Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Martin Robb
THE THIRSTY SWORD
A Story of the Norse Invasion of Scotland (1262-1263)
BY ROBERT LEIGHTON
CHAPTER I. THE WITCH OF BUTE.
"Ah, if only Kenric were here!"
It was on the evening of a bright day in June, in the year 1262, and a
girl, clasping her hands in distress, walked restlessly to and fro on
the bank of a stream that tinkled merrily along its gravelly bed towards
the sea. She, in her loose gown of gray woollen homespun and girdle of
crimson silk, was then the only figure to be seen for miles around. Far
to the south were the blue mountains of Arran, and westward across the
Sound were the brown hills of Kintyre, with the rosy light of the
setting sun behind them. The girl, shading her eyes from the strong
light, looked over the moorland towards the castle of Kilinory.
"If Kenric were but here!" she said again.
And as she turned to run to the stream, all suddenly she was startled by
the sound of a heavy thud upon the heather at her feet. She looked round
and saw that a large capercailzie had fallen there. The bird was dead,
and there was an arrow in its breast.
At the same moment there was a lusty shout of joy from among the trees
and a stalwart youth came bounding towards her. In his right hand he
bore a longbow, and at his belt were hung a dead hare and a brace of
wild moor fowl, whose dripping blood trickled down his sturdy legs.
"Ailsa!" he cried in surprise, seeing the girl as he came to secure the
bird he had just killed. "You here so late, and alone?"
Ailsa's fair cheeks grew rosy as the evening sky, for the youth was he
whom she had wished for, Kenric, the son of the brave Earl Hamish of
Bute, and now that he was so near her she felt suddenly timid.
He was a lad of sixteen years, not tall, but very thickset and stout
built, broad shouldered, deep chested, and strong limbed. His long silky
locks were a rich nut-brown, and his sparkling eyes were dark and gentle
as those of a fallow deer. The sun and the bracing sea air had made
ruddy his fair skin, even to his firm, round throat and his thick arms,
that were left bare by his rough coat of untanned buckskin.
"You have been weeping, Ailsa," said he, looking into her tearful eyes.
"Sir," said she, speaking, as he did, in the guttural Gaelic tongue,
"come, I beseech you, to the help of two poor ouzels, whose nest is far
in under the roots of yonder birch tree. If you help not quickly, their
little fledglings will be eaten up by a thieving stoat that has but a
few moments ago entered their nest."
"Youmake needless dole, Ailsa, over a pair of worthless birds and their
chicks," said he scornfully. "Why, I have this day slain a full
half-score of birds! Ay, and right willingly would I have doubled their
"The birds you have slain are for men's food," said she, "but the birds
I speak of sing as sweetly as the mavis, and I have watched them
tenderly for many sunny days past. Rescue them for me, good Kenric, for
I love them right well, and I would not for the world that any ill
should befall them."
Then Kenric went with her to the stream's bank, and as he stood there
his keen eyes saw something move across the short grass at the water's
edge. Promptly he put an arrow to his bowstring and took deft aim. The
shaft sped quickly to its mark, plunged into the body of a stoat, and
pinned the animal to the soft turf.
"There, Ailsa," said he, "the murderous thief is justly punished!" and
springing down the bank he put his heel upon the writhing animal and
lightly drew out his arrow from its body, while Ailsa picked up the
bleeding fledgling that the stoat had been carrying away in its teeth.
She took the maimed little bird to the birch tree that Kenric might
restore it to its nest. But at the mouth of the nest lay the dead body
of one of the parent birds, and hovering near it was the mother ouzel,
uttering sharp cries of distress at the murder of her mate and little one.
"And now," said Kenric, "I must hie me back to St. Blane's, for our good
Abbot Godfrey bade me be with him ere nightfall. Where is your brother
Allan? Say, was he of those who went with my father and Alpin to the
punting in Glen More this forenoon?"
But Ailsa was again weeping over the fate of her water ouzels and did
not answer him.
Ailsa was some two years younger than himself. They had been companions
from the time of their infancy. Her father, Sir Oscar Redmain, of
Kilmory Castle, was the steward of Earl Hamish of Bute, and Ailsa was
even as a sister to the two lads of Rothesay Castle. With Kenric, the
younger of the earl's sons, she had been taught what little there was to
be learned in those rude times, under Godfrey Thurstan, the Abbot of St.
Blane's, a wise and holy man who, next to Earl Hamish himself, was held
in the highest honour of all men in Bute.
Now, just as Kenric, unable to soothe Ailsa, was turning to leave her, a
shadow passed between him and the evening sunlight, and at the head of
the bank there walked an aged woman, bearing upon her bent back a bundle
of faggots. Ailsa raised her blue eyes, and at sight of the old woman
shrank back and felt in her dark hair for the sprig of feathery rowan
leaves that she wore there as a charm against witchcraft.
"Give you good e'en, my lord of Bute," said the old woman, seeing Kenric
and dropping her bundle on the ground.
At these strange words Kenric's cheeks grew crimson.
"I am no lord, Elspeth Blackfell," said he, going nearer and trying to
fathom her meaning in her wrinkled and grimy face, "and I know no reason
for your calling me by that high name."
"Not yet," said the old crone, "not yet. But by my sooth, the time will
surely come, and that full speedily, when all shall hail you lord of Bute."
"I seek no sooth from such as you," said Kenric frowning; "and you shall
win naught from me by your false flatteries."
Just then he felt the hand of Ailsa drawing him back as though to keep
him from the blighting touch of the old woman's bony fingers.
"Go not so near to her!" whispered the girl, making the sign of the
cross. "Let her not touch you with her evil hands, lest she put her
enchantments upon you."
Old Elspeth smiled grimly, and showed the one lonely tooth that was in
the front of her shrunken gums.
"Heed not the child's silly fears," said she to Kenric, "and tell me,
for what cause has she been weeping?"
"It was a stoat that harried an ouzel's nest and slew the birds,"
"Bairns weep at trifles," said Elspeth; "what matters the death of a
little bird? The stoat must live by the food that the great God gives
it, and the birds must die when their time comes. 'Tis alike with all
God's creatures upon earth. Even the castle of Rothesay is no more free
at this moment from its secret enemy than is the smallest wildfowl's nest."
"The castle of Rothesay?" repeated Kenric. "Set me none of your riddles,
Elspeth, for they are harder to read even than the abbot's missals. What
is your meaning? My father has not an enemy in all the isles. Who, then,
would do him an injury?"
"Speed you home to Rothesay and see with your own eyes," said Elspeth,
taking up her bundle of faggots again; "Earl Hamish of Bute is in great
danger, I say. Go to him now, I charge you, and give him my warning
against the enemy who is within his gates."
And at that she hobbled away down the hillside towards the little wooden
hut that was her home. As she went the red sun sank behind the dark
hills of Kintyre. Kenric stood in doubt.
"I marvel that you will dare to hold speech with that evil hag," said
Ailsa. "'Tis our own good fortune if she have not already cast her
eldritch spells upon us both."
"Nay, Ailsa; fear her not. She is but a poor harmless body," said
Kenric. "Only the witless carls and cottar folk are so simple as to
believe that she has aught of evil in her words."
"Ah, but I well know that Elspeth is a witch," declared Ailsa. "Never do
I see her but I must shrink away and cross myself in dread of her. Why
do all the brave men of Bute fear her more than they would fear a band
of armed Norsemen? She casts her spells upon our kine so that they give
no milk, and upon the fountains so that the clear drinking water is
turned rank and brown. Allan told me but yesternight that she rides over
to Inch Marnock in a boat that has neither sails nor oars, and that the
ribs of the boat are of dead men's bones."
Kenric smiled no more at Ailsa's fears; for, indeed, so great was the
superstition of that time, that deep in his heart he believed no less
strongly than did Ailsa that Elspeth was assuredly a witch.
"And what meant she by her warnings of an enemy in your father's
castle?" added Ailsa.
"Little reck I that," returned Kenric, "for never lived man in all the
Western Isles who had so few enemies as my good father."
"Right so," said Ailsa. "But none the less, Elspeth is a most wise
soothsayer, and you are unwise if you heed not her warning. And now I
mind me that on this very day, as I was returning from matins, a great
ship of twelve banks of oars came in from the west through Kilbrannan
Sound, and it let anchor in Scalpsie Bay. As I looked upon that ship
three tall warriors were brought ashore in a small boat, and, landing,
they walked along the shore towards Rothesay."
"Three tall warriors, say you?"
"Even so. Lulach the shepherd boy also saw them, and said that they were
surely three of King Hakon's men of the Northland. And Lulach was much
afraid of them, and he fled from their sight lest by chance they should
learn that he was a Dane, and seek to carry him off. But now, Kenric, I
must away, for the night is coming on and you have far to go. Yonder is
Lulach driving home my father's kine. Go to him and he will tell you of
these strange men."
So Ailsa and Kenric bade each other goodnight, and Kenric sped lightly
over the heather to where the young shepherd was driving home the
CHAPTER II. THE DARK FOREST OF BARONE.
When Lulach heard a shrill whistle from afar and saw Kenric, he tarried
a while that the cattle might begin to browse upon the lush grass that
grew on the marshes beside the sea. Then he went forth to meet him, and
threw himself on his knees before him, for Lulach was a thrall, and it
was his custom thus to pay homage to the sons of the brave lord of Bute.
"Rise, Lulach, rise!" said Kenric, speaking now in the Norse tongue that
the lad might better understand him. "And tell me, what manner of men
were the three strangers you saw landing in the bay of Scalpsie this
"They were men out of the North, my master. I heard them speaking in my
own tongue," said Lulach, throwing back his long red hair that had
fallen over his suntanned face.
"And were they men of peace?"
"I know not, my master; but much did I fear them, for never knew I a
Norseman yet who was not cruel to me; and seeing them I hid myself
behind a rock."
"Cowardly hind! You are but fit to drive a herd of kine. Of what aspect
were these men?"
"The one who led them was even as a king," said Lulach. "He was tall and
strong, and his footing was firm upon the heath. He wore a helm crested
with a golden dragon, and a great sword at his side. I thought that
surely it was the Earl Hamish of Bute himself, for were it not that the
stranger's hair was of the colour of the fox's coat, never saw I a man
that more resembled your father."
"And his followers, what of them?"
"One was an aged man with a silver beard. The other might be his son.
Ah, I wot they are come for no good purpose, my master, for they landed
when the tide was low, and that bodes ill for Bute."
"Heaven forfend!" said Kenric, growing uneasy at the thought.
"And now," added he, loosing the dead birds from his girdle, "take me
these grouse to the abbey, and tell the good abbot that I come not to
St. Blane's this night, but that I go home to the castle to see who
these strangers may be, and to learn their purpose."
But as Lulach was taking the game into his hands, he drew back and
pointed with trembling finger to the green path that led towards Rothesay.
"See!" he exclaimed, "there is ill luck before you! Turn back, my
master, turn back!"
"Ah! a magpie, and alone!" cried Kenric, seeing the bird in his path.
"That is ill luck indeed! Give me some salt from your wallet, Lulach,
for if this sign reads true then it were unwise in me to go farther
without some salt in my pocket."
"Alas!" said Lulach, "I have none. My wallet is empty!"
"Then God be my protection!" said Kenric, and with that he went on his
way, feeling a dread foreboding at his heart.
The light of day had faded from the sky as he passed by the black waters
of Loch Dhu; but there was a silvery glare above the jagged peaks of the
Arran fells, and he knew that the moon was rising, and that he would
soon have her friendly light to guide him through the dark pine forest
All was calm and still, but through the stillness the hollow sound of a
waterfall among the far-off mountains came to him like the moaning cry
of a dying man. At that sound he felt his heart beating uneasily against
his side, for that same cry, which rises from all mountain streams
towards nightfall, was beforetime held to be of ill omen when heard from
a distance, and Kenric was in a likely mood to be impressed by such a sign.
When he came to the borders of the forest he was almost afraid to
venture among the gloomy shadows of the trees. Therein, as he believed,
dwelt many strange and mysterious elves, that were wont to lead
travellers astray to their destruction. But he must pass through that
forest or else go round many miles across the hills; so he braced his
girdle tighter about him and boldly plunged into the darkness. As he
went forth the plaintive cry of the curlew high up above the treetops
startled him more than once, and the sudden movement of every wild beast
and bird that his own footsteps had frightened filled him with new fears.
In the broad daylight neither man nor beast could have had power to
daunt him. He was, when put to his mettle, one of the most courageous
and daring youths in the island, and, saving only his elder brother
Alpin, who was the bravest swordsman of his own age in all the land,
there was none who might attempt to draw arms against Kenric. And, in
truth, had it not been that he was sorely troubled in spirit concerning
the strange words of Elspeth Blackfell, and also that so many omens had
foretold disaster, it may be that even on that same night he would have
passed through the dark avenues of the forest with neither doubt nor tremor.
But in an age when the meaning of nature's work was little understood,
when even religion was not yet strong enough to conquer the superstition
which found evil in things which were only mysteries, it was small
wonder that young Kenric of Bute should wish himself safely at home in
his father's castle, or regret that he had not gone back to the abbey of
Nevertheless it was not alone the thought of trolls and elfins that
disturbed him. At that time the wild boar and the wolf were denizens of
the forest wherein he walked -- animals which would indeed be welcomed
in the daylight by a band of hunters with their spears and hounds, but
which might give some trouble to a youth appearing alone in their midst
on a dark night.
At one moment when he was deep within the heart of the forest he thought
he heard hurried footsteps behind him. He felt for his dirk and turned
round. The moon's beams pierced the trees and fell upon a glistening
pool of water where a wildcat was slaking its thirst. There was naught
else that might cause him alarm.
But in a little while he heard the same sound again -- this time in
advance of him. He stood still. In the shadow of a great bare rock he
saw two staring eyes that shone like gleaming fires, now green, now red,
and he knew that they were the eyes of a wolf. There was a low growl as
of distant thunder. Then the moon's light shot through a rack of cloud,
and he saw the form of the wolf standing out clear and black against the
grey rock. He fixed an arrow to his bowstring; but at the sound of the
creaking bow the wolf gave a sharp yelp and disappeared into the
Kenric, bolder now, unbent his bow and stepped towards the rock that he
might see whither the wolf had fled. In an open glade that was behind
the rock he saw, instead of the wolf, a strange tall figure standing in
the moonlight. It was the figure of a woman, wondrously fair and
beautiful. Her long hair, that fell over her shoulders, was as the
colour of blood, and her white bare arm, that shone like marble in the
pale light, seemed to be pointing the way to Rothesay Castle. In her
other hand she held a long bright-bladed sword.
Now whether this figure appearing so mysteriously before him was indeed
that of a woman of human flesh, or, as he feared, the vision of some
ghostly dweller in the pine forest, Kenric could not at that moment have
told. Even as he stepped farther into the glade a dark cloud again
obscured the moon and all was black night around him, and no sound could
he hear but the beating of his own heart and the whispering of the wind
among the trees.
CHAPTER III. HOW EARL RODERIC SPILLED THE SALT.
On that same June evening, in the year 1262, whilst Kenric was at the
stream side with Ailsa Redmain, the three strangers who had landed
earlier in the day on the shores of Bute were feasting in the great
banqueting hall of the castle of Rothesay. For although to the tired lad
Lulach and to Ailsa they had appeared in the guise of enemies, yet each
of the three was known to the Earl Hamish. Their leader was, in truth,
none other than his own brother, the Earl Roderic of the Isle of Gigha.
The other two were Erland the Old of Jura, and Sweyn the Silent of Colonsay.
What their unexpected mission to the lord of Bute might be had yet to be
learnt. But when, betimes, they came to the gate of Rothesay Castle they
found Earl Hamish and his steward, Sir Oscar Redmain, on the point of
setting out on a hunting expedition into the wilds of Glen More. And of
the band of hunters were Kenric's elder brother Alpin and young Allan
So when the strangers entered the castle and had broken bread and
refreshed their deep throats with wine, they left their swords and dirks
in the armoury and took bows and hunting spears. Thus equipped, they set
off with Earl Hamish and his merry men and long-limbed hounds. And they
had great sport that day, coming back at sunset with a wild boar that
Earl Roderic had slain, and three antlered stags and other spoil.
In their absence Kenric's mother, the Lady Adela, had made prepare a
feast for them all, with much venison and roasted beef and stewed black
cock, with cakes of bread, both white and brown, and many measures of
red wine and well-spiced liquors. A silver drinking bowl was set down
for each of the kingly guests, and a goblet of beaten gold for the king
The hall was lighted with many cruse lamps that hung suspended from the
oaken joists, and, lest the evening should be chill, there was a fire of
fragrant pine logs blazing on the open hearth. Round the walls of the
hall, that were panelled with black oak boards, there were many
glittering shields and corselets, with hunting horns and various
trophies of the chase.
At the fireside there sat an aged minstrel, whose duty it was to fill in
the intervals of the feast with the music of his harp, or, if need were,
to recite to the company the saga of King Somerled and other great
ancestors of the kings of Bute.
Earl Hamish -- a tall, courtly Highlander, with sad eyes and a long
brown beard -- sat at the head of the board, that with his own strong
hands he might carve the steaming venison. At his right hand sat the
earl of Jura, Erland the Old, and at his left Earl Sweyn the Silent. His
beautiful wife, the Lady Adela -- attired in a rich gown inwoven with
many devices of silk, and spun by the Sudureyans -- sat facing him at
the far end of the board. At her right hand sat Earl Roderic of Gigha;
and at her left Alpin, her son.
So the feast began, with much merry discourse of how the men had fared
that day at the hunting in Glen More.
Now Erland and Sweyn, kinglings of Jura and Colonsay, though owing
yearly tribute to their overlord, Alexander the Third of Scotland, were
both men of the North, and they spoke with Earl Hamish in the Norse
tongue. Their discourse, which has no bearing upon the story, was mainly
of cattle and sheep, and of the old breast laws of the Western Isles.
But Roderic of Gigha spoke in the Gaelic, which the Lady Adela, though
an Englishwoman born, could well understand.
"Ah, but," said he, addressing young Alpin, who had been boasting of the
manly sports that might be enjoyed in his father's dominions, "you
should one day come to Gigha, for there, I do assure you, we have
adventure such as you never dream of in Bute."
"I marvel, my lord, how that can be," said Allan Redmain scornfully,
"for the kingdom of which you boast is but a barren rock in the mid sea,
and methinks your beasts of the chase are but vermin rats and shrew mice."
"The sports of which I speak, young man," said Roderic, frowning and
wiping his red beard with his broad hand, "are not such bairns' play as
you suppose. Our beasts of the chase are burly men, and our hunting
ground is the wide ocean. I and my gallant fellows carry our adventures
far into the north to Iceland and Scandinavia, or southward even into
the land of the Angles, where there is sport in plenty for those who
would seek it."
The Lady Adela looked up in shocked surprise.
"But," said she, "you do not surely count the Angles among your enemies,
my lord? The Scots are at peace these many years with my country England."
"I should be grieved to call any man my enemy who is your friend, my
fair Lady Adela," said Roderic gallantly. "But though the Scots be
indeed at peace with King Henry, yet the brave Easterlings of Ireland do
ofttimes find the need of slaying a few of your proud countrymen; and if
I help them -- well, where there is aught to be gained what matters it
who our victims be, or what lands we invade? I am for letting him take
who has the power to conquer. Let them keep their own who can.
"What say you, Sir Oscar? Am I not right?"
"I am a man of peace, Earl Roderic," said Sir Oscar Redmain gravely. "I
have no enemies but the enemies of my king and country. And methinks, my
lord, that a loyal subject of the King of Scots is but a traitorous
hound if he stoop to take arms in favour of either Easterling or
Norseman, and against our good friends of England. You, my lord, may
perhaps pay fealty to King Hakon of Norway, as well as to his majesty
Alexander of Scotland. It is not all men who can make it so easy to
serve two masters."
"A traitorous hound, forsooth! You surely mistake me, Sir Oscar," cried
Roderic, reddening at the reproach. "I said not that I paid truage to
any king but our own King of Scots, God bless him! And though, indeed,
King Alexander is but a stripling, knowing little of kingcraft, yet,
even though he were a babe in arms, he and no other is still my
And at that he raised his goblet to his lips and drank a deep draught of
wine. Then, lightly turning to the lady of Rothesay, and helping her to
cut up the venison on her platter, that she might the more easily take
the small pieces in her dainty white fingers, he said:
"After the rough roving life that I have been leading these many years,
my lady, 'tis truly a great joy to come back once more to the peaceful
Isle of Bute. Much do I envy my good brother Hamish, in that he hath so
beauteous a partner as yourself to sit before him at his board. Truly he
is a most fortunate man!"
Adela's fair cheeks blushed rosy red at this compliment, but she did not
"Methinks, Lord Roderic," said she, nervously breaking the white bread
cake at her side, "that with so small a distance between Bute and Gigha,
you might surely have come to visit your brother long ere this present
time. For although Earl Hamish hath ofttimes spoken of you, yet never
until this day have I seen you; and 'tis well-nigh a score of years that
I have lived in Bute."
"Alas!" said Roderic, looking uneasy, "since my poor father, Earl Alpin,
died, I have had little spirit to come back to these scenes. It was in
anger that my brother and I parted, when, as you well know, the lordship
over the two islands was divided. The larger dominion of Bute fell to
the share of Hamish. I, as the younger son, was perforce content to take
the miserable portion that I now possess. Gigha is but a small island,
"Our happiness need not depend upon the extent of our dominions, Lord
Roderic," said Adela; "and I doubt not you are passing happy,
notwithstanding that you have but a younger son's inheritance."
"Not so," said Roderic, planting his heavy elbows on the board; "for
where can a man find happiness when those who are dearest to him have
been torn away?"
"Then you have had sorrows?" questioned the lady.
"When I went forth to take the kingship of my island home," said he, "my
life was indeed most bright and joyous; and on a time it befell that I
went north to Iceland, and there I met one who (with submission I say
it) was not less beautiful than yourself, my lady. She was the most
beauteous damsel that ever came out of the Northland, and her name was
Sigrid the Fair. I married her and we were happy."
Roderic again filled his drinking bowl and looked across the table at
Alpin's handsome brown face.
"We had two children," he continued sadly. "The girl would have been of
the years of your own son there, the boy was two summers younger than she."
"Oh, do not tell me that they are dead!" cried Adela.
"Alas! but that is so," he sighed. "One sunny day they went out hand in
hand from our castle to play, as was their wont, among the rocks and
caves that are at the south of our island. Never since then have they
returned, and some said that the water kelpie had taken them and carried
them away to his crystal home under the sea. Others whispered that the
kraken or some other monster of the deep had devoured them. They said
these things, believing that Sigrid had no heart for her children, and
that she was unkind to them. But many days thereafter I learned that a
strange ship had been seen bearing outward between Gigha and Cara; and
it was the ship of Rapp the Icelander, the cruellest sea rover that ever
sailed upon the western seas. Then did I believe that neither kelpie nor
kraken had taken my bairns, but Rapp the Rover.
"So I got ship and followed him. For three long years I followed in his
track -- to the frozen shores of Iceland, and into every vic and fiord
in Scandinavia. Southward then I sailed to the blue seas of England --
always behind him yet never encountering him. But at last there came a
day of terrible tempest. The thunder god struck my ship and we were
wrecked. Every man that was on board my ship was drowned saving only
myself, for the white sea mew swims not more lightly on the waters than
I. So I was picked up by a passing vessel, and it was the vessel of Rapp
the Icelander. Instead of killing him I loved him, in that he had saved
my life. Then he told me, swearing by St. Olaf, that never in all his
time of sea roving had he touched at the little island of Gigha, and
that he knew naught soever of the dear children I had lost."
"Greatly do I pity you, Earl Roderic," said Adela, clasping her hands.
"And you have not yet found trace of your little ones?"
"No," said Roderic. "And now do I believe that they are still at play in
the crystal halls of the water kelpie, whence no man can rescue them."
"And your wife Sigrid, what of her?" asked Sir Oscar Redmain.
"When I got back to Gigha," murmured Roderic, "they told me that in my
absence she had gone mad, and that in her frenzy she had cast herself
from the cliffs into the sea. Whithersoever I have gone since that sad
time, there have I found unhappiness."
The Lady Adela looked upon the man with gentle pity in her dark eyes.
She felt how different had been his lot from hers and her dear
husband's. For notwithstanding that she dwelt in a country not her own,
and among people who spoke a foreign tongue, yet she was very happy. The
Earl Hamish loved her well and was ever good to her. And their two sons,
Alpin and Kenric, growing up into manhood, were very dear to her heart.
She was the daughter of a proud English baron, who had wide dominions
near the great city of York. Twenty years before, Earl Hamish of Bute
had been sent with other wise counsellors by King Alexander the Second
on a mission to the court of the English king, Henry the Third,
concerning the great treaty of peace between England and Scotland, and
also to consider the proposal of a marriage between the daughter of the
King of England and the son of the King of Scots. The treaty established
a peace which had not yet been broken, and the Princess Margaret of
England was now the Queen of Scotland. But while on that embassy to York
Earl Hamish of Bute won more than the gratitude of his sovereign, for he
won the heart of the Lady Adela Warwick, and, making her his wife, he
brought her to his castle of Rothesay, where she had lived happily ever
She was thinking of these matters as she heard Earl Roderic's story of
his great unhappiness, and her eyes were fixed dreamily before her.
Now Roderic, to whom the presence of this sweet and beautiful lady was a
new experience, observed her pensiveness and wondered thereat. His
roving glance presently fell upon her plate.
"Ah!" said he, "you have no salt, my lady."
And thereupon he took her knife and dug its point into the salt horn.
"Nay, nay!" she cried in alarm; and she grasped his wrist so that he
spilled the salt upon the table.
"What have you done?" he exclaimed. "This is the most unlucky thing that
could have happened! Alas, alas!"
"Would you, then, have helped my lady to sorrow?" cried Sir Oscar
Redmain, rising wrathfully. "By the rood, but you are a thoughtless loon!"
Earl Hamish at the head of the board, hearing his lady's cry, rose
hastily and approached her, and saw that she was very pale.
"I will retire," said she, "for the hall is over warm. I am faint and
Earl Hamish led her to the door. There he kissed her fondly on her white
brow and she went to her chamber.
CHAPTER IV. THE DARKENING HALL.
The lord of Bute sat not down again, for the feast was at an end. Sir
Oscar Redmain, minding that he had to travel all the way to Kilmory that
night, went to his master and spoke with him aside. While the earl and
his steward were thus engaged, a tall seneschal with his serving men
came into the hall to clear away the remains of the banquet; and as the
old minstrel left his place at the fireside to continue his harping in
the supping room of the guards, the two lads, Alpin of Bute and Allan
Redmain, stepped to the hearth to hold converse with the three guests.
Alpin and his young friend were both about nineteen years of age. They
were almost full grown, and manly exercise had made them strong. They
wore their rough hunting clothes -- loose vests of leather, homespun
kilts, and untanned buskins. They carried no weapons, for it was held in
custom that none should sit armed at table in the presence of strangers.
"Tell me, Earl Roderic," said Alpin, running his fingers through his
long hair -- "you have, you say, been in far-off Iceland -- tell me, is
it true that in that land there be many mountains that shoot forth fire
"Ay, that is quite true, my lad," said his much-travelled uncle, "for I
have myself seen such mountains. Higher than Goatfell they are, with
streams of fire pouring down their glens."
"A most marvellous country!" exclaimed Alpin. "I wonder much if I shall
ever behold that land."
"There you will have no such lordly feast as that we have just risen
from," added Roderic, picking his teeth with his broad thumbnail.
Alpin and Allan watched him, hoping he would tell them something of his
roving life. Roderic, finding that he could not easily dislodge the
piece of meat from betwixt his teeth, picked up a twig of pine wood from
the hearth, and took from the table the large knife with which his
brother had carved the venison, and as he began to sharpen the little
twig to a point he continued:
"No roasted beef there nor venison, but good tough whale flesh, black as
a peat, or else a few candle ends -- for the Icelanders are fond of fat.
Once when I was ship-broken on their coasts naught could my shipmates
find to eat but reasty butter. Disliking that alone, we took our ship's
cable, that was made of walrus hide, and smearing the cable with butter
we bolted morsels of it, by which means we managed to exist for fourteen
"There," he said, finishing his toothpick, "that will serve. 'Tis
strange, is it not, Master Alpin, what a piece of steel can do?"
And then, first looking at its point, he laid the long knife carelessly
upon the shelf above the hearth.
"Why, in Norway, where I have also been, your man can take his knife and
two slips of wood nine ells long, and he will so shape the wood that
when the two slips are fitted to his feet he can outstrip a bird, a
hound, or a deer."
"Does he, then, fly with them in the air, as a witch on her broom?"
asked Allan Redmain.
"Why, no; he skates along the ice or snow," returned Roderic. "With such
instruments and a snowy ground, master Redmain, you might be back at
your castle of Kilmory in two flickers of a rush light. Go you to
"Yes," said Allan, "we go at once, for now I see my father is ready.
Give you goodnight, my lords."
"Goodnight, boy," said the three guests.
And Allan, with his father and Alpin, then left the hall.
Two of the cruse lamps had by this time spent their oil, and their
flames had died out. Earl Hamish was now alone with his guests.
"Shall we," said he, "retire to the smaller hall, Roderic? I have
ordered Duncan to take some spiced wine there for us."
"I like the odour of the log fire here," said Roderic, exchanging
glances with Erland the Old. "I pray you let us remain here a while."
Earl Hamish and his brother stood side by side, looking into the fire,
while Sweyn the Silent and Erland the Old sat them at either corner of
the hearth. The two brothers were much alike in stature, both being tall
and broad; but Hamish was gentler, and his every movement showed that he
was accustomed to the company of those who deemed a courtly bearing of
more account than mere bodily prowess, though in truth he lacked not
that either. His hair and beard, too, were dark, touched here and there
with the frost of age; while his brother's long hair was red as the back
of the fox.
"Well, Hamish," began Roderic, moving uneasily on his feet, "you have,
as I have heard, won your way into the good graces of our lord the King?"
"I trust," said Hamish, "that I may never be accused of disloyalty. I am
ever at my sovereign's service in whatsoever he commands me to do."
"What, even though the doing of that service be to your own great
disadvantage?" said Roderic, looking aside at Earl Sweyn and smiling grimly.
"Naught can be to my disadvantage that is done in dutiful service of my
country and King," answered the lord of Bute proudly.
Roderic laughed scornfully, and his laugh was echoed by Sweyn and Erland.
"There may be two thoughts as to that," returned Roderic. "As for
myself, I'd snap my fingers in the King's face ere I would go on a
journey such as you have newly undertaken, my brother. Think not that we
have no eyes nor ears in the outer isles, Earl Hamish; for it is known
in every castle between Cape Wrath and the Mull of Kintyre that you have
but now returned from a mission to King Hakon of Norway."
"And what though it were yet more widely known?" said Hamish in
surprise. "Am I, then, the only lord in all the isles who remains true
to his oaths of fealty? And are they all as you are, Roderic, who have
failed these many years to pay due tribute to the King of Scots?"
"You are the only one among us," croaked Erland the Old, "who pays not
homage to our rightful lord and sovereign the good King Hakon."
"I owe no sort of fealty to Norway," said Hamish. "Nor do I know by what
right Hakon claims sovereignty over any one of the isles south of Iona."
"Methinks," said Sweyn the Silent, looking up under his dark brows,
"that Harald Fairhair settled that matter a good four hundred years ago."
"Right well am I aware that at such time Harald did indeed conquer the
Western Isles -- ay, even to Bute and Arran" -- returned Earl Hamish.
"But methinks, my lord of Colonsay, that my own ancestor the great king
Somerled (God rest him!) did at least wrest the isles of Bute, Arran,
and Gigha from the power of Norway. Those three island kingdoms do to
this day owe truage to no overlord saving only the King of Scots, and to
Alexander alone will I pay homage."
At that Earl Roderic's eyes found their way to the shelf that was above
the hearth, and his two friends, following his glance, saw the knife
upon the shelf and smiled. From the halls below, where the guards and
servitors were feasting, came the strains of the minstrel's harp and a
henchman's joyous song of triumphant battle.
"'Tis then no marvel," said Roderic, "that the young King of Scots, like
his father before him, has made of you a willing cat's-paw. On what
fool's errand went you to Norway?"
"That," said the lord of Bute, "is quickly told;" and he looked round
for a moment, observing that all the lamps save one had burned out their
feeble lights. "I went to Norway, bearing letters to King Hakon from the
King of Scots and his majesty of England, King Henry the Third."
"His majesty of England!" exclaimed all three.
"Henry of England is no more a friend to the Norseman than is
Alexander," said Hamish, as he pressed down the burning logs with his
foot. "And I do assure you, my lords, that both are well prepared to
resist the incursions of King Hakon's vassals."
"And what manner of princely reward got you for your trouble as letter
bearer?" asked Roderic in a tone of injured envy.
"Ten score head of Highland cattle, I would guess," muttered Erland the Old.
"Nay, twenty score, rather," chimed in Sweyn the Silent.
"Methinks, brother Hamish," said Roderic hoarsely, as he stepped nearer
to him and looked with an evil scowl into his face -- "methinks it had
been your part to have sent me word, that I might also have been of that
journey. It had been but reason that I had the honour as well as you.
Selfish man that you are, you are ever ready to win worship from me and
put me to dishonour!"
At this moment the last remaining cruse light flickered, burned blue,
flickered again, and then went out. The hall was now in darkness, saving
only for the feeble light of the fire, and the moonbeams that slanted in
through the mullioned windows and shone here and there upon some
burnished helmet or corselet upon the walls.
As Roderic of Gigha ceased speaking, Erland the Old coughed thrice and
stroked his silvery beard. Sweyn the Silent echoed the fatal sign, and
Roderic drew back, resting his right hand upon the mantel.
"Had I tarried till I had sent for you, Roderic," said Earl Hamish, "I
must first have wasted much precious time in suing with King Alexander
for his pardon for my brother who has betrayed him!"
"You lie! base slanderer! you lie!" cried Roderic in jealous fury,
snatching the knife from off the shelf. And then, springing forward and
raising his right hand above his head, he plunged the blade deep, deep
into his brother's heart. The good Earl Hamish staggered and fell.
"Treachery!" he groaned. "Adela! Adela!" and with the name of his loved
wife upon his lips, he died there upon the stone of his own hearth.
Roderic and his two companions approached the dead man, gazed upon him,
and then at each other with satisfaction in their dark looks. But there
was fear, too, in Roderic's face, for he was craven of heart. He drew
back into the shadow, where neither moonbeam nor firelight could fall
upon him and reveal him.
And all the while the henchman's song of triumph reached their ears from
the halls below.
CHAPTER V. A TERRIBLE DISCOVERY.
Kenric tarried not long in search of the ghostly figure that had
appeared before him so mysteriously in the dark forest of Barone. Whence
that figure had come and whither it had gone he could not tell. Nor did
he exercise his mind in fruitless questionings concerning her. Leaving
the rock behind him, he set off at a brisk pace through the shadows of
the trees, more timid than ever, and came out upon the high ground that
is behind Rothesay Bay.
Down by the water's brink, outlined against the moonlit waves, stood the
dark towers of Rothesay Castle. A light shone dimly in his mother's
chamber window; but the great banqueting hall wherein his father was
wont to entertain his guests was dark, and Kenric thought this passing
strange. Where were the strangers of whom he had heard? If they were not
in the banqueting hall, then they must surely have already left the island.
Hastening down the hillside, he hied him to the castle, and as he neared
the little postern in the western walls, a burst of boisterous song
reached his ears from the guardroom. Taking up a stone from the ground
he was about to knock three loud knocks, when the door was opened from
within, and a tall man with a thick plaid over his broad shoulders
slipped out, almost overthrowing Kenric as he ran against him.
"Duncan!" exclaimed Kenric, perceiving his father's seneschal, "whither
go you at this late hour of night?"
"Ah, master Kenric, and that is yourself, eh? And you are here, and not
at the abbey of St. Blane's? Well, sir, it's a bonnie night, you see,
and I even thought I would take a quiet saunter along the side of Loch Fad."
"Then," said Kenric, "I warn you, go not near to the forest of Barone,
Duncan; for I have but now come through, and therein I saw a sight that
would raise your hair on end. It was, as I believe, none other than the
werewolf that I saw. First there was an old gray wolf with a white patch
on its breast, and then, even as I looked, that wolf was spirited into
the form of a fair lady, and I was like to sink into the ground with fear."
"'Tis the first time that I have heard of a son of the house of Rothesay
knowing fear," said Duncan, smiling and showing his great yellow teeth
in the moonlight. "'Twas but the maid Aasta of Kilmory that you saw."
"Aasta? Then it is true that the maid has been bewitched? It is true
that she has that power of turning herself at will into the form of a wolf?"
"Men say so," answered Duncan. "But methinks 'tis no more true than that
other thing they say of her -- that though she looks but a girl of
eighteen, she is yet full five score winters old. 'Tis idle talk,
Kenric. But where saw you this sight? Was it not by the Rock of
Solitude, in the heart of the forest?"
"'Twas even there. But in an instant she disappeared, and I saw her no
"If she be not there now," said Duncan, heaving a great sigh out of his
deep chest, "then will I return into the castle; for now do I mind me
that mine eyes are wanting sleep after the weary day that I have had
among the hills, running high and low as though I were but a dumb hound
made only to scent out game for those who know less of hunting than I do
of building a ship. That lazy old graybeard, the lord of Jura, may bring
his own gillies with him the next time he comes to the hunting in Bute.
Never again shall he get me to fetch and carry for him!"
"The lord of Jura?" said Kenric. "It is then true that there are
strangers in the castle."
"And is it not for that same cause that you have come home?" asked
Duncan. "Methought you knew that they were here -- three gallant kings
out of the west they are, and one of them is your own uncle, Earl
Roderic of Gigha, whom, when he was but a bairn as high as my girdle, I
taught to bend the bow and wield the broadsword. They are but now in the
feasting hall with my lord your father; for Sir Oscar and young Allan
have gone home to Kilmory, and my lady and Alpin have gone to their
"Have you then left my father alone with these three strange men?" asked
Kenric as they entered the postern.
"My lord's own brother, Earl Roderic, is with him," said Duncan, looking
at Kenric in surprise. "You would not surely have me mount guard over my
lord's own guests! By the rood, that were strange hospitality!"
"Where are their dirks and swords?"
"Under my own keeping in the armoury, where 'tis right they should be;
for men of peace, as these most surely are, encumber not themselves with
the instruments of war."
"'Tis well," returned Kenric, much relieved. "Old Elspeth Blackfell was
but playing me with her groundless forewarnings of danger. Well, get me
some meat and a bowl of milk, Duncan, while I go up and see this uncle
of mine. He has seen much of the world, and methinks his discourse must
be full of instruction for a home-keeping youth."
So Duncan went into the guardroom, where two score of noisy retainers
were making merry over their cups, and Kenric went upstairs to the great
Up the steep stone steps he climbed, making little noise with his
deerskin buskins. Hearing footsteps at the head of the stairs, he
glanced along the north corridor, whose lancet windows looked out upon
the quiet sea.
Suddenly in the midst of the moonbeams that streamed in through the
western window, lighting the corridor with a clear silvery light, he saw
three men steal out of the banqueting hall. The last of the three moaned
grievously as they passed beyond into another apartment.
"Oh, Hamish, Hamish my brother!" he moaned, and his voice was as the
wailing of the wind, "what is this evil thing that I have done!"
Kenric drew back into the shadow of the stairway, and not seeing his
father with the three guests, he began again to fear some ill.
"What!" croaked the old man with the silvery beard, "and is this your
resolution? Is this your courage? I fear me, Roderic, you are but a weak
craven thus to deplore the fulfilment of our most righteous mission!"
Then the door of the smaller hall closed behind the three earls, and
Kenric was left alone. He still heard the rumour of their voices as he
walked with quick steps along the moonlit corridor, and he paused to
listen at the door.
"And now that we have done so completely with the fox," said a voice,
"what say you, comrades, to our making equal despatch with the vixen and
her cub? 'Twere easy doing, could we but discover in what corner we
might entrap them."
Kenric did not understand the purport of these words. He did not guess
that the "fox" meant his own father, and the "vixen and her cub" his
mother and Alpin. But he listened yet again.
"Wait, wait, my lord of Jura," said another voice. "'Twere better we
tarried until all the watchdogs are sound asleep. Fill me yon drinking
horn, Sweyn, for my hand trembles, and my mind is strangely cloudy."
Silence followed this speech, and Kenric crept along the corridor until
he came to the entrance of the great hall. He drew aside the arras
hangings and peered into the deserted room. All was silent as the grave.
The crackling embers of the fire gave but a sorry light, with only a
fitful glimmer that rose now and again from some half-consumed pine log.
But with the feeble moonbeams, that shone through the thin films of skin
that in those days -- except in the churches -- did service for glass,
there was still light enough in that vast room to show what terrible
deed had been enacted upon the hearthstone.
Kenric had taken but a few strides into the hall when his eyes rested
upon the form of his murdered father. He started back aghast at the
"Oh, my father, my father!" he cried, flinging himself down upon the
bloodstained floor. "Father? father? It is I, Kenric -- your son. Tell
me, I beseech you, tell me, what foul villain has done this thing?"
Then he took hold of the earl's cold right hand and chafed it tenderly,
as he still tried to arouse him. But there was no response. He knelt
down closer and bent his head to his father's bare throat, and, putting
out his tongue, he felt with its sensitive touch if there was sign of
breathing, or if the pulses were beating in the veins.
As he rested his hand on the dead earl's chest he touched the haft of
the weapon that had worked this cruel deed. He knew the knife and
guessed how all had happened. He grasped the handle in his fingers and
tried to withdraw the long blade; but the blood gushed out from the
terrible wound, and the lad grew faint at the sight.
"Dead! dead!" he moaned, rising to his feet, and then from the halls
below came the shouts of the retainers as they pledged "waes hael" to
the lord of Bute.
Kenric hastened out of the hall and crept down the stairs to summon the
guard and station them in the corridor, that none of the three
traitorous guests might escape. He met Duncan the seneschal at the foot
of the stairs carrying the food that he had ordered, and by the light of
a lamp in the lower passage Duncan saw the lad's pale and terrified face.
"God assoil me!" cried Duncan, "what has happened?"
"A terrible thing, Duncan. My dear father has been brutally slain under
his own roof tree."
"Slain! My lord, the Earl Hamish slain? Nay, boy, it cannot be!"
"Alas, 'tis true! One of those miscreant traitors who came hither today
has plunged a knife into my father's heart. Take back the food. I will
neither eat nor sleep again until I have discovered the villain who has
done this foul crime. Turn out the guard this instant. Station them
without the door of the room wherein those three wicked men are now
carousing. And now to call my brother Alpin."
Kenric went softly to his brother's room, which was next to the chamber
of the Lady Adela, and he knocked gently at the door. Alpin was sound
asleep upon his couch, for his day's hunting had wearied his limbs.
Kenric went within and awoke him.
In the darkness Alpin did not see his brother's pallid face, and he
turned over with many complaints at being so roughly disturbed.
"Nay, Alpin, 'tis for no light cause that I disturb you," urged Kenric.
And hearing his husky, trembling voice, Alpin roused himself with sudden
"What brings you back to the castle?" he cried; "and wherefore do you
call me at this late hour?"
"It is that our father has been entertaining enemies unawares," said
Kenric. "Entering the hall but a few moments ago I found him lying dead
upon the hearth with a cruel knife in his heart."
Alpin gave a piercing cry of sudden grief and sprang up from his bed.
"No, no, it cannot be!" he exclaimed, recovering himself as he threw on
some clothing. "You have made some strange mistake. These friends could
not have harmed our father. They were not armed. And what could our
uncle Roderic gain by such treachery?"
Kenric drew his brother out into one of the dark passages, not observing
that their mother's chamber door had opened and that the Lady Adela,
roused from her slumber by Alpin's cry of grief, had taken the alarm and
was preparing to follow.
"Alas, he has but too much to gain," said Kenric. "Had he been left to
carry out his base plot to the end, you and I, Alpin, must surely have
fallen as our father has fallen -- victims to Earl Roderic's ambition to
make himself lord over Bute."
"If this be so," returned Alpin, raising his voice in wrath, "then with
my own hands will I take a deadly vengeance. I swear it now, Kenric --
by our holy faith I swear that if Roderic of Gigha has indeed slain our
father, then Roderic shall die by my hand!"
"Will such vengeance give back the life that has been taken?" asked
Kenric solemnly. "Will vengeance restore to our dear mother the
happiness that she now has lost? Methinks it had been wiser in you,
Alpin, to have stayed by our father's side instead of slinking off to
your bed and leaving him thus exposed to danger. Come, let us arm
ourselves and confront these evil men, that we may learn which one of
them has dealt this fatal blow."
"With what weapon, say you, was my father slain?" asked Alpin, as, being
now in the armoury, they proceeded to don their coats of chain mail.
"With the great knife wherewith he was wont to carve the venison and
meat," said Kenric, taking down a sword.
"Ah!" cried Alpin with swift recollection, "now do I perceive the reason
wherefore Earl Roderic took that same knife from off the board and
placed it so cunningly above the hearth. Oh, villain that he is! He
designed even then to do as he has done.
"Now," he added, snatching up a great two-handed sword, "I am ready. Let
me but meet him -- let me but face him for a moment, and I will slay him
like a dog."
"Think well ere you strike the blow you contemplate," said Kenric as
they ascended a side stairway that led to the upper floors of the
castle. "Remember that you are now the rightful lord over Bute, and that
you will have power to inflict due punishment upon this man without
taking a personal vengeance that would surely lead to an endless blood
"Tush! You are but a timid boy, Kenric. What priestly precepts has the
old Abbot Thurstan been cramming you with? Would you pardon the man who
has slain our own father?"
"Pardon him?" exclaimed Kenric. "No, never will I do that. If you slay
him not, Alpin, then, by the holy rood, I myself will do so. But it
shall be in fair fight that I will overcome him, and by no mean subterfuge."
The two lads were now at the entrance of the larger hall, wherein the
good Earl Hamish lay dead. Alpin went within, and there, bending over
his father's body, he was overwhelmed by his grief. He staggered to a
seat and sat down with his head in his hands, weeping piteously.
Kenric heard loud voices in the corridor, and grasping his sword he
hastened to where the guards were stationed. Duncan Graham, of the long
arm, was holding parley with the three earls within the smaller hall.
His broad frame filled up the half-open doorway, so that the presence of
the armed guard was not yet known to Roderic and his two companions.
"More wine it may be you can have," said Duncan; "but as to bringing you
your swords, that I cannot do without orders from my master."
"I am now your master!" said the gruff voice of Roderic of Gigha; "and
again I command you to bring us our swords and dirks."
"You are no master of mine, Earl Roderic," said Duncan; "and now for
your insolence shall you have neither wine nor weapons," and with that
he slammed to the door.
"Insolent varlet!" growled Roderic within the room.
"Nay, calm yourself, good Roderic," said the voice of Erland the Old;
"we had better have tarried till daylight. It may be that they have
already discovered what you have done. Truly you were an arrant
simpleton to leave the weapon in your brother's breast. 'Twould have
served our further purpose well."
Kenric heard these last words, and though they were spoken in the
Danish, yet full well did he understand that the further purpose of Earl
Roderic was indeed the slaying of the Lady Adela and Alpin.
Assured that the three miscreants were unarmed, he drew Duncan aside and
whispered his commands, which were that four of the guards should follow
him into the room and make prisoners of the three island kings.
Thereupon Duncan went back to the door and forced it open, and Kenric,
with buckler on arm and sword in hand, marched in, and standing firmly
upright faced the three men defiantly.
"Which man of you is Earl Roderic of Gigha?" said he.
CHAPTER VI. ALPIN'S VOW OF VENGEANCE.
Erland the Old, with an empty drinking horn in his bony hand, sat by the
hearth looking vacantly into the dead embers of the fire. Sweyn the
Silent stood beside him with his thumbs stuck in his leathern girdle;
while Roderic of Gigha sat upon the table facing the door and swinging
his legs to and fro. The light of a hanging cruse lamp shone upon his
long red hair and beard. His strong bare arms were folded, one within
the other, across his broad chest, and the back of his right hand was
splashed with blood that had been partly wiped off upon his under jerkin.
"Which man of you is Earl Roderic of Gigha?" repeated Kenric.
The three looked one to the other with evil smiles. Roderic drank off
what remained in his wine cup.
"I am he," he said coolly as he again folded his arms. "And who, then,
are you who demand to know?"
"Then if you be he," said Kenric, "you are the vilest man that ever
breathed within these walls. Oh, Roderic MacAlpin, unworthy son of a
noble and good prince, you have brought the guilt of blood upon your
father's name! You have slain your own brother, our dear lord and
master; you have shed his life's blood within his own hall. Deceitful
traitor that you are, you came to this peaceful island in the semblance
of a friend. But, by all that I hold sacred, you shall not leave it
again ere you have been duly judged for your foul crime."
A burst of mocking laughter from Roderic greeted this speech.
"And now," added Kenric, turning to the guard, "take me this man as
prisoner to the deepest dungeon. For though he were King Hakon himself
he should not longer remain as a guest in the castle whose shelter he
"Let one of those varlets but touch me with his hand," said Roderic,
"and I will break his back across my knee. And you, who are you, my
young knave, that dares to threaten his betters? By St. Olaf, but you
are passing bold to speak of prisoning me in the walls wherein I was
born. Away with you to your couch; this is no hour for bairns to be awake."
Then turning to the lord of Colonsay he said: "Slip you out behind the
young whelp, Sweyn, and bring me the knife you wot of. This is surely
the stripling of whom we heard. He barks passing well; let us see if he
can bite. A few ells of cold steel will speedily settle him, I warrant me."
Earl Sweyn stepped towards the door, but one of the men of Rothesay
bounded forward and caught him in his strong arms, struggled with him
for a moment, and then flung him heavily to the floor.
Roderic, seeing this and waxing wrathful, sprang lightly from his seat,
and ere Kenric could well understand his intention he had caught hold of
the youth and gripped him by his sword hand. He wreathed his other
strong arm round the lad's lithe body. Long he wrestled with him, but at
last he drew him down by main force with his back across his thigh and
his right hand set hard at his throat. With his left hand he again
gripped Kenric's sword hand and tried to wrest the weapon from his
grasp. But Kenric's wrist was of mighty strength and he held with a grip
of iron to the handle of his sword. Then Roderic dragged the lad's hand
forward and got it between his teeth, that by biting it he might force
him to loosen his hold of the weapon. And now Kenric must surely have
been overcome had not Duncan of the long arm at that moment come behind
Earl Roderic and rushed upon him and caught him up in his arms. With all
the force of his giant strength the Highlander lifted the man high in
the air and shook him fiercely. Kenric, freeing himself, drew back to
the door, and he saw Duncan fling Earl Roderic upon the table and grip
him by the throat.
"Spare him!" cried Kenric as the seneschal drew his dirk.
Then Duncan, thrusting his knife in his garter, turned Roderic over with
his face downward, and holding him there with his bare knee on his back,
he took off his great plaid and twisting it ropewise he bound the earl's
arms tightly together, so that he could no longer move them.
The earl of Colonsay had already been pinioned in like manner. But
Erland the Old, when he saw Kenric stand free and unharmed, fearing to
be ill treated, rushed out into the corridor. There he was met by Alpin,
who, with drawn sword, was about to kill him. His sword was raised in
the act of smiting him when, from the banqueting hall beyond, there came
a loud and plaintive cry that echoed throughout the castle like the cry
of a wounded eagle. Alpin lowered his weapon and, leaving old Erland to
be arrested by the guards, he sped towards the hall. Kenric, hearing
that scream, followed after him.
In the hall they found their mother. A crowd of the men and women of the
castle were there with her, holding torches and lighted cruse lamps over
the body of the dead lord of Bute. The Lady Adela was wringing her hands
in frantic grief.
"Who is the villain that hath done this wicked thing?" she cried as
Alpin and Kenric entered.
"Roderic, Earl of Gigha," answered Kenric.
"Ah, unhappy hour that ever brought him within these walls! Where is he
"He is made prisoner with his two companions," said Kenric.
"Prisoner -- not slain! You have not slain him? Oh, my sons, where is
your spirit? Why have you let him live thus long? And you, Alpin,
wherefore did you suffer your father to be left alone with these men?"
"Alas, my mother, was it possible I could foresee this crime?" said
Alpin. "Even my poor father could not have seen treachery through the
mask of his brother's friendship."
"There has been some quarrel," said Dovenald the bard. "Heard you aught
of a dispute between them, young man?"
"Methinks there is little need to seek for a cause of quarrel," said
Kenric. "Roderic of Gigha is even now meditating how he can make himself
the lord over Bute. No farther shall he go, for he cannot now escape the
penalty that is his due."
"And what penalty is that?" asked the Lady Adela.
Kenric turned to Dovenald for reply, knowing well that Dovenald was
better learned than any other man in the breast laws of that land.
"My lady," said Dovenald, "he must be judged and punished for his crime
as the wise men of Bute shall direct. Justice will be done. Fear not for
"Justice?" cried she. "I know well what justice means with your wise
men. It is not the worthless fine of a few score of cattle that would
repay me for the loss of my dear husband. No, no. A life for a life.
Earl Roderic has cruelly slain our good and noble lord, and now I demand
a speedy vengeance."
She flung herself on her knees before her son Alpin.
"Oh, my sweet son," she cried, clasping his two hands, "I charge you
upon my blessing, and upon the high nobility you inherit, to be revenged
upon this traitor for his crime;" and thereupon she took up the
bloodstained weapon and forced it into her son's hand.
Alpin started back and grew pale.
"Fair mother," said he, "what may this mean?"
"Take this fatal knife," said she, "and before the blood is dry upon its
blade drive it into the murderer's black heart."
Then Alpin, holding the knife, raised his mother in his arms.
"Dear mother," said he, "you have given me a great charge, and here I
promise you I shall be avenged upon Earl Roderic ere long, and that do I
promise to God and to you."
"Nay, mother," appealed Kenric, stepping forward. "In mercy I beg you,
charge not my brother with so terrible a mission. Withdraw it, I beseech
you, for you know not what you do in thus exposing Alpin to both danger
and dishonour. For if he take vengeance by stealth, then is his
treachery as evil as that of the murderer whom he would punish. If he
challenge this man to mortal combat, then most surely he will be slain,
for Roderic, as I have seen, is most powerful of arm, and it is his
heart's desire that he should slay my brother, whose death he has
already planned. If you would indeed have this man die, then I entreat
you let me, and not Alpin, fulfill your behest. Alpin is now our
rightful king, and his life is of more value than mine."
Now while Kenric was thus speaking his mother remained in Alpin's arms,
with her head upon his shoulder. And when Alpin drew away his arm that
she might answer Kenric face to face, she turned not round, but sank
down at Alpin's feet, and it was seen that she was in a swoon.
So Alpin carried her away in his strong arms to her chamber, where the
women of the castle tended her. But for three long days and nights she
lay on her couch in a strange sickness that none could understand. For
those three days she was unconscious, speaking never a word.
CHAPTER VII. THE ARROW OF SUMMONS.
How the three island kings fared in the dark dungeons of the castle of
Rothesay on that fatal night need not be told. Earl Roderic of Gigha had
doubtless in his sea rovings slept on many a less easy couch. But it may
be that in those dark hours of solitude his mind was more disturbed than
were his hardy limbs. He had come to Bute full of a guilty design, by
the fulfilment of which he had hoped to at last gain possession of the
rich dominions that he had coveted for twenty years. His own inheritance
of the small island of Gigha was not enough to satisfy his vaulting
ambition, and the growing power of the King of Norway, who was year by
year extending his territories in the west of Scotland, offered a
further inducement to Roderic, who believed that by slaying his brother
Hamish, and taking his place, he might bring the island of Bute under
the protection of the Norwegian crown.
His design was clumsily planned, for though subtle as a fox, Roderic was
yet an ignorant man, even for those uncultured times, and he had failed
to take into account the two sons of Earl Hamish, both of whom stood
between him and the coveted earldom, and who now appeared to him as an
obstacle not easy to overcome.
But for the unexpected appearance of Kenric, however, even this obstacle
in his path might have been cleared, for he had planned that in the
darkness and quiet of the night he would steal into the sleeping chamber
of Alpin and so deal with him that he would never again waken to claim
his dead father's lands. Roderic had learned from the Lady Adela that
her younger son, Kenric, was but a boy of sixteen, living with the
learned abbot of St. Blane's, and to the wicked earl of Gigha it seemed
that Kenric might be disposed of by very simple means.
But now, even after having slain his brother, he had failed in his
object. Instead of being king in Bute, he was a prisoner in the deepest
dungeon of Rothesay Castle.
The moor fowl had scarcely shaken the dew from off their wings ere the
two sons of the dead Earl Hamish were climbing the heathery heights
behind Rothesay. With them went the aged Dovenald, bearing in his arms a
young goat, white as the driven snow. When they were upon the topmost
knoll they stood a while. Dovenald laid down the bleating kid, whose
little feet were tethered one to the other, and he bade the two youths
go about and gather some dry twigs of heather and gorse that a fire
might be made.
A soft breeze from over the moorland played with the silvery locks of
the old man's bare head. He turned his face to the east and looked
across the gray waters of the Clyde, where above the hills of
Cunningham, the dawn was breaking into day. Southward then he gazed and
watched the giant mountains of Arran that were half shrouded in rosy
mists. Very soon the golden light of the rising sun kissed here and
there the jagged peaks of Goatfell, and Dovenald bent his head and
murmured a prayer, calling upon God to shed His light into the hearts of
men and to guide them in the solemn work they were called upon to fulfil
that day. Then he turned to Alpin.
"Now kindle me the fire," he said. "Here are flint and steel.
"And, Kenric, give me the arrow."
He took the arrow in his hand and waited till the fire was well alight.
With the arrow's point he stirred the flaming twigs, and the two youths
"And now take your dirk, Alpin," said he, "and slay me the kid. Give as
little pain as may be, for it is not well that the innocent thing should
Kenric held the animal while his brother drove his sharp dirk into its
white and throbbing throat. The kid turned its soft blue eyes upon him
and gave a plaintive bleat. Its warm breath rose visible in the morning
air and then died away.
"'Tis done!" said Kenric, and Dovenald brought the burning arrow and
extinguished it in the kid's blood. With the innocent blood he smeared
the arrow's shaft.
"Fly now as speedily as your feet can carry you to the castle of
Kilmory," said the old man to Alpin, giving him the arrow, "and you will
give this burnt arrow into the hands of Sir Oscar Redmain. No need have
you to tell him the meaning thereof. It is a summons ordained by ancient
custom, and well known to all the wise men of Bute. Sir Oscar will
despatch it to our good father the abbot of St. Blane's. The abbot will
in like manner send it to Ronald Gray of Scoulag. So, in turn, will it
pass round to each of the twelve wise ruthmen, calling them one and all
to hasten to the Seat of Law on the great plain beside Ascog mere, that
they may there in solemn assize pronounce judgment upon the traitor who
hath slain our king.
"Haste! haste! my son. Why do you tarry?"
"Have I not sworn an oath on my mother's blessing that I will have this
man Roderic's life? Why, then, should this assize be assembled?"
"Go, do my bidding, rash boy," said Dovenald sternly. "Seek not to
oppose the customs of your ancestors, and let not your thirst for
vengeance now blind you to the folly of violence. Go, I command you; and
believe me the earl of Gigha shall not escape just retribution."
Alpin, then, taking the arrow in his right hand, ran off at a brisk pace
down the hill. Kenric took up the dead kid and walked at Dovenald's side
"Rash, rash that he is," murmured the old man. "Much do I fear that he
will make but a sorry king. He is over hasty, and his judgment is
ofttimes wrong. He will not rule as did his father. The Lady Adela hath
spoiled him with her caresses."
"You are over hard upon my brother," said Kenric. "There lives not a man
in the Western Isles better fitted than Alpin for the great office of
kingship. He is just, and noble, and trusty. No man in all Bute can say
that he ever broke a promise or told an untruth. Think you that because
he is hasty with his dirk he is therefore a thoughtless loon, who knows
not when a gentle word can do more service than a blow? When did he ever
draw dirk or sword without just cause? You do not know him as I do,
Dovenald, or you would not breathe a word in his dispraise. And if my
gentle mother loves him above all else next to my father, whom she has
now lost, who shall say that Alpin is not deserving of her great favour?"
The old retainer walked on in silence.
Presently he turned to Kenric and said: "What has your brother done with
the weapon wherewith my lord was slain? He tried in the dead of night to
gain entrance to the traitor Roderic that he might use that fatal knife
even as my lady so weakly charged him to do. Where is it, I say?"
"I know not," said Kenric. "But methinks 'tis a pity he did not drive it
into the villain's heart."
"My son! my son! let me not hear you utter such evil thoughts again. It
ill becomes a pupil of our holy abbot to speak thus. And yesternight you
were disposed to leave the guilty earl to whatever punishment the wise
men should appoint."
"Reflection has changed me, Dovenald; and were Roderic before me at this
moment I would willingly lay him dead at my feet. Should Alpin fail to
slay him, then will I fulfil my revenge. In fair fight or by stealth
Roderic shall surely die."
"Alas, that I should ever hear such words from one so young!" murmured
And the old man continued his complaints until they had entered the
CHAPTER VIII. AN ERIACH FINE.
Under the clear sky of high noon the people of Bute had assembled on the
great plain of Laws, at the margin of Loch Ascog. They had come from all
parts of the island, for the word had travelled round with the swiftness
of a bird's flight that their good king, Earl Hamish, had been cruelly
slain by his own brother, and all were eager not only to see the man who
had done this treacherous deed, but also to hear judgment passed upon
him for his crime.
At the foot of the great standing stone Sir Oscar Redmain, as steward or
prefect of Bute, took his seat as judge. Noble and comely he looked,
holding his great glittering sword, point upward, waiting for the
prisoner and his accuser. At his right stood Godfrey Thurstan, the good
abbot of St. Blane's, with his cowl drawn over his reverend head to
shield him from the warm sun. At his left Dovenald, most learned in the
laws of the land, ready to explain and discuss the ancient legal
customs; and round them in a circle were the others of the twelve
ruthmen. The witnesses or compurgators stood in an outer ring within a
fencing of cords running from stake to stake. Without the verge of the
sacred circle of justice were gathered a great crowd of islanders --
herdsmen and husbandmen, tribesmen, fishermen, and thralls -- who had
left their labours on hill and in vale, or on the sea, and come hither
crying out loud for speedy vengeance.
Duncan Graham the seneschal and his guards of the castle had already
gone amongst these onlookers to see that no man carried weapons, for it
was held in strict custom that none should bear arms or make disturbance
at such a time on pain of life and limb.
These hardy islanders, as they stood in silence, were a rugged set of
men, with sunburnt faces and bushy beards. Many of them were clothed in
garments of sheepskin, others of a better condition wore a plaid or
mantle of frieze. They had buskins made of rawhide, and a knitted
bonnet, though many of them wore no covering for their heads but their
own shaggy hair tied back with a leathern strap.
The assize being sworn and admitted the abbot stepped forward and called
upon the God of the Christians to punish the peace breaker. Then the
crowd opened and young Alpin came in, stalwart, handsome, noble, and
bowed before the judge.
He wore a mantle of tartan, clasped at the shoulder by a silver buckle.
His legs were swathed in fine cloth and cross-gartered below the bare
knees, and his feet were encased in brogues with silver clasps. His long
hair was well combed, and it hung about his broad shoulders in dark
brown locks. A deep hum of praise rose in greeting from many throats as
he stood in the light of the noonday sun.
"Hail to Earl Alpin, king of Bute!" cried one.
"Long life to the king!" cried another; and the cries were taken up by
the whole assembly, dying away in echoes among the far-off hills.
Then Alpin raised his hand and asked that the chain of silence should be
shaken; and when one of the guards had shaken the rattling chains and
all were listening with bated breath he took up and made his plea,
demanding prompt justice on the slayer of his father.
"And whom do you charge with this foul crime?" asked Sir Oscar Redmain,
though indeed none needed to be told.
"I charge Roderic MacAlpin, king of Gigha," said Alpin, and at that
there was a great yell of execration.
"Down with the traitor! Death to him!" was the cry as the crowd opened.
And Alpin turning round saw Duncan Graham -- taller by a head than the
tallest man there present -- leading in the criminal, followed by his
two companions of Colonsay and Jura.
In a moment Alpin sprang forward at his enemy. He raised his right hand
and all saw that he held the bloodstained knife.
"Die, slayer of the just!" he cried, bringing down the weapon upon
But Roderic of Gigha laughed a mocking laugh, and catching Alpin by the
wrist he threw him backward. Duncan Graham broke his fall and tore the
weapon from his grasp.
"Oh, foolish lad!" he murmured, "to attempt such a thing within the very
fences of the court!"
"Alpin of Bute," said the judge gravely as he rose from his seat, "you
have done that which no other man in this land might do without the
severest punishment. You are here to plead the cause of justice, and not
to insult those whom you have summoned to this place to do justice for
you. Bear yourself discreetly, or resign your cause into the hands of
those who can control their wrath."
Alpin scowled as he again took his place before the judge, and then when
silence had been restored he proceeded to state the whole case
concerning the killing of his father.
By his side stood Kenric, who helped him when he faltered in his
narrative. The two brothers might almost have been mistaken for master
and serf, so much did their appearance differ. Kenric's face was
unwashed and streaked with the traces of tears. His brown hair, lighter
than Alpin's, was rough and tangled, and now, as always, he wore no
covering on his head. His coarse buckskin coat looked mean beside the
richer apparel of his brother, and his buskins were ill-tied and his
kilt was dusty and tattered. The elder brother was taller and more lithe
of body; but Kenric's bare arms and legs were thick and strong, and
despite his coarse clothing he bore himself no less nobly upright than
"Roderic, son of Alpin, what have you to say in defence for this grave
crime whereof you are accused?" asked Sir Oscar Redmain when Alpin had
told his tale.
The two lads stepped back and Roderic took their place. His long golden
hair as the sunlight fell upon it shone scarcely less bright than the
well-wrought dragon that twined its scaled form upon his burnished helm
of brass. He looked towards his judge with bold defiance in his blue eyes.
"What the boy says is true," said he. "I slew my brother Hamish. I slew
him upon his own hearth stone. But it was in fair fight that I did it;
and I call my two friends, the lords of Jura and Colonsay, to bear me
out in the truth of what I say."
There was a loud howl of rage from the crowd as he spoke these false
words, and no one tried to stifle those outbursts of popular feeling.
"'Tis a lie you tell!" cried Kenric furiously as he pushed his brother
aside and confronted Earl Roderic. "You say it was in fair fight you
smote my father his death blow. Oh, perjured villain! Where, then, was
my father's weapon? Had he been armed with a knife such as the one you
used, methinks you would not now be here to utter your false words. Your
own arms were left in the armoury hail, where 'twas right they should
be; and you took up the knife from the board, knowing full well what you
meant to do with it. Oh, Roderic MacAlpin, may your tongue shrivel in
your throat ere you utter such base and wicked lies again! You came to
this island, the land of your fathers, with the evil purpose of climbing
over our dead bodies to the kingship that you covet --"
Roderic bit his lips with rage and doubled his great fists as he stepped
forward to smite young Kenric to the ground. Kenric drew back.
"I know it," continued Kenric with full and sonorous voice that might
have been heard at the further side of Ascog mere. "I know your purpose,
Roderic of Gigha. Think you that there are none of us that can
understand the Norse tongue in which you spake to your two base
comrades? /I/ know that tongue. I heard your craven moans of anguish
when you came out from that darkened hall wherein my father lay dead. I
heard you tell of how you meant to slay the vixen and her cubs. And who
are they? My mother and Alpin and me! My mother, whom you flattered with
soft speeches -- my mother, in whose presence you were not worthy to
breathe, and whose noble heart you have now broken by your murderous
treachery. And you would have slain her as you slew our father. I thank
the great God who stayed your hand from fulfilling such devil's work to
the end. May He punish you as you deserve to be punished for the evil
you have done!"
A deep silence followed upon this speech, and then a thousand lusty
voices broke out in a prolonged groan of imprecation. But Roderic of
Gigha only turned to Erland the Old and smiled.
Kenric looked to the crowd that stood behind the judge's seat, and there
he saw Ailsa Redmain standing with her brother Allan; and Ailsa's eyes
glistened with approval of what Kenric had just spoken, and he took new
"Men of Bute," said Sir Oscar Redmain, turning to the ruthmen, "ye have
heard what has passed. It is now for you to pronounce judgment upon the
accused man. What say you?"
"That Earl Roderic is guilty of the crime," said Ronald Gray, their
spokesman, "and that he shall pay the highest penalty that our laws can
"Then," said Alpin, "I claim that Roderic of Gigha shall die the death."
But at that the wise men shook their heads.
"In the time of my father, the good king Alpin," said Roderic with a
voice of triumph, "it was ordained, as all of you must surely know, that
no man should die for the slaying of his enemy unless he were caught
red-handed and with the weapon in his hand; but that for taking the life
of a man in hot blood he should be assoiled or cleansed on payment of
the eriach fine, which is nine score of kine, to the kin of his victim.
And I ask Dovenald Dornoch if this be not so?"
At this Alpin held speech with Dovenald the lawman, and his face grew
sullen in disappointment.
"Alas!" said Alpin to Sir Oscar, "what Earl Roderic hath said is indeed
true; for it seems that my grandsire, king Alpin, and also my father,
who is dead, did in their mercy so ordain that crimes of violence should
be dealt with in such manner that the traitor might have time in which
to repent of his ill deeds and commend himself to God. But for the
slaying of a king the fine is not nine score, but six times nine-score
of kine, or three thousand golden oras. And if that fine be not paid
within a year and a day, then shall the traitor die the death. And now,
oh men of Bute, since that I cannot see this man die -- as, would that I
might! -- I call upon him for the due payment of my eriach fine. And
moreover, oh judge, you and the wise men of Bute whom I see here present
are guarantees for the full payment, and you shall see that it be paid
within a year and a day."
Now this was far from being what Roderic wished, for well he knew that
no man in all the Western Isles would spare him if he failed to pay the
price of his liberty. But also he knew that neither in cattle nor in
other movable wealth was it in his power to pay the value of a thousand
head of cattle in so short a time. So he up and told this to Sir Oscar
"I cannot pay the fine," he said; "for not in all my lands and ships do
I possess such wealth nor know I any man who would be my broch, or bail."
"Then," said Sir Oscar, "if that be so, I now pronounce you an outlaw in
the Western Isles and in Scotland, and our sovereign lord, King
Alexander, shall ratify that sentence upon you forthwith. You shall be
an outlaw for the term of three years and three days. For those three
days you shall live within the sanctuary of Dunagoil and under the
protection of the good abbot of St. Blane's. On the third day, or
before, you shall take ship and depart hence whithersoever the holy
abbot shall direct you."
Then turned Sir Oscar to the crowd.
"Men of Bute," said he, "I charge you all that if within three years to
come any of you shall see this man Roderic MacAlpin within the isle of
Bute, or within his forfeited lands of Gigha and Cara, or in any other
land in the dominions of the King of Scots, you shall put him to the
sword and slay him."
There was a loud cry of assent; and Roderic, wrathful at his position,
felt at his side for his absent sword.
Here again were his plans defeated. The sentence passed upon him
required that during his three days of grace in the sanctuary of the
church lands no man should molest him or hold speech with him. How,
then, could he hope to compass the death of the two lads, Alpin and
Kenric, who stood in the way of his ambition? Turning his eyes with
fierce malice upon the two brothers he stepped boldly to the front.
"There is yet another way for me," he cried aloud. "Think you that I, a
king, am to be hunted about by a set of wolves like these? No, no. Now,
on this spot and before you all, do I claim wager of battle, for that is
my due. Let any man of you stand forth and meet me in fair fight, and I
will fight him to the death."
Then Duncan Graham, the seneschal, came forward in his towering height,
and said he:
"I will fight you, treacherous earl, for you deserve to die!"
"You!" exclaimed Roderic, awed at the man's giant height. "Not so. An
earl may hold such combat with none but his equals. I will not cross
swords with a low-born churl like you. Show me a man whose blood is
worthier of my steel."
"Coward!" cried Duncan; "you are afraid to cross arms with me. I would
slay you at the first passage."
"There is but one among you who is of my own rank," said Roderic, "and
there he stands;" and he pointed to Alpin.
"And I am ready," said Alpin. "I will engage with you to the death. And
God defend the right!"
CHAPTER IX. THE ORDEAL BY BATTLE.
While Duncan Graham and one of the guards went back to the castle of
Rothesay to bring the swords of Alpin and Roderic, Sir Oscar Redmain
pronounced the assize at an end; and such as wished not to witness the
deadly combat -- the abbot Godfrey and some few women -- went away.
Then Roderic stood apart with Erland the Old and Sweyn the Silent,
bidding them not wait for their weapons, but to slip away out of the
crowd and get them to their ship, and so away to their island homes.
"Our project has so far failed," said he; "but be assured that I shall
yet gain the lordship over Bute. They have made me an outlaw, and I fear
me that Redmain will most surely communicate this whole matter to the
King of Scots. Well, be it so; we shall see what Alexander can do.
Methinks it will not be long that he will hold his own against us. When
these three years of my outlawry are over you shall see such things as
will surprise you. Farewell, good Erland, and you, dear Sweyn! Hold you
both fast by King Hakon. That is our highest game; and so we serve him
well there is no fear but we will reap a good harvest of power."
"God grant it may be so!" said Erland; "for if his Majesty of Norway
fail in conquering Scotland, then are we all lost men. Farewell, then!"
When Sir Oscar Redmain had left the seat of justice his daughter Ailsa
crept within the circle of the court, and there she found Kenric.
"As I came hither," she said, "I saw Elspeth Blackfell; and she bade me
ask you, Kenric, if what she spake had aught of sooth in it?"
"Ah," said Kenric, "right truly did she tell what was to befall. For
even as it was with your nest of ouzels, Ailsa, so has it been with the
castle of Rothesay. This man Roderic, is he not even as the stoat that
harried the nest?"
"Even so," said Ailsa. "But the stoat also slew the fledgling as well as
the parent bird. Elspeth, when she heard that the good Earl Hamish had
been so cruelly slain, looked grave, and, said she, 'Hasten, Ailsa, to
the sons of Rothesay and bid them still be wary of this man. Not until
he is dead will all danger from him be past.' Those were her words,
Kenric; and lest there should be truth in them I have come to you as
speedily as I might. Alpin is about to engage in mortal combat. Bid him
be wary, bid him arm himself well; for I heard one of the shepherds say
that Roderic is clothed in a shirt of iron network, and that if it had
not been so the knife wherewith Alpin smote him would have slain him
where he stood."
"Ailsa," said Kenric, "much do I fear me that there is ample need of
this warning. Help me, I beseech you. Run to the castle and bid Duncan
not fail to bring my brother's coat of mail."
Then Ailsa disappeared and like a lapwing ran across the moorland.
Not long had she been gone when Duncan appeared, bearing two great
claymores. But he had not brought the coat of mail; and Kenric seeing
this drew his brother aside and bade him tarry until Ailsa should
return, that he might protect his body with the chain shirt, and so be
equal with his foe.
The men of Bute then went in a vast crowd to the lower march beside
Ascog mere, for it was against the ancient custom that any blood should
be shed within the sacred circle reserved for the administration of the
laws. And they formed a great ring upon the level ground, in the midst
of which stood Earl Roderic alone, with his great two-handed sword in
his hand, and the sun glancing upon his helm as he held his head proudly
And the cry went about:
"Alpin! where is Alpin? Is he then afraid?"
But soon a gap was made in the circle and Alpin strode boldly forward
with a light step.
Kenric, who had sent Ailsa away, telling her that it was no sight for a
girl, stood beside Sir Oscar and Allan Redmain, and he told how Ailsa
had brought Alpin's armour.
"Then am I much relieved," said Sir Oscar. "Nevertheless there is no man
I know, unless it be Sir Piers de Currie, who can handle a sword as your
brother can; and methinks Earl Roderic will not easily bear up against
him. Look at them both. Alpin is fresh and lithe as a young stag. Ah,
Roderic, methinks your hour has surely come!"
Alpin dressed the end of his plaid about his left arm and pulled out his
sword. He stood at five paces from his foe. Then both swerved about with
their heads bent forward. Still keeping apart, eyeing one the other,
round and round they traversed. Then Alpin got his back to the sunlight,
drew himself up, and flung back his sword. With a fierce cry they rushed
together and their swords clashed with mighty strokes. Then they both
reeled backward two strides to recover. Tracing and traversing again
they leapt at each other as noble men who had often been well proved in
combat, and neither would stint until they both lacked wind, and they
stood a while panting and blowing, each grasping his weapon ready to
When they had rested they went to battle once more, tracing and foining
and hurtling together, so that none who beheld them could know which was
like to win the battle. Their clothing was so far hewn that the chains
of their coats of mail could be seen. Alpin had a cut across his knee,
Roderic's arm was bleeding.
Roderic was a wily man of war, and his wily fighting taught Alpin to be
wise and to guard well his bare head, for it was ever at his head that
Roderic aimed. Often he smote such strokes as made Alpin stagger and
kneel; but in a moment the youth leapt lightly to his feet and rushed at
his foe, until Roderic's arms and face were red with blood.
The crowd about them hailed Alpin's dexterous fighting with lusty cries
of approval, and none doubted that he would soon make an end of his
boastful antagonist. But neither had yet gained the upper hand.
So for a full half-hour they fought, until Alpin at length sorely
wounded Roderic on the shoulder. At that Roderic was wroth out of
measure, and he rushed upon Alpin, doubling his mighty strokes. Their
swords clashed and clanged and flashed in bright circles through the
air. But at last, by fortune, Roderic smote Alpin's sword out of his
hand, and if Alpin had stooped to pick it up surely he would have been
He stood still a moment and beheld his weapon with a sorrowful heart.
There was a deep groan of anguish from the crowd, and Kenric, seeing the
peril in which his brother was placed, would have rushed forward to
Alpin's help had not Duncan Graham held him back, fearing that he too
might find himself in Earl Roderic's power. Then Allan Redmain was about
to run in to Alpin's aid, but his father caught his arm and bade him
"How now?" cried Roderic. "Now have I got you at an advantage as you had
me yesternight. But it shall never be said that Roderic of Gigha would
meanly slay any man who was weaponless. And therefore take up your
sword, Earl Alpin, and let us make an end of this battle."
Roderic then drew back that Alpin might without hindrance take up his
sword. Then into Roderic's eyes there came a look of fixed fury, and in
that look Alpin read his doom.
Again they took their ground, and this time neither seemed so eager to
spring at the other. But at last young Alpin leapt wildly at his foe,
with his sword upraised in the grip of his two hands. Down came his
weapon with a mighty swing, and all thought surely that blow would be
Roderic's end. But Roderic sprang lightly aside, so that the young man's
aim was spent upon the soft ground. Roderic's sword flashed in a circle
above his crested helm. There was a dull crunching sound, and then a
Kenric promptly rushed to his brother's side and tried to raise him from
the ground. But the sword of Roderic of Gigha had done its work. Earl
Alpin was dead.
Then the men of Bute, seeing what had befallen their young king, raised
a wailing cry that rent the sunny air, and they closed in their ranks
around their fallen chief.
Earl Roderic looked but for a moment at Alpin, and then swinging his
bloodstained sword from right to left he passed through the crowd of
men. For the islanders, having just left the court of the mooting, were
none of them armed. So when Roderic made his way into their midst they
fell back beyond the range of his swinging blade.
They saw that he was making his way towards the shores of the lake,
which was but a few paces from where the battle had been fought. Many of
them picked up great stones and flung them after him and struck him on
"Down with the base traitor!" they cried.
But he little heeded either their missiles or their menacing cries. On
he sped until his feet were ankle deep in the mere. Then he turned round
for a moment and saw young Kenric, armed with his brother's sword, with
Sir Oscar Redmain, Allan, Duncan Graham, and many others pursuing him.
He sent up a hollow mocking laugh as he lightly sheathed his sword. Then
he waded farther into the loch and threw himself into the deeper waters,
so that only his glancing helm could be seen above the surface. As the
antlered stag, pursued by men and hounds, swims swiftly over the
mountain tarn to the safety of crag and fell, so swam Earl Roderic
before the fury of the men of Bute. And none dared follow him, for it is
said that that loch is deeper than the hills are high.
So many ran round to the farther shores that they might there meet him
and assail him with showers of stones. In the brief time that had passed
between two settings of the sun this man, this traitorous sea rover, had
taken the lives of two kings -- the well-beloved Hamish, who had ruled
over that little nation for a score of peaceful and prosperous years,
and Alpin, his son and successor, who had fallen ere yet he had known
the power of his kingship. And forgetting that by the sentence of
outlawry which their judge had passed but two hours before, Roderic had
been allowed three days of grace, during which it was a crime to molest
him, they were driven to the extremity of wild rage; they thirsted for
It was not now enough that he should quit their island with his
treachery unavenged; they wanted to strike him down that the world might
no longer harbour a villain whose evil deeds were blacker and more
terrible than any the oldest man in Bute had ever known.
But ere they had turned either point of the lake Roderic had already
gained the firm ground on the western shore, and now he shook the water
from him and sat down on a large stone to rest his limbs and to dress
his bleeding wounds.
Soon he heard the rumour of men's angry cries coming nearer and nearer,
like the yelping of a pack of wolves. Rising and looking about him he
saw many men running towards him from north and from south through the
dingle of Lochly; and now most surely he might think that he was
entrapped, for he was upon the strip of land that divides Loch Ascog
from Loch Fad.
His deep voice rang out across the moorland like the bellowing call of
the stag that challenges his rival in the glens. Bracing his long sword
about his back he crossed westward over the rising ground until he came
in view of the quiet waters of Loch Fad, where a flock of wild swans,
startled at his approach, flew over towards the forest of Barone.
The two companies of islanders closed in upon him, believing doubtless
that he would be speedily overcome. The one band was led by Sir Oscar
Redmain and his son, the other by Duncan Graham and Kenric.
Roderic ran onward to the water's edge, and ere the first stone that was
thrown could reach him he had plunged into Loch Fad, and as he swam
outward stones and clods of turf fell in showers about his head. A stone
thrown by Kenric struck him on the helmet. He sank deep down, and all
believed that the water would be his death. But, like the diver bird of
his native seas, he went under but to appear again many yards away
beyond the reach of any weapon but the arrow, and of arrows there were
none in all that company.
Now Loch Fad, which is the largest of the lakes of Bute, is full two
miles long and but four furlongs wide, and it was useless for any to
think of meeting the fugitive earl on the farther shore. So at the
bidding of Sir Oscar Redmain the men all gave up the chase and turned
back to where the dead body of Lord Alpin lay prone upon the turf, and
thence they bore him to the castle of Rothesay.
CHAPTER X. AASTA'S CURSE.
Roderic of Gigha, for all that he had been absent from Bute for a score
of years, had not forgotten the old landmarks that had been familiar to
him in boyhood. After swimming across Loch Fad he found himself among
the tall pine trees of the forest of Barone. Wet and weary after his
escape from his pursuers, and smarting sorely of his many wounds, he
passed through the forest glades and emerged at the point where, on the
evening before, Kenric had entered.
As he skirted the lands of Kilmory he saw a herd of shaggy long-horned
cattle browsing there, with many sheep and goats. He looked about for
their shepherd that he might ask him concerning the earls of Jura and
Colonsay. He began to regret that he had so lightly dismissed his
friends, who might better have waited to carry him in their ship to Gigha.
Presently he heard voices from behind a great rock. A young sheepdog
appeared, but when it saw him it turned tail and slunk away as if it
were afraid of him. Then from behind the rock came young Lulach the herd
boy, and with him a most beautiful girl. Lulach stood for a moment
looking at the strange man.
"Ah, 'tis he! 'Tis he whom we were but now speaking of!" he cried, and
dropping the brown bread cake that he had been eating he ran away down
the hill in terror.
But the girl stood still, with her hand resting on the rock.
Now this girl was the same strange maiden who had appeared so
mysteriously before Kenric on his night journey through the forest. Tall
she was and very fair -- tall and graceful as a young larch tree, and
fair as the drifted snow whose surface reflects the red morning sun. Her
eyes were blue as the starry sky, and her long hair fell upon her white
skin like a dark stream of blood. Men named this wondrous maiden Aasta
Earl Roderic started back at sight of her great beauty as she stood
before him in her gray and ragged garments, for she was but a poor
thrall who worked upon the lands of Kilmory, minding the goats upon the
hills or mending the fishermen's nets down on the shore.
"Fair damsel," said he, "tell me, I pray you, if you have seen pass by
an aged man and his companion towards the bay of Scalpsie?"
"'Tis but an hour ago that they passed hence," said Aasta. "Cursed be
the occasion that brought both them and you into this isle!"
Then she pointed across the blue moor of the sea where, under the shadow
of the high coast of Arran, a vessel appeared as a mere speck upon the