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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 56)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(56) by Anne Bishop
  • Jared hesitated. “There had to be other ways of letting Dorothea know the Gray Lady is still a formidable adversary. Was going to Raej to get a few more slaves really worth this risk?”

    Her eyes became brutally hard. “There are no slaves in Dena Nehele,” she said coldly, and shifted just enough to let him know his touch was no longer welcome.

    Hurt by the withdrawal, he matched her coldness. “Well, if you keep your precious Territory clean of the stink of slavery, whatdo you do with the slaves you buy?”

    “Send them home, of course. That is, if they want to go home.”

    That stopped him.

    Stopped his brain, stopped his heart, and withered his anger.

    “Home?” Jared’s voice broke. His heart started again with a leap. “You send them home?”

    Cupping both hands around her mug, Lia finished the brew. “Yes, we send them home—or invite them to stay if ‘home’ is no longer a safe place for them.” She closed her eyes for a moment and took a couple of deep breaths. “Dorothea SaDiablo wants nothing less than to control the entire Realm of Terreille. That’s been her goal since she became the High Priestess of Hayll centuries ago. Since outright war would have devastated the Realm, she had to find a different way of waging war on the rest of the Blood.”

    “Fear,” Jared said softly. “Over time, fear between the genders would undermine a Territory.”

    Lia nodded. “And shehas time since Hayllians are a long-lived race. The seeds of distrust are sown village by village while she nurtures the lighter-Jeweled witches who have the same twisted nature that she does. Strong males who might not submit to one of her pet Queens are usually Ringed young, before they become ‘dangerous.’ Mature males who challenge the new rule are declared rogues and are either hunted down and killed or go into hiding. All of the dark-Jeweled witches and most of the Queens are broken young so there’s no one left for the males to bond to except Dorothea’s chosen.”

    Jared set his mug on the floor and clasped his hands tightly, unable to say anything. Would slavery have been his fate even without that youthful mistake? Would the Shalador Queens have demanded he submit to a Ring of Obedience in order to control his Red strength?

    No. Not in Shalador.

    “It happens slowly,” Lia continued. “Over several generations. On the surface, nothing seems to change because it’s so subtle at first. A new interpretation of Protocol. A wariness when dealing with the stronger witches. Rumors. Stories of mistreatment. The alliance with, and dependence upon, Hayll grows and grows until the day comes when one of Dorothea’s pet Queens rules the Territory. By breaking or enslaving the strongest and the best, they keep the rest of the people submissive, too afraid to fight or speak against them.

    “For a long time, Gran couldn’t see any way to fight Dorothea except to form strong alliances with the Queens in the neighboring Territories. Then, a few years ago, a Queen’s nephew was taken from the court where he was in training, along with three other young Warlords. She searched for weeks, trying to find some trace of him. She’d almost given up when she received an unsigned note that said the young Warlord was unharmed and continuing his training—in the High Priestess of Hayll’s court. If the Queen welcomed Hayll’s next gesture of friendship by agreeing to meet with the Hayllian ambassadors to discuss some ‘concessions,’ her nephew would continue his training, unharmed. If she refused, as she’d been doing for several years, her nephew would be sold as a slave at the Raej auction.”

    Feeling chilled, Jared wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. “She refused.”

    Lia nodded. “One of the witches in her First Circle volunteered to go to Raej to buy the Queen’s nephew. She took two guards with her. None of them came back.”

    “So the Gray Lady went the next time.”

    “Yes. Besides wearing the Gray Jewels, Gran can be very intimidating when she wants to be. Her friendships with Queens outside of Dena Nehele have always been discreet, so there was no reason to believe anyone at Raej would connect her with the young Warlord.”

    Jared’s heart thudded against his chest. “She bought him?”

    Lia shook her head. “He wasn’t there. Not that time. To justify her presence, she bought a couple of other males, choosing by instinct. Once she got them to Dena Nehele, she offered to help them return home. At first, they didn’t believe her and kept looking for a trap. When they finallydid believe her, they didn’t want to go home because, at best, it would put their families at risk and, at worst, they’d end up dead or enslaved again. So they stayed.”

    “And the Gray Lady continued to buy slaves.”

    “It became a subtle way to fight Dorothea. Some of the males went home, fiercely determined to keep Hayll’s taint from spreading. Others settled in Dena Nehele or one of the surrounding Territories.”

    Jared cleared his throat. “Did she ever find her friend’s nephew?”

    Lia shuddered. “Yes. The fourth time she went to the auction.”

    Someone hesitantly knocked on the wagon’s door. Grateful for the interruption, Jared answered swiftly.

    “Here,” Blaed grumbled, thrusting a plate of sandwiches and apple slices at Jared. “Thera got hungry. She also wanted another mug of that brew you made.”

    “I prepared two more gauze bags before I came out here,” Jared said as he took the plate and the two filled mugs.

    “I know. The brew’s in one of those mugs, too.” Blaed scowled at the mugs and then shrugged. “You’ll know which one when you taste it.”

    Jared thanked him and hoped Blaed made it back to the stone building before he fell asleep.

    They ate in companionable silence. Jared didn’t want to break the easiness between them, but Lia had only told him the first half—the half, he noticed, that didn’t have much to do with her.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire