Morrigans cross, p.28
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       Morrigan's Cross, p.28
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         Part #1 of Circle series by Nora Roberts

  a hmmm, I’d be more worried about what I’d walked into here. You guys around this white circle, me in it?”

  “You know witchcraft?” Glenna asked her.

  “I know something about it.” She stepped into the circle.

  “One of us at each point,” Glenna instructed, “to form a pentagram. Hoyt will do the search.”

  “Search?”

  “Of your mind,” he assured Blair.

  “There are some private things in there, too.” Uncomfortable, she moved her shoulders, frowned at Hoyt. “Am I supposed to think of you as my witch doctor?”

  “I’m not a witch. It will go more quickly, and without discomfort if you open to this.” He lifted his hands, and lit the candles. “Glenna?”

  “This is the circle of light and knowledge, formed by like minds, like hearts. Within this circle of light and knowledge no harm will we impart. We seek to link so we may know, within this ring only truth bestow. With mind to mind in destiny, as we will, so mote it be.”

  The air rippled, and still the candle flames rose straight as arrows. Hoyt held out his hands toward Blair.

  “No harm, no pain. Only thoughts within thoughts. Your mind to my mind, your mind to our minds.”

  Her eyes looked deeply into his, had something flickering in his head. Then they went black, and he saw.

  They all saw.

  A young girl fighting a monster nearly twice her size. There was blood on her face, and her shirt was torn. They could hear each drawing of her labored breath. A man stood off to the side, and watched the battle.

  She was struck to the ground with a vicious backhanded blow, and sprang up. Struck down again. When the thing leaped, she rolled. And stabbed it through the back, into the heart, with a stake.

  Slow, the man said. Sloppy, even for a first kill. You’ll need to do better.

  She didn’t speak, but the mind inside her mind thought, I’ll do better. I’ll do better than anyone.

  Now she was older, and fought beside the man. Ferociously, savagely. The odds were five to two, but it was done quickly. And when it was done, the man shook his head. More control, less passion. Passion will kill you.

  She was naked, in bed with a young man, moving with him in the low light of the lamp. She smiled as she arched to him, nipped his lip. A diamond winked madly on her finger. Her mind was full of passion, of love, of joy.

  And of despair and misery as she sat on the floor in the dark, alone, weeping out the shards of a broken heart. Her finger was bare.

  She stood on the rise above the battleground, with the goddess a white shadow beside her.

  You were the first to be called, and the last, Morrigan told her. They’re waiting for you. The worlds are in your hands. Take theirs, and fight.

  She thought, I’ve been coming toward this all my life. Will it be the end of it?

  Hoyt lowered his hands, brought her slowly back, as he closed the circle. Her eyes cleared, blinked.

  “So? Did I pass the audition?”

  Glenna smiled at her, then walked to the table, lifted one of the crosses. “This is yours now.”

  Blair took it, let it dangle. “It’s nice. Beautiful craftsmanship, and I appreciate the gesture. But I have my own.” She tugged the chain from under her shirt. “Family thing again. Like an heirloom.”

  “It’s lovely, but if you’d—”

  “Wait.” Hoyt snatched at the cross, stared at it as it lay in his palm. “Where did you get this? Where did it come from?”

  “I told you, family. We have seven of them. They’ve been passed down. You’re going to want to let go of that.”

  When he looked up into her eyes again she narrowed hers. “What’s the problem?”

  “There were seven, the goddess gave me, on the night she charged me to come here. I asked for protection for my family, the family she ordered me to leave behind. And these were what she gave me.”

  “That was what, nine hundred years back? It doesn’t mean—”

  “It’s Nola’s.” He looked over her head to Cian. “I can feel it. This is Nola’s cross.”

  “Nola?”

  “Our sister. The youngest.” His voice thickened as Cian moved closer to see for himself. “And here, on the back, I inscribed it with her name. She said I’d see her again. And by the gods, I am. She’s in this woman. Blood to blood. Our blood.”

  “There’s no question?” Cian said quietly.

  “I put this around her neck myself. Look at her, Cian.”

  “Aye. Well.” He looked away again, then moved to the window.

  “Forged in the fire of the gods, given by the hand of a sorcerer.” Blair breathed deep. “Family legend. My middle name is Nola. Blair Nola Bridgit Murphy.”

  “Hoyt.” Glenna touched his arm. “She’s your family.”

  “I guess you’d be my uncle, a thousand times removed or however it works.” She glanced over toward Cian. “And isn’t it a kick in the ass? I’m related to a vampire.”

  In the morning, under a weak and fitful sunlight, Glenna stood with Hoyt in the family graveyard. The storm had soaked the grass, and rain still dripped from the petals of the roses that climbed over his mother’s grave.

  “I don’t know how to comfort you.”

  He took her hand. “You’re here. I never thought I would need anyone to be with me, not the way I need you. It’s all so fast, all of this. Loss and gain, discovery, questions. Life and death.”

  “Tell me about your sister. About Nola.”

  “She was bright and fair, and gifted. She had sight. She loved animals—had, I think, a special affinity for them. Before I left, there were puppies born to my father’s wolfhound. Nola would spend hours in the stables playing with them. And while the world turned, she grew to a woman, had children.”

  He turned, rested his brow against Glenna’s. “I see her in this woman, this warrior who’s with us now. And inside of me is another war.”

  “Will you bring her here? Blair?”

  “It would be right.”

  “You do what’s right.” She tipped up her head so her lips brushed his. “It’s why I love you.”

  “If we were to marry—”

  She took one quick, jerky step back. “Marry?”

  “Sure that hasn’t changed over the centuries. A man and a woman love, they take vows, make promises. Marriage or handfasting, a tie to bind them to each other.”

  “I know what marriage is.”

  “And it disturbs you?”

  “Not disturbs, and don’t smile at me that way, as if I’m being endearingly stupid. Give me just a minute here.” She looked over the stones, toward the sparkling hills beyond. “Yes, people still marry, if they like. Some live together without the ritual.”

  “You and I, Glenna Ward, we’re creatures of ritual.”

  She looked back at him, felt her stomach jitter. “Yes, we are.”

  “If we were to marry, would you live here with me?”

  It was a second jolt. “Here? In this place, in this world?”

  “In this place, in this world.”

  “But…don’t you want to go back? Need to?”

  “I don’t think I can go back. Magically, aye, I think it’s possible,” he said before she could speak. “I don’t think I can go back, to what was. To what was home. Not knowing when they’ll die. Knowing that Cian is here—that other half of me. I don’t think I could go back knowing you would go with me, and pine for what you left here.”

  “I said I would go.”

  “Without hesitation,” he agreed. “Yet you hesitate at the rite of marriage.”

  “You caught me off guard. And you didn’t actually ask me,” she said with some annoyance. “You more posed a hypothesis.”

  “If we were to marry,” he said a third time, and the humor in his voice had her fighting her own, “would you live with me here?”

  “In Ireland?”

  “Aye, here. And in this place. It would be a kind of melding of our worlds,
our needs. I would ask Cian to let us live in the house, to tend it. It needs people, family, the children we’d make together.”

  “Leaps and bounds,” she murmured. Then took a moment to settle herself, to search herself. Her time, his place, she thought. Yes, it was a loving compromise, could be—would be—a melding of spirits.

  “I’ve always been a confident sort, even as a child. Know what you want, work to get it, then value it once you have it. I’ve tried not to take anything in my life for granted, or not too much. My family, my gift, my lifestyle.”

  Reaching out, she brushed her fingers over one of his mother’s roses. Simple beauty. Miraculous life.

  “But I’ve learned that I took the world for granted, that it would always be—and that it would roll along, pretty much without my help. I learned otherwise, and that’s given me something else to work for, to value.”

  “Is that a way of saying this isn’t the time to speak of marriage and children?”

  “No. It’s a way of saying I understand the little things—and the big ones—the normal things, life, become only more important when it’s all on the line. So…Hoyt the Sorcerer.”

  She touched her lips to his cheek, then the other. “If we were to marry, I would live here with you, and tend this house with you, and make children with you. And I’d work very hard to value all of it.”

  Watching her, he held up a hand, palm to her. When hers met it, their fingers linked, firm and strong. Light spilled out of their clasped hands.

  “Will you marry me, Glenna?”

  “Yes.”

  He cupped the back of her neck, drawing her to him. The kiss spun out, full of promise and possibilities. Full of hope. When her arms came around him, she knew she’d found the strongest part of her destiny.

  “We have more to fight for now.” He turned his face into her hair. “More to be now.”

  “Then we will be. Come with me. I’ll show you what I’m working on.”

  She took him with her closer to the house where there were targets set up for archery training. The sound of hoofbeats had her looking over, just in time to see Larkin ride the stallion into the trees.

  “I wish he wouldn’t ride in the woods. There are so many shadows.”

  “I doubt they could catch him, if they were lying in wait. But if you asked him,” Hoyt said, running a hand down Glenna’s hair, “he’d keep to the fields.”

  Her brows lifted in puzzlement. “If I asked?”

  “If he knew you worried, he’d give that to you. He’s grateful for what you do for him. You feed him,” Hoyt said when she frowned.

  “Oh. Well, he certainly likes to eat.” Glenna looked toward the house. Moira, she imagined, was having her morning session with the books, and Cian would be sleeping. As for Blair, it would take a little time before Glenna learned the newcomer’s routine.

  “I think we’ll have lasagna for dinner. Don’t worry.” She patted his hand. “You’ll like it—and it occurs to me that I’m already tending the house, and the family in it. I never thought of myself as particularly domestic. The things you learn. And now.”

  She drew her dagger, moving she realized, with complete ease from cookery to weaponry.

  The things you learn.

  “I worked on this yesterday.”

  “On the dagger,” Hoyt prompted.

  “On charming the dagger. I thought I should start small, eventually work up to a sword. We talked about doing something about weapons, but with one thing and the other, we haven’t really gotten down to it. Then I thought of this.”

  He took it from her, skimmed a finger up the edge. “Charmed in what way?”

  “Think fire.” His gaze moved back to hers. “No, literally,” she said as she stepped back a pace. “Think fire. Visualize it, skimming over the blade.”

  He turned the dagger in his hand, then shifted to a fighting grip. He imagined fire, pictured it coating the steel. But the blade remained cool.

  “Are there words to be said?” he asked her.

  “No, you just have to want it, to see it. Try it again.”

  He focused, and got nothing.

  “All right, maybe it only works for me—for now. I can refine it.” She took it back from him, drew out the image, and pointed the dagger toward the target.

  There wasn’t so much as a spurt.

  “Damn it, it worked yesterday.” She took a closer look to make certain she hadn’t grabbed the wrong weapon that morning. “This is the right one, I inscribed a pentagram on the hilt. See?”

  “Yes, I see it. Perhaps the charm is limited. It wore off.”

  “I don’t see how. I should have to break the charm, and I didn’t. I put a lot of time and energy into this, so—”

  “What’s going on?” Blair strolled out, one hand tucked in the front pocket of her jeans, the other holding a steaming cup of coffee. There was a knife in a sheath at her hip, and the glimmer of moonstones dangling from her ears. “Knife-throwing practice?”

  “No. Good morning.”

  She lifted an eyebrow at the irritation in Glenna’s voice. “For some of us anyway. Nice dagger.”

  “It’s not working.”

  “Let’s see.” Blair snatched it from Glenna, tested the weight. And sipping coffee, threw it toward the target. It stabbed the bull’s-eye. “Works for me.”

  “Great, so it’s got a pointy end, and you’ve got excellent aim.” Glenna stomped toward the target, wrenched out the dagger. “What happened to the magic?”

  “Search me. It’s a knife, a nice one. It stabs, it hacks, it slices. Does the job. You start counting on magic, you can get sloppy. Then somebody puts that pointy end into you.”

  “You have magic in your blood,” Hoyt pointed out to her. “You should have respect for it.”

  “Didn’t say otherwise. I’m just more comfortable with sharp implements than voodoo.”

  “Voodoo is a different matter entirely,” Glenna snapped. “Just because you can throw a knife doesn’t mean you don’t need what Hoyt and I can give you.”

  “No offense—seriously. But I count on myself first. And if you can’t fight with that, you should leave the combat to the ones who can.”

  “You think I can’t hit that stupid target?”

  Blair sipped more coffee. “I don’t know. Can you?”

  Riding on insult, Glenna turned, and with curses running through her head flung the knife.

  It hit the outer circle. And burst into flame.

  “Excellent.” Blair lowered her coffee. “I mean your aim’s for shit, but the fire show is very cool.” She gestured with the mug. “Probably going to need a new target though.”

  “I was pissed off,” Glenna mumbled. “Anger.” She turned her excited face to Hoyt’s. “Adrenaline. We weren’t angry before. I was happy. She pissed me off.”

  “Always happy to help.”

  “It’s a fine charm, a good weapon.” He laid a hand on Glenna’s shoulder as the target burned. “How long will the flame last?”

  “Oh! Wait.” She stepped away, centered herself. Calmed, she put out the fire in her mind. The flame flickered out to smoke.

  “It needs work. Obviously, but…” She went back to the target, gingerly tested the dagger’s hilt. It was warm, but not too hot to touch. “It could give us a real edge.”

  “Damn straight,” Blair agreed. “Sorry about the voodoo crack.”

  “Accepted.” Glenna sheathed the dagger. “I’m going to ask you for a favor, Blair.”

  “Ask away.”

  “Hoyt and I need to get to work on this now, but later today…Could you teach me to throw a knife like you do?”

  “Maybe not like me.” Blair grinned. “But I can teach you to throw it better than you do, less like you’re shooing pigeons.”

  “There’s more,” Hoyt said. “Cian takes charge of the training after sunset.”

  “A vampire training humans to kill vampires.” Blair shook her head. “There’s some sort of strange logic
in there. Okay, so?”

  “We train in the day as well—a few hours. Outside if the sun holds.”

  “From what I saw last night, you can use all you can get. And don’t take insult,” Blair added. “I work on it a couple hours a day myself.”

  “The one in charge of our daylight training…we lost him. Lilith.”

  “Rough. I’m sorry, it’s always rough.”

  “I think you’d be the best to lead that training now.”

  “Give you guys orders, make you sweat?” Sheer pleasure shone on her face. “Sounds like fun. Just remember you asked when you start to hate me. Where are the others anyway? Daylight shouldn’t be wasted.”

  “I imagine Moira’s in the library,” Glenna told her. “Larkin took the horse out a little while ago. Cian—”

  “I got that part. Okay, I’m going to do a little scouting around, get the lay a little better. We’ll get the party started when I get back.”

  “The trees are thick.” Glenna nodded toward the curve of the forest. “You shouldn’t go too far in, even during the day.”

  “Don’t worry.”

  Chapter 20

  Blair liked the woods. She liked the smell of them, the look of the big-trunked trees, the play of light and shadow that, for her, made a kind of visual music. The forest floor was carpeted with leaves that had fallen over countless years, and the fairy green of moss. The stream that ran glinting through it only added to that fairy-tale quality. It was slender and curvy, making more music with the water singing over rock.

  She’d been to Clare before, had wandered field and forest and hill, and wondered how she’d missed this place if it truly was her beginnings. She supposed she hadn’t been meant to find it before, to walk here. To know.

  It was now, with these people, in this place.

  The witch and the wizard, she mused. They were so full of love, all shiny and new, they all but glistened with it.

  Advantage or disadvantage—she’d have to wait and see.

  But she knew one thing. She wanted Glenna to make her a fire dagger.

  The witch was okay. Great hair, too, and an urban sense of style that showed through even with simple pants and shirts. Lot of smarts going on in there, if Blair was any judge. And she was. She’d gone out of her way to be welcoming, it seemed, the night before. Fixing food, fluffing up the room she’d assigned to Blair.

  It was a lot more than she was used to. And it was nice.

 
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