“Now go out there and let my brother see you. Remember that you are beautiful. No, better yet, let the eyes of the men tell you you are beautiful. Go on,” Lora said, pushing Jura. “The marriages will begin soon and Rowan must preside over them. Xante will escort you to Rowan’s tent and my brother will come to you as soon as possible.”
“And then what?” Jura asked. She wanted to postpone leaving the house as long as possible. She felt very strange in the tight garments that tangled about her feet, and she was afraid she would trip and fall. And she felt almost naked without her weapons. No knife rode on her hip, no arrow sheath hung at her back. No sword, no shield, no lance filled her hands.
“I will have a supper sent to you and you will sit in a chair with Rowan at your feet and he will play and sing for you. Jura, do not look so frightened. It is not a battle you are going into.”
Jura gave a weak smile. “I would rather fight four Zernas at once than do this.”
“Go!” Lora ordered, shoving her forward.
Jura swallowed hard and left the little stone house. She knew Rowan would be near Brita and the queen had established herself on a carved chair at the eastern boundary of the public square where she could see and be seen by all. Right now it seemed like a long way away. Jura kept her eyes straight ahead and walked with a purpose.
People began to stop and look at her, and at first she thought they saw her as ridiculous, but as she saw their eyes, she began to gain confidence. The women, even the prettiest women who had had their choice of suitors, were frowning at Jura, while the men…The men were gaping.
“That is Jura,” she heard whispered as if they had never seen her before.
Jura’s shoulders went back and a little smile spread across her face. It was rather nice to be looked at this way, she thought as she slowly made her way toward where her husband must surely be.
He was not far from Brita but at least he was not hovering over her as he usually was. Instead, Geralt was sitting by Brita, his black eyes devouring her. He glanced up at his sister but he did not notice any difference in her appearance and quickly looked back at Brita. But Brita turned, stared, then gave Jura an appraising look, as one would try to judge the strength of an enemy. Her eyes followed Jura as she walked toward Rowan.
Rowan was intently conversing with Daire and was unaware of the commotion Jura’s approach was causing.
Daire looked up, saw Jura, then looked back at Rowan. But then Daire’s face changed and he turned slowly and stared at her. He had not looked at her like this the day she had beaten him at an archery contest. Then he had been proud of her, but this new look was something altogether different, and it made Jura feel quite, quite good.
Frowning at Daire’s distraction, Rowan followed his glance.
Jura’s lack of confidence disappeared instantly when she saw Rowan’s face. His eyes bugged and his mouth dropped open. He looked to be paralyzed as he watched her come forward.
Jura was astonished as she found herself not walking with her usual purposeful stride, but in a slower way that made her hips move from side to side. Suddenly she felt more powerful than she ever had in her life, much more powerful than when she carried a lance and a battle-ax.
Rowan continued to gape in a very flattering way as she approached him.
“I will meet you in your tent after the ceremonies,” she said, her voice low and husky.
He nodded and she smiled, then turned to leave.
“Jura,” he called, “where is the tent?”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “Find it,” she said. “And bring your lute. I may want you to play for me.”
Her heart was pounding as she turned away, but she was smiling. Behind her she could hear Brita demanding that the attention be returned to her, but Jura felt that she had won.
All she had to do was continue her act tonight, she thought with a gulp.
THE INTERIOR OF Rowan’s tent was a sumptuous affair, the walls hung with heavy samite silk, and now there were carpets from the faraway Holy Lands on the ground. English furniture, two chairs, a little table, candle stands, and a bed filled the space. Jura found her face blushing as she looked at the large feather mattress draped with a beautiful embroidered cover against the far wall.
She sat in the tent and waited for the arrival of her husband. Servants came with food and placed it on the table as they gave Jura knowing looks.
“How go the ceremonies?” she asked.
“The bushes and beds are filled with lovers,” the man replied, smirking. “And Prince Geralt has claimed that Vatell queen’s bed.” They left her alone.
Jura was not sure she liked her hot-tempered brother placing himself under the influence of so treacherous a woman as Brita. No man seemed able to handle her. But then Jura thought that perhaps Rowan was handling her rather well. She had said she would not allow her people to marry the Irials unless Rowan married her, but here she was with her people married and she was not united with the Irial king.
Jura was thinking so hard about this that she did not hear Rowan approach the tent. He must have left his horse some distance away.
“Is that smile for me?” he asked softly.