“Yes, Lord Krelis?” Dorothea said with quiet malevolence.
Krelis licked his dry lips. “Priestess, I’ve never . . .”
Her amusement deepened his panic. “You regularly make use of the whores at one of the better Red Moon houses in Draega, so I doubt that you’venever . . .” She let the words hang. He could almost see them becoming a noose around his neck. He should have realized Dorothea would make it her business to know aboutthat , especially where it concerned the males who were the closest to her— and whose loyalty had to be watched the most carefully.
“Wouldn’t a consort be better?” Krelis stammered. “They’re trained for this kind of thing.”
“I want you to do this, Krelis. As a favor to me.” She studied him for a moment. “You needn’t be concerned about filling her belly. This isn’t her fertile time, so she’ll still have that asset when her family contracts a marriage for her.” When he didn’t say anything, she turned to leave. “I think an hour should be more than sufficient, don’t you?”
Krelis found his voice just as she was closing the door. “But . . . Priestess . . . what if I break her?”
Dorothea gave him a queer look before saying with deadly softness, “Lord Krelis, I think the question you should be asking is what will happen if you don’t?” She closed the door.
Krelis heard the click of the physical lock. Then the Red lock snapped back into place, trapping him in the room. Using Craft, he could have destroyed the physical lock, could have destroyed the whole damn door for that matter. But his Sapphire Jewel, even though it was only one rank below the Red, wouldn’t get him through a Red lock.
Not in one piece anyway.
His bowels loosened. Afraid of soiling himself, Krelis looked around frantically and spotted two doors in the wall opposite the bed. The first one was the dressing room. The second was a small bathroom.
Fumbling with his clothing and not caring if the bitch in the other room heard his own sounds of distress, he managed to sit on the toilet before the foul-smelling waste poured out of him. Each time he thought he was empty, his belly cramped again. When it finally stopped, he flushed the stink away and just sat there, his elbows on his knees, his head braced in his hands.
To break a witch. Oh, he knew it was done all the time now. It settled down the troublesome ones all right, and it didn’t even take much effort. Make the sex rough, scare her while you’re handling her, and then one hard thrust to tear through the physical barrier. Ride her hard, each thrust driving her closer and closer to her inner web until she plunged through it, out of control. Descend quickly into the abyss, catch her before she fell so far that her mind shattered, and bring her back up. What was left was a witch closed off from her own strength, from the Jewels she had worn, from everything but basic Craft.
But to break aQueen . Blood males were supposed to protect them.
Then again, since it was his duty to destroy the Gray Lady, why should he flinch about breakingthis little bitch-Queen?
With that question whirling through his head, Krelis cleaned himself and returned to the bedchamber.
From the first day he began his training as a guard, his ambition had been to serve in the High Priestess of Hayll’s First Circle. Serving a strong Lady meant prestige and privileges. Even more important, it meant safety. No one toyed with Dorothea’s males. Except Dorothea.
He’d planned to marry in a year or two. He was tired of using the whores in the Red Moon house. He wanted a woman of his own, one who wouldn’t be spreading her legs for anyone but him, one he could breed every few years to give him the offspring he wanted. His family bloodlines were good, his Sapphire Jewels were impressive enough, and his promotion to Master of the Guard guaranteed he’d be able to pick almost any witch he pleased.
Now all his plans, all his dreams might end in this stinking bedchamber because an aristo bitch couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Anger stirred in him as he stared at her pleading eyes, as he listened to the muffled sounds she kept making.
Stupid bitch. It was her own fault she was here. It washer faulthe was here. Always mouthing off as if that would change the reality of living in Hayll, as if anyone would thinkshe could rival Dorothea. Even if she actually had the strength to rule, would she really be any different than the others? No matter what she said, she’d soon be snap--ping her fingers and expecting the males to dance to her tune.
That’s the way it was among the Blood now—a game of predator and prey, played out on a constantly shifting landscape of power: who wore the darkest Jewels, who had the most social prestige, who controlled the strongest males, who was the most skilled in Craft, who was the most dangerous.
Predator and prey.
Krelis stripped off his clothes and climbed onto the bed.
The weaker became prey. It was as simple as that.
His fear of failure churned inside him until it became a hot, throbbing anger. Since he couldn’t turn that anger on the witch who frightened him, he unleashed it on the one who feared him.
And discovered why men enjoyed breaking witches so much.
“It’smy turn to sit in the wagon,” Tomas said angrily, refusing to yield when Eryk stepped in front of him.
“You’re just a half-Blood,” the older boy said, giving Tomas a shove. “You’re just a stupid slave who has to do what he’s told.”
“So are you!” Tomas returned the shove with interest.
“Am not!” Another shove.
Swiping his rain-soaked hair out of his eyes, Jared swore under his breath as he turned around and slogged through the mud, hoping he’d reach the boys before they ended up bloodying each other’s noses—or worse, since Eryk was strong enough to wear a Yellow Jewel and Tomas didn’t have any way to protect himself. Hell’s fire, didn’t they have enough problems without having to deal with childish squabbles?
The savage muttering behind him told him that Brock and Randolf had also turned back. Good. There was nothing like annoyed adult males to shrivel a boy’s temper.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jared noticed Blaed and Thayne scrambling to reach the horses pulling the pedlar’s wagon before the shoving match spooked them.
“You don’t have any rank,” Eryk shouted. “You don’t count for anything! My family’s aristo. My family’s important. You’re just a bastard some landen bitch had because a Warlord’s dangle got stiff. You don’t deserve to sit in the wagon. You don’t deserve to eat up our food. You don’t deserve tolive .”