The price of a King’s life: a dead-eye, and one dead dog

The following is an account of the aftermath of a disastrous failed attack on Thirwall castle, in England, by Robert the Bruce and a handful of men who had rode thereto in order to aid in the attack against that castle, of which was supposed to have been mounted by Sir James Douglas, who was, it turned out, still riding through his own lands of Douglasdale, back home in Scotland.

Being pursued by a force of six hundred, who were themselves a small piece of an army several thousand strong, Bruce decided that it was imperative that he and his handful of men split apart; every man for himself so to speak, otherwise, they could end up being wiped out as one whole body. Immediately, his men flew to the wind, yet Bruce, who had noted how the Lord of Lorn seemed to pursue him even then, asked his foster-brother if he would accompany him, so as to ascertain whether or not he, the King, had truly been recognized among the scattering rabble, or whether or not it was simple bad luck that set the foe’s attentions squarely upon him.

And so, as he and his man sprinted across the rolling hills, indeed, the enemy yet pursued them directly; a great war-dog now heralding them loudly and swiftly. He was being tracked, of course, Bruce then realized. But given the unerring stamina of that powerful King, Lord Lorn sometime later called off the pursuit by the main force, and instead sent out a party of five men; his strongest and fastest warriors. However, upon spotting this, Bruce resolved to stand and fight these men, and was quoted as saying:

“Yon five are coming quickly; they are almost upon us. So will you help at all, for we shall be attacked pretty soon?”

To which, his foster-brother replied, “Yes, sir, all that I can”

You say well indeed,” said the King. “I see them coming close to us. I’m going no further but will stay right here, while I still have breath, to see what strength they can muster”

And with that, the King then planted his feet squarely upon English soil, all but alone, to await firmly these, the lord Lorn’s chosen executioners. And those five men, traitor Scots all, hurtled toward the steadfast King and his foster-brother with much threatening and jeering and the waving of axe and sword. Bruce, however, simply awaited them in quiet observation; his sword poised, but held without tension; relaxed, even, in his bodily manner, as those rough few who would be King-slayers charged him; at their backs, the sight of Lorn’s main host continuing their advance must have been terrifying, and yet Bruce and his man faced them down. Two men with courage enough to turn upon the dirt of a hostile nation and face the army bearing down, and there before it, meet a portion head first.


And so on they came, the fiercest of a fierce foe, arriving in two sets as they did, with three going straight for Bruce, and the other two to the King’s man. But, instead of holding his ground, or seeking only to survive, to withstand the encounter; Bruce went forwards instead, to meet the enemy boldly and directly, and so struck the ear and cheek off of the foremost of his attackers, the blade slicing right down to the neck and onward so that half of the shoulder meat came away also. The second and third men were evidently cautious now, and so much so, that upon glimpsing the precarious situation befalling his foster-brother then, Bruce reasoned it safe to abandon his own adversary’s a moment, in favor of those other two.

And so leaping across to where his foster-brother battled valiantly, Bruce landed lightly to the side of the fray, and from there, decapitated the closest man in a single blow of his sword. Then, after having evened the odds somewhat, returned again to his own attackers, who, having gathered their wits and courage by then, came again, strongly this time, and together, to best the lone King through brute force, where skill could not overcome.

And yet, it was futile, for even in the outnumbering, they were themselves, outmatched severely, and this was to be brought home to one of those men starkly when his attacking arm returned to him a bloody stump; the sword of The Bruce only slightly bloodied, such was it’s sharpness, and by the speed of which the amputation had been performed.

Bruce sword
Lord Bruce presenting his ancestors Claymore

Needless to say, when it was all over; of the five, Bruce had slain four, with the other having ultimately fallen to the sword of his foster-brother. And with no time to wonder at their handy work, those two victors quickly took away, to make for a woodland nearby as the five hundred or so axes that accompanied the Lord of Lorn came rushing up to meet them; themselves in full battle-array, and with all but mere yards shielding the King from their wrath.

But, the King was cunning, you see, and knew fine well that the tracking hound would discover their trail whichever direction they took, and so told his foster-brother of how they could rob the hound of their scent if they jumped into he river that flowed through this place, and that if they could do that, then they would have no need to worry. Not surprisingly, his comrade agreed readily, and so both took away to the river as suggested; splashing down into it’s shallows, from which they then followed it’s course for some time.

But, unbeknownst to King, nor foster-brother, their plight had been observed by an archer of particular courage, who, upon having sighted the Lord of Lorn’s great tracking dog giving chase to The Bruce, resolved then to see it done away with, if he could, and so ensure that his King got away safely. And as that King and his man entered the shade of the wood, the archer had already crouched himself down in a bush great enough to conceal him, and from there, loosed an arrow into the great hounds chest, killing it instantly, so that it was to fall only meters from the tree line.

Scottish archer

And it’s more than likely that Bruce had made his escape without ever fully realizing just how dangerously close he had come to being killed that day, were it not for the unknown archer who, in anonymity, had quietly sacrificed himself for his King.

That man’s arrow, an instrument of fate; his nerve, a King’s reprieve; his aim, true enough to have maintained the very course of a nations destiny.

“For a’ that, and a’ that, their tinsel show, an’ a’ that; the honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, is King o’ men for a’ that”

Cinead MacAlpin.