Echoes From The Past – Episode 35

Only the fact that it was a dry June made it possible for Thomas and William to make the journey across the rough ground that was so often waterlogged. Even as it was, it was slow going. However, they were lucky when they got to the next bend in the river, in that they coincided with a boat carrying wool to the port of Stirling, approaching at a leisurely rate of knots.

Thomas called across.

“Can we beg a crossing, captain? We’ll pay well to be taken to the other side.”

They could see the captain and his mate looking askance at the two fit young men, possibly wearing armour under their capes, and certainly wearing swords. They could not tell whose army they might be fighting for, but no-one argued with armed men. The captain pulled into the side, nudged against the bank, and the two men leapt on board. As the crewmen spotted the Celtic brooch on Thomas’s cape, they relaxed a little.

The crossing took only ten minutes, during which time conversation was minimal, Thomas not wanting to risk his newly acquired Scottish accent more than he had to, and William maintaining a dignified silence. Thomas paid the captain over the odds, and they were decanted on the other side. The distance between them and the English army was by now significantly reduced.

The sun was still high in the sky when the English tents appeared on the horizon, near to the Bannock burn. The English army was a sight to behold, tens of thousands of men encamped over the acres, with their horses and wagons lined up in multitudes. Now that they were on what was, to all intents and purposes, English ground, Thomas took off the brooch and fastened it to his thick cotton shirt, underneath his armour, and out of sight.

King Edward’s tent was easily distinguished, larger than anyone else’s, and bright with red and gilt decoration. As the two men approached, they were stopped by two soldiers on bodyguard duty. William identified himself and Thomas as messengers from Sir Philip Mowbray in command of Stirling Castle.

“We are commanded to speak to the King,” William said.

“I can take any message,” the first man said. “You have a scrip?”

“We do, but it is for the King’s eyes only. We have to speak to His Majesty.”

It took some time, and a consultation with a couple of barons, before they were led into the presence of Edward the Second of that name.

Edward was a man of such ordinary and unexciting appearance that Thomas thought they might have been fobbed off with a lesser personage. Surely a royal would have something majestic about him. All this man had was a coronet to indicate his rank. There were jewels on it, but it was not encrusted. Perhaps even a king did not ride into battle with something unduly expensive on his head.

Edward sat on a gilt chair, surrounded by the kind of luxury one might have expected in the royal quarters in the Tower of London. Purple and gilt abounded in the cushions and the drapes. The drinking vessels were silver, and there were spiced cakes at the King’s elbow. Thomas could not help comparing everything with the Black Cockerel in Stirling town, whose fare was good but plain. Thomas did not think spices had ever made it into Stirling kitchens. He had barely eaten them himself.

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!