Escapes and Surprises
THE king, weary, drenched
with sweat, and all at a loss, went toward the wood, and soon entering
it, held down towards a vale where a water ran. Thither he hastened, and
began to rest, and said he could fare no farther.
His man said, "Sir, that
cannot be. Abide here, and ye shall soon see five hundred eager to slay
you; there are many against two. Since we cannot compass our escape by
strength, let us help ourselves all we can by craft."
"Since thou wilt so,"
said the king, "go forward and I shall go with thee. I have oftimes
heard say that if one should wade a bowshot along a stream, he should
cause both the sleuth-hound and his leaders to lose the scent. Prove we
now if it be so. For were yonder devil's hound away, I should reek
nothing of the rest."
They did as he planned.
Entering the stream, they held their way along it, and afterwards took
to the bank, and went on as before.
And John of Lorne with
great array came to the place where his five men were slain. He lamented
when he saw them, and said, after a little while, that he should
speedily avenge their blood. Otherwise, however, went the game.
He made no delay there,
but hastened after the king, and came to the stream side. Here the
sleuth-hound stopped, and wavered to and fro, but could go no certain
way. And at last John of Lorne perceived the hound had lost the scent,
and said, "We have lost this labour. It is useless to go farther, for
the wood is both, broad and wide, and he is far off by this time. Let us
therefore turn back and waste no more labour in vain." With that he
rallied his company and took his way to the host.
Thus the noble king
escaped. But some say his deliverance fell out in other fashion. They
say the king had a good archer, who, when he saw his lord left all
alone, ran always by him on foot till he was gone into the wood. Then he
said to himself that he should tarry there and see whether he could slay
the hound. For he knew full well that if the hound lived John of Lorne
and his men would follow the king's trace till they took him. He put his
life on the venture to succour his lord, and stood lurking in a covert
till the hound came near. Then he slew him swiftly with an arrow, and
withdrew through the wood. But, whether the escape of Bruce befell as I
first said, or in this fashion, I know that for certain the king got
away at the stream.
The Bruce went his way,
and John of Lorne went again to Sir Aymer, who had returned with his men
from the pursuit. In that chase they had made but little speed, for
though they followed right eagerly, they gained but little; nearly all
their foes escaped. It is said that in the pursuit Sir Thomas Randolph
captured the king's banner, and by that deed earned the greatest praise
and esteem from Edward in England.
When the pursuers were
rallied, and John of Lorne met them, he told Sir Aymer all that had
happened, how the king had escaped, and how he had slain the five men,
and then taken to the forest.
When Sir Aymer heard this
he crossed himself for wonder, and said, "He is greatly to be esteemed,
for I know none living who can so help himself in mischance. I trow he
should be hard to slay if he were furnished equally."
Meanwhile the good king
and his man held forward on their way till they had passed through the
forest. Then they entered a wide upland moor. Ere they had crossed half
of it, they saw on one side three men coming, like idle and wandering
fellows. They had swords and axes, and one of them bore a great wether
bound upon his neck.
They met the king, and
greeted him, and he returned their greeting, and asked whither they
went. They said they sought Robert the Bruce, if they could meet with
him, and wished to find quarters with him.
"If that be your wish,"
said the king, "go forward with me, and I shall soon bring you to him."
They perceived by his
speech and his bearing that be was the king, and they changed
countenance and demeanour, and kept not in their first bearing; for they
were foes to the king, and thought to come in treacherously, and abide
with him till they saw their time, and take his life. They agreed,
therefore, to what he said, but he right shrewdly perceived by their
bearing that they nowise loved him.
"Comrades," he said,
"till we be further acquainted ye must all three go forward by
yourselves, and in the same way we two shall follow close behind you."
"Sir," said they, "there
is no need to think any ill toward us."
"Neither do I," he
answered, "but I desire that ye go before us till we be better known to
"We agree," they said,
"since ye will have it so." And they went forward on their way.
Thus they marched till it
was near night, when they came to a large farmhouse. There the men slew
the wether they carried, and made a fire to roast the meat. And they
asked the king if he would eat, and rest him till the meat were
prepared. To this he agreed readily, being hungry, I promise. But he
said he would sit apart with his companion at one fire, and the three
should make another fire in the end of the house.
This they did. They drew
to the house end, and sent him half the wether, and roasted their meat
quickly and fell to eating right keenly.
The king had fasted long
and travelled far, therefore he ate eagerly. And when he had eaten he
had a great desire to sleep, which he could not resist. For when the
veins are filled the body ever becomes heavy, and heaviness draws to
sleep. Being thus overwearied, and seeing that he must needs sleep, he
said to his foster-brother, "Can I trust thee to keep watch while I take
a little sleep?"
"Yea, sir," he answered,
"while I can hold out."
Then the king nodded a
little space. He did not sleep altogether, but glanced up often
suddenly, for he feared the three men at the other fire, whom he knew to
be his foes. Therefore he slept like the bird on the bough.
He had slept but little
thus when such a heaviness fell on his man that he could not keep his
eyes open, but fell asleep and snored loudly.
The king was now in great
peril, for should he sleep thus a little while he must surely be slain.
The three traitors took good heed that he and his man were asleep, and
forthwith they rose up, and drew their swords, and made swiftly at him
as he slept, and thought to slay him ere he could wake.
They went a great part of
the way towards him, but at that moment, by God's grace, the king
blinked up, and saw his man sleeping beside him, and the three traitors
coming. He sprang nimbly to his feet, and drew his sword, and met them.
And as he went he set his foot heavily on his man. The man wakened, and
rose dizzily, but the sleep so mastered him that, ere he got up, one of
them coming to slay the king gave him such a stroke that he could help
him no more.
Then was the king more
straitly beset than he had ever yet been, and but for the armour he wore
he had assuredly been slain. Nevertheless he fended himself so in that
struggle, that by God's grace and his own manhood he slew the three
His foster-brother was
slain, and he was wondrously at a loss when he saw he was left alone. He
lamented his foster-brother, and cursed all the other three, and set out
alone towards his meeting-place.
He went forth wrathful and vexed, tenderly mourning his man, and held his way all alone towards the house where he had agreed to meet his men.
It was then very late at night. Presently be came to the house, and
found the goodwife sitting on the settle. She asked him straightway what
he was, and whence he came, and whither he went.
"I am a wandering man,
dame," said he, "that journeys here through the country."
"All wanderers," she
answered, "are welcome here for the sake of one."
The king replied, "Good
dame, who is he that causes you to have such special liking for
"Indeed, sir," quoth the
goodwife, "I shall tell you. He is our good king, Robert the Bruce, who
is rightful lord of this country. His enemies now keep him in distress,
but I look ere long to see him lord and king over all the land, so that
no enemies shall withstand him."
"Dame, dost thou love him
so well?" said he. "Yea, sir," she said, "as God sees me."
"Dame," said he, "behold
him beside thee, for am he."
"Speak ye truly?" she
"Yea, certes, dame!"
"And where are your men
gone, that ye are thus alone?"
"At this moment, dame, I
"It must in nowise be
so," she cried, "I have two bold and active sons. They shall forthwith
become your men."
They did as she devised,
and there and then became the king's sworn men. Then the woman made him
sit and eat. But he had been only a short while at the meal when they
heard a great stamping about the house. Then at once they started up to
defend the place, but soon afterwards the king knew James of Douglas.
Then was he blithe, and bade them quickly open the doors, and his men
came in, all that there were. Sir Edward the Bruce was there, as well as
James of Douglas, who had escaped from the pursuit, and had met the
king's brother, and hastened with him to the appointed trysting place,
with a company of a hundred and fifty men.
When they saw the king
they were joyful at the meeting, and asked how he had escaped. He told
them all that had happened; how the five men had desperately beset him,
and how he had passed through the stream, and met the three thieves, and
should have been slain sleeping, but that he wakened, through God's
grace; and how his foster-brother was killed. Then all together they
praised God that their lord had escaped.
They talked a while back
and forth, till at last the king said, "Fortune has troubled us this
day, scattering us so suddenly. Our foes will lie securely to-night, for
they think we are so scattered and in flight here and there that we
shall not be gathered together these three days. Wherefore if one knew
their camping-place, and came suddenly upon them, he might easily with a
handful of men do them hurt, and escape without damage."
"By my faith," said James
of Douglas, "as I came hitherward I passed by chance so near their
quarters that I can bring you where they lie. And if ye make speed ye
may yet, before morning, do them a greater hurt than they have done us
all day, for they lie scattered as they list."
Then all agreed it was
best to hasten and come at them, and they did so forthwith, and came on
them at daybreak, as the light began to appear.
It so happened that a
company had taken quarters in a village a mile or more from the host.
Two thousand, they were said to be. There the noble king directed his
attack, and presently, all his force having come up, the sleepers were
assailed and a hideous uproar arose. Others that heard the cry ran forth
in such fear that some were naked fleeing hither and thither, and some
dragged their arms after them. The Bruce's men slew them without mercy,
and took such cruel vengeance that in that spot more than two-thirds of
them were slain. The rest fled to their host.
When that host heard the
noise and cry, and saw its men come fleeing naked here and there so
wretchedly, some whole and some sore wounded, it rose in great affright,
and each man went to his standard, so that the army was all astir. The
king and those with him, when they saw the enemy thus afoot, set out for
their place of refuge, and soon reached it.
And when Sir Aymer heard
how the king had slain his men and retired, he said, "Now may we clearly
see that a noble heart, wherever it be, is hard to overcome by force.
For where the heart is valiant it is ever stubborn against difficulty,
and I trow no fear can discourage it utterly, so long as the body is
free. As much may be seen from this encounter. We deemed Robert the
Bruce so discomfited that, as well as could be judged, he should have
neither courage nor desire to undertake such hazard. For he was so far
mastered as to be left alone, and parted from all his folk, and he was
so over-wearied by the pursuit of his assailants that he should have
desired rest rather than fighting or marching. But his heart is full of
valour, and cannot be conquered."
Thus spake Sir Aymer. And
when his companions saw how their labour bad been in vain, and how the
king had slaughtered their men, and was at full liberty, and that they
could not trouble him, it seemed to them folly to remain longer there.
They said this to Sir Aymer, and he forthwith determined to go to
Carlisle and sojourn there for a time, and keep spies about the Bruce,
to know always what he did. His plan was, when he saw his chance, to
dash with a great force suddenly at the king. So he took the road for
England, with all his company, and each man went to his own house. He
himself went to Carlisle with intent to stay there till he saw his
Meanwhile Bruce remained
in Carrick with all his gathering, and would sometimes go hunting there
with his men. So it happened that one day he went to hunt, to see what
game was in that country, and it chanced that he sat by a wood side with
his two hounds alone, but having his sword, which he always carried. He
had sat but a short time there, when he saw coming speedily towards him
from the wood three men with bows in their hands, and he straightway
perceived by their appearance and manner that they nowise loved him.
He rose and drew his
leash to him, and let his hounds go free.
God for his greatness'
sake now help the king; unless he now be wise and strong he shall be set
in great distress. For these three men were assuredly his deadly foes,
and had watched busily to see when they could take vengeance on him for
John Comyn's sake. That chance they now thought they had, and seeing him
alone in the spot, they thought to slay him forthwith. If they could
manage, after they had slain the king, to reach the wood again, they
should have nothing to fear, they thought, from his men.
They went quickly towards
him, and bent their bows as they came near, and he, greatly fearing
their arrows, for he was without armour, made haste to speak to them.
"Of a sooth," he said, "ye should be ashamed, since I am one and ye are
three, to shoot at me from a distance! But if ye be brave men, come near
and try me with your swords. Vanquish me in that way, if ye can, and ye
shall all win much greater fame."
"By my faith," then said
one of the three, "no man shall say we dread thee so greatly that we
must slay thee with arrows."
With that they cast away
their bows, and came on at once.
The king met them boldly,
and smote the foremost so hard that he fell dead on the green. And when
the king's hound saw these men thus assail his master, he sprang at one
and took him so fiercely by the throat that he threw him head over
heels. Then the king, who had his sword up, and saw himself succoured so
well, ere the fallen man could rise again, attacked him in such fashion
that he broke his back. The third man, when he saw his fellows thus
slain beyond recovery, took his way to the wood again. But the king
followed quickly, as well as the hound beside him, and the dog, seeing
the man go from him, dashed swiftly at him, and took him by the throat,
and drew him down. And the king, being near enough, gave him such a
stroke as he rose that he dropped to the ground stone-dead.
The king's company, which
was near, when they saw their master so suddenly attacked in this
fashion, sped in haste to him, and asked how the chance befell, and he
told them fully how all the three had assailed him.
"Indeed," said they, "we
can well see it is a difficult venture to take on hand such an encounter
with you, since without hurt you have so quickly slain these three."
"In truth," said he, "I
slew no more than one. God and my hound slew the other two. Their
treason, indeed, overwhelmed them, for right stout men were they all
When the king thus, by
God's grace, had escaped, he blew his horn, and his good men rallied
quickly to him, and he made ready to fare homewards, for he would hunt
no more that day.
He lay for some time in
Glentrool, and went very often to enjoy the hunt and get venison for his
men, for the deer were then in season. All that time Sir Aymer, with a
noble company, lay in Carlisle, watching his chance. And when he heard
for certain that the king was in Glentrool, and went to hunt and
enjoy himself, he thought to come upon him suddenly with his armed
force. By leaving Carlisle and making a forced march, riding all night,
and keeping in cover during the day, he thought he should surprise the
king. Accordingly he got together a great host, folk of the greatest
renown, both Scots and English. They held their way all together, and
rode by night, so that they reached the wood near Glentrool, where the
king had his quarters, without his knowing aught of their coming.
He was now in great
peril. Unless God by His great might should save him, he must be taken
or slain; for they were six where he was one.
I have heard that when
Sir Aymer with his stalwart following came within a mile of the king, he
took counsel with his men in what manner they should act. He told them
the Bruce was lodged in so strait a place that horsemen could not attack
him, and if footmen gave him battle he should be hard to vanquish if he
were warned of their coming. "Therefore I counsel that we send a woman
secretly to spy upon him. Let her be poorly dressed, and ask food for
pity's sake, and see their whole arrangement, and how they lie, while we
- and our host are coming through the wood on foot, arrayed as we are.
If we can so manage that we come upon them there, before they know of
our coming, we shall find no stoppage in them."
This counsel they thought
the best, and they straightway sent forward the woman who was to be
their spy, and she quickly made her way to the lodges where the king,
fearing no surprisal, went blithe and merry and unarmed.
Very soon he saw the
woman, and knew her a stranger, and therefore looked at her the more
carefully, and by her countenance bethought him that she was come for no
good. Then he quickly made his men seize her, and she, fearing they
should slay her, told them how Sir Aymer, with the Clifford and the
flower of Northumberland in his company, were coming upon them, and at
When the king heard these
tidings he armed at once, as did all that were there, and they gathered
in a close body, near three hundred in number, I believe. And when they
were all come together the king caused his banner to be displayed, and
set his men in good array.
They had stood but a
little while when they saw, close to them, their enemies coming through
the wood on foot, armed, spear in hand, and hastening with all their
The noise and outcry soon
began, for the good king, who was foremost, made boldly at his foes, and
snatched a bow and broad arrow out of a man's hand, who was going beside
him, and hit the foremost enemy in the throat so that windpipe and
weasand were split in two and he fell to the ground.
At that the others
paused. Then at once the noble king took the banner from his standard-
bearer, and cried, "Upon them, for they are vanquished all!" And with
that word he swiftly swept out his sword, and ran so boldly upon hem
that all his company took hardihood from this bravery. Even some that at
first had made off came again hastily to the fight, and met their foes
so furiously that all the foremost were overthrown.
And when they that were
behind saw the foremost borne back they turned and fled out of the wood.
The king slew few of them, for they right soon made off. It altogether
discomfited them to find the king and his company thus fully armed to
defend the place which they thought to have won by stratagem without
fighting. This suddenly dismayed them, and when he made at them so
fiercely they ran with the greatest speed out of the wood again to the
plain. By the failing of their purpose at that time they were foully
disgraced. Fifteen hundred men and more were beaten by a handful, and
they retreated shamefully.
For this reason there
arose among them a sudden and great debate and difference, each with the
other, regarding their mischance. Clifford and Vaux came to strife.
Clifford hit Vaux a buffet, and the others drew to sides. But the wise
Sir Aymer, with much trouble, parted them, and returned home to England.
He knew that if strife rose among them he should not keep them together
long. He returned to England with more shame than he brought out of it,
seeing so many, of such renown, beheld so few offer them battle, and
were not bold enough to make an attack.