Drowning Plains

THE haunting sound of the pipes drifted across the land, the eerie music forming into a lone piper's lament with each note. The meadows and marshes beyond echoed back the crying strains until the tune ended in one long, drawn-out note. The musician lowered his bagpipes and looked out at the land surrounding him, at the large, sloping hills surrounding the plain where he stood. The plain itself was covered with the rough grasses and the occasional thistle-patch here and there. Beyond was a great marshland of pools and bogs, misty still under the noon-day sun. And there, to the far right of the plain, was the great stretch of water; the Bannock burn.
It was here that there were gathered almost 7,500 Scottish fighters, nearly 7,000 infantry and a mere 500 light horse, most of them ragged veterans of previous wars. All of them were in a light chain-mail underneath tartan-patterned kilts, a weapon of some sort ready at their sides.

Nearly all of their eyes were at a small rise of land in front of them where the English army would soon appear. The odds were against them, and they knew it. There were more than 22,000 English foot-soldiers, archers, and heavily-armored horses...outnumbering the Scots 3 to 1. Even with this knowledge the Scots refused to give up, for it was a fight for their freedom. For nearly hundreds of years, every Scottish man, woman and child had been subject to tyrannical slavery under the English and their king, Edward I. This battle was for Stirling castle, an impressive structure of stone and granite, which was the last English- held castle in Scotland. If the Scots were able to gain control of it, they would at last be able to declare themselves a free country.
Soon, the distinct forms of the English army appeared on the rise, banners waving in the wind and horses pawing the ground anxiously. Robert the Bruce, the Scottish king, sat atop a small Highland pony and issued the few last changes.

'Cavalry, move around to the right of the English rank. Take out their archers as we advance. Then, close in around the back of them and attack the infan-'

'Bruce!' a warning voice cried. Robert's head snapped up as he whipped around to see an English knight, Sir Henry de Bohun, charging towards him with a lance tucked under his arm. Robert reached for a battle axe, the nearest weapon, as the knight approached. The lance point aimed for Robert was 13 feet away... 9 feet ...2 feet...! Robert calmly turned his horse to the side just as the lance was about to hit him, dodging it. He turned in his saddle, and with a cry swung the battle-axe down onto the English knight, splitting his helmet and skull, and breaking the axe shaft in two.
The English army's attack was not delayed for long. Robert threw the broken axe-handle away, dismounted the pony and ran for his charger just as the first lines of the English cavalry stampeded down the rise. The Scots tensed, their own horses impatiently waiting for the smell of blood to come with the wind.

'Hold!' the Bruce commanded. His army stood their ground, which began to faintly rumble with the drumming of English hooves on the earth. The charging horses jumped a small hill in the plains, and were suddenly confronted with rows of pits and calthrops, the sharp, four-spiked metal balls that would quickly lame a horse. Though the English tried to slow and turn back, the momentum was too much and soon many steeds were stumbling and falling out from under them, or throwing their riders.
Robert the Bruce paused, then raised his sword and unleashed a terrifying battle-cry. 'Alba gu brath!' Scotland forever! The Scots joined in the scream, raising their weapons high into the sky in defiance of the tyrants before them. With another cry, Robert kicked his horse forward, and the whole Scottish army came charging behind him. The English infantry came running to meet them, avoiding the pits and calthrops as best they could. Like two waves slamming into each other, the two armies clashed together in a swell of human bodies and metal blades. The battle became intense. Though there were Scotsmen falling, they had the better ground.

Robert slashed with his sword countless times, thrusting forward, then blocking and attack by an English soldier. He knew when he had hit his mark whenever a scream of pain arouse, and joined in with all the rest. The Bruce grabbed a banner and held it high, waving it fiercely back and forth to signal his cavalry. As soon as they had dispatched, he felt a sharp pain in his side, where an English foot-soldier had stabbed with a sword. With a yell, he swung his sword and tore the Englishman's throat. But still more came, replacing those who had just fallen with an ongoing attack. Robert dodged blades, sweat and blood pouring from his body, and slashed with his own, then avoided the deadly blades once more as another swell of English poured forth onto the plains. He stabbed and slashed, maiming some, killing others on the stop, fighting hard against his foe.

Robert felt his horse slip out from under him, and was thrown to the ground. The swarm of soldiers stabbed at the Scottish king, but were then beaten back by the fierce Scottish warriors. One helped Robert up, as he and his comrades battered the soldiers about. The Bruce felt they were gaining ground, and that the English ranks were thinning. The cries of the dying were growing more faint by the minute. With one last thrust, Robert dispelled the last English soldier still near him. Pausing to regain his breath, he looked around, and could see only his own men. Looking towards the rise, he could see the running forms of soldiers. The English were retreating! Robert raised his blood-stained sword into the air and shouted with triumph. The remaining Scots cheered with him, also raising their weapons into the air. Robert cheered again as he and another Scot clasped hands, then patted each other on the back. He looked once more towards the retreating English, knowing that soon they would fight again. Each army would go back to their camps to lick their wounds and mourn their dead, but would soon rise again to battle for the control of Scotland.

For now, the Scots rejoiced in their victory at Bannockburn.