The Weird Of The Three Arrows
: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland
Sir James Douglas, the companion of Bruce, and well known by his
appellation of the "Black Douglas," was once, during the hottest period
of the exterminating war carried on by him and his colleague Randolph,
against the English, stationed at Linthaughlee, near Jedburgh. He was
resting, himself and his men after the toils of many days'
fighting-marches through Teviotdale; and, according to his custom, had
he tents, previous to retiring to the unquiet rest of a
soldier's bed. He stood for a few minutes at the entrance to his tent
contemplating the scene before him, rendered more interesting by a clear
moon, whose silver beams fell, in the silence of a night without a breath
of wind, calmly on the slumbers of mortals destined to mix in the melee
of dreadful war, perhaps on the morrow. As he stood gazing, irresolute
whether to retire to rest or indulge longer in a train of thought not
very suitable to a warrior who delighted in the spirit-stirring scenes of
his profession, his eye was attracted by the figure of an old woman, who
approached him with a trembling step, leaning on a staff, and holding in
her left hand three English cloth-shaft arrows.
"You are he who is ca'ed the guid Sir James?" said the old woman.
"I am, good woman," replied Sir James. "Why hast thou wandered from the
"I dinna belang to the camp o' the hoblers," answered the woman. "I hae
been a residenter in Linthaughlee since the day when King Alexander
passed the door o' my cottage wi' his bonny French bride, wha was
terrified awa' frae Jedburgh by the death's-head whilk appeared to her on
the day o' her marriage. What I hae suffered sin' that day" (looking at
the arrows in her hand) "lies between me an' heaven."
"Some of your sons have been killed in the wars, I presume?" said Sir
"Ye hae guessed a pairt o' my waes," replied the woman. "That arrow"
(holding out one of the three) "carries on its point the bluid o' my
first born; that is stained wi' the stream that poured frae the heart o'
my second; and that is red wi' the gore in which my youngest weltered, as
he gae up the life that made me childless. They were a' shot by English
hands, in different armies, in different battles. I am an honest woman,
and wish to return to the English what belongs to the English; but that
in the same fashion in which they were sent. The Black Douglas has the
strongest arm an' the surest ee in auld Scotland; an' wha can execute my
commission better than he?"
"I do not use the bow, good woman," replied Sir James. "I love the grasp
of the dagger or the battle-axe. You must apply to some other individual
to return your arrows."
"I canna tak' them hame again," said the woman, laying them down at the
feet of Sir James. "Ye'll see me again on St. James' E'en."
The old woman departed as she said these words.
Sir James took up the arrows, and placed them in an empty quiver that lay
amongst his baggage. He retired to rest, but not to sleep. The figure
of the old woman and her strange request occupied his thoughts, and
produced trains of meditation which ended in nothing but restlessness and
disquietude. Getting up at daybreak, he met a messenger at the entrance
of his tent, who informed him that Sir Thomas de Richmont, with a force
of ten thousand men, had crossed the Borders, and would pass through a
narrow defile, which he mentioned, where he could be attacked with great
advantage. Sir James gave instant orders to march to the spot; and, with
that genius for scheming, for which he was so remarkable, commanded his
men to twist together the young birch-trees on either side of the passage
to prevent the escape of the enemy. This finished, he concealed his
archers in a hollow way, near the gorge of the pass.
The enemy came on; and when their ranks were embarrassed by the
narrowness of the road, and it was impossible for the cavalry to act with
effect, Sir James rushed upon them at the head of his horsemen; and the
archers, suddenly discovering themselves, poured in a flight of arrows on
the confused soldiers, and put the whole army to flight. In the heat of
the onset, Douglas killed Sir Thomas de Richmont with his dagger.
Not long after this, Edmund de Cailon, a knight of Gascony, and Governor
of Berwick, who had been heard to vaunt that he had sought the famous
Black Knight, but could not find him, was returning to England, loaded
with plunder, the fruit of an inroad on Teviotdale. Sir James thought it
a pity that a Gascon's vaunt should be heard unpunished in Scotland, and
made long forced marches to satisfy the desire of the foreign knight, by
giving him a sight of the dark countenance he had made a subject of
reproach. He soon succeeded in gratifying both himself and the Gascon.
Coming up in his terrible manner, he called to Cailon to stop, and,
before he proceeded into England, receive the respects of the Black
Knight he had come to find, but hitherto had not met. The Gascon's vaunt
was now changed; but shame supplied the place of courage, and he ordered
his men to receive Douglas's attack. Sir James assiduously sought his
enemy. He at last succeeded; and a single combat ensued, of a most
desperate character. But who ever escaped the arm of Douglas when fairly
opposed to him in single conflict? Cailon was killed; he had met the
Black Knight at last.
"So much," cried Sir James, "for the vaunt of a Gascon!"
Similar in every respect to the fate of Cailon, was that of Sir Ralph
Neville. He, too, on hearing the great fame of Douglas's prowess, from
some of Gallon's fugitive soldiers, openly boasted that he would fight
with the Scottish Knight, if he would come and show his banner before
Berwick. Sir James heard the boast and rejoiced in it. He marched to
that town, and caused his men to ravage the country in front of the
battlements, and burn the villages. Neville left Berwick with a strong
body of men; and, stationing himself on a high ground, waited till the
rest of the Scots should disperse to plunder; but Douglas called in his
detachment and attacked the knight. After a desperate conflict, in which
many were slain, Douglas, as was his custom, succeeded in bringing the
leader to a personal encounter, and the skill of the Scottish knight was
again successful. Neville was slain, and his men utterly discomfited.
Having retired one night to his tent to take some rest after so much pain
and toil, Sir James Douglas was surprised by the reappearance of the old
woman whom he had seen at Linthaughlee.
"This is the feast o' St. James," said she, as she approached him. "I
said I would see ye again this nicht, an' I'm as guid's my word. Hae ye
returned the arrows I left wi' ye to the English wha sent them to the
hearts o' my sons?"
"No," replied Sir James. "I told ye I did not fight with the bow.
Wherefore do ye importune me thus?"
"Give me back the arrows then," said the woman.
Sir James went to bring the quiver in which he had placed them. On
taking them out, he was surprised to find that they were all broken
through the middle.
"How has this happened?" said he. "I put these arrows in this quiver
entire, and now they are broken."
"The weird is fulfilled!" cried the old woman, laughing eldrichly, and
clapping her hands. "That broken shaft cam' frae a soldier o'
Richmont's; that frae ane o' Cailon's, and that frae ane o' Neville's.
They are a' dead, an' I am revenged!"
The old woman then departed, scattering, as she went, the broken
fragments of the arrows on the floor of the tent.