“You!” exclaimed Robert Bruce, lowering his sword, which he had drawn at the first alarm and held uplifted in readiness for a charge; “you Sir Archibald Forbes! I have heard the name often as that of one of Wallace’s companions, who, with Sir John Grahame, fought with him bravely at the captures of Lanark, Ayr, and other places, but surely you cannot be he!”
“I am Sir Archibald Forbes, I pledge you my word,” Archie said quietly; “and, Sir Robert Bruce, methinks that if I, who am, as you see, but yet a lad — not yet having reached my seventeenth year — can have done good service for Scotland, how great the shame that you, a valiant knight and a great noble, should be in the ranks of her oppressors, and not of her champions! My name will tell you that I have come hither for no purpose of robbery. I have come on a mission from Wallace — not sent thereon by him, but acting myself in consequences of words which dropped from him. He said how sad it was that you, who might be King of a Scotland free and independent, by the choice of her people, should prefer the chance of reigning, a mere puppet of Edward, over an enslaved land. He spoke in the highest terms of your person, and held that, did you place yourself at its head, the movement which he commands would be a successful one. Then I determined, unknown to him, to set out and bring you to him face to face — honourably and with courtesy if you would, by force if you would not. I would fain it shall be the former; but believe me, you would not find it easy to break away through the hedge of pikes now around you.”
By this time the whole party had gathered round the horsemen. Bruce hesitated; his mind was not yet made up as to his future course. Hitherto he had been with England, since upon Edward only his chances seemed to depend; but latterly he had begun to doubt whether even Edward could place him on the throne in despite of the wishes of his countrymen. His sisters, who, taking after their mother, were all true Scotchwomen, now urged upon him to comply with Archie’s request and accompany him to Lanark. Their hearts and wishes were entirely with the champion of their country.
“Go with him, Robert,” Isabel, the eldest, exclaimed. “Neither I nor my sisters fear being struck with the arrows, although such might well be the case should a conflict begin; but, for your own sake and Scotland’s, go and see Wallace. No harm can arise from such a journey, and much good may come of it. Even should the news of your having had an interview with him come to the ears of Edward, you can truly say that you were taken thither a captive, and that we being with you, you were unable to make an effort to free yourself. This young knight, of whose deeds of gallantry we have all heard” — and she smiled approvingly at Archie — “will doubtless give you a safeguard, on his honour, to return hither free and unpledged when you have seen Wallace.”
“Willingly, lady,” Archie replied. “One hour’s interview with my honoured chief is all I ask for. That over, I pledge myself that the Earl of Carrick shall be free at once to return hither, and that an escort shall be provided for him to protect him from all dangers on the way.”