Valley of Silence (Circle Trilogy #3)


by Nora Roberts

Prologue

T here were pictures in the fire. Dragons and demons and warriors. The children would see them, as he did. The old man knew the very young and the very old often saw what others could not. Or would not.

He had told them much already. His tale had begun with the sorcerer who was called by the goddess Morrigan. Hoyt of the Mac Cionaoith was charged by the gods to travel to other worlds, to other times, and gather an army to stand strong against the vampire queen. The great battle between human and demon would take place on the sabbot of Samhain, in the Valley of Silence, in the land of Geall.

He had told them of Hoyt the sorcerer’s brother, killed and changed by the wily Lilith, who had existed near a thousand years as a vampire before making Cian one of her kind. Nearly another thousand years would pass for Cian before he would join Hoyt and the witch Glenna to make those first links in the circle of six. The next links were forged by two Geallians—the shifter of shapes and the scholar who traveled between worlds to gather in those first days. And the last of the circle was joined by the warrior, a demon hunter of the Mac Cionaoith blood.

The tales he had told them were of battles and courage, of death and friendship. And of love. The love that had bloomed between sorcerer and witch, and between the shifter and the warrior, had strengthened the circle as true magic must.

But there was more to tell. Triumphs and loss, fear and valor, love and sacrifice—and all that came with the dark and the light.

As the children waited for more, he wondered how best to begin the end of the tale.

“There were six,” he said, still watching the fire while the children’s whispers silenced and their squirming stilled in anticipation. “And each had the choice to accept or refuse. For even when worlds are held in your hands, you must choose to face what would destroy them, or to turn away. And with this choice,” he continued, “there are many other choices to be made.”

“They were brave and true,” one of the children called out. “They chose to fight!”

The old man smiled a little. “And so they did. But still, every day, every night of the time they were given, that choice remained, and had to be made anew. One among them, you remember, was no longer human, but vampire. Every day, every night of the time they were given, he was reminded he was no longer human. He was but a shadow in the worlds he had chosen to protect.

“And so,” the old man said, “the vampire dreamed.”

Chapter 1

H e dreamed. And dreaming, he was still a man. Young, perhaps foolish, undoubtedly rash. But then, what he believed was a woman had such beauty, such allure.

She wore a fine gown in a deep shade of red, more elegant than the country pub deserved, with its long, sweeping sleeves. Like a good claret it poured over her form to set her pure white skin glowing. Her hair was gold, the curls of it glinting against her headdress.

The gown, her bearing, the jewels that were sparkling at her throat, on her fingers, told him she was a lady of some means and fashion.

He thought, in the dim light of the public house, she was like a flame that burned at shadows.

Two servants had arranged for a private room for her to sup before she swept in, and simply by being had silenced the talk and the music. But her eyes, blue as a summer sky, had met his. Only his.

When one of the servants had come out again, walked to him and announced that the lady requested he dine with her, he hadn’t hesitated.

Why would he?

He might have grinned at the good-natured comments of the men he was drinking with, but he left them without a thought.

She stood in firelight and candlelight, already pouring wine into cups.

“I’m so glad,” she said, “you would agree to join me. I hate to dine alone, don’t you?” She came toward him, her movements so graceful she almost seemed to float. “I’m called Lilith.” And she handed him wine.

In her speech there was something exotic, some cadence of speech that hinted of hot sand and riotous blooming vines. So he was already half seduced, and completely enchanted.

They shared the simple meal, though he had no appetite for food. It was her words he devoured. She spoke of the lands to which she had traveled, those which he’d only read of. She had walked among the pyramids, she told him, in the moonlight, had ridden the hills of Rome and stood in the ruined temples of Greece.

He had never traveled beyond Ireland, and her words, the images they invoked, were nearly as exciting as she herself.

He thought she was young to have done so much, but when he said as much she only smiled over the rim of her cup.

“What good are worlds,” she asked, “if you don’t make use of them? I’ll make use of much more. Wine to be drunk, food to be tasted, lands to be explored. You’re young,” she said with a slow and knowing smile, “to settle for so little. Have you no wish to see beyond what you’ve seen?”

“I thought perhaps to take a year when I’m able, to see more of the world.”

“A year?” With a light laugh, she snapped her fingers. “That is a year. Nothing, a blink of time. What would you do if you had an eternity of time?” Her eyes seemed like depthless blue seas as she leaned toward him. “What would you do with it?”

Without waiting for his answer, she rose, leaving the trail of her scent behind as she walked to the small window. “Ah, the night, it’s so soft. Like silk against the skin.” She turned back with a gleam in those bold blue eyes. “I am a night creature. And so, I think, are you. We, such as we, are at our best in the dark.”

He had risen when she did, and now as she came back to him, her scent and the wine swam through his senses. And something more, something thick and smoky that hazed over his mind like a drug.

She tipped her head up, and back, then laid her mouth over his. “And why, when we’re best in the dark, would we spend the dark hours alone?”

And in the dream, it was like a dream, misty and muddled. He was in her carriage, with her full white br**sts in his hands, her mouth hot and avid on his. She laughed when he fumbled with her kirtle, and spread her legs in seductive invitation.

“Strong hands,” she murmured. “A pleasing face. It’s what I need, and need, and take. Will you do my bidding?” With another light laugh, she nipped at his ear. “Will you? Will you, young, handsome Cian with the strong hands?”

“Aye, of course. Aye.” He could think of nothing but burying himself in her. When he did, with the carriage swaying madly, her head fell back in abandon.