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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 3)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(3) by Anne Bishop
  • Krelis closed the small wooden box Dorothea had given him, then used Craft to vanish it.

    All the plans were made. There was nothing he could do but wait.

    Staying in the Master’s office made him feel too confined, so he left the building that housed theFirst Circleguards and began walking aimlessly across the practice fields.

    Thank the Darkness Dorothea hadn’t demanded his presence at dinner tonight. While his bloodlines could be traced to two of Hayll’s Hundred Families, his family on both sides was from minor branches. He’d grown up in a small village, and he still wasn’t comfortable in the jaded, glittering aristo society that made up the social power of Hayll. A man on guard duty during one of these functions could watch the seductions and the games, could listen to the double-edged conversations, could observe the dance of wealth and power without having to participate. But the Master of the Guard was one of the three most important males in a court, and, when required, he was expected to socialize with the people who gathered around his Lady. He was expected to talk with the other men and dance with the women, was expected to flirt just enough not to give offense, without flirting so much that servicing the woman would be required.

    He’d already sweated through a couple of smaller functions. He didn’t need to dance on the knife edge tonight.

    Leaving the practice fields, Krelis followed a bridle path until he reached a small reflecting pool. Sitting on a stone bench near the pool, he watched the still water.

    Either the former Master of the Guard had become arrogantly foolish or he’d turned traitor. That was the only way Krelis could explain the failed attack on the Gray Lady when she was returning to Dena Nehele after the spring auction at Raej.

    It wasn’t strange that the Master hadn’t led the attack. Along with the Steward and the Consort, the Master seldom left the court unless he was accompanying his Lady. His duties were no longer in the field. But one of those duties was to choose the right men for an assignment.

    The old Master had sent a handful of lighter-Jeweled,Fifth Circleguards and a small band of marauders to destroy a Gray-Jeweled Queen and the escort waiting for her at the Coach station. There had been no time to overwhelm the escort before the Gray bitch’s arrival. There had been no backup force to attack her if she tried to escape on the Winds. There had been nothing.

    Only one of those lighter-Jeweled Hayllian guards had returned to report the failure.

    One was all Dorothea had needed.

    Well, he hadn’t made that mistake. He had tame marauder bands waiting at the Coach stations the Gray Lady would most likely use on her return from the auction. They would eliminate any escorts waiting for her and send a messenger to Lord Maryk, his second-in-command. Maryk, along with carefully selected, experienced First andSecond Circleguards, would arrive at the station just ahead of the Gray Lady to finish the kill. If that ambush wasn’t completely successful, and Maryk and the men were killed, he still had a way to keep track of the bitch and leave a trail the marauder bands could follow. The hunt would continue until the Gray Lady was destroyed.

    Krelis fingered the Master’s badge on his left shoulder.

    With the spells Dorothea had woven for him, his strategy would bring down her most dangerous rival. That would prove to the aristo bastards in the First and Second Circles that he wasn’t some upstartThird Circleguard who had gained a coveted position in the court by using his cock.

    Of course, he didn’t know any male who wouldn’t use sex in order to achieve his own goals.

    It hadn’t always been like that.

    He remembered that night so many, many years ago. He’d been permitted to stay up when some of his father’s friends had come to the house for their weekly chess games and male conversation. The evening had grown late and he’d been dozing on the couch when his father, who had a strong interest in Hayll’s history, especially where it pertained to the Blood, had gently voiced his concern about some of the changes that had taken place in their society over the past few centuries. Olvan had made no accusations, had named no names, had merely pointed out some differences in the way males who didn’t serve in a court were treated.

    The next day, when he and Olvan were taking a rambling walk along one of the country lanes near their village, the Queen of the Province and twelve of her guards came riding up. The Queen had snapped a few questions at Olvan, becoming more and more enraged with his respectful replies.

    A few minutes later, Olvan dangled from a tree branch. The spelled ropes around his wrists had prevented him from using Craft to undo the knots or sever the ropes. Even if he’d managed to free himself, his Jewels weren’t dark enough to challenge the combined power of the Queen and her guards.

    They let him hang there while he pleaded with the Queen to tell him how he had displeased her. When the pleading finally stopped, six of the guards uncurled their whips.

    The force of the blows swung Olvan back and forth, back and forth.

    There had been no sympathy in the guards’ faces, no mercy in the strong arms that wielded the whips. If anything, there had been a hint of fear in their eyes, as if coming in contact with a male who didn’t understand obedience would taint them somehow and make them less desirable to the Queen they served.

    Through it all, another guard had held Krelis and made him watch.

    When they rode away, they left his father hanging there, half-dead.

    Krelis still remembered running desperately to the nearest house for help, still remembered sitting next to his father’s bleeding body during the ride back home, still remembered the Healer’s reluctance to do anything.

    And he still remembered the moment, years later, when he realized that the whipping had nothing to do with the courteous answers his father had made to the Queen and everything to do with Olvan’s oldest and most trusted friends never once coming back to the house or inviting his father to any of theirs.

    That was the moment he decided to train to be a guard.

    That was the moment he understood that how males were treated in the past didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered to a young Hayllian male was surviving the way things werenow . And the only way to do that was to serve in a strong court.

    Krelis stood up and stretched.

    So here he was just beginning his sixteenth century—a young man by the standards of the long-lived Hayllian race—and he was already the Master of the Guard of the strongest court in Hayll. An important goal in itself, but now just a stepping-stone toward the other things he wanted.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire