• Home
  • Directory
  • Popular
  • Authors
  • Series
  • Home > Anne Bishop > Black Jewels > The Invisible Ring (Chapter 61)      Page
  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(61) by Anne Bishop
  • Or, perhaps, it was the way his own blood heated every time he touched her that was making him edgy.

    Fortunately, the other males had decided not to test his self-control.

    Shaking his head, Jared walked to the north end of the clearing.

    He would have thought a Queen would enjoy a little pampering. The witches who had controlled his life for the past nine years certainly had. Hell’s fire, a pleasure slave who didn’t jump to satisfy the slightest whim could lose what few privileges he had—or worse, find himself tied between the whipping posts.

    Then again, Reyna had never been gracious about Belarr’s pampering during the first three days of her moon-time either. The first day she’d snap and snarl at him about his constant fussing, even though it hadn’t been constant. Belarr had the administrative duties as the District Queen’s agent for Ranon’s Wood to handle, as well as three young sons to keep occupied so they would give Reyna some peace. It was like a moon’s blood ritual between them. Reyna would snap and snarl until Belarr would respond with, “When you married me, you granted me the right to fuss.” That would usually silence her. Perhaps it was being so vulnerable that made it hard for her to yield, because on the fourth day, when shecould wear the Jewels again and use Craft, she enjoyed Belarr’s pampering.

    Once, after Reyna’s temper had been especially harsh, Jared had asked his father why he tolerated being treated that way. Belarr had said, “Even a man who is loved and trusted is feared a little during these days. If showing a bit of temper makes her feel safer, that’s fine with me since there’s no cruelty in it. Besides, this is a small price to pay for the rest of the days . . . and the nights,” Belarr had added quietly, smiling.

    Jared smiled at the memory. He didn’t think Belarr had meant for his son to hear that last bit. Or maybe he had. The sons had understood early on that, when it came to Reyna, their father had the dominant claim.

    Tomorrow would be the fourth day of Lia’s moontime. Maybe she would let him fuss without snarling at him.

    When he reached the edge of the clearing, his smile faded. He looked back at the stone building. Nothing stirred.

    Good. This night, which was usually a public celebration, wasn’t something he wanted to share. Not this time.

    Jared stepped into the woods beyond the clearing, following the winding footpath through the trees until he reached the narrow creek. Part of it had been diverted to spill over carefully arranged stones into a small, man-made stone pool, then spill over again to flow into a stone-supported channel for a few yards until it rejoined the rest of the water.

    Jared closed his eyes. It had been so long, but if hereally listened, he could hear the drums in the wind gently stirring the trees, and the water dancing over the stones.

    He opened his eyes and called in the crystal goblet. His uncles had given it to him, along with the small silver chalice, after he’d made the Offering to the Darkness. Like the Jewels, he had carried the goblet and chalice with him, hidden from the witches who had owned him because he hadn’t wanted to risk having them taken away from him.

    Holding the goblet under the falling water, he filled it and drank, pouring out the last swallow to share it with the dark land.

    Filling the goblet again, Jared stepped over the narrow creek and followed the path to the second clearing.

    He’d found it the first day they’d returned to the main clearing. While Brock and Randolf had gone out to hunt fresh meat, he’d cautiously probed the clearing’s defensive shields and discovered they extended beyond the cleared land. So he’d followed the path to this small, second clearing, also strongly shielded but for different reasons.

    It was a perfect circle that had been seeded with grass. A few feet in from the perimeter, two large stones had been carefully placed to support a slab of granite, forming a small altar. In the center of the circle was a shallow fire pit surrounded by stones.

    The land had absorbed the giving done here, becoming a sacred place. Unlike the Sanctuaries that had a formal altar and a Priestess to tend them, these small places were found throughout the Realm of Terreille. Private places, where the Blood came to reaffirm their bond to the land and the life that sprang from it; where they quietly made the descent into the abyss until they reached their cores and opened their inner barriers; where the power flowed through them and they became a channel between the night sky and the dark land, giving one kind of strength and taking back another. It was in places like this that the Blood came to honor the Darkness.

    Placing the crystal goblet on one side of the altar, Jared called in the small silver chalice and set it on the other side. Moving with the measured step of ritual, he walked to the fire pit, created a tongue of witchfire, and lit the pile of kindling and wood he’d gathered earlier to create a small bonfire.

    Almost ready.

    He undressed, leaving his clothes on the path just beyond the circle. Shivering, he returned to the altar and called in the folding knife he’d honed that afternoon. He knelt before the altar, carefully opened his wrist, and let the blood, hot from the vein, flow into the small silver chalice. Once the chalice was filled, he put a warming spell on it to keep the blood heated. Then he vanished the knife, pressed his thumb over the wound, and walked back to the edge of the clearing.

    On the edge of Ranon’s Wood was a natural bowl. Surrounded by the grassy slopes was the large dance circle, its dirt carefully sifted and raked. At the new and full moons, the witches gathered there to dance privately with their Sisters. But the full moons after the spring and autumn equinox were the public celebration of the male.

    As the sky darkened and the moon began to shine, the males would gather in the streets, quietly talking, watching the women drift casually toward the circle.

    As they followed the women, they would hear the drums, the Craft-enhanced sound rising out of the bowl and filling the countryside. Then the Priestess’s voice would rise above the drums in wordless song, calling them to the dance. Another witch’s voice would be added to hers, and another’s, and another’s.

    Slowly the males would flow up the slope and down the other side, filling in the spaces that had been left between the women as the Priestess lit the bonfire. One by one, the women’s voices would quiet. The Priestess would tip the large silver chalice and cast the circle with Craft and the blood the witches had offered for the dance. By the time the circle was completed, it was only her voice and the drums, calling.

    The Wisdom Dance, the elders’ dance, came first. Standing at the edge of the circle, the Priestess would extend her hand and bring the first man across. She continued bringing men across the circle, finally stepping out as the last man who chose to dance stepped in.

    The drums would change the beat. The fiddle and flutes would take the place of the women’s voices. And the men would dance the steps that had been danced since the time of the great Queen Shal.

    After the Wisdom Dance, the Priestess’s voice would rise again with the drums. The elder males would come to the edge of the circle and bring across the young males who had gone through the Birthright Ceremony for the Boys’ Dance.

    The Wisdom Dance expressed experience and dignity; the Boys’ Dance celebrated high spirits and energy.

    Then came the Youths’ Dance for the males who had gone through puberty but had not yet made the Offering to the Darkness.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire