Adventures of the Ford and
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
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
"Sir," said they, "who
shall be with you?" "God alone," he answered. "Pass on, for I wish it
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
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
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
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!