William Wallace—The Black Parliament of Ayr
After this many people gathered round Wallace, so that he was soon at the head of an army of men all eager to drive the English out of Scotland. These men were nearly all of the common people, for most of the great lords were too proud to follow a leader who was only a poor gentleman. Besides, many of the great lords had lands both in England and in Scotland, and it did not seem to them to matter much whether Edward of England ruled over Scotland or not. Indeed, as in any case they had to do homage to him for their lands in England, some of them would have been glad that he should have been King of Scotland also, so that they might have only one master instead of two.
Wallace was clever as well as brave, and in a short time he had driven almost all the English out of the south of Scotland. The people loved him, and men, and women too, were ready to fight and die for him.
At last the English, seeing that they could not conquer Wallace, tried to take him by treachery. They pretended that they wished to make peace, and they invited Wallace and all the Scottish nobles who had joined him, to meet in a council in the town of Ayr.
The meeting was to be held in a large house, built of wood, just outside the town. This place was called the Barns of Ayr.
Glad at the thought of peace, and suspecting no evil, the Scottish knights and nobles agreed to come to the council. So, lightly armed and gaily clad, they rode along by twos and threes to the place of meeting.
All seemed peaceful and quiet. But as each man leapt from his horse and entered the barn he was seized, a rope was flung round his neck, and before he could utter a word he was hanged from the beams of the roof.
Knight after knight entered that awful house. Many went in, but none came out again. The English soldiers stood ready waiting, and silently and quickly did their cruel work.
Knight after knight came, but Wallace, Wallace the chief of all, the man whom they most wished to seize and kill, did not come.
He never came. For a woman, unseen by the soldiers, had crept close up to the barn. Something had warned her that within all was not fair and true. So she watched and waited, and at last she found out what deadly work was being done.
Not a moment did she waste. Fast as feet could carry her she sped away to warn Wallace. As she ran she met him galloping towards the Barns. He knew he was late, but he hoped yet to be in time to help to make peace for his country, so he urged his horse to greater speed.
"Oh hold you, hold you, brave Wallace!" cried the woman, as soon as she saw him. "Go not near the Barns of Ayr, for there the English have hanged all your best men like dogs."
Wallace stopped his horse, and as he listened to the woman's tale, he reeled in his saddle, as if he had been struck. Then he turned and went back to his men, his heart brimming over with rage and pain.
That night the English soldiers feasted and rejoiced over their cruel deeds. Then they lay down to sleep. Some of them slept in the very house in which they had killed so many brave and unsuspecting Scotsmen; others lay in houses near.
When all was dark and quiet, the woman who had warned Wallace went through the town. On every house in which the English slept she set a white mark.
Behind the woman came Wallace and his men. Wherever they saw the white mark, they piled up branches of trees and firewood against the house. When all was ready they set light to each pile. The houses were all built of wood, and soon the whole town was filled with the roar and crackle of flames, and the shrieks of the dying.
The English tried in vain to escape, for Wallace and his men stood round ready to kill them or to drive them back again into the flames. They cried for mercy, but the Scots had none. It was a cruel death, but those were cruel times, and the Scots had terrible wrongs to avenge.
In the morning nothing remained but smoking ruins strewn with dead. This was called the Black Parliament of Ayr. Some of the English had been quartered in the monastery near. When the Prior heard of what Wallace was doing he bade all the monks to rise and arm themselves. Then they fell upon the soldiers and put them all to death. The monks were as merciless as Wallace and his men had been, and the people called the slaughter The Friar of Ayr's Blessing.