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  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 57)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(57) by Anne Bishop
  • Jared rubbed his face, willing himself to stay awake a little longer. “All right. The Gray Lady needed to make one more appearance at Raej. I understand that. Sort of. But, Lia, once you’d purchased the slaves, why didn’t you buy passage to a Coach station closer to Dena Nehele’s borders?”

    “I was going to but . . .” Lia bit her lip. “The message came, and I got scared.”

    He remembered the note she’d been given just before she went into the ticket station. And the fear in her after she’d read it. “What did it say?”

    “ ‘They’re waiting for you in the west.’ ”

    “Do you know who sent it?”

    Lia shook her head. “A masculine hand, but I didn’t recognize the writing. I thought it might be a trick, too. That’s why . . .” She waved a hand to indicate the wagon, supplies, everything. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

    “You did well, Lady,” Jared said with warm approval. “But wasn’t there a Coach station near the inn where you got the wagon and supplies? Why didn’t we take another Coach from there to Dena Nehele instead of making this journey?”

    Lia turned her face away from him. Her fingers worried the blanket. She nibbled her lower lip.

    Jared felt the warning prickle between his shoulder blades. His heart began to pound painfully against his chest. “Why didn’t we take another Coach, Lady Ardelia?” he asked softly.

    “Everything cost more,” she said hurriedly, defensively. “You have to hire two guard escorts if you’re going to buy slaves so that one can stay with the slaves while the other accompanies the buyer, and they charged me a third more than the witch ahead of me. I couldn’t go into the auction grounds without the escorts, and when I argued about it, that bastard in charge just smiled and said, ‘That is the fee, Lady.’ And the bidding went higher than we’d anticipated, always more than the person’s ‘working value.’ ”

    She was no longer talking to him, explaining to him. He wondered how many times over the past few days she’d argued this with herself.

    And what, exactly, was she trying to justify?

    “I think some of the other buyers were just bidding against me to force the price up,” Lia continued, sounding more and more desperate. “But it was the last time, don’t you see? I couldn’t walk away from the ones we’d been asked to look for. I couldn’t. I tried to fool them by bidding on a few slaves and stopping when the price started to climb, but it didn’t work, and after buying passage for the first Coach, there weren’t enough marks left to buy passage again so I had to do something else, didn’t I?”

    Jared considered the expense of purchasing the horses, wagon, clothing, and supplies for this desperate gamble. Outfitting them for this journey probably cost her half the fare for herself and twelve slaves.

    But that still wasn’t an answer. In his youth, he’d given enough explanations at breakneck speed to know when someone else was trying to provide a smoky truth to hide the real reason for something.

    He leaned over and covered her hands with his. The moment he touched her, he knew.

    “How many were you supposed to bring back, Lia?” he asked softly, baiting her. His anger was rising again. And beneath the anger was grief.

    Soclose , he thought.So close .

    “We didn’t set an exact number,” Lia mumbled.

    “How many?”

    She trembled beneath his hands and wouldn’t look at him.

    “Who were you asked to look for?” Jared asked, struggling to keep his voice gentle.

    She swallowed hard. “Eryk and Corry. Blaed and Thayne. Polli.”

    Jared’s hands tightened until she made a small, hurt sound. Not trusting himself, he released her and shoved his fists into his pockets. “If you were supposed to bring Polli back, how could you give her to that rogue bastard?”

    Lia’s head snapped up. “Prince Talon isnot a bastard— of any kind,” she said hotly. “He’s a good, honorable man. Besides, he’s Polli’s uncle. Since he was the one who asked us to look for her, why shouldn’t I send her with him when there was the chance?”

    Jared stared at Lia and then shook his head to clear it. That hard-eyed Warlord Prince was Polli’s uncle? Well, that explained why she’d been willing to go with him.

    “That’s how I know the message wasn’t a trick,” Lia said, bristling. “The escorts who were waiting for us at the western Coach station were attacked. When we didn’t meet Talon as planned, he and some of his men started looking for us.” Tears filled her eyes. She slumped, as if her body couldn’t stay upright once anger no longer supported her. “My uncle was leading the escorts who were supposed to bring us home.”

    Jared moved to her bench and put his arms around her. He stroked her hair and rocked her, murmuring soothing noises while she cried out the fear and grief she’d had to hide.

    When she finally quieted, he called in a handkerchief and let her sniffle into it for another minute before slipping a finger under her chin, forcing her head up.

    “Want to tell me the real reason you didn’t buy passage?” he asked gently. Before she could say anything, he pressed a finger against her lips. “Let me tell you what I think happened. You arrived at the auction ground as soon as it opened and spent the day going from auction block to auction block until you found all of the people you’d come for. Probably took you the best part of the day, too. I imagine you bought a couple of the others while you were searching so that it wouldn’t be obvious you were waiting for particular slaves to come to the block, but you would have been careful not to overspend at that point. Then, once you had the five you came for, you still had enough marks to buy three or four more slaves. But you wouldn’t have settled for the first ones who came on the block after that. You would have looked for people who could still appreciate the gift of freedom. Since there were so many and you could take so few, making those hard choices took some time. Right?”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire