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

Alexander III.—How the King Rode Homeward through the Dark Night

Alexander was a good King, and after he had tamed the Ravens, he spent his time making good laws. He travelled all over his kingdom to see that justice was done even to the very poor. He reigned for thirty-seven years, and towards the end of his reign he had many sorrows. His wife died, his two sons died, and his daughter, who had married the King of Norway, also died. She left a little daughter called Margaret, and this little girl was the heir to the throne.

In those days it was very unusual for a Queen to rule, so, sad as he was, Alexander gathered all his nobles together, and made them swear to receive the little Princess Margaret as their Queen when he died.

Alexander felt it very necessary to do this, for the King of England, now called Edward i. , had again tried to make him own him as over-lord. But Alexander had again refused. "To homage for my kingdom of Scotland no one has any right save God alone, nor do I hold it of any but God," he said. "I do homage to you only for the lands which I hold in England."

So for the time the King of England had to be content, but Alexander felt very sure that when he was gone, and there was only a little girl to withstand him, the King of England would try once again to make himself master of Scotland. So he charged all the knights and barons to be true to their Queen and their country.

Not long after this, Alexander had been to Edinburgh to a great banquet, and after it was over he started to ride back to his castle at Dunfermline. The night was dark, and his lords prayed him not to go, as a wise man called Thomas the Rhymer had foretold that there would be a great storm. But Alexander was determined to go, and he started off in the darkness.

He reached the river Forth in safety, and there the ferryman begged him not to cross, as the night was dark and the water deep. Still Alexander insisted on going. "Then will I go too," said the man; "it would ill become me if I were not willing to die with thy father's son."

The river was safely crossed. On again through the darkness went the King and his little band of followers. The road led by the river-side. The cliffs were high and steep and the night so dark that they could not see the narrow path, and they had to trust to their horses.

But on they went, the King riding first, quickly and fearlessly. Suddenly his horse stumbled. There was a cry in the darkness; the sound of a heavy fall; then silence.

"My lord King," cried a frightened attendant, "what has happened?"

There was no answer, except the sound of the waves, and the cry of wild birds. Far below, on the rocks of the sea-shore, the King lay dead.

Morning dawned clear and calm, and the people laughed at Thomas the Rhymer. "Where is your storm?" they asked, pointing to the blue sky and bright sunshine. But even as they spoke a messenger came with the news, "The King is dead."

"There," said Thomas, "that is the storm of which I spoke. Never did tempest bring more ill luck to Scotland."

There was great sorrow at the death of Alexander, for he had been a good King, and his people loved him.

"Scotland lamented him full sore,

For under him all his people were

In honour, quiet, and in peace.

Therefore called Peaceable King he was.

He lovèd all men that were virtuous,

He loathed and chastisèd all vanities,

Justice he gave and equity

To each man as should be.

"To lords and knights and squires

That were pleasant of manners,

He was leal, liberal, and loving

And all virtuous in governing.

"When Alexander our King was dead,

That Scotland led in love and le,

Away was wealth of ale and bread,

Of wine and wax, of game and glee.

"Our gold was changed into lead—

Christ born into virginity,

Succour Scotland and remedy

Which placèd is in perplexity."

It is more than six hundred years since King Alexander died, but the place is still called the King's Crag, and there is a monument there to mark the spot.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Alexander III.—How a Lady Took a Knight  |  Next: The Maid of Norway
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.