“What is your urgent business, Sir Archie?” the king asked. “A lady is in the case, I warrant me. Whenever a young knight has urgent business, be sure that a lady is in question. Now mind, Sir Archie, I have, as I have told you, set my heart upon marrying you to Mistress Mary Kerr, and so at once putting an end to a long feud and doubling your possessions. Her retainers fought well yesterday, and the least I can do to reward so splendid a damsel is to bestow upon her the hand of my bravest knight.”
“I fear, sire,” Archie said laughing, “that she must be content with another. There are plenty who will deem themselves well paid for their services in your cause by the gift of the hand of so rich an heiress. But I must fain be excused; for as I told you, sire, when we were together in Rathlin Island, my heart was otherwise bestowed.”
“What! to the niece of that malignant enemy of mine, Alexander of Lorne?” the king said laughing. “Her friends would rather see you on the gibbet than at the altar.”
“I care nought for her friends,” Archie said, “if I can get herself. My own lands are wide enough, and I need no dowry with my wife.”
“I see you are hopeless,” the king replied. “Well, go, Archie; but whatever be your errand, beware of the Lornes. Remember I have scarce begun to win Scotland yet, and cannot spare you.”
“A quarter of an hour later Archie, with twenty picked men, took his way northward. Avoiding all towns and frequented roads, Archie marched rapidly north to the point of Renfrew and crossed the Firth of Clyde by boat; then he kept north round the head of Loch Fyne, and avoiding Dalmally skirted the head of Loch Etive and the slopes of Ben Nevis, and so came down on Loch Leven.
The convent stood at the extremity of a promontory jutting into the lake. The neck was very narrow, and across it were strong walls, with a gate and flanking towers. Between this wall and the convent was the garden where the inmates walked and enjoyed the air free from the sight of men, save, indeed, of fishers who might be passing in their boats.
Outside the wall, on the shore of the lake, stood a large village; and here a strong body of the retainers of the convent were always on guard, for at St. Kenneth were many of the daughters of Scotch nobles, sent there either to be out of the way during the troubles or to be educated by the nuns. Although the terrors of sacrilege and the ban of the church might well deter any from laying hands upon the convent, yet even in those days of superstition some were found so fierce and irreverent as to dare even the anger of the church to carry out their wishes; and the possession of some of these heiresses might well enable them to make good terms for themselves both with the church and the relations of their captives. Therefore a number of the retainers were always under arms, a guard was placed on the gate, and lookouts on the flanking towers — their duty being not only to watch the land side, but to shout orders to keep at a distance to any fisherman who might approach too closely to the promontory.