Echoes From The Past – Episode 31

Although the Provost of Stirling town had a firm grip on the gates and could control who came in and out, the English were still in control of the castle, and their messengers still contrived to come and go to the outside world.  So when his spy came to his quarters, Sir Philip Mowbray, commander of the castle, wasted no time in finding out his message.

“Where are the Scots?” he asked, giving the man a mug of ale to slake his thirst. “Did you find them?”

“I did, sir.”

“And is Robert Bruce with them?”

“I believe so, sir, though I did not see him myself.”

The man drew a piece of parchment from inside his leather jerkin and spread it on the table.

“It may not be possible to see the army from the battlements. They are some distance off, and in the middle of what is called the New Forest. That . . .” the man pointed to a spot on the unfolded map “. . . is where they are. And there . . .” he pointed again, a good bit further south and a little to the east “. . . is where King Edward and the army are camped. They are lucky the ground is dry. This place is fearsome wet most of the time, I believe.”

“Yes,” Sir Philip said dryly. “I’ve been here long enough to notice that. Just be grateful you have shoes. Many of the local people do not.”

The man nodded, recognising the state of peasant people the world over.

Sir Philip sent the man off to the kitchens for food, and then mused a moment or two before sending for Sir William de Vere. Sir William arrived in minutes, like a dog straining at the leash.

“You wanted me, Sir Philip?”

Sir Philip looked at him with a faint smile. He had never known a keener knight. He had the feeling that William would have set out for the Holy Land with no more than ten minutes’ preparation if he had been so instructed.

“I have a mission for you, William. We need to get information to the King’s army, which might be tricky, given that the Scots are everywhere. Have a look at this map.”

The two men pored over the parchment as Sir Philip pointed out where both the armies were encamped.

“The Scots have a geographical advantage, but they seem to be a small affair. There are well-armed knights, by all accounts, and many regular soldiers who know what they’re doing. But their numbers are made up with lesser men, conscripted for this conflict. I don’t say they won’t be ferocious opponents, but they may not be as skilled as their superiors.”

“Sir, they are peasants,” Sir William said disdainfully. “We’ve seen the people here. Their soldiers will never be the equal of ours, even if there were twice as many of them. As it is –”

“Never underestimate the enemy,” Sir Philip said, raising his eyes from the map and meeting the other’s haughty gaze. “And especially never underestimate the Scots. They have a zeal I have rarely seen elsewhere.”

Sir William’s eyebrows rose.

“They are vassals, are they not, sir? They owe allegiance to King Edward.”

“You may well be right, but that is not how the Scots see it.”

“Then we shall teach them a lesson.”

Sir Philip nodded agreeably.

“Surely. But it is unwise to underestimate them. This is what I want you to do. Here,” he pointed to the map, “is where the Scots are encamped, and here,” he shifted his finger, “is King Edward and the English army. The King does not know where the Scots are, and he and the barons have to be told in as much detail as we can give them. Will you undertake to send someone reliable who is bold enough to take the inevitable risks?”


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!