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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 23)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(23) by Anne Bishop
  • Thera opened the door a fraction wider, a silent invitation.

    Jared stepped down and back.

    “Shriveled balls won’t be tolerated,” Thera said tartly. “I may need you to sit on her if Tomas and I can’t convince Lady Grumpy to stay put and let that knee heal.”

    “Not a good patient?” Jared asked blandly.

    Thera snorted and shut the door.

    Feeling a little better, Jared walked around the wagon and gave Blaed the nod to move out. It couldn’t be a serious injury if she was already snarling and snipping. Painful, yes, but not something they’d need to find a Healer to deal with.

    Brock was waiting for him. “How is she?”

    Jared noted that the Purple Dusk-Jeweled Warlord automatically swung to Jared’s left, an acknowledgment of subordinate rank.

    “Already bored with the sickbed,” Jared answered. He felt Brock relax. “Do you know any outrageous stories?”

    Brock looked startled, then wary. “Depends on what you mean. Campfire talk? Things like that?”

    Jared felt a shiver of apprehension. He knew the dangers of telling tales. In one of the courts he’d been in, a male guest, wanting to entertain one of the Ladies enough to receive an invitation to her bed, had repeated a funny but extremely unflattering story about an aristo witch. He’d named no names, recounting it as he’d heard it, but the story had been rich in detail—and the Lady, who was also a guest, recognized herself. He might have survived if several other guests hadn’t also recognized her by those details.

    Jared had wondered afterward if the man was the only one who didn’t know why he’d had his tongue cut out before he was gutted.

    “Well, spicy enough to distract an elderly Queen who’s convalescing,” Jared said, pushing aside the darker memories. Brock was about his age, old enough to understand walking the knife edge.

    Brock understood very well, if his muttering was anything to go by.

    “Look,” Jared said testily, “Thera is as subtle as an avalanche and doesn’t use a grain of caution about what she says or who she says it to. It hasn’t been an hour yet and she’s already calling the Gray Lady ‘Lady Grumpy.’ If we don’t do something, those two are either going to end up in a spitting fight, which could end up with Thera being very dead, or she’s going to try to brain the rest of us out of frustration.”

    Brock ran a hand over his short, light-brown hair. “For a broken witch, that one’s scary. Hell’s fire, there’s not much to choose from, is there?” He gave Jared a quick, assessing, hopeful look. “You’re trained for personal service. Couldn’t you handle it?”

    Jared clenched his teeth. He might not be able to stop himself from feeling ashamed because he was a pleasure slave, but he didn’t have to let anyone see it.

    Brock didn’t miss much, though. “I meant no insult, Lord Jared,” he said quietly. “Any man with working brains knows a consort—and a pleasure slave is nothing less than an unwilling consort—is trained to do more than warm a bed. He dances on temper’s edge, and a good consort makes it easier for the rest of us. I just thought—well—” Brock sighed, resigned. “What kind of stories?”

    A consort danced on temper’s edge, but seldom felt the cut. Not like a pleasure slave did. And that tiny question that kept flickering on the edges of Jared’s mind flashed to the front. Howwould the Gray Lady treat a consort . . . or a pleasure slave?

    That thought stirred a memory.

    “When I was fourteen,” Jared said, “the Province Queen came to our village. Can’t remember why now, or why she wasn’t accompanied by the District Queen.” He frowned, trying to remember. “Maybe that was the year the former Queen stepped down and the new one wanted to see everything in her territory. Anyway, all the boys old enough to have begun formal training but still too young to be allowed to stand with the men had decided to wait on the main street, just in case we could be of service.”

    Brock grinned at him in perfect understanding.

    “My father is the Warlord of Ranon’s Wood, so he was the Lady’s escort while she was there. He had gone to the official landing place outside of Ranon’s Wood to meet her Coach and wasn’t home when I came downstairs, dressed in my best clothes. I casually told my mother I was going to meet a couple of friends—which was true since we were all going to be on the main street. She never said a word about my clothes, never asked where I was going. She just smoothed my collar and said, equally casual, that my younger brothers would be staying home with her that day.

    “Ranon’s Wood is a fair-sized village, but there weren’tthat many boys within that age group, so we all had a little piece of the walkway on either side of the street staked out as our territory. At the time, I thought we’d just been clever enough not to draw the notice of the older youths. I learned much later that they’d been asked to stay in the background unless specifically summoned.”

    “If your father wasn’t there, who’d have that much influence?”

    “My mother. She’s a Healer.” Warmed by the memory that was now as bittersweet as all of his memories of Reyna, Jared’s voice swelled with unmistakable pride.

    Brock nodded, silently respectful.

    “My father’s eyes glazed when the carriage reached the beginning of the main street and he saw all of us spread out like that. But the Queen ordered the carriage to stop and said she wanted to walk a bit. And walk she did. I was the first one on that side of the street, and my father, may the Darkness embrace him, never said a word. I don’t know what the Queen was thinking, but I saw her glance at the street and immediately offered to escort her across so she wouldn’t get run over by another carriage—not that there were any carriages moving on the street. She accepted my hand, and I led her across. Except then her official escort was on one side of the street and she was on the other. Naturally, the nearest boy offered to escort her back across.

    “She never laughed at us, never gave us the slightest impression that there was something odd about being shepherded back and forth as she slowly made her way up the street. The last boy at the top of the street handed her back to my father, who had been keeping pace, and he took her into the coffeehouse.

    “To this day, I have no idea where he was supposed to have taken her or if she got any refreshment before he slipped her out the back door to avoid more assistance.” Jared smiled.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire