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The Bruce
Book 5

The Return of the King

THIS was in spring, when winter, with its hideous blasts, was over, and small birds, like the throstle and nightingale, began merrily to sing, with their many different notes and pleasant melody; when the trees were beginning to bourgeon and blossom, and spread again the canopy that wicked winter had reft, and all the woods were beginning to grow green. Then it was that the noble king, with his fleet and small following—three hundred they might be—put to sea from Arran a little before evening.

They rowed diligently with all their strength, till night fell upon them, and it grew very dark, so that they knew not where they were. For they had no needle or lodestone, but rowed always in one direction, holding a straight course towards the fire, which they saw burning light and sure. It was chance only that led them, but they so sped that they shortly arrived at the fire, and landed without delay.

But Cuthbert, who had seen the fire, was full of wrath and grief, for he durst not put it out, and he was in fear that his lord might cross the sea. Therefore he awaited their coming, and met them as they arrived.

He was forthwith brought to the king, who asked him how he had fared. And with sore heart he told how he had found none well disposed, but all on the enemy's side. Also that the Lord Percy, with nigh three hundred in his company, filled with pride and hatred, was in the castle at hand.

More than two-thirds of his host, however, were quartered in the village outside. "And they hate you more, Sir King, than they hate aught else."

Then said the king, in the greatest wrath, "Traitor! Why madest thou the fire?"

"Ah, sir," he answered, "as God sees me, that fire was never made by me, nor knew I of it till night. But from the time I knew of it, I felt sure that you and your whole company would forthwith put to sea. Therefore I came to meet you here, and to tell the perils I know of."

At those words the king was vexed, and in haste asked his council what they thought it) best to do.

To this the first answer was made by the bold Sir Edward, his brother. "I tell you assuredly,"; said he, "that no peril that can appear shall drive me again to sea. My fortune I will take here, whether it be good or bad."

"Brother," said Bruce, "since thou wilt have it so, let us take together what God will send, suffering or comfort, weal or woe. And since it seems that Percy seeks to seize my heritage, and his host, filled with hatred for us, lies so near, let us avenge some of the hate. This we may very soon do, for they lie unguardedly without fear of us or of our coming here. And though we slew them all while they slept none should blame us for the deed. For a soldier should take no account whether he overcomes his foe by strength or subtlety, so long as he keeps good faith."

When this was said they went their way, and soon came to the village. So secret were they and noiseless, that none perceived their coming. They spread quickly through the place, and battered down doors, and slew all they could overtake. Their enemies, seeing they could make no defence, made most piteous shout and outcry; but they slew them without mercy, being of a mind to avenge the sorrow and evil that they and theirs had wrought. They pursued them with such dire intent that they slew everyone except only Macdowal, who escaped by cunning and the darkness of the night. [Macdowal of Galloway had seized two of Bruce's brothers, Thomas and Alexander, and delivered them up to Edward.]

In the castle the Lord Percy heard the noise and shouting. So did the men that were within with him, and in great fear they ran to arms. But none of them were so bold as sally forth to the outcry. In this terror they passed the night, till at daylight on the morrow the greater part of the uproar, slaughter, and outcry ceased. The king then caused the whole of the plunder to be shared among his men, and remained three days quietly in that place.

Such was the foretaste he gave the enemy at the very beginning, when he was newly arrived.

After his coming Bruce dwelt in Carrick for a time, to see who should be friend or foe. But he found little kindliness, for, though some of the people were inclined to him, the English so ruled them with danger and fear that they durst show him no friendship.

But a lady of that country, who was his near kinswoman, [According to Fordoun the lady was 'a certain noblewoman, Christian of the Isles, and it was by her help and power and goodwill that Bruce was enabled to return to Carrick.'] was wondrous glad at his arrival, and made great haste to join him, bringing fifteen men, whom she gave to the king to help him in his warfare. He received them with much pleasure, and very greatly thanked her, and forthwith asked tidings of the queen and all the friends he had left in the country when he crossed the sea.

And sighing full sore she told him how his brother was taken in the castle of Kildrummy, and afterwards villainously destroyed. Also of the Earl of Atholl, [Atholl was executed in London.] and how the queen and others belonging to his party were taken and led into England and thrown cruelly into prison, and how Christopher of Seton was slain. Weeping she told these things to the king, and he was sorrowful at the tidings. And when he had thought a little while, he said these words:

"Alas! for love of me and for much good loyalty these noble and valiant men are villainously destroyed! But if I live in my full strength their death shall be right well avenged. Albeit the King of England thought the kingdom of Scotland too small for him and me, I will have it all mine. But for good Christopher of Seton, who was of such noble renown, it was piteous that he should die except where he could have proved his valour."

Thus the king sighed and mourned. And the lady took her leave and went home, and many a time she helped Bruce both with silver and with such food as she could get in the country. He also harried the land often, and made all his own that he found, and afterwards drew to the hills, the better to withstand the strength of his enemies.

During all that time Percy, with a most harmless company, lay in Turnberry Castle, in such dread of King Robert that he durst not sally forth to pass to the castle of Ayr, which was full of Englishmen. But he lay lurking as in a den till the men of Northumberland should come with arms and strength, as he had sent word, to convoy him to his own country. His friends there had hastily come together, over a thousand men, and they took counsel among themselves whether they should go or stay. They were wondrous fain to shun a journey so far into Scotland. A knight, Sir Walter the Lisle, said it was too great a peril to go so near the wandering folk, and his word so dismayed them all that they would have altogether given up the journey, had not a knight of great courage, Sir Roger of St. John, encouraged them with all his strength of mind, and spoken such words to them that they held their way all together to Turnberry. Then Percy took horse, and spurred with them into England, where he reached his castle without disturbance or hurt. There I trow he was like to lie a while ere he sought to go and ravage Carrick further. For he knew he had no right on his side, and he also dreaded the might of the king, who was then wandering in Carrick, where the chief strength of the land lay.

Then one day Douglas came to the Bruce, and said, "Sir, with your leave I would go see how they fare in my country, and how my men are treated. For it troubles me wondrous sore that Clifford so peaceably enjoys and holds the lordship that should by every right be mine. But while I live and have power to lead a yeoman or a hind, he shall not enjoy it without a struggle."

"Certes," said the king, "I cannot see how it can yet be safe for thee to journey into that country, where the English are so strong, and thou knowest not who is thy friend."

"Sir," said he, "needs must that I go, and take the fortune God will give, whether it be to live or die."

"Since thou hast so great a desire to go," the king replied, "thou shalt go forward with my blessing, and if any trouble or hurt happen thee, I pray thee speed at once to me, that we take together whatever may befall."

"I agree," said Douglas, and therewith he bowed low and took his leave, and passed towards his own country.

He set out for his heritage with two yeomen and no more. It was a small force to take to win a land or castle.

Nevertheless he was eager to make a beginning with his enterprise. For much lies in a beginning. A good and bold beginning, if wisely followed up, oft-times causes an unlikely matter to come to a right happy issue.

It did so here. But he was wise, and saw he could in nowise harry his foes with equal force. Therefore he planned to work by stratagem.

It was evening when he entered his own country of Douglasdale. There was a man dwelt near by, Thomas Dickson by name, who was strong in friends and rich in goods and cattle. He had been loyal to the father of Douglas, and to Douglas himself in his youth, and had done many thankworthy deeds. To this man he sent, and begged him to come by himself to speak privately with him. He came without difficulty, and when Douglas told him who he was he wept for joy and pity, and had him straight to his house, and kept him and his company in a chamber secretly, so that none knew of them. There they had plenty of meat and drink and all else that might pleasure them.

Dickson wrought then so shrewdly that he caused all the true men of the country who had followed the father of Douglas to come one by one and do him homage, and he did so first himself.

Douglas was right glad of heart that the good men of his country were willing to be so bound to him. He enquired of the state of the country, and who held the castle, and they told him everything. Then they arranged among them privately that he should keep still in hiding till the third day after, which was Palm Sunday; for then the folk of the countryside would be assembled at the kirk, and the men of the castle would also be there to bear their palms, fearing no hurt because they thought everything was at their will. Then should lie come with his two men, but in order that men should not know him, he should have a mantle old and bare, and a flail as if he were a thresher. Nevertheless secretly under the mantle he should be armed, and when the men of his country, who should all be ready before him, heard him shout his battle-cry, they should assail the English in the midst of the kirk with all their might, so that none should escape. By this means they trusted to take the castle, which was near hand.

When this was planned and agreed each one went to his house, and kept the news secret till the day of their coming together.

On the Sunday the people held their way to St. Bride's Kirk, and the men of the castle, every one except a cook and a porter, passed out to carry their palms. James of Douglas had word of their coming, and hastened to the kirk. But too hastily, before he reached it, one of his men cried "Douglas! Douglas!" And Thomas Dickson, being nearest the men of the castle, who were all in the chancel, when he heard the shout of "Douglas!" drew his sword and rushed among them. Only one other was with him, and they were soon slain.

With that Douglas, coming up, raised the cry loudly upon them. They held their chancel right stoutly, and defended themselves well, till several of their men were slain. But Douglas bore himself so well that all the men with him were encouraged by his prowess, and he spared himself in no way, but so approved his might in battle, and by his bravery and strength so keenly helped his men, that they won entrance to the chancel. Then they drove at their enemies so boldly that shortly two-thirds of them lay dead or dying. The rest were soon seized, so that of thirty was left none that was not slain or a prisoner.

James of Douglas, when this was done, took the prisoners, and, before any noise or outcry could arise, went hastily to the castle with his men. And in order to surprise those left in the castle, he sent before him five or six, who found the whole entrance open, and took the porter at the gate, and afterwards the cook. With that, Douglas reached the gate, and entered without hindrance, and found the meat all ready prepared, with tables set and cloths laid. The gates then he caused to be shut, and sat and ate at full leisure. Then they packed up all the goods they thought they could take away, especially weapons and armour, silver treasure and clothing. And the victual that could not be packed up he destroyed in this manner. All the provender, except salt, such as wheat, malt, flour, and meal, he caused to be brought into the wine-cellar and thrown all together on the floor, and he caused each of the prisoners he had taken to be beheaded there. Afterwards he struck out the heads of the tuns, and made a foul mixture, for meal, malt, blood, and wine ran all together in a mess unseemly to see. Therefore, because such things were mingled there, the folk of that country called it 'the Douglas Larder'. Then he took the salt and dead horses, and fouled the well, and afterwards burned everything that was not stone, and passed forth with his followers to his place of retreat. For he bethought him that if be held the castle it should soon be besieged, and this he deemed too great a peril, since he had no hope of rescue, and it is too dangerous a venture to be besieged in a castle wanting these three things—victual, or men-at-arms, or good hope of rescue. And because he feared these things should fail him be chose to fare forth where he could be at liberty, and so drive forward his destiny. [Referring to this policy, he said he would "rather hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak."]

Thus was the castle taken, and each one in it slain. Douglas then caused his following to quarter separately in many places, and in order that it should be less known where they were, they dispersed here and there. The wounded he caused to lie in secret hiding, and had surgeons brought to them till they were whole. Himself with a small company, sometimes one, or two, or three, or quite alone, went in hiding about the country. So feared he the might of the English that he durst not come in sight; for at that time they were ruling everything as overlords throughout the land.

But the tidings of the deed Douglas had done soon spread, and came to Clifford's ear. He was vexed at his loss and lamented his men who had been slain, and forthwith made up his mind to build the castle again. Therefore, being a man of great power, he got together a large company, and went straightway to Douglas, and quickly built up the castle, and made it stout and strong, and put men and victual therein. Then he left one of the Thirlwalls behind as captain, and went again to England.

The king was still in Carrick with a very small gathering, not more than two hundred men. But Sir Edward his brother was in Galloway, not far away, with another company. They held the strong places of the country, for they durst not yet take on hand to ride over the land openly.

Sir Aymer de Valence, Warden of Scotland under the English king, was lying in Edinburgh when he heard of the coming of King Robert and his force into Carrick, and how he had slain the Percy's men. Then he assembled his council, and with its approval sent to Ayr, to assail Bruce, a stout knight, Sir Ingram Bell, and a great company with him.

And when Ingram was come there it seemed to him not expedient to move to attack Bruce in the high country. Therefore he thought to work by stratagem, and lay still in the castle, till he got word of a man of Carrick, who was cunning and active and of great strength, such as the men of that country are. This man was in King Robert's confidence, being his near kinsman, and when he would, could without difficulty enter the king's presence. Nevertheless he and his two sons dwelt yet in the country, as they would not have it known that they were intimate with the king. They gave him warning many a time, when they saw anything to his hurt. For this he trusted them. The man's name I cannot tell, but I have heard sundry men say, forsooth, one of his eyes was out, but he was so sturdy and stout as to be the most doughty man then in Carrick.

And when Sir Ingram was assured that this was no lie, he sent after him, and the man came at his command. Sir Ingram, who was cunning and sagacious, dealt with him in such wise that he made a sure undertaking by treason to slay the king. For this service he was to have, if he carried out their plan, forty pounds worth of land settled on himself and his heirs.

The treason thus undertaken, he went home and waited an opportunity to fulfil his wickedness. Then was the king in great peril, knowing nothing of the treason, for the man be trusted most of all had falsely undertaken his death, and none can do a treason more readily than he whose loyalty is trusted. The king trusted him. For this reason he would have accomplished his felony had not the Bruce, by God's grace, got knowledge of his attempt, and why, and for how much land he had undertaken the slaughter.

I know not who gave the warning, but at all times it was the king's fortune that when men set out to betray him he got knowledge of it. Many a time, I have heard tell, women with whom he dallied would tell him all they could hear, and so it may have happened in this case. But, however it befell, indeed, I trow he was the more wary.

This traitor ever had it in his thought, night and day, how he could best bring to an end his treasonable undertaking. Till at last he bethought him, and recalled to mind that it was the king's custom to rise early every day and pass far from his host, where he would be private, and seek a covert by himself, or have at most one with him. There thought the traitor, with his two sons, to surprise and slay the king, and then flee away to the forest. Yet they failed— of their purpose.

Nevertheless they went all three into a secret covert where the king was wont to go. There they hid till his coming. And in the morning, when it was his pleasure, the king rose, and went straight to the covert where the three traitors were lying. He had no thought then of treason, but he was wont, wherever he went, to bear his sword about his neck, and this availed him greatly here. For had not almighty God set help in his own hand he had without doubt been slain. A chamber page went with him, and thus, without more followers, he passed to the covert.

Now, unless God helped the noble king, he was near his end. For the covert he went to was on the farther side of a hill, where none of his men could see. Thither went he and his page. And when he was come into the wood he saw these three come sturdily against him, all in a row.

Then he said quickly to his boy, "Yonder men will slay us if they can! What weapon hast thou?"

"Ah, sir! indeed I have but a bow and a bolt." "Give me them both quickly!"

"Ah, sir! what will ye then that I do?"

"Stand afar and behold us. If thou seest me get the upper hand thou shalt have weapons plenty; and if I die withdraw thee quickly."

With these words, without delay he seized the bow out of his hand, for the traitors were coming near. The father had a sword only, the second man carried both sword and hand-axe, the third had a sword and a spear. The king saw by their bearing that all was true that had been told him.

"Traitor," he said, "thou hast sold me. Come no further, but hold thee there. It is my will that thou come no further."

"Ah, sir! bethink you," said he, "how near I should be to you. Who should come so near to you as I?"

The king said, "I will assuredly that at this time thou comest not near. Thou may'st say what thou wilt at a distance."

But the man, with false, flattering words, was, with his sons, ever advancing. When the king saw he would not stop, but ever came on, feigning falsely, he strung the bolt and let it fly, and hit the father in the eye, piercing to the brain, and he fell backward on the spot. The brother who bore the hand-axe, when he saw his father lying there, made a spring at the king, and struck at him with the axe; but the Bruce had his sword up and dealt him a blow with such downright force, that he caved the head to the brain, and laid him dead on the ground. The second brother, who carried the spear, saw his brother fall, and full of grief made a rush at the king. But the Bruce, who feared him somewhat, waited the spear as it came, and with a swift blow struck off its head, and ere the other had leisure to draw his sword, gave him a stroke that clove his skull, and he fell of a heap all red with blood.

When the king saw they were all three lying dead he wiped his brand. With that his boy came running fast, and said "Our Lord be praised, who granted you strength and might to lay low in so little space the felony and pride of these three!"

The king said, "As Our Lord sees me! they had been valiant men all three had they not been full of treachery. But that wrought their confusion."


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