Prologue of Love Beyond Destiny
One Year After the Start of Our Story—Present Day
She wasn’t supposed to be here. She’d promised him. She’d promised him to stay where they’d built a life together.
But something had changed within her—he could feel it in every quick thump of his anxious pulse. She no longer cared about the promises she’d made to him, and he no longer held a monopoly on her heart.
He’d known—hoped even—that in time she would come to love another, but why this man? Why another with magic? An ordinary man couldn’t hurt her, but a man with magic could do whatever he wished and his beloved would be powerless to stop him. How was he to know whether this stranger was worthy of her?
At least before, the distance between them was great enough that he could remain oblivious to her choices. But now, he could feel everything—every emotion, every contradiction. It was misery.
The nearness of her would end him. Each moment his mind tormented him with agonizing memories of every decision that brought him here—standing at the end of a narrow road leading to the home of a witch he knew wouldn’t help him.
He had nothing left to lose. If she refused his request, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay away from her.
His strength was failing fast.
Each day he cared less for those whose lives rested in his beloved’s hands.
* * *
“Morna, lass. There’s a man at the end of the road. He keeps pacing as if he canna decide whether or not he wishes to approach our home. I assume ye know him?”
She didn’t, but the lad certainly knew of her. Otherwise, he would’ve been unable to see their house.
“No, I canna say that I do, nor did I see him coming. I must say, Jerry, sometimes it seems as if I am no longer as perceptive as I once was.”
Reaching for her coat next to the doorway, she looked over her glasses at her husband’s humored expression. “What do ye wish to say, Jerry?”
“O’course ye are not as perceptive. ’Tis only right that yer powers wane somewhat with age. If aging dinna impact ye in some way ’twould be dreadfully unfair. Let me grab my coat. I’ll walk with ye to greet him.”
“No.” Now that she was aware of the man’s presence, she could feel him acutely. “’Tis fine, truly. I doona yet know what this man needs, but I know there is nothing ye can do for him. Go and take a bath in that new walk-in jetted tub of yers.”
Jerry stood and wiggled both brows mischievously at her. “When he leaves, will ye join me? There’s plenty of room for two.”
Laughing, she reached for Jerry as he passed and gently pressed her lips to his. “I’d love to, but I’ve the feeling this willna be a short visit. If ye wait that long, ye shall be wrinkled as a prune by the time I make it upstairs.”
“I’m already verra prune-like, lass.”
She laughed unwillingly, the sudden bout of laughter doing much to ease the knot that settled in her chest at the sight of the man outside her home.
Perhaps Jerry saw himself that way, but every time she looked at her husband she could still see the young man he’d once been. He was her favorite thing to look at in all the world.
“I love every wrinkle ye’ve got. Now, go. One of us should enjoy the evening.”
Morna waited until she could hear the water running through the pipes above her before opening the door and stepping out into the brisk evening air. The stranger saw her immediately and stopped his pacing as he straightened to look at her as she approached.
“’Twill be dark soon, lad. If ye’ve business here, ’tis best ye come inside and see to it.”
Under different circumstances, the stranger would’ve been handsome. But now, with his gaze sad and strained, his dark blue eyes were bloodshot and swollen. He appeared as if he’d been awake for a week straight and that for most of that time he’d been crying.
“Are ye Morna?”
“Aye.” Morna extended her hand to him. “’Tis me ye wished to see, is it not? Tell me yer name and follow me inside.”
Morna didn’t miss the man’s hesitation and she knew right away the name he gave her would not be the name given to him at birth.
“Bechard. Ye may call me Bechard.”
Morna smiled to herself as she turned her back to him and motioned gently for him to follow.
“’Tis not the loveliest alias ye could have chosen.”
She sensed the man still behind her and looked back over her shoulder to ease his fear. “Doona worry, lad. If ye wish to keep yer real name to yerself, I suppose ye’ve reason to do so. Hang yer coat next to the door, and have a seat in the living room. I’ll fetch us some tea, and we will get about whatever business has brought ye here.”
Bechard slowly took one step inside Morna’s home. “’Twas my father’s name.”
The man—she couldn’t bring herself to think of him as Bechard since she knew it was not his real name—carried magic not unlike her own in his being. The air around him was thick with it. Morna suspected that even mortal humans could sense it in his presence, whether or not they knew what it was they sensed.
The man’s magic—like the opposite side of her own coin—was of druid origin. It was easy at her age, after all her experience, to place where one’s powers came from. But while this man’s source was evident, his purpose was not. Most druids—indeed, all she’d ever known—were beholden to a purpose. This man seemed entirely alone. He had to be. For if there was anyone else he could’ve gone to for help, she had no doubt he wouldn’t be here now. Why go to a stranger for something that was clearly so personal to him?
Staring perhaps a little too long, she jumped at the sound of the pipes creaking as Jerry turned off the running water upstairs. Jarred back to the present and to the stranger’s last admission, she pointed to one of the two empty chairs next to the fire and spoke. “Ah, that explains the odd choice of name. Well, pity to him, then. Go and sit. I’ll be just a moment.”
The use of magic for boiled water was a frivolous thing, but she allowed herself the indulgence. The man’s nerves seemed perilously close to shattering. She feared if she left him alone for more than a moment, she would return to see him collapsed on the floor of her living room, swallowed by his misery.
After first reaching for the smallest of her teacups, she thought again, and reached for the ones reserved for especially gloomy days. Gathering all she needed, she made her way back toward the man who turned at the sound of her approach. Morna looked into his eyes and sighed as a bit of the tension in her own chest relaxed just a little. A bit of the panic in the man’s gaze had subsided. He was ready to talk.
“I know that ye doona know me, but I am here to beg ye for help. I need ye to break the bond I share with another. ’Tis most urgent.”
Nodding toward the settled tray upon the table so that he might begin to prepare his own cup, Morna relaxed into her chair.
“A bond? Ye know I shall need more than that, lad. Is it one of blood or kinship?” She hesitated and then shook her head, the memory of his strangled gaze flashing into her mind. “No, ye needn’t answer. ’Tis a heart bond, aye?”
The man didn’t stir or blow on his tea before slurping at the steaming cup he held in his hands. If it burned him, he showed no sign of it.
“Is it a bond of love or of marriage?”
Another slurp and Morna had to purse her lips together to keep from grinning at the way the man held his teacup. He cupped it like a bowl, as if it had no handle.
Something inside the man’s throat audibly caught. His answer was broken and choppy as he forced the words out. “Both. By God, ’tis both.”
“Why then do ye wish to break yer bond with her? Does she no longer love ye?”
One last slurp and the man emptied his cup. “She loves me still. And I love her more than I can bear. ’Tis why ye must help me to end this misery. ’Twas torturous enough when I only had my own grief to contend with, but now that she’s here, I can feel her again.”
His choice of words all but confirmed Morna’s first suspicions about the strange man—he was not from this time. It explained the kinship she felt with the man’s powers—they shared a gift for bending time.
“Ye mean in this time, aye?”
Setting the emptied cup down on the tray, he glanced up at Morna with weary eyes. “Aye. The lass promised me she would stay. But she dinna do so. Now that she’s here, ’tis as if my verra heart is being slowly poisoned. There is another now, and he slowly heals her heart in a way that should be my doing. If our bond remains, I willna be able to stay away. I will go to her. I will take her back. I canna stand for another to hold her if I must be bound to feel it. Please Morna, rid me of her. I canna bear this.”
Morna sat quietly for a long moment, observing the man as he waited for her answer. Why would anyone voluntarily tear themselves away from someone they loved so much?
“I canna say aye when I doona understand. Ye must help me to see why ye would wish to do such a thing. Ye know that ending the bond willna truly take her from ye. Ye will still feel her loss, still grieve her.”
The man nodded solemnly. “I know, but at least I willna be able to feel her heart alight when another man touches her. I willna be able to feel the way her breath comes short when she thinks of him. No one should have to endure such torture.”
The man had chosen to ignore the first part of her statement, and she couldn’t allow it to slide by. She couldn’t in good conscience perform such a sorrowful act without knowing his motive behind asking her to do so.
“I’ll decide nothing until ye tell me yer story, lad.”
The man stood, and Morna could see that the warm tea had done much to revive him. His shoulders were no longer as slumped and there was some fire in his arms as he scrubbed both hands over his face in frustration.
He spoke to her through the small slit in between his palms as he gripped at his face. “If I tell ye, I know ye willna help me.”
Her curiosity rising by the second, she settled more deeply into her chair. “I’ll not help ye unless ye tell me either. So ye might as well do so and take yer chances.”
Morna watched as the man took a deep, sorrowful breath before moving to sit back across from her. She waited silently for him to begin.
“I grew up in a time not too distant from yer own. And like ye, I was born with my powers. I was aware of what lay inside me much earlier than most I know with magic. But as I am certain ye know, druid magic is different than what ye possess. Ye have more free will, less destiny, attached to yer choices.”
Morna wasn’t sure she agreed with the man’s assessment of magic. Looking back on her own life, it seemed as if she’d been only a small piece of something much bigger than herself—something which was written long before she ever breathed her first breath.
“Less destiny, perhaps, but we still have a purpose we are bound to once we discover it.”
The man dismissed her, shaking his head as he continued. “Mayhap so. But lass, I’ve always been a solitary creature. I wanted my own life, one filled with my own choices. I didn’t want to be a part of anything. I didn’t want to be a pawn in any greater purpose.
“When I was only a lad, word of a man seeking young men with magic spread among my clansmen. This stranger needed a group of druids young enough to train and strong enough to help him lock away an evil on his isle. The moment I heard the man’s story, I knew I was bound to it. Something inside me lit like a beacon welcoming the stranger, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before he found me and recruited me into his group of eight lads he meant to use as protection.”
“Was the man named Nicol Murray?” Whatever Morna expected the stranger’s story to be, it certainly wasn’t this.
“And where did ye grow up?”
Morna knew the man’s answer before he gave it. A memory of her own, from long, long ago had surfaced. Now everything seemed clear to her.
Hamish, Raudrich, the beginning of her own strange bond to The Isle of Eight all tied back to the stranger sitting in front of her now.
“Ah. And so ye fled to the future and hid until another lad was chosen in yer place?”
The man straightened in his seat to look at her. “Aye, was my story so predictable?”
“No, lad, but I am a part of this story whether ye know it or not. Hamish—I expect he was probably laird when ye were young—and I were once verra close. He called to me as he prepared to let himself die, and asked me to look after his grandson, Raudrich, in whatever way I could. Ye see, lad, Raudrich had been called into The Eight by Nicol Murray, and Hamish desperately wanted me to help smooth the path that might see his grandson set free from a life of duty and obligation. At the time, I thought it a concern that any grandfather might have, but now I see it was more than that.
“Hamish knew that all those with magic were born to a purpose, and if The Isle of Eight was Raudrich’s true purpose, then Hamish would’ve been glad to see his grandson fulfill it. But it wasn’t Raudrich who was supposed to be there, ’twas ye, and Hamish knew it.”
The man’s eyes filled with tears, and he gently closed his eyes as they spilled over. “Aye, I’ve no doubt he knew. Hamish always seemed to know everything. Raudrich was my closest friend. I dinna know I was dooming him to such a fate when I left. I was young. All I wanted was to be free. I canna tell ye how sorry I am for what my choices have done to others.”
“Lad, doona be sorry. Mayhap Raudrich wasna destined to the Isle before, but he certainly is now, and I know if ye asked him, he would change nothing in his life.”
Opening his eyes, the man briskly brushed away tears. “That is some comfort, at least.”
“Forgive me, lad, but I doona see how this story has anything to do with why ye came here.”
“I am not yet finished. By the end of my story, it will all be abundantly clear to ye.”
Morna nodded, urging him to carry on.
“After I left and came here to the twenty-first century, I grew up in Scotland. I found work with a farmer not too far from here. He allowed me to sleep in a converted space above his barn, and I happily believed that even the ghastly smell which I breathed day in and day out was better than the life that awaited me back home.
“I returned occasionally to see my mother who believed I’d found similar work only in my own time. She was relieved that my powers had yet to call me to some great and dangerous purpose, so she never questioned anything I told her verra much.
“At the age of thirty, the farmer I worked for died, and his land was sold to a man who dinna wish to keep me on. I dinna mind. By that age, I was restless and ready to reinvent myself. I went to America and fell in love.”
Morna couldn’t help but smile, even despite the gloomy nature of the man’s story. Of course the man’s wife was modern. Almost all of the women Morna seemed to find herself involved with were.
“With yer wife?”
“Aye. The moment I saw her, I was consumed. We fell for one another quickly, and before long, I told her the truth of my magic and where and when I was from. Shortly after we married, I visited my mother to tell her of the good news. It was then that I learned of Laird Allen’s murder. I knew that Raudrich would have much to settle after his brother’s death, and after abandoning him to my fate once, I couldn’t leave him alone to handle this.
“And so, after much convincing and preparation, I took my wife and her father into the past, and more quickly than I would’ve imagined, we settled into a happy life there. But it wasna long before my past caught up with me. I couldna outrun my destiny no matter how much I tried.”
With the man’s story still unfinished, Morna said nothing as she reached out to give his hand a reassuring squeeze.
With another breath, he continued. “Raudrich told few within the village, but his loyalty was now pledged to The Isle of Eight. He couldna be laird. After some time home, he asked if I would take the land from him and serve as laird, since he could not. It seemed a weighty decision. So, as many in our territory often do, I went to look into a pool of waters that can tell a man’s future to see if mayhap my fate from so long ago had changed and now I was meant to be laird of Allen territory.”
Morna was all too familiar with the magical waters of Allen territory. At one time in her life, they’d caused her more pain than she ever wished to feel again.
“I canna imagine that went well, aye? Such waters are dangerous.”
A painful sob escaped the man’s chest, and Morna regretted interrupting his story.
“Aye, those damned waters have ruined my life.”
“What did ye see?”
“It was not my future that I saw that day. Instead, I saw my wife and her place at The Isle of Eight Lairds. She is as tied to the Isle as I was meant to be. While I could choose to abandon my own destiny, I couldna deny my wife hers.”
“So what did ye do?”
“I faked my death and made her promise to remain in the seventeenth century. I knew that with time she would be led to the Isle so she could fulfill her purpose there. For months now she did as she promised, but something has brought her here now. I doona wish to be a bad man, Morna. I foiled fate once. I shouldna do it again.
“I’ve studied much about the Isle in this time. I know the legends. I know how Machara’s bond over The Eight is supposed to end. My wife is meant to be one of the women to help destroy her, but my love for her is a selfish thing. If she is here, close enough that I can feel her, I willna be able to stay away. I will go to her. I will win her back, and I will keep her here, far from the Isle, damning everyone who lives there. I no longer care what happens to them. This pain within me is too much. All I want is for it to end either by ye breaking this bond so I may mourn her in peace or by holding her in my arms once again.”
Her heart heavy, Morna leaned forward to answer him. “I’m sorry, lad. I canna do as ye wish.”
“Why? How can ye not? Ye must see how important this is. If ye doona help me, people will die. History will change.”
“’Tis not that I doona wish to help ye. I do. But I canna do so. If ye know all that ye say ye do about the Isle, ye know that magic canna be used in defeating Machara. It must be mortal women who destroy her. Yer wife doesna know that ye live. By removing yerself from her life, by leaving her no choice about whether she wishes to fulfill her destiny at the Isle or remain with ye, ye have already intervened with magic. If I were to sever yer bond without her knowing, ’twould again be magic. She must be the one who decides what sort of life she wishes to live.”
Morna watched as desperation crept back into his gaze. He stood and began to pace around the room.
“If I go to her, she will choose me.”
“What makes ye so sure? Ye said yerself there is another.”
“She possesses every bit of my soul. How could I not possess just as much of hers?”
“I doona doubt that at one time ye did, but ye underestimate the heart’s ability to expand, lad. While ye lived, ye were her everything. I am sure, now that she believes ye are gone, she loves ye no less than she ever did, but ye canna be her everything once ye are in the ground. It serves no one to devote one’s life to those who are gone. After she has grieved ye, she must make room for more.”
When he stared back at her blankly, frustration in his gaze saying all that his words did not, Morna continued. “That’s the way with hearts. Sometimes ye think it willna ever be able to hold such love again, to hold more than it once did, but its ability to open is infinite. More love can always come in. With time, even though her love for ye will never fade, her heart will just grow larger, and someone else can saturate her soul, too. Maybe someone else already has.”
Anger flashed in the man’s eyes, and for a moment, Morna thought the man might lunge at her.
“I will take her back. She is mine as long as this bond remains. ’Tis why I need ye to break it.”
Morna shrugged. Each moment spent in this man’s presence allowed her to see him a little more. He was a man unsure of everything. A man with so much to learn.
“Mayhap so. If ye are sure that ye canna move on with the bond ye share still inside ye, then even if I break it, yer business with her willna be finished. Go to her. Tell her what ye must. If she agrees to break the bond, then I shall break it.”
“She willna agree. She will choose me.”
Morna stood. Tired and eager to be in Jerry’s arms, all she wanted was for the young man to leave. She couldn’t know if she was making the biggest mistake of her life, but she knew what this stranger didn’t seem to understand—that none of this was for them to decide. She could meddle in love, but she couldn’t meddle in fate, and this time it involved more than a handful of hearts.
“Perhaps, but ye forget that she’s already grieved for ye. Do ye not think she will feel betrayed when ye show up in her life again? ’Tis cruel what ye’ve done to her.”
The man followed closely as she walked to her front door.
“She will forgive me. She will choose me, and the future of the Isle will be doomed. People we both know and love will die.”
Opening the door, she ushered him out into the cool evening air, before closing the door on him with her parting words. “Ye may be right, but it doesna matter. The choice must be hers. Ye and I are just chess pieces in this game. Everything depends on her.”