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The night dance once upo.., p.1
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       The Night Dance (Once Upon a Time), p.1

           Suzanne Weyn
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The Night Dance (Once Upon a Time)

  Closing her eyes into the sun produced dancing flashes of orange, red, and yellow bursts behind her lids. An insect chirped and the repetitive sound lulled her hypnotically. Soon she lapsed into a half sleep, and a scene took form behind her closed lids.

  Hundreds of armed men and horses battled on a field. Swords clashed and arrows flew. She was peering out of eyes that were not her own. A veil of blood splashed before her as a soldier crumpled to the ground. An anguished cry of pain grabbed her attention and spun her around. “Nooo!” someone shouted, and she had the feeling she was the one who had spoken.

  Then she felt herself seem to lift into the air. Glancing down, she saw the whole panorama of the violent battle, and directly below her, she saw a soldier fall. His armor was sprayed with blood. As his knees buckled beneath him, he threw back the metal visor of his helmet and gazed upward, torment written across his features.

  Her eyes snapped open. Once again she was in the tranquil forest, but her heart was pounding. She searched in every direction, looking for signs of battle. Only the gentle noises of nature surrounded her.


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  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


  An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  Copyright © 2005 by Suzanne Weyn

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  SIMON PULSE and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  This Simon Pulse edition November 2008

  Library of Congress Control Number 2005921498

  ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-8946-2

  ISBN-10: 1-4169-8946-3

  Visit us on the World Wide Web:

  For Bethany Buck,

  with deep appreciation for all your support,

  encouragement, and laughter through the years,

  not to mention the great lunches



  PART ONE: Mystic Realms

  CHAPTER ONE: Once upon a Time…

  CHAPTER TWO: The Lost Lady of the Lake

  CHAPTER THREE: Rowena’s Escape

  CHAPTER FOUR: Sir Bedivere, the Last Knight of the Round Table

  CHAPTER FIVE: Eleanore the Observant

  CHAPTER SIX: Rowena’s Scrying Bowl

  CHAPTER SEVEN: Morgan le Fey Watches

  PART TWO: The Night Moves

  CHAPTER EIGHT: Vivienne’s Call

  CHAPTER NINE: Rowena’s Search

  CHAPTER TEN: Sir Bedivere No More

  CHAPTER ELEVEN: Eleanore’s Earring

  CHAPTER TWELVE: Sir Ethan’s Outrage

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Rowena Meets Millicent

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Bedivere’s Fight


  CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Morgan Follows

  PART THREE: The Enchanted Ones

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Vivienne’s Despair

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Bedivere in Love

  CHAPTER NINETEEN: Sir Ethan’s Next Plan

  CHAPTER TWENTY: Eleanore Revolts

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Bedivere Is Tempted

  PART FOUR: The Contest

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: Eleanore Wields Her Potion


  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Bedivere Takes His Turn

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: Morgan Gets Serious

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: Bedivere Finds His Way


  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: Vivienne’s Chance

  CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Bedivere Disappears

  CHAPTER THIRTY: Princess Rowena

  CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: Bedivere Is Trapped




  Then loudly cried the bold Sir Bedivere,

  “Ah! my Lord Arthur, whither shall I go?

  Where shall I hide my forehead and my eyes?

  For now I see the true old times are dead,

  When every morning brought a noble chance,

  And every chance brought out a noble knight.

  Such times have been not since the light that led

  The holy Elders with the gift of myrrh.

  But now the whole ROUND TABLE is dissolved

  Which was an image of the mighty world;

  And I, the last, go forth companionless,

  And the days darken round me and the years,

  Among new men, strange faces, other minds.”

  From Morte d’ Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson


  Rowena pressed her slim body into the cool shadowy corner of the high wall in the empty courtyard. Shaded by the towering building behind her, her wavy copper-colored hair seemed to take on a more auburn hue. A determined glint deepened her lively, celery-colored eyes into a stormy blue-green.

  Furtively glancing back at the towering manor that was her home, she saw one of her eleven sisters, Eleanore, peer out from a high, narrow window. Even from this distance she could read the look of longing in her sister’s expression. Prickly though Eleanore could be, Rowena still sympathized with the trapped restlessness she knew her sister felt. Still, she couldn’t take the chance of being seen, and she shrank back farther into the shadows.

  Rawkeeeee! Rowena’s hand suddenly flew to her heart as she whirled toward an open kitchen window on the first floor of the manor. The panicked squawk of a captive pheasant had made her jump.

  Helen, the cook, appeared in the window with a small axe held high over her head and the bird clasped firmly in her other hand. She ended the struggling creature’s life swiftly with a strong, well-placed blow to its neck against a chopping board. Then she strode away from the table by the window with the beheaded pheasant in her arms, setting about the business of preparing the bird for roasting.

  When Rowena turned her attention back to the upper window, Eleanore was no longer there. In the next minute, Helen reappeared at the kitchen window, but only for a second, to pull the shutters closed.

  Rowena waited, barely breathing, for several minutes more. Soon she felt confident that things were finally as she had hoped they
d be at this hour. Her sisters would be busy with their weaving and embroidery. Their father, Sir Ethan of Colchester, was reviewing his monthly accounts, a process that usually took hours. Most likely he wouldn’t lift his head from his books until Mary, the head housemaid, summoned him for dinner.

  Reaching into the cobalt blue velvet cape she wore against the late spring’s still-cool breezes, Rowena withdrew a small iron cleaver that she’d smuggled from the kitchen. Even in this shadowed spot, its blade gleamed. Her father’s military past had left him with a love of rules, order, and efficiency. Among his many dictates to the servants was his insistence that they regularly sharpen all the household blades on a whetstone.

  A scuffle at her feet caused her eyes to dart downward. She immediately jumped back, startled by a tiny gray field mouse that had scurried in through the narrow opening that rose from the base of the wall in an inverted v-shape. The creature paused for a moment to stare up at her, then zigzagged its way across the courtyard, probably headed for the kitchen.

  When her heart had settled, Rowena turned again toward the wall. With eager fingers, she traced the lines of a crack that traveled from the top of the break in the wall halfway up to the top. Several fissures snaked out from the main fracture, further weakening this section of the enclosure.

  The day before, when Mary had ordered two of the house boys to remove a brown, dead, potted tree—one of the many potted plants adorning the slate-tiled courtyard—from this corner of the courtyard, Rowena had first noticed the break in the wall. She instantly recognized the opportunity she’d been hoping for.

  With the cleaver in her firm grip, she attempted several slow practice passes to be sure that when the moment was right, her aim would be accurate. Then, wrapping her fingers around the cleaver’s iron handle, she waited, her back pressed against the wall.

  In the next moment, the bell from the monastery outside the nearby town of Glastonbury chimed as it always did at this hour, calling the monks to prayer.

  Now! Rowena thought wildly. She smashed the cleaver’s blade down into the line of the crack, the deeply satisfying crash masked by the resonating bell.

  The cleaver stuck fast into the wall. With two hands, she frantically yanked it out and struck again.

  And now!

  And now!

  Again and again, she savagely wielded the blade into the cracks, straining every lean muscle of her lithe body. With each blow her joy mounted as the crumbling powdery stone tumbled to her feet.

  The bell ceased its summoning toll.

  Dropping to her knees, Rowena took a quick moment to recover from her violent effort and then pushed the debris away from the opening. She lay flat on her stomach and rolled onto her right shoulder. From this vantage point it was immediately apparent that even if she managed to get her head through the opening, her shoulders would never make it.

  Rowena rolled back up into a crouch and then slowly stood, resolving not to give in to disappointment. The monastery bell would chime again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, just as it had rung at the same hour on every day of her life. There would be other chances to chip away at this wall, the cursed barrier that had closed her off from the wide, glorious world for the past twelve years, since the time when her mother had left them.


  Mystic Realms


  Once upon a Time…

  …Ethan of Colchester found himself lost in a towering primeval forest. Although he had not wandered far from his military encampment, he was now strangely at a loss as to how to return to it.

  While camped with his fellow soldiers, he’d spied a boar rustling through the underbrush. He immediately imagined the wild, tusked pig roasting over an open flame, a succulent meal for hungry men. Withdrawing his knife from his belt, he also grabbed his spear and set off after the creature.

  He’d learned his expert hunting skills from his grandfather, who had been a Roman legionnaire during the last days that Imperial Rome ruled over Britain. Slaying this boar promised to be an easy task.

  Yet every time Ethan came within striking range, the boar mysteriously reappeared several yards farther on. Frustrated, but determined, he continued to pursue the animal, convinced that the wavering, dappled light filtering through the ancient trees was simply playing tricks on his eyes. He chased the boar over a hill and down an embankment that led to a place less densely crowded with trees.

  The boar stood in a patch of sunlight as if awaiting him.

  Ethan halted, perplexed. What was happening? Why had the elusive animal suddenly grown so still?

  Before Ethan’s astonished eyes, the boar began to roll on its back and belly, its tusks flashing as it grunted frantically, and while it performed this frenetic act, a glistening pond began to spread underneath its portly, graceless body.

  Spear raised, Ethan cautiously approached the scuffling boar. With each step, the ground beneath his boots grew increasingly muddy. In a moment, he stood in an ever-deepening puddle of water. He gazed around, dumbstruck with wonder, as the puddle became a knee-deep pond and then rapidly continued to increase for a great distance.

  Slabs of land were thrust up at odd angles under the force of the expanding water. A tremendous flat boulder heaved up from beneath the cracked earth, jutting into the new lake and forming a natural dock.

  So great was Ethan’s amazement that he momentarily forgot about the boar. When he finally checked for it, he saw that, in the place where it had been, a woman now stood in water that rose to just below her bosom.

  White blond hair waved down to her slender shoulders and fanned out around her on the water. Vivid blue eyes shone from her beautiful pale face. An almost sheer, powder blue shift, banded under her breasts with golden cord, clung to her. Her form beneath the clinging fabric was increasingly visible as she moved toward him through the shimmering lake.

  When they were face to face, with the water swirling around them, the woman ran her hand along the sleeve of his rough tunic and rested her head on his shoulder, her hair cascading down. “I knew you would come,” she said softly.

  Ethan put his hard soldier’s hand on the back of her neck and stroked her impossibly soft hair, his once untamed heart now completely captive.

  Ethan was never certain if his great love for Vivienne was real or a magical enchantment. He didn’t much care, either.

  With his own hands, he built a home of stone and wood there in the ancient forest beside the lake that had appeared on the day he’d first encountered Vivienne. When a traveling monk came to them one day, desperate for directions back to the road, Ethan prevailed upon him to perform a wedding, uniting the two lovers as husband and wife. As soon as the marriage ceremony was completed, the monk stumbled away from them, suddenly seeming to know how to leave the forest.

  Within nine months, Vivienne gave birth to twin daughters whom they named Mathilde and Eleanore. The next nine months brought another set of twin girls, Chloe and Bronwyn. In three years more, Vivienne gave birth to Ione and Isolde, Cecily and Helewise, Gwendolyn and Brianna, Ashlynn and Rowena; twelve daughters in all, six sets of twins. In little less than five years, Ethan became the father of twelve children all under the age of five.

  Vivienne ran her lively, sometimes chaotic, brood with astounding ease. A toddler leaning too far out a window was mysteriously drawn back inside with a firm look from Vivienne. Any cranky cry was instantly soothed by the melodies she crooned to them in her lilting, crystal voice.

  For his part, Ethan worked ceaselessly, hunting, farming a small plot in the front yard, and fishing in the magical lake beside the house. He loved this life and his only source of concern was that Vivienne sometimes left for periods of time, usually in the evening once the girls were all asleep. She would step out the back door and walk off into the forest. When he questioned her upon her return several hours later, she always answered him in the same way: “Sometimes there are things I must do. Have no worry, dearest love. My heart is a
lways with you and my twelve princesses.”

  Ethan loved and trusted his wife, so he didn’t question her further. For ten years she left from time to time, but always came back. As long as Vivienne returned to him, Ethan was satisfied.

  Except that one day she did not return.

  Leaving the younger girls in the care of the older ones, Ethan went out to search for Vivienne. Two days later, hoarse from calling her name, he stumbled out of the forest and trudged down a dirt road. He walked until he collapsed from lack of food, water, and sleep.

  When he awoke in a monastery another two days later, the monk, Brother Joseph, who had found him, claimed he’d been talking while he slept. “You were calling for a woman.”

  Ethan asked the monks if they knew anything of his wife, Vivienne. “It’s a name we have heard tell of in druid myths and local legends,” Brother Joseph said. “We believe you have been bewitched by a forest spirit.”

  “But I have children,” Ethan objected, pulling himself upright on the plain cot on which he was lying.

  “Most likely, you dreamed them,” said Brother Joseph. “Forget about them. Stay here with us and count yourself blessed to be back in the world of reality.”

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