The Dark Daughter of the Norse King

When the Norsemen came to Scotland and lay claim to the land, they were famous for every manner of cruel spoliation, and slaughter of the people wherever they landed.  They were a bold, courageous, hardy, rough, peremptory and unscrupulous race.  More than that, it was attributed to them that they practiced witchcraft, charms, and enchantments, and had much of other unhallowed learning among them.

The Norse King’s eldest daughter was particularly noted for her knowledge of the “Black Art.” There was no accident or mischance that befell friends, or destruction that overtook enemies, or any luck or good fortune that attended either friend or foe, but it was said that she had some hand in it.

She was famed at home and abroad, far and wide, for her skill among cows and cattle, she was said to possess every variety of dairy knowledge in her father’s kingdom.  There was no charm or evil eye that fell on any living creature in the fold but she could dispel and avert, nor hurt nor injury they got but she could heal, until it was said of her that the lowing of cattle, the incoherent cry of calves, and the rough cry of yearlings was to her the sweetest and most soothing music.  She would answer the call of cattle, though she might be lost in the midst of the northern woods, and the cry from the nethermost part of the farthest off quarter of the universe. She knew the herb that had the property of taking its qualities from milk, as well as she was acquainted with the spells by which its virtues could be restored, and every charm and invocation that was practiced or then esteemed.

The flowers of the meadows and woods were as familiar to her as the ridges of corn or a grain on straw, and there was not a leaf on tree, bush, or shrub, with whose properties she was not acquainted. Her father’s kingdom was clothed with pine wood, and was then as now famous for the fine quality of the wood from which most of the wealth of the kingdom was obtained.

One of those times when the Norsemen came to Scotland to take possession of and sub-divide the land thus taken, they observed that the pine wood of Lochaber was growing so fast, and extending so far, that in time it might supersede the Black Forests of Sweden. But on this occasion the northern forces were driven back. On reaching home they reported the matter to the king, and their opinion, that the increase of the wood must be checked, otherwise his northern woods would be of little esteem.

It occurred to the King to consult his daughter on the matter, since she was learned, and to get knowledge from her of the best method of thinning and destroying the Scottish wood. She gave him the desired information, but said that she must be the bearer of the method and must necessarily go to Scotland herself. She obtained the King’s permission and made preparations for the journey.

From the gifts she possessed, neither sea nor land, air nor earth could hinder her progress until she accomplished her purpose. When she reached Lochaber the method she adopted was to kindle a fire in the selvage of her dress, and she then began to go through the woods, and as she could travel in the clouds as well as on the ground, when she ascended and whirled in the air, the sparks of fire that flew from her dress were blown hither and thither by the wind and set the woods on fire, until the whole country was almost in a blaze, and so darkened by the smoke, that one could hardly see before them.

The people gathered to watch her, but from the rapidity of her ascent and the swiftness with which she descended, they could not grasp her any more than they could prevent her, and were at a loss what to do. At last, they sought instruction from a learned man in the place. He advised them to collect a herd of cattle in a fold, wherever she would stand still, and whenever she heard the lowing of the cattle she would descend, and when she was within gun-shot they were to fire at her with a silver bullet, when she would become a faggot of bones.

They followed this advice and began to gather cattle and follow after her until the pinfold large and small was full set in the “Center of Kintail.” Whenever she heard the cry of the herd she descended and they aimed at her with the silver bullet, as the wise man told them to do.  She was shot, and her bones fell from the air and landed gently among the cows.  Men lifted the remains and carried them to Lochaber, and to make sure that dead or alive she would do no more injury to them, they buried her in Achnacarry.

The Norse King was amazed at his daughter not returning, and at his not receiving any account from her. He sent abroad to get tidings of her. When the news of the disaster that happened to her was brought to him, he sent a boat and crew to bring her home, but the Lochaber women by their incantations destroyed those whom he sent. The boat was wrecked, and the men lost, at the entrance to Locheil. The next ships that came were not more successful. The third time the King sent out his most powerful fleet. What they did then was to send and try through spells to dry up the wells of the Fairy Hill of Iona. The virtue of these wells was that wind could be obtained from any desired quarter by emptying them in the direction of the wind wished for. When the ships were seen approaching, the wells began to be emptied, and before the last handful was flung out, the storm was so violent, and the ships so near, that the whole fleet was driven on the beach under the Fairy Hill, and the power and might of the Norsemen was broken and so much weakened that they did not return again to infest the land.

This story was collected by John Gregorson Campbell, and published in Clan Traditions and Popular Tales of the Western Highlands and Islands (1895) pp. 101-104.  Retrieved from The University of Toronto:

I love the moody nature of this story, and only made a few tweaks in order to make it easier to read.  The image the Dark Daughter flying about the forest will probably be a series of paintings shortly!  


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