THE STORY OF PIERCE-EYE
When William of the Red Face came to the throne of
England, there was war again between England and
Scotland. It is not quite easy always to know why they
fought, for in those fierce days a very small cause was
enough to make a war. Sometimes Malcolm fought to
help Prince Edgar, sometimes he fought about the border
lands. At last it was agreed that the Scottish King
should hold the northern part of England, which was
called Northumbria, in fief from the English King, and do
homage to him for it just as the English King did homage
to the King of France for the lands he held there.
To hold a land in fief meant, that in return for the
land, the man to whom it was given promised to help his
Overlord by sending soldiers to fight for him in time of
war. This way of paying for land by fighting was called
the feudal system, and it first came into Scotland in the
time of Malcolm Canmore.
After this agreement there was peace, but it did not
last long. William of the Red Face sent for Malcolm to
come into England. Malcolm went, but when he arrived
the English King treated him, not as one king might
treat another, but as a king might treat a subject.
William tried to pretend that Malcolm was his subject
and ought to do homage to him for the whole of Scotland
instead of only for Northumbria. This made Malcolm
very angry. Leaving William in great wrath, he went
straight back to Scotland and gathered his army together.
Then he marched again into England, fighting and
plundering as he went.
William the Red hastily gathered an army, and sent it
against Malcolm, and at a castle called Alnwick the Scots
were defeated, and their brave King Malcolm slain.
The Scots were besieging the castle. The English had
almost given up hope and were thinking of yielding, when
an English knight, trusting to win great renown, set forth
upon a bold adventure.
He prayed the Governor to give him the keys of the
castle. Without armour or weapon of any kind except a
spear in his hand, he mounted upon a swift horse. Placing
the keys upon the point of the spear, he rode out of the
gates, and made straight for the Scottish camp.
As he came near to the camp he was stopped by the
guards. Whence come you ? they asked, surprised to
see an English warrior alone, and almost unarmed. Is it
in war or in peace that you come ?
In peace, replied the knight, we can hold out no
longer. I bring you here the keys of the castle which I
would give to your King, in token of submission.
The guards were very glad at the news, and they led
the knight through the camp to the tent of the King.
With clamour and rejoicing many soldiers followed,
gazing in wonder at the unarmed knight with the keys of
the castle upon his spear.
Hearing the noise, and wondering what it might mean,
King Malcolm came out of his tent. As soon as the
English knight saw the King, he lowered his spear, as if
he would present the keys to him. But instead of doing
so, he suddenly made a swift thrust forward and pierced
the King in the left eye. Then, before those around could
THE STORY OF PIERCE-EYE 68
realise what had happened, he set spurs to his horse, and
fled away to the woods near.
Without a groan the King sank to the ground, and
when his friends raised him, it was found that he was
quite dead. Then the English, taking advantage of the
sorrow and confusion into which the Scots were thrown
by the death of their King, fell upon them and defeated
them with great slaughter. In the battle, Malcolms
eldest son Prince Edward was wounded, so that he died,
and filled with grief, the Scots turned back to their own
The English knight who killed King Malcolm was,
because of this deed, called Pierce-eye ever after. He was
thus, it is said, the founder of the great family of Pierce-
eye or Percy, who became Earls of Northumberland.
While these things were happening in England, far
away in Scotland the good Queen Margaret lay very ill.
She lay praying for her husband and her sons, when,
opening her eyes, she saw her younger son, Prince Edgar,
standing beside her bed.
His face was so pale and sad, that the sight of it made
her afraid. How fares it with your father and brother ?
she asked anxiously.
The Prince stood silent with drooping head and eyes
full of tears.
I pray you, cried the Queen, tell me. By the Holy
Rood and by the obedience you owe to me, tell me the
Then the Prince spoke. My father and my brother
are both slain, he said.
The will of God be done, cried the Queen ; and
turning her face to the wall, she died.
Malcolm Canmore was killed in 1098 a.d. He had
reigned for thirty-six years, which was a very long time
64 SCOTLANDS STORY
in those wild days. He was fierce and fond of war, but
he was brave and generous, and a true knight. He loved
his country, and he loved his wife dearly. For her sake
he was very kind to the English Prince Edgar, often
fighting for him, when otherwise he might have been at
peace with the English.
It was probably for Queen Margarets sake, too, that
Malcolm built several monasteries and churches, and re
stored others, which the Danes had destroyed. One of
the churches which he built was at Dunfermline, and
there he was buried beside his Queen. He was the first
King of Scotland who was buried in Dunfermline, instead
of in Iona, but after him many Scottish kings were buried
A king the best who possessed Alban,
He was a king of kings fortunate.
He was the vigilant crusher of enemies.
There was never born nor will be in the east
A king whose rule will be greater over Alban,
There shall not be born for ever
One who had more fortune and greatness.
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