“Robert the Bruce” by Jay Goldwasser

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The clang of sword and shield subside.
The last man on the field had died.
No sound but harsh invader’s cheer
did reach the ragged captain’s ear.
Four thousand men he bravely led
lay cold beside the riverbed.
The blue and white his men’d salute
now muddied under marching boot.
With tears for comrades in his eyes,
sought cover on the wooded rise.
Desperate to ‘scape the hangman’s noose
with heavy heart, fled Robert the Bruce

The dark’ning sky brought wind and hail,
and freezing rain did pelt his mail.
The bark of hounds carried on the breeze,
and torchlight danced between the trees.
He out of briar bramble crashed.
A row of caves in lightning flashed.
Against the crags of rock confined,
and Robert to his fate resigned.
His foe’d arrive by break of day.
One last night in a cave he’d stay.
Out from the rain and storming sky,
Robert the Bruce would wait to die

In dimness of the cave he peeped.
Across the wall a shadow creeped.
Venomous spider silent crept
above where Robert would have slept.
Dagger-drawn, primed to smash with hilt,
he stopped and watched the web be built.
He watched the spider slip and fall
and again to climb the wet stone wall.
So Robert sheathed his blade and said,
“By morning light I will be dead
by soldier sword or spider’s bite,
no need that two souls die this night.”
He smiled on his last evening’s truce.
Closed his eyes did Robert the Bruce.

The soldiers came with morning light,
hoping to catch and kill and smite.
They stalked the face of cliff severe
and searched each cave with torch and spear.
Robert’s shelter they’d soon detect,
but these hunters found their progress checked.
Across the mouth of cave they found
that silver strands of web were wound.
A vast entangle, silken veil
did Robert’s hiding spot conceal.
The men recoiled and backed away,
shunned the domain of spiders’ sway.
And soon among them was agreed
to search this cave there was no need.
Surely no man could breech this space
without the fragile web displaced.
Hidden, they left in mornings gloom,
Robert the Bruce in earthen womb.

Emerging into light of morn,
Robert the Bruce stood a king reborn.
He mustered men for one more fight
and raised the tattered blue and white.
They fought till the ranks of rivals thinned
and drove them back with a northern wind.
And to every man, when the fight got rough,
he told of the night of the spider’s bluff,
of a mercy returned from beast accursed,
and all knew the tale of Robert the First.

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