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“Yonder sails their ship into the current of Kilbrannan Sound.”

“Alas!” said Roderic, “and I am too late.”

“Alas, indeed!” said Aasta. “Methinks they had better have tarried to take away with them the false traitor they have left upon our shores. What manner of foul work detained you that you went not hence with your evil comrades? But the blood that I now see flowing from your wounds tells its own tale. You have slain Earl Alpin in the fight. Woe be upon you!”

“Even so,” said Roderic, “for hard though he pressed me with his vigorous blows, yet my good sword was true to the last, and I clove his young head in twain.”

“Woe to you, woe to you, Roderic of Gigha!” cried Aasta, shrinking from his approach. “Curses be upon you for the evil work that you have done. May you never again know peace upon this earth. May those you love — if any such there be — may they be torn from you and slain before your eyes. Worse than brute that you are, meaner than the meanest worm that creeps, curse you, curse you!”

Then as Aasta drew yet farther back her hand was caught by another hand which drew her gently aside, and from behind the rock appeared the gaunt figure of old Elspeth Blackfell. And Lulach the herd boy, having overcome his fears, crept nearer and stood apart.

Roderic paused at seeing the old crone, and his face grew pale.

“Unworthy son of Bute!” said Elspeth, pointing her thin finger at the island king, “you have heard this good maiden’s curse. Even so do all the dwellers in Bute curse you at this hour. But the great God who sees into all hearts, and in whose hands alone must rest our vengeance — He will surely repay you for the sorrows that your wickedness has caused. Go, Roderic MacAlpin. Go, ere it is too late, and before the high altar of St. Blane’s pray to Him for the mercy and forgiveness that you sorely need.”

Roderic bowed his head and nervously clasped and unclasped his hands.

“Go while there is yet time and confess your sins,” continued Elspeth. “And if there is aught of penitence in your black heart then seek from our good and holy abbot the means whereby you may fulfil your penance during the days that remain to you on earth.”

It seemed that a great change had come over him as he walked away, for his step was halting and his head was bowed. He walked along by the cliffs that are at the verge of the sea; southward past Scalpsie and Lubas and Barr, then inland to the little chapel of St. Blane’s. And ever at his heels hobbled Elspeth Blackfell.

When Earl Roderic had entered the holy place to open his heart in confession to the abbot, Elspeth waited on the headland above the bay of Dunagoil. In that bay there was a ship, and the shipmen were unloading her of a cargo of English salt and other commodities of the far south. Presently the old woman went downward to the beach, and there held speech with the shipmaster, who, as it chanced, being a man of Wales, could make shift to understand the Gaelic tongue, and from him she learned that the ship was to leave at the ebb tide for England.

Now Elspeth had seen young Ailsa Redmain as the girl was passing to her father’s castle, and Ailsa had told her how the wicked lord of Gigha had been made an outlaw. So Elspeth questioned the shipmaster, asking him if he would be free to carry this man away from Bute.

“My good dame,” said the mariner, “that will I most gladly do, for your holy bishop or abbot, or whatever he be, hath already paid me the sum of four golden pieces in agreeing that I shall do this thing — though for the matter of that, this man is a king in his own land, and methinks the honour were ample payment without the gold; so if the winds permit, and we meet no rascally pirates by the way, I make no doubt that ere the next new moon we shall be snug and safe against the walls of our good city of Chester.”

So ere the curtain of night had fallen over the Arran hills the outlawed earl of Gigha had left behind him the little isle of Bute, and it was thereafter told how he had in secret confessed his manifold sins to the abbot of St. Blane’s, and how in deep contrition he had solemnly sworn at the altar to make forthwith the pilgrimage of penance to the Holy Land, there to spend the three years of his exile in the service of the Cross.

CHAPTER XI. THE SWORD OF SOMERLED.

Now when Kenric, following sadly behind the body of his brother, came within sight of the castle of Rothesay his heart sank heavy with the woe that was upon him. He thought of how his mother had pressed upon Alpin the charge of vengeance, and of how that charge had ended. He would far rather have given up his own life than face his mother and tell her the terrible tale of how the man whom Alpin had sworn to slay had himself slain Alpin. And he was sorrowful beyond measure.

They bore the body of their dead young king into the great hall, and laid him on a bier beside the body of his father, the good Earl Hamish, and the curtains were drawn and many candles and torches were lighted and set round the two biers, while two of the friars of St. Blane’s knelt there in solemn prayer.

Then Kenric went to the door of his mother’s chamber and knocked, and old Janet, a retainer of many years, came out to him.

“Alas!” said she, “my lady your mother is passing ill, and she hath spoken never a word these many hours. We have sent forth a messenger to Elspeth Blackfell, who is skilled beyond all in Bute for her craft in simples. But Elspeth was abroad, and the messenger returned without her.”

“Then will I go myself and find her,” said Kenric.

So he went down into the courtyard and called his favourite hound Fingall, that he might have companionship in his quest. But the dog gave no answer to his call, and searching for it he found the animal lying moaning in a corner of the yard and writhing as in pain.

“The dog well knows that our master, Earl Hamish, is dead,” said one of the servitors. “Grief is killing him.”

“Not so,” said Kenric. “The dog is ill. What manner of food has he eaten?”

“Naught save the few scraps of venison that my lady left upon her plate after the feast,” said the servitor.

“Methinks, then,” said Kenric, “that I must even go alone. But see you that my poor friend is well tended, for even though he be but a dumb hound, he is a true and a faithful one, and I would not that he should die.”

Now, as he walked over the hill of Barone, Kenric thought upon this strange illness that had befallen his dog; and suddenly, as though a light had flashed into his mind, he remembered how Alpin had told him of the feast, and of how Earl Roderic, sitting at my lady’s side, had cut up her venison for her; and also of how my lady, ere she had eaten but a few pieces of the venison, had left the board. It was the same plateful of venison that the dog had eaten, and now both the Lady Adela and the dog were ill.

Then Kenric saw clearly that this was but another of the base schemes of his treacherous uncle, who, not yet certain by what means he should compass the death of Earl Hamish, had taken this poisonous course to assure himself that the Lady Adela should be ill on that night, and powerless to interfere in the crime that was in his mind.

“Oh, devil’s messenger, or devil himself that thou art!” he cried. “Cursed be the hour that brought you in our midst, Roderic MacAlpin. You have slain my father, you have slain my brother; my dear mother is now by your cruel hand laid helpless on her couch. But by my father’s soul and by my mother’s blessing, I swear that you shall die. By my hand and none other you shall perish! Oh, God in mercy give me strength — give me power to kill this man of blood!”

Then at high speed he ran down the hillside, and the grouse birds lying low in the heather rose with startled cries and flew off to the further heights, uttering sounds as of mocking laughter.

Between Loch Dhu and Kilmory, as he crossed towards the marshes, a flock of lapwings rose in alarm, and Kenric knew by their cries that some other than himself was near. He turned his course, thinking that old Elspeth might be there, passing homeward from the peat casting.

Beside the rock where, three hours before, Earl Roderic had stood, he found Lulach the herd boy, and on the height of the rock sat Aasta twining a wreath of daisies in her blood-red hair. When they saw Kenric they both stepped forward, and together they threw themselves upon the ground before him, pressing his coarse garments to their lips.

“Give you good day, my lord the king,” they both said.

Thus did it chance that these two humble thralls, Lulach and Aasta, were the first of all the dwellers in Bute to hail Lord Kenric as their king, and not till then did Kenric remember that by the death of Alpin he was now indeed the rightful lord of Bute, and he thought of the prophecy of Elspeth Blackfell. Disturbed in mind at the so early homage of Aasta and Lulach, he bade them rise.

“For your courtesy I thank you,” he said. “But tell me, I pray you, where is Dame Elspeth gone, and where may I find her? For my mother, the Lady Adela, is passing ill.”

“The Lady Adela ill!” echoed Aasta. “Alas! alas!”

“Elspeth has gone these two hours past towards Dunagoil,” said Lulach. “So please you, my lord, I will run after her and bid her hasten to my lady’s aid.”

“Yes, Lulach, run, run like the wind!” cried Aasta, and the lad ran off.

Kenric was about to follow him, when Aasta drew him back.

“One will serve as well as two, my lord,” said she, “and methinks it were better that you sped back to Rothesay. Lulach will not fail.”

“But I have yet another purpose, Aasta,” said Kenric. “I would find the base villain, Roderic of Gigha.”

“‘Twas he whom Dame Elspeth followed,” said the girl, “and he has gone to the abbey of St. Blane’s, there to confess his sins.”

“Alas!” said Kenric; “then if he has taken sanctuary I am powerless to molest him, for even though I would willingly lay him dead at my feet, yet it were sacrilege to spill blood in the precincts of the abbey.”

“But you are weaponless, my lord.”

“I have my dirk,” said he, showing the weapon in his belt.

“As well take a hazel wand as that poor thing,” said she. “This man in his late contest with your noble brother has slain a sprightlier swordsman than yourself, Earl Kenric. Ah, had I but known of his coming, this traitor had not served our island as he has done! ‘Tis true, I might not have done aught to save the life of Earl Hamish your father, but had not yon churl Duncan Graham failed me yesternight Earl Alpin at least might have been spared.”

“Now, with what grim sorcery has Dame Elspeth been bewitching you?” he exclaimed, drawing back a pace.

Aasta’s fair cheeks and towering white neck blushed crimson, and she looked down at the grass about her feet.

“Yesternight,” continued Kenric, “in passing through the shadows of the forest I suddenly encountered a wolf, and as I was about to draw my bow, lo! the wolf disappeared, and in its place it was you, Aasta, that I beheld.”

“Ah, it was you, then, that appeared?” said Aasta. “Alas, my lord, I mistook you for one of the Norsemen of Earl Roderic’s following, and I fled.”

“Methinks it was a strange fancy that led a maid into the dark forest at such an hour,” said Kenric sternly. “What manner of witchery led you there? But you spoke of Duncan Graham, and now I mind me that he too would have gone forth to the Rock of Solitude had I not warned him against so bold an adventure.”

“My lord,” said Aasta, growing very red, “there is no man in all your castle more faithful than Duncan, and I trust that you will deem him no less true when you know that twice ere yesternight he has held tryst with me. It was his purpose, had not these misfortunes befallen your house, to have sued with my lord your father that I might be freed from the bondage of my thralldom, and if that boon had been denied him, he would even have purchased my liberty, that I might thus have been more worthy to become his wedded wife.”

“Aasta,” said Kenric, “I sought not to draw these secrets from your heart. And if it be that Duncan loves you and would have you to wife, then, believe me, it is not long that you shall remain in thralldom.”

“God give you thanks, my lord the king,” said Aasta softly.

And as the morning dewdrop shines upon the harebell, so shone the tears of gratitude that filled her deep blue eyes.

At that moment as she turned away the cry of the cuckoo was heard from the woods, and the girl kissed her hand and said in the Danish, “Cuckoo, cuckoo, when shall I be married?”

But the bird answered not at all, and Aasta grew very sad.

Kenric, leaving her behind, then wended his way back towards Rothesay. But not far had he gone into the wood when he found that the girl was following him.

“My lord,” said she, coming to his side and walking near him, “when yesterday I heard that these three strange men had come to Bute, and Elspeth told me what manner of wicked men they were, now is the time, I thought, when the mighty sword of king Somerled must be unearthed, for most surely will that sword be needed. And methought I would send that sword by the hands of Duncan Graham. But Duncan came not to the tryst. And now that Earl Alpin is slain — now that, as it seems, my lord, you have resolved to bring this false traitor of Gigha to his merited death, methinks it is you who should bear that sword, that by its aid you may fulfil your vengeance.”

Kenric looked at the maiden in blank surprise, and he thought that either there was something strange and mysterious in her nature or that her mind was wandering.

“The name of my great ancestor, king Somerled, God rest him! is indeed as well known to me as my own,” said he; “but of this sword of which you speak I have heard nothing. Truly, I know not what you mean, Aasta.”

They were now passing through the pine forest, where athwart the tall trunks of the trees slanted the rays of the evening sun, and there was no sound but the cooing of the wood pigeons and the crackling of the dry twigs and cones as Kenric and Aasta stepped upon the velvet turf.

“Long, long ago,” said Aasta, “as Elspeth has ofttimes told me, there lived in Norway a great and ambitious king named Harald Fair Hair, who, for the love of a proud maiden, put the whole of Norway under his feet; and being lord over that great country by right of conquest he laid claim to every man’s odal, or lands, in such wise that his realm was no longer a place in which a freeborn man could live. So many men of that land took ship and went forth upon the seas to seek other homes, and they came to the land of the Scots. They were adventurous and valiant men, who took to conquest and sea roving as a cygnet takes to the water. Now these vikings were soon such a thorn in the side of King Harald, that he resolved to quell the evil by following his old enemies to their new abodes and hunting them across the western main, and he passed down among the Western Isles, and harried and wasted those lands farther than any Norwegian monarch before him or after him. So it befell that the Western Isles, that had belonged to the Scots, were peopled and ruled over by the Norsemen.”

Kenric listened to the girl’s soft voice as it rippled in sweet music, but he heeded little this oft-told tale.

“Now there arose a great man in Argyll, who was mightier than any of the Scots that had so lightly allowed their lands to be torn away from them, and this was king Somerled. He waged war against the Norsemen of the Western Isles, and he made conquest of Bute, Arran, and Gigha, with the Cumbraes and other smaller isles that still remain in the hands of the Scots, for he was a most powerful warrior, and it was said that no man ever crossed swords with him but to be slain. His enemies fell before him like ripe grain in the swath of the mower’s sickle. And his sword –“

“Yes, his sword?” said Kenric, growing interested now.

“His sword had drunk so often and so fully of men’s blood, that it seemed to take new life into itself out of the hearts of all who fell before its sway, and men named it the Thirsty Sword, for it is never satisfied. It was said beforetime that if a sword be the death of five score of men, it comes to be possessed of a lust for slaying. But the sword of Somerled had drunk the life’s blood of twice five score of men, and none might take it in his grasp and lay it down again ere it had killed a man.”

“Such a weapon were surely a great danger in the land, Aasta,” said Kenric. “I would not willingly touch it if any but my enemies were near. But by reason of the desire for vengeance that is now upon me, gladly would I know where that sword is to be found, that it may be ready when the time comes to drink the blood of the falsest heart that ever beat, and that is the heart of Earl Roderic of Gigha.”

“Then, methinks it will not be long ere you have that weapon in your hand, my lord,” said Aasta, quickening her steps. “For it befell that I had a dream vision, and I saw where long ago the men of Bute had buried the sword, swathed in sheepskins that the blade might not be eaten by rust. So I unearthed it, and hid it under the Rock of Solitude, where we shall now find it.”

Kenric and Aasta went onward through the forest glades, and when they came to the rock Aasta put her white arm into a deep cavity, and drew forth a bundle of sheepskins. Unwrapping them she revealed the glittering weapon. With her two hands she clasped its hilt, and raised the Thirsty Sword above the crown of daisies that was upon her hair.

Kenric drew back, for he was yet afraid of this strange witch maiden, whose fairness and beauty were regarded by the men of Flute as betokening the spell of her subtle sorcery. But seeing him recoil, Aasta lowered the weapon and smiled, showing her pearl-white teeth.

“He who would wield this weapon, my lord,” said she, “must strip his heart of all fear and trembling. Take you the sword in hand, and I will stand before you while you try your power with it. Not hard will it be to wield it, for it was forged by the hand of Munifican, and so well balanced is it, and so easy to grip, that a youth of half your strength, my lord, might swing it for many hours and not be weary.”

Then Kenric took the sword in his hard grip, and holding it out at arm’s length he saw that its point was but a span’s distance from Aasta’s breast.

He bade the girl stand still. Aasta stood like a pillar of stone before him, with the sunlight upon her red-gold hair; nor did she stir a finger or blink an eyelash as young Kenric, firm on his feet, flung back his arms and swung the terrible weapon once, twice, thrice, to right and left in front of her.

Seeing the maiden’s fearless courage, “Now do I in sooth believe,” said he, “that you are in very deed a witch, Aasta. But what you have said of this sword is, methinks, nothing less than true; and, if you will it so, then will I take it, so that I may now confront this villain Earl Roderic, and slay him for my revenge.”

“God be your guard! my lord the king,” said Aasta, “and may you never use that sword without just cause.”

And so saying she went her ways.

Now, when Kenric, armed with the Thirsty Sword, and with his heart full of bitter vengeance, came upon the rocky heights of Dunagoil, and held discourse with one of his friends, a friar of St. Blane’s, he learned that his enemy had already quitted the island, and was now aboard the English ship on the first stage of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Not till then did Kenric remember his sick mother, or think of how he had set out to summon Elspeth Blackfell to the castle. He blamed himself beyond measure in that he had allowed his vengeful thoughts to so lead him away from his higher duty.

But as it happened, Lulach had served him well. When Kenric got back to Rothesay he found Elspeth already busy in her work of nursing his mother hack to health. So skilful was the old woman in this, that in the space of two days the Lady Adela was fully restored, and able to hear the sad news of how her favourite son had fallen under Roderic’s sword.

Of the burial of Hamish and Alpin, and of the solemn rites attending that ceremony, there is no need to tell. Noble and true were they both, and well-beloved for their worthiness. But they are dead, and so, as the old scalds would say, have passed out of the story.

CHAPTER XII. HOW KENRIC WAS MADE KING.

On a day in June, Ailsa Redmain, well arrayed, went forth from Kilmory riding behind her father, Sir Oscar, on his sturdy horse. Beside them walked her brother Allan, with a long staff in his hand, a plaid over his broad shoulder, and a tall feather in his bonnet.

It was one of the calmest of summer days. The warm sweet smell of the whin bloom was in the air. The lark sang merrily in the clear sky, and across the smooth, glassy surface of Ascog loch the herons flew with heavy, indolent wings.

Seeing a pair of these birds flying near, Sir Oscar turned to his son.

“Were we not otherwise employed,” said he, “this were a glorious day, Allan, on which to fly our young hawks at these herons. The birds will lose their cunning if they be not better exercised. Know you if poor Alpin had set aside a pair of gerfalcons for his Majesty’s tribute?”

“‘Tis but seven days ago that we were out together, Alpin and I,” said Allan, “and never saw I a better trained pair of hawks than those that are now in keeping at Rothesay against the time when the tribute must be paid. We took seven birds that rose from the heronry of Barone. Alas! had Alpin but lived I had hoped to accompany him into Scotland that I might see King Alexander. But ’tis ever so with me. Never yet have I been able to make that journey.”

“But,” said Ailsa, “when Kenric has been throned, will not he also need to pay yearly homage to the King of Scots, even as his father was wont to do?”

“Assuredly,” said Sir Oscar. “The king of Bute is so bound by his vassalage, and it were a sorry day for him if he should fail to observe the usages which custom has ordained. So soon as Kenric can do so, he will take his tribute of falcons to King Alexander, and Allan might even accompany him.”

“But are there no falcons in Scotland, father?” asked Ailsa.

“Plenty there are, my child. ‘Tis but the form of tribute, showing that the lord of Bute acknowledges his vassalage. In like manner, the lord of Arran delivers each year two dead eagles, and the lord of Islay a roll of homespun cloth. So may his Majesty know that his subjects remain true to him.”

“Ah, heard you those lusty shouts?” broke in Ailsa, as the hum of many voices reached their ears. “‘Tis surely the young king that they are hailing. Spur on the horse, for I would not willingly miss the sight of his arrival.”

“‘Tis but some wrestler thrown,” said her father. “We shall be at the Stone of Destiny long ere Kenric leaves his castle gates.”

Nevertheless, he urged on the horse, and soon they were in the midst of the vast crowd of islanders who had assembled on the great plain to elect their new king.

Sir Oscar, dismounting, took his place by the throne, and when the court was duly fenced and the ruthmen had taken their places, each at his particular stone, the islanders crowded round in a circle that all might see. Ailsa and Allan were behind their father, and near them were Lulach and Aasta the Fair, with Elspeth Blackfell and many hillmen and dalesmen, with their women. And nearest to the fence cord, so that their elders could see above their curly heads, were the little children of Bute, who had been brought from far and near, to the end that when they were old and gray headed they might have it to say, “When I was a child, so high, my mother carried me to Loch Ascog side, and there I saw young Kenric made king of Bute, and it was the lordliest sight that ever was seen in the island; for Kenric was a true-born king, and the wisest and noblest of all our rulers, and all who saw him on that great day foretold that it would be so.”

Not long had the people waited when they saw a stately company of men-at-arms advancing, and at their head rode Kenric, mounted on a white charger. Not now did he appear in the lowly garments of deerskin or with ill-strung buskins or tangled hair. He wore a helm of burnished brass, crested with a pair of golden wings; his well-combed brown hair fluttered in the breeze. Thrown over his shoulder, and half concealing his bright shirt of scale mail, was a plaid of silk. There were silver buckles on his tanned shoes, and below his bare knees his legs were swathed in fine lawn, cross-gartered with red silk bands.

A great cheer rose in the calm air and echoed and re-echoed far away among the crags of Loch Striven as Kenric sprang lightly from his steed. The crowd opened a place for him, crying “All hail to Kenric!” and he took his stand in their midst at the eastern side of the court. No farther did he venture, but stood there with bent head and sober, sunburnt face, resting his left hand upon his sword.

Then when the abbot had spoken a few holy words, Sir Oscar Redmain raised his voice and told what they had all come for to that place, and he asked the counsellors to name the man whom they would choose for their lord.

“Kenric, son of Hamish!” they all cried.

Kenric then stepped forward as though he were unwilling thus to be made ruler over the people of Bute, for the high honour had come suddenly upon him and he had never dreamed of being king, but only a faithful priest of St. Blane’s, serving the Lord and His people.

Sir Oscar met him at the foot of the throne, and took from him his great sword and his dirk.

Then Kenric turned and faced the people, and spoke to them in a loud, clear voice.

“Men of Bute,” said he, “much do I tremble at this great and solemn duty that you have thrust upon me. I am but a stripling, fitted better to play upon the hills in boyish sport than to rule over men who are my elders. If it be that I am indeed to be your king, then do I deem your choice made only because I am my dear father’s son, and not that I have any virtue or prowess that would befit me for that high office. And now I ask you, men of Bute, whether you have ever found any fault with the manner in which the late king, Earl Hamish, ruled this land, and whether you know of anything deserving blame in myself, that should unfit me to be your lord and king?”

They replied as with the voice of one man that they knew no fault of any kind.

Then standing upon the Stone of Destiny, Kenric took from the steward a straight white wand, and the abbot and three friars anointed him king. At the same time old Dovenald, clothed in a scarlet robe, advanced from the crowd, and bending low before the throne repeated the catalogue of Kenric’s ancestors.

When these ceremonies were over, the young king swore upon his sword that he would continue his vassals in the possession of their lands and defend their rights with his own life, and do exact justice to all his subjects.

“And now,” said he, “if there be any amongst you who would dispute my kingship, let him stand forward and I will prove myself with the sword.” And he threw down his gauntlet from his girdle.

No man stood forth. But an aged woman who was of the crowd let down from her arms a little child, and the child toddled forward and picked up the glove and handed it to the king. Kenric, bending his strong back, took up the child in his arms and kissing its two rosy cheeks, raised the little one on his shoulder, and carried it back to its grandam.

Then as he did so, many mothers held up their children that these too might share the honour he had done the first. So Kenric went round bestowing his kisses and his blessings upon the innocents. And the fathers and mothers thought well of their young king for this that he did, for it showed them that he had a tender and loving heart. Then they cheered him yet again, until their lusty voices grew hoarse.

At length, when all was done, the people went peacefully to their homesteads, talking of what they had just seen, yet little thinking how soon the time would arrive when they should owe the lives of their innocent children to the wisdom and bravery of this boy king.

CHAPTER XIII. THE “WHITE LADY” OF THE MOUNTAIN.

On the second morning after his throning, Kenric, assuming again his clothes of deerskin, walked over to Kilmory Castle, and there held counsel with his steward concerning the way in which he was to pay tribute to his overlord the King of Scots. As a newly-elected king it was necessary for him to offer homage to King Alexander in person. But he did not yet know in which of the royal castles his Majesty might be found, and he had need to cross over to Arran to make inquiries of Sir Piers de Currie, who, as he knew, had lately had audience with the King.

Sir Oscar Redmain, in giving him his instructions, asked him if his son Allan might accompany him to Scotland.

“There is no youth in all Bute whom I would rather take with me,” said Kenric, “for I have now no comrade of my own years since my brother Alpin is no longer alive; and methinks that Allan might well become to me the true friend that he ever was to Alpin. If he will come with me even now I will take him across to Castle Ranza, and we may then speak of our approaching journey.”

Allan was then out in the fields, but he was soon found, and the two lads, armed with bows and dirks, went together down to the bay of St. Ninian’s. Four fishermen there launched a boat for them, and rowing out under the little island of Inch Marnock, they then hoisted sail and sped across the Sound of Bute with a fresh western wind.

Not long were they in crossing the channel between Bute and Arran, and at the northwest of the latter island they steered round into the beautiful and quiet Loch Ranza. At the head of this inlet of the sea, and standing out upon a narrow neck of land commanding the bay, was Sir Piers de Currie’s castle. Like many of the smaller fortresses of that time, the castle of Ranza was built, not of stone, but of heavy oak timbers of double walls that were filled in between with stones and turf, and so wondrously strong and thick that fire alone might destroy it.

Landing at a little stone pier, Kenric and Allan went up to the castle front. Allan blew his hunting horn. The guard ordered the drawbridge to be lowered, and the two lads entered. They were met at the inner gates by the Lady Grace de Currie and her five young boys and girls, who accompanied them into the great drinking hall. Then as they were taking the hospitality that was offered them, Kenric told of how the three island kings had come to Bute, and how his father and Alpin had been slain.

Much concerned was the lady of Ranza at all this — for she had heard but a fisherman’s account of what had befallen the house of Rothesay — and more than all was she grieved at the late illness of her dear friend the Lady Adela.

“So now,” said Kenric when he had modestly spoken of his kingship, “I would see your husband, for, as I hear, he has newly been to Scotland, and can tell me where I may meet King Alexander.”

“Sir Piers,” said she smiling, “went forth at sunrise with his men, and is even now upon the mountains in search of sport. I fear he will not be back ere morning, for you know his habit of wandering for days together among the hills. So I beg you, my lord Kenric — and you also, Allan — rest you here in our castle until Sir Piers returns.”

“Yes, Kenric, stay, and I will show you my new bow, and you shall see how well I can now aim,” said little Fergus (the same who in the aftertime fought so valiantly at Bannockburn).

“No,” said Kenric, “I cannot stay, for on the morrow I must even be back in Bute to take my seat at the assize that has been called, and I would not willingly neglect the first duty that has fallen to me.”

“Why, then,” said Allan Redmain, “let us both to the mountains, my lord. There is no pass or crag in the north of Arran that my foot has not trod, and it will go hard if we find not Sir Piers in a few hours’ time.”

Thereupon Kenric and Allan, leaving their four men at the castle, walked round by the shore side to Glen Catacol, and through a gloomy pass that led far up into the craggy mountains, where the eagle reigned on high and the red deer ran wild and free.

Now Allan Redmain was a most venturesome youth. He was taller by a head than Kenric, strong of limb and surefooted as a mountain goat. Heedless of the danger into which he was taking his king, he led the way into the wildest fastnesses of Ben Bharrain, by paths that even the hunted stag might fear to tread.

In vain did they search for any sign that would bring them to Sir Piers de Currie and his band of hunters. No sound of rallying horn, no voice of man reached their ears, but only the drumming cry of the wild grouse or the short sharp bark of the fox; and when, after much scraping of bare knees, they scaled the steep mountain’s peak and stood upon the lofty height, where the heather grew crisp and short, they sat down and let the cool wind blow against their flushed faces. Then with keen eyes they scanned each crag and fell, searching in gully and glen, in hollow and on height. But though they saw many herds of deer, yet of huntsmen they saw no sign.

“Methinks, Allan,” said Kenric, “that ’tis but a foolish thing we have done to come on this fruitless journey. One might wander for a week upon these barren wastes and yet never encounter those whom we seek. Better had we remained in Castle Ranza. What say you to our returning?”

“Could we but get a shot at a good stag,” said Allan, “our journey might yet be well repaid.”

“And wherefore kill a stag, if we must needs leave his carcase for the carrion crows? If ’tis practice with your bow you want, why, have we not that in abundance on our own island?”

“Ah, but to be up here as it were among the very clouds!” said Allan. “Beats not your heart with quicker joy, Kenric, when you breathe the keen mountain air — when your eyes rest upon so vast a stretch of sea and land as we now behold? I know no pleasure so sweet as this.”

“Methinks,” said Kenric, “that were Sir Piers de Currie here, and I had fulfilled my purpose in crossing to Arran, then this joy you speak of were not greater than my own. But when I go out hunting, Allan, I like to hunt; when I come over to ask a question of our neighbour, it is not to my humour to be thus stranded upon a hilltop. So now, if it please you, we will return to Ranza.”

“Nay, I go not from these mountains ere I have once drawn the bow,” said Allan. “‘Tis a chance that I do not have too often; and now that we are so far I would go to yonder gully where but a while ago we saw that vast herd of deer enter. Come.”

“Methinks, Allan Redmain,” said Kenric, “that ’tis you who have come with me to Arran, not I with you, and I beg you to at once return with me.”

Allan was about to turn round upon Kenric with an angry word, when suddenly he minded that the lad was his lord and king.

“Oh, my lord, my lord!” he cried, “pardon me — I beg you pardon me, for in truth I had forgotten your kingship. It was wrong in me thus to oppose my will to yours.”

“Nay, Allan, believe me, I would not have you thus regard me at all times as your master, but rather as your friend. Nevertheless, if my office is to be remembered, then methinks it is well that we should search for Sir Piers, and not think of hunting after stags. Now take me back to Castle Ranza by the nearest way.”

Allan then turned and led the way across the eastern shoulder of the mountain and down a wild ravine towards Glen Catacol. In the bed of the ravine there coursed a turbulent torrent, swollen by the rains of the night before. They walked along a narrow goat track from which the rocky ground sloped sharply downward into the stream. From beyond a turning in this path they heard the swelling roar of a waterfall.

Scarce had they made this turning, when, above the noise of the cataract, they heard the yelping of a deer hound. Kenric was now in advance of his companion, and they were just above the point where the waterfall turned over into a deep chasm.

“A stag! a stag!” cried Kenric as he promptly took an arrow and fixed it to his bowstring.

Allan followed his example. Kenric knelt down on one knee and levelled his arrow. Allan made ready to shoot over Kenric’s shoulder. A noble stag, with wide-spreading antlers of twelve points, seemed almost to be flying towards them along the narrow path. An arrow was half buried in his bleeding flank; a pair of shaggy deer hounds were behind in mad pursuit.

“Now!” cried Kenric.

The bowstrings twanged, and the two arrows speeding in their deadly flight plunged side by side into the stag’s broad chest. The noble animal stumbled, regained his footing, and ran on. Nearer and nearer he came, panting, moaning, glaring with wild and frightened eyes. To his right was a steep wall of rock, to his left a fall of thirty feet into the surging waters below the cataract. At his heels were the dogs, in front of him the two youths ready with another charge of arrows. There was no way of escape.

“Lie down, my lord! — quick, lie down!” cried Allan, firing his dart.

The arrow rattled upon the stag’s antlers. The stag bounded forward with one of the hounds upon his back, then stumbled upon his knees. Kenric rose and ran to dirk him ere he should have time to regain his feet.

“Comeback, come back!” shouted Allan.

But Kenric, little heeding the danger, or not hearing the cry of warning amid the roaring of the water, was about to draw his dirk, when the stag fell over with the weight of the second hound. One of his antler points caught in the string of Kenric’s bow.

Then Allan Redmain saw a sight that filled him with dismay. Kenric, still holding his bow that was entangled in the stag’s horns, lost his footing; the stag rolled over; and Kenric fell, with his legs astride of the animal’s belly. Then all four — Kenric, the stag, and the two dogs — struggling each with his own purpose, slipped swiftly down the sloping precipice, and plunged into the deep and surging linn below the foaming waterfall.

Allan Redmain, alone now upon that narrow path, uttered a loud cry as he saw his young master disappear through the mist of spray that rose from below the cataract. Well did he know that even if Earl Kenric had not been killed, he yet was unable to swim.

Thoughts more dreadful than he had ever known coursed through Allan’s mind at that moment. Kenric the young king, the only hope of Bute, killed? and he, Allan Redmain, had not saved him!

He looked around for help. In that desolate place what help could he expect? But he tarried not long to think of how he should act. At the risk of his own life he was bound to do what he could. Grasping his longbow in his two hands and using it as a skid, and digging his heels firmly into the stony ground of the sloping precipice, he went down foot by foot, now swaying this way and now that as the loose stones slipped before his feet. Down, down he went until he came at last to the level top of a steep rock that stood over the brink of the deep linn.

In the eddying water that swirled and boiled as in a cauldron at the base of the cataract he saw one of the stag hounds struggling, trying vainly to keep its head above the surface; but nowhere Kenric, nowhere even the stag. He lay down upon the rock and drew himself to its edge that he might look below into the water at its base. But the water rushed past in bubbling sweep, and yet there was no sign.

Then, still in hope that he might yet find the young king, he rose to his feet and threw himself headlong into the linn. Deep, deep he sank, and the strong undercurrent tossed about him, seized him in its fearful grip, and swept him downward in its course. Rising to the surface he tried with all his strength to swim against the current to the spot where Kenric had fallen in.

Not long had he thus endeavoured when his strength failed him. He felt himself being drawn under. It came to be a matter of saving his own life now — saving it that he might live to carry the sad news home to Rothesay. So he turned round with the stream and swam towards a great flat rock in mid-current. As he neared it a strange sight met his eyes.

On the rock was the dead stag. A stream of crimson blood trickled down from its broad chest, staining the white rock. Sitting upon the stag, with folded arms and dripping hair, and eyes fixed in dreamy admiration upon the tumbling waters of the White Lady Falls, was Kenric the king. The great cataract curled over the topmost rocks in a smooth brown volume, turned into pure white foam as it fell and bounded with roaring noise into the deep chasm below. A cloud of spray rose from the depths, and where the sunbeams crossed it there was a beautiful arc of light showing all the colours of the rainbow. Kenric seemed to be lost in contemplation of the wild scene.

Suddenly he turned his head and looked up the frowning hillside. Above the noise of the falling water he had heard his name called. He stood up, and holding on with one hand to the stag’s spreading antler, with the other he shaded his eyes and searched for a sign of Allan Redmain. The goat track was hidden from his view; but at the spot where he had first seen the stag running he now saw a party of five men, who, with their leader, Sir Piers de Currie, were following the trail of the wounded animal.

Kenric then knelt against the dead stag, and, thrusting his fingers into his mouth, gave a shrill whistle.

At that moment Allan Redmain clambered upon the rock at his side, emptied his horn of the water that was in it, and blew as lusty a blast as his enfeebled breath could send forth.

Kenric started back at the sound like one who had seen a ghost, for he had known nothing of Allan’s movements until this moment. But now he quickly understood what his friend had done for his sake, and he put his hand upon Allan’s shoulder lovingly.

Within a little while the two lads were rescued from their perilous situation. With the help of the ropes that the men of Ranza had brought to bind the deer upon their ponies’ backs, first Kenric, then the dead stag, and lastly Allan Redmain, were taken off the rock. The two hounds were, however, lost.

Saving for a few bruises and scratches, neither Kenric nor Allan had received much hurt. But this accident, which might have proved so disastrous to the isle of Bute, bound the Earl Kenric and Allan Redmain together in a close fellowship, which lasted until they were both gray-haired old men.

CHAPTER XIV. IN SOLEMN ASSIZE.

On the day that followed that of his adventure among the Arran mountains, Kenric went to the seat of judgment at Ascog, there in solemn assize to administer the laws of his dominions. The men of Bute were peaceful, and the offences and charges that were brought forward on that day were of no great gravity.

On taking his seat before the twelve wise men, he opened the assize and called for the first charge, whereupon an odaller from one of the farmsteads of Ardbeg accused one of the islanders of having made theft of a young steer. Kenric asked whether the thief had driven the young ox away or carried it, and explained that the stealing of such prey as required to be driven was a higher offence than if it were carried off. A witness then proved that the thief, being a strong man, had bound the steer’s legs with thongs and thrown the animal over his shoulder, and so made off with it. And being proved guilty, he was made to pay a fine of twenty pence.

Then there came another who charged his enemy with having hunted hares and wildfowl on lands that were not his own. But the accused man was held guiltless, for, said the young judge, they had there no tyrannous forest laws, and every man was free to hunt wheresoever he wished, and to take what game he might. And again, a fisherman was accused of having charged two pennies for a basket of fish worth only half that sum; and Kenric said that the fisherman was poor and hard working, and that he who bought the fish was over greedy, and the case was dismissed. Next a poor cattleman of Kingarth came forward, showing a knife wound in his arm, and saying that another had stabbed him and also struck him in the mouth, knocking out a tooth; and Kenric ordered that the man’s wound should be measured with a rule, and it was three inches in length and a half inch in breadth. Then for the length of the wound a fine of twenty-four pence was imposed upon the wrongdoer, for its breadth six pennies, and for the tooth twelve other pennies.

Then Kenric asked if there were any further matters to be judged.

“Yes, my lord,” said Duncan Graham, entering the circle of the court. “There is a boon that I your servant would humbly ask.”

“And what boon is that?” asked Kenric, already guessing what it might be.

“It is,” said Duncan, standing to his full height and growing very red — “It is that there lives with Elspeth Blackfell, over at Kilmory, one whom men name Aasta the Fair, and she is a thrall. The boon I ask is that you will in your mercy remove from her the yoke of bondage, for she is a passing worthy maid, and it is no fault of hers, but only her misfortune that she is a thrall; and, so please you, my lord, I love her well, and would make her my lawful wife, for a freeman may not wed a bondmaid and claim her as his own.”

“Show me this maiden, that I may speak with her,” said Kenric.

And Aasta stood forth, looking very beautiful in a robe of white, and with her eyes downcast, and her hands clasped before her.

“Tell me your name and history,” said the young king.

“My name, my lord, is Aasta, and nothing else,” said she. “I am a thrall to Sir Oscar Redmain, who claimed me as his bondmaid when I was but a little child, for it was upon his lands that I was found. Whence I came I cannot tell; but men say that it was with the wild north winds that I was brought to Bute, from the regions of frost and snow. Of my parentage I know naught, saving only that Elspeth Blackfell has oft declared that my parents were of noble station, and that they dwelt in the land of the Norsemen.”

“That you are of gentle blood I can well believe,” said Kenric softly, as he regarded her surpassing beauty. “But do you then remember nothing of your earliest life?”

“All that yet lingers in my mind, my lord, is the memory of my mother,” said Aasta. “She was wild and unruly as the winter storm, and cruel as an angry wolf.”

“And your father?”

“He was a viking, who, though he loved me passing well, was ever on the sea, roving and fighting in his great ship.”

“Whosoever you be, Aasta, and whencesoever you came,” said Kenric, “I now declare you to be free of your bondage. For the space of a year and a day you shall remain upon Sir Oscar Redmain’s lands as his paid servant, but not as his thrall, and at the end of that time the Abbot of St. Blane’s shall give you in marriage to the brave man who will then claim you, and you shall be that man’s lawful wedded wife.”

Then, when Duncan Graham led the maid away, Kenric asked if there yet remained any man there present who had any claim to make, or grievance to be redressed; at which David Blair, a rich farmer of Scalpsie, called for judgment upon one who had done him a wrong.

“What is your suit?” asked the king.

“It is,” said the farmer, “that, ten days since, my watchdog was cruelly slain. He was the best watchdog in all Bute, and never dared beast of prey or man of stealth come near my homestead but to his hurt. But, since my dog has been slain, three gimmer sheep, and two ewe lambs, and four young goats have been carried off by the wolves. And my good wife Marjory has lost seven of her best chickens, that have been taken by the foxes.”

“Who is the man that so cruelly slew your dog?” asked Kenric.

“It was young Allan Redmain of Kilmory, and him do I charge,” said the farmer.

“Allan Redmain!” exclaimed Kenric, in alarm at the thought of sitting in judgment upon his own friend.

Then he stirred uneasily in his seat, and bit his lips in trying to see a way of escape out of his difficulty. He had sworn lasting friendship for Allan, and remembering the adventure of the day before, when Allan had risked his life for him, he could not bear the thought of giving sentence of punishment if it should be proved that Allan was guilty. Thrown thus betwixt friendship and duty, he sat for many moments in silent thought, wishing that he was no longer a king who had bound himself to do justice to all men. But at last he called aloud for Allan Redmain, and Allan promptly appeared, albeit with lowered head and guilty looks.

“Now, David Blair,” said Kenric with tremulous voice, “repeat your accusation, and woe betide you if in malice you say aught but the holy truth.”

“My lord!” said the farmer in surprise. “Am I then to be doubted? And is my word less to be trusted than that of any other honest man of Bute? I repeat that it was Allan Redmain who slew my dog out of mere boyish sport.”

Allan looked at his accuser with frowning brows.

“Allan Redmain, are you guilty or innocent of this offence?” asked the young judge.

“In that I slew the dog, my lord, I am guilty,” said Allan. “But in that the act was not without just cause, I am innocent. It was in the hay field of Scalpsie, where with a companion I was walking. The dog ran up to us as it were to attack us. My comrade shook his fist at the dog, and thereupon it sprang at his throat, and I took out my dirk and slew the brute.”

“Brute, say you?” exclaimed the farmer. “My lord, the dog meant no manner of harm, and it was a cruel thing to kill him so. I am now without a watchdog, and must I needs suffer my sheep to be devoured by the wolves because, forsooth, a hot-headed lad would use his knife upon my poor dumb friend? I ask for redress, and redress I shall have.”

“Who was the comrade of whom you speak?” asked Kenric of Allan.

“I refuse to say, my lord,” said Allan firmly.

“It was your own brother Alpin who is dead, my lord,” said David Blair.

“What! and you would have me punish one who so defended my own brother?” cried Kenric. “No, David Blair, I cannot do it.”

But at that the farmer protested warmly, and declared that he would have justice done him, and that it was his lord’s duty to deal fairly by all men, notwithstanding that Allan Redmain was the son of the steward. So there was nothing for it but for Kenric to pronounce the penalty.

“It is an old law, held sacred by custom,” he falteringly said, “that if one slays another man’s watchdog, the slayer must himself protect for a year and a day the unwatched homestead. And he is accountable to the owner for any scathe that may befall within that period after the slaying of the dog. This, Allan Redmain, is the penalty you must pay, and less than this it is not in my power to impose, for law is law, and I am but its instrument.”

Then after the assize was over, Allan went to Kenric and asked him what was now to be done concerning their projected journey into Scotland, for that now he was condemned to act for twelve long months as a miserable watchdog, it was no longer possible for him to leave the island, and be absent for a night.

The same difficulty had already presented itself to Kenric, who felt indeed that he would rather have cut off his own hand than pass that sentence upon his friend. He looked at Allan with pleading eyes.

“Allan,” he said, “how can you forgive me for this that I have done? And how can I now help you out of this miserable dog’s work? Methinks that on the cold frosty nights when you are out there, minding this churlish farmer’s sheep, it will not be easily that I shall lie in my warm bed. But how to help it, I do not know. Haply the law was made for vagabond thieves and cattle lifters, but it still is law, and in my place I could not well evade the judgment.”

“Think not that I blame you, my lord,” said Allan cheerily. “I am not the steward’s son without knowing somewhat of a judge’s difficulties in punishing his own friends. But, alas! I had set my heart upon being your attendant on this journey of homage.”

“As to that,” said Kenric, “you need not concern yourself. I will not break my promise to take you. As to Blair’s flocks and his good wife’s chickens, we can send the lad Lulach to watch them, and I warrant me they will be safe. So come you over to Rothesay at the time of the flood tide two days hence, and we will then set sail for Dumbarton.”

CHAPTER XV. THE DOMINION OF THE WESTERN ISLES.

When Kenric met Sir Piers de Currie in the wilds of the Arran mountains, and spoke with that doughty knight of his need of seeing the King of Scots, he learned to his satisfaction that his expedition would not carry him farther into the mainland than the castle of Dumbarton.

“It chances well that you are to make this journey so soon,” said Sir Piers, “for, having failed to see his Majesty on my late visit to the palace of Scone, I heard that he was to come westward to the Clyde in a few days’ time, and if it so please you, we will go to Dumbarton together.”

“I will make ready my best galley, then,” said Kenric, “and await you in Rothesay.”

“Agreed,” said the knight, “and it may be also that his Majesty will wish you to go upon the mission that your father was soon to have undertaken to Islay and Mull. ‘Tis passing unfortunate that you are so young, Earl Kenric, and so little experienced in the arts of diplomacy that so marked your good father. But methinks his Majesty will be well pleased to see you, and to know what manner of man he has now to depend upon in his future dealings with the Norsemen. Your youth will assuredly be no disadvantage in the eyes of one who was monarch over all Scotland at eight years old.”

“Think you, Sir Piers, that we shall at last come to a war with these Norsemen?” asked Allan Redmain.

“Of that I have little doubt, Allan,” said Sir Piers. “Methinks the time is not far distant when the possession of the Western Isles must be determined at the point of the sword.”

This promise of coming strife was by no means unwelcome to Allan Redmain, for those peaceful and prosperous times gave but few occasions for the earnest exercise of the sword, though, indeed, the weapons of the chase were in constant use, and Allan felt the young blood course through his veins with quickened excitement at the prospect of engaging in a pitched battle against the valiant vikings of the North.

As to Kenric, the one thing which made him somewhat less eager than Allan was his knowledge that there was now no immediate hope of meeting the slayer of his father in a hand-to-hand encounter. The outlawed Roderic was now far away on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the vengeance might never be fulfilled. If war should come, and Kenric himself be slain, then Roderic was the next heir to the lordship of Bute, and whether King Alexander or King Hakon became the overlord and monarch, it mattered little, for Roderic would still make claim to his father’s dominions.

Earl Hamish of Bute had but a few days before his tragic death been into Scotland to render account to Alexander the Third concerning his mission to the King of Norway. That mission had failed in its object. The letters of Henry of England and His Majesty of Scots had not succeeded in persuading the Norse monarch to resign his claims to the dominion of the Western Isles. King Hakon claimed that those lands, from the Lewis in the north even to the Isle of Man in the south, were his by right of both conquest and possession, and that each and all of the island kings, or jarls, were bound in fealty and vassalage to Norway. On the other hand, King Alexander claimed that he held yet stronger rights of sovereignty, and that the islands were even by nature intended to be part of Scotland.

The Western Isles, and more especially that group lying south of the holy island of Iona, were at this time in a most prosperous condition. Together with a large tract of country on the northeast of Ireland, they formed a sort of naval empire, with the open sea as its centre. They were densely populated. The useful arts were carried to a degree of perfection unsurpassed in other European countries. The learned Irish clergy had established their well-built monasteries over all the islands even before the arrival of the Norse colonists, and great numbers of Britons, flying hither as an asylum when their own country was ravaged by the Saxons, had carried with them the remains of science, manufactures, and wealth introduced by their Roman masters.

The habits of the islanders were piratical — the natural result of the possession of ships — and their conquests extended along the east of Ireland, the coast of Cumberland, and a large part of the mainland of Scotland, including the whole county of Caithness.

The Norwegian king, an ambitious and despotic monarch, who had risen to power from the position of a poor comb maker’s son, hoped by the help of these dependants to invade and conquer the whole of Scotland, and he was encouraged to the attempt by such self-seeking men as Roderic of Gigha and Erland of Jura, who made no scruple to enlist themselves in any cause that gave promise of increased power.

It was natural that the Scots kings, as they increased their strength, should wish to annex these districts. But the efforts of Somerled of Argyll in the twelfth century, and of King Alexander the Second in 1249, had done no more than secure the few islands lying within the shelter of the Firth of Clyde. Earl John of Islay and many of his neighbours were now paying homage to both Norway and Scotland. The isle of Gigha, which had been a possession of Alpin of Bute, had been bestowed at that chief’s death upon his younger son Roderic. But Roderic, as has been told, had gone over entirely to King Hakon, and had refused to acknowledge his vassalage to his rightful sovereign of Scotland.

Thus, at the time when young Kenric became the lord of Bate, the whole of the isles west of the peninsula of Kintyre were in the hands of petty kings, who, holding lands of both crowns, were still uncertain to whom they should pay their paramount allegiance.

During the minority of Alexander the Third all efforts to reduce the isles were abandoned. But now that the king was no longer a boy, he was resolved to compel all these vassals of Norway to renounce their allegiance and acknowledge their adherence to the Scottish crown.

On the appointed day Sir Piers de Currie crossed over to Bute. He was a man of middle age, tall and strong. His gigantic limbs were hard and stout as the trunk of an oak sapling. He wielded the longest sword and the heaviest battle-axe in Bute and Arran, and he was the best bowman in all the lands of the Clyde. His life among the mountains of Arran had given him a mighty power of endurance, for it was his habit to rove for many days over the craggy heights of Goatfell, climbing where none else could climb, slaying deer, spearing salmon, following the wild wolf to his lair, sleeping on the bare heather, drinking naught save the crystal water of the mountain burns, and eating the simplest food. His band of retainers, though scarcely less strong of limb than their master, were wont to say that their labours were even as those of the mythical Sigmund, who was condemned to make a new island in the ocean of the rocks that he clove from the topmost peaks of the Mountain of the Winds.

And yet they loved their master by reason of his strength and power, for he was the king’s nephew in Arran, and would some day be the lord of that isle and of the great castle of Brodick.

Landing on the shores of St. Ninian’s Bay, he strode with great strides towards Rothesay, and Lulach the herd boy, seeing him, thought him the most gallant warrior in all the world, and wondered what his business might be in Bute, and why he should have come over without a train of attendants.

It took the knight but a little time to cover the four miles between St. Ninian’s and Rothesay, and on the sloping strand of the bay he found Earl Kenric busy with his retainers carrying stores down to a great galley that was moored against a stone pier in the little creek near to the castle gates.

This ship, which was built in the shipyard of Rothesay, was entirely of oak and of great dimensions, ornamented with richly-carved dragons overlaid with beaten gold. It had ten banks of oars, each of the twenty long oars being rowed by two sturdy islanders. There was also a stout mast, upon which, when the wind served, a wide-spreading square sail might be hoisted.

“A gallant bark, by my faith! a gallant bark, Kenric!” said Sir Piers as he stepped on board and walked towards the high poop. “Would that we had a dozen such vessels, and manned by as brave a set of islanders as you have here. Then might we hope to make a bold stand against any sea rover out of Norway.”

“Five other galleys the like of this are now lying at safe anchor in the bay of Kames,” said Kenric; “and had we yet another half dozen, there are men-at-arms in plenty to man them — all trained in the use of sword and longbow, and eager enough, I warrant, to have a fling at Hakon’s valiant vikings.”

“Right glad am I to hear it,” said the knight, “for he who is prepared has half his battle fought.

“Ah, Allan,” he added, seeing young Redmain already on board, “I was but now about to ask if you had not yet come across from Kilmory. Where is Sir Oscar this morning?”

“Hard at work in the fields,” answered Allan. “And he bade me tell you that should King Alexander commission you on any dangerous enterprise, there are threescore of fishermen at your service over at Kilmory.”

“‘Tis well. And now I see you have not forgotten the king’s tribute,” said Sir Piers, as he observed the pair of gerfalcons that Allan was tending. “Could his Majesty receive a like tribute from other vassals, methinks there would be need to supply him also with a few score of herons to fly them against. But the tribute customs are well ordered. One sends a hart, another a hound, one a heron, and another a hawk. My lord of Arran’s offering is but two dead golden eagles — and for the matter of that his Majesty might have all the eagles in Arran, and welcome, for we have over many of them.”

“Stand by your oars, my lads!” cried Kenric, balancing himself upon the gunwale and stepping aft. “Now, Duncan, heave off the ropes, you laggard. So. Ready all!”

Then the boatswain, standing by the mast upon the centre gangway running fore and aft between the two sets of rowers, blew his horn, and the rowers pushed up their oars at arms’ length that the blades might catch the water, then springing upon the thwarts which they gripped with their bare feet they threw themselves back with all their weight and strength, and the ship began to glide through the clear water. And so, springing up again as before for another pull, the men went to their hard work with a will, singing a wild Gaelic boat song in measured time with the strains of Dovenald’s harp, and the galley, with ever-increasing speed, sailed out into the mid-bay. When there was a good way on her the work at the oars became easier and the song sank down into a subdued crooning sound that was soothing to hear.

The shipmaster steered them out into the broader sea past Toward Point, and two hours’ good rowing up the firth brought them abreast of the fortress of Dunoon. When the course was turned eastward the oars were shipped and the great sail was set to catch the light western breeze, and then they went speeding up the Clyde to Dumbarton, whose strong-built castle stood upon a high steep rock on the northern bank of the river.

“Alas!” said Sir Piers de Currie, as he turned his clear gray eyes towards the battlements, “much do I fear that we are doomed to disappointment. The King has not arrived! Had it been so we should have seen the brave flag of the Scottish lion flying upon those towers.”

“That were indeed a disappointment,” said Allan Redmain regretfully.

“Nevertheless,” said Kenric, “we can at least leave the tribute at the castle, and it may be that the warden can tell us when his Majesty is expected.”

In a little time they had landed and mounted to the castle gates, where the lord warden met them and bade them enter. They gave up their weapons, and Kenric delivered his two hawks to the falconer. So when the warden had offered them all drink and food, he asked Sir Piers de Currie how it was that Earl Hamish of Bute had not accompanied him.

“Alas! he is dead,” said the knight, telling of the treachery of Roderic.

“Woe, woe!” cried the old warden with tears in his eyes. “But this is surely the saddest thing that could have befallen, and a sorry blow for our country. And this is his son, eh? By the rood, a well-favoured youth, and a strong. Heaven grant that he prove as good and leal a man as his father before him!” and he rested his hand on Kenric’s shoulder.

“And now, what of his Majesty the King?” asked Sir Piers.

“He comes from Stirling even now,” said the warden, “and will be here at sunset. But ’tis a wearing ride from Stirling to Dumbarton, Sir Piers, and it may be you will not have audience with his Majesty ere morning. So bring in your shipmen, my lord of Bute, for methinks there will be rain tonight, and a cosy chamber in the castle were better lodging than an open boat. Doubtless, too, our own men-at-arms will welcome your retainers for the story they have to tell of this sad happening in Bute.”

Accordingly the crew of Kenric’s ship were brought within the castle, and with the men of Dumbarton and the bodyguard of the king they formed a merry company in the guardroom, while Kenric and his two companions remained as guests of the lord warden.

At the moment when the sun was sinking in the golden west, the King of Scotland arrived, accompanied by Queen Margaret and their attendants; but, as the warden had said, there could be no audience that night.

CHAPTER XVI. KENRIC BEFORE KING ALEXANDER.

Before a bright fire in the great audience chamber of Dumbarton Castle sat King Alexander the Third. By his side stood two youthful pages, one a lad of sixteen or so, whose delicate complexion and habit of dress proclaimed him to be English; the other a lad of perhaps the same age, whose clear blue eyes, flaxen hair, and ruddy cheeks betokened northern blood. Sitting apart were the King’s justiciary and the sheriff of Dumbarton. At the far end of the hall at either side of the portal stood two Highlanders, armed with drawn swords.

The king, now at the age of three-and-twenty, was dressed in a long robe of brown velvet, trimmed with fur. He wore a heavy chain of gold about his neck, with the device of the thistle resting on his jerkin of purple silk. The jewelled haft of a dagger was seen in his belt of crimson leather, and a long sword hung at his left side. His long thin legs were clothed in tight-fitting hose, and his feet — which were, perhaps, over large — were furnished with warm slippers lined with fur. He sat with his legs stretched out before him, and with his hands clasped behind his head.

Presently he yawned, stretched his arms aloft, and stood up, walking to and fro about the apartment with his thumbs stuck in his belt. In person he was majestic, and although his figure was too tall and his bones over-large and ill-covered, yet his limbs were well formed, and he bore himself gracefully. His countenance was handsome, and it beamed with a manly and sweet expression, which corresponded with the sincerity of his character.

Pausing abruptly in his pacing, he addressed the English page.

“We will now see this young lord of Bute,” he said. “Go, Edwin, and bid him enter, and with him our friend Sir Piers de Currie.”

Edwin went out. His companion of the flaxen hair fixed his blue eyes upon the doorway, nervously expectant.

“Ah, my young Harald,” said the King in Gaelic. “So, then, you heard the name of Bute, eh? Are you already weary of courtly life that you so prick up your ears at the name of an island?”

The youth blushed and looked ashamed, but still furtively watched the door as it was reopened to admit Earl Kenric. Sir Piers de Currie entering with him, remained within the doorway until the king should be ready to receive him.

Kenric was attired in the same fashion as on the day of his throning, but that he now wore no covering upon his head. He advanced towards the king, and prostrated himself humbly before him.

“God be your guard, my lord the king,” he murmured in that pure English that his mother had taught him, and raising himself on one knee he took King Alexander’s hand in his own and pressed it to his lips.

“I, your Majesty’s humble vassal of Bute,” he continued, “Kenric by name, and son of your Majesty’s loyal subject, the late Earl Hamish, do now come to pay your Majesty dutiful homage for the lands I hold of the Scottish crown; and on your royal hand I swear to maintain fidelity to your Majesty as my liege lord and sovereign, and not to enter into any league with the enemies of Scotland, saving only in the case of unjust oppression. In token of my loyalty I agree, as the old custom of my fathers hath ordained, to deliver once every year at the castle of Dumbarton — as I have this day delivered — two well-trained gerfalcons, and — and –“

Kenric faltered, for he heard the rustling of a woman’s dress very near him. The young queen had entered.

“Enough,” said the king. “And say, now, how does your sweet mother, the Lady Adela, and how bears she her grief at the sad loss that hath befallen her? The lord warden of this castle hath already acquainted us of the treachery of the man Roderic.”

“So please you, sire, she is now passing well recovered, and bears her sorrows most nobly,” said Kenric.

“And now,” said the King, “how happens it that Roderic of Gigha was allowed to leave your island alive? Had such a crime as his been committed within the realms of Scotland it is not thus that the criminal would have escaped.”

“He was duly tried for his ill deeds, your Majesty,” said Kenric, glancing aside at the queen. “He claimed wager of combat with my brother, whom, alas! he overcame and slew in fair fight. Our steward, Sir Oscar Redmain, finding him guilty, nevertheless passed sentence of outlawry upon him — a sentence which I crave you Majesty to ratify.”

“That have we already done,” said the King; “and should this villain again set foot in Scotland, or in any one of the Western Isles, ere his term of outlawry be duly passed, we shall hold no man guilty who puts him to the sword — nay, we shall reward him well. As to the lands of Gigha they are now forfeit, and the lordship over them, my young Earl Kenric, shall henceforth be yours.”

Then the King drawing his sword touched Kenric on his broad back, saying:

“Earl Kenric, in right of your parentage and in virtue of the future service which we shall expect of you, we now pronounce you the rightful lord over the isles of Bute and Gigha, with the title of knight of the most ancient order of the Thistle.”

Sheathing his sword the king then greeted his queen and presented Kenric to her. This honour so embarrassed the youth that when her Majesty asked him questions concerning his mother he could scarcely utter a word, but stuttered woefully.

Daughter of Henry the Third of England, and sister of Prince Edward — who afterwards gave such trouble to the realm of Scotland — Queen Margaret was at this time but one-and-twenty years of age. She was bright eyed and well featured, with a clear fresh complexion, and her every movement was of stately grace. She smiled upon Kenric with her sweet rosy lips, and bade him sit near her and tell her how his mother, accustomed to the life of the English court, contrived to live happily in so wild and dull a place as the little island of Bute. But Kenric in replying noticed only the coronet of pearls that the queen wore in her glossy hair, the surpassing whiteness of her neck and hands, and the rich splendour of her purple velvet gown.

Meanwhile the king had received Sir Piers de Currie.

“This young lord of Bute pleases us well, Ranza,” said King Alexander, addressing the knight by the name of his castle; “and we doubt not that he will prove even as stalwart an adherent as his father, though, indeed, we had been better pleased had he been somewhat older. Take him under your care, Ranza, so that he may acquire some of your own skill at arms.”

“Methinks, sire,” said Sir Piers, “that there is little need of that, for since the death of Alpin, the lad’s brother, there is none whom I could teach less to than young Kenric. A little more weight and strength, it may be, might serve him well. God alone can give him those. But of skill he requires no more than myself.”

“Such praise from you is a recommendation that any man in Scotland might be proud of, Sir Piers,” said the King. “But there is one thing more. Know you if the lad speaks the tongue of these Norse varlets of the isles?”

“Not speaking it myself, your Majesty, I am but a poor one to question on that matter.”

The King then called Kenric to his side, and bade the young page Harald address him in his native tongue. At this the flaxen-haired lad leapt towards Kenric with glistening eyes.

“My good friend,” said he in Norse, “be not alarmed at what I shall say. The King knows not a word of our tongue. Tell me, is it to set me free that you come hither? Do you come from my father?”

“Your father?” said Kenric. “I know not who your father may be. Methinks you make some strange mistake!”

“Alas!” said the lad, crestfallen, “then am I the most unhappy youth that ever lived! But stay; you come from Bute. I heard the King say so. You have come in your ship. I saw when you entered this room that you were an islander. My friend, I implore you to rescue me from the hands of these Scots. Take me away from this land, for I am well-nigh dying to breathe once more the free air of my island home, and to rove again upon the wide ocean. Say, will you help me to escape?”

“What!” exclaimed Kenric, “even in his Majesty’s presence you ask me to do such a thing? By the rood, but you are passing bold!”

“Enough,” said King Alexander, smiling as he signed to the page to retire.

Then he drew Sir Piers and Kenric nearer to him.

“The death of Hamish of Bute,” said he, “is a sore calamity. We could ill spare him. But as concerning the matter of the Western Isles, the time has come for speedy action, and we must look to you, Sir Piers, and to you, Earl Kenric, for the help that we now need. We are about to despatch an expedition to the outer islands, and it may be that the mission will not be fulfilled without the spilling of blood. It is, therefore, necessary that you should gather together a goodly number of brave men and as many ships as may be available. With these you shall repair to Jura, Islay, Colonsay, Mull, and, indeed, all the isles that lie south of Morven; and there gather what knowledge may be gained touching the power held by Hakon of Norway in these districts. My lord of Ross will in like manner visit the more northern isles. You shall not want for help, for we will presently send over to Bute some two or three ships from Galloway and Cowall. As to the rest, we leave it in your hands, Ranza, who so well understand the situation. Should you, by forcibly invading the islands of the disaffected kings, succeed in conquering them, so much the more to your credit. All we ask is that you draw not the sword ere you have done all that is possible by the persuasions of the tongue.”

Sir Piers bowed and exchanged glances with Kenric.

“Fortunately for our plans,” continued the King, “Roderic of Gigha is now out of our way. He held one of the smallest of the islands, but he was assuredly the greatest rascal in them all. Had it been otherwise we should have hesitated to authorize this bold attempt. But there are many of the island kings who may be very easily won over from their fickle allegiance to the crown of Norway, while many have already given us hostages for their loyal behaviour. Of these last is Earl John of Islay — one of the most powerful of the island chiefs. We claimed a hostage from him, and he sent his son Harald — the youth who has but now been speaking with you, my lord of Bute. Alas! the lad is a sorry scamp, and we can do naught with him. He is ever trying to escape, for he has the heart and spirit of a viking, and naught will please him but to be roving the seas. Now his father has of late shown a disposition to abandon all thoughts of King Hakon. He has duly delivered tribute to us. We would, therefore, have you visit him early, taking the lad with you, and on his solemnly engaging to maintain his faithful allegiance to Scotland you will permit his son to land.”

“Then this young viking returns with us, your Majesty?” said Kenric.

“Even so,” said the King.

At this point the lord warden of the castle entered the chamber and begged the King to repair to the banqueting hall, where the morning meal was now ready. So the King signed to Sir Piers and Kenric to follow him.

“So please you, sire,” said Kenric, “we have with us a young man of Bute, one Allan Redmain, who, if I might be so bold as say so, would be passing well pleased could he have the honour of kissing your Majesty’s hand.”

“Bid the youth come in to breakfast with us,” said Alexander.

And Kenric went out to search for Allan, who had begun to fear that he would after all miss even a sight of the King.

“Who is this Redmain?” asked Alexander of Sir Piers de Currie.

And at that the knight told of how Allan had dived into the linn of the White Lady falls to save Earl Kenric’s life, and the King, who admired bravery in whatsoever form it was to be found, greeted Allan so kindly that the lad remembered that proud occasion all the rest of his days.

At noontide the men of Bute were again on board their galley, and when Kenric and his companions, together with young Harald of Islay, had come down from the high rock of the castle, the long oars were set in motion and the gallant ship swept down the Clyde, making the bay of Rothesay before nightfall.

CHAPTER XVII. HOW ALLAN REDMAIN KEPT WATCH.

Sir Piers de Currie remained that night in the castle of Rothesay, discussing with Earl Kenric their plans for the coming expedition to the island kings. But Allan Redmain had to bethink himself of his unwilling task of acting as watchdog on the lonely farmstead of Scalpsie, for the judgment passed upon him in lawful assize was one which he dared not attempt to evade. To Scalpsie, therefore, he wended his steps without even going homeward to Kilmory to doff the fine attire which he had assumed for the occasion of his presentation to King Alexander, and there, drawing his plaid over his shoulders, he paced to and fro in the dark night — from the sheepfold to the steadings and from the steadings back to the sheepfold.

Weary work it was in sooth, and much did he deplore the laws that made it binding upon one of gentle blood to thus demean himself. He listened to the mournful sound of the waves on the shore, broken sometimes by the bleating of a restless sheep in the fold. Soon he began to feel his eyelids getting very heavy, and he sought about for a soft bed of heather to lie down upon for a while. As he was about to curl himself up — trusting that if any night-prowling beast should come to play havoc among the farm stock the noise of the sheep and goats would surely awaken him — he heard footsteps approaching.

“So, my young watchdog,” said the voice of the farmer Blair, “you have bethought yourself of your charge at last, eh? Well is it for you that you have not neglected my sheep this night as you did last. No more shall you send that sleepy-headed lad Lulach to be your proxy, for his sleeping cost me the life of one of my best ewe lambs. So look you well to your charge now. Here is a cake of bread to keep you from hunger, and a flagon of good posset to keep you warm — ’tis your nightly allowance. And if it so be that you get drowsy, why, sing yourself a song as do the shipmen in their night watches. But mind you this, young Kilmory, that for every beast I lose through the slaying of my dog, your father, Sir Oscar Redmain, shall pay me another of equal value.”

“Look you, David Blair,” said Allan warmly, “it is not thus that I will be your watchdog for many nights. The task, I well know, is but a lawful judgment upon me for my offence, but you have no manner of right to say that I shall send no proxy. If it please me to send Lulach, then the lad shall come, and I will pay him for his work. But to come here myself as often as you please, that I shall not do.”

“If Lulach lose me my sheep he cannot return full value for them,” said Blair, bethinking himself of his own interests, “whereas if they be lost by your unwatchfulness, then can I duly claim my own from your father.”

“Why did you refuse the better dog that my father offered you in place of the one I slew?” asked Allan.

“Because,” said the husbandman with simple pride, “it pleases me better to know that my homestead is nightly watched by a brave and gallant man-at-arms, who, I trust, will permit no marauding Norsemen or thieving wolf to come near me while I lie sleeping.”

And so saying he turned away.

“A murrain on you and your cattle,” growled Allan.

And then he began to pace his rounds, leaving the cake of bread and the flagon of posset by the gate of the sheepfold.

Not long had he been thus engaged when the heavy dew made him feel cold, and he took a good drink of the posset. This mixture of strong wine and curdled milk made him strangely sleepy, whereupon, defying the law and David Blair together, he rolled himself up in his plaid and lay down upon the heather, to think of King Alexander and Queen Margaret and of battling Norsemen. The sound of the waves breaking upon the beach, and the sighing of the night wind among the neighbouring fir trees, soon lulled him into a heavy sleep.

It might be that he had slept full four hours when, feeling something cold against his cheek, he wakened with a start and sprang to his feet. There was a sharp yelp as of a frightened dog, and he heard the movement of footsteps upon the heather. Then the footsteps stopped and he saw the staring eyes of a wolf glaring at him through the black darkness.

Grasping his sword, Allan bounded off in pursuit. The wolf trotted away at an easy pace towards the woodland. Then as Allan approached nearer, off again it sped, leading him deep into a quiet dingle to the east of Loch Quien. But at each time the animal paused Allan came nearer and nearer than before, until at last it seemed that he had come within striking distance of the brute. He had not his bow with him, or he might have made short work of the wolf. But he did not shrink from a close encounter.

As he heard the low snarling growl before him he raised his weapon, swinging it round to strike. Lightly the wolf sprang aside and the sword blade whizzed through the air, striking nothing. And ere Allan, expecting to find the animal lying dead at his feet, could well understand how he had missed his aim, the wolf had bounded off and was lost in the darkness.

Then Allan rubbed his drowsy eyes and questioned if he had not been dreaming. But suddenly from behind him there came through the still air a strange, weird, human voice that startled him more than the sight of any wild animal might have done.

“Allan Redmain,” it said hurriedly, “is this you?”

“Holy Virgin!” exclaimed Allan, turning round, “who spoke?”

And against the darkness of the tree trunks he again saw two shining eyes, on a level with his own, and scarce a couple of yards’ distance away from him.

Now, whether it was that those eyes but reflected the wan light of dawn that was breaking above the eastern hills, or that they did indeed shine red and green by turns as did the eyes of the wolf, may not be told. But Allan shrank back at sight of them with a gruesome fear at his heart.

“Hush, hush!” said the voice in a whisper that was scarcely louder than the sighing of the wind among the trees. “It is I, Aasta of Kilmory.”

“Saint Columba help me!” said Allan. “Aasta? Aasta the wolf maiden? What trick is this you have played me? It is you, then, and no wolf that I have been following? And I had nearly slain you!”

“Listen, Allan Redmain; and, I beg you, make no noise,” said Aasta, drawing nearer. “Listen if you hear not footsteps on the moor yonder.”

Allan held in his breath for a moment, and in the stillness he heard indeed the pat, pat of a pair of feet hurrying away.

“Well,” he said, “I do in truth hear footsteps. But what of that? ‘Tis but the tread of some wild boar or prowling wolf.”

“Not so,” said Aasta; “they are the footsteps of the fair-haired youth who came with you in Earl Kenric’s ship from Dumbarton.”

“Harald of Islay! He?”

“Even so,” said Aasta. “Two hours ago he escaped by stealth from the castle of Rothesay. He is now seeking the means of flying from the island. I know not wherefore he was brought to Bute; but the manner of his escaping and his care to avoid being seen were such that I followed him. I had gone to Rothesay to learn of your return, and to get news for Elspeth. Setting out for Kilmory I saw this youth steal out by the west postern, cloaked and armed. Tarry not here; for if it be that the youth had no right to leave the castle, then he must even be forcibly taken back.”

“Even so, Aasta,” said Allan, “and much do I commend you for your timely warning of the lad’s escape. Though how by your witchery you brought me hither I cannot well understand.”

“Seek not to learn, then,” returned Aasta, leading him forth upon the open land; “but come ere it be too late to arrest this fugitive.”

With no further words the fair maiden led him southward towards the sea cliffs, skipping over the streamlets that crossed their path, and passing over wide stretches of barren moorland. And down into every creek and bay she turned her searching eyes. Suddenly she halted and drew back a few paces, then crouched upon the ground, bidding Allan do likewise. Thus she crept to the brink of the cliff that stands frowning above the bay of Stravannan.

The light of dawn had by this time chased away the shadows of night, and headlands and rocks stood out clear against the gray sky. Aasta pointed down to the stony beach below. The tide was at half flood, and lying above the water’s edge was a small fishing boat. Young Harald of Islay had grasped the boat’s gunwale and was pulling and tugging with all his strength. A few more pulls and the little craft would be launched. Every effort he made brought it a foot nearer the water.

“Ah, had I but my bow and a good straight arrow!” whispered Allan, crouching down at Aasta’s side.

“Hush! Give me your plaid,” said she. “Let him not see you; but go you down by the farther side of the bay while I take this nearer path. When you hear me cry as the peewit cries, run as quickly as may be towards the boat. Methinks by his fair hair that the lad should be of the Norsemen. Is that so?”

Throwing the plaid about her head and shoulders, Aasta went downward by the craggy rocks and was soon upon the beach. The boat was already half in the water. The young Norseman turned with a startled look at hearing footsteps on the shingle. Aasta walked towards him slowly, bending down now and again as though she were gathering shellfish. Seeing that it was only, as he supposed, some harmless fisherwoman, Harald took courage and waited.

“You are abroad betimes, my young master,” said she, speaking in the Norse. “And methinks you have work that ill befits such white hands and comely apparel as yours. Let me, I pray you, help you to launch your boat.”

“Your words, fair damsel,” said the youth as he regarded her in wondering surprise, “surely betoken that you are not of the people of this land.”

“And yours, my master, that you are equally foreign to these shores. But tell me, sir, where go you in your boat?”

“I go hence to Islay,” said he, “if so be I may without help adventure so far.”

“Methinks,” said Aasta, “that it were at least wise in you to have the help of a pair of oars.”

“There is a pair lying at the foot of the cliff there,” said the youth, pointing up the beach.

“Go, then, and bring them,” said she, “while I launch your boat; and it may be that, if you are bound for Islay, I will, if it so please you, accompany you.”

“Sweet damsel,” said he, “surely some strange good fortune hath sent you to my aid!” and at that he ran up the beach to the place where the fishermen had left their oars.

As he went the cry of a peewit rose in the morning air

“Pee-wit, pee-weet-weet!”

In a few moments Allan Redmain was at Aasta’s side. She bade him stand behind her. Harald the hostage, not seeing him, walked back towards the boat bearing the two oars over his shoulder. Then suddenly Allan confronted him.

“So, my brave viking, you would escape, eh?” he said, smiling at the lad’s discomfiture.

Harald frowning and with flashing eyes laid the oars across the boat’s thwarts, and grasping the gunwale tried to launch her. Aasta, making pretence to help him, pulled the opposite way and the boat did not move. Then seeing that he was intercepted the lad promptly whipped out his dirk and sprang towards Allan with his weapon raised.

Allan stepped aside, yet did not attempt to unsheathe his sword. Harald followed upon him, but in an instant Aasta had leapt behind him and flung her plaid in a loop over his head. With a vigorous tug at the two ends of the garment she pulled him over and he fell upon his back. Allan seized the dirk that dropped from the lad’s hand and threw it aside. Grasping Harald’s two wrists he then turned him over, planting his knee upon his back.

“Now, Aasta,” said Allan calmly, “methinks we had best secure his arms with my plaid. Give me an end of it that we may twist it; so. Now lace it well under his arms while I bring it round his legs. There; he will not readily draw himself out of that noose. I will leave him in your care until I launch Ronald Gray’s boat.”

Then, as Allan pushed the little craft into the water, Aasta bent by the young Norseman’s side, running her fingers through his flaxen hair.

“So bold a spirit,” said she, “is not oft inclosed in so fair a head. But ah, my young master, beware how you let that spirit escape. ‘Twill do you no manner of good to have thus avoided the castle of Rothesay, for there in that castle are dungeons deeper than Loch Ascog, and colder than the snowy peak of Goatfell.”

“Oh, deceitful woman that you are!” muttered the youth, “to tell me that you were not of the people of this land. Had it not been for you I might even now have been afloat!”

“Had it not been for me,” said Aasta, “you would even now have been dead, for if I had let you use your dirk as you intended, Allan Redmain, whose prisoner you now are, would certainly have slain you.”

“That would I,” said Allan, now bending down and taking hold of the lad in his strong arms and carrying him to the boat.

“‘Tis a long pull round to Rothesay Bay,” said Aasta, “and it may be that you will yet have trouble with your charge. Let me go with you.”

Allan, standing knee deep in the water, held out his hand and helped her into the boat. Then as she sat down he pushed off and sprang on board, taking the oars.

Some four hours afterwards the boat rounded Bogany Point and entered the bay of Rothesay. By this time many of the men of the castle, led by Kenric and Sir Piers de Currie, were scouring the island in search of the fugitive Harald, and when the boat touched at the little pier it was as though it were one of the fishing craft returning after a night at sea. Allan carried his prisoner up to the castle gates, followed by a crowd of wondering children, and meeting the Lady Adela in the hail he told her how he had passed his first night as watchdog over at Scalpsie.

CHAPTER XVIII. THE EXPEDITION TO THE ISLAND KINGS.

It was on a day in the month of August, 1262, that the armament of twelve gallant ships of war, under Sir Piers de Currie and Earl Kenric of Bute, entered the sound of Kilbrannan on their voyage to the outer isles. There had passed six weeks of busy preparation, for there were stores to be got ready and put on board, small boats to be made trim, timbers to be caulked, sails to be mended, many hundreds of arrows to be cut, pointed, and feathered, and longbows to be strung, swords and battle-axes to be forged and sharpened, and bucklers to be stretched. And now, with all these matters duly completed, the twelve vessels, with their sails brailed up to the yards, and their long oars moving with regular stride, crept down the channel between Kintyre and Arran. Leading them was the great Dragon — the same that had sailed to Dumbarton — commanded by Earl Kenric himself, who stood on the poop clothed in armour of iron network and with the sword of Somerled at his side, and wearing his shining brass helm crested with gold wings.

The lion banner of Scotland, woven in silk, fluttered at his bark’s masthead. In his ship’s waist, toiling at the heavy oars, were two score of well-trained retainers, with a reserve of yet another two score and ten of his sturdy islanders crowded at the prow.

Side by side with the Dragon was the Eagle, the galley of Sir Piers de Currie, having on board young Harald the hostage; and in their wake sailed two other ships of Arran and four of Bute, one of Dunoon, and three of Galloway, and they were the stoutest and tallest ships that had ever sailed in those deep blue waters.

On the /Kraken/ of Rothesay was Allan Redmain. Right proud was he of his command, for even until the fifth week he had dreaded that he might not be of this expedition by reason of his being bound as watcher of the farmstead of Scalpsie. Night by night, in starlight or rainstorm, he had duly fulfilled his unwilling charge, albeit he ofttimes slept through half the night, and it so befell that on each occasion that he had slept, on the next day thereafter the farmer claimed that he had lost yet another two or three of his ewe lambs, and Sir Oscar Redmain was perforce bound to make good the loss.

Now, as time went on this thing happened so often that Allan began to think strange thoughts, for never but on the first night of his watching had he seen aught of either wolf or fox. Seeking for a reason, he found that on those nights that he had slept it was then that he had drunk deepest of the crafty farmer’s strong posset, and he was thereafter wary of that drink. One night, having thrown the posset away without tasting it, he made pretence of sleeping, and as he lay there on the heather and watched with one eye open, behold the wolf came and carried off two young goats.

Now it was not by any chance a four-legged wolf that did this thing. The marauder was indeed none other than the wily farmer himself, who carried the goats off to another place, there to keep them in secret, with the many lambs that he had in like manner stolen, until he might, just as secretly, take them over to Ayr market.

When Allan discovered the trick that had been played upon him he went straightway to Earl Kenric and told him of it.

“If this be so,” said the young king, “then David Blair shall be severely punished, and you, Allan, shall be freed from this dog’s work at the next assize. But methinks that long ere this you might have avoided this nightly watching. Know you not of that custom of old time which holds that an offender against the laws shall be assoiled, or set free from all penalty, on producing the heads of two wolves that he has slain? Now, why have you not brought me your wolves’ heads?”

“Alas!” said Allan, “I fear me that until the winter time comes there is but one wolf in all Bute, and that is the werewolf Aasta the Fair. Would you that I should bring you that damsel’s head, my lord?”

“The saints forbid!” said Kenric. “But bide your time and you shall be set free, and the more speedily since I intend that you shall come with us on our journey to the isles.”

Well, on that same day Earl Kenric went secretly over to the forest of Toward, in Cowall, with a few chosen men, and in the evening when Allan was setting forth for Scalpsie he found two great black wolves lying dead and bloody beside the granary of Kilmory Castle, and he cut off their heads and carried the same to Rothesay and delivered them to the king.

“Here, my lord, are the heads of two wolves,” said he, “that were alive this morning and now are dead; and I cut off their heads with my own hands. For this I claim my freedom.”

“Right so,” said Kenric smiling. “You have well won your freedom, and so easily, that methinks it might even have been secured four weeks ago and more.”

And now Allan Redmain was made master of the /Kraken/ galley, with four score of skilful archers under him. And as the vessels sped down Kilbrannan Sound on this August morning he trod the deck with a proud firm step that made his long sword rattle in its sheath, and with his young heart beating quicker in anticipation of the battles that were before him.

By midnight the ships, with all sails set and oars inboard, were abreast of the Mull of Kintyre, and at sunrise the next morning, beating due north the voyagers sighted the little isle of Cara, with the higher land of the larger isle of Gigha rising boldly behind it.

Kenric brought his galley to the shoreward of her consorts, so that leaning over the bulwarks he might see this land of Gigha that was now his own. The coast was wild and barren, with black jagged rocks rising high out of a bed of foaming breakers, but sloping off from the steep headlands into green upland pastures, striped with glistening streams. Through a long rock tunnel that pierced the cliffs he could see the light of the morning sun rays, and the great Atlantic rollers, breaking in the midst of this tunnel, shot up in a cloud of spray through two open shafts and roared with thunderous noise.

At the middle of the island, which is but six miles in length, was the hill of Dunchifil, crowned with a strong fortress.

The ships, sailing up the western shores, came at last into the harbourage of a calm landlocked bay, whose waters were so crystal clear that one might see the pebbles and sea urchins at the bottom, many fathoms deep. So, when the anchors were all down a longboat was launched from the Dragon, and Kenric, with Sir Piers, Allan Redmain, and one William MacAlpin, a cousin to the late Earl Hamish, were rowed ashore.

From a castle at the head of the bay there came down an armed Norseman, followed by a dozen swordsmen.

“Whose are these ships?” said he with a loud voice, “and what men are ye who have brought them hither?”

“Methinks our banner might tell you that they are the ships of his Majesty of Scots,” said Kenric stepping forward. “As to myself, since you know me not, my name is Kenric, the son of Hamish. I am the king of Gigha, and so please you I am come to lay claim to my castles and lands.”

At this the Norseman bowed his head.

“God give you joy of them, my lord,” said he, and then he drew his sword and delivered it to his master. “Little care I what king I serve so long as I have food and drink, with God’s good gift of peace. And since our Earl Roderic went hence to Bute we have daily expected some such happening as this. I trust, my lord, you will find that I, Olaf Grimm, have in the meantime taken good care of your lands and subjects.”

Then Kenric and his companions went up to the castle and to the fortress upon the heights, to take formal possession of his little kingdom and to receive the homage of his people.

“And now,” said he to Olaf Grimm, “if there be any in Gigha who have wrongs to redress or complaint to make to me, let them be called.”

But Olaf told him that there were none, for, said he, “since Earl Roderic has been gone we have known naught but happiness and peace.”

“Long may that peace abide,” said Kenric. “And now do I leave my kinsman, William MacAlpin, as my chosen steward and governor over my lands and as the defender of my people.”

Kenric then went on board Sir Piers de Currie’s ship, taking a fisherman of Gigha to act as pilot, and they left the rest of their barks at anchor in the quiet bay under the care of Allan Redmain.

The Eagle galley then unattended made sail across the wide channel westward towards Islay, whose high hills could already be seen like blue mists upon the far-off sea line.

“Now, my young valiant,” said Sir Piers to Harald the hostage, who sat upon the after deck looking wistfully over the tumbling waters, “know you the colour of your native hills?”

“Well indeed do I know that,” said the lad, “and by your course I now judge that you are indeed taking me home, for which I am most truly thankful. My sojourn in your country has been little to my taste. Well will it be for the lord of Bute, ay, and for his Majesty of Scots also, if I take not a bitter revenge for all that I have suffered at their hands. But, prithee, turn your ship’s head yet more to the southward to catch the current of Loch Andail, and so gain a few minutes’ time. St. Olaf, how my heart beats at sight of those hills! Ah, how the moments lag! speed on, speed on!”

“Patience, patience, Harald, you are not landed yet,” said the knight. “And should your good father not choose to agree to our terms, then back you go to Scotland as speedily as we came.”

“Let me but see my father and he will agree,” said Harald.

“Let your father agree and he will see you,” returned Sir Piers.

“Look you,” said the lad with flashing eyes, “if you put me not upon the shores of Islay in two hours’ time, then by the soul of St. Olaf I will slay every man in your ship. As to the lord of Bute, I will haul him up by a rope’s end to your masthead!”

“So ho!” said Kenric, “methinks, Sir Piers, that this little dog might now have a chain about his pretty neck. What say you?”

Sir Piers then ordered one of his men to take the lad below and keep strict guard over him.

Late that afternoon the galley entered the beautiful Loch Andail and sailed in between ranges of fertile hills, whose lower slopes were gold with ripening oats and waving barley fields. Islay was at that time one of the most wealthy and prosperous of the Western Isles, thickly populated, and famous over all Scotland for the rich produce of its looms and the beauty of its native pottery wares. It was important to Alexander that he should win over the complete and undivided adherence of the powerful ruler of so wealthy a country, and Sir Piers de Currie well understood the gravity of his mission.

The anchor was dropped in the middle of the loch where it widens above Bowmore. Sir Piers and Kenric, attended by six armed men, were taken ashore. A tall husbandman with a long golden beard and sea-blue eyes