“Why?” Jared said quietly, thinking out loud. “Why would he go through the effort of making sure you ended up at Raej, where you’d just be sold to another witch?”
Blaed hesitated. “He was there when I was being sold. When it got down to his Lady and the Gray Lady being the only ones still bidding on me, his Lady stopped bidding all of a sudden. I think he ... arranged . . . that so that I would end up with the Gray Lady.”
Jared swore under his breath. The Sadist and the Gray Lady. What in the name of Hell was he supposed to think aboutthat ?
Nothing, for the moment. Finding that clearing before they lost the light was the first priority.
They reached the lane. Hoping it was wide enough to accommodate the wagon, Jared waved at Thayne, who was leading the horses, and then pointed to the lane.
Thayne waved back.
As Jared and Blaed walked down the lane, looking for the entrance to the clearing, Jared thought of one thing that would change now that everyone knew Blaed was a Warlord Prince. “Since a Warlord Prince is a higher caste than a Warlord, that makes you the domin—”
“Forget it,” Blaed said sharply. “I wear the Opal; you wear the Red. That still makes you dominant as far as Jewel rank is concerned. And you’re older than I am.”
“Not by that much,” Jared muttered.
“By enough. And you made the Offering to the Darkness before you were made a slave, didn’t you?”
“Yes.”But you didn’t , Jared added silently. Which might explain why Blaed was willing to follow rather than lead. Maybe, despite Warlord Princes beingborn Warlord Princes, they had to mature into that temperament in the same way they matured into their full psychic strength. If Blaed had been a few years older or had made the Offering before he’d been enslaved, he probably wouldn’t have yielded so easily to another male regardless of which one of them wore the darker Jewel.
“Besides,” Blaed said, confirming Jared’s speculations, “you haven’t done anything I would have done differently.”
“I’m so pleased you approve,” Jared said sourly.
Blaed kept his eyes on the trees and thick clumps of bushes on the left-hand side of the lane. “Maybe I don’t want to become a battleground the way you are. Maybe I’m just trying to avoid that day for as long as possible.”
Jared stopped walking. Blaed stopped and turned to face him.
“You know,” Jared said, choking on the words. “You all know, and yet—”
“No,” Blaed said. “The rest of them don’t know. They see what you’ve chosen to let them see—a dominant male.”
“Then why do you know?”
“Because I’m standing on the edge of the same battleground.” Blaed smiled bitterly. “If I wasn’t a slave, I would’ve made the Offering a couple of months ago and settled into what I am instead of trying to keep it leashed. I’m guessing it’s the same with you. My father would say you haven’t grown into your skin yet.”
Instead of responding to that remark, Jared started walking. He wouldn’t think of it now.Couldn’t think of it now— especially because he felt the wild stranger stirring deep inside him.
But he was so shaken by Blaed’s words, he didn’t notice the Sapphire psychic wire strung across the lane until he tripped over it and landed hard in the mud.
A moment later, Blaed let out a shout that had Jared scrambling to his feet, expecting an ambush of some kind. When nothing happened, he swore with all the creative violence he could muster.
“Do that again without a good reason and I’ll break your neck,” Jared snarled.
Blaed ignored that remark and pointed to thickly entwined bushes that didn’t look any different than the others. “There’s a gate there. Or something. Some of the bushes shimmered when you tripped.”
They tried every opening or unlocking spell they could think of. Nothing.
“Why would a Warlord Prince put a Sapphire trip wire across the lane?” Jared asked Blaed.
“Wasn’t meant as a trip wire,” Blaed replied absently as he continued to study the bushes. “You were supposed to sense it and stop. Since he went through the effort of making sure we stopped here, that means the entrance to the clearing is here. Somewhere.”
Jared looked around. If Blaed was right, the key to getting into the clearing had to be nearby.
Walking back to the place where he’d tripped, Jared studied both sides of the lane. Opposite the bushes Blaed said had shimmered was a tumble of boulders as tall as an average man, and furry with moss.
Something about their shape tugged at him, disappearing when he took a couple of steps closer. He stepped back, and kept stepping back, until he was on the other side of the lane. He looked at the stones again and swore silently.
He was either losing his mind or his self-control, because the way the boulders had tumbled together, they looked like a woman clothed in moss rising up from among the other stones.
Smiling bitterly, Jared crossed the lane, then reached out and cupped a stone breast.
Polli’s face flashed through his mind.
His fingers bit into the moss as another face filled his mind. It wavered between young and old, but there was no mistaking those hard gray eyes. If any woman had stone br**sts to match a stone heart, it was the Gray Lady.
He felt the slight tingle of a spell being keyed. A moment later, Blaed let out a yip of surprise.
Jared twisted around, his eyes widening as a section of the bushes changed into a simple wood pole strung with vines.
He hurried away from the boulders before Blaed turned to look at him, not really sure why he felt the need to keep access to this place a secret from the rest of them.
“How’d you unkey the illusion spell?” Blaed asked.
The wagon came around a curve in the lane, saving Jared from having to think of a lie.
“I’ll check things out,” Jared told Blaed as they lifted the wooden pole off its supporting posts and laid it aside. “‘You bring the others in.”
Jared took a deep breath and cautiously followed the straight path that led to the clearing. It was barely wide enough for the pedlar’s wagon and longer than he expected. His careful psychic probes didn’t tell him anything. That didn’t make him feel easier. If that rogue had been able to persuade a Black Widow to make the illusion spell to hide the entrance to the clearing, were there other illusions he wasn’t able to detect?
Passing between the two stone posts that marked the end of the path, Jared stepped into the clearing. He waited a moment, straining all of his senses to detect anything that might be a danger to them, then sighed with relief when nothing happened.