End Evil

Regicide

By Simon Hill

Young Jake watched intently, fascinated by the whirling men as they danced around each other, the metal of their swords and armour glinting in the meagre sunshine as it occasionally peeked out from behind a dark cluster of clouds. He didn´t go too close though, remembering what his father had told him. He was crouching in a large bush on the brow of a craggy, old hill overlooking the battlefield.

The fighting had started almost an hour ago, furious men, some on horseback and the majority on foot, charging wildly at each other. Small groups developed, pockets of violence, slashing at each other desperately, bludgeoning, crushing, maiming and eventually killing. Shouts and screams filled the air, replaced with groans and sighs as the flow of battle occasionally slowed.

Jake kept his eyes fastened on the fat man his father had pointed out. He was surrounded by knights who fought back wave upon wave of attackers with reckless abandon. The man wore a fine suit of armour and kept holding a huge sword aloft and screaming something, the blade looked taller then he did. His small group had been broken off from the main battle, the attackers seemed to be pushing them back towards the Tor wood, close to the hill where Jake lay in wait. The battle was fierce, horrible wounds were made worse by the heavy armour, metal punched into the body, holding open the flesh and often crushing the bones.

Jake watched in horror as a group of Highlanders, their kilts betrayed their origins, dragged down his father´s friend, David Hepburn from his charger and held him under the babbling, icy water of the Sauchie burn. He wanted to run down and help Davie but he didn't move. Instead he sat patiently, caressing the handle of the long dagger he kept in his cloak. He could see that his father had been right, the other troops were now retreating, back towards the dark woods in search of respite. It would not be long before they were fleeing for their lives.

The sky seemed to split in two as a great cloud gave up its precious cargo and soaked the Scottish land once more. Jake gathered his coarse cloak tightly around himself and pulled up the hood. His eyes were barely visible, swinging from side to side searching for his target. He couldn´t see him, they had gone into the woods now, the battle seemed to be approaching its end. Jake could just make out the figure of his father in the distance, he stood in the centre of a large group of men and seemed to be deep in discussion. A tall banner reared up behind him, flapping in the wind, Jake couldn´t read what it said.

He was scared of his father and mindful of his request. Jake didn´t dare to return and tell him that the fat man had escaped. Instead he decided to follow the retreating men into the woods and slipped noiselessly from his hiding place, sliding down the muddy hill on his backside. As he reached the edge of the trees he could hear the scrape of metal on metal and the cries of many men. There were skirmishes still going on along the edge of the woods. Jake gripped his dagger still more tightly and crept around the edge of the trees. He stepped lightly hoping not to be noticed. He knew his priest´s disguise would not stop an angry blade and he desperately wanted to survive this madness.

As he picked his way carefully around the gnarled old trees he passed more than one corpse, bloody and staring with empty eyes at this creeping imposter. Jake did not recognise any of them and for that he was grateful. He could make out a large group up ahead and so he knelt down close to an old oak tree, curling himself in against the trunk. It was them, he could see the flame-haired lookout just a few paces from where he hid. A wild looking beast, right enough, with red hair and a colourful ragged plaid covering his body, except for the hairy legs which looked as old and gnarled as the oak. The man held his leather bound targe over his head to provide some shelter from the rain. Jake carefully slid onto his belly and snaked his way beneath a patch of bracken. He scanned the crowd for signs of the man he had been supposed to follow. The cowards seemed to be agreeing to run and before long they began to drift off in different directions. Jake saw the fat man emerge on a grey charger. He had sheathed his huge sword and rode angrily away from the mob towards Stirling bridge.

Jake needed a horse, he swallowed his fear and snuck silently in amongst the dispersing crowd. There were few men left and fewer horses. He approached an old looking knight, a mane of grey betrayed him, who appeared to be struggling to mount his horse. As Jake got closer he saw the deep dent in the cumbersome armour. It seemed to plunge a few inches into the knight´s side, under his ribcage, and blood poured freely down his left leg. Jake pretended to help him to climb onto the horse, silently drawing his dagger and plunging it into the gap between his torso piece and legs. The knight bellowed as Jake twisted his blade but no-one paid any attention pre-occupied as they were with escaping alive. He was able to drop the dying brute to the ground and make off with his steed unopposed.

He pushed the horse hard to make up the lost ground. He simply had to catch the man. As he reached the summit of the hill, which had originally been his lookout spot, he saw the man with a knight at either side of him riding fast across the marshy ground. Jake followed them, shivering as the cold rain pelted into his body and face. As he proceeded down the hill his hood blew off exposing his head to the elements, Jake ignored everything, fixated on the man he could not be dissuaded from his task.

Darkness was beginning to fall and Jake was worried he would lose the object of his pursuit. He rode harder, recklessly, to try and gain some ground. To his right he could see the pursuing army of his father as they mercilessly slayed the fleeing Highlanders. The small group he pursued suddenly changed direction and bolted determinedly towards the Stirling Bridge. Jake slowed and took a wider arch than them, wary of what lay ahead. When he reached the prow of a small hill he paused for breath. As he gazed, shivering, towards the bridge he could see torches and what looked like a large group of the enemy. He decided to wait and dismounted to recover a small package from his cloak. He dined silently and without pleasure on a chunk of heavy bread. As he was finishing this repast he heard troops approaching and saw his father´s forces charging the bridge. There was obvious confusion in the darkness but it looked as though they were repelled and pushed back by a counter charge.

Jake rode slowly around behind the forces, stopping by a large bend in the river. The tables had been turned on his rabble of comrades, the enemy had drawn them close before charging and Jake gasped at the sight of the angry Highlanders unleashing their fury. Flame-haired torrents of hatred like demons dancing in a fire were occasionally illuminated in the sparse torch-light, a wall of death pouring forth. The battle moved back towards the Tor wood at some pace. Jake crept closer to the bridge. There was only a handful of men left there, talking in hushed tones. He strained to try and make out the conversation but to no avail. He could not tell if his prey still lingered and so he waited, watching the small group to see what they would do. His heart thundered in his chest painfully, the cold air harsh as it reached his lungs in fevered bursts.

After some time the group dispersed and he caught a glimpse of the grey charger riding off towards the Bannock Burn. Jake mounted his horse and gave chase, tearing across the bridge with as much speed as he could muster. He felt a rush of air close by his face as he passed and there were shouts at him to stop. Jake rode through clinging tightly to his mount, his eyes fixed on the blurry shape of the grey charger in the distance, his heart threatening to break through the cage of his chest. No-one gave chase and as he reached the marshy ground Jake was pleased to see that the man had lost his escort in the confusion. He slowed down slightly to avoid a mishap in the marsh. It was difficult to navigate in the darkness and his horse took cautious, faltering steps.

The man he chased seemed unperturbed, Jake could see the gap between them widening. He reckoned the burn was not much farther, that was bound to slow down his foe. Sure enough they reached the burn quickly and Jake laughed aloud as he saw the man inexpertly try to jump it. His heavy frame and full armour did nothing to help the charger. It failed to jump the burn, landing half in the ditch and dumping the shocked rider into the babbling waters. He landed with a crash, emitting a snarl of pain. Jake slowed and dismounted as he approached. It was nearly daylight, the sun stubbornly rising on the horizon. As he crept closer he was horrified to see two figures approaching from a nearby cottage. Jake crouched in a ditch, despatching the horse in the opposite direction with a harsh slap to it´s rear quarters. It was two women and they were helping the man slowly to his feet. Jake cursed under his breath, would he get a better chance than this?

He watched as they led the man back to their cottage and followed cautiously at a distance. As Jake reached the burn he saw blood glistening in the early dawn light, splashed liberally across the rocks. The once proud grey charger was lying in a crumpled heap, stained and ruined with few breaths left. Jake pressed on, covering his head once more with the wide hood of his cloak. The cottage was small, a simple stone affair without windows. He walked calmly towards the battered wooden door.

A few paces from his target, Jake was startled as the door suddenly swung open. He spun on his heel and tried to look as though he was walking casually past. The two women emerged. They looked flustered and both immediately fixed eyes upon his figure. "Father, help us, we need a priest!" they shouted in unison. Jake suppressed a small grin, remembering his disguise, and turning to the simple peasants replied, "I am a priest". "Thank God" muttered the older of the two, a haggard toothless old woman who looked like a sack of potatoes which had miraculously sprung to life. "Come with me" said the other one, reaching out to take his hand.

Jake allowed himself to be led into the single chamber of their humble abode. The man was lying in the corner, on some makeshift hay bed covered with sackcloth, moaning gently to himself. His helmet had been removed and his great sword stood against the wall near the door. 'Leave us' said Jake to the women, who obediently scurried outside. He walked over to the man and knelt by his side. There was no sign from the injured figure that he had even noticed someone else was there.

Jake shook his arm gently with his left hand, clasping the dagger within the folds of his cloak with the right. The man stirred and gazed up at him, pain was evident in his eyes, but so too was a certain strength or dignity. "Priest", he whispered, "Help me and you will be rewarded". "I'll help you", smiled Jake, drawing the dagger from his cloak and raising it high above his victim. The man stared, wide-eyed with fear and repulsion. He began to shout but Jake cut off the words by plunging the blade into his neck. The man tried to grasp at him, uselessly pawing at his cloak and gurgling as the blood flowed from his punctured throat. He struggled weakly for a few moments before stillness descended, the inescapable and permanent stillness of death.

Jake wiped the dagger´s blade clean on the sackcloth and replaced it in the folds of his cloak. He rose and walked to the door, pausing with his hand on the doorknob, he turned and surveyed the scene. The body lay absolutely still, clad in dirty armour with a violent splash of red around his throat. His eyes were open, glinting in the early morning light which shone through a hole in the peat roof. He had killed the King, his father would be pleased and the new infant king would be sure to grant them some lands. Jake pulled his cloak close, and covering his face with the hood, opened the door and stepped out into the cold morning light.

There was a parliamentary inquiry into the murder the following week, but they never found the culprit, despite an offered reward of 100 merks of land. The investigators could provide no better explanation than "the King happinit to be slane". James IV, the son of the man murdered, who had led an army against his father, was crowned King fifteen days later at Scone.


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