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- In Freedom's Cause - 20/60 -
that which Archie, as their feudal superior, had a right to demand from them. They had had a hard time under the Kerrs, who had raised all rents, and greatly increased their feudal services. They were sure of good treatment should the Forbeses make good their position as their lords, and were ready to make any sacrifices to aid them to do so.
Next morning a messenger arrived from Sir John Grahame, saying that he had, during the night, stormed Aberfilly, and that with scarce an exception all the vassals of the Kerrs -- when upon his arrival on the previous day they had learned of his purpose in coming, and of the disposition which Wallace had made of the estate -- had accepted the change with delight, and had joined him in the assault upon the castle, which was defended only by thirty men-at-arms. These had all been killed, and Sir John invited Archie to ride over at once and take possession. This he did, and found that the vassals of the estate were all gathered at the castle to welcome him. He was introduced to them by Sir John Grahame, and they received Archie with shouts of enthusiasm, and all swore obedience to him as their feudal lord. Archie promised them to be a kind and lenient chief, to abate any unfair burdens which had been laid upon them, and to respect all their rights.
"But," he said, "just at first I must ask for sacrifices from you. This castle is strong, but it must be made much stronger, and must be capable of standing a continued siege in case temporary reverses should enable the English to endeavour to retake it for their friend, Sir Allan Kerr. My vassals at Glen Cairn have promised an aid far beyond that which I can command, and I trust that you also will extend your time of feudal service, and promise you a relaxation in future years equivalent to the time you may now give."
The demand was readily assented to, for the tenants of Aberfilly were no less delighted than those of Glen Cairn to escape from the rule of the Kerrs. Archie, accompanied by Sir John Grahame, now made an inspection of the walls of his new hold. It stood just where the counties of Linlithgow and Edinburgh join that of Lanark. It was built on an island on a tributary of the Clyde. The stream was but a small one, and the island had been artificially made, so that the stream formed a moat on either side of it, the castle occupying a knoll of ground which rose somewhat abruptly from the surrounding country. The moat was but twelve feet wide, and Archie and Sir John decided that this should be widened to fifty feet and deepened to ten, and that a dam should be built just below the castle to keep back the stream and fill the moat. The walls should everywhere be raised ten feet, several strong additional flanking towers added, and a work built beyond the moat to guard the head of the drawbridge. With such additions Aberfilly would be able to stand a long siege by any force which might assail it.
Timber, stones, and rough labour there were in abundance, and Wallace had insisted upon Archie's taking from the treasures which had been captured from the enemy, a sum of money which would be ample to hire skilled masons from Lanark, and to pay for the cement, iron, and other necessaries which would be beyond the resources of the estate. These matters in train, Archie rode to Lanark and fetched his proud and rejoicing mother from Sir Robert Gordon's to Aberfilly. She was accompanied by Sandy Graham and Elspie: the former Archie appointed majordomo, and to be in command of the garrison whenever he should be absent.
The vassals were as good as their word. For three months the work of digging, quarrying, cutting, and squaring timber and building went on without intermission. There were upon the estates fully three hundred ablebodied men, and the work progressed rapidly. When, therefore, Archie received a message from Wallace to join him near Stirling, he felt that he could leave Aberfilly without any fear of a successful attack being made upon it in his absence.
There was need, indeed, for all the Scotch, capable of bearing arms, to gather round Wallace. Under the Earl of Surrey, the high treasurer Cressingham, and other leaders, an army of 50,000 foot and 1000 horse were advancing from Berwick, while 8000 foot and 300 horse under Earl Percy advanced from Carlisle. Wallace was besieging the castle of Dundee when he heard of their approach, and leaving the people of Dundee to carry on the siege under the command of Sir Alexander Scrymgeour, he himself marched to defend the only bridge by which Edward could cross the Forth, near Stirling.
Thus far Surrey had experienced no resistance, and at the head of so large and well appointed a force he might well feel sure of success. A large proportion of his army consisted of veterans inured to service in wars at home, in Wales, and with the French, while the mail clad knights and men-at-arms looked with absolute contempt upon the gathering which was opposed to them. This consisted solely of popular levies of men who had left their homes and taken up arms for the freedom of their country. They were rudely armed and hastily trained. Of all the feudal nobles of Scotland who should have led them, but one, Sir Andrew Moray, was present. Their commander was still little more than a youth, who, great as was his individual valour and prowess, had had no experience in the art of war on a large scale; while the English were led by a general whose fame was known throughout Europe.
The Scots took up their station upon the high ground north of the Forth, protected from observation by the precipitous hill immediately behind Cambuskenneth Abbey and known as the Abbey Craig. In a bend of the river, opposite the Abbey Craig, stood the bridge by which the English army were preparing to cross. Archie stood beside Wallace on the top of the craig, looking at the English array.
"It is a fair sight," he said; "the great camp, with its pavilions, its banners, and pennons, lying there in the valley, with the old castle rising on the lofty rock behind them. It is a pity that such a sight should bode evil to Scotland."
"Yes," Wallace said; "I would that the camp lay where it is, but that the pennons and banners were those of Scotland's nobles, and that the royal lions floated over Surrey's tent. Truly that were a sight which would glad a Scot's heart. When shall we see ought like it? However, Archie," he went on in a lighter tone, "methinks that that will be a rare camp to plunder."
Archie laughed. "One must kill the lion before one talks of dividing his skin," he said; "and truly it seems well nigh impossible that such a following as yours, true Scots and brave men though they be, yet altogether undisciplined and new to war, should be able to bear the brunt of such a battle."
"You are thinking of Dunbar," Wallace said; "and did we fight in such a field our chances would be poor; but with that broad river in front and but a narrow bridge for access, methinks that we can render an account of them."
"God grant it be so!" Archie replied; "but I shall be right glad when the day is over."
Three days before the battle the Steward of Scotland, the Earl of Lennox, and others of the Scotch magnates entered Surrey's camp and begged that he would not attack until they tried to induce the people to lay down their arms. They returned, however, on the third day saying that they would not listen to them, but that the next day they would, themselves, join his army with their men-at-arms. On leaving the camp that evening the Scotch nobles, riding homeward, had a broil with some English soldiers, of whom one was wounded by the Earl of Lennox. News being brought to Surrey, he resolved to wait no longer, but gave orders that the assault should take place on the following morning. At daybreak of the 11th of September, 1297, one of the outposts woke Wallace with the news that the English were crossing the bridge. The troops were at once got under arms, and were eager to rush down to commence the battle, but Wallace restrained them. Five thousand Welsh foot soldiers crossed the bridge, then there was a pause, and none were seen following them. "Were we to charge down now, Sir William," Archie said, "surely we might destroy that body before aid could come to them."
"We could do, Archie, as you say," Wallace replied, "but such a success would be of little worth, nay, would harm rather than benefit us, for Surrey, learning that we are not altogether to be despised, as he now believes, would be more prudent in future and would keep his army in the flat country, where we could do nought against it. No, to win much one must risk much, and we must wait until half Surrey's army is across before we venture down against them."
Presently the Welsh were seen to retire again. Their movement had been premature. Surrey was still asleep, and nothing could be done until he awoke; when he did so the army armed leisurely, after which Surrey bestowed the honour of knighthood upon many young aspirants. The number of the Scots under Wallace is not certainly known; the majority of the estimates place it below twenty thousand, and as the English historian, who best describes the battle, speaks of it as the defeat of the many by the few, it can certainly be assumed that it did not exceed this number.
Only on the ground of his utter contempt for the enemy can the conduct of the Earl of Surrey, in attempting to engage in such a position, be understood. The bridge was wide enough for but two, or at most three, horsemen to cross abreast, and when those who had crossed were attacked assistance could reach them but slowly from the rear.
The English knights and men-at-arms, with the Royal Standard and the banner of the Earl of Surrey, crossed first. The men-at-arms were followed by the infantry, who, as they passed, formed up on the tongue of land formed by the winding of the river.
When half the English army had passed Wallace gave the order to advance. First Sir Andrew Moray, with two thousand men, descended the hills farther to the right, and on seeing these the English cavalry charged at once against them. The instant they did so Wallace, with his main army, poured down from the craig impetuously and swept away the English near the head of the bridge, taking possession of the end, and by showers of arrows and darts preventing any more from crossing. By this maneuver the whole of the English infantry who had crossed were cut off from their friends and inclosed in the narrow promontory.
The English men-at-arms had succeeded in overthrowing the Scots, against whom they had charged, and had pursued them some distance; but upon drawing rein and turning to rejoin the army, they found the aspect of affairs changed indeed. The troops left at the head of the bridge were overthrown and destroyed. The royal banner and that of Surrey were down, and the bridge in the possession of the enemy. The men-at-arms charged back and strove in vain to recover the head of the bridge. The Scots fought stubbornly; those in front made a hedge of pikes, while those behind hurled darts and poured showers of arrows into the English ranks. The greater proportion of the men-at-arms were killed. One valiant knight alone, Sir Marmaduke de Twenge, with his nephew and a squire, cut their way
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