“Put that away,” he snapped. He was a young man, dressed in the long robes of the English, and he was scowling at her. “My lord bids you come.”
“I do not obey him,” Jura said, her knife at the ready.
The man took a step toward her. “Go ahead and threaten me. I’d love to remove a little of your hide. I don’t have much use for your people and even less for you.”
“Neile!” said a deep voice to Jura’s left.
She turned, knife ready, toward the voice. Another English knight stood there, an older man, or at least he looked older, since there was a scar across the part in his hair and the hair had grown white there.
This man turned toward Jura. “My lady—” He stopped in anger at the snort from the other knight. “King Rowan wishes you to come to him.”
“I have work to do here,” Jura said.
“You bitch!” the younger knight, Neile, said, and took a step toward her.
The older man stepped forward. “It is not a request. Please come with me.”
Jura saw the warning in his eyes, letting her know that there would be consequences if she did not go with him. She knew the time had come to pay for her crime of winning the Honorium. She sheathed her knife. “I am ready.”
She followed the older knight, the younger one behind her, to the edge of the forest. A saddled horse waited for her and a pack animal was loaded with what she recognized as her meager belongings. She did not comment on their presumption but rode with the two men toward Escalon.
She had been isolated since her marriage and had no idea how the Irial people had reacted to the separation of her and Rowan, but the people soon let her know. They laughed as she rode by and called her the Maiden Queen. They loved the idea of this beautiful young woman, who so many had lusted after, being rejected by the king.
Jura held her head high as they rode into the walled city then through the inner walls to Thal’s castle. Inside, the castle was much cleaner than when Jura had lived there an
d she snorted in contempt. Such a waste of time on frivolities.
The English knight opened a door to a room that Jura knew well. Thal had used this room for planning his war strategies. She walked inside and the door closed behind her. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness.
Rowan sat at one end of the room, the lack of light making his hair appear dark. “You may sit,” he said.
“I will stand,” she answered.
She could feel his anger, but it was no stronger than her own.
“We must talk,” he said through his teeth.
“I have nothing to say that has not been said,” she answered.
“Damn you,” he raged. “This is your fault for enticing me to believe you wanted me.”
For all the man looked nothing like Thal, he sounded like him. Thal never believed any wrong had been caused by him but was always others’ fault. “One does not confuse lust with wanting marriage,” she said calmly. “I may lust after a well-formed blacksmith but I would not wish to marry him.”
“I am your king, not a blacksmith.”
She stared at him. “You are not my king. You are an Englishman who, because of some cruel jest of the gods, has been made my husband. There are ways for our marriage to be dissolved.”
Rowan got up and walked to the narrow arrow slit that passed for a window at the far end of the room. “Yes,” he said quietly, “I have looked into that, but I’m afraid it will not be possible. At least not yet, not when the Honorium is so fresh in people’s minds.” He paused and Jura saw him hunch his shoulders together. “I curse the day my father met my mother. I wish she had married a serf rather than a Lanconian. Always, being a prince has been a grief to me, but this is the worst.” He spoke so low that she barely heard him.
He turned back toward her. “I am going to unite the tribes of Lanconia, and I fear the Irials will not follow me if I set aside the half-sister of their old king’s son.”
Jura smiled at him. “Unite the tribes of Lanconia? And will you also move the Tarnovian Mountains? Perhaps you would like them a little farther south. Or maybe you’d like to move the rivers.”
His eyes shot blue fire at her. “Why did I allow my body to rule my head? Why did I not have one minute’s conversation with you before calling the Honorium?”
“You called it? I thought Thal ordered it to give all the tribes a chance at the English prince.”
“Fool that I was, I called it, as it was the only hope I had of obtaining you. I was sure you would win.”