The Ridere of Riddles

The Ridere of Riddles is a Scottish Saga collected by John Francis Campbell in Popular Tales of West Highlands. His fisherman/informant was named John MacKenzie who lived by Inverary.


The Ridere of Riddles

Once upon a time there lived a king who married a great lady who sadly departed during childbirth of her first son. Later the king wed another woman and she birthed a son. Both sons lads grew up strong and tall. One day the new queen had an epiphany, that her son who was the second son of the king would not inherit the king’s kingdom when he passed on. Right then she schemed a plan to poison the king’s first son.

The queen ordered the royal cooks to poison the eldest son by mixing a lethal herb into the first son’s drink. The second son overheard the queen’s conversation about poisoning the first son so like a loyal brother, he revealed his mother’s wicked plan to his older brother. On the second evening the queen noticed the first son wasn’t dead from the venemous poison in his draught, so she directed the cooks to add more toxin to his drink.

Again the second son eavesdropped on her request to the cooks to add more poison to his eldest brother’s drink. He quickly revealed her plan to his first brother who would not drink the toxic draught. The eldest brother said, “If I stay in this house I have no doubt she will do for me some way or other, and the quicker I leave the house the better. I will take the world as my pillow, and there is no knowing what fortune will be on me.

His loyal younger brother said that he would accompany him, so they went to the stable each saddled their own horse and took their soles out of that.

The two brothers had not travelled far from their home when the first brother said,” There is no knowing if poison was in the drink at all, though we went away. Try it in the horse’s ear and we shall see.” The horse didn’t travel far before he keeled over dead!

“That horse was an old rattle bones anyway,” stated the eldest son. So the two brothers rode on the one horse for awhile, “But said he, “I can scarce believe that there is any poison in the drink; let’s try it on this horse.” They tried it on the second horse and it too dropped dead from the poison. It was late at night when they finished taking the hide off the dead horse to keep the brothers warm. By morning they awoke to twelve ravens had landed on the dead horse carcass to eat it. The twelve ravens quickly fell dead after eating some of the poisoned horse carcass.


Next, they lifted and took the dead ravens with them and the first town they reached they gave the poisoned ravens to the baker, and asked him to bake a dozen pies from them. They took the twelve baked raven pies with them on their journey.About the mouth of night, when they were in a great thick forest, there came four and twenty robbers who forced them to deliver up their money-bags. The brothers lied and sid they had none only the raven pies that they were carrying with them.

“good is even meat!” cried the robbers, and they began to devour the raven pies when suddenly, they too dropped dead! To the brothers good fortune they decided to ransack the dead robber’s pockets and grabbed much gold and silver. They then journeyed forward until they reached the Knight of Riddles.

The house of the Knight of Riddles was in the finest place in that country, if one thought his home was pretty his daughter was even prettier. She was served by twelve inaldens, only they were not as attractive as the Knight of Riddles’ daughter. The only man that was allowed to wed her was the man that would ask a riddle to the knight that he could not solve. The two brothers asked The Knight Of Riddles to solve their riddle. “One killed two, and two killed twelve, and twelve killed four and twenty, and two got out of it;” and they were to be encircled with great honour and majesty until the riddle was solved by the Knight of Riddles.

ridere of riddles

The Ridere tried very hard to guess the riddle but he could not guess it. One day of days one of his daughter’s handmaiden asked him to tell her the question. He took her plaid from her and let her go, but he told her nothing. Each day after one maiden per day asked him to tell them the riddle so they may solve it. Each day the knight said “No!”

The last maiden said to the last one that no creature had the answer to the riddle but his master down below. Finally one day the Ridere’s very pretty daughter went to the eldest brother and asked him to tell her the riddle. She was so lovely that he couldn’t refuse her, and told her but he kept her plaid. The Knight of Riddles sent for him, and gave him the answer to the riddle. Then the knight gave the brother two choices, one to lose his head, or to be sent adrift in a chaotic boat without food or drink, without scoop or oar. 

The older brother then gave the Ridere another riddle “Myself and my gillie were one day if the woods shooting. My gillie fired at a hare, and she fell and he took her skin off, and let her go.” “and so he did to twelve, he took their skins off and released them.” “Next came a great fine hare, and I myself fired at her, and took her skin off and the released her.” The Ridere said”Indeed thy riddle is not hard to solve my lad.” The knight knew the lad realised that the knight had not really solved his riddle just guessed the answer.

 So he gave him his daughter to wed, to make him hold his peace, and they made a great hearty wedding that lasted a day and a year. The youngest one went home now that his brother had got so well on his way, and the eldest brother gave him every right over the kingdom that was at home.

Now there were near the march of the kingdom of the Knight of Riddles three giants, and they were always murdering and slaying some of the knight’s people, and taking spoil from them. On a day of days the Knight of Riddles said to his son-in-law, that if the spirit of a man were in him, he would go to kill the giants, as they were always bringing such losses on the country. Well, so it was, he went and he met the giants, and he came home with the three giants’ heads, and he threw them at the knight’s feet.

“Thou art an able lad doubtless, and thy name hereafter is the Hero of the White Shield.” The name of the Hero of the White Shield went far and near.

Meanwhile, the brother of the Hero of the White Shield had wandered afar in many countries, and after long years had come to the land of the giants where the Hero of the White Shield was now dwelling, and the knight’s daughter with him. His brother came and he asked to make a coverage or fight as a bull with him. The men began at each other, and they took to wrestling from morning till evening. At last and at length, when they were tired, weak, and spent, the Hero of the White Shield jumped over a great rampart, and he asked the stranger to meet him in the morning. This leap put the other to shame, and he said to him, “Well may it be that thou wilt not be so supple about this time tomorrow. The young brother now went to a poor little bothy that was near to the house of the Hero of the White Shield, tired and drowsy, and in the morning they dared the fight again. And the Hero of the White Shield began to go back, till he flipped back into a river. “There must be some of my blood in thee before that was done to me.” “Of what blood art thou ?” said the youngest. “‘Tis I am the son of Ardan, great King of the Albann.” ” ‘Tis I am thy brother.” It was now they knew each other. They gave luck and welcome to each other, and the Hero of the White Shield now took him into the palace, and she it was that was pleased to see him-the knight’s daughter. He stayed a while with them, and after that, he thought that he would go home to his own kingdom and when he was going past a great palace that was there he saw twelve men playing at shinny over against the palace. He thought he would go for a while and play shinny with them, but they were not long playing shinny when they fell out, and the weakest of them caught him and shook him as he would a child. He thought it was no use for him to lift a hand amongst these twelve worthies, and he asked them to whom they were sons. They said they were children of the one father, the brother of the Hero of the White Shield, who had not been heard of for many years. “I am your father,” said he; and he asked them if their mother was alive. They said that she was. He went with them till he found the mother, and he took her home with him and the twelve sons; I don’t know but that his offspring are kings on Alba till this very day.


Source and Reference:

*Campbell, J. F. (1860). Popular Tales of the West Highlands (NLS:EGBC). Vol. I–IV. Edmonston and Douglas.

*Raven illustration by Arthur Rackham (Public Domain)

*Scottish Knight illustration (Public Domain)


Beannaichte Hogmanay! Celtic Traditions to Welcome The New Year.

Beannaichte Hogmanay!

Happy Hogmanay!

Happy New Year!


The Scottish celebration of Hogmanay is close at hand. Hogmanay is the Gaelic word for the last day of the year, celebrated on New Year’s eve.

This is the time of year when Celtic folks in Scotland gather together to welcome in the New Year and say Farewell or in Scot’s Gaelic, Soraidh, to the old year.

Several sources cite that Gaelic origins grew from French or Norse language or an older version of gaelic. New year ceremonies and mid-winter observance were natural in both Gaelic and Norse traditions. Hogmanay is a larger celebration in Scotland and predates the Christian Christmas. According to Scotland’s own website  The Word Hogmany originated from the Norman French from hoguinan (a New Year’s gift). They  also mention it’s a modification of the Gaelic og maidne (new morning), the Flemish hoog min dag (day or love) or, an Anglo Saxon haleg monath (holy month). The largest Hogmany festival is held in Edinburgh.

Historians also believe Hogmanay originated from a winter solstice festival introduced by the Vikings, for whom the passing of the shortest day was a cause for celebration, given how far north they lived. This Viking influence combined with the existing Gaelic pagan traditions to form the climactic torch parades through Edinburgh and other Scottish cities.

 First Footing:

According to  The ‘First Footing’ – “the ‘first foot’ in the house after midnight is still very common is Scotland. To ensure good luck, a first footer should be a dark-haired male. Fair-haired first footers were not particularly welcome after the Viking invasions of ancient times. Traditional gifts include a lump of coal to lovingly place on the host’s fire, along with shortbread, a black bun and whisky to toast to a Happy New Year.”

Remember to always bring a gift and have dark hair when first footing a home. It will bring good luck!

Redding the House:

Similar to the west’s spring cleaning rituals when a main clean-up is done to prepare the house for the New Year. Sweeping or cleaning out one’s  chimney was a paramount tradition. ‘Out with the Old and In with the New!’ Some folks are skilled in reading the ashes, similar to  tea leaf readings. This is a critical time of year when fire plays a huge vast part in celebrations, it’s only natural to bring a bit of it into the house.

The Saining of the House:

Once the house was clean, the woman of the house would carry a smoking Juniper branch. This is termed smudging or cleansing the home of negative energy or evil spirits that could cause illness.

 Fire Festivals & Bon Fires:

The Vikings may have introduced the use of fire to purify and banish evil spirits which is an ancient custom. Fire is at the center of several Hogmanay celebrations in Biggar, Comrie, Stonehaven, and the largest is at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Festival.


Auld Lang Syne:

Hogmanay in Scotland includes a warm rendition of Auld Lang Syne, of this endearing poem by the Scottish national bard, Robert Burns or Rabbie Burns. The Scots link arms and hands while they sing this famous poem.

Tradition dictates that arms are only linked at the start of the final verse. Folks link hands and arms in a circle, they rush to the middle of the circle while still holding hands at the end of the song. Many other English speaking cultures now practice this tradition.


The Scottish lyrics of Auld lang Syne by Robert Burns in 1788, set to the melody of the traditional folk song Raud.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!

and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,

and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,

frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

Here is the English Version.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne? (long, long, ago)

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,

and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,

from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.



Sources & Reference: website

The Concise Scots Dictionary Cambers (1985) ISBN 0-08-028491-4

“The Origins, History and Traditions of Hogmanay”, The British Newspaper Archive