Dance of the Gods Page 57

“You have.” He said nothing for a moment, then again gestured to Hoyt, Glenna and Blair. “I would ask that you instruct, and that you take your commands from Lord Larkin and the Princess Moira.”

“We can start with that,” Blair decided. “Will you fight?” she asked Riddock.

Now the look in his eye had a kinship with a wolf. “To the last breath.”

“Then you’re going to need instruction, too, or that last breath’s going to come sooner than you think.”

Larkin cast his eyes heavenward, but laid a hand on his father’s shoulder and spoke lightly. “Blair has a warrior’s spirit.”

“And an unruly tongue. The gaming area then,” Riddock decided. “For our first instructions.”

“Y our father doesn’t like me.”

“That’s not so.” Larkin gave Blair a friendly elbow nudge. “He’s merely working his way around to understanding you, and all of this.”

“Uh-huh.” She looked at Glenna as they walked outside. “Do you think we should tell Riddock how our people felt about kings?”

“I think we could let that one alone. But running up against what we did in there makes me realize it’s not going to be a snap convincing a bunch of macho Geallian men that women should teach them how to fight a war.”

“I’ve got some thoughts on that. And I think you should work with the women anyway.”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t get a wedgie. You have more diplomacy and patience than I do.” Probably, Blair thought, anyone did. “And the women will probably relate better to you. They have to be trained, too, Glenna. To defend themselves, their families. To fight. Someone has to do it. And someone has to know which ones should stay home, and which ones should go.”

“Oh God.”

“We’re going to have the same deal with men. The ones who don’t measure up have to be put to other use. Treating the injured, protecting the kids, the elderly, supplying food, weapons.”

“And what do you suggest I do, Cian do,” Hoyt asked, “while the two of you are so busy?”

“His nose is out of joint because we mouthed off to Riddock,” Glenna murmured.

“My nose is fine and well, thanks all the same.” Hoyt spoke with unwavering dignity. “He needed to be told, though there could have been considerably more tact. If we offended him, it only takes more time and effort to repair the damage.”

“He’s a reasonable man,” Larkin insisted. “He wouldn’t let a few breaches of protocol interfere with what needs doing.” Frustrated himself, Larkin raked a hand through his hair. “He hasn’t been in a position to rule before this. The queen was crowned very young, and he’s had only the position as an adviser now and then.”

He’d have to be a fast learner, Blair thought.

Men were already gathered in what Blair saw was an area they held their jousts, their tournaments and games. There was a long rope where colored hoops hung. Scoreboard, she decided. And the royal box, the rougher seats for the masses. Paddocks for horses, tents where competitors readied themselves for whatever sport was on the ticket.

“You ever see that movie, Knight’s Tale?” Blair muttered.

“We will, we will rock you,” Glenna responded and made Blair grin.

“Sure helps having you here. Coming up on show time. Pick out one you figure you can take.”

“What? Why? What?”

“Both of you,” Blair said, adding Hoyt. “Just in case.”

Larkin stepped up to the lines of men. “My father has told you what it is we face, and what is coming. We have until Samhain to prepare, and on that day we must be in the Valley of Silence to do battle. We must win. To win you must know how to fight and how to kill these things that are not human. They are not men, and cannot be killed as men can be killed.”

Hanging back as Larkin spoke, Blair studied the men. Most of them looked fit and able. She spotted Tynan, the guard both Larkin and Moira had greeted on arrival. He, Blair decided, looked not only fit and able. He looked ready.

“I have fought them,” Larkin continued, “as the princess Moira has fought them. As those who came with us from outside this world have fought them. We will teach you what you need to know.”

“We know how to fight.” A man who stood beside Tynan called out. “What can you teach me I haven’t taught you on this very field?”

“This won’t be a game.” Blair stepped forward. This one was a big bruiser, she noted. Looked cocky with it. Good strong shoulders, tough built, hard attitude.

Perfect.

“You won’t get the consolation prize and a pat on the back if you come in second in this. You’ll be dead.”

His face didn’t sneer at her, but his tone did. “Women don’t instruct men on the art of combat. They tend the fires, and keep the bed warm.”

He got some appreciative male laughter and a look of pity from Larkin.

“Niall,” he said, with cheer, “you’ve stepped full into the bog with that one. These women are warriors.”

“I see no warriors here.” With his hands on his hips, Niall elbowed toward the front of the line. “But two women dressed as men, and a sorcerer who stands with them. Or behind them.”

“I’ll go first,” Blair murmured to Glenna. “I’ll take you on,” she told Niall. “Here and now. Your choice of weapons.”

He snorted. “Do you expect me to spar with a girl?”

“Choose your weapon,” Riddock ordered.

“Sir. At your command.” He was snickering as he strode away.

Immediately the wagers began.

“Hey, now!” Larkin gave Blair a quick pat on the shoulder, moved into the men. “I’ll have some of that.”

Niall strode back with two thick fencing poles. Blair studied the way he held them, the way he moved. Full swagger now.

“This will be quick,” he assured Blair.

“Yeah, it will. It’s a good choice of weapon,” she called out over the voices still calling out odds and wagers. “Wood kills a vampire, if you have the strength and the aim to get it through the heart. You look strong enough.” She eyed Niall up and down. “How’s your aim?”

He grinned, wide. “I’ve not yet had a woman complain of it.”

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