“He attacked my brother,” Jura said. “I should slit his throat.”
Neile, being held by a woman, was too humiliated to speak.
Watelin shook off Xante’s grip on him. “What he said was traitorous.”
Rowan clutched Jura’s forearm hard until she released Neile, then he pulled her toward a stone lean-to where they could be private.
“Why?” he asked. “Why did you ruin what I had to say? The people listened to me. You are my wife, man’s helpmate, yet you thwart me at every turn.”
“Me?” she gasped. “It was your men who attacked my brother. Was I supposed to stand by and let them tear him apart?”
“I am your king, and when I am attacked it is treason,” he said with patience.
“Treason?” she said, eyes wide. “In Lanconia you have to earn kingship. Thal appointed you but we can pull you down. We aren’t like your stupid Englishmen who accept the son of the king even if he is a drooling idiot. Geralt has every right to speak, as does any man, but Geralt especially, since he is just as much Thal’s son as you are. Besides, he was right in what he said.”
“The Irials are ready to follow me,” Rowan said. “Is it that you and your brother do not want me to succeed? Is that it? If I fail to unite the tribes, the people might want your war-loving brother on the throne. Is that why you work for my downfall?”
“You pompous, overbearing fool,” she shouted at him. “Everyone wants you to succeed, but those of us who live here know it cannot be done. The Irials listen to you, oh yes, you make a pretty speech, you almost had me wanting to marry a Vatell, but if you ride to Brita with those young civilians, she will rub her hands with glee—and slaughter all of them. She would love to weaken the Irials enough to be able to take their land. She needs our croplands.”
“Then I will ride to her alone,” Rowan said. “I will talk to this Brita alone.”
“And she will hold you for ransom, and to get you back we will have to pay dearly.”
Rowan leaned forward, nose to nose. “Then don’t pay the ransom. If I am held captive, consider that I have not earned my kingship.”
“And let a Vatell hold our king?” Jura shouted back at him. “We will wipe out the Vatells for such an insult. We will—”
She broke off because Rowan kissed her. He could think of no other way to make her be quiet, and Jura responded with all the energy she had built up in her anger at him.
His big hand caught the back of her head and turned her head around to give him better access to her lips, and he kissed her passionately, deeply.
“Do not fight me, Jura,” he said against her cheek. “Be my wife. Stand by me.”
She pushed away from him. “If being your wife means standing to one side while you lead my people into slaughter, then I will die first.”
Rowan straightened. “I have a task given to me by my father and I mean to fulfill it. You may think war is the only way to solve this problem, but there are other ways also. I just pray that these Irials get more from their marriages than I have.” He turned to leave.
“No!” she said, catching his arm. “I beg you, do not go through with this. The people trust you. I saw their eyes and they will follow you. Do not lead them to their deaths.”
“There is only one thing I want you to beg me for. Other than that, you are my wife. You are to comfort me when I return from battle, to see that I have hot food and perhaps someday to bear my children. I do not plan to run my country according to a woman’s counsel.” He left the lean-to.
Jura stood inside the dark, cool place for a few moments and tried to settle her raging anger. The man had to be stopped. She knew they would follow him, for they had reacted to him as she had that first day at the river. She would have followed him then if he had asked her to, but now her head had cleared and she could hear him instead of being blinded by his beauty.
She had to do something to stop him. She started out of the lean-to but someone blocked her way. “Cilean?” she whispered in disbelief.
“Yes,” Cilean answered. “Could we talk?”
Jura was aware of the noise of the crowd outside and she felt some impatience to be among them. Perhaps she could stop the people from following Rowan.
“Do you still hate him?” Cilean asked softly.
Jura’s anger was too close to the surface. “I thought you believed I wanted him for my own, that I betrayed my friend to get him.”
“I was wrong,” Cilean said. “I was jealous.”
Something in her tone made Jura calm down. “Jealous? You love him?”
“Yes,” Cilean said simply. “I loved him from the first. He has a good heart, Jura. He is kind and thoughtful and now he is willing to risk all to unite the tribes. He knows he could be killed.”