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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 124)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(124) by Anne Bishop
  • Jared spun around, his heart pounding wildly.

    An old man stood in the doorway. Unkempt gray hair hung to his shoulders. Grief and pain had carved deep lines into his face. His left sleeve was pinned above where the elbow had been.

    Jared stared at the old man. His eyes widened. “Uncle Yarek?”

    “Uncle Yarek,” the old man agreed, smiling sadly. “Reyna said you’d be coming home this autumn.”

    “Mo—” Jared’s voice broke. In a rush, he crossed the room and hugged his uncle. Terrified of the fierce grief rising inside of him, he choked it back, chaining it down.

    “Come away, Jared,” Yarek said softly as he stepped back into the hallway, drawing Jared with him. “Come away from this room. It’s too painful to look on. We’ll go outside. We’ll go out and sit in the garden, and we’ll talk.”

    Saying nothing, Jared followed Yarek to a stone bench at the far end of the garden. Near the bench was a small, covered well.

    “Would you like some water?” Jared asked.

    Grimacing a little, Yarek settled on the bench. “Sure.”

    Jared lifted the cover and lowered the wooden bucket. When he looked around for the dipper, Yarek said, “Here,” and called in a mug.

    Jared filled the mug and handed it to Yarek. “Whenever my friends and I spent the afternoon playing in the woods, we’d all end up here because this well had the sweetest water in Ranon’s Wood.”

    “Yes, it did.” Yarek drained the mug and handed it back to Jared. “Now it’s as bitter as a woman’s tears.”

    Jared hesitated, finally dipped the mug into the bucket and drank.

    As bitter as a woman’s tears. Or was it the land’s tears he was tasting now? For the Blood, was there really any difference?

    Because he was thirsty, he drank another mug of water before settling on the bench next to his uncle.

    “What happened here, Uncle Yarek?”

    Yarek looked at the sparse garden and sighed. “War’s what happened, Jared. War between the tribes.”

    “But we’ve been united since the time of Shal.”

    “If everyone had remembered Shal’s warnings about the long-lived races, we might have stayed united and strong. But that slut who controls Hayll has a way about her. It’s like finding a weed in the garden. You know it doesn’t belong there, but it looks small and pretty so you let it stay, not realizing that, although it looks small and pretty above the ground, underneath it’s sinking a tap root so deep you can never cut out all of it, and it sends out all these other runners that choke out everything but other weeds.

    “That’s what happened to Shalador. One by one, place by place, we lost our strong Queens, our good Queens. Some to age. Some to ‘accidents.’ One by one, until all that was left were the weeds.”

    Jared rubbed his forehead. “And even a good man will eventually yield to a bad Queen if the hunger for the bond gnaws at him long enough and hard enough.”

    Yarek nodded. “A strong love bond eases that hunger, too. A Blood male needs one or the other. I guess that’s why the warriors who came to demand we yield to the new Queen did what they did.”

    Unable to look at Yarek, Jared focused on the cracked, barren ground in front of him. “Did what?”

    Yarek shuddered. “They slaughtered the witches. They butchered our hearts. They didn’t give a call to battle and wait for the ones who chose to fight to come to the killing field. When every family in Wolfs Creek refused to yield and every male told them what they could do with their damned Rings of Obedience, the delegation left. Thirteen men. That’s all we saw until the next day when hundreds of them surrounded the village and attacked. They weren’t after the men. Our wounds and deaths happened because we were in the way. It was the witches those bastards wanted. Little girls, old women, Ladies in their prime, the darker-Jeweled girls on the verge of womanhood . . .

    “They raped some of them, just like they raped the land. Left some alive, broken and mutilated. Some of the lighter-Jeweled young witches were captured and taken away. A few—very few—escaped the breaking and slaughtering, but they weren’t old enough or strong enough for the males to bond to comfortably.”

    “Is there anyone left at Wolf’s Creek?”‘ Jared asked, carefully circling around the questions that needed to be asked.

    Yarek shook his head. “Only a couple of houses were left standing by the time it was done. They took most of the livestock, and we knew the land couldn’t yield enough for us to eat even if we were able to tend it and could find a Queen to heal it—and there was nothing to get us through from a new planting to the harvest.

    “Belarr arrived that evening with forty men . . . and Reyna. She did what she could to keep us alive. Then Belarr and the other men brought us to Ranon’s Wood. There’s always been strong family ties between Wolfs Creek and Ranon’s Wood, so Reyna didn’t have to look far to find hands to help her.” Yarek cleared his throat. “I told her to take the arm. It wasn’t hanging on by much anyway, and I’d managed to stop the bleeding before they arrived. I told her to put her strength into the young ones. She cried but, may the Darkness embrace a true daughter, she did what I asked.

    “A week later, the bastards came to Ranon’s Wood. Belarr had set up a watch, so they didn’t come in without warning, but they came, and it was Wolf’s Creek all over again—except they didn’t even give Belarr or anyone else a chance to refuse to yield.

    “He fought. Mother Night, how he fought! But . . .”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire