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Various Events

In 1402, A Scottish King-to-Be Dies a Mysterious Death

By Noah HusbandPublished 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 15 min read
Glencoe, Scotland

In Walter Bower’s “The Scotichronicon”, a text from the 1440s describing Scottish history, some of the chapters are titled densely, and others vaguely. For example, chapter nineteen is titled, “The Agreement Entered Into Between the Kings of Scotland and Norway Concerning the Islands, and the Outbreak of Fighting Between the King of England and Simon de Montfort”, while chapter thirty is titled “Various Events”. Perhaps the reason for this vagueness is simply that chapter thirty contains too many events to be properly encapsulated with a specific title. Perhaps it is to denote that the events within it are unimportant. Perhaps though, it is to avoid attention, for it contains within it a conspiracy.

Various Events

Calan the Crosseyed awoke, soaked in his own cold urine.

“Smite me,” he thought, placing a clammy palm to his aching head “I’ve been shirkin’ me duties again”. He teetered to his feet, the world turning around him as he stood. A tankard lay before his yellowed toenails. He squinted to see it, his eyes adjusting to the morning sunlight through the stone chamber’s window. It was a small window– a hole, no larger than a rat’s carcass, carved where the wall met the ceiling. This was not Calan’s bed chamber. This was the palace dungeon.

Calan’s headache took a momentary hiatus, and panic replaced it. He had been wrongly imprisoned, or so he thought. He shot a glance at the prison bars, which were fully raised, allowing him passage out. He ran underneath them, lest they rattle to the ground again, nearly tripping over his own drunken legs. Once outside the cramped, dingey, cell, he attempted to gather his thoughts. He had no memories from the previous night. The drink had stolen them from him. This was not an uncommon occurrence for Calan, a stablehand with no friend but ale. He had never, however, awoken in the palace dungeon, a place he had never seen before.

Parched, he licked at his scabby lips, and ascended the stairs toward the main palace floor. He hoped he could slip by without meeting the eyes of another palace workman, as they surely would have a few reprimanding words for him.

“Snake-tongues, hypocrites,” he murmured to himself, “Now how did I find myself down here? I’ve never wandered so deep before”

He came to an unfamiliar hallway. He tried a door, locked, then another, and a third. It swung open, to a realization of his fear: a crowd. Even worse, the crowd contained Robert of Albany, the Earl of Fife, and the payer of his wages. Calan attempted to kneel, but his dizziness betrayed him, and he fell to his side, belching.

Robert had been in conversation with another person, and hardly noticed Calan’s entrance before the raucous interruption. The Earl turned his attention onto his employee, already red-faced with anger.

“Calan Crosseye, you devil bastard! You have sunk below my expectations this day!”

Calan scrambled to one knee and bowed his head, stammering, “Lord, a thousand apologies for shirkin’ me duties! A thousand and double, Lord! Please be sparin’ to an old malform”

Calan had been born with abnormally short legs and crooked knees, hindering his strength and mobility. He could not ride a horse, nor hold up a shield for longer than a few seconds, rendering him useless as a soldier. Stablehand was perhaps the only job he was fit for. Even going to a knee caused immense strain on his weak legs, and they now quivered beneath the weight of his torso.

Robert of Albany showed him no sympathy.

“Malformity is no excuse for crime, Calan Crosseye! Explain your evil deed to the King and to God, at once!”

Moving out of the way, Robert of Albany revealed a figure behind him. It was Robert, King of Scotland himself! Long bearded and displaying the golden, bejeweled crown of the Kingdom atop his head, his overwhelming presence seemed to pull Calan downward. Like a dog, he flopped to his face, and stretched his arms out in front of him.

“King!” he cried, “Why have thee come– God incarnate– to punish personally, wretched Calan the Crosseyed? I am but a low-life, a nothing!”

The king’s face was old and sagging, and devoid of any charm or light. He looked at Calan, who remained face-down on the floor, with indifference. He held the gaze on him for a moment, before peering angrily at Robert of Albany.

“This,” the King spoke, “is who you accuse?”

Robert of Albany looked puzzled.

The King continued, his tiered eye bags a bright red, “This pathetic manger weed, sprouted from donkey shite? This is who you profess to have killed my son?”

The King’s son? Dead? Calan’s blood turned to frigid ice. He remembered hearing rumor that the King’s son, Lieutenant David of Scotland, was to be imprisoned in the Palace. He had not believed it. He had taken to the drink last night. In his stupor, he thought, he had missed the arrival of Lieutenant David. Now, the worst of nightmares was upon him, upon the kingdom. An heir to the throne was gone. Worse still, he was to be accused.

“He is a drunken murderer, Lord!” Robert of Albany replied, “He bludgeoned your son in his sleep!”

Calan began to sob loudly, his forehead still pressed firmly on the stone floor. He knew he would not survive this accusation.

The King commanded silence from Calan, but he failed to contain his cries. So, he raised his voice over him, shouting, “Robert, Duke of Albany and Earl of Fife, do not spread falsehoods in the presence of your King!”

Fear overcame Robert of Albany now.

He started, “Brother, I–”

“Do not call me Brother! I am appointed your kin by blood, but your ruler by God! I should have you bow to me rather than stand as my equal”

“Aye, Lord”, Robert of Albany said in a low tone, and bowed.

There was a dreadful silence as the rest of the crowd bowed as well.

King Robert exhaled. Etched in his expression was sorrow. Behind his spent eyes was murderous rage. He remained, however, saintly calm.

“Rise, Abbot,” he said.

A middle-aged man in worn, grey, holy robes stood. He was Walter Bower.

“Tell the Duke what you saw”

The Abbot’s voice was high-pitched and nasiley, almost prepubescent.

He spoke, “I arrived the same evening as David, and took a night’s walk ‘round the Falkland Palace, your highness, when I spotted two riders, and a prisoner. The first of the riders, I recognized immediately as the Duke, Robert of Albany. The second wore the crest of Douglas upon his cuirass. Archibald Douglas, I deciphered. He is here among us this night. No others present in the palace wear the crest”

Archibald, who was indeed present, raised his head to protest, but was silenced by The King.

“The second rider,” repeated Walter Bower, “was Archibald Douglas. I carry within me no doubt of this fact. I also carry within me no doubt that the prisoner, cloaked, gagged, and bound, was indeed the King’s son, and Heir Apparent to the Throne of Scotland, David of Rothesay”

Archibald peered at his accuser under crinkled brows as the Abbot slowly returned to his kneeling stance, bowed, and fell silent.

“And if you lie?” the King questioned.

“If I lie, may God plague me and turn me to food for the rats of Dumfries” replied the Abbot succinctly.

“May a humble stablehand speak?” Calan begged, groaning for the pain in his knees.

“He may not,” The King said sternly, “Abbot Bower reports against thee, Robert of Albany. You take my son and you gag him and beat him? It is within your right to imprison him. He remained on your land the night after his lieutenancy ended. This is unlawful of him, and deserves imprisonment. It is not, however, within your right to mistreat a member of the royal family above you. His body is bruised on its side, dark and purple as a ripe beet. Did you beat your nephew, Duke Robert?”

“I did not Lord” claimed Robert of Albany.

“Did you beat him, Archibald of Douglas?”

Archibald raised his head. He was a large man. If any were capable of leaving such a sizable bruise upon the King’s son’s ribs, he seemed most fit. His disheveled, black hair hung over his worried face. In his eyes, pensiveness. It was clear he sought within himself a reply of minimal consequence.

“Aye, Lord,” he said ashamedly, “but only to quell his resistance, Lord. I did not strike him hard. I did not touch his side. The origin of the bruise, I do not know, and if I lie, Lord, well then let God dig me a grave beside your abbot’s”

Calan fell to his side now.

“Forgive me, King,” he said, clearly in agony, “Tis me disfigurement, won’t let me kneel for long. I must say, Your Holiness, while I ain’t worthy to look upon ye, I must say in shame that I do not remember what I done before the morn. I do know, though, that I ain’t have it in me to murder. I ain’t harbor no evil”

The King glared at Calan, unmoving.

“Oh,” Calan continued, “and if I lie, put a third grave in the ground next to them two… uh King, sir”

“Enough!” The King shouted, straightening up in his seat, “Let us talk of motive, of ambition”

He fixed his gaze upon Archibald.

“You would see my son killed over rumor of adultery to his wife, your sister, Marjorie of Douglas, would you not? Do not think that my love for my son makes me deaf to his dissenters. It keens my ears to them, and to plots of his destruction. Your land, the Land of Douglas, alights with such plots.”

Archibald spoke, “It is true that words of dissent are spoken in Douglas, Lord, but they are merely words. No man in Douglas seeks to undermine the holy royal seat, least of all me, Lord. I only sought justice for his crime of remaining in our land unwarranted”

“You sow no seeds of hate for what he has done to your sister? He lies with his old wife and true love, Elizabeth. Do not pretend you have not heard these rumors. Do not pretend Marjorie has not confided in you”

“I hate the fact of it, Lord, if it is indeed true, but I cannot bring myself to hate a King’s heir”

“You lie in the face of God!”

“And what of your Abbot?” came a female voice.

Uncloaking her face, Elizabeth, David’s first love stepped forward from the bowed crowd.

“My King, I did wish you to be my own father, but the Abbey decided against my marriage to David. They claimed that God did not want us to marry, and when David went against the church, he was cursed by them. I know you bid me conceal myself, King, for my own safety, but I cannot stay silent. Walter Bower came to this place last night of all nights. I bid you ask ‘why’, my King. Why last night?”

The King’s face at first was angry, then changed to ponderous. He slowly rotated his head to face the Abbot, Walter Bower.

“Abbot,” he said, “The Lady wonders the reason for your travels to this place, and now that she raises this query, I find myself wondering the same. Please explain.”

The Abbot stood very slowly, then raised his head once again to speak, “I came to seek knowledge for my writings, Lord. As you know, I aim to travel the whole of Scotland, continuing the work of scholars prior”

“Yes,” uttered the King, “but you fail to explain why of all the provinces in the whole of Scotland, you choose to come to Fife, to Falkland Palace, on the very night my son is murdered”

“I can only imagine the Lord wished it this way, my King”

“The Lord wished for my son’s death?”

“Lord, you twist my meaning. I said, ‘I only imagine–’”

“Keep your imaginings to yourself, Abbot. You have wisdom of apothecary, do you not? My own abbots in Edinburgh have taught me of poisons and elixirs. They have demonstrated to me, poisons which cause the insides to burst. They leave blood-red markings, bruising from the inside! Is this what you used on my son? Is this the source of the accursed bruise upon his side?”

“I deny this claim, Lord!”

“Do you deny your hatred for my son?”


“Lie and God smites you, filth!”

“I can feel nothing but hatred for a man who openly denies God in exchange for the embrace of a mortal whore!”

The King and his court fell silent.

“The church determined that a mandate for their betrothal was necessary, and instead of awaiting the madate’s arrival, your son and this woman bedded one another in clear, carnal, defiance of God, the Creator of all things! You should be ashamed of your son, Lord. Scotland should be ashamed of him. Being with Marjorie, a woman he loves not, is not nearly punishment enough!”

“Treasonous wretch” the King uttered, recoiling at the Abbot’s daring outburst.

“I have committed no treason, Lord. These men beside you murdered your son, and if they did not, then it was an act of God for betraying him so blatantly. Perhaps he was diseased or starved”

“Starved in a single night?” the King replied.

The Abbot stared back defiantly, then bowed his head again, and knelt.

King Robert paused, and perused the bowed heads around him.

“It would seem my son has no friend in Fife,” he said, letting out an exasperated sigh, “You all swear by God’s might, yet you do not truly fear it. My court is infested with snakes”

He sat in silence for a moment, his weary eyes staring forward. The last light of youth seemed to leave his pupils as they glazed over. He had naught left in him to challenge his dissenters with. His son had passed, and with him, his own vigor. His exhausted gaze fell solely on Calan. The drunkard lay there defeated, dazed, and broken, and in this moment, Robert, King of all Scotland could relate to no man more.

“Stand,” he said, almost silently.

Calan raised his eyes. “Lord?”

“Stand,” he repeated, “and speak your thoughts”

Calan struggled to get back to his feet, and when he did, he dry-heaved.

“Take a moment, if you need,” said the King.

After a few heavy breaths, Calan cleared his throat.

He started, “As I said, King sir, I ain’t have recollection of even seein’ your David of Rothesay, but I ain’t have it in me to murder either. I took to the drink, Lord, as I do most nights”



“Where did you take to the drink?”

“Why, at the inn out front ‘the stable, a stone’s throw away, supposin’ somebody stronger than ol’ Calan throws it”

“What occurred at the inn?

“Well I–” Calan’s memory began to come back to him, “I sat at me normal place. I asked fer me normal ale. Oh–”

“Go on”

“Well I remember now, somethin’ peculiar. I got me a tankard that night. A tankard!”

“A tankard?”

“See, Lord, normally I get me a cup. Tankard’s expensive, but I remember now, a queer man in a cloak came along and paid it fer me. ‘Ah, bless ye’, I say to him”

“Man in a cloak?”

“He came along and said he’d pay it fer me. He was all cloaked, and he had that… Oh! He had the crest on him! Dumfries or Dundee or what is it?”

“Which crest?”

“That one, Lord,” Calan said, pointing to the crest of Douglas on Archibald’s cuirass, “and I thank him, and I sing his praises over that tankard, and another and another till I’m silly and I forget me-self”

The King was silent.

“Then, Lord,” he continued, “peculiar still, I always do my beddin’ in the stable when I’ve been in too much drink. Never have I once woken up someplace else. Well, this mornin’ I found myself lyin’ in that palace dungeon. Now, me in my right mind ain’t able to find my way down there. How’s me in my drunken stupor gettin’ down there? I may have been moved. Oh–”

Calan flashed a smile and clapped his hands.

“I have it, Lord! I have yer proof! I wet me-self, as I often do Lord, when I’ve been in too much drink. Soaked straight through me garments I am, Lord, as yer probably smellin’, but if ye look down in the dungeon, ain’t no puddle, and if ye look in the stables, and ye feel the hay, Lord, I reckon you will find a puddle. That’ll prove I was moved Lord, from the stables to the dungeon, probably to blame me for your David’s killin’, as they did, Lord”.

The King, in his decrepit body, stood up very slowly, and walked out with Calan to the stables. His knights guarded the palace doors. Calan pointed out to the King where he lay most nights, and the puddle, as expected, was there.

The crowd: Robert of Albany, Archibald of Douglas, Elizabeth, and Abbot Walter Bower, among a few palace workmen, stood watching in silence.

The King turned to them, Calan standing beside him.

He spoke, “I stand before you, court of snakes, half-mad with grief from my son’s death. Urine-soaked straw falls from my hands, and I believe none of my nobles’ words before the word of a drunk, deformed, stablehand. I call into question my own reasoning, now. I see only one explanation for why God would allow this investigation to reach such absurdity. He seeks to make the verdict himself. So be it. We shall have a trial among my general council, among prayer.”

So the nobles and the palace workmen were taken to Edinburgh, where the trial would be held.

In the days that followed, the verdict was reached.

It was decided, within the Abbey and among noblemen, that David of Rothesay had died by “divine providence, and not otherwise…”

In the years that followed, Robert, King of Scotland succumbed to his age and died in Castle Rothesay. His second son was exiled to England, and Robert of Albany became the de facto ruler of Scotland. Archibald Douglas, strong leader as he was, headed the battles to come against the English. The Abbot, Walter Bower, took to an island, where he wrote most of what we now know of early Scottish history. Lastly, Calan the Crosseyed remained in Fife, where he drank ale, and took part in various events.

fact or fictioninvestigation

About the Creator

Noah Husband

I like to take premises that sound absurd or ridiculous (ie. a cowboy who learns to love life again through surfing), and write them well enough that the reader goes, "Okay, that was actually really good".

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