Jura was glad for the distraction. She did not want Rowan to see her watching him, and when he rode past she was ushering people away from the river and toward the houses.
It was a strange day. Never before had Vatells and Irials spent time together in peace. There had been conferences between leaders, even, once, it was told, generations ago, the Vatells, the Irials, and the Fearens had united to fight the Huns. But at the end of the battle the Fearen king’s son had killed the Vatell king’s brother and their victory had turned into a bloody battle among themselves, with the tribes of Lanconia hating one another with renewed rage.
Now there were both tribes together in the Irial village. It was awkward at first, with the Vatells standing in a clump together, watching, a little afraid, not knowing what to do. The Irial women were beginning to cook while the men stood guard behind them protectively.
“This has to stop,” Jura heard Lora say. She was not far away, near Rowan, as always. “Rowan, you must translate for me, my Lanconian isn’t good enough yet. We must get these people together.”
Rowan looked up and met Jura’s eyes. His blue eyes were dark, the lids heavy looking, and Jura could feel her body once again growing warmer.
“Jura will translate for you,” Rowan said.
Lora grimaced. “Perhaps Xante will—”
“Jura will translate for you,” Rowan emphasized.
Jura didn’t like being forced to do her sister-in-law’s bidding, but she knew Lora was right, that something had to be done. She doubted that a useless, soft thing like Lora could help the situation but perhaps she herself could think of something.
An hour later, Jura revised her opinion of Lora. Lora began organizing and ordering people about with the authority of the toughest captain of the guard. She sent Vatell women to help the Irial women cook. She sent Vatell men and Irial men out to get firewood. And when she saw a handsome young male Vatell and a pretty young female Irial staring at one another, she sent them fishing—without poles or hooks.
“But how will they catch fish?” Jura asked.
Lora looked at her sister-in-law, her eyes twinkling.
Jura began to laugh then leaned toward Lora and said conspiratorially, “That trainee, the one with the red border on her tunic, the one who fought so hard for Rowan, might like that Vatell guard, the one there near Brita.”
“Oh,” Lora said, “the one with the broad shoulders and those legs?”
“I’ve seen better,” Jura replied. “About a three-hour walk up that mountain are some very sweet berries. I think they need collecting.”
Jura smiled happily when she saw the little cat of a trainee go off with the handsome Vatell guard.
After that, Lora and Jura began to relax together. Jura’s life had been so different from Lora’s. Jura had spent her time with men, doing men’s things. She knew how to sharpen a lance blade to a razor-sharp edge but she knew nothing of cooking and running a household. Whereas Lora had known only the gentler aspects of life, and when her cousins terrorized her, she went to Rowan. Jura would have removed the skin of any man who tortured her.
Lora was frightened by Jura’s lack of womanly skills and Jura was contemptuous of Lora’s uselessness. But what they began to see that day was how each woman had her own skills. And they were drawn together by the common bond of women everywhere: the need to talk to each other.
As the two worked together, Jura began to enjoy herself. Old Thal would have sneered with contempt if Jura had even mentioned romance, but Lora seemed to
glow in the romance of their matchmaking.
“Look at those two,” Lora said. “Perfect together, aren’t they?”
“She is a weaver,” Jura said. “Perhaps we can send them to look at her loom.”
“Oh, yes,” Lora answered. “You are very good at this, Jura. I would never have imagined you to be a matchmaker. Tonight there will be a clear sky and a big moon and all those newly married couples. They will hold hands and walk along the river. It reminds me of my own marriage.”
Jura was staring vacantly into space and thinking that it might be nice to be courted by a man. Daire had given her twenty new arrows when he had asked her to marry him. At this moment she thought she would rather have flowers.
“We’ll have Rowan play his lute and sing tonight,” Lora said. “He knows some beautiful songs.”
“Play? Sing?” Jura said. “Oh, yes, he played for Brita.”
Lora gave her sister-in-law a sharp look. “He has not played his lute for you? He has not sung you love songs in the moonlight?”
“He said once I was prettier than a maid we had seen.”
Lora was quiet for some time as she studied Jura. “Perhaps I have misjudged you. Why did you not want to marry my brother?”
“Cilean was meant to be queen. She will make a better queen than I ever will.”