Robert the Bruce—How the King Escaped from Traitors, and How He Met a True Woman
Soon after this, the King's enemies got possession of a bloodhound which, at one time, had belonged to Bruce himself. The hound had been very fond of his master, and now, not knowing that he was being used by enemies to betray his master, eagerly followed his trail. But Bruce was warned in time and fled away with one faithful follower. Hungry and tired, for they had walked many weary miles, they at last reached a wood through which ran a brook. "Here is safety," said Bruce. "Let us wade down this stream a great way, so that my poor hound may lose the scent."
This they did, and thus, once more, Bruce escaped from his enemies.
But the danger was not over. Having rested in the wood for a short time, Bruce and his follower set off in search of something to eat, for they were very hungry. On and on they walked, hoping to find some cottage, but no cottage could they see, nor indeed any sign of a living creature.
At last, in the very thickest part of the wood, they saw three men coming towards them, one of whom carried a sheep upon his shoulder. These men seemed rough, and they looked more like robbers than like honest folk.
"Where are you going, my good men?" asked King Robert.
"We are looking for Robert the Bruce," replied they. "Do you know where he is, for we wish to join him?"
Now King Robert was not sure if these were friends or foes, so he answered, "If you come with me I will take you to the King."
But something in his way of speaking, made one of the men guess that it was the King himself to whom he was talking. Robert, who was watching him sharply, knew by the look which came into his eyes, that he had guessed the truth. But neither the man nor the King wished to show that they knew.
"My good friends," said Bruce quietly, "I will take you to the King. But, as we are not well acquainted with each other, do you go on first, and we will follow."
"You have no reason to think evil of us," said one of the men sulkily.
"Neither do I," said Bruce, "but I choose to travel in this way."
And seeing that there was nothing for it, the men did as they were told, and went on first, the King and his man following.
For some time they walked in silence, and at length they came to a ruined and deserted cottage. Here the three men stopped, and proposed to kill the sheep and roast some of it for supper.
The King was near fainting with hunger and fatigue so he gladly agreed. "But," he said, "we will not eat together. You must sit at one end of the cottage, while my friend and I sit at the other." With evil looks and much grumbling, the men did as they were ordered. The sheep was killed and cut up, and some of it was roasted and at last they all sat down to supper. They had neither bread nor salt, nothing indeed except the newly killed and hastily cooked mutton, yet to the hungry King and his man it seemed delicious.
Having eaten a large supper, the King began to feel very sleepy. He tried for some time to keep awake, for he did not trust the three men. But, at last, do what he would, he could no longer keep his eyes open. So, begging his man to watch while he took a short rest, he lay down on the hard floor, and immediately fell asleep.
The King's man was very tired too; he had promised to watch, and he tried his best to keep his promise. But very soon his head fell forward on his breast, and in a few minutes, the ruffians at the other end of the room knew by his breathing that he, too, was fast asleep.
Now was their time.
Rising quietly, they drew their swords, and softly crept towards the sleeping King. They were quite near, when suddenly he awoke. It was growing dark within the cottage, but by the light of the fire which they had made, he saw the three men creeping towards him with their swords in their hands. Springing up, he drew his sword, at the same time giving his man a great push with his foot to awake him. But, before the man could rise to his feet, one of the villains pierced him to the heart. So the King was left alone to battle against the three. It was one weary man to three who were rested and fresh, but Robert the Bruce was such a brave and skilful fighter, that very soon all three lay dead at his feet. Then, grieving for the loss of his faithful follower, he left the cottage and went on his way alone.
The next day, weary and hungry, the King knocked at the door of a farmhouse to beg for food and rest. "Come in," said the old woman who opened the door, "come in, all travellers are welcome here for the sake of one."
"And who is he for whose sake you make all travellers welcome?" asked the King, as he entered the house.
"It is our lawful King, Robert the Bruce," replied the woman. "He is now chased about from place to place, and hunted with hounds like a wild animal, but I hope to live to see him yet King over all Scotland, for he alone is our rightful lord."
"Since you love him so well, good wife," said the King, "let me tell you that he is now standing before you. I am Robert the Bruce."
"You," cried the woman, as, surprised and delighted, she fell upon her knees to kiss his hand. "But where are all your men? Why are you thus alone?"
"My men are scattered far and wide," said Bruce sadly. "At this moment there is no man that I can call mine, so I must go alone."
"That shall not be," cried the old woman, "for I have three tall sons, and they shall be your men." And hastening away she called her sons, and there and then they knelt to the King, and swore to be his men, and to fight for him to the death.
The King then asked his new men to shoot, that he might see what they could do. So they fetched their bows and arrows, and shot before the King. The first son saw two ravens sitting upon a rock some way off, and, taking aim, he shot them both with one arrow.
The second saw another raven flying high above his head. He shot, and the bird fell dead, with the arrow through his heart.
The third son, seeing his brothers shoot so cleverly, aimed at a raven still further off, but although he was a good archer, the shot was too difficult for him, and he missed.
The King was well pleased with his new men, and they proved to be good and faithful soldiers, and afterwards served him in many ways. And when at last the wars were over, and King Robert sat safely upon the throne, he did not forget the old woman who had helped him when he was alone and in trouble. One day she was told that the King wished to speak to her. When she came before him, "Good wife," he said, "you helped me when I was in sore need and trouble. What can I do for you now in return?"
"Oh," said she, "just gie me that wee bit hassock o' land atween Palnure and Penkiln."
The "wee bit hassock o' land" as she called it, stretched over many miles, but the King gave it to her willingly. The old woman divided the land between her three sons, and so founded three noble families. And the eldest son, when he became a knight, took for his device or picture, which he had painted upon his shield, two ravens shot through with one arrow, in memory of the day when he first became one of the King's men.
But meantime, while the sons were shooting and their mother preparing a meal for the King, they heard the tramp of horses. At first they feared that it might be the enemy, and the King went into the house to hide. But soon to his great joy he heard the voices of his brother Edward, and of his dear friend Lord James the Douglas.
Right glad were they to meet again after so many dangers past, and when the King saw that they were followed by a hundred and fifty men, he forgot all about being tired and hungry, and felt ready to fight at once.
"We have just passed a village where two hundred English are quartered," said Douglas. "They are keeping no watch, for they think that your army is utterly scattered. If we hurry we can take them by surprise and beat them."
That was good news indeed. So without more ado the King mounted and rode away at the head of his little army.
It was as Douglas had said. The English were keeping no watch, and when the Scots swooped down upon them, they were taken by surprise and utterly defeated.
From that time, more and more men gathered to the standard of Bruce. He gained victory after victory, until the English would no longer come out to fight him, but shut themselves up in the castles and towns of which they had taken possession, hoping that King Edward would soon send them help.