Echoes From The Past – Episode 26

Dunskillen in early summer was an enchanting place. The Laird of Dunskillen, a man of middle years who liked the quiet life, looked out on his land and admired the burgeoning woodland, the well-kept fields, the fat cattle and newborn lambs. He didn’t see any of the numerous men and boys it took to run the place. He saw only the land, stretching for miles towards the south-west. This was his inheritance, his life. No wonder that he fretted about what the next few weeks would bring.

The next few hours, he had been told, would bring the King himself, which was both an honour and a concern. He had no worries that the standard of hospitality he could offer King Robert the Bruce would be inadequate.

He liked to think that he could offer as much good food, wine and accommodation as anywhere in the Stirling area.

He was certainly confident that the King must occasionally have endured the kind of privation that would make a stay at Dunskillen luxurious in comparison. His worry was more to do with what would happen to him and his property in the event of a military engagement within shouting distance. So much depended on who would win it.

The King’s outrider came down the wooded slope to the east in the late afternoon, followed by the royal party. King he might be, but Robert boasted none of the outward display that his counterpart Edward the Second of England seemed to favour. According to reports, Edward travelled with every luxury to hand. Not so Robert. The King appeared wearing a leather jerkin beneath an anonymous and unpretentious cloak. His head was bare of either headgear or crown, which Dunskillen found a little disconcerting. Was this really the King of Scotland? He could have been anyone.

The King was tall and athletic, and when he dismounted Dunskillen could see that he had a presence about him, but he did not come over as commanding. Rather, he was polite.

“I hope you are expecting us,” Robert said, with a courteous nod.

“Your Majesty,” Dunskillen answered, giving a low bow. “We are deeply honoured. Anything we have at our disposal is yours to command. I invite you into the hall to eat and take your ease.”

Robert nodded his thanks, and handed the reins of his horse to his groom. The party consisted of only a dozen men, most of whom looked constantly about them, hand on hilt. Satisfied that no-one was following them, they went into the castle.

The main room in the castle was the hall, where almost everything happened. The kitchens were off it, and a stair ran up the side to a few private rooms above, but the household tended to congregate in the hall itself. There were long tables set up, with benches to sit on. Dunskillen’s four dogs patrolled the place, sniffing out the newcomers. They were apparently so impressed with the King’s rank that they lay down at his feet.

Dunskillen’s wife Marjorie appeared, flustered at having to entertain such an illustrious guest.

“Your Majesty,” she said, plump and out of breath. She had on her best head-dress, which made her hot on that early summer day. “Would Your Majesty care for some ale, or wine? We have both, the wine all the way from France.”

Robert smiled.

“That would be kind of you, mistress.”

“And we have plenty of meat and fresh baked bread.”

“Thank you.” The King nodded.

Dunskillen interrupted.

“Away with you, Marjorie. Don’t bother His Majesty with details. Just bring everything in.”

Marjorie curtseyed and backed away. Five minutes later, Marjorie’s finest goblets appeared, and flagons of ale and wine. The smell of roasting meat permeated the great hall, so that when it appeared, the men fell on it, not realising how hungry they were. The freshly baked bread likewise disappeared at speed, so that Marjorie was able to congratulate herself on her own housewifely excellence.

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!