FEBRUARY 10th 1306
GREYFRIARS CHURCH NEAR DUMFRIES CASTLE
see men in arms hidin’ in yonder wood,” cautioned Christopher Seton
quietly to Robert Brus as they led an armed procession, including Edward
Brus, Roger Kirkpatrick, James Lindsay, and twenty horsed knights, down
the snow-covered trail toward Greyfriars Church.
up on the kirk,” replied Robert to Christopher as he pulled his hood
tighter to his face against the biting cold wind. “They would be John
Comyn’s men waitin’.”
Seton was husband to Robert’s sister Christian; Kirkpatrick and Lindsay
were old friends from skirmishes with the English several years before,
and about the same age as Robert. Having heard of The Red Comyn’s
deceit, they individually joined Robert’s contingent, each for his own
to be greater in number than are we,” added Christopher, “but it is hard
to see with the sky growing so quickly black.” He looked at the heavy
winter clouds amassing to blot out the dwindling twilight from the sun,
little,” insisted Robert. “They’ll not attack us for fear of our havin’
John trapped in the abbey. Besides, I don’t expect trouble.”
not think them pure assassins?” asked Christopher.
fancy John Comyn that stupid,” retorted his brother-in-law.
rode up to the holy building and, with the quick eyes of experienced
warriors, took a survey of the situation. Everything looked normal in
the gathering dark. There were two horses standing near the
four-foot-high, gated fence that surrounded the entrance to the
the candles within made its small windows glow with a yellowish hue that
reflected softly off the stone steps, polished smooth by the tread of
the faithful generations.
knights were placed along the front as Robert, Christopher, Roger
Kirkpatrick, who wore a cloth band over the eye he had given for
Scotland, and James Lindsay dismounted.
their way up the steps and through the main door of the kirk. Edward
Brus and Thomas Randolph stayed outdoors and in command of the knights.
The dog waited on the steps, preferring to remain outside in the
threatening elements rather than enter the church.
vestibule, Robert doffed his hooded cloak and handed it to James
Lindsay, who laid it on a nearby table. Robert’s upper body armor showed
brightly burnished under a loosely worn tunic.
chose to retain his cloak and, alongside Robert, went through the heavy
wooden door into the sanctuary.
door open, John Comyn, standing before the high altar, turned gracefully
to greet Robert as one would hail an old friend. “Ah, the Earl of
Carrick has arrived! I hope yer journey was an uneventful one, Lord
Brus,” greeted John with a wide smile.
and I, and even my dog, would prefer to be at home by the fire on my own
hearth,” replied Robert with solemn aspect as he walked toward the spot
where John Comyn waited, his uncle at his side.
to inhibit the meeting, Christopher Seton stopped a few paces back from
the three men, that they might speak in confidence. He noticed, nearly
out of sight behind a low wall beyond the altar, two curious friars
watching the unfolding events, but nothing else moved within the
unheated room, save themselves.
looked upon John’s smiling, friendly face, a quiet rush of anger filled
his being, but he held his countenance.
this matter ye were so anxious to meet with me about?” asked John,
taking the high ground of innocence in his arrogance. Robert turned to
Christopher, who reached under his cloak to expose the distinctive black
and white pony hide pouch his brothers-in-law had taken from the corpse
of John Comyn’s late messenger.
betrayed his knowledge of the all too familiar packet.
have been his second day to the trail when yer messenger came upon our
camp and could not resist the warm fire and a hand-out supper,” related
Robert. Christopher calmly withdrew the contents from the pouch and,
striding forward, handed them to Robert.
this?” asked John feigning ignorance.
said Robert coldly, “is our agreement, the same in which ye agreed to
support me for the throne and I, in turn, would hand over all my lands
Comyn, standing only a few feet to the back of John, moved forward a
step as a sign of protection for his nephew.
malevolently flashing eyes piercing the older man’s courage, Robert Brus
gestured for him to back up, and he obeyed.
received yer lands,” said John turning his head away from Robert toward
the altar, and resting his open palms flat down on the top. It was a
disarming gesture, perhaps to hide his deception, perhaps to pray, for
he now knew that his plan’s worst possible outcome, and his most
deeply-held fear, had indeed apparently become manifest.
“And I am
not yet crowned,” replied Robert. “However that bears not on the crux of
the matter at hand.”
continued John, madly scheming to escape the trap.
support for yer attaining the crown of Scotland, with me to receive yer
lands in return,” asserted Robert, “but, ye chose instead to have my
lands… and relinquish yer claim to the crown to me, as witnessed by yer
hand and seal upon this agreement.” Though outwardly calm, he all but
trembled with rage.
“Aye, I do
believe that was the agreement,” replied John, who prayed that Robert
did not also have his letter to King Edward.
noiselessly peered over the low wall behind which they squatted, their
fear growing as the tension between the two men increased.
not a word as he revealed the dreaded second document in the pouch, the
letter to King Edward.
Comyn took the parchment from Robert’s hand and looked at it briefly,
then shouted in a somewhat shaky and overly surprised voice, “This be a
lie!” He looked at it aghast, to make Robert think it came to him as a
shock. “Someone plots against us and attempts to create distrust and
overthrow our strategy... someone who forged my privy seal...
“No one but
ye is responsible,” interrupted Robert in controlled anger, “Yer
messenger, lyin’ dead in the snow these past two weeks, no doubt has
been et by the wilderness, and ye think I have not the evidence to know
Robert, ye have obviously misread my intentions...” responded John
condescendingly as his nervous fingers danced against the jeweled grip
of the dirk he wore strapped around his waist.
now draw yer blade against me?” barked Robert gruffly.
Comyn shifted nervously as he crossed his arms in front of his chest,
thinking he could act faster from that position if need arose.
Seton stood firm but aware.
implored John, seeing that the time for dissuasion had gone from him,
“it is only that ye have not the mind, nor the heart for properly
administerin’ a government. ‘Tis true that there are few who can hope to
equal ye on the battlefield, but I...”
“Ye had the
choice to be king and ‘administer’ the government if ye thought I was
not capable. Nay, John, ye saw a way to claim my lands… and perhaps the
crown as well.” Robert through gritted teeth, “Ye lied, and ye betrayed
me! Aye, and Scotland!”
darting toward Robert Comyn to see his demeanor, The Red Comyn breathed
deep in anticipation of action, giving away his next move. He drew his
dirk and Robert Brus stepped back, pulling his own. Comyn’s blow was
strong but wild, and Brus easily sidestepped the swing.
Comyn looked at Christopher to see if his intention was to join the
fight. Christopher held his position.
regained his balance and came at his adversary once more.
battle-hardened instincts, the Brus grabbed John Comyn’s blade arm,
pushed it outward and struck with his own dirk at Comyn’s torso with
such force that he pierced the man’s armor and went deep into his upper
chest and shoulder.
removed his blade from the stout hold of Comyn’s armor, but once
retrieved, the dirk was lowered, having done its work.
staggered back and fell against the high altar; he tried to hold himself
up but slowly slumped to the floor leaving a trail of blood across the
front of the chantry.
killed him!” cried Robert Comyn out loud in disbelief.
“He is not
yet dead,” growled Robert Brus, “See there, he moves.”
me, Uncle!” whispered John through bloody teeth, “revenge me!”
Robert Comyn, and with a single stroke unsheathed his sword and with all
his might, struck Robert Brus full upon the chest.
balance, his opponent fell backward and struck his head hard against the
floor. For a moment, he lay there stunned, unable to move.
advantage, Robert Comyn moved over the immobile Brus and raised high his
sword to serve the killing blow, sarcastically spitting, “And this to
ye, ‘King’ Robert!”
Behind ye!” cried the wounded Red Comyn. Robert Comyn turned to see the
blade of Christopher Seton flash across in front of him.
It was the
last he ever saw.
speed and agility of the experienced young knight that he was,
Christopher had swung his dirk across the throat of Lord Comyn and
killed him quickly dead.
bastards! Ye sons of cur bitches!” shouted John as he lay bleeding at
the foot of the altar, his uncle’s body having fallen close enough that
the blood from both men mingled on the floor.
did not reply but went straight away to Robert Brus’ side and helped him
to a sitting position.
leave,” whispered Robert to Christopher, who was retrieving the bloodied
live?” asked one of the two friars, who came from their hiding place and
knelt before John to comfort and, if necessary, to shrive him.
will live!” sputtered John angrily, splattering the friars with speckles
of his blood, then shouting to Robert, “I will live… to see yer rottin’
bones in their grave, Robert de Brus!”
ordered Robert as he pushed unsteadily through the heavy door into the
vestibule where Roger and James were waiting.
said about yer grave, Robert?” asked Roger as he steadied his friend.
“Have ye killed The Red Comyn?”
not!” barked Robert angrily, “Else why does he continue to scream bloody
curses!” With that, Robert swung his cloak about his shoulders and,
followed by Christopher and James, walked outside to join his waiting
Kirkpatrick stood a moment, listening to the howling curses and
blasphemy from within the sanctuary, and determined that John Comyn
meant what he said about seeing Robert in his grave. He turned on his
heel and opened the stout door into the bloody scene.
friars, thinking they, too, might be murdered, were helpless to do
anything more than close their eyes and cross themselves, as Roger
unsheathed his dirk and opened John Comyn’s gurgling throat.
wiping the blood off his blade with a piece of John Comyn’s cloak, Roger
sheathed his dirk and reached for his money pouch. He withdrew two coins
and dropped them on the altar, crossed himself and said to the two
friars, “Pray for me, brothers, and for them two, sinners all.”
no, when he came out of the church and down the few steps to Robert, his
one good eye gleamed. “’Tis done,” he said. “Neither his curses nor his
threats shall fret ye more.”
stood next to his steed and clung to the saddlebow to regain his
strength and sense of balance. His head was throbbing as if struck by a
strong arm wielding a club. He was silent a moment, then quietly said,
“This changes everything. We are takin’ Dumfries castle.” His
lieutenants looked from one to the other in mild surprise.
asked Roger finally, as Christopher, Edward, and Thomas Randolph stood
close to be within earshot of the conversation.
“Yon men of
the Comyns’ don’t know their lords are dead,” said Robert across his
saddle to the close group, “so we’ll ride from here toward the castle
slowly. When out of sight, we’ll hasten across the bridge and through
the gate, and secure the castle.”
are ye mad? We are no force to take a castle,” said Edward. “We are but
a little party of twenty-six men and a dog!”
we are a little party of twenty-six men and a dog… and the weapon of
mile’s ride Robert and his men rode through the barbican, across the
drawbridge, and up to the secured gate of Dumfries castle. The castle
guards knew Lord Brus was expected, and seeing his banner in the
torchlight at the gate, opened it straight away and the “little party”
rode into the interior courtyard.
Siward, the English constable of Dumfries, hastened forth on foot and
greeted Robert Brus. “We’ve been awaitin’ your arrival, Lord Brus,” he
said with a bow.
ye have not been waitin’ for is our takin’ this castle as our own,”
replied Robert with a smile, hoping to prevent bloodshed.
confused constable stood silent for a moment, looking at Robert’s face
and waiting for further explanation. With none forthcoming, Sir Richard
twisted his face up with curiosity and stammered, “I-I-I am afraid I do
not understand, Milord.”
yer castle, man!” commanded Robert sternly.
Richard’s eyes widened as he at last realized the situation. He
immediately wheeled around and ran through the courtyard crying, “Kill
them! Kill them all! They are come to take the castle!”
barked orders to his men, who immediately repositioned themselves near
the outer walls throughout the courtyard as a large clanging bell
sounded an alarm. The garrison was alerted and half-dressed English
soldiers poured into the courtyard from their barracks quarters.
dog jumped ahead of the men and so struck the first blow, that upon the
leg of the nearest oncoming Englishman.
door!” ordered Robert to a nearby knight, pointing toward the wooden
knight, a magnificent horseman, spurred his mount toward a hay cart
standing at the far end of the enclosure, beyond the barracks door.
Leaning out of his saddle until he could almost touch the ground, he
caught the handle of a pot of gudgeon grease and threw it into the cart.
The tallow spread down through the dry tinder as the young warrior cut
across the way, snatched a torch from the hand of a fleeing serf, and
wheeling around, jabbed it into the greasy mess, igniting it instantly.
grabbed one of the poles on the front of the cart by which the serfs
pulled the transport from the field and dragged the roaring fire
headlong at the doorway, throwing the already emerged Englishmen into
panicky flight. The cart smashed into the open door jamb and wedged
itself there, trapping the remaining soldiers inside.
Few of the
English scrambled out under the cart and through the mounting flames.
One who did was aflame when he reached Robert, who made short work of
him from his saddle.
soldiers left inside were only interested in removing the blazing cart
and escaping the rising inferno. Besides, they had no way of judging the
strength of their enemy or their placement in the fire-lit courtyard,
and so were none too interested in combating anything other than the
gave a war whoop and spurred his horse forward into the onrushing
English foot soldiers, thus leading the Scottish knights into the thick
of the fray. His battle-ax hacking whatever head or body was within
reach caused Thomas, just behind him, to use great care not to get too
close to Edward’s wild swings.
way the battle was developing, Robert was suddenly engaged by another of
the defenders and brought him to the ground with a one-handed slash of
guards stationed on the wall above them began to shoot arrows from their
crossbows into the now brightly lit courtyard, catching one of the
knights through the neck, and another through the ribs beneath his arm
as he raised it to deflect a blow from a battle-ax. Both men died within
wheeled his mount to shield himself from this new onslaught when an
arrow from a long bow pierced the heart of one of the wall guards, and
pitched him forward into the square.
“I have no
archers,” thought Robert, his eyes searching the courtyard for the
source of the responding arrows as another cross-bowman toppled from the
wall, an arrow through his thigh. With no shelter on the open walkway,
the others took refuge in the corner towers and continued to target the
guard, in the thick of the fight on the ground and seeing that Edward
was the single greatest threat to him and his comrades, heroically
rushed between the long arcs of the battle-ax swings, viciously stabbed
The Story Continues in
Rebel King - Book One - Hammer of