While the King rode slowly back to the convent which he then occupied, Albany, with a discomposed aspect and faltering voice, asked the Earl of Douglas: "Will not your lordship, who saw this most melancholy scene at Falkland, communicate the tidings to my unhappy brother?"
"Not for broad Scotland," said the Douglas. "I would sooner bare my breast, within flight shot, as a butt to an hundred Tynedale bowmen. No, by St. Bride of Douglas! I could but say I saw the ill fated youth dead. How he came by his death, your Grace can perhaps better explain. Were it not for the rebellion of March and the English war, I would speak my own mind of it."
So saying, and making his obeisance to the King, the Earl rode off to his own lodgings, leaving Albany to tell his tale as he best could.
"The rebellion and the English war!" said the Duke to himself. "Ay, and thine own interest, haughty earl, which, imperious as thou art, thou darest not separate from mine. Well, since the task falls on me, I must and will discharge it."
He followed the King into his apartment. The King looked at him with surprise after he had assumed his usual seat.
"Thy countenance is ghastly, Robin," said the King. "I would thou wouldst think more deeply when blood is to be spilled, since its consequences affect thee so powerfully. And yet, Robin, I love thee the better that thy kind nature will sometimes show itself, even through thy reflecting policy."
"I would to Heaven, my royal brother," said Albany, with a voice half choked, "that the bloody field we have seen were the worst we had to see or hear of this day. I should waste little sorrow on the wild kerne who lie piled on it like carrion. But--" he paused.
"How!" exclaimed the King, in terror. "What new evil? Rothsay? It must be--it is Rothsay! Speak out! What new folly has been done? What fresh mischance?"
"My lord--my liege, folly and mischance are now ended with my hapless nephew."
"He is dead!--he is dead!" screamed the agonized parent. "Albany, as thy brother, I conjure thee! But no, I am thy brother no longer. As thy king, dark and subtle man, I charge thee to tell the worst."
Albany faltered out: "The details are but imperfectly known to me; but the certainty is, that my unhappy nephew was found dead in his apartment last night from sudden illness--as I have heard."
"Oh, Rothsay!--Oh, my beloved David! Would to God I had died for thee, my son--my son!"
So spoke, in the emphatic words of Scripture, the helpless and bereft father, tearing his grey beard and hoary hair, while Albany, speechless and conscience struck, did not venture to interrupt the tempest of his grief. But the agony of the King's sorrow almost instantly changed to fury--a mood so contrary to the gentleness and timidity of his nature, that the remorse of Albany was drowned in his fear.
"And this is the end," said the King, "of thy moral saws and religious maxims! But the besotted father who gave the son into thy hands-- who gave the innocent lamb to the butcher--is a king, and thou shalt know it to thy cost. Shall the murderer stand in presence of his brother--stained with the blood of that brother's son? No! What ho, without there!--MacLouis!--Brandanes! Treachery! Murder! Take arms, if you love the Stuart!"
MacLouis, with several of the guards, rushed into the apartment.
"Murder and treason!" exclaimed the miserable King. "Brandanes, your noble Prince--" Here his grief and agitation interrupted for a moment the fatal information it was his object to convey. At length he resumed his broken speech: "An axe and a block instantly into the courtyard! Arrest--" The word choked his utterance.
"Arrest whom, my noble liege?" said MacLouis, who, observing the King influenced by a tide of passion so different from the gentleness of his ordinary demeanour, almost conjectured that his brain had been disturbed by the unusual horrors of the combat he had witnessed.
"Whom shall I arrest, my liege?" he replied. "Here is none but your Grace's royal brother of Albany."
"Most true," said the King, his brief fit of vindictive passion soon dying away. "Most true--none but Albany--none but my parent's child--none but my brother. O God, enable me to quell the sinful passion which glows in this bosom. Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis!"
MacLouis cast a look of wonder towards the Duke of Albany, who endeavoured to hide his confusion under an affectation of deep sympathy, and muttered to the officer: "The great misfortune has been too much for his understanding."
"What misfortune, please your Grace?" replied MacLouis. "I have heard of none."
"How! not heard of the death of my nephew Rothsay?"
"The Duke of Rothsay dead, my Lord of Albany?" exclaimed the faithful Brandane, with the utmost horror and astonishment. "When, how, and where?"
"Two days since--the manner as yet unknown--at Falkland."
MacLouis gazed at the Duke for an instant; then, with a kindling eye and determined look, said to the King, who seemed deeply engaged in his mental devotion: "My liege! a minute or two since you left a word--one word--unspoken. Let it pass your lips, and your pleasure is law to your Brandanes!"
"I was praying against temptation, MacLouis," said the heart broken King, "and you bring it to me. Would you arm a madman with a drawn weapon? But oh, Albany! my friend--my brother--my bosom counsellor--how--how camest thou by the heart to do this?"
Albany, seeing that the King's mood was softening, replied with more firmness than before: "My castle has no barrier against the power of death. I have not deserved the foul suspicions which your Majesty's words imply. I pardon them, from the distraction of a bereaved father. But I am willing to swear by cross and altar, by my share in salvation, by the souls of our royal parents--"
"Be silent, Robert!" said the King: "add not perjury to murder. And was this all done to gain a step nearer to a crown and sceptre? Take them to thee at once, man; and mayst thou feel as I have done, that they are both of red hot iron! Oh, Rothsay--Rothsay! thou hast at least escaped being a king!"
"My liege," said MacLouis, "let me remind you that the crown and sceptre of Scotland are, when your Majesty ceases to bear them, the right of Prince James, who succeeds to his brother's rights."
"True, MacLouis," said the King, eagerly, "and will succeed, poor child, to his brother's perils! Thanks, MacLouis--thanks. You have reminded me that I have still work upon earth. Get thy Brandanes under arms with what speed thou canst. Let no man go with us whose truth is not known to thee. None in especial who has trafficked with the Duke of Albany--that man, I mean, who calls himself my brother--and order my litter to be instantly prepared. We will to Dunbarton, MacLouis, or to Bute. Precipices, and tides, and my Brandanes' hearts shall defend the child till we can put oceans betwixt him and his cruel uncle's ambition. Farewell, Robert of Albany--farewell for ever, thou hard hearted, bloody man! Enjoy such share of power as the Douglas may permit thee. But seek not to see my face again, far less to approach my remaining child; for, that hour thou dost, my guards shall have orders to stab thee down with their partizans! MacLouis, look it be so directed."
The Duke of Albany left the presence without attempting further justification or reply.
What followed is matter of history. In the ensuing Parliament, the Duke of Albany prevailed on that body to declare him innocent of the death of Rothsay, while, at the same time, he showed his own sense of guilt by taking out a remission or pardon for the offence. The unhappy and aged monarch secluded himself in his Castle of Rothsay, in Bute, to mourn over the son he had lost, and watch with feverish anxiety over the life of him who remained. As the best step for the youthful James's security, he sent him to France to receive his education at the court of the reigning sovereign. But the vessel in which the Prince of Scotland sailed was taken by an English cruiser, and, although there was a truce for the moment betwixt the kingdoms, Henry IV ungenerously detained him a prisoner. This last blow completely broke the heart of the unhappy King Robert III. Vengeance followed, though with a slow pace, the treachery and cruelty of his brother. Robert of Albany's own grey hairs went, indeed, in peace to the grave, and he transferred the regency which he had so foully acquired to his son Murdoch. But, nineteen years after the death of the old King, James I returned to Scotland, and Duke Murdoch of Albany, with his sons, was brought to the scaffold, in expiation of his father's guilt and his own.
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