Chapter XIII The Castle of Dunstaffnage
Bruce’s party were now more than ever straitened for provisions, since they had to depend almost entirely upon such fish as they might catch, as it was dangerous to stray far away in pursuit of deer. Archie, however, with his bow and arrows ventured several times to go hunting in order to relieve the sad condition of the ladies, and succeeded two or three times in bringing a deer home with him.
He had one day ventured much further away than usual. He had not succeeded in finding a stag, and the ladies had for more than a week subsisted entirely on fish. He therefore determined to continue the search, however long, until he found one. He had crossed several wooded hills, and was, he knew, leagues away from the point where he had left his party, when, suddenly emerging from a wood, he came upon a road just at the moment when a party some twenty strong of wild clansmen were traversing it. On a palfrey in their centre was a young lady whom they were apparently escorting. They were but twenty yards away when he emerged from the wood, and on seeing him they drew their claymores and rushed upon him. Perceiving that flight from these swift footed mountaineers would be impossible, Archie threw down his bow and arrows, and, drawing his sword, placed his back against a tree, and prepared to defend himself until the last.
Parrying the blows of the first two who arrived he stretched them dead upon the ground, and was then at once attacked by the whole of the party together. Two more of his assailants fell by his sword; but he must have been soon overpowered and slain, when the young lady, whose cries to her followers to cease had been unheeded in the din of the conflict, spurred her palfrey forward and broke into the ring gathered round Archie.
The clansmen drew back a pace, and Archie lowered his sword.
“Desist,” she cried to the former in a tone of command, “or my uncle Alexander will make you rue the day when you disobeyed my orders. I will answer for this young knight. And now, sir,” she said, turning to Archie, “do you surrender your sword to me, and yield yourself up a prisoner. Further resistance would be madness; you have done too much harm already. I promise you your life if you will make no further resistance.”
“Then, lady,” Archie replied, handing his sword to her, “I willingly yield myself your prisoner, and thank you for saving my life from the hands of your savage followers.”
The young lady touched the hilt of his sword, and motioned him to replace it in its scabbard.
“You must accompany me,” she said, “to the abode of my uncle Alexander MacDougall. I would,” she continued, as, with Archie walking beside her palfrey, while the Highlanders, with sullen looks, kept close behind, muttering angrily to themselves at having been cheated by the young lady of their vengeance upon the man who had slain four of their number, “that I could set you at liberty, but my authority over my uncle’s clansmen does not extend so far; and did I bid them let you go free they would assuredly disobey me. You are, as I can see by your attire, one of the Bruce’s followers, for no other knight could be found wandering alone through these woods.”