Dance of the Gods (Circle Trilogy #2)


by Nora Roberts

Prologue

W hen the sun dipped low in the sky, dripping the last of its fire, the children huddled together to hear the next part of the tale. For the old man, their eager faces and wide eyes brought the light into the room. The story he’d begun on a rainy afternoon would continue now, as twilight settled over the land.

The fire crackled in the grate, the only sound as he sipped his wine, as he searched his mind for the right words.

“You know now a beginning, of Hoyt the Sorcerer and the witch from beyond his time. You know how the vampire came to be, and how the scholar and the shifter of shapes from the world of Geall came through the Dance of the Gods, into the land of Ireland. You know how a friend and brother was lost, and how the warrior came to join them.”

“They gathered together,” one of the wide-eyed children said, “to fight, to save all the worlds.”

“This is truth, and this happened. These six, this circle of courage and hope were charged by the gods, through the messenger Morrigan, to fight the army of vampires led by their ambitious queen, Lilith.”

“They defeated the vampires in battle,” one of the young ones said, and the old man knew he saw himself as one of the brave, lifting sword and stake to destroy evil.

“This, too, is truth, and this happened. On the night the sorcerer and the witch were handfasted, the night they pledged the love they’d found in this terrible time, the circle of six beat back the demons. Their valor could not be questioned. But this was only one battle, in the first month of the three they’d been given to save worlds.”

“How many worlds are there?”

“They can’t be counted,” he told them. “Any more than the stars in the sky can be counted. And all of these worlds were threatened. For if these six were defeated, those worlds would be changed, just as a man can be changed into demon.”

“But what happened next?”

He smiled now with the firelight casting shadows on a face scored by the years. “Well now, I’ll tell you. Dawn came after the night of the battle, as dawn will. A soft and misty dawn this was, a quiet after the storm. The rain had washed away the blood, human and demon, but the ground was scorched where fire swords had flamed. And still the mourning doves cooed, and the stream sang. In that morning light, leaves and blossoms, wet from rain, glimmered.

“It was for this,” he told them, “these simple and ordinary things they fought. For man needs the comfort of the simple as much as he needs glory.”

He sipped his wine, then set it aside. “So they had gathered to preserve these things. And so, now gathered, did they begin their journey.”

Chapter 1

Clare

The first day of September

T hrough the house, still as a grave, Larkin limped. The air was sweet, fragrant with the flowers gathered lavishly for the handfasting rite of the night before.

The blood had been mopped up; the weapons cleaned. They’d toasted Hoyt and Glenna with the frothy wine, had eaten cake. But behind the smiles, the horror of the night’s battle lurked. A poor guest.

Today, he supposed, was for rest and more preparation. It was a struggle for him not to be impatient with the training, with the planning. At least last night they’d fought, he thought as he pressed a hand to his thigh that ached from an arrow strike. A score of demons had fallen, and there was glory in that.

In the kitchen, he opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of Coke. He’d developed a taste for it, and had come to prefer it over his morning tea.

He turned the bottle in his hand, marveling at the cleverness of the vessel—so smooth, so clear and hard. But what was inside it—this was something he’d miss when they returned to Geall.

He could admit he hadn’t believed his cousin, Moira, when she’d spoken of gods and demons, of a war for worlds. He’d only gone with her that day, that sad day of her mother’s burial, to look after her. She wasn’t only blood, but friend, and would be queen of Geall.

But every word she’d spoken to him, only steps away from her mother’s grave, had been pure truth. They’d gone to the Dance, they’d stood in the heart of that circle. And everything had changed.

Not just the where and when they were, he mused as he opened the bottle and took that first bracing sip. But everything. One moment, they’d stood under the afternoon sun in Geall, then there’d been light and wind, and a roar of sound.

Then it had been night, and it had been Ireland—a place Larkin had always believed a fairy tale.

He hadn’t believed in fairy tales, or monsters, and despite his own gift had looked askance at magic.

But magic there was, he admitted now. Just as there was an Ireland, and there were monsters. Those demons had attacked them—springing out of the dark of the woods, their eyes red, their fangs sharp. The form of a man, he thought, but not a man.

Vampyre.

They existed to feed off man. And now they banded together under their queen to destroy all.

He was here to stop them, at all and any costs. He was here at the charge of the gods to save the worlds of man.

He scratched idly at his healing thigh and decided he could hardly be expected to save mankind on an empty stomach.

He cut a slab of cake to go with his morning Coke and licked icing from his finger. So far, through wile and guile he’d avoided Glenna’s cooking lessons. He liked to eat, that was true enough, but the actual making of food was a different matter.

He was a tall, lanky man with a thick waving mane of tawny hair. His eyes, nearly the same color, were long like his cousin’s, and nearly as keen. He had a long and mobile mouth that was quick to smile, quick hands and an easy nature.

Those who knew him would have said he was generous with his time and his coin, and a good man to have at your back at the pub, or in a brawl.

He’d been blessed with strong, even features, a strong back, a willing hand. And the power to change his shape into any living thing.

He took a healthy bite of cake where he stood, but there was too much quiet in the house to suit him. He wanted, needed, activity, sound, motion. Since he couldn’t sleep, he decided he’d take Cian’s stallion out for a morning run.

Cian could hardly do it himself, being a vampire.

He stepped out of the back door of the big stone house. There was a chill in the air, but he had the sweater and jeans Glenna had purchased in the village. He wore his own boots—and the silver cross Glenna and Hoyt had forged with magic.

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