Home > Key of Knowledge (Key Trilogy #2)(5)

Key of Knowledge (Key Trilogy #2)(5)
Author: Nora Roberts

The world around them was a glory of sunlight and flowers.

Malory, dressed in a gown of lapis blue, with her rich gold curls spilling nearly to her waist, held a lap harp. Zoe stood, slim and straight in her shimmering green dress, a puppy in her arms, a sword at her hip. Dana, her dark eyes lit with laughter, was gowned in fiery red. She was seated and held a scroll and quill.

They were a unit in that moment of time, in that jewel-bright world behind the Curtain of Dreams. But it was only a moment, and even then the end was lurking.

In the deep green of the forest, the shadow of a man. On the silver tiles, the sinuous glide of a snake.

Far in the background, under the graceful branches of a tree, lovers embraced. Teacher and guard, too wrapped up in each other to sense the danger to their charges.

And cannily, cleverly hidden in the painting, the three keys. One in the shape of a bird that winged its way through the impossibly blue sky, another reflecting in the water of the fountain behind the daughters, and the third secreted among the branches of the forest.

He knew Rowena had painted it from memory—and that her memory was long.

And he knew from what Malory had discovered and experienced, that moments after this slice of time, the souls of the daughters had been stolen and locked away in a box of glass.

Pitte lifted a carved box, opened the lid. “Inside are two disks, one with the emblem of the key. Whoever chooses the scribed disk is charged to find the second key.”

“Like last time, okay?” Zoe gave Dana’s hand a hard squeeze. “We look together.”

“Okay.” Dana took a slow breath as Malory stepped up, laid a hand on her shoulder, then Zoe’s. “Want to go first?”

“Gosh. I guess.” Closing her eyes, Zoe reached into the box, closed her hand over a disk.

With her eyes open and on the portrait, Dana took the one that remained.

Then each held her disk out.

“Well.” Zoe stared at her disk, at Dana’s. “Looks like I’m running the anchor lap.”

Dana ran her thumb over the key carved in her disk. It was a small thing, that key, a straight bar with a spiral design on one end. It looked simple, but she’d seen the real thing—she’d seen the first key in Malory’s hand, burning with gold, and knew it wasn’t simple at all.

“Okay, I’m up.” She wanted to sit, but locked her shaky knees instead. Four weeks, she thought. She had four weeks from new moon to new moon to do if not the impossible at least the fantastic.

“I get a clue, right?”

“You do.” Rowena took up a sheet of parchment and read:

“You know the past and seek the future. What was, what is, what will be are woven into the tapestry of all life. With beauty there is blight, with knowledge, ignorance, and with valor there is cowardice. One is lessened without its opposite.

“To know the key, the mind must recognize the heart, and the heart celebrate the mind. Find your truth in his lies, and what is real within the fantasy.

“Where one goddess walks, another waits, and dreams are only memories yet to come.”

Dana picked up a snifter of brandy, drank deep to untie the knots in her belly. “Piece of cake,” she said.

Chapter Two

“MCDONALD’S introduced the Big Mac in 1968.” Dana swiveled lazily in her chair at the library’s resource desk. “Yes, Mr. Hertz, I’m positive. The Big Mac went system-wide in ’68, not ’69, so you’ve had a year more of the secret sauce than you thought. Looks like Mr. Foy got you on this one, huh?” She laughed, shook her head. “Better luck tomorrow.”

She hung up the phone and crossed the Hertz/Foy daily bet off her list, then meticulously noted today’s winner on the tally sheet she kept.

Mr. Hertz had nipped Mr. Foy at the end of last month’s round, which netted him lunch at the Main Street Diner on Mr. Foy’s tab. Though for the year, she noted, Foy was two points up, so he had the edge on bagging dinner and drinks at the Mountain View Inn, the coveted annual prize.

This month, they were neck and neck, so it was still anybody’s game. It was her task to officially announce the winner each month, and then, with a great deal more ceremony, the trivia champ at year’s end.

The two had kept their little contest going for nearly twenty years. She’d been part of it, or had felt like part of it, since she’d started her job at the Pleasant Valley Library with her college degree still crisp in her hand.

The daily ritual was something she would miss when she turned in her resignation.

Then Sandi breezed by with her bouncy blond ponytail and permanent beauty-contestant smile, and Dana thought there were certain things she would definitely not miss.

The fact was, she should have given her two weeks’ notice already. Her hours at the library were down to a stingy twenty-five a week. But that time could be put to good use elsewhere.

She’d be opening her bookstore, her part of Indulgence, the communal business she was starting with Zoe and Malory, in just a couple of months. Not only did she have to finish organizing and decorating her space in the building they’d bought, but she had to deal with ordering stock.

She’d applied for all the necessary licenses, had already combed through publishers’ catalogues, fantasized about her sidelines. She would serve tea in the afternoon, wine in the evening. Eventually she would hold elegant little events. Readings, signings, appearances.

It was something she’d always wanted to do but had never really believed she could accomplish.

She supposed Rowena and Pitte had made it possible. Not only because of the twenty-five thousand in cold, hard cash they’d given her and the others as an incentive to agree to the quest, but also by putting her together with Malory and Zoe.

Each of them had been at a crossroads of sorts the first night they’d met at Warrior’s Peak. And they’d made the turn, chosen the path to follow together.

It wasn’t nearly as scary thinking of starting her own business when she had two friends—two partners—doing the same thing.

Then there was the key. Of course, she couldn’t forget the key. It had taken Malory nearly all of the four weeks allowed to find the first. And it hadn’t been all fun and games. Far from it.

Still, they knew more now, more about what they were up against, more about what was at stake. That had to be an advantage for this round.

Unless you considered that knowing where the keys came from, what they did, and who didn’t want them found had absolutely nothing to do with finding one.

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