Scotland's Story - H. E. Marshall
Edinburgh castle stands upon a high, steep rock, up which it is almost impossible to clamber. Randolph, Earl of Moray, who was now fighting valiantly for the King, was very anxious to get possession of this castle. But how to do it he did not know. At length a gentleman named William Francis came to tell him that he knew of a way. Many years before Francis had been a soldier in Edinburgh castle. He had loved a lady who lived in the town, and because he was not allowed to visit her openly, he had found a way by which he could clamber up and down the steep rock in secret. He still remembered the path, and he offered to lead Randolph and his men by it. It was a very dangerous plan, for only one could go at a time, and should the sentry see them every man would certainly be killed. Still, it was worth trying, and Randolph resolved to try.
So one dark, moonless night, a little band of thirty brave men gathered at the foot of the castle hill. Francis led the way, and one by one they followed him up the rocky path. It was a fearful climb and besides being fully armed, they had to carry ladders with them, with which to scale the walls. On and on they went in silence, gripping the rock with hands and knees, clambering round boulders or up the face of cliffs, where there was scarcely the smallest foothold. Not a word was spoken. If a stone slipped or a twig crackled, their hearts seemed to stand still. On and on they went, till hot and breathless, but unseen and unheard, they neared the top.
When they were almost at the top they heard the watchmen going their rounds on the wall above. As they clanked along so close above, each man pressed himself against the face of the rock, keeping as still as possible, scarcely daring even to breathe.
Suddenly the guards stopped and looked over the wall. One of them, thinking to have a jest with his comrades, picked up a loose stone, and throwing it over the cliff, cried out, 'Aha, I see you well!'
For one horrible moment, Randolph believed himself to be discovered, but not a man moved. The stone crashed down and down, bounding from rock to rock, till it reached the bottom far below. Then all was still again, and with a laugh the sentry moved on. He had had his jest, he had frightened his companions for a moment. But he little knew how fast he had made thirty hearts beat. He little knew that just below him thirty men clung motionless to the rock, every moment expecting discovery and death.
As soon as the sentries moved away, the men began their climb again, and a few minutes later the top was reached. The ladders were quickly fixed, and the men sprang over the wall. Except for the watchmen, the whole garrison were asleep, and before they had time to rise and arm themselves, the castle was taken.
Thus in one way or another, castle after castle fell into the hands of Bruce. From town after town the English were driven out, until hardly one remained to them, except Stirling, and that was sore beset by Edward Bruce.
At last the Governor of Stirling, seeing that he could not hold out much longer, made a bargain with him. He promised to yield the castle, if by midsummer the King of England did not come to his aid.
To this Edward Bruce agreed. But King Robert was angry when he heard what bargain his brother had made. To fight a great battle against the whole force of the English army was just what he did not want to do, and to give Edward of England nearly a year in which to make ready seemed to Bruce, true knight though he was, to allow the enemy too great an advantage.
'Let Edward bring every man he has,' said Edward Bruce, 'and we will fight them, ay even if they were more.'
'So be it, brother,' said King Robert. 'Since so we must, we will manfully abide battle, and let us gather all who love us and greatly care for the freedom of Scotland, to come and fight against Edward.'
Edward II. was a weak and changeable king, not wise and brave as his father had been. How changeable he was, you may know from the fact that he appointed six different governors for Scotland in one year,—not that it was much use appointing governors at all over a country which refused to acknowledge them.
Edward II. was weak, and he was easily led by favourites. He often quarrelled with his barons and nobles, but now they and their men gladly joined him against Scotland. Never, even in the gallant days of Edward I., had such a knightly army poured over the Border. From all his dominions Edward called his followers,—from France, from Wales, from Ireland.
"Many a worthy man and wight,
And many an armour gaily dight,
And many a sturdy champing steed,
Arrayed well in richest weed,
Many helmets and halbergeons,
Shields and spears and pennons,
And so many a comely knight
That it seemed that in the fight
They should vanquish the world all whole.
Why should I make so long my tale?
"The sun was bright and shining clear,
And armours that all burnished were
So shone in the sun's beam
That all the land was in a flame.
Banners right fairly glowing,
And pennons to the wind were flowing."
On they marched through a deserted country, watched only by sad-eyed women, who, as they saw the mighty host roll on, prayed and trembled for their husbands and brothers and fathers who were gathered at Stirling to oppose the foe.