Stirling Castle had been besieged a few months earlier by the Scots, and they had challenged the King of England, Edward II, that if it was not relinquished by mid-summer, it would be submitted to the Scottish King and his people - thus separating Scotland from the rest of England and liberating her from English powers.
How could the English possibly ignore a challenge like that?
Now, the Scots and their King - Robert the Bruce - numbering no more than 10,000 men, stood beyond the range of the English garrison within Stirling Castle's walls, waiting for their foe to respond.
“The English under King Edward have reached Falkirk,” William informed Jack as they made their way to the Bruce's camp-fire, their robes wrapped tightly around them, the cold air threatening to break through, “They ought to be here by morning.”
Jack nodded, “You join the others, I will speak with the King.”
“Yes, sir,” William inclined his head and went away.
Jack continued to search through the scattered camp-fires, his teeth chattering and all his hairs standing on end. He looked up at the night sky heavy with cloud and prayed that it wouldn't rain in such freezing cold weather. He scanned the flat lands, until he spotted the Bruce. He was a man as tall as he was broad, with a thick prominent moustache. He wore leathers for protection, a sword in his belt and a great axe was strapped across his back.
“King Robert,” Jack said, raising a hand in greeting.
“Ah, young Jack Molay,” the King smiled, gesturing to his crackling camp-fire, “Come. Sit with me.”
Jack made his way, the soft land grasping his feet as he trod on it, and began rubbing his hands over the flame and warming the numbness away before he even sat down. But he wasted no time in saying, “The English are nearly upon us, they've reached Falkirk. 2000 in heavy cavalry and 15,000 in infantry men - many of whom are archers.”
“Ah, let them come,” said the King, a mixture of joy and nonchalance in his voice and demeanour, waiving away Jack's urgency with a flick of his hand, “They'll never be able to defeat us, not with that soft-fleshed king of theirs. This new King Edward is nothing like his father before him.”
“Have you worked out a strategy, sir?” Jack asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Aye,” the King nodded, beckoning Jack with his hand, “Come here, I'll show you.”
Jack went and squatted beside the King, watching intently as the man drew on the soft ground with a sharp stick.
The Bruce drew a square and said, “This here is Stirling Castle,” he drew a thick slithering line to its left side, “This is the River Forth, and this...” he drew a thinner line some way in front of the castle, “is a stream we call the Bannockburn, which is broken by two Roman Roads leading to the garrison at Stirling Castle. Now, this land here,” he point to the area on his left, within the River Forth and the stream of Bannockburn, “is an area we call the Carse - a low flood plain, wet and marshy. And here,” he indicated an area to the castle's instant right, “is New Park, a old woodland hunting ground. My idea is this,” he spread his arms and look up at Jack, “We split our army into five - four groups of pike-men, or schiltrons; and one group for light cavalry,” he drew three marks over the ground, “The first three groups with be led by my brother, Edward Bruce; Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Murray; and Sir James Douglas. I will head a reserve to the rear, the fourth schiltron,” he drew a line behind the three marks and a circle next to it, “And the mounted warriors will be lead by Sir Robert Keith - say 500 men on horseback. We will guard the Roman Roads, at the bridges over the Bannockburn. Those fancy mounted knights the English obsess with won't be able to break our line of bristling pikes!”
“And what about the Carse?” Jack inquired, “Surely the horses will be able to cross a small stream?”
“That's the beauty of it, these men - the English - are too heavy for the Carse: what with their heavily armoured selves and heavily armoured warhorses. If they throw themselves in that direction, well, they'll be stuck in the mud!” the King laughed, “We'll swing our forces around and cut 'em down!”
“You are still greatly outnumbered, sir...” Jack pointed out.
“I'm aware, but the English are predictable. Old Norman formations and all that. When they come they'll separate themselves into three columns, each column under an officer who will lead the charge by archers, then infantry, then mounted knights. And then there's King Edward II... He's no King Edward I, nothing like his father. He's no military man, more of an admirer of paintings. We'll want for nothing.”
“And... and what about an extra reserve?”
“Speak, share with me your thoughts.”
“Well, you have the New Park, you haven't really taken advantage of it. I think it could be utilised.”
“Hide a reserve in the New Park,” Jack suggested, “I know we are short on soldiers, but this reserve can be thrown into battle at the last minute, when we've weakened the English. They won't see it coming and we can easily turn the tide in our favour,” Jack pointed at the image of the New Park on the ground, “We can hide our cooks, carpenters, our camp followers. Every man that seeks freedom from the tyranny of the English.”
King Robert smiled, “I like how you think, Jack Molay.”
“Additionally,” Jack said, “We should dig pitfalls around the Roman Roads, so if some of the English do manage to pass through our line of attack, their horses won't have such an easy time navigating the land.”
“I'll order it immediately,” the Bruce agreed, clicking his fingers and beckoning his men to dig the pitfalls Jack had described.
“And, sir,” Jack said, standing as the Bruce rose to join his men in work, “where will you station us? There are 29 of us Templar Knights and we're experienced in battle - of the fiercest kind.”
King Robert the Bruce paused, regarding Jack with deep thought, “28 of you will join the light cavalry, under Sir Robert Keith,” the Bruce said, “and you, Jack Molay, will be near me, in my schiltron.”
What an honour.
“Get some sleep, Jack Molay, the morning will not wait for you to rise and she will bring the English with her,” King Robert said, “But, if I may ask: why do you fight with us? You suffered tyranny from the masters of your own land, not ours.”
Jack pondered on the question, “You granted us shelter when no-one else would,” he said, his head down, “And I believe my people deserve to be free, but that doesn't change the fact that so do yours.”
And he meant it.
King Robert the Bruce was a just man - fair as he was fierce - as answerable to his subjects as they were to him, and his strategy, the way he had formed his plan and intended to defeat the English was a clear sign of order.
It was good enough for Jack.
“One day,” King Robert said, grasping Jack's shoulder, “One day your people will be free and you'll raise hell on the man who oppressed them,” he winked, “He's not so far from here.”
Jack inclined his head and left the man to his work.
As he walked back to the Templar camp, he heard rich singing - the beauty of it rolling off the tongues of the Scottish soldiers, punctuated by arduous digging, the Bruce leading the choir:
“Scots, who have with Wallace bled,
Scots, whom Bruce has often led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victory.
“Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front of battle lower,
See approach proud Edward's power -
Chains and slavery.
“Who will be a traitor, knave?
Who will fill a coward's grave?
Who's so base as be a slave? -
Let him turn, and flee.
“Who for Scotland's King and Law,
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fall,
Let him follow me.
“By oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins -
But they shall be free.
“Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Liberty's in every blow,
Let us do or die!”