Traprain Law
First edition cover




Short story



Historical era



Charles Keeping


Stories from Scottish History, BBC Scotland


The Capricorn Bracelet

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"Traprain Law" is the fourth story in the 1973 collection The Capricorn Bracelet, originally written as episodes of the BBC Scotland radio programme Stories from Scottish History.


Struan, the brother of a Votadini Chieftain, is attending the King's yearly Gathering at the capital Traprain Law, as is a Roman inspector with an escort of Dacian Cavalry. Struan takes the opportunity to visit his foster-father Fergal the Bronzesmith and foster-sister Murna. They are interrupted by Lucian, one of Dacian Cavalry seeking repairs to his silver bracelet, and they invite him to stay for supper.

On the last day of the King's Council, Struan takes Lucian to the House of Talore for a drink, where one Flann the Far-Wanderer is holding forth on the far northern trade and the wizards to be met with at the ends of the world, to the skepticism of his listeners. A Little Dark Woman arrives, offering to perform a magic trick. She borrows a ring of Flann and conjures the image of a tree. Flann claims it's paltry compared to the wizards of the north, and she returns his ring, causing him to become fascinated with it and then go berserk. The other patrons have to wrestle him into submission, and Lucian gets his face cut open by the ring. Struan takes him home to be patched up by Murna, and Lucian lingers to help Fergal over his work. They tell him to come back if he ever needs patching up again, or a new line of work.

Struan takes Lucian's advice and joins the Eagles south of Hadrian's Wall, and by the end of his training, the Tribes revolt in the face of the Governor's defeat overseas. It is two years before Struan can return to war-scarred Traprain Law. When he finally does, Lucian also limps in, invalided out of the army, friendless, and hoping for the apprenticeship Fergal once offered him. He maries Murna, and Struan credits the Little Dark Woman and her magic with shaping all of their lives.


AD 196, "the year Clodius Albinus the Governor of Britain took so many troops overseas to make himself Emperor", is given in the chapter heading.

  • 196: Struan attends the Gathering at Traprain Law
    • 1st day of the Council: Lucian visits Fergal's forge
    • Last day of the Council: Struan and Lucian go to the tavern
    • Struan joins the Eagles
    • Clodius Albinus's forces defeated
    • Tribal revolt
  • 198: Struan returns to Traprain. Lucian returns to Traprain.


  • Struan, runt of the Chieftain's litter, 18 years old
  • Sualtam, Clan Chieftain of the Votadini, Struan's brother
  • Fergal the Bronzesmith, Struan's foster father
  • Gault, Fergal's dead son
  • Clodius Albinus, absentee governor and would-be emperor
  • The King, holding court
  • The Government Inspector, Rome's representative
  • The Dacian Cavalry, the Inspector's escort
  • Murna, Struan's foster-sister
  • Lucianus Calpurnius, one of the Dacian Cavalry escort, 22 or 23 years old
  • Talore, a restauranteur
  • The Little Dark People, whom Struan resembles
  • Flann the Far-Wanderer, a fabulist
  • The Little Dark Woman, a conjuror
  • Emperor Severus, laying down the law
  • Struan, Lucian and Murna's second son
  • The Sixth British Cohort, young Struan's posting


  • Britain, once ruled by the Little Dark People
    • Traprain Law, seat of the King of the Votadini, never Romanised, where Fergal lives beside the chariot road from the South
      • The Chariot Way
      • The King's House
      • The Potter's quarter, between the king's house and Fergal's
      • Fergal's forge
      • The fairground
      • The House of Talore, a merchants' watering hole
    • Corstopitum, the military depot south of Hadrian's Wall, 4 days south of Struan's home
    • The Northern Wall, a line laid down by Agricola
    • Eburacum, south of Corstopitum, attacked in the uprising
    • Outland Caledonia, beyond the Northern Wall, home of rebel Tribes
  • The far North, has a pottery trade
  • The Islands of Thule, at the world's end, inhabited by Inuit?
  • The Danube, young Struan's posting