Warrior of Ice

By: Michelle Willingham
Chapter One

Ireland—1172

His sister was going to die.

Killian MacDubh could see it, even if everyone around him was in denial. Though Carice was still the most beautiful woman in Éireann, her body was fragile. She left her bed rarely, and when she did, she often had to be carried back. Her illness had struck hard, several years ago, and she’d wasted away ever since. This evening, she had sent word that she needed to speak with him, but he did not know why.

Outside, the rain pounded against the mud, but another storm brewed inside Killian. There was a restless anticipation within him, as if an invisible threat hung over all of them. He couldn’t place it, but all day, he’d been pacing.

His tunic and leggings were soaked through, and he stood at the back of the Great Chamber. The moment he stepped inside, Brian Faoilin’s face was grim with distaste, as if a stray dog had wandered into his house. The chieftain loathed the very air Killian breathed. Though he’d allowed Iona to keep the bastard son she’d brought with her, Brian had forced both of them to live among the fuidir. All his life, Killian had slept among the dogs and dined upon scraps from the table. He was forbidden to possess any rights of the tribe or own any land. It should have taught him his place. Instead, it had fed his resentment, making him vow that one day, no man would call him slave. He hungered for a life where others would look upon him with respect instead of disdain.

He’d spent time training among the finest warriors in Éireann, intending to leave the tribe and become a mercenary. Better to lead a nomadic life on his own terms than to live like this. But then Carice had fallen ill. He’d delayed his plans to leave, for her sake, after she’d begged him not to go. Were it not for her, he’d have disappeared long ago. She was the only family he had left, and he knew her life was slipping away. For that reason, he had sworn to remain with her until the end.

The chieftain leaned over to one of the guards, undoubtedly giving the order to throw Killian out. Within moments, his friend Seorse crossed the Great Chamber, regret upon his face. ‘You know you cannot come inside without orders, Killian.’

‘Of course not.’ He was supposed to remain outside in the pouring rain, amid the mud and the animal dung. Brian refused to let him be a part of their tribe—not in any way. He was expected to work in the stables, obeying all commands given to him.

This time, Killian crossed his arms and stood his ground. ‘Will you be the one to throw me out?’ His voice held the edge of ice, for he was weary of being treated like the bastard he was. Frustration clenched in his gut, and he didn’t move.

‘Don’t start a fight,’ Seorse warned. ‘Take shelter in the tower if you must, but don’t cause more trouble. I’ll bring you food later.’

Killian gave a thin smile. ‘Do you think I care about causing trouble?’ He enjoyed fighting, and he’d earned his place among the men as one of the best warriors. Beneath his fur-lined tunic, he wore chain-mail armour that he’d taken from a dead Norse invader during a raid. He had no sword of his own, but he knew how to use his fists and had broken a few bones over the years. Every time he won a match or bested a clansman, it was a thorn in Brian’s side.

Seorse dropped his voice low. ‘Why are you here, Killian?’

‘Carice sent for me.’

His friend shook his head. ‘She’s worse today. I don’t think she can leave her chamber. She was sick most of the night, and she can hardly eat anything.’

A tightness filled up Killian’s chest. It bothered him to see her starving to death before his eyes, unable to tolerate any food at all. The healer had ordered Carice to eat only bread and the plainest of foods, to keep her stomach calm. But nothing seemed to work. ‘Take me to her.’

‘I cannot, and you know this. Brian ordered me to escort you outside.’

He wasn’t about to leave—not yet. But as he moved towards the entrance, he glanced behind him and saw a hint of motion near the stairs. Brian’s attention was elsewhere, so Killian hastened up the spiral steps. Seorse sent him a warning look, but his silent message was clear. He would not let Brian know that Killian was still here.

Carice was struggling to walk down the stairs. Her skin was the colour of snow, and she held on to her maid’s shoulder, touching the opposite wall for support. Instantly, Killian went to the stairs and offered his arm. ‘Do you need help, my lady?’

‘Call me that again, and I shall bloody your nose, Killian.’ Her dark brown hair was bound back from her face, and her blue eyes held warmth. She was far too thin, and he could see the bones in her wrists. But her spirit was as fiery as ever.

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