Dance of the Gods Page 61

Blair outlined it in her mind. “You’re thinking Lilith tried an end-run. Take one of us out before she was, essentially, one of us.”

“It’s a possibility, a strong one. Why waste the time and what must have been some effort to send a couple of assassins here? If you’re going to buy in to the whole destiny business,” Cian went on, “it’s Moira and not Moira’s mother who was the threat.”

“They screwed up,” Blair mused. “Took out the wrong target. So it may not be a matter of them not being able to get back, but not wanting to.”

“Lilith isn’t particularly tolerant of mistakes. Having a choice of being tortured and ended by her, or going to ground, snacking on the locals here, which would you do?”

“Door number two,” Blair said. “And if you buy in to the whole destiny business, her first mistake was in turning you all those years ago. You’re a more formidable enemy as a vampire than you might be as a man. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“Then you get Hoyt fired up, and start the whole Morrigan’s Cross thing.”

Thoughtfully, Blair fingered the two crosses she wore around her neck. “You’ve got Glenna connected to Hoyt—maybe, if you want the romantic—destined to find and love each other. And by doing so, exponentially increasing each other’s power. You’ve got Larkin’s connection to Moira, and due to it, his coming with her through the Dance and into Ireland.”

“So makes a nice, tidy circle,” Cian concluded. “Convoluted, but that’s gods for you.”

“She was meant to die. The queen.” Larkin took a steadying breath. “Meant to die in Moira’s place. If Moira comes to this herself, it will hurt her immeasurably.”

“With her clever and questing mind, I’d be surprised if she wasn’t already dealing with it. And dealing with it is what she’ll do,” Cian added. “What other choice is there?”

Larkin let it lie in his heart, on his head as they crossed a field.

“The next attack was here. I’m told the man who farms this land thought wolves had been at his sheep. It was his boy who found him next morning. My father came here himself that day, to see the body, and it was as the queen’s had been.”

Blair shifted in the saddle. “About two miles, due south of the castle. No place to hide around here. Just open fields. But a couple of experienced vamps could cover a couple of miles fairly quickly. They can go in and out of the castle grounds as they’ve had an invite, but…”

“Not a good place to nest,” Cian agreed. “Easy pickings, certainly, but too much exposure. No, it would be caves, or deep forest.”

“Why not a house or cabin?” Larkin suggested. “If they chose with any care, they could find one out of the way, where it’s not as likely someone would come by.”

“Possible,” Cian told him. “But the trouble with a cottage, a building, is daylight attack. Your enemy has one more weapon against you—and only has to pull a covering from a window to win the day.”

“All right then.” Larkin gestured across the field. “The next two attacks reported were just east of here. There’s forest, but the hunting’s good. There are plenty who track deer and rabbit there and might disturb a vampire’s daytime rest.”

“You know that,” Blair told him. “They may not have. They’re strangers here. It’s a good place to start.”

They rode in silence for a time. She could see sheep or cattle lolling in the fields—more easy pickings if a vampire couldn’t take down a human. There were flickers of light she assumed were candles or lanterns in cottages. She could smell the smoke—the rich tang of peat rather than seasoned wood.

She smelled grass and animal dung, a deeper, loamy scent from fields planted and waiting for the coming harvest.

She could smell the horses, and Larkin, and knew how to separate Cian’s scent from others like him.

But when they came to the edge of a wood, she couldn’t be sure.

“Horses have been through here, and not long ago.”

She looked at Larkin with eyebrows raised. “Well, listen to Tonto here.”

“Tracks.” He slid off his horse to study the ground. “Not shoed. Gypsies likely, though I don’t see signs from a wagon, and they travel that way. They’re leading out, in any case.”

“How many?”

“It would be two. Two horses, coming out of the woods here to cross the field.”

“Can you follow them in?” she asked him. “See where they came from?”

“I can.” He mounted. “If they’re on horseback, they could cover considerable distance. It would take the gods’ own luck for us to track them down in one night.”

“We backtrack the riders here, see what we see. The other attacks were east, right? Straight through these woods, out the other side.”

“Aye. Another three miles at most.”

“This would be a good hub.” She looked at Cian as she spoke. “If they have decent shelter in here, it’s a good spot to nest during the day, spread out for food at night.”

“Leaves are still thick this time of year,” he agreed. “And there’d be small game as well if they needed to make do.”

Larkin took the lead, following the trail until the trees thickened to block the light. He dismounted again, tracking now on foot. By signs, Blair assumed she couldn’t see.

Then again, she’d done the majority of her hunting in urban forests and suburban trails. But Larkin moved with the confidence of a man who knew what he was doing, pausing only to crouch down now and then, studying the tracks more carefully.

“Wait,” she said abruptly. “Just wait. You get that?” she asked Cian.

“Blood. It’s not fresh. And death. Older yet.”

“Better get back on your horse, Larkin,” she told him. “I think we’ve got some of the gods’ luck after all. We can track it from here.”

“I can’t smell a thing but the woods.”

“You will,” she murmured, and drew her sword from the sheath on her back as they walked the horses down the path.

The wagon was pulled into the trees, off the path, and sheltered by them. It was a kind of small caravan, Blair thought, covered in the back with its red paint faded and peeling.

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