Deleted scenes from Highlander Sworn
As a special ‘extra’, I have two deleted scenes for you to enjoy! They are from Niel Mackay’s point of view (from where he leads his army off to battle halfway through the book). I loved these scenes, but I had to take them out … as Niel tried to take over my story! I had to rein him back in (this was Will and Eilidh’s tale, after all), but it did pain me to cut them … so here they are for your reading pleasure.
“NO SIGN OF the Sutherlands as yet?”
Niel glanced left to find Robin standing next to him. “No … although I’ve sent scouts south … we’ll know when the enemy arrives.”
Behind them, the rise and fall of men’s voices and the rumble of industry rose above the patter of rain. Niel had been standing on the southern perimeter of the camp, staring into the distance, and silently cursing the heavy cloud and rain that obscured their view, when Robin joined him.
The eve of Samhuinn was upon them, and the Mackay army had arrived at their destination. Leaden skies had dogged their journey south, and as the army made camp upon a hill a few furlongs back from the shores of the loch itself, rain started to drum down. It was foul weather to go to battle in.
“No sign of the Gunns either?” Robin asked after a pause.
Niel clenched his jaw. Satan’s cods, he was getting tired of his chieftains asking him the same question. “They’ll come.”
Robin nodded, his frank hazel eyes searching his clan-chief’s face. “Ye don’t think Sutherland’s threat was an empty one?” he asked, wisely shifting the subject back to the enemy. “Maybe they won’t march upon us, after all.”
Niel snorted. “Oh, they will.”
Of that, he was utterly certain.
His hands, which hung at his sides, fisted then.
This clash had been brewing for a long while—ever since Robert Sutherland had united with the Neilson-Mackays while Niel was imprisoned, and had tried unsuccessfully to topple Angus Mackay from power. The clan-chief had died in the aftermath of that battle, struck down by a skulking Sutherland bowman.
Niel’s fists clenched tighter still, heat igniting in the pit of his gut. He’d never forgotten, and neither would have Robert.
The clan-chief and Robin lapsed into silence then, both scanning the grey-shrouded surroundings. Usually, Lochnaver was a bonny spot, with a long, deep loch framed by rolling green hills. Not so this evening. The gloaming was settling now. Soon it would be impossible to see anything at all.
The back of Niel’s neck prickled. Aye, the Sutherlands were out there, traveling north to meet them.
His gaze shifted east then, to the brooding mountains that provided a natural barrier between their territory and the Gunns.
Where are ye, William Gunn?
He’d been so sure of Will when they’d left Castle Varrich, but now doubt shadowed him for the first time.
“Samhuinn isn’t the best time to do battle,” Robin murmured eventually. When Niel glanced the chieftain of Melness’s way, he noted the grim expression on Robin’s face. Since he’d wed Jean, the chieftain had returned to the smiling, good-natured man Niel remembered from years earlier. Not so, this eve. “The spirits of the dead walk abroad,” he continued, his tone low, as if he worried ghosts might be listening in to their conversation.
“Well then, make sure ye carry some salt in a pouch at yer waist then,” Niel replied. He was only half-teasing though. He wasn’t foolish enough to discard superstition. Hadn’t he been relieved by the sight of the two blackbirds they’d spied just south of Varrich?
“It might be a good idea to put some offerings out tonight, as well,” Robin replied, his tone lightening. However, his gaze remained somber. “We don’t want the dead to make mischief … for we need our ancestors on our side for tomorrow.”
“Mackay … the Sutherlands approach.”
The gruff announcement from Ewan Reay brought Niel swiftly up from the pallet where he’d been dozing. He hadn’t been able to sleep—not on the eve of battle. He was too tense, each sense on high alert.
“About time,” he muttered, reaching for his claidheamh-mòr and buckling the broadsword about his waist. He’d lain down in his hauberk and greaves, as uncomfortable as that was, for he wanted to be ready when word arrived. “From the south, I take it?”
“Aye … along the loch shore.”
“The Gunns are still nowhere to be seen though.” The Captain of the Varrich Guard’s heavy brow furrowed, his mouth pursing. “They’re not coming, Mackay.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Niel fought a myriad of emotions: anger, denial, and gut-wrenching disappointment. Swallowing it all, he brushed past his captain. “They will,” he grunted.
God’s teeth, he had to believe William Gunn wouldn’t let him down. He couldn’t let despair in—not moments before battle.
Outdoors, a foggy predawn greeted him. The first rays of sun hadn’t lightened the eastern sky, although the swirling mist would likely mask the sunrise.
Around the clan-chief, his army awoke from a restless slumber. Men called to each other as they strapped on weapons and armor, and moved south, toward the shore of the loch. The sharp tang of sweat and fear lay heavy in the air.
Niel strode through the midst of his men, breathing in their aggression.
“We’ll hammer them into the ground, Mackay!” A warrior said as he passed.
“Aye, we will,” Niel replied. “Ye will slay so many Sutherlands that, when the battle is done, we shall name yer claidheamh-mòr Widow-maker!”
It was a blood-thirsty comment, yet it brought rough cheers of approval from the surrounding warriors, as Niel knew it would.
Making his way to the front, he surveyed the press of mail and leather-clad bodies around him. Niel’s mouth thinned into a hard line. This wouldn’t do; he needed order.
“Form three shield walls,” he bellowed, his voice cutting through the excited clamor of voices. “Breac and Iver … yer pikemen will form the eastern flank, Hugh and Connor, yers the western one.” Niel swiveled then, catching sight of John. His cousin approached, his long legs eating up the space between them. Unlike him, John carried a longsword rather than a claidheamh-mòr—after losing his right hand in battle, the chieftain could no longer wield a broadsword. “John … yer men will join mine in the center.”
The chieftain of Achness gave a swift nod, his face set in a fierce expression. John had more reason than most to want reckoning with those who’d robbed him of a hand and an eye. Ever since Drumnacoub, Robert Sutherland had harried him.
Niel turned then, catching sight of the laird of Melness approaching. “Position yer bowmen behind us, Robin.”
The Mackay army had left their horses back at the camp; the battle would be fought on foot. Trying to wield a heavy broadsword on horseback was a short route to death. The army formed orderly ranks, each warrior knowing what was expected of him. Nevertheless, tension shivered through the dawn. Fear and bloodlust fought for dominance this morning.
Niel was no different. His breathing had quickened, nerves coiling. Anger pulsed under his ribcage now, a stoked ember readying itself to ignite into flames of righteous rage.
He stalked down the schiltron, viewing the line critically. “Spears up,” he roared. “Don’t let the enemy think we’re all half asleep!”
A bristling phalanx of spears pierced the mist, rising above the shield wall. That was better; now Niel had to ensure his men were ready to set upon the enemy like wolves.
“The Sutherlands are devil-spawn!” he shouted. “They would set fire to this land and kill our people … those who have lived here for generations. Shall we let them?”
“No!” His army’s answer roared through the damp air, and Niel’s skin prickled. An instant later, his heart started to pound against his breastbone.
He and his men were one now: a beast of war. They’d go anywhere for him.
Even so, worry tugged at him, and he stole a glance east.
Where the hell are the Gunns?
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