Story of Robert Bruce - Jeanie Lang

How Robert the Bruce Met his Enemies

While the Bruce was hiding in Carrick, King Edward and his generals were spreading their forces all over Scotland. In February and March 1307, 4000 English foot soldiers had mustered at Carlisle. If you look at the map at the beginning of this volume, you will see that it seemed as likely that King Robert would escape from his enemies as that a fly will safely wing its way out from amongst the thousand cobwebs that clog the rafters of a barn.

Nor was it only from his openly avowed enemies that Bruce was in danger. Again and again there were traitors in his camp.

In Carrick dwelt a one-eyed man who made Bruce believe that he and his two sons were his friends.

An English general sent for him, and got him to agree to sell the king for 40 worth of land. This ruffian knew that it was the custom of the Bruce to go out for an early morning walk, armed only with his sword, and with none but a little page for company. So one morning he and his sons lay in wait in a thicket. As the king came in sight they sprang out, the father with a sword, one son with a sword and axe, the other with a spear.

"These men come to slay us!" said the king to his page. "What weapon hast thou?"

"Ah, sire," said the boy, "I have only a bow and arrows."

"Quickly give them to me," said the Bruce, and stand aside."

"Traitor!" called he to the one-eyed man, "thou hast sold me. Come no nearer!"

"Who should come near to thee but I?" said the man, still pretending to be the Bruce's friend, and always drawing nearer to where he stood.

"Come at the risk of your life!" shouted the Bruce.

And when the man and his sons still came on, he bent the page's bow, and aimed so well that the arrow smote the man's one eye, pierced his brain, and he fell dead. The two sons then rushed on the king. He with the battle-axe fetched a fierce blow at him, but, before it could fall, the Bruce with his sword cleft his head in two. The other man lunged at him with his spear, but, as the spear was about to strike, the Bruce with his sword cut off its steel point as one cuts thistle-heads off with a walking-stick. Then, with another mighty blow, the king laid the third of the traitors dead and bleeding at his feet.

He was wiping the blood from his trusty sword when the little page ran up, overjoyed to find the three men dead.

"These had been three gallant men," said the Bruce, "had they been loyal ones."

It was little wonder that his own followers loved the Bruce as few great kings have ever been loved.

He was what we call "every inch a king." He was taller than most men, handsomer, and stronger. He had yellow hair, and blue and spark-ling eyes, and instead of speaking to the Scots in the Anglo-French, or the French used by knights of his day, he would always speak to them in the Scots tongue that they themselves used. To women he was ever courteous and gentle, and he was always thoughtful for those who were less strong than he. The hunted outlaw, who had to shelter in the thick fir woods, or on the heather moors of Carrick and Galloway, where the brown mountain burns tumble over the stones in deep cuttings between the hills, and where bracken hid the doorway of the cave that sheltered him, was a man who knew no fear. When those beside him lost heart he was ever ready to cheer them. No defeat could break his spirit, nor prevent him from seeing the amusing side of things. No hardship could conquer his dauntless bravery.

While Edward's forces hemmed him in on every side, it was not safe to keep more than a handful of men beside him, nor was it possible to provide food for more than a few. Often he was all alone.

This was the time for John of Lorn, who had defeated him at Dalry, to defeat him in real earnest.

Lorn had brought with him to Galloway a famous bloodhound, that had once belonged to Bruce, and which was very fond of him.

"Now I have him!" thought Lorn.

Almost at once the dog got on the trail of his old master, and joyfully threw up his head to give the deep-toned bay that is so terrible a sound to those who are chased by bloodhounds.

Bruce made his party scatter and seek safety, and kept with him only two men. To a bog beside a stream, near where his troop of sixty had crossed in making their escape, Bruce went and waited. It was night, and the sound of running water, the baying of the dog, and the cry of a startled curlew, were at first the only sounds to be heard.

"Go, lie down and rest," said he to his two companions. "I myself will watch here."

"But, sire," said they, "who will watch with you?"

"God," he said. "Pass on. I will have it so."

All alone, then, he watched by the stream, while nearer and nearer came the baying of the hound.

The moon rose as he watched, and from afar he could hear the clatter of horses' hoofs, the clang of harness and armour, and the murmur of voices.

Bruce then woke his two men. With them he crossed the stream, and sent them on to alarm the others, and make them flee onwards.

Robert the Bruce


Alone he stood by the ford, and saw the moon gleam on two hundred spears. Two hundred men to one was heavy odds, but the one man was Robert the Bruce. The ford was narrow, and the men had to come one at a time. But they saw only a solitary sentinel on the river's bank, and plunged fearlessly into the water. The first horse was scrambling up the broken bank, when a drive from the Bruce's spear made its rider fall back dead into the stream. The horse was stabbed by a swift second thrust, and, rolling backwards, blocked up the way for the horseman who followed. One by one horses and men splashed through the ford, and tried to gain the bank. One by one they fell back dead, or wounded so sorely that they had no strength left to fight for their lives, but drifted down in the current, and were drowned in the swift-flowing river. Fourteen men were slain by his spear by the time his followers came to the rescue and drove back their enemies in confusion.

But John of Lorn was not one to give in. He waited a little, and again, when his own force was of 800 and the Bruce's numbered only 300, he set the bloodhound on the track of his master.

Bruce broke up his little army into three companies and made them leave him and retreat by different ways. With him he kept one man only, his foster-brother.

Lorn, knowing from the baying of the dog and the way in which it strained at its leash that the Bruce was near, picked out five Highlanders, fleet of foot, and bade them run him down.

Standing like stags at bay, they found the two hunted men. Three of them attacked the king; the two others fell on his foster-brother.

It was a fierce fight and a short one. Four men were slain by the Bruce's sword. His foster-brother slew the fifth.

"Thou hast helped right gallantly!" said the Bruce.

"It is like you to say so!" said the foster-brother, " when you slew four, and I only one!"

But the danger was not yet over. John of Lorn and his other men were near, and the dog was baying savagely.

Onward hurried Bruce and his friend—ever onward, through thick wood, bog, and brushwood.

"I can go no further," at last said the king, his strength all gone.

But his brave foster-brother would not allow him to give in, and on, once more, they stumbled. A little river ran through the wood they were in. Into this they dropped and waded down it. They heard the dog come to where they had entered the stream, but soon came dismal howls, showing that the running water had baffled it. It had lost the trail, and John of Lorn and his men had to go homeward, cursing the more when they found the dead bodies of the five Highlanders.

After a short rest Bruce and his foster-brother went on. They were saved for this once, they knew, but the hunt was up; they must speedily find a shelter.

Leaving the wood, they crossed a wide moor, and there met with three ill-looking men, armed with swords and axes, and one of them carrying a sheep on his back.

"Whither do you go? " asked the king.

"We seek Robert the Bruce," they answered, "for we would join with him."

"If that be your will," said the Bruce, " come with me, and I will show him to you."

At once the face of the man who had spoken changed, and Bruce was sure that they were his enemies and meant him no good.

"Until we are better acquainted," said he, " you must go before us, and we will follow near you."

"You have no reason to think we mean you any ill," grumbled the man.

"Go on," said the king, "it is my will to travel so." And they obeyed the Bruce, as he made most men do.

As night was falling, they came to the ruins of a hut. There a sheep was killed, and a fire to roast it kindled.

The king and his foster-brother lit a fire for themselves at the other end of the hut from the strangers, the men sulkily watching them as they did so.

It was long since the king had tasted food, and they all ate hungrily of the broiled mutton. The food and the warmth of the fire, after the long day and night they had had of hard travel, fighting, and anxiety, made Bruce so heavy with sleep that he could scarcely keep his eyes open. He arranged with his foster-brother that they should watch time about, the latter taking the first watch. But the brave man was so tired that scarcely had the king's eyes closed, than he slept too.

No sooner did the traitors see them asleep, than they crept towards them, to murder them ere they could awake. But the king slept lightly, and the slight noise they made as they came near him awoke him. He sprang to his feet, and in the red fire-light saw the three murderers almost upon him. With a kick he awoke his foster-brother, but before Bruce's faithful friend could more than half rise from the ground, he was stabbed, and fell back dead. Three to one it was now; three men fresh and untired, against one who was weary and worn out. But, one after another, the murderers fell before his sword.

There were three dead men, who well deserved to be slain, lying beside Bruce's friend in that lonely cottage on the moor when Bruce came away from it.

Robert the Bruce


On through the hills, to the place where he had told his men to meet him, the Bruce, with aching limbs and a heavy heart for the loss of a man he loved, then took his way.

Near lonely Loch Dee there is still to be seen a hill called Craigencallie, or "the Old Woman's Crag." Here it was that the meeting had been fixed.

An old woman lived in a cottage on the hill. She had been three times married, and by each husband had a son. Their names were Murdoch, MacKie, and MacLurg. It was not yet dawn when the Bruce arrived, but the woman met him fearlessly.

"Who are you?" she asked. "From whence do you come? and whither do you go?"

"I am a traveller," he said, "journeying through the country."

"All travellers," said the old woman, "are welcome here for the sake of one."

"And who may he be, good dame?" asked the king.

"I'll tell thee that," said the woman. "Good King Robert the Bruce is he, the rightful lord of this country. His foes press him hard, but before very long I hope to see him lord and king over all the land."

"Do you then love him so well?" asked the Bruce.

"In truth I do," she answered

"You see him before you," said the king. "I am Robert the Bruce."

A proud woman was the old woman of Craigencallie that day. While the king ate and drank of her best, her sons came in and were presented to their king.

"You shall take my sons for your men, sire," said she.

The king asked if his new liegemen were good bowmen. To show him what they could do, they fetched their bows, and first of all Murdoch let fly at two ravens sitting on a crag, and drove the one arrow through them both. MacKie shot next, and killed a raven flying overhead, but MacLurg missed his mark.

In happier days, the Bruce, then "lord and king over all the land," asked the old woman what he could do for her to show his gratitude for her goodness to him in his evil days.

"Just give me," said she, "the wee bit hassock o' land atween Palmure and Penkiln."

The "hassock" was about five miles long and three broad, and was divided amongst the three sons. And if you look at the coat-of-arms of the Murdochs of Cumloden and the Murdochs of Gartincaber, and the branches of their family, you will find a raven with an arrow driven through its breast.

While Bruce talked to Murdoch and the others, Douglas and Edward Bruce came to Craigencallie, and before long 150 of the king's men had mustered there.

When the Bruce had told them his adventures since they parted, he asked for news of the enemy.

"They must think us so scattered," said he, "that they are likely to keep careless watch, so that it will be easy to surprise them."

"That is true," said the Douglas. "On my way here I passed close to a company of 200 of them, bivouacked so carelessly on Raploch Moss that a surprise will be very easy."

At nightfall the king and his men were on the march to Raploch. It was grey dawn when they came to where the English lay, and before the sun was high in the sky the moss was strewn with dead men. Before they were well awake, the swords of Bruce and his men laid them low. Those who were able to fly, fled in wild confusion.

When Edward of England, growing old, and wasting away from illness, heard of Bruce these tales, and very many more, he must have ground his teeth with rage at the success and dauntless valour of his enemy, "King Hobbe."