By now the village was beginning to waken but Rowan told Jura’s family to go back to their beds. He lit a candle in the farthest room of the stone house and turned to Jura, Cilean, and Daire, who were seated.
“I have Brita and a hundred and fifty Vatells waiting for me across the river,” Rowan said. “I have brought them here to marry with the Irials. Brita agrees to marry her tribe to the Irials but only on the condition that she marry the king.”
Cilean’s eyes opened wide as she looked at Jura, who was studying her hands in her lap.
Daire was on his feet instantly. “I will take Jura. I will rule the Vatells and she will be my queen.”
Jura smiled at him gratefully.
Rowan put himself between the two of them and looked Daire in the eyes. “I will not marry Brita. I will not set aside Jura.” His brows drew together. “Jura is no longer a maiden and I will not discard her.”
Daire sat down on a stool near Cilean and he looked despondent.
Rowan walked away. “I think I can put Brita off until some of the marriages take place, then I will take her to Brocain and he can marry her.”
“You want to marry my mother to that brutal, scarred old man?” Daire shot at Rowan.
Cilean put her hand on Daire’s arm. “Brocain has a wife. She was twelve last year. He won’t give up his child for a woman of Brita’s years.” She thought for a moment. “But Yaine has no wife,” she said, referring to the leader of the Fearens.
“He must be lusty and very healthy to satisfy that woman,” Rowan said.
“My mother is a queen,” Daire said. “You cannot order her to marry one of those Fearen runts.”
“Your mother ordered Jura’s death,” Rowan said, then his jaw tightened as he saw the fury in Daire’s face. He turned away. “I am taking Brita to this Fearen leader and I need help.”
Jura looked up at this. Was this the same man who rode into Vatell country alone?
“I am going to have to take her by force, but I must make it look as if she is willing to go. I cannot start a war because of this woman. She has strength and that strength must be diluted.”
“She might unite with Yaine against the Irials,” Cilean said.
“But I hope to have the Irials and Vatells mixed at that point,” Rowan said tiredly. “She may well have a much smaller army to lead by then. She has come with her guard, and I hope some of the Irial trainee guardswomen will marry them. A man will think twice before angering his wife—as I well know.” He rubbed his hands over his eyes. “Daire, I want you and Cilean to go with Jura and me as I take Brita into Fearen land.”
Cilean looked at Jura. “You want two women with you?” Cilean asked.
“Daire and I need our backs protected,” he snapped, then his head came up.
Cilean smiled at him. “Yes, I understand. I will go with you, but will Yaine accept us? Or do we wear disguises?”
“I plan to send a messenger, a Poilen or Ulten. I will tell Yaine that I bring him a royal bride.”
Before anyone could speak, the door burst open and in ran Lora, looking beautiful in a robe of deep garnet-red velvet, her fair hair hanging down her back. “Rowan,” she cried, and ran to him to put her arms about his neck. “I was so worried about you. Montgomery said you had gone for a love tryst but I knew that wasn’t so. What have you done? Are you hurt?”
Rowan was smiling tenderly at her as he smoothed her hair back and kissed her cheek. “I went into Vatell territory and I have brought back Brita and her people to marry the Irials. You shouldn’t have worried so.”
“But I did. You had to do something like that alone with no one to help you and you had the added burden of a woman to protect.”
Jura came out of her seat at that, but Rowan spoke first.
“Jura was no hindrance,” he said, and hugged Lora to him as he looked over her shoulder at Jura. “She even helped me at times.”
Everyone in the room turned to look at a sleepy Phillip, dressed in his long white gown and nightcap, standing in the doorway and rubbing his eyes. “You are home,” the boy said.
Rowan released his sister and knelt to open his arms to his nephew.
Phillip started toward his uncle, but when he saw Jura sitting to one side, he smiled and went to her. She picked up the boy and cradled him in her arms. He smiled and fell asleep.