Part 3 out of 5
stood upon the rocks where they landed, looking out at their great ship
from under his wide flapping hat.
"Say, my good man," said Sir Piers, addressing him, "say if we may hope
to find my lord the Earl John in his castle of Bowmore?"
"That," said the man smiling as he swung his sickle from side to side,
"must needs depend upon whether I enter that castle before you or behind
you. But doubtless John of Islay will be right well pleased to give you
entertainment this night, for 'tis long since he had news from Scotland,
whence, if I mistake not, you are now come. How fares our sovereign lord
the King -- his Majesty Alexander?"
"Passing well," said Sir Piers, "for 'tis but a few weeks past that I
had speech with him at Dumbarton."
"Ah, then you heard also of my son -- my dear son Harald?" cried Earl
John eagerly. "The saints grant that you bring me no ill news of him!
But come, I beg you, for 'tis ill mannered in me thus to question you
ere you have broken bread."
Then the lord of Islay led his visitors to his castle, and there they
enjoyed a right lordly repast in the banqueting hall. And when the feast
was over Sir Piers de Currie, as ambassador from the King of Scots,
claimed the homage of Earl John, who solemnly swore upon his sword and
by the soul of his Majesty the King that he would be true to his fealty
to Scotland and abjure all allegiance to Hakon of Norway.
"My lord," said Sir Piers, "now that you have given us this assurance of
your faithfulness, it is my pleasure to tell you that your son is on
board our ship and will be at once restored to you. For these are his
In another hour young Harald the hostage was released from the care of
the guards who stood over him. But as the lad left the ship he shook his
closed fist at Kenric and swore an oath of vengeance upon him and upon
all the men of Scotland whom he should ever afterwards meet.
Kenric thought little of this threat, but it was not long ere the
hotheaded young viking put it into execution.
Now so easily had Sir Piers de Currie fared at Islay, and so much did he
pride himself upon the success of his first negotiation, that he thought
surely he would meet with equal favour in the other islands. Returning
to Gigha he ordered a division of his forces. Bidding Kenric proceed
with a squadron of six ships to Colonsay, Coll, and Tiree, he took under
his own command the six other galleys, namely, three of Arran, one of
Dunoon, one of Galloway, and one of Bute, the last being the /Kraken/,
of which Allan Redmain was the master.
With these six galleys Sir Piers, leaving Gigha in advance of Kenric,
sailed for the isles that lie off the mainland of Argyll and Lorne,
agreeing to rejoin Kenric in three weeks' time in the sound of Iona.
The first island Sir Piers went to after leaving Gigha was the isle of
Jura. But there he soon found that Erland the Old was not so easily to
be won over as his neighbour of Islay, for he had already renounced all
allegiance to Scotland and was in open league with the King of Norway.
So when he saw the six ships of the Clyde sailing along his rugged
coasts he mustered all his retainers by the summons of the fiery cross
and gave fight. There was a vigorous battle in the sound of Jura, with
much slaughter on either side. The ship of Dunoon was captured by the
men of Jura, and all on board were brutally slain.
Then Sir Piers de Currie and Allan Redmain with their remaining galleys
sailed yet farther up the strait and landed on the north of Jura and
sacked many villages till the burns ran red with blood. The men of
Galloway fought as wild wolves, and much ado had their leader to stop
them from breaking into the monastery and chapels and plundering them of
the treasures that were therein stored.
In the midst of this bloody work Erland the Old again appeared with his
army of islanders from the south, and at last drove off the invaders,
capturing the galley of Galloway and dealing with her crew as the
gallant men of Dunoon had already been dealt with.
Thus repulsed, Sir Piers drew off and crossed to the mainland, taking
shelter in the loch of Crinan. The good master of Duntroon Castle, who
was for the Scots, gave succour to the wounded men, and supplied
reinforcements to the number of forty retainers.
After five days the four ships sailed off again, taking possession in
the name of the Scots king of the isles of Scarba, Luing, Seil, Kerrera,
and Lismore, besieging many castles and imposing oaths of fealty upon
their lords, and lastly to the great isle of Mull, whose king was a true
Scot and most friendly disposed.
By this time the three weeks were passed, and they sailed round the
south of Mull and anchored in the offing between Staffa and Iona. So
anchored, they waited for Kenric's squadron. But the days went by; the
month of August passed into September, and Kenric did not appear. A
watch was kept both night and day, yet the six ships that were so
anxiously expected came not to the appointed place.
CHAPTER XIX. STORMING AN ISLAND STRONGHOLD.
One morning very early Allan Redmain was on watch. He had had his fill
of fighting, and not few were the wounds he had received of both arrow
and spear. Wrapped in his warm plaid, he paced the deck. The seagulls
flew about the masthead and dipped into the blue water. The mountains of
Mull were shrouded in white mist. Suddenly Allan paused his walk and
looked northward towards the little isle of Staffa. On the sea line he
saw what at first he took to be the Treshnish Islands; but soon these
faint shadows loomed more distinct through the morning mist and took the
shape of ships' sails. Six ships he counted.
"Kenric is safe!" he sighed.
Then ordering one of his small boats to be lowered, he went to tell the
good news to Sir Piers on his galley hard by. But as together they
looked across the sea they counted yet another ship.
"You mistake, Allan," said Sir Piers. "These are not Kenric's ships at
all, but the galleys of my lord of Ross, who has, as you know, been upon
an expedition similar to our own -- to Skye and Lewis."
"Alas!" said Allan. "Then, where can Kenric be?"
"Where indeed?" sighed Sir Piers.
At this moment one of the men of Arran touched his master's arm.
"There is a fishing coracle coming alongside of us, my master," said he,
"with two fishermen in her."
Sir Piers and Allan crossed the deck and saw a small boat bearing
towards them, rowed by a brawny western islander.
"Saint Columba protect us!" cried Allan. "Look but at that man sitting
in the stern! 'Tis none other than Duncan Graham of Rothesay, my lord
Kenric's henchman. Whence comes he? and where is his master?
"Duncan! Duncan!" he called.
Duncan raised his eyes. His face was haggard and wan. His cheeks were
thin, his clothes torn and bloodstained.
Allan threw down a rope's end, and the boat was drawn alongside.
Scarcely able to move his gaunt limbs, Duncan clambered up the galley's
side and fell upon the deck, moaning. From under his ragged plaid he
drew a formidable sword and held it towards Allan without speaking a word.
"The Thirsty Sword!" cried Allan in dread surprise as he took the
weapon. "Alas! Kenric is most surely dead!"
"Not so!" moaned Duncan, lolling out his tongue. "Ah, food, food!"
Then Sir Piers de Currie bent down, and with the help of Allan took up
the giant form of Duncan, and carried him below into the cabin.
For two long hours the man lay without uttering a word. But the warm
wine with which they fed him brought back something of his strength. He
put his hand to his chest to show that he was wounded. Allan Redmain
drew away the garments and revealed a gaping sword wound.
"No; not dead," moaned Duncan. "He yet lives. But oh, my masters, hasten
to his aid, for he is even now a helpless prisoner in the dark dungeon
of Breacacha Castle!"
"A prisoner?" echoed Allan.
"Breacacha?" said Sir Piers. "Where is that castle? In what isle?"
"Over in Coll," said Duncan, pointing westward across the sea.
Then from the ships of the Earl of Ross came the loud call of a clarion
horn. Sir Piers de Currie moved to go on deck.
"Stay, stay, Sir Piers," said Allan Redmain. "Ere You go, give me, I
implore you, the liberty to take two of our ships across to Coll, that I
may save my friend and master and rescue him from out his dungeon."
"Little need have you to ask that, Allan," said the knight. "Would that
I might accompany you! But I am in the hands of my lord of Ross, whose
orders, by the King's instructions, I am now subject to. But ere I
resign my command, let my last directions be to you, Allan. Take two of
our galleys, with what men you will. Rescue our dear young friend even
if need be at the cost of your own life, and God be with you. Farewell!"
Allan Redmain had Duncan carried upon the /Kraken/ galley, and, taking
also the /Seahorse/ of Arran, with a full company of men upon each, he
set out to cross the twenty miles of sea that divide Iona from the
island of Coll; while Sir Piers de Currie repaired on board the flagship
of the Earl of Ross.
"And now, Duncan," said Allan, when his two vessels were well under way,
"take, I beg you, a little more food --"
"No, no," said Duncan, bracing himself up. "I have already taken what
will serve me till I tell you all that has befallen my young master. Not
another bite passes my lips until I have seen him again in life. But,
lest by chance my own life's breath ebb out too soon, let me direct you
to this stronghold wherein the Earl Kenric lies lingering to his death
in bitter hunger. Know, then, that the castle of Breacacha lies at the
southeast of Coll. Could I have got within its strong walls, as you and
your men-at-arms may now do, haply I might have saved him. But I alone
am left of those who followed him ashore, and I could not reach him
without help. The great God be thanked that I have at last found it."
Then Duncan, groaning, threw back his head and closed his eyes.
"Men of Bute," said Allan, returning to his shipmates, "yonder, in that
isle that you see across the waters, our lord Kenric lies perishing of
hunger in a castle dungeon. No more need I say to you, my brave
comrades, for well do I know that there is no man of you who will think
of rest until we have saved him. Speed you, my lads, work well your
oars, and God grant that we be yet in time."
"Kenric! Kenric!" they cried with one voice as they fell to their oars,
and so the ship sped on over the chopping waves, leaving the companion
galley of Arran to follow in the wake.
"Now, Duncan, if so be you have the strength," said Allan, going back to
his cabin, "I would hear what you have yet to tell."
Duncan raised himself on his elbow and began. His tale was told with
feeble, faltering voice, and not until afterwards did Allan hear it in
all its particulars.
Kenric, with his squadron of six galleys, left the little isle of Gigha
ere the galleys of Sir Piers de Currie were well out of sight. Through
the fierce sound of Islay his good ships sailed as with spreading wings,
and the next morning he sighted the isle of Oronsay. Taking the western
coast, he crept up to the more northern isle of Colonsay, and stood off
a little village that had a castle in its midst. Above the gates of this
castle, that was called Dungallan, waved the white falcon banner of the
old Norse vikings. On seeing it, Kenric hoisted the banner of the
Now the position held at this time by both Erland of Jura and Sweyn of
Colonsay -- vassals both of Hakon of Norway -- was shown in the
conversation that was the prelude to the murder of the good Earl Hamish
of Bute. Of the attitude held by these two island kings towards
Scotland, Kenric, however, knew nothing, and though it may be that he
was eager enough to meet Earl Sweyn the Silent in mortal combat, yet he
did not forget the caution of King Alexander against drawing the sword
ere the tongue had done its work. He was loth to show battle, while he
was careful enough not to venture ashore unprepared for a warlike reception.
As Kenric was making ready to land he looked towards the shore, and
there came down some fourscore of the men of Colonsay. Fair-haired sons
of the North they were, all well armed and ready to resist the strangers
with a shower of their swift arrows. Then Kenric knew that there was to
be no chance of a peaceful parley, and he made no more ado but drew his
galleys inshore, and bidding his men crouch down in the shelter of their
bulwarks he assailed the islanders with such volleys of well-directed
arrows that they soon began to retreat towards their stronghold, leaving
several dead and wounded lying upon the beach.
It so chanced that the island was at that time but ill protected, for
Earl Sweyn had gone on a roving cruise upon the seas, leaving a weakened
garrison to defend his people. By what means the remaining islanders had
so promptly prepared themselves for the arrival of the invaders Kenric
did not pause to conjecture, but that they had been warned of his coming
he could not doubt. Had he by chance caught sight of young Harald of
Islay standing apart on the heights the matter had needed no deep
questioning. For that young viking had lost no time in crossing over to
Colonsay, and though the lord of the island was absent he nevertheless
warned the garrison that Kenric of Bute, with a squadron of twelve
galleys, was about to make a raid upon their island, and that it behoved
them to make speedy preparations to resist him.
His landing being now possible, owing to the retreat of the defenders,
Kenric ordered two score of men from each of his ships to take their
arms and follow him ashore. With two hundred and forty men-at-arms he
then landed. His own retainers of Bute formed in a compact body upon the
strand, and led by himself and Duncan Graham they at once marched
towards the castle. But John Dornoch's men of Galloway waited not to
give order to their ranks, neither stayed they for the word of command
from Kenric, but rushed in hot pursuit of the islanders through the
little street of their village.
Now the wild Scots of Galloway, whom Alexander had sent as a
contribution to the forces, were as yet little known to Kenric, and he
was not long in discovering that he might have done far better without
them. They had joined the expedition with minds bent upon pillage and
slaughter. They were by nature a people of wild and ferocious habits, a
fierce and ungovernable set of men who fought half naked, and were wont
to commit acts of untold cruelty upon the inhabitants of the countries
they invaded. Also, as both Sir Piers de Currie and Kenric discovered to
their cost, they were never content but in leading the van in battle.
Ere Kenric and his well-ordered men arrived at the castle the
Gallwegians had already assailed the gate, and in despite of many arrows
that fell about them from the towers and loopholes, they hammered with
great clubs and iron battering bars, clamouring for blood. The gate soon
gave way before the assault of their vigorous blows. Then the
Gallwegians, with cries of triumph, rushed in upon the defending
garrison, followed presently by Kenric and his retainers of Bute. A
guard of some fifty men met them within the fallen gates and boldly
defended their stronghold with swords and pikes. The men of Galloway
leading, mowed them down and passed over their dead bodies, until,
finding no further resistance, they proceeded to their work of plunder.
Kenric, leaving his men with Duncan, and calling but a dozen to follow
him, ascended to the battlements and tore down the Norwegian flag. He
searched about for Earl Sweyn, believing he was in hiding. But neither
Sweyn nor his steward could he find, nor any living man who could tell
him where the lord of Colonsay might be.
His men, ranked in order now without the gates, awaited him, and,
returning, he led them in the direction of the beach. But as he passed
through the little settlement of wooden huts a fearful scene presented
itself. The men of Galloway whom he had left upon their two galleys, had
boldly followed their countrymen ashore, led by their under-captain.
While Kenric, who had himself not yet struck a blow, was within the
castle, these wild men had fallen upon the village. They had burst open
the doors of the cottages and ferociously slain the innocent people.
Every threshold was bespattered with blood. Before Kenric had time to
interfere, or even to realize what had taken place, many of the homes
had been plundered and laid waste.
On a little knoll above the village a band of the Gallwegians had
gathered in a crowd. As Kenric went towards them he heard screams of
terror and of pain. With his buckler on his left arm, and in his hand
the Thirsty Sword that had not yet been used, he led his men onward and
forced his way into the crowd. Three women, who had been with others
escaping to the hills, now lay slain upon the grass, with their
slaughtered infants by their sides. A shock of horror overcame Kenric as
he saw two burly Gallwegians in their wanton fury raise each a small
child upon the point of his spear, and shake the spear until the child,
pierced through the body, fell down to his hands.
"Fiends and dogs!" cried Kenric grasping firmly his sword. "Cowards and
brutes!" and wielding his weapon with a mighty swoop he brought it down
once, twice, upon the miscreants' heads.
"Now!" he cried yet again as he stood with one foot upon the bleeding
head of one of the men he had slain. "Now, you vile dogs! let another of
you touch one of these innocent children that remain and my sword shall
cleave his head in twain."
He looked to some twenty fear-stricken children who with their mothers
stood in a group at his right side.
"Back to your ships, ye brutes!" he continued. "Back this instant!"
"Who, then, are you that you so dare to command my men?" exclaimed John
Dornoch, their captain, as with dripping sword and menacing looks he
stepped forward and confronted Kenric.
"What? And you, the captain of these men, would excuse this spilling of
innocent blood -- this massacre of women and children!" cried Kenric,
flushing crimson with just fury. "Who bade you thus to take the lives of
the helpless? I am your leader here. By the King's own appointment do I
lead you. It is I who will be held accountable for this most wicked
"And now, John Dornoch, I do command you to return to your galleys and
take your band of ruffians with you."
"Men of Galloway!" cried Dornoch, "heed not the mawkish cries of this
upstart stripling. Obey my bidding and spare not, but kill, kill!"
Then Kenric, hearing this, gripped with both hands his ponderous sword,
looked round for a moment to see that his own faithful men were near to
defend the children, and said with loud voice which all could hear:
"Dornoch of Galloway, those men shall not obey your inhuman commands.
Come on! stripling or man, 'tis not such mean cowards as you whom I
would fear. Come on, I say!"
Dornoch advanced with a mocking smile on his lips and raised his sword.
The crowd drew back. He was full ten inches taller than Kenric of Bute,
and the muscles of his broad bare chest were as the roots of a tree that
rise above the ground; as the nether boughs of the fir tree were his
strong and hairy arms. Little cause did he see to shrink from combat
with the youth who thus challenged him.
Their weapons crossed and clashed. It seemed to Kenric that his sword
urged him with a force that he could not disobey. He made a few quick
passes, then with the full strength in his arms and his supple body he
smote his antagonist a terrible blow upon the head, cutting down even to
the collarbone. Then Dornoch fell to the ground and moved no more.
The Gallwegians, seeing the fire that was in Kenric's eyes and
marvelling at his skill and strength, shrank back amazed and cowed.
"Now let one of you fail to obey me and I will serve him as I have
served your captain," cried Kenric with stern menace. "Back to your
galleys with you this instant!"
And the men slunk off, crestfallen and dismayed.
"Right well have you served that hound, my lord," said Duncan, "for he
was indeed a very brute. Fear not that his curs will now disobey you,
and trust in our faithful men of Bute, who will give their lives ere any
further wrong be done. And now methinks 'twere well that we hastened to
the priory, for when we came into the crowd I heard some of these
scoundrels speak of the plunder some of their band are seeking in that
"Infamous dogs!" muttered Kenric. "Oh to think that I should be doomed
to be the leader of men so wicked!"
Leading the way to the priory, which was to the south of the village, he
found that even this sacred edifice had not escaped sacrilege. The
priory grange had been sacked and pillaged. Two of the friars had been
slain whilst defending the villagers who had taken refuge in the
sanctuary, and when Kenric appeared at the head of his troops a band of
the men of Galloway were in the act of setting the chapel in flames; a
heap of straw was piled before the arched door. But just as the flints
were being struck to make a light Duncan Graham fell upon the men,
throwing them aside, and the building was saved.
Many hours did it occupy Kenric ere he could, even in a small way,
appease the wrath of the much-injured islanders and restore to them
their devastated homes. His men of Bute returned to their ships without
so much as a sword wound.
Twelve of the Gallwegians had been slain and many wounded, but even the
most unruly now bowed before the commands of the young lord of Bute, and
went back in submission to their posts.
The isle of Colonsay had been taken; but, saving only at the moment of
landing, there had been no fair fighting, and with such forces behind
him, Kenric might have taken the ill-protected island without the
drawing of a sword.
The wanton massacre of the women and children was a thing which no man
of honour could excuse, and Kenric felt that he had rather have been the
vanquished than the conqueror under such conditions. His grief for those
who had fallen victims to the wild Gallwegians was only partly softened
by the remembrance that he had at least saved their brethren from
Having taken formal possession of the island and gathered his forces
together, he went on board the ships of Galloway. There he severely
rebuked the men for what they had done, and threatened them with
punishment if any should again prove unruly. Then he picked out two
score of those who had been faithful to their posts in remaining on
board instead of rushing after their companions, and these he left,
under trusty officers of his own, with one of the galleys, in charge of
This proceeding, made in the interests of the people of Colonsay, was in
some respects unwise, for by this means the most savage and ungovernable
were now quartered aboard one ship. But Kenric made no doubt that with
his own four galleys and their crews he would have no further trouble.
So indeed it might have been. But in crossing with his five vessels over
the stretch of sea between Colonsay and Tiree he encountered a strong
gale from the southeast. The Gallwegians, being indifferent seamen, fell
off to leeward and lost control of their galley. In the nighttime they
were driven out into the Atlantic beyond Skerryvore. When the storm
abated they drifted northward, landed on many islands in turn, playing
great havoc amongst the children of the old vikings, and so disgracing
their own country Scotland that the Norsemen of the Hebrides vowed
vengeance upon all Scots wheresoever they might encounter them.
CHAPTER XX. ALONE WITH DEATH.
Kenric with his squadron, reduced now to four galleys, voyaged to the
isle of Tiree -- a distance of about fifty miles from Colonsay. There,
without drawing arrow from sheath or sword from scabbard, he prevailed
over the lord of that land to give him surety of his adherence to King
Alexander, and a solemn declaration that he would remain true to his
oaths. And then the barks departed for Coll.
Now young Harald of Islay having warned the people of Colonsay of the
approach of the invaders, bade his men take him at once to the isle of
Coll, whither, as it chanced, Earl Sweyn the Silent had gone, and there
the lad told the same tale of how Kenric of Bute was bent upon making
conquest of the isles, yet breathing no word of how King Alexander had
ordered the expedition. The men of Coll, thus warned, would not brook
that the ships of Bute should touch at their island, so ere Kenric had
yet arrived at Tiree they got their many galleys together, and joining
with the forces of Earl Sweyn they stood off behind the little isle of
Gunna, ready to make an onslaught upon the squadron that Kenric was leading.
"It was night," said Duncan, in telling his story to Allan Redmain --
"It was night when we came abreast of the isle of Coll, and we anchored
in the wide bay of Crossapol. When the day's light fell upon the sea my
lord Kenric came to me, and, said he, 'Duncan, launch me the longboat
with a dozen men, and come with me, for I will now land upon this island
and seek for the king's castle.' So thereupon we landed.
"Not long had we been ashore when from the top of a little hill we saw,
above the next bay, the castle that men call Breacacha. And going down
to it, we were near to its gates when behold there came out a full two
score of armed men, and they fell upon us with swords and spears.
Fourteen men we were against forty, and we fought for two long hours,
until of the men of Bute there were left but three alive, John Campbell
of Glen More, my master, and myself. I was sorely wounded in the chest
and like to fall down from the loss of blood. Of the men of Coll five
remained. Twelve of their comrades my lord Kenric had slain with his
mighty sword, and with little hurt to himself, saving only that his
breath had grown weak.
"But one of our foemen, who was the tallest man my eyes have yet beheld,
at last encountered my master. He smote him a sorry cut upon his arm and
bore down upon him so that he fell as dead. Another man picked up the
Thirsty Sword, as I could see, for his own had just been broken. And
knowing what manner of weapon it was, I made a great effort and slew the
man who was pressing upon me. Then I met him who now held my lord's
sword in his hands. Scarce had he raised it against me when I snatched
my dirk from my side and flung it at his throat, caught his hand, and,
slaying him, rescued my lord's weapon.
"By this time John Campbell had fallen under the hands of the other
three men of Coll, and I alone was left, standing over the body of Earl
Kenric, to defend it against the three warriors who now remained. But as
they came to assail me I fell down in a swoon beside my lord, and they
wist that I was dead.
"Now when my wits returned to me I felt something move at my side, and
then I saw that Earl Kenric was yet alive, and that he had but fallen
from want of breath and strength. Two score and nine brave men lay dead
upon the heather. In their midst, with their backs towards us, sat the
three men of Coll, resting their limbs after that morning's battle.
"My lord Kenric looked about him for his sword, not knowing that it was
lying under my own frail body. I could neither move nor give it to him,
nor could I speak for the fear that the men would turn round and finish us.
"Earl Kenric boldly rose and went behind the men. Ere he was two yards
from them they stood up, and seeing him they spoke. I know not what they
said, for I understand not the Norse tongue, Master Allan, but the tall
man went up to him, leaving his sword upon the heather, and took my lord
up in his arms and carried him away. The two others followed. Then was I
in a great agony of despair, thinking they meant to slay him by some
terrible torture. And I had not strength to save him.
"Not far had they gone when in the morning silence I heard the tinkling
of a stream near by. Thither I crept and took a draught of its cool
water. So much was my strength renewed by that blessed beverage, that I
could have gone through that battle once again if so be I might save
Earl Kenric's life.
"I followed the three men to the castle. They had left the bridge down
and the gates open. But scarcely had I got within when by the sounds I
heard I knew that they were lowering my master into one of their
dungeons. I heard him cry aloud. 'Ah, had I but my sword!' he cried in
our own tongue. And then his voice sounded low down in the depths, and
though I knew he was yet alive and strong, yet I knew also that it was
no easy task to rescue him from that place.
"Ere I reached the chamber wherein the dungeon opened out, the three men
met me. They had left their weapons outside. Grasping my lord's sword
and calling upon Saint Columba, I assailed those three men in such wise
that they soon lay dead at my feet; for they could not pass me. 'Kenric,
my lord Kenric!' I cried aloud. And I heard him answer my name.
"But this uproar of fighting and shouting alarmed the people within the
castle, and thinking full surely that a host of the reserve garrison
were coming to avenge the death of their comrades slain, coward that I
am, I retreated without the gates, leaving my dear master within.
"Now it befell, Master Allan, that, as I had slain those three men who
alone knew where my lord had been imprisoned, and as I had not the wit
to speak with any of those Norse folk, it was little that I could do --"
"You have done well, Duncan, in coming for what aid we now can give,"
said Allan Redmain. "But say, how long time is it since my lord was thus
"Five days as I count," said Duncan, "and had it not been for the thing
that I next discovered he had not been there five hours. When I found
myself outside the castle and with the bridge drawn up, I hied me over
the hill towards the ships. Alas! they were no longer there in the bay
where we had left them. They were standing out to sea, with seven great
Norse galleys and as many fishing boats pursuing them."
"Alas!" said Allan; "and whose ships were those?"
"They were three galleys of Coll and four of Colonsay," said Duncan, "as
I learned three days past when they returned to Breacacha. Our own four
ships of Bute came not within sight again, and I fear they have gone
back to Rothesay."
"Not so," said Allan confidently. "Our men would never return without
truthfully knowing how it had fared with Earl Kenric. But what of the
four galleys of Colonsay?"
"They left for the north two days ago, and the men of Coll went some
into the castle and some to their homes, leaving their ships at anchor
in the shelter of the isle of Gunna."
"And say you that those in the castle know not that our lord is in the
"Even so, for who could tell them? Five days have passed since our fight
in Coll. Like a beast of the field have I lived since then, feeding upon
the wild roots and berries, and waiting that our ships might come back.
But by good fortune I came across the poor fisherman who brought me over
in his boat. He could speak the Gaelic, and with promise of reward I
bade him bring me to the place where Earl Kenric had told me we were to
rejoin Sir Piers de Currie. Had the man refused me I would have slain
him; but now that he has kept his word, I beg you to give him the reward
that is his due."
"That will I do," said Allan, "for well does he deserve it. A good boat
with oars and sails shall be his reward."
By the time that Duncan had told his tale, Allan Redmain's two strong
galleys were abreast of the isle of Coll, and steering into a beauteous
bay that Duncan had told of, they were rowed far in until they stood
under the strong-built fortress of Breacacha.
The garrison had been reinforced by many men from the ships of Coll. But
the men of Bute were desperate, and they said that though they gave
their lives, and though they pulled down every stone and timber of which
that castle was built, they would save their young king. So with their
friends of Arran they landed in a great body with their machines and
battering engines. Some attacked the raised drawbridge with great
missile weapons, while their companions picked off with their arrows the
archers who were on the battlements.
After a two-hours' storming of the gates the men of Bute forced an
entrance and rushed within the castle, led by Allan Redmain. The
defenders took timely refuge in the donjon keep. But Allan sought not to
follow them. With lighted torches he led his men into the dark chambers
that were in the heart of the castle, till at last he found a chamber
whose floor was stained with blood.
"Methinks," said he, "that this should be the place wherein Duncan slew
his three foes with the Earl Kenric's sword;" and then he called loudly
Many times he cried out, but no answer came. Then he bade one of his men
uncoil a rope that he had brought, and Allan, fastening a lighted torch
in his helmet, let himself be lowered into the dungeon whose mouth gaped
in the centre of the floor.
Deep down he went until his feet touched solid ground and he found
himself in a large cavernous chamber. It was a dismal place. The rocky
walls were damp and mouldy; the floor was of hewn stone. There was an
odour as of death in the heavy air.
Holding his torch aloft he peered into the recesses of the dungeon. At
last his eye rested upon what looked like a human form. He started back
in horror as the light fell fuller upon it. Against the wall, crouched
down with his head between his knees, and a few rags of mouldy plaid
about his shoulders, was the grim skeleton of what had once been a
Allan drew back the tattered plaid and saw the bare ribs and fleshless
arms. And could it be that the young hope of Bute, Kenric the good, the
brave, the true, had come to this?
Allan bent down. He was about to touch the ghastly thing. Then the awful
silence of that black tomb was broken by the sound of a low moan. Allan
listened again, but he heard only the drip, drip of water. Then again
came the moaning sound. He turned round and bounded forward. By the
light of his torch, that pierced the darkness, he saw a pale wan face,
with hollow cheeks and round, staring, brown eyes. The lips moved.
"Allan? Allan?" they faintly said.
And then Kenric raised himself on his elbow.
"The great God be thanked!" gasped Allan, and he fell upon his knees at
Kenric spoke not again: he was faint and sore of limb. Allan took off
his plaid and spread it upon the damp, rocky floor. Then he raised
Kenric in his arms, and wrapping him in the plaid carried him to the
bottom of the shaft where hung the rope. Making a sling of his plaid and
securing it to the rope he called to his men to draw up the line, and in
a few minutes Earl Kenric lay in the upper chamber breathing the fresher
Not long was Allan Redmain in following, and in the space of another
hour they had carried Kenric on board the /Kraken/ of Bute.
For six long days and nights no food had passed his lips, and had it not
been that his frame was of uncommon strength he must have died in that
noisome cell. For many days afterwards his mind wandered, his eyes
stared blankly, his voice failed him, and not until two weeks after his
rescue, when he was back again in the castle of Rothesay, did he
Allan Redmain's two galleys were but a few miles outward from the coast
of Coll when they fell in with the four galleys of Bute that Kenric and
Duncan had left. They had been pursued about the seas by the ships of
Sweyn of Colonsay, but having outdistanced him they were now returning
to the island to search for their lost leader. Either alive or dead, he
must, they said, be found. Had it not been for Duncan Graham, who alone,
of all men, knew where Kenric was imprisoned, all search for him must
have been fruitless. On some day long after he might have been
discovered, as Allan had found the starved and forgotten prisoner in
that dungeon, a grim and unrecognizable skeleton.
CHAPTER XXI. HOW KENRIC MADE HIMSELF STRONG.
This expedition against the island kings had been attended with small
enough success. Many of the islands had indeed been invaded and some of
the smaller ones conquered. Several of the kings, wavering between
service of two masters, had quietly yielded to the persuasions of King
Alexander's ambassadors. But it must be said that, despite their seeming
compliance, they were ready to turn the other way again with equal ease,
or even to evade their duties to either monarch and assume the dignity
of independent rulers. In a political sense the result of the expedition
was a failure, the conquests being incomplete, and the compliance of the
less warlike kings being of the very shortest duration.
The misfortunes that had attended Kenric of Bute and Sir Piers de Currie
were due almost entirely to the bad work of the wild men of Galloway,
whose lust for slaughter and pillage, whose wanton plunderings of
churches and slaying of women and children brought down upon the Scots
the hatred of the Norsemen in whose lands these depredations had been made.
It was not long ere the word had travelled far and wide among the
Western Isles that the barbarities committed by the Gallwegians were the
work of young Kenric of Bute. It was said that Kenric of Bute alone had
ordered the massacre of the children of Colonsay. It was said that he
had wantonly ordered similar atrocities in Jura, in Barra, and indeed in
all those isles which the unruly men of Galloway had invaded. Upon
Kenric and his people, therefore, the sons of the vikings swore deadly
vengeance, calling upon their patron saint to aid them.
The Norsemen of the Western Isles lost little time in sending messengers
to Norway, telling how the King of Scots had attempted to force their
allegiance to his crown.
Hakon, the Norwegian king, was roused to anger. He determined to revenge
the injuries offered to his vassals, and at once issued orders for the
assembling of a vast fleet and army, whilst he repaired in person to his
great seaport of Bergen to make ready for an expedition which should not
only restore his vassals to their lands and rights, but which should
also sweep away every kilted Scot from the isles, and convert the great
kingdom of Scotland itself into a dependency of Norway.
These great preparations for war commenced in the autumn of 1262. It was
not until eight months afterwards that they were completed.
When Allan Redmain, with Earl Kenric and Duncan Graham lying ill in his
cabin, rejoined the combined forces of Sir Piers de Currie and the Earl
of Ross, he found these two chiefs on the point of separating. The Earl
of Ross left the sound of Iona and sailed northward again, while Sir
Piers, with the eight galleys of Bute and Arran, bent his course south
to Colonsay, there to pick up the vessel that Kenric had left in guard
over that island. These nine vessels thereupon returned to the Clyde,
and Sir Piers made a journey into Scotland to make his report to the King.
For many weary weeks Kenric remained a helpless invalid in his castle,
tended by his gentle mother and by old Janet the nurse. His wounds were
of small account; but the six days spent in the noisome dungeon of
Breacacha had weakened him and given him a fever, which was slow to
leave him. His mind was strangely disturbed, and he talked wildly, and
at random, fancying he was fighting against countless hosts of pirate
Norsemen, and declaring deliriously that his Thirsty Sword would give
him no rest, so great was its lust for blood. And once when Ailsa
Redmain had come over with Allan from Kilmory, the young king began to
laugh wildly, and to say how he had just been over to Colonsay to
massacre many hundreds of children, and how the good men of Galloway had
tried to stop him, and that for their interference he had thrown them
all into dark dungeons, giving each of them a skeleton for a plaything.
But later, when his reason had returned, Ailsa came more often, and the
two would sit for hours together, talking of the boats that could be
seen from the window sailing on the blue waters of Rothesay Bay, of the
dark hills of Loch Striven beyond, and of the trees across in the forest
of Toward that were brown and gold in the autumn sunlight. Of all his
nurses, Kenric loved best that Ailsa should thus come to him, for she
was as a very gentle and sweet sister, and never did the Gaelic words
sound so musical as when spoken by her rosy lips; never did sunlight
shine more brightly than the light that shone in her beautiful eyes.
So the weeks went on; the autumn passed into winter, and soon all the
land was white with deep snow.
On a cold wintry day Allan Redmain rode over to Rothesay on his shaggy
"My lord," said he to Kenric, who was sitting in the great hall with the
abbot Godfrey Thurstan, "I have a strange thing to tell of an adventure
that befell me yestereve."
"Come, then, to the fire, Allan," said Kenric, "for on these cold days,
when one cannot get out and about, a story is ever welcome. What says
"Even so," said the abbot, rising; "and methinks the sound of Allan's
young voice, whatever his adventure be, will cheer you better than the
croaking of an old man, so I will leave you together, my sons."
Then the two lads sat side by side before the great fire of pine logs,
and each with his arm twined about the neck of one of the deer hounds
that sat beside him.
"And now, Allan, what is your adventure?"
"Why, 'twas a wolf hunt we had, I and some of our men of Kilmory. The
wolves, as you know, have been numerous in the island since the snow and
frost came. We tracked a goodly pack of them into Glen More, and,
running them to a corrie in the hill of Kilbride, we there slew three of
them with our spears. But there was one dog wolf -- a great gray fellow
that we came upon at the head of the glen. He had a patch of white hair
about his neck, and by that I knew that it was the same that had so
frightened the widow Campbell; and being on my pony, I gave chase. He
doubled, and ran south, leading me even to Kilmory. There I lost him.
But I traced his steps in the snow, and where think you they led me?"
"Nay, how could I know?" said Kenric.
"Why, to the cottage door of Elspeth Blackfell.
"There I dismounted, and, pushing open the door, what should I see but
the same wolf lying down at his ease before the fire that burned in the
middle of the room! His long tongue was hanging out, and I could see his
great white teeth. At his side was the old woman's black cat. At the
other side of the fire sat Elspeth herself, calmly eating of a dish of
brose. Even as I stood there, the old witch bent down and laid the dish
before the wolf that he might finish the brose. When I leapt forward
with spear upraised to slay the wolf, Elspeth stepped in between and
roughly bade me put away my weapon. 'For,' said she, 'know you this,
Allan Redmain, that he is not as other wolves, and I would not have you
harm him by any manner of means;' and so I went away, marvelling much."
"Well," said Kenric, "and what make you of this adventure?"
"Why this: that Aasta the wolf maid, who was wont to prowl about in her
wolf's guise only at dead of night, has now taken to her fancies by
"If this be so indeed," said Kenric thoughtfully, never doubting that
the explanation was the truth of the matter, "then I would have you be
very careful in your adventures, Allan. Spare that white-breasted wolf;
for we know not what strange ill would befall you were you to slay Aasta
by mistake. Say naught of this to any man. Duncan Graham, who knows more
than others of Aasta the Fair, shall one day tell us what all this
But for the rest of that winter, no more was heard of the wolf maid's
wanderings, either by day or by night, and when the glad springtime
came, there was no more thought of wolves.
In that springtime Earl Kenric, now well able to get about, busied
himself upon his farm lands, and did all manner of hard and manly toil,
so that by healthy exercise of his limbs he might regain his strength.
In the early mornings he would sally out to the fields of Ardbeg, and
there with the ponderous plough of those times, that was drawn by twelve
shaggy, long-horned oxen -- each with a wreath of rowan leaves round its
neck as a charm against the spells of witchcraft -- he would plough the
stubborn ground for many hours together until the sweat bedewed his
brow. And from the fields he would perhaps walk over to Ascog to sit in
his seat of assize, and there, with the clods of earth yet upon his feet
and his arms yet tingling from their work at the heavy plough, he would
administer the simple laws before his people. Also he would often engage
with Duncan his henchman -- now recovered from his wounds -- in the
exercise of arms, or with Allan Redmain sail over to Arran to have a
day's hunting among the fells. Every morning before he broke fast he was
wont to undertake a curious exercise, which was that he took a young
bull calf over his shoulders and carried it to the top of the hill of
Barone; and each day as the calf grew older, so did its weight increase,
and the burden become greater to bear. Thus did Kenric make himself
strong, until, at the end of that summer of 1263, there was no man in
all Bute who could excel him in the use of arms or overcome him in feats
of bodily exercise.
Meanwhile, unknown as yet to the people of Bute, King Hakon of Norway
had been busily preparing his forces for the projected invasion of
Scotland. The extent of these preparations soon spread alarm even on the
coasts of England. It was said that an overwhelming fleet of ships had
bent their course against the Scottish islands, and the final
destination of so vast an armament was conjectured with consternation.
It was on the 7th of July that the fleet set sail from Herlover. King
Hakon commanded in person. His flagship was of great dimensions, having
seven-and-twenty banks of oars. Countless banners, pennons, and
gonfalons flaunted in the breeze from the masts and riggings of his many
galleys. The decks were crowded with knights and soldiers, whose armour
glittered in the sun. It was the most powerful and splendid armament
that had ever set out from the fords of Scandinavia, and it bore proudly
away with a light wind for Shetland and Orkney, where additional forces
enlisted under the Norse banner.
Bearing down among the Western Isles, levying contribution of men and
stores from all the chiefs who owed him tribute, Hakon was joined at the
isle of Skye by the forces of Magnus, king of the island of Man. The
combined fleet now amounted to a hundred and sixty dragon ships, with
over twenty thousand fighting men.
Now, on the ship of King Magnus of Man there was a mighty warrior, whom
men called Rudri, and he was the most terrible pirate that ever roved
upon the western seas, and all men feared him. There was not a vic or
sound that he had not sailed into, nor an island upon which he had not
drawn his sword.
He was the one man in all that host who could best instruct the Norse
king concerning the invasion. So, taking many ships with him, Rudri went
among the island earls and compelled them one and all to remember their
duty, and to follow under the banner of their Norse master. Many of
those who had taken oaths of loyalty before King Alexander's ambassadors
demurred. But the power of the King of Scots was remote, the vengeance
of piratical warfare was near at hand, and the islanders submitted,
agreeing to pay fine of so many hundred head of cattle as punishment for
their former desertion of Norway. And so, like an avalanche that gathers
added weight as it descends, the invading forces drew rearer and nearer
to their goal.
CHAPTER XXII. THE TWO SPIES.
On a certain morning in September, Aasta the Fair sat crouched at the
door of the little cot wherein she dwelt. She was grinding oats in a
small stone hand mill. Old Elspeth sat within doors spinning.
Presently Aasta raised her eyes and looked over towards the little isle
of Inch Marnock, where on the green knolls some sheep were grazing. In
the narrow channel that separates Inch Marnock from Bute she saw a tiny
coracle with a man on board. The little boat drew to the beach of St.
Ninian's Bay, where the man stepped out and began to run. Staggering in
his gait, he fell; then rose again and again fell. Aasta, leaving her
work, ran down towards the man, and when she got near him she saw that
his clothes were torn, and his limbs bleeding from many wounds. He was
lying on his back, groaning. She looked into his white face and saw that
it was the face of the man whom Earl Kenric had left in Gigha as his
steward and governor.
"What means all this, William MacAlpin?" asked Aasta, kneeling by his
side; "and wherefore come you back to Bute thus covered with bleeding
The man pointed westward, and with his dying breath said:
"Run you to Castle Rothesay, I beseech you; run and tell my lord Kenric
that the Norsemen with their hosts have landed on Gigha, and have
wrested the island from us. They tried to torture me to death, but I
escaped to tell my master of this calamity --"
Then Aasta questioned him; but her words fell upon the ears of the dead;
so she arose.
The swift-footed hart runs not more swiftly than Aasta ran that day
across Bute. She found Kenric lounging on the little pier and throwing
pebbles one by one into the green water. Near him were some fishermen
unloading their herring boat.
"My lord," said she, scarcely showing by her easy breathing that she had
run the distance of four miles -- "my lord, I have ill news to tell."
Kenric looked round at the tall fair maiden. She was radiant with the
beauty of strength. Her long red hair streamed in the breeze, and her
rosy cheeks glowed with the healthy blood that coursed under her smooth
clear skin. Her eyes were limpid as the summer sky.
"What news may that be, Aasta?" asked the young king.
"It is," said she, "that your isle of Gigha has been invaded and
conquered by the Norsemen, and that your kinsman William MacAlpin has
but now given up his life in telling me the tale."
Kenric stood in troubled thought, a cloud upon his brow.
"Where is Lulach?" he presently asked.
"Over at Inch Marnock," she said, "and ill with his foot that he hurt in
climbing the rocks two days since. He cannot walk but with pain, or I
might have sent him to you."
"That is most unfortunate," said Kenric, "for saving Lulach and myself
there is none in the island who can speak the Norse tongue. I would have
sent him to Gigha to learn the truth of this you tell, and to discover
if there be further danger."
"You forget, my lord, that it was I who taught Lulach the Norse tongue,"
said Aasta. "And cannot I do this mission as well as he? Give me your
bidding, my lord, and though I die in fulfilling it, yet will I deem my
life a small sacrifice if it be that I can serve you."
Then Kenric's eyes lighted up, and he looked admiringly upon the
"Aasta," said he, "I will take your service, and I will even go with you
to Gigha this very day. Meet me at St. Ninian's two hours before sunset.
Have ready a fishing coracle with some fish, and dress you as a fisher
maid. These are my orders. Go."
At sunset that evening a little boat, paddled by a stalwart young man in
the rough habit of a fisher, was crossing the waters of Loch Fyne.
He was singing a plaintive Gaelic song, and a fair maid, whose deep red
hair was covered by a coarse blue cloak, joined in the wild strain with
notes that were as the sweet song of the night bird of the far south.
The youth was Earl Kenric of Bute; the maiden was Aasta the Fair.
Crossing from Ardlamont Point, they crept up the opposite shores of
Kintyre until they came to a wide bay upon whose banks lies the little
fishing village of Tarbert. In the growing darkness Kenric paddled the
boat inward to the extreme end of this bay. Had he been in less hurry he
might have reached the isle of Gigha by taking a larger craft and
sailing down Kilbrannan Sound and so round the Mull of Kintyre, by the
way he had gone with the galleys. But he now adopted a speedier way and
a much safer one. The great peninsula of Kintyre, which at the north
joins to Knapdale, forms at Tarbert a narrow isthmus of but a mile
broad. Landing at the head of Tarbert Bay, Kenric bade Aasta carry the
paddles and her basket of fish, and himself taking up the little boat in
his two strong arms and raising it upon his back, he thus crossed the
mile of dry land. The boat was but a light one, built of pine ribs and
covered with hide, and his task was less difficult than it might seem.
In half-an-hour's time the two had arrived at another sheet of water
which is called Loch Tarbert, and here launching the coracle again, they
seated themselves and sailed down the narrow loch. It was now well upon
midnight, and there was no moon; but there was little danger to be
feared, unless, indeed, some of the Norse outposts might surprise them.
Kenric spoke little, for, in truth, he was yet doubtful of his
companion, who might, he imagined, at any moment turn herself into the
form of a wolf. But Aasta was very calm, and there was small need to
doubt her, for Earl Kenric had done her a great service in setting her
free from her thralldom, and she would have given her life for him at
When at last they emerged from the loch where it enters the open sea
they paused a while by the shore to eat their bread cakes and drink the
milk that Aasta had brought. They sat face to face. Once Kenric thought
he saw the maid's eyes sparkle with a green flash of light and he drew
back, though in sooth it was but the reflection of the planet Venus,
shining in the clear mirror of her eyes.
The gentle rippling of the water against the boat alone disturbed the
stillness. In that stillness Kenric looked fixedly at Aasta through the
dim light. Aasta sank upon her knees, and obeying an impulse that was
upon her she took his hands in her own and touched them with her warm lips.
Kenric felt a strange thrill of pity for this beautiful girl, so lonely
was she, and so much despised of men, and in that moment he bent down
and kissed her head. And at that the maid began to weep, and her hot
tears fell upon his hands.
Neither spoke, but each felt that a new bond of sympathy had been formed
between them. Presently Aasta rose to her seat, and Kenric took his
paddle and drove the boat along into the deeper water.
Down the west coast of Kintyre they sailed until, out across the sea,
they saw the light of a beacon fire shoot up upon the heights of Gigha.
Outward then they steered until they came nigh upon the rocky shores of
that island; and passing many little islets, they sailed between Gigha
and the brownie-haunted island of Cara, just as the day was breaking in
Here Aasta looked about her with strange bewilderment as though she were
awaking from a dream. Kenric brought the boat inshore and took it
through the long rock tunnel that he had seen many months before from
the deck of his galley. The water was calm now and the tide high.
Aasta looked down into the clear depths where the long tangle of marine
plants swayed with the motion of the light current. Upon the rocky bed
below she saw many ruby-coloured sea anemones, with emerald mosses, and
pearly shells, and silver-scaled fish. From the water she looked to the
vaulted roof. Her eyes were restless with strange wonderment.
"My lord," she said at last, "what place is this that you have brought
me to? And why seem these rocks so familiar to mine eyes? This clear
green water -- the lofty vault of this cave, where the voice echoes in
merry laughter! 'Tis passing strange! Methinks I must have seen them in
some childish dream!"
But Kenric at that moment felt the boat grinding upon a sunken rock, and
Aasta's question passed his notice.
Beyond the tunnel they searched for a safe landing place in one of the
little bays. Aasta pointed to a high cliff that had many caverns
hollowed out in its steep front, and she bade him steer into one of
those caves. Kenric laughed and asked how she thought they could ever
arrive upon the heights by that way. But when she suddenly put her
finger to her lips, in token that she had heard voices upon the cliff,
Kenric obeyed her and took the boat into the yawning cavern.
When they were far within Aasta said: "Heard you not voices up above us,
my lord -- the voices of many men?"
"Even so," said Kenric. "But methinks it will go ill with us here if we
be discovered by some passing boat. We should then be entrapped."
"Not so," said she. "Follow me and you shall see that we have chosen a
better point of landing than you could have hoped for."
And stepping upon the rocks at the far end of the cave she led him up a
flight of rocky steps until suddenly they saw the light of day. At once
they emerged into a wide ravine that clove the cliffs and led upward to
the grassy heights of the island. Then Aasta drew back and held Kenric
so that he might go no farther, and she pointed across the ravine where
a dip in the opposite headland revealed a wide and sheltered bay.
"Look, my lord," she whispered.
Kenric saw an unexpected sight, for in the waters of that bay there lay
at anchor a hundred and fifty ships of war with the falcon flag of King
Hakon flying at each masthead.
The sight of so vast an armament appalled him. How it happened that
these foreign ships were riding at anchor off his own island was a thing
that passed his comprehension.
Aasta was the first to break the silence of wonderment.
"My lord," said she, "there is more in this than the dying words of your
kinsman William foretold. And right wise were you to bid me put on this
fisher maid's disguise. Give me your dirk, Earl Kenric, lest I meet
misfortune, and I will take my creel of fish and offer it for sale among
the people. It may be that in speaking with the islanders I shall hear
that which the mere sight of these ships cannot explain."
Then Kenric returned to the boat, bringing back the basket of fish,
which he gave to Aasta together with his dirk.
"You will trust me, my lord?" she asked.
Kenric smiled. "To the end," said he. "But what is your plan, Aasta?"
"That you remain with the boat, my lord, while I journey to the village,
wherever it may be found. Not long shall I be, and I beg you not to
leave the cave till I return."
Taking the fish creel over her back she went away. Passing up the ravine
and mounting to the heights, she had not gone far when she saw a party
of warriors sitting round a camp fire. She went boldly towards them.
"So please you, my masters," she began in the Norse tongue, "I have
brought you some good fresh fish if so be you would buy them from a poor
"Show us your fish, girl," said one of the men, rising. Then looking
into the basket he added, "What want you for them?"
"Four cakes of bread," said she.
"Good," said the warrior. "Let us have them; for with so many mouths to
fill all food is welcome."
Slowly Aasta took out the fish and laid them on the grass. Yet no man
spoke. She touched the nearest man on the elbow.
"Lend me your knife, my master, that I may gut the fish," said she boldly.
The man took out his knife, and as he handed it to her she saw his face
and recognized Earl Sweyn of Colonsay.
One by one she took up the fish and slowly trimmed them on a flat stone,
waiting in the hope of hearing the warriors speak.
"When holds King Hakon his council?" one presently asked of another.
"Tonight -- on Rudri's return," was the reply.
"Why, here on the heath, after sundown," said another. "'Tis no time for
delay. Bute and Arran have yet to be conquered ere we assail the
mainland of Scotland."
"Ay," said the first speaker, "methinks there will be few Scots left in
Bute for the next moon to smile upon. Bairns, women, and men, they all
Aasta now began to work quicker -- so quickly that in a very few minutes
the fish were all ready for cooking. Then taking her four bread cakes
she slung the basket over her head and sauntered away.
Suddenly she was conscious that someone was following her. Raising her
wicker basket higher she half turned her head. Through the crevices of
the basket she saw a youth with long flaxen hair. It was Harald of
Islay. But soon he turned back, thinking no doubt that he had been
mistaken in his recognition of the girl who had helped Allan Redmain to
After an absence of less than two hours Aasta rejoined Kenric and told
him all she had heard; and for the rest of that day the two remained in
hiding, waiting until night should fall.
At last the dark night came. Kenric and Aasta, the one armed with his
great sword, the other with her dirk, crept from their place of hiding
and stole across the heath towards the campfire, round which a score of
island kings were already gathered, awaiting the coming of King Hakon of
Within a hundred yards of the fire Kenric stopped and beckoned Aasta to
go round the northern side, while he went the opposite way. This they
did that they might discover by which approach they could best reach
within hearing distance of the warriors. And they had arranged that the
one who found a likely place should give signal to the other by means of
the lapwing's cry.
Aasta had not well made the half circle when through the night air she
heard faintly, as it were half a mile away, the cry, "Pee-wit! pee-weet!"
Quickly she returned and followed the way Kenric had gone. Soon she
found herself under a high piece of ground that obscured the firelight.
Then nearer to the fire she heard the cry repeated, and she replied with
the same call. She went towards the fire until she saw Kenric standing
on the top of a high rock, outlined against the glow of light. She knew
him by his fisher's cloak. She saw him lie down flat and creep nearer
and nearer to the edge of the rock.
Suddenly, between her and Kenric, she saw another figure appear and
stealthily follow behind the young king with drawn sword.
Now Aasta had the faculty of being able to see in the darkness almost as
well as in the daylight, and it took but a hurried glance to prove that
he who followed Earl Kenric was none other than the fair-haired Harald.
Like the bird whose cry she had but lately imitated she ran along the
ground, drawing her dirk as she ran, and just at the moment when Harald
of Islay was preparing to smite Kenric a blow that would have killed
him, Aasta threw her hand over the young viking's mouth, dragged him
over, and then plunged her dagger into his heart.
So quickly did this happen that Kenric, intent upon seeing what was
passing around the fire, was quite unconscious that Aasta had saved his
life. And Aasta never afterwards told a living being of the thing that
she had done.
Leaving the body of Harald where it had fallen she followed Kenric yet
nearer to the brink of the rock, until together they lay so near to the
band of Norsemen that they could see their white teeth glisten in the
firelight as they spoke. The fire was built against the rock. The
warriors sat about it in a half circle.
Presently the men all rose to their feet to greet the arrival of the
Norwegian monarch. Kenric could now see faces that had been hidden
before, and amongst them were those of Sweyn of Colonsay, Erland of
Jura, and, to his surprise, even the renegade John of Islay. None of the
others did he know; but there were Magnus king of Man, Sigurd king of
Lewis, John of Kintyre, and Henry the bishop of Orkney, with many more
of the most trusted of King Hakon's vassals.
Then came King Hakon himself, the tall, grim-visaged, despotic old
monarch of the North, who, having reigned for six-and-forty years, had
now determined to win for himself and his descendants the complete
dominion over Scotland.
"And now, oh, noble lords and faithful friends," said he when they were
all seated, "now that we are assured of the adherence of all these outer
isles of Scotland, it remains for us to arrange by what means our
further conquests are to be made. Our right trusty and noble Rudri is
yet away. But on his great help we may confidently rely in whatsoever
course we pursue. This alone does he ask, that the invasion of the isle
of Bute shall be left entirely in his hands. We do therefore order that
Rudri, with five stout ships, shall sail hence in two days' time and
invade that island. Thence, with my lord Magnus of Man, he shall sail up
the Clyde and lay waste whatever lands or castles may come in his path.
Meanwhile Earl Margad shall invade Arran with five other ships. As to
the rest, we shall remain in this isle of Gigha and complete our
preparations for the final conquest of the mainland of Scotland. Say,
now, my noble lords, does our plan meet with your favour?"
"It does, your Majesty!" they all replied.
Then Earl Sweyn the Silent opened his lips and spoke.
"Methinks," said he, "that as to the expedition against Bute, those who
have most suffered by the atrocities committed by the young stripling
lord of that isle should have the power to fulfil their own vengeance
upon him. And I for one, your Majesty, will not rest content unless I be
of those who are to invade his lands. With his own hand young Kenric of
Bute slew a full score of the children of Colonsay, and in just revenge
would I massacre with my own hands the children of Bute. No child shall
escape our swords. We will slay every one, ay, even to the babe at the
breast. We will raze every dwelling to the ground. And even their
churches and their holy men shall not escape!"
On hearing these words Kenric waited not to learn more. He already knew
enough, and his heart beat furiously in dread alarm. For a moment he
felt impelled to take his sword and strike down the man who had last
spoken; but the danger of revealing himself to those warriors was too
great, and touching Aasta on the arm he drew her away.
Together they crept back to the ravine, found their difficult way into
the cave, and regaining their boat returned to Bute by the same way that
they had left it.
At daybreak on the following morning the fiery cross -- the Highlanders'
summons to arms -- was sent round to every dwelling in Bute. Allan
Redmain was despatched to Arran to warn Sir Piers de Currie. Other
boatmen were sent on a like errand to Toward, Dunoon, Largs, and all
other villages and castles upon the banks of the Clyde, while a special
messenger was sent into Scotland to warn King Alexander.
For three days and nights there was not a man in Bute who was not
occupied in some fashion in preparing to meet the expected enemy.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE INVASION OF BUTE.
The awful words that he had heard spoken by Earl Sweyn of Colonsay
impressed Kenric with a terrible fear, and his knowledge of the
overwhelming force of ships and men at the command of the Norse king
assured him that the threatened invasion of Bute was no idle boast. Not
for his own castle of Rothesay did he fear, although he would defend his
fortress to the end. The thought of the terrible vengeance that was
about to fall upon Bute on account of the bad work of the wild Scots of
Galloway was a matter for far graver consideration.
On his return from Gigha he passed many hours pacing the great hall of
his castle, racking his brain to discover a means whereby he might
protect the lives of the women and children who were under his care. He
remembered how, on the day of his throning, those children had stood at
the verge of the court to receive his blessing and to kiss his hand, and
his heart bled at the thought that any of these little ones should be in
At last, after much hard thinking, he put on his sword and ordered his
pony to be bridled. Then he rode south to the abbey of St. Blane's.
Calling to the good abbot he bade him open the chapel and let him enter.
There the young king threw himself down before the altar and fervently
prayed to God for help in his hour of need, asking for the power to save
the children from the wrath of their enemies. And in the quiet of that
holy place God's spirit entered into his heart and he felt strong.
So when he had finished his prayers the abbot, hearing him, said: "My
son, have faith, and our Father will give you His help. And now, tell
me, I beseech you, what means you foresee of saving our people from the
swords of our enemies?"
And Kenric said: "Holy father, it is by your help that I hope to do this
thing. This day will I send into your grange all the meal and flour that
now lie in my granaries at Rothesay, and you shall store it away in
secret places. Ere the sun sets this night every woman and bairn now
alive in Bute shall be brought to the abbey, and they shall live here,
guarded by a band of our best men-at-arms."
"But, my son," objected the abbot, "is not your own castle a far
stronger and safer refuge?"
"It may well be that it is stronger, my father," said Kenric; "but since
it is the first place that our enemies will make for, 'tis not more safe
than the abbey, which would be the last place that Christian men would
"You speak wisely there," said the father; "but still do I doubt your
wisdom in seeking to gather so many women and children together in one
defenceless place. How will it be if our enemies forget the sanctity of
this refuge, and discovering our children assail them all in the mass?
Better it were, methinks, to let each family remain in their own home,
for thus distributed over the island some, if not all, must surely escape."
"Father," said Kenric, "it is not without reason that I propose this
course, and the two years that I passed under the care of the holy
brethren of the abbey gave me some teaching of a practical sort. Wist
you not that under this very chapel there is a strong, large chamber?
And wist you not also that connected with that chamber there is a long
vault running a full four furlongs underground, even unto the inclosed
space that the men of Bute name the Circle of Penance?"
"Even so, my lord," said the abbot; "and now do I well understand your
plan. It is in that underground passage that you would have our helpless
people take refuge. Send me, then, a score of your men to make timely
preparation and I will gladly receive the innocents into my care. God
grant that we may be able to protect them, even at the cost of our own
"Amen," said Kenric, and then he rode away. Taking the green road that
led westward, he stopped at every farmstead and cottage by the way and
there bade all the women, from the aged crone to the young damsel,
repair to the abbey of St. Blane's, taking with them all their children.
Soon he reached Kilmory Castle, where he had counsel with Sir Oscar and
Allan Redmain concerning the protection of their fortress. It was
probable that the enemy would land upon the western side of the island,
but lest they should determine to make their first attack upon Rothesay
it was deemed wise that Sir Oscar and Kenric should each defend his own
castle, and that he who first descried the invaders from afar should
send word of their approach to his neighbour.
Being assured that Kilmory was well guarded, and prepared to offer a
strong resistance, Kenric asked to see Ailsa Redmain. Ailsa was in the
"Ailsa," said he when he had found her, "you have heard of the great
danger that threatens our island?"
"Who is there in all Bute that hath not already heard it, my lord?" said
she. "Ah, would that I were a man that I might be of some service at
"It needs not that you should be a man, Ailsa, to be of very great
service, and I will ask your help. You are no longer a child, and well
do I know what wisdom there is in you. I would trust you in all things
to act wisely."
Then dismounting and standing at her side he told her how the women and
children were to be taken to St. Blane's.
"The Norsemen may arrive," he said, "even before another day be gone,
and passing up Kilbrannan Sound they will doubtless make landing near
your father's castle, where it were most unwise in you to remain. Go,
therefore, to the abbey and make what womanly preparations may be
needful. There will my mother join you. With her and you do I intrust
the children of Bute, so that you may minister to their comforts until
the danger be past. You shall not lack help, but 'tis well that there be
some womanly authority whose word may be held as law in case of need.
And now, Ailsa, since it may be that we shall never meet again in this
world, fare you well!"
Then as he was about to remount he saw the tears gather in the girl's
eyes, and he put his arms about her neck and drew her to him.
"Ailsa," he murmured, "never till this moment did I know how dear you
are to me! But now when death faces me -- when another day may see me
slain -- the thought of you, my playmate, my dear friend, my loved
Ailsa, makes life on earth more precious. God watch between us in our
danger. The holy Mother protect you, and on earth or in Heaven grant
that we may meet again!"
Then holding her near him he touched her white brow with his lips and
left her sadly.
Passing across the meadows of Kilmory he found Lulach the herd boy.
Lulach was in great terror at knowing that the Norsemen were expected,
for though he was himself by blood and nature a Norseman, and was wont
to speak their tongue rather than the Gaelic, yet he looked upon the
Scots as his friends and upon every Norseman as his enemy. He was not
trained in the use of warlike weapons, and it seemed to Kenric that he
would be of little use. But Kenric stationed him upon the heights and
bade him keep constant watch upon the sea, ready to sound the alarm on
the enemy's approach.
Night and day did the lad stand upon those heights overlooking
Kilbrannan Sound, and on the third day he saw appearing a squadron of
six ships with many gay flags flying and the armour of countless
warriors glinting in the sunlight. The largest of the galleys sailed in
advance, bearing the viking's flag, and having an array of knights and
soldiers upon her decks and many archers at her prow.
Lulach ran in terror to Kilmory Castle, and straightway Sir Oscar
Redmain prepared to meet the coming foe.
Lulach was then to have hastened to St. Blane's; but he thought he had
yet time to run down and warn old Elspeth Blackfell, who had steadfastly
refused to take the protection offered her in the chapel vaults, saying
that she had a safe refuge of her own -- though where that refuge was
none sought to know. Lulach followed her down to the little point of
land that juts out into St. Ninian's Bay.
Now it chanced that it was in that same bay that the invaders landed,
and before Lulach could escape, the first ship was close upon the shore.
The first man to spring into the water and wade to land was the great
pirate Rudri. Seeing Elspeth standing near, leaning upon her long staff,
he accosted her.
"What, ho! thou witch of Satan!" he cried in thundering voice. "Speak,
crone, your life is yours if you but tell me truly, by your sooth, the
thing that I shall ask."
"Thou godless man, stand back!" cried Elspeth, seeing him draw his sword
as though to slay her.
"Nay, tell me of your sooth -- for I do believe you are a very witch --
tell me, what shall the issue of this invasion be? Speak, thou vile hag!
lest I release your black soul over soon!"
Elspeth stretched out her shrivelled arms and dropped her staff. Then
she turned to the pirate and answered him. Her voice came hard and
shrill from between her withered lips.
"Since thou wouldst know," she said, "the things that shall be, hear
this, oh Rudri, that he shall be defeated upon whose side the first
blood drop is spilled!"
A heavy silence fell after her words. It was broken by a loud laugh from
the pirate's deep throat.
"Be it as thou wilt," he cried.
But Elspeth in that moment snatched a dagger from her girdle, and
gathering her strength she made a lunge with it at the man's broad
chest. The weapon turned upon the strong armour that he wore, and,
unhurt, he caught her by the wrist, raising his sword.
Now Elspeth had spoken in the Danish, and the chieftain, remembering her
words of prophecy, and, it may be, thinking that she was of the Norse
folk, lowered his weapon and flung the old woman away from him. Then
seeing Lulach limping away, and taking him to be a Scot, he ran after
the lad, eager that the first blood should be that of one born in Bute.
Catching Lulach by the long hair he speedily slew him.
"'Tis done!" said Rudri when he saw that the lad was dead. "And now have
we forestalled our enemies and assured to ourselves the victory.
"On, on, my men!" he cried, turning to his followers. "The first blood
of our enemies hath been spilled! On! on! the victory is sure!"
One by one the ships dropped anchor in the bay, and from each there
poured a vast number of warriors carrying bows and battle-axes, swords
and spears. Behind their leaders, the terrible Rudri and the king of
Man, they marched upward to the castle of Kilmory.
"Spare not!" cried Rudri, flourishing his sword.
"Death to the traitor of Bute, the slayer of our children!" cried Sweyn
"On, on, men of Jura!" croaked Erland the Old.
"Down with the Scots!" thundered Magnus of Man.
From the topmost towers of his castle Sir Oscar Redmain watched the
hosts advance. Nearer and yet nearer they came.
"Steady, my lads, and take good aim," he said coolly as he fixed an
arrow to his bowstring. "Now!" he cried, and as the enemy came within
bow shot a shower of well-aimed arrows met them, and many men fell. The
shields of their companions bristled with the arrows whose flight they
had stopped. But the long-haired warriors pressed on to the castle
gates, behind which stood Allan Redmain with half the garrison at his back.
From the hilltop of Barone, Aasta the Fair had watched the ships
approaching from afar, and at the moment of first seeing them she
clashed a flint and steel and promptly lighted a bundle of dry twigs and
straw. The signal fire was seen from Rothesay, and at once Earl Kenric,
at the head of five score of men, marched across the island towards
Kilmory. But so quickly had the invaders landed, so speedily had they
stormed the stronghold, that ere Kenric and his followers appeared upon
the heights, the castle of Kilmory was in flames.
The Norsemen, taking their machines to the rear, had stormed the
building at its weakest point. The heavy missiles from their shot wagons
soon succeeded in making a breach. Then a detachment of Rudri's men
brought sheaves of new-cut corn and bundles of hay from the stackyard,
and flinging them within the breach set them in flames. The stout walls
of oak very soon caught fire, and Sir Oscar Redmain and his archers on
the towers speedily found themselves inclosed in clouds of smoke. Their
cries as they ran down the inner stairs and discovered the awful fate
that awaited them were terrible to hear.
From the rear of the castle the Norsemen brought round their machines to
the gates, and with their heavy battering rams they burst in the strong
doors. Some of Allan Redmain's men rushed out, only to be cut down by
the warriors who awaited them. Twice did Allan call to his guards to
follow him and cut their way through the barrier of swords and spears,
and twice were they driven back into the burning castle. A third attempt
was made. Allan valiantly encountered his foes, who now gave way, for at
that moment they were attacked in their rear by the men of Rothesay.
In the ranks of the Norsemen, Kenric espied Earl Sweyn of Colonsay.
"Traitor! slayer of my people's children!" cried Sweyn, pressing
forward. "Let me at you that I may smite you to the earth!"
Kenric stood on guard. Sweyn raised his heavy battle-axe; but, before he
could strike, Kenric so wounded him on the shoulder that he dropped his
weapon. Then a crowd of men pressing in between, separated them.
For an hour's time the skirmish continued, Kenric and Allan Redmain
fighting side by side. But meanwhile the Norse leader, Rudri, had called
off the larger number of his men to the ships, leaving but a few score
behind under Sweyn of Colonsay and another.
In the thick of the fight Duncan Graham sought his master's side.
"Back, back, my lord!" he cried, "Back to the castle of Rothesay! The
ships have already left the bay. In two hours' time they will be round
Kenric then rallied his men and charged his foes most vigorously, and
those who were not cut down took to flight. Earl Sweyn, retreating
towards the hill of Quien with two score of his followers took ambush
until the men of Rothesay had left Kilmory. Then, full of angry
vengeance and intent upon slaughter, he led his small troop northward.
Every cottage and farmstead that he could find he entered. But not in
one of them did he discover man, woman, or child. The men were all under
arms. The women and children were all in the safe refuge of the vaults
of St. Blane's.
Allan Redmain, finding that it was vain to attempt to save his father's
castle, remained for a time upon the scene of ruin and devastation. His
father, Sir Oscar, had been slain by an arrow, and his body was devoured
by the flames. When Allan had tended the wounded, both foes and friends,
he took six of his best men-at-arms with him, and by devious ways
marched south to St. Blane's, there to remain on guard with three
hundred others, whom Kenric had stationed at various points in the
vicinity of the abbey.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE SIEGE OF ROTHESAY CASTLE.
With the loss of twelve men slain and twenty wounded in the skirmish at
Kilmory, Kenric returned to his castle, and there completed his
preparations to resist the invaders. He had drawn off his ships. Three
of them were anchored in Dunagoil Bay, with many fishermen and
husbandmen -- untrained in battle -- ready at hand in case Allan Redmain
required them. A thousand men-at-arms were within the castle, while a
band of the best archers were stationed on the battlements. Along the
shoreline from Rothesay to Ardbeg five hundred archers were in ambush,
and beyond Ardbeg, in the bay of Kames, lay four galleys of war, well
equipped -- ready to dash out upon the enemy as they passed, and, if
possible, frustrate the landing of their forces.
The castle of Rothesay was so situated that it commanded a long view of
the waters through which the enemy's ships must approach from the north
of the island. The fortress, which was constructed of stone, had been
built in the year 1098 by Magnus Barelegs, king of Norway, who lived in
Bute for three years. It was a circular building, 150 feet in diameter.
The walls were nine feet thick and forty feet high, flanked by four
round towers. As a fortification it was ill designed, even upon ancient
principles. Though stronger than any other in all the Western Isles, it
had neither moat nor drawbridge. Even the gate, though it was of strong
oak, lined with iron bars, was ill protected. It was neither flanked nor
machicolated, and it might have been mined or assaulted at any point.
The enemy could approach under the walls without fear of being annoyed
by showers of boiling lead or tar, and, if they kept close in, neither
could arrows reach them with any certain aim.
But on the castle's heights there had been collected many tons weight of
missile weapons, with machines for throwing them. One of these machines
was a Norse skotvagn or shooting truck. It was made like a wagon,
mounted on a pair of wheels. At its back end was a long shaft with an
open box at its extremity. This box had to be loaded with heavy stones.
Fixed to the axle of the wagon were two chains, one at either side, so
strong as to be able to suddenly check and hold the carriage when it was
running full tilt down a planked incline. As soon as the chains arrested
its race, it would shoot out its load on those below. It was always best
to load it with stones of different sizes.
Kenric was engaged in giving a last attention to this shot truck, when,
from the heights of the battlements, he saw the figure of Aasta the Fair
running towards the castle from the northward. It vexed him much to see
the wild girl thus exposed to the dangers that might soon overtake her,
and he bade Dovenald, the old bard, go down and unfasten the postern
that she might enter. Duncan Graham had already been sent south to the
"How happens it, Aasta, that you went not to St. Blane's as you were
advised?" Kenric asked, when he met her in one of the lower corridors.
"My lord," said she, "I went but to the hill of Kilbride to watch the
ships in their passage through the Kyles, and I judge that they will be
here in the space of another hour. As I came backward through Glen More
I saw a band of men with Sweyn of Colonsay ravaging the farmsteads and
setting them in flames. Twelve cottages did I pass that had been razed
to the ground. The saints be praised, all our people are safe! But oh,
my lord, Lulach, Lulach is slain! He was the first to fall."
"Yes, and more. Know ye who slew him? It was even the man of whom we
heard speech in Gigha, Rudri the Rover."
"Since Lulach is dead, what boots it who slew him, Aasta? 'Tis but the
misfortune of war," said Kenric, turning away.
"Wait, my lord," said she, holding him back. "Methinks you do not know
this Rudri. But Elspeth Blackfell took little time to discover that
much. The man Rudri is none other than he who so basely slew your father
and overcame my lord Alpin in combat. Rudri the Rover is none other than
Kenric drew back amazed. "Roderic MacAlpin!" he exclaimed. "The saints
protect us! Ah, simpleton that I have been to have faith that that
villain ever meant to keep to his vows! And this is how he went on the
pilgrimage! and all these months, while we have fondly believed that he
was serving the Cross, he has but been serving his own ambitious ends!
It was he, then, who led the Norsemen to Gigha! It was he who besought
King Hakon to let him make the invasion of Bute, that he might murder
our children and lay waste our lands -- that he might claim the dominion
he covets! But by my father's soul he shall yet fail!"
Then Kenric unsheathed his sword, and solemnly swore upon the cross of
its hilt that never should that weapon leave him until either himself or
Roderic the Outlaw lay dead.
The story of Roderic since the time of his quitting the isle of Bute may
soon be told.
Scarce had he passed the rock of Ailsa Craig ere he had resolved to
break his vows of penance and go his own chosen ways. Sailing southward
in the English salt ship, he was still upon familiar waters. He lay
quiet for three days, recovering from his wounds; then, when the vessel
was abreast of the Isle of Man, he forcibly took the helm, and drawing
his sword, threatened the life of any man who dared approach him, and he
steered the ship into the haven of Peeltown. There he landed among the
descendants of the Norse King Orry, and seeking out his friend Magnus,
who was the lord and monarch of that land, with him he lived for many
months, until on a time there came a message from Hakon of Norway,
bidding King Magnus set forth with his ships of war to the Western
Isles. When the Manx ships joined Hakon's navy at Skye, Roderic the
Rover was welcomed above all other chiefs, and he offered that the isle
of Gigha should be made the headquarters of the forces, from which they
might easily swoop down upon Bute and Arran, and thence invade the
mainland of Scotland.
"Methinks, my lord," said old Dovenald, as he stood with Kenric and
Aasta, "that this outlaw will not now be satisfied until he bath
compassed your death. Forget not, I implore you, that you alone stand
between him and his ambitions. It would go ill with us all if he should
succeed, and methinks 'twere well that you took timely refuge where he
could not find you."
"My lord," said Aasta, "what Dovenald says is but wisdom; and now, if
you would take safe hiding, I know of a little cave above the shores of
Ascog Bay wherein you might be secure from all discovery."
"What? and would you counsel me to shrink from meeting this man? No, no,
my friends. I am no craven, and it is not thus that I will desert my
post. Here do I stand to defend our stronghold; and while I have a drop
of blood in my body so long will I fight."
Soon from the battlements the six ships of Roderic were seen emerging
from the Kyles of Bute, and as they passed Ardmaleish Point, the four
galleys of Rothesay dashed out from the bay of Kames, and encountered
the enemy. They met him with a rain of well-aimed arrows and showers of
missiles. The two ships of Roderic and King Magnus shot ahead, leaving
their four consorts behind to engage broadside to broadside with the
vessels of Bute, and there followed a terrible sea fight hand to hand --
Scots broadsword against Norse battle-axe -- that lasted many hours,
until the vessels of both sides, much damaged, and with the loss of four
score of men and more, found themselves drifted into Rothesay Bay.
From the towers, as he watched the opening of the fight, Earl Kenric
espied a band of men marching upon Rothesay from the northward. They
were the men of Colonsay, led by Earl Sweyn, who had been reinforced by
fifty men from the ships. It was this band whom Aasta had seen setting
the deserted homesteads in flames. Sweyn was now bending his course upon
But, as he came within bow shot, Kenric and his archers were ready.
Kenric took careful aim and bent his bow as he had never bent it before.
Swiftly the arrow sped with whizzing noise, and it curved in its flight,
dropping lower and lower until it dived deep into the bare throat of the
Earl of Colonsay. As Sweyn fell, his men saw that the dart had pierced
through his neck even to the back of his collarbone, and, enraged at the
loss of their master, they ran yet farther. But one by one they
staggered and fell, each with an arrow quivering in his broad chest, and
those who remained alive took flight beyond range.
And now Kenric turned to watch the ships of Magnus and Roderic, which,
with the galley of John of Islay in their wake, were now well within the
bay. Driven by their long-sweeping oars, they crept shoreward until
their peaked bows grounded in the shallows. The warriors then swarmed
over the bulwarks and dropped into the water, wading breast deep to the
beach. Kenric's bowmen from the battlements and from the rising ground
above the shore began to assail the bold invaders. But, little daunted,
the Norsemen landed in great numbers, taking ashore their besieging
engines and various instruments of war.
Then might be seen stones, arrows, quarrels, and other missiles to fly
among them, and so effectively did those within the castle exchange
their tokens with those without that in one short hour there were many
scores of persons wounded, and I know not how many killed. The heaviest
of the besieging engines were worked in throwing massive stones, which
could be got in plenty and of every size upon the shingly beach. And
when there was a good hit, a great shout arose among the invading host.
Many shot wagons and three other machines were brought by the enemy --
very large, of great power, and very destructive -- which might be
thought to cut down and crush whatever their missiles struck. But the
walls of Rothesay Castle were strong and thick, and the stones that
struck them only shivered into a thousand fragments.
Many a well-directed arrow did he of Rothesay receive, but he placed
before him his great white shield with a red cross engrailed. With his
head protected by a strong brass helm, and his chest with a well-wrought
coat of mail, he escaped all hurt. Nor did he lose courage, but cheered
his men lustily as though it were but a boy's game he was playing. But
ever he kept his watchful eye upon the Norsemen, eager to pick out the
tall figure of his uncle and dreaded foe Roderic. Not once but many
times did he see him standing with a dozen of his companions directing
Kenric many times took up his longbow and sent his arrow shafts swiftly
towards the heart of his enemy. Roderic was clothed in complete armour,
and though many of his nephew's arrows struck him, yet they but broke
upon his breastplate and fell shivered to his feet.
For four long hours the battle continued, and at Kenric's side many
brave men lay dead. On the plain before the castle seven score of
Norsemen lay slain. Then, as the sun went down, and the evening clouds
brought heavy rain, the enemy retired to their ships. By this time the
three vessels that had been engaged with the ships of Bute were drawn
alongside their consorts, and Kenric's four galleys had sailed out to
sea, so that in the cover of darkness they might approach under the
abbey of St. Blane's, and give ready succour should the enemy discover
the retreat of the women and children.
Early in the morning the whole of Roderic's forces landed, and now they
stormed the castle gates with all their strength. So stoutly did they
assail them with their powerful battering rams that in the space of an
hour the doors fell in with a loud crash.
In the wide hall stood Kenric with his sword in hand. Behind him were
ranked a good three hundred fighting men. In their midst was the maid
Aasta the Fair, wearing, as all the men wore, a coat of mail and a brass
headpiece. In firm ranks they all stood with pikes and spears aslant to
meet the inrush of valiant Norsemen.
The first man whom Kenric encountered was Erland the Old of Jura.
Enraged to see this man, who had taken hospitality in the castle, now
helping to storm it, he fought with his full strength and felled him
with one blow. Cutting his way through the ranks of his foes he at last
reached the fallen gates. But nothing did he yet see of Roderic. Many
men did he kill, for none could stand against the terrible onslaught of
his great sword. And ever at his side, fighting with fearless courage,
was Aasta the Fair, and of the foemen a full half dozen did she slay
with her sword, for she was most powerful of arm and feared not the
sight of blood.
Well might Kenric seek in vain for the towering helm of Roderic. For
even as the gates gave way that warrior, with Magnus of Man, had taken
off a body of their Manxmen to the west postern. This little door,
which, as Roderic well knew, was the weakest point in all the castle,
they assailed with their ponderous battle-axes, and never did smith with
his hammer strike his iron as Roderic struck there.
While Kenric and his chosen men-at-arms were fighting against those who
were pressing in by the main gates, Roderic thus gained an entrance into
the castle. He slew with his own hand a full score of the garrison and
passed over their dead bodies up the stone stairs. In a little time
thereafter he stood upon the battlements, where Dovenald and his
companions of the bow were showering their arrows upon the invaders
without the walls. There, cutting down old Dovenald in a most cruel
fashion, Roderic tore down the honoured red lion of Scotland and hoisted
in its stead the blue and white falcon of the Norseman. This done, he
returned with his many followers to the hall and charged upon the men of
Rothesay in their rear.
Kenric, placed thus between two strong companies of his enemies, was
taken at a sore disadvantage. He felt that the men about him were
falling on every side. Soon those without the gates gave way, and the
men of Bute were fairly driven out of the castle at the spear's point.
Then Kenric and a few of his bodyguard, not knowing what had happened,
and believing that the stronghold was still in the hands of their own
garrison, pursued the retreating Norsemen to the ships. On the beach a
vigorous engagement took place.
The Norsemen scrambled on board from one vessel to its companions
alongside. Kenric, followed by Aasta and a crowd of their Scots, waded
deep into the water, still pressing behind the men of Jura and Islay.
They even climbed upon the first galleys' decks, and there stood
fighting for many minutes.
In the midst of this battling Kenric observed the viking's flag flying
above the battlements. He called his men off the ships, and as they
returned to the castle Roderic and some of his warriors passed round by
the rear of the building and regained their vessels. The galleys were
then pushed off into the deeper water, and not till they were afloat did
Kenric realize that he had not for some minutes seen the brave girl
Aasta. In truth, the maiden was at that time struggling on board one of
the galleys with Roderic the Outlaw, who soon disarmed her and thrust
her as a captive into the cabin of one of his ships.
Kenric returned to his castle, only to find that it had fallen entirely
into the hands of the enemy, who had put the remainder of the garrison
to the sword.
Utterly defeated, but himself scarcely wounded, the young lord of Bute
rallied what men he could and drew them off to the high ground where
Roderic had stood. The arrows of a few Norsemen from the battlements
pursued him, and seeing that there was now no chance of regaining
possession of his stronghold, he could only think of the safety of his
people and try to protect them from the ravages of the victors. The
villagers of Rothesay had already deserted their homes, which so far had
remained unmolested, though sadly battered about by stray stones and
And now did Kenric fully see the wisdom of what he had done in securing
his helpless islanders under the safe keeping of the abbot of St.
Blane's. Had he advised them to take refuge in the castle they would
assuredly have fallen victims to the wanton swords of their enemies. Had
he failed to act with prompt foresight upon the information gained in
Gigha, the men of Colonsay, with other vengeful warriors, would have
massacred every woman and child in the island, for such was assuredly
their intent. Happily they had found every dwelling unoccupied, with its
more valued contents safely removed; and though they had indeed brought
many of those homesteads to the ground, yet the lives of the inhabitants
were still secure.
It now remained for Kenric to assure himself that no prowling Norseman
should by chance discover the place of refuge of those who had so timely
abandoned their homes; and to this end he bade his remaining followers
make pretence of taking shelter in the forest of Barone, whence they
might move unobserved by the enemy to the south of the island and so
guard the abbey of St. Blane's.
CHAPTER XXV. THE GREAT NORSE INVASION.
It were vain to look for good generalship in a time so remote as that of
the reign of Alexander III. Wallace and Bruce had not yet appeared to
teach the Scots the advantage of united action, and the methods of
warfare were still of an unmilitary kind. Battles were little better
than mere free fights, without order, without controlling discipline,
without preconcerted plan. It may be that Kenric of Bute might, with a
little more forethought in the disposal of his forces, have saved his
castle from the hands of his enemies. But a lad of seventeen, with no
better counsellors than a few peaceful men such as Sir Oscar Redmain and
the Abbot Thurstan -- men inexperienced in the arts of war, and ill
qualified to repel an invader or hold a castle against a siege -- what
could he do? Sir Oscar Redmain was killed in the first engagement. The
abbot was sufficiently occupied with the protection of his church lands,
and the one skilful soldier who could have organized the defences -- Sir
Piers de Currie -- was even now defending his own castle of Ranza
against the forces of Margad.
Nevertheless, the manner in which Kenric defended the sacred buildings
of St. Blane's redeemed the mistakes he had committed in a too great
division of his forces at Rothesay. He protected the abbey lands from a
possible approach of the enemy from the sea by stationing six of his
ships, fully manned, at regular intervals along the south coast of the
island from Glencallum Bay to the bay of Dunagoil. Thus disposed, the
vessels formed a half-circle round the abbey and its demesnes. At
Dunagoil he stationed a guard of five hundred men under Allan Redmain,
with a like number in Glencallum, under Duncan Graham, ready at a
moment's warning to form a connection across the neck of land. Within
the walled inclosure known as the Circle of Penance, standing midway
between these two stations, were two hundred other men under Kenric
himself. Thus the abbey and its grange with some forty cottages were
The abbey with its chapel was a small building in the Norman style,
inclosed by a high wall, and standing in a grove of birch and ash trees.
In the crypt of the chapel and within the cottages the women of Bute,
some hundreds in number, had made their retreat, and the Lady Adela of
Rothesay had a most anxious four days attending to her numerous charges.
Food there was in plenty, of a simple sort, and the wells within the
abbey buildings provided abundance of pure water.
In the underground passage connecting the crypt with the walled
inclosure of the Circle of Penance the children had been collected.
Ailsa Redmain was with them, attending to their many wants, helped by
some of the women.
All this had been Kenric's doing, and to him would be due the praise and
the thanks of the people of Bute if his plan of defence should succeed.
But Kenric was not at his ease, for he knew that should the Norsemen set
aside thoughts of the sanctity of the place and make a successful
descent upon the abbey, then surely the women and children would be
discovered and an appalling massacre might follow. Little cared he for
the loss of his castle and lands; little thought he of the value of his
own young life. His one purpose was to make a strong defence and to save
his people, for whose sakes there was nothing he would not dare to do.
And now his most earnest wish was to know whether the enemy would make
their attack by sea or by land. He was equally prepared for either course.
It was wearing towards sundown, and yet there were no signs. The castle
of Rothesay had been taken before noon. Where now were the enemy?
At last Elspeth Blackfell came to Kenric, who stood with the abbot
within the thick walls of the inclosure.
"My lord," said she, "I hear the tread of many feet. It is by land they
come. Oh, that I knew where my sweet Aasta hath gone, and if she be
still in life!"
"Father," said Kenric to the abbot, "will you now do as I propose?"
"What would you, my son?" asked the abbot.
"It is that you would now go without these walls and boldly face our
enemies, holding before you the crucifix. If Roderic be their leader, it
may be that the sight of you will move him to a sense of the holiness of
this place, and haply you may by your arguments turn him aside from his
purpose. Were I to show myself -- though, indeed, I would willingly face
that man and fight with him to the death -- he would be moved to wrath,
and, slaying me, he would not rest any the more in his designs."
"I will adventure it, my son," said the abbot solemnly.
"God be with you, holy father," added Kenric, crossing himself.
"My lord," said Elspeth, "think you that Godfrey Thurstan can have power
to move Roderic in this wise? How was it when he bade this man go upon
the pilgrimage of penance? Did Roderic then obey his holy words? Not so.
But there is one whose words Roderic MacAlpin will indeed take to heart,
and that is your servant Elspeth. Let me then go, my lord. Open the
gates that I may go forth and face this outlaw and his followers. And if
it be that he turn not back, then may the massacre of our children rest
upon my head.
"Come, my lord abbot, let us then go together."
Then some men removed the heavy stones from the gate and the abbot and
his aged companion went forth to meet the advancing forces.
Now as Roderic, at the head of his army, marched upon St. Blane's he
could see nothing of the defences that had been prepared. All was in
appearance peaceful as it had been when as an innocent boy this pirate
chief had gone in the early mornings to say mass with the good friars.
Above the abbey the swallows lightly flew. The blue hills of Arran were
calm and grand. The seagulls floated in mid-air above the sea, and the
autumn trees waved their golden clusters in the breeze. From the
chimneys of the abbey a thin film of smoke told only of peace.
There was nothing to show that within the small space between him and
Garroch Head were collected together many hundreds of islanders with
anxiously beating hearts -- islanders whose happy homes had been laid
waste, and who now dreaded the moment that might bring their death. Two
figures alone could Roderic see. These were the abbot Godfrey and the
old crone Elspeth Blackfell.
As the Norsemen advanced with clashing arms and regular tread the abbot
looked up in seeming surprise, as though his meditations had been
suddenly disturbed. Then he paused in his walk and turned to meet the
dreaded foe. Elspeth followed him.
With loud voice Roderic called out to his men to halt. Then alone he
"What means all this that I see?" began the abbot with trembling voice,
"and how comes it, Roderic MacAlpin, that I behold you here in Bute with
all this strange following? Infamous man! Did you not but twelve short
months ago solemnly swear before God that you would not set foot upon
these shores again ere you had spent three years of penance in the