“No,” Archie replied. “I have but a change of clothing there, which is of no importance, and we had best lose not a moment’s time. But there is the reckoning to discharge.”
“I will give orders,” the earl said, “that it shall be discharged in the morning. Now let us without a moment’s delay make to the stables and mount there. Here is a cloak and valise.”
The earl struck a bell, and a retainer appeared.
“Allan, I am going out to pay a visit. Take these two valises to the stable at once, and order Roderick to saddle the two bay horses in the stalls at the end of the stables. Tell him to be speedy, for I shall be with him anon. He is not bring them round here. I will mount in the court.”
Five minutes later Bruce and Archie, enveloped in thick cloaks with hoods drawn over their faces, rode north from Westminster. At first they went slowly, but as soon as they were out in the fields they set spur to their horses and galloped on in the darkness.
The snow lay thick upon the ground, and the roads were entirely deserted.
“Farewell to London!” Bruce exclaimed. “Except as a prisoner I shall never see it again. The die is cast this time, Sir Archie, and for good; even if I would I can never draw back again. Comyn’s treachery has made my action irrevocable — it is now indeed death or victory!”
All night they rode without drawing rein, save that they once changed horses where a relay had been provided. They had little fear of pursuit, for even when Bruce’s absence was discovered none of his household would be able to say where he had gone, and some time must elapse before the conviction that he had ridden for Scotland, in such weather, would occur to the king. Nevertheless, they travelled fast, and on the 10th of February entered Dumfries.
Bruce had, during the previous week, sent messages saying to several of his friends in Annandale and Carrick that he might at any time be among them, and at Dumfries he found many of them prepared to see him. The English justiciaries for the southern district of the conquered kingdom were holding an assize, and at this most of the nobles and principal men of that part were present. Among these were, of course, many of Bruce’s vassals; among them also was John Comyn of Badenoch, who held large estates in Galloway, in virtue of which he was now present.
As soon as the news that Bruce had arrived in the town spread, his adherents and vassals there speedily gathered round him, and as, accompanied by several of them, he went through the town he met Comyn in the precincts of the Grey Friars. Concerning this memorable meeting there has been great dispute among historians. Some have charged Bruce with inviting Comyn to meet him, with the deliberate intention of slaying him; others have represented the meeting as accidental, and the slaying of Comyn as the result of an outburst of passion on the part of Bruce; but no one who weighs the facts, and considers the circumstances in which Comyn was placed, can feel the least question that the latter is the true hypothesis.