Highland Curse of Love (Preview)
“Ye have suffered so much, Lana,” Skylar said; the sadness in her voice squeezing Lana’s heart.
“We have all suffered so much, Skylar. A lifetime’s worth of time,” she replied. “The gifts we were blessed with, all have their price and burden tae bear. So much so, that oftentimes they’ve felt like a curse.”
“Och, I can agree tae that,” Skylar agreed, Thea and Rowan nodding fervently too.
“At least I’m still here tae tell the tale, which is more than can be said for Mother or Father. We all had our missions tae complete.”
“But how did ye get the letter tae Skylar tae warn her that Laird Johnson’s men were coming for her?” Thea pressed.
“It was nae easy, I can tell ye that.”
“But at least Skylar managed tae get tae ye in time, or ye would nae be here with us,” Rowan concluded.
Lana looked at Skylar then, and the latter looked back knowingly.
“We did nae actually get there in time,” Skylar said. “In the end, Lana did nae need my help.”
“Nae, sister. But I ken ye did everything ye could tae rescue me,” Lana offered. “As Skylar said,” she nodded toward her sister, “I managed tae escape eventually.”
“But how did ye manage it?” Thea pressed again. “And what happened afterward? Surely, Laird Johnson did nae just let ye go without a fight.”
“Well,” Lana said thoughtfully, “everything started way before that—before Father even sent us all away.”
Her sisters, unsurprisingly, frowned. Lana had kept something from them for all these years, and now it was time they knew the truth.
“I dinnae understand,” Rowan said, placing her teacup on her saucer while spilling a little, a look of confusion growing on her face.
“And I dinnae expect ye tae,” Lana sighed. “I dinnae expect any of ye tae ken because we’ve never spoken about it. I will tell ye what happened, but for ye tae understand it properly, ye all need tae ken what I kent from the very beginning.”
Lana placed her cup on the small table beside her and rubbed her hands down the front of her frock. It was about time she unburdened herself from the weight she had carried all this time.
“It all began on the night Mother died. That night, me and Skylar,” she nodded to her older sister again, “were crammed intae that closet, hiding. What Mother told me that night changed my life completely.”
“Run!” her mother cried, shoving at Lana’s shoulders as she reached the staircase, close on Skylar’s heels. “Go now! Hide in the closet in my chamber,” she added, waving a hand upwards.
Lana, terrified by the commotion, hurried up several steps but had to stop and glance back at her mother, fearful of what would happen. A torrent of beating fists continued to pound on the front door, the wood shaking and ringing throughout the small dwelling.
Jenny Morgan remained frantic at the bottom of the stairs, her head swinging back and forth, one second staring behind her, the next quickly twisting her head upwards to watch her children rush up the steps.
“Go, Lana,” Jenny ordered. “Hide! Dinnae dare come out until I tell ye.”
Lana stood nestled in the darkness of her mother’s closet, Skylar’s arms tightly wrapped around her as the two sisters clutched each other firmly. A single flickering candle in the bedchamber cast a tiny ray of light through the little crack where the closet doors met.
It will be all right. It will be all right. It will be all right.
Lana heard Skylar chanting those same words over and over. She did not speak them out loud but did not need to. Lana could hear everyone’s thoughts. That was her gift, though, in that very moment, she wished she could drown out all the voices, for they were getting louder and louder.
Where is she?
We’ve got them trapped now.
The men had managed to get inside the house. But Lana did not need to hear their thoughts to know that, for she could hear her mother’s voice shouting at them.
“Ye have nae right tae be here. My husband will be home at any moment, and he’ll nae take kindly tae ye barging intae our house uninvited.”
Stay hidden, Lana. Please stay hidden and silent.
Lana wished she could respond to her mother’s thoughts, reassuring her that she and Skylar were safe for the time being. But alas, their mother’s powers did not include hearing other people’s thoughts.
“Where are they?” a man’s deep voice demanded.
“Who?” Jenny replied. “There’s nae one here but mysel’.”
Lana heard heavy footfall on the stairs. It sounded like there were at least two men.
They’re in this house somewhere. We have tae find them, or Laird Johnson will have our heads.
“Where are they?” the same voice demanded again. He sounded closer now, just outside the bedchamber.
Dinnae make a sound, Lana. Stay quiet as a mouse, Jenny conveyed.
“Where are yer daughters?” the voice demanded again. “They must be here.”
“Nae, they’re away. All my daughters are with my husband,” Jenny replied, the panic growing in her tone. “He took them tae the market with him this morning. They’re sure tae be back soon enough.”
Ye better nae be lying tae me. We can deal with ye first and lay in wait for the others’ return.
Lana suddenly panicked at the soldier’s thoughts. “Deal with her first?” She so badly wished she could tell her mother what he was thinking. Instead, she felt utterly helpless.
Och, God. What are they going tae do?
“What dae ye want here?” Jenny demanded. “I’ve done naething wrong.”
Jenny had been dragged into her bedchamber, only the thin closet door separating them now. While Skylar strained to see through the tiny crack, Lana refused to look and closed her eyes, desperately attempting to block out all the noises.
What ensued was horrifying, as they repeatedly struck her mother to compel her to tell them what she knew. It continued for a while, and while Lana remained silent, tears streamed down her cheeks, knowing what would come from the soldier’s thoughts.
Lana, Lana, ye must hear me.
Lana wanted to cry out that she did hear her mother. The soldiers had assaulted her for over half an hour, and Lana did not know how much more her mother could take. However, she did know that what she was suffering was for their protection, and if Lana had left their hiding place now, all her anguish would have been for naught.
I will nae last much longer, Lana. Before I leave ye, I must confess something of great importance. Ye have always thought ye only had three other sisters. The truth is, ye have four. She’s older than ye or Skylar. Her name is Makenna.
There was a break in her words as the soldier struck Jenny again, and Lana silently winced at the sound of his fist coming into contact with her body. A few seconds passed before her mother continued.
When Makenna was born, I wondered if she, too, had a gift. I could nae have kent back then that all my daughters would inherit similar powers. She had an ugly scar on her hand and I was certain I’d seen something like it before but could nae remember where. When she was a few months old, it came tae me. My mother, yer grandmother, had the same marking.
There was another strike and another pause.
I kent Makenna had the same gift—a dangerous gift, for her power would allow her tae curse someone if she lay her hands on their chest. But my mother was a violent and destructive woman, consumed with hatred. I have hated her my whole life kenning the vile things she has done, all the lives she had ruined. The gift is far more dangerous than anything any of the rest of ye possess, Lana.
Another strike. Jenny took much longer to recuperate this time, and Lana was impatient to find out what else her mother would tell her. If she had another sister, where was she? Why hadn’t they met or even heard of her?
Lana, I am near the end, but I have a task for ye, my bairn. Ye must find yer sister. I sent Makenna away, hoping that if she was nae near magic, she would nae understand how much power she possessed. I did nae want her tae turn out like my mother. Her magic is vast, Lana, for she can curse an entire kin and clan with one touch. She’s in danger. Ye all are. She needs her family. She needs all of ye. She needed me. Ye must find her, Lana. Ye must find her and—
Jenny suddenly let out a shriek. “Nae, nae!”
Her mother’s words were sucked out of her lungs as the sound of her being strangled, gasping for air as the soldier choked her to death, conquered the room. Fear and overwhelming sadness swallowed Lana until she was nearly suffocated by it herself.
Then, there was silence.
A similar tense silence filled the room as Lana finished speaking; each sister lost in their thoughts, probably remembering the pain of losing their mother. It mattered not that they were now all old women; she had been taken from them in the most horrific of ways, and such pain never leaves you.
Lana had only been eighteen years old, and though not the youngest, she had never forgotten the dreadful sound of a life being taken so violently.
“I could nae even begin tae imagine what that must have been like,” Rowan said, her voice so low it was almost a whisper.
“Nor me,” Thea agreed. “Mother was so brave. Until now, I had never understood how ye had kent Makenna even existed. I suppose I had never really thought about it.”
“What a shock,” Rowan added, her eyes fixed on the floor, taken by the shock of it all.
“It was. But it was Mother’s dying wish, so when I was sent away, I did as she asked.”
“Tell us what happened,” Thea said eagerly.
“Well, as ye all ken now, I was sent away tae the McKinleys…”
A cottage in the Lowlands,
Thirty years earlier
Samuel Morgan had been given a hard task. While still reeling from his wife’s death, he had been forced to find suitable places for all his daughters to hide. Determined that Laird Johnson would not take his children, as he had his beloved Jenny, he had sacrificed everything for their well-being.
It had pained him greatly, not only having to say goodbye to his children but to have to separate the sisters also. He knew they were close, and though he tried so desperately to hide his pain, Lana had heard the heartbreak in his thoughts.
The McKinleys had always been kind to Lana. Knowing they were sympathetic to the rebellion, her father had chosen them, trusting they would keep her well-hidden and safe. At first, Lana had been utterly withdrawn, unable to let her guard down while around them. The horrific trauma of her mother’s death plagued her dreams, and she often woke up screaming in the middle of the night.
Martha McKinley, a plump woman with a kind smile, would always come running, wrapping her motherly arms around her and shushing her in comfort as Lana cried. James frequently stood at her bedchamber door, his tall, slender body silhouetted, still in his nightshirt, holding a candle. His look was frequently sorrowful as word of her mother’s death and how it transpired had spread far and wide.
Laird Johnson had ensured the details would be spread wide. It was a strategy he had used to warn others about the consequences of betraying or opposing him. But, clearly, neither of the McKinleys was deterred by his threats, and Lana had eventually trusted them.
The fact that James and Martha had been so caring and kind for the years that she lived with them made Lana feel even more guilty when she was forced to lie and deceive them. And yet, she had no choice. She had a task to complete.
Four years had passed by quickly, and Lana had never forgotten her mother’s dying wish. It was for that reason that she had to run about in secret. The McKinleys knew nothing of Makenna, and Lana would certainly not tell them. As kind as they were, she was still unsure how far she could trust them.
There had been times she had been on the very cusp of blurting it all out. And yet, something had always held her back.
It was as though the secret she had been endowed with was some sacred thing, a secret connection between her mother and herself only.
Jenny Morgan loved her daughters, teaching and guiding them in dealing with their powers. Lana thought she was going insane when she first started hearing voices in her head. She was only a child, and the voices had terrified her. But she’d stayed quiet, not telling a soul.
Yet somehow, her mother knew.
Perhaps Jenny had sensed her disquiet. Maybe she had been watching and waiting to see what gift her daughter had been endowed with. As the years passed, Lana learned, with her mother’s guidance, to contain the enormity of the thoughts flooding her mind. The noise varied, depending on the circumstances, but she adapted to the intrusion even in a crowd.
While she had been careful to keep what she knew to herself, she had been forced to reveal some information to the messenger with whom she was about to meet. She’d only told him Makenna’s name, her approximate age, and the scar on her hand. It had helped that she could hear his thoughts, for she knew he was telling the truth when he said he wanted to help her.
One afternoon, she had disguised herself and journeyed to the market of the local village. If Martha had known where she was going then, she would never have let her leave the cottage. It had been the beginning of Lana’s lies, for she had told the kind lady that she was heading to the nearby woods to pick berries.
“I dinnae think that’s a good idea, Lana. Ye ken well that Laird Johnson and his men are everywhere.”
“Och, Martha, I hardly think they’d be hiding in those little woods. Surely, they would have come by now if they suspected I might be in this area.”
Lana’s reasoning had swayed Martha enough for her to agree. Carrying the little cloth bag she claimed she was going to use to carry the berries, Lana had left the cottage. Inside the cloth bag, however, was a dark scarf that she wrapped around the bottom of her face so only her eyes were showing.
Once she arrived in the village, she was uncertain how to proceed. Desperately wanting to fulfil her mother’s wish to find Makenna, Lana had realized that she could not do it alone. To begin with, she had no idea where she ought to start looking. Added to that was the fact that she did not have the freedom to roam over glens and hills to look for her sister. She needed help, and the village was the nearest place she could find it.
It had been pure chance that she had met the man who would agree to help her. In fact, he had walked around the corner of a building and, distracted by something behind him, had walked straight into her.
“Och, my good lord. I’m so sorry, lassie. Are ye all right?”
“It’s grand, sir. I’m fine. Please dinnae worry yersel’.”
“O’ course I worry mysel’. I could have knocked ye off yer feet. My head was away elsewhere. I was distracted.”
Take the message to Colum. Pick up the letter for Mr. Clarence. See about that scouting job.
Of course, it was the thoughts running in his head that stopped Lana from going any further.
“Where are ye traveling tae, if ye dinnae mind me asking?”
The man had looked at her and frowned slightly.
What’s she after?
“I only ask,” Lana had said hurriedly, “because I dinnae really get about much.”
His frown lifted a little, as did the intensity of his thoughts.
Och, there’s nae harm in this wee woman.
“I’m away across the glen on some errands,” the man said. “Jackson’s the name,” he had introduced himself. “I have a letter tae lift from a friend o’ a friend, Mr. Clarence, and then I’m away for a scouting job that needs doing.”
Jackson reminded Lana of a rat. His thin face came to a point, his mouth was small, and his teeth were all close together, the top set prominent over the bottom.
“What kind o’ job?” Lana had asked, trying to keep the excitement from her voice.
Again, the frown returned to Jackson’s brow.
“I’m looking for a man tae help me, ye see,” she continued hurriedly. “My name is Laura,” she lied.
Jackson cocked his head to one side. “And what kind o’ help are ye looking for, Miss Laura?”
“I need tae find someone.”
After making arrangements and agreeing on a price, Lana returned to the woods and hurriedly gathered the berries, stuffing them into her cloth bag before returning to the cottage. She could hardly go back to Martha empty-handed, having been away so long.
Lana had left the cottage in the dark once a month since that day, slipping out of the garden, and going to that same wooded area. It was risky because not only was Laird Johnson still looking for her and her sisters, but her actions could bring Johnson’s wrath down on the McKinleys if it was discovered that they were hiding her.
So far, she had been fortunate. The McKinleys were oblivious to her excursions, and Jackson had proven trustworthy by showing up to meet her. Unfortunately, he had not brought any good news with him on each occasion, though she was grateful that he was eager to continue looking.
That night, there was a half-moon, which helped to illuminate the path through the glen’s long grass. Her frock got caught on the tall blades, dragging it behind her a little, but she continued checking around to ensure she was alone. She didn’t need to think about the route since she had walked it many times before. Instead, her thoughts wandered, as they often did, to what her sisters might be doing at the time.
Probably sleeping, if they ken what’s good for them.
Lana missed them all so badly but Skylar more than the others. She loved her sisters, but them two, being only a year apart, had always been close. Perhaps sharing such a dreadful experience in that closet had only strengthened their bond. Lana imagined that might happen under such circumstances. A part of her had always been grateful it had been Skylar there with her. Strangely, her older sister’s presence had helped her to deal with it.
They had been sent to every corner of Scotland, or so she had heard her father think. Knowing her gift, he had obviously been careful with his thoughts in her presence, for never once did she hear him thinking of the specific locations where any of them would be sent. So, where were they? More to the point, how long must they be forced to be apart? Perhaps they would have to wait until Laird Johnson’s death. Lana wished she could kill the man herself if that was the case. He deserved nothing less. And what of her father? How would he be coping, now he was all alone with no wife and no children to care for?
These thoughts had crossed her mind so many times, and on each occasion, Lana was still no closer to knowing the answers. She supposed only time would tell. But how much time?
Approaching the clearing where she usually met Jackson, she was surprised to hear thoughts.
She’s here. A voice she did not recognize.
He was usually late. In fact, Jackson had never met her on time. She was always left waiting, sometimes for more than a half hour. Tonight, however, he was already there, and not alone. That could mean good news. Perhaps Jackson had found someone who knew where Makenna was and had brought him along to tell her what he knew.
“Jackson,” Lana called out.
Wait. Wait until she’s closer.
Lana was startled, for the voice she heard was not Jackson’s or the initial voice from moments before. If Jackson was there, she would have heard him by now.
She was looking around to see who else was there when she felt a hand clap over her mouth. Another arm wrapped around her body, and then she saw them, three or four men.
Lana struggled against the men, trying to scream from behind the large, rough hand, now holding her mouth even tighter. Her arms flailed, swiping at those who were grabbing her. Then, all of a sudden, she felt a tremendous pain in her head as a fist made contact with her temple.
She buckled at the knees, sinking into a blackness that seemed to envelop her. The last thing she saw was one of them wearing the Clan Johnson tartan.
She had finally been found by the man she had been hiding from for nearly four years.
Knox Macleod sat on a small wooden stool at a table in a shabby, run-down cottage deep in the woods. While he hated that he had to travel so long to reach her, he knew that the old woman sitting across from him at the table was the best fortune teller—some would call her a witch—in the Lowlands.
The journey had been long and laborious, yet he had been compelled to take it. When his grandfather had died several years ago, Knox had felt like a part of him had perished too. Of course, he had not said that to anyone, not even his older brothers, Maxwell and Bram. It had felt like a foolish thing to disclose, and he did not need his brothers, or anyone else for that matter, thinking he was going mad.
And yet, he needed to know if what he felt was true. When he had stepped into the small cottage, the old, wizened woman was sat as though she had been waiting for him.
Well, she is a fortune teller. Maybe she saw me coming.
“What is it ye seek, bairn?” she asked once Knox settled on the small stool.
“I dinnae ken if ye can help me,” he said uncertainly.
“That is something we cannae ken unless ye ask,” she said, half smiling, showing off the gaps between what was left of her rotten teeth.
Knox hesitated for a second, unsure if this journey had been a foolish endeavor. But he was there now. Surely, it would be more foolish not to try and seek the answers he sought.
“My grandfather died some time ago. Since then, I have felt a part o’ me died with him. I dinnae ken how I could live through this grief. All I feel is emptiness. There must be some cure that will ease my pain.”
Her smile faded, but the creases remained. The lines ran like a map across her face, and her small black eyes sunk into the small folds of the thin yet weathered skin. A strange eeriness about her made Knox feel uneasy, but when she lifted her withered hands across the table and gestured to him, he did as she bid and placed his large hands in her frail ones.
Closing her eyes, she wrapped her bony fingers around his hands and took a deep breath, letting it out in one long sigh. She took in another and did the same. She repeated this same ritualistic behavior for several more minutes. Knox could not help but notice that, though her hands were withered and old, her grip was still strong, her skeletal fingers pressing into his flesh.
Slowly, she opened her eyes once more and gazed directly at him for a long moment. An uncomfortable tension built between them as Knox waited for her to speak.
“There is nae cure for yer misery.”
Knox nearly jumped when she spoke. He waited another moment for some explanation, but it did not come.
Eventually, tired of waiting, he decided he had had enough of this long-drawn-out ridiculousness. It had been a mistake to come here; a waste of his time.
Pulling his hands from hers, he said, “Thank ye.” He was about to stand and leave a few coins on her table when she spoke again.
“There is nae cure for yer misery because ye’ve been cursed. Yer grandfather’s death was the first death o’ many. His curse has been passed down. Someone has cursed ye tae lose all the people ye love. Ye have been carrying this burden since his death.”
“Cursed?” Knox blurted. “That does nae make any sense. Who would curse me and why?”
“I cannae tell ye that. I can only tell ye the way tae break the curse,” she said.
For another long moment, she did not speak.
“Well?” Knox pressed. “How?”
“Ye must kill the woman who cursed ye.”
“What?” Knox glared at her in disbelief.
The old woman frowned for a moment. She dropped her head to the side as though listening for something. “Or,” she continued, “kill the woman who inherited the gift, if the other is already passed. The curse goes on to the next generation. Magic never dies.”
Knox was now the one who frowned. “Ye’re nae making any sense.”
“The spell was cast by someone long gone. But these powers are passed down through generations. Ye must find the lineage. Discover who inherited this power, and kill her. It’s the only way tae lift the curse.”
“This is madness. I’m nae going tae kill anyone,” he blurted.
“Then the curse will remain. Ye’ll lose everyone ye love,” she said plainly.
A week later, Knox had returned to Dunvegan Castle even more frustrated than when he had left. Maybe the journey had been a waste of time, yet the fortune teller’s words had plagued him. If he was cursed, there had to be another way to break it other than murdering a lass.
“Ye cannae trust a woman that tells ye that murdering another is the answer, Knox,” Coira said.
Knox had known Coira McGovern for the better part of his life, primarily because she was his brother Maxwell’s love. Their families were always close, and everyone expected them two to marry. Cora had always been kind to Knox, and the two had become firm friends over the years.
“But what if she’s right?” Knox said.
Coira started to fade from his view, disappearing into a golden mist.
Knox reached out a hand, but then, she was gone.
Opening his eyes abruptly, his heart racing, Knox looked about him, feeling more than a little disoriented. Laying on some hay in a barrack next to a chapel in the grounds of Laird Johnson’s castle, the sun was just breaking light as it rose on the horizon. Knox then heaved a heavy sigh. It was a dream.
He’d been having the same dream, over and over again—only, it wasn’t a dream, not really.
It was the memory of what had happened, a memory that invaded his sleep. Not that he could forget about it at any other time, for the regret of not listening to that fortune teller had plagued him ever since.
If only he had believed her.
If only he’d tracked down the woman she’d mentioned and killed her. Maybe then he wouldn’t be riddled with even more grief than before he went to see her.
He’d lost his father and Coira since then, both murdered within months of each other. Laird Johnson had killed them, and with that knowledge, his brothers, Maxwell and Bram, had set about plotting their vengeance. But Knox had only blamed himself for it was precisely as the old lady had predicted.
The curse will remain. Ye’ll lose everyone ye love.
The pain had been too much to bear. His own suffering and grief at the loss of his father and then his closest friend was bad enough. Watching Maxwell, torn apart at the loss of his childhood sweetheart and beloved wife-to-be, had been agonizing.
Knox had been too much of a coward to tell his brother the truth, but at the same time, nor could he tolerate staying at Dunvegan Castle. His brother’s and mother’s suffering tortured him, and in the end, he had decided to leave. It was too little too late, but his departure from the castle had served two purposes.
Not being around those he still loved and being no longer forced to witness their despair did ease his suffering somewhat, but his main reason had been far more pressing.
Knox was determined to do what he ought to have done at the very start, and with the idea of killing a woman no longer such a repugnant concept, he had set out on his mission to find the lass who had inherited this curse. When he did find her, he would not hesitate to take her life, as her curse had taken the lives of the people he loved.
The fortune teller had been specific in her words: the curse applied to people Knox actually loved, whether in friendship, as with Coira, or familially, as with his father and grandfather. He was not under any illusion that romantic love was somehow excluded, and in that way, he had vowed to never love anyone for fear the curse would bring their demise as well.
Many years had passed, Knox journeying to many places in search of this woman with the power to destroy his life. But now, at long last, he was certain he was close to finding her.
Pushing himself up from the bundle of hay, he brushed the small bits of straw from his person and stretched vigorously, pushing his arms as far as possible on both sides of himself. Moving to a bucket of cold water that stood on the floor nearby, he dipped his hands into it and threw the cold liquid about his face and neck. It was bitterly cold but refreshing.
Stepping out of the barracks, he carefully made his way to a rear entrance of the castle. He had arranged to meet one of the many allies he had gained since his arrival. His allies were all rather pretty wee maids, lovely lasses he had managed to charm, for they did indeed enjoy the softly whispered compliments he gave them, not to mention the other things they got up to afterward.
Most of these maids were now his confidantes and freely told him all he wanted to know. Since his search had led Knox to Laird Johnson’s castle, he had discovered that Johnson had been garnering people with powers to help him defeat the rebels. Knox had therefore deduced that the lass he needed to get rid of was bound to be amongst them. He had been careful, however, for while the maids were easily swayed, his presence there had been kept a secret. Knox could hardly imagine what Laird Johnson might do to him if it was discovered that one of the Macleods wandered freely within his walls.
“Och, Shauna, ye’re looking lovelier today than I ever did see ye,” Knox cooed, beaming an admiring smile toward the young, red-headed lass.
It mattered little what they looked like; Knox would tell them all the same thing. These young women were taken for granted, worked to the bone, and hardly paid any heed. Any attention seemed to flatter them and cause them to appear suddenly bashful.
That had at least been the case at the beginning. They were well used to Knox now though, for he had wooed most of the younger ones.
“Och, dinnae say such things,” Shauna replied, blushing, but by her eager expression, it was evident she didn’t really want him to stop.
Knox reached up a hand and gently caressed her cheek. “Ye look as beautiful at dawn as ye dae at midnight.” He smiled. Lowering his lips to her cheek, he kissed her softly. “Now, what news dae ye have for me?”
“Well, I was careful, like ye told me. And ye ken I’ve told ye about the powers o’ those Laird Johnson has captured. But I cannae tell ye what ye want tae ken, Knox. There’s nae one here who controls spells in the castle.”
Knox tried not to let his frustration show and, keeping the smile on his face, pressed her a little. “Perhaps there’s nae one who controls spells, but what about curses?”
Shauna shook her head. “Nae, Knox. There’s nae one like that. I asked, discreetly o’ course. Nae one here has the power tae cast spells or curses.”
“But there are people here with powers as strong as that,” he replied fervently, his demeanor beginning to slip. He had come so far, and he was so close. He had been so certain the woman he was looking for would be a prisoner in Johnson’s castle.
“O’ course there are. Ye ken well, for I’ve already told ye about many o’ them. But none of them have that power.”
Hardly realizing it, his expression changed, and seeing his disappointment, Shauna looked saddened. “I’m so sorry, Knox. I did try,” she said, sounding a little pathetic.
It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t like she could magically produce this woman out of thin air. Knox suddenly plastered on his best smile. “Och, never worry, Shauna,” he beamed. “It’s nae that important.”
She looked at him then with an expression of complete disbelief. “I think we both ken that’s nae true.”
After telling Shauna more things he knew she would be delighted to hear, Knox finally departed. He hadn’t shown his anger or frustration while with her, but he could hardly hide his aggression once he had left her side.
“Hell’s teeth,” he spat, storming through the corridors while simultaneously wary that he might be discovered at any moment.
Maybe this woman could make herself invisible as well as curse another and all their kin, because Knox was determined that after so long searching for her, he should have found her by now. When he arrived at the castle, he was certain he’d reached the end of his search, and his joy was almost palpable at the prospect of finally being free of this heavy burden. Yet he had only reached another dead end, one of many over the years.
There was nothing else he could do but keep looking, no matter how frustrated he was. He’d taken too many chances by visiting the castle so frequently. He’d pushed his luck too far, and it was only by some miracle that he hadn’t been caught. However, all his risk had been for naught, and it was now time for him to go.
Upon reaching the rear of the castle where he had entered earlier, he craned his head around the doorway to check if the coast was clear. Not much belonged to him back at the barrack, but he did not want to leave anything that might give Johnson’s men a clue he had been there. Besides, even though his possessions were small, he still needed them to continue on his journey.
Sprinting across the courtyard as the sun slowly began to rise over the glen, he reached the outer wall and stayed close and low. Most of the soldiers were positioned at the front of the castle, which had always given him an advantage, but Knox did not want to let his guard down. Having been able to sneak in and out of the castle undetected for several months, he would be even angrier at himself than he already was if he was caught now.
Reaching the barrack unseen, he scurried about the pile of hay and quickly gathered the items he had hidden beneath it: clothes, a flask, and an extra dagger. He threw them in a leather pouch that he flung about his shoulder and once more ventured to the barrack entrance and was about to carefully peek his head outside.
He was so close to escaping without being discovered, but he still had to reach the small gate in the castle wall. However, he was hardly given a chance to scour the area, for just as he went to look outside, someone hurriedly ran into the building, knocking him to the ground in their rush.
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