Dance of the Gods Page 64

She’d taken off her coat. She didn’t think Geallian women walked around in black leather. Against the chill she wore one of Larkin’s tunics, belted snugly enough to show she had br**sts. Her crosses were tucked under the cloth, out of sight.

She looked like an unarmed woman, hoping for some help.

She even called out as the sound of the horses grew closer, making sure her voice was blurred with brogue and a little fear.

“Hello, the riders! I’m having a bit of trouble here—ahead on the path.”

The hoofbeats stopped. Oh yeah, Blair thought, talk it over for a minute, figure it out. She called out again, increasing the quaver in her voice.

“Are you there? My horse picked up a stone, I’m afraid. I’m on my way to Cillard.”

They were coming again, slowly, and she fixed what she hoped was a mixture of relief and concern on her face. “Well, thank the gods,” she said when the horses came into view. “I thought I’d end up walking the rest of the way to my sister’s, and alone in the dark for all that. Which serves me right, doesn’t it, for starting out so much later than I should.”

One dismounted. He looked strong, Blair judged, solidly built. When he pushed back the hood of his cloak she saw a tangle of white blond hair and a deep, V-shaped scar above his left eyebrow.

There was no sign of anyone being dragged behind the horses, so she assumed they’d dropped their prey off for the moment.

“You’re traveling alone?”

Slavic, she thought. Just the faintest of accents. Russian, Ukrainian maybe.

“I am. It’s not so very far, and I meant to leave earlier in the day. But one thing and another, and now this…” She gestured to her horse. “I’m Beal, of the o Dubhuir family. Would you be heading toward Cillard by chance?”

The second dismounted to hold the reins of both their horses.

“It’s dangerous to be out in the woods, alone in the dark.”

“I know them well enough. But you, you don’t sound like you come from this part of Geall.” She backed up a step as a frightened woman might. “Are you a stranger to the area then?”

“You could say that.” And when he smiled, his fangs glimmered.

She gave a little shriek, decided such things couldn’t be overplayed. He laughed when he grabbed for her. She brought her knee up hard between his legs, then topped it off with a solid roundhouse. When he went down to his knees, she kicked him full in the face, then planted her feet to meet the second attack.

The second wasn’t as toughly built as the first, but he was faster. And he’d drawn his sword. Blair flipped back, landing on her hands to kick out at his sword arm. It gave her time and a little distance. When the first gained its feet, Larkin burst out of the woods.

“Let’s see how you do against a man.”

Blair took the fast running steps she needed to give the flying kick momentum. She hit the first mid-body as Larkin clashed swords with the other. She grabbed her sword from its sheath on her saddle as all three of the horses shied. Instinct had her whirling, bringing the blade up two-handed to block the down sweep of her enemy’s sword.

She’d been right about his strength, she discovered, as the force of the blow rippled straight down to her toes. Because he had her in reach, she went in close. His advantage was she didn’t want to kill him—but he didn’t know that. She stomped hard on his instep, brought the hilt of her sword up in a vicious blow to his chin.

The hit knocked him back, into her mount. All three horses whinnied in alarm as they scattered.

He just kept coming, hacking and swinging until sweat rolled into her eyes. She heard someone—something—scream, but couldn’t risk a look. Instead, she feinted, drawing his sword to the left, then plowed her foot into his belly. It took him down long enough for her to leap on him, hold her sword across his throat.

“Move and you’re dust. Larkin?”

“Aye.”

“If you’re done playing around with that one, I could use a little help over here.”

He stepped over. Then kicked the vampire in the head, in the face—several times.

“Yeah, that ought to do it.” Breathless, she sat back on her haunches to look up at Larkin. Blood was spattered over his shirt, his face. “Is much of that yours?”

“Not a great deal of it. It would be his, for the most part.” He stepped back, gestured so she could see the vampire he’d skewered into the ground with a sword.

“Ouch.” She got to her feet. “We need to round up those horses, get these two in chains and…” She trailed off as Cian walked toward them, leading the horses.

He glanced at the vampires bleeding on the path. “Untidy,” he decided. “But effective. This one’s not in the best of shape.” He nodded toward the bleeding man slung over one of the horses. “But he’s alive.”

“Nice work.” She wondered, not for the first time, how hard it was for him to resist the smell of fresh human blood. But it didn’t seem like the time to ask. “We’d better get these two contained. This one wakes up, he’s trouble.” Blair circled her aching shoulder. “That one’s like a goddamn bull.”

While the men chained the prisoners, she examined the unconscious man. He was bloodied and battered, but unbitten. Going to take him back to the wagon, she thought. Share him with the female. Have a little party.

“We need to bury the dead,” Larkin said to her.

“We can’t take the time now.”

“We’re not just leaving them.”

“Listen, just listen.” She gripped his hands before he could turn away. “That man’s hurt, and hurt bad. He needs help as soon as we can get it for him, or he might not make it. Then we’d be digging another grave. Added to it, we need to get Cian back and inside before sunrise. We’re going to be cutting it close as it is.”

“I’ll stay behind, deal with it myself.”

“Larkin, we need you. If we don’t make good time, Cian’s going to have to go ahead, or go to ground, and that leaves me with two vampires and one wounded human. I could handle it alone if I had to, but I don’t. We’ll send someone back to bury them. I’ll come back with you, and we’ll do it ourselves if you’d rather. But we have to leave them for now. We have to go.”

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