Deleted Scene from Her Warrior King

The following is a deleted prologue from Her Warrior King:

Prologue

Ireland, 1169

His people were about to die.

Patrick MacEgan kept his gaze fixed upon the mist-cloaked horizon. A thousand soldiers surrounded his fortress, Norman soldiers who intended to conquer Laochre and slaughter his family. The acrid smell of smoke lingered in the air, the scent of death.

He hadn’t slept that night, for they were outnumbered and all knew it. His men had barely survived an earlier battle from the Norman invaders last summer. Only three score of men remained, along with a badly scarred fortress.

Lord Edwin de Godred, Baron of Thornwyck, wished to meet with him to discuss the terms of surrender. Patrick had known this moment would come. He knew not what the Norman leader would demand, but if there were the slightest chance at sparing the lives of his people, he’d not hesitate.

Patrick donned his brat, the dark red mantle reminding him of the blood his men had spilled for their freedom. He clasped his shield in one arm and nodded to his companion. “Carry the méirge with pride.”

The soldier nodded and lifted the banner denoting the standard of the MacEgan clan. The rich blue and emerald colors represented the sea and the land, while the golden cross depicted their family’s devotion to God.

His heart heavy, Patrick rode toward the encampment. He deliberately left the remainder of his men behind, for the fortress needed every fighter at its disposal. They rode across charred fields of grain, the aurulent strands of wheat blemished by enemy torches. This winter would bring hunger, and an emptiness rose up within his skin at the thought.

When the enemy tents became visible, Patrick signaled his escort to stop. “We await them here.”

“They wish to meet at the encampment,” the soldier protested. “The messenger said—”

“If we ride into their territory, you will not come back alive,” Patrick said. “We meet them on neutral ground.”

The soldier’s eyes widened, and he fell silent. The exaggeration served its purpose. Though Patrick doubted Thornwyck’s intent was to murder them both, he refused to grant the man any more advantage than he already had.

After nearly an hour of waiting, a group of cavalry rode toward them, accompanied by Thornwyck. The Norman lord wore gleaming armor trimmed with gold. Tall and thin, his dark beard and mustache were neatly groomed.

“You disdain the offer of my hospitality, MacEgan?” Thornwyck said by way of greeting.

Patrick leveled a stare at the man. “What are the terms?”

Thornwyck’s mouth stretched into a thin smile. “I could burn your fortress to the ground, killing all within it.”

“If that is your intention, we cannot stop you.”

“You should have surrendered to Strongbow long ago,” Thornwyck said quietly, “and you might have saved more of your men.”

Patrick’s hand moved toward his sword, his fury barely contained. “Give me one day’s time to withdraw my people, and the fortress is yours.”

“I want more than the fortress,” Thornwyck said.

“What do you want?”

“King Henry’s intention is to unite our countries as one. My task is to see it done. You and your men will remain at Laochre under our supervision.”

Patrick’s blood chilled at the thought. The Normans were not known for compassion. He’d not allow his people to suffer in such a way.
“My men will not be slaves to your soldiers.” He drew his horse up, turning to leave, but Thornwyck’s men stopped him.

“I have not finished.” The baron’s voice remained calm. “I offer something to you in return.”

“The lives of my men?” Patrick shook his head. “They do not wish to remain in captivity.”

“Their existence will be no different than now. What I offer is an alliance between our people. You shall wed my daughter Isabel as proof of my vow. If you agree to the betrothal, my men will join your ranks in peace. When King Henry calls upon them, they will be here to assist him.”

It was too much. Patrick cared not about wedding a Norman bride, but blending his enemy with his men could not be done.
“They will murder each other,” he predicted.

Thornwyck inclined his head. “If your men do not cooperate, that may be. But should you decline my offer, our orders are to burn Laochre and kill every man, woman, and child.” His eyes glittered with anticipation, and Patrick did not doubt Thornwyck meant what he said.

The burden of leadership weighed heavily upon him, but Patrick saw no choice. “I will meet your terms.”

“Good. You shall journey to my lands at Thornwyck and wed my daughter upon the Feast of Saint Phillip. My men will remain here until you have fulfilled our agreement.”

Patrick gave the barest hint of a nod, his hand poised upon his sword.

“Should you fail to wed my daughter, my men have orders to destroy the fortress,” Thornwyck added.

With a magnanimous smile, Edwin de Godred turned his horse aside and departed toward the camp. His insides swelled with satisfaction, the taste of victory sweet upon his tongue.

His man at arms asked, “My lord, do you think the lady Isabel will cooperate with this union? Will she wed the Irishman?”

Edwin was well aware of the rumors surrounding his daughter. She had refused six men, gaining an ill-favored reputation as a termagant among the men who had offered for her. Thornwyck knew it, for he’d commanded her to turn down each of the men. He cared not what others believed. His daughter would wed a powerful king, a man equivalent in rank to a king.

“She will. I shall gain the king’s favor and ally myself with the Irish in the same stroke of fortune.” Spurring his horse toward the camp, he enjoyed the prospect of the forthcoming marriage.

Nothing would ruin this chance to gain King Henry’s good graces.

Copyright 2008 by Michelle Willingham. All rights reserved.