“Yes,” she answered in the same tone.
“Do you ever doubt yourself? Do you sometimes know that you are right, but somewhere deep inside you there is a seed of doubt?”
“Yes,” she said, “I have felt that.”
He didn’t say any more and after a while Jura heard his soft breathing of sleep. She puzzled for a long time over what he had meant but could find no answer.
The next morning all the Irials were awake very early. They wanted to see friends and relatives they had not seen in a long while and they wanted a good look at this Englishman who claimed kingship.
Jura stood to one side and watched Rowan pass through the crowds of people, and she saw the way their faces lit as he spoke to them in their own language. There was no display of the quick temper he showed to her, but instead, here was a quiet, calm, intelligent man who made his presence felt.
“He is as smooth-tongued as the devil,” Geralt said to Jura. “Be careful that you keep your head on your shoulders. Someone must have his wits about him when the fool tries to plunge us into war.”
Jura sipped hot apple cider. “He does not want war; he wants peace.”
“What one wants and what one gets are two different things. If we ride into Vatell land, be ready to fight. Brita will be glad to kill him, since his father killed her husband.”
“Maybe Brita is sick of war also,” Jura said. “Perhaps she would like to see her son again.”
Geralt was aghast. “Do you betray your country for this Englishman?”
“No, of course not. He will never be able to unite anyone, but let him try. Who will follow him? He means to marry Irial and Vatell. What Irial will agree? He’ll be stopped before he starts.”
Xante was standing near them,
and overhearing her words to Geralt, he turned to her. “Look at him. He is surrounded by adoring eyes. They will follow him. Quiet! He speaks.”
Jura watched with interest as Rowan stood on a bench and began to speak. All morning she had heard whispers of “Saint Helen’s Gate,” and so knew the people knew that Rowan had opened the gate. But she also saw skepticism on their faces. They were not going to accept this man merely because of an ancient legend.
Rowan’s voice and his perfectly pronounced Lanconian were almost hypnotic. Slowly, every sound in the audience ceased. No one coughed, no one fidgeted, even the children stayed still and listened.
Rowan talked of a country of peace and tranquillity where men and women could ride for long distances without danger from raiding tribes. He talked of good roads. He talked of sharing between the tribes. The Irials could trade their weavings for Vatell jewelry or Fearen horses. He spoke of an end to the deaths of young men, raiders who stole goods from other tribes. He painted a splendid word picture of the Irials traveling safely across Vatell land and Fearen land to reach the Poilen people, who could share their extensive knowledge of herbs and medicine. There were tears in some eyes when he mentioned the deaths that could have been prevented if Poilen medicines had been available.
“We shall take Poilen medicines,” Geralt said, but quietened when people glared at him.
Rowan said the only way to bring about these glories was to unite the tribes.
“We fight!” Geralt said.
People hissed at him and looked back at Rowan as he waited for silence.
“The Lanconian people must become one,” Rowan said softly, and the people leaned forward to hear him.
He told of his plan to unite the tribes through marriage, then, before anyone could ask a question, he asked for volunteers, brave young men and women who were willing not to die for their tribe but to live for it. He grinned and asked what noble souls were willing to sacrifice all and marry some of those tall, beautiful, nubile, young, healthy Vatells?
Jura and Geralt were almost trampled in the stampede of young people who ran forward to volunteer themselves. Jura stood where she was, overwhelmed by the persuasiveness of Rowan’s speech.
Not so Geralt. He pushed his way forward to stand before the crowd.
“Do you send your children to be slaughtered?” he bellowed. “This Englishman knows nothing of our ways. He will lead you to your deaths. The Vatells will slaughter the Irials.”
Jura watched in horror as Rowan’s three knights attacked Geralt and knocked him to the ground. Jura reacted instantly, as did Xante and two other guardsmen.
Jura grabbed the hair of Neile and put her knife to his throat. “Unhand him,” she said, and pressed the knife into his skin so that a trickle of blood ran into his collar. Neile released Geralt and began to stand upright. The other English knights also released their hold on Geralt.
The crowd had stopped to watch this new spectacle.
Furious, Rowan came down from his bench to stand beside Jura. “Release him,” he said to her.