“Go!” Jura screeched at Geralt. “We need to act quickly before someone suspects.”
Geralt rode away, toward the village, while Jura walked past Rowan into the tent. “We must dress,” she said, “and put her down.”
Rowan, still carrying Brita, followed her into the tent. “Damn you, Jura, you’ll not start giving orders again.”
She was wrapping her cross garters about her legs. “I should have stood there and let you two fight one another over her?” She looked up at him. “Do you enjoy holding her?”
Rowan tossed the tightly bound Brita onto the bed and put his hands on Jura’s shoulders. “Could we not be at peace, you and I? Must you always take the side of others against me?”
“I told you I did not choose sides. What is done is done, now we must solve it. We must do something to keep the Vatells from realizing that their queen is held captive.” She picked up Brita’s feet and removed her belt.
Rowan straightened. “All right, I will take her back to the village and she will tell her men that she rides with us to the Fearen village. We will bring back Fearens to marry into the Vatells and Irials.” Again there was protest from Brita.
Jura leaned over the woman on the bed, put her face close to Brita’s, and said in a silky voice, “We will have arrows aimed at you, and if you do not say what we want and you somehow escape, I will come after you, and one day, while you sleep, I will creep into your bedchamber and cut the end of your nose off. Never again will you fascinate a pretty young prince.” She smiled coldly at Brita and touched the woman’s nose with her fingertip.
Rowan threw up his hands in exasperation. “Go get Daire,” he said. “The Vatells will believe she rides freely with us if her son stands beside her. We will say Yaine has agreed to see us, and two hours from now we will ride toward Fearen land. And may God be with us.”
Jura finished dressing and left the tent to go to her horse. Rowan came after her and caught her arm.
“It didn’t last long, did it? Our peace, I mean.”
“My brother probably saved your life,” she said. “He kept your vicious, lying queen busy so she wouldn’t notice you had lied about marrying her, and he killed a Vatell guard who was being sent to kill you. If someone had seen Geralt do the killing, he would be dead now, you and I might also be dead, and there would be a war started. He risked much for you, yet you condemn him.”
“You see killing as the only solution. You Lanconians live your lives training for war. I wonder if you are capable of living in peace. You plot and plan against each other so much that—”
“If you despise us so much, why don’t you return to your perfect, peaceful England?” she shot at him. “We do not need you to constantly tell us that we are wrong, that everything we do does not live up to your knightly standards. We have survived centuries without you and we can continue to survive.”
“All you do is survive!” he said with anger. “Each tribe of Lanconia lives in a prison. You have no roads, no outside merchants, no trade between tribes; you have nothing but weapons and warfare. And you fight me, your own king, at every turn. We had two days of peace and now the Vatell queen lies tied and gagged.”
“Geralt should have let the guard come for you,” she said, her eyes black with anger. The man was English: he thought like an Englishman, he talked like an Englishman, he reasoned like an Englishman.
Rowan took a step backward. “You do not mean that,” he whispered.
“Hear me well, Englishman: I will always choose my country over any single life. I would die now if it would help my country. My brother, who you insult, is the same. You have taken a throne which should be his, but he killed to save your life because he too wants peace between the tribes. We see, more than you ever could, the impossibility of the task, but we are risking our lives to help you, yet you despise us for it.”
“I despise your tempers,” Rowan shot back. “You think with a battle-ax in your hands. Geralt was angry because a Vatell queen dared threaten the life of an Irial. Geralt thinks only of the Irials, not of what is good for all of Lanconia. He would be a good king of one tribe, but he does not consider himself part of all the country. He should have come to me and warned me. He should not have kidnapped the Vatell queen and risked war.” Rowan leaned closer to her. “Or perhaps your brother would like this peace to fail. The people would no doubt turn on me and kill me if I had brought the Vatells here and they attacked. Geralt would be king then.”
He caught her hand before she slapped him. “Go,” he said. “Get Daire and Cilean. We will ride into the Fearens as soon as possible.”
Rowan watched her ride away, then went back into the tent. Brita lay on the bed, her eyes watching him as he walked across the room. He drank deeply of wine to fortify himself. He cursed Geralt for his stupidity. Rowan had meant to try to persuade Brita to travel to Yaine’s country in peace, and, more important, he was waiting for his messenger to return with the news that Yaine would receive the new king.
Now Geralt had forced Rowan to accelerate his plans and now Rowan had an enraged queen on his hands. And, Rowan thought sadly, a wife who once again hated him. He had proved nothing to her, had made her see nothing of his way of thinking. Still, she assumed her jealous brother was doing what was good for Lanconia and that her husband was an outsider who understood nothing.
Rowan cursed as he put down the empty wineglass. He would have to take Geralt with him into Fearen territory. Jura might believe the man to be interested in his country’s good but Rowan didn’t trust him. There was something more than anger in Geralt’s eyes, something that was greedy and repulsive, and Rowan’s instincts told him that Geralt wanted the peace between the Irials and the Vatells to fail. Cynically, Rowan wondered if Geralt had tried to get Brita to join forces with him against Rowan and the woman had refused. Brita would never settle for a boy prince; she would want only a king who could match her in strength.
If Rowan was right about Geralt, he could not afford to leave him behind so that he could break the fragile peace between the tribes. Rowan had hoped to remain in the Irial village for a month or more and preside over the peaceful union of his people—and over the peace in his own marriage—but now he would have to leave the tribes to themselves.
“Damn him!” Rowan muttered. Geralt had ruined everything, and now the hot-tempered boy would have to go with them.
If Rowan was right about Geralt, he would have to watch his back.
His back, he thought with a grimace. Jura would never protect her husband’s back from her brother’s arrows.
He turned back to Brita. “It’s time to go.” He pulled the gag from her mouth.
She spat in his face. “My guards will kill you for this. I will never go with you and my people will never believe that Irial son of mine. He was fool enough to be taken by Thal, so what do I want with a coward like him?”
“From what I heard, Daire was just a boy when he was taken and he attacked Thal himself.”