Echoes From The Past – Episode 39

The Laird of Dunskillen paced the floor of his baronial hall, trying to come to a conclusion on what might be the most important decision of his life. His men, under their captain, a man called Hepburn, awaited his instructions. Word had come that very morning that the English were massed at the Bannock burn, that the Bruce had killed a famous English baron, and that the battle had indeed begun. They would have to move, and soon, if they were not to be thought cowards.

Eventually, Dunskillen made up his mind, and came out to speak to Hepburn. The men were lined up in an impressive cohort, ready and waiting, and out of earshot.

“The news is grave,” Dunskillen said. “The English have charged the Scots, and whatever act of heroism Robert Bruce has shown, the numbers against him are insurmountable. I will not have my men butchered in a hopeless cause. They will fight for Edward, who will no doubt show his gratitude to us all. So you will head for the Bannock burn and not the New Forest. Is that understood?”

Hepburn showed only the stoicism of the seasoned soldier.

“Yes, sir.”

“Report back here when you get the chance.”

He nodded, but omitted to wish them good fortune before he returned to the castle. Hepburn turned back to his men, and raised his arm. His men were lightly armed with helmet, spear, thick padded jacket and armoured gloves. They looked at him expectantly.

“Follow me,” he said. And in a splendidly ordered fashion for a unit made up mainly of volunteers, they marched off in their captain’s wake.

Having made an early start, they could expect to reach the Bannock burn by the middle of the morning, but when it came to the point where the way divided, Hepburn called a halt, stood on a bit of high ground, and spoke loud and clear.

“Listen to me, men. I am a Scotsman, through and through. I will fight for King Robert, but I am instructed to fight for the English king instead. The laird thinks that Edward will win, and does not want us to engage in a useless cause. He thinks the King will reward us.”

He paused, watching the men’s reaction. One or two of them were expressionless, but most of them showed astonished rage. It was one of the younger ones who stepped forward, raising his spear.

“I canna, sir. I canna fight for Edward. I am Robert’s man.”

“I see.” The captain looked over the rest of his troops. “Is this a general feeling, or does anyone agree with the laird? Be honest. There will be no reprisals while I’m in charge.”

One of the older men spoke next in a low growl.

“I have trained and promised to fight for my country. Why would I change now?”

That produced a chorus of agreement. Hepburn raised his voice.

“You know our chances are not good. There are many more of them than there are of us. What say you now?”

The voices followed one after the other.

“Scotland. I fight for Scotland and Robert.”

“No-one calls me traitor. King Robert, say I.”

Hepburn smiled grimly.

“Aye. And so do we all. This way, men. To the New Forest.”

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!