that Etiocles of Thebes bade his constable take fifty well-armed men, and go forth to meet Tydeus in the way, and slay him at once. The constable set forth, and took nine and forty with him, so that with himself they made fifty. In the evening secretly they set an ambush in the way by which Tydeus must pass, between a high crag and the sea. And he, knowing nothing of their ill intent, took his way towards Greece. And as ho rode in the night time he saw by the moon's light a shining of many shields, and marvelled what it might be. With that they all together gave a shout, and he hearing so sudden a noise was somewhat afraid. But in a moment ho right boldly plucked up his spirits, for his noble and valiant heart gave him assurance in that need. He struck his steed with the spurs, and rushed among them. The first he met he overthrew, then he swept out his sword, and dealt many blows about him, and very soon slew six. Then they killed his horse under him, and he fell. But he rose quickly, and striking about him, made room, and slew a number, though he was wounded wondrous sore. With that he found a little road striking up toward the crag. Thither he sped, defending himself doughtily, till he climbed somewhat into the crag, and found a well-enclosed place where only one could attack him. There he stood, and gave them battle. And they everyone made assault, and often it befell that, when he slew one, as the man was hurled to the ground he would bear down four or five. There he stood and defended himself thus till he had slain of them more than half. Then he saw beside him a great stone that by long rains was loosened and ready to fall. And when he saw them all coming, he tumbled the stone down on them, and therewith slew eight men, and so dismayed the rest that they nigh owned themselves beaten.

Then he no longer kept his fastness, but ran on them with naked sword, and hewed and slew with all his main, till he had slain nine and forty. Then he took the constable, and made him swear that he would go to King Etiocles and tell the chance that had befallen them.

Tydeus bore himself doughtily, who thus overcame fifty. Ye who read this, judge whether there should not be more praise for the Bruce, who deliberately undertook such a deed of valour as by himself fearlessly to oppose these two hundred men, or for Tydeus, who suddenly, after they had raised the shout against him, took courage, and alone slew fifty men. They did their deeds both in the night, and fought both in the moonlight; but more were discomfited by the king, and more were slain by Tydeus. Judge now whether Tydeus or the king should have the greater praise.

In the manner I have described, the king, stout, stark, and bold, fought at the ford's side, giving and taking wide wounds, till he made such martyrdom that he stopped all the ford, and none could ride at him. Then the enemy thought it folly to remain, and wholly took flight, and made homeward whither they had come. For with the outcry the king's men awaked, and in much alarm came to seek their lord. The Galloway men heard their coming, and fled, and durst no longer remain.

The king's men, fearing for their lord, right speedily came to the ford, and found the Bruce sitting alone, with his basnet off, to take the air, for he was hot. Then they asked him how he fared, and he told them all that had happened, how he was attacked, and how God so helped him that he escaped from his enemies whole. Next they looked how many were dead, and they found lying in that place fourteen slain by his hand. At that they gave diligent praise to God Almighty that they had found their lord whole and well, and said it behoved them in no way to dread their foes, since their chieftain was of such heart and strength that he had undertaken to fight for them himself alone against so many.

Such words spake they of the king, and for his high achievement wondered and delighted to look at him, these men who were wont to be always with him. All, how valour is to be prized! If it be constant it makes men renowned. Nevertheless the fame of valour is only to be won by great effort. Oft to defend and oft assail, and to be wise in their deeds makes men win the name of valour. No man can have honour who has not wit to guide his steed, and sense what to undertake or to leave alone. Valour has two extremes, foolhardiness and cowardice, and they are both to be avoided. Foolhardiness will venture all, things to leave alone as well as things to take up, while cowardice ventures nothing and utterly forsakes all. It were a marvel if this last fell out well, any more than want of discretion. For this reason is valour of such renown, that it is the mean betwixt these two, and ventures what should be ventured, and leaves what should be left alone; and it has such great store of sense as to see clearly all perils and all advantages. It would hold altogether to hardihood provided this were not foolish. For foolish hardihood is vice, but hardihood mixed with sense is ever true valour. Without sense there can be no valour.

This noble king ever mingled manhood with sense, as men may see by this fray. His sense showed him the narrow passage of the ford and the issue from it, and he judged that a valiant man could never be overcome there. Therefore, since only one could attack at a time, his stout heart quickly perceived that the defence could be undertaken. Thus hardihood governed by sense, as he always knit them together, made him famous for valour, and often overcame his enemies.

The king remained at rest in Carrick, and his men who were wandering over the country gathered eagerly to him when they heard tidings of this deed. For if he were so assailed again they wished to take their fate with him.

But James of Douglas was still wandering in Douglasdale, or near by, in secret hiding. He wished to see how he that had the castle in keeping ordered affairs, and he caused many a hazard to be made to see whether he would readily sally forth. When he had made sure that the castellan would sally forth readily with his company, Douglas secretly gathered those who were on his side. They were so many that they durst fight with Thirlwall and all the strength of the garrison.

He set out in the night for Sandilands, and there made a secret ambush, and chose a few to carry out a stratagem. Early in the morning these men took cattle that were near the castle, and withdrew them towards the ambush. Then Thiriwall forthwith caused his men to arm, and sallied forth with all the garrison, and pursued after the cattle. He was fully armed at all points except that his head was bare. He made after the cattle with his men with all speed fearlessly, till he got sight of them. Then they spurred with all their might, following them in disarray as they fled, till far past the ambush. And Thirlwall still chased eagerly on.

Then the men in ambush started out upon him, one and all, and raised a sudden shout. And the men of the castle, suddenly seeing folk come spurring between them and their place of safety, fell into the greatest affright, and finding they were out of array, some fled and some remained. And Douglas, who had a great company with him, assailed them eagerly, and quickly scattered them, and in a short time so dealt with them that hardly one escaped. Thirlwall, their captain, was slain in the encounter, with most of his men. The rest fled in terror. The followers of Douglas gave keen chase, and the fugitives made with all speed for the castle. The foremost entered headlong, but the pursuers sped so fast that they overtook some at the rear, and slew them without mercy. And when the men in the castle saw them slay their fellows at hand, they barred the gates quickly, and ran in haste to the walls. Douglas's company then rapidly seized all they found about the castle, and passed to their retreat. Thus Thirlwall sallied forth that day.

After this was done James of Douglas and his men made ready all together and went their way towards the king in great haste. For they heard tidings that Sir Aymer de Valence with a great host both of Englishmen and Scots were ready gathered with dire intent to seek the king, who was then with his followers in the most difficult part of Cumnock.

Thither went James of Douglas, and was right welcome to the king. And when he told the tidings, how Sir Aymer was coming to hunt him out of the land with hound and horn as if he were wolf or thief or thief's comrade, the king said, "It may hap that though he come, and all his power, we shall abide in this country. If he comes we shall see."

In this fashion spake the king. And Sir Aymer de Valence gathered a great company of noble and valiant men, of England and Lothian, and also took with him John of Lorne and all his strength, eight hundred and more, valiant and active men. He had also with him a sleuthhound so good that it would turn aside for nothing. Some men say yet that the king had reared this hound as a dog for the chase, and made so much of him as always to feed him with his own hand, so that the dog followed him wherever he went, and so loved him that he would in nowise part from him. How John of Lorne had the hound I never heard mention made, but men say it is certain that he had him in his possession, and through him thought to capture the king. For he knew he so loved him that from the moment he should once scent the king he would turn aside for nothing.

This John of Lorne hated the king for the sake of Sir John Comyn his uncle. Could he either slay or take him he would not value his life a straw, provided he could have vengeance upon him.

The Warden then, Sir Aymer, with John of Lorne in his company, and others of good renown— Thomas Randolph was one of these— came into Cumnock to seek the king.

Bruce was well aware of their coming, and was up then in the fastnesses, and full three hundred men with him. His brother was with him at the time, and also James of Douglas. He saw Sir Aymer's rout holding always to the plain and the low ground, and riding always in full battle array. The king, who had no idea they were more than he saw there, had eye to them and nowhere else, and wrought unwittingly. For John of Lorne full subtly planned to surprise him from behind, and marched with all his host round a hill, and kept always within covert, till he came so near to the king as to be almost upon him before he was perceived. The other host and Sir Ayrner pressed on the opposite side.

The king was thus in great jeopardy, beset on either side with foes who threatened to slay him, the smaller of these two hosts being stronger far and more in number than his. And when he saw them press towards him he considered hastily what should be done, and said, "Lords, we have not force at this time, to stand and fight. Therefore let us separate in three: so all shall not be assailed; and in three parties hold our way." And he told his council privately among themselves in what place their retreat should be. With that all set off, and took their way in three bodies.

Then John of Lorne came to the place from which the king had departed, and he set the hound on his track. Without stop the beast held a straight course after the king as if it knew him, and paid no heed to the two other companies.

And when the king saw him coming in a straight line after his company he thought he was recognized. Therefore he bade his followers separate yet again into three parties; and they did so without delay, and held their way in three directions. Again the hound showed its great skill, and held ever, without change, after the rout where the king was.

And when the Bruce saw them so follow all in a body after him, and not after his men, he had a great belief that they knew him. Accordingly in haste he bade his men at once scatter, and each man hold his way by himself. And they did this. Each man went his separate way, and the king took with him his foster-brother and no more, and together these two went on.

The hound always followed the king, and turned aside at no parting, but ever without wavering followed the Bruce's track, where he had passed. And when John of Lorne saw the hound draw so hard after him, and follow these two so straightly, he knew the king was one of them. He bade five of his company, men right bold and active, and the speediest on foot of all in his rout, to run after and overtake him. "And," he said, "let him in nowise escape you!" And the moment they had heard the order they held after the king, and followed him so swiftly that they very soon overtook him.

The king, when he saw them coming near, was greatly troubled, for he considered that, if they were doughty, they might occupy and delay him, and so hold him till the others came up. If he had only had these five to fear, I trow assuredly he would not have very greatly dreaded them.

To his fellow, as he went, he said, "Yonder five are coming fast, they are now very near at hand. Is there any help in thee, for we shall soon be attacked?"

"Yea, sir," he said, "all that I can."

"Thou sayest well," said the king. "I'faith, I see them coming near us. I will go no further, but abide right here, till I am in wind, and see what force they can put forth."

The king then stood right sturdily, and soon the five came in the greatest haste, with mighty clamour and menace. Three of them went at the king, and the other two, sword in hand, made stoutly at his man. The king met the three that made at him, and dealt such a blow at the first that he shore through ear and cheek and neck to the shoulder. The man sank down dizzily, and the two, seeing their fellow's sudden fall, were affrighted, and started back a little. With that the king glanced aside and saw the other two making full sturdy battle against his man. He left his own two, and leapt lightly at them that fought with his man, and smote off the head of one of them. Then he went to meet his own assailants, who were coming at him right boldly. He met the first so eagerly that with the sharp edge of his sword he hewed the arm from the body.

The strokes that were given I cannot tell, but so fairly it fell out that the king, though he had a struggle and difficulty, slew four of his foemen. Soon afterwards his foster-brother ended the days of the fifth.

And when the Bruce saw that all five were thus bereft of life, he said to his fellow, "Thou hast helped right well, I'faith!"

"It pleases you to say so," said he, "but ye took the greater share to yourself, who slew four while I slew one."

The king said, "As the game has gone, I might do it better than thou, for I had more leisure for it. The two fellows who fought with thee, when they saw me assailed, had no sort of doubt of me, for they thought me straitly beset. And because of that they feared me not, and I could trouble them very much the more."

With that the king looked past him and saw the company of Lorne with their sleuth-hound fast coming near. Then with his fellow he hastened towards a wood that was at hand. God in his great mercy save them!


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