With slight changes -- this post is almost entirely based on
"THE PATH OF THE HERO KING"
written by Nigel Tranter.
It's late 1306. The Bruce and his remaining handful of loyal companions had been hiding out in the Hebridean Islands after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Methven and are now returned to the Scottish Mainland. Holed up in the wild Galloway country, they've just been joined by a force of 40 men-at-arms granted by the King's cousin Christina of Carrick -- the most support she can raise from her small lands.
The King's favorite brother, Nigel Bruce, was taken prisoner at Kildrummy Castle some weeks ago, dragged all the way south to Berwick and then hung, drawn and quartered on Longshank's orders. Sir Robert Boyd, one of Wallace's Veteran Guerrilla Captains has just told the King of the capture and execution of two more of his brothers -- Thomas and Alexander Bruce -- and now he has even more dire news.
“Sire,” Boyd said at length, his normally strong voice uncertain. “I have still more to tell.”
Bruce strode on, set-faced. He might not have heard.
“Sire, it concerns your ladies. Her Grace, Elizabeth the Queen. The Princess Marjory. Your sisters Mary and Christian. All the women of your household.”
The King stopped in his tracks.
“They, they are not … not slain,” Boyd went on hurriedly, almost gabbling for so slow and deliberate a speaker. “The Queen is sent, a prisoner, to Holderness Castle on the Humber. To be held close. Alone. The child taken from her …”
“Edward does that! To Elizabeth? His own god-daughter, whom he claims to love?”
“Yet that is the best of it, Sire. Hear me. Marjory, the child — she is sent to London. Alone. To the Tower. Not to be spoken to by anyone. There to be hung in a cage. On the outer walls of the Tower. For all to gaze at. Like an animal. In the open. A cage, of timber and iron.”
“What …!!??” That was a strangled cry.
“The Lady Mary, your sister , also. She to be hung in a similar cage. On the walls of Roxburgh Castle. Day and night. In cold and heat.
Isabel the Countess of Buchan likewise, she who crowned you at Scone ....
.... she is to be hung in a cage on the walls of Berwick ....” The knight’s voice tailed away.
Bruce was staring at the other unseeing, his features working strangely. Then he turned to stride on, at something near to a run; and when Boyd would have hurried with him, flung round and pushed him away, violently. He stalked on alone up that twisting climbing path, not a word spoken.
“The Lady Christian, Countess of Mar,” Sir Robert called after him desperately, as though he must at all costs be quit of the last of his terrible news. “Your other sister. To be confined to a nunnery, forever …”
There was no sign from the King. Boyd turned and held the others back, his awful duty done at last. But presently they caught up with Bruce, at the edge of the wide and deep stream guarding their refuge.
Expressionless the King turned to Boyd, Sir Gilbert Hay and the Lady Christina of Carrick, as they came up.
“Cousin — let me carry you across this stream,” he said levelly. “The rest, follow exactly where I tread. A foot wrong, and you will be swept away. Lead each horse with great care. It is like a causeway, smooth rock, and slippery. And it is not straight.”
That sounded almost like a child’s learned lesson repeated. He picked up the young woman in his arms, and now she found nothing to say to him, in the face of that granite-like sternness of expression.
He stepped into the swirling water with her, and waded across with steady deliberate pacing, counting the steps until making a dog’s-leg bend two-thirds of the way over. Setting his burden down wordlessly, at the far bank, he paused, to watch the progress of the others.
Lady Christina exchanged glances with Sir Gilbert Hay.
Eyeing the Bruce, Hay thought that he had never seen a face so abruptly and direly changed. It was as though the living flesh had been overlaid and cast in hard, unyielding bronze, the once lively eyes hooded and dull-glazed. No man there sought to catch those eyes.
When all were across the hazard of the torrent, Bruce led on slantwise uphill, away from the water, to skirt the foot of the crags, amongst the rock-falls and screes. For perhaps a quarter mile more they climbed , until they came to a single Highlandman standing guard beside a great boulder. Beyond was a sort of re-entrant in the cliffs, with a scooped dip before it and at the foot, the yawning mouth of a cave. There was no room here for the horses, and Hay took them, and the men-at-arms, down to a hidden green hollow nearby, amongst gorse-bushes and scattered hawthorns.
Bruce ushered his principal guests into the cave. Behind the lady, he paused, turning to Boyd.
“Cages, you said? In the open air? On walls? In winter? For a 12-year-old child! And women!” He spoke as though he used a foreign language, carefully, without intonation. “I did not mishear?”
“Cages, Sire. High on the outer walls of London Tower, Roxburgh and Berwick Castles.”
Sir Robert Boyd, hard-bitten ruthless soldier, raised his eyes to his monarch’s face .... and quickly dropped them again.
They went inside.
To be continued....