A Woman's Fateful Knight

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A Woman's Fateful Knight:

It is said that English soldiers lured Scottish noblemen to the Barns of Ayr with promises of peace talks, but slaughtered them all on arrival. William Wallace only survived because he was warned by a woman who witnessed the massacre of the Scottish nobleman.

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In the spring Heather nervously waited beyond the barns of Ayr (which the English had been using as their barracks), where a beautiful meadow met a small pond, overlooked by the pigs and cows grazing in the land immediately next to the barns. She fiddled with her dress as she leaned against a tree and waited. She did this every day for three weeks, even when it was raining. As a breeze rustled the leaves of the tree, she would warm herself with the memories of their meetings the days before.

Alexander approached on his horse. Heather always knew he was near because she could feel the vibrations of his horse in the trunk of the tree but still, she pretended not to know he was there until he dismounted his horse. He walked to the edge of the pond and picked up a stone.

“If I can skim this stone all the way to the other side then we should be married,” he proclaimed.

Heather watched as he swung his arm back and whipped it forward releasing the stone on to the pond’s surface. The stone skimmed and lost momentum halfway.

She smiled. “You shouldn’t make such bets when you don’t know if I’d agree to it or not.”

Alexander fell to his knees before her as if he had taken a sword through the heart. She embraced him and he clung to her waist like a little boy.

Silhouette of William Wallace and woman.

The rain fell heavily, and the pond sprang to life with a million intersecting ripples. They sat under the tree together and watched in silence. Alexander looked at Heather.

“The English nobles have invited us to attend a meeting in the Barns for a truce.”

Heather continued to watch the water as she spoke. “They can’t stop Wallace; he has the heart of the people.”

Heather lifted her heavy eyes to Alexander. “The English don’t want a truce, they want blood.”

Alexander placed his hand over her womb. “All will be well; they wouldn’t send up unarmed noblemen if this were true. Peace will be with us, and the English will be gone. I have hope for tomorrow.”

When the day turned to evening and a pink blanket had been pulled over the sky Heather began to wonder where her love was. She hadn’t known Alexander to be late. She hadn’t felt the familiar vibrations of his horse on the ground. Nothing felt familiar this evening. She looked past the long grass and through the trees, wondering if he was still at the barn meeting the noblemen. She would be in trouble, surely, if she was caught eavesdropping on the meeting but her growing worry trumped this concern.

Heather made her way to the barns.

She knelt behind one of the heavily built, thatched roof, wooden structures. She could hear muffled voices from within and pressed her ear against the wood but still could not make out the words. Crawling along to an opening at the back where she could see into the barn, she placed her eye over the hole. Heather’s view was blocked by a man standing in front of the hole, but she could make out muffled screams of men echoing within the barn. She adjusted her position and focused on the ground where she could make out the feet of the other men, but she was confused by what she saw. Seven pairs of feet were not touching the ground. As she thought to move herself to find a better position, the man blocking the view moved slightly and she saw…

Heather’s eye darkened with the view of seven hanging Scottish noblemen and knights. In horror she followed a pair of feet up to the noose tied to the rafter, to the strangled head of her beloved Alexander. His lifeless face next to six others dangled with only the sound

of rope rubbing against wood. Heather fell back and covered her mouth as her lungs exhaled her shock.

Heather dragged herself up, she thought about entering the barn – she wanted revenge. But she knew that there was nothing she could do alone. She started along the path that the noblemen had ridden on to their deaths. Barefooted and broken Heather ran and ran. The mud for the now heavy rain was thick and she slipped and fell so much her dress became black as the road. But still she kept running until a man rode towards her on a horse. She said to herself, if it was an Englishman, she would pull him from his horse and strangle him to death right there.

As the man approached, she recognised him, the horse slowing to a halt. Heather placed her dark red eyes on him. It was William Wallace himself, riding to the meeting.

“You are riding to your death,” cried Heather. “Seven of your men have been hanged in the barn and they wait for you.”

Heather was surprised to see how shaken he was by the news as Wallace dismounted his horse. “Get on my horse, I’ll take you back to town.”

Heather pushed away from him. “I’m going to burn them all alive!”

Wallace jumped back on his horse. “Great minds think alike but you won’t be alone in your revenge. Paint a white mark on each door where the English that slaughtered our men sleep, then we will know. I will return with fifty men, and we will burn them all and watch the fire. Stay out of sight. “

Wallace rode away. Heather knelt and placed her hand on the ground for balance, closing her eyes as tears streamed down her muddied face. She tried to compose herself and after a short while Heather walked back to the barns and, one by one, she listened at the doors and marked on each a white mark where the English were. Before long she had marked them all, and began to gather sticks, twigs, and branches from the woods, stacking them up around the barns. Panting like a dog she never stopped, not once, not for a single beat.

Two hours had passed, and she had already quietly stacked branches by five barns of sleeping Englishmen before Wallace and the men arrived, shocked that one woman managed all this alone.

“You have been busy, I see,” Wallace said with a smile, as he and his men assisted Heather in finishing the task. They stealthily managed to stack all the branches without attracting any attention. Although, there were a few times soldiers had to be stopped from barging in as they overheard the English in the barns saying foul slurs towards the slain Scotsmen.

Ten horsemen valiantly rode passed to light the kindling and set fire to the barns. Wallace, his men, and Heather set themselves up nearby awaiting the men running out, watching as the barns set alight and slowly burned. Wallace clutched his sword as the flames climbed the barns and one by one the Englishmen ran out screaming only to meet their deaths. On Heather’s request they let the men on fire burn. Barn after barn went up in flames and the English were slaughtered at the hands of Wallace and his companions.

Just as the English running out of the barns began to overwhelm Wallace and his men, the Monks of the nearby Monastery joined their efforts. On the strict instruction from the Prior, the monks were to annihilate the English with no mercy to avenge their cruel betrayal. Wallace was glad to see the monks, though savage with their swords, riding as far as five miles in the hunt for some of the English who had managed to escape.

In the morning, when the smoke had cleared, Wallace and his men gathered the bodies of the dead to burn. As he searched the remains, Wallace discovered Heather’s body lying on top of an English nobleman with her hands around his throat. She had strangled him to death, but not before he had plunged a dagger into her side. Wallace had her body taken away, washed and a proper burial arranged for her. Had it not been for her, he surely would have died upon his late arrival to the barns that day. He would remember her bravery for the rest of his days.

Map location of silhouette

Inspiration

Although these events are believed to be inspired by fact the exact location and details have become the stuff of well-known legend. The incident was included in the 1995 film Braveheart, about the life of William Wallace. Wallace Tower commemorates his connections to the town and this incident.

Credits

Written by: Neil Boyle
Illustrations by: Lori Isabella McColl
Audio by: Elisha Bennison
Audio recording and mixing by: Scott Andrew