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  • 1893
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Now it was not without profit that, on that time many months before, Kenric had watched the fatal duel between Roderic and his brother Alpin, and he knew Roderic’s invariable trick of aiming at his assailant’s head. His successful guarding of the first blow gave him confidence.

Again the two combatants closed as before, tapping and scraping their blades together; and again they flung back their arms. This time Roderic was quicker in his onslaught, and he aimed from the right. But Kenric, instead of attempting to strike, promptly guarded his left and intercepted the blow as before. Ere Roderic could recover for a new attack, he felt a sharp cut across his bare neck.

He roared in pain and fury, and sprang upon Kenric with redoubled force. The swords clashed together with mighty strokes. Roderic, amazed at Kenric’s skilful fighting, grew ever more rash in his attempts to smite him down and conquer him by superior strength; while Kenric, with steady watchful eye, marked every movement, coolly guarding each fearful blow, as though he knew as surely as did his assailant where Roderic intended to strike.

At last, completely baffled, Roderic paused, drew back, and rested the point of his long sword upon the hard ground.

“To the death!” said Kenric solemnly, also lowering his weapon.

“Ay, to your death be it,” returned Roderic, wiping the blood from his wounded neck with his bare hand. Then again, breathing deeply, he took his ground.

Clash, clash went their mighty swords once more as they closed together in their deadly combat. And now Roderic threw back his weapon with a great swing, and bent his strong body to bring the blade down with a final swoop upon Kenric’s head. He made a furious spring forward. His sword flashed in a half-circle, whizzing through the air with frightful speed. It was a blow that might have felled an ox.

But the ponderous weapon met nothing until, slipping from his blood-wet hand, it fell with a crash upon the hard ground. At the same moment Roderic uttered a groan. He staggered forward with his empty hands outspread. He fell with a heavy thud upon his right shoulder, rolled over, and then lay stretched upon the turf with the point of Kenric’s sword buried deep in his heart.

A deathly silence followed, broken only by the moaning of the sea waves as they curled upon the beach. Kenric breathed a deep sigh. With difficulty he drew his terrible weapon from the breast of his dead foe. The Thirsty Sword had drunk its final draught.

Carrying the weapon away, Kenric stood for many moments upon the extreme point of the jutting headland overlooking the open sea. Taking the Sword in his two hands he swung it in a sweeping circle about his head, and stepping forward flung it far out into the frosty air.

Away it sped like a well-aimed arrow. The moonbeams flashed upon the bright blade as it turned in its descent, hilt downward, and plunged for ever deep, deep into the sea.

Then Kenric stood awhile with clasped hands, looking far across to the Arran fells, whose snowy mantles glanced like silver under the silent moon. From the distance behind him he heard the faint tinkling of the chapel bell, telling him that the old year, with its turmoil and trouble, was at its end; and he dropped down upon his knees and covered his face with his hands.

It was scarcely half an hour after midnight when Kenric walked towards the arched doorway of St. Blane’s chapel. As he drew near he saw the dim light within, shining through the narrow windows of coloured glass, and he heard the solemn murmur of prayer. He was about to enter when a hand was suddenly laid upon his shoulder.

“‘Tis you, my lord?” said the voice of Elspeth Blackfell. “Then it must surely be that you have fought and vanquished. God be thanked! I feared that it had gone ill with you, for I found your cloak lying upon the heath. Where is the villain Roderic?”

“Roderic is no more!” answered Kenric, taking his cloak from her hands. “And now I go within the chapel to give thanks to God, in that He hath deigned to make me the instrument of His vengeance.”

“Stay. Ere you enter, tell me, my lord, have you news of my dear Aasta? She has not yet been seen: nor has our watch-wolf Lufa been found. Alas! I fear me the wild maid has gone off to Gigha.”

“Not so,” said Kenric. “But come with me within the chapel, good Elspeth, and when the service is over I will tell you all.”

He gently pushed open the door and drew Elspeth with him. They stood there, looking in at the many rough islanders with their heads bent in devotion. The sonorous voice of the venerable abbot resounded in the vaulted aisle. The cruse lamps hanging from the high rafters shed their dim light upon the bare stone walls, where branches of red-berried holly were entwined with tufts of larch and spruce and sprays of mistletoe. The flickering light of many tapers shone upon the embroidered vestments of the abbot and the gorgeous altar cloth.

Presently the prayer ended; the people rose with shuffling feet. Sir Allan Redmain from his seat in front of the altar looked anxiously round towards the door, as he had done many times during that service, in search of Kenric. He now saw the bent figure of Elspeth Blackfell, and behind her the young king.

As Kenric, leading Elspeth forward, walked slowly up the aisle, Allan did not fail to notice that his sword was not in its accustomed place. The abbot paused until Earl Kenric had taken his seat between Sir Allan Redmain and Ailsa.

Kenric caught. Ailsa’s hand and drew it gently to him. He looked down into her eyes as she turned to smile upon him. Then from the choir of white-robed friars there rose the chant of the /Gloria in Excelsis/, swelling full and strong. To Kenric, as he stood by Ailsa’s side, the words came with a deep prophetic meaning — “Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.”

And on that first early dawn of the new year, as he left the holy place to return to his ancestral home, he repeated them again, looking round him on the land for which his sword had won tranquillity:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace towards men of goodwill.”