Punctual to his agreement, Archie Forbes marched south with his retainers. He was loath, indeed, to leave Marjory, but he knew well that a long time indeed must elapse before he could hope to settle down quietly at home, and that it was urgent to hurry on the work at once before the English made another great effort to stamp out the movement. Marjory did not attempt to induce him to overstay his time. She was too proud of his position as one of the foremost knights of Scotland to say a word to detain him from the field. So she bade him adieu with a brave face, reserving her tears until after he had ridden away.
It had been arranged that Archie should operate independently of Douglas, the two joining their forces only when threatened by overwhelming numbers or when any great enterprise was to be undertaken. Archie took with him a hundred and fifty men from his estates in Lanark and Ayr. He marched first to Loudon Hill, then down through Cumnock and the border of Carrick into Galloway. Contrary to the usual custom, he enjoined his retainers on no account to burn or harry the villages and granges.
“The people,” he said, “are not responsible for the conduct of their lords, and as I would not see the English harrying the country round Aberfilly, so I am loath to carry fire and sword among these poor people. We have come hither to punish their lords and to capture their castles. If the country people oppose us we must needs fight them; but beyond what is necessary for our provisions let us take nothing from them, and show them, by our conduct, that we hold them to be Scotchmen like ourselves, and that we pity rather than blame them, inasmuch as by the orders of their lords they are forced to fight against us.”
Archie had not advanced more than a day’s march into Galloway when he heard that Sir John de St. John was marching with four hundred men-at-arms to meet him.
There were no better soldiers in the following of Bruce than the retainers of Aberfilly and Glen Cairn. They had now for many years been frequently under arms, and were thoroughly trained to fight together. They had the greatest confidence in themselves and their leader, and having often with their spears withstood the shock of the English chivalry, Archie knew that he could rely upon them to the fullest. He therefore took up a position on the banks of a river where a ford would enable the enemy to cross. Had he been less confident as to the result he would have defended the ford, which could be only crossed by two horsemen abreast. He determined, however, to repeat the maneuver which had proved so successful at Stirling Bridge, and to let half of the enemy cross before he fell upon them.
The ground near the river was stony and rough. Great boulders, which had rolled from the hillside, were thickly scattered about it, and it would be difficult for cavalry to charge up the somewhat steeply sloping ground in anything like unbroken order.