Love Beyond Reach(8)

By: Bethany Claire

“She canna be gone for long though, aye? Grandmother will see her back to the castle.”

I saw it then, the deep well of grief in Alasdair’s eyes. Before he could say a word, I knew what he’d been trying to tell me all along. Of course Grandmother would never allow Father to behave in such a way. If Grier was gone, Grandmother was too.

He opened his arms to me as I collapsed against him, my sobs lodging in my chest as I struggled to breathe against the shock.

“She passed in her sleep. That was why Father went to the field—to tell ye. He’s been lost in his drink ever since. I havena left yer side, Morna. I’ve been so worried for ye. If ye’d died as well, I would’ve killed him. I know I would have.”

I don’t remember how long he held me. I eventually fell asleep again, drained from a grief so deep that I feared I would never recover. When next I woke, I found the dark, angry, bloodshot eyes of my father staring down at me.

* * *

“Rise. Ye have spent too long abed.”

I couldn’t move. Every time I opened my eyes, a fresh wave of grief hit me.

I said nothing. I simply couldn’t bring myself to care that my inaction would anger him. My heart was too broken to feel anything other than loss.

“Do ye think ye are the only one devastated by this loss, Morna? Everyone in this castle is hurting. We must all carry on.”

“I only learned of her death today. Did the rest of ye carry on the day it happened? Are ye so cruel as to not allow me even a day to grieve the loss of my grandmother?”

Father’s voice was cold and slurred. He never drank, but on this night, he was so deep in his cups he could barely stand.

“Ha. ’Tis ye that’s cruel. ’Tis not kind of ye to make me worry about how upset ye are over my mother’s death. She is not yers to grieve over.”

Between sobs, I screamed at him.

“How can ye say that? She was the only mother I’ve ever known.”

“She was not yer mother. Nor was she yer grandmother.”

For a moment, I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. He turned to leave my room, but strength I didn’t know I possessed lifted me from the bed as I hurried to block him.

“What did ye say?”

Tears filled his eyes, and I gasped as he pulled me against him in a tight embrace. Father never hugged me. His breath ragged, he rested his chin on the top of my head as he spoke.

“Surely, ye’ve suspected it. I know ye believe I hate ye. I doona. I hate yer mother. Her dying act was to leave me with a child that dinna belong to me. Now, dress and join the rest of us for dinner. We willna wait for ye.”

He pushed me away and left. As the door to my bedchamber closed, I sank to the floor and lost myself in heartbreaking sobs.

Only three days before, my world had been bright and full of hope. Now, all I could see was loss. Two of the people I loved most were gone without a goodbye, and despite my complicated feelings about my father, I’d never once suspected what he’d revealed.

Alasdair was now the only person I had left in all the world.

My childhood was over.

Chapter 2

Eight Years Later —1620

* * *

Much changed at Conall Castle following my grandmother’s death. At our father’s insistence, no one within or around the castle ever spoke of Grier again. Within a fortnight of her banishment, all evidence of her time with us was gone. Already heartbroken and grieving over the loss of our grandmother, Alasdair and I were forced to wade through the deep loss of our friend alone.

My magic practices ceased entirely—or at least that’s what Alasdair and I worked day and night to lead our father to believe. I continued to practice as much as I could, but with no one to guide me, I made little progress. My apparent lack of magic pleased my father immensely and as I grew, his treatment of me improved. My feelings toward him remained unchanged. How much can you love someone who only loves the version of you that they want you to be?

I didn’t hate my father—I pitied his incurable unhappiness—but I couldn’t bring myself to love him, at least not in the way I loved my brother and friends.

Despite his confession that he wasn’t actually my father, I never allowed myself to travel down the uncertain path of wallowing in that revelation. Even if what he claimed was true, it mattered little. Simply by claiming me as his own, I’d been afforded a life that most people in Scotland would only ever dream of. Even as miserable and mean as he was, I had to be grateful to him for that.