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stood upon the rocks where they landed, looking out at their great ship from under his wide flapping hat.

“Say, my good man,” said Sir Piers, addressing him, “say if we may hope to find my lord the Earl John in his castle of Bowmore?”

“That,” said the man smiling as he swung his sickle from side to side, “must needs depend upon whether I enter that castle before you or behind you. But doubtless John of Islay will be right well pleased to give you entertainment this night, for ’tis long since he had news from Scotland, whence, if I mistake not, you are now come. How fares our sovereign lord the King — his Majesty Alexander?”

“Passing well,” said Sir Piers, “for ’tis but a few weeks past that I had speech with him at Dumbarton.”

“Ah, then you heard also of my son — my dear son Harald?” cried Earl John eagerly. “The saints grant that you bring me no ill news of him! But come, I beg you, for ’tis ill mannered in me thus to question you ere you have broken bread.”

Then the lord of Islay led his visitors to his castle, and there they enjoyed a right lordly repast in the banqueting hall. And when the feast was over Sir Piers de Currie, as ambassador from the King of Scots, claimed the homage of Earl John, who solemnly swore upon his sword and by the soul of his Majesty the King that he would be true to his fealty to Scotland and abjure all allegiance to Hakon of Norway.

“My lord,” said Sir Piers, “now that you have given us this assurance of your faithfulness, it is my pleasure to tell you that your son is on board our ship and will be at once restored to you. For these are his Majesty’s instructions.”

In another hour young Harald the hostage was released from the care of the guards who stood over him. But as the lad left the ship he shook his closed fist at Kenric and swore an oath of vengeance upon him and upon all the men of Scotland whom he should ever afterwards meet.

Kenric thought little of this threat, but it was not long ere the hotheaded young viking put it into execution.

Now so easily had Sir Piers de Currie fared at Islay, and so much did he pride himself upon the success of his first negotiation, that he thought surely he would meet with equal favour in the other islands. Returning to Gigha he ordered a division of his forces. Bidding Kenric proceed with a squadron of six ships to Colonsay, Coll, and Tiree, he took under his own command the six other galleys, namely, three of Arran, one of Dunoon, one of Galloway, and one of Bute, the last being the /Kraken/, of which Allan Redmain was the master.

With these six galleys Sir Piers, leaving Gigha in advance of Kenric, sailed for the isles that lie off the mainland of Argyll and Lorne, agreeing to rejoin Kenric in three weeks’ time in the sound of Iona.

The first island Sir Piers went to after leaving Gigha was the isle of Jura. But there he soon found that Erland the Old was not so easily to be won over as his neighbour of Islay, for he had already renounced all allegiance to Scotland and was in open league with the King of Norway. So when he saw the six ships of the Clyde sailing along his rugged coasts he mustered all his retainers by the summons of the fiery cross and gave fight. There was a vigorous battle in the sound of Jura, with much slaughter on either side. The ship of Dunoon was captured by the men of Jura, and all on board were brutally slain.

Then Sir Piers de Currie and Allan Redmain with their remaining galleys sailed yet farther up the strait and landed on the north of Jura and sacked many villages till the burns ran red with blood. The men of Galloway fought as wild wolves, and much ado had their leader to stop them from breaking into the monastery and chapels and plundering them of the treasures that were therein stored.

In the midst of this bloody work Erland the Old again appeared with his army of islanders from the south, and at last drove off the invaders, capturing the galley of Galloway and dealing with her crew as the gallant men of Dunoon had already been dealt with.

Thus repulsed, Sir Piers drew off and crossed to the mainland, taking shelter in the loch of Crinan. The good master of Duntroon Castle, who was for the Scots, gave succour to the wounded men, and supplied reinforcements to the number of forty retainers.

After five days the four ships sailed off again, taking possession in the name of the Scots king of the isles of Scarba, Luing, Seil, Kerrera, and Lismore, besieging many castles and imposing oaths of fealty upon their lords, and lastly to the great isle of Mull, whose king was a true Scot and most friendly disposed.

By this time the three weeks were passed, and they sailed round the south of Mull and anchored in the offing between Staffa and Iona. So anchored, they waited for Kenric’s squadron. But the days went by; the month of August passed into September, and Kenric did not appear. A watch was kept both night and day, yet the six ships that were so anxiously expected came not to the appointed place.

CHAPTER XIX. STORMING AN ISLAND STRONGHOLD.

One morning very early Allan Redmain was on watch. He had had his fill of fighting, and not few were the wounds he had received of both arrow and spear. Wrapped in his warm plaid, he paced the deck. The seagulls flew about the masthead and dipped into the blue water. The mountains of Mull were shrouded in white mist. Suddenly Allan paused his walk and looked northward towards the little isle of Staffa. On the sea line he saw what at first he took to be the Treshnish Islands; but soon these faint shadows loomed more distinct through the morning mist and took the shape of ships’ sails. Six ships he counted.

“Kenric is safe!” he sighed.

Then ordering one of his small boats to be lowered, he went to tell the good news to Sir Piers on his galley hard by. But as together they looked across the sea they counted yet another ship.

“You mistake, Allan,” said Sir Piers. “These are not Kenric’s ships at all, but the galleys of my lord of Ross, who has, as you know, been upon an expedition similar to our own — to Skye and Lewis.”

“Alas!” said Allan. “Then, where can Kenric be?”

“Where indeed?” sighed Sir Piers.

At this moment one of the men of Arran touched his master’s arm.

“There is a fishing coracle coming alongside of us, my master,” said he, “with two fishermen in her.”

Sir Piers and Allan crossed the deck and saw a small boat bearing towards them, rowed by a brawny western islander.

“Saint Columba protect us!” cried Allan. “Look but at that man sitting in the stern! ‘Tis none other than Duncan Graham of Rothesay, my lord Kenric’s henchman. Whence comes he? and where is his master?

“Duncan! Duncan!” he called.

Duncan raised his eyes. His face was haggard and wan. His cheeks were thin, his clothes torn and bloodstained.

Allan threw down a rope’s end, and the boat was drawn alongside. Scarcely able to move his gaunt limbs, Duncan clambered up the galley’s side and fell upon the deck, moaning. From under his ragged plaid he drew a formidable sword and held it towards Allan without speaking a word.

“The Thirsty Sword!” cried Allan in dread surprise as he took the weapon. “Alas! Kenric is most surely dead!”

“Not so!” moaned Duncan, lolling out his tongue. “Ah, food, food!”

Then Sir Piers de Currie bent down, and with the help of Allan took up the giant form of Duncan, and carried him below into the cabin.

For two long hours the man lay without uttering a word. But the warm wine with which they fed him brought back something of his strength. He put his hand to his chest to show that he was wounded. Allan Redmain drew away the garments and revealed a gaping sword wound.

“No; not dead,” moaned Duncan. “He yet lives. But oh, my masters, hasten to his aid, for he is even now a helpless prisoner in the dark dungeon of Breacacha Castle!”

“A prisoner?” echoed Allan.

“Breacacha?” said Sir Piers. “Where is that castle? In what isle?”

“Over in Coll,” said Duncan, pointing westward across the sea.

Then from the ships of the Earl of Ross came the loud call of a clarion horn. Sir Piers de Currie moved to go on deck.

“Stay, stay, Sir Piers,” said Allan Redmain. “Ere You go, give me, I implore you, the liberty to take two of our ships across to Coll, that I may save my friend and master and rescue him from out his dungeon.”

“Little need have you to ask that, Allan,” said the knight. “Would that I might accompany you! But I am in the hands of my lord of Ross, whose orders, by the King’s instructions, I am now subject to. But ere I resign my command, let my last directions be to you, Allan. Take two of our galleys, with what men you will. Rescue our dear young friend even if need be at the cost of your own life, and God be with you. Farewell!”

Allan Redmain had Duncan carried upon the /Kraken/ galley, and, taking also the /Seahorse/ of Arran, with a full company of men upon each, he set out to cross the twenty miles of sea that divide Iona from the island of Coll; while Sir Piers de Currie repaired on board the flagship of the Earl of Ross.

“And now, Duncan,” said Allan, when his two vessels were well under way, “take, I beg you, a little more food –“

“No, no,” said Duncan, bracing himself up. “I have already taken what will serve me till I tell you all that has befallen my young master. Not another bite passes my lips until I have seen him again in life. But, lest by chance my own life’s breath ebb out too soon, let me direct you to this stronghold wherein the Earl Kenric lies lingering to his death in bitter hunger. Know, then, that the castle of Breacacha lies at the southeast of Coll. Could I have got within its strong walls, as you and your men-at-arms may now do, haply I might have saved him. But I alone am left of those who followed him ashore, and I could not reach him without help. The great God be thanked that I have at last found it.”

Then Duncan, groaning, threw back his head and closed his eyes.

“Men of Bute,” said Allan, returning to his shipmates, “yonder, in that isle that you see across the waters, our lord Kenric lies perishing of hunger in a castle dungeon. No more need I say to you, my brave comrades, for well do I know that there is no man of you who will think of rest until we have saved him. Speed you, my lads, work well your oars, and God grant that we be yet in time.”

“Kenric! Kenric!” they cried with one voice as they fell to their oars, and so the ship sped on over the chopping waves, leaving the companion galley of Arran to follow in the wake.

“Now, Duncan, if so be you have the strength,” said Allan, going back to his cabin, “I would hear what you have yet to tell.”

Duncan raised himself on his elbow and began. His tale was told with feeble, faltering voice, and not until afterwards did Allan hear it in all its particulars.

Kenric, with his squadron of six galleys, left the little isle of Gigha ere the galleys of Sir Piers de Currie were well out of sight. Through the fierce sound of Islay his good ships sailed as with spreading wings, and the next morning he sighted the isle of Oronsay. Taking the western coast, he crept up to the more northern isle of Colonsay, and stood off a little village that had a castle in its midst. Above the gates of this castle, that was called Dungallan, waved the white falcon banner of the old Norse vikings. On seeing it, Kenric hoisted the banner of the Scottish lion.

Now the position held at this time by both Erland of Jura and Sweyn of Colonsay — vassals both of Hakon of Norway — was shown in the conversation that was the prelude to the murder of the good Earl Hamish of Bute. Of the attitude held by these two island kings towards Scotland, Kenric, however, knew nothing, and though it may be that he was eager enough to meet Earl Sweyn the Silent in mortal combat, yet he did not forget the caution of King Alexander against drawing the sword ere the tongue had done its work. He was loth to show battle, while he was careful enough not to venture ashore unprepared for a warlike reception.

As Kenric was making ready to land he looked towards the shore, and there came down some fourscore of the men of Colonsay. Fair-haired sons of the North they were, all well armed and ready to resist the strangers with a shower of their swift arrows. Then Kenric knew that there was to be no chance of a peaceful parley, and he made no more ado but drew his galleys inshore, and bidding his men crouch down in the shelter of their bulwarks he assailed the islanders with such volleys of well-directed arrows that they soon began to retreat towards their stronghold, leaving several dead and wounded lying upon the beach.

It so chanced that the island was at that time but ill protected, for Earl Sweyn had gone on a roving cruise upon the seas, leaving a weakened garrison to defend his people. By what means the remaining islanders had so promptly prepared themselves for the arrival of the invaders Kenric did not pause to conjecture, but that they had been warned of his coming he could not doubt. Had he by chance caught sight of young Harald of Islay standing apart on the heights the matter had needed no deep questioning. For that young viking had lost no time in crossing over to Colonsay, and though the lord of the island was absent he nevertheless warned the garrison that Kenric of Bute, with a squadron of twelve galleys, was about to make a raid upon their island, and that it behoved them to make speedy preparations to resist him.

His landing being now possible, owing to the retreat of the defenders, Kenric ordered two score of men from each of his ships to take their arms and follow him ashore. With two hundred and forty men-at-arms he then landed. His own retainers of Bute formed in a compact body upon the strand, and led by himself and Duncan Graham they at once marched towards the castle. But John Dornoch’s men of Galloway waited not to give order to their ranks, neither stayed they for the word of command from Kenric, but rushed in hot pursuit of the islanders through the little street of their village.

Now the wild Scots of Galloway, whom Alexander had sent as a contribution to the forces, were as yet little known to Kenric, and he was not long in discovering that he might have done far better without them. They had joined the expedition with minds bent upon pillage and slaughter. They were by nature a people of wild and ferocious habits, a fierce and ungovernable set of men who fought half naked, and were wont to commit acts of untold cruelty upon the inhabitants of the countries they invaded. Also, as both Sir Piers de Currie and Kenric discovered to their cost, they were never content but in leading the van in battle.

Ere Kenric and his well-ordered men arrived at the castle the Gallwegians had already assailed the gate, and in despite of many arrows that fell about them from the towers and loopholes, they hammered with great clubs and iron battering bars, clamouring for blood. The gate soon gave way before the assault of their vigorous blows. Then the Gallwegians, with cries of triumph, rushed in upon the defending garrison, followed presently by Kenric and his retainers of Bute. A guard of some fifty men met them within the fallen gates and boldly defended their stronghold with swords and pikes. The men of Galloway leading, mowed them down and passed over their dead bodies, until, finding no further resistance, they proceeded to their work of plunder.

Kenric, leaving his men with Duncan, and calling but a dozen to follow him, ascended to the battlements and tore down the Norwegian flag. He searched about for Earl Sweyn, believing he was in hiding. But neither Sweyn nor his steward could he find, nor any living man who could tell him where the lord of Colonsay might be.

His men, ranked in order now without the gates, awaited him, and, returning, he led them in the direction of the beach. But as he passed through the little settlement of wooden huts a fearful scene presented itself. The men of Galloway whom he had left upon their two galleys, had boldly followed their countrymen ashore, led by their under-captain. While Kenric, who had himself not yet struck a blow, was within the castle, these wild men had fallen upon the village. They had burst open the doors of the cottages and ferociously slain the innocent people. Every threshold was bespattered with blood. Before Kenric had time to interfere, or even to realize what had taken place, many of the homes had been plundered and laid waste.

On a little knoll above the village a band of the Gallwegians had gathered in a crowd. As Kenric went towards them he heard screams of terror and of pain. With his buckler on his left arm, and in his hand the Thirsty Sword that had not yet been used, he led his men onward and forced his way into the crowd. Three women, who had been with others escaping to the hills, now lay slain upon the grass, with their slaughtered infants by their sides. A shock of horror overcame Kenric as he saw two burly Gallwegians in their wanton fury raise each a small child upon the point of his spear, and shake the spear until the child, pierced through the body, fell down to his hands.

“Fiends and dogs!” cried Kenric grasping firmly his sword. “Cowards and brutes!” and wielding his weapon with a mighty swoop he brought it down once, twice, upon the miscreants’ heads.

“Now!” he cried yet again as he stood with one foot upon the bleeding head of one of the men he had slain. “Now, you vile dogs! let another of you touch one of these innocent children that remain and my sword shall cleave his head in twain.”

He looked to some twenty fear-stricken children who with their mothers stood in a group at his right side.

“Back to your ships, ye brutes!” he continued. “Back this instant!”

“Who, then, are you that you so dare to command my men?” exclaimed John Dornoch, their captain, as with dripping sword and menacing looks he stepped forward and confronted Kenric.

“What? And you, the captain of these men, would excuse this spilling of innocent blood — this massacre of women and children!” cried Kenric, flushing crimson with just fury. “Who bade you thus to take the lives of the helpless? I am your leader here. By the King’s own appointment do I lead you. It is I who will be held accountable for this most wicked slaughter.

“And now, John Dornoch, I do command you to return to your galleys and take your band of ruffians with you.”

“Men of Galloway!” cried Dornoch, “heed not the mawkish cries of this upstart stripling. Obey my bidding and spare not, but kill, kill!”

Then Kenric, hearing this, gripped with both hands his ponderous sword, looked round for a moment to see that his own faithful men were near to defend the children, and said with loud voice which all could hear:

“Dornoch of Galloway, those men shall not obey your inhuman commands. Come on! stripling or man, ’tis not such mean cowards as you whom I would fear. Come on, I say!”

Dornoch advanced with a mocking smile on his lips and raised his sword. The crowd drew back. He was full ten inches taller than Kenric of Bute, and the muscles of his broad bare chest were as the roots of a tree that rise above the ground; as the nether boughs of the fir tree were his strong and hairy arms. Little cause did he see to shrink from combat with the youth who thus challenged him.

Their weapons crossed and clashed. It seemed to Kenric that his sword urged him with a force that he could not disobey. He made a few quick passes, then with the full strength in his arms and his supple body he smote his antagonist a terrible blow upon the head, cutting down even to the collarbone. Then Dornoch fell to the ground and moved no more.

The Gallwegians, seeing the fire that was in Kenric’s eyes and marvelling at his skill and strength, shrank back amazed and cowed.

“Now let one of you fail to obey me and I will serve him as I have served your captain,” cried Kenric with stern menace. “Back to your galleys with you this instant!”

And the men slunk off, crestfallen and dismayed.

“Right well have you served that hound, my lord,” said Duncan, “for he was indeed a very brute. Fear not that his curs will now disobey you, and trust in our faithful men of Bute, who will give their lives ere any further wrong be done. And now methinks ’twere well that we hastened to the priory, for when we came into the crowd I heard some of these scoundrels speak of the plunder some of their band are seeking in that holy place.”

“Infamous dogs!” muttered Kenric. “Oh to think that I should be doomed to be the leader of men so wicked!”

Leading the way to the priory, which was to the south of the village, he found that even this sacred edifice had not escaped sacrilege. The priory grange had been sacked and pillaged. Two of the friars had been slain whilst defending the villagers who had taken refuge in the sanctuary, and when Kenric appeared at the head of his troops a band of the men of Galloway were in the act of setting the chapel in flames; a heap of straw was piled before the arched door. But just as the flints were being struck to make a light Duncan Graham fell upon the men, throwing them aside, and the building was saved.

Many hours did it occupy Kenric ere he could, even in a small way, appease the wrath of the much-injured islanders and restore to them their devastated homes. His men of Bute returned to their ships without so much as a sword wound.

Twelve of the Gallwegians had been slain and many wounded, but even the most unruly now bowed before the commands of the young lord of Bute, and went back in submission to their posts.

The isle of Colonsay had been taken; but, saving only at the moment of landing, there had been no fair fighting, and with such forces behind him, Kenric might have taken the ill-protected island without the drawing of a sword.

The wanton massacre of the women and children was a thing which no man of honour could excuse, and Kenric felt that he had rather have been the vanquished than the conqueror under such conditions. His grief for those who had fallen victims to the wild Gallwegians was only partly softened by the remembrance that he had at least saved their brethren from further inhumanity.

Having taken formal possession of the island and gathered his forces together, he went on board the ships of Galloway. There he severely rebuked the men for what they had done, and threatened them with punishment if any should again prove unruly. Then he picked out two score of those who had been faithful to their posts in remaining on board instead of rushing after their companions, and these he left, under trusty officers of his own, with one of the galleys, in charge of the island.

This proceeding, made in the interests of the people of Colonsay, was in some respects unwise, for by this means the most savage and ungovernable were now quartered aboard one ship. But Kenric made no doubt that with his own four galleys and their crews he would have no further trouble.

So indeed it might have been. But in crossing with his five vessels over the stretch of sea between Colonsay and Tiree he encountered a strong gale from the southeast. The Gallwegians, being indifferent seamen, fell off to leeward and lost control of their galley. In the nighttime they were driven out into the Atlantic beyond Skerryvore. When the storm abated they drifted northward, landed on many islands in turn, playing great havoc amongst the children of the old vikings, and so disgracing their own country Scotland that the Norsemen of the Hebrides vowed vengeance upon all Scots wheresoever they might encounter them.

CHAPTER XX. ALONE WITH DEATH.

Kenric with his squadron, reduced now to four galleys, voyaged to the isle of Tiree — a distance of about fifty miles from Colonsay. There, without drawing arrow from sheath or sword from scabbard, he prevailed over the lord of that land to give him surety of his adherence to King Alexander, and a solemn declaration that he would remain true to his oaths. And then the barks departed for Coll.

Now young Harald of Islay having warned the people of Colonsay of the approach of the invaders, bade his men take him at once to the isle of Coll, whither, as it chanced, Earl Sweyn the Silent had gone, and there the lad told the same tale of how Kenric of Bute was bent upon making conquest of the isles, yet breathing no word of how King Alexander had ordered the expedition. The men of Coll, thus warned, would not brook that the ships of Bute should touch at their island, so ere Kenric had yet arrived at Tiree they got their many galleys together, and joining with the forces of Earl Sweyn they stood off behind the little isle of Gunna, ready to make an onslaught upon the squadron that Kenric was leading.

“It was night,” said Duncan, in telling his story to Allan Redmain — “It was night when we came abreast of the isle of Coll, and we anchored in the wide bay of Crossapol. When the day’s light fell upon the sea my lord Kenric came to me, and, said he, ‘Duncan, launch me the longboat with a dozen men, and come with me, for I will now land upon this island and seek for the king’s castle.’ So thereupon we landed.

“Not long had we been ashore when from the top of a little hill we saw, above the next bay, the castle that men call Breacacha. And going down to it, we were near to its gates when behold there came out a full two score of armed men, and they fell upon us with swords and spears. Fourteen men we were against forty, and we fought for two long hours, until of the men of Bute there were left but three alive, John Campbell of Glen More, my master, and myself. I was sorely wounded in the chest and like to fall down from the loss of blood. Of the men of Coll five remained. Twelve of their comrades my lord Kenric had slain with his mighty sword, and with little hurt to himself, saving only that his breath had grown weak.

“But one of our foemen, who was the tallest man my eyes have yet beheld, at last encountered my master. He smote him a sorry cut upon his arm and bore down upon him so that he fell as dead. Another man picked up the Thirsty Sword, as I could see, for his own had just been broken. And knowing what manner of weapon it was, I made a great effort and slew the man who was pressing upon me. Then I met him who now held my lord’s sword in his hands. Scarce had he raised it against me when I snatched my dirk from my side and flung it at his throat, caught his hand, and, slaying him, rescued my lord’s weapon.

“By this time John Campbell had fallen under the hands of the other three men of Coll, and I alone was left, standing over the body of Earl Kenric, to defend it against the three warriors who now remained. But as they came to assail me I fell down in a swoon beside my lord, and they wist that I was dead.

“Now when my wits returned to me I felt something move at my side, and then I saw that Earl Kenric was yet alive, and that he had but fallen from want of breath and strength. Two score and nine brave men lay dead upon the heather. In their midst, with their backs towards us, sat the three men of Coll, resting their limbs after that morning’s battle.

“My lord Kenric looked about him for his sword, not knowing that it was lying under my own frail body. I could neither move nor give it to him, nor could I speak for the fear that the men would turn round and finish us.

“Earl Kenric boldly rose and went behind the men. Ere he was two yards from them they stood up, and seeing him they spoke. I know not what they said, for I understand not the Norse tongue, Master Allan, but the tall man went up to him, leaving his sword upon the heather, and took my lord up in his arms and carried him away. The two others followed. Then was I in a great agony of despair, thinking they meant to slay him by some terrible torture. And I had not strength to save him.

“Not far had they gone when in the morning silence I heard the tinkling of a stream near by. Thither I crept and took a draught of its cool water. So much was my strength renewed by that blessed beverage, that I could have gone through that battle once again if so be I might save Earl Kenric’s life.

“I followed the three men to the castle. They had left the bridge down and the gates open. But scarcely had I got within when by the sounds I heard I knew that they were lowering my master into one of their dungeons. I heard him cry aloud. ‘Ah, had I but my sword!’ he cried in our own tongue. And then his voice sounded low down in the depths, and though I knew he was yet alive and strong, yet I knew also that it was no easy task to rescue him from that place.

“Ere I reached the chamber wherein the dungeon opened out, the three men met me. They had left their weapons outside. Grasping my lord’s sword and calling upon Saint Columba, I assailed those three men in such wise that they soon lay dead at my feet; for they could not pass me. ‘Kenric, my lord Kenric!’ I cried aloud. And I heard him answer my name.

“But this uproar of fighting and shouting alarmed the people within the castle, and thinking full surely that a host of the reserve garrison were coming to avenge the death of their comrades slain, coward that I am, I retreated without the gates, leaving my dear master within.

“Now it befell, Master Allan, that, as I had slain those three men who alone knew where my lord had been imprisoned, and as I had not the wit to speak with any of those Norse folk, it was little that I could do –“

“You have done well, Duncan, in coming for what aid we now can give,” said Allan Redmain. “But say, how long time is it since my lord was thus made captive?”

“Five days as I count,” said Duncan, “and had it not been for the thing that I next discovered he had not been there five hours. When I found myself outside the castle and with the bridge drawn up, I hied me over the hill towards the ships. Alas! they were no longer there in the bay where we had left them. They were standing out to sea, with seven great Norse galleys and as many fishing boats pursuing them.”

“Alas!” said Allan; “and whose ships were those?”

“They were three galleys of Coll and four of Colonsay,” said Duncan, “as I learned three days past when they returned to Breacacha. Our own four ships of Bute came not within sight again, and I fear they have gone back to Rothesay.”

“Not so,” said Allan confidently. “Our men would never return without truthfully knowing how it had fared with Earl Kenric. But what of the four galleys of Colonsay?”

“They left for the north two days ago, and the men of Coll went some into the castle and some to their homes, leaving their ships at anchor in the shelter of the isle of Gunna.”

“And say you that those in the castle know not that our lord is in the dungeon?”

“Even so, for who could tell them? Five days have passed since our fight in Coll. Like a beast of the field have I lived since then, feeding upon the wild roots and berries, and waiting that our ships might come back. But by good fortune I came across the poor fisherman who brought me over in his boat. He could speak the Gaelic, and with promise of reward I bade him bring me to the place where Earl Kenric had told me we were to rejoin Sir Piers de Currie. Had the man refused me I would have slain him; but now that he has kept his word, I beg you to give him the reward that is his due.”

“That will I do,” said Allan, “for well does he deserve it. A good boat with oars and sails shall be his reward.”

By the time that Duncan had told his tale, Allan Redmain’s two strong galleys were abreast of the isle of Coll, and steering into a beauteous bay that Duncan had told of, they were rowed far in until they stood under the strong-built fortress of Breacacha.

The garrison had been reinforced by many men from the ships of Coll. But the men of Bute were desperate, and they said that though they gave their lives, and though they pulled down every stone and timber of which that castle was built, they would save their young king. So with their friends of Arran they landed in a great body with their machines and battering engines. Some attacked the raised drawbridge with great missile weapons, while their companions picked off with their arrows the archers who were on the battlements.

After a two-hours’ storming of the gates the men of Bute forced an entrance and rushed within the castle, led by Allan Redmain. The defenders took timely refuge in the donjon keep. But Allan sought not to follow them. With lighted torches he led his men into the dark chambers that were in the heart of the castle, till at last he found a chamber whose floor was stained with blood.

“Methinks,” said he, “that this should be the place wherein Duncan slew his three foes with the Earl Kenric’s sword;” and then he called loudly upon Kenric.

Many times he cried out, but no answer came. Then he bade one of his men uncoil a rope that he had brought, and Allan, fastening a lighted torch in his helmet, let himself be lowered into the dungeon whose mouth gaped in the centre of the floor.

Deep down he went until his feet touched solid ground and he found himself in a large cavernous chamber. It was a dismal place. The rocky walls were damp and mouldy; the floor was of hewn stone. There was an odour as of death in the heavy air.

Holding his torch aloft he peered into the recesses of the dungeon. At last his eye rested upon what looked like a human form. He started back in horror as the light fell fuller upon it. Against the wall, crouched down with his head between his knees, and a few rags of mouldy plaid about his shoulders, was the grim skeleton of what had once been a living man.

Allan drew back the tattered plaid and saw the bare ribs and fleshless arms. And could it be that the young hope of Bute, Kenric the good, the brave, the true, had come to this?

Allan bent down. He was about to touch the ghastly thing. Then the awful silence of that black tomb was broken by the sound of a low moan. Allan listened again, but he heard only the drip, drip of water. Then again came the moaning sound. He turned round and bounded forward. By the light of his torch, that pierced the darkness, he saw a pale wan face, with hollow cheeks and round, staring, brown eyes. The lips moved.

“Allan? Allan?” they faintly said.

And then Kenric raised himself on his elbow.

“The great God be thanked!” gasped Allan, and he fell upon his knees at Kenric’s side.

Kenric spoke not again: he was faint and sore of limb. Allan took off his plaid and spread it upon the damp, rocky floor. Then he raised Kenric in his arms, and wrapping him in the plaid carried him to the bottom of the shaft where hung the rope. Making a sling of his plaid and securing it to the rope he called to his men to draw up the line, and in a few minutes Earl Kenric lay in the upper chamber breathing the fresher air.

Not long was Allan Redmain in following, and in the space of another hour they had carried Kenric on board the /Kraken/ of Bute.

For six long days and nights no food had passed his lips, and had it not been that his frame was of uncommon strength he must have died in that noisome cell. For many days afterwards his mind wandered, his eyes stared blankly, his voice failed him, and not until two weeks after his rescue, when he was back again in the castle of Rothesay, did he recognize anyone.

Allan Redmain’s two galleys were but a few miles outward from the coast of Coll when they fell in with the four galleys of Bute that Kenric and Duncan had left. They had been pursued about the seas by the ships of Sweyn of Colonsay, but having outdistanced him they were now returning to the island to search for their lost leader. Either alive or dead, he must, they said, be found. Had it not been for Duncan Graham, who alone, of all men, knew where Kenric was imprisoned, all search for him must have been fruitless. On some day long after he might have been discovered, as Allan had found the starved and forgotten prisoner in that dungeon, a grim and unrecognizable skeleton.

CHAPTER XXI. HOW KENRIC MADE HIMSELF STRONG.

This expedition against the island kings had been attended with small enough success. Many of the islands had indeed been invaded and some of the smaller ones conquered. Several of the kings, wavering between service of two masters, had quietly yielded to the persuasions of King Alexander’s ambassadors. But it must be said that, despite their seeming compliance, they were ready to turn the other way again with equal ease, or even to evade their duties to either monarch and assume the dignity of independent rulers. In a political sense the result of the expedition was a failure, the conquests being incomplete, and the compliance of the less warlike kings being of the very shortest duration.

The misfortunes that had attended Kenric of Bute and Sir Piers de Currie were due almost entirely to the bad work of the wild men of Galloway, whose lust for slaughter and pillage, whose wanton plunderings of churches and slaying of women and children brought down upon the Scots the hatred of the Norsemen in whose lands these depredations had been made.

It was not long ere the word had travelled far and wide among the Western Isles that the barbarities committed by the Gallwegians were the work of young Kenric of Bute. It was said that Kenric of Bute alone had ordered the massacre of the children of Colonsay. It was said that he had wantonly ordered similar atrocities in Jura, in Barra, and indeed in all those isles which the unruly men of Galloway had invaded. Upon Kenric and his people, therefore, the sons of the vikings swore deadly vengeance, calling upon their patron saint to aid them.

The Norsemen of the Western Isles lost little time in sending messengers to Norway, telling how the King of Scots had attempted to force their allegiance to his crown.

Hakon, the Norwegian king, was roused to anger. He determined to revenge the injuries offered to his vassals, and at once issued orders for the assembling of a vast fleet and army, whilst he repaired in person to his great seaport of Bergen to make ready for an expedition which should not only restore his vassals to their lands and rights, but which should also sweep away every kilted Scot from the isles, and convert the great kingdom of Scotland itself into a dependency of Norway.

These great preparations for war commenced in the autumn of 1262. It was not until eight months afterwards that they were completed.

When Allan Redmain, with Earl Kenric and Duncan Graham lying ill in his cabin, rejoined the combined forces of Sir Piers de Currie and the Earl of Ross, he found these two chiefs on the point of separating. The Earl of Ross left the sound of Iona and sailed northward again, while Sir Piers, with the eight galleys of Bute and Arran, bent his course south to Colonsay, there to pick up the vessel that Kenric had left in guard over that island. These nine vessels thereupon returned to the Clyde, and Sir Piers made a journey into Scotland to make his report to the King.

For many weary weeks Kenric remained a helpless invalid in his castle, tended by his gentle mother and by old Janet the nurse. His wounds were of small account; but the six days spent in the noisome dungeon of Breacacha had weakened him and given him a fever, which was slow to leave him. His mind was strangely disturbed, and he talked wildly, and at random, fancying he was fighting against countless hosts of pirate Norsemen, and declaring deliriously that his Thirsty Sword would give him no rest, so great was its lust for blood. And once when Ailsa Redmain had come over with Allan from Kilmory, the young king began to laugh wildly, and to say how he had just been over to Colonsay to massacre many hundreds of children, and how the good men of Galloway had tried to stop him, and that for their interference he had thrown them all into dark dungeons, giving each of them a skeleton for a plaything.

But later, when his reason had returned, Ailsa came more often, and the two would sit for hours together, talking of the boats that could be seen from the window sailing on the blue waters of Rothesay Bay, of the dark hills of Loch Striven beyond, and of the trees across in the forest of Toward that were brown and gold in the autumn sunlight. Of all his nurses, Kenric loved best that Ailsa should thus come to him, for she was as a very gentle and sweet sister, and never did the Gaelic words sound so musical as when spoken by her rosy lips; never did sunlight shine more brightly than the light that shone in her beautiful eyes.

So the weeks went on; the autumn passed into winter, and soon all the land was white with deep snow.

On a cold wintry day Allan Redmain rode over to Rothesay on his shaggy mountain pony.

“My lord,” said he to Kenric, who was sitting in the great hall with the abbot Godfrey Thurstan, “I have a strange thing to tell of an adventure that befell me yestereve.”

“Come, then, to the fire, Allan,” said Kenric, “for on these cold days, when one cannot get out and about, a story is ever welcome. What says your reverence?”

“Even so,” said the abbot, rising; “and methinks the sound of Allan’s young voice, whatever his adventure be, will cheer you better than the croaking of an old man, so I will leave you together, my sons.”

Then the two lads sat side by side before the great fire of pine logs, and each with his arm twined about the neck of one of the deer hounds that sat beside him.

“And now, Allan, what is your adventure?”

“Why, ’twas a wolf hunt we had, I and some of our men of Kilmory. The wolves, as you know, have been numerous in the island since the snow and frost came. We tracked a goodly pack of them into Glen More, and, running them to a corrie in the hill of Kilbride, we there slew three of them with our spears. But there was one dog wolf — a great gray fellow that we came upon at the head of the glen. He had a patch of white hair about his neck, and by that I knew that it was the same that had so frightened the widow Campbell; and being on my pony, I gave chase. He doubled, and ran south, leading me even to Kilmory. There I lost him. But I traced his steps in the snow, and where think you they led me?”

“Nay, how could I know?” said Kenric.

“Why, to the cottage door of Elspeth Blackfell.

“There I dismounted, and, pushing open the door, what should I see but the same wolf lying down at his ease before the fire that burned in the middle of the room! His long tongue was hanging out, and I could see his great white teeth. At his side was the old woman’s black cat. At the other side of the fire sat Elspeth herself, calmly eating of a dish of brose. Even as I stood there, the old witch bent down and laid the dish before the wolf that he might finish the brose. When I leapt forward with spear upraised to slay the wolf, Elspeth stepped in between and roughly bade me put away my weapon. ‘For,’ said she, ‘know you this, Allan Redmain, that he is not as other wolves, and I would not have you harm him by any manner of means;’ and so I went away, marvelling much.”

“Well,” said Kenric, “and what make you of this adventure?”

“Why this: that Aasta the wolf maid, who was wont to prowl about in her wolf’s guise only at dead of night, has now taken to her fancies by daytime also.”

“If this be so indeed,” said Kenric thoughtfully, never doubting that the explanation was the truth of the matter, “then I would have you be very careful in your adventures, Allan. Spare that white-breasted wolf; for we know not what strange ill would befall you were you to slay Aasta by mistake. Say naught of this to any man. Duncan Graham, who knows more than others of Aasta the Fair, shall one day tell us what all this mystery means.”

But for the rest of that winter, no more was heard of the wolf maid’s wanderings, either by day or by night, and when the glad springtime came, there was no more thought of wolves.

In that springtime Earl Kenric, now well able to get about, busied himself upon his farm lands, and did all manner of hard and manly toil, so that by healthy exercise of his limbs he might regain his strength. In the early mornings he would sally out to the fields of Ardbeg, and there with the ponderous plough of those times, that was drawn by twelve shaggy, long-horned oxen — each with a wreath of rowan leaves round its neck as a charm against the spells of witchcraft — he would plough the stubborn ground for many hours together until the sweat bedewed his brow. And from the fields he would perhaps walk over to Ascog to sit in his seat of assize, and there, with the clods of earth yet upon his feet and his arms yet tingling from their work at the heavy plough, he would administer the simple laws before his people. Also he would often engage with Duncan his henchman — now recovered from his wounds — in the exercise of arms, or with Allan Redmain sail over to Arran to have a day’s hunting among the fells. Every morning before he broke fast he was wont to undertake a curious exercise, which was that he took a young bull calf over his shoulders and carried it to the top of the hill of Barone; and each day as the calf grew older, so did its weight increase, and the burden become greater to bear. Thus did Kenric make himself strong, until, at the end of that summer of 1263, there was no man in all Bute who could excel him in the use of arms or overcome him in feats of bodily exercise.

Meanwhile, unknown as yet to the people of Bute, King Hakon of Norway had been busily preparing his forces for the projected invasion of Scotland. The extent of these preparations soon spread alarm even on the coasts of England. It was said that an overwhelming fleet of ships had bent their course against the Scottish islands, and the final destination of so vast an armament was conjectured with consternation.

It was on the 7th of July that the fleet set sail from Herlover. King Hakon commanded in person. His flagship was of great dimensions, having seven-and-twenty banks of oars. Countless banners, pennons, and gonfalons flaunted in the breeze from the masts and riggings of his many galleys. The decks were crowded with knights and soldiers, whose armour glittered in the sun. It was the most powerful and splendid armament that had ever set out from the fords of Scandinavia, and it bore proudly away with a light wind for Shetland and Orkney, where additional forces enlisted under the Norse banner.

Bearing down among the Western Isles, levying contribution of men and stores from all the chiefs who owed him tribute, Hakon was joined at the isle of Skye by the forces of Magnus, king of the island of Man. The combined fleet now amounted to a hundred and sixty dragon ships, with over twenty thousand fighting men.

Now, on the ship of King Magnus of Man there was a mighty warrior, whom men called Rudri, and he was the most terrible pirate that ever roved upon the western seas, and all men feared him. There was not a vic or sound that he had not sailed into, nor an island upon which he had not drawn his sword.

He was the one man in all that host who could best instruct the Norse king concerning the invasion. So, taking many ships with him, Rudri went among the island earls and compelled them one and all to remember their duty, and to follow under the banner of their Norse master. Many of those who had taken oaths of loyalty before King Alexander’s ambassadors demurred. But the power of the King of Scots was remote, the vengeance of piratical warfare was near at hand, and the islanders submitted, agreeing to pay fine of so many hundred head of cattle as punishment for their former desertion of Norway. And so, like an avalanche that gathers added weight as it descends, the invading forces drew rearer and nearer to their goal.

CHAPTER XXII. THE TWO SPIES.

On a certain morning in September, Aasta the Fair sat crouched at the door of the little cot wherein she dwelt. She was grinding oats in a small stone hand mill. Old Elspeth sat within doors spinning.

Presently Aasta raised her eyes and looked over towards the little isle of Inch Marnock, where on the green knolls some sheep were grazing. In the narrow channel that separates Inch Marnock from Bute she saw a tiny coracle with a man on board. The little boat drew to the beach of St. Ninian’s Bay, where the man stepped out and began to run. Staggering in his gait, he fell; then rose again and again fell. Aasta, leaving her work, ran down towards the man, and when she got near him she saw that his clothes were torn, and his limbs bleeding from many wounds. He was lying on his back, groaning. She looked into his white face and saw that it was the face of the man whom Earl Kenric had left in Gigha as his steward and governor.

“What means all this, William MacAlpin?” asked Aasta, kneeling by his side; “and wherefore come you back to Bute thus covered with bleeding wounds?”

The man pointed westward, and with his dying breath said:

“Run you to Castle Rothesay, I beseech you; run and tell my lord Kenric that the Norsemen with their hosts have landed on Gigha, and have wrested the island from us. They tried to torture me to death, but I escaped to tell my master of this calamity –“

Then Aasta questioned him; but her words fell upon the ears of the dead; so she arose.

The swift-footed hart runs not more swiftly than Aasta ran that day across Bute. She found Kenric lounging on the little pier and throwing pebbles one by one into the green water. Near him were some fishermen unloading their herring boat.

“My lord,” said she, scarcely showing by her easy breathing that she had run the distance of four miles — “my lord, I have ill news to tell.”

Kenric looked round at the tall fair maiden. She was radiant with the beauty of strength. Her long red hair streamed in the breeze, and her rosy cheeks glowed with the healthy blood that coursed under her smooth clear skin. Her eyes were limpid as the summer sky.

“What news may that be, Aasta?” asked the young king.

“It is,” said she, “that your isle of Gigha has been invaded and conquered by the Norsemen, and that your kinsman William MacAlpin has but now given up his life in telling me the tale.”

Kenric stood in troubled thought, a cloud upon his brow.

“Where is Lulach?” he presently asked.

“Over at Inch Marnock,” she said, “and ill with his foot that he hurt in climbing the rocks two days since. He cannot walk but with pain, or I might have sent him to you.”

“That is most unfortunate,” said Kenric, “for saving Lulach and myself there is none in the island who can speak the Norse tongue. I would have sent him to Gigha to learn the truth of this you tell, and to discover if there be further danger.”

“You forget, my lord, that it was I who taught Lulach the Norse tongue,” said Aasta. “And cannot I do this mission as well as he? Give me your bidding, my lord, and though I die in fulfilling it, yet will I deem my life a small sacrifice if it be that I can serve you.”

Then Kenric’s eyes lighted up, and he looked admiringly upon the fearless girl.

“Aasta,” said he, “I will take your service, and I will even go with you to Gigha this very day. Meet me at St. Ninian’s two hours before sunset. Have ready a fishing coracle with some fish, and dress you as a fisher maid. These are my orders. Go.”

At sunset that evening a little boat, paddled by a stalwart young man in the rough habit of a fisher, was crossing the waters of Loch Fyne.

He was singing a plaintive Gaelic song, and a fair maid, whose deep red hair was covered by a coarse blue cloak, joined in the wild strain with notes that were as the sweet song of the night bird of the far south. The youth was Earl Kenric of Bute; the maiden was Aasta the Fair.

Crossing from Ardlamont Point, they crept up the opposite shores of Kintyre until they came to a wide bay upon whose banks lies the little fishing village of Tarbert. In the growing darkness Kenric paddled the boat inward to the extreme end of this bay. Had he been in less hurry he might have reached the isle of Gigha by taking a larger craft and sailing down Kilbrannan Sound and so round the Mull of Kintyre, by the way he had gone with the galleys. But he now adopted a speedier way and a much safer one. The great peninsula of Kintyre, which at the north joins to Knapdale, forms at Tarbert a narrow isthmus of but a mile broad. Landing at the head of Tarbert Bay, Kenric bade Aasta carry the paddles and her basket of fish, and himself taking up the little boat in his two strong arms and raising it upon his back, he thus crossed the mile of dry land. The boat was but a light one, built of pine ribs and covered with hide, and his task was less difficult than it might seem.

In half-an-hour’s time the two had arrived at another sheet of water which is called Loch Tarbert, and here launching the coracle again, they seated themselves and sailed down the narrow loch. It was now well upon midnight, and there was no moon; but there was little danger to be feared, unless, indeed, some of the Norse outposts might surprise them.

Kenric spoke little, for, in truth, he was yet doubtful of his companion, who might, he imagined, at any moment turn herself into the form of a wolf. But Aasta was very calm, and there was small need to doubt her, for Earl Kenric had done her a great service in setting her free from her thralldom, and she would have given her life for him at any moment.

When at last they emerged from the loch where it enters the open sea they paused a while by the shore to eat their bread cakes and drink the milk that Aasta had brought. They sat face to face. Once Kenric thought he saw the maid’s eyes sparkle with a green flash of light and he drew back, though in sooth it was but the reflection of the planet Venus, shining in the clear mirror of her eyes.

The gentle rippling of the water against the boat alone disturbed the stillness. In that stillness Kenric looked fixedly at Aasta through the dim light. Aasta sank upon her knees, and obeying an impulse that was upon her she took his hands in her own and touched them with her warm lips.

Kenric felt a strange thrill of pity for this beautiful girl, so lonely was she, and so much despised of men, and in that moment he bent down and kissed her head. And at that the maid began to weep, and her hot tears fell upon his hands.

Neither spoke, but each felt that a new bond of sympathy had been formed between them. Presently Aasta rose to her seat, and Kenric took his paddle and drove the boat along into the deeper water.

Down the west coast of Kintyre they sailed until, out across the sea, they saw the light of a beacon fire shoot up upon the heights of Gigha. Outward then they steered until they came nigh upon the rocky shores of that island; and passing many little islets, they sailed between Gigha and the brownie-haunted island of Cara, just as the day was breaking in the east.

Here Aasta looked about her with strange bewilderment as though she were awaking from a dream. Kenric brought the boat inshore and took it through the long rock tunnel that he had seen many months before from the deck of his galley. The water was calm now and the tide high.

Aasta looked down into the clear depths where the long tangle of marine plants swayed with the motion of the light current. Upon the rocky bed below she saw many ruby-coloured sea anemones, with emerald mosses, and pearly shells, and silver-scaled fish. From the water she looked to the vaulted roof. Her eyes were restless with strange wonderment.

“My lord,” she said at last, “what place is this that you have brought me to? And why seem these rocks so familiar to mine eyes? This clear green water — the lofty vault of this cave, where the voice echoes in merry laughter! ‘Tis passing strange! Methinks I must have seen them in some childish dream!”

But Kenric at that moment felt the boat grinding upon a sunken rock, and Aasta’s question passed his notice.

Beyond the tunnel they searched for a safe landing place in one of the little bays. Aasta pointed to a high cliff that had many caverns hollowed out in its steep front, and she bade him steer into one of those caves. Kenric laughed and asked how she thought they could ever arrive upon the heights by that way. But when she suddenly put her finger to her lips, in token that she had heard voices upon the cliff, Kenric obeyed her and took the boat into the yawning cavern.

When they were far within Aasta said: “Heard you not voices up above us, my lord — the voices of many men?”

“Even so,” said Kenric. “But methinks it will go ill with us here if we be discovered by some passing boat. We should then be entrapped.”

“Not so,” said she. “Follow me and you shall see that we have chosen a better point of landing than you could have hoped for.”

And stepping upon the rocks at the far end of the cave she led him up a flight of rocky steps until suddenly they saw the light of day. At once they emerged into a wide ravine that clove the cliffs and led upward to the grassy heights of the island. Then Aasta drew back and held Kenric so that he might go no farther, and she pointed across the ravine where a dip in the opposite headland revealed a wide and sheltered bay.

“Look, my lord,” she whispered.

Kenric saw an unexpected sight, for in the waters of that bay there lay at anchor a hundred and fifty ships of war with the falcon flag of King Hakon flying at each masthead.

The sight of so vast an armament appalled him. How it happened that these foreign ships were riding at anchor off his own island was a thing that passed his comprehension.

Aasta was the first to break the silence of wonderment.

“My lord,” said she, “there is more in this than the dying words of your kinsman William foretold. And right wise were you to bid me put on this fisher maid’s disguise. Give me your dirk, Earl Kenric, lest I meet misfortune, and I will take my creel of fish and offer it for sale among the people. It may be that in speaking with the islanders I shall hear that which the mere sight of these ships cannot explain.”

Then Kenric returned to the boat, bringing back the basket of fish, which he gave to Aasta together with his dirk.

“You will trust me, my lord?” she asked.

Kenric smiled. “To the end,” said he. “But what is your plan, Aasta?”

“That you remain with the boat, my lord, while I journey to the village, wherever it may be found. Not long shall I be, and I beg you not to leave the cave till I return.”

Taking the fish creel over her back she went away. Passing up the ravine and mounting to the heights, she had not gone far when she saw a party of warriors sitting round a camp fire. She went boldly towards them.

“So please you, my masters,” she began in the Norse tongue, “I have brought you some good fresh fish if so be you would buy them from a poor body.”

“Show us your fish, girl,” said one of the men, rising. Then looking into the basket he added, “What want you for them?”

“Four cakes of bread,” said she.

“Good,” said the warrior. “Let us have them; for with so many mouths to fill all food is welcome.”

Slowly Aasta took out the fish and laid them on the grass. Yet no man spoke. She touched the nearest man on the elbow.

“Lend me your knife, my master, that I may gut the fish,” said she boldly.

The man took out his knife, and as he handed it to her she saw his face and recognized Earl Sweyn of Colonsay.

One by one she took up the fish and slowly trimmed them on a flat stone, waiting in the hope of hearing the warriors speak.

“When holds King Hakon his council?” one presently asked of another.

“Tonight — on Rudri’s return,” was the reply.

“And where?”

“Why, here on the heath, after sundown,” said another. “‘Tis no time for delay. Bute and Arran have yet to be conquered ere we assail the mainland of Scotland.”

“Ay,” said the first speaker, “methinks there will be few Scots left in Bute for the next moon to smile upon. Bairns, women, and men, they all are doomed!”

Aasta now began to work quicker — so quickly that in a very few minutes the fish were all ready for cooking. Then taking her four bread cakes she slung the basket over her head and sauntered away.

Suddenly she was conscious that someone was following her. Raising her wicker basket higher she half turned her head. Through the crevices of the basket she saw a youth with long flaxen hair. It was Harald of Islay. But soon he turned back, thinking no doubt that he had been mistaken in his recognition of the girl who had helped Allan Redmain to recapture him.

After an absence of less than two hours Aasta rejoined Kenric and told him all she had heard; and for the rest of that day the two remained in hiding, waiting until night should fall.

At last the dark night came. Kenric and Aasta, the one armed with his great sword, the other with her dirk, crept from their place of hiding and stole across the heath towards the campfire, round which a score of island kings were already gathered, awaiting the coming of King Hakon of Norway.

Within a hundred yards of the fire Kenric stopped and beckoned Aasta to go round the northern side, while he went the opposite way. This they did that they might discover by which approach they could best reach within hearing distance of the warriors. And they had arranged that the one who found a likely place should give signal to the other by means of the lapwing’s cry.

Aasta had not well made the half circle when through the night air she heard faintly, as it were half a mile away, the cry, “Pee-wit! pee-weet!”

Quickly she returned and followed the way Kenric had gone. Soon she found herself under a high piece of ground that obscured the firelight. Then nearer to the fire she heard the cry repeated, and she replied with the same call. She went towards the fire until she saw Kenric standing on the top of a high rock, outlined against the glow of light. She knew him by his fisher’s cloak. She saw him lie down flat and creep nearer and nearer to the edge of the rock.

Suddenly, between her and Kenric, she saw another figure appear and stealthily follow behind the young king with drawn sword.

Now Aasta had the faculty of being able to see in the darkness almost as well as in the daylight, and it took but a hurried glance to prove that he who followed Earl Kenric was none other than the fair-haired Harald.

Like the bird whose cry she had but lately imitated she ran along the ground, drawing her dirk as she ran, and just at the moment when Harald of Islay was preparing to smite Kenric a blow that would have killed him, Aasta threw her hand over the young viking’s mouth, dragged him over, and then plunged her dagger into his heart.

So quickly did this happen that Kenric, intent upon seeing what was passing around the fire, was quite unconscious that Aasta had saved his life. And Aasta never afterwards told a living being of the thing that she had done.

Leaving the body of Harald where it had fallen she followed Kenric yet nearer to the brink of the rock, until together they lay so near to the band of Norsemen that they could see their white teeth glisten in the firelight as they spoke. The fire was built against the rock. The warriors sat about it in a half circle.

Presently the men all rose to their feet to greet the arrival of the Norwegian monarch. Kenric could now see faces that had been hidden before, and amongst them were those of Sweyn of Colonsay, Erland of Jura, and, to his surprise, even the renegade John of Islay. None of the others did he know; but there were Magnus king of Man, Sigurd king of Lewis, John of Kintyre, and Henry the bishop of Orkney, with many more of the most trusted of King Hakon’s vassals.

Then came King Hakon himself, the tall, grim-visaged, despotic old monarch of the North, who, having reigned for six-and-forty years, had now determined to win for himself and his descendants the complete dominion over Scotland.

“And now, oh, noble lords and faithful friends,” said he when they were all seated, “now that we are assured of the adherence of all these outer isles of Scotland, it remains for us to arrange by what means our further conquests are to be made. Our right trusty and noble Rudri is yet away. But on his great help we may confidently rely in whatsoever course we pursue. This alone does he ask, that the invasion of the isle of Bute shall be left entirely in his hands. We do therefore order that Rudri, with five stout ships, shall sail hence in two days’ time and invade that island. Thence, with my lord Magnus of Man, he shall sail up the Clyde and lay waste whatever lands or castles may come in his path. Meanwhile Earl Margad shall invade Arran with five other ships. As to the rest, we shall remain in this isle of Gigha and complete our preparations for the final conquest of the mainland of Scotland. Say, now, my noble lords, does our plan meet with your favour?”

“It does, your Majesty!” they all replied.

Then Earl Sweyn the Silent opened his lips and spoke.

“Methinks,” said he, “that as to the expedition against Bute, those who have most suffered by the atrocities committed by the young stripling lord of that isle should have the power to fulfil their own vengeance upon him. And I for one, your Majesty, will not rest content unless I be of those who are to invade his lands. With his own hand young Kenric of Bute slew a full score of the children of Colonsay, and in just revenge would I massacre with my own hands the children of Bute. No child shall escape our swords. We will slay every one, ay, even to the babe at the breast. We will raze every dwelling to the ground. And even their churches and their holy men shall not escape!”

On hearing these words Kenric waited not to learn more. He already knew enough, and his heart beat furiously in dread alarm. For a moment he felt impelled to take his sword and strike down the man who had last spoken; but the danger of revealing himself to those warriors was too great, and touching Aasta on the arm he drew her away.

Together they crept back to the ravine, found their difficult way into the cave, and regaining their boat returned to Bute by the same way that they had left it.

At daybreak on the following morning the fiery cross — the Highlanders’ summons to arms — was sent round to every dwelling in Bute. Allan Redmain was despatched to Arran to warn Sir Piers de Currie. Other boatmen were sent on a like errand to Toward, Dunoon, Largs, and all other villages and castles upon the banks of the Clyde, while a special messenger was sent into Scotland to warn King Alexander.

For three days and nights there was not a man in Bute who was not occupied in some fashion in preparing to meet the expected enemy.

CHAPTER XXIII. THE INVASION OF BUTE.

The awful words that he had heard spoken by Earl Sweyn of Colonsay impressed Kenric with a terrible fear, and his knowledge of the overwhelming force of ships and men at the command of the Norse king assured him that the threatened invasion of Bute was no idle boast. Not for his own castle of Rothesay did he fear, although he would defend his fortress to the end. The thought of the terrible vengeance that was about to fall upon Bute on account of the bad work of the wild Scots of Galloway was a matter for far graver consideration.

On his return from Gigha he passed many hours pacing the great hall of his castle, racking his brain to discover a means whereby he might protect the lives of the women and children who were under his care. He remembered how, on the day of his throning, those children had stood at the verge of the court to receive his blessing and to kiss his hand, and his heart bled at the thought that any of these little ones should be in danger.

At last, after much hard thinking, he put on his sword and ordered his pony to be bridled. Then he rode south to the abbey of St. Blane’s. Calling to the good abbot he bade him open the chapel and let him enter. There the young king threw himself down before the altar and fervently prayed to God for help in his hour of need, asking for the power to save the children from the wrath of their enemies. And in the quiet of that holy place God’s spirit entered into his heart and he felt strong.

So when he had finished his prayers the abbot, hearing him, said: “My son, have faith, and our Father will give you His help. And now, tell me, I beseech you, what means you foresee of saving our people from the swords of our enemies?”

And Kenric said: “Holy father, it is by your help that I hope to do this thing. This day will I send into your grange all the meal and flour that now lie in my granaries at Rothesay, and you shall store it away in secret places. Ere the sun sets this night every woman and bairn now alive in Bute shall be brought to the abbey, and they shall live here, guarded by a band of our best men-at-arms.”

“But, my son,” objected the abbot, “is not your own castle a far stronger and safer refuge?”

“It may well be that it is stronger, my father,” said Kenric; “but since it is the first place that our enemies will make for, ’tis not more safe than the abbey, which would be the last place that Christian men would attack.”

“You speak wisely there,” said the father; “but still do I doubt your wisdom in seeking to gather so many women and children together in one defenceless place. How will it be if our enemies forget the sanctity of this refuge, and discovering our children assail them all in the mass? Better it were, methinks, to let each family remain in their own home, for thus distributed over the island some, if not all, must surely escape.”

“Father,” said Kenric, “it is not without reason that I propose this course, and the two years that I passed under the care of the holy brethren of the abbey gave me some teaching of a practical sort. Wist you not that under this very chapel there is a strong, large chamber? And wist you not also that connected with that chamber there is a long vault running a full four furlongs underground, even unto the inclosed space that the men of Bute name the Circle of Penance?”

“Even so, my lord,” said the abbot; “and now do I well understand your plan. It is in that underground passage that you would have our helpless people take refuge. Send me, then, a score of your men to make timely preparation and I will gladly receive the innocents into my care. God grant that we may be able to protect them, even at the cost of our own lives.”

“Amen,” said Kenric, and then he rode away. Taking the green road that led westward, he stopped at every farmstead and cottage by the way and there bade all the women, from the aged crone to the young damsel, repair to the abbey of St. Blane’s, taking with them all their children.

Soon he reached Kilmory Castle, where he had counsel with Sir Oscar and Allan Redmain concerning the protection of their fortress. It was probable that the enemy would land upon the western side of the island, but lest they should determine to make their first attack upon Rothesay it was deemed wise that Sir Oscar and Kenric should each defend his own castle, and that he who first descried the invaders from afar should send word of their approach to his neighbour.

Being assured that Kilmory was well guarded, and prepared to offer a strong resistance, Kenric asked to see Ailsa Redmain. Ailsa was in the fields.

“Ailsa,” said he when he had found her, “you have heard of the great danger that threatens our island?”

“Who is there in all Bute that hath not already heard it, my lord?” said she. “Ah, would that I were a man that I might be of some service at this time!”

“It needs not that you should be a man, Ailsa, to be of very great service, and I will ask your help. You are no longer a child, and well do I know what wisdom there is in you. I would trust you in all things to act wisely.”

Then dismounting and standing at her side he told her how the women and children were to be taken to St. Blane’s.

“The Norsemen may arrive,” he said, “even before another day be gone, and passing up Kilbrannan Sound they will doubtless make landing near your father’s castle, where it were most unwise in you to remain. Go, therefore, to the abbey and make what womanly preparations may be needful. There will my mother join you. With her and you do I intrust the children of Bute, so that you may minister to their comforts until the danger be past. You shall not lack help, but ’tis well that there be some womanly authority whose word may be held as law in case of need. And now, Ailsa, since it may be that we shall never meet again in this world, fare you well!”

Then as he was about to remount he saw the tears gather in the girl’s eyes, and he put his arms about her neck and drew her to him.

“Ailsa,” he murmured, “never till this moment did I know how dear you are to me! But now when death faces me — when another day may see me slain — the thought of you, my playmate, my dear friend, my loved Ailsa, makes life on earth more precious. God watch between us in our danger. The holy Mother protect you, and on earth or in Heaven grant that we may meet again!”

Then holding her near him he touched her white brow with his lips and left her sadly.

Passing across the meadows of Kilmory he found Lulach the herd boy. Lulach was in great terror at knowing that the Norsemen were expected, for though he was himself by blood and nature a Norseman, and was wont to speak their tongue rather than the Gaelic, yet he looked upon the Scots as his friends and upon every Norseman as his enemy. He was not trained in the use of warlike weapons, and it seemed to Kenric that he would be of little use. But Kenric stationed him upon the heights and bade him keep constant watch upon the sea, ready to sound the alarm on the enemy’s approach.

Night and day did the lad stand upon those heights overlooking Kilbrannan Sound, and on the third day he saw appearing a squadron of six ships with many gay flags flying and the armour of countless warriors glinting in the sunlight. The largest of the galleys sailed in advance, bearing the viking’s flag, and having an array of knights and soldiers upon her decks and many archers at her prow.

Lulach ran in terror to Kilmory Castle, and straightway Sir Oscar Redmain prepared to meet the coming foe.

Lulach was then to have hastened to St. Blane’s; but he thought he had yet time to run down and warn old Elspeth Blackfell, who had steadfastly refused to take the protection offered her in the chapel vaults, saying that she had a safe refuge of her own — though where that refuge was none sought to know. Lulach followed her down to the little point of land that juts out into St. Ninian’s Bay.

Now it chanced that it was in that same bay that the invaders landed, and before Lulach could escape, the first ship was close upon the shore.

The first man to spring into the water and wade to land was the great pirate Rudri. Seeing Elspeth standing near, leaning upon her long staff, he accosted her.

“What, ho! thou witch of Satan!” he cried in thundering voice. “Speak, crone, your life is yours if you but tell me truly, by your sooth, the thing that I shall ask.”

“Thou godless man, stand back!” cried Elspeth, seeing him draw his sword as though to slay her.

“Nay, tell me of your sooth — for I do believe you are a very witch — tell me, what shall the issue of this invasion be? Speak, thou vile hag! lest I release your black soul over soon!”

Elspeth stretched out her shrivelled arms and dropped her staff. Then she turned to the pirate and answered him. Her voice came hard and shrill from between her withered lips.

“Since thou wouldst know,” she said, “the things that shall be, hear this, oh Rudri, that he shall be defeated upon whose side the first blood drop is spilled!”

A heavy silence fell after her words. It was broken by a loud laugh from the pirate’s deep throat.

“Be it as thou wilt,” he cried.

But Elspeth in that moment snatched a dagger from her girdle, and gathering her strength she made a lunge with it at the man’s broad chest. The weapon turned upon the strong armour that he wore, and, unhurt, he caught her by the wrist, raising his sword.

Now Elspeth had spoken in the Danish, and the chieftain, remembering her words of prophecy, and, it may be, thinking that she was of the Norse folk, lowered his weapon and flung the old woman away from him. Then seeing Lulach limping away, and taking him to be a Scot, he ran after the lad, eager that the first blood should be that of one born in Bute. Catching Lulach by the long hair he speedily slew him.

“‘Tis done!” said Rudri when he saw that the lad was dead. “And now have we forestalled our enemies and assured to ourselves the victory.

“On, on, my men!” he cried, turning to his followers. “The first blood of our enemies hath been spilled! On! on! the victory is sure!”

One by one the ships dropped anchor in the bay, and from each there poured a vast number of warriors carrying bows and battle-axes, swords and spears. Behind their leaders, the terrible Rudri and the king of Man, they marched upward to the castle of Kilmory.

“Spare not!” cried Rudri, flourishing his sword.

“Death to the traitor of Bute, the slayer of our children!” cried Sweyn of Colonsay.

“On, on, men of Jura!” croaked Erland the Old.

“Down with the Scots!” thundered Magnus of Man.

From the topmost towers of his castle Sir Oscar Redmain watched the hosts advance. Nearer and yet nearer they came.

“Steady, my lads, and take good aim,” he said coolly as he fixed an arrow to his bowstring. “Now!” he cried, and as the enemy came within bow shot a shower of well-aimed arrows met them, and many men fell. The shields of their companions bristled with the arrows whose flight they had stopped. But the long-haired warriors pressed on to the castle gates, behind which stood Allan Redmain with half the garrison at his back.

From the hilltop of Barone, Aasta the Fair had watched the ships approaching from afar, and at the moment of first seeing them she clashed a flint and steel and promptly lighted a bundle of dry twigs and straw. The signal fire was seen from Rothesay, and at once Earl Kenric, at the head of five score of men, marched across the island towards Kilmory. But so quickly had the invaders landed, so speedily had they stormed the stronghold, that ere Kenric and his followers appeared upon the heights, the castle of Kilmory was in flames.

The Norsemen, taking their machines to the rear, had stormed the building at its weakest point. The heavy missiles from their shot wagons soon succeeded in making a breach. Then a detachment of Rudri’s men brought sheaves of new-cut corn and bundles of hay from the stackyard, and flinging them within the breach set them in flames. The stout walls of oak very soon caught fire, and Sir Oscar Redmain and his archers on the towers speedily found themselves inclosed in clouds of smoke. Their cries as they ran down the inner stairs and discovered the awful fate that awaited them were terrible to hear.

From the rear of the castle the Norsemen brought round their machines to the gates, and with their heavy battering rams they burst in the strong doors. Some of Allan Redmain’s men rushed out, only to be cut down by the warriors who awaited them. Twice did Allan call to his guards to follow him and cut their way through the barrier of swords and spears, and twice were they driven back into the burning castle. A third attempt was made. Allan valiantly encountered his foes, who now gave way, for at that moment they were attacked in their rear by the men of Rothesay.

In the ranks of the Norsemen, Kenric espied Earl Sweyn of Colonsay.

“Traitor! slayer of my people’s children!” cried Sweyn, pressing forward. “Let me at you that I may smite you to the earth!”

Kenric stood on guard. Sweyn raised his heavy battle-axe; but, before he could strike, Kenric so wounded him on the shoulder that he dropped his weapon. Then a crowd of men pressing in between, separated them.

For an hour’s time the skirmish continued, Kenric and Allan Redmain fighting side by side. But meanwhile the Norse leader, Rudri, had called off the larger number of his men to the ships, leaving but a few score behind under Sweyn of Colonsay and another.

In the thick of the fight Duncan Graham sought his master’s side.

“Back, back, my lord!” he cried, “Back to the castle of Rothesay! The ships have already left the bay. In two hours’ time they will be round at Rothesay!”

Kenric then rallied his men and charged his foes most vigorously, and those who were not cut down took to flight. Earl Sweyn, retreating towards the hill of Quien with two score of his followers took ambush until the men of Rothesay had left Kilmory. Then, full of angry vengeance and intent upon slaughter, he led his small troop northward. Every cottage and farmstead that he could find he entered. But not in one of them did he discover man, woman, or child. The men were all under arms. The women and children were all in the safe refuge of the vaults of St. Blane’s.

Allan Redmain, finding that it was vain to attempt to save his father’s castle, remained for a time upon the scene of ruin and devastation. His father, Sir Oscar, had been slain by an arrow, and his body was devoured by the flames. When Allan had tended the wounded, both foes and friends, he took six of his best men-at-arms with him, and by devious ways marched south to St. Blane’s, there to remain on guard with three hundred others, whom Kenric had stationed at various points in the vicinity of the abbey.

CHAPTER XXIV. THE SIEGE OF ROTHESAY CASTLE.

With the loss of twelve men slain and twenty wounded in the skirmish at Kilmory, Kenric returned to his castle, and there completed his preparations to resist the invaders. He had drawn off his ships. Three of them were anchored in Dunagoil Bay, with many fishermen and husbandmen — untrained in battle — ready at hand in case Allan Redmain required them. A thousand men-at-arms were within the castle, while a band of the best archers were stationed on the battlements. Along the shoreline from Rothesay to Ardbeg five hundred archers were in ambush, and beyond Ardbeg, in the bay of Kames, lay four galleys of war, well equipped — ready to dash out upon the enemy as they passed, and, if possible, frustrate the landing of their forces.

The castle of Rothesay was so situated that it commanded a long view of the waters through which the enemy’s ships must approach from the north of the island. The fortress, which was constructed of stone, had been built in the year 1098 by Magnus Barelegs, king of Norway, who lived in Bute for three years. It was a circular building, 150 feet in diameter. The walls were nine feet thick and forty feet high, flanked by four round towers. As a fortification it was ill designed, even upon ancient principles. Though stronger than any other in all the Western Isles, it had neither moat nor drawbridge. Even the gate, though it was of strong oak, lined with iron bars, was ill protected. It was neither flanked nor machicolated, and it might have been mined or assaulted at any point. The enemy could approach under the walls without fear of being annoyed by showers of boiling lead or tar, and, if they kept close in, neither could arrows reach them with any certain aim.

But on the castle’s heights there had been collected many tons weight of missile weapons, with machines for throwing them. One of these machines was a Norse skotvagn or shooting truck. It was made like a wagon, mounted on a pair of wheels. At its back end was a long shaft with an open box at its extremity. This box had to be loaded with heavy stones. Fixed to the axle of the wagon were two chains, one at either side, so strong as to be able to suddenly check and hold the carriage when it was running full tilt down a planked incline. As soon as the chains arrested its race, it would shoot out its load on those below. It was always best to load it with stones of different sizes.

Kenric was engaged in giving a last attention to this shot truck, when, from the heights of the battlements, he saw the figure of Aasta the Fair running towards the castle from the northward. It vexed him much to see the wild girl thus exposed to the dangers that might soon overtake her, and he bade Dovenald, the old bard, go down and unfasten the postern that she might enter. Duncan Graham had already been sent south to the abbey.

“How happens it, Aasta, that you went not to St. Blane’s as you were advised?” Kenric asked, when he met her in one of the lower corridors.

“My lord,” said she, “I went but to the hill of Kilbride to watch the ships in their passage through the Kyles, and I judge that they will be here in the space of another hour. As I came backward through Glen More I saw a band of men with Sweyn of Colonsay ravaging the farmsteads and setting them in flames. Twelve cottages did I pass that had been razed to the ground. The saints be praised, all our people are safe! But oh, my lord, Lulach, Lulach is slain! He was the first to fall.”

“Lulach?”

“Yes, and more. Know ye who slew him? It was even the man of whom we heard speech in Gigha, Rudri the Rover.”

“Since Lulach is dead, what boots it who slew him, Aasta? ‘Tis but the misfortune of war,” said Kenric, turning away.

“Wait, my lord,” said she, holding him back. “Methinks you do not know this Rudri. But Elspeth Blackfell took little time to discover that much. The man Rudri is none other than he who so basely slew your father and overcame my lord Alpin in combat. Rudri the Rover is none other than Roderic MacAlpin!”

Kenric drew back amazed. “Roderic MacAlpin!” he exclaimed. “The saints protect us! Ah, simpleton that I have been to have faith that that villain ever meant to keep to his vows! And this is how he went on the pilgrimage! and all these months, while we have fondly believed that he was serving the Cross, he has but been serving his own ambitious ends! It was he, then, who led the Norsemen to Gigha! It was he who besought King Hakon to let him make the invasion of Bute, that he might murder our children and lay waste our lands — that he might claim the dominion he covets! But by my father’s soul he shall yet fail!”

Then Kenric unsheathed his sword, and solemnly swore upon the cross of its hilt that never should that weapon leave him until either himself or Roderic the Outlaw lay dead.

The story of Roderic since the time of his quitting the isle of Bute may soon be told.

Scarce had he passed the rock of Ailsa Craig ere he had resolved to break his vows of penance and go his own chosen ways. Sailing southward in the English salt ship, he was still upon familiar waters. He lay quiet for three days, recovering from his wounds; then, when the vessel was abreast of the Isle of Man, he forcibly took the helm, and drawing his sword, threatened the life of any man who dared approach him, and he steered the ship into the haven of Peeltown. There he landed among the descendants of the Norse King Orry, and seeking out his friend Magnus, who was the lord and monarch of that land, with him he lived for many months, until on a time there came a message from Hakon of Norway, bidding King Magnus set forth with his ships of war to the Western Isles. When the Manx ships joined Hakon’s navy at Skye, Roderic the Rover was welcomed above all other chiefs, and he offered that the isle of Gigha should be made the headquarters of the forces, from which they might easily swoop down upon Bute and Arran, and thence invade the mainland of Scotland.

“Methinks, my lord,” said old Dovenald, as he stood with Kenric and Aasta, “that this outlaw will not now be satisfied until he bath compassed your death. Forget not, I implore you, that you alone stand between him and his ambitions. It would go ill with us all if he should succeed, and methinks ’twere well that you took timely refuge where he could not find you.”

“My lord,” said Aasta, “what Dovenald says is but wisdom; and now, if you would take safe hiding, I know of a little cave above the shores of Ascog Bay wherein you might be secure from all discovery.”

“What? and would you counsel me to shrink from meeting this man? No, no, my friends. I am no craven, and it is not thus that I will desert my post. Here do I stand to defend our stronghold; and while I have a drop of blood in my body so long will I fight.”

Soon from the battlements the six ships of Roderic were seen emerging from the Kyles of Bute, and as they passed Ardmaleish Point, the four galleys of Rothesay dashed out from the bay of Kames, and encountered the enemy. They met him with a rain of well-aimed arrows and showers of missiles. The two ships of Roderic and King Magnus shot ahead, leaving their four consorts behind to engage broadside to broadside with the vessels of Bute, and there followed a terrible sea fight hand to hand — Scots broadsword against Norse battle-axe — that lasted many hours, until the vessels of both sides, much damaged, and with the loss of four score of men and more, found themselves drifted into Rothesay Bay.

From the towers, as he watched the opening of the fight, Earl Kenric espied a band of men marching upon Rothesay from the northward. They were the men of Colonsay, led by Earl Sweyn, who had been reinforced by fifty men from the ships. It was this band whom Aasta had seen setting the deserted homesteads in flames. Sweyn was now bending his course upon Rothesay village.

But, as he came within bow shot, Kenric and his archers were ready. Kenric took careful aim and bent his bow as he had never bent it before. Swiftly the arrow sped with whizzing noise, and it curved in its flight, dropping lower and lower until it dived deep into the bare throat of the Earl of Colonsay. As Sweyn fell, his men saw that the dart had pierced through his neck even to the back of his collarbone, and, enraged at the loss of their master, they ran yet farther. But one by one they staggered and fell, each with an arrow quivering in his broad chest, and those who remained alive took flight beyond range.

And now Kenric turned to watch the ships of Magnus and Roderic, which, with the galley of John of Islay in their wake, were now well within the bay. Driven by their long-sweeping oars, they crept shoreward until their peaked bows grounded in the shallows. The warriors then swarmed over the bulwarks and dropped into the water, wading breast deep to the beach. Kenric’s bowmen from the battlements and from the rising ground above the shore began to assail the bold invaders. But, little daunted, the Norsemen landed in great numbers, taking ashore their besieging engines and various instruments of war.

Then might be seen stones, arrows, quarrels, and other missiles to fly among them, and so effectively did those within the castle exchange their tokens with those without that in one short hour there were many scores of persons wounded, and I know not how many killed. The heaviest of the besieging engines were worked in throwing massive stones, which could be got in plenty and of every size upon the shingly beach. And when there was a good hit, a great shout arose among the invading host. Many shot wagons and three other machines were brought by the enemy — very large, of great power, and very destructive — which might be thought to cut down and crush whatever their missiles struck. But the walls of Rothesay Castle were strong and thick, and the stones that struck them only shivered into a thousand fragments.

Many a well-directed arrow did he of Rothesay receive, but he placed before him his great white shield with a red cross engrailed. With his head protected by a strong brass helm, and his chest with a well-wrought coat of mail, he escaped all hurt. Nor did he lose courage, but cheered his men lustily as though it were but a boy’s game he was playing. But ever he kept his watchful eye upon the Norsemen, eager to pick out the tall figure of his uncle and dreaded foe Roderic. Not once but many times did he see him standing with a dozen of his companions directing the siege.

Kenric many times took up his longbow and sent his arrow shafts swiftly towards the heart of his enemy. Roderic was clothed in complete armour, and though many of his nephew’s arrows struck him, yet they but broke upon his breastplate and fell shivered to his feet.

For four long hours the battle continued, and at Kenric’s side many brave men lay dead. On the plain before the castle seven score of Norsemen lay slain. Then, as the sun went down, and the evening clouds brought heavy rain, the enemy retired to their ships. By this time the three vessels that had been engaged with the ships of Bute were drawn alongside their consorts, and Kenric’s four galleys had sailed out to sea, so that in the cover of darkness they might approach under the abbey of St. Blane’s, and give ready succour should the enemy discover the retreat of the women and children.

Early in the morning the whole of Roderic’s forces landed, and now they stormed the castle gates with all their strength. So stoutly did they assail them with their powerful battering rams that in the space of an hour the doors fell in with a loud crash.

In the wide hall stood Kenric with his sword in hand. Behind him were ranked a good three hundred fighting men. In their midst was the maid Aasta the Fair, wearing, as all the men wore, a coat of mail and a brass headpiece. In firm ranks they all stood with pikes and spears aslant to meet the inrush of valiant Norsemen.

The first man whom Kenric encountered was Erland the Old of Jura. Enraged to see this man, who had taken hospitality in the castle, now helping to storm it, he fought with his full strength and felled him with one blow. Cutting his way through the ranks of his foes he at last reached the fallen gates. But nothing did he yet see of Roderic. Many men did he kill, for none could stand against the terrible onslaught of his great sword. And ever at his side, fighting with fearless courage, was Aasta the Fair, and of the foemen a full half dozen did she slay with her sword, for she was most powerful of arm and feared not the sight of blood.

Well might Kenric seek in vain for the towering helm of Roderic. For even as the gates gave way that warrior, with Magnus of Man, had taken off a body of their Manxmen to the west postern. This little door, which, as Roderic well knew, was the weakest point in all the castle, they assailed with their ponderous battle-axes, and never did smith with his hammer strike his iron as Roderic struck there.

While Kenric and his chosen men-at-arms were fighting against those who were pressing in by the main gates, Roderic thus gained an entrance into the castle. He slew with his own hand a full score of the garrison and passed over their dead bodies up the stone stairs. In a little time thereafter he stood upon the battlements, where Dovenald and his companions of the bow were showering their arrows upon the invaders without the walls. There, cutting down old Dovenald in a most cruel fashion, Roderic tore down the honoured red lion of Scotland and hoisted in its stead the blue and white falcon of the Norseman. This done, he returned with his many followers to the hall and charged upon the men of Rothesay in their rear.

Kenric, placed thus between two strong companies of his enemies, was taken at a sore disadvantage. He felt that the men about him were falling on every side. Soon those without the gates gave way, and the men of Bute were fairly driven out of the castle at the spear’s point. Then Kenric and a few of his bodyguard, not knowing what had happened, and believing that the stronghold was still in the hands of their own garrison, pursued the retreating Norsemen to the ships. On the beach a vigorous engagement took place.

The Norsemen scrambled on board from one vessel to its companions alongside. Kenric, followed by Aasta and a crowd of their Scots, waded deep into the water, still pressing behind the men of Jura and Islay. They even climbed upon the first galleys’ decks, and there stood fighting for many minutes.

In the midst of this battling Kenric observed the viking’s flag flying above the battlements. He called his men off the ships, and as they returned to the castle Roderic and some of his warriors passed round by the rear of the building and regained their vessels. The galleys were then pushed off into the deeper water, and not till they were afloat did Kenric realize that he had not for some minutes seen the brave girl Aasta. In truth, the maiden was at that time struggling on board one of the galleys with Roderic the Outlaw, who soon disarmed her and thrust her as a captive into the cabin of one of his ships.

Kenric returned to his castle, only to find that it had fallen entirely into the hands of the enemy, who had put the remainder of the garrison to the sword.

Utterly defeated, but himself scarcely wounded, the young lord of Bute rallied what men he could and drew them off to the high ground where Roderic had stood. The arrows of a few Norsemen from the battlements pursued him, and seeing that there was now no chance of regaining possession of his stronghold, he could only think of the safety of his people and try to protect them from the ravages of the victors. The villagers of Rothesay had already deserted their homes, which so far had remained unmolested, though sadly battered about by stray stones and other missiles.

And now did Kenric fully see the wisdom of what he had done in securing his helpless islanders under the safe keeping of the abbot of St. Blane’s. Had he advised them to take refuge in the castle they would assuredly have fallen victims to the wanton swords of their enemies. Had he failed to act with prompt foresight upon the information gained in Gigha, the men of Colonsay, with other vengeful warriors, would have massacred every woman and child in the island, for such was assuredly their intent. Happily they had found every dwelling unoccupied, with its more valued contents safely removed; and though they had indeed brought many of those homesteads to the ground, yet the lives of the inhabitants were still secure.

It now remained for Kenric to assure himself that no prowling Norseman should by chance discover the place of refuge of those who had so timely abandoned their homes; and to this end he bade his remaining followers make pretence of taking shelter in the forest of Barone, whence they might move unobserved by the enemy to the south of the island and so guard the abbey of St. Blane’s.

CHAPTER XXV. THE GREAT NORSE INVASION.

It were vain to look for good generalship in a time so remote as that of the reign of Alexander III. Wallace and Bruce had not yet appeared to teach the Scots the advantage of united action, and the methods of warfare were still of an unmilitary kind. Battles were little better than mere free fights, without order, without controlling discipline, without preconcerted plan. It may be that Kenric of Bute might, with a little more forethought in the disposal of his forces, have saved his castle from the hands of his enemies. But a lad of seventeen, with no better counsellors than a few peaceful men such as Sir Oscar Redmain and the Abbot Thurstan — men inexperienced in the arts of war, and ill qualified to repel an invader or hold a castle against a siege — what could he do? Sir Oscar Redmain was killed in the first engagement. The abbot was sufficiently occupied with the protection of his church lands, and the one skilful soldier who could have organized the defences — Sir Piers de Currie — was even now defending his own castle of Ranza against the forces of Margad.

Nevertheless, the manner in which Kenric defended the sacred buildings of St. Blane’s redeemed the mistakes he had committed in a too great division of his forces at Rothesay. He protected the abbey lands from a possible approach of the enemy from the sea by stationing six of his ships, fully manned, at regular intervals along the south coast of the island from Glencallum Bay to the bay of Dunagoil. Thus disposed, the vessels formed a half-circle round the abbey and its demesnes. At Dunagoil he stationed a guard of five hundred men under Allan Redmain, with a like number in Glencallum, under Duncan Graham, ready at a moment’s warning to form a connection across the neck of land. Within the walled inclosure known as the Circle of Penance, standing midway between these two stations, were two hundred other men under Kenric himself. Thus the abbey and its grange with some forty cottages were entirely surrounded.

The abbey with its chapel was a small building in the Norman style, inclosed by a high wall, and standing in a grove of birch and ash trees. In the crypt of the chapel and within the cottages the women of Bute, some hundreds in number, had made their retreat, and the Lady Adela of Rothesay had a most anxious four days attending to her numerous charges. Food there was in plenty, of a simple sort, and the wells within the abbey buildings provided abundance of pure water.

In the underground passage connecting the crypt with the walled inclosure of the Circle of Penance the children had been collected. Ailsa Redmain was with them, attending to their many wants, helped by some of the women.

All this had been Kenric’s doing, and to him would be due the praise and the thanks of the people of Bute if his plan of defence should succeed. But Kenric was not at his ease, for he knew that should the Norsemen set aside thoughts of the sanctity of the place and make a successful descent upon the abbey, then surely the women and children would be discovered and an appalling massacre might follow. Little cared he for the loss of his castle and lands; little thought he of the value of his own young life. His one purpose was to make a strong defence and to save his people, for whose sakes there was nothing he would not dare to do.

And now his most earnest wish was to know whether the enemy would make their attack by sea or by land. He was equally prepared for either course.

It was wearing towards sundown, and yet there were no signs. The castle of Rothesay had been taken before noon. Where now were the enemy?

At last Elspeth Blackfell came to Kenric, who stood with the abbot within the thick walls of the inclosure.

“My lord,” said she, “I hear the tread of many feet. It is by land they come. Oh, that I knew where my sweet Aasta hath gone, and if she be still in life!”

“Father,” said Kenric to the abbot, “will you now do as I propose?”

“What would you, my son?” asked the abbot.

“It is that you would now go without these walls and boldly face our enemies, holding before you the crucifix. If Roderic be their leader, it may be that the sight of you will move him to a sense of the holiness of this place, and haply you may by your arguments turn him aside from his purpose. Were I to show myself — though, indeed, I would willingly face that man and fight with him to the death — he would be moved to wrath, and, slaying me, he would not rest any the more in his designs.”

“I will adventure it, my son,” said the abbot solemnly.

“God be with you, holy father,” added Kenric, crossing himself.

“My lord,” said Elspeth, “think you that Godfrey Thurstan can have power to move Roderic in this wise? How was it when he bade this man go upon the pilgrimage of penance? Did Roderic then obey his holy words? Not so. But there is one whose words Roderic MacAlpin will indeed take to heart, and that is your servant Elspeth. Let me then go, my lord. Open the gates that I may go forth and face this outlaw and his followers. And if it be that he turn not back, then may the massacre of our children rest upon my head.

“Come, my lord abbot, let us then go together.”

Then some men removed the heavy stones from the gate and the abbot and his aged companion went forth to meet the advancing forces.

Now as Roderic, at the head of his army, marched upon St. Blane’s he could see nothing of the defences that had been prepared. All was in appearance peaceful as it had been when as an innocent boy this pirate chief had gone in the early mornings to say mass with the good friars. Above the abbey the swallows lightly flew. The blue hills of Arran were calm and grand. The seagulls floated in mid-air above the sea, and the autumn trees waved their golden clusters in the breeze. From the chimneys of the abbey a thin film of smoke told only of peace.

There was nothing to show that within the small space between him and Garroch Head were collected together many hundreds of islanders with anxiously beating hearts — islanders whose happy homes had been laid waste, and who now dreaded the moment that might bring their death. Two figures alone could Roderic see. These were the abbot Godfrey and the old crone Elspeth Blackfell.

As the Norsemen advanced with clashing arms and regular tread the abbot looked up in seeming surprise, as though his meditations had been suddenly disturbed. Then he paused in his walk and turned to meet the dreaded foe. Elspeth followed him.

With loud voice Roderic called out to his men to halt. Then alone he went forward.

“What means all this that I see?” began the abbot with trembling voice, “and how comes it, Roderic MacAlpin, that I behold you here in Bute with all this strange following? Infamous man! Did you not but twelve short months ago solemnly swear before God that you would not set foot upon these shores again ere you had spent three years of penance in the