BOUT THE TIME when the Bruce was yet at the head of but few men, Sir Aymer de Valence, who was Earl of Pembroke, together with Sir John of Lorn, came into Galloway, each of them being at the head of a large body of men. John of Lorn had a bloodhound with him, which it was said had formerly belonged to Robert Bruce himself; and having been fed by the King with his own hands, it became attached to him, and would follow his footsteps anywhere, as dogs are well known to trace their master's steps, whether they be bloodhounds or not. By means of this hound, John of Lorn thought he should certainly find out Bruce, and take revenge on him for the death of his relation Comyn.
The King saw that he was followed by a large body, and being determined to escape from them, he made all the people who were with him disperse themselves different ways, thinking thus that the enemy must needs lose trace of him. He kept only one man along with him, and that was his own foster-brother, or the son of his nurse. When John of Lorn came to the place where Bruce's companions had dispersed themselves, the bloodhound, after it had sniffed up and down for a little, quitted the footsteps of all the other fugitives, and ran barking upon the track of two men out of the whole number. Then John of Lorn knew that one of these two must needs be King Robert. Accordingly, he commanded five of his men that were speedy of foot to chase after him, and either make him prisoner or slay him. The Highlanders started off accordingly, and ran so fast, that they gained sight of Robert and his foster-brother. The King asked his companion what help he could give him, and his foster-brother answered he was ready to do his best. So these two turned on the five men of John of Lorn, and killed them all.
But by this time Bruce very much fatigued, and yet they dared not sit down to take any rest; for whenever they stopped for an instant, they heard the cry of the bloodhound behind them, and knew by that, that their enemies were coming up fast after them. At length, they came to a wood, through which ran a small river. Then Bruce said to his foster-brother, "Let us wade down this stream for a great way, instead of going straight across, and so this unhappy hound will lose the scent; for if we were once clear of him, I should not be afraid of getting away from the pursuers." Accordingly, the King and his attendant walked a great way down the stream, taking care to keep their feet in the water, which could not retain any scent where they had stepped. Then they came ashore on the further side from the enemy, and went deep into the wood before they stopped to rest themselves. In the meanwhile, the hound led John of Lorn straight to the place where the King went into the water, but there the dog began to be puzzled, not knowing where to go next. So, John of Lorn, seeing the dog had lost track, gave up the chase, and returned to join with Aymer de Valence.
But King Robert's adventures were not yet ended. It was now near night, and he went boldy into a farmhouse, where he found the mistress, an old, true-hearted Scotswoman, sitting alone. Upon seeing a stranger enter she asked him who and what he was. The King answered that he was a traveller, who was journeying through the country.
"All travellers," answered the good woman, "are welcome here, for the sake of one."
"And who is that one," said the King, "for whose sake you make all welcome?"
"It is our rightful King, Robert the Bruce," answered the mistress, "and although he is now pursued and hunted after with hounds and horns, I hope to live to see him King over all Scotland."
"Since you love him so well, madame," said the King, "know that you see him before you. I am Robert the Bruce."
"You!" said the good woman, in great surprise; "and wherefore are you thus alone? where are all your men?"
"I have none with me at this moment," answered Bruce, "and therefore I must travel alone."
"But that shall not be," said the brave old dame, "for I have two stout sons, gallant and trusty men, who shall be your servants for life and death."
So she brought her two sons, and though she well knew the dangers to which she exposed them, she made them swear fidelity to the King.
Now, the loyal woman was getting everything ready for the King's supper, when suddenly there was a great trampling of horses heard round the house. They thought it must be some of the English, or John of Lorn's men, and the good wife called upon her sons to fight to the last for King Robert. But shortly after, they heard the voice of the good Lord James of Douglas, and of Edward Bruce, the King's brother, who had come with a hundred and fifty horsemen, according to the instructions that the King had left with them at parting.
Robert the Bruce was right joyful to meet his brother, and his faithful friend Lord James; and had no sooner found himself once more at the head of such a considerable body of followers, than he forgot hunger and weariness. There was nothing but mount and ride; and as the Scots rushed suddenly into the village where the English were quartered, they easily dispersed and cut them to pieces.
The consequence of these successes of King Robert was that soldiers came to join him on all sides, and that he obtained several victories over English commanders; until at length the English were afraid to venture into the open country, as formerly, unless when they could assemble themselves in considerable bodies. They thought it safer to lie still in the towns and castles which they had garrisoned.
Edward I would have entered Scotland at the head of a large army, before he had left Bruce time to conquer back the country. But very fortunately for the Scots, that wise and skilful, though ambitious King, died when he was on the point of marching into Scotland. His son Edward II neglected the Scottish war, and thus lost the opportunity of defeating Bruce, when his force was small. But when Sir Philip Mowbray, the governor of Stirling, came to London, to tell the King, that Stirling, the last Scottish town of importance which remained in possession of the English, was to be surrendered if it were not relieved by force of arms before midsummer, then all the English nobles called out, it would be a sin and shame to permit the fair conquest which Edward I had made, to be forfeited to the Scots for want of fighting.
King Edward II, therefore, assembled one of the greatest armies which a King of England ever commanded. There were troops brought from all his dominions, many brave soldiers from the French provinces, many Irish, many Welsh, and all the great English nobles and barons, with their followers. The number was not less than one hundred thousand men.
King Robert the Brace summoned all his nobles and barons to join him, when he heard of the great preparations which the King of England was making. They were not so numerous as the English by many thousand men. In fact, his whole army did not very much exceed thirty thousand, and they were much worse armed than the wealthy Englishmen; but then, Robert was one of the most expert generals of the time; and the officers he had under him, were his brother Edward, his faithful follower the Douglas, and other brave and experienced leaders. His men had been accustomed to fight and gain victories under every disadvantage of situation and numbers.
The King, on his part, studied how he might supply, by address and stratagem, what he wanted in numbers and strength. He knew the superiority of the English in their heavy-armed cavalry, and in their archers. Both these advantages he resolved to provide against. With this purpose, he led his army down into a plain near Stirling. The English army must needs pass through a boggy country, broken with water-courses, while the Scots occupied hard dry ground. He then caused all the ground upon the front of his line of battle, to be dug full of holes, about as deep as a man's knee. They were filled with light brushwood, and the turf was laid on the top, so that it appeared a plain field, while in reality it was as full of these pits as a honeycomb is of holes. He also, it is said, caused steel spikes, called calthrops, to be scattered up and down in the plain, where the English cavalry were most likely to advance, trusting in that manner to lame and destroy their horses.
When the Scottish army was drawn up, the line stretched north and south. On the south, it was terminated by the banks of the brook called Bannockburn, which are so rocky, that no troops could attack them there. On the left, the Scottish line extended near to the town of Stirling. Bruce reviewed his troops very carefully. He then spoke to the soldiers, and expressed his determination to gain the victory, or to lose his life on the field of battle. He desired that all those who did not propose to fight to the last, should leave the field before the battle began, and that none should remain except those who were determined to take the issue of victory or death, as God should send it. When the main body of his army was thus placed in order, the King dispatched James of Douglas, and Sir Robert Keith, the Mareschal of the Scottish army, in order that they might survey the English force. They returned with information, that the approach of that vast host was one of the most beautiful and terrible sights which could be seen--that the whole country seemed covered with men-at-arms on horse and foot.