Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter VIII. The Council at Stirling

Archie had been mounted on the march from the camp, and his horse being now brought, he started with Bruce, young Nigel and the ladies saluting him cordially.

"I trust," the former said, "that Wallace will succeed in converting my brother. I am envious of you, Sir Archie. Here are you, many years younger than I am, and yet you have won a name throughout Scotland as one of her champions; while I am eating my heart out, with my brother, at the court of Edward."

"I trust it may be so, Sir Nigel," Archie answered. "If Sir Robert will but join our cause, heart and soul, the battle is as good as won."

The journey passed without adventure until they arrived within two miles of Lanark, where Archie found Wallace was now staying. On the road Bruce had had much conversation with Archie, and learned the details of many adventures of which before he had only heard vaguely by report. He was much struck by the lad's modesty and loyal patriotism.

"If ever I come to my kingdom, Sir Archie," he said, "you shall be one of my most trusted knights and counsellors; and I am well assured that any advice you may give will be ever what you think to be right and for the good of the country, without self seeking or in the interest of any; and that is more than I could look for in most counsellors. And now methinks that as we are drawing near to Lanark, it will be well that I waited here in this wood, under the guard of your followers, while you ride forward and inform Wallace that I am here. I care not to show myself in Lanark, for busy tongues would soon take the news to Edward; and as I know not what may come of our interview, it were well that it should not be known to all men."

Archie agreed, and rode into the town.

"Why, where have you been, truant?" Sir William exclaimed as Archie entered the room in the governor's house which had been set apart for the use of Wallace since the expulsion of the English. "Sir Robert Gordon has been here several times, and tells me that they have seen nought of you; and although I have made many inquiries I have been able to obtain no news, save that you and your band have disappeared. I even sent to Glen Cairn, thinking that you might have been repairing the damages which the fire, lighted by the Kerrs, did to your hold; but I found not only that you were not there yourself, but that none of your band had returned thither. This made it more mysterious; for had you alone disappeared I should have supposed that you had been following up some love adventure, though, indeed, you have never told me that your heart was in any way touched."

Archie laughed. "There will be time enough for that, Sir William, ten years hence; but in truth I have been on an adventure on my own account."

"So, in sober earnest, I expected, Archie, and feared that your enterprise might lead you into some serious scrape since I deemed that it must have been well nigh a desperate one or you would not have hidden it from my knowledge."

"It might have led to some blows, Sir William, but happily it did not turn out so. Knowing the importance you attached to the adhesion of the cause of Scotland of Robert the Bruce, I determined to fetch him hither to see you; and he is now waiting with my band for your coming, in a wood some two miles from the town."

"Are you jesting with me?" Wallace exclaimed. "Is the Bruce really waiting to see me? Why, this would be well nigh a miracle."

"It is a fact, Sir William; and if you will cause your horse to be brought to the door I will tell you on the road how it has come about."

In another five minutes Sir William and his young follower were on their way, and the former heard how Archie had entrapped Robert Bruce while riding to Crossraguel Abbey.

"It was well done, indeed," the Scottish leader exclaimed; "and it may well prove, Archie, that you have done more towards freeing Scotland by this adventure of yours than we have by all our months of marching and fighting."

"Ah! Sir William, but had it not been for our marching and fighting Bruce would never have wavered in his allegiance to Edward. It was only because he begins to think that our cause may be a winning one that he decides to join it."

The meeting between Wallace and Bruce was a cordial one. Each admired the splendid proportions and great strength of the other, for it is probable that in all Europe there were no two more doughty champions; although, indeed, Wallace was far the superior in personal strength while Bruce was famous through Europe for his skill in knightly exercise.

Archie withdrew to a distance while the leaders conversed. He could see that their talk was animated as they strode together up and down among the trees, Wallace being the principal speaker. At the end of half an hour they stopped, and Wallace ordered the horses to be brought, and then called Archie to them.

"Sir Robert has decided to throw in his lot with us," he said, "and will at once call out his father's vassals of Carrick and Annandale. Seeing that his father is at Edward's court, it may be that many will not obey the summons. Still we must hope that, for the love of Scotland and their young lord, many will follow him. He will write to the pope to ask him to absolve him for the breach of his oath of homage to Edward; but as such oaths lie but lightly on men's minds in our days, and have been taken and broken by King Edward himself, as well as by Sir William Douglas and other knights who are now in the field with me, he will not wait for the pope's reply, but will at once take the field. And, indeed, there is need for haste, seeing that Percy and Clifford have already crossed the Border with an English army and are marching north through Annandale towards Ayr."

"Goodbye, my captor," Bruce said to Archie as he mounted his horse; "whatever may come of this strife, remember that you will always find a faithful friend in Robert Bruce."

Wallace had, at Archie's request, brought six mounted men-at-arms with him from Lanark, and these now rode behind Bruce as his escort back to his castle of Turnberry. There was no time now for Archie and his band to take the rest they had looked for, for messengers were sent out to gather the bands together again, and as soon as a certain portion had arrived Wallace marched for the south. The English army was now in Annandale, near Lochmaben. They were far too strong to be openly attacked, but on the night following his arrival in their neighbourhood Wallace broke in upon them in the night. Surprised by this sudden and unexpected attack, the English fell into great confusion. Percy at once ordered the camp to be set on fire. By its light the English were able to see how small was the force of their assailants, and gathering together soon showed so formidable a front that Wallace called off his men, but not before a large number of the English had been killed. Many of their stores, as well as the tents, were destroyed by the conflagration. The English army now proceeded with slow marches towards Ayr. At Irvine the Scotch leaders had assembled their army -- Douglas, Bruce, The Steward, Sir Richard Loudon, Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, and others. Their forces were about equal to those of the English marching against them. Wallace was collecting troops further north, and Archie was of course with him.

"I fear," the lad said one day, "that we shall not be able to reach Irvine before the armies join battle."

"Sir William Douglas and Bruce are there, and as it lies in their country it were better to let them win the day without my meddling. But, Archie, I fear there will be no battle. News has reached me that messengers are riding to and fro between Percy's army and the Scots, and I fear me that these half hearted barons will make peace."

"Surely that cannot be! It were shame indeed to have taken up the sword, and to lay it down after scarce striking a blow."

"Methinks, Archie, that the word shame is not to be found in the vocabulary of the nobles of this unhappy land. But let us hope for the best; a few days will bring us the news."

The news when it came was of the worst. All the nobles, headed by Wishart, Douglas, and Bruce, with the exception only of Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell, had made their submission, acknowledging their guilt of rebellion, and promising to make every reparation required by their sovereign lord. Percy, on his part, guaranteed their lives, lands, goods, and chattels, and that they should not be imprisoned or punished for what had taken place.

Sir William Douglas and Bruce were ordered to find guarantees for their good conduct; but Sir William Douglas, finding himself unable to fulfil his engagements, surrendered, and was thrown into prison in Berwick Castle, and there kept in irons until he died, his death being attributed, by contemporary historians, to poison.

The surrender of the leaders had little result upon the situation. The people had won their successes without their aid, and beyond the indignation excited by their conduct, the treaty of Irvine did nothing towards ensuring peace, and indeed heightened the confidence of the people in Wallace. The movement spread over the whole of Scotland. Skirmishes and unimportant actions took place in all quarters. The English were powerless outside the walls of the fortresses, and in Berwick and Roxburgh alone was the English power paramount. Most of the great nobles, including Comyn of Buchan, Comyn of Badenoch, and twenty-six other powerful Scottish lords, were at Edward's court, but many of their vassals and dependants were in the field with Wallace.

About this time it came to the ears of the Scotch leader that Sir Robert Cunninghame, a Scotch knight of good family, who had hitherto held aloof from any part in the war, had invited some twelve others resident in the counties round Stirling, to meet at his house in that city that they might talk over the circumstances of the times. All these had, like himself, been neutral, and as the object of the gathering was principally to discover whether some means could not be hit upon for calming down the disorders which prevailed, the English governor had willingly granted safe conducts to all.

"Archie," Sir William said, "I mean to be present at the interview. They are all Scotch gentlemen, and though but lukewarm in the cause of their country, there is no fear that any will be base enough to betray me; and surely if I can get speech with them I may rouse them to cast in their lot with us."

"It were a dangerous undertaking, Sir William, to trust yourself within the walls of Stirling," Archie said gravely. "Remember how many are the desperate passes into which your adventurous spirit has brought you, and your life is of too great a consequence to Scotland to be rashly hazarded."

"I would not do it for a less cause," Sir William said; "but the gain may be greater than the risk. So I shall go, Archie, your wise counsel notwithstanding, and you shall journey with me to see that I get not into scrapes, and to help me out of them should I, in spite of your care, fall into them."

"When is the day for the meeting?" Archie asked.

"In three days' time. The day after tomorrow we will move in that direction, and enter the town early the next day."

No sooner had he left Wallace than Archie called his band together. They still numbered twenty, for although three or four had fallen, Archie had always filled up their places with fresh recruits, as there were numbers of boys who deemed it the highest honour to be enrolled in their ranks. Archie drew aside his two lieutenants, Andrew Macpherson and William Orr.

"I have an enterprise on hand," he said, "which will need all your care, and may call for your bravery. Sir William Wallace purposes to enter Stirling in disguise, to attend a meeting of nobles to be held at the residence of Sir Robert Cunninghame. I am to accompany him thither. I intend that the band shall watch over his safety, and this without his having knowledge of it, so that if nought comes of it he may not chide me for being over careful of his person. You will both, with sixteen of the band, accompany me. You will choose two of your most trusty men to carry out the important matter of securing our retreat. They will procure a boat capable of carrying us all, and will take their place in the bend of the links of Forth nearest to the castle, and will hoist, when the time comes, a garment on an oar, so that we may make straight for the boat. The ground is low and swampy, and if we get a fair start even mounted men would scarce overtake us across it. I think, William, that the last recruit who joined was from Stirling?"

"He was, Sir Archie. His parents reside there. They are vendors of wood, as I have heard him say."

"It could not be better," Archie replied; "and seeing that they have allowed their son to join us, they must surely be patriots. My purpose is, that on the morning of the interview you shall appear before the gates with a cart laden with firewood, and this you shall take to the house of Campbell's father. There you will unload the firewood, and store the arms hidden beneath it, placing them so that they may be readily caught up in case of necessity. In twos and threes, carrying eggs, fowls, firewood, and other articles, as for sale, the rest of the band will come into the town, joining themselves with parties of country people, so that the arrival of so many lads unaccompanied will not attract notice. James Campbell will go with you, and will show you the way to his father's house. He will remain near the gate, and as the others enter will guide them there, so that they will know where to run for their arms should there be need. You must start tomorrow, so as to enter Stirling on the next day and arrange with his father for the keeping of the arms. His mother had best leave the town that evening. Should nought occur she can return unsuspected; but should a tumult arise, and the arms have to be used, his father must leave the town with us. He shall be handsomely rewarded, and provision made for him in the future. When you see me enter with Sir William, bid Jock Farrell follow me at a little distance; he will keep me always in sight, and if he see me lift my hand above my head he will run with all speed to give you the news. On his arrival, you, Andrew, with the half you command, will hurry up to my assistance; while you, William, with the others, will fall suddenly upon the guard at the gate, and will at all hazards prevent them from closing it, and so cutting off our retreat, until we arrive. Seize, if you can, the moment when a cart is passing in or out, and slay the horse in the shafts, so that as he falls the cart will prevent the gate from being closed, and so keep the way open, even should you not be able to resist the English until we come up. Have all the band outside Stirling on the night before, so that you will be able to make every arrangement and obtain a cart in readiness for taking in the wood and arms in the morning. Let all bring their bows and arrows, in addition to pike and sword, for the missiles may aid us to keep the soldiers at bay. Now, Andrew, repeat all my instructions, so that I may be sure that you thoroughly understand my wishes, for any small error in the plan might ruin the whole adventure."

On the morning of the day fixed for the meeting Sir William Wallace, accompanied by Archie, entered the gates of Stirling. Both were attired as young farmers, and they attracted no special attention from the guards. For a time they strolled about the streets. They saw the gentlemen who had been invited by Sir Robert Cunninghame arrive one by one. Others, too, known as being specially attached to the English party, rode in, for the governor had invited those who assembled at Cunninghame's to meet him afterwards in the castle in order that he might hear the result of their deliberations; and he had asked several others attached to the English party to be present.

When most of the gentlemen invited had entered Sir Robert Cunninghame's Wallace boldly followed them; and Archie sat down on a doorstep nearly opposite. Presently he saw two figures which he recognized riding up the street, followed, as the others had been by four armed retainers. They were Sir John Kerr and his son. Archie rose at once, and turned down at a side street before they came up, as a recognition of him would be fatal to all their plans. When they had passed up the street to the castle he returned and resumed his seat, feeling more uneasy than before, for the Kerrs had seen Wallace in the affray at Lanark, and a chance meeting now would betray him. An hour and a half passed, and then Archie saw the Kerrs riding down the street from the castle. Again he withdrew from sight, this time down an archway, whence he could still see the door on the opposite side. Hitherto he had been wishing to see it open and for Wallace to appear; and now he dreaded this above all things. His worst fears were realized, for just as the horsemen reached the spot the door opened, and Wallace stepped out. His figure was too remarkable to avoid notice; and no sooner did Sir John Kerr's eye fall upon him than he exclaimed, "The traitor Wallace! Seize him, men; there is a high reward offered for him; and King Edward will give honour and wealth to all who capture him."

As Sir John spoke Archie darted across the street and placed himself by Wallace's side, holding his hand high above his head as he did so; and at the instant he saw Jock Farrell, who had been lounging at a corner a few yards away, dart off down the street at the top of his speed.

Sir John and his retainers drew their swords and spurred forward; but the horses recoiled from the flashing swords of Wallace and his companion.

"Dismount," Sir John shouted, setting the example; "cut them both down; one is as bad as the other. Ten pounds to the man who slays the young Forbes."

Wallace cut down two of the retainers as they advanced against them, and Archie badly wounded a third. Then they began to retreat down the street; but by this time the sound of the fray had called together many soldiers who were wandering in the streets; and these, informed by Sir John's shouts of "Down with Wallace! Slay! Slay!" that the dreaded Scotch leader was before them, also drew and joined in the fight. As they came running up from both sides, Wallace and Archie could retreat no further, but with their backs against the wall kept their foes at bay in a semicircle by the sweep of their swords.

The fight continued by two or three minutes, when a sudden shout was heard, and William Orr, with eight young fellows, fell upon the English soldiers with their pikes. The latter, astonished at this sudden onslaught, and several of their number being killed before they had time to turn and defend themselves, fell back for a moment, and Wallace and Archie joined their allies, and began to retreat, forming a line of pikes across the narrow street. Wallace, Archie, William Orr, and three of the stoutest of the band were sufficient for the line, and the other five shot between them. So hard and fast flew their arrows that several of the English soldiers were slain, and the others drew back from the assault.

Andrew Macpherson's sudden attack at the gate overpowered the guard, and for a while he held possession of it, and following Archie's instructions, slew a horse drawing a cart laden with flour in the act of entering. Then the guard rallied, and, joined by other soldiers who had run up, made a fierce attack upon him; but his line of pikes drawn up across the gate defied their efforts to break through. Wallace and his party were within fifty yards of the gate when reinforcements from the castle arrived. Sir John Kerr, furious at the prospect of his enemies again escaping him, headed them in their furious rush. Wallace stepped forward beyond the line and met him. With a great sweep of his mighty sword he beat down Sir John's guard, and the blade descending clove helmet and skull, and the knight fell dead in his tracks.

"That is one for you, Archie," Wallace said, as he cut down a man-at-arms.

In vain did the English try to break through the line of pikes. When they arrived within twenty yards of the gate, Wallace gave the order, and the party turning burst through the English who were attacking its defenders and united with them.

"Fall back!" Wallace shouted, "and form without the gates. Your leader and I will cover the retreat."

Passing between the cart and the posts of the gates, the whole party fell back. Once through, Wallace and Archie made a stand, and even the bravest of the English did not venture to pass the narrow portals, where but one could issue at a time.

The band formed in good order and retreated at a rapid step. When they reached a distance of about 300 yards, Wallace and Archie, deeming that sufficient start had been gained, sprang away, and running at the top of their speed soon rejoined them.

"Now, Archie, what next?" Sir William asked; "since it is you who have conjured up this army, doubtless your plans are laid as to what shall next be done. They will have horsemen in pursuit as soon as they remove the cart."

"I have a boat in readiness on the river bank, Sir William. Once across and we shall be safe. They will hardly overtake us ere we get there, seeing how swampy is the ground below."

At a slinging trot the party ran forward, and soon gained the lower ground. They were halfway across when they saw a large body of horsemen following in pursuit.

"A little to the right, Sir William," Archie said; "you see that coat flying from an oar; there is the boat."

As Archie had expected, the swampy ground impeded the speed of the horsemen. In vain the riders spurred and shouted, the horses, fetlock deep, could make but slow advance, and before they reached the bank the fugitives had gained the boat and were already halfway across the stream. Then the English had the mortification of seeing them land and march away quietly on the other side.

G. A. Henty