'we see the conquerors come and go, and marry and mingle, but we know that all things pass, like a little wind through the bramble bushes.'

– Ancret, Knight's Fee

The Little Dark People (also called the Dark People, the Old People, the Ancient People, the Half People, the People of the Hill) are the native, pre-Celtic people of the British Isles in Sutcliff's fiction. They are implied to be the basis for Celtic traditions about fairies, an equivalency made explicit in Sword at Sunset.

Warrior ScarletEdit

The Half People are a race of mixed Dark People and conquering "golden giants", who were conquered by the Golden People. Men of the Golden People who fail to pass their initiation are banished to the Half People. They live in a village of their own on the Chalk, where they work as shepherds.

  • 1) "you came, and treated the children of the giants as they had treated us. Now we are all the Half People, Tah-Nu's children and the children of the giants alike, and we come at your call." – Doli
  • (1) "the Dark People, the Flint People, whose homes, half underground, were the little green hummocks in the hidden combes of the Chalk; who came and went at the Tribesmen's call, though they never owned the Tribesmen as their masters"
  • (5) "the Little Dark People whose instinct was to run and hide instead of coming out to ask questions"
  • (10) "Many of the Half People bowed themselves to the Sun Lord"
  • (11) "That was one of the maddening things about the Dark People; they were often in some way beyond the reach of an insult."
  • (11) 'Once we killed the Corn King every year...but now there are not enough young men among the Dark People, and we kill him only once every seven harvests.'

Flowering DaggerEdit

Den, a young slave girl, serves Celtic protagonist Saba.

  • "Den was not like Old Nurse, captured in war, she was one of the little Dark People, here before the coming of the Tribe who were now their lords and masters. They were not quite of the daylight, the Dark People, they Knew Things. If she ever had a secret to keep, she thought, she must be careful of Den."
  • " "There are always children being born among the slave-girls and the Dark People, and no one troubles greatly what becomes of them.” "
  • "the little Dark People made good messengers, for they could come and go like a draught through like a wall-chink."
  • "Den knew. But she would do nothing, tell nothing. They were a strange kind, the little Dark People."

Sun Horse, Moon HorseEdit

The Dark People, or Old People, are the former possessors of the High Chalk, now subjects of the Iceni of Fortress Hill, whom they live alongside. Protagonist Lubrin Dhu is said to resemble them, a source of shame to his mother (1).

  • (6) "after the way of their kind, had melted into the landscape. Fighting among their overlords was no concern of theirs."
  • (10) "the Old People shed the life of a man into the furrows every seven years to quicken the seed-corn to harvest."

The ChangelingEdit

Protagonist Tethra is the adoptive son of Murna and Conan of the Golden People, left by his mother Ia, a chieftess of the Dark People, who replaced him with their son for a sacrifice.

  • "Long before the Epidii came following their white horse out of the sunrise, long before any of the Golden People, the little Dark Folk had been the lords of the land. They were the People of the Hills, the hunters and the growers of corn. They were the builders of the great circle of standing stones on the high moors. But their slender weapons tipped with the dark blue flint had been no match for hard cutting bronze swords, and spears tipped with the magic grey fire-metal called Iron. And so the Epidii had driven the Dark People away into the barren moors and waste places, and made their own settlements on the good land. But still, they did not go too near the Standing Stones, even in daylight; and when anyone spoke of the Dark People they looked behind them into the shadows . . ."
  • " “The magic of the Dark People, no one can withstand.” " – Conan
  • " “Because he is of the Little Dark People, who are our enemies.” " – the Old One
  • " “Those that are taken by the Little Dark Folk do not return.” " – Murna
  • "But his feet turned him inland through the hazel scrub, and carried him, without his knowing at all clearly where he was going, up towards the circle of Standing Stones on the high moors. He had never been that way before, for the Horse People feared the place, and he had feared it with them."
  • "And out of the mist, the faces of men looked down at him; men standing all round him; little dark men, leaning on their spears. And beside him at the foot of the tall stone, lay the carcass of a freshly slain deer.
  • "They pointed at him and spoke together in a tongue that was thin and quick and dark like themselves, yet kin to the tongue of the Horse People, so that it was on the edge of his understanding. "
  • "And one of the men spread his own hand and held it beside Tethra’s, and looked at the two together, dark-skinned and narrow. “And assuredly he is of one blood with us.” "
  • "they cut certain pieces from the carcass of the deer, and laid them, together with a tuft of hair from its tail, on a bed of fresh-pulled heather at the foot of the tallest standing stone; and when all was done, and they picked up the carcass slung between two of them on a spear,"
  • "Far over the moors, they came to a hidden hollow, where a few turf bothies huddled within the shelter of a thorn hedge. Bothies crouching so low to the ground that only the narrow door-holes in their sides and the wisps of hearth smoke that hung above them showed that they were not the barrows of the dead, but the homes of living people."
  • "a woman wearing a tunic of blue dyed marten skins, and a necklace of dried nuts and seedpods and green woodpecker's feathers,"
  • " “Ia, we found him asleep in the Holy Place,” said the hunter. “He said that he is of our People, and indeed one eye enough is to see that for truth. So when we had made the Hunting Offering before the Horned One, we brought him back with us.” "
  • " “When the time comes for the Seven-Year Sacrifice, it is allowed to the mother of the chosen babe, to find, if she can, a seventh child of the Golden People to die in his stead. But she must leave her own babe in place of the one she takes, to live or die. That is the Law.” " – Ia
  • "So Tethra returned to his own people; and knotted in the thong that bound back his hair, he wore the three kestrel feathers of high rank, for Ia his mother was the Woman of the Village, she who had her bothie to herself, and wore the Barley Mother’s Mask at seedtime, and spoke and listened between her people and the Ancient Ones."
  • " “The People of the Hills have many skills that the Golden Ones have forgotten. That is why they are afraid of us. It is when people are afraid that they grow cruel.” " – Ia
  • "Ia looked from him to the kestrel feathers and back again. “Little cub, all these things I have given you, and told you how to use them; but think well before you go. Once, the Horned One has given you back to us, but there can be no second time.” "

The Mark of the Horse LordEdit

The Dark People of Earra-Ghyl are part of the matriarchal faction of the Dalriadain that follows queen Liadhan, but withdraw their support from her when she does not answer her Call to death, according to their chief the Old Man of the Green Hills (12). A Dark man of Caledonia dies to deliver to Murna a poison from Liadhan, and the burial or blasphemous cremation of his body is the subject of a dispute between Phaedrus and Gault.

  • Travelling to the King-Making (7): "well clear of the trails–little bands of the Dark People loping along, with paint on their arms and faces, and their full ritual finery of dyed wild-cat skins and necklaces of animals' teeth, and here and there a girl with green woodpecker feathers in her hair."

Traprain Law (TCB)Edit

An Little Dark Woman conjuring illusions for tavern patrons takes offense at a heckler and causes him to go berserk. Protagonist Struan credits her with the eventual marriage of his sister Murna and his friend Lucius Calpurnius V, who is injured in the ensuing bar fight.

Frontier Scout (TCB)Edit

A Little Dark hunter named Curithir leads the Frontier Wolves to the Saxon envoy to the Picts whom he has assassinated en route.

  • "And just as we rounded the hill flank into sight of the river, up starts something out of the brown heather, under the very nose of the Decurian’s horse. Not a Pict, but one of the Little Dark Folk who were here before the painted Picts and the Lowland Tribes alike. We’re mostly on pretty good terms with them; we’ll share our food and the warmth of a campfire with them, which the Tribes will never do, and give them a trifle of protection from time to time. And in return, they don’t steal our horses, and they bring us the occasional bit of news."
  • "The small man stood and looked up at him, sideways a little, under his brows, in the way of his kind. ‘I have a thing to show My Lord.’ "
  • "Curithir raised one finger in the air and blew on it delicately. ‘Not a beetle crawls on a blade of grass, that the Little Dark People do not know.’ "
  • "‘Red Crests’ is the name the Little Dark Folk give to all the Roman army."

Sword at SunsetEdit

Sword at Sunset is the novel with the greatest number of Little Dark characters and most detailed development of their culture. Three groups appear in the course of the story. First, a man named Irach from a hidden village near Deva warns Artos of the approach of a Saxon war host, then finds his village destroyed while pursuing the retreating Saxons to Eburacum. He deliberately goes to his death in the attack on Eburacum, believing that sacrifice is necessary for the victory.

Second, Artos becomes the ally of the Dark People near Trimontium after dealing respectfully with the body of a girl murdered by the Picts and meeting the Old Woman, who rules the nearby village. His chief contact is Druim Dhu, who reports the findings of scouts from across Caledonia. Artos and Guenhumara's daughter Hylin is later born in the village of the Old Woman, to Guenhumara's lasting distrust.

Third, the Dark People of the south continue to serve Artos as scouts upon his return there, principally the clan of Noni Heron's Feather from the Venta area. A warrior of the Dark People warns Artos during the battle of Sorviodunum of the approach of the enemy reinforcements.

  • The Corn King (20), god of the Little Dark People
  • The Earth Mother (20), goddess of the Little Dark People
  • Irach's village attacked by Saxons fleeing to Eburacum. (10)
  • Eat their dead relatives' hearts (10).
  • "high, wolfish, blood-stirring howl of the Dark People's warcry" (11)
  • "believe that victory must be bought with deliberate and willing sacrifice" (11).
  • "among them a grown woman is no taller than [a Briton of fourteen or fifteen]." (12)
  • "the narrow, fine-boned way of her people"
  • "Many of our own scouts and camp followers had something of that blood in them (I have often thought that there was a strain of it in the Royal House of Arfon itself, for Ambrosius, though taller, was narrow-boned and dark as the Fairy kind)"
  • "they are not wont to lie [buried] alone...she will grow lonely, and she will walk" "she will be quiet with life going on about her"
  • They smell strongly.
  • Lead by the Old Woman, Itha's grandmother.
  • "they do not marry as we do, but seem to hold women in common."
  • Speak "the dark tongue", not a Celtic language. "Melanudragil"=Cit Coit Caledon
  • Use blue flint arrowheads and poison (13).
  • "They have the name for being treacherous little beasts." "will not prove treacherous to us unless we earn their treachery." (14)
  • "war patterns of clay andred ochre" (14).
  • "they were great borrowers, but more scrupulous in their returning than many churched Christians are"
  • "palm-to-forehead salutation"
  • "It was never any good trying to hurry matters with Druim Dhu, or any of his kind. One waited for them to be ready, and when they were ready, they spoke."
  • Call the northern lights "The Dancers".
  • "they are not the kind that holds to friendship in the face of an injury."
  • "We saw nothing of them in all that winter, but then we never did, in the dark of the year."
  • "they made the snake pattern for him in the ashes of the houseplace hearth; for they knew that he went to his death." (20).
  • "They are beautiful young, but they age quickly, the women of the Ancient People." (21)
  • "When we have a girl-child too many we put it out on the hill for the Wolf-People. It is not good to have a daughter before a son, it is a sign that the Great Ones are angry, and it should be put out for the Wolf-People." (21)
  • "no man save myself who owned other gods than theirs might enter here again until the whole place had been purified, lest the nearness of a woman who had newly given birth should rob the warriors of their fighting powers." (21).
  • "The Dark People do not speak the names of the dead." (22).
  • Badger-skin headdress and striped paint on a man in the ceremony they performed over the newborn Hylin (23).
  • "touching joined palms to forehead in the gesture that the Dark People make to their chiefs." (28)
  • "Like all his kind, Noni betrayed nothing through his eyes" (28).
  • "it is very seldom that the men of the Dark People or their near kin willl touch a Sun man (it is different, with a woman)" (30).
  • Noni Heron's Feather expects Artos to eat Cabal's heart in recognition of his valour (30)
  • The Little Dark Warrior finds Artos in the midst of the battle of Sorviodunum to warn him of the Welshmen's approach (37)

Knight's FeeEdit

A single character, Ancret the wise-woman, represents the continuity of the Dark People. She has a power of foresight, and knows of the traditions of the Hill of Gathering, dating back to the Bronze Age in Warrior Scarlet.

  • (6) "a small woman, slight and narrow-boned, but...she always looked tall".
  • (6) "'we see the conquerors come and go, and marry and mingle, but we know that all things pass, like a little wind through the bramble bushes.' "
  • (11)"he had never seen anything human that took on the colour of its surrounds as perfectly as Ancret did."
  • (12) " 'Sometimes the pictures come, the pictures of what will be, but never for any looking of mine.' "


  • Ancret (KF)
  • Curithir (FS)
  • Den (FD)
  • The Little Dark Woman (TL)
  • The Old Man of the Green Hills (TMOTHL)
  • Liadhan's messenger (TMOTHL)
  • Warrior Scarlet
    • Doli
    • Erp
    • Hunno
    • Flann
  • The Changeling
    • Ia
    • Garan
    • Tethra
  • Sword at Sunset
    • Irach (9), Little Dark man who warns Artos before Deva (9). Village destroyed by Saxons (10).
    • the dead girl of Trimontium (12)
    • Itha (13), Little Dark woman, sister to the dead woman in Trimontium, granddaughter to the Old Woman. Midwifes for Guenhumara. "not that she was a girl now, worn and weather-lined." (21).
    • Druim Dhu (13), Little Dark man of the Trimontium village, brother to Itha, with the poisoned arrowhead (13). Artos's main contact with LDP scouts. "his laughter was always silent, like his sister's." Captures Huil son of Caw (14). Favoured by Cabal (19). Warns Artos to send the horses south for the winter and escorts the supply train into Trimontium (20). "the Young Man" of the Old Woman's house (21). "in his best green-dyed catskin kilt, white clay patterns on his arms and forehead, and about his neck his finest necklace of dried berries and blue glass beads and woodpecker feathers." "I was going to miss the little dark hunter, south of the Wall, more than anyone or anything else I left north of it." (22).
    • The Old Woman (13), leader of the Little Dark People's village near Trimontium. Allies the LDP with Artos after the murder of her granddaughter. Warns Artos of the long winter and forbids Druim to warn him of the supply train's arrival (20). "toothless toad's mouth" (21).
    • Istoreth (21), Little Dark man who meets Artos on his second visit to the village
    • Noni Heron's Feather (28), "was well known to me, a man half bed between the Dark People and our own, with the skill as a hunter and tracker that only the Dark People possess. of the chief among my scouts" in Venta. "long black hair...wildcat-skin mantle" (28). Tries to save Cabal after Badon Hill (30). With his sons, warns Cei of Cerdic's landing (35). In the camp at Sorviodunum (36).
    • Erp the Otter (28), scout of the southern Dark People from Dubris
    • The Little Dark Warrior (37), scout who warns Artos of the traitor Welsh's approach in the midst of battle at Sorviodunum. "his narrow face streaked with the clay and ochre war patterns...three buzzards' feathers thrust into his knotted-up hair" (37)


Warrior Scarlet

  • "the clustered turf hummocks in the high combe that was the nearest thing Tah-Nu's children had to a village" (11)

The Changeling

  • Standing Stones / Holy Place on the moors above the Glen of the Chariot-Crossing
  • Village on the moors above the Glen of the Chariot-Crossing
    • "Far over the moors, they came to a hidden hollow, where a few turf bothies huddled within the shelter of a thorn hedge. Bothies crouching so low to the ground that only the narrow door-holes in their sides and the wisps of hearth smoke that hung above them showed that they were not the barrows of the dead, but the homes of living people."

Sword at Sunset

  • Irach's village, between Deva and Eburacum, devastated by Saxons
  • Village of the Little Dark People near Trimontium (13), "a shallow upland hollow where three small lost valleys came together...a cluster of small bush-grown barrows." Ruled by the Old Woman.

Knight's Fee

  • Bramble Hill / the Hill of Gathering, Dean, Sussex

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