“That we were in our glory those months following the Battle at the Bannock Burn; our king had so commanded the Lord Douglas to take our wee army to Northumbria and find of tribute for our Scotland,” Sir Archibald Douglas began. Everyone had gathered around the knight and father,; listening intently to the exploits of Lord Douglas and his retinue. The Douglas household was eager to hear of the plundering and burning of the enemy strongholds, the submission of the villages and manors; and the bravery of the Scots to put fear into the English settlers near the marches. “We first stopped at the offering hole known to all as Corbridge. That we found the market place most empty; not a villien or a cow could so be found.” Archie was smiling broadly as he spoke.
“My brother was unsettled by the quiet; years before he told us to expect large tribute from the church and villagers to spare the town. The great Pele Tower, a fortified residence of the priest adjoined the old kirk; St. Andrews was the name I do recall,” he said as if struggling to remember the details of that raid. “As we most stood there near the mercat cross a strange noise came upon us,” the Douglas laird said with a twinkle in his eye. “My brother exchanged looks of puzzlement with this laird, then Lord Douglas asked, ‘Wee lambs?’ and this squire nodded; but where could they most be?” Archie told them that James then quickly dropped down to his knees to bleat near the walls of the tower. “A sight for old Edward and the English should they see this,” he told everyone, spouting a broad Douglas smirk. Beatrice was giggling; trying to imagine James crouching near the stone Pele; trying to draw out the stock from wherever they were hidden.
“More bleating from the ewes; a moo from a foolish cow to answer the wanton call of the Black Douglas, known to all as the Husbandman of the Marches,” he said in feigned tribute to his brother’s exploits. “The very raids successful for a device most secret this knight so knew; Lord Douglas could talk to his sheep most like a shepherd,” Archie said with a silly grin covering his countenance. “Where were the animals so hidden?” asked Eleanora; eager for the suspense to end. “Most in the cellar; so concealed there by that rascal priest, to hide the stock in his fair tower!” he shared in impatient tones for the monk’s attempts at subterfuge; ensconcing booty from the ever vigilant Lord Douglas.
“As Scots we all were laughing; the pitiful defenses would not withstand our siege so our Douglas laird went himself up to the door and knocked. The occupant peered around the wooden door, his tonsure shining in the sunlight, his hands and body shaking for the greeting of the Black Douglas.” Archie told everyone that the normal garrison of the Pele was out on hunt; allowing free access to the animals left to their care. “That the priest's good men at arms surely took a scolding for their departure; to leave of no one to so defend that fortress; a fool as any when the Black Douglas lurks about!”
Archie told them that later that day they headed further east; stopping to rest before traveling a few miles further to the north where they would lay siege on Aydon Castle. “The garrison commander surrendered quickly; allowed us to pillage the fortress in exchange for our word not to harm of any within the castle; allow the villiens to retain their crops growing in some small quantity to support their families.” The Douglas knight explained that many of the castle commanders were left to fend for themselves with little to fight off a seige. "Yet this Aydon faired some better; that stronghold well provisioned, with good crossbows and crossbowman who could use them."
“One Hugh de Gales was the knight in charge; supplied with many other weapons too; with a cache of grains, provisions of great plenty,” Archie said. “To leave of much booty for the poor army of the Scots is what he promised and so delivered. Much later we were to hear from others that his lord Robert de Rayme would complain of losses for chattels valued at £300; silver utensils and gold brooches with much timber and woolen cloths taken from his castle to add another £200 and more to his losses.” The older Douglas son wondered about the garrison commander; if they were forced to kill him. “Nay, such tragedies do so occur from time to time but this fellow was a good man put in a troubled state. He joined the cause of Robert Brus and Scots.”
Beatrice was surprised. “Did soldiers change allegiances so quickly?” she asked her husband. Archie explained that in the northern shires where Edward’s influence and protection were barely present many knights would convert their loyalties and often to spare the lives of their men at arms. “This poor warrior was doubly converted; that two years later he so surrendered Aydon once again, this time to the English,” he added in mocked disdain; shaking his head for the folly of the wars fought in the Borders. “Freedom from thralldom; to do battle against serfdom, the fair legacy of Edward for Scots; that kept us focused on our task to fight,” he reflected aloud.
“That we should journey on now,” Beatrice reminded them. “Sure aye!” Archie replied; eager to lead his family to the ancient sites he once explored with his brothers. The Douglases mounted their amblers and rode the trail up the rig to the top of Fawdon Old Hill to arrive together at the site of an old fort and village of a people that had lang gone before them some centuries ago. The wee Archibald was given his freedom to ‘ride his horse,’ a wooden stick with a horses head made of cloth and horse hair stuffing and decorated with a yellow mane of spun wool. John decided to continue on further alone; directing his palfrey so they could investigate the ruins together, as years ago when his Gran was alive and he was but a knave. ‘This lady learned much from her young horse,’ she used to remind him. In the Douglas tradition John had been given the ambler on his fifth birthday, named him Johannis after himself he told his father, though really the moniker was handed down from his own great, great grandfather Crawford for whom the lad was also named. The noble horse and the squire had been inseparable since; exploring the unknown together in search of adventure.
The lad ran his eyes over the landscape; breathing in the quiet beauty of the ancient settlement and the vanished people who once called this home. John marveled at the unique patterns carved by the low ridges formed of stone and sod embankments that marked the hillside. Then he looked north toward Fawdon Dean and the boundaries of Ingram. The beauty of the Cheviot; the variegated hills his grandmother so often spoke about; "my own paradise too dear Gran," he said softly. John finally ended his reverie; turned his attention once more to the trail. The two brave explorers, squire and palfrey rounded the next bend; suddenly, quite unexpectedly the noble beast lost his footing. The palfrey had caught his foot in a sinking hole leading deep inside the surface of the rock edifice and perilously snapped his front leg, throwing his unsuspecting rider in his fall. The poor animal slid forward then toppled to the side.
The strain on the animal’s face, the fear in his eyes was striking as the palfrey struggled desperately in his attempt to miss the squire in his unsteady state. Sadly no matter which way the ambler tried to move, the surface seemed to give way beneath; he landed in an awkward way right on top of the lad’s half bent leg crushing it beneath the horse’s girth. John had just recovered his own footing and was about to stand when his buddy, his life long companion fell perilously, crushing and nearly severing the boy’s left leg. It was terrible timing for horse and man; the lad fell back, pinned by his friend and this time did not get up. The palfrey struggled still trying to right himself; the lad screamed for assistance but for the winds swirling on the hill could not be heard. It was Beatrice who responded first; her mother’s instincts telling her something was very wrong. She had barely seen her son from the corner of her eye when she turned, shrieked in horror for the grueling sight up in the distance before her.
Archie bolted to the scene followed closely by the de Segrave vassals, the knight and squire who had served in his mother’s household. As one rescuer grabbed for the reins of the palfrey, another brought his Jethart stave to prop up the horse, enabling Archie to pull his son to safety. The bloody limb once buried beneath the palfrey was an ugly sight; a warrior’s worse nightmare. The Douglas knight and father knew at once his son would never lead a normal life of a knight and soldier, if he lived through the ordeal that was to follow.
Archie was still administering to his son’s injuries when he heard the other family members coming up the trail. He told Beatrice to stay back where she was but the lady refused to listen. When she arrived at her son’s side her horrified grimace spoke what others dared not say. The youthful visage of the handsome Douglas squire was straining hard to conceal the great agony and pain that riddled his body. But that was not the only reason for his tremendous sorrow. Not only was John to lose a leg but he would never again travel with his faithful companion of fourteen years. The squire knew his palfrey would have to be destroyed for the injury he also suffered. The lad had tears streaming down his checks. “Here son, bite down on this,” the father told him as he handed him his leather gauntlet. Archie knew that unless he acted quickly the lad would be too weakened; and worse, an infection born of black blood would take John’s life. He decided on a course of action: to sever the pulverized flesh and bone from just below the knee. “Sweet bride use your strength for prayers; this father must remove a leg to stave off the cancrēna,” he said using the Latin word for gangrene.
“Dear son, sweet John,” he began. “This day you must become a man; as if a warrior in battle you shall be brave, this knight does know it so.” Archie got out his dagger and began barking orders as he readied to do surgery on his son's leg. “Prepare the silk from this cote; to cut it in strips,” he said as he quickly removed the covering from his torso. Beatrice had been observing the scene patiently and now doubted her husband’s ability to complete the required task. “No!” screamed the would-be surgeon’s wife. The lady then insisted to her husband that amputating John’s leg below the knee was not the appropriate answer for his injury. Eleanora seemed to sense her way through the tearful exchange between her parents; grabbed her mother’s hand and walked her away from where her father and brother were engaged in resigned states for what must take place to spare the lad’s life. The men at arms who knew of battle scurried to build a small fire; they would have to seal the wound with hot iron, burned white in a flame. William came to kneel by his older brother; taking his hand he stared into the squire’s eyes, unable to look at the mangled leg.
Young Archibald’s nurse Matilda offered her assistance; giving up her charge to Eleanora and Beatrice she came to lend her speywife's knowledge and support. “Bring my healing coffer from my saddled palfrey,” the Douglas knight commanded. The lady nodded her head and returned quickly with the herbs and macdalions; salves and other medicinal concoctions his brother Hugh prepared for such emergencies. Matilda had taken Archie’s dagger and was cleaning off the goose fat that kept it from damage for disuse. Then she let it linger in the flames of the small fire, to wipe it clean again in the wine leftover form their feasting. Solemnly she brought the weapon turned surgical instrument to the Douglas laird.
“My son; take of this to hold under your tongue,” the father said quietly. “To end the pain this healer will put some of Hugh’s good salve most here.” He looked into the eyes of his oldest boy. “What courage you most have,” he told John poignantly. Archie then motioned the older soldiers to brace for the cut that would sever the pulverized skin and blood soaked bone and tissue. He tied the silk streamers above the bend of the knee and began to carve away at the blood soaked mass. The sinew struck firm, then finally gave way as slivers from shattered bone pierced the surface. The sawing action of the sharpened blade now cut through the last layers of tissue that had dangled from the knee. The final cut was made; John had barely moved and never once called out. “A true Douglas, sure aye,” Archie said, praising the lad again.
Matilda then applied more salve for pain at the father’s direction. The most agonizing step in the healing process was about to take place. Archie carefully took the quickly fashioned cautery iron from the de Segrave knight; the heated steel was then placed at the stub end of the squire’s knee. “A few strong sutures and this surgery is most complete,” the father informed his patient. The surgery came to a speedy close with the quickened, steady stitch of the knight’s needle and silk thread, a common provision when on campaign he shared with his son. As Archie moved around to come to his son’s eye level, the nurse applied a poultice then wrapped the stump with the remains of Archie’s silk cote.
“There is no pain father,” the lad said; his voice cracking for the fatigue of the ordeal. The Douglas knight held the squire’s hand in his; the sense of relief for their mutual success was painted on his brow but the looks exchanged between father and son were too intense that each looked away to allow their tears to flow. “Beatrice, come dear mother and be with our son who needs you now,” he called to his wife. The lady had composed herself some; a mother with a purpose, she came to semi-soothe her child.
The day after next Hugh arrived from Roxburgh. Bringing Walter with him, they were in the escort of the de Segrave men at arms sent to retrieve the Douglas healer. “Dear brother, you have missed your calling,” he quipped to Archie as he examined the fine details of the surgery. “Training from the many times this soldier had to stitch and sew that daring and foolish knight the Black Douglas,” the youngest Douglas brother replied. Hugh reassured him that he saved his son’s life with his quick decision. “Most difficult a task to so prepare for a healing of great magnitude as this and most in the hills of the old fort,” he said in amazement for the difficulty of the task. “How is it that you knew of what to do?” Archie explained that he felt he was in a fog the entire time. “Only to wake up when it was over; our father le Hardi was most with me that day; our dear St. Bride on my right shoulder to do the praying,” he explained albeit mystically. “That it must be so dear brother; for our Archibald has performed such work of miracles, sure aye!” Hugh spouted, teasing the knight in hope of breaking the tension that his brother harbored for the ordeal.
John of Douglas recovered; gangrene did not set in and he was able to receive a steep stump to assist him in his walking and appearance of having two legs. But the recovery took a lang time; the body healing faster than the spirit of the lad. To the rescue of his older brother came young William; the ever positive and undaunted soul that kept John from giving up; surrendering to his disabled state. The page challenged John daily. “Read more to me dear brother; this lad has much to learn of healing to keep you most with me and most aged too,” he demanded in playful tones.
The older brother was reading the writings of their grandfather William le Hardi when he came across some writing he could not read. “Uncle Hugh,” he bellowed loudly. The canon came running only to see that his nephew was not in peril; far from it the priest surmised as he heard the demanding sentiment in John’s tone. “Dear patient; that you must not give your healer another such fright! To only manage such strident voice when there is fearful danger! Good day!” he said in a feigned huff. As he finished admonishing the lad, the canon turned on his heels to take his leave and quickly.
John was chuckling; his uncle’s face could not contain the Douglas smirk that revealed to all the fair teasing of his ways. “Good Hugh that you are to play a trick on this lad,” he said good naturedly. “This squire will so promise never to put a scare in you again; but please we need your help here.” John was pointing to the journal of their grandfather; showing his uncle the strange lettering. Hugh was amazed as he read; believing that finding the book was a very special gift from the Otherworld. “That you have happened upon my father’s early journals!” he exclaimed. “What bounty these words are for now this good priest does have his proof; le Hardi could surely write the Arabic as his words here do now attest.” The canon continued to read from the journal; noting the date his father entered. “To write in such a fashion,” Hugh said utterly amazed. “Pray, what is the meaning for this reference?” he asked referring to the date ‘in the year of the Hejira 669.’ Walter was reading over his shoulder. “That would be by the calendar of the Mamlukes,” he said circumspectly. “Where 622 in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ would be the year one in Hejira.” He added that calculating the Saracen years into their own was difficult to do with accuracy. “Their months are shortened for their days in groupings all the same. That 669 Her. May yet refer to 1270 and the Crusade of St. Louis this churchman would believe,” Walter said; beaming proudly for his extensive knowledge of the writings from that era.
Hugh was ebullient as he recalled for his family the days he spent as a youth in Essex studying with the local clergy there. “The Hospitaller at Priory Farm in Stebbing who so schooled this lad in healing, to help him most as well with his father’s writings on the use of herbs, that he so often told this lad: he must have his proof,” Hugh explained; elaborating on his profound exuberance for the discovery. “That he so informed this churchman for without some evidence existing that our father le Hardi could write in the language of Arabia, there would always be a doubt to his true study of such things in the Levant,” the canon concluded happily; knowing that he had finally uncovered the testimony to those truths. “From such tragedy always comes a goodness,” he reminded everyone.
“Most certain will this Douglas son so fashion the translation of le Hardi’s works,” Walter promised. Joining Hugh in the celebration they both were more than effusive for the discovery; each vowing to participate in the arduous task of rendering the material into the more usable language of Latin. “Dear Hugh; this lad’s days of being most a knight are finished; perhaps to become a scholar and the good healer of an Alchemist is now my journey and good future too,” he said with an almost romantic passion to his words. Young William was relieved; his brother had not shown much interest in anything for the many days following his injury. Now the hand of his grandfather was reaching from the beyond the veil to inspire another young squire with those same studies.