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  • The Invisible Ring(Black Jewels,Book 4)(76) by Anne Bishop
  • The old man raised a gnarled hand. One finger brushed the brim of his hat. “The Blood are good and kind.”

    Blaed turned the mare sharply. *He might as well have cursed us.*

    *Leash it,* Jared snarled. *They’re frightened people.*

    Blaed took a deep breath. *My apologies, Warlord. I’ll brush off my good manners.*

    Jared nodded, not trusting himself to reply. He understood the sting of the old man’s words. He’d never heard that phrase until he became a pleasure slave. Not a compliment and, in the Territories that stood in Hayll’s shadow, far from a truth. Landens said it the same way a person said “good dog” to a snarling, vicious animal—as if saying it might make it true, might allow them to escape the encounter intact.

    Tying the horses to a post outside the store, they stood in the doorway, giving their eyes time to adjust to the dim interior.

    An old woman stood behind a counter at the back of the store. Her shaking hands were pressed flat on the wood so they could see she held no weapons, would pose no threat.

    Jared stepped inside, moving slowly.

    “A good day to you, Lords,” the woman said. Her voice shook, but it wasn’t because of age. “May the Darkness shine upon you.”

    Jared smiled. “Thank you, Lady. We’re in need of supplies.”

    She gestured toward the neat shelves, the small, high-sided tables piled with vegetables and fruits. “What I have is yours, Lords.”

    Wondering at the regret he heard in her voice, Jared nodded to Blaed, who began to explore one half of the store while Jared looked over the other half. Since she was obviously a shopkeeper, why would she regret selling her wares?

    The woman’s behavior was forgotten as soon as Jared rounded a table and saw the fruit hidden behind the apples.

    “Honey pears!” he exclaimed, delighted with the find. Grinning, he cradled one arm and began a careful selection. They’d always been his favorite fruit, all the more special because they ripened after the first harvest celebrations. Small, sweet, and juicy, they didn’t keep well unless they were preserved—Reyna always put up jars of brandied honey pears for the Winsol feast—but he’d always thought the fresh fruit tasted better. And had always thought Reyna’s grandmother extraordinarily farsighted to have planted two honey pear trees on the family land for the gluttonous pleasure of her great-grandsons.

    Two apiece, he decided as he gathered the pears and wondered if Lia had ever tasted one. They’d be expensive. Always were since . . .Jared’s mind stuttered to a halt.... since the trees only thrived in the soil of southwestern Shalador . . . and the land that bordered it.

    Jared walked to the counter and carefully set down his armful of pears at the same time Blaed set down a large bag of potatoes.

    “These are practical,” Blaed said, smiling indulgently at the pears. When Jared didn’t respond, he shrugged and went back to gathering supplies.

    It was the hardest thing he’d done in a long, long time, but Jared kept his voice casual as he asked, “How far is it to Shalador?”

    “Two full days’ ride north, Lord,” the old woman replied.

    Nodding, Jared turned away to select some apples.

    Two days to the border. Three days to Ranon’s Wood.

    If he rode the Red Wind, he could be home in less than an hour.

    He could send Blaed back to the wagon with the supplies and stable the gelding here. By the time they cooked and ate the midday meal, he’d be home. Rested, the gelding could catch up to them easily before they stopped for the night.

    An hour. All he needed was an hour to see his family, to talk to Reyna. He’d be gone three hours altogether, four at the most.

    He . . . couldn’t go.

    The pain almost doubled him over.

    He couldn’t go. Three hours, three days, it made no difference. If it wasn’t for Lia’s compassion, he’d be in the salt mines of Pruul right now. And she’d be home. Oh, the unknown enemy Dorothea SaDiablo had set among them still would have been there, the danger still would have walked beside her, but surely the Gray Lady’s warriors would have been waiting for her at the mountain pass and would have protected their young Queen at any cost.

    But out here? Brock and Randolf still believed they were slaves, and both were bitter enough to step aside rather than risk themselves for their owner. Eryk and Corry wore Birthright Jewels, but they were too young and had too little training. Whatever useful knowledge Garth had was locked inside him. Little Cathryn had few defenses; Tomas, none. Thayne was a light-Jeweled Warlord but not a fighter. Blaed would fight, if for no other reason than to protect Thera.

    And Thera would fight for reasons of her own.

    Jared straightened up. A shiver ran down his spine.

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire