The Scot(ish) Day, 876 A.D. (Horley Scout Camp, June 2016)

Now proudly bearing the Raven Banner, the Westmen marched even futher north to continue to fight the Norwegian invaders, and to reclaim their homes on the isles off the coast of the lands of the Scots (especially Halgerd’s home on Canna). There they encountered local politics…

Map of Scotlandtree

King Causantin of Alba, ruler of the combined thrones of Dál Riata and Pictavia, had called a meeting of all of the northern Kingdoms, inviting representatives from the Britons of Alt Clud, the Scots of Dál Riata, the Picts of Pictavia, and the exiled Vikings who refused to serve the Norwegian King. In the woods on the way to the meeting, the small bands of royal representatives clashed and tempers ran high. Secrets were uncovered about the past activities of all of the delegates, letters from years ago were looted and read, and a wandering monk made strange and terrible predictions about kingship.

The Britons of Alt Clud

Alt Clud, sometimes known as Strathclyde, was the last great British / Welsh northern kingdom. Their capital was the great fortress of Alt Clud, Dumbarton Castle, which was sacked by Ivar Ragnarsson 6 years before this meeting, in 870. Their king, Arthgal, died 4 years ago in 872, in somewhat mysterious circumstances: it might have been illness, but it might have been poison… Alt Clud was now ruled by his son Rhun, married to the king of Dál Riata & Alba’s sister, Flann.

Young Prince Eochaid, son of King Rhun of Alt Clud, nephew of King Causantin of Dál Riata and Alba, was the representative of the Britons sent to the meeting. With him travelled his father’s household warrior Beath map Beath and his mother’s close friend Anneth. When they encountered the mysterious monk, the monk predicted “Your Father Shall Be The Last King Of Strathclyde” and “Cinead United Two Kingdoms Through Murder. Murder Will Be Required Again To Unite All Three.” The letters the Alt Clud delegation carried said:

Eochaid map Rhun map Arthgal,
My son, I am proud of you. You have grown strong and healthy, and will one day be a worthy successor to me. You also have a strong fire of ambition inside you: I believe that you may well be an even greater king than I.
However, you have not yet proven yourself in battle, and you must do that before the people will follow you. I send you now to be trained by my most loyal advisor and friend, the man who made me what I am today. Listen to his advice, and he will guide you well.
Your father and king,
Rhun map Arthgal map Dumnagual, King of Alt Clud
Year Of Our Lord 874

Beath map Beath,
Without you, I would have nothing; it is you who made me into the man and king I am today. You have been a reliable figure by my side through the years, training and guiding me, as well as a strong warrior when needed. Without you, I would not have survived the burning of Alt Clud, and I would not sit on the throne. I thank you for your many years of good service, and I beg one more favour of you.
I am too busy to supervise the training of my son Eochaid. He is a bold and ambitious lad, and I pray will one day replace me. But to do so he must first prove himself in the field of battle. He has often practiced and fought in play, but I ask you to train him to fight as a true warrior, to get him bloodied and achieve his first kill. Only then will the people accept him.
Your friend and king,
Rhun map Arthgal map Dumnagual, King of Alt Clud
Year Of Our Lord 874

Thank you for your many years of service. You came with me to Alt Clud from Dál Riata all those years ago, when I came to marry Rhun map Arthgal, and you have been a loyal friend to me. You have been my shield, protecting me from those who would harm me, and my most trusted friend and ally. Together we have steered our husbands, pushing them to be the best that they could be and to gain power and glory.
Please do the same for my son, Eochaid. Help him to fan his ambition and drive for power, and he could achieve true greatness, greater even than my husband.
Your friend and queen,
Flann, daughter of Cináed mac Ailpín
Year Of Our Lord 876

The Scots of Dál Riata

The Kingdom of Dál Riata on the west coast originally included most of the islands. The Scots came here from the sea: they were driven out of Ireland by fierce inter-family strife some 400 years ago. They brought with them Christianity, and it had vigorously spread out from such centres as Iona. They were ruled by Causantin mac Cináed, eldest son of Cináed mac Ailpín, brother to the queen of Alt Clud Flann and Aed (his current heir).

King Causantin was hosting the meeting, and as such he had already arrived before everyone else. His son Domnall (protected by the mighty warrior Éremón), currently too young to be king or his father’s heir, made his own way to the gathering and on the way clashed with the other delegates. Whilst Domnall was trying to travel in diguise, the wandering monk recognised him and predicted “You Shall Be King Of All Three Kingdoms” and later “You Will Not Be King When Your Father Dies, Picts And Britons Will Rule Before You.” The letters the Scottish warband carried said:

Domnall mac Causantin,
You are my son, and one day will rule all of these kingdoms. But you are not yet old enough. So you must be careful, and avoid being captured by those who might do you harm. Don’t let anyone except for your guards know who you are, call yourself “Gormgus” and travel secretly. Trust your bodyguard Éremón and your nurse Orlaith to protect you, and take their advice, but remember that you are a prince. You are in command, not them.
We must travel to the meeting by separate paths: it would be too dangerous for us to both go together, if we were ambushed we might both be killed. I will see you at the meeting. Good luck.
Your father and king,
Causantin mac Cináed, King of Alba
Year Of Our Lord 876

I am dying. You are one of the last who still remember the full story of my conquest, the terrible things we did to secure my throne. The feast where we ambushed the Pictish nobles, killing them all whilst they were guests under my roof…
I worry: will God punish me for what we did, or will he see that we did what we had to, to provide strong leadership to these lands? The Picts and the Scots and Britons were too fragmentary, too divided in the face of Englisc and Viking: they needed a strong hand to hold them together. My only regret is that I failed to command the Britons of Alt Clud.
You and your troops have helped me be that strong hand, and have become some of my most trusted weapons. You are the youngest of my household troops, so to you I ask that you look after my descendants. One day one of them shall pull all of our peoples together, to repel the Englisc and the raiders. Guide my children, and guide my children’s children. Protect them, and help them to achieve their potential.
Your friend and king,
Cináed mac Ailpín, King of Alba
Year Of Our Lord 858

You were always a loyal protector to me, my brothers, and my sisters. I ask you now to visit my sister Flann in Alt Clud. After that terrible raid they had recently, they are experiencing a time of hardship. Make sure that she is being well treated.
If you encounter any of the Pictish trouble-makers there, make sure that Arthgal sees where his loyalties should lie.
Your friend and king,
Causantin mac Cináed
Year Of Our Lord 872

The Picts of Pictavia

Pictavia is a broad term for the patchwork of independent ancient kingdoms on the east coast. The Picts were the original inhabitants of the whole area: before the Welsh or Scots arrived, there were Picts. But their time had passed, and their power was in decline. 30 years ago Cináed mac Ailpín, the Scottish king with a Pictish mother, killed most of the rest of the Pictish nobility and took the crown. He combined the Picts and the Scots into one nation, “Alba”, now ruled by his son Causantin.

But some Picts were disaffected, and had rallied behind the last surviving nobles: Lathir and her husband Giric. Lathir and Giric journeyed to the meeting, cautiously seeking allies to overthrow the hated Scots… The monk told Giric that “Though You Are Not Of Royal Blood, You Shall Rule Alba” and told Lathir “To Defeat The Scots, You Must Embrace The Britons.” Lathir also had several letters, from a Pictish resistance group:

As you know, Cináed mac Ailpín only conquered the Picts through a horrific ambush. He lured all of our nobility to a grand feast, and then had his warrior Éremón slaughter them whilst they were guests under his roof.
The brutality has not stopped there. Our people are ground under the yoke of the Scot oppressors. We lost our nobility to mac Ailpín’s treason, and are now ruled by his murderous son Causantin, with his father’s thug Éremón at his side. We must unite in order to regain our freedom.
You and your husband Giric are the greatest amongst us. Your parents and Giric’s were cut down by mac Ailpín’s treachery, but you both survived. If you stand tall, and say that you seek freedom, many will listen and follow.
The True Picts
Year Of Our Lord 865

We were sad to hear that your trip to get an alliance with the Britons of King Arthgal of Alt Clud was unsuccessful, as the butcher Éremón was also at court and argued against you. We must have allies in order to overthrow the Scots! Perhaps Arthgal’s successor will be more amenable? Or perhaps we could even make alliances with the Northumbrians, or the Vikings, or the Norwegians? We will follow where you lead.
The True Picts
Year Of Our Lord 872

The Vikings

Vikings had been slowly settling on the islands off the coast of the land for the past 100 or so years, sometimes peacefully with agreed rents (like Hallgerd holding Canna) and sometimes more violently. In the past year, the Norwegian King Harald Fairhair (Hallgerd’s cousin) had swept through the islands, claiming them all as part of Norway and forced everyone to bend the knee or to be exiled. Whilst his advances on the mainland had been stopped, and he had left the rule to his servant Jarl Sigurd, Sigurd still ruled all of the Isles from Shetland to Mann with an iron fist.

There were two groups of Vikings travelled to the meeting: the Westmen were exiles from the isles, seeking to reclaim their homes, whilst the Oestvikingae were just looking to hire themselves as mercenaries. The wandering monk told Hallgerd of the Westmen that “Your Cousin Has United Norway, But His Sons Will Tear It Apart” and “Norway Will Only Be Forever United When Ruled By A Christian.” He told Hauk of the Oestvikingae that “You Will Serve Great Kings” and “You Will Serve Two Christian Kings.” The Westmen carried these letters:

Grimkell, Hersir of the Westmen.
I thank you for your aid in raiding Alt Clud. If you and your warriors ever want to march under my banner again, you will be most welcome. We put the fear of the true gods into those lily-livered White-Christ worshippers!
I hope the raid was successful for you, and your ships left laden with silver?
Ivar Ragnarsson

I am sorry to hear that Arthgal didn’t listen to your “little talk” about recruiting him as an ally against Dal Riata, so you wouldn’t have to pay rent any more for Canna. The pride of the man, to resist us even after we burnt his fort! I am sure you gave him a piece of your mind.
Perhaps his successor will be more persuadable? If not, maybe we need to return to raid Alt Clud again, once we’ve finished conquering the Englisc…
Halfdan Ragnarsson

The Englisc of Wessex

Whilst no Saxons were invited to the meeting, a lone ambassador from Alfred’s court had travelled up to the North to fetch information for his ever-watchful king. He bore this letter:

Your Welsh cousins in the North are having problems with Harald Finehair’s invasion. They seem divided and more interested in fighting each other than the Norwegians or the Vikings.
What I would like is for them to be united, under a single powerful ruler, who will fight the Vikings and Norwegians but not the Northumbrians. Meanwhile I shall unite the south, and we will divide the country between the two of us.
Do what you can to help them achieve this? Try to sort out what is going on in their in-fighting, and give support to whoever can unite them?
Alfred, King of the Englisc and the South
Year of our Lord 876

The Feast

On the way to the meeting the Britons and Scots became united in friendship, based on their shared devotion to God, respect for kings, and the fact that both of their princes were grandsons of Cináed mac Ailpín; whilst the Picts and Vikings ended up as loose allies, united in disapproval of centralising rulers like Cináed or Harald. The factions only laid down their arms and forgot about their animosity when the two young princes, Eochaid of Alt Clud and Domnall of Dál Riata, proved their diplomatic skills by reminding everyone that the larger and more immediate target was the Norwegians, Jarl Sigurd and his King Harald Fine-Hair.

Over a fabulous evening banquet, King Causantin of Dál Riata and Pictavia persuaded everyone to work together to fight that common foe. King Causantin’s servant asked if Prince Eochaid wanted Causantin to stand judge over the alleged murder of  King Arthgal of Alt Clud 4 years ago, now that the letters had been discovered which might prove who did the terrible deed. The letters (reproduced above) showed that King Arthgal’s court at Alt Clud was being visited at the time of his death by Lathir of the Picts, Hallgerd of the Westmen, and Éremón of Dál Riata, and might even suggest internal stresses inside his court… However, Prince Eochaid said that he did not want to seek a judgement at this time, that keeping the alliance united against the threat of the Norwegians was more important. Outside any formal legal proceedings many people speculated that Hallgerd was the probable killer, which she strenuously denied.

Beath map Beath claimed that Causantin’s servant was just stirring up trouble by seeking to discuss long-forgotten grievances, and that Causantin should watch out for him. Beath map Beath was actually right about Causantin’s servant, who by this point had reported to Lathir that he was a True Pict, revealing the tattoes of loyalty that decorated his torso. He had been working for her cause all these years, becoming trusted by Causantin, and now saw the time to strike if she gave him her blessing…

Meanwhile, as a show of friendship, the Westmen returned a holy relic, thought lost in the burning of Alt Clud 6 years before, back to the visitors from Alt Clud, only demanding a very small fee for the years of protection they had given the relic.

Among other discussions, King Causantin was persuaded to send his young son Domnall off to be fostered by the great Viking Styrkar, a famed foster-father who would return Domnall when he had come of age, with fighting experience and ready to rule.

Course followed course, and people got rowdy. Causantin’s servant got the nod from Lathir, and fetched his master a bowl of the latest course, with ‘added mushrooms’… Causantin devoured it eagerly, even whilst Beath map Beath tried one last time to warn him about his servant. Causantin mocked the warnings, saying that his servant had been faithful to him for many years. At this his servant finally snapped, shouting that he was a Loyal Pict and had only worked for Causantin to gain his trust, after his parents were murdered during Cináed mac Ailpín’s treason, but that he hated the Scottish oppressors. Causantin rose up to shout back, but then clutched his throat, falling, retching and frothing, to the floor. The king was dead. The Butcher Éremón apprehended his servant, and dealt out swift and vicious justice, killing his lord’s murderer just seconds after his lord died…

In the weeks that followed, Causantin’s brother Aed took control of the throne, despite some people claiming that Domnall or even Eochaid should be the ruler. But the lands of the north were still torn, with the list of unavenged murdered kings growing ever longer; the Picts still seeking their freedom; the followers of Domnall and Eochaid both pushing their claims to the thrones; the Norwegians still triumphantly holding the isles; and the monk’s prophecies not yet fulfilled. Clearly there are more stories to be told in the north, more adventures and excitement to come!

Historical Note – Scotland in the late 9th century

Exactly what was going on in Scotland at this time is a bit unclear, and the reports are contradictory. Our version of history sticks to some of the sources, but obviously can’t follow them all. Historically, Cináed mac Ailpín might have just been a Pict, and “MacAlpin’s Treason” is probably just a later medieval legend. But it was just too cool not to include, and who doesn’t love some simmering racial tension? Similarly how and when Arthgal and Causantin died is disputed but none of the sources match the deaths we gave them, some king lists omit people that we included, and we invented all of the bodyguards and gave names to unnamed figures (particularly the women, who aren’t included in the king lists that give us so much of our contemporary knowledge). The importance of the mad monk with prophecies was meant to reflect the Witches of the Scottish Play (which is actually set 200 years later) and the medieval epic poem known as the “Prophecy of Berchán”.


King Aed of Alba probably only ruled a year, before being murdered by Giric of the Picts. Giric and Eochaid son of Rhun possibly united the three kingdoms and ruled together, until both being defeated by Domnall son of Causantin in 889 – there are no other known kings of Alt Clud / Strathclyde until a few decades later. After Domnall’s death, rule of Alba alternates between descendents of Causantin and Aed.

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