“He lost, though,” she said. “He was not a true son to his father. My husband was a magnificent man, a Vatell, not an Irial like that puny boy you sent to my bed.”
Rowan was untying her hands. “Whatever you think of us, you are going to help us now.”
“You think the threats of that nothing whore you married frighten me?”
Rowan wrapped the neck of her gown in his hand. “She is more than you will ever be,” he said, “and if her threats do not frighten you, let me tell you that if you are not a convincing liar to your people and make them believe you want to go with us to Yaine, I will remove more than your nose. I will remove your head.”
She glared at him, but she made no more threats while he finished untying her. “What has Yaine to do with me?”
“I want you to marry him,” Rowan said, pulling her from the bed.
Brita began to laugh. “You are more a fool than I thought. Me marry that brigand? If I did, I would rule the Fearens as well as the Vatells and I would destroy you.”
Rowan began pulling her out of the tent and toward his horse. “Perhaps Yaine believes he will rule the Vatells.”
“I will kill him if he dares try to take my power,” she seethed.
Rowan picked her up and dropped her into the saddle. “Good, maybe you two will fight each other for control and I will be the winner. I hear Yaine has a pretty daughter, perhaps she can marry Daire.”
He mounted behind her and took the reins. “My parentage is well documented. I think ‘fool’ is a better choice of name for me. That I may be, for all I know.”
He kicked his horse forward and hoped Brita could not feel the pounding of his heart. If this woman made one wrong move, he would have to kill her, and any hopes he ever had of peace would be lost.
Jura rode out to meet him with Cilean and Daire behind her. “We are ready,” she said, her eyes cool.
“Where is Geralt?” Rowan asked.
Jura pointed to the ridge just behind them. Geralt sat on his horse beside a Vatell guard—a dead Vatell guard that from this distance looked alive.
Brita’s announcement that she was leaving with Rowan to go into Fearen country was met by disbelief and protest from her guards. The protest was what saved Rowan. She was angered that her guardsmen seemed to believe she could not take care of herself.
“I taught you how to fight,” she said to one twenty-year-old guard. “Do you tell me now that I know nothing of weapons?”
“You are our queen and we value you,” the young man said, “and it is a long way to Yaine’s village.”
“You are saying I am too old to make the journey?” she half whispered. “I am too old?”
“Forgive me, my queen, I did not mean—”
Brita turned to Rowan. “We will ride now and I will meet this Yaine and we will see who is old.” She swept from the room, leaving her guard standing in stunned silence behind her.
Jura rode third in line up the narrow, rocky mountain path. Rowan was first, then Brita, Geralt behind Jura, then Cilean and Daire at the back. Jura watched Rowan’s back even while she watched Brita for any sign of foul play. It had been a harrowing few hours since Geralt had delivered a bound and gagged Brita to the tent.
Jura smiled at the thought of that tent and the two nights they had spent there. But then she wiped the smile from her face, for she could not afford to allow bed pleasure to influence her decisions regarding her country.
Geralt had been rash and impetuous in his kidnapping of Brita, but Jura did not see what else he could have done, except, perhaps, do as Rowan said and give warning first. Jura shook her head to clear it. She didn’t know who to believe. But Geralt was Lanconian and Rowan was not.
They rode for hours, putting as much distance between themselves and the Irial village as possible. No one spoke since the horses moved in single file. They would spend two days on Vatell land before reaching Fearen territory, but they did not travel in the open because, except for Brita, they wore clothes of the Irials. The Vatells in the southern part of the country would not have heard of the new peace and Rowan did not want to risk their lives to someone shooting them as intruders.
It was nightfall when they finally stopped, and only Brita looked tired. She had led a soft life over the last few years and the softness was telling on her.
Brita started off alone in the darkness, but Rowan caught her arm. “You do not leave our sight.”
“I am a queen and—” She paused and her expression changed from haughty to seductive. “You will go with me?”
He released her arm. “Jura, go with her, see that she stays near us.”