Dance of the Gods Page 66

Because he wouldn’t, she knew she could do nothing else but go. “I said I would, and I will.”

“Yes, you will, so thanks for that. Can you understand that I’m stronger for knowing you’ll do this thing with me, that you’d understand my need to do it enough to take the time?”

“I think it takes a strong man to need to do what’s human, and humane. That’s enough for me.”

“There’s so much I have to say to you, so many things I want to say. But today isn’t the day. I feel…” He looked down at his sword hand. “Stained. Do you know what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, I know what you’re saying.”

“Ah well. Come, we’ll drink strong tea and wish it was Coke.” He smiled a little as he walked to her. Then he laid his hands lightly on her shoulders, pressed his lips to her brow. “You are so beautiful.”

“Your eyes must really be tired.”

He eased back. “I see you,” he told her, “exactly as you are.”

He pulled her chair out for her, something she couldn’t remember him doing before. As she sat, Hoyt and Cian came in. Cian flicked a glance toward the windows, then moved away from them to the table Moira had had set away from the light.

“Glenna will be along,” Hoyt said. “She wanted to check on the man you brought in. The prisoners are secured.” He looked at his brother. “And very unhappy.”

“They haven’t fed.” Cian poured his own tea. “The castle boasts a fine wine cellar, which you didn’t mention,” he said to Larkin. “A corner of it is nicely dark and damp enough to keep them. But unless your cousin simply intends to starve them to death, they’ll need to be fed if they’re chained in there above another day.”

“I have no intention of starving them.” Moira came in. She wore riding gear now, with a feminine flare, in forest green. “And neither will they be fed. They’ve had enough Geallian blood, animal and human. My uncle and I will ride out shortly, to rally the people and spread the word. As many as can manage will come here by sundown. And when the sun has set, what is in the cellars will be shown to them. Then destroyed.”

She looked directly at Cian. “Do you find that hard, cold, with no drop of human emotion or mercy?”

“No. I find it practical and useful. I hardly thought you had us hunt them down to bring them here for counseling and rehabilitation.”

“We’ll show the people what they are, and how they must be killed. We’re sending troops out now to lay the traps you want, Blair. Larkin, I’ve asked Phelan to take charge of the task.”

“My sister’s husband,” Larkin explained. “Aye, he’d be up for that. You chose well.”

“The man you brought back is awake, though the physician wishes to dose him. Glenna agrees. He told us he went outside, hearing what he thought was a fox in his henhouse. They set upon him. He has a wife and three children, and shouted for them to stay in the house. It was all he could do, and we can thank the gods they obeyed. We’re sending for them.”

“Until Larkin and Blair return, Glenna and I can help with the training. And Cian perhaps,” Hoyt added, “if there’s somewhere inside.”

“Thank you. I’d hoped that would suit you. Ah, we have the village smithy and two others forging weapons. We’ll have more, but some who come will have their own arms.”

“You’ve got trees,” Blair pointed out. “You’re going to want to start making stakes out of some of them. More arrows, lances, spears.”

“Yes, of course. Yes. I need to go as my uncle and our party is waiting. I want to thank you for your night’s work. We’ll be back before sundown.”

“She’s starting to look like a queen,” Blair said when Moira left.

“Worn out is what she looks.”

Blair nodded at Larkin. “Being a queen’s bound to be hard work. Add a war, and it’s got to be brutal. Cian, you okay to fill the others in on our party last night?”

“I’ve already given them the highlights. I’ll fill in the details.”

“Then why don’t you and I get started,” she said to Larkin.

She went to the stables with him where he gathered the tools they’d need.

“I could fly us there quicker than we could ride. Would that suit you?”

“That’d be good.”

He led the way around to the courtyard garden she recognized from her window. “The bag’s heavy. Hang it round my neck once I’ve changed.”

He passed it to her; became the dragon.

He dipped his head so that she could work the strap over it. Then she looked into his eyes, stroked his jeweled cheek. “You sure are pretty,” she murmured.

He lowered so she could mount his back.

They were rising up, above the towers, the turrets, over the waving white flags.

The morning was like a gem of blue and green and umber, spreading around her. She tipped her head back, let the wind rush over her, let it blow away the fatigue of the long night.

She saw horses below on the road now, and carriages, wagons, people walking. The little village she’d yet to explore was a spread of pretty buildings, bright colors, busy stalls. The people who looked up raised caps or hands as they flew over, then went back about the business of the day.

Life, Blair thought, didn’t just go on, it insisted on thriving.

She turned her face toward the mountains, with their mists and their secrets. And their valley called silence where in a matter of weeks there would be blood and death.

They would fight, she thought, and some would fall. But they would fight so life could thrive.

They reached the woods and circled before Larkin wove delicately through the trees to the ground.

She slid off him, took the bag.

When he was a man again, he took her hand.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “Before we do this, I want to tell you Geall is beautiful.”

Together they walked through the trees, then stopped to dig three graves in the soft, mossy ground. The work was physical, and mechanical, and they did it without conversation. Going back into the wagon, removing the bodies was a horror. Neither spoke, but simply did what needed to be done.

She felt the weariness dragging back into her bones, and the sickness that sat deep in the belly as they closed the ground over the bodies.

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