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The Thirsty Sword   By: (1859-1934)

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A Story of the Norse Invasion of Scotland (1262 1263)



"Ah, if only Kenric were here!"

It was on the evening of a bright day in June, in the year 1262, and a girl, clasping her hands in distress, walked restlessly to and fro on the bank of a stream that tinkled merrily along its gravelly bed towards the sea. She, in her loose gown of gray woollen homespun and girdle of crimson silk, was then the only figure to be seen for miles around. Far to the south were the blue mountains of Arran, and westward across the Sound were the brown hills of Kintyre, with the rosy light of the setting sun behind them. The girl, shading her eyes from the strong light, looked over the moorland towards the castle of Kilinory.

"If Kenric were but here!" she said again.

And as she turned to run to the stream, all suddenly she was startled by the sound of a heavy thud upon the heather at her feet. She looked round and saw that a large capercailzie had fallen there. The bird was dead, and there was an arrow in its breast.

At the same moment there was a lusty shout of joy from among the trees and a stalwart youth came bounding towards her. In his right hand he bore a longbow, and at his belt were hung a dead hare and a brace of wild moor fowl, whose dripping blood trickled down his sturdy legs.

"Ailsa!" he cried in surprise, seeing the girl as he came to secure the bird he had just killed. "You here so late, and alone?"

Ailsa's fair cheeks grew rosy as the evening sky, for the youth was he whom she had wished for, Kenric, the son of the brave Earl Hamish of Bute, and now that he was so near her she felt suddenly timid.

He was a lad of sixteen years, not tall, but very thickset and stout built, broad shouldered, deep chested, and strong limbed. His long silky locks were a rich nut brown, and his sparkling eyes were dark and gentle as those of a fallow deer. The sun and the bracing sea air had made ruddy his fair skin, even to his firm, round throat and his thick arms, that were left bare by his rough coat of untanned buckskin.

"You have been weeping, Ailsa," said he, looking into her tearful eyes.

"Sir," said she, speaking, as he did, in the guttural Gaelic tongue, "come, I beseech you, to the help of two poor ouzels, whose nest is far in under the roots of yonder birch tree. If you help not quickly, their little fledglings will be eaten up by a thieving stoat that has but a few moments ago entered their nest."

"Youmake needless dole, Ailsa, over a pair of worthless birds and their chicks," said he scornfully. "Why, I have this day slain a full half score of birds! Ay, and right willingly would I have doubled their number."

"The birds you have slain are for men's food," said she, "but the birds I speak of sing as sweetly as the mavis, and I have watched them tenderly for many sunny days past. Rescue them for me, good Kenric, for I love them right well, and I would not for the world that any ill should befall them."

Then Kenric went with her to the stream's bank, and as he stood there his keen eyes saw something move across the short grass at the water's edge. Promptly he put an arrow to his bowstring and took deft aim. The shaft sped quickly to its mark, plunged into the body of a stoat, and pinned the animal to the soft turf.

"There, Ailsa," said he, "the murderous thief is justly punished!" and springing down the bank he put his heel upon the writhing animal and lightly drew out his arrow from its body, while Ailsa picked up the bleeding fledgling that the stoat had been carrying away in its teeth. She took the maimed little bird to the birch tree that Kenric might restore it to its nest. But at the mouth of the nest lay the dead body of one of the parent birds, and hovering near it was the mother ouzel, uttering sharp cries of distress at the murder of her mate and little one.

"And now," said Kenric, "I must hie me back to St... Continue reading book >>

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