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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 26)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(26) by Anne Bishop
  • Jared smiled in reply. “If we walk together, we’ll both have some time and privacy for thinking.”

    Tomas looked startled for a moment. Then he grinned and returned to his own thoughts.

    Jared took a deep breath. As he released it, he felt some of the tension in his shoulders ease.

    He hadn’t thought about much in the past couple of days, if he didn’t count the fierce daydreams about staying put in some kind of shelter where he’d be warm and dry, and eating something besides that traveler’s fare the Gray Lady had taught Thera and Polli how to make. He’d learned nothing about the Invisible Ring. If it was shielded, he couldn’t detect the use of Craft. There was no weight, no tightness, none of the things that made a man ever aware of a Ring of Obedience. Hell’s fire, it might as well not be there at all!

    Which wasn’t helping him figure out a way to elude it. Except for the explosion Eryk had caused, they’d had no way to measure the Gray Lady’s temper. A deliberately casual comment by Randolf, and Blaed’s fumbling attempt to get information, indicated the Rings of Obedience weren’t tightly held either. A test of obedience? A trap for the first man who tried to slip the leash? Was that why she didn’t insist that they remain close to the wagon? Was she using the Rings to keep track of them? No way to tell. The Gray Lady kept shifting between acting cold and being concerned, which kept them all off-balance and wary of being near her—except Thera and Tomas. He could understand her putting up with Tomas’s lack of subservience. He’d seen a number of Queens amuse themselves by indulging that kind of behavior in an otherwise powerless slave—and he’d seen what had happened to those slaves when the Queen no longer found it amusing. But he couldn’t understand why the Gray Lady tolerated Thera’s tongue and temper. And he still didn’t understand what it was about this Gray-Jeweled Queen that made something inside him restless enough and hungry enough to keep forgetting why he should fear her.

    All he knew for sure was that they were traveling through rough country, always heading west or northwest, and hadn’t seen anyone since they’d left the inn. They were far enough north to feel the bite of autumn, especially at night, but he still didn’t know what Territory they were in, and the Lady wasn’t saying.

    Or else the Lady didn’t know.

    Not a pleasant thought. Mother Night,none of his thoughts were pleasant! He understood why she wouldn’t allow slaves to ride the Winds by themselves, but why hadn’t she bought passage at the next Coach station if she was determined to bring them back to Dena Nehele?

    And what was she afraid of? That the males would try to break the Rings of Obedience and then call in the Jewels and attack her? Doubtful. The stories whispered about her were sufficient reason for any sane man to think long and hard before challenging her. And in truth, there were only five out of the twelve of them who were whole enough and trained enough to be even a potential threat to her.

    So there had to be some other reason for the flashes of anxiety he had picked up from her over the past couple of days, despite her effort to hide them. Did the message she’d received just before they’d left Raej have anything to do with this demand to keep moving?

    Jared scowled. Whatever it was, it was her problem, not his.

    He’d give it another day. Maybe two. He didn’t know exactly where he was, but he did know he was still east of the Tamanara Mountains and south of Shalador. Another day or two, and then the hollow man masquerading as the dominant Warlord would test the leash attached to the Invisible Ring and see if it would reach as far as Ranon’s Wood.

    Just for a little while. Just long enough. After that, he would accept whatever happened to him.

    To keep himself from traveling down that path, Jared broke the comfortable silence. “What difference does it make if the Lady’s throat gets sore?”

    Tomas shot him a nasty look.

    “I wasn’t implying that it wouldn’t matter if she got sick,” Jared said. Hell’s fire, the boy was pricklier than a Warlord Prince.

    “Well, if her throat gets sore and she can’t talk, how’s she going to tell us the next part of the story? She’s the only one who knows.”

    Before Jared could say anything, Tomas launched into the story about a group of children who had been captured by a Queen who had become greedy and cruel. By banding together, they managed to escape and decided to travel to a protected Territory where the Blood still believed they were the caretakers of the land and Craft was a power used responsibly. They had a number of adventures, getting help from unlikely, and sometimes humorous, sources as they eluded troops of guards and marauder bands.

    As Tomas retold the story, Jared wondered if any of the children had thought it strange that the children in the story had the same names as they did, or if that just added to the delight as they outwitted the forces the wicked Queen sent after them. He also couldn’t quite dismiss the tiny spark of resentment that Thera and Polli had been transformed into children for the tale but none of the adult males had been included.

    And the tale itself ... A land and a people whose Queen still balanced power with honor standing against a land and a people corrupted by a twisted witch. Did the Gray Lady see herself as the last defense against Dorothea’s influence and corruption of power?

    What if she was?

    The thought rocked him back on his heels, and a whisper of hope began to take root inside him.

    What if she was? What did anyone really know about the Gray Lady? If shewasn’t a deadly, ruthless Queen, why didn’t traders from neighboring Territories correct anyone who spoke harshly about her? Or did no one disagree with the stories that were told because a fierce reputation kept her people and the bordering Territories better protected?

    Tomas reached the point in the story where the children were standing on the edge of a cliff, with a fast-moving river far below them and a marauder band riding up to cut off any chance of escape.

    “Then what happened?” Jared demanded, a little embarrassed that, despite his wandering thoughts, he’d still been listening to the story.

    Tomas shrugged and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Don’t know. Maybe she’ll tell us tonight—if her throat doesn’t get sore.”

    “Ah.” Was there a discreet way of telling the Lady that the adult males would enjoy the story, too?

    “Jared!” Thera called from behind him.

    Knowing it was childish but somehow blaming her because he’d been excluded from the entertainment, Jared hunched his shoulders and lengthened his stride. Maybe he could pretend he hadn’t heard her.

    Randolf, who was walking ahead of Jared, glanced over his shoulder and quickened his pace. Blaed, however, looked back and hesitated.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire