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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 9)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(9) by Anne Bishop
  • As if the thoughts had been sent on a psychic spear thread, the escort looked Jared in the eyes. Seconds passed in strained silence. “You’re nothing but a pretty mouth, a dangle for the Ladies to play with,” the escort snarled.

    Jared smiled savagely. “I’m a Red-Jeweled Shalador Warlord. I’m stronger than you’ll ever be, can unleash power you can only dream of. And I’m still here.”

    The escort’s jaw tightened. His breathing became harsh. “Get dressed. Your dangle’s for private viewing now.”

    The clothes had been dropped on a rough bench next to the small table that held the basin. Jared forced himself to look away from the basin full of dirty water, but not soon enough.

    With a fiercely pleased look in his eyes, the escort used Craft to vanish the basin. “You may wear the Red, but you’re still a slave, you’re still Ringed. I might not know the power you wielded when it was yours to command, but I’ll walk out of here a free man, have a cold dipper of water whenever I want it, have a tankard of ale once I’ve seen the Gray Lady safely onto a Coach, and tonight I’ll mount a woman like a man’s entitled to. And you? You would have gotten down on your belly and licked the bottom of my boots for a sip of fouled water.”

    “I won’t deny it,” Jared said. “But you, free? For now, maybe. The only difference between service and slavery is a circle of gold. If the Red can be chained, how long will the Purple Dusk stay free? If the right amount of gold marks changed hands tomorrow, how long do you think it would take to turn the handsome escort into a handsome slave?”

    The escort’s face flushed a dull, angry red. He raised a fist.

    Jared didn’t speak, didn’t move. He just glanced at the door leading into the hallway and smiled knowingly. He watched the escort fight to hide the clashing emotions, saw the moment the man realized he wouldn’t be able to justify the “discipline.”

    Lowering his fist, the escort spat out words like they were gristle. “In five minutes, I’m chaining you and taking you out of here.” He flung open the hallway door but stopped in the doorway and stared at Jared with burning eyes. “I hope she cuts you apart a piece at a time.”

    “I imagine she will,” Jared said, after the escort slammed out of the room. By force of will, he managed the couple of steps needed to reach the rough bench. Spreading the shirt, he sat on it carefully, grateful his shaking legs didn’t have to support him for a minute.

    Jared, if you’re going skin-swimming at the pond, remember to spread the towel on the log before you sit on it or you’ll have splinters where you least want them.

    Where’s that, Mother?

    Ask your father.

    So he had. Belarr had studied his son for a minute, muttering something about why couldn’t they have had one girl so he could return the favor. Then Belarr had sighed and explained what he thought Reyna meant. That’s the way Belarr always phrased it:I think what your mother means is . . . As if, despite being a strong Warlord, he felt the need to hedge when it came to explaining a woman’s words, especially the words of the woman he’d married.

    Sighing wearily, aching in ways that hurt deeper than physical wounds ever could, Jared pulled on the coarsely woven trousers and slipped his feet into the poorly made leather sandals. He picked up the scratchy shirt but couldn’t bring himself to pull it over his head. Taking a careful breath, he turned toward the full-length mirror attached to the room’s back wall. In the building where pleasure slaves changed hands, the entire back wall was a mirror. He understood the reason for that. He didn’t want to think about why they’d put a mirror here, where it didn’t matter if a slave looked well-groomed when he emerged.

    His fingers shook as he lightly brushed the buttons on the trousers’ fly. Psychic sense, physical sense ... he just couldn’t feel the Invisible Ring. There was no way to tell how fine-tuned it might be, no way to know where the shifting boundary was between what was permissible basic Craft and what would bring agonizing punishment.

    “Balls and sass,” Jared muttered. Hard to judge the risks when there were no reference points. But he just couldn’t pull that shirt over his head without doing something to protect the wounds. He’d listened to men scream when a shirt that had stuck to lash wounds was pulled off their backs, tearing off the fresh scabs with it. He’d seen what those men had looked like when the wounds finally healed.

    Basic healing Craft. A thimbleful of power. That’s all he needed to create a tight protective shield around his back and belly that would keep the shirt away from his skin.

    Taking another careful breath, Jared created the shield and waited.

    Nothing. No surge from the Ring, no angry footsteps in the hall.

    Swallowing hard to push his heart back down his throat, Jared pulled on the shirt and studied the man in the mirror.

    He wasn’t dressed for an aristo outing, but even so he was a good-looking man, tall and well built, with that golden Shalador skin—not brown like the long-lived Hayllians or fair like other races, but sun-kissed, gold-dusted. A pleasing shade when combined with the dark-brown hair and brown eyes of the Shalador people.

    Except his eyes were the rare Shalador green—eyes that could be traced back through the bloodlines to Shal, the great Queen who had united the tribes into one people.

    Reyna’s eyes.

    He was the only one of the three boys who had her eyes.

    He had been willing to destroy himself, but now that he was still alive, he wanted to survive. Sweet Darkness, hehad to find some way to survive long enough to get home, long enough to talk to Reyna and take those words back.

    Balls and sass. It was the only weapon he could safely use. He was wringing himself dry, squeezing what was left of his physical endurance, but he had to last until they reached the slave compartment in the Coach, had to make Grizelle believe he was still a male to be reckoned with. For a little while longer, he had to hide the fact that he was nothing more than a hollow man.

    Raising his trembling hands, Jared ran his fingers through his hair. It was a bit shaggy now, but with a little Craft, shaggy could be altered to bedroom disheveled. The Gray Lady was an old woman, but he was a bed-trained slave who had a few sweets he could offer that might entice her, might distract her, might help tip the scales to his advantage while he tried to figure out how much control this damned Invisible Ring had over him.

    His stomach churned at the idea of encouraging the Gray Lady to enjoy him. But if it made her lower her guard, it might be possible to slip away and ride the Winds to Shalador.

    Without warning, the escort opened the door and stopped short, unable to hide his surprise at the transformation of the naked slave he’d left into the Warlord who turned away from the mirror and smiled at him.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire