It was on a cool evening, near the end of September, 1311, that a troop, consisting of about thirty horse, and as many on foot, were leisurely traversing the mountain passes between the[Pg 335] counties of Dumfries and Lanark. Their arms were well burnished; their buff coats and half-armor in good trim; their banner waved proudly from its staff, as bright and gay as if it had not even neared a scene of strife; and there was an air of hilarity and gallantry about them that argued well for success
if about to commence an expedition, or if returning, told with equal emphasis they had been successful. That the latter was the case was speedily evident, from the gay converse passing between them; their allusions to some late gallant achievement of their patriot sovereign; their joyous comparisons between good King Robert and his weak opponent, Edward II. of England, marvelling how so wavering and indolent a son could have sprung from so brave and determined a sire; for, Scotsmen as they were, they were now free, and could thus afford to allow the "hammer" of their country some knightly qualities, despite the stern and cruel tyranny which to them had ever marked his conduct. They spoke in laughing scorn of the second Edward's efforts to lay his father's yoke anew upon their necks; they said a just heaven had interfered and urged him to waste the decisive moment of action in indolence and folly, in the flatteries of his favorite, to the utter exclusion of those wiser lords, whose counsels, if followed on the instant, might have shaken even the wise and patriot Bruce. Yet they were so devoted to their sovereign, they idolized him alike as a warrior and a man too deeply, to allow that to the weak and vacillating conduct of Edward they owed the preservation of their country. It was easy to perceive by the springy step, the flashing eye, the ringing, tone with which that magic name, the Bruce, was spoken, how deeply it was written on the heart; the joy it was to recall his deeds, and feel it was through him that they were free! Their converse easily betrayed them to be one of those well-ordered though straggling parties into which King Robert's invading armies generally dispersed at his command, when returning to their own fastnesses, after a successful expedition to the English border.

The laugh and jest resounded, as we have said, amongst both officers and men; but their leader, who was riding about a stone's throw ahead, gave no evidence of sharing their mirth. He was clad from head to foot in chain armor, of a hue so dark as to be mistaken for black, and from his wearing a surcoat of the same color, unenlivened by any device, gave him altogether[Pg 336] a somewhat sombre appearance, although it could not detract in the smallest degree from the peculiar gracefulness and easy dignity of his form, which was remarkable both on horseback and on foot. He was evidently very tall, and by his firm seat in the saddle, had been early accustomed to equestrian exercises; but his limbs were slight almost to delicacy, and though completely ensheathed in mail, there was an appearance of extreme youth about him, that perhaps rendered the absence of all gayety the more striking. Yet on the battle-field he gave no evidence of inexperience as a warrior, no sign that he was merely a scholar in the art of war; there only did men believe he must be older than he seemed; there only his wonted depression gave place to an energy, a fire, second to none amongst the Scottish patriots, not even to the Bruce himself; then only was the naturally melancholy music of his voice lost in accents of thrilling power, of imperative command, and the oldest warriors followed him as if under the influence of some spell. But of his appearance on the field we must elsewhere speak. He now led his men through the mountain defiles mechanically, as if buried in meditation, and that meditation not of the most pleasing nature. His vizor was closed, but short clustering curls, of a raven blackness, escaped beneath the helmet, and almost concealed the white linen and finely embroidered collar which lay over his gorget, and was secured in front by a ruby clasp; a thick plume of black feathers floated from his helmet, rivalling in color the mane of his gallant charger, which pawed the ground, and held his head aloft as if proud of the charge he bore. A shield was slung round the warrior's neck, and its device and motto seemed in melancholy accordance with the rest of his attire. On a field argent lay the branch of a tree proper, blasted and jagged, with the words "Ni nom ni paren, je suis seul," rudely engraved in Norman French beneath; his helmet bore no crest, nor did his war-cry on the field, "Amiot for the Bruce and freedom," offer any clue to the curious as to his history, for that there was some history attached to him all chose to believe, though the age was too full of excitement to allow much of wonderment or curiosity to be expended upon him. His golden spurs gave sufficient evidence that he was a knight; his prowess on the field proclaimed whoever had given him that honor had not bestowed it on the undeserving. His deeds of daring, unequalled even in that age, obtained him fa[Pg 337]vor in the eyes of every soldier; and if there were some in the court and camp of Bruce who were not quite satisfied, and loved not the mystery which surrounded him, it mattered not, Sir Amiot of the Branch, or the Lonely Chevalier, as he was generally called, went on his way unquestioned.

"Said not Sir Edward Bruce he would meet us hereabouts at set of sun?" were the first words spoken by the knight, as, on issuing from the mountains, they found themselves on a broad plain to the east of Lanark, bearing sad tokens of a devastating war, in the ruined and blackened huts which were the only vestiges of human habitations near. The answer was in the affirmative; and the knight, after glancing in the direction of the sun, which wanted about an hour to its setting, commanded a halt, and desired that, while waiting the arrival of their comrades, they should take their evening meal.

On the instant the joyous sounds of dismounting, leading horses to picquet, unclasping helmets, throwing aside the more easily displaced portions of their armor, shields, and spears, took the place of the steady tramp and well-ordered march. Flinging themselves in various attitudes on the greensward, provender was speedily laid before them, and rare wines and other choice liquors, fruits of their late campaign, passed gayly round. An esquire had, at the knight's sign, assisted him to remove his helmet, shield, and gauntlets; but though this removal displayed a beautifully formed head, thickly covered with dark hair, his features were still concealed by a species of black mask, the mouth, chin, and eyes being alone visible, and therefore his identity was effectually hidden. The mouth and chin were both small and delicately formed; the slight appearance of beard and moustache seeming to denote his age as some one-and-twenty years. His eyes, glancing through the opening in the mask, were large and very dark, often flashing brightly, when his outward bearing was so calm and quiet as to afford little evidence of emotion. Some there were, indeed, who believed the eye the truer index of the man than aught else about him, and to fancy there was far more in that sad and lonely knight than was revealed.

It was evident, however, that to the men now with him his remaining so closely masked was no subject of surprise, that they regarded it as an ordinary thing, which in consequence had lost its strangeness. They were eager and respectful in[Pg 338] their manner towards him, offering to raise him a seat of turf at some little distance from their noisy comrades; but acknowledging their attention with kindness and courtesy, he refused it, and rousing himself with some difficulty from his desponding thoughts, threw himself on the sward beside his men, and joined in their mirth and jest.

"Hast thou naught to tell to while away this tedious hour, good Murdoch?" he asked, after a while, addressing a gray-headed veteran.

"Aye, aye, a tale, a tale; thou hast seen more of the Bruce than all of us together," repeated many eager voices, "and knowest yet more of his deeds than we do; a tale an thou wilt, but of no other hero than the Bruce."

"The Bruce!" echoed the veteran; "see ye not his deeds yourselves, need ye more of them?" but there was a sly twinkle in his eye that betrayed his love to speak was as great as his comrades to hear him. "Have ye not heard, aye, and many of you seen his adventures and escapes in Carrick, hunted even as he was by bloodhounds; his guarding that mountain pass, one man against sixty, aye, absolutely alone against the Galwegian host of men and bloodhounds; Glen Fruin, Loudun Hill, Aberdeen; the harrying of Buchan; charging the treacherous foe, when they had to bear him from his litter to his horse, aye, and support him there; springing up from his couch of pain, and suffering, and depression, agonizing to witness, to hurl vengeance on the fell traitors; aye, and he did it, and brought back health to his own heart and frame; and Forfar, Lorn, Dunstaffnage—know ye not all these things? Nay, have ye not seen, shared in them all—what would ye more?"

"The harrying of Buchan, tell us of that," loudly exclaimed many voices; while some others shouted, "the landing of the Bruce—tell us of his landing, and the spirit fire at Turnberry Head; the strange woman that addressed him."

"Now which am I to tell, good my masters?" laughingly answered the old man, when the tumult in a degree subsided. "A part of one, and part of the other, and leave ye to work out the rest yourselves; truly, a pleasant occupation. Say, shall it be thus? yet stay, what says Sir Amiot?"

"As you will, my friends," answered the knight, cheerily; "but decide quickly, or we shall hear neither. I am for the tale of Buchan," there was a peculiarly thrilling emphasis in his[Pg 339] tone as he pronounced the word, "for I was not in Scotland at the time, and have heard but disjointed rumors of the expedition."

The veteran looked round on his eager comrades with an air of satisfaction, then clearing his voice, and drawing more to the centre of the group; "Your worship knows," he began, addressing Sir Amiot, who, stretched at full length on the sward, had fixed his eyes upon him, though their eagle glance was partly shaded by his hand, "that our good King Robert the Bruce, determined on the reduction of the north of his kingdom, advanced thereto in the spring of 1308, accompanied by his brother, Lord Edward, that right noble gentleman the Earl of Lennox, Sir Gilbert Hay, Sir Robert Boyd, and others, with a goodly show of men and arms, for his successes at Glen Fruin and Loudun Hill had brought him a vast accession of loyal subjects. And they were needed, your worship, of a truth, for the traitorous Comyns had almost entire possession of the castles and forts of the north, and thence were wont to pour down their ravaging hordes upon the true Scotsmen, and menace the king, till he scarcely knew which side to turn to first. Your worship coming, I have heard, from the low country, can scarcely know all the haunts and lurking-places for treason the highlands of our country present; how hordes of traitors may be trained and armed in these remote districts, without the smallest suspicion being attached to them till it is well-nigh too late, and the mischief is done. Well, to drive out these black villains, to free his kingdom, not alone from the yoke of an English Edward, but a Scottish Comyn, good King Robert was resolved—and even as he resolved he did. Inverness, the citadel of treason and disloyalty, fell before him; her defences, and walls, and turrets, and towers, all dismantled and levelled, so as to prevent all further harborage of treason; her garrison marched out, the ringleaders sent into secure quarters, and all who hastened to offer homage and swear fidelity, received with a courtesy and majesty which I dare to say did more for the cause of our true king than a Comyn could ever do against it. Other castles followed the fate of Inverness, till at length the north, even as the south, acknowledged the Bruce, not alone as their king, but as their deliverer and savior.

"It was while rejoicing over these glorious successes, the lords and knights about the person of their sovereign began to[Pg 340] note with great alarm that his strength seemed waning, his brow often knit as with inward pain, his eye would grow dim, and his limbs fail him, without a moment's warning; and that extreme depression would steal over his manly spirit even in the very moment of success. They watched in alarm, but silently; and when they saw the renewed earnestness and activity with which, on hearing of the approach of Comyn of Buchan, Sir John de Mowbray, and that worst of traitors, his own nephew, Sir David of Brechin, he rallied his forces, advanced to meet them, and compelled them to retreat confusedly to Aberdeen, they hoped they had been deceived, and all was well.

"But the fell disease gained ground; at first he could not guide his charger's reins, and then he could not mount at all; his voice failed, his sight passed; they were compelled to lay him in a litter, and bear him in the midst of them, and they felt as if the void left by their sovereign's absence from their head was filled with the dim shadow of death. Nobly and gallantly did Lord Edward endeavor to remedy this fatal evil; Lennox, Hay, even the two Frasers, who had so lately joined the king, seemed as if paralyzed by this new grief, and hung over the Bruce's litter as if their strength waned with his. Sternly, nay, at such a moment it seemed almost harshly, Lord Edward rebuked this weakness, and, conducting them to Slenath, formed some strong entrenchments, of which the Bruce's pavilion was the centre, intending there to wait his brother's recovery. Ah, my masters, if ye were not with good King Robert then, ye have escaped the bitterest trial. Ye know not what it was to behold him—the savior of his country, the darling of his people, the noblest knight and bravest warrior who ever girded on a sword—lie there, so pale, so faint, with scarce a voice or passing sigh to say he breathed. The hand which grasped the weal of Scotland, the arm that held her shield, lay nerveless as the dead; the brain which thought so well and wisely for his fettered land, lay powerless and still; the thrilling voice was hushed, the flashing eye was closed. The foes were close around him, and true friends in tears and woe beside his couch, were all alike unknown. Ah! then was the time for warrior's tears, for men of iron frame and rugged mood to soften into woman's woe, and weep. Men term Lord Edward Bruce so harsh and stern, one whom naught of grief for others or himself can move; they saw him not as I have. It was mine to[Pg 341] watch my sovereign, when others sought their rest; and I have seen that rugged chieftain stand beside his brother's couch alone, unmarked, and struggle with his spirit till his brow hath knit, his lip become convulsed, and then as if 'twere vain, all vain, sink on his knee, clasp his sovereign's hand, and bow his head and weep. 'Tis passed and over now, kind heaven be praised! yet I cannot recall that scene, unbind the folds of memory, unmoved."

The old man passed his rough hand across his eyes, and for a brief moment paused; his comrades, themselves affected, sought not to disturb him, and quickly he resumed.

"Days passed, and still King Robert gave no sign of amendment, except, indeed, there were intervals when his eyes wandered to the countenances of his leaders, as if he knew them, and would fain have addressed them as his wont. Then it was our men were annoyed by an incessant discharge from Buchan's archers, which, though they could do perhaps no great evil, yet wounded many of our men, and roused Lord Edward's spirit to resent the insult. His determination to leave the entrenchments and retreat to Strathbogie, appeared at first an act of such unparalleled daring as to startle all his brother leaders, and they hesitated; but there never was any long resisting Sir Edward's plans; he bears a spell no spirit with a spark of gallantry about him can resist. The retreat was in consequence determined on, to the great glee of our men, who were tired of inaction, and imagined they should feel their sovereign's sufferings less if engaged hand to hand with, the foe, in his service, than watching him as they had lately done, and dreading yet greater evils.

"Ye have heard of this daring retreat, my friends; it was in the mouth of every Scotsman, aye, and of Englishman too, for King Robert himself never accomplished a deed of greater skill. The king's litter was placed in the centre of a square, which presented on either side such an impenetrable fence of spears and shields, that though Buchan and De Mowbray mustered more than double our number, they never ventured an attack, and a retreat, apparently threatening total destruction, from its varied dangers, was accomplished without the loss of a single man. At Strathbogie we halted but a short space, for finding no obstruction in our path, we hastened southward, in the direction of Inverury; there we pitched the tent for the king,[Pg 342] and, taking advantage of a natural fortification, dispersed our men around it, still in a compact square. Soon after this had been accomplished, news was received that our foes were concentrating their numerous forces at Old Meldrum, scarcely two miles from us, and consequently we must hold ourselves in constant readiness to receive their attack.

"Well, the news that the enemy was so near us might not perhaps have been particularly pleasing, had they not been more than balanced by the conviction—far more precious than a large reinforcement, for in itself it was a host—the king was recovering. Yes, scarcely as we dared hope, much less believe it, the disease, which had fairly baffled all the leech's art, which had hung over our idolized monarch so long, at length showed symptoms of giving way, and there was as great rejoicing in the camp as if neither danger nor misfortune could assail us more; a new spirit sparkled in every eye, as if the awakening lustre in the Bruce's glance, the still faint, yet thrilling accents of a voice we had feared was hushed forever, had lighted on every heart, and kindled anew their slumbering fire. One day, Lord Edward, the Earl of Lennox, and a gallant party, were absent scouring the country about half a mile round our entrenchments, and in consequence, one side of our square was more than usually open, but we did not think it signified, for there wore no tidings of the enemy; well, this day the king had called me to him, and bade me relate the particulars of the retreat, which I was proud enough to do, my masters, and which of you would not be, speaking as I did with our gallant sovereign as friend with friend?"

"Aye, and does he not make us all feel this?" burst simultaneously from many voices; "does he not speak, and treat us all as if we were his friends, and not his subjects only? Thine was a proud task, good Murdoch, but which of us has good King Robert not addressed with kindly words and proffered hand?"

"Right! right!" joyously responded the old man; "still I say that hour was one of the proudest in my life, and an eventful one too for Scotland ere it closed. King Robert heard me with flashing eye and kindling cheek, and his voice, as he burst forth in high praise and love for his daring brother, sounded almost as strong and thrilling as was its wont in health; just then a struggle was heard without the tent, a[Pg 343] scuffle, as of a skirmish, confused voices, clashing of weapons, and war-cries. Up started the king, with eagle glance and eager tone. 'My arms,' he cried, 'bring me my arms! Ha hear ye that?' and sure enough, 'St. David for De Brechin, and down with the Bruce!' resounded so close, that it seemed as if but the curtain separated the traitor from his kinsman and his king. Never saw I the Bruce so fearfully aroused, the rage of the lion was upon him. 'Hear ye that?' he repeated, as, despite my remonstrances, and these of the officers who rushed into the tent, he sprang from the couch, and, with the rapidity of light, assumed his long-neglected armor. 'The traitorous villain! would he beard me to my teeth? By the heaven above us, he shall rue this insolence! Bring me my charger. Beaten off, say ye? I doubt it not, my gallant friends; but it is now the Bruce's turn, his kindred traitors are not far off, and we would try their mettle now. Nay, restrain me not, these folk will work a cure for me—there, I am a man again!' and as he stood upright, sheathed in his glittering mail, his drawn sword in his gauntleted hand, a wild shout of irrepressible joy burst from us all, and, caught up by the soldiers without the tent, echoed and re-echoed through the camp. The sudden appearance of the Bruce's charger, caparisoned for battle, standing before his master's tent, the drums rolling for the muster, the lightning speed with which Sir Edward Bruce, Lennox, and Hay, after dispersing De Brechin's troop, as dust on the plain, galloped to the royal pavilion, themselves equally at a loss to understand the bustle there, all prepared the men-at-arms for what was to come. Eagerly did the gallant knights remonstrate with their sovereign, conjure him to follow the battle in his litter, rather than attempt to mount his charger; they besought him to think what his life, his safety was to them, and not so rashly risk it. Lord Edward did entreat him to reserve his strength till there was more need; the field was then clear, the foes had not appeared; but all in vain their eloquence, the king combated it all. 'We will go seek them, brother,' cheerily answered the king; 'we will go tell them insult to the Bruce passes not unanswered. On, on, gallant knights, our men wax impatient.' Hastening from the tent, he stood one moment in the sight of all his men: removing his helmet, he smiled a gladsome greeting. Oh, what a shout rung forth from those iron ranks! There was that noble face,[Pg 344] pale, attenuated indeed, but beaming on them in all its wonted animation, confidence, and love; there was that majestic form towering again in its princely dignity, seeming the nobler from being so long unseen. Again and again that shout arose, till the wild birds rose screaming over our heads, in untuned, yet exciting chorus. Nor did the fact that the king, strengthened as he was by his own glorious soul, had in reality not bodily force enough to mount his horse without support, take from the enthusiasm of his men, nay, it was heightened and excited to the wildest pitch. 'For Scotland and freedom!' shouted the king, as for one moment he rose in his stirrups and waved his bright blade above his head. 'For Bruce and Scotland!' swelled the answering shout. We formed, we gathered in compact array around our leaders, loudly clashed our swords against our shields; we marched a brief while slowly and majestically along the plain; we neared the foe, who, with its multitude in terrible array, awaited our coming; we saw, we hurled defiance in a shout which rent the very air. Quicker and yet quicker we advanced; on, on—we scoured the dusty plain, we pressed, we flew, we rushed upon the foe; the Bruce was at our head, and with him victory. We burst through their ranks; we compelled them, at the sword's point, to turn and fight even to the death; we followed them foot to foot, and hand to hand, disputing every inch of ground; they sought to retreat, to fly—but no! Five miles of Scottish ground, five good broad miles, was that battle-field; the enemy lay dead in heaps upon the field, the remainder fled."

"And the king!" exclaimed the knight of the mask, half springing up in the excitement the old man's tale had aroused. "How bore he this day's wondrous deed—was not his strength exhausted anew?"

"Aye, what of the king?" repeated many of the soldiers, who had held their very breath while the veteran spoke, and clenched their swords, as if they were joining in the strife he so energetically described.

"The king, my masters," replied Murdoch, "why, if it could be, he looked yet more the mighty warrior at the close than at the commencement of the work. We had seen him the first in the charge, in the pursuit; we had marked his white plume waving above all others, where the strife waxed hottest; and when we gathered round him, when the fight was done, he was[Pg 345] seated on the ground in truth, and there was the dew of extreme fatigue on his brow—he had flung aside his helmet—and his cheek was hotly flushed, and his voice, as he thanked us for our gallant conduct, and bade us return thanks to heaven for this great victory, was somewhat quivering; but for all that, my masters, he looked still the warrior and the king, and his voice grew firmer and louder as he bade us have no fears for him. He dismissed us with our hearts as full of joy and love for him as of triumph on our humbled foes."

"No doubt," responded many voices; "but Buchan, Mowbray, De Brechin—what came of them—were they left on the field?"

"They fled, loving their lives better than their honor; they fled, like cowards as they were. The two first slackened not their speed till they stood on English ground. De Brechin, ye know, held out Angus as long as he could, and was finally made captive."

"Aye, and treated with far greater lenity than the villain deserved. He will never be a Randolph."

"A Randolph! Not a footboy in Randolph's train but is more Randolph than he. But thou sayest Buchan slackened not rein till he reached English ground; he lingered long enough for yet blacker treachery, if rumor speaks aright. Was it not said the king's life was attempted by his orders, and by one of the Comyn's own followers?"

"Ha!" escaped Sir Amiot's lips. "Say they this?" but he evidently had spoken involuntarily, for the momentary agitation which had accompanied the words was instantly and forcibly suppressed.

"Aye, your worship, and it is true," replied the veteran "It was two nights after the battle. All the camp was at rest; I was occupied as usual, by my honored watch in my sovereign's tent. The king was sleeping soundly, and a strange drowsiness appeared creeping over me too, confusing all my thoughts. At first I imagined the wind was agitating a certain corner of the tent, and my eyes, half asleep and half wakeful, became fascinated upon it; presently, what seemed a bale of carpets, only doubled up in an extraordinary small space, appeared within the drapery. It moved; my senses were instantly aroused. Slowly and cautiously the bale grew taller, then the unfolding carpet fell, and a short, well-knit, muscular[Pg 346] form appeared. He was clothed in those padded jerkins and hose, plaited with steel, which are usual to those of his rank; the steel, however, this night was covered with thin, black stuff, evidently to assist concealment. He looked cautiously around him. I had creeped noiselessly, and on all fours, within the shadow of the king's couch, where I could observe the villain's movements myself unseen. I saw a gleam of triumph twinkle in his eye, so sure he seemed of his intended victim. He advanced; his dagger flashed above the Bruce. With one bound, one shout, I sprang on the murderous wretch, wrenched the dagger from his grasp, and dashed him to the earth. He struggled, but in vain; the king started from that deep slumber, one moment gazed around him bewildered, the next was on his feet, and by my side. The soldiers rushed into the tent, and confusion for the moment waxed loud and warm; but the king quelled it with a word. The villain was raised, pinioned, brought before the Bruce, who sternly demanded what was his intent, and who was his employer. Awhile the miscreant paused, but then, as if spell-bound by the flashing orb upon him, confessed the whole, aye, and more; that his master, the Earl of Buchan, had sworn a deep and deadly oath to relax not in his hot pursuit till the life-blood of the Bruce had avenged the death of the Red Comyn, and that, though he had escaped now, he must fall at length, for the whole race of Comyn had joined hands upon their chieftain's oath. The brow of the king grew dark, terrible wrath beamed from his eyes, and it seemed for the moment as if he would deliver up the murderous villain into the hands that yearned to tear him piecemeal. There was a struggle, brief yet terrible, then he spoke, and calmly, yet with a bitter stinging scorn.

"'And this is Buchan's oath,' he said. 'Ha! doth he not bravely, my friends, to fly the battle-field, to shun us there, that hireling hands may do a deed he dares not? For this poor fool, what shall we do with him?'

"'Death, death—torture and death! what else befits the sacrilegious traitor?' burst from many voices, pressing forward to seize and bear him from the tent; but the king signed them to forbear, and oh, what a smile took the place of his previous scorn!

"'And I say neither torture nor death, my friends,' he tried. 'What, are we sunk so low, as to revenge this insult[Pg 347] on a mere tool, the instrument of a villainous master? No, no! let him go free, and tell his lord how little the Bruce heeds him; that guarded as he is by a free people's love, were the race of Comyn as powerful and numerous as England's self, their oath would avail them nothing. Let the poor fool go free!'

"A deep wild murmur ran through the now crowded tent, and so mingled were the tones of applause and execration, we knew not which the most prevailed.

"'And shall there be no vengeance for this dastard deed?' at length the deep, full voice of Lord Edward Bruce arose, distinct above the rest. 'Shall the Bruce sit tamely down to await the working of the villain oath, and bid its tools go free, filling the whole land with well-trained murderers? Shall Buchan pass scathless, to weave yet darker, more atrocious schemes?'

"'Brother, no,' frankly rejoined the king. 'We will make free to go and visit our friends in Buchan, and there, an thou wilt, thou shalt pay them in coin for their kindly intents and deeds towards us; but for this poor fool, again I say, let him go free. Misery and death, God wot, we are compelled to for our country's sake, let us spare where but our own person is endangered.'

"And they let him free, my masters, unwise as it seemed to us; none could gainsay our sovereign's words. Sullen to the last, the only symptom of gratitude he vouchsafed was to mutter forth, in, answer to the Bruce's warning words to hie him to his comrades in Buchan, and bid them, an they feared fire and devastation, to fly without delay, 'Aye, only thus mayest thou hope to exterminate the traitors; pity none, spare none. The whole district of Buchan is peopled by the Comyn, bound by this oath of blood,' and thus he departed."

"And spoke he truth?" demanded Sir Amiot, hoarsely, and with an agitation that, had others more suspicious been with him, must have been remarked, although forcibly and painfully suppressed; "spoke he truth? Methought the district of Buchan had only within the last century belonged to the Comyn, and that the descendants of the Countess Margaret's vassals still kept apart, loving not the intermixture of another clan. Said they not it was on this account the Countess of Buchan had exercised such influence, and herself beaded a gal[Pg 348]lant troop at the first rising of the Bruce? an the villain spoke truth, whence came this change?"

"Why, for that matter, your worship, it is easy enough explained," answered Murdoch, "and, trust me, King Robert set inquiries enough afloat ere he commenced his scheme of retaliation. Had there been one of the Lady Isabella's own followers there, one who, in her name, claimed his protection, he would have given it; not a hair of their heads would have been injured; but there were none of these, your worship. The few of the original clan which had not joined him were scattered all over the country, mingling with other loyal clans; their own master had hunted them away, when he came down to his own districts, just before the capture of his wife and son. He filled the Tower of Buchan with his own creatures, scattered the Comyns all over the land, with express commands to attack, hunt, or resist all of the name of Bruce to the last ebb of their existence. He left amongst them officers and knights as traitorous, and spirits well-nigh as evil as his own, and they obeyed him to the letter, for amongst the most inveterate, the most treacherous, and most dishonorable persecutors of the Bruce stood first and foremost the Comyns of Buchan. Ah! the land was changed from the time when the noble countess held sway there, and so they felt to their cost.

"It was a grand yet fearful sight, those low hanging woods and glens all in one flame; the spring had been particularly dry and windy, and the branches caught almost with a spark, and crackled and sparkled, and blazed, and roared, till for miles round we could see and hear the work of devastation. Aye, the coward earl little knew what was passing in his territories, while he congratulated himself on his safe flight into England. It was a just vengeance, a deserved though terrible retaliation, and the king felt it as such, my masters. He had borne with the villains as long as he could, and would have borne with them still, had he not truly felt nothing would quench their enmity, and in consequence secure Scotland's peace and safety, but their utter extermination, and all the time he regretted it, I know, for there was a terrible look of sternness and determination about him while the work lasted; he never relaxed into a smile, he never uttered a jovial word, and we followed him, our own wild spirits awed into unwonted silence. There was not a vestige of natural or human life in the district—all[Pg 349] was one mass of black, discolored ashes, utter ruin and appalling devastation. Not a tower of Buchan remains."

"All—sayest thou all?" said Sir Amiot, suddenly, yet slowly, and with difficulty. "Left not the Bruce one to bear his standard, and thus mark his power?"

"Has not your worship remarked that such is never the Bruce's policy? Three years ago, he had not force enough to fortify the castles he took from the English, and leaving them standing did but offer safe harbors for the foe, so it was ever his custom to dismantle, as utterly to prevent their reestablishment; and if he did this with the castles of his own friends, who all, as the Douglas saith, 'love better to hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak,' it was not likely he would spare Buchan's. But there was one castle, I remember, cost him a bitter struggle to demolish. It was the central fortress of the district, distinguished, I believe, by the name of 'the Tower of Buchan,' and had been the residence of that right noble lady, the Countess Isabella and her children. Nay, from what I overheard his grace say to Lord Edward, it had formerly given him shelter and right noble hospitality, and a dearer, more precious remembrance still to his noble heart—it had been for many months the happy home of his brother, Sir Nigel, and we know what magic power all associated with him has upon the king; and had it not been for the expostulations of Lord Edward, his rough yet earnest entreaty, methinks that fortress had been standing yet. That sternness, terrible to behold, for it ever tells of some mighty inward passions conquered, again gathered on our sovereign's brow, but he turned his charger's head, and left to Lord Edward the destruction of the fortress, and he made quick work of it; you will scarce find two stones together of its walls."

"He counselled right," echoed many voices, the eagerness with which they had listened, and now spoke, effectually turning their attention from their mysterious leader, who at old Murdoch's last words had with difficulty prevented the utterance of a deep groan, and then, as if startled at his own emotion, sprung up from his reclining posture, and joined his voice to those of his men. "He counselled, and did rightly," they repeated; "it would have been an ill deed to spare a traitor's den for such softening thoughts. Could we but free the Countess Isabella, she would not want a home in Buchan[Pg 350]—nay, the further from her cruel husband's territories the better and for her children—the one, poor innocent, is cared for, and the other—"

"Aye, my masters, and trust me, that other was in our sovereign's heart as forcibly as the memories he spoke. That which we know now concerning him was then undreamed of; it was only faintly rumored that Lord Douglas had been deceived, and Alan of Buchan had not fallen by a father's hand, or at least by his orders; that he was in life, in close confinement; my old ears did catch something of this import from the king, as he spoke with his brother."

"What import?" asked Sir Amiot, hoarsely.

"Only, your worship, that, for the sake of the young heir of Buchan, he wished that such total devastation could have been spared; if he were really in life, as rumor said, it was hard to act as if he were forgotten by his friends."

"And what was Sir Edward's reply?"

"First, that he doubted the rumor altogether; secondly, that if he did return to the king, his loss might be more than made up; and thirdly, that it was more than probable that, young as he was, if he really did live, the arts of his father would prevail, and he would purchase his freedom by homage and fidelity to England."

"Ha! said he so—and the king?"

"Did not then think with him, nay, declared he would stake his right hand that the boy, young as he was, had too much of his mother's noble spirit for such a deed. It was well the stake was not accepted, for, by St. Andrew, as the tale now goes, King Robert would have lost."

"As the tale now goes, thou unbelieving skeptic," replied one of his comrades, laughing; "has not the gallant been seen, recognized—is he not known as one of King Edward's minions, and lords it bravely? But hark! there are chargers pricking over the plain. Hurrah! Sir Edward and Lord James," and on came a large body of troopers and infantry even as he spoke.

Up started Sir Amiot's men in eager readiness to greet and join; their armor and weapons they had laid aside were resumed, and ere their comrades reached them all were in readiness. Sir Amiot, attended by his esquires and a page, galloped forward, and the two knights, perceiving his advance,[Pg 351] spurred on before their men, and hasty and cordial greetings were exchanged. We should perhaps note that Sir Amiot's manner slightly differed in his salutation of the two knights. To Lord Edward Bruce he was eager, frank, cordial, as that knight himself; to the other, whom one glance proclaimed as the renowned James Lord Douglas, there was an appearance of pride or reserve, and it seemed an effort to speak with him at all. Douglas perhaps did not perceive this, or was accustomed to it, for it seemed to affect him little; and Lord Edward's bluff address prevented all manifestation of difference between his colleagues, even if there existed any.

"Ready to mount and ride; why that's well," he cried. "We are beyond our time, but it is little reck, we need but spur the faster, which our men seem all inclined to do. What news? why, none since we parted, save that his grace has resolved on the siege of Perth without further delay."

"Nay, but that is news, so please you," replied Sir Amiot. "When I parted from his grace, there was no talk of it."

"There was talk of it, but no certainty; for our royal brother kept his own counsel, and spoke not of this much-desired event till his way lay clear before him. There have been some turbulent spirits in the camp—your humble servant, this black lord, and Randolph amongst them—who in truth conspired to let his grace know no peace by night or day till this object was attained; but our prudent monarch gave us little heed till his wiser brain arranged the matters we but burned to execute."

"And what, think you, fixed this resolve?"

"Simply that for a time we are clear of English thieves and Norman rogues, and can march northward, and sit down before Perth without fear of being called southward again. Edward will have enow on his hands to keep his own frontiers from invasion; 'twill be some time ere he see the extent of our vengeance, and meanwhile our drift is gained."

"Aye, it were a sin and crying shame to let Perth remain longer in English hands," rejoined Douglas; "strongly garrisoned it may be; but what matter?"

"What matter! why, 'tis great matter," replied Sir Edward, joyously. "What glory were it to sit down before a place and take it at first charge? No, give me good fighting, tough assault, and brave defence. Think you I would have so urged[Pg 352] the king, did I not scent a glorious struggle before the walls? Strongly garrisoned! I would not give one link of this gold chain for it, were it not. But a truce to this idle parley; we must make some miles ere nightfall. Sir Knight of the Branch, do your men need further rest? if not, give the word, and let them fall in with their comrades, and on."

"Whither?" demanded Sir Amiot, as he gave the required orders. "Where meet we the king?"

"In the Glen of Auchterader, south of the Erne. Lady Campbell and Isoline await us there, with the troops left as their guard at Dumbarton. So you perceive our friend Lord Douglas here hath double cause to use the spur; times like these afford little leisure for wooing, and such love-stricken gallants as himself must e'en make the most of them."

"And trust me for doing so," laughingly rejoined Douglas. "Scoff' at me as you will, Edward, your time will come."

"Not it," answered the warrior; "glory is my mistress. I love better to clasp my true steel than the softest and fairest hand in Christendom; to caress my noble steed and twine my hand thus in his flowing mane, and feel that he bears me gallantly and proudly wherever my spirit lists, than to press sweet kisses on a rosy lip, imprisoned by a woman's smile."

"Nay, shame on thee!" replied Douglas, still jestingly. "Thou a true knight, and speak thus; were there not other work to do, I would e'en run a tilt with thee, to compel thee to forswear thy foul treason against the fair."

"Better spend thy leisure in wooing Isoline; trust me, she will not be won ere wooed. How now, Sir Knight of the Branch, has the fiend melancholy taken possession of thee again? give her a thrust with thy lance, good friend, and unseat her. Come, soul of fire as thou art in battle, why dost thou mope in ashes in peace? Thou speakest neither for nor against these matters of love; wilt woo or scorn the little god?"

"Perchance both, perchance neither," replied the knight, and his voice sounded sadly, though he evidently sought to speak in jest. He had fallen back from the side of Douglas during the previous conversation, but the flashing eye denoted that it had passed not unremarked. He now rode up to the side of Lord Edward, keeping a good spear's length from Lord James, and their converse turning on martial subjects, became[Pg 353] more general. Their march being performed without any incident of note, we will, instead of following them, take a brief retrospective glance on those historical events which had so completely and gloriously turned the fate of Scotland and her patriots, in those five years which the thread of our narrative compels us to leave a blank.