Morrigans cross, p.15
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.15

         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts
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  She glanced around to make sure Hoyt wasn’t anywhere within earshot. “Generally, I need tools, chants, certain rituals. I can do this.” She opened her palm, focused, and brought out the ball of fire.

  Curious, he poked at it. And snatched back his singed finger, sucked on it. “Hell of a trick.”

  “Fire is elemental, like air, earth, water. But if I pulled this out during a battle, tossed it at an enemy, it might hit one of us instead, or as well as.”

  He studied the shimmering ball with his odd eyes. “Like pointing a gun if you don’t know how to shoot. Can’t be sure who’s going to get the bullet. Or if you’d just end up shooting yourself in your own damn foot.”

  “Something like that.” She vanished the fire. “But it’s nice to have it in reserve.”

  “You go ahead, take a break, Red, before you hurt somebody.”

  “No argument.” She sailed into the house, intending to drink a gallon of water and put together some food. She nearly walked straight into Cian.

  “Didn’t know you were up and around.”

  He stood back from the sunlight that filtered through the windows, but she saw he had a full view of the outdoor activities.

  “What do you think?” she asked him. “How are we doing?”

  “If they came for you now, they’d snack on you like chicken at a picnic.”

  “I know. We’re clumsy, and there’s no sense of unity. But we’ll get better.”

  “You’ll need to.”

  “Well, you’re full of cheer and encouragement this afternoon. We’ve been at it over two hours, and none of us is used to this kind of thing. Larkin’s the closest King’s got to a warrior, and he’s green yet.”

  Cian merely glanced at her. “Ripen or die.”

  Fatigue was one thing, she thought, and she would deal with the sweat and the effort. But now she was flat-out insulted. “It’s hard enough to do what we’re doing without one of us being a complete asshole.”

  “Is that your term for realist?”

  “Screw it, and you with it.” She stalked around the kitchen, tossed some fruit, some bread, some bottled water into a basket. She hauled it out, ignoring Cian as she passed by.

  Outside she dumped the basket on the table King had carried out to hold weapons.

  “Food!” Larkin pounced like a starving man. “Bless you down to the soles of your feet, Glenna. I was wasting away here.”

  “Since it’s been two hours for certain since you last stuffed your face,” Moira put in.

  “The master of doom doesn’t think we’re working hard enough, and equates us to chicken at a picnic for the vampires.” Glenna took an apple for herself, bit in. “I say we show him different.”

  She took another bite, then whipped around toward the newly stuffed dummy. She focused in, visualized, then hurled the apple. It flew toward the dummy, and as it flew it became a stake. And that stake pierced cloth and straw.

  “Oh, that was fine,” Moira breathed. “That was brilliant.”

  “Sometimes temper gives the magic a boost.”

  The stake slid out again, and splatted as an apple to the ground. She sent Hoyt a look. “Something to work out.”

  “We need something to unify us, to hold us together,” she told Hoyt later. She sat in the tower, rubbing balm into bruises while he pored through the pages of a spellbook. “Teams wear uniforms, or have fight songs.”

  “Songs? Now we should sing? Or maybe just find a bloody harper.”

  Sarcasm, she decided, was something the brothers shared as well as their looks. “We need something. Look at us, even now. You and I up here, Moira and Larkin off together. King and Cian in the training room, devising new miseries for us all. It’s fine and good to have the whole of the team split into smaller teams, working on their own projects. But we haven’t become a whole team yet.”

  “So we drag out the harp and sing? We’ve serious work to do, Glenna.”

  “You’re not following me.” Patience, she reminded herself. He’d worked as hard as she had today, and was just as tired. “It’s about symbolism. We have the same foe, yes, but not the same purpose.” She walked to the window, and saw how long the shadows had grown, and how low the sun hung in the sky.

  “It’ll be dark soon.” Her fingers groped for her pendant. It struck her then, so simple, so obvious.

  “You were looking for a shield for Cian, because he can’t go out in the day. But what about us? We can’t risk going out after sundown. And even inside, we know she can get to us, get inside us. What about our shield, Hoyt? What shields us against the vampire?”

  “The light.”

  “Yes, yes, but what symbol? A cross. We need to make crosses, and we need to put magic into them. Not only shield, but weapon, Hoyt.”

  He thought of the crosses Morrigan had given him for his family. But even his powers, even combined with Glenna’s fell short of the gods.

  Still…

  “Silver,” he mumbled. “Silver would be best.”

  “With red jasper, for night protection. We need some garlic, some sage.” She began going through her case of dried herbs and roots. “I’ll start on the potion.” She grabbed one of her books, began flipping through. “Any idea where we can get our hands on the silver?”

  “Aye.”

  He left her, went down to the first level of the house and into what was now the dining room. The furnishings were new—to him, at least. Tables of dark, heavy wood, chairs with high backs and ornate carving. The drapes that were pulled over the windows were a deep green, like forest shadows, and made of a thick and weighty silk.

  There was art, all of them night scenes of forests and glades and cliffs. Even here, he thought, his brother shunned the light. Or did he prefer the dark, even in paintings?

  Tall cupboards with doors of rippled glass held crystal and pottery in rich jewel tones. Possessions, he thought, of a man of wealth and position, who had an eternity of time to collect them.

  Did any of the things mean anything to Cian? With so much, could any single thing matter?

  On the larger server were two tall candlestands of silver, and Hoyt wondered if they did—or if they had, at least.

  They had been his mother’s.

  He lifted one, and had the image of her—clear as lake water—sitting at her wheel and spinning, singing one of the old songs she loved while her foot tapped the time.

  She wore a blue gown and veil, and there was ease and youth in her face, a quiet contentment that covered her like soft silk. Her body was heavy with child, he saw that now. No, he corrected, heavy with children. Himself and Cian.

  And on the chest beneath her window stood the two candlestands.

  “They were a gift from my father on the day of my wedding, and of all the gifts given, I prized them most. One will go to you one day, and one to Cian. And so this gift will be passed down, and the giver remembered whenever the candle is lit.”

  He comforted himself that he needed no candle to remember her. But the stand weighed heavy in his hands as he took it up to the tower.

  Glenna looked up from the cauldron where she mixed her herbs. “Oh, it’s perfect. And beautiful. What a shame to melt it down.” She left her work to get a closer look. “It’s heavy. And old, I think.”

  “Aye, it’s very old.”

  She understood then, and felt a little pang in her heart. “Your family’s?”

  His face, his voice, were carefully blank. “It was to come to me, and so it has.”

  She nearly told him to find something else, something that didn’t mean so much to him. But she swallowed the words. She thought she understood why he had chosen as he had. It had to cost. Magic asked a price.

  “The sacrifice you’re making will strengthen the spell. Wait.” She pulled a ring from the middle finger of her right hand. “It was my grandmother’s.”

  “There’s no need.”

  “Personal sacrifice, yours and mine. We’re asking a great deal. I need some time to wri
te out the spell. Nothing in my books is quite right, so we’ll need to amend.”

  When Larkin came to the door they were both deep in books. He glanced around the room and kept to his side of the threshold. “I’m sent to fetch you. The sun’s set, and we’re going into evening training.”

  “Tell him we’ll be there when we’re done,” Glenna said. “We’re in the middle of something.”

  “I’ll tell him, but I’m thinking he won’t like it.” He pulled the door shut and left them.

  “I’ve nearly got it. I’m going to draw out what I think they should look like, then we’ll both visualize. Hoyt?”

  “It must be pure,” he said to himself. “Conjured with faith as much as magic.”

  She left him to it and began to sketch. Simple, she thought, and with tradition. She glanced over, saw he was sitting, eyes closed. Gathering power, she assumed, and his thoughts.

  Such a serious face, and one, she realized, she’d come to trust completely. It seemed she’d known that face forever, just as she knew the sound of his voice, the cadence of it.

  Yet the time they’d had was short, just as the time they would have was no more than a handful of grains in the sand of an hourglass.

  If they won—no when, when they won—he’d go back to his time, his life, his world. And she to hers. But nothing would ever be the same. And nothing would ever really fill the void he’d leave behind.

  “Hoyt.”

  His eyes were different when they met hers. Deeper and darker. She pushed the sketch toward him. “Will this do?”

  He lifted it, studied. “Yes, but for this.”

  He took the pencil from her, added lines on the long base of the Celtic cross she’d drawn.

  “What is it?”

  “It’s ogham script. Old writing.”

  “I know what ogham is. What does it say?”

  “It says light.”

  She smiled, nodded. “Then it’s perfect. This is the spell. It feels right to me.”

  He took that in turn, then looked at her. “Rhymes?”

  “It’s how I work. Deal with it. And I want a circle. I’ll feel better with one.”

  Because he agreed he rose, to cast it with her. She scribed fresh candles with her bolline, watched him light them.

  “We’ll make the fire together.” He held out his hand for hers.

  Power winged up her arm, struck the heart of her. And the fire, pure and white, shimmered an inch above the floor. He hefted the cauldron, set it on the flames.

  “Silver old and silver bright.” He set the candlestand in the cauldron. “Go to liquid in this light.”

  “As we stand in the sorcerer’s tower,” Glenna continued, adding the jasper, the herbs, “we charge this flame to free your power.” She dropped in her grandmother’s ring.

  “Magicks from the sky and sea, from air and earth we call to thee. We your servants beg this blessing, shield us in this time of testing. We answer your charge with head, heart and hand to vanquish the darkness from the land. So we call you three times three to shield those who serve you faithfully.

  “Let this cross shine light to night.”

  As they chanted the last line, three times three, silver smoke rose from the cauldron, and the white flames beneath it grew brighter.

  It flooded her, light and smoke and heat, filled her as her voice rose with his. Through it, she saw his eyes, only his eyes locked on hers.

  In her heart, in her belly, she felt it heat and grow. Stronger, more potent than anything she’d ever known. It swirled in her as with his free hand, he threw the last of the jasper dust into the cauldron.

  “And each cross of silver a shield will be. As we will, so mote it be.”

  The room exploded with light, and the force of it shook the walls, the floor. The cauldron tumbled over, spilling liquid silver into the flame.

  The force nearly sent Glenna to the ground, but Hoyt’s arms came around her. He spun his body around to shield hers from the sudden spurting flames and roaring wind.

  Hoyt saw the door fly open. For an instant, Cian was framed in the doorway, drowned in that impossible light. Then he vanished.

  “No! No!” Dragging Glenna with him, Hoyt broke the circle. The light shrank in on itself, swallowed itself and was gone with a crash like thunder. Through the ringing in his ears he thought he heard shouting.

  Cian lay on the floor bleeding, his shirt half burned away and still smoking.

  Hoyt dropped to his knees, his fingers reaching for a pulse before he remembered there would be none in any case. “My God, my God, what have I done?”

  “He’s badly burned. Get the shirt off of him.” Glenna’s voice was cool as water, and just as calm. “Gently.”

  “What happened? What the hell did you do?” King shoved Hoyt aside. “Son of a bitch. Cian. Jesus Christ.”

  “We were finishing a spell. He opened the door. There was light. It was no one’s fault. Larkin,” Glenna continued, “help King carry Cian to his room. I’ll be right there. I have things that will help.”

  “He’s not dead.” Hoyt said it quietly, staring down at his brother. “It’s not death.”

  “It’s not death,” Glenna repeated. “I can help him. I’m a good healer. It’s one of my strengths.”

  “I’ll help you.” Moira stepped up, then eased her body toward the wall as King and Larkin lifted Cian. “I have some skill.”

  “Good. Go with them. I’ll get my things. Hoyt. I can help him.”

  “What did we do?” Hoyt stared helplessly at his hands. Though they still vibrated from the spell, they felt empty and useless. “It was beyond all I’ve done.”

  “We’ll talk about it later.” She gripped his hand, pulled him into the tower room.

  The circle was burned into the floor, scorched in a pure white ring. In its center glinted nine silver crosses with a circle of red jasper at the joining.

  “Nine. Three times three. We’ll think about all this later. I think we should let them stay there for now. I don’t know, let them set.”

  Ignoring her, Hoyt crossed the circle, picked one up. “It’s cool.”

  “Great. Good.” Her mind was already on Cian, and what would have to be done to help him. She grabbed her case. “I have to get down, do what I can for him. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, Hoyt.”

  “Twice now. Twice I’ve nearly killed him.”

  “This is my doing as much as yours. Are you coming with me?”

  “No.”

  She started to speak, then shook her head and rushed out.

  In the lavish bedchamber, the vampyre lay still on the wide bed. His face was that of an angel. A wicked one, Moira thought. She sent the men out for warm water, for bandages, and mostly to get them out from underfoot.

  Now she was alone with the vampyre, who lay on the wide bed. Still as death.

  She would feel no heartbeat should she lay her hand on his chest. There would be no breath to fog a glass if she were to hold one to his lips. And he would have no reflection.

  She’d read these things, and more.

  Yet, he’d saved her life, and she owed him for that.

  She moved to the side of the bed, and used what little magic she had to try to cool his burned flesh. Queasiness rose up and was fought down. She’d never seen flesh so scorched. How could anyone—anything—survive such wounds?

  His eyes flashed open, searing blue. His hand clamped on her wrist. “What are you doing?”

  “You’re hurt.” She hated to hear the tremor in her voice, but her fear of him—alone with him—was so huge. “An accident. I’m waiting for Glenna. We’ll help you. Lie still.” She saw the instant the pain woke in him, and some of her fear died. “Lie quiet. I can cool it a little.”

  “Wouldn’t you rather I burn in hell?”

  “I don’t know. But I know I don’t want to be the one who sends you. I wouldn’t have shot you last night. I’m ashamed I let you believe I would. I owe you my life.”

  “Go away,
and we’ll call it quits.”

  “Glenna’s coming. Is it cooling a little?”

  He simply closed his eyes; and his body trembled. “I need blood.”

  “Well, you won’t be having mine. I’m not that grateful.”

  She thought his lips curved, just the slightest bit. “Not yours, though I’ll bet it’s tasty.” He had to catch the breath the pain stole. “In the case across the room. The black case with the silver handle. I need blood to—I just need it.”

  She left him to open the case, then swallowed revulsion when she saw the clear packs that held dark red liquid.

  “Bring it over, toss it and run, whatever you want, but I need it now.”

  She brought it quickly, then watched him struggle to sit up, to tear the pack open with his burned hands. Saying nothing, she took the pack, opened it herself, spilling some.

  “Sorry.” She gathered her strength, then used an arm to brace him, using her free hand to bring the pack to his lips.

  He watched her as he drank, and she made herself look back into his eyes without flinching.

  When he’d drained it dry, she laid his head down again before going into the bath for a cloth. With it she wiped his mouth, his chin.

  “Small but valiant, are you?”

  She heard the edge in his tone, and some return of its strength. “You haven’t a choice because of what you are. I haven’t one because of what I am.” She stepped back when Glenna hurried into the room.

  Chapter 11

  “Do you want something for the pain?” Glenna coated a thin cloth with balm.

  “What have you got?”

  “This and that.” She laid the cloth gently on his chest. “I’m so sorry, Cian. We should have locked the door.”

  “A locked door wouldn’t have stopped me from coming in, not in my own house. You might try a sign next time, something along the lines…Bugger it!”

  “I know, sorry, I know. It’ll be better in a minute. A sign?” she continued, her voice low and soothing as she worked. “Something like: Flammable Magicks. Keep out.”

  “Wouldn’t hurt.” He felt the burn not just on the flesh, but down into the bone, as if the fire had burst inside him as well as out. “What the hell were you doing in there?”

  “More than either of us were expecting. Moira, coat more cloth, would you. Cian?”

  “What?”

  She simply looked at him, deeply, her hands hovering just above the worst of the burns. She felt the heat, but not the release. “It won’t work unless you let it,” she told him. “Unless you trust me and let go.”

 
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