Part 2 out of 5
"Yonder sails their ship into the current of Kilbrannan Sound."
"Alas!" said Roderic, "and I am too late."
"Alas, indeed!" said Aasta. "Methinks they had better have tarried to
take away with them the false traitor they have left upon our shores.
What manner of foul work detained you that you went not hence with your
evil comrades? But the blood that I now see flowing from your wounds
tells its own tale. You have slain Earl Alpin in the fight. Woe be upon
"Even so," said Roderic, "for hard though he pressed me with his
vigorous blows, yet my good sword was true to the last, and I clove his
young head in twain."
"Woe to you, woe to you, Roderic of Gigha!" cried Aasta, shrinking from
his approach. "Curses be upon you for the evil work that you have done.
May you never again know peace upon this earth. May those you love -- if
any such there be -- may they be torn from you and slain before your
eyes. Worse than brute that you are, meaner than the meanest worm that
creeps, curse you, curse you!"
Then as Aasta drew yet farther back her hand was caught by another hand
which drew her gently aside, and from behind the rock appeared the gaunt
figure of old Elspeth Blackfell. And Lulach the herd boy, having
overcome his fears, crept nearer and stood apart.
Roderic paused at seeing the old crone, and his face grew pale.
"Unworthy son of Bute!" said Elspeth, pointing her thin finger at the
island king, "you have heard this good maiden's curse. Even so do all
the dwellers in Bute curse you at this hour. But the great God who sees
into all hearts, and in whose hands alone must rest our vengeance -- He
will surely repay you for the sorrows that your wickedness has caused.
Go, Roderic MacAlpin. Go, ere it is too late, and before the high altar
of St. Blane's pray to Him for the mercy and forgiveness that you sorely
Roderic bowed his head and nervously clasped and unclasped his hands.
"Go while there is yet time and confess your sins," continued Elspeth.
"And if there is aught of penitence in your black heart then seek from
our good and holy abbot the means whereby you may fulfil your penance
during the days that remain to you on earth."
It seemed that a great change had come over him as he walked away, for
his step was halting and his head was bowed. He walked along by the
cliffs that are at the verge of the sea; southward past Scalpsie and
Lubas and Barr, then inland to the little chapel of St. Blane's. And
ever at his heels hobbled Elspeth Blackfell.
When Earl Roderic had entered the holy place to open his heart in
confession to the abbot, Elspeth waited on the headland above the bay of
Dunagoil. In that bay there was a ship, and the shipmen were unloading
her of a cargo of English salt and other commodities of the far south.
Presently the old woman went downward to the beach, and there held
speech with the shipmaster, who, as it chanced, being a man of Wales,
could make shift to understand the Gaelic tongue, and from him she
learned that the ship was to leave at the ebb tide for England.
Now Elspeth had seen young Ailsa Redmain as the girl was passing to her
father's castle, and Ailsa had told her how the wicked lord of Gigha had
been made an outlaw. So Elspeth questioned the shipmaster, asking him if
he would be free to carry this man away from Bute.
"My good dame," said the mariner, "that will I most gladly do, for your
holy bishop or abbot, or whatever he be, hath already paid me the sum of
four golden pieces in agreeing that I shall do this thing -- though for
the matter of that, this man is a king in his own land, and methinks the
honour were ample payment without the gold; so if the winds permit, and
we meet no rascally pirates by the way, I make no doubt that ere the
next new moon we shall be snug and safe against the walls of our good
city of Chester."
So ere the curtain of night had fallen over the Arran hills the outlawed
earl of Gigha had left behind him the little isle of Bute, and it was
thereafter told how he had in secret confessed his manifold sins to the
abbot of St. Blane's, and how in deep contrition he had solemnly sworn
at the altar to make forthwith the pilgrimage of penance to the Holy
Land, there to spend the three years of his exile in the service of the
CHAPTER XI. THE SWORD OF SOMERLED.
Now when Kenric, following sadly behind the body of his brother, came
within sight of the castle of Rothesay his heart sank heavy with the woe
that was upon him. He thought of how his mother had pressed upon Alpin
the charge of vengeance, and of how that charge had ended. He would far
rather have given up his own life than face his mother and tell her the
terrible tale of how the man whom Alpin had sworn to slay had himself
slain Alpin. And he was sorrowful beyond measure.
They bore the body of their dead young king into the great hall, and
laid him on a bier beside the body of his father, the good Earl Hamish,
and the curtains were drawn and many candles and torches were lighted
and set round the two biers, while two of the friars of St. Blane's
knelt there in solemn prayer.
Then Kenric went to the door of his mother's chamber and knocked, and
old Janet, a retainer of many years, came out to him.
"Alas!" said she, "my lady your mother is passing ill, and she hath
spoken never a word these many hours. We have sent forth a messenger to
Elspeth Blackfell, who is skilled beyond all in Bute for her craft in
simples. But Elspeth was abroad, and the messenger returned without her."
"Then will I go myself and find her," said Kenric.
So he went down into the courtyard and called his favourite hound
Fingall, that he might have companionship in his quest. But the dog gave
no answer to his call, and searching for it he found the animal lying
moaning in a corner of the yard and writhing as in pain.
"The dog well knows that our master, Earl Hamish, is dead," said one of
the servitors. "Grief is killing him."
"Not so," said Kenric. "The dog is ill. What manner of food has he eaten?"
"Naught save the few scraps of venison that my lady left upon her plate
after the feast," said the servitor.
"Methinks, then," said Kenric, "that I must even go alone. But see you
that my poor friend is well tended, for even though he be but a dumb
hound, he is a true and a faithful one, and I would not that he should die."
Now, as he walked over the hill of Barone, Kenric thought upon this
strange illness that had befallen his dog; and suddenly, as though a
light had flashed into his mind, he remembered how Alpin had told him of
the feast, and of how Earl Roderic, sitting at my lady's side, had cut
up her venison for her; and also of how my lady, ere she had eaten but a
few pieces of the venison, had left the board. It was the same plateful
of venison that the dog had eaten, and now both the Lady Adela and the
dog were ill.
Then Kenric saw clearly that this was but another of the base schemes of
his treacherous uncle, who, not yet certain by what means he should
compass the death of Earl Hamish, had taken this poisonous course to
assure himself that the Lady Adela should be ill on that night, and
powerless to interfere in the crime that was in his mind.
"Oh, devil's messenger, or devil himself that thou art!" he cried.
"Cursed be the hour that brought you in our midst, Roderic MacAlpin. You
have slain my father, you have slain my brother; my dear mother is now
by your cruel hand laid helpless on her couch. But by my father's soul
and by my mother's blessing, I swear that you shall die. By my hand and
none other you shall perish! Oh, God in mercy give me strength -- give
me power to kill this man of blood!"
Then at high speed he ran down the hillside, and the grouse birds lying
low in the heather rose with startled cries and flew off to the further
heights, uttering sounds as of mocking laughter.
Between Loch Dhu and Kilmory, as he crossed towards the marshes, a flock
of lapwings rose in alarm, and Kenric knew by their cries that some
other than himself was near. He turned his course, thinking that old
Elspeth might be there, passing homeward from the peat casting.
Beside the rock where, three hours before, Earl Roderic had stood, he
found Lulach the herd boy, and on the height of the rock sat Aasta
twining a wreath of daisies in her blood-red hair. When they saw Kenric
they both stepped forward, and together they threw themselves upon the
ground before him, pressing his coarse garments to their lips.
"Give you good day, my lord the king," they both said.
Thus did it chance that these two humble thralls, Lulach and Aasta, were
the first of all the dwellers in Bute to hail Lord Kenric as their king,
and not till then did Kenric remember that by the death of Alpin he was
now indeed the rightful lord of Bute, and he thought of the prophecy of
Elspeth Blackfell. Disturbed in mind at the so early homage of Aasta and
Lulach, he bade them rise.
"For your courtesy I thank you," he said. "But tell me, I pray you,
where is Dame Elspeth gone, and where may I find her? For my mother, the
Lady Adela, is passing ill."
"The Lady Adela ill!" echoed Aasta. "Alas! alas!"
"Elspeth has gone these two hours past towards Dunagoil," said Lulach.
"So please you, my lord, I will run after her and bid her hasten to my
"Yes, Lulach, run, run like the wind!" cried Aasta, and the lad ran off.
Kenric was about to follow him, when Aasta drew him back.
"One will serve as well as two, my lord," said she, "and methinks it
were better that you sped back to Rothesay. Lulach will not fail."
"But I have yet another purpose, Aasta," said Kenric. "I would find the
base villain, Roderic of Gigha."
"'Twas he whom Dame Elspeth followed," said the girl, "and he has gone
to the abbey of St. Blane's, there to confess his sins."
"Alas!" said Kenric; "then if he has taken sanctuary I am powerless to
molest him, for even though I would willingly lay him dead at my feet,
yet it were sacrilege to spill blood in the precincts of the abbey."
"But you are weaponless, my lord."
"I have my dirk," said he, showing the weapon in his belt.
"As well take a hazel wand as that poor thing," said she. "This man in
his late contest with your noble brother has slain a sprightlier
swordsman than yourself, Earl Kenric. Ah, had I but known of his coming,
this traitor had not served our island as he has done! 'Tis true, I
might not have done aught to save the life of Earl Hamish your father,
but had not yon churl Duncan Graham failed me yesternight Earl Alpin at
least might have been spared."
"Now, with what grim sorcery has Dame Elspeth been bewitching you?" he
exclaimed, drawing back a pace.
Aasta's fair cheeks and towering white neck blushed crimson, and she
looked down at the grass about her feet.
"Yesternight," continued Kenric, "in passing through the shadows of the
forest I suddenly encountered a wolf, and as I was about to draw my bow,
lo! the wolf disappeared, and in its place it was you, Aasta, that I
"Ah, it was you, then, that appeared?" said Aasta. "Alas, my lord, I
mistook you for one of the Norsemen of Earl Roderic's following, and I
"Methinks it was a strange fancy that led a maid into the dark forest at
such an hour," said Kenric sternly. "What manner of witchery led you
there? But you spoke of Duncan Graham, and now I mind me that he too
would have gone forth to the Rock of Solitude had I not warned him
against so bold an adventure."
"My lord," said Aasta, growing very red, "there is no man in all your
castle more faithful than Duncan, and I trust that you will deem him no
less true when you know that twice ere yesternight he has held tryst
with me. It was his purpose, had not these misfortunes befallen your
house, to have sued with my lord your father that I might be freed from
the bondage of my thralldom, and if that boon had been denied him, he
would even have purchased my liberty, that I might thus have been more
worthy to become his wedded wife."
"Aasta," said Kenric, "I sought not to draw these secrets from your
heart. And if it be that Duncan loves you and would have you to wife,
then, believe me, it is not long that you shall remain in thralldom."
"God give you thanks, my lord the king," said Aasta softly.
And as the morning dewdrop shines upon the harebell, so shone the tears
of gratitude that filled her deep blue eyes.
At that moment as she turned away the cry of the cuckoo was heard from
the woods, and the girl kissed her hand and said in the Danish, "Cuckoo,
cuckoo, when shall I be married?"
But the bird answered not at all, and Aasta grew very sad.
Kenric, leaving her behind, then wended his way back towards Rothesay.
But not far had he gone into the wood when he found that the girl was
"My lord," said she, coming to his side and walking near him, "when
yesterday I heard that these three strange men had come to Bute, and
Elspeth told me what manner of wicked men they were, now is the time, I
thought, when the mighty sword of king Somerled must be unearthed, for
most surely will that sword be needed. And methought I would send that
sword by the hands of Duncan Graham. But Duncan came not to the tryst.
And now that Earl Alpin is slain -- now that, as it seems, my lord, you
have resolved to bring this false traitor of Gigha to his merited death,
methinks it is you who should bear that sword, that by its aid you may
fulfil your vengeance."
Kenric looked at the maiden in blank surprise, and he thought that
either there was something strange and mysterious in her nature or that
her mind was wandering.
"The name of my great ancestor, king Somerled, God rest him! is indeed
as well known to me as my own," said he; "but of this sword of which you
speak I have heard nothing. Truly, I know not what you mean, Aasta."
They were now passing through the pine forest, where athwart the tall
trunks of the trees slanted the rays of the evening sun, and there was
no sound but the cooing of the wood pigeons and the crackling of the dry
twigs and cones as Kenric and Aasta stepped upon the velvet turf.
"Long, long ago," said Aasta, "as Elspeth has ofttimes told me, there
lived in Norway a great and ambitious king named Harald Fair Hair, who,
for the love of a proud maiden, put the whole of Norway under his feet;
and being lord over that great country by right of conquest he laid
claim to every man's odal, or lands, in such wise that his realm was no
longer a place in which a freeborn man could live. So many men of that
land took ship and went forth upon the seas to seek other homes, and
they came to the land of the Scots. They were adventurous and valiant
men, who took to conquest and sea roving as a cygnet takes to the water.
Now these vikings were soon such a thorn in the side of King Harald,
that he resolved to quell the evil by following his old enemies to their
new abodes and hunting them across the western main, and he passed down
among the Western Isles, and harried and wasted those lands farther than
any Norwegian monarch before him or after him. So it befell that the
Western Isles, that had belonged to the Scots, were peopled and ruled
over by the Norsemen."
Kenric listened to the girl's soft voice as it rippled in sweet music,
but he heeded little this oft-told tale.
"Now there arose a great man in Argyll, who was mightier than any of the
Scots that had so lightly allowed their lands to be torn away from them,
and this was king Somerled. He waged war against the Norsemen of the
Western Isles, and he made conquest of Bute, Arran, and Gigha, with the
Cumbraes and other smaller isles that still remain in the hands of the
Scots, for he was a most powerful warrior, and it was said that no man
ever crossed swords with him but to be slain. His enemies fell before
him like ripe grain in the swath of the mower's sickle. And his sword --"
"Yes, his sword?" said Kenric, growing interested now.
"His sword had drunk so often and so fully of men's blood, that it
seemed to take new life into itself out of the hearts of all who fell
before its sway, and men named it the Thirsty Sword, for it is never
satisfied. It was said beforetime that if a sword be the death of five
score of men, it comes to be possessed of a lust for slaying. But the
sword of Somerled had drunk the life's blood of twice five score of men,
and none might take it in his grasp and lay it down again ere it had
killed a man."
"Such a weapon were surely a great danger in the land, Aasta," said
Kenric. "I would not willingly touch it if any but my enemies were near.
But by reason of the desire for vengeance that is now upon me, gladly
would I know where that sword is to be found, that it may be ready when
the time comes to drink the blood of the falsest heart that ever beat,
and that is the heart of Earl Roderic of Gigha."
"Then, methinks it will not be long ere you have that weapon in your
hand, my lord," said Aasta, quickening her steps. "For it befell that I
had a dream vision, and I saw where long ago the men of Bute had buried
the sword, swathed in sheepskins that the blade might not be eaten by
rust. So I unearthed it, and hid it under the Rock of Solitude, where we
shall now find it."
Kenric and Aasta went onward through the forest glades, and when they
came to the rock Aasta put her white arm into a deep cavity, and drew
forth a bundle of sheepskins. Unwrapping them she revealed the
glittering weapon. With her two hands she clasped its hilt, and raised
the Thirsty Sword above the crown of daisies that was upon her hair.
Kenric drew back, for he was yet afraid of this strange witch maiden,
whose fairness and beauty were regarded by the men of Flute as
betokening the spell of her subtle sorcery. But seeing him recoil, Aasta
lowered the weapon and smiled, showing her pearl-white teeth.
"He who would wield this weapon, my lord," said she, "must strip his
heart of all fear and trembling. Take you the sword in hand, and I will
stand before you while you try your power with it. Not hard will it be
to wield it, for it was forged by the hand of Munifican, and so well
balanced is it, and so easy to grip, that a youth of half your strength,
my lord, might swing it for many hours and not be weary."
Then Kenric took the sword in his hard grip, and holding it out at arm's
length he saw that its point was but a span's distance from Aasta's breast.
He bade the girl stand still. Aasta stood like a pillar of stone before
him, with the sunlight upon her red-gold hair; nor did she stir a finger
or blink an eyelash as young Kenric, firm on his feet, flung back his
arms and swung the terrible weapon once, twice, thrice, to right and
left in front of her.
Seeing the maiden's fearless courage, "Now do I in sooth believe," said
he, "that you are in very deed a witch, Aasta. But what you have said of
this sword is, methinks, nothing less than true; and, if you will it so,
then will I take it, so that I may now confront this villain Earl
Roderic, and slay him for my revenge."
"God be your guard! my lord the king," said Aasta, "and may you never
use that sword without just cause."
And so saying she went her ways.
Now, when Kenric, armed with the Thirsty Sword, and with his heart full
of bitter vengeance, came upon the rocky heights of Dunagoil, and held
discourse with one of his friends, a friar of St. Blane's, he learned
that his enemy had already quitted the island, and was now aboard the
English ship on the first stage of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Not
till then did Kenric remember his sick mother, or think of how he had
set out to summon Elspeth Blackfell to the castle. He blamed himself
beyond measure in that he had allowed his vengeful thoughts to so lead
him away from his higher duty.
But as it happened, Lulach had served him well. When Kenric got back to
Rothesay he found Elspeth already busy in her work of nursing his mother
hack to health. So skilful was the old woman in this, that in the space
of two days the Lady Adela was fully restored, and able to hear the sad
news of how her favourite son had fallen under Roderic's sword.
Of the burial of Hamish and Alpin, and of the solemn rites attending
that ceremony, there is no need to tell. Noble and true were they both,
and well-beloved for their worthiness. But they are dead, and so, as the
old scalds would say, have passed out of the story.
CHAPTER XII. HOW KENRIC WAS MADE KING.
On a day in June, Ailsa Redmain, well arrayed, went forth from Kilmory
riding behind her father, Sir Oscar, on his sturdy horse. Beside them
walked her brother Allan, with a long staff in his hand, a plaid over
his broad shoulder, and a tall feather in his bonnet.
It was one of the calmest of summer days. The warm sweet smell of the
whin bloom was in the air. The lark sang merrily in the clear sky, and
across the smooth, glassy surface of Ascog loch the herons flew with
heavy, indolent wings.
Seeing a pair of these birds flying near, Sir Oscar turned to his son.
"Were we not otherwise employed," said he, "this were a glorious day,
Allan, on which to fly our young hawks at these herons. The birds will
lose their cunning if they be not better exercised. Know you if poor
Alpin had set aside a pair of gerfalcons for his Majesty's tribute?"
"'Tis but seven days ago that we were out together, Alpin and I," said
Allan, "and never saw I a better trained pair of hawks than those that
are now in keeping at Rothesay against the time when the tribute must be
paid. We took seven birds that rose from the heronry of Barone. Alas!
had Alpin but lived I had hoped to accompany him into Scotland that I
might see King Alexander. But 'tis ever so with me. Never yet have I
been able to make that journey."
"But," said Ailsa, "when Kenric has been throned, will not he also need
to pay yearly homage to the King of Scots, even as his father was wont
"Assuredly," said Sir Oscar. "The king of Bute is so bound by his
vassalage, and it were a sorry day for him if he should fail to observe
the usages which custom has ordained. So soon as Kenric can do so, he
will take his tribute of falcons to King Alexander, and Allan might even
"But are there no falcons in Scotland, father?" asked Ailsa.
"Plenty there are, my child. 'Tis but the form of tribute, showing that
the lord of Bute acknowledges his vassalage. In like manner, the lord of
Arran delivers each year two dead eagles, and the lord of Islay a roll
of homespun cloth. So may his Majesty know that his subjects remain true
"Ah, heard you those lusty shouts?" broke in Ailsa, as the hum of many
voices reached their ears. "'Tis surely the young king that they are
hailing. Spur on the horse, for I would not willingly miss the sight of
"'Tis but some wrestler thrown," said her father. "We shall be at the
Stone of Destiny long ere Kenric leaves his castle gates."
Nevertheless, he urged on the horse, and soon they were in the midst of
the vast crowd of islanders who had assembled on the great plain to
elect their new king.
Sir Oscar, dismounting, took his place by the throne, and when the court
was duly fenced and the ruthmen had taken their places, each at his
particular stone, the islanders crowded round in a circle that all might
see. Ailsa and Allan were behind their father, and near them were Lulach
and Aasta the Fair, with Elspeth Blackfell and many hillmen and
dalesmen, with their women. And nearest to the fence cord, so that their
elders could see above their curly heads, were the little children of
Bute, who had been brought from far and near, to the end that when they
were old and gray headed they might have it to say, "When I was a child,
so high, my mother carried me to Loch Ascog side, and there I saw young
Kenric made king of Bute, and it was the lordliest sight that ever was
seen in the island; for Kenric was a true-born king, and the wisest and
noblest of all our rulers, and all who saw him on that great day
foretold that it would be so."
Not long had the people waited when they saw a stately company of
men-at-arms advancing, and at their head rode Kenric, mounted on a white
charger. Not now did he appear in the lowly garments of deerskin or with
ill-strung buskins or tangled hair. He wore a helm of burnished brass,
crested with a pair of golden wings; his well-combed brown hair
fluttered in the breeze. Thrown over his shoulder, and half concealing
his bright shirt of scale mail, was a plaid of silk. There were silver
buckles on his tanned shoes, and below his bare knees his legs were
swathed in fine lawn, cross-gartered with red silk bands.
A great cheer rose in the calm air and echoed and re-echoed far away
among the crags of Loch Striven as Kenric sprang lightly from his steed.
The crowd opened a place for him, crying "All hail to Kenric!" and he
took his stand in their midst at the eastern side of the court. No
farther did he venture, but stood there with bent head and sober,
sunburnt face, resting his left hand upon his sword.
Then when the abbot had spoken a few holy words, Sir Oscar Redmain
raised his voice and told what they had all come for to that place, and
he asked the counsellors to name the man whom they would choose for
"Kenric, son of Hamish!" they all cried.
Kenric then stepped forward as though he were unwilling thus to be made
ruler over the people of Bute, for the high honour had come suddenly
upon him and he had never dreamed of being king, but only a faithful
priest of St. Blane's, serving the Lord and His people.
Sir Oscar met him at the foot of the throne, and took from him his great
sword and his dirk.
Then Kenric turned and faced the people, and spoke to them in a loud,
"Men of Bute," said he, "much do I tremble at this great and solemn duty
that you have thrust upon me. I am but a stripling, fitted better to
play upon the hills in boyish sport than to rule over men who are my
elders. If it be that I am indeed to be your king, then do I deem your
choice made only because I am my dear father's son, and not that I have
any virtue or prowess that would befit me for that high office. And now
I ask you, men of Bute, whether you have ever found any fault with the
manner in which the late king, Earl Hamish, ruled this land, and whether
you know of anything deserving blame in myself, that should unfit me to
be your lord and king?"
They replied as with the voice of one man that they knew no fault of any
Then standing upon the Stone of Destiny, Kenric took from the steward a
straight white wand, and the abbot and three friars anointed him king.
At the same time old Dovenald, clothed in a scarlet robe, advanced from
the crowd, and bending low before the throne repeated the catalogue of
When these ceremonies were over, the young king swore upon his sword
that he would continue his vassals in the possession of their lands and
defend their rights with his own life, and do exact justice to all his
"And now," said he, "if there be any amongst you who would dispute my
kingship, let him stand forward and I will prove myself with the sword."
And he threw down his gauntlet from his girdle.
No man stood forth. But an aged woman who was of the crowd let down from
her arms a little child, and the child toddled forward and picked up the
glove and handed it to the king. Kenric, bending his strong back, took
up the child in his arms and kissing its two rosy cheeks, raised the
little one on his shoulder, and carried it back to its grandam.
Then as he did so, many mothers held up their children that these too
might share the honour he had done the first. So Kenric went round
bestowing his kisses and his blessings upon the innocents. And the
fathers and mothers thought well of their young king for this that he
did, for it showed them that he had a tender and loving heart. Then they
cheered him yet again, until their lusty voices grew hoarse.
At length, when all was done, the people went peacefully to their
homesteads, talking of what they had just seen, yet little thinking how
soon the time would arrive when they should owe the lives of their
innocent children to the wisdom and bravery of this boy king.
CHAPTER XIII. THE "WHITE LADY" OF THE MOUNTAIN.
On the second morning after his throning, Kenric, assuming again his
clothes of deerskin, walked over to Kilmory Castle, and there held
counsel with his steward concerning the way in which he was to pay
tribute to his overlord the King of Scots. As a newly-elected king it
was necessary for him to offer homage to King Alexander in person. But
he did not yet know in which of the royal castles his Majesty might be
found, and he had need to cross over to Arran to make inquiries of Sir
Piers de Currie, who, as he knew, had lately had audience with the King.
Sir Oscar Redmain, in giving him his instructions, asked him if his son
Allan might accompany him to Scotland.
"There is no youth in all Bute whom I would rather take with me," said
Kenric, "for I have now no comrade of my own years since my brother
Alpin is no longer alive; and methinks that Allan might well become to
me the true friend that he ever was to Alpin. If he will come with me
even now I will take him across to Castle Ranza, and we may then speak
of our approaching journey."
Allan was then out in the fields, but he was soon found, and the two
lads, armed with bows and dirks, went together down to the bay of St.
Ninian's. Four fishermen there launched a boat for them, and rowing out
under the little island of Inch Marnock, they then hoisted sail and sped
across the Sound of Bute with a fresh western wind.
Not long were they in crossing the channel between Bute and Arran, and
at the northwest of the latter island they steered round into the
beautiful and quiet Loch Ranza. At the head of this inlet of the sea,
and standing out upon a narrow neck of land commanding the bay, was Sir
Piers de Currie's castle. Like many of the smaller fortresses of that
time, the castle of Ranza was built, not of stone, but of heavy oak
timbers of double walls that were filled in between with stones and
turf, and so wondrously strong and thick that fire alone might destroy it.
Landing at a little stone pier, Kenric and Allan went up to the castle
front. Allan blew his hunting horn. The guard ordered the drawbridge to
be lowered, and the two lads entered. They were met at the inner gates
by the Lady Grace de Currie and her five young boys and girls, who
accompanied them into the great drinking hall. Then as they were taking
the hospitality that was offered them, Kenric told of how the three
island kings had come to Bute, and how his father and Alpin had been slain.
Much concerned was the lady of Ranza at all this -- for she had heard
but a fisherman's account of what had befallen the house of Rothesay --
and more than all was she grieved at the late illness of her dear friend
the Lady Adela.
"So now," said Kenric when he had modestly spoken of his kingship, "I
would see your husband, for, as I hear, he has newly been to Scotland,
and can tell me where I may meet King Alexander."
"Sir Piers," said she smiling, "went forth at sunrise with his men, and
is even now upon the mountains in search of sport. I fear he will not be
back ere morning, for you know his habit of wandering for days together
among the hills. So I beg you, my lord Kenric -- and you also, Allan --
rest you here in our castle until Sir Piers returns."
"Yes, Kenric, stay, and I will show you my new bow, and you shall see
how well I can now aim," said little Fergus (the same who in the
aftertime fought so valiantly at Bannockburn).
"No," said Kenric, "I cannot stay, for on the morrow I must even be back
in Bute to take my seat at the assize that has been called, and I would
not willingly neglect the first duty that has fallen to me."
"Why, then," said Allan Redmain, "let us both to the mountains, my lord.
There is no pass or crag in the north of Arran that my foot has not
trod, and it will go hard if we find not Sir Piers in a few hours' time."
Thereupon Kenric and Allan, leaving their four men at the castle, walked
round by the shore side to Glen Catacol, and through a gloomy pass that
led far up into the craggy mountains, where the eagle reigned on high
and the red deer ran wild and free.
Now Allan Redmain was a most venturesome youth. He was taller by a head
than Kenric, strong of limb and surefooted as a mountain goat. Heedless
of the danger into which he was taking his king, he led the way into the
wildest fastnesses of Ben Bharrain, by paths that even the hunted stag
might fear to tread.
In vain did they search for any sign that would bring them to Sir Piers
de Currie and his band of hunters. No sound of rallying horn, no voice
of man reached their ears, but only the drumming cry of the wild grouse
or the short sharp bark of the fox; and when, after much scraping of
bare knees, they scaled the steep mountain's peak and stood upon the
lofty height, where the heather grew crisp and short, they sat down and
let the cool wind blow against their flushed faces. Then with keen eyes
they scanned each crag and fell, searching in gully and glen, in hollow
and on height. But though they saw many herds of deer, yet of huntsmen
they saw no sign.
"Methinks, Allan," said Kenric, "that 'tis but a foolish thing we have
done to come on this fruitless journey. One might wander for a week upon
these barren wastes and yet never encounter those whom we seek. Better
had we remained in Castle Ranza. What say you to our returning?"
"Could we but get a shot at a good stag," said Allan, "our journey might
yet be well repaid."
"And wherefore kill a stag, if we must needs leave his carcase for the
carrion crows? If 'tis practice with your bow you want, why, have we not
that in abundance on our own island?"
"Ah, but to be up here as it were among the very clouds!" said Allan.
"Beats not your heart with quicker joy, Kenric, when you breathe the
keen mountain air -- when your eyes rest upon so vast a stretch of sea
and land as we now behold? I know no pleasure so sweet as this."
"Methinks," said Kenric, "that were Sir Piers de Currie here, and I had
fulfilled my purpose in crossing to Arran, then this joy you speak of
were not greater than my own. But when I go out hunting, Allan, I like
to hunt; when I come over to ask a question of our neighbour, it is not
to my humour to be thus stranded upon a hilltop. So now, if it please
you, we will return to Ranza."
"Nay, I go not from these mountains ere I have once drawn the bow," said
Allan. "'Tis a chance that I do not have too often; and now that we are
so far I would go to yonder gully where but a while ago we saw that vast
herd of deer enter. Come."
"Methinks, Allan Redmain," said Kenric, "that 'tis you who have come
with me to Arran, not I with you, and I beg you to at once return with me."
Allan was about to turn round upon Kenric with an angry word, when
suddenly he minded that the lad was his lord and king.
"Oh, my lord, my lord!" he cried, "pardon me -- I beg you pardon me, for
in truth I had forgotten your kingship. It was wrong in me thus to
oppose my will to yours."
"Nay, Allan, believe me, I would not have you thus regard me at all
times as your master, but rather as your friend. Nevertheless, if my
office is to be remembered, then methinks it is well that we should
search for Sir Piers, and not think of hunting after stags. Now take me
back to Castle Ranza by the nearest way."
Allan then turned and led the way across the eastern shoulder of the
mountain and down a wild ravine towards Glen Catacol. In the bed of the
ravine there coursed a turbulent torrent, swollen by the rains of the
night before. They walked along a narrow goat track from which the rocky
ground sloped sharply downward into the stream. From beyond a turning in
this path they heard the swelling roar of a waterfall.
Scarce had they made this turning, when, above the noise of the
cataract, they heard the yelping of a deer hound. Kenric was now in
advance of his companion, and they were just above the point where the
waterfall turned over into a deep chasm.
"A stag! a stag!" cried Kenric as he promptly took an arrow and fixed it
to his bowstring.
Allan followed his example. Kenric knelt down on one knee and levelled
his arrow. Allan made ready to shoot over Kenric's shoulder. A noble
stag, with wide-spreading antlers of twelve points, seemed almost to be
flying towards them along the narrow path. An arrow was half buried in
his bleeding flank; a pair of shaggy deer hounds were behind in mad pursuit.
"Now!" cried Kenric.
The bowstrings twanged, and the two arrows speeding in their deadly
flight plunged side by side into the stag's broad chest. The noble
animal stumbled, regained his footing, and ran on. Nearer and nearer he
came, panting, moaning, glaring with wild and frightened eyes. To his
right was a steep wall of rock, to his left a fall of thirty feet into
the surging waters below the cataract. At his heels were the dogs, in
front of him the two youths ready with another charge of arrows. There
was no way of escape.
"Lie down, my lord! -- quick, lie down!" cried Allan, firing his dart.
The arrow rattled upon the stag's antlers. The stag bounded forward with
one of the hounds upon his back, then stumbled upon his knees. Kenric
rose and ran to dirk him ere he should have time to regain his feet.
"Comeback, come back!" shouted Allan.
But Kenric, little heeding the danger, or not hearing the cry of warning
amid the roaring of the water, was about to draw his dirk, when the stag
fell over with the weight of the second hound. One of his antler points
caught in the string of Kenric's bow.
Then Allan Redmain saw a sight that filled him with dismay. Kenric,
still holding his bow that was entangled in the stag's horns, lost his
footing; the stag rolled over; and Kenric fell, with his legs astride of
the animal's belly. Then all four -- Kenric, the stag, and the two dogs
-- struggling each with his own purpose, slipped swiftly down the
sloping precipice, and plunged into the deep and surging linn below the
Allan Redmain, alone now upon that narrow path, uttered a loud cry as he
saw his young master disappear through the mist of spray that rose from
below the cataract. Well did he know that even if Earl Kenric had not
been killed, he yet was unable to swim.
Thoughts more dreadful than he had ever known coursed through Allan's
mind at that moment. Kenric the young king, the only hope of Bute,
killed? and he, Allan Redmain, had not saved him!
He looked around for help. In that desolate place what help could he
expect? But he tarried not long to think of how he should act. At the
risk of his own life he was bound to do what he could. Grasping his
longbow in his two hands and using it as a skid, and digging his heels
firmly into the stony ground of the sloping precipice, he went down foot
by foot, now swaying this way and now that as the loose stones slipped
before his feet. Down, down he went until he came at last to the level
top of a steep rock that stood over the brink of the deep linn.
In the eddying water that swirled and boiled as in a cauldron at the
base of the cataract he saw one of the stag hounds struggling, trying
vainly to keep its head above the surface; but nowhere Kenric, nowhere
even the stag. He lay down upon the rock and drew himself to its edge
that he might look below into the water at its base. But the water
rushed past in bubbling sweep, and yet there was no sign.
Then, still in hope that he might yet find the young king, he rose to
his feet and threw himself headlong into the linn. Deep, deep he sank,
and the strong undercurrent tossed about him, seized him in its fearful
grip, and swept him downward in its course. Rising to the surface he
tried with all his strength to swim against the current to the spot
where Kenric had fallen in.
Not long had he thus endeavoured when his strength failed him. He felt
himself being drawn under. It came to be a matter of saving his own life
now -- saving it that he might live to carry the sad news home to
Rothesay. So he turned round with the stream and swam towards a great
flat rock in mid-current. As he neared it a strange sight met his eyes.
On the rock was the dead stag. A stream of crimson blood trickled down
from its broad chest, staining the white rock. Sitting upon the stag,
with folded arms and dripping hair, and eyes fixed in dreamy admiration
upon the tumbling waters of the White Lady Falls, was Kenric the king.
The great cataract curled over the topmost rocks in a smooth brown
volume, turned into pure white foam as it fell and bounded with roaring
noise into the deep chasm below. A cloud of spray rose from the depths,
and where the sunbeams crossed it there was a beautiful arc of light
showing all the colours of the rainbow. Kenric seemed to be lost in
contemplation of the wild scene.
Suddenly he turned his head and looked up the frowning hillside. Above
the noise of the falling water he had heard his name called. He stood
up, and holding on with one hand to the stag's spreading antler, with
the other he shaded his eyes and searched for a sign of Allan Redmain.
The goat track was hidden from his view; but at the spot where he had
first seen the stag running he now saw a party of five men, who, with
their leader, Sir Piers de Currie, were following the trail of the
Kenric then knelt against the dead stag, and, thrusting his fingers into
his mouth, gave a shrill whistle.
At that moment Allan Redmain clambered upon the rock at his side,
emptied his horn of the water that was in it, and blew as lusty a blast
as his enfeebled breath could send forth.
Kenric started back at the sound like one who had seen a ghost, for he
had known nothing of Allan's movements until this moment. But now he
quickly understood what his friend had done for his sake, and he put his
hand upon Allan's shoulder lovingly.
Within a little while the two lads were rescued from their perilous
situation. With the help of the ropes that the men of Ranza had brought
to bind the deer upon their ponies' backs, first Kenric, then the dead
stag, and lastly Allan Redmain, were taken off the rock. The two hounds
were, however, lost.
Saving for a few bruises and scratches, neither Kenric nor Allan had
received much hurt. But this accident, which might have proved so
disastrous to the isle of Bute, bound the Earl Kenric and Allan Redmain
together in a close fellowship, which lasted until they were both
gray-haired old men.
CHAPTER XIV. IN SOLEMN ASSIZE.
On the day that followed that of his adventure among the Arran
mountains, Kenric went to the seat of judgment at Ascog, there in solemn
assize to administer the laws of his dominions. The men of Bute were
peaceful, and the offences and charges that were brought forward on that
day were of no great gravity.
On taking his seat before the twelve wise men, he opened the assize and
called for the first charge, whereupon an odaller from one of the
farmsteads of Ardbeg accused one of the islanders of having made theft
of a young steer. Kenric asked whether the thief had driven the young ox
away or carried it, and explained that the stealing of such prey as
required to be driven was a higher offence than if it were carried off.
A witness then proved that the thief, being a strong man, had bound the
steer's legs with thongs and thrown the animal over his shoulder, and so
made off with it. And being proved guilty, he was made to pay a fine of
Then there came another who charged his enemy with having hunted hares
and wildfowl on lands that were not his own. But the accused man was
held guiltless, for, said the young judge, they had there no tyrannous
forest laws, and every man was free to hunt wheresoever he wished, and
to take what game he might. And again, a fisherman was accused of having
charged two pennies for a basket of fish worth only half that sum; and
Kenric said that the fisherman was poor and hard working, and that he
who bought the fish was over greedy, and the case was dismissed. Next a
poor cattleman of Kingarth came forward, showing a knife wound in his
arm, and saying that another had stabbed him and also struck him in the
mouth, knocking out a tooth; and Kenric ordered that the man's wound
should be measured with a rule, and it was three inches in length and a
half inch in breadth. Then for the length of the wound a fine of
twenty-four pence was imposed upon the wrongdoer, for its breadth six
pennies, and for the tooth twelve other pennies.
Then Kenric asked if there were any further matters to be judged.
"Yes, my lord," said Duncan Graham, entering the circle of the court.
"There is a boon that I your servant would humbly ask."
"And what boon is that?" asked Kenric, already guessing what it might be.
"It is," said Duncan, standing to his full height and growing very red
-- "It is that there lives with Elspeth Blackfell, over at Kilmory, one
whom men name Aasta the Fair, and she is a thrall. The boon I ask is
that you will in your mercy remove from her the yoke of bondage, for she
is a passing worthy maid, and it is no fault of hers, but only her
misfortune that she is a thrall; and, so please you, my lord, I love her
well, and would make her my lawful wife, for a freeman may not wed a
bondmaid and claim her as his own."
"Show me this maiden, that I may speak with her," said Kenric.
And Aasta stood forth, looking very beautiful in a robe of white, and
with her eyes downcast, and her hands clasped before her.
"Tell me your name and history," said the young king.
"My name, my lord, is Aasta, and nothing else," said she. "I am a thrall
to Sir Oscar Redmain, who claimed me as his bondmaid when I was but a
little child, for it was upon his lands that I was found. Whence I came
I cannot tell; but men say that it was with the wild north winds that I
was brought to Bute, from the regions of frost and snow. Of my parentage
I know naught, saving only that Elspeth Blackfell has oft declared that
my parents were of noble station, and that they dwelt in the land of the
"That you are of gentle blood I can well believe," said Kenric softly,
as he regarded her surpassing beauty. "But do you then remember nothing
of your earliest life?"
"All that yet lingers in my mind, my lord, is the memory of my mother,"
said Aasta. "She was wild and unruly as the winter storm, and cruel as
an angry wolf."
"And your father?"
"He was a viking, who, though he loved me passing well, was ever on the
sea, roving and fighting in his great ship."
"Whosoever you be, Aasta, and whencesoever you came," said Kenric, "I
now declare you to be free of your bondage. For the space of a year and
a day you shall remain upon Sir Oscar Redmain's lands as his paid
servant, but not as his thrall, and at the end of that time the Abbot of
St. Blane's shall give you in marriage to the brave man who will then
claim you, and you shall be that man's lawful wedded wife."
Then, when Duncan Graham led the maid away, Kenric asked if there yet
remained any man there present who had any claim to make, or grievance
to be redressed; at which David Blair, a rich farmer of Scalpsie, called
for judgment upon one who had done him a wrong.
"What is your suit?" asked the king.
"It is," said the farmer, "that, ten days since, my watchdog was cruelly
slain. He was the best watchdog in all Bute, and never dared beast of
prey or man of stealth come near my homestead but to his hurt. But,
since my dog has been slain, three gimmer sheep, and two ewe lambs, and
four young goats have been carried off by the wolves. And my good wife
Marjory has lost seven of her best chickens, that have been taken by the
"Who is the man that so cruelly slew your dog?" asked Kenric.
"It was young Allan Redmain of Kilmory, and him do I charge," said the
"Allan Redmain!" exclaimed Kenric, in alarm at the thought of sitting in
judgment upon his own friend.
Then he stirred uneasily in his seat, and bit his lips in trying to see
a way of escape out of his difficulty. He had sworn lasting friendship
for Allan, and remembering the adventure of the day before, when Allan
had risked his life for him, he could not bear the thought of giving
sentence of punishment if it should be proved that Allan was guilty.
Thrown thus betwixt friendship and duty, he sat for many moments in
silent thought, wishing that he was no longer a king who had bound
himself to do justice to all men. But at last he called aloud for Allan
Redmain, and Allan promptly appeared, albeit with lowered head and
"Now, David Blair," said Kenric with tremulous voice, "repeat your
accusation, and woe betide you if in malice you say aught but the holy
"My lord!" said the farmer in surprise. "Am I then to be doubted? And is
my word less to be trusted than that of any other honest man of Bute? I
repeat that it was Allan Redmain who slew my dog out of mere boyish sport."
Allan looked at his accuser with frowning brows.
"Allan Redmain, are you guilty or innocent of this offence?" asked the
"In that I slew the dog, my lord, I am guilty," said Allan. "But in that
the act was not without just cause, I am innocent. It was in the hay
field of Scalpsie, where with a companion I was walking. The dog ran up
to us as it were to attack us. My comrade shook his fist at the dog, and
thereupon it sprang at his throat, and I took out my dirk and slew the
"Brute, say you?" exclaimed the farmer. "My lord, the dog meant no
manner of harm, and it was a cruel thing to kill him so. I am now
without a watchdog, and must I needs suffer my sheep to be devoured by
the wolves because, forsooth, a hot-headed lad would use his knife upon
my poor dumb friend? I ask for redress, and redress I shall have."
"Who was the comrade of whom you speak?" asked Kenric of Allan.
"I refuse to say, my lord," said Allan firmly.
"It was your own brother Alpin who is dead, my lord," said David Blair.
"What! and you would have me punish one who so defended my own brother?"
cried Kenric. "No, David Blair, I cannot do it."
But at that the farmer protested warmly, and declared that he would have
justice done him, and that it was his lord's duty to deal fairly by all
men, notwithstanding that Allan Redmain was the son of the steward. So
there was nothing for it but for Kenric to pronounce the penalty.
"It is an old law, held sacred by custom," he falteringly said, "that if
one slays another man's watchdog, the slayer must himself protect for a
year and a day the unwatched homestead. And he is accountable to the
owner for any scathe that may befall within that period after the
slaying of the dog. This, Allan Redmain, is the penalty you must pay,
and less than this it is not in my power to impose, for law is law, and
I am but its instrument."
Then after the assize was over, Allan went to Kenric and asked him what
was now to be done concerning their projected journey into Scotland, for
that now he was condemned to act for twelve long months as a miserable
watchdog, it was no longer possible for him to leave the island, and be
absent for a night.
The same difficulty had already presented itself to Kenric, who felt
indeed that he would rather have cut off his own hand than pass that
sentence upon his friend. He looked at Allan with pleading eyes.
"Allan," he said, "how can you forgive me for this that I have done? And
how can I now help you out of this miserable dog's work? Methinks that
on the cold frosty nights when you are out there, minding this churlish
farmer's sheep, it will not be easily that I shall lie in my warm bed.
But how to help it, I do not know. Haply the law was made for vagabond
thieves and cattle lifters, but it still is law, and in my place I could
not well evade the judgment."
"Think not that I blame you, my lord," said Allan cheerily. "I am not
the steward's son without knowing somewhat of a judge's difficulties in
punishing his own friends. But, alas! I had set my heart upon being your
attendant on this journey of homage."
"As to that," said Kenric, "you need not concern yourself. I will not
break my promise to take you. As to Blair's flocks and his good wife's
chickens, we can send the lad Lulach to watch them, and I warrant me
they will be safe. So come you over to Rothesay at the time of the flood
tide two days hence, and we will then set sail for Dumbarton."
CHAPTER XV. THE DOMINION OF THE WESTERN ISLES.
When Kenric met Sir Piers de Currie in the wilds of the Arran mountains,
and spoke with that doughty knight of his need of seeing the King of
Scots, he learned to his satisfaction that his expedition would not
carry him farther into the mainland than the castle of Dumbarton.
"It chances well that you are to make this journey so soon," said Sir
Piers, "for, having failed to see his Majesty on my late visit to the
palace of Scone, I heard that he was to come westward to the Clyde in a
few days' time, and if it so please you, we will go to Dumbarton together."
"I will make ready my best galley, then," said Kenric, "and await you in
"Agreed," said the knight, "and it may be also that his Majesty will
wish you to go upon the mission that your father was soon to have
undertaken to Islay and Mull. 'Tis passing unfortunate that you are so
young, Earl Kenric, and so little experienced in the arts of diplomacy
that so marked your good father. But methinks his Majesty will be well
pleased to see you, and to know what manner of man he has now to depend
upon in his future dealings with the Norsemen. Your youth will assuredly
be no disadvantage in the eyes of one who was monarch over all Scotland
at eight years old."
"Think you, Sir Piers, that we shall at last come to a war with these
Norsemen?" asked Allan Redmain.
"Of that I have little doubt, Allan," said Sir Piers. "Methinks the time
is not far distant when the possession of the Western Isles must be
determined at the point of the sword."
This promise of coming strife was by no means unwelcome to Allan
Redmain, for those peaceful and prosperous times gave but few occasions
for the earnest exercise of the sword, though, indeed, the weapons of
the chase were in constant use, and Allan felt the young blood course
through his veins with quickened excitement at the prospect of engaging
in a pitched battle against the valiant vikings of the North.
As to Kenric, the one thing which made him somewhat less eager than
Allan was his knowledge that there was now no immediate hope of meeting
the slayer of his father in a hand-to-hand encounter. The outlawed
Roderic was now far away on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the
vengeance might never be fulfilled. If war should come, and Kenric
himself be slain, then Roderic was the next heir to the lordship of
Bute, and whether King Alexander or King Hakon became the overlord and
monarch, it mattered little, for Roderic would still make claim to his
Earl Hamish of Bute had but a few days before his tragic death been into
Scotland to render account to Alexander the Third concerning his mission
to the King of Norway. That mission had failed in its object. The
letters of Henry of England and His Majesty of Scots had not succeeded
in persuading the Norse monarch to resign his claims to the dominion of
the Western Isles. King Hakon claimed that those lands, from the Lewis
in the north even to the Isle of Man in the south, were his by right of
both conquest and possession, and that each and all of the island kings,
or jarls, were bound in fealty and vassalage to Norway. On the other
hand, King Alexander claimed that he held yet stronger rights of
sovereignty, and that the islands were even by nature intended to be
part of Scotland.
The Western Isles, and more especially that group lying south of the
holy island of Iona, were at this time in a most prosperous condition.
Together with a large tract of country on the northeast of Ireland, they
formed a sort of naval empire, with the open sea as its centre. They
were densely populated. The useful arts were carried to a degree of
perfection unsurpassed in other European countries. The learned Irish
clergy had established their well-built monasteries over all the islands
even before the arrival of the Norse colonists, and great numbers of
Britons, flying hither as an asylum when their own country was ravaged
by the Saxons, had carried with them the remains of science,
manufactures, and wealth introduced by their Roman masters.
The habits of the islanders were piratical -- the natural result of the
possession of ships -- and their conquests extended along the east of
Ireland, the coast of Cumberland, and a large part of the mainland of
Scotland, including the whole county of Caithness.
The Norwegian king, an ambitious and despotic monarch, who had risen to
power from the position of a poor comb maker's son, hoped by the help of
these dependants to invade and conquer the whole of Scotland, and he was
encouraged to the attempt by such self-seeking men as Roderic of Gigha
and Erland of Jura, who made no scruple to enlist themselves in any
cause that gave promise of increased power.
It was natural that the Scots kings, as they increased their strength,
should wish to annex these districts. But the efforts of Somerled of
Argyll in the twelfth century, and of King Alexander the Second in 1249,
had done no more than secure the few islands lying within the shelter of
the Firth of Clyde. Earl John of Islay and many of his neighbours were
now paying homage to both Norway and Scotland. The isle of Gigha, which
had been a possession of Alpin of Bute, had been bestowed at that
chief's death upon his younger son Roderic. But Roderic, as has been
told, had gone over entirely to King Hakon, and had refused to
acknowledge his vassalage to his rightful sovereign of Scotland.
Thus, at the time when young Kenric became the lord of Bate, the whole
of the isles west of the peninsula of Kintyre were in the hands of petty
kings, who, holding lands of both crowns, were still uncertain to whom
they should pay their paramount allegiance.
During the minority of Alexander the Third all efforts to reduce the
isles were abandoned. But now that the king was no longer a boy, he was
resolved to compel all these vassals of Norway to renounce their
allegiance and acknowledge their adherence to the Scottish crown.
On the appointed day Sir Piers de Currie crossed over to Bute. He was a
man of middle age, tall and strong. His gigantic limbs were hard and
stout as the trunk of an oak sapling. He wielded the longest sword and
the heaviest battle-axe in Bute and Arran, and he was the best bowman in
all the lands of the Clyde. His life among the mountains of Arran had
given him a mighty power of endurance, for it was his habit to rove for
many days over the craggy heights of Goatfell, climbing where none else
could climb, slaying deer, spearing salmon, following the wild wolf to
his lair, sleeping on the bare heather, drinking naught save the crystal
water of the mountain burns, and eating the simplest food. His band of
retainers, though scarcely less strong of limb than their master, were
wont to say that their labours were even as those of the mythical
Sigmund, who was condemned to make a new island in the ocean of the
rocks that he clove from the topmost peaks of the Mountain of the Winds.
And yet they loved their master by reason of his strength and power, for
he was the king's nephew in Arran, and would some day be the lord of
that isle and of the great castle of Brodick.
Landing on the shores of St. Ninian's Bay, he strode with great strides
towards Rothesay, and Lulach the herd boy, seeing him, thought him the
most gallant warrior in all the world, and wondered what his business
might be in Bute, and why he should have come over without a train of
It took the knight but a little time to cover the four miles between St.
Ninian's and Rothesay, and on the sloping strand of the bay he found
Earl Kenric busy with his retainers carrying stores down to a great
galley that was moored against a stone pier in the little creek near to
the castle gates.
This ship, which was built in the shipyard of Rothesay, was entirely of
oak and of great dimensions, ornamented with richly-carved dragons
overlaid with beaten gold. It had ten banks of oars, each of the twenty
long oars being rowed by two sturdy islanders. There was also a stout
mast, upon which, when the wind served, a wide-spreading square sail
might be hoisted.
"A gallant bark, by my faith! a gallant bark, Kenric!" said Sir Piers as
he stepped on board and walked towards the high poop. "Would that we had
a dozen such vessels, and manned by as brave a set of islanders as you
have here. Then might we hope to make a bold stand against any sea rover
out of Norway."
"Five other galleys the like of this are now lying at safe anchor in the
bay of Kames," said Kenric; "and had we yet another half dozen, there
are men-at-arms in plenty to man them -- all trained in the use of sword
and longbow, and eager enough, I warrant, to have a fling at Hakon's
"Right glad am I to hear it," said the knight, "for he who is prepared
has half his battle fought.
"Ah, Allan," he added, seeing young Redmain already on board, "I was but
now about to ask if you had not yet come across from Kilmory. Where is
Sir Oscar this morning?"
"Hard at work in the fields," answered Allan. "And he bade me tell you
that should King Alexander commission you on any dangerous enterprise,
there are threescore of fishermen at your service over at Kilmory."
"'Tis well. And now I see you have not forgotten the king's tribute,"
said Sir Piers, as he observed the pair of gerfalcons that Allan was
tending. "Could his Majesty receive a like tribute from other vassals,
methinks there would be need to supply him also with a few score of
herons to fly them against. But the tribute customs are well ordered.
One sends a hart, another a hound, one a heron, and another a hawk. My
lord of Arran's offering is but two dead golden eagles -- and for the
matter of that his Majesty might have all the eagles in Arran, and
welcome, for we have over many of them."
"Stand by your oars, my lads!" cried Kenric, balancing himself upon the
gunwale and stepping aft. "Now, Duncan, heave off the ropes, you
laggard. So. Ready all!"
Then the boatswain, standing by the mast upon the centre gangway running
fore and aft between the two sets of rowers, blew his horn, and the
rowers pushed up their oars at arms' length that the blades might catch
the water, then springing upon the thwarts which they gripped with their
bare feet they threw themselves back with all their weight and strength,
and the ship began to glide through the clear water. And so, springing
up again as before for another pull, the men went to their hard work
with a will, singing a wild Gaelic boat song in measured time with the
strains of Dovenald's harp, and the galley, with ever-increasing speed,
sailed out into the mid-bay. When there was a good way on her the work
at the oars became easier and the song sank down into a subdued crooning
sound that was soothing to hear.
The shipmaster steered them out into the broader sea past Toward Point,
and two hours' good rowing up the firth brought them abreast of the
fortress of Dunoon. When the course was turned eastward the oars were
shipped and the great sail was set to catch the light western breeze,
and then they went speeding up the Clyde to Dumbarton, whose
strong-built castle stood upon a high steep rock on the northern bank of
"Alas!" said Sir Piers de Currie, as he turned his clear gray eyes
towards the battlements, "much do I fear that we are doomed to
disappointment. The King has not arrived! Had it been so we should have
seen the brave flag of the Scottish lion flying upon those towers."
"That were indeed a disappointment," said Allan Redmain regretfully.
"Nevertheless," said Kenric, "we can at least leave the tribute at the
castle, and it may be that the warden can tell us when his Majesty is
In a little time they had landed and mounted to the castle gates, where
the lord warden met them and bade them enter. They gave up their
weapons, and Kenric delivered his two hawks to the falconer. So when the
warden had offered them all drink and food, he asked Sir Piers de Currie
how it was that Earl Hamish of Bute had not accompanied him.
"Alas! he is dead," said the knight, telling of the treachery of Roderic.
"Woe, woe!" cried the old warden with tears in his eyes. "But this is
surely the saddest thing that could have befallen, and a sorry blow for
our country. And this is his son, eh? By the rood, a well-favoured
youth, and a strong. Heaven grant that he prove as good and leal a man
as his father before him!" and he rested his hand on Kenric's shoulder.
"And now, what of his Majesty the King?" asked Sir Piers.
"He comes from Stirling even now," said the warden, "and will be here at
sunset. But 'tis a wearing ride from Stirling to Dumbarton, Sir Piers,
and it may be you will not have audience with his Majesty ere morning.
So bring in your shipmen, my lord of Bute, for methinks there will be
rain tonight, and a cosy chamber in the castle were better lodging than
an open boat. Doubtless, too, our own men-at-arms will welcome your
retainers for the story they have to tell of this sad happening in Bute."
Accordingly the crew of Kenric's ship were brought within the castle,
and with the men of Dumbarton and the bodyguard of the king they formed
a merry company in the guardroom, while Kenric and his two companions
remained as guests of the lord warden.
At the moment when the sun was sinking in the golden west, the King of
Scotland arrived, accompanied by Queen Margaret and their attendants;
but, as the warden had said, there could be no audience that night.
CHAPTER XVI. KENRIC BEFORE KING ALEXANDER.
Before a bright fire in the great audience chamber of Dumbarton Castle
sat King Alexander the Third. By his side stood two youthful pages, one
a lad of sixteen or so, whose delicate complexion and habit of dress
proclaimed him to be English; the other a lad of perhaps the same age,
whose clear blue eyes, flaxen hair, and ruddy cheeks betokened northern
blood. Sitting apart were the King's justiciary and the sheriff of
Dumbarton. At the far end of the hall at either side of the portal stood
two Highlanders, armed with drawn swords.
The king, now at the age of three-and-twenty, was dressed in a long robe
of brown velvet, trimmed with fur. He wore a heavy chain of gold about
his neck, with the device of the thistle resting on his jerkin of purple
silk. The jewelled haft of a dagger was seen in his belt of crimson
leather, and a long sword hung at his left side. His long thin legs were
clothed in tight-fitting hose, and his feet -- which were, perhaps, over
large -- were furnished with warm slippers lined with fur. He sat with
his legs stretched out before him, and with his hands clasped behind his
Presently he yawned, stretched his arms aloft, and stood up, walking to
and fro about the apartment with his thumbs stuck in his belt. In person
he was majestic, and although his figure was too tall and his bones
over-large and ill-covered, yet his limbs were well formed, and he bore
himself gracefully. His countenance was handsome, and it beamed with a
manly and sweet expression, which corresponded with the sincerity of his
Pausing abruptly in his pacing, he addressed the English page.
"We will now see this young lord of Bute," he said. "Go, Edwin, and bid
him enter, and with him our friend Sir Piers de Currie."
Edwin went out. His companion of the flaxen hair fixed his blue eyes
upon the doorway, nervously expectant.
"Ah, my young Harald," said the King in Gaelic. "So, then, you heard the
name of Bute, eh? Are you already weary of courtly life that you so
prick up your ears at the name of an island?"
The youth blushed and looked ashamed, but still furtively watched the
door as it was reopened to admit Earl Kenric. Sir Piers de Currie
entering with him, remained within the doorway until the king should be
ready to receive him.
Kenric was attired in the same fashion as on the day of his throning,
but that he now wore no covering upon his head. He advanced towards the
king, and prostrated himself humbly before him.
"God be your guard, my lord the king," he murmured in that pure English
that his mother had taught him, and raising himself on one knee he took
King Alexander's hand in his own and pressed it to his lips.
"I, your Majesty's humble vassal of Bute," he continued, "Kenric by
name, and son of your Majesty's loyal subject, the late Earl Hamish, do
now come to pay your Majesty dutiful homage for the lands I hold of the
Scottish crown; and on your royal hand I swear to maintain fidelity to
your Majesty as my liege lord and sovereign, and not to enter into any
league with the enemies of Scotland, saving only in the case of unjust
oppression. In token of my loyalty I agree, as the old custom of my
fathers hath ordained, to deliver once every year at the castle of
Dumbarton -- as I have this day delivered -- two well-trained
gerfalcons, and -- and --"
Kenric faltered, for he heard the rustling of a woman's dress very near
him. The young queen had entered.
"Enough," said the king. "And say, now, how does your sweet mother, the
Lady Adela, and how bears she her grief at the sad loss that hath
befallen her? The lord warden of this castle hath already acquainted us
of the treachery of the man Roderic."
"So please you, sire, she is now passing well recovered, and bears her
sorrows most nobly," said Kenric.
"And now," said the King, "how happens it that Roderic of Gigha was
allowed to leave your island alive? Had such a crime as his been
committed within the realms of Scotland it is not thus that the criminal
would have escaped."
"He was duly tried for his ill deeds, your Majesty," said Kenric,
glancing aside at the queen. "He claimed wager of combat with my
brother, whom, alas! he overcame and slew in fair fight. Our steward,
Sir Oscar Redmain, finding him guilty, nevertheless passed sentence of
outlawry upon him -- a sentence which I crave you Majesty to ratify."
"That have we already done," said the King; "and should this villain
again set foot in Scotland, or in any one of the Western Isles, ere his
term of outlawry be duly passed, we shall hold no man guilty who puts
him to the sword -- nay, we shall reward him well. As to the lands of
Gigha they are now forfeit, and the lordship over them, my young Earl
Kenric, shall henceforth be yours."
Then the King drawing his sword touched Kenric on his broad back, saying:
"Earl Kenric, in right of your parentage and in virtue of the future
service which we shall expect of you, we now pronounce you the rightful
lord over the isles of Bute and Gigha, with the title of knight of the
most ancient order of the Thistle."
Sheathing his sword the king then greeted his queen and presented Kenric
to her. This honour so embarrassed the youth that when her Majesty asked
him questions concerning his mother he could scarcely utter a word, but
Daughter of Henry the Third of England, and sister of Prince Edward --
who afterwards gave such trouble to the realm of Scotland -- Queen
Margaret was at this time but one-and-twenty years of age. She was
bright eyed and well featured, with a clear fresh complexion, and her
every movement was of stately grace. She smiled upon Kenric with her
sweet rosy lips, and bade him sit near her and tell her how his mother,
accustomed to the life of the English court, contrived to live happily
in so wild and dull a place as the little island of Bute. But Kenric in
replying noticed only the coronet of pearls that the queen wore in her
glossy hair, the surpassing whiteness of her neck and hands, and the
rich splendour of her purple velvet gown.
Meanwhile the king had received Sir Piers de Currie.
"This young lord of Bute pleases us well, Ranza," said King Alexander,
addressing the knight by the name of his castle; "and we doubt not that
he will prove even as stalwart an adherent as his father, though,
indeed, we had been better pleased had he been somewhat older. Take him
under your care, Ranza, so that he may acquire some of your own skill at
"Methinks, sire," said Sir Piers, "that there is little need of that,
for since the death of Alpin, the lad's brother, there is none whom I
could teach less to than young Kenric. A little more weight and
strength, it may be, might serve him well. God alone can give him those.
But of skill he requires no more than myself."
"Such praise from you is a recommendation that any man in Scotland might
be proud of, Sir Piers," said the King. "But there is one thing more.
Know you if the lad speaks the tongue of these Norse varlets of the isles?"
"Not speaking it myself, your Majesty, I am but a poor one to question
on that matter."
The King then called Kenric to his side, and bade the young page Harald
address him in his native tongue. At this the flaxen-haired lad leapt
towards Kenric with glistening eyes.
"My good friend," said he in Norse, "be not alarmed at what I shall say.
The King knows not a word of our tongue. Tell me, is it to set me free
that you come hither? Do you come from my father?"
"Your father?" said Kenric. "I know not who your father may be. Methinks
you make some strange mistake!"
"Alas!" said the lad, crestfallen, "then am I the most unhappy youth
that ever lived! But stay; you come from Bute. I heard the King say so.
You have come in your ship. I saw when you entered this room that you
were an islander. My friend, I implore you to rescue me from the hands
of these Scots. Take me away from this land, for I am well-nigh dying to
breathe once more the free air of my island home, and to rove again upon
the wide ocean. Say, will you help me to escape?"
"What!" exclaimed Kenric, "even in his Majesty's presence you ask me to
do such a thing? By the rood, but you are passing bold!"
"Enough," said King Alexander, smiling as he signed to the page to retire.
Then he drew Sir Piers and Kenric nearer to him.
"The death of Hamish of Bute," said he, "is a sore calamity. We could
ill spare him. But as concerning the matter of the Western Isles, the
time has come for speedy action, and we must look to you, Sir Piers, and
to you, Earl Kenric, for the help that we now need. We are about to
despatch an expedition to the outer islands, and it may be that the
mission will not be fulfilled without the spilling of blood. It is,
therefore, necessary that you should gather together a goodly number of
brave men and as many ships as may be available. With these you shall
repair to Jura, Islay, Colonsay, Mull, and, indeed, all the isles that
lie south of Morven; and there gather what knowledge may be gained
touching the power held by Hakon of Norway in these districts. My lord
of Ross will in like manner visit the more northern isles. You shall not
want for help, for we will presently send over to Bute some two or three
ships from Galloway and Cowall. As to the rest, we leave it in your
hands, Ranza, who so well understand the situation. Should you, by
forcibly invading the islands of the disaffected kings, succeed in
conquering them, so much the more to your credit. All we ask is that you
draw not the sword ere you have done all that is possible by the
persuasions of the tongue."
Sir Piers bowed and exchanged glances with Kenric.
"Fortunately for our plans," continued the King, "Roderic of Gigha is
now out of our way. He held one of the smallest of the islands, but he
was assuredly the greatest rascal in them all. Had it been otherwise we
should have hesitated to authorize this bold attempt. But there are many
of the island kings who may be very easily won over from their fickle
allegiance to the crown of Norway, while many have already given us
hostages for their loyal behaviour. Of these last is Earl John of Islay
-- one of the most powerful of the island chiefs. We claimed a hostage
from him, and he sent his son Harald -- the youth who has but now been
speaking with you, my lord of Bute. Alas! the lad is a sorry scamp, and
we can do naught with him. He is ever trying to escape, for he has the
heart and spirit of a viking, and naught will please him but to be
roving the seas. Now his father has of late shown a disposition to
abandon all thoughts of King Hakon. He has duly delivered tribute to us.
We would, therefore, have you visit him early, taking the lad with you,
and on his solemnly engaging to maintain his faithful allegiance to
Scotland you will permit his son to land."
"Then this young viking returns with us, your Majesty?" said Kenric.
"Even so," said the King.
At this point the lord warden of the castle entered the chamber and
begged the King to repair to the banqueting hall, where the morning meal
was now ready. So the King signed to Sir Piers and Kenric to follow him.
"So please you, sire," said Kenric, "we have with us a young man of
Bute, one Allan Redmain, who, if I might be so bold as say so, would be
passing well pleased could he have the honour of kissing your Majesty's
"Bid the youth come in to breakfast with us," said Alexander.
And Kenric went out to search for Allan, who had begun to fear that he
would after all miss even a sight of the King.
"Who is this Redmain?" asked Alexander of Sir Piers de Currie.
And at that the knight told of how Allan had dived into the linn of the
White Lady falls to save Earl Kenric's life, and the King, who admired
bravery in whatsoever form it was to be found, greeted Allan so kindly
that the lad remembered that proud occasion all the rest of his days.
At noontide the men of Bute were again on board their galley, and when
Kenric and his companions, together with young Harald of Islay, had come
down from the high rock of the castle, the long oars were set in motion
and the gallant ship swept down the Clyde, making the bay of Rothesay
CHAPTER XVII. HOW ALLAN REDMAIN KEPT WATCH.
Sir Piers de Currie remained that night in the castle of Rothesay,
discussing with Earl Kenric their plans for the coming expedition to the
island kings. But Allan Redmain had to bethink himself of his unwilling
task of acting as watchdog on the lonely farmstead of Scalpsie, for the
judgment passed upon him in lawful assize was one which he dared not
attempt to evade. To Scalpsie, therefore, he wended his steps without
even going homeward to Kilmory to doff the fine attire which he had
assumed for the occasion of his presentation to King Alexander, and
there, drawing his plaid over his shoulders, he paced to and fro in the
dark night -- from the sheepfold to the steadings and from the steadings
back to the sheepfold.
Weary work it was in sooth, and much did he deplore the laws that made
it binding upon one of gentle blood to thus demean himself. He listened
to the mournful sound of the waves on the shore, broken sometimes by the
bleating of a restless sheep in the fold. Soon he began to feel his
eyelids getting very heavy, and he sought about for a soft bed of
heather to lie down upon for a while. As he was about to curl himself up
-- trusting that if any night-prowling beast should come to play havoc
among the farm stock the noise of the sheep and goats would surely
awaken him -- he heard footsteps approaching.
"So, my young watchdog," said the voice of the farmer Blair, "you have
bethought yourself of your charge at last, eh? Well is it for you that
you have not neglected my sheep this night as you did last. No more
shall you send that sleepy-headed lad Lulach to be your proxy, for his
sleeping cost me the life of one of my best ewe lambs. So look you well
to your charge now. Here is a cake of bread to keep you from hunger, and
a flagon of good posset to keep you warm -- 'tis your nightly allowance.
And if it so be that you get drowsy, why, sing yourself a song as do the
shipmen in their night watches. But mind you this, young Kilmory, that
for every beast I lose through the slaying of my dog, your father, Sir
Oscar Redmain, shall pay me another of equal value."
"Look you, David Blair," said Allan warmly, "it is not thus that I will
be your watchdog for many nights. The task, I well know, is but a lawful
judgment upon me for my offence, but you have no manner of right to say
that I shall send no proxy. If it please me to send Lulach, then the lad
shall come, and I will pay him for his work. But to come here myself as
often as you please, that I shall not do."
"If Lulach lose me my sheep he cannot return full value for them," said
Blair, bethinking himself of his own interests, "whereas if they be lost
by your unwatchfulness, then can I duly claim my own from your father."
"Why did you refuse the better dog that my father offered you in place
of the one I slew?" asked Allan.
"Because," said the husbandman with simple pride, "it pleases me better
to know that my homestead is nightly watched by a brave and gallant
man-at-arms, who, I trust, will permit no marauding Norsemen or thieving
wolf to come near me while I lie sleeping."
And so saying he turned away.
"A murrain on you and your cattle," growled Allan.
And then he began to pace his rounds, leaving the cake of bread and the
flagon of posset by the gate of the sheepfold.
Not long had he been thus engaged when the heavy dew made him feel cold,
and he took a good drink of the posset. This mixture of strong wine and
curdled milk made him strangely sleepy, whereupon, defying the law and
David Blair together, he rolled himself up in his plaid and lay down
upon the heather, to think of King Alexander and Queen Margaret and of
battling Norsemen. The sound of the waves breaking upon the beach, and
the sighing of the night wind among the neighbouring fir trees, soon
lulled him into a heavy sleep.
It might be that he had slept full four hours when, feeling something
cold against his cheek, he wakened with a start and sprang to his feet.
There was a sharp yelp as of a frightened dog, and he heard the movement
of footsteps upon the heather. Then the footsteps stopped and he saw the
staring eyes of a wolf glaring at him through the black darkness.
Grasping his sword, Allan bounded off in pursuit. The wolf trotted away
at an easy pace towards the woodland. Then as Allan approached nearer,
off again it sped, leading him deep into a quiet dingle to the east of
Loch Quien. But at each time the animal paused Allan came nearer and
nearer than before, until at last it seemed that he had come within
striking distance of the brute. He had not his bow with him, or he might
have made short work of the wolf. But he did not shrink from a close
As he heard the low snarling growl before him he raised his weapon,
swinging it round to strike. Lightly the wolf sprang aside and the sword
blade whizzed through the air, striking nothing. And ere Allan,
expecting to find the animal lying dead at his feet, could well
understand how he had missed his aim, the wolf had bounded off and was
lost in the darkness.
Then Allan rubbed his drowsy eyes and questioned if he had not been
dreaming. But suddenly from behind him there came through the still air
a strange, weird, human voice that startled him more than the sight of
any wild animal might have done.
"Allan Redmain," it said hurriedly, "is this you?"
"Holy Virgin!" exclaimed Allan, turning round, "who spoke?"
And against the darkness of the tree trunks he again saw two shining
eyes, on a level with his own, and scarce a couple of yards' distance
away from him.
Now, whether it was that those eyes but reflected the wan light of dawn
that was breaking above the eastern hills, or that they did indeed shine
red and green by turns as did the eyes of the wolf, may not be told. But
Allan shrank back at sight of them with a gruesome fear at his heart.
"Hush, hush!" said the voice in a whisper that was scarcely louder than
the sighing of the wind among the trees. "It is I, Aasta of Kilmory."
"Saint Columba help me!" said Allan. "Aasta? Aasta the wolf maiden? What
trick is this you have played me? It is you, then, and no wolf that I
have been following? And I had nearly slain you!"
"Listen, Allan Redmain; and, I beg you, make no noise," said Aasta,
drawing nearer. "Listen if you hear not footsteps on the moor yonder."
Allan held in his breath for a moment, and in the stillness he heard
indeed the pat, pat of a pair of feet hurrying away.
"Well," he said, "I do in truth hear footsteps. But what of that? 'Tis
but the tread of some wild boar or prowling wolf."
"Not so," said Aasta; "they are the footsteps of the fair-haired youth
who came with you in Earl Kenric's ship from Dumbarton."
"Harald of Islay! He?"
"Even so," said Aasta. "Two hours ago he escaped by stealth from the
castle of Rothesay. He is now seeking the means of flying from the
island. I know not wherefore he was brought to Bute; but the manner of
his escaping and his care to avoid being seen were such that I followed
him. I had gone to Rothesay to learn of your return, and to get news for
Elspeth. Setting out for Kilmory I saw this youth steal out by the west
postern, cloaked and armed. Tarry not here; for if it be that the youth
had no right to leave the castle, then he must even be forcibly taken back."
"Even so, Aasta," said Allan, "and much do I commend you for your timely
warning of the lad's escape. Though how by your witchery you brought me
hither I cannot well understand."
"Seek not to learn, then," returned Aasta, leading him forth upon the
open land; "but come ere it be too late to arrest this fugitive."
With no further words the fair maiden led him southward towards the sea
cliffs, skipping over the streamlets that crossed their path, and
passing over wide stretches of barren moorland. And down into every
creek and bay she turned her searching eyes. Suddenly she halted and
drew back a few paces, then crouched upon the ground, bidding Allan do
likewise. Thus she crept to the brink of the cliff that stands frowning
above the bay of Stravannan.
The light of dawn had by this time chased away the shadows of night, and
headlands and rocks stood out clear against the gray sky. Aasta pointed
down to the stony beach below. The tide was at half flood, and lying
above the water's edge was a small fishing boat. Young Harald of Islay
had grasped the boat's gunwale and was pulling and tugging with all his
strength. A few more pulls and the little craft would be launched. Every
effort he made brought it a foot nearer the water.
"Ah, had I but my bow and a good straight arrow!" whispered Allan,
crouching down at Aasta's side.
"Hush! Give me your plaid," said she. "Let him not see you; but go you
down by the farther side of the bay while I take this nearer path. When
you hear me cry as the peewit cries, run as quickly as may be towards
the boat. Methinks by his fair hair that the lad should be of the
Norsemen. Is that so?"
Throwing the plaid about her head and shoulders, Aasta went downward by
the craggy rocks and was soon upon the beach. The boat was already half
in the water. The young Norseman turned with a startled look at hearing
footsteps on the shingle. Aasta walked towards him slowly, bending down
now and again as though she were gathering shellfish. Seeing that it was
only, as he supposed, some harmless fisherwoman, Harald took courage and
"You are abroad betimes, my young master," said she, speaking in the
Norse. "And methinks you have work that ill befits such white hands and
comely apparel as yours. Let me, I pray you, help you to launch your boat."
"Your words, fair damsel," said the youth as he regarded her in
wondering surprise, "surely betoken that you are not of the people of
"And yours, my master, that you are equally foreign to these shores. But
tell me, sir, where go you in your boat?"
"I go hence to Islay," said he, "if so be I may without help adventure
"Methinks," said Aasta, "that it were at least wise in you to have the
help of a pair of oars."
"There is a pair lying at the foot of the cliff there," said the youth,
pointing up the beach.
"Go, then, and bring them," said she, "while I launch your boat; and it
may be that, if you are bound for Islay, I will, if it so please you,
"Sweet damsel," said he, "surely some strange good fortune hath sent you
to my aid!" and at that he ran up the beach to the place where the
fishermen had left their oars.
As he went the cry of a peewit rose in the morning air
In a few moments Allan Redmain was at Aasta's side. She bade him stand
behind her. Harald the hostage, not seeing him, walked back towards the
boat bearing the two oars over his shoulder. Then suddenly Allan
"So, my brave viking, you would escape, eh?" he said, smiling at the
Harald frowning and with flashing eyes laid the oars across the boat's
thwarts, and grasping the gunwale tried to launch her. Aasta, making
pretence to help him, pulled the opposite way and the boat did not move.
Then seeing that he was intercepted the lad promptly whipped out his
dirk and sprang towards Allan with his weapon raised.
Allan stepped aside, yet did not attempt to unsheathe his sword. Harald
followed upon him, but in an instant Aasta had leapt behind him and
flung her plaid in a loop over his head. With a vigorous tug at the two
ends of the garment she pulled him over and he fell upon his back. Allan
seized the dirk that dropped from the lad's hand and threw it aside.
Grasping Harald's two wrists he then turned him over, planting his knee
upon his back.
"Now, Aasta," said Allan calmly, "methinks we had best secure his arms
with my plaid. Give me an end of it that we may twist it; so. Now lace
it well under his arms while I bring it round his legs. There; he will
not readily draw himself out of that noose. I will leave him in your
care until I launch Ronald Gray's boat."
Then, as Allan pushed the little craft into the water, Aasta bent by the
young Norseman's side, running her fingers through his flaxen hair.
"So bold a spirit," said she, "is not oft inclosed in so fair a head.
But ah, my young master, beware how you let that spirit escape. 'Twill
do you no manner of good to have thus avoided the castle of Rothesay,
for there in that castle are dungeons deeper than Loch Ascog, and colder
than the snowy peak of Goatfell."
"Oh, deceitful woman that you are!" muttered the youth, "to tell me that
you were not of the people of this land. Had it not been for you I might
even now have been afloat!"
"Had it not been for me," said Aasta, "you would even now have been
dead, for if I had let you use your dirk as you intended, Allan Redmain,
whose prisoner you now are, would certainly have slain you."
"That would I," said Allan, now bending down and taking hold of the lad
in his strong arms and carrying him to the boat.
"'Tis a long pull round to Rothesay Bay," said Aasta, "and it may be
that you will yet have trouble with your charge. Let me go with you."
Allan, standing knee deep in the water, held out his hand and helped her
into the boat. Then as she sat down he pushed off and sprang on board,
taking the oars.
Some four hours afterwards the boat rounded Bogany Point and entered the
bay of Rothesay. By this time many of the men of the castle, led by
Kenric and Sir Piers de Currie, were scouring the island in search of
the fugitive Harald, and when the boat touched at the little pier it was
as though it were one of the fishing craft returning after a night at
sea. Allan carried his prisoner up to the castle gates, followed by a
crowd of wondering children, and meeting the Lady Adela in the hail he
told her how he had passed his first night as watchdog over at Scalpsie.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE EXPEDITION TO THE ISLAND KINGS.
It was on a day in the month of August, 1262, that the armament of
twelve gallant ships of war, under Sir Piers de Currie and Earl Kenric
of Bute, entered the sound of Kilbrannan on their voyage to the outer
isles. There had passed six weeks of busy preparation, for there were
stores to be got ready and put on board, small boats to be made trim,
timbers to be caulked, sails to be mended, many hundreds of arrows to be
cut, pointed, and feathered, and longbows to be strung, swords and
battle-axes to be forged and sharpened, and bucklers to be stretched.
And now, with all these matters duly completed, the twelve vessels, with
their sails brailed up to the yards, and their long oars moving with
regular stride, crept down the channel between Kintyre and Arran.
Leading them was the great Dragon -- the same that had sailed to
Dumbarton -- commanded by Earl Kenric himself, who stood on the poop
clothed in armour of iron network and with the sword of Somerled at his
side, and wearing his shining brass helm crested with gold wings.
The lion banner of Scotland, woven in silk, fluttered at his bark's
masthead. In his ship's waist, toiling at the heavy oars, were two score
of well-trained retainers, with a reserve of yet another two score and
ten of his sturdy islanders crowded at the prow.
Side by side with the Dragon was the Eagle, the galley of Sir Piers de
Currie, having on board young Harald the hostage; and in their wake
sailed two other ships of Arran and four of Bute, one of Dunoon, and
three of Galloway, and they were the stoutest and tallest ships that had
ever sailed in those deep blue waters.
On the /Kraken/ of Rothesay was Allan Redmain. Right proud was he of his
command, for even until the fifth week he had dreaded that he might not
be of this expedition by reason of his being bound as watcher of the
farmstead of Scalpsie. Night by night, in starlight or rainstorm, he had
duly fulfilled his unwilling charge, albeit he ofttimes slept through
half the night, and it so befell that on each occasion that he had
slept, on the next day thereafter the farmer claimed that he had lost
yet another two or three of his ewe lambs, and Sir Oscar Redmain was
perforce bound to make good the loss.
Now, as time went on this thing happened so often that Allan began to
think strange thoughts, for never but on the first night of his watching
had he seen aught of either wolf or fox. Seeking for a reason, he found
that on those nights that he had slept it was then that he had drunk
deepest of the crafty farmer's strong posset, and he was thereafter wary
of that drink. One night, having thrown the posset away without tasting
it, he made pretence of sleeping, and as he lay there on the heather and
watched with one eye open, behold the wolf came and carried off two
Now it was not by any chance a four-legged wolf that did this thing. The
marauder was indeed none other than the wily farmer himself, who carried
the goats off to another place, there to keep them in secret, with the
many lambs that he had in like manner stolen, until he might, just as
secretly, take them over to Ayr market.
When Allan discovered the trick that had been played upon him he went
straightway to Earl Kenric and told him of it.
"If this be so," said the young king, "then David Blair shall be
severely punished, and you, Allan, shall be freed from this dog's work
at the next assize. But methinks that long ere this you might have
avoided this nightly watching. Know you not of that custom of old time
which holds that an offender against the laws shall be assoiled, or set
free from all penalty, on producing the heads of two wolves that he has
slain? Now, why have you not brought me your wolves' heads?"
"Alas!" said Allan, "I fear me that until the winter time comes there is
but one wolf in all Bute, and that is the werewolf Aasta the Fair. Would
you that I should bring you that damsel's head, my lord?"
"The saints forbid!" said Kenric. "But bide your time and you shall be
set free, and the more speedily since I intend that you shall come with
us on our journey to the isles."
Well, on that same day Earl Kenric went secretly over to the forest of
Toward, in Cowall, with a few chosen men, and in the evening when Allan
was setting forth for Scalpsie he found two great black wolves lying
dead and bloody beside the granary of Kilmory Castle, and he cut off
their heads and carried the same to Rothesay and delivered them to the king.
"Here, my lord, are the heads of two wolves," said he, "that were alive
this morning and now are dead; and I cut off their heads with my own
hands. For this I claim my freedom."
"Right so," said Kenric smiling. "You have well won your freedom, and so
easily, that methinks it might even have been secured four weeks ago and
And now Allan Redmain was made master of the /Kraken/ galley, with four
score of skilful archers under him. And as the vessels sped down
Kilbrannan Sound on this August morning he trod the deck with a proud
firm step that made his long sword rattle in its sheath, and with his
young heart beating quicker in anticipation of the battles that were
By midnight the ships, with all sails set and oars inboard, were abreast
of the Mull of Kintyre, and at sunrise the next morning, beating due
north the voyagers sighted the little isle of Cara, with the higher land
of the larger isle of Gigha rising boldly behind it.
Kenric brought his galley to the shoreward of her consorts, so that
leaning over the bulwarks he might see this land of Gigha that was now
his own. The coast was wild and barren, with black jagged rocks rising
high out of a bed of foaming breakers, but sloping off from the steep
headlands into green upland pastures, striped with glistening streams.
Through a long rock tunnel that pierced the cliffs he could see the
light of the morning sun rays, and the great Atlantic rollers, breaking
in the midst of this tunnel, shot up in a cloud of spray through two
open shafts and roared with thunderous noise.
At the middle of the island, which is but six miles in length, was the
hill of Dunchifil, crowned with a strong fortress.
The ships, sailing up the western shores, came at last into the
harbourage of a calm landlocked bay, whose waters were so crystal clear
that one might see the pebbles and sea urchins at the bottom, many
fathoms deep. So, when the anchors were all down a longboat was launched
from the Dragon, and Kenric, with Sir Piers, Allan Redmain, and one
William MacAlpin, a cousin to the late Earl Hamish, were rowed ashore.
From a castle at the head of the bay there came down an armed Norseman,
followed by a dozen swordsmen.
"Whose are these ships?" said he with a loud voice, "and what men are ye
who have brought them hither?"
"Methinks our banner might tell you that they are the ships of his
Majesty of Scots," said Kenric stepping forward. "As to myself, since
you know me not, my name is Kenric, the son of Hamish. I am the king of
Gigha, and so please you I am come to lay claim to my castles and lands."
At this the Norseman bowed his head.
"God give you joy of them, my lord," said he, and then he drew his sword
and delivered it to his master. "Little care I what king I serve so long
as I have food and drink, with God's good gift of peace. And since our
Earl Roderic went hence to Bute we have daily expected some such
happening as this. I trust, my lord, you will find that I, Olaf Grimm,
have in the meantime taken good care of your lands and subjects."
Then Kenric and his companions went up to the castle and to the fortress
upon the heights, to take formal possession of his little kingdom and to
receive the homage of his people.
"And now," said he to Olaf Grimm, "if there be any in Gigha who have
wrongs to redress or complaint to make to me, let them be called."
But Olaf told him that there were none, for, said he, "since Earl
Roderic has been gone we have known naught but happiness and peace."
"Long may that peace abide," said Kenric. "And now do I leave my
kinsman, William MacAlpin, as my chosen steward and governor over my
lands and as the defender of my people."
Kenric then went on board Sir Piers de Currie's ship, taking a fisherman
of Gigha to act as pilot, and they left the rest of their barks at
anchor in the quiet bay under the care of Allan Redmain.
The Eagle galley then unattended made sail across the wide channel
westward towards Islay, whose high hills could already be seen like blue
mists upon the far-off sea line.
"Now, my young valiant," said Sir Piers to Harald the hostage, who sat
upon the after deck looking wistfully over the tumbling waters, "know
you the colour of your native hills?"
"Well indeed do I know that," said the lad, "and by your course I now
judge that you are indeed taking me home, for which I am most truly
thankful. My sojourn in your country has been little to my taste. Well
will it be for the lord of Bute, ay, and for his Majesty of Scots also,
if I take not a bitter revenge for all that I have suffered at their
hands. But, prithee, turn your ship's head yet more to the southward to
catch the current of Loch Andail, and so gain a few minutes' time. St.
Olaf, how my heart beats at sight of those hills! Ah, how the moments
lag! speed on, speed on!"
"Patience, patience, Harald, you are not landed yet," said the knight.
"And should your good father not choose to agree to our terms, then back
you go to Scotland as speedily as we came."
"Let me but see my father and he will agree," said Harald.
"Let your father agree and he will see you," returned Sir Piers.
"Look you," said the lad with flashing eyes, "if you put me not upon the
shores of Islay in two hours' time, then by the soul of St. Olaf I will
slay every man in your ship. As to the lord of Bute, I will haul him up
by a rope's end to your masthead!"
"So ho!" said Kenric, "methinks, Sir Piers, that this little dog might
now have a chain about his pretty neck. What say you?"
Sir Piers then ordered one of his men to take the lad below and keep
strict guard over him.
Late that afternoon the galley entered the beautiful Loch Andail and
sailed in between ranges of fertile hills, whose lower slopes were gold
with ripening oats and waving barley fields. Islay was at that time one
of the most wealthy and prosperous of the Western Isles, thickly
populated, and famous over all Scotland for the rich produce of its
looms and the beauty of its native pottery wares. It was important to
Alexander that he should win over the complete and undivided adherence
of the powerful ruler of so wealthy a country, and Sir Piers de Currie
well understood the gravity of his mission.
The anchor was dropped in the middle of the loch where it widens above
Bowmore. Sir Piers and Kenric, attended by six armed men, were taken
ashore. A tall husbandman with a long golden beard and sea-blue eyes