Such was the defiant message sent to young Macdonald, and immediately after its despatch, Kenneth sent away Lady Margaret, in the most ignominious manner, to Balcony House. The lady was blind of an eye, and, to insult her cousin to the utmost, he sent her back to him mounted on a one-eyed horse, accompanied by a one-eyed servant, followed by a one-eyed dog. She was in a delicate state of health, and this inhumanity grieved her so much that she never after wholly recovered. Her son, recently born, the only issue of the marriage, was named Kenneth, and to distinguish him from his father was called "Coinneach Og" or Kenneth the younger.
It appears that Kenneth had no great affection for Lady Margaret, for a few days after he sent her away he went to Lord Lovat accompanie by two hundred of his followers and besieged his house. Lovat was naturally surprised at his conduct and demanded an explanation, when he was informed by Kenneth that he came to demand his daughter Agnes in marriage now that he had no wife, having, as he told him, disposed of Lady Margaret in the manner already described. He insisted upon an immediate and favourable reply to his suit on which condition he promised to be on strict terms of friendship with the family; but, if his demand was refused he would swear mortal enmity against Lovat and his house; and, as evidence of his intention in this respect, he pointed out to his lordship that he already bad a party of his vassals outside gathering together the men, women, and goods that were nearest in the vicinity, all of whom, be declared, should "be made one fyne to evidence his resolution." Lovat, who had no particularly friendly feelings towards Macdonald of the Isles, was not at all indisposed to procure Mackenzie's friendship on the terms proposed, and considering the exigencies and danger of his retainers, and knowing full well the bold and determined character of the man he had to deal with, he consented to the proposed alliance, provided the voting lady herself was favourable. She fortunately proved submissive. Lord Lovat delivered her up to her suitor, who immediately returned borne with her, and ever after they lived together as husband and wife.
Macdonald was naturally very much exasperated by Kenneth's defiant answer to himself and the repeated insults heaped upon his relative, and through her upon her family. He therefore dispatched his great steward, Maclean, to collect his followers in the Isles, as also to advise and request the aid of his nearest relations on the mainland-the Macdonalds of Moidart and Clan Jan of Ardnamurchan. In a short time they mustered a force between them of about fifteen hundred men--some say three thousand--and arranged with Macdonald to meet him at Contin. They assumed that Alexander Mackenzie, now so old, would not have gone to Kintail, but would stay in Ross, judging that the Macdonalds, so recently come under obligations to the King to keep the peace would not venture to collect their forces and invade the low country. But Kenneth, foreseeing the danger from the rebellious temper of Macdonald, went to Kintail at the commencement of his enemy's preparations, and placed a strong garrison, with sufficient provisions, in Ellandonnan Castle; and the cattle and other goods in the district he ordered to be driven and sent to the most remote hills and secret places. He took all the remaining able-bodied men along with him, and on his way back to Kinellan he was joined by his dependants in Strathconan, Strathgarve, and other glens in the Braes of Ross, all fully determined to defend Kenneth and his aged father at the expense, if need be, of their lives, small as their united forces were in comparison with that against which they knew they would soon have to contend.
Macdonald had meanwhile collected his friends, and, at the head of a large body of Western Highlanders, advanced through Lochaber into Badenoch, where he was joined by the Clan Chattan; marched to Inverness, where they were met by the young laird of Kilravock and some of Lovat's people; reduced the Castle (then a royal fortress), placed a garrison in it, and proceeded to the north-east, plundering the lands of Sir Alexander Urquhart, Sheriff of Cromarty. They next marched westward to the district of Strathconan, ravaged the lands of the Mackenzies as they went, and put the inhabitants and more immediate retainers of the family to the sword, resolutely determined to punish Mackenzie for his ill-treatment of Lady Margaret and recover possession of that part of the Earldom of Ross forfeited by the earls of that name, and now the property of Mackenzie by Royal charter. Having wasted Strathconan, Macdonald arrived on Sunday morning at Contin, where he found the people in great terror and confusion; and the able-bodied men having already joined Mackenzie, the aged, the women, and the children took refuge in the church, thinking themselves secure within its precincts from any enemy professing Christianity. They soon, to their horror, found out their mistake. Macdonald, having little or no scruples on the score of religion, ordered the doors to be closed and guarded, and then set fire to the building. The priest, together with the hapless crowd of helpless and aged men, women and children, were all burnt to ashes.
Some of those who were fortunate enough not to have been in Contin church immediately started for Kinellan, and informed Mackenzie of the hideous massacre. Alexander, though deeply grieved at the cruel destruction of his people, expressed his gratitude that the enemy, whom he had hitherto considered too numerous to contend with successfully, had now engaged God against them by their impious conduct. Contin was not far from Kinellan, and Macdonald, thinking that Mackenzie would not remain at the latter place with such a comparatively small force, ordered Gillespic to draw up his followers on the large moor, now known as "Blar-na-Pairc," that he might review them, and send out a detachment to pursue the enemy. Kenneth Mackenzie, who had received the command of the clan from the old chief, had meantime posted his men in a strong position --on ground where he considered he could defend himself against a superior force, and conveniently situated to attack the enemy if a favourable opportunity occurred. His followers only amounted to six hundred, while his opponent had at least three times that number, but he had the advantage in another respect inasmuch as he had sufficient provisions for a much longer period than Macdonald could possibly procure for his larger force, the country people having driven their cattle and all the provender that might be of service to the enemy out of his reach. About mid-day the Islesmen were drawn up on the moor, about a quarter of a mile distant from the position occupied by the Mackenzies, the opposing forces being only separated from each other by a peat moss, full of deep pits and deceitful bogs. Kenneth, fearing a siege, had shortly before this prevailed upon his aged father to retire to the Raven's Rock, above Strathpeffer, to which place, strong and easily defended, he resolved to follow him in case he were compelled to retreat before the numerically superior force of his enemy. This the venerable Alexander did, recommending his son to the assistance and protection of a Higher Power, at the same time assuring him of success, notwithstanding the far more numerous numbers of his adversary.
By the nature of the ground, Kenneth perceived that Macdonald could not bring all his forces to the attack at once, and he accordingly resolved to maintain his ground and try the effects of a stratagem which he correctly calculated would mislead his opponent and place him at a serious disadvantage. He acquainted his younger brother, Duncan, with his resolution and plans, and sent him off, before the struggle commenced, with a body of archers to be placed in ambush, while he determined to cross the peat-bog himself and attack Macdonald in front with the main body, intending to retreat as soon as his adversary returned the attack, and thus entice the Islesmen to pursue him. He informed Duncan of his own intention to retreat and commanded him to be in readiness with his archers to charge the enemy whenever they got fairly into the moss and entangled among the pits and bogs.
Having made these preliminary arrangements, he boldly advanced to meet the foe, leading his resolute band in the direction of the intervening moss. Macdonald, seeing him, cried in derision to Gillespic to see "Mackenzie's impudent madness, daring thus to face him at such disadvantage." Gillespic, being a more experienced leader than the youthful and impetuous Alexander, said that "such extraordinary boldness should be met by more extraordinary wariness in us, lest we fall into unexpected inconvenience." Macdonald, in a towering passion, replied to this wise counsel--"Go you also and join with them, and it will not need our care nor move the least fear in my followers; both of you will not be a breakfast to me and mine." Meanwhile Mackenzie advanced a little beyond the moss, avoiding, from his intimate knowledge of it, all the dangerous pits and bogs, when Maclean of Lochbuy, who led the van of the enemy's army, advanced and charged him with great fury. Mackenzie, according to his pre-arranged plan, at once retreated, but in so masterly a manner that, in doing so, he inflicted as much damage on the enemy as he received. The Islesmen speedily got entangled in the moss, and Duncan Mackenzie observing this, rushed forth from his ambush and furiously attacked them in flank and rear, killing most of those who had entered the bog. He then turned his attention to the main body of the Islesmen, who were quite unprepared for so sudden an onslaught. Kenneth, setting this, charged with his main body, who were all well instructed in their leader's design, and, before the enemy were able to form in order of battle, he fell on their right flank with such impetuosity and did such execution among them that they were compelled to fall back in confusion before the splendid onset of the small force which they had so recently sneered at and despised. Gillespic, stung by Alexander Macdonald's taunt before the engagement began, to prove to him that "though he was wary in council he was not fearful in action," sought out Kenneth Mackenzie, that he might engage him in single combat, and followed by some of his bravest followers he, with signal valour, did great execution among the Mackenzies in course of his approach to Kenneth, who was in the hottest of the fight, and who, seeing Gillespic coming in his direction, advanced to meet him, killing, wounding, or scattering any of the Macdonalds that came in his way. He made a signal to Gillespic to advance and meet him hand-to-hand, but, finding him hesitating, Kenneth, who far exceeded him in strength while he equalled him in courage, would brook no tedious debate but pressed on with fearful eagerness, at one blow cut off Gillespic's arm arid passed very far into his body so that he fell down dead on the spot.
At this moment Kenneth noticed his standard-bearer close by, without his colours, and fighting desperately to his own hand. He turned round to him, and angrily asked what had become of his colours, when he was coolly answered--" I left Macdonald's standard-bearer, quite unashamed of himself, and without the slightest concern for those of his own chief, carefully guarding mine." Kenneth naturally demanded an explanation of such an extraordinary state of matters, when the man informed him that he had met Macdonald's standard-bearer in the conflict, and had been fortunate enough to slay him; that he had thrust the staff of his own standard through his opponent's body and as there appeared to be some good work to do among the enemy, he had left some of his companions to guard the standard, and devoted himself to do what little he could to aid his master, and protect him from his adversaries. Maclean of Lochbuy (Lachlainn MacThearlaich) was killed by "Duncan mor na Tuaighe," Mackenzie's "great scallag," of whom we have the following curious account:--