Morrigans cross, p.24
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.24
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         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts

  likely I’m too drunk to manage it. Well then, I’ll just get that fresh bottle, and finish the job.”

  “Cian. Cian, people turn to each other for comfort when death’s come. It isn’t disrespect, but need.”

  “You don’t want to lecture me on sex. I know more of it than you could ever imagine. Of its pleasures and its pain and its purposes.”

  “People turn to drink as well, but it’s not as healthy. I know what he was to you.”

  “You don’t.”

  “He talked to me, more than the others, I think, because I like to listen. He told me how you found him, all those years ago, what you did for him.”

  “I amused myself.”

  “Stop it.” The tone of command, bred into her bones, snapped into her voice. “Now it’s disrespect you’re showing for a man who was a friend to me. And he was a son to you. A friend and a brother. All of that. I want to put a stone up for him tomorrow. It could wait until sunset, until you could go out and—”

  “What do I care for stones?” he said, and left her.

  Glenna was so grateful for the sun she could have wept. There were clouds, but they were thin and the beams burst through them to toss light and shadows on the ground.

  She hurt still, heart and body. But she would deal with it. For now, she took one of her cameras and she stepped outside to let the sun bathe her face. Charmed by the music of it, she walked to the stream. Then just laid down on its bank and basked.

  Birds sang, pouring joy into air that was fragrant with flowers. She could see foxglove dancing lightly in the breeze. For a moment she felt the earth beneath her sigh and whisper with the pleasure of a new day.

  Grief would come and go, she knew. But today there was light, and work. And there was still magic in the world.

  When a shadow fell over her, she turned her head, smiled at Moira.

  “How are you this morning?”

  “Better,” Glenna told her. “I’m better. Sore and stiff, maybe a little wobbly yet, but better.”

  She turned a bit more to study Moira’s tunic and rough pants. “We need to get you some clothes.”

  “These do well enough.”

  “Maybe we’ll go into town, see what we can find.”

  “I have nothing to trade. I can’t pay.”

  “That’s what Visa’s for. It’ll be my treat.” She lay flat, closed her eyes again. “I didn’t think anyone else was up.”

  “Larkin’s taken the horse for a run. It should do both of them good. I don’t think he slept at all.”

  “I doubt any of us did, really. It doesn’t seem real does it, not in the light of day with the sun showering down and the birds singing?”

  “It seems more real to me,” Moira said as she sat. “It shows what we have to lose. I have a stone,” she continued, brushing her hand through the grass. “I thought when Larkin comes back we could go to where the graves are, make one for King.”

  Glenna kept her eyes closed, but reached out a hand for Moira’s. “You have a good heart,” she told her. “Yes, we’ll make a grave for King.”

  Her injuries prevented her from training, but it didn’t stop Glenna from working. She spent the next two days preparing food, shopping for supplies, researching magic.

  She took photographs.

  More than busy work, she told herself. It was practical, and organizational. And the photos were—would be—a kind of documentation, a kind of tribute.

  Most of all it helped keep her from feeling useless while the others worked up a sweat with swords and hand-to-hand.

  She learned the roads, committing various routes to memory. Her driving skills were rusty, so she honed them, maneuvering the van on snaking roads, skimming the hedgerows on turns, zooming through roundabouts as her confidence built.

  She pored through spell books, searching for offense and defense. For solutions. She couldn’t bring King back, but she would do everything in her power to safeguard those who were left.

  Then she got the bright idea that every member of the team should be able to handle the van. She started with Hoyt.

  She sat beside him as he drove the van at a creeping pace up and down the lane.

  “There are better uses for my time.”

  “That may be.” And at this rate, she thought, they’d be a millennium before he got over five miles an hour. “But every one of us should be able to take the wheel if necessary.”

  “Why?”

  “Because.”

  “Do you plan to take this machine into battle?”

  “Not with you at the wheel. Practicalities, Hoyt. I’m the only one who can drive during the day. If something happens to me—”

  “Don’t. Don’t tempt the gods.” His hand closed over hers.

  “We have to factor it. We’re here, and where we are is remote. We need transportation. And, well, driving gives all of us a kind of independence, as well as another skill. We should be prepared for anything.”

  “We could get more horses.”

  The wistfulness in his voice had her giving him a bolstering pat on the shoulder. “You’re doing fine. Maybe you could try going just a little bit faster.”

  He shot forward, spitting gravel from the tires. Glenna sucked in a breath and shouted: “Brake! Brake! Brake!”

  More gravel flew when the van came to an abrupt halt.

  “Here’s a new word for your vocabulary,” she said pleasantly. “Whiplash.”

  “You said to go faster. This is go.” He gestured toward the gas pedal.

  “Yeah. Well. Okay.” She drew in a fresh breath. “There’s the snail, and there’s the rabbit. Let’s try to find the animal in between. A dog, say. A nice, healthy golden retriever.”

  “Dogs chase rabbits,” he pointed out, and made her laugh. “That’s good. You’ve been sad. I’ve missed your smile.”

  “I’ll give you a big, toothy one if we come through this lesson in one piece. We’re going to take a big leap, go out on the road.” She reached up and closed her hand briefly over the crystal she’d hung from the rearview. “Let’s hope this works.”

  He did better than she’d expected, which meant no one was maimed or otherwise injured. Her heart got a serious workout from leaping into her throat, then dropping hard into her belly, but they stayed on the road—for the most part.

  She liked watching him calculate the turns, his brows knit, his eyes intense, his long fingers gripping the wheel as though it were a lifeline in a storm-tossed sea.

  Hedgerows closed them in, green tunnels dotted with bloodred drops of fuchsia, then the world would open up into rolling fields, and the dots were white sheep or lazy spotted cows.

  The city girl in her was enchanted. Another time, she thought, another world, and she could have found a great deal to love about this place. The play of light and shadows on the green, the patchwork of fields, the sudden sparkle of water, the rise and tumble of rocks that formed ancient ruins.

  It was good, she decided, to look beyond the house in the forest, to look and love the world they were fighting to save.

  When he slowed, she glanced over. “You have to keep up your speed. It can be as dangerous to go too slow as too fast. Which applies, now that I think about it, to pretty much anything.”

  “I want to stop.”

  “You need to pull over to the shoulder—the side of the road. Put the signal on, like I showed you, and ease over.” She checked the road herself. The shoulder was narrow, but there was no traffic. “Put it in park. That’s all the way up. Good. So—What?” she said when he pushed his door open.

  She pulled off her seat belt, grabbed the keys—and her camera as an afterthought—then hurried after him. But he was already halfway across a field, moving quickly toward what was left of an old stone tower.

  “If you wanted to stretch your legs or empty your bladder, you just had to say so,” she began, huffing a bit as she caught up to him.

  The wind danced through her hair, blowing it back from her face. As she t
ouched his arm, she felt the muscles there gone rigid. “What is it?”

  “I know this place. People lived here. There were children. The oldest of my sisters married their second son. His name is Fearghus. They farmed this land. They…they walked this land. Lived.”

  He moved inside to what she saw now must have been a small keep. The roof was gone, as was one of the walls. The floor was grass and starry white flowers, the dung of sheep.

  And the wind blew through, like ghosts chanting.

  “They had a daughter, a pretty thing. Our families hoped we would…”

  He laid his hand against a wall, left it there. “Just stone now,” he said quietly. “Gone to ruin.”

  “But still here. Hoyt. Still here, a part of it. And you, remembering them. What we’re doing, what we have to do, won’t it mean they had the very best chance to live a long, full life? To farm the land and walk it. To live.”

  “They came to my brother’s wake.” He dropped his hand. “I don’t know how to feel.”

  “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. Every day of it. Hoyt.” She laid her hands on his arms, waiting for his eyes to meet hers. “Part of it stands, what was yours. It stands in what’s mine. I think that matters. I think we need to find the hope in that. The strength in it. Do you want some time here? I can go back, wait for you in the van.”

  “No. Every time I falter, or think I can’t bear what’s been asked of me, you’re there.” He bent, plucked one of the little white flowers. “These grew in my time.” He twirled it once, then tucked it into her hair. “So, we’ll carry hope.”

  “Yes, we will. Here.” She lifted her camera. “It’s a place that cries for pictures. And the light’s gorgeous.”

  She moved off to choose her angles. She’d make him a present of one, she decided. Something of her to take with him. And she’d make a copy of the same shot for her loft.

  Imagine him studying the photo while she studied hers. Each of them remembering standing there on a summer afternoon with wildflowers waving in a carpet of grass.

  But the idea of it hurt more than it warmed.

  So she turned the camera on him. “Just look at me,” she told him. “You don’t have to smile. In fact—” She clicked the shutter. “Nice, very nice.”

  Inspired, she lowered the camera. “I’m going to set it up on timer, take one of us together. She looked around for something to set the camera on, wished she’d thought to bring a tripod.

  “Well, I’ll have to mix a little something in.” She framed him in. Man and stone and field. “Air be still and heed my will. Solid now beneath my hand, steady as rock upon the land. Hold here what I ask of thee. As I will, so mote it be.”

  She set the camera on the platter of air, engaged the timer. Then dashed to Hoyt. “Just look at the camera.” She slipped an arm around his waist, pleased when he mirrored the gesture. “And if you can manage a little smile…one, two…”

  She watched the light blink. “There we are. For posterity.”

  He walked with her when she retrieved the camera. “How do you know how it will look when you take it out of the box?”

  “I don’t, not a hundred percent. I guess you could say it’s another kind of hope.”

  She looked back at the ruin. “Do you need more time?”

  “No.” Time, he thought, there would never be enough of it. “We should go back. There’s other work to do.”

  “Did you love her?” Glenna asked as they started back across the field.

  “Who?”

  “The girl? The daughter of the family who lived here.”

  “I didn’t, no. A great disappointment that was to my mother, but not—I think—to the girl. I didn’t look for a woman in that way, for marriage and family. It seemed…It seemed to me that my gift, my work, required solitude. Wives require time and attention.”

  “They do. Theoretically, they also give it.”

  “I wanted to be alone. All of my life it seemed I never had enough of it, the solitude and the quiet. And now, now I’m afraid I may always have too much.”

  “That would be up to you.” She stopped to look back at the ruins a last time. “What will you tell them when you go back?” Even saying it tore little pieces from her heart.

  “I don’t know.” He took her hand so they stood together, looking at what was, imagining what had been. “I don’t know. What will you tell your people when this is done?”

  “I think I probably won’t tell them anything. Let them think as I told them when I called before I left that I took an impulsive trip to Europe. Why should they have to live with the fear of what we know?” she said when he turned to her. “We know what goes bump in the night is real, we know that now, and it’s a burden. So I’ll tell them I love them, and leave it at that.”

  “Isn’t that another kind of alone?”

  “It’s one I can handle.”

  This time she got behind the wheel. When he got in beside her, he took one last look at the ruin.

  And, he thought, without Glenna, the alone might swallow him whole.

  Chapter 17

  It plagued him, the idea of going back to his world. Of dying in this one. Of never seeing his home again. Of living in it the rest of his life without the woman who’d given new meaning to it.

  If there was a war to be fought with sword and lance, there was another raging inside him, battering the heart he’d never known could yearn for so much.

  He watched her from the tower window as she took pictures of Larkin and Moira sparring, or posed them in less combative stances.

  Her injuries had healed enough that she no longer moved stiffly, or tired as quickly. But he would always remember how she’d looked on the ground, bleeding.

  Her manner of dress no longer seemed strange to him, but proper and so right for who she was. The way she moved in the dark pants and white shirt, her fiery hair pinned messily atop her head seemed the essence of grace to him.

  In her face, he’d found beauty and life. In her mind, intelligence and curiosity. And in her heart both compassion and valor.

  In her, he realized, he’d found everything he could want, without ever knowing he’d been lacking.

  He had no right to her, of course. They had no right to each other beyond the time of the task. If they lived, if the worlds survived, he would go back to his while she remained in hers.

  Even love couldn’t span a thousand years.

  Love. His heart ached at the word so that he pressed his hand to it. This was love then. The gnawing, the burning. The light and the dark.

  Not just warm flesh and murmurs in the candlelight, but pain and awareness in the light of day. In the depths of the night. To feel so much for one person, it eclipsed all else.

  And it was terrifying.

  He was no coward, Hoyt reminded himself. He was a sorcerer by birth, a warrior by circumstance. He had held lightning in the palm of his hand and called the wind to launch it. He’d killed demons, and twice had faced their queen.

  Surely, he could face love. Love couldn’t maim him or kill him, or strip him of power. What level of cowardice was it then, for a man to shrink back from it?

  He strode out of the room, down the stairs, moving with the rush of impulse. He heard music as he passed his brother’s door—something low and brooding. He knew it as the music of grief.

  And knew, too, if his brother was stirring, so might others of Cian’s kind be stirring. Sunset was close.

  He moved quickly through the house, into the kitchen where something simmered on the stove, and out the back.

  Larkin was amusing himself, shimmering into a gold wolf while Glenna called out her delight and moved around him with the little machine that took the pictures. The camera, he reminded himself.

  He shaped back into a man, and hefting his sword assumed a haughty pose.

  “You look better as the wolf,” Moira told him.

  He raised his sword in mock attack and chased after her. Their shouts and laughter
were so opposed to his brother’s music, Hoyt could only stand in wonder.

  There was still laughter in the world. Still time, and need, for play and fun. There was still light even as the darkness crept closer.

  “Glenna.”

  She turned, the humor still dancing in her eyes. “Oh, perfect! Stand right there. Just there, with the house behind you.”

  “I want to—”

  “Ssh. I’m going to lose the light soon. Yes, yes, just like that. All aloof and annoyed. It’s wonderful! I wish there was time to go back in and get your cloak. You were made to wear one.”

  She changed angles, crouched down, shot up at him. “No, don’t look at me. Look off, over my head, think deep thoughts. Look into the trees.”

  “Wherever it is I look, I still see nothing but you.”

  She lowered her camera for a moment, with pleasure blooming in her cheeks. “You’re just trying to distract me. Give me that Hoyt look, just for a minute. Off into the trees, the serious sorcerer.”

  “I want to speak with you.”

  “Two minutes.” She changed angles, kept shooting, then straightened. “I want a prop,” she muttered, and studied the weapons on the table.

  “Glenna. Would you go back with me?”

  “Two minutes,” she repeated, debating between long sword and dagger. “I need to go in and check the soup anyway.”

  “I don’t mean back into the bloody kitchen. Will you go with me?”

  She glanced over, automatically lifting her camera, framing his face and capturing the intensity of it. A good meal, she thought, another solid night’s sleep, and she’d be ready for full training by the next morning.

  “Where?”

  “Home. To my home.”

  “What?” She lowered the camera, felt her heart do a quick, hard jump. “What?”

  “When this is done.” He kept his eyes on hers as he closed the distance between them. “Will you come with me? Will you be with me? Belong to me?”

  “Back with you? To the twelfth century?”

  “Yes.”

  Slowly, carefully, she set the camera down. “Why do you want me?”

  “Because all I see is you, all I want is you. I think if I have to live five minutes in a world without you in it, it would be eternity. I can’t face eternity without seeing your face.” He brushed his fingers over her cheek. “Without hearing your voice, without touching you. I think if I was sent here to fight this war, I was sent here to find you as well. Not just to fight with me. To open me. Glenna.”

  He gathered her hands in his, brought them to his lips. “In all this fear and grief and loss, I see you.”

  She kept her eyes on his as he spoke, searching. When the words were done, she touched a hand to his heart. “There’s so much in there,” she said quietly. “So much, and I’m so lucky to be part of it. I’ll go with you. I’ll go with you anywhere.”

 
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