Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Malcolm Canmore—How the King Overcame a Traitor

Prince Malcolm was now set upon the throne. He was crowned at Scone with great ceremony, sitting upon the Stone of Destiny, or the Stone of Hope as it was sometimes called.

This stone, it was said, was the stone which Jacob had used as a pillow when he slept in the wilderness and saw the vision of angels going up and down upon a ladder set up from earth to heaven. Prince Gathelus had brought it with him from Egypt, and from that time it had always been in the possession of the Kings of Scotland, for it was said that wherever this stone was the Scots should reign.

"Except old saws do fail,

And wizards' wits be blind,

The Scots in place shall reign

Where they this stone shall find."

When Kenneth Macalpine became King over the whole land, he brought the Stone to Scone, and there it remained for hundreds of years, and the Kings of Scotland always sat upon it when they were crowned.

Malcolm did not forget his promise to Macduff, and as soon as he was King he rewarded him greatly, making him second only to himself in power.

Macduff was now called the Earl of Fife, for Malcolm having lived so long in England had learned many English ways and words, and he brought this Saxon title into use in Scotland.

To the Earl of Fife was given the honour of placing the crown upon the King's head at his coronation. He was also chosen to be leader of the army, and over the people of his own country of Fife he was given power equal to that of the King.

Malcolm was not allowed to take possession of his kingdom without a struggle. A few nobles still refused to acknowledge him as King, and they set Lulath, Macbeth's cousin, upon the throne. But Malcolm, hearing of this, sent an army against him. In the battle that followed, Lulath was killed and all his soldiers scattered.

For ten years after this the land had peace. Malcolm Canmore was a good King and ruled well. We are told that he was a King very humble in heart, bold in spirit, exceedingly strong in bodily strength, daring though not rash, and having many other good qualities.

One day a courtier came to King Malcolm to tell him that one of his greatest nobles had agreed with his enemies to kill him. But the King bade the courtier be silent, and would not listen to him. Shortly after, the traitor came to court, followed by a great company of soldiers. The King greeted him kindly, and did not let him see that he knew what wicked thoughts were hid deep in his heart.

That night there was a fine supper, and the King ordered a great hunting-party for next day. Very early in the morning every one was astir. Huntsmen and dogs were gathered, and with a great noise and clatter they set off.

The King arranged in which direction each man was to go, and he himself rode off, attended only by one knight. This knight was the wicked traitor who wished to kill the King.

Side by side they rode through the wood—the King and the murderer. On and on they went, riding farther and farther away from the others. The noise of jingling harness, the voices of men, the baying of dogs, grew fainter and fainter in the distance. At last they were heard no more. Darker and denser grew the wood, but still the King rode on. At last, bursting through a ring of trees, they came to a clear open space.

Then the King turned and looking sternly at the traitor, said, "Here we are, you and I, man to man. There is none to stand by me, King though I be, and none to help you; nor can any man see or hear us. So now if you can, if you dare, if your courage fails you not, do the deed which you have in your heart. Fulfil your promise to my foes. If you think to slay me, when better? When more safely? When more freely? When, in short, could you do it in a more manly way? Have you poison ready for me? Would you slay me in my sleep? Have you a dagger hidden with which to strike me unawares? All would say that were a murderer's, not a knight's part. Act rather like a knight, not like a traitor; act like a man. Meet me as man to man. Then your treachery may at least be free from meanness, for from disloyalty it can never be free."

On foot at liking thou mayest fight,

Or on horse if thou wilt be,

As thou thinkest best. Now choose thee

Horsed and armed as well

As I am thou art every whit.

Thy weapons are more sharp and ready

Than any that unto this stead have I.

Target, spear, knife, and sword,

Between us now deal we the weird.

Here is best now to begin

Thy purpose, if thou wilt honour win.

Here is none that may us see,

None, help may either me or thee,

Therefore try now with all thy might

To do thy purpose as a knight.

Since thou hast failed in loyalty

Do this deed yet with honesty,

If now thou may or dare or will,

Hesitate not to fulfil

Thy promise, thy purpose, and thine oath.

Do forth thy deed and be not loth.

If thou thinkest to slay me,

What time than now may better be,

With freedom or with manhood?

Forth thee! do as should a knight.

Go we together. God deal the right,

With our four hands and no more

Thereon must all the game go."

All the time that the King was speaking, the wretched traitor sat upon his horse with bowed head. He was ashamed to look up, and the King's words fell upon his heart like the strokes of a hammer upon an anvil. He cursed himself for his evil thoughts. The weight of shame seemed more than he could bear.

The King ceased speaking, and the traitor springing from his horse threw away his shield and spear. With trembling hands he unbuckled his sword and flinging that too away, he knelt at the King's feet, unarmed. His face was pale and tears were in his eyes; "My Lord and King," he cried, "forgive me. Out of your kingly grace forgive me this once. Whatever evil was in my heart, whatever wicked thought was mine shall be blotted out. I swear before God that in the future I shall be more faithful to you than any man."

"Fear not, my friend," replied the King, raising him up, "you shall suffer no evil from me or through me on this account."

"The King then all his action

Forgave this knight there quietly,

And took him all to his mercy;

And there he became his man

More leal than he was before then.

And the King that was his lord

Let no man know of their discord

Till the knight himself this case

Told, and all that happened was."

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