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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(21) by Anne Bishop
  • “I don’t care!” Eryk weakly pounded Jared’s arms and shoulders. “I hate you! I hate you! I hope she does hurt you!”

    Jared shoved him. Hard.

    Eryk’s feet shot out from under him. With his arms frantically windmilling, he landed on his back. Then he just lay there in the mud, looking up at the circle of grim-faced, hard-eyed men.

    Jared wondered if, or when, Eryk would realize Brock had been standing close enough to catch him and didn’t.

    Brock opened his coat and hooked his thumbs into his wide leather belt. He stared at Eryk for a moment before meeting Jared’s eyes. “Much as it shames me to admit it, he and I come from the same Territory. So if we decide it’s a strapping, the duty falls to me.”

    Jared looked at the boy who, finally, began to realize the price of his behavior and then at the tall, solidly built Warlord who had trained as a guard. He didn’t doubt Brock would apply his belt with the kind of force the boy wouldn’t forget for a long time, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the emotional blows that had been delivered in those boyish taunts—and he couldn’t stop thinking about the Lady’s comment about some scars not being visible.

    “No,” he said, knowing as he said it that he was declaring himself the dominant male. Knowing, too, that none of the other men wore Jewels that could challenge the Red, nor would they want to since having a dominant male meant the others didn’t have to deal directly with the Queen. Taking a deep breath, he wondered if any of them could sense how much of a sham his claiming dominance really was. But they just watched him, waiting, so he crossed an invisible line he wouldn’t be able to step back over unless a darker-Jeweled male joined their group. “Until I say otherwise, the little aristo Warlord is going to be Tomas’s servant. He’ll have to take orders, fetch and carry, do anything Tomas wants. If he causes any trouble, Brock will handle the discipline.”

    Eryk’s face burned with humiliation. No one protested the judgment until Tomas stepped away from Randolf.

    “I don’t want him,” Tomas said, pulling his shoulders back and holding his head up. It was hard to tell if there were tears mixed with the rain, but the clenched fists and quivering lips told them how hard he was struggling to keep his voice steady. “I don’t want him. I know I’m just a half-Blood and not w-worth much, but there’s plenty of things I can do. I know how to look after someone important, so I’m going to s-serve the Lady. Not like other slaves who do the mean work, but look after her personally, just like her First Circle does.”

    Holding himself with the same care a man did after a beating, Tomas walked toward the back of the wagon.

    “Tomas,” Jared called. “You’d better wait a bit.”

    The wounded look in the boy’s eyes cut at him.

    “But, Jared, it’s my turn to sit inside.”

    Jared tried to smile. “Mine, too. But I got the impression Thera wasn’t going to welcome any male, even a personal servant, until she got the Lady comfortably settled.”

    Tomas thought about that and nodded. “I’ll wait ‘til she’s not feeling so pissy.”

    Jared didn’t stop him when Tomas headed for the saddle horses that were tethered to the back of the wagon by long lead ropes. Since the Gray Lady and Thera had been riding the horses and were inside the wagon, the boy would have some privacy for his tears.

    He studied the pedlar’s wagon for a moment, then shook his head. The Gray Lady and Thera. What a strange pairing.

    “Should we get moving, Lord Jared?” Blaed asked. “I’ll lead the team for this turn.”

    Jared continued to look at the wagon. How much healing Craft would a broken Black Widow know, if she knew any at all? The Gray Lady must have some knowledge of it since she’d done a fair healing on him, but what if she was in too much pain to use that skill on herself? “Let’s wait a few minutes. Then I’ll see if it’s all right.”

    “No reason why the rest of us can’t start walking,” Brock said, hauling Eryk to his feet. “Come on, prick-ass, let’s get started.”

    “Where’s Garth?” Jared asked, scanning the surrounding area. Not that he could see much in this rain.

    “Still lumbering up ahead, I imagine,” Randolf replied, not trying to hide his distaste.

    It wasn’t as easy to break a Blood-Jeweled male—not like the witches, who were vulnerable until their Virgin Night and were still vulnerable each month during the first three days of their moontime. But a darker Jewel could rip open the inner barriers and tear a man’s mind apart, or unleash a tidal wave of power to shatter the inner web and cut a man off from his own strength in much the same way as a witch was broken. Since every slave knew it could happen to him for no better reason than the witch who owned him wanted it done, they didn’t turn their backs on a man because of it.

    But there was awrongness about Garth, more than the confused, kicked-puppy look in the pale blue eyes that was so at odds with the tall, muscled, barrel-chested body. There was a sliminess to his psychic scent, as if he’d been touched by something tainted.

    Maybe he had. Maybe that’s what had broken him.

    Pity for what had been done to him didn’t make it any easier being around him, though.

    “All right,” Jared said. “What about Corry and Cathryn?”

    “They were just ahead of Brock and me,” Randolf said.

    Brock took a firm hold of Eryk’s arm. “We’ll check on them.”

    After Brock and Randolf started up the road with the reluctant Eryk between them, Jared turned to Thayne. “It’s your turn on one of the saddle horses, isn’t it?”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire