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- In Freedom's Cause - 10/60 -
less than 1000 horsemen. Sir John Grahame, Sir John of Tinto, and Auchinleck assembled about 3000 mounted troops and a large number of foot, many of whom, however, were imperfectly armed. Sir Ronald Crawford, Wallace's uncle, being so close to Ayr, could not openly join him, but secretly sent reinforcements and money. Many other gentlemen joined with their followers.
The news of the fall of Lanark and of the numbers who were flocking to join Wallace paralysed the commanders of the English garrisons, and for a time no steps were taken against him; but news of the rising was instantly sent to King Edward, who, furious at this fresh trouble in Scotland, which he had deemed finally conquered, instantly commenced preparations for another invasion. A body of troops was at once sent forward from England, and, being strengthened by bodies drawn from all the garrisons, assembled at Biggar. The army was commanded by the Earl of Kent. Heralds were sent to Wallace offering him not only pardon but an honourable post if he would submit, but warning him that if he refused this offer he should, when taken, be treated as a rebel and hung.
Wallace briefly refused submission, and said that he should be ready to give battle on the following morning.
At daybreak the army set forth, divided into three parts. Wallace, with Boyd and Auchinleck, commanded one; Sir John Grahame, with Wallace of Riccarton, the second; Sir Walter of Newbigging, with his son David and Sir John Clinto, the third. The cavalry were placed in front. The footmen, being imperfectly armed and disciplined, and therefore unable to withstand the first charge of the English, followed the cavalry.
Before marching forward Wallace called the commanders round him and charged them earnestly to restrain their men from plunder until the contest was decided, pointing out that many a battle had been lost owing to the propensity of those who gained the first advantage to scatter for plunder. Just as the Scotch were moving, a body of 300 horsemen, well armed and equipped, from Annandale and Eskdale, led by Halliday, Kirkpatrick, and Jardine, joined them; and with this accession of strength they marched forward confidently against the enemy.
Chapter V A Treacherous Plot
So rapid was the advance of Wallace's army that the English had scarce time to form when they were upon them. The Scotch charged with extreme impetuosity among the English ranks, directing the onslaught principally against the centre, commanded by the Earl of Kent.
The English resisted stoutly; but the Earl of Kent was struck down by Wallace himself, and was with difficulty borne off the field; and after severe fighting, the whole English army was thrown into disorder and took to flight. Some hundreds were killed in action, and many more in the pursuit which followed; this, however, Wallace would not allow to be pushed too far lest the fugitives should rally and turn. Then the victorious Scots returned to the English camp. In this was found a great abundance of provisions, arms, and other valuable booty. Many of the cattle were killed, and a sumptuous feast prepared. Then Wallace had the whole of the spoil carried off into a place of safety in the heart of a neighbouring bog, and he himself fell back to that shelter.
In the morning the English, who had rallied when the pursuit had ceased, again advanced, hoping to find Wallace unprepared. They were now commanded by the Earl of Lancaster, and had received some reinforcements in the night. They passed over the scene of the previous day's battle, and at last came in sight of the Scotch army. Wallace at first advanced, and then, as if dismayed at their superior strength, retired to the point where, in order to reach them, the English would have to cross a portion of the bog. The surface was covered with moss and long grass, and the treacherous nature of the ground was unperceived by the English, who, filled with desire to wipe out their defeat of the preceding day, charged impetuously against the Scotch line. The movement was fatal, for as soon as they reached the treacherous ground their horses sunk to the saddle girths. The Scotch had dismounted on firmer ground behind, and now advanced to the attack, some working round the flanks of the morass, others crossing on tufts of grass, and so fell upon the struggling mass of English. The Earl of Westmoreland and many others of note were killed, and the Earl of Lancaster, with the remains of his force, at once retreated south and recrossed the Border.
Archie had taken no part in the first battle. Wallace had asked him whether he would fight by his side or take command of a body of infantry; and he chose the latter alternative. Almost all the knights and gentlemen were fighting on horse with their followers, and Archie thought that if these were repulsed the brunt of the fray would fall upon the infantry. On this occasion, then, he gathered with his band of lads a hundred or so pikemen, and formed them in order, exhorting them, whatever happened, to keep together and to stand stoutly, even against a charge of horse. As the victory was won entirely by the cavalry he had no opportunity of distinguishing himself. Upon the second day, however, he did good service, as he and his lightly armed footmen were able to cross the bog in places impracticable to the dismounted men-at-arms in their heavy accoutrements.
The victory of Biggar still further swelled Wallace's forces. Sir William Douglas joined him, and other gentlemen. A great meeting was held at Forest Kirk, when all the leaders of Wallace's force were present; and these agreed to acknowledge him as general of the Scottish forces against England, with the title of Warden of Scotland.
King Edward was at this time busied with his wars in France, and was unable to despatch an army capable of effecting the reconquest of that portion of Scotland now held by Wallace; and as the English forces in the various garrisons were insufficient for such purpose, the Earl of Percy and the other leaders proposed a truce. This was agreed to. Although Wallace was at the head of a considerable force, Sir William Douglas was the only one among the Scottish nobles of importance who had joined him; and although the successes which he had gained were considerable, but little had been really done towards freeing Scotland, all of whose strong places were still in the hands of the English, and King Edward had not as yet really put out his strength.
The greater portion of the army of Wallace was now dispersed.
Shortly afterwards the governor of Ayr issued a notice that a great council would be held at that town, and all the Scotch gentlemen of importance in the district were desired to attend. Wallace was one of those invited; and deeming that the governor might have some proposition of Edward to lay before them, he agreed to do so. Although a truce had been arranged, he himself with a band of his most devoted followers still remained under arms in the forest, strictly keeping the truce, but holding communications with his friends throughout the country, urging them to make every preparation, by collecting arms and exercising their vassals, to take the field with a better appointed force at the conclusion of the truce. Provisions and money were in abundance, so large had been the captures effected; but Wallace was so accustomed to the free life of the woods that he preferred to remain there to taking up his abode in a town. Moreover, here he was safe from treachery; for he felt sure that although the English nobles and leaders would be incapable of breaking a truce, yet that there were many of lower degree who would not hesitate at any deed of treachery by which they might gain reward and credit from their king. Archie's band were found of the greatest service as messengers; and although he sometimes spent a few days at Sir Robert Gordon's with his mother, he generally remained by the side of Wallace. The spot where the Scottish leader was now staying lay about halfway between Lanark and Ayr.
Archie heard with uneasiness the news of the approaching council, and Wallace's acceptance of the invitation. The fact that the Earl of Percy, a very noble knight and gentleman, had been but lately recalled from the governorship of Ayr and had been replaced by one of somewhat low degree, Arlouf of Southampton, still further increased his doubts. It seemed strange that the governorship of so important a town -- a post deemed fitting for Earl Percy -- should be bestowed on such a man, were it not that one was desired who would not hesitate to perform an action from which any honourable English gentleman would shrink.
Two days before the day fixed for the council he called Cluny Campbell and another lad named Jock Farrel to him.
"I have a most important mission for you," he said. "You have heard of the coming council at Ayr. I wish to find out if any evil is intended by the governor. For this purpose you two will proceed thither. You Cluny will put on the garments which you brought with you; while you Jock had best go as his brother. Here is money. On your way procure baskets and buy chickens and eggs, and take them in with you to sell. Go hither and thither among the soldiers and hear what they say. Gather whether among the townspeople there is any thought that foul play may be intended by the English. Two of the band will accompany you to within a mile of Ayr, and will remain there in order that you may from time to time send news by them of aught that you have gathered. Remember that the safety of Wallace, and with it the future of Scotland, may depend upon your care and vigilance. I would myself have undertaken the task; but the Kerrs are now, I hear, in Ayr, and a chance meeting might ruin all; for whatever the truce between English and Scotch, they would assuredly keep no truce with me did they meet me. Mind, it is a great honour that I have done you in choosing you, and is a proof that I regard you as two of the shrewdest of my band, although the youngest among them."
Greatly impressed with the importance of their mission, the lads promised to use their utmost vigilance to discover the intentions of the governor; and a few minutes later, Cluny being attired in his sister's clothes, and looking, as Archie laughingly said, "a better looking girl than she was herself," they started for Ayr, accompanied by two of their companions. They were to remain there until the conclusion of the council, but their companions would be relieved every six hours. Upon their way they procured two baskets, which they filled with eggs and chickens; and then, leaving their comrades a mile outside Ayr, fearlessly entered the town.
The council was to take place in a large wooden building some short distance outside the town, which was principally chosen because it was thought by the governor that the Scotch gentlemen would have less reluctance to meet him there than if they were asked to enter a city with a strong garrison of English.
The first day the lads succeeded in finding out nothing which could
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