Nora Roberts's Circle Trilogy

By: Nora Roberts

Contents

  • Morrigan’s Cross
  • Dance of the Gods
  • Valley of Silence


MORRIGAN’S CROSS





A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author





Prologue




It was the rain that made him think of the tale. The lash of it battered the windows, stormed the rooftops and blew its bitter breath under the doors.

The damp ached in his bones even as he settled by the fire. Age sat heavily on him in the long, wet nights of autumn—and would sit heavier still, he knew, in the dark winter to come.

The children were gathered, huddled on the floor, squeezed by twos and threes into chairs. Their faces were turned to his, expectant, for he’d promised them a story to chase boredom from a stormy day.

He hadn’t intended to give them this one, not yet, for some were so young. And the tale was far from tender. But the rain whispered to him, hissing the words he’d yet to speak.

Even a storyteller, perhaps especially a storyteller, had to listen.

“I know a tale,” he began, and several of the children squirmed in anticipation. “It’s one of courage and cowardice, of blood and death, and of life. Of love and of loss.”

“Are there monsters?” one of the youngest asked, with her blue eyes wide with gleeful fear.

“There are always monsters,” the old man replied. “Just as there are always men who will join them, and men who will fight them.”

“And women!” one of the older girls called out, and made him smile.

“And women. Brave and true, devious and deadly. I have known both in my time. Now, this tale I tell you is from long ago. It has many beginnings, but only one end.”

As the wind howled, the old man picked up his tea to wet his throat. The fire crackled, shot light across his face in a wash like gilded blood.

“This is one beginning. In the last days of high summer, with lightning striking blue in a black sky, the sorcerer stood on a high cliff overlooking the raging sea.”





Chapter 1




Eire, the region of Chiarrai

1128

There was a storm in him, as black and vicious as that which bullied its way across the sea. It whipped inside his blood, outside in the air, battling within and without as he stood on the rain-slickened rock.

The name of his storm was grief.

It was grief that flashed in his eyes, as bold and as blue as those lightning strikes. And the rage from it spit from his fingertips, jagged red that split the air with thunderclaps that echoed like a thousand cannon shots.

He thrust his staff high, shouted out the words of magic. The red bolts of his rage and the bitter blue of the storm clashed overhead in a war that sent those who could see scurrying into cottage and cave, latching door and window, gathering their children close to quake and quail as they prayed to the gods of their choosing.

And in their raths, even the faeries trembled.

Rock rang, and the water of the sea went black as the mouth of hell, and still he raged, and still he grieved. The rain that poured out of the wounded sky fell red as blood—and sizzled, burning on land, on sea, so that the air smelled of its boiling.

It would be called, ever after, The Night of Sorrows, and those who dared speak of it spoke of the sorcerer who stood tall on the high cliff, with the bloody rain soaking his cloak, running down his lean face like death’s tears as he dared both heaven and hell.

His name was Hoyt, and his family the Mac Cionaoith, who were said to be descended from Morrigan, faerie queen and goddess. His power was great, but still young as he was young. He wielded it now with a passion that gave no room to caution, to duty, to light. It was his sword and his lance.

What he called in that terrible storm was death.

While the wind shrieked, he turned, putting his back to the tumultuous sea. What he had called stood on the high ground. She—for she had been a woman once—smiled. Her beauty was impossible, and cold as winter. Her eyes were tenderly blue, her lips pink as rose petals, her skin milk white. When she spoke, her voice was music, a siren’s who had already called countless men to their doom.

“You’re rash to seek me out. Are you impatient, Mac Cionaoith, for my kiss?”

“You are what killed my brother?”

“Death is…” Heedless of the rain, she pushed back her hood. “Complex. You are too young to understand its glories. What I gave him is a gift. Precious and powerful.”

“You damned him.”

“Oh.” She flicked a hand in the air. “Such a small price for eternity. The world is his now, and he takes whatever he wants. He knows more than you can dream of. He’s mine now, more than he was ever yours.”

“Demon, his blood is on your hands, and by the goddess, I will destroy you.”

She laughed, gaily, like a child promised a particular treat. “On my hands, in my throat. As mine is in his. He is like me now, a child of night and shadow. Will you also seek to destroy your own brother? Your twin?”

The ground fog boiled black, folded away like silk as she waded through it. “I smell your power, and your grief, and your wonder. Now, on this place, I offer this gift to you. I will make you once more his twin, Hoyt of the Mac Cionaoiths. I will give you the death that is unending life.”

He lowered his staff, stared at her through the curtain of rain. “Give me your name.”

She glided over the fog now, her red cloak billowing back. He could see the white swell of her breasts rounding ripely over the tightly laced bodice of her gown. He felt a terrible arousal even as he scented the stench of her power.

“I have so many,” she countered, and touched his arm—how had she come so close?—with just the tip of her finger. “Do you want to say my name as we join? To taste it on your lips, as I taste you?”

His throat was dry, burning. Her eyes, blue and tender, were drawing him in, drawing him in to drown. “Aye. I want to know what my brother knows.”

She laughed again, but this time there was a throatiness to it. A hunger that was an animal’s hunger. And those soft blue eyes began to rim with red. “Jealous?”

She brushed her lips to his, and they were cold, bitter cold. And still, so tempting. His heart began to beat hard and fast in his chest. “I want to see what my brother sees.”

He laid his hand on that lovely white breast, and felt nothing stir beneath it. “Give me your name.”

She smiled, and now the white of her fangs gleamed against the awful night. “It is Lilith who takes you. It is Lilith who makes you. The power of your blood will mix with mine, and we will rule this world, and all the others.”

She threw back her head, poised to strike. With all of his grief, with all of his rage, Hoyt struck at her heart with his staff.

The sound that ripped from her pierced the night, screamed up through the storm and joined it. It wasn’t human, not even the howl of a beast. Here was the demon who had taken his brother, who hid her evil behind cold beauty. Who bled, he saw as a stream of blood spilled from the wound, without a heartbeat.

She flew back into the air, twisting, shrieking as lightning tore at the sky. The words he needed to say were lost in his horror as she writhed in the air, and the blood that fell steamed into filthy fog.

“You would dare!” Her voice gurgled with outrage, with pain. “You would use your puny, your pitiful magic on me? I have walked this world a thousand years.” She slicked her hand over the wound, threw out her bloody hand.

And when the drops struck Hoyt’s arm, they sliced like a knife.

“Lilith! You are cast out! Lilith, you are vanquished from this place. By my blood.” He pulled a dagger from beneath his cloak, scored his palm. “By the blood of the gods that runs through it, by the power of my birth, I cast you back—”

What came at him seemed to fly across the ground, and struck with the feral force of fury. Tangled, they crashed over the cliff to the jagged ledge below. Through waves of pain and fear he saw the face of the thing that so closely mirrored his own. The face that had once been his brother’s.

Hoyt could smell the death on him, and the blood, and could see in those red eyes the animal his brother had become. Still, a small flame of hope flickered in Hoyt’s heart.

“Cian. Help me stop her. We still have a chance.”

“Do you feel how strong I am?” Cian closed his hand around Hoyt’s throat and squeezed. “It’s only the beginning. I have forever now.” He leaned down, licked blood from Hoyt’s face, almost playfully. “She wants you for herself, but I’m hungry. So hungry. And the blood in you is mine, after all.”

As he bared his fangs, pressed them to his brother’s throat, Hoyt thrust the dagger into him.

With a howl, Cian reared back. Shock and pain rushed over his face. Even as he clutched at the wound, he fell. For an instant, Hoyt thought he saw his brother, his true brother. Then there was nothing but the screams of the storm and the slashing rain.

He crawled and clawed his way up the cliff. His hands, slippery with blood and sweat and rain, groped for any hold. Lightning illuminated his face, tight with pain, as he inched his way up rock, tore his fingers in the clawing. His neck, where the fangs had scraped, burned like a brand. Breath whistling, he clutched at the edge.

If she waited, he was dead. His power had waned with exhaustion, drained with the ravages of his shock and grief. He had nothing but the dagger, still red with his brother’s blood.

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