In the days of Alexander iii. there lived a lady called Marjorie, Countess of Carrick. This lady was very young and very beautiful. Both her father and her mother were dead. Her mother had been King Alexander's cousin; her father, a brave soldier who had died in a far-off land fighting the battles of the Cross. So this beautiful lady became the King's ward. That is, he looked upon her as his daughter, and took care of her as a father would have done.
One day the Lady Marjorie was hunting in the woods near her castle. She was splendidly dressed, and rode upon a beautiful horse. With her were other lovely ladies and fine gentlemen, all grandly dressed. As they rode through the woods, laughing and talking, they met a knight who was riding alone.
The knight was clad in shining armour, and he was tall, and strong, and handsome. When Lady Marjorie saw him her heart gave a leap and a bound. Of all the knights and nobles she had ever seen, this was the grandest and the best.
As the knight rode past, Lady Marjorie looked after him. Then she called one of her gentlemen to her. "Ride quickly to yonder knight," she said, "tell him that the Countess of Carrick begs him to join the chase, and to dine with her in the castle, which is hard by."
The gentleman put spurs to his horse and rode quickly after the knight. "Sir Knight," he cried, "my Lady of Carrick greets you, and begs the honour of your company."
The knight, who was called Robert de Bruce, stood still, and as he listened to Lady Marjorie's message, he looked back at the gay company of lords and ladies, who waited for him at a little distance. Robert de Bruce had seen the Lady Marjorie's face as he rode past. To him she had seemed more lovely than any lady in all the world. But now he stood silent and thoughtful. He longed to go back, yet he dared not.
The Countess of Carrick was a very great lady. She was the King's ward and cousin. Robert de Bruce knew by that one look at her beautiful face that he loved her, but he feared that the King would not think him great enough, nor rich enough, to marry his ward. So he resolved never to see her any more. "I thank the lady humbly," he said to the gentleman who stood waiting for his answer, "but I may not stay. Pray the lady to pardon my rudeness, for I must hasten on. By nightfall I must be far from here." Then bowing low he rode away.
The gentleman went back to the Countess and told her what Robert de Bruce had said. As Lady Marjorie listened, the tears sprang to her eyes, her lips trembled, and she looked as if she were going to cry.
Then drawing herself up she said, "Who is this who dares disobey the Countess of Carrick? I say he shall come. Ride forward, gentlemen, and surround him. If he will not come in peace, then it shall be in war."
The gentlemen scattered through the wood in all directions, and a few minutes later, as Robert de Bruce rode slowly forward, he found himself surrounded on all sides, by a troop of gaily-clad knights with drawn swords.
Seeing himself thus surrounded, Robert de Bruce drew his sword too, ready to defend himself to the last. Then Lady Marjorie rode through the ring of knights and laid her hand upon the bridle of his horse. "Put up your sword," she cried smiling, "a true knight may not fight against a lady. You are my prisoner."
Robert de Bruce sheathed his sword, and taking off his helmet, bowed low before the beautiful lady. "Lady, I yield myself your prisoner," he said.
Then laughing and merry, Lady Marjorie, holding the bridle rein of her prisoner's horse, led the way to the castle.
There Robert de Bruce remained for a fortnight as Lady Marjorie's prisoner. But he was such a willing prisoner that he never tried to run away. Indeed, as the days went on, the thought that some time he would be obliged to go away and leave her made him very unhappy. So in spite of his fear of the King's anger, he asked Lady Marjorie to marry him, that they might never be parted any more.
This was just what Lady Marjorie wanted him to do, and as they were afraid that the King would say "no," they got married first, and told him about it afterwards.
When the King heard about it he was quite as angry as they had expected him to be. He was so angry that to punish Lady Marjorie he took all her lands and money from her. But she came to him and begged to be forgiven; all her friends begged for her too, and at last Alexander forgave her. And when he saw what a splendid, strong man Robert de Bruce was, he forgave him also, and became his friend.
Robert and Marjorie lived very happily together. They had a little son, whom they called Robert, after his father. This little baby grew up to be a very wise man, and became King of Scotland. You will hear a great deal about him soon.