June 24, 1314
The English were trapped against the Bannockburn. The hedge of Scottish steel shoved once more against the desperate knights, and Sir James de Douglas saw the banners flying above the writhing mass. Those banners included the huge scarlet banner with the Plantagenet leopards; that banner proclaimed that King Edward of Caernarfon was somewhere close in the chaos. James bellowed his battle cry, “A Douglas! A Douglas!” battle fury sweeping through him. Rage and hatred unleashed for the losses and the pain. He smashed his sword into an English face. For Isabella. For his father. For Thomas. For Alycie. He swung again and again.
Around him his men screamed, “Scotland! Scotland! On them!” Hungry for revenge, they had spent their lives fighting the invader, and they had become savagely good at war. An arrow sliced in from the right, striking James’s shield. He lifted it, but no more came. Archers would have been the last chance for the English, but King Robert de Bruce had planned well for them, and held back his five hundred Scottish chivalry to sweep behind the English line and attack the archers.
James’s men shouted as they thrust their pikes into the belly and face of English horses, into the gaps in gleaming armor; they chopped with their weapons. And the English fell back, horses screaming as they went down the steep edge of a gully.
The English had nowhere more to go. Under the English hooves, men lay, dead, wounded, shrieking in pain. Their commanders were shouting to retire. And the Scots slashed into them. English knights shouted curses, thrust with lances, swung swords as they were forced back. Ribbons of scarlet waved through the Bannockburn’s waters. The English knights fought with the desperation of trapped men.
Next to James, one of his men grunted as he hacked his pike into the writhing mass of English. Another horse went down. Blood and mud splattered onto James’s helm. The rider threw himself free, landing flat on his back. James grunted as he slammed a foot on the knight’s chest and thrust his sword down through his throat.
“On them!” The bellows from his men were deafening. "They fail!"
James spun at the hand on his shoulder, jerking his sword arm into position.
A pale-faced lad dodged backward. "The king sent me. He wants you."
An unhorsed Englishman screamed as his head was crushed by a slashing hoof. He fell atop a knight already dead. James's own men wore helms and studded leather, marked with the blue and white Saltire of Scotland, now streaked with mud and blood and gore. The steel tide surged against the crumbling mass of a panicked foe. They heaved forward a step.
Six hours they’d fought, since the cool of dawn, hacking at an army that seemed without number. His arm suddenly was heavy with the fatigue of a day of slash and thrust.
The English trumpets shrilled thin. Harooo Harooo… Retire… Retire…
He blinked the sting of sweat from his eyes. Where was Walter Stewart? In the chaos, James spotted Walter’s blue and white checky pennant. He grabbed Iain’s arm and pulled him out of the line of pikesmen. "Find Sir Walter. Tell him he has command." He shoved his sword into his black leather sheath and jerked a nod to the squire. "Lead on."
The lad turned and clamored across the broken sod, past a sprawled body of a knight, his armor still agleam as his blood soaked into the dry earth. For a moment a breath of a breeze cut through the fug of blood and shit. Who could have imagined such a battle? A body wearing a studded brigandine marked with a Saltire was pierced by the shattered remains of a pike next to a stallion, its guts spilled onto the ground. They trudged past it all and the uproar faded behind them into a rumble.
Beyond a ragged stand of alder, leaves drooping in summer’s heat, the king’s golden lion banner hung limp in the still air. The lad pointed. James slapped his shoulder and strode through the welcome shade of the trees as he reached up to wrench off his helm.