King Duncan of Scotland, was a fair ruler much loved by his people but within the ranks of the aristocracy there were a few determined and organised malcontents. The disaffection had come to a head when Lord Macdonwald had organised a mutinous army, securing the support of the King of Norway, who had agreed to mount an invasion. King Duncan and his sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, stood on a hill overlooking Findhorn Bay and the Moray Firth, not far from the town of Forres. Below them a battle raged. The royal forces were in engaged in a bitter conflict with the rebels led by Macdonwald. From their camp the royals could see the battlefield littered with the bodies of the slain. The clash of swords was interrupted by the stubborn moans of the wounded. In the chaos the King couldn’t be sure his forces had the upper hand. Reports came in of coastal skirmishes with the Norwegians on the east coast of Scotland, as far south as Fife. The King was surrounded by lords and attendants of the court, their helplessness made them fidget. As the King turned to consult his sons he saw some soldiers bring the wounded into camp. One poor victim in particular caught his eye.
“Who’s that man?” King Duncan asked. “His wounds speak of the latest news of this revolt.”
“Father,” Malcolm said, “this is the sergeant who saved me from capture earlier.”
Malcolm called for the wounded soldier to be brought before the King. Duncan knelt beside the man and wiped his bloodied brow with a cloth.
“Tell us, good friend, how is the battle going?”
“It was doubtful, my lord”, the sergeant said.
He clutched his bloody body as he spoke. The King seeing his discomfort crouched closer to spare the wounded man any more strain. The court was silent, oblivious to the screams from the battlefield.
“We dragged each other down like drowning swimmers. Neither side made any progress. The scheming thug Macdonwald had recruited mercenaries, Irish, and from the Western Isles. That whore, Fortune, favoured the rebels, but only for a while, my lord. Brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name, repealed Fortune. He took his sword and avenged us. Calling on only his own bravery he butchered their villainous bodies, on and on until he took Macdonwald himself. He sliced the traitor from his belly to his jaws and placed his head on our battlements.”
“Oh, brave kinsman, Macbeth!” King Duncan said.
The gathered court nodded in agreement.
“Sir, I’m not finished.” The sergeant strained for a breath. Malcolm called for a goblet of water and the man swallowed rapidly.
“Just as the heat of summer gives way to the chill of a stormy autumn, the spring that brings good news brings bad too. Listen, King of Scotland, listen! No sooner had our just warriors sent the survivors fleeing than the King of Norway seized his chance and launched an attack on us, with new supplies and fresh men.”
“Did this dismay our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?” King Duncan asked.
“Do sparrows dismay eagles? Are lions disheartened by hares? Truthfully, they doubly redoubled their fury on the foe. They were like men who wanted to bathe in blood, to make it a battle so memorable it would remind people of Christ’s crucifixion on Calvary all over again! Oh, sir, my wounds cry for attention…”
“Sergeant, you can be proud of those wounds. Get him to a doctor!” King Duncan ordered.
The camp was suddenly excited by the unexpected arrival of Ross and Angus, two loyal nobles. The King turned when he heard the fracas as they dismounted their horses: “Who comes here?” he demanded.
“It’s the worthy Thane of Ross, father!” Malcolm told him.
“There is urgency in his eyes,” Lord Lennox of the court said. “He must have news.”
Lord Ross ran to the King and bowed: “God save the King!”
“Where have you come from, worthy lord?”
“From Fife, Your Majesty, where the fluttering flags of the Norwegians fly over our land, chilling our people. The King of Norway, with great numbers and the assistance of that most disloyal traitor, the Thane of Cawdor, has our people fleeing. But fear not, sir, for Macbeth, a suitable bridegroom for the Goddess of War, fought point to point- rebellious sword against loyal sword. At last they retreated. We have won!”
“Rejoice!” the King yelled.
As the excitement spread through the camp the King contemplated the treason of Cawdor and the inevitable punishment he faced.
“King Sweno of Norway pleads for peace, Your majesty”, Ross said. “We denied him the burial of his dead until he compensated us with ten thousand pounds at the Isle of Incholm.”
Although the King was relieved that his forces had triumphed, the betrayal by Cawdor left him bitter and hurt.
“No more shall Cawdor deceive those who trusted him. Have him executed immediately. And you, Ross, see that Macbeth is greeted with Cawdor’s title.”
The King watched a messenger ready a horse to carry the order of Cawdor’s execution to the battlefront where he was prisoner. As the messenger rode off, leaving the revelry of the victors the King said in a low, disappointed tone, “What one has ignobly lost, the other has nobly won.”