A big part of writing historical romance is the research involved to set the book in its proper place and time. While researching the MacKay clan, I happened across a legend about a young man who had to prove his worth and earn a feast in his honour by slaying a wild boarhound guarding the door to the great hall.
So I took the elements I liked from the legend, the part about a warrior coming into his own by proving his worth, and omitted the parts I didn’t like. Below is the prologue for Promised to the Highlander which is based on this legend. I hope you like it. SEVEN MORE SLEEPS!! 😀
Promised to the Highlander, Prologue
The Boy and the Boarhound
The lad approached the watchtower with equal parts terror and awe, his guts lurching with every step. Varrich Castle had always held such fascination. The imposing structure made him mindful of every step he took. He swore there were eyes somewhere within the four-foot thick stone walls. Watching. Waiting.
The boy’s father, the great Angus MacKay, had brought him here many times to observe the vast lands to the east, cursing their enemy with every breath. Oh aye, those visits had only marginally held less trepidation.
Today was different.
Today he would become a man.
Prove his worth.
Conquer the beast.
The lad stepped over the threshold, hair prickling at his nape. The beast was somewhere close by. He moved to the right, so he wouldn’t block the weak light from the doorway, allowing his eyes to accustom to the darkness within.
A shuffle from above drew his attention to the staircase which coiled its way up inside of the tower. His belly tightened in the same manner until he was sure he’d retch.
The second floor was exactly forty-two steps from the ground, but the floorboards were visible from half-way up. The boy inched his way toward it, careful not to disturb anything lurking either above or below.
His traitorous stomach growled as soon as he smelled the feast. This was part of the challenge. He’d been given nothing but water to sustain him for two days. Now if he wanted to eat, he must overpower a wild, starving boarhound to earn his feast and his place among the warriors of his clan.
The boy raised his head high enough to peer into the room. A large table was topped with several platters and, though he couldn’t see their contents, he could smell them. Platters of meat—enough to taunt both he and the boarhound: roasted boar, fowl, and deer. Scanning the room, he found the massive creature chewing through the rope to which it was tied. Smart animal. The boy estimated he didn’t have enough time to fill his gullet before the animal freed itself. Whether it would choose the table’s contents or him, the boy couldn’t be sure.
Still, if he allowed the beast to eat its fill, perhaps it would sleep and he could creep in and then slit its throat. His stomach had other ideas. A loud grumble drew the boarhound’s attention.
The boy held his breath, his heart thudding hard in his chest. The animal sniffed the air, then continued to chew on the rope. The boy’s opportunity had arrived. He unsheathed his dirk and climbed two more steps.
A heartbeat later the boarhound was on its feet and inches from the boy, its teeth bared and its growl directed toward the weapon. The rope holding the animal strained as weight and determination pulled it taut.
The animal did not focus on the boy’s eyes, but rather trained on the weapon itself. Curious. In another instant the rope would break and the boy would either drive his dirk into the boarhound’s heart or—was there another option?
Harder and harder the boarhound pulled, the rope behind it unravelling piece by piece, leaving only four strands—three—two.
The boy replaced his dirk into its sheath. He raised his hand, climbing three steps more and placing himself higher than the animal. He drew a deep breath and stared the beast down. Straight away, the boarhound eased up on the rope. It ceased snarling and instead stepped back a pace and sat. Waiting.
The boy made a decision to tame instead of slaying the beast. What the clan thought about that was not his problem. He’d known the pain of hunger in the last two days just as this beast had. Neither deserved it. Slaying a starving animal was not the way to prove oneself a man.
Stepping fully into the room, the boy knelt to the iron loop on the wall to which the rope was tied. He tugged it loose. Still kneeling, he swivelled toward the boarhound watching him. It still had not moved.
The animal’s gaze followed the boy when he moved to the table and tore off a large piece of meat and placed it on a trencher. A whine mixed with a growl erupted from the animal, yet it still did not move.
Aye, earning the trust of a beast was a greater reward than raising its head on a pike. The boy bit off a large chunk of meat. Succulent juices drove him near mad with hunger, but he would not indulge yet. The lesson was not complete.
He raised his hand. “Down.”
The single command was obeyed without hesitation. The boarhound dropped to its belly, its eyes still fixed on the boy, its panting still laced with a low, mournful whimper.
The animal ceased its noise. The boy dropped to his knees before the beast and offered the meat from his mouth.
The beast did not move. The boy’s heart soared. He’d tamed it. A smile tugged at his lips as he withdrew the hunk of meat and placed it before the boarhound.
And the boarhound ate.
A cheer erupted around him. The boy’s father and several other clansmen appeared from the steps above the room and grasped the boy in a chest-crushing embrace.
“You have proven the blood of your heart, lad,” his father said. “A true warrior knows who his enemies are. And now we feast.”