Some ten or twelve days after the momentous event recorded in our last chapter, King Edward’s royal palace, at Winchester, was thronged at an unusually early hour by many noble knights and barons, bearing on their countenances symptoms of some new and unexpected excitement; and there was a dark boding gloom on the now contracted brow and altered features of England’s king, as, weakened and well-nigh worn out by a lingering disease, he reclined on a well-cushioned couch, to receive the eagerly-offered homage of his loyal barons. He, who had been from earliest youth a warrior, with whose might and dauntless prowess there was not one, or prince, or noble, or English, or foreigner, could compete, whose strength of frame and energy of mind had ever borne him scathless and uninjured through scenes of fatigue, and danger, and blood, and death; whose sword had restored a kingdom to his father—had struggled for Palestine and her holy pilgrims—had given Wales to England, and again and again prostrated the hopes and energies of Scotland into the dust; even he, this mighty prince, lay prostrate now, unable to conquer or to struggle with disease—disease that attacked the slave, the lowest serf or yeoman of his land, and thus made manifest, how in the sight of that King of kings, from whom both might and weakness come, the prince and peasant are alike—the monarch and the slave!
The disease had been indeed in part subdued, but Edward could not close his eyes to the fact that he should never again be what he had been; that the strength which had enabled him to do and endure so much, the energy which had ever led him on to victory, the fire which had so often inspired his own heart, and urged on, as by magic power, his followers—that all these were gone from him, and forever. Ambition, indeed, yet burned within, strong, undying, mighty; aye, perhaps mightier than ever, as the power of satisfying that ambition glided from his grasp. He had rested, indeed, a brief while, secure in the fulfilment of his darling wish, that every rood of land composing the British Isles should be united under him as sole sovereign; he believed, and rejoiced in the belief, that with Wallace all hope or desire of resistance had departed. His disease had been at its height when Bruce departed from his court, and disabled him a while from composedly considering how that event would affect his interest in Scotland. As the violence of the disease subsided, however, he had leisure to contemplate and become anxious. Rumors, some extravagant, some probable, now floated about; and the sovereign looked anxiously to the high festival of Easter to bring all his barons around him, and by the absence or presence of the suspected, discover at once how far his suspicions and the floating rumors were correct.
Although the indisposition of the sovereign prevented the feasting, merry-making, and other customary marks of royal munificence, which ever attended the solemnization of Easter, yet it did not in any way interfere with the bounden duty of every earl and baron, knight and liegeman, and high ecclesiastics of the realm to present themselves before the monarch at such a time; Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas, being the seasons when every loyal subject of fit degree appeared attendant on his sovereign, without any summons so to do.